An Unintentional Life Lesson

The valuable life lesson I learned from Dad that he didn’t know he taught me…

My dad was a hardworking man – VERY industrious. Not only did he put in grueling hours at the rubber mill in our town, but when off the clock, he built, fixed or painted for our family or as a side-hustle for neighbors. He was an extremely talented builder – the knack for it lived in his very bones. His workshop in the basement was epic! He spent many an hour tinkering down there in blissful solitude. Well, sometimes not so blissful, though, as my first exposure to a few salty curse words floated up the green linoleum cellar stairs on occasion. But I always felt he was in his element – living his true self – when he was making a pile of sawdust and swinging a hammer. The satisfaction that creating brought him was evident to me, even as a youngster.

Even though he was often busy, he always had time to spend with me. We built snowmen and snowwomen together, he made me honorary “Captain” of our canoe and taught me to paddle (he even dubbed the boat, the Regina), he built me stilts upon which I walked around the back yard, feeling like a giant. I was his campfire kindling-gathering helper on camping trips, he taught me to ride a bike and we rode together frequently. We’d walk around the back yard and he’d tell me the name of every plant and flower that grew there. We’d empty match boxes to serve as “caskets” for unfortunate birds that would fly into the upstairs windows, and bury them. And bless him for trying to teach this human anvil how to swim.

Pay at the mill was low – and when I came along, we became a family of seven children. That’s a lot of people dependent upon the labor of one man. I remember Mom telling me that she’d suggested at one point that Dad strike out on his own – build a full-time business of his considerable and sought-out talents. But Dad feared the loss of the steady – albeit paltry – paycheck and chose to continue working at the mill. He wanted to ensure his ability to provide something for his family, unwilling to risk the leap that held a possibility of greater income – and greater personal satisfaction for him.

He chose the “sure thing,” in order to avoid putting his family’s welfare at risk. As an adult, I view this ostensibly selfless act as an unfortunate result of fear and lack of empowerment. This is not a criticism of Dad in any way; he did what he felt he had to do. Yet I regret that he never had the opportunity to more fully share his gifts and realize reward and recognition for his outstanding abilities. He could have had a bigger life; a more fulfilled existence on a daily basis. Instead, as he aged, he focused on his retirement years. “The time when I can eat when I’m hungry and drink when I’m dry,” I’d hear him say. He dreamed of a time in the future when he’d have freedom to pursue what brought him joy and purpose, on his own terms.

By the time Dad retired, however, his health was in steep decline. He’d suffered a number of small strokes and then he became afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. My virile, could-do-anything Superdad was no more. Equally tragic is that, that time in his life when he could relax and spend his time following his whim, puttering around the house or at his workbench with ease and abandon, never happened. Fate had cruelly stolen that possibility from him. To add insult to injury, the mill’s pension fund had been embezzled, leaving retirees with virtually nothing for all their years of dedicated service. So on top of being physically compromised, Dad’s “golden years” would be financially challenging.

I’ve always felt that Dad was cheated. He made the choice to stay the course, be a “responsible” father, to play the game, so he could, eventually, reap the reward of freedom from “the Man.” Of course, nothing is assured to us in life, but that’s the deal that many, like Dad, agreed to. Dad’s situation crushed me. I rail against the unfairness of it. He followed the rules, yet he lost out on the outcome he was promised.

The whole thing makes me realize that it’s a lie. That opting for “security” doesn’t necessarily ensure it, while it simultaneously robs us of day-to-day joy. And therein lies the lesson:

Since there’s clearly no guarantee that taking the “safe” route leads to a pot of gold, why take it? Why not take the path that calls your soul? At least by doing that, you’re not living a life you’re suffering through; at least you get to enjoy the ride and experience some LIFE in your life.

Some of the affirmations I’ve adopted because of this acknowledgment of Dad’s situation include:

  • Go for it NOW – who knows what tomorrow will bring?
  • Live out my passions and don’t wait for “some perfect time in the future” to start.
  • Don’t be afraid of uncertainty. (In fact it can make me feel alive and unstuck!)
  • Risk is worth it; it is its own reward because at least I won’t feel regret from not taking the chance.
  • Forging my own way in the world is the only way to live authentically and make use of my unique talents and abilities.
  • My heart’s longings are as wise as my mind’s thoughts. They exist to guide me toward the way, not to ‘tempt” me from the way.
  • I am absolutely stronger when I live in choice rather than duty.

If I could talk to Dad today, I’d express my deepest regret that he wasn’t able to spend more of his days living like he wanted. And I’d thank him for the sacrifice he made to his own quality of life in an attempt to protect his family. I’d rather have learned that it’s worth it to live into your truth and take risks for yourself because I saw him do it, than to learn from his cautionary tale of woe. But it’s a valuable lesson nonetheless.

Parents teach by their actions and it’s up to their children to internalize what they learn. I thank you and take inspiration and wisdom from this lesson, Dad, even though it isn’t one you knew you were teaching me.

Posted in Memories, The personal development of Gina, Women on the Verge | Leave a comment

The Cost of Your “Winning” has been too Great

If I read one more “Yesterday was awful,  BUT… Ima gonna lose it.

(For historical context, yesterday was January 6, 2021, the day domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. at the behest/urging of Donald Trump in protest of what he claimed (and they believed) was a “rigged” election in which he lost the presidency to Joe Biden.)

There is no but. No matter what “wins” you personally feel the Trump administration accomplished, it was ALL accomplished spitefully, with malicious intent and in an underhanded fashion. Sounds like a “swampy” M.O. for people so intent on draining a swamp. So I  hope you’re choking on your “wins” at this point, considering the righteousness, conscience and dignity you paid for them.

Because motivation matters. Integrity matters. Even in politics. Even when you feel like no one is feeling your particular “pain.” Rolling around in the mud, lying, cheating and disrespecting the office was the best strategy you could devise? Really? You not only went into the swamp, but you swam with the worst of the slime in it – and even brought along your own to revel in the muck. All in the name of (finally) getting your way… Talk about immature. Petty. Hateful.

Speaking of “winners” – oh yeah, there are none. You all debased yourselves to get (some of) what you wanted. But because you did it in such an unscrupulous way, your wins ring hollow, like your sense of morals/ethics/humanity. Democracy lost too and we are left with it’s shell, sullied, defiled, raped, violated – all so that you could claim victory, dominance, rightness…

It was and is wrong. Every time you excused him. Every time you belittled the degree of audacity, malfeasance and incompetence with which he operated. Our ailing Democracy is on YOU – his enablers who “yeah, butted” their way through this presidency, just so you could feel all that “winning” you were promised.

You all should feel intense shame. But I know you’re too self-absorbed to understand how complicit you are for making things SO. MUCH. WORSE. for our country, her citizens and the world at large. No matter how much you believe in “America first,” we are part a global family, upon whom we (as privileged ones) have a great responsibility.

This all came about because of your cynicism: “They’re all crooks so ya gotta just be a better crook to own them.” Well, frankly, FUCK THAT attitude. It’s defeatist and it’s lazy and it’s predatory. NO, there’s no magic bullet, no shortcut. There’s also no winning without compromise. America doesn’t operate via the Art of the Deal because we’re not a billionaire’s plaything. We’re a living, breathing organism comprised of people who need direction and leadership and guidance – and that comes from the top (which is – hopefully – populated by well-intentioned, self-actualized, healthily-adjusted adults). We are strong not because “We’re #1!” but because we don’t leave the weak behind, the needy wanting or the lost without a path.

Living by those morals are the only thing that ever has or ever will make America great.

Posted in Soapbox | Leave a comment

Hope Simmers as a New Year Begins

I’ve always been one to create my own traditions, rather than rely on others to dictate what in life I celebrate and how. I’m an individualist that way… Honestly, if I don’t feel a personal connection to a tradition, I’d rather skip it than feel like I’m hypocritically jumping on some random popular bandwagon.

So while I can easily let Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day slide by uncelebrated, celebrating a New Year is something I can truly get behind. The symbolism of reflection on the past and intentional living into the future is very appealing to me. So I mark the New Year in a quiet and low-key way: By cooking and eating a traditional dish I discovered over three decades ago.

It’s a cookbook and craft book in one!

In 1989, my then-mother-in-law gave me a book for Christmas entitled, “Gifts of Good Taste.” Knowing my penchant for whipping up (and often sharing) delightful and surprising creations from my kitchen, it was an extremely appropriate gift for me. It really got my creative juices flowing along with my desire to make meaningful and tasty gifts for those I loved. I delved in right away, landing on the next holiday following the Christmas on which I received the book – New Year’s Day.

The inscription from 1989

The recipe for Hoppin’ John (a Southern dish of black eye peas, bacon and rice) caught my eye not only because it sounded tasty but because of the little story that accompanied it. It told of how each black eyed pea eaten represents a day of good luck/prosperity in the coming year. How quaint, I thought! I’m a sucker for a tradition that makes you think and hope. I made the recipe for myself that first year to get a sense of its flavor before foisting the concoction on others. I found it delicious – a nice little side dish for a New Year’s celebratory meal. And with a sweet story to go with it, surely it would be considered a meaningful gift. Although I have gifted jars of Hoppin’ John on occasion throughout the years, mainly it’s become a traditional dish that I make for us because, even symbolically, who doesn’t wish for some good luck in their own life?

The page itself with lore and recipe

When I make this dish, I never fail to note the amusing (at least to me) fact that, while it is decidedly a Southern dish, I am decidedly NOT a Southern person, having lived only in the “norths” of every state I’ve inhabited: New Jersey, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.

I’m sure there are more sophisticated recipes for Hoppin’ John – and more authentic ones. But I happen to like this one (even though it’s the only version I’ve ever eaten). Over the years, I’ve changed it up to suit our personal tastes: a couple little spicy peppers instead of the Bell pepper, skip the tomatoes altogether, add some thyme and several dashes of Tabasco sauce. I think it’s perfected to our purposes – and isn’t that what any satisfying tradition is anyway?

Our 2021 New Year’s dinner, featuring chicken-fried steak with creamy gravy, Hoppin’ John and homemade cornbread – a Southern feast enjoyed in Northern Illinois.

And so we’re off on a new year, full of hope (and little “peas” that are actually beans) setting an expectation of good fortune and prosperity to come. May we all have enough of everything good to know that we have plenty to share with our fellow humans – because an abundant heart is a loving heart. And love is why we’re here.

Posted in Memories | 3 Comments

A 30-Year Retrospective on Life

Three months ago (to the day, it turns out), I wrote a profoundly personal blog post entitled, Here’s What I Can Do, about my suicide attempt on December 22, 1990. So here I am today, exactly thirty years hence, reflecting not only on that day and my then-state of mind, but on the thirty years since then. It’s interesting to note that I’ve lived more of my life on this side of the date than I had leading up to it. My “second life” has been rich, unexpected, gratifying and fulfilling. I’ve gained wisdom, confidence and self-love. Most importantly, I realize how much I didn’t know back then when I nearly lost the opportunity to learn and experience it all.

The “incident” isn’t something I think about often. At some time around the holidays each year I acknowledge “it” as something that took place leading up to Christmas one year. The reason I was inspired to write the blog post was that this year I learned that September was Suicide Awarness Month. And when I did the math and realized this was the 30th year since that particular low point in my life, I thought it apropos to shed some of my personal light on a topic that’s difficult to discuss, difficult to think about, difficult to make sense of.

Yes, that’s my purpose in writing about this: to help to destigmatize the subject of suicide. By disclosing my experience, I hope to lift the rock and really look at the disgusting, creepy crawly realities of being human we tend to gloss over in search of feeling like we’re living a “normal” life. Let me tell ya… ain’t no such thing as normal! So when you start comparing yourself to others – their happiness; their success; their ability to “fit in”; their popularity; how “easy” life is for them… You have taken the first step into the chasm of despair that results in suicidal ideation.

NO ONE HAS IT EASY. 

I’m gonna repeat myself because it’s so important…

NO ONE – NO ONE – HAS IT EASY.

It may look like that from the outside but everyone is as susceptible as you to becoming despondent… when they take that first misstep into believing that you are somehow worse off than others. YOU ARE NOT. And the only reason you believe that you are is because you’ve compared your circumstances to some ideal that you’re not currently experiencing.

That’s when it’s imperative to remember… THINGS CHANGE.

Over the last 30 years, I – and my life – have become unrecognizable from that pitiful young woman who couldn’t stand another moment of the agony in which she found herself. (The truth is, difficult as it is to see from there, she put herself in that agony because she was trying and failing at living a life that wasn’t hers.)

HER life was waiting for her on the other side of this mountain of shame, regret, self-hatred, fear… it was too tall to see over and too wide to see around. So she felt like she had only one choice – to give up.

She would find out she was wrong. 

Because she survived and things began to shake loose. The mountain began to crumble and the view from the place she viewed it became clearer. This happened gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, but it did change. One day she found herself doing or saying something bolder. Another day she dared to dream of a different way of living. Yet another, she made herself a promise that she vowed never to break.

And she was transformed. Years passed. The weight of things that brought her to the brink of despair became lighter and less significant. She found new priorities, new passions, new things that sparked her imagination, intellect and sense of wonder. She learned who she really was and embraced the things that defined her unique self. She met people to whom she would mean the world and who mean the world to her. She was “Mom” to a family of cats who brought joy to her days. She built upon her love of crafting to make things cherished by others. People thought of her when they heard a corny joke or a Broadway tune or a ‘70s TV reference because those were integral parts of who she was.

She became a person who knew she was meant to live and to experience many more full and satisfying years of a life, touch and be touched by many fellow spirits and make her own unmistakable mark on the world.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned in the past 30 years. I’m glad I’ve been here for it all.

Posted in Life, Memories, Observations a la Gina, The personal development of Gina, Things I Didn't Know 30 Years Ago | Leave a comment

You Might be Unwittingly Under the Influence of an Asshole If…

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is seriously unhinged. It’s obvious by the way he thinks, speaks, looks, conducts himself. Yet, frustratingly, none of his supporters notice – or do they just not see it as a deal breaker? What’s in a Trump presidency for them? Why, I wonder, would they accept, condone, hell, VOTE FOR someone like that? Well, I think I may know the reason, sad as it may be…

If there’s one thing life experience and a disastrous 10-year marriage to a similarly narcissistic, patriarchal, non-empathetic, emotionally-stunted person of the male persuasion who is not as bright as he thinks he is, grandiose, tactless and base taught me is that it is a toxic person we presently have at the helm of our great nation. People like this desecrate everything they touch. They use people to their own devices. They have NO appreciation for others’ talents, expertise or opinion. And they will stab you in the back at the slightest sign of disloyalty. Sound familiar?

Oh, they have a passable line of bullshit and if you’re their prey, they know just what to say and do to snare you. They will stroke you and pat you and pet you (like Lennie’s rabbits) – so long as you’re doing their bidding – or if you have something they value (like my formerly doe-eyed allegiance). They have BIG personalities and charisma (a word I despise because of its manipulative connotation). It’s easy enough to be swept up into their worldview. It seems plausible, even righteous, as they spout their self-serving propaganda. They spring the trap when they convince you that they’re “special,” “unique” and “not like those others who don’t appreciate you…” Yeah, that’s what got me. I thought I’d found someone who understood the “real” me, my struggles and concerns. I believed that, together, we’d right the wrongs of the world. I felt empowered. It never occurred to me to doubt what he said or did, as unconventional and aggressive as it appeared. There seemed no doubt that he had “right” on his side. You know why I had no doubt?  Because inside the bubble he kept me in, I only saw and heard his reality.

Dissenting opinions were deemed to be challenges to his ego and a cue to barrage all who dared disagree with counter attacks. Totally ridiculous! Absurd! They don’t know what they’re talking about! Ignorant idiots! Liars! He was convinced he was the only one who saw things correctly. Everyone had a suspicious agenda – except him. When things didn’t break his way, it never crossed his mind that it could be on him. When I see a pattern of behavior like this – “It” must be rigged against me… we are waist-deep in Delusions of Persecution Land, folks. And it’s crazy-making!

Hillary had him pegged!

How’d he keep me down? Drama. Gaslighting. Stirring every pot. It didn’t take long to become so disoriented that the only way I could see was to follow him – unquestionably. Little did I realize that it was him orchestrating all the drama in the first place. Taking a baseball bat to perfectly fine wasp’s nests. Kicking awake peacefully sleeping guard dogs. Just for the rise, the thrill, the surge of a power trip.

The more you fall under their spell, their dominant ways give you a false sense of security. The world becomes factionalized into “us” and “them.” And, of course, we are the ones who are right. The “outsiders” want to take away what is rightfully ours. It becomes a mindset of survival; one that colors every aspect of the way you think. LIke you’re brainwashed; or indoctrinated into a cult. You don’t realize the all-consuming power they exercise over you.

Until you do. One day (hopefully) you, like I did, wake up and realize it was not your reality you were living in. It was theirs. And you begin to regain your sovereignty. You see the distortions of reality for what they are. You begin to understand that you were under their spell and that you must escape if you are to ever breathe your own breath again. Once that window opens, the fog clears and you comprehend the game they ran on you.

People like this are as fucking predictable as a sunrise – and once you realize they have exactly ONE way of interacting with the world, you’ve got their number. They are the exemplification of, “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” They have no capacity for diplomacy, nuance or propriety. Getting their own way is their driving force and they can’t conceive of a world in which all their needs are not consistently met. That’s why they act like bullies – convinced that they deserve to always get their way, because in their minds, they’re entitled (read: they paid their dues, worked hard, did *that thing* or *are* who they are…)

The most telling thing about a person like this is that they are incapable of change. Partly because it’s impossible for them to see that there’s anything conceivably wrong with the way they conduct themselves. And partly because they are trapped in a prison of their own creation that prohibits them from thinking from any box but their own. It’s like their personality runs in a well-worn groove in their mind, unable to pivot, even when it would be reasonable and rational. This person should NOT be in charge of an-y-thing because he – literally – only does/thinks/acts in his own interests. He’s capable of nothing else.

And that, boys and girls, is what has triggered flashbacks of living with an emotionally and physically abusive husband since the day this guy was elected as president. I felt forced to swallow a doctrine that was not my own – by both my ex and Trump – because of their, “My way or the highway,” approach to everything. And those flashbacks will continue until the day he is no longer in power. An abuser is an abuser is an abuser. It’s who they are, what they are, all they are.

Posted in Memories, Observations a la Gina, Survivor of abuse | 1 Comment