Running from the Black Dog

I don’t remember my dreams or even having dreams very often, never have. Maybe I just don’t dream much. There is one dream though, really more of a nightmare, from my childhood still hangs around in my memory. I remember waking up from it a couple times in the early to mid elementary years. I even remember being in the dream and starting to recognize the events that were unfolding, thinking “Not again. No! Not again.” in a dreamy panic but the details are fuzzy. There was a large black dog, clearly vicious, chasing me through an orchard full of gnarled apple trees. It was dark or getting dark and the snarling dog would chase me getting just a little closer as the chase ensued. The fear was visceral. I remember the running, the chasing, tripping and falling down. Knowing the black dog was about to reach me…and then I’d wake up in a sweat, heart pounding in my chest. Thump thump thump. That palpable fear; your body doesn’t care that it’s not real when your mind says it is.

The other day I stumbled across a blog post that talked about the come down after finishing a big race or event. It used the metaphor of the black dog. The author wrote about how the months of training change you, the intense focus it takes to succeed and the purpose that gives you, and the demons everyone who is doing these things are chasing. (Oh the demons!) We train and we chase; we pour ourselves intensely into this one goal, making not only our bodies but our whole selves stronger and more capable. And then the event we’ve been working towards arrives. And we do it. We push through, falling back on our training in the tougher moments, and we succeed. And it’s great. It’s so awesome…for about ten minutes. But then it’s over. And the Now What sets in. It lurks around the edges, like a black dog, hanging about and stalking. Waiting to give chase.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a funk. It is the time of year for that. At least for me it is. The dark days of February, not as dark as they were a few years ago, are still not the best. It’s not just that though. A couple weeks ago (actually, well over a month now) I got the official email informing me that I did not get into dental school. I hadn’t even gotten an interview. Throughout the process of applying I struggled with a fear of failure that I had never realized was present, let alone so deep seated. And here it was in one email, the fear now a reality, staring me down in a generic, formally worded email:

I’m sorry but we have thousands of qualified applicants and only a couple hundred spots. We have to crush someone’s hopes and dreams. This year it’s yours. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Dental School.

And that was it. Failure.

Any small shred of hope I had been hanging onto was gone. Obliterated. Smashed to bits in a few typed lines… I tried and I failed. I thought I was good enough, had done enough, but I wasn’t. And I didn’t.

All I could think was: Now what? What do I do?

And I did nothing. I didn’t quite wallow, it was more of a slumped. A passive sinking into the ground, somewhat less active than a full out wallow. I pretended I was okay with the rejection. After all I did see it coming. And on paper (hypothetical paper, not actually written down. That would be taking at least some action.) I had a plan. A regroup and recharge strategy in case this happened. Time was of the essence in this plan…but all I could do was…Nothing. I just floundered. I sunk into indecision, slumped, and I wavered.

The inclination to settle where I am started pulling like an anchor around my ankles. I questioned my goals and lost direction, not so sure anymore that this hard hard thing is right for me. There are a lot of reasons it might not be. Fresh upon this rejection they seemed pretty valid.

This past summer was consumed by an intense push to finish my dental school application. Cramming for the DAT, the pressure of getting a decent score with only a sad sorry month of studying under my belt, the hundred shadowing hours squeezed in between the demands of my constantly crazy life, the struggle to convey who I am and why I want to be a dentist in 4500 characters. It was a rush, there was a sense of urgency to reach the goal. And then I did, very early one morning  (late one night, really) in August. I submitted my dental school application and felt relief, the swell of victory that comes with accomplishing something challenging.

After that the waiting began. Sometimes it was itchy and uncomfortable but mostly life kept me distracted like it has a way of doing. September and October rolled around, interviews were scheduled. Still no word. November and then December. The chatter was that there were two more interview sessions in January after the initial wave of acceptances. There was still hope. And then January. The first week…then the second…no word. Chances were so, so slim now but the official email still brought a heavy sense of disappointment.

And the now what.

That black dog hanging around, lurking, stalking, waiting for its moment to take me over. It’s the same dog of my childhood nightmare. Appearing less aggressive but really it’s just a little wiser and more patient now.

I know what I should do. This situation calls for perseverance, pick yourself up and try again. Resilience. It’s a thing (a skill?) I’ve developed and honed. It should be fine tuned, sharp and ready, especially after the past five years of my life. But my instincts to grab onto and wield it are sluggish and I’ve stayed slumped. I let the black dog come in too close and thought that was it, the end. It’s not though. Slowly, oh so slowly, the regroup is starting. I put the plan on paper and started the slow, hard trudge of big test preparation..because, in the words of Chumbawumba, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” Sometimes it just takes a little longer than it should.

(And now some memes to drive the point home…or possibly water it down. Whichever.)

micheal jordan failure meme.jpghenry ford failure meem.jpghomer failure meme.jpgbatman failure meme.jpg

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The Price of Being Cheap 

I am thrifty frugal cheap. It’s one of my best worst qualities. Or maybe one of my worst best qualities. Either way, it’s a quality and I possess it. Usually it’s not a bad thing but every once in a while my cheapness comes back around and bites me in the ass. The Wonder Woman accessories I recently made for a niece of mine are a prime example of said cheapness and ass biting…

Along with most the other sewing stuff that was in my home growing up (including one of my favorite sewing machines), I inherited this 1978 girls super hero costume pattern. I don’t ever remember her sewing, but apparently my mom made the Bat Girl costume for one of my older sisters. The hood and cape, in all their turquoise broadcloth glory, were residents of our Halloween costume bin. It came up in conversation not too long ago. My oldest sister remembered the costume, I told her I still had the pattern our mom used to make it. She then asked if could I make some Wonder Woman accessories for a special costume themed reading day at her daughter’s school. She happened to have some gold fleece leftover from another project. Apparently cheapness runs in my family.

Of course I said yes. She didn’t want a whole costume, just the crown, belt, and cuffs. That was a forty-five minute project, max. I could squeeze that into my insanely busy schedule.

So I obtained the leftover fleece and pulled out the old pattern. Lo and behold all the Wonder Woman pieces were missing. Well, all the ones I needed (aside from the cuffs which are meant for Bat Girl) since I wasn’t making those cute little shorts. My first instinct was to draw the pieces I needed but seeing as my printer actually had ink I decided to splurge and print some off the internet.

It didn’t take me too long to find a printable pattern for the crown, emblem, and a few stars and then it was time to get this party started. (I don’t remember which ones I used but, seriously, just Google Wonder Woman costume pieces. There are tons to choose from.)

As suspected this was a quick make. Other than those bastard stars. Cutting small, precise shapes out of flimsy sequins fabric is not as easy as one would think. At least I wasn’t sewing them on as I had also found some fabric glue in my sewing supply stash. I always felt like fabric glue was cheating, not for people who knew how to sew, and stuff like that but it was super convenient to just stick all that sparkly adornment on. I got the stars glued before setting it all aside to finish in the morning.

The next morning I threw together a sparkly logo.

I both glued and sewed it to some scrap denim from an old pair of jeans.

And then sewed it to the fleece belt. Things were going well (even the back looked cool); all that was left was the Velcro.

I scrounged around and found a strip of Velcro, slightly sticky on one side, that I had saved from some packaging a while back. I don’t remember exactly what but I distinctly recall seeing Velcro adhered to a box or envelope that was going to be thrown away and thinking “I could use that for something!” Psh, who would just throw away perfectly good Velcro? Not this girl! I pried it off the package and set it aside. Sure it was stiff and a bit goopy but on the Wonder Woman gear it would be on the exterior or at least away from skin so it was no big deal.
I could even use the stickiness to help hold the velcro in place while I sewed it down.

But for some reason my sewing machine was not happy about this particular little bit if sewing. It kept skipping stitches and jamming up resulting in a hot mess.I changed the needle and checked the bobbin. It still wasn’t working and my frustration level was rising. I switched sewing machines because clearly that one just wasn’t working. Ugh!

The same thing kept happening with the next machine. I changed directions for a minute and sewed the ends of the crown together. Well that worked. Then I tried the Velcro again. More jamming and mess.

Finally, finally, it dawned in me that the sewing machine wasn’t the problem. The Velcro was. The sticky stuff on the plastic side of the Velcro was gumming up my needle and causing problems with.. well, everything!

After that realization I dug up some fresh, brand new Velcro, pulled out the gross stitches, and threw the reused stuff away.

It took maybe five minutes to finish the set after switching Velcro. By that time I had spent upwards of half an hour messing about with sewing machines not working…all because I thought it was a good idea to re-purpose a strip of Velcro.

Sometimes it does not pay to be cheap!

Finishing the Bathroom 

One thing I’ve learned about home improvement projects from fixing up my bathroom is that there is no hard and fast finish to these things. It’s not like those shows where they add one last touch, have a big reveal, pack it up and call it a day. Right now my bathroom is mostly done. Basically. I could add another layer of paint to those shelves and maybe I’ll caulk around the toilet. Oh, and there might be a small drip under the sink that will have to be addressed at some point…but the renovation is, for all intents an purposes, finished.

I panted, tiled, and caulked. There is a new sink and vanity, new faucet, and a semi-new toilet (replaced just over a year ago when something fell in the previous one and it stopped flushing. Turns out it’s cheaper to replace the toilet than get a plumber out.)

Here are some of the stages of progress:

 

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Some creative thinking/problem solving skills were employed to make this vanity fit. My choices were limited by the narrow space between the wall and toilet; of the few available I really liked this one (and the mirror that matches).

Not impressed yet? Well, it started like this:

And now it looks like this:

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Okay so the tub is still a little rough but that’s a project for another day.

All told the cost of this bathroom update was right around $700 including paint, tiles (from the Habitat for Humanity Restore), cement backer board,thin set, grout, grout sealer, the vanity/sink, faucet, some pvc drain pipe stuff, and an assortment of random tools and bits and pieces. Oh, and a reciprocating saw. If all goes according to plan (and really when does it ever?) you’ll be seeing some more of the saw’s handiwork in the spring. Now that I’ve dipped my toes in the home improvement pond I intend to do some serious wading

Don’t Explain

Communication in relationships is hard. Even if you love (and maybe still like) the other person it’s challenging to communicate effectively on a day to day basis in a way that doesn’t build and foster resentment. Trying to communicate with someone you don’t live with anymore, don’t love anymore, and don’t even really like much is exponentially more difficult especially after you’ve gone round and about in the court system a couple of times. Unfortunately it’s also often necessary when kids are involved. And there’s no shortage of things you have to communicate about when you’re trying to co-parent.

Recently my ex-husband and I started attending “communications therapy”. It’s been almost three years since the finalization of our divorce and we basically communicate as little as possible. The pattern goes like this: Something happens or is coming up that (legally or logistically) requires us to coordinate or agree in some capacity, I email him, he ignores said email, whatever needs to be handled gets closer, I resend the email or email asking if he’s going to answer, he (finally) responds with as few actual answers as possible. Typically he’ll throw in an insult, snide comment, or ridiculous statement about me as a person or parent and half answer what ever needed to be addressed. If there’s something from his end that needs to be conveyed he usually tells the kids to tell me or talk to me about whatever. This pattern sucks and accomplishes nothing but frustration. On top of that it often puts the kids in the uncomfortable role of go-between.

Even though this communications therapy isn’t something either of us chose or was super excited about, it’s clearly something we can benefit from. I’m a little bit skeptical about how helpful it’ll be, mostly because my ex is very minimal in his participation, but it’s worth a try. And also it’s court ordered so there’s that.

We’ve had three sessions so far.

The emerging theme is that we somehow need to break the cycle of mutual distrust that feeds our dysfunctional communication. The problem is that neither of us is going to take the first step. We’re in a Mexican stand-off. But if nothing changes then…well, nothing changes. The therapist made the suggestion of stripping our communication down to the bare minimum for now. Exchange only the information necessary. Exasperated, I told her that that’s what I’ve been doing. I pulled up our most recent email exchange on my phone to illustrate my point.

“Look”, I said “this is what it is, when, how much, and why it needs to happen.”

At which point she stopped me saying that even the Why is too much right now. We’re not there yet. I was a little baffled. I think it showed on my face. It just makes sense to me to tell why whatever thing that’s going on actually needs attention. It’s part of the basic facts, at least in my mind it is. Why is important! It’s what makes it all make sense.

The therapist continued, saying when I start explaining why he might be thinking “Oh great, here she goes again. Nag nag nag, blah blah blah.” and then he stops hearing what I’m saying. The door of communication is closed. The why, my explanation, she said, might be a trigger for him. It’s part of the cycle that clearly needs to be broken.

This blew my mind a little. Something as basic as that was a trigger? That?!? That’s what gets his panties in a twist?

He didn’t respond but it made perfect sense. Years and years of communication dynamics with this guy who’s now basically a stranger but I still know so well came into focus. I could see it. Explaining. This was a thing that put him on the defense. This?!?

Back when we were dating and first married my ex-husband used to call me “Little Miss Know It All”. He meant it in an entirely endearing, condescending way. He always felt like I was trying to show off how smart I am and how much I know. Ironically I really don’t think I’m all that smart. I’m like Carry from The Incredibles…”Half the time I don’t even know what anyone is talking about.”

I do, however, have a tendency to try to explain myself. Until this therapist pointed it out to me I never even really noticed it. I mean, obviously I’m wordy. Even when I attempt to be succinct it’s a challenge. But I really did think I was just giving him the basics in these emails. Now I catch myself doing it frequently. When talking to my kids’ teachers or the school, in conversation with other parents, in the presentations for my lab class (it’s especially unhelpful in science writing where brevity is paramount), I hear myself giving reasons, almost excuses, telling why for everything. It’s like I feel like I have to justify and defend what I’m saying even when it’s something as basic as calling the school about a sick kid. Now that I notice it it’s driving me a little crazy.

The most ironic thing about this being a factor in our broken communication cycle is that this problem, my habit of explaining myself, was at very least perpetuated by the relationship dynamic of our marriage if not created by it. When dealing with my then husband I often felt the need to explain the why, to make excuses and justify myself to him. It was part of the tiptoeing process that dealing with him often required. The why served a purpose. But now it’s causing problems. Probably it always has, I’m just now able to identify that.

Self-awareness isn’t really my strong suit. I’m at least self aware enough to be aware of that. When I looked at the problem of communicating with my ex I could not say what I was doing wrong. Not because I think I’m so right all the time, but because I really could not tell what my part of the problem was.

Part of me is relieved to know what I can change to improve things and, hopefully, ease some of the discomfort of communicating with my ex-husband. A small par t of me is irritated though. Because I have to change to accommodate him. Again. I’m the one who needs to solve the problem. I need to adapt and change around him…even though he’s probably more of the problem than I am. Why is this on me? Why is it my responsibility to fix the problem? Why am the problem? All the bullshit he deals out and I’m the problem???

I’m not. Not really. But. I’m the one sitting here trying to solve the problem.  My choices are change or don’t. But if nothing changes then Nothing Changes. What’s worth more, digging my heels in on a matter of principal or adapting my communication style to more effectively communicate? To me it’s a slippery slope. A steep downhill with loose gravel. Yes, this one thing is not a big deal. But a lot of little deals equal a big deal. Where is the line? I’m pretty sure it’s written in invisible ink so you can’t see it until you’ve already crossed it.

Relationships are a series of compromises, of changing who you are to accommodate the other person so that you can co-exist and grow together. In a good, healthy relationship both people are actively and continuously changing and it makes things better. But there’s always the risk that this growth, this changing, won’t be balanced and that you will be the one doing the brunt of the leg work. The tough part about navigating a post-divorce relationship (well, one of the many tough parts) is that you already know this isn’t going to be a balanced, healthy relationship. That’s probably how you ended up divorced in the first place. But you are the only person you can change, you are the only one who you have control over, you can only determine your own actions, reactions, and behaviors… if you want something to change in your post-divorce interactions, you have to be the one to make the change happen.

So, here’s to putting on the adult pants (even though you’d prefer not to wear pants). Here’s to self awareness and changing. Here’s to baby steps towards a more functional co-parenting post-divorce relationship.

 

 

Weddings, Babies and Knitting

So it turns out my cousin is engaged. I think for her wedding present I want to crochet a blanket. This one specifically:

I was looking at different yarn…such a fun part of the process…and I was debating ordering from Knit Picks. They have a few different wool choices in worsted weight that I have my eye on. Has anyone used any yarn from them? I’ve heard fairly good things but am slightly hesitant ordering yarn online without touching it first.

There is also a baby blanket that needs to be made this year for a second family member. So fun! There are so many different choices of cuteness to pick from.

For Christmas I received a pair of knitting needles. I’m hoping to learn to knit this year. Anyone out there have any recommendations on websites or books for beginner knitters? I love crochet but with knitting you can do those fun cables and such. Any advice about making the transition from crochet to knitting is greatly appreciated!