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Pet Death

We had to put our eldest dog down tonight. He's around 13 years old and a large breed, part leonberger. His rear end was just...deteriorating. He didn't know when he was pooping where he was, his legs were arthritic, he had degenerative disks AND hip displaysia.

None of us are doing too well. This is the first time I've been at the vet at the end of a pet's life. We all were there. At least, in the end, he wasn't in pain, and he was surrounded by people who loved him. I don't think I could ask for more.

But it doesn't stop the pain in my heart.

Rest in peace, Max. We're sorry to see you go, but glad that we gave you the best life we could possibly give you. We love you.

Jan. 4th, 2014

As the year turns, I suddenly find myself getting involved in music again. It's about time; a whole 'semester' done without a music course of some kind. That's really weird, considering I had music courses every single semester at college, and have been taking music classes since at least second grade (which a few years later turned into band instead of general music).

Two weeks ago I paid for a month of lessons at a local music store. I just had my first lesson today--in drumming. As in, drum-kit kind of drumming, which is fairly different from the West African drumming I learned at Wes. For one thing, the drum kit requires that I be able to use each limb individually. For another, the exercises he has me doing can actually be written down--WestAf drumming is taught orally. So I've spent a bit of time (after the lesson) today practicing the rudimentary exercises I was assigned, and then going for a simple pattern for drum kit (which I did on my practice pad/the air, since I don't have an actual drumkit--and why would I?). It should be fun. One big similarity to WestAf drumming is that everything has to be repeated ad infinitum in order to learn it. Of course.

I've also been working on piano. Last week when I bought my practice pad for drumming, I also picked up a level 2 piano book and two books of 'pre-practice' exercises. The exercises are worth it. They're building up certain techniques, and getting me used to moving my hands together and separately with fairly uncomplicated exercises. Muscle memory is my goal there. If I can pass finger 1 under 2 or 3 in the exercise, I'm more likely to do it seamlessly on a piece of music. I'm about halfway through the first book--that's why I bought two. I could tell that the exercises wouldn't take me long to learn, but would be useful.

As for the piano book, I've now successfully learned two songs. Well, almost. Every time I practice, the songs are coming out more smoothly and with fewer mistakes. I can play without having to review the right hand separately from the left, and without pausing for more than a second on tricky parts. I've started working on a third and fourth piece. The third is a blues piece. I had to take that one a little more carefully, because blues intimidate me for some reason. I looked at it and my brain said 'Way Too Complicated' so I told myself to learn the first four bars to start. That was yesterday or the day before. Today I was able to play, slowly, with both hands. Yay! Progress! I guess I did manage to pick the correct level for my skills. Something easy enough to give me confidence and difficult enough that it's taking me a couple days to learn pieces passably well. I think this book will take a while to work through, but once that's done--level 3! Provided I can stay focused that long.

Some of this is because I miss music. Some is because the more versatile I am as a musician, the more likely it is that I'll be able to find work within my field. And, you know. I like learning instruments. Piano should not have been as intimidating as I thought it was. I'm finding it fairly easy to learn, now that I'm playing on my own level. Good way to ruin confidence? Take a third music theory class and have the TA tell you and classmates to play at least one line on a piece that has four separate piano lines (not chorded, per se, but something like a Bach chorale), then keep giving more complicated pieces and asking us to sight read AND sight sing. Yeah. No. My knowledge of music theory is waaay beyond my ability to play those concepts on a keyboard instrument.

Ah, well. I am rapidly improving, and quite pleased with my progress so far. Now to stay focused on this for a significant length of time.
I'm thinking about moving in with my boyfriend or getting my own apartment. Starting to want the independence again.

And my habits and my family's habits are starting to clash in ways that I really don't like. I have a hard time with the sheer chaos that is having two puppies, two adult dogs, three cats, and four humans living in the same space. I grew up doing things differently enough that some of the long-standing 'way we've always done it' things drive me up the wall.

I miss living with people my own age who are interested in what I'm interested in. I miss having geek-outs over Joss Whedon shows, watching movies together on the film series, having a casual Friday-night potluck and wine on occasion. I miss contra dancing, going to shabbat services, and controlling my own diet.

I miss Wesleyan.

Barring that, I think I would like to just have my own space set up for my own preferences, with negotiable rules if I'm living with someone else, like Mike. Living in a place where 'that's the way we've always done it' isn't a trump card.

*sigh* I feel like I'm an intruder here. I want to go home to Wesleyan somewhere else.

I'm alive!

I've been neglecting livejournal a lot lately. Sorry 'bout that. I started a temp job about a month ago. I'm doing pretty well so far. It's a full-time job; I spend the first half of the day working in medical records, mostly filing, and then I'm the evening receptionist. I don't get out of work until 8pm, which means I can't do some of the evening activities (meditation, bagpipe lessons) that I wanted to do, but I also don't have to get up at oh-my-god a.m., so it's not a totally negative thing. It's weird being the lowest person on the totem pole, so to speak, but I'm getting used to it. I like most of the people I'm working with. The other temp person, I don't like much, but we usually only overlap shifts by about an hour, so I don't have to work with her much except on Fridays, when I come in two hours early and leave two hours early (because who wants to go to therapy at 7pm on a Friday?). We share a desk. When she's there, I can't use it, and usually I need a chair to sit it once in a while, which she occupies. You know, physical disability. And (although I know she's trying to be helpful) she keeps reminding me that putting the most recent filing in order is not a priority over putting other filing away. I am having trouble not using a nasty tone when I reply, "I need to sit down."

*sigh* But Tammy's the only person I don't like much. Everyone else is pretty good to work with. The providers keep asking me about what my plans are and my background and such. Some of them are very easy to talk to, so I've shared some of my history, and I talk about how I want to go into sound design and that I'm in the process of applying to Yale for just that (side note: ugh, the GRE costs $185, and I'm taking it the Sunday before Christmas).

Otherwise I'm doing pretty well. It's nice to have an income and be able to not only pay bills, but splurge a little here and there, or do things like run to the grocery store to pick up an ingredient I need. Like this morning. I was making latkes and realized only this morning that we didn't have apple sauce and that I hadn't put it on the grocery list. I ran out and was 5 minutes late to work, but had no problem spending the $5 on apple sauce. We had a potluck and tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, which is why I made latkes.

They turned out pretty well. I didn't quite get the hang of it until near the end, but for someone who's never fried anything in oil before, I thought they were pretty good.

Also, my solution to having to grate onions: swimming goggles. It meant my nose started burning a little, but it also allowed me to finish the job without being completely unable to see. I took a picture, but haven't figured out an easy way to upload it...At any rate, it worked. Mostly. I really wanted chemistry goggles, but that's not the sort of thing I have lying around.

So uh, yeah. I'm alive, I've been busy. That's my life-now update.

How are you all?
Note: I'm feeling better than I was earlier. Went to Wednesday night meditation, nearly fell asleep, and focused on metta for myself, which does a lot of good. I like this whole cultivating lovingkindess thing; it's making it easier to think and feel with clarity.

Also, in future, I am not going to have late-night conversations when I'm exhausted and planning to sleep, no matter what the provocation.

In other news, I'm still working on the first color on the first dog in a trio on a foot square cross-stitch piece. This is going to take a while...

Art and stuff

So. I'm back from my meditation retreat. It went well.

I had a thought while there that I want to explore. As I don't currently have a paying job (working on that, though), I figured I could start working on an art blog and a small photography business. You know, post my artwork to the blog, probably cross-link it with flickr and facebook, and try to convince people to pay me to do more art, whether it's photography, music, needlework,...whatever. I want to make a living as an artist, and I can't currently do the sound design I want, so why not focus on something else for a while?

I then had another thought. Since this was retreat, and we were cultivating a kind of mindset that brings out generosity, I thought maybe for a grand opening, I could donate all proceeds to a fundraiser to create a pool of money new QuestBridge (meaning low-income) students at my university could draw on at need. Paying for textbooks, unexpected expenses, living expenses, etc. Obviously, this shouldn't just be me, so I emailed this year's liaison with the idea, and we're going to try to get an alumni network going (now that we have one; I was in the first class of Wes QB students) and work on some projects like this. I'm hoping that we'll be able to make things a little easier for future QB scholars to make it through college with fewer loans and such.

At any rate, I'm toying around with ideas, and I'm going to do a little research before setting anything up. My primary concern is creating the art blog, because self-promotion can help me find art jobs. I think. And I'd *love* to be a professional photographer, even if it's just a side hobby where I do senior photos or sell prints of nature photos I've taken.

In the meantime, job search continues...

I'm Alive!

I haven't been on livejournal in a week at this point. Last week I ordered OS X 10.6, so that I could update from 10.5 and stop having software like firefox and flash* inform me that they won't update anymore because my OS is too far behind. That came in on Monday. But.

On Thursday or Friday last, my power cord finally died. There's a part on a Mac cord that's like a sleeve with a glove over it; it can separate to show the wire underneath. Mine did that ages ago, and wasn't causing problems, beyond me needing to cover it with electrical tape, which I did. In January or so, this got a lot worse. I wanted a new power cord then. I didn't get one, and my original power cord survived. Until last week. Last week, I started getting sparkage, at which point I unplugged it and disconnected it from the power outlet. I don't need to slag my computer, which D warned me ages ago could happen if the problem started having sparks or melted plastic. And the spot was too close to the end to rewire the cord.

So I ordered a new cord from a place with good reviews on Amazon that would give me a "like new"/"new" cord for $20-30 less than the Apple store. So I have that now, and it came in yesterday, at which point I promptly plugged my powerful processing...okay, I'll stop with the alliteration...anyways, I plugged in my computer and started the OS upgrade. I now have 10.6.3. I need to spend a few hours on the phone with tech support to get the 10.6.8 combo pack upgrade, because for some reason my computer won't save/read that file and I don't know enough about the problem to diagnose it. However. I now have an updated Firefox (it went from version, I think 12, to 22.0, it's been that long), Adobe flash, shockwave, and probably a couple I'm forgetting. It is SO NICE to have these things updated to the current version. I can play some games again!

But yeah, that's where I've been.

In other news, I spent yesterday cleaning the house so that my step-mother, me, my sister, and sister's friend can go to the beach on Saturday without neglecting housework. My step-mother appreciated the work I did, that's for sure. I even did chores NOT on the chore chart, because they needed to be done--I mopped the floors, so I also ran the dog blankets through the washer so I wasn't putting filthy blankets on clean floors, I did a towel wash, I swept the porch, etc etc. Some of these I did while waiting for all those updates to happen.

Today, instead of chores, I'm going to be doing paperwork. I'm hoping I can get a clerical job at the local VNA, which my step-mom found. It's full time, and is just the sort of work I'm looking for at the moment, so I'm crossing my fingers. I also know someone at the VNA, I just can't remember who it is, so I'm hoping whoever it is sees my application, recognizes my name, and puts in for me. Wish me luck? (The other paperwork is disability paperwork for MassHealth, which is a lot less fun, but since I found all my medical paperwork when I unpacked more two days ago, I can now fill in some missing information...)

*am now picturing these two softwares as superheroes...

On Maturity, Strength, and Healing

It's been almost a year and a half since the Christmas day on which my brother traumatized me. In many ways, I'm stronger for all the work I've done since then to stabilize my emotional state -- and by extension, my physical state -- but the hurt is still there.

All my life, adults have told me "you're so mature!" and "you're so strong!" but it used to fall completely flat. How could I be strong, I thought, when I like I was holding on by a thread? I a very young age, I was exposed to domestic violence. One of my brothers dropped out of school and got into a lot of trouble with the law. The other was struggling to finish high school. In the summer before my fifth grade year, Mom, Travis, and I moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina in an effort to get away from some of the many bad situations we were in. That winter, I came off of my anti-seizure medication in a household that had much less stress than had the MA one. We were away from all other family causing problems, my mother's boyfriend of the time did fairly well financially...and it had been over a year since my last seizure. I haven't had a relapse, so far as I can tell--petit mal seizures, at least, can be hard to recognize, and I had both that and grand mal as a kid.

Trav graduated from high school in 2002, the same year I finished 5th grade and moved on to the middle school. Shortly thereafter, he moved back to Massachusetts. A year or two later, my mother started getting very sick, and the doctors couldn't diagnose her. Then her boyfriend started getting abusive. Then, six weeks into my freshman year at White Oak High School--incidentally, the end of the first grading period, and a full two months after I had started band camp--and we moved to New Hampshire. I switched from block scheduling, which meant four classes per semester, to eight classes a semester. At first the NH school said that I couldn't complete my freshman year and would have to stay for extra time. My mother fought on my behalf, and won. I switched from an earth science class to a physical science class, started Honors Geometry after the head of the math department had tested my Algebra 1 skills (I had that in 8th grade), and within two weeks, with a little tutoring, had caught up to the class. I took two histories in spring semester, since both were one-semester courses expected of freshman (economics and civics & gov), "learned" (okay, stumbled along pretending I knew the music and sets) a new marching band show, and caught up in a few other classes, all largely on my own.

The guidance department was flabbergasted. My mother wasn't surprised; I had tested into the Gifted program in elementary school. But the move also meant I was extremely lonely. By the time winter break ended, I had one person I considered a friend. By the next year, I had quite a few band friends, and was doing better.

And then the other shoe dropped. The friend-of-my-mother's we were living with kicked us out. Some of it was due to her abusing alcohol with her new boyfriend. Some of it was probably due to my mother. I'm not really sure anymore. All I knew was that a woman who had promised I could stay there until I graduate suddenly reneged on the promise. We moved to an aunt's two-bedroom apartment in Chelmsford, a 20-minute drive from my school. We stayed long enough to finish the first semester, and it was miserable for all of us. My mother and aunt shared a bed. I shared a room with a younger (male) cousin, and an older cousin slept on the couch. Five of us, in an apartment meant for two or three people.

When we moved back to my hometown, I at least remembered some people from elementary school, especially among the band students. None of them really became my friends. I made new friends, but precious few close friends. I barely survived senior year because I had to make up history requirements in order to graduate, and so took an AP US History course most people had junior year, and which most people struggled to keep up with in conjunction with honors classes. I was taking two other AP classes, because I was bored in honors English and "Pre-college math" probably would have had me tearing my hair out. As it was, I enjoyed Calculus AB a great deal, somewhat less my English class, and did extremely well, although I was very stressed, in my history class. But. There was an ice storm in December of '08 that resulted in the schools and city shutting down for over a week before winter break; heads in Boston decreed that we had to make up the time. We lost our February vacation. I started seeing a therapist because I was breaking apart under the pressure. We didn't have a spring break until April, and it was only a week long. I needed longer than that to recover; I considered dropping out just a few weeks before graduation because I felt like the sheer amount of work was killing me.

All this, while also taking care of my mother and being stressed about finances and, and... I was essentially parenting my mother, and doing a lot of physical tasks for her that she was no longer able to do. Climbing on furniture. Kneeling down to get things on the floor or out of cabinets. Holding things. Being her confidant. All this made my teenage years almost literally Hell. I was mature because there was no one else to do what I had to do. I had to be strong, and I had to do it alone.

It was college that taught me the importance of friends and a solid support network. It was seeing healthy relationships there that confirmed that all the things that were wrong about home were wrong in truth. I experienced living without emotional abuse and manipulation and not worrying about where food would come from--except when anything happened at home. The more awful things happened at home--of which I've written about in the past; Dave, Travis, going hungry, my mother, pressure to be who they thought I was rather than the stronger young woman I was becoming--the more I withdrew and lived at school. I started going home for just parts of breaks and coming back early to work or do homework. I found other places to be when Dave and Mom started arguing. I finally called 9-1-1 when he started throwing things at my mother in a drunken rage. I made it clear I wouldn't be staying as long as he was there.

Eventually...Dave left, largely because I made my mother choose between him or me. She chose me. And then--

And then I realized how bad Travis had gotten. How much he abused substances. How very ... I guess abusive, he was getting, himself. He made fun of me all the time, including about things that were extremely important to me. He used misogynistic, racist, homophobic, ...ist language, and saw nothing wrong with it. After the first time he yelled "c***" at his phone, my mother winced and then said nothing. This despite how bad she considers the use of that word. At some point previous to Dave leaving, Trav, on my birthday, walked his dog while he was passing out drunk. My mother called me an hour later in a panic because Raina had been beaten up and pepper sprayed by cops when she went into "protect" mode over my unconscious brother. If mom and Trav hadn't qualified for enough CareCredit to cover the vet bill, we would have cleaned out my checking and savings accounts. Raina needed surgery. The roof of her mouth was broken and she'd lost teeth. It cost more than $500 to fix that. Trav's behavior...seemed to get better for a while, and then it got way, way worse, culminating in the Christmas I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Honestly, when I first tell people he traumatized me, most of them assume it was sexual assault, when it wasn't. It was verbal abuse and physical intimidation. And it left me more anxious and depressed than I had already been in the months leading up to it, or even since starting college. I don't really remember the spring of my junior year. I know I did well in music theory, but the other classes I took? Took a bad hit. I prioritized the class I loved and which gave me joy over the ones that were simply adding to my already-stressed mind and body. I had panic attacks. I had worsening physical symptoms. I had high, high anxiety, almost all the time. I got knocked on my ass when Norovirus went around campus because I was hitting burnout at the end of February. I don't remember the 24 hours I was sickest very well. I know I started feeling shot of breath and not quite right one morning, and assumed my stomach was simply acting up again. I went to class, after emailing profs to let them know I might not make it. I was trying to support a friend who was having anxiety at least as bad as mine. And then about 11pm that night, I went to bed because I was feeling awful. An hour later, I was puking my guts out, and it continued until the wee hours of the morning. At 8am I finally called the health center begging them to say it was okay to take my anti-inflammatory meds, or any of my meds, despite a sick stomach. I was aching all over, barely conscious, dehydrated, and, in a word, sick. Once the vomiting finally stopped, I slept for most of the day, and got up for about three hours that night before going back to sleep. I remember, at points in the worst of it, getting up to run to the bathroom, and being unable to walk more than a few steps without passing out. My dance training let me fall without hurting myself, but I also remember passing out in my doorway. I'm guessing no one saw me, or they might have called 9-1-1. I don't know how long it took me to get to the bathroom that time. And...that's most of what I remember.

The rest of the semester is honestly a blur of one problem after another. I was sick. I was in pain. I was sick again. My wisdom teeth started giving me trouble. Etc. I had a panic attack over spring break because I went to my mother's house to say hello, and she wouldn't hug me goodbye until I'd hugged Trav. I went home and cried on my father's shoulder. Anxiety from then on just got worse, and worse. It felt like I was barely holding on, like the anxiety was becoming a force on its own, and was ruling my every decision.

And still people told me I was strong.

And you know, it wasn't until this past year that I began to actually feel strong. My step-mom supported me for the entire summer, including paying medical and mental-health related bills so that I could get treatment over the summer. She helped me talk through a lot of things. She suggested everything was bad enough that the school would allow me to have an emotional support animal. She was right. It took a while to get the approval, but my therapist at school was a tremendous help, once I finally managed to reach him, and I adopted Gabby shortly after returning from retreat. Gabby gave me an uncomplicated love in my life, and we rescued each other. The retreat? Was one of the best things I could have done for myself. It meant almost NO communication with anyone. What communication there was was only a small part of the day, it was face-to-face or little notes passed between yogis and teachers, or collaboration to do a yogi job. No internet. No email. No phone. I didn't even bring my phone with me, but left it at home. Just a week of blessed silence and introspection. When I went home, I was better able to handle things. I didn't have another panic attack for over a month, and when one came, it had a very clear cause. At which point we upped the dose of prozac I had been taking since August or so to deal with the remaining symptoms.

And then I struggled, but managed to go to the first semester of senior year, and pass it. As each day passed and I felt better, I was more confident that the next would bring another good day. I started meditating nightly over winter break, and was meditating irregularly all through the fall semester. In the spring, I was finally able to say, one day, that I was happy. And sometime around that day, I was able to say I forgive you in my heart to both myself and my brother.

Having gone through all that, and done most of the work to regain my stability for myself, with nudges here and there from my support network, including my step-mom, my therapist, my doctor, and my friends, I can finally say I feel strong.

But it's taken what feels like most of my life to get to that point. I finally know my own strength. I know how and when to ask for help. I'm willing to ask for help at the first sign of trouble, rather than when it gets completely out of my control. I know how to better manage stress. I'm finally able to love myself and those around me, and to extend some level of trust that most of the people I interact with won't hurt me the way my family did. I finally have family I trust, too, in the form of my dad's side of the family. I practice metta and can finally see my mother, my brother, and even Dave with some level of compassion and an understanding of their humanity, rather than as the monsters my mind once (and occasionally still does) painted them.

The maturity came with hard circumstances that forced me to grow up and to be responsible for a great many things at a young age.

The strength? That came from within, and cost a lot of hard work and tears, but I am better for it, as are those around me. And I finally can look someone in the eye who calls me an 'old soul' or 'strong', and say with confidence, "yes, I am strong, and it's all my own doing."

Because finally, I have found some measure of peace and love within myself.

In the end, maybe that's what matters most.

Oh-my-God writing from High School: Part 1

I just finished going through a backpack of old notebooks and such from high school. Found a lot of things that brought back memories. Maybe 3/4 of what I threw away (recycled) are papers from Mr. Crowley's 10th grade English class. God, I hated that class. Most of the papers I threw out were just answer sheets with letters on them--almost no context whatsoever. I did save the writing assignments he gave us, however. I also found a few old writing notebooks. So. Who wants to see what I wrote as a teenager?

On to the writing. You have been warned.Collapse )

Check back another day for a selection of vocabulary-stories and/or journalistic writing assigned by Mr. Crowley!
I don't remember exactly what I have or haven't said on this blog, so I'll start from the beginning.

I'm taking a class this semester on Baroque and Classical music. This has quite a bit of overlap with my last music theory class, but it was either this or take two African/African-American centered music classes in the same classroom on the same day. Yeah. Last semester I had two wildly different music classes in the same classroom on different days, and I was thoroughly confused. So I took Baroque and Classical.

I've been on the fence about the class since the first week. The professor does things like ask someone a question, and then keep talking before giving hir a chance to answer. He also will ask a question and then follow up with "Hel-loooo" if no one answers instantly. The thing that's been bugging me for a couple weeks now is that he will ask a question, and if I answer incorrectly/what he's not expecting, instead of saying "not quite what I'm looking for; does anyone else have answer?" or "Why do you think that?", he does a double take, bends over so that his eyes are at my level and says "WHAT?!"

Yeah. Not a good way to make me want to answer questions. It shouldn't be dramatic and embarrassing that I answered with something wrong or unexpected.

And then there are the other things. Things like casual misogyny that keeps setting off alarms in my head. He used "bitch" twice in class; the second time I emailed him because it caused a panic attack, and cc'd my dean. He hasn't used it again since then, but he tells stories that are objectifying, misogynistic, and/or sexist. In class yesterday he told a story about a Canadian customs agent and how she had asked the same questions three or four times "with no expression; she was so cold" before finally telling him that when she asked "how many days is your friend going to be here" after he told her Sunday afternoon through Tuesday afternoon", she wanted him to say 2 days, but instead he gave her three days, and then three days and two nights, and "you're a Ph.D. student and you can't count?"

That part, meh. Didn't really bother me. It was the way he framed it. He was like "and she was So Beautiful, I thought I had gotten lucky, but then she was so cold [mannered] with no expression" and kept harping on that. BEAUTY =/= nice behavior. Also, stop fucking objectifying women. She's not there for your pleasure. She's there to do her job, which doesn't include being nice to you.

These things are getting under my skin and making it difficult for me to deal with the class.

So I emailed my class dean. After talking to my class dean, I emailed my music advisor to see what the department can do to help me out, if anything. The Chief Diversity Officer is meeting with me this afternoon. The music department and dean both seem skeptical that I can drop the class and still complete my major (I haven't taken any "extra" music classes). The director of CAPS, whom I called a couple nights ago, before sending emails, because I was freaking out, told me that the university has to accommodate me in some way and that I should still be able to graduate on time without that class, which fulfills my last music requirement.

But my dean doesn't think that's the case. The department doesn't see any wiggle room with my transcript; dropping the class would put me at 14 credits instead of the 15 I need in the major. But I don't want to have mental breakdowns every week in reaction to that professor.

What. The. Fuck.

If I need to put off graduation because of a professor's unprofessional behavior, I am going to be royally pissed off. Not that I'm not already pissed off. I am. Just, you know, I don't think I could afford another semester, especially if I can't get financial aid for a ninth semester.