Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fearful isn't Living

You will be relieved to know that I finally finished the review of "Stuff" and am stepping away from my obsession with the obsession of hoarding.

Before I put the book on the shelf, I managed to de-clutter my office. That is to say, I moved the containers of papers that need to be looked at and properly filed. I moved them into the guest room.

I like a room without clutter which is why eventually the guest room will get cleaned as well and the filing done. Oh and I actually threw away quite a few items that had just been sitting around gathering dust.

This concern with things seems to stem from fear. Norman Vincent Peale said, "Fear can infect us early in life until eventually it cuts a deep groove of apprehension in all our thinking. To counteract it, let faith, hope and courage enter your thinking. Fear is strong, but faith is stronger yet."

He's right you know. Fears we learn as children or adolescents can color our world for a lifetime. My parents are good examples of the work of fear. They came of age during The Great Depression and experienced the loss of any and all security. My father's family were impoverished to begin with. His father worked building oil rigs. He was a master carpenter, but then someone invented metal derricks and he was out of a job. The boys started working as mere toddlers. Dad was shining shoes at the age of four with his older brothers. As he grew the jobs changed. He sold newspapers on street corners and biked around town delivering telegrams in all kinds of weather. He understood how precious everything was. His Christmas -- if it was a good year -- was an orange and new underwear or socks or maybe gloves. I hadn't realized that poverty had left a mark on him until after I had left home and happened upon an article about the effects of malnutrition.

Dad's front teeth looked strong enough, but there was a groove that ran horizontally across them. It is the result of malnourishment when he was a child. Dad would never have told us that and maybe like most children, he just thought that the way he lived was the way every one lived. But Dad would always dislike Christmas and the pile of presents under the tree. He also never wanted to amass things; but rather invest in a secure life and independence.

Mom lived on a farm so they grew their own food. They were not malnourished, but they couldn't buy anything. No new clothes or shoes. She'd find a dime now and then and go with friends to the movies -- an escape for sure. Compared to Dad she had an easy time during the Great Depression. At least until her father lost his farm to the Insurance Company/Bank/Mortgage lender. It was the beginning of the end for her father. He was a broken and angry man after that. So, fear formed my parents, Mom more than Dad. He learned to survive and he had brothers and sisters to share the situation. They were all in it together. Mom was alone with her parents in a position where she was powerless to do anything other than domestic chores.

She raised her children with this fear of loss. The fear to try something. Her father had placed a mortgage on their farm in good times so he could fix it up, make their home more beautiful and comfortable. He lost everything.

There are other fears that may seem harmless, but will leave lasting scars. Children can do such harm --playmates, siblings. Behaviors can be shrugged off as 'child's play' or 'boys will be boys' or 'sticks and stones.' Recently a conversation turned from soccer matches to sports related traumas. One woman pointed out that the kids quickly learned that she was an easy target in dodge ball. She still remembered the humiliation. Another remembered a track experience. Jumping hurdles, falling, getting up, falling, falling, falling. Public humiliation at its finest.

Sometimes siblings are the worst. You love even adore them and they take advantage of that love. One woman recalls how her brother took advantage of her trust. It seems that every woman has a story of sexual assault by someone she knew or trusted. Some learn to deal with it. Some never do. But they all remember the incident. It colors their lives.

Fears guide our decisiona and choices. Ever wonder what you would do if you were fearless? The question was posed to a group of fabric artists. Some said 'sky diving' and 'rock climbing.' Others mentioned travel. This woman who had been sexually abused as a child added, "Love unconditionally."

Looking back on one's life quickly points out how short our lives truly are. Letting fear rob us of what little time we have seems like an unspeakable crime. We can't always protect that little vulnerable self that sits at the center of our being and shivers in fear. There comes a time when we must nudge her out into the light and encourage her to take those first steps toward growth and actualization. Who is the real you? Shrug off that cloak of fear and see who you were created to be. No fear.

What would I do if I had no fear? I have this fear of failure and this fear of success....without those, I'd jettison that self censor and write my book. Write my books! I listen to authors who have actually written a novel. They have found their voices. Fear no longer silences or stifles them.

What about you?


Saturday, June 5, 2010


I'm reading a book titled "Stuff: Compuslive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things" by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. It is an assignment from The Internet Review of Books site. I am to review it for an upcoming issue. Actually, my deadline has passed. But I have reasons for not meeting it....

It is a difficult book for me to read. I can't read it in the family room because my eyes keep wandering. I will read a sentence such as "possessions become part of an individual's sense of self...." Next thing I know I'm staring at the overstuffed bookshelves lining the wall of my family room and my thoughts turn to the boxes full of books that can't be displayed because I have no more shelves. Do I think to get rid of the books? God no!

I try to figure out how to slip the cost of more bookshelves into the family budget.

I definitely can't read this book in the craft room, affectionally called the 'crap' room. [Note: photo above of just one tiny portion of the room. Everything stays, except the cat can come and go at will.]

I'd never get through the book's descriptions of 'stacks of boxes' or 'amazing junk.' Anyone who accumulates odds and ends to use in their multi-media or mixed media or eco-friendly art or craft will feel the pinch as I did when I read "Irene put pieces of broken toys, packing material, and the like in a box she labeled AMAZING JUNK." The difference between my multi-media artist friends and me -- they actually make something out of the 'junk' -- I am still in the accumulation phase.

If I read this book in the kitchen, I am reminded that I really should clean out the cupboards. The bathrooms -- I can read there. But then I realize it has been too long since I gave it a thorough cleaning. Reading in the dining room makes me aware of another problem I have: nibbling. Reading and nibbling go together like Abbot and Costello. Can't have one without the other, especially in the dining room. I'm running out of rooms. The bedrooms are adjacent to closets -- also in need of good cleanings -- and full of who knows what stuff. Weren't closets designed to hold 'stuff' that you don't want anyone to see? The clutter you pick up when preparing for guests?

Yesterday I finally cleaned the screened in porch. Vacuuming away the cat hair, washing down the grill. Rearranging furniture and reacquainting my potted plants with the sunshine out there. A clean little oasis. Other than the 90 degree temperature and the 100 percent humidity, a perfect place to read about Stuff.

I may not meet deadline for this review.

Who knew it would be so difficult to read about stuff and compulsive accumulation and shopping.... did I mention that the Discover card bill arrived in the mail yesterday? But really now. I haven't purchased new clothes in years and it has been even longer since I fed my fabric stash. So those were all necessary purchases.... I still need new shoes. Imeda Marcos (who apparently had the compulsive buying aspect of the compulsive hoarding disease) I am not! One pair of dress shoes (at least 10 years old) and one pair of sneakers at least 2 years old does not make for a hoard. Thankfully there is something I show control over. Anyway, fabric is NOT 'stuff' it is art, beauty, -- potential.

But, just in case, I'm backing away from online shopping....

Another aspect of this hoarding compulsion seems to stem from low self esteem and perfectionism. And that may explain why I have the parts, pieces, tools and books that tell me how to make something out of all of the accumulated fabrics and embellishments. And why I never seem to get around to making or finishing the projects. I feel the need of a psychiatrist or therapist to get me straightened out. But the expense of the treatment....

Perhaps the cure is to simply stop reading this damn book! I think I feel better already. Of course, I won't throw it away or give it away. I will find a tight little space on my overstuffed bookshelves and cram it in with the rest of the books I should read.....

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June and all of its baggage

It is the first day of June. In Florida, that means the first day of hurricane season. For many it is the first day of summer vacation. I can always tell when summer has arrived with the blooming of the first dandelions. It seems appropriate they would bloom today, for it is the anniversary of my father's death.

He had a love-hate relationship with dandelions. Everyday since he retired he would be out in the yard with a tool he made from an old hoe. He had shaped the end to fit around a dandelion plant so that when he thrust it into the ground it would wedge the root between the prongs and he could flip the dandelion out of the ground. It would most of the time just break off the tap root, so the dandelion would simply grow a new top, but Dad took great satisfaction in the pile of plants and leaves he threw on the compost pile at the end of each day. He would mow, hoping to clip off the flowers before they went to seed. Sometimes he mowed every other day. Some might think he was obsessed. I will always see him grinning up at me from the middle of his lawn, holding aloft a particularly healthy specimen. He fashioned similar but smaller tools for my two sons who took pleasure in helping Grandpa fight the flowers.

June 1 is the day Dad officially stopped breathing and was 'declared' dead. But the man who was my father had begun to disappear more than a decade before that final June day.

He was diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. They couldn't say definately which, but he followed the same path of far too many of our loved ones. One day he was driving his car, taking Mom and I out to lunch -- something he adored doing since his retirement. He stopped at an intersection and turned to Mom. "I don't know which way to go."

Today I want to shout "Don't go that way!" It was as if he had reached a point where he must shift directions from the strong, take charge, angry man who made me feel totally secure and protected to someone lost in a fog and totally dependent upon strangers.

Mom put the gear shift into park and she and Dad did one of those Chinese fire drills. I looked on in silence. We went out to lunch and he seemed subdued but okay. Mom drove home. He never drove the car again. His world soon shrank to the inside of their home. He would sit in the front room watching TV, think of something he needed in the kitchen at the back of the house. By the time he walked to the half-way point, he had forgotten what it was he needed or where he was going. We tried to laugh things off. He would answer the telephone when it rang, talk to the person calling, chatting away in the inane way people do. The moment he hung up, it was as if it never happened. Mom would ask, "Who called?" He would turn those confused eyes in her direction and ask, "Called?"

My young sons who had worshipped their grandpa were the most confused and frightened. We tried to help them understand that it was a disease, but they wanted their grandpa back. I wanted me father. Mom wanted a husband who didn't think she was his mother or worse yet, think she was keeping him from the people he loved.

But it has been a couple decades since that June day. I try to see instead the burly man who worked in the anealer room at the local steel mill. The man who loved Phil Silvers television show and dreaded Christmas. The man who had beamed with pride whenever he saw me and my two sons and who quickly accepted my husband as another son. I wonder at times how our lives might have been different if he had not wandered off down that dark and foggy path to dementia. Would my sons have learned important man lessons from him? Would he have taken pleasure in his retirement with my mother? What I do know is that even when he was suffering and in pain with the cancer that sneaked in when he wasn't looking, he was there when I needed him most.

He was in the hospital. Asleep I thought. I cried silently by his bed. He had not been my father for several years and didn't know who I was only that he thought I was a nice person. He looked over at me and said, "Don't worry, it will be alright." For that lucid moment he was Dad. I told him that I missed him so much. I wanted him back. He held my hand and smiled a tired smile. As he patted my hand, he disappeared back into his fog. It wasn't enough. It wasn't nearly enough. But it would have to do. He was still in there somewhere and on rare occasions he would find a way to peek out at us. I'd see a flash of him peering out of his eyes and he'd start to say something, but it would pass too quickly for words.

So, June first is a bittersweet day for me. Perhaps as you work in your lawn, eradicating a few dandelions, you'll think of my dad.

Benjamin Franklin Stump.

For those of you who enjoy fabric art, or like to create fabric art, the AAQI auction is open from now through the 10th. Proceeds go to fund research to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. Maybe if we can cure Dad's disease, the research will lead to a cure for my husband's disease -- ALS.