The picture is becoming clearer

Visible progress
Visible progress

Yesterday was a good day at the puzzle table. There were moments when the pieces seemed to just fall into place. Of course, I may have been enjoying myself so much that the time seemed to speed by. I had one stretch of time at the table long enough that Cindy was able to watch two DVD movies.

By the way, I was correct in my surmise yesterday that Cindy didn’t want to work on the puzzle because it took too long before there was gratification for completion. For me, the journey has always been better than the destination. But then, I’ve never driven across Death Valley.

***

What would the people whom I’ve mentioned in the original autobiography think about what I wrote? Cindy read it when I originally wrote it, and had no complaints. Of course, at that time she thought that there was no dysfunction in my family. She only came to realize that the family wasn’t perfect after observation and interaction over the years.

I’m pretty sure that most of the other people mentioned would have found no fault in what I wrote. I’m also pretty sure that most of them would still think that what I wrote is spot on. We aren’t born with self-awareness. Most children grow up hearing their family tell them how extraordinary they are; so problem areas tend to get glossed over.

It has only been in the last few years that I started taking a close look at myself, and it hasn’t been easy. When another person tries to shine a light on you, resultant shadows can block truths from you. You have to do your own interior search, making sure to look behind you, before self-awareness can begin. I started that process when I stopped drinking, but strayed until recently. Reviewing the autobiography is just a step I’m taking in understanding myself.

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Picking up the pieces

Some progress, but not enough
Some progress, but not enough

I’m disappointed that I didn’t make more progress on the puzzle yesterday. It’s true that I built inwards from some of the border pieces, and that I have some of the basic layout arranged, but I had hoped to finish the border and start building inwards from all of the corners.

Since today is a Martin Luther King Day, maybe I can lure Cindy to the table to help work on the puzzle. One can hope, but since jigsaw puzzles are for people who are patient and who don’t demand instant gratification, I’m guessing that my hope is a 50-50 proposition.

Yesterday Cindy and I went to a viewing of an acquaintance who had died unexpectedly. That seems to happen more frequently as the years pass. Anyway, since I got ready early I spent part of my puzzle time wearing a necktie. More than once I found myself leaning over the table to take a puzzle piece in my hand, and then brushing other pieces off the table with my tie as I leaned back. Pick up the pieces, curse the tie, repeat process. Why, I wonder, are the things that should stick in your mind the hardest to remember?

***

So far I have made a big deal about the misrepresentations in my mini-autobiography. I want to touch on a few of the things that I would not change and perhaps would expand upon  if I were writing it today.

I originally wrote that when I was young my parents worked in factories and arranged it so that they were on different shifts. In that way one of them was home with my sister and me. Today I would expand that concept and say that for a while there was about a half hour gap from the time my father left for work in the afternoon and the time my mother returned home from work. Once my sister was showing me how easy it was to get from a second story window onto the roof of the back porch. She left me stranded on that roof for a while. I learned a lesson that day about trust. Thank you, my sister.

I wrote that my happiest times in high school were the social times. I’m sure that would come as a surprise to everyone who remembered the socially inept person that I was. But I enjoyed going to basketball games, the inevitable sock hop after the game (though I was to shy to ask anyone to dance), and the normal interactions with friends at school. Some classes were enjoyable. What I didn’t write was that being compared by teachers, to my more intelligent older sister became tiresome. It probably scarred me for life.

There was a section in the autobiography where I was supposed to pick one thing, one event, or one person who had been the biggest influence on my life. I chose to pick one of each. For a thing, I chose a cassette tape recorder because it allowed me to copy music or words that I love, as well as make tapes for my friends. You might think that I would change that choice to a CD burner now, but I wouldn’t. The cassette recorder introduced me to the concept of sharing music that I love. It is something I still do, though with the CD burner…same concept, different tool.

My choice of an event was the Vietnam war. It wasn’t because I fought, I didn’t, I had dream duty assignments. The influence came from basic training where I came to understanding what is important and what is not, what I can affect and what I cannot. Today I would add that there has been a lot less personal drama in my life since then, no matter how much people want to drag me in to their drama.

Finally, I chose Johann Gutenberg as the most influential person in my life. He gave us movable type which opened the door for affordable books, Today I would expand on that and tell how books have made mass education possible. I would build on that idea to include how mass education has made possible an exponential expansion of knowledge. I would probably even mention that blogs like this one are philosophical children of books. One might be tempted, though, to say that this blog is more like a pulp magazine…though they were more exciting.

First come the baby steps

Some progress at the end of Day1
Some progress at the end of Day 1

As you can see, not a lot of progress has been made on the jigsaw puzzle. I always try to start with the border and then work my way inwards, but today I also worked on some of the blocks of color, and made a little progress there. Since IU isn’t playing basketball today, I hope to make more progress. Oh, and I switched from using my cell phone as a camera (it kept going to auto-zoom without my consent) and switched to taking the stills with my Vivitar.

***

I’ve changed my mind on how to approach my six-page autobiography a number of times so far. When I first decided to go through this process I thought I could cover it by just re-writing the entire document so that it better reflected how I see and feel about myself since I first wrote it so many years ago. Now I think that without the comparison it is a meaningless exercise. I don’t know how entertainers and sports figures (is that a redundancy?) can have a meaningful (auto)biography if they are younger than fifty-five years old. How many life lessons can they have accumulated before that age. I was in my forties when I wrote that six-pager, and my view of myself has changed a great deal.

I promised yesterday that in this post I would deal with the truth shading I did in the autobiography that I submitted to the Child Welfare office. In the original document I said that like my mother and father, I try not to hurt people. I’m not sure that it ever occurred to my mother that she should go out her way to try not to hurt people. That she didn’t was because either she didn’t care, or that my father had an ameliorating effect on her. I am afraid that there are times in my life when I have hurt people but have felt no remorse. I wish I were more like my father was. 

I said in the original document that I didn’t remember my parents having very many arguments. They usually waited until my sister and I were in bed before the arguments started. While I don’t remember what the arguments were about, I do remember lying in bed, afraid because of my mother yelling at my father. Her trump card was always a threat to move back to California, where my sister had been born. Looking back I realize that she would, in all likelihood, never leave. But tell that to a young child. I also remember my mother becoming very angry if my sister stayed out past her curfew. I may have suppressed those memories for many years.

I imagine that I shaded the truth to make it seem like I had come from a family that was perfect. I’ve come to realize that there is no such family.

The Start of a Journey

So it begins
So it begins

I haven’t worked on a jigsaw puzzle in at least a decade, but now we have a table large enough on which we can spread out the pieces. I was against Cindy getting this table at first, especially when I realized I had to maneuver it down the steps into the basement. I wasn’t all that surprised when I got it lodged in the stairwell and had to take down the hand rail in order to get it around the final corner. I don’t believe Cindy was too pleased when I left it lodged in the stairwell for a couple of days before I finished the moving project. I work at my own pace. The same is true when it comes to puzzles. Depending on how engrossed I become, this puzzle could take me anywhere from a few days to a week or more. We’ll see.

***

I was searching for my discharge papers from the army a few days ago, I needed it to get a special deal on a new checking account that I was opening. When it wasn’t in the place where I keep important documents, I started going through file folders in the desk. I am not the most organized person you are likely to meet. Cindy considers it a triumph if I put a scrap of paper in a file folder (though she would rather see it destroyed). My filing system is not the best. I have a few catch-all folders with titles like,  Stuff, Stuff to SortMiscellaneous, and Take Care of Later. It works for me, though I only go through those folders once every year or two.

I was going through a fat folder titled Norm’s Stuff where I found a copy of my DD-214. I also found a document that I had written when Trina was still in high school. It was a short biography.

Backstory: Trina had a friend in school, Nicki, who was in the child welfare system. Trina asked, nay begged, us to take Nicki in as a foster child. After a lot of discussion, and meeting with Nicki’s CASA, Cindy and I decided that we would do it. We were accepted into the program, but we had to take classes in foster parenting and write a short autobiography. That is the document that I found.

I read through the autobiography yesterday, for the first time since I wrote it. There was a format provided for the autobiography, and I followed it. If I had to write it again today, the document would be different.

You may remember that a few days ago I mentioned lies in my post. While there are no lies for which I feel remorse in the autobiography, there are things, that upon reflection, I would not state in quite the same way. Here I am making a distinction between major lies, and what many people would refer to as “little white lies;” or “fibs;” or as I prefer, the more positive “shading the truth.”

I’ll delve into those areas in my next post.

Early morning

Bleak midwinter
Bleak midwinter

A week ago there was a lot more snow on the ground. Now it is cold, overcast, and we’re getting a snow flurry or two.

***

I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning. It is 4 a.m., I’m wide awake, and I’m drafting this portion of the post. Normally when I tell Cindy that I’ve been awake for hours before her alarm goes off she will ask me, “What’s bothering you?”

Then I’ll usually say, “Finances.” Sometimes that’s true. Many times I have no idea why I woke up.

What I do know is that my first clear thoughts are seldom about the beauty in my life, but rather, those thoughts are about moments in my past that I don’t speak about to people. Nor do I write about them. But maybe today I’ll skirt around some of those events and hint at what is behind the opaque spider webs that I’ve spun around specific incidents that I’m ashamed of. Maybe.

Some of these events are truly innocuous, such as blurting out something inappropriate that is heard by a large number of people. Those embarrassments make you want to slink away when you realize what you’ve done. To a person like me, I not only want to do the slinking, but also keep my mouth closed to all conversation for days on end. I still remember one incident that happened when I was in high school. But that type of incident is minor compared to other things for which I feel guilt.

I’ve learned that some clichés haven’t completely lost their original meaning. For instance, there have been two times in my life when I actually couldn’t look at myself in a mirror because of something I had done. It happened the second time because I didn’t learn my lesson the first time. I have it in me to be dumb.

I have lied about events in order to save myself from punishment. This goes beyond the “dog eating my homework” type of lie. They are lies that I’ve told as an adult. They are lies that I have schooled myself to believe at all times except during the early morning awakenings. I could probably fool a polygraph with these lies.

I’m lucky, I guess, because there are only a few things that bother me about my past actions. A long time has passed since the last time I’ve done something for which I am ashamed. I hope that I never add another item to my list. But if I do add another item, you won’t read about it here.

Poetry

Marquis de Lafayette
Marquis de Lafayette

Yes, I was at a loss for a picture to use today, so I snapped this one on my cell phone this morning. I know it is a bad photo! In my defense, I was walking along, trying to take a picture without dropping my coffee cup and walking into other pedestrians. Thus there is a traffic sign in front of the statue. I’ll go back later this year to take a better picture.

***

I went to Barnes & Noble this morning. The book I wanted to buy, with a gift card I received at Christmas, was out of stock, so I spent some time browsing. One of the books I seriously thought about buying was a book of Robert Frost’s poetry. I have been reading a lot of poetry in blogs on the Internet for the past year or so, and I have enjoyed much of it, so I was thinking, “Why not read some by a master?” I haven’t read much by Frost since I left college, so maybe the time was right. At that point reality set in, and I knew that I would start reading, with good intentions, but that I would likely never finish the book. At best I would occasionally open the book to a random page and read whatever was printed there. The last book of poetry that I read from cover to cover was a collection of poetry by William Butler Yeats. His words sing to me.

I have tried writing poems over the years, especially in college, but my mind just doesn’t work in the right way to create good poetry. Instead I will come up with an opening line such as, “Claudia Pike, the Colorado Crumpet.” Where can you go from there except adding some tortuous words that end with the rhyme “strumpet?” It really doesn’t work if you’re trying to impress a coed named Claudia. To make it worse, you use Colorado instead of Crown Point because it doesn’t clank in your ear.

I’ve also had problems with another line. I know that somewhere inside me is a poem that ends with the line “Pork rinds and lemonade.” You have no idea how difficult it is when I fight to keep that poem bottled up inside me. Why would I want to spend time working on a poem like that, and worse, inflicting it on people. No, these bits of rhyming idiocy belong in the file of poems that I wrote in college and refused to share with anyone.

I believe I’ll stick to this blog. And I may go back and buy the book after I’ve considered it for a few days.

Musings

They want in
They want in

We have had quite a bit of snow in the past week. I took this picture with my smart phone the other day when I noticed the birds looking longingly into the bedroom. I give them food, I’m not giving them a room.

***

I’ve noticed over the past few years that most politicians have a standard way of dealing with scandal, or the appearance of scandal, in their official dealings. The more callow of these politicians find someone to fire. The person fired may or may not be responsible for the troubling events, but a firing must happen. The act of firing someone is meant to a) show that the politician is taking things seriously and b) indicate that the politician is taking a firm hand on the reins and acting with determination. In reality, the politician is usually just tying to perform a sleight of hand to draw attention away from the original embarrassing action that made him or her look bad.

Television talking heads and newspaper columnists are not immune to advising politicians to fire someone, anyone, quickly. Consider how many people were calling for the dismissal of Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, when the website for the Affordable Care Act was having troubles. The President had the good sense to ignore those people, and to work on getting the site functioning. While it seems counter-intuitive, this style could come from The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan, which may be out of print.

***

I’ve been simplifying my life a bit in the past months. I stopped posting and reading posts on Facebook back in October. More recently, about a month ago, I stopped checking Twitter feeds daily. I look at them once every couple of weeks now. I don’t seem to have missed anything important. It makes me wonder how important social media is. More to the point, I ask what improvement social media has made to our lives? It has replaced face-to-face conversation; it seems to have added to the incivility, the coarseness of discourse; and it is a time waster. I, for one, am better off without going to Facebook and Twitter.