Category Archives: Self-preservation

The Lucky Losers

Libby and I met around age 14 and became inseparable, two refugees searching for a comrade. We devoured and endlessly discussed adult fiction, made our own clothes (everything had to have fringe), rescued animals, and got into trouble but never hurt anybody. We were used to taking care of ourselves—I think we were born tiny adults, like a couple precocial quail chicks. Libby lived with her parents who were always at each other’s throats, and a sister who was mean as a snake. We had a lot in common. Maybe fewer cops showed up at her house, and maybe she never had most of her hair ripped out, but her sister once dented a silver tray on poor Lib’s head.

We were sort of pre-Goth. We walked or hitchhiked everywhere, stayed out all night, got on buses to New York or Boston—we had a lot of freedom in those days and neither of us wanted to go home. In 9th grade my mother sent to me to a Catholic girls’ school to break us up but it didn’t work, we met every day after school. I lasted a year there, then went back to regular high school where we somehow made it through together. After high school I bummed around the US for a year by myself, but when I came back it was like I never left. We moved in together and shared clothes, money, boyfriends. We drove around the country whenever we had time off, exploring back roads from New England to Appalachia. No cell phones, computers, video games, VCR, or cable TV. No answering machine or microwave. Instead, we worked, read, traveled, camped, partied, danced, and talked to each other nonstop.

When we were 23 Libs met a guy and fell in love, got pregnant, married, and moved to a southern state for his job. It all happened so fast—I cried and cried, grieving in a way I had never experienced before. The day I watched Lib’s old Dodge that had carried us on so many adventures disappear into a grey blur, I knew I would have to learn to be a friend to myself. It took many years and many mistakes.

I visited Libs but the magic was gone, she was now a devoted wife and mother but a stranger to me—in all the years we spent together we never once fantasized about getting married or having kids. I wrote letters, she didn’t answer. I never saw her again. Her kids are grown up now, maybe she’s even a grandmother. But the Libby years are still sacred—I still dream about her and I’m thankful for what we had, as I believe she saved my life.

Note: The name is changed but the story is true, written as therapy and maybe just to set it free.

If you can’t HEAR ME let’s shut up

I’m exhausted from a day of trying to communicate with Maude (not her real name), a senior lady I help out once a month.  The theme of the monthly drive to Douglas is either me going hoarse trying to scream loud enough so she hears me, or absolute silence after I give up. I can’t keep turning my head while I’m driving to slowly mouth words at her. I am not inarticulate, my father was partially deaf and we were taught very young to look at him directly and enunciate clearly, something that’s stuck with me through my life. The reason it worked was because it was out in the open and we dealt with it accordingly. For a productive conversation, the hard-of-hearing person must also contribute by at least trying to pay attention.

But why do so many people whose hearing is failing act like nothing’s wrong? Why do they want to engage you in conversation when they won’t hear your answer?  Our neighbor is also almost deaf and loves to chat—when I shout and gesticulate to him that he needs a hearing aid, he says, “what for?” So I don’t have to walk the other way when I see you, that’s why!

I’m not talking about deafness as a disability, I’m talking about aging. I’m not young myself, and some day we will all have to confront these nightmares…but if the time comes when I see people’s mouths moving but don’t hear anything, I hope to hell I have the sense to face up to it.

I think Maude finally understands now that she’s going deaf. Maybe she didn’t realize it was happening, or maybe she was in denial. I would ask for more information but every question has to be coaxed at a piercing level. I see her getting worse. She lives in an exile of unmindfulness. Her life seems bleak to me, she’s lonely and depressed, and who wouldn’t be?

She’s got three adult children with jobs—could it be possible that they are so oblivious they don’t know their mother is nearly deaf? It’s my belief that people don’t really communicate, so this kind of proves my point. People mostly talk at each other, not to each other, so maybe her kids don’t notice…they only talk on the phone anyway. But they should be trying to help her, they could each chip in or whatever. Jesus, one of them is a lawyer, you’d think she’d know how to figure stuff out.

Maude finally asked the guy she goes out with about his hearing aid, and he said it cost $1500, and Medicare doesn’t pay for hearing aids. So I shrieked, “does he have a computer?” Yes, she said…but there was no point in asking her why the useless old bastard doesn’t get on it and do some research.

I am determined to help her find some financial assistance so she can rejoin the living. I’ve bookmarked a bunch of websites and sent an e-mail to the Lions Club. Tomorrow I will get on the phone. I can’t sit back and watch this woman’s life destroyed by isolation. Any advice is appreciated.

Here’s a funny joke:  An old man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So one night, he stood behind her while she was sitting in her chair. He spoke softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?” There was no response. He moved a little closer and said again, “Honey, can you hear me?” Still, no response. Finally he moved right behind her and said “Honey can you hear me?” She replied, “For the third time, yes!”

I’m No Good

I want to be good.  Domesticated.  Housebroken.

Young misfit, age 4

I turned fifty-something this week and a full personality makeover looks unlikely. There is nothing my weary psyche would welcome more than to embrace peace, love, understanding and its accompanying arrogance. I want to be detached. I want to meditate and travel and make enough money to afford hummus.  My journey has not been serene and never will be. If only I could have found some way in my life to cash in on my alienation, I’d feel successful and thus more comfortable with it.

Where I live, the expression about “having hatred in your soul,” is a popular put-down for anyone whose opinion is different from yours.  It’s an all-purpose cheap shot that covers just about any subject. I can’t seem to spit the words out even when I really want to insult someone, because it’s just too lame, and how do I know I wouldn’t respect that person? It’s a fine line.

I know people who have sold their soul to serenity by trading it for their personality (like what happens to some people in AA).  I would gladly give up the personality I came with, which is apparently defective, to be swathed in the protective cocoon of new-age coolness.  An acquaintance who teaches school recently said to me that kids who get bullied in school send out signals that make other kids bully them. If you’re like me and bullying enrages you…well who wouldn’t be envious of this self-protective viewpoint? Isn’t that what we all strive for? To dilute our anger? That’s pretty impressive to not even have hatred in your soul for bullies! But while you’re brandishing your superiority, I’m feeling intimidated and no longer know what to say. (I sure have a lot to say about it now though, after thinking about it.)

Yes, there are ideas, actions and people in this world I hate. But for a person with hatred in her soul, I get a lot done.  Good things, that help people and animals and my community and my little ragtag family of refugees.  Maybe my hatred of one thing evolves from a compassion for another. I don’t know but I’m facing life head-on every day and keeping it all afloat for those who depend upon me.


Self-preservation for the Crafty

Can you plan on self-preservation? Yes! Self-preservation is defined as an ‘instinct.’ An instinct is an innate behavior that is inherent in all living organisms including humans. Self-preservation is unavoidable. When considering the reasons why people make one choice over another, it often comes down to either a conscious or unconscious attempt to simply live—a mission that is built-in to our psyches by millions of years of evolution.

Modern self-preservation is complicated… Self-preservation is the result of how we deal with pain, discomfort, or fear. It is what provides us with adrenaline (a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in times of stress) needed to respond to stressful situations. But in a modern sense, it has come to mean the coping mechanism we depend on for daily functioning. The chronic anxiety and constant conflicts that most of us live with every day still cause us to experience the physical manifestations of stress—but we are denied the basic release of either fighting or running. We are civilized, so we cope the best we can, which sometimes amounts to little more than quiet seething. Self-preservation is a lot more abstract and complex than it used to be. But we all still have it.

Self-preservation serves all kinds of personalities… Self-preservation accommodates all types of behaviors. Whether indulging in violence or leading a mundane, mind-numbing existence, most humans are trying to carry on. Self-preservation is neither good nor bad, it chooses no sides—bad people have as strong a sense of it as good people. For the sake of my fragile self-preservation instinct, I prefer to think karma will eventually catch up with all the assholes of the world, and that someday they will have to face the consequences of their actions.

Self-preservation and the circle of life… One of the main reasons for a strong self-preservation instinct in all animals is the need to procreate. In many species the passing on of genes is the only reason to live at all, as the parents die soon afterward. Citizens of countries where freedom is not an option have their own forms of self-preservation, because life certainly goes on no matter how much it sucks.

Believe it or not, those of us who have chosen not to reproduce also have a self-preservation instinct! And people who care for animals have a strong sense of it as well. To understand your own significance, think of those who depend on you.

The mystery of religion Religion is a form of self-preservation, as it allows belief in the unbelievable and this seems to give humans comfort. Religion is a huge factor in world behaviors, but in terms of evolution, I don’t understand the draw. It’s like something a baby human might believe but would be expected to grow out of as an adult, as it seems so anti-evolutionary. It’s OK to have some mystery; we don’t have to know everything. Mystery leaves us stuff to think about and discuss among ourselves. Mystery is inspiring. Skepticism is growth.

Adversity Adversity is useful because it produces the adrenaline that enables us to find the strength we didn’t know we had. But we can just as easily be knocked on our asses by life’s shifty swindles and end up in bed for the next two years sobbing uncontrollably and staggering around on autopilot. Or, become angry and lash out at people trying to help. But I believe that whatever our choices, we are coping in our own way and fashioning our own personalized program of self-preservation.

What about self-destruction, which seems just as commonplace and powerful as self preservation? I know there is a tipping point where the sense of self-preservation becomes diseased…sometimes life is unkind to the point where giving up seems like the only recourse. But self-preservation works in mysterious ways…try to have a shred of faith even when you have none. When there’s no spark in your psyche it’s OK to use the dying embers of your sense of self-preservation to simply hang on.  As weak as it seems, the lifeforce of your self-preservation is there. Ride it out. Things change. You change. You can move on, move out, or rent a U-Haul and move across country. Sometimes it takes a long time.

Self-preservation is good for your world Self-preservation isn’t so much about having a plan than it is something we can plan on having. Sometimes obstacles surface that are impossible to overcome so you have to choose what hurts the least. Allowing yourself some flexibility and taking time to repair and maintain our “selves” isn’t selfishness, it’s our responsibility. Self-preservation is logical and practical and useful because the life we lead is connected to all the other lives we’re in contact with in a million ways; and when you enhance your own life, it touches everyone into whose orbit you come. It’s kind of basic…but you will need that sense of self-preservation (that you already have).

Since our species is empowered with the gift of reason, doesn’t it seem almost obligatory to be aware of and take inventory of our mental and physical surroundings? Isn’t it a good idea to make a lifelong habit of being mindful of the preservation of you? What could be more important?