Seven Days to Sanity: Regaining my life after killing my Facebook page

Just like that, whatever that is, I’m walking away from Facebook. Although I’m not sure what pushed me over the edge—probably a comment from my proper 85-year-old New England mother who told me I looked like a “floozy” in some of my photos—I’ve made the decision to delete my personal page.

Facebook was made for people like me, people who can’t walk away from a controversy without adding their nickel’s worth, who eat the entire bag of chocolate chips without making a single cookie, who like people to like them. People who can’t not click on the latest adorable kitten video or clip of a five-year-old belting out the National Anthem like nobody’s business.

I’m no longer comfortable being one of those people.

My youngest son was the first person I knew to walk away from Facebook. I didn’t even know it was legal. “Too stressful,” he said, simply, and now I understand.

I love my friends and family and I’ve become accustomed to knowing their every thought every day. I’m accustomed to hitting the “Like” button—like a caged rat anticipating a treat—every time I read a status or see a new profile photo. It has become too much.

I’ve stopped buying bags of chocolate chips. I will stop my addiction to wanting everyone to know what I think and what my dog is doing every day.

I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg will call asking what he can do to bring me back. I hear he’s friends with everyone in his brilliant world. Whatever will he do without me and my 611 friends visiting hourly? How will he survive without the possibility that I might click on one of the endless ads for Zappos shoes or Games I May Like, without my taking a quiz to determine which GOT character I’m most like (Khaleesi, I would hope), without letting the world know I’ve just spilled red wine on my white cotton shirt (frowny-face emoticon)?

Here goes. My seven-day cleanse.

Day 1. The freedom I felt last night after making the delete decision was tainted by withdrawal pangs today. After requesting the download of my account, something my son suggested I should do, I told Facebook I would like to delete my page. It wanted to know why, so instead of being honest and checking the “I spend too much time on Facebook” circle, I checked the “I have another Facebook page” option. It’s true. I kept my Leadville Laurel page dedicated to writing pursuits, so I suppose I’m not really going cold-turkey on this venture, but I still feel anxious. It will let me know when my download is complete. Until then, I have a personal presence out there.

Day 2. It is done. Had to catch myself several times today after receiving the zip file of my Facebook download from the machine. Once I saved it to my computer, I was tempted to unzip and look at the contents, but I stopped myself. I don’t want to go backward. Even came pretty close to deleting my page before getting the download. I’ll blame (credit?) my older son’s recent purge of our garage with my desire to set it all free. Like the stacks of photo albums hidden in a closet under our stairs, this zip file now lurks for some future disposition. As I have for the albums, I will ignore this electronic validation of my past. I’ll also credit my son with pulling out a cookbook and saying, “Let’s try this tonight.” I do believe today was the first day I shopped with a list. Dinner was spectacular.

Day 3. Actually focused on my writing. Took a walk with the pooch and picked up two bags of trash and heaps of inspiration along the way. After picking up a book, I had to overcome a twinge of guilt when I realized it was still light outside. Until today, reading was a luxury to be enjoyed 15 minutes before the book crashed onto my sleeping face. I feel giddy! Oh so giddy! I have no idea whose birthday it is (happy new year, everyone!), what recipe someone has tried, or the latest president-bashing meme circulating the ionosphere. I feel unburdened. This is good.

Day 4. Watched an entire documentary (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”) without checking my iPhone once. That used to be a habit, too. “What are you doing?” my husband would ask, catching me in the dirty act of seeing if anyone “liked” or commented on my latest personal status. So much ego! Earlier I completed a letter to the editor about our local rogue dog issue. Now that I will be posting more blogs on my Leadville Laurel page, I mustn’t fall into the same pattern of compulsive checking. I’ll allow myself 15 minutes first thing in the morning after walking the pooch and then log off until the next morning. Nothing I post requires immediate action or response. I’ve just fooled myself into thinking it has in the past.

Day 5. My posture has improved now that I’m not stooping surreptitiously each time I pass my computer screen hoping to see a little red bubble indicating contact with the outside world. I only keep my email open now and rarely notice messages in bold black. Perhaps I’ll apply the same rule to email. Check it right after my 15 minutes of indulgence on my professional page. There! Just shut it down. As a writer I have the luxury of making myself unavailable, something most people do not. Et voilà! I’m a writer again! I had convinced myself my personal status update posts were “writing.” They were not.

Day 6. A friend warned me about pink cloud syndrome and wished me luck against relapse. Facebook probably knows about it as well. It gives you 14 days to change your mind once you hit the “Delete Page” button—two weeks to decide if you can truly make the break. I’m not counting the days. With newfound time and energy, I attacked the attic. After several hours of sorting and some occasional dawdling down memory lane (sometimes you have to go backward to move forward), I have a new pile for the dump. Don’t think I’ll need those 32-year-old electrical engineering notes anymore. Pretty sure I’ll sleep better tonight knowing the burden above me has lightened.

Day 7. Beautiful sleep last night followed by another day of accomplishment. The time I have regained in the absence of neurotic personal status updates makes me feel liberated. Freed. Like I’ve lost 5 pounds without even trying. Zuckerberg never did call and I finally stopped checking my phone for missed messages. I have no expectation he’ll call on Day 14. He probably never really was my friend anyway.

Suicide.

I didn’t write anything immediately when I heard of Robin Williams’ suicide, probably because my initial emotion was anger, not sorrow. Living with the memory of finding a friend’s dead body and the devastating aftermath for his family and friends has forever altered my brain, and I find myself confused by the idea of demonstrating an appropriate response to the premature ending of a life.

I could say I understand how someone might find suicide the only solution to their misery, but I would be exaggerating. Yes, I have been places I never want to go again. I never again want to experience the selfish, angst-ridden teen years when I believed that if I died, then they’d be sorry, but after crying myself to sleep I’d get over it. Or the time I was certain I had failed at everything . . . being a good wife, mother, person . . . that I seriously tried to will my heart to stop one night, but then got scared I might succeed. Or the time I went out to the lake during an impossibly windy day and curled up in a blanket for hours under a creaking tree hoping it would fall on me and end my self-pity, but then I got really hungry. Or most recently, wanting to run away every day this past winter, hating where I lived and everything I was doing, until discovering I had a thyroid imbalance, something fixed with a little pill, my unreasonable depression not my fault.

So I’ve never truly been where those who have succeeded at suicide have been. “Succeeded at suicide” is not a phrase I want in my eulogy.

Like my friend, Williams seemed to have everything going for him. But it’s not fair for us to play the But … game. But he was an actor. He was, and his performances were unforgettable. But he was a husband. He was, several times. But he was a father. He was, and I am sad for his children. But he was a role model. He was, and I fear for those who may interpret his final action as justification for their own. But he was Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Popeye, Mork, Aladdin . . . he was countless things to countless people.

But he was successful. He was, though in whose eyes?

There were many indicators that my friend’s self-murder was premeditated, and when I return to the days preceding the event, I wonder about the signs. Those left behind always wonder what they might have missed, might have done differently. I wonder about those living with loved ones who endure chronic depression, and if at some point, even they envision an end to it. I don’t dwell on this thought.

Some call suicide a selfish act, but I know better. Selfishness keeps you alive. Perhaps, like my friend so long ago (but he was a husband, a doctor, successful, handsome), he could never really be himself, despite having “everything” available to him. He could not be selfish. He could not save himself. And for that, I can finally feel sorrow.

Abacus

“Red and orange, green and blue, shiny yellow, purple too, all the colors that you know, live up in the rainbow!” This tune from from my kindergarten class plays in my head when I see the enticing object in the corner of the coffee shop.

A child’s abacus sits atop an antique safe, sandwiched among other old-fashioned items. It’s on my “To Do” list. Learn how to do math using an abacus, that is, the centuries-old computer still used in some Eastern cultures.

abacus

I anticipate the pure tactile joy of playing with the colorful wooden beads. I’ve always loved the classic toys and still have many in the attic for the hopeful day a new little one will call me “Nana.” There’s the goal, then! Learn the basics of abacus calculation before my grand-babies are old enough to toddle over to me with the colorful little tool I will surely buy for them before they’re ready to use it!

We bought many toys for our boys before they were ready for them, anxious, ourselves, to play with them, to capture something from our youths, or something we never had.

Ritual

7:10 a.m. and I’ve slept through the night, the first time in months. This amazes and delights me. I hit the pillow at 10 last night feeling drugged. Maybe popcorn, white rice, M&Ms and Campari over ice make the perfect pre-sleep meal.

My dream lingers. I’m at my cousin’s funeral and there’s a young boy there talking incessantly, oblivious to his somber surroundings. I’m really irritated at this child, but there’s nothing I can do without making the situation worse.

I allowed myself the indulgence of waking without an alarm because my walking buddy isn’t available this morning. Typically we’re on the road at 7 and home by 8. I shake off the dream-webs and stretch my legs over the edge of the bed. Ranger stretches as well, yawns noisily and licks my toes.

After peeing like a rhino, I wash my face, slather on SPF 15 and fill in my gray-blonde eyebrows with brown eye shadow. “Don’t leave home without your eye-browns” is Mom’s beauty tip this year, as if anyone will notice my “eye-browns” under my visor and behind my mirrored glasses. I know it helps to frame my eyes, and I might as well do it now since I probably won’t shower today. It’s part of my morning ritual.

I throw on my walking clothes and let Ranger out the back door. I was too tired to take him for his routine evening stroll last night and I feel bad. He, too, pees like a rhino in the back yard and wants to come back in immediately. He’s my shadow.

I make the bed, though no one would notice that either. Admiral McRaven delivered a speech to UT graduates this year in which he told them to make their bed every morning. If you can’t do a little task like that each day, how can you expect to accomplish anything greater? It’s a simple concept, and I do like walking into a neat room.

Mike has already been working for an hour. I sip hot coffee with him and we chat about the upcoming day. I throw together rice and eggs and cheese before his first meeting, and since he can’t eat it all—he rarely eats breakfast—I finish it with a second cup of coffee. “Laurel never has a 2nd cup.” I think we should watch Airplane tonight to offset the sadness in the world.

By 8:30 Ranger and I are out the door and noticing the 90-minute-later temperature difference. I generally wear a light jacket and am comfortable until we get home, but this morning, I remove it almost immediately. Last week of July and it finally feels like summer in Leadville.

photo 3 (3)We hustle up the hill and Ranger is happy when I stop to take photos of whatever catches my eye: wispy grasses, sun pouring through bridge beams, clover patches buzzing with bees. Inappropriate Army cadences come to mind: “Roll me over in the clover do it again, do it again.”

Turning at the bridge to head back home, I check out the Mt. Massive skyline. It’s beautiful. It’s always beautiful, but by 9 a.m. the brightness of the day washes away the crispness of the earlier contrast between mountains and the just-rising sun.

“Beautiful dog!” someone yells from an ATV. I get that a lot.

Back home by 9:30, my beautiful dog pants in the shade out back while I tidy up in photo 4 (4)preparation for my writing group to arrive. I do a speed-vac of the downstairs, enough to pick up the dusty clumps of dog hair gathered in corners and around chair legs, and pour M&Ms and peanuts into bowls.

My group, two high school girls today, meets me on the deck and we write and chat and challenge one another for two hours. They don’t know it, but I’m honored by their presence each week. It’s something they don’t have to do. Much like my morning walk, it has become a ritual I relish.

Thunder clouds roll in early today and by 4 p.m. the ground is soaking up the drenching rain. The couch is calling me. Time for a nap.

BURN

Burn

Disappointment kills
Any hope I might have for
Our future success

Watching my husband
Work selflessly for others
Just to be shut down

Unsupported by
Frightened politicians who
Bow to ignorance

Things don’t burn, they say,
In fires at elevation
Above ten thousand

Are they serious?
Are they really serious?
Tell me it’s a dream

With silly people
Who selfishly get their way
At others’ expense

That tomorrow morn
I’ll wake to find my nightmare
Gladly unfounded

But I know the truth
Things will never change in town
When witlessness reigns

When those who can, won’t,
When, “We don’t want this to turn
Into Breckenridge”

Becomes our slogan
Though leveling town would not
Be enough to start

Transforming hovels
Into proudly-owned houses
With junk-free front yards

How will we move forth
When so few see our town is
Struggling to survive?

When so many look
Only through their front window,
Only at themselves?

Motivation drains
From those who try to improve
Where it’s not wanted

Resources wasted
Ignorant voices spew lies
Sad reality?

Fire mitigation
Project doused, so don’t call me
When flames lick your door

Friend’s book

I met Stacey Gustafson at this year’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and enjoyed her humor! If you’re looking for something entertaining this summer, check out her newly released book “Are You Kidding Me?”

Gustafson_Cover_FRONT_72dpi

Going to the Dogs

“My dog’s friendly!” That’s what they all say, right? So is the 85-pound German Shepherd we adopted from a shelter recently, and I’d like him to stay that way. I don’t want to get bitten. I don’t want my dog to get bitten. Even more so, I don’t want my dog to bite. Once a dog has to bite to defend itself or its owner, every approaching dog or person becomes a potential enemy.

This past week I called the Police Department after a close call with a snarling, barking, advancing dog on a dirt alleyway where I walk my dog routinely. The dog would not back off and it took a kind man carrying a big stick (I’ll call him Teddy) running from his backyard and hurling it to turn the dog away. Thank you, kind man.

Sitting in my front yard to calm down after this incident, I was then approached by the owner of the still-at-large dog. She proceeded to unload on me a verbal assault calling me every name in the book—including one that, if true, would secure my infamy alongside the wanton women of Leadville’s colorful past. After recovering from the fear she might jump over my fence and bite me, I pulled out my phone and managed to record a bit of her abuse. I included this with the report I submitted to the Police Department.

I would like people to know that living on a street or alley doesn’t give you or your dog free reign over that public space. I, and every other person in town regardless of dog ownership, should be able to walk down any public street or alley without fear of being accosted by someone’s unrestrained pet. We should also be able to enjoy the peace of our own property without fear of being accosted by unrestrained pet owners, some who believe it is our fault when their loose dogs attack.

Several people have mentioned to me that Leadville needs a dog park. I do my best to hold my tongue lately when I consider what our town needs. Having a dog park, however, will not solve the problem of irresponsible dog owners, who would likely open their front doors and tell their dogs to be home by dinnertime.

Sadly, I’ve seen what happens to victims of dog aggression who have defended themselves in the past. It’s not pretty. Victims have been put on deferred judgment and told to behave for a year, and they’ve gone to jail—for protecting themselves against vicious dogs.

But that won’t stop me from protecting myself should this happen again. Sure, dogs will get loose from time to time, and I know the difference between a goofball dog who tromps up ready to play and one that’s a menace. The next dog to approach with snarling teeth on public grounds will get a blast from my new pepper spray, and if that lands me in jail, well, I guess I’ll have another unique experience to write about.

Leadville is going to the dogs and it’s past time to take action. We have only one code enforcement officer doing the best he can, but there’s no way he can keep up with the number of blatant violations occurring with increased frequency on our streets and alleyways.

If you own a dog, friendly or not, it’s your responsibility to ensure that it remains secure on your property whether you are home or away. Even a friendly dog can be provoked under certain circumstances. If you witness roaming or neglected dogs, please report them immediately. Perhaps after a fine or two, irresponsible owners will think twice about neglecting their dogs.

I would suggest carrying something with you for protection when you are out walking, with or without a dog. I was thankful for the kind man with the stick who came to my rescue.

Even if you are walking your friendly dog on a leash, please don’t assume my dog wants his butt sniffed while we’re out taking care of business. I’ve witnessed friendly initial greetings escalate to aggression when one dog decides he’s had enough. And as a side-issue, there are no poop fairies in town, so please don’t pretend you’re unaware of the piles your dog dumps every day.

I won’t walk my dog again without pepper spray, so if you love your dog, keep him safe. If I end up in prison for defending myself, I might be authorized one call. It will be to someone who’s willing to walk my dog. Any takers? Don’t worry—my dog’s friendly.

10 Lessons from Dad (in no particular order)

  1. Be a good girl and don’t be obnoxious. Having five daughters to raise, Dad was a strict overseer. He knew he’d have to marry us all off someday, and did his best to ensure there were no “Shrews” to worry about. He was successful, and each of us is still married to the men we first married.
  2. Use good manners. Chew with your mouth closed, eat everything on your plate (because of the starving children in Africa), sit up straight at the table, don’t interrupt, speak clearly (I appreciate this more and more each passing year!), say “please” and “thank you,” hold the door for others, cover your mouth when you sneeze . . . important lessons still!
  3. Learn to drive defensively. This skill is necessary because every other driver on the road is an asshole. Dad’s words, not mine.
  4. Dry off with a facecloth first after you bathe, and use only one square of toilet paper after going #1. The facecloth rule made sense. Post-shower squeegeeing saved on towel laundering. It took me a long time to get over the guilt of grabbing a whole towel from the shower when I got to make the rules. The one toilet square was a rule we neither understood nor followed, and I don’t remember if there was a rule for #2. Can’t imagine what the toilet paper bill was each month, but I’m sure Dad did his best to prevent costly plumbing issues. Did I mention five daughters?
  5. Don’t lie. Although it helped to have something legitimate to tell the priest during confession, our parents always discovered the lie, and the consequences were then doubled: disappointment plus anger. Still, we took chances on “getting away with it.”
  6. There are consequences for your actions. It might be a stern word or look, or even a spanking, or no dessert, or no use of the family car, but it made an impression, and made us think twice (well, sometimes!) before doing something we knew might end poorly.
  7. Say your prayers. Dad and Mom never wavered a day on their faith, and daily prayers were as routine as hand washing. Every night I would fall asleep with the litany of rote prayers ending with “…and God bless Mommy and Daddy and Christine and Susie and Charlene and me and Carol and Nana and Bupa and Grandma and Grandpa and . . .” everyone I knew in my life.
  8. Be generous to others. To this day I do not know how many charities Dad supported, but I know that he gave generously to his church routinely, and his extended family and friends as well whenever he saw a need. He was always private about his giving. It made him the richest man on Earth in my eyes.
  9. Respect your elders. I grew up with a healthy sense of fear/admiration/respect for my elders because they were the ones who taught me and loved me and kept me safe. I knew I needed them. Now that I am one, I believe every child should learn this lesson!
  10. Respect your partner. For 65 years Dad treated Mom with respect, love, admiration, and humor. Sure, they had their arguments, but I don’t believe they ever went to bed angry. They made time to be together, just the two of them, every evening. They talked. They laughed. They danced. They hugged. They provided each of us girls with a glimpse of a future that was possible for us.

mom and dad dancing_2

Missing and thinking of you this Father’s Day, Daddy-O.

 

Eating Christmas

My morning walk with a neighbor friend always brightens my mood. Yesterday he, my husband, my dog and I attended a 3-hour nature walk to learn about edibles in the wild—not the kind recently legalized in Colorado, but the kind that could keep you alive in an emergency.

Although Ranger was unimpressed by the presentation, he nevertheless nibbled on the succulent grasses surrounding us. Attendance was more than 30 people ranging from age 4 to about 74 and my 85-pound pup behaved beautifully. Still, I kept to the back of the group and didn’t learn as much as I could have. My hubby and friend would fill me in, and I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings.

This morning my friend and I searched along our route for the new growth at the end of pine branches, an excellent source of vitamin C. Sage bushes were everywhere and I started chewing a small sprig while searching for the new pine. Sage really packs a sensory punch, and when I finally added a few new pine needles to my mountain trail mix I was instantly transported to a childhood pre-Christmas day.

My little sister and I galloped around the living room to “Sleigh Ride” in our footie pajamas, our excitement for Christmas morning building. We had already found our longest knee-sock for the fireplace hearth; Santa always put a large piece of fruit in the toe on Christmas morning, so we wanted to ensure there was plenty of room for other surprises.

Mom was in the kitchen preparing the family feast for five girls and whatever extended family might arrive, and the smell of stuffing mixed with the fresh aroma of Christmas tree pine and happy holiday music wafting through the air . . . well, it just didn’t get any better than that.

My blast from the past was powerful on this very un-Christmas June morning and made me just a little homesick. I think I might have to squeeze in another visit this summer and forego the Boston lobsta for a turkey dinner. I’ll bring the sage.

Flying

I had never been on a horse before, and there I was–the magnificent beast towering above my 5th grade face–frightened and nervous and ridiculously excited.

I still don’t know why my teacher selected me to ride with her that day. I’d like to think it was because I had impressed her with my poetry.

With a little help, I was in the saddle and feeling the fear and freedom of my new vantage point. My teacher led me and another student on a gentle ride through a wildflower speckled meadow, and my confidence grew with each powerful step.

When she started to trot, I was petrified and exhilarated, hanging on for dear life, a smile on my face as wide as that glorious meadow. It was one of those don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry moments, and I laughed.

The adventure completed, I dismounted on noddle legs, adrenaline still surging through my little frame. Ms. B handed me a large brush and I groomed as much as I could reach on my patient new friend, looking into his soulful eyes whenever I could and feeling a connection I had never before felt with a non-human.

I have dreamt of flying several times in my life, and if I could choose a frivolous superpower, it would be flight. My gift of flight on the back of my first horse that day was as close as I may ever come to realizing my dream.