July 31, 1998

Computer Wars

A competition rages in my home right now. It is called Man vs. The Computer. As you might guess, I am the Man. I am not “The” Man with a capital ‘T’ because that would imply a level of importance which I do not possess in this battle. And it is a battle, a battle which I am losing.

I am in the midst of installing a new computer. No, that is incorrect. A new computer has taken up residence in my home and it is trying me out. I know who is in control here.

I want to tell you that my problems rise out of my innocence - that I am a novice with computers. But that would be a lie. This is the fourth computer which I have installed over the last twelve years.

The problem lies in the advances of the computer. If it could not do as many things as it can, it would be much easier to understand. I would not have to learn new stuff in order to get it to do what I want it to do.

When I installed my computer four years ago, I proceeded timidly to set it up in my living room by following with great care all of the written instructions. After several hours the time came to turn it on and shout Eureka, but when I threw the switch, nothing happened. I rechecked everything including the plug into the wall, but nothing would happen. So what did I do? I just sat and cried. I had been defeated. It turned out that the computer was a dead one and a swap for a new one at the store solved the problem.

This time the setup was different. I know more now and the hardware connections were easy - no instructions needed. When I turned it on, the program came right up onto the screen and the speakers played triumphal music. I did it! Victory was mine!

All I needed to do now was transfer some of the programs and files from the old machine to the new machine. I am a novice at this operation and all of my attempts were fruitless. So I called in the cavalry, namely my friend, Bob. He came over and spent the afternoon working on it and did a lot. But more needs to be done. I need to call this vendor for this diskette and another vendor for that information. So it is now three days and I cannot use my new computer. Did someone say FRUSTRATION?

So how do I cope? Raging feels pretty good, but then I have to apologize to my whole family. I tried that on day one. Explaining the problem to and pleading for sympathy from people who were caught in the fallout from my rage of the day before does not work. I had used up the available compassion quota.

Closing the door works. If I cannot see the computer I am less likely to want to work on it. I did sneak in a few times just to get a few extra lashes of the whip, but generally I tried to compartmentalize the problem. This problem cannot take over my life. I have lots of other things to do.

Pace seems to be the answer. Instead of having the problem define my life and take it over, I am going to deal with it at my own pace. For awhile I will have two computer systems running. The old one can do what I need to get done for now, and I will move slowly into the new one as problems get fixed. This solution has diffused the conflict. It has stopped pushing my buttons. Well, maybe not stopped, but now it is within levels of tolerance.

By the way, my new computer is great. It zips and zaps! It wows you with its power! It is a gateway to a new way of living and learning! At least that is what the book says.

July 24, 1998

Double Mantra

The family of four had finished their afternoon at the pool and were sitting near me on the inn porch. I was reading my book and waiting for the approaching dinner hour. The two little girls pranced and shuffled in their brightly lit bathing suits. The smaller one, a pencil like creature in a two piece, sat down across from me and we began to chat.

“Do you know where I could get a pair of sandals like yours that would fit me?”

Her sandals were hot pink plastic with large daisy shaped fasteners. I love to ask children questions that are half serious and half stupid. She looked at me undecided about how to categorize me. Then she knew, smiled and began to explain why they were not the right sandals for me. I had hooked her.

We chatted about various silly things and I asked her if she was having fun on vacation. She nodded as she squirmed around in her wicker chair. Then her dad prompted her, “What do you always say?”

She stood up and looked me and said. “I love my life.” Again, with the feeling of exuberance that a five year old knows best, “I love my life.” And in case I had not heard, with eyes wide open, one more time she threw it to me, “I love my life.”

I caught it. I started to say, “Hey, you’re only five. You haven’t even been to school yet. Wait until you have to sit in a classroom for thirteen years in a row. Wait until your boyfriend dumps you. Wait until you know real pain.” But I bit my tongue. I stopped because I was wrong.

Her love of life was not about age. It was about attitude. Kids have pain. Kids hurt in a real way. And yet she had decided to love her life. I realized that I have never made that decision.

All of this brought back a story I had read several years ago by Rose Mary Dougherty, who is the director for Spiritual Guidance for the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, which is in the Washington, D.C., area. She wrote of a recurring dream in which she would seek out personal wisdom figures and ask them if she should enter religious life. She had entered religious life some thirty years before.

One night she had a dream that was different. She approached the same figures but she knew it was not right to ask them. She writes, “Then I saw a little boy, three or four years old, with large brown eyes. I asked him my question, ‘Do you think I should enter religious life?’ He looked at me with piercing, puzzled eyes. Finally he said. ‘Do you wanna?’ ” She continues, “In asking this, he had called me back to myself, had invited me to listen to my heart.”

“I love my life.” “Do you wanna?” These disparate threads, these voices of children, are woven together in my life right now, providing access to the heart. They provide a double mantra to help me move forward. They do not flow smoothly together off the tongue. Maybe they need to be reformed or melded. But for now I will let each stand alone. And I will listen.

July 16, 1998

Familiar Strangers

He had slicked back hair and a Lucky Strike dangling from his lips. It is hard to smile with a cigarette positioned so, but he always had a smile for me. The tattoo, USN with a big anchor, made me wonder. Had he been on one of those big battleships during the war? He brought attitude to our home. He was our garbageman.

I knew when he was coming because the big, smelly truck was not quiet. He carried his own pail on his shoulder and he would swing it down beside ours. An efficient flip of the lid and a swirl of one can emptying into another and a lifting back onto the shoulder would be accompanied by a “Hi kid.” That was enough for me. He was my friend.

When I was small, lots of people dropped by the house on a regular basis. The readers for the gas, electric and water meters would show up like clockwork. I loved these mystery men (why no women?) who would be ushered into our house and down into the basement. Most guests did not get to see the basement, so they must have been special.

The milkman from Symmes Dairy dropped off quart bottles of milk, each with a layer of cream on top. Yuk. I hated the cream which would always leave chunks of white in my glass of milk. I cannot picture that milkman. I think it is because of the cream.

I recall much more clearly the milkmen who would visit my home in the 1980’s. In Duxbury, a smiley man with a shock of white hair would deliver from the back of his pickup truck. He always left a special small carton of chocolate milk for my little daughter.

Of course, there was always the mailman. Every day, at the same time he would appear at the back door with the mail. In summer I would stand behind the screen door just staring. He would open the screen and hand me the big pile of mail - big anyway for my small hands. In winter I would try to catch the mail before it fell from the door slot to the floor.

My favorite mailman was at a hospital. When I was three my father spent many weeks in a hospital in Boston after a serious heart attack. Everyday I would travel a long way with my mother to the hospital but I was not old enough to visit my father. I had to wait in the lobby. Every day the mailman would greet me with a big smile as he passed by and give me a Chicklet. I can still taste it today.

These are the men who spruced up my life, who added some pizzazz to the daily routine. I spend a lot of time at home now, working from my home. I leave my trash barrels out on the street and I have never seen the face of the barrel thrower. My newspaper delivery is by a faceless person in a black pick-up who throws it toward my driveway without slowing down before six in the morning

I met my gas meter reader who rides on a mountain bike through the yards, but he is about to be replaced by a van and radio technology. My hometown just did the same for water and electric.

My mail has not been delivered to the door for many years. Small white trucks sweeping down the street have been deemed more efficient.

No more Lucky Strikes. No more little chocolate milks. No more Chicklets. Progress?

July 1, 1998


I am tired. Soooo tired. Dragged down. Out of juice. Bone weary. It has entered deep into my body and is part of my fiber. I hate it.

I remember this feeling. When I was working as an attorney there were times when the volume of work surged and long hours for weeks on end would be required to get the work done. At the end, when I finally was able to rest for a few days, I would feel as tired as this. But those days were better. At least I had a reason. At least I had an accomplishment. Today I have no excuse for how tired I am.

Stress can make me this tired. Depression can make me this tired. But neither of these is present in my life right now. I believe that my body has had an allergic reaction to an environment which I was in for a couple of days. That is my best guess. I hope this feeling is not here without cause.

Twelve step programs have a saying: Watch out for H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It is at those times that you are the most vulnerable. Now I see why they have included Tired.

Tired scares me. It looks like depression and it feels like depression. Even though I know that it is not depression, my mind and body want to think that it is depression. But what if it is depression? What if it has arrived unannounced? What if it never leaves? This itself is depression thinking. Despair is hiding around the corner.

When I am tired, my whole view of life changes. Life does not change. It is just as wonderful as it always is. But my ability to see the wonder changes. My focus is on my self. I have blinders to what the rest of the world wants or needs from me. I am all that I care about. I do not live in the present. The present is lousy. It is better to torture myself about what could go wrong in the future. At least that will generate some type of feeling. Being tired has a dead feeling which is no feeling at all.

Everything is harder to do. Getting up in the morning is harder. Staying up is harder. Shaving becomes a choice and decision. Pretending to the world outside that everything is normal is harder. Forcing myself to do what needs to be done becomes so hard. Every inch is a fight with myself.

So what do I do? I wait. I wait it out. I wait for it to end. And in the meantime I try to meet my commitments and do what needs to be done. I keep my life as simple as I can. In the old days I used to punt and not do anything. But now I know that the doing is so important. It is important to me and to the ones I love. I need to meet my commitments. People are counting on me and I am counting on me.