Thursday, February 19, 2009

Me & The Starman

I got this meme from Dooce, but it looked like fun. In that way that answering questions can be fun. Like, the Bar Exam, talking to a state trooper who's just pulled you over, etc.

What are your middle names?

My middle name is Stuart, his is Ross. (You can imagine the teasing I got when I was confirmed in the Episcopal church. All the other girls could not contain their mirth that I had a BOY'S name as a middle name. It's a family name; I got it from my great-grandmother. In fact, there have been four or five women named Magdalen.)

How long have you been together?
Two and a half years.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
Hub 1.0 introduced us in London in 1998, when Hub and I were first engaged. I was in awe to meet this famous guy who'd been all-correct for so long that they made him the editor of the world's hardest crossword puzzle. Starman had funny hair back then -- longer and kind of poufy in the front. Not unattractive, just unrecognizable from today. He didn't say much. We met again in 2000 when we sat at the same table at a crossword dinner in Paris. He stared at Hub 1.0 and me throughout the meal, which seemed very un-British. Still wasn't saying much. I saw him twice more before 2006; after the second time, I was genuinely worried that he was ill, which is why I allowed myself to be the Overly Familiar American and email him in late 2005 when we learned he'd quit the editorship. The emails turned to phone calls, and then to visits, but we were Just Friends for over six months before it became romantic.

Who asked whom out?
N/A. There were no dates. I have been on precisely one date in my entire life, and it was with someone I was not romantically interested in, at a restaurant where someone had a heart attack, and the whole experience was excruciatingly awkward. How I've married not one but two Englishmen without dating is just part of my awesome unusualness.

How old are each of you?
I have just turned 53, he's 49. But of course we're both really 6 years old...

Whose siblings do you see the most?
His, despite the fact that they all live in the U.K.

Which situation is the hardest on you as a couple?
He's much better at dealing with my emotional roller coaster maneuvers than I have a right to expect. He's less volatile, but when he is having a bad day, I'm pretty good about it. Thus we avoid most of the pitfalls that I can imagine. It's been a while, but I have in the past had a problem when we're trying to fix something and all of a sudden my Oxford University-educated genius husband loses 50 IQ points and adopts the Blank Stare as a defense.

Did you go to the same school?
Hardly. He went to public (i.e., private) schools followed by University College [doncha just love the contradictions in English education?] at Oxford University. I went to two small liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, then got a master's from a PAC-10 university, and years later got a law degree from an Ivy League law school.

Are you from the same home town?
Again, not even remotely close. I grew up in Schenectady, NY; he grew up in Oxford, England.

Who is smarter?
Hard to say. He's book smart, better read, quicker (except when trying to fix things; see above), and more analytical. I'm more intuitive, better at understanding people, and can make certain deductions more easily. But here's an absolute fact: Hub 1.0 can think rings around us both, and that's saying a LOT.

Who is the most sensitive?
Depends what you mean by sensitive. He bruises easier, but I cry at cotton commercials...

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
We're in a bit of a backwater here in Northeast Pennsylvania, but there's a Mexican restaurant ten minutes away that's run by an actual Mexican guy. His is a great story: a local couple traveled to Mexico, met this kid who had just been orphaned, brought him back to our county and sent him to the local school. After he graduated, the restaurant is what he wanted to do. The menu hasn't changed since I first went there 5 years ago, but it's all good food.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
Alaska, with Hub 1.0 as our wedding present. Worked out well, and we'd love to travel with him again.

Who has the craziest exes?
N/A. I just have Hub 1.0, and Starman has no exes that I know about, so I'd win except that Hub 1.0 isn't crazy, and we're all good friends. Maybe that makes us all crazy...

Who has the worst temper?
I do. Hands down.

Who does the cooking?
Me. When he was dating, he taught himself to cook, and his chocolate mousse is damn fine, but he doesn't enjoy it, and I do.

Who is the neat-freak?
I expected him to be; his house in Twyford was immaculate. But no, we're pretty evenly matched as mildly untidy. My office gets untidier and then tidier, as does my side of the bed, but I'm not sure that's not just a difference in periodicity.

Who is more stubborn?
It's not a character flaw either of us has in great amounts, but I'll own it.

Who hogs the bed?
Hmmm. I suspect I do, but Starman is too nice to tell me.

Who wakes up earlier?
I do unless he's not been sleeping well. The real answer is the cats, who've been working hard on their devices and schemes to wake us up. They've taken to throwing their furry bodies at the bedroom doors in the hopes that the door might open and allow them access to the bed. A cat purring loudly and walking over us is a very effective alarm clock.

Where was your first date?
N/A; see above.

Who is more jealous?
Look, this is a guy who understood that my nearly 40-year connection to Hub 1.0 was important to me, so all props to Starman for being wise and gracious and open-minded.

How long did it take to get serious?
Six months? Seven? There was the more pressing issue of resolving the status of my first marriage first, but it all worked out pretty efficiently.

Who eats more?
In terms of volume, he does. In terms of surplus to requirements, I do.

Who does the laundry?
I do. If you'd asked who puts the clothes away, we could cue the crickets...

Who's better with the computer?
::cough cough:: Let's put it this way -- one of us is a software programmer, and one us is a lawyer.

Who drives when you are together?
I do. I like it. He doesn't seem to mind. However, if we're in the UK and the hire car has a stick shift, he does. I can manage the roundabouts, but not then also shift with the wrong hand while driving on the wrong side of the road.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Me & Mr. Big

It shouldn't come as a great surprise to anyone that I'm a little bit unusual. There are clues, after all. . . Like, f'rinstance, I dunno, maybe the fact that my first husband is our most frequent visitor here in Harmony. Or the whole living-on-24-acres-with-a-horse-barn-and-a-tractor bit. Whatever; I suspect my regular readers are rolling their eyes and nodding their heads in impatient agreement. We get it, Magdalen, just get to your point.

Well, I don't write too much about being in therapy because -- well, it's boring, isn't it? And private, I suppose. But mostly boring. I've been in therapy with the same therapist for over 15 years, a fact that is as stunning to me as it must be to any sane person. That's a time frame that might lead a reasonable person to suspect that my therapist is paying for her "weekend house" in the South of France on my centime, so to speak. (And, yes, she really does have a house in the South of France.)

But when I think about it, I don't blame my therapist for dragging her feet. I blame over-engineering. Sure, I had a crappy childhood. Who didn't? (No, really -- we had a houseparty a few years ago, and the conversation came around to everyone's crappy childhood. Out of a field of five people, mine didn't come in first, and might not have come in second.) What makes my childhood interesting is that I had something akin to multiple personalities. (The official name for this condition now is "dissociative identity disorder." And after decades of Movie Of the Week and Oprah eps, it's gone mainstream now -- Showtime has a series!) I don't actually know this for a fact, but what I do know strongly suggests it as a hypothesis.

See, I can remember walking to school everyday, but I have no memory of walking home. Ever. This is noteworthy because the school was roughly parallel to our house, one block over. The "correct" route was to walk down the block, around the corner, and back along the parallel street. But we were sneaky lazy brats -- we would cut through our neighbor's yard (it was a large house that had been split into flats, so no one was authorized to care), jog around the back of someone's garage, down a driveway and along to the school. I remember this walk in the schoolbound direction, but I don't think I ever walked that way back home. I think someone else did that trip.

See, I was the kid who went to school. I remember kindergarten, first and second grades with Miss Alice Duell, and so forth, but I have no memories of home until sometime after my 8th birthday, which was when I was in third grade. (I was in all the grades, they just got accordioned into two years, so I kinda sorta skipped a grade.) But as for who was hanging with the sibs, having dindin with the parents -- no clue. And that would be cool, except for one tiny thing: I weigh over 300 pounds. And I really shouldn't.

So, off to therapy. My therapist is amazing -- a national expert in dissociative disorders (a pretty common psychiatric condition, as it includes post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, suffered by vets and rape victims alike). We tried hypnosis, but it didn't work, and I don't know why. I do get it that someone engineered the fracture into different ego states (a technical term; I'd call them personalities, but I have no idea what that means. I have no idea what "ego states" are either, but at least they're the right label) to protect me, well, all of us, from the unpleasantness of whatever stress we were under. That someone was me as well -- a kind of omniscient engineer of my psyche. Early on in my therapy, this engineer got a name, "Mr. Big." (This was in the mid-90s, so the reference is to a George Raft-type Mafioso character, not Carrie Bradshaw's fella.)

I can tell when a dream has Mr. Big in it because I'll be dreaming of someone very impressive: Tiger Woods, Oprah, Barack Obama. Once Mr. Big was a librarian -- hey, they're impressive too! As far as I can tell, Mr. Big started cracking my consciousness into bite-sized bits early on in my childhood. I almost certainly didn't show up until around age five, and for a while my only role was to go to school and be smart.

The mystery is why, when the reason I had to dissociate left the house, did I get the job of running the corporation full time? Because I knew nothing? That's literally what it felt like to me. It wasn't hard to figure who was the mother, the father, the older sister (although there was that embarrassing Christmas when I didn't know my sister's pet names for me!), etc. I just knew nothing about them. Imagine turning on the TV and there's a movie on that seems really interesting, but you've missed the first half-hour. You can tell what's happening, but there's always some aspect of the plot or the characters that eludes you, is always out of reach. I'll know how my movie ends, but will I ever know how it began?

Okay, back to the point about over-engineering. I can be impressed with what Mr. Big accomplished, but he (she? it?) was still just a little kid. Splitting stuff up so no one part knows the yucky bits was a good move. Getting me to run the show after 1964 was okay, too, I guess. But I'm still driving a circus train with no clue what sort of clowns & critters are in the back. And to top it off, I was the youngest of the bunch. I'm serious -- if I'm right that I showed up around 1961 and all the other ego states were around already, they're all older than me. They are also all still only three or four, or five, or maybe six -- but they were there first.

Now, I don't want to mislead anyone. I don't have active personalities that pop in and out. I don't lose time. I remember everything people say to me, or if I do forget a conversation or the like, it's just because I'm human and not everything makes the same sort of impression. I'm sure there was a time when I did lose time, did get faced with people assuming I knew things I didn't know -- in fact, I can remember some of those panicky situations. But I was seven, or nine, and I just feigned stupidity. Hey, I was the youngest; we're expected to be idiots!

But even if I'm not actively cycling among ego states, I still carry all the scars that come from a childhood dedicated to surviving some horror without knowing what that horror was. The obesity is the worst, but there have been other things. I was for decades one of those "best defense is a good offense" types -- very pushy and know-it-all. I lost a LOT of friends that way, and I miss them. I've been excessively clingy and needy. There are good reasons why I didn't marry until my forties. I've sorted a lot of that stuff out, but the obesity -- that's a really tough nut to crack.

At a guess, I'd say some of my child-like parts feel safer being big. (I was the youngest, remember -- "big" probably means "powerful" in some three-year-old's logic.) It's just so unnecessary these days. Even if monsters lurked under my bed 45 years ago, they're long gone. I can deal with the bad stuff now. I even do legal work in cases with children at risk: incest, rape, physical abuse. You'd think this stuff would make my inner kids antsy, and sometimes it does, but mostly they let me soldier on as a moderately competent lawyer.

[Sidebar: Can I tell you how hard it was when I first graduated as a lawyer -- nearly 40 years old -- and I had to do a full day's work when there wasn't always a full day's worth of work to do and I had bored kids inside my head? See, law firms are not the most efficient structures for motivating staff. Mostly they rely on extreme cases of ambition and greed, with the added buttress of fearing humiliation from a partner. None of which worked on me. Back then, I could work really hard in a genuine emergency; hell, almost all of my studying for final exams was in that category. But my law firm assumed I would work like it was an emergency all the time no matter what, and my inner kids got really really bored. I played a lot of solitaire on the computer that first year, and it didn't much improve over the years. I was NOT a good associate. I'm a lot -- a WAY lot -- better now, particularly because it's only part time.]

So, here we are: I'm about to turn 53, I'm making progress on getting my child parts to let me know what they're feeling (anxiety pretty much 24-7, as it happens), and I'm still fat. I know the equation: eat less, mostly plants, and exercise more. It's pretty simple. The one teensy piece I can't figure out is how to tell a bunch of panicked toddlers and pre-schoolers that we won't die if we weigh way less. I've tried speaking calmly to them, but it's no good. I think it will get good, just not anytime soon.

My lingering question is why Mr. Big -- who constructed this 8-lane highway -- couldn't undo some of his impressive work. I don't need the body equivalent of an 8-lane highway. You're a smart cookie, Mr. Big -- surely there's some way of dealing with that?

There is one quirky possibility. I don't know if I believe it, but it's out there in the literature, so I'll just kick it around. Some people believe that memory can have some link to fat cells. Not sure how that works -- like maybe chemicals are released when the fat cells are shrunken through weight loss -- but the idea is that I'd remember bad bad stuff if I lost a lot of weight. And I think, "Oh, I could handle that, how bad could it be?" but there's a reason I don't the answer to that question. There's a reason I don't remember. There's a reason I wasn't at home for 8 years...

But blogging about this is something I can do. I can assure you, Mr. Big thinks it's okay.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One Dog Night

It's 3.7 degrees F., and falling fast. They (those mysterious people who claim to know these things but so frequently get it just a bit wrong) say it will be in the 40s (F) next week for several days. We hope to get all the snow off the roof that leaked two weeks ago.

What happened was, I glanced up and noticed some stains on the ceiling of the beer hall (it's a pantry, in effect, and it used to house Hub 1.0's beer in the cooler months; it still houses his beer except for times, like now, when we send it all back to Philly with him because it will be a long time before he's up again). I called the stain to Starman's attention, and while we were puzzling it out, it started to rain in the adjacent breakfast area.

It didn't take too long to figure out what was going on -- there is a shallowly-pitched roof over that area, and it had an ice dam. Too many instances of snow mixed with sleet/freezing rain, and not enough instances of us clearing off the roof. Well, poor Starman had to go out and chip away at it, which he was not enthusiastic about doing. In fact, at first he did a couple feet's worth of clearing close to the house (there's a window conveniently located for easy access to this roof) but all that did was move the leak to another part of the roof, so... I threw him out the window again (this time tethered to the house with the sash from my fuzzy robe!) and stood there until he cleared all the ice away.

We'll need to reroof that bit in the spring, putting down one of those self-sealing, impermeable barriers underneath the shingles. But in the meantime we have a roof rake (of potentially limited value as it's designed to be pulled along the roof from below and we're best able to push snow off from above) and some greater knowledge of how all this works.

Incidentally, I understand the economy is in the toilet, but some things never change. I phoned three roofers in our area, left messages at all three regarding our ice dam (this was before we'd fixed it ourselves) and leaking roof, and not one called me back. Silly duffers -- there was real work available from this. I certainly won't be asking any of them to bid on the redo in the spring!

In other leaky news, I was doing our laundry the other day when I pulled a sock up from the space between the washer and the wall. Sopping wet. And mildewy! (Blecch...) But how had it gotten so wet? Come to find out, the waste water pipe -- a bit of PVC that comes out of the wall at the back of the washer -- has cracked inside the dry wall. Every time I do laundry, it releases water, but as I'm a Wear Everything, Then Wash Everything (WETWE) type, the dry wall has a chance to completely dry out between WETWE sessions.

Anyway, it's been over two weeks since that discovery. We've not run out of clean clothes yet, but the plumber hasn't come by and we're not sure when we'll see him. He told me on the phone that he has a house that completely froze up -- heating, water, toilets, showers -- he wasn't sure how much work he'd have to do there before we'd see him. I hope we see him soon; we've got the Coffee Jones/Dino Burger peeps coming in ten days!

Work is okay. Well, actually it sucks for reasons my cannon of ethics won't allow me to discuss. So I'll just say it's okay and leave it at that. I've been sewing a lot, and really ought to take pictures to prove that, but -- and maybe this is the result of the cold, snow & ice -- I don't feel like it.

In fact, we're not feeling the love of our surroundings these days what with all the snow, wood to be chopped & shlepped, cold weather, and icy walkways. It's too soon to think about moving, but it's not too soon to think about thinking about moving. I talked Starman into investing some money into this house with the aim of getting it in prime condition for sale in 10 years or so when we are ready to leave. It's weird to contemplate -- there was a time when I thought I'd live the rest of my life here -- but it's a fairly work-intensive property, and that's not what I want my, uh, autumn years to be like. And the majority of the work falls on Starman, who also isn't looking so happy all day everyday. I know we'll fall in love again in the spring and summer, but I'm determined not to forget what this has been like.

Ah, but we have our health. A cliche, but I didn't want to end this post on a "poor poor pitiful us" note. We're happy with each other, we have good friends and lovely neighbors, and we really have no business complaining about where we live. I just can't see us as seventysomethings managing with wood supplies and the tractor's snowblower/front end loader for snow removal. The prospect of a conventional house with a conventional amount of frontage to be cleared . . . let's just say it has its appeal right about now.