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This evening, I’m fighting several conflicting feelings at the same time. I’ve mentioned in some previous posts my depression, which seems to have suddenly gotten worse over the course of the past week. My usually volatile emotions now have a hair-trigger, at least the negative ones do. It’s gotten bad enough that a couple of days ago my mother asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. If I thought it would help, I would. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation two years ago. So, I know what will happen if I’m hospitalized and it is, at best, a temporary fix. I take my medication. From inside a hospital, I can’t work on the things that are making me depressed in the first place, which is basically the loneliness. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in Baltimore but I know no one here. All the contact I have with people outside of my immediate family is via the internet, which is part of the reason that I go nuts when my connection goes down.  I didn’t get quite so bent out of shape when that happened when I lived in New York.

A few days ago, I read a blog post called “How To Be A Good Depressive Citizen.”

Depression is messy, and ugly, and sticky. You don’t take it out in public until it’s thoroughly sanitized, freeze-dried, and vacuum-packed – or you make yourself a reputation that you don’t want. It is okay to be depressed, even valorous, so long as you never actually demonstrate depression.

Right now, dressed in the blog-equivalent of a crisp business suit, some depressive is blogging as the Good Citizen, tears wiped off of blotched cheeks, a stiff upper lip, toeing the party line that we can all get through this if we just keep swimming. She is an inspiration.

You do not discuss your depression until you can be an inspiration, or you are just fucking crazy.

Nobody likes crazy.

Well, I’ve already discussed my feelings when I’ve been in the throes of a depressive episode, so I guess I’m not a Good Depressive Citizen. Worse yet, I am about to do so again.

Have you ever had that moment in the immediate wake of a highly emotional event and you feel like a little thing in your brain goes “ping?” That intense crisis that make your response to something suddenly switch? Something you liked, you now hate. Something you once could tolerate you can no longer tolerate. You say to yourself, “I will never again do x,” “I will never again love anyone,” “I will never again trust anyone…” Of course, I’ve had responses like this many times in my life and, somehow, by the next morning, I’ve usually gone back to my previous position, loving people, trusting people, or doing whatever it was that I thought I could never do again.

A song by Steely Dan that sometimes makes me feel better has the lines,

Any major dude with half a heart surely with tell you my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the morning it won’t be there no more.

That always seemed to sum up the feeling well. So I write what I’m writing tonight, knowing full well that tomorrow I might feel as I did this morning.

A few days ago, on someone else’s blog, a Christian brought up Thomas Paine and said that on his deathbed he regretted writing The Age of Reason. Being American and a bit of a francophile, it would be hard for me to avoid knowing a little bit about Paine who was active in both the American and French Revolutions and generally considered to have been a Deist. I never read specifically about Paine’s death, I only knew that he had been abandoned by most of his friends in his later years and few people attended his funeral. As someone who stood by his radical convictions through many trials in his life, it did not strike me as plausible that he changed his mind as he was dying. I attempted a quick search on the internet, but most of the websites which came up were Christian, which I didn’t trust. It seems that for plain old historians without an agenda this isn’t an interesting topic. Finally, I found this post on Ask.com.

There are twenty death-bed witnesses, Madame Bonneville, Dr. Romaine, Dr. Manley, Rev. Cunningham, Rev. Milledollar, Mr. Pigott, Mrs. Redden, Willet Hicks, Mrs. Cheeseman, Amasa Woodsworth, Thomas Nixon, Captain Pelton, Walter Morton, Thomas Addis Emmet, Mrs. Few, Albert Gallatin, Mr. Jarvis, B.F. Haskin, Colonel Fellows, and Judge Hertell, many of them Christians, all affirming or admitting that Thomas Paine did not recant.

It was one of those tiresome things that, even while I was doing it, I found myself asking myself, “Why do I care?” However, I know that the radical right has been fabricating a strange view of history and I think that’s unhealthy. For what it’s worth, I’ve never much liked Howard Zinn, seeing him more as a propagandist than an historian. The truth may be difficult to grasp and subject to interpretation, but in order to know where one stands on contemporary issues, it’s important to examine the past. On the other hand, time marches on. We seek to make the world a better place, which is not possible if we think the country should be frozen in amber in 1776 or 1789. It is probably more relevant to know the words and deeds of Thomas Paine in the course of his life and the effect he had on the politics of several countries than to know what his last words were. Still, I decided to make an effort to counter the lie the Christians tell.

Freethought Blogs is a website that hosts the blogs of a score of people. Until recently, Chris Rodda had a blog there. Today it was missing. I wondered what happened to it and I searched on the internet for her name. I had never before taken note of her book Liars for Jesus. She has the introduction and the first several pages of each chapter available on the related website. I drank some coffee and read a little bit. I only got as far as the second chapter before doing other things, however that second chapter was strangely relevant to what happened later that day. By a funny coincidence, the chapter is about the Northwest Ordinance. Before I go further, let me state that I keep on my bookshelf a book called The American Pageant. It is a high school text-book that has been used to teach U.S. History since 1983. I frequently turn to it, not because it is the best book on U.S. History every written, but because it can give me an idea of the “standard” narrative. This and other U.S. History books have been criticized by the left for ethnocentrism. The American Pageant is a broad survey and covers very little in depth. I can’t imagine a class that wouldn’t supplement it with many other items. However, here is what it has to say on the Northwest Ordinance.

While still British colonies, several states-to-be were given “sea to sea” charters, while others had much more limited lands. The states that had claims to lands far to the west were Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states without Western claims were New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. At the end of the Revolution, the new States each found itself burdened with debt.

A major complaint was that the land-blessed states could sell their trans-Allegheny tracts, and thus pay off pensions and other debts incurred in the common cause. The states without such holdings would have to tax themselves heavily to defray these obligations. Why not turn the whole western area over to the central government?

Unanimous approval of the Articles of Confederation by the thirteen states was required , and landless Maryland stubbornly held out until March 1, 1781. She finally gave in when New York surrendered her western claims, and Virginia seemed about to do so. To sweeten the pill, Congress pledged itself to dispose of these vast areas for the “common benefit.” It further agreed to carve from the new public domain a number of “republican” states, which in time would be admitted to the Union on terms of complete equality with all the others. This pledge was later redeemed in the famed Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The book then goes on to talk ever so briefly of the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Then it notes two effective laws that were passed during that period, The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

This law came to grips with the notion of how a nation should deal with its colonial peoples…. The solution provided by the Ordinance was a judicious compromise” temporary tutelage, then permanent equality.

The book as very little more to say on the subject beyond a celebratory line about the “unstinted praise” deserved by the “wisdom of Congress,” probably exactly the sort of language the gets the book a thumbs-down from the left.

Since Rodda only gives the first four pages of the chapter on the internet, I was not able to read her entire version, not that it mattered. I was just engaging in a little idle reading while waiting for the wash cycle to be done so I could transfer my laundry to the dryer.

In her introduction, which I basically skimmed because it bored me a little, she writes about how she came to decide to write the book Liars for Jesus. She writes how she followed a link in a story. “Little did I know that when I clicked on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history.”

I haven’t had one watershed moment, but for the past year, since I’ve been blogging and engaging with people on the internet more frequently than in the past, I am beginning to realize the same thing.

Then I went back to the Freethought Blogs site, and I happened to see a post that mentioned that May 1 was the “National Day of Prayer,” something I had never heard of, nor had my mother when I brought it up to her this evening.

Earlier today, I put up a very short post noting that, although today was a “National Day of Prayer,” I wouldn’t be praying. I didn’t offer any opinion about whether or not the designation was constitutional or not. My laundry was in the dryer. As soon as it was out, I was going to jump in the shower, throw on my clothes and meet my mother for our workout at the gym. I went on to do other things, but checked my computer again because someone owes me an email. There was a comment from a Christian who frequents atheist blogs seeming to pick fights. I have learned to avoid him. He says strange things about U.S. History the source of which is unknown to me, but frequently is quite far afield from anything resembling what I learned in high school. It’s one thing to argue with someone about interpretation. It is quite tedious when the other person seems to possess their own private set of facts.

I guess it’s hard to argue with the statement, “I did not pray today.” Despite the fact that I never brought up whether or not the National Day of Prayer was constitutional, this commenter went on a strange rant about the Northwest Ordinance. I would have had no clue what he was talking about if I hadn’t by chance just read portions Rodda’s book earlier that day. I dislike this person. He is very aggressive and has said vulgar, unkind things to me in the past. I have countered with my own unkind statements, and now avoid him. I dislike him so much that I sometimes avoid commenting on blogs where he might show up because I don’t want to have an argument with him. He frequently cites U.S. History, but not any history I ever learned, but his own Alice through the Looking Glass version. I thought about going back to Rodda’s site and responding to his argument. One thing I do not like to do is to allow factual inaccuracies to go unchallenged in comments. Not because I want to have an argument, but because I do not want to lead people astray. I do not want my blog to be used to spread known falsehoods. Then the timer I had set for the dryer went off.

I ran down to the laundry room and came back unsure of what to do. My blood pressure mounting by the second. Feeling like I was going to have a stroke, I wanted to delete his comment, explain why I deleted it, but since he is very aggressive in his argument I wanted to block him from commenting. I’ve only done that once before and I couldn’t recall how to do that. My mind clouded by anger, I tried searching, but felt that the words were swimming before my eyes. My mother was waiting for me. I took down the post and wrote the “I Hate Christians.” Quite obviously, that is an outburst. I can’t decide whether or not to take it down, now that I’m calmer. Maybe it’s good for Christians to see what their inability to be civil reduces people to.

And this is where I feel like my mind went “ping.” I’ve never considered myself an anti-theist, just an atheist. I’ve always tried to be an atheist who gets along well with religious neighbors. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we can’t “coexist.” Some people make the argument that religion will always lead down this path. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to blow-up a school.

And this is where I become a bad depressive citizen. All evening, the same subject has been swirling around in my mind. Why do I bother? I virtually ooze privilege.  I look white, I was raised middle class and have a middle class accent, I got a reasonably solid secondary education, I have a B.A., I’ve been enrolled in Master’s programs, I have a successful supportive sister who is married to a supportive man, my mother tries to be supportive in her own way, I grew up with a really nice father who is unfortunately now deceased, I’m able-bodied, highly intelligent, in good health and very pretty according to standard norms of beauty when I bother to fix myself up a bit. Except for the fact that I’m female, petite and now middle-aged, I really exist in a surprisingly comfortable world. Why should I care about anybody else? Let’s face it, it has absolutely no impact on me if someone in Oklahoma teaches their kids Creationism. Mainly, Christians want to hobble their own children. Why am I fighting?

Then I thought to myself, “You can still write what you think, just turn off the comments.” Then I remember how isolated I am here in this town and maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.

I could only write about things that don’t bring contentious people to my blog and start avoiding other people’s blogs, something I’ve already started to do.

Then I have other moments when I think about the frustration I’ve felt the past few days and feel that I should instead make my blog about U.S. History to counter the falsehoods. Then I think again and I feel exhausted at the notion. If it were my job, that would be one thing, but it would be a full-time job to even make a dent in it.

Then I get angry at Christians again. Where are the moderate Christians? Where are the people who are always bothering atheists that we haven’t thought about sophisticated notions of theology? They’re always up for an argument when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God.” Why do I rarely (not never, I should point out) see them arguing with their fundamentalist coreligionists.

Then we get the people who are just out to lunch, like my mother. Honestly, I don’t mean anything against my mother, but a couple of weeks ago she wanted to talk about that missing plane and yesterday she wanted to talk about the racist basketball team owner.

I feel exhausted, I feel defeated, I feel alone in this fight and I would rather not care. Now, if I can only succeed in not caring.

So maybe I should just cocoon myself in my privilege and keep in mind that all of this has comparatively little tangible effect on me.

Before I say anything, I need to apologize for having such petty problems. I feel like an asshole for having the degree of internal angst that I have over problems that are so small. I’m entirely aware that there are people who are hungry, people who are homeless, people who are sick with physically painful illnesses, and I feel that I have no right to be so miserable over things in my life that are so comparatively small. But still, it’s there. I am miserable, miserable enough to start my morning swallowing an Ativan with my coffee. I don’t like taking the Ativan because it makes me feel sluggish and taking one in the morning is especially bad. However, it keeps me from having a full-blown anxiety attack, the kind where I start acting out and do weird things that I regret when I calm down.

One of my problems is that I’m lonely. Now lonely isn’t dying, but sometimes if feels like it is. The other problems, well they’re the petty sort of problems that don’t deserve a blog post, but I have no one to tell, so I guess I’ll put it on the internet and tell anyone who’s listening.

First of all, I’m a slob, not so much the dirty kind, but the disorganized kind. When things get disorganized enough, then my place may start getting dirty too, but my principal problem is disorganization.

Several years ago, I had to leave New York City because my income had stagnated and my rent and my health insurance kept rising. Eventually, I was priced out of the place in which I’d been living. I needed to make a change. My career, if my life’s hodgepodge of unrelated jobs can be dignified with that word, had stalled. I enrolled in a Master’s Degree program in Computer Science in the hope of straightening it out and moved in with my sister, which definitely relieved my rent problems.

My sister has been living in Baltimore for the past thirty years. She came here to go to college and never left. She’s married and she and her husband own a large house with a spare room and they did their best to make me feel welcome and comfortable. So I put most of my possessions in boxes. I was coming from a small Manhattan apartment, so there wasn’t too much. Years earlier, I learned that my disorganization meant that it was better if I owned less rather than more. Still, there was stuff and that stuff went into boxes. Occasionally, while I was at my sister’s I would need an item that was in a box. The box would dutifully be hauled out, actually, several boxes. I would rummage through the boxes looking for the item, and then the box would go in the corner.

Finally, we agreed that although it was economical to live at my sister’s place, it was awkward for me. As a temporary move it was good, but after a year and a half, I wanted to have what felt like a life again. There was something so contingent and unsettled about living in her spare room and having most of my possessions in cardboard boxes. I was living in Baltimore, but it felt so temporary. She lives in a suburban section on the edge of town and without a car I felt trapped in the house.

So I got a condo closer to the center of town. Baltimore is a city full of row houses. As a single woman living alone, I didn’t want a whole house, just an apartment. That meant there weren’t many choices about where to live. There are some nice condos down near the harbor, but they’re comparatively pricey, well, pricey for Baltimore. So I moved into a condo just north of Johns Hopkins University, right at the point where the urban density of the city changes to a suburban environment. Although I thought it was an urban area when I moved here, I’m more car dependent than I hoped. For the first few months here, I didn’t have a car and I felt trapped. I now have a cute little economy car which I happen to like, although I still don’t like driving. That was the reason I moved to New York City in the first place, because you can have a full life there without a car. Most of the rest of the country is not like that, Baltimore included.

The place wasn’t quite a “fixer-upper”, but it definitely needed repairs. Had it been a house rather than I condo, I’m sure that it would have been a fixer-upper. I shouldn’t complain about the condition too much because I had a tight budget. It’s an inherently nice apartment in a frankly elegant building that is noted for its architecture in a nice, if stuffy, neighborhood. Had it been in good shape, I could have never afforded it. A few repairs and I could easily sell it for more than I paid, so there’s the nice assurance of not being “under water.”

But those repairs. Throughout the period I was describing I began falling into a depression. There were several stages to the decline and if things had gone right rather than wrong at several junctures, I think I could have avoided a full-blown depressive episode of the sort that wound me up in the hospital.

There were several things I knew I had to do. One was taking up the worn, ugly vinyl sheet flooring in the kitchen which I replaced with linoleum tile. Next was refinishing the hardwood floors. This turned out to be a disaster. The concrete slab floors are covered with hard wood parquet tiles. These are very common in buildings in Manhattan built in the 50s and 60s and I’ve spent much of my adult life in apartments with floors like this and visiting friends with similar floors. I refinished a floor once and it was a big job. My thought here was that before I moved in, I would hire a professional to refinish the floors while the apartment was empty.

First, however, we discovered a problem we didn’t know we had when we bought it. The heating/cooling units did not work. They had to be replaced for quite a lot of money, thousands of dollars. It was now summertime and the large windows resulted in a lot of solar gain. The architectural masterpiece was built in 1959. If you know a little about architecture history of the period, this was the era in which Le Corbusier said that the world should be eighteen degrees. This was long before the oil crisis, long before Chernobyl, people were optimistic about the possibilities enabled by modern technology and they built buildings that were heavily dependent on it. Without air-conditioning and elevators this building is simply unlivable. The apartment was broiling hot and no work could be done until the hvac units were fixed.

It took some time, but after a few weeks that was done. It wasn’t cheap, but I do have to say that the company was competent, perhaps the only competent people I’ve met in Baltimore.

There were two things I wanted to get done before moving my possessions into the apartment. One was painting the walls and the other was refinishing the floors, two things that are infinitely easier to do in an empty space. I used to work as a decorative painter and normally would do any painting myself. However, my sister said that I should just make life easy for myself and hire some people to do it for me so I could get going on other things. It sounded reasonable. One upside of the apartment having been owned by an elderly woman who didn’t really take care of it is that there wasn’t a lot of thick, bad paint jobs. This had to be the world’s easiest paint assignment. A modern apartment without a lot of nooks and crannies, smooth flat walls and not much in the line of woodwork or moldings. The job also required some wallpaper removal in the bathroom and the removal of a wallpaper border along the ceiling in the bedroom.

First of all, they didn’t remove the wall paper. They painted right over it. The paint hasn’t adhered properly and in the bathroom it is literally sliding off the paper. The painting itself is among the sloppiest I’ve ever seen in my life. Even though most of the hardware hadn’t been painted in the past, they didn’t take it off before painting as I had asked. Nor did they tape it, or even make an attempt to paint around it neatly. On one knob on a cabinet, they slopped paint on it at one point, yet failed to cover all of the previous paint at another point on the other side of the knob. They clearly just swirled around it quickly with a brush like they didn’t give a damn. Same around switch plates, towel racks, etc. Considering that the modern apartment had so few features like this… well why go on, it’s clear they were incompetent and didn’t give a shit. The painters had come recommended by a contractor friend of a friend. It’s not as if I had tried to hire the cheapest people out there. Fixing the paint job will take more effort than simply painting it myself would, far more effort. Taking off wallpaper is enough of a pain. Taking off wallpaper that someone has painted over strikes me as a nightmare. I’m not even sure how to do that. Plus, I now have to scrape off all the drips. Even worse, they must have used a 3/4 inch nap roller cover. The previously smooth walls are now covered with those thick bumps and there’s those ridges someone gets when the paint spreads out along the edge of the roller and the person painting is a total incompetent who’s not paying attention and doesn’t go back over it to smooth it out. These ridges are all over the place and they make me angry every time I see them, which is several times a day. I don’t know what to do with this awful paint job. I feel at a total loss. Can a bad paint job drive someone into a depression? There are days that I think about how much I hate my life and I want to get out of this crummy little city. I think to myself, I’ll just sell the fucking condo and go somewhere else, anywhere. Then I think that I have to finish fixing up the things I started. Then I think of the paint job and I feel trapped. I hate this city, I hate this apartment and I hate the fucking painters who ruined it.

Next, the floor. Even more so than painting, refinishing the floor before moving in makes so much sense. Refinishing the floor was not a choice. It was a necessity, one that I was aware of before buying the place. Some idiot, in the great Baltimore tradition of total incompetence, put down a coat of polyurethane without wondering what might already be on the floor. It was probably a Swedish finish. In any case, the polyurethane didn’t adhere and it has been coming up in spots over time. It looks like there are pieces of old cellophane tape scattered all over the floor. They stick to my feet and I have to brush them off my clothes. I’ve even picked some out of my food on several occasions. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once, when I was twenty-three or twenty-four and I found a reasonably priced apartment in Manhattan in “as is” condition, I refinished a floor, but I’m going on fifty and this just seemed like a job for a professional. So we call the company in town that everyone recommended, whose website advertises how they repair and refinish floors in historic houses, etc., etc. Certainly, my nineteen fifties parquet tile should be nothing for them. After all, I’d seen floors like this my whole life. It’s not particularly unique. Well, never underestimate the ability for someone from Baltimore to be totally incompetent.

So they came in with great big sanding machines and they noticed that some of the floor tiles were loose. They decided to try it anyway. When the turned on the sander, the tiles started flying up. They said they couldn’t do it. They recommended that we replace the floor with new hardwood flooring. Oh, and by the way, they no longer make the parquet flooring that’s in the apartment, so I’d have to choose something else. That would be a little over a thousand square feet because the floor covers the entire apartment, there is no saddle or other divisions between the rooms and it even goes into the closets. I said, “No thank you. I can’t afford that and I want to keep the current look of the apartment.” Damn, I chose the fucking place because it’s beautiful. In fact, I’d been resisting the urge to do a complete period restoration, but I really don’t want to change anything that’s already here. I just need something to fix this crummy peeling top coat of polyurethane. Ironically, the floors wouldn’t even be that bad if it wasn’t for that, which unfortunately can’t be ignored, although I’ve been ignoring it for nearly three years now, or trying to anyway.

So, Lady Baltimore, the incompetent floor refinishing company, left with one big bald blond mark in the middle of the dark floor of one of the rooms. So we couldn’t just fucking leave it. My sister and I got down on our hands and our knees and sanded and finished the floor. It took about a week and it was only the bedroom, perhaps one fifth or one sixth of the total surface are that would have to be refinished.

a parquet tiled wood floor

I’m actually pretty happy with the result in this one room, but it took two of us working full-time for a full week and my sister has a demanding full-time job. There was no professional we could hire to do anything like what we did, and we called a few others, and we couldn’t take the time to do it. Professionals have sanders that can be operated standing up. Doing it with a little hand sander on our knees was murder. I was not about to do the rest of the apartment. So, the bedroom floor no longer matches the floor in the rest of the apartment which as the crummy, peeling polyurethane on it.

an empty room

The big pale spot in the center of the picture is the test area the professionals did before deciding that I needed an entire new floor.

I mentioned resisting the urge to restore the place back to 1959, but one thing I did attempt to do was to find old Uniline bakelite switch plates and outlet covers. I tried buying some on Ebay, but they never arrived. Just one more little thing. Not a big one really, but there are days that is seems that this entire project is just cursed.

So, that was three years ago. Moving day came and the walls were still a mess and the floor was still not finished. I moved my stuff in, but somehow I never got settled. I began sliding into a depression. I did do a few more things. I found someone to put a linoleum floor in the kitchen and the same person built cabinets for the bathroom because that was broken. For what it’s worth, I love the kitchen cabinets which are original to the building. I see many of my neighbors have been ripping them out, which I think is a shame. Sometimes I think people should have to take an architecture quiz before being allowed to renovate.

Is there something wrong with me? I think these cabinets look great.

Is there something wrong with me? I think these cabinets look great.

So, at some point, I just gave up. That was two or three years ago. Then the other day, my mother gave me a little pep talk. She joined the gym to which I’d been going and we went there together. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve really let myself go since moving here. It’s hard to explain. I didn’t suddenly become obese, but I’m terribly out of shape, so I’m happy to have someone come to the gym with me and keep me company. Her little pep talk went something along the lines of, “Before you can help anyone else, you need to take care of yourself. Just take care of yourself. Eat the diet you want to eat and everyone else can mind their own business. Do want you need to do to feel happy.”

Then I started explaining how I felt that I couldn’t get out of my own way, how as soon as I fixed one thing, something else started falling apart around me, that there were so many things to be fixed that I didn’t know where to start and I was overwhelmed, that I was still, nearly three years after moving in to my current apartment, living out of boxes. I said that I knew it was a fantasy, but I just wanted to wipe the slate clean and start over again in an apartment that was clean and where nothing was broken and with the body I had three years ago.

I tried to give her an example of how I get overwhelmed. In the sitting room, there is a built-in cabinet with bookshelves. It’s not original to the building and it’s ugly. However, I thought I could paint it and make it acceptable because it is handy. The interior was obviously meant to house a television back when they were bulkier items than they are today and it had a little sliding platform. Three years ago, I thought that I could rearrange the shelves and put my old stereo equipment that I bought back in the late eighties in it. The little sliding platform would be convenient for the turntable. When I first moved in, I put it in there to get it out of the way, however although there was an electrical outlet inside the cabinet, I couldn’t use the equipment because I needed to drill a hole in one of the shelves to run the wires through to hook up the equipment. No big deal. So, one day, shortly after moving in, I decide to tackle drilling some holes in the shelf. Well, damn, I don’t know what on earth that shelf was made from, but it was the hardest material I ever tried to drill and I could not do it. My sister said that she had friends with more serious power tools than we have, so she took the shelf and put it in the trunk of her car with the intention of asking someone for help. That was two and a half years ago. In the meantime, I got the urge to listen to some music, and I cleared some books off of the shelves and put the stereo equipment on top of the cabinet, half sticking out of the book shelf. Now the books are all over the floor – and have been for two and a half years. Several times, I’ve suggest just cutting a new board out of plywood since that old one is so impossible to cut. However, I live in an apartment and I don’t drive on highways, so I’m dependent on someone else to help me with this. All I wanted was a 26 inch by 19 inch board of a suitable thickness for a shelf. At the same time, I didn’t know how much effort I wanted to expend on this because, after all, who the hell listens to cassette tapes and vinyl records anymore. However, I have them. In fact, this is a puzzle to me. How do people listen to music these days? What kind of equipment do I need? I have stuff on vinyl, cassettes, cds, mp3s. I want to some how rationalize all this. To make it functional and not so awkward and inconvenient to use. I have no way of listening to mp3s, so I stopped purchasing any. At some point, I’m going to need to figure this out.

So, my mother said, “Why don’t you make that a project.”

But then, I mentioned to my mother, that I’ve been hesitant to make any moves because what’s been happening is that I try to do something and then I can’t finish it immediately for some reason, and it never gets finished and it never gets put away and my place just gets more disorganized and messier. In the mean time, I’m drowning in disorganization. I just want to put my stereo inside the cabinet and pick the books up off the floor and be able to listen to music and worry about upgrading to a more contemporary system at my leisure.

She asked, “What do you need to do that?”

I said, “I need to drill a hole in the shelf that’s in the back of Sissy’s car, or I need to get a piece of plywood that’s the same width and an inch or two shorter in depth.”

She said, “Would you like me to drive you to Home Depot and you can get some plywood cut to size.”

Of course, I said yes. “This is good,” I said. “We can get this done today and I won’t be making a bigger mess.”

So, we go to Home Depot, buy a piece of plywood and get it cut to size. We get a bite to eat and my mother drops me off at my place with the plywood. Yippee! Almost.

I get home and start measuring the height of the turntable with the dust cover open and try to figure out at what height to put the shelf. It had previously simply been resting on some screws and I figured I’d just move the screws to the appropriate height. Then I realize, the board is too short. I measure it. It’s twenty-five inches. Later I confer with my mother and she agrees that I said twenty-six. It seems that the guy at Home Depot cut it to the wrong size. That’s too much of a gap to have it resting on screws. I’m going to have to go back to the hardware store and I wasn’t able to achieve my absurdly simple goal of moving the shelf and putting the stereo equipment in the cabinet and putting the books back on the shelves.

So, I woke up this morning and it was as I predicted. My attempt to make my apartment more organized and neater has made it messier. The board is on the floor, as is the turntable. There are screws and a screwdriver on the coffee table. The toolbox is sitting in the hallway, and of course the books are still on the floor where they’ve been for over two years. And I just started hyperventilating and having the urge to run away, just pack a suitcase and get on a train and go anywhere. I took an Ativan instead.

And I feel like an asshole and a jerk for making such a big deal out of a minor thing.

A few years ago, I attempted a career change. After taking classes in a variety of fields, sensible fields where jobs were available, I found that I loved programming and I had a knack for it. When I discovered that I loved programming I was first elated, then deflated. I tried to explain to a friend the discouragement that kicked in. I said, “No one’s going hire a middle-aged, female newbie programmer.”

My tall, wealthy Wasp male friend said to me, “That’s the depression talking.”

I said, “No, that’s just reality. Perhaps ‘no one’ is an exaggeration, but I have a couple of strikes against me in being hired and it would be counter-productive to close my eyes to that.”

Several times in posts I’ve thrown out the line, “Can I have a job?” Like many of my jokes, it’s based in reality. The only part of it that’s a joke is that I don’t actually expect an offer this way. I’ve had jobs, but never one that was the beginning of a career. They were always the dead-end type, data entry clerk, accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerk, receptionist, straight hourly wage, no benefits, no paid holidays, no insurance. For many years in my twenties I would regularly go on job interviews, constantly in search of that “entry-level” job. When I complained about my lack of a career, older family friends would say, “You can’t start at the top,” as if I was complaining about not being the CEO. I didn’t want to start at the top, I just wanted to be on the first rung of something that was actually a ladder, not a step-stool. Where does the career path of a receptionist go? Nowhere. There is nothing past receptionist. You don’t work your way up to anything. Sure, the research assistants and editorial assistants in the offices weren’t getting paid any better, but they had a future.

I would apply for those jobs and never get them. Sometimes, I wish I had some insight as to why. Once I applied for the job of editorial assistant, or whatever they called their entry-level position, at Reuters. The woman in the H.R. department who interviewed me looked me up and down. “We have a receptionist position open,” she said brightly. I rose and said thank-you and good-bye and tried to get out of there fast enough so no one would see me cry. Why was I always being pigeon holed into these low-level jobs? More than one person did it, many in fact, so it probably wasn’t a fluke.

Earlier, in school, I had been a good student, the kind who everyone thinks has a bright future ahead of her. My sessions with my guidance counselor generally included him shrugging and saying, “Well, you can do anything you want to do,” or “You can go to any college you want to go to.” I graduated from high school early.

I did drop out of college and finished my degree by going part-time while I worked. Although that definitely got me off the “fast track” I had been on, it shouldn’t have derailed my ability to have any kind of career whatsoever. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that had I graduated on time I wouldn’t have had greater difficulty with HR departments in comparison to my peers.

Over the years, I’ve developed great anxiety at the thought of a job interview. Even those low-level jobs came mostly through acquaintances. I never found a job by applying to an ad in the paper, although I’ve been interviewed for many.

I thought of this after reading an article in the New York Times Magazine about “the marshmallow experiment.”

In a series of famous experiments in the 1960s and ’70s conducted by the Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, preschoolers were invited to sit alone in a room furnished only with a small desk. On the desk sat two marshmallows (or equivalently tempting treats) and a bell. The researcher told each child that he had to leave, but that when he returned, she could eat both marshmallows. If she wanted one marshmallow before then, however, she could ring the bell and eat one, but not both. Then the researcher shut the door, leaving the child alone with the forbidden marshmallows.

Some children gobbled a marshmallow the minute the door was closed, while others distracted themselves by covering their eyes, singing and kicking the desk. One resourceful child somehow managed to take a nap. But here’s the part that made the experiment famous: In follow-up studies, children who had resisted temptation turned out years later to be not only skinnier and better socially adapted, but they also scored as much as 210 points higher on their SATs than the most impatient children in the studies did.

The writer describes it as a Calvinist fable. At four years old we can determine if we are on of the elect. The irony for me is that I am absolutely certain that as a child I would not have eaten the marshmallow. I know this because for all of my childhood and much of my adult life I’ve had a reputation for having great willpower and being very responsible. In recent years, with the arrival of my depression, those qualities have declined, although they haven’t disappeared altogether.

Just last year, a study by researchers at the University of Rochester called the conclusions of the Stanford experiments into question, showing that some children were more likely to eat the first marshmallow when they had reason to doubt the researcher’s promise to come back with a second one. In the study, published in January 2013 in Cognition under the delectable title “Rational Snacking,” Celeste Kidd, Holly Palmeri and Richard N. Aslin wrote that for a child raised in an unstable environment, “the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed,” while a child raised in a more stable environment, in which promises are routinely delivered upon, might be willing to wait a few more minutes, confident that he will get that second treat.

So, I ask myself, how did I go from a marshmallow abstainer to a marshmallow swallower?

My childhood was fairly stable and relatively happy and I’m sure I would have believed any adult who said that I could have two marshmallows in the future. Even throughout most of my high school years, while things became more difficult, there was a high correlation in my case between effort and reward. I did have one high school teacher give me a low grade for rejecting his sexual advances, but the general impression was that this man was a horrible exception. All my other grades were good, my standardized test scores were high, and this person did not impede me in any way.

However, during adulthood, all connection between effort and reward has been severed. For decades, I continued to behave as if the connection was still there. Maybe, I thought, like that high school teacher, I may have had a bit of bad luck, but my general sense that the overall world functioned and was more or less just remained intact. If I kept trying one day my ship would come in.

I no longer believe that. I haven’t yet worked up the heart to actually apply for a programming job. One of the reasons I spent so many years self-employed is that the idea of a job interview now causes me tremendous anxiety. I see job interviews as an elaborate charade at best, and a form of emotional abuse at worst. It’s as if the researcher in the marshmallow test would come in and say to the waiting child. “Ha! Ha! You’re an idiot. No marshmallows for you.” I fear being on an interview for a programming job and having an HR person say to me, “You know, we have a receptionist position open.” If that were to happen again, I wouldn’t be able to control myself before leaving the office and I think I’d start sobbing right then and there.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression, my parents were both pretty good about most things. However, I spoke to my sister on the phone today and she reminded me that our mother had once been anorexic. That’s easy for me to forget because for most of my life she’s been obese. She has told us many times that she feels that she suffers from an eating disorder.

The poem by Philip Larkin that I quoted in the title goes on to say

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

For most of my adult life, I had a BMI of approximately 20. Unlike my mother, I was never anorexic. I first started dieting at about the age of twelve. As far as I know, I was not officially overweight and the doctor had said nothing. I dieted for my appearance. That began years of being obsessed with my weight. Although I was not anorexic, I do think I suffered from what is called body dysmorphia. I wore a size zero dress and a size two pant, but I thought I still needed to lose weight and felt ugly. I weighed myself everyday and kept a diary tracking my weight. I could probably tell you my weight at any given life milestone. How much I weighed the day I met my ex-husband, when I graduated from college, when I got married, and so on.

My blood pressure was eighty over sixty and I would get dizzy if I stood up too quickly. Probably I never became anorexic because the symptoms of low blood pressure would become problematic when I dropped below one hundred and eight or nine pounds.

Although I’ve never been diagnosed with body dysmorphia, I have been diagnosed with some of the illnesses with which it is associated, general anxiety, social anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. I was hospitalized for a major depressive episode about two years ago. My mother, of course, knows about the hospitalization.

A few years ago, before I got depressed, I made a resolution to stop weighing myself daily. Somehow, one day I woke up and looked at my behavior and said to myself, “This is a little too much. This isn’t healthy.” Since then, I’ve been trying to detach my sense of self from my weight. My “beauty strike” came a couple of years after I stopped weighing myself on a daily basis. I stopped taking an interest in my appearance after I got depressed and asked people, including my mother, not to talk to me about it. Part of the idea behind the beauty strike in the first place was to attempt to distinguish between how I wanted to look and how other people wanted me to look. Within the past few months, I’ve started to be interested my appearance again. In a way, this is one of the most vulnerable moments for me. Far more vulnerable than the turning inward that the strike represented. I should have known better than to involve my mother.

One thing you may have noticed is that I haven’t said a word about health other than mental health. It must be understood that all this dieting as been entirely about appearance. I may very well be healthier now than when I was thinner and I am not medically obese now. I actually exercise more now. I was not thin because I exercised. I was thin because I didn’t eat.

When I first started this blog, I said I was going to post everyday, which I have more or less done. As I explained it back then, if I only posted when I thought I had something to say that was interesting or valuable to other people, after half-a-dozen posts this would quickly become another zombie blog. So, I more or less accepted that it’s okay to be me in public, even when I’m not feeling especially witty or clever, or even strong. This isn’t a c.v. I’m not trying to impress anyone.

One of the lousy things about having had a clinical depressive episode, is that you no longer feel blue for more than a day or so without worrying whether or not you’re falling back into a depression. I’m still having the emotional fallout over the online near-argument that I wrote about yesterday. I moved away from New York City a few years ago and I don’t really have much of a life down here, which is one of the reasons I have the time to blog so much in the first place. Perhaps it would have been just as bad had I stayed in New York. Ironically, my closest friend fell into a bad depression about a decade ago. What happens when people get depressed is that they become protective of their own emotions. When they feel that there’s something that could trigger a bad episode they withdraw. So, he’s not always available when I need to talk, even if he’d like to be. My next closest friend lives in Germany and he also suffers from depression. In his case, he hasn’t had a bad episode in years and he’s much more stable. Yet, he too can be unreliable. If I write and tell him it’s urgent, he’ll write back, but I know it will take a toll on him emotionally and I try not to do it too often. I just did it last week, so I’m resisting the urge to cry on his shoulder so soon again.

I’ve always been an intellectually engaged person, with a particular interest in what we can broadly call current events, and, yes, when I read about things I acquire facts and form opinions.

Some people enjoy fights. I don’t. I never did. Even when I was emotionally healthy I didn’t enjoy it. It’s probably one of the things that has kept me from being more engaged in the issues I care about. It’s even worse now. Like my two depressed friends, I need to protect myself emotionally. I can’t put myself in a place where something might occur that will trigger a depression. If you haven’t been depressed, you won’t understand and you’ll think it’s melodramatic. If you have, you know that it’s a matter of survival. So I find myself continually plumbing the depths of my emotions, asking myself, “Are we in too deep yet?”

Perhaps if I had been less intellectual in the first place, less ethical, less of a, frankly, a prig, this might be less of an issue. One of my sister’s first clients when she started working with the intellectually disabled was a former engineer who had suffered from a closed head injury. She said working with him was far harder than working with people who had been born developmentally disabled. He was angry. He lacked the coping skills that someone who was born that way would have had. He could no longer do the things he used to enjoy. His hobbies and past times were no longer within his grasp and he didn’t have any new ones.

So, if you’re an emotionally vulnerable person, do you stop ever disagreeing? If someone lies, do you just smile and nod? Should I turn this into yet one more blog about recipes and cute cats?

In the past, I’ve wondered why so many internet atheists are so damned contentious. Back when I used to frequent Atheist Nexus, another woman who had also been raised in an irreligious environment and I had a private conversation about that. My guess is that if you don’t enjoy arguing, you just smile and nod. I think there are tons of secret non-believers out there who don’t have the wherewithal to have that particular fight.

Although I never enjoyed it, I once had the wherewithal for issues important to me. I’m no longer sure I do. What to do?

Sometimes, I intentionally don’t tag my posts because I don’t want to attract trolls.

Worse, sometimes I don’t write about certain subjects.

As I said at the outset of this blog, I’ve been posting every day because in the past, when I’ve started blogs, I’ve posted lots and lots at first and then slowly taper off until I have one of those zombie blogs. I may still have two zombie blogs here on WordPress. So I post something, anything, every day – even if it’s just a picture. Today, I’m feeling too blue even for a picture post.

The post I’m planning on putting up on Wednesday is about getting my hair cut in seventh grade. That sounds really trivial, but it fact it was a turning point in my adolescence because, quite accidentally, I stumbled on the trick to being “cool” rather than a “nerd.” You see, I suffer from mild social anxiety, although I didn’t know it for most of my life because I was able to cover it up successfully. I thought everyone was just a little bit nervous in social situations. I would have put myself in the “slightly shy and certainly introspective” category rather than the “gregarious and outgoing” category, but I believed that I still fell somewhere on the continuum of what most people would consider normal.

I handled social situations by over preparing and bracing for the worst. I’d do my makeup and my hair. I’d choose my clothes carefully. I’m not much for the consumer mentality, but I am very visual and I think I frequently succeeded in looking quite stylish, yet not unoriginal. I’d agonize about going and finally I’d force myself out of the house because I was already showing up a little bit later than was polite. I’d take a deep breath and walk into the room. It could be a classroom or a party. The dynamic was pretty much the same. I’d battle my instinct to slink along the wall like a scared cat. I’d walk into the room, moving close to the center although I usually couldn’t bring myself to actually inject myself into a conversation. Then I’d stand there with my shoulders back and my chin up as if I were defiantly facing a firing squad. What did I get as a reward for a my bravery? People would think I was stuck-up and a snob.

That’s not as bad an outcome as you might think. I learned very young that most people don’t exercise judgement very well, and it’s especially poor in groups. People value things because they see social cues telling them that something is valuable. By accidentally acting as if I thought I was too good for everyone else, other people would perceive me as having something of value. I didn’t need to approach people because they approached me. Of course, every minute of waiting for someone to approach is like dying a million little deaths in my mind. Consequently, I do not choose to go to any and all parties. I pick ones which offer a high return on investment. In some sort of virtuous circle, I appear to other people as picky.

Still, I’ve never ceased being nervous. People saw me as confident and self-possessed. Meanwhile, inside I was a basket-case.

What does this have to do with not feeling like posting? Because time doesn’t work on the internet the way it does in the flesh. In the real world, I’m not up for an argument all the time. When I am, I steal myself for it, so to speak. If I’m feeling vulnerable, or blue, or especially shy, I don’t engage. However, on the internet, you can put up a comment on a day when you’re feeling strong, or silly, or friendly and you might get a response when you’re in a totally differently state of mind.

So someone made me cry this morning. This is not the first time this has happened within the past couple of weeks. I find myself hesitating to comment on other people’s blogs. Most of the people I meet online,I like. I don’t especially want to withdraw, but I’m feeling very conflicted about my presence in certain places.

On the plus side, it’s caused me to try to be a little more sensitive to other people’s feeling when I make comments online.

Anyhow, that’s my post for today.