Sunday, November 17, 2019

An Update on the Good, the Bad, and the Blah

The first day of our Jewish Information Class
You've probably noticed that I'm not writing as many blog posts lately. Don't worry: I'm still here, and still kicking, if only metaphorically. I thought I'd give you a little update on why you've been seeing less of me these days. Some of the reasons are good, some are bad, and some are just kind of blah.

First of all, Beau and I are taking a course in Judaism at our local, Reform synagogue. It's called a Jewish Information class, but, in fact, it's meant to give students enough knowledge that they can then decide if they'd like to convert to Judaism. This was Beau's idea, which surprised me, but also made me happy. I'm not someone to push my faith on anyone, but it is pretty special to be able to share it with the person I love.

Judaism is matrilineal, so, technically, because my father was Jewish but my mother is not, I have to convert, even though I've been "doing Jewish" for about 25 years. I've always wanted to make my Judaism official. Now I'm finally doing it! My reasons are many, but a big one is my desire to honour all the ancestors I've found as I do my Jewish genealogy. I especially want to honour the ones murdered in the Holocaust. I want to know what their day to day life was like, how they celebrated their holidays, what their synagogue life was like - and I want to carry some of that forward into my own life, for them, and for myself.

Because I've been "doing Jewish" for so long, the rabbi said I can convert without taking the course, but I decided to take it anyway. I wanted to share that experience with Beau. Other couples in our class are doing the same thing. As it turns out, I'm glad I am taking it because I'm learning a lot.

They don't call Jews "the people of the book" for nothing! Judaism isn't like Christianity: You can't have a little water sprinkled on your head, declare, "I'm saved," and, presto, you're a Jew. You have to study under a rabbi or rabbis for nearly a year. You have to write your reflections, and, at the end of the course, you have to write about your intentions in becoming a Jew. You also have to observe Jewish customs...

The very first reading of the Torah
... and you have to study Hebrew. Luckily, Beau and I have already done so, and find ourselves a bit ahead of many of the other students. I've also found that my Hebrew skills have improved a lot since I've been doing my Jewish genealogy: I've read a lot of tombstones in the past few years! So, for now, Beau and I are skipping the Hebrew part of our weekly course, just so we can spare my body a bit of pain and suffering.

This is especially good for me because I'm finding the once weekly attendance very physically challenging. So is getting all the reading and writing done: Right now, for example, I'm in too much pain to hold a book while lying down, and too much pain to sit up long enough to read one, so I doubt I'll get my studies done in time this week. I also doubt I'll be well enough to attend class anyway, but we'll see.

We did finally buy a van and a ramp, so I can go places with my mobility scooter. That really is a really big deal! Freedom! It will be even better once we replace the passenger seat which is, in essence, a torture device designed especially to torment my back in every possible way. Still, it's very exciting to be almost up and wheeling with this. I dream of going to parks, going window shopping, and, yes, going to synagogue.

We're slowly gathering beautiful, vintage and antique judaica for our home observances
As students in this Jewish Information Course, we're supposed to attend synagogue at least three times a month. So far, I've made it just once, and it was so brutally painful, I know I won't be able to go back until I figure out a different way to sit through a service. It's very sad.

But we are "doing Jewish" in ways that work for us. We have been observing Shabbat consistently since last spring, turning off social media, lighting our candles and sharing a sweet, avoiding the news, spending time in quiet reflection, discussing theology... We've come to look forward to it each week.

From my blog post, Ableism: Beaten Down and Fighting Back
My intense struggles taking this course re-establish for me what I've known for a long time: I cannot work anymore. If I can't even manage the small time and travel commitments of a once weekly course, there is no way on G-d's good earth that I could hold down even a part time job, let alone a full time one.

Just some of the pills I have to take every day, if I'm to be able to function at all
Try telling that to my insurance company.

Yes, my legal battle to get my rightfully earned disability pension rages on. I have had to endure scads of physically and emotionally brutal exams to prove to my insurance company what they damned well know already: I'm far too disabled to work. Leading up to, during, and after these exams, I go through weeks of increased PTSD and pain flares.

Remember, I'm a child sex trafficking survivor. I was brutalized for money. If I said no, if I even showed any physical or emotional distress about or during the rapes? I was threatened with slow, painful death. I knew they'd do it too. I'd seen them do it to a friend of mine. In September, I had to go through two days of a "physical capacity evaluation," where I had to try to do things that I can't do ... to prove I can't do them. If I didn't, I wouldn't get as much of my pension, my money, my means of staying alive! It was beyond triggering. Plus, of course, the physical exertion itself threw me into a month-long pain flare.

Ketsl keeps me company in my distress. I was in too much pain to even get my top on properly.
And let's not forget that I still have normal, garden variety pain flares for no particular reason at all. I'm in one right now. The addition of cyclopenzaprine into my tool kit has helped. Now, when I feel my back starting to spasm into a flare, I take a cyclo and it tends to reduce the flare's duration. It also makes me incredibly sleepy, and very stupid, so it's not a drug I'd ever want to take regularly.

For better or for worse, my battle with my insurance company should be over quite soon. G-d knows if I'll get what's fair and right. I doubt I will. I find that lack of justice very hard to take, especially since I know my workplace can and does allow the insurance company to do the same thing to other disabled and chronically ill faculty.

At any rate, I plan to start a Go Fund Me campaign to recover my legal fees. Lawyers aren't cheap! Keep your eyes open for that in the near future.

The chairs in my gynaecologist's office look like they're covered in giant sperm.
On top of all this, it's perimenopause time! Yay? I have endometriosis, and have been on the Pill for years to help manage my pain. But my doc can't be sure I'm in perimenopause until I'm off the Pill. But going off it could be very painful... and round and round we go. She's got me slowly graduating off it, first by being on a lower dose pill, and then hormone replacement, and then, hopefully, nothing. I'm going through all kinds of weird body things, especially "down there." Many of my problems are directly or partially caused by my abusers, who ripped, tore, slashed, and pummelled my vagina for nearly two decades. The resultant vaginal and labial scarring is not helping matters right now. The whole damned thing is annoying, and triggering as f*ck.

Beau wanted to sit on this bench, because this is where he proposed to me.
But Beau continues to be a brick. There are times when he is so distressed by what I'm going through that he gets very silent and distant. That can be hard. I hate that loving me has brought so much suffering into his own life. I hate that I need his help with so much around the house. His business is really taking off now, and it's hard for him to manage it alongside being my primary caretaker. I feel like such an awful burden!

But his business is doing well, so that also makes it possible for us to continue to have a cleaning lady, to hire someone to keep the yard from turning into a jungle, to buy that accessible van, and to look into hiring someone to help with some odds and ends around the house that I would do, if only I could.

His doing well is helping me relax a teensy bit about money. I sometimes understand that he's doing well enough to keep me from dying, even if I lose my fight for my disability pension. Money was so fraught in a home where I was bought and sold like a thing, not a human being. And I left home so young, and was so poor, for so long... that it's very very hard for me to ever feel like I'm not still a mere breath away from living on the streets. I'll be glad when, for better or worse, my legal battle for my pension is over. if it goes well, it will take a load off Beau's bank account, and a load off my mind. I hope.

Rummy is our game, and I kick Beau's ass at it!
Despite all this stress, our relationship is pretty great. The kids are older now, so far more independent, and, as of last spring, living with their mother! When we met, they lived with Beau full-time, and stayed with their mother on the weekends. A few years after that, they started living with us half-time, and their mother half-time. The change has been a very amicable one between all of us. It feels weird not to have the boys here, but we still see them and talk to them all the time.

And we are enjoying the extra free time. We're taking that course, we're playing cards a lot. It's fun!

The oldest family photo I have, from about 1859.
The other really big thing in my life continues to be my genealogy. I cannot tell you how much I've learned, not just about my own family, but about geopolitical history, and its impact on Jewish migration patterns, and Jewish lives. The pogroms, and Holocaust led to us being scattered all over the world: in America, Canada, Argentina, Ireland, England, Israel, and South Africa. Doing this research, when my health permits, is fascinating and very rewarding. It's addictive, really.

Me on the left, and my long-lost cousin on the right. Yes, we look identical
I've "met" so many living relatives since I last wrote about my genealogy. It's amazing! I started a Facebook group for us to share stories, photographs, documents, etc. We're all getting a thrill out of finding all the lookalikes in our family. It's like magic.

My father on the left, our long-lost cousin on the right
Another cousin recently found the chap on the right here. His family were trapped in the Soviet regime for a very long time, and it was not easy, to say the least. Like so many of the rest of us, they had no idea of the fates of their relatives, or even if they even had any relatives alive today. I think it's pretty special to be playing a part in bringing us all back together.

At the heard of Judaism is the idea of Tikkun Olam, healing the world. My family was torn apart by antisemitism. To me, bringing us all back together is a kind of Tikkun Olam.

This includes finding the names and stories of our family murdered in the Holocaust. Last week, I found five more relatives murdered by nazis and/or their collaborators. Above, you can see a form filled out for Yad Vashem, one of the world's biggest sources of Holocaust information, including the names of those murdered in the Holocaust. The form tells me that Beila, a woman I think was my cousin, was murdered in a massacre in Lithuania in 1941. Her son survived to tell the tale. Right near the bottom, in the part that asks how he is related to the victim, you can see that, in his schoolboy writing, he wrote simply "ben," son. I am deeply touched by these small details, these small peeks into the lives of family long gone. It feels important.

This research is helping me understand who I am, where I come from, and why I look the way I do. It's helping me settle into my very being, body and soul.

But, don't worry, I haven't forgotten fashion along the way! It's still a great passion, a great form of therapy, and a great creative outlet. In fact, these days I'm writing a blog post for you about the ABCs of vintage, costume jewelry collecting. I'm going to use only photos of my own jewelry to illustrate each definition. This photo, for instance, will illustrate that "A is for agate."

I haven't forgotten about Sublime Mercies, my blog. It's true that I'm not sure where I want it to go with it, but I know that do want it to keep going, somehow, some way.

I'm also writing a post about this dress ...

... and Sophia Loren's unshaven underarms. Trust me, it will make sense when it's all done.

Then there's another upcoming post about this dress, which I love ...

... 1930s fashion ...

... and this lovely, 1930s palette.

It's true that Beau and I are doing far fewer photo shoots for the blog nowadays, but that doesn't mean I've stopped dressing up whenever I'm well enough to get out of the house. It's a way of life for me, not an occasional thing. It perks me up, and makes life more fun.

As always, I'm also still noticing and enjoying small beauties, like the autumn sun ...

... and the birds at my window, both the picturesque ones, like these goldfinches in their dull winter plumage ...

... and the always comical ones, like this acrobatic, Northern Flicker.

Speaking of comical, this really is Ketl's favourite way to cuddle: he wraps all four legs around me and smooshes his face into my hand. I guess it makes him feel safe. He's a very nervy cat, racing to hide under the bed whenever the doorbell rings, and running away if the television makes a sound he doesn't like. But, on the whole, I think he's a happy cat, I hope. He's certainly well taken care of.

The kittens aren't actually kittens anymore. They're all grown up ...

... sort of. Chuti decided she didn't feel like growing, so she didn't. This a recent photo of her, nearly two years old, and as tiny as a kitten. Her name, "chuti," means "teensy" in Sinhalese. It couldn't be a more perfect name. She is so cute, and she's endlessly entertaining, with a personality big enough to fill the whole house.

Milo is 17 now, and pretty darned content. He's still a grumpy guy, but he has softened up a bit in his old age. He's friendlier now. I think he's even finally accepted me as something more than a rival for Beau's affections. But still, Beau is his guy. He loves to clean Beau's ears. It's gross, but so loving, we don't have the heart to stop him.

When we got the kittens, we were hoping against hope that Milo would tolerate them. But he actually adores Chuti! We did not expect that. He loves to watch her as she plays, and to sleep near her. Giant and pip squeak, they sometimes chase each other around the house. He even shares the heat vent with her, letting her get the lion's share of it. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

Ketsl he mostly just tolerates. Ketsl wants to be his friend, but he shows it by constantly shoving his nose into Milo's face and boffing his chin, especially around mealtime. Milo doesn't like that much at all! Still, every now and then, we catch them almost cuddling. That will have to be enough.

Of course, being litter mates, Chuti and Ketsl go beyond loving each other. They are a unit, with no body boundaries between them. They snuggle and groom each other a lot ...

... and try to fit together into spaces that are too small for one of them, let alone both of them. I don't even know how Ketsl fit his whole body into this box, let alone made room for a Chuti topping.

As for other news, I'd love to give you a long update on my stepsons too, of whom I am very proud, but it's important to me to respect their privacy. Suffice to say that last June, Boy 1 graduated from high school, where he completed an advanced mechanics program. He's now working in his chosen field. Boy 2 is in grade 10 of a gifted program, and is excited about his projects, both for school and on his own. He's especially keen on computer programming. They've both been six feet tall since they were 13, and they're both doing well.

And so, life goes on. I'm still here, plugging away, doing my best, enduring the bad, recognizing and appreciating the good, and feeling hopeful about the future. I'll write when I can, I promise.