Increasingly, I've been asked to facilitate community conversations about coming to clarity about how much a community can stretch to accommodate members aging in place.
While most intentional communities are careful to not make the claim that they'll provide full end-of-life service (no matter how beloved someone is), there remains considerable nuance and delicacy about determining exactly where the limits of support lie. That is, when is it time for an aging member to move to a nursing home or assisted living in another setting?
Like a lot of hard questions, this one is typically put off until the community is in the situation where it needs to apply the answer, and the conversation is skewed by all the feelings associated with the particular person whose failing health begs the question. This can get messy.
To be sure, some people die in their sleep or get hit by a truck and the question of long-term support never enters the equation. Also, some aging members decide on their own that it's better to shift where they live (perhaps moving in with their adult children), obviating the need for the community to wrestle with this question. So it's an occasional need and doesn't apply in all cases.
Still, it applies in some cases, and it's prudent to be ready for it.
In addition to it generally being less expensive to continue living at home for as long as possible, it's what's most familiar and comfortable—two important quality of life factors. Further, in most cases there is the opportunity—which tends to be peculiar to community—for seniors to contribute meaningfully to the lives around them even as their overall capacity to do so diminishes. This too, contributes to quality of life and you can appreciate why people who have enjoyed the connections and sensitivity of community living are reluctant to leave it for institutionalized facilities.
As if that weren't enough, there is ample evidence today that living in community is itself healthier beyond the claims above. Witness what gerontologist Bill Thomas discovered when developing the Green House Project as a radical alternative to long-term care.
And yet, for all of the reasons that it makes sense to keep people in community as long as possible, the time may come when the community can no longer handle the load of support. How far is the community willing to go to support people aging in place? What are the markers that indicate the community may be at the edge of what it can do and it's time for the aging member to get additional support outside the community? Following are some things to discuss:
o Deteriorating cognitive abilities (can the person follow conversations and contribute thoughtfully and constructively in meetings; is it safe for them to drive).
o Personal care needs that exceed the capacity of volunteers to handle (bathing, dressing, laundry, shopping, grooming, feeding, cleaning, incontinence). To some extent these things can be covered by part-time professional assistance (which may or may not be provided by a member of the community), but there are limits.
o Deteriorating physical capacity (can no longer walk, is susceptible to bed sores, can't lift anything more than a glass of water, can't climb stairs, shaky balance).
o Compounding health concerns (diabetes, obesity, Parkinson's, loss of hearing, loss of sight).
o For how long is it anticipated that assistance is needed (helping a 55-year-old recover from a broken leg is demonstrably different than an open-ended commitment to a 70-year-old in frail health; on the other end of the spectrum, the community may be willing to rally for a two-week stretch of concentrated hospice care—something that is only possible because it's short-term).
o Special challenges (for example, is the person becoming belligerent, or prone to violence?)
It's important that volunteer support (perhaps organized by teams, so that it doesn't fall too heavily on too few) not be extended beyond what can be given freely and without resentment. Propping one person up while the quality of life for several others degrades is not a good long-term choice.
I recommend that communities establish a Special Needs Committee who's job it would be to:
A. Discreetly explore with members (or the loved ones of members) their need for assistance to continue living in the community. Note that this is not limited to seniors—it's open to anyone needing assistance. This would include both what the member might need in the way of support, as well as how that member can reasonably continue to contribute to the maintenance and well-being of the community. For this to work well, it's essential that the committee receive accurate, current information about the member's health and capacities, along with a commitment that the committee will be apprised of any significant changes in the member's condition.
B. Based on guidance established by the plenary (in answer to the above questions, defining the limits of what the community might be willing to offer in the way of support), the committee will see if they can put together a support team of volunteers in the community to meet the requested needs. Any team created for this purpose will exist for a specified length of time. If needs extends beyond that time, an extension may be considered, or another team may be put together—though this will be considered on its own merits and will not be granted automatically.
C. In consultation with the member (and perhaps the member's family) the committee will craft a communication to other community residents letting everyone know what's happening.
D. The committee will be available to receive information or complaints about how this support is going, troubleshooting and adjusting as appropriate.
E. If the committee believes the member's needs are exceeding the community's capacity to provide support, it will be their task to inform the member (and their loved ones) of that limit and the possible suspension of support.
F. Throughout, the committee will be expected to hold information about a member's condition and needs in confidentiality, excepting as it's appropriate to complete C above.
G. If the committee believes there needs to be any adjustment to the limits of what the community can offer members in need, it will see that this is brought to the plenary's attention for consideration.
As is implied in the job description above, it's important that care be taken in how members of this committee are selected. While the Special Needs Committee will (hopefully) not have a lot of work to do, when needed the committee will be well positioned to handle a sensitive task with discretion, dignity, and decisiveness.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Increasingly, I've been asked to facilitate community conversations about coming to clarity about how much a community can stretch to accommodate members aging in place.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Back on Feb 6 my wife told me our marriage of seven-plus years was over. While I knew from mid-Jan onward that she was wrestling with the question of whether to continue with me or give up, it was a unilateral decision that I deeply didn't want her to make. My wishes notwithstanding, it was what made sense to her and the die was cast.
As you might imagine, the reality of her rejection and my loss have never been far from my consciousness since her announcement. While I've experience waves of sadness as I picked my way through the boneyard of our marriage, it has been a balm to me that I've spent the last 12 days with my two adults children: first six days with my son, Ceilee, in Los Angeles; followed by six days with my daughter, Jo, in Las Vegas.
While I thought I'd made the strongest relational commitment possible to my wife (both when we first married April 21, 2007, and again when we re-committed to the marriage July 14, 2014), I realize now that the bond I was able to create with Ma'ikwe was not nearly as strong or elastic as what I've created with my children. The potency of a relational bond depends on what each person contributes and, in the end, it was clear that the Laird/Ma'ikwe commitment did not have the resilience that I was looking for. While I am the same flawed guy for everyone, my kids have stood by me even when my wife walked away.
To be sure, Ceilee and Jo have their own households today and have long since stopped living with Dad. While they both welcome me for visits, it's not the same as living with me every day—which Ma'ikwe grew weary of. Nonetheless my kids' love for me has never been more precious than now, as I cope with Ma'ikwe's rejection. Ceilee and Jo's loving care for me have been two oases of nurturance in a desert of rawness.
A friend of mine (who had his own experience with being left by his wife), asked me what I was doing for self care right now. A good question.
o I'm taking full advantage of the time with my kids to just be with them. That means doing less work and immersing myself in their lives for the time we have been together.
o I'm not overindulging, whether that means eating, drinking, watching television, or surfing the internet—I'm doing all of those things sparingly. And shopping doesn't interest me at all.
o I'm getting plenty of sleep, but am not using it to escape.
o I'm still focusing on recovery from back strain, which (unfortunately) means dealing with the ongoing aggravation of sore ribs as I work through a cough associated with a cold I contracted last week in Los Angeles. (It's like someone is gouging me with a knife every time I cough.) While it's just a run-of-the-mill cough, the pain is exhausting.
o I'm not rushing to decide what's next for me (where I'll live, or with whom). I'm not trying to open up a new romantic relationship.
o I'm giving myself full permission to grieve, while steering clear of the cesspool of major reactivity (wallowing there is not helpful). I'm sad a lot, but not particularly angry, and that feels good.
Does all of that add up to adequate self care? I'm not sure. But I know I won't die, I know that I have useful things to still do in the world, and I know that I yet have joy for living. Maybe that's as good as I can hope for this soon after losing my wife.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
For the first time in over four decades, I'm unsure where I'll be living next month.
When I moved in with my wife in November 2013, I left Sandhill (my home since 1974) and thought I'd be with Ma'ikwe for the rest of my life. But it didn't turn out that way. She decided the marriage was no longer working for her and I got my walking papers.
In the past fortnight I've been thinking a lot about where it makes the most sense to walk to—which has gotten me thinking what "home" means to me as a single man of 65.
To be sure, I have possibilities, including a number of friends who would have me as a neighbor in their community or who might share a house with me. But what do I want? What matters to me most when I contemplate home? Here, in no particular order, is what I've come up with:
1. Near friends and family
As I have friends all over the country, there are many locations that would meet this criteria. And given the amount that I travel, I have reasonable expectations that I can get to those friends I don't live near.
There is a deeper level of this though: how important is it to me to live with close friends, not just near them? What I've discovered, for myself, is that the essential challenge of shared living is that the group is sufficiently: a) clear about common values; b) committed to creating cooperative culture; and c) skilled in communication. I've discovered over the years that housemates or group members don't have to all be best friends to meet these standards. To be sure, I'm not saying that living with close friends would be a drawback; only that it's not essential.
2. Shared living
I travel 40-50% of the time and expect this to continue at least into the near future. Home needs to be a place where I can leave for long stretches and I can come back to. That suggests shared housing—both because it doesn't make sense to pay full boat for housing that is only needed half the time, and because it's much easier to keep day-to-day operations humming along when people cover for each other (you never have to worry about the pipes freezing or the dogs being fed).
Also, with shared living it's easier to plug in usefully for short stretches between trips. While it's hard to take on management responsibilities, there are any number of maintenance tasks and special projects that can be handled by people only in residence part time, and I have a good idea distilled from my prior decades of shared living how to be minimally disruptive and maximally contributive.
When you live alone you have full control, but along with that goes all the domestic chores and all of the cost of maintaining the household. Yuck.
3. Suitable place to read and write
I need a room where I can do these things comfortably in any season and at any time of day or night. I need a comfortable chair, a work surface that is mine to control, a reliable high-speed internet signal, close access to support materials (such as books, files, and implements), and with a modicum of acoustical control (I can tune out conversation or background music in the next room, but fire alarms, children in pain, or headbanger concerts are over the top.)
Quite a bit of my time these days is devoted to writing (and it's only likely to get more that way): blog essays, reports, magazine articles, proposals, correspondence—you name it. Recognizing how central this is to my daily routine, I want to be doing this in a congenial setting.
4. Values alignmentBeyond creature comfort is soul comfort. I want my home and the way I live to be a manifestation of my core values around resource use and cooperative culture. Given that my favorite two-word phrase for what I've been doing with my life is "community builder," it makes a lot of sense for me to live in community, where I get the opportunity to try to walk my talk every day.
Mind you, some days I'm more successful in achieving that goal than others, yet there's high resonance for me with making the attempt. It's important to me, for example, that I try to consciously live a life that is within the means of anyone else to replicate, if they desire it. It's hard to picture satisfying that test in any way excepting through community.
5. Aging in place
While my health is generally pretty good (despite my slow recovery from lower back strain last fall) it's prudent to think about my home being a place where people support each other through the trials of health challenges. While this can touch a person at any age, we expect to face more health issues as we age.
While my physical capacities are unquestioningly in decline, I am not decrepit and am still highly productive. I also possess a wealth of practical skills that I can make available to guide or teach others even when I am no longer able to do a thing myself.
Though I have been purposefully divesting myself of some significant responsibilities over the last decade (it's time to give others a turn behind the wheel, and it affords me more time for reading and writing), I am still enthusiastic about my work as a process trainer and consultant. Fortunately, this work also happens to be the most remunerative thing that I do and what I believe to be my best avenue for social change work—my efforts to make the world a better place.
Thus, immediately in front of me I have decent prospects for generating more income than I consume. Though this won't last indefinitely, at least I won't be approaching a group living situation with hat in hand.
I was born in the Midwest and (excepting two years after college when I lived in DC as a junior bureaucrat for the US Dept of Transportation) I've always lived in the Midwest. It is a climate and culture I know and therefore feels like home to me.
I know the rhythms of the seasons and the unpretentiousness of the people. I know the trees; I know the lay of the land; I know when flowers bloom and when vegetables are ripe. I know how to layer my clothing for comfort when splitting wood amidst the gusting North Wind in January, and how to function in the humidity of August when canning tomatoes by the bucketload.
Sure, I could learn a new culture. But I'd rather not.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
I recently had an exchange with someone who objected to my offering
facilitation training for a set fee, and the conversation raised issues I
thought worth exploring.
My critic was concerned about income inequality—which I am as well—essentially making the case that people ought to pay more equally in terms of what they could afford (the idea, roughly, being that someone making $25,000 annually should pay half of what someone making $50,000 annually should pay). In his view, sliding scales do the trick and he strongly advocated that I adopt that approach.
While I try to be sensitive to the social change implications of my work in the world, I'm not so enamored of sliding scales as the solution.
My critic pointed out that setting fees at a fixed amount effectively offers well-off folks a discount at the expense of those less well off, since a set price is axiomatically a smaller fraction of assets for those who are better off. While I follow this reasoning and agree that a sliding scale offers some redress, I've come to favor a different approach. Following are various considerations that led me there.
1. In my experience, sliding scales tend to suppress net revenues. That is, the amount offered above the target average does not tend to cover the deficit of those who are paying less. And it complicates knowing when I have a enough students to have a viable class. (That is, the amount I pay Amtrak to get to and from a training location does not vary by how many students I have, but if the amount each student pays is variable you cannot equate a certain number of students to an income-projection.)
2. I like setting the price for my services such that I think it's serious money yet still a clear value. There's nuance in doing this that gets watered down with a sliding scale. (My critic was advocating for a slide where the top is five times the bottom; if I went with that, the top would be embarrassing for me to ask for, while the bottom would devalue what it's worth.)
Part of what I'm concerned with is being a market-maker in my field—setting a standard for the value of high-quality process consulting. A generation ago, when I first got started, there were few practitioners and no common understanding of the value of the work. In addition to establishing a viable business for myself, I've been increasingly interested in making it easier for my students and those who follow to be able to make decent money. With a sliding scale, you are leaving a smear; not a clear mark.
3. I've found it valuable to encourage students to get organizational support for facilitation training, and I believe a sliding scale undermines the motivation for participants to seek this out. (If a person gets a price that's acceptable via a sliding scale, why bother to ask others for support?)
To be fair, my critic points out that the extra work of enlisting organizational support falls unevenly on those with less income, as the better off are less likely to need help. Still, I prefer this for two reasons: a) it secures support for those with less income other than by my accepting discounted compensation; and b) it enrolls more parties in the investment of process training. If organizations subsidize the training they'll be more inclined to us it, helping to impact the whole organizational culture—which is a prime objective for me in offering the training in the first place.
4. I've worked hard to create a facilitation training model that keeps costs to a minimum (food and lodging for students are exchanged for outside facilitation) and fees go solely to compensate the trainers. In addition, we offer thinking and assistance for students to get financial support from cooperative groups with which they are affiliated (perhaps in exchange for a commitment to practice their new skills or to teach others what they've learned). If that's still not enough, I try to work out a barter in exchange for lower fees.
This mixture maintains the integrity of the price, while creating a viable safety net for those who truly want the learning yet find the price beyond their means.
5. My observation is that people tend to value a thing in proportion to what they pay for it. While I wish this weren't so (and I get the opportunity to work my side of this equation by paying no attention to how much a student or client pays when giving them my attention as a teacher or consultant), I have encountered this too many times to ignore it. People who get a thing cheaply, tend to value it cheaply, and I detest working hard for a client only to have the group respond indifferently because they paid little or no money for the offering.
Thus, I prefer establishing a clear non-trivial marker for value, and then creating numerous ways for people strapped for financial resources to be able to bridge to the opportunity. Does this make it possible for everyone to have straight-forward access to what I offer? No. My approach requires a certain baseline ability to be self-motivated, and an ease in asking others for support (because is is not just handed out), and I'm OK with that.
6. Sustainability is a major catchword these days. For most of my professional life I'd say my work fits under the subheading of social sustainability—what does it take for people to live together closely and happily in cooperative culture, given that we've been raised in competitive culture? In recent years, however, I've expanded my focus to embrace various aspects of economic sustainability—how do we fairly and honorably exchange goods and services such that people are operating in integrity yet are not expected to be wholly self-sufficient?
In this vein, I want to operate as a process consultant in such a way that encourages people to do personal work in relation to the meaning of money in their life—which, I believe, many of us have not done. If I offered a sliding scale for my services, people would have to determine where they fit on the scale, yet I'm not convinced that that examination would go much deeper than comparing their bank account with their sense of fairness. While that's not a bad thing, I want something deeper.
I've been doing that work on my end, and I'm OK asking that others meet me there. If they want my services and don't see how they can afford me, I'm willing to roll up my sleeves and be an ally in helping them find a mutually acceptable solution. I'm just not willing to start by offering a discount.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Have you ever pondered the oddness of the term, "aftermath"?
I reckon you can conceive of it as what happens after you've totted up the pluses and minuses of a situation—which is a tender calculation I've just been going through with Ma'ikwe, after she announced eight days ago that our marriage was done.
As you might imagine, Ma'ikwe went through her own calculus in determining whether it was time to move on—and I believe she did this carefully and with sensitivity. While I'm not happy with her conclusion, I fully believe in her right to make this call. Good things don't happen from someone staying longer than they think is good, say because of guilt, obligation, or pity.
After I rode the first waves of emotional response on my own (and with the support of friends; I got a lot of email), Ma'ikwe and I began an email exchange that has been invaluable to me—which, ironically, showcased just how good our relationship can be—where we each got to explain how we related to events of the last month and the final sequence that led to the demise of our partnership. This was important because, right up until the end, I was viewing our challenging times as difficult, yet constructive—while Ma'ikwe was convincing herself that it was time to pull the plug. While painful, it was instructive to plumb the information buried in the gap between our perceptions.
I was grateful that Ma'ikwe was willing to frame the larger picture of her frustration and analysis with me, and to take the time to point out how my behaviors didn't work for her. After four days of this back-and-forth I was able to write:
As I sit with what you’ve experienced as my criticality, my narcissism, my resistance to your ideas, my inability to provide empathy when you're struggling, my failure to follow through on commitments, my inability to honor requests that matter a lot to you, and my competitive one-upmanship it’s a fairly grim picture, and makes me wonder at the folly (even irresponsibility) of presuming that I’m capable of being anyone’s partner. Looked at from this perspective, I’m humbled that you hung in there with me as long as you did. Thank you. Your loving me has been a precious gift.
Ma'ikwe had a complex response to this. On the one hand, it showed I was hearing what she was complaining about, and she wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of my continuing to do personal work in an attempt to address these behaviors.
On the other hand, she encouraged me to soften what I did with her rejection because she was only saying that I was a poor partner for her. Well, this is tricky ground to navigate with sure footing. While Ma'ikwe and I agree that we both could have been better partners, I think it's dangerous for me to slough off responsibility for what went awry (laying it at her feet instead). Better, I think, is to try to own all that I can and see what I can do with it. (Ma'ikwe will have her own version of this, but that's her business.) So I'm facing a large hill to climb.
While there are ways in which it's only possible to work on intimacy dynamics in an intimate relationship (and I'm not seeing a clear pathway to that given all the barnacles on my hull), I am hopeful that most of Ma'ikwe's issues are tractable in the context of friendships and relationships with clients—both of which I have in abundance. So I'm holding onto the idea that I can continue my work without necessarily putting another partner at risk.
I intuit that my main challenge will be remaining open for engagement, and not playing it safe. It's the work I need to address after doing the math. We'll see how it goes.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
The past two days I made the journey from LA to L.A. It took me two days just to expunge two periods. The vehicle for this odd odyssey was Amtrak train #1, the Sunset Limited, which I enjoyed end for end—all 1995 miles from New Orleans to Los Angeles (half of it traversing Texas). Although the route nominally runs from East to West, it can also be viewed as running from Wet to Least—if you think in terms of rainfall instead of longitude.
I offer you a play in five acts.
Act I: Louisiana
Monday morning we pulled out of the rain-washed streets of Carnival-besotted New Orleans (think king cake, pop beads, and street-grade sippy cups filled with watered-down daiquiris), and began to chug across southern Louisiana, where spring is already quickening as evidenced by the chartreuse yellow leaves of willows, and the gaudy red blossoms on a swamp-loving something-or-other tree that doesn’t grow in the Midwest. My eye was also caught by the vibrant lemon yellow of wild mustard in full bloom.
Traveling orthogonally to the drainage, our advance was periodically punctuated by estuaries and boat channels featuring huge derricks capable of managing the cargo of salt-water container ships. Often there would be an egret standing sentinel atop a piling as we lumbered by.
We rumbled through small towns sporting steeply pitched spires that marked the location of a brick-built Catholic church beneath. Rural housing was most often characterized by rusting metals roofs covering single story bungalows with pastel clapboard siding build on concrete blocks. The dominant greenery of February was alternately supplied by the waxy, dusty leaves of live oaks and long-needled pines.
While there was no sign of farming activity, the unplanted fields revealed the vein-work of deep ditches used to manage heavy rainfalls.
Before boarding I had fortified myself for the 46-hour sojourn with a muffaletta to go and a two-part dinner where I downed three dozen fat oysters in the prime of the season. I was so full of bivalves that I passed (reluctantly) on both shrimp étouffée and red beans and rice seasoned with tasso. You just can't do everything.
Act II: Texas
Our first stop in the Lone Star State was Beaumont, hard on Port Arthur (the birthplace of Janis Joplin), where the grass was greening up nicely and it was a beautiful day for after school soccer.
The pastoral scene featured black Angus cattle, sod farms, and the sinuous beauty of laser-planed rice fields. Along the tracks there were still swampy sloughs.
We eased into Houston at sundown (the first sunset on this limited-to-two journey). So endeth the wet day.
Somewhere in the dark, about halfway to San Antonio we fell for the old broken-down-freight-train-in-front-of-you trick, necessitating backing up and wyeing the train to find some alternate tracks (that didn't contain a broken down freight train). Perhaps that's why they call this route the Sunset Limited.
By first light we were chugging toward the flag stop of Sanderson, and already we were in country too dry to farm. It was all scrub vegetation and rock—not a tree in sight. In the night, somebody pulled the plug and all the moisture that we had traveled through the first day had been drained away.
The ground was not necessarily desert flat. Where it wasn't, there are numerous washes, or arroyos, that indicated where water flows on those rare occasions when it rains. The colors were muted: the gray/green of sagebrush, the white/tan of fractured sandstone, the yellow/green of prickly pear.
Just east of El Paso, we rolled by miles of nut tree orchards with geometrically precise plantings and completely barren soil (during the growing season water is supplied via concrete-lined irrigation ditches). Weird. It's scary to think what chemicals are used to eliminate any trace of green—even in February.
Act III: New Mexico
The Land of Enchantment is sparsely populated, and most of that is in the north (Albuquerque and Santa Fe). The train had flag stops in the sleepy little towns of Deming and Lordsburg, bypassing Las Cruces, Roswell, and Alamogordo.
There was still not enough water to spit.
Act IV: Arizona
Clacking along into the afternoon, it was on to Benson and copper country. Almost as soon as we crossed the state border mountains started replacing hills, as we threaded our way through the southern remnants of the Rockies.
Our second (and final) sunset occurred in the desert. The sun was spectacularly framed now and then in the notches between peaks. Auspiciously, the first clouds of the day (I'll bet there was moisture there) appeared in the western sky, offering us a rosy band above and alpenglow on the hills behind us. The mountain ranges on the western horizon turned to blue before we lost the browns and greens of the near foreground. Lovely.
We followed the last light into Tucson, where we gassed up, changed crews, and paused 90 minutes in front of the Maynard Market, a local watering hole.
So endeth the dry day.
Act V: California
This all unfolded in the dark. We glided by Palm Springs, Ontario, and Pomona, passing wraith-like among the palm trees and neon, stealing into Union Station before dawn. As we crawled through the city on our final approach, we crossed the completely canalized Los Angeles River. It's trickle at the bottom of a huge concrete causeway was the first running water I'd seen since Houston.
I'd worked up a powerful thirst traveling through so much dry country. The first thing I did when I got off the train was buy a cup of coffee.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Ma’ikwe told me Friday evening that she wants a divorce. This is the second time I've had experience in the last 19 months and I didn't enjoy hearing it any more the second time. It's like getting kicked in the stomach.
One of my first thoughts was how clearly this development points out that I am only in control of my part of the partnership, and the commitments I make do not bind her. While I readily agree that we've had to handle some tough challenges on the way to death do us part, I've never found divorce an attractive choice. Yet Ma'ikwe can opt out—and has done so twice—regardless of where my heat is on the matter.
Here are some high and low watermarks of our relationship:
Oct 29, 2005 We became lovers
Nov 18, 2005 We decided to get married
April 21, 2007 We got married in a blow-out four-day wedding in Albuquerque
July 11, 2008 Ma'ikwe moved to Dancing Rabbit
spring 2009 Ma'ikwe broke ground to start building Moon Lodge
2010 Ma'ikwe discovered she has Lyme disease and had a debilitating year (a lot of pain and a lot of bed rest)
2012 Ma'ikwe relapsed with Lyme and had another debilitating year
Feb 11, 2013 We had our first appointment with Kathy, our couples therapist, which continued for the next two years
July 14, 2013 Ma'ikwe announced that she wanted a divorce
Aug 26, 2013 Ma'kiwe agreed to try the marraige again
Nov 29, 2013 I moved out of Sandhill and started living in Moon Lodge with Ma'ikwe
July 14, 2014 We held a recommitment ceremony for our marriage
Oct 3, 2014 I strained my lower back lifting heavy boxes improperly
Oct, 2014-Jan 2015 I had restricted mobility (with a lot of bed rest) as I recovered from back pain
Feb 6, 2015 Ma'ikwe announced that she wanted a divorce
Our marriage has enjoyed many sublime and beautiful moments, and it's also been a gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster.
In this latest round of turmoil, Ma'ikwe first told me that she was again frustrated to the point of thinking about ending the relationship three weeks ago. Having reserved time with our therapist for Feb 3 (the day before I left on a four-week trip) I had understood we were waiting to work on her concerns with Kathy's help—which has frequently been a good idea. After one 90-minute appointment last Tuesday, Kathy was able to make another session available to us the same day. In trying to decide how best to use that opportunity I said my highest priority was using the time to give the best chance for us working through the issues that had brought Ma'ikwe to the brink again.
With that request on the table, Ma'ikwe decided to meet with Kathy alone. While I don't know what they discussed in the second session, three days later Ma'ikwe announced that she was done. In retrospect, I reckon by the time we got to Kathy I was essentially a dead man walking and just didn't know it yet.
I outlined in my previous blog some of the concerns that have been troubling Ma'ikwe lately and it all unraveled incredibly fast. The thing that hurts the most is that there was never much of an opportunity for me to address Ma'ikwe's concerns between her articulation of the issues and her unilateral decision to end it all.
I reckon staying with me represented too much slog for too little hope; she weary of trying to make it work and just needed to move on.
One interesting pattern I noticed is that both times Ma'ikwe got to clarity about wanting a divorce, the sequence started right after one of us came out of a long stretch of compromised health, where the person in recovery wasn't capable of doing serious relationship work. Both times I was caught off-guard by the build-up of negativity and critical analysis. I don't know if that's merely a coincidence or a smoking gun.
When weathering the localized storm of emotional turmoil that was triggered for me by Ma'ikwe's first decision to end the relationship in July 2013, I got enormous help from EMDR therapy with Kathy, which has permanently helped me be less reactive. This benefit, fortunately, is still available to me today (thank god) and helped both to stay afloat with my feelings and to not spiral down into a very dark, and blaming place. I know Ma'ikwe has been doing the best she can and I know that I will not die.
Oddly, it has also helped that I'm currently reading Wyvern (a semi-obscure 1988 novel by A A Attanasio). It contains a fantastical exploration of being alone while at the same time being in relation to spirit, in relation to other humans, and to the universe. The protagonist is an illegitimate blond blue-eyed boy of mixed Dutch/aboriginal stock who is raised as a sorcerer (or soul catcher) in the jungles of Borneo, and the book is full of cosmological and existential questions as explored through the eyes of “primitive” culture. This story is powerful medicine for me right now.
The bottom line is that Ma’ikwe no longer saw her future as fruitful with me and acted decisively to move on. Loving her, I support her getting what she wants—even if at the extreme of leaving me.
Having gone through this particular hell once already, it’s not so devastating the second time. I know I'll survive. Though I've been rejected, I'm not beating myself up.
Yet whither now? Fifteen months ago I've walked away from my community as part of my recommitment to the marriage. Can I go back? Is that what I want? Is that good for Sandhill? I don't know. I was mainly at DR to be with Ma'ikwe; now what?
Ma'ikwe and I have to navigate our professional relationships moving forward and to what extent, if any, it makes sense to try to work together. It's confusing for me to know how much I can trust her commitments at this point.
I went all-in on my relationship with Ma'ikwe, and still got rejected. While not an ending I was looking for, I knew at the time that it wasn't a guarantee and I don't regret the attempt. I am not bitter.
In addition to losing my wife, I'm losing my best friend—the person I'd been sharing my daily observations with. This is highly disrupting and I have no idea how I'm going to replace the comfort and groundedness that I derive from that level of subtle sharing.
Right now there's a large hole in my heart and it will take some time to figure out what it all means and how to adapt to my suddenly wifeless life.
Friday, February 6, 2015
Today I'm composing a paean to three people who have been influential in my life—all of whom claim today—Feb 6—as their birthday. In descending order of age:
Ronald Reagan (born 1911)
While it's unquestionably impressive that he overcame associations with Bedtime for Bonzo (that 1951 standard for cinematographic anthropoid high jinx), and shilling for Twenty Mule Team Borax as the host (1964-65) of television's syndicated Death Valley Days to become the 40th President of the US (1981-89), I associate him mainly with the dubious distinction of championing the ill-fated Stars Wars defense system (otherwise known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was based on technology that didn't exist) and gutting the federal government's social support system—which was a kind of Star Wars-inspired magic act of its own ("These sick people are not really sick, and no longer need our help... ")
With the Gipper, I'm reminded of the Tom Lehrer lyric about movie star George Murphy, after he ascended to the US Senate from California in 1965 (predating Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger's electoral success in La La Land):
At last we have a senator who can really sing and dance.
I suppose, indirectly, that I owe Reagan for helping create the environment in which groups need to turn to professional outside help when overwhelmed by challenging internal dynamics. The fact that people are drawn to community for the right reasons does not necessarily mean they have the capacity to be productive members. Helping groups successfully navigate this kind of delicate territory has become bread and butter work for me as a process consultant. So thanks, Ron.
I reckon there's no amount of mean-spirited slashing of the federal safety net for disadvantaged segments of the population that can't be turned into an entrepreneurial opportunity of some sort. While I'd prefer that groups didn't need so much help, here we are.
Ann Shrader (born 1950)
My lifelong friend, Annie, is eligible for Medicare today.
She and I go back a long way—to before Broadway Joe Namath delivered on his brash promise to lead the New York Jets to victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl III. We overlapped for three undergraduate years at Carleton College and then went on to start Sandhill Farm together in 1974. Along the way we had Ceilee: on a clear and cold morning in January 1981, she pushed out our vernix-smeared son and I caught him in the middle of our bedroom floor. It was a very powerful moment that bonded us forever.
Even after Annie left for Virginia in 1999, we have remained close friends. Partly, of course, because of the continuing Ceilee connection, but more than that we've traveled a lot of life together as fellow communitarians, homesteaders, and political progressives. I usually manage to get out to see her in Floyd VA for a visit a couple times of year, where we catch up on each others' lives, do some crosswords, cook together, do a home improvement project or two, and laugh a lot—while her yellow furball of a cat, Otis, deigns to tolerate me as an overnight guest on the floor of the solarium.
Annie is the active friend in my life that goes back further than all others, and is precious to me for that.
Ma'ikwe Ludwig (born 1970)
When I first met Annie, Ma'iwe had not yet been born. To put this further into perspective, Ronald Reagan died before Ma'ikwe and I become intimate partners. So there's some serious spaciousness between the eras in which today's celebrants have been operating.
While Ma'ikwe and I toasted her 45th birthday a couple days early (with an overnight stay involving a hot tub Tuesday night), today she's set aside a contemplative day of seclusion at a neighbor's intern hut (because I'm on the road and she's at home).
Ma'ikwe has been special to me for many reasons. That the least of which is that nobody challenges me like my wife when it comes to doing personal growth work. While that's certainly been awkward at times—and it's an adventure in the jungle of my subconscious figuring out how well I can meet her concerns—I'm dedicated to trying to be the best partner I can and appreciate the caring for me that her surfacing concerns represents.
In that spirit, she gave me some homework Tuesday, right before I hit the road:
A. Mumbling on the Rise
Since childhood I've had the habit of talking to myself (sotto voce). I'm most aware of doing it when I'm trying to work through unresolved tension with others, yet I also do it when proofreading articles (or blog posts), when running through my To Do List (reminding myself of what's on tap for the day), and replaying impactful exchanges with others.
Ma'ikwe has observed that I'm doing this more these days and is concerned in two ways. First, does it indicated that I'm checking out more from the world around me, perhaps presaging cognitive deterioration? While I don't have the sense that that's happening, neither am I confident that I'd be able to detect it, so I've agreed to get some neurological testing done when I'm home next.
Second, although we have an agreement that I'll bring to her things that need processing between us (when I'm upset and working on it alone does not untie the knot), she's always found it hard to believe that more of my mumbling isn't about her, and now that the frequency is increasing it's even harder.
This is tricky to unpack cleanly, both because my orientation is to first try to resolve tensions internally (rather than starting by expressing my upset to Ma'ikwe and making a request) and because part of my process for determining what I want to do with my feelings is to explore them internally first (during which I don't need to be so careful what I say). I think I'm being respectful and Ma'ikwe feels left out. But then, am I being respectful? To what extent am I fully aware of the feelings I'm mumbling about? How sure can I be that I'm keeping my end of the bargain to bring forward my issues?
B. Unsure that I Have Her Back
When Ma'ikwe is struggling with something that I'm not involved with (for example, when she runs into bumps in the road as Dancing Rabbit, Inc.'s nonprofit executive director) there's delicacy about how I offer support. While I have clarity about emotional support being a higher priority than advice about nonprofit administration (which she may not be interested in anyway), I have a tendency to move too quickly into what I imagine to be the emotional reality of the other players, and how there might be an innocent explanation for how the matter looks to them.
Commonly enough, Ma'ikwe simply wants me to be present for her emotional experience, and not so damned concerned with what others might be going through. Sympathy should start at home.
C. How the Spirit Moves Us
For the entire time I've known her (especially the last decade), Ma'ikwe identifies as having a strong spiritual side, especially in relationship to the Earth. While this is something that has slowly been growing in me as well (though I'm not necessarily touched by the same literature or the same rituals in the same way) I've come to understand that it's disappointing for her that we have not bonded more strongly over spiritual inquiry and expression.
D. Avoiding a Hearing Aid
Starting somewhere about 20 years ago, I've been gradually losing hearing (especially in the high frequencies) in my left ear. I've had this diagnosed by audiologists as irreversible nerve damage, and mostly I've learned to cope by being careful about room acoustics.
It has, however, been a steady source of irritation for Ma'ikwe that I regularly mishear what she says and I have to ask her to repeat statements. Certain environments with high ambient noise, such as parties and most restaurants, are brutal for me and I just steer clear of them when I can.
What I haven't been doing is taking into account how hard (and disrespectful) this has been of Ma'ikwe, who has to constantly deal with my disability when it would be a relatively straight forward thing to minimize it with a hearing aid.
I made a promise to get a hearing aid in the context of moving in with her 15 months ago, but I haven't yet done it. Part of this is money (the little boogers are expensive and need to be replaced every three-five years), and part of this is vanity. For a while we thought the cost of a hearing aid would be covered by Obama Care, but it turned out we were wrong, and we need to get serious about budgeting for this.
You might say, I'm finely hearing how much this means to her.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
When Ma'ikwe and I first got together in October 2005, she was living in Albuquerque, where she was trying to form an intentional community, and I was living in Rutledge MO, where I had been living in community (Sandhill Farm) for 31 years. While it took us less than a month to decide to get married (which happened in April 2007), we didn't agree to live in the same time zone until 2008, when Ma'ikwe let go of trying to build community in Albuquerque (after five years in the attempt) and joined Dancing Rabbit.
Suddenly, our commute between bedrooms shrunk from 900 miles to three. Much better. We continued that way for five years, until I left Sandhill in November 2013 and we tried the novel idea of living in the same house.
While this overview presents as a rather deliberate courtship, where we've been circling around intimacy in an ever tightening spiral more evocative of Chekhov than People magazine, it's more complicated than that.
When Ma'ikwe and I first moved into the gravitational field of one another, I was already established as a community networker and national process consultant, and she was on the front edges of moving into a similar career (though more slanted toward sustainability education). It quickly got to the point where a significant fraction of our time together was spent at neither of our homes, attending community functions or collaborating as trainer/consultants.
Thus, while we've gradually come to live together, I'm still on the road about 40-50% of the time, and I don't see that changing any time soon (as long as my health holds out). So there are two patterns here that don't particular nest together easily. On the domestic scene our lives have become ever more intertwined over the course of the last decade. Concurrent with that, my travel patterns—both what I'm doing and who I'm doing it with—haven't changed much at all over the same interval.
All of which brings us to the reality that I'm typing this blog from the first leg of a month-long sojourn that will ultimately add up to Ma'ikwe and I not being in our Moon Lodge bed together from now until mid-April—a whopping 10 weeks. I'm scheduled to get back home circa March 3, four days after Ma'ikwe starts a six-week speaking tour, where she visits university campuses across the country offering an array of workshops and an expanded version of her popular TEDx talk Sustainable Is Possible (from October 2013).
Both of us will be doing work we love, but mostly not together. While we just completed a winter stretch where we were at Moon Lodge every night for 70 days (hooray!), we're turning right around and spending the next 70 days apart (ugh!)—excepting a 5-day island in the middle where we'll be teaching together in Portland OR (yippee!).
While there's a yin and yang symmetry about this, it's an odd mix, and contributes to strain on the relationship. When one or both of us are on the road (which will now be the case until after federal taxes are due), it's not easy making connections when we have to factor in time zone differences and a wealth of client commitments. While the phone has not been a great medium for Ma'ikwe and me connecting, it turns out that Skype is much more satisfying, where we can see facial expressions.
We'll see what Kyre and Leo (our two Maine Coon cats) think of all this, where Ma'ikwe's and my extensive travels will interrupt the all-night cat valet service they've become accustomed to—where all they have to do to is scratch on the door or the mattress in order to get one of us out of bed at all hours to let them out or in. I'll keep you posted.
Fortunately, I needn't stray far from Union Station today and can mostly appreciate the prowess of Father Borealis from the comfort of the train windows. And after today I'll mostly be in the southern latitudes (taking, I hope, and early leave from icy roads and pathways).
I have a lot to look forward to on this trip:
o Gathering with old friends in the context of FIC's Oversight Committee meetings Feb 6-7 at Dunmire Hollow, to effect mid-course corrections for organizational affairs between Board meetings.
o An overnight stop in New Orleans this Sunday as I switch trains from the City of New Orleans to the Sunset Limited. I believe it will mark the first time I've traveled on Amtrak's train #1 end for end. This train operates just three days/week and is the only way to cross the Mississippi River other than via Chicago—of which I see plenty. I'm looking forward to 46 hours en route, fully half of which is crossing Texas east to west.
o I'll spend six days each in Los Angeles and Las Vegas visiting my kids, Ceilee and Jo, respectively. I haven't seen them since last March, which is the longest I've ever gone between visits and I miss them a lot—along with Taivyn & Connor, my two grandkids; and Zeus, Yoshi, and Zelda, my three granddogs. It should be 12 days full of social time with my kids and their charges.
o The relaxed time in granddad mode will allow me plenty of opportunity to read and work on my book (which is has not been easy to manifest amidst the various distractions of home).
o The last weekend of Feb I'll be working in Bayfield CO, facilitating the annual retreat for Heartwood, a well-established cohousing community working on revitalizing itself. While it's possible I'll catch some ice there (at 6900 feet in southwest Colorado that's certainly a possibility), I'm confident that all the meetings will be indoors. In addition to the excitement of the work itself, one of the more promising of my facilitation students, Brent Levin, will be traveling from northern California to apprentice with me and I'm looking forward to that as well.
o At the tail end of this trip I'll get in a visit with good friends, Peggy & Earl Loftfield. It's been convenient to stay at their house in Albuquerque ever since Ma'ikwe left in '08, but that era is coming to an end as they sell their house in the coming months and move to Hawaii—where I have yet to figure out how to connect with via Amtrak.