Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Can One Have a Family Without Drama?

There’s no other time of year that reminds you just how single and childless you are than the Holidays. Everybody else spends the Holidays with their partner, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, and/or in-laws. Single people like myself spend the Holidays with families too, just not our own families. Oh, we might be related to the people seated next to us at dinner, but we enter these family gatherings as a guest, and then we leave. Sometimes we leave feeling sad and pining for a family of our own. Other times, we leave feeling relieved and confident that we’re the lucky ones.

Lately, I’ve been debating which of these scenarios is more appropriate – having a family of my own, or being alone. I have mixed feelings about both.

Despite having a traumatic childhood, my idea of “family” has always been a positive one. My father was a volatile man, but also loving (in his own way), brilliant and extremely witty. My mother was calmer, a good listener, a pillar of emotional strength, creatively inspiring, and also funny. I would often tell her that I not only loved her, but I also liked her, which always made her smile. Likewise, if my siblings and I weren’t related and met as strangers, I’m sure we would still be friends. That’s a good feeling.

It was also a good feeling to have a partner, to love, to be loved, to be in love. It was a beautiful experience to be supported, to laugh with someone (to be able to make them laugh), to care for each other, to be able to confide, to share the wonders of life and discover new things together, to feel like we weren’t alone in this world, to know that we had each other’s back.

Not that being in a relationship was all roses and butterflies. In fact, it had its fair amount of drama, even before my late husband got sick.

Several months into our relationship, when we’d started letting our guards down a little more, I remember Kaz saying that he considered his Home a sanctuary and that all the world’s drama should stay outside (his diplomatic way of telling me to not bring my bad moods inside). I understood this on an intellectual level, and it sounded great, but it didn’t seem very practical.

Having grown up with all kinds of drama inside the home, I thought that was normal. Not necessarily extreme rage, violent outbursts, police being called, and people locking themselves in the bedroom for days, but the open expression of unhappiness and taking one’s bad moods out on others. I actually thought that’s what “home” meant – the freedom to shake off the shackles of societal pressures and behave any way you want. What a relief to come home and just be unhappy without pretending!

Suffice it to say, I don’t think like that anymore.

Growing up, being a caregiver, watching someone slowly die, dealing with multiple losses and years of grief, as well as years of living and writing alone, has all shifted my attitude. I don’t just want drama left outside my home, I want it as far away from me as possible.

It’s strange – all the aforementioned experiences have made me less prone to worry and less sensitive to insult, but far more sensitive to my immediate surroundings. Someone can break something in my house, and I won’t get upset. But if they raise their voice for any reason, I cringe.

I don’t like emotional outbursts, I don’t like complaining, I don’t like it when someone is moody, I don’t like loud noises, I don’t like negative tones of voice, I don’t like rudeness, I don’t like it when someone talks too much, and I really don’t like it when someone interrupts my work (which feels like an invasion of privacy).

I like peace and quiet. I like rooms with doors (that I can shut). I like being alone and not having to talk to anyone. I like having my own space. I need my space. I like being free. I like not having to deal with anything other than myself, my dog, my house, my work. (I’ve written about some of these themes before: protecting my head space, living the solitary life, and being alone vs. being lonely).

All of which brings me back to the central question: can one have a family without any drama? If not, is it better for someone like me to be alone? Or is some happy medium possible? Maybe separate offices, separate bedrooms, separate houses?

This reminds me of the painters/partners Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who lived and worked in two houses that were joined by an elevated bridge. There’s actually a term for this kind of relationship now – it’s called Living Apart Together (LAT). And apparently, it’s growing more popular.

I know couples who live in the same house and have studios/offices on separate floors or away from the house altogether. I know couples who live in different cities. And, of course, there are couples who live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, work in the same office, and are perfectly fine despite being joined at the hip (I don’t get it).

I know families who are having all kinds of problems with their children: obesity, lack of appetite, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, drug problems, and more. And more than one couple that’s heading for divorce (the Pandemic has definitely not helped).

Maybe the answer is to find someone who doesn’t create or bring a lot of drama, and is wonderful enough to endure whatever drama arises. The right person will be someone who helps make it easier, not contributes to making it worse. Because, honestly, I don’t think life is possible without any drama.

Being alone might minimize it, but it’s certainly not a shield. As we all know, anything can happen at anytime. And living apart might help, but not necessarily (and might not always be possible).

Anyway, it’s worth thinking about. I hope to one day find the right situation, the right balance between togetherness and apartness, union and individuality, freedom and commitment. It would be sweet to host our own holiday gatherings, invite family to join us, and then to be left alone again. Alone but together.

The Museum, House and Studio of Diego Rivera and Friday Kahlo (photo source: Pawel Toczynski)


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Being Alone vs Being Lonely

Last time I posted about loneliness and made some suggestions on how to overcome it. I neglected to mention that just because someone is alone doesn’t mean they’re lonely.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Kaz, that I don’t miss him and wish he were here. But even when he was alive, I used to like being alone. Back then I called it “needing my space.”

One of the more difficult aspects of moving in together was that I couldn’t have my space. His apartment (like mine) was a one-bedroom, and the bedroom wasn’t big enough for a desk. So, I wrote in the living room – with headphones on to drown out the sound of the television and his video games. After a while, he started wearing headphones too, so he could play his video games at full volume. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.

After he died, it wasn’t totally foreign to be alone, but it was strange and very painful. Excruciating at times. I felt him with me spiritually, but that did little to lessen the void created by his physical absence. It took a long time for the pain to subside and stabilize.

After 3.5 years, I’ve grown accustomed to being alone again. I still have moments of “why isn’t Kaz here?” but being alone has become normal.

And now that I live “in the sticks,” as someone recently teased, I’m more alone than ever, in the sense that I don’t see lots of people.

But I’m not lonely. Well, sometimes I am. But for the most part, I’m not.

I think this is because I’m writing all the time. I’m extremely focused on my work, and I like that there are little to no distractions (other than the dog).

Besides my work (which I enjoy), I get enjoyment from sources other than people… things like books, movies, cooking and being outside. I’m even enjoying winter (so far). It’s a bit like being in hibernation. There’s a certain relief in not going out a lot.

When I go into the city, it’s a different matter. That’s when I get my people “fix.” But I love returning upstate to my little sanctuary.

It’s hard to explain, but I have no complaints right now. I  don’t have much money, but I’m not stressed about it for some reason. I’ve gained a little weight here, but I’ll lose it eventually. I still cry about things, but I’m not depressed. And after I cry, I’m okay. I don’t go to bed sad, which is very different than before.

I’m more grounded and secure than I used to be, more self-sufficient and content. I need less of others, and less of the material world.

In a way, it’s like I’m learning to be happy again… happy with a very simple life. It might not always be this simple, but perhaps I can carry the simplicity within me.

As I told a friend the other day, “If I can make it through this year of working my ass off, making little money, living in an isolated place, and surviving the winter… I’m pretty sure I can handle just about anything.”

Wishing everyone peace and light.

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Puppy Issues

Ruby at the cafe

Ruby at the cafe

My baby girl is 10 months old now. I can hardly believe it! Seems like just yesterday she was this little pip-squeak. Soon it will be her 1 year birthday (July 7) and I’m already thinking of what to do for her. Before then, however, I need to deal with some of her new behaviors.

Issue #1 – She barks at people.

I know dogs bark and don’t expect my dog to be mute. But I’ve noticed that she’s barking more often lately in inappropriate situations. The other night I took her to a friend’s party and she barked at other guests entering the host’s house. She also barked at a guest walking out of the bathroom because he startled her. Last night she barked at a neighbor who wanted to take the elevator with us, then at a homeless man walking behind us on our evening walk (he wasn’t doing anything suspicious).

I always tell her “No” or “It’s okay, sshh,” then I tell the person, “She’s actually really friendly,” and they look at me like I’m nuts. Folks are already scared of her because she’s a pitbull. When she’s barking at them with the hair raised all along her back it’s hard to see the friendly side. To her credit, I’ve never seen her growl or bare her teeth at a person. Her barking doesn’t sound like “I’m going to kill you!” It sounds like “Stay away!”

What’s strange is that in other contexts, for instance when I take her to the cafe in the morning, she sits there like a little lady. She does the same thing at street lights or whenever I tell her to Sit. She also never barks at other dogs even if they’re barking at her. People are always saying how well-behaved and sweet she is.

I go out of my way to be friendly to people on our walks. In fact, I’m probably much more outgoing with her than without her because I know she picks up on my tone. Yet in certain situations, even when I’m being friendly, she starts barking at the person.

Is part of the issue that we live alone? She doesn’t get to interact with other people like she does with me. She’s also extremely attached to me and still follows me from room to room. My gut tells me it’s a combination of protectiveness, testing her assertiveness, shyness and/or a general wariness of strangers, especially men. But how does a puppy learn who is a creep and who isn’t? I suppose I have to bring her around people more, which means being less of a hermit (sigh).

Issue #2 – She has bursts of uncontrollable energy while on the leash.

For the most part, she walks/heels very well. She will walk right beside me without pulling for 75% of the average walk. She gets compliments on this too because people can’t believe a dog that young can walk that well.

However, if she sees a squirrel, bird, stick, small dog or any other interesting creature, all bets are off. She will either lurch forward with all her strength or jump in the air and twist her body around with excitement. If I don’t anticipate it, she could yank my arm out. When she does this around small dogs, albeit because she wants to play with them, it totally freaks them out – and who can blame them?! I haven’t been too strict about it because I figure she’s a puppy, that’s what puppies do. But as a friend recently pointed out, if I don’t curb it now soon she’ll be full-grown and going berzerk. Then what?

We’ve slacked off from puppy class the last few weeks, but this Saturday we’re going back to discuss these issues with her teacher.

Has your dog ever had these issues? If so, how did you deal with it?


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Packing for Paranoia-ville

I’ve been feeling a little paranoid lately. It started last week when I discovered that the posts I’ve “publicized” on Twitter were apparently hijacked by a porn site for the “kinkiest widows.”

I actually received the following direct message from a colleague on Twitter: “What in the world could you be doing inside these videos?”  When I clicked on the attached link it took me to Facebook but asked for my Twitter email and password. I closed the window and emailed the colleague, “What videos? I can’t open the link.” Then I got a message saying I couldn’t email her because she’s not “following” me on Twitter.

The Twitter/porn site/Facebook thing couldn’t be resolved right away because on Tuesday I had fired the apartment’s internet provider – EarthLink – after the umpteenth customer service call to fix a service that never worked to begin with. (EarthLink is another remnant of my late husband’s set-up. All the utility bills are still in his name.)

On Wednesday, the new internet provider – Time Warner – sent Jose the serviceman for the installation. But Jose said the wires he needed had been cut and my Landlord would have to be contacted because construction was necessary to reconnect them. “But my landlord never answers his phone,” I said. Jose shrugged and took his number anyway.

Two hours after that my neighbor Marco knocked on my door and told me that he’s moving to the apartment underneath mine, but he’s not telling the Landlord so if any problems arise, could I keep it “between us?”

“Why would there be a problem?” I asked. Justin explained that he “produces music” until late and though he soundproofs the walls, the bass sometimes bleeds through. “When do you usually get home?” he asked. “So I know when to be quiet.” “I’m in and out,” I replied hastily, then agreed to keep his illegal sublet on the down low, said goodbye and closed the door.

K never totally trusted Marco, who has three kids by three different women and, as far as we could tell, no job.  Now he’s going to be living underneath me playing loud music and having parties till all hours. If he wanted to rob me, all he would need is a ladder from his patio to mine.

Later in the afternoon, a friend of K’s from way back named Andy called me. We recently connected on Facebook after he tracked me down. K never mentioned him before but Andy has left nice messages on his memorial page.  

Andy and I chatted for a while, mostly reminiscing about K, until he announced that he had to leave for an AA meeting. “Can I call you after that?” he asked. “It’s important that we talk.” “Sure,” I said, curious what could be so important.

A few hours later, he called me back saying he was at the hospital “getting a psychiatric evaluation” because he thinks the government is plotting against him and monitoring him through AA. “Well, I hope it all works out,” I said. The line went dead.

These are the moments when I really miss my husband and hate being a widow. The moments when everyone seems crazy and I don’t know who I can trust.

K was so grounded, such a good judge of character. He was street-wise and tough, but also diplomatic enough to diffuse situations without escalation. When I try to be tough, I just comes across as bitchy.

People talk about living without fear and so on. I try but it’s like I always have a bag packed for Paranoia-ville. Sometimes, it’s really challenging not to go there.