Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eulogy for Mary Castro

I wrote this to be read at my grandma's funeral. As it says, I've accepted it and feel ready to move on and mourn when I need to. She was a good lady.


Although it's been hard for me to remember, since I've been away from home for so long, I spent most of my life close to Grandma Castro. When I was little, I'd play at her house, in the backyard with her cats and the neighbor kid, eat snacks she made, watch cartoons, see Papa Castro when he was still around. We'd see the family for the holidays and eat her traditional Christmas cookies. My favorite was the mantecados.

Every weekend, for a long time, we went to garage sales early Saturday mornings with my mom, and maybe got McDonald's after. Or we'd have yard sales of our own at her house or ours.

During the week, we'd go to thrift stores so often that they knew us all by name. I'd play by the toys and books shyly while they looked for collectibles. As I got older, I'd look at the clothes, records, and old electronics. I got more and more irritated going because I'd be bored and shy when they wanted me to talk with their antique-hunting friends and the staff. I skipped the yard sale morning trips more often. Then, after a while, Mom and I would go on our own more often than with her.

I saw Grandma's mind fade, though her body stayed damn healthy through it all. Mom and I came over more frequently. I got used to her forgetting things and mixing up names and telling us the same things. And to be honest, it never bothered me. What was the use in correcting her? It would only frustrate her trying to remember things that she couldn't. So when we spoke, I generally went along with what she'd say while we watched TV and I sat next to her while she crocheted, trying to do the same or drawing.

Every time she came to our house, she would try to clean the kitchen – even though Mom told her not to. She would make tortilla espaƱola and thought it was the first time she'd made it for me. She'd tell the same old stories and sing the same old songs and use the same old phrases - “bebe que no llora no mama”. But I never got sick of it. I loved it. And now I can sing the songs and cook the tortilla.

When she got worse, we found her a live-in caregiver, and mom and I still visited regularly. I'd buy her groceries, tidy up, get her medicine, do yard-work, talk with her, walk with her when she used the wheelchair. Different caretakers came in, especially Belen Ramos, who quickly became part of our family because of how much care she took with Grandma, how much love she truly had for her. Joyce came to take care of her for a while, too. Mom and I would help with medical things sometimes. It put a lot of stress on Mom, and I got frustrated from time to time as well, but we kept going. We knew how important it was to her to stay in her home.

When it was time for her to leave, I was already in college across the country. Mom and I and I think everyone were reluctant; it was hard to accept, but we did. And after how much the Little Sisters had done for our loved ones, and helped them pass on, there was no other option. And they did make the last years and days of her life as calm as loving as they could be.

Having been present for the duration of Grandma's decline, I didn't find it as hard or shocking to know it was time for her to go. I had been expecting it and preparing emotionally for years, and then months, and then days. I saw her a few times at the home and knew she'd be alright. Even now, I feel okay knowing she's gone, and okay being here instead of there. It's more important for me to move on in my own life, the life she helped make possible, because I'm ready and because I know that my mother and the family I love are all in good hands.

Mary Castro will of course live on. She has scores of family, close and distant, who bear her impression and memory. That's the truest kind of immortality I can imagine. For some of us, including myself, that impression goes deep, and for that I will always be grateful. Her life, the part I witnessed and the part I learned about, was one full of love, compassion, strength, endurance, and hope. I've tried to live up to that example – her example and that of the children she helped foster into the beautiful adults they've become.

I think my mom is correct in saying that we'll never see one quite like her again.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Done tonight using Photoshop and my drawing tablet. Learning to get some variety out of it. This was meant as a less photo-realistic, detailed pic, a bit artsy-er. Hard to resist making the facial features more realistic, especially the eyes and lips, but I like them as is. Might play around with it again but I'm pretty happy with it, don't want to be a perfectionist.

Used a Revlon ad photo from Vogue as reference. You can find pretty things in the oddest places...Like sunflowers growing in a parking lot.

Right now

A lot is going on in my life, has been for about 4 months now, which is why my use of this dear little thing has been so inconsistent. It involves death and fear and anxiety and depression and the unexpected and the unknowable. That's not vague at all, right?

At least to clarify: the death was my grandmother's, and I'm taking it as well as one can take a death. A big part of that is making sure my family is doing okay as well, and I am sure of that. Other than that, I'm not ready to share any more details or thoughts or feelings. Just assume that if you don't know them and if I don't talk to you about them that I'm simply not ready yet, and may not be for a while.

Living moment to moment hasn't been more important than it is right now. And self-care and self-awareness.

These are two songs keeping me going right now:


I'm also learning to play this one:

Time to learn and survive. And learn HOW to survive.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The importance and usefulness of journaling

Yep, another srs post. Refer to the below King Henry meme. Same applies: feel free to read if you're interested in what I think about mental health, emotions, self-awareness and shit, and if you have time. It's about two pages long. Fun and/or personal stuff will come down the tube later, but I just wrote these so I figure I'd share them.


The importance and usefulness of journaling

Journaling exceeds psychiatric and psychological resources in dealing with emotions, thoughts, actions, and self-awareness in general. The reason for this, I think, is that journaling is 100% confidential, if done properly. I personally type mine and encrypt it in a zip folder with a password only I can know. If there are entries I feel comfortable sharing either on my blog, with my docs, or with a trusted, intimate friend, I simply amend them and save them in a less-encrypted manner. I don't think this is excessive, because it assures me that what I write is as confidential as I choose it to be, for my own good and to maintain my sense of security in being very, very honest in my entries.

The key service journaling offers is free expression. It probably takes a while to cultivate this, especially for people who struggle with expressing their feelings and thoughts. Personally, I've become pretty good at this, even when it comes to sharing with others and knowing my boundaries when doing so (granted, I fuck up with this from time to time, erring on the side of over-sharing my thoughts and emotions). As such, I don't think it'll take me too long to do so with this journal. However, I think it could take me a while to comfortably write about any recent events, even as remote as months or years ago. This is INCREDIBLY difficult, even if it's ideal. As I always say, as humans, we are imperfect and can't expect to be able to do this stuff when we want or need to. There's nothing wrong with that and we need to accept it, along with other basic, key things about us as humans, radical acceptance-style.

However, it is also VERY important, if you can force yourself through the immense discomfort of it, to write about your FRESH feelings about the big stuff, not feeling the need to censor yourself or judge or overcompensate to sound more wise and reflective. This is perfectly alright to do, and also important, so I don't want to say that it's ideal to not do this at ALL. It can definitely serve to help you mentally and emotionally purge and get by without having these thoughts plague you non-stop. This is ALSO pretty hard to do. Journaling might not work for some people – it could even end up hurting more than helping – but it's worth trying, even for the small stuff. Personally, I'm really bad at committing to and maintaining a journal. But I hope, with all I've learned, that I can follow through this time for at least a while, and remember to go back to it from time to time. I know I certainly won't delete any of my entries even if I don't read them for years. I'd do myself a major disservice to do so.

So all that I've described in the last few paragraphs explains why I chose to make my very first journal entry in this particular journal so generic, not about what I'm feeling or experiencing. It's what I'm most comfortable with right now: trying to be objective, in the sense of explaining my own philosophy about self-awareness without judging myself in an over-compensating manner. I think this will be a good reminder for me, from time to time, and I'd love to share it on my blog but even more so, with the people I love when they need it, or even just to start a philosophical discourse using this as a starting-point for what I believe – at this moment, at least. Journaling is especially good at tracking what you believe or feel or are experiencing and what you think about it at any given time in your life.

I suppose this is a good point to explore THAT aspect of journaling. If you use it to frequently track your thoughts and emotions, in-depth and honestly or even just venting, then you can use your journal to track how you grow and how your mind develops over time. What I mean is how you approach emotions, how your ways of dealing with them change, what you believe to be true about yourself. This works for tracking your view of the world, your actions, and the way you think as well.

Psychiatrists and psychologists also do this, from an outsider's perspective, but their ability to do so is limited by their position AS outsiders: they can't really know what's going on in your head because no matter how honest and comprehensive you are in the way you express your self-awareness and thoughts, I think it's impossible to do so as comprehensively as you can in a personal, secure-feeling journal. As doctors, THEIR purpose is to be the CLINICAL outsider who can use the information you give them to track your thoughts and self-awareness as they apply to your mental health, and can try to advise you and inform you of how they see your progress. Sharing with intimate loved ones, in a different manner of course, also serves this function. They are also good at simply being emotionally supportive people who can advise you, or, much more importantly, simply LISTEN and comfort and commend, when appropriate. This is yet another resource which I personally think is very, VERY important in staying grounded and functional as people.

To sum up: journaling is a resource for tracking how you feel or think, how it changes, and how it affected what you did at a given time. It tracks how your mind and life changes, because they DO, a lot, over time – even over short amounts of time. There are many ways to write in your journal, and sometimes you can't do ALL of them; in the best of circumstances, you can. But being able to do ANY of them, whenever you can, is a great thing to do for your own good. It also affords the chance to share either your very personal and raw entries, or your philosophical entries, or any entires you choose, with your doctors or loved ones when you choose to.

If you can bear to, it's absolutely worth it to NEVER delete your entries, as every single one can be worth re-reading at various points of your life, even if just to amuse yourself. In addition, it's important to allow yourself to keep them secure in whatever way makes you feel safest so that you continue to feel comfortable writing in as raw a manner as you want to or can throughout your life, or as long as you value the journal. Keep in mind that this can and WILL change, so even if you feel like something or even the whole journal is obsolete, it really, really isn't. If nothing else, the entirety of it or some of it would be a wonderful thing to leave as a testament to who you were throughout your life for those who survive you, loved ones and strangers as well, in case you end up being famous or someone happens upon some or all of them.

The reason I think the part about strangers is true is because of my work in the classics, oddly enough, because the most accurate and beautiful way Greeks saw immortality (through Homer's philosophy) is not through transcendental or spiritual means, but through word itself. It is ultimately the only form of immortality I believe in. Written word is one of the most spectacular things we're capable of as human beings, for society, for history (if written records are able to survive for a while), for a lasting impression on the world through loved ones AND strangers. And, as I argued above, it can be crucially important to knowing ourselves at a given moment and throughout our lives.

The importance and usefulness of psychologists and psychiatrists

This is a pretty serious, personal-philosophy-esque entry. But it's not too long so if you're interested in what I think about this, I'd love you to read it and hear what you think about it. Smiley-face.

The importance and usefulness of psychiatrists and psychologists

I always think these sorts of doctors are great resources, especially when you're really trying to be self-aware or need to just to stay sane and functional, if you get the chance to use them. They are not to be taken for granted. But that's another long story.

These types of doctors act, ideally, as objective and 100% confidential people to express your thoughts and emotions to at any given time. Their job is also to track how these change throughout time, in the time they work with you, to evaluate how we can think about and deal with them (particularly with CBT) and what we might try to do to best improve our lot and act in our self-interest, including not being total jerks to those around us. This also includes how to deal with and think about those we love and trust and cherish most, since as people this is another crucial part of our self-interest and personal image.

I'll preface this and all that follows with the addition that these ARE humans, and there's really no guarantee that they're good at their job. Even if they are, once in a while they'll fuck up or offer suggestions that really don't do anything useful. So in approaching how we use these resources, ideally we want to be as self-aware and vigilant we can be WITHIN ourselves, so we can take what we hear with a grain of salt. On the obverse, when they offer really good input – even if we deny it or if it hurts or is very painful and difficult to put into practice – we should try to listen to and accept it as ultimately worth absorbing. This includes drugs, when you need them, though some prescribers are quick to over-medicate - “better safe than sorry”. Also, drugs are very rarely guaranteed to do what they claim to do. Such is the nature of practical, science-based medicine, not just bad medicine.

But I think, even more than the input they give, the absolute most important function these doctors serve is a forum for expression. They provide as safe a space as possible to share our thoughts and emotions with another human being. While a journal is even safer and more honest, being able to share yourself mentally and emotionally with another human being is a very, VERY good way to deal with our lives and our minds. This doesn't only apply to when we're in a personal crisis. It's good to keep in mind that even our day-to-day lives, personally and with other people, can have a huge effect on us and how we act in relation to our own self-interest and our desire to help those we love.

I want to avoid being judgmental here, because I really doubt it's true, but I think this applies most especially to those of us who are very sensitive and prone to over-thinking our lives and feelings. These tend to be people with a lot of brain and often a lot of self-consciousness to go with it. Other people deal with the same experiences, though, to a lesser extent. And, of course, it's not practical for everyone – in fact, it's only practical to relatively few people – to even HAVE this resource, due to finances and many other limitations. Other people might have other versions of it, from church confessionals to trusted family and friends to other types of counselors, but because of their oath to patient confidentiality and the protections of it put in place, I think psychologists and psychiatrists are ideal.

Due to the stigma of psychology – that you have to be crazy to even need to talk to such a doctor – the vast majority of people at this time wouldn't believe what I have to say here. This especially applies to psychiatry To an extent I agree, due to the unreliability of how these drugs really work on the human brain. As such, psychiatric medication should PROBABLY be reserved for people who really need more than just a forum for expression, whenever they need it. (That's subjective, of course. If there's such a thing as an objective way to ascertain it, I doubt it's possible for us to know it.) There's a lesser stigma among people who accept that psychology and psychiatry are significant resources – especially people who have actually benefited from them or have close loved ones who did – that there are only a few times one “needs” a psychologist or psychiatrist. They have a good point. But, as I said before, even dealing with day-to-day interactions and feelings is enough to warrant using these resources for people who are very self-aware, self-conscious, or prone to over-thinking emotions and actions.

I think that's all I need to say to express my own thoughts and feelings on the importance of psychologists and psychiatrists.

Tentatively Returning

God knows I've said this a billion times before, but I'm trying VERY hard to come back to this blog from time to time when I want to and am able to really use it. This includes personal entries (not too personal, natch), observational entries, philosophical entries, and entries for the lolz alone. I'm gonna stop promising "I'M FOR REALS GONNA POST A LOT NOW, CATS AND KITTENS" because I know it's not something I can really promise. So instead, I'm just gonna post entries on my Facebook and mail them out to the people I really want to read them who AREN'T on Facebook, so that they can read them whenever they end up online. Mkay? Mkay.