The Road to Self-Actualization
“The key to Maslow’s writings is understanding that there are no quick routes to self-actualization: rather it is predicated on the individual having their lower deficiency needs met. Once a person has moved through feeling and believing that they are deficient, they naturally seek to grow into who they are, i.e. self-actualization. Elsewhere, however, Maslow (2011) and Carl Rogers (1980) both suggested necessary attitudes and/or attributes that need to be inside an individual as a pre-requisite for self-actualization. Among these are a real wish to be themselves, to be fully human, to fulfill themselves, and to be completely alive, as well as a willingness to risk being vulnerable and to uncover more “painful” aspects in order to learn about/grow through and integrate these parts of themselves (this has parallels with Jung’s slightly similar concept of individuation).” – from Self-actualization, Wikipedia
It is May 22nd. It has been cool, rainy, and silent except for the low drone of my computer fans and steady stream of passing cars outside. The breakneck pacing of the previous six months has come to a sudden halt with the end of MSP Springcon. I slept almost twelve hours Monday night. In between bursts of writing, I have been sluggishly counting books and unpacking merchandise in the solitude of my office. I have been gnawing on leftover steak.
My mind wanders to my parents often, this time of year. It was almost exactly three years ago that my estranged father committed suicide. He refused any help, and never recovered from my mother’s death. He entered a relationship with a woman two years my junior — a waitress at the restaurant where the three of us often ate before my mother became too sick and weak to go out. I disapproved, and that was the last straw that estranged us. She bounced between my father and her husband in/out of prison. She took advantage of my father. He spent nearly every penny he had trying to keep her happy, until he was in massive debt. He should have had a comfortable retirement. After his death, my siblings discovered that my father had rented an apartment in his name for her, her child, and her husband, because he did not want her to be homeless. For all my father’s faults, selfishness was never one of them.
Like my father, I sometimes try too hard to help those I should not.
Toward the end of 2018, due to some threats I no longer felt physically safe or secure at my day job. Out of an abundance of caution for both myself and my coworkers, I left my work as a custom picture framer which I had known and loved for twenty years, and sought to begin a new career. Based on my experience caring for my mother, I was quickly hired on at a facility as a Home Health Aide. It turned out to be a fairly serendipitous turn of events, as other than trouble with scheduling — I was not able to get any additional time off for convention season prep or Springcon, which meant a lot of shift-trading, over-time, and very, very long weeks — I enjoy the job, and leaving retail has been refreshing. The job has also, I feel, been very good for me — helping to pull me out of my own inner world to focus on others’ needs, learning to ask the right questions and use nonverbal cues to assess those needs, gaining a new perspective of what is really important in life, and exposing me to a wide variety of histories and experiences through my residents. I fancy joking that, “I wipe asses during the week, and sign autographs on the weekend!”
One evening, I was attempting to care for a late-stage dementia patient who is frequently combative, refuses medication, is resistant to his cares, is often violent, and largely non-verbal (the things he says make no sense or are not words). However, he is responsive to music. While attempting to assist him, I began singing O Danny Boy. He grew still, then silent, and by the close of the song was singing along with me. He then allowed me to admin his medication and help him. We shared a moment together. For him, it would be rapidly lost to the ravages of his disease — but for me, I will not soon forget.
My days are filled with hugs and small tender interludes — a warm “Hello!” to someone excited to hear their name, listening to proud tales of children and grandchildren, remembering how someone prefers their coffee, small favours not on my worksheet, the thankfulness whenever I can spare a few minutes to chat, appreciative families. Songs during showers, where no one cares if a melody is carried imperfectly or a voice cracks. Holding a hand. Offering words of comfort. Health and youth take so much for granted — even bending down to pick up an item from the floor can be life-threatening if a fall occurs.
Not to paint too rosy a picture, my days also frequently include mild physical or verbal assault or abuse, and casual racism. Sexual harassment and sexist abuse from male dementia patients seem to be extremely common. They do not really prepare you for this during the interviews and training classes.
I have been told I am good at working with dementia patients for someone that has not being doing this sort of thing for very long. Perhaps it is because I can inhabit their worlds almost as easily as I can inhabit my own. Perhaps it is because they rely so heavily on body language to communicate, and mine is unusually exaggerated and expressive. Perhaps it is because I have in me a well of patience that I never fully recognized or knowingly tapped into. The repetitions and odd requests that irritate many of the other aides just do not really register with me. Maybe that will change months or years from now.
Anger is something of a last resort emotion for me. Before I become angry, I usually have to exhaust an ocean of excuses and rationalizations about why I should not be. The only part of my MMPI results that genuinely surprised me was my therapist’s recommendation for assertiveness training. I have never put much thought into the degree to which I learned to suppress my anger, desires, and needs growing up. I lived in a very much “my father’s way or the highway” household. I can see now how my inability to accept my anger as a valid emotion has undermined me. My relationship with Stephen is unique in that it is the first where I felt safe enough to “fight” — that is, we disagree, things might get a bit heated, then they are eventually resolved. My aversion to conflict has lead me into mostly-dominant or mostly-submissive roles.
During the process of getting divorced, I was briefly in a relationship where I allowed my budding confidence, enthusiasm, emerging identity, and sense of self-worth to be gradually ground into a pulp over months of controlling rules and demands, moving goalposts, being made to doubt myself constantly, and attempting to please the unpleasable. This is where the title of my new book, Queen of Assholes, originates from. When a new partner begins calling you an asshole after barely a month, any individual with a healthy self-esteem would be out the door. I did not have that, and did not do that. It has taken years of flopping around like a fish, trying to reconcile my admiration with personal experience, grasping to understand why I was treated that way and “fix” my mistakes, and conciously building relationships with secure and well-adjusted individuals who genuinely care about me to help me discover my own worth. My (mostly female) coworkers have been invaluable in this process of helping me learn what kind of treatment I should not accept. And I am under the care of an impartial and competent therapist to help me remain true to myself.
That relationship broke me in exactly the ways I needed to be broken.
More will come into focus as Queen of Assholes unfolds.
This weekend was the MCBA MSP Springcon comic convention. Since arriving in Saint Paul, the convention has not only helped to give my career its second wind, but in many ways, it and its volunteers have become the family I never felt I had. The fall before I came onto the scene, the main personality running the convention, Nick Postiglione, passed away unexpectedly. He was greatly loved by all accounts, and this left not only a gigantic hole in people’s hearts, but also in the leadership of the convention. Three volunteers were selected to take his place, and in the years following Nick’s death in 2014, everyone has developed their roles to move together as a team. I began volunteering in the spring of 2016, as soon as I learned about the volunteer activities. As time went on, I showed to participate in every volunteer activity where I was allowed, except during the convention itself. I am there when the tables and tablecloths go up. I am there until the last corner of the Grandstand is swept, and the doors are rolled closed on the loaded truck. Last summer, I obtained permission to start up an Instagram account for the convention, and with the help of friend-photographers, I work almost daily to promote fellow creators and engage with the convention’s audience across all of its social media.
I do these things because I choose, rather than to criticize the convention or its management, to be an active and positive force toward helping it not just grow, but thrive as the landscape changes moving forward. The convention does not exist to be a feather in my hat or “boost my ego,” I exist to serve it. The convention does not owe me anything more or less than the free T-shirt I am promised as a volunteer. If I am granted a featured artist placement, or a free table at which to sell my books, and meals to eat, that is a gift — and for what I am given, I will be grateful. There are more creators wishing to table than available spaces, it is run completely by volunteers, and this convention is the most generous I have ever seen. I am committed to its success.
(Fellow creators, feel free to reach out to me!)
Steve has been a volunteer for the convention for over twenty years, himself, and it feels like this is the first show where we have really gelled together as a team — between volunteer work, my booth, and his small comics and toys business. Comics and conventions are my life. Sharing that is important.
All that being said, I had an excellent show this year. My table remained busy nearly the entire weekend, and we sold between 30-40 books plus a healthy amount of merchandise. My lovely assistant Jessica decided she would rather take original artwork and books in lieu of what I usually pay for the weekend, so my net for the show was about the same even though I sent some of my business upstairs to the Charity Art Auction. And my auctioned piece received the third highest bid, raising $225 to be split between the Hero Initiative and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. I donated to the Garage Sale myself.
This week I am taking a bit of personal time for rest, and inking the Deadwood piece I started. After that I will be shifting into comics production. I would like to have a Have Tablet, Will Scribble book ready for this fall, and the intro issue of Queen of Assholes ready for next spring. Both of those will be primarily new material, but now that I am getting proper help, I believe I can do it.