Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

24.11 Settling In, Again

Not surprisingly, really, getting used to having another person in the house, every minute of every day, takes some getting used to.

Change is like that. Even things you look forward to also bring changes in our routines, and, we naturally find ourselves perturbed by the disturbance. Our basic brain function is not accustomed to those pattern changes. And doesn’t really like it. Cognitively, with the help of a ton of scholarly writings on change and change management, we understand this, but we struggle with it nevertheless. Our emotional minds are detached from our rational minds, and the emotional mind wins. Or at least takes a long time to be rewired.

According to Lisa Feldman Barrett, emotions are made in our brains as part of our memory system. The brain uses memories as a way of recognizing patterns in emerging events and prepares itself for taking appropriate action. The brain is a predictive machine: it processes external events received through its five sensory inputs, compares them with past similar events recorded in memory, ‘predicts’ what is going to happen next, and already begins to act in anticipation. And our ‘conscious mind’ is not even aware of it in real time. If the prediction was wrong and the action inappropriate, the brain is consternated, becomes stressed and then tries something else. New memories are laid down or old ones modified. The stimulus that caused the action is emotion. And the feeling is ‘stress’, whether positive (‘eustress’) or negative (‘dys-stress’).

So it is that despite living with my Filipina partner for more than five years – more apart than together – my patterns get perturbated each time she joins me in Canada. It’s like the first time all over again. But different. Memory cues are restimulated but there is also cognitive dissonance because of the long gaps in between. Cognitive dissonance is the conscious awareness we have that a previously held value or belief is in conflict with the reality we are experiencing. I’ve been really looking forward to Carmen coming to live with me in Canda again, even if only for six months, so why am I irritated by some of the things she does? I don’t like living alone, so why do I miss my private world at 76 Budapest Crescent?

I began my relationship with Carmen Espino at the end of the tumultuous and tragic year of 2018. In May of 2019 we persuaded each that, if she could get a visa to come to Canada, we would give this relationship a try, despite the many and obvious obstacles.

She got the visa.

Our tine together in 2019 was one of exploration, growth and acceptance. It took a year. Then Covid happened and we were separated for 20 months; and despite the relief provided by 4-5 calls a day by Messenger, virtual being there is not the same as being there. 

As soon as travel restrictions from covid were lifted in the Spring of 2022 I beetled on back to The Philippines and returned to Canada bringing Carmen with me. We seemed to adjust more quickly that time than the first time, but then, memory is not always that reliable; this is because our brains tend to overlay episodal events on previous similar ones – we remember the most recent revised version. 

I returned to Pilipiñas in April of 2023 and again in April of this year, but I find visiting Carmen in The Philippines is not as perturbating as when she visits me Canada. And the difference is, I allow myself to be merely a visitor, to be pampered and waited upon when I go to The Philippines, but when Carmen comes to Canada, she takes over my domain. 

Carmen arrived for her third Canadian tour May 25. We will have almost six months together here until she returns to The Philippines November 8. The first few weeks have been a marvel of how quickly she has renewed her familiarity with ‘our house’ in Kanata, and yet, there are still some adjustments we have to make, or at least, I have to make. She insists on doing all the housework, she respects my arrangement of all the furniture and artwork but she refreshes every closet and cupboard; she leaves my office alone and hardly disturbs the seven bookcases, but everything has been dusted; I am not allowed to prepare meals or clean-up afterwards. I accept her re-organization of the refrigerator now filled with unfamiliar items (fish, coconut water). I feel pampered, but useless.

My shower, previously ascetic with merely one container of 3-in-1 body and hair wash, now groans with shampoos, conditioners, body wash and cleansing products. I feel surrounded and almost claustrophobic twice weekly when I take a shower; Carmen on the other hand showers every day, sometimes twice a day. I sense the water meter spinning wildly in the basement, not to mention the gas meter.  I think to myself the adage, two can live together as cheaply as one, is false.

DJ’s Shower Before Carmen

DJ’s Shower, Carmen Occupied

I’m pretty sure this is not a cultural difference, but gender. We may share the ensuite bathroom for showers and brushing of teeth but the second bathroom is strictly Carmem’s:

Carmen’s Boudoir

Sleep patterns seem to be the biggest issue. We both have a life-time of accumulated patterns and habits and those are not changed readily. Carmen, as do many Filipinos, I’ve found, rise early with the chickens and go to roost with them too. (Many others, it must be admitted, are nocturnal – sleep by day, Tik-Tok by night.) This may have a lot to do with the unrelenting mid-day heat: active people get up at 4:00 a.m., put in 3 good hours of work, relax (or retreat) through the heat of the day, then pick up the pace once again around 4:00 p.m., and in bed by 8:00! Admittedly, air-conditioned facilities have changed this pattern some but it’s still uncommon to see agricultural workers in the field at mid-day. And pity the traffic cops and (outdoor) security guards on the day shift.

Ordinary habits are laid down in childhood and they tend to persist. Often we are not conscious of the original learnings but the patterns have taken hold and not easily altered (strict role-modeling and rules from mother Gregoria I suspect). Carmen was raised in the 1950s in a very tiny rural community in Samar Island of The Philippines. They did not have electricity until 1976 and still don’t have running water. The village is alive (even the teenagers!) at 4:00 a.m. doing chores; school started at 6:00; everyone retreated to shade by 7 or 8, and conserved energy till late afternoon. Then the kids were back playing in the roads until dark (6:00 o’clock in the tropics), bed by 8:00 (remember, no electricity – lighting was by candle and kerosene, no tv and certainly no internet!)

It is not surprising then that Carmen istill gets up at 4:00 a.m. and in bed by 8:00 p.m..

I, on the other hand, grew up with electricity (though no tv till I was about ten, but with flashlights and radios). Dark in Ontario summers was 9:00 o’clock; we ran wild; we had to be home by 10, and in bed by 11. In winter, bed was 8:00, (9:00 in our teens), and reading under the covers until finally forced to turn out the lights. School started at 8:30 or 9:00. Nobody but the milkman was awake at 4:00 a.m.

As an adult I used to watch the evening news at 11:00, lights finally out at 12:00; up at 7:00 for first coffee – in bed if you’re lucky – breakfast and out of the house sometime after 8:00 for work at 9:00.

It’s not surprising then, that I am still wandering the house at 11 o’clock while Carmen has already been in bed sleeping for two+ hours; five hours later I’m vaguely aware Carmen has crept out of bed and begins washing floors, watering the roses, folding, ironing, putting away laundry, emptying the dishwasher and cooking breakfast (or lunch or dinner) by 7:00. I do appreciate that she brings me coffee at 6:30 and leaves me to linger over my twitter and diario (the National Post) until 7:30.

I don’t think it can be just me who finds my equanimity disturbed in our renewed living arrangements. I’m certain there must be some annoyance Carmen feels in my patterns and behaviours. She’s just kind enough not to tell me. 

Or is that quick snap when I keep pestering her while she’s working a hidden message?

Carmen has been here for three weeks now. I’m sure all this settling in will have sorted itself out by November. And then we start all over again

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like this article?

Get notified when a new blog is posted. Join the mailing list now!

AFS Publishing

T   613 254-5315

Copyright ©2018 AFS Publishing

Sign Up and Receive Updates

Get notified when there is a new blog post and receive other updates from AFS Publishing.