Days 98 & 99: There has been calm. It makes it sound as if this should be a rather boring piece of writing. Scribbling about the placid. When did we learn to think that drama-free equals boring? I have been to drama. It is not an experience that I need. Today has a very small tale to tell: I drove to work talking to the full moon and reciting things for which I am grateful. I drove home talking to by daughter on nifty new earphone thingies that were an unexpected gift from a friend. I listened to my daughter’s hard day and some of her drama. And the thought that brought tears to my eyes was that she has a lover who understands her and cares deeply for her. I can release some of that mommy-fear about my adult daughter’s unhappy day 1500 miles from home. I can trust her, her girlfriend, and myself and release it. And keep my own calm. Tonight I didn’t eat dinner. I didn’t work on anything. I re-filled the bird feeder and passed out dog treats. And I did something I wouldn’t have done a while back–identified myself. There was an email from our neighborhood chat board. Folks were asking about the free libraries by the park, talking about what a treat they are and that they could use a paint job. And they wanted to know who put them there. I confessed. It felt good and it felt connected. No fireworks. Just calm.
Days 86-92: It’s been a longer break in writing than I expected but there has been some amazing stuff in the interim. Here are some truths, because I say it is so (how about that!):
If you begin to take any steps at all, the Universe/Great Whatsis will have your back: I spent some time breathing and visualizing getting some of the decluttering done rather than telling myself that I need to be organized and pick the correct place to start so that it will all work like clockwork and la de freakin’ dah. What works is Pick Something. Pick anything and just start doing it. I started with my cookbooks. I have one book case filled with cookbooks. I used to have an obscene amount of them and in a post-cancer moment gave away 2 large bookcases worth of cookbooks. What? I told you it was an obscene amount. I gave them to a budding chef, a giggling young woman wearing a hijab, and an unemployed man whose wife collects cookbooks. Some of these are being shared with friends, being shipped off to my daughter, and heading off into the ARC-shaped sunset. With that in motion, an event popped up that afforded me the opportunity to unload, er, gift in donation all of the purses I’m giving away. Two stacks of magazines that I was saving to read on Someday Isle are living happily with other people. Every day I’m doing something to address this–one drawer, one shelf at a time. This is not a race against the clock (well, it kind of is); it’s a race against my own procrastination and right now I feel stronger somehow.
I began setting aside regular time to breathe, visualize, and play with some herbs. I used a mix of orange, patchouli and geranium oils to create a happy wake-me-up scent. Which brings me to another truth: Once things are in motion, in the right direction, don’t be surprised if it starts falling into place like dominoes. I am finding lightness in simple tasks–monthly bill paying, cancelling my DirecTV, seeing the widening eyes of the paint store clerk as I foraged for paint chips. All she said was, “Really? What are you painting?” When I told her I was painting my walls, she was kind of speechless. And then I said it–“There’s not one f*cking white wall in my house now and there never will be.” I started laughing at the names of paint colors as I picked them up. The clerk was SO grateful to go help the guy who wanted white primer. My paint chips have names like Raucous Orange, Forward Fuchia, Blue Mosque and Glad Yellow. One of the first gifts I received while recovering from cancer was the epiphany that if I pay the mortgage on this house, it’s mine! I don’t have to have walls painted Apt. 202 White. People have told me they wish they had the courage to do it. There is no courage involved, just rollers, brushes, and a visit to Home Depot.
The final truth, and the one I am sitting with, examining carefully, is this: Sometimes just being yourself is the most awesome feeling of wholeness and a reminder of how frequently we reduce ourselves to fit our surroundings. I was invited to lunch in the mountains by someone who prefaced the invitation with the words ‘because I want to get to know you better.’ I was incredibly flattered and at the lunch found myself with a mix of friends and strangers. We laughed and talked and I felt myself relaxing and simply being the person I consider my best self. I actually had something to say and some things that people really wanted to hear. I learned some things, too. It was magical and I came face to face with the person I enjoy being and the way I love most to interact. Later in the day I was reminded of how infrequently I am able to do just that. It is not the first time this issue has come up but I know that I want to solve this riddle once and for all and just be. An old friend told me a very long time ago that the most difficult things in my life would not be the experiences of leaving one life for another, changing careers, or even raising my kids. He said the real challenges would be Just Be and Let Go. And so in my year of wanting to be content and practicing simplicity, Just Be and Let Go appear to be holding hands and skipping toward me at a rather steady pace.
Days 83 & 84: I can’t think of one thing of value I did on Monday. I mean, I went to work and worked. I came home and wandered through my evening, got up this morning, and started it all over again. Days like that feel like there is no life in living, just treading water.
The patient part of me says, Be present. Sit with it. Become aware of your surroundings. And that is often enough. Restless me wants to constantly be in forward motion, creating something, breaking down something, getting it in gear to GO. I was all about GO tonight with plans to box up a few more things heading toward the exit. Then my phone rang. It was Mary. She is in her 80’s. We have met 2-3 times over a lifetime and I will spend some time with her in October. She always talks as if we just stopped speaking to one another 5 minutes ago. She tells me family stories, asks me probing questions and punctuates important information with Are you getting what I’m saying to you here? And I do. She always reminds me how the past, present and future are woven together and that no human story is unique–someone, somewhere has been in a similar spot and made choices too. We spent a long while on the phone and then she said a quick Don’t forget I love you. We’ll talk soon.
I saw how the evening had slipped away along with the likelihood that I would accomplish much more tonight. The conversation also energized me with an interior eagerness to put some muscle behind my decluttering. I need/want/am going to have less stuff and need/want/am going to have more people time. Someone once said that the person with the most toys at the end wins. Somebody else said, the person who has the most time to play with their toys wins. I say, the person with any toys that are used up and worn out because they were shared doesn’t care about winning because just living is so enjoyable.
Days 80,81,82: Well, it was a weekend of more doing that writing. More reading than writing. More community than writing. The whole weekend had crisp air with hints and smatterings of rain. The past and present spent a lot of time kissing one another.
Truman went for his doggie spa day. When I went to retrieve my golden retriever, they had trimmed him into a puppy cut. In his eyes I could see the light and love of the fuzzy yellow puppy that he was 9 years ago. He put his head on my shoulder in the car and I thought of the long days he spent at my side when I was recovering from cancer. I thought of how little he expects of me and how much he gives. And I noticed the white mask forming on his face and the white patches on his haunches. The dogs are 9,10, and 11 years old. Looking at the wagging trio, I decided not do the dishes. I didn’t do much other stuff for the rest of the day. I threw the ball, tugged the toy, scratched ears and bellies, massaged some aging joints and we all fell asleep while I was reading.
A couple of years ago, I gave away a huge portion of my collection of cookbooks. I had an obscene amount of cookbooks. I collected most of them as a young mom and some of my best memories with my own mother involve hot cups of coffee and buttered toast shared while leafing through recipes –improving, mocking, marking to make, and wondering who could afford the ingredients for some of them. I kept collecting them after she died and looking for her handwritten notes among the old ones. My daughter and I carried on the tradition but it never felt like it ‘clicked.’ I was reminded more than once this weekend that she learns by doing. She grew up with me having Saturday or Sunday community dinners. Usually fresh bread and soup or chili and lots of philosophical conversation, some music and musings. And anyone could come. As I sorted through more of the cookbooks (and decided to give away 3 boxes), I thought about how much I miss those meals and what it would take to revive that in some way. Later that night, my daughter called to share her pasta sauce happiness. She started serving community dinners a few months ago for protesters on their way to the DAPL stand-off. It has since evolved into community dinners of her own. Fifteen hundred miles was unable to contain the savory and sweet of that conversation–how much I miss my mother and my daughter and yet how close to me they both are.
Tonight as I finished boxing and sorting, I thought about my morning and early afternoon spent with an excellent friend cooking up ideas for the fairy house we are making from a tree stump in my front yard and plotting what to cook for an event we are both attending next weekend. I thought how good it is to have a co conspirator. I also stumbled on a copy of The Subject Tonight is Love a translation of Hafiz’s poetry by Daniel Ladinsky. It was a gift to a paramour from whom I separated several years ago. Until tonight, it was pristine and unread. The heartfelt note tucked inside it reads, These words are for you and say to you from across time and truths that you are beloved in the heart of the Mystery and in the heart of the one who asks you to stretch yourself and crack open the dusty doors. Read them and speak to me about what you know, what you are learning and what you hope for. We never had that conversation; but, after tonight, the book will no longer be unread.
Day 75 – I’m baaack. Geez, I detest being ill. More so, I really don’t like feeling ill. I learned something about myself in the midst of it though. I shall raise my right hand and admit to being judgmental of women who whine about their diets and health and greying hair and fading beauty and boo hoo. And while I don’t whine about those things and try not to whine aloud in general, wow is my interior voice great at whining and complaining. Well, as long as nobody knows but me, it doesn’t count right? Wrong. So wrong. The good part is that it’s becoming pretty clear what my barrier is to daily, DIY contentment. (More on that tomorrow when I’ve had a little time to process.)
My vehicle is back from its’ second week-long visit with Miracle Keith. I don’t know what all he did to it but the transmission is working nicely and it no longer sounds like there is a toilet flushing beneath my dashboard. It happened at no cost and I am willing to admit I could be the new poster crone for buying that extended warranty on the engine/transmission. Sometimes the feeling of safety and contentment is worth the extra $9.00 per month added to the car payment.
I did push through and get some work done on decluttering and spring cleaning yesterday. I had no problem giving away a whole series of Spanish glass heads that I collected. Not easily come by, worth some money and nearly all gone. It’s the broken goddesses that I plan to keep. I have been collecting them for a while. There is some part of me that is indignant on their behalf. One moment a revered deity and the next off to the thrift store because someone knocked her from her perch. I have Quan Yin and Quan Am, each missing fingers or toes. Themis with a broken sword. A straw goddess with an uneven base, Mara. A carved wooden one that has been scorched in fire. I have absolutely no proof that it is an image of Teresita Urrea (a Mexican/American folk healer written about in The Hummingbird’s Daughter) but I would like to think it is. Everyone was cleaned and dusted and they are all chatting in a circle right now, perhaps comparing wounds or maybe just healing one another.
Days 70 & 71: I continue to revel in what’s not. I smudged the house and let the wind sweep though the rooms. Things here feel lighter and changed. The house is not suddenly, magically organized and simplified. However, it looks as if I have managed to set up a Spring clean-up for my neighborhood of about 400 homes. Not my kitchen cupboards. Not the office/craft space closet. No. None of that. But I spent hours making it possible for our non-HOA’d, unincorporated village to have Spring clean-up. Someone print me a sign that says, ‘Really? What were you thinking?’
I have not heard about my car’s transmission issues and I am just not worrying about it. I do have a sign that says ‘Worry is a misuse of imagination.’ It reminds me that worrying about the future is about as useful as trying to change the past. It doesn’t get you a step further. As a former champion worrier, I assure you this is true. I enjoy visualizations and this is something that works for me. Did you ever get a song stuck in your head and nothing turns it off. Close your eyes. Visualize the person/band performing the song on a stage. Imagine yourself turning off the spotlight, pulling the plug. Then say ‘The show’s over’ and visualize the dejected performer(s) exiting stage right. It works for me. And I am working on one that has to do with worries that crop up or old memories that don’t do any good. I bid them farewell and tell them to have a nice trip. Then I see them stacked onto the deck of a boat (or walking on board with a suitcase). The boat moves away from the dock and I watch as it sails off into the sunset. Gone. It requires a little faith in yourself and practice but it can work. If not, there’s always sangria and chocolate chip cookies. Exhale.
Day 69: There were a number of things that I didn’t do today that were rather fabulous as far as I’m concerned. I got up at what would have been 4 AM last week and didn’t whine or give in to a big urge to consume coffee. Caffeine is not my friend. I chose plain tea and some Michael Franti on Spotify to jolt me awake.
I did not spend time telling myself how bored I am at work. I thought about how much energy I would have this evening (and I did!) to begin work on my office/craft space.
I did not flip out and begin imagining the horrors to come when I determined that the new(ish) car needed to make a trip back to the warranty garage and Magical Keith because now the transmission is having petit mal seizures. There was a calm, rational conversation and I am driving another loaner car. Inhale: The car is going to be fine. Exhale: I am so grateful for warranties.
Sometimes it’s what we don’t do that’s the real accomplishment. Who knew?
Days 65-67: My house has hardwood floors and a little tile flooring sprinkled in here and there. I really love the soft look of the wood, sliding across in warm socks and even the click of dog toenails as the pack follows me around the house. Brooming the floors is a simple task but it always reminds me of life lived here. In the crevasses of the boards there is the sand and soil of Colorado land, dog fur, crumbs and the occasional wink of glitter. The wind blows in, the dogs shed off, people laugh while eating cake or muffins and sometimes there is a reason to open the box marked “Celebrate Everything” that is filled with confetti, glitter, beads and sequins. Yes, we have tossed it in the house. Yes, it’s impossible to sweep it all up. No, I don’t mind. As I was sweeping today, I was reminded that my pretty floors arrived via a tough time. We had flooding in the basement 5-6 years ago and I was able to squeeze the insurance dollars into basement repairs and flooring for the rest of the house. It was an unexpected mess that became a real gift. I’ve been complaining about the properties of aging but lost sight of the home repair grant that I got only because I’m older.
I have been looking at relationships through a different lens, too. I want the solitude and I want people around me. I like being alone and it gets lonely. Talk about fickle. But it’s where I am right now. In the past few weeks several people I know have died. They were old and long-lived and young and brought to closure far too quickly. It reminded me that I’m here and breathing and whether I am accomplishing things speedily or slowly at least I have the chance. I can focus on the flour dusting the floor or focus on the honeyed flavor of the perfect loaf of challah my son baked for us. I can think about having a rough week or focus on the kind of support and friendship I had during the week. I’ve had texts and a couple of phone calls. Even an IM with a link to an article telling me that one’s blog writing can be improved with orgasms. Two people reached out and told me that things written here mattered. Another person said they want to get to know me better. When I was a kid growing up in chaos, in a house in the alley, I would have more easily believed in finding buried treasure than possessing such a strong circle of friends.
Tomorrow I move forward and start again. I’m planning to smudge the house tomorrow. I will use cedar and sage and a few other herbs and maybe a pinch of glitter from the “Celebrate Everything” box to remind myself that change is in the air and that, in itself, is reason enough to be happily content.
Days 57-63. Yikes–a 7-day writing gap. Not good. But the past 7 days have not been particularly good either. Here’s a truth about why I haven’t written: When things are hard I just get really quiet. I work things out with words and there haven’t been any words of resolution here so I didn’t write.
The whole idea is to practice contentment with life as a woman on my own, new to empty-nesting, and finding out what makes me whole and happy in this new phase of life. And I want to do it with positive forward motion and without whining. The past 7 days have not been a sparkling success.
I spent the weekend like a shadow in my own house–sleeping far too much, feeling the silence wall me in rather than relaxing in the quiet and doing things around the house, running errands and working on something creative. I had one moment of connection to the things I love to feel–on the way to get tags for the car, a bushy red fox crossed the road in front of me, running to the right. Moments later, a coyote crossed going in the opposite direction (insert personal superstitions here: I could have gone happily without seeing the coyote). Then I pulled off and spent some time with a herd of about 80 elk. Maybe it sounds foolish to say that elk calm me but they do. I have a repetitive dream that visits me sometimes. I am standing in a flat, low-flowing creek bed brushing/grooming an elk and as I do, the dust from his coat becomes tiny butterflies that fly off. I’ve got no idea what it means but it feels calming.
When I started to work on some things here, I didn’t get much done because I decided to be cranky and whiny. It came down to two things–1) I am not happy with the details of aging, 2) the impact of my son spending more time here is not what I hoped it might be.
I am pleased to say that I’m not afraid of death. My family tends to be long-lived and I’ve been to death–that is been present when both of my parents died and once bled nearly to death myself. This is not the issue. Being very alive and wanting the energy to accomplish much without assistance is the issue. I used to be able to lift up the end of a sofa, balance it on my hip and vacuum under it. I packed 90% of our belongings into a moving van on my own when we moved to Colorado. I survived ovarian cancer. I used to leap tall buildings…well, maybe not that but I was energized. Now I work 10 hours in an office, come home and feel lucky if I do a load of laundry. I want to forget all of the knowledge I have about making choices, creating my own destiny, and envisioning my own success and instead scuff my shoe in the dirt and whine about life not being fair. Thoughts that come to mind are: Wine not whine. Do what you can do every day and suck it up. Figure out how to do things differently. Figure.It.Out.
Then there’s the whole thing with my son. He has been around more and kind of moved back in. I love his company, the life questions he trusts me to answer, and the laughter he brings along. But in these months on my own, I have enjoyed the sink empty of dishes, shopping for one, and the journey of clearing out things. And just as I feel as if I’m getting into the groove of all this, it’s all rewinding. It sounds selfish and bad parent-like to say that I’m not happy about it. The truth is I’ve come to like elements of just being responsible for only myself. Thoughts that come to mind are: Wine-ing or whining is not an answer. Do what you can do for yourself every day and create some boundaries. Figure out how to do this differently. Suck it up when things don’t go as planned. Figure.It.Out.
Day 55 – Keeping with that whole past/present/future thing from yesterday, my day had a dose of each. It’s amazing how the older stuff makes my shoulder blades stiffen and my mind scrunch up. When I think of the unknowns of the future, for some reason, it’s much more easy.
In the present, work was work and I got a call from the car dealership. Heroic Keith called to ask if I was planning to drop my car off. I explained that I had done that on Saturday and am driving their shiny silver loaner car. Keith said he would have to find my car. I asked him if I got to keep this one if it turns out they lost mine. He said he’d get back to me on that. At home I was able to rejoice over junk mail and credit card offers but not one invitation to get myself set up for cremation. (Last year’s birthday brought an onslaught of offers for retirement homes and crematoriums. Eww.)
Onward into the past. If I am to sort out my computer and craft space, I must own up to the pull of my soul to create some art. I can tell you that it was late in my junior year of high school when I stopped drawing and painting. Life was not much fun then and there were few successes, but art was always safe. One day we were working on water colors and mine was not transparent but my instructor took time to really look at the work and tell me to forget about the rest to just–go for it. It was the first time anyone afforded me that. About 10 minutes later his student teacher rounded the room, came upon my work and said–No! It’s supposed to be transparent! Then he proceeded to splash water all over my work and muss a brush through it. I picked up my things and left the class. I never went back and I never painted again. Wowser, I showed him. I’m sure it didn’t ruin the life of the student teacher who most likely didn’t know my name to start with and certainly forgot it later that afternoon. Yes, to show him what-for. I deprived myself for all these years to nobody’s loss but my own. I have no idea how well or poorly I am going to do when I pick up a brush again. I just know how incredibly foolish I feel for taking away from myself something I loved. The doofus student teacher was just learning his job. I stopped my own enjoyment, my own opportunity. And I may discover that I am truly awful at this but I am ready to cross the bridge from past to future and find out.
Ah, the joy of discovering that the obstacle in my path is me.