Thursday, May 28, 2015

Courting redemption

"I'd rather be a forest than a street. Yes I would, if I could, I surely would."

I'm wrestling with another conundrum.

It's not exactly new, maybe more of a different spin on the horns of an old dilemna. Maybe even a whole new horn.

I've written before about my stockpiling issues. I've admitted to my hoarding tendencies.

I keep buying stuff. At the same time, I find myself overwhelmed by how much stuff I already have.

At the same time, I feel completely at a loss about how to pare doen the stuff I have.

And that's partly because on an individual thing level, I'm attached to most of my things. They are my memories. I know where I was when I got them, both physically and emotionally. They are mementos of times in my life, both good and less good.

On a thing by thing level, I like my things. I bought them because I liked them and as I've said before, I like what I like (which is why I have half a dozen very similar t-shirts in various shades of bright pink).

Clothing, although it is one of the things I stockpile, is not really a big part of the problem. I can donate clothing, and I do, regularly. Purple Heart picks it up from my doorstep. Kitchenware, small appliances, even furniture fit into that category. I get a new soup ladle and the old one goes into the giveaway bag.

It's all the other random stuff I have that weighs on me, The collectibles, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, the little knick knacks from my parents' home, the travel souvenirs, the miniature animals I started collecting 20 years ago. I stopped 10 years ago, and they are still boxed up from when I moved in 2007, but even out of sight, they are not out of mind.

And we might as well cut to the chase and talk about the bead collection.

This morning in a Facebook thread about bead obsession, someone commented, "She who dies with the most beads WINS". That made me laugh. Out loud.

I'm in the running.

There's also the glass collection. Since 2008 I've had to try every color of lampwork glass out there and by try, I mean half a pound for starters if I think I will like it, up to 5 lbs. or more of colors I could not live without - opal yellow, silver pink, uranium pastel, copper green, red copper green, dark pink, dark lavender, to name my top go-to colors.

Then there is something I call glass arbitrage, where I buy colors that I think are sure to be popular. Whether or not I love them (although usually I do) I like to have enough to sell if the supply runs out and the price goes up. Because as much as I love some of the limited runs, I probably won't use them if they are out-of-production. Partly that's because I'm waiting until that magic day when I'm a better beadmaker, and until then, I'm reluctant to waste them. And partly it's because, good lord, there are so many colors out there, with new ones coming along regularly, that I can always find something I like almost as much.

No Tequila Sunrise? Creamsicle or Apricot will do just fine, thanks. I mean the plan is to sell them anyway and customers don't care whether it's Poppy Watermelon or just a pretty shade of generic coral (which comes in about eleventy dozen shades).

But then I start thinking about what will happen to all my stuff when I'm gone. I think about what a burden it will be to sell it. As a kid I loved the idea of a grandma's attic filled with treasures, but as an adult I paid to have my parents' apartment cleaned out, keeping just a boxful of special things. Things that became more of my things.

So every time I weaken and buy more beads for my collection or another coffee mug on my travels, I feel guilty not only that I am spending my kids' inheritance but that I'm creating a nightmare of work and decisions (and more guilt) for my family when I'm gone.

And here's where that old dilemna reared its shiny new third horn.

I thought, what if I just stopped worrying about it?

What if I gave myself permission to indulge, to be a ridiculous person, to buy all the beads I love (or the shoes and clothes and jewelry and dust collectors, even more socks) if it makes me happy and it doesn't break the bank?

I recently finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It's the story of a young woman who responded to the abrupt death of her 45-year-old mother in very self-destructive ways, including promiscuity (while married to a loving, supportive man) and heroin use. Four years later, divorced and aware that she is butchering her life, she decides, with no backcountry experience, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She believes it is her one best chance to walk her way back to the woman her mom would have wanted her to become.

It can be said again. I love tales of redemption.

It was meaningful somehow that I read the whole book on our trip to California, since for much of the story, Cheryl hiked through California (and eventually Oregon, finishing at the Bridge of the Gods on the Washington state border). When I got home, I bought and watched the movie with Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl.

In the last pages of the book (and near the end of the movie), Cheryl muses.
What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I'd done something I shouldn't have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn't do anything differently than I had done? What if I'd actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

It may or may not be related, but the other day, for the first time, I thought, what if I just stop worrying about dealing with my stuff or about who will have to deal with it one day if I don't? What if I forgave myself for being a person with a penchant for buying baubles and just accepted that part of who I am?

I look at my glass, I look at the tools I don't use, I think, I should sell those. And then I think, maybe tomorrow. Because today I don't need the money.

An online friend reminded me anectdotally yesterday of how hard it is to get federal medical assistance when you are elderly and infirm, but you have assets. I learned this with my mom to a degree. She was fortunate. Between my dad's social security, as well as the German equivalent of social security that she received from her motherland (because she worked for a bank before the threatening Holocaust convinced her to emigrate), plus a long-term care insurance policy, she did not have to dip deeply into the savings that she and my dad had earmarked as a legacy for my brother and me.

If my mother had lived much longer, the long-term care policy would have been exhausted and she would have had to become impoverished before she could qualify for the veteran's benefits she would otherwise have received.

So who knows. I won't go as far as to say my kids may be better off if I have beautiful beads instead of filthy lucre, should I become incapacited in my dotage. And I'm sure there are other things we can consider to protect our nest eggs, such as setting up a trust. I also can gradually start shoveling money to my kids as gifts as time goes by, especially once I'm drawing social security and taking required minimum distributions.

Lightening up the load, decluttering and simplifying, all still are on the table. Being more intentional and less impulsive about buying more is definitely still on a front burner. Organizing, paring down, some well-considered de-stashing, all are very much still probabilities.

But maybe I can cut myself some slack, quit beating myself up, stop feeling guilty and just accept myself and my self-indulgences. Oh my gosh, maybe even enjoy my treasures.

What a concept.

If I should die before I get my stuff sorted, well, I'll be dead and I won't care if my kids wind up paying someone to cart it all off, will I?

I won't say I'm there yet. Can't put down the flagellation noodles quite so quickly. But I'm asking the questions. And that's a start.

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

Away, I'd rather sail away
Like a swan that's here and gone
A man gets tied up to the ground
He gives the world it's saddest sound
Its saddest sound

I'd rather be a forest than a street
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet
Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Travels with my beads

"'Cause everyone's your friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty."

Today was a make-lemonade sort of day.

Yesterday I had some Facebook issues where some people could see my bead photos in my for-sale listings but some couldn't. I did nothing different than usual when I uploaded them. I had to delete and relist some beads.

This morning a moderator had deleted a listing that had bids on it because she couldn't see the photo. You'd think she would have contacted me and asked first. I didn't keep a copy of the listing. I save unsold listings and the sold listings, but the one time I don't have a copy is when the bead is listed.

I relisted it and tagged the people I thought had bid. Hopefully they will find the listing and want to bid again. If not, I hope someone else does.

I had an appointment for a massage today at 4 pm. Got a message from the spa that Lorianne, my masseuse, is taking some time off and is not currently on the schedule. Nothing like advance notice. The only masseuse available at 4 pm doesn't do deep tissue. The available masseuse who does deep tissue had a 3 pm appointment available.

So I rushed everything to get in my 3 miles on the treadmill, and when I got to the fitness center all the treadmills were undergoing maintenance. I asked when they'd be ready and the techician said, oh, in about an hour. In other words, the time I would have gotten there if I still had a 4 pm massage appointment.

Another one for the fuck-it bucket. I thought about a walk around the lake instead, but it was super humid and threatening rain and OK, I just didn't feel like it.

I can't wait to get my own treadmill. For a lot of reasons. No more occasional waiting for a machine. no more walking next to people who stink. no more wrangling over the room fan, no more putting up with broken equipment, air-conditioning fails, empty disinfectant wipe containers.

Moreover, I can walk in rags if I want to. I don't need a bra or underwear to walk 3 miles an hour. Think of the laundry I will save. Think of the 30 minutes I will save not having to change clothes and drive over. It adds up.

I suppose I could have postponed the massage. Having had a week off while we vacationed in California, I'm less stiff and sore than usual. On the other hand, I haven't washed my hair in days because what's the point if you are going to walk 3 miles at 3 mph and then get rubbed in massage goo. I can't go one more day, and I also planned to do the laundry tonight. Any way you slice it, flexibility is not my best characteristic.

California was a lot of fun. We were there for my oldest first cousin's younger son's wedding. Five years ago we went to her older son's wedding in Memphis. A few years before that we went to my middle first cousin's daughter's wedding in Chicago. I look at these trips as an excuse for a trip for Neil and me plus a rare chance to see my cousins, who I really am fond of. With all our parents gone now (my mom and their dad were siblings and their dad died recently) we are it. The oldest generation and the end of an era.

My cousins' kids will continue to know each other because they are first cousins, close in age, and all but the just-wedded couple have children close in age. My own kids are their second cousins and virtually unknown to them. Years ago, when my aunt and uncle were alive, they saw each other once or twice in Florida. It's just not realistic to think they will ever be in touch.

What is sadder really is that my brother's kids, first cousins to my kids, have emotional issues, which is another whole post, or possibly a book, so my kids barely know them. Throwing in that we live in Texas and they currently live in Phoenix and Michigan, it's been a long while since they'veeven  seen each other. I'm not ruling out all hope that they'll get to know each other in the future though. Hey, it could happen.

Neil and I flew into John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I love small airports, where you can just stroll across a road and pick up a rental car. Even though it meant we had to drive all the way through LA, heading north, we landed mid-day and didn't run into much traffic. We spent the first two nights in Camarillo. I chose it because I looked at a map and saw it was close to the Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center for Los Padres National Forest, 1,950,000 acres of mountain range stretching from Ventura to Monterey.

With 1,257 miles of hiking trails, I thought it would be easy to find some good hikes. My idea was to start at the visitor center, pick up a trail map and some ranger recommendations. Bad, bad assumptions. Between our GPS, the rental car navigation system and Siri, we couldn't even find the visitor center. We drove around in circles for a while, out of cell phone range, then decided to head back toward Ojai and the chamber of commerce, for lack of a better idea.

Once I had a cell signal I called the visitor center. I'm surpised a woman answered because it turns out they were closed. In fact they are only open one day a week and that day wasn't it. How did I miss that on the website? Oh right, because it wasn't the least bit obvious. Here's what the website promises:
The Visitor Center provides public information about Los Padres National Forest and also sells maps, trail guides, forest-related books, Adventure Passes and other items.
(I'm thinking LPNF coffee mug for my collection.)
Trained staff can help guide you to the many and varied recreational and educational experiences available in the forest and can also help with extended backcountry trip planning for the local wilderness areas. The Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center also serves as a hub for interpretive and educational activities and programs. These include presentations about the resources and issues of Los Padres National Forest.
The woman was helpful at least. She gave me directions where to park and find the trail head for Rose Valley Falls. Did I mention it was raining?

A little rain didn't stop us from taking a reasonable hike. Just for fun, I brought three beads with me to photograph along the way. I got the idea from another beadmaker who recently moved cross country and photographed one of her beads en route. I decided to carry my beads for Beads of Courage and document the journey.

Here are the beads at Rose Valley Falls. One bead went for a dip. I said no, but it insisted. Splash! (It was fine. I make sturdy beads.)

The beads also visited a bead shop and went out for pizza and frozen yogurt.

Since we had to wind up in Solvang the next night, I was able to find a hike in Santa Barbara called Rattlesnake Canyon trail, guaranteed to be snake-free. The trail description promised "views of Santa Barbara, the ocean and Channel Islands, oak trees, meadows and gullies." The weather was picture perfect, the views, trees and gullies didn't disappoint, and while we didn't make it to a meadow, the beads had fun anyway.

Saturday morning was the first family event, a brunch at the home of the father of the bride. More perfect weather, more beautiful scenery, granola, mimosas and my cousins. It was lovely. We spent the afternoon sawing Solvang in two, poking into the little gift shops, going cafe to cabaret, or mocha latte to danish pastry. Then it was time for the rehearal dinner, more good food and more distant relatives to see.

The wedding was on Sunday night at a winery in Santa Ynez. That left us free on Sunday to visit the Old Mission at Santa Barbara, where my beads had their last hurrah.

We did swing by the Santa Barbara Zoo too, but my iphone battery was low on juice, so no pictures. It's a small zoo anyway, 500 animals, 30 acres.

Another perfect day, ending with an unseasonably chilly (for Southern California) but still almost perfect wedding. My first-cousin-once-removed Alex married Dawn. I snagged this photo from their wedding website.

Alex and Dawn are vegan (eat vegan?) and the wedding feast was composed of some very creative vegetable combinations, with a nod to an amazing array of cheeses. The wedding cakes were chocolate, red velvet and gluten-free. Guess which one was mostly left untouched.

Currently, Alex and Dawn live in Brooklyn, and the very best moment of the wedding for me was when Alex took the stage with the band and sang "New York City" by the band, They Might Be Giants. It was spectacular. Even though we were as far from NYC as the continent allows, he just really put it over.

Ah to be young, in love and traveling together. Wait, what, I've got that going on. OK, OK. Two out of three ain't bad.

"You called me last night on the telephone
And I was glad to hear from you 'cause I was all alone
You said, it's snowing, it's snowing, God, I hate this weather
Now I walk through blizzards just to get us back together

We met in the springtime at a rock-and-roll show
It was on the Bowery when it was time to go
We kissed on the subway in the middle of the night
I held your hand, you held mine, it was the best night of my life

'Cause everyone's your friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me

Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Ferry, Co-op City, Katz's and Tiffany's
Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State where Dylan lived
Coney Island and Times Square, Rockefeller Center
Wish I was there

You wrote me a letter just the other day
Said, springtime is coming soon so why don't you come to stay
I packed my stuff, got on the bus, I can't believe it's true
I'm three days from New York City and I'm three days from you

'Cause everyone's my friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me."

(John Flansburgh and John Linnell)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Vacuum abhorrence

"And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight."

Life itself apparently abhors a vacuum.

At the end of last year, I decided to reset my priorities and by eliminating some of the many activities I'd taken on, free up some time to focus on the most important ones - and also have more time to just be.

So, after three and a half years of taking art classes at Glassell, I didn't sign up for the spring semester.

After a year of online classes at ColgateX, I didn't enroll in another class.

I'm not volunteering with Animal Services at this time. That actually came to an end last summer, when I didn't get Charlotte, but I got Biscotti. It really had more to do with the way I no longer felt welcome, after the cat bite incident.

When the new shelter is built I may give it another go. It would be a fresh start so to speak.

I also resigned my position as contributing editor for Glass Bead Evolution. No more quarterly articles hanging over me.

In the meantime, beads, Facebook, and fitness have taken over my time. All my time. I don't take time to read. I don't take time to write. I don't have a whit more time than I had when I was doing all those other things.

My day goes like this. Wake up. Have coffee. Check email and Facebook. Bump my 1 pm auctions. Wrap beads to ship.

Make beads. Edit photos. Start the next round of auctions. Bump my 5 pm auctions.

Change, snack, go to fitness center, walk on the treadmill for an hour. Right now I'm watching Season 2 of Grimm.

Go to Post Office. Come home, take bath. Start the next round of auctions. About this time Neil gets home, unless he has to go directly to softball.

Fix dinner, clean up. Neil reads to me and the cats. We are about a third of the way through the second Harry Potter book. Try to stay awake.

Watch some TV with Neil. Try to stay awake, Check auctions before bed. Update any auctions that have sold by Buy-it-Now.

Sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

I never seem to run out of ideas and inspiration for new beads. I'm doing a new series of focals with dots and feathers. As typical, I thought there'd be an embracing response and the first few I listed drew little interest and no sales. Since then, I have sold a couple and I do think they are getting better.

I promised myself that I'd make what I want to make and stop measuring my artistic worth by whether or not my work sells on Facebook.

Every time I go a day without a sale, which isn't really that often, I rush to judgment that the cash cow has died. That cow has more lives than a cat. It has an amazing will to live so far.

We got the kiln fixed. That was a fiasco. I called Paragon and explained that I needed a new insulation block for the left hand door as I faced the kiln. The insulation block had come loose and tryng to the bolts had ony chewed a big hole in the block.

I paid a ridiculous amount ($55 plus $15 shipping). A huge box came, full of shredded paper (the heaviest type of padding) and inside was ... an entire right hand kiln door.Not only was it the wrong door, but the doors on my model are welded on and not easily changed out. And of course the box came on Friday after Paragon closed for the weekend.''

On Monday I sent the above photos of my kiln and the door I'd received, and spoke to the person who'd helped me. She said she'd send me out the insulation block and a $13 refund (and to keep the right hand door). Then she sent me a note saying there would be no refund. I said, in that case, I'd like an entire left hand door, and I'd be happy to return the right hand door - on Paragon's dime, since it was their mistake.

Turns out the price I was charged was the price for the insulation alone, the door actually cost more than I'd been charged. I started to research the cost of kiln insulation, something I'd have thought would cost about $10. Then I decided it wasn't worth my time and to just chalk it up to ... not experience. Idiocy maybe.

Because don't you know, I had the brilliant idea of just removing the screwed up insulation and flipping it over. Neil did just that and it worked perfectly. He did used the bolts and nuts from the new door. So my kiln now sports new $70 nuts and bolts.

Speaking of Neil. That elephant sat in the room for a couple of days after he got home. I finally said, is there an elephant in this room that we need to talk about? So we did talk about it, and I wouldn't say I liked the way the conversation went. Neil owned no remorse for yelling and thought if anyone owed anyone an apology, it was me for asking him to do anything late at night.

Sometimes you can't win. I wanted to ask him, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Then I decided I'd rather be happy than right, so I let it go. Talking about it wasn't satisfying but it allowed us to move past it.

At one point he asked, what do you want from me, and I said, I want you to talk about your feelings. That cracked us both up. Laughter is very healing.

In other news, I did just sign up for a sort of mini-version of an online class. Greeks at War: Homer at Troy. "Gain a broad-based understanding of warfare in ancient Greece through Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad." That's the subtitle or description. It's just a six week course. We're not reading the entire Iliad. There are excerpts recotmmended for many of the modules, but since I read the whole thing once, I'm counting the reading as done.

The class is taught by a Colgate professor, Robert Garland, but it's a MOOC on EdX so the "students" are not necessarily connected to Colgate in any way, and at a guess most are not. With enrollment in the thousands and more than 100 countries represented, it lacks the intimacy of the classes I took before.

It is sort of interesting that this course is based on an epic poem and is about war. I was an English major. I've taken one literature course on ColgateX and one course on the advent of the atom bomb, i.e. war. This course is focused less on the literary merits of the Iliad and more on how the experience of was is both "particular and universal." Here is how Professor Garland summed up the course objectives.
This course will balance the universal with the particular. It will give a sense of what the Trojan War, as seen through the eyes of Homer, was all about, that is to say, both (a) what made it unique, and (b) what links the experience of that war to men and women serving their country today, and to men and men women caught up in the crossfire as civilians today. Among the topics that we will explore are leave­taking, b​attle fatigue, the relationship between combatants and civilians, post­traumatic stress injury, the army’s command structure, why people go to war, how soldiers view the enemy, the rewards system, insubordination, comradeship, hand­to­hand combat, time out, disposing of the dead, war guilt, and homecoming.
This is week two. I've completed the video lectures, which are interesting, and looked at the discussion boards, but haven't found anything to say yet. I did notice there is not much dialog taking place. People are posting their responses to the prompt questions or just posting their thoughts, but it's not a conversation, it's just people posting their personal takes.

I do want to try to get a little involved in the discussions. I'm going to set myself a goal of posting something this week.

I'll report back. As I'm sure you know.

My newest beads. I'm pretty pumped about them, whether or not anyone else is.

"'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning we come 'round right."

(Joseph Brackett, 1848)