Thursday, October 6, 2016

Trending on the side of happiness

"She's always been real good at listening
Her sense of humor never lets her down
Except sometimes there's something missing."

I'm feeling a little better - for absolutely no reason whatsoever - which serves to underscore what a pernicious and baffling thing depression is.

Years ago a therapist told me that, treated or untreated, depression cycles. Which reminds me that I was once unofficially diagnosed as cyclothymic - or as my doctor put it, "bipolar in lower case letters."

It's true, my highs are not as high as Mount Chimborazo and my lows are not as low as the Challenger Deep. I fluctuate closer to middle ground.

Still, for the last five years I've been persistently trending on the side of happiness. And don't think I have come to take that for granted. In fact, I've taken it with a generous dose of mindful gratitude. I've been consciusly happy to be happy.

Recently I wondered aloud, where did my happiness go?

Neil said he was worried about me, more so every day. I said you should be. I said I'm trying to be fine, but I'm not fine.

And today I woke up and some of the weight just wasn't there. I don't know why.

I had a rocking good torch session, playing with a new idea. Not a wholly original idea, but a riff off something I saw and liked that I feel I can make my own with the colors I choose.

Facebook reminded me of this quote I posted five years ago, on the day that Steve Jobs died.


Five years ago, it was just two months and five days since I'd left my job with ConocoPhillips by mutual agreement. I wanted to go and they helped me make the break. Finally, I was living the life I dreamed. I was making art my life. I was living in this beautiful house that I love, with a man that I love, and I felt like a princess in a fairy tale.

I woke up every morning looking forward to my day. I was busy all the time, I was taking art classes and online classes, writing articles for a glass magazine, working out, volunteering with animal services, serving as an officer of the local glass beadmakers society, selling at bead shows, waiting for my first grandchild to be born.

Then over time more and more things fell away. Some of it was by choice - I wanted to be more focussed and less distracted. Some of it just happened. I fell out with the shelter over the cat bite incident. The glass magazine went online only, I felt undervalued for my writing contributions, and I resigned as contributing editor. I ran out of classes that interested me at the art school, once I accepted that I had no real affinity for metalsmithing and enameling. Bead shows became fewer, further between and less lucrative.

Then two things happened. Someone gave me a treadmill - so I no longer had a reason to go to the community fitness center. And selling beads on Facebook took off. My world got a lot smaller, and many days I only left the house to take packages to the post office.

Yet I've been happy. I had plenty of social interaction on Facebook, at least plenty for an introvert who thrives on unstructured clothing and her own company. For a long time it's been great. I'm always busy, the days fly by, I've watched a zillion hours of crime drama on Amazon Video and Netflix, donated boatloads of beads to Beads of Courage, walked hundreds (OK dozens) of miles on my free treadmill.

When I was working I was always so afraid that something would happen to me before I had a chance to live my life in a way that made me happy. I'm so appreciative that I have that chance now and have done these last five years.

I never take life, or anything about it really, for granted. Last week I took my car in for routine maintenance. The service associate who checked me out went over what my car would need next, spark plugs at 100,000 miles, timing belt at 105,0000 miles. I asked about cost, mainly thinking about the timing belt, and he said it would depend on whether I wanted generic spark plugs or upgraded ones that would last me another 100,000 miles.

While I like my car well enough, I can't assume I'll drive it for another 100,000 miles. Even if someone doesn't rear-end me and total it, with the amount of driving I do, it might take me 30 years to drive it that far.

Thirty years from now would find me older than my father and my mother were when they died. I'm not counting on that.

Not that I only fill my gas tank halfway in case I die before I can use it up, and yes, I once knew someone who reasoned that way.

I figure I'll be dead, I won't be worried about wasted gas.

Neil actually looked up our life expectacies tonight. We have a lot of financial decisions to make, such as whether or not he should take a 50 or 100 percent joint and survivor annuity. The payment reduction isn't that much for 100 percent, less than 4.5 percent, but Neil thinks it makes more sense to take the 50 percent annuity and rely on life insurance to make up the difference. That way, if he retires and I die, he isn't penalized for the rest of his life by a slightly reduced pension payment. On the other hand, if he retires and dies, I'd get only half the amount for the rest of my life.

Neil reasons that we'll both live a long time anyway and thus we'll both enjoy the advantages of a few thousand extra dollars a year, but reasonable or not, I feel anxious about the whole thing. I do hope to die first and in that case the upshot will be moot for me, but we all know the statistics about women living longer than men.

If Neil dies anytime soon, I'm sure my emotional issues will far exceed my financial ones. So I'm not sure why I am fretting so much over how we slice and dice the financial arrangements. I just know I feel troubled by the thought of being left alone in a giant house in North Carolina. Even if a life insurance payout bridges the gap of losing half of Neil's pension, the idea of a monthly income feels more reassuring somehow.

As I've mentioned before (or have I?) I have a lot of trouble spending money that is in savings. I haven't been able to drop the dime and replace my pitiful iPad 2. I don't have as much trouble spending income or even the dwindling balance in my checking account that I've been living on since I retired from ConocoPhillips, supplemented by my bead business income. I have the glass and the clothes and the shoes to prove it.

Truthfully, the lion's share of the money I have in savings is tax deferred, and if I have my druthers (which I believe I saw around here recently) I'll wait until I have to take an RMD when I turn 70.5. I certainly don't want to take any this year or next while I'm in Neil's highfalutin tax bracket. The year after next, I will probably start my Social Security - it will be nice to get even a nebish monthly check again.

All the money in my savings that isn't tax-deferred - about 1/8 of the total - comes with tax consequences that confuse me, such as capital gains or losses. I have no clue what I'm doing, which funds I should sell and which funds I should keep. So I do nothing and limp along on bead sales, which I've been supplementing with glass sales to tide me over this dry spell.

I did get a little boost today, when I got this message on Facebook.
Hi Elizabeth,
Would you be interested in doing an article about your glasswork for Glass Line ?
Respectfully,
Jim
Of course, it is one of those unpaid deals, I do the writing, I get Neil to take the photos, I write whatever I want to about myself, and I do a bead tutorial.

I'm thinking it over, but I already know I'll do it. A lot of very respectable artists have had articles in this magazine.

I won't kid myself that it's free advertising. It's closer to vanity publishing. It would look good on a CV - except that I'm unlikely to ever need one of those again.

Some blessings can't be overrated.


For years she's lived on her own
In a corner of the city
Twice a year she gets back home
Playing catch-up with the family

She tells her folks what they need to know
Her mother says she's much too thin
Her sisters ask about her beau
Her dad inquires, how's business been

She's thirty-three this time around
She's always been real good at listening
Her sense of humor never lets her down
Except sometimes there's something missing

Hey, middle ground
A place between up and down
She could be safe and sound
Oh, to know middle ground

For years she's been on her guard
She's kind of tense around the shoulders
She wonders why she works so hard
She counts the days 'til they promote her

She'll take a weekend now and then
To stay in bed and watch the reruns
She'll turn the phone off when guilt sets in
But Sunday always kinda leaves her let down

She gave her heart away one time
And says that she hasn't seen it since
Love's a puzzle in her mind
The pieces match, but don't quite fit

And these days run thick or thin
It never rains, or else it's pouring
All her single friends are men
She thinks married girls are so damn boring

Hey, middle ground
A place between up and down
She could be safe and sound
Oh, to know middle ground.


(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz