Sunday, December 24, 2017

A slice of heaven

"I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
What hijacked my world that night
To a place in the past we've been cast out of, oh oh oh oh
Now we're back in the fight."

You knew this was coming.

Well, you might have known.

It was inevitable.

Now that I'm making beads again, I'm back to listing them online.

I opened my frit shop first - mainly because I got a convo from a customer last month saying she was running low and getting desperate. Something to that effect.

I'd just finished unboxing and reorganizing my frit supplies. so I went ahead and reopened my Etsy shop.

From there it was only a matter of time, relatively little time, before I reopened my Etsy bead shop.

And shortly after that, I dipped my toe back in the murky waters of selling beads on Facebook.

There was a little flurry of interest and encouragement, a handful of folks remarking that they were glad to see me listing again, a few sales.

I bit the bullet and ordered 200 more bubble mailers. To go with the ream of lime green tissue paper I bought before we moved but never had to open.

Within less than a week, bead sales have already stalled. Murky waters as I said.

Leave it to me to time my return the week before Christmas. I might have waited until January. It might not have mattered.

I'm seeing the usual only more so. Bead sales continue steady for a few artists and appear to be stagnant for many more. I'm still seeing some perfectly horrible beads get bids while my beauties sit. I'm also see other artists' beauties go unbid.

It's a little disappointing. I've followed the bead scene these months but not closely. What I hoped was that new buyers would have found the bead buying pages and would swoon over my wares, having not seen my work before.

What's actually happened is that all my sales so far have been to former customers.

It's OK. I'm not going to beat myself over this. I'll keep listing for a while. It keeps my busy and helps me structure my day. Even a few sales can add up and it was nice having a PayPal balance to transfer to my bank account again.

I've sold a few orders of frit. No bead sales on Etsy yet, but that may pick up as I build up my inventory. Some say the key to Etsy is listing often, so this months-long break won't have helped.

I'm not spending money on bead making supplies any more. I have enough raw materials to keep going for a long, long time. I have my torch running on household natural gas, so no more cans of propane to swap out. I'm stocked up on shipping supplies or will be when the mailers come, so any money I make now is gravy.

That's one way to look at it. It doesn't stop me from hopefulness every time I check Facebook to see if I have any bids.

I was never really in it for the money though. It was always about the validation. So, I'll have to watch it there. If I start feeling bad about lack of sales, I can always stop again. After my next 200 sales, I mean.

I'm still toying with the idea of doing a craft show but I'm not sure people will buy loose beads and I'm not sure I want to make a lot of spec jewelry, even if I can come up with some simple styles and keep down the cost of findings. I have a good stash of bead store beads, clasps, ear wires, headpins, etc., but I'd rather figure out a way to string my beads on some cord or chain and call it ready-to-wear.

The other aspect of shows that daunts me is having to lug all the cloths and displays and merchandise, set it all up, and invest a day or weekend sitting behind a table.

I used to enjoy the interaction with customers, but it's been a while since I did a show. Foot traffic had slowed a lot, sales had tapered dramatically, and I've heard things haven't gotten better, that the internet is killing off the live shows.

Then again, my new friend Leslie, who I met online and who lives not far from here, says she's done a few very successful local shows. So it might be worth giving it a try.

We'll see. Plenty of time to ponder it, no need to make any hasty decisions.

For now I'm getting enough of a charge from just creating. I've had a few fails but more successes, if success is measured by beads that I think turn out pretty. I was worried that I'd be rusty. I was concerned about the switch to natural gas. But there hasn't been much of a learning curve. My skills are pretty much what they were, maybe a bit better for the rest. My color sense has felt a bit off, but I can work with that.

Life in general has been smoother, as I've started to accept and even embrace my new home exit. Tensions have subsided and time has assumed a more natural rhythm. My bed feels almost friendly again.

Best of all, some of our new furniture has been delivered. We have comfortable sofas, a dining table and chairs, more storage pieces and the most beautiful desk I've ever dreamed of owning. Still to come are the bedroom set, the coffee table and end tables for the living room and a few other odds and ends.

Who knew that having furniture again would be a little slice of heaven?

The cats approved of everything.

I posted these pix on Facebook. They got a lot more likes than my beads. Oh well. They also got comments, mostly about charcoal couches and white cat fur. Hey, I don't mind a little lint-rolling. I'll be happy if they don't shred the fabric or yak up hairballs on the upholstery.

For the first month. Week. A couple of days.

I ordered some throws to cover up the couches, just in case.

We still need to buy rugs and some side pieces for the first floor fireplace, and then I think we are done.

The next baby steps will be taking the cats to a new vet, picking a new dentist, finding a new GP, and buying a new car.

We have one more quiet week ahead. We're picking up Christmas dinner from Fresh Market. I'm hoping to get a few things done this upcoming week, like my nails and a massage and maybe some post-Christmas sales shopping.

One New Year's Eve, Neil's clan descends. His father, son, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. They'll be here until January 4. It should be interesting. We bought Blake a hammering toy. We've saved some big boxes for him to play in. It will be an adventure.

Yeah, I keep telling myself that.

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
What hijacked my world that night
To a place in the past
We've been cast out of, oh oh oh oh
Now we're back in the fight

We're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

A circumstance beyond our control, oh oh oh oh
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell, oh oh oh oh
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

The powers that be
That force us to live like we do
Bring me to my knees
When I see what they've done to you

But I'll die as I stand here today
Knowing that deep in my heart
They'll fall to ruin one day
For making us part

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
Those were the happiest days of my life
Like a break in the battle was your part, oh oh oh oh
In the wretched life of a lonely heart
Now we're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang.

(Christine Hynde)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Home is where the cats are

"It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed."

We're back from our trip to Texas.

We've been back since Monday but I've had to take some time to process my feelings about it.

Plus, my torch is running quite fine on natural gas. I'm getting happily re-addicted to melting glass.

On the whole, the trip was a mixed bag, but I suppose that's true about most trips, at least most of my trips.

Arrival day was fine. The flight seemed endless but we got an hour back. The weather was gray, drizzly and cold. In other words, perfect.

Perfect as a sign that moving was the right thing and that the grass is a lot browner in reality than memory dictates.

We went to the bank so Neil could close his safe deposit boxes, and then Neil wanted a mocha and I wanted a sweet. We were surrounded by Starbucks but I'm always interested in alternatives, so when Siri offered up a "desserts and drinks" place, we drove in a circle to find it.

"It" was Bambu, a small but growing chain specializing in Chè -- Vietnamese homemade beverages, dessert drinks and puddings. Chè is made with coconut water or coconut milk combined with "exotic, healthy and delicious" ingredients.

It wasn't the cobbler with ice cream, or cupcake or pie or cake, that I was craving, but we were there at my instigation, and I decided, why not. I figured it was only 50/50 that I'd like it. Shave ice is not my favorite thing and on a cold day it was less appealing, but I bravely ordered the Taro Lover, featuring Taro, pandan jelly, and coconut milk. Taro is my favorite color, although I wouldn't have expected pandan jelly to be more like soft, bland, green gummy worms than fruit jam. Neil played it safe with a hot coconut milk mocha.

It was interesting. I liked it enough to eat it. I probably wouldn't rush out to have it again, but I'd not say never.

From there we went to Laurie's house in Fulshear, where we were staying. She'd left a key under the mat for us. Neil's first wife Joann showed up just as we did, toting baby Blake. Blake wasn't interested in letting go of Grandma Joann, even when Luke got home. We had to distract him so she could leave. He was fine after that, and warmed up to us fairly quickly.

Let me skip some of the boring parts. Laurie picked up Italian food on her way home. My order was wrong as is par for the course. Neil was exhausted, we went to bed early.

Thursday was an odd day for me. Everyone was up and out by the time I came up for coffee at 8 am. Neil had a dentist appointment followed by a trip to Lowes and lunch with a friend. I chilled, literally, in the heatless house, reading and amusing myself until he got home. Luke got home next with baby in tow and we had a little Blake time, which Blake used to bang on the coffee table with decorative gourds from a bowl, and to pull every DVD out of the entertainment center.

Blake is just now standing and cruising furniture and crawling like a speed demon and he's all boy, if that means he wants to pound on everything all the time. Neil and I commented that we'd have to do some childproofing before his planned visit next month.

Thursday night was dinner with some of Neil's former workmates. I enjoy seeing them but the conversation went on for a long time about people I didn't know and company gossip that means little to me. On the way home it was snowing, but not sticking. By morning though, we had a couple of inches on the ground. Naturally. I come to Texas and it snows.

Still life with baby in snow. In Texas.
Friday morning we visited our financial advisor then headed for Lake Charles. We stopped at Buccee's, had breakfast at Cracker Barrel (because anything trumps Waffle House for me) and checked in to our hotel. We met up with everyone for hot dogs at Botsky's, everyone being Laurie, Luke, Blake, Joann and her husband Mike, Chris and his Lake Charles housemates Jaime, Amy and Eric. It was still icy cold.

Saturday morning was Chris's graduation ceremony, followed by lunch with the same cast of characters. My calzone came with sausage instead of olives. At least the sun came out and started warming things up. After lunch we helped Chris load up the last of his gear and made the trafficky drive back to Fulshear. Dinner was pizza for some, M&Ms for me.

Sunday was my favorite part of the trip, brunch at Hugo's with my oldest friends in Texas. The weather continued to smile. Neil dropped me back at Laurie's and took off to do more errands. Joann was at the house again with Blake, the adult kids were out for fried chicken. I played with Blake and chatted with Joann. The kids got home and we took a walk with Blake. Neil got back and the next topic was dinner.

Neil and I were still full and we had my replacement calzone in the fridge, but the kids wanted sushi, so we buckled up and went out again. There's a reason I mention all the meals out, and I'll get to that. On Monday we got up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed ... home. I wasn't sad. I was glad to be returning to North Carolina. It turns out that home is where the cats are.

I'd like to say that I've been nothing but happy since we got here. That wouldn't be true but it's not for the reasons you'd think. I'm not homesick for Texas any more. In fact, I have brand new reasons to be happy to be here in NC.

At some point during the trip, Laurie threw out the idea that instead of bringing Blake when they visit us next month, they'd leave him with Joann. This upset Neil a lot.

It boils down to this. Our reactions to Blake's typical baby behavior, i.e., hammering on things and emptying cabinets, made Laurie decide it would be more stressful for everyone if he came.

Now if Laurie is doing this because she wouldn't mind a break from baby-minding and thinks she'd have more fun without Blake, that's one thing. But she couched it more like she wasn't going to bring him because we didn't want him. And we couldn't persuade her otherwise. Because she saw (or Luke told her) how we reacted to Blake being baby Blake, how we made comments about needing to baby proof.

And of course we would baby proof. We'd put breakables away and cover good wood furniture and have plenty of soft toys and dedicate a play space and keep an eagle eye on him in case he got into something we'd rather he left alone.

It's also true that we'd be looking to Laurie and Luke to jump in and stop him from emptying any cabinets or playing drums on anything besides toy drums. We'd deal with the drooling and the runny nose and the food on the floor and the sticky fingers and all the little things that go with one-year-old people.

Honestly, while I'd never considered not having Blake come, having him not come has some appeal. We'd need less paraphernalia certainly, such as car seat, stroller, portacrib, high chair. Neil could pick up everyone from the airport in one car. Activities would open up wide if we weren't working around two naps a day and an early bedtime, nighttime fusses and overtired parents.

Neil's dad is coming at the same time and it's been hard to think of things that are suitable for both the 88-year-old and the one-year-old contingent. The rub there is that this whole visit is the brainchild born of Laurie wanting to have Neil go with her to take the baby to visit his great-grandpa. Neil suggested we convene here instead, since we have the space. If Blake doesn't come, great grandpa Bob won't get to see him.

I suspect that Bob would take the disappointment in stride and Blake won't remember the meeting anyway. Bob did get to see Blake when he was about a month old. It's all still up in the air and at this point I have bigger issues to sort than whether or not Blake comes this time or some other time.

I'm getting to the meat of the story now. But first, a little background.

When Neil and I started dating in 2002, I'd been unmarried for four years, Neil for one year. Laurie took her parents' divorce very hard and their dating even harder. I suppose her mom and her dad dating others was the nail in her bubble, her dream of a reconciliation. But by then, as Neil said, that train had left the station.

Ironically, her mom met her future-husband-to-be exactly one day before Neil and I met.

Laurie refused to meet me for something like an entire year. She behaved hatefully toward me and toward my children, who sincerely wanted to be friends. True, my kids had more time to accept my divorce, to realize even that Jon and I were happier apart than together. Not so Laurie. I suspect to this day she daydreams about getting her nuclear family back together.

Over time she matured enough to behave politely toward me. For a time she even made an effort to be friendly, baking me cookies for my birthday and coming by to meet my parents once. I gave her credit for trying but like my mom used to say, I forgive -- but I don't forget.

Flash forward 15 years, give or take. I know that I've said things that rankled with Laurie. Most were well meant and guileless, only a few were on the line, such as when she was dictating what restaurant she wanted to eat at, and I said, when you make the money, you get to make the decision.

That may be true, and I could have said it to my kids, but discretion being the better part of valour, I should have kept my mouth shut and let Neil handle it with Laurie. Even if that meant going to the restaurant of her choice rather than mine. So I apologized. I can own my mistakes and admit to being wrong when needs must.

But for a while now she has been watching my every move with a stink eye, looking for slights, looking for criticism, looking for judgment. The baby thing has escalated the situation. I can't so much as tell a story about my own kids as babies without her seeing it as a comparison in which she and Blake come out badly. Lord forbid I mention something meant to be helpful, for example, wondering if she knew that putting a baby to bed with a bottle of formula is not a wise thing.

OK, so Blake has only two teeth and he'll be weaned off the bottle soon. And I apologized for saying anything about it. But I can't win. Anything at all that I say will be scrutinized and found judgmental.

Neil agrees, he says, you can't win. He says we can both be ridiculous (like me being mad that she bought us the Christmas decoration and demanded that we display it) but that Laurie is much worse.

He tries to talk her down. He tries to put it in perspective, he tries to tell her that my intentions are good. Really, what I'd prefer he tell her is that he won't discuss me with her. I mean, Jesus, my kids have never said a negative word about Neil to me and if they tried to, I'd push back. But Neil thinks he can do better by playing referee, by trying to reason with her, by working to keep the peace.

Still, as I told Neil, if Laurie has an issue with me, I wish she'd just address it with me.

Another fault that I've been broad-brushed with. I don't play with Blake. Never mind the games of pat-a-cake, never mind the times I carried him around and showed him things, never mind that I sung to him.

It's frustrating. I feel like I felt when I had a review at work that was completely detached from reality, when all my good work was overlooked but I was hammered with some perceived but untrue fault. And when I tried to set the record straight I was told that I was in denial and that if I didn't take the review seriously and mend my wicked ways things would go ill for me.

It's maddening to be unfairly accused, tried and found guilty -- with no just cause.

I can't win, that's a given. And that being a given, I am not going to play. I can't cut Laurie out of my life, she's Neil's daughter and we're stuck with each other. But I can drop the pretense of being friends. I don't have to engage her. If I must talk to her, then I will talk about the weather. Or the food. Because there's always food, way too much food, whenever we are with the kids. But I'll try not to initiate any meaningful dialog. I will respond when spoken to.

I like Blake. I even love Blake because he'd Neil's grandson and I love Neil. But I'm afraid to become too attached. Because under the circumstances, I don't know if I'd ever see Blake again if something happened to Neil. I know that's not a reason to distance myself from the baby, and I won't, but I'm suddenly reluctant to create a personal bond with him.

I'll be nice to him of course, as I am to all babies. I'll take my turn holding him. Maybe when he's older, if he comes to visit us by himself, like Ryland has, I'll have a chance to become friends with him.

But until Laurie grows up and stops looking for reasons to feel slighted or judged or harmed, if she does, I'm keeping my emotional distance.

And truly appreciating our physical distance.

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

There's a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
Silence reveals

When you look at them
Look right through them
That's when they'll disappear
That's when we'll be feared

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed

Hush, my darling
Don't you cry
Quiet, angel
Forget their lies

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed.

(Jane Wiedlin, Terry Hall)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Lighting up

"I want to feel what the wind feels like
I want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky."

It's a new month, the last month of a year of sea change, and time I think for me to accept what I can't change.

If I love Neil, which I do, and I want him to be happy, which I do, then I have to do everything I can to embrace the changes and reinvent my life.

Willy nilly, I've done damage to our relationship in these last months, with my bouts of homesickness, or whatever name you want to give this malady.

Granted, we're both a bit over-sensitive these days, a bit quick to misinterpret something the other said. We're both adapting to a huge change and no matter how often Neil says how lovely it is here, I suspect at some level he is feeling the loss of his old life.

By nature, we are two independent people, two people who enjoy a certain amount of solitude, two people who are rarely bored, two people who thrive on having their own space. By the nature of the situation, we are unnaturally dependant on each other at the moment.

By turns, we have both been more needy than comes naturally to us.

At times I've resisted Neil's suggestions for activities that would disrupt the routines I've so desperately been trying to re-establish for myself. If I don't want to walk to the little village that abuts our community for a coffee in favor of walking on the treadmill, I feel guilty when he doesn't go for that walk on his own.

At other times, I feel his frustration when he does something with me that winds up gobbling up too much time and interfering with whatever other activities he had wanted to do that day. For example, if he goes to Ikea with me for just one thing, and then to the craft store for one thing, but I want to look around a bit, and then we pass a furniture store and I want to go in there too. By the time we get home the day is pretty much shot, especially if we stop for frozen custard on the way back.

Well, he didn't have to suggest the frozen custard, did he?

Yet, on the bright side, we can still share a good belly laugh, such as when one of the cats does something hilarious. Such as when Neil got down on the floor with a cat teaser stick to fish Zamboni's toy mouse out from under the refrigerator, and Zamboni instantly batted the mouse right back under the fridge.

Sometimes something like that will strike us both as just so funny, and we will laugh and laugh.

At those times, I wonder, I marvel at myself. How in hell can I be so easily amused on the very same day that earlier I felt as though my heart had a cold band around it?

Thank god I can.

And now I have more reason to be happy. I have my torch hooked up and I can make beads.

Hooked up to the gas stub
My new little Bethlehem Alpha.
In fact, I've now made beads twice, yesterday and today. I'm getting used to a new torch and working with natural gas. The flame chemistry is different, but so far it is hot enough to make the small dotted earring-size beads that are my favorites, and I've gone as big as 25 mm or so a couple of times without issue.

Muscle memory hasn't been a problem, as I feared. Right now I'm just playing, still haven't decided when or whether I will sell beads again, but I have to admit it feels good to be melting glass. I wake up in the morning and I have a purpose, a reason to get out of bed.

I've been getting out of bed all along, because coffee. And if I'm up by 8 am at the latest, I can go to bed at midnight and not have trouble falling asleep, nor feel as if I am sleeping my life away. We don't count those catnaps that seem to happen regularly, even though I've never been a napper.

So of course, now that I'm finally torching again and feeling a wee bit better I think, we're off on our first trip since we arrived here September 21. It's been so long since it's been this long between trips that my packing brain is addled. It doesn't help that our itinerary includes a dinner out with friends, a graduation and a brunch with other friends. I'm wondering if I can get away with one nice outfit for all three events.

In fact, it's been a while since I've worn anything but soft pants, leggings with casual skirts, sneakers and boots, that I can't remember what to wear around people I actually know. I've stuffed a variety of duds in my roll-aboard and hoping I have my butt covered. Literally.

I know this is going to sound weird but I am actually going to miss being here. Being home. Mostly the cats. But also being home.

I did say weird.
Beads in the box.

I found myself between two places
Neither of them home
I could not recognize the faces
I've never felt so alone
So alone

I found myself between two choices
To settle or to run
All my life I've heard the voices
This time mine's the only one
The only one

I want to feel what the wind feels like
I want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky

Life astounds us in an instant
Changing all we know
Blink just once and then you've missed it
All that you can do is watch it go
Watch it go

You want to feel what the wind feels like
You want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky

I found myself between two lifetimes
A sunset and a dawn
I reached out and took the lifeline
Offered up between here and gone
Here and gone

We want to feel what the wind feels like
We want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky
Holding up the sky.

(Mary Chaplin Carpenter)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hours of our lives

"Are we figments of our gin? Are we long-lost orphaned kin?
Or the mad descendants of a writer's pen?
No one's sane behind their mask, ask what you really want to ask
And I close my eyes and whisper, can you take me back again?"

After my dad died, and my mom landed in assisted living because she wouldn't or couldn't go on living her life without him, I remember her repeatedly saying, I don't know what I'm supposed to do.

I understood what she meant at the time, that she didn't know how to spend her days, hour by hour, minute by minute. I told her, you may do whatever you choose to do, rest, relax, sit outside in the sun. There is nothing particular that you are supposed to do. It's your choice, your life is yours to do with as you like.

My mom had limitations by then that I was only beginning to comprehend. She didn't see well due to macular degeneration and I'm not sure she would have been able to read. Her cognition, tested at 85 percent just months earlier, was steadily declining. Between her vision and comprehension, I don't think she could have followed a TV program. She couldn't knit or do cross-stitch, she couldn't play cards, all the things she'd passed her time with when she wasn't busy taking good care of my dad, cooking the meals, washing up, folding the laundry.

The place she was living had daily activities for residents, from movies, to bingo, to sit-and-be fit style exercise, from crafts to speakers to therapy animals. But mom wouldn't or couldn't go, she'd stay in her room, most likely because she couldn't remember to go but maybe because she didn't care whether or not she went.

So my brother and I hired an aide to come five days a week for six hours or so, to make sure Mom was escorted to activities and encouraged to participate. And I think she did benefit from some things, I know she liked the therapy animals. Just having Irene to sit with in the common areas, where she was surrounded by people even if she didn't make any effort to interact, was far better than spending days alone, in her room, in her bed.

We also arranged for other things, everything we could think of, physical therapy to try to wean her off the walker she started using five minutes after my dad died - when five minutes before he died she was swimming laps in the pool. We hired a grief counselor to work with her on bereavement issues, but after a few visits the counselor admitted that she couldn't help my mom. My mom couldn't remember who the counselor was, visit to visit, and how do you make progress in therapy when each visit is another first session.

Mom never believed she was "depressed" though, not even when she was in the geriatric psychiatric ward after she tried to overdose on OTC sleep meds. She never wept, she simply wanted to stop living, to go to sleep and never wake up - and to her, in her early stage of dementia, this was a perfectly logical, reasonable response to the circumstance of my dad's death, not despair.

I had a bit of a hard time with this. Wasn't she saying that nothing and no one meant anything to her except for my dad. Did that mean that I, my brother and her grandchildren were nothing to her? There was no way I could understand what the loss of a partner of more than 60 years could mean. I thought of my mom as strong. She was a Holocaust survivor after all. I told her so.

I'm not strong, she said.

And I know I underestimated the impact of her diminished cognition. My brother thought that while my dad was alive he provided a certain reassurance and stability that allowed her to deny her early symptoms of dementia. He was there to supply the missing word or thought, to remind her to take her medicine, to drive her to the grocery store and escort her through the aisles and help her make selections and pay the bill at the checkout. He was there to pay the household bills, manage the finances, balance the checkbooks. When he suddenly was gone, the bottom fell out of her world.

My mom never wanted to be a burden. She suffered much guilt for putting her own senile mother in a home after my grandfather died, and always told us to put her in a home if she became helpless and needy -- and not to feel guilty.

I have some anger at my father too, for not foreseeing the future and making a plan for my mother should he die. I think some of it was not seeing the gradual changes because he lived with her, and some of it was not wanting to see any change. I can understand that too. He was almost 90 years old and tired. He was a 15-year colon cancer survivor and he'd suffered with a reduced quality of life throughout those years, all preventable if he'd not refused to the colonoscopy that might have diagnosed and nipped in the bud the disease.

He just wanted to live out the twilight of his days in his comfortable senior community condo. Maybe he felt he deserved that. My dad was never a worrier. I don't think he imagined my mom would go down as flamboyantly as she did. None of us imagined that.

I'm thinking about my mom and dad quite a bit just now. My mom died four years ago, on October 30. My dad's been gone seven years come November 30. I miss them more than ever of late. They'll never see this house. They did make it to my last house, in 2008, just before they stopped traveling totally. My mom kept saying, what do you need such a big house for? I can't imagine what she'd say about this house. It's bigger.

I don't think they are anywhere, looking down on me. In fact, the whole meet-again-someday idea is fatally flawed. How old would they be, for example? Would they be the age they died? But then how would they see their own parents again, since their parents were gone years earlier. I doubt Heaven is filled with elderly people who wouldn't recognize their own elderly kids. And what about the people who die before their time? Would they still be babies and teens and young adults and middle-aged? How could everyone possibly be reunited with everyone, generation upon generation?

So, no, I don't expect a post-mortem reunion with anyone. That doesn't stop me from yearning for some unconditional nurturing today, this minute.

I'm also reminded of my mom because I'm experiencing her feeling of not knowing what I'm supposed to do with my time. I can't remember exactly how my days flashed by in my recent past life, only that they did. The days here pass by too, but I'm cobbling my time together in what feels like artificial and somewhat pointless ways.

I know the remedy. Find something worthwhile to do. Make something, string some beads. Go over to the animal shelter and start volunteering. Take a class, learn to water color or knit or crochet. Read more. Write more - well, maybe not that.

And I will do all those things. I'm just feeling a little stuck at the moment. We have a trip coming up and shortly after, that a week of house guests. We still have furniture to find and things to rearrange and put away when furniture is delivered. I finally unpacked what I think is my last four boxes. I'd like to start making beads before I start selling again, if I do, and until my torch connections come, I'm immobilized.

The new year seems like the perfect goal for a time to start doing all the things that will help me, although I'd be thrilled to get bead making sooner.

Am I kidding myself? In denial? God, I hope not.

Maybe I need to cut myself some slack. If I want this to be a quiet time, a time of reflection, a time of nostalgia and memory, so be it. I can just be, I don't have to do.

Last night Neil asked me if I liked the house. It was obviously the wrong time to ask me something like that, but I tried to answer carefully. I know how much it pleased him that I loved our last house, how much he liked hearing me say it.

I said, I like some things about the house.

And I do. I like my office, where I am typing this now. It's a big bedroom with its own little bathroom. There are three big windows looking over the back yard and trees beyond. It has built-in speakers and I've mastered the art of playing my tunes using Sonos. I know I will like my glass studio when it's up and running, it's light and airy and temperature controlled. I like our screened-in porch or outdoor living area, with the comfy Adirondack chairs, where I sit in the sun when it's warm enough.

Some things are hard to judge yet. The living room has no furniture still. The bedroom has only the bed, which I'm adjusting to, I think. The basement living area is a blank canvas. The bonus room, where I have my treadmill, is a nice enough space, but it holds our only TV and that terrible sofa. We spend our evenings there and that's plenty, I have no desire to compete with Neil for the TV during the day, as long as he gives me an hour on the treadmill to myself.

There are some things that are what they are. Our bathroom is the size it is and the bathtub isn't going to get bigger. Sharing a closet has been OK - except when Neil forgets we're sharing and throws his clothes in the doorway, where I have to step over them (or kick them aside).

The kitchen is big enough but can't say I don't miss our bigger kitchen with its perfect breakfast area. Here there is just the one dining area, which is fine but also on the smaller side. And one big surprise is how dark the house is. We deliberately chose a western exposure so we'd have morning sun in the bedroom and living rooms, but the trees do a shockingly thorough job of filtering the light. The gorgeous wood plantation shutters that Neil splurged on contribute to the dimness. Even our medium brown hardwoods mute the light compared to the almost white tile we had before that made the room feel bright even on overcast days.

We know it could be the time of year, the shorter days, and there's some hope that spring and summer will shed more light in a literal sense. I'm not sure quite how, since the foliage will be thicker, but I'm game to wait and see, considering there is no alternative. In the meantime we've ordered four more light kits and Neil is slowly swapping compact fluorescent bulbs for LEDs with more lumens.

Sometimes I worry about all this new furniture we're buying. It will, of course, make moving again more complicated. But then, I can't see us moving again very soon. Neil loves it here and I can't name a place I'd want to move to where I could guarantee being happier.

Happiness is an inside job, I know. I must bloom where I am planted. Which right now is right here.

It was sixteen years ago, outside an aging movie show
I was found not knowing where I was that night
Not a thing did I possess but an old blue gingham dress
And a faded photograph in black and white
Now my memories are quite clear, even if I still can hear
All the shrinks who said some trauma was to blame
Light another cigarette, breathe in deep, try to forget
That it's a photograph of Dinah and that Alice is my name

Save me, save me, I've lost my memory
I'm outside the world looking in
Save me, save me, I'm lost in the memory
And I'd swear I'm a girl that's never been

Now it's all the life I knew, except I know it can't be true
I'm not her, there's no such thing as Wonderland
Hold a steady job somehow, three months clean and sober now
Oh, the ways I tried to get back there again
Try to move on, don't be sad, so I placed a personal ad
I asked, why is a raven like a writing desk?
And on the phone, out of the past, so glad he's found me now at last
And I'm afraid to go and meet him but I know my answer's yes

Just another city loner wearing sunglasses at night
Leather jacket, purple turtleneck, and blue jeans worn too tight
Just a rummie by the jukebox in a casual curious pose
But I don't know how he knows the things he knows

Well he sits down with a grin, why little Alice, where've you been?
Not so little, not so Alice now, are you?
As he sips my untouched drink, I say, I can't be who I think
He says, you are, and you're not, and I am too
Are we figments of our gin? Are we long-lost orphaned kin?
Or the mad descendants of a writer's pen?
No one's sane behind their mask, ask what you really want to ask
And I close my eyes and whisper, can you take me back again?

Darling Alice, so bereft, there's no back, you never left
All the rhymes are still there waiting to be sung
And he holds up in the air a little picture paper square
Slips between my lips and underneath my tongue
Shall I tell you now, Miss Little, what's the answer to the riddle
Of the raven that you used to send your call?
He takes the glasses off to see, yellow cat's eyes turn on me
And says, it's nothing like a writing desk at all

Save me, save me, I've lost my memory
I'm outside the world looking in
Save me, save me, I'm lost in the memory
And I'd swear I'm a girl that's never been
And he faded, leaving nothing but a grin.

(Michelle Dockrey)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Grief and gratitude

"The demons and devils, the saints and the angels
Had gathered to show me the view
And all of the tears that had come when I met you
Were shining and bright as the dew."

Just when you think that you're over the hump, that you've accepted the changes in your life, that you've absorbed the loss and made peace with the present - it all crashes down again.

I think I went more than a week without tears. And ironically, right smack in the heart of this season of counting blessings and being grateful, on this very day of thanks-giving*, the heart heaviness is happening again.

In her blog, A Bead for my Heart, child-loss survivor and grief advocate Angela Miller writes about the "heartbreaking juxtaposition of contradictions" that is the nature of being simultaneously both deeply sad for loss and deeply thankful for blessings.
As bereaved parents we are forced to learn the art of holding infinite space for both .... Our hearts hold both the blessings and the trials, the joy and the pain ....

We are grateful and we are grieving.

The former can’t cure the latter, and the latter doesn’t negate the former.
So there it is in a nutshell. You can grieve and at the same time, be grateful.

Of course I acknowledge the profound divide between grieving the loss of a child and grieving some abstract, nebulous loss, like the loss of a house and a familiar way of life. Therein lies the guilt and shame.

Grief, guilt and shame. And gratitude. I am home to all these four things today.

The worm turned yesterday, sometime in the middle of the day. I'd been organizing my office. With new storage pieces from Ikea and plastic bins from Target, I made a certain amount of order out of chaos. I'm still waiting for a tall chest we bought to arrive, and to buy a desk with some drawer space. I still have many bins of tissue wrapped beads and supplies to be dealt with, I'm still missing some particular items that I'd like to find and work with sooner than later, but I was making progress.

It was a mild day and I took a cup of coffee out to the screened porch to sit in one of the comfy chairs in the sun, and I fell asleep. I woke up feeling loggy. Neil and I were talking about going to look at desks at a furniture warehouse two towns away and he thought we might go that day. He had the idea that we could combine the outing with dinner at a nearby pizza place. He had some things to do and I wanted to walk on the treadmill, so he suggested I walk first while he did his things and then took a shower.

It was 4 pm when I got off the treadmill and it struck me that our plan was flawed. By the time we drove to the place, if it was even still open on the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day, it would be getting dark. One of the changes I'm trying to adjust to is the half hour less of daylight here. And really, who wants to shop late in the afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving? The staff would be wanting to close up. We'd be feeling rushed. So I suggested we defer the trip.

I think Neil was annoyed because he'd showered and put on jeans to go out. I hate it when he's disappointed, so I suggested he call and see if the furniture place would be open. He didn't want to do that. I felt responsible for agreeing to a plan, then later realizing it was a bad plan. Neil said he was going for a walk. I'd just gotten off the treadmill and didn't really want to walk, but offered to go because I know he prefers that.

The first thing we did was argue. We argued about Christmas decorations. We've never put them up before. Our old neighborhood was very ethnically diverse and decorations were more the exception than the rule. Now suddenly, seeing people starting to string Christmas lights, Neil wanted to display a large Christmas bauble his daughter had sent him so that, in her words, we'd "fit in" to the neighborhood. You have to display it, she'd said.

I have no idea why I felt so resistant. I have no idea why Neil felt so insistent.

We've always been on pretty much the same page when it comes to holiday decorations. But this time we bickered about it for most of the walk.

The undercurrent of tension persisted through dinner and the long evening. At some point I came to my senses and said, OK, put out your Christmas decoration, I really don't care.

I couldn't win for losing. Nothing I said or did was right. Neil was frustrated with me for still being sad about being here and also, he said, because I always have to have things my way, i.e., I'm "always right." The first might be fair but I don't think the latter is. We both like to have things our own way, to be right, but I give in to him as often as he does to me. He doesn't always know that, because I simply agree or go along without making a big deal about it.

He wasn't happy to have the talk we had about it all either, but I said it was important and productive. He chalked that up to me always having to be right, to me having to get my way again.

Still, it cleared the air a little, and I was able to stop crying and go to bed resolving to make today 100 percent pleasant and zero percent confrontational.

So far so good. We had a buffet turkey day dinner at the North Harbor Club. I made an effort to put on a dress and jewelry and even some makeup and I styled my hair a little bit more than my usual pony tail. I spritzed on some scent to make up for not washing it.

Neil said I looked nice. He even took my picture on his phone. When I showed it to me, I immediately said, I look like my grandma. That's not a crime, my grandma happened to be a very elegant lady, very trim and coiffed, and it's my impression, based on memory, that she carried herself gracefully, if not regally. I could learn a few things from her.

I don't usually look at people, I'm not usually observant or interested, but I did look around and there were quite a few couples having the dinner buffet, it wasn't all happy families and large groups of friends.

And now Neil is watching football, or possibly Star Trek reruns. He said he wants to go for a bicycle ride and I said, I hope you do. Because I want to walk on the treadmill. And pretty soon we'll read and watch something on TV and we will have survived this holiday and tomorrow life will go on.

After much confusion, contradictory advice, and rending of hypothetical garments, I've ordered the last parts I need to hook up my torch. I'm waiting to find out the lead time, keeping my fingers crossed that they will all be in stock. I'm hoping that when I am creating again I will find more emotional equilibrium.

I'm sure I'll have funnier stories to tell too, especially if I go back to selling online, which still is a big question mark in my mind.

First things first though, and that means getting my torch running and seeing how much of a learning curve I'll have using natural gas, whether making beads is like riding a bicycle or if I'll be working on basic skills again.

And most of all, if this long break has given my muse a kick in the pants, or if she just spent the time eating bon bons and getting fat.

I dreamed that I saw you once down in Morocco
Your clothes were so old they were new
You spoke to the Bedouins in their own language
Of silver and crimson and blue
They said that your singing had altered their vision
And yet nothing really had changed
The dust from the desert rose up from your eyelids
You said you had conquered the chains

The white wind around us, as we stood there talking
Was blowing the stars from the sky
I said, make all the beauty you made long ago
And the dervishes whirled while you cried
You said, hold me against you, the weather is calling
My mind is the color of stone
And I wrapped the green silk around your thin body
And knew you would never come home

The wind and the sun and the sky in your eyes
Were driving you mad I could see
And in any language I knew they were saying
The future is cutting us free

We walked in the desert, your hands were like velvet
You told me the reason you’d stayed
All of the women whose hearts had been broken
Stood naked and cool in the shade
The men in the village were called to their worship
Their colors had started to fade
The shelter of heaven had lifted forever
Their eyes were the color of jade

The wind and the sky and the sun in your eyes
Were driving you mad I could see
And in any language I knew they were saying
The future was cutting us free

I left to fly back to the place I was sleeping
Where all of my dreams had been lost
I wrote your name down on the back of a postcard
And finally I counted the cost
The demons and devils, the saints and the angels
Had gathered to show me the view
And all of the tears that had come when I met you
Were shining and bright as the dew

The wind and the moon and the sun in my eyes
Were driving me mad I could see
And in any language I knew they were saying
The future was cutting us free.

(Judy Collins, Morocco)

*written November 23, Thanksgiving Day 2017.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reinventing routines and relationships

"And the clock on the wall's moving slower
Oh, my heart it sinks to the ground
And the storm that I thought would blow over
Clouds the light of the love that I found."

I've been corresponding with a couple of my oldest friends, the last of a larger group dating back to my college days, who still live in Texas.

One friend recently persuaded the man she's dated for the past few years to give up his condo and move in with her. Together they renovated her garage into a living area so he'd have his own space to work and smoke cigars. She put it this way.
It has been a huge change, but I think it will all work out. B and I have had our disagreements, of course; we are both so used to living alone, but I think we can work things out.
This prompted me to share this.
Moving is one of the hardest things to do, especially at our age with all our baggage, physical and emotional. It's also stressful for relationships. Neil has been cross with me more often than he ever was before, but I admit I haven't exactly been easy to be with. I'm struggling to adjust, whereas he loves everything about life here - except maybe me and my moods.
My other friend jumped in.
Liz, I’m sure moving to a new city is overwhelming, especially if you don’t already know people. But if it makes you feel any better, D has been very short with me lately and we didn’t even move. He has gotten very crotchety in his old age, and he keeps blaming me for his temper, that I’m driving him crazy. I know I’ve gotten a bit absent-minded recently, but I also have a ton of things on my mind. I’ve always been like that, and he just figured it came with the territory. I try to keep both of us busy so that we don’t have to spend too much time alone with just each other. Isn’t that awful to say?
This surprised me a little, as her husband has always seemed easy going and good natured, and I know he loves her very much.

It did crystallize something in my mind. Since we moved here, Neil has been as dependent on me as I am on him, maybe even more so. He'd characterize himself as an introvert, but he has a greater social need than I do. To wit, although neither of us ever really wants to go to parties, we do go because it's good for us and we generally have a good time. But once there, Neil doesn't want to leave. I'm usually ready to go long before he is, and not infrequently, we're one of the last to leave.

At times I've had to be quite assertive when it's time to go. This includes putting my coat on and waiting outside while he drags out the goodbyes.

Since I left the corporate life in mid-2011, my time has been my own. I've taken classes, done volunteer work, participated in local bead society meetings and events, had the odd lunch with friends. But there are weeks when, except for trips to the post office, I've been happily busy with my routines at home, running my bead business, walking on the treadmill, binge watching serial dramas, reading and writing. I've been accountable to no one but myself for how I spent my time.

At the end of this month it will be a year since Neil retired. But the year has been an anomaly. For one thing, I'd say that Neil had lunch plans with his former work team and other friends approximately three times a week. Much of the rest of the time was spent planning the move, packing and getting the house in shape to sell it. He also played a lot of softball, we saw a fair amount of his kids and mine, we made several trips related to the progress on this house, and we often had social plans with friends on weekends.

During most of that time, my life went on as before, until a couple of months before the move when I started the process of cleaning my glass, selling some, packing the rest, packing my bead collection and finally the rest of my things, or at least the ones Neil hadn't already packed. He packed all of our joint things, such as kitchen ware, all my books and DVDs and CDs and who knows what else. I'm still waiting for certain things to resurface.

Now we are here. Neil has joined a softball team, but they play only one game a week, with one optional practice. He has spent time unpacking. rebuilding storage shelves, shopping for furniture when I can coax him into it, but relative to the past year he has a lot more time to fill. Not that there isn't plenty to do, we've had a continual flow of trades in to fix typical new house glitches, and on a daily basis he bemoans how far behind he's gotten with email and tasks like reading the directions and warranty information on all the new house bells and whistles.

He has good intentions but runs out of steam and winds up falling asleep in front of the TV, coming to bed late and never being fully rested.

I've not gotten into a real routine here yet. My torch isn't quite ready to light up, although it's getting closer and I've actually begun unwrapping and sorting glass. I do try to walk on the treadmill four times a week. I do spend time writing and I have unboxed most of my boxes and spend time organizing and planning where things will ultimately go. With colder weather, my afternoons of sitting on the screened patio soaking up Vitamin D and taking catnaps have ended and I keep busy most of the daylight hours.

And therein lies the rub.

Neil constantly asks me to do things with him, go for walks, go to the grocery store, go out to lunch, go to the movies, go get ice cream. By habit I resist, I protect my routines such as they are, I protect my time.

I have to step back, I have to re-evaluate. I need to find a happy medium. I need to make Neil and my relationship a priority, at least a fair amount of the time.

My treadmill workouts are mostly for me, to stay fit and healthy, but aren't they also partly to stay trim and attractive to Neil? Isn't it contradictory to turn down a walk with him on a nice day so I can walk my three miles on the treadmill? I don't get the same aerobic benefit when I walk with Neil, but is that the whole point?

I'm such a creature of habit. But this move is an opportunity to reinvent my habits.

I'm still pondering what direction to go with my bead making, once my torch is set up. Do I want to sell online again, do I want to start doing shows again? I'm pretty resolved to let this year run out before I sell again, if I do. I plan to close my Texas business at the end of the year, and file a final state sales tax return. But do I want to get a North Carolina tax number? After this year, do I want to continue operating as a business and filing Schedule C returns?

Next year, I've opted to begin collecting Social Security benefits, before my full retirement age. In 2018 I can earn up to $17,040 before my benefits are reduced.

I have a little time to decide. Let me get my torch running and make a few beads and see how I feel about selling. Maybe in the New Year I will test the market and see how it goes. Lampworkers still talk about slow sales, prices continue to seem deflated online, but things might change and it might be worthwhile to stick my toe in the water and go from there.

At the rate time passes, it will be the New Year before I know what hit me. We've been here two months already, Thanksgiving is this week, our trip to Houston is less than two weeks away and after we get back it will be a mere three weeks until 2018. We'll have company for the first week of the year, a houseful, Neil's dad, Chris, Laurie, Luke and the baby.

After that, well, I'll work about this bead and business thing after that.

Probably right after I sort out my relationship priorities and reinvent my routines and habits.

Oh, baby
Well there's a light in your eye that keeps shining
Like a star that can't wait for night
I hate to think I been blinded baby
Why can't I see you tonight?

And the warmth of your smile starts a burning
And the thrill of your touch give me fright
And I'm shaking so much, really yearning
Why don't you show up and make it alright, yeah?
It's alright right

And if you promised you'd love so completely
And you said you would always be true
You swore that you never would leave me baby
Whatever happened to you?

And you thought it was only in movies
As you wish all your dreams would come true, hey
It ain't the first time believe me baby
I'm standing here feeling blue, blue, hah
Yes I'm blue

Oh, babe
Now I will stand in the rain on the corner
I watch the people go shuffling downtown
Another ten minutes no longer
And then I'm turning around, round

And the clock on the wall's moving slower
Oh, my heart it sinks to the ground
And the storm that I thought would blow over
Clouds the light of the love that I found, found
Light of the love that I found
Light of the love that I found
Oh, that I found

Hey, babe, ooh
Hand that ticks on the clock
Just don't seem to stop
When I'm thinking it over
Oh, tired of the light
I just don't seem to find
Have you wait, yeah played
Whoa, I see it in my dreams
But I just don't seem to be with you, you
I gotta get it all, gotta get it all, gotta get it all
I've got to get all

Ooh now my body is starting to quiver
And the palms of my hands getting wet, oh
I got no reason to doubt you baby
It's all a terrible mess

And I'll run in the rain till I'm breathless
When I'm breathless I'll run till I drop, hey
And the thoughts of a fool's gotta count
I'm just a fool waiting on the wrong block, oh, yeah
Hey, now, oh, oh, oh
Light of the love that I found
Light of the love that I found
Light of the love that I
Light of the love that I found."

(John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The language of loneliness

"He says: what do words ever reveal
He says: in speaking one can be so false
We're so close we have a silent language
We don't need words at all."

Grief, melancholy, sadness, dejection, mourning, bereavement, loss, loneliness dispossession, angst - these are words I've allowed myself to use to describe my feelings of late, some of the time, at their worst.

Misery, sorrow, anguish, pain, heartache, heartbreak, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, despair - these words are over the top for both how I feel and for that which I grieve, and I'd feel shame and guilt to use them.

Shame and guilt are words that describe how I feel anyway. That and narcissistic. Because right or wrong, reasonable or irrational, my feelings are my feelings and the sadness is real. Psychic pain goes hand-in-hand with self-absorption. When I hurt it's hard to feel sustained concern about anything or anyone else. It takes so much energy to simply weather each bout.

This past week we had day after day of gray, gloomy weather. The sun finally came out and I finally tapped some energy to tackle more boxes. I've got most of my boxes empty, even though that just means I have things stacked and staged on bedroom and closet floors, waiting for furniture to be ready for delivery, waiting to buy more furniture.

Getting the boxes mostly emptied finally motivated me to call the contact I had for house cleaning and pet sitting. She is coming to meet us and give us a price next week. That gives us a couple more days to clean and tidy. I don't want to discourage her. I think having some help with the house will pay generous dividends in lifting my spirits.

Telling our housekeeper of many years that we were moving was one of the only times I broke down in tears, of the times I told people. Most of the time when talking about the move I felt oddly dispassionate, matter-of-fact, reluctant but resigned, distant.

A trusted housekeeper is different somehow. She works in your home, she handles your personal belongings, she has a house key and the alarm code. She is a little like a mother, even if she is years younger than you. She makes things clean, she takes care of you.

My studio is closer to being set up. I ordered the hoses I needed and connected the oxygen to the torch. I called the HVAC company to schedule someone to hook up the gas. They have to call me back next week to let me know if they can do it.

Neil put together another shelving unit for my glass. The massive overwhelming task of un-bubble-wrapping and organizing my glass looms large. I wrapped it with great care but packed it unsystematically, so I suspect I'll moving it around a lot and it will be a long time until I am as intimately familiar with what I have and where to find it as I was before the move.

I don't have to have it all unwrapped before I can start making again, and I doubt I will. But at some point I hope it will be done.

I feel the same, to a lesser degree, about the beads I have collected. I know I run the risk of what happened the last time I moved, in 2007. I'm reminded regularly, because I am handling all the bins and tubs full of the tissue-wrapped collectibles that I never unwrapped in Sugar Land.

I feel ambivalent about them still. I always thought I'd unwrap them one day, that maybe I'd have a grandchild who they'd delight and amuse. I know as a child I'd have been enchanted by the hordes of miniature animals, the frog and cat collections, the little fine china dishes, the Halcyon days boxes.

If I had to bet money right now, I would take long odds that I'll never have a flesh-and-blood granddaughter. In the bigger picture I'm OK with that now. The world is a rough place. Life remains easier for males, I think. And we're not doing our planet many favors, we're playing a reckless endgame, and I fear humankind may be due for a comeuppance sooner than later. I sincerely hope it's not in my lifetime, or my kids' or my grandkids'. After that, well at least I won't be around to witness.

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking recently warned that the Earth may go up in flames as soon as the year 2600, thanks to population overgrowth and diminishing energy resources. I tend to think he's right, if polar ice cap melt, or a giant caldera eruption, or a massive meteor hit doesn't expedite a crisis sooner.

Hawking's proposed solution is to use laser-propelled nanocraft technology to explore habitable planets in nearby solar systems. Nearby in the sense of four light years away.

Pie in the celestial sky, say I. I'd rather see financial resources directed away from space travel and toward more practical ways to preserve our species, such as developing technology to slow down or reverse the effects of greenhouse gasses on the temperature of this planet. That doesn't mean another big one won't get us first, but if we can't keep living here on this planet that is so perfectly suited to us homo sapiens, why do we think we'd do any better anywhere else?

What gives anyone the chutzpah to believe that we should get a second chance to screw up a perfectly good planet?

But what do I know? I was an English major. I like reading fantasy, I just don't believe in it.

Neil says my pessimism about the future depresses him, but I don't see it as pessimism, I see it as realism. I don't think I can influence change - any more than I can influence gun control - so I accept it. If anything, it reminds me to carpe diem, to hug my loved ones more tightly, and to celebrate Thanksgiving every day.

All right, so I suck at that. But I do try. Even at times when I am consumed by what I don't have, I am ruefully conscious of all that I do have and I am damned grateful.

Or am I just hedging my bets? Am I practising gratitude because I am well aware that happiness is fragile at best and that I am amazingly lucky with the things that most matter in life?

I know that in my struggles with depression and anxiety in 2001 and 2002, I was desperately afraid that if I didn't get over it soon, God or the universe or some higher power would punish me by giving me something to really be sorry about. As if there was cause and effect at work, as if my selfish sorrow would somehow engender more egregious consequences.

I don't like to think that my gratitude is some sort of effort to bargain with fate. I'd much rather be stoic and stable and constant, feel nothing but praise and joy, experience nothing but beatitude and grace.

I'd rather not ricochet between tears and guilt, sadness and shame, grief and gratitude.

But enough about me. Or at least enough of the maudlin me.

I'm adjusting to my extra firm mattress. We put an even fluffier comforter under the fitted sheet, so crawling into bed is something not to fear.

We bought a folding camping chair so I have one more seating option when the asshole sofa and the hardass kitchen chairs wear out my derriere.

I found my purple hoodie, and my other missing hoodies and bathrobes, hiding in a forgotten box in the garage.

We started watching the series Prime Suspect on DVD, the second time for me, but I've been wanting to re-watch it and share it with Neil.

We're going to see Murder on the Orient Express, despite mixed reviews, because Kenneth Branagh. And Johnny Depp. And Judi Dench. And Derek Jacobi. Coincidentally, Neil and I recently watched the 2010 version with David Suchet as Poirot, the second to last episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot Season 12, which also is the second to last season of the series.

We're walking to the theater and, after the movie, we're trying the Kung Fu Noodle House. With a long season of cold-weather comfort food ahead, the more options the better.

I'm ordering a down jacket from Land's End because the warmer I dress, the happier I will be going out, and the more I get out, the happier I feel.

And Neil made a reservation at the North Harbor Club on Lake Norman for their Thanksgiving Day buffet.

So now when people ask, do you have plans for Thanksgiving, we don't have to stare blankly and say, not really.

Neil for the win-win.

I've lived in all of the houses he's built
The one in the air
The one underground
The one on the water
The one in the sand
He says: It doesn't matter how we live
He says: It doesn't matter where we live
We're so close we can dispense with houses
We don't need a home at all

It's come to be
A habit with me
To dine alone
You're never home
And the evenings end so early
He says: we can be close from afar
He says: the closest people always are
We're so close that in our separation,
There's no distance at all.

Sometimes I go out to the car
Turn on the headlights
Intending to leave
Sometimes I need to hear the words
My imagination's not as strong as you'd believe

Oh, but I've talked to you
You haven't listened at all
I've said I'm numb
I can't even cry
I'm stuck with acting out a part
He says: what do words ever reveal
He says: in speaking one can be so false
We're so close we have a silent language
We don't need words at all

There's a husky voice
That speaks to me in the dark
And on the phone from studios
And west side bars
Through tunnels of long distance
He says: we're beyond flowers
He says: We're beyond compliments
We're so close we can dispense with love
We don't need love at all.

(Carly Simon)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On the firing line

"O beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king."

Time for a break from whinging and angst and first world problems.

On November 5, 26 people died in the worst mass shooting in Texas history, the fifth worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Of the 33 deadliest mass shootings (eight or more people) in the U.S. since 1949, four took place in Texas.

In fact, those four shootings ranked among the 16 most lethal U.S. shootings (13 or more people).

  • In 1966, in Austin, Charles Joseph Whitman killed 16 and wounded at least 30 people, shooting from the tower at the University of Texas.
  • In 1991, in Killeen, George Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the wall of a Luby's Cafeteria, exited the truck, and killed 23 people.
  • In 2009, at Fort Hood, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and injured 32 people.
  • In 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and wounded 20 others in a small church.

Now, tell me how assault weapons in the hands of private citizens helped prevent or ameliorate these senseless, despicable massacres by the "bad guys."

Tell me how any second amendment protections safeguarded the eight members of the Holcombe family who died in the Sutherland Springs bloodbath.

Whitman was killed by police officers. Hasan, a United States Army Medical Corps psychiatrist, was convicted, sentenced to death and is awaiting execution. Hennard shot himself after a brief police shootout.

It appears that Kelley also committed suicide after a civilian confronted him with a rifle, although the facts are still being investigated

In 2012, Kelley was court-martialed, convicted of domestic violence, and sentenced to 12 months in the brig. In 2014 he was discharged from the military for bad-conduct. Later in 2014 Kelley was charged with animal cruelty.

Kelley also had been denied a license to carry a gun in Texas.

Yet in April 2016,he was able to walk into an Academy Sports and Outdoors store in San Antonio and purchase the Ruger AR-556 rifle used in the Sutherland Springs bombardment.

Tell me why Kelley deserved second amendment protection. Tell me how casual access to semi-automatic firearms played no part in Kelley's heinous actions at First Baptist Church on Sunday.

Oh wait, the president of the U.S. just did.
This isn't a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level.
That's what Trump had to say.

I'm speechless. Well, almost. I can still type.

I would say I have a history of public neutrality. I avoid outwardly taking sides. I walk or straddle battle lines. I shy away from controversy.

Guns are my hot button. Assault weapons are my trigger. Reasonless mass murders fire me up to break my silence.

Words are just words though. The topic of handguns is too incendiary for rational dialogue. Interpretations of second amendment rights are too irreconcilable, positions about gun ownership are too polarized to make conversation fruitful.

So I am either preaching to the choir or barking up a stone wall while exposing myself to a barrage of vitriolic contradiction.

Luckily for me, my readership is small. And mostly sympathetic.

I have to speak my piece anyway. I must refuse to hold my peace. Even at the cost of my peace.

Undeniably the gunmen responsible for mass shootings have mental health problems. At the highest level. I don't disagree with that.

I acknowledge that it takes both a deranged shooter and a weapon to perpetrate a massacre. I grant you that the weapon may not be a firearm. It might be explosives. It might be a motor vehicle. Hell, we can't rule out chemical warfare.

But unfortunately we aren't all that close to regulating sanity. We don't have good objective protocols to diagnose mental illness. I'm not sure we even have the empirical criteria to fully define it.

Over the 19 years that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has been available, barely 1 percent of gun purchase applicants have been rejected based on psychiatric grounds. A judge must first declare the applicant mentally unfit.

If we can't screen for mental wellness satisfactorily enough to establish conditions - or prohibitions - for gun ownership, we should go with the benchmarks we do have.

Benchmarks like previous crime convictions, histories of domestic violence, military discharges that are anything other than honorable. Animal abuse charges for Christ’s sake. Don’t let those people own guns.

Oh yeah, right. Devin Kelley wasn’t legally allowed to own a gun. He got one anyway. He was one of the bad guys that the good guys need guns to defend against.

No doubt the NRA will make hay of the fact that a citizen with a rifle was pivotal in putting a stop to Kelley’s rampage.

Cold comfort for the 26 decesased at the Bexar County Medical Examiner's office and their bereft families.

Better to keep the guns out of the madman’s hand to start.

Is there a perfect answer? No. Guys like Kelley will always find a way to get a gun.

But why make it easy? Crack down on legal gun sales, with severe penalties for those companies who fail to adhere to stringent background checks. Close the gun show loophole, the one that exempts sales of guns by private sellers, i.e., on the secondary market.

And seriously, no civilian needs to own a semiautomatic weapon that can fire individual bullets as fast as the trigger can be squeezed.

Is there a point to these words? Will I convince anyone to change their position on the “guns situation”?

We know the answer is a robust no.

I’m going to keep speaking out anyway.

Because next time it might be you in the crosshairs.

It might be your child.

With whatever respect is due to responsible gun owners, the public right to safe passage overrides virtually unconstrained access to semi-automatic firearms.

That can’t be overstated. It can’t be said too many times.

Even if no one is listening.

Tell it. Think it. Speak it. Breathe it.

And if not now, when?

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
When "happily ever after" fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

But I know a place where we can go
That's still untouched by man
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass waves in the wind

You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

O beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie

But I know a place where we can go
And wash away this sin
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass waves in the wind

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair spill all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say good bye

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence.

(Bruce Hornsby/Don Henley)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Toting the feels

"I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down."

"Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried." Megan Devine of Refuge in Grief.

Let me get right down to brass tacks. Life remains an emotional roller coaster for me.

I won't lie. I've been feeling pretty fucked up.

Staying busy helps to a degree. In fact, as long as I keep moving, I feel better.

That's been one of the most confounding things about this whole experience. The experience being my reaction to being here as opposed to the move itself.

Sometimes I feel almost fine. And I can almost always go through the motions. I can convince everyone I'm doing just fine, including myself.

And then the cloud descends and I feel just despondent. Homesick is the best way I can explain it.

Neil is exasperated. This is your home, he says, and I cry harder. I can tell he is losing patience with me. I don't blame him.

Unfortunately, I can't keep moving all the time.

This week I've spent time unboxing. Even though a lot of what I'm doing is taking things out of boxes and stacking them on the closet floor or the bedroom floor, it's a start.

I'm also struggling with my attachment to things. Part of the whole clusterfuck is just having too much stuff. Letting go of almost anything stymies me.

This morning I put three milk glass vases in the box designated giveaways. So far, since we've been here, I've yet to fill that one box.

The milk glass vases were an impulse buy a couple of years ago. I bought six or seven pieces for roughly one dollar each. They sat harmlessly on my kitchen soffit since.

Our kitchen here does not have a soffit. So the milk glass vases really need to go. I have nicer things to display in the limited amount of display space here.

Yet it was a struggle to wrap them in tissue paper and put them in the box. Even though every time I do put something in the box, I feel a hair lighter, it hasn't become a no-brainer.

I'll continue to whittle away at it. Or I won't, and we can just hire someone and have a giant estate sale in five or ten or twenty years, whenever we move again.

Or Neil and my kids can do it after I die.

I don't want to die. I'm nowhere near feeling that bad, and if I was, I'd remember that it would pass in time.

Time I think is the one and only thing that can really help me heal.

Neil asks me, what can I do to make you feel better, how can I fix this. I tell him, nothing. I tell him, I don't know. I tell him, if I knew what would make me feel better, don't you think I'd be doing it?

I tell him some things can not be fixed.

That's not to say they won't mend in their own time. And if they don't mend, in time we may find better ways to live with them, to carry them.

There are no short cuts though. You can't sidestep pain, you can only sit with it and wait it out. Even if that takes a long time.

Oh, people try. And believe me, I've considered it. From alcohol to opioids, from cannabis to cutting to counseling, I've pondered ways that I might accelerate revival, dull the melancholy feelings.

And I think I'd rather just feel them. Maybe some part of me is wise. Maybe some part of me just enjoys being sad.

I've wondered about that before. What is the payoff for feeling despondent? Is it because its a familiar space, one I've visited before, a comfort zone in some bizarre counterintuitive way? Do I go there because I know how much better it will feel when I finally stop hitting my figurative head on that metaphorical wall?

I don't know. I've never known.

One of the things I find myself procrastinating on is my studio. Getting back to melting glass would be getting back into my routine. Structure has always been a saving grace for me.

More than that, making beads was that rare thing, a true passion for me. In lampwork I'd found my calling, my niche.

It's true that we've made progress on setting up my studio. I bought two three-drawer cabinets from Ikea and Neil built them. We came up with the solution of using a laminate countertop for my work surface, we found one at Lowes, I bought it and we wrestled it into the car and got it home and put it in place.

Now I have to procure the right hoses with the right fittings and then schedule a mechanical plumber to hook up the gas line.

Day by day I've put off making those calls.

I've put off un-bubble-wrapping and organizing my glass.

I've postponed reopening my Etsy shop or listing anything on Facebook, even though I've unpacked my personal bead inventory.

I've dragged my feet about ordering shipping supplies, since I'd pretty much used up them all up before the move.

I've even broken it down into smaller steps. So, maybe I don't start selling again. Maybe I focus on one thing, the most important, most gratifying thing, being able to light my torch and dip a mandrel and wind on some glass.

If I analyze my motive, or more precisely, my dearth of motivation, it occurs to me that I'm unsure that making beads will captivate my heart and mind in the way it once did.

Neil spent some money having my studio space set up. We put in a tile floor and a gas line and ventilation. A few days ago I told him, I will finish getting my torch set up, I will make beads again, but I can't promise that I will embrace as unequivocally as I did before. I might, I hope I will, but I just can't predict how I'll feel.

Only time will tell that.

Once nothing could dampen my enthusiasm to master my craft.

Now I wish I could wave a wand and have everything be magically in place but when it comes to doing the work, I waver, I wobble.

But I'll do it. I'll do it because it's what I do, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other, the next right thing, the baby steps that still mean progress.

You might be surprised to hear it, but it's one of my hidden talents. I carry.

And I damned sure don't mean heat.

Once, there was a way to get back homeward
Once, there was a way to get back home
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Once, there was a way to get back homeward
Once, there was a way to get back home
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Boy, you're going to carry that weight,
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you're going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down

Boy, you're going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you're going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

Oh yeah, all right
Are you going to be in my dreams

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love
You make.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

House of horrors

"If I travel all my life
And I never get to stop and settle down
Long as I have you by my side
There's a roof above and good walls all around."

If you want to fall out of love with your old home, sell it.

A couple of weeks ago, I cried after we signed the contract to sell our Sugar Land home.

It had been on the market for exactly two weeks by then, but we’d already been negotiating the price for several days by then.

We already had negative feelings about the buyers, starting with their first lowball offer. After we declined to counter, their realtor told our realtor that she’d warned them this might happen. Our realtor said something like, well, you can’t blame them for trying.

I did blame them for trying. It got us off on the wrong foot to start.

We also let ourselves be influenced to reduce the price more than I’d have liked. Our realtor implied that the buyers were on a short time agenda and had another house they were also looking at.

Maybe yes, maybe no. Who knows.

Still, it’s just money and I was resigned to the agreed price. The buyers had the house inspected the day after we DocuSigned the contract.

I honestly thought there’d be few surprises. We took good care of our home, I thought. The air conditioning had been serviced and was running well. Neil had put in new filters, new smoke detectors, and LED light bulbs everywhere. We’d had the carpet stretched and shampooed. We’d had our housekeeper deep clean on the last day before we left.

Nothing prepared us for the ugly 41-page property inspection report and the list of 18 items that the buyers wanted repaired, ranging from the exasperating to the mundane. From broken sprinkler heads and knocking water heaters to missing trip ties and sticky windows and compressed attic insulation.The report was accompanied by a repair estimate for the air conditioning system.

Neil was angry, ready to call the whole thing off. It was hard not to take it personally, and frustrating not to be there to handle the small stuff ourselves, things like tightening the attic ladder screws, removing oil stains from the garage floor and lubricating the garage doors.

Yet I had to admit, if I were buying the house, I’d want these things attended to too.

I got out a pencil and walked through the list with Neil, putting dollar values on each item, from zero for tightening the screws on the attic ladder to $500 to fix the whirlpool tub that was working just fine when we left. We erred on the generous side I think, then rounded up and offered cash in lieu of repairs.

The buyers responded by splitting their list into what they wanted done by us and what they’d accept cash for. Neil was ready to say no again, but our realtor claimed we should try to come to an agreement because we’d have to disclose the inspection report to future buyers. Buyers who would have their own inspection done and might find yet more issues.

I’m not sure this is right. My brother thought we’d only have to disclose what we agreed with in the report, but he’s not licensed in Texas.

In any event, for every month the house sits vacant we are paying for utilities, insurance, taxes, yard maintenance, homeowners fees, etc., while more things can go wrong, more dirt and dust can accumulate.

Our realtor stepped up a bit and found us a contractor who could do all the repairs except for the air conditioner and the hot water heaters which supposedly were knocking too badly to simply be flushed. So in the end we offered to cover the ac repair bill, make the other repairs and give a credit for replacing the water heaters.

Neil’s words to the realtor when we cooked up this counter-offer were, I’m getting pretty sick of this. The buyers did try for more, more money, more repairs, and our realtor stood ground and said, do you want this house or not.

They wanted the house it seems.

I suspect we could have taken a harder line sooner, but it’s just money as I said.

And somehow this bit of unpleasantness has helped me let go of the house and move on a little.

Another thing that helped was an accidental conversation Neil had with the buyer when he dialed their number which was on the hvac estimate. We think they are a young professional couple with children.

I’m not sure why that makes it more bearable.

The buyer - the man of the couple - was cordial on the phone with Neil. It makes me wonder whether the whole process could have been greatly improved if we’d been able to sit down at a table together, instead of communicating through two realtors and reports and lists.

I’m not proud to say, I looked at the buyers’ names on the contract and let a host of cultural biases color my reactions at every step along the way.

A voice on the telephone, children’s voices in the background, humanized them, made them individuals instead of the enemy.

I hope they flourish in our house, soon to be their house now barring further unpredicted impediments. I’ll be proud to turn it over shipshape for its ten-year age.

All that remains now is for me to grow to love this house I’m living in.

I’m still struggling with that. We still don't have a comfortable place to sit, I’m still going from achy mattress to hard kitchen chair to abominable sofa.

But the weather is nice, Chelsea and Robert visited, we had fun showing them around.

Rob, me, Chelsea. Photo by Neil.
We had a picnic at Ramsey Creek Park.
We finished building the corner desk, and it fits nicely in the home office/cat room.

I met a new friend for lunch, someone I’d met online, and I had a nice time. We’re planning another outing soon.

I love my new treadmill, well, as much as anyone can love a torture machine. I watched The Five and I’m working my way through Mindhunter. We just started the second season of Stranger Things.

We figured out how to stream music to the house speakers via Sonos.

We found a good sushi place. The North Carolina roll was delicious.

And we saw the deer again. That makes four times.

When you look into my eyes
And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
It always comes as a surprise
When I feel my withered roots begin to grow

Well I never had a place
That I could call my very own
But that's all right my love
'Cause you're my home

When you touch my weary head
And you tell me everything will be all right
You say, use my body for your bed
And my love will keep you warm throughout the night

Well I'll never be a stranger
And I'll never be alone
Wherever we're together
That's my home

Home could be the Pennsylvania turnpike
Indiana's early morning dew
High up in the hills of California
Home is just another word for you

If I travel all my life
And I never get to stop and settle down
Long as I have you by my side
There's a roof above and good walls all around

You're my castle, you're my cabin
And my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house
'Cause you're my home
You're my home.

(Billy Joel)