Friday, April 20, 2018

Suspending disbelief

"Well I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned
When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned."

The Tawba Walk Art and Music Festival has come and gone, and with it, any flicker of desire I have left to do a live show ever again.

OK, so it was the wrong venue for beads, and I knew that, but I still hoped among the crowds at an Art Walk would be some number of creative types, beaders and jewelry makers even, who would have a clue what to do with my beads.

And there were. One or two.

Of course my good intentions to make up some wired pendants and earrings went out the window as the days leading up to the show passed by. Not that it would have mattered. I did put out about 10 beaded necklaces and sold none.

What I did sell was three beaded keys, two big-hole beads, one focal bead, and one set of four small beads that I strung up for my customer on a length of silk cord.

My improvised display, based on sharing my 10 foot space,
and also on the fact that we were butted up against the next tent.
I would have been in the black for the show, if you don't count the canopy tent we bought Friday because the one I borrowed was too big. Plus the weights for the tent legs.

Which weren't heavy enough, as it turned out, because the wind was gusting, and Neil was sweet enough to run over to Food Lion and buy 4 bags of cat litter to add ballast.

Neil helped me enormously to get things loaded and unloaded and broken down and reloaded. He even brought me a late afternoon latte, when I was starting to sink.

My new friend Kathy joined me for the day and offered some of her jewelry for sale. She probably made gas money. I was very happy to have the company.

It could have been worse. The wind was annoying for a while, but eventually died down to a breeze, which probably made the ambient temperature more pleasant. Traffic was steady enough, we had lots of lookers and some questions and conversations, and that helped pass the time.

The sun really made my silver glass beads sparkle.
So many people handled them that I washed them afterwards.
But the festival was more about the bands and the beer and the moonwalk and face painting and funnel cakes. And the food trucks. The art, allegedly juried, ranged from nice enough handmade to mass produced imports. As far as I could tell, none of the merchandise vendors did a booming business.

The bottom line is, it was a lot of work to prepare, pack, load up, set-up, sit around, make a few sales, load out, unload, put away. I would have had to make ten times as much money as I did to make it feel really worthwhile, although five times what I made would have felt like it wasn't a full fail.

Not to mention that we tore the canopy on the brand new tent because we were so clueless about how to set it up. Bad on us for not reading the directions or watching a YouTube demo. Neil worked on it with tape, needle and thread, and says it is repaired and probably better reinforced than it was to begin with.

Whether it will see any future use is debateable. But I never say never. Just probably not.

Oh well, done and dusted. Moving on.

The trunk show I juggled over the selfsame weekend was been predictably slow. I got conned by Facebook into running what I thought was a free sponsored ad. They offered me a $10 credit for a $10 one-day ad. I thought I read the fine print but this morning I woke up to a bill $1.65 "per event response" which as far as I can tell might mean that someone clicked on the link (but it's murky). That wouldn't be so terrible if it had generated any sales, but the only sales were to my regular customers.

It just wasn't my weekend. But I'm not going to focus on the negative. I've done enough of that. I'm taking that promised break, for a few days at least.

I do have one custom order to work on, but I asked for a week to 10 days to get it done.

My new glass came, and I have to admit that I am eager to have a little play with it.

The trees are greening out here, finally, and our back yard is starting to look like a park again. Neil's garden is sprouting, potato and radish plants are thriving, melon vines are appearing, tomato plants look happy and our little fig tree is showing tentative signs of life.

I just finished watched five seasons of A Place to Call Home, which is sort of an Australian Downton Abbey, centered around the Bligh family and their home, Ash Park, minus the servants. Well, there are servants of course, but for the most part they are shadowy figures in the background, except for Rose, who plays into some of the plot lines.

Admittedly it's a soap, with the family going from crisis to crisis, but it held my attention, and anything that makes my 50 minutes on the treadmill pass painlessly is well worth watching. I actually cried a few times, including the ending, which pretty much tied things up with a bow, unlike the cliffhanger endings of previous seasons. There is another season in the works, so I suppose we'll have a series of new intrigues, but I'm guessing that's a year out.

One of the story lines in season five that made me weepy was when handsome tall dark horse Mathew chose prim, proper, and twice-jilted Olivia over willowy, sexy, and hot-to-trot Anna. Olivia is the Edith of the series, the unlucky-in-love sister-in-law, while Anna is the Mary, the unconventional, loved-and-lost daughter of the house.

Olivia has a young son, and on reflection, I think that's the reason I was so moved when Matthew proposed to her. Her situation is like my daughter's situation, a single mom of a young child. It takes a special sort of man to embrace a woman with a child and all that comes with it, including an ex-husband.

Of course, it's a lot easier when you can just send the child off with one of the servants for his bath and supper.

Neil and I have been watching the remake of Lost in Space, a series that we both watched as kids, although my memories of the original are much hazier than Neil's. Neil keeps pointing out all the scientific anomalies and errors, and I keep saying, the whole premise is a fairy tale. If you are going to watch it, you might as well suspend disbelief and just go with the fantasy. I think Neil has watched too much Star Trek and all this futuristic space travel is a little too real for him.

So far, the show reminds me more of Lost, which I loved, than of a science fiction starfleet type of story. Neil agrees with the comparison, and I remind him that we accepted mythical elements in Lost, like the smoke monster, time travel, and a doomsday button. Heck, they even deployed a hydrogen bomb at close range and lived to tell, mostly.

Other shows we have been enjoying, or in some cases simply watching, of late have been Detectorists (loved it), The Indian Doctor (silly but not bad enough to not finish), Doctor Foster (binge-worthy and provoked some interesting discussions about fidelity), Girlfriends (I started this alone because I didn't think Neil would like it, but he watched some of it anyway).

We're hooked on Unforgotten, two episodes in, on Masterpiece, so we can't binge it. We're sporadically plugging away at Season 9 of Murdoch Mysteries, which are just well done enough to keep me going in small doses. We gave up on Brokenwood, too silly for me although Neil enjoyed it. There is a subgenre of crime drama that is more comedic than credible. Shows like Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise, and Agatha Raisin fall into this category. I can't stay interested. I like my crime drama dark. Speaking of which, I liked Dark, as well as Bordertown, The Frozen Dead, The Five, and Rebecka Martinsson.

We had to get a free trial subscription to Brit Box to watch Season 8 of Vera. Here's a pet peeve. It's just wrong to have the first seven seasons on Amazon Prime or Acorn and then plop the newest season on yet another subscription service. I'd be willing to pay something like $6.99 (the monthly subscription fee) just to watch the latest episodes but I resent having to subscribe. And now they've done the same for Season 4 of Shetland. With my free trial used, I'm not sure whether or not I will subscribe for a month.

Another pet peeve - series than span both Netflix and Amazon. We watched three seasons of Doctor Blake on Netflix but if we want to watch Season 4, we have to pay for it on Amazon. Or, we can wait and see if Netflix adds it at some point. That happened with Season 2 of Broadchurch. I paid to watch it on Amazon and then Netflix added it.

OK, so I have a whole kennel of pet peeves around streaming service policies. There's still plenty of free content and I certainly get my money's worth, considering that other than PBS, nothing on commercial TV interests me particularly. I do currently have an addiction to Jeopardy, but only because I can record it and speed through the commercials.

Two dramas I particularly enjoyed just lately both starred Benedict Cumberbatch. The Child in Time, on Masterpiece, far exceeded expectations. Neil resists stories of children gone missing, but this story didn't dwell so much on the disappearance. It was almost more of a time travel story,or perhaps more of a parallel universe story. I just got the book, because the story so piqued my curiosity and I read that the book delves more deeply into those elements. I'll probably watch it again after I finish the book.

With Neil gone for a week-end long softball tournament, I looked for something to watch that I'm not saving to watch with him. I landed on The Imitation Game, the story of
cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who worked on breaking the Enigma code at Bletchley during World War II. I'm endlessly fascinated by Bletchley stories and found the movie engrossing. I'm sometimes so out of mainstream culture that I completely missed its theatrical release in 2014 and all of its award nominations.

I was disappointed to read about all the creative license taken with the characters and situations. The gist of the story is true, but so many of the details, especially those depicting Turing as socially clueless and friendless, and his supervisors as caricatured lunatics, were utterly movie machine manipulations. You can read the long list of historical inaccuracies on Wikipedia. But see the movie first. I still recommend it as fiction loosely tethered to history.

I stole that last analogy from former FBI Director James Comey who, in his new book, characterizes President Donald Trump as "untethered to truth".

Man, I can hardly wait for that movie.

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song
Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long

Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul
Well I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned
When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned

Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them
They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon
Don't turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon
And you won't make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night
We weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right
We weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.

(Leonard Cohen, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Color therapy

"Even now by the gate with your long hair blowing
And the colors of the day that lie along your arms
You must barter your life to make sure you are living."

Before we even moved here, Neil looked up the number of rainy days a year and said the number was close to our Texas annual days of rain.

I won’t dispute it, mainly because Neil is usually right, and also because I’m too lazy to look it up myself.

Still, it feels more rainy and gray here.

The nice days are really nice. I haven’t been through all the seasons yet, but so far the weather has been mostly all right. Winter wasn’t as cold as I’d feared, or at least I was able to dress warmly and stay warm enough. Summer, the jury is still out, since we got here on September 21.

It does feel like we have more gray and dreary days here. Maybe it’s because gray days tend to stay gray. There’s a saying in Texas: if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. So we had a lot of days when it rained, but then it cleared and stayed clear.

I wonder if the statistics Neil looked at counted any day with a rain shower as a rainy day, even if the storm passed and the sun came out.

Of late, it’s been particularly dreary. We went to the nursery for plants. Neil planted eight tomato plants. That night the temperature dropped to 33 degrees and he lost five. His lilies never sprouted and the little fig tree we planted in the fall is showing no signs of life.

It’s discouraging.

Making beads is a bit like color therapy right now. I think that’s the reason I love lampwork so much, all the colors.

I just ordered more glass that I don’t really need because there was one color I had to have. So I put enough glass in my cart to get free shipping. That’s how a pound of glass becomes five pounds.

Bead sales are still limping along. I sell just enough to keep me listing on Facebook. Intermittent reinforcement I guess, the strongest kind. Plus I haven’t figured out what to do with the time I’d save if I stopped selling, not to mention the beads.

I’m doing an online trunk show this weekend, and promoted it every way I can think of, short of spending money for a sponsored post. I never found those to drive any business my way. I’ve created an event, shared it on my business page, my timeline, and in my buyers group. I’ve literally begged for validation.

It comes back around to the same old thing. Despite some 1400 friends and 1200 some followers of my page, I don’t think a lot of people are seeing my posts. I rarely get more than a small number of comments on anything I post. My cat had to die for me to get the most comments I’ve ever gotten on a post.

Yet I see others post some enigmatic vague-book nonsense and get dozens of comments. Shades of high school unpopularity again, I’m thinking. Even on Facebook, I’m invisible.

Yawn. I’m over it. Or faking it. Same difference.

Really, my investment in doing the trunk show is small. I'll spend an hour putting up listings. Boilerplate, copy and paste, with the briefest description on the beads. “2 pairs. Stacked dots on apple green and turquoise.” Just enough for me to identify them.

That’s not counting the fun part of making them, cleaning and stringing them, the photo shoot, photo editing. I’ve got it down to assembly-line efficiency.

I’ll check in periodically, maybe add a few more listings as/if things sell. Let it ride until it's over, then delete the listings, move on.

Just to shake things up a bit and create some gratuitous anxiety for myself, I applied to a juried art walk and was accepted. So April 14 will find me doing my first live show in years and my first outdoor show ever.

And since it’s not a bead show, I have no idea if beads will sell. Reason says people will want finished items, something they can wear home. My one experience doing a craft show at a friend’s church tells me something different. I strung a lot of necklaces for the show, but I sold more loose beads than finished jewelry that day.

So I’m planning to take some jewelry, wire wrap some focals into pendants, maybe make some earrings, or maybe I won't. I'll have some beaded keys, some big-hole beads, and some ribbons.

My goal is not to emotionally invest in a specific outcome, especially not one that involves moving a lot of merchandise. I'm going to try to enjoy the day, people watch, talk to people, and keep an open mind.

If it's a fail, I just won't do it again. One and done. My new motto.

Depending how things go, I may take a short break from bead making.

Of course, when my new glass gets here, I'll probably want to test it out and have a play.

I'm not saying it will be a long break.

Neil will be away for two consecutive weekends. The first is another softball tournament in Virginia Beach. He really wanted me to go, and when he showed me the hotel pictures online, right on the shore, it looked great. I'm there for you baby, I said. But then it turned out it was another hotel in the chain where the team had booked a block of rooms and Neil had made the reservation.

It may be selfish, but I just don't want to be in a situation where I'm spending three days in some inboard hotel, while Neil plays ball all day. Even if I have a car, meaning we take mine, I'm not enthused about exploring the area on my own. If we stay at the beach, great, I can walk on the sand, read by the sea. If I have to drive there, find a public beach, worry about parking, it's not the same.

I honestly think Neil will worry about me more and be more unhappy with me if I go and don't have a good time than if I just stay home.

The weekend after that falls during his six-day trip to Texas, which I've also opted out of.

I have things I want to do here, but I know I will have time to kill too, and bead making always makes time pass quickly.

Especially if I have taken some time off in the interim.

That's the plan anyway.

Although another thing my mom used to say was this. Man plans and God laughs.

Do I hear a hahaha?

The lady comes to the gate dressed in lavender and leather
Looking North to the sea she finds the weather fine
She hears the steeple bells ringing through the orchard
All the way from town
She watches seagulls fly
Silver on the ocean, stitching through the waves
The edges of the sky

Many people wander up the hills from all around you
Making up your memories and thinking they have found you
They cover you with veils of wonder as if you were a bride
Young men holding violets are curious to know if you have cried
And tell you why
And ask you why
Any way you answer

Lace around the collars of the blouses of the ladies
Flowers from a Spanish friend of the family
The embroidery of your life holds you in and keeps you out but you survive
Imprisoned in your bones behind the isinglass windows of your eyes

And in the night the iron wheels rolling through the rain
Down the hills through the long grass to the sea
And in the dark the hard bells ringing with pain
Come away alone

Even now by the gate with your long hair blowing
And the colors of the day that lie along your arms
You must barter your life to make sure you are living
And the crowd that has come
You give them the colors
And the bells, and the wind, and the dream

Will there never be a prince who rides along the sea and the mountains
Scattering the sand and foam into amethyst fountains
Riding up the hills from the beach in the long summer grass
Holding the sun in his hands and shattering the isinglass?

Day and night and day again and people come and go away forever
While the shining summer sea dances in the glass of your mirror
While you search the waves for love and your visions for a sign
The knot of tears around your throat is crystallizing into your design

And in the night the iron wheels rolling through the rain
Down the hills through the long grass to the sea
And in the dark the hard bells ringing with pain
Come away alone
Come away alone with me.

(Judy Collins)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A loner but not alone

"Do you ever reach out with arms open wide
Do you ever jump in closing your eyes
Or are you one of the fortunate kind
Alone but not lonely."

Don't be shocked.

I've had a little uptick in sales since I started selling pairs in smaller sets. A single pair with a pair of spacers, or two pairs instead of my typical three pairs to a set.

It's more work that way, so I've notched my prices up a tick too.

And it seems people will pay $14 or $16 for a pair of pairs more readily than $18 for a trio of pairs.

I know it's not just a math problem. It's not a bargain to get more pairs at a lower unit price if you don't like or don't have a use for all of them.

So for now, I'm stringing and restringing pairs in twos. And I'd like to get my prices up yet more. A pair and a spare for $20 would be a nice niche.

I don't think $5 per bead is too much for my pair beads. But I'll stick with what's working for now, for a while. If it keeps working.

I've gotten some really nice feedback lately too. Here is one example.
Elizabeth, My package arrived today. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I opened the package and saw the gorgeous beads that I purchased from you. They are so special and even prettier in person than in the pictures. I cannot wait to create some magic with them. Thank you for letting me purchase these and I will be purchasing more soon.
Lest my ego start to swell, on the same day I had this conversation with another customer, who had recently purchased or won seven sets of pairs. Since I had mailed her beads, she had bought or bid on five more sets.
OMGoodness!!! I am going to have to stop following you. Well at least until I receive my first order. I am going to go broke. LOVE THESE [photo] but trying to let someone else have some!!!
I checked the tracking information on her first order, which showed it had been delivered literally less than an hour earlier. I said
Thank you and good news. "Your item was delivered in or at the mailbox at 9:23 am on March 28, 2018 in CHICAGO, IL 60628."

I think you will love them. You picked some of my favorite styles.
She said
Wow... did not hear mail person. Going to check box. Thanks!!!
Then, nothing. Not another word.

That is until the last auction she'd bid on ended and I sent her an invoice. The she said
I show 4 (one BIN and 3 bids) but you invoiced for 5. Can you double check.
I sent her a group shot of the five sets.

And heard nothing further.

So reading between the lines, I'm thinking she wasn't all that thrilled with the beads. I'm curious but reluctant to ask.

Eventually, I sent a payment reminder through PayPal, and 12 hours after that, this message.
Hi K...... - hope everything is OK. You haven't paid for your beads. Hope all is well.
My message was seen within 10 minutes, but did not provoke any response. However, I did receive a payment by the following morning.

I mailed the beads off with a nice focal as a bonus bead. Somehow I don't expect to hear from this buyer again. I'll be sure to let you know if I'm mistaken.

I'll admit that despite the fact that I've rarely gotten anything but glowing feedback, I'm bummed.

Other things have got me down. Or maybe I just feel down and I'm grasping at explanations.

There's a bead retreat in Asheville every year about this time. There were still spaces when I checked a few weeks ago. The retreat itself is relatively low cost. It is essentially two full days of torching, with demos, some meals, and some fun activities like a raffle and a bead swap. Of course there is also the cost of lodging for three nights, some meals and gasoline, since I would drive..

When I mentioned it to Neil, his offhand comment was, that will be a one thousand dollar weekend. After he said it he felt badly, because he would spend that much easily and happily on a softball weekend or a coin weekend. But I'm in no-spending mode, and it was the perfect excuse not to go.

There are other reasons I didn't go besides the money. They are the same reasons I never went to Bead Camp and opted not to go to the annual lampwork conference again.

And it all harkens back to high school, when I was not popular, not in with the in crowd or with any crowd really. I had low self-esteem and lacked confidence and suffered from paralyzing self-consciousness. I was no one's best friend, I didn't have a best friend. While I won't say I had no friends, I was never secure in my friendships. I remember spending lunch breaks in the library, with a packet of Chuckles from the vending machine, because I didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch.

You can comb my high school yearbook, as I have done, and you won't find any photos of me other than the paid formal one. Of course, I didn't submit any photos, probably because I had no cute casual shots of me hanging out with best buds.

More than 40 years later, this still hurts me when I think about it. Do we ever get over our high school experience? Or does our high school self linger, with all her doubts and fears and heartaches and self-protective armor.

Oh, I'm sure some do, and go on to be well-liked, charismatic, successful people with lots of friends and plenty of self-assurance and unabashed spontaneity. High school is history and stays there.

I remember going off to college, determined that things would be different. I'd become friends with everyone, especially the right people, and my past would be left behind.

I don't think I've ever seen myself as others see me. For example, it surprises me when people tell me that I am quiet. I feel like I talk a lot, too much even, including not always saying the right things, speaking without thinking first.

So I went to college and made a concerted effort to speak to everyone in my dorm, to learn their names and shoot the bull with them. Not long after we all moved in, an election was held for a freshman representative from our dorm on some student housing committee. I put my name in the hat, along with two others.

We went into another room while the vote was held. A few minutes later, someone came and got me. My vote was needed to break a tie between the two others. Not only did I lose, I very publicly came in last.

I declined to break the tie (because the loser would know I had voted for the winner, I said). Then I went to my room and cried in the closet because college was just going to be high school all over again. My roommate came and tried to cheer me. It's not you, she said, you just don't play the game well, you are too quiet. And I thought I had been doing my utmost to play the game, trying to meet and talk to everyone.

College in the long run was not entirely a repeat of high school. I did make friends, real friends, a best friend. But there were hurts too. I still felt inadequate, like I wasn't a fully-fledged person, not quite good enough to count.

In the years between then and now, there've been ups and downs, highs and lows. I had friends, some good friends, but I never had another best friend, and I am not good at sustaining relationships with women. Friends come and go, which is not all on my, but there is a pattern that makes me think it is more on me than the other way around.

I don't know why. Is there something wrong with me? What is wrong with me?

And yes, I know that is toxic thinking and self-sabotaging thinking.

But this particular story isn't about individual friendships or close friendships really. It's about how I fear and avoid group situations where I have the potential to be that high school Liz again, the one who doesn't have a posse, the one who doesn't know if she will be included in a group going out to dinner or eating vending machine snacks in her room.

I did push through all that for a while. When I first started lampworking, I was so eager to be with others who shared the passion. I drove to Austin by myself, stayed at a B&B, took a two-day master class when I had less than four months of experience at the torch. I joined the local chapter of the ISGB and eventually served as Secretary and later as Treasurer. I went to every monthly meeting and made some friends, even had some play dates.

For a while I was part of a spin-off group, doing trunk shows and bead shows together. There were four of us and we called ourselves the Texas Hot Flashes. We also got together socially, taking turns hosting a Hot Flash Bash. I'm the only one of us still making beads. I stay in touch on Facebook, but not actively.

I've been to three ISGB annual conferences (known as the Gathering). The first was in Miami in 2009, and I even won a scholarship. Neil came with me and his dad joined us too. I remember one of the other attendees voicing shock. You brought your husband, she said. I guess for her it was a time to cut loose, drink a lot and have party with the other bead ladies. I attended all the meetings and presentations, open torch, the live auction, etc. But I ate meals with Neil and Dad Bob.

In 2011, I went to the Gathering in Seattle. Neil came along too. We'd always wanted to take the Amtrak Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago via Glacier National Park, so this was a crime of opportunity. Again, I attended the planned events but ate dinners with Neil. By then I knew a few people from classes and from online interaction, but I still felt self-conscious and uncertain asking to join a social group for lunch, for example. There is always a lot of talk about how friendly and welcoming everyone is at the Gathering, but I never found it so.

The best time I had at a Gathering was the last one I went to, in Houston. A lot of the local chapter members, now my good friends, attended. It was the first time I had a posse of my own, the first time I always knew who I'd eat lunch with. I actually felt a bit guilty for not trying harder to make new friends, and I did make a conscious effort to interact with people who seemed to be alone and a bit lost. But it was wonderful to sit in the lobby with a group of people who I felt very comfortable with during breaks. It made all the difference.

Still, I doubt I'll ever go to another Gathering. It's expensive for one thing. For the last two years and for the foreseeable future, Las Vegas is now the permanent location. For economic reasons, it is now paired with the much larger Glass Craft Expo. If I go again, it would only be to have a booth at the expo. And I'd only do that if I had a buddy to share the space with.

There are a lot of things I'd have done or would do if I had a buddy. I would have gone to Bead Camp. I might have gone to the big bead shows in Tucson and in Wisconsin. I'd definitely be in Asheville right now. And the thing is, I know if I went alone, it might be hard walking in that first day, but I'd almost definitely get past the discomfort and have fun. I'm quite sure I'd have a good time in the long run.

But mobilizing to go, there's the rub. It gives me so much anxiety that I talk myself out of it. I say it costs too much, I tell myself (and this is true) that there are plenty of bead makers out there who never go to a single class or group event and are perfectly happy to just work on their craft.

I'm not alone at being a loner.

It's not hopeless though. High school doesn't have to be forever. I've put my name down for the next retreat in Asheville, in the fall, and I'm determined to go.

What's the worst that could happen? If I don't have a great time, well, it's just a weekend. There'll be another one.

I haven't a reason, a clue or a sign
I haven't the slightest idea
Of the shape of your heart or the state of your mind
Do you ever let anyone near
Do you ever reach out with arms open wide
Do you ever jump in closing your eyes
Or are you one of the fortunate kind
Alone but not lonely

Every day on the street I study their faces
The ones who rush on through the crowd
Towards their own quiet worlds, their separate places
Somewhere I'm never allowed
'Cause I've always been one to say what I need
And then the next thing it's done and I'm watching 'em leave
And I'm thinking, I wish I could be
Alone but not lonely

So which one are you tonight
Do you change with the morning light
Do you say more than what sounds right
Do you say what you mean?

There are moments in time that are meant to be held
Like fragile, breakable things
There are others that pass us, you can't even tell
Such is their grace and their speed
And this one is gone in the blink of an eye
You can ask me the truth but tonight I will lie
Unflinching I'll tell you that I'm alone but not lonely.

(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Step by step, word by word

"Men will suffer, men will fight, even die for what is right
Even though they know they're only passing through."

I can't seem to stop writing lately. I have a lot to say and nothing really to say.

Sometimes I just start typing and see where the keyboard takes me.

Where the muse takes me.

Hello. Last weekend she took us to Mooresville.
More about that below.
I've been feeling a little queasy watching the stock market tank. It couldn't have come at a worse time for me.

I overextended myself a bit. New house, new car, family cruise. I flew five people here for Spring Break. Plane tickets are not cheap these days. Add to that all the meals we went out for, the movie tickets, extra groceries, frozen custard, the aquarium visit.

So, I'm officially in hunker-down mode. No shopping. No spending. Looking around at what I can sell to raise a few bucks.

Which is silly. I can't counteract the massive blow to my investments if the market crashes by making a few dollars here and there.

I'm not usually like this. I take the long view. Usually. But that's easier to do when you have a paycheck and time to contribute to the nest egg and accrue more earnings.

As of this year, I do have a paycheck, sort of. Once a month, Uncle Sam makes a direct deposit into my checking account.

It's enough to cover "my share" of our living expenses. I pay for power, gas, water, cell phones, all of our home and car insurance, our bi-weekly house cleaner, the vet bills. I pick up the grocery tab sometimes and I'm usually the one who buys housewares.

Of course I pay my personal expenses, clothing, shoes (shut up), jewelry, hair, nails, monthly massage, occasional facial, copay for doctors, eyeglasses, and anything for my bead-making business, including glass, tools, shipping supplies, various and sundry.

Neil of course pays the lion's share, the mortgage, property taxes, homeowners association fees, lawn service, home phone, internet, cable and security. He paid for the move too, but he was the one who drove the move, I merely went along. He paid for most of the new furniture, including the beautiful desk this computer sits upon, which I truly love.

Not shopping and not spending is good in more ways than one. I save money and I don't accumulate more stuff.

I've cut some other corners too. I'm letting my hair color grow out. I haven't been to a salon since August. When I got my NC drivers license, the clerk asked me what color my hair is. I said, well, it's mostly light brown but I'm not sure what it will be next year. She looked at me and said, I'll put down "sandy". I guess "salt and pepper" was too long. At this point I'm curious to see what color my hair really will be. It's a pretty silver at the hairline but looks like it's darker at the crown.

I've also given up the gel french manicure that I've loved for the last 10 years. The salons here use a different process, a powder dip, and instead of a refill, they take the nail coating off every time, with acetone. I tried three different salons and my cuticles were so dry and the nails kept popping off. So I decided to take a break. My nails are still very thin and brittle and I'm hoping they will get stronger as they grow out. I may just be done with fancy nails. I'll still get an occasional manicure and pedicure, but no polish.

I'm thinking about how to save money in other ways. I was debating whether to end my massage contract. But pretty soon I'll have no reason to leave the house.

Besides, you can't save your way to prosperity. Not that I want to get a job ever again. I'd rather give up a lot of luxuries and maybe even some necessities.

Anyway, it's just a hump to get over, hopefully. I'll pay for the cruise, I'll make a few more car payments. If the market rebounds, I'll take out enough more money to pay off my car. If it doesn't, I'll try to stretch my modest government stipend enough to save up the balance.

I'll sell some glass if I have to. I'd love to sell more beads but I sell as many as I can and I'm not sure how much harder I can try to sell them than I already do.

I took out a pretty large lump sum from my savings so that Neil and I could split the initial equity on this house. I don't know why I feel like I robbed Peter to pay Paul, because really, if the market circles the drain, having some of my money banked in real estate is probably smart. I just have to remember the money isn't gone, it's just invested differently.

I asked Neil if he thinks I should get out of the market and let my money sit for a while in a money market account. That's essentially what he's done since Trump was elected, and the market kept going up, up, up. He thinks that I should stay in, that between us we've hedged enough bets, and that the experts predict that while volatility may continue, we're not headed for a repeat of 1929 nor even 2008. Let's hope.

On Saturday we participated in the March for Our Lives event that took place in some 800 locations globally. In Washington, D.C., students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the February 14 shooting that left 17 dead and a like number injured, marched to draw attention to the need for our elected officials to take steps to end gun violence. There were huge crowds and emotional speeches.

Our event was a bit more modest but all the same heartfelt. We met at Mooresville Senior High School and marched to the Mooresville town hall, I'd estimate about 200-strong. The demographics were a mix of students, parents, and people like us. The weather was not nice. It was gray and cold, about 38 degrees and it had rained earlier so it was a damp cold. I thought about not going.

Then I thought that what we should do was to bundle up warmly, drive to the school starting point, keep our options open, but at least cheer the marchers off. I had on a lot of layers, including a warm shirt, vest, sweater, and scarf under my down coat. I forgot gloves and while we waited my fingers and toes (despite two pairs of socks) were cold. I knew my feet would warm once we started walking.

Neil initially was reluctant about going. He imagined it would be a much bigger and more congested event than it was. I predicted there'd be 40 or 50 people and pointed out that there were probably more gun owners and NRA sympathizers in Mooresville than anti-assault weapon activists. We got there about 15 minutes early but the march started 30 minutes late, and I was very impatient and might have considered abandoning the cause. But by then I could tell Neil had become enthusiastic and nothing would tear him away. Remember how he always has to be the last one to leave a party?

So we stayed, we marched, and I'm glad we did, although why I schlepped a heavy purse and a folding umbrella beats me. We had a police escort, the street was closed to traffic, cross streets were cordoned off, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were 50 or more officers of the law on hand.

We gathered at the town hall, and listened to the first speech, by State Representative John Fraley, N.C. General Assembly. After that I dragged Neil away because I was just too chilled. We zig-zagged back to the school where we'd left my car, which was mostly uphill, and by the time we got there I was peeling off layers so that I didn't get overheated.

There I am, very far right, all bundled up in green down. Media photo.
There's Neil, toward the front, in gray fleece, looking to his left. Media photo.
Does it matter that we marched? Can the dots be connected between peaceful protests and political action? I have my doubts. I'm not sure anything can get through to the lawmakers, get past the power of the NRA lobbyists and the one-two punch of NRA campaign contributions. But sitting at home on the sofa sure as hell won't help. I think going was more about showing solidarity with the students who organized this particular march, and in spirit with the greater community of gun-control advocates.

Neil & company listening to Fraley. My photo.
I'd do more if I could think of any more I could do.

Just like with selling my beads, as I said above.

I didn't plan that little analogy. It's just where the muse took me.

She may be flighty, but there's method to her madness. She knows her hawks from her handsaws.

I want to be her when I grow up.

I saw Jesus on the cross on a hill called Calvary
Do you hate mankind for what they done to you?
He said, talk of love not hate, things to do, it's getting late
I've so little time and I'm only passing through

Passing through, passing through
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue
Glad that I ran into you
Tell the people that you saw me passing through

I saw Adam leave the garden with an apple in his hand
I said, now you're out, what are you going to do?
Plant some crops and pray for rain, maybe raise a little Cain
I'm an orphan now, and I'm only passing through

Passing through, passing through

I was with Washington at Valley Ford, shivering in the snow
I said, how come the men here suffer like they do?
Men will suffer, men will fight, even die for what is right
Even though they know they're only passing through

Passing through, passing through

I was at Franklin Roosevelt's side on the night before he died
He said, one world must come out of world war two
Yankee, Russian, white or tan, a man is still a man
We're all on one road, and we're only passing through

Passing through, passing through
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue
Glad that I ran into you
Tell the people that you saw me passing through.

(Richard Blakeslee, lyrics © H/B Webman & Co.)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The whole enchilada

"I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be."

I'm out of sorts and I'm not sure why.

Neil is back from his three-day softball trip and trying to catch up.

His family is a hot mess at the moment. His mom is getting chemo and radiation for a small tumor and that has been a comedy of errors.

First, it took forever and a day for treatment to start, between insurance snafus and being sent from oncologist to surgeon to specialist and back multiple times.

Then because of a series of miscommunications, she has missed some treatments, although the schedule of five days a week and weekends off seems a little arbitrary and contrived to me. No one seems to be too bothered about it, no one in the medical realm anyway. The family has been jumping through a lot of hoops to make sure she has rides and stays on top of all the tests and consultations and follow-ups. Mom El has a good attitude most of the time, with bouts of chemo brain and some understandable snarliness.

Then there is his dad, who has been feeling mighty weary for months and, after a lot of tests and trials and errors, been diagnosed with a chronic myeloproliferative disorder. Essentially it is a cancer or cancer-like condition that impairs the blood from producing normal cells. Although there is no cure, there are treatments to alleviate the discomfort, which is primarily extreme fatigue.

Naturally the most effective treatment is controversial, with potential side effects, and costly, and there's been a lot of confusion about what insurance will cover and exactly whose court the ball is in vis-à-vis getting the medication started. In the meantime, Dad Bob is limping along with hormone patches and vitamin shots that aren't doing very much to make him feel better.

Sister Ellen bears the brunt of the load of ferrying the parents to doctors, since she lives closest, albeit her mom is 80-some miles distant. Ellen also juggles two jobs, has an adult son with serious psychiatric issues living with her, plus two younger kids in college coming and going and always needing money. On top of all that, Ellen has no health insurance and has not been able to take proper care of herself, and now she is losing weight for some undetermined and potentially ominous reason.

Neil's daughter is under stress at work, but that goes without saying, it just is and always will be so. Her husband pretty much hates the high school teaching job he spent years and years getting a degree to do. Baby Blake has been sick more than his fair share but that is day care kids for you. Neil's son Chris is studying for a second try at passing his credentialing exam and in the meantime, working with a woman manager who is making improper sexual advances.

Naturally all this requires lots and lots of texts and emails and phone calls and research and coaching and questioning and sympathizing. For Neil I mean, not for me. I stay on the edges of it all and get daily updates and make generally helpful comments for whatever free advice is worth.

Which leaves me with time on my hands, time that I usually have no trouble filling, what with beading and writing and reading and walking and going through the motions of selling beads.

I just finished a painfully slow trunk show. I did make a few sales but I continue to question the direction to go in with my art. Blah blah. Blah.

If it seems like I just spin my wheels, it is because that is exactly what I do.

A customer asked why I sell my bead pairs in sets of three. I said it was because of all the work involved in stringing and photographing beads, editing photos, invoicing, shipping. It hardly seems worthwhile for a single pair that I sell for $6-$8. But I offered to mix and match when the show was over, and she bought six pairs from five sets that I cut apart.

I cut apart sets all the time and restring them in different combinations, so no big deal. But I did notice that I sold more sets of two pairs than sets of three pairs, so I'm going to experiment with selling pairs in twos, with a small premium beyond my standard base pricing. We'll see how that goes.

It might help if I packaged a decorated pair with a pair of spacers, but I find I really dislike making spacers. Yesterday I sat down to torch thinking I'd make spacers, but I wound up making mostly more dot beads. I tried to make some simpler ones with the thought that I could pair a more complex pair with a more simple pair and I just said pair thrice. The significance of that escapes me but I thought I'd point it out anyway.

In other news, I spent some time texting with Kandace, who is taking the lead, bless her, on nailing down the details for our Alaska trip. After much grinding of teeth and tearing of hair, we booked a hotel for the night we arrive in Seattle. That sounds easy enough, but in cruise season, hotels near the port triple their prices. And plenty of them were sold out or had only one room left. We finally landed on two rooms with two queen-size beds in an inn that didn't have dicey reviews on Yelp and stayed within budget, barely. We're hoping Chelsea will want to share one of the rooms and Neil and I can have Ryland in our room.

We still have to sort flights, and transportation, and excursions in port. I never dreamed it would be so complicated or expensive. It's deceptive because the cruises are advertised with prices starting as low as something affordable. But then you find you have to upgrade to get three cabins together, and that the peak season for Alaska is short and the most desirable dates are not only more pricey but also sell out, which makes the lowest-price guarantee moot. There are other hidden charges for taxes and port fees and gratuities and I don't know what else.

Then there are the free offers that you get to choose from, such as the unlimited open bar, which the kids chose, which includes a hidden surcharge for tips and taxes. If the kids each drink a couple of $15 drinks a day, we'll just about break even. Neil and I had a hard time choosing our free offer, since we don't drink bar drinks. The three free specialty dining meals didn't appeal because having dinner with the kids is important and one of the reasons for cruising as a family. The discount on shore excursions booked through the cruise can't compete with prices for booking the excursions locally. So we chose free wifi, a whopping 250 minutes or 1 GB for the duration of the trip.

Payment for the trip is due this week and I get to either roll the dice or pay even more for trip insurance.

All I can say is, I hope this is the experience of a lifetime, that it is wondrous and tension-free and eye-opening and horizon-broadening, because I'm pretty damn sure I will never do it again. Not because of the money alone, although that is turning out to be shocking, but because of all the coordination and decisions and likelihood of hurt feelings. Just having everyone here last week and trying to do an activity felt akin to herding cats. And now I'm trying to organize everyone in a cross-country international week-long hullabaloo.


Let's talk about something lighter. Like mortality. I think about it all the time and I don't know why because I'm healthy and not that old.

But some of my classmates from high school and college have already gone off to that big post-graduate party in the sky. Although I'm pretty sure this is all there is, that life's not a paragraph (in the immortal words of e e cummings), and that when we're done here, we're done.

Yet it comes up in all my thoughts. I worry about all the stuff I'd be leaving for others to deal with. I don't really worry about running out of money, but I do worry about spending very much of it and not having that security cushion and something left over for my kids. And to some degree I worry about the mortality of others and how much I don't want to lose anyone I love.

I'm by no means tired of living yet, but I'm also well aware that I'm in the end game of my life, the final quarter. I remember my mom saying, when my dad was still alive, that she wouldn't mind falling asleep and not waking up. And of course after my dad died, that was all she ever wanted. But I think I understand the feeling because there is a certain apprehension in not knowing how it is going to happen. I think of my mother-in-law, living alone, having chemotherapy, and I don't want that to be me.

On the other hand, my mom was also a fatalist. She never much believed in preventative health care, because her philosophy was, if it's your time, it's your time. I don't feel that way myself, I'm religious about wellness care, and I also strive to not ruin the present by worrying about the future. Because (as my mom also used to say) why borrow tomorrow's trouble, why worry twice?

How'm I doing?

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say once you're gone, you're gone forever
And some say you're gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour
If in sinful ways you lack
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory
And I ain't saying it ain't a fact
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory
And I don't like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Everybody is wondering what and where they they all came from
Everybody is worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

(Iris Dement)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A wrinkle in life

"Don't want to wake up with no one beside me
Don't want to take up with nobody new
Don't want nobody coming by without calling first."

The kids have come and the kids have gone.

Today the house is quiet which is a little sad and a little blissful.

All in all, objectively, the visit was a success.

Everyone landed pretty much on time on Sunday. The weather could have been better. It was rainy and a bit chilly.

Neil and I picked up bagels on the way to the airport. We came home and had lunch. We did the house tour and relaxed and talked for a while. We went to Alino's for dinner. Pizza and gelato.

The bad weather continued on Monday. We had muffins and coffee cake for breakfast, sandwiched and bagels for lunch. We decided to go to the movies mid-afternoon. We split up. Neil, Chelsea and Robert saw Black Panther. Kandace, Chris, Ryland and I saw A Wrinkle in Time.

I knew I'd see it despite mediocre reviews, despite the fact that the coming attractions made me wary. Meg Murry is described in a very specific way in the books, as is Charles Wallace Murry, so it was hard to accept them as biracial characters, but the story still deserves to be seen. I didn't love it, I did think it could have been a lot better. It was ambitious and it could have been great but somehow it just missed.

I think it worked best where it stayed closest to the book. In the book, IT is an evil disembodied brain, not "The It"- some sort of tentacled fiery tree creature. In the book, the gift that Mrs. Which gives Meg is that she has one thing that IT does not have. The most pivotal part of the story is when Meg realizes that the one thing she has that IT does not is love. She saves Charles Wallace by standing there are loving him.

There are other departures and omissions. I would have kept Aunt Beast as more than a passing mention. But so it goes. The best part of the movie was how Ryland watched it, rapt. He paid total attention to the story and followed it and never got squirmy and was able to talk sensibly about it afterwards. His favorite part (and mine) was when Mrs. Whatsit turns into a creature that I can only describe as a cross between a cabbage and a stingray.

OK, you'll just have to go see it.

Our movie got out first, so we stopped into the Spice Shop then we all met at Bad Daddy's for dinner. I had a delicious salad.

Tuesday dawned sunny, but cold. We headed over to Sea Life, an aquarium at Concord Mills. I bought our tickets online. WHen we got there, there was a sign saying that on Tuesdays, kids are free with the purchase of an adult ticket. A helpful manager did a refund of all our online tickets so I could get Ryland a free ticket, but the tickets were $4 more each. The manager sold me one adult ticket with the free child ticket and suggested I rebuy the others online. Seriously? It was a pain because the website wanted a lot of information, name, address, credit card, etc. The manager took pity on me - maybe because it was his mistake for not just refunding one adult and one child's ticket. So he let the rest of us in free. We had a lot of fun.

The Shape of Water returns
The Shape of Water - the sequel

Afterwards I turned everyone loose in the food court to but their own lunches. Side note, Neil and I rarely eat three square meals We have a light breakfast, a snack, and a simple dinner at home most days. But all our kids - mine and his - clearly think three meals a day are essential. I've resigned myself, even though it feels like meals are our main activity and whatever we do in between is just filler to pass the time.

After lunch we came home. Kandace, Chelsea, and I spent some time talking about our cruise to Alaska this summer, and picking our possible excursions. It felt productive but later when we looked at flights, I started feeling that I've created a monster. There are so many expenses and logistics to figure out. For some reason there are no nonstops at convenient times, and Seattle is a long flight to begin with. I don't mind a onestop, but even then there are few afternoon flight options and the those are costly, especially when you have to add checked bags.

Then there are the questions of where to stay the night before the cruise (at least one night is a must) and how to get there and how to get from there to the port. And even if I don't mind a red-eye flight home, the last thing I want to do is get off the ship and go spend 10 to 12 hours at the Seattle airport, because we'll have our bags and that will make any activities impossible. The next best option, staying another night and catching an early flight home isn't a lot better. Who wants to book a hotel room and then have a 3 am wake-up call? Not this chick.

I guess if we figured out how to move from Texas to North Carolina with three cats, we can figure out how to catch a boat to Alaska.

Tuesday afternoon we walked up to the park with Ryland, who had fun on the big slide. Tuesday night we took everyone to Carrburritos for dinner and to Whit's for frozen custard. I should mention that it's always a challenge to find places that please everyone. Kandace is picky and doesn't like any sort of asian food, Chelsea and Robert require healthy and vegetarian options. And Ryland has a typical 5-year old palate. So it was a small miracle that we found three restaurants that everyone seemed to really like.

On Tuesday night, after Ryland went to bed, the kids decided to go out and do some bonding over drinks. They ubered to a bar in Birkdale village and they ubered home. Kids. It sounded like they had fun. Neil and I went to bed.

Wednesday, another sunny but brisk day, we stayed close to home. The girls and I went to Home Goods and Marshall's for a little mom-daughter shopping, and picked up more bagels. Chelsea and Rob had an evening flight but we fit in a hike on the neighborhood trails before Neil ferried them to the airport. I heated quiche for dinner, with hot olive bread from Fresh Market. I had planned that for an earlier night, but Chelsea has developed an intolerance to eggs, unbeknownst to me. It all worked out.

Thursday was the sunniest, nicest day. Neil and I threw a ball around at the park with Ryland. I boiled hot dogs for lunch and then it was time for me to take Kandace and crew to the airport. I got home as Neil was loading up to leave for his three day softball tournament.

Since then I've done several loads of laundry, remade the guest room beds, and tidied the house for Kristin, our housekeeper, to clean. So now I have a clean house and a couple of days to myself. For once I don't mind.

I love my kids, I would give my life for them, but having houseguests is always challenging. It makes Neil tense. He wants to have a plan for every minute, and that puts pressure on me. His kids may demand entertainment, but I've always told my kids, I'm not their entertainment director. Yes, I want to show them around, yes I want them to have a good time. But I'm not opposed to a certain amount of unstructured down time, and that kills Neil. What are we doing, what are we doing, he wants to know, all the time.

Then there are the things about my kids that make being with them complicated. Chelsea is hypersensitive and I never know when something I say may set her off. Robert is quiet and reserved, which seems to drive Kandace nuts. She thinks Chelsea is too much under his influence. I encourage her to look for the good. They seem happy together. I remind her of my mom's words, my mantra, I don't try to live anyone else's life, I have enough trouble living my own.

Unable to take my own advice apparently, I worry about Kandace's diet, health, weight, attitude. She can have a sharp tongue. I have no control over it, so I try not to own it. But then Neil wants to slice and dice and analyze and dissect. He thinks my kids should be doing more with their lives, should be more confident and assertive in their jobs and relationships. It's hard not to take that as a criticism of me. He dishes out tons of advice to his kids. I try to give my kids advice only when asked and only with the caveat that it's just my thoughts, I don't have all the answers.

He's also convinced that he knows them better than I do, or at least he gives that impression. He's sure that Kandace wants more kids and that Chris is holding her back. He's sure both girls want to be married and both boys, for lack of a better term, are avoiding commitment. He may be right or wrong, but whatever the case, there's not one thing I can do about it, and I really don't want to talk about it. He really must, because he won't stop talking about it, until I want to slit my throat or throw myself off a tall building.

What I mean is, I want to be Georgia O'keefe, I want to be Greta Garbo, I want to be alone.

I. just. can't. carry. the. weight. of. the. world. single. handedly.

I can only muddle through, one day at a time. I can only divorce myself from problems I can't solve, situations I can't manage, emotions that aren't mine.

Today, right now, this minute, things may not be perfect, but they are OK. Everyone is healthy and employed and in a partnership, the three things that have always been the linchpins when I think about happiness. Everything else is just static, white noise, elevator music.

He flew home too

I want to live alone in the desert
I want to be like Georgia O'Keefe
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street

Splendid isolation
I don't need no one
Splendid isolation

Michael Jackson in Disneyland
Don't have to share it with nobody else
Lock the gates, Goofy, take my hand
And lead me through the World of Self

Splendid isolation
I don't need no one
Splendid isolation

Don't want to wake up with no one beside me
Don't want to take up with nobody new
Don't want nobody coming by without calling first
Don't want nothing to do with you

I'm putting tinfoil up on the windows
Lying down in the dark to dream
I don't want to see their faces
I don't want to hear them scream

Splendid isolation
I don't need no one
Splendid isolation.

(Warren Zevon)

Monday, March 12, 2018

It is what it is

"I can't promise that I'll grow those wings
Or keep this tarnished halo shined
But I'll never betray your trust
Angel mine."

I’ve been good.

No more impulse buying. Resisting temptation, one bead, one dress, one pair of shoes at a time.

I resisted a good deal on some glass, which I regretted when someone else didn’t resist it. But realistically, I have plenty of glass to play with. Just because it’s a good deal doesn’t mean I should buy it.

We’ve had a nice, busy week. We went to a Cowboy Junkies concert on Sunday in downtown Charlotte, the first time we’ve done anything downtown since we scoped out the city so many moons ago.

I’ve long loved the music of Margo Timmmins and her band of brothers. Literally, two of her brothers, guitarist Michael and drummer Peter, formed the group in 1986, along with Margo, and bassist Alan Anton. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird, has toured and recorded with the band since their second album, recorded in 1987.

I’d never seen them in concert before, and I haven’t completely kept up with their music. So even though they only played two "new" (not yet released) songs, I didn't know some of the playlist. The concert was still wonderful.

I asked Neil if he enjoyed it, because it's not really his kind of music. He said, he always likes seeing live performances. I'll take that as a yes. (No pun intended, but Yes is Neil's all-time favorite group.)

I've always been drawn by Margo's haunting, melodic voice, and despite less than stellar acoustics, she did not disappoint. She was also charming, talking a little bit between numbers. It's astonishing to think that for more than half my life, for most of my working career and the whole time that I was raising kids to adulthood, the band has been doing what they do, writing music, recording albums, and traveling the world to step out on stages and make their magic.

The set before the show.
There are always flowers and tea for Margo.
A quick, blurry shot at the beginning of the second set.
Non-flash photos were allowed, but my plus-size phone is objet non grata
I've been a little obsessed with the Cowboy Junkies since the show. shuffling the albums I own on iTunes, downloading some new ones, and listening to all the other songs I missed on YouTube.

This past week, I've done the usual, made beads, walked on the treadmill, binged on Acorn TV shows. We've also been getting ready for a visit from my kids and their crew. They arrive on Sunday and depart Thursday.

Getting ready mostly entailed shopping for a massive amount of groceries and sketching out a rough plan for meals and activities.

It will be nice to have a break from the torch and from Facebook to a degree, although I'll probably check in and post pictures.

I have a trunk show that starts a couple of days after they leave and I've ordered a new light box, so I'm hoping to both have new beads to show and better photos.

I'll have dedicated time to do it, as Neil leaves the day that the kids leave, for a softball tournament in Myrtle Beach.

Neil has joined a traveling team, and I have mixed feelings about it. They play one or two weekend tournaments per month, from now until I don't know when.

He'd like to have me join him on these jaunts, but I'm reluctant to commit. I don't have a lot of interest in hanging out at the fields for hours while they play or wait between games. Nor do I especially want to chill at wherever we stay, unless it's a nice resort and not a Best Western or La Quinta. And I can't say I have much enthusiasm for exploring a city on my own. I'm just happier to be at home.

But I'm still thinking about it, maybe going just once to see how I do. Neil reminds me that he'll have some time off, evenings probably. The tournament after Myrtle Beach is Virginia Beach in April, and I'm more likely to go then because the weekend after, Neil is going to Houston for five days.

Again, I could have gone with, and I think he wants me to go, or at least feels guilty going without me. But again, it would be mostly about him. He wants to see his friends, his former work buddies. I usually go along, but they usually spend a lot of time talking about people who I don't know and office politics that I don't care about. I didn't have a very good time on the last trip, except for the one brunch I planned with my own friends. But I just don't have as many friends that I want to see as Neil does. And I don't feel the need to see them again this soon.

And I don't feel especially welcome or wanted at Laurie's house, where we'd stay. Laurie puts on a good act for me, but I'm still chapped about how she whined to her dad about me behind my back after the last time we were there. No matter what I say or do, it's never the right thing, and I can't be bothered to weigh every word and gesture. I have no bad intent, I come in peace, but she will always find something to misinterpret or find fault with. I just don't need that.

OK, I admit that maybe I am being hypersensitive. Age-old hurt from another time. Neil says she is almost as hard on her own mother. Still, I'd rather meet on neutral ground somewhere, and I can't avoid having her visit here, but I don't have to go there. It's too bad, but it is what it is.

Right now I'm not sure if I'm ever going back to Houston. I know I had a bad reaction once, when Neil suggested that I could go to Dallas or Austin to see my kids while he visited his kids. I said I didn't want to split up that way. And anyway, if we're going to different places, why go at the same time? It makes more sense for one of us to stay here with the cats.

We also once talked about making the circuit when we went back to Texas, but we didn't consider that everyone works during the week, so it doesn't make sense to go from place to place when the weekends are really the only time to spend with the kids. Plus I have a hard time with long trips. Four or five nights is ideal. A week or ten days is a stretch, worthwhile for something like our trip to Hawaii, but for most trips, shorter is better for me.

Face it, I'm a stick in the mud with separation issues. I like my own bed.

I'm not perfect. I never said I was.

He searched for those wings that he knew
That this angel should have at her back
And although he can't find them
He really don't mind
Because he knows they'll grow back

And he reached for that halo that he knows
That she had when she first caught his eye
Although his hand came back empty
He's really not worried
'cause he knows it still shines

I can't promise that I'll grow those wings
Or keep this tarnished halo shined
But I'll never betray your trust
Angel mine

I search all the time on the ground
For our shadows cast side by side
Just to remind me that I haven't gone crazy
That you exist and are mine

And I know that your skin is as warm and as real
As that smile in your eyes
But I have to keep touching and smelling
And tasting for fear it's all lies

I can't promise that I'll grow those wings
Or keep this tarnished halo shined
But I'll never betray your trust
Angel mine

Last night I awoke from the deepest of sleeps
With your voice in my head
And I could tell by your breathing
That you were still sleeping
I repeated those words that you had said

I can't promise that I'll grow those wings
Or keep this tarnished halo shined
But I'll never betray your trust
Angel mine.

(Michael Edward Timmins)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Déjà vu redux

"In my short life we've passed this way ten times or more
And never did this city rise up on that far shore."

Sometimes I like to go back and read my old posts.

The reasons I write this blog - besides hoping to go viral and be a force for good in the blogosphere - are to have a record of my life. At least my life since I started writing it down here.

Writing is therapeutic for me. I like words. I like playing with them, moving them around on the page or screen. I especially like the sense of satisfaction I get when a sentence or paragraph comes out nicely crafted. Or when I make myself laugh. WHich happens more often than you'd imagine.

Hypothetically, my kids could come here and read my thoughts and feelings and learn a little bit more about me. Theoretically, maybe they already do. Realistically, no one is likely to wade through the hundreds of posts I expect I’ll have published in toto, when all is said and done.

For one thing, it’s not all that interesting. Oh, now and then I cobble together a post worth reading. But mostly I cover a lot of the same ground. I’ve thought of changing the tag line for this blog to something like this. Part beadmaking reflections, part travelogue, part navel gazing.

Oh, but I do love my tag line about the muse, too much to really change it. Plus it’s been a constant since day one. (By day one, I mean May 1, 2012, when I posted my first post here.)

Recently, Neil and I thought we might have an excuse to go back to Yellowstone National Park this summer. I pulled up my posts from that trip, and I read them out loud to Neil. Neil, by the way, has stoutly declined to read my blog, although I’ve invited him to. He’s a strange one. He’ll stalk people online, looking for all sorts of public information about them, but he considers reading my blog akin to reading a private diary, an invasion of privacy so to speak.

Alas, the trip to Yellowstone is on hold and probably won't happen, at least this year. I do want to go back someday soon.

Tonight I picked a post at random to read, a post from August 2015. And by gosh, it was the same post I published last week. The same fretting over my conspicuous consumerism, my lack of will power, my inability to resist temptation. I drilled down to my intentions to do better, my resolution to rein in my buying and accumulating and stockpiling.

I suggested that I have an addiction. I contemplated the possibility that I need professional help. I talking about drawing a line under my collecting, about putting it out to the universe so as to make myself accountable.

Have I really made no progress at all?

It seems that way.

Not only that, but I’m still droning on about it like a broken record.

I guess that’s the navel gazing part.

In my defense, I got rid of a huge amount of stuff when we moved. I sold maybe a third of my glass. During the last phases of the move, I actually stopped shopping for a short while.

But then we had all this space to furnish. And decorate. We’re almost there though. I can stop shopping.

Facebook is my nemesis these days. It's my social lifeline at the moment. And it's my livelihood, which at the minute isn't all that lively, but that another post that I've posted too often. Let's just say, my reasons for being on Facebook are valid, or at least, rationalizable. I get most of my world news there too. (Snopes is my friend.)

It's also the source of great temptation. As we all know, Facebook knows what we've shopped for, if not what we've actually bought. I get very targeted ads, all the things I like, pretty clothes and shoes, bath and body goodies, home decor, and of course, beads galore. I mean how can I pass on six foaming soaps for $18 and $10 off $30? Or deluxe samples of upscale skincare with a $45 purchase and free shipping?

For some reason, it's taken me a while to recognize this particular rabbit hole. There will always be another sale, another gift with purchase, another discount code. I have enough. I have to stop falling down, down, down.

A couple of days ago, an online friend in the glass community, posted about the topic of too much stuff. I liked the way she expressed herself so much, I save her words. It's almost poetic. I thought I'd share it. It's called, I am sooooo over having “stuff.”
Please indulge my rant.
I am engaging in a little hardcore self-observation this morning.

I am sooooo over owning and storing a bunch of “stuff.”

My realization happened very suddenly.
You see, I have been seriously considering downsizing my housing.
Moving is tough enough.
But, moving a ton of stuff is a totally MISERABLE proposition.

My cabinets and closets are very neat, but totally full.
How, exactly, did that happen?
Geez. When was the last time I used that heart-shaped waffle iron?
Why in the hell have I been keeping multiple sets of plates, napkins, placemats, flatware, stemware, glassware, and tablecloths?
I quit “needing” those items LONG AGO.
(Actually, I’m not sure I EVER needed them. But, I always enjoyed setting a beautiful table for guests.)

Here’s the dichotomy.
I absolutely HATE visual clutter and I deliberately feature a minimal number of items on my countertops, end tables, and bookshelves.
Behind the scenes though, it’s like I am curating a huge collection of stuff for the Smithsonian.
I keep it neatly stacked in the closets and cabinets, holding it until the day, I MIGHT use it again.
That’s total and utter bullshit.

I have hit a wall.
A turning point, if you will.
There’s no comfort derived from having stuff.

Last night, I made a feeble start.
I cleaned out my linen closet.
I winnowed HEAVILY.
It took two hours for me to unstack, sort, decide what to keep, sell, or donate, and reshelve the keepers.
It was a personal victory.

(BTW, I don’t have this issue with my clothing.
Clothes and shoes come and go with no problem.)

It’s the other stuff.

Yes, I’ve read the self-help de-cluttering books.
I acknowledge their usefulness and practicality.

This morning, I am grinding my teeth.
I am shaking my head.
I am poking a titanium pick in my personality.
There’s no doubt I am uncomfortable with my collection of stuff.
Most of it needs to go.

The sooner it happens, the better.

Whoa. I can see I need a plan.

(D. Harrison)
I wish I had saved my response. It was along the lines of, I struggle with this constantly, for me it's the clothes and shoes, the jewelry, the beads by other artists, the bead store beads and findings for all the jewelry I'm never going to make. I’m going to have to figure out something because the psychic weight is starting to wear on me.

Since then I've made a reasonable start on unpacking my collection of artist beads. Seeing them again is my strategy for diffusing any desire to buy more. It worked for a while after I packed them up for the move. What helped more was not being on Facebook to sell my beads. I bought no beads until I started selling again. It's hard to list beads in the lampwork groups without seeing other people's beads.

Sales have been so slow of late, with a sporadic uptick here and there, and one steady customer who seems to have a limitless desire for my dot pairs. It occurs to me that if I stopped selling then I wouldn't be subjected to temptation all the time. But the drawback there is that if I don't at least try to sell some beads, why would I keep making them? I know, not everyone makes things to sell them. I could donate them, and I'm putting a donation box together right now, as a matter of fact.

But as I've said before, it's less about the money and more about the validation. Which is ironic, because I'm really not getting all that much validation, certainly not in sales, not even in many comments, although I do get a fair number of likes.

I guess I'll just keep trying to up my game, to improve my skills, to stretch my vision, to build upon whatever talents I may have. I really don't want to stop. It's still fun. I still like the exercise of melting glass and decorating it and playing with color combinations and reactions. I might have to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with new designs. Then again, it's good to make what you love.

Not to mention that time spent at the torch keeps me out of trouble. You can't torch and shop simultaneously.

Here are some of the little dot bead sets that I have been obsessed with making lately.

And a couple of patriotic cats.

Oh father, come to the window
Look over yonder lake
At the wondrous golden city
Beyond the icy wake
In my short life we've passed this way
Ten times or more
And never did this city
Rise up on that far shore

That's the sun, son, shining on the water
It's not Cairo, New York or Rome
And just a matter of hours before you see your mama
Waiting for you back at home

Big buildings at it's centre
Stand ablaze with light
While lesser spires around these
Entrap the beams in flight
Oh look now I see people
With faces small and fine
And in their midst just staring
A boy's face like mine

That's the sun, son, shining on the water
It's not Cairo, New York or Rome
And just a matter of hours before you see your mama
Waiting for you back at home

The sun was sinking 'cause night was falling
And the boy went off to sleep
His wondrous city vanished
Into the icy deep
The moon was rising 'cause night was falling
And all was as before
As we made our way past the countless pines
On the cold lake's northern shore

That's the sun, son, shining on the water
It's not Cairo, New York or Rome
And just a matter of hours
Before you see your mama
Waiting for you back at home.

(Kate & Anna McGarrigle)