Friday, April 27, 2018

Guilty pleasures, invidious guilt

"I bear the brunt of your long buried pain
I don't mind helping you out
But I want you to remember my name."

Several things.

I binge-watched season 2 of The Missing. I actually watched three episodes the first night and four episodes the second night. I left one for the next day, but only because it was late and I was tired.

I wonder why I feel guilty about binging programs. This series left every episode on a shocking cliffhanger, just begging you to click on the next episode.

Still, I feel like I should have savored it more, or should I? Four episodes is a new record for me. I used to watch three sometimes when I was rewatching Lost, but they were only 45 minutes each and there were 121 of them, not 8.

And these are full hour-long shows. But they kept me rapt. I did take breaks in between, dinner, a phone call with Neil, some computer time.

I do about half of my series-watching on the treadmill and the other half with Neil. Having the weekend to myself while he played softball in Virginia Beach was the game changer. On the treadmill, I love a series that makes me look forward to the next day’s miles. I’m happy when I find something that invites me to put on my walking shoes, day by day.

Neil has a lot of rules for watching shows. He resists ever watching two of a series back-to-back. We usually watch two or three series at the same time, so we can watch one of each per evening. We did watch Detectorists two at a time, but they were 30 minutes apiece.

Anyway, I suppose it’s not a guilty pleasure if you don’t at least feel a little bit guilty.

In other news, I’m feeling good for no good reason. I’ve cut the dose of one of my bedtime anxiety meds in half, and after the first few nights I’ve been sleeping just fine. I’m thinking about halving the morning dose of the same med next month. If that works I’ll probably stick with the half doses for a good while.

I’m more worried about tapering my other anxiety med. I think I’d be ok without it but I’ve heard bad things about the discontinuation syndrome. It’s an extended release tablet, so a pill cutter might not be a good solution. I’d probably have to try an every-other-day cycle, and keeping track of days will be a pain. It would be easier if weeks were eight days long, or any even number.

Maybe I’ll table the idea until my next annual checkup. It’s possible my doctor can prescribe a lower dose, even if it’s not the extended release type. That puts off worrying about it foe another nine months or so.

For a long time I’ve said they’d have to pry my meds from my cold, dead fingers. And there is the cliche of the person who gets on meds, feels better, quits the meds, and wonders why she stops feeling better. I’m past being that cliche, but there is something to be said about not taking meds if you don’t need them, and after so many years, it might be time for a trial without.

Mostly, I don’t like being dependent on a doctor for something that my body depends on. Changing doctors was a wake up call. My former doc just refilled my scrips every year, once I found my steady state. My new doc pushed back, although when push came to shove, she wrote the renewals. At least she has so far. She had no problem with my meds for thyroid, cholesterol, or allergies, only my anxiety meds.

In all-beads, all-the-time news, you may remember the lady who bought beads a couple of weeks ago, the one who waxed so enthusiastic until she got the first ones in hand. Then, crickets. I speculated that she’d not buy from me again. Of late she’s been “liking” some of my beads for sale, and she finally bid on and won two sets. I’m telling you this because I said I’d let you know if I was wrong. Color me wrong.

My bead inventory is starting to get out of hand again. I’m selling a little here and there but I’m still making more than I sell. This would be a good time for Beads of Courage to swoop in and buy some pairs.

In the meantime, I keep trying new styles, hoping to hit on just the thing that everyone will want. I know, right?

I’m having another quiet time here, Neil is off, in Texas visiting his kids and his friends. I didn’t go, for reasons I’ve talked about - one car, impossible to see both his friends and mine, tension with my stepdaughter, the food assault.

While Neil was off playing softball, I had a pretty good time on my own. This time I think I made the wrong decision to stay home. It’s one of those things that I had to do to find out that I’d regret it. I should have taken a higher road, especially in terms of Laurie, and not let her feelings about me keep me from seeing Blake and spending this time with Neil.

In fact, it’s likely that my not going to bond with Blake will be one more demerit chalked up against me on Laurie’s scorecard, even though I’m sure she’s ecstatic to have her dad there alone. And she’s right. I punished myself because I’m angry with her.

Nothing to be done about it now though. I'll have to tolerate the time alone and avow to go with Neil next time. I’m not sure when that will be. We have a straw plan to meet up with Laurie, Luke, and Blake in Orlando, in November. Her mom got her one of those timeshare-pitch vacations, and meeting on neutral ground is always a good thing, and did I mention, Orlando?

There may be other crimes of opportunity, by which I mean trips of opportunity, when she travels for her job, but that won’t include Blake, unless Luke decides to bring him, and I can’t imagine he’ll want to fly solo with a lap toddler. I’d say that would be more plausible when Blake’s a little older, but only if there isn’t a new baby by then.

Neil said something funny the night before he left. For the first time, he said he worries that he’s isolated me by moving us here, and is concerned that I’d have a hard time if something happened to him. The timing is odd, because it was one of my fears about moving here that I shared when we were just considering the move. And now that I’ve stopped grieving for the home and life I left, and I feel happy here, he raises the issue.

Frankly, if something happened to him, I’d have a hard time no matter where I lived, but it’s true that I don’t have a support system here so far. I’m also not sure why it applies to me more than to him, in his mind at least, because something could as easily happen to me. I suppose it’s because he likes solitude more than I do, because he has his softball support system already growing roots, and because he’s a better traveler than I am and he’d just hop on a plane to visit family or friends more often.

For these reasons, and so many more, it’s my deepest hope that if something happens to anyone, it happens to me. That includes Neil, my kids, and my grandson Ryland. I’ll throw in Neil’s kids and Blake, because if anything bad happened to them, it would crush him and I’d lay down my life to not see him that hurt.

OK. Enough gloom. I must trust that nothing bad is going to happen to anyone any time soon.

Nothing bad, nothing bad, nothing bad is my mantra.

One day, one breath at a time.

Living any other way would not be living.

I wear their face on top of my face
I am the perfect target screen
For your blindly fueled rage

I bear the brunt of your long buried pain
I don't mind helping you out
But I want you to remember my name

It's not all me
It's not all my fault
I may remind you
But I won't take it all on

Past riddled rage
I see the buttons I engage
With my dignity in place
I'm all too happy to assuage

It's not all me
It's not all my fault
I may remind you
But I won't take it all on

Lest I find my voice
Find the strength to stand up to you
Lest I stay to my limit
And take on only what is mine to

We are a team
I'm here to help mend and reseam
All I trigger unknowingly
A job I hold in high esteem

It's not all me
It's not all my fault
I may remind you
But I won't take it all on
I'll only take some of it.

(Alanis Morissette, © Universal Music Publishing Group)

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 of $1.65 "per event response" which as far as I can tell might mean that someone clicked on the link (but it's murky). Facebook reckoned that I had six "event responses," to the tune of $9.90 (ironically, almost precisely the amount of my "credit." 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 watching 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)