Friday, June 7, 2019

Channeling equanimity

I'd stay home at night, all the time
I'd go anywhere, anywhere, anywhere
Ask me and I'm there, yeah

Neil left for his softball tournament. I’ve been crying on and off, pretty much since I got out of bed this morning. Not weeping or sobbing, just tears that steadily seep out of the corners of my eyes. Neil doesn’t see them, or he pretends that he doesn’t.

He asked me what my plans are for the weekend. I said nothing. I mean, I said something, which was “nothing.”

Nothing today. Nothing tomorrow. Nothing Saturday. Nothing Sunday.

Sometimes, at times like this, I ask myself, WWSD? What would Sara do?

Sara was my best friend in college. She was one of the most self-possessed people I’ve ever known. She did not wear her heart on her sleeve, ever. She kept a veil of mystery about her. She was practical, reasonable, unselfish, poised, self-reliant, self-assured.

So many things that I was not, am not.

And beautiful. And clever. And funny. And all the things.

At the start of our sophomore year, Sara began dating a friend of mine who I introduced to her. I met Lin in the first class I took at Colgate. I thought he was funny and cute. I asked him to go to a poetry reading with me. Which he did. I’m not sure whether or not I’d call it a date. No romance was kindled, but he became a friend.

He fell hard for Sara, as she did for him. They’re still together now, 45 years and counting. But he wasn’t an uncomplicated person to love. Sara is wholesome, grounded, sensible. In college, Lin liked to close the bars down, playing pool, drinking beer. He liked to stay up until dawn and sleep until mid-afternoon. He would pull all nighters before exams and deadlines for papers.

I’d have been whining and judging and feeling slighted and and angry and hurt. I don’t think Sara ever gave him grief. She was there for him when he came home. I’d have made it about me. She was compassionate and steady, a rock in his sea of craziness. He adored her.

In those days, Colgate was trying to go to a year-round format, and all students had to take at least one summer session. Most of us chose the summer after our sophomore year and took off the following fall semester. Sara and I made plans for a five-week-long trip, taking the trans-Canada railroad from Montreal to Vancouver, with stops to go camping and hiking (and hitchhiking - it was legal then) in Banff and Lake Louise.

Photo of a (very old) photo. Sara, her childhood friend Nancy, and me
in Montreal, getting ready to board the train for our grand adventure.
At the end of our sophomore year, I started dating Gerry, a good friend of Lin’s, and we fell in love. We spend all our time together over the summer, but in the fall, Gerry headed off to Skidmore College. He’d registered for an exchange semester there before we got involved. I was very unhappy about being apart. I did enjoy many of the wonderful experiences that Sara and I had on our trip but I carried my birth control pills with me as if they were my most cherished possession. Eventually the plastic disk made a permanent impression in my cheap plastic raincoat.

From Vancouver we ferried to Vancouver Island and from there to Seattle and on down the coast to San Francisco, where Sara’s mom and grandmother lived. On the Oregon coast, I wrote Gerry’s name in the sand. I spend a couple of weeks in San Francisco, and I remember feeling happy that when we went to bed at 10:30 pm, Gerry was probably going to bed in Saratoga Springs, New York, where last call at the bar was 2 am.

I missed Gerry constantly. Sara missed Lin but she handled the situation much differently, with acceptance, patience, and maturity. She stayed on in California after I took the red-eye home to New York and my parents’ house. Her parents had divorced the summer before, her dad was living in New York, her mom in California, and she felt it was fair to spend time with both.

Sara was the perfect role model for how to handle separation. She took it in stride or put on a hell of an act that she did. I think it was real. She loved Lin and was happy to see him again when it was time for her to return to New York, but she didn’t experience separation as the end of the world. It was part of her special mystery and allure that she was her own person, not needy or dependent or jealous.

Lin grew up to become a disc jockey, eventually landing in Chicago, where ironically, given his penchant for late nights and sleeping in, he has worked the early morning drive-time gig for years. He also became a local celebrity or personality, so he has spent much time making appearances, going to all sorts of openings, tournaments, fundraisers, concerts, and generally living the life. And none of that was Sara’s jam. I imagine her at home, cooking healthy soups and baking bread, and later, raising the child they had just shy of her 40th birthday.

Equanimity. I think that’s the word I want, to describe the way that I think Sara handled Lin’s crazy hours and life in the limelight. Of course I don’t know for certain how she really felt and behaved, that’s just my surmise. She isn’t on any social media, so I can only guess that she made her own life, a quiet one I suspect, and that she’s still his rock and there for him when he comes home, unless of course she’s off doing her own thing, in her calm, confident, self-sufficient way.

So what would Sara do this weekend?

Well, she wouldn’t have been crying or being pathetic. She wouldn’t have been playing the wounded, lonely, sad piece of work, wanting her husband to feel guilty and badly for abandoning her.

What will I do?

Since I can’t magically cut friends from whole cloth to get together with, I can only try to make the time pass as pleasantly and productively as possible.

There was a time when I would happily have made beads on all three days. I no longer feel the pull, but I might try it once or twice anyway and see how it feels.

Shopping is always good for killing a few hours. I don’t need a lot of stuff, but I might look for a couple of things on my nice-to-have list, like a new bathroom rug.

I have a gift card for Bath & Body Works.

I need to go by the Art Center and pick up the last ceramic pieces that I glazed earlier this week. Open studio is Saturday morning. I don’t have anything left to work on but there are usually people there that I know and could chat with.

On Saturday there’s an event at the yarn store. I might push myself out of my comfort zone, take one of my works-in-progress and spend a little time there. I’m close to finishing a shawl and another blanket. There’s yet another blanket and a scarf on my near-term project list.

There are lots of things on my streaming watchlists to consider binging.

I have podcasts bookmarked.

I have books to read.

Of course I will walk, on the treadmill, maybe a stroll into Birkdale Village.

There might be a movie of interest, although we did just see Rocketman, which was pretty amazing even if they pulled all the cliche stops out. But the acting and the music were great.

So, we’ll see how well I can do.

Especially at channeling Sara.

Composure, serenity, peace of mind, those are my weekend goals.

Dealing with loneliness, and how fragile, vulnerable, and stuck in the past it leaves me, those are tasks for the longer term.

Wait a minute baby
Stay with me awhile
Said you'd give me light
But you never told me about the fire

Drowning in the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown
But now it's gone
It doesn't matter what for
When you build your house
Then call me home

And he was just like a great dark wing
Within the wings of a storm
I think I had met my match
He was singing
And undoing, and undoing the laces
Undoing the laces

Said Sara, you're the poet in my heart
Never change, never stop
But now it's gone
It doesn't matter what for
But when you build your house
Then call me home

Hold on
The night is coming and the starling flew for days
I'd stay home at night, all the time
I'd go anywhere, anywhere, anywhere
Ask me and I'm there, yeah
Ask me and I'm there, I care

In the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown
But now it's gone
They say it doesn't matter anymore
When you build your house
Then please call me home

Sara, you're the poet in my heart
Never change, and don't you ever stop
Now it's gone
No it doesn't matter anymore
When you build your house
I'll come by

(Stevie Nicks © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.)

Monday, June 3, 2019

White knuckles

Who's gonna pay attention
To your dreams?
Who's gonna plug their ears
When you scream?

Oh yes. I was going to tell you why I'm not posting much about beads these days.

There are a myriad of reasons. First and foremost, I’m not making many beads right now.

It’s funny that I say that, since I just finished an order for 100 pairs for Beads of Courage.

This time I had to make most of them specifically for the order, because I had very little to pull out of inventory.

Since the first of the year, with a few exceptions, I’ve stopped trying to sell beads on Facebook. Lampwork beads have been in a slump for a while now, and not just for me. There are still a few bead makers who sell everything they list, but many more are not selling as they once did.

I won’t complain. I had a pretty good five year run selling my beads on Facebook. There were slow periods but I had a few good customers who continued to come back for more. In the end though, there were diminishing returns vis-à-vis the amount of effort required for selling and the bottom line.

I took a few breaks from listing beads and the last break has continued indefinitely. Occasionally I think about listing some of my remaining inventory, maybe as some orphan lots or some kind of clearance sale. But I haven’t been able to muster the energy to go through all the steps - stringing, photos, listings, and if they sell, invoices, packaging, shipping.

I marvel that I did it all so religiously, for so long. And then, almost overnight, I burned out completely. In fact, I have no interest in any of the venues where I used to purvey my bead wares. I have no desire to sell at bead shows, trunk shows, craft shows, or any sort of live event. I let my Etsy shop listings expire. I gave up on eBay.

My website is out of date and I’m considering shutting it down, even letting the domain go. I’ll probably keep it one more year to be sure my loss of heart is permanent. The big question I have to consider is, if I stop selling beads entirely, is there a good reason to keep making them?

I’m not ready to address that question yet. I want to give myself more time, to see if the desire and drive really is gone for good or if this is just a longer-than-usual hiatus for my muse. That also allows me to defer other questions, such as what I will do with all my studio supplies, including pounds and pounds of glass.

There’s no especial urgency to decide. We have plenty of storage space, I’m not in need of funds, and there’s no reason to think that my heirs will be burdened with my estate any time soon.

Plus, I’m still in love with the colors. I still enjoy the process although perhaps less than I used to. There are so many steps, from dipping mandrels to cleaning out bead release. I once loved each step. Now I am not sure what I love about it any more.

For now, I’m willing to let it ride. I plan to continue to dabble, partly so that I don’t lose my skills, partly because letting my equipment sit idle does it no favors.

Because I’m not selling on Facebook now, I’m finding it much less interesting to be on Facebook. I still glance at it once or twice a day, but I no longer live there. This is both good and bad. A lot of my human interaction came out of my online business. I had some interesting instant messenger conversations with customers and other members of the lampwork community.

The reason we live where we do today is the result of a conversation I had with a customer in Charlotte some years ago. She recommended this town as a place to consider. I don’t even remember her name offhand, although with some effort I could probably find the chat log.

I still check in to the forum Lampwork Etc. most days, but instead of the tips and techniques or the garage sale topics, I look at the off-topic area, because it’s the most active area these days. Facebook groups pretty much replaced the substantive parts of the forum, and the people that are left there may or may not still work with glass. Usually I just lurk, although I do pipe up from time to time.

It’s not such a big part of my life any more, just a harmless habit that doesn’t need to be broken. And I haven’t found anything to replace it yet.

One decision I will have to make soon is whether to go to the lampwork retreat in Asheville at the end of September that I signed up and paid for. I was waitlisted the last two times the retreat was held. I thought it would be a way to meet lampworkers in the region, but that assumes that I intend to continue with the craft, enough to spend the money and push through my discomfort zone.

At this point, I’m leaning toward going. It might be the tonic I need to rediscover the love I once felt about bead making - or it might clarify whether I push on or toss in the towel. Of course, it’s easy to feel that way while it’s well in the future. As time shortens, I know my anxiety will rise, and at some point the rubber will meet the road and I’ll either give up my spot or resolve to see it through and see how the chips fall out.

Man, I’m a full complement of mixed metaphors today.

Despite my best intentions to figure this whole life thing out - or at least be kinder to myself while I’m treading water - my knuckles remain white. I’m day to day and hour to hour.

I’m feeling very vulnerable because Neil already is packing for his softball tournament next weekend. I tell myself, enjoy this weekend, don’t ruin it by worrying about next weekend. It doesn’t help that Neil senses my anxiety and it makes him tense. And I hate being so dependent on him.

A few days after he gets home, we leave for our next trip. Then we’re back for a couple of days and he leaves for another tournament. If not for the cats, I might go with him to the tournaments, even though he says I’d hate them. What I think he means is that he’d have less fun because he’d be worried about me not having fun.

And he’s probably right. We are together a lot. A short break isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Last summer, after some trial and error, I was able to enjoy some of the time I had alone at home. I’m just feeling so fragile right now - and so impatient with myself for feeling that way.

It will be fine. I will get through it. I have always gotten through everything. That has actually been my hallmark.

I will be OK. I will be fine.

I am OK. I am fine.

Who's gonna tell you when
It's too late
Who's gonna tell you things
Aren't so great
You can't go on
Thinking nothing's wrong
Who's gonna drive you home tonight

Who's gonna pick you up
When you fall
Who's gonna hang it up
When you call
Who's gonna pay attention
To your dreams
Who's gonna plug their ears
When you scream
You can't go on
Thinking nothing's wrong
Who's gonna drive you home tonight

Who's gonna hold you down
When you shake
Who's gonna come around
When you break
You can't go on
Thinking nothing's wrong
Who's gonna drive you home tonight
Oh you know you can't go on
Thinking nothing's wrong
Who's gonna drive you home tonight

(Ric Ocasek © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Adrift in the world

Some are friendly
Some are cutting
Some are watching it from the wings
Some are standing in the center
Giving to get something

Let me just say this.

I’m lonely. I feel sorry for myself. But most of all, I’m so very damn tired of feeling sorry for myself.

I want to focus on all the good things in my life, of which there are many.

I won’t enumerate all of them, but I’ll mention the big ones. My health and well-being and that of my family. A strong, happy marriage to a man who I love. A relative lack of financial worries. A beautiful house. The fact that I don’t have to work at a job, ever again, unless I choose to.

So, yeah, nothing to feel sorry for here.

And yet.

And yet, I have this feeling of being adrift in the world.

I’ve been missing my parents of late, despite the fact that my mom would’ve been 96 last week and my dad would’ve turned 99 in December. Today I was thinking that I’d give a lot to be able to talk to my mom again (before her dementia), and wondering if my kids will one day regret not talking to me more while they could have.

If I could talk to my mom, I'd ask her what the secret to charisma is. She certainly had it. Even after dementia claimed her best self, she remained kind and caring, never combative, and was loved by everyone who knew her.

Once, long ago, I talked about charisma with a shrink. The shrink pushed back on the idea that it is some sort of god-given gift. What, you think people don't work for their popularity, she asked me.

I know that some people do. Some people work very hard at being funny, being entertaining. They are always on, always engaging, always taking stage. I'm sure for many it did not come naturally. I'm sure for some it even grew from insecurity, i.e., if I don't work hard to make this group of people laugh, then I don't deserve to be here.

But that in itself is a gift. I couldn't make myself funny and entertaining on demand. Sometimes I am naturally funny, but mostly I am an appreciative audience. And I suspect the world has room for as many admiring onlookers as it does for entertainers.

Anyway, I'm having the usual struggle with my summer holiday weekend demons. I coast through other holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, no problem. Halloween, Valentines Day, the Ides of March, cool. Hanukkah, Passover, Easter, Earth Day, bring 'em.

On the other hand, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day give me heartburn. I was going to say heartache, but that's a bit over the mark. It may have something to do with the weather. The sun is shining relentlessly outside, the temperature is kissing 90-something. It discourages me from going out, going for a walk, which is too bad, because doing something outdoors is always better than not when it comes to these particular demons.

What should be just another Saturday, Sunday, Monday, suddenly becomes Judgement Day - because we aren't spending time with family or friends.

I do what I can, call my kids, call my brother. Neil and I went to a ballgame, our first Charlotte Knights game. We sat in seats surrounded by groups of families and friends. Am I the only one who notices this shit? We brave the heat and walk to town for iced coffee drinks. We eat traditional hot dogs on buns, with veggies from Neil's garden.

And Tuesday things go back to normal and all's right with the world again, if you don't count global politics and climate change.

So, I know people post "happy happy" photos on social media. They don't post pictures of the fight they had with their spouse or the day they couldn't roll out of bed. For the most part, social media is a highlight reel, not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

Probably because I don't have anything better to do with my brain, there is one person who I've allowed to get under my skin, and not in a good way. This is the woman I met a few months ago, who lives in my community and has an artsy craftsy bent like I do. Beyond that, despite the fact that she's from Long Island and Jewish and about my age, we don't have a lot in common. Neil calls her a party girl. She's the first to admit that she loves her wine. She takes a lot of pains with her appearance. Also, she and her husband are not aligned with us politically, which for Neil is essentially a deal breaker.

Still, she and I got together a few times and I enjoyed the time we spent and I thought she did too. But as is the usual story with me, she set down the ball. From texting with me almost daily, her texts became sporadic and whether I responded or initiated, she starting letting days, then weeks go by without texting back.

The last time I saw her, she asked me to glaze a jar that she'd made in a pottery class. I warned her that I'm a ceramics novice, but agreed to do my best. I wasn't thrilled with the result, the colors came out sort of matte and organic, but it is what it is. Since there'd been no mention of getting together again, I gave it to a friend of hers who is in my class this session.

A week earlier, I'd asked the friend if she's seen our mutual friend, and she said she was meeting her for drinks that afternoon. So the next week I brought the jar to class and asked if she'd be seeing our friend again, and she said, I'll see her tomorrow, she's having a group of ladies over to her house.

That caused a pang. It was probably a wine party, but even though I don't drink alcohol, I don't mind socializing with those who do. Neil says, people who drink tend to surround themselves with other drinkers. You might not mind being with them, but they want to feel enabled and empowered, not theoretically judged.

If I really thought that was the way to friendship, I'd take up the grape again. But I was never a party girl, even in my drinking days. Drinking didn't make me more fun, it made me quieter and more guarded, afraid of saying something stupid. I'm plenty capable of saying stupid things sober.

I have a theory, well, my mom had a theory, and I agree with it, that people don't do things under the influence that they wouldn't do stone cold. My mom voiced this opinion after a young man who lived across the street from us went to jail for beating up his girlfriend, and his mother made the excuse that he only did it because he was drunk at the time. In my frame of reference, it applies to things like dancing on tables, wearing lampshades, and having indiscriminate sex. People may drink to "lose their inhibitions" but that's because they want to lose them. If you have principles that you believe in and try to live by, you won't deviate from them because you're a sheet or two to the wind.

Also, I have no tolerance. A glass or two of hard anything and I want to lie down and take a nap. Booze saps my energy and makes me listless. There's a saying that there are three kinds of drunks, happy drunks, angry drunks, and sad drunks. I'm a sad drunk. Alcohol kicks up all my neurotransmitter deficiency issues. I withdraw even further into myself, if that's possible.

And then there are the hangovers. If I wake up with one, it's with me all day, and I once discovered or invented two-day hangovers, where you are still hung over on the morning after two nights before. Half a glass of champagne once in a blue moon is as far as I dare push my relationship with spirits.

So back to this woman, who I can't bring myself to call friend. This weekend she's been posting pictures of herself out on a boat. With friends. And wine. She's wearing a two piece bathing suit and she's killing it and she knows it. I'm not sure that's relevant, but it plays to the neurotic monkeys in my head, who offer up ideas like, she rejects you because you don't wear makeup or color your hair, your dress is more bohemian than trendy, you aren't one of the cool kids.

A few days ago, I posted this memory on Facebook.

My friend, if I may use the term, commented, "She was beautiful."

I replied, "Yes, she was. And kind and caring. And charismatic. Even with dementia, she was loved by everyone. I wish I was more like her."

And my friend said, "I think you have the same qualities."

Followed by four hearts.

I don't get it. OK, maybe I do a little. I don't have a lot to offer, well, other than my kind, caring self. I don't have a boat. I don't have a broad circle of interesting friends that I can expose her to. I don't give parties.

It's probably not me. She's happy and effervescent and has lots of friends. I'm just way down in the queue. You'd think kind and caring would count more, but it seems not.

Years ago, dating after divorce, I came to realize that healthy people attract healthy people. Happy people attract happy people. And on the flip side, sad people attract sad people. I also realized that you get back what you put out. I had to get healthy and happy if I wanted to get back healthy, happy relationships.

I don't think I wear my loneliness like a badge or a shield. But what if I'm projecting it at some deeper, more fundamental level? Mightn't that be enough to make people veer off?

A friend from the glass world posted a couple of memes on Instagram that spoke to me.

Since there's no dog in my life, I'll keep my eyes open for any extrovert who might want to adopt me.

And I'll keep asking, what can I do to improve my life? How can I address whatever obstacles, real or imagined, stand in the way of making the kind of connections that I crave?

Step one, let go of the past.

Step two, stay in the game.

Step three, enough with the self-pity already.

This quote by Elizabeth Gilbert popped up on Instagram
just hours after I finished writing this post. I know, right?

All the people at this party
They've got a lot of style
They've got stamps of many countries
They've got passport smiles
Some are friendly
Some are cutting
Some are watching it from the wings
Some are standing in the center
Giving to get something

Photo Beauty gets attention
Then her eye paint's running down
She's got a rose in her teeth
And a lampshade crown
One minute she's so happy
Then she's crying on someone's knee
Saying, laughing and crying
You know it's the same release

I told you when I met you
I was crazy
Cry for us all, Beauty
Cry for Eddie in the corner
Thinking he's nobody
And Jack behind his joker
And stone-cold Grace behind her fan
And me in my frightened silence
Thinking I don't understand

I feel like I'm sleeping
Can you wake me?
You seem to have a broader sensibility
I'm just living on nerves and feelings
With a weak and a lazy mind
And coming to people's parties
Fumbling deaf dumb and blind
I wish I had more sense of humor
Keeping the sadness at bay
Throwing the lightness on these things
Laughing it all away
Laughing it all away
Laughing it all away

(Joni Mitchell © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Changes in the weather

Just throw away the book, and take a second look
Behind the door, a guided tour, what we came here for

Another trip done and dusted.

It’s sad but I’ve come to feel that traveling is something to be endured. Survived.

The worst part is the days leading up to the trip. I have so much anxiety. I procrastinate about packing but I’m tense about forgetting something important or not having the right things with me.

Eventually, I overpack. At home I wear clothing at least twice, sometimes more. I try to minimize laundry. My mom’s voice is always in mind. You wash the life out of things, she’d say, especially when I was in high school and she still did my washing and I’d automatically take off whatever I’d worn each day and toss it in the laundry hamper.

As an adult, I don’t get very dirty or sweaty, so I rotate a few outfits every week. Then I wash everything except what I’m wearing and start over.

But when I pack, I pack clean things for every day of the trip. I don’t necessarily wear them, but having enough options seems sensible. Then I pack alternatives for unseasonable weather, layers in case it gets cold, twice the daily number of socks because I like to double up on them.

The first thing I always pack is my meds. The last things I pack are jewelry, my chargers, my iPhone and iPad. I pack a lot of books because I read more on trips. For the past year, I’ve been packing a yarn project. I pack some snacks too, just in case.

As you can imagine, my bag is freaking heavy, and I’m only happy to check it on the way home, because I’m paranoid about not having my stuff on a trip. Neil says, we can always buy anything we forget or need, but I’ve had to do that and I don’t like to. That’s how I wind up with multiple baseball hats that I only ever wear on trips, or ugly, overpriced underwear, or extra sweaters that I don’t love or need.

I know that many people love to travel, live for it even, but I’m germphobic enough to be wary of hotel bathrooms, let alone public restrooms. I don’t love strange beds and unfamiliar pillows and towels that who knows who used, or washed and folded. Don’t get me started on blankets, bedspreads, shower curtains, or carpets.

And who thought folding toilet paper into a point was a good idea? I tear off a foot or so and flush it.

Oh yes, when we travel, we eat unfamiliar food at odd times, and drink unfamiliar water, all of which tends to play havoc with my digestive system, if you know what I mean.

Then there’s the fun of repacking your suitcase with your used socks and underwear and carting it around with you. It’s not the end of the world, I know. I’m just not crazy about it.

Enough of that now. You’re here for the good stuff.

We spent six days in Southern Colorado, including travel days. We flew into Denver and drove south to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was our third visit and the longest. We stay at the lodge just outside the park. It’s just a small motel really, but each room has a balcony with a view of the dunes and I love it.

On our first day we had sunny skies. We forded the creek and climbed a good way up the dunes. We’ve never made it to the top. The last stretch is long and steep, and I suspect that when you summit, there are higher peaks beyond. It was beautiful as always. I started in layers, tank top, long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, scarf, gloves, and stripped down to the tank by the time we were halfway up the dunes.

After a stop at the gift shop, I mean the visitor center, and a bit of scenic driving we met up with Neil’s niece. Jackie is spending a year working for AmeriCorps in Alamosa, which prompted this trip, otherwise we might not have revisited the area quite as soon. Neil thought it was a great excuse, and we did have fun with Jackie. We had some good Mexican food and then chilled at Starbucks, before driving out to Antonito to see Cano’s Castle, a multi-building folk art edifice made of scrap metal and recycled materials. The Vietnam war veteran who created it calls it Jesus' Castle. He also insists Jesus lives in it.

What I didn't take a photo of was a white dog tethered inside the enclosure. He didn't look neglected or even unhappy, but it was worrisome. The night turned cold and I only hope his master came to get him. Picturing him warm, fed, and loved is the only way I can live with myself. But what can you do? Jackie has some experience with the authorities in the area and with so much poverty, drug abuse, and human suffering in the area, she said there isn't a lot of sympathy - or services - for distressed animals. And this one wasn't technically distressed, just detained on a short lead.

The next day couldn’t have been more different, weather wise. We woke to snowfall and gray skies. We decided to brave the dunes anyway, but as soon as we parked there, I opened the car door to howling wind and got right back in the car. At a bit of a loss, we drove a few miles to Zapata Ranch, a 100,000 acre cattle and bison working ranch operated by The Nature Conservancy. Weather cells really do vary because there was no wind in the valley, and we were able to hike through a light crust of snow in stillness, broken only by the sound and flight of a great horned owl, who came to perch overhead.

Later we met Jackie again, had delicious Thai food, followed by happy hour half price Frappes at Starbucks. Afterwards we drove around the more upscale side of Alamosa, having seen enough of the seedier side, where Jackie works at a homeless shelter. Jackie was good fun, an interesting, thoughtful girl, and I'm happy that we spent time with her.

On our last morning at the dunes, the wind had died down enough for a short walk and some photo ops. There was still plenty of snow.

Then we headed for Creede, Colorado to meet up with some friends who Neil had met at work several decades ago. Tom and Margot are my favorite of all Neil’s friends.

Why yes, that is the largest fork in the U.S.
Made of aluminum, forty feet long, weighing over 600 pounds. 
It was still cold and gray, so we passed the time at a coffee shop from where we transitioned to dinner and then to more talk back at the hotel. We woke to sunshine in Creede. Our lodge sat right on the bank of the Rio Grand River, the very same one that creates the controversial border between Texas and Mexico.

We had a lovely cafe breakfast, took a scenic drive, and visited the Underground Mining Museum. Everyone else was more impressed than I was, but everyone else was a geologist or petrologist, not an English major.

Then it was back to the coffee shop again, until it was time to part ways, they to their summer home in Pagoda Springs, we to Denver. We stopped for pizza in Salida en route, and then crashed into a Hampton Inn and the homestretch. Our flight home was at 4 pm, which left time for a leisurely breakfast and a visit to a yarn shop (or two) before heading to the airport and finally to home.

It really was a fun trip, but something inside me, something that I’m only vaguely aware is tensed, noticeably relaxes when I’m home. I miss the cats, or rather I feel guilty about being away, even though our cat minder comes every day to feed and water them. I even have her come on our travel days, when we leave early and get home late. They’re always fine, but they are used to having us around all the time.

At least the trip paused the tape that had been playing in my brain these last weeks, the one where I’m obsessively analyzing the supposed failures in my life.

Good. Because I have some other thoughts to share, including the reasons why I haven't been posting about beads much.

I'm sure you will be waiting breathlessly.

Now that you've made your mistake
Now that you know how the heart bends and breaks
Just throw away the book, and take a second look
Behind the door, a guided tour, what we came here for

One don't let the sun go down on
Two who love but are undone by
Three whose name is
I won't even start before we learn the rules
Like one don't let the sun go down on
Two who love, but are undone by
Three whose name is
I won't even start before we learn the rules of travel
Inside each other's hearts
Inside each other's hearts

When do the walls tumble down
Into the sky, into the stars and the ground
Good day to give it up, surrender to the love
No man to hold, no way to know, that you are home

One don't let the sun go down on
Two who love but are undone by
Three whose name is
I won't even start before we learn the rules
Like one don't let the sun go down on
Two who love, but are undone by
Three whose name is
I won't even start before we learn the rules of travel
Inside each other's hearts
Inside each other's hearts

(John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash © Downtown Music Publishing, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC)

Monday, May 6, 2019

The hummingbird way

I'll learn to love the fallow way 
When all my colors fade to white 
And flying birds fold back their wings 
Upon my anxious wanderings

One of the people I follow on Instagram is Elizabeth Gilbert, who, if you know her at all, you probably know as the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

She’s also one of the pack of writers/personalities who hangs with Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, Cheryl Strayed, and Oprah Winfrey. Elizabeth, who also goes by Liz, had long preached the gospel of following your passion.

Liz herself found her passion at a youngster and lover of reading. She always knew she wanted to be a writer and she pursued that goal relentlessly. After graduating from New York University, she worked as a bartender and waitress, racking up tips and rejection letters for a couple of years. She got her big break when Esquire magazine published one of her short stories in 1993.

From then on, Liz became a regular contributor to mainstream national magazines, writing both fiction and nonfiction. The movie Coyote Ugly was inspired by one of her stories in GQ. She was also now racking up book awards, all the while questioning her role in life, home, and marriage, which she described as acting in a story that didn’t feel authentically hers, or even close.

Liz divorced her husband and in 2006, with a generous advance from her publisher, set off on a global quest to find her true self. She spent a year traveling in Italy, India, and Indonesia, which became the basis for her first memoir, which spent something like four years on the New York Times best seller list, and was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts in 2010.

From 2007 to 2016, Liz was married to a Brazilian man who she’d met in Bali while on her mission quest. She left him after she beginning a relationship with her best friend, who’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer (and who died in 2018).

I’ve learned all this only recently, and I offer it here as background for what’s been going through my mind that I want to talk about. My interest and research began after reading a comment on an Instagram post by Liz promoting her new novel, City of Girls. The comment referenced Liz's recent talk on Oprah's Super Soul Conversations titled The Curiosity-Driven Life.

Here are the pertinent excerpts from the quote that got my attention.
I just listened to your talk.... I’ve never felt so validated about anything ever before. It took me 40 years and much spiritual work to reconcile myself with the fact that not everyone is driven by the passion so many talk about. That clear path is not for everyone and that is all right.
For years I struggled feeling lost, incomplete, and damaged for not finding “my call”. Then I’d feel ungrateful for having these feelings because my life has always been pretty great in general ...
I learned ... that my purpose is being, not doing. ... Some of us are here to appreciate, in a very special way, the genius of others, feel inspired by it, learn from it, and put it into practice. My craft is learning how to lead a blissful life, and I’m becoming awesome at it.
This intrigued me enough to search for and listen to Liz's talk. The gist of it is that Liz used to exhort her audiences to "follow their passion." One night after a speaking engagement she got an email from a woman who had attended and now felt terrible because she'd never had a passion. This woman had looked, she'd listened, she'd soul searched. and she'd come up empty, and Liz's talk had left her feeling like a failure.

This got Liz thinking about some of the people she most admired (her then husband José Nunes and her best friend Rayya Elias were two examples she gave) and it struck her that not all of them had a specific passion. Some had done many different things with their lives, reinventing themselves every so often.

Liz rethought her message and she now encourages people to follow their curiosity. A creative life may be something like a scavenger hunt, she says, where you follow clues to see what might interest you. That may lead to a passion or it may just lead to more clues, which you are empowered to follow as long as you like. She likened this approach to hummingbirds who flit about, tasting this flower or that one, leading complex and interesting lives, and cross-pollinating as they go.

This all hit me right where I live. For a very long time, I didn't think I had a passion.

The only thing I ever remember wanting to be when I grew up was a writer. Writers starve, was my mom's reaction. Mom wanted me to learn typing and shorthand so I could support myself between college and marriage, if need be. It's not my parents' fault really that their expectations for me were so low. It was the time, the era, their own and only experience. I resisted learning to type, which is not the reason that I managed to graduate from college with no marketable skills. I just had very limited interests and none in anything practical, such as economics or physics or business.

In a nutshell, my career path led me from waitress to hotel management to law school to law school dropout, from law firm receptionist to law library assistant to librarian. From there, I parlayed my year of law school into a job as a legal assistant which was my line of work for 18 years. My dreams came true for four years when I snagged an assignment in corporate communications but that ended with a whimper after my company was acquired by a bigger fish. I spent my last eight years in corporate training and compliance roles.

If we got do-overs, I'd have gone to a different college, one with a journalism or public relations program. I would have enjoyed a writing-related career, even if I never published a book, but I didn't even know such things existed until I was a bit long in the tooth for the entry level roles that would have let me learn the ropes. Instead I plodded along, putting one foot in front of the other, working for the weekends.

Most men live lives of quiet desperation, my dad used to say, slightly misquoting Thoreau. My dad didn't love his work as an attorney, representing clients with defaulted loans, but his roots were humble, his aspirations modest. He was very much a nose-to-the-grindstone person and I became one too.

It's funny though. Even though I had so many issues with self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-consciousness, I also once thought that I would leave my mark on the world. I thought I was smart, I thought I was different, I thought I was special, I thought everyone felt that way. Recently I asked Neil if he thought when he was a kid that he'd grow up to do great things, and he said, absolutely not. He thought he was very average and he was shocked when he was placed in accelerated classes in high school, when he was called to the principal's office because he'd won a New York State Regents Scholarship (I won one too).

And now I look back and feel sad because I don't think I achieved my potential.

One could argue that I accomplished a lot. I raised two children who became independent adults and good human beings. I clung like grim death to a job I mostly didn't love for 30 years, paid off a mortgage, enabled my children to graduate from college without any debt. I kept my credit cards paid off. I eventually put the maximum amount into my 401K plan. Despite profound fear and guilt, I left a marriage that was preventing me from thriving, which may have been the hardest necessary thing I've ever done. I battled my way back from the end of a love affair that leveled me and clinical depression.

I held out for a healthy relationship and I've been in one for almost 17 years. I love my husband. We are happy and we know it.

I've had articles published in the newspaper, and I have a children's story in a book. I've been writing my life story for a long time. I have had this blog for seven years.


I've seen therapists on and off since I was a teenager. Most were for short periods of time, a few sessions, a year or two. I saw one person for six years, from 2001 to 2007. In therapy, I spent a lot of time talking about relationships. I was often grieving rejection or unrequited feelings, or struggling with a dysfunctional situation, or negotiating challenge, or bemoaning loneliness. Always, a happy relationship was my goal, my way to happiness, which in itself is a recipe for disaster.

Happiness is an inside job, or so I'm told. Don't seek happiness in another person. Find what makes you happy. Find your passion.

It's ironic that after I met Neil and fell in love and got engaged and built a home with him, I found lampwork.

Even before I found lampwork, I found something else. In 2006, when Chelsea left for college, I started volunteering with the adoptable cats at the SPCA. I loved doing it, especially getting to know the cats waiting for home, and socializing the cats by giving them time outside their cages and playing with them. I also loved matching up cats with prospective adopters. I'd go every Sunday afternoon.

When I lived in Jersey Village it was less than 10 miles each way, but once I moved to Sugar Land it was close to 35 miles. Then in 2008, after we moved into our house, I started making beads. I found bead making entrancing and seductive in a way that I hadn't found anything since I learned to work with stained glass in my 20s. I thought about glass all the time then too, trying to work out a way to quit my day job and make art my life. (I couldn't figure it out then either.)

I gave up glass work after having a child. Glass splinters, harsh chemicals, fumes, and babies simply don't mix. Working with glass again was coming full circle back to something I had loved.

And so for while I felt very lucky to have found not just one, but two passions. I gave up the SPCA to volunteer with Sugar Land Animal Services, and I love that too - until it ended badly.

I'd love to work with cats again, if I could find the right place.

Lampwork easily filled the vacuum. I could make beads for hours and hours and never tire of it. I loved every aspect of bead making, from dipping mandrels to dremeling out bead release. If I wasn't making beads, I was chatting online with other enthusiasts or shopping for new colors, going to conferences, attending local glass society meetings, taking classes in Austin and Conroe, doing trunk shows with friends. Eventually I was selling beads online and doing all that that entails - stringing, photography, listings, invoices, shipping.

All well and good. Only I've had to make peace with the fact that my lampwork skills are as good as they ever will be, which is a long shot from being as good as the lampworkers I most admire. I'm never going to be asked to teach a master class. My beads won't be published in any book that isn't a vanity publication.

Practice, practice, practice has taken me as far as I'm going. I'm not making progress. I've lost some of the spark, the impetus to try new things, doing them over and over until I get them right. I don't think about glass all the time any more. I don't live and breathe lampwork the way I once did. I keep up with the lampwork community on social media, but I don't buy beads or glass any more.

I'm not ready to throw in the towel. I still like to melt glass and will continue to dabble in bead making, since I have enough supplies to last through eternity, and it is still a really cool hobby, something unique that not everyone can do. You can't throw a stone without hitting a fiber artist or ceramicist. Lampworkers are fewer and further between.

What's left for me to wrestle with is the ideology that it's enough, that I'm enough. I'd love to embrace the concept that my purpose is being, not doing, that I am like the hummingbird.

I'm not there yet.

I'll learn to love the fallow way
When winter draws the valley down
And stills the rivers in their storm
And freezes all the little brooks

Time when our steps slow to the song
Of falling flakes and crackling flames
When silver stars are high and still
Deep in the velvet of the sky

The crystal time the silence times
I'll learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow times

I'll learn to love the fallow way
When all my colors fade to white
And flying birds fold back their wings
Upon my anxious wanderings

The sun has slanted all her rays
Across the vast and harvest plains
My memories mingle in the dawn
I dream of joyful vagabonds

The crystal times the silence times
I'll learn to love their quietness
When deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams in of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow times

No drummer comes across the plains
To tell of triumph or of pain
No word far off battle's cry
To draw me out or draw me nigh

I'll learn to love the fallow way
And gather in the patient fruits
And after autumns blaze and burn
I'll know the full still, deep roots

That nothing seem to do or need
That crack the ice in frozen ponds
And slumbering in winter's folds
Have dreams of green and blue and gold

I'll learn to love the fallow way
And listening for blossoming
Of my own heart once more in spring

As sure as time, as sure as snow
As sure as moonlight, wind and stars
The fallow time will fall away
The sun will bring an April day
And I will yield to summer's way

(Judy Collins © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Past imperfect

And it's just a box of rain, I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it or leave it if you dare
And it's just a box of rain or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there

It’s been a quiet news day. Week. Month.

For me. For America, for the rest of the world, not so much. Between the obstructive antics of the Trump administration and the mass killings in Sri Lanka, in retaliation for the mass killing in New Zealand last month, the bad news of the world continues apace.

I feel almost guilty that my life is so peaceful and idyllic, and I feel guiltier for the fact that I continue to struggle.

A Facebook friend posted one of those things where you answer twenty questions. One in particular struck me and has stayed with me.
14. If you could talk to ANYONE, who would it be?

I’d go back to my kid self, the bullied social reject, and tell them all about my 50th birthday party. Tell them to hang in there, the social bullshit evens out with age for the most part.
It has made me wonder if I can characterize some of my childhood experiences as bullying. Being bullied. I’ve had random memories, fragments of memories really, that don’t make sense out of context but do make a pattern of sorts.

One memory is of throwing another girl’s flip flop into a patch of shrubbery. I even remember her name, Margaret. I was about 7 years old at a guess. That makes me sound like I was the bully. What I remember though is that I was roundly ostracized for throwing the shoe. What I don’t remember is why I did it. I do know that I wasn’t a gratuitously mean kid. So I must have had a reason.

Social reject much?

I was never a popular kid. Once in fourth grade, I was elected class president for a month. I ruled like a despot. I did myself no favors. I lost a lot of friends that month.

I used to blame my mother. She put a lot of pressure on me to be friends with the daughters of her friends, and found fault with any other friends I made. Sarah Goldberg was 12 going on 21 and her mother was kooky. Evelyn Pinto’s mom was a slob and Evelyn’s hygiene left a lot to be desired.

On the other hand, Marsha Oppenheimer was wonderful. But she already had a best friend, Nancy Marks, the smartest girl in my fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade classes. I was second-best friends with many, but best friends with none.

My mom dressed me in my cousin’s hand-me-downs. My cousin was four years older and much larger, so by the time her clothes fit me they were out of style. That shouldn’t matter but it did, all the more so because I was oblivious. I was simply not cool.

After all my elementary school years of being the odd girl out, I was determined to start off on the right foot in junior high. I immediately befriended Barbara Schulgasser because her mom was a friend of a friend of my mom’s, and I’d heard all about how smart and special she was. I thought she’d be the Nancy Marks of my seventh grade class, and I could be her Marsha Oppenheimer.

But almost immediately we got crosswise. At first we latched on to each other, sat together in class and at lunch, and requested to share a locker in the gloomy basement of Hunter College High School. She hung her coat on the left hook, I hung mine on the right. One day I got to school first and hung mine on the left. She moved it to the right and hung hers on her hook. So I threw hers on the floor. It went downhill from there.

Why did I do it though? What was I so angry about?

The other girls had all paired up by then, or formed little groups of three or four. I hastened to attach myself to a group. I ran ahead and saved seats for Anita and Pauline and Christine.

They sat in the seats, but they never saved a seat for me. They let me hang on and pretend to be one of them, but they didn’t really care about me.

I never knew who to sit with at lunch.

Once at summer camp I saw a couple of girls look at each other and roll their eyes when I sat down at their table.

By my last years in high school I’d given up. I was a loner. I skipped lunch and read in the library.

These memories are burned into my soul it seems.

So I was unpopular. But is that the same thing as being bullied?

Thinking back, I don’t recall much overt hostility. Mostly I was ignored. I wasn’t included. I wasn’t invited to parties. I was invisible.

I don’t think I liked myself much. But was that cause or result? Was I just reflecting back at myself the way I was treated or more accurately, the way I perceived that other people, other girls felt about me? Or did it have some intrinsic, sinister seed? Am I repressing some trauma, some abuse, something that created my self-distaste? Was I simply born that way?

And what was so wrong with me anyway? Why did I not know how to be in the world? How did I not know the right things to say? How did I manage to say the wrong things so often, the things that made me seem dorky? Or conceited? Or spiteful? Or whatever the hell makes kids your age not like you.

Unlike my Facebook friend, I’m not over it.

Oh, I like myself more. I’m less awkward and self conscious. I don’t think I say the wrong things. Maybe I forgive myself more. Maybe I am comfortable enough with myself to figure, if someone doesn’t like me, it’s their loss.

But I’m still no one’s best friend or even second best friend. Those long-ago years of being on the outside looking in must have left permanent scars.

Things did even out a bit in college. I made a best friend. Together we became part of a social group. But at the end of my freshman year, I was stunned when one of the boys in the group confessed to me that he was hung up on Sara. Not just that, he told me another boy was hung up on her too.

It made me think that they only tolerated me to be around her.

I’m grateful that she didn’t reciprocate either of the boys’ feelings. By the next year we’d moved on to another social group. By the end of that year I had a boyfriend who I dated through my senior year, and a reasonable circle of friends.

Over time, I’ve had ups and downs, pinnacles of acceptance and camaraderie, and periods of insecurity and loneliness. Highs and lows, like most people do I guess.

I’ve had unlikely friends. Friends who were 15 years younger, friends who were 20 years older. I’ve even reconnected on Facebook with a few high school classmates who seem to remember me fondly, as friends, even though I didn’t feel like I had friends back then. On the whole though, it’s the losses that haunt me.

Thirty some years ago, when I was pregnant with Kandace, I became close friends with a woman called Jennifer. For the second time in my life I had a best friend. For five years we were the kind of friends who shared everything.

Then, and I’ll never know the reason, she ghosted.

She stopped calling me. She never had time to talk any more. The chill was abrupt and not subtle.

At the time, I didn’t ask her why. I knew her well enough to know that she’d not be truthful.

But I grieved, just as I would have done if a lover had left me.

(Years later I did ask her why, and just as I expected, she made excuses. She’d just gotten really busy. Right. Whatever.)

It’s all water under the bridge now, or at least it should be.

I keep hoping that by writing it all out, I’ll somehow empower myself to stop brooding about it.

Because really, you can’t rewrite history. It is what it is. All you can do is start where you are. The past may be set in stone, the future isn’t.

Plus there’s this very precious thing that’s called today. The present. This moment. Right now.

Between the hurts of the past and the fragile, uncertain nature of the future, the thing I’m most guilty of is not fully cherishing all the peace, beauty, and goodness that envelopes me.

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky,
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
For this is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you'll find direction
Around some corner
Where it's been waiting to meet you,
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you're sleeping?
Well please don't be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
Maybe been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home,
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It's all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you're tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain,
Wind and water,
Believe it if you need it,
If you don't just pass it on
Sun and shower,
Wind and rain,
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

And it's just a box of rain
I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
And it's just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

(Philip Lesh / Robert C. Hunter © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

No words

All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after

I’ve been quiet lately.

I don’t mean here, although that would also be true.

But I’m talking about my real life now.

At home, Neil talks enough for both of us. About Trump, about the Yankees, about the news story du jour, especially if it involves a plane crash.

My intent is to be more patient with this, more tolerant, less irritable. I listen without comment. I bite my tongue so as not to say, I don’t care, about the Yankees especially.

He knows this, I’ve told him this enough times in the past, but apparently he can’t help himself from telling me what this batter did, what injury that fielder suffered. So I listen, without comment. Sometimes I listen without comment and then change the subject.

Somehow I don’t have a lot to say lately.

For a while now I’ve been pushing myself to do things out in the community. I take art classes. I go out to lunch with my classmates when invited. I go walking with a woman from my knitting class when she asks me.

I’ve always been told that I’m quiet, and this used to surprise me. I thought I talked my fair share. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed myself mostly listening. I listen to conversations in class. I speak less than ever.

Of course I respond when spoken to. I’m not socially incompetent. I’m not refraining from speaking if I have something to say.

I’m tired I think. I’m lonely I think, but I’m tired of chasing a solution to my loneliness. I’m tired of people starting to get to know me and then ghosting.

I don’t think I’m a misfit or unworthy of friendship. I may be rejection sensitive but I can’t ignore the pattern, the history repetition. And then I think, even if I’m different, I can’t be the only one, so where are all those other different people like me, and why can’t I connect with them.

I've barely left the house all week.

Last week Neil and I went on a hike with a group of people who hike together once a month. For the first time, I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like I was going through motions. I just wanted it to be over and go home.

I’m aware that losing interest in things you usually enjoy is a symptom of depression, and I consider whether I’m falling down the rabbit hole. Again. I’m feeling a lot of anxiety but I keep shoving it down, numbing it with crocheting or shopping for more yarn, binge-watching crime drama, walking on the treadmill.

I haven’t lost my appetite, which leads me to conclude that I’m not depressed. I’m not in a crisis. And I have bouts of feeling just fine.

I just have this bizarre sense of being really locked in to myself, imprisoned inside myself. And it’s manifesting in this strange silence.

Recently the phone rang and it was my stepdaughter. I answered because Neil had just stepped outside and I knew he'd be annoyed if I had just ignored it (something I'd do if he wasn't home for instance). I had a hard time enacting the basics of civility, making the minimum amount of small talk. I knew she wanted to speak to her dad and I wanted to get off the line.

Neil blew up at me a few days ago for ignoring him, saying that I was doing that more and more. I wasn’t. I was doing something on my iPad , probably something inane like looking at Facebook or yarn, but I heard every word he said. I just didn’t have anything to add, any comment on it. It was a statement, not a question needing a response. But I do understand wanting acknowledgement, even if it's just something like, hang on a sec, I'm in the middle of something.

I’ve never been good at multitasking. I do get focused on something and I do have a talent for tuning out everything else. That was a good thing when I worked in an open office environment. And Neil does have a tendency to start talking to me when I’m in the middle of reading an article or writing an email.

It does make me wonder if tuning out is the companion to being incommunicado, which is a bit like tuning inward.

This post might be the perfect example of how self-absorbed I really am, but I promise I’m writing it out as a way of trying to work through it.

We’ll see how that works for me.

In the meantime, life meanders on. We wound up season two of The OA and we're watching season three of Unforgotten and started season one of The Pinkertons. We’re queued up for the second half of season one of Sabrina. We finished season nine of Vera and are waiting for season five of Shetland. On the treadmill, I watched season two of The Break, and I’m in the midst of season two of Border Town. I’m waiting for season five of Bosch and debating whether to watch the last two seasons of Spiral next.

Neil is reading This Side of Paradise to me and we’re both baffled about why it was a bestseller in its time. With due respect to Fitzgerald, who after all wrote the masterpiece The Great Gatsby, it’s lame. I’m eager to get through it and move on to Tender is the Night, which I remember as a much better book. After that, maybe something by Dickens. Or maybe the Nick Adams stories by Hemingway.

I’m on a break from ceramics. I’m signed up for the next session, but I’m not sure whether I’ll keep going after that. I love the vibe at the Art Center, but ceramics is punishing my hands. The only classes there other than ceramics are painting classes. I haven’t ruled out the idea of watercolor painting.

I’m taking a sock knitting class at the moment, not because I want to knot socks but for the social aspect. Between the class fee and supplies, I’m knitting a one hundred dollar pair of socks. That is, if I finish them, after which I’m more likely to frame them than wear them. Why would anyone knit socks when you can buy such cute ones for next to nothing at Marshall's or TJ Maxx? I tell myself, making one pair is good for the skills I will learn.

I just finished a custom order for patriotic colored beads and I’m finishing another 100 pairs for Beads of Courage. In my copious spare time, I’m working on a really large wall piece to hang over the sofa in the TV room. After that, I’ve got another blanket planned and another shawl. And two more scarves for my stepson and my stepson-in-law. And yet another blanket, that one will be for Blake.

Here’s my first knitted shawl. The asymmetry is intentional.

It’s not perfect and the unicorn there is that I won’t save it, I’ll actually use it.

Where, well that remains to be seen.

You've been taken by the wind
You have known the kiss of sorrow
Doors that would not take you in
Outcast and a stranger

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

You have drunk a bitter wine
With none to be your comfort
You who once were left behind
Will be welcome at love's table

All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

(Julie Anne Miller © BMG Rights Management US, LLC)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Fifteen minutes

But we carry on our back the burdens time always reveals
In the lonely light of morning
In the wound that would not heal

Just when you think that you are all out of fucks to give, you find out that, well ...

You aren't.

I'm not.

This particular fuck resulted from a juried art show that I submitted an entry for.

Back story. The Art Center, where I take my ceramics class, held a Home Grown art show, an unjuried opportunity for local artists to exhibit one entry. After some vacillation, I entered a necklace made of 40-some of my handmade beads. I strung them on a leather cord and displayed them in a shadow box.

At the opening, the curator slash art historian gave a brief talk. I didn't appreciate that she emphasized that the show was unjuried, and explained that that meant that anyone who submitted original artwork could have a piece in the show.

She also mentioned that the show would be followed by another show for Lake Norman area artists called Bright Ideas, a juried show. Later I received the call for entries. An artist could submit photos of up to three pieces.

So for weeks I stressed about if and what to submit. I made a crocheted wall hanging, but we never did hang it to photograph it. I started laying out a mixed media mosaic piece using some of my beads, but I didn't finish it. I made a ceramic base on which I thought I could display beads on mandrels, but I didn't get it fired and glazed in time.

A week before the deadline I had pretty much talked myself out of entering. For one thing, the entry criteria was two pages long and called for a essay on how my work related to the Bright Ideas theme of the show, an artist statement, plus a CV. Then I got this email from the curator.
Hi Elizabeth.

After seeing your beautiful necklace and display in “Home Grown” I hope you will apply for “Bright Ideas.”

With thanks and all best wishes,
So I decided to pull together an entry after all. I came up with three things to submit, all bead specific because that's what I thought she was asking for. I thought she was telling me she wanted my work in the show.

Of course, the self-deprecating me wondered if she was just reaching out because the burdensome entry requirements had discouraged many potential participants and she didn't have many entries.

But I pushed aside those thoughts, wrote my essay, took my pictures, made up an artist statement and CV, provided all the rest of the required information, and emailed them to Marisa on the deadline day, March 22.

I put the odds of being accepted into the show at 50/50. I told myself I didn't care (much) whether I got into the show or not.

On March 27, I got this form letter response.
Dear Elizabeth:

On behalf of the Town of Cornelius thank you for interest in and submission to Bright Ideas. For our first juried show we received a resounding 71 entries from 29 artists living/working in the Lake Norman area. As the purpose of this show is to feature multiple works by fewer artists only a handful of these 29 artists were selected and regrettably your works were not chosen. This is the first of many thematic shows that will be presented at the Cornelius Arts Center so I urge you to watch your email and follow the Center on social media for future exhibition opportunities.

With many thanks and all best wishes,
That's when I found out that I still had at least one fuck left to give.

It turns out that I did care about getting into the show, a lot more than I knew.

A part of me wishes that I hadn't tried. A part of me is angry that the curator insincerely appeared to genuinely want me to be in the show. A part of me wonders what a handful or artists means. Five? Ten?

The bigger the handful, the more my secret humiliation.

At first I wasn't going to tell Neil. He knew I had entered but in all honesty I doubt he would ever have remembered and thought to ask. Or if he did, it would have stopped mattering by then, and I could be nonchalant or cavalier about not being chosen. Not having my art chosen.

I did tell him though. It was weighing on me too much. Sorrow shared is sorrow lessened, or so I've heard.

Then I started thinking about the ways I probably self-sabotaged. I didn't put a lot of effort into my essay or other written entry materials. You might say I phoned it in. As I told a friend, I can write bullshit all day long. I didn't think the written part of the test would be heavily weighted. If it was, it shouldn't have been. It's an art show.

But where I really think I failed is with the photos. I was scrambling at the eleventh hour, but I have only myself to blame for that. And I figured if Marisa was the jury, she had already seen the quality of my work in person. In retrospect, I should have considered that the jury was independent.

I'm not saying I should have had professional photos taken, but I knew my quick and dirty snapshots were crap. They weren't my personal best or even close.

So I made a half-assed try and now I am upset because my entry wasn't accepted.

Or maybe I’m pointing the finger at myself, accusing myself of screwing up on the entry, to avoid considering that maybe my art isn’t good enough.

Either way, no one likes to be rejected, I get that.

And there will be other shows, as my rejection letter tells me.

But I have to say, for rejection-sensitive me, it's probably better not to try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but nothing failed either.

So, in what now will come across as a condolence prize, a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, let me tell you about my fifteen minutes of fame.

After the Home Grown show opened, a reported from the Lake Norman Herald Citizen, the free local rag, called me to do a story about me. She came to the house to interview me in my studio, and the article appeared on March 21.

Read the article.

I won't go into all the things that are inaccurate (or ungrammatical) about the article, beginning with the headline Cornelius woman strings together new interest in beads

I'll just point out that I rarely "string" my beads and I've been making lampwork beads for more than 11 years.

Beyond that, I'll try to take it at face value, as a well-intended small bit of recognition.

And in case you are interested (because I can't stop myself from going back and picking at that scab), here are the pieces I submitted for the Bright Ideas show.

"Bead Box"

"Necklace Trio"

"Key Chain"

So yeah, crap photos.

And I'd love to say that I don't give a fuck about not getting into the show.

But you know me better than that.

Heaven bend to take my hand
And lead me through the fire
Be the long awaited answer
To a long and painful fight
Truth be told I tried my best
But somewhere long the way
I got caught up in all there was to offer
But the cost was so much more than I could bear

Though I've tried, I've fallen
I have sunk so low
I messed up
Better I should know
So don't come 'round here and
Tell me I told you so

We all begin with good intent
When love was raw and young
We believe that we can change ourselves
The past can be undone
But we carry on our back the burdens
Time always reveals
In the lonely light of morning
In the wound that would not heal
It's the bitter taste of losing everything
I've held so dear

Heaven bend to take my hand
I've nowhere left to turn
I'm lost to those I thought were friends
To everyone I know
Oh they turn their heads, embarrassed
Pretend that they don't see
That it's one misstep, one slip, before you know it
And there doesn't seem a way to be redeemed

Though I've tried, I've fallen
I have sunk so low
I messed up
Better I should know
So don't come 'round here and
Tell me I told you so.

(Gwyneth Herbert, Will Rutter © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A blanket statement

And I don't want to be a stranger
And I don't want to be alone
But sometimes I just want to be somewhere else

Hello. Yeah. It's been a while.

Possibly the oddest thing about that is that we've been home from our trip for almost five days, and this is the first time I've actually been in my office, let alone sat down at my computer.

As I've mentioned, writing on this platform on the iPad is too hard. I suppose I could write a post in email, then copy and paste it, and add photos and links later. Too bad I didn't think of that until now.

Anyway, I'm here now. The cleaning lady just left and Neil also rolled out for one of his softball tournament weekends. And it was always my plan to catch up, on this and other things, this weekend.

So let me tell you about our trip. We did a tour of Texas, four days in Houston, two days in Austin, two nights in Dallas. We saw all four kids and all two grandkids, plus a handful of friends. We had lots of good food, too much if you ask me, but that is one of the perils of travel, because you can't just get together with folks, you have to break bread with them.

I felt a little like I did at Disney World. By the end of the first day you are tired and not sure you can do it for a week. But the next morning you feel rested and ready to go again. Only, despite how well you might sleep, you are a little more tired every evening and a little less refreshed the next day. You may get a second wind along the way but you are secretly counting down to sleeping in your own bed again.

Highlights of the trip for me were hiking with Chelsea at Hamilton Pool in Austin, lunch at Google with Chelsea, touring the wedding venue with Kandace, Chris, and Ryland.

As you know if you've been reading (you have, haven't you?), my daughter Kandace is engaged. They've set a wedding date in November, and they're doing the traditional gig, with gowns, bridesmaids, groomsmen, DJ, dancing, even though it is her second go. It's not what I'd want for myself, but it's the first (and knock-wood only) time for Chris, and to be fair, it wasn't Kandace's choice to end her first marriage. She's a romantic and it's her right to start off again with all the ceremony, bells, and whistles that belong to a blushing bride, if that's what she and Chris want.

The place they chose is very nice and they aren't asking me to pay for any of it, so it's my only job to muster as much enthusiasm as I can, and give her my opinions on matters such as rings, engagement photo attire, centerpieces, and menu choices, but only if I'm asked. I'll probably offer to host a brunch for out-of-town guests if we can come up with a good option for that. I do so wish that Torchy's Tacos had a private room, because that's about what my budget would prefer to contemplate. Plus I love their tacos.

And of course, I'll volunteer to wrangle Ryland for the week of the wedding. That will be my pleasure.

It's been lovely to be home and a little surprising how much this has become home. We had fairly good weather in Texas, yet despite it just barely being March, it already felt too warm and humid on any day that didn't feel too cold and damp. On our last day we got quite overheated just throwing a ball around at the park. I'm not sure I could live in Texas again. But never say never.

This week I had another fun ceramics class. I'm not very good with clay, but I like my fellow students and the vibe of the Art Center, and I love my teacher. I'll probably stick with it for a while. I also have another knitting class that starts on Saturday. We'll be making a shawl, using circular needles.

I finished another crocheted wall piece. I wanted a small project to take on the trip and it was perfect. There's a call for a juried exhibit at the Art Center, and I'm toying with the idea of entering something - or things. We can submit up to three pieces. I'm not really sure whether my wall piece is art. I made up the pattern but not the stitches, I chose the colors but didn't weave the yarn. Still, I might enter it if I can figure out a way to display it.

I have other works in process. I'm laying out a mosaic piece, but I haven't been very motivated to complete it. And one of my ceramic pieces is designed to be a base for a bead display, but I may run out of time to have it bisque fired and glaze fired, and then I still have come up with a way to stabilize the beads upon it. It's not dead in the water yet at least.

About beads. This has definitely been the longest time since returning from a trip that I haven't rushed back to the studio and lit up the torch. That is definitely on the agenda for the weekend, along with another stab at listing some beads for sale. If nothing else, I'd like to start making some of the pieces to use in my mosaic design.

Melting glass still has a lot of allure for me. I look at pictures of beads all the time, on Facebook and Instagram, and I check out the sales of glass and supplies, but I honestly think I am done with buying. I do want to keep making, and I have plenty of everything I need to do that, but it's not as much fun when things aren't selling. I also find I am less drawn to making jewelry. I once thought that if and when I gave up beadmaking, I'd still make things like necklaces and earrings with the beads in my collection, my own and those I purchased.

Now I'm not at all sure. A necklace that I made for myself broke recently. I was able to scoop up all the beads but I still have to restring them. That's on the list for this weekend too, but I'm not excited about doing it. It also makes me mistrust my style of making necklaces, since it came apart at the crimp. I'm going to start double crimping, and I should probably restring all of my necklaces that way, or I will worry about wearing them. It seems like a lot of work though. I might need to find a different design method, such as stringing with leather or waxed cotton instead of flexible wire, but then there is the challenge of attaching the clasps in an attractive way.

I'm thinking about it. And there's really no rush, since I don't often go anywhere that I feel the need to wear jewelry. I'll probably put on something tonight, for the HOA annual meeting, since I will be sitting on a podium with the board. We are electing new board members tonight, although my term runs for another year. I doubt I will run next year, but that depends on who is elected tonight and how the year goes.

On Friday morning I have lab work in the morning for my annual checkup. On Saturday I have my knitting class. It's good to have some structure, some purpose, and some reason to take off my soft pants and leave the house, especially when Neil is away.

It's true that I can while away a lot of hours with crochet hook and yarn. I started another blanket, my fifth. I'm not sure why, except that they are easy to make, once you have the stitch sequence down. You don't have to count rows or do a lot of irregular increases and decreases, or even consult the pattern often. It's pretty mindless, which means my mind is free to wander where it will.

This particular blanket is one I'm making with heavier weight yarn. Why? Because before I had a clue what I was doing, I bought a lot of yarn because it was pretty. And/or on sale. I was confused by the differences between aran weight and worsted weight, which are sometimes considered interchangeable, but not always. I also had yet to learn that just because something is described as DK weight doesn't mean it is the same gauge as any other given DK weight yarn. I hadn't learned to pay attention to meters per gram weight yet. I hadn't even learned what would seem to be obvious, the differences between types of wool (sheep, merino, alpaca, cotton, silk, exotic, etc.) and don't even get me started on blends. I did manage to avoid the 100 percent acrylic rabbit hole, thanks to some early good advice, but I hadn't yet become any kind of purist either.

Live and learn, I guess. And pay the piper. I have all this yarn now, so I'm trying to use some of the skeins and balls and hanks that I wouldn't buy if I was starting over. At least I can say that I learn things with every new piece I make, and I'm saving the good stuff until I am a better knitter or crocheter.

Just like I have a nice stash of glass waiting for that mythical moment when I become a better beadmaker. I'm pretty sure now that that's never going down, so I'm allowing myself to use some of those special colors, a rod here and a rod there.

Maybe that's how it will be with yarn. Maybe ten years from now I'll be breaking out some of the glorious colors I continue to collect and whipping up a sweater or a dress or a coat, something I wouldn't dare to tackle now.

And yes, something that I probably won't have more reason or desire to wear than I do now for getting decked out in my jewelry.

But it seems that is how I roll.

And all those blankets will come in handy at some point, I'm sure.

You can never have too many blankets.

From departure to arrival
What does it mean to travel
With your suitcase by the handle
Holding everything you need

Are you going or are you coming
Walking slow or running
Toward somebody or from something
Trade your longing in for speed

And the freedom to be a stranger
Is a bargain that's ours alone
Sometimes you just want to be someone else
Unencumbered and unknown

From departure to arrival
What does it mean to travel
And from taking off to landing
You could feel your heart expanding

You walked halfway down Manhattan
Till you met the Brooklyn Bridge
And in a 2 am transmission
From a high wire act position
How the skyline behind you glistened
As if someone pulled a switch

And I don't want to be a stranger
And I don't want to be alone
But sometimes I just want to be somewhere else
Untethered and unknown
When I am far from home

From departure to arrival
What does it mean to travel?

(Mary Chapin Carpenter © Why Walk Music)