Friday, December 27, 2019

All I ever wanted

Guiding a ship, it takes more than your skill
It's the compass inside, it's the strength of your will

I met my new therapist last week.

I had a hard time articulating why I was there, and she seemed a bit mystified too.

From which I conclude that I present as a typical, normal person. Whatever that means. No horns. No scarlet letter brand.

Or it means that I can pass as such. But I wasn’t consciously acting a part. I was trying to be honest. Authentic. Myself.

Alternatively, it means I really am doing fine.

As I’ve said, I know what clinical depression is. I’ve lived to tell. And I was really sick then. I was living on yogurt and oatmeal because that was all I could swallow. I was sleeping erratically, one hour a night or twelve. The exhaustion was profound. The panic waves were crippling.

Right now, most of the time, I feel good. I eat. I slept. I cry. I laugh.

The therapist asked what I was hoping to get out of therapy. I’ve been pondering this. A recipe for making friends and creating more than superficial relationships is probably beyond her powers of wizardry.

Something occurred to me during all this pondering. It’s not pretty but it explains some things.

I wonder if I’m somehow hard-wired to feel dissatisfied.

During much of my life, I thought I had a good idea of what was missing, what would have made me happier. Happy.

Over time it ran the gamut from being thinner, prettier, sexier, having more self confidence, a better job, more respectful kids, a cleaner home, to having a better provider for a husband, to being a stay-at-home mom.

For a long time it was having a durable romantic partnership for my life.

My marriage was problematic from before the start. When I met Jon, I was on the rebound from a major heartbreak and a series of disappointing relationships that followed it.

So when I met a man who called me when he said he would, week after week, who seemed to really like me, I was eager to ignore any and all red flags.

The biggest red flag was the extreme differences in our backgrounds. When we married I didn’t know how great the disparity was and how ill-prepared we were to surmount it.

My self esteem was so low that in the moment that Jon proposed and I accepted, I felt a flash of inadequacy, a feeling that somehow he was getting a someone unworthy of the huge thing that is a marriage, a bad deal. I pushed that sensation aside, which was probably the right thing to do.

Maybe we shouldn’t have married but it wasn’t for that reason. I am worthy of being married.

And I thought I could make it work. But I couldn’t. And I take the lion’s share of blame for that.

Whatever his failings, Jon wouldn’t have walked out, and not just because he liked it on the gravy train. He wanted to stay married, to avoid a broken home, like the one he’d grown up in. He just didn’t know how to be a partner, how to negotiate disagreements, how to fight clean, how to maintain communication and respect.

I did my part to not make it easy. And somewhere along the path we crossed a point of no return. After that, it was just a matter of going through the muddle of untangling our two lives while still bound by the children we’d made together.

It often amazes me that divorce is so common, given the immense complications involved in dividing a household and separating intertwined lives, even unhappy ones.

I didn’t reach my lowest low until a couple of years after my divorce was final, when a new relationship that seemed full of promise failed catastrophically, tipping me into a year-long dance with the canis diablo.

One of the things people told me at the time was that he wasn’t the right man and we wouldn’t have been happy together. At the time, I thought, I’d rather be unhappy with him than happy without him - knowing even then how idiotic that idea was.

It was only in retrospect, after meeting Neil 18 months later, that I realized what a favor he’d done for me, leaving me free to meet a man who was so much more right for me. And we have been happy together, for more than seventeen years now.

I have everything I need, all I ever wanted, and I’m grateful for that, every minute of every day, even those moments when I’m sad, or lonely, or full of anxiety or insecurity or melancholy.

I’m determined to overcome this, this way that I lean into what I’m missing rather than what I have.

I'm putting it out there. Every time I think I am feeling blue, I plan to call myself out on it.

No, life isn't perfect. I will always miss my parents, I will always long for my children to be closer, for that mythical home and family and friend group filled with love and acceptance and resonance and meaning.

But I will remind myself that this moment is OK, more than OK, precious and full of quiet peace and yes, magic.

Being human, it probably won't be a linear change, I will probably slip back into old habits at times, plus there are always the neurotransmitters in precarious balance to be aware of and wary of.

Still, I am going to try. I am going to lean into the light and the beauty and the abundance that is all about me, if I only remember to look.

I am the captain and I have been told
That tomorrow we land and my ship has been sold
Now losing this boat is worth scarce a mention
I think of the crew, most of all the first ensign
For all we learned the sea

Guiding a ship, it takes more than your skill
It's the compass inside, it's the strength of your will
The first ensign watched as tempests all tried me
I sang in the wind as if God were beside me
For all we learned the sea

You take the wheel one more time like I showed you
We've reached the strait once even I could not go through

I am the captain and I have been told
But I am not shaken, I am eight years old
And you are still young, but you'll understand
That the stars of the sea are the same for the land
And we came to learn the sea

(Dar Williams © BMG Rights Management)

Monday, December 16, 2019

The life I’m not living

All my cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole
I'm much too young to feel this damn old

I thought I was feeling better.

I really did.

I bumped up my anxiety med dose by half a milligram and it seemed to make just enough of a difference.

At least it dulled the edges of this thing that I have been dealing with for just about my whole life.

I felt level, a bit detached. Taking one day at a time, I felt stable. Not cured, but coping.

Then Neil left for a visit to his dad and his mom. Five days home with the cats stretched before me.

The first day I had an afternoon class, which broke up the day just enough. The second day I had an invitation to my ceramics teacher's annual sale. I went for a little while, just to have some reason to leave the house on a lovely December day, even though the price was buying a ceramic dish that I don't need or love. I stayed less than half an hour and made small talk. As I drove away, I though, well, that was awkward.

After that I went to Marshall's and stood on line for 20 minutes to buy one $3 thing, just because I wasn't ready to go home yet.

If that sounds pathetic, well, that is exactly how it felt.

That night I talked to Neil on the phone, and he said he was going to have to make the visits more frequent, maybe every month or two. His parents are hovering around the age of 90. His dad is losing his vision, his hearing, and his energy, and needs both help and companionship.

And I have empathy. Getting old is hard. It's especially hard when in Bob’s case, he still has most of his intellect but his body isn't keeping up. As my dad would have said (if he hadn't already up and died) is that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Bob's daughter lives very close by, but she works two jobs during the school year. The two younger grandkids have left the nest, one for out-of-state college, another for an out-of-state job. The oldest has mental issues, lives at home, doesn't work, and is some help but not reliable. And by the time you are 90, your friend-group is mostly pushing up daisies.

At least I can see. I can hear. I can comparatively safely drive myself places. I read and knit and do my art work. I have plenty of energy. My flesh is not weak.

But sometimes I struggle to remember why to get out of bed. I stumble from bed to sofa and coffee and iPad and eventually I wash up and get dressed.

Monday was gray and drizzly and cold and I had nowhere to be.

To be honest, I'm not sure if my malaise is actually depression, loneliness, or garden variety self pity, with a dash of shame and self-doubt thrown in.

I seem to be really stuck. I don't know how to get close to people. I haven't been able to make any real friends. This has come to weigh so heavily on me that in any social situation I monitor myself, weighing my words, wondering how I am coming across, wondering if my long history of being alone, a loner, is writ on my being, sending out warning flags.

Stay away. Keep your distance. Don't encourage her. Don't let her in.

That seat is taken.

And this is no good. This is not a way to be in the world.

I have so much of an ache, so much hollowness where my genuine self should be, so much sadness just beneath my smiling, friendly surface. I feel like a fraud, pretending to be all normal, pretending my life is full of social events and relationships and people. I have so much fear, as I engage with people, that things will end the way they always have, with civility and politeness but nothing more meaningful. Or worse, with people ghosting.

I keep digging this hole, this grave, deeper and deeper. With every failed friendship, I shovel out more dirt.

So I finally called the number on the back of my medical insurance card and said that I thought I was suffering from depression and needed some help.

They screened me, of course. They asked if I was safe, if I was at risk of hurting myself. I said, I’m safe. They asked how I was sleeping. Pretty well really. Seven or eight hours a night. How was my appetite? Um, normal. I get hungry, I eat, I try to eat a healthy diet.

I started to wonder if I was fine after all.

But they sent me a list of therapists in my area and in my plan, and asked me if I’d like to speak with someone right then, on the phone. I said sure.

So I spoke with a nice lady. I told her a little about how I felt, how needy, how much I hated feeling so dependent on Neil. I cried. A lot of things started spilling out. How I miss my parents. How I miss my kids. How hard it’s been to make friends.

She asked me if we went to church. I said, we’re not religious. She made the obvious suggestions, taking classes, volunteer work, a part time job. I said I’d been doing all of that, except for the job.

It did make me realize that the start of this bout of feeling really lost coincided with the beginning of the end of my bead business. I stopped trying to sell beads about the beginning of this year. I did several rounds if wholesale orders but that too petered out about the end of the summer.

I’ve continued to make beads sporadically and just to test the waters, I strung up some sets and did some Facebook listings. A couple of my former customers made small purchases, but after that I got only a few likes but no buyers. I’m not really surprised. A lot of people have said that bead sales have completely slumped.

It’s OK. I’ve lost my bead making mojo, at least for now, and I don’t miss the rest of the work of selling. But for a long time it provided structure in my life and an illusion of social interaction. Knitting and crocheting satisfy my need to make, to work with my hands. I have no idea what I’m going to do with all the hats and shawls and cowls in the long run, after I’ve given as many gifts as I have family members, but I’m not going to worry about it.

Maybe instead of being a crazy cat lady, I’ll wind up as a crazy fiber lady with wardrobes full of yarn and knitted goods. I’ve already toyed with the idea of doing more yarn dying and even learning to spin, but first I want to work my way through a lot more of the yarn I already have on hand.

And I’m nowhere near thinking about selling my glass and bead supplies. One thing I’m thinking about is making some simple jewelry again, maybe with the goal of doing some sort of makers market, as people are more likely to buy something ready-to-wear than loose beads.

Which reminds me, one of the ladies in my knitting group did buy three beads from me. She look them to a bead store to have them put on posts and she said the people at the store loved them and want me to make an appointment with the owner after the first of the year if I’m interested in selling. So there’s that to think about.

For now, I’ve made an appointment with a therapist, for the first time in more than 12 years. I hope it will help me work through some things. Recently, I said to Neil that I’m not living the life I want to be living, and Neil said, I’d have to figure that out for myself because he was perfectly happy with our life here. That hurt my feelings but I know there is truth in what he said.

No one can fix me or my life, except me.

This old highway's getting longer
Seems there ain't no end in sight
To sleep would be best but I just can't afford to rest
I've got to ride in Denver tomorrow night

I called the house but no one answered
For the last two weeks no one's been home
I guess she's through with me, to tell the truth I just can't see
What's kept the woman holding on this long

And the white line's getting longer and the saddle's getting cold
I'm much too young to feel this damn old
All my cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole
I'm much too young to feel this damn old

The competition's getting younger
Tougher broncs you know I can't recall
The worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze
Seem to be the only friends I've left at all

And the white line's getting longer and the saddle's getting cold
I'm much too young to feel this damn old
All my cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole
I'm much too young to feel this damn old
Lord, I'm much too young to feel this damn old

(Garth Brooks / Randy Taylor © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Black Friday blues

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

Not to put too fine a point on it but ...

I should be shot.

Well, maybe not shot, considering my anti-gun zealotry, but horse whipped. Smacked up the side of the head. Skinned alive. Spanked.

Spoken to severely?

Black Friday sales started about a week before Black Friday. Forget about Cyber Monday, just about every online yarn site I frequent offered amazing deals, many with free shipping, starting by the beginning of Thanksgiving week.

Shall we say that I over-indulged?

Or we could say that I lost all will power, sense of proportion, touch with reality.

I placed at least seven yarn orders, including multiple ones from the same company at least twice.

To put that in context, I need no yarn. I have so much beautiful yarn already. Yet I went to Target and bought five more large plastic bins to house the upcoming onslaught.

None of the orders were huge in quantity. I’m drawn more to pricey quality yarn. My orders ranged from one skein to five or six or seven.

(But look how yummy it is. Could I really have resisted? Don't answer that.)

Primrose Yarn Homestead Sport in Soda Pop
I got four of the five
Primrose Yarn Homestead Sport in Buzz Worthy
I got all four

Of course, that’s just part of my self-indulgent little shopping spree.

By Black Friday, four packages had arrived, including one order placed on October 2.

There’s a story there. On October 2, one of my favorite yarn dyers increased their 40 percent off final sale to 70 percent off. I literally saw the amounts in my shopping cart plummet.

I also watched the items in my cart disappear, as others checked out faster than I did. I hastily filled up my cart again, checked out, made a second pass, and checked out again.

Not surprisingly, at 70 percent off, on that day the company sold more than 21,000 skeins.

I stopped looking after my second order but it turns out the sale continued for a couple more weeks, with ever-changing inventory and lots of lucky-dip mystery options.

For the record, I’m not likely to buy any mystery yarn. I'm not that person. Don't even try to surprise me.

It was implied during the sale that we were buying stock in inventory but it later was disclosed that we were buying dyed-to-order yarn, and the company way oversold its capacity to fill orders.

On Ravelry, the storm clouds gathered. People were wondering why they hadn't got shipping notices for their orders. Things became a bit lesss murky when, on October 30, it was announced that the company had been purchased by another larger yarn supplier. The buyer inherited a massive chaotic mess of unfulfilled orders and unhappy customers.

There are thousands of posts on Ravelry about the monumental clusterfuck. Many people cancelled orders but most of us were hanging in, still hoping to score our extreme yarn bargains.

I’d love to know the real back story. Did the original owner simply lose her mind and sell insane amounts of discounted yarn with the sale of the company looming? Did the buyer spot a breakdown and swoop in to save the day?

The yarn community is larger by far than the glass community, but that doesn’t mean that the bigger players don’t all know each other.

Anyway, the new owner, who ostensibly could have cut losses by cancelling the over sales, stepped up and committed to filling all the outstanding orders. Two months down the road and they’re continuing to chip away at it. Orders are going out somewhat regularly now, according to the Ravelry forums.

My smaller order, six skeins of Euro Sock, arrived with the first wave of my Black Friday scoops. No word so far on the 19 skeins in my earlier order, but I was very happy with the quality of the yarn I got, and guardedly hopeful that the rest will eventually arrive, even though it may be another month or more. Or I could get a shipping notice tomorrow.

My Mad Tosh Euro Sock. Worth the wait? I'd say so.
I’m letting it ride. The entertainment value has been worth part of the admission price.

So yeah. I have a yarn problem. I'm working on it though. Instead of looking yarn websites every day, I'm looking at my stash and pondering the possibilities.

Also, thank God, Black Friday only comes round once a year.

I did promise photos of my self-dyed yarn, so here goes.

First class. Testers and the red & orange real deal
Second class. Sock blank "autumn leaves" fade
Second class. Self striping in all the colors
I've already made a lacy shawl with my autumn leaves sock blank fade.

Just to keep life interesting, I've been making beads about once a week, whether I want to or not. It's funny, while lampwork isn't messy like ceramics, for example, there is a lot of prep and setup before I sit down at the torch. On the back end of beadmaking is cleaning the finished beads. I used to love all the little steps, now they are a means to an end.

Whereas yarn is so easy to pick up and put down, so portable, and you can easily do it in a group with others to talk to.

I still enjoy the flow of melting glass, but my interest in selling beads has evaporated, and yet, if I don't sell them, what is the point of making them? So I actually sat down and strung sets, and my goal is to try listing them on Facebook again, just to see what happens.

I don't have high hopes but if I sell a few beads now and then, it will help me offset the yarn-related deficit.

Group shot. A few sets already have been claimed. Go me.
Next up, individual photos. Gah.

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 my limit
And take on only what is mine to

We are a team
I'm here to help mend and re-seam
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 Nadine Morissette © © Szeretlek, UNIVERSAL MUSIC MGB SONGS OBO SZERETLEK)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

You only get married twice

There is nothing fair in this world
There is nothing safe in this world
Look for something left in this world
Start again

Thanksgiving Day. Seems like a good day to finish this post that I started weeks ago. Writing has not bubbled up to the top of my hypothetical to-do list, but it's been at the back of my mind, you might even say, weighing on my mind. If I'm ever going to get around to penning more important thoughts, I need to finish this one and send it out into the ether.

Like so many things in life, whether you anticipate them eagerly or with dread, sooner or later they’re over.

My daughter is married.


For good, for keeps, this time. Please be so.

Kandace and Chris. She's a beautiful bride, no question.
The wedding weekend went off without a hitch and a lot of it was surprisingly fun.

We were first on the scene. As the mother of the bride, I got first dibs on staying at my daughter’s house, so we rolled in on Wednesday evening, to accommodate the kids work and school schedules and the options for using mileage for our flights.

Ryland waited up just for a hug and a goodnight kiss. I wasn’t far behind him in hitting the hay.

K.C. had Thursday off, but took Ry to school and we brought him lunch from Wendy’s. We ran a couple of errands in the afternoon, picking up last minute supplies.

When we leave for a trip, Neil usually tops up the dry cat food, but we both forgot. All day Thursday I tried to get an update from our cat minder, hinting that the cats might be hungry. Email, text, and phone messages went unanswered, so of course my anxiety kicked up.

We don’t have a backup plan for situations like this. The best I could think of was to message my neighbor via Facebook and give them the garage code to get in, after we remotely disable the alarm. Fortunately Kris finally called back and all was well, the cats had been tended earlier in the day by her daughter.

I’m a bad cat momma but I’m a little too good at worrying about them.

Kris’ daughters have my full blessing to be designated cat caregivers and I now have their contact info, in case I can’t reach Kris again.

After that it was all smooth sailing. Thursday night we met the groom’s mom and some of her family for dinner at a barbecue place, after which they came back to the house for a tour.

On Friday, the mom of the groom, K.C., and I had manicures. This was followed by the wedding ceremony rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner, an elegant affair for about 40 people, once you included the wedding party and their spouses (and a few kids) plus four sets of parents, siblings, and step-siblings.

Saturday was a beautiful day. The moms and the bridal party had pedicures, then went to the bridal suite for hair, makeup, and dressing up.

I hadn’t tried on my dress except the once, briefly, when I thought, this will be okay if I don’t find anything I like more (after which I essentially stopped looking). It actually worked out just fine, especially with the shoes and a beaded bag that I found serendipitously at a little local shop when I wasn’t even looking for one. The shoes and purse each cost more that the dress, but at least I’ve a good chance of wearing them again.

Once again, my good weather luck held, and the outdoor ceremony was lovely.

Here I have to say that some of the pomp and circumstance made me feel a little cynical. It’s been almost exactly twelve years since my daughter made her vows to another man. To her credit, she’s not the one who broke them, and in some ways I’m not sorry that her first husband did, because I’m very fond of her new husband. It’s his first (hopefully only) marriage and if he was the one who wanted a traditional wedding, I think my daughter was quite happy to hop on the party wagon.

Ryland was a big part of the affair.
And they did go all out, although I know they worked hard to keep brakes on the guest list. Everything they did was lavish, from the beautiful golf club venue to the open bar, elegant menu, decorations, a photo booth, roaming photographers, candy table for treat bags, two kinds of cake, champagne toasts, throwing of bouquet and garter, and sparkler exit, at least for the photo aspect.

Wisely, the affair started at 4:30 so by 9:30 pm it was winding down enough for me to pry my grandson away and take him home and put him (and myself) to bed.

We met up once more for Sunday breakfast at the host hotel, and to do a complicated bag swap before the newlyweds left for honeymoon land. It was another gorgeous day, so after we went back to the house to hand off the dog to the new father-in-law-law, Neil and I took Ry To the zoo. He enjoyed everything, including his expensive kids meal lunch. I’ve never been happier to drop $14 to watch our picky little guy demolish a cheeseburger.

And later at home, he ate a good sized turkey sub with melted cheese for dinner. We played Monopoly Junior and had an early bedtime, because school night. I haven’t gotten up at 6 am for a while, but we made it all work, and we brought him lunch again.

Monday was rainy and the temperature plummeted to wicked cold. We had a couple of hours before school pickup, so we drove to a yarn store in McKinney for a skein of Spincycle. I also squeezed in a nap before we collected Ry. Homework, another round of Monopoly, and a pizza delivered for dinner rounded out our last evening in Carrollton.

And on Tuesday morning, we took Ry to school and then me to the airport. The trip home felt endless but everything went smoothly, including a plane change in Jackson, where I had to go all the way to Gate 4 from Gate 3. Eventually I landed in Charlotte, shuttled to my car, and drove home. It was a cold day, but I found a nice sunny spot to read during my layover, and I actually finished the second book in the Outlander series while we sat on the tarmac in Charlotte, waiting for an outbound traffic jam to clear.

The cats were typically happy to see me, meaning Loki hopped on my lap at the first chance, Biscotti allowed me to pet him briefly, and Zamboni poked his head out in relatively short order. I don’t know why I fret about them so much when I’m away. Pretty soon all three were curled up and snoozing, in other words, business as usual.

In the meantime, Neil went to Houston to see friends and spend a little more time with his kids. I spent a lot of that time just chilling here, sleeping in, knitting by the fireplace, because baby, it’s cold outside.

Neil has been back for a couple of weeks now. It's been quiet. Quiet is good. Mostly. Sometimes I think it's a little too quiet.

But today the sun is out, Starbucks is open, we're making Loco Moco for Thanksgiving dinner, I have yarn,  and there are lots of Black Friday sales online already.

Seriously, I'm grateful for all that is good in my life and in the world.

And for you too, I wish every blessing.

The only (er, unfortunate) wedding photo of me, so far.
With Ry-pie and my brother Phil.
My hair looks nice anyway.

Hey little sister, what have you done?
Hey little sister, who's the only one?
Hey little sister, who's your superman?
Hey little sister, who's the one you want?
Hey little sister, shotgun!

It's a nice day to start again
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again

Hey little sister, who is it you're with?
Hey little sister, what's your vice or wish?
Hey little sister, shotgun, oh yeah
Hey little sister, who's your superman?
Hey little sister, shotgun!

It's a nice day to start again
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again

Pick it up
Take me back home, yeah
There is nothing fair in this world
There is nothing safe in this world
And there's nothing sure in this world
And there's nothing pure in this world
Look for something left in this world
Start again

It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again

(Billy Idol © Chrysalis Music)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Samheim, somehow

This may be the hour
Something move me
Someone prove me wrong
Before night comes
With indifference

I'm ready for this season to be over.

What season, you ask?

Good question. It's not exactly Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or even Autumn.

It's this nebulous and drab season that I'm abysmally mired in for reasons unknown.

There have been bright spots, flashes of light and lightness.

But the gray keeps coming back.

Neil and I went to spend a couple of days in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I wasn't feeling it and raised the idea of postponing the trip, but Neil wanted to go.

He'd played in a punishing softball tournament the weekend before. His knees have been bothering him more and more.

He did see an orthopedist who ordered an x-ray, reviewed the images, and said that Neil is the poster child for knee replacement.

Neil of course wanted to try the most conservative approach, so he's been taking prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, bolstered by ibuprofen when he needs more help.

We drove to the park on a Thursday, stopping in Black Mountain for a delicious brunch at Louise's Kitchen and yarn at Black Mountain Yarn Shop, arriving at the park in time for a late afternoon hike. We chose Cascade Falls, an easy four-mile round-trip hike with a gentle elevation gain. Neil was hurting but stoic, until he took a misstep on the way back, and then he was really hurting.

That was our best day.

We checked in to our hotel, which I'd found online and chosen because it was inexpensive and highly rated. Our room backed on the river, and had a little patio which might have been nice if the weather hadn't become dreary and damp.

The room was weirdly configured. It had a double bed set practically up against the front window and a single bed against a wall that sort of doubled as a couch. I'm pretty sure I'd asked for two double beds, but what are you gonna do? If you are with Neil, you won't ask about changing rooms. It had the usual amenities though and was clean, so there's that.

Frankly, being away from home and out of my personal habitat and routines is hard for me right now, but being with Neil makes it bearable, so I made the best of it. We went out and had a pretty good Tex-Mex dinner too, better than any we've found closer to home in fact.

The second day was rainy, and Neil was still hurting pretty badly, so hiking was out. We drove back toward Asheville and went to SAFF - the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair - at the WNC Agricultural Center, in Fletcher. Neil could barely walk from car to venue, so he found a place to sit where he could prop up his leg. I wandered around the vendor areas and bought exactly nothing. Not sure if it was my mood, the dim lighting, the desolate weather outside, or simply not finding any yarn interesting enough to justify paying full hand-dyed-yarn prices.

We drove back to the park in time to buy a mug for our collection, and see some elk, which I have to admit was a bit magical.

Elk don't mind a little rain.

On the way back to our hotel, we picked up subs so we wouldn’t have to go out again in the cold and wet. Got up the next morning and headed home, stopping again for brunch at Louise's, which will now be a tradition on any trips in that direction. That was Saturday, which meant that Neil had to tough it out until Monday before he could call the doctor and start the process for getting knee injections.

By Sunday he had also come down with a cold and was doubly miserable, while his doctor’s office worked through the insurance hurdles to arrange the cortisone and, hopefully, gel injections.

The timing on all this isn’t great, with about a week left until we leave for Dallas and Kandace’s wedding on November 9. I’m drinking lots of OJ, gobbling Airborne gummy gels, and trying not to catch Neil’s cold.

One of the things on my schedule that I was most excited about was an advanced yarn dying class that I went to on Monday. It was a lot of fun, but when it was over I felt deflated, let-down because that thing that I’d most been looking forward to was over.

I do have lots of pretty yarn to work with and a lot of projects in my mind and a couple on my needles. I have my Tuesday yarn group and a workshop in December, some of the bright spots in this colorless (and seemingly endless) life interval.

Things aren't dark, just gray, a painter's palette in shades of gray.

The wedding is a bright spot of a sort, but it’s interwoven with tension. Travel, interacting with new in-laws who I’ll rarely, if ever, see again, having to dress up at least twice, associating with my ex-husband, all the logistics to juggle, it feels like a lot, too much.

Yes, it will be nice to see my children and my grandson, my stepchildren are coming too, and my brother. But it’s a week away from home, and after that, Neil is going to Houston for a few more days. I didn’t want to go this time, but it’s hard to hear him full of plans for seeing a lot of his friends, knowing that he’s probably relieved not to have to worry about having me along.

And after he gets back, he wants to turn around again and go to see his dad and his mom for a week. I get it, they’re each 90-ish and the time to see them is now, not later, because they won’t be here forever. I was just there in August, and as I said then, staying at his dad’s is a challenge and staying at his mom’s means mostly sitting in her kitchen.

I can do that here, at home, where I’m most comfortable and I don’t have to feel guilty about the cats.

When I was in crisis, back in 2001-2002, I would panic at the thought of all the things I needed to do, all the responsibilities piled upon me and me alone. But then I'd remind myself that I didn't have to live the rest of my life today. All I had to do was to do enough to get through that one day. I only had to do the one next thing, one thing at a time.

So right now, I am trying not to look at the bigger picture. I'm coping with each day as it comes. I made it through the muddle back then, and that was a much deeper, darker colored space. I'm not alone now, everything doesn't rest with me, I just have to play my part as well as I can, and as for the rest, well fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Trying to end on a more colorful note, here is some of the yarn I dyed.
All the testers and the big cake from my first dye class.

(Come back soon for pix from my advanced dye class)

And just because it amused me, I made a Facebook page called The Dyeing Life. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, if anything. I have to plans to become an indie dyer, to go into production mode, to do anything more than dye the occasional yarn for a personal project. I can rent space for that at Hearts on Fiber, and the owner, Kim, already said she would help me.

And oh yes, here is something else I'm excited about. They are having a contest with some of their own dyed yarn. They are selling a kit with six colors of their stubby skeins and one full "mama" skein that ties in all the colors. The idea is to make something by the end of February, which you can then enter into a contest. I have an idea that I'm playing with in my head and hope it turns out to be an award-winning one.

Vibrant, multi-hued, polychromatic spots abound. All I have to do is to remember to look for them.

I may know the word
But not say it
I may know the truth
But not face it
I may hear a sound
A whisper sacred and profound
But turn my head

I may know the word
But not say it
I may love the fruit
But not taste it
I may know the way
To comfort and to soothe
A worried face
But fold my hands

If I'm on my knees
I'm begging now
If I'm on my knees
Groping in the dark
I'd be paying for deliverance
From the night into day

But it's all gray here
It's all gray to me
It's all gray to me

I may know the word
But not say it
This may be the time
But I might waste it
This may be the hour
Something move me
Someone prove me wrong
Before night comes
With indifference

If I'm on my knees
I'm begging now
If I'm on my knees
Groping in the dark
I'd be praying for deliverance
From the night into the day

But it's all gray here
But it's all gray to me
But it's all gray to me

I recognize the walls inside
I recognize them all
I've paced between them
Chasing demons down
Until they fall
In fitful sleep
Enough to keep their strength
Enough to crawl
Into my head
With tangled threads
They riddle me to solve
Again and again and again
And again

(Natalie A Merchant © Downtown Music Publishing)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The key to happiness

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says, we walked on the moon
You be polite

I’m still in the woods.

At times I think I’m doing a little better.

I bumped my med dose up a notch and that seems to have helped.

I know that that merely treats the symptoms. Which is something. A respite from acute anxiety certainly makes it more possible for me to address the roots of the problem.

Or at least to define the problem.

Neil listened to a program on NPR about happiness.

He asked me to guess the degree to which these things affect happiness: genetics, circumstances, what you do.

I said, that’s easy. Circumstances, a very small amount. After that, it’s a toss up between genetics and what you do.

I couldn’t find a podcast or transcript of the show, but I did find a lot of info about a formula based on research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues.

According to the formula:
  • 50% of happiness is determined by your genes. 
  • 10% of happiness is determined by the circumstances in which you live.
  • 40% of happiness is determined by your actions, your attitude or optimism, and the way you handle situations.
So I was pretty close, although I though about what you do as being more about what you actually do with your life day to day than about your outlook or attitude.

In college I took a philosophy class taught by a professor of education. He made the claim that work is the greatest source of a person’s happiness. One of the students protested vehemently. She insisted that happiness was to be found on the weekends, in your time off work. She insisted that she was unhappy while working, i.e., studying, writing papers, taking exams, and happy kicking back with her friends and a cold drink at the end of her work time.

I got it though, what the professor was saying. If you’re lucky enough to find something that you are passionate about and follow that passion into a career, then I can totally understand that satisfaction and happiness would flow from the work you did in pursuit of that passion.

I’ve always regretted not figuring out how to channel my passions into a career. I know I would have derived much happiness if I could have put my talent, for writing, for example, into a job in support of a cause I believed it.

Of course, not all of us can be Pulitzer Prize caliber writers, enlightening mankind about the perils of climate change or the mandate for gun control, while getting paid a living wage. Not all of us can be New York Times best-selling authors of novels or memoirs that get optioned by Hollywood and made into blockbuster movies. Nor foreign correspondents covering humanitarian issues, nor evening news anchors, nor weekly newspaper columnists, nor any one of a number of occupations that I’d have found meaningful and happiness-generating.

Or maybe that’s pie in the sky, and all those careers have dark sides, second novel failures, biting annual reviews, ugly competitiveness, ageism challenges, a bullet in your head in the Middle East for your trouble.

I’ll never know.

I did the best I could, I did what I needed to do, I certainly had career high points as well as the low ones, and somehow I staggered through the finish line with enough resources to do whatever the hell I want to do with the rest of my life.

I do wonder about those statistics though. And here I will say that the figures are a generalization of a very complex equation and not a set of hard and fast rules.

So even if, say, depression runs in your family, if there is a hereditary component of mood disorders or an inherited susceptibility to a dearth of neuro-transmitters, that does not unequivocally condemn you to a life of unhappiness.

Nor is the reverse true, that you are immune to sustained unhappiness on the basis that no one in your family tree significantly suffered from psychological malaise.

As for the contribution to happiness of attitude and optimism, this idea skates uncomfortably close to the theory that we can choose to think our way out of depression by adopting a positive attitude. By pulling ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. While I agree that we have some choice about our actions and the way we handle situations, I’m unconvinced that we can choose our outlook. Would anyone chose to be unhappy or depressed if they could simply choose to be upbeat, optimistic, happy?

On the whole I’d say not, but I’ve considered the thought that melancholia can become a comfort zone. I can be down, blue, wistful, dispirited, when I don’t know what else to be. But that’s not the same thing as true unhappiness or clinical depression. Which aren’t the same thing by the way. I can be unhappy because a friend died, for instance, but not depressed. And I can experience depression with every reason to be happy.

What I can choose are my actions and how I handle this sort of unbound depression.

I keep going. I keep moving. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing, taking baby steps when I must.

In my specific case that means signing up for classes, getting outdoors whenever the weather cooperates, walking online the treadmill, creating things. It might mean numbing my dinosaur brain for a while with crime drama or or historical fiction. It means spending time with Neil, even if it’s just going grocery shopping or making soup or going out for dinner or ice cream. It means shopping for a mother-of-the-bride trousseau. It means knitting hats and cowls to give as gifts.

It means going through the motions when I can’t be fully enthusiastic. It means getting dressed every morning and taking a bath every night. It means pretending to be OK when I’m not 100 percent OK. It means staying self aware so I’ll know if pretending gets risky and it means seeking outside help should I stop being able to help myself.

Right now I’m holding the black canine at bay. He hasn’t left the building but his jaws are momentarily muzzled. If he hasn’t gone to ground by the end of the year, I have a plan to hire an obedience trainer.

And yes, I know, obedience training is as much about training the master as it is about training the beast.

My mother-of-the-bride costume, unless I find one I like better.

But the shoes I am definitely keeping.

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
In flames are prophet witches
Be polite
A room full of glasses
He says, you're notches, liberation doll
And he chains me with that serpent
To that Ethiopian wall

Anima rising
Queen of Queens
Wash my guilt of Eden
Wash and balance me
Anima rising
Uprising in me tonight
She's a vengeful little goddess
With an ancient crown to fight

Truth goes up in vapors
The steeples lean
Winds of change, patriarchs
Snug in your bible belt dreams
God goes up the chimney
Like childhood Santa Claus
The good slaves love the good book
A rebel loves a cause

I'm leaving on the 1:15
You're darn right
Since I was seventeen
I've had no one over me
He says, anima rising
So what
Petrified wood process
Tall timber down to rock

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says, we walked on the moon
You be polite
Don't let up the sorrow
Death and birth and death and birth
He says, bring that bottle kindly
And I'll pad your purse
I've got a head full of quandary
And a mighty, mighty, mighty thirst

Seventeen glasses
Rhine wine
Milk of the Madonna
He don't let up the sorrow
He lies and he cheats
It takes a heart like Mary's these days
When your man gets weak

Joni Mitchell © 1975; Crazy Crow Music)

Friday, October 4, 2019

A lost month

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach

It’s a little bit like drowning.

Or so I imagine.

Like drowning, if you were sinking down, weighted, submerged, silent.

You are motionless, fettered, torpid, overcome by paralysis.

Feeling as though your lungs might burst?

That’s how it is when my anxiety spirals out of steady state.


I won’t lie to you. September was rocky for me.

I don’t like to use the word depression. I don’t embrace the concept as a description of a very complicated mental state.

For one thing, everyone gets the blues. Everyone feels down at times. Everyone thinks they understand what depression is.

Clinical depression is something else.

You’d think, having suffered, I’d be the first to endorse the the construct of depression as a physical illness and not a moral failing, a bad attitude, a weak, lazy state of mind.

But despite the hard and personal evidence of neurotransmitter insufficiency that responds (at least in my case, eventually) to pharmaceutical intervention, I still feel culpable and guilty.

In fact, I feel as though I should be shot.

I said as much to Neil recently. That was right after I admitted that I had been wondering if I was about over living.

Because everything important in my life is absolutely fine. Sure I wish I had more friends, sure I’m lonely, but I’m healthy, my children and grandchild are healthy, everyone is in a stable situation in terms of career and relationship. I myself am married to someone I love, who loves me.

Maybe it’s not despite these things but because of them that I’m fearful. We’re never safe. Tragedy, trauma, sorrow, loss, anything could blindside us at any time. If something has to happen to someone, I want it to be me. I don’t want to outlive any more of my loved ones.

I know I’m in trouble when I’ve lost the plot, when none of the things I usually like to do are appealing. Fortunately, that feeling comes and goes, so in the space of a day I may be fine and not fine.

I know I’m in trouble when there are things I know might help, things like therapy, or medication tweaks, but I’m paralyzed when it comes to taking any steps toward change.

Years ago, my therapist Tobie told me that, treated or untreated, depression cycles. So I think, this too shall pass if I just tie a knot in the end of my rope and hang on.

You might call it procrastination, but I choose to call it setting goals or deadlines. I pick some arbitrary future date and decide if I’m not better by then, I’ll seek help, or at least reevaluate my path forward.

One of the things that may have been skewing my objectivity is now past.

Months ago, I signed up for a lampwork bead gathering in Asheville on the last weekend of September. For months the prospect of going caused me much anxiety.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why though. When I broke it down into component parts - the 100-mile drive, staying in a hotel on my own, the planned events, the interaction with fellow bead artists - none of it particularly daunted me. The hardest single thing would be walking in to the first social event, and I knew even that would be only briefly difficult and quickly over.

But the whole thing hung over me for weeks. I felt tired at just the thought of the necessary effort of packing and getting myself there. I bargained with myself. If I wasn’t having fun, I could leave at any time. No one would force me to stay the whole four days and three nights.

But I kept thinking, I’m grown up. I’m retired. I don’t have to do things that I don’t want to do, things that make me feel apprehensive or anxious.

I had nightmares. I had flashbacks to summer camps when I was a kid, when I would have butterflies in my stomach at the idea of a sleepover. The prospect of the event was ruining my month. Was it worth it? Why not bail and give my spot to someone on the waiting list?

Neil thought I should push through my uncertainties and go. He admitted to feeling a little bit the same way leading up to his softball weekends away. He though there’d be redeeming value in going.

Two things eventually cemented my decision. One, I noticed that when I took a class or went to open stitch time at the knitting store, during the time that I was there, the invisible heaviness enveloping me would lift and I’d feel more human again.

Two, I made a hotel reservation. Yes, it could be canceled without penalty until the night before, but money wasn’t really a factor. I was reconciled to the idea that I might lose my registration fee and the cost of one night at the hotel if at the last minute I bailed.

Yet somehow, having made the hotel reservation, my mind set changed from, "am I going?" to "I guess I’m going." While I still counted down the days with trepidation, the bad dreams stopped and the anticipation stopped ruining my days. I did still put off actually packing anything until the day before I left, but then I did it all, two trays of trade beads, two trays of glass, supplies, and tools. I did my laundry and packed clothes, toiletries, jewelry, shoes, a book, a knitting project, chargers for phone and iPad.

On Thursday afternoon, I loaded my car and got on the road. I stopped at a yarn store on the way. I checked in to my hotel in Asheville.

If I had to change one thing about the trip, I’d have stayed in a nicer place. I chose the hotel based on it being in the Wyndham chain, which had absorbed all my La Quinta points, and the low price. And it could have been worse. My room was dated, shabby, gloomy, and not as clean as my germphobic self would have preferred. But I liked my location, on the first floor, on the end, near the front. The vending and ice machines were just around the corner, breakfast was conveniently close by, and it was quiet. I never felt unsafe.

I also never knit a stitch nor opened my book, although I did watch a little Netflix before bedtime each night. I really didn’t spend much time at the hotel either, but I didn’t know that would be the case until it was.

I might recap the retreat for you and for posterity later, but here are my initial reactions.

I'm not sorry I went. But if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have missed the time of my life (although I may have thought I had).

Mostly it was fun, comfortable, and easy. Even the first event was eased by meeting Jean Baruch, the leader of Beads of Courage, who I've interacted with online for more than 10 years. She acted just as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet her, so that was an ego boost.

Me and Jean B
By sheer dumb luck, I had a great seat at one of the two tables, with the people I knew best from social media, and the liveliest crowd. But I may have enjoyed the other table just as much, you just don't know what you don't know.

Sometimes it was a bit tedious. We had demos in the mornings and the rest of the day to either try out the techniques we'd observed or do our own thing.

Related observation: lampwork teachers in general spend too much time on unnecessary perfection, such as getting the shape of the base bead exactly right. It's a demo, we went to see the technique, not how you labor to make a perfect bicone.

We had roughly 9 to 10 hours free to torch on both Friday and Saturday. I'd make a bead, rest, walk around to see what other people were doing, go back and make another bead. The time dragged a bit. Part of that could have been that for me this wasn't a reunion with friends, as it was for the majority of the attendees. If I went again, it might be for me too.

On the last morning, we had a chance to swap beads. I put out my two trays and got a lot of positive reactions, which as you'd suspect was balm to this validation junkie. I even sold a few beads, which was gravy.

The decision about whether I'd go again has been delayed because there won't be a spring retreat next year. A retreat next fall is probable but not definite, and it's uncertain if attendees of this retreat will get first dibs, as they would have in the past.

Having been home for almost a week (and having actually made beads once since, which is more than I did in all of September), upon reflection, I would do it again.


Working standing up
Working working working
That's me top right, working.

Well I know it ain't been roses lately, baby, it's just been thorns
And no matter what we do, nothing seems to change
Love has always been my shelter, for you it's been a storm
But for a while I thought we'd almost beat the rain

Now there's a hole here in my pocket where all my dreams have gone
Fallen out like so many nickels and dimes
And last of all you, you'd always been my good luck charm
I should've known that luck's a waste of time

'Cause it don't bring you love if you don't love
And it don't bring you time if you ain't got time
And it don't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And it don't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

Now there's a whole lot of life to be unsure of
But there's one thing I can safely say I know
That of all the things that finally desert us
Pride is always the last thing to go

But it won't bring you love if you don't love
And it won't bring you time if you ain't got time
And it won't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And it won't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach
And I wish you shelter, baby, from all your storms
They scared you, but they never seemed to teach

That I can't bring you love if you don't love
And I can't bring you time if you ain't got time
And I can't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And I can't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

(Mary Carpenter © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Harboring hiraeth

All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

I’m back out here on the porch on the last of the dreaded summer holiday weekends.

It’s very quiet on our cul-de-sac right now. I can hear the neighbors’ pool circulating, the hum of bugs, an occasional bird, the sporadic bark of a distant dog.

Further off, there is the dull thrum of traffic on I77, like an ever present white noise, and faintly, the siren of an emergency vehicle which grows louder, then fades.

Sometimes I'll hear the sound of an edger, or a chain saw, but not today. Today there is no sound of people.

I wonder if everyone is indoors, playing video games or watching television, or maybe they’re all out on the lake, Off in the mountains or at the seashore.

We have another hurricane off the east coast, Dorian. Originally predicted to make landfall in Florida, Dorian has been drifting northward, and North Carolina is squarely in the cone of uncertainty. Since the hurricane has behaved unpredictably thus far, I’m postponing concern until landfall is more imminent than five or six days away.

Still the irony does not escape me that Hurricane Harvey held us hostage in Houston exactly two years ago, and that Hurricane Florence battered the Carolina coast less than one year ago, on the first anniversary of our arrival in Charlotte.

Once more, I’m sitting on the edge of the Slough of Despond, the swamp of despair. I’m not exactly in the pit, but nor am I at a safe distance. I have absolutely no reason to feel the way I do, other than the fact that it’s another family-oriented long weekend and I’m living in a family-free place.

Neil of course is family, family and lover and best friend all in one. He’s also the reason I’m here in this place, but I’m not angry at him for that. Because really, I don’t know where I’d want to be if not here. I don’t want to go back to Texas.

Honestly, I would have stayed in Texas, but going back wouldn’t be the same as staying. Having gone to the supreme effort of pulling up stakes, packing up a lifetime, feathering a new nest, and setting down small roots in our new city, I want to bloom here. Some plants take a longer time to fruit, maybe I’m just one of those.

If I can just surrender myself to swaying in the soft breeze while waiting for my roots to become better established, there’s a sporting chance that I’ll thrive and flourish.

I learned a new work this week. Hiraeth.
Hiraeth is a Welsh concept of longing for home. 'Hiraeth' is a word which cannot be completely translated, meaning more than solely "missing something" or "missing home." It implies the meaning of missing a time, an era, or a person - including homesickness for what may not exist any longer.
It’s a concept that I make my home within. Not by choice, but just because it is how I feel most of the time. I’m happy, I’m content, but it’s always there, just beneath the surface, this sense of longing for ... I don’t know what. It’s something like home or family but it goes beyond that in some undefinable way.

And now that I know that it’s a thing, can I make peace with the knowledge that it will always be there, that longing, that sense of missing something?

Anything is possible. But some things are less probable.

In the meantime, I’ve developed a small obsession with Outlander.

I know, I know, I started out reacting without enthusiasm to the series, which I characterized as “fucking and fighting loosely interspersed with narrative elements.” Some of the explicit sexual violence was hard to watch and we fast-forwarded a few scenes. Neil bailed at the end of season one, but I’d gotten interested enough to push on.

Season two, I think, is much better written an acted than season one, but it may just be that I’ve fallen in love with the love story between Claire and Jamie. The idea that there’s a heart connection between people that surmounts both distance and time slays me.

I also love that Claire is four years older than Jamie, mirroring the age difference between me and Neil. I still don’t love the more extreme sex and violence but there definitely are more narrative elements. Whole episodes have little more than a kiss and a cuss word.

Another thing that amuses me is how 20 years pass (after Claire returns to 1948 and Jamie fights at Culloden to somehow live another day), yet somehow when they reunite, they look exactly the same. Of course the actors are the same age or a year older, but Claire at 50 is much like Claire at 30 in appearance. Her skin is like ivory, like white velvet, like pearl.

Claire and Jamie in Season 2
And in Season 3 (20 years later)
Well, I was almost 49 when I met Neil and I still felt as youthful and beautiful as ever.
48 years old in 2002
I finished season two on Netflix and had to pay for a one-month subscription to Starz for seasons three and four. I’m resisting the desire to binge watch episodes, because I’ll be sad when I’m done, at least until February, when season five is due out.

To console myself, I’m planning to read the books. Some time back, Neil started reading the first book to me, but we both found it heavy going, and quit, which is rare for us. I recently started it over and I’m mystified about why we lost interest. It’s totally keeping my interest now.

Of course, it’s not the first time that I’ve wound up really loving something that I was put off by at first.

And crazily, Jamie and Claire wind up in North Carolina.

Just like we did.

49 years old (2 months or so later)
Hope I look like that in 2022!

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye

Billow and breeze, islands and seas
Mountains of rain and sun
All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye

(Steven L. Kaplan, Bear Mccreary, Gavin Keese © Tv Avenue Music Inc.)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Space time friends continuum

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Can it really be the end of August already?

The calendar says that it is. So it must be.

We were away for almost a week, which is part of the reason for the wrinkle in space time.

It wasn’t the best trip, it wasn’t the worst. We split the time between Neil’s dad’s home and his mom’s.

I got to have dinner with my brother. I didn’t get to see Chelsea, who just moved to New York, and I feel badly about that. But when we booked the trip, her plans were still vague. We could’ve crammed in a dinner maybe, but she got there only one day before we did, and had to go to work the next day.

It’s crazy, because I lived in New York City for the first 18 years of my life, including 6 years at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, and now the city intimidates me. Figuring out how to get there, get around, find a place to meet and eat, it all seems daunting.

And yet, it’s just a city, isn’t it? People go there on vacation, stay in hotels, take cabs or public transportation, dine out, go to shows, go to museums. I’m going to have to sort it out, because I want to go back and visit her when she is settled.

We spent two nights at Neil’s dad’s place, and the less said about that, the better. His place, I mean. Dad Bob is 90, and while he has a lot of spunk to live alone still, his eyesight is failing, and he doesn’t see the dirt. He did have a cleaner come do the bathroom before we got there, bless him, but she didn’t vacuum, and frankly, I would not walk barefoot on his carpet.

He also insisted on giving us his bedroom, which I was uncomfortable about, but he and Ellen, Neil’s sister, had made the bed up, and it was a done deal. And Neil really wanted to stay there, and not in a hotel. There is the nostalgia aspect for him, sitting at his dad’s dining table, drinking chocolate milk, reading the Post and the racing form.

Neil also likes doing odd jobs for his dad, hanging a mirror, tightening all the kitchen cabinet knobs, changing a ceiling light bulb. I got to wash the glass globe for the light, sending 30 years of grime down the drain.

Speaking of drains, the tub/shower wasn’t draining. Neil tried plunging it, which brought up lots of gunk, but didn’t get the drain cleared. Then he used half a bottle of drain cleaner, which also did not do the job. Then I listened to Neil trying to convince his dad that he needed a plumber, and his dad resisting, just as he resisted the idea that the air conditioner in his bedroom wasn’t working properly.

All of this totally baffles me, but Neil says it’s completely in character for his dad. When Neil was growing up, the family car was always breaking down because Bob never did the scheduled maintenance. It’s running fine, he’d say, or, I thought I just changed the oil, when in reality it had been a very long time. I don’t think it’s strictly the cost that makes him balk at making repairs. I think it’s some relic of the Great Depression mentality, when people saved string, reused aluminum foil, and made do.

After a couple of days, we drove to Neil’s mom’s place, another aging edifice, but very clean at least, with a strong smell of moth balls. We spent much time there in her small kitchen, where at least I’m not afraid to take out my knitting. You have to hold down the toaster handle to make toast, but don’t try to buy Eleanor a new one. She’ll make you return it and get your $7 back. Ask Neil’s sister. The microwave oven works but has an antiquated dial instead of buttons. You just have to guess how long to warm your coffee.

The day after we arrived, the family gathered for a 90th birthday cruise. For Bob’s 75th birthday we cruised to Canada for five days. This time we went for lunch on a river boat. Neil’s brother joined us from Texas. We all got together again the following day at Monmouth race track. Horse racing is a deep-rooted family tradition for Neil’s family.

After the track, Neil and I drove Eleanor home. Neil’s dad, sister and brother headed back to Bob’s home. After we dropped Eleanor we headed back too. On the way we got a call. Neil’s brother had left his jacket at the track, with his medication in the pocket. Eric is deathly allergic to tree nuts. So we made a detour back to Monmouth and retrieved the jacket and Epipen. Eric can be a know-it-all and boast a holier-than-thou attitude, so on Neil’s behalf, I didn’t mind the chance to be a hero for fifteen minutes.

Eric had the good grace to be grateful. He and Bob drove us to our hotel for the last night and dropped us off. And I won’t tell if you don’t that Neil directed them to a Hampton Inn, where we found out, after they drove away, that our reservation was for a nearby Hilton. The Hilton shuttle came and picked us up, so other than a short wait and a tip for the driver, it was no harm, no foul. Oh, and no Hampton breakfast. But I won’t complain, because our flight home was on time, and we departed before the weather caused long delays at Newark for the rest of the day, including Eric’s afternoon flight.

And now we’ve been home for a week, and it’s been one of the hottest and quietest weeks of the summer. I went to my Tuesday morning knitting group and not much else. It cooled down enough over the weekend that we took a walk to our little town center for the first time in months. Other highlights of the week were a trip to Trader Joe’s, happy hour at Starbucks, $5 Friday smoothies, stops at Lowe’s and Target. And Neil hung my wall hanging!

It’s an exciting life.

I was so happy to hear from one of my friends in Texas, Carolyn, who’d been in absentia for the whole summer. I worry, because she lives alone and has some health challenges, even though I know she has a good support system. Fortunately, all was well, beyond after effects from a broken wrist and ongoing post-chemotherapy mobility problems.

Carolyn and I met sometime during my first decade at Conoco. A geologist by profession, she reinvented herself as a legal assistant when the energy industry went south in the 1980s. She came to Conoco with pertinent environmental expertise from her work at a prestigious private law practice, but her experience with the company was very different than mine had been to date. While I had felt valued and rewarded, she had been given a difficult assignment where her skills were never fully appreciated.

Over lunches in the cafeteria, Carolyn and I became good friends. I didn’t see her often outside of work, though. I had young kids, Carolyn and Bill, her late husband, were older, and had no children. Once, my first husband and I hosted them for a barbecue dinner. I remember it particularly because the meal was such an unusual fail. Jon was generally a good cook, but we somehow got a less than succulent cut of meat. For reasons I’ve long forgotten, I didn’t make enough of the side dishes, so the comestibles were really dismal. At least the company was good. I hope.

On her fifth anniversary with Conoco, Carolyn shocked me by resigning from Conoco to go back to the private practice where she’d been properly treasured, and where she spent the rest of her long career. We kept in touch though, meeting for lunch or dinner now and then. After my divorce, if memory serves, while I was with Robin, we had dinner with Carolyn and Bill, although many details of that time in my life are blurred.

Over time though, for many years, Carolyn and I stayed in touch only by email. We had some interesting discussions, about happiness and aging, and whether the golden years really were all that gilded. Every year Carolyn would send out a newsy Christmas letter, and I’d respond by email, often provoking a renewed thoughtful dialogue. I have no idea why we stopped making the effort to get together. My kids were grown and flown, and I’d called it quits after 30 years with Conoco. One of my regrets is not trying harder to see Carolyn more often in those years.

Ironically, in my last year in Houston, I was able to meet up with Carolyn for lunch, twice. I’m grateful that we have the sort of friendship that resumes naturally, where we can be together and talk easily, as if 15 or 20 years hadn’t gone by. Despite what would seem to be differences in our background and demographics, we still have so much common ground. At least that’s how I feel. I hope she feels the same.

Right now, as I’m floundering for my own balance with regard to friends, relationships, social life, yada yada, it’s affirming to remember that I do have friendships sustained over many decades.

Carolyn (right) sent me this photo scan of us, with our dear friend Marilyn
(who passed away too soon and not long enough after this snap was shot).
Don't we all look so young? Sigh.

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blowin' through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends

Old friends
Winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you

(Paul Simon © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Fighting words

Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish

With back-to-back mass shootings in the USA this week, you probably expect me to climb on my gun-control-law soapbox. Again.

Twenty two dead in El Paso. Nine dead in Dayton.

Dozens more wounded.

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

Why would anything be different this time?

We have the gun-control-law faction boldly crying, we should, we need to, we really must, this time things have to change.

We have the freedom-of-firearms faction frantically defending, it’s mental illness, it’s video games, it’s not the guns.

Nothing has changed. Nothing will.

Despite incontrovertible evidence that weak gun laws correlate with more gun violence, we are in gridlock.

I am struck by the parallels to the situation in the U.S. government.

We have the outraged citizenry, horrified by the words and actions of President Donald Trump and his minions, who are demanding repercussions and calling for consequences.

We have the beguiled citizenry, patting their fat 401Ks, pointing to low unemployment rates, who are praising the president and defending the status quo.

Inertia reigns. An object at rest remains at rest. The path of least resistance prevails.

Inaction is the watchword of the times. Doing nothing trumps doing anything.

Change is much, much harder.

Color me cynical. Brand me fatalistic. I’ve stopped expecting reason to be reasonable.

It’s not pessimism if it’s realism.

Every time there is a mass shooting in America, gun sales go up. The stock prices of the gun making industry giants go up.

Get those handguns while you can folks, just in case some miracle happens and regulators crack down on gun-ownership qualifications.

In a week or so, the news media frenzy over the shootings will taper off and fizzle out.

Until the next mass shooting.

Words are easy. Words are cheap. Words are just words.

But what else is there?

I once owned a gun. My first husband owned a handgun, a Magnum 357, and a shotgun that had been his grandfather’s.

He’d sleep with the loaded handgun on his nightstand.

One day we went to a gun show and he bought me a Smith and Wesson 22 pistol with a pearl handled grip.

Shortly after that, we went to a shooting range and shot target practice.

For a while I carried that gun in my purse. Loaded.

I took the gun to Florida, in my checked luggage, when I went to visit my parents. Unloaded.

I showed it to my mom who flipped out and was terror-stricken by it's mere presence, even though it wasn’t loaded.

After we got married, the shotgun was stolen when our house was burglarized.

When we had a child, I made sure the handguns were unloaded and stored away.

When I was pregnant with our second child, one night Jon thought he heard a prowler outside. He loaded his gun and went out to confront him.

He found no one lurking, but I was deeply troubled. I insisted that we get rid of the guns.

Jon took them to a gun show and sold them for cash. No questions asked.

If that story surprises you, it’s probably no more than it surprises me. Was I someone else then?

Maybe not. I don’t think that I was likely to shoot anyone. Although I can imagine shooting anyone who threatened my children.

For just a brief time, I thought it was daring and sexy to carry. Not so much now.

Mass murders are shocking and senseless, but only account for a fraction of gun violence in America.

Blah blah blah.

Words are useless.

You shouldn’t argue with a pig. You only get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

I didn’t make that up. But I believe it.

So now that I’ve concluded that we are, or I am, powerless to change the weaponry situation, where do we go from here?

Do we accept this thing that we cannot change?

Today, I have no fight left in me.

For those who still do, I have a soapbox that I’m not using.

Who's afraid of the sun
Who'd question the goodness of the mighty
We who banish the threat
When your little ones all go nighty-nighty
Well, there's no time for doubt right now
And less time to explain
So get back on your horses
Kiss my ring, join our next campaign

And the empire grows
With the news that we're winning
With more fear to conquer
And more gold thread for spinning
Bright as the sun, shining on everyone

Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish
We like strong, happy people
Who don't think there's something wrong with pride
Work makes them free
And we spread that freedom far and wide

And the empire grows
The seeds of its glory
For every five tanks
Plant a sentimental story
Till they worship the sun
Even Christ-loving ones

And we'll kill the terror who rises
And a million of their races
But when our people torture you
That's a few random cases
Don't question the sun
It doesn't help anyone

But the journalist cried out
When it was too late to stop us
Everyone had awakened
To the dream they could enter our colossus
And now I'm right
Here you said I'm right
There's nothing that can harm me
Cause the sun never sets
On my dungeons or my army

And the empire fell
On it's own splintered axis
And the emperor wanes
As the silver moon waxes
And the farmers will find our coins
In their strawberry fields
While somebody somewhere
Twists his ring as someone kneels
Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone
Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone

(Mark Dixon Gable, Ian Graham Hulme, Lindsay Edward Tebbutt, Brett Hastings Williams © Universal Music Publishing Group, Mushroom Music Pty Ltd, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC)