Just saying, RV generators are the enemy of quietude-seekers
I’ve had some brilliant, peaceful, coastal windy camping days. All of my neighbors have been kind, quiet and respectful. The woman to my right, Clarita, lives in San Luis Obispo and is on a fixed income; she saves up her gas dollars—walks instead of drives–so she can afford an occasional four-day escape. The woman on my left is also camping solo in her well-used Subaru Outback. Very quiet. Very minimalistic compared to Clarita who has pink flamingos and spinning flowers and full-on, four-course barbecue dinners for herself. She calls herself “old and cranky” and follows the beat of her own drummer. “I do what’s right for me,” she kinda snaps, explaining why she refused my help as she tried to put up her tent on a particularly breezy afternoon. Me, I’m a combination of both neighbors with checkered tablecloths, my peace flag that I drape wherever I camp, my twinkle lights, yummy tofu and kale curry and rice that provided three leftover meals, and my cool electric bike, last year’s birthday gift from my kiddos. Unfortunately, the quiet neighbor quietly left early in the morning and The King Kong of Generator Annoyance moved in. The couple, about my age, are griping and yelling at each other and I am sooooooo glad I am in my Zen Zone of Solitude.
It’s been an interesting trip so far, not because of the things I’m doing. I’m doing very little camping in my VW European camper along the Central Coast. But because I’m settling into what it’s like to really be alone. I have my dog, Monet, and the strangers I meet and talk to. I have my books, my music, my art, my journal—my thoughts. A lot of thoughts.
Is selling the house the right thing?
Is being a vagabond traveler for a year—-smart?
Am I leaving my family in the dust?
Am a schmuck for not swooping in and caring for Bruce?
Will being alone turn me into a hermit crab?
Will I become grouchy?
Will I become a drug addict?
Will I get healthier minus the stress?
Will I meet a soulmate?
(Do soulmates even exist?)
Will the stocks crash?
Multiply these questions by a million wondering thoughts and this is how solo-clearing-the-deck has impacted me.
And my conclusion? It’s OK and it’s OK.
Because when you’re busy, when you’re responsible, when you’re paddling in survival mode, you just don’t have time to ask questions. Not really. You just need to get through the day, and the next, until it’s your vacation and you’re camping next to King Kong Generator Guy or in Maui next to the sloppy Spring Break Crew from the Team Mobile Conference and you get ticked off because “this is my time” to kick back and relax and “Why are they being so selfish? I JUST NEED A BREAK!”
And that, I say in a giddy, almost dreamlike floating state, is what’s so great about being retired and vacationing alone: every single day is a vacation and that’s why I want to sell the house: I don’t want to be responsible for cleaning and brushing up and repairing and being house-broke. I want to see what’s out there. It could all be terrible. I could be making the biggest financial mistake of my life. “Once you move, you can’t go back. I hope you’re doing the right thing,” cautions my well-intended son. But when I close my eyes and shut out Mr. Generator, shift my focus, toss the fear into the burning embers—and breathe—I feel centered; I feel led.
It’s all an experiment, when you think about it. No one knows for sure about anything. Not whether this is the peak of the real estate market, not if your job is secure, not if you’ll stay healthy or get sick. We are all just doing our best and sinking into some kind of peaceful acceptance, while still planning, while still hoping, that life IZ good and getting better.
In a couple of days, I will turn 66. That sounds pretty old, even to me. But when I look at the lifeline on my right palm, something I’ve taken solace in since I was in high school, I think I have time for some adventures that I wish I could share with my homies, my entire family, because that’s how I am—if I’m having a good time I want you to as well.
But, it’s not to be. People are busy, working, fixing up their new/old fixer-uppers.
And I am left with my traveling dog, and my blog pals. I hope you can hear me. I hope you can see what I see. I hope you can feel the ocean breeze and feel the veil canopy of Spring and allow yourself to be drenched in the chorus of birds that are right there, wherever you are, serenading you, luring you into the swampy, hazy forest. The generator, it’s still there, pulsating away like a rabid dog, but so are the blue skies and 72 degree temps and that lovely bottle of Halter Ranch “Synthesis” and my grandson and big-hearted son who will be joining me in a few hours for my birthday weekend. Oh, and my cousin, my bestie, who will be making the drive here by herself—a first! What a person does for love.
Together, we’ll break bread, break open a few bottles of Paso wines and break the silence with screams of grandson joy, love and and a ton of fort-building. Happy weekend everyone. May each of you saturate yourself with the people, and the place, that brings you happiness.
Sometimes, a lot of times, no, most days, I don’t want to write. I know it may sound strange since I’ve known I was a writer since the 3rd grade and Miss Maxine Way at Beryl Heights Elementary School pronounced in her Southern drawl, “Janet, you have a way with words.” But it’s true. I would rather clean the house, watch ridiculous YouTube videos than sit down in front of computer screen, or even my beloved paper journal, and write.
It’s not because writing is a chore, although sometimes it might feel like it. It’s because writing is bleeding.
But writing is also discovering and tinkering and growing into a more introspective, soulfully connected person.
Writing at its most profound, most potential level, is about rolling up your sleeves and getting down-and-dirty naked with The Truth. Fluff is cool and mostly where I start, where I’m comfortable, but it’s not the big fish I’m trying to catch and release. From what I have encountered after 59 years of journaling—-whew!—-is that the best stuff creeps up on you toward the end of your session, that you have to put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard, for about 30 minutes or more several times a week, so that you hard-wire the absolutely true, almost magical experience of the revelation of IMPORTANT STUFF. When you are done writing, you step back and say, “Wow, where was that hiding?” To me, and other writers I admire, this is why we write even though it can be hard to start, even though we can think of every excuse in the world not to start, even though we’re scared of what we may or may not discover.
I am camping at my favorite spot along the Central Coast. I’ve been camping here for 30 years. For the first leg of my journey I’m solo exploring, with the exception of my cattle dog traveling partner, Miss Monet. I talk to myself outloud, play with paints, go for hikes, eat healthy foods, listen to music, sing really loud and off-key, talk to strangers, read and read and read, but ever-looming in my stash of creative distractions is my journal. My job. My purpose. My key. My connection to my deepest self, the one that is pretty and young, ugly, old, distortive, imaginative, playful, angry, sad, confused, hopeful, confident, cranky and loathsome. I am every character in every Disney movie. I am the soundtrack and the animation. I am Cruella and Snow White. I am 2022 inflation and Canada’s universal medical care. I am the President of the United States and I’m his basement custodian. Journaling reveals the whole kit and caboodle of my foibles and strengths and sieves out the icky and productive compost in my noble attempt to be my best self.
So here it goes:
I am scared.
I put my beloved house on the market two days ago. I set a high bar regarding the dollar amount I need to walk away with: After taxes, commissions, etc., it makes no sense to sell unless I have ample money to build a new life. Better I rent it out for a few years. But somehow, someway, I need to get the footloose and fancyfree travel bug out of my system.
I have been hemming and hawing about whether I should or shouldn’t sell for years now. It’s not that I don’t love my home. It’s a treasure, the site of so many, many memories that scroll through my mind like the rewind button on an old video machine. I love what I’ve done, what I could afford to do, what I had the limited skills to accomplish, but I’ve reached a phase of my life that I don’t want to be responsible any more. I don’t want house-caretaking to take up my days. I want to live an adventure. Like I am right now as potential buyers make appointments to thumbs up or thumbs down the “prized beach property”. I realize, given my lack of financial resources, I’ve done as much as I can to Angel Cove Cottage. I don’t have the funds to push her to the next level. Fixi the staircase. Remodel The Cave. Tear out the firepit and rethink the backyard corral that was never built to my satisfaction. Without a second income, such renovations aren’t possible.
But frankly, even if I had the money, I realize it’s time for a change. Time to do something new to keep myself fresh. I need to be a bit scared, I need to not play it safe all the time.
So now that I’ve written it down and shared it, it’s real. It’s happening. Or not. Either way, I’m good. Because at least I took a chance. At least I stopped contemplating an idea that’s been swimming in my head for a long time. I stepped into a new beginning.
“14 Summers”. That’s the title of the book I’m about to start writing.
If I have the good fortune of living to 80, that means I have 14 summers left. 14 is my grandson Jack in four years. Bronson in six. Millie in 12. Hudson in 13.5. How would a woman—me–use her time if she didn’t have to waste?
It occurred to me this morning about 3 a.m., that we’re all out at sea, cruising to places we think we want to go to, or the opposite, getting stuck miles from shore. We wait. The skies rumble as the waves engorge and we think we’re going to die, and some of us do, but most of us don’t, and then it gets calm again and the heavens open and the rainbow appears and we know we are safe and good things will happen.
It occurred to me at 4:45 a.m., weeks before my 66th birthday, almost a year after retiring from 20 years in the classroom, that I’m an old motor boat, sputtering and stalling; I may capsize. But I probably won’t. But I might.
It occurred to me at 6:30 a.m. as my roomies—The Two Amigos–stirred, and my former teaching colleagues poured coffee in preparation for igniting the Future of America, and my ex husband, Bruce, breathed in-harmony with the comatose patient lying next to him at the rehab facility, that best-laid plans are like sailing in the wind with your eyes closed: You hope for the best, prepare for the worst, but in the end, none of us are really in control; there are mightier forces at play.
It occurred to me at 6:55 a.m. that we’re all actors participating in a real-life drama. We wake up, do what we do, think what we think, get shoved around by the do-this and do-that’s of our respective careers and life circumstances, and we are basically held together by duct tape and string; that we all are, in fact, vulnerable to the elements and opportunistic, rat-toothed, mean-spirited humans (fill-in-the-blank). At any moment, who are we kidding, we could unravel. So we stay busy, stay important, stay goal-oriented.
But step off the boat, we might drown.
At 7:15 a.m. I wonder, what keeps a person steadfast, purposeful, in control even under the most dire circumstances?
It occurred to me after my first cup of coffee, that we think we have it all together, but we don’t know for certain until we’re tested. Not small tests, like the jolts of a malfunctioning electrical system, but actually capsizing and being thrown overboard with your left leg wrapped around an anchor chain.
As I step outside and scan the horizon, I lust for certainties; a steady, mapped-out course. I long for conformation, desperate to be drenched in the spiritual, church-choir affirmation that assures me I’m headed in the right direction.“Give me a sign,” I pray.
I got one from a man chained to a wheelchair, a 72-year-old former photojournalist whosefoot and ankle are about to be amputated, whose entire life turned topsy-turvy a couple of months ago, who’s learned to be more open and sensitive as he cherishes simple pleasures like a cup of instant coffee at bedside and an hour visit from his ex-wife.
Bruce. The guy I divorced. The man I have fretted over, journaled about, screamed, cried, hugged, hoped for, counseled with, and in the end, loved and could never fully let go of as a friend, gave me one of the most valuable gifts I ever received; a book, “Nowhere for Very Long”, the story of a woman who was determined to change her life by chucking it all and going on the ultimate van road trip. Inside, he inscribed, “Dear Janet, I hope this book will inspire you to the great adventure surely ahead of you. As the jacket note states, ‘…from lost to found to lost again…this time on purpose.’ Love, Bruce.”
“There’s more,” he said. “I made a bookmark.” He was beaming. Tucked in the center of the book was a tiny fabric sunflower taped to piece of scrapaper, scrawled with jagged words he penned: “Live your dream. Have an adventure.” On the same page, was a check for $2,000, the IRS refund money he desperately needed, but insisted on giving it to me. “I mean it, I’ve thought about this a lot; I want you to have it.”
It is impossible to explain the profound impact of Bruce’s magnanimous gesture. Overwhelmed, in tears, Bruce’s blessing for me to go forth and follow my dreams even during his darkest hours is something I will never, ever forget. In his bleakest moment, Bruce placed someone else’s life above his own.
It occurred to me at 7:45 a.m. as the ladies showered and prepared for work and Monet climbed back into bed, that that feature film we’re all starring in, has tender, close-up moments like the one I just described. Angels who keep us afloat, keep us steady, keep us dog-paddling in the foggy swells when we’re uncertain where we’re headed or if we’ll even make it.
No one knows the affect–both positive and negative–one’s actions can have on another soul. An unsolicited Starbuck’s, a surprise car wash, even a homemade bookmark, have the power to positively change the course of a person’s day, maybe even life.
It occurred to me as I watched the sun rise above the silk oak tree and imagined our daughter teaching her energetic fourth-graders, Bronson eating his four fried eggs, his papa driving to work, Jack wrestling with his new puppy, and my nieces and nephews, brother and sister-in-law all starting their days, that today might be a good day to go sailing.
It might get bumpy.
The wind might steer me off course.
But maybe, just maybe, it won’t.
Bruce and I chat about many things during our almost daily visits at Sunnyside Rehab Center, from family members he wishes he could help, to regrets about decisions he’s made in the past. But he’s learning, as am I, to accept life as it unfolds. Which makes me think of the last line of a Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”, I memorized in third grade: And that made all the difference. It seems appropriate to end today’s blog with Frost’s advise:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Since last we left, B’s medical troubles have continued to decline, I still dig my new love, Led Zeppelin, and the theme of CHANGE hurricanes like a News at 11 Accuweather forecast.
Tail end of March, beginning of April, lucky girl me got to journey to Maui with my tribe for a week–I seriously dream of living there–and now I am presently in New York rounding out Spring Break as I re-connect for an extended week with the babies and East Coast tribe. Got to visit a colonial heritage farm in Conn., watched my daughter run a 10K in Central Park, walked around the village of Forest Hills, played in local parks, ate mostly healthy foods, visited my favorite French bakery for a latte and baguette three times, and stocked up on Pinot Noirs and a bottle of French, overly sweet bubbly. I could get used to my vagabond life, and I am making plans to be a full-time traveler and nester-where-I-most-feel-at-peace person.
I’ve carried angst for so long, but now, everything in my being is telling me to get off the train and enjoy life. Let it go, as my granddaughter sings, travel light. Several of my former colleagues who chose to step off the merry-go-round have been touting this philosophy for years. I know they’re right, but something keeps holding me back.
Today at the playground, I met two women; one a grandma who is five years older than me, and a daughter in her 30s whose mom recently and unexpectedly died. Both women spoke of regrets.
Catherine, the older, German grandma, shared her story as we entertained our pre-nap grand babies: “I shouldn’t be talking to a stranger, but I need to.” She told me about her sick husband’s terrible, neglectful medical treatment, feeling trapped, having no time because she’s constantly caring for others. She says other than her daughter, she has no one else to talk to. “My husband secluded me, maybe because we were new to America, Germans in New York City.”
She tries to confide her stress to her children, one a doctor, the other an accountant,
“but they don’t understand.” They’re busy, raising their own children. building a life away from Mom and Dad. . “They say they will help, but they do nothing, nothing. I am on my own.”
She longs to travel again, go back to Germany to visit her aging sister. But she can’t; she has to care for her husband who had a heart attack four years ago, and her young grandson whom she watches three days a week.”It never ends,” she said, gritting her teeth.
“If it ever comes to it,” Catherine said, throwing her hands in the sky, “I’ll take drugs. I am serious. I don’t want anyone taking care of me.”
I wonder if other people in the park think she’s yelling or mad. She moves in close, then moves back, raises her voice and gestures passionately.
“I have things I want to do, but I don’t see it happening.”
I tell her I understand. Life can be hard.
“You never think illness will happen,” she continued. “My husband can’t go anywhere except doctors’ appointments. And me, I need my hip replaced but I don’t have time to do it because everyone needs me.”
She kept looking at her phone for the time. “I have to take my husband back to the hospital. I was there for nine hours last night.” I get it, I really do. The stress of a stressed-out medical system is incredibly frustrating and wrong to average people like Catherine’s husband and B. Because of poor medical care early in the infection to his foot, now it has to be amputated.
The frustration to the patient, and those who care for them, is overwhelming and terrifying.
“I think I’m going to sell my house,” I told her.
“Do it,” she said, “while you can.
“To hell with leaving your kids money. It’s your life. You worked hard. You deserve happiness.”
Her little grandson was crying and it was time to walk back home for his lunch and nap. “I’ll send you positive thoughts and prayers,” I offered as she strolled out the playground.
I continue swinging Millie, who was snacking and apparently eavesdropping, as too was the mommy of 2-year-old Daniel. “I couldn’t help but think about my mother,” she said, her eyes swelling with tears. She died last month of septic and pneumonia. “She wanted to travel, but she never made the time.”
She lived in Georgia with her sick husband; she never felt she could get away, even to visit her New York grandchildren and daughter. “We were so close. I am still in shock,” she said, wiping away tears. “I cry every day. So does my father.”
I listened to her story, how her mother placed her family’s needs above her own, even refusing to go the doctor after a persistent cough wouldn’t go away. She ended up with a raging infection that was too aggressive to treat. After four days in the hospital, she passed. “I was on the plane with my son and husband. I never got to say goodbye.”
I glanced at Millie and noticed her staring at the grieving woman’s face.
On our way home, I explained to Millie that the lady was sad and missed her mommy. Millie could relate. She shook her head and sweetly said, “Miss Mommy.” I assured her that her Mommy would be home after work and that Daniel’s mommy would be OK. “OK?” she repeated.
Astounded by the empathy of a 2-year-old and the gushing vulnerability of two strangers, I am reminded once again of the preciousness of life, of time, and the importance of living life with a sense of purpose and assuredness, adventure and joy. Being eager, being excited about what’s around the corner, is the key. My dad knew it. He always had something to look forward to: “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” he used to say.
Being stuck, being overly aware of where the closest CVS and Costco are located might not be the ticket to self and spiritual growth. Gotta shake things up, keep it fluid, keep the limbs ready to pounce, say “Yes” to opportunities, especially when it comes out of no where, which turns out, is really somewhere, like the swollen maple leaves flying in the skyscraper sky on our way back from the 10K.
In a few weeks, I am going to jump out of a parachute, take a chance on The Great Next. It will feel like Frisbeeing my RUHS Seahawk mortarboard into the sky, and not fretting–-I mean it—about where it will land. It is, after all, made out of cheap fabric and cardboard. Disposable, compostable.
A long time ago, in the days when people wrote letters and there was no such thing as texting and Instagramming, my girlfriend, Julie, and I would write each other. I addressed the letters to Dearheart and placed the time, date and mood of the day on the upper left corner. I wanted a chance to live in a Monet pixelated landscape. I wanted to feel a connection to environment, what was going on in my world as a mum, new homeowner, frustrated spouse and struggling writer. I don’t know why, but I thought that by sharing my truth it would somehow bring us closer, because truth is what I craved from her and everyone in my life.
Truth is a difficult thing, I’ve discovered.
Peeling back the layers and figuring out what’s really there, the why’s, the motivations, the Real Deal. Tough stuff.
I used to tell my 8th grade English language arts students, just last year as a matter of fact when I was in the virtual classroom because my first COVID vaccine was still “brewing”, that to understand why the protagonist and antagonist does what he/she/it does, you have to find The Source, like the source of a river. And even when you trace the pathway back to its beginnings, there are other why’s and how’s and when’s. But with enough patience, persistence, discovery and, yes, sometimes pain, it is possible to hike to that mountaintop of origins.
A long time ago, there was a rock group called Led Zeppelin. Boys and girls, they were a big deal back when I was growing up. (Flashback to my classroom where I discovered, to my dismay, students didn’t know about 1970s and earlier iconic billboards like Zeppelin, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and cherished novels like ‘My Side of the Mountain’.) Anyway, when I was your age I was more into pop music like Elton John and Cat Stevens. Zeppelin was kind of a “guy’s band” because of all the heavy guitar riffs. Still, when I was invited to a Zeppelin concert at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles by one of my guy friends, I said. “Yes,” and rocked my head and jumped up and down like all of the other drunk and stoned fans. It was a scene, a place to be, that I frankly remember little about thanks to Boon’s Farm Strawberry Hill Wine and multiple trips to the bathroom.
But recently, on my way to and from the nursing home to visit Bruce, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Zeppelin. I’ve submerged myself in interviews, live concerts, music I like/love and tunes I don’t need to listen to again. And I have become a huge fan, as in, if I see a T-shirt with the band’s name on it at Target, I’m buying it.
Why? Because when I was busy with my life, studying for tests, cheerleading, boy-friending, arguing with my siblings, feeling misunderstood by my mother, I completely missed out on Zeppelin’s brilliance as musical and lyrical story-tellers. Set in the context of the time, Zeppelin was doing something different musically from their peers and I think that’s what turned off my pop music-tuned ears. At the time, I couldn’t get past the screeching and screaming that, now with 50 decades under my expanded belt, I fortunately understand in an entirely new way.
Which is pretty awesome, right?
I, you, can take something once discounted because of a lack of perspective, open-mindedness–whatever–and sit down and listen and connect with it in an entirely new way. We can love something or someone we once denied, even distained.
As painful as this recent passage of time has been for me, I realize that I’m realizing.
I’m getting to the core, the Source.
Dearheart, as the squirrels unearth Fall’s treasures and the crows frantically strip twigs off my backyard Silk Oak Tree in preparation for a new beginning, so do I. The Truth will set me, and you, free.
I went to church on Sunday for the first time in many, many years. Not everything is as I remembered. Services don’t take place inside the 100+-year-old white church steeple sanctuary, rather they are held in the 1960s-built Parish Hall and outside in the courtyard. Christ Episcopal Church has been Covidized. And the lead minister who’s been replaced several times over since I left the church some 18 years ago, is new. She’s a mum of two twin girls; instead of calling her Father, she’s referred to as Mother. And she’s originally from England. And she reads her sermons rather than speaks off-the-cuff. The music’s new too. I didn’t recognize a one.
But the Episcopal service is the same structure, as are the prayers. Communion is way different: Each parishioner is given our own sealed tiny wafer and a thimble of sweet wine. All sanitary and in plastic kinda like the ginger and wasabi containers that come with To-Go sushi. Environmentally horrendous, but some clever inventor’s $$ meal ticket-response to the pandemic. I doubt that anyone will ever again feel comfortable sharing the Communion chalice; this new fast-food approach to sharing the body and blood of Christ may be here for good.
What drew me back to church is my friend, Mona, who invited me to check it out after I posted my last blog. I’m obviously going through life-changing turmoil and she instinctually sensed I might benefit from a visit to God’s sit-down restaurant.
She was right.
Being in a faith community renewed my faith and brought back memories of the first time I went to the church in third grade having convinced my parents that I needed to go to a house of worship, and then later, after my mom died and my heart was broken. Despite my flakiness, I will always consider Christ Church as my home church, the place I seem to be drawn to when my life is mixed up. Being there yesterday gave me a place to formally say, “Here, God, take this. I can’t carry it by myself anymore.”
Christ Church is a tiny little wooden chapel, a ten-minute walk from Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. Sweet, not flashy; a building that’s withstood two world wars, various economic collapses including the Great Depression, the zealous tear-down of neighborhoods replaced by 1950s stucco, and a revolving door of ministerial leadership that has, unfortunately, taken its toll on the congregation. But with the new minister, Mother Julie, a USC MBA graduate who’s worked in the entertainment business before heeding the call to ministry, the little church by the bay has a chance to once-again be revitalized. There’s birds singing in the trees in the outdoor sanctuary as the church bells ring and the violinist and pianist use their musical gifts to ease the soul.
So many flashbacks at this church: My dad in his walker, proudly wearing his medals on Veteran’s Day. Katie, who was a tot, and her Sunday School buddies. Father Rob and his growing family. Me, having the freedom to teach Sunday School in a way that reflected my personality and spirit. Me, being able to question, doubt, and grow as a mother, woman and Christian. This historic sanctuary gave me a home where I could be the flawed, creative person that I am. I was loved for being myself and embraced wholly, as was every other parishioner.
Truly, it was a remarkable time and place back in the early 1990s guided by a remarkable leader who allowed each of us to find our own path. No egos. No dictatorship. Christ Church was the People’s Church.
Yes, I have decided, I will go back next Sunday.
It’s Lent, the purple weeks, and from what I remember about this time on the Christian calendar and my own experience over the years, a Season of Tests. Trouble seems to bubble up to the surface. Lots of it. Like waves. Think you handled this crisis, this miserable person, BOOM, here’s another challenge Ms. Smartypants! It’s like two-by-fours hitting you again and again, stunning you, until you are so bruised you instinctually put up your dukes, like the mustached boxer in a black and white film, and shout, “Let me at ‘em, let me at ‘em.” Problem is, for me, my one-two-punches are a waste of energy; weak and unpracticed, I end up falling on my butt.
Confession: I’ve been holding the weight-of-the-world on my shoulders for far too long. I need a lounge chair and tanning oil.
Church seems to have helped, although I’m less than 24 hours from the experience.
But so has movement: I’m on a clean-the-house, get-rid-of-stuff, re-thinking and staging each room, frenzy. Preparing for the unexpected. Preparing for the expected. Preparing for change. I’m in-process mode. And the way I process the unprocessable (because I’m in the middle of it) is to overeat or overdrink or organize, of which I am choosing the later. Organizing equals clarification: Do I need that? Does it bring me joy? If not, thank you and goodbye. And that, quite frankly, is the hard part. It’s where I’m at. Maybe you are too. It is, after all, Lent, a time of reflection, upheaval, and on the other side of it, a glorious Easter sunrise.
I am with you, always, He said, he re-assured, in his darkest hour.
This is a test.
This is a test.
This is a test.
Or as The Byrds’ sang in the 1960s….there is a season. “Turn! Turn! Turn!”
Feet on the ground. Tears in the clouds. Swimming in Jello. Going nowhere. Waiting. Praying. Listening to hopeful music, music from when Katie was a baby and Bruce and I made slide shows about the wondrous Sunday School program at Christ Episcopal Church.
There is nothing I can do. NOTHING. But sit and wait.
When he returns from a second surgery on his foot, will he even have one? Will the doctors decide the infection is too bad and amputate? Will his body respond to antibiotics so he is eligible for a skin graft?
Will he even make it out of surgery?
I know to those in the medical community, surgery is an everyday occurrence. No biggie. But for those of us waiting in the empty hospital room, sitting by the phone for an update, every passing second is an omen of bad news. That’s what we—those of us who wait—think about as one nonsense TV show surpasses the next.
Tick, tick—-wait—-tick, tick—-wait.
Let me explain: Bruce is my ex-husband. We’ve most definitely had an interesting relationship over the years, including the 10+ we’ve been divorced. As much as we’ve both moved on, in many ways we haven’t. We care about each other and want the best. We have a shared history, family stories, and know each other better than practically anyone else. He’s seen me at my most vulnerable, as have I, him. The thought that he is hurt or in pain hurts me. I actually feel like I could vomit any moment. I want him to be OK.
Sitting here waiting, I’m on the verge of tears. Once again, writing is saving me, giving me a place to roll around in the grass without anyone seeing.
If you read my last blog, you know I’ve been struggling with the sale of my family abode, the home occupied by my sister and cousin. A couple of days ago, I was helping them pack up Mom’s china. It was all I could do not to lay on the ground and weep. I “get” that houses are material objects, that it’s the people inside that counts, that everything is transitory. I “get” all that. But loss is loss is loss. In a couple of weeks, I won’t be able to walk in the front door and silently say “Hi” to my long-deceased Mom and Dad. All the ghosts will be gone: Auntie Marjorie, Uncle Bill, Auntie Madge and Uncle Lou, Chris, Carolyn, our dog, Major, and Kitty Bummer. I won’t see Mom in the kitchen preparing the rump roast or Dad playing giddy-up horsie with the grandkids. It will soon be a mirage.
And now, Bruce. In surgery, as I type.
The known and unknown.
And I don’t like it one bit.
I want to be a little kid. I want to go on a picnic. I want to play Barbies. I want to twist to The Beatles.
I don’t want to be an adult any more. I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to be positive and stiff upper lip. I want to live at Disneyland. I want to wear pink and purple and drink vanilla milk shakes and never get fat. I want to read “My Side of the Mountain” for the first time and climb on monkey bars and get tan like a Hershey bar without worrying about getting skin cancer.
I want to start over and appreciate every single milkweed crack in the sidewalk. I never want to get mad or angry. I just want to put on musicals in the backyard of our perfectly imperfect 1950s Spreckles Lane track home. I want to wait an entire week to watch “The Wonderful World of Color”. I want to be Mary Poppins.
Life is getting too grown-up-serious and I don’t like it.
Until, until, until a grown-up in scrubs tells me the good thing or the bad thing, I am going to believe in glittery rainbows. “Bruce was a smashing patient. The surgery was successful,” Dr. Kim will say with a big grin on his face.
Waiting is better than knowing.
Until the nurse walks in: “You won’t see the doctor until tomorrow. But he did well. They cleaned up the wound and did a skin graft.”
And when he returns to the room smiling, a pink glow flushing his cheeks and ravenous for the salmon dinner on tonight’s hospital menu, a thousand years of worry drops from my shoulders. At least for now, the crisis called diabetes, has been averted. Thank God for God. Thank God for science. Thank God for the brilliant medical team at Torrance Memorial Hospital. Thank God for wine, which I surely will be consuming as soon as get home.
…woke up at 4 a.m. and started writing. No deadline. No subject matter in particular. Just the rumblings of life.
Maybe it’s the wind. There’s a turbulence, a change, a danger lurking in the moon-lit, cloud-filled sky. Something new. Something old. Are the raccoons foraging in the backyard stream? Is that homeless guy camped out in the perimeter of the property? Will my prescription glasses ever turn up or is it time to throw in the towel of hope and order a new pair?
My sister and cousin are moving. My non-impulsive sister informed me last week that she’s in escrow, selling the family homestead and relocating to a pricier zip code I fear she can’t afford. House rich, day-to-day poor. She’ll have a Room With An Ocean View, something she’s long wanted, but selfishly, I know she’ll be harnessed to ensuring that she’ll now need to work longer and won’t have the funds to retire and horse around with me. My cousin too. Why would anyone want to work longer, enslaved to the responsibilities of paying for house expenses when you could be free and exploring? Less house, more freedom is my goal.
My sister’s decision has caused a seismic shift in my family’s world.
So here I type at 4ish a.m. trying to understand, turning the kitchen table upside down.
Thursday the Realtors arrive with their cameras and drones. This weekend, the house I grew up in, Grandma and Grandpa’s beloved abode, goes on the market.
It is her right.
Change is good.
At some point, it was going to happen. When she got sick. When she died. Closing shop on the Family Home is inevitable. It’s either in your control while you’re healthy and fit or it’s up to the relatives when you can no longer make decisions or you’re dead.
I admire the fact that she’s made a decision. I truly do. She is indecisive much of the time. The opposite of impulsive. But this decision, from the outside looking in, seems rash and not in her best, long-term interest. She’s never even walked in the house. She doesn’t know what she’s up against remodel-wise. The house is on a Main Street, much more hectic than the one she lives on now. But it has an ocean view. And neighborhood standards that dictate the color you can paint your house and whether or not they’ll grant permission to change the landscape.
Definitely not for me. Just the idea of a committee telling me what plants I can put in or take out makes me want to rebel and create a flamingo pink Disney jungle scape.
My sister’s vision about how she wants to spend the rest of her life is vastly different from mine. And that is the essence of what’s bothering me. It’s not the house. It’s the view. Which has always been different. It’s what caused us tussles as children. It’s what made me feel insecure. She was always right, always the thinest, the smartest—Mom’s favorite–who has been the protector of the Family Home almost her entire adult life. And now at 62, she’s about to literally close the door on decades of memories and move on. Whether it’s the right or wrong decision, time will tell. The fact is, she is shedding the old for the new, something I never, ever, as in EVER, thought my little sister would do. Change seems so out of character.
Which leads me back to my inner stirrings, my own longing to be closer to the sea, more aligned with Nature.
Am I not seeing the forest through the trees? Currently, I live two blocks from the beach in a historic cottage. My family and friends are close by, along with the convenience of living in suburbia. Maybe I have everything my heart desires but have been too distracted by the fantasy of change to notice.
What is it that I want?
Roots. And Freedom.
Love. Purpose. Discovery. Regeneration. Joy.
Can I experience these feelings while staying put? Of course. Is it my mind that needs to change rather than the venue? Yes, my mind definitely needs to change—no matter where I live. But this longing to be free isn’t a fad, it’s real. To be unburdened. To be porous. To have my limbs be as flexible as my mind.
It’s funny how a person’s view of life changes. When I was a kid, my sister, cousin and I would play Barbies, our kingdom stretching from the den, where my sister currently spends sleepless nights, into the hallway and sometimes into the kitchen where Mom percolated her preferred Maxwell House coffee. Our ever-changing plot consumed us for days. My sister was always the surfer Barbie, my cousin, the stewardess, and me, I liked to drive the Kleenex box convertible and cook food. Nothing has really changed. But looking back, my sister was never the homebody like us. She wanted to be in the water bodyboarding or skateboarding. Being tied down to crewcut Ken was never her thing. The accoutrements of homeownership were Mom’s thing, not hers. Which makes sense: The House on Paulina was our immigrant parents’ dream, a sign that they really made it in America, an accomplishment that never would have happened had they stayed in their tiny English village.
What we inherit.
My sister and I would likely never been able to afford to live near the beach had it not been for the generosity of our parents. We are rooted here, in our own homes, because of them. But our inheritance came with strings never detailed in their will: their hope for us was that our lives would be better than theirs, that our homes would bring us joy and peace and attract love and provide a sense of fulfillment.
With the sale of my sister’s house, maybe as soon as next week, our parents’ legacy has certainly been honored. She has been a good and loyal caretaker. She did our parents’ proud. But perhaps now, her burdens will lessen.
At the end of the day, or at 4 a.m., we need to know that we are all in the process of doing the best we can do, that we’re on the path we’re supposed to be on, heeding God’s will, and having a bit of fun along the way. One foot in front of the other.
Whether I like it or not, agree or disagree, my sister is about to take flight. Three, two, one—TAKE OFF!
Some people kneel. Some people chant and sing. Some people bow their heads and cup their hands. To me, writing is prayer.
It’s the way I connect. It’s the way I listen. It’s the way I distract my mind with lists and events and all the trivia that clutters my mental state of being, that I wrangle over and over again until I get to a place where the clothes closet of my life is almost empty. What remains are those too-small, too-faded, bits and pieces of life that, at some point, need addressing.
And I do. And I don’t. Perhaps you can relate to that exhausted and bored with yourself Amazon-shopping-to-distract frenzy of not dealing with the real deal, the What Really Matters stuff. You know, the icky junk that wakes you up in the middle of the night that you can’t solve and you try to solve by taking nighttime meds and watching YouTube until you finally fall asleep to that scratchy black and white state: “You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
Writing is prayer.
This is what happens when I write. Yes, in the case of a blog, I am aware of an audience and that’s ego, to be sure. But I crave connection; I’m a social creature by nature and feel better when I engage with others, even if it is with a “like” or a hopefully sincere comment. But behind this public display of trying-to-figure-out-my-life-at-65, is a hope that by shedding my veneer, others will similarly shed theirs, which I happen to believe is the key to finding peace: Being real. Like Anne Frank. My mentor since the fourth grade when I first read her diary. Oh, how I miss sharing her story with my eighth-graders.
Writing is prayer:
God, how can I be of service? What do you want me to do?
Be yourself. Smile. Engage. And stop worrying. I got this.
Wow! It’s really that simple?
No judgment. No, “You dumb bunny. I’ve told you this a million times before! Why don’t you listen, fool!” God responds with kind of an air-hug warm embrace that always brings tears to me eyes and a, “Duh! Of course!”
Float. And float I shall. I don’t need to sell the house now. Though I might. I don’t need to buy clothes or furniture or tickets to see Josh Groban or Cirque du Soleil. I don’t need to reflect the frenzied energy of others and respond to their nudges and “words of advice”. If God says, “Hold still. I’ve got this,” I will. If God says, “Now,” then I will.
My frenzy is buying into the frenzy. Not stopping. Not valuing my time. This gift—-Life—-that prayer and silence and walking and being in Nature reminds me of.
What prompted today’s journal entry is the possibility of moving: For decades I have dreamed of moving to the Central Coast, having an ocean view, going for walks, eating healthy foods, drinking lovely wines, journaling, art-ing, socializing—growing. Selling my current home would release me of certain responsibilities. It would shed the ever-present worry I feel if “something goes wrong” since I don’t have the finances to address “The Bad Thing”. In a few years, when a portion of my retirement is spent, some of my monthly income will be gone and I will be house rich and day-to-day cash poor. Obsessively, I turn over and over in my head, “Should I sell and downsize?” House values in my area are way up. I could walk away with financial security and a new beginning.
And therein lies the rub. What about my present? My grandchildren? My adult children? My amigos? And my city, with all its faults, the one in which I grew up in and am used to?
To move means I would be alone sans family. I’d have to re-create my life, my relationships, my routine. Would this shatter or reinvigorate me?
For now, my life IZ very good. I live two blocks from the sea in an old California bungalow that I have somewhat remodeled. I love my Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. But a change is inevitable, in a few years, for sure. The question is, do I take the plunge now? Or wait?
I have dreamed of living in Cambria for decades. The lost, brand new home steps from the beach, the one I was afraid to buy decades ago because I would be too far away, woke me up last night. My life would have turned out so differently had I decided to live there then. I probably wouldn’t have become a teacher. Who knows what would have become of my kids?
Writing is prayer. Writing is a way of sorting out, deciphering truth from fiction, and being forthright—bruises and all. Writing is my way of microscoping the past and engineering a new flight path leading to the future. But more than anything, writing is my way of anchoring to the present, experiencing and observing today’s blessings so that when, and if, it is time to launch, I can do so with no regrets. God wants me to smile, enjoy, and be at peace.
I got this!