Monday, October 26, 2009

...and Some Days You're The Bug

Conversation at the end of a long, frustrating day on which I spent 11 hours at the restaurant chasing my tail and accomplishing almost nothing:

Husband: Hey…go to “intuit dot com.”

Me: Why?

Husband: So we can get a website.

Me: We have a website.

H: No, we have a “Facebook” page.


H: Since when?

M: (Rolling my eyes so hard that the centrifugal force nearly sends my eyeballs shooting out the top of my skull) …..For awhile.

H: “J” says she can’t find us online!

M: Google Old Town Café Scappoose.

H: …........oh.

We have, in fact, had a website since July. After two weeks chained to my laptop(s) manipulating code, uploading pictures, and posting menus, maps, directions…

While at the same time hiring and orientating a new chef and a new pastry chef; juggling the schedule to accommodate employee traumas; struggling to keep our dining room habitable with no air conditioning in 105 degree heat; planning menu, marketing and dining room arrangements for an upcoming charity event; and coordinating purchasing and production for our $20,000 food concession gig in August. Oh, and maybe I walked on water and cleansed a leper or two.

Is my business partner/love of my life suffering from some kind of early-onset dementia? Hardly. He can quote the most obscure football, basketball and baseball statistics about teams and players—college and pro—that I (and most of the rest of the world) have never heard of. His memory is pure 21st century HD…when it comes to the things he cares about.

I wrote once, awhile back, that my husband is one of those easy-going types who has mastered the art of “tuning out the noise…” He just doesn’t hear what he doesn’t feel the need to hear.

About fifteen years ago, when my life started to turn to shit and he was all I could grab to keep myself from falling irretrievably into my own head, I became…noise.

And, evidently, the fact that we supposedly own a business together has not served to change my status in that regard.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

I’m sure everyone thought the resident Obama fan would have some comment about the President being selected to win the Nobel Peace Prize. So here are my two cents:

Do I think Mr. Obama’s selection for that lofty prize may have been a bit premature? Yes, I do. Do I think President Obama has had an opportunity to implement his world-peace-enhancing policies? No, I do not. Do I believe that our Congress/electorate/national media will even allow him to implement those policies? Hard to say.

But what I think is not important. In fact, what we as a nation think isn’t important. The Nobel Prize is awarded by a committee that represents, arguably, global interests. And that is key.

What we don’t, as a nation, see—what we refused to allow ourselves to believe for eight years—was how far, under the hand of the Bush Administration, the United States of America had fallen from the ideals that had made her the great nation she was. After the September 11th attacks, the US turned cowardly. Fear made her retract the great wings of freedom and protection with which she traditionally attempted to enfold the world. Fear made her stretch her sharp talons in the direction of any threat, real or imagined. Fear made her claw and snap and growl. A world that had depended upon a strong, brave, free and generous America saw the US turn into a very large, very wounded animal, with the Bush Administration continuously chewing upon the sores to keep them open and to keep her fearful and angry and half-crazed with pain. And the world became afraid—of us.

Finally, We the People regained our senses and drove the party responsible for our loss of respect on the world stage out of the White House. Sure, we elected a man who got the job pretty much because he was as far from the person and policies of the previous Administration as you could get. President Obama was elected because he was NOT George W. Bush, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, that (obviously) carries a tremendous amount of weight. Mr. Obama has at the very least talked the talk of a complete about-face from the previous administration’s policies. That was enough to impress the Nobel Committee, to inspire them to award the Peace Prize to the man who personifies the restoration of the United States of America to her rightful place in the world—that of Uniter, not Divider.

I look at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize as having been awarded more to the people of the United States than to the new President. We kicked the bad guys out, and demanded the change that the Obama Administration represents. Let’s just hope that, now, we go forward and implement that change the world so desperately needs to see in us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

If Their Past is Not My Future...What Is?

Since my parents died, I’ve adopted this somewhat morbid habit of recalling what was happening in their lives when they were my age. I look back to see if their fifties, sixties and seventies held anything that I might look forward to in my own life. Perhaps something that bears any resemblance to the dreams I used to have for myself, or, for that matter, anything even vaguely appealing.

In their fifties, my parents saw their first grandchildren born, and their youngest daughter (me) married. Okay, being childless, these are things I will not be anticipating….

Mom and Dad bought a travel trailer, made some little trips around the country, even splurged on a few “flying” vacations. They finally felt “flush” enough to begin their tradition of going out to dinner every Friday night. They were, for the most part, contented empty-nesters, established and comfortable and enjoying the fruits of their labors. But the fact is, they were already winding down in those years. Slowing down and gliding into retirement. My mother was only 59 when my parents retired, for god’s sake.

So why in the hell would I even think I could use my parents’ lives as any kind of template for my own? Could there be a more opposite set of circumstances than where my parents were at my age and where I find myself today? I’m an over-challenged, clueless entrepreneur trying to single-handedly drive to victory the one dream in all my life that I’ve managed to yank out of my head and into reality. Slowing down? I’m still going 100 miles an hour…well, maybe only 80, because that’s as fast as I can go. But my foot is pressed to the floor and I’m calling for every bit of power I can coax out of the old gal. Retirement? What’s that?

But perhaps I’ve figured out why people want to slow down. They want it to last. They want to plant their feet in front of all those years that are tumbling by faster and faster and stop the free-fall. Put out their hands and say, “Wait! Stop! Hold on just a minute! I’M…NOT…DONE…!”

Not so very long ago, my future consisted not of fading dreams of things I hadn’t accomplished, but of all the things I fully intended to do. I would have that a-frame cabin in the woods. I would make that trip to The Continent…spend time…six months, maybe a year. I would rediscover my music and my art; take up piano, and learn to ride, and write for money. I could do these things. I had time.

Now, I look at my life, half-gone…or maybe a little more than half. And I’m so busy and time goes so fast, faster and faster every minute, that I know I’ll never get the chance... Maybe I knew that before…but it still felt good, to dream. To think, yeah...I could do that. Because even if I didn’t have the money or the means or the moxie, I had the time. Which somehow made it all still possible.

What is my future, now? What can I still expect to do…and where am I going to find the time?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Journey of Grief, The Journey of Life

My friend Robin—who is walking a journey of crushing grief caused by the death of her son a little over a year ago—has posted a couple of entries about a conversation she had with a friend over breakfast recently. Wherein the friend seemed to communicate that Robin should be…somewhere else in her journey. Maybe having achieved more distance, more “closure;” thereby making it easier, perhaps, for her friends to begin to relate to her again.

Today, Robin mentioned that her friend had told her, “In the end, the only thing you can do is choose happiness.” Perhaps, if this friend has ever experienced a stunning, incapacitating grief, this is what she believes she did to put it behind her. Personally, I think it’s a flawed concept.

One does not choose happiness, any more than one chooses to grieve. Our emotional states are largely dictated by outside influences over which we have no control. If I witnessed a terrible accident in which hundreds of people died horribly before my eyes, could I then make everything all better by turning around, walking away and choosing to be happy? Hardly.

Still, I know, in my own journey with grief, there were times when I had to choose to step away from the sadness. If only for a few seconds, or a minute, or a couple of hours. At first, it’s almost impossible to do, because you feel the very act of pushing out of the sadness is a betrayal to the memory of the loved one you have lost; a discordant note in a life that now has to be lived without someone too important to lose; a futile exercise in sublimating a pain that will never go away. But, at some point, you realize that you have to walk out of the pain or be totally and forever consumed by it. You want to remember who you were, even though you know you will never be that person again.

And it sticks to you, that a magnetic fog. You may not have a strong grasp on reality outside your grief, but you can be certain of this: that the sadness is always there, it will return and enfold you like a shroud. Days…months…decades after the loss, the sadness is there.

So, no…I’m not living in a place of acute grief any more. Not right now. However, I don’t expect that aspect of life to become anything but more familiar as I move into my own twilight years. I think it would be much harder to face if I hadn’t realized early on that you don’t get over grief. You don’t “recover” from it. Ever. You come to the understanding that the grief—the loss—is now a part of who you are. You embrace it; you pick it up, sling it over your back and keep walking.

In Robin’s post today, she contemplated the purpose of life. Is the purpose of life to be happy? Or is it, as an aspiring Presbyterian minister believes—to know and love God? What’s MY answer?

Certainly life isn’t all about being happy. The pursuit of “happiness” is a somewhat selfish undertaking that can, as often as not, end in disaster, and inflict pain on others. To know and love God? Um…I don’t believe in “God,” at least, not in the sense in which that Power is described and worshipped in our current popular belief systems.

I look at life as a journey. From where and to what, I really have no idea. There is incredible beauty and nearly unendurable sadness to be experienced along the way. There is more love and wonder and worth around the next corner, as surely as there is another tragedy or horror waiting somewhere farther down the road. So you have to keep going. You have to…you have to…pick up the changes and the losses and the tears and the tatters and the heartbreak. Sling them over your back, and keep walking. To do otherwise would cheat yourself, and dishonor this incredible gift—and challenge—that we call “life.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Discontented Rumblings

An amorphous sense of discontent has plagued me lately. An inkling that time is going by much too quickly, and I’m not using it well. A suspicion that no one in my world is happy with me, including me. Small personal goals seem as far outside my reach as lofty universal ones. I can no more keep my bathroom clean than I can achieve world peace. There is not one aspect of my life that I can say is where I think it could be or know it should be.

It’s been more than a year since I emerged from the over-stressed sleep-deprived fog I inhabited for the first two years of running the restaurant. And yet, I feel I’ve accomplished nothing in the past fifteen months. True, I’ve spent most of that recovered energy just keeping the business viable through tough economic times. But I really don’t like the feeling that I’m throwing all my weight into this thing just to keep it from going backward. When do we get to go forward? Ever?

And then there’s Old Age. I don’t feel it creeping up on me. I feel like I’m running full speed away from it, but it’s matching me step for step. And its legs are longer than mine…

When I first began to entertain the notion of buying a business, every "how to" book I read exhorted one to write up a set of goals. Where do you want to be in six months? In a year? In five years? I never took that advice. Something told me that I was stepping off into such alien territory that I couldn’t possibly have a clue where I was going or how long it was going to take me to get there. I guess I looked at my business venture as a "Walkabout." It was all about the journey, not the destination.

As it turns out, that attitude has probably been my salvation, as well as my cross. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t even gone in the same direction I thought I was going when I started out, and it’s a safe bet that I have not achieved anything I would have recognized as "goals" at the outset. "Assemble a crew of workers who will actually show up when they’re scheduled" and "chase down food purveyors who believe Scappoose is forty miles outside of Outer Mongolia" would not have struck me as tasks difficult enough to qualify as goals…and yet, accomplishing just these simple things has been like a quest for the Grail. So if I had said, "I want to have increased sales by 20% and banked 50k in profits after three years," I would be living with failure that was beyond dismal, at this point. If I had not chucked it all months ago, based on my inability to accomplish…anything.

Recently, in the midst of an argument with my grocery rep, he said to me, "You want to be a $1,000,000.00 restaurant, don’t you?" I didn’t have to think very long…I said, "No, Kirk, I just want to make a living. If I wanted to make a million dollars, I sure as hell wouldn’t be running a restaurant in a little bitty town like this."

"I just want to make a living." But I’m not doing that yet. Haven’t taken one dollar out of the damned thing. But the doors are still open, and it’s paying its own bills. Still, I wonder whether I haven’t set my sights too low. Maybe if I had said I wanted to make a million, I would at least be drawing a salary by now. But would that have been enough to motivate me to keep going? Hard to say; but I suspect that if I thought I was going to (or needed to) make any money off this thing in the first five years, I would have been bummed or broke enough to get out by now.

But when people ask me how it’s going, I’m getting a little tired of saying, "Well, we’re not losing money!" as if that was the best I can hope for. At some point, it has to do more than pay for itself.

Doesn’t it?