Monday, November 29, 2010

Success is the Absence of Failure

Recently, my days at the café have become a series of "Lasts…"

On Thursday, we toasted The Last Thanksgiving at the Old Town Café.

We've decorated The Last Christmas Tree(s).

And I'm beginning to think about The Last Christmas Party.

In the months ahead, there will be The Last Valentine's Day Dinner; The Last Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day Brunches. No, wait. No Father's Day. We'll be closed by then. Whew.

I look ahead to these things, not sure whether to dab at my misty eyes, or rub my hands together in anticipation. So conflicted. Guiltily happy; frustratingly maudlin. Shoot me now.

But it got me thinking, today, about success, and failure. What they are. Whether they are. Do success and failure even exist, in the context of personal busyness?

Not "business." Busy-ness. The things we do keep ourselves busy. Occupied. Off the streets and out of trouble. Alive and vital. Interested and in touch. Is success measured only by accomplishment, or in simply doing?

Because it's certainly true that we enjoyed a measure of success with the café. During these challenging economic times, our doors have remained open. We are solvent. Going on five years now. That's about as much as one can ask for, these days. But…it doesn't feel like success, really. Not as I imagine the world defines "success."

But, for me, perhaps the success was just in the doing. Coming as I do from a family of devoted non-risk-takers, the kind of people who get a job and stay with it for as long as it will have them, or as long as they can stand it, 'til death or retirement do they part… It feels like a tremendous victory to have stepped out and actually DONE the thing I thought I wanted most in the world.

That it turned out NOT to be the ultimate solution to my life, NOT my highest and greatest destiny, NOT the thing that completed me…doesn't seem to matter.

Because I would never have known that if I hadn't tried. I would always feel as if I had been short-changed by life, or as if I had short-changed life, if I had not at least given it a go.

Am I disappointed, disillusioned, distressed and exhausted as hell?


But I am NOT a failure.

I am left with that. That tiny leg up…to my next adventure.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Season of Letting Go


We cracked open a bottle of fourteen-year-old Dom Perignon (a years-ago gift that I found when I was cleaning out my pantry on Wednesday)

and drank a toast

to the last Thanksgiving at the Old Town Cafe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Continuing the Journey Part 2

It has felt strange, and at the same time, right…this spiritual path I've chosen. It has helped me to feel grounded, and yet lifted me out of the mire of my ambivalent feelings toward the café. I had consulted a friend who is knowledgeable about these things back in August. It was she who presented me with my "tools;" she who told me how to use them. She spoke for a long time while I listened and didn't say much. Tried to absorb the things she told me, but in the end, only one or two seemed to stick in my brain. She spoke of acquiring an inner peace; and of maintaining and guarding that peace. In negative encounters with other people, she said, "Don't let them steal your peace."

Inner peace. How that concept appealed to me! I've not known too many moments of peace in my life. My brain just moves too fast; my body tries to follow it. It seems I am never at peace, never still, never quiet. And after the last four years of endless toil, apprehension and frustration, I hunger for that peace more than anything else. Still, the tools and the herbs sat unused on my dresser for months, before my craving for peace overcame my timidity about going solo with the smudging ritual. I did not want to disrespect the ritual by doing it wrong or making stupid blunders. Eventually, I made up my mind that the Almighty would look kindly on my intention, even if I did make mistakes. So, one morning, I just…did it. And, honestly, I felt an immediate blessing. As if the Universe was saying, "This is a good start. We will walk together from here, and you will learn."

As my teacher/friend explained to me, the smudging ritual can be done any time, as often as necessary. She said, "I smudge myself all the time; anytime I feel I've lost my peace. And, believe me, you'll know when you've lost it." Oh, yes…you do know.

I have been doing well at maintaining my peace…going longer and longer without losing it or letting it be taken from me. But Saturday, I could feel it getting away. As the day wore on, I became more easily annoyed; frustrated and depressed. It is an unfortunate fact of our convoluted relationship that the husband is quite often the culprit who steals my peace; and therefore suffers the backlash thereof. By the end of the day I was seeing our marriage from that dark despairing place in which I too often find myself. I was peeved with him because it seemed he had spent the entire day running away from me. I went to bed cranky, slept poorly and awoke resentful as hell. And sad and wistful, and wondering what exactly I could give the man I married that would make him happy with me again. It felt like the beginning of another of those "awash" days, and I did not want to go there.

It was obvious that I needed to perform the ritual…but I couldn't do it as I usually do—standing in my bathroom in front of my vanity mirror. I have decided it's best to keep this a private ritual, and the husband—though he knows of it, doesn't really understand. Or approve. Or something. So lighting the sage and appealing to the Powers of the Four Directions with my sleeping husband ten feet away did not seem…a way to invite respect for the ceremony. It occurred to me that I needed to take my tools elsewhere. Where better to connect with the Powers than my favorite place to commune with the natural world—the path on the dike?

As I scrambled out of my pajamas and packed my paraphernalia, husband climbed out of bed and asked where I was going.

Away from YOU. "For a walk."

"Do you want company?"

Are you kidding? "No."

Ugh! I need to get out of here before I start something that won't be pretty. I threw myself and my things in my van and drove away.

Ninety-nine percent of my problems, of the angst with which I live every day, can be traced back to one fact: I think too much. My mind is never still. Confronted by something bad or difficult, my brain will chew on it and worry it and turn it over and over until I either come up with a solution or go slightly nuts. Much of the benefit I derive from the smudging ceremony comes from the act of attempting to turn off my brain and be present IN the moment. Not praying, or listening, or creating a conversation with the Almighty in my head. It's more a willful turning away from my inward-twisting turmoil, allowing myself to spread outward. Outside of my head. Out into what is larger and infinitely greater than my puny personal battles.

Sunday morning, I tried to pry my brain away from the dilemma of my marriage, and how its problems are inextricably tangled with the restaurant and its problems. I was swirling down into that dark place…I knew it, but I couldn't stop it. I parked the car at my destination, and the voices of a small flock of cranes grabbed me and yanked me out of that downward spiral. They were flying low over the dike not far away, fluting their singular calls to one another, off in search of a good field in which to enjoy their communal breakfast. I hurried up the path to get a better look, my woes temporarily forgotten.

So that was the tone for my walk that morning. I would try to empty myself, to disengage from my inner turmoil. I would walk in silence and calm for a few feet, a few yards, let myself become part of the soft, damp air, the pebbles under my feet, the water and the trees and the sky. But then my heavy mood would drag me away from the endlessness…to fall upon a problem or a worry and begin to wrap myself around it again.

But the Universe was having none of that from me. I had gone to Mother Earth, seeking my peace. And I was going to find it if the She had to slap me upside the head with it. As I walked, my eyes on the ground and my step quick and angry, the normally subdued nature of the wetlands called out to me, insisting on my attention. Tiny juncos and sparrows darted across my path and rustled in the underbrush a few feet away. Always enchanted by birds of any kind, I had to stop and talk to them. Further on, a prehistoric croak from the field across the dike road drew my eyes to a heron in full view, stalking awkwardly across a gravel trail, heading for the grassland to hunt for frogs. I paused and watched him for several minutes; I could feel the knot inside me loosen. I could expand, take in, become one with the natural world, which was not going to allow me to ignore it this morning.

I approached the turn-around point of my walk—the old wooden utility scaffold crowned with an osprey nest. I had decided that would be the place that I would draw out my sage and my matches and perform my ceremony. A few yards from my destination, an unusual voice floated across the channel. A melodious, hooting call I had never heard. I thought it must be an owl; but, then, owls don't travel in flocks, and there were several voices hooting. As I scanned the shore for the source, a group of large, light-colored birds emerged from a thicket of trees. The main body of the flock flew east toward the interior of the island, their white wings flickering against the dull gray sky. A small group of a half dozen or so birds broke off and flew toward me, over my head and on to the grazing lands to the west. Fat white birds with long necks and graceful wingbeats.

Swans. Mother Earth had given me swans. I thanked her as I stood at the foot of the osprey tower and prepared my ceremony.

I lit the sage, purified myself, appealed to the powers of the four winds to help me find my peace, to help me protect my peace. I decided this would be a good place to purify my crystals as well. I drew the stone hearts out of my pocket and held them in the smoke. First the amethyst, and then the rose quartz. Rose quartz. The mineral governing the heart and relationships. I held that pink heart in the sacred smoke and the thought sneaked into my mind. What can I give my husband that will show him…show him that I love him? It was just a thought, a question. It passed from my mind as I extinguished the sage and packed my things away, but, I think, it hung in the air just above my head. A few yards down the path, on my journey home, these words formed clearly in my head. Almost as if someone was standing next to me and spoke them aloud.

"If you love him, leave him alone."

Not precisely what I wanted to hear. But I knew exactly what it meant. Quit badgering him. Quit trying to "draw him out" about the things going on in your head, in your lives, in your marriage. That is not his way. Yes. I get it. And it makes perfect sense, actually.

I would finish my walk with a much lighter heart and a new resolve…though a resolve to what, I can't really say. Perhaps a resolve to stop despairing over and trying to "fix" our relationship, and to just let it be what it is. That is the path to greater happiness for us both, I think.

It was good to feel I had come to Mother Earth for refreshment, and I had received it. But She was not done with me yet.

As I neared the end of my trail, I heard loud, piercing screeches echoing over the marina. Not gulls. Louder and deeper. I scanned the sky, searching for the source, and saw four huge, dark birds wheeling and cavorting, chasing each other from the trees, out over the water and back again. As I drew closer, flashes of white, heads and tails, identified the screechers: Eagles. I slid down the shoulder of the dike and stumbled to the water's edge. Two of the birds broke away and flew right to where I stood on the bank. Sailed directly over my head, almost close enough to touch…wheeled and returned to their game above the water. As if they had seen me…ME…and come over to greet me.

I said "hi" back. And thank you. With tears misting my eyes and trickling to the end of my nose.

The spirit guide I thought had deserted me, returned—four-fold—to show me I had not been abandoned. That I would not BE abandoned. Ever. To show me I was SO on the right path, and I would not be walking it alone.

No experience I had ever had in the context of traditional religion had ever left me feeling more known, more cherished, by a Power far beyond myself. And with a knowledge that I had indeed received something great and precious this day from the Almighty.

Fitting, I suppose, that it was a Sunday morning. The first day of the week. A good day to start a journey.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Continuing the Journey

For many years, now, I have been a "seeker." Indeed, maybe I have been so all of my life. There is a hunger inside me for connection to things of the Spirit. An impatience with a life lived amongst and dedicated to material things alone. And an instinctive understanding that mankind doesn't always know what we "know;" that there is so much more to The Almighty—to the author of the Universe—than we even allow ourselves to consider.

That spiritual hunger and intolerance for pretense led me away from the Catholic Church—the church of my birth and the first third of my life; into the web of fundamentalist Christianity (and out again) as a young adult; and finally to face the Big Questions in my own mind and on my own terms. Which, incidentally, has turned into my personal credo: that one's understanding of and connection to the things of the Spirit are fundamentally individual and personal. And should be respected as such.

Human religions have evolved to be as much—maybe more—about community than they are about spirituality. Humans seem to have an instinctive need to gather with others of our own kind. That's all well and good. But when you combine that need with another instinctive need—the need to connect to the Powers that control and direct the Universe, the Earth, and thus, our very selves—things get out of kilter very quickly. A group of like-minded humans assembled to seek, commune with or worship the Power all too quickly becomes a club…a clique…a gathering of the elite. Something that you either embrace or you don't. And if you don't, then you are not with us. If you are not with us, you must be against us. And so it descends into…all the evil that we human beings have the power to inflict upon one another.

I'm willing to concede that there are religious folks out there who do not strap bombs to themselves, or gallop off on Crusades, or believe that they have been charged by the Universe to conscript every person they meet into the ranks of whatever particular brand of "Almighty Worship" they follow. Not every Christian, Muslim, Jew or Hindu is a wild-eyed zealot. And to those folks I tip my hat, bow, and say, "Whatever gets you through the night…who am I to take that away from you?" And request that they do me the same courtesy.

In practice, what this makes me is one of the few people I know who is not afraid that a lightning bolt with my name on it is balanced in the hand of the Almighty, ready to be hurled if I color outside traditional religious lines.

As someone who is drawn to nature and the earth, I've begun to explore Native American spirituality, along with an odd mixture of eastern and vaguely Wiccan rituals. I wish that I had the time to thoroughly research and weigh every belief system. But right now, for me, it's a matter of choosing things, from whatever corner of the world, that speak to my own spirit. So I've acquired an abalone shell, a feather and some dried white sage; and two stone hearts—one carved from amethyst, the other from rose quartz. The amethyst for power, the quartz for love. I light the sage and purify myself and my places with the sacred smoke. I carry the hearts as reminders of my connection to the Power, and of my intention to bless my relationships with others.

I have turned to these sacred objects and these simple rituals to guide me through yet another major life change. And I have found power and comfort in these things. So I have to believe that the Universe honors my desire to connect to and revere the things of the Spirit.

And now I have laid the foundation for the story of my amazing time on the dike this morning. Which I will share in my next post….

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Peace? Have I made peace with the coming major change in my life? It seems as if I have…at least for now. I don't quite know where the peace is coming from. But I won't chase it away…

I have a feeling that it partly comes from knowing that there will be an end to this. A stopping point. A point at which I can sit down, wipe my brow and declare, "Done!" For the past four years, I have not had the luxury of even considering that option.

When you run a business—a business that you have no business running by yourself—you are NEVER done. There is never a time when you can sit back, look at it and say, "I DID it." There is never a sense of achievement. You hardly have enough time to pat one accomplishment into place before turning to confront the Pile of UN-done things that you never seem to be able to get to. Pick one and start hammering away at it. Accomplish it, or not, depending on how many other fires you have to put out in the process. Meanwhile, ten other things have been added to the Pile.

I'm sure there are people out there who can live this way. Maybe there are even people who thrive under the pressure. There was a time when I thought I was one of those. And, truthfully, if I had only had to face that kind of life for one or maybe two years—kinda what I thought it would be when we went into it—I might have made it. But it just went on too long. Too many years of not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Too many years of juggling…always with one or two things popping out of the pile I was trying to juggle and clattering away across the stage. And no lovely assistant to at least pick them up for me and chuck them back.

So now I can at least say, "In six months, I'll be DONE."

I'm finding it's a marvelous thing to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Today, we broke the news to our landlord that we would not be renewing our lease. That's as official as it gets, I guess. And when he asked why, it was a lot easier to answer than I thought it would be.

"Basically, I cannot do this by myself anymore."

I'm surprised at how eagerly I have embraced this…this dissolution of the thing I thought I wanted more than anything else in the world. Mr. Landlord started making noises to the effect of giving us a month-to-month lease if we haven't sold the business by the time the lease is up.

"Absolutely not," I shot back, almost before the words had finished leaving his lips. "As of June 30, I'm done. Period. I'd be done as of today if I could."

We spoke to an agent last night…who basically told us we'd be lucky if we could GIVE away a business in this economic climate. Oddly enough, that didn't bother me. I knew there was a strong possibility that we would end up locking the doors and liquidating rather than turning the keys over to a new owner. In some ways, that is a far more attractive option to me than having to possibly train my replacement. For many reasons—some emotional, some practical—it will be a lot easier to just brush the dust from my hands and ride off into the sunset.

So, yeah…I'm counting the days. In fact, I realized today that it may be a much shorter time than I thought. I was thinking in terms of June 30—the day our lease is up—being my last day of work. Then I realized we will probably be closing the doors more like May 31—since we will only be responsible for paying June's rent, and that money comes out of May's proceeds.

Six months, then. Six months and twenty days, to be precise.

Yeah. I'm all over that.


Saturday, November 6, 2010


The next 237 days promise to be a long slog. It will not be an easy thing to pour the lion's share of my life force into something at which I have come to acknowledge I am not succeeding. I have no more idea how to disengage myself from the café than I had of how to run it, when I started the journey four years ago. It will be, again, a voyage of discovery. Though this time, I'm afraid, it will be a journey fraught with regrets and studded with "coulda, woulda, shoulda's". I am not looking forward to it.

And so I've been giving a lot of thought, lately, to how to coax some lemonade out of this particular lemon. I know I can't spend the next eight months rising in the morning with a heavy heart, dragging it around like a ball and chain through twelve-hour shifts at the restaurant, and having it sit like an anvil on my chest every night in my sleep-deprived bed. I will need to make a conscious effort to lighten the load. It occurred to me that I will need to seek out and cultivate joy in my life.

Joy has seemed so far away to me for too long a time. I had to sit and really think about what brings me joy. Or what brought me joy when I still had the capacity to feel it. But even just taking the time to think about these things brought a tiny smile to my lips and pried a stone or two off my heavy heart.

Here's the list:

My fur-children—seven cats and the dog.

Birds—my "yard pets."

Walks—on the dike, or through the neighborhoods,
or anywhere.

Working in my yard, digging in the dirt.


The ocean.


Playing with my camera.

So, starting today, I'm shucking off the "ant" persona and embracing the "grasshopper." No more work, work, work, without even a stolen moment of respite.

I think I'll just sit on the fence and fiddle for awhile…