Sunday, April 24, 2011

Community and Gratitude

This entity, this blog, would never have come into being without the original "AOL Journal" concept, launched onto the (then considerably smaller) Internet Sea back in 2003. I stowed away on that ship almost the minute it hit the water; eventually, I became brave enough to venture out of my hiding place on board and sidle up to the community that had established itself and grown there. Here on this ethereal page, I have repeatedly analyzed the schizophrenic attraction of internet relationships; and subsequently, lamented long and hard the demise of our original "AOL j-land" community.

Oh, blog "communities," continue to thrive. But they are based upon specific things, common interests such as religion, politics, careers, ethnicity, hobbies… whatever. "Journal Land" was singular in that it was a community tied together by nothing more than the place itself. And what a tremendous place it was to learn and to grow. I "met" great friends there, of diverse interests and far-flung geography. Friends with whom I continue to communicate, though not as intimately as during those extraordinary days of the infancy of internet society.

About the same time as I reached for my dream of owning my own business, two of my close j-land friends also grabbed hold of similar brass rings in their own lives—which events were all well-documented in our respective blogs. Three souls connected by those strong yet mysterious ethereal ties, set about to achieve the goals of a lifetime. Each believing, at the outset, that she was embarking upon the path of true fulfillment.

Five years down the road, we find ourselves…somewhere. A place that is not entirely where we believed we were headed when we started out. Observers not in the know might venture that we had failed; we did not achieve the desires of our hearts. We are not lying back upon our laurels, satisfied, fulfilled. But, oh…what we have learned. And are learning still. We are, in fact, accomplishing what life is all about: Growth.

In my own situation, I can only be humbly grateful for the perspective this loosely-yet-tightly-knit community has given me on the events of the last five years. Because I am certain that, absent the firsthand knowledge that things don't always work out for everybody (not just me)…I would, right now, be paralyzed with doubt and self-loathing. Time and time again, in my solitary and circumscribed little life, I have run head-on into barriers, or failed miserably at some undertaking, and come away with the myopic conclusion that, "I suck at everything." (If I had a dollar for every time I've wailed, "I can't do ANYTHING right!" I'd be a rich woman.) But this time, THIS time, I have been allowed to share similar learning experiences in lives of people I care about. So, the closing of my restaurant becomes, rather than a mortifying personal failure, simply another example of life happening to someone who stepped out and took a risk; who reached for a prize, and ended up with…a prize, perhaps—but not the one that was the original target.

So I thank these two friends; you may or may not know who you are. You are so special to me.

We have learned, in our parallel universes, that you can't not. Write. Live. Learn. Grow.

May we continue to inspire one another.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Last Lap

The older I get, the more I am struck by the necessity to cherish each day as it comes, to live each to the fullest, to appreciate and savor NOW…and under no circumstances—fair wind or foul—to wish the days away.

And therein lies the battle being fought in my mind and heart right now: There are seventeen of those pesky little buggers (days) between me and a long rest on a warm sandy beach. The days promise to be full enough—I have two "events" this weekend, plus a Mothers' Day Brunch to plan, execute, and survive. I think I can make it. I think I can…

But if I listen to the little guy in the red suit with the forked tail and the horns, the one who is sitting on my left shoulder whispering in my ear, I can hear, "Why not just close it up now? Who will it hurt? Why should you toss away two more weeks of your life on top of the 220 you've already dumped into this venture which…has not been exactly a success?" Oh…that little demon is making a lot of sense right now.

But no…I won't do it. I'll see this thing through to the end. Hoping the Universe will grant me deafness to that pesky little voice, and little joys and victories to keep my head above water until I reach that beach. My feet are almost touching the bottom, now…

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring is Here…?

The weather has been atrocious this spring in the Pacific Northwest. We had record rainfall in March…something like 27 days of rain out of the month's 31. And it was COLD rain…often not much warmer than the mid-forties in the valleys, and lots of snow in the higher elevations. I suppose there is the argument that 2/3 of the month of March is still officially winter; but even in winter we can generally expect a few sunny days here and there.

April has not started out to be much of an improvement. We've had rain, hail, thunderstorms and everything in between. (Though I can't quite figure out where the t-storms are coming from; those are supposed to result from the clash between cold air and warm air. What warm air, I beg to inquire…?) The days when it actually doesn't rain, the sun sort of peeks out for awhile, but as soon as it seems it might actually provide a few BTU's, the clouds roll in and the sun goes into hiding.

Forget working in the garden. The garden soil is the consistency of gumbo. Really c-o-l-d gumbo. Not good for sinking my poor arthritic fingers into, and not good for small plants to dip their tiny roots into. So the greenhouse is filling up with plants waiting for conditions to improve.

Yet, though it seems we're stuck in winter, Nature's cycle continues. The flowering trees bloomed late and sporadically, but bloom they did…wasting the display of their finery against a roiling grey sky. Daffodils bravely provided bright spots in the landscape when the sun would not. My hydrangeas, shrubs and Japanese maples are stubbornly leafing out in the cold and gloom. And, of course the grass is green and growing again, but it's too wet to mow it. Walking in my lawn is like treading on a gigantic sodden sponge, ankle deep in overgrown grass.

The parade of bird life goes on no matter what. The grosbeaks that have been with me all winter (and have managed to pack away about 160 lbs of sunflower seed) are still raiding the feeders by the dozens several times a day. The junco population is dwindling, as the hardier ones begin to make their way to their summering grounds in the hills and mountains. New faces (beaks?) have made their appearance in my backyard scene: We have a white-crowned sparrow, and the rufous hummingbirds are back, battling the over-wintering Anna's for domination of the feeders. (This year, however, the male Anna's is not giving up without a fight!)

This morning, as I roamed the yard filling the feeders, I heard the calls of a large flock of Sandhill cranes as they spiraled higher and higher, looking to catch the thermal airstream that will carry them back to their breeding grounds. As I waved goodbye to the cranes, a chipper little "orca-bird" dipped and spun over my head, and the wave became a salute to the return of the swallows.

And so it goes. And soon…SOON…I will have the luxury of more time than I have had in a really LONG time, to snuggle close to the breast of Mother Earth and lose myself in her heartbeat.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Not to Say…

Over the past couple of decades, I've noticed the advent of two parallel yet warring tendencies when it comes to human interaction.

On the one hand, there's the "Say Anything" trend. This is in direct contrast to the (apparently) outdated maxim that "Silence is Golden." American society seems to detest silence, to the point where we now must fill every moment of our lives with some kind of noise. Most of which issues forth from someone's mouth; without even allowing for a second or two of pause to THINK about whether that utterance might be useful, welcome, or even appropriate. (In fact, in the case of most of our 21st-century media noise, the rule would be "the less appropriate the better.")

Gaining popularity alongside this phenomenon has been what I'll call the "Thin-Skinned Movement." People take offense at anything and everything. First, we no longer ignore perceived slights. We don't waste time or moral fortitude focusing upon the intent of someone trying to console, encourage or commiserate with us. If they don't say exactly the right words at exactly the right time, we throw up our hands and fume, "What the *&#@ is the matter with them?!?" Secondly, the new rule is that there is no such thing as a verbal gaffe or an unintentionally inconsiderate misstatement. We scrutinize every word—especially of any public figure or entity—searching for things that insult or annoy us. (You'd think we could put our time to better use…?) Then we make a very public and very messy stink about it, loading up the courts with lawsuits and endlessly escalating the generally antagonistic atmosphere that exists everywhere you turn.

Come to think of it, who knows that the "Thin-Skinned Movement" wasn't indeed spawned by "Say Anything?" It's no longer de rigueur to think before we open our mouths, or even to just shut up. Skin endlessly pounded by verbal barrages might tend to become somewhat thin, I suppose…

My feeling about all this is that we should just chillax and figure out how to get along. If we don't, it's going to be a short and mine-filled road to hell for us and our society-at-large. We need to get over this "It's-all-about-ME" attitude that we have so lovingly embraced, and go back to basics like "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," "Love your neighbor as you love yourself," and "Before you criticize your brother, walk a mile in his moccasins."

Now, however, I find myself in a situation where, as the word gets out about the café closing, I'm going to be the target of all kinds of attempts at advice, consolation and commiseration. In my chronically exhausted and stressed-out state, it will be an interesting (to say the least) study to see how well I can walk the walk. For instance, when a little old customer reacts to the news by advising, "Hey, you should sell out to old Frank over there. He needs something for his wife to do," I should probably NOT respond with, "Oh…he wants to kill her?" (Yes, this actually happened yesterday… I really need to slap myself upside the head for that one.)

I think that I will probably be doing a lot of hiding out in the kitchen for the next three weeks… J

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Next Installment

Already almost two weeks into the month of April, and I haven't posted anything. My life right now is entirely centered on the café and getting out from under it. And probably no one is really interested in hearing much more about the ups and downs of this particular endeavor. But then, hey…I don't actually write for an audience any more, do I? So, to hell with it. Here's the next chapter in the continuing saga.

I could never have expected things to play out the way they have. Six months ago, I was exhausted, sad, beaten and humiliated. The decision not to renew our lease, not to continue on with the café, was an act of capitulation. Surrender. I had lost. "It" had won (whatever "It" was…Life? Old Age? My own inner demons?) The idea of slogging through another half a year of all the hard work it would take just to bring my responsibilities associated with the place to a clean and logical close, made me want to dissolve and disappear into a crack in the floor. I felt like I was in a pit at the foot of a mountain I had to climb, but I didn't even have enough energy left to tie my shoes.

Time is generally not kind to me, these days. It sometimes drags me along in its wake in a most undignified manner, sometimes leaves me completely in the dust. It has let me know in no uncertain terms that it is going fast and there is not much of it left to grab onto. And it is slippery, like a greased pig.

But in this instance, Time's tendency toward "fast-forward" has been a gift; an unexpected ally. Every hour, every day that I spent, either cowering under my fears or putting my head down and bulling my way through the daily grind of running the place, got me closer to…where I was going. Yes, I did have to steel myself to tie those damn shoes and start climbing out of the pit and up the mountain. But with every step I took, it seems like Time lowered the mountain by three feet.

So, here I am. Less than four weeks left. Not only am I still alive, but I feel like I'm walking briskly on level ground, the mountain reduced to no more than a speed bump about fifty yards down the road.

I thought I would be devastated, when the time came to actually lock the doors. I thought, "What a sad and dreary end to what I always believed was my life's fondest dream!"

But it's not turning out that way.

Though we haven't made an official announcement, we have more or less let the word leak out that we will be closing next month. When I told my hair stylist (her salon is right across the street) her reaction was, "Oh, that's terrible! I'm so sorry!" And the words, "I'm not!" jumped immediately, almost unbidden, from my lips. One of her girls was at the counter yesterday, and said to me, "I hear there's sad news…" To which I quickly replied, "Sad? I'm not sad! I can't tell you how sad I'm not!"

All I can think is, if I play my cards right, I will have the entire month of July off. OFF. All to myself. I'm already plotting (cheap) ways to thoroughly enjoy that time. Camping. Gardening. A retreat. Maybe a train trip somewhere, all by myself. (One of the slightly sad but ultimately liberating lessons I am taking away from this experience is that I AM myself, and not half of a couple—as I have seen myself for, oh, about 35 years now.) The prospect is more tantalizing than anything I've experienced in a Really. Long. Time.

Nope. I am not sad. I am stoked.

Next adventure, here I come!