Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting Away

Yachats, Oregon August 31, 2011

Gray jays and chipmunks are swarming around the suet cake and the seed plate. Now and then, a Steller’s jay swoops in to fill its face till it can no longer close its beak, then flies away to hide the stash; but the noisy blue and black “hat-birds” really prefer whole peanuts to the fare presented on my bird table. Another camper’s annoying mutt has started yapping…the birds don’t pay any attention, but I mentally muzzle it with its own leash, hog-tie it and throw it in its owner’s trunk.

This is Day Nine of MY vacation. Two weeks ago, with the last of the café woes and our big Scandinavian event behind us, I was desperate for rest. Husband, of course, was of a different mind. Every day, practically every moment, he had a project that needed doing. I dragged along behind him while we cleaned out the garage, emptied the truck and the trailer, tweaked the drip irrigation (all things I knew would need to be done in any case, if we were to have any chance at all of escape.) I even went out and bought a new vacuum (woo-hoo!) and did a little nesting in an effort to keep myself occupied while I waited for him to figure out we needed a vacation. Now.

But when the husband requested account numbers and passwords so he could start banging away on the year-end taxes (which don’t, obviously, need to be done until year’s end...) I threw in the towel. Evidently, I was the only one who was absolutely out of creative and functional gas. I hitched up my big-girl panties and announced, “I’m leaving next Tuesday to go camping. I figure to be gone through Labor Day. Would you like to join me for any or all of that time?” Kind of went over like a fart in church, I’m afraid.

Unfortunately, we are still in the place where doing anything together, including trying to plan or take time off, is impossible. We bicker about it and go to bed angry. Not the kind of fate I want to tempt right now. I’m too tired to be angry, too exhausted to fight. So I have put myself in “It’s All About Me” mode. I’ll make the plans, and if he chooses to join me, fine. Which is not much different from the way our lives have always been, except that I’ve always felt guilty about it. Not this time. Maybe not ever again.

We used to camp a lot, in our little 80’s motor home, when we had jobs that did not consume our entire lives, and we still found joy in being alone together. I cherish the memory of our favorite campground on the coast. The place with the creek and the pines and the birds that will eat right out of your hand, and the ocean right across the street. We’d make a fire in the morning and sit by it all day, drinking espresso and munching on goodies we had brought from the bakery I managed. We’d shell peanuts and feed the jays and the chipmunks. We’d go to the beach and throw bread for the gulls, walk for miles, filling our pockets with shells and stones and bits of driftwood. Then we’d head back to camp and perhaps burn a steak in the dark over the campfire; or we’d clean up and head to one of the little nearby towns to share dinner and a glass of wine next to a great window overlooking the waves.

This time, I packed my clothes, food, books, laptop and crafty stuff into the empty wreck of a trailer that we bought to get us and our equipment to and from events; hooked it to the loud, smelly beast of a pick-up we also acquired for the business that eventually ate our lives, and drove away alone. Headed, by god, for that treasured venue. Knowing, somehow, that it would be a place of respite and solace for me even sans my other half.

I had in mind immersing myself in writing and beading (my new hobby); reading and walking; a time to nourish my body, my mind and my creative muse. But it’s funny how the Universe knows what you need. Often, it turns out to be something completely other than what you thought you needed. Birds, chipmunks, squirrels and bunnies. Sleep and music and cooking over the fire. The cheerful company of my sister and her husband, who decided to join me one day into my solitary sojourn. Shopping and picnicking and eating pizza on the tailgate of my brother-in-law’s pick-up. These are the things I have needed. I have not needed phone service, or news, or an internet connection.

I have also not needed, as it turns out, solitude, time to think, or time to hone my creativity. Alone time brings me much too close to things from which I need distance, and I haven’t possessed enough creative energy to draw a smiley face, much less write anything worth wasting the time over. Being here alone would have been maudlin, frustrating and boring, and I’m so glad the Universe made sure I got what I needed instead of what I thought I wanted.

My sister and her husband have sprinted back over to Eugene to take care of some business, leaving me alone long enough to think too much and bang on my laptop for a few hours. I’ll take my slightly sandy computer out to civilization and try to find somewhere I can get a drink and an internet connection, so I can post this. I need to get off my butt and out of my head or I’m going to be in trouble.

And the husband arrives tonight, turning the last five days of MY vacation into OUR vacation. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll try to leave myself open to getting out of it whatever the Universe thinks I need.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Clinging and Releasing

Twenty years and three houses ago, we yanked our (then) living room out of the dark-paneled, cave-like seventies and heaved it into the nineties, with vaulted ceilings, skylights, and pastel wicker furniture right out of the south-Florida ambience of “The Golden Girls.” The coffee table we chose to complete the ensemble consisted of a massive piece of beveled tempered glass perched atop a white plaster and burnished metal altar that we eventually came to call “the ark of the covenant;” because that was what it looked like. In our smallish living room, it was the perfect combination of big enough to be functional, but transparent enough to take up no visual space at all. Perfect!

But almost immediately, that table’s glow of perfection began to fade. For one thing, glass-topped furniture and a houseful of pets do not mix. What in another home would be a neat, sparkling element becomes a multi-spotted housecleaning nightmare in mine, speckled with everything from kitty footprints, dog-drool and hairball remnants on top to multiple nose-prints on the bottom. Daily scrubbing might keep the thing presentable…but in a household where the human inhabitants have rarely been known to spend more than about 25% of their waking hours, that was a no-go.

And the magical property of the great sheet of glass to “take up no visual space” was a double-edged sword. Every shin that spent more than a couple hours in my living room became painfully aware that my “invisible” coffee table was anything but insubstantial.

Over the next twenty years, we moved three times, acquired and switched out at least four suites of living room furniture (since everyone knows that the furniture assembled for a certain space will almost certainly not work in another.) Oddly enough, the one piece that followed us everywhere was that gigantic, inconvenient and un-hygienic chunk of glass. We ditched the “ark of the covenant” almost immediately, but the glass proved handy. You could plant it atop any chest or trunk and, voilá, a custom-made coffee table. It was the perfect accessory for the shoestring budget home decorator; and so it was carefully packed and trundled from house to house. (Not that the thing would break if you lit a stick of dynamite under it…)

I truly believe that objects absorb some of the energy of the lives and events to which they bear silent witness. That piece of glass “knew” my sister, gone sixteen years now. It held decades of Christmas ornaments, staged on it between packing box and tree and back again. Half a dozen lovingly remembered pets had slid across it or stared quizzically up at me from beneath it. It was part of the story of our home; and though it has been monstrously inconvenient in my current tiny living room—its eternal spots highlighted brilliantly by the morning sun pouring in an east window, and its invisible girth barking nearly every shin attempting to navigate the traffic pattern through the room—there it remained.

About a year ago, I began half-heartedly keeping an eye out for a replacement: Something more twenty-first century. Something that could do double duty as a table and a footrest. Something that took up less than 25% of the width of the room.

Yesterday, we found it: a tufted leather storage ottoman on sale at Costco. Finally…no more sunlit paw-, nose- or puke-prints. No more limb-numbing collisions between bone and glass. No more crab-walk ooching between the furniture and the coffee table. Just a sleek, padded leather rectangle situated primly in front of the loveseat, inviting feet, glassware and bark-free navigation through the newly-opened space. Perfect!

I pulled the gigantic, heavy slab aside and slipped its replacement into its place of honor. That unwieldy piece of glass, heavy with memories, stuck to my hands and my mind as if it were glued. It had to go. I knew it had to go. I have nowhere to put it, and in any case, it had become more a pain than a treasure. And yet… Could I not put it somewhere? Should I not wrap it up and slide it against a wall in the garage; save it…

For what? The Second Coming? I shook my head, opened the front door and slid it out to the husband, who loaded it into the van for its trip to the Goodwill donation site. I watched it drive away, relief and dismay playing tug-of-war across my heart. I am mourning that piece of glass. Silly. The things you cling to in life.

Three months ago, the thing I thought I most wanted to do—the thing I truly believed would give my life a degree of happiness, fulfillment and sense of accomplishment that it had previously utterly lacked—came to an end. I had sunk five years’ worth of every creative atom I possessed into it. It eventually literally became my entire life. But I couldn’t make it work. It didn’t make me happy. It didn’t fulfill me. And I certainly didn’t accomplish anything. So I walked away. No clinging, no crying, no regrets, no fond memories. A clean break, no “what-if’s”, no mourning.

Apparently, my five-year foray into restaurant ownership made a less lasting impression on me than a forty-pound slab of memory-laden tempered glass. I was not even tempted to wrap up that restaurant and put it in my garage in case I changed my mind about it later.

Funny. The things you are more than willing to release from your life.

I do wonder a bit what my things—the things I cling to, the things I release—say about me. But, you know? I don’t really feel as if I’ve made the wrong choices.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Squash Watch Week 3/4

I'll bet you thought I gave up, didn't you? Or that the poor little things themselves had given up?

No...nothing so undependable or dramatic. It's just that I was away all last week doing our Scandinavian thing in Eugene.

I was forced to, once again, entrust the lives of my squash plants to the intrepid husband. This time, I tried to make as many provisions as I could for their protection before I left them alone. I bade the husband purchase timers for the irrigation. I snuggled an additional sprinkler close to their feet--the back-up plan in case the drippers failed. I Miracle-Grow-ed them, patted them on the heads, and left town.

And crossed my fingers. do they look?

Week 4

They're obviously not dead. Not even the worse for wear, I'd say. In fact, they have decided to try to look a bit more like squash plants. See how they're actually beginning to spread horizontally across the ground? The only thing they're missing is flowers. Which means, of course, that a harvest is still questionable.

Down in Eugene, I had an attack of "squash envy..." My sister already has an acorn squash the size of a softball on her vine. Of course, hers were planted in a timely manner in an actual garden before they were half-dead...

In any case, I have live squash plants. And they're at least a nice green thing filling up a space that would have otherwise been a strip of weed-riddled dirt.

Keep your fingers crossed that we see a flower or two by next week!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Now I am finally on the other side of all my business obligations for the year. I’m walking into that light at the end of the tunnel. Stepping into that place of rest and refreshment toward which I have been stretching my neck since last October.

So why do I feel like crap?

There’s no question that the event we just finished took a lot of starch out of me; a commodity of which I am down to my last paltry grains, in any case. It was a busy week, sometimes crazy-busy, and we did well. Record sales, in fact. But it wasn’t very fun. I was not in my happy place. I would have liked to have sailed through this event with grace and gratitude; I had planned on doing precisely that. Instead, I felt out-of-sorts and cantankerous. Nothing seemed to go smoothly and I was impatient with everyone.

Luckily, my crew was comprised of my family, who seem inclined to cut me plenty of slack. So we’re still speaking to each other. I suppose I should follow their lead and cut myself some slack; but I’m not leaning in that direction. I’m in “Beat Myself Up” mode right now, and I’m indulging in a bit of wallowing.

Here I am, on the threshold of the opportunity to do anything I want (within reason.) Why am I feeling sad and intimidated? Maybe it’s because the shadows I have not allowed to fall on me, because I needed every lumen of light and life to get me through this ending, are able to close in on me now. The thoughts I wouldn’t—couldn’t—entertain, the ones having to do with failure and heartbreak and wasted time, are encroaching and filling up the space vacated by Things That Have to Get Done.

There’s no outrunning them now. No “I’ll just get involved in this project and I won’t have to think about that.” All the garbage, all the deferred emotion, is right where I can see it and touch it. Daring me to deal with it.

And it kind of scares the hell out of me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding My Way

Not all arts are created equal. Some, like cooking or acting, are essentially social activities—think Mama Celeste spreading her arms and exclaiming “Abbondanza!” to the crowd at her dining table. Others, like composing music or painting, are intensely personal. Ninety-five percent of the creative process takes place inside the head of the artist, where no one else can see or help, or even unravel the mysterious mechanics of it.

I am a writer. My talent is one of those inward, solitary pursuits. I’m uniquely suited for it: I am fine by myself, even crave time alone with my own thoughts. I don’t like to be bossed; nor do I particularly care for being the boss. I work best on my own time, at my own speed, without distraction or interruption. I’m a deep and obsessive thinker. So, as it turned out, my brand of creative muse did not transfer well to an outward, social art. I don’t know why I thought it would.

I honestly thought that I could be successful with my own restaurant. I believed that, being of a creative bent, I could succeed at any endeavor that called for creativity. In the end, I proved myself utterly wrong. Not just because I was unsuited for sociable art. There was also the matter of passion. I knew and freely admitted that food was not my passion. I should have known I was setting myself up to fail.

Because we right-brained types are passionate. We are not low-key…we don’t fade into the background and make do with whatever pabulum life presents to us. That passion affects everything we do; even when we are not making use of our True Gifts. Because of that, I couldn’t be satisfied with running a restaurant that was just “okay.” Pretty decent, in fact, under the circumstances. But it was not great. It wasn’t even good (to my standards); and that, ultimately, drove me crazy. And I could not, by force of my own will, turn it into what I needed it to be to make me happy. I didn’t have the magic. I didn’t eat, sleep and breathe it, couldn’t go to that transcendent place where we artists are most complete. The result: Five years spent misdirecting my passion and spinning my wheels.

Awhile back, during my first year of restaurant ownership, I wrote something to the effect that I had chosen the restaurant as the outlet for my public creativity because I was too protective of my real passion. I truly believed there was no way I could ever put my real work out there, to be judged by the general population. I felt I could never disrespect it enough to tweak it or homogenize it in order to sell it. I would end up destitute, if the rejection didn’t kill me first.

But my effort to make a living by pouring all my creative life-force into something that was not my true gift failed miserably, and I’m left sitting at the end of a long detour that took me nowhere. Perhaps not nowhere, exactly, but certainly not to a place of joy and fulfillment. The place one finds oneself considering she should, by all rights, BE by the time she has reached her sixth decade of life. Or at least have been close enough to hear the music from the party.

In some ways, my attitude toward my talent has been formed by the society in which I live. Life is all about making money, isn’t it? What good is artistic fervor? Is it likely to put food on the table? When I was young, back in the days when it was time for me to decide what I would Do With My Life, there was no question that a Liberal Arts degree and a dime might buy a cup of coffee. Tacitly discouraging the college option, my parents pressed us girls to learn those great staple skills relegated to women in the 20th-century workplace: typing and shorthand. Get a “good” office job. “It’s a foot in the door,” my dad always said. As if a female foot in that door would have got anything but trampled by the crowds of men pushing through it.

Not that any of that mattered to me. My typing was miserable; shorthand was laughable to someone whose penmanship was erratic to the point of illegibility. (It seemed my mind was always going faster than my hand could follow…) But I got a job, because that’s what you did back then. Mine happened to be in a local high school hang-out pizza parlor. I enjoyed a modicum of success there. I did well. I made friends. I made money. And I clung to that industry for the next thirty-eight years. It was safe. It gave me an identity. It bought what I needed. It gave me a “pass” to keep me from going off in pursuit of what I really loved.

I have finally, I think, reached the expiration of that pass. I’m fifty-six years old, and I’m sitting on my suitcase with my head on my fist, wondering how now to get back to the right road, or at least a righter road, without wasting too much more of the time I have left. Which could be forty years, for all I know.

What I do know is that there has been a sea change in the way I view my talent, my intimate relationship with the written word. Yes, there are still a billion and six writers out there, a billion and five of whom are probably more successful than I could ever dream of being. And yes, the pressure to profit from one’s talent is still there—if anything, to a greater extent than ever existed when I was young. Everything is “extreme” now, isn’t it? It’s not just a matter of making a living doing what you love. You have to strike it rich; if you don’t make it straight to Oprah’s Book Club, you cannot possibly call yourself a writer.

Maybe I’m lucky; because at this point in my life, I’m perfectly willing and able to call “bullshit” on that line of thinking. I AM a writer. And my understanding of that fact, after half-a-lifetime of keeping it in my back pocket or waving at it from afar, is that I write because it is what I do. It is who I am. It is the part of the Great Spirit of the Universe that has been entrusted to me.

And you don’t treat that lightly. You approach it with awe and reverence, with joy and anticipation, with faith that the Spirit that is of you and in you will be sated simply through the act of recognizing, honoring and using that gift. It’s really not important that the general public understand or accept the words. My job—my joy and fulfillment—is to write them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Squash Watch--Week 2

I'm almost ashamed to post this picture...

I'm afraid my procrastination has not done my poor little squashes any favors. They've been in the ground two weeks now. And the best I can say for them is that they haven't died.

In my defense (and to their extreme detriment, I fear) I was out of town most of last week. I trusted their care to the Intrepid Husband. He did keep them alive. Barely.

You may see in this picture that they have now acquired drip irrigation tubing around their little feet. Husband applied this for me last maybe that will make up for his lack of solicitousness last week. Unfortunately, I had to mess around with the tubing after he ran it, and in doing so, I knocked the one flower off of plant No. 2. *#@&!!!!
However if you look closely at plant No. 3, you will see another flower that should open in a day or two. I have high hopes for it...I promise, I will not touch it!

The squashes and I appreciate your positive energy. That must be what is sustaining them, because I'm sure doing a piss poor job of it. Keep it up!

Squashes Week 2

Monday, August 1, 2011


For a few days there, I thought we were headed in a positive direction. I suppose I want so badly to believe that the strife is over and we have begun to put real distance between ourselves and this rough spot in our road (rough spot? How about bottomless pot-hole?) that I get overly optimistic when I see any glimmer of hope.

Evidently the habit of attacking each other whenever we are under stress has become too ingrained. It is our knee-jerk reaction whenever we encounter anything other than glass-smooth sailing. One theory that has been whirling around is that, faced with a situation that makes us need to yell at someone or something, the only “safe,” or acceptable place to direct that negative emotion is at each other. You can’t go around screaming at strangers, or dressing down your in-laws, employer, employees, or co-workers. So all that garbage gets dumped on the person who is supposed to love you enough to take it.

Problem is, I really can’t. Take any more. After five years of processing more garbage than the local landfill, I’m buried. I suspect he is, too.

One bad thing is, with this lingering heel problem—the final fillip from that rathole café—I haven’t been able to do much walking. And walking helps me work through what I need to process. Ignoring my throbbing foot, I took a long walk yesterday morning; I did some productive ruminating.

I realized, for like the umpteenth time in my life, that you can’t change anyone but yourself. I can talk, leave, threaten, cajole, stand on my head, but there’s no guarantee the husband is ever going to change the way he treats me. He could…but I can’t count on that. I have a couple of choices here, but one of them is NOT getting him to act differently. It is I who has to make changes.

I have to accept that who he is now and how he relates to me now are facts. He is what he is. And then I have to decide whether to stay in the relationship based on that information. If I choose to stay, my job is to figure out how to forge an acceptable, peaceful relationship with the man I’m married to NOW…not the one I thought I married, nor the one to whom I would like to be married.

Yes, I am going to have to make changes. Rough times ahead, to be sure. Because another thing I’ve learned over the years, as a corollary to “You can’t change anyone but yourself,” is that changing yourself is about as easy as getting toothpaste back into the tube.

Oh, I don’t dispute that I have changed over the course of our married life. In fact, these last five years have been extremely formative. And not in a good way, I’m afraid. Which is, I’m sure, a large part of why the husband’s attitude toward me has shifted so drastically. I am a very different person than the one who stepped off into the unknown territory of entrepreneurship. So the husband either does not know how to, or has chosen not to, relate positively or lovingly to the person I am now.

So now, for the sake of peace in the household and sanity for both of us, I have some work to do. There are coping skills I need to master; I need to learn the art of negotiating—or not, as the situation demands. And I—who have freely admitted all my life that patience is not my virtue—have to divine a hidden well of that commodity and immerse myself in it. Somewhere, I have to find patience with the husband, and patience with myself. Without it, I’m afraid all my ruminating and planning and clarity will get me nowhere.