Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Wrap-Up (one of many?)

The past week has, so far, been filled with (poisoned by?) café issues. With all of our production for the concession business completed (we had our first event two weeks ago, and sales were encouraging), and the end of our lease bearing down upon us, this has been the week to concentrate on disassembling and cleaning. And, just like every single task ever associated with the place, it has not been easy, quick, or even remotely fun.

Despite my crawling around on my hands and knees, wielding scrub brushes, steel wool and metal scrapers, the kitchen floor stubbornly remains spotted, stained and, in places, encased in a thin layer of grease which seems to have chemically bonded with the cement. Every sink and floor drain is permanently discolored by mineral residue from years of assault by Scappoose water (and we drink that stuff?) The dining room floor looks like the building might have been used as a garage for the past sixty months. In short, the clean-up job has been a microcosm of the way things have gone for me with that damned place from Day 1.

Perhaps my problem is—has always been—that my standards are just too high. At any rate, they consistently surpass my abilities. The end result of that equation has been that I have spent the past five years never having true victory over any challenge. "It's good enough" or "It will have to do" became my mantras. Truly, things probably were good enough; perfectly wonderful, in fact, for everyone else—the customers, the employees, the vendors, the landlord—but they were never where I wanted them to be. My tenure at the café became an exercise in finding out exactly how frustrated and unfulfilled I could get before I simply…imploded.

So, once again, "good enough" is going to have to do. I have to remind myself that the place had been operating as a restaurant for over a year by the time I got it. So any notion I might have had of whipping it back into pristine, looks-like-new shape was probably a pipe dream anyway. It's not trashed by any means, and it certainly looks acceptable enough to anyone who wants to put another eatery in the space. If Mr. Landlord wants to delve into the scary chemicals and pure intense elbow grease it's going to take to make the space sparkle and shine like new, he's welcome to have at it. He's ten years younger than I; presumably he can get it done without crippling himself. I personally am practically in need of traction at this point.

This evening, we will take Mr. Landlord on a tour, hand him his keys, dust off our hands and drive away. This will be the end, for good and all, of the "Old Town Café" chapter of my life. I will not have to absorb one more kick from that place that has been abusing my posterior with steel-toed boots for waaaay too long.

There WILL be a ceremony. I got into a conversation on Facebook last night with a couple of former employees, and ended up planning a spur of the moment Old Town Café "funeral." Several of us are going to meet up in the parking lot outside the building tonight. We'll set off some fireworks and say a few words. I should have saved a box of wine glasses or coffee cups…we could have smashed them on the sidewalk!

Then, maybe we'll go down the street for pizza. Or go sit at one of the other restaurants in town for two hours, have a meeting and drink water (inside joke…) It should be fun. If anyone shows up. Which, knowing my employees as I do, is pretty much a crap shoot.

Goodbye, café! You won't have ME to kick around anymore. A Nixon-ism. Appropriate to the termination of a futile venture, n'est ce pas?


Friday, June 24, 2011

Goodbye, Stuff.

As I sit here and watch the past five years of my life being hauled out the side door and loaded into big trucks, I don’t feel…anything. Well, that’s not precisely true. I feel embarrassment. The place is filthy. Not remotely in a condition that I would have liked anyone to think I tolerated my establishment. But five years of trying to run the place perpetually understaffed and overworked, with no time or energy to do the “extra cleaning” myself, and employees that we were lucky to have deign to show up for their shifts, much less put out any extra effort in the direction of more than the minimum required, have left the place looking pretty sad. Once all the equipment is out of here, I’ll be left staring at spotted walls and scummy floors. My final obligation will be to try to restore them to some semblance of acceptable before turning over my keys on the last day of June.

But melancholy, or regret about the way things turned out? Not really. It was such an endless slog, and I worked so hard and got so nowhere in 59 months that I feel absolutely no sadness as the equipment goes rolling out the door. It’s like each piece gone is one less link in the chain that kept me bound in slavery. I can only think of it in terms of the dollars that will be going back into my bank account in exchange. And then I will be able to pay off the rest of my obligations and have done with the experience for good.

Only one debt—the small second mortgage we took out on our house—will follow us beyond the doors of the cafe. We’ll have to cough up $400 a month, for roughly -ever, in exchange for the opportunity to “live the dream.” I don’t know. Many people pay a lot more than $45,000 for higher education. In fact, I would have been out more than that if I had chosen to go to culinary school. And with my chef school diploma in my hand, I would not have possessed one hundredth of the valuable (though hard-earned) experience I have under my belt as I walk away from five years of running my own business.

I did have one moment, as I pulled my artwork off the walls in the “back corner,” when a mist of tears threatened to undo me. I put myself in “don’t-think-about-it” mode, and the tears dried up almost immediately. Honestly, I don’t know why that one action bothered me. Maybe because I wish the whole experience had been more about playing with pretty things than busting my butt, working like a sweat-hog, and waiting for the next round of manure to contact the oscillator.

Eight days from today—after the last of the grease has been scraped off the kitchen floor, and the last spot of marinara has been scrubbed off the wall behind where the food warmer used to sit—will be the first day of the rest of my life.

Bring it on!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seeing the Light

I've never in my life been one to fit the mold. Any mold. In grade school, I was often teacher's pet, though I did not belong to one of the pastor's "pet" families (these would be the ones with money with which to make large contributions to the church.) In high school, I was a liberated hippie chick…who never touched drugs, alcohol, or members of the opposite sex. Once out of school, I set my sights on being independent, free, answerable to no one…and married at twenty-one. And then became a born-again Christian who could never reconcile herself to Ronald Reagan or fundamentalist politics.

Which is the journey which brought me to be WHO I was, WHERE I was, this past weekend: A WASP/Catholic/one-time Fundamentalist, married to a Polack, catering a Scandinavian Festival, toting my books on Celtic Spirituality and the Medicine Wheel. Still going wherever the road takes me, without much regard for who else might be going, or how they chose to get there.

For the most part, I've found other people to be more often a source of annoyance, pain or frustration than acceptance, strength and community. I am constantly shocked and dismayed at the selfishness, violence and self-delusion of which human beings are capable. There are times I think I could do without them altogether. There are times I think the Universe could do without them altogether. And yet…

Through my recent reading, I have come to believe that creation IS God. Creation is an expression of the Almighty, brought to being through the light of that Power. And the Light of the Author of the Universe exists in every one if Its creations. From the smallest amoeba to the most solid sheet of bedrock, the Creator is in everything. God is truly In The Details.

Yet, if that's true, the Creator's light is no less in every human being than it is in every other being. Then I have to wonder: What's happened to it? Why do we seem not only to be without that Light, but to have consciously and religiously chosen not to acknowledge Its existence in our fellow creatures? Why are WE the ornery, renegade pains-in-the-ass among the Creator's works?

Is it because we think we know? Everything? Anything? Is it because we've taken these great creative brains we've been granted, and used them to separate us from the Almighty, rather than to bind us to It? We can, and do, construct such elaborate fantasies…to the point of constructing a remote "God" in our own image; one who embodies all the strengths and frailties of the human psyche, and inflicts them helter-skelter upon the hapless human race. We have chosen this over recognizing and nurturing the "God" within ourselves. Our religions now have us born dark and evil, riddled with sin, from which only the light of a far-away God can redeem us. When did we stop understanding that we share the inner light of the Creator with every other bit of creation? What caused us to make that choice? How did we get so far off track?

I don't pretend to know what happened millennia ago. I haven't even a theory, really, about what could have made us turn away from the Light inside ourselves, the signature of the Creator that we share with all other creatures and things, and decide that power is embodied exclusively in something far away and outside ourselves. But it seems to me that, lately, it's a matter of living down to our own expectations.

There is a theory in Child Development circles that a child will rise to the level of expectation put on him/her. Can the same not be said of the human race? If we believe that we come into this world lost and evil, separated from the Divine, are not we then predisposed to behave as such? Are we not then going to identify first the evil in ourselves and in other creatures, and spend our lives struggling to rise above that state? If that's all we ever ask of ourselves, isn't that all we're going to do? Certainly in my own lifetime, I've seen the damage that diminishing expectations can do. Once upon a time, say, forty or fifty years ago, there were expectations of decorum, courtesy, respect and deference that have disappeared over the past four decades. Watch television for three hours on any given night and see what we are left with. It is not encouraging. And it's only getting worse.

I despair for humanity, because I think we may have lost it. The Big It. But then again, just because you don't see something, even steadfastly refuse to see it, does not mean it's not there. The Light is there. The Spirit is there. We are connected. To each other. To everything else.

I can only acknowledge that in my own mind, my own life.

And hope that an increasingly effective number of others will do the same.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What IS Our Problem…?

This past weekend, we enjoyed the hospitality of the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, where we sold food to attendees of the Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. This was our tenth year as a vendor at this event. They like us, we like them, and we always come away with some money in our pockets (and various goodies from the other vendors…)

Like many small county fairgrounds, this facility is located well outside of town, kind of in the middle of nowhere. But the surroundings are lovely—rolling hills, towering firs, pasture land and bubbling creeks. And the barns and outbuildings are populated by an array of wild creatures during the fifty-one weeks of the year they are not being used for livestock. My favorites are the swallows.


This year, there were several swallow nests under the eaves of the rest room building, to which we head off every morning to shower during our stay. I was enchanted by the little faces peering out of the mud-lined portals. The latest crop of youngsters was fledging—flying and swooping about the grounds nearly as skillfully as their parents, but still returning to the safety of their compact nurseries under the eaves to snuggle and rest between forays into the wide, wide world.

I could have stood and watched them for hours. Soaring, darting, chattering, enjoying their buggy meals which they acquired on the fly. As I craned my neck and shaded my eyes to follow their antics, I could feel my whole body smiling.

Sunday morning, I walked out through a depressing mist to the shower building. I looked up to the point of the roof, seeking the cheerful company of the swallow families. Instead I saw…nothing. Nothing but a pile of broken bits of mud nests on the ground beneath the place the little avian condo community had been located.

Fortunately, there were no eggs or nestlings destroyed. And the fledglings could find safety in the eaves of the nearby barns.

But I just have to ask…

Why? What is it about human beings that we are so thoughtless, so blasé, about destroying life that isn't human? More and more, I am coming to understand that creation—all things wild and wonderful about our planet—IS God. When we destroy something that seems small, insignificant, and inconvenient to us, we literally spit in the eye of the Creator.

And if the Creator was inclined to the anger and desire to punish that our puny religions so often ascribe to It, the human race would have been toast long ago.

But, honestly… I'm not too sure we won't, at some point, try the patience of the Universe beyond its capacity to endure and forgive…

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spider Power

There's an embryonic "Retirement To-Do List" floating around in the fluid of my brain, but I have not allowed it to land anywhere or begin to take any kind of real form. I won't even acknowledge the tiny prickle of guilt I feel about aggressively not accomplishing anything. I know I have things to do and places to go. But I also know that I don't have to do them or go there now. And I fully intend to stretch out this time of deliberate aimlessness to the nth degree.

Of most immediate concern is my intention to discover and explore my personal spirituality. In those last difficult weeks at the restaurant, I clung to my neophyte beliefs like a drowning rat to a floating timber. I'm convinced my little rituals gave me the peace and the balance I needed to get through that situation with my mind and my body still intact, battered and exhausted though they were. So I know there is power and truth there; power and truth that beg further exploration and devotion. And…I'm gonna get on that. Soon. Ever faithful, the Universe continues to show me things, even though I'm not disciplining myself to go out looking for them.

I've written of my desire to identify my power animal. I asked for a dream; and I thought perhaps I hadn't asked with enough conviction. Because, though crows and eagles and squirrels have showed up in my waking life, my dreams have been singularly devoid of animal characters. I thought. Then I realized there had been a dream rather dramatically featuring a non-human creature. I dreamed of spiders.

It was not a good dream, either. (Is there such a thing as a good dream about spiders?) It was creepy and shuddery. I dreamed I backed into a great, thick mat of tough, sticky spider webs, and that they (and their inhabitants) stuck to my hair and my back. And I was running all over the place asking people to brush these things off me, and nobody would touch them. Eeyuck…!

When I got to thinking about it, I realized the dream must have some significance, but I did not have a clue what that might be. Truthfully, the possibilities were too disturbing to contemplate. I filed the dream into the back of my subconscious. But the Universe was not giving up on the message.

Like most people, I have a history with spiders. I used to be deathly afraid of them. I couldn't sleep if I knew there was a spider anywhere in my house, much less in my bedroom. And I couldn't kill them, either. I would sic one of my sisters or my mother on the eight-legged offender. After I married, arachnicide became my husband's responsibility.

But in the Pacific Northwest, spiders are everywhere; once you relocate here, you begin to realize that anything that isn't moving will have a spider on it in less than an hour. So you had better get over your arachnophobia or you will be terrified to immobility. And then you will have spiders building webs on YOU within the hour. Honestly, moving to Oregon proved to be somewhat of an aversion therapy for me. Spiders are so ubiquitous that you just learn to live with them. Of course, that doesn't mean you get to like them, or anything quite so cozy as that.

So, yesterday, I decided to do some planting on my front deck. And, this being Oregon, I knew that I would probably encounter an array of multi-legged fauna in the course of this endeavor. I'm actually fine as long as I don't touch them with my bare hands or have them crawling on me. I wear gloves and go about my business, alert to the possible necessity of encouraging a fast-moving creepy crawly to creep elsewhere. So I dug, and hacked, and watered, and swept up last year's moldering debris. Gradually, I became aware…of one of the biggest spiders I had ever seen, clinging to the siding behind the planter box. Legs un-scrunched, she would easily have measured three inches from toe to toe (do spiders have toes?), at least four times larger than most spiders I had met in my life. I stopped my sweeping and bent over to examine her with a mixture of scientific curiosity and horror-movie fascination. She was so big, she became more than "just" a spider. She was a being. A creature, with a soul.

"All right madam," I said to her. "You just stay right there where I can keep an eye on you, and I won't bother you."

We spent the next hour companionably not going anywhere near each other. At the end of that time, I thanked her for not crawling on me, and she silently expressed her gratitude that I had not drowned her or poked her with a stick. And we went our separate ways.

But in the course of that hour, I contemplated animal spirits, and how not all animals are perceived as noble or majestic or smart or magical. Just because spiders are spiders, and our western culture comes complete with pathological spider-aversion, this does not mean they are evil or ugly or soulless or negligible. The Universe wanted me to know that ALL life is precious, and ALL life is connected, whether that other being is soft and furry, cute and cuddly, or black and spiny, all legs and fangs.

So what has this amiable encounter with a giant spider to do with my quest for my power animal? Well, according to the reading I have done, any time an animal or the symbol of an animal shows up in your life at least three times in a short period of time, it is carrying a message to you from the spirit world. The dream and the planting party constituted two encounters with spiders within less than a week. The third would come that very night as I headed for bed.

As I emerged from the bathroom after brushing my teeth and donning my pj's, a largish dark spot high on the very white wall of our bedroom caught my eye. Sure enough, up near the crack between the wall and the ceiling squatted yet another largish arachnid. Not nearly as remarkable as my friend on the front deck, but big enough that I knew I didn't want to share my sleeping quarters with her.

Normally, I would deal with these issues myself, but since she was out of my height-challenged reach, I bade the husband to dispatch her. So, armed with a plastic cup and a flimsy piece of cardboard (I told him he needed to fold it in half…!) he clambers up on the ottoman and prepares to do the deed.

Husband claps the cup down over spider. Success! Spider is running around frantically inside the glass, not pinned or squished under the rim. Husband waits until her panicked revolutions reach the bottom of the glass, slides the cardboard between spider and wall. Another victory. Spider is still frenetically mobile, indicating that once again, husband has avoided injuring her in the process of capture. Unfortunately, in the course of transferring spider capsule from wall to hands and stepping down off the ottoman, the operation falls apart and spider tumbles from her enclosure to the top of my dresser., where I have assembled the paraphernalia I use for my smudging ritual. Including the velvet bag I put these things in for travel. Which is where the spider has softly landed, and has stayed put long enough for husband to rediscover her and clap the glass back over her.

And so Ms. Spider is gently transported, atop the turquoise and beaded velvet splendor of my sacred bag, down the stairs and out the front door, where she is deposited on the deck and encouraged to "go be a spider."

Trudging back up the stairs after the completion of that delicate operation, I smiled inwardly, in a chagrined sort of way. Okay, so my day had pretty much been All About Spiders. Spider as a Power Animal? I shuddered. What would that make me? Some kind of ghoulish Transylvanian priestess? It behooved me to commence a literature search to see what this might mean.

First, I consulted my reference book: Steven Farmer's Animal Spirit Guides. In this book, Farmer lists a couple hundred animals and gives an accounting of what power these animals might have and what messages they might bring from the spirit world. I reluctantly thumbed through the book looking for "Spider," half hoping I would not find it. But, there it was, and what I read surprised me:

"If Spider is your Power Animal: …You're in touch with and express a very powerful feminine creative force, whether you're male or female. …You have a knack for writing, with the ability to weave words together in new and creative ways, often affecting others profoundly with their magic."

Zap! Right between the eyes…

At the very least, this encouraged me to dig a little deeper. An online search taught me that Grandmother Spider is featured prominently in shamanic lore. She is said to have carried on her back, in a basket woven by her, the gift of Fire, which she then presented to the People. Other stories have her web binding all things together and forming the foundation of the Earth. Obviously, the ancients revered spiders, as they revered all life. They certainly didn't see them as something to be screamed at and stomped on!

So what does all this mean to me? Is Spider my Power Animal? Is she simply bringing me a message? If so, what is it? I'm not jumping to any conclusions quite yet; but I guess I could do worse than to walk with an Animal Spirit associated with a strong feminine creative force and a knack for writing. Right now, I'm quite taken with this little tidbit I unearthed in my literature search:

"Spider's message to you is that you are an infinite being who will continue to weave patterns of life and living throughout time. Please do not fail to see the eternal plan of creation."

I'll content myself with contemplating that for awhile.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marriage as Shoes

Twenty-four days since the end of my career as a restaurateur. I've spent the time resting, sleeping (I took a two-hour nap this afternoon….aaahhhh!), nesting, fussing a bit with the ending-of-the-business details, and putting distance between myself and the husband at any possible opportunity.

My feelings surrounding the un-success of our venture, as they relate to my business-/life-partner, are complex and not altogether sanguine. I haven't really wanted to confront them (and him), so I've made it a priority to make myself scarce. I feel like I need to clear the fog of exhaustion from my brain, and the pool of unshed tears from behind my eyes, before I can take on these issues with any hope of improving—rather than destroying—what's left of our relationship.

Unfortunately, he's not making much of an effort in that direction. While I feel that I have lightened up remarkably in the past three weeks, he doesn't seem to have released one bit of five years of pent up tension. He's still wound as tight as a python around a rat, and he's about as willing to ease up as that python would be to let loose of his dinner. And I have no idea why.

Which has led me to contemplate, lately, who we are, individually; and what there is left of shared interests, goals, desires, habits, needs—to keep us bound together. What drew us together in the first place? Was it a common love of…anything? If it was, what happened to it? Is there anything that we both enjoy and value anymore?

I know our relationship was never based on how alike we are. We found in each other things that we were lacking. We each have strengths that negate the other's weaknesses. Under ordinary circumstances, we complement each other; under stress, apparently, not so much. We handle stress in completely different ways. I'm not sure I could even describe the specifics; but I do know that the whole experience has served to drive a wedge between us that is, evidently, going to be very difficult to extract.

Do we still love each other? How do you define "love" in the context of a relationship that has spanned three and a half decades? Certainly, our love is vastly different now than it was in the beginning. The fire and spark have been replaced by security and habit. Which is not necessarily bad. It's entirely appropriate, at a certain age, to prefer the comfort of an old pair of Easy Spirits to the flash and glitter of a brand new pair of Gucci stilettos. After the debilitating drain of the past five years, I'm absolutely ready to sink back into the well worn, familiar shoes of our marriage. The problem is, I'm not sure we haven't kicked, scuffed and abused the poor things so much that they won't keep out the rain.