Something MORE

Have you ever felt SO-O-O excited and scared and nervous and sure all at the same time? That’s what I’m going through right now. Oh, it’s rather fabulous to be me right now! It’s only taken 60 years for me, and it’s only been the last year or so during which my potential is being revealed.

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Remember the Personal Sabbatical I gave myself – one year to figure out my life, the year after the year after Kevin died? That was nearly three years ago. The first year after he died, I kept on working and trying to fit back into my old normal life, which was impossible. The job wasn’t living up to my expectations anyway, and I was smack-dab in the middle of mourning and grieving. The advice I kept getting was “don’t make any major decisions for one year.” It turns out that was good advice…for several reasons, but mostly because I was completely discombobulated and didn’t trust my own judgment about future decisions that would be needed to be made.

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The second year was the year of the sabbatical. I thought I could sit quietly and wait for God to call me on the phone and tell me what to do next, where and how to do it, and who to do it with. Instead of giving myself time and waiting for that call, I quickly (too quickly I think) started my own consulting biz and distracted myself from the grieving process. I listened to well-intentioned friends guide me back to their version of solid ground. What I really wanted to do was float and fly and drift for a while, but still not trusting myself, I let myself get involved in something I couldn’t really put my heart into. My heart was already busy, you see. That year flew by. So I agonized a bit about going back to work, getting a real job. In the end, I decided I needed another year.

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The third year that call still hadn’t come. I wasn’t any more clear about my work direction, but I was finding myself. I didn’t know if I had ever – in all my life – really known myself and committed to ME. I figured this out when I discovered that I hadn’t  really been happy in my life. Content, yes; satisfied, yes; accomplished, yes. But happy? I felt like I had sort of fallen into my life and hadn’t deliberately planned it out or said “I want this, and then went for it. So when people said to me now, “What do you want?”, I didn’t know.  I was frustrated that I didn’t know because I felt like I should. I felt guilty for not having figured it out sooner.

It was at that point I started my real grieving. Losing Kevin was one thing; losing myself was an extension of that. But losing our dreams when I didn’t have any of my own to plug into play was a different kind of sadness. I knew in my heart that his life was about him. Now, I had to face the reality that my life was about me, and I did not have my own dreams, my own plans, my own vision.

However, I had a new awareness that even if I wasn’t exactly happy, I certainly wasn’t unhappy. I was okay just as I was. In fact, I was getting happier than I could remember being, and I knew in my heart of hearts that there was something more waiting for me. I didn’t have to go in search, I just had to be ready. So I started to work on ME instead of working at a job for money. The pay was nil but the benefits are great!!!

Because of my philosophy about life after life, and that life goes forward, and that our children are Life’s longing for itself (thanks, Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet), I decided to stop being the grieving widow. Yes, I did just that – I made a decision to stop.  Besides, I was only doing a mediocre job at it anyway. Instead, I started to study my life and figure out what could make me happier, what events or people had influenced me in childhood and beyond, what forks in the road had I taken that made a difference to me. Then I talked to people who knew-me-when. My sister Peggy is only a year younger than I am, so we had a lot to talk about. My parents are both gone, but I talked to an aunt who was around all of my childhood. I talked to friends I’ve had for much of my adult life. I talked to my kids, too.  And I read dozens of old journals, books, magazine articles and blog posts, listened to music, watched movies, met new people who didn’t know me as a child or mother or wife.

I started a different kind of journal that has turned out kind of cool. I drew a family tree of sorts (more of a diagram with labels) and pasted in pictures of my mom and dad from when they were young and again about the time I was born, up through the years. I added pictures of me from infancy to today. I included pictures of my husbands and my kids as youngsters to today, plus my grandbabies. Then I described each person, somewhat objectively based on my “research.” Finally, I  followed what is the commonly known as the Fourth Step in AA, but I used the Adult Children of Alcoholics model, to do a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, my parents, and my life then and now.

The more I opened myself to what I was discovering, the more light bulbs clicked on, the more puzzle pieces started to fall into place, the more the past came alive. I started finally to make sense of my life with a 10,000 foot view (or 60-year telescope):  why I am the way I am, why I do the (some of the) things I do, what my values are, how I stored my feelings, what behaviors have changed, the results of decisions I made. The good news is that as I began to understand myself, I fell in LIKE with Me and we became great friends! Slowly over the last year, I have been letting go of old unresolved hurts, feeling old feelings and saying goodbye to them, learning to be kinder and gentler with my new BFF, Me.

It wasn’t an afternoon at the beach, to be sure. I laid the cards on the table – really, I made up  index cards for my feelings – and I played them one by one. Abandonment. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Betrayal. Loss. Insecurity. Anger. Love. Confidence. Hope. Safety. Pleasure. Inspiration. Excitement. Smart. And more. I would pick up a card and question myself about when I had felt that. I would try to remember a childhood experience related to that emotion. Many times I was unsure of what that emotion felt like; I had learned too well how to stuff it away, so identifying it and getting comfortable with it was a process, like defrosting old mystery meat so I could decide to cook it or throw it away. Fortunately, I was able to let go of many of my frozen feelings, which in turn lightened me up, which in turn made me happier. It was like Mario Bros. and I was jumping over the trolls and taking elevators to higher levels. Who knew this is what life was supposed to be about?!?

I still have to sit with my feelings and reflect by replaying old scenes, which now is a 60 year repository to go through. I have learned that living is truly an art; there is no one right way to do it. Social acceptability is worth less to me than it used to be. Praising myself and affirming my choices and decisions is actually more fun than I thought it would be.

I’m not done yet. But I know there is Something MORE for me yet in this lifetime. I was asked yesterday if I ever wish I could have Kevin back again. The obvious (and expected) answer is Of Course! But the courageous and honest answer is, Maybe. I have changed a lot in the past four years, and right now I  seem to be in a fast-forward phase of growth. Would he come back as he was then, or would he, too, have changed from his experiences wherever he is/was? I am not ready to really think about that too much, since it’s such a hypothetical question anyway. I’ve moved on, truly, madly, deeply. And I know I have more moving to do.

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Things Come Apart

The dog dish

The cute, colorful, ceramic dog dish sailed across the charming (read: uneven) Saltillo tile floor straight into the base of the unforgiving corner cupboard. My toe started throbbing before the food jumped all over the place seeking safety from the impact. 20180705_1609563The crash was more of a thwack sound, kind of dull; not like shattering glass, but the result was the same: shards everywhere. One of the problems with staying in someone else’s house,  you see, is that things aren’t where they would normally be. Thus, the simple step to find the cereal became a punt-kick for the poor dish. I’m glad it was our own dish I had brought along instead of one of theirs. But anyway, broke is broke.

I’m staying at my son’s house in Santa Fe while he and his family are on vacation. They watched my dogs while I detoured to California, and now it’s my turn to repay the favor. As it happens, I think I am going to owe them money; more on that in a bit. It has been unusually hot and windy here, too warm to cook a proper meal, so I was getting by with cold cereal for supper.

What do Kintsugi, Work, and HGTV all have in common?

The Japanese have a word for taking something broken and fixing it, usually with liquid gold, to create an even more beautiful replacement. It’s called kintsugi. I didn’t have any gold powder and other materials on hand, and anyway, it was a dog food dish. Still, I had a fleeting thought as I looked at the mess to be cleaned up: I could maybe fix this. (No, I didn’t even try.)

Fixing things is a habit. Partly it is because I was raised as a Midwestern girl to be thrifty and practical and independent. I’m also a teensy bit fiscally conservative (meaning I didn’t want to have to buy a new dish if I could fix this one), and I also believe in the reduce-reuse-recycle movement. I love consignment stores and second hand shops, and as an HGTV junkie when I had cable tv, I learned a lot about crafting.

My fixing habit is also born out of a preference to make things right, to keep peace, to not let things get out of hand, to keep everyone comfortable, to not have things once gone wrong not go wrong again; i.e., I relocated the remaining dog dishes to avoid breaking more of them.  I was (and am) quite good at confronting and even occasionally creating conflict if I need to. But that rarely is the case now. My fights are with usually with myself, between my head and my heart, over broken expectations of myself.  I am working harder now at trying to not overthink things, to observe and feel, to be present and not invest in worry and regret.

Buddy

So back to the dog dish. I remembered how I had bought it for Buddy when he was about 1-1/2. It was a find in the Denver airport, of all places. It was a souvenir gift for him when we left him with my Dad when we went to my son’s wedding in California 12 years ago. (I just remembered that I forgot to send him a Happy Anniversary wish! Darn!!) So wanting to fix it and keep it was an emotional response. Buddy crossed the Rainbow Bridge, as they say, a year ago. I shed a tear over the dish coming apart, realizing it was time to let go of another piece of him.

I came apart a little too. I had to, to let the tears out. And then as Harley wandered into the mess I was trying to sweep up, I found a little smile. I wouldn’t have him or Sasha with me today if I still had Buddy to care for. I scooped him up and snuggled him for a minute, feeling the warm liquid gold of love fix me.

A relationship

Other things have come apart on this trip as well. There was the conversation with my daughter about my living so far away from all of my family. That opened the door to continuing discussions about the sense of belonging, common desires, new plans being made. The old reasons are holding up like they used to; they were (and are) valid, but they’ve gotten thinner as time goes by.

Two shoes+

There was Olivia’s black suede boot 20180627_085227Oscar chewed the toe out of when he was bored. That was on my watch, and I felt bad. It was followed by Kelsyn’s shoe losing a strap on the back. 20180628_212751I was frustrated and my patience was coming apart at the seams until I realized I only needed to be more present, to pay attention, and to outsmart the dog who was on his home turf. Closing closet doors was a simple start, and then I helped him release some anxiety and energy with outdoor play. Playtime fixed both of us.

The ex

Oh, and then there was the fantasy, if you can call it that, that my ex (and father of our three children) and I could become friends again. Ha! I thought since I was in town and had seen him in passing on a city street, that I would reach out and see if he wanted to have coffee.  The call did not go well, as I heard the same macho guy of 30 years ago tell me how busy he was but if I called back and “reminded” him, he might be able to get together in a few days. WTH?!?? I did NOT and will NOT call him back. That was not liquid gold; it was old dirty duct tape that was sticking to itself. Some things need to stay apart; that is all the reminder I needed about that.

My perspective on things has been changing ever so slightly sometimes, and other times it changes with a crash or thwack or sound of a phone call being disconnected. I like how I no longer go from 0-60 in a single second when I’m stressed. I like how I can see from multiple angles now instead of a single dimension. I like how I can observe and be able to feel the feelings I am having instead of needing to dissect an interaction.

Because…

I like how some things come apart so I can peek  inside and let the light in, let the love in, let the feelings  go where they need to go. And some things come apart so we can let the judgment out, to bring our attention where it is needed, to allow softening of rough edges.

Freedom of the Open Road

 

The gas gauge indicated there should be half a tank of gas, on a truck that that has about a 25-gallon tank. Yet, the “Low Fuel Level” message lit up. A wind gust buffeted the side of the camper. Although finding a gas station would undoubtedly lower my stress level, still we sat still in the line waiting for the emergency responders to clear the roadway from of the semi-tractor that had jack-knifed ahead of us. There was no telling how long we might be there, and the need for air conditioning was competing with the need to avoid walking when I ran out of gas. Such was the dilemma of that moment.

Wouldn’t you know it? I made safely to a gas station not long after that, and I gave my thirsty truck a big (BIG) drink of fuel. I wasn’t in a hurry as far as the clock was concerned, and we were on our way again shortly. But then the Check Engine light came on, and at the next exit ramp, we were off again to figure a plan of action. Luckily, there was a truck stop with a 24-hour maintenance shop. Except they only serviced big rigs. However, they referred me to a 24-hour wrecker and auto repair shop nearby. Tommy, the technician, guessed it was a loose fuel cap, and hooked up a sensor to the truck’s computer. Yep. A quick reset, and we were on our way once again.

By the way, “we” is me and three dogs – who are unsurprisingly useless in a crisis, but at least they didn’t cause any further stress by howling and growling. They were much more patient than I was, thankfully.

This was the second leg of my adventure. I spent the first day traveling to Elkin NC and survived a wicked thunderstorm in 5:00 Friday night traffic in Winston-Salem. Yeah, I know, good planning on my part, right? Anyway, I had an absolutely wonderful time Saturday on the Blue Ridge Parkway, revisiting Blowing Rock, and getting the feel of my camper and truck on a cross-country trip. So making it through Nashville’s spaghetti system of interstate interchanges was done by a fortified driver.

I was relieved to make it to Memphis, anticipating Graceland’s tour scheduled for Monday. It was too bad some jerk parked his truck quite close to my campsite, making backing it and setting up harder than it should have been in the dark. But two women from Ontario, Canada, Dawn and Louise, were very helpful, so all was right again in the world. (If their names had been Thelma and Louise I might have had second thoughts about letting them guide me.)

The next day would be a long-awaited visit to Graceland, but as I finally laid in bed that night, my mind was filled with thoughts about how I was living out the Solowingnow name I had given myself. Of course, we are never fully alone. I did have my dogs, but I also am certain I had divine help in the form of angels helping me along the way. How else do you explain that I never once had a close-call with merging onto interstate traffic because the lane was clear a mile back? Or that I made it to a gas station in the nick of time, and that I found not one but two 24-hour service stations on a Sunday night? I think we often think we are alone because we don’t see anyone else, but I was not unaccompanied either physically or spiritually.

Other thoughts also kept my mind entertained for a while that night. I remember thinking that Kevin would have loved this trip. He would have loved the scenery, the challenge, the upcoming sights to see, the freedom of the open road. And then this bright thought occurred to me: as much as he would have loved it, I also loved it. I promised myself right then that I would start now to put myself first. It is all well and good to think of others, but my first responsibility now is me. I can invite his spirit to come along for the ride, but the realization that it is indeed an invitation means that I have completed another phase of adjustment toward this new life I am living. I am no longer waiting for it to be my turn; I am claiming my place at the fire of the strong, brave, wise women of the world. I have my own stories to tell now, and this trip is just one more collection of memories that comfort me.

I am blessed – and I know that I am blessed – to have this opportunity to travel. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as “they” say. I have been to the ocean, to the mountains, across the prairie. I do not have to choose one over another. That is freedom.

 

Here are some sights along my way so far. More to come as I settle in.

The Second Hurdle

That mountain looked mighty big. In fact, it looked plain mighty. It was rumored that a rookie motorcyclist of less than a year’s experience was going to attempt crossing the Beartooth Pass in Montana. Sixty-eight miles of windy, curvy roads, and the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies. It is heralded as one of the most scenic Beartooth mapdrives in the U.S., but I don’t know how anyone who was driving would be able to see anything but the road in front of her. I didn’t.

It was July but we were pulled over to dress warmer in our leather coats, gloves, and balaclavas. Was it true that there was still snow at the top? We: my friend Janet and her husband Troy, who both had been driving motorcycles for 30 years. Pat beartooth pass groupMy brother Jeff, who had been driving at least 20 years but this was his first big road trip. My husband Kevin, who had been driving since he was in high school. And me, that scared rookie.

Curves are hard enough, but managing the climbing speed on the Montana side, and then the downhill control on the Wyoming side meant finessing the clutch, the accelerator, and brakes while keeping the 658# bike upright. Though possible snow.  What was I thinking?!?

We decided I should go first so I could set the pace. I would be followed by Jeff, then Troy and Janet, with Kevin last. I believe in following speed limit signs, even on a motorcycle, especially on the curves. They were all so patient and encouraging I didn’t have the heart to tell them I wanted to  change my mind. Plus, I knew we were almost 600 miles from home, and either they went over without me and I drove back home alone, or they had to forfeit the trip. Sometimes it’s good to have that kind of motivation. Of course, I knew they would never have agreed to this in the first place if they – the experienced ones – didn’t believe I could do it safely. Umm, did I say this was my idea?

Holding a big bike upright is a lot easier if you are going faster rather than slower. I already knew this from the 1000 miles of practice I had in the previous months. Still, I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. And so we pulled back onto the road, with me in the lead, at about 25 mph. The first couple of miles were fine, like riding the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I relaxed a little. I had done this before, and I could do it again. But as we climbed, I started praying, “Oh, God; oh, God; oh God!!”

Troy zoomed by me. Then Janet. I started to sweat and feel like I was out of my league. They were out of sight, around a turn to the right. I made that turn and found myself in a topless tunnel of snow with walls almost 20’ high and a blue sky overhead. Up ahead on the side of the road I saw Troy, crouching down with a camera in his hands, ready to get my picture as I drove through the Pass. Janet was right there ahead of me; she pulled off on the slim shoulder but there was no room for me.

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yes, it was July 16 – Janet on yellow bike, me in pink coat behind

I kept going. All by myself; I didn’t see anyone in my rearview mirror. Around the next curve, and the next one. No one ahead of me. Then there was a large pull-off area next to a snow field. I made it safely and parked my bike. I realized how cool and windy it was but I was too hyped to be cold. Kevin and Jeff were suddenly beside me, smiling big goofy smiles, feeling the freedom and the accomplishment. I started crying. pat kevin snowThe stress and the excitement and the relief washed over me. I had done it. Sort of – I had to get down the other side yet, but still, this was something amazing I had done. I was staying between the mountain and the wild blue yonder.We made it down the Wyoming side without incident, although there was a bad accident we had to drive by. I chose not to look but the others said there was a mangled motorcycle on the side of the road beyond the ambulance and cop cars.

At dinner that night, Janet presented me with a small sign:

I never doubted that I could do it. The question was whether I would do it. It’s one thing to know something intellectually, and it’s another to feel the feelings of fear, then step into that fear and do whatever it is anyway. If you’re like me, you play Devil’s Advocate with yourself, imagining all the What-Ifs that could happen, judging yourself before you even try. But I know the antidote for fear is preparation, followed by action. When you are tempted to let fear shut you down, remember that developing any skill is a process. If you try, you evolve. Good habits make us better; bad habits help us get worse. Understanding the situation from all sides is prudent. Having a back-up plan is responsible. A little teensy bit of fear is maybe a good thing – it keeps you alert and aware.

I have been known to ask myself, “I wonder what I would be capable of if I just would apply myself?” That’s not fear speaking; that’s laziness! I do enough to get by sometimes, and then I feel the sorrow of not having really tried. What has been working for me lately is the mantra that It’s my time to become the solution. I have shifted my mindset, to feel the fear and do it anyway, or to just get off my butt and do it anyway..

I sold Kevin’s bike a year after he died. Mine has been sitting in the garage ever since, waiting for the time I feel like riding again.  It’s not doubt or fear that keeps me away. It just doesn’t feel the same without him. I had taken it out a few times that first summer after he passed, but that fire has gone out.  I know I could if I wanted to, I just don’t.

I’m thinking I might sell it and buy a convertible instead.

3 Hurdles to Overcome

“Higher! Higher!” I remember hearing the voices in my head when I was in high school and wanted to run hurdles on the track and field team. If I could just reach my leg a little higher, stretch my stride a little longer, I’d find the rhythm that would make hurdling easier. Alas, a toe would drift down and graze the top of the hurdle, I’d stumble or knock it over, and occasionally I’d hit the ground. It didn’t register then that I wasn’t as tall as some of the other girls who more easily glided over the course, and my legs might never give me the clearance I’d need.

track ribbonsAnyway, I turned to sprinting, minus hurdles, and I managed to secure a spot on the relay team that had some success and  made it all the way to Regional competition. I was no Olympic wanna-be; I just wanted to belong and do something I was good at.relay pins

“You’re a runner; you can do this! No.  It hurts. I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner. I can’t breathe. Yes, you can do this. Just a little more. This is crazy. Who cares about a stupid record?” And because I kept up the conversation in my head and didn’t stop running, when I was in the U.S. Army’s Basic Training, I completed a 2 mile run within time and captured a record, a big one. I was the first woman EVER to get a perfect score of 500 on the Physical Training (PT) test.Army 500 I happened to be in the last class of the Women’s Army Corps before it was absorbed into the regular Army, so, I guess my record stands.

Much has changed in the past 40+ years, at least as far as athletic accomplishment goes . I couldn’t jump over a hurdle now if my life depended on it, and sprinting around a cinder track would most likely take half a day and hurt a lot. I kept up the longer-distance running for a while because it turned out I liked the moderately slower pace and the feel of being healthy and limber, but I let a marriage, three kids, and a full time job get in the way of my routine. Now I’m happy if I can stroll around the neighborhood with the dogs without getting worn out.

But I have – fortunately – learned a few things along the way, three lessons that have stood the test of time and now serve as nudges when I get stuck in a rut or completely run out of air. I was reminded of them the other night when I heard Greg Lilly, a local author and publisher, speak about how writers can get moving again if they are feeling unproductive or blocked, but they apply to most efforts to finish something we have started (or get started at all).  They are the lessons of managing Time, overcoming Doubt, and finding Inspiration. In this post, I’ll talk about time, and I’ll cover the other two in future posts. Time is the biggie for me, even though I’m no longer tied down to a full-time job outside the house. I still have plenty to do with volunteerism and a menagerie of dogs to love, but solidly managing my calendar to allow writing time trips me up sometimes. Wait til you read about the solution below!

Time

I am usually amused when someone says they don’t have time to do something. We all know we have the same amount of time, so what they are really saying is that the something is not a priority. When we don’t want to do it, we fudge a little and blame it on the thing we all relate to: not enough time. Just yesterday I canceled a coffee meeting with someone I had recently met at a networking meeting. Rather than talk about my business, I realized that he was trying to sell me some kind of insurance when he sent me a video the night before and asked that I watch it in advance of our meeting. I copped out just a little – I sent a text instead of calling him, but in my defense, he sent the video by text also. Anyway, I told him it would be a waste of his time and mine, since I wasn’t interested in the insurance product, and I canceled the meeting. I have to admit it felt good to be honest (I could have said my dog got sick or something). And it felt freeing, because this was now “found” time I could use for writing.

Discipline v. Commitment

Writers, like other artists and creatives  I suppose, like to use the word “discipline.,” We way we “just aren’t disciplined,” or “I need some self discipline.” What  it comes down to is really just  putting our butts in the chair and getting to the  business of writing. But I like how  Julia Cameron referred to this in her book The Right to Write. She said that people think they have to be disciplined, which in itself has a negative or strict connotation. What we need instead, she says, is to make a commitment, and then we will find the time. “Commitment” is a choice, which is a positive spin, which is motivating. Tomato — to-mah-toe? I am on the side of commitment.

Newton v. Einstein

Another take on this issue of having enough time comes from  a fascinating read by Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap. He says that time is a paradigm, or set of beliefs, we hold and that there are two views on this.  There is the Newtonian paradigm (from Isaac Newton) which says there is only a finite amount of time. We have to be careful with how we spend it so there is enough time to do…what we want to do, what we need to do, before it runs out, since we can’t make more time.

Unless we can. The solution to this, the other paradigm, is Einstein Time (yes, Albert Einstein). Hendricks suggests Einstein had a new way of “being with time” that lets us get more done in less time and helps us enjoy plenty of time to discover and express our abilities and feel good at the same time. Einstein time gives us a way to expand time, if we allow ourselves to become the source of time and slow things down. Essentially, we have to change our thinking to taking full ownership of time.

Sometimes I get it, this idea…and sometimes I am confused and skeptical and … you know what I mean, you’re probably feeling that way right now, too. I can’t discount it completely because  I have been able to stretch time on occasion, but to consciously slow things down so there is enough time to get things done; I have to think about this. Time has stood still for me on occasion, and I have had the experience of time flying (like those last 40 years). I really have to get my mind around this concept, though.

In sum, Lilly’s advice is consistent with Cameron and Hendricks. We “find” time for what we have decided is important to us, and we do that by claiming it and staking our ground. Maybe we shut ourselves away in a room or leave the house to do what we “need” to do. Maybe we trick ourselves by setting a deadline. Offering rewards to myself doesn’t work for me because I’ll just go ahead and get what I want anyway if I want it enough, but it might work for you. The big idea here is to drop the guilt about spending time doing what we love to do. And engaging in that act of creation or whatever, being in that moment, giving ourselves permission to do this is a way to overcome the hurdle of time.

Since I’ve been “solowing,” my time paradigm really has changed, and I’m much more aware of and respectful of time. While we like to say “we never know how much time we have” in terms of life expectancy, I know this to be true. So I have shuffled my priorities, discarded some projects or responsibilities, made time for others. It’s possible I am shifting from Newtonian time to Einstein time! In any event, I value time now in a way that keeps me from getting blocked or stuck. I take my commitments seriously, and I don’t make  appointments that will be a waste of time.  If you have a time-saving tip, if you have experience with expanding time, if you have a story to tell about when the time was just right, please share! It might help me and others to make shifts in our thinking.

In my next post, I will touch on the hurdle of doubt and fear. I hope you’ll check back for that soon. That one is a huge one in terms of making it to the finish line of achieving our goals.

 

The Things We Keep

I want to tell you about my friend Jackie,

jackienme

Last summer at the Eastern Shore

who moved about three months ago from Virginia to Pennsylvania, which is  home to her even though she has lived here for 16 years. Isn’t that how it goes sometimes….you live somewhere, with friends and furniture and fun memories, but those fixtures are not enough to ease the longing for that place we call home, that sense of truly belonging, with the people we love most, trying to fill the void that can’t be appeased with all the stuff we have accumulated.

 

Jackie had spent nearly a full month culling out the things she no longer wanted or needed (an exercise could all benefit from if we had the motivation she does). She had a yard sale, then donated several boxes to a local charity, and even gave some things away (I got 2 plants and Pampered Chef pitcher!). She sorted and saved, wrapped and rewrapped,  packed and  piled her things to keep and to let go of. She started out quite deliberately, and then as the time of leaving got closer (and as friends were more objective than she), released some things to make room for the new life she was curating.

I went to help her or hang out a few different times. I admit I was a little jealous of the wide-open, fresh-start future awaiting her. She returned home, but I don’t know where my “home” is. Her roots go deep; mine go wide. Her parents live in the house she grew up in; not only are my parents both deceased, but my closest sibling to my home town is nearly 100 miles from there. She had a plan; I feel  adrift most days. She is single, never married, no kids (but 2 adorable dogs); I am solo, hundreds of miles from my nearest sister and thousands of miles from my three kids and five grandkids, still occasionally overcome with memories and dreams of a life that has been short-circuited. Of course, I am happy for her, and truth to told, I am not unhappy with my own choices to stay put and wait for inspiration.

It was interesting to peek into the pieces of her life as we packed and rummaged through closets and arranged the stuff that makes up her. I was reminded of how I painstakingly went through each and every single item that was Kevin’s after he died, which has taken me most of three years to do. And I couldn’t help but think as I drove away from Jackie’s what it would (a) take to divest myself of my stuff to make yet another move and (b) for my kids to someday have to go through this exercise without me. Except for the “crap” (as Kevin would call it) in my Diva Den, which is all my crafting/sewing/painting/unused exercise stuff, I think I don’t have all that much that would cause them to ask “WTH was she thinking?!??  It may not all be necessary, but it’s comforting and meaningful, and it reflects me.

So back to Jackie. One 30-something aged woman, two dogs. A yard sale, a donations pile, a large trash bin. A 20′ U-Haul, a car trunk, and a full SUV. Full of energy and optimism. Kevin went quietly and quickly, without a dime, nor a pair of shoes on his I-hate-bare-feet, nor his glasses to see where he was going, a book for while he was waiting at the Pearly Gates, not even a pair of pants or even his own toga! He left behind friends, memories, and a garage and one attic full of just his stuff. That’s the way to go, I guess.  If prepping and packing and purging weren’t so dramatic and draining, I might consider it myself. If I knew where to go. So I’d know what to keep and what to let go of.

Once I had to make a bottom-line decision about what to keep. It’s like those people who face evacuation from a raging fire or a hurricane. My house was in imminent danger of flooding (Moorhead MN, April 1997). I was going to have to leave. I told my boys to pack up a suitcase each with enough clothes for a week, and I had friends clean out the refrigerator and freezer. I took my box of important papers and a stack of photo albums (yeah, it was before the digital age). And we drove  away. It was not hard in that moment to prioritize my valuables. I was mentally prepared to completely start over if I had to.

What is hard is going down Memory Lane, taking detours, reliving every significant moment, touching your past, and deciding what things to keep. Is the apron my great-grandmother crocheted important enough? What about my favorite book(s)? The wedding dress? The pottery collection? How about those red plates I got a second job for so I could afford them? The basket of old love letters and other memorabilia from school days or between-husbands days? The 60 or so dragonflies that adorn my walls? My $300 leather planner? Oh, and the painting I commissioned of the adobe wall and the hollyhocks? I love that painting. The curio cabinet Kevin gave me for Christmas? The sleigh bed I always wanted and now have? The cedar chest or what’s in it?

How much of all the stuff I have is “valuable” because of the joyful experience I had acquiring it rather than any monetary merit? What is replaceable, if I could afford to buy it new? What have I forgotten that I even had, so therefore should be willing to not keep  any longer?

I have moved at least a dozen times in my adult life. For about the last three times, I’ve said This is the Last Time! And yet, I don’t think it is. Above all, what I want to keep is my sense of self, the Me I’ve become in the past three years, while keeping the Me I was that made me who I am. Kevin’s death forced me to face the reality that life is short and so should be really lived, not endured. Helping Jackie prepare for her move showed me that while it is work, it is work worth doing to dream up new dreams and chase them down.

Another thing Jackie’s leaving has taught me is about the impact on others that you are in a relationship with. Usually it is me who does the leaving. Those dozen moves were all me driving down the highway. But this time Kevin left, and I stayed. Last year my next-door neighbors Richard and Rosie moved across town, and I stayed. Buddy died, and I am here. Now Jackie is off to Pennsylvania, and I’m still here. Maybe I’m still here because it is my time to understand how it feels when someone else leaves and I stay. Maybe what I need to keep now is my compassion and my generosity of spirit in helping others  … helping raise grandkids? Helping them to be curious about life, to go exploring, to have adventures, to make memories. To know that even when someone leaves, it’s not about you; it’s about them. To know that life goes on and relationships can still continue and thrive. That the things we keep are up to us, whether it’s a memory, an artifact, a secret, a friendship.

Jackie is coming back here for a visit, and I’m happy to report we’ll be spending some time together. We’ve managed to stay in touch by phone, text, and Facebook, so it won’t be awkward to pick up where we left off. I remember what I used to sing as a Girl Scout when I was younger:

chloechewie

Chloe                     Chewie

Make new Friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.

 

(Shout out for Jackie’s two dogs, Chloe and Chewie who have their own blog at http://chloeandchewie.wordpress.com, and a facebook page at Life Adventures of Chloe & Chewie.)

The Right to Write

I have a long To Do list that keeps growing. I have found it difficult to say No and volunteered my time for more things than usual. Plus I’m actively trying to promote the Author Academy I’m going to start with a business partner, Dawn. That was supposed to start February 6 but we postponed it to get more registrations, so what I would have done a month ago I’m working on now. I’m also on the board for my homeowner’s association (president, no less) and agreed to do two no-fee presentations in March. Uff-da!

So I have plenty I should be working on, and instead, I’m choosing to write this blog post and work on some other writing, too. It feels like a bit of an indulgence, a bit selfish. But really, I have the right to write. Unlike other entitlements that infringe on someone else, this is my decision about how to spend my time, and it is guilt-free (and calorie free, I might add!). Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write, and The Artist’s Way, and other books, says so, too, so that’s more validation than I even need but I’m happy to have it.

permission-card.jpgPLUS, I found this old card in my desk! I used to give these out to staff when I was an administrator, to empower them, in a way, to take risks and to not wait for me all the time to say “okay” to something.

Why do we do this, this denial of the things we like to do? The floor needs cleaning, the dogs need walking, the bills need paying, the programs need development. And here I sit, happily clicking away on the keyboard for a change. It’s been weeks since I’ve worked on my book, and I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it’s been since I wrote in my journal.

Today is a good day for writing, just because I decided it is.  A writer should write. And  a dancer should dance, and a cook should cook, and a teacher should teach, and doers should do. Because doing is how we honor our being. I’m not saying we need to be doing all the time, busy for the sake of business. I’m saying that we should do what makes us feel good about who we are. We must take time for filling up. You know that saying, you never miss the water til the well runs dry? Okay, so if we don’t fill our well, we will also dry out, and we will miss ourselves and shrivel up.

Interestingly enough, I have trouble sometimes declaring myself to be a writer. Earlier this week I was having breakfast out with two of my friends. One had been commenting about my blog and how much she was enjoying it. The other wanted to know why she didn’t know about my blog. That lead to the first one encouraging me to do more writing. Then I got what she called the God Wink.

Another customer sitting a few booths away from our table overheard us and came over. She asked if we were writers, and my two friends immediately pointed at me and said, “She is.”  The woman said she had a story that needed to be told but this wasn’t the place to talk about it. She mentioned she has friends who are writers but she can’t tell them this story, and would I be interested in talking to her more? I gave her my card, and she left. Now, I don’t know if this is a common thing that happens to writers where other people either want to tell you their story or want you to help them write it. Either way, it felt really, really good to have others call me a writer, to accept that myself, and have the woman look at me with respect and interest. So call this a God Wink, or a sign, or whatever you want. I’m calling it good!

I have collected other people’s writing in the form of books, quotes, books, posters, and more books. The current situation involves 6 bookcases and 2 stacks bedside. I’ve discovered that it’s not just the physical object I’m collecting, and it’s not just the ideas I want to learn from, and it’s not just the sense of place that I can escape to. It is all that, but more than that, it’s validation that writing and writers matter. That writing is legitimate,  lending credibility and permission to myself to do what looks like nothing but is, in fact, a very good expression of who I am. Even if no one ever reads what I write – although you are proof that some of my writing gets read by people other than myself, and the magazines with my name in them are proof, too.

It’s my ego that gets in my way most times. She resists my writing, I think, when she suggests that I am wasting my time or when she discourages me to appreciate what I have written. I’m getting better at recognizing this, and when I do, I try to shift my thinking. It’s sometimes hard to remain faithful to what I believe in, what reflects my authentic self. I torment myself with fear that I am not producing any income, for example, and that I should go get a “real” job, and then I move into “fight or flight” mode. I start to live in the past, to worry about the future, and shove away the idea that I can be this person who creates through writing.

Today is that kind of day, though, when I feel the need to empty my thoughts and ideas onto the page so I have room for more of thoughts and ideas. Today I am ignoring Ego and honoring my Spirit. I am grateful for all the gifts I have been given, including the gift of connection with my Higher Self. I am going to tune in to a higher channel with better reception. I’m not blowing off reality; I am blowing off the Ego’s need for control. And that is freeing.

You, too, have this right to write…or to create, to fill your cup or your well, to share your gifts, to rise and shine. If you need me to help, I’ll be at my desk, writing away, lost in the wonderful possibilities ahead.

Women of Letters

I wrote today, and that made it a good day. Not just another few hours at the keyboard this time. Not just a work plan, or replying to an email that required an explanation, nor this blog post.

I wrote a letter to a friend. Four pages, handwritten, blue ink on yellow paper, folded in thirds and then in half to fit inside a card I bought. letterShe will be pleased to get it, since most of our contact over the years has been phone calls or an infrequent visit. I wish I was getting a letter. I told her a secret. I’m excited for her!!

My mom used to be a big letter writer. She corresponded regularly by mail. I remember once she made some comment about being bored, and I suggested she write a letter to someone. Her reply was, “Well, I can’t. I don’t owe anyone a letter.”  Yeah, that would be bad, an insult that the other person had not responded quickly enough or had missed responding altogether. Anyway, I remember she would sometimes watch for the mail to see if she got anything that day, just as excited as a kid. It was her connection to something, someone outside our house. Fortunately, when I left home she wrote to me even if I hadn’t written back. I guess the rules can be bent for children, even if they are adults. Mostly she told me about the weather, occasionally some news from the Gazette, our local twice-weekly newspaper, and once in a while an update on a family member or neighbor I may or may not have known. So maybe I got my love of letters from her. She kept some of the letters I did manage to send her, and now that she is gone, I have them back. It’s a treat sometimes when I miss her to sit and reread them.

I still have three letters from my first husband, all written in the early stages of our courtship; my first love letters, more than 40 years ago. Even though we divorced, they are a reminder of young love and that although it didn’t end well, it started well enough!

Kevin was not a traditional send-in-the-mail letter writer, but before we got married he used to email me almost every day. He lived an hour away, and phone calls still cost money. We both had jobs and kids with activities, so sometimes all we had was a few minutes here and there. Those were the days of local internet providers, too, so I don’t have access to those emails any longer. He gave me cards for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day (from the dogs), my birthday, our anniversary, and even Christmas. I kept many of them.  And I do have two voice mails I have saved from shortly before he died, both less than a half-minute of his voice asking me to call him when I had a minute. Still, there’s something about a letter… I wish I had even one from him.

My journal the first year after he died was almost all letters to him, telling him local news and about how I was feeling. He died unexpectedly, so this was my way to say all the things I didn’t get to say when he was here with me.  The letters were my way of not just processing his death but saying goodbye to him and the future I thought we were going to have together. The second year saw a slight shift. My journal became public with this blog, so my posts were more about him, not to him. This gave me a bit of distance, creating that space where I could prepare for not just a new life without him but a new me in that scenario.  And now I realize I write about me and my world, with an occasional mention of him. I can’t say the circle is complete, but it is the sign of the times; I’m healing and moving on.

An interesting thing about writing this letter today is that it gave me as much joy as I hope it gives my friend when she finds it in her mailbox. It validates me as a writer, too. I’m spending a lot of time at my desk on the computer lately. It felt good to have the slight weight of a pretty pen in my fingers as words flowed out. Time slowed down for a bit, and I still feel  relaxed, as if I had meditated a while.

She’ll wonder if it’s an Easter card (it’s not) or a very early birthday card (it’s not). But when she opens it and finds the letter, she’ll probably set it aside and make sure she has a fresh cup of coffee and uninterrupted time. That’s what I would do.

When is the last letter you wrote – that wasn’t a mass-produced Christmas Letter or a quick autograph on a $4.95 Hallmark card? I’ll bet you know someone who would love to get a letter in the mail. If you can’t think of anyone else, there’s always me!!

 

Love is blind

My fur baby Harley is around 12 years old. I adopted him as a rescue 3 months ago. Harley hair cutHe has no teeth, and was undernourished. He suffered from some stress, too, as evidenced by his lackluster and very thin coat of fur. Most problematic was the vet’s diagnosis that he was nearly blind, due to cataracts. I didn’t think it could be as bad as she suggested because he seemed fearless, jumping up onto my lap, hopping down off furniture, taking stairs without hesitation. There was the occasional drift to the side when we walked around the neighborhood, and once in a while, he turned a corner too short and bumped into a wall. I loved him anyway and was blind to the issue.

But it was happening a little more often lately. And then this morning, I had all the proof I needed. We were leaving the bedroom and heading downstairs. He was right behind me, as usual, or so I thought. I happened to glance to my right when I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. chair landingOh My God!! Harley had walked over to the banister that overlooks the entryway foyer. It’s got to be about 10′ down. He thought it was the steps, I guess. He is pretty small at about 5#. He had his head and shoulder through the spindles and was ready to put his paw down on the first stair – which wasn’t there – so he would have flown instead of walked.

I screamed and lunged, and by the grace of God, I grabbed his back legs. He was ready to fly when I swooped him up into my arms and nearly suffocated him. He was shaking and so was I. He didn’t cry but I sure did.

An hour later I had measured the banisters, put dogs in crates, and took off on a mission. It felt good to have a strong purpose, even given the circumstances. I went to Habitat ReStore, but no chic ideas came to me. Ace Hardware had lumber butlanding (1) that was not what I wanted. Danny’s Glass wanted almost $80 for one piece of Plexiglass, and I needed two.  Home Depot had options! There was a young man named Mike who was more than happy to cut a stock piece of thin clear plastic (whatever version of Plexi they carry) for me. When I got home, I gave quick thanks to the Angels in the Hardware Department of Heaven and drilled holes in the plastic sheeting without cracking it. I fastened it to the spindles with zip ties, and Voila! I have a solution to the dog-through-the-railing problem.

Then I rearranged the three baby gates and gatesthe aluminum shelf I use as a barrier to the stairwell, top AND bottom now. It would be nice if they had doors so I wouldn’t have to step over … since I took a fall a few weeks ago when I misjudged the height of one of them. Yes, I know I could buy the door kind but let’s say it’s not a priority. I’d prefer to think I’m young enough and agile enough that this is not a necessity…yet.

Now that I am calmed down (meaning I ate healing cookies and cinnamon rolls), I also have Googled how to care for a blind dog. Step 1 is to admit there is a problem. (Sound familiar?)  The vet says it’s cataracts, which may be surgically corrected or at least improved, but $2500 and no guarantee. Step 2 is to help him  use his  other senses, like smell and sound and touch. It’s unlikely I’m going to put bells on my shoes or the other dogs so he can find us, but I will talk to him more.

In fact, there are a series of things to do, some of which will be easier to implement than others. For example, I like to rearrange my furniture, but the advice is to leave it be so that the dog can learn his patterns. Use textured rugs to alert the dog to doors and stairs. Put scented oils on the rug under his food bowl and on his bed so he can find them easier. These are some of the to-do things.

Then there are the don’t-do things. He is so tiny that I love to scoop him up and cuddle him. But since he can’t see me or maybe always hear me, I need to be careful to not startle him. And carrying him from place to place is also a no-no, since he can become disoriented if he doesn’t recognize where I’ve put him down.

What it means is that we both have to adapt. Which is so obvious. I can’t believe I have never thought of me having to do the adjusting. How selfish is that of me?  I have never had to accommodate anyone (or anything) like this.  There was the time my son broke his knee and was on crutches and in a brace, but all I had to do really was to pick UP the throw rugs on the floor so he wouldn’t trip. He was the one who had to manage getting around. Am I a bad mama?

I’ve been blind about a few things apparently. I have a new appreciation for those with limited or no sight and how they adapt. I also have a new respect for those who live with or care for the blind or deaf. It may or may not be a hardship but it certainly takes compassion and selflessness.

I am going to be grateful that all I had was a close call today, one that could be fixed easily enough. I will be better prepared if ever I have the chance to help someone who has found themselves in need of help or understanding.  There are all kinds of blindness, and it’s up to me to figure them out and overcome or adjust to my own.

In the meantime, it’s probably safe to put the dog down now. It’s kind of hard to type with him on my lap and his paws tapping the wrong keys occasionally.  I will go read more on taking care of my nearly-blind dog. And if you see me in the store and I’ve forgotten to take off one of the bells on my shoe, just quietly point it out so I can stop jingling around.

Points of Reference

It started with winter weather

We had some winter weather here in Virginia last week. Depending on where you were, the snowfall was around 8″, give or take a few. Temperatures dropped to single digits. snow 2018Everything shut down for a few days, and I mean everything. Schools are still closed since there isn’t much in the way of  street-cleaning machinery and the busses can’t get around. My neighbor had frozen pipes in her house, and one of my own dogs refused to go outdoors for you-know-what.

I’m a Midwest girl, having grown up in Minnesota, and as an adult having spent many years in South Dakota.  I simply put on my Cuddleduds, which is “base clothing for layering” (also known as long underwear), heated up the apple cider and threw in some Sasha fireplaceRed Hots, flipped the switch to turn on the fireplace, and snuggled up with the dogs to do some reading while the crockpot cooked my Taterflower soup.  When I went out for fresh air, I wore a below-knee length down coat, gloves, a hat, and a scarf. And snow boots.  The wind only blew that first day, and after it stopped snowing a day later, the sky has been blue and the sun has been shining.

While many are complaining, I find it somewhat amusing. But that’s because my point of reference is different from theirs. People here are not used to cool temperatures, much less below-freezing days. They don’t have – or if they have it –  they don’t wear appropriate clothing.

It snowed last Thursday, and the weekend was when the cold front moved in. By Monday the temps were in the 40’s, yesterday they were about 50, and tomorrow is supposed to be in the mid-60’s.  I knew that the snow would melt soon enough and planned to save myself the strain of shoveling. But some neighborhood boys, probably freshly-minted teenagers, came around looking to make a few dollars.  shovelingWe’ve all heard about today’s kids and how lazy and self-centered they are, always plopped in front of a video game or growing a hunchback from bending over their cellphones. Here were three enterprising kids, willing to work for money, providing a needed service. I was more than happy to reward their spirit, their way of showing us that not all kids are hard to get a long with.  They wanted $30, which was $10 each, but all I had in my wallet was $29 – truly! Fortunately, I had just taken a pan of chocolate-chip cookies out of the oven, so we made a deal. In my experience, kids like food almost as much as they like money!

I can appreciate that swift shift to a milder winter, but for many here, it’s not soon enough. They haven’t lived through a winter that starts in October and ends in April, or one that has dropped 120″ of snow on you, or one where “snirt” is a real word (it’s dirt and snow that results from constant winds). They haven’t had to slice open a snow drift that is knee high and packed in like concrete where the garage meets the house. They probably have never climbed out a window to shovel their way to the front door . Yes, I have, so I know how bad it could have been and wasn’t.  It’s sort of like “you don’t miss the water til the well runs dry,” but not really. It’s more like you don’t know how good this is until you’ve survived a flizzard (yes, flood & blizzard) that forced you to sandbag your house during a snowfall.

I had lunch with some neighbors yesterday. Cabin fever had set in and most were anxious to get out. As we shared news from other neighbors who had gone south for the winter (ha!), I realized it’s not the just the weather that I view differently. My point of reference on many things is vastly different from theirs.

Innocent til proven guilty?

As you may know, my career was spent working for the judicial system. My views on true/false or good/bad or judgment or passion or blame or “rights” are all influenced by what I saw and heard and know.  It’s unfortunate that the court of public opinion seems to hold more sway than reality these days. Sensationalism sells, and with the proliferation of online instant access, waiting for the facts isn’t in vogue. I tend to stay out of the fray much of time, taking a wait-and-see approach, preferring to form my own opinions rather than have someone tell me “the way it is.” I have enough life experiences of my own now, and less of a need to rush to judgment, to get on the bandwagon too soon. Admittedly, I sometimes go days without checking the news at all. The advantage is that I don’t get depressed or desensitized by the headlines Usually there is better information (and thus a more complete story) by the time I check in.

Mishaps, setbacks, and tragedies

My point of reference (and my reactions today) for  medical emergencies, for example, is based on my experience as a parent, and since it takes a village, my quasi-parental role as an aunt and friend. There were broken bones,  car accidents, cuts caused by running into barbed wire fences and metal flashing sticking out of a well house cover, an axe that sliced open the top of a foot when chopping wood, and a successful suicide (but also some unsuccessful attempts), an accidental overdose, and a few DUIs. I know the difference between a mishap, a setback, and a tragedy.

Similarly, each death of a grandparent or cousin or uncle or friend built up my storehouse of experiences to call upon when my heart was bruised or broken. From failed relationships, to disappointment in  my parents or a boss, to the death of my husband and  even my dog, I have a place I can go to in my own little world and reflect on what else could have happened but didn’t.

Good stuff, too

Not all comparisons are bad, of course. There is good ice cream, and then there is real Italian gelato eaten on a cobblestone sidewalk in Florence. There is having an old Ford conversion van or upgrading to a brand new 5th wheel travel trailer. There is the ocean and the mountains. There is a karaoke in a bar that reveals a pleasant surprise, and professionals like Josh Groban or Miranda Lambert, but then there is the purest of joys when your kids video a roadtrip sing-a-long in the car on their way to Christmas vacation.

My point is, life is to be lived. If you do some living, your points of reference expand, making things more tolerable and enjoyable and meaningful. A week of winter weather becomes a few bonus days to clean out the closets or do some home cooking or have nothing better to do than read a book while snuggled with the dogs by the fire.

Live the good life

I say, bring it on!  I’d love to have a new perspective on what it’s like to live my tiny camper for a month or two, or to gain a sense of accomplishment from having traversed the back roads for a few thousand miles. DD FB page photoI think it’s when we are alone with our thoughts for a while that we can more fully appreciate not only the beauty around us but the goodness within us. I plan to do some more living this year. And so when you ask me what I think about something, I might just have to ask in reply, “compared to what?”