Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Resting My Weary Heart

I've fretted here, there, and everywhere about the state of my gardens. I laughed with delight when I dreamed their new shape and texture. I've worried that I am not physically capable of maintaining them -witness my abject gratitude toward and willingness to fork over big bucks to the young people who mow my grass.

This is the Midwest. People here have very clear ideas as to what constitutes a good neighbor. Good neighbors mow their grass, alternating the direction of the mowing every week, lest... Well, I don't lest what. Lest something dire happen. They clean up their gardens during the growing season and before the snows fall. Good neighbors don't leave their recycling buckets out for 24 hours to blow around the neighborhood. Good neighbors are, all in all, someone other than me. While I get to have my more Southern-belle vision of what it means to garden (think of the difference between a peony and a rose) and to be neighborly (and the definition of neighbor is no less rigorous in the south; it's just different.) I do still want people not to have to politely avert their eyes from that eyesore of a house on Sixth Street. I really do want to be a good neighbor.

I finally figured it out. My gardens made me afraid. I thought I had lost my interest in nurturing, and THAT'S a huge part of my self image. What if I can't do it? What if even non-sentient (yes, I do get that part) plants understand that I have no ability to care for things anymore and just flat out die to prove the point?

Umm.... Andrea.... come back to the pack, sweetheart. You've gone 'round the bend.

Two things happened to snatch me from my dithering. While I was at my sister's house I read a book by Dominique Browning, Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardner. She too -beautiful, gifted and wealthy as she is- had her husband leave her for another woman. (Seriously, if she can't keep a man, I had no chance and should have known that from the beginning.) And she lost interest in her garden for well more than a year. Her claim, as she came out the other side, is that she hadn't lost interest in nurturing. She was just resting her weary heart. And the garden was waiting for her when she was ready.

And the second thing... this part is spooky. I told you I dreamed my gardens -at least the back yard and side yard parts. In the garden was very clearly a school desk (the old-fashioned kind that we used in the olden days, with a little bench and a writing desk that lifts up and where you store your books and papers and stuff) that I KNEW I would use for writing while outside in this newly-beautiful garden. My sister and I went to this antique furniture - consignment store while I was at her house and there was my desk. As she put it, you don't mess with the dream. I bought the desk. It's sitting in her guest room as we speak, but it will get to my house as soon as I figure out the details. I'm going to protect it from the rain with spar varnish (if it works on boats it will probably work on my desk) and come spring will write outside.

I still have heart-resting to do, but I think I'm going to do it with garden catalogues in-hand. My dream didn't come with a chart as to what the NAMES of those plants that I dreamed might be. This process involves some detective work ;) Research! Now THAT I understand ;)

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Wheels on the ...Luggage (??) Go Round and Round

I wish I had a youtube video of my nephew Thomas singing "the wheels on the bus go round and round". Unfortunately, you are denied -or spared, depending on your point of view- the doting-auntie videos. But anyway.... that's why the song is on my mind.

It's a long story. It always is, with me. The new-ish purple luggage got a workout this week, as I traveled to Pennsylvania to see a subset of the siblings and a smaller-yet subset of their children. As I tugged my little suitcase (the one that arrived in PA. Don't ask.) through the airport, I marveled at how easy the process was. Then I felt silly for marveling, because of course everyone has suitcases that roll these days.

And of course, I did too - even before the purple luggage. Except, like many things in my former life, it limped along not quite right. The former luggage lost a wheel on the floor of the airport in Switzerland. This did not happen recently. But all the other pieces of that luggage worked fine, so that piece got replaced in the attic. The thing is, that was the most usefully-sized piece of luggage. So time after time after time, I would haul out the broken suitcase and use it, with only one wheel. It still, I reasoned, held clothes perfectly well, and it's not as though I'm not strong enough to actually pick my suitcase up, as we did in the olden days.

And yet, it was embarrassing and silly and, on some level, just plain lazy to keep using that luggage. Now I have new purple luggage that rolls along quite nicely, thank you. And, being me, I must make this into a metaphor. How many other tiny little things aren't quite right that in the end take up an enormous amount of energy? Fixing them..replacing them... whatever it takes, would be a binary process. Do it and it's done. Dealing with them, accommodating them, working around the limitations they impose, is an ongoing, circular process. And worse, accommodation and limitation become the steady-state. It starts to take longer before it even occurs to you (ummm,.... that would be ME) that the situation is reparable at all.

I firmly resolve to tackle a few of these little things this week. I will report back!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Life Without a Computer

I did everything right. I promise!

At the beginning of the month I ran a virus scan. There were a boat load of viruses -but there always are, and they were safely sequestered. I killed the files and then re-booted my computer, as instructed. It didn't re-boot.

I tried the obvious things, figuring that one of the viruses had inhabited a boot-related file and needed to be replaced. That didn't work. I tried re-installing Windows. That didn't work. My hard drive has apparently become write-protected. Now, I'm done. I have no more tricks. The boy-child has taken my computer to his house for (I fondly hope) repair.

I can't decide how I feel about this computer-free existence. I'm reading more, that's for sure, and I really like that. On the other hand, I'm MUCH less efficient. I can't renew my library books without going to the library -and it need hardly be mentioned that they are already overdue. I wonder what the weather is going to be for my flight east. I can't check weather.com. I need stamps to mail my Christmas cards. I can't order them on-line; there is no on-line happening at my house. I just want to rest my weary brain and watch Grey's Anatomy. I don't have a television; all my TV-watching happens on abc.com, so that's not happening either. I can't update my iPod playlists; they're all sitting on-line at iTunes. My Christmas card address list? Stored on the computer. On-line friends have to wait until I get to work-and I refer you to weather.com again for blizzard information in my area.

I could try to wax poetic about living more simply and lower on the electronic food chain, or some such thing. Alas, it's just been freakin' annoying.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dear Santa

I have to tell you, I don’t completely understand last year’s gifts. My husband of 27 years left me, in an emotional drama that hardly bears looking at or mentioning. I’ve had to learn to be single again, get a new job (since I had quit mine to follow his to Pennsylvania), and start to craft a new life for myself. I have to tell you, it’s been hard sometimes, Santa dear, to see the beauty in any of that.

Yet, here’s what I’ve managed to make of it. Within about 6 weeks of driving away from Pennsylvania, I had a therapist, an attorney, a full-time job, and was back in the house. Within 6 months of that, I was back at the university -in a part-time sort of way. Within another 5 months, and in this economy, I had secured a new job, increasing my income a bit, but also easing many other things about my life. I’ve moved from a job that was fine and that I was grateful to have, to a job that challenges me and makes me smile. I am grateful every day for that.

Of course, I haven’t done any of these things alone. The children, who of course have always been fabulous, have been stupendous supports and friends. Now that they are all grown up and pursuing their own careers and interests, we have moved to a new kind of relationship, and I am just delighted that they are willing to hang out with me. I see each of them at least once a week. Nicholas has recently moved into a duplex in a town north of here, but we go rock-climbing almost every week. (Yes, Santa, rock-climbing at 50! You should try it, although I understand that you might be a tad older than 50.) Victoria and I mostly just hang out, but she has taken an interest in helping me restore and remodel this big old barn of a house that I love so much.

My siblings and friends are wonderful –not that I didn’t know that, of course. But one learns it again and with new power when the chips are down. They have served as reality checks, staunch supporters, and as occasional dispensers of tough love. Mostly, though, they have staggered me with the simplicity (in the very best, most elegant, sense) and strength of their love.

So, Santa, maybe some of this has been gift in my life. I have learned all kinds of important things. I’m still plagued by grief for my marriage. Yet those moments, while powerful, are rarer than they used to be. And if nothing else, I’ve learned that I can survive them. I am starting to glimpse the young woman I was before my marriage, when all was possibility, and I was sure of myself and my place in the world. She’s starting to re-inhabit my psyche, and that’s pure delight.

But seriously, Santa, can I just have a puppy this year?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tidings of Small Joy

I have a Christmas tree, lights, decorations, and Christmas stockings, and I did it all myself!

Last year at roughly this time, I wrote a post about my Charlie Brown Christmas. I was quite sad and lonely and, well, shattered. Christmas, for me, has always been the perfect time of year. Family, goofy family traditions that only a few people understand, cookies, people dropping by for no reason -or every reason. Children claiming not to LIKE the goofy traditions and then pouting exorbitantly when you threaten to stop them. Christmas ornaments made from popsicle sticks and cotton balls and glitter. Christmas carolers who can't actually sing. I love it all. Yet, when you love it like I do, a lot of your emotional life is held by those decorations and traditions. When my emotional stability had been battered, I literally could not force myself to look into those boxes of Christmas decorations. It was like looking into my emotional life and pain -and why subject yourself to that for no good reason?

So last year, I did no decorating and I fled. This year, the decision seemed much easier and more graceful. I'm still going away for the actual Christmas celebration, but it doesn't feel (quite) like fleeing. I bought an artificial tree -formerly anathema- and strung the lights myself. I bought new decorations that I love -coppers and golds and sparkly. There's a new Christmas tree skirt so I don't have to face the one I hand-sewed the first year I was married. There are new stockings for the same reason. I plopped right down on the floor and sobbed when I hung the third stocking and there wasn't another one to be hung. But I kept going, and hung a lighted garland on the headboard of my bed. I don't know why. It was in my hand and I didn't know exactly where I was going with it, and that seemed right.

So there we are. It's about 1% of the decorating I used to do. I still haven't looked into those boxes in the attic -even when I needed ornament hangars which are surely in there and can not possibly be emotionally laden. But it's mine. I can do it myself without feeling burdened or annoyed. I'll be able to take it down myself -and on a schedule I prefer.

And last night I sat by my tree and drank a teeny glass of cognac and admired my handiwork. And I saw that it was good.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Keeping Warm

Literally, of course, that's a bit of a theme for me in the winter. I HATE being cold. So, I buy electric mattress pads and I knit (a verb for keeping warm, as Jill says), and I buy horrifyingly expensive new windows for my house to eliminate (some of the) drafts.

Yet, really, I'm talking about metaphorical warmth. I'm trying to figure out what makes my house a warm home. What makes me smile about it? What comforts and soothes? Candles. They have a "company's coming - you're special" vibe that calms. Music in the background -or the foreground, as the case may be- is essential. My mom leaves the stereo on even when she's not home, to make sure there's a little noise in the house when she walks in. I don't do that, but I get the idea. Solitude can be good, in reasonable doses. But too much silence has a pressure and a heaviness about it. It's not good for people like us, apparently. Books are important. I curled up last night with a book -a book I was reading for pleasure, which felt unbelievably decadent- and was truly happy.

I need a better bathroom -candles, cozy rugs, bubbles, music, the whole girly thing. My bedroom still needs a smidge of warming up, although it's better than it was when I moved in. (And yes, I bought the remaining curtains!!!) At least one guest room needs to be ready and inviting, which right now it emphatically isn't. It's a bit more like Santa's workshop at the moment :( I had a party and we plowed through my modest wine collection (which was all of 4 bottles, but still....), so that needs to be started over.

But whatever I do, I think I have to ask the question "does it add warmth, or light, or welcome?" If I can't make the argument (to myself... and really, I'm not a tough audience.) then perhaps it's not the right thing for me to be doing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jobs I'm Glad I Don't Have

OK, I have a cool job. There is a guy on campus whose passion is developing harnesses for actors and dancers for when they need to "fly". Now, I don't claim to understand how this got to be his passion, but it seriously keeps him up at night. He and I were chatting, and I mentioned that I'm a rock climber. Rock climbers have a certain fondness for flying and harnesses, too, as it turns out. Of course it takes even an expert rock climber three or four minutes to get adequately attached to the various ropes and harnesses and carabiners that keep us alive. Oddly enough, this would not work in a stage setting. So, our harnesses are not the same as their harnesses.

But it opened the conversation. And because I have some experience he let me play with his inventions. So I spent a half-hour this morning flying. What did you do???? Even if I can't understand someone's work...even if I can't understand how, in a world with so many possibilities, THAT became someone's passion (I offer you mathematics as one possibility in that category.)... I love being in an environment where people are passionate about ideas and projects.

But walking back across campus, I thought of jobs I'm profoundly glad I don't have. Bless the hearts of the people shoveling snow today. Holy cripes. I am glad I'm not among them. I'm glad I'm not the person in charge of driving 18-wheelers down the little windy streets of this town -or worse, in the Chicago Loop. I probably shouldn't consider a career in professional light-bulb-changing, since that project isn't going all that well.

All things considered, I'm better off where I am.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Personal Magic

I'm not usually much about the un-know-able stuff that does not admit of proof one way or the other. I do, mostly, make an exception for matters of theological faith, but I don't even want that to go too far. ("Too far" being defined by...wait for it...ME!) Strategies like "the secret" for people allegedly willing things into their lives make me more than a little nutty. What about all those people who wish for and hope for and NEED things that don't come to be? They just didn't "do it" all hard enough or well enough? Nonsense.

Now... that said...I've been wondering lately if people don't, nonetheless, naturally have a little bit of magic. Starhawk talks about magic as the ability to change consciousness at will. If consciousness is the same as awareness, then I'm good with that definition.

I'm thinking of my mother, who has the ability to walk into a room in my house and move one thing, and then the whole room looks better. How did she do that? How did I not see the impact that one thing had on the feeling in the whole room? I'm thinking of my family and friends who have the ability to speak to the competent, capable part of me and, in doing so, bring that person to the surface. I'm even thinking of a knitter's ability to take two sticks and some string and turn it into a work of art. It's not just knowing the techniques; it's the awareness of what could happen with those tools in your hands.

As we approach divorce-day (still not established, but soon) I've been reflecting on what went wrong. So much is going right in my life, not because I know "the secret" (which I emphatically do not, and I would tell you if I did and then it wouldn't be a secret.)but because I have more -and better- energy. If you guys could have seen me in Swarthmore, you would not know that person. I sat. Seriously. All day.
Powerful negative energy that I could not yet accurately name took away everything about my self-definition. I didn't exist. It wasn't that I was becoming someone else. I was vanishing. That's some powerful negative mojo.

And then there's the whole "magic of the season" idea. Darkness becomes light as we pass the solstice. A baby becomes a saviour, if you're inclined towards that belief.

So, what's your magic? I know you have some. I don't know what mine is, but I promise to think about it and report back.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I'll just sit here in the ...light

I'm living the light bulb joke. How many short moms does it take to change 14 light bulbs?

Things have been a little wild around here....new job, writing emergency, holidays, living and learning my new life. Sometimes there are little bumps in the road. This is a big-ish house -not McMansion size at all, but big- and the ceilings are high. And light bulbs live their little shiny lives, and then they die. Mostly, I work around that, because changing the light bulbs is a HUGE production. But 14 burned out light bulbs, well, that gets your attention.

Don't laugh. Don't -and this will be harder- roll your eyes. I'm not entirely sure I know how to change a light bulb. Sure, I can change the ones in lamps and low things. But when you have to unscrew the light fixture, while standing on a ladder, and holding big things with small hands WAY over your head..... yeah. There is no good outcome here.

I'll just sit here in the dark. And wait for my children to come over and fix this.


These are the children who, a mere few years ago, could not be trusted to pick up their socks. And a short few years before that had to be quizzed rather carefully about personal hygiene. I taught them those things. How can it be true now -WHY would it be true now- that I have to wait for them to fix this for me?

Yes, they are taller -as is your average 5th grader. Yes, they have demonstrated that they already know how to do this task. And they are very competent and fabulous, no question about that. But...really.... these are light bulbs we're talking about.

I can probably do this. I am smarter than a light fixture. Surely. It may take me a while, but the next time you see me, I will have changed 14 bulbs. And replaced them with CFLs, too, because I'm that kind of enviro-girl. If I can teach kids to not only wash behind their ears, but to value washing behind their ears, I can - shaking my fist at the heavens, like Scarlet O'Hara- as God as my witness, change a few light bulbs.

I'll report back.