Combatting Worry-Creep

After a gift of gorgeous Spring days, Saturday morning and the weekend promises to be a little gloomy with only a dim haze of light where yesterday sparkled. I still mark weekends because I still have a job. Yes, our bookstores in the tristate area are closed but because I work primarily with educators and companies, I’m still in operation – my days safely at home on computer and phone doing business and sharing pep talks. Sometimes I am hit by worry-creep. I catch myself not breathing, my chest tightens until I remember things I am grateful for. Like for now I’m employed.

During my years of life in perpetual crisis-mode, I learned that focusing on gratitude calmed me. My heart goes out to all who are currently living with their own addiction or addict. Liquor stores in Connecticut remain open – considered essential and us social drinkers get to laugh appreciatively because who doesn’t need cocktail hour now? But there’s no such chuckle from someone who is seriously hooked. Recalling the recklessness I witnessed from my late partners, I am grateful not to be contending with an active addict in my life now. Strength and love to you if you are.

Back to things that calm the heart…

Having Molly here with me definitely tops the list. She was so ready to step away from her mom and out of this state where she’s spent her life. If her plan to land a job in NYC by February had worked out, well – it wouldn’t have been great right now. So yes, she’s not employed yet but she’s safe and healthy. We make each other laugh and bonus: she’s an amazing cook. Even if she were 6 and I was homeschooling her, corralling her away from friends and having to explain our current insanity – she would be my first delight and inspiration. But I won’t lie: I’m SO grateful to be living with this incredible adult version instead.

We love our home – although neither of us would win awards for best housekeeper and almost everything is shabby but not chic – we delight in this space. I look forward to getting my hands in the dirt, meanwhile adoring the cheery daffodils in our yard. We are lucky to have this home that I’ve managed to hang onto through all these years. The mortgage is almost down to what it originally was 24 years ago when I first bought it. – yes the bank will probably always own it. But thanks to refinancing (I have a great guy for this if you need one!) and my steady employment with blessed Barnes & Noble, we’ve weathered tough years in-place. We hope to continue to do that. I am very grateful to be quarantined in this sweet home – with a porch.

The list can go on. I’m sure you’ve got one too. Keep it handy. Of course I get anxious about this terrible illness disrupting our current grace-filled lives. I dread the thought of either of us, any loved one, any of you — losing our precious breath. But then — I breathe because I CAN — so deeply, filling my healthy lungs, expanding them as far as they will go and it feels positively joyful. I do this at night as I look at the stars – inhaling the cold night air while Rufus wanders the patchy lawn. I do it when I wake – stretching into the morning and gratefully taking a very deep, delicious breath.

How are you doing?

Forcing Spring and Myself

Peach blossoms

I hibernate. From reassuring texts and emails exchanged with friends who are also in a kind of dormancy, I know that it’s not just me and the groundhogs lying low. We are all tired and inclined to burrow deep into our own nests as dark closes in too early these winter months. I certainly am. At the end of the day or on a weekend, after a full work week, I want to light my wood stove, pull the curtains closed, crawl beneath the blankets with a book or the remote and talk to no one.

It doesn’t help that I have a job requiring I be outgoing, seek out strangers to try and convince them to buy lots of books. I like my company, love what I sell, am interested in other people and am socially adept – but like many book people, it’s not my natural inclination. As an introvert in an extrovert job, I definitely crave solitude after beating the bushes.

But it’s a fine line. Sometimes I feel like I have gone too far down the alone rabbit hole. Especially during winter, I tend to hide out in my own world, almost forgetting the pleasure of connection. It’s easier to stay in. But statistics show and I believe, that we humans need each other to thrive. I don’t mean through social networks – I want contact — to laugh, feel the comfort of a hug, hear a story, share a drink, a meal.

I’m so grateful to the many dear ones who make social overtures to me and accept mine. We take care of each other that way. Getting out with others can be more of an issue for us single people – particularly when you were once part of a couple. Venturing out requires more energy, motivation and confidence when you’re alone, particularly at first. It’s a skill worth honing because… well, you know. I certainly wish the men I once believed I’d be spending my life with were still here with me. I miss that. (To say ‘men’ rather than ‘man’ sounds weird – but there are two loved ghosts in my life.) Still, I enjoy my own company and have become quite content in my solitude. But the danger is how much easier it is to burrow down deeper, venturing out less. And I believe that for my health and well being, I need to resist the inclination to retreat. Do you know what I mean?

As always, I find my best life cues in nature. Last week I pruned my peach and pear trees, putting a few branches in water. And blossoms are already emerging — a reminder to the reclusive me, of the beauty that may come from forcing things along.

Over the Years of Writing it Down

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Almost sunset so only a few more hours before kissing goodbye to December and another decade. I’m determined, by the skin of my teeth and a few hours, to maintain my record of not yet missing a month of posting at least something here.

I would have written more but for: computer problems, lack of discipline, lack of inspiration, laziness, existential questions about ‘what’s the point?’. You know – the usual. But I pay to maintain this blog – domain name, anti-hack security – enough that I don’t want to waste the $200 plus I just spent for another 2 year whirl around the dance floor. It’s a bit like taking a class so I feel compelled to periodically write.

The other day I ran into another blogger who lives locally and we discussed inactivity on our respective blogs. We agreed that we do enjoy it – the cyber community and the process of writing. Like right this very second — I feel good! The activity of ‘writing’ is mostly pleasurable for me and at the least, compelling. In parting, she and I committed to stepping it up and writing. (I can’t remember the timeline – but here I am, Susan – I look forward to yours!)

Recently I was speaking with my beloved sister. We speak often about everything and anything. She’s a great listener and asks thoughtful questions that land like stones in my often dull lake-mind, leaving ripples of insight long after we’ve hung up. Both of us have boxes of journals – the only place one might read what I’m sure is her stunning writing. Like I said, we talk about everything – including our inevitable demise. I asked her the other day what should be done with her journals when her number is up? Burn them – she said, somewhat to my disappointment. Too bad. I bet she’s got some great books in there.

It’s been a long time since I regularly kept a journal. Sometimes I might write down a dream but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll randomly look at one. Here, I’ll do it now… (I walked to a shelf and randomly selected) a journal from 2001. Again, I randomly flipped open to something written while Neil and I were on an AA/Al-Anon recovery retreat for couples somewhere up the coast run by an inspiring priest – Father Mike C. (Oh, we did try hard for so many years!) What seems uncanny is how much the pages relate to my current ramble. From all the journals and all the pages I could have opened to, here’s where I landed:

“Julia Cameron, author of The Artists’ Way” was at the store the other day – and although I didn’t find her earth-shattering, her message is definitely a good one. And some simple exercises like writing 3 pages every morning and making an “artist’s date” with one’s self…. I have moved so far away from doing my work instead, chasing Neil and his addiction. And this was a choice. And one I no longer choose. It is that simple. I need to be on my own road now – back to finding that peace and joy and discovery I feel when I create. This is my prayer.”

Thank you Julia Cameron –  I guess you are ‘earth-shattering’ enough in the end! I confess to never really reading her – but I will now and get to those 3 pages. Here’s to closing out this decade and entering a new one with love and indeed, a prayer for a road of peace, joy and discovery for us all. Happy New Year! xxx

Ruminations on Autumn Clean-up (or not) and Time

I share my little plot with 8 trees large enough that I hope none fall on my house. They make a lot of leaves. If the spirit moves me I will rake them into mounds alongside the hedge or into my raised garden bed where they do their beautiful business of rotting.

My neighbors across the street have no trees and I wonder if they hate me when the wind blows in their direction? We are friends so I doubt it – but I’m sure they feel a tad exasperated by the mess my arbor-love makes on their tree-less property. And I wonder a little if their intention is to torture me every Saturday when the landscaper comes with a blower to blow mostly my tree’s leaves off their perfect lawn. There are not many sounds I hate more than the sound of a gas blower as it goes on and on and on.

My gardening… philosophy? technique? I search for the word that best describes my intentional laissez-faire attitude around autumn clean-up. I believe and there is much proof, that left to itself, nature takes better care of itself than when we meddle. The decomposed leaves enrich my property so it doesn’t make sense to stuff them into bags to be picked up by the noisy trucks emitting additional carbon gases into our atmosphere while they do it.

There is some clean-up I eventually get around to. I twist the thorny vines and weeds into cans to be picked up by those same trucks or smash them into the back of my car to drive them to the brush dump myself. Every year invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and bittersweet win the battle in at least one corner of my yard. Every spring I have high hopes that this will be the year I’ll keep said corner clear of growth. But as we move into summer and the heat and bugs amp up, I give up, conceding until autumn when I can more easily pull and snip at the recently frost-killed invasive plants.

I think about time and how it makes some things easier. Of course body aches and wrinkles alert me to the challenges time can bring = aging. But mostly I see time as my ally. With time (and effort) things that once were entrenched in my actual and metaphorical ‘patch’ become easier to deal with. A few short months ago, I was daunted by an overwhelming green mass full of thorns and worse — ticks. After a few frosty nights, the thicket shrank to skeletal twists I could tackle.

In the garden on an unseasonably warm day, I brace myself with bent knees, heels dug into the earth, inhaling a deep breath of mint (my advice: grow only in pots!) while yanking on a resistant tangle, I think of old resentments, anger, grief – pulling harder, feeling the strain into my legs until with a snap, release down to my core, my soul. Looking closely at the branches of the fruit trees saved now from being swallowed up by this wild growth, I see the teeniest, tightest little buds. Hope.

 

New to the Neighborhood

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Dawn and dusk have drawn closer and shorter days means that on the 5 days a week I work, there’s less light for long walks with dear Rufus. Morning outings are always short – just quick forays down the block with just enough time to sniff around and lift a leg a few times before heading back inside so I can get ready for work. When there’s enough daylight left on my return home, I like to take him either to the dog park where he trips over his own little legs running so hard and fast, or for a 2 mile jaunt I call the river walk. Either way, it’s a welcome outing for both of us. And even more fun when Molly joins us, her and I gabbing as we trade off on holding the leash of our tugging pooch. (we are lax on training)

The dawn walks are just me and Rufus. And lately: a fox. The first morning I saw him from a distance – a creature sitting in the middle of the road. I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t quite make out what it was but certainly it was bigger than one of our known-residents – neither rabbit nor groundhog. It sat very still with it’s back to us, smack in the middle of the street. I squinted to try and make out – was it a dog weirdly sitting there so still? Then it stood up and leapt into the woods. hmmm.

A few mornings later, we met fox face-to-face. It wasn’t frightened and in fact, stepped towards us even as I stamped the ground and cried ‘scat!’. It seemed more curious than threatening but it’s bigger than Rufus, who didn’t make a peep. I scooped up our wee dog and dashed back home. Fox did not follow. At first I wasn’t sure if it was fox or coyote – but it’s tail is very bushy and body slender. A beautiful creature! But I was shaken, imagining it attacking our beloved little dog.

Rufus and I have encountered fox 3 more times, sometimes days in a row. Fox is fearless, stepping towards us – never aggressively – perhaps wondering about Rufus’s fox-like ears. Maybe this youngish-kit thinks he’s a cousin. He probably wants to sniff him to find out – or to see if he wants to eat him for breakfast. I called animal control to ask their advice, whether I should be alarmed. They said it might be a young cub, alone and indeed curious – although fox will eat a cat so if our dog is that size (yes, he’s smaller) then I should carry a stick and make sure Rufus had had his rabies shot – just in case. I’ve taken to carrying an umbrella or rake during the low-light hours. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m nuts.

Interestingly, Molly has yet to encounter fox and teased me that I was imagining it but now is spooked about taking him out when it’s dark. My sister suggested the fox is my spirit animal and in fact, these encounters have begun to feel a little magical. I went down the internet search foxhole of what fox encounters might mean – and of course choose the positive interpretations — especially seizing on the Japanese symbolism of longevity and protection from evil. Just please, dear fox, do not eat Rufus.

PS: My neighbor shared this great photo of said fox.

A beauty, no?

Tuesday Morning Chill

A grey morning but for the glow of the newly green trees visible from my window. I peek out through half opened eyes but the desire to keep sleeping overpowers me and I slip down against the pillows. It’s tempting to go under for another dream but I allow myself only a few minutes before getting up to walk Rufus. I pull on a hooded jacket over a sweatshirt. Rufus pulls on his lead. The birds are singing Spring songs but my breath lingers as a visible cloud. It’s cold and it rained last night. I think of my garden plot across town and am glad I got the cardboard and newspaper down in time to capture this stretch of wet weather. I hold the memory of that work in the ache of muscles in my back from pulling the wheelbarrow through mud. I hear a woodpecker in the trees two blocks over. I love that sound as long as it’s not my house they’re drilling holes into. Rufus does not like a wet day. We turn and go back home. A short walk and glimpse of Tuesday morning.

A Waking Ramble

In moments of almost-waking what a stream of images I recall! Sometimes a kind of story line with drama, emotion and characters. What’s going on in there? Where is this stuff coming from? Our subconscious is wild. Don’t worry, I will not tell you about my dream. Other people’s dreams are not interesting.

I did clock some hours with a therapist who found dreams rich fodder and asked me to remember and tell her mine. During those months I got pretty good at recall and would write them down but I am lazy about trying to interpret them. I just wanted her to do it and give me my insights. We are the author of our dreams, she would say. In fact, I rarely remember mine and since I stopped seeing her, I don’t much. But there’s no doubt, there’s a lot going in the night and it’s not a bad idea to cultivate value. At the very least, the freedom and imagination.

As if I were in a new exercise regimen noting my slimming and strengthening body (that’s next!) there are changes I see in just 4 days of this practice. Room has been made in my psyche that was previously filled with mostly thoughts about work or worry or food. I don’t want to jinx a good thing so I’ll stop there.

But the richness of slumber and how to roll into wakefulness without shutting out the crazy creativity, imagination, memories, spirit of those sweet hours of being checked-out of this world. Where do we go when we close our eyes to sleep?

First Dog Walk of the Day

Our little black pup Rufus, sleeps in Molly’s bed. As I’ve already told you, I don’t share my bed easily although when my daughter is away for the night I allow him to sleep at the foot. He tries to sneak under the blankets because Molly lets him snuggle under hers but I’ll have none of that, thank you.

I’m on morning dog-duty. By 6:30 or so I hear the double scratch and thud of his paws hitting the wood floor as he jumps off her bed. That’s my cue to get up fast and open Molly’s door before he leaves a puddle by the door of her bedroom. He can be a little bratty like that.

Thus I get out in the early hours of the morning. And a little bit out of myself as well. I appreciate stepping  into the breaking day. I look at the morning light, the new growth, taste the air and in a sleep daze, watch Rufus explore the same old shrub. This morning, off in the sky to the South I saw a large bird that glowed white in the sunlight or maybe it actually was a white bird. Perhaps it was an egret.

This morning I was wearing pajama bottoms with ducks on them, my bare feet stuck into really ugly old UGGS, a belted black jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck although it was not cold after all. My hair was unbrushed but there are just 3 houses facing a wood on the street we wander down and all of us neighbors have seen each other in every mood, hour and season over the years. I don’t feel self-conscious. A perk of getting old.

Rufus knows the morning jaunt is a short one and turns back towards the house after taking care of business. By then, the kettle is boiled and I make tea.

Spring View From My Windows

It happens so fast. Only days ago my three bedroom windows framed bare branches and sky and just across the way, houses and flashes of car passing between them were still visible. This morning in the early light, all that has changed. Blurred by a range of new-leave-greens, I barely make out the houses. I watched the woody limbs of my trees grow thick with buds and now the Maple tree closest to my window drips spider-like flowers. The cars in the driveway will soon be dressed in pollen.

The privet hedge is filling in and I remember the daunting task of pruning the damn thing. It’s messy, exhausting work taking a full day and then more to pick it all up. I don’t hate it and always feel accomplished and strong when I’m done although my arms ache for days after. The lush length of wall it creates between the street and our yard is worth the effort. We sit on our porch in privacy, summer into fall.

There’s an insidious ivy that pops up everywhere and creeps over everything. I imagine it will swallow all of this when I am too feeble to yank out the vines. The patch besides the driveway is mostly cleared of it after a day of pulling it out this weekend. I transplanted day lilies, hosta and other tough perennials in the bald spots hoping they’ll spread and beat out the pesky stuff. People buy this plant – I see it for sale at the garden center. Don’t: I have plenty – come and get it!

When I climbed into bed last night, it was cold and rainy and I kept my socks on. This morning, I kick off the blankets and open the window. The sky is clear and the day promises to be warm and sunny, speeding up this Spring business even more. Not only the view but the sounds are changing too. The almost comforting white noise of highway traffic will muffle and breezes will become audible in the rustle of leaves. I’ll miss easily watching the birds in the bald branches but they are such vain things, wanting to be noticed, they’ll sing louder to let me know they are there.

Cleaning Closets

It’s easier to get up early now that the weather is warming up and the light starts breaking by 5:45. That’s when I woke this morning, limiting myself to only one hit of the snooze button. The winter cold disappeared last week so when I sit up in bed I don’t have to pull blankets up around my neck and can’t see my breath.

I used to get up and out of bed to sit downstairs and write, settling in at my desk with a cup of tea, then hammering away at the computer keyboard. I didn’t want to disturb Rob by writing in the room. I am happy to stay put in bed now, fluffing up the pillows behind me and even turning on the light if I need to.

I sometimes miss having a man I love beside me in life – but not so much when I wake up in the morning. Certainly I miss the good times, when the guys I loved were healthy and their breathing or sleep-twitching didn’t seem suspect. While it would be nice one day to fall so in love again that I want to share my bed, it’s hard to imagine actually liking someone so much I’d want them in my queen snoring beside me every morning.

And share my closet? How did I do that for 20 years? Especially with Neil. He loved and had more clothes than me. I spent part of the weekend purging and organizing my closet. I have before and after photos but they’re not loading so you’ll have to believe me that I had a lot of stuff plus more in there. It’d been years – or forever, I can’t remember which, since I pulled everything out. Then I washed the crevices and even vacuumed the ceiling. If I really had my act together, I would have painted but I decided not to get crazy. Why did I think I had to keep plastic bins of tax papers in my closet? That shit’s now in the basement! Get moldy, I don’t care. Twenty-two years of sharing my limited closet space with tax returns and supporting documents. Marie Kondo, I need you! Did you read her book? I didn’t find it compelling enough to get beyond a few chapters but the gist of it is helpful and I still swear by her folding techniques.

What got me into the closet was the need to swap out seasons. I always prefer the winter to summer swap. I have way too many of both seasons’ clothes even after purging the no-spark-joy pieces. Maybe I need to read another chapter or two. Yes, I still have the book years later even though it doesn’t particularly spark anything for me except maybe guilt. It’s a book I may want to look at again so I kept it. Along with the other hundreds I have all over this tiny house. That might be where Kondo-san lost me.

I did purge some clothes channeling the Queer Guys. Have you watched that? I’m a fan. I want them to remake my life. Although I don’t think I’m that much of a mess, I did add my capri length pants to the Goodwill pile because I heard their voices in my head chastising all of us older women who still wear them, not too. They’re right: it’s not a good look. Be-gone! Besides, they were a little tight. The thing about all the clothes hanging in my closet now is that they all need ironing. Cotton and linen. The need to iron is the only downside to what is otherwise for me, the preferred seasonal wardrobe change. I have to now allow for ten extra get-ready minutes required in the morning but I’ll take it over woolies and cords.

What do you keep in your closet?