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.
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.
I start my New Year here, with a mountain of pillows plumped behind me, dog Rufus snuggled against my thigh, sunlight pouring through the window and not a single commitment to the outside world. It’s rare that I catch the movement of light across my room in a day. I will make another cup of tea and return to read, write and dream as the sun shifts in glorious show through my different windows. I am in heaven. This is enough.
I prefer to usher out the old and welcome the New Year in quietly. As my like-minded friend Jennifer put it yesterday – there are the revelers and the reflectors. In the past, I would feel compelled to join my jolly and beloved reveler friends in the neighborhood. It seems expected, and especially now that I am single, these dear ones worry about me. No one likes to think of us single people by ourselves, alone at New Year. We should be celebrating! It can even be hard for me not to buy into that notion – so sometimes, I force myself to join in.
But honestly – I’d rather be reflecting.
Or at least quiet. I’m not a fan of the American way of celebrating the end of the year – being noisy and whooping it up in a frenzy towards midnight. I don’t judge anybody else for wanting to do that, but please don’t feel sorry for me either. Just beam me up to Kyoto every year at this time, and I’ll be happy.
New Year celebration in Japan is a saner business. It’s a time for ritual cleaning and getting rid of negativity. So I celebrated Japanese style here – cleaning my space – especially this space where I wake every morning and now revel in the light and quiet. I lit some sage and ‘smudged’ the house – briefly opening the window to fan smoking old energy out into the frigid air.
Although 2017 brought me profound sadness, there has also been incredible pleasure. This is the year my dear daughter graduated from college. We adopted Rufus – a pretty perfect dog. My daughter and I are healthy. And these last two weeks, the cloud of sadness blocking my joy, lifted. Somehow, I feel in my bones that in our vast universe – Rob is at peace. And his love – still with me.
Of course I’d rather be moving ahead in life with either one of the two beautiful yet troubled men I committed to and once believed I’d grow old with. I miss them. But — I am not unhappy alone. I am grateful for the love and that I still sense – and them both, now at peace, freed from demons they tangled with in this life. I have that — and this beautiful girl and our pup delivering regular doses of love and light – even at night. I am lucky.
I wish love and light for you, dear readers, and a Happy New Year!
I arrived at the beach just after 9:30 AM, determined to get out on the water before the holiday weekend boaters took over. Ten minutes after leaving the house, I pulled into a spot close to the boat launch — rolled my kayak down off the car, slung it over my shoulder by the seat strap and teetered down to the water. High tide was around 7 so the water was still close enough that I didn’t have to navigate too many slippery rocks. Wading into the water with my boat beside me, I slid aboard, scooted against the back rest and began paddling towards the Norwalk islands, grinning.
It’s been 2 summers since I’ve been out paddling and I refused to make this a 3rd. Fairly priced kayaks are the first thing to go at tag sales and last year, I never scored one. It didn’t help that I wanted something very specific. I am not a confident water person and had gotten used to the impossible-to-tip-over ocean kayak I’d paddled with my ex. Last year I searched tag sales, Craig’s List and asked friends – to no avail. This year, riding the wave of excitement and satisfaction and yes, financial freedom of Molly being done with college, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. For just over $300 for kayak, oar, jacket and straps to tie the thing down on top of my Subaru. David, our salesperson, was a prince – guiding me towards the right boat, attaching foam to the rack on the top of my car and showing me how to attach it tight.
The first few times out, I loaded up with Molly who thoughtfully stood by trying not to help. I wanted to know I could wrestle the thing myself. Finally, she couldn’t bear to see me struggle and with a flip of an arm, threw the boat up on my car. While she’s around, I’ll welcome that help. But this morning, I did it myself from start to finish. I doubt it looked pretty, but damn it, I did it.
And this is where I went. I floated, I paddled, I watched the birds, telling them how lovely they were. It’s cooler out there with a sweet breeze easing the heat of the sun. Pulling up to a spit of land that disappears at high tide, I pulled the kayak up and swam, marveling that this sweet beach was all mine. I wonder how I let 2 years pass without this dreamy experience so close to home!
On my first solo venture out, I alternately felt thrilled and terrified. Nervous that no one was behind me navigating, paddling when I got tired. If I go under, it’s only me and my fierce whistle! But even as huge motorboats bore down on me, I smiled like a buddha. On my own, blissful with the birds skimming across the rolling waves, the odd splash of a fish and yes, the roaring motors of boats. In fact, once I think they see me and will probably not mow me down, I love rolling in the heaving wakes they leave. And I wave, imagining they must envy me – moving so sleekly along, quietly moving towards the egrets in the tall grass, so very happy in my solitude. I would.
I would like to do a better job of remembering my dreams. I rarely do. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks – telling myself pre-sleep: “remember your dream!” Nothing. At best, I manage a snippet. My intention is to learn more about my subconscious, to improve my discernment in every sense of that word. I’m tired of making the same mistakes in my life but if I don’t understand where they come from, I probably will. Hey, it’s only taken me to the other side of 50 to fully embrace this idea. Better late than never, right?
Recently, a pretty mundane remembered dream-scene inspired me to start meditating again — a discipline that in the past has been helpful. In my dream, I am searching for a different wake-up sound on my alarm clock, something besides my usual bird twitters. While the choices on my real clock has only said bird sounds, rushing water (effective perhaps in hurrying one to the bathroom) or horrible beeping noises, my dream clock included the mesmerizing chants of Tibetan monks. In my dream state, of course I choose to be woken by this chanting.
And when I actually woke and (eureka!) remembered this, I took it as very clear guidance. Wouldn’t you? Now, when my electrically tweeting birds wake me, I hit snooze but instead of burrowing deeper into my pillow, I scoot up into a lotus position and for 10 minutes or so until the birds start singing again, I focus on breathing, on silence. With each inhale I imagine filling up a reservoir of peace that might sustain me through the day.
Sitting for a few moments after opening my eyes, I like to observe the night change to day. This week, mornings were either shrouded in fog or spectacularly red – once in particular, the world beyond my windows seemed on fire, the crazy reds almost tangible so densely did they fill the atmosphere. In half-consciousness, I basked in those magic rose hues until they were absorbed into the normal light of a day. A good start.
I’ve been on vacation this week and spent it getting reacquainted with my old friend, solitude. After making breakfast and packing lunches and smoothies for my loved ones, I sent them off with a kiss to their jobs and my pup and I stayed home.
I love my gal and my guy but I cherish solitude. I love my job requiring me to talk to people but going a whole day without speaking to a soul is bliss. I’m overdue for visits with many beloved friends but I made no plans for lunch or coffee. This week, I indulged my neglected introvert.
Just for fun I took one of those goofy online tests to see whether I am an introvert or extrovert. I’m both. I love meeting new people, talk easily and with pleasure with anyone — but my need for solitude is important enough for me to get out of bed ridiculously early so I have some time alone. I’m grateful my loved ones are big sleepers more inclined to stay in bed till noon than worry about getting any worms. Mornings belong to Tetley and me and even he usually goes back for a nap after his quick morning outing.
During this week’s abundance of alone time, I did experience some pangs. I remembered the other side of the coin: the loneliness of being alone. It’s a fine line. In my pre-family past, when I lived alone, I often felt an ache of longing – to have someone in my life, wanting love, to be wanted, needed. Rarely did I own up to this, sure it was a sign of weakness, of being a loser, of not fitting my self-image – or at least the one I hoped to cultivate. I’d take lovers anyone else could spot would not be right for me, sure they’d fill the spot I’d reserved. With varying degrees of drama, these affairs crashed and burned. I marveled at my mated friends – envied their sense of being a unit even when they squabbled. Okay, then maybe not so much – I know how lonely it can be even when someone is sleeping next to you.
I used to hate the feeling of loneliness. Now I recognize the pangs of desolation as first steps on the road to where I like to be, as a sign I’m going in the right direction on the way to get somewhere interesting. It may be tough to climb the mountain, but how great the view is. I understand better how to dive into this place of alone.
Being good at solitude is a little like a muscle and if you don’t use it, you lose it. For me, it’s the same group of muscles I use to create. My best work grows from a quiet place deep within me – a whole different terrain than the day to day business of being in the world, going to my job, being an extrovert. Like all of my muscles, I want to keep this one limber, the one that gets me to a quiet place where I can best hear what’s really going on.
My birthday was last week. I always try and celebrate by taking the day off work and doing whatever I feel like. But for dodging icy rain drops on the way to a morning yoga class and later, delicious dinner out, I stayed inside, sitting here, in the little room off of Molly’s bedroom, that in her absence, I claim as mine. I wrote, I read, I napped and spent way too much time reading Facebook posts and other people’s blogs. I made myself tea and took Tetley out when he wanted to go – although my handsome old guy is mostly content to sleep by my side. Bliss.
Is this what I would do if by some miracle, I can, one day, I can not work – you know: retire? Maybe. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about traveling. Not the 10-day visits to 15 places kind of travel. More of the life-changing, where else might I live kind of travel. Partly this is financial – there are so many other places that cost so much less than here. It’s crazy how much money we need to even live ‘simply’. The car no sooner is paid off and it needs big repairs. The house always needs fixing or just requires constant ‘juice’ and electricity, oil, water bills are daunting, especially during these long, frigid winters. Add to that the cost of being hooked-up to society – telephone, internet, television. I have a good life but lived fairly close the bone and without a solid job, I would not be able to sustain all this for long.
Now that my daughter edges closer to independence – meaning half-way through college, I have started to imagine what I might, like on my birthday, want to do every day. Having a kid means turning that spot of what “I want to do” over to what you need to do for your kid. I did so willingly, wanting nothing more than to make her my joyful priority. But the deal is, the kid grows up and goes out into the world and figure all this stuff out themselves. Mine will be ready soon, I’ve no doubt. So time for me to re-evaluate, to ask the question I haven’t seriously considered for 20 years: what do I want?
When I was the age my daughter is now, all I thought I wanted to do was travel, to see the world, live other places and so, I did some of that. After hopping on a Freddie Laker special ($100? something crazy like that!) I traveled through Europe for 4 months – from Ireland as far as Greece. I think I had barely $1,000 with me – all in traveler’s checks. I wrote letters and if anyone wanted to write to me, they did so c/o American Express. I think I picked up a letter or 2 in Athens. I never called. Can you imagine? No email never mind Facebook or messaging! I remember many adventures, wonderful connections – and an almost constant ache of loneliness. First of all, I’d made the mistake of falling hard for Gerry Clancy who I met in a pub in Limerick on the first day of my trip – and after an extraordinarily romantic interlude with him, continued on. I might have stayed were he not still spinning from a recent breakup. That story deserves to be told on it’s own another time, but for now, let’s just say, I spent many Europass miles for the rest of the trip, pining. And lonely. Would have things been different if I’d been able to connect through cyber space with family, friends, lover(s)? Absolutely!
While I look back and marvel at the richness of those days, the months of living an interior life out in the world, on my own. Really on my own with no loved ones ever really knowing where I was for long, what I was doing, hell – if I was alive – all of us just trusting in the universe. I think this set the foundation for the rest of my life – to believe I was okay in the world – anywhere.
But I do think the ability to reach out and connect and sustain relationships and share images, stories, joys, sorrows, and most of all – meals, while traveling, has changed the game, the experience, to one I would enjoy even more today. I love my solitude but I love connection. I like to have hours to myself to read, walk, contemplate – but I love company, sharing my experiences with like-souls, something not always so easy to find in a strange place.
I get inspiration from many traveler’s blogs – a few of them (like this and this one) are kids not so much older than my daughter so I follow them with a dual traveler interest and maternal concern. Some are young couples, some are a little older – a dreamy idea. Some have settled in one spot for awhile so are less traveler and more expat now, living for a time in a place – probably more my speed these days. But I devour their news, thrill at their adventures. And I start to imagine my own. These days, I’m thinking about Burma/Myanmar – a place that’s always appealed to me. Maybe they need English teachers? Or Cuba? Something about these places that seem locked in time appeal to me. (I’ll pass on North Korea, thank you, especially after reading this book.)
For now, I relish my life here, in almost-Spring Connecticut with a little room looking out at the oak, my dog beside me, my man in the next room both enjoying their sleep on this Sunday morning. Oh – and the New York Times delivered to my drive. I’m thinking about dinner – crockpot pulled out from a cupboard. So much stuff under there! Juicer, rice cookers, food processer, pots, pans, serving trays pulled out once a year. I’m still a long way from hitting the road. For now – I’ll dream, longingly gaze at friends photos of the cherry blossoms now in bloom in Kyoto, and check on the croci in my own garden, bravely torpedoing their way out of the frozen earth.
I’ve become a real armchair traveler and there are plenty of journeys to enjoy through the blogosphere.
This adorable and adventurous Dutchwoman rides her bicycle around the world, pedaling up and down mountaintops, camping on a whim in empty pagodas. She spent months in Japan and is now in Korea – eventually, she’s heading to China. When she feels like it. Lucky us, we get to sit at home and look at her incredible photos and read her quirky stories from the warmth and comfort of home. And to feel envious and maybe think, “I’d like to do that”. Although, I suspect I’d be lonely. I usually was when I traveled alone – secretly pining for some dreamboat traveling companion or a posse of girlfriends like when Paula, Jane and I drove across country from Kentucky to California. (That was a great trip.) The thoughtful attentiveness of solitude can be rich but that lonely ache that comes with it, well, it’s not my favorite anymore.
I love expat blogs – like this one by a funny woman in Italy who discovers all the crazy quirks of that great city and transforms her sometimes frustration into hilarious joy. She loves her Rome and we get to enjoy it with her without coughing up any airfare.
An American woman about my age, beautifully writes about upping and moving to France with her husband and teenage boys. Alice posts daily about their search to find a walk-able, live-able village for her family to settle in. This post made me think yesterday – her last line, “Birds fly because they have nothing to carry with them” sums it up beautifully. I looked around the house at all the stuff we cram into our tiny house. Later that morning, after paying the mortgage we hit a few tag sales and my favorite church thrift shop. At a tag sale I found a beautiful cover for the sofa and an impossibly soft throw both for $24. At the thrift shop I bought the softest cashmere sweaters – one in orange the other, a red v-neck. $18. Do I need these things? Well, it’s getting cold around here. But – no. I don’t. But they are lovely and what a bargain…
I do miss travel – the possibilities, the glimpses into other lives, the thought of creating a new one every day – out of a suitcase. It’s the first treat I imagine when we eventually win the lottery — planning the long trips. But, but, but… what about my garden? What will the groundhog eat if I don’t plant some Edamame next spring for him to gobble up? And our beloved dog, Tetley? We couldn’t possibly leave him behind.
Okay, maybe for a week. I guess, for now, with 3.5 years left of college tuition to pay, that’s about as free-spirited as I can get anyway. So meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the amazing exotic trips France captures in her astounding photos, and this blog by a couple who were lucky enough to discover each other and their shared dream-life early on and remarkably, they are still going strong – and to wonderful places. That sounds perfect to me – I hate eating alone. Where to next and what should I make for dinner?
Yesterday, strong winds curbed our kayaking ambition. Rather than venture all the way out to one of the islands, we floated out only as far as the sandbar. A 10 minute paddle away and marked by sea grass that disappears completely at high tide, this spot is where we go for short trips when we want to get on the water, content to be jostled about. At low tide a nice little beach is exposed and we can park the boat up on the sand. We wade through the water, watch the birds, the clouds, the waves, the shimmer of light and shadow on the water, dig our toes beneath the sand. We don’t talk much, absorbing the bliss.
Yesterday, overwhelmed by the beauty I said, “There’s something magical about this little spot, isn’t there?” It feels a bit like that patch is ours.
The tide was heading out it was still too high – no parking the kayak yet – but R hopped out into the water to stretch his legs and let the current swirl around his knees as I paddled over to the grasses, the plastic boat heaving but held steady by the Moses-reeds. Peaceful. Finally, I floated back to R and we agreed to head back. With the kayak and my gaze pointed towards shore, I felt R climb in and pushed my paddle into the water.
“Wait. We have to go back,” R said. “I had the car key in my pocket and it must have fallen out. We have to look for it.”
Silently, I guffawed. The Long Island Sound still around our calves even at the most shallow spot around us. We’re supposed to look for a key in the water? Certainly a case for lost causes, I thought. Were I a believer I’d be praying to Saint Jude. In any case, I hopped out of the boat and began scanning the rippling water, grateful that these days, it’s clean enough to easily see the bottom.
“It’s my only key. I only have this one left,” R said philosophically with a smile, not ready to get despondent yet.
At least the tide was going out and not in — the sandbar would soon be exposed — instead of disappearing even more underwater with an incoming tide. Still, this was no gentle retreat. The water billowed around us, the sandbank churning broken clam shells, stones, mussel shells with each new wave. Creating, I thought, new layers for us to dig through. I flashed on the rest of our afternoon sifting through our beloved sandbar, surrounded by piles of wet sand. Or maybe we could enlist some guy with a metal detector to lend us a hand. We’d have to kayak him out with that crazy apparatus to save the day. Maybe.
Zeroing in on a dark object, I plunged my hand into the water hoping this might be the rubber end of the car key. Mussel shells look a lot like car keys in a foot of water. I took off my sunglasses hoping to see a little better. A few minutes later, a flash of what might be metal was the inside of a piece of oyster shell.
Impossible. No way we could find R’s single key in all of this churning water and shifting sand. I thought again of lost causes, of Saints, of prayer – something I don’t do much, vague as I am in belief. Yet I have a sense of not really ever being alone, of being watched over. Mostly, by those that have loved me. I do believe in love and think it impossible that love can just disappear, poof! – be gone. Sometimes, I’ll have a silent chat. And yesterday, while poking around for a key in a sandbar, I did just that. Maybe that’s a prayer. And maybe it’s just a coincidence, or perhaps just luck — but in all that water swirling around on our magic sandbar, I found the key.
It was near the end of my shift and I was waiting for drinks I’d ordered, my cocktail tray at the ready. The odd name of the restaurant, “One Potato Two Potato” was annoyingly embroidered across the chest of the butcher apron I wore over black shirt and pants. It was not the worst waitressing get-up I’d ever worn and the pockets were perfect for order pads, pens and tips. Tips at this pub-style restaurant on Harvard Square helped pay for the apartment I shared with my sister a few blocks away. I was in-between things in my life, having just landed in Boston after a 4 month solo jaunt through Europe. I was still pining after Gerry Clancy who I’d met early in my travels, on my first day in Limerick. Thus, my brogue-alert was triggered by the man with a tweedy jacket and shock of messy, slightly greying hair at the bar, when he placed his order in a fine Irish accent.
“John, I want to buy that man’s drink,” I quietly said to the owner. I recognized the poet Seamus Heaney.
With Harvard right across the street, quite a few writers frequented this pub-style restaurant. One Potato Two Potato had unexceptional food but a long, wooden bar and unpretentious atmosphere. John Updike was a regular, usually sitting at a deuce, his back to the window. Once, he hurried back in after leaving, having forgotten his cap. He smiled and thanked me when I handed it to him but he seemed a shy guy, preferring not to be recognized or engaged.
On the other hand, Seamus Heaney seemed delighted by my offer and asked me to join him so he could buy me a drink in return. After my shift, I hung up my apron and climbed onto the bar stool next to him. What did young me talk about with Seamus Heaney? I can’t remember. I suspect my memory falters because he was a charming gentleman who asked questions. And so I talked. Perhaps I told him about my dysfunctional Irish family and the strange sad tale of my father’s journey back and forth as a baby and child. Did I tell him about my obsession with Gerry Clancy and the days spent mostly drunk at a thatched cottage in Clare? I cringe now to think. My recollection is vague but sweet of Seamus Heaney attentively listening to my searching, blathering, waitress-self, as if I were fascinating. Slainte, Seamus Heaney.