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Category Archives: Interviews and Conversations

Match #3 first date and afterwards: True love not being what I thought

Let’s call him Lightning (Match #3). The date (#1 with him) was a week ago. A lot of ups and downs, swings and wondering what got into me, what got into him, and where are we now, if anywhere.

Summary: Started with a friendly hug, I kept up just fine on the trail, talked all the way, enjoyed the views, shared some  wild berries, found a quiet nook in the trees by the lake for our picnic, then, leaning in against the chill, the chemistry heated up, and we both fell hard. The walk down was more like a float, and we decided to find a park, hung out all day, startled and pleased, nervous and wondering, heart, mind, body battling for pre-eminence, but also trying to let things flow. It was coming onto dusk, we parted and drove our separate ways. But there was no plan for next time.

Three days of texting, emailing, skirting nearer the idea of meeting again, but I sensed caution. What happened next was difficult–amazingly, given the fact that we only had one date, and I’m not yet ready to write about it much. Tenderness and disappointment, an acknowledgement of the perhaps insurmountable problems of schedules and geography.

So that was that–scuttled after what seemed a amazing start. Letting my emotions, spurred on by a neediness I acknowledge for touch, get ahead of reality.

Yet this an excellent opportunity to reflect on what’s going on with me, says my brain–with my life as it is and can become, and what is a more balanced way to approach this dating thing. Not that one should do everything to avoid ups and downs, but balance, Toes, balance, and protecting one’s heart (and as things develop, that of the otehr). And what I want to make of my new stage of life with or without a true love, or if it takes ten years.I want a great partnership. So, whether I achieve that or not in the exclusive sense (building other friendships and community always being an important part of life), I have the privilege of becoming as great a person as I can. Like that saying someone shared, if you want to create more interesting writing, live a more interesting life.

In the week between setting up this date and living it, I’d thrown myself into pursuing some goals around biking and other fitness pursuits that had given me a new appreciation for my beautiful town, the blessing of my health and relative fitness, what I can achieve and how it feeds my spirit and improves my mood. How much of this new drive was fueled by the desire to see if I could be active at the level probably necessary to fit into another person’s world? Yeah, I was under the influence. But it was a great influence and is leading to explorations that were good in themselves.

Which new goals am I going to pursue for my own joy and meaning in life and not for any other reason? And which of my present favorite life elements will I continue to include and build on, while letting go of some as of a receding lifestyle? For example, I am not a live-in-a-condo and feed only on wildness outside my door kind of person. I am grounded in my home, its garden, my local neighborhood. Whether I move or not, I’ll want fruit trees, sunshine, vegetables and flowers just outside my door. Whether or not that would be an enthusiasm of my sweetheart, it should at least be appreciated and valued, and I’ll want a hand at times. Neither do I want to be a habitual world traveler, especially in the way that’s wearing down the natural wonders of the world and leaving people still unable to know intimately and lovingly care for their own places on Earth.

This is the true love part–as I am launched out into the new challenges I’m setting for myself, mainly in fitness but also in what I want to learn (more songs on guitar, revisiting drawing, even making podcasts and videos (Date #2 influence), places I want to encounter, things I want to give, I am falling deeper in love with my own life. I am finding new strength, new confidence, new levels of physical health and fitness. It’s even conceivable that I might say the same to someone wonderful as he wrote to me–that my life is so full of things I enjoy, I’m not sure it’s fair to you to expect the level of adjustment it would require for the different interests we have.

It was the sweetest of all possible dumpings. I was remarkably composed, I told my girlfriend in a text. I had even anticipated this, by reading between the lines of our later post-date texts, however sweet and full of warm innuendo. I even grieved beforehand; sensing the signals and pause in communication, I took a melancholy bike ride to a place I could look out to sea after sunset the a few hours before the goodbye email came though. When it did, I reluctantly, apparently, and officially accepted it, and stored the sadness to release in smaller doses over the coming days. I said, if you ever slow down, and as I speed up, perhaps one day we can meet in the middle. But I expected nothing.

The next day, I unhid my dating profile, yes, and feeling mostly okay, but unsettled, sad, and, I realized, still basically in denial. I was calling out, visualizing a reversal, doing powerful magic that had seemingly made that first date flow as it had. With one part of my mind I was hoping to alter the universe and priorities of Match #3 through some kind of quantum connection.

Meanwhile, I thought of Match #2, whom I’ll call Magnet. No, I would not contact him right away in rebound. Not fair to him. Still, there was little history of any kind, so it wouldn’t really be a rebound. I wanted to know Magnet on his own merits better. So I looked up his website, and his goofy YouTube channel, the news story about the lawsuit against the city which had allowed erosion to topple several houses in his neighborhood and was threatening others. They featured his joyful and hopeful approach toward life, his craftsmanship, his creativity, his humor, and his friendships. The style of humor was the kind I absolutely love. The website showed him as an eighteen-years younger man, and I felt a little more connected with his  life story. Nice looking, but what made him very attractive to me, in a surprising new turn, was his interesting approach to life–a balance among technical, creative, and community priorities, a not-a slave to corporate America attitude, a child-like good cheer and friendliness. I would have liked him a lot back then too, and whatever happens I will always like him a lot. Everyone I know would like him, including my kids and the rest of my family. Of course my kids are not yet part of this mom dating story except minimally–they get this, but prefer to stay apart, as no one could ever replace their dad and they have a hard time with the idea that he could be replaced as a partner of mine. A key reason to move slowly, and find ways to incorporate honoring my late love into our year.

So I contacted him–we set up a second date–a day at a jazz festival, longer time commitment. I am feeling hopeful, cautioned, a little more balanced. Still a risk for touch-needs, I guess, but as one fellow put it in his profile, “a kiss is not a contract.” I feel ill at easy with this juggling, but it helps me not to fixate, as my friend reminded me. I continue to search online, communicate with fellows who show interest, some with a polite no thank you currently following up on some leads, others with some suggestions of possibilities in future. Plenty of fish and all. A temporary but necessary semi-detachment, which my more experienced friend and confidant says is wise, and I think at this stage is the best approach for all parties. A creative and dynamic balancing act.

Then came the surprise, and the day before Date #2 with Magnet: and even more reason to be cautious, self controlled and balanced in my thoughts, as well as communicate openly with all concerned: Lightning emailed in the middle of last night to invite me out for a drink on his way through town on the coming Monday. Knees a little stronger this time, but here I go again, hanging out with Magnet while distracted by thoughts of Lightning. And wondering what he meant by this…

 

 

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Match #2 first date reflections, anticipation of meeting Match #3

I went in with no particular expectations, except that I’d get to meet someone with whom I had very much enjoyed communicating via text, who was light-hearted, intelligent, creative, and had a great sense of humor. I thought he might be glib, too goofy at the expense of being grounded, or optimistic to the point of not being able to handle sad conversations or allow others to process in a different way.  I thought that being eight years older could be a problem. And I thought that I’d be ambivalent at best.

We met at a pub mid-way between our towns on a humid afternoon. As I walked in there was no sign of him. He had warned me that he looked different than his profile, having now with no beard and shorter hair, but I thought I remember his twinkling eyes, and that he’d know me. I recognized one of the bartenders, and he recognized me, seemingly–Bellingham? I said? Oh, he’d worked at the food co-op previously, where I’d been shopping for decades. As I was chatting with him someone appeared in my peripherals, and I turned, and there were the twinkling eyes. He looked delighted and gave me a hug, for which I was barely able to prepare myself. Surprising, but really, perfect, I thought. I must start all my dates this way–after all, all of us a hug-deficient at the very least.

The positive energy and fun sparkled out of him. The “Woohoo!” with which he had ended each text message fit him like a mantra. Not in a shallow, party-party, Pollyanna way, but in a child-like delight in the adventures of life and what one can create in and from what one is given. Of course, everyone has his pain and melancholy, however carried, and it’s important to look into, but this was definitely going to be an enjoyable, non-awkward meeting.

He moved over to my side of the booth, assuring me he wasn’t putting moves on me, but that the ambient sound was making it hard for him to hear my quiet voice. The waitress asked if we were ready–he announced that this was our first date, and it seemed to be going well so far. She was unimpressed. We talked, sipped our drinks, shared our fries, and got a sense of each other. I felt myself opening to the chemistry available between us. The age difference seemed less important. But the planned date with Friday’s man kept this in check, and my heart did not fly off in all directions. A good balance.

I don’t remember what I shared–basics, enthusiasms, a little history, and the intangibles– what I find worthwhile, life giving, humorous, meaningful. All in a preliminary way. It began to pour outside–the pub was steamy, and I’d worn corduroys. I learned that he thrived on his close friendships, had done everything he could to preserve a marriage in which his wife had been steamrolled by health problems, that he was fighting some causes important to him. I learned he could talk freely about anything, and make others comfortable. I learned he had multiple interesting activities in his life and that he was not particularly needy, nor looking to create meaning and focus from a now-empty life. He was gentlemanly, wanting to know me personally and introduce himself to me. Hints and innuendos were minimal and appropriate.

We went for a walk once the rain had ebbed. Here, as with most of the date, our views of one another were side-long. As dusk approached we decided to head our separate ways, gave each other another friendly hug, and he said he’d like to see me again, and to ponder on that. I mentioned I was seeing a new person on Friday, but would keep him in mind. He wished me luck.

I drove home in the new wave of drizzle, smiling–how nice to meet new friends and enjoy good company. How nice to feel interesting and appreciated. And as far as that “going on adventures” thing so often included in online dating profile notes was concerned, this guy was himself the adventure–I could see this in the whole way he approached his life and times with others.

And, I have to admit, how sweet to now fully anticipate Friday’s encounter, for which I had great expectations and fantastic imaginations. Yes, they felt unrealistic, but I was feeling magic, as if I really could make things happen.

I have always considered myself a head-trusting person, as opposed to heart. Emotions as servants, not master. INTP woman, Gemini sun, Pisces moon. And other than some emotional/mental infatuations late in my twenty-four year marriage that I had patiently waited out until they fizzled, I had not “fallen in love” or developed any infatuation that I was allowed to acknowledge to anyone for over a quarter century. So now I plunged in, head sending cautionary whispers, but also, in a way–saying: Go ahead, enjoy–I’ll help you put yourself back together again if you get broke. I remembered the few broken times from similar unrequited loves in the more distant past–all the way back to seventh grade–and thought, that kind of pain is not as damaging as pain from a long period of alienation within a relationship anyway.

All this was having a strange effect physically. I was energetic, but light-headed. Had strength and endurance for more swims, runs, bike rides and even house cleaning than ever, but my legs felt weak and shaky much of the time, and my heart rate would sometimes be elevated for hours at a time, especially after a text , email, or even a profile viewed message by Match #3. Blood pressure elevated too, probably, though normally it’s very low. I wondered if this was good for my health (other than the extra exercise it was leading to). Do hopeful guys go through something similar, or are they able to compartmentalize? Maybe it’s just my personality? Hormones? All of the above?

Friday was to be a hike up a mountain trail to a lake and back, a shared picnic, half way again, though this time that was further afield. He knew all the trails, had all the passes, and we established a meeting place. I would bring currant cider, tomatoes and berries, he something to pair.

 

 

 

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First date and reflections

What happened was that he met me at my car, and I immediately knew that it was not a match. How? Why? Something in my psycho-bio-social criteria that I cannot pin down. Yes, I know that in normal circumstances, attractions develop slowly, when people are throw together often, for example, and such snap judgments could be considered unwise. But that’s not the way it can work in online dating. More than anything, from that point forward, all my efforts went toward making sure he felt comfortable and appreciated and yet not send any flirtatious signals that might make the inevitable let-down more painful, in case he still had hope.

We entered the restaurant, found our table and ordered a drink and appetizers. I felt like I was with a colleague or relative, without of course the familiarity. I regretted wearing the slightly form fitting top. I hoped he was sensitive to my perceived flaws. I wanted to be warm but not too warm interested but not to interested. I decided to up my height parameters a little, in case that was it.

This is not about describing him–that would be a breach of privacy even without identifying information. But I do want to explore the reasons for my immediate and final judgment that there would be no “chemistry” between us. And maybe find a way to make a negative first impression less likely; at least to allow a slow development of impressions; at least to learn to wait until the initial inevitable awkwardness at first meeting could wear off. Is anyone themselves in those moments? Not the self that they will be ever thereafter if allowed to continue the relationship, so how could I somehow arm myself to ignore, surmount, or at least allow the possible transformation of those instinctive feelings?

In this case I found myself unconcerned with whether he felt the same. It was irrelevant, although I would have been uncomfortable had he started to send signals of heightened interest or that he wanted to go deeper. That wasn’t his style, fortunately–I mentioned in the last post that I had appreciated his self restraint in messages; he was also somewhat careful in person. I believe he read something that showed in my eyes at our car side meeting, and that the rest was a formality, a casual conversation, respectful and without romantic potential. We talked about his work, lifestyle, literature, and a little about our former spouses.

As the alcohol in his Margarita and my cider helped us relax, the conversation at least flowed better, we laughed a little, and I can say I enjoyed the meeting of minds. The waitress at first checked in way too often, thinking we would want to order a meal. Neither of us made a move there. We mostly discussed him, but that was okay, and might have been a mutual decision. I didn’t think too much about what additional signal I’d give that this would be our last date, but then it just slipped in and was said as if by magic, and I believe in a gentle enough way. During a pause after some humorous agreement, I said, “I think we’re too alike.” He replied, “Maybe. I don’t know how any of this works.” “Me neither,” I smiled, ruefully. Then we chatted a little longer, eventually signaled the waitress, agreed to split the bill, paid, and left.

He walked me to my car, we thanked each other for being willing to meet, agreed that it had been enjoyable, and parted.

I felt both relief and regret. This is what he’d been talking about when he’d written this was so hard, and a little heartbreaking. Still, it was a good introduction for me: a caution to reign in my fantasies, not let this dating thing impact my lifestyle, and not give up, since trial and miss was part of it. Online dating a good, painful massage for the ego, I think, too. It will take courage to persist, but hope and optimism will spur me on.

I’m glad I was careful in messages not to indicate undue hope or interest, or at least show interest only in what I could actually know–what he chose to express in words, and gratitude for giving this a chance. I made mental note to adjust my dress and grooming to portray my real style but emphasize my countenance, and a little about general fitness, rather than my figure. I would not, as some would advise, wear red.

Tomorrow I have a date with a different fellow; let’s call him Match #2. There are red flags already, though not with his personality, which seems great–it’s just that I forgot about my age and height filters before liking his profile and responding to messages. That helps with keeping my expectation bubble from rising. I’ve suggested happy hour at a pub midway between our towns, again with no expectation of a long dinner or walk afterwards. He’s pretty funny, so I feel it will be comfortable, and hope for the best. My daughter thinks this one is the coolest, but I’m not really feeling it that way. Just as well, I suppose, considering the emotional roller coaster I put myself through last time.

The real challenge is corralling my thoughts about a third first Friday with Match #3, someone whose communications and photos I find more intriguing than any so far, and who has expressed the same about mine. I cancelled on someone to meet him. My main concern, if any, is the geographical distance between us. There’s also the fact that he seems to be a go, go, go extremely active guy. While I like that in the sense that in this new stage I’m wanting to explore the trails and get out biking and paddling more than I have in the past, I also know that I am very grounded in my home and garden in spring through fall, so maybe I’m not as active as this kind of guy would go for. I’m kind of testing myself by doing a lot more physical activity outings solo, and it feels great. So we’ll see.

Another reality I’ve been mulling over is that I think we fifty-somethings have in our minds a younger image of our mates than is realistic. I suspect that’s even more the case with men. We last fell in love with someone much younger. Can a fifties to sixties man accept that a woman in his age category will have crow’s feet, worry and frown lines, sags and tags and eye bags at least to some degree? I have as a caution alluded to these in my texts, but he is nonplussed. Will he be able to focus on what there is of beauty of expression, motion, character, spirit?

 

 

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Getting ready for the first date in the second half of life: a study in unrealistic expectations

I wanted to give it all, almost–my personal email, my blog URL, a good view of my shapely enough figure. The written exchanges were so… right, so warm and yet appropriate, intelligent with no posturing, appreciative with no flattery. In his reticence, I read alluring self-restraint. In his simple sentences I read deep thought and care about using words in the most frugal and powerful way. An unleashed ability to be passionate. In his serious expression and seeming reluctance to smile in the few photos he posted, I read authenticity–who can criticize someone who has not trained themselves to grin at a camera, who can only manage an “Ah shucks, okay I’ll try half smile? I appreciated his regular, but not too frequent, replies, and how he referenced the content of my messages intelligently and sometimes connected them with his own thoughts and experiences. In his references to heartbreak I read tenderness, a willing to be vulnerable, even be hurt, and I admired his courage to try again. I placed his personal rule of not letting online dating interfere with his lifestyle at the forefront of my mind. And it start to gather dust.

I thrilled at his allusion to having considered mooring his boat in my area, of having applied for positions here in the past. I drew him out. I encouraged him to meet. Yes, I agreed; this was hard, but one had to give it a chance. Yes, one could have one’s expectations disappointed, find that one person felt differently than the other, not sense the necessary chemistry. But what else was there to do? audentis Fortuna iuvat and all that.

He suggested a dockside dive in a half way town, said he had a boat project to work on, nothing too ambitious. I was jittery, excited, excitable. I refrained from frothing over to my kids, who supported me in my online dating venture, but for whom this was too new, and they’d rather not have the play-by-play. But my oldest daughter was patient with my need to bubble over a little, and said she’d help me pick out my outfit. She cautioned against red, and said that a plaid shirt, even a cute one worn with a skirt, looked like dressing down.

I had been checking online several times a day, feeling that rush of dopamine, knowing it was foolish to allow myself to get worked up, but at the same time savoring this long-dormant feeling. And why not? My friend Pink Poet texted, “Do you feel sixteen again?” She let me tell all, said it was welcome alternative drama to the tension of her current marriage situation. I told her that for some reason I was more drawn to this guy that to either of the others with whom I’d arranged meetups–the tall, bearded Hispanic romance writer, or the curly gray-haired designer-sculptor who made me laugh, let loose my wry sense of humor, and ended every message with “Whoo-hoo!”

The day of the early dinner date dawned. I puttered around all morning, avoided digging in the garden to keep my fingernails clean, repainted my toenails, put the laundry through and worried that my sweater wouldn’t be dry in time. I skipped my morning exercise so as to have more energy later, especially since I hadn’t slept well the night before. I picked berries to pull out for a surprise dessert. Distractedly scrolled through the matches of the day online, sent some “currently following some other leads, which is enough for now, but thanks for reaching out, and good luck with your search” messages. I wondered whether I should have purchased a shorter membership after all.

The time to head south drew near. I dressed, tidied my hair, chose a slightly form-fitting black sleeveless top and striped rose colored linen pants one might throw on after a day in the sun. I thought of my daughter’s claim that pants with a pattern made anyone’s butt look good.

My mind continued to spin–images, feelings, imaginings seemingly unstoppable. I cautioned myself, tried to maintain some kind of realism. It was expectations that disappointed, after all, not reality. Though I felt attractive enough, I remembered that my efforts to get a good selfie at times made me think of Silvia Plath’s “hideous fish.” I reminded myself to smile fully, not nervously covering my teeth, an old habit I picked up as a teen when I was insecure about them. I decided on my first few words: “It’s the real person, finally” or something, a hand clasp, like a friend rather than a colleague. I imagined the locking of eyes, the wordless reaching out of hands, a kind of recognition. I packed a travel toothbrush and clean underwear, because who knew? gushed my hormones.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I saw a jar of sweet peas on the roadside stand my son and I had set up. Suddenly my eyes filled with tears. It felt like the beginning of the breaking of my bond with my longtime husband, now gone almost a year.

 

 

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Parenting by extension: siblings carry the baton for each other

My grown kids out for Frisbee and coffee, by daughter #1

My oldest kids are old enough to start giving me advice about parenting my youngest son, and to some degree my youngest daughter, though she’s already eighteen and has considered herself an adult for many years and not subject to parenting efforts.

They give pretty good, advice, too. My husband and I seeded some of it, but now it’s filtered through how they experienced it, highlighting any of the wisdom it has borne out in their lives.

For example, my oldest daughter is the most similar in personality to my youngest, is good friends with him, and can offer a new voice, and help me be patient while her younger brother takes his sweet time to learn life’s lessons. She also comes alongside him, mentoring him in her oddball humor way. She’s taken him shopping for clothes, encouraged him on dating (that it’s fine not to in high school–many sensible people don’t), listens, fascinated, to his bubbling over of what he’s learning about history and politics, and helps keep up his spirit when life is stressful. She also backs me up on the issues of nutrition, fitness, and computer games-life balance.

My oldest son confirms the wisdom of just putting in the word consistently but gently and then letting his brother ruminate on its  possible application in his life, until ready. This was illustrated in the surprise turnabout my youngest made on how he’s spend his sophomore and senior education dollars. He was firmly committed to remaining in his high school, with his friends, to go the traditional route. I said that’s fine, but required him to at least attend the information session for Running Start to be sure he was well informed in his decision. He came out with the packet, said it had confirmed him in his decision not to enroll, and I was satisfied.

The next day he announced that he had decided to do Running Start after all. Whatever was holding him back–certainly not any fears about academic readiness, but probably including discomfort at losing contact with his friends–had been processed, and surmounted. His siblings, having experienced Running Start for themselves with positive results, slapped him on the back and affirmed his decision.

He also told me he had decided to rejoin the high school swim team. I showed muted enthusiasm at this, knowing that he had quit a month into the previous season. Probably due to what was going on with his dad’s cancer–that was the first fall after his body succumbed, and this boy had enough to deal with. My son wisely adjusted his course load too, as well as turning down a study abroad and internship opportunity that year. But his confidence has returned, which is very heartening. He sure will miss seeing his dad in the stands–as busy as he was with work, he hardly ever missed a meet. I’ll pretty sure all five of us will be cheering all the harder.

We’re also doing some patient waiting on my younger daughter’s growth. Her sister is her greatest friend, though the younger is less that committed when her age-mates come to call. She prefers to block out advice, then learn lessons the hard way. I just pray that she will remain essentially unharmed as she walks that rough road. For example, she recently had a collision (she says she was not at fault) without auto insurance–without having even activated her title registration after I filled out all the paperwork months ago to sign the car over to her. I’d given her several weeks of warning, told her what could happen without insurance, and then, with trepidation, cut her off my policy, partially honoring her stated wish that I get out of her life, and knowing she had the funds to take care of it if she managed right.

I appreciate the fact that neither older sibling is preaching at her. Her sister vents to me sometimes, especially when hurt in the roller coaster of being a friend to this young woman who burns so through life. The brothers shake their heads, but essentially there is just love and acceptance, reaching out, and patience to see the amazing life this woman will built with her strong spirit, good mind and, beneath it all, tender heart. There was that frequent “Keep your heart soft” mantra embedded in our parenting of all of them, often repeated by their dad, as he worked on his own heart. And, what my husband and I passed on from my own dad, to work on your own issues first.

I’m so glad to have the help. I said to my youngest, about cleaning up after him but with more iunderneath, “I’m just tired of doing this, J____.” Not really fair, and I am still committed to the most important parts of parenting, for the rest of my life, as needed. But it’s a relief to have part of the holy burden shared by these young, energetic travelers.

 

 

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I’m warning you, don’t warn me ahead of time about people!

Never liked to hear a lot of talk about people I had yet to meet; felt I had to shield the unknown person’s reputation in my own mind, so I’d not be biased and really see them when the time came. Or see them through my own two eyes, which of course is highly subjective, but at least they’re mine. As in the exchange that starts, “But that’s just YOUR opinion.” And ends “What opinion would you expect me to have?”

My parents discussing the obstructionism of curmudgeons from church or the neighborhood. Teachers leaving sub notes notes about a “difficult” or “helpful” student before I start a day of substituting. A fellow mom describing the quirks of a teacher my child is about to have. Or a colleague tipping me off with raised eyebrows about a parent they consider to be a little too much. As a teen, especially, I remember feeling drawn into negative bias unwillingly (I don’t mind the positive), and resisting, wanting to clean the slate and have a fresh, fair, objective (I thought it was possible, then) view of a person, not formed by others’ views. Now I also know that a person is not the same with different people, that even the “problems” are relational, even systemic. For example, a teacher that communicates a desire for control will have different troubles with different students than a teacher looking for participation, self advocacy and creativity.

So when my realtor warned me about the tendency of the recommended well service technician to “talk your ear off” and his advice that I “have an exit strategy,” I was, after initial gratitude (because time is money–ha!), a little miffed that I felt a little on guard and harboring a preconceived notion. His advice to mention that I was a friend of his (the realtor’s) or I might not get on his busy schedule was more useful.

I scheduled a time to drive out and see the well. Was it wise of me to suggest that I accompany him in his truck? Not much of an exit strategy. But, dammit, I would walk in the light of objectivity, open heartedness, and confidence that I could handle anything like that warned of.

The man was in his late sixties, and communicative, for sure. Within minutes I knew his exact age, that he needed a hip replacement, and that a good conversation, including attentive listening, was something he valued. In fact, while he was driving he would turn his head all the way to make eye contact, which I felt was inadvisable on the very curvy, cliff-side route. I also soon discovered that the family I’d married into went way back with his, to the same small town. He’d recognized the name I’d given, and knew some of my late husband’s uncles, cousins, and others, as well as some of their stories. The time he went nervously into the office of my husband’s great uncle Bob, head of the Port of Kelso, to ask for a job, got one, and found him tough but fair. How his friends got longshoreman jobs while he was still sweeping, having promised to finish out the summer, though at a fifth of the pay they were taking in.

I fleshed out the story as I had heard it, about the gas station run by the family, how Bob had been like a father to my husband’s dad Don, who had been basically kicked out by a step-mother only a few years his senior. How Don had married sweet young Marilyn, the initial first date being secured on the strength of his being the cousin of classmate Bruce, so couldn’t be too bad. Don worked as a mechanic and welder, raised three kids with Marilyn, teaching the boys foundry and welding as well as mechanical and general fix-it skills. He later worked as as a high school shop teacher, pouring out and training up young men, especially those not academically inclined, to work with their hands, and fought a losing battle for the survival of the shop program. Died young of esophageal cancer, having met only a few of his grandchildren, and before my husband and I married. How Bruce and Marilyn, a dozen or so years after cancer took their spouses,  in their seventies now, had married and were written up the the local newspaper as a story come full circle.

He reminded me of Bruce, and Bob, in a way. Same attention to the person, friendly, teasing contentiousness that made for dynamic interaction. Maybe something Scandinavian too, or immigrant third generation.

We argued about what was most important to teach young people, what was being lost, rediscovered, what mattered in the long run, the folly of always chasing the next thing instead of grounding the young in principles and foundational skills. I shared that one of the “newest” things was now shop class, and focus on projects that engaged student in real problem solving rather than a focus on cramming for the test.

Then we were at the property and it was all business–the well had been vandalized years before, and, hobbling a little because of his hip, he figured out but how badly, what questions still had to be answered, and what could be done. Then it was a windy drive back to drop me off, and we got into various other topics–more on education (his wife was a retired teacher), dependence on personal digital devices, water quality and rights, and cheerfully argued back and forth, agreed on a lot, disagreed on some. It was a lot of fun.

So as it turned out, his talkativeness made it a much more pleasant outing, and I in no way sensed that he didn’t know when to let someone go on their way. I’ve had that experience with a colleague in the past, and it’s tough–when you want to be a friend and a good listener, but it means you’ll have to delay getting that extra hour of work done. But the morning spent in conversion worked out well for me, and I could tell he was pleased as well. As he’d shared, valuing clients’ time meant spending the time, doing quality work, not charging for every question answered and not trying to line up new business on the cell phone.

I get why my realtor warned me. He wanted to recommend the person who had the skills I needed and could be trusted in a business interaction, but have me know that there might be a kind of “cost” to it, something to anticipate, and if need be, mitigate. I’m part of that slightly younger generation that might not easily make that investment of time that, in being given by the well service guy, would necessarily be hoped for in return. People that can “talk your ear off” like to be listened to. But I found, as I think he did as well, that it is in giving that we receive. Even in the case of that former colleague who seemed not to be aware of the cost for others of a monologue full of tangents, it was always my attitude toward her that determined whether I would feel irritated in the end or blessed. I could get impatient, and sometimes would actually do some work on my computer or with paperwork while she talked. But letting go, attending fully, and remembering how much and often I desire the same, brings joy and a sense of connection that is a foundation of a quality life.

In a youth mental health first aid training we heard the words of a bipolar man who, having decided to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, decided that if anyone, anyone, said to him on the way, “Are you okay,” or the equivalent, he would crack open and unburden himself, delivering him from evil, at least for that day. This gives me a heightened awareness of the importance of the significance of any personal interaction, and to think of it is to ground me in the universal vibration of the tenuous web of human life of which I am a synapse.

I’ve been known to prefer anonymity to connection. How much, on any given day, as I continue to meet and recognize, and know a little, more residents of this fine region, can be expressed by the size and location of cafe I choose, the distance among the tables, the ratio of looking thoughtfully around and perhaps meeting eyes, smiling, nodding my head, to string at my fingers as I type and the words as they appear on my screen. But even if I don’t feel like talking, I want to be with people, or I’d just write at my table at home. Let me, some days, fall into connection, intellectual, verbal, some days just be staring in tandem at the same soft glassy blue of the bay, or sparrows building nests. Let me some days glance brightly into the eyes of a runner or biker passing from the other direction, sharing a moment of delight in fresh air and exercise.  Let me some days smile at the dogs wagging at their owners, at the little girl laboring to choose what drink she want her mom to order for her, and say, “So many choices, huh? How will you know what’s the best?”

 

 

Polydactyly: why not let it be?

I was going on about something in to my Algebra 1 students, and mentioned that the gene for six fingers is dominant, and isn’t that something, because it means that if either parent has the gene, then there’s a good chance that children will have six fingers too, and it will turn up again and again. Darned if I can remember the context of that bit of information–there must have been one. I also can’t remember exactly what else I said, but now I wish I did, because I hope it was right, considering what occurred later. I know what it would have been, approximately: that the fact that the gene still existed in humans meant that there was no real disadvantage (except for finding footwear and gloves), and probably advantages in certain circumstances. That when parents have a child with “extra” digits, they often have them removed surgically. “Why?” one student asked. “That’s an interesting question. I wonder why.” I replied. “There’s no real problem wit having extra fingers or toes. But I guess that’s not really an algebra-type conversation.” And so we got back to work.

As often happens, a student came up to me later, I assumed to ask a question or hand me his work. He was holding his binder with the edge of one hand facing me. I saw that there was a curled scar, and he was gesturing quietly to it, but I stupidly did not make the connection. “Are you showing me?” I asked. He paused, and replied, “I had them removed.” Suddenly I realized, and  smiled back at him, told him how cool that was, thanked him, and as he went on his way, I called, “I wrote a poem about that!” I felt, and feel, tender toward this young fellow, sweet and somewhat socially awkward, being a year younger than the rest of the class, and humbled that he felt comfortable to share this with me.

I’m not sure if I should share the poem with him, but I’, thinking it would be all right. It’s here.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2019 in Interviews and Conversations

 

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