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Category Archives: Places & Experiences

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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A conversation between two deaf men

One guy says to another guy in a coffee shop, a few tables away: “I’m looking for hearing aids from Thailand.”

“What’s that?”

“Hearing aids from Thailand.”

“Oh?”

“But they’re all imported from Europe.”

“Where?”

“Europe. And they’re eighty dollars.”

“How much?”

“Eighty dollars. And you have trouble finding parts.”

“Trouble with what?”

“Getting parts.”

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2019 in Places & Experiences

 

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The sympathy of not really belonging

I am part of a small team within our small staff, just three people, working on getting to know the Common Core math standards, focusing on 6th grade and up. We call it our Math PLC, Professional Learning Community, and meet most weeks, with a few gaps for other things that come up and general staff meetings. I am sort of leader, being the high school math teacher, so I bring guiding documents and suggest options for how we proceed, but we really all work together and I respect and depend on each person for their perspective, experience, and skills. For example, I am ideas and vision oriented but also wanting to analyze a lot of information before making decisions, another member is relationship oriented, super encouraging and also hilarious, and a third member is action oriented and good at laying out the pieces visually so we can organize the parts and move forward.

So far we’ve chosen what we’re calling Priority Standards, being the ones we guarantee to teach and assess with an aim to get all student to meet these standards. These are about a third of the ones laid out in the big CCSS documentation, but it’s recognized that it’s impossible thoroughly teach and track progress in every standard every year. Also and since the standards are broad and overlap from year to year and even across each other, as long as we align the strands up through the different level and catch the stages where certain ones are emphasized, in the big picture we try to cover them all. It’s also true that only certain things can be captured in standards language or be assessed in any standardized way; this does not mean they are the most important or can comprise a full curriculum.

This last meeting was completely different. We didn’t really do anything about math standards, but we made a deeper connection that felt pretty profound. We just talked. About one eprson’s relationship with her grandpa, about spirituality and religion, and about feeling, all three of us in different ways appreciative of but also disconnected and critical of the culture of our local community. I was like, one person said, My two team members had always lived here, but said the place sometimes drove them nuts and they’d never really feel they fit in. Yet at the same time, they knew it was imporant to stick around and be a part of the community, especially as teachers.

I’ve written before about how I don’t feel I fit into the community, doubt sometimes even whether I can even make an impact because I’m so at odds with the dominant culture, even though on the surface I seem like I have a lot of similar background. From a rural dairy area, raised in the Church, large family, homeschooled my kids. But that’s where the similarity ends. I feel like they both said they do so often, like I’m always having to bite my tongue.

There are two sides (at least) to this tongue biting–one being the effort to avoid unnecessary argument, alienation, or openness to misinterpretation when views are worlds apart, or at least toning it down so as to have a chance to slowly influence as well as show respect. The other is the restraint of criticism of the community and culture, and certainly individuals, to those on the fringes or outside, and avoiding a holier-than-them attitude.

None of us put out any specifics about what that culture was that grated, but we all knew. And about the rich and valuable parts too. No need to say, but it was special to feel more connected to one another in that moment, and it was an important team building session.

Personality-wise, the three of us are very different–it’s kind of magical that we can still feel so in sympathy as a team that has come together, as well as individuals who in some way are outsiders. Brings home in a greater way what community means.

 

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How can we say what’s real, with so much going on under the surface?

I have about 38 posts partially written, stuck somewhere in every one, either because they were too ambitious and require much more deep thinking and hard wordsmithing than I can manage lately, or because they are very out of date. I have not been showing up daily, as wanted, to put words together t o craft at least some kind of post. Discipline is important, yes, but I regularly find I purposely rebel against routine, including this one. It is a regular thing, these purposeful bouts of neglect of a practice I find so enriching for me and for which I can see some possible usefulness out there in the world, if I can improve my craft and develop a sense of a proper focus for my writing voice.

My idea is to double-rebel; that is, when I feel like breaking with the regularity of writing, I’ll recognize that as a habit bred from the same thoughtless laziness that makes me as eat the same breakfast every day or drive the same route to work, frequent the same coffee shop or avoid social situations. Thus I will feel that by maintaining a habit I am being a disruptor, which is more exciting, and out of my comfort zone.

Yes, that’s all really dumb and immature, but at least now I’m writing a little instead of watching two or three episodes of The Crown like I did last night. I was utterly exhausted, wanting to go to bed at 8 pm, exhausted for unknown reasons. I just lay on my quilt, partially propped up with unadjusted pillow, unable to move even to pull over and turn on my laptop and be passively entertained. I wondered if it was just my lack of leafy greens, excessive coffee, and failure to work out for the past two weeks. That habit was getting established, felt mighty fine, and I let that falter too, staying in my classroom a few hours after I should have to get through more paperwork.

As I felt the heavy inertness of my body, I also wondered if it was carrying the burden of some grief stage anniversary. Or if I was feeling May teaching burnt out, frustration from coming home to a mess in the kitchen I did not make, or just fighting a virus.

I did drag myself to the gym today after work, mindlessly warmed up on the treadmill, made the circuit of machines and did a few free weights, and it started to feel very good. It doesn’t feel so awkward going on my own now that I know what to expect–the machines, the low key 4 pm clientele, but the pool was full of kids and a water exercise group so I didn’t get the swim I’d hoped to end with. I was planning to suspend my membership for the next three months, but it turns out I can’t on my deal, and I’m kind of glad that this might make me get here more often, even if I do have more work in the yard to keep me fit.

I don’t want to have a countdown attitude about May and June. I want to fill the hours with well planning lessons and even up my game to work for a higher level of student engagement and success even while the weather calls us all outside and the three fans in my windowless room can’t keep it from heating to uncomfortable levels by the afternoon. I’m trying out a new Chemistry resource and a new online math curriculum we’ll be piloting this year, and collaborating with two colleagues to pin down priority standards for math which we’ll work on aligning K through 12th grade. I’m getting to new levels of understanding of best practices in teaching science (though still a long ways to go on the quality of my instruction), moving toward more student ownership of learning, getting to lead on my team more, all kinds of exciting things going on.

Plus, there was this student I was starting not to like, and really, to get pissed off at, most days. Well, actually two, and sometimes three. That’s never a good direction, and I needed to talk it out with colleagues, and even my daughter, to work on improving my attitude. I think I’m making progress. As I told my daughter yesterday, if I can convey that I actually like, in some genuine way, a student who is passively or actively resisting my leadership and/or their own better instincts, I think there is a lot of hope for something good to happen. Even if that hope is deferred for years. I want the most “difficult” students, when they realize down the road what they want to do with their lives and start to be more mature and responsible, to remember being liked. I want to provide a balance of sort of a parental style to pushing, requiring, disciplinary consequences, with a releasing into their own unique life, a recognition of their free agency to make their own choices, and an acknowledgement that the school machine is just a thing, and you can’t let it get you down. It’s a thing, and it has its uses, but it’s not the real thing, baby.

 

 

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May celebrations with my kids

Last week was my older daughter’s twenty-first birthday.The night before, her younger sister and (also underage) roommates treated her to a late night, and were there to accompany her to the local grocery store just after midnight to pick up a bottle of wine on her own newly legal ID. My daughter had explained beforehand that they’d be doing this, answered my objections that she’d thrown off her sleep schedule by asserting that it was just what was done. The next day she admitted that after midnight she’d just wanted to go to sleep and had to be urged to the store, that the feeling of hangover the next morning (being usually a light drinker) probably wasn’t worth it.

This is the daughter that always takes the time to make others’ special days feel special–she’s at our home now leading a team of siblings though cleaning chores and making a special lunch for me of potato skins and coconut cream pie for Mother’s Day. She jokes that she’s the “mom” of the bunch. Was in that role while living with her sister and roommates as well (she moved back home and started looking for a different set of housemates, the emotional work being too heavy and thankless).

Likewise she needs to feel special on her special day, and so we planned, checking in with her about her preferences, a special birthday dinner a few days after her actual birthday when we all could make it. She and her sister went camping, and would arrive for the special dinner.

We had a blast. Dance music blasting, everyone helping with this or that, flowers, helium birthday balloon (and helium-infused vocalizations), playing with the dog and cat (who wrestling with abandon, being about the same size), and my daughter’s favorite chicken, rice, asparagus and chocolate cream roll cake, topped off with some cider, champagne, and grape juice soda. Everyone hoping and trying for their best spirits and good will, hoping no one would bring up resentments, be insensitive or unkind, or get moody or selfish. Laughing with and not much at one another.

Another get together today for Mother’s Day. First without their dad. Makes them feel extra thankful, over a layer of melancholy. What will we do for Father’s Day next month?

 

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?”

 

 

My life as a house remodel

Today it’s taking more of an effort to enter into the moments, feel the hope, the tingling of possibilities. Walking down to the coffee shop, I only half-notice, then recollect, small gatherings of starlings clicking and writing in the maples above the sidewalk, then two brown wrens conversing, tails bent up and twitching as they shifted between twigs of the only shrub in a block of mowed lawns, the beautiful Salish Sea, in unnameable tones of bluegreen and grey lapping in, and along the way, periodic views of the light reflected off sand bottom punctuated by flat rocks and waving seaweed. Dogs joyfully wagging and sniffing, eagerly running down to the beach under the gray sky. Now I sit facing the window that looks back the way I came, wondering why I was not really present to the moments. Yet people, people are almost too present to  me. I came here to be an anonymous part of a gathering, with the possibility of seeing an acquaintance always welcome, though not likely. I came with the expectation of pleasure, in the freedom to just go somewhere on the spur of the moment wot  the health and time to do so.

But the feeling now is that nothing, nothing will develop from this, that it’s just a thing to do for a break, and I used to need breaks a lot, from my busy household, from the conflicts that sometimes arose there. And later, just to habituate myself to getting out again, no longer needed as a caregiver.  But it’s not a break I need anymore; I need to rebuild. This is not the same life I inhabited before, and I don’t know exactly what to make of it. And build I shall. I am grateful to have access to an abundance of materials, but not sure how to define the space and boundaries, scope out the project, which things to stockpile, how to lay out the work schedule and list of deliverables. Which parts of my past and current life to carefully extract, save, and re-purpose, and which to crack apart with a sledgehammer, pry away with a crowbar and cart away to be reduced to basic elements.

I become aware that two (three? more?) otters have just appeared in the water at the end of the dock and are undulating right to the shore, climbing up the rocks, and no one has seen them yet. It’s a dog, arriving with its owners above on the trail, who gives the signal, and they humans realize something is up, and soon see the curious, whiskered faces of the otters and share in the excitement, holding back the dog with a firm hold. Why are the otters so bold, suddenly, to come all the way onto shore?

The coffee shop is crowded; people are feeling a coming spring now that the Arctic air flow has gone whither it will. The baristas are maxed out and not making very good lattes–no foam; mine has developed a skin, but one must adapt. It’s not the quality of the brew that attracts me here, and I know many people would avoid it for the additional reason of their apparent lack of inclusiveness, as expressed by their refusal to carry a full diversity of free publications. As if, by limiting diversity of viewpoints in cafe owners, one is affirming diversity. I feel the location is worth it. Plus it has the right number of spots always open to stay and write without feeling one is depriving new customers.

Today I wondered if I should be keeping receipts, as I have to define a new direction of the corporation I now run, dormant after the end of my husband’s years as a software consultant. If I fire up my writing and editing as a business, I could claim 50% of meals expenses. I am far from earning anything that way, though I did earn a little in years past.

I continue to watch the scene outside. The otters have swum away, but a small flock of sparrows that nest in the rafters of the shop–apparently legally now, as someone seems to have shamed the cafe owners into removing the metal spines that formerly discouraged them–are squabbling. It’s quite a hierarchical and competitive assembly, but there is peace enough that one male is splaying out his short little wings and preening. Another looks like she has a down feather stuck in her mouth, as she works her beak to try to drop it, then suddenly flies up to the rafters, pulling the gazes of the three approaching walkers, to place it in one of the nests.

The sun is just breaking through, the caffeine is taking the edge off my dullness, and soon the post-church crowd will be here. I have some ideas from this session: since I’m planning a remodel of my house, currently at the design and semi-wild-ass estimation stage, I could use the process as a metaphor, learning from the proven efficient, effective, and articulated project development process of the design-build firm to do my life remodel. Older dwelling, adequate until now with plenty of creativity and compromise, the site of many struggles, joys, comforts, and even a legacy, needs reworking. Define needs and and wants, prioritize, budget, redesign, order materials, with a focus on local, low-impact, underutilized, restored components. Invest in a reasonable stock of beautiful new or lightly used elements that enhance value and utility and will stand the test of time. Order materials, do demolition myself  with the aid of a few skilled friends and family; identify hidden flaws of structure and systems, integrate repairs and upgrades into plan and budget; schedule contractors for phase one. And, with the otters and sparrows, take risks, be curious, but make sure the lining of the nest is insulated, even if from down fallen from my own breast..

 

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