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Category Archives: Places & Experiences

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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Winter dinners

I had a dinner idea for tonight, based on a vague memory of something delicious my friends next door cooked a few weeks ago when I invited myself and a few neighbors over to their place to be wined and dined. Well, it happened that way in the end, though I started out just inviting my geologist neighbor and a few other women nearby experiencing a bitterly cold weather snap to share a glass of wine at one of our houses. So the geologist professor and her biologist professor mate, their daughters, and a woman from a few houses down came together for a delicious dinner, with cider and wine. Turned out the professors weren’t well acquainted with the other woman, so that was cool that they all learned more about her, mainly her journey dealing with breast cancer.

I drank wine with the geologist while the biologist cooked, and we sat in the cozy glow of excellent company and food for several hours before bundling up again to walk home in the frosty dark. I am so fortunate to have such neighbors. Later she invited me to her book club, so I’m getting out a lot more than I used to.

I was hosting my kids–three out of the four not having disowned me and still finding family time enjoyable. This time we did it adult-style, with all helping chop, set, wash, mix and set out the food. No more me having the entire meal ready and them showing up just in time to eat, and me being ready for a nap already after all the fuss (unaccustomed, as I don’t cook every day and eat a lot of the same things). The meal did have pasta and smoked salmon like the previous one, but was otherwise completely different, as I left out the capers and added sauteed onions, garlic and sweet peppers, threw in some seasonings and stirred in cream and Parmesan. It turned out to be delicious.

Afterward my youngest son did most of the cleanup–he surprises me daily (sometimes more than once–also today he walked down to the store and along with his own purchases, had bought me my favorite chocolate bar). Then he brought out the Apples to Apples and we spend another nice hour, everyone making an effort to be amiable and not indulge in irritating habitual quirks or take offense at anything. Again, adult style.

My oldest son mentioned he listened to Lydia McCauley a lot lately, so we pulled her up on the audio and relaxed into “The Beauty of the Earth,” all three kids agreeing that it brought back happy memories of waking up to those songs and her other albums when they were kids. I hadn’t realized the impact of that. But come to think of it, I had the same exquisite awakenings as a kid when my dad would play classical music records on Saturday mornings. She being local, we decided to see if we could catch a performance together soon. Then I saw my youngest off to his early bedtime, and my two oldest to their cars with some leftovers, their mail, and my love.

 

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Uppin’ my game

Ups and downs the last few days, possibly because of certain cycles that have been allowed to express themselves naturally again–I’m not used to it! Currently just tired, glad I will sleep even better than usual tonight, even without a soak. I am very grateful for a good sleep life, love the feeling of sinking away into that dark comfort, even as I sleepily marvel at how it just happens without effort. There are some things that self awareness, intelligence, and conscious mental effort just cannot do for our well-being, and so the more ancient circuitry is allowed, must be allowed, to take over each night.

I was feeling somewhat incompetent at the end of Wednesday, having felt I fumbled my way through my Chemistry and Geometry classes, unable to organize my thoughts well or provide activities sufficiently engaging. These students are very patient, however, and did not attempt to kick me while I was down. Then today some others said some very nice things to me, unsolicited, and I felt supported from several other quarters as well, at school and at home. As for the fumbling, I resolved to spend a season working the extra hours it takes to get a better handle on my Chemistry plans, to integrate some more simple labs, and on the Geometry curriculum–we’re getting bogged down in multiple-step coordinate proofs that I think in the big scheme are not so crucial; maybe just the grappling and exposure, and general approach is the thing for now and I should keep the ball rolling into the next unit. I have a handful of students who came in weeks or months after the year started and are somewhat in the swing of things, and now three more who came with learning under their belt from a different school, but in a different order. So I’m trying to address gaps and general struggles with the material, and inspire students who are not putting in much effort to use the resources they have on their non-campus days (or not, as long as they accept the results).

I also want to take some time to integrate some of the great trainings and shared resources I’ve received to enhance my professional practice, such as project based learning, collaboration protocols, and student empowerment and ownership in the learning process. For example, I have a 3D periodic table project mostly planned, and have been implementing a new process in Algebra 1 where students receive brief group instruction, practice at their “learning edge” (partly self-paced) and use answer keys to check their work, and are encouraged to teach and learn from each other, earning 100% on any skills they both demonstrate on paper and teach to someone through a tip sheet, video, or peer tutoring session. Each student has a “to do” list in their table team folder which they check daily for individualized tasks, including skills quizzes which they complete and return to the folders for grading. They are also learning to write me notes there, such as “Ms __, I really don’t get this yet and will come for help at tutoring.” I then go through each one before the next lesson and see what was accomplished, grade quizzes, write notes about any problem areas, and add new tasks or assign quiz corrections. The quizzes are graded as homework because they reflect the practice they’ve done, without me checking, except now and then for accountability, how much. Then when all 5 to 7 quizzes in a unit have been completed to the best of their ability, they do a practice test, a sheet or problems showing their work, and, if judged ready (or out of time due to being irresponsible), they do the final test on that unit. There are even students who, unable to keep up the pace despite lots of effort, are allowed to progress at their own pace, so that, even though they realize that they may not yet be able to pass the course, they are making progress and could start several units ahead of the crowd the next year as they continue. I’d like to figure out a way to apply the same principles to Geometry and Algebra 2, so that I can focus more on effective teaching and equipping, and less on grading every little thing.

So, weekend rest first, then I’ll do some extra lesson and unit planning. I know I’ll be tempted to avoid that part, so I’ll fill my mind with the exciting vision I just described. I really do get into the groove and love what I’m doing once I get started. I’ve tried to keep from bringing work home this year, and for the first time since I started contract teaching in 2015, I regularly leave all my work at school each evening and weekends. This will just be a bit of extra weekend work and an hour or so longer after classes to get me back in my game, then I’ll reclaim my margin again. Because hard work that produces results is what makes rest and personal time so enjoyable, and I do want to have a clear conscience as I read with my feel up on the hearth, write for hours at the coffee shop, or soak in the hot tub under a full moon.

 

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Education, Places & Experiences

 

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Thoughts as I warm my feet before the fire

The socks are SmartWool, a from a pack of six pairs, now worn and mismatched, as they are comfortable in all weathers and don’t cause sweaty feet even if I wear them all day inside my sneakers or shoes. Most have lost a mate to heel wear, and then to repurposing as white board erasers.  “That’s a sock!” a student will say.” “A sock! That’s grosse, it’s an eraser, silly!” I rarely wear boots, even in cool weather–not even cute leather ones that would go well with the short skirts and tights I like to wear; my feet get too hot. Today I wore sneakers to work, and still had to remove my shoes to cool my feet off after lunch. It was during my planning time, so no one was there to see me, except there was then an earthquake drill. We evacuated to the gym, and I brought my sneakers, and because I had no students, I decided to rescue one of my classroom plants too, being the color one flashes at the end of the evacuation to show all’s well. All the little children lined up–it was a junior academy day, and smiled or looked curious at my plant. Not much of a plant, really, just a leaf stem that my fifth grade class got to grow a few roots when we were investigating asexual reproduction in plants. Some of the others we propagated are much more lush. This one a high school girl named Herb. Also in the class are Chris, the Christmas cactus, Flora, rescued from my daughter’s room and so grateful to be cured from a ferret mauling that she raised a delicate white rod covered with white florets. Palmer is the one that looked a little palm-ish, and there’s a spider plant on top of the supply cabinet beside the cow skull that wears cat-eye glasses. The plant wears them, that is. The cow’s eye sockets have fake eyeballs.

I keep as many plants in the room as possible for their aesthetic, because there are no windows in my classroom and it gets stuffy, the carbon dioxide level rising all day (from about 300 to 1300 ppm–we measured), and the plants grow better there than in my house because of the fluorescent light and extra CO2. Every time I find an acceptable pot at the second hand store I visit most weeks on the way home, I start another piece of vine or rooted cutting. I’m thinking of starting a plant for each student who comes in as a freshman and handing it over, much grown, when they graduate.

I sit with my feet on the hearth each morning as I eat breakfast, and each evening after work. I grew up doing that by a real wood fire, and it feels right, even through this is a gas fire. The tiles get warm, and one can spread out chilled fingers to restore feeling after a mail box run or snow shoveling session. The thermostat is set to 23 degrees Celsius, so my feet get cyclically overheated and I slide them to the side periodically. It’s the only heater working these days, the main furnace having died, though there are space heaters, and I use an electric pad to warm my bed before I slide my feet under the sheets.

At the hearth I sit in a chair I got for $10 at our local recycled building supplies store, refinished and reupholstered in beautiful wavy striped warm tones. The seat is pretty grimy after hard use, but if I can’t get it clean, I can use the extra fabric I bought and re-reupholster it. The best spot to sit basically blocks the circulation in the room for walking. That’s one of the design improvements I’m working on for the house remodel. I want there to be cozy space for two or three right up by the fire if wanted. I will probably also go with an efficient wood stove, with gas for another room, probably in the new upstairs studio. My current gas insert is almost at the end of its useful life too, and is only working because a friend of my brother-in-law did him, and especially me, the immense favor of hunting down and patching on a part that gave the igniter a few months more of utility. It would have cost over $900, but the charge was waived out of kindness. I’m a widow, yes, but my brother in law is the most amazing finesser I have ever seen, and makes people want to do him kindnesses. Even though I know this, he can still get me to give him more of my summer beet harvest than I should. He’s been very kind as well to us, in his deep grief at losing his twin brother so young. They were fraternal, in many ways opposite, but very close.

As I eat, or drink tea or my own mixed concoction of juice and soda (some of the juice is from my berries), sometimes plain and sometimes with a dash of vodka or wine, I look at the flames, read and think. I just finished The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Not finding much interest an very many Christian topics, I was surprised at how it captivated me, so I read it in about a week. I thought about one of my Catholic friends, who is particularly alive and devoted to her faith, and who has had many masses said for us, especially during my husband’s illness. She would be pleased that I enjoyed the book. I thought of my Jewish friend too, as the liturgies and spirituality seemed very similar, to my Protestant eyes at least. The former invited me to hear mass at her church, and my husband went for healing prayer and discussion with her priest. The latter invited me to shul a few times. Both types of services were very meaningful, especially the sense of community, the chanting and music, but I did not see to allowing their call to penetrate very far. I am in fallow state as far as religion is concerned, though the reasons are complex, and have nothing to do with my husband’s death due to cancer. As I’ve written before, for me that is not a reason to lose one’s faith.

This evening my son asked if I minded if he took the chair so he could wind down before bed with a cup of tea. I yielded the place to him, stood near the fire for a while, then took the couch. I was hoping to chat with him about this and that, but after a few exchanges, he politely asked that we not talk, so he could clear his mind and hopefully then sleep better. I don’t see much of him, just a few minutes in the morning, a few in the evenings before he retires rather early to bed (he is a very early riser). I acquiesced, but then forgot, and as I started to tell him about a funny conversation with a fifth grade student having his mind blown by fraction multiplication, my son, mid-sip, tried to remind me that he didn’t want to converse, and choked on his tea, spitting up a bunch on the floor. He got angry, blamed me, and slammed his door on the way to bed. He came out to apologize, but was still upset and worried that wouldn’t sleep well. He’s troubled in his sleep these last months. Holding in his grief, and distracting himself with podcasts and social computer gaming and role play. He’s a good fellow, and he’ll be okay. He’ll be sixteen in a few months, and could have really used a dad for many years to come. After he left I felt particularly heavy hearted and had a bit of a cry. But I thought of what I’d heard so far of the audiobook I just started, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I meditated on just a few of my blessings, and soon felt more peaceful.

Also on the hearth tiles are a few home design books, and several on woodworking I just got from the library. I got distracted from the audiobooks section I was headed for, and now I am inspired to set up my own wood shop, with a custom made workbench and tools storage as my first projects. Right now the garage is a semi-dismantled quasi-bedroom full of bins of fabric, photos, furniture parts, and off season clothing. I have a lot of organizing to do. The shop isn’t a new idea, but it may come about a little earlier than planned. For the house remodel, I plan to do any of the work I can do well, enjoy, and which can bring significant savings, so I’ll want to have everything organized when the time comes. It could be as soon as this fall, but more likely next winter or spring. I might rough in some more shed storage space in the meantime, as well as patch up my little garden shed.

The fireplace is framed with ivory stone tile. This was done about twenty years ago, so it’s surprising how well I remember the installer explaining and showed us how one must lay out the tiles beforehand to plan their arrangement, not just place them any old way. It was important to balance and vary the shade and veins through the granite surfaces, he said. He was our first hired workman. Despite our having done so much work to the house over the past twenty-two years, there have not been many. There was a father and son carpet installation team, a fellow hired to help with some of the more structural concrete work, and when my husband got very busy with work, he consented to a handyman to install window and door trim (until I learned how and he consented to allow me). A local craftsman made and installed a few more cabinet pieces for our expanded kitchen and replaced our interior doors and trim. And a young man repaired our fence after a windstorm. My husband did basically all the rest, with the help of family members and a few friends. he built the mantle, installed all the windows, closed in the car port, poured and finished the front and back steps, patio and driveway, updated lighting and electrical, replaced flooring, knocked down and rebuilt walls, insulated, installed and finished wallboard, added oak flooring to what we had (which I refinished), redid all the plumbing and fixtures (I did the tiling), put on a new roof, felled trees that were too close to the house. A few years ago he leveled about a hundred of feet of fence line and built a six foot cedar fence, putting each panel together by hand. His last job before shifting his focus to healing was to build a base and electrical lines for a new hot tub. After I finish my tea by the fire, I’ll go out there, where I will relax under the stars listen to the wind and the sound of distant traffic. It’s the same effect as a cozy fireplace, except by immersion, and, when one exits and returns to the real world, it has a bracing effect.

 
 

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As long as we both shall live

I’m watching my body a lot, a habit of may my age, since ones fifties are, on average, when the changes start to accelerate, or seem to. In reality for most of us it’s gradual, but the sudden realizations of the gradual changes are punctuations in the gradualism. Like, suddenly I have three gray hairs, five inches long–where did they come from? Or, how long have my eyebrow hairs been so coarse, my bunions so pronounced, my eyelids this drooping?

I’m pleased, actually. I feel fit and healthy, strong and wiser, and for some reason have less cellulite now than a decade ago. My hair doesn’t fall out as much as it did a few years ago, and I kind of like the veins in my hands. Also, I’m having a resurgence of interest in, and time for, connecting with friends and making new ones, in going out and having fun, and even dating. Not that I get out much, certainly not on dates. I still feel that’s premature, as I am only five months a widow. But as I admitted to a friend and colleague a few weeks ago, I’ve been interested in dating for years, since before my husband got sick. When times were hard between us, and I wondered what the future would bring, whether our paths would stay aligned, I imagined what it would be like if I became single again. I thought I’d enjoy it very much–I’ve always got on well with men, found them easier, in many ways, less intimidating, more accepting and more open to in my style of communication than women.

Not that I ever cheated on my husband, or flirted, even. It was all in my mind. Nor was he unfaithful even through the hardest times, though he would flirt too, in an innocent way–more like being a good listener and making women feel important and worth conversing with. Once we were very secure in our relationship, after the first few years, I never had a problem with that, though I’d tease him at the way he’d get waitresses, church ladies, salespeople, older and younger women, listening to his every word. We talked about the temptations we began to have later, although I kept my confessions at a theoretical level. I had learned how tender and fearful he could be, how insecure, once by a strange circumstance, which I’ll describe below.

I was extremely careful with my attentions, assuming any man could, if I was not very careful, get the wrong idea. Even married men, even churchgoers, younger or older. Because of what my husband had shared about how most men think, and because so many times in the past I had naively pursued and nourished friendships with fellows I had no romantic interest in (but being more comfortable with guys), be my relaxed self, and end up receiving their amorous attentions and having to drop the friendship, not really knowing how to recover from that embarrassment. Though I learned to give hints that I was not interested in that way, which helped. Also, if in a relationship with someone, I was always very careful to be loyal to that person until we parted, and spend little time on other friendships with guys. Just so it was all very clear, because that’s what I would want.

Except that time, after holding out for months against the attentions of an extremely attractive grad student whose passions were, I think, further fired by my attempts to keep my distance and be faithful to my nice Christian boyfriend and my faith. Meanwhile, my secret passions  for him were fired by his respect for me, his self control, and deep, intellectual conversations over coffee in the graduate student bar. He’d found the surest way to win my heart, which he did fully and completely, and I apologized to my Christian boyfriend, confessed my weakness and decision, and soon brought the new fellow to my college Christian fellowship. He was only intellectually curious as wasn’t willing to take on the yoke, however, despite my explaining that I couldn’t get serious with a non-Christian. I refused to let the relationship proceed past the sex before marriage point, for example.

He was unphased, and would not give me up. I was conflicted (he wrote a poem about that, which I later destroyed, but still of which remember the final line). I’d bought tickets to Bruce Cockburn, and we argued about this during the show, with touches and kisses in the dark.

It didn’t help that the wife of the staff worker in our student fellowship, when I brought the fellow for the Friday night worship, sidled by me and said in a low voice, “Now that’s the kind of guy I used to go for!” I had given my ultimatum about the conditions of the continuance of our intimacy. He refused. We spent a glorious spring and summer traveling around Nova Scotia, sleeping at my insistence, in separate tents, surveying fields for drainage, and writing for various environmental projects. The separation didn’t last, as I couldn’t hold out any longer, and, whatever–he was worth it, I thought. Then he went to Dominica, and after being invited there and me paying for my ticket, he called me at work to read the breakup letter. I remember pain in my gut, clenched teeth, and curling up outside in a snow storm almost wanting to freeze to death. Whenever I thought of him for the next fifteen years, I pictured myself punching him in the gut. He probably would have taken it as his due. Apparently I was some kind of project or experiment, to see if he could get me to love him, and if he could love me. Always the gentleman, he confessed that he did, but also didn’t. Something about his heart having been broken previously.

For years, I didn’t know what I would do if I saw him again–would I punch him in the gut? II felt his presence everywhere, as if he was watching me. I imagined running into him on the bus, in a pub, even across the country when I moved there.

That was a relationship I had to talk about with my fiance (a committed Christian, intellectual, multitalented, and tall, dark, and handsome) as we worked through our pasts. Had I bonded with the gur? Was I over him? The fact that I still wanted to but punch him favored a no answer. Does one ever get over that kind of young love and heartbreak?

The other relationship of note–one realizes this after reflecting all these years–was a purer, chaster love, with a sweeter, more friendly attraction. That was the fellow I still call my first love. Had I not gone away on a six month cultural exchange and as a consequence been emotionally exhausted by the experience, we might still be together today. He was sad when I said I just couldn’t be with anyone, and he went in another direction, married a woman I didn’t know well, but liked and respected, and is a happy father of three boys, a teacher and basketball coach.

In some ways, I think I was too much for him–I’m too stubborn, maybe too sarcastic, too many ups and downs, him being sweet tempered and kind, very outgoing and social, but tender–I might have hurt him. The man I married was made of stronger stuff (as a mentor once told me American men are in comparison with Canadians; he said I should marry one, which I thought funny, as well as highly unlikely). So I think it’s just as well. But I still feel tenderness toward him, and always will. I finally let myself look him up online, and there he was, handsome and smiling as ever, and I was sorely tempted to send a friend request! Didn’t seem like a good idea., though I wish I hadn’t sent back the mementos I had from him (which I did when I got engaged). I fancy that he can’t trust himself to friend request me either, for I’m easy to find and he may have checked. We had that kind of parting.

My husband wasn’t as concerned about that fellow, it not having been a consummated relationship. He had the wrong idea about that, but oh well. I’m glad he didn’t worry.

It was strange for me finding out what did worry him. When I caught a ride to my daughter’s fifth grade multi-day trip to the mountains with a divorced dad of her classmate, I didn’t think anything of it. We chatted there and back, and that was that. But when I casually mentioned the drive to my husband, I found out about the tender insecurities in the heart of my otherwise extremely confident, unselfconscious mate. I had to reassure him over and over that there had been nothing, nothing! of any concern, and make sure he believed it. So when I actually did feel attractions, my thoughts remained my thoughts, and I would never hurt him with them, and certainly would never betray him with actions. Over the years of our marriage I’ve had at least as many crushes as the next woman. As my mother, for example, who was fond of mentioning hers, for example.

I feel like my secret attractions helped, in a way, as they had a way of spicing things up in our bedroom, without his even knowing why. And if it was the same for him, I forgive him–whatever! Some might say those are emotional affairs, and just as harmful, but I disagree. Iit’s not as if any were based on an actual relationships, only thoughts, never communicated to the men in question. I was always relieved when an attraction, fizzled, anyway–it’s not as if I wanted to be attracted to anyone but my husband, especially anyone I’d see regularly. And although our marital passions were mellower after over twenty years of marriage, they were still there for both of us, along with all the familiarity and companionship, such as it was, and never perfect. One can never appreciate enough the miracle of another mortal, let alone one’s chosen mate, one realizes after losing one.

Mark, I feel your kindliness toward me, your understanding and releasing me into my new life. It’s not you who’s holding me back. Our children seem okay with the idea of me dating too. I’m just really enjoying my independence, honey, and you know that about me. I love making decisions without consulting anyone, love having all this margin in my days to go out and do whatever I have time and energy for. And also, I want to honor you to your family and not minimize the significance of your presence in my life, to honor your memory. They’re in a different position in relation to you than I, they have different personalities, and their bereavement is different than mine. But they also don’t want me to be lonely, and might think I “need” someone, which I don’t think I do,or not specifically a man. I need people, co-workers, friends, and close friends, as well as people to serve and care for. I’m of two minds, yes–I want to flirt, date, party, be pursued, but I also want to stay free. Freedom and opportunity–two of my most important values, as I told you, when you asked.

 

December Dreams

I dreamed I was above a river full of dolphins, and one came up to me and let me touch it. I felt its rough tongue and saw its smile up close. It squirted water toward me to keep me from drying out.

I dreamed I was driving in blackest night along a highway, my left headlight out, my right flickering. I resolved to get there by tailing the car ahead closely, and going off the road when any other cars came up behind but could not see me, as my tail lights were out too. But then another car came along with special lights that provided safe travel.

I dreamed there was a religious rally back on a farm off the road, and as I passed there was a crowd waiting to see the holy sights. I asked the person farthest away if they wanted to know what was there, since I had got close and seen it. It was ordinary enough–something good happening, as things sometimes do, that was called a miracle. But no one cared–seeing was believing.

I dreamed I was going to go through a town, one way or another, with my bike. I looked at the digital image of the town, and there were two bodies of water. I asked a middle aged woman with bleach blonde curls which way to go, and she said straight over the hill (rather than around the shoreline). So I went with everyone else. It was a busy day with lots out walking. It was steep, so I carried my bike up the various sections, then there was a six-foot high fence. People were lined up trying to clamber over. I found a gap and instead of trying to haul my bike up after me, I heaved the front tire over so the bike was draped over the top of the fence. The fence was stained cedar with horizontal metal portions and plenty of hand and footholds, but still, a fence. As the front tire fell onto the other side, it hit a man on the nose–a middle manager with dark curly hair and glasses. I apologized, then started pulling myself up and over, with surprising strength.

I dreamed I got on a bus, and the driver was polite, but when I walked down the aisle, people had pleasant faces but no one would give me a seat. I realized I should get off, so I needed to get a transfer slip, and hoped the driver wouldn’t be annoyed. I walked back to the front, and the driver was cheerful enough, but there were lots of straps hanging from the roof of the bus around the entry, which kept twisting and tangling around her hands as she tried to get the transfer for me. They were like the straps of seat belts.

Then I was at a bus stop, and had to throw something in the trash, but by mistake I threw away something else I had in my hand too, but I wasn’t sure what. So I had to dig in the trash to find it (there was only a little in there). A receipt? An earring? A credit card? Others were thinking it strange, but I persisted.

I dreamed that there was my husband walking in the door, arrived home from work or errands, large as life and and completely healthy. I was shocked, and when he saw me, he was just as shocked. I suddenly realized from his reaction that someone had perpetrated an elaborate hoax on both of us, creating simultaneous illusions that the other had died, so each of us had gone through the whole process of bereavement, grief, and recovery. He looked at me as if he could hardly believe it was me, and when I reached out my hands, he was reluctant to take them. But he did, and I held his hands and wept deeply. But when I woke, there was no one there, and no weeping.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Places & Experiences

 

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