The Book I Most Want To Read

As previously reported, I am in the process of fleshing out and editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t have a consistent  schedule for when to actually sit down and work, but I think often of the miniature world I created, of the characters’  struggles and triumphs. Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago L., an author and former editor, agreed to meet with me to discuss our mutual projects.

Moi?  Discussing someone’s writing project? I had a feeling L. did not specialize in fourth grade book reports or progress notes for therapy sessions, the two forms of writing with which I am most familiar. Nonetheless L. arrived at my home armed with two copies of the first chapter of  her current fictional work.  I was armed with only one copy of my first chapter, because I didn’t know any better.

Over coffee cake we shared our respective synopses. I learned that L.’s protagonist is a teenager living in a United States of the future, while L learned that my protagonist is a middle aged woman living in the present in a town which does not exist. Next we read one another’s chapters. I was immediately pulled into the life of L.’s teenaged heroine.  I had opinions on where she was going, and what she would do next. Clearly L. has the talent to write in such a way that the reader quickly develops  empathy for her characters.

The meeting made me feel so…writerly, because L was generous enough to take me seriously despite my lack of education and experience. Somewhere in there we talked about mutual challenges for our work going forward. My dilemma was that I had been advised to begin my book with more action. Should I do as I had been advised or should I do what I thought best?  And how could I think anything to be best when I had never written anything at all?DSC_0323

As we say in the South, bless little  ole Miss L.’s heart!! She absolutely validated my intention to write a book about a woman’s interior life, the world others do not see. Her advice to write the kind of book I would want to read myself was the most grounding advice I could have heard that day. I doubt I was of much help to her, but I gave it my best shot. I hope points are given for effort!

I did make the cake though!

I did make the cake though!

Two days later I arrived at the Monterey Aquarium, where some scenes in my book take place. I wanted to see the place for myself in order to write more realistically about my character’s day there. I was curious; what would have caught my character’s eye or mind at the museum? What, if anything, would stay with her, lingering in her thoughts  long after her day at the museum was over?

DSC_1489

Finally, an uncrowded spot!

I suppose we see what we need to see when we are ready, for though I was wondering what my protagonist would feel, I was quickly making observations of my own.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

See the photo below!

All my observations weren't deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

All my observations weren’t deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

As I made my way through the exhibits, folks were crowded all around the tanks, admiring the fish and taking pictures.DSC_0468

These sea creatures  inhabit  worlds we do not see, worlds that humans have been known to ignore or exploit.  Each species is  motivated by instinct to perform actions  we may may  not understand. Their ways of living and appearances are alien to us.DSC_0443

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

In the tanks the creatures grow and change, each ecosystem interacting with and depending on one another.  For them it is business as usual  but the humans  are mesmerized. We cannot stop congregating, staring, watching, and eventually becoming hypnotized by the swirling colors and otherworldly life forms. DSC_0422DSC_1474It is as though we can see into their souls, if they have souls. As we stare we realize we are all interconnected parts of the same whole.DSC_1468

As I tried to sidle up to the tanks, camera at the ready,  I felt a thrill of recognition. Why, this was JUST like reading fiction. A reader opens  a book and finds an entire world, full of people and events that are strange to him.  Though the reader  may not agree with what happens to the characters, he  becomes entangled in their lives just the same.  Hopefully the author has used prose arranged so artfully that the reader, like one of those gathered by the fish tanks, finds himself compelled to read the words over and over, just to hear them or to see the mental pictures evoked one more time.DSC_0411

As we navigate the stories we read, we come face to face with ourselves. How do our inner lives correspond with those of the characters for which we have so much empathy? Would we respond as the characters have? What do their struggles have to do with our own lives?DSC_0454

It has been said that fiction exists for truth telling. Just as an endangered species takes us out of our complacencies, a work of fiction can disrupt our world. Characters can become permanent parts of our lives. While we may never meet Jean Valjean, Porfiry Petrovich or even Harry Potter in our actual lives, they live forever in our hearts. Raise your hand if you have ever pondered on characters and their predicaments long after you have completed your first reading of a favorite book!

What if we had to  live his life?

What if we had to live his life?

I left the aquarium feeling more connected to the unseen worlds of the ocean, and grateful that such quirky but gorgeous creatures are on this earth. I got a sense of what would have caught my heroine’s eye, and how she would have responded to her surroundings. But focusing on these unseen watery worlds gave me even more permission to write authentically about what interests me, namely, this particular middle aged woman in a town which does not exist.DSC_0387

One day in the future I hope to have my heroine’s story ready to share. Her world is compact,  but it is real, just as  the lovely blue tangs and angel fish inhabit a small but tangible space. In the grand scheme of things her efforts in this life may seem minor, but  her spirit touches many. Like the connections found in the world beneath the sea, like all the humans on this earth, she is a small part of that whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. That is exactly the book I want to write, because that is exactly the book I would most want to read.DSC_0416

 

 

 

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Magpie Meditation: Reset

I’ve been in an unmindful hurry in the last few months. rushing to be creative, introspective, helpful, attentive, and healthy.  With the best of intentions I  spread myself too thin. In hindsight I see how, in increments, I knocked myself right out of balance.

I work three days a week.  On those days it is my job to be there for people who are in difficult life situations. I provide a safe, accepting environment in which people can examine their thoughts ad feelings and make the changes they want  to make in their lives. It is an unbelievably  rewarding career. I have learned more from those who have walked through my office door than I could ever express in words.

On the four days I do not work one might think I  had   plenty of time  to break out of professional mode, put on my sweats and….read, write, cook, daydream, garden, blog, ….an organic, rejuvenating flow of energy.  On paper it works nicely. In reality, on my days off I still have to answer work calls, schedule doctor’s appointments, and wait for the cable man.  On some days off I may still be  so tired from the three long days I have  worked that it is a struggle to be as creative as  I would like to be.

Shouldn't you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

Shouldn’t you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

I was juggling it all flexibly enough until  late October 2013 when  I impulsively signed up for  my first NaNoWriMo challenge.  All of November I hunted and I pecked and I came up with the required number of words. I loved, loved, loved, participating in NaNoWriMo. And what do I have now? I have a teeny tiny little novel that needs big editing. I’m convinced that my characters deserve to be brought to life in print, where they will be loved and cherished by all.  With all the pride of a new mother, I think my baby book is  uncommonly beautiful.

Now, on my “off” days I am  trying to teach myself what we do after we write a draft of a novel. Do I know what I am doing? Not at all.  Do I have a writing group? Not at all. I spend my time reading books about writing books, searching on the internet for what to do with a book manuscript, and on the actual editing of the book. Also, for a person with the technical skills of the main character in The Gods Must Be Crazy, being gifted with a new computer for Christmas proved a mixed blessing. I can’t tell you what  all the problems have been because it will cause flashbacks of my having talked to every single Apple support employee, except to say that I did not have Pages ’09, and therefore  for a time could not open up my poor little book on the new laptop. Sigh.

On a more serious note, in  the middle of the frenetic NaNoWriMo month,  I learned that a very close friend, not a blogger, has  a life threatening illness. I spoke with her on a Tuesday while  she was getting ready for work. By Saturday of that same week, after an emergency room visit for severe pain, she had a diagnosis and was meeting with her treatment team. While she wasn’t looking, she left her old life and started a new one. The gods really MUST be crazy.

Even now when I say to myself that she is sick, part of me says, “No she’s not.” But she is. For now she is doing well, but still has a hard uncertain road ahead. Though her illness is not my story, my role as her friend has changed. I need to gather strength in order to be a person who to whom she can  say anything, especially those things she cannot say elsewhere. I need to pay attention in order to be a person who steps in when needed, and out when not. I need to be a person who does not always treat my friend as though she is a sick person.    I need to be honest with myself in order to  accept my powerlessness to change the progression or outcome of her illness.  I am honored to assume these roles, but of necessity I have had to learn them on the fly.

The realities of the last few months  left me feeling frantic on days when I was not working, longing to be alone, and to be needed by no one SO I COULD  GET SOME WORK DONE!!!!  Yet when  alone, I did not experience the peace I and contentment I sought. Fear that I would run out of time on this earth, that I would never be able  to learn and do all I want caused me to try to wring every productive moment out of every day. When was I going to get around to editing my book? Knitting? Working on my new scrapbook? What about that online photography class I needed so sorely? When would I research my trip to Paris? What about my blog post?   I began to feel overwhelmed with that dread that says “You should be _________ right now.”

  I do know better than to try to be a “human doing”. Because of my vulnerability  I must have deluded myself into thinking that because I enjoy learning, making, and doing, that it would be appropriate to do them all at a breakneck pace without savoring the individual moments.  I worked myself into ignoring the part where I was going ninety miles an hour. I’ve been here before.  But apparently  learning to just be is one of those life lessons  I am destined  to learn over and over again.

The funny thing is how I came to notice all of this. I knew I felt  unsettled, not right.  Good  detective work on my part. But guess what my solution was? I TRIED TO ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO MY SCHEDULE WITHOUT ASKING ME!!!!!!! That’s right folks; I decided that just a few minutes of scheduled meditation, along with study of same, would bring me back to a peaceful place. Part of the absurdity of this is that I purely cannot stand for my time to be  taken up, even if it is taken up by me. I want to do what I want to do WHEN I want to do it.

So when I tried to implement my ill conceived  plan, I heard the most distinct voice inside myself saying,”NO. NO. NO. This is the problem. YOU are the problem.” At least that time, if not for the preceding weeks, I did listen. And I knew I had to start back at the beginning. For me, that means with a notebook and pen. That means every day, not just some days. That means asking me what I want to do, and listening to the answer. It means that once I check in with myself, I have accomplished the most important task of the day. Whatever I do afterwards I will do  more mindfully by default. That’s what matters.

Where the rubber meets the road. Source: caps.umich.edy

Where the rubber meets the road.
Source: caps.umich.edy

I am a few days into my reset now. Once I attend to myself through my journal I find I am quite ready and willing to meditate. Though everyone’s experience is individual, I can report feeling less rushed and less anxious.  When I breathe I am aware of more  inner space. I am also aware of a deep weariness in my shoulders. What better way could my body tell me I need to let go?

I am still busy, but I am busy differently. Busy noticing. Busy being. Busy starting over and feeling more balanced.  I will never have time to do everything that interests me. I will never be able to control the passing of time.  But however I do spend my time, I want to feel alive and present in that moment, for it will never come again. It is comforting to know that if from time to time I veer off of the  course I  want to follow that I can simply reset.

What about you? Do you ever need a reset? And if so, what works for you?

Friendship Foreclosure

Life buzzes along. Each day my goal is to be aware of the individual moments that make it up. And while I am busy noticing and aware- ifying, the segments of life as I have known them rearrange themselves, usually without my noticing. Just as soon as I tell myself what a good place I am in, a new set of circumstances sweeps in, not necessarily bad ones, but different ones. Sometimes life doesn’t give me time to reflect on what has changed until years later when I am struck by a sudden new alignment of past events in my brain, leading me to a different perspective than before.

A while back I saw this sign:IMG_2193

I don’t know what it says about me that I read “Friend Foreclosure.” Try just glancing at it quickly and maybe that is what you will see. No? Oh, I guess it was just me. I laughed at my mistake  at the time but the phrase “Friend Foreclosure” stayed with me.

In the last few years I have become accustomed to seeing foreclosed properties  all over town. In a subdivision such as mine an unmoved yard, a flowerbed full of  leggy weeds and  piled up newspapers are unmistakeable signs of an abandoned home. If one takes a few steps closer to the vacant house, the empty rooms can be seen through the windows of the very doors that used to welcome family and friends. One house in our neighborhood was not only abandoned but also left unlocked. With a group of neighbors I made a creepy, surreptitious tour of the house, noticing the rain damage where the window had been left open, the sagging lattice work pergola in the backyard, and the boxes of personal papers the occupants had left in their master bathroom. As we closed the front door carefully behind us, we all wondered what could have happened to this family.

Friendships have some similarities to homes. Both can  be considered expressions of a person’s personality. Just as we furnish a living room to our taste, we desire certain qualities in the people we spent our time with. We can put a little or a lot of time into  a property but certain tasks must be accomplished if the home or building is to meet our needs. Friendships too, cannot meet the participants’ needs without some investment by humans. And like houses, friendships can look one way on the outside but be just the opposite on the inside. Only those who open the door know what is inside.

For example, would you have expected to see THIS in my house?

For example, would you have expected to see THIS in my house?

And like real estate, a friendship can be foreclosed upon for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes we realize the friendship is upside down, that no matter how much we put into it, it will always be a  losing proposition, that its value will never appreciate. Maybe we didn’t “see” the flaws, that the structure was fundamentally flawed when we entered the friendship.   We make the painful decision to cut our losses and walk away sooner, not later.  It hurts to know that the person we invested in cannot return our friendship.

Sometimes we foreclose because  although there might be some value in the friendship  for us, we are just not able or willing to pay the “note” that would be expected.  Earlier in life for me that could actually have been connected to money, in that I have sometimes had very little disposable income and literally could not keep up the socializing that my childless friends could. So I let go. Other situations where I have let go have involved a choice between the friendship and my own values; the values won.  Life is too short for me to spend time with couples who bicker all evening, or husbands with entitled attitudes, or in conversations with those who spew political venom instead of having a civil discourse. Am I picky? Maybe.

Do I look picky to you?

Do I look picky to you?

It is definitely hard to make and keep friends as an adult. As I review the foreclosure list I come upon the category of the mutual foreclosure, where both of us simply let too much time go by. Like a homeowner facing eviction, we each fell so far “behind” that we couldn’t catch up. On my  my part I regret these times, and wish I had tried harder to keep in contact, that I had not been so overwhelmed with life that I became careless with my friends. There are a few people I still think about, wish well, and hope they can forgive my lack of attention.

They say that each person has a social blueprint which determines his  relationship style. Since I am thinking about this so much, I guess I need to figure out mine. At every age there can be reasons why we don’t have time to keep up with friends or to make new ones. But what I know is that at 57 years old I don’t have a lot of real estate I am wanting to walk away from. Perhaps I have walked away from too much already.

Here's an oldie but a goodie I would work to keep.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie I would work to keep.

I want to enter the next stages of my life with my friendships as solid as old homesteads, showing some wear, but full of character. Some flaws I will keep simply in honor what all we have lived through together. But at the same time I want to be open to constructing new friendships. I vow never to become so old I cannot  value the riches found in getting to know another person. So if I come across someone who is willing to loyally put up with my nerdy pursuits and sense of humor, just as I do theirs, I just may be in the market!

How about you? Any foreclosure stories?

Password to the Pavilion

I am writing on the day after Christmas, exhausted, but in a good way. Yes, I am tired because the last few days have been like riding on a rickety roller coaster while holding onto wrapped gifts for everyone in your family… oops? You forgot to wrap something? Then get OFF the ride until you wrap that thing, and wait in line to ride again. Go over your holiday schedule while waiting in line. Is that your phone alarm reminding you that right now you are due at Roller Coaster #4? Where your Uncle Barnabas has made reservations for your whole family? Best drop out of this line again. You’ll just have to come back at midnight, if you have time, for this ride. And you must ride it, because it is so much FUN. Just look at all those happy souls on the ride right now with their mouths frozen into grimaces as they whip around the curves, clutching those wrapped packages with a death grip. How can it only happen once a year?

Actually all of that was just in fun. I am exhausted  in a good way because I have spent the holidays doing just what I want to do and nothing else. In the Holiday Amusement Park of life I am seated in a secluded pavilion on a park bench, aware but undisturbed that so many others around me are overextending themselves. I am comfortable and at peace, surrounded by those who mean the most to me. Back here in the pavilion I can see the festive lights and hear the noises, but I am removed enough so that if a stressed out roller coaster rider lets go of a wrapped fruitcake while at the summit of the ride, it can’t hit me or mine in the head.

It's shiny out here, but out of the way f flying debri.

It’s shiny out here, but out of the way of flying debri.

I enjoy myself so much in my  holiday pavilion; I only wish I had known about it sooner. Come to think of it, many of those I have seen walking  among the pavilions are closer to my age. Perhaps the way out here cannot be seen  clearly until one reaches a certain age. We who have found our way to the pavilions are at peace because we decide how much hustle and bustle we want. Others do not dictate it for us. Sometimes we may decide to dash briefly into the melee and race one  other past the midway rides and back to our sanctuary. When we return, out of breath and laughing, we relish the fun we had.

Things don't  get over the top unless we say so.

Things don’t get over the top unless we say so.

When you are at the Holiday Amusement Park, have you noticed the signs that point to the outer pavilions, where folks may be less active, yet at the same time more present? If you have not seen them I do hope that you will look. You won’t look until you are ready, but just in case, I will pass on a little hint. There are many signs posted at the park. You’ve seen them: “Frenetic  Friends and Family Roller Coaster”, “Codependent Merry Go Round”, “Big Box Shopping Dodge’em Cars “, “Yes You Will Attend This Party  Scrambler”, the “Yes You Will Buy Me This Hurricane” , and the like.

If you want to see the sign for the Peaceful Pavilions, you must pause in front of each preceding sign, read it, and say out loud, in a firm voice, the word “No.” Just that one word. But you must say it each time. Do not despair if it takes you several years to say no to each sign; no one ever said they weren’t tricky little devils. But remember that no matter how hard it may seem to say no, that eventually saying yes is going to become even harder than you can imagine.

But only if you want to.

Don’t say yes unless you want to.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

I hope you will join me at the pavilion one of these years. I’ve met so many nice people out here. At first we are incredulous that we found the place, and that  enjoying the holiday season can be just as easy as saying “No.” Then, very quickly, we get involved with what we have always wanted to be able to say “yes” to: relaxed days and nights, making memories with friends old and new, helping those less fortunate than ourselves, even thinking about the new year to come. Until we meet in the wooded area beyond the midway rides, happy holidays from me and mine in the peaceful pavilion. We’ll keep the lights on for you!DSC_0351

Trading Blue for Yellow

A couple of Sundays ago I woke up feeling a little blue.  My problems were the usual stuff of those who have no real problems. I had now been living with my belongings dispersed through the house as if by a maniac for many weeks. Since my bedroom floor was now rough concrete, I was stepping in little grains of cement every time I went in my bathroom. Between the workmen tramping in and out and having our extant bedroom furniture  placed willy nilly in other rooms, trying to clean or organize was out of the question. I felt cheated because I had slept late and now my husband thought it was too late to ride bikes. Also, I had determined that only about five people were reading my blog. That was the real rub.

I contemplated this last opinion while I sat outside with my coffee. There was no doubt that I was feeling sorry for myself, and it was up to me to change the situation. Had I written what I wanted? Yes. Had I been satisfied with it? Yes. If a blogger writes a post in the forest, and the animals can’t read, is it a real blog post? I didn’t know, but I did know this mood was not going to fly. What could I do, I mused, to take care of myself right now and avoid the steaming morass of self pity that was lurking just over my left shoulder?

I knew! I knew! I was going to take my own self on an adventure! Quickly, before my brain could give me instructions otherwise, I threw on some bicycling clothes and smeared  sunscreen on my face. “You’re going all by yourself to Shelby Farms?” inquired my husband as he checked my bicycle tires. “Yep,” I replied, sliding my cell phone into my sports bra. “Maybe it would be easier to leave the phone at home,” he suggested. “Nope,” I replied.

I knew why he’d  said that. A few years ago while we were riding together I had tried to fish my phone out of my bra while riding. I wasn’t having any trouble until he came up behind me offering suggestions while I tried to answer the phone and stop the bike at the same time. Thanks to his “help” I pulled on only one brake, causing me to be thrown over the handlebars and onto the pavement, watching my cell phone clatter down the street.

Today I wasn’t going to get caught up into his fears that I would again answer the phone while biking. His fears were going to have to be his own problem. This bike ride was going to  be all about me, Baby.

In five minutes I was pedaling down  my driveway, free as I had felt on a Saturday morning in second grade after I had dusted the piano and been allowed outside to play. As a child  I  regularly biked for hours around our neighborhood. It was the same now except I had a helmet and could go as far as I wanted. How could it be that I rode my bike so seldom? Well, for one thing it is often hotter than Hades where I live, I reminded myself,  making it necessary that bike riders, along with walkers, runners, and gardeners , start their activities at dawn or not at all. Today, however, the temperature was tolerable and the humidity low.

My general destination was Shelby Farms, a 4500 urban park close to our home. In recent years a conservancy has made major improvements in the park including  turning an  unused railroad track into a Greenline to help connect citizens to the pleasures within. The part that will extend to my neighborhood is not yet built, so, alone with my thoughts , I took backroads for about 6 miles until I crossed into the park.

The park is split by a major thoroughfare. I rode into the south side which contains, among other things, a farmer’s market and an RV park. I rode beside the RV park, wondering what it would be like to have one, and to pull up to a campsite in the middle of the city to spend the night. After reading a mystery series in which the heroine drove an RV, I mentioned it would be fun for me to tool around in  one. This idea was just too much for the man who is afraid for me to take my phone on a bike ride. He sputtered about how hard it would be for me to maneuver, how I lack depth perception ( which is true) and the costs of gas. Mostly I think he was afraid he would come home and find an RV in our driveway. What does he think I am, I asked myself as I cleared the RV area. Impulsive?

Beyond the Rv area I rode on some narrow and some wide trails past the solar farm area and an enormous mulch making facility before cutting up closer to the road. I was close to my specific destination: the sunflowers.DSC_0714

Every year  the park plants a large field of tall sunflowers  which can be seen from the major thoroughfare. Countless children are taken there by their parents to pose for pictures among the flowers.  Engagement photos are taken there as well. Maybe some people even cut some  flowers to take home. I had always wanted to visit the sunflowers during their brief season, but until today I never had.DSC_0724

I dismounted and took out my camera. Rows and rows of sunflowers stood before me, just like a corn maze. I found an opening  and tromped in, taking care not to get too close to some families nearby who were photographing their children. As I admired all the yellow and  gold loveliness, I overheard parents admonishing their children to stop crying and smile for the camera. A Labrador Retriever was being urged to stand beside a recalcitrant child.DSC_0727

DSC_0716Nevertheless, it was a peaceful place. I could hear but not really see the traffic. And within the rows was a a magical feast of golds, yellows and greens. The sky was somewhat overcast, but the colors shimmered for me. Deep within the rows, unseen by any human eye, I stood perfectly still. All around me the bees buzzed and lit on flowers, while butterflies chased  one another from bloom to bloom.DSC_0744 DSC_0734 DSC_0739Everywhere I looked a sea of sunflowers faced the sun. DSC_0730Even the backs of their necks were beautiful to me.

How long did I stay? I stayed until I decided to leave. Somehow the warmth and simplicity of the sunflowers restored my equilibrium.  As I eventually pedaled away, I heard myself say to me, “You may have just five readers, but they’re QUALITY readers!” That made me laugh out loud. Yes, I was out on an adventure that day, and I wasn’t going by the specifications of others. I would follow the sun in my own way.

The Opposing Path, or Kerfluffle and Flow

Over thirty years ago, I married my complete opposite. I was a young, foolish extrovert who made decisions based on feelings and intuitions. He was equally  young and foolish, but  was an introvert who made his decisions with facts and evidence. When he wanted to make decisions quickly I felt pressured. But I had been raised in the South to please my man, so at least early in the marriage, I tended to go along with his ideas for the sake of harmony. On his part he was often stunned that there could be any opposition to his ideas, because they were so logical. Of course, too much going along for the sake of harmony makes for a cranky spouse, so through the years we  have had to learn to respect and even celebrate our differences.

I understand now that my detail oriented husband may actually have a heart attack if he cannot read the EXACT amount a check has been written for. For me, “about $70.00” is close enough. So I write checks out of another account he never even sees. Problem solved! He doesn’t like clutter, so I try to cheerfully hang up my clothes at least twice a week. On his part, he tries not to pressure me to make decisions quickly, because I have to know I have looked at all possibilities first. He is kind to me about things I don’t notice, like whether or not a car needs gas. He knows that is  way too boring for me to be involved with.

We have worked through the power struggles and communication problems of the earlier years and have emerged into the bliss of the empty nesting world. But a recurring challenge is how to come to mutual decisions.  Things always come up. When we have conflicting  ideas on how to handle a situation, what do we do? Does one partner capitulate to please the other, and deal with the resentment later? Does one partner doubt his or her own judgement and wonder if they’re just too controlling? Or do the partners keep working and keep talking until an agreeable decision is made? Where is the line between our individual selves and our partnership?

As I look back over the  last three decades, I see that we have always done our best when we have been  honest with ourselves and each other and have stuck to the work of working it out. Because we are constantly in the push/pull of being individuals and partners simultaneously, it is draining. Because we are opposites in personality styles, it is messy. But in the end it has brought us to the  best emotional places in our marriage.

Recently a new “thing”( meaning an  incident we will laugh about later but not yet)  came up that reinforced the importance for me of listening to myself. Here it is: In the process of preparing our pied a terre, we moved our bed from our home to the condo. This meant we would be purchasing a new bed for our home. But first our bedroom needed to be painted. In the interim, we had  been sleeping in another bedroom in our home.  When we moved our bed, I  gave away an armoire that had held many of my clothes, so my clothes were all over the place in plastic bags and various boxes.

Finally we picked a bedroom paint color and new bed linen.  As soon as my husband painted the room we could get new bedroom furniture. But no, first my husband wanted to do something about our laminate floor. Some of the boards had been pulling away from each other, in approximately the same place where I had used a space heater for several winters. My husband didn’t like the look of it. I thought we had bigger fish to fry, as the hardly anyone could even see the place. See Exhibit A.

Would anyone really notice this?

Would anyone really notice this?

My husband proposed that he (which I thought would surely also mean me) would pull up the  existing laminate while the room was empty, and lay an engineered hardwood floor. Although I am always happy to improve my home,  I did not like this idea. First, we had been neck deep in renovations at the condo for almost a year, and were so close to getting it furnished. I thought our efforts should go there. Second, all projects take longer than people  think they will, especially if either of the two of us is involved. Third, I had been without a bedroom or place to put my belongings for six weeks now, and I wasn’t interested in extending the time. I was tired of all this left brain decision making. I even wrote a post about it! I told my husband that if he must have a floor, that I would rather someone else put it in. No, no, no, he replied. That would be too expensive. He could do it himself for much less money. ( And five times the effort, I said to myself. I’ve matured over the years, so I don’t have to say everything I think.)

The next couple of weeks were excruciating for me. Every time the subject of the floors came up, my husband gave me his very logical reasons why we should follow his idea. I gave him my very valid reasons why we should not. I went to a flooring company  just to get estimates, hoping there would be little price difference between having someone put in the floor or doing it ourselves. My husband saw the estimates  and said they were too expensive.

I stewed. I did not want to be a poor sport, but I did not want to pull up  a floor and lay another one  right now. Why couldn’t he just listen to me? We didn’t (and don’t)  even have a car big enough to bring laminate home in! And what would we do with the old laminate? How many weekends would this take? I wondered if this  could be  just  a rare instance on my part of being stubborn. Surely not. But my husband was so stuck on this idea. Could I just give in? And readers, I could not. I had to listen to myself. We were going to have to go through the messy process of working it out. It made my stomach ache to think about it.

To the Moon Alice!

To the Moon Alice!
Source: rapgenius.com

I brought it up one last time on a Thursday night. Sparks flew. We both defended our positions. I had tried giving my husband lots of facts, since I thought he could hear those better.  But finally I told him that if he proceeded the way he proposed it was going to cause more trouble than a few boards gone awry. What was his actual problem with the floor, and could we solve it using less drastic means? Since my husband could not live with the  appearance of the floor, we tried to order more laminate on the internet to repair it. But of course it was discontinued. Then he reluctantly agreed to try to glue the drifting parts down. Crisis averted, I hoped. My anxiety went down by one thousand points. I had taken care of my individual self, and the relationship had survived.

That Saturday he glued down the boards. On Sunday he began to replace the quarter rounds he had taken down to repaint the bedroom. We were just about ready for our new bed! Oh, I was so glad I had not just given in to what he wanted. I celebrated by spending an hour or so in my swimming pool. After a refreshing dip, I went into my bathroom for a shower. But…. the threshold to the bathroom was pulled up, and the laminate seemed … damp. What had happened?

My husband walked in at that time and said that yes, water seemed to be coming from somewhere in our bedroom, but where? And why? For the next hour we ran the wet /dry vac and tried to locate the source of the  ice cold water, which we had found seeping out from under the wall. Reluctantly my husband began to pull up pieces of laminate to see where the water was coming from. Things kept getting curiouser, and in the end we turned off the water  and put in a call to a plumber.

Oh No!

Oh No!

I was planning to attend a Ramadan dinner  that night with a friend, so I had to leave before the plumber arrived. Dinner was later than I thought, for I had failed to take in account that food could not be served until after dusk. As I listened to a speaker expound on working for the common good of all, I  received a text from my husband. The plumber found that my husband had driven a nail through the wall into a  water pipe coming in from under the slab of the house. He would have to jackhammer into our bedroom floor in order to fix the pipe. Water had seeped under the laminate, so our floor was of course, ruined.

On the way to the condo, where we had to sleep because we had no water at our home, my husband was so upset with himself. How could he have done this, he asked. How much was it going to cost to fix it? And why was I not angry with him? Why should I be angry with you? I asked him. It was just a mistake. Anyone could have done it. It’s not the end of the world. I meant that. At that moment I felt fully available to be a partner. That didn’t make my stomach hurt at all.

The next day a plumber came and fixed the pipe, and we were able to wash the 23 or so wet towels we had from the leak.  My husband called the insurance man, and someone came to patch the hole in the wall from the repair. Sometime during that week my husband said in a quiet  voice that when we got a new floor he no longer thought he had to install it himself. Oh, O.K., I said in a nonchalant tone.

That same day that the plumber fixed the slab, I attended my usual yoga class. Before we began, our teacher wanted to discuss two Sanskrit words, paksa, (roughly , going with the flow, ) and prati paksa (roughly, going against the flow). She related the terms to our yoga practice, saying that sometimes in order to properly do a pose we go the way the body wants to go, but at other times the best way to achieve balance is  to take  an opposite path. We must always assess which is the better choice: going with the flow, or going against the flow. Indeed.