Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em!

§    I took an informal housework survey of some of the women I know and garnered the following intel on the housekeeping tasks that everyone loves and/or loathes.  §

I had an acquaintance once who explained rapturously that she just loved running the vacuum.  I looked at her like she’d lost her mind. There are two household chores that (despite doing them with monotonous regularity) I despise above all else: running the vacuum and changing the bedsheets. I have no explanation as to why these chore irk me so much. I don’t avoid them, but I absolutely and completely loathe doing them.

Of course, this same woman was one who, when guests were present and the evening had not yet quite wound to a close, always made everyone a bit uncomfortable by beginning to wash up the snack plates and wine glasses before people had even begun making “going home now” noises. Since her house was, like mine, an open floor plan, there was no disguising the fact that she was in there splashing merrily in the dishwater; she’d been seen to snatch up a cheese plate just as a guest popped the last toothpicked cube into his mouth. The sight of an unwashed dish in her sink apparently drove her to distraction, as she mentioned once while pointedly eying the neatly rinsed-and-stacked plates and glasses in my own sink whileI tidied up after a get-together. On that occasion, I thought she choked a bit as I turned out the kitchen light and walked away from the sink. But as I’ve explained before in an earlier blog post (The Dishwashing Analogy, 06/29/18), those dishes were going to sit in the sink until at least after breakfast the next morning, and quite possibly lunch, when enough would have accumulated to waste my time and water on. This was despite the fact that I actually enjoy washing dishes–so much so that my dishwasher is run only once weekly, and then just to keep the belts from rotting from disuse. I find dishwashing to be almost a meditative act; it proves to me the truth of what one of my grandmothers (a simply marvelous housekeeper) told me: When the hands are busy in a simple task, one’s mind is completely free.

Nevertheless, Grandma’s maxim doesn’t explain why some of those simple and repetitive tasks just drive me, or others, to the brink.

I took an informal housework survey of some of the women I know.  (I did not include any men because, [a] there are few of them in my life; and, [b] the only man I know who actually willingly does housework is my son-in-law).  I garnered the following intel on the housekeeping tasks that everyone loves and/or loathes. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were a lot more responses for the “LOATHE” column than the converse—including one heartfelt reply from a woman who said bluntly that she was “totally over” enjoying any form of cleaning. But what struck me in their responses was that I found myself not to be so odd, after all: tasks that one person simply could not stand doing were actually enjoyed by another person.

Into the Love To Do column fell the tasks of vacuuming (obviously, I do not choose my friends on the premise that companions must think alike!), folding laundry, washing windows, dusting, mopping, and (bizarrely) shampooing rugs. Many more responses, though, were entered into the Loathe Doing category, which included the self-same dusting and washing windows, along with scrubbing floors, cleaning baseboards, unloading the dishwasher, cleaning toilets…and on, and on, and on. I genuinely felt the pain of one woman who replied that there was nothing worse than dusting furniture that had grooves and curves and hollows. And I nearly dropped to my knees and praised heaven that I, OCD as I am, had never, as one friend explained, been in such housekeeping competition that when she learned someone had put three coats of wax on her kitchen floor, she rushed home to put a fourth coat on her own!

I am already in the throes of spring cleaning, the madness of which always overtakes me at some point near the vernal equinox and Easter–cleaning out the cave after a winter’s habitation, I always think of it. Preparing for that psychological and physical onslaught, I’ve also been considering my informal housekeeping survey. It struck me that, since few of us, if any, are in a financial position to hire our housework done, then how sad that we can’t all form some sort of housekeeping commune.  Each person would bop happily about to the houses of the others, accomplishing the tasks that she finds enjoyable—while someone else, who actually likes doing  her most hated chores, works at her home accomplishing her  “Loathe List” of housework.

If only…!  I feel absolutely certain that, not only would our homes be totally spic and span, we’d all be a much happier bunch of women!

 

The Evil Empire of Tech

§  There are still some aspects of  technology that should really make no sense to anyone–not even the programmers. §

For someone born in a pre-tech era, I am reasonably good at using technology, although I recognize that, in many respects, I’m far past my “use by” date. I actually dare to be proud of the few more complicated things that I’ve managed to learn. After all, as a person who learned typing on a manual typewriter, it’s quite a mental leap to comprehend tasks such as uninstalling the masses of recalcitrant factory-installed bloatware on my new computer, or to periodically locate and clear all the hidden temp files that disk cleanup doesn’t catch.

But I honestly believe that, despite my personal unfamiliarity with so much of the constantly changing landscape of the technological world, there are still some aspects of it that should really make no sense to anyone.

Take, for instance, the response of search engines when one either mistypes a word, or the voice-to-text misunderstands it. No matter what search engine one uses, pushing the cursor back over the errant word brings up two options: Add To Dictionary, or Delete.

For the love of heaven, I don’t want to do either of those things! I don’t want to add a mistyped word to the dictionary, and I don’t want to delete it. I want to fix it! I want to correct it.

But is there an option for “Correct”? Nooooo. I can’t count the number of times I’ve accidentally added some ridiculous misspelling to the dictionary as I try to backspace over to correct just a letter or two in the highlighted word.

Worse, the same dictionary that cannot seem to locate any of my personally added words or names when I do want them can always seem to find a mistaken word!

Also under the heading of “missing choices” is the fact that there has never been a keyboard containing a STOP! button. You know what I mean: the button you desperately need and want to hit when you’ve tapped or clicked the wrong icon. “No, oh crap! Stop! Stop!” There is no “Oh Shit Stop!” button on any keyboard or in any program.

Then there’s the fact that the Home edition of the most common system software believes that all those using it are bubbleheaded space cadets, incapable of deciding for ourselves when it is convenient to download and install updates. Nope, downloading usually begins totally without warning, right in the middle of some important transaction, such as logging into our banks or trying to make a purchase, slowing down or even completely locking up our computers. Usually when this happens, I find myself wondering if I’ve been hit with a computer virus or spyware, before the synapses in my brain finally fire enough to make the connection, “For the love of heaven, another damn update?!”

Then, of course, having totally botched whatever important transaction I was working on, that irritating flag slides across the side of the screen, proclaiming, “We’re Making This Program Better!”  No, you’re not. You’ve already locked up and slowed down my PC, and now you’re going to prevent me from turning the darned thing off without installing an update that I may not even want, thereby preventing me from (as I always do, since I am very conscious and careful about my utility use) turning off the computer and power strip completely at the end of my session.

Worse, the Evil Empire is never, never ever, going to make the program genuinely better by actually acting on the incalculable number of suggestions from its clients– such as the one I and others have made repeatedly, about creating a way to add a message to the Lock Screen without having to revise the whole (very bad word) registry.

My favorite, though, of all the nonsensical aspect of this ongoing home technological warfare was the time that The Evil Empire  pushed through a download of a new program version build while I was trying to set up my brand new PC.  That’s right. Given no advance notice, and, as a home user, no opportunity to stop the download while I got my new PC out of the box and began uninstalling bloatware and installing software that I actually desired, figuring out how to silence that bloody irritating Helpful Voice From Hell and to refuse their preferred browser in favor of one I actually liked, transferring my years of files and photos from my old (but beloved) Windows 7 computer, and finding ways to make Windows 10 bearable…nope, nope, nope! Instead of a straightforward computer set-up, I dealt with having my brand-new computer locked up like Alcatraz as it attempted to download a colossal installation.

It didn’t work, of course. The installation, not my new PC setup. I hit the off button, unplugged the computer, slammed the laptop lid shut, and left it to sit while I seethed for several days. Before I finally went back to work on it, a cursory examination of websites let me know that this particular download had massively corrupted a LOT of computers. I count myself lucky for having interrupted the download when I did.

No, technologically, I may be of the Neolithic period, but there are simply some aspects of the world of tech which simply should not be sensible to anyone. Not even the damnable programmers.

The Wrong Road

§  “…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken  §

Hmmm. Well, I didn’t take the road less traveled by. I took the one with a traffic jam.

I went to an afternoon party at a friend’s home (oh, heavens—now the first stanza of Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” is going to be an earworm, running in my brain for hours!) No, I went not to a garden party but to a girls’ afternoon out–a tea party, followed by a movie. It was a friendly and delightful excursion; one of those lovely afternoons which make me ever so glad that I lived long enough to retire and therefore enjoy such innocent pastimes. It was a brilliant afternoon, too—soft and warm, with just the tiniest chill in the air hinting at the beginning of fall, while sunshine still sparkled.

Now, as happens all too often in Indiana, I couldn’t drive my accustomed route to my friend’s home, since most of the roads around her neighborhood were under repair. (As we who live here often joke, the barrier horse is the Indiana state animal!) But I was prepared for this situation, knowing that half the roads in the city had been under construction during the summer. So I found an alternate route, arriving at her home without any problem.

However, after the movie concluded and I had made my goodbyes, I realized that I was leaving right in the middle of rush hour. Again, not a problem. Although driving an unfamiliar route in heavy traffic can, and sometimes does, spark one of my anxiety attacks, in this instance I had nowhere to be at any particular time. I could saunter along toward home without hurrying, driving defensively. If worse came to worst, I decided, I’d just pull over at one of the stores along the way and shop for a bit until the traffic thinned.

As I approached one intersection, though, I had a choice to make: turn left, and continue the quicker route down the busy highway until reaching the cross street I needed, or saunter straight ahead for a distance down a road that crossed a lovely area called Banta Woods. The Banta Woods neighborhood had once had been a minature, heavily forested woodland. When housing was later constructed on the parcel of land, the building company saved and incorporated into the landscape dozens of the tall, old trees, as many as possible. Banta Road was was usually a very pretty drive, with sunlight dappling the pavement through the nodding leaves of the trees.

I chose woodland over highway.

It was possibly not one of my brighter decisions.

With so many of the east/west roads under construction and detoured, Banta was one of the few streets still available to the rush hour traffic. Within just a few seconds, all traffic had come to a virtual standstill.

I started to fume. Wasted time, wasted gas… But then, amazing even myself, I recalled the reason why I had decided to cruise down Banta Road in the first place. I reminded myself that I had no need to hurry. Lifting my eyes, I began to admire the lovely foliage: leaves shining under the soft afternoon sunlight, some just beginning to show a hint of fall color. I admired the landscaping of the yards surrounding the large, lovely homes of this luxurious housing edition. When the line of cars ground to a complete halt, I shifted the car into park and took a few moments to safely text my daughter. I watched as cars ahead of me whipped into neighborhood cross streets, their drivers’ faces set in grim lines as they made U-turns and charged back the way they’d come, thereby allowing the rest of us to slide ahead a few car lengths.

Eventually, finally, I came to the end of Banta Road and turned left onto the wide avenue that would take me to the cross street I needed. But what could have been an exercise in frustration had, instead, been almost a meditation. I arrived at the busy avenue refreshed and relaxed, and wended my way home.

I am still astonished at how a simple change of attitude turned a frustrating and irritating circumstance into a pleasant afternoon’s drive.

I did not take the road less traveled; I took the one with the traffic jam. And it did, indeed, make all the difference.

Reading the Comments

§   Despite knowing that reading the comments probably isn’t wise, I still get sucked into doing it. Much like watching a train wreck, I sit at my computer, staring in horrified fascination.   §

I’ve been reading the comments at the end of news stories again.

This is never a good idea. Never, ever. Not under any circumstances.

Despite knowing this fact, I still get sucked into doing it occasionally. Much like watching a train wreck, I sit at my computer, staring in horrified fascination as I scroll through viciousness, ignorance, name-calling, uncivility, brutality and bullying. I read words smacking of Nazism and Fascism, and retch to see politics dragged into even the most innocuous stories. (A kitten rescued from a drainpipe? Someone will sling “libs” and “cons” into the comments, or blame Presidents present and past.) And despite the fact that I am aware that much of this trolling is done by paid performers–more on that in a moment–it shocks and terrifies me.

[As an addendum to that “paid trolls” remark: A few years and one President back, I read the comments at the end of a review for one of the never-ending Star Wars series of movies. A commenter who had apparently not liked the movie ended his remarks with a bitter, “Thanks, Obama”. My reaction was, at first, “Huh?! Say what? Excuse me?!” Then I realized that the commenter probably hadn’t finished his weekly quota of anti-President Obama remarks and was in danger of not getting paid. I really do wonder, sometimes, if the money is good enough that I should look into becoming a paid troll.]

Trolls aside, though, the level of sheer, vile nastiness in the news comments inevitably leaves me gasping in disbelief. Then I find I must give myself a stern talking-to regarding my own naivete. I realize that my generation, as well as my middle-class upbringing, has led me to hold certain unrealistic expectations regarding manners and civility. As a child, I was taught to address adults as Mr., Miss, or Mrs. (Ms. was not yet a glimmer on a feminist horizon), or as Sir or Ma’am. I might despise the individual whom I was addressing with a depth of coldness unknown even to Dante’s hell, but I had to be polite. As I grew to adulthood, courteous behavior extended to those with whom I had political disagreements. I might debate with them, ignore them, avoid them, or, in the depth of extremity, roll my eyes and walk away—but, overall, I had to be polite. Conservative or Liberal, Democrat and Republican, were points of view, nothing more; they did not define someone as a person any more than did being Roman Catholic or Buddhist.

My choice was usually, whenever possible, to avoid those with whom I had no common ground. When contact was unavoidable, or when faced with a comment so utterly outrageous that I found myself nearly choking, I preferred to stand my ground by saying calmly, “I do not agree” and walking away. If pressed further, I would firmly refuse to discuss the matter, falling back on worn but useful phrases: “This is neither the time nor the place”; “We must agree to disagree”; or the straightforward truth: “My mind is made up on this matter, and I refuse to debate it with you.” Once I was even heard to say, “I simply don’t like you well enough to continue this discussion.” That was as near to being rude as I, brought up to be civil, allowed myself.

But the anonymity of the internet has erased the requirement for civility, and that viciousness has extended into real-time, everyday interactions. Perhaps the number of road rage incidents were the first breach in the bulwark of civility; now the madness extends to every moment of life. Hearing details of parking lot quarrels that end in fatal shootings evinces little more than a sigh from the news audience, while spiteful, malicious political commercials are an accepted part of the barrage leading up to elections.

I sometimes contemplate a terrifying idea: What might happen if it was possible for the words written by commenters at the end of news stories to cause physical harm? There would be a bloodbath each newsday! As I envision that possibility, I am forced to wonder if it might not prove be a profound solution to the problem of uncivility in today’s society. After all, if Darwinian theory is to be believed, races evolve when those best suited to survive reproduce. And so I picture those of us who choose civility standing back, hands covering our eyes and faces turned aside from the horrifying carnage, as all the mannerless, bullying, cruel individuals destroy one another via their brutal comments and remarks. Then perhaps we survivors—broken-hearted but courteously and with compassion–could respectfully bury the dead, pick up the pieces, and establish rational debate as a measure of civil society once more.

Vanity of Vanities

§   I’m so often bewildered, not just by what I see as a lack of grooming as people go about their business in public, but by those of my own age group who seem, to put it bluntly, to have given up on giving a damn.  §

Because I am and have always been a plain woman, I am usually meticulous about my grooming. Having no beauty to present to a judgmental world, I at least strive to present a tidy appearance. My hair, dyed these days to disguise the whitening roots, is colored with monotonous regularity; the roots are touched up between dye jobs. Peach fuzz on my upper lip and chin is removed weekly from my face. It’s rare for me to leave the house without at least lip gloss and mascara, and never without brushing my long hair into some semblance of order. In fact, the only time during the past two years when I have disregarded all these self-imposed rules was the dreadful winter morning when a friend called, begging help. Another of our group had awakened to find her beloved pet dog dead. Help was needed, and needed as quickly as possible. I hopped out of the shower to answer this early-morning distress call; only a few minutes later, having paused just long enough to run a towel over my sopping wet hair and throw the first clothes I could grab onto my body, I was speeding over ice-glazed roads to her home.

But dreadful events like that are rare. I can usually find, or at least make the time to present an orderly appearance. It’s my standing joke that, if I’m so ill that I haven’t at least gotten out of bed to put on clothes and brush my hair, it’s too late to call a doctor; call an undertaker.

I suppose that’s why I’m so often bewildered, not just by what I see as a lack of grooming as people go about their business in public, but by those of my own age group who seem, to put it bluntly, to have given up on giving a damn. Inch-long visible roots on women and grubby feet in flip-flops with chipped polish on their toes; men sporting chins thick with stubble and ripped, stained shirts…  I find myself ashamed, not of them, but for them. Why, I wonder, do they think so little of themselves, to present themselves to the world in so careless a manner?

Pride is a funny thing, though. I’ve been accused a few times of being quite vain, although that is, I feel, the furthest possible thing from the truth. I know that I have always been unbeautiful; now I am aging, as well. I have absolutely no vanity.

But I do have pride. That is why, looks aside, I always strive to be both neat and orderly, well-groomed and tidy. And since I also endure an on-going struggle with feelings of insecurity, I find in myself the need to always put my best face forward to a censorious world.

Standards of just what comprises that best face, though, do change. I recall my paternal Grandmother bemoaning the fact that dressing for church no longer meant a fine hat, pumps, and white gloves. In Grandma’s worldview, standards had undeniably slipped; I thought the lack of fuss refreshing. She would be utterly horrified by today’s come-as-you-are churches, where I have even seen young people arrive in pajama pants. (“Well,” I’ve sighed, explaining this phenomenon to my Grandmother’s shade, sitting there beside me in that pew, shaking her head in disgust. “Well, Gramma, at least they showed up.” )

But now, looking at my own attitudes through the lens of time, I wonder if I have not become my Grandmother. Are the strictures, I put myself through, the grooming I require of myself, really necessary? I no longer attend a church, but I certainly wouldn’t be arriving for services in pajama pants and a tank top. Long after most women had given up pantyhose, I still wore them, knowing that my tan-less legs look a helluva lot better when encased in nylons (and my stockinged feet felt a lot more comfortable in my shoes, too). But my other personal rules about appearance: Are they truly necessary? Am I lying to myself when I claim that I am not vain, but merely proud and insecure?

Perhaps my answer lies in something that happened when my mother died. As Dad and I chose clothing for her body to be dressed in prior to cremation, he objected as I dug through her mounds shoes for heels that matched the dress I’d chosen.

“It’s not like she’s going to be walking anywhere!” he protested.

“I am not sending my mother into the afterlife without proper shoes on her feet!” I retorted.

Standards of appearance. Pride or vanity or insecurity, it does not matter. I adhere to them, hold myself to them, even in the face of that final appearance in this world.

 

 

 

 

The Reality of that “Great Romance”

§   My cynical nod to this Friday’s Valentine’s Day–better (and more realistically) known to so many of us as Singles Awareness Day!  §

A few years ago, I sat reading an adventure book by a prolific male author. I’d read a few of his works before—male romance novels, I call them, because, just as in the female version, the adventure teems with an unbearably attractive main character who spreads him or herself around like water in a six-buck carwash. Characters fall in and out of bed, somehow always escaping the perils of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy just as they escape the dangers of the adventure. Mind trash, I think of these books; escapism, and enjoyable if well-written, but hardly literature.

However, in this adventure (and, I need to point out, just as I have done previously with female romance/adventure novels), I reached the end of my tether. Because this novel was blatant in a scenario which, sadly, so many people cling to as reality.

In this case, the adventurer learned that he had grown children—twins, a son and daughter, by a woman who he believed had died. The presumably-dead woman was his “one true love”. Since she so conveniently kicked the bucket early on in the adventure series, Mr. Hero was able to spend years being faithful to her memory, meanwhile cavorting with every available nubile female. (“I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion…”). Finally, 20-odd years later, his true love having finally succumbed for real, he is sought out by his unknown children–her dying wish, of course.

She (noble and utterly self-sacrificing—isn’t that what all good women are?) never let him know that she had survived, pregnant but with injuries that rendered her paraplegic—shades of “An Affair to Remember”!!  Instead, while bearing and raising his children, she never burdened him with a need for child support or shared parenting time. He never had to change a diaper or soothe a scraped knee, attend a parent-teacher conference, or help with homework. He never stayed up, sweating bullets, waiting on an overdue teenager’s arrival home; never had to hold onto his temper as he listened to backtalk. He did not ante up college funds, or buy a car, or sit with a new driver, hanging onto the panic strap and stomping the “parent brake”. Our hero never, in fact, had to do any parenting at all.

Instead, he’s presented with two fully-grown, perfectly matured, well-educated and attractive offspring for whom he never had to take a lick of responsibility—and who do not, of course, bear him any resentment for his abandonment of their mother, since he was kept in ignorance of her continued existence the entire length of their lifetimes.

I put the book aside, shaking my head and feeling discouragement and dismay.

I’d had the same reaction to a popular romance novel (also written, I should point out, by a male) in the 1990s, one made into an equally-popular movie. In that fantasy scenario, a couple shares just a brief time of “perfect love”, which they remember and pine for ever after, all the while going on with their lives. No commitment is required of either of them beyond fond memories; neither of the characters ever has to deal with the onerous tasks of compromising or getting along, or raising children; of dealing with a drunken spouse or a financial crisis, or holding their tongues to prevent a quarrel. All they have to do is have one wild, mad fling, and then gallantly surrender that moment to move on with the commitments they’ve already made, all the while recalling their “true love” in daydreams for the rest of their lives.

And women—women, heaven help me, made this book and movie popular.

I will say it straightforwardly: These scenarios are not just nonsense; they are discouraging and repellant. Discouraging because these fantasies of love without responsibility or commitment are a travesty of the reality of love; repellant because genuine self-sacrifice does not comprise either releasing another individual of all their responsibilities, or covertly living out an inner fantasy involving another lover to which one’s current partner could never measure up.

Love is many different things to many different people, but the scenarios described in these and so many other novels and movies has nothing, nothing at all to do with the reality of love as it is lived out, plodding and ponderous, but genuine and reliable, by thousands of couples every day. Wallis Simpson, wife to the abdicated King Edward VIII, is said to have famously remarked, “You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.” It’s too bad that reality is so rarely incorporated into novels.

The Sturdy Pine

§  I found myself ridiculously anxious to see my little trees and discover if they had survived.  §

A few years ago my Dad called me at the beginning of summer, asking if I would like to transplant a tiny volunteer evergreen tree that had sprouted in his garden. Although I didn’t really have a place to plant a tree in the tiny yard of my condo, I agreed to dig up the little specimen, planning to see if I could nurture it in a pot on my patio. The seedling was not even four inches high when I spaded it up.

A few weeks later, while weeding my daughter’s garden, I found another tree seedling, this one a black walnut. I transplanted it also, again to a pot on my back patio.

In the years that followed, these two saplings thrived. During the bleak winter months, I carefully moved their pots from the patio to a more sheltered area of my yard, swathing the ceramic in bubble wrap and piling straw on top to warm their roots. Each spring I waited anxiously to see if the thin stick that was the trunk of the black walnut would sprout new leaves; each summer I watered the evergreen tree just as anxiously, telling it to hang on through the hot and humid months. I regularly provided Dad with progress reports on the condition of the small evergreen, measuring it like a little child standing against the doorway to see how much it had grown. Both trees were re-potted into successively larger containers, while I worried each time that transplant shock might harm or kill them.

But the little trees continue to thrive. Carefully sheltered, bitter January winds and ice storms did not bow them over; scorching summer heat failed to dry them out and bake their roots.

Finally, though, it became clear that these now not-so-little saplings could not survive much longer in their current environment. They were outgrowing their pots at a faster and faster rate. They needed to be put permanently into the earth if they were to survive. I spoke with a relative and we agreed to haul them out to her acreage in the country.

We carefully chose a spot where the black walnut would not affect any garden plants and I dug a wide hole for the roots and set it into the earth. Then we selected a space nearer her cabin, although not sheltered by it, to plant the small cedar pine. I wished my carefully-nurtured little saplings the best and told them to continue to grow strong and healthy.

It was over a year before we returned to her cabin to tromp through the woods and picnic and enjoy the outdoors. I found myself ridiculously anxious to see my little trees and discover if they had survived.

IMG_20191114_091840As we pulled into the parking area in front of the cabin, I smiled: there stood the sturdy little evergreen, now thigh-high and bushy, still thriving. But a quick review of the area failed to reveal the black walnut. At last I found it, upright only because of the bittersweet vine that had wrapped around the little stick of a dead trunk. Looking at it, I felt infinitesimally sad. I realized that I had invested a great deal of myself in nurturing both these little trees.

There’s a metaphor somewhere in this story, I think. Much like any two very different siblings anywhere in the world, both little saplings were given the same care, attention, and nurturing. Both were appreciated, despite their differences; both were beautiful, each in a different way. Both were released to be on their own in the world. But only one survived that transition.

So it is with one’s children. Parents raise them with the same care, attention, and love; appreciate both their beauty and their differences, and finally send them out to succeed or fail on their own in the wide world. Some of those children survive, or even thrive, while at other times they crash and burn, destroying their own lives and, sadly, sometimes the lives of others in the process. Parents, being parents, often blame themselves for their failures of their offspring, despite all they did to nurture them. Parents invest a great deal of their spirit in their children, and it’s painful to watch when that investment fails.

Now it is with a touch of trepidation that I look forward to returning to that cabin in the woods once more this year, to discover if the sturdy little pine continues to grow. I hope it will do so; I hope I have added one long-term green and growing thing to our struggling planet. But, live or die, I’ll always appreciate the lessons taught me by the little black walnut and the sturdy cedar pine.

The Freedom of My Years

§ What I really remember about her essay is how profoundly sorry I felt for this young woman.  She still hadn’t managed to figure out that growing older is inevitable, but growing up is optional. §

As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog (see Barbie Shoes, published November 13, 2019), for many years one of my favorite ways to waste time at the office was to read a Lifestyle section which scoured the Net for interesting personal blog posts. The essays shared there were rarely boring.  Shocking, irritating, enlightening, silly, funny or thought-provoking, but not boring. Some still stand out in my memory.

One that I remember vividly had been written by a woman who was just entering her 30s. It was directed to other females of her age group who, she felt, were failing to take seriously their sudden elevation into true “grown up” status. It was time, she chivvied, to cast off the last remnants of wild, uninhibited youth and start behaving like mature, responsible adults. To this end, she offered a great deal of advice, most of it having to do with makeup, hairstyle, and dress. (Surprisingly, she provided no suggestions about behavior, which makes one wonder if she really comprehended the concept of “mature”, but, well, shrug…).

Her first recommendation was: No Graphic Tees. It was time to give them up, she pronounced. Graphic teeshirts were for teenagers and 20-somethings, and We’re All Adults Now. Plain colors and quiet prints only, please.

Then there was eyeshadow. No colors, she directed–no muted blues or soft greens; no lilacs or lavenders, and certainly no wilder shades, no matter what one’s eye color. Ivories and sandy browns and smokey greys, only, please, with perhaps the barest hint of eyeliner. A touch of pale lip color and mascara, but not much in that department, either. Remember, We’re All Adults Here Now.

Fingernails, too, had rules: no bejeweled nails, nor longer lengths; no sparkle, no swirls, no deep, dark colors. Soft, rosy tones or a French manicure, and a single shade only; never different colors on each finger. Don’t even think about unnatural shades, such as electric blue or diamanté black! The same rules applied, of course, to pedicures: muted colors, no shimmer, one shade only.

And hair! Chop off those long locks. Get a very short, wash-and-dry style, and never, ever, choose a hair color other than the normal brown, black, or dark blonde, or, at a stretch, red.  Highlights were acceptable, but, again, only in quiet shades. Don’t even think about adding a streak of purple at Halloween, or Kelley Green at St. Patrick’s day! Adults, remember! Adults!

This “mature” blogger provided numerous other rules for the adult females of her acquaintance; these are only the ones I recall. But what I really remember about her essay is how profoundly sorry I felt for this young woman. At the minimal age of 30, she had become an old woman. She still hadn’t managed to figure out that growing older is inevitable, but growing up is optional.

At 65, retired, I no longer have to deal with office clothing. I have one dress for weddings, and one outfit for funerals. All the rest of my clothing consists of teeshirts, shorts, jeans and sweatshirts.

And every one of my teeshirts is a graphic tee. Every last living one of ‘em.

I have teeshirts from which tiger and cat faces stare out; teeshirts with funny mottos; teeshirts with cartoons. A wide-eyed kitten proclaims, “Doom Is Near!” The shirt that I wear when feeling particularly grumpy reminds me, “No Bad Days!”

During the months just before my retirement, I took to wearing glittering gold eyeshadow. I wanted some bling in my life, I explained, and eyeshadow was one way to begin. Eventually I tired of ending up with sparkles on my contact lenses, but I still occasionally break out the glitter shadow just for the hell of it   I also have a sort of muted gold dust shadow that I periodically take to wearing. I line my eyes heavily when I’m of a mind to, and I prefer rich mauve and berry shades of lip gloss that stand out and define my lips.

I rarely paint my fingernails because the paint always chips and looks awful, while the feeling of fake nails drives me nuts. But for my daughter’s wedding I wore sparkling, iridescent eggplant-color nail polish that exactly matched my gown, while my toenails shone in my sandals with glittering, besparkled bright purple polish. In fact, throughout each summer, my pedicured toes are almost always topped with glittering polish that shimmers in the sunlight.

And my hair, long for most of my adult lifetime, is long still. I wear it up in topknots and Gibson Girls, and down in braids and twists and ponytails. And every five weeks it is still dyed the very standout shade of a brand new copper penny, which brightens my ultra-pale skin.

And, yes, I sometimes even wear a red hat trimmed with a clashing purple ribbon and a sparkling purple rhinestone brooch. Because I can. Because I no longer chose to follow the “grown up” rules. Because my years have given me the joyously complete and utterly unfettered freedom to be young at heart—a freedom that the genuinely young can never experience, but may (if they are lucky) someday come to understand.

Seasons of Light, Seasons of Darkness

§  Parties. Death.  The two will forever be inextricably intertwined when I remember the year 2019. §

As I pointed out in a 2019 essay (The Name of My Year, January 30, 2019), most of us find that the years slip by in our memories not by a numerical designation but with a verbal title recalling events pertinent to us: The Year Mom Died. The Year Amanda Was Born. The Year of the Flood, the Tornado, the Hurricane. The Year I Bought the Condo. The Year of My Divorce. The Year of Job Hell. These titles lend a richness and flavor to our memories as no numerical equivalent could possibly ever do.

It’s especially true that the years since my retirement have become a series of chapter titles in the book of my life. Beneath each follow subtitles and paragraphs of meaning and explanation, tracing details and events quite unrelated, one would think, to that chapter title. I tick them off across my fingers as The Year I Retired, followed by The Year of the Cookbooks. Hard on their heels follows The Year of the Wedding, and then My Dickens Year (which is subtitled The Year of Cancer and of Morrigan’s Birth: Season of Light; Season of Darkness.)

And so now, looking back, I realize I have invested 2019 with a macabre little title by which I will forevermore recall it: A Year of Parties and Death.

Parties… Twice now, I’ve thrown myself my own birthday party, once for my 60th and then for my 65th birthdays. Milestones, these, that I felt should be marked, so, following the lead of an elderly relative who’d done so for her own 80th birthday, I didn’t wait for someone else to do it; I threw myself a party. For my 60th birthday, I decked myself out in a red hat and purple shirt and called all my women friends to come celebrate with me at my home with food and cake and friendship and gossip and laughter. Placing candles on my cake that bore wild animal markings—tigers and leopards and cheetahs—to represent the courage and strength with which I hoped to begin the final decades of my life, I blew them out with gusto.

IMG_20190228_072333378_HDR (2)But in 2019, my 65th birthday was different. As I recounted in My Totally Un-Grownup Coloring and Tea Party, having survived uterine cancer the year before, I wanted something simply fun. Thus, gathering family and friends together again, I invited them to dive into the childhood pleasures of coloring books and tea parties. Blessed with fine weather and great food, the party was simply wonderful.

Six months later found another major party in my sights: my first grandchild’s first birthday party. My daughter chose a luau theme, so I shopped for every coconut cup, grass skirt, and flamingo-decorated plate that was to be found in the mile square.IMG_1162 We invited everyone, simply everyone, renting a shelter house at a local park for the event. Again, we were blessed with wonderful weather and food and fun. It was a magnificent day.

Two very special parties, then.

And so many transitions to the next life.

One by one, they left this earth: former coworkers and their spouses—like me, older people whose deaths were perhaps not unexpected, but brought home to me the fragility of each day that I still draw breath. The passing of a dear friend’s elderly grandmother just prior to the holiday season. The terrible loss of a young life when the grandson of a former coworker was shot to death. The sudden death of a friend of many years in an auto accident. The painful, soul-searing loss, too early, too soon, of a young life, when the 30-year-old son of an friend died alone in his home of an asthma attack.

So many times during 2019 I received the phone calls or e-mails or sat in shock, as someone told me of yet another passing.

Parties. Death.

The two will forever be inextricably intertwined when I remember the year 2019.

Dickens said it perfectly: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And now I wonder—oh, how I wonder!—what my year of 2020 will be titled.

 

Clearing the Clutter

§   In the years of dealing with my Cleaning Lady personality quirk, I’ve learned one important thing: If you’re going to have an “episode”, clearing the clutter and disorder in your own home is the least problematical way to deal with what is, in truth, the need to clear something in your own spirit. §

A friend has been in the throes of a start-of-the-year Clear the Clutter episode, and e-mailed me about the mess, the lack of serenity in the process, and the things that are driving her to sheer madness, such as a water spot on the ceiling and a broken cabinet door. She took down all her wall hangings, she explained, because they were no longer (in the popular parlance of the day) “giving her joy”, and now there are little holes all over the wall. Pain, and yet still no gain!

I sympathized. I regularly endure the pain of clearing the clutter. In fact, a favorite cousin and I, each raised in similar childhood circumstances of dealing with an alcoholic parent, have, as a result, a few (well, perhaps in my case, more than a few) control issues. This might be a problem except that, for each of us, we have channeled our control issues into what we consider the healthiest possible outlet: We are OCD housekeepers. Cleaning Freaks. Totally, almost unforgiveably, neat. I have even been heard to say–totally without irony–that my house, dirty, is cleaner than most people’s homes are when clean.

In the scheme of things, there are far worse ways that we could have channeled our need for control.

But, as I counseled my distracted friend, in the years of dealing with my Cleaning Lady personality quirk, I’ve learned one important thing: If you’re going to have an “episode”, clearing the clutter and disorder in your own home is the least problematical way to deal with what is, in truth, the need to clear something in your own spirit.

The best way to handle my need for clean control is, I’ve discovered, to use the time as a sort of meditation. Yes, that water spot on the ceiling is incredibly ugly, but does it represent something more to me?  Does its ugliness evoke an ugly memory? Is that stain caused by falling raindrops evocative of tears? More than I need to plaster and paint, do I really just need to cry?

Yes, my cabinet door is broken; why, then, haven’t I either fixed it, or called a repairman, or just saved up the money to replace it?  Okay, so there are now little holes everywhere in the walls where I took down the photos of relatives who caused me pain, deciding that a family connection was not worth the reality of having to look at their faces and remember how they abused me. And, yes, I know that a dab of putty and a lick of paint will fix those holes, so why am I so absolutely furious about having to do that?  Is it because it’s just one more damn thing I have to do? One more problem they caused me? Or because I know I’ll be doing this, as I do everything, all alone and without any help?

And why, in the name of heaven, have I been keeping all this crap?! Why didn’t I get rid of it a long time ago; in fact, why did I ever keep it in the first place? It isn’t just a case of “Well, this is actually useful, and I might need it”, now is it? No. It’s fear. It’s fear because so much has been taken from me in my lifetime that hanging on to something I don’t really need—something that could possibly be of use to another person—seems to smother that uncomfortable, burning feeling deep within my spirit that I won’t have enough. It’s a barrier, this clutter of stuff I don’t really need and am not using, and don’t even particularly like. It’s a moat against emotional attack.

But in truth, there is no moat, for the real emotional attack is within myself: my habit of castigating myself with cruel words; of rerunning dark videos in my brain of old, damaging scripts; of hearing the voices of abusers, some now long dead, forever muttering criticisms and invective, all within my head. And there is no moat, no barrier, tall enough, deep enough, wide enough, to stifle those soft, invidious whispers of pain.

I have developed a word for myself, one less prejudicial than being OCD or a compulsive housekeeper: I am a “Clear-ing” Lady. I am constantly processing old emotional damage through the method of cleaning my physical surroundings. And that, I’ve decided, is okay. It is just who and what I am, and I am no longer going to chastise myself for a personality quirk that at least results in pleasant and orderly surroundings.

But the most useful technique of handling an episode of clutter clearing, is, I’ve discovered, to go deeper, and to use both the time and my actions to put my soul in order, as well as my home.