REPORT A PROBLEM
In a last-ditch effort to sell the house before we take it off the market and launch the kitchen remodel, weíre having an open house next Sunday. While Bill was at work, some young men came to the door offering to thatch the lawn. Iím certain it needed doing badly, and I could see that neighbors were doing theirs. This is a peer-pressure neighborhood for yard upkeep. So I paid the guys, they made a lot of noise, raked up the debrisÖand the place looks like crap. I was sure Bill would have a heart attack. Our realtor still might.
I received notice that I may have another story being published in a Chicken Soup book. This would be the second. Iím both pleased and embarrassed. I donít like the books particularly, donít read them myself. But theyíre good writing assignments. I read through the upcoming titles, find one I could write about and knock off a quick essay. Iím honored when one is selected; they receive many submissions and itís validation to be chosen. It also pays $200, which doesnít hurt. But these are easy, sentimental pieces. Iíd prefer to write like Richard Ford, Richard Russo or Willa Cather.
We flew to Vancouver, BC today, where weíll stay until Saturday. We have a favorite hotel at the edge of Stanley Park. Morning and evening strolls through the park and along English Bay breathe life back into our harried souls. I love watching people, listening to the many foreign languages and accents in this cosmopolitan city. Sitting in a restaurant this evening I watched people walking by for an hour. In that time I didnít see one obese person. I think the US is going to sink under the weight of its citizens, unless Bush starts a nuclear war first.
We went to see the ďMonet to DalŪĒ exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I was in a candy store, not knowing which treats to taste firstóMonet, Renoir, van Gogh, CťzanneÖ Itís curious that Iím energized by these artists. When I enter an exhibit of Egyptian art my shoulders ache and my feet hurt five minutes into the tour. I think this means Iím shallow, but Iím not sure. Dark paintings of angels, cupids and adoring supplicants bore me to near coma. I love the light, the landscapes and the ďreal peopleĒ who are the subjects of the impressionists.
Walking every day, sticking to my diet, reading a good book, enjoying the sites of Vancouver. I never thought Iíd need a vacation when all Iím doing is working (very) part time from home. But itís good to get away from the routine, decisions about remodeling, relisting the house, whether to apply for a full-time job. My office is small and sometimes it feels as if I spend my whole life in it. A change of scenery opens my mind, lets me see more options. When we return home weíll face the wrecked lawn and the wrath of our realtor.
We rented a car on this trip, so we have the luxury of visiting areas outside the city. Today we drove to Steveston, a cute ocean-side city. We had a fish and chips lunch, minus the chips, then walked up and down the main street. The door to one shop was open and we plainly heard the proprietor yelling at would-be customers, "Never ask a business owner about his business. That's secret. It's none of your business." I wonder if they asked for his bread recipe. Curious that we didnít see any shops with tacky souvenirs. Good on you, Steveston!
Todayís trip was to Squamish, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler Mountain. In 2010 Whistler will be the site of the Winter Olympics. To prepare for the traffic, theyíre widening the highway. I wonder if theyíve ever done a study of the long-term effects on a city that has hosted the Olympics. Has the money theyíve spent turned out to be worthwhile? I remember how Athens struggled last year. I always wondered why Seattle wanted to host them when they canít handle the traffic they have now. Squamish is another cute town with clean air, magnificent scenery and one fine restaurant.
Up at 3:30, return the rental car, go through check-in, customs, and the long trek to the gate. No time for my diet-approved breakfast, I grab a muffin and a lattť at Starbucks, which puts me off the rest of the day. Eventually we board and land in Portland an hour later. Finally Iím able to access my phone messages, standing exhausted in baggage claim listening to an irate realtor, a son who showed up to mow the lawn and discovered it had already been done by said irate realtor, and a missed opportunity for a job interview on Friday.
I decided to go to the yearís first meeting of the Unitarian fellowship I became a part of 24 years ago. Seventeen of those years, however, I lived elsewhere. When I returned, I found the same people there, waiting with open hearts to welcome me back. Iíve attended sporadically since Iíve returned and last year I went only once. It was a rough year, one of changes and challenges, some of which I didnít handle well. Itís strange how I always avoid the people who could heal me when I need them the most. Iím so grateful for their forgiveness.
A day to mend fencesóapologize abjectly to our realtor and her husband (my cousin) for causing them to do our yard work. In our defense, we HAD arranged for our lawn to be mowed and for my son to do the edging, weeding, etc. on Saturday. I just failed to communicate that to her. But how did I know they (realtor and cousin) would show up on Friday and panic? I thought my cousin pushed a little too far, though, when he suggested I was negligent in not purchasing international service on my cell phone before leaving for Vancouver.
The sixth anniversary of 9/11; first anniversary of our moving into this house from our separate abodes. Another chapter in the life of a wanderer. Three participants of my Lifeís Journey workshop have continued on as a writing group. For our next meeting, I suggested the following topic to write on: What title would you give your life story and why? Mine might be Anywhere I Wander, or Song of the Wanderer. When I was about 10, I spent summer evenings riding my bicycle, pretending I was on a trip to New York. As an adult, Iíve never stopped wandering.
My life as a wanderer means more than a yearn to travel. I get restless in jobs, relationships, places. I thrive on change. Iíve been told I have courage, leaving my husband behind to go teach in Korea; moving 3,000 miles to a small town in the mountains where I donít know a soul. Itís not courage; itís a compelling need to shake things up, start fresh, see the world from a different angle. My average tenure in any job is two years, partly because I canít tolerate office politics and partly because Iím bored to tears and need change.
I think the deeper reason for my wandering has been a lifelong search for myself. Trite, I know. Halfway through my senior year in college, Iíd abandoned my plan of becoming a high school French teacher. I wasnít aware then of the many careers I could choose from. Teacher, nurse or secretaryóthose were my options. Mom made it very clear there would be no graduate school and no ďlooking for myself,Ē as young people in the late í60s were wont to do. So I went to DC to become a spy for the CIA. That definitely was not me.
Iím ready to go back to work, at least part time. Some of the wounds from the battering I took on my last job are starting to heal and Iím regaining confidence. I have my second interview tomorrow and I canít damp down the excitement I feel, even though I canít explain it. I think itís because I relate it to my first job in development, at the conference center in the mountains, in an office overlooking a lake. My boss was easyóI knew more than he did about what was going on and he praised my work daily.
Iíve been on my carbohydrate/sugar/caffeine-free diet with almost-complete adherence for a month. Iím down to my normal weight and I have new energy, I feel more alert and optimistic. I feelóyesóhappy. I allow myself one treat: a short soy lattť (soy milk has sugar in it). Looking over the pastries while I wait, I decide which one I wonít have today. At Eleniís they put fragrant, crusty bread on the table and Bill eats my portion as well as his. As he dips it in olive oil and tapenade I try not to whimper. But itís worth it.
Momís Alzheimerís isnít too far advancedóshe recognizes me, talks coherently most of the time, doesnít wander. There are big holes in her memory and she talks mainly of the past, primarily I think because thereís nothing worth talking about in her present. But this morning her caregiver, Delia, called me to settle an argument. Mom was insisting she had a red wheelchair and that Deliaís children stole it and Delia is lying when she says she didnít have one, red or otherwise. I told Mom sheís never had a wheelchair and she finally backed down. Thatís a new experience.
Thereís a stirring in the real estate market, weakly fueled by the rumor of the Fed lowering the interest rate. Two people within an hour looked at the house. They both liked it, both have houses to sell. But itís movement! Not the deep nothingness of the summer. The contractor who was going to bid on the remodel prep sprained his ankle and will be out of commission for a week. Itís a sign not to go forward with that expense, I can feel it. I will get the job, weíll find the perfect house and all will be good.
We heard Van Cliburn play Tchaikovskyís Piano Concerto #1 with the Oregon Symphony, the piece he played in 1958 when he won the First Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. His lanky body bent over the keyboard, his bushy hair now silver, heís still the boyishly handsome man I saw at the University of Oregon on April 9, 1969. I remembered how cheered we all were when he redeemed our bruised national pride after the Russians beat us into space. Naturally, we dubbed him the American Sputnik. He was the first classical musician honored with a New York ticker tape parade.
Iíve been exploring new authors and finding some disappointments. One, a graduate of the Iowa Writing Program, wrote a best-seller titled ďThe Memory Keeperís DaughterĒ that looked promising. I bought it to take to Vancouver last month and even before I got to the airport for the flight out of Portland, I knew I couldnít finish it. Bad writing makes me angry. And it affects my own writing, which has enough problems of its own without being influenced by trite, emotional drivel. I stopped at the Powellís store in the airport and bought ďKite Runner.Ē Now thereís a satisfying read.
My ESL classes are ending. I have mixed feelings; Iím very fond of my students and am touched by their eagerness to learn. Most have never had an opportunity to study English formally. The generosity of their employer has allowed them to take these classes. But itís such a struggle to come up with lesson plans that give them all some small amount of benefit. Their needs range so widely, I feel Iím letting them all down. It will be a relief to be free of lesson planning, but Iíll always have a nagging feeling I could have done more.
My vendetta against Evans Glass continues. We received a settlement offer from them on August 23 and I cancelled my complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the Construction Contractors Board and Angieís List. When we hadnít received a check by Sept. 13, I called to ask Matt Flath, General Manager, if he needed further information from us. He said the check had been put in the mail on Tuesday, Sept. 11. It still hasnít arrived (the lying SOB) and Iím reopening all the complaints. CCB is the important oneóthey can revoke Evansí contractorís license. Next stop: small claims court.
When Van Cliburn played at the U of O on April 9, 1969, I was one week short of my 23rd birthday and two months from graduation. Earlier that term Iíd decided to veer from the path my mother had laid out for meóto become a high school French teacher. I knew my spoken French wasnít good enough and my grades in that subject had been falling. It was clear my motherís passion was not mine. The real world still seemed distant to me. Iíd never been responsible for putting food on my own table. I wasnít scared yet.
After aborting my teaching career, my options were open. I saw an ad in the University newspaper: the CIA would be recruiting on campus. Long story short, as I was getting ready to be jettisoned into the cold world, the CIA was the only employer interested in a French major with no skills and no teaching degree. I applied on a lark. My mother didnít see it that way and expected me to move to Washington, DC and be a spy. She couldnít be serious, could she? Damn right she could. Next thing I knew I was on an airplane.
I didnít get the job. I wasnít as disappointed as Iíd expected to be. I achingly want an income of my own, independence, the freedom of having spending money, but in five months Iíve grown fond of unstructured time, sleeping when I need to, walks in the morning after writing morning pages until Iím finished, not when I have to stop to get ready for work. I have a couple of gigs writing grants for way too little money and some workshops to plan. Other opportunities will come my way. Itís all new and unexpectedójust what I thrive on.
Weíre letting the listing on the house expire. The flurry of activity last week didnít cause a ripple on the Richter scale. Weíve dropped the remodel plan; weíll just hunker down and wait the market out, or resign ourselves to staying here. Shortly after we moved into this house and were still unpacking, there came a day when we both, without discussing it or even mentioning it to each other, stopped unpacking. I was in the garage yesterday looking for my digital recorder and I came across a box with some of my old treasures in it. I miss them.
There was one catch: before I could be a spy I had to learn how to type. The deep voice on the phone that had been my contact with the CIA through the hiring process, informed me in regretful tones that 17 words a minute with 23 mistakes wouldnít make it. Before I could lose heart, he instructed me to go to the business college across from the University and the typing teacher there would give me private lessons at night until I could pass the test. She prepared me for the secretarial jobs Iíd hate long into my future.
When I arrived for my first day of work at the Langley headquarters in my pink A-shaped dress, I was inducted into the pool, where new hires waited until their full security clearances came through. This could last several months, and included training in office procedures (more typing instruction), lie detector tests, projects, and long hours of just sitting and waiting. Finally I was given my assignment in the Africa division, in a job that would take me overseas. To a country where coups were as common as formal dinners in DC. As a CIA agent. This wasnít funny anymore.
My entries, out of order, are confusing. I got the job with the CIA. I didnít get the job I applied for two weeks ago that Iíd hoped would give me an independent income. My CIA entries will probably win me a late-night call from a deep voice reminding me of the promise Iíd made in my debriefing upon exiting my short career as a spy, ďI promise not to say anything.Ē When Iíd naively asked, ďAbout what?Ē the unhelpful reply was, ďAbout anything.Ē Iíll bet that my 100 Word entries going out across the globe would be considered ďsomething.Ē
Iím excited about a book I want to write. Iíve never written anything longer than a 25-page short story and worry whether I have the insight and wisdom about human nature that makes a novel good. How does one fill that many pages? Iím reading ďThe Spanish BowĒ and it intimidates me. If I read trashy books Iím afraid mine will sound like them. Iím doing the research, studying the times. Found a website that has TV news stories for every day in April 1969, and probably all days since the inception of TV. Vietnam War, Shirhan trial, Black Panthers.
I lasted six months at the CIA. I gave many reasons for leaving. I told my boss I was getting married. I told my friends that when I discovered what the CIA actually does, my latent liberal tendencies suddenly made themselves apparent and I was forced to follow my ideals. The real reason was that, just before graduating, I met a young man I liked a lot. I hadnít dated much and I was swept away by this intriguing guy. After I moved to DC, he wrote funny, intelligent letters. I had to see if there might be something there.
The Tip Jar