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Iím in denial that itís December. Yesterday it was August. It accelerates every year. Thanksgiving seemed a charade, a rehearsal for the real holidays that would arrive later in the year. It was, nonetheless, the best Thanksgiving in recent memory. I was with family members I have seen too seldom in the past 20 years. Two of them were gone and sadly missedómy beloved father and Aunt Dixie, the very heart and soul of holidays. But their spirits were with those of us who celebrated being together again. Then, on to a friendís house for music, laughter and stories.
Twin storms off the Pacific were to have brought snow followed by hurricane-force winds and epic rains. The snow wimped out with a few flakes for a half hour and the wind forecast was degraded from 90Ė100 mph to 45. Weíll see what develops; no use predicting what will come off the ocean, cross the mountains and hit inland. We havenít had bad winds since moving into this house which is surrounded by large old firs. If it werenít for fear of one landing across our house, Iíd be thrilled by rollicking weather. It satisfies my cravings for adventure.
On a visit to relatives in Tennessee, April 2006, we experienced the kind of weather that makes me feel alive and connected to the universe. The prop jet bounced and bumped into Knoxville, leaving Bill white-lipped and trembling. Safely on land, lightning, wind, gully-washing rains continued. That night, hail pelted the patio door. Billís brother and I stepped outside, turned our faces to the wind and laughed as hail stung our skin. Lightning flashes lit the backyard with eerie light, showing glimpses of willows flailing, their tender spring leaves whipped frozen against our clothes where they stuck like decorative appliquťs.
The winds never materialized, so all that was left was three days of pouring rain. The skies are beginning to consider clearing now. Blue shines through, gets covered up, then tries again. It hasnít rained for maybe an hour now, but it will take until June for the backyard to dry out. Expansion of the garden shed into a music studio left it trampled by construction workers, on top of the discovery that three inches below the topsoil is clay, meaning that water doesnít drain as it should. It stands, and turns the lawn to mud. Another project for spring.
Finally, the rain has stopped. Floods cut off the coast and block I-5 between Portland and Seattle. The only way to get to Seattle now is by Horizon Air. I hope theyíre enjoying their windfall (maybe thatís an unfortunate choice of words). Amtrak may resume service tomorrow. Today itís gray and foggy. The unseasonably warm temperatures during the storm have now dropped back into the 40s.
On my morning walk a roll of green tape, an escapee from a construction worker, rolled for a block, bouncing off rocks and curbs, evading the worker who chased it, remaining upright and free.
My friend Nancy stepped out of a store in Johnson City and was hit by a drunk driver. She went airborne, hit his windshield and landed on her back in the parking lot. Xrays showed no broken bones and, even though her head struck the pavement, she did not suffer concussion or brain damage. The driver, who tried to run, is in jail, but will soon be driving again. Uninsured, many DUIs, he will go free and my friend will get no settlement. She pieces together an income using her considerable talents, lives close to the edge. But she's alive.
I left the house for the entire day. I couldn't stay cooped up with a dead computer waiting for phone calls I needed to get but never came. Heavy thoughts and restlessness drove me to the mall, which I hate any time of year but especially at Christmas. Cloying fragrances from perfume shops, body lotions and candy stores; bad Christmas music and rap from every direction; hard floors that hurt my feet. On to an eye appointment, then visit my mother at the group home. She counseled me as when I was 16. It was good for both of us.
My hard drive began a slow descent then crashed. Itís only when you are forced to remember all that is stored there, and would lose, that you realize how important backup is. Iím fortunate to have a son whoís a computer genius and he rescued my files. But I was without a computer, or had limited access, for two weeks and now I must catch up. Where to start. Itís been two weeks of grey skies and stormy moods. I wonder how much can be attributed to not writing. Uncomfortable leaving first drafts on other computers, I simply didnít write.
When people buy those gigantic plastic inflatable Christmas atrocities to put in their yard, do they not realize that they somehow deflate every night and must be reinflated in the morning? I donít know if itís a function of temperature change or if itís mischief, but as I walk through the neighborhood every morning I see puddles of Santa Clauses and snowmen in front yards. Itís depressing. By afternoon theyíre bobbing and waving again. What a nuisance for something so appallingly undecorative. One house has six of the things. Figuring $50 eachÖis there really nothing better to spend $300 on?
This is for all of you who pay small contractors for work they have performed for you: DO NOT USE BILL PAY. Payments through Bill Pay to credit card companies, utilities, etc. are handled electronically. Payments to individuals must be by paper check. These are given the lowest priority and can take weeks before they are mailed. Many of us live hand-to-mouth. We accept a rush job and bust our buns to accommodate your deadline. Then you forget to send a check and, on the third reminder, finally send it through BILL PAY. Itís Christmas, for godís sake. Take pity.
Isnít it spring yet? I am so freaking tired of dark days and constant drizzle broken only by drenching downpours and temperatures in the low 40s. I want to move back to North Carolina. Iíve lived 56 of my 61 years in the Northwest but am still not used to this climateóI think I was meant to be born somewhere else. My parents lived in Idaho, Boise and Twin Falls, where winters were dry and cold and there was sunshine. Unaccountably, they loved Oregon and settled here instead of returning to sage brush and frozen laundry on the line.
My first husband and I were ballroom dancers. He took it seriously, didnít like me to make mistakes. I had more natural talent than he did, but he studied the steps and did them more accurately than I. After our son was born we stopped dancing and then divorced. After 20 years I decided to take it up again, this time just for fun. Iíll never forget walking into the ballroom for the first time after all those years, dancing with the instructor to ďA Nightingale Sang In Barclay Square.Ē Nothing since then has given me that kind of joy.
That dance instructor turned out to be the best Iíve ever had. He was unsurpassed in technique and had style besides. His classes were fun, which was my only goal. Then, after 17 years clean and sober, he started drinking again and picking from among the many lonely, adoring women in the class to screw and abandon for the next. His wife left him. The studio became a place of heartbreak. In his classes he was mean and at the social dances he would approach you, look you in the eye and ask the woman next to you to dance.
After subjecting myself to the abuse of the alcoholic dance instructor for about a year after he started drinking again, I finally went to another instructoróa very odd Ukrainian man. Months earlier I had seen him at a social dance, got up my nerve and asked him to dance. He said no, without elaboration or apology. I had been humiliated and angry. Yet, I still signed up for lessons with him. He turned out to be a very nice man and good instructor, but it simply didnít have the magic of those first two years at the other studio.
After awhile I stopped dancing, always telling myself Iíd go back. But after I returned to Portland, it just never felt right. I went with Bill to a few classes he was taking but the 85-year-old teacher dumbed down the lessons, degrading the dance to the point where I couldnít tolerate it. When she put on a Sousa march to dance the samba to, Iíd had enough. Then I developed plantar fasciitis and can no longer consider it. One morning, pulling into the parking lot at work, I heard A Nightingale Sang in Barclay Square on the radio and cried.
Iím re-evaluating, pulling back, re-prioritizing. Itís a difficult process I canít talk about, but itís occupying my mind almost exclusively. It wakes me in the night, keeps me company on my walks, distracts me from conversations. At this point in my life I have no options, so the cogitation is all pointless, but it has its own momentum that I canít control. New Yearís resolutions this year will be serious business. Actually, some years ago I gave up on making resolutions and now make New Yearís intentions instead, acknowledging that all I can do is give it my best effort.
On the other hand, because I really have no options, I could simply stop ruminating, worrying, stewing, obsessing, endlessly going over the cyclical argument in my mind day and night, causing disturbing and exhausting dreams, waking at 3:00 a.m. unable to go back to sleep. I could decide to simply take it as it comes, not think about the future. After all, thereís a 50% chance it will work out fineóthat Iíll die before it becomes an issue. I have the option of enjoying life now, while itís offered, living in the moment, as they say. Thatís my intention.
Iím thinking about my dear friend Nancy who was nearly killed by a drunk driver earlier this month. She miraculously was not badly injured and she continues in her joyful, optimistic life greeting each day as a brightly wrapped gift box full of surprises such as a rose blooming in winter, the sun shining through a perfectly crafted spiderís web with dazzling drops of dew sparkling like diamonds. I do not want to waste another day worrying and being angry about something that may never come about, missing the miracles that are mine today. Thatís another New Yearís intention. Live!!
Iíve always been a travel snob. My second husband taught me to travel light and not to lock myself into an itinerary and daily schedule. We traveled in the off-season without reservations, going where whim and opportunity took us. We stayed in one-star hotels that were a little grubby but always interesting. We didnít go abroad to gawk like Americans, but to eat lunch with the farm hands and chat with the Chambre díhote hosts in their kitchens. So Iíve always snubbed the idea of taking a cruise, where you travel in a first-class hotel isolated from the foreign culture.
So no one was more surprised than I was when Bill proposed we take a cruise to Mexico in February and I said, ďThat sounds great!Ē I must be getting old, because the thought of an easy trip and warm weather at a time when my body would be aching all over in the bleakest month of the year was too tempting to turn down. All my life Iíve turned up my nose at the very idea of a cruiseóall that food! To be seen stepping off a luxury liner into a culture that canít afford to buy food.
Iíve been threatening to bring home a cat. Not a kitten; one that has mellowed, doesnít scratch the furniture or roam the kitchen counters. One that stays indoors, curled up on my lap vibrating warmly. Kitty therapy. Bill has reservations and, in truth, so do I. You never know what objectionable habits that adorable kitty in the window has until you bring him home and, after a few daysí shyness, his true colors emerge. You come home to find him climbing the curtains, gnawing on the spines of your first-edition book collection, batting your Italian glass vase off the mantle.
When I bought my first condo I adopted two black cats, brother and sister. I named them after towns in my newly adopted southern Appalachian home: Boone and Maggie. Boone was a sweetheart, but not too bright: fully susceptible to the mischief Maggie put him up to. I swear Maggie would dare Boone to try ever more daring stunts while I was at work. They not only shredded the curtains, but pulled wallpaper off the walls with their teeth, played hockey with treasures from my shelves, and knocked plants over spilling potting soil and scattering it all over the house.
When my cat-loving friends came to dinner, Maggie and Boone curled up in their laps, gazed adoringly into their faces and purred.
ďWhat sweet cats you have,Ē they exclaimed.
ďSweet?Ē I sneered, before launching into tales of their creative destruction of my quiet, orderly life. They looked at me sidelong, suspecting I was in fact a cat hater and abusive owner.
ďHave you tried a spray bottle,Ē they asked condescendingly.
ďIíve tried the spray bottle, scratching posts, hot sauce on the countersÖnothing works.Ē
ďWell, you do have to be persistent,Ē they conceded.
I gave them away. The cats, that is.
Itís Christmas Eve and still the spirit hasnít moved inside me yet. Thereís something missing this year and I canít put my finger on it. Iím grateful for many things, not the least of which is my partner Bill and the life he has given me. This year, because of him, I am no longer working in an abusive environment where Iím not appreciated. Iím doing things I love, interesting people have come into my life via my fledgling business and, after many years, Iím writing again. Iím living near my children and my mother, part of their lives again.
For three hours today we had a white Christmas. It started around noon, fell thick and fast covering the ground and the pine and fir trees around our house. As we ate our ham and scalloped potatoes, Momís favorite dinner, we all had our faces turned toward the large dining room window watching Portlandís first white Christmas in 70 years. Bluebirds against the white background could have been pictured on a seasonal greeting card. Even Mom was subduedóshe was the only one of us who had been alive the last time snow fell on December 25 in this town.
Gift cards for books, clothes, electronics, office supplies, dinners outÖall you need to know is where your friend likes to shop. Itís easy and sure to please. Unless the recipient is old fashioned and would prefer a gift from the heart. Something youíve noticed that he looked longingly at in the music store, or she stopped for awhile and fingered in the Intimate Apparel department. A gift that demonstrates the giver knows you well, listens and watches, and loves you so much he wants to see a sparkle of surprise and warmth come into your eyes. It means paying attention.
Iím ready for the holidays to be over, the remaining sweets thrown out to be out of temptationís way, New Yearís intentions written and filed away to work their magic while I get back into the daily routine. I want to focus on building my business, offering more writing workshops, building a mailing list, earning an income. I love the freedom I have, but chafe at not being financially independent. That is my biggest intention for this yearósupport myself by the end of 2008. The other big one? To work on that novel I abandoned, to write every day.
In 2008 I will play more. I will color in my coloring book, pick up my long-neglected flute, write whatever I feel like writing. I will write that novel I stopped working on last month no matter how bad it is. Iím not carving it into stoneóI can revise and delete and mold it into something worth reading. I will learn to look at whatís around me and take pleasure in small things. I will not despair about the state of the world and this countryís catastrophic path towards immolation. There will be a fair electionóall will change.
Amy was three when she watched her father take a shotgun from his truck, point it at her mother and fire. He would have kept on firing except that Amyís brother Chip lunged for the gun and wrested it from his hands. It was too late to save their mother. Amy coped by re-enacting the scene over and over again with her dolls, to the horror of her grandparents, who took Chip and Amy into their home after their father was jailed. The children went through years of counseling. Their father is out of jail now. My cousin Lauraís dead.
Guests for dinner, Iím so out of practice. I donít cook well anymore, am not a good hostess. Iíve become insular in recent years, turning inward. Yet I love being with good friends, talking with intelligent people who add new dimensions to my thoughts and insights of their own. We talk of aging parents and politics. I donít have many friends I disagree with on politics nowóthe stakes are too high, tempers run too hot. Weíre focused on the long road to recovery ahead, hoping against hope the next election will at least get us started on that road.
Itís still the workday of New Yearís Eve, not yet noon. Tonight will be much the same as any other for us. We donít stay up ítil midnight anymore, shake noisemakers on our porch and embrace. Weíll tuck in the covers in 2007 and throw them off in 2008, just as weíll do tomorrow night and as many nights after that as we have left. Yet the New Year brings hope and renewed intentions to live a more mindful life, to work a little harder on goals, remember our values and live them more fully. Happy New Year. Live well.
The Tip Jar