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August seems like a tired month to me. The earth and school kids are scorched from long days in the sun. Leaves have lost their freshness and are starting to fade. The earth is dusty and brown. Water bills are astronomical. Long July heat waves have taken the fun out of being outdoors. Those who can, close the windows and turn on the AC; those who can’t, cope with fans and shade. I’m looking forward to being able to schedule workshops when there’s a chance people will be in town for six weekly sessions. A little income would be good.
In a desperate attempt to sell the house, we’re plunging into the nightmare world of kitchen remodel. As babes in the woods, we walked into the showroom this morning. Already the designer has taken measurements, talked about taking out walls, see-through glass cabinets, moving plumbing and electrical. Our remodel budget is history and we haven’t even signed a contract. Yet to come: packing up dishes and cupboard contents, eating every meal out; fridge relocated to the dining room; delays; subcontractor problems; work redone. NO! This is one kitchen remodel that will go without a hitch. Take it to the bank.
Americans are suffering from alarm fatigue. I choose to believe it’s not mere complacency that keeps us from organizing a coup. So many issues are alarming, we can’t sustain that level of shock and outrage. Any one of them signals the end of civilization as we know it: global warming, depletion of the oil supply, lack of fresh water, deferred maintenance on the infrastructure (power grid failure, Minnesota bridge collapse), loss of freedoms and civil rights, a government ruling in secrecy with unlimited power and disdain for the Constitution, children without healthcare. Where does it end? How do we heal?
An unexpected trip to Seattle and back to pick up a stranded friend. Not even time to become nostalgic for the years I lived there. Although the trip is only 7 hours, when you add in one rest stop for every year you’re over 60, finding parking near the bus station and having dinner with the grateful friend, it’s nine and a half-hours. My body doesn’t recover quickly these days. This was another case of deferred maintenance—Amtrak pulled all Spanish-built trains out of service because of defective parts. Could it have anything to do with under-funding the transportation system?
With a month of vacation yawning in front of me I almost forget I need to plan a lesson for tomorrow. I teach through the community college, but am not part of it. I only drop in to copy lessons on the way to the assisted living facility where I teach ESL. My students ask me administrative questions about registration for classes at the college and I have no answers. They must think I don’t speak English. They asked me for more grammar, so I gave them a pre-test. They couldn’t read the instructions, don’t know the parts of speech.
Why do I attract high drama? It’s in my own life and in those around me. In Prague one of my students became a good friend. We went shopping at the village market for dinner at her house and I took out my wallet to pay. She flattened herself against the wall, arms spread, screaming, “No, no, no!” as if facing a firing squad. The drama in my life is not so comical. It’s ugly and painful. Fired from job, betrayed by a friend, heat pump struck by lightning, tree falling on car, ex-husband/best friend died…I’m flattened against the wall.
A magical time began when a young couple asked my mother to babysit for them exclusively at their ranch on the hill. The house was western-style luxury—leather and wood. Summers swimming in the pool, winters sledding and being pulled back uphill by the horses. Harvey would pick my sister and me up from school and take us to the ranch. Dad would come after work and we’d have dinner in the enormous dining room. We were tenants in a life we would never have tasted if not for the ranch hand from Oklahoma and his wife, the boss’s daughter.
My first day in Korea, the school’s director took me to a business to interview. I drank sweet pungent tea while the two men conferred in a language I didn’t understand. Then they took me to a room, led me to the front, rows of seats and tables in front of me. The door opened again and 30 men in workers’ uniforms entered. I was told to determine their level of English. It was my first ESL assignment. I stepped into a role, pretending I was a teacher. That day I learned to play make believe until it became real.
It was day of routine chores and minor frustrations. We took a break at the nearby Starbucks where the staff knows us well. The barista waited until he had gone to the men’s room, then hurried over to my table. More-than-middle-aged, like us, she said,
, “you have to tell me how to find a man like your husband.” I told her there are no other men like Bill, but then described how we met. Recalling how extraordinary it was, his arrival in my life when I was living a nightmare, I remembered to be grateful for this miracle.
Everything is stuck. Just when you gird yourself for big change, it locks up and there’s no forward motion. All of it is out of my control. Waiting on other people. Nothing in the world more frustrating than being powerless. The phone doesn’t ring, the promised email doesn’t come, the package in the mail must be lost. It took a lot of deliberation to reach the decisions we’ve made. That done, we are now dependent on others for their fulfillment. It’s my way to study, research, and contemplate. Then I move with lightning speed. I itch to get it done.
After yesterday’s rant about powerlessness, I recalled a photo of an Iraqi adolescent, his face a mask of grief, despair, bewilderment—his world reduced to rubble. His people have committed no crime that would bring this barbaric retribution. Powerlessness is being victim to a power-hungry, empire-building president of another nation. Powerlessness is being imprisoned in Guantanamo, granted no defense or process of law. As a child in the in the ’50s and ’60s, I studied the holocaust. My elders, peers and I constantly asked, “How did the German people allow this?” Maybe now we have the answer. Apathy, ignorance, ethnocentricity.
Sunday breakfast at a local diner. A handsome young couple is seated across from us, each with a baby carrier containing a round-faced, bright-eyed child about four months old. The mother faces me and I discreetly observe her perfect skin, intelligent eyes, long legs, and sleek firm body. Her breasts, small and neat, do not leak milk onto her blouse. She wears braces on her teeth, a temporary flaw that will ultimately result in a smile that dazzles. She speaks to her husband in a low, modulated voice. The server brings her breakfast: a strawberry waffle heaped with whipped cream.
Getting nervous about lack of income, the thought traveled through my mind that I could get a part-time office job. I checked Craig’s List and there it was—receptionist/admin assistant at a mental health clinic less than 5 miles from my house. Faxed off a résumé and an hour later was invited for an interview this afternoon. Although the job is only four hours a day, it conflicts with both my ESL classes and the workshops I have scheduled for September. Do I give up my business doing what I love for guaranteed income? No. Hang on a bit longer.
Riding the bus into town today I noticed the passenger beside me taking photographs and, through a tourist’s lens, was reminded of when I returned here three years ago, involuntarily, after a 17-year absence. I had intended to leave Portland for good. But once here, I couldn’t stop looking at views of the city, re-committing it to memory. City lights reflected on the Willamette, Mt. Hood beyond, pink in the sunset, held me captive. Much was new, but then I’d turn a corner and see myself sitting on my father’s shoulders at the Rose Festival, or simply running Saturday errands.
It’s a precarious life, being dependent on someone else, even someone you love. I’ve always taken care of myself, ready for independence if the need were to arise—and on occasion it did. Now I know nothing of security—a single misstep could land me in the deep muddy. Love is lovely; freedom from an onerous job is resuscitation.
, right? At 61, the
is one of a dwindling number and a nest egg should have been a higher priority when I was carping freely from one job to the next, hopping overseas on new adventures.
For months I’ve agonized over the fact that after printing 500 brochures, the URL of my website changed from writeherepdx.com to writeherepdx.net. I was certain I was losing customers in droves. Disappointed by the “Under Construction” message on the .com site, they moved on to better prospects. Had they been able to see what I offer, I'd be well on my way to financial security by now. Today, after my son told me it was possible, with the patient assistance of customer support, I redirected traffic to the new site and don’t have to toss 500 brochures. I'm simply brilliant.
I went to West Linn this morning to post flyers for workshops I’ll be teaching this fall. It was an autumn-like morning and I felt rejuvenated by the cool air. I hate to ask shopkeepers to post flyers without patronizing their business, so I ordered a latte and marionberry Danish at my first stop, enjoying the atmosphere while sipping and munching. In the bookstore I purchased a used book by Richard Ford and saw that my old high school English teacher has published a book. By the third coffee shop I’m hyper on caffeine and grab iced tea to go.
It’s feeling distinctly fallish. The clouds thickened as the afternoon progressed and there’s rain coming. One would think we could store up sunny-weather cheer to carry us through cloudy days, but as the day became darker so did my mood. Serious things on my mind, life decisions, feeling stuck. I need to increase my earning potential, need to follow my dream, need to break out of the limiting thoughts and ponder possibilities. I’m not one to believe in manifestation of affirmations, but am afraid that if I commit my fears to words they will take form in my exterior life.
Went to see the Bourne Ultimatum today. Now I understand why so many people have ADD. It made my eyes jump around in my head, made me seasick and dizzy, gave me a headache. Why can’t the camera be still instead of tumbling around? I know, I’m getting old, can’t keep up. That’s why old people drive slowly—they can’t process things as quickly. God I hate growing old. For some reason it makes me feel guilty. If I'd been more careful this wouldn't have happened, I’d still remember, my body would be sleek and firm. It’s all my fault.
I am too uncomfortable in my skin to think rationally or write coherently. My counselor gave me an assignment to write about ten bad experiences, which she will eventually process with me to make them feel better. Until then, I have bugs crawling on my scalp and pins pricking my eyeballs. I had buried those bad memories under layers of more acceptable retellings—revisionist history they call it now. Forced to write them down in squirmy unvarnished truth, I’m reliving that dark period of falling trees, lightning strikes betrayal and culpability. Maybe the counselor will hocus-pocus them into scrapbook material.
Lori is a tall young woman with dark hair. She reminds me of Sandra Bullock. Lori applied for a job in our small department, and it was important that I hire someone I liked. As a Unitarian working for a Presbyterian organization, I needed someone to talk to. In Lori I found someone I could talk to, someone I could laugh with until I cried. We conspired to write a novel about the Vampires of Black Mountain. We had both left dreams behind and nudged each other to revive them. When I left Asheville she was the one who cried.
When I started working at the conference center, I noticed a beautiful middle-aged woman, always alone. Elegantly dressed in fine clothes she’d found in thrift shops, she had a fragile, antique-like beauty. I soon learned, as she had, to avoid the gossip-as-blood-sport crowd at lunch. Once, as I sat reading next to the lake, Victoria approached me and commented, “You’re a loner, like me.” We became friends and I entered her private world where few women were invited. “Women have never liked me,” she said. I loved her for her gentle soul, intelligence and creativity. Our religions were radically different.
Nancy plays flute, French horn, recorder, the viola da gamba. She writes a column for a local newspaper, makes jewelry, sells and is commissioned to do paintings, sings in a chorale, has master’s degrees in counseling and art therapy, makes crafts and sells them in boutiques, is an e-bay entrepreneur, and is learning the hearing aid business, a good fit since she herself is deaf. Nancy wakes up each morning, steps out onto her front porch and greets the sun. She takes childlike delight in new buds and a spider’s web as if fairies had created them just for her.
Larry was my boss, dumb as dirt, but he had a good heart and a deep southern accent. Every morning I’d sit across from him, ready to take dictation (I was hired to rewrite his letters). But first were stories of fraternity pranks and football games, which were the reason he’d attended the U of Florida. Through the window behind him I watched amazing insects, pileated woodpeckers, and the creek that ran under the pedestrian bridge into Lake Susan. I was still astonished to be there. I liked Larry—he made me laugh—until his unapologetic racism wore me down.
Went to our favorite Saturday breakfast café, where eavesdropping is my favorite sport. The morning had been slow when a lone man came in and sat at the table across from us. The new young waitress came to his table ready to take his drink order and told him about the special, crab omelet with hollandaise sauce. “It has lots of crab,” she added. She gave the price, $15.95, sounding apologetic. “You’ve sold me on it,” he said. “Are you serious,” she said, losing any small hope of professionalism. She ran back to the kitchen yelling, “I sold a special!”
State Fair day! Perfect weather, not too hot. We looked at livestock. Is it just me or are pigs obscenely naked? While we ate BBQ chicken we were treated to the talent show, junior division. A little girl, probably Shirley-Temple cute, although I couldn’t see the stage, sang “I Want to be Pop-ular” and a teenager yodeled. I like the horse events. We watched the draft horse competition; our favorite team kicked over the last cone. The paso fino beauties did their quick tippy-toe gait. One threw his rider because he didn’t want to go over the sound board again.
Mr. Arnaud was my French teacher, a quiet man who also coached basketball. He could yell when he needed to. He selected me and two others to take the state language exam. I was proud to be chosen and nervous I’d let him down. It turned out to be impossibly difficult. On the way back, Mr. Arnaud asked me if I’d found it hard. “Impossible!” I replied. He became quiet, looked sad. Then he said, as if to himself, “if my best student found it impossible, I’ve failed as a teacher.” He got a Fulbright scholarship and went to Tunisia.
Emerson was a round and soft little man, belt cinched tight so his pants gathered at the top. He was president of the religiously affiliated non-profit conference center where I worked. He lived in a beautiful house paid for by the conference center, but that wasn’t enough. He paid his utility bills out of the organization’s funds, sent credit card statements by FedEx, charged to his employer. Emerson’s email came to his secretary’s computer. She printed out the one from a gay lover, waited until the right moment and showed it to the board. Emerson was fired for being greedy.
I’ve always done my best work in times when a valiant effort is required. Energy, resourcefulness, creativity and determination all focused on saving the day. Short spurts of heroism are what I specialize in. The grinding boredom, the buildup of disgust with the misdoings of management, the boss who has to put you down to build up him/herself numb me to the point where I become lethargic, depressed, outraged…and finally quit. This usually takes two years. Which is why I have no retirement savings at age 61, when it’s difficult if not impossible to find a job I can tolerate.
We went to the AAA travel store today to pick up airport parking coupons for our trip to Vancouver, BC Monday. I looked at travel bags while Bill got the coupons. I love travel bags: compact units with a place for everything and cavernous zippered compartments. I found a lime green bag to replace the black leather handbag I’m always losing things out of. Last week I had to drive across town in awful traffic to pick up my cell phone which had fallen out of my purse in the booth at the restaurant where we’d eaten the night before.
August has been a difficult month, with a confluence of numerous fears and concerns. I’ve been skating without an income due to the generosity of my wonderful partner, but I am not at all comfortable being dependent. Our relationship does not provide for long-term security if he should die before I do. This raises issues of my decreasing employability and tolerance for the bullroar you have to put up with from small-minded bosses. Our dilemma over whether and how far to go with remodeling in light of the dead housing market continues to cause insomnia. Everything is uncertain, in flux.
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