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My Life In Three Parts

If you read these pages with any regularity, you know that I’m in the process of going through all my crap, downsizing, getting rid of stuff and reevaluating where I want my life to go. It’s been interesting seeing how far I’ve come in some areas and how far I haven’t come in others.

Since I rarely throw anything out (until recently), I’ve come across lists of New Year’s Resolutions or Goals & Achievements going back decades. Sadly, there is a sameness to them.

Some of these have dated back to the seventies. There are three major themes running through these rather sad lists and with them, I can boil my need to improve life into three major categories: my health (weight), my finances and my clutter. Everything I feel I need to change or improve in my life falls under one of these three categories.

I could probably pare these down even more, since these all seem to be connected. But then everything in life is connected, isn’t it?

For example, I like to eat out and do it way more than I should for both my pocketbook and my waistline. One of the main reasons eating out is so desirous is that it’s too hard to fix something myself, because my kitchen is almost always a mess. My lack of housekeeping skills falls under “clutter” because I don’t know what I have, I have no clear counter space to prep food and I don’t know where things go, hence the crowded counters.

I buy things I don’t need, in and out of the kitchen, because I can’t find what I already have. I end up sitting and watching TV and snacking while I do it because I don’t have the cleared up space to work on art or craft projects. I have too many scrapbooking supplies to actually do any scrapbooking.

So what am I doing about it?

Slowly but steadily I am going through stuff, getting rid of stuff, and finding homes for stuff.

I’m making an effort to finish what I start, be it dishes and laundry or that hooked rug I started decades ago.

I’m getting off the couch more often, resulting in more exercise and less mess.

I’m really trying to be aware of what I’m doing, so less mindless eating, less binge buying, more seeing what’s around me.

Most importantly, I remind myself that this is a process and a journey. It took me 65 years to become this person, and most of her is pretty awesome. I’m working on the not-so-awesome stuff, three categories at a time.

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I’m Bored

Since I was a child, I’ve always had a fear of boredom. I’d take a typewriter–the big, black, weighs-a-ton type–on vacations. (My father, apparently, was very indulgent.) There was always something I wanted to write. Always another project I just had to start RIGHT NOW! Always another book to read.

Always something.

Maybe it was because I was an only child and learned to entertain myself at a very young age that I always had to have something to do. That and the fact that if I uttered the words, “I’m bored,” my mother would make me do something I really, really didn’t want to do (clean my room, for example).

As an adult, the only times I can recall being bored was at work when I didn’t have anything to do and wasn’t allowed to pull out a book to read. Or at a social function where I wasn’t comfortable, didn’t know anyone and couldn’t politely pull out a book to read.

I can sit still for long periods of time enjoying the images inside my head. I love the worlds in there. I love the people! They always say and do exactly what I want them to. It’s refreshing.

I people watch. People are a commodity I never run out of. It’s hard to avoid people. They’re everywhere! And they’re interesting, especially when I don’t have to talk to them and can just observe.

I’m not much of a talker myself, more fallout from only childhood. I’m the listener. Small talk may be an art form, but it’s not one I do well. I avoid it whenever I can. It goes hand in hand with avoiding most social functions.

Now that I’m retired, I’m much less apt to be bored than I was when I worked. There’s always something to do, most of it fun. I usually get to do what I want when I want. I’ve gotten over the guilt of not keeping house well (now that’s boring!) and pay someone to do it for me.

With all that being said, I find it troubling that so many young people seem to always be bored. I see it on Facebook all the time. Pleas from some twenty-something to their friends to come take them out, come entertain them.

I don’t get it. There’s always something to do. And it doesn’t have to cost anything. If you’re bored, go to a library. There, for free, you can check out books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to. Take a walk, that’s free, too. Find a park bench and sit, watching people or squirrels.

Volunteer somewhere. There’s nothing like helping someone or something to take you out of yourself. If you’re a talker, talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. Find out their story. Tell them yours.

Write. Draw. Color. Clean. Plant something. Weed something. Cook something.

I think my mother was right: Only boring people are bored.

Don’t be boring!

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It’s Not Easy Being Bad

I had an epiphany last night while standing in the front yard urging my dog to poop.

I really hate not being good at something.

On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, but it’s not. At least, not for me. In actuality, it’s paralyzing. If I’m not good on the first try, I tend not to keep trying. While some folks might use that hatred of not being good to improve: studying, practicing, learning, I huddle in misery, bemoaning the fact that I’ll never be able to do calligraphy, regardless of how much I spent on books and pens.

Because that’s what I tend to do. Some new I want to pops into my head, so I go out to whatever store there is to buy all the materials I’ll need, plus bunches of instruction books. I bring them home and look at them. They look back. I try them out, cringe, and put them back in their packages. There they sit, collecting dust, staring at me accusingly until, years later, I drop them in the donation box to go out with the next pick up.

What the hell, I wonder, is wrong with me?

I can’t be alone in this, can I? Surely I’m not the only person with 27 how to quilt books sitting on her shelf who’s never made a quilt. Surely not.

It’s the same with writing, although I’m getting better at putting words to paper. I’m a little more confident in my writing skills than in my sewing. Or drawing. Or gardening. Or dog training.

Famous journalist Gene Fowler once said that writing was easy. You just stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. He wasn’t wrong.

Anne Lamott, a writer I adore, says the key to writing is to put your butt in the chair and write lousy first drafts (or words to that effect). Sounds easy, but it’s not.

It’s hard to be bad, to let myself be bad. I find myself focusing not on the words, but on their effect. I worry about what font the publisher will use, and if I’ll have lost weight in time for the television interviews. I have imaginary conversations with the actress who I know will be begging to play my protagonist on the big screen. I worry about which network will pick up the series.

Anything to not write that lousy first draft.

But hey! My poop-induced epiphany has given me hope. Now that I’m looking at my dysfunction, maybe I can change it. Maybe I can convince my self what my brain already knows: that if I keep trying at whatever it is I want to do whether it be writing or quilting, I’m likely to get better.

I may have to lock the doors and close the blinds to do it, but do it I will.

 

Gene Fowler is the author of Timberline. Anne Lamott’s newest book is Hallaluja Anyway.

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Letting Go

Decluttering, I keep telling myself, is a journey not a destination. I keep thinning out things and seem to be making progress, but then I come across a stack of miscellaneous papers and folders and everything comes to a screeching halt.

In the most recent stack I came across old insurance information that my late husband had from when his mother and uncle died. Shredded, but not before I cried a little.

There was a half a dozen or so pictures drawn with glitter and textured paint by a couple of grandkids, the youngest of which is now in her mid-20’s. Set aside; maybe I’ll frame a couple of them for my studio.

I found lots of empty file folders, both letter and legal size. Those went in the office supply pile. When I finally get through everything, what’s obscenely excess with get donated to a local school. They always need that stuff.

The last thing in this stack, and the hardest to deal with, is embarrassingly silly. A plastic envelope full of glossy, 8×10 photos of characters from a TV show that went off the air sometime last century.

I loved that show.

I just recently made myself get rid of the VHS boxed sets of seasons 1-5 of that show (season 6 sucked). I hadn’t watched them in decades and no longer have a VCR hooked up. Plus, they took up a lot of space. A shelf in my bedroom is now freed up and I no longer have to dust the damned things.

The tapes were hard, but Lordy, the lobby cards (I think that’s what they’re called) tore my heart. These are of actors playing characters I was obsessed with for a time. But I gave them up, at least most of them.

Just like the kids’ drawings, a couple may get framed, if I still have frames left after everything is hung the way I want it and if there’s wall space in the studio. What I’m not going to do is keep them on a shelf in a dusty plastic envelope. I either honor my obsessions or I let them go.

Letting go, if not also a journey, is at the very least a process. I’m processing.

 

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Music Makes Me Cry

I started listening to music again, even though it makes me cry sometimes. In years gone by, I listened to music all the time. Music was a major part of my life. Since my husband, Jessie, died, not so much.

Being of child of the 70’s, the Top 40 was the soundtrack of my life.

Although my late husband and I had very similar musical tastes, his was far more eclectic. While I run towards blues, country and classic rock, he encompassed acid, jazz and hip hop as well.

At one point, we had three copies of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. Same with Carole King’s Tapestry. We’d each brought our own vinyl copies to the relationship and later added the CDs as well. Can’t have too many copies.

Several years after his passing, I thinned out the CD collection, getting rid of most everything I didn’t personally listen to. Couldn’t let go of Bob Dylan or the Beatles, though. I don’t listen to them much, if at all, but they were too much a part of him to let them go. Yet.

And nearly a decade after his passing, I still can’t bring myself to tackle the vinyl.

The simplify and downsize part of me says, “If you haven’t listened to something in the past 20 years, it’s time to let it go.” But I can’t. Not yet.

Music was such a large part of our life together that almost everything I listen to brings up a memory. Memories make me cry.

We both worshipped Kris and Hank. They both make me sob.

In the past few days, I started listening to John Stewart again. He was a huge part of my 70’s life. I’m finding his political songs just as relevant today as they were when I was a teen. Funny, but not in a humorous way. I have tears running down my cheeks by the end of Wingless Angels. It wrecks me that in nearly 50 years, so much has not changed.

I’m hoping, I think, for some kind of cathartic cleansing. Instead of avoiding the memories and tears, I’m facing them. As someone once said, if you find yourself in hell, just keep going.

As for the getting rid of stuff, I’m giving myself permission to wait.

 

 

 

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Mean Girls

When did it become fashionable to be mean? With all the publicity and programs to battle bullying, why do we still celebrate meanness?

There are seemingly hundreds of so-called Reality shows on television that are nothing more than people being mean to each other. Some years back, there was even a movie entitled “Mean Girls.”

Why is this sort of “entertainment” enjoyable to so many people? When did being mean become not just okay, but something to aspire to?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no advocate of nice. Niceness, as all girls my age were told to aspire to, can be horribly damaging. When being nice is your end-all and be-all, you never learn to hold your ground or stand up for yourself. It’s awful. I’m 60-something-years-old and would still rather have a root canal than confront somebody. I was always one of the nice ones.

And as long as I’m being honest, which I try to be in this venue at least, I have been known to be a tad sarcastic at times. Even snarky. I may even be known for my biting wit and snark. But I’ve rarely been mean.

I honestly don’t know how today’s kids survive. Sadly, some of them don’t. Many kids are bullied to death.

Looking back at my own school days, I shudder. I was bullied. I was always the little fat girl. Plus I was too shy to be funny. I was smart, but again, too shy to use it as a weapon. What I thought was hell then would have been hundreds of times worse in this era of social media.

I cringe at the thought of the time I walked out of the girls’ room with the back of my skirt tucked into my underwear. Two boys snickering was a whole lot better than seeing myself and my cotton-panty-clad-ass on Facebook. Yet, I still can hear the snickers.

And I bullied. In grade school especially, there was always one or two children who had “cooties” and we never let them forget it. Now I’m not talking about lice here. No, these cooties were metaphysical. We children, as a horde, were merciless.

I remember two boys in particular who were singled out to be the brunt of everything awful. One was named Barry and the other, although I can still see his face, I don’t remember his name. They were both socially awkward and sort of funny looking. I was socially awkward and funny looking. If it wasn’t them, it might’ve been me.

I am so very sorry. I’m sorry that I was part of that gang of girls who shrieked “cooties” any time we inadvertently brushed up against you. I’m sorry I didn’t have the wherewithal to say, “Stop! This isn’t right!” even when I knew it wasn’t

I hope you survived and got your revenge by becoming obscenely successful.

Children, as we all know, are nasty little savages, no doubt about it. It is, as the scorpion said to the frog, in our natures. I just hope we all survived, the bullied and the bullies both.

But as adults, we should know better. We should all be self-aware enough to know that some things are just not right. We shouldn’t let the mean girls–and mean boys–still rule us. We should, each of us, be able to say, “Stop! This isn’t right!”

Shoulda, woulda, coulda. That’s all pretty damaging, too. So here’s my thought. Be kind. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself and those snickering boys. Forgive the girl who loudly pointed out in class that you had used lipstick for rouge and forgot to blend it in. Pick up someone else’s litter without cussing (too much). And try not to let the first thing out of your mouth be a snarky comment, no matter how clever it is.

Clever can be cute. It can also be mean. So, let’s not.

 

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When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

I’m in the process of moving all my arts and crafts stuff from the basement to the guest room which is no longer a guest room but my office/studio.

There’s several reasons for doing this, the main one being is that I don’t want guests. I don’t mean to sound antisocial, but people keep moving in. I want them to stop.

I still mean to have a place in the basement for the occasional I-don’t-have-anyplace-else-to-go-would-you-rather-I-live-in-my-car events. I just don’t want it to be quite as comfortable as the upstairs bedroom with easy access to the kitchen and bathroom. No more out-of-work friends who move in for a month or two and stay four years. Or relatives who seem to think I run a Holiday Inn.

No, I don’t want you to live in your car. I also don’t want to allow myself to be so damned accommodating that I change what my lifestyle is to fit around someone else’s.

Anyway, sorry to rant. Another reason for the move upstairs is because I don’t go downstairs to work. I will go down there to do laundry, but that’s about the extent of it.

I’m also doing a lot of tossing. Purging, if you will. I’m trying to be realistic about what I really want to do and get rid of anything that doesn’t fit into that vision. For example, I’ve always admired macrame and started collecting books and materials so as to make my own wall hangings and planters. That began in the 70’s. I’ve never done macrame. Time to let it go.

Amazing how difficult that is. But I’m doing it.

I’m also giving myself permission to get rid of my late husband’s art supplies. If I can’t use them, or if they’re dried up and nasty, out they go. That’s been hard, too. Silly to get sentimental over a dried up sea sponge.

So here’s what I’ve learned: If I have to think about it too long, it needs to go.

 

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I Spend Money Like I’ve Got It!

I spent most of this morning sitting in Midas waiting for them to tell me I need a new battery.

Yup, that’s what they told me. Luckily, it wasn’t the starter or anything mechanical. Unluckily, there’s also a nail in a tire.

Always something.

It’s been an expensive month. First was the unexpected bill from Kaiser charging me $200+ for x-rays I had done of my poor arthritic knees. I’d never been charged for an x-ray before. Turns out I got charged to help meet my deductible. I’m not used to dealing with deductibles. But everything changes, even long-term health insurance.

So that was money I hadn’t budgeted for. And now, the car battery.

I feel like I”ll never get out of debt, hard as I try.

One of the real battles I have with money is when I feel this frustration, the only thing that makes me feel any better is spending even more money.

So now I’m considering buying a Garden Tower (or is it Tower Garden?). See, I came in 3rd in a drawing for one of these nifty things which gives me $100 off the cost of one. Do I really want to spend nearly $300 to redeem my $100 win?

Yes. Yes, I do. What’s a little more debt in the big scheme of things?

See, I researched it and it’s gotten really good reviews. It’s won awards for innovation. It’s made in the USA. And fresh, organic veggies just outside my back door, in a mere four square feet. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

I’ve always wanted to be the earth mother type. It’s always been part of my fantasies about myself. That and being a kick-ass secret agent.

Realistically though, I have a brown thumb. Even aloe vera, it turns out, needs sunlight and the occasional drink of water.

And would I keep it up, or would this become just another failed enthusiasm I’ll quickly tire of?

I don’t know. I’m frustrated and I want it. I’ll never get out of debt. As soon as I pay something off, something else breaks.

So what the hell! It’s only money.

 

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Missed Connections

Do you ever think about the people you were once really connected to, but have lost contact with? I do. A lot.

With a few, there’s a feeling of relief, like I really dodged a bullet on that one. Haven’t we all had those charismatic folks in our lives that we’re so drawn to, but who are horribly toxic to us? They are the ones who make us spend money, or get us arrested or even just put us in scary situations that seemed so right and ended so poorly.

Those, I’m not sorry to see gone. Mostly. Although there was this one guy this one time…nope, not going there. Never did get my $50 back.

The ones I regret the most are the people I lost from lack of trying or just sheer laziness.

There’s my best friend from grade school, Linda, who I lost touch with when my parents moved us from Washington back to Colorado. She found me, years later, but I never got around to answering her letter. I wanted to, but just never did. Now, I believe, she’s died.

Same with a cousin who sent me some great photos of my folks and some family history. I always meant to write him back and thank him. Never did. Just found out he and his wife have both died. Guess I can take his letters out of my To Do file.

Not everyone I’ve become disconnected to has died, of course. Mostly, we’ve all just drifted away from each other. Life intrudes.

And let’s face it. Keeping connected is hard work. It’s constant. Carving out time for get togethers isn’t easy. One would think that retirement is all lunch dates and happy hours. Not hardly. At least mine isn’t.

There are pets to walk, clean up after and train. There’s the old house that always needs something done to it. There are books to read and books to write. Movies to watch and candy to crush. Exercise and health issues. Family to worry about and lose sleep over. A cruise to plan.

But friends, I do not want to lose you, especially not because I just wouldn’t find the time. So, let’s do lunch. Soon. Okay?

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It’s Not a Sign of Sloth…Is It?

We all know that I fight clutter. Chaos is my natural state. But I fight it. Constantly. And most of us know that I hate to clean. Housework, to me, is worse than a root canal. As a result, between my clutter and uncluttering, and lack of cleaning, my place is a mess.

One of my goals in life is to be able to socialize at home. You know, to invite people over and have a conversation or activities in my house. Maybe host the writing group or book club. I’ve never done that because the place is always a disaster.

As much as I try, I’m a mess. And so is my house. It is a source of constant embarrassment. Although I’ve stopped buying stuff for the most part and have definitely stopped buying stuff for my stuff, I still haven’t gotten a handle on things. Until recently.

Recently (last month), I hired a house cleaning service. It has taken me a long time to conclude that it’s okay to do this. I keep hearing my mother and her cronies tsking about being too lazy to do my own cleaning. But so what? I am lazy when it comes to housekeeping. I hate it and, as a consequence, I’m no good at it.

So once a month, now, a crew of two comes in, spends less than 3 hours here and my house is clean.

Funny thing, once the house is clean, I suddenly don’t have a problem picking up after myself. Things get put away once I’m done using them. Trash and recycle get taken out before they’re overflowing. And–this was a real eye opener–it’s suddenly easier to make decisions. I schedule appointments for things I’ve been putting off. I’m buying things I’ve thought about and then tossing the catalog, or more often, just tossing the catalog.

I’m not just thinking about doing things. I’m doing things.

Who knew? Well, my non-messy friends did, but I didn’t believe them. Now I do.

(For readers in the Denver area, check out athomecleaning.co or contact them at info@athomecleaning.co. You won’t be sorry.)