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It’s Not 1980 Anymore

Back in the early 80’s, I–with a friend–bought a duplex. Each side has two bedrooms and a basement. The previous owners left a large metal desk in the front bedroom of my side of the duplex, so that became my office/craft studio. It was great. No more card tables in the corner of the living room for me. I had an actual office.

Over the years, that office/studio was moved from the bedroom to the basement and back again. More than once.

One would think that with all the moving back and forth that I’d been clearing out clutter and unused items, but that was not the case. Until now.

Now, as I move things from the basement back up into the studio, I’m doing my best to be realistic about what it is I really want to do with my time.

So realistically, here’s what I do in this studio of mine: I pay bills. I write. Once I get it all set up and useful, I also want to start scrapbooking again. And making Christmas and birthday cards. One day, I’d like to make a quilt. I also enjoy embroidery and some crewel. I’ve done a little bit of needlepoint and enjoyed it.

But to be brutally realistic, here’s what I do not want to do in this studio of mine that I once thought I did: make soft toys to sell at the flea market, make bread dough Christmas ornaments, paint rocks, make paper, make paper mache fruit bowls, make fancy ornamental fruit with pins and sequins, make polymer clay ornaments and jewelry, macrame, and probably a ton of other stuff I bought books about and material for.

I know I paid good money for a lot of this stuff, but I’m over it. Well, over some of it anyway.

Last week, I gave away the beginnings of a blue jean quilt I started shortly after I moved here. I cut squares out of my jeans and jeans I’d gotten from my husband (then boyfriend), his kids, my neighbors and co-workers. I remember paying the kids (who are now both in their 40s) to trace and cut out the squares. I painstakingly sewed the squares together into strips. I bought a ton of blue plaid flannel to use for the backing. This was going to be a king-sized quilt we could take camping or keep in the car. It would be tough and useful. I think I broke the heavy-gauge sewing machine needle and never got around to buying another. The quilt never got done.

It did get moved from upstairs studio to downstairs studio multiple times. It stayed on my “Craft Projects to Finish” list until last week when I gave myself permission to give it up. It went to a lady who actually does this kind of thing.

I was just going to give her the strips to sew together. Then I decided to add the backing flannel because, realistically (there’s that word again) what was I going to do with it? Then I added two shoe boxes full of un-sewn together denim squares, in two different sizes because, again, what was I going to do with them? Really?

As soon as I hauled those bags of partially completed quilt out of the house, I felt relieved. Lighter.

Two days ago, sitting here looking at shelves still full of stuff, I decided to do the same with the large quantities of felt squares I’d bought for I-don’t-remember-what also back in the 80s. I think there was a sale of some kind involved. Anyway, I called a nearby community center that does lots of kid classes and offered it to them. They jumped, I delivered and another two bags of stuff I’d never gotten around to are out of my house.

Not everything I’ll probably get rid of is from the 80s. There’s the large shopping bag that’s full of my late husband’s shirts. I wanted to make a scrap quilt out of them (more squares). While I still love the idea of doing that, it’s been 8 years. If I really wanted to do this, wouldn’t I have done it already?

That one I have to think about some more. But there is one thing I’m sure of: It’s not 1980 anymore.

 

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Moms I Have Known

The last of the moms has died. Her name was Opal and she was 98 years old. She was a grand old dame, funny and feisty. She loved peacocks and geese and kept both. Have you ever eaten a peacock egg? Amazingly rich. She liked to travel and gamble and was good at both. She was instrumental in saving my home.

Back in the early 80’s, at the height of “creative financing,” my friend Angi and I bought a duplex with only a few dollars down and very little credit. She lives in one side of the duplex and I in the other. We had three mortgages, one a balloon that came due in five years. Five years went by. Our first two mortgages were paid ahead. We’d never missed a payment, nor had we ever been late. We couldn’t get that third mortgage refinanced. The bottom had dropped out of the housing market. Our home was doomed.

In stepped Opal, Angi’s mother-in-law. She loaned us what we weren’t able to scrape up from raping our 401Ks and mutual funds. We always had, she said, a place in her heart since we were the only people who had ever actually paid her back. We loved her. And now she’s gone.

Opal wasn’t the only great mom in my life, just the last. The first was my mom, Zana. Pretty and profane, she made sure that wherever we lived–and we lived in a lot of places–our house was the hub of the ‘hood. She didn’t mind a house full of hungry neighbor kids because then she always knew where I was. She died when I was 13 and I still miss her fried chicken. I wish I’d known her as a grown up.

In high school, my BFF’s mom was Evelyn. She got me through high school and saved, if not my life, then my sanity. Whenever I’d run away from home, I ran to her. I had a stormy adolescence, but there was always a place for me with Ev and her oh-so welcoming family. She and her husband, Jack, were the most in love people I’ve ever known. We’d stuff four kids–me and their three–in the front seat of a big white Chrysler and go cruising country roads while they sat in the back seat and necked. Ev made my graduation dress because my stepmother wouldn’t and my sewing sucked.

There was my Auntie Madeline, my mother’s sister. She cussed and drank and smoked. She taught me to play poker. Once my parents were both gone, she was the only family member who was unequivocally there for me. She loved my dog and insisted on feeding him ice cream. Her daughter was grown and away with her own family in California. Auntie and I (and Uncle Roger) became our own family. As she got old, she got mean. She made me crazy and I miss her.

I have been blessed with really good friends who had really great moms. Didn’t get to see much of Angi’s mom, Helen, since she lived in Illinois, but she never forgot me or our other friends at Christmas. There were always hand-made gifts for us. One year it was multi-racial mice angels, another brightly colored home-sewn underwear. During the Carter Administration–we’ve all been friends for a VERY LONG TIME–it was a pair of sexually explicit ceramic peanuts. The gifts were always thoughtful and funny and special.

Our friend, Eileen’s mom, Rose, was one of those German-from-Russia women who loved through food. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night that we’d show up, the first words out of her mouth were, “Have you eaten?” It didn’t matter what our answer was, because in just a few minutes there’d be a full, hot, sumptuous meal on the table. And that was in the days before microwaves! Even after Alzheimer’s destroyed most of her mind, she still tried to feed us. That never went away.

I still have friends whose moms are living, but these are the women who helped raise me and loved me and kept me on the straight and narrow, and Opal was the last of them. Guess that means we’re the moms now. Scary thought.

 

2

Good Intentions

Summer sucks for me anymore. On July 5, 2009, my husband turned 60. On August 2, he died. It was sudden, unexpected. Devastating. Eight years later, I’m still reeling.

I also find myself using that time between July 5 and August 2 as an excuse to indulge. I indulge in sloth, in gluttony. I drink too much. I don’t exercise much. Projects go by the wayside. I let the plants die because I can’t bring myself to water them. I stop writing because I really don’t want to know what’s in my head.

It’s stupid. It’s self-destructive. It’s wrong. Wrong for me, anyway, and these days I’m trying hard to concentrate on what’s right and wrong for me. What’s good or what’s bad. What’s healthy or what’s not. I’m trying real hard to keep my judgments and advice focused on me.

At the same time, I’m trying to be more honest in my dealings with people, friends and family mostly. I’m trying to be truthful and not just say things they want to hear because it’s easier than stating what I think. I’ve always avoided confrontations. Now, not so much. My inner snark seems to have found a home front and center. And it dearly loves to come out and play.

It’s not to say I’ve become bitchy and mean. I hope I haven’t. I don’t want that. I think I’m bored. Bored of listening to the same whines about what Mom did or didn’t do and how mistreated everyone is. We’ve all been mistreated. We’ve all been mean. It’s time to get over it and move on. What I want is to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, “you told the truth.” And the first person I’m truthing is me.

I’m done using Jessie’s death as an excuse. There are too many wonderful things in the world. Why get mired down in sadness and self-indulgent excuses?

The pity party is over.

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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.

 

2

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.