Category Archives: Self-Improvment

Anger

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Anger, at first glance, seems like a pretty straightforward emotion. It’s easy to identify in myself and others.

“I was sooo angry!”

“He really got angry when he heard that.”

“That makes me very angry.”

What is it, really, though? A burst of adrenalin? A raise in blood pressure? A quickening of the pulse? A foot stomp, door slam, red face…a yell? Why am I always so close to tears when I’m angry?

There are times when anger is simply that. It makes me angry when I see someone litter, or hear someone make unkind comments, even if I’m not in a position to let them know.

Sometimes anger serves as a motivator. Over the last several months, I’ve been sending out postcards to my state and federal representatives. I opted for postcards, with no return address, because I don’t want to start a discussion. I’m not looking for a smooth, politically-tainted reply with empty promises or suggestions of progress. It is simply a way to let them know I’m mad, and I’m aware.

“Why, after all these long months, do we still have children who have not been reunited with their parents?? Outrageous!” “Protect our environment!! It matters!” “Protect Social Security!” “Health Care is Important!!” I sign them simply with my name, and the identifier, “a concerned voter.” The messages, a response to feelings of anger and helplessness, help me to feel like I am doing some small thing to support my principles.

Even when anger is not serving an immediate purpose, it is a definite and specific feeling. At other times, though, anger seems like a foil for other feelings.

I was thinking the other day how patient I’ve grown. A dozen times, while I’m trying to work, I’ll be interrupted by one dog or another wanting to go outside, or come back in. Sometimes I feel bothered, but it is not reflected in my words or actions. “Do you have to go outside?” I ask, calmly, followed by, “do you want to come in?” a few moments later.

I know, when my children were small, and the cause of interruption, irritation – even anger – would have shown up in my tone of voice. My frustration would have been evident in the way I opened the door, or the look on my face. That tells me that a show of anger is a means of communication. Every day, as I get up to let a dog out or in, I think, “I wish I had shown this much patience when I had small children.

Anger doesn’t work with my dogs, as they don’t really care if I’m irritated. Rosa Parks fixes me with a steady, lidded gaze. It is the canine equivalent of a nonchalant shrug. It says, “Yes, I peed on the rug, big deal;” or, “if you would simply stop what you’re doing and rub my belly, I wouldn’t have to go to such great lengths to get your attention!” True.

Anger didn’t really work with my children, either, though it made them uncomfortable and it made me feel guilty. After all these years, the guilt is still there; I think that never goes away. When my mother was dying, she said her biggest regret in life was that she hadn’t shown more patience with her children.

Sometimes anger presents itself as the more macho cousin of the true, hidden emotion. Envy or jealousy commonly present themselves as a burning anger. Fear, embarrassment, and other feelings of inadequacy often hide behind a show of anger, too. That may be why I’m always so ready to cry, when I’m angry.

Maybe we just need more accurate categories to define our feelings, more of a sliding scale to grade our level of anger. And maybe we could learn from my little dog, as to how to respond to unjustified anger!

Ambition

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For writing inspiration, I’ve turned to a book that I have not yet read: Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by Davis Whyte. It sounded like a book I would thoroughly enjoy. It was recommended by a friend who loves words at least as much as I do. It received excellent reviews.

Elizabeth Gilbert, who did not impress me with Eat, Pray, Love, but who won me over to her engaging writing style with Big Magic, said of Whyte’s book, “Beautiful, elegant, tiny essays on the consoling power of words, written by one of my favorite living poets…” She then suggested, “Keep this book by your bedside forever. I know that I will.” So, I purchased it, and added it to a short stack of similar books that are good for reading before sleep.

Bedside books should not be “page-turners” that will keep me awake and reading to figure out the twists of a heart-pounding plot. They should be thoughtful, but not overly thought-provoking. I try to avoid books, at bedtime, that will keep sleep at bay while I plot revenge, shake in fear, search for solutions, or even just mull things over for hours. What I am reading affects me deeply; I have to be careful. My stack of bedside books often includes art books, memoirs, and poetry.

For several months, now, David Whyte’s book has sat, unread, within the stack. For no reason, other than that my attention was pulled to another book. Last week, I picked it up again, and flipped it open to the table of contents. There, like a gift, was a list of words, in alphabetical order.

I’ve been struggling, lately, for topics to write about. In the nine years that I’ve been regularly writing for this blog, I have published more than eleven hundred essays. I have pulled ideas from books on writing, current events, my family history and my own life. To the point that I can hardly begin to relate a humorous personal anecdote without a hand going up to stop me. “Already know about it,” they’ll explain, “I read your blog!”

I’ve reported on the antics, health and demise of several pets. I have led readers through one household repair, painting project or organizational undertaking after another. I’m sorry (or maybe NOT sorry!) to report that my life is not so exciting as to provide a steady stream of writing material.

So, I was happy to find a whole list of new topics on the Table of Contents page of Whyte’s book. All the better that I have not read his essays. I wouldn’t be intimidated by his brilliance, nor accidentally plagiarize his interpretations. I decided to deliberately avoid reading what he’d written about each word, until I had completed my own writing.

Last week, I started with the first word: Alone. That worked out fine. The next word? Ambition. Ambition has proven to be an unreasonably difficult topic for me. I hear voices, always negative. “…Not showing much ambition,” I hear. And, on the other side of the spectrum, “That’s a little overly ambitious, don’t you think?”

Who spoke to me this way? I have wracked my brain to know. My laziness as a child was well-recognized within my family. I rarely wanted to be involved in household projects, and had to be forced to do my share of regular chores. I had a hundred different ways to get out of work. Still, my father would not use the word “ambition.” “Show a little gumption,” is how he’d put it. My mother would not hesitate to say “lazy.”

As an adult, I’d present elaborate ideas for house plans or home remodels to my husband or others who might be called upon to help. I was often told that my ideas were beyond reach, either because of time or money constraints. Likewise, when I approached professors and mentors with plans for research papers and art projects, I was often encouraged to narrow my scope a little. It’s easy, on paper, to push to extremes, and I often do. Still, I don’t recall being told I was “overly ambitious.”

Clearly, though I don’t know why, this word holds a negative connotation in my mind. I’ve struggled with it all week. I was tempted, but resisted the impulse, to read Whyte’s essay. I consulted the dictionary and the thesaurus. I considered just skipping over the word. Who would know? But, just two words in to my list of topics, that would be a bad precedent to set. I continued to puzzle over it. Ambition. It shouldn’t be so hard!

Yesterday, the election results were called. Like all of the world, I watched the process unfold, and I tuned in last evening to listen to what our newly elected leaders had to say. Within the inspirational, joyful and exuberant speech of Kamala Harris, our history-making, ground-breaking, brand-new vice-president-elect, came this advice: “Dream with Ambition.”

Dream with ambition! I wrote it down immediately! It feels exactly right! From now on, when unknown but persistent voices lead me to believe that ambition is a negative idea, always too little or too much, I’ll replace those thoughts with this concept. It’s always okay to dream big! Dream with ambition!

Fall, Fox Lake Road

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It starts with a show of white: Queen Anne’s Lace along the side of the road, and the ramp flowers in the woods. Dandelion flowers turn to wishes, and milkweed pods burst open to reveal glowing silky streamers. White birch bark stands out against the dulling greens around them.

Next comes brown. Dark stalks of poppies rise above the dry, withered and paler leaves, all that is left of what was a magnificent bed of flowers in June. Ferns dulled to umber cover large areas between the trees. Tall grasses range from shades of tan to deepest rust.

The bright colors begin showing themselves, stingily at first. One red leaf will drop into the road. A gift, or an omen? A single branch of an entire green tree will turn yellow overnight. Leaves of the beech, growing up as scrub brush from the roots of fallen trees, start showing their russet tones early.

Then, abruptly it seems, the woods have turned golden. This is it! “This is the fall color at its best,” I think, as I snap a dozen photos. The next day, it’s even better. The day after that, even more beautiful.

As some colors deepen, the yellows glow even brighter. A hundred shades of orange and red provide contrast to the golden hues.

Fall winds whistle through the night; cold rains pour down. “That will be it for our fall color,” I think, but the view is only better for the onslaught. The ground is covered, then, with a crackling carpet of autumn shades.

The trees seem even more vibrant, now that light can shine through the remaining leaves. The bark, darkened to nearly black by the wet weather, provides a nice foil for all the varied colors.

This is fall, on the Fox lake Road.

My Favorite Day

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Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.

I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.

When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.

On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.

I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.

When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.

After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.

I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!

Open Loops

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“Each man should frame life

so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.”

~ Victor Hugo

In my on-going, continual effort to (1) organize my life, time, space and daily activities and (2) make actual change to foster personal and creative growth, I came upon the “Open Loops” concept.

According to the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen, “open loops” are any tasks, projects and commitments you’ve started and not finished. “Started” can even mean “had a random thought about doing.” Open loops are not regular tasks that you do automatically. They are not “favorite things.” They are not chores.

Open loops are things that you’ve invited into your brain by starting them, or by acknowledging that you want to start them, or that you should start them. They are physical things, these thoughts and ideas that represent a task or project to be completed. They take up space.

Our brains can only hold so much information in active memory. If you’re holding everything you want or need to do in active memory, you are inviting anxiety. You’ll feel overwhelmed at the number of tasks vying for your attention, and anxious that you’ll forget something.

Open loops foster procrastination, by constantly presenting several optional activities to any job-at-hand. They all feel pressing. They are like promises to yourself. Promises feel urgent, so they end up taking precedence over dreams. No matter how insignificant the open loops. No matter how important the dreams.

Allen’s advice for dealing with open loops? Write them down! Listing all of the onerous little “to-do”s will prevent them from sabotaging legitimate efforts toward progress. Once they are on paper, they no longer need to play constantly at the edges of your thoughts. No need to worry that they’ll be overlooked or forgotten. They have a place.

Now that they are all written down, it becomes obvious that some are trivial, and that others are truly important. Amazing, that they all seemed to carry equal weight when pulling at your attention! You can rank them, now, in order of urgency or significance. There may be some that can simply be crossed off the list. Some can be easily knocked-off by a letter or a phone call. Others will need to be planned for, and scheduled in. On paper, dealing with open loops becomes a real but not insurmountable goal.

My own list, which easily covered two full journal pages, included “thank-you”s and other letters owed, subscriptions to cancel, and phone calls to make. It also had several big projects (move the snowball bush; re-hang the bookshelves), and a few dreaded activities (last year’s taxes, for one). I was able to check many items off in the first week. Others, I continue to plug away at.

Unfortunately, I continue to come across new or forgotten items to add to my list. I may never have a blank page! Still, I find it is helpful to have all of my open loops down on paper, rather than playing constantly around the edges of my mind.

Loose Ends

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I’m a pretty careful writer, but I’m especially good, if I take the time, at editing. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes it’s a friend that points out that I’ve used the same descriptive word (often something like “large” or “extremely,” mundane and uninteresting enough if used only once) thirteen times in a single essay. Sometimes I notice a problem (that “friend” showed up as “fried” when I missed the N, for instance) weeks after publishing, leaving me wanting to send each reader an amended copy, with an apology.

In re-reading the story I wrote last week, about being lost in the woods, I came upon a few problems. In one of the first paragraphs, I noted that this incident happened more than twenty years ago, that I worked, then, as the morning server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, and that I did not have dogs at that time. None of these bits of information had anything to do with the story as I wrote it. Why did I even put them in?

Well, actually, I should have also mentioned that my Aunt Katie was still alive, and living here on Beaver Island, and that my walking routine rarely varied at all. Two more loose ends to be sewn up!

The dogs deserved a mention because in the years since then, when I’ve gotten turned around or momentarily disoriented while out berry-picking or searching for morels, the dogs are quite good at finding their way. If I’d had dogs with me, I certainly would not have traversed that wide, watery bog. Thinking of the burs they’d pick up in their fur, I likely would have turned back as soon as the trail narrowed. And maybe they could have led me out when I couldn’t find my way. That’s why I brought up the dogs; I just forgot to bring them to any conclusion.

I mentioned my job at the Shamrock, and my morning coffee drinkers because, as I was wandering through the woods in the middle of the night, I was thinking, “No one knows I’m out here. No one will miss me.” Until, of course, I wasn’t at the restaurant to serve coffee in the morning. Then the coffee drinking group would wonder. They might call my house. Maybe, they’d send out a search party to see if my car was broken down on the side of the road. If they made it all the way to my house, they’d see the dirty dishes I’d left in the sink. Dread!

Finally, they would call my Aunt Katie, to see what was going on. “Her car is in the driveway,” they’d tell her. They’d speculate, together, about various possibilities. Maybe they’d make a call or two, to make sure I wasn’t asleep on the sofa at Emma Jean’s, or out on a boodle with Diane. If they wondered that I got turned around while on a walk, my aunt would be quick to assure them, “Cindy always walks along the road.” So, there would be no way to know that I was back in the trees and bog behind Fox Lake, lost in the woods.

As I wandered that night, and in the years since this happened, these considerations have all seemed an important part of the story. I just presented them, then left them hanging there. It took another entire essay just to sew up the loose ends!

Lost

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A customer came into the hardware store this week, wanting to purchase a compass. We didn’t have one, but his query reminded me that I have several. Or, at least, I did. After I got lost in the woods, it seemed like I was receiving compasses right and left, from anyone that heard the story. Over the years, I have given away most of them, to grandchildren and others, and probably misplaced a few, too. If I had to, I don’t know if I could put my hands on a single compass in this house today. I hope I don’t have to; I’m pretty careful not to get lost, these days.

Have I told this story here? I can’t remember. I’ll tell it again.

It happened a little more than twenty years ago. I was working as the daytime server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, opening at 7 AM for customers who gathered for conversation with their morning coffee. Then, as now, I was in the habit of taking a daily walk. I did not have dogs, then, so I generally walked alone. That year, I’d set a goal to walk one thousand miles from January to December, so I’d increased my daily distance.

Instead of trekking from my house north to the end of Fox Lake Road and back home, which was two miles, I was going south, to the other end of Fox Lake Road where it meets the West Side Drive, and back again. That was three miles. I’m a steady walker, but not particularly fast. Twenty minutes per mile is my speed, unless I deliberately speed up or slow down. I’d usually set out from home at about five o’clock. Three miles, and I’d be home by six.

One day in late October, I got an early start. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny fall day, and I left my house at four o’clock. One mile south, Hannigan Road bumps up to the Fox Lake Road. On a whim, I turned left onto Hannigan Road, then right onto Middie Perron’s Trail, which starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road. I’d never walked the whole length of the trail, but I’d encountered it from the other end, where it met the Camp #3 Trail.

So, rather than my usual route down the Fox Lake Road and back again, which suddenly seemed so dull, my plan was to take Middie Perron’s Trail to the Camp #3 Trail, which would then take me out to the end of Fox Lake Road, where it met the West Side Drive. I’d see more of the beautiful fall foliage, and have a different than usual view. If it turned into a longer walk, it was no problem, because I’d gotten an early start.

Now, I should mention that, at that time, we’d had three nights in a row so dark that neither the moon or a single star was visible in the sky. That played a part in the decisions I made. The other thing was my dislike for retracing my steps. When lost, I’d rather go forward and find my way than turn around. It has gotten me in trouble while driving, and it caused me some trouble when out walking that evening.

Middie Perron’s Trail curved and zig-zagged. It narrowed from a rustic, leaf-covered two-track down to a skinny trail barely wide enough to squeeze through. Blackberry brambles grew up on either side, and arched overhead. The sun sat low over the treetops to the west. If the sun went down, and I was left in a night as dark as the last three had been, would I be able to find my way forward on this path? Could I find my way back, if I turned around?

In a moment that seemed like a flash of courageous genius, and quickly proved itself to be otherwise, I made a decision. I turned off the trail and walked directly, through tall grass, small trees and towering, thorny brambles, toward the setting sun. West, just a short trek through the wilderness, to the Fox Lake Road. Some things I forgot, didn’t know, or didn’t factor in, when choosing that course:

  • Just because Middie Perron’s Trail starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road, it does not remain so;
  • Neither Fox Lake Road nor Middie Perron’s Trail run exactly north/south because of all the twists and turns they both have;
  • The sun does not set exactly to the west all year, and in the late fall of the year it is decidedly off course;
  • Fox Lake bog, which makes much of the land in the vicinity of Fox Lake very swampy, especially in the spring and fall;
  • Fox Lake. Yes, the entire lake stood between me, on Middie Perron’s Trail, and the Fox Lake Road, that was, in my foolish estimation, “just a short way to the west.”

I walked away from the trail. I pushed through thorn bushes and sharp grasses until I was far enough from where I’d started, I knew I couldn’t find my way back. That’s when I came upon a huge wet area. I looked back, considering. I looked ahead. Clumps of tall reeds grew from bits of earth rising up out of the shallow water. I went forward. I propelled myself from one bit of land to the next, clinging to low branches and reeds, and now and then sinking in up to my knees in cold water.

Many times, as I maneuvered through the muck, I thought I was making a big mistake. The way back, though, seemed just as scary and treacherous as the way forward. When, at last, I was through the boggy area and on dry land, there was no choice but to continue forward; I was not going to tackle that watery obstacle course again! Some things worked in my favor:

  • Though it was late in October, the weather was good. It was warm enough so that I was comfortable in a light jacket. It wasn’t windy or rainy. I wasn’t cold, even when wet;
  • The moon came up full and bright that night;
  • I knew, from observation, that the moon rose in the east and set in the west, so I could prevent myself from walking in circles by using it as a guide;
  • I was accustomed to walking, and in pretty good shape.

Once the earth under my feet was solid rather than liquid, and the moon was out, I started methodically trying to find my way. Keeping the moon behind me, I walked until I reached water. I carefully walked into the water until I was sure it was not just a puddle, then back-tracked. I did the same thing with the moon on my right side, then left, then straight in front of me. I seemed to be surrounded by water.

I continued in this way for several hours, changing the angle slightly each time. As the moon rose higher in the sky, I had better visibility. One body of water was a creek. Great! Any river or creek will lead to a lake. At that point, I didn’t care if that would be Fox Lake, or Lake Michigan; either would give me access, eventually, to a road.

I followed the creek until it spilled out shallowly over a large area of wet land, with no clear edges to follow. I turned and followed it in the other direction. When it appeared to turn into a large body of water, I tried to follow that around the perimeter. Every lake has an access road, after all. That, too became impossible to follow, spreading out into watery swamp filled with willow-like branches.

In this way, I continued on, through the night. Once, I tried calling out for help; not appearing to be anywhere near human habitation, that seemed like a waste of energy. I never panicked, but grew increasingly frustrated. At one point, I cried. I was tired, but never considered stopping, even just for a rest.

Eventually, I came upon a pile of cut logs in a clearing. They were dark, and moss-covered, indicating that they’d been there for quite a while, but I could still see the slashes of red paint on their ends that the loggers marked them with. There would be a road, leading to this spot! I scrambled over cut logs and through piles of brush until I found it. It was a narrow two-track; the deep tire ruts were filled with muddy water. Still, it was a grand sight to me!

I stayed on that path, sloshing through the mud when I had to but never considering changing course, until it came out onto West Side Drive. I got my bearings there, and walked north until West Side Drive met the Fox Lake Road. And that road took me home.

I walked into my house, and looked at the clock. It was just after two in the morning. I’d been walking pretty steadily for about ten hours! I peeled off wet clothes, brushed pickers and twigs from my hair, and stood for a long time in a hot shower, relieved to have finally found my way out of the woods. That’s my story of being lost.

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Stepping In

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In years now long past, I went swimming in Lake Michigan early in June. By mid-summer, I was accustomed to the bracing water; by August the big lake seemed almost welcoming. I was used to it. That’s not the way it is any more. Nowadays, I rarely go to the beach, and I almost never swim. When I do get to the shore, as I did when my sisters were here on vacation, it takes quite a bit of self-talk before I even dip my toes in the cold water. It’s much harder these days. A lot of things are like that.

August 11th marked the passage of another year since my mother died. She has, almost unbelievably, been gone from this earth for nine years now. Because memories attach themselves to momentous events, whether happy or sad, that also reminds me that my little dogs are nine years old, as they were born in February of that same year. It gives me an idea of how long my brother has been living in the family home, and how long my sisters and I have been gathering for vacations together. Because I started this blog as a reaction to my mother’s death, I know, too, that I’ve been doing this for close to nine years.

Nine years! I’ve published a blog at least once or twice a week pretty regularly. I spent one year writing every single day, and I usually participate in the “April A ~ Z Challenge,” which involves writing every day except Sundays, through the month of April. Judging by my record with commitments, this blog has been a major success! Until this summer.

What happened? I’m not sure. A few “off” days; difficulty finding a relatable topic; a sick dog; not enough of a schedule in my days, switching quickly to too many obligations in any given day; justifications and excuses…and just like that, a habit fell apart. Not just any habit, but one that I was confidant was so firmly ingrained in my weekly routine that I didn’t have to worry about it, like brushing my teeth, or reading before bed.

I should know better. Over the years, I’ve watched other good habits fall by the wayside. One bad winter and a decade-long walking routine falls apart; a few days of giving in to exhaustion, and a cleaning/tidying habit goes out the window as clutter piles up around me. This I know: it’s easier to maintain a habit, even through hard seasons, than it is to resuscitate a habit that has been allowed to die.

In trying to honor the habits that make up my routine, my rule is, “don’t break the chain.” I like the rows of X’s that mark things completed, day after day. When that’s impossible, I tell myself, “don’t miss twice.” That way, one bad day doesn’t destroy all the diligence that has gotten me to that point. The behavior is still intact. When that fails, the habit is at risk. And that’s the point I’m afraid I’ve come to with this blog.

So, here I am, dipping my toes in the water. I don’t have much of interest to say. If I stand here long enough, I’ll get accustomed to the cold. I’ll warm up to topics that I can elaborate on. If I keep returning to it, it will start to feel welcoming again. For now, I’m just here.

 

Can I Ever Catch Up?

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Two weeks ago, I was on top of things. At least that’s how it seems, looking back from my present situation, which is polar opposite of “on top of things.” Today, it seems like I’m on the bottom of a very large pile of things, scrambling to get my footing. What happened?

It was just about two weeks ago when my sisters started arriving for their week-long Beaver Island vacation. I’d had a good summer up to that point, both relaxing and productive. My garden was doing well, the house was in order, and work was progressing nicely in the studio. I was working a few days a week, but was looking forward to more time than usual with my family.

Cheryl arrived on Saturday. I stopped at the family farmhouse after work to say hello. We made plans to meet later for dinner and a trip to the cemetery to plant flowers, and I went home to take care of my dogs. They met me at the kitchen door. I gave them a good greeting, and we went for a long walk. I wandered through the garden to pull a few weeds and pick what was ripe. Inside, I packaged up my contribution to dinner, and started to fill the dog’s dishes for their evening meal.

It was only then that I glanced into the front room. What in the world?!

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My bookshelves had given way, spilling their contents all over the room. My little television was dangling by its electrical cord. The stereo was face down on the floor. Books were strewn over every surface. Baskets, once filled with yarn, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and assorted on-going projects, had been relieved of their contents, too. I was thankful that the dogs, often sleeping right in the path of all of the destruction, had not been hurt. I assessed the damage, made a few necessary adjustments, fed the dogs, and went out the door to keep my plans.

So, it was several hours later when I sifted through the mess to make some sense of it, and cleared enough of a path through the room to make it usable. Cheryl had offered several times to come and help me, but I declined. The room is small, and the mess was huge. Even alone, I often had difficulty finding a place to step; there was no room for a second person.

Books had to be picked from the shelves before the shelves could be moved. Sometimes, removing the books caused a shelf to slide away in an unexpected direction. It was a long, tedious process. By the time I went to bed, I had a huge pile of books in a corner, and a stack of shelves against one wall. The supports were in a mound on the dining room floor, and the TV was on the table. And, my back was out.

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And, two weeks later, that’s exactly where everything still is. Because, the next day, I worked eight hours. And my back was still causing problems. And, three more sisters arrived, along with husbands, friends and one niece. My brother-in-law, Keith, brought up my shelves more than once; if I’d asked, I’m sure he would have helped me tackle the project. I didn’t ask. One week is a short time to visit with loved ones that I see only a few times in an entire year. That was my priority.

Meals together; game nights; beach time; catching up on family happenings, mutual acquaintances, general news and health updates after months apart: that was most important to me. That’s how my time was best spent, and I don’t regret it a bit. I took time away from work last Sunday to – sadly – see the last of my family off on the ferry boat.

Monday, I went back to work at the hardware store, after a four-month hiatus. Many of the summer workers my boss had hired are going back to college, so my job was available again. Continuing to honor commitments I took on in the meantime, I am now suddenly working six days a week. And, boy, am I out of practice! This is exhausting! In addition, over the course of the last two weeks, weeds have taken over my garden and the grass needs to be mowed.

Today is my only day off. The electric screwdriver is on the charger; if it charges, I’ll be able to tackle the bookshelves. I bought gas for the lawnmower. Bed linens are in the washer; I plan to hang them on the line to dry. I’m going to take all the rugs outside to shake them, and sweep through the house. I intend to make some salads to carry for my lunches this week. Big plans…if I ever find the energy to get out of this chair!

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a sunset shared with my sisters

Conversations

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I mentioned recently how I regretted missed opportunities to talk with my mother when she was alive. I could have picked up the phone to call her. Then, as now, I generally avoided telephone conversations. Or all conversations. It’s not that I have nothing to say, but that verbal exchanges are not easy for me. That may be why writing appeals to me.

There are a very few people who I – without angst or trepidation – will readily pick up the telephone to call, and I tense up every single time the telephone rings. The tension seeps away when I recognize the voice at the other end; it’s replaced with joy when it’s the voice of one of my children. They, one friend and a couple sisters are easy for me to talk to. Beyond those few people, I dread telephone conversations. That is also true of in-person conversations.

I’m not very good at the verbal back and forth. I have a tremendous, unreasonable fear of silence within a conversation. I know where it comes from. I was painfully shy as a child. When friends or relatives came to visit, and spoke to me, I couldn’t force myself to speak, no matter how badly I wanted to. My silence put all attention on me, which just made the situation worse. This came up later, when I’d be called on to speak in class: that horrible feeling of everyone waiting for words that I could not form.

That causes me, now that I’m able to form words, to dominate just about every conversation. I start talking, and just don’t stop. Sometimes I repeat myself, just to avoid an uncomfortable pause. Especially when chatting with my sister, Brenda, who is a good and patient listener, I often feel like, other than the occasional, “hmmm…” or “really” (which just encourages me!), I have done all the talking.

I’ve tried to improve my listening skills, display more empathy, to ask better questions, to show more interest. Most of the time, though, whether speaking on the telephone or over a lunch table, I feel like I’ve commandeered the conversation, and it has all been about me. And it has worn me out! Though I appear to be out-going to the point of near  obnoxiousness, inside, I still feel like a shy little girl. Jabbering on, non-stop, is tiring!

When, as a young adult, I started working as a server, I would go home absolutely exhausted. There was the running around with large trays of food, sure, Mostly, though, it was the long hours of interacting with people. Smiling, reciting the specials, answering questions and making small-talk can be a lot of hard work!

I’ve now worked in some form of customer service for nearly forty years. I’ve done some teaching, too. Certainly, over the years, I’ve managed to have quite a few conversations. Still, I’m best at getting my thoughts out into the world by writing them. That way, I have total control of the conversation!