We thought 2016 was bad.
I try not to whine and complain. I’m a grownup and I do what needs to be done. But this is ridiculous. The state of the world and the country is absolutely terrifying, and I feel obligated to call my representatives daily, and if asked what issue I’m calling about I’m like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Bunch”: “Wadda you got?” Today it’s the crazy immigration policy, last week it was the inauguration of the most unqualified, certifiably insane substitute-for-human ever to occupy the White House. Tomorrow it will be the Supreme Court nominee, and every day it’s women’s issues, education, the environment and climate change–and on and on.
But to add to the misery, I am stretched to the limit. Not to share too much, my husband and granddaughter both need a lot of care and attention right now. My therapist said I sound like a harried mom. I told her I am, except it didn’t seem this hard 40 years ago. Of course I was 40 years younger!
Everywhere I turn there is something that needs doing. Appointments to be made, prescriptions to refill, a messy yard, laundry, clutter, meals, errands. The garage door opener quit and needs replacing. I wanted a haircut two weeks ago, couldn’t get in so let it go, and now I kind of like it longer, except for the bangs. (I usually trim them myself but I keep thinking I’ll get an appointment soon.)
I consider a long pee to be a break. Meditation is when I walk the dog, except when I’m trying to call my Congresspeople. I have “Art Day” popups on my phone calendar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they mock me. My to-read pile beckons, as do all my unfinished knitting projects. I made a pink hat for the march, but didn’t quite finish in time to wear it. But I did march!
I can thank the drump for making me an activist! I’m more engaged than I was during the Viet Nam protests.
However, I will close with gratitude:
- clear starry skies when I walk the dog at 5:45 a.m., sunny afternoons and beautiful parks
- my relatively good health, and abatement of sinus headaches (partly, I believe, thanks to a month of acupuncture treatments)
- despite many challenges, granddaughter is mostly doing well in school
- my sweet soft dog curling up against me when I nap
- enough: we are not rich, but we have a comfortable home, enough to eat and a nice life
- health insurance and good medical care
- my being able to take care of those who need it right now
- pedicures: I took my husband along yesterday because his back prevents him from cutting his toenails. He’s a convert!
- friends and family to back me up if I need help, and a loving church community
- living in a city with liberal values that cares about immigrants and minorities (to quote former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, Austin is the “blueberry in the tomato soup.”)
I realize that I live a life of middle-class privilege. But I’m still exhausted.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to pee, walk the dog and try to call my senators and congressman.
More than one person is wondering, if not saying aloud, why did I wait so long to go to the doctor after two weeks of coughing?
The short and easy answer is I kept thinking it would be better the next day. Magical thinking. It was just a tickly drainage cough and I didn’t really feel bad, except for interrupted sleep.
It’s not about money. Medicare and our Humana Medicare Advantage Plan (thank you, Government, for working well) mean that’s not an issue.
The other reason, as I told someone in an apology email after twiddling around with an RSVP for much too long: Grandmas just soldier on. It’s not conscious self-sacrifice; it’s just what we do.
Mostly, it’s time. Every day seems to get eaten up with errands, appointments, meal prep, shopping, child care, and my one essential nap. If I have one activity in the morning, it breaks up the day sufficiently that I don’t get to my own things: art, writing, knitting, reading. It’s more efficient to use those broken-up moments do a load of laundry, unload the dishwasher or walk the dog.
I should have gone to the doctor late last week, after a week of coughing. My Friday was totally open, but I just couldn’t give up my only free day that week. So I enjoyed a day of painting and futzing around doing what I wanted.
A few days ago I wrote:
If I am not the shepherd of my hours,
the Wolf of Time will steal them like helpless lambs.
By Monday I decided I needed to see a doctor, and the earliest appointment with the ENT was Thursday. I could have tried my primary doc, but again that magical thinking had me believing I’d be better by then and I could cancel the appointment.I ended up seeing a P.A. She did a thorough exam and workup and prescribed a steroid, antibiotic and cough relief.
What started as a tickly drainage cough morphed into a respiratory infection. I skipped allergy shots for this week, which the P.A. agreed was probably a good idea.
After a year and a half of shots I’m wondering when this will get better in this sopping, humid, never-gets-cold-enough-to-kill-off-the-allergens environment. A move to the desert? But I’m English! I couldn’t live in the desert. Last time I was in New Mexico, the mountains outside Albuquerque were on fire, the humidity was in the single digits and I woke up every morning with a nosebleed.
Tuesday has turned out to be my day. A few months ago I noticed I rarely have appointments or obligations on Tuesday. I work out and do errands and other chores on Mondays. I go to the gym when the cleaning crew arrives every other Wednesday, and Thursdays and Fridays often fill up with social engagements or appointments.
So I decided to keep Tuesdays clear, with the only rule that I do whatever I damn well please. That may mean a chore I’ve postponed, like cleaning the refrigerator, but usually it’s something fun: art, knitting, taking a walk, reading or, when the weather allows, sitting by the pool reading. It’s kind of an all-day artist’s date as proposed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.
We had one or both grand-kids for much of last week’s spring break, so this is my first free full day in two weeks. Granddaughter had a cold and cough so we stayed in and made art. We used toilet-paper rolls and paper towel rolls for some of our creations.
With wet weather and Chloe being under the weather, we watched several movies and I knitted–so much that my hands were sore. After the kids were gone we watched “Birdman,” and in order to rest my hands I gave myself a manicure to keep from knitting.
Here are my current WIPs (i.e. works in progress).
This Untouchable Tuesday has been a catch-up day, but it was what I was damn well pleased to be doing. And there’s still a lot of day left.
All summer I have been compiling a list of things I wanted to do when school started and the grandchild schedule eased up.
I’m finishing up tasks that have dragged on for some time, one of which was scanning old photo albums. The photos are fantastic–many were taken when my dad was in the Royal Air Force in Karachi (then India) from 1928–but the scanning was tedious, and I still have to organize the scanned images to share with family.
The summer was fun with the kids, going to the beach and spending time at our condo pool. But having a kid (or two) every other week meant I spent the other week recovering. I’ll have Chloe some weekends, and I have to get used to the idea of having this week free, next week free…
… to fill up with appointments, to start with. Dentist, gynecologist, eye and so on. Lunches with neglected friends.
We closed out a bank safe deposit box, which contained only our wills, so we’re going to update the wills and powers of attorney, financial records etc. and provide to my older daughter. It’s so much easier to do it now, when we don’t actually need it. I’m also going to take pictures throughout the house for an inventory of our worldly goods.
Chloe hasn’t played in the sand area in the courtyard for many months, so when we get some cooler mornings I’m going to clean it up (again).
It’s way past time for a condo newsletter. There is lots of news and many new neighbors.
I’ve created a template for Christmas cards. This year I’m going to do a small piece of original art on each one, similar to my Jillybeans postcards.
I have several craft, knitting, sewing and other projects hanging.
I want to refinish my old desk, which I had as a child. It’s too precious to neglect, and Chloe has put permanent marker and wite-out marks on it.
I can work on poems, journals and book ideas(and read books) any time.
There is always postcard art, which feeds my soul. That’s my default, every day.
Workouts. Errands. Household chores.
A neighbor recently described me as “driven.” I know I am incredibly blessed. Soon after we moved into the condo and I was feeling overwhelmed, I told an elderly friend I had too much to do. She said, “Be glad you have too much to do.” She has since passed on. I am glad I have too much to do.
Since I mentioned I’d be posting less until the Mozart Undead project is over, I’m using a piece I wrote more than 20 years ago. A friend recently dug it up. My editing skills have improved enough that I’ve cut it by at least a third. I hesitated to post it because I didn’t have any images. This weekend, my granddaughter played “paper store” in my office, and when I tidied up afterwards I ran across a painting done around the same time–Terri’s Garden!
My friend Terri taught me that sometimes it’s better to do something half-assed than not do it at all.
Terri lived in a rural community outside Austin. To be nearer her friends and activities, she spent many weekends at our house.
I enjoyed having her around because she’s one of the sunniest people I’ve ever met. She made me laugh in a way I didn’t with my own children. She also cooked, cleaned up and did more than her share. I kept hoping her habits would rub off on my daughter.
Terri was an early riser with lots of energy, so she started messing around in the back yard. She weeded the flower beds and bought seed packages, six-for-a-dollar, planting sweet peas and zinnias, reminding me to water them.
I did little in our rented duplex’s yard other than hanging a couple of planters. I didn’t think I had time to take care of a garden. It loomed as a major commitment, eating up my evenings and weekends.
I even tried to discourage Terri. The landscaping timbers were rotting. The beds were a breeding ground for hackberry seedlings. I told Terri if I were going to put in a garden I’d want the timbers replaced and a load of topsoil brought in, neither of which I could afford.
She blithely ignored me. One April Saturday morning, as she checked to see if the seeds were sprouting, I paused in my housecleaning and said, “Come on Terri, let’s to go the nursery and get some tomatoes. I’ll buy ’em if you’ll plant ’em.”
We returned with eight tomato plants, one bell pepper, four jalapeños, Portulaca flowers and 40 lb. of potting soil. Not the truckload I’d envisioned, but considering the depth of my commitment, it was a start.
Terri planted everything, checking with me for placement and light needs.
Later that afternoon, when Terri had gone off with friends, I went out to get some fresh air. I noticed how weedy and ragged the yard looked beyond Terri’s little garden. So with gloves and my few tools I went out and hacked at the hackberries.
I also picked up trash and doggie-do, and after a sweaty hour the overgrown yard looked much better. I hosed down the patio and went in to take a shower.
Each time I looked out I was amazed at how nice it looked, with hanging begonias, geraniums, the tomatoes and peppers and promise of more flowers, and the neater lawn. I had invested about an hour-and-a-half of my weekend.
If I can’t do something just right I usually don’t do it at all. I’m intimidated by the big blank canvas, the recipe with too many ingredients. It’s false economy; the saved time isn’t necessarily put to better use.
Terri’s garden still had a few weeds. Twenty-two years later I don’t even remember if it thrived or shriveled. For a little while we had a garden.
Of course some activities do require precision, care and commitment: surgery, pilot-training, bridge-building come to mind. But if it’s a choice between a weed patch and a weedy garden, I’ll share the weeding, watering and (if we’re lucky) the harvesting with Terri.
We had a burning bowl ceremony the last church service of 2013, writing things to be rid of in the New Year on slips of paper and burning them. Afterwards I told the minister, “I think I wrote the same thing last year.”
My paper said “Struggling with time.”
Starting my fifth year of retirement, I’m finding a rhythm. Despite wanting to sleep late every day at first, now I find I’m more productive waking to soft classical music at a reasonable 7:30 (I rose at 5 when I was working). It’s nice to putter around making coffee, writing morning pages or meditating, rather than racing to make up for time spent in bed.
But there never will be enough hours in the day, and I’m still frustrated by my lack of focus. In addition to all I’m already doing—poetry, writing, knitting, time with grandchildren, household projects—there are other pursuits I want to try.
Quilting has long attracted me, but sitting at a sewing machine seems too much like work. I considered hand quilting, which has more appeal. But one day I was trying to figure a way to repurpose a pair of guest towels given to me years ago, and realized I want to try hand appliqué! Found one book at the library but have only flipped through it.
One day on a walk I was puzzling through this dilemma of too many interests and too little time. Encountering a dead bird—or its parts, the head being separated from the body—
I thought about an artist who paints dead animals, tiny bird bones and the like. That reminded me of a blogger who highlights cutting-edge embroiderers, one of whom stitches birds.
All this came together in my mind, saying “Go back to the beginning. Go back to drawing. Just draw for a while, and don’t plan what to do after that.” I took many drawing classes toward my art degree. The teachers said “Draw every day.”
When I cleaned up my studio/office in last month I joked that someone in this house ought to take up art, because we have supplies: pencil, charcoal, pastel, oil pastel, markers, water-color pencils, paint, ink, and appropriate paper. My husband gave me a book, “The Yoga of Drawing,” that I’ve barely cracked. That would be a start, maybe with the dead bird.
So that is my “plan.” But: there are knitting and sewing projects pending; always newspapers, books and magazines to read; a Netflix movie growing mold; poems needing revision, and I should be submitting poems for publication. A stack of old family albums to scan and return to my niece. Book ideas. Recipes to try. Most important, grand-kid time.
An elderly friend once said, when I told her I was overwhelmed during a move, “Be thankful you have too much to do.” She is gone now.
Technically I was 8 1/2. We had been in the U.S. for about six weeks and it was the first New Year’s I remember, the first one I stayed up to greet, 1954.
My mother had quickly become friends with another English woman, who invited us to their party. I remember almost nothing of the evening but it remains a treasured New Year’s memory.
The other “best” was 1995, when my husband and I had been dating about three months. He had a murder mystery gig at a hotel in Fort Worth. Afterwards the manager sent a bottle of champagne to the cast table. I wore a borrowed black cocktail dress, there was a band, and we danced. Later, I did my first (and only) karaoke, “Leader of the Pack” with two other women. It was terrible, but great fun, both of which I attribute to the champagne.
The absolute worst New Year’s was 2001, when Gary had another gig, this time a private party that I attended with him. We left before midnight “to beat the drunks,” but we were hit by a pickup running a red light, totaling our car and sending us both to the ER, where we greeted the millennium on side-by-side gurneys. We got home at 5 a.m., lucky to be only slightly injured, but the repercussions (physical, psychological and financial) continued for months. We ultimately had to get an attorney to reach a settlement from, yes, I’ll name the insurance company: USAA.
The year before, with the Y2K “scare,” a friend joined us to celebrate in the condo hot tub with a bottle of bubbly.
I’ve missed many New Year’s celebrations, including a couple (1990 and 2008) when I was deathly ill, once with the flu and the other with a violent stomach virus. The best “miss” was Savannah in 2012. After dinner and a bottle of wine at Paula Deen’s restaurant we went back to our b&b to rest, intending to go back out. I awoke with the clock reading 12:00, wondering why it was so quiet, then the fireworks and horns began. We didn’t get up.
Lately we stay home and don’t even last till midnight. This year we’ll have Chloe overnight. I’ll let her stay up, but at age seven she probably won’t make it till midnight. We’ll go to a couple of New Year’s Day parties.
Saying goodbye to a mostly very good year, I am putting my blog on hiatus for a short while. I have some deadline projects, including the print publicity for the next Paradox Players show, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks; I am about six months late in getting out a condo newsletter (not that anyone but me is counting); and being OCD I am desperate to do a massive cleaning and reorganization of the house. We are coming up on 15 years in the condo, the longest I’ve ever lived in one house. I believe God intended us to move every five years, so it’s time to pretend we’re moving and do a major purge. I even have a sage-sweetgrass bundle to smudge and purify afterwards. I’m hoping for a year of music, poetry, travel, good health and new experiences.
I also plan to refresh and redesign my blog. In the meantime, thank you for reading the ups and downs (mostly ups) of “Radical Retirement.” I wish everyone a healthy, happy and blessed 2014.