Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fateful Girlfriend Meetings

One day three girlfriends left work for a nice lunch at a charming little restaurant. They were full of news. One brought pictures of a recent family wedding. Another, who had gone through a painful divorce, brought pictures of her daughter's graduation and talked of how she and her ex-husband had bought their daughter a car and were spending lots of happy times together as a family. The third had the best news of all. She was leaving her job and her family home with her two children to have a beautiful wedding and move to a brand new house they were building in New Orleans. There was a bit of happy competition in that lunch. A few short weeks later, the first friend lost her son in a tragic death. The second friend discovered her ex had met someone new and was to be remarried. I've always wondered how things turned out for the third friend.

Many years ago, two friends met at the local Dairy Queen. One friend had left college to go to beauty school. She was engaged to a boy in Viet Nam but had fallen madly in love with her neighbor in a guilty summer romance while he was home from college. The other friend was madly in love, too, and was vowing to marry the boy she loved in spite of her parents' disapproval. Those friends met again online after more than 40 years and the thing they both remembered and wondered about was that last meeting at the Dairy Queen.

Three childhood friends got together a year or so ago and compared notes. One was a single mom with two little children and was about to be married to her new love, one was about to have her first baby but was not getting married. The third was in love, too, and living in her adopted country of Chile. She returned to Chile just in time for a terrible earthquake but her worried friends were finally able to find out she was OK through Facebook. Time will determine the fate of the other two friends.

It is fun to get together with friends and talk of your plans, but remember these fateful meetings. Life has a way of surprising us.

The Bed by the Window

Did you ever hear of the story "The Bed by the Window"? My friend mentioned it years ago in reference to a sermon she heard. It intrigued me so much that I searched for it. Finally, I found the story on the internet, but it was much darker than I expected. Recently, I found out why. Apparently this story was considered a cliche before I was even born. The original short story by Allan Seager was published under the title, "The Street" in Vanity Fair magazine in 1934. In 1946, the plot turned up in a book called, "101 Plots Used and Abused."

In the story, two wounded veterans occupy adjoining cots in a hospital. Both are bed-ridden but one man has a view of the window. He recounts stories to the other man about the wonderful happenings outside. Eventually, the first man dies and the second man begs for the bed by the window. When he is finally transferred there, he looks out to see only a blank brick wall. In the darker version, the second man actually kills or fails to get help for the first man so that he can get the coveted bed. Ironically, he kills his own source of joy. There are so many versions of this story that it is now considered an urban legend.

This also makes me think of a Twilight Zone episode. At least I think it was Twilight Zone but I have been unable to find it. A soldier is killed in battle and his buddy comes to his home to meet and talk to his family. Apparently this soldier told everyone of a wonderful childhood and described all the people he knew. When his buddy gets there he finds mean, angry people and a slum in the city where the two street signs on the corner make up the name of the soldier's imaginary home town.

What are we doing when we blog but sharing our own unique visions? In our own heads, the stories we tell ourselves may be all that is left when time and fate change our outside views. Society highly values and rewards those who can look at the blank wall and tell us wonderful stories. Meanwhile, I enjoy hearing your stories and sharing my own with you.


Here is my entry for Magpie Tales #30. Follow the link to see the other entries.
I can never sleep late at the beach. A small crack of light peeks through the blinds. Everyone else is sleeping. I quietly slip out of bed and grab my new magazine and an apple. Outside, I find a deck chair and watch the gray water heaving forward on the white sand and retreating again. It sounds as if the world is breathing. Seagulls soar above calling raucously. Soon I will start the coffee. We'll take a walk along the beach and go out for breakfast. The long weekend stretches ahead. The sky begins to turn pink. . .
It is a warm Indian Summer afternoon. The sun is shining through the shifting leaves of red and yellow. I can hear the creek trickling over the rocks. I sit on the wooden steps of the front porch. The sun is warm but the breeze is chilly. A pot of spicy gumbo simmers on the stove inside. I feel hungry thinking about it. I put down my magazine and grab a fresh-picked apple from the basket. I stroll down the path toward the river where the children are wading along the shore. I can hear them laughing. . .
It is my first morning in a beautiful stone villa overlooking the sea. It is dark and cool inside. I open the shutters to the brilliant sun and bright blue sky. Sailboats bob in the sparkling water below. I go out to the little wrought iron table on my private balcony with an apple and an American magazine thinking of the adventure that awaits me. . .
I'm jolted out of my thoughts as the phone rings at my elbow. The gray walls of my cubicle close around me. I sigh and toss the apple core and the empty sandwich bag into the trash can. Lunch break is over.

perfect moment

I spent many years working in a cubicle, being somewhere I didn't really want to be for 8 hours a day. Even though I was blessed to have several great jobs over my lifetime and found satisfaction in my work and made lifelong friends, like many other people I always craved the luxury of time, solitude and nature all around me.

I was inspired to write a description of my perfect moment by "Wishcraft", a book written by Barbara Sher. Check out where you can actually read the book online. I think it is Chapter 3, "Wishing" where I read other people's descriptions of their perfect day. I enjoyed writing what turned out to be more like my perfect moment. I looked at it every day and always found it soothing and inspiring. I also hung pictures from the "Out on the Porch" calendar all around my windowless cubicle and found them very comforting as well.

I had to recreate the perfect moment from memory since I have not been able to find the box where it is stored since our last move. Doesn't matter. I remember it well and have visited it many times in my imagination with friends and family members who might be far away or even gone forever.

I looked for stock photos of mountain cabins, but I could find nothing that matched my imagination so well as my friend's actual cabin in Kentucky. It seems she is living my fantasy even though when we met she was the Big City Career Girl and I was the one who wanted to live in the woods. Life is full of surprises. My friend's blog is listed here on my blog. She is a crafter of beautiful handmade soap and skin products at I imagine she will be surprised if she visits my blog and sees pictures of her own house.

Perfect Moment

I am on the wooden deck of a mountain cabin. Sun light is filtering through the leaves above. It is warm and still and the sound of chirping insects fills the air. There are two deck chairs, some potted plants and a small table on the deck. A cat is sleeping in one of the chairs. Inside the cabin is dim and cool and a pot of stew is simmering on the stove. A small creek trickles below and runs into a cool, clear river further down. I hear laughter from that direction. I will be joining the others soon, but right now I am working on my laptop computer. A deadline and a pay check are waiting, but the work is going well and I am almost finished.

In the distance, I see someone walking toward me. As she gets close, I am surprised to see my old friend. "Don't worry," she says, "others will come." She comments on my tan skin and slender figure. Laughing and talking quietly, we inspect the garden and stroll down the path toward the river.

Sweet Spot

After bouncing around like a frantic roulette ball for most of my life, I have landed. Life has become a cycle of small pleasures. I wonder about the meaning. Why these people? Why this place? It doesn't really matter. This is it. I don't feel the need to get somewhere. I am here. Now I want to maixmize on what is here: organize a corner, learn a new skill, find a way to volunteer. As for whatever is in store for me, I am not afraid. I do want to be healthy as long as possible so I can be around in 10 years - 20? to see how my grandchildren have grown up. Small pleasures, small ambitions perhaps, but my joy and gratitude are large.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Step 1 - Admitted I Was Powerless ...

Photo by author

Let me tell you a story. I was divorced from my ex-husband but I still loved him. We lived only a few miles apart and we had a daughter together. Even after the divorce was final, we kept spending time together. It seemed to me that things were better than ever between us because I had become a wiser and even a happier person after the initial grieving and misery of the separation. I had joined a support group mainly to complain, but instead I had learned some new ways of looking at things. I made friends and went to work and took care of my daughter, but all the while I believed that he would come back to me.

One day we were on a fishing trip. As a little girl who was starved for male attention and a happy family life, I had yearned for outings like the ones I had with my ex-husband. He grew up on a Florida riverbank in his back yard, teaching himself to fish and camp and water ski. He had a natural joy in living that I lacked. It seemed to me that he held the key to all the things I had missed out on as a child.

So this one day we were fishing in a little boat under the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Tampa Bay. We were anchored near one of the pillars of the bridge. There was only one other boat nearby. Occasionally a fish jumped out of the water or a bird skimmed near the surface or some insect buzzed near my face. The sun was warm but there was a cool breeze. The water sparkled and the waves gently rocked our boat. I settled back in my seat with a cold drink.

First, my ex-husband threw out a cast net to catch "white bait", small little fish that he put in the live well of the boat where the water was circulating. He then put a little live fish on a hook and cast toward some rocks where he said a big fish might be hiding. I said a little prayer that he might catch a fish. It would put him in such a good mood.

I was very surprised to hear him complain and cast again. He explained to me that the little fish on the hook was swimming away from the rocks. I had assumed that little fish was dead as soon as he was hooked, but he was still alive and still trying to avoid his fate. He was doomed, but he didn't know it.

All afternoon, various bait fish took their turns trying to avoid the big fish hiding in the rocks. Other fish jumped trying to catch the insects flying near the water. The man in the boat tried to catch the big fish and the woman in the boat dreamed of getting the man to come back home to her. High above, cars headed one direction or another over the huge bridge on their own errands and big planes flew overhead to exotic destinations.

The man didn't catch any fish that day. Sometime later, the same month our daughter graduated High School, he started dating someone else and in less than a year he was remarried.

What happened to me? I kept seeing my friends, going to work and taking care of my daughter. Fortunately, I had learned a new way of looking at things that helped me through. I am happily remarried myself today and our daughter is grown with children of her own. We are all friends.

The lesson? Every creature that walks or crawls or swims or flies has an agenda of its own. No one can make anyone do anything they don't want to do, even if they say they will. So spend your energy on your own life. Learn and work and have fun. Live and let live. Love everyone you can -- even the ones who don't love you back. Someone even wrote a poem about it.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Feeling Our Feelings

Drawing by Jill

I'm not a child psychologist, but I have learned a few lessons about handling emotions. Like many people in my generation, my family was dysfunctional and the lesson I learned from my mother was to put up a good front for the neighbors. My mother was a wonderful woman who worked hard as a professional when many women did not have jobs outside the home. She was also a very loving and caring mother doing the best that she could. That meant getting up every morning with a smile on her face and getting to work on time and taking care of business.

As her daughter, I had a little trouble with the concept. I had trouble smiling and acting like everything was fine when it wasn't at all. I developed a lifelong resentment for what seemed to be arbitrary rules. What difference did it make if you were a few minutes late for school after a traumatic night at home? I was a good student. The attitudes I developed were subtle. I was a good girl. I smiled and was friendly and respectful to the teachers. But I had a problem with punctuality my entire life. I also grew up with emotions that seemed like freight trains to me. They had already roared by before I even knew they were coming.

After learning many things about myself much later in life, I instinctively try to help my grandchildren learn to deal with their emotions. I didn't help my own children that much, but now I can try to make a difference with a new generation of little hearts.

One granddaughter especially touches my heart on this subject. She is seven going on thirty. She is very smart and has always seemed much wiser than her years. She was starting to read when she just turned three and was especially good at recognizing logos. We were attending my daughter's baby shower where my granddaughter was "helping" to open the presents. "Oh," she exclaimed as the paper was torn away from the box, "It's from Walmart!" Everyone was impressed, but that changed to shock when she sang a popular song from the radio a little later, complete with dance moves and lyrics that were more suitable for bar than a baby shower.

This little girl, through no fault of her own, has been exposed to many heart rending situations. Once, when she was about four, she called my phone number and said, "Grandma, do you know where I am?" She was supposed to be spending time with her mother at a nearby motel. My son and I found the room and there she was. The situation was not good, but she still cried when we took her away. We took her home to a safe place, but we couldn't protect her from heartache.

She spent the night with me as she had numerous times before, but this time she couldn't sleep. She was too worried. Finally, we both got up in the early dawn and I got us two pieces of cake. We sat down at the kitchen table and she wiped her tears away.

"Sometimes little girls just miss their mothers," I told her. She nodded her head and finished her cake and we went back to bed. Somehow, just acknowledging her feelings made her feel better. It is perfectly normal to be upset when bad things happen, but things will get better.

Today, she is a happy, smart little girl who has many friends, is doing great in school, and still has to deal with more difficult situations than most children. She is brutally honest and sometimes her stepmother and I have to coach her to refrain from commenting on uncomfortable social situations. I think the catch word "Awkward!" describes many of her remarks.

Last Mother's Day she told me in her typical way, "Happy Mother's Day, Grandma, even though you are not my mother and I am not your daughter."

I smiled and said, "You are the daughter of my heart!"

She thought about that and said, "True."

Attitudes about Money

Photo by author

I have been thinking about money. I grew up in the 60's and believed that the pursuit of material wealth was crass and selfish. You know, love, peace and brotherhood. At the same time, I was spoiled and enjoyed buying things but not working at a job. I was proud of my mother who had a career, but I wanted only a creative, flexible, artistic job. I even told my mother one time that her job wasn't "real." All she did was punch a time clock (which I despised) and shuffle papers (medical records). A real job was writing a novel, creating art, building a house or growing food and feeding animals. Creating something or taking care of something seemed to be the only important things to me, but I didn't spend much time doing any of those things either.

I have always had a sense of guilt for the things I had (all those starving children in the third world), but I have also allowed myself to be impressed by those who had more money than I and therefore better clothes, cars, and haircuts, nicer homes, more security, travel, and education. I have worked hard not to be envious of other people's success, but I do allow myself to feel that I have failed sometimes. So, I can't win. I feel guilty for what I have and a bit like a failure for not figuring out how to have more.

Bad choices didn't help. I remember the exact moment I woke in the middle of the night and realized I was responsible for myself and my two-year-old son. My husband was gone and I had an interesting, but low paying job and an old car my mother bought me. "How did I get here?" I wondered. Even though I was a good student, I had dropped out of college when my boyfriend broke up with me. Then I married someone who was even more unprepared and immature than I was.

Over the years that followed, I made endless budgets and worked at a series of jobs but I was always broke. For a long time, my average stay at a job was about 1 year. I was lucky to find a trade since I had never finished college. I became a typesetter, training on the job and riding the crest of emerging computer technology.

Along the way, I found myself in a few great jobs:
  • The small town newspaper where I worked on the "dump" replacing lead correction lines in galleys of type and proofreading, and where I was chosen to learn the new computer system when they switched to "cold type".
  • The big city business magazine where I worked on the top floor of a beautiful old historic building with writers and editors and artists and managed a one-person typesetting department for two publications.
  • The international typesetting development and manufacturing company where I started as a software tester with no clue about either software or testing and where I eventually became involved with almost every aspect of software development, marketing and customer support for that company. I traveled for the first time in my life and made some wonderful friends and experienced what I like to think of as my own personal 15 minutes of fame.
  • The huge telecommunications firm where I managed software releases on mainframe computers and made a pretty decent salary and met my current husband.
I am proud of those accomplishments and yet a big part of me wonders if I ever really accomplished anything of lasting value.

I married my husband late in life and together we made a series of new financial mistakes. I have two words for young working people - ROTH IRA. Well, I guess that is one word and an acronym. Pay your taxes while you are working so you can withdraw your own money tax free after you retire. Just saying. BTW, I am not a tax accountant so get some professional advice about that stuff.

I remember saying many times when I contemplated retirement and knew that I had not saved much money that I would probably have to work the rest of my life. It never occurred to me that I might not be able to find a job even if I wanted to. Now I realize what an arrogant little twirp I was and how liberating and dignified it is to earn your own money at any old job so you can be able to take care of yourself and your responsibilities. My mother knew as an orphan growing up in a children's home that she would have to take care of herself and that is what she did. She managed to take good care of her children and grandchildren, too. I'm sorry, Mom, for not always appreciating you.

Now I spend my days doing creative things and taking care of people I love. My life is meaningful but I am still broke. I have recently found an interesting part-time job. Hopefully, this blog will be a record for my children and grandchildren to see. I pray that they learn from my experience and they find something they love to do and someone they love to be with. Or, as my mother once said when I complained, "Just use me as a terrible example."

Days of Green

 Photo by author

I started keeping a daytimer at work to keep track of meetings and appointments about 20 years ago. Gradually, I added family and school events and cute little things the children did or said. Finally I started making a note every day of something special that set the day apart. I started highlighting the different events in different colors to keep them straight. Appointments in yellow, for instance, and special events in green.

My favorite "green events" were spontaneous and happy moments. On special days the little block allowed for the day would overflow with green. My favored format is the Month-at-a-Glance Daytimer with a whole month of little squares on a double-page spread. I began to accumulate a pile of daytimers and it was fun to look back and see what I was doing exactly one year or two years ago. Sometimes I looked up the date we bought a new appliance or had the last dental checkup. Some days were sad and blank with a little black dot in the corner. Those were days that didn't need a notation to remember such as the day my mother died.

After my aunt died unexpectedly, I was able to look back in my books and remember all the fun things we had done together. Sometimes when I was waiting for a phone call or something, I would play a little game. I would choose the best green day of the month. Or the best green day of the year. Well, you get the idea.

A long running soap opera starts with the saying, "Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives." If we fail to note the little things that make our days unique, they run together in memory until much of our lives are lost.

I still keep my daytimer but I don't write in it every day any more. Now I have a blog. My blog is like a photo album, journal and pen pal club all rolled together. A couple of years ago I started creating a collage of photographs to show the highlights of the past year - sort of a visual Year-At-A-Glance. I publish it on my blog every New Year's day.

Maybe you think you don't have much to say but imagine how much a diary from an ancestor would mean to your family. Blogs can be downloaded to disks or printed out in a book to keep forever. Start recording the days of your live and you could create a family masterpiece some day.

Time Travel

Written in response to the above photo prompt from writing blog: Magpie Tales

The stars roll around the heavens, the earth turns as it circles the sun. The universe moves inevitably toward its destiny. Perhaps it will expand forever until it is cold and empty. Or it might crash back onto itself only to explode again in unimaginable violence. Perhaps there are an infinite number of parallel universes where each choice we make branches into a new reality. And still, time moves on. Einstein said that time and space are intertwined, that time slows down as you approach the speed of light. I have heard that our concept of time doesn't exist at all and is only the invention of man, that everything that will ever happen has already taken place. I am fascinated and awed by these ideas and by the idea of time travel.

I remember reading in a comic book about Superman flying around the earth so fast that time turned backwards. I also remember clearly when I first saw the movie "Back to the Future". It was 1991 because I was about to attend my 25 year high school reunion. I loved all the twists and turns that travelling back in time created. Near the end, the hero was leaving and the girl who was to be his mother said to herself, "Marty - that's a nice name." And so ... he was named after himself. I took a long walk after the movie thinking about time travel and my upcoming high school reunion. I wished I could know the future.

Well, I've done a little time traveling since then. Forward, which is the only way we know for sure that time can flow. It has been almost 20 years since I took that walk. I went through a painful divorce, I had to change my career, my children grew up, my mother died. I wonder what I might have done differently if I could have seen the future that day.

Well, I would have made some different career choices at that crucial turning point. I wish I hadn't chosen to refinance my house. The main thing I wish is that I was kinder, more patient, with my mother and my children, more accepting of other people and their choices - even if I didn't understand those choices. I would focus more on my own life and the options I had control over and less on trying to make other people change to meet my expectations. This sounds a lot like the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Guess what? I had no idea where this post was going when I started!