Anne Notations

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sacred dance

This afternoon it was warm and windy. The bay was deep teal crowned with whitecaps as Daisy and I walked toward the public beach. There were few sunbathers or swimmers; scudding clouds and the choppy surf kept the usual crowds away.

As we neared the main part of the beach, I noticed a brace of seagulls riding the offshore winds some 25 feet aloft. They didn't need to flap their wings to stay up; they rode like kites, buoyed by the breeze, so that they appeared stationary. Just below them, a woman – not young – smiled broadly as she waved her outstretched arms toward the floating gulls. She hopped rhythmically from one foot to the other, her face tipped skyward in wonder, her dark limbs and pale-gray tunic rippling in a spontaneous dance of joy.

Oh! To be utterly in the moment like that woman; to dance in the cooling wind; to reach upward toward feathered riders in the sky. She was seeing with fresh eyes what I scarcely notice every single day here at the beach. She exulted!

So should we all. Look up, feel the wind, dance with happiness, say "hooray" for birds and for being alive, say "Amen."

Hooray! Amen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tanned and well-read

Tans are a health risk, yet here I am, well tanned and loving it. Mine is a gardener's tan, golden-brown except for the white spaces representing tank tops, shorts, and Crocs.

My enforced vacation from work has had an upside: being home during a summer of unusually spectacular weather, being outside where I love to be. Also, for the first time in years the house is in pretty good order – no clutter accumulating in my little home office/sunroom, which stayed buried in Stuff for most of our first four years here until I cleaned it almost to the bare walls this spring. I tidy the living room and kitchen before heading to bed every night so that when I come down each morning, I like what I see and have that feeling of ahhh that a clean, neat living space evokes.

It's mostly about feeling in control of some portions of my life. Pulling out incipient weeds that poke through the mulch is like casting demons from a holy space. Pinching sucker shoots from the crotches of my tomato plants is performing life-enhancing surgery, and I have the sweet little fruits to prove it. One of our dogs now responds to my voice commands, after months of training him to "Come," to drop that forbidden dead crab "Out!" of his mouth, to "Leave it!" when we walk by something yucky or even see another dog on the walking path, to instantly drop "Down" and stay there as I prepare food in the kitchen. I did that; I taught that sweet dog to obey.

Since May I've taught Melinda and Kevin to drive, with all the nerve-racking excursions that implies. I've done freelance work, too.

Most recently, I've decided to address some of my physical complaints by trying a low-sugar, gluten-free diet with the accent on lots of dark green vegetables, plain Greek yogurt, fish, chicken, eggs, rice crackers, and nuts. Already I've lost six pounds and cleared up my chronic IBS. Even my complexion looks better. At Dr. Crisafulli's office yesterday, my blood pressure was a lovely 130 over 74. I'm not thinking of this as a "diet" at all, no sir, because I always fail at "diets". It's a way of eating that takes into account my body's sensitivities.

Michael and I have been relaxing and having some fun together on his visits home. After 36 years of marriage, I still get that flutter when his car pulls into the driveway. I still run to kiss him when he walks in the front door. I describe him as "hot" – in the good, modern sense. Not a bad thing for two old geezers, eh?

Speaking of "old," I recently finished a novel, Emily, Alone, by a favorite writer, Stewart O'Nan. It's a sequel to his earlier book, Wish You Were Here. We catch up with Emily Maxwell, a cultured, self-reflective widow in her 70s, living alone (save for an aging dog) in the family home in Pittsburgh. Emily and the late Henry's children and grandchildren live in other parts of the country, and she has come to rely on her sister-in-law, Arlene, not only for companionship but also to give her rides – Henry's huge old boat of a car being too intimidating for Emily to attempt driving. Emily and Arlene's friends, many of them in their 80s and 90s, are dropping like flies, and attending funerals has become a staple of their social life. Over and over, mortality stares Emily in the face.

I like this book and read it quickly, which puzzles me now because not much really happens in it. It is a book about characters with only the barest of plots to move the reader along to the end. O'Nan does a remarkable job of getting into an older woman's head and heart; Emily has her quirks and stubbornness, but you end up liking her and wanting good things to happen. During the course of the book, she reviews events in her life, plans for her eventual death and the disposal of her house and belongings, and works earnestly at maintaining relationships with her difficult, recovering-alcoholic daughter Margaret and her calm, Henry-like son Kenneth.

I'm not sure this is a book for everyone, but as I plod along toward my 60th birthday this fall, I found much in it that made me nod in recognition, wince in apprehension, and stop to review the course of my own life and what it may be like 10 and 15 years from now. Certainly women of middle age and older would find it a rewarding read. I never hesitate to recommend O'Nan's work, and I can say the same now for Emily, Alone.

O'Nan's ability to write sympathetically from the viewpoint of an older female protagonist reminds me of Jon Hassler's lovely fiction series about Agatha McGee, a crisp spinster living in the fictional small town of Staggerford, Minnesota. Agatha turns out to be far more complex and interesting than her starchy Catholic persona would suggest: she takes in outcasts, travels alone to Ireland, and carries on a long-distance love affair with a man who is not what he seems. If you'd like to meet Agatha, start with Staggerford (which sets the stage in brilliant, plot-rich fashion), then read A Green Journey and finally (and least, in my opinion), Dear James.

I have quite the stack of books I'm mowing through this summer – another blessing of this interval between jobs. Reading is perhaps my oldest, most constant friend on this life journey. Thank God for writers who transcend gender and genre to take us inside everyday people's lives to remind us both of our universal human condition and of each individual's complexity and worth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm trying

At the end of May, what was to have been a year-long freelance contract job ended abruptly after only three months. The news came to me not during a meeting or by telephone, but in a formal letter delivered by the USPS to our house. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. To say I was personally hurt would, alas, be true.

In addition to a monthly paycheck and the allure of the book project itself, a casualty of my second job loss in less than a year was a related ten-day trip to Russia planned for last month. I have the brand-new passport to prove it. That's me: all rubber-stamped (albeit looking like a grim Russian mobstress) and nowhere to go.

Setbacks hit me harder these days. I seem to lack the resilience I took for granted when I was younger. The job losses have been more than humbling; they have stolen my confidence and professional self-image. A nasty critic in my brain now sneers, "You're worthless! You're a fraud. A loser. No one will hire you. No one should hire you!" My heart, faltering, responds, "I know. I'm too tired for this crap."

Worse, to me, has been my increasing tendency to respond to people, to life, with undisguised cynicism. To be sarcastic and snarky.

I don't want to be that sour woman! I'm making an effort to ditch her. In the last two days I've apologized to both of our at-home kids for specific moments of verbal unkindness. I am determined to be mindful of the power of words and tone, to respect and cherish the people I love in my deeds as I do in my thoughts.

Mother Nature has done her best to help me out from under my gloomy cloud. Over the past several weeks we have had a string of near-perfect June and July summer days. My gardens have erupted with flowers, tomatoes, herbs, and shrubbery. For weeks in June the aroma of wild roses and honeysuckle drifted our way from the vacant fields across the road; I inhaled huge gulps, high on the sweetness. Small sailboats dance on Greenwich Bay, sometimes with bright spinnakers bellying before them. Yogi and I have been swimming in the bay just a short stroll down the dead-end road; he loves to fetch anything I throw for him, plowing through the small waves. After the sun sets, the evening breeze is like silk on my bare, tanned arms.

People have stepped forward, too. In the past month I've heard from some old friends, and I mean 40-years-ago old. Through our shared memories I've recalled my younger, eager self. At first the contrast with "now" was sobering, but I ended up finding hope in that earlier me.

Meanwhile, an upside of being home so much is that I've become friendlier with several of our neighbors, older women with spunk and wisdom who lift me out of my funks on a regular basis with their wit and generosity. Not least, about a month ago when I thought I was (literally) losing my mind, friends at a distance stepped up by phone and email to listen and to sympathize. Bless the goodness of people. I am lucky in my friends, including those whom I've never met but who have shared their lives with me via Internet for many, many years.

Caroline has been over several times, most recently to spend the night on July 1 when Warwick held its annual fireworks display on our beach. She is five now, a "graduate" of preschool and headed to kindergarten in the fall. Her passions are bugs, dinosaurs, and dresses – and our two dogs. When she said to me the next morning, "Nana, I love your house. I love the dogs. I love you", I felt my heart melt.

Caroline and Yogi at our beach in June.

To follow up on my last post: I'm still keeping up with the kitchen sink. Between cleaning it every night before I go to bed, and getting the kids in the habit of putting stuff in the dishwasher daily, the room looks better. Which helps me feel better.

Heavy "traffic" on our street, 4th of July weekend.

I've been networking and applying for jobs. No interviews (and one kiss-off) to date, but seeking employment is a process rather than an event. Right now I'm freelancing a bit – small projects. It's a way to use my skills and remind myself that they have value in the marketplace.