It’s that time of year again, and I am already two days behind. So, the theme I am choosing for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge is Imperfection. I have two partially finished blogs for A and B, and I am going to post them as they are, unfinished and imperfect. That’s what I have time for.
I haven’t been writing much lately. I haven’t been doing many of the things that I used to do. Instead, I’ve been exploring new parts of the world with new people. It’s been an amazing adventure, and I would like to figure out how to merge this new part of my life with the older parts, the parts that have sustained me, the parts like writing that feel so integral to who I am.
Maybe, by the end of the month, I will have a collection of incomplete and imperfect musings. Perhaps I will write my way to the end of one of these before April is over. I just want to get them out there. I just want to write. I want the circles of my life to align.
Home is where the heart is. Home is where you hang your hat. Home is that place where when you go there, they have to let you in. There’s no place like home.
You can never go home again.
I have been thinking about home a lot of late. What it means, where it is, where it has been.
The other night, I stayed in a campground less than five miles from one of my childhood homes, across the street from a church (now a furniture store) my family called home for about a year (until the business administrator—who had a prior conviction for embezzlement—ran off with the money and that was that). To get here, I had to drive through a small town where I spent the bulk of my elementary school years.
As a kid, I lived in at least five different houses by the time I was ten. And then, by the time I was 18, four more. Between the ages of 18 and 23, something like 20 (college, roommates, etc.). And then, five different places between a divorce and buying the place, the home, house I lived in from 1998 until last August.
Now, my home, my shelter, is a 21-foot RV. Home is where ever we (and by we, I mean my van and I) happen to be on any particular night.
But is it? What is home and how do we know when we are there? I recently left Texas after an extended stay and headed “home,” having purchased said RV as I had planned. But home is where exactly? The Pacific Northwest? Oregon where my brother (and now our mother) lives? Whatcom County where I’ve been, more or less, since 1981? Bellingham where I once lived or Ferndale where I often land to stay with one of my BFFs? I truly enjoyed Austin and environs. I met lovely people, got to hang out with my daughter and her friends on occasion, got to spend time with my sweetie.
But then I felt the pull, the tug of the familiar. I needed a haircut and to see the doctor. Somehow it seemed easier to go home and take care of those things than to start all over in a new city. It’s one thing to shop in an unfamiliar grocery store, not knowing where the dairy aisle is, quite another to choose a stylist out of the blue and risk a bad haircut. Easier to drive 2000 miles in the winter, over snowy mountain passes than to figure out how to get new insurance and a new doctor. Easier to just go home.
“You have moss in your veins,” my friend Laura announced upon my arrival. “You had to come back home.”
I’ll admit, I did feel a qualitative difference in my bones as I crossed that boundary between east and west, from dry and arid to damp and green. For a minute there, as my pores plumped and the cracks in my skin soaked the moisture from the air, I did feel the moss course through my veins. But does that feeling indicate home? Is home a state of mind or a peace of mind, or both?
Am I more like a turtle who always has her house on her back or am I one of the “unhoused” (by choice, yes, but technically without shelter according to the US Census). I count myself extremely lucky to have been able to choose this lifestyle rather than find myself forced into it by unfortunate circumstances. Still, the idea of it messes with my head a bit.
So, here I am, boondocking in my RV, on a small mountain top, in the middle of my home state, not far from one of my childhood homes, contemplating what it means to “be home.”
Mom is moving next week. For the past six years, she’s lived the good life at a top-of-the-line Memory Care facility where she has watched friends come and go, die and “move around the corner” into more acute care as their dementia worsens. She’s maintained a sort of equilibrium since arriving, definitely on the slow train to full on incapacity, and that’s why she has to move. She’s out of money. She spent every last dime over the past six years on care so good, so top of the line, she has thrived. For someone with Alzheimer’s she’s pretty sharp, but not sharp enough. So, she and her dog Charlie are moving to a Medicaid facility in Oregon, nearer my brother. Thank god she can take the dog. Her life centers around that dog.
This afternoon I sprung her for an hour to show her my new RV—I showed her around, sat her down, and fired up the generator right there in the Memory Care parking lot so I could make her a cup of mint tea with sugar and milk. We sat and chatted. She admired the seats. I tried to keep the conversation on things she remembered, mainly the past, the grandkids, my brother and me. Mom talked often about getting an RV and traveling around the US in the years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but she never quite got going.
While I was growing up, my parents were always going. We moved around a lot when I was a teenager. I went to four high schools. So, when I moved to Bellingham to attend college, I planted myself. I completed my four years and immediately signed up for graduate school. Then, I met a woman who wanted to have children, so we did. I stayed through divorce, and bought myself a house, and remarried and divorced again. Meanwhile, kids graduated and went to college. Got married. Moved away. I went to college. Again. Graduated. Got an office. And then, spent two years working alone in my house.
That working alone for two years did some stuff to us all, didn’t it? I noticed my house in ways I hadn’t before. Noticed its slow decay, realized all it would cost me, money/time/effort to keep it limping along into my dotage. Decided I wasn’t up for that much commitment. To a house. Plus, I looked on Zillow. It was a good time to sell.
The money certainly was nice, but I also realized that my house had served its purpose—it had held me for 23 years, through many starts and stops and ups and downs. Many lives lived in those four walls, and that’s just me. I did a lot of growing up while I lived in that house—the bulk of my adulthood, 23 of my 58 years. I loved a lot of things about my house. And many things about it truly annoyed me. It was not the place in which I wished to grow old. That place is somewhere else. I don’t know where yet. I’m on an adventure.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. –Victor Frankl
For a species that has been gifted with the ability to name and express our feelings and needs, we humans sure are terrible at it. Instead of allowing ourselves to feel, we do everything in our power to not feel. We eat. We run. We nap. We bully. We hit, yell, scream. Withdraw. We reach for a bottle or a pill or an edible.
If we grew up getting the message that it’s not okay to have feelings and emotions, we might not even know what we are feeling at any given time, other than to know we don’t like it. I can remember being a very emotional 15-year-old (like most 15-year-old humans), and my dad saying to me “We do not have emotions is this house, young lady.” His solution was to take my concerns to Jesus through prayer. That solution never really worked for me, though I tried mightily. Others of you, Dear Reader, may have heard similar messages. Something like “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “boys don’t cry” or “big girls don’t pout.” All messages designed to help our caregivers/parents feel more comfortable but none of which did anything to get to the heart of the matter: what we were feeling and more importantly why and what could be done.
They have also published a list of needs to which we can refer when we are having feelings about unsatisfied needs. For example, if I wake up irritable, and I sink into a morning mood of anger and despair for no clear reason that I can determine on my own, I might look at the needs inventory in order to figure out what I need in order to change my feelings. What need is not being met?
I help clients walk through the process of identifying their feelings, encouraging them to sit with their emotions, to (as my own therapist used to tell me) invite the feelings in for tea and get to know them. I help my clients figure out what they need based on their identified feelings. We also work at sitting with the feelings, getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable and recognizing that feelings come and go and don’t actually hurt us. Feelings are based on thoughts and stories we create about those thoughts.
One example I use often and one that most people, especially Gen Z, seem to related to best is not getting a response when we send a text message. The most common assumption about text silence is that whomever we are waiting for a response from must hate us. Think about it . . . what assumptions and stories do you create when you don’t hear back after sending a text message? Some of us, a few, just figure their person is busy and get on with their day. Others struggle. Some people spiral and assume the absolute worst has happened: death, break ups, hatred, that somehow in the matter of a few minutes or an hour that they have lost the love of their nearest and dearest. Tragically and irrevocably.
We engage in this behavior because as human beings, we are wired for danger and anxiety. Anxiety kept us safe on the savannah. Worrying about danger, real or imagined, kept us from being eaten by lions or from being kidnapped by the strangers who live downriver. Our danger alert systems, our fight, flight, (fawn), and freeze responses are overly well-honed for this current world, and so overreact to smaller, non-life-threatening, perceived dangers.
Sometimes we seem to be held captive by these fears and anxieties, immobilized by imagined dangers. How can we overcome them? How can we learn to not make up stories and to not believe the worst-case scenarios that sometimes feel overwhelming?
Mindfulness helps. Meditation helps. Simple strategies such as slowing down enough to breathe when we start to have an uncomfortable feeling, giving ourselves enough time to choose our reaction. We can choose how to respond. If. We. Slow. Down. And when we have choices, we have power. We have control. We no longer feel like victims, buffeted by our emotions. We learn that we can feel uncomfortable feelings and not be undone by them. We can learn to not automatically think (and believe) the worst-case scenario.
But it takes practice.
Just like those I work with, I’m not always adept at being able to identify my own feelings and needs. Like most folks, I am eager to chase away the uncomfortable feelings—I’d rather not sit with anxiety or anger, bewilderment or burn-out. And like everyone else who is human, I get really good at developing strategies for not feeling my feelings.
One helpful strategy that nearly always works, I learned from Buddhist meditation teacher and psychologist/author Tara Brach. The technique is called RAIN and stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. In short, we first recognize we are having an uncomfortable feeling and we allow ourselves to feel it, instead of chasing it away, getting more comfortable with being (temporarily) uncomfortable. Eventually we learn that the discomfort will pass. Then we can create some space around the feeling and investigate it—how familiar is it? How big is it? When did we first feel it? How old is that feeling? Where in our bodies do we feel it? Focus on that part of our body and breathe into it. Ask yourself, what do I need in this moment to feel better?
Finally, we nurture ourselves. Hold our hand to our heart and press, releasing dopamine and oxytocin, happy hormones to counteract the adrenaline and cortisol the anxiety and fear produce. We can nurture ourselves.
We can learn that feelings come and feelings go and we don’t have to be held captive by them.
My best friends are nearly all in their late 70s and early 80s. My inner circle looks like a Geritol commercial, FFS. They all grew up when my parents did, but our age differences add a richness to our experiences. We feel like family. The good kind of family.
We step up and step in for each other, we seek one another’s wisdom, and rely on each other for early morning drop-offs at the airport. For a civilized midday meal in good company to talk books and to swill vast quantities of wine. For helpful and honest feedback on the pages often tentatively offered up for critique. For constantly rescuing me, for cheering me on, for pushing me forward, for celebrating, and for mourning with me. For allowing me to just be myself. For providing sanctuary and wise counsel, for having all the sports channels and for loving pizza and beer.
It’s been a rough couple of years, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to write that all of my elders, my wise women, my friends came through. We have weathered this storm so far, to this sliver of land for a moment. We have problem-solved, Zoomed, healed from all sorts of maladies, most of them pretty damn serious, too. Prayed for one another, listened, helped, hawked my personal belongings to strangers for top dollar at my garage sale. Fed each other. Waved goodbye and hugged hello.
Two of my friends have this print in their living room, of four dogs sitting, forward-facing all, in a red rowboat. One dog, rope in her mouth, swims in front, pulling her friends in their boat, called Friendship.
We often laugh and remark on this print. How life imitates art. I am the dog with the rope in her mouth. I am pulling my boatful of elders. And they are sustaining me.
It took us two days of driving to finally make it out of Texas. The first leg took us from Austin to Cap Rock State Park, just south of Amarillo and amid “several small herds of small bison,” according to my traveling companion.
We split the driving equally. I took the first leg, she the second. I don’t remember who was driving when we careened into the Underwood’s parking lot for legendary BBQ and cherry cobbler. Ala Mode. We earned it. Winds gusted the entire first day of driving, buffeting the RV like grandma’s bloomers on the clothesline, and making for a very noisy, very taxing time behind the wheel. Never mind that Texas highways generally do not have medians or guardrails or really anything to prevent violent head-on collisions. Never mind that one minute we’re cruising along at 80 mph and suddenly there’s a stoplight or someone turning left. Texas roadways are bonkers. Truly.
Alas, our schedule did not allow for much dilly or dally, languishing or loitering, so we pressed on the next morning after a quick drive around the park to gaze upon the red rock canyons and meandering beasties before heading into downtown Quitaque (KIT tee-kway), TX, for breakfast at the local coffee shop. I bought a t-shirt that says “Quitaque, TX” on a bison. Sated and properly caffeinated, we pointed the RV in the wrong direction and went an hour out of our way. But, as my friend Laura says, “Win a win, few a few.”
The winds died down, and we could hear each other enough to talk as we headed toward Colorado Springs. Gas mileage improved significantly (when we left Austin, gas was $3.09/gal), as did our moods, with the decreased winds and easier driving. That first day, I was a tiny bit concerned I had a very rattle-ish RV. This day, with very little wind, my fears abated. I had an RV with a normal amount of rattle.
We camped that second night at the base of Cheyenne Mountain—the home of NORAD. The views from our campsite were stunning: sweeping vistas of the city below, the great gray and snowy mountains lunging skyward directly behind us. The bathrooms were quite a hike from the campsite, but given that we’d been sitting on our asses for two days just driving out of Texas, a little walking wasn’t going to hurt us. And even though the bathrooms were a hike, they were also fairly new and well-maintained. Cheyenne Mountain State Park had only been a park since the early 2000s. We read about NORAD and said a little prayer before bed that the world leaders could all just get along for the next little bit.
The next day my niece and her boyfriend, who live just outside of Denver, told me that conspiracy theorists believe subterranean tunnels connect NORAD with Denver International Airport. And that big blue horse at the entrance to DIA, Blucifer? Not only did he kill his creator (he did, google it), but he also has something to do with the tunnels. Apparently.
From there we had just a short hop to the Holiday Inn Express at the Denver International Airport where she went back to Austin and I continued on toward Jackson Hole and points North and West.
It’s a terrible time, gas-price-wise, to have just purchased an RV.
I am all out of conclusions. That may be an obvious conclusion to draw if you’ve read my previous two blog posts for the A to Z Challenge. Generally, I write to figure out what I am thinking, but lately, I just cannot seem to wind my way to a conclusion.
I know it is a virtue of age and maturity, as well as a sign of the times in which we live, but answers of any kind seem increasingly elusive. Facts, even when verified, are rejected as untrue and flat out lies get promoted as capital T Truth. We increasingly live in an era of uncertainty, politically, economically, socially. And that uncertainty has crept in to my writing. As I try to find and then follow that thread that almost always appeared, I now question myself. My inner critic jabbers away at me as I type, eroding my confidence in what I used to think of as a surefire way to figure shit out.
One good friend reminds me on the regular that difficult or challenging experiences are simply metaphors. Like when I had plantar fasciitis, she asked me where in my life was I not standing on my own two feet. So, I decided to take that approach here.
Where else in my life am I having difficulty coming to conclusions? Ooooh. Well. I recently (in August) launched myself into a new life, selling my house, buying an RV and hitting the road. It’s been a learning process. I’m not sure yet how it is going to work for me. I am having difficulty settling into #vanlife, and find myself casting about for alternatives: maybe I could live in a condo here, or perhaps I should buy a lot and build a pole barn and RV pad, or I might just need a bigger RV, and for sure I should get an RV with 4WD.
Clearly, I am trying to get some clarity. I’m tossing out all manner of ideas, trying them on, asking friends and relatives what they think. Calling realtors, getting pre-approval, just in case. Just in case. I want to be prepared. But, I haven’t yet reached any conclusion or concensus—
Even though it’s actually April now, March Madness continues for at least another couple of days with the women’s NCAA tournament championship game tomorrow night and the men’s on Monday. As I type, I have the Villanova/Kansas game on in the background. Last weekend I and two good friends drove across the state to attend two of the women’s Elite Eight games in Spokane.
I don’t remember when I started following March Madness, but I don’t remember not following it. For as long as I remember, I’ve been riveted to the television and have occasionally attended in person. My dad and I went to the men’s final four in the Kingdome sometime in the late 1990s. I wish I still had that sweatshirt. I remember that Oklahoma State played and had a big guy on their team nicknamed Big Country. Seattle was awash in orange and black, UCLA baby blue and gold. I don’t remember what other teams were there, but I do remember the atmosphere, the electricity and excitement in the air. The trip to Spokane last weekend was similar. I was especially excited to get to see the Texas women play, having spent the past few months between home and Austin, it felt right to be cheering for the Longhorns. The Lady Longhorns beat Maryland in the Sweet 16 but ultimately fell to Stanford in the Elite Eight. And, sadly for the Pac12, (and for other reasons), Stanford lost to the UConn Huskies in the Final Four yesterday.
I played basketball in high school. Mostly, I rode the bench, but I had a few breakout games. I remember watching the Seattle SuperSonics at my grandparents’ house when I was very young—the names burned into my consciousness: coach Bill Russell, players Spencer Haywood, Lenny Wilkens, Slick Watts. Then Jack Sikma, downtown Freddy Brown, The Glove Gary Payton.
Eventually women’s NCAA basketball creeped into my awareness, but slowly. My first girlfriend and high school BFF played on Western Washington University’s team our freshman year, about the same time that women’s basketball started to make strides. The first women’s NCAA tournament was held in 1982 after the 1981-82 season with LATech, UCLA, Tennessee, and Cheyney. Tennessee and LATech became tournament regulars, along with Auburn, Old Dominion, Stanford, and eventually Connecticut. I became a regular at Western’s basketball games, all through my undergraduate and graduate school years. I wrote articles for the campus newspaper on the women’s teams, the coach, Lynda Goodrich, at the time one of the winningest women’s coaches in the country. As my awareness grew, I learned about the struggles women’s coaches faced: they had to fight for practice time in the gyms, drive the team buses, launder the team uniforms, BUY the team uniforms, generally all without any additional funds. So, is it really a surprise that I’d prefer to root for the teams coached by women? Tennessee, Stanford, South Carolina, Kentucky . . . those are the few that spring to mind immediately. Perennial Final Four contender UConn . . . I have complicated feelings about UConn.
A is for alopecia and aphasia. Also for assault. Anger. And atonement. What might all of these words have in common? Aside from being in the headlines recently? We all suffer from something and usually our suffering is invisible. For a variety of reasons. We may have a hidden or not so obvious physical disability. We might suffer from an emotional issue or be diagnosed with a mental health condition that we don’t generally discuss with others. And when others don’t know what is going on with us, they make assumptions. I’m not here to be an apologist for anyone, I’m simply here to point out that as human beings, we spend much of our time making decisions based on our assumptions which are often wrong. We are great at filling in the blanks with whatever story makes sense to us, and again, because we are human, we tend toward the negative. We generally believe the worst unless we make an effort to choose otherwise.
Take Bruce Willis’ Razzie for example. The Razzie Awards did not consider that perhaps Mr. Willis was suffering a medical issue when the organization awarded him a Razzie. But, after his family issued their statement about his health condition, the Razzies retracted their award. They atoned for their poor treatment based on their faulty assumption. I won’t get into the altercation that occurred between Will Smith and Chris Rock over Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, except to say again, assumptions—this time about a person’s appearance—led to inaccurate (and unkind) conclusions, including violence. We can make all manner of assumptions about Will Smith’s slapping of Chris Rock, but we do not know what is going on with Will Smith. So we make assumptions.
Because we live in a culture that champions youth and vitality, we may not be comfortable bringing up or exposing those parts of ourselves that don’t fit neatly into the cultural narrative. We may curate our online presence to artfully conceal the imperfections that lie beneath. And what happens when we hide our vulnerabilities? Do we feel better? Do other people feel more comfortable around us when we are not authentically our whole selves? Not really. When we let others see the real us, our unvarnished true selves, we become more attractive, not less. As Brené Brown says in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
I just sold my house—it closes next Friday, barring any disasters (and god only knows disasters may still occur) I’m moving out. I’m not buying another house. I’m not renting either. Nor have I taken a lover. Yet. No. Rather, I have a few weeks house sitting and then I’m hitting the road.
To accommodate this pared back lifestyle, I have had to shed about five layers of previous lifetimes. I have lived here for 23 years. I’ve raised two kids, had two partners of some duration, watched my mother decline into Alzheimer’s disease while she lived here for two years, and I’ve had one adult child boomerang back and re-launch. I’ve had at least two roommates (never good idea for me).
We’ve had, collectively, about twenty cats, many rabbits, three dogs, half a dozen lawn mowers, four paint jobs outside, too many to count inside. One SpongeBob themed bathroom. Tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of technology—so much tech. I was an early adopter. I counted about ten iphone boxes and a half dozen old iphones in various states of repair. In the first culling of belongings, I disposed of eight hard drives, three laptops, seven monitors, miles of cables, generations of mice, and every conceivable keyboard manufactured since 1983: ergonomic, wireless, Bluetooth, light touch, typewriter-like, PS2, USB, beveled, unbeveled. Tiny. Huge. Light. Heavy and as unwieldy as your first futon.
In short, I have fully inhabited this house for 23 years. And lived well. And not so well. But it is time to let go and let god. LOL. No. LOL. Gotcha. But, my work here is done. I have come, done, conquered. So, I had an estate sale for myself last Saturday. One life is winding to a close, and another is unfolding before me. And so, here I sit on my sofa no one wants, listening to Spotify’s recommended daily allowance of curated music, on a television I sold but am keeping until Friday, pondering the value of those few belongings that remain. The remains of these days, if I may.
There’s a tabletop’s worth of various crystal drinkware. Somehow, I’ve learned that crystal drinkware is worth something and am thus loath to part with it. Ditto the embarrassingly bougie Guy Buffet print. Etsy claims it is rare and pricey. So even though I don’t like it, I still have it. It belonged to my grandmother. She had fabulous and expensive things. In the 80s. They aren’t all that fabulous in this century. And the Adderley bone china from England. The sterling.
There’s a garage full of . . . how does one even begin to describe what ends up in a garage like mine? It defies explanation: antique copper fire extinguisher, about 45 gallons of partially used paint, roof tiles, golf bags full of old clubs and spiders. One petrified Razor scooter, three unopened cans of tennis balls. No one here has played tennis in a decade. A package of a dozen golf balls, unopened. It’s been at least two decades since golf last happened.
Part of me wants to just call the junk removers, pay them and be done. But this other part of me needs to see my belongings off to their next lives. I’ve sold what I could and now I sit amidst what I couldn’t or wouldn’t. This collection of Useless Things I Still Own is no less random than the garage contents: dozens of old journals, my baby book, a scrap book full of papers from my elementary school days, including my science fair grand champion ribbon from 7th grade. A now-outlawed single-use plastic grocery bag full of matchbox cars, a large stuffed SpongeBob and SpongeBob fleece blanket, the jewelry chest my grandfather made me when I was ten, six crystal beer glasses, my camping equipment, a locking four drawer filing cabinet for client records and child custody papers. A captain’s chair. An antique side table.
Which brings me to the sub-heading topic on this blog post: Or What Are Memories Worth on Nextdoor.com? I made a tidy sum at my garage sale, and I gave away so much. I trust that whoever got what, got what they needed at the right price. The primary mission was not to make money so much as to responsibly recycle as many of my possessions as possible. Ultimately, trips to the dump were inevitable. Still, I have more than I need or want. Currently, my chosen memories and sentimental attachments are worth approximately $115/mo in storage and the untold goodwill of a couple of close friends (and my ever-generous brother), plus about $200 invested in new jumbo/durable plastic totes for said belongings, one trip to Oregon to stash my kayak, bicycle (road, not mountain), random electronic things like my wireless router and cable modem, clothes, books, kitchen things . . . stuff I won’t need in the near future.
Clearing one’s home of nearly a quarter century is no small task. When I began this essay, sitting in my mostly empty home, I was still two weeks from closing (I did not know then that we’d hit a tiny snag—one easily resolved but one that caused me some angina nonetheless). I thought my house was empty, but getting every last thing out the door was like Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox about going halfway out the door and then half way and then half way and theoretically you could continue going halfway and never get out the door. That was my stuff—I got rid of half, then half, then half, then half . . . and it just never ended. Pamela’s Paradox.
I closed the door behind me for the final time on Saturday morning, August 13th. I felt lighter immediately, and not so much freed from the past, but free to find my own way into the future where new memories await. And that, my friends, is worth it all.