Yup. You’re right. That's a photo of a pack rat midden. Whose? Mine, sort of. It’s snuggled up against the east wall in the side yard, next to a shed that’s next to the wood pile. And why on earth, you ask, is it still there? Why haven’t we destroyed it and annihilated the inhabitant. Why indeed? Nothing short of the current, political climate polarizes southwestern desert dwellers as much as their stand on pack rats. But here’s a quote to live by: a rat is neither good nor evil, it does what a rat has to do.”
Basically, pack rats are just little creatures trying to live their lives the way they were designed to live. That’s just fine and dandy you say, but not in one’s backyard. I get that, I really do, but then there are rats—nasty, city garbage-can rats—and then there are pack rats—desert creatures who are the homesteaders and hoarders of the animal kingdom. You have to admit, they are industrious, interesting little creatures, even entertaining. (But even at our house it’s not all fun and games. We’ve had pack rats charge up a drain pipe and make a home in our attic—an issue still be to resolved.)
But… let me share my first pack rat encounter with you: A few years ago, I was on my way to a breakfast cookout when I noticed what looked like mouse droppings on the floor of my car. Odd. Hours after returning home, I went into the garage to get something out of the back seat of my car. I opened the door, leaned in, and immediately caught sight of the rear end of a very large rodent, back feet flying, diving under the front car seat. I sprang backwards and nearly cold-conked myself on the car door frame. Holy crap. This was one huge rat creature (I later learned it was a pack rat), and it must have ridden along with me all morning. Not the best feeling.
My husband immediately placed a baited, live trap in the back seat of the car. Hours later, still no rat. I don’t remember why, but I opened the console glove box and was met with a very cute, cartoon rat face and two, very dark, eyeballs staring up at me. Faster than I could react, the creature spun around, and the next thing I saw was a tail disappearing into the back of the glove box and up into the console. Now what?
I gave it some time, went back into the garage, and peeked through the car window. The glove box door was still open, and there was the pack rat, curled up, her back to me, sound asleep on a pile of Kleenex. I wondered if maybe she was depressed about being stuck in the car. But, no time for rat analysis. I quietly scrounged up two pairs of heavy gardening gloves, put both on, carefully opened the car door, and GRABBED Ms. Rat. She didn't even see it coming. She slipped and slid around under the gloves and the layers of Kleenex I’d scooped up with her, struggled free, dropped to the garage floor, and ran under the car. Not much left to do but open the garage door enough for her to escape. The main thing was, the rat intruder was out of my car. Never saw her in the car again. Probably traumatized.
My next encounter happened when I accidently disturbed a midden, again in my backyard. By the next day, the clever little occupant had circled her midden, several feet out, with thin branches/twigs of mesquite, laid thorn side up! She created a booby trap. Don’t tell me these are not intelligent creatures. Now I know these rats are also super destructive and will rip things up to find soft furnishings for their little houses. I’ve heard all the horror stories about them eating through the insulation around wiring in cars. And I truly do know I can’t continue to let this most recent rodent resident continue to live in close proximity to our house. Again, we still have to deal with whatever damage there might be in the attic. And…my husband and I don’t share the same attitude about pack rats. Maybe I saw too many Mickey Mouse cartoons when I was little, not to mention those adorable chipmunks Chip and Dale!
Removal, being shipped out to nice desert location, is most likely in this rodent’s future. We’ve done this before, and didn’t expect them back. Just can’t kill them. I’ve decided that rather than trying to defend my position on humanitarian terms, I’ll just become a Buddhist. Most people accept behaviors if you state that you are simply following the dogma of your religion. Might work. OOOMMMM and out.
There’s always room for one more, isn’t there? And I don’t mean at the dinner table. Although, yes, I have to admit that I overcook, and if truth be told, there usually is room for at least one more place setting on any given day. But what I’m really talking about here is a penchant for collecting. Collecting what, you ask? Anything from postcards, to earrings, to foreign coins, to souvenir shot glasses, to scarves, shoes—you know who you are—and on down the line to English tea cups and techie toys. I won’t even delve into the psyche of those of you well-meaning and loving souls whose cats number in the double digits. Nope. Not going there.
Most of us collect something, even if the collection was, at first, unintended. Some things just draw the eye repeatedly, and ignite that fire to possess. For me, it’s earrings. Lovely little bits of art, or creatively set gem stones, or even just the perfection of plain gold hoops. No matter how many pairs I have, I can’t stop myself from checking out the earrings at every art fair and gift shop. Besides being the finishing touch to an outfit, they always fit, right? And that’s no small thing these days.
But I think my strongest passion/addiction is my attraction to plants. No matter how crowded my garden may seem to my non-gardening friends, there is always room for one more. I truly don’t know how it happens. I arrive at the nursery with the best of intentions and a promise to my husband that I won’t go crazy, but somehow, I end up pulling into the driveway with the back of the SUV packed to the rafters with green, growing thing and extra bags of potting soil. We won’t even get into my new obsession for plant containers, especially wildly colored Talavera (made in Mexico.)
As soon as I walk into a nursery, my energy level rises. I relish the scent of damp, earthy soil. The tables of bedding plants draw me like I’m being towed on a lifeline. I’m a crow, but rather than being attracted to shiny things (the exception being diamonds, of course), I’m drawn to interesting leaf shapes and the colors of blooms. It’s almost like being in a room full of puppies! I fight a rising desire to possess and take care of these living things. I want them ALL.
I hate to admit it, but too often my eyes are bigger than my stomach; or shall I say my ability to do the physical work of planting is lagging way behind my physical strength and energy level. This is relatively new, and I don’t like it one little bit. After planting only two new plants this morning, and doing a bit of trimming and tidying, every joint in my aging body hurts. So, while surrounded with life bursting out everywhere in my garden, I find myself faced with my own mortality and reality of being…I can barely type the word…old! But, old or not, you will have to pry my pruning shears and spades out of my gnarled fingers before I will ever give in and give up gardening. I’m not sure at what point passion morphs into obsession, but I’m sure I’d make a good case study.
Meanwhile, take time to smell the roses. Seriously! And while you’re at it plant a couple of cannas for me (my latest obsession.) And next time you pop in to Tucson Botanical gardens, check out the earrings in the gift shop. Tell them I sent you.
I hear the wind before I feel it. I step onto the patio, and wind-whipped leaves swirl around my feet. The unexpected drop in temperature hits my face like a splash of ice-cold water. Grey clouds drift in from the west, beating the ubiquitous desert sun into hiding. I pull my worn cardigan tighter around me. The scent of rain, maybe snow, permeates the air.
I grab an armful of kindling from the small stack next to the firewood and twist the door open with the tip of my fingers. I push it shut with a hip. The kindling falls and scatters on the hearth. I reach into the fireplace and top the scrunched newspapers with some starter twigs, and then flick a lit match against the paper. The big screen TV draws my attention.
US warns Ukraine that Russian invasion is imminent....
I hit mute, leaving the news to scroll soundlessly across the bottom of the screen. Serious faces stare back at me—muted mouths moving. Two years of disruptive domestic politics and the ever-present fear of the pandemic has pushed me to the edge. I can’t bear to hear whatever it is the talking heads want to tell me. Hopelessness descends; a heaviness like liquid mercury filters into every cell. Day-to-day life has only just begun to resume normalcy. Is it time to admit defeat? We are such a failure as a species. The pond scum rises to the surface but we neglect to skim it off. The scum always reigns supreme.
Biden: Sanctions declared against Soviets....
I slide onto the couch and pull the soft cotton-weave throw around my shoulders. Breath: slowly in, slowly out. I pick up my book and snuggle into the safety of escapist fiction. The story unfolds in a small English village where hollyhocks and sweet peas bloom, and neighbors stop to talk about nothing on the cobblestoned streets. The most pressing news is how the new minister's wife will manage the pending bake sale at the Anglican Church.
Outside the wind tests the strength of my newly planted backyard sapling. Through the semi-opened wood blinds I watch it whip back and forth, more of a struggle than a dance. Holding its own. Fighting to be resilient. My eyes stray to the flickering screen.
Boris Johnson said the international shock of a Russian attack would "echo around the world", as the UK urged Moscow to engage with talks to prevent a conflict....
The announcers' unsmiling faces exacerbate the grim theme unfolding. Unthinking, I lay the book on my lap, hinged open, pages down. Nothing distracts from this feeling of dread. Have I lived too long? Is too long when everything inside you goes quiet when you realize nothing you’ve done matters, nothing is ever going to change. Protests, letters, marches, sit-ins, registering voters, Vietnam, the Middle East, Desert Storm, The Gulf War, school shootings, the environment…. We are failing as a species. Worse, our species is failing those dependent upon us.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl power plant….
The sticks of mesquite atop the balled paper catch, sending up reddish-orange flames. As I
step onto the patio for larger logs, the wind whips the French door out of my hand. It slams against the stucco wall. One pane of glass cracks. Just one. I pull two logs off the firewood stack and add them to the fire. Outside a gloomy darkness settles in. The fireplace charges the dim room with a false sense of coziness.
Dozens of soldiers are killed as Ukraine tries to mount an all-out attack….
I should turn on some lights. It’s too dark now to read. Grabbing the soft throw, I turn off the TV and sit on the floor with my back against the couch. I pull the cottony blanket over my head and hide in the safety of my shroud.
To quote Bob Dylan (yes, aging myself), the times they are a changing’...but does that mean we have to as well?
Pictured is my grandmother at 71, in a sharp (for the 1970's) pantsuit, requisite cigarette between her fingers. Even as my mother and grandmother aged, they rarely looked dowdy. Struggling to follow their lead, with the exception of the ciggies, every season I pull one or two ideas from the current offerings to incorporate into my wardrobe. Picking and choosing from what the designers and “influencers” are touting keeps me reasonably up-to-date without (1) looking like an aging hooker or (2) looking like I’m competing with my best friend’s granddaughter. I don’t pretend to be anything but the age I am, but I hope to never get caught schlepping around in muumuus, polyester elastic-waist pants, or in fuzzy-wuzzy slippers with the heels worn down. But, you gotta do what works for you. No judgements here.
Jeans keep me feeling young, or I guess youngish. Denim, the miracle fabric, has a girdle affect on one’s stomach! Anyway, I recently placed an order with my favorite jean vendor, "Not Your Daughter’s Jeans." Luckily they had the hard-to-find, light-wash denim in stock.
When I received the order, the fabric looked damaged, worse than a factory second. It was snagged and ripped, and then the “ripped” sections were badly top-stitched together. This is not what I’ve learned to expect from this vendor. Something was amiss. Of course, a call to customer service was in order. I was sure this fabric lot was a mistake, and I could get a rapid credit and exchange. Turns out—couldn’t believe what I was told--the jeans were SUPPOSED to look that way? !! WTH? Keep in mind that this company is “NOT Your Daughter’s Jeans. Evidently, this type of denim is called “distressed”. I bloody don’t think so. Call a spade and spade. Defective is defective. It was me that was distressed! Again, WTH? Dismay doesn’t begin to sum up how I felt.
No, I don’t live in a vacuum. I am sadly aware of the trend towards parading around in ripped jeans. Jeans that, in my opinion, a homeless person would pass on. Even worse, it turns out that companies charge a fat little price to sell a product that, years ago, wouldn’t have made it to the shelves of the seconds stores. Every day I see people in jeans that hang together by threads. It’s an unattractive enough look on those whose great muscle tone and supple skin peek through the tears. However, on those not in great shape, young or old, the look just comes across and as a tasteless attempt to make the wearer look Instagram-worthy and on trend. Doesn’t anyone have a full-length mirror in their home anymore? Reality check.
Just after I cooled off from the denim fiasco, I came across a social media article about the “old” (meaning out-of-fashion) standards for entertaining guests in one’s home. It seems that simple gestures like greeting one’s guests at the door, hanging up their jackets rather than throwing them over the back of a chair, planning the guest list with an eye to compatibility and variety, setting a nice table with—gasp--candles, and the worst offender of all, mailing out invitations, are signals that you are behind the times. Bloody hell! Irritated to the max by this one. Exactly when did graciousness go out of style? In this case, I’ll happily abstain from being on-trend.
And did you know (another annoying social media news bite) that just about every hairstyle that is flattering to the over sixty-five crowd is now verboten and off-trend? Didn’t anyone tell these style gurus that older faces need a bit of lift in the hairstyle department? We need softness, layers, and often a bit of teasing to add fullness. Yes. I said it out loud. The forbidden word: teasing. Take away my teasing comb and my hairspray and you’ll get a more than a taste of how much fire is left in this old furnace.
I swear I am trying to age gracefully, and I’ll stay in the game to one degree or another; but, it sure sounds I’m well on my way to making it onto every fashionista/influencer’s
“what not to do” list. So be it. As Bob Dylan’s the times they are a changin’...” lyrics keep running through my head, I realize I am beginning to care less and less about keeping up, if that means lowering my standards. The times are changing alright, but not for the better, and I think my gearshift is permanently stuck in reverse. I can live with that.
Let's see what this season's runway brings us.
My mother in the early 1960s
Christmas/holiday cards are long gone, the tree is bedecked and sparkling; the front yard glimmers with lights, and I’ve begun the holiday baking. I’m now sprawled on the couch, glass of sherry in hand, staring bleary-eyed out the window. An unexpected winter storm dashes raindrops against the glass. They enjoy a brief moment of stardom, taking center stage, absorbing and refracting colored lights from the Christmas tree. I wish I had the where-with-all to grab my Cannon and capture their moment, but fatigue has morphed holiday ho-ho-ho into Grinchy grunts, growls, and grimaces.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the holidays. I’m all about trimming the tree and decking the halls. I adore the childlike fun of Christmas décor. The themes of which fall somewhere between Disney’s Fantasy Land and an upscale children’s toy store. What’s not to like? My boxes of Christmas paraphernalia easily take up half the storage space in the garage, and I love every gaudy bit. I get positively Christmas-morning giddy every time I unpack my treasures and pull out my favorites, oohing and aahing over each piece. It’s like revisiting favorite old friends. You know the ones…no issues, no negativity…just all smiles and good memories.
Visions of decorating perfection danced in my head like proverbial sugar plums as I unpacked our holiday linens and ever-growing snow-globe collection. But, a few hours in, after too much (I refuse to say excessive) bending and lifting, and too many trips up and down the step ladder, it became evident that my grandiose plans for Martha Stewart perfection definitely exceeded my physical ability to follow through. Aging joints, my friends, can flash “reality check” through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses.
Standing on a ladder, stretching way up to the top of the tree to tweak that one ornament to its most picture-perfect angle, almost landed me in the arms of the treetop angel. I swear she frowned. I blame her porcelain glare for my loss of balance on the way back down. And getting down on howling knees to retrieve the ornament the cat batted off the tree…well, you get the gist of where my Christmas cheer was heading. At this point my teeth were firmly gritted behind my holiday smile.
I hate to admit it, but I see myself morphing into my mother in her later years. For most of my life, Mum was a huge fan of all the trappings of Christmas. My mother started baking her famous fruit cakes in the late fall, and by Christmas Eve the cake was well-doused in booze and covered in marzipan and frosted, and the freezer was full of shortbread cookies and mince pies. The tree was dressed and tinseled, the house lit up from one end to the other, the decanters filled, and the candles—along with my Dad—were lit. Christmas was the highlight of the year in the Platel household. My parents set the bar pretty high for what Christmas should be and set me up for trying to follow in their footsteps.
I felt almost betrayed when my mother’s holiday enthusiasm dimmed as she aged. I needed Christmas to stay the same; I needed her to be the same. The long-established traditions of Christmas were my anchor in a changing world. But, at some indefinite point, my mother wordlessly passed the baton to me, so I wobbled into her holiday high heels and knocked myself out creating Christmas for everyone. And, honestly, the pleasure has been all mine.
Fast forward about thirty years and this Christmas Elf is mimicking Mum in her later years, and beginning to drag her bedazzled behind. Yup. Persistent aching joints and a lowered energy level might be tweaking my perspective, but I stubbornly refuse to do much more than take the festivities down a mere notch or two. I still love the holidays, as does my husband…adult kids (no grandkids), not so much…but for us, Christmas remains the comet’s tail at the end of the year.
“In keeping with the situation,” to quote Scrooge's housekeeper, I’ve stocked up on Icy/Hot and Advil, dragged myself off the couch, squared my shoulders, and jumped deep into a pile gift wrapping paper and tape. Even better, looking for extra Christmas bags, I discovered a bottle of Southern Comfort tucked way in the back of the cupboard! Bring it on, Christmas.
So, on that note I wish you all a Merry Christmas and the happiest of whichever holiday you enjoy celebrating. Just pass the eggnog my way and don’t go easy on the rum.
As a transplanted Canadian, Arizona’s extended summer is something to which I’ve never completed adapted. My DNA is coded for seasonal change, and, the older I get, the more my tolerance for the heat lessens. Summer seems never-ending, and I miss the rhythms and the complexity of the wheel of the year.
This heat-season we managed two short trips to much-cooler northern Arizona. One was in May, just as the summer was setting up housekeeping in Tucson, and the second was in early September, when the heat dragged on and my brain was becoming stupefied.
But here it is October, and the evening temps are still hovering in the 80s. My my internal dots aren’t connecting; my synapses have stopped firing. I flatline and become as one-dimensional as a southern Arizona, sunny-and-hot weather forecast. It’s osmosis at its worst. Cranky doesn’t even begin to describe my attitude.
Just as my emotional burnout begins to turn the corner into depression, dipping temperatures in the Santa Catalinas are coaxing colored pigments from the deciduous trees’ leaves to center stage. A trip up the mountain—a short ninety-minute drive from our house—is in order. The uninhibited bright golds, rusts, and reds of autumn never fail to recharge my batteries. We pack up the dogs, a picnic, the camera, and head across town and up the winding Catalina highway, out of desert.
As the car edges above the 7000-foot elevation, the first glimmer of color appears. The golden yellow of the aspens and the crimson leaves of the maples are in full glory. A wildfire of color blazes up the mountainside. There are even a few true oak trees scattered here and there, and their leaves range from a lovely lime green to a burnished deep gold.
Our favorite spot for fall color on the mountain is a ravine/canyon called Bear Wallow. We stop and park off the main highway, and follow the short trail for a few hundred yards of pure, Canadian fall. I collect leaves to press and a few more to use as models to capture in watercolor. There is just enough of a breeze to flutter a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, reds, and greens across our path. The air is fresh and scented with pine; small pinecones crunch under our feet. The ravine’s ancient apple tree is sporting a few red apples in its topmost branches.
I feel myself coming back to life. This simple, few hours amidst the trees does more than just dislodge my blocked chi. I feel a rush of creative energy for the first time in many weeks, and I feel ready to start writing again. I’m even ready to tackle my latest passion: capturing birds, leaves, and flowers in watercolors.
It’s a fact that my soul would probably benefit from summers spent in a mountain cabin, but since that will never be the case, I can/will make myself happy with whatever short escapes can be wangled. My husband is usually more than willing to comply. Who wants to have to hide out the summer, indoors, with a cranky wife? Am I cranky on purpose? Shhh….not ready to give that one away.
I've been loving the unexpected number of butterflies flitting through our gardens and skies this year. Post-monsoon flowering shrubs and plants are absolutely shivering with butterfly activity. Such an amazing sight. Makes me wonder why some people squirm at the sight of caterpillars and resent every bite taken out of their plants, but then are thrilled by the colors and beauty of the butterflies in their gardens. A major disconnect in their thinking wouldn’t you say? We humans seem to excel at mental disconnects
My mind couldn't help been tumbling and turning with the butterflies. Watching them I had to wonder whether butterflies remember being caterpillars? Are they consciously celebrating their newfound freedom of flight as they dive and zoom around the garden? If they don’t remember their previous incarnation, that means they are living joyously free of identity baggage? Don’t you wish that applied to us? Butterflies, consciously or not, are the ultimate, self-reinvention success story.
How many people do you know, women especially, who talk about re-inventing themselves, some repeatedly? We all do it to a certain extend. Haven’t you said, at least once, “I’m not the person I used to be?” We change, we grow, we shed our old selves, and go forth and prosper with a new outlook, identity, and sometimes an up-graded exterior. But, based on the number of women I know who are taking anti-depressants and/or talking to analysts, no one seems to truly shut the door on their old selves. We re-invent, and yet still see the old us every time we stand too long in front of a mirror. There she is, hiding behind our eyes, standing in judgement on the new us every minute of every day.
We like to just shut our eyes to our reflections and blunder forward. We drink too many cocktails and post too many memes expounding on the virtues of self-love, being kind, and unconditional personal acceptance. Who are we trying to convince? We go on ad infinitum about what strong women we are, while taking even the slightest criticism to heart, and creeping away to self-flagellate and analyze every perceived, hurtful word. Or, we flaunt our defiance and dye our hair purple to prove our point, while loudly proclaiming how we don’t care what anyone thinks; we are above having to answer to anyone but ourselves. I tend not to buy into that. Goes against human nature.
If we stop judging others, maybe we can stop judging ourselves...maybe. The butterflies were all crawling, munching caterpillars not too long ago, but you don't see them looking back or judging each others newly created patterns and colors. But then...a butterfly doesn't need depth of character to be a successful butterfly, does it? As for us, what we see/show on the surface doesn't even hint at the wealth of humanity underneath. With us, as glamorous as we might try to be on the outside, it's what's inside that matters the most.
We unintentionally reinvent ourselves internally every day. Every bit of new data we absorb affects us, changes us, and revises our perception, even if ever so slightly. However, when we intentionally revise our life plan and/or outlook based on new information (joining a religion, leaving a religion, becoming a vegan, changing political views, leaving a job, moving to Bulgaria, or dropping mucho weight) the fallout can include losing friends and acquaintances, who either won’t understand or accept our metamorphosis. Some will even become resentful if we change from who they need or expect us to be. “Oh…you’ve changed so much!” (like that’s a bad thing?) Think co-dependence and “misery loves company.”
Like our butterfly friends, we each must follow our own flight paths, no matter how dizzying they might be to others, and in spite of judgements. If we don’t grow, we stagnate, and who wants to simulate a skanky swamp? So accept the inevitable process and celebrate change, and if your re-working brings you peace and joy, spread your wings and soar on the currents. Life is too short to do otherwise. Just ask the next butterfly you meet.
Right or wrong, being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has put me in a very different head space, and I am suddenly comfortable opening the shutters to my world. In that process, and almost by accident, I’ve found myself back on the dance floor, refreshing my beyond-rusty, country-western dance skills. Slipping into dance shoes again has also meant slipping into danceable garments, and finding something to cover my record-breaking, stay-at-home weight gain ain’t been easy. Picture the dancing hippos scene from Fantasia, and no, I’m not exaggerating. It’s that bad. But I’m putting myself out there anyway.
All of which has brought me to a realization. I think I finally have reached a point in my life where I honest-to-God don’t have anything to prove to anyone anymore. While a complete escape from the tyranny of the opinions and judgments of others is still a work in progress for me, more and more I’m able to throw off that weighted blanket with an insouciant shrug, and say “screw it.” This is me. Take me or leave me, it’s your call, because I will no longer mould myself into society’s vision of who I should be or what form my body should take. This realization might just be my true lifetime achievement!
Some of you were blessed with a lack of self-consciousness and tons of self-confidence, and I envy you to pieces. But for many of us it’s a process to let go. Putting oneself out there is scary. Instead of taking a chance on trying something new, we shove our unfulfilled passions to the back of a dresser drawer, lock it, and lose the key. But my point here is, we are all aging, and before we run out of time, it’s important to dig deep and ask what exactly is holding us back from whatever it is we’ve put off or are afraid to do: ditching tailored clothes for hippie/gypsy attire, taking an art class or singing lessons, learning to belly dance or sweep around the ballroom? If you really think about it, what’s the worst that can happen if you try?
You sign up for that art class or dance lesson and discover that everyone else is younger, slimmer, and more talented than you are. So what? No one is going to fire you, right? You won’t lose your income or your home if you aren’t the best in the class. Being a little embarrassed has never killed anyone, and if your peers think you’re crazy, who the hell cares? Hold your head up high, stare the naysayers down, and be that crazy old lady (or man) who gives ‘em all something to talk about. As long as you having fun and expressing your inner diva, all is as it should be.
So, you ask, besides stuffing my no-longer-svelte bod into dance clothes, what have I done to put my money where my mouth is? The process started several years ago when I shoved down all the niggling “you are not good enoughs” and started writing Dancing Between the Beats, a novel grounded in the world of ballroom dance. Eight years later, the year I turned 70, I typed “The End.” By year’s end I was holding those first, soft-cover copies in my hands. Without a doubt, a major high point in my life, but also a big step into the “who does she think she is” limelight of peer scrutiny. It was time for me to hold my head up and develop a thick skin. For someone who has always cared too much about what people think (thanks Mum), why would I put myself in the middle of a race-car track and take a chance of being run over?
Because I was overdue taking a risk and doing something just because I wanted to do it, on my own time, and my own terms, and hopefully have fun along the way. My economic security didn’t depend on my book being a screaming success, neither did my identity. I wasn’t writing to change literary landscape of America; I was enjoying the process. I’m beyond thrilled that so many people have purchased the book. Some readers have great fun with it and thoroughly enjoy it, a few others…not so much. And that’s okay. Every book isn’t for every reader, and I’m quite pleased with myself for actually getting the characters and their lives between two covers, and I get to call myself not just a writer but an author!
Most of you have lived a lifetime of paying your dues and often putting others and their needs first. I will pass on Life Lesson Number 201: life has ultimately taught me that I am no less important than the person standing beside me, and neither are you. So, give yourself permission to stretch into foreign territory, without being constrained by what others might think. Set aside the fear of being judged, of not being good enough, and believe that giving something your best shot, whatever the outcome, makes it more than good enough. What’s important is the unselfconscious, risk-taking act of doing. Find that key to the locked drawer filled with all your “one days” and “I’d love to try this, but…”, and just give something a go. And this time, with whatever you decide to take on, enjoy the process and turn a deaf ear to the judgments, even if they are just voices in your head.
** next up. Trying my hand at painting. This painting was done by my grandmother. She picked up her first oil-painting brush at SIXTY-ONE !
Mum used to say, “A change is as good as a rest.” I was never quite sure what she meant by that. When those words came out of her mouth, she often had one eye on my father. Best to leave that alone, so I’ll just say that, in my experience, a change of scene and routine will do you more good than shutting out the world and napping for three days. You don’t need more sleep; your eyes need to open to a change of scene. In other words, sometimes you just need to find a stray frog in the bathroom to truly know you’re not in Kansas anymore.
I’d hit the too-tired-to-give-a crap stage of mental fatigue. Absolutely everything got under my skin. I didn’t like anyone or anything, including myself. Ask my husband. He’ll vouch for this. My usual outlets (writing, gardening, and photography) had lost their charm. Even Netflix lost its appeal. I’m rarely bored, but a year of sheltering-in-place while trying to stay engaged in life had run its creative course. I was drained and done. But what to do?
The easing up of stay-at-home edicts coincided with our 22nd wedding anniversary, my emotional enervation, and both of us being vaccinated. Remember me mentioning my crankiness and general dissatisfaction with life. It’s well known that I’m not one to suffer in silence. My better half was more than ready to get me a lobotomy, send me to a nunnery, or experiment with few days out of town. Lucky for me he chose Option Number Three.
What? Back to the frog? Okay, if you insist, but in a roundabout sort of way.
We packed up the car, arranged pet-sitting for the cat, strapped the dog into his car harness, and headed up to Sedona. I have to throw in the fact that I don’t like road trips. Not at all. I’m rattled by regular cars sharing the freeway with eighteen-wheelers and too many looney-tunes with driver’s licenses, but as soon as we turned off I-17 and the red rocks of Sedona loomed into sight, I felt my humanity return. The road trip was worth it.
Sedona has trees and a rushing creek, and if you are so minded, vortexes and aura readings. Tucson has heat, drought, and mountain views, and yes, my home which I love, but I know you’ve heard about having too much of a good thing, right? Sedona also has resorts with creek access.
Resorts also offer room service and someone to make the bed! After a year of staying at home, never eating out, and planning and making all the meals, this was Nirvana. And don’t bring up camping please. This lady has had her fill of sleeping in a tent, peeing behind a bush, and drinking camp coffee. Been there, done that, for too many bloody years. At my age and level of joint creakiness, I want a luxury bed and bathroom, and someone who, at the press of a button, is delighted to bring me anything from a cocktail to a lovely breakfast. Add in a deck with a perfect reading corner, ducks on the creek, and a property that includes flower gardens, a creek trail, duck beach, and a frog pond…well, what more can one ask for. Frogs in the bathroom were an unrequested but not unfun perk.
Frogs. Plural. One parked on the wooden floor of the outdoor shower. Almost stepped on the poor little bugger. Since I was, shall we say, not dressed to go out, David rescued Frog Number One and popped him back into the pond behind our cottage. Frog Number Two was hiding in the indoor bathroom the day we were leaving. Cutest little, leggy creature. I coaxed him into a plastic cup, topped it with printed page of room service meals, and trotted him back to his favorite lily pad.
So, heed my words. When lethargy settles in and the cranky-meter needle edges into the red zone—and be honest here, we all know when our tempers are shorter than short—it’s time to switch gears, not hide under the covers. Even if working in a getaway isn’t possible, we all have access to a tree-filled park, some even with small lakes; a botanical garden; a friend’s garden; the zoo; an art gallery; or a coffee or ice-cream shop with a patio. Get creative. Exchange houses, apartments and/or pet-sitting with a friend for 24 hours; pack a snack and drive out of town until all the houses disappear; browse a bookstore or a great thrift shop…. Just leave the confines of those same-old/same-old four walls for a while. Trust me, a change is as good as a rest. And sometimes you just need to find a frog in the bathroom.
Even the person you know the best sometimes resembles the common onion. I don't mean to suggest they might have an unappealing smell or make you cry, but rather that they have many layers, not all of which they are willing to peel off to expose a different "self". A more pleasing analogy might be that most of us are multi-faceted, like precious gem stones. That's much nicer, so let’s go with that one, shall we?
Keeping our many different sides in mind, and for a change of pace, I'm going to share a bit of my poetry this time. Let me preface by saying I don’t consider myself a poet, per se. Here and there I’ve hammered a few things out, but I’m not one of those writers who somehow manage to effortlessly release streams of poetry. That skill eludes me. It’s simply not my forte and, yes, one of these days I will submit myself to what I am sure will be a totally humiliating experience: a poetry class. Anyway, occasionally something flows. The emphasis here is, of course on the word occasionally. So here goes:
Recently I jumped into an on-the-fly Twitter challenge. The theme was
High in Velvet Mesquite.
Untidy eaters on feeder.
Rounded shells on gravel.
Flapping away baby quail.
Fast feet chase doves.
Backyard harmony disrupted.
Remember, I did say I wrote it on the fly. Next is a short poem I wrote a while ago, but it recently appeared in the monthly newsletter for a women’s group. They are generous about including submissions from members:
Dismal Desert Day
Trees tremble, branches shimmy,
sitting-out the dance between gusts.
Leaves toss, exposing pale undersides,
littering stone patios with organic debris--
detritus of the unfinished season.
Sickly sun, bedridden and cold,
hides under a grey comforter of clouds.
Birds fluff insulating feathers,
beaks curved like questions marks,
eyes hooded, awaiting Spring.
Grey lizards lounge on grey block walls,
under grey skies unbroken by rainbows.
Poetry, more often than not, is a writing format that comes to me when life is confusing / complicated / painful, and there seems to be no concrete way to handle whatever situation I’ve found myself in. This next one I wrote many, many years ago when life was a tangle of confusing emotions. I’m happy to state that I eventually pulled myself out of this particular rabbit hole.
heart brimming with joy, a moment ago,
now heated tears hover, ready to flow,
tears turn to laughter, I catapult back,
emotional rheostat so out-of-whack,
self-control failing motivation derailing,
I slide, losing ground, I am coming unbound.
can’t get a grip…
on what’s real and what’s not...
I’m overreacting, why can’t I stop?
a gyroscope, spinning ‘round and around,
into the rabbit hole, head first, upside down.
emotional bedlam gaining momentum,
delighted? depressed? could be anyone’s guess.
heart-stopping emotions confuse and surprise,
my composure, control, just transparent lies.
exposed, too vulnerable and raw,
to avert implosion, I have to withdraw.
So I hide in aloofness, I put up a wall
and try to deny I have feelings at all.
Yikes. Glad I made it through that dip in the road. If you are still with me, and bless you if you are, this short piece was my reaction to the suicide (by overdose) of a young and very loved extended family member. I posted, at the time, on my FB page.
Crystal structure: Symmetry, three dimensions on a lattice.
Ordered perfection. Splitting clean on cleavage planes. Refracting and reflecting light.
Human Structure: Complex, double-stranded molecules.
Weakness planes. Pressure from external stresses darkening and dimming light.
Chemical structure: Opiates, Reshuffle signals in the brain.
Symmetry lost. Darkening matrix of depression. Extinguishing and snuffing light.
Not very uplifting, and I apologize for that, but…. sometimes that’s just what life hands us. So I’ll leave you with one that's just fun, changed a bit from the original that some of you have seen before. Simple silliness.
Push Down and Twist
There’s a tamper-proof top, on the jar I just I bought.
I sigh and I glare, then slash, hack, and tear.
But buyer beware, it’s no worse for wear.
Pushing down while I twist,
nearly spraining my wrist, it slips out of my hand…
now the glass is all smashed.
So, I clean up the mess, feeling rather distressed.
A new movie might sooth, get me back in the groove.
But the new DVD’s, sealed in plastic I see.
The wrapping’s too tight. It puts up quite a fight.
I grab something sharp, to rip packaging apart.
But I stab my own hand, drop the knife,
and it lands, sticking into my toe.
And, what do you know?
The DVD now is bent, and my energy’s spent.
It can’t just be me, who can’t seem to free,
all these things that are trapped,
in protective shrink wrap, that teases and taunts,
flaunting stuff that I want.
My head starts to ache, must find aspirin to take.
The new bottle is sealed. This is too damn surreal.
So I prod, poke, and pry. No matter how hard I try,
I can’t open the top, can’t get the seal off.
I twist and I turn until fingertips burn,
but, the pills they stay sealed.
Wait! A hammer I’ll wield!
Damn… I just broke my thumb, and my hand’s going numb.
Might we discern, as a safety concern,
when frustration mounts, rising blood pressure counts?
Someone listen to my plea, to stop protecting me,
to this unreasonable degree?
Could common sense be the key?
...That's all folks !
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's