Plague Diaries #12

It isn’t really a tale of the plague, this entry. This story goes back much farther than that. A year, in fact.

In March of 2019 we moved from a 1400 square foot duplex into a 900 square foot condo. We did A LOT of downsizing. We had to practically get all new furniture. I spent weeks assembling flat pack tables, dressers, night stands and bookcases. (A weird side note: I adore assembling furniture. It’s like a really neat puzzle that you put together and then you end up with something useful. My husband thinks I’m bonkers.)

Before we moved I had a lot of space of my own. I had my own office with all my own books in my own cases and odds and ends littered about. In the garage I had my mosaic studio where I would spend Saturdays piecing together glass treasures. I had candles, and pictures, and figurines, lots and lots of rocks (been collecting them since I was a kid) and for over a  year now, they have sat packed away in boxes. Because there was no place to put them out. My mosaic tools are trapped in our outdoor storage space. My knitting supplies are crammed in under-bed boxes.

We have two bedrooms in our tiny new place. One of them is obviously the bedroom. The other is the library where most of my husband’s books and things are. (Greek helmets, a bust of Brahms and one of Homer, Greek vases and all of his fountain pens.) He has his computer on the desk in there, and the blue recliner where he reads and does crossword puzzles.

Since he’s retired and I have the car all day it seems only fitting that he should have the space as his own. He spends more time in the condo than anyone else. Over the past year, when I’ve wanted to relax, I’ve mostly spent the time in bed watching stuff on my iPad or reading.

These past two weeks off have been a breakthrough. One of the things I did as a therapeutic act for myself was dig out my knitting. I hadn’t really done any knitting since my Mom died, since that was ALL I did in the hospital. I got rid of a lot of my yarn stash when I moved, but still have all my grandmother’s knitting needles and quite a bit of yarn. I told my dear friend who is treating me with acupuncture that I would knit her a pair of socks and she was delighted. And then I came up with a brilliant idea: Frankensocks.

In all my years knitting (and it’s been over fifteen) I’ve knitted dozens of pairs of socks. It is a truth universally known that Floridians don’t need scarves, hats or mittens, but there are a few months out of the year when a pair of hand-knit socks are a most supreme pleasure. With every pair I’ve knit I’ve had leftover yarn which I have put in its own separate Ziplock (to keep them from mating like Christmas lights) and shoved in a canvas bag that I keep in my closet.

As I was considering what color socks to knit my friend, I came across that canvas bag of remnants and the idea hit me: what if I knit ALL THE COLORS? What if I knit an inch or two off each little ball I had remaining, switching them up and sort of patch them together? And the Frankensocks were born.

Frankensocks

I had real joy in knitting them. Each stripe represents a pair previously made socks and I remember each pair and who they were for. You might think that a little bonkers but knitting a pair of socks is an investment of time and they don’t just fall off the needles in a couple of hours. You get intimate with the yarn and think a lot about the person you are knitting them for as you are creating them.

As I was knitting these socks I was also looking around our apartment. The walls are still bare because we haven’t hung any pictures. Most of them are sitting in the bathtub in the second bathroom. And I decided that it was damn time we did something about it. So we hung pictures, we hung a clock, we hung mosaics I had made. We’re not done yet, but every day we do something more around here that makes the condo seem more like home.

As these two things sort of came together I started to realize something. All of my things (my candles and pictures and figurines and rocks) were still packed away in boxes and I was staggered all at once with how much I missed them. A wise friend said that when you are home and don’t see yourself reflected in it, it isn’t really home. There are things my husband and I have together, but my things, MY THINGS, were missing.

So I made a plan. We have an empty corner of our bedroom and I am getting (Lord, help me) one more IKEA bookcase (which will make seven). It will house the books I use for writing and research, and it will hold my bowl of rocks, my statue of Kuan Yin, picture frames and candles. It will be my space reflected back at me. I will truly be home.

And I wonder if this whole meltdown I had didn’t have something to do with these things. I am sure they were a part of it.  Yes, the pandemic has scared the bejesus out of me, but I have to go one with life. I will take all the precautions I can and let it be. But I will no longer be a stranger in my own house. I am going to set up my mosaic station on our lanai. I am going to arrange my precious items and see them when I walk in the room.

Maybe, as I begin to carve out the creative life I used to have (piecing glass together in mosaics and knitting and journalling), things will shift back to where they used to be. I’m already on the way.

This wasn’t something I did in a punitive manner. I did not go about to make myself miserable by packing away my life and leaving it in a closet. But getting it back is like getting out of jail. The air is a little sweeter, the sun a little brighter.

And as I move forward I know that writing mojo is going to return. I just have to find a new space to do that. Before, I was going to a coffee shop in the evenings and writing. But now, maybe now with my stuff back out I will feel more comfortable writing at home.

It’s taken a year, and it shouldn’t have. But what are we as human beings if not constantly learning lessons?

Excuse me, I have to go knit something.

My Mother’s China

My mama died just over a year ago. Born in 1950, she was a child of the Baby Boom. As children, she and her sister were given a sterling silver teaspoon, fork or knife for Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions from a couple of well-meaning aunts. When they were both young ladies of marriageable age they each had a full service of silver for their hope chests.

Hope chests were a thing back then. A young woman or girl would have a cedar chest or something similar where she would keep her silver service, embroidered linens, crocheted bedspreads, and handmade lace for her wedding gown. All the women in her family would help her to fill it so she could take it to her new life with her husband, a replacement for the even more archaic concept of a dowry.

As a Gen X-er I had no such thing. The women’s lib movement freed me from the burden of hope that I might be married and settled as soon as possible. There wasn’t an expectation on me to subjugate myself and make a home and family when I got out of school. I did not marry at eighteen like my mother. I was thirty-four and already had a household of my own when my husband and I joined forces.

I have inherited a lot of stuff from my mother: a Bavarian china service for twelve, etched water goblets, various pieces of Belleek, and other bits of china. I am in possession of her sterling flatware set and a Victorian-era Prussian chocolate set. They are all beautiful and represent my mother in ways that warm my heart. Every time I look at them I can feel how much she prided herself in them, how they meant something to her.

From her generation and generations before her, things like china and silver and crystal were a status symbol. They were objects that lifted them above the poverty of their ancestors, stating that they had arrived enough in the middle class to be able to afford and keep such costly and beautiful things meant only for special occasions. She treasured these, and the things she had inherited from women before her. 

Now the second hand of time is sweeping faster and attitudes are changing. I married, yes, but I chose not to have children (which is a whole other messy topic). It does make me sad at times to recognize I shall not have anyone to whom I can pass the good fortunes of my life, my mother’s life,  and her mother’s before her. The collection of status symbols from generations past that I now own are as antiquated as the millstone I have tied to my neck.

That’s right. I don’t want them. I might be saturated with guilt about it, but I cannot deny I will never use them. I don’t throw lavish dinner parties or hen parties that require these ornamental items now gathering dust in my house. Am I to be bound to these things until I die? Shall I shunt them from house to house, packing and unpacking them? It would be the only time I ever handle them or even think about them.

I thought of selling them online. I browsed through listings and found a glut of the very pieces I own. Two things became apparent: first, I do not have a china cabinet full of valuable rarities. Secondly, I am not the only woman my age who feels laden with the responsibility of her mother’s china. In most instances the pieces are being sold at rock-bottom prices which further adds to my suspicion that the kind of buyer for this type of item is vanishing. There is no one left who craves to possess the hand-painted luncheon set, the hob-nailed glass dessert plates, or the leaded crystal lemonade pitchers with matching glasses.

In the next few months I am going to be moving from a house of 1450 square feet to a condominium of 900 square feet. My husband and I are purging the excess possessions of our life together to make ourselves fit. There is a certain liberation in bringing bags of clothing and boxes of books to the Goodwill. It makes me lighter, exhilarated. Don’t mistake me–I love and cherish my books but there are many that I shall never read again and would love to pass on to someone who can enjoy them.

But the china and the crystal and the silver: they aren’t as easy to dump at the Goodwill. For one thing, someone in the past spent a great deal of hard-earned money on them. They were chosen with care and kept safe behind the glass of a china cabinet, some for a hundred years or more. I am having a hard time finding my way free of them without shattering my heart like fine porcelain. I know I don’t have the room to take it all with me. And yet I don’t want to send them off into the world without knowing that someone will take care of them, love them, wash them by hand and protect them from dust.

It is only pure guilt that keeps me from parting with them. But in another way I feel like I am giving away a piece of me, a little shard of my heart, my heritage, my identity. I wonder what Mama would say if she could read this. It gives me a thrill of dread to think about it. She was the sweetest, gentlest soul I had the privilege to know, but she was fierce about her stuff.

For instance, when Hurricane Irma was bearing down upon Naples (we scored a direct hit–the eye of the storm passed over our house) my parents came to stay with us. Mom wanted to bring a “few things” with her because they didn’t have hurricane shutters for the place where  they were living. “A few things” turned into four boxes of books and all her scrapbooking supplies. My poor father nearly stroked out moving it all. (If I had known what he was doing would I have helped him, or scolded my mother for being so materialistic? Probably the former. Mom had a lot of health problems and it was tough to say no to her on anything.)

I know this is a first world problem. It’s about stuff that I don’t need or want. But when an object is a piece of your past, all tangled in your heartstrings and guts, it’s still a painful conundrum. I am grateful for all I have. I want to live with less. It’s an awkward spot, to be moving towards the excitement of the future and progress for women and be clamped by the ankle to the weight of something as ridiculous as dinnerware. I recognize the dichotomy completely and see myself almost a fool for caring so much. And yet, my mother was one of my best friends and I want to honor her. I don’t want to dispose of everything she held dear with a flippant drop-off at the local thrift store. It would be tantamount to dumping her ashes on the curb. See ya, Mom. Hope someone will take care of you.

I don’t see men with this problem either. Why is it that women are so much more fixated on keeping mementos from the past? When my father and I went through my mother’s things she had dozens of envelopes of ephemera she meant to use in scrapbooking but never had the chance. My father requires very little by way of possessions. It was my mother who really hung onto everything like she would drown without it.

In the meantime, all that stuff is now drowning me.

There is no easy answer to this question. I need to find a way to release my guilt over my mother’s things. I must decide something quickly or start renting a storage space. They are popping up all over the place in my town: a testament that the middle class can’t let go of their shit. I am on the tipping point. 

Please let me fall soon.

New Year, New Me?

It’s the second week of the new year and I was hoping for some magical transformation. Like I would suddenly be satisfied with my job and editors would start sending me acceptances for the short fiction pieces I’ve written and submitted in the past few months. Life would lighten and I would be able to breathe and look forward to the future.

In short, I was looking for a miracle.

It seems like so long since anything has gone right in my life that I am despairing a little that I will never catch a break. My mother has been gone for seven months now and Christmas was a bugger to get through. I did, and am relieved it is over. The day itself wasn’t as bad as the lead up to it. Everywhere I looked and saw the decorations and heard the music I would think of her and how much she loved it.

There are good things to look forward to. We will be moving into the condo we own at the end of March. That is going to save us a significant amount of money a year in rent. We’ll be able to pay off debt, and maybe even squeeze in a trip to Greece this September.

We are currently downsizing, as we are lopping off 550 square feet to our living space. Many books, furniture, old clothes and other odds and ends are going away. I am starting to feel lighter with the purging we have already done. Come March I want our place to be positively Spartan so when we move we will fit. That feels good.

But I feel like my writing career is dead. I’ve tried so hard, worked tirelessly, and it seems that the world doesn’t want to read my stories. I’m weary with the sting of rejection. But I love writing. So what do I do? Just write for myself and not try to pawn my words on anyone? Perhaps, but that makes me feel like a failure.

So there are good things and bad things happening. I suppose that is life. I just feel like I’ve been down so long that there is no climbing out of this well. When will I catch a break? I’m putting it out there: I want transformation. I will work hard for it if I just had a hint that something good was coming. Because I’m getting tired. I’m losing faith that everything will turn out all right.

Sorry to be such a downer. Life has been kicking me in the teeth and I don’t have many left. Maybe dentures are in order? At least I’d have my smile back.

Let’s Do This

Happy New Year!

I’ve been taking stock of 2015 for a few days now. Some really excellent things happened, the most exciting was that I found a literary agent who is head over heels in love with my book.  We’re looking for a publisher now and I can’t be more thrilled.

This year wasn’t really an easy one. I had to work out a lot of things in my head about my job, my passion for writing and how they can coexist peacefully. I’m still working on it.

New YearBut I have decided 2016 is going to be my sassiest year yet. Last night, when the clock struck twelve, I was in the middle of getting teal streaks put in my hair by a 19 year-old cosmetology student. (Who, by the way, did an excellent job.) I am going to keep hiring her to color my hair until she graduates and becomes too expensive for me.

Mid-life crisis? Nope, I really don’t think so. I’ve decided that I’ve spent too much time being miserable, waiting for things to happen. (Waiting to find an agent, a publisher, to get the hell out of my day job, etc.) And doing all that waiting makes one rather miserable. So I have decided to stop waiting and start doing things. Fun things. Crazy things. Daring things.

New Me

This was me in the car this morning on the way to my first breakfast of 2016. I had the bacon skillet at Hoots, I highly recommend it. See the teal hair? I am so in love with it. It is just the first of many things I will be diving into this year.

For instance, there are a few things I’ve been wanting to try for writing research. Archery, for example. In high school we had an archery unit in gym class and I was pretty good at it. I want to remind myself what it feels like to draw a bow and loose an arrow.

I found an outdoor archery club less than an hour away. They offer free lessons to newbies and let them borrow equipment until the newbie decides what is right for them. Now I just have to find a way to have a Thursday afternoon off in the middle of season. Wish me luck.

I’ve also wanted to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Not that I plan on owning one, but I want to know the physical and psychological feelings a person has when they pick up a weapon and fire it for the first time. So I signed up my husband and I for our local sheriff’s gun safety class. There are four hours of classroom instruction and three hours at the range. My good friend, who is a former cop, is going to let me borrow her Glock for the actual practical aspect. I have to admit I’m a little scared about this, but the class isn’t until April so I have time to get used to the idea.

I’m also downsizing our posessions this year. We have way too much junk. Stuff that has been sitting in closets for years, things we never use, or even remember we had. I am making a run to the Goodwill tomorrow as a matter of fact. Every time I do I feel lighter.

Speaking of lighter, I also return to the gym tomorrow. In 2014 I went 3-4 times a week. I lost all momentum when I had to have my gall bladder removed this last January. That’s a whole year off. I think it’s time to get back on the elliptical machine.

But above all, I am going to be writing. It is the thing I love most. It gives me such a high to sit with my laptop and create a world and characters so real I feel like they really are out there somewhere living their lives. I have been on fire for the last month, writing every day. I am working o n rewriting my first novel and I am very pleased with how it is coming out.

So won’t you join me? Let’s go find new and interesting experiences to fill our days instead of stewing in anxiety until our fingers get all pruney. A champion worrier all my life, I have decided once and for all that anxiety can BITE ME.

Happy New Year. Let’s do this.