Monday, April 14, 2014

Comfort: Part Two

For 2014, as a  talisman, as a focus, I had chosen the word “comfort,” in the belief that I needed to become comfortable with this intense new life of teaching and grad school.  I mean, really, I had retired! And though it is often said that one is busier in retirement than ever before and that it is a happier-busy and all that was true — I loved what I was doing — still I was seeking a balance, a way of comfortably inhabiting this new life, of not running on the edge of exhaustion, dodging and  spinning between planning classes, grading coursework, conducting classes, attending classes, writing my own essays, grading student essays. I would remind myself, often, that I had chosen to do all this.

Comfort as in ease, as in gentle on myself, as in feeling good, as in equilibrium.

It’s a good word and I will stick with it, even though comfort itself has been elusive and scant, even absent, from Day One of the New Year.

New Year’s Eve itself had been comfortable. We try to avoid driving on that particular night, so we had walked the  few blocks into downtown to have dinner at Fourth and "C" Food (yep, fish and chips) , then another block or so over to the old Carnegie Library, now the Petaluma Historical Museum, for a chamber music concert of classical music, all strings.  A different sort of New Year's. Low-key. It was nippy enough to make it feel like December, offering us an excuse to wear winter coats and mufflers, albeit no snow, of course, here in Sonoma County. The musicians were excellent, on a reprieve from the San Francisco Symphony and the Big Gala in the City. It was so -- well, grown-up.  Comfortable.

Cory and her Grandmom Marilyn. 
The next day, New Year’s Day, we took a walk to visit Marilyn, my mother-in-law, at the Rehab Center barely three blocks up the hill from our house where she was recovering from heart surgery. Sunny, barely a breeze. Pleasant. I brought some knitting  (a very late Christmas present) and we hung out for almost two hours, relaxed and chatting, only leaving when she was called to her physical therapy appointment.  We walked down the hill to the local market to get fixin's for a small New Year’s Day dinner; I had thought we could make soup and bring her some later that evening or the next day, but she had brushed that offer aside. Didn't really have an appetite, she'd said.

We weren’t home from our travels but thirty minutes before we got a call from the Rehab Center; Marilyn had cut the PT session short saying she felt tired and out of sorts. They took her back to her room where she lay down to rest. When they went back in fifteen minutes later to check her vitals, she was gone. She had died in her nap.

Our shock was both stunned and loud. We knew in the abstract (as everyone knows) that death is the future for all of us. We knew that given her age and the recent episodes of heart trouble, that death was technically closer for her rather than farther.

She had been so alive. Perhaps not vibrant, but not in rapid decline. New Year's Day we had been cracking jokes; she had admonished us for working too hard, for not taking the time to enjoy living. Yes, she used a walker; yes, we were in the process of installing a stair-lift on her stairs so she could get up to her bedroom; yes, she had said several times that she didn’t think she would “end up like this.”  But the focus, at least for me, had been her continued presence in our life. She would get back to her house; there'd be more holidays and birthdays; more cake, more of her famous Cranberry Jello salad.

And so the idea of comfort – well, we needed the comfort all right; we appreciated every drop of it we received; we offered it freely to family and friends, but it wasn’t the cure we craved. 

Today, 4/14/2014,  would have been her 79th birthday.  Her good cheer, her welcoming smile will always be missed in the tangible plane; will always guide the direction of our hearts.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Comfort for 2014, Part One

COMFORT was the word I had chosen for 2014, a New Year’s ritual I had adopted from Molly Fisk a while back. "Comfort," as in becoming comfortable with the new roles 2013 had brought me. The word for 2013 had been TURN – and though I knew I was turning the corner into retirement from my office job, I had no clue how sharp the turn would be or where it would take me. Absolutely. No. Clue.

A year ago in March, almost to the day, I completed my retirement paperwork online and hit SEND, officially notifying CalPers of my intention to head out the door. The online system had only just been instituted and I was glad to give it a whirl; I was up for new things.

As with any retirement process, mine had been in the works for some time. Years, in fact, when you include the first glimmer of possibility and then the planning and the dreaming, the charting of vacation days and months of service days versus future income.  It’s like casting a horoscope, seeking the most auspicious day when the service credit and the start date are maximized, tilted against my own impatience to be free of the place and get on with my life. But by the end of 2012, all the ducks were lined up, waiting for send off: I’d retire on July 14th, 2013, Bastille Day (fittingly enough, right?) and my last day, with time off for good behavior and un-used vacations, would be July 3rd  - going out with a bang. Yeah. Pretty much everyone got tired of those jokes. 

I just had to wait to send in the paperwork about 90 days in advance, that is, sometime in March. 

That moment of "send." An auspicious moment. An agreement with the universe. Or so it seemed, because the next morning, the very next morning, what popped up in my email but an enquiry: would I be interested in teaching a summer course in English at Napa Valley College?  Whoo, mama! Would I? You bet your sweet bippy, yes, yes, yes!

For that had been the master plan: retire from the office and scout for jobs teaching at one of the nearby colleges. It would be a change in the course of my life, a gentle turn, I had figured, a different tack with a different set of winds, new sails, perhaps a new boat.  It would take at least a semester, maybe two, before such an opportunity would tun up: after all, the job market for teachers, and college English instructors in particular, had pretty much crashed and burned over the past few years.

But at that moment, at the end of March 2013, my life took radical 90+ degree turn: the rest of the year I’d be bursting out of the old skin of Biology Office Administrative Coordinator and learning to inhabit the skin of Instructor in English at a community college. I had managed to align myself with some fabulous stars.

There were twists, there were more turns. My mother-in-law, Marilyn Guerr, was in and out of the hospital with heart troubles. I was wrapping up my gig in the Biology Office even as the first week of my summer course started. Eager to be gardening again, in June, I had pulled that tiny little muscle in the hip that causes the greatest amount of grief and began my college career teaching leaning on a "walking stick," as if I had just hiked in from St Helena. I wrote a lot of nature essays, I told me students and tried to leave it at that.

Needless to say, I was busy enough that I neglected my blog, my writing,  my family, myself, as I created a college course for an intense 8-week summer program, ran the Fiction side of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, then taught two courses for fall semester, while taking a graduate level course at SSU in order to complete my second masters (more about that, umm, later). Yeah. More than cray cray. Wackadoodle-ding-dong.

But it turned out for the good in the long run, even if it didn't seem so in the short.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Word of the Year 2013: Turn

Resolutions so rarely work for me that I gave them up ages ago. Still one wants to the honor the New Year with some sort of fresh direction. So I’ve joined that merry band of folks who chose a word for the year – or rather, allow a word of significance to choose them. The idea is that the word will resonate in some way throughout the year, maybe giving a bit of direction or providing some measure of clarity or understanding of one’s self in one’s world. No guarantees of course, but I’m always surprised at the correlation between the word and the events of the year. When I remember to do it, that is. I skipped last year, or at least I didn’t write it down, which is pretty much the same thing.

This year TURN has turned shown up. It’s a rich word, with both noun and verb  (transitive and intransitive) chock full of nuances and uses. My baby OED (DK Illustrated) devotes two columns to it sans illustrations; the Free Dictionary definition including all turns (oops) of phrases runs to 8 pages single-spaced.

Whew, I must be anticipating a busy year.

Turn has strong and clean bloodlines, coming from Old English tyrnanturnian, from Latin tornare, from tornus 'lathe', from Greek tornos 'lathe, circular movement'. I like the sense of the lathe paring away the excesses, revealing the true or desired form; it feels so appropriate. Especially when I’ve vowed to absolutely de-clutter my studio room. Someday. Soon.  But I'm also interested in paring away the un-necessary baggage of living and getting down to a simpler, more authentic sort of existence. 

Turn: The basic definition is to move in a circular direction around a center point; but this movement is modified in many ways: turn over, turn around, turn up, turn in, turn aside, turn away, turn down, turn inside out, upside down. We take turns, make turns; we get turned on, turned out; we turn turtle, turn a profit, turn a somersault. All meanings that indicate a sharp,  distinct change in direction.

This year I am turning (ok, I'm giving in now) one of those big corners in life: retirement from my job as office administrator and a re-turn to life centered around writing and the outdoors. (See what I mean? Turn is everywhere!) I plan to turn over a new leaf in my writing discipline and practice, and of course, turn my rough drafts into finished pieces. I want to turn away from an out-grown mode of living and turn onto a new path, turn into new patterns of functioning. 

But right now I’m going to turn this into a blog post and turn in for the night.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Hundreds Game

Neat and tidy is not exactly the way I roll, but there always comes that time when my study sinks into Hoarderville. Embarrassingly so. Even for me. Stacks of books interleaved with stacks of papers until they resemble a sliding mesa; notebooks from several different projects wide open and sprawled across the desk; paid and unpaid bills covering up the misplaced debit cards that must be here somewhere. This place is an Official Mess. I mean, only a bloodhound will be able find those cards (and the wallet they escaped from) in this wall-to-wall clutter. Though I’m sure they're close by and probably in plain sight. Somewhere. Like, oops, right there, under the collection of postcards I've been intending to mail, ahhem, sometime (cough, cough) soon.

But cleaning up and putting things away, jeepers, it’s just so bothersome, especially when you can’t even figure out where to start. Not to mention that you could spend all weekend on the project and barely make a dent in the accumulations. 

So lately, I've been playing a little game with myself that I call The Hundreds.  No, not where you get yourself down to one hundred things in your life (as if! ); this is getting one hundred things out of my study - each week. It's tidying up on the installment plan. Hmmmm, I could probably start with getting one hundred things out of my purse. Maybe then I could carry it without groaning. And maybe my wallet would fit in it and not be sliding around here on my desk, disgorging debit cards.

Here's how it works: I give myself a point for any one thing, big or little, that I put away or get out of the room. That useless lamp? To the curb! That collection of cups? off to the scullery with you! That spill of paper clips? Hie thee to the Clip Cup! And oh, yes, a piece of paper counts. I mean, let's get down with the motivation here.  One hundred pieces of paper is no small thing - there's a bankers box in front of me with at least that many pieces of paper waiting to be filed, recycled, shredded, re-gifted, mailed, framed - or simply thrown away. No points for just putting it in another pile to deal with later; no, no, no. 

For my first hundred points, I weeded the pen caddies - tossing out funky fountain pens, dry ballpoints, pencils less than an inch long with no eraser (a quick thirty points); then gathered a dozen or so working pens to share with the pen-starved faculty at work; threw several small hills of stickies blackened with illegible scribbles into the recycle bin; shelved thirty-five books that I lugged in from the car three weeks ago and were just sitting by the door in their box. 100 points, easy peasy!
Mailing postcards and thank you notes count, too, because those cards are outta here. An unanticipated bonus of my Hundreds game: postal treats from me: an irrelevant post card or a long overdue thank-you note. 

The best part: I’m not spending my whole weekend in a cleaning and sorting tizzy, pissed off at the clutter, pissed at myself for letting it get that way, and super-pissed off a spending a fabulous best-weather-of-all-time weekend dealing with it. Or getting really, really pissed off should anyone (especially someone in a familial relationship to me) make even the slightest joke about it. Seriously. This tidying-up stuff is not funny.

Now, there is no way I’m posting project-start pictures of my whole office; it’s pretty pathetic and someone might call social services. But I will post a Before and After picture of some select areas to prove my point. They're but not the same spot, so you have to use some imagination. But, once upon a time, before the Game began, the tidier spot (where the wallet was hiding) resembled the messy spot (where anything, even a bloodhound, could be hiding). 

So what do you think, magic, right? (and no, the stuff wasn't just pushed from one spot to the other! No points that way!)

... the  messy spot ....
... the more-or-less tidied-up spot ....