Monthly Archives: October 2016

Monday’s Child

Sleep eluded me until after midnight.  Around 2:00 a.m., the buffeting of wind against the roof awakened me.  I lay beneath its battering, picturing a storm raging above me.  But in the morning, a pale grey sky and predictions of sunny weather belied the images of my wakefulness.

The wind still howls.  Around the house, projects in various stages testify to the scattered emotions which continue to plague my hours.  Paperwork, laundry, dishes — all begun and left half-finished.  I roam the house this morning with my cup of warm lemon-laced water and listlessly lift the corners of a towel.  I can’t remember why it hangs from the back of a chair.  Boxes nestled in one another await transfer to some location other than the dining room table.

On the front porch, I study the plants which still thrive.  A volunteer Marigold emerged from roots left in a green clay pot.  I run one finger around the rim, testing the soil.  Begonias and impatiens still bloom beneath the gentle sun of autumn.  This summer’s porch garden fares much better than I do.  I sit.  I rock.  I take my comfort here.

It’s the seventeenth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  This Monday Child continues in her quest for joy despite some setbacks.  Life continues.

 

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Forging ahead

Try crafting a letter inquiring about a lost package without complaining!

I’ve had to do that this morning.  Two packages which I shipped from  my neighborhood UPS office do not appear on the tracking page of the carrier.  A fairly major hiccup on shipping resulted in my having to make a return trip to the shipper to re-do the process. I caught the error only because I grew nervous that the clerk had not shown me the label as customarily occurs.  Sure enough, he had not gotten the proper address.  I discovered this only because I checked tracking later in the day.

Twenty-four hours later, the packages still do not appear in tracking even under the new numbers.  The outfit does not have Sunday hours, so I used the “e-mail store” feature to start the inquiry.  But mindful of this journey and using my very best non-violent communication, I wrote one of the longest, most cautious, and content-neutral queries in my personal history.

Shew!  This not-complaining stuff is hard!!!

It’s the sixteenth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My favorite meme-girl.

My favorite meme-girl.

Assuming

I had not intended a fancy dinner when I suggested going for a bite to eat.  Brenda proposed an alternate to our crossing-paths-at-Chai-Shai so we went to JULIAN, even though you can’t get out of there for less than thirty bucks, water included.  My favorite restaurant hits the high-end of upscale casual on any day of the week.

I chose the “vegan / vegetarian” option and asked for a certain Main Plate with vegetarian protein substitute.  The waiter had no clue what I meant.  I showed him the line-item, $18 for a vegetarian version of your preferred main dish.  He fussed and scurried to the kitchen.  When he returned, he admitted that yes, they had tofu; and yes, I could have it as my protein.

Done and done.  No hope of a glimpse of Chef Celina but Brenda told me a story about the Chef and her husband catering Brenda’s brother’s birthday dinner. I shared one about meeting the husband at one of my art events and — heart a-flutter — getting photographed with her on my birthday three years ago.

I’m a huge fan.

The tofu came.  Four uncooked slices sitting on my plate next to the polenta fries and sauteed asparagus.  The edge had a thin layer of herbs.  Raw.  Raw tofu.  With no sauce.  I complimented the seasoning, ate half of the asparagus, and nibbled a few of the delectable rectangles of polenta.  I did create a minor stir by asking for something to drizzle over the tofu — aioli perhaps? Gravy, even?  Eventually I got a little pitcher of vinaigrette, brought by a different server, held aloft with his little finger arched.  The staff could be seen murmuring to each other in the kitchen, glancing towards me.  They did not seem to understand why I might not enjoy plain, raw tofu, however attractively arranged.

The waiter plunked the check on the table without inquiring about dessert or coffee.  I had wanted a warm mug of perfectly brewed French press which I happen to know JULIAN serves.  I said as much to Brenda, noting my dismay that perhaps the waiter for some reason found us annoying.  We hadn’t sworn, or grumbled, or knocked over the water glasses.  Don’t assume it’s us, or you, Brenda encouraged me.  He seems scattered to me.  

I asked for coffee and got it.  I enjoyed every single drop of its ebony deliciousness, which I found to be as silky as I remembered from my last visit.

When we opened our respective checks, I saw that I had been over-charged.  Rather than the fee for a vegetarian plate, I had been charged the full price for a meal with meat.

Brenda said I should complain, but, well, this, so I couldn’t.  What good is a resolve if I just throw it to the wind at the first chance?  It’s not worth six bucks to cause a fuss in my favorite restaurant, I decided.  So we paid, and home we went, Brenda dropping me in my driveway where I crept around her car, avoiding the ruts in the neighbor’s yard and the divots in the settling asphalt.

A small victory for my determination to live complaint-free.  Every place has a slight off-night and to be quite honest, other than serving me raw tofu and assuming that neither of us wanted coffee, the service was spot-on.  So I’m putting a tick in the W column.  I know Jane might say that I just wrote a blog entry about a situation that bugs me about which I am pretending not to complain.  But that’s not it.  In case you missed it, I wrote about the folly of assuming.

It’s the fourteenth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.

Dinner for breakfast, with the tofu delicately seared.  Yummmy.

Dinner for breakfast, with the tofu hard-seared on both sides and the polenta warmed in the toaster oven. Yummmy.

 

For the lonely

I stood in line at the grocery store the other day listening to a woman crab at the checker.  The young man stood silent, nodding, occasionally murmuring his apology.  She chastised the store for being out of her favorite brand of something, the sacker for using the wrong type of bag, and the world at large for getting in her way time and time again.  All the while, she fumbled in a coin purse for the extra change needed to pay her bill, until the clerk finally waved away her pennies and cashed her out.

The old lady tightened her sweater over her hunched shoulders and grabbed the basket handle.  She pushed forward a few inches and then darted a glance at me over her shoulder.  I broadened my smile, mindful of the potential of appearing to laugh.  She shook her head, scrunching her face and wrinkling her nose.  I smoothed the smile into a calm expression and settled onto my heels, waiting for the woman to clear the space before I started to unload the rest of my groceries.

The clerk greeted me and I replied.  He asked if I had found everything, and I acknowledged that I had, with a sweep of my hand over the pile of food on the conveyor belt.  He laughed and started ringing my purchases.  You were very patient with that lady, I told him.  He shook his head, dismissing the thought.  I studied his face, trying to decide his age.  I figured late high school or early college at most.  The kid at the end asked, Paper or plastic? and we continued on like that, until the point of payment.  As I scanned my debit card, I tried again to compliment his patience.

She reminded me of my grandmother, he told me.  She seemed kind of sad, though, maybe lonely.  I didn’t take anything personal.

As I pushed my cart towards the parking lot, I thought about that kid and his grandmother.  Lucky, lucky woman.  I sent a little wish towards the universal fountain of goodness, hoping it would find its way to that lonely old lady.  Then I took myself home.

It’s the thirteenth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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This

Last night reminded me of three years ago when this odyssey began.

In October of 2013, a week or so after my mother-in-law died, I approached my doctor with the thought that perhaps forty-five years of taking prescription narcotics might be enough.  I mentioned the fog in which I lived, the disconnectedness which swirled around me, and the frequency with which I requested refills of Percoset and Vicodin.  I admitted that I wanted to feel, truly feel, and I did not care if what I felt included pain.

Three years later, I question my judgment on that score.  Last night double-whammied me:  Fatigue-triggered neuro-pain and aching muscles.

I tried all the tricks.  Stretching, water-consumption, meditation.  I read til midnight despite knowing that this morning would come too soon.  Eventually I fell asleep with legs twitching.  Five-fifteen slammed me with rumbling thunder, the whining dog at the foot of the stairs, and the bleating alarm.

I’m not complaining.  Though I know life is not a competitive sport, I also know that my own life could be — no , has been worse, and that what plagues me pales in comparison to starvation, death, and destruction about which the radio blares as I stumble through my morning.  So I’ll not complain.  I’ll pace, I’ll breathe, I’ll look at television, I’ll scroll through Facebook, and I’ll get through it.

It’s the twelfth day of the thirty-fourth day of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

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Of Fabric and Foolishness

Standing in my closet this morning, I studied the open drawer with no small measure of dismay.  I did not recognize the maze of jumbled garments.  Socks, tights, pajamas, handkerchiefs — unfolded, intertwined, wrinkled.

Such an inveterate blogger am I that I nearly snapped a photo.  I lowered myself onto the bench, letting the open drawer stand glaring and accusatory.  With the suitcase flopped beside the desk, the pile of cosmetics surrounding the base of my monitor, and the clothing hung on the mirror, the sad situation in my top drawer testifies to the temporary decline of my situation into apathetic inertia.

I stood and finished donning  my uniform of leggings, knee-length dress, and angel earrings.  No jacket can turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.  Thankfully my Tuesday clients love me and the only judge who had to see me has known me for forty years.  She’s experienced every one of my incarnations, from young grad student to aging advocate.  My October foolishness holds no surprise for her.  She knows that by Thanksgiving I will have entered some new phase, one that involves hair pins, and wool skirts, and chocolate.

It’s the eleventh day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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Glimpses

Sitting in Panera’s, waiting for a client, I see a table spilling celebration.  A thin teen in a starched white shirt places his hand on the arm of an older gentleman who has removed his suitcoat and stands sipping a cup of water.  Their faces strain to hold their joy.  Two women, one grey, one blond, set salads on the table then turn to embrace.

I see my client crossing the street with his husband, one reaching to keep the other from the path of a speeding car.  My client lifts his eyes, notices me watching, and raises an arm to salute.  Later, after an hour of talking business, my client excuses himself to use the facility, leaving his husband and me alone at the table.  We’ve  met before but I do not know him well.   He  leans forward and says, You’ll watch out for him, won’t you?  He refers not to outcome but to the potential of abuse.   I pledge my faithful protection.  He dabs the corner of one eye with a paper napkin.

After I leave them, I drive to the grocery store.  Halfway down the block, I bring my car to a sudden stop.  A woman has pushed her walker into the street with shaky steps, guided by a companion’s arm circling her waist beneath a hump straining against the fabric of her blouse.  The man bends his head with its thin brown hair to briefly speak to the lady, then glances towards my vehicle.  I nod to show that I’ve stopped, I see them.  He lifts a hand in response.  They cross and  continue down the street.  I park and slide from the car, watching the pair move slowly towards JULIAN.  I’m jealous.  It’s my favorite restaurant.

With two half-bags of groceries, I make it home, finally, a half-hour before the presidential debates which I don’t plan to watch.  I rummage around in the back of the Prius before I pull it to the bottom of the driveway, extracting a paper bundle that I’ve been carrying since Saturday.  After I put away the groceries, I move to the table, and open the florist paper in which I’ve wrapped the flowers that I took from my in-laws’ grave on Saturday when I brought a fresh bouquet.  Last week’s roses never bloomed, and did not suffer the mangling from ducks and deer that I’ve seen time after time.  They faded and died in pristine form.  I lift each one and settle them, carefully, in a pottery vase.

I don’t watch the debates but I follow social media commentary about them.  If I were inclined to complain about anything, it would be the lamentable state of our nation.   But if I have learned one solid, immutable lesson from these last three years, it is that some things do not deserve the effort of my lament.

It’s the tenth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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In Memory of Joanna

At the cemetery, I knelt to slip the bouquet into the brass holder.  With one hand, I held the greenery.  I carefully pushed the blooms aside and slipped the ferns down deep to help them last at least a day or two.  Then I stood and as I always do, I snapped a picture of my in-laws’ grave freshly adorned.  The little angel in her silver basket maintained her eternal gaze over the long stretch of ground.

I should have been cleaning house but instead I spent the day driving from distraction to distraction.  A cup of coffee, my friend John’s garage sale, the Waldo Flea Market.  Late in the day I drove down Oak and stopped at a house where three women sat in folding chairs over boxes of books and wracks of clothes.  There I found a leather jacket, the odd pair of slacks, and an angel to hang on my door as the autumn dances forward and winter comes.

One of the ladies touched my sleeve and said, I didn’t see this jacket, I might have kept it back, it’s very nice, and I returned her smile.  It’s mine, I told her.  It belonged to my mother-in-law.  I wore it to her grave today, for the anniversary of her passing.  She patted my arm and asked if I had brought flowers.  My smiled widened but a little flutter of pain rose in my breast.  I paid for my purchases and went on, home, wearing Joanna’s jacket.  I heard again her voice saying, Hi, Corinne! when I walked into her room all those nights, in the months and weeks before she died with her children and her husband beside her and me standing nearby.

I have nothing about which to be sad today, not really; but still, I feel the fullness of time gathering around me.  I walked from the car to my porch, passing the overgrown perennials in my little garden.  The house stood empty, silent.  I took my time.

It’s the eighth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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Joanna’s jacket and her secretary, filled with lovely mementos of her travels with Jay.  

I cherish these in memory of Joanna.

Influences

One sentence in the New York Times morning briefing reminds me why my son went away to college and now lives in Chicago.

“In memoriam:  Gloria Naylor, 66, won a National Book Award in 1983 for her debut novel, “The Women of Brewster Place”.

The Women of Brewster Place sat by my bedside  with a stack of reading after I got run over by a car in 1982.  My mother had suggested that I read it.  The novel bludgeoned me from the start with an account of a single mother smothering her son with so much love that she stifled him.  He amounted to nothing and came to a tragic end.

Not my son, I told myself, nine years later, lying on a gurney looking at the monitor during my ultra sound.

I’ve been accused of being unnaturally close to Patrick.  Regardless, I made him go to Mexico as an exchange student at age fifteen despite his protests. We argued all the way to the airport at 5:00 a.m.  When he returned six weeks later, taller, tan, grinning, he told me that making him go had been the best thing I’d ever done.  As high school waned, I encouraged him to only apply for out-of-state colleges.  I drove him to visit DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.  Now he has a Bachelors from DU and an MFA from Northwestern, and lives in Evanston, Illinois, eight hours from Mother and the safety of his childhood bedroom and his old dog.

I hear the dying Google Fiber box thudding inside the cabinet and my bleating unchecked alarm repeatedly urging me to get out of bed.  I think that stupid dog has peed by the front door again.  Warmed over coffee and an orange serves as my breakfast.  A pile of papers on the dining room table will have to be assembled and put away before I forget where they go or what I need to do with them.   No voice but mine breaks the stillness of this house.  But I am not complaining.

Gloria Naylor wrote two novels and has died, at 66, of heart failure.  Fare the well, Ms. Naylor.  Thank you for showing me the way to raise my son, if not by example, then by horrible warning of what can happen if the bird never flies from the nest. May your heart forever after rest easy.

It’s the fifth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  The wondrous circle of life continues.

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Sanctuary

The world turned last night, and autumn falls heavy on my home this morning.  Through the open bedroom window, crisp delicious air flows.  When I come downstairs, the dog skitters across the kitchen floor in her eagerness to dart outside and chase the wind.  I take my coffee out onto the porch and just breathe, filling my body with the heady  fragrance of the wild mock Rose of Sharon which overtakes my side-yard each fall.

Winter reminds me of everything I hate about myself, my failures and the dankness of  regret lurking below the pleasant veneer of my daily mask.  But just before the cold settles on the aging den in which I live, delicious days of autumn lure me onto the porch.  Wrapped in my shawl, I feel protected, a little girl under the eiderdown hand-stitched by her old grey granny.  I close my eyes, rock, and listen to the frantic barking from the side yard.  The dog has unearthed something intriguing, perhaps cornered a critter, or spied a threatening pile of leaves.  I pay her no heed for the moment, sipping my coffee, and delaying the time when I will have to get ready for work.

I didn’t build my world alone.  At every turn, in every crisis, someone came forward to rescue me.  For every painful stumble, I had a score of hands reaching to pull me from the pavement.  Here in the lingering darkness, as dawn breaks, I let their ghosts gather around me.  In this moment, I am content.  Any complaint to which I might give voice lies still within my breast.

It’s the fourth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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