This was too well-written not to share far and wide. I know some people will disagree with this writer, and therefore with me. I understand that you feel differently, but I don’t care. I can no longer stay on the sidelines of this issue.
It’s uniquely terrifying to consider the absurd extent to which many gun people are willing to suspend reason just so they can remain armed and dangerous. It’s like they are all in abusive relationships and every time there’s another shooting, they show up at work the next day with a black eye and a split lip. And they say, “You don’t understand. My guns LOVE me. They’d never do anything to hurt anyone. It’s the rest of the world that’s wrong.”
Just saw a movie (Tomorrowlandhttp://movies.disney.com/tomorrowland/) that had a version of an old story in it, the one about the two wolves. One wolf was darkness and despair (pain, suffering, misery, all the troubles of the world), and the other wolf was light and hope (peace and flowers and bunny rabbits, I suppose). These wolves are always fighting, and in the movie, the girl says, “Which one survives?” The answer is, of course, the one you feed. I’ve heard this story before, but it’s a good one, so I’m telling it to you. Which wolf do you feed?
For my part, I go back and forth. In my personal life, I’m more-or-less an optimist. I look for the good in people, and generally find it, I assume the best, and am not often disappointed. I feed the light with hope and am rewarded with flowers and bunny rabbits. But I am far too guilty of feeding the wolf of hopelessness when it comes to the state of the world. Although I’m not wholeheartedly endorsing the movie, Tomorrowland does have have a dark core before its Disneyesque ending, and that darkness hit me right where my bad wolf sleeps.
This blog is not specifically about politics, but one of the items on my List is to do something more significant with my life than just blogging about it. I brought up the possibility volunteer work or a job that would utilize my skills doing something about which I feel passionately, and I haven’t returned to the task of finding that thing since I wrote it down. Every time I think about what I could do to make the world a better place, my dark wolf wakes up and tells me that, outside of my little corner of the planet, there is nothing that can be done to slow the descent into madness and despair I see in the wider world. So I curl my toes back under my house and melt away from any public expression of power or efficacy.
It was another Disney movie, several years old now, that best expressed the direction I fear the world is headed – Wall-E (http://movies.disney.com/wall-e). If you recall, in that movie, the worst had already happened, leaving a small robot to clean up our mess while humans had retreated to electric wheelchairs in space. As it was also a Disney movie, it had a Disneyesque ending as well, showing us that no matter how far down the wrong path we go, we are less than two hours from a happy ending. The wolf of light is fed. The chorus sings. Even the little robot finds true love.
In the real world, there is no Disney ending. Mary Poppins doesn’t pop back into the sky, her work here done. But we are also not helpless. We can push back. We can choose which wolf to feed, and enough of us might be able to make a difference.
Oh, that sounds a little too close to pessimism. There are never “enough of us.” There is only me. And you. We are each only one person, and every day we are called upon to crouch in the darkness or run in the light. We can get together with others who are headed out of the cave, but we cannot count on them to drag us along any more than we can drag anyone else along. In Tomorrowland, the question was posed, what if it is our despair, our hopelessness, that keeps us from acting to solve the world’s problems? What if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy on a global scale? We can’t heal the environment because we can’t do big, difficult things like that. We can’t heal the human heart because we can’t change thousands of years of human history. We can’t make the world a better place because there are too many things that need to be accomplished. I am just one person. I can only affect a tiny bit of the space and time around me. I don’t have a lifetime to work on a fix, a solution, a cure – my lifetime is at least 2/3 over already, maybe more. Every one of those statements, however, is feeding the wolf I want to die.
The feeling that I have to do something, even something small, is growing stronger in me. I think that starting a blog was a step toward believing that my presence in the world can reach farther than my family and my block. Taking on something that extends my reach a little farther in a direction I want to go is not just about personal fulfillment, but about not leaving the world until I have done my part. Horace Mann said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” I tried to instill that idea in my children, but, except for producing and raising them to do so, I haven’t taken that on for myself. Maybe it’s time. In between the running and the cooking and the cupboard cleaning, maybe I need to work for something that will outlive me. And if believing that I can becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, then I will. After all, as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
I have to begin by saying I’ve got nothing on David Sedaris. The humor writer (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, for one) is a real Fitbit fanatic, while I’m more of a fan. But I’ve been wearing my Fitbit One every single bloody day for over 15 months now, so I qualify as one of the Fit-pod people. Whatever the OCD impulse that causes people to obsess about counting their steps has infected me as well, and I can’t even figure out why. I started out fifteen months ago at a certain weight (left blank here), and fifteen months later, I’m finally back to that same weight. Good for me, In fifteen months, I took 2,179,248 steps, climbed 2938 flights of stairs, and walked or ran (more on that word later) a total of 918.34 miles, while gaining and losing the same ten pounds a total of five times. What a year!
If you are a Fitbit (or any pedometer) user, you will recognize that what looks like an extraordinary accomplishment when written out in numbers like this is actually a fairly ordinary amount of going through a boatload of typical days. I’m neither an athlete nor a couch potato, and I made no real attempt to walk the ten thousand steps every day that Fitbit (and doctors) recommend for optimum health benefits, Frankly, I don’t want to be TOO OCD about it.
Except when I want to actually reap the benefits of using the darn thing. Then I might have to get serious.
One of the added benefits of a pedometer that hooks up to a website is that you can share your step count with other people, and even compete with them to see who can rack up the most steps each week. I don’t compete. Out of the six people on my buddy list, two are actual friends of mine and the other four are random strangers. One of those strangers has pulled a “David Sedaris” on me and kept me out of all possibility of competing with her forevermore. I average about 40,000 steps a week; she generally does 175,000. That’s thousand. In the time it’s taken me to walk from Seattle to San Francisco, she’s made it to the moon. I’ve lost the ten pounds I keep gaining, but I’m guessing that by now, she’s invisible.
The first thing on my List was to lose weight (item #1, of course), and I thought walking would help me do that. Not so much. I’ve learned that those magazine articles about walking the weight off 30 minutes three times a week were not talking about ME. Due to item #3 on my list, run another half-marathon, I’ve certainly walked or ran (that word again) at least that much over the course of the year. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I didn’t just gain 10 pounds five times without managing to lose it again five times as well. That amount of “moderate exercise” just isn’t going to cut it for real results. In order to lose the NEXT ten pounds, and get ready for September 13th (the next half-marathon on my calendar), I really need to double down and “do a David Sedaris” myself. I’d like to challenge Ms. Powerwalker on my Fitbit buddies list, but realistically, she’s probably training for an Ultramarathon (50 miles or more), and I have to remember that, while I’m “not dead yet,” I also don’t want to be any time soon. So, I think I can commit to actually doing the recommended 10,000 steps a week. What if I did? What if it worked? Nobody would be more surprised than me.
Here are the links that go with this post. Fitbit, of course, although I have to say there are other brands out there. And David Sedaris writing in the New Yorker about his relationship to his Fitbit. He’s a very funny guy. Enjoy!
So, this happened. A friend of mine bought a house and took possession of it yesterday. When she arrived, she realized that the owners had left it full of possessions – or should I say, former possessions, since they were not coming back for any of them. Every room was filled with 50-year old “Early American” furniture, the kitchen was filled with pots and pans and food, every drawer full, the refrigerator full, even the sink was full of water and dirty dishes. The cupboards were full of plastic wrap and cardboard boxes. The bathrooms were full of make-up and conditioner. There was even a pregnancy test, unused, left behind in the detritus of a life interrupted.
She had a platoon of people there to help get rid of it all, some to the donation bins, some to the homes of the helpers, and some to the trash heap. Actually, most of it went in the trash. It was all just too much, too old, too shabby, too unnecessary. As a helper, I got a few “treasures” – especially a real chef’s hat and apron, which I will wear when I cook, just for fun. But I shouldn’t have taken anything, because I already have a house full of a similar assortment of possessions, minus the pregnancy test!
How does it happen that people have a whole house full of things and just walk away? I puzzled about this, until I remembered two things I knew about the former owners. One, they had inherited the house, so the money they received from the sale was theirs to keep. So, if they wanted to go out and buy a new Cuisinart to replace the one they left behind, they could get the new one in the box, not the one that probably had missing parts. But the second reason was the one that really hit home, and is the reason for this essay about the event – a person had died with a house full of “things” that nobody wanted.
Oh, maybe there were some things in the house that the heirs took with them. It is likely that there were items of either useful or sentimental value that went with them to their homes. I can imagine a scenario in which the heirs gathered to each take whatever they wanted, and they cleared out more than it seemed they did, from how much was left behind. I know that some of them spent some time staying in the house before it sold, since some of the food left behind was fresh. But they didn’t fix up the house to realize a higher purchase price. They cashed out and dashed for the door.
I had a very different experience four years ago when my stepfather died, leaving behind the condominium he and my mother had shared for the last ten of their 40 years together. My mother was already in a “memory care facility” (code for “she had Alzheimer’s”), so it was up to my sister and I, and my husband and sons, to dispose of our parents’ material possessions in some organized way. It took months. Every weekend for four months we would gather at the condo and spend hours going through a lifetime of collected memories, preserved on paper, in notebooks, in wood and ceramic and glass and fabric. My mother was an artist, and she had kept every sketch and watercolor study she’d ever made. My stepfather was a writer and had the 87 dated notebooks to prove it. He also kept every pay stub and tax return going back to the Korean War,
It never occurred to me that I could just sell the condo “as-is” and let some new owner clean it out. Instead, we went through closets and drawers and file cabinets and cupboards, sorting everything into Keep-Donate-Recycle-Trash. Every book (thousands) found a new home, every paper was either filed or shredded or recycled, every coffee mug and teaspoon and roll of plastic wrap was donated or kept. We salvaged the houseplants, the winter coats went to the homeless shelter, the unopened food went to the food bank, or back to my kitchen. The furniture went to several grandchildren, the artwork shared around the family. And when the sorting and the distributing was done, we hired workmen to “update” the kitchen, paint and carpet, refreshing it for the new owners.
I feel good about being able to keep some of what was precious and important to my parents, especially the books and they artwork (my mother’s own, and that which they collected). Nothing they had was especially valuable, some of it was shabby and well-used, and none of it was anything I had NEEDED before it fell in my lap. I love having some of what my mother had kept from her mother, and her mother had kept from her mother as well, but because the great cleaning out was a family affair, in which I tried to send everything possible home with my own children, I know there isn’t any bit of it they want. I am not necessarily blessed by the stacks of boxes that made their way into my basement and my garage. I already had my own 60+ years of accumulation piled up there.
My task now is to pare down what I have, what I inherited, what I collected, what I use and what I keep, to be only what I WANT and what I ENJOY. Things I need, not things I will never use. Things I see, not things hidden away in boxes. Things that bring me JOY (see my previous post). Having seen what happens when you die and leave it all for someone else to deal with, I realize I don’t want to do that. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to see it all as a burden. But the alternative is for it to be picked over by strangers before going into the landfill, I don’t know what I want to do with it, though, but I know I have to do something because I am not dead yet, but these things can happen in an instant. Before yesterday, It never crossed my mind that I could just walk away.
Reposting a post by another blogger. I didn’t write this, but it’s pretty good.
My comment: It is easy to get discouraged when I think about how far I have to go to accomplish the things on my list. But at least I HAVE a list, and I am giving it a go every day. So I’m going to concentrate on that. I have a blog now, and a month ago I didn’t. How far I’ve come.
A friend of mine will soon move to a new house and has been consumed with the process of packing for quite some time. He lamented the fact that no matter how much he gets done he continues to see piles and stacks and shelves full of things yet to be boxed. Adding to the stress, he’s nearing the semester’s end of coursework towards a Master’s degree. This combination has him overwhelmed. He complained a bit more about the work left to do.
“I’ll never finish.” he moaned after his update.
“Well.” I said. “It’s like that row of tomatoes.”
He didn’t get it.
With no idea what I meant he stared into the distance preoccupied by stress. Then, remembering similar comments of mine in the past his head whirled back towards me. “Wait, is that another Nannie thing?” he asked.
“It’s another Nannie thing.” I nodded confirmation and began…
If you could spend two weeks traveling to a single place, where would it be? If you had your choice of ways of getting somewhere (boat, plane, car, train), what would you choose? If you could afford any kind of accommodations, how would you want to be accommodated? Would you own a huge motor home, if money were not a consideration, or would you rather stay in hotels and have someone else make the bed? I know there are people who don’t like to travel, would rather take a “staycation” (who says that?) and clean the gutters, but the only thing I like more than being away from home is that delicious feeling of coming home again.
I’ve always wanted to be a “business traveler.” I love standing in rental car queues, checking into chain hotels, swimming in mildew-smelling indoor pools late at night, using tiny soaps, sleeping on sheets I will not have to launder, eating off plates I will not have to scrape. I love it because I’ve never done it enough that it’s not still a novelty, a chance to escape my hum-drum homey life and pretend I’m busier and more important than I really am. Of course, most of my business travel has taken me to such exotic locales as Eugene, Oregon, Boise, Idaho, and Dallas, Texas, and most of my nights have been spent where they “leave the light on for you.” Some people who travel for work learn to hate it, though. Too many lonely nights, indigestion from eating out all the time, not having your own things around you. That could get old, or you could just learn to live out of a suitcase.
I have a lot more experience with being a “vacation traveler.” My grandparents were tent campers who moved up to buying a Volkswagon Camper in the 1960’s. We camped all over Europe, putting up our striped tent in city campgrounds and vacant fields, taking the bus to the museums and returning with crusty bread and sweet butter for our evening meal over the little gas stove on the fold-out shelf. But that was just one summer when I was a teenager. For most of my life, camping meant State Parks and National Forests, pit toilets reached by flashlight, wet towels hanging from tree branches, baking on one side while freezing on the other side, staring into the campfire late at night, I learned the hard way that the sweet music of raindrops on the tent roof might mean waking up in a cold puddle. No wonder I grew up dreaming of clean linens and room service.
Recently, I’ve had some experience with vacation rental houses in different places. This picture is of one of the bedrooms in a hundred-year-old house within walking distance of Old Town in Albuquerque. Services like Airbnb.com and VRBO.com have put us into some charming places, both in the center of the action and way, way out of town. The upside is the coziness and having a fully outfitted kitchen, the downside is the loss of spontaneity. You can’t just show up with your credit card and be in the pool ten minutes later.
Traveling is item #7 on my list. I’ve been a few places in the world – Greece and Israel, Norway and Iceland, London and Rome – and everywhere I go just makes me want to go somewhere again. Even Idaho.
When I was young, long before you could order things off the internet, my grandfather would spend the winter reading his seed catalogs. He had an incredible green thumb and a large yard around his Victorian gingerbread house which he had transformed into a wonderland of green and color. I think he could grow anything, and at one point or another, he probably did. On winter nights, though, he had to make do with the seed catalogs, deciding what bulbs to order, what seeds to start, what soil amendments were best for this or that flowering plants. In this way, while the garden lay dormant, he kept it on the top of his list.
You know I said I’m working on all the things on my list (again, see Making a List), but I’m not. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do nine things, especially since I don’t know what the ninth one is yet. In the past week, I haven’t traveled anywhere (item #7) or even bought a ticket. I haven’t volunteered for anything (item #6), and I haven’t begun or continued the study of a foreign language (item #4). I have cooked (item #5), I’ve dieted ( #1, always #1), and I’ve run a mile or two (#2). I’ve also been reading a book about item #8, writing a book. Reading a book isn’t exactly the same as writing a book, but it is inspiration for writing a book, so I’m going to say it counts.
The book is How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. The author, Ariel Gore, puts her advice to those of us who would be writers in 78 short snippets and several interviews with other authors. Since I haven’t finished reading it, this isn’t really a book review, but by page 16, she’d given me the advice I probably needed more than anything else she could have said. She’s talking to the would-be writer who has plans to write, someday. Maybe somebody like me, who enjoys writing but tends to journal, or doodle, or write lists, in order to put off actually having to write something someone will read. She acknowledges that these people, these not-yet-writers put “write” on their lists, but generally at the end, after “take the dog to the vet” and “clean the oven”. Everything seems to take priority over writing, because writing is self-indulgent and isolating and, even if you’ve done it before, even if you’ve made money doing it before, until you are actually in possession of a contract to write something for a specific someone for a specific amount of money, it’s all kind of a dream.
And then she says, “I’m going to tell you something, and it is something I want you to remember: No one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.”
Ulp! I feel like she’s staring straight at me! Because, of course, “write a book” is item #8 on my list, right above, “I have no idea,” which isn’t actually a thing. Perhaps I need to move it higher on my list if I’m ever going to get it done.
But that means something else will be the last thing on my list, the thing I will never do. Maybe I should shuffle my list on a regular basis, so that nothing remains permanently at the end of the list. If I’m going to accomplish the things on my list, they have to rise to the level of some kind of priority, maybe not higher than taking the dog to the vet, but higher than just reading a book about doing what I want to actually, literally, concretely DO. Reading a book ISN’T writing a book. Reading National Geographic ISN’T traveling. Reading the seed catalog ISN’T gardening. To actually grow a garden, you have to get your hands dirty,
Here’s a link to Ariel Gore’s book, in case you’re interested:
Today I’m thinking about item # 3 on my list (see Making a List), Paring Down. Notice I said, “thinking about” not “doing something about,” although action will follow (someday). I’ve read a good many organizing and decluttering books, and they almost always start with the premise that only a few people actually have “too much stuff” (hoarders) and that the rest of us could do with a good set of baskets/boxes/bags to organize our way out of chaos. I’m not sure that’s true. In my last effort to organize my craft supplies, I think the third-most discarded item was my organizing boxes. Whew!
Assuming that most of us are somewhere between hoarders and general stuff-keepers, there are really a few people out there who aspire to be Minimalists. These people try to have less and less of everything, until they end up in the nirvana of having nothing at all. I’m reminded of that cartoon of Buddha opening a gift, an empty box, and he exclaims, “Nothing! Just what I wanted!” Nothing is just what I want, but Minimalist is not in my genes. As I get older I want to pare down to just those things that serve me now, whether by being useful or beautiful or, if I had my way, both. Getting rid of things, especially things I’ve had for many years, shows me there is a connection between what you choose to surround yourself with and who you are.
I’m not the first one to make this observation. Marie Kondo, author of the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing, says, “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” In her book, she advocates getting rid of absolutely everything that does not speak to your heart. She recommends holding each and every item you own in your hand, every book, every article of clothing, every teacup and spoon and towel, and asking yourself, “Does this spark joy?” Then, only keep the things that do.
I don’t suppose she means feminine products and bottles of insect repellent. Or, maybe she does. That would be a life-changing process, to be sure, holding each of your tampons in your hand and asking if each one of them brings you joy.
In all seriousness, though, she’s on to something here. We do tend to have too many things just because they showed up at the door and we let them snuggle down into our cupboards and drawers and now we don’t have any way to see them along on their journey. A major example for me is my mother’s first wedding gown, from her marriage to my father. That was in 1950 and the marriage lasted 2 whole years. The dress is lovely, created from a French lace tablecloth, which is a story in itself, but it’s so tiny I could never have worn it myself, and my daughters-in-law would have just laughed at the thought! It does NOT bring me joy, but I’m not sure throwing it in the Goodwill bin would bring me joy, either. I find that some things I currently own are things I am holding “in trust” for someone else, and I just have to find that person. Someone else will find joy, even if only for a time, by my ability to let go, and then they will let go as well, and then the thing itself will pass away. All that will be left is a memory, and then finally even that will be gone.
My goal this week is to find a new home for my mother’s wedding gown. I will keep the photos of her wearing it, and someday maybe not even those. In the meantime, I will be closer to the point where what I own is actually in the service of how I want to live my life, which will be a much more accurate reflection of who I am.
“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” Andy Warhol
My husband of 36 years doesn’t like change. This is good for him because he started his career at 21 and 38 years later he’s still working in his field, which he loves. And it’s good for me because not only is he still the same lovely man I married, but he has never decided to trade me in for a newer, or just better, model. But it’s a difficult work-around for me, because, as you can probably tell from my posts, I’m not at all satisfied with the status quo. I ask him, “Will you still love me if I change?” No matter how much I want him to say, “Of course I will,” he stubbornly insists on saying “Change how?” He’s always been just a little bit too honest.
Item # 3 on my list – Pare Down – is a challenge for him. He’s more of a hunter to my gatherer, but he still has trouble when I want to un-gather something he’s gotten used to. In my kitchen reorganization, I wanted to replace a set of Tupperware bowls from our early marriage with a set of stainless steel ones from a yard sale. When he saw the bowls in a box headed for the door, he did that thing he does, the wrinkling of the forehead in what used to be known as consternation. “But I like those bowls,” he complains. Already I feel guilty and fight the urge to put them back, along with the new ones, but that wouldn’t be paring down, now would it? How do I explain that when I ask him about loving me if I were to change, I mean something rather more dramatic than new mixing bowls?
On the other hand, he’s been enjoying my recent foray into cooking. At least he an enthusiastic guinea pig for my culinary creations. Of course, he isn’t motivated to change his palate to accompany my change in kitchen output, which can make it challenging. Last night I roasted red potatoes in olive oil and herbs, along with a chicken. He said he loved it all, then headed for the refrigerator.
Yes, those are my roasted potatoes under there. No, I really don’t mind. But it does make me realize that my changing isn’t necessarily going to change anything or anyone around me. It would be so much easier to continue to bake bags of frozen french fries (thank you Ore-Ida), but where’s the fun in that?
Years ago, I met a man who had returned to college in mid-life with the intention of becoming a lawyer. He said, “They tell me I won’t be a lawyer for at least five years, by which time I’ll be 40. But in five years, I’m going to be 40 anyway, so I might as well also be a lawyer.” He had a point. Time was going to pass, whether he did anything with it or not. As long as he was not dead yet, he had time to go to law school.
A friend of mine just finished nursing school today. I don’t know exactly how old she is, but her children range in age from 29 to 14. I guess she figured that if she was going to be a nurse, she had to get started. So she did, and now she’s a nurse. Time passed, and she used that time to change her whole future.
Here’s an example of a woman who could teach me a few things about “doing” instead of “wishing.” Ernestine Shepherd is a 77-year-old bodybuilder, but more than that, she’s an inspiration for all of us who are Not Dead Yet. If she’s any indication, there is no telling what we could be capable of if we put our hearts into it.
Time will pass, and I will continue to work toward my interesting, adventurous future. I’m not changing because of anyone else, and I’m not changing for anyone else. And maybe I won’t change enough that anyone else will even notice. But time and effort can change anyone, except, apparently, my husband.
This story by DC Rosewater speaks to our desires to have things come easily, and without consequence. That never really works out. If you enjoy it, you may want to check out her blog. Send her a photo and she’ll write a story for you.
This submission comes from kisses, who wants a story about how an old man got turned into a porcelain figure. Very cool idea!
No one wants to be outsmarted. But when making a promise that is both unbreakable and impossible, there can be no other way. These are the deals and makings of the devil.
Though devils are fearsome creatures, their presence does not much affect the hot heads of adolescent boys. And so it was with Lu. Lu was a boy who often flirted with death or injury, and loved committing acts that his mother would deem “wild.” No animal or stranger could scare him. The devil counts on these kinds of boys. It’s how he makes sure he gets fed.
One day, Lu was sent by his mother to bring water home for a bath. Lu detested baths. They always washed his dirt away. They made his skin…