Friday, November 28, 2008

Hear me roar

So guess who spent yesterday morning in a little frenzy of home care? Yup. One of the smart moms at ballet class suggested that blocked gutters could be at least partly to blame for the water issue, an idea I (internally) pooh-poohed--I just had the gutters done in February, and that wall is away from the trees on the West side of the house.

So, of course, you see where this is going. I spent 45 minutes yesterday perched precariously on a ladder scooping gunk, grit, needles and what looks to be new topsoil out of the gutter on that wall. I carried my cell phone in my pocket and left the 911 instructions by the phone, with strict orders for my daughter to call first. Inspired by my success, I then cut away a bunch of dead foliage from around the house and raked the leaves out of the driveway. I trimmed a bunch of other stuff, wrapped my outside pipes in case we get a freeze (usually I'm out there at 11 p.m. after the newscast urges us to do it on a particularly cold night), cleaned the bunny's cage, refreshed the cat facilities, and graded one of the multiple stacks of papers I am carrying around.

Might satisfying. Not sure if I'm going to attempt to clean the other gutters out myself or call the people who did them last; I'm sure the other side of the house is worse, although nothing has leaked. And I'm still going to call the roofer and/or masonry folks for a consult. My prayer is that I don't have to have the plaster replaced in the living room--an expensive mess.

And I am still dreaming of a bright, light-filled, cozy condo for my daughter and me. I grew up in a family that did not do much yard or house care. The projects my father undertook always became disasters that professionals then had to fix, and generally resulted in a lot of swearing, screaming, and scapegoating. My mother is remarkably handy--she had to be; my father was useless and we had little money--but her approach is slapdash, to put it kindly. Our yard care was minimal, at best. Plus it was California, where the long, dry seasons kept mold and rampant plant growth at bay. A little neglect went a long way toward keeping the yard from growing too avidly. As I am only now realizing, life in the wet, lush Pacific NW is largely a battle between a house and the elements. Water is forever seeping, leaking, corroding, and destroying anything it can find. A dry basement is a miracle, a thing of beauty, and a joy forever. Wooden shingles, decks, and pretty much anything else require constant coats of sealant or they rot. Sometimes they rot anyway. All of this is expensive, stressful, unpleasant, and potentially obscenely expensive. And, in the grand scheme of things, hopeless. Left alone, my house would probably disintegrate in five years or less. I'm not sure if this is a powerful lesson in the futility of human life, or a reason to move south. I'll keep you posted.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Things to do with the second half of my life

I'm feeling bored, bored, bored by my life. This is a pattern for me; I used to move frequently, and then by the time I made new friends and got truly settled in, I'd be off to try something new and someplace new (but not too new--always an academic program and a restaurant job!). My father has told me about the AA truism, which goes something like this: "You get off the bus, and there you are." It's true; I follow me every where I go. But as it grows ever more impossible to delude even myself into thinking that if I'm sad, angry, and desperate enough my husband will come back, or that the universe will decide to take care of me with no effort on my part, I am thinking about what I want to do for ME in the next phase(s). With no time limits or commitment, here are the things I want to do:

1. Move back to SF/live in a "real" city again. I often wonder if the sheer joy of being in SF (which, for me, is tangible and genuine) could possibly offset the very real benefits of my life now: a nice, big house; a fabulous job that I love; good friends who support me and my daughter; a "community" that includes her Chinese program, ballet, and school; a lower cost of living that makes it *almost* possible for me to afford these things for her; a nice, small, easy city where the daily workings of life create minimal stress. Very few of these things would be remotely possible in an expensive city where even procuring housing--let alone finding a remotely suitable academic job--would be pretty much beyond my means.

2. Take an extended research trip. I'd like to take a semester, or summer, or whatever, and live in Boston, Philadelphia, D.C., or New York. I'd like to work in the archives and libraries during the day, and explore the city with my daughter the rest of the time. There are fellowships for this, but they don't cover child care. If we went during the year, of course, she could go to school...

3. Travel. The top of my list: Iceland, Scotland, Ireland; Macchu Picchu; Eastern Europe--especially Istanbul and the coast of the former Yugoslavia. Budapest.

4. Live/teach in China. There are exchange programs. Once I get tenure (if?) I am going to check these out in earnest; apparently, and somewhat oddly, my academic specialty is in demand in their universities.

5. Write a mystery novel. I'm considering taking an on-line course, just for the structure, practice, and feedback it would provide. And no, of course I don't have time.

6. Arrest my physical decline. I want to have a regular exercise program of swimming and yoga, at least, so I can be one of those women who feel and look better at 50 than at 35.

7. Find a second soul-mate who adores my daughter. I'd love to get married again, but even more, I'd like someone to go to movies with, to hang out with on Sunday mornings, and to travel to some of those places in number 3.

8. Live in a modernist dwelling and get RID of some of the stuff that weighs me down.

9. Volunteer.

10. Sort my photos and put together my wedding scrapbook. Finally.

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I quit

(Confidential to my sister: don't read this!)

I think I am going to throw in the towel on home ownership (I know, great timing, huh?) In the past year I have spent more than 30K on "deferred maintenance" for the rental house (and given the general financial scene, thinking of it as "capital relocation" is no longer me). In the past three years, I've put 20K or so into my house, and had signed on to teach summer school to get the wood floors (currently buried under carpet...yecch) redone--money that will now go to defray the consumer debt I racked up replacing the furnace in the rental. My trees/shrubs need professional pruning (haven't been done in 3.5 years), and today I discovered water damage on the wall with my fireplace (the masonry was part of what had been repaired).

I'm seriously thinking of selling both houses, if possible, and raising my daughter in a condo. I'm feeling pent up by the requirements of suburban idealism (house, yard, upkeep, pets), and also disappointed with how dull my life is (see next post; or previous post, or whatever).

Today, in a fit of displaced malcontentment, I had a very satisfying plant massacre. I have ugly plants for which I have cared ceaselessly and unenthusiastically. Some were abandoned by other people, foisted on me, or arrived upon my husband's death. But they were ugly, overgrown, straggly, yellowed, surrounded by dead foliage, in need of repotting, root-bound.

So I threw them away (I did put them in the city yard waste). I put the pots in the garage. I have one half as many plants now, a small amount of guilt, and a tremendous sense of FREEDOM.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Anger (Mis)management

Congratulations to those of you who marked the third anniversary of my husband's death. Yes, it's been three years, and even the most patient members of my support group are visibly ready for me to GET ON WITH IT, ALREADY. I won't lie; the anniversary was easier this year--less fraught. No weeping. Very few phone calls or messages, but those that I did receive were lovely and necessary and reminded me that I am not the only one in the universe who is truly and deeply sorry that he is gone; nor am I the only one who remembers how smart, funny, and caring he was.

I even managed to "reclaim" my birthday, which, since it falls on the day after his death (his final gift to me was to try to live to my birthday, and he came so close), has been a dreary affair. This year I had a nice dinner, cake, wine, and good friends to help me move ahead into life with him.

Snickollet has a very moving post about anger (as always, she's a far more reliable, informative, and skillful writer about these things). I have to say that my own anger continues to sneak up on me and take me by surprise. Just yesterday we took our dog to the off-leash park. He's been woefully underexercised and undersocialized this term, because of the kindergarten commute and my schedule, so he needed to play. There were too many dogs there, which gets him excited. And while he's not vicious, he does seem to be sort of a provocateur--minor dog interactions sound a bit nastier and seem a bit more frequent when he gets involved. Combined with his pitbull heritage (those jaws are scary, whether or not he intends to do harm) and the fact that this is a "ghetto dog park" (lots of folks with very minimally trained, powerful breeds, and too many un-altered dogs), he's scary, especially to those who don't really understand dog communications. So I keep a close eye on him, and remind him constantly that I am there and that he can't be too rough. He's never rough with smaller dogs; he just tends to be annoying in trying to persuade others to play. After about 20 minutes, there was one scuffle which he didn't start but butted into. One dog assumed the submissive position, and mine was on top. I rushed over and called him off, and no one was injured--in fact, tails were still wagging. But this was clearly out of line. As I leashed him up, a fierce looking guy with a huge dog started chewing me out, rudely, and threatening to call the cops. I was leaving, so I said "we're leaving" and walked away.

But by the time I reached the car I was breathless with rage, and crying almost hysterically. I was furious at the guy, for being rude, at myself, for thinking my dog wasn't being a jerk, at the other owners, for not saying "hey, your dog is a little rough" if that was what they thought, or for not defending me, furious at my dog, for making trouble, at the world, for making life so hard.

This seems to be more common than not these days, and is, perhaps, one of the longest, slowest, most persistent manifestations of grief. As aware as I am that so many people suffer more, and that it's high time I got over myself and on with whatever the next phase of life is going to bring, I still get caught up short by rage: at never having a day off; at my daughter for her constant demands; at the house, which seems to be falling apart out of sheer spite; at the woman who wrecked my car and had no insurance; at my crappy health-care that runs out in November leaving me with $800 worth of sudden bills; at the delivery company that will only deliver during [my] work hours. But just as often, I'm angry about nothing at all. I use the film "Crash" in my teaching, and every time I am brought to tears (for myself, not for her), when Sandra Bullock's character admits that she is angry All The Time.

I know that even if my husband were still here, things would break, bills would come due, my daughter would be demanding (and, of course, she's supposed to be). But the anger doesn't really have anywhere to go, even if it's no longer serving whatever remotely useful survival function it used to serve.

And yes, my schedule next term should allow me to take a yoga class.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I have never, never felt more proud of my fellow Americans than I am today, in light of last night.

Jesse Jackson and John Lewis brought me to tears.

It's been too, too long coming.

How I wish my husband were here to celebrate with me.


Sunday, October 12, 2008


I confess I have been having trouble following Snickollet's foray into dating. Of course, I am thrilled that she is having fun with it, and envious of her resilience. I trust her to be smart, and careful, and to make good decisions for her own future happiness and those of her beautiful offspring.

I wish I could try it.

The fact is, that I was horrible at dating before, and I deeply, deeply resent having to do it again, when I am more than a decade older than when I met my husband. I feel ugly, stressed out, drained, and tired, and I can't even imagine adding another person's needs and desires into the mix. Of course, a "real" relationship would provide comfort, and support, and some desperately needed fun. But I still don't feel like I am ready to get to know someone--let alone make the foray into online contact. My friends are surprisingly useless in terms of making matches for me; one friend tried, but it was abundantly clear that even if there had been sparks (there weren't), the guy was too hung up on his 8-year-past-ex-wife to even consider dating. Whew--at least I wasn't the problem.

I'm not, at heart, a very friendly person. I can be gregarious, in certain situations, but only when I feel completely in control of the level of contact (a friend and I joke that this is why teaching is so perfect--the illusion of great intimacy and affection with a bunch of students who go away after 4 months). I have a hard time "getting to know" people in any setting that is not entirely directed toward something other than getting to know them--work, say. And that is not going to happen at my current job. I know it's hard for everyone, and that it takes effort, but the real problem is that I rarely like anyone that well on first impression--especially if he is male and a potential date (however remote that potential may be). I realize it's some sort of immature self-protective device, but it's pretty firmly instilled by now, and I am not in much of a position to work on changing it!

So after finally braving Snick's blog, and cheering for her (she actually had SEX!), I'm feeling really, really bad. Because it's been almost three years now. And I'm pathetic. And I still miss him, and he's never coming back.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

True Confessions, Part 741

1. My little Chinese girl loves the Dixie Chicks and Dolly Parton. Seriously.

2. She also loves Obama. "We want Mr. Obama to win, don't we, Mama?"

3. I have to acknowledge that even though I'd vote for Obama anyway, based on his policies and the opposition, it doesn't hurt that I would totally like to date him--if, of course, he were single and local.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dorcasina: the upgrade

1. I am filled with embarrassing love for my ostentatious, heavy, pretentious, safe, solid, maneuverable, safe, easy-to-handle, slippery-road-proof and not-too-gas-guzzling German automobile, even though it makes me looks like the kind of woman who gives me hives. Y'know? Selling out is easy and fun.

2. My husband's beloved laptop (an early iBook--he was an early adopter, although of limited means) finally died--no screen, no booting up, no nothin'. Although they assured me at the Mac Store when I purchased its replacement that they could transfer the data, my own ineptitude and failure to upgrade the operating system often enough meant they were unable to do so. This rendered me temporarily and somewhat inconsolable. His emails, his file for me labeled, in his usual unsentimental and concise style, "Hereafter Notes," the animated tasmanian devil that he and my daughter once watched multiple times a day. [I can probably find someone to extract the hard drive and retrieve the data, but at much more expense and inconvenience. I suspect it's his way of urging me to be less maudlin, but I resist.]

3. That very evening, after asking the Mac Store guy about my 3 year-long struggle to retrieve or replace the Admin id/password for my "big computer" (the lack of which had prevented me from updating software, installing new programs, etc. for almost 3 years now), I figured it out. It was utterly logical and so typically my husband--he used a default name for the i.d., and my own usual password. It really felt like a gift from the universe, especially when updating the system did NOT erase every file I had (all my photos, for example) from the computer. Thanks, love!

4. I've taken to wearing my engagement and wedding rings (mine and his) again. Not every day. But I missed the sparkly cognac diamond ring we chose together--on eBay--and while wearing the wedding rings makes me sad sometimes, wearing the engagement ring is, at least right now, making me happy.

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