December 15, 2017

15 12 2017

I am sixty-one today. How the hell did that happen?

Mary Jolles commented on my last blog that she disagreed with me about having dreams. To clarify, I agree, we do need to have dreams, ambitions, a vision for a future we can work towards, particularly when we are young. The problem lies with dreaming big, with reaching too high, and then listening to the exhortations to never give up, no matter what, because “you can do anything if you put your mind towards it.”

What a horrible thing to tell someone. It implies that if they fail, it was because they didn’t really try hard enough, their faith wasn’t strong enough, they didn’t really apply themselves. The weakness lies with them. It’s their fault that they didn’t achieve their goal.

My goal was to be a successful author. Maybe not a best-selling author, but one who has a devoted following. An author with a contract with a major publisher and whose books appear in bookstores and libraries all over the country. It was my big dream since I was a child. I worked towards it all my life. I am sixty-one. My big dream hasn’t happened.

Another dream was to find a life-partner, a true love, somebody to stand by me through thick and thin, for better or worse. When I got married, I was determined to make that marriage work. I did everything I could. I invested myself fully in it. After twenty-five years, the marriage failed anyway. I am sixty-one. And I am single.

Let me just add that one hears all the time how it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all. Perhaps this is true for other people. They seem to use it as a consolation when they have lost, and nod solemnly, believing it. However, my experience has been different. The suffering at having love fail is unspeakable. It vastly outweighs the joy. The present misery is far more real than the memory of happiness. I would say I wish I’d never met the man but for my children, who are precious to me. I would not wish to undo my boys. But I paid dearly for them.

The Buddha would smile gently and point out where I went wrong. It was not with the big dreams, but in becoming so attached to them. In allowing them to matter to me too much. Because they were so important to me, their failure devastated me. Refusing to give up, continuing to strive, brought suffering, not success.

There is peace in letting go. In accepting that the big dream isn’t ever going to happen and I don’t need to keep struggling to achieve it. I don’t know how many more years of life I will have, but I don’t want to spend them swamped in the misery of failure. My new goal is far more modest, if every bit as challenging. My new goal is to learn to accept what is and be content with it. Take each day with whatever it brings and let that be enough. No longer torture myself with the desire for more.

This is the gift I give to myself on my sixty-first birthday. Many happy returns.

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December 12, 2017

12 12 2017

Upon reflection, I believe that a chief source of misery is daring to dream great dreams, and to believe oneself capable of achieving great things. True, this brings success to the very few, who are then held up as shining examples by inspirational writers and speakers. These same writers and speakers are strangely silent on how to deal with failure, unless it is to say, “Keep trying and never give up.” This condemns one to a lifetime of struggle and disappointment.

Blessed are those who dare to not dream great dreams, who are humble, and are content with a simple life. Perhaps they will never achieve great things, but they will have a greater measure of happiness.





December 4, 2017

4 12 2017

Wednesday I picked up the rental vehicle and got it packed. Thursday I hit the road. I left the driveway at 7 am precisely. The road was filled with turkeys doing their morning commute. Remember, we are talking about Deerfield, so these were real turkeys. They come down from their roosting trees in the morning and work their way up the road each day foraging. I waved goodbye to them; I have since learned that turkeys are plentiful in Michigan, too.

It took me 15 hours and change to make the drive. My GPS kept trying to reroute me through Canada, which indeed would have been much shorter and faster. But I was traveling with Fagen, my cat, and they are very picky about bringing animals across the border. I was slowed down by traffic in places and had to stop periodically to correct my course (No, Wise GPS Woman, I do NOT want to reroute, dammit!). My potted plant, Philo, toppled over during a sudden brake, so I had to rescue him, scoop up as much spilled soil as possible, and tuck him in again. And there were periodic stops for gas, rest room, and to reassure Fagen, who was thoroughly sick of the business. I could relate.

But I finally rolled into my destination at 11:30 pm, shaky, bleary, and wired from coffee and determination. The last couple hours were surreal. It was dark, raining off and on, and I was primarily sharing the road with big trucks. I’d only taken brief breaks from driving, never more than 15 minutes or so. I was also on cold meds. I’d been sick for several days before I left. Just what I needed. And I was already sleep deprived because of nerves prior to departure. All this combined to make me slightly out of my mind. I was utterly focused on Getting There. In gaming terms, I was fighting the final boss.

And I succeeded. My friends welcomed me and got me unpacked with admirable efficiency. My room was ready. I dug out the stuff I needed immediately, which was mostly what Fagen needed immediately. We were both pretty traumatized.

The next day, Friday, we began figuring things out. My friends, Jesse, Jane, and Jenna (yes, you need to have a name beginning with “J” to live here) worked hard to make me feel at home. And all that day I was busy getting stuff done. Returning the rental vehicle, getting unpacked, finding out the basics of the household, getting oriented.

Saturday, I crashed hard.

I had been pushing myself non-stop for a long time. I was so far beyond my comfort zone that I couldn’t even see it in the rear-view mirror anymore. I was exhausted, homesick, and seized with the reality that here I was, far away from everything familiar, in a totally new place. I spent most of the day in bed, crying, sleeping, reading, and watching Netflix on my laptop. My hosts were away for the day visiting friends, so I could revel in my wretchedness in private. Fagen was with me every minute, probably just as wretched, clinging to me for comfort. I was very glad to have him with me, warm and furry and affectionate.

Sunday was better. The day was fairly warm (50 degrees, unusual for the first week of December) and sunny, so I went for a walk. It’s a fairly rural neighborhood, with farms and fields—and expensive country estates—so the roads make for pleasant walking. The exercise was good for me. I worked outside for a while, raking leaves, and got some training for my other duties. It’s overwhelming only because I have so much else to learn and adjust to. But I am confident I’ll be able to handle it. I enjoy working with plants, and there will be outdoor gardens to tend in the spring. I can set my own pace. Jane is kind and generous; she’s my actual employer; it’s her house. Jesse is her fiance, and Jenna is another friend. So it doesn’t feel so much like a job, as just me doing what needs to be done as a part of the household. It’s an unusual household, but I know I am going to like it here.

Today is Monday. It is grey and gloomy out, although still fairly warm. Jane and Jesse are at work. Jenna keeps odd hours, but she’s here if I need anything. I’ll be continuing to unpack and get organized. I have new lists to make. Things to catch up on, like this blog. One box got left behind in the confusion of packing and preparing for the trip. My son Alec will ship it to me and I should have it by the end of the week, I hope. Things slowly get taken care of and fall into place.

So far, so good.





October 31 2017

31 10 2017

Me and my boys, Alec and Max, taking a last walk together in Pawtuckaway

I am moving to Michigan.

This was a terribly difficult decision; the latest in a series of agonizing decisions. But I can’t keep on going the way I have been. The last several years have been brutal. They have worn me out. I feel defeated and humiliated, but damn it all, I did the best I could. The very best. And to hell with those for whom my best wasn’t good enough.

My friends understand why I am leaving Deerfield. Others will form their own opinions no matter what I say. People tend to pick through and reinterpret what they hear to justify their prejudices.

What matters most to me now is saving my home and my mother’s land. I’m not even so attached to the house itself. But selling the house means selling the land, and losing the land would damn near kill me. So for all its faults and bad memories, I must hang on to it. For my boys’ sake. For my sake. So that, in these uncertain times, we all at least have a place to live. Someplace familiar and secure. A good home.

I have been offered a job with room and board included. With luck, I stand to earn even more, up to what would actually be a comfortable income. I would be able to send money back to support the house, make needed repairs and improvements, pay off the mortgage. Max and Alec are staying behind to look after the place and do their own thing, with the help of Jen, who has become pretty much one of the family.

I will miss my family and my home very much. I will miss my friends here, I will miss the White Mountains, I will miss the familiar places that I’ve known since I was a child. I hope to come back from time to time to visit, and hope someday to come back to stay. But for now this is what I have to do.

I have given my notice at the library. I will be leaving at the end of November. I close this painful chapter of my life, and hope to begin to heal.





October 28, 2017

28 10 2017

Once, from the top of Ben White Road, you could see the distant ridge
Back when the trees and I were small, and my mother was still alive.
The bridge across the stream has collapsed, its granite slabs cracked and tilted.
Only with care may a person cross. Things change, things change,
And my heart is left behind.

Above the ruined bridge is an old burial ground.
The graves were moved to the cemetery in town,
Except for the bones of a baby left behind.
Ephraim, distant kin, lies unmarked, buried deeper each year in leaf mould.

I was told this tumble of rock, trickle and pool is Lucy Brook
Though I can’t find it on any map.
My children played here as I did before them.
Tears salt the clear water and ripple my reflection.
Near the brook are the stones of the fire pit my father built.
We laughed, tending flames, cooking meals among the pines.
Things change, things change, and my heart is left behind.

Now come desperate times. Dreams fail.
I must leave, traveling west as others have,
To a place where I am welcome, new friends, and a chance to earn my keep.
Change, things change, much of it is good,
But my heart is left behind.





The Chimera

28 07 2017

The room crowded with friends
who each have someone else more significant.
Fear and craving
a magnet misaligned.

The child pushed out onto the busy street
doesn’t speak the language.
The girl writes down the order
gets it wrong anyway.
The woman studies the plans
builds a rocking chair
which collapses into splinters.

Sitting on cracked pavement at the edge of town
the sun sets, chill dew falls
bones ache.

Reflects a chimera:
The cup dropped, but–
a smile reassuring, hands are there to catch it.
The poles align, click tight.
The small coins, tarnished,
are yet sufficient.
The silence yawns not with empty solitude
but with sleepy contentment.





June 27, 2017

27 06 2017

I see so many posts and articles about the middle class, how certain policies will affect the middle class, warning that the middle class is disappearing, wringing their hands in anguish over the suffering of the middle class. Occasionally, someone mentions the poor.

If the middle class is struggling, the poor are being crucified. Their plight is far more tragic and terrifying. Yet the middle class gets far more press.

Is it because of the stigma attached to being poor? This ignorant notion that poverty comes as a result of character flaws and is purely voluntary? That the poor don’t deserve our compassion? That “hard-working Americans” are always middle class?

Is it that most of the people doing the posting and writing the articles, and those doing the reading and responding, are middle class? It’s all about them and the world they relate to, and the poor are these amorphous masses that they don’t really understand.

We are so immersed in the myths created by a prosperous America that we can’t get it through our heads that Reality just isn’t like that anymore (if it ever was). This is the Land of Opportunity. Work hard, go to college, and you’ll get ahead if you put your mind to it. Anyone can succeed if they just try. Which of course implies that those who don’t succeed must not have tried hard enough. Those who don’t have enough money must not be working hard enough, and have no one to blame but themselves.

The affluent look down their noses at the poor. Sometimes there is baffled compassion: “Why don’t they just [fill in the blank]?” Some times there is undisguised contempt: “They’d be fine if they’d only [fill in the blank].” The blank usually consists of options available to the middle class, which the middle class takes for granted. Options the poor simply do not have.

Why don’t they save up their money for (car, home, school, etc.)? When every penny goes towards paying your bills and that still isn’t enough, when you have to choose between paying the rent and eating, the idea of having spare change to save up is ludicrous. Even with grants and financial aid, going to school requires some outlay of money, and usually transportation. Also, when you are poor, you don’t qualify easily for credit and loans. Doors open to the affluent are closed to the poor.

Why do they live in such squalor? There isn’t much choice. If something breaks, there is no money to fix it. If something wears out, there is no money to replace it. So you cobble together and patch up and make do with whatever spare parts you can get for free, usually something scavenged out of what others have thrown away. The result isn’t going to be lovely.

Why don’t they get a better job? Because the job market stinks. For any given job that offers a livable wage there will be a huge number of applicants. Only one is going to get it. The rest are thrown back into the pond. Part-time work is often all that can be found. Businesses often hire very few full-timers in order to avoid having to give them benefits, filling the void with a pool of workers who get just shy of full time. Business owners think that’s good business. Workers call that poverty.

Those benefits, particularly the medical ones, are desperately needed. If one can’t get them through an employer, and one can’t afford insurance (if you’re choosing between rent and groceries the odds are excellent that you can’t afford health insurance) then one must rely on Medicaid or some other form of assistance. And guess what’s being cut.

So you are sick and stressed and hopeless. No matter how hard you try, your options are limited and your prospects dim. You are not a superhero, not gifted with exceptional brains or stamina or determination. You just want an even break and you aren’t going to get one. You get angry, maybe violent, maybe abusive to yourself and others. You are a rat in a cage being subjected to random electric shocks. And you are told it’s all your fault.

Let’s go back to the blessed middle class. Many are one paycheck away from disaster. They purchase their lifestyle with dangerous debt. The loss of a job could be the loss of the house, the credit cards, the beginning of the catastrophic plunge. At least when you are among the blessed, you do have options. You can afford lawyers and accountants to help you manage things. You have contacts that can advise you and help you. You have friends and family who can get you through the crisis. You can avoid becoming one of them.

The poor. The struggling. The ones who can’t afford nice cars and attractive houses. Who can’t afford to send their kids to good schools. Who go to the grocery store and can’t just buy whatever appeals to them, shop organic or indulge some special diet. Who have to resort to food pantries and soup kitchens and other forms of charity. Who eat fast food instead of fine food, who shop at Goodwill and church rummage sales. Who live in ramshackle houses or cheap apartments, can’t afford to get their teeth fixed or their hair done. You know, the ones you look down on and shake your head over. The ones you feel so superior to.

Picture this. You’ve been hit by a car. You are laying in the street, broken and bleeding. A crowd stands around you looking down at you in disgust. They say, “God, you’re a mess! Why don’t you clean yourself up?” They say, “Don’t just lie there. At least make an effort to get yourself off the pavement.” They say, “What, you expect us to help you? What about personal responsibility?” They say, “It’s your own fault for walking out in front of that car.”

That is poverty.