May 11, 2017

11 05 2017

I am working extra hours (Yay!) and have furiously thrown myself into spring cleaning and organizing projects, so I have less time to write. A temporary thing. One can only devote oneself to so many things at once. Especially when one reaches a certain age. As my friend Mary and I used to say, At 65, one can do all the things one did at 35, just more slowly and with a few allowances.

It started with the painting project. I decided that I needed to figure out just exactly what we had for paint and painting gear. This meant I had to get into that part of the basement where it was stored. There was such a mess down there (my ex was a hoarder—compulsively saving odds and ends that “might be useful”) that I girded my loins and did battle with the whole catastrophe (details in a previous blog).

So far, I have tamed the area of paint (original goal) and excavated the gardening area (collateral victory). The work bench remains a daunting monolith. 90% of what’s there I wouldn’t ever use, even if I knew what it was used for. Yet I hesitate to get rid of it, because I’m not sure what additional 10 – 20% the kids might need. So I settled for tackling the heaps and boxes piled around it.

And the filing cabinets, which startled and dismayed me with their contents (again, see previous blog).

Aside from the occasional vital paper or useful manual buried in the slag, I found a couple of drawers of stuff from my UNH days, going back before I was married. And I found a couple of boxes I had packed and sealed long before, carrying them with me from place to place as I moved. I discovered—

Me. Before I was married.

I was writing letters to the editor protesting damn near all the same things I am protesting now. Back then it included anti-nuclear activism (Does anyone recall the Clamshell Alliance?). We were fighting against political corruption and the rising oligarchy, the trampling of human rights, especially those of Native Americans. Bigotry against women, gays, and non-whites. Destruction of the environment. Christian domination and the persecution of non-Christians (I leaned more towards Paganism back then). Dear god, how little has changed, except that it has gotten worse. The current administration makes Nixon, Reagan, and the two Bushes look like great liberal statesmen.

I followed local bands around and wrote articles about them. I wrote short stories and poems for an assortment of small press magazines. I was involved with Earth First, the Green Party, The Church of the Subgenius, and subscribed to the Stark Fist of Removal. Several college friends and I started an underground ‘zine called Th’ Fishwrapper, a leftist, absurdist, anarchist rag which I continued to publish for several years. We had contributors from all over the place, including Chris Cloutier, an artist living in New York City, and Bill Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead. I had a number of personas, including Xeno L. Smith, Julian Fry, and Max Gestalt. I dressed like a hippie. I was heavily involved in the drug culture (but never the hard-core stuff—we were into mind-expansion, not self-destruction).

I went to dance clubs in Boston with my best friend Jon, a gay man who was among the first wave to die of AIDS. I hung out at the Stone Church in Newmarket. I studied philosophy, history, religion, linguistics, anything that caught my interest, because back then, if you worked at the University (which I did, in the basement of Thompson Hall, as Archives Clerk) you got to take classes for free. I finally graduated, fulfilling my last requirement for a BA, after seven years, and with a boatload more credits than I needed because I’d taken so many other classes out of sheer curiosity. I officially have a dual major in Philosophy and English with a minor in Religious Studies.

Wow. What a life. What a character. I quietly thanked my past self for saving all those bits and pieces, to remind me of who I was.

Mind you, I wouldn’t want to be that person again. I have matured. I have learned patience, tolerance, and compassion. Back then, I was snarky, confrontational, rude, irrational, and intolerant. I shudder at some of the things I did. Stupid things. Insensitive things. Selfish and cruel things. There are people I wish I could go back an apologize to. But what is done is done. The thing is, I’ve grown. Hell, I’m not beyond mistakes; nobody ever is. To err is human. But I won’t make those sorts of mistakes again.

So the big lesson from this? I had a life before I got married. And I’ll have a life after that marriage. I am eager to see what it’ll be.

May 8, 2017

8 05 2017

Spring cleaning.

I had started on the basement last fall, but ran out of steam. So I am back at it. The work bench area is particularly daunting. It includes paint, house maintenance, and gardening stuff. Piles and stacks and boxes and bags, unused, half-used, barely used, nearly empty, congealed or solidified into uselessness. I steeled myself to it.

There is no point to saving things if you forget they are there. If they become so lost in the strata of other saved things that you couldn’t find them even if you remembered you had them. Part of the problem is sharing storage space with someone who has different ideas about how to organize and keep track of things. Another part is sharing the space with someone who gets an idea for a project and goes out and buys all the supplies, then never gets around to the project. Or worse, gets part-way through and then abandons it.

When I think of how frugal I was, how restrained in my spending, denying myself things because I could do without and I didn’t want to spend the money because we had bills to pay, and then I see this accumulation of impulse purchases, I want to weep. It happened while I was cleaning out the office he used to use. All the software and gadgets and equipment he bought for himself while I was telling the kids, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t afford it.”

Never mind, never mind, that’s all in the past. Nothing to be done about it.

He was also a hoarder. Old tools, odd pieces of wood, half-used boxes of mismatched linoleum tiles and flooring, entire boxes of obsolete technology, parts of toys, broken appliances. Hauling away the pieces of a battered, disassembled, metal shelving unit, I came upon a filing cabinet. I groaned. More disorganized files to try to sort through and make sense of. Most of it could probably go directly into the next bonfire. I pulled out a drawer with a faded label that just had his name on it. This should be easy. Just dump it all into a box to be burned.

There was a file labeled, “Birth Certificate, etc.” In my handwriting. WTF?!? Here was another, labeled (this time in his handwriting) “Legal and Important”. My heart pounding, I began to go through it. I found my old diploma from both grammar school and high school. I found copies of our original wills. And assorted other legal papers which I had tried to find during the divorce proceedings, when I was attempting to take over the files and organize them. And…damn it. My older son’s social security card. Son of a bitch. Just a few years ago, he had gone through hell’s own labyrinth of paperwork because he needed his card, and couldn’t find it. And his father had no idea where it was (it should have been in the strong box with other important papers) and implied my son must have lost it. Because heaven forbid he ever admit he was at fault for something.

I felt a flood of rage. I trusted this idiot. I let him take over the financial and legal tasks. Whenever I offered to help because he was expressing frustration with it, he always said no. And now, since the divorce, I have come to find out just what a mess he made of things. How could I have been so foolish? Because I loved and trusted the man.

Never mind, I told myself again, it’s all in the past. Nothing to be done about it but to sort through the catastrophe and move on.

Sitting with my tea this morning I mulled over it. I have learned so much about the man in the course of salvaging a life out of the wreckage of the marriage. He was terribly insecure. So much self-doubt and self-hatred. He needed other people, other things, to make him feel good about himself. A wife that catered to his needs and that he could control. He bought things for himself to make himself feel better. He built up an image of himself through his purchases and accumulations, his projects and ambitions. What he was going to do. If he made mistakes, forgot to pay bills or lost important papers, no one else knew, because he was in control of it all. Criticism, even constructive criticism, upset him terribly. He never apologized, because it was always someone else’s fault. It had to be, because admitting his own failures was too threatening.

I actually felt sorry for him. The poor man. And he gave up all this, the life we built, the wife who was devoted to him, his kids, all we had. So much he has lost because of his own flaws and insecurities. And now he has gone on to someone new, a new life, new things and projects to make him feel good about himself. What a pity.

I suppose he could not help being what he was. A scorpion cannot help being a scorpion, but that does not lessen the pain of its sting. And I am under no obligation to feel fondly towards it or give it a home in my boot.

I cannot help being who I am, either. I haven’t the strength of character to forgive him and feel kindly towards him. Trying to put aside the anger and bitterness, telling myself it only does me harm to dwell on negative emotions, simply doesn’t work. I can’t help feeling what I feel. It’s all I can do to refrain from bad-mouthing their father in front of the boys, and damn it all, the truth still slips out. I could not keep the emotional undercurrents out of my voice when I gave my older son his missing social security card and told him where I’d found it.

Today I will continue spring cleaning. It is good for the soul.

May 5, 2017

5 05 2017

The tabloid at the supermarket shows a picture of the current president with the headline “World War 3 Is Coming”. Social Media continues to cry out in fear and anguish. This morning, I cannot get this poem out of my head. I am not generally one for poetry; I prefer prose. But there are some lines that are so intense with elusive meaning, eloquently and economically expressed, that they fasten onto the mind. This is one.

A Song on the End of the World

By Czeslaw Milosz
Translated by Anthony Milosz

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

May 4, 2017

4 05 2017

I had mentioned something about painting the walls in the spare room. Jen leaped on the idea. Now that I’ve pretty much given up the notion of renting the extra bedroom (I ended up losing money in my attempts, which is definitely not what I had in mind—although I did help a couple of people out during tough times in their lives, which is a big plus) we are going to repurpose the space to our use. Mostly for Jen, who is sharing Max’s room, and it’s getting cramped for both of them.

The walls definitely needed help. I was sick of the color—a tasteful pale yellow—anyway. Jen said she wanted to paint one wall green and the other three light blue. I shrugged and said go for it.

She picked out a shade of emerald green. Dark for a wall. The common wisdom is light colors—even non-colors that go with everything—for walls. Pale, bloodless, lifeless colors. They lighten a room, so they say. The walls shouldn’t attract attention to themselves; the focus should be what is in the room. But the paint was purchased, and I thought, what the hell. It’s green. What could be bad?

As soon as we began on the wall, I felt a sense of delight. It was a lovely color, full of life, summer and cool refuge under leafy green. When it was done and dry, and the sunlight from the next morning fell on it, the room took on the glow. The wall had become a trellis covered with vines.

There was a little paint left, so I took it upstairs and painted the trim around my bedroom windows with it. That vivid green accent inspired me. The bedroom is blue, the shade chosen to be soothing and cool, conducive to sleep. I’ve grown to dislike it. I don’t want a pale, arctic blue, like the heart of a glacier. I don’t want the cold blue of the bedroom I shared with someone whose conditional love chilled my heart until it beat quickly only with anxiety.

I want vivid.

I am going to pick out the most vibrant, audacious, defiant shade of aquamarine I can find. Something on the green-blue spectrum between turquoise and teal but with a bit more of the forest in it. I will study swatches until I find the one I want. I will paint the wall opposite my bed, so that I wake up every morning and am greeted with my favorite color laughing in the morning sun.

April 30, 2017

30 04 2017

From the moment we are born we are trying to figure things out. First it’s the basics, like, how does my body work and how do I interact with this world. We move on to more complicated stuff, driving our parents crazy with our constant questions. If we are lucky (most of us aren’t) when we go to school our inquisitiveness is cultivated, and our teachers try their best to answer our endless questions. What causes the seasons? What are the stars? How do computers work? Why are there wars? How do we know about dinosaurs? What’s it like to be a fireman? What’s it like to be on the moon? Where does our food come from? Where does our trash go?

And on and on. More and more complex. Until we get to the really difficult ones. How do we know what is right and what is wrong? Why do people believe so many different things? Where do we go when we die? What does it mean to be a good person? Does God really exist?

I remember hearing my grandmother complaining one time about how science took all the wonderful mystery out of the world. She preferred to see the Moon as something marvelous and romantic. She hated that astronomy spoiled all that by telling her it was just a dead rock.

Her attitude is common. Many people want to cling to fantasy, to preserve a child-like wonder and naivete about the world. They’d rather believe in fairies and spirits and all manner of spiritual and supernatural phenomena. They resent Science for telling them there is no evidence that such things exist. (There is no harm in clinging to such beliefs, until these people try to make public policy that affects all of us based on their dreams and fantasies.)

Perhaps I can no longer believe in unicorns, angels, ghosts, or magic. I don’t consider myself inconvenienced at all. Quite the opposite. For every imaginary bubble that Science punctures, it offers me a dozen more possibilities and realities far more wonderful. Okay, so we know now that the Moon is not a goddess, not a silver world of hidden mystery, not made of green cheese. But it is fascinating to find out what it really is and how it came to be. And now, given the tantalizing hints provided by our probes, we can begin imagining what marvels might await us on far-off worlds like Jupiter or Saturn, and their divers and mysterious moons. And beyond.

Children might be delighted by make-believe, by Santa and the Tooth Fairy. But eventually their inquiring minds want to know the truth. They figure it out whether we want them to or not. Parents try to keep their children believing their own myths and fantasies, home-schooling them or sending them to special schools that don’t contradict those beliefs. They desperately try to keep them from questioning whether their spiritual and moral equivalents of Santa Claus really exist. Sometimes it works. They grow up believing in Santa Claus despite all evidence to the contrary. They refuse to consider any other point of view, and think their stubborn ignorance is noble.

But most eventually feel the pull of their inquisitive nature. They want to know the truth. It’s difficult having to admit that the glorious work of imagination you loved is not real. But then you begin to realize just how wonderful the world is, just as it is. And in the process of exploring that wonderful world, you realize there is still plenty of room for imagination. You can still believe in Santa Claus, but in a far more sophisticated way that fits neatly with how the world actually works.

No need to put your fingers in your ears and cover your eyes, recited dogma repeatedly so nothing else can creep in and spoil it. No need for mental gymnastics to try to hold on to contradictory beliefs. No need to go in terror that your children won’t grow up believing as you do. No need to worry that your life will be empty and meaningless if you let go of what you believed as a child.

Embracing truth and not hiding from it will fill your life with new meaning. You will not be losing your child-like nature, you will be fulfilling it. Asking questions. Getting answers or working the answers out for yourself. Moving on to the next bloom of questions.

Figuring things out.

April 28, 2017

28 04 2017

So we are back to 80 degrees, and humid to boot. This morning was all about getting deposits made and bills paid. Then hit the store to pick up groceries. It always strikes me how much more expensive Hannaford is than Market Basket. But the Hannaford in Northwood is close by, and my bank is a block away. So I buy the bare necessities.

I delivered a whole bunch of eggs to the Food Pantry, and they gave me a couple of boxes of bread in return. Didn’t expect that. We laughed about it—the Food Pantry was compensating my chickens for their eggs. I left feeling pretty good. It’s that social thing, that sharing thing. A reminder about all the good people doing good things in the world.

So back home, and the morning fog has lifted. I took a lunch break and hopped online before going outside to work in the garden. I’d taken a hiatus from my Facebook news feed. I realized I was spending most of my time scrolling and feeling frustrated. Life is too short to waste one’s time being uselessly upset. Today I took some time and thinned out my “friends” list, removing anyone I wasn’t actually friends with, or couldn’t recall why I friended them in the first place. There are a few I kept, even though we’ve never met, because I usually enjoy their posts and they’ve commented on mine. I think I would like them if I actually met them, and I want to keep seeing what they are up to.

A writer friend advised me to keep all the SF connections for when I promote my next book. As a matter of fact, a huge part of the cull was just those sorts of connections. I have not a shred of evidence that FB has done a damn thing to help with any of my books, except getting the word out to people who are actual friends. That SF editor or pro who has a gazillion followers isn’t going to see my post anyway, let alone do anything about it. I’m just another in a sea of amateurs.

Back when my first book came out, I friended every writing person I could, and was thrilled whenever a pro accepted my friend request. This was “networking” and it was supposed to help me make connections in the right circles. Then I began to notice that these folks never reacted to, or commented on, anything I posted, and in fact, rarely posted anything themselves. (Two exceptions are Robert J. Sawyer and Jim Kelly. They are awesome writers and awesome people—read their books!!!) However, my feed was jam-packed with announcements from, shall we say, less well-known writers, all vying for attention. Hmmm, I thought. How likely am I to buy a book by somebody I’ve never heard of based on a FB post? Unlikely. They are unlikely to buy mine, either. The only writers I care about are the ones I actually know, either through Broad Universe or meeting them at conventions. So, my conclusion is that FB is a great way to keep up with folks I know and care about, and useless for book promotion.

The aforementioned writer friend, Dan Kimmel, was someone I approached at a convention after hearing him read from his book and liking it (I bought a copy). I was nobody, but he agreed to read and blurb my book. I’ve never forgotten that. Ditto with Allen Steele and Rob Sawyer. I met them in person, interviewing the former and being on a panel with the latter. (Jim Kelly is my neighbor; lives next door in Nottingham). It was that personal connection that mattered. Facebook, again, is a great way of keeping in touch with these folks. So, you’re right, Dan, and I’d never cut loose those connections. It’s the ones I never actually met, or only met in passing, who don’t know me from Eve, that I’ve unfriended, and I’m sure they’ll never miss me.

It’s all part of me figuring things out. What works, what doesn’t. And never mind what the rest of the world tells me. What works for them, doesn’t necessarily work for me (and the reverse). And for me, Facebook is a place to keep in touch with friends—real ones.

April 26, 2017

26 04 2017

Long day yesterday. I was hobbling around, my muscles protesting from all that physical labor the day before. Did my shift at PJL (Philbrick-James, the Deerfield Library) before shopping and running errands in the afternoon and going to my training session at DPL (Durham Public Library) in the evening. As tired as I was, I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the new place of employment.

Oh, what a glorious institution an affluent, dedicated community can create! DPL is automated. I had to learn the software, which they were happy to show me. As I explored the wonders of reserving a book or searching overdues with a mere few clicks, I oo-ed and ah-ed. Another clerk came over, puzzled by my delight and fascination with an ordinary tool she used every day. The director, who was training me, grinned and said, “Her library isn’t automated.”

Do not get me wrong. PJL is a charming, old-fashioned, small-town library. Our historic building is unique. Our system works. We serve the public cheerfully and efficiently. They get personalized service, and can buy eggs at the desk. (I am not kidding. We keep them in the fridge downstairs. Pick up your Interlibrary loan request, and a dozen free-range, local, chicken eggs with a couple of duck eggs thrown in.) Since our rural town has a pitiful tax base, we have no money to do anything other than the bare minimum. Our four public access computers are supplied and maintained by volunteers. We still stamp the date due on check-out cards, and maintain a paper shelf list.

PJL is quirky, primitive, cramped and slightly shabby. But it’s ours and we love it.

I have no idea what changes we face when out beloved director of thirty some-odd years retires this fall. The shit-storm that blew up when I expressed my willingness to take over has totally soured me on the idea (the details are ugly, murky, fraught with small-town politics and vendettas, and to this day I don’t really understand what happened). So I am working on Plan B. Someone else can be the captain. I shall strive to be a reliable, indispensable, Number One. I expect the town and the library would be best served by someone providing some stability and continuity during the change in administration.

My work as a sub at DPL will give me skills that could prove useful to the new director, who will no doubt put automating PJL at the top of their to-do list. Good luck with that. But at least I will have a familiarity with an automated system, as well as experience in a real, modern town library. I was in cataloging at the UNH library years (eons) ago when DPL was housed in Dimond Library. I remember when I self-published the amateur version of Awake Chimera, DPL—which was by that time housed in less than ideal quarters in the Durham Market Place strip mall—welcomed me as an author and hosted my very first public reading. So I have a history of sorts with Durham Public, bless its heart. It’s a thrill to be working there in their spanky new building, with all its space, services, and grand accommodations, even if only a few hours a month (PJL is still my first priority).

Today it is raining, so I can’t go out and hurt myself more in the garden. Instead I’ll do some writing, and crunch my end of the month numbers. Although Jen’s medical issues have scuttled her earning power for the moment, both boys are making a good living, particularly Max, who already seems to have attracted some attention from management at Market Basket. So I am optimistic that we will be able to draw swords against the debt monster and eventually defeat it.

In fact, I am quite optimistic overall. Things are falling into place, albeit in a way I hadn’t anticipated. There’s only so much in life that you can control. I don’t advocate leaving one’s future entirely to chance; it is prudent to take some precautions and make wise plans. Just don’t be surprised when the best laid of them get plowed under by an indifferent universe. One must always be ready to adapt, change, seize unexpected opportunities and roll with unexpected punches.