About pacienciapaciencia

For seven years, I have taught science in inner city schools. Four Mays ago, I quit my job, sold most of my possessions and moved to Downeast Maine. Originally from England, I have lived in Texas, Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Maine. I love listening to music, taking photographs and cooking for friends and family. I also custom design and fabricate silver, gold, bronze and copper jewelry. Recently, I moved back to Texas after realizing that the snow and darkness of Maine winters were not for me! Now I plan to be a snowbird of a sort: spending the school year in Texas, teaching at a public girls school in South Austin, and summers in Maine. Recently, I purchased an old farm on 5 acres in Elgin, Texas. Could I be so lucky? Thanks for accompanying me on this meandering journey in the blog-o-sphere.

The Power of an Autumn Cold

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“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses couldn’t drag me away

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain”

 

I caught cold whilst riding horses two Fridays ago; lately, I have been going riding with a few other families on Family Night at the local riding club. One of the benefits of rural life is that people get together to ride horses and have potlucks with wine and beer in the dark of a Friday evening; it is beautiful to watch all the teenagers racing their horses around the arena, teaching littler ones to ride horses at all, and then to, occasionally, get up on a horse oneself and try to conquer that lifelong fear of horses that was borne from being thrown at a Girl Scout camp all those years ago. We have been taking the teenager, River, because he told us a while ago that he really enjoyed riding horses. Two Fridays ago, the origin point of today’s tale, he told me he had changed his mind.

Have you ever raised a teenager? I have not, but I do teach them each and everyday and have done for many years. Next year is Lucky 11 in public school, and 15 in total. Anyway, I digress. River told me in the car, after mopily being convinced to ride bareback on a paint named Zoomey, that he really didn’t like riding because he had nothing in common with the other kids there. I asked if it was because they are all girls? He responded that they don’t have a lot of brainpower, and that all of his friends use their brains a lot. I asked, are you talking about playing video games? Moving on to the kitchen in which I was trying to restrain myself from, what Maw Maw calls, braining him while he told me that everything that Cody and I take him to do and everyone we introduce him to makes him uncomfortable, but when he is at home with his mother, he is totally comfortable, not shy and talks constantly. In this moment of teenage darkness, I chose the high road and told him I thought he should get out of his comfort zone and that we just want to make him happy. Inwardly, I was consumed with anger.

This was the beginning of the Transformative Autumn Cold: one that, even today, Sunday, nine days after initial exposure, still holds on to my lungs and nasal passages. It has a lingering force that can only mean one thing; I am supposed to learn something from it. So here’s hoping.

{Please bear with this tangent-filled exploration of my human psyche today. It all makes sense in the end.}

When I was 18, I became very ill which was, at that time, a mystery illness. I was hospitalized and was out of school for almost an entire semester. I lost most of my hair, had congestive heart failure, and an incredibly low blood count. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later, when I lucked into an amazing hematologist/oncologist who did a genetic fact-finding mission of my entire extended family’s bloodwork, was it discovered that my cousin Jackie and I both have agammaglobulinemia, a genetic disease that usually only affects males, but in our case, impacted two females of the same generation on the Blythe (paternal) side of my family. It was a crazy experience that was definitely transformative and taught me to appreciate every day of my life, and that my life had a purpose, although at the age, I didn’t understand what that was or even what that meant.

As I got better, slowly, and with the help of traditional and non-traditional doctors, I left home and moved to Austin, Texas to go to college at UT. After attending debate camp several times during high school, I had fallen in love with Austin and thought it was the bees knees of cities, and, I think, it was. A lot of people still think it is, as seen by the 150 people who move to Austin each day now. I would disagree, but I am able to as I now live in the country and like the slow life much better than the hustle-and-bustle-avocado-toast-trend-of-the-moment that seems to be the lifeblood of Austin these days. Oh, and not to forget all the music festivals.

I digress, again. Since getting sick two Fridays ago, I have experienced a lot of frustration. I was frustrated with River, and with the concept of blended families in general. I am not even sure if I would call ours “blended” as sometimes I think that Cody is treated like an afterthought, or a necessary chore, rather than an equal member and a father to River. (There goes that anger again!!!).

Digression.

In addition to raising a teenager in a blended family, Cody and I also take care of his aging grandmother, Maw Maw, who is in some sort of “rapid decline” as the medical people call it, but who, herself is in some strange space of denial-bargaining. She seems to think one day this will all stop; we know that it will, but not in the way that she wants. It is crazy disorienting to take care of someone who you “know” (?) is dying who herself has not acknowledged it truthfully to herself, except when occasionally she asks us to shoot her, throw her in the river, leave her out with the garbage, etc. (yes, these are statements that have all been uttered). I don’t know how to react to Maw Maw or tell her what I think. I just try to listen, keep her comfortable, and get her to eat something.

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of the in-house teacher counseling service at my school and went to a session with our school’s counselor, Mrs Williams. I talked about the struggles I have with taking care of Maw Maw at home, teaching 8th graders at school, and having a teenager at the same time. She told me to trust the universe and remember that Maw Maw’s age is a blessing, that each day is a blessing, and that I am there solely to make her comfortable and try to keep her happy. Other than that, I cannot fix or change anything and that it is really up to God, whoever I conceive of them to be. I agreed and had a mental image of my garden in the spring: full of flowers and butterflies and bees, and I remembered how happy being in the garden makes me, so I, at that moment, tried to consciously remember to shift my perspective from helping to supporting. That shift is a difficult one that I have to concentrate on each day, especially on days when Maw Maw won’t eat, or she calls me “that woman I live with”, her heart rate goes above 130, or whatever.

The last aspect of this current experience of transformation-via-autumn-cold is that my oldest friend and I are in a spot of disagreement, or perhaps a better phrasing is uncertainty about our relationship. I went to see her in India in June, and during that trip, said a lot of things that hurt her feelings, but she didn’t tell me any of this until an email I got last week. She works for the government, and lives in different places around the world for chunks of time, and then gets zoomed back to the US before zooming off again. She planned an amazing trip for us, and everything we did was beautiful and inspiring. Of course we didn’t get along every moment, but I have never traveled with anyone that I got along with every moment. Perhaps, most definitely, this says more about me than any friend that I have traveled with, but nevertheless, I was hurt by the fact that she didn’t tell me any of this while we were in the same space together, during which time we could have talked about this and she could have told me she thought I was being a jerk, and I could have told her that I was super worried about her and it was coming out the wrong way, and we could have found a place of peace. But now, she is about to zoom off to another country and the likelihood of us being able to talk about this in a meaningful way is quite limited until I see her again. And my takeaway from the email is that she doesn’t want to see me again, at least not for a while.

In this specific situation, unlike my frustrations with River and Maw Maw, I feel adrift. I am 100% sure I make mistakes, because I often do with people: ask anyone who knows me well. I can be harsh, overly-emotional, tactless, too optimistic, too domineering with my opinions, etc. These are aspects of myself that I was unaware of until I went through years of therapy to find out who I really was under those onion layers. Despite me *mostly* keeping those tendencies in check these days, or at least being very aware of them when they pop up and being active at fixing them and reinforcing the relationships they impact, occasionally they pop up especially with older friends, who have known me since I was 10, and knew me better when those layers were under wraps than now, when they are unwrapped and under psyche-scrutiny each and every day. My friend wrote to me that we are in different places in our lives, which of course is true; this is something I have been thinking of in terms of all my friends as I approach 40 years old. Some of us are single, some are married, some have kids, some don’t. Some live in far off places, some very close. Some have professional jobs, some have no jobs (lucky ducks — I think). Some are consistently sad or anxious, some are happy at their core, some don’t know how to be, some question themselves (all), some are blinded by ideas, and some see clearly. Some think they see clearly and yet are still blinded (all, again). Some are all of these things in intermittent moments: aren’t we all? While we are all in different places at this juncture that I call 40, but some friends may call 42, or 35, or 32, we can all be great friends to each other because we love each other and accept each other as flawed human beings who experience all the iterations (and more) listed above. Right? In what perfect moment are friends at the same point in life? I find it to be impossible, but more significantly, not important. I love my friends very much, and that force is much stronger than any job or house or partner, etc.

So, I sit here, at noon on Sunday, still sniffling, and wondering about all of these ideas. Teenagers, dying grandmothers, oldest friends who can’t really talk with each other; it is a quagmire.

Unless……

Yesterday, I moved a lot of wood: giant chunks, small branches, and a lot of in between sizes. They all came from cutting down a 236-year old post oak tree in our front yard that died. It was an amazing tree and we have many giant stumps to play with for the rest of our lives. It was hard for me to believe that its first year of life was in 1783: I have no idea what was going on here in 1783. Who lived here? Did someone plant that tree or was it just one of those magic, random occurrences of nature? I love that someone built our house just behind that tree and one more, as if they were planted for this house, when of course it was the other way around. As I moved all those chunks of wood, back and forth to the woodpile using the wheelbarrow, lifting heavier pieces just to see if I could, dumping them in loads, over and over again, I felt better.

I think the reasons I felt better were a combination of exercise-created-endorphins and an understanding of how I have changed in the last few years. Five years ago was the beginning of my last winter in Maine, when I lived in a cabin on a lot of land next door to a lovely neighbor and pig farmer who looked out for me. I heated my house with wood and really experienced solitude. I wrote many entries here during that time, whilst sitting at a round, pine table with my woodstove to the left and my sweet kitchen off to the side. There was so much snow that winter, and I lived on a property that felt like the target point of the whistling wind that came between two mountains across the road. Sometimes I would go outside in the evening to get frozen wood and would just wonder what the hell was happening? How did everything get so hard? It wasn’t until deeper in that winter that I realized two things: it had become that hard because I made it so, and that it actually wasn’t hard. I just wasn’t seeing clearly and especially wasn’t seeing all the people around me who loved me.

When I moved back to Austin the next late-spring, I was in a relationship for the first time in over four years, and really struggled with the same struggle. I asked: why is this so hard? Why can’t I run away? I don’t want to be here – or do I? Do I want to teach again? All of that time, I had these wonderful friends around and a lovely boyfriend who just loved me and wanted me to be happy. Cody had his own growing to do, but he did it, but in terms of me, he was always loving and encouraging. I had this barrier up that said something like…you can’t be happy because if you do, they will find out all these bad things about you and then what will you do? It was something like that, and was couched in my experience of getting pregnant at 15 and living in an alcoholic family with a Vietnam vet for a father who never let his own bad experiences go and a mom who sought to control everything at everyone’s expense. It is fascinating to me how we can get locked in our own psyches without our knowledge, because some series of experiences can be so painful or frightening. I was lucky because I did discover the key to my own salvation: forgiving myself, grieving for that painful experience, and finally seeing all the people around me who just plain loved me. It was then that I could love them, too.

One of my takeaways from my last 5 years is an understanding that I have no control over anything (I still struggle with this: referencing that convo with River, my issues with wanting Maw Maw to get better when it is not up to me, or being hurt and bewildered by my friend’s email). This popped into my head yesterday whilst moving all those loads of wood.

Another is that I have changed over these interim years, thanks to my friends, myself and cognitive behavioral therapy. It took years of talk therapy to get to the discovery of the need for CBT. I think it saved my emotional life. I realized yesterday, whilst in the woods, walking back to the front yard, that I am so valued and appreciated by people at my school, and I have the power now to recognize that and build on it. I don’t think I could see that clearly before, because I couldn’t believe that people would see me that way. I got divorced back in 2009, and I realized that the last time I felt this valued was just before the divorce; it was a great discovery to me that the experience of divorce, in the moment, set me further back on this journey. But then again, that experience was what spurred this self-discovery of the last 10 years, so there you go. I also feel so appreciated and valued by my friends. I feel terrible that my oldest friend doesn’t feel that I feel that way about her, even though I do. I think that old habits die hard, and apparently I crossed a line for her and can only hope she forgives me.

My last takeaway here is that life just keeps moving forward each day. I have found the key to juggle all of the dishes spinning in my life right now is to remember this in every moment I possibly can. My coworker Nicole says that nothing phases me right now, and my other coworker Tori says I have such a “chill vibe”. I think they are sweet, and definitely wrong about this sometimes (the emotional swings still happen!), but I love those notes of appreciation and I look at them at lessons in remembering to stay present whenever I can, in remembering impermanence and the lesson of trying to be equanimous. It helps me find peace in this chaos.

The only power I have in this situation is to love my people: love River especially when he makes me crazy. Love Maw Maw and try to make her laugh a couple of times a day. Love Cody and thank him for loving me, too. Love my friends and try to make sure they know how much I care about them, but not in a way that offends them.

I think I appreciate this cold now, can bless it and send it off into the autumn wind that is blowing around my house. Is that rain?

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Slowly

 

The Sailing Ship – Bishop Charles Henry Brent

What is dying?
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object and I stand watching her
Till at last she fades from the horizon,
And someone at my side says, “She is gone!” Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all;
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her,
And just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her;
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “She is gone”,
There are others who are watching her coming,
And other voices take up a glad shout,
“There she comes” – and that is dying.

Things I have learned

My grandma was a tiny, little person who lived in a big, detached house in a town called Formby in the north of England. She walked each day to the village, never learned to drive, and was married to my grandpa for almost 50 years; he died just a few months shy of their anniversary. When he went to fight in the war, she stayed home of course, and waited for him for almost 4 years. Occasionally he would send letters and boxes of citrus from the north of Africa. When he returned, they met at Lime Street Station in Liverpool: a place I visited with my Aunt Barbara just two summers ago. My grandma was a horrible cook with a fantastic 1950s kitchen; everything she made was grey or beige and had a similar, floppy, boiled consistency. My grandpa used to say that the Yanks won the war by throwing my grandma’s cooking at the Brits!

My grandma died in 2004 of kidney failure complicated by vascular dementia. By that time, she time traveled almost daily and confused people, places and times. She told us loads of stories that had been secrets and maintained her love and devotion to my grandpa, who had left us 10 years earlier.

Tonight I sit in my dining-sewing room, at my table, staring into my living room and listening to the sounds of the air conditioner. Tonight I noticed that the light is changing, and the beams cast out by a setting sun are gold and pink and at such a slant that it catches, metallic, in the corners of your eyes, forcing your gaze up at an autumn sunset. It is a beautiful time of the year.

Cody and I have been taking care of Cody’s grandma for about a week. Maw Maw grew up in Port Neches, Texas, on Wilson Street, in a tiny green house. Her mother died in childbirth and she was raised by a stepmother and her father. She met Cody’s grandfather in high school when her girlfriend was dating him, but changed her mind and suggested Marie might like him more. They married and he built them a house a few streets over, on Lee Avenue, in 1962. It was a small house with 4 rooms and one small a/c in the window of the childrens’ room. He later expanded it with a second living room and a master suite. She spent 88 years living in such a small area: just two streets minutes from each other. She worked as cafeteria manager at the elementary down another side street, and her house is mere blocks from the intercoastal waterway: a path to the ocean. Last night she asked me if there was anywhere around here to get shrimp. I had to laugh and tell her we are a ways away from the coast. She is sweet, and easy to talk to, and a straight shooter. Taking care of her, however, is quite difficult and takes so much time. It can be a real struggle, and is an experience not understood by almost anyone we know. But there is beauty in it, and in small moments of chatting on the side of the bed, and making small victories in skin care or adjusting medicine or getting someone to stand up who hasn’t for a month.

I wonder what it would have been like to know my grandparents as most people know theirs. I still miss them, despite the fact that I only saw them every few years, and they died when I was still too young to really understand their importance. Despite that, I think of my grandpa and grandma all the time: when I eat cookies, or smell smoke, or feel wool, or eat lettuce, or think of windy beaches, good people, laughing, blue eyes, and true, loving care.

Screen Time

I just nursed my cat after she got into a nasty fight: her eye is very swollen and she seems quite sad. I drove to the grocery store to buy wine and soda and bread; as I drove home I realized how I want to organize my book.

About two weeks ago, a notification popped up on my phone to tell me that my screen time was down 30 minutes, or perhaps it was 30%, from the previous week. I was at 3 hours 35 minutes per day. I looked at the screen in disbelief. Surely this was impossible. How had I used my phone, no, looked at my phone, for an average of 3:35 a DAY? It was at this moment that I realized that if I want to make jewelry, make quilts, make clothes, write a book, start a business, and somehow get it all off the ground in the next 4ish years, I have to reduce that number from 3:35 to about 1:00 or less.

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Apple’s Screen Time Proves You’re Addicted to your iPhone

I wonder how I got to 3:35. Is it just patterns of behavior cultivated over a long and leisurely summer? Is it avoidance? Is it the power of distraction? Is it boredom and not choosing to do the “hard stuff” because it takes energy/time/it is hot outside? All of the above? (I think the latter).

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NPR

Tonight I was driving through the dark night streets of Elgin. I drove west on Central Ave, past the documentary filmmaker’s home and the Sawyer Foundation. I drove slowly past three cats who were playing in the street, unaware or ambivalent to my presence in a large, silver station wagon. I stopped at the stop sign and wondered if anyone else would also stop. (They didn’t). I drove further up the street and looked at the yard of pyramids of bricks, and the empty lot that is for sale for too much money. I noticed that the little yellow house on the edge of the woods has new lights that line the drive. I love that little yellow house. I wondered about the goats that play in the field, further down the street, and what their owners do with them, if anything. I noticed a scurrying in the grass on the right, and realized it was a medium-sized opossum, who promptly scampered across the road.

I went to HEB and saw a student and bought my groceries and used my coupons to no avail. I walked outside and saw my favorite guy who works at the liquor store who hadn’t had time to buy beer tonight despite the fact that he works at the liquor store. I find this very funny. There was an old hippie lady in the parking lot, smoking, who glanced at me. A man was complaining about buying a house with his girlfriend who has a kid. He said next time he would find someone without a kid, and the lady he was talking to said, “yeah, but that’s hard to do!”

In other words, screen time, for me, is distracting. I suspect it is designed that way. I use the built-in Apple app now to help me monitor myself and have brought myself down from 3:35 to about 1:30, so I am on the right track. I suspect this is where all the noting came from tonight. I suspect this is how the book idea came together. I was daydreaming, whilst driving, about cooking with Martha’s housekeeper Rani, in India, and about how I want to write a cookbook with her but I don’t know how. The radio was talking about counterfactuals and about how it is natural for our brain to invent alternative reality endings when bad things happen. I started to think about time passing very quickly and about how I will be 39 this year and there is no time like the present. I started thinking about the old post oak tree that has to come down in the front yard that has been growing there, probably, for almost 200 years and how it is just its time. Just its time.

Book time. Me time. Less screen time. You?

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Screen Time is Just As Bad for Adults

 

The Year of Magical Thinking

I just started reading this book, by Joan Didion. She physically (and, as I read, emotionally/spiritually/whatever) reminds me of my friend Meredith, who I lost almost nine years ago. I was inspired to write to her, as I do often talk to her, in the garden, on the patio, gazing up at the stars and the clouds of Milky Way on dark, dark nights. Please bear with me as I write to her here, and no doubt jettison us off somewhere.

I was thinking about you just now, as I was reading the second chapter of “The Year of Magical Thinking”; have you read it? When I think of you, and of Joan Didion, I think of women very physically similar: tiny, thin like birds, blonde hair, great style, strong wit, indefatigable intelligence. But you were you and she is Joan Didion: after all, there is a Netflix biography on her, when, sadly, there is not one on Meredith Farmer. If I were to see Joan Didion at the supermarket, if I didn’t already know who she was, I would see someone like you: a middle-aged lady with simple elegance, beautifully-colored hair, probably looking with disdain at something in produce, ever in judgement of all the “normal” things.

You’ve been gone almost nine years, and life has ebbed and flowed and changed, moved around, wiggled, metamorphosized a wee bit (as my grandma would have said: she now gone 15 years, and that, another story). Ultimately, though, life is still the same: I am just more skilled at handling its curve balls due to experience and therapy and probably, my friendship with you.

There was a night about  6 years ago when I chatted with you off my front porch in Northeast Harbor, Maine, when I lived in the Dollhouse (or the Fishbowl, depending on who you asked) : the tiny house on the town parking lot in which my comings and goings were very public knowledge and everything in the house was so small. My closet was a pole that hung at the end of the bed, and the shower felt like I was hosing myself off on a dock somewhere with hot water. But, it was $650 a month and the landlords were dolls and I walked to work and to get breakfast sandwiches at Ben’s, and I had a wonderful, small garden of unruly morning glories that threatened to take over the house! I had many memorable conversations on that porch, on the picnic table that I stole from someone’s trash and Dan Bondo‘d so that it would survive, and I painted Seal Harbor Green after JRa and I put in the new path up to the front door, made from stone dust that we bought mostly drunk one day from the quarry in Trenton. That was where you and I talked, formally, the last time. Informally in between, many times. I don’t know what we talked about, but I am sure that I asked you questions and you laughed at me, in a loving way.

I remember, at your funeral, there was a slideshow of pictures of you. My favorite was a photo of you in college, cigarette in your right hand and an ERA button on your left lapel. Your hair was strawberry blonde and you looked so damned engaged. I feel, I wonder, do we lose those feelings as we get older? Do we blame husbands/partners/kids and is that bullshit? Is it just projecting like everything else: an excuse to disengage, to check out? What do you think?

I see you smiling. I feel like you are at the pool right now, but perhaps that’s just because I read a chapter in which Joan Didion describes her newly dead husband as having a daily routine of reading in the pool (reading “Sophie’s Choice“, no less) while she gardened, and of course that made me think of my small 8 foot cattle waterer pool that I bought after doing some work for the old lady next door and now I share with Cody almost every day, sometimes several times a day, despite his almost constant chagrin with me about how I let the leaves and flowers and bugs in, and he doesn’t.

Such is married life, to someone I am actually married to, rather than the first one, that you bore witness to, or to your 2nd, as I bore witness to. Marriages, men, children, time: rental houses and the houses we “own”. All the stuff within those houses, the boxes, the moving, the priority of sorting out the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms. The conversations about Mama and Daddy and who built Mansfield Dam, what the role of all the boyfriends and husbands actually were. I look at your Carnival Glass dish, blue with a sheen of multi-color on it, as if it is coated with oil, all the time: I think of you wryly smiling at me, or of that day we went fishing on the dock of my neighbor’s house on the Croton River, when Steve and I lived with Brien and you came to visit and told me I was a witch because my garden grew so well!

I think, in the end, that the boyfriends and husbands are not as important as the memories of people as unique entities in and of themselves. I remember you as such: and think of you this way often. I find it funny, sweet, sad and ultimately, joyful, that you still are such a part of me: that we still talk. I wish you could see where I am now, as it is a very nice place (and the pool is pretty nice, too) and you would like Cody a lot. You would laugh at both of us, in a loving way.

Rest in peace: I miss you. Love, Patience

A Love Story, Part 2

In 2009, I lived at 6407 Haney Drive, in East Austin, Texas. I had just transferred to Bedichek Middle School in South Austin after several years at Garcia Middle School in northeast Austin.

I then lived at 3707 Montrose Street, in the heart of Hyde Park in central Austin. It was the first time in my then 10 years of living in Austin to live on the west side of I35. At the end of 2011, I packed up all my belongings (and there were a lot of them then!) and drove across the country in a terrible relationship with a very unstable and selfish person. We landed in South Philadelphia at 1819 South Rosewood Street. That house became known to me and my roommates (the boyfriend left very shortly after arrival) as the House that Slants, as no room was square. It was like a fun-house, but not fun.

From Rosewood I went to my parents house at 7 Locust Lane, Salsbury Cove, Maine, and then to a little house, whose number I have forgotten, on Jordan Pond Road in Seal Harbor, Maine. That one I only stayed in for two months and after which I moved into my first proper apartment in Maine, The House That Floats, at 5 Lookout Way in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Several months later, I found a more permanent place at 8 Old Firehouse Lane in Northeast Harbor. I stayed there for a year, and I loved it very much: I just didn’t love the isolation of the town in winter, and my friends who lived across the parking lot from me were evicted due to a gallery taking over their house. Off we all went to Bar Harbor, they to Otter Creek, and me to 60 Main Street, the amazing apartment with the terrible roommates that was stacked on top of Sherman’s Bookstore. I had an incredible third story bedroom that looked out over the whole town, but didn’t get along with a roommate with a drinking problem and boundary issues, and another roommate with a drug and drinking problem and boundary issues. So off I went to 201 Otter Creek Drive in Otter Creek, the no-man’s-land of Bar Harbor, to live at the beautiful house on 10 acres at the foothills of mountains, in the wind tunnel that is Otter Creek in winter, next to the Brown Family Farm. I heated the house with wood and named it Faerieland Farm. I left after the Love Story started, at the end of March.

In Austin, I lived at 415 Normandy Street, my friend Jackie’s fabulously funky, beautiful house that is decorated with Mexican and Syrian styles, and then moved to Jaguar Rose Cottage at 1700 Alameda Drive, where I sit now, typing this essay out. In front of my house is a Little Free Library, which I love, and on top of my roof is a flying pig.

Turns out, pigs do fly, and surprises do come, especially when we least expect them. Turns out, also, that love stories are not always easy stories. Sometimes they take extensive work, determination, forgiveness, love, and acceptance. Sometimes they put you through the ringer, and if you are very lucky, you are both left mostly whole on the other side. Sometimes you have to break up to realize what you were doing to mess it up. Sometimes, you are very lucky.

This move, the one that I am putting off by typing essays on the internet, is move #11 since 2009, if I am counting correctly. This move, though, to the funky house in the country, the one that hasn’t got a name yet, is one that is full of hope, love and possibility. We are both so excited to live in a space larger than 300 square feet, to have all of our things together and in one place, to have a garden, and a workshop, and a beautiful old bathtub, and a fireplace when it gets chilly. But I think the core of the excitement stems from understanding that we make this choice with eyes open, hands clasped, because each of us wants the other one to be happy, and we are happier when we are together.

I am going to get back to packing books into boxes, with the full knowledge that moving in Texas in late July is going to be really, really hot and sweaty. But then: home, love, family, peace, and quiet.

 

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Fathers

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My Dad is dying, slowly, in a living room on an island in Maine. He dies slowly of an ebb and flow disease: diabetes. His version of the Big D is complicated by the Big A: alcoholism. It turns out that alcoholism can cause diabetes, and once your body has been hijacked by this syndrome, continuing to drink just turns the dial up on its destructiveness.

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My mother really wanted me to come to Christmas this year because, as she said, “he isn’t doing well and it won’t really get any better”. I stopped going home for Christmas three Christmases ago, when I went to Enchanted Rock with Cody, instead. I camped with lots of other families under a giant, cold full moon, and thought about what making new traditions might mean. Cody and I have spent Christmas together ever since. Christmas, to me, is a holiday fraught with expectations (mine and others), disaster (real and imaginary) and has never held the beauty of the holiday that I see displayed in films and songs.

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I think my mother really tried to create that Christmas magic, and she probably still does. I just remember the harshness of being told a plate was worth more than I was when I placed cookies on it one year. I remember one year receiving boxes and boxes and boxes of presents, including piles of strange clothes that I thought someone should know I would never wear, under an LL Bean Christmas tree that was delivered by the postman on my birthday. That same year, my mom bought a first edition of the Canterbury Tales illustrated by her favorite Arthur Rackham (she has told me the story of how she once could have bought a first edition of the Lord of the Rings from a bookstore in London for 5 pounds, but didn’t have the 5 pounds to spare), and set it on a table behind a sofa in the formal living room, specially curated by her friend Oona the interior decorator. I remember the room curved at the front, framed with beautiful, tall windows, perfect for that giant Christmas tree. The rub is that we only spent one Christmas in that house: the year after, my Dad lost his job in the oil crash of the early 1990s, had a nervous breakdown, and we had to sell the house, the cars, and that 1st edition of the Canterbury Tales. He never recovered from the fact that we had to move into a rental house: I remember him disappearing for awhile I think, and after that, never coming out of the large master bedroom in that dark 1970s house with a duck in stained glass on the door. I suppose he never really did emerge again.

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I have this memory of my dad and myself. I must have been very small: about 6 perhaps. I have a nephew-in-law now named Peter, who is 6, and it must have been when I was about his size. My dad and I were climbing on rocks on the beaches of Maine, over by The Ovens in Salisbury Cove. We climbed onto a big rock that slowly became engulfed by a rising tide; I don’t exactly know how that happened, because now, as an adult, I understand how long it takes for the water to rise. Nevertheless, the memory remains; stuck on the rock we were, and my father had to carry me to shore.

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My Dad is a big, barrel-chested man who used to be 6′-2″. He is a lone wolf and a person who doesn’t fit in: two ways that we are similar. I was chatting with a friend a while ago about how our self-identification as people who don’t belong, who are special or unique, reinforces some pretty unhealthy patterns that contribute to all sorts of ills: like codependency, seeking out bad boyfriends to “help” or “fix”, a lack of self-awareness, self-love and feeling like success is an option. My dad never spent time looking in Life’s mirror: perhaps it was too frightening. He ran away and into anger, reckless spending, and the bottoms of gin bottles.

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It took me a long time to let go of the anger I had toward him: I would ask for years: why isn’t he like other fathers? Why does he seem to love everything but his family? Why does he do these crazy things all the time? Why does he throw stuff? Why does he crash cars? Why does he spend money he doesn’t have? Doesn’t he understand how much it hurts all of us? It took me years, really until this past year, to realize that he is locked in a prison of his own making and it’s almost as if there is no one else in that prison: like a man locked in a cell on an island with nothing but his thoughts and a shovel, he just digs that cell deeper and deeper into the mountainside, when the choice to escape is his to make. Even last year, at the age of 77, he somehow managed to open a series of credit card accounts and spend $10,000. When we asked him what he had bought for that amount of money, he really didn’t know.

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I have been on holiday break from school for 2 weeks now and, honestly, haven’t done much except cooking and organizing, helping Cody clear our land for our wedding, and watch movies. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized that all the films have had one common thread: fathers. Fathers who are good, fathers who are bad: fathers who are confused and don’t know what to do. Fathers who are trying, and fathers who are useless at trying. Fathers who are drunk, and fathers who are teetotalers. None are perfect, although a few match what I would have liked to have had. But, in some ways, like I said to my brother earlier today, perhaps we are just here to listen to these two crazy people who are our parents. After all, do any of us truly actually make sense? Probably not: but I do like to think that I try to be happy, to think of others, and I am trying very hard to be a good partner to a very sweet man who, as I type this, is drilling holes in a concrete wall so that I can hang up a mirror. That sweet man lost his father almost 11 years ago to brain cancer. His father, just as imperfect as any of them, is gone and he doesn’t even have a way to talk to him and become frustrated at his inadequacies and nonsense. All he has is memories of an imperfect man: the same that I will, one day, have.

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