The Wearin’ O’ the Grief

Sometimes a hat is more than a hat….

I look terrible in green. I’ll wear it in a Campbell plaid, offset by enough navy to keep my face from turning sallow.

I’ve been wearing Mike’s Campbell plaid scarf all winter. I’m sure it originally was mine, but he wore it as his sole neck-warmer through all the blizzards and vortexes we endured together. He also took my little black Russian-looking hat, which I have also been wearing all winter.

Green everywhere today, not only because it is St. Patrick’s Day in Chicagoland, where more than one river has been dyed green, but because the annual miracle of spring has begun. Perhaps slightly more miraculous than usual, because this has been one bitch of a winter – grey, snow, thaw, rain, freeze, vortex, snow, snow, snow, ice, slush, grey, rain – until you are going mad and believe you may never see the sun, or a blue sky, or green grass, ever again.

And then, there they are. The sun, the sky, the grass.

The immortal snowpiles that won’t melt until June are still blocking views in parking lots, but still.

In spring, Chicago’s headwear changes. Even though the nut cases who will actually sit in the stands at Wrigley in early April will freeze their ears off, they’ll be wearing baseball caps.

So, despite my habit of not getting green too close to my face, today, I put away the little black Russian looking hat, and  put on Mike’s green, be-shamrocked Cubs hat.

Not just because it is the only completely green article of clothing I have, but because it was Mike’s.

It still smells like him.

Mike’s middle name was Patrick (derived from the Latin for “father:” appropriate, because Mike was a great Dad). He was only one quarter Irish and he never made much of St. Patrick’s day, but in Chicago, you can’t avoid it. Green river, green beer – one year my Dad’s train-commuting seat-mate gave him a green bagel and a green yarmulke. I was relieved when my brother’s genealogical research turned up an Irish great-great grandmother. OK! I surrender. Kiss me, I’m Irish.

But I’m not sure still wearing Mike’s scarf and hat is all that healthy.

Spring is bringing some kind of emotional, as well as physical, thaw, and grief keeps busting out unexpectedly, suddenly, like bulbs I forgot I planted, or last summer’s un-pulled weeds emerging overnight from under the melting snow. It startles me like a smack of spring thunder when you were still expecting the silence of snow.

Driving aimlessly down the road last night, looking for, and oddly not finding, anyplace featuring live Irish music, even in the two close-by towns-full-of-bars, and listening to the radio, just because I had some me-time available, wearing Mike’s hat, I passed the lane that leads into the small industrial area, back to the odd little crematorium – I thought I had put that out of my mind, but last night? Oomph – like a punch in the gut.

This morning, on the way to church, “Landslide” came on the radio – the mature, more recent one recorded by the older Stevie Nicks:

“Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know…

Well I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too…”

Tears, under sunglasses. Grateful for the sunglasses. Don’t cry in front of her, our child, anymore. She’s getting through it.

Better than me.

I still haven’t figured out how to sell his game collection.

Or his telescope.

Or the tandem.

Maybe all the redecorating I’ve been doing (or attempting) lately has just been a frantic effort to suppress grief. Push it way down, keep it down, don’t let it surface.

But, I wear the scarf and the hat, not just for the green, but as present, physical symbols of his absence, worn with love and remembrance, giving form to my shadowy, inner void.

Time passes. I get older. If I give myself the time to really wear the grief, put it on like a coat with the hat and the scarf, I fear I will run out of time to take it off enough to really live what’s left of my life.

You can’t do something significant for others, or feel gratitude and joy to their fullest, if you are a shrouded, diminished, half-empty version of yourself.

If I must wear a coat of grief, let’s make it a lighter, spring coat.

Our next forecast for sun is Thursday, and highs in the 50’s (F) Friday.

No need for a scarf or hat.

Until then, I remain,

Your unpredictably weepy but going with it until it passes, and it does,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

And What Do We Learn From This? or, Sometimes, Nothing Is Something

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

So what the hell was that all about? The “Pardon Our Dust” thing?

I wanted to change up the look of my blog. I thought it needed some freshening.

I spent the last four days messing around with a new theme.

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

I spent a lot of time trying teaching myself enough additional Illustrator to make a banner that with images I had made or chosen previously to symbolize the blog.

After a lot of trial and error, Googling and help chats, I finally figured out how to create a “clipping mask” in Illustrator to round the corners of the image I made of my face and shoulders, with the heart on the sleeve.

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

I got mad about how much elements of the “Creative Cloud” that I wasn’t using cost.

I unsubscribed.

Then I freaked out (hey, no project is truly complete without a little OCD smeared on!) about whether I’d still have the right to use the stuff I had previously created if I didn’t keep subscribing.

The (very nice and helpful, by the way – thanks Adobe) chat people said I can keep and use what I already downloaded and created. (Sorry, OCD, take a seat. Or a knee, as the case may be.)

Then, as I was scrolling through the blog with the new theme applied, to make sure I liked the (eleventy-hundreth) palette I had chosen, I noticed that all my “featured images” from past posts had disappeared.

Apparently, I neglected to notice where, if anywhere, there was space for a “featured image” in the new theme.

I’m fond of some my photos used as “featured images,” and refer to them occasionally as “that picture up there” in the posts where they appear; I didn’t want to spend weeks going back to putting them wherever they might fit in the new theme.

Which made me take another look and realize that new theme was a bit too cutesy or “whimsical” to encase my content on grief and loss, despite some other content that is funny. Or that tries to be.

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

When I switched back, I remembered the reasons I chose 2016 in the first place.

It’s clean.

It has elements I want and doesn’t confuse me with stuff I don’t need.

And Mike died in 2016.

Which reminded me that, when I started the blog, I chose the “2016” theme as a way to keep Mike close while trying a new thing without him, missing him.

So good things came of the whole manic, circular, redesigning exercise.

I got new art that I made myself, even though I’m a total amateur as a designer. I won’t have to settle for banner images I don’t like much, anymore.

I learned more about using tools I’d have to use if I ever need to modify that art again.

I tweaked things a little – a slightly modified color here or there. I’m not even sure exactly what I changed, anymore. But during the process I learned which parts of the “palettes” go where, and where I can use a custom color.

I got the pleasure of days filled with creative flow: that feeling you get when you are working on something you care about, and you forget what time it is and you only think about how to make your project better and get it right.

I also got to remember my Dad with gratitude.  He taught me to apply reason to observation to solve a problem, accomplish a task, fix things that are broken or assemble things that are new.

He called that process “using your bean.”

Dad enabled me to “use my bean” to accomplish something I didn’t know how to, but very much wanted, to do.

Dad also had an expression, usually uttered with sly determination and a not a little glee, while forging ahead down an unknown country road or pressing on through eight inches of recent snow on less-than-optimal tires: “We’re takin’ her through!” he’d say.

I don’t remember ever getting stuck, when Dad was driving.

And then finally, it all came back to Mike, whose bravery and generosity in the last weeks of his life were breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring. Memories of Mike and of 2016 were, and still are, central to helping me move forward, fight my fears and carry on. They help me “take her through.” I’m grateful for the bittersweet reminder of him whenever I think about my blog’s “theme,” in both content and design.

So, “redecorating” my blog turned into a pretty good Harold.

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

Your clumsily creative, sometimes manic, mostly anxious but still takin’ her through,

Ridiculouswoman

We Interrupt This Program To Redecorate

Pardon our dust….

Pardon our dust – just trying out a new look – partly because I’m too sore from returning to fitness class after a two-month recovery from a weird-boot-pulling-on-injury and and wisdom-tooth extraction to paint the front room but I wanted to change something.

You know how that is.

I think I’m done but I may change my mind and keep messing around with the look of the blog for a few days.

Thanks for your patience while we create a fabulous new blogging environment etc. blah blah blah hahahahha.

Back soon with an actual post about something actual (as opposed to virtual.)

Until then I remain,

Your that-looks-pretty-good-but-hey-what’s-this-button-do?

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

“Omit Needless Words”

“Words, words, words…”

If you don’t recognize that quote, you are dead to me you have some reading to do.

The Elements of Style. Strunk and White.

Legend has it my Grandfather would give a copy to every new associate at “the firm,” and make them prove they’d read it. If their writing didn’t reflect that they had, I’m sure they heard about it. Grandpa was a severe guy.

If you are of the millenial, 240 character ilk, then the most you’ll take in is that quote up there should be enough.  If you need a little more specificity, allow me to share the best blogging advice I have yet received: “800 words, max.”

I’ve written about wanting to give you, the blog reader, a reason to read. Even if I’m blathering about myself and my life and my, little erm,… issues, I mostly want it to be a good read for you.

I think of this blog as a type of what used to be called a “column.” In olden days, there were these things called “newspapers,” that had words printed in ink on paper (as opposed to pixels on a glowing screen) that got delivered to your front stoop (oh, please, you must know what a front stoop is? Chicago? New York? Anyone?) that you would pick up, take inside, and sit down in your comfy chair with your cup of homemade coffee (from an appliance known as a “percolator”) to read. Or to wait until your Dad had finished reading it, and then read it. At least the funnies. (OK, comics. They were in their own section of the paper, in color on Sundays, and were known as “comic strips,” because they were usually no more than 8 frames (pictures) of situation and punchline – some just one frame – as opposed to your coveted, collectable “comic books” or newer (AAAK!) “graphic novels.”)

In these things called newspapers were pieces written by writers like Erma Bombeck (I loved her) or Mike Royko, or even Bob Greene (whose tenure as a columnist didn’t end well) that would provide a little humor, or insight, or a reason for outrage, or an offbeat story not otherwise covered, usually in 800 words, max.

So I think of this blog as my own little independent “column.” (Newspapers had physical “columns” which also could be used to measure the length and width of a story appearing in them – “half a column” was a short report – two columns a longer piece with more detail. I’m not a journalist and never was trained as one. I’m sure it shows. I’m just an ex-newspaper reader who takes her news in pixels instead of pages. Waaah.)

But that “800 words” advice came to me from a real journalist.

Yesterday’s post, “Humble, or Humble Pie?” started out at more than 1200 words. I worked on that sucker for three hours to get it down to 800 words and still convey what I wanted it to say.

The late actor Jack Lemmon famously told a story (and told it and told it and told it) about how director George Cukor coached his performance on film by doing take after take, each time saying, “Less, Jack, less, a little less.”

“Less is more,” right?

File this one under “unsolicited advice,” but no matter how interested I am in you or your blog post, I just can’t read it if it goes a long way over 800 words. I wouldn’t expect you to read mine if I carried on much past that. I’ve gone back and revised old posts to shorten them up for that reason.

Longer stuff is for longer reads, like books. Actual physical books, which, mercifully, have not been done in by pixels. Yay. Long live the heft and feel of a hardback, and the delicious, musty, book-y smell of a library filled with them. Rah.

“What do you read, my lord?”

“Words, words, words.”

Can’t get enough of them, and even enough of them are often not enough, I know, Hamlet, baby.

But for blogs (or “columns”), I’ll take them 800 at a time.

Or less, less.

Here endeth the lesson.

Coming in at 693 words, I remain,

Your long-winded but working on it,

Ridiculouswoman

Humble — or Humble Pie?

Humility is an aspiration. Humiliation is an imposition.

Haven’t read “Charlotte’s Web?”  There’s no help for you. But alright, already…

SPOILER ALERT…..

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Charlotte dies in the end.

We started “movie night,” to get used to watching TV in the basement, but also as an excuse to eat popcorn (which, contrary to old diet advice, is NOT a great snack, even unbuttered, because it is made of CORN and CORN is all CARBS and CARBS turn into SUGAR and SUGAR is EVIL, which doesn’t keep us from eating it…but you knew that already. I digress.)

My daughter chose “Charlotte’s Web.”  It had amazing animatronics,  or whatever the technology of making live animals look like they are talking is called.

She watched the whole thing, from beginning to end.  The first time she had ever watched any movie, with me, all the way through.

Probably because I said no popcorn unless she did, but still.

Add to that, two scenes:

First, kindly country doctor calms down Mom, who worries that her daughter Fern believes she can talk to animals.

Circa 1950-something doctor explains, “it’s a phase. She’ll grow out of it.”

Wow. Now, that Mom would walk out with a costly psychopharmacopia and her wonderful, imaginative, magical kid would be drugged into submission, stat. GAAAH!

(But, Fern can talk to animals. So can Doctor Doolittle. So can I. You should hear the conversations I have with Sophie cat at feeding time. She says “Mah-AAAAHHHHM, MAHaaaaaaaahmm Mahm! Mahm MAAAAAAAAHM!” exactly like a whiny, Midwestern toddler. And horses read my mind. But I digress. Again).

Second: Charlotte explains to Wilbur the pig that she has made her “magnum opus,” an egg sac, is languishing, and will die, as all living things do, when their time is up.

My daughter next to me on the couch, holding her now-empty bowl of popcorn, perfectly still, listening.

Thinking about her Dad. (Yes. I converse with cats, silently talk to horses that read my mind, and listen to my daughter think.)

It was the best explanation of death yet offered her, given in Charlotte’s gentle voice.

Sniff. Sob.

Before she died, Charlotte wove one last word into her web, after “some pig,” “terrific,” and “radiant,” trying to literally save Wilbur’s bacon, so he can be a spring pig who lives to see the winter snow:

“Humble.”

Humility.  You let others have the spotlight. You do good deeds without reward or recognition. You are nice, to people and animals (animals are easier). You never think you are better than they.

You do what you have to do without complaint, gratefully.

Stress and caregiving imposed several career setbacks over the years. I did what I had to do.  Worked two jobs for a while – 18 hour days — as a headset monkey in a call center (OK, that was snarky, but it was a call center) and in retail at a mall-based department store, a/k/a the 12th circle of  hell. I did it to buy food, pay bills and provide health insurance, not always succeeding at all three simultaneously.

The headset monkey employer asked applicants to complete an “optional” assessment.   Optional! No pressure here, desperate applicants! Invasive, offensive, personal questions that had nothing to do with job skills, but allegedly could “predict success.”

Our situation was dire.

I sucked it up, filled it out, and took the job.

That was not humility.

That was humiliation.

It just happened again.

While completing an online application that did a good job of pre-populating fields off my uploaded resume, WHAM – another “assessment.” This one, required.

I don’t mind skills-based tests that show you can do things related to the job.

But I do mind having to “strongly agree” or “somewhat disagree” about tossing litter on the street, doing things I didn’t tell others about, obeying the law, or whether I’m a happy person.

During this “assessment,” my sweet daughter wrapped a blanket around me.

She startled me.  I missed a question. I barked at her.

For this stupid, invasive, offensive, inappropriately personal “assessment.”

If your job application makes me snap at my kid, you know where you can put your job.

Yep. Just as high up in there as you can get it.

Another place used a questionnaire that essentially asked “when did you stop beating your spouse?,”  assuming applicants drink and do drugs on the job, fight with each other, and steal things.

I aspire to be humble, but I’m saying no to humiliation.

I have faith. I believe things will work out. Same day, I got a call for a job more suited to me.  I will turn the other cheek (meaning offer the cheek of an equal, not the cheek of an inferior) and never be humiliated like that again.

Trying to regain some dignity and be especially nice to my daughter, I remain,

Your mad-I-completed-the-thing and hoping-they-shove-my-answers-high-up-there-with-the-job,

Ridiculouswoman

Retreat – or, Duck and Cover

Hiding in the house won’t get me a job. Neither will my resume, apparently.

In elementary school, we had “disaster drills.” We were instructed to get under our desks and cover our heads.

This was supposed to protect us from apocalyptic horrors.

For mere tornadoes, we were marched into an inner hallway in the building, to sit on the floor facing the wall, with our arms over our heads and our heads on our knees.

We sat through a few really vicious storms that way, and survived.

I’m suddenly undergoing a burst of “nesting” – rearranging furniture, buying furniture I can’t afford, planning to paint again, trying to finally finish this house, so that we might actually have people over, to use those holiday-themed guest towels.

The result so far has been some really pleasant together time for my daughter and me, with a cozy fire and no TV (moved to the basement, in a nice finished room, but it will take time to get used to that; I bought myself cheap TV and set it up in what I am calling my “boudoir.” I have always wanted a “boudoir,” and I’m almost done with it. Just need some decent drapes and a chaise to recline –  fetchingly  – on.)

Wait – who am I kidding about guests? And who the hell is ever going to see me reclining fetchingly? We don’t have guests. Neither one of us really wants them, unless they are related to us, and even then, we take them one, or two maximum, at a time.

As for anyone else in my “boudoir,” well, dream on.

So much for “New Year’s Revolutions” . I was going to open up my Facebook page to “friends of friends” and change my LinkedIn page to describe what I want to be.

HA. Today I posted that I’m quitting Facebook. The politics have started again. I can’t take it. It brings out the worst in me – the opposite of what I’m trying to be.

Duck and cover. Sound the retreat.

Hide in the rearranged, redecorated, slightly nicer cocoon.

I need an actual, real job, that pays a living wage and provides health insurance.

I’m not going to get one this way.

But my job search is laughable. It has become painfully obvious that even in an allegedly tight labor market, no one is impressed by my very lengthy resume, pockmarked with caregiving gaps and peppered with short-term failures between too-long stays at high-stress, high paying jobs. Or maybe it’s just bad old (OLD – HA) age discrimination.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Dont tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”

-Emily Dickinson (according to Wikipedia, that’s the closest transcription of what she actually wrote – when it was first published, the editor changed “advertise” to “banish us” and “June” to ‘”day.” WTF?)

“Put yourself out there, something will come along.”

HA. Frog, meet bog.

“The Soul selects her own Society –
Then – shuts the Door –
On her divine Majority –
Obtrude no more

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat –

I’ve known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone”

– Emily again – and editors again screwed around with her punctuation and word choices – many versions say, “To her divine Majority present no more” but I’m sure “On her…Obtrude” is right because it’s just more – Emily-ish. (Dashes, HA.) The few analyses I found claim it is about limiting socializing to just a few companions, but to me it is about choosing one’s own company over socializing with anyone at all.  The One chosen was the self. Buzz off world, leave me alone. Quit bugging me. Get off my lawn. She likes her own society. Valves of attention closed. Like a kid with their fingers in their ears, yelling, “I’m not listening.” Nothing will change her mind. Stone. Unmoved and unmovable.

I’m no Emily Dickinson and I don’t want to be as unmovable as stone, but periodic retreat is a thing with me. Maybe it’s the OCD, maybe it’s grief, or fear – of running out of money, of not being a good enough parent, of nothing good ever happening again. Of boring you with boring me. Of aging and seeing my mother’s face in the mirror. Of a small, meaningless life, heading for a big birthday in June, sans even the admiring bog.

Maybe it’s this endless sloppy winter and spring nowhere in sight.

Maybe I’m just “tired of being strong.” (Connie Nielsen in Gladiator)

Is there any value in retreat?

Cocoons become chrysalides from which beauties emerge.

Let’s hope so. We’ll see.

Until then I remain,

Your confused, withdrawing, backpeddling, solitary, guestless and unfetching,

Ridiculouswoman

Happy Love Day

May Love Day grant release from grief and bitterness.

Yeah, I’m one of those “holiday themed guest towels” ladies.

Picked up the habit from Mom, who fretted excessively about the state of the hallway bathroom whenever guests were coming over. She had quite a collection of “guest towels,” most hand-embroidered, by her mother or grandmother. I have some of those now. Or, she would buy packets of paper “guest towels” and it would be my job to arrange them precisely on the rack before any guests arrived.

They had guests over a lot, almost every weekend, for cocktails.

After the first two years in this house, we never had guests.

Ever.

Mike didn’t like to socialize, fell out with his family and mine, and wouldn’t have them or anyone else over here. So it was just the three of us, for fifteen years.

Now its just the two of us. I’m still working on the house to make it fit to have anyone over. Not sure I’ll ever get there.

But I put the towels up anyway, to brighten the place, because my daughter does love holidays. Sets her calendar by them.

She calls today Valentine’s Day, but more often, she calls it “Love Day.”

“Happy Love Day, Mom!”

Thanks, sweetie.

Today I’m thinking about bloggers I’ve “met,” by reading their blogs, where I found some shared experience.

Commiseration.

And because of that, I know there’s a good chance some of them will be hurting somehow, today, on “Love Day.”

Missing a loved one. Feeling lonely.

Or feeling betrayed.

If that’s you, I hope today you can remember love, and try to remember it with joy.

Easier said than done, I know. I’ve already had one quick round of weeping today, when my daughter repeated, “it’s hard to live without a husband,” echoing me, because I had  said that to her after we talked about how it is hard for a young woman to live without her Dad. Trying to show her I share her grief, in my way.

“It’s hard to live without a husband, too. I miss him too.”

“I’m Dad’s Valentine in heaven.”

Yes, sweetie, you sure are.

“You’re my best Valentine, Mom.”

Sniff. Sniff. Blink, blink.

“You OK, Mom?”

“Yes, sweetie, I’m fine.” Tissue.

Today I’m thinking of those who grieve. Those who feel their life has been diminished, and can never be whole or full again. Those for whom today is a day where each breath threatens to become ragged, and each exhalation risks an accompaniment of tears.

I hope today on Love Day you can remember that you are loved, and that, as Mike said to our daughter from his deathbed, “love never ends.”

I am also thinking of those who have suffered loss not through death, but through betrayal. I have read how they have endured infidelity and lies, that, when discovered, left them feeling that everything they thought they knew was wrong, that the love they thought was theirs isn’t, and may never have been, and their life as they knew it has dissolved, leaving them feeling cold and hollow.

And then feeling really, really pissed off.

I’m hoping, if you are one of the betrayed, that today, you can decide not to dwell in anger.

I hope that you can decide not to let bitterness consume you.

By losing Mike I learned that despite whatever pain it has inflicted, life is precious and time is limited.

It makes me sad to think that someone’s ill treatment of you has caused your life to stall and sink and left you mired in fury and pain.

Mike and I went through it. We stayed together.  We made it back to each other, after years and years, back to the love that was there underneath it, all along.

I know it’s a struggle. I’ve been through the un- and underemployment, the caregiving and the financial worries. I’m hoping today in spite of it all you’ll find a hand, or the strength, to pull yourself out of the mire into the light that can be the rest of your life.

I have found solace by finding gratitude. For every breath that may get raggedy, for every tear that may fall and for every time my resident angel, my amazing daughter, beams her beautiful, unconditional love my way and out into the world.

Today if you are hurting, I hope you find consolation.

And if no one has claimed you as theirs today,

Will you be my Valentine?

“In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – the Beatles.

Wishing you peace, solace and light on “Love Day,” I remain,

Your off-to-bake-some-heart-shaped-cookies-and-fully-intending-to-enjoy-my-share-of-them,

Ridiculouswoman