There are these rare people who have the ability to be fully present….I am not one of them.

“Be still and know that I am…”

…God (well, Psalm 46:10, actually, but same thing, really)

There are these rare people who have the ability to be still, to be fully present, right now, where they are and whoever they are with, and to listen, intensely, to others.

I am not one of them.

Being still is not my forte.

I always think of that verse up there as ending with “I am.” But it is actually, “I am God.”

Either way, to me it is basically God’s way of saying, “Shut yer pie hole and remember that I’m here; listen for me.”

Failing to be still and to be present to the people in the same room with you is a form of toxicity. I did it at work, and I have done it for years at home. My thoughts were and are always racing around, to the past and future, to the “to-do’s” and the “fix that”s and the “will you f…in get ON with it already?”s. Never focused on the right NOW.

I come from a long line of women whose behavior indicated a belief that the cure for any kind of illness or upset, depression, bereavement, disappointment, setback etc., was a good round of vigorous housework followed by a brisk walk outside, preferably in sub-freezing weather. Move, do, bustle, hustle.

Being still was not on their list.

These women also kept up a running commentary of self-talk – Grandma and Mom did it at a whisper, under their breath. I do it out loud (no surprise to anyone who knows me personally.)

Keeping my big yap shut is a constant challenge to me.

I love words, the more syllables the better. I love to sing, and I am prone to sudden outbursts of song, regardless of my surroundings.

When I go for one of those brisk walks, I often exclaim, out loud, to no one in particular, usually when no one else is anywhere close, about the beauty I see around me.

I spend very little time being still.

Which makes it very hard to be fully present in the now. All that activity is an effective way of avoiding being still, being present, now. Because really, who wants to do that? If I stop doing stuff, I’ll notice that “now” kind of sucks. Mike’s gone, I’m unemployed and gaining weight, it snowed 15 inches and I just barely saved the new kitchen from a bad ice dam situation, but a bit of the paint is still ruined.

The point of being still, though, is to notice that “now” does not actually suck – in fact, it is pretty damn miraculous. If I have learned anything from losing Mike, it should be how precious every breath, every moment in this world is – and to cherish each simple thing here as the miraculous gift that it is, right NOW. Even the little bubbles in the paint on the ceiling from the almost-leak. Reminds me of how bad it used to be and isn’t, now.

I’m going to give being still a go. The old college try, anyway.

I took myself off the dating sites again. I really don’t need to go back to the playground and be the last one chosen for the team, just now. (Besides which, there were the two guys who listed “Dexter” among their favorite TV shows – you know, Dexter? The one about the serial killer? The kicker was the guy who listed his most recently read books, every single one of which had the word “killing” in the title. I kid you not. These are men who are trying to attract women, not send them screaming in terror for the exits.)

I have unsubscribed from lots of promotional and political emails I had been getting. They feel too intrusive, grabby and, in the case of the political ones, hysterical. The notifications of their arrival caused me to attend to my phone when I should have been attending to my child, whose existence is by far the most miraculous, and absolute, proof of the existence of God that anyone should ever need.

And this being “non-toxic Tuesday,” I have set myself what should be a simple, non-toxic love challenge: I’m going to try to get through an entire day without “thinking out loud,” also known as “talking to myself.” I have to be able to do this first, before I even think about trying to learn to meditate. I mean, meditate? You have to shut up inside your head! Who does that? Really, who can actually do that? Not me, not yet. Not NOW.

On the simpler task of not talking out loud to myself?

I already failed at it. Within seconds.

Seriously, seconds. I narrated my way through the house just to get to my laptop to write this. The only time I really succeed in being quiet (in terms of not having sounds come out of my mouth through the mechanism of my voice) is when I’m writing. But when I’m writing, words are still coming out, and I’m throwing the flag on that. Writing, while pleasurable and cathartic for me, will not count as stillness.

Talking to the cat, however, is exempt. She counts as another sentient being and talking to her is paying attention to her, now, so there.IMG_20171128_131842496.jpg

Talking out loud to my late husband is also exempt. It just is, OK?

Reflexively saying “excuse me” out loud in an otherwise empty house when I sneeze or commit some other involuntary bodily expostulation is also exempt.

Listening to music is OK as long as I don’t talk back to the radio (e.g., Oh, come on, Carl! It’s 6 a.m.! Do we really need crashy-bangy Beethoven at 6 a.m.? Would it hurt so much to start the day with a little Palestrina or Bach cello sonata or something?)

Reading is OK, and talking back to my favorite literary characters, laughing with them, crying with them, all good. (See, “it just is, OK?”, above).

Other than that, however, I am declaring my constant stream of babbling self-talk to be a form of displacement activity: a way to avoid being still. Being still requires being QUIET and listening. A kind of surrender (also not my forte. I’m a stand-my-ground-and-wear- you-down type).

The photo up there is of the male cardinal who lives in the yard. He’s in the crabtree by the deck, in all his crimson glory. What you probably can’t see is the female, who is always with him, and is near him in that tree, hidden in the background, far less ostentatious, quiet, steady, faithful, constant. Present, but not presenting. I want to be more like her. For the time being, anyway. For now.

When the sun comes back out, regardless of the temperature, I think I will take that brisk walk. I hope the only sound I make will be my breathing and the crunch of my boots on the snowy path. I’ll watch the red tailed hawks soar and circle, but I won’t exclaim. I’ll work on being still.

Oh, and I’ll mute notifications on my phone, for the duration of the walk. It’s a start, anyway.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain,

Your most devoted, humble, obedient, etc.


Cover Letter

I want to put these boots back on again, and work my formidable ass off, as long as I don’t have to think too much….

These boots were meant for working….

I’m sure that for most of the professional jobs I’ve had, I was offered an interview because of my cover letter. I was good at linking my experience and skills to what the job announcement seemed to want, and at throwing in something specific that showed I had actually done a little research about the organization, and at showing that I really, truly did want, was very interested in, and could actually perform, that job.

But I find myself now impaled on the horns of a dilemma (ouch!)

Because the job I really, truly want right now would put me back in them work boots up there, where I hauled ass around a very unusual warehouse belonging to a very wonderful non-profit organization. That job required primarily physical labor, energy and public speaking (I was really good at that) coupled with an ability to interact with volunteers (which I did with varying success. See “I have made children cry…” in an earlier post.)

I don’t even need the public speaking  (although “tour guide” or “docent” are jobs that were created with me in mind, for sure. I wonder how good the tips are, if the employer doesn’t steal them?) I just want to nod and smile and do as I’m told for at least 30 hours a week, in a job that requires engaging a very minor percentage of my brain and that keeps me on my feet, moving around, for most of the day. Because I lost a lot of weight that way, and being off work it is creeping back on, which ticks me off.

Plus which I am on the brink of losing my mind because of insufficient daily interaction with other sentient beings not related to me by blood. I assume there would be other sentient beings in a workplace, however, erm…”physical-labor focused” that workplace might be. There were many delightful ones in that unusual non-profit warehouse.

So, a cover letter. Hmm.

“Dear prospective employer:

I am a wildly overqualified not-ready-to-retire (read “can’t really keep behaving like I can afford to retire”) professional who has had it with high-stress jobs requiring substantial travel, endless meetings, junkety conferences and attentiveness to impossible goals expressed in ridiculously unrealistic numbers. I am seeking to return to full-time employment following a period of caregiving. (That should explain the gap in employment, and stir enough sympathy to move them off the fact that I have been voluntarily out of work for more than six months, and previously underemployed at that wonderful warehouse job for 18 months, if they have any decency at all).

I see that you operate a local manufacturing facility (insert warehouse, big box store, discount emporium etc. as appropriate) and require someone who can lift heavy boxes of stuff and carry them from one place to another (or insert “rearrange stuff on shelves,” “walk people from point A to point B, insisting that they keep within the defined pathway at all times,” etc., as appropriate) or operate a computer (cash register, iPad POS system, photocopy machine, camera, as appropriate), while standing for at least 7 hours a day.

I assure you I can do any of that stuff with my brain tied behind my back, leaving substantial intellect available for sharing snarky wisecracks with co-workers (as appropriate.)

I most sincerely promise to nod, smile and do what I’m told, no matter how contradictory it may be to what I had been told five minutes ago, and not to complain about wages that wouldn’t support a cat, much less a human being, as long as you’ll provide a regular schedule (I can dream, can’t I?) and a group health insurance plan that is actually accepted by local physicians and facilities (which I have a great one that is so accepted, right now, thanks to COBRA, but paying for it is bankrupting me, hence, the cover letter), whilst (hey, why not, throw in the British-y stuff – what warehouse wouldn’t want someone who uses words like “whilst?”) leaving enough of said small wages to pay for simple indulgences such as food, heat and electricity.

I long to don my composite-toe boots again and to re-aggravate former workplace injuries to my neck, shoulders and oblique muscles due to moving heavy things from place to place. I am able to operate a walkie-talkie, an electric pallet jack and a pallet lift, but forklifts are where I draw the line, buster.

You’d be a fool not to call me. Resume’ with very long list of former high-stress professional positions, and a few years of retail and headset monkey underemployment thrown in, enclosed for your convenience. Act now, this opportunity won’t last.

Yours most sincerely,

Wildly overqualified

(and older than you want to hire, but there are laws against that, dude. Yeah, I know, nobody ever wins those lawsuits, or can afford to file them in the first place, but hey, couldn’t hurt to remind you it might happen, right?)”

Pretty good, huh? What employer could resist?


OK, well, I guess I’d better rethink that strategy, and rewrite that letter, as I look out the window on a lovely sunny but damn frigid day, which seems to have exacerbated (ha! that’s almost as good as “whilst”) what must be the dawn of osteoarthritis in my hips and fingers, of all places, which is why I didn’t take my walk today, but I did go to my low-impact aerobics class. Which is another reason I’m sore. But I like being sore – it means I worked hard and beat up my fat ass enough to maybe drop a quarter pound today, grrrr.

I did not, however, accomplish my goal of applying for a job. Any job.

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Until then, I remain,

your most devoted, humble, obedient, etc.


(just a note: I may get to my “Fiction Friday” post later today, but it will appear as the newest entry over on my Books and Music page. Thanks for reading!)

The Kindness of Strangers

I asked the advice of about 6,700 of my closest friends, all of whom are strangers….

“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”

…Blanche DuBois

Another easy one for Thankful Thursday: today I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

A little freaked out by it, too, but grateful.

Allow me to explain.

I asked about 6,700 of my closest friends, strangers all, for some advice. How can strangers be friends, you ask? Well, it’s a Facebook group of people with a shared interest in my favorite books. I thought they might have some insight as to why my charming profile on those dating sites, which included mention of my love for those books, was getting me nothing. Crickets. Lots of scams (“I’m doing this for a friend. Here’s his email. Contact him, go ahead!”) and and a surprising number of fake or hacked profiles (really? three pictures three different men, in one profile?) but no actual interest from anyone I might be interested in back.

I mentioned I was a widow having lost my husband (first lieutenant, chef, coxswain and most particular friend) to cancer, and I was trying to find someone new to be my boon companion. And my surprise that mention of loving these books got me nothing.

This set off an exceptionally long thread of commenting, where I received much compassion, many helpful suggestions (“perhaps start off a little slow, and introduce the love of  these books later?”), lots of support (“don’t dumb yourself down!”) a few private messages and a long, really lovely compliment to me that would have made my day if it hadn’t been based on a lengthy, unkind comparison to the author’s wife.

And then things veered off into complaint about the off-topic nature of the thread (hey, c’mon, not really – I’m looking for the dating sites you guys would hang out on!) and then the thread seemed to inspire another one in which the author confessed their own cancer diagnosis and in the most poignant terms, asked for help identifying music for the eventual memorial service. I sent my love and prayers, and all those kind strangers sent their support and suggestions not just for great seafaring-related music, but also for not giving up, fighting it, employing non-traditional healing methods, etc.

These two threads have been, in my experience with that group and others, the longest, kindest, most personal and most supportive I have seen in any online environment in which I’ve spent time, ever.  They were filled with authentic concern, great good humor, and personal commiseration.

Which gave me the courage to re-activate one of my online dating accounts and, after softening my profile a bit (I took out mention of using multisyllabic words unapologetically, the aside about never missing a chance to overdress when going out, the mention of my tendency toward sudden outburst of song, and the bonus points for knowing the difference between “effect” and “affect.”), I sent direct messages some likely fellows.

None of them have responded.

So, hell with it. I put all that stuff back in (except the “effect” and “affect” stuff – it really was getting too long). I reminded prospective suitors that I liked to laugh, and had been trained in improvisation, which has weakened my inner censor and causes me to say what I’m actually thinking. Meaning if you can’t take a joke, take a hike. (And, come to think of it, take a hike if you don’t know what the word “suitor” means, in this context. But that’s not in there, because I’m not thinking about getting married again. Just need some kind, respectful, fun-loving male companionship). Honesty is the best policy, Right?

As soon as I published that final version of my profile and made myself visible again, wouldn’t you know it? Almost immediately I got a fake profile response. The one with three different pictures of three different men, and a canned profile (“I used to be shy but now I’m a social butterfly”) that I’ve seen attached to several other guys.


Someday my prince will come, but until then, I remain,

Your devoted, humble, obedient, etc.


Non-Toxic Tuesday, At Last

In “And What Do We Learn From This?”,  I explained that I originally named this blog “nontoxicwoman,” because I really did, and still really do, want to take the lessons that I learned from losing Mike and try to apply them in daily life.

Basically, these lessons boiled down to, “be kind.”

Be kind to everyone.

And right there’s where I get tripped up.

Why should it be difficult to be kind?

Well, for me, two reasons (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson, whose books I have not read): fear and loathing.

The fear comes primarily from a concern for personal safety, health or hygiene. There are some people that make being kind feel risky.

Case in point: the online dating thing got so creepy so fast that I de-activated my accounts. I wish I could consider getting a large, loyal and protective dog, but that won’t work for us, so I’ll have to figure something else out.

The loathing just comes from my inner (well, not so inner, that has been the problem) patronizing, little-miss-smartypants attitude. And that’s the part I’m really trying to work on. Hence, the non-toxic Tuesday challenge.

I will challenge myself to find the person in my life who most drives me up a wall. The human embodiment of fingernails on a chalkboard.

And be nice to that person. Not just today, but from now on.

When I was working, it would have been easy to find that person at any of the many jobs I’ve had. I would have started slow, with just a nice, “Good Morning!” or a “how’re you doing?” They would have been suspicious, because with a person who rubs me the wrong way, I had probably been trying to minimize interaction. Or worse, I was muttering under my breath, rolling my eyes and using the indoor version of the briefcase maneuver to steam right by. Sweet, huh?

But I would have hoped that if I had been successful in being consistently kind, the person would have softened, would have become less annoying, less defensive and more humanized to me.

Or, they might have become clingy, or weirdly resentful, or they might have remained suspicious of my motives. Which wouldn’t have absolved me of the duty of trying to be kind. Because in the words of that Jewel song, “in the end, only kindness matters.”

I hope I have enough time left on my life’s clock to try to put kindness into effect in every corner of my life.

(This may require wallowing in the Snark Tank from time to time, just to get miss smartypants off of here and out of my system, if something sets her off).

It is going to be difficult for me to rise to this challenge right now. I’ve been keeping to myself too much lately. I’ve been skipping church and spending too much time on Facebook and on those online dating services, which have only succeeded in creeping me out. I’m going to stay deactivated for quite a while. I felt so much better so immediately after abandoning the online man-hunt that I now realize I was not ready for that at all. I intend to return to more traditional methods, where you actually interact with live human beings in reasonably safe public or social settings. Wow, brilliant. Shoulda thought of that first.

However, because I’m not working right now, which has fueled my isolation, I’m going to have to work a little to identify the actual live human I interact with regularly who most reliably drives me nuts, so I can consciously be kind to them. One day, I hope it won’t take conscious effort for me just to be kind.

There’s the lady in the neighborhood who knows, has known for decades, that our child is afraid of dogs, yet persists in letting her large, goofy, completely untrained pooch run around unleashed, which freedom the animal uses to stop traffic in the street and to come bounding around our yard.

But I don’t really see her often enough to interact, and the last time didn’t go so well, on my part. I may have pointed out, in not exactly a kind tone of voice, how the lady was the only person around for miles who doesn’t seem to understand how to leash her dog.  Yeah, so, that was a kindness fail, there.

There are drivers, of course. Too fast, too slow, never use their turn signal, weave in and out from lane to lane, text, etc. etc. Lots of material there. That’s a long swim in the Snark Tank that I’ll probably have to take someday soon, but for now, I think I’ll just try to stop swearing and using the word “moron” so much. Not kind.

There are the check-writers, I suppose. You know, the people in the grocery store who still write checks? They always take the extra time to carefully enter the check in their ledger and carefully replace the checkbook in the wallet and then carefully place the wallet in the purse, all the while blocking further progress for the next person in line, which would be – me. Is there a briefcase maneuver for grocery check-out lines? But, it is someone different, every time.

I need to get out there and meet someone more consistently annoying and regularly in my face. In the meantime, I’ll just try deep breathing and reminding myself that I’m supposed to be trying, really trying, to be kind. Maybe someday it will become second nature. I can dream, can’t I?

Sadly, I had another big fail today, when I received a message from someone saying that the message I sent to them was the meanest they ever received. The message to which they referred, the one I sent, that they thought was the meanest they ever got, was a message that contained an apology. Yeah, so, need to keep working on those communication skills, it seems.

Sigh. If at first you don’t succeed…

I’ll keep you posted.

The Bulgarian

I bought the wine for its name, which reminded me of the man. I didn’t care for the wine. The man, however…

My book is called “Detour in Cancerland: In Which A Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood Through Remodeling (and Lust.)”

Which is the origin of the name of this blog, and a pretty good description of me. Ridiculous woman.

It is critically important to understand that the only ridiculous person in the book is me. Really, it’s no contest.

So back to the title:

The remodeling was for Mike.

The lust was for The Bulgarian.

Allow me to explain.

A few months after Mike was diagnosed, when the chemo seemed to be working and he felt better, I decided to just go ahead and do it. I couldn’t let Mike die never having had a decent kitchen in this house. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen and I wanted to give him a nice one that he could enjoy, for however much time he had left. Here, I’ll show you what I mean:


This is “before.” Note the peeling paint, and the disgusting black gooey grime on the hideous 1970’s multi-color stripe indoor-outdoor carpeting. The “harvest gold” double sink, which Mike stood in front of for 17 years, washing, washing and washing endless dishes. The fake laminate “butcher block” countertops. The rusting door and drawer pulls. We had duct tape under those hanging cabinets, because if we turned the heat above 64 degrees in winter, water from some invisible ice dam on the roof would drip down behind them onto the counter. Oh, and get this:


“Harvest Gold” fridge, standing on a piece of plywood. which, when the Bulgarian’s guys demoed the kitchen, I discovered was not completely, not really much at all, covering a hole in the floor that opened into the dirt floor crawlspace below, which must have been the mouse highway. More disgusting gooey black grime on the gross 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpet. You probably can’t see the mouse poo, mouse traps and mouse carcasses, but I assure you, they’re there. The cat did the best she could.

The stove was cheap and newer, because I accidentally set the old one on fire when I turned on the broiler to cook some salmon, not knowing that Mike had stowed a cardboard pizza box in the oven. The broiler was below, so I didn’t have to open the oven door and didn’t see the box Mike had put there. He had gone out for a walk and came home after the fire trucks had left.

OK, so, anyway, I decided to go ahead and do it. Remodel the kitchen.

Enter The Bulgarian, who built the new kitchen for me, for Mike.

And with whom I fell school-girlishly, madly, ridiculously, hilariously in love.

Right in front of my dying husband.

OK, I don’t blame you if you abandon me now. What a heinous, horrible, evil, selfish thing to do. I’ve read about other widows who were overcome by lust for a younger man – but at least they had the decency to wait until after their husbands had died. Me? Nope. When I wasn’t picking up prescriptions or reminding Mike about appointments or trying to help him find a comfortable position in which to rest, or something he could eat without feeling sick, or taking the laundry to the laundromat because the basement has also been demoed, I turned into Sally Brown following my Bulgarian Linus around, with little animated hearts visibly pulsing and floating around my head, every time The Bulgarian walked in the house. And in addition to Mike, all the guys the Bulgarian brought with him to work the job could see it, and they smirked and snickered.

And the Bulgarian, (technically, “Bulgarian-American,” but around here, the “American” is assumed – Mike described himself as Irish, Italian and Polish, not “Irish-Italian-Polish-American” etc.) just calmly carried on, finishing the basement and building the kitchen. And here, look, here’s the new kitchen:

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who could build a kitchen like that? Yes, I chose the cabinets, the light fixtures and the colors, and the quartz countertop, but he put it all together, and told me about the Edison bulbs which create that soft, lovely light,

and with one of his helpers, a silent, grumpy, smirking old Bulgarian guy, applied the very thin, natural shell backsplash tile I had chosen, which had to be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle and nearly drove them both nuts. Some of the seams are visible, and there are a few uneven places, but I don’t care. I find it endearing. It reminds me of the Bulgarian’s amazing endurance, patience and imperturbability. Mike got to cook in this kitchen, several times, before he couldn’t stand up long enough to finish making the soup or the sauce.

And earlier on, Mike was well enough to come and choose the floor tile with me, porcelain made to look like slate (because everyone warned us against natural stone – said it would track little pebbly pieces all over everything) and we both liked it a lot. So much that we used it in the basement, too.

The kitchen was meant to evoke my Grandmother’s kitchen in Maine – the beadboard, the color. No cookie-cutter, white, subway-tiled suburban McMansion kitchen for me, for my Mike. This kitchen has character. Mike even arranged what we now call “the cubbyhole,” placing Grandma’s kitchen drop-leaf table and Mom’s chairs in the nook where a “command center” desk and window seat should go, but which I couldn’t afford – I’ll take care of that part when I win the lottery:

If you’re still here, there are a few other things that must be clearly understood.

I loved my husband, and miss him every day. He knew all about my ridiculous crush on the Bulgarian. He watched it unfold, as did everyone else in the house, and he endured the embarrassment of it, along with the banging and the jackhammering and the sawing and sanding and painting, from his sickbed. It only just occurred to me a few weeks ago that it wasn’t really so awful to put him through all that, because the remodeling kept him out of the kitchen, so he didn’t consume all his strength trying to cook and wash dishes, which he would have done, until he fainted, again.

Mike knew me so well. He understood why it (the crush on the Bulgarian) happened, and he forgave me for it. We talked about it. Eventually we laughed about it. And we forgot about it, during those last few months, when the job was done and Mike made it through, to enjoy and cook in a decent kitchen, at last.

And he liked the Bulgarian, whom he described as a sweet, kind man. Which he was.

Exceptionally patient and kind, the both of them, Mike and the Bulgarian, when you consider the magnitude of the ridiculousness.

By which I mean, the Bulgarian, though a grown man, was a little over twenty years younger than I. And though he was a stocky guy, a more than a foot taller than I, there is no doubt that at the time, I outweighed him. Substantially.

I’m not sure “ridiculous” really does it justice. I looked like a giant middle-aged human beach ball. And the Bulgarian was, if not young, a lot younger, and strong, and capable, and calm, through all the ridiculousness. And his voice, my God. Deep, rich, smooth, steady. Every time I heard The Bulgarian say my name, I tried something else, something more, to make myself into something resembling a woman. Eventually I got a job that kept me on my feet moving around all day, and I started to lose weight, fast. Which I hope in some small way pleased Mike, because I hadn’t had much motivation in that direction for very long time.

The book tells the whole sad, silly, ridiculous story from the time Mike was diagnosed through the year after he died. And I’m telling you this now because, if you read yesterday’s post, I seem to have embarked on my next round of ridiculousness. So I thought I should explain the ridiculous part, because that’s the theme here, along with laughter and love, and it seems that’s just who I am. Ridiculous.

What could possibly have possessed me?

I plead temporary insanity. I really do think that finding out my husband had eighteen months to live sent me over the edge, there. Which is what I told The Bulgarian when I apologized to him for it.

And you know what he said? He said I had nothing to apologize for, nothing to be embarrassed about.

“It happens on every job,” he said. He seemed to be referring generally to highly emotional behavior – all clients lose their minds as a remodeling job drags on and on, I suppose (but not all of them are trying to get a job done before their spouse dies). The Bulgarian made it very clear, though, that he didn’t want to talk about my specific type of emotion.

But because of his patience, his kindness, his listening and his magnificent voice, I could easily believe that “it happens on every job” meant that every fat, middle-aged woman The Bulgarian ever worked for fell madly in love with him. Besides which, he knew how to do everything.

I was comforted when I talked to a few friends, and confessed my absurd crush, and they told me that the exact same thing had happened to them. They fell in love with their electrician, or their carpenter or their painter on their remodeling project, for the same kinds of reasons. They were young, strong, capable and they would listen and talk to you. So, maybe it does happen on every job.

I explained it to Mike, when he asked how this could be, how could I possibly be making such a ridiculous fool of myself, drenching myself in perfume, suddenly using vats of skin products, fixing my hair every day, for this…this…Bulgarian? this way:

“It’s very simple. There are three reasons I am in love with him. First, even though he’s getting paid for it, he listens to and actually remembers everything I say to him. Second, he does what I ask him to do….., eventually; and third, HE NEVER YELLS AT ME.”

“Ha. In sharp contrast to me,” said Mike. (We talked like that. One thing we had going for us was honestly. Sometimes brutal honesty).

I didn’t say anything to that. Which was a way of acknowledging its truth. Mike could remember every move of every chess game and every shot of every tennis match he ever played. But he couldn’t remember a damn thing I said to him, for 26 years.

Widows aren’t supposed to admit this sort of thing, that their marriage was difficult, hanging by a thread. There was nothing remotely normal about our marriage (if there is any such thing as a normal marriage.) And though we had many happy times, shared lots of laughter, enjoyed reading to each other and listening to music and watching hockey and goofing around, there was also the fact that for years and years, Mike’s communication with me see-sawed between sullen silence and terrifying, frequently irrational, or to me at least inexplicable, screaming rage. I learned to manage it, to let him yell it out, and then days later, to go back and talk about whatever it was that set him off, if he could remember, or articulate it, and we’d move on.

While he was a difficult husband, he was an exceptional, fantastic father to our developmentally different child, and we stuck together for that, and we made it through, and we found the love again. And for that (in addition to the new, beautiful kitchen) I will always be grateful to The Bulgarian. Because having him around gave Mike a chance to remember what I looked like when I was in love, and I think to want to be the one on the receiving end of that look again. Once the Bulgarian was done with the job and out of our lives, that look was for Mike alone, and we talked and laughed and enjoyed that new kitchen together for several months before his strength faded.

When I stand in that kitchen now, at night after the dishwasher is loaded and our child has gone to bed, in the soft glow of the Edison bulbs and the rich gleam of that natural shell tile, I can see them both there. Mike cooking his last pot of spaghetti sauce, his last vat of chicken soup for our child, saying, by way of thanks, even if he didn’t mean it, he wanted me to know he appreciated it all, “Wow, look at this kitchen! And Mom did all the prep! Prep is everything!” because I had peeled the carrots and washed and chopped the celery and had everything organized into labeled plastic storage containers in our gorgeous new stainless steel fridge, so all he had to do was put everything in the pot and season it in his way, which is about as much as he could do by then.

And I see The Bulgarian there, puzzling over some newly uncovered, weird remnant of past do-it-yourselfing (we live on the “do it yourself” side of town) and I hear him saying my name in that rich voice, humoring me. No harm, no foul. He just did it to keep the job moving, to calm me down and to try to be as unobtrusive as possible as he toiled away for months, finishing the basement and building that kitchen for me, for Mike.

So there you have it. That explains the ridiculous. I’ve done my best to disguise The Bulgarian’s identity in the book (but not his ethnicity – because there’s just something too funny about a battalion of Bulgarians in the basement, which was a big part of the story) because I really don’t want to cause him any further embarrassment, and I do want to protect his privacy. There are over 150,000 Bulgarians around here, and a lot of them work construction, so he could be any one of them and I hope to God I have succeeded in disguising which one he is. Because as I have said, he is a good, kind man.

And my beautiful, heroic Mike endured it all, and said that he liked the result (even though before we started he said he liked the kitchen the way it was.) He took his chemo and felt awful, and then got better, and we went to Maine one last time, and when we came home he endured the noise and the dust and the jackhammering and the embarrassment, and in the end he and the Bulgarian became friends in a way, because they spent a lot of time together in this house while I was at work, and when the house was finally a Bulgarian-free zone, something about it all seemed worth it. We found our deepest love again.

And I like to believe that Mike, seeing me in the throes of this crazy crush, was comforted in some way, that I might try to love someone new after he was gone. I hope that’s true, anyway.

So, that brings us around to ridiculous, round two, online dating. That is turning out to have a great deal of potential, on the ridiculousness scale.

Oh, geez. Mike, hon, I know you’re there, listening somehow. Thanks for forgiving me for it all. Help me out here. Can you find me someone who’ll let me be my ridiculous self, and love me for it, like you did?

Based on results so far, that could take quite a while. So I’m sure I’ll have a lot more ridiculous experiences, and ridiculous behavior on my part, to tell you about, once the book on round one is truly done.

Until then I remain, your humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculous Woman

(the “humble, obedient etc.” stuff comes from my obsession with the Aubrey-Maturin books, which I’m reading again now, so I find myself lapsing into this eighteenth century parlance from time to time. I do beg pardon…

Thankful Thursday: Good day, Sunshine

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time….”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5

Today I’m just grateful the sun came out.

Because if it hadn’t I might have spent another day in bed.

God, I hate January. It drags on and on, first frigid, then gray and damp, mushy, slushy and then frigid again, grey, fog, rain, snow, slush, mush, on and on and on, seemingly until the last syllable of recorded time. I feel days lost and lost, time passing with no purpose, no joy (except the joy of our child, the best human on the planet, and the person for whom I must go on, keep the chin up, keep calm and carry on etc.)

Depression runs in the family on my Dad’s side, but I never thought I’d be the one. And I’m fighting it.

But I did quit a really good job because of it. I found myself crying spontaneously at unpredictable moments in a job that requires a lot of public contact. So nope, no more of that.

I suppose I could give myself a break and stop beating myself up for doing that – I really loved the job but I really did need the time. The reason I keep bursting into tears is that I missed my best work buddy, who died about 7 months after my husband Mike died. Mike was two years younger than I. (Yes, “I,” not “me.” You wouldn’ t say “he was younger than me was.”) My work buddy was eighteen years younger than I at the time he died. That sucked.

And I realized I was also letting other stupid things at work get to me in a really outsized way, and I knew I needed to do what Mike told me to do before he died. “Take some time, Anne,” he said.

He was right, as usual, and I didn’t listen to him, as usual. Until I quit.

Which was at the end of July.

I set goals, many of which I achieved. Start this blog, clean the house, write the book. Not quite done with the book yet, but getting close. The book explains ridiculousness, phase one and is the reason I named the blog ridiculouswoman.

But I was also supposed to try and have a new job by January.

Not even close. Haven’t even really tried at all. Not feeling it. But I have to, I have to, one foot in front of the other.

Why do employers make it so damn hard? Every online application is different.

Hey, if colleges can come up with a common application that a kid only has to fill out once with all the usually required stuff, why can’t employers?

There, app developers. I just made you a billion dollars. Come up with the common job app and sell it to employers to make applying less like driving knitting needles into your eyes. Let me know when you’ve got it ready. And hey, gimme a cut of the IPO. I gave you the idea so t’s only fair.

But Tuesday it just all sort of caved in on me. Cabin fever, loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like each day is just the same as the last.

I had every intention of writing my “non-toxic Tuesday” blog post that day. I dropped our child off at the train and received the text that confirmed safe arrival at the destination. I ate a quick mess of eggs, drank my coffee and went to yoga class.

And I came home and sat down in Dad’s chair. (Dad’s drinking chair. Now mine. But never in the day, except the day I found out my work buddy had died. He was such a good guy, who had faced so many struggles, and he would not have approved.)

No, no day drinking. But consumption of mass quantities of chocolate. Not good.

And I got up an hour later only to go upstairs and go to back to bed.

And I got up only to go back and pick up our child at the train station, and to cook the tacos for taco Tuesday. (Chicken this time, really good. I think I’ll use chicken from now on with Rick Bayless’ pre-packaged sauce for chicken tacos. So there’s that, anyway. Some left over for lunch today, too.)

What brought this on? Just the endless drag of January? The grey, the slush, the fact that the chickens hate it too?

I don’t think that was it.

I think it is Ridiculousness, phase two. (I’ll tell you about phase one tomorrow, if I can get my courage up.)

I put myself on and OurTime. Which has turned out to be pretty ridiculous.

I don’t think I was ready. But not being ready to do something hasn’t stopped me lately from doing it anyway. (See chickens, above.)

And it has been SO, so depressing.

Misspellings and semi-literacy galore. Guys of a certain age who put shirtless pictures of themselves on their profiles. Guys who didn’t read my profile and seem oblivious to the geographic range I’ve specified.

No less than 6 scammers who wrote to me claiming to be representing a friend who either can’t figure out how to use for themselves or who is too shy or some such bullshit, giving me an email address to contact said friend, which would only then give the scammers my actual email address, which does not do. How stupid do I seem? Apparently identifying myself as a widow tags me as that stupid and makes me a scam-magnet.

Smokers, bikers and guys with haircuts from the ’70s.

I tried “Plenty of Fish,” but they required me to disclose income, which I found really offensive, and then they wouldn’t let me delete my profile for 24 hours.

And wouldn’t you know it, right before I deleted it I saw a wonderful profile of a wonderful guy, a guy who quoted Lewis Carroll, but it was too late. Please, Lewis Carroll guy, join so I can find you again.

But then this morning the sun came out, and I took my vitamins yesterday, including my vitamin D, and I’ll be able to go for a walk today and get some naturally-generated vitamin D.

And I decided that if a guy I like doesn’t quite have the balls to contact me, I’ll go ahead and contact him, and I did. Two guys. Both educated, liberal and funny. And I’m not going to let it get me down if they don’t reply. I’ll just try, try again until someone who likes the same kind of music as I do, who doesn’t mind my frequent use of multi-syllabic words, and who defines himself as liberal but likes to treat a lady like a lady, is willing to talk.

I’ve revised and shortened my profile on about eight times already. I put the “I’d like to ski again and I’d love to learn to sail” back in, because a guy who seemed kind of OK wants a woman who skis, and his pictures indicate he likes to sail. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Because I remain, your humble, obedient etc.,

Ridiculous woman.

Fiction Friday – Obsession and Possession: Confessions of a Book Hoarder

Some books … become part of me…

The best times of my life have been spent in imaginary places. Or real places that have been populated with imaginary people. I’ve learned more from great novels than from any history book or non-fiction treatise I’ve ever struggled through.

Humans thrive on narrative and storytelling – we make sense of the world by telling stories about it. The stories may be true, or myth or some combination of the two, but a narrative will always stick with me where a dry list of facts may not. Tell me a story, though, in words, or words and music, and I’ll remember.

Some of my best friends are fictional characters. They’re always there for me when I need them, getting into and out of the same scrapes and adventures, saying witty or silly or profound things, expressing their hearts in a way that touches mine. I’ve been a nerd a long time, and often a lonely one, and I’ve always found a friend in a book.

Maybe that’s why it is so hard for me to get rid of books. I used to be unable to get rid of books at all. I’ve gotten more ruthless about it, especially with new books (or books new to me.) If they don’t grab me right away, I ring the bell and shout, “Next!” (See the latest entry over there in the Snark Tank.)

But if the book grabs me, holds my attention, makes me stay up all night to finish it, well, it’s MINE, MINE I tell you! And will be for life. Nothing can induce me to get rid of books that have befriended me, helped me through hard times, and give me something new every time I reread them.

I love historical fiction and speculative fiction, and there are a few books in these categories that have changed my life, or, more accurately, become absorbed into my life – become a part of me.

There is only one series, however, that has very nearly spoiled me for all others. Reading anything else is really just a break from rereading these – the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series: the extended tale of a British Royal Navy captain and his particular friend during the Napoleonic wars.

These are not easy books. The first especially requires a leap of faith – just suspend disbelief and trust that you’ll get it eventually.

I first came upon these books for kind of a silly reason – I have a strict “read the book before you see the movie” rule. Back in 2002 or so, I heard that Russell Crowe (and back then I was still in the throes of a pretty serious Russell Crowe problem) was to star in a film called “Master And Commander.”

So I marched off to the library and that book. And something told me I’d better take the next two in the series as well.

I sat down to read it, and I didn’t budge for about 14 hours other than to address basic needs. I remember thinking it was complex, the language hard to follow, but something about it just captured me. The book had a helpful diagram of a ship in the front, and a helpful scene where one of the seamen explained to one of the characters what many of the ship’s parts and the sailor’s expressions meant.

And as I got into I came to care very much about the characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and struggled to savor the writing while fighting the impulse to read ahead quickly to discover what would happen next.

Here was a world recreated in great detail; here was honor, duty, adventure and a great deal of humor. Parts of these books made me laugh out loud, sometimes laugh so hard I cried.

I confess I haven’t read all of Jane Austen, but I know Patrick O’Brian was a fan of hers, and his books are like, you should pardon the expression, Jane Austen with balls.

I don’t know why I like books that contain famous battles or details of military history. I’m pretty much a pacifist – but I just love stories of brave people doing brave things in pursuit of what they perceived to be honorable goals.

I finished those first three books in less than two days and raced back to the library to grab the next four or five, because I couldn’t imaging the agony of having to wait for the next one.

The devotees of these novels who started with them when they first began to appear often had to wait two years between books. I think that might have broken me – I just had to know what would happen next. And while I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I never really understood the impulse to wait outside a bookstore at midnight for the next installment – but I would have camped out for a week for the next one of these Aubery-Maturin books.

I’m a member of a Facebook group devoted to these books, where no one thinks it is weird that you use eighteenth-century language (“Give me joy!” or “I have the honor to report…” or “grass-combing bugger!” or “would one of you learned coves explain, in terms amenable to the meanest understanding?”) I’ve read The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels,  all twenty of them, four times. (They are now mostly available as a complete set in a 5 volume hardcover, linked above, but you might be able to find the 20 individual paperbacks used online somewhere, and there’s a 21st, but it is unfinished and sad) and intend to “embark on my next circumnavigation” later this evening. I just can’t get enough of Jack and Stephen’s world, and I find something new in these books each time I reread them.

So, Jack, Stephen, you have spoiled me for all others; you have stolen my heart and earned my loyalty for as long as my eyes can read.

When I finished the series from the library, I was able to locate an online bookstore devoted to all things Aubrey-Maturin, and at what was then far too great an expense, as I was grossly underemployed at the time, enduring a sad and difficult time in my life, I purchased the entire set, pictured in the featured image above and on my Books and Music page (where I’ve posted additional books I love and more related books about the era, real-life naval heroes of the day, foods the mariners ate, etc. They now occupy the shelf formerly occupied by my Mike’s chess books. When Mike was unable to read them or concentrate on them anymore, he piled them all into the car and drove them off to give them to a young man who was supposedly trying to start some kind of chess club or school, but who was unhelpful and singularly unappreciative of the effort this dying man took to deliver those books to him.

I kept a few of Mike’s poetry books, the ones that contained poems he shared with me and that we could discuss together, but a great many of the rest went to the hospice chaplain, who shared Mike’s love of poetry and whose friendship, right at the end of Mike’s life, was a great gift to us both.

That made room for me to bring my books downstairs, into our little library room. The speculative fiction I enjoy now has its own separate bookcase filled mostly with William Gibson and Neal Stephenson (“Neuromancer” took my brain to entirely new places, as did “Snow Crash”. Sharing the shelves with Patrick O’Brian are Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome (In the Masters of Rome) and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman: A Novel series (absolutely hilarious – someone Fraser has managed to place his hero at every major British and American military engagement of the nineteenth century). Those are good and a nice diversion from the next go-round of O’Brian. McCullough eventually starts writing more like a Roman historian than a novelist, so for me that series kind of wore out, but the first two, The First Man in Rome and Grass Crown (Masters of Rome) are especially good.

These worlds the authors have created or recreated refresh me, comfort me, keep me company and help me through hard times. When I have to come back to the world I actually live in, I feel refreshed, strengthened, but also supported, knowing that there are a few, a self-selected few thousand people on the planet, who love these books as much as I do, and the human connection that results from just knowing they are out there gives me hope and gets me through my days.

You’ll either get completely hooked on Patrick O’Brian, or you won’t get through the books at all. There really is no in-between that I’ve ever heard of with these.

So if you set sail, I give you joy and wish you fair winds and following seas. Let me know if you decide to embark, and if you sign on as crew for life with Captain Jack.

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