The Bitch is Back, or, Non-Toxic Love Fail Number Umpteen Gazillion

She was using her phone DURING THE PERFORMANCE! Why am I the one who feels guilty?

“I love humanity – It’s people I can’t stand!”

-Charles Schultz, via Linus

How sweet! The lady next to me brought her exhausted toddler to the performance. To her credit (the toddler’s), said toddler kept her whining to a minimum and mercifully fell silently asleep.

The toddler’s mother, however, continued to check her email, and even her voicemail, cellphone glowing at full brightness, ten minutes into the performance – while the orchestra was playing, the dancers dancing and the LIGHTING, WHICH IS PART OF THE EXPERIENCE, WAS SUBTLY ALTERING THE APPEARANCE OF THE STAGE.

I tried deep breaths, I tried holding my program up between myself and this woman to block the glow.

I thought about how I wanted to be a nicer person, to show love and respect to everyone. I waited, hoping that my non-verbal signals would get through. I imagined that maybe she had another child, sick at home, and was checking on that child. I imagined she had some other family crisis which required her to use her cellphone, but that she didn’t want to make a fuss dragging her toddler over me (I was in the aisle seat – I always choose an aisle seat in case of the need for a quick exit, or in cases like this, escape to another seat) out to the lobby to take care of it.

Then she started scrolling through photos on her phone. That didn’t strike me as something you do in an emergency. Why the hell would you spend a lot of money on a good seat to attend the ballet and then SPEND THE WHOLE PERFORMANCE WITH YOUR FACE IN YOUR PHONE? That’s one damn expensive way to get your toddler to go to sleep.

I eyed the open seat across the aisle, a stand-alone seat that I thought I had purchased in the first place – my fingers must have slipped on the keyboard during the online purchase. But the balcony of that old theater is like a carnival funhouse – sloping and tilted, with unexpected ledges and steps in odd places. I didn’t want to create an even bigger disturbance by falling down the steep stairs while trying to shift my coat and purse over to it during the performance.

There was nothing for it but to wait for intermission. So I waited. A little longer.

About a minute longer. Nowhere near until intermission.

From the moment I noticed her scrolling her photos, I didn’t think at all about a nice way to ask this RUDE UNCULTURED CRETIN to STOW THE DAMN THING BECAUSE THE GLOW OF IT IS DISTRACTING AND AFFECTING MY ENJOYMENT OF THE PERFORMANCE.

Nope. I went straight to bitchland.

I turned to her and said, “Do you have some sort of ongoing emergency? Are you a doctor on call or something? Because the glow of your cellphone is very distracting.”

Fingers poised above the face of the phone, she started to say something, but then she stowed it. Both the phone and whatever she was about to say.

And wouldn’t you know it, she and her toddler, now sleepily riding piggyback, were right behind me in line for the ladies’ room at intermission.

I smiled and held the door for them.

When I successfully shifted my seat as we were all settling back for the next act, I stepped across the aisle and thanked her for putting her phone away.

“Wasn’t that second act lovely?” I said, smiling.

She glared at me and said,

“Your words to me were more distracting.”

Here I was, trying to make amends, and she was holding on to it, claiming that my asking her to put her phone away, the phone she was continuing to use, brightly glowing, DURING THE PERFORMANCE, was more distracting than her use of said phone. If she was moved to defend herself for such behavior, RATHER THAN ACKNOWLEDGE AND APOLOGIZE FOR IT, then clearly I had hit a nerve.

At least I was able to freeze my smile in place and say, “I’ve just moved over there (pointing to the seat across the aisle) and that will give us all more elbow room.”

“Good,” she muttered.

I let it go, and had another cranberry mimosa at the next intermission.

The nice women in front of my new seat were taking a selfie of themselves (DURING INTERMISSION, OK? At least these women understood time and place. They stowed their phones when the lights went down).

When I told them I hoped I hadn’t ruined their photo by returning to my seat just at that moment, they said not at all, “especially with that fabulous dress.” (The dress was one of my 1950s style “fit and flare” dresses, a black one with a white collar, worn with a white crinoline and black stockings).

“Thanks! This is my Swan Lake outfit! Odette, (white swan, flashing white crinoline) Odile! (black swan, swishing black “flare” skirt).

“It’s fabulous,” they said. Ah, civilization! Just over here across the aisle!

I counted (silently, of course) Odile’s 32 foutés, which were expertly performed, and admired the extraordinary long lines and ability to hang in the air on leaps of the guy who danced the Prince/Principal Dancer, and enjoyed the rest of the performance.

But that didn’t stop me from feeling guilty about how I had failed to find a way to ask nicely.

Because even when someone else is behaving like a jerk, I’m still required not to.

Sigh.

The good news is that from my view in the balcony I spotted at least two additional seats in that house that are stand-alones – one seat making up its own tiny little aisle at the back of a section, where I can sit entirely by myself, see around the people in front of me, and be far enough away from SELFISH, RUDE, UNCULTURED CRETINS  other people to enjoy the performance without the danger of landing in bitchland again.

Until then, I remain,

Your overdressed, ashamed but determined to do better next time, while hoping more careful seat selection will guarantee there won’t be a next time,

Ridiculouswoman

There’s No Place Like Home

These hometown colors still thrill me every year…

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard…”

-L. Frank Baum, via Dorothy Gale

Fall excursion four, Trail Ride No, 3, was to have been tomorrow, based on the weather forecast reported last week.

Now, the updated forecast is for thundershowers.

Cancelled.

Epic disappointment. Have you ever spent a day with an autistic person who has suffered a disappointing change of plans? This is a profound kind of disappointment – as if it is threatening, in some way – what’ll we do now?

Get out the whiteboard. Write out the feelings. Work it through.

And she did:  my amazing, resilient daughter bounced back, changed her attitude and decided to get over it. Bravo.

Me? Not so much.

The expectation of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season is not enough to soothe my sense of loss when October ends. This year has been a skimpy one in the way of bright blue October skies. Today, it seems, is the last day this year with a shot at it – but there’s more “cloudy” than “partly” today, too.

For a few hours this morning, though, it was there.

I have lived in this town pretty much my entire life, and walked, ridden bikes and driven down these same streets for decades, yet each fall, each October, specifically, it still thrills me – sets my heart aglow, like the trees themselves, that seem to have the ability to exude light from within.

This morning was that day – when I realize that it isn’t really necessary to take a long drive to find that October joy; it is right here.

The photo at the top was taken in my own back yard. So was that gold one. IMG_20181029_134750.jpgThose below were taken within within a 2-3 mile radius of my home.

There’s a “toasted maple,” my favorite fall display, where the tree gets all purply on top but stays golden underneath.IMG_20181029_125553.jpg

There is the incredibly rosy glow of the maples uptown (that’s what we call our tiny but thriving “business district,” which until about 5 years ago had no restaurants (if you don’t count the breakfast joint that closed fifty years ago) but now has three.

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There are the lanes lined with color leading to and from the bluff with views of the lake.

Not just any lake. Lake Michigan. A great lake, which only needs to be referred to as “the lake” for anyone living within 100 miles of it.

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And a view of the park, where the huge old cottonwood finally had to come down, but was replaced with an expanded playground with that newfangled, squishy-bouncy stuff instead of the pebbles, or concrete, or asphalt, or, if we were lucky, the wood chips, of my youth. I spent more time on those tennis courts.

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But here is autumn glory, just a walk, a bike ride or a short drive away.

I finally got my fix – my dose of October’s loveliness, ephemeral.

I’ll take it, and call it enough.

Trying, often failing but still trying, to live in the moment and focus on love and laughter, I remain,

Your loyal, sentimental, nostalgic, one-day-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman

Self-help Remedy, and A Little Housekeeping

A cat picture, for no particular reason, a little snark and a little navigation adjustment…

A little consumer rage (in this case, difficult packaging) can sometimes go a long way, so today I’m taking my chances, over in the Snark Tank….

I have also recently updated my Books and Music page, to add a few books I like about the art (craft?) of improvisation, which I wrote about recently, in case you are interested.

Finally, I’ve added a few categories so the occasional visitor who may share some of my more esoteric interests (Patrick O’Brian’s books, Steve Perry and Journey) and more specific aspects of my life (living with a person with autism) can find posts on those subjects a bit more easily in the drop-down over there.

Enjoy!

Separation Anxiety

I said “yes, I’ll be back…” but I didn’t say, “I promise.”

That’s exactly what it felt like: as if I were leaving my sweet fatherless daughter reaching for a string to hold onto what was left of her deflating heart as she anxiously watched it float away.

“You’re coming back, Mom? Right? You’ll come back?”

I hesitated- her anxiety had made me anxious about traveling, something I used to do routinely this time of year for work, thinking nothing of it, because Mike was with her.

I said, “yes, I’ll be back Tuesday.”

But I didn’t say, “I promise.” I couldn’t. Promise, that is. I was superstitious about it.

I got on the plane for the short trip to Toronto, to attend a gathering of Patrick O’Brian/regency era enthusiasts.

It was the first time we were to be apart overnight since Mike died.

I tried not to telegraph my own anxiety. But I did send updated emergency information to my brothers.

Before I left at 4 a.m., with my daughter and my brother, the uncle who agreed to stay with her while I was away, asleep upstairs, I cried as quietly as I could, and silently asked Mike to help all of us out – not to be upset that it was my brother who was watching her – to just help them both get through it.

I called as soon as I could after landing.

She sounded fantastic. Happy and relieved to hear from me, of course. But more than that. Really, really good. Not just then, but every time I called, all weekend.

She had a clarity about her I hadn’t heard so consistently in a long time.

I think it might have had something to do with presence of her uncle – she spent so much time with her Dad, and there hasn’t been a man around the house in over two years. Something about the male presence must have made her feel comforted, reassured.

She told me what they’d had for lunch and dinner, and how she’d emptied the trash and replaced the trash liners and had fun at art and riding, and did a good job at work.  She asked if I was having fun and what I was doing, and, of course, when I’d be coming home and what sort of present I’d be bringing her.

As if this was a normal trip, and she was a neurotypical person, and it was just another time when Mom would be gone for a few days.

I was massively relieved, and thus able to enjoy the historical presentations, the meals and the English country dancing lesson.

I’d had a gown made especially for the Saturday ball, IMG_20181020_182234257.jpgwhich I wore to the dinner before. I decided to skip the ball itself to go hear the Journey tribute band that was playing at the restaurant attached to my hotel. You know why. (If not, the post behind the link explains it).

When conversation came around to explaining the circumstances of my widowhood, I discovered three sympathetic cancer survivors. I met a lovely couple who shared my interest in the books (she) and in choral singing (he). They took pictures for me, to document the gowns.

I “broke” my  “day/dinner” dress out of ignorance of the mechanics of donning Regency style dresses without the help of a ladies’ maid – which I’m bereft of at present – ha! –  but was repeatedly rescued by other more knowledgeable ladies, with safety pins and offers of the use of sewing kits.IMG_20181020_164858.jpg

My hair was a disaster due to strict observance of a “no scented products” rule in deference to the very sweet and hard-working organizer’s sensitivities, but I was told by several gentlemen (themselves resplendent in period uniform) that I looked radiant.

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My improvised infrastructure didn’t quite succeed in creating the “shelf” effect (which I irreverently refer to as “tits on a platter”). I might splurge on the right kind of custom corset (“short stays”) next time, to shove the girls up high enough to provide …erm… more historically accurate allure. Ha!

I got back to the airport early. My plane was delayed just long enough for the crew to fail to advise passengers that roll-aboards would have to be carried up stairs onto the plane (preventing me from observing my superstitious entering-the-plane ritual) and that, once carried up, said bags wouldn’t fit either under the seat or in the very small overheads and would have to be carried back off again to be “gate-checked” (thereby giving me a second chance to perform my superstitious getting-on-the-plane ritual – whew).

Safe, uneventful flight and landing, breeze through customs, bag was where expected, and, a very rare thing, very light traffic on the road home.

And there she was, accepting a much longer, tighter hug than her tactile defensiveness typically permits. Asking what I brought her.

Wow.

We got through it. We proved we could get through it.

We have a shot at a different but almost-normal life. Though it has to be a life without Mike, it will never be a life without whispers of his love and support from the other side (the right piece on the classical station just as I was thinking of him, a fan that perfectly matched my ball gown waiting for me, available for purchase, a touching Trafalgar dinner toast to “absent friends” that made me miss and remember him with love, and almost made me cry. Oops, writing that did make me cry just now. Oh well. It happens. It should. It’s ok. We’re ok.)

Wishing you support from family and kindness from strangers who quickly become friends, I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, momentarily and more often, happy,

Ridiculouswoman

Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride Edition

The symbols weren’t coincidences. Mike was with us.

My car’s rear view mirror displays the compass direction, so I exited the perpetually-under-construction toll road and headed out to two-lane county roads. We zig-zagged our way north and west, past red barns with stone silos, cows, horses, pumpkins and sheep, and fields plowed under, sleeping until spring.  There were hay rolls, waiting to feed the livestock through the winter. Not enough color in the foliage yet, but there will be at least one more fall excursion for that.

We arrived at our destination town with a little over an hour to spare before we were due at the stables, and we needed lunch. Lunch has not been a success on fall excursions past.

The available options were:

  1. the biker bar on the corner, or
  2. the biker bar next door to the biker bar on the corner.

Hmm.

We chose the biker bar on the corner on the assumption that a full parking lot (full of cars, oddly, not motorcycles – a bit of a relief) – indicated decent food.

About half the barstools were occupied, obviously by locals, all men, each one of whom turned to look at the two women walking in.

The lady bartender, fully embellished with tattoos from wrists to elbows, presumably extending to shoulders under the sleeves, invited us to find a table.

“That doesn’t look cheap,” remarked one of the locals, referring to the tattoos. I think he intended that as a compliment. Lady bartender took it in stride.

It wasn’t as crowded as the number of cars predicted. And the food was pretty good, a welcome change for a fall excursion. And the Harley-Davidson-Green-Bay-Packer logoed patrons were non-threatening. Just people having lunch. Or a beer. Or a beer with their lunch.

On to the stables, at a cute little pretend Western town in the middle of a state forest. Utterly deserted, and a little forlorn.  But it was a Tuesday afternoon in October, not a summer Saturday. We found the guide prepping the horses and took a look around while she got them ready.

There was a mock sheriff’s office, a barber shop, and a closed-but-clearly-capable-of hosting-a-function saloon.

There was a little chapel on a hill, named after the owner’s mother and guarding a memorial to his son. The name on the chapel is my daughter’s middle name.

The hill reminded me that Mike always climbed to the top of whatever was tallest where ever we stopped on any fall excursion. He did it on the last one.

He would have marched right up the hill to that chapel. I did it for him. It was lovely, both outside and in, and the memorial to the son who died young was touching. I choked up as I came back down, and turned away to collect myself before rejoining my daughter, waiting below.

We were introduced to the horses.

The biggest one we were introduced to, though not scheduled to ride, was named “Bear.”

My pet name for Mike.

We had a lovely ride through the forest, looped around and back.  The guide took a picture.  Time to head home, down aIMG_20181017_125345.jpg few more country roads.  Along one of them, I glanced to my left and noticed stones arranged in the shape of a huge dragonfly on the side of a little hill and above a farm pond – creative drainage, I guess.

Dragonflies, along with butterflies and hummingbirds, are a symbol of Mike to me.

On our way back to a town where I planned to get our daughter a post-trail-ride treat, we drove right by a little park that I instantly recognized as one we had stopped at during a previous fall excursion, where Mike and our daughter took a break and on the swings and drank their convenience-store lemonade.

I don’t believe these things – the name of the chapel, the horse named Bear (another horse named Bear – there was one on a trail ride last year, too, along with lots of butterflies) and passing the park where we had played before – were coincidences.

I believe Mike helped me find this place, that he was with us, and that he was enjoying himself. Maybe making up for the last time, when he didn’t.

I went to bed regretting the excessive carbs from the OK biker bar lunch, and really regretting the two bites of “fresh apple cider donut” I got at the post-trail-ride-treat place, and worrying about my weight.

I dreamt that Mike came and hugged me, outside, at a place that looked like the gravel drive of the stables we had visited that day, and said that I was beautiful just the way I am, and the way I am is the way I was made, and I should accept myself and quit worrying about it. I felt his hug physically.

Just as physically as I felt him blowing in my ear a few days ago, during a mid-afternoon nap attack. Half asleep, I called his name and asked him to stick around, stick with us. I heard his voice, plain and clear, say the word, “haunting.” Not in a scary way – just jokingly, the way he would have said it, with a grin, if he had been right there on the bed with me.

The last thing Mike said to our daughter was, “Dad’s love never ends.”

I know now that his love for me hasn’t ended, either, and never will.

May you know that you are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were made, and stop worrying.

Enjoying deep October-blue skies, I remain,

Your reassured, trying-to-keep-things-in-perspective and trying-not-to-let-the-coffee-shop staff-see-my-eyes-tearing-up,

Ridiculouswoman

On, Wisconsin

Beer-cheese soup. Followed by apple cider. Spiked.

I thought “beer cake” took it. The cake, I mean.

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But then came “beer cheese soup,” served with a warm pretzel.

Heretic that I am, I skipped the mustard. But still.

Pumpkins, gourds, hay bale and obligatory (too sugary, but what the hell, it’s October) apple cider obtained, rustic roads driven, stables located for Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride version, planned for tomorrow. Weather scheduled to cooperate. I’ll keep you posted.

And oh, by the way, trusted friend two has submitted a second positive review with a few minor and constructive editorial suggestions and a vote for pursuing publication (no idea how to do that, but I intend the first step to be an effort to obtain representation by a literary agent. Which I also have no idea how to do. Advice welcome.) Activate Plan A.

And bonus, here’s something I learned from getting a good review from a trusted friend right after returning from Fall Excursion Two: fresh apple cider tastes pretty good when mixed with champagne. And mild terror. Just sayin’.

Gathering courage for the next step (which also may include hearing from brothers, who are much slower than trusted friends in reading the book), I remain,

Your nervous, jumpy, over-caffeinated and energized by the crisp fall weather,

Ridiculouswoman

Frost, Flannel, Fall Excursion

October’s bright blue weather has come at last. Time for flannel shirts and Fall Excursion(s).

Fall excursions were among the first things I wrote about on this blog, which caused it dawn on me that sometime in the past two weeks, this blog had its first anniversary.

I guess I’m supposed to mark that milestone, in some way.

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What have I accomplished in that year?

What’ s this blog got to do with it?

Well, I wrote a book, and wrote about writing the book on the blog.

I “met” some wonderful new people who kindly and generously have liked and followed this blog, and offered support and commiseration.

I rediscovered my love of writing for writing’s sake, and found solace, inspiration, an outlet, and the beginnings of a new and very different kind of life without Mike. Writing has helped me try to turn that life from a life reduced, a life lived with absence,  a piece missing, to a life deepened, enriched and more appreciated, moment by moment.

I forgot to empty the bird bath despite freeze warnings – I hope the crack in it doesn’t expand – but now I know that if it does, if that symbol of my past life with Mike comes apart, I’ll survive it, revive it, somehow, with a new way of keeping a symbol of Mike in my heart with a new symbol of his love for birdwatching in the yard.

I think today is finally the day I’ll give away his fall coat, and his winter boots. I got them as far as the car a few weeks ago, when it was hot and humid. But today, someone is really going to need those.

I’m getting over the panic attacks, even though I’m giving myself a lot of reasons to panic, mainly having to do with money. The burn rate has gone off the charts and the market’s behavior this week was, erm, unhelpful, to say the least.

But something about getting through two years without Mike, and writing about it, and reading about other women’s experience of widowhood and aging, has made me, not so much stronger, as more willing to let go of worry, have faith in God and the universe, keep things in perspective and believe, truly believe, that whatever happens, everything will be ok.

We will emerge. Not submerge.

In the meantime, we will head off into the pumpkin fields, drive the rustic roads and enjoy the loveliness of the October sky, a loveliness all too brief and fleeting, like our “little life…rounded with a sleep.”

And that keeping things in perspective thing? While I wring all I can out of the few gorgeous October days granted this year, I know that it is springtime for followers down under – and through all the little losses and the major catastrophes blasting us everywhere in a daily barrage, rebirth and rebuilding happens, grief can be carried, and assimilated into a new life that is both heavier and lighter, simultaneously more profound and more ethereal, fleeting, yet eternal.

May you find your perfect pumpkin (or spring bloom, depending on your hemisphere), and find comfort that its inevitable decay portends its sure and certain return. Sic transit gloria, world without end.

Glad that my daughter is finally getting enough sleep, but anxious for her to arise so we can get on the road,

I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, dare I say? happy?

Ridiculouswoman