Stage Fright – for Writers?

I never suffered from stage fright – but is there such a thing as “writer’s fright?”

I never suffered from stage fright – not the debilitating, get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-you’ll-have-to-shove-me-out-there kind. Sure, I was excited and nervous before I went onstage, but once I was out there in front of an audience, I was fine.

I was home.

It was fun.

It was real.

I’ve been writing for as long as I had been dancing (from pink tutus to pink toe shoes, days long over) and have been singing (may my singing days end only with my last breath), but yesterday, for the first time, I experienced a kind of “writer’s fright.”

Because yesterday, I gave thumb drives containing the draft of my book to my brothers. I’m not seeking comments from them. I just thought family mentioned peripherally in the book should be among the first to read it.

I’m not sure they will, but at least I can say I gave them the chance. No surprises.

I offered the same opportunity to the Bulgarian. He demurred. But I tried. Then I promised him I would never contact him again.

Sunday, I’ll be giving the book-on-a-memory-stick my two best-friend-former-work-colleagues, and I am seeking their comments.

Which I know will be brutally honest.

Ranging, I imagine, from “are you out of your mind? Destroy all copies of this, now!” to “well, a really great editor might be able to make it tolerable.”

(Of course, I’m secretly hoping for, “this is a work of genius! It’s poignant, funny, gripping, heartrending – I couldn’t put it down! It made me laugh and cry – simultaneously!” or, “this must be published – I’m contacting every literary agent I know and telling them they have to read this immediately!” I can dream, can’t I?)

These friends have never hesitated to be straight with me, and even when we disagreed vehemently, we’d get over it.

So why the “writer’s fright?”

I’m not worried about criticism of the writing itself. I’m happy for constructive criticism that helps me fix that.

I am worried that the book will change the way my brothers and my friends see me. They will read things they didn’t know about before, that might shock them or make them cringe, or see me as weak (even though they already know that I’m ridiculous).

As I watched my book churn its way out of my aging printer (to have a hard copy, in case every other form of backup fails), and clipped into into a (quaint, retro?) three-ring binder,  I felt a kind of resignation.

My truest self is in that book. I don’t know why it is easier for me to reveal myself in a blog, and now a book, intended for large audiences of strangers, than it is for me to share my deepest self with the very limited audience of family and friends.

Is it a tabula rasa thing? Strangers haven’t known me before, so they’ll judge me only on what I put before them? Whereas family and friends know more?

I don’t think so. I think that writers have essentially the same deal with their audiences as actors and improvisers do.
.
In the theater, we “suspend disbelief.” We “look through the fourth wall.” We make a deal: “for the duration of this show, we agree that the emotions, thoughts and reactions  elicited in us are not real, and as soon as the lights come back up, we may pretend they never existed.”

Whereas every actor and improviser worthy of being in front of a live audience knows damn well that what happens on stage is much more true and real than what we, outside the theater, agree is reality.

Because real reality is just too much for most of us, most of the time.

So we bury it in stories. Including true ones.

Humanities 101 teaches that artists (actors, dancers, musicians, composers, writers, poets, visual artists etc.) unearth reality for us – often embedded in metaphor, or draped in mystery, or flowing in a melodic line that will get you every time – but that one way or another unmasks something that we ordinarily need to keep veiled. They give us a “safe” way to experience the fullness of our humanity for the duration of the show, or the length of the book. Then we are allowed to go on about our everyday stuff, feeling somehow edified, unburdened or relieved.

(If unmasking reality that most humans would prefer to keep hidden most of the time is your job, is it any wonder so many artists are kind of nuts?)

But hey, all I’ve done is write a memoir (like everyone else in every coffee shop on the planet has done, or is doing right now.) I’m not claiming any great artistic mantle for myself. I just have a true story to tell that I hope has some universality to it, that will help anyone who reads it feel a bit of “real” reality, the reality we don’t talk about, but that we allow ourselves to safely visit in the pages of the books we love.

Wishing you the comfort and catharsis of a good story, a great show, or some beautiful music, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, nervous, wary, and waiting for reactions,

Ridiculouswoman

 

How Not To Paint A Room

Admire with premature satisfaction….Return to hardware store….three times.

Allow enthusiastic daughter to begin painting walls before drop cloth fully spread. No harm, no foul, the carpet is going anyway.

Attempt to paint intersection of wall and ceiling.

Observe blue streaks on white ceiling. Remember you should have taped the intersection of wall and ceiling.

Tape ceiling at top of wall with half-inch tape purchased at hardware store. Find and apply two-year-old, one-and-a-half-inch blue tape over half-inch tape.

Observe more blue streaks on white ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase wider, green tape. Apply wider tape over two layers of narrower tape.

Complete walls. Step back and gaze with premature self-satisfaction.

Look up. Notice blue streaks and spatters on white ceiling just beyond tape.

Locate two-year-old white interior paint in basement closet.

Stab meaty part of hand while prying open with screwdriver.

Wash and dress wound. Finish prying open old can of white paint. Watch rusty bits fall into paint. Stir anyway.

Use three-inch wide roller to cover blue streaks and splatters on white ceiling with old paint containing rusty bits. Attempt to create neat, squared-off border of not-quite-matching-white-paint-with-rusty-bits.

Fail.

Realize another coat is necessary to cover blue streaks. Exhausted, pledge to do in the morning, before carpet guys come.

Awaken to call at 8:40 am. Carpet guys will be here in 20 minutes. Oops.

Thrill to installation of new carpet. Looks great.

Look up.

Notice visibly uneven white paint streaks, not matching rest of ceiling, veering off from the edges of the ceiling into horse-tail wisps moving toward light fixture at center of ceiling.

Take old white paint with rusty bits downstairs, use up all kitty litter absorbing it, and toss it in garbage in frustration.

Return to hardware store. Purchase ceiling paint, new rollers and thicker drop cloth to protect new carpet.

Realize you threw away paint tray and disposable liner along with kitty-litter filled rusty-bits old white paint.

Return to hardware store. Purchase new tray and new liner. Add new brush and small roller too, just in case. Ha.

Also purchase long roller extender pole.

Spread new drop cloth. Use long pole extender to complete ceiling. Look up with premature self-satisfaction.

Look down at walls. Notice white streaks and white drip splatters on blue walls.

Frantically attempt to wipe of white streaks and spatters with damp paper towels, with mixed success.

Retrieve small amount of leftover blue paint from basement. Remove new paint liner with not-quite-dry ceiling paint residue from paint tray.  Pour blue paint directly into metal tray.

Paint over white streaks and spatters on blue wall. Step back to admire with premature self-satisfaction. Done.

Carefully fold slightly too-small drop cloth.

What are those two semi-circle marks new carpet? Flaws in carpet, right? Not? Drop cloth not as absorbent as claimed? Decide new chair and ottoman will cover vague semi-circle-shaped, possible-paint-stains on new carpet.

Sigh. Peel three layers of tape from top of wall. Miraculously, all come off easily and together. Walls look good.

Sweating, frizzy and lipstickless, in violation of every middle-aged woman rule imaginable, help FedEx guy who is delivering new chair, ottoman and desk.

Solve physics problem of getting large new chair and ottoman up narrow stairs and through narrow door.

Praise daughter lavishly for very effective help in getting masses of cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam outside for recycling.

Retrieve bits of Styrofoam blowing over neighbors’ yard. Cram into garbage bin. Collection tomorrow morning, no harm, no foul.

Next, solve weight-lifting problem of heavy box-o-desk.

Realize box must be lifted up the stairs one step at a time, as it will not slide up.

Miraculously, get heavy box upstairs, not pulling anything or otherwise injuring self.  Apparently. (See how it feels tomorrow.)

Open box containing desk.

Hold back tears upon observing level of assembly required: number of desk pieces, screws, pegs, and little cam-lock thingees that come with every Chinese-made piece of furniture, along with yet another Allen wrench.

Look on bright side. Still only 3 p.m.  This sucker WILL be built before dinner.

Plod mechanically through desk assembly using inadequate diagram.

Miraculously, assemble correctly first try.

Except, what was the glue for? Was I supposed to glue the wood pegs in? Feh. Humidity will take care of that.

Place desk. Admire with premature satisfaction.

Realize the one electrical outlet in room is on the wall opposite the only logical place to place the desk.

Discover the only extension cord you own is 1) brown, and sticks out against lovely grey and white new carpet and 2) two-pronged, not three-pronged, which won’t work for daughter’s new laptop.

Return to hardware store. Hardware store is closed. Give up, shower, go to dinner with happy, excited daughter. Promise to set up her laptop when we get home.

Inadvertently cause meltdown at dinner by reminding daughter not to use table as plate. Curse waitress for failing to bring plate. Demand plate.

Drive home insisting we listen to my classical station all the way, rather than channel-surfing pop stations.

Utterly innocent daughter apologizes.

Duh. Autism.

Bad mother.

Tell her it’s ok. We’ll both do better next time.

VERY BAD MOTHER.

Hold back tears.

Set up daughter’s new laptop with cord plugged in to outlet in bedroom, while she waits patiently, recovered from meltdown, enjoying new chair and ottoman in newly painted computer room.

And says she LOVES it.

“We did a pretty good job, didn’t we?”

“We did an AWESOME job. I LOVE my new computer lounge. I love watching this (new computer).”

“I’m so glad, sweetie. You were an awesome helper.”

Smile, with satisfaction.

And love.

Hold back tears.

 

Recovering,  while planning the next project,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, flawed but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Move over, Miss Jean Brodie

Am I delusional..about love with a younger man?

Got the all-clear from the radiologist (mentioned toward the end of “Divestiture, Episode One,”) who thought he saw something, which once snipped and biopsied turned out to be nothing, which made me feel, if not “young” again, at least “younger.” Ready to roll. New lease on life, and all that.

Time to dive back into the ridiculous pursuit of online dating!

Or not.

“For Online Daters, Women Peak at 18 While Men Peak at 50, Study Finds.”

Wait, what?

OK, I can understand aiming a little out of one’s league. Maybe even a little beyond the ballpark altogether. Study says everyone does that.

But a 50 year old man preferring an 18 year old girl?

That’s just creepy.

What the hell would they talk about?

Get real. The man in this equation is not much interested in talking. In fact, such a man likely finds intelligence and advanced education off-putting. Unless you’re as gorgeous as Amal Clooney. See end of article, referenced above.

Now look, I admit, when I tried this online dating thing before, I aimed a bit below my senior league, age-wise. A little bit more than the average “25% more desireable” below, as it turns out.

But for me, seeking men in that range still puts the guys well into their actual “prime” (e.g., into full-blown adulthood) and seems way less cringey than a 50 year old guy looking for a girl who could easily be younger than his youngest child. That’s just gross – and ridiculous. And dangerous for the fragile, still-evolving self of a teenage girl.

(And if you haven’t watched “Nanette,” as the NYT article recommends, do so now. Like it says, I’ll wait.)

Anyway what teenagers actually go on online dating sites? Don’t they have a name for how they intend to mislead and make fun of whoever pursues them, if they do? Catfishing, right? And aren’t they too busy Instagramming or Snapchatting each other? To make fun of the ancients they caught in their catfish net?

What the hell are these middle-aged men thinking?

Well, the same thing they’ve been thinking since the dawn of time, apparently. They are thinking about mating. And having some arm candy that won’t argue with them, won’t challenge their ideas about themselves, or challenge any of their ideas at all, or have any ideas – coherent ones, anyway, I guess.

But then, what was I thinking? Am I as delusional as these fragile-egoed guys? Covering up my mirrors, believing that my inner beauty, when I can access it, on those rare occasions when I can keep myself from being a patronizing, superior smartass (see previous paragraph in re: challenging ideas, or ideas at all, etc.,) will create a glow that can erase twenty years from my face and attract a  much younger man? (hey, c’mon, even I’m not ridiculous enough to believe that I could erase those years from the rest of me – just, you know, HEY! MY FACE IS UP HERE! kind of thing. It’s just that my face looks a helluva lot more like that cartoon up at the top there than I seem to think it does.)

Remember that magnificent Maggie Smith film performance as Miss Jean Brodie? Where she was always strutting around, announcing, “ay-ee em in my-ee prrr-eye-eem” and “give me a gurr-ul at an im-preeshnable a-yeege, and she is my-een foreverrrrr” – which doesn’t work out so well – turns tragic, actually, because in addition to harboring an unfortunate admiration for fascists and a penchant for inappropriate love affairs, she has a disastrous tendency to encourage same in her young students.

Miss Jean Brodie was truly delusional. Please don’t let me go full Jean Brodie  (of course you don’t have to worry about the fascist thing, just the inappropriate love affairs. Or more accurately, the pursuit of them.  The delusional, ridiculous pursuit, or hope, or belief in, the possibility of love with a younger man. In my defense, however, Mike was two years younger than I am. So there’s that anyway. But two years. Not twenty.)

But I digress. I was talking about inner beauty, radiating from the face.

From the face you get the smile, the intelligence, the spirited repartee.

Oh, I forgot. Spirited repartee need not apply.

It gets worse. The study suggests that for online dating, the level of interest in women declines precipitously based on age, and that the men on these sites, while dipping way down to the teenage shallow end (snark) rarely look more than a year or so above their own age on the deeper end.

OK, hell with that. I elect to believe that Real Men Don’t Use Online Dating Sites, and I intend to take my business (and my inner beauty) elsewhere.

Perhaps to organizations with “silver” or “senior” in their names.

Places that have shuffleboard and shuttle buses, God help me.

I’ll be the hottest babe there!

Hell with that. Break out the Oil of Olay and get me to the gym.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, I remain, your devoted, not-really-humble-enough, and certainly not-very-obedient, servant,

Ridiculouswoman

By Heart

“…This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 73

Mike preferred his poetry recited aloud, from memory.

Even when he was reading poetry alone, relaxing in our little “library/music” room, he’d read it aloud, to himself, to hear the rhythm of the words, and feel the breath within them.

He wooed me with poetry, recited on an answering machine (see, “Academy of Ancient Technology, recording devices, cassette.”)

Early in our marriage, when I was stressed out from the job, and the commuting, and the worries of providing for Mike and our child, he would read aloud to me, in bed, to help me sleep. He had a beautiful reading voice – smooth, gentle, beguiling, soothing. And I’d be out like a light in five minutes.

I could make requests of him – “tell me that one about the butterfly,” or “find me that Wallace Stevens poem” or “which sonnet was the one about the summer’s day?” and he’d know, immediately, and recite that poem to me. He rarely remembered a word I said to him, but he remembered every poem he loved, and recited them to me. By heart.

May 2, 2018, would have been our 26th wedding anniversary.

And I forgot.

The significance of the day didn’t hit me until, in the midst of my “maintenance Mom” morning, checking our child’s calendar for the day – do I need to make a lunch, should I send money, I better remind about taking the phone, etc. – I saw the date, and it registered.

Although we were married on May 2, 1992, we actually met on April 27, 1990, and always considered that our “real” anniversary.

Twenty-seven was Mike’s favorite number. His birthday and our child’s birthday both were on the 27th of their respective months, and there were a bunch of other significant 27s in his life.

So last year on April 27, which would have been the 27th anniversary of the day we met, I took myself on a kind of memorial tour, visiting the place we first met (although I knew it would be closed for remodeling) near our old neighborhood in the city, now so built-up and gentrified as to be almost unrecognizable to me.

But something about marking that 27th “real” anniversary seems to have caused a sort of release -not closure, exactly – but a lessening of the need to mark such such days or to make an effort to recognize their significance.

This year on April 27th, which would have been our 28th “real” anniversary, there was a gala benefit for the organization that provides our child’s day program. I raced home after working a full day at the warehouse, zipped through shower and hair, and whipped on infrastructure to support the new dress,  fresh and wrinkled from its Amazon package, and headed out to the train in a Lyft and splurged on a fancy car ride home (because the late trains stop at every single stop and take forever and I can’t do that late at night anymore).

I had a blast. The food was great, the music was fun, and I sat and chatted with a nice couple who were very kind.

On May 2, after I realized what day it was, I was driving our child to her train, and a song came on the radio that I think of as a message to me from Mike: One Call Away, by a kid named Charlie Puth.

And thus began another round of car crying, trying to hold it in so I wouldn’t upset our child, who seemed to sense the song was significant to me, and actually let me listen all the way through.

There’s a line in that song, “Superman Got Nothing On Me,” which is the reason I hear it as a message from Mike – because the first Christmas without him, when for the first time in years I had no man in the house to buy presents for, I bought a present for the Bulgarian, knowing that he would never come to pick it up, and that he would never tell me where I could send it to him.

It was kind of a joke, but significant to me because it was significant to Mike.

It was a Superman sweatshirt. I still have it, wrapped and ready, and I put it under the tree at Christmas to remind me of my ridiculousness, and of my last best year of loving Mike. There’s a story behind it –

When Mike was around 5 or so, as he told it, he was hit by a car in his dicey west side neighborhood. A little friend of his, a developmentally delayed friend, raced over to him, as Mike remembered it, leaned over him as he lay in the street with a fractured skull, and said, “don’t worry Mike, you’ll be OK. You’re superman.”

And in the middle of the remodeling job I put Mike through as he was enduring his illness, just to give him a nice kitchen for as long as he could use it before he died, there was a moment when I was nagging the Bulgarian about fixing something or other, and he, as usual, was patiently enduring it, saying he’d fix it.

“How?” I said.

“Magic,” he said, teasing me a little, reminding me of my ridiculousness. Of course he’d fix it.

And just at that moment our child blurted out, “you’re Superman,” to the Bulgarian.

I didn’t think our child knew who Superman was, but there it was.

And now here’s Mike with, “Superman got nothin’ on me,” from the next world.

But Mike, dear, even though you are only one spiritual call away, I can’t “run into your arms” as the song suggests.

Hence, the car crying, on what would have been our 26th wedding anniversary.

I took the rings off shortly after Mike died. Death had done us part, and I didn’t feel right clinging to the rings. I wasn’t married anymore. Mike was gone.

Since then, I’ve had some kind of weird arthritis in both ring fingers – starting on the right, where I wore my engagement ring after we were married, and switching, seemingly overnight, to the left, the wedding ring side. I guess I should see someone about it – I can’t bend that wedding ring finger all the way, and it is swollen and it isn’t getting better like the one on the right did, and if I accidentally whack it on something in the warehouse it hurts like hell.

Mike, hon, are you hanging on? Are you doing this to my wedding ring finger? Is this some kind of not-letting-me-go? Are you angry I took the ring off? Because at this rate I’ll never get any ring, much less my wedding ring, back on that finger.

Maybe it’s me, doing it, subconsciously. Maybe it is a reminder that it is time for me to let go – I don’t know. I certainly feel as if I am being pushed, shoved, hustled, into the next phase of my life, whatever it may be, starting with the job, that clearly came to me though divine intervention of some sort.

So I’m moving on, as much as I can. But I am grateful that I can remember the sound of your voice, dear, reciting poetry by heart, and that I can see you as clear as day, in your favorite places at your favorite moments, both when you were well and when you were dying, in and around this house and yard.

Even if the significance of days and dates begin to fade, I am so grateful, loves, that I still have you memorized, by heart.

Read that sonnet, number 73. Remember that every person you love, you will lose, “ere long.”

And may you always be able to remember those people you have loved, by heart.

Until my next post, I remain, your loyal, humble, devoted, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

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?

No?

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.

Ridiculouswoman

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”:

IMG_20151020_071913540.jpg

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:

IMG_20151020_071924821.jpg

“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.

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, 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.

My beautiful, heroic Mike endured it all, and said that he liked the result. 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 quiet again, something about it all seemed worth it. Mike and I 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 Match.com 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 Match.com 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 Match.com 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 Match.com 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 Match.com 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.