The Sideways Hourglass

Back when Mike would drive me to the train station for my commute to my high-stress job, we’d sometimes arrive early enough to see the train before mine go by – it was an express, and our daughter loved the thrill of watching it blast through the station (from the safety of the car, of course.)

We came to call these express trains “whoosh” trains, because they’d “whoosh” by.

Every once in a while, she still asks to drive over to the station, to see a whoosh train.

Whoosh trains define my relationship to time, now – time that is whooshing by like a train I’m not on.

I feel like I should be “better” by now. It’s been over two years and we’re coming up on our third Christmas season without Mike. I finished my book and I’m working up the courage to start sending out my query letters about it. I’ve painted rooms, given away almost all his clothes, including, finally, the barn coat and boots. I’m still working on figuring out what to do with his collection of war games, and the telescope and the tandem are still in the garage. But still.

I’ve had days when I felt happy. Days when I didn’t think about Mike, and then felt guilty about it. I’m surprised by this new wave of grief that has hit me, now, at the start of the season of joy.

The train whooshes by. I’m supposed to be trying to live with love and laughter, and right now, I suck at it. I’m doing OK with the love part, I guess, except it feels like it is coming from a still, quiet place that just sits there – it isn’t an active kind of love. It’s an, “OK, get up, one foot in front of the other, let’s try to be a decent person today” kind of love, and I still fail at it regularly.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility to “make progress,” and I feel like I haven’t made any. I keep getting older and I’m every bit as alone. I keep losing and regaining the same three pounds.

The panicky anxiety is back. Mike could fix that. One hug from him and I was OK. I felt safe.

I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed. Unlocked. Threatened and afraid.

I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m “making progress.”

I feel like someone knocked the my hourglass over sideways.

Everyone else’s hourglass is efficiently sifting its sand, and when it is just about done, they’ll just “strike the bell and turn the glass” and start a new day.

I feel stuck in a place where time passes, I get older, but things don’t get better. Just dustier, greyer, yellowed. Old. Dried up.

chess and hourglass still life

I kept one of his many chessboards, the one he won as an elementary school champion. I still have his hats, though the smell of him is fading from them. I have too many dried up roses around the house. Feng shui, or something like it, says not to keep those, and to throw away the chipped dishes and cracked glassware. Working on it.

I haven’t been reading anything other than the deluge of catalogs that come this time of year, which I find oppressive. Maybe this year I’ll just do one of those, “Anne has made a donation in your name to…(insert laudable charitable organization doing the good in the world that I don’t seem to have the will or gumption or energy or courage to do.)

From darkness riseth light, right? Right?

Each year my church has a “longest night” service for people like me – people who need comfort because they feel left out of the joy.

That’s the message, though, isn’t it? He came in our darkest hour – never mind that we appropriated a pagan midwinter festival designed to address fears that the dark of winter would last forever and light would not come again. He came to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness.

And to unburden us of our sins.

I feel like failing to be happy is a sin. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel grateful for the life I have and I don’t understand why I keep thinking about the life I never had instead of the one I do have, now. I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

I’ve been slipping in my observation of the Middle Aged Woman rules. I’m in danger of giving up, drying up, sinking into a cronehood made up of joint pain and thinning hair and sagging spirit…well, let’s be honest here, sagging everything.

I have to go wash my hair, put on some lipstick, and take my daughter to see the holiday model train display. I’ll try to be quiet, and let her just enjoy it.

And maybe when they start sprinkling the fake snow from the ceiling, I’ll look out the window at the specks of real snow that is falling, and remember that spring will come.

From darkness riseth light.

In the bleak midwinter.

Time to buy a tree, and smell the piney-ness of it, and find the joy, even if it is small, and deeply buried.

Until then I remain,

Your humble, flawed, struggling, hanging on to hope by a thread,

Ridiculouswoman

Naughty and Nice

Or, nice and naughty, if I ever meet the right guy (Ha! in my dreams!)

Anyway,  since this is the time of year we draw the naughty/nice line, I think it is time to toss a few more things into the Snark Tank (naughty!), just to get them out of my system so I can flip the switch on love and joy. I’ve got two new topics to cover over there, and welcome your contributions –  “I Guess the Rules Just Don’t Apply to You,” and “Shit Doctors Say.”

I’ll keep the goodness and light over here in the “nice” part of my blog.

So if you’re not quite ready to go all holly jolly, take a dive over there.

I’ll be back over here with something nice.

As soon as I think of it.

Ho, Ho, Ho and all that,

Ridiculouswoman

Gowf

As I was leaving total body fitness class a few days ago, I was greeted with the above pictured troop of frozen golf carts.

(Or “gowf carts,” as those who play this spectacularly dull sport usually say it – especially the TV commentators. Mike used to watch “gowf” on TV – which, for me, is somewhere between watching paint dry and sticking knitting needles in my eyes. Suffice it to say, I was always able to find myself something else to do until the “gowf” was over, which often was somewhere between six and ten hours in).

So the sight of frozen “gowf” carts?

Oh, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!

Just sayin’

Preferring brisk walks not involving attempts “to place a small ball in a smaller hole with weapons ill-designed for that purpose,” (Churchill),

I remain,

Your loyal, non-conforming because non-gowfer, but hoping the fitness class can get me skiing again someday,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island Serves Lousy Food; or, the Tale of the Terrifying Turkey

Thank God the gentleman caller didn’t show up.

glass horse

Because I cooked The Worst Turkey Ever.

Also the most expensive. What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking (and this is for you, RomComDojo, because I know you’ll understand):

  • This is the year of Rotten Romaine and Terrifying Turkey, so,
  • after throwing away ten bucks worth of Romaine lettuce because of the e-coli scare, I’m damned if I’m going to make us sick from salmonella turkey, so
  • how about an organic turkey? organic turkey farms must be safer, right?, yet
  • organic turkey was obscenely expensive; nevertheless,
  • it’s worth it if it will help me not worry about it, right? so
  • buy it anyway, because it is smaller for just the two of us even though it is OBSCENELY EXPENSIVE, but
  • even though it had been in the fridge for three days the damn thing wasn’t completely defrosted when I opened it to get the giblets out for the gravy, so
  • I put on nitrile gloves and put the bird in an aluminum pan in the sink remembering that even though this was an organic bird it was still a Terrifying Turkey that was Potentially Poisonous and I dug out the giblets for the gravy while I took note of any surface or object that might have got splashed with Terrifying Turkey juice so I could wipe it down with antibacterial wipes, and put the bird back in the fridge to keep defrosting and started the stock, which smelled really good and used my home-grown herbs, so yay me we got that good Thanksgiving smell in the house, however
  • it was the day after Thanksgiving which meant I needed to put up the Christmas lights, and it was not cold outside, which it will be next week, so yay me for getting that done, with help from my angelic, patient, hungry daughter, except
  • I got behind schedule on our day plan and realized that I needed to get the bird in the oven right away so I was little rushed, but I still
  • noticed this bird seemed greasy, and a little discolored on the legs but I put that down to being more “natural” and “free range” and “organic” besides
  • even though the instructions on the plastic that had encased the bird said to rinse it, all the Terrifying Turkey warnings said don’t do that, but then I
  • realized I can’t get the salt and pepper in the thing without touching the salt and pepper containers with the gloves I was wearing that already had Terrifying Turkey grease all over them so I
  • take off one glove and open the salt and pepper one handed with help from my chin and then
  • realize I also wanted to butter it all over and inside and say hell with it I have anti-bacterial wipes so
  • take off the gloves and shove butter under the skin and rub it all over with it and somehow get it in the oven using my elbows and then
  • rub all over the sink and countertops with disinfecting wipes, even waiting 10 minutes to rinse, so yay me and
  • I cook at 425 for 15 minutes to seal in juices before I reduce the heat however
  • I realized the instruction said 325 and I started to wonder whether the plastic thingee that that had held the legs together but could not be removed from the turkey was ok at 425 or will the plastic break down and poison us even if the turkey doesn’t? oh hell with it it’s already done and who needs instructions anyway I’ve been cooking beautiful turkeys for 30 years, plus
  • some article I read said you don’t really need to baste it just lets the heat out of the oven so OK I won’t and then
  • my god that looks really brown and where are the juices in the pan? so I basted it once anyway then
  • I noticed it really looked like it was drying up even though the timer said it needed 45 more minutes so try the meat thermometer but
  • what do they mean by “the thickest part of the thigh” anyway? and don’t touch bones? how do you do that? so
  • I tried the thigh and it was 180 so that meant overdone but I wasn’t sure so I poked the breast with it and
  • that’s when juice squirted out of the breast which made me understand why they tell you to poke the thigh, dumbass, now it is sure to be too dry, so
  • I take it out of the oven and “let it rest” like they say to while I finish prepping sides but then I notice
  • the juices look really pink, and it got cold really fast, so I’d better
  • put it back in the oven to make sure it is really cooked and won’t make us barf with salmonella, so now I
  • get all the pre-prepared sides out of the fridge and up to room temp before I put them in to warm and now it’s
  • time to carve the thing but the wings and legs would not come off, I never could find those joints anyway and the crispy skin on the ends of the legs tastes awful WTF? and I start to worry that maybe this particular bird was accidentally coated with some sort of foul industrial grease that was meant for machinery and I start to worry that we’ll both be paralyzed if we eat it but I’ll decide to wait and see for a week and if we make it to next Friday OK, I’ll call it on that particular bugaboo but still I should have basted it with butter and orange juice and
  • the breast is dry as a bone, even though it won’t come off as easily as it should dammit is it still not done? oh what the hell she only wants potatoes anyway but
  • what good are potatoes with gravy that looks sort of grey-green? How could the gravy be awful? I’m really good at gravy, so I decided that it must be that
  • this accursed obscenely expensive greasy organic turkey and the giblets I used for the stock are a con and the scrawny, gamey, greasy damn thing ruined my perfect fantasy island dinner and by the way
  • I’m exhausted and sore – maybe it was
  • bending over the garbage can peeling 10 pounds of potatoes, 5 of which I threw out because I did it early in the day but I didn’t think I should cover them with water because that would make them too soggy but they turned brown and looked gross and does that mean they’ve gone poisonous too? but fortunately
  • the pumpkin pie turned out OK and my sweet potato carrot puree was delicious and the stuffing, cooked separately from the probably poisonous greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive bird was OK and the cranberry sauce was delicious and when everything was put away and I mopped the floor because I dropped the greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive turkey on its way to the garbage can, I plugged in the Christmas lights and then
  • took a hot bath hoping that Dr. Teal and his epsom salts would work their magic, and even though I was feeling flat and disappointed and missing Mike and had a good cry, I ended up feeling
  • OK. I forgave myself. I decided I will never do this again. If we don’t go to someone else’s house, we will have a modest little meal, with rational portions just for two, and I will buy
  • a CHEAP breast-only major brand turkey with one of those pop-up things that tells me it is done and makes it their fault if it pops up and it isn’t done and it poisons us and I’ll make the gravy with less of my fresh herbs and more pan drippings from that cheap commercial turkey breast which I will baste liberally even though that let’s the heat out of the oven and there will never be a gentleman caller but, we will be

OK.

Grateful for whatever food is put before us and for the roof over our heads and heat and fat old whiny Sophie cat who I forgot to get food for so she got the canned clams I was going to use for some future pot of chowder but chowder has to have potatoes which are carbs galore but I’m not going to worry about that anymore because after our perfectly delightful meal at the brother’s in-laws even though I had potatoes and pie I actually lost 2 pounds, which I’m sure I regained yesterday so now I’m trying to muster the energy to paint, because painting counts as working out, I remain,

Your devoted, disappointed but realistic, grateful and determined to do better tonight when I’ll cook a chicken and make great gravy so she can finish her leftover 3 pounds of potatoes,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island

Tonight through Friday, I choose to dwell in an alternate, fantasy universe.

In this place, flying horses are gently anchored at sunset, docile, innocent, faithful – certain of a safe night and a sweet sunrise, when they will be freed to soar again.

And in this place, I cook an enormous Thanksgiving meal, with appetizers of paté on brioche with cornichons and mustard, smoked salmon and cream cheese with capers, marinated shrimp, cheese and grapes, strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar, a perfect, moist turkey with crisp skin (I’ll try spatchcocking it, for the first time, which is sure to turn out magnificently, because this is my FANTASY, remember?), mashed potatoes and gravy, whole berry cranberry sauce (not the abomination of the canned stuff, cylindrical, jiggling – we  have RULES here) sweet potato and carrot puree, peas and onions, brussels sprouts with bacon and a salad with dried cranberries, pecans and blue cheese crumble with raspberry vinaigrette, dinner rolls with butter, pumpkin and apple pie and wine, a meal that will last all weekend, with many, many platefuls to be assembled, warmed and served to …..

my imaginary gentleman caller.

Not Mike – that wouldn’t be fair, to call him back – but someone new that he’s approved of, or sent, even.

Someone to prop up this two-legged stool our lives have become, in this manless house.

I’ll wear my Thanksgiving dress all day, because you never know when a man on a flying white horse will show up. Could happen, here on my fantasy island.

I am in the process of cooking that enormous meal, preparing everything that can be done ahead of time, for our second Thanksgiving on Friday, after the first on Thursday at the brother’s in-laws, the first large family Thanksgiving my daughter will have ever experienced.

Then we’ll do our meal-just-for-two, with vats of hopeful leftovers waiting for my imaginary new man: leftovers that will last beyond Friday night, when I’ll hang up the dress; leftovers, uneaten by any man, that will sustain us through the weekend, when, back in the real world, I will bring out out the drop cloth and take on the big project, painting the front room.

Hilarity (and multiple additional trips to the hardware store) will no doubt ensue.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may your fondest fantasies come true.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a flying horse to catch.

When my equine flight lands, you may find me in the kitchen.

Stirring, pureeing, peeling, mashing and basting, I remain,

your loyal, lonely, faithful, hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Let’s Take a Moment to Overthink This

When I was around 15, a palm reader at a renaissance fair told me that I’d live to be 63.

In other words, she told me I would die when I am 63.

Which is something no reputable palm reader or fortune teller (HA! oh, ha ha ha ha ha ha HA! Reputable palm reader!) is ever supposed to tell anyone, I suppose on the grounds that if they’re wrong, their pronouncement could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, or, if they’re right, who’d want to know? Just keep it vague and positive, right?

I don’t know why I remembered that recently. Maybe I felt like I was wasting time, dragging my feet, failing in my quest to really live every moment of whatever time I may have left as fully as possible – and with love and laughter.

But if we assume for the sake of argument the palm reader was right – that gives me only a few years, with an awful lot left to do.

Like getting a move on the query letter for my book, and deciding who to send it to.

(“Mr. Churchill, don’t you know you are never to end a sentence with a preposition?” Churchill to presumptuous twit: “Sir, that is a presumption up with which I will not put.” But I digress.)

I’ve been composing the letter in my head, reading the blogs and websites about form and what kind of letters are effective, and which agents represent what kind of books, and looking for agents who will look at memoirs, and somewhere in all that, I read that  memoir agents are sick of books involving cancer, particularly survival stories.

Well, mine isn’t a cancer survival story, because Mike didn’t survive.

It’s a love survival story.

But it has “cancer”  in the title.

So I changed the name of my book from “Detour in Cancerland, in which a Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood through Remodeling (and Lust) to “Love, Death and Carpentry, in which a Ridiculous Woman etc….”

And then I started to think, well, if they don’t like the word “cancer” in the title, they’re not going to like the word “death,” exactly, either, are they?

But the point isn’t the title: it’s to write a query letter that catches an agent’s attention enough for them to want to see the entire book. If it ever gets published the publisher will probably change the title anyway.

I’ve heard back from both my friends to whom I gave the book because I knew they’d be honest with me if they thought it was awful, and they both loved it and said I should move ahead with it.

Which led me to think that maybe I should have a few more “beta” readers to be sure I’ve gotten broad enough response to it. Every woman within 20 years of my age, when I’ve told them what it’s about, or just told them the original title, has said, “oh, man, I’d read that!” OK, so maybe I shouldn’t change the title.

The only other people I’ve given the book to are my brothers, one of whom read it and returned the thumb drive it was on to me, with no comment.

He’s the hypersensitive one, though, and there were things in there that I knew would upset him, and I told him in advance I wasn’t really looking for his comments, I only wanted him to read it so he wouldn’t be surprised, in case a miracle happens and the book actually gets published. I just hope he isn’t too upset. We’re having Thanksgiving together.

My other brother, the older one who is very free with his opinions (solicited or not) on pretty much everything, has started to read it.

Started 7 weeks ago.

He says he’s on page 90, but he too has offered no comment, which is very unusual.  My friends read it in less than two weeks. When I heard back from them I just told my brothers that I was going ahead with it anyway.  If he got to page 90 he’s pretty much read anything that would have mentioned him, anyway. So nuts to him.

Being irritated with my brother caused me to remember that I may have living brothers and sisters-in-law, with whom my late husband refused to associate, and who are not mentioned at all in the book (except for one fleeting mention of the smoking  habit of one of them), which sent me into another round of paralyzed anxiety.

Both of my parents are gone, as are my late husband’s. So do I really need to worry about what other unmentioned “family” members might think about the story, which is true anyway, when they aren’t even mentioned in it?

Isn’t that supposed to be something the publisher, if there is ever to be one, will worry about?

Which brings me back to the query letter.

And dying at 63.

And thinking about all the things I haven’t accomplished yet and how little time I have left if that damn, bored, mean-spirited palm reader (really, who would do that to a 15 year old kid?) was right.

Things like finding a new relationship, getting one more really good job, getting my daughter situated happily and safely out on her own with support provided by someone who isn’t me (because she’ll have to get used to that so we have to get started) and learning to sail and seeing Alaska before it melts completely and making the crossing of the Atlantic even though climate change is causing more and more huge rogue waves and the crews of cruise ships seem increasingly inept in their seamanship and skiing again and being able to buy a summer house in Maine and tracing some of the routes and visiting some of the (milder Mediterranean) ports of call described in the Patrick O’Brian books  and taking a screenwriting class and learning Latin and taking some kind of luxury rail travel and a steamboat trip on the Mississippi if climate change hasn’t caused prolonged drought and it is deep enough for that and getting paid singing and speaking gigs and publishing a series of Ridiculous woman books based on my continuing misadventures.

Which brings me back to that query letter…

Trying to conquer my fears and quell my OCD induced anxiety, but fully intending to be writing still on my 64th, nay, even my 84th birthday  (take that, bored, mean palm reader lady), I remain,

Your quaking, querulous, query-less, but still questing,

Ridiculouswoman

Resilience, or, Time to Turn Off the Water

“Do not go gentle into that good night,…
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”

 – Dylan Thomas

It was 20 degrees (Farenheit) this morning. Some of the first snow still has not melted.

IMG_20181113_081959787.jpg

A few weeks ago I remembered to shut off the water to the outside faucets, and to unscrew the hoses – which I left (not neatly coiled) on the ground. The hoses might freeze but HA! the pipes won’t.

I’m the last house on the block with a lawn completely blanketed in golden leaves, because my day for the lawn guys was Friday, and Friday was the day it snowed. They’ll come this week for the last round of lawn maintenance (“Fall clean-up”) this year, and they’ll do the gutters too.

Mike used to do the gutters, and insisted on going up on top of the house even when he could barely stand up for more than 5 minutes. It’s a guy thing, I guess. Like shoveling snow. He did that too, until he nearly fainted again.

I must have been thinking about that when I was puttering around in my flannel nightgown  on this cold, (but sunny and lovely, in that low-slanty-light, late autumn way) morning, when I wandered into the downstairs bathroom, off the kitchen, to ponder the state of the peeling wallpaper.

And was stopped in my tracks by that cutesy turkey towel, and the little scarecrow-in-a-jar Mike and I bought on some long-ago fall excursion, staring at me. I got them out right after Halloween, in accordance with the Thanksgiving Rules (no Christmas decorations, or Christmas music, until the day AFTER Thanksgiving. Over the River and Through the Woods, Now Thank We All Our God, We Gather Together: GOT IT?)

Oh dear. It appears there’s a faucet I haven’t quite managed to turn off.

Tears.

Not sweet, sentimental, “aww, remember? Isn’t that cute?” tears – these were real tears, coming from sudden, unexpected burst of despair.

Oh-oh.

I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Anne, maybe it is finally time to see someone (“see someone” being that dodgy euphemism for “get a therapist.”)”

I’m one of those people who thinks I should be able to snap out of it on my own. Figure out what’s setting me off and fix it, right? Have some backbone, clean something, paint something, get crackin’ cutting those logs in half –  you’ll need them for the fireplace soon. Feeling sick? Blue? Get your ass outdoors and go for a brisk walk.

Or, at least, head over to the fitness center and work it out.

Which I did, and I feel better. Much better.

I also figured out what hit me this morning, and why seeing that towel, and the gorgeous gold leaf-blanket all over the lawn, turned the tear-faucet on. It’s the same thing that happens every year when autumn slips away.

Not that I don’t love what’s coming next, ho, ho, hark the herald and all that, but I always feel cheated – I want more of these crisp, blue sky, golden fall days.

The best seasons are always the shortest.

That must have gotten wrapped up in my subconscious with losing Mike too soon.

He wanted to make it to October, so he could die under a bright blue October sky, but it didn’t work out that way. He died on a hot August night, almost exactly at the halfway point between the 18 and 24 months of time the oncologist had estimated he would have.

His birthday is in October, and now both he and October are gone, and the last blaze of autumn is frozen in the yard, the trees are bare and the gutters need cleaning, to keep the ice dams of winter at bay.

I pulled myself together before I came out of that bathroom, so my daughter wouldn’t see I’d been crying again, and noticed that my favorite grass in the front garden, IMG_20181113_130206.jpgwhich had been completely flattened by the wet snow, had bounced back.

It bloomed very late, the last week of October, with pretty pinkish tufts of fluff at the top.

Then, almost as quickly as it had bloomed, it dried up, but still stood there, adding structure and height where other flowering plants and shrubs had drooped or died back completely.

And there it was this morning, revived, out from under that hummock of wet, heavy snow, standing tall again. All by itself.

The lawn guys whacked it off very early last spring, when I wanted to enjoy it’s structure for longer, but it came all the way back.

Well, dammit, I thought – if the grass can do it, so can I.

I’ll enjoy that tuft of grass until it gets flattened by snow again, and then I’ll enjoy it in the spring until it gets cut back again, and I’ll delight in it when it comes back and blooms late again. World without end, amen.

That beautiful slanty-light sunshine is supposed to last through Friday, so maybe there will be a few more brisk walks before the cold and snow set in for real.

Until then, I remain,

Your spine-stiffened, spigot-stopping, about-to-embark-on-another-paint-job,

Ridiculouswoman