Passion vs. Practicality; or, Is That A Burning Heart, or Just Heartburn?

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – creating spaces for an imaginary life.

(Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t watched all four seasons of “Mozart in the Jungle.”)

They play “with the blood.”

They drink, do drugs, and jump into bed with each other spontaneously, joyfully, seamlessly.

No fumbling around with condoms, no awkward conversations about past sexual and health history, no qualms, no jealousy, no regrets. Coitus with no consequences.

Artistic lives. Hollywood sex.

Passion unfettered with practical concerns.

Oh, except the first violinist/concert master with three daughters in college who tried to run an insurance scam by faking the theft of his priceless instrument.

By now, you will have figured out that I have been binge-watching “Mozart in the Jungle,” and getting a vicarious thrill out of the character’s lives in classical music. Who knew these longhairs (that’s what classical musicians were called when the cool kids were sporting crew cuts – before beatniks, before hippies, before I was born) were so lusty, so wanton, so drunk, so high?

They live with no boundaries, other than the demands of their art. Their hearts burn for music, for love. They play “with the blood.”

I finished season four last night.

Only then did I discover that the series has been cancelled.

Mozart disappeared. Rodrigo got fired and doesn’t know what’s next. Hai-lai (Hayley) seems to have taken over the symphony, based on Rodrigo’s faith in her, plus an unrealistically small amount of training and practice as a conductor and a second place finish in a major competition.

We’ll never know what happens next.

Bwaaaah! Curse you, Amazon! Why?

Back to the real world, where I impulsively signed up to go to the Midwest Writer’s Conference “agent fest” in early May (go for it, Annie! pursue your passion for writing! maybe you’ll meet someone! burn for love!) while worrying about spending the money on it (did I say money? I meant credit) and about how I’m going to manage care for my daughter for the one night I’ll be away.

What’s that pain in my chest?

The musicians in the show travel internationally on someone else’s dime and never seem to worry about who is taking care of the kids, if they have any.

Meanwhile back in heartburn land I watch my funds dwindle and frantically apply for jobs. Had two interviews, both went well, but I’m not hopeful. Even if I’m offered the weekend job I don’t think I can take it – two hour commute each way, on the weekends, when the trains and buses run slower and less frequently. The other is temp and part time, but it’s close to home and would bring in some funds, for a little while, anyway.

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – I seem to be creating spaces for an imaginary life.  I set up my “boudoir:” the little fantasy I created in my bedroom, which should have had that very expensive art-deco-y mauve chaise, but instead has an oddly oversized, mid-century style, eggplant-colored fake velvet chair, and a weird little round Moroccan leather footstool that’s just a bit too low and a bit too blue, purchased from a warehouse full of unsold, unwanted items crammed in long dark aisles under a crumbling, water-stained ceiling.  Together they cost a tenth of what the chaise alone would have cost.

Across from the chair is the TV with the Roku stick, connected to a network that has, oddly, gotten slower and weaker after the fraught installation of a new router, even with the signal booster.

There’s a chrome and glass bar cart, optimistically (who am I kidding, more like ludicrously) supplied with two champagne glasses, two cordial glasses, two cocktail glasses.  I sit alone in the cheap purple fake velvet chair, next to the cheap (but really cute) glass and chrome side table, watching stories on the cheap TV of people who live brave, passionate, unfettered lives, with hearts aflame, mysteriously available funds and few regrets.

Passion! Music! Bubbly! Wealthy patrons! La vie en rose!

In between job applications and query letters, I’ll keep writing, imagining that before I die I will add the words “author of….” after my name on Linkedin (in lieu of “non-profit/higher education administrator” and “certified forklift/electric pallet jack operator.”)

I’ll go to that “agent fest” I can’t really afford, pitch my book and dream of a deal, but happily settle for some good advice.

As the money dwindles, I’ll wear a name tag and clean toilets if I have to.

But I’m damned if I’ll drive a forklift again.

Pinballing between dreams and reality, with heart occasionally aflame but mostly just with heartburn, I remain,

Your occasionally optimistic, frequently floating in fantasy,  but mostly moored in the mundane,

Ridiculouswoman

How Not to Fix A Router; or, How Many Expletives Does It Take to Connect?

Maybe if I had just changed the name of my network in the first place….

Late Monday night, after choir practice, I was looking forward to settling in with my new binge-watching obsession, “Mozart in the Jungle” (how did I miss this one before? – blog post on it coming soon). I turned on the Roku and found it was disconnected from its network.

Thus began a three-day saga of unplugging, plugging back in, disconnecting, reconnecting, losing my network, finding my network, connecting to my network, getting no internet on my network, followed by phone calls to Linksys and Comcast (and good the support from both – yes, you read that right,I got good support from Comcast – pigs were flying and hell was freezing over, but yes, I got good service) that didn’t solve the problem.

Through trial and error (“maybe if I unplug this or shut that device off or switch to that network and then back to this one”) I got the high-throughput network that feeds my Roku stick back, so I could watch the ongoing story of Rodrigo and Hai-lai (Hayley never corrects him, I think that’s sweet) without calling support, but I couldn’t get my regular network back.

It’s times like these that make me long for a much larger repertoire of expletives.

The modem was fine. The router was working. I could connect to the internet on one of my networks, but not the other. WTF?

Something the Linksys guy said, that neighbor networks could be causing interference, caught my attention. There are a ridiculous number of networks in range around me. (Don’t people know that other people can see the names of their networks, whether or not they are secured? I have neighbors who don’t change the name of their networks from whatever their provider called it, and some who don’t even secure theirs. I have  other neighbors who named their networks something cutesy. Or weird. Or scary. Don’t look through the list of available networks when you connect at home. You will discover things about your neighbors you don’t want to know.)

Back to the old router: based on that idea of interference from nearby networks, I Googled around and found that 2.4ghz is the frequency most commonly used by everything from garage door openers to microwaves to all my neighbor’s networks, but I could change the channel I used to try to minimize interference.

Didn’t work.

Drat.

Expletives.

Surrender.

Go to Best Buy. Purchase new router.

Set it up.

Re-establish my networks with the same names and passwords I had before. That way, I thought, I wouldn’t have to tour the house redoing all the networks and passwords on all the devices (a ridiculous number of devices for only two people. “What an amazing modern age we live in.”) Brilliant!

Didn’t work. Devices could connect to one network, but not the other.

We’re a good 12 hours into all this now.

Oh fuck it. Rename the networks, deploy new passwords.

Success!

Which is when I realized maybe I could have saved more than $100 by just changing the name of my network in the first place.

Expletives.

Oops, forgot the signal booster. Need to reconfigure that.

Can’t I find its signal.

Reset.

Wrong button.

Oh, there it is.

Reset.

Move closer to new router.

SSID appears!

Configure signal booster.

Success! I am genius, dahlink! (in fake Russian accent, a la Natasha. You know, Boris and Natasha? Rocky and Bullwinkle? If you don’t know, you led a deprived (and much more recent) childhood.

Smugly settle in to check email.

Oh, I should print that document I’ve been sent.

Oops, forgot wireless printer.

Configure. Printer says “connected” but laptop can’t find printer.

Call Brother support.

Refrain from swearing when they told me to redo everything I had already done.

But, discover I connected the printer to the range extender, not the underlying network.

Redo.

New error message:  “Print unable.”

Run through troubleshooting protocol three more times.

New error message: “Clean unable.”

Call by-the-book Brother support people again.

Repeat everything I had already done, three more times.

Swallow expletives and go with it.

“Clean unable.”

“Requires maintenance.”

Oh, fuck it. That will cost as much as a new printer.

So, this network genius gets to go spend MORE money (did I say money? I meant credit) at Best Buy on a new wireless printer.

And bonus, while angelic daughter (who endured, with spectacular equanimity, my full day and a half of expletive riddled fury, running up and downstairs to modem and router and back to devices  “not mad at you, sweets, just venting frustration, I’ll be done soon!”) is out at her dance-exercise class, I get to spend my free evening configuring a new wireless printer.

Something tells me my vocabulary is about to expand.

Marveling at technology and while simultaneously cursing it, I remain,

Your digitized, encrypted, dual-networked, wireless and nearly broke,

Ridiculouswoman

The Wearin’ O’ the Grief

Sometimes a hat is more than a hat….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still smells like him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better than me.

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

Or his telescope.

Or the tandem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need for a scarf or hat.

Until then, I remain,

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

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

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

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

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

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

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

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

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

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

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

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

I unsubscribed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

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

It’s clean.

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

And Mike died in 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He called that process “using your bean.”

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

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

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

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

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

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

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

Ridiculouswoman

We Interrupt This Program To Redecorate

Pardon our dust….

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

You know how that is.

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

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

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

Until then I remain,

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

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

“Omit Needless Words”

“Words, words, words…”

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

The Elements of Style. Strunk and White.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Less is more,” right?

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

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

“What do you read, my lord?”

“Words, words, words.”

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

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

Or less, less.

Here endeth the lesson.

Coming in at 693 words, I remain,

Your long-winded but working on it,

Ridiculouswoman

Humble — or Humble Pie?

Humility is an aspiration. Humiliation is an imposition.

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

SPOILER ALERT…..

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Charlotte dies in the end.

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

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

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

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

Add to that, two scenes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sniff. Sob.

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

“Humble.”

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

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

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

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

Our situation was dire.

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

That was not humility.

That was humiliation.

It just happened again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ridiculouswoman