Retirement

I retired officially, in December 2015. In the past  year I have learned a few things about myself.

1. My Social Security check ain’t enough.

Well, duh. I knew that going in. I knew I would have to find something part-time to bridge the gap. My SS check covers the bills. The bills that come every month no matter what, the bills that must be paid if I want to avoid living under a bridge. But, as we all know, there are ALWAYS other things that must be paid for. Tires. Car repairs. Art supplies. Books.

2: I love being at home. All the time.

I have a quiet, peaceful little life. The more time I spend on my own, with just my cats for company, the better I like it. I dread going to the grocery store, but look forward to time spent at the library. Eventually, I realized a part-time job might be a good idea if I didn’t want to end up a caricature of the anti-social “old cat lady.”

  1. I love winter…now that I don’t have to drive in it.

My new part-time job is going to be tricky this year, because I am still adamant about not going out in icy weather. The chance of wrecking the car and injuring myself is NOT worth any job. I had to do it before; I don’t now. Last year, I stayed home in January and February. I watched it snow, heard sleet on the roof, listened to the winter birds call. I drank a lot of hot tea, read a lot of books, did some drawing, hand sewing, watched Netflix (my new guilty pleasure) and petted my cats. They spent hours in my lap, purring while I nursed my tea and watched The Walking Dead. I still got out and walked every day, but I waited for the temperature to rise to 40.

  1. Relaxation training.

I don’t actually know how to relax, apparently. I find myself getting anxious for no reason. I flit from one project to another, frantically trying to find the one that will SELL. If I wake up and there is light coming through the windows I panic, thinking I’m late. If I’m sitting on the deck, watching the birds on the trees, I’m good for about 5 minutes. Then I start fretting, thinking I should be doing some mending, or drawing, or reading…something productive. Something I can SELL. I get up and make myself sit back down, force myself to continue to watch the birds and BREATHE. Relaxation depends a lot on breathing, I’ve learned. I finally figured out that a lifetime of poverty has trained me to worry about money. Not relax. And I think constantly about what’s going to happen to take away my new freedom.  I hold my breath every time I get in the car, hoping it will start. Actually, I find myself holding my breath while I’m driving anywhere, fearful that someone will run into me, wreck the car and a new financial apocalypse will be upon me. This is not a joke.

  1. I love playing.

I’ve wanted to experiment with so many art forms, all my life, but there never seemed to be enough time, or money. Since I retired, I have spent embarrassing amounts of money on art supplies and books. (Which has added to my anxiety about money. See above.) Instead of working on things that I’m pretty sure will sell, I’ve been playing. I spent time with Papier Mache. It’s a great medium, but it gets so humid here in the late summer that drying things, and KEEPING them dry, is a challenge. I played with shrink plastic-another fun medium and I made some interesting, lovely jewelry. I may keep working with that, but I just wanted to experiment with other stuff, so I have a lot of jewelry and bits and piece of projects sitting in my little plastic bins until I’m ready to get back to them. Now I’m knee deep in polymer clay. I’ve messed around with this off and on forever, but now I’m doing more than ever before. Still nothing to sell… My brain is turning over ideas and designs when I should be falling off to sleep at night so that’s a good sign.

  1. I am not drawing like I should be. Or writing.

These two activities have sustained me all my life. What is with the sudden lack of activity in the two things that I love most? I think (hope) it’s because I have time I never had before. Poverty is still with me, and I doubt seriously that will ever change, but time…time has become something entirely new to me. I’m still not used to it. Suddenly I’m not on deadline. I don’t have to get this or that done in the next hour. My hours are my own. I’m off the leash. I’m wildly running through tall grass, leaping at butterflies. Every time I set myself a schedule a little part of me says..I don’t want to!

Maybe all this freedom has scared me. All these years I’ve been convinced if I had the time I could make something, or write something, that would provide me with a living. Well, here it is! And still I run through the tall grass and leap at butterflies. I know me, and success was never in the cards. I never believed I would succeed at anything and I’ve been right. Yeah, probably more than a little self-sabotage going on there, and now is the time to rectify that. But I‘m still running and leaping. So instead of doing the 2 things I know I can do I’m playing with everything else. Is that a good thing or a self-sabotage thing? I honestly don’t know. I could make arguments for either opinion.

I struggle with anxiety every day. I have trouble with my entire digestive process. This is what goes first with me when I’m upset, anxious. There are days I can’t swallow. Some days, EVERYTHING gives me heartburn or sits in my stomach like a brick. I have trouble swallowing WATER. It has eased off some since I took this part-time job. I’m starting a fund for another car. Until then, I still hold my breath and hope the car will start, or that it won’t suddenly STOP while I’m driving. I hope it will get me to work and back home. I guess that’s the last big problem. For someone who is poor, a decent car is a huge problem, so don’t sniff and say, “is that all you have to worry about?”  I’ve got plenty of other stuff to worry about…swallowing, for one.

In the meantime, I’m reading. And reading. And reading. I’m reading Val McDermid and Elizabeth George crime thrillers…and slowly making my way through The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. I am! I’m reading for hours sometimes. Oh, that’s truly liberating.

I’m watching all the movies I ever wanted to watch. Yes, I have a list of books and movies and I’m slowly checking them off. I’m watching Netflix. I’m relieved to know the term “binge watching” wasn’t invented just for me. Hey, I’m retired. I can binge watch without guilt…it’s part of my relaxation training.

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And I am making art. I know, I know, not as much as I should.. I found these chairs ages ago and recently came across a small table that fit perfectly between them. SO, after weeks and weeks of cleaning and sanding and cleaning and more sanding I started to draw. I call it my “bistro set.” There should be better pictures of this, and as soon as I can afford them, I’ll replace these. But look, I’m making art!

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Happy New Year

NIGHT
I usually try to write something on New Year’s Eve and even though I’m at work this year, I still feel the need to post.

What I most want to say has nothing to do with resolutions, or the year in review, or regrets or hopes-all the things we usually write about in the waning hours of the year.
I spent almost an hour in the doctor’s office this morning with two of my residents. No, I’m not complaining about the wait. We were early and that’s what happens when you’re like me-I’d rather wait than be late.

I love looking through magazines because they are a rich source of ideas for art, writing, cooking, etc. Of course, this is the holiday season so the magazines were all loaded with Christmas decorating and cooking ideas. I love holiday magazines for all those reasons. Except this morning I got so bored, looking at one color coordinated Christmas scene after another. The children were outfitted to match the tree, which was decorated to match the furniture, and the accents in every room were so well coordinated that all I could think was…

“Everything’s so beautiful, so PROFESSIONAL, so cold, so expected, so PROFESSIONAL…” and after the third magazine I was aching to see one tree-just one!-that actually boasted handmade children’s ornaments mixed in with ornaments bought on memorable vacations mixed in with ornaments saved by our own mothers and handed down to us for our trees…and ornaments from the office and ornaments from our first tree when we moved out into the world on our own…ornaments that prompted stories as they were reverently removed from drying, yellowing tissue paper.

I wanted to see a room with a fat tree bursting with meaningful ornaments in all the riotous colors of Christmas. I wanted to see colored lights-not just the sane, elegant everywhere-you-look tiny white lights that “hold all the elements together.” I wanted to see old toys-real old toys, our own old toys mixed in with gaily wrapped presents in lots of different paper, in lots of different colors and patterns. I wanted to see all the physical proof that we come together at this one time of year to show each other we care.

I wanted to see a room full of people in individual clothes that spoke of their culture and hope and enthusiasm for being there.

I understand why magazines make these photographically perfect displays. I worked in the publications industry for years and those color coordinated rooms are agonized over for months. I know that. I understand. I don’t care. I still felt famished after looking at hundreds of pages of “Christmas Celebration.”

I was hungry…hungry for color¬–real color, not sea foam and pink, not sage and peach. I wanted to see hundreds of colors-not three shades of two colors. Texture! Give me metallics and flocking and velvet and satin-make me want to touch the person wearing the red velvet dress, pick up the shiny package with the sparkling bow. Make me want to be there, interact, experience the season!

I do have something to say about hope, though. I hope that next year, someone out there in publication land has the courage to stage a Christmas scene that speaks to those of us in the real world.
I don’t have a family much anymore, and I make things for Christmas for my friends and the residents where I work. I read these magazines to get ideas, as do many other people. I take one thing, one DIY ornament idea, or decorating tip, and I go with it. My room, my ornament, usually doesn’t look much like the designer version. That’s OK; it looks like I made it. And the person that gets it will hang it every year from now on, even when I’m not there.

I know I’ll be remembered and there will be fond (I hope) comments about the year I made and gave the ornament. There are grown people out there who got that ornament before they could drive and have hung it every year. One niece keeps hers out all the time in bowls because it keeps me close to her even though we live hundreds of miles apart.

Oh, I doubt I’ll ever see a REAL Christmas scene in a magazine. They’re just for ideas and they just offer guidelines about how to decorate for the most anticipated season of the year. Still, I had to say it.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2013
3 days before Christmas. Now there’s an original opening.
I’m at work because my coworker is sick. I’m happy to do it-I can use the extra money. I’ve finally found a place where my coworkers are ADULTS so anything I can do to be supportive, I’ll do it. Happily.

Still, watching the approach of my 60th Christmas is sobering. My birthday, on the 5th, was a quiet affair. My landlord went with me to buy tires for my car and later he took me to lunch. Actually, it’s the best birthday I’ve had in about 10 years. Really. We talked about the world, about being older, about lessons learned, and not learned, about giving ourselves permission to relax…finally. My job pays my bills and the occasional sale of my art gives me a little extra to buy supplies, the odd reference book, and a new coat from Goodwill. Sometimes, like this week, I’m needed at work to relieve my coworker and there’s a little spike in my paycheck. My car is in good shape, the cats are healthy, and I’m healthy. I have art projects I’m working on, but I’m taking my time to explore new techniques, or mediums, ideas.

I have tossed deadlines. No more. I will finish my art-and my writing-in my time. I’ve lived my life on deadline. No more. When I finish an art project, when I’m happy with it, when I decide it’s done, it goes out. Not before. No more getting it done as quickly as possible to make the most of whatever season is coming to an end. Same with my writing. I will finish the story and then look for a publisher. If there’s a call for that story, great, if not, eventually there will be. In the meantime, I have a story I’m proud of. No more deadlines.

And I’m sort of dating. Sort of. I’ve posted one of those perky, chirpy profiles and a picture. That takes a lot of nerve for me. I’m gaining in self confidence all the time, gaining clarity about life in general and mine in particular. Yet I still have that moment of “WTF???” when I pass a mirror because I’m still the same in my head. I haven’t aged. I’ve gotten smarter, I’ve gotten calmer, I’ve learned a lot of lessons but I don’t feel any older. I still love hiking for hours at a time. I still clean my house with the same passion and energy I always have, I still move around with the same enthusiasm. What’s with the sagging neck? The lines around my mouth? My friends remind me that we EARNED that proof of life on our faces. And then I think, “That’s right.”My face isn’t 30 anymore, but I still run circles around most of the people I know-even those half my age. Then I stop and say, wait a minute; it isn’t a contest, is it? AM I still trying to prove something? AM I still trying to be good enough smart enough, pretty enough to be accepted? Is that shit still happening? Then I wonder if it’s wise to even try dating. I definitely don’t want to get into that awful anxiety about who I am, what I look like. I LIKE not caring.

I met someone who, so far, seems very nice. He seems to think I look fine. It’s early days, and as I’ve said before ‘They’re ALL nice in the beginning.” To be fair to him, I don’t know what he thinks, whether he’s just curious to see where it goes. Maybe he’s reminding himself we all get better looking once we get to know each other. And maybe he’s curious about me, what’s in my head, what I think about him. Maybe he’s interested enough to want to show me he’s attractive enough, smart enough, nice enough to keep doing whatever this is we’re doing. Then again, maybe he’s just tired of microwave dinners and wants regular sex. The only real way to find out, it seems, is to do this dating thing. Or not. I’ll see what happens for a while; see if it’s worth giving up my precious free time. If I decide it isn’t, I can decide I don’t want to date and that’s that. I don’t HAVE to do this. So we’ll see.
Sigh.
Merry Christmas.

Cat Thoughts

I get into a lot of trouble with cat people when I say this, but here goes. I try to allow my pets as natural an environment as possible. I have a cat door, so they can come and go as they please. I’m gone a lot because of my work, and my landlord checks on them every day, changing the litter box and putting out fresh food.

My cats have a rich, active life. Yes, they bring in moles, voles, mice and the occasional bird (not many, though. Apparently mice are more plentiful.) In the spring and summer, they keep my little home mouse and mole free. They have also extended their work to my landlord’s garden. We refer to it as “paying the rent.”

They are both neutered so there is little fighting with neighborhood cats other than the occasional territorial yowling. Max is an outdoor cat. Big and strong, he loves to spend his days outside, but comes in to check on me periodically when I’m home. Annie is perfectly content to stay inside. She does go outside, just not nearly as much as Max.

I get a lot of terrible feedback about how many birds my cats kill every year and I have to stress that birds are probably killed by strays more often than house pets. I think it’s more important that we work toward eliminating the number of strays. My cats are familiar with their home, inside and out. When they are outside they know what, and who, to watch out for. Cats that are never let outside are vulnerable when they accidentally get outside. Believe me, they will get out- it’s a matter of when, not if. I know too many people who have terrible stories about the cat that got out.

Mine are happy and have no weight problems. Max is big and loves to go outside, regardless of weather. The boy is all muscle! Annie is more petite but is active enough that she’s well within her weight ratio. And they are both very healthy.

I recommend allowing your cats lots and lots of activity as well as watching their weight. We have to increase our exercise routine when we want to lose weight; they are no different. If you live in an area where it really is dangerous (busy thoroughfare, for example) I understand your reluctance to allow them out. I used to have a cat tree when I lived in the city. Make room for it. They LOVE it and they can busy themselves all day.

These are Nature’s creatures. They need activity and healthy food just like everything else. They’re not pretty things to plop on the sofa. And they aren’t just there to make us feel better-we owe them an environment that allows an active, healthy life even when we’re not around.

Gallery

New photos of previously published art. Eli Warren, photographer and graphic artist, has been photographing my work for years. When I took my own pictures because of time constraints or money issues, I always regretted it. Good photography is so important. Now we’re back on track and I have these new shots to illustrate my work. Thank you, Eli! Go to his website for more beautiful art.
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loyalty and love

I just watched the movie “Hatchi.” I cried, felt both touched and anguished. The movie is a remake of the Japanese film “Hachikō Monogatari.” (literally “The Tale of Hachiko”) In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During their time together, Hachikō greeted the professor at the end of each day at Shibuya Station. This was their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage during a lecture. He never returned to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachiko_Monogatari)

In the remake with Richard Gere, he is a music professor in the US. The story is the same, however, and that’s the point. This man’s dog loved him so much he never gave up waiting for him. He could not even be persuaded to stay in another home, though the home was warm, the owners loving and patient. Hatch’s heart stayed with his master. He waited for the rest of his life.

The stories I have read about this incredible dog, and many more, have made me wonder about the use of the word “loyalty” that appears over and over in the telling of these wrenching stories. These animals (and they aren’t always dogs) stayed true to the memories and bonds of the people they loved. Some were Beloved pets, thought lost forever, who made their way home, often over unbelievable distances. Silverton Bobby, or Bobby the Wonder Dog, is one of the most famous. He traveled 2,551 miles after being lost on vacation. The family searched desperately but finally had to give up. It took him 6 months, but he made it. There are also several books and movies about Bobby and his journey.

Again, I read the word “loyal” over and over. Loyal, yes, but more than that. These animals had the most profound love for their humans. Love we must not be able to understand because we can’t even name it. Do we realize their love is something far deeper, fiercer than what we experience with other humans? Maybe that’s why we give it another name, a word all of us understands as a measure of character.
The actual definition: Loyal: faithful to one’s sovereign, government, or state: a loyal subject.
2. Faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations: to be loyal to a vow.
3. Faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity: a loyal friend.
4. Characterized by or showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiance, obligations, etc.: loyal conduct.
( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/loyal)

In doing my research on the loyalty of animals I realized that secretly I had hoped for a loyal husband and partner on so many occasions. What I believed was a loss of love for me was also a lack of loyalty.

My cat, Max, waited 7 months for me to return from my Appalachian adventure. I had tried to get him to stay with friends while I was gone but he hid when I tried to find him. I had the friend with me, and Max had no use for anyone else. My landlord kept an eye out for him, hoping to feed him and be able to send me reports when I checked in. He reported only one possible “Max sighting” while I was gone. I carried a heavy burden of guilt along with my backpack. The day after I returned home Max appeared at the door, during a rainstorm, crying to be let in. It was a tearful reunion and I will never be able to explain the relief, amazement and wonder I felt, still feel, when I realize Max had waited for me all that time. I have tried to imagine what his life was like through that fall, winter and spring. I have never felt so loved in my life. Ever. No one has ever made me feel that I was that important to them.

And it’s because of Max that I get up every day, that I have continued to struggle to make my own life. I can’t let him down.

Say what you want. He’s just a cat. Hatchi was just a dog. They are just animals. But they are creatures capable of love and loyalty almost beyond our comprehension, capable of stunning depths of emotion.

I saw this movie right after one of my Mercy For Animals newsletters. NatGeo has aired a documentary about the desperate levels of cruelty in the corporate farming industry. I watch these videos just often enough to remind me why I am vegan.They sicken me, and I am ashamed to be part of the human race after I see them. I don’t support the industry, I donate what I can, when I can, and I tell people about what I’ve seen when I can.

I read about animals’ love and loyalty, how they are capable of infinite forgiveness and compassion toward us and each other. Then I think about the levels of cruelty we often subject them to, saying “they’re just animals.” I wish we were able to learn from them. I wish we were able to love with their purity. I feel little hope for the human race but I believe animals will be here long after we are gone. At least, I hope they will be here after we’re gone. They deserve this wonderful, beautiful place. I’m not sure we, as a species, really do.

Car Trouble

One thing I am beginning to understand less as I age is this need to be in pain, in subjugation to someone else. I watched an Australian series “Top of The Lake” that featured Holly Hunter as a strange “teacher” to a group of women in various stages of denial, despair and recovery. Hunter was by no means the main character but her character was pivotal in that the teacher finally announced that these women were “crazy bitches” who never learned.

I understand. I’m almost 60 and I’ve been saying I have learned from my mistakes for almost a decade. Have I learned? What I’ve done is cut myself off from almost everyone. It seems the only way to keep myself safe. I’m poor-I do mean poor, the kind of poor that has to choose between visiting the dental clinic for a yearly cleaning and making sure I have the rent. I haven’t had my teeth cleaned in 3 years. I’m careful, I floss, but the tarter builds up. I think things like this are important. I see other women who have never had their teeth cleaned and are holding their children in their lap when I go to the clinic and I wonder, who cares for these children? What are they learning? What do they eat? Crap from a box because their mother thinks it’s cheaper than real food? Because she never learned what real food is? How long can we function successfully as a society when the bottom tier, the tier where I live, cannot get real medical attention, doesn’t understand the basics of nutrition or birth control and will never make more than minimum wage?

While I may rant about those who have managed to work the system by obtaining disability and free medical care, there are millions more who are struggling to survive. Like me, they work-hard-and so cannot get help because they “earn too much” and so we fall through the cracks. It’s a shitty observation about this country. No one should be denied medical care. Period. Who the fuck are you to decide whether I can get my teeth cleaned? Who the fuck are you to decide whether I can get contraception or a PAP smear or false teeth when I’m 70? How can it be OK for people with addictions, who have been given options in recovery programs and work programs, who end up on the street because they don’t work the programs, to end up in group homes with medical care, 3 meals a day, a room of their own and any kind of help they ask for to get all that..And I can’t get my teeth cleaned? I’m the most liberal person you’ll ever meet. I believe in everyone getting the medical, psychological help they need.

But I also believe in people working for what they get. I don’t believe in handouts. To anyone. My past history with therapy taught me that, as well as my shitty childhood. You pay for what you get, you earn what you get. No one hands you anything. And why should they? Why should anyone think they should be handed anything just because they showed up?

Yet our society dos that all the time. Beautiful people get stuff just for showing up. I’ve seen so many people who grew up getting all the best toys because they were the pretty ones. In the real world, the pretty ones still get the best toys-but there are lots more of them. Some of those spoiled, pretty people can adjust but many can’t. So they marry for security, or use drugs, or adjust to the realization that they aren’t so special and try to figure out how to win with something other than a dazzling smile.

Back to learning as I age. My hormones don’t rule my life anymore. Yeah, I feel a terrible sadness when I think of all I’m never going to have. No one is ever going to love me the way I once loved. Well, I cry about that sometimes. But I’ll live. There are children in this world who will never know a single day they don’t feel hunger as a constant, like humidity. Or women who will never figure out there are no true reasons to endure beatings. There are young beautiful women who use that as currency to get out of horrible countries, whose beauty and youth are robbed from them as surely as a tourist’s pocket is picked. My life hasn’t been charmed, but what I’ve learned is that it’s mine and I can stop this journey anytime I get really tired of it.

I wonder if any of those people ever understand that. They don’t have to wait until they are so drained, so steeped in despair and pain before they can board the train for Outta Here. I won’t. Life isn’t so fabulous that I really care what’s happening in the future. Life is a series of experiences, nothing more. Gracious, when the experiences become nothing more than one long series of painful struggles, what’s the point? Really.

All this tossed around in my head while I waited to find out what was wrong with my car. Getting to my job-254 miles away- is a pain but now it seems the car will be OK tomorrow. The car has to make it until my retirement in 2 ½ years. I can’t afford a new one. I’m not going to make the last couple of years in my life miserable over something like a car. For what? Trying to do things like clean my teeth, drive a car…seriously, these things are worth continuing my life for? No, they’re not.

So, while I’m waiting to find out about my car I’m pondering whether all this is worth the stress. Ultimately, of course, it’s not. My cat Annie is making it worthwhile today. Max will be back inside soon and he’ll reinforce the feeling. As long as I have them, I’ll keep struggling. I’ll keep fighting. They are cats, animals. They don’t CARE whether there’s some deep reason. Life simply is. As much as they love me-and they do-if I’m gone they will find a way to keep feeding, living.

With us humans, it’s a little less clear cut. I have to pay rent or I live under a bridge. I have nowhere to go, no one to take care of me. I don’t want to live under a bridge, or even in a tent. Humans can’t scavenge food and shelter without eventually ending up in jail. I’m not going to jail because I can’t pay rent. So I can’t be like my feline friends. They depend on me now and I respect the commitment I made to them when I rescued them. They never asked for anything but I promised it nonetheless. Until they are gone I have to make a living. For them, I work and budget and try to find the “give a shit” to get up each day. So far, their affection and attention has worked. Max and Annie make me feel that whatever else is wrong with me, I have the love and affection of two of Nature’s creatures. They chose me, in fact, not the other way around. Max waited 7 months for me to get my Appalachian Trail obsession under control. He had no real home, no one guaranteeing his daily meals or even a safe shelter at night.

Yet, when I came back with Annie 7 months after I officially moved out of my little house he came home. It’s too much to tell now, and I still get short of breath when I think about it. No one, animal or human, ever cared for me that much. I’m still learning to live in my life. A series of experiences, as I’ve said. Right now, there are too many and they are too rich to turn my back on just yet.