Monday, February 6, 2017

It's Been a Year

Last January under the compulsion of guilt, I wrote a few posts to try and revive my desire to blog. The effort failed. I don't know if it will succeed this time, but the good news is that I actually want to write this post. Guilt is no longer the motivation.

Writing has been on hold for me. A little more than two years ago, I ended a long-standing relationship and basically everything that has happened since came in one way or another as a surprise (or shock might be more accurate - like the pulse of a defibrillator). Let me sum up:

First, I am wildly happy for a month.
Then, I briefly date another person, leaping to conclusions in my own mind far too quickly.
Lots of tears follow.
Next, I resolve to create a social life. Continuing my previously hermetic existence seems counter-productive.
So, I explore the Youth Group attached to my Church. It seems interesting; I decide tentatively to join the choir before plunging in too far.
When I confide this to Phoenix Girl, we end up making a pact to become official members of the group. May 14, 2015: we commit ourselves to a year of membership.
About this time, I develop the most enormous, unbalanced crush I've ever had on someone also in the Youth Group.
I dash off to Norway for a week, to visit the much-missed Mrs. L.
Then I return to a text message announcing (without warning) that I will be a team captain in the Youth Group.
A year of turmoil follows, in which I realize that creating a social life can be a painful exercise when one is healing from years-old wounds. In March, 2016, I have two happy weeks and wonder when the lightness will vanish and if I will ever find it again once it inevitably does.
My crush causes lots of delight, embarrassment, confusion, and provides unexpected prompts for healing and growth.
Friendships come to me like gifts.
Finally, after one last miserable day in June, 2016, I realize that something deep down and fundamental is wrong: Where is my writing? After almost three years of silence, besides the occasional poem, I must take active steps to reclaim the most important part of myself.
Suddenly, after an unexpected misfortune, I take over management of the Youth Group.
I apply to graduate school for creative writing. Waiting for an answer is an exercise in patience.
A surprising offer to become a doctoral student's research assistant comes my way. I accept the position because it makes me excited and afraid at the same time (a sure sign something will be good for me).
Today, February 6, 2017, I open one of my novels and begin to work on it again. Today, without any sense of painful obligation, I am writing a blog post for enjoyment and exercise.

So much more happened in the two years I just sketched. Thinking about the volume of activity - physical, social, mental, and emotional - is dizzying and amazing. When we are traveling through the hard times (passages I have described to friends as trudging through a swamp), it's hard to think of anything but taking the next step. Is it worth taking it? Conversely, is it worth sinking into the mire if we don't take it? Sheer, bloody-minded determination kept me going for a large part of times, and I am grateful to the combination of genetics and grace which bestowed that quality upon me.

Perhaps my interest in blogging will continue. Perhaps it will not. I'm not sure I've quite escaped from my swamp yet, but the sludge is shallower and my progress no longer in question. Hopefully another blog post will follow this one in a week or so, but the balance of work and Youth Group management and friendship and more essential writing must be kept first. I am happy to return to my balancing act, though. With any luck, joy will again inspire the walk on the tightrope, and joy is the only ingredient of an action that ensures its survival.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Need vs. Desire

Recently I have been spending lots of time talking and listening to Phoenix Girl about her new boyfriend. I shall call him…Musical Engineer. He was part of my circle of acquaintances, but not someone whom I’d ever spent much time getting to know. In a distant sort of way, I thought he was nice. Soon after Phoenix Girl and he began their relationship, though, he began slowly communicating with me more and more. He knows that Phoenix Girl is one of my three best friends, so I’m sure he figured that I was sort of the next best thing to talking to her directly while she is in France and can’t be as available as either of them would like.

At first I was a little confused by this, as I’ve never been the type to cultivate friendships with men. Not because I don’t like men – quite the contrary! I like them too much, so I want to be sure a man is interested before I begin spending a lot of time with him, so as to avoid heart-ache all around. Musical Engineer is safely in a relationship, though, and was in sore need of advice, so he began texting me and we have talked on the phone a few times, becoming good friends in the process of sharing our thoughts about our mutually beloved Phoenix Girl.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, he began asking me for advice on his college classes. He’s a few years younger than me, and is trying to figure out the best way to get through his schooling without making Phoenix Girl wait on him forever.

My first thought was, ‘Why don’t you ask Phoenix Girl for advice instead of me, since comparatively I care a lot less than she does?’ In one of my previous relationships, the man I was dating spent most of our conversations bouncing every single idea he had for his future off me and requesting my feedback. Girlfriends are there to give advice, as far as I’m concerned.

Then I said to myself, ‘Wait a second…I broke up with him in the end. Maybe that was a problem.’

For years (during and after the long-standing relationship), I had wondered why it was that my ex-boyfriend obviously needed my in-put so much and yet was simultaneously so reluctant to commit. If I was giving him what he needed, shouldn’t he have been ready to snap me up, so he could have my feedback for the rest of his life?

I began to suppose that the woman in a man’s life to whom he runs for advice and opinions and critique is not his girlfriend or wife. Instead, he looks to his mom or his older sister, or if either is unavailable or non-existent, perhaps he looks to a platonic female friend. If, on the other hand, he wants approval, admiration and support, he turns to his romantic interest. This is, of course, a sweeping generalization; I realize that men do ask their girlfriends and spouses for advice, but even so perhaps when they do it’s more because they want to make the happy discovery that their partner agrees with and supports them, thus providing valuable affirmation of their manhood and leadership.

I have the ‘big sister’ sort of personality by nature, so it’s not surprising that men who need that would be drawn to friendship with me. It’s just a pity that my ex-boyfriend and I wasted so much time thinking we should be romantic, when in fact it would have been better for us just to be friends. However, I’m now learning the art of a big sisterly friendship thanks to Musical Engineer, so it’s proving to be an interesting new experience.

The other thing that pleases me about this situation is that it frees him up to have a proper relationship with Phoenix Girl. My ex-boyfriend, through various causes both avoidable and unavoidable, was a very isolated person. Having one person that he liked, he figured that all roles (friend, confidante, adviser, consultant, girlfriend) could be filled by her. However, that’s too much to ask of anyone, and, what’s worse, it induces a massive feeling of obligation and dependency in the man – not very romantic emotions, we must admit!

So, since Musical Engineer has me and lots of other friends and a very helpful older brother, he can turn to us when he needs advice or help or any number of things, instead of expecting Phoenix Girl to supply them all. Instead, she is able to be what a girlfriend should be: someone a man desires and admires intensely as a source of fullness in his life, rather than a person he needs to supply some lack.

It has been interesting coming to these conclusions. Since I am single now, it allows me to think about the sort of relationship I really want in the future, as well as allowed me to put to rest my old relationship since now I understand better why it failed. I don’t know if my readers will agree with me, or if it is even wise to make a foray into the realm of relationship blogging, but it’s been on my mind lately. For the sake of honesty, I figured it would be interesting to write about!

I’d love to know if you have had any experience with this phenomenon. Do you agree that a man prefers not to need his romantic partner but to desire her for herself? I think it indicates that romantic relationships actually prompt a reassuring kind of selflessness, since the couple should be attracted to each other for the other’s sake, rather than because they want something to solve their own problems.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lessons from Living Alone

I have spent the past six months since my last blog post being so absurdly busy and simultaneously having such an extreme case of writer’s block, that updating my blog dropped to almost the very end of my to-do list. I even wondered if I’d ever find the interest to resume it. Balancing Act was in terrible danger of going to the way of so many blogs…

Luckily, though, I’m happy to report that most unexpectedly, my writer’s block seems to be dissipating. I was driving between some errands two Saturdays ago and suddenly a story started barging its way into the forefront of my mind. I’ve already written several pages within the last week. The floodgates have opened!

That being the happy case, on Thursday I was sitting in my kitchen eating breakfast and suddenly I realized I actually wanted to write a blog post. It felt like a miracle. So here I am, late on Sunday morning, sitting in my living room and typing away furiously.

Since I’ve spent the past eight months learning what it’s like to live in my own apartment with no roommates or family members, I thought it would be fun to chat about the unexpected things I’ve learned during that time. I’ve enjoyed the process enormously.

1.      Mindful eating is not part of my skill-set.
In almost every book or blog on happy living, good eating, style maintenance, etc., that I’ve ever perused, the writers preach the value of mindful eating. Put away your phones and computers, they say! Set the table! Eat slowly and savor every bite!

This sounds wonderful, I admit. However, I am incapable of doing it. If I am in company, chatting with others while I eat, I enjoy the food and eat it slowly and gratefully. However, if I am alone, in my quiet apartment, with a plate in front of me, things change. There is nothing to do but eat and the food disappears as if magically. I can dispose of my entire dinner in about five minutes. Obviously this is not very good for my digestion or enjoyment of life so, with apologies to every life-style writer out there, I have resorted to YouTube while eating. Three cheers for College Humor! With something entertaining to watch, I can slow the meal down to about a half-hour, which seems much more human and enjoyable.

2.      Holidays are extra hectic.
Over Thanksgiving and Christmas 2015 my brother was in town staying at my parents’, so naturally I wanted to spend a lot of time at their house. However, my bed, bathroom, clothes and food are all at my apartment. I could, theoretically, have treated the holidays as if I were staying out of town and packed a suitcase, but my parents really don’t have a good spot for me to sleep, so I was stuck traveling between two homes.

I usually fill up my gas tank about every eleven days, but what with all the commuting, it went down to every seven days over Christmas! Not to mention that my mother is used to the role I had played in holiday preparations in the past while I lived with her, and she expected me to continue to fulfill all my usual tasks in spite of the fact that I had to factor extra twenty minute chunks into my days so I could get home in time for bed. It was probably the busiest holiday I’ve had in years, simply because of all the extra driving!

3.      It’s extremely easy to be social.
This is actually my favorite discovery. When you live with someone else, of course you want to be considerate and not disturb them by coming home late. Also, with roommates or family around you, there’s less of an urge to accept invitations from others or actively seek to spend time with friends. Not so when one is living completely alone!

No one cares what time you get home and, while privacy is nice, hours and hours of alone time every night can get pretty depressing. When a party is organized or a friend calls and wants to get drinks, my new impulse is to say, ‘Yes please!’ I’ve even discovered that I’m much less of an introvert than I thought. I still need time to myself, but a couple evenings a week is just fine; the other days, if there are events or outings, I’m totally game.

4.      There’s a lot less discretionary income.
Every month on the 10th, I write out an astonishingly large check for my rent and send it off to my landlady. It’s a good feeling – a sort of confirmation of being a responsible adult – but after that, there’s not a lot of wriggle room in my bank account. I’ve always been responsible with my finances, but when I was just paying nominal rent to my parents I had great quantities of money left over every month to spend or save as I pleased. Now everything is very strictly budgeted and I have to think of ways to trim corners if too many friends invite me out for drinks. Tip: it’s much cheaper to have them come over to one’s house, so comfortable chairs are a must to help safeguard the budget!


I’m sure there are others, but those are the four lessons that leap to mind. I’m still adapting and learning, but in a good way. Surprisingly, I feel more like myself now that I live alone – perhaps because I only have to meet my own expectations, instead of anyone else’s. Anyway, I’d love to know what you’ve learned from living arrangements in the past. Tips from other people are always helpful!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A New Home Revisited

Things have been quite hectic this past month, so I thought I'd do a picture post this time. Enjoy the before and after of my new apartment!

Front Door View - Before
Front Door View - After
Living Room - Before
Living Room - After (and better view!)
Bedroom - Before
Bedroom - After
Kitchen - Before
Kitchen - After
Back Door View - Before
Back Door View - After

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecost

One hand crumples like a broken wing
And the mouth’s left corner folds words to a slur,
Imprisoning an old man
Within a half-crippled body.

Left inarticulate, only memory keeps him company.

While his wife putters about, he sits and waits,
Recalling his children, and the grand-children
Who visit occasionally to pin another photo
Amid the collage which papers the wall.

Once they leave again,
He reflects on fifty-eight years of service
Rendered and not paid, for sheer love.

It is strange to dwell with these recollections
Since the stroke cut him off from common life;
He hobbles from table to chair to bed
Hearing a changeless voice.

For charity’s sake, those he helped for six decades
Send strangers to sit with him at times.

He speaks to them slowly and politely,
Offering thanks, over and over, relieved
not to be alone
With the past which can no longer be.

It was Memorial Day when the children came
To sing. Fleeter than angels they descended
Upon the house, opened their mouths for a moment
To emit the praises of God.

Then they were gone again, though the echo
Resounded in the man’s quiet brain,
Stirring round and round the solitude of age
And illness, when a soul is trapped with itself.

Sobs rise, suddenly, and he is humbled
To be seen in weakness.

No shame, though: a man’s prerogative
Is to grow into emotion with age, to feel
The richness of his humanity recalled.

Tears flow to baptize his memories,
Washed and arrayed about him
Like clean white robes of grace.

***

I've joined a local youth group, and we visited an old community benefactor for Memorial Day. It was bittersweet to see his joy and sorrow at the tiny service we did for him.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Things We Inherit

In the backyard of my new apartment, I have a clump of irises growing luxuriantly against the fence. It’s been a warm spring here in Idaho, so already they are thrusting up their buds in long spears. I imagine they’ll bloom within the fortnight.

At this point, the buds are still tightly furled and secretive, so it’s impossible to tell what color the final product will produce. I feel like I inherited a surprise from whatever renter in the past decided to toss some rhizomes in the ground and hope for the best. Irises are actually my favorite flower – I love the extravagance of their enormous blooms, not to mention their incredible shades of blue – so the surprise will be especially exciting for that reason.

In the mornings, I can stand in my kitchen while I drink coffee and watch the flowers, wondering what color they will be.

I was doing this the other day, thinking about Mothers’ Day coming up, and also reflecting on my own personality, which has lately been thrown into stronger relief in my mind, thanks to suddenly living on my own. It occurred to me that I would have never guessed at twelve or thirteen, on the cusp of adolescence, what I’d be like now, fifteen years later. Granted, definitive traits were beginning to make themselves known, but at the time I mostly focused on the anxiety of being the youngest in my class and wondering how to make friends with girls one or two years older than me.

Time passed, of course, and I discovered my real friends (Vasnefy, the Fashionista, Mrs. L., and, most recently, the Phoenix Girl). In relation to them my personality settled and took shape. My various romantic relationships have had their effect, too. The result seems to be a combination of confidence, enthusiasm and determination, although when confronted with other people, a wave of diffidence mutes all of these attributes. I’ve become strangely afraid of crushing others with my admittedly strong personality, so I hold back and guard myself around them, both for fear of hurting them and for fear of being hurt should they dislike my natural self.

When I was younger I often thought that I had only inherited my father’s characteristics.

Recently, however, my brother said to me in passing that of us three children, I especially seemed to have received the best and worst of both parents. So I’ve been reflecting on what has come to me from my mother. The confidence and enthusiasm and determination listed above all are obvious traits from my father, and everyone who is familiar with us both will point out that I resemble him in behavior almost exactly, even while looking far more like my mom.

There are plenty of jokes about middle aged women looking in the mirror one day and realizing they’ve become exactly like their mothers (perhaps to their chagrin). For quite a while I thought that would never happen to me, and perhaps indeed I shall not have that exact experience. However, I have realized that my sympathy for others comes from Mom more than from Dad.

She has an almost infinite capacity for interest in others – both their joys and their sorrows.

Sometimes (because I’m an ungrateful daughter, as all children are a little ungrateful!), I feel wearied by her indefatigable interest. Mom wants the news concerning everyone and their births and deaths and marriages and friendships and babies. We joke about the debriefing everyone in the family must undergo when coming home from an event, since she is so curious about all the attendees and their stories.

However, it’s not just idle curiosity. She remembers everything and next time she sees one of these people about whom she knows a few facts, she’ll run to greet them and discuss their news, whether happy or sad, offering congratulations or condolences as needed. Granted, my interest in others is not so wide-spread or so generous (due perhaps to the diffidence I mentioned above), but I find the same pattern on a smaller scale in myself. Moreover, it has its effect on my writing, too. All writing requires the ability to put yourself into another’s shoes and feel their joys and sorrows in yourself.

I inherited that ability from my mother, and on this Mothers’ Day, I’d like to thank her for that. This tendency in myself has been slowly developing through my young adulthood, and it has surprised me, much like my inherited irises are set to surprise me when they bloom in a few days. No doubt over the next fifteen years, I’ll discover other elements of myself that she passed to me and be surprised and delighted by them as well. I look forward to the process, and I hope my mom will be with me during those years to guide me with her example.

Happy Mothers’ Day to every mother who stops by my blog to read this post!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Finding Normal

I’ve discovered all sorts of things since moving into my own place. With no one around to offer distraction or influence my schedule, there is a lot of new time to occupy. This was actually one of the effects for which I was hoping when I started the search for an apartment, but I’ve been amazed at how dramatic the difference is.

For example, when I was sharing a house, if we were planning to go out together, I’d wrap up whatever I was doing maybe fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure. Then I’d chat with the other people involved until the time to go. Now, on the other hand, I just leave when I want to leave, without worrying about inconveniencing anyone, or having to wait for them.

I’m a little concerned that I’ll become hopelessly spoiled by the total control over my own schedule! At the same time, though, I still have to get to events on time. It’s just been interesting to notice that the effect of going out to a party or a concert or a movie with friends has less overall impact on my time, because I can keep working on projects until the last minute, then grab my purse and leave to get there perfectly on time.

The real question has been how to fill up all those randomly multiplied fifteen minute increments. The first week I was in my apartment, I managed to get an entire story rewritten (it was old and needed to be approached from a new angle altogether), just by pulling out my computer every time I had a few minutes before bed, or before leaving for work, or before an event. It was kind of amazing. I realized how much can be done if one is able to use all one’s time efficiently.

However, that first week, I was still settling in and getting used to being all on my own. Now that I’m comfortable, I’m working on deep-cleaning the apartment. The carpets were cleaned before my move and the guy who had the place before did a reasonable job in surface cleaning before his departure. Man-clean is different from woman-clean, though. I’ve cleaned an amazing amount of grease and grime out of unlikely corners and surfaces that he apparently just didn’t think of (the ceiling above the shower, for example – a surprisingly gross place).

I’m also working on curtains and some other projects, just to get the place feeling more like home. It’s amazing what a difference window treatments and wall decorations make. Until all those are hung, there’s always a lingering feeling of being an itinerant – not quite settled in the place and ready to move on at any point.

I’ve actually been making amazing progress – black-out bedroom curtains and all my kitchen curtains last week – but even so, the cleaning and sewing makes it busy enough that I’ve not been able to fit any new writing into the days. I was feeling a little antsy about this, but then I realized that all those projects will be basically done by the middle of May, at the very latest, and then I’ll really have lots of time to fill. I can write to my heart’s content until the next round of projects rises (I have some furniture refurbishing plans in mind…).

The final thing I’ve realized is that when you don’t have friends built into your home life, you suddenly become much more interested in other people. I’ve joined a choral group, met with old friends, gone to a party, and had several friends over since my move, just two weeks ago. The pleasant thing, though, is that since I do in fact find so much extra time in my schedule, I can enjoy socializing, without feeling that my chance for writing or getting projects done is being eaten up. Just today I went for an hour walk around town, and I’m still managing to get household chores done, a blog post written, and some sewing preparations set up.

It’s interesting watching one’s own life adjust and settle after a big change. Luckily this has been a good change, so I’m enjoying the process and finding almost all the effects enjoyable and exhilarating. Life is busy but good – and very productive, which is something I value!

I realize one can’t live alone forever, so this new abundance of time is a temporary luxury. Even so, I’ll probably be here for at least a year (my lease term!) so I might as well enjoy what I’ve got, while I’ve got it! So far that process is going very well. I’d be curious to know, though: do you find that you are more productive alone or when living with others? Leave a comment to share your experience!