Sunday, March 26, 2023

In Another Country

It's sunny here and warm. The kind of warm that feels like a hug. My aunt hugs me when she picks me up from the airport. We get to talking before I finish sliding my roll-y suitcase into the back seat. My aunt is a talker. And if you know me in real life, you know that I am a talker too. When we get together, the talking is next level.

Before we hit the highway, we've covered the book I was reading on the plane, what's up with her friends in the condo community, how the little dog she's been dog-sitting is settling in, book banning (we're both against it), the weather (supposed to be hot this weekend in this part of Florida), and all the latest news on my kids--

with a dizzying digression into the past, as my aunt recalls funny stories, sad stories and everything in between about the kids when they were little, about the kids (me and my siblings) when I was little, about the kids (her and her siblings) when she was little, and weirdly, none of it feels in the past. 

My kids are five years old, and I am five years old, and she is, and all of it is happening, is always happening.

And then we are here, in her cute condo with her cute little foster dog, who is suspicious of me but decides to give me a chance. My aunt and I talk way past my usual bedtime. We talk in the morning after she wakes up, earlier than her usual waking-up-time. We talk over lunch. Over dinner. And up late again. And just when I think maybe we are talked out, she tells me a story,

which reminds me of a story, which reminds her of another one. It's been quite a few years since I've visited her, but when I slip outside (WHEW IT IS HOT!) to take a walk, I wonder if I will remember the layout of this neighborhood, the route to a pond where there's a walking trail and all of these condos looking very much the same. What if I get lost?  

But as soon as I set out, it comes back to me. A turn at this corner, a turn at the next. The pond with the signs warning me to beware of the alligator, which I have never seen (but sorta want to!) The palm frond designs etched into the sidewalk squares. A beautiful bird that I don't know the name of, but I snap a picture of it, and only later, remember that years ago, the last time I was here, I saw the same kind of bird and thought the same thing. 

Maybe it is the same bird. Maybe I am the same person. Maybe time stops in this place, and I am always taking pictures of those creepy and yet somehow adorable little lizards that scuttle across the path as I walk. Around the pond, the heat really starting to get to me now, and back to my aunt's condo, only overshooting it by a couple of condos. I have to double-back, where I find her

just setting out the little dog--and it really is so different from her last little dog, the one she loved for years--and yet, it is entirely the same. 


Sunday, March 19, 2023

I still haven't finished painting the closet

but I have made serious progress on it. The scraping. The caulking. One coat of primer, and yesterday,

another coat. But then I got stuck for a few hours contemplating the ceiling. First, because I realized I didn't have any paint rollers, and painting ceilings, I've learned, is much easier with a roller (and much more professional-looking too). So, off I went to the hardware store to buy rollers, mid-job, and somewhat paint-spattered. 

Also, I had less than a quarter can of ceiling paint. Would that be enough? I paid for the rollers but passed on the paint, and let me tell you later, what a nail biter that turned out to be. But whew, it was enough. 

Ceiling done, and now all that's left are the actual walls, the part of "painting the closet" that most people imagine I'm talking about when I say I am painting the closet. 

Everything takes so much longer than I imagine at the start. 

The book I began writing three years ago, for example. A messy draft "finished," but it wriggled around all over the place, morphing into several possible books. The therapy I started last year, just a little tweak of the psyche, I thought, at the beginning, but it has morphed along too, spiraling in multiple directions, 

breaking me open in ways I never dreamed, and still, barely past the scraping and caulking phase, and nowhere near the finished product. I know I know, deconstructing the very core of your own self isn't like painting a closet. Or writing a book. 

I'd put that away for a while, (the book writing) and a few months ago, plunged back in, trying to trace the various potential storylines and finding what seemed to be two decent possibilities. A friend told me, Hey! Why not write both books? And I laughed and laughed, but then I seriously considered it. Why not? 

The brainstorming and revising, the caulking and priming, the tearing apart and forgiving—others, myself— 

maybe the point isn’t perfect completion, but gathering the tools, dipping the brush, moving past the beginning, and somewhere into the middle, 

where it’s good enough, for today. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Painting the closet

seems like it would be a fairly easy goal, 

a small project to check off a to-do list. I mean, I've painted entire rooms, entire houses, so what's the big deal with a closet is what I was thinking, when I set this goal, last year. 

I can get it done over a weekend, I said to myself, 

fifteen weekends ago. This is a small closet in my husband's office. But first it was our daughter's bedroom, Year One of the Pandemic, when she bounced home and nested here, and it was such a terrifying, anxious time, but also, beautiful in a strange way. The closet 

was a magnet for things, a catch-all, and not just stuff belonging to our daughter. Boxes of papers. Photo albums. Framed pictures that don't seem to fit anywhere on the walls. Musical instruments from the time when the kids played viola in their school orchestras. 

It took me a good four or five weekends to think about emptying it, to do the actual emptying, to find places for all of these things. One long weekend of looking at the violas (For the record, we have two kids and four violas), of calling the kids to see if they still wanted them.  

No. I don't know. Maybe, they said. 

One weekend I dug out an old jacket of my daughter's. It fits me perfectly. Not my style at all—much more fashionable—but I wear it out to dinner one night and feel like I am a different person.  

Maybe the kind of person who can paint a damn closet in a weekend.

But first I have to scrape off the peeling paint. The house we live in is nearly one hundred years old. There are so many many layers of paint. And I quickly discover, as I begin scraping, a layer or two of wallpaper buried in there too. I manage to do one half of one wall before quitting. A few weekends later, I try again. 

Uncover another layer, what looks like hand painted flowers, so surprising me mid-scrape, that I have to quit again for three weekends, four. 

When did I become this person, 

who can't finish an easy task, who scrapes into the past, and gets stuck there, gazing longingly at the pretty pictures on the wall? I don't know, but weekend fifteen, sixteen, whatever this weekend is, I am digging in deep, back to my old self, forward to a new self,

settling somewhere in the present, 

a present where I don’t imagine painting the closet, but do it. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

You Made a Difference

is a thing we do for each other at the library where I work. 

What happens is you notice a coworker going above and beyond, maybe they're being extra helpful with a patron, or maybe they've stepped in to assist you, and you want to give them a little shout-out, a mention, a virtual pat on the back. At the library we have a special online form called YMD, and we fill it out and send it to the person who YMD-ed.  

It feels good to give them out. It feels good to receive them. For a long time, I thought that was all there was to it. But then I sent one to a coworker, and later she thanked me, and said she'd won a few hours of paid time off. Apparently, all of the YMDs for a particular quarter get thrown together and one name is picked out to receive this bonus reward. 

We need to do more of this, I said to my coworkers last week. Not on the off chance that we might win the bonus time-off hours, (Although this is GREAT!) but because it's an all-around nice way to treat each other, to recognize what are coworkers are doing, and to show our appreciation.

I feel so strongly about this that I volunteered to sit on the library's appreciation committee. This is a big deal for me because I have an aversion to committees. 

This goes back to 

(1) my first teaching job fresh out of college, and I was so amazingly young and naive about the ways of the adult working world, and we'd be sitting in these all staff meetings and someone would bring up a problem, and the principal would say, "Why don't you discuss that in the committee?" And I would think, hmm, what is the committee? 

Until one day, I brought up a problem and was directed to the committee, and whispered to the people at my table "What is this committee?" and they all laughed and whispered back, "Oh, Jody, you silly girl, there IS no committee." 


(2) when my kids were in elementary school and I was such a gung-ho volunteer that I sat on EVERY committee and I got so ridiculously enmeshed and burned out that when my husband found out his job was being transferred out of state, one of my first thoughts was YES! I CAN QUIT ALL OF THESE COMMITTEES. 

But anyway, I like this Library Staff Appreciation Committee, so far, (we've only had one meeting) but already, we had fun brainstorming cool things we can do to show the staff appreciation. First order of business: Oreos for National Oreo Day, which is March 6, in case you didn't know. (I didn't) 

Also, I don't really care for Oreos. But I do appreciate the gesture to show us appreciation. 

I was thinking about all of this on my drive home after the committee meeting and still feeling the after-glow from a YMD one of my coworkers had given me that day (for helping with the Baby Storytime the week before), and so I was late to start my afternoon writing work, but trying to gear myself up. 

Something about my writing work: the YMDs have to come from within. I truly believe this and have always been okay with it, but then I opened up my email and was surprised to see a YMD of sorts, a message from my Substack account with a note from a reader, 

along with some information about a pledge-payment feature the account offers and how to handle subscriptions if you choose to activate this feature. Until that moment, I hadn't even known that payment was an option, but I was still stuck on the message, the kind words from an old friend (coincidentally, a million years ago we sat on several committees together). How lovely and out of the blue to hear from her, and to know that she reads my words and likes them. 

And I hope she won't mind if I give her a little shout out now:

Dear Cindy, 

You made a difference.