Ambrosia for the Soul

Have you ever been away from something for a very long time, that you knew you enjoyed, but it wasn’t a necessity? It’s like an ambrosia, that brings a quality of better to everything else in that moment.

Obviously, people need money to live, to pay for housing and to buy groceries. So not money. Not shelter. But it’s something that does something for you.

For me, a few things fall under this category, but one of the big ones is thunder. I absolutely love thunder. I love everything about it. I love the downpours that can come with it, or the sharp tang of ozone in the air when lightning bounces around between clouds and causes the clap of sound and the feel on my skin and the way my hair rises faintly on the back of my arms.

I love the way it sounds like the world talking to me, airing its grievances or just murmuring like a grumpy old bear about its day. Silly old fish escaping down the stream that way.

I grew up, for the majority of my life, in northeast of Texas, and so I lived with thunder. It’s like a favorite aunt or beloved great dane puppy. I associate it with petrichor of rain on pavement, driving rain that cleans the air of humidity and pollen and brings a crispness and sharp momentary ability to take in a deep less-soggy (somewhat paradoxically) breath of air. I didn’t realize, not entirely, exactly how soul enriching thunder is for me, until I moved to terrain where it becomes less likely.

First I moved back to California. When I was very tiny, only a toddler, I’d lived in southern California with my parents. Technically, slightly north and even further west of where I moved as an adult. Anyone who tells you it’s always sunny in California has never lived in eastern San Diego county, where the weather is indeed sunny… or a drizzly, misty, foggy grey like a television that won’t quite tune into the channel. It never quite rained, and yet it was never completely gorgeous for very long. And it rarely allowed for thunderstorms, being where we were in the foothill and valley range.

Then, I moved to Oregon. Currently, I’m in the western area known as the Willamette Valley. It’s wonderful, in that it’s actually got four full seasons, and if you don’t like the weather, wait a little bit and it will change. You still might not love it, but it will be different. I can hit the coast or the mountains in less than a day’s travel, enjoy several hours of walking or just seeing sights, and then get home. It’s pretty phenomenal, and I don’t see myself moving. But…

We hardly every get thunder. Storm season isn’t the same here. There can be horrible winds in February, there might even be freakish snow in April, but we don’t have spring thunderstorm seasons. That means that when we DO get thunder, it feels like being touched by something truly spectacular. My heart fills with joy and tries to expand in a bubble of laughter and childish crowing of delight. I want to walk out in it and soak up the rain and wind. It’s often not there, but it’s my very first impulse every time.

It’s like seeing a rainbow after having been blind for months. And every time I try to suck it all in and truly be thankful for it and savor each tiny rumbling echo so that it will last me, until the next. Something small and unnecessary, but that I can enjoy and remember to get me through the day.

What makes a home your own?

Earlier this week I was thinking about how lucky I am to be able to work from home. And more, how much our house is home to me.

All of the rooms have some kind of art. Some of it is art we’ve purchased together. Some of it is art we’ve purchased separately. Some of it is art or photographs we’ve inherited from our parents – neither of us has a living parent.

All of the rooms are what I’d call cozy. Some are perhaps a bit more themed than others – the guest bath and bedroom are similar in coloring if not explicitly in art. Our front office is almost as much a library (that it spills heavily into the guest bedroom). The living and dining room windows — which are in the same visual space due to a great room concept and fewer walls — both have branches in the curtains. Our master bedroom is perhaps the most eclectic room.

But sometimes, our house sometimes feels like my parents’ house; the home I grew up in. I’m not sure if that’s due to the inherited art, or the casual style of cozy throws and afghans within easy reach for napping (or guests that find the space cooler than I do).  I sometimes wish my sisters from out of state who haven’t been able to visit could see the space and tell me if they have the same feel. I’m not sure if the sister who lives closest would just shrug or not. She’s seen it since the beginning, and I suspect that to her, it’s just our house.

It’s not that my husband’s influence isn’t present; there are more pictures up of him than me, sports related items, things he has specifically selected, plus leather and metal influences as well. It’s definitely reflective of me and him together, but sometimes, it feels informed more by my family’s side perhaps than his. On the other hand, I never got to see the house he grew up in, because his dad had passed many years before I met him, and his mom had moved into a cozy apartment in an independent living complex. 

Regardless of wishing my mom and dad could see it, and maybe hoping they’d feel at home here (because it feels like them), I’m still lucky to be able to live here, and to have my wonderful husband to help me create it and adjust it to our preferences as we live here. 

An exploratory pocket

It didn’t seem like a mystical arch, at least, not at first. She’d just been walking through the mansion and there was an arch. Sure, it had a few extra scratches on it, and sure the mansion technically belonged to a wizard who had been running an auction of magical artifacts; but it didn’t necessarily follow all the arches were necessarily mystical, now did it?

Caerys sighed, glancing back over her shoulder.

Nope. Arch was still decidedly not present in this reality. Might as well deal with the room she was in then. She took a deep breath, and looked around the space.

The walls were covered with chalk and paint and ink. Some of it was overlaid over the top of each other. Honestly, the paint looked oldest, with the chalk being the most recent. She resisted the urge to trace some of the lines with her fingers, but it was a near miss for a few of them. Frozen, she realized she had been holding her breath and exhaled carefully then stepped over the nearly invisible wire that connected a weird outcropped corner to the opposite wall.

At least the room was lit. Hm. That was a good point, how exactly was that? Ah. There they are. Just below the ceiling were extremely shallow windows, perhaps half a hand in height but a good arm length’s wide. That meant she couldn’t escape though them, but air and light seemed to come in just fine. Theoretically, so could bugs, small animals, and weather; but it currently was relatively comfortable, so no use borrowing more trouble.

After a moment, she realized she had made her way all the way back around to the strange outcropped corner, and hadn’t found the arch again.

“Shattered glass.” She cursed, frustrated. “It’s a damn thief trap, is what it is.” She looked up at the ceiling, to see if there were clues above her, but saw only wooden beams supporting wide boards. The floor was equally boring, although muted with the silk tapestry rugs. Thank goodness for their deep rich colors, or those trip wires would never have flickered silver against them.

Hmmm. The burgundy rug with the gold and aubergine details was laying oddly against the gold rug with wine and violet details. She crouched down, and slipped a dagger out of her boot. Carefully, she used the blade to lift the top rug and fold it back. There, underneath, she saw a brass ring set mostly down into a square recessed plate. The fringe of the rug had caught under the ring and left it slightly lifted for her discovery.

Caerys pulled several lead weights out of one of the bags on her belt and used them to hold the top rug down properly.

She stood up and started to read the drawings, working in reverse this time.

The old paint markings told of experiments with sand, water, and … glass? That seemed wrong. She didn’t think she was translating that word correctly. It looked like gnomish but with a weird declination on the last syllable. The ink marks were notes. The addition of lightning or static was required to shift the sand to water to … solid? Maybe it was glass. She’d heard glass blowers used sand to make their wares, but this seemed specifically related to the sand on the nearby coast, and the waters of the sea therein. Something to do with the salt.

The chalk was more raw. It was mostly illegible. She wasn’t even sure what language it was in. The occasional bit of common sprinkled in suggested a philosophical study. And a test… or at least, a list of requirements was shown including a specifically named flask as well as several other items.

She kept reading, and almost brushed the wire again. That one area of the walls was so overlaid it was hard to read. But she finally found a drawing of the self-same archway she entered! To the left, a small schematic showed a bubble in a box that was resting on a … plate? switch? Perhaps this was her way out! She stopped herself short of spinning around to pull the brass ring, and forced herself to finish the notes.

A long string of … well, nonsense that reminded her of a bookkeeper’s notes with some letters tossed in for seasoning followed. And the end, she saw “= aperire” and a side note about a safety mechanism.

She studied the schematic of the archway. Since she had time, and was hopeful she’d get out, she wanted to know if those scratches had said anything. Actually, they said quite a lot.

“Within resides a resilient being, being able to withstand many stressors should they remember their limits. Weapons and lights live within their molten flesh, which is not flesh at all. For they have eaten their name, and acquired a tongue with which to speak and a mind with which to learn. They think, and thus, they are. No longer chattel but free.”

Hm. She was in something, or someone’s, room. Well, perhaps she’d better leave then.

Carefully, she crouched down and lifted the brass ring. As described, a perfect lead crystal globe seem to glow dimly, absorbing what little light crept into the room. Below it, a brass plate, that most certainly was a pressure plate. Caerys slipped on her black silk gloves then carefully lifted the globe. Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw the archway shimmer into existence.

Out of character, she was loathe to steal the globe. She frowned, and then saw the curved prongs offset to the side. The slot in the wall suggested they were on a hinge. She rested the globe on the prongs, trusting it to lower itself back in a moment.

Quickly, she retrieved her weights and let the rug start to press the panel back as she escaped the spartan room. She wasn’t leaving with a prize, exactly. Only knowledge formerly missing. Perhaps it would fill a gap later. For now, she ought to get back to the others and see what they were all up to.

Brief Pandemic Thoughts

I think the thing I’ve had the hardest time adjusting to, currently, is not being able to see people’s faces.

It’s not that I don’t miss people, but … I always miss those people. I do not live next door to my dear friends. My closest sister lives an hour away. I always miss them. When this first started, I did happen to see that sister, and it brought me close to crying to not be able to hang out or hug her goodbye after visiting from a safe distance. But here’s the thing – I don’t want her sick. And I have a history since small childhood of carrying everything from a cold to chicken pox without symptoms. I do NOT want to infect anyone.

Also, I tend to claim to be an ambivert: I need alone time to recharge. I can socialize, and I love being with MY people, but I also need quiet time after to recover and rebuild all that energy I spent. I had no idea how much being able to read random people’s faces while out grocery shopping or walking through my own neighborhood  stabilized the nervousness I feel around strangers. I thought I handled meeting new people fairly well! I was apparently wrong. I was close to running out of the grocery store the very first weekend that more than half of the shoppers were actually wearing masks. I felt like I was going to hyperventilate by the time we got to the car. I still wanted to cry by the time I was home.

So for me, that’s been the hardest thing for me. The dissonance between “yes, people are being smart! They’re wearing masks! I don’t feel as crazy; wanting to wear a mask to protect others even though I feel well! It’s normalizing!” and “I have no idea where that person is really looking, or what they want, or what mood they’re in, or if they’re speaking under their breath.” which is a scary anxiety spiral of non-logic. It’s slowly getting better, so I know I’ll learn, but… it’s been a learning experience solely because it’s been so unexpected.

On the other hand, I absolutely love the moments I’m able to be working from home. I love being able to love on my cats for a few seconds in between reconciling reports or digging to find out why a number isn’t matching. I love being able to see my husband more. I love getting to have lunch with him a little bit extra during the week.

It’s not that everything is perfect or we don’t argue. Of course we have short tempered moments. But here’s the thing: he still feels like home. I still want to hug him, or be hugged by him. I still want to climb in bed to sleep beside him every night.

And for that, even in all this crazy, I’m thankful. I know how lucky I am to have that. Especially now, when so much is so terrifying for so very many people. So many people don’t have that safe place to be; in a building much less a person.

Being an ambi-vert in the time of Social Distancing

Mostly, I tend to like to claim I’m an ambi-vert, weighted slightly more to the introvert end of the spectrum.

In practice what this means is, while I miss my friends and wish I could see them more often, the fact that some of my dearest, closest, know-the-secrets-of-my-heart friends live between 300 and thousands of miles away isn’t as upsetting as it might be for an extrovert who needs those people in amongst all the others they interact with daily.

I’ve been working from home for 2 weeks now, and I’ve been trying to be good about making only essential trips out (although as a volunteer for a cat rescue, I push the envelope of what Essential is, perhaps a little bit). I’m pretty middle-aged, I’m relatively healthy, and I’m definitely careful of my friends and family who are at risk (of which I have several). In general, those two weeks haven’t been too bad, and have had some interestingly neat side effects in our household.1 But, at the same time, I’m noticing things I didn’t think would bother me as much as they do.

I miss hearing the sound of laughter from the front office. I sit far enough back in mine, past a wall and a small generally open sliding window, that I don’t always catch the gist of the conversations, but I love the laughter. I miss glancing up and seeing faces through the window crinkle into laughter, or break from dead-pan serious into teasing grins.

And today was the first time going for our limited grocery runs that I felt down right anxious. I’ve always known I’m someone who watches for and performs micro-expressions. I smile using my eyes almost as often as I bother actually showing teeth or completely engaging my cheeks. I nod to people in passing, or murmur a small excuse me or thank you as second nature. In part, it’s a defense mechanism of being short and making sure that large people know I’m actually there, so I don’t get run over. In part, I feel it’s part of how I grew up, and you’re just… genial with random strangers. Sort of like waving to people in the neighborhood as you pass in the car. Today, at least half of the customers were wearing masks. They were wearing them correctly, which means at least 2/3 of their faces were covered, often more if they were also wearing a hat or scarf due to the slightly cloudy and drizzly weather outside. My chest hurt for not being able to see those faces. For the blank eyes or frightened eyes that slid away from mine or making full eye contact.

It hurts. And it’s an odd thing to miss, I think. A twitch of a smile on a stranger’s lips. An inaudible ‘scuse-me as someone passes you in an aisle being read on the face more than heard. I’m sure they were still there. A few people made eye contact and nodded, and were trying, but … it still hurt to just be out in that, even for our short trip.

In general, I think of myself as a slightly positive realist. But all of this is wearing on the psyche, and I hope we can all do our parts to stay in and keep infections to a minimum. I hope our emergency care people can survive this and keep taking care of us. Because I hope it’s over sooner rather than later.

1. Our cats seem so much happier, and more gregarious with me home all day, every day. We’ve fallen into a routine very easily, where I suspect I’ve more or less slid into what they do daily, but now if they want me they can come say hello and get some attention before going back to whatever it is they wish to do. It’s one of my very bright lights in all of this.

Grief at the Holidays

I have a complicated relationship with grief (but not, as far as I can tell, complicated grief.

The complicated part usually rears its head around this time of year. It’s my favorite time of year – roughly Halloween through the week past New Years. It’s a time to wear silly outfits; eat serious sweets and comfort food; celebrate family; smell good smells; watch nostalgic films; listen to nostalgic music; be inside with warm crackling fires and blankets, while outside the colors shift more monochromatic, and the temperatures drop to be joined by damp and sometimes fluffy white stuff. It’s also the time of year my emotions get really hard to regulate and I can become crabby, verbally vicious, weepy, and isolate myself.

I’m in an awesome loving relationship, now, with my new husband (new of 5 years…), but September is when I separated from my first husband, lost my youngest aunt on my mom’s side to a rare cancer, and found out my dad was going to stop actively fighting lung cancer to try to focus on quality of the remaining bits of his life. October is when we determined dad’s cancer was just going to get worse, and I lost my longest term cat I’ve ever had as an adult. I still refer to Domino as my baby and stumble when referring to any of the current cats as baby boy, because that’s Domino’s reference name. November is when dad got extremely worse and entered hospice and we lost my current husband’s mom. It’s also when mom started doing drastically worse and entered her hospice, 4 years after we lost dad. December is both my dad’s birthday and on that same day, the day he died. Christmas night is when my mom died. She almost made it to the 26th. In fact, she did – for Central Time Zone. Just not quite for Pacific.

This year, I’m heartbroken for my new boss, who is experiencing this in the loss of a parent over Thanksgiving weekend. I don’t know them well enough to wrap them up in a hug, but boy that’s the impulse.

Also this year, Apple has a new iPad Pro television spot that, no matter how many times I see it, manages to choke me up to some degree.

There are so many things I wish my parents could react to. That I could be sure they know. That I could be sure they were so very excited for.

There are an equal number of things I’m so very thankful they don’t have to experience.

Mostly though, I miss them. I celebrate them in moments of rain, music, food, rainbows, beautiful sunsets, Christmas lights, and various other daily things … but it will never be quite enough. And that’s honestly okay.

Pack Rat (e-Style) from a Family of Pack Rats

One of my sisters and I were talking the other day about Facebook. She doesn’t have a profile, but I do. It’s not that she avoids all social media. She just avoids Facebook, mostly, but also a few things it has acquired over the years. I was sharing how one of our aunts had decided to resurrect her barely used account and got caught in a security verification loop and couldn’t escape it. The solution was sort of to give up, and create a new account. Her original account had so few connections and no actual content, so in her case it made the most sense!

As conversations often do, we looped around to other things. She asked about some old friends who had been close once. In fact, they were my core friend group from when I was in kindergarten until at least junior year, and somewhat even through graduation of high school. We don’t really keep in touch now, but I’m either friends with friends of theirs on Facebook, or in one case, friends with the joint spouse account that is my former best friend’s account with her spouse. And I admitted that it’s hard to think about downloading everything thing, attempting a delete (we know that it won’t actually be deleted, although parts will be made unavailable and break links), and sign out of Facebook completely.

And I realized, it all comes down to what if.

Which is how a pack rat works. These screws and nuts and bolts and nails are still good! I might use them someday! I’ll just store them in these old coffee tins and label them and put them on a shelf in the garage. These computer peripheral cables are still good! They’re pliable and I might need them someday! I’ll wrap them neatly, and put them in a storage bin and put them in the closet and they’ll be there, when I want them! No, I don’t bake muffins that often, but if I could make 24 at once, it’s so much easier, and 36 is only one more pan. So I’ll just stack these three pans neatly and even if I hardly ever make muffins I can! Because I could afford these when I bought them! It’s only storage space and I have that, so why get rid of them?

In the years I’ve been on the internet, “space” has become less dear than it was. Phone books either barely exist or don’t exist on a personal level the way they did. Facebook is essentially my “phone book” with a privacy filter for my old acquaintances and extended relatives who never bothered giving me access to their physical address and phone numbers, but similarly want a window into what I release into the public of the internet to share. If I’m going to be in the general area they’re in, and I want to say “Hey! I’ll be in the area between X and Y dates, please message me and we can arrange a coffee date, or a swing by your house, or on old stomping grounds!” and it’s casual and low pressure.

Keeping Facebook and other old, defunct journaling services and even some of the old files, in old folders on my laptop, are easy and yet very much, the same pack rat style tendencies that my parents and their depression era parents had for small reusable items that were easy to store.

Tell me

Tell me something true
Tell me something high
Tell me something full of light
even if it’s just a lie

Tell me something true
Tell me something fine
Tell me something to make me dance
even some corny old line

Tell me something true
Tell me something dark
Tell me something to steal my breath
even though it leaves a mark

Tell me something true
Tell me something real
Tell me something deep inside
if only to make me feel.

Compliments

It's nice to be told you're beautiful or hot or whatever, but I'd love to hear someone say that I make things easier, that they're happy I exist, they don't know what to do without me, I'm strong, that they hope we never lose each other, that they're proud of me, that I have something to offer. Compliments don't always have to be about appearance. Kirlbyshaylll

This is not entirely wrong. It’s very nice to be told you’re strong and have something to offer. It’s great to hear that someone loves that you exist and they’re proud of you.

However, being told you make things easier, they don’t know what they’d do without you, they hope you never lose each other… can be a lot of weight to put on someone. Depending on context, and at the absolutely worst end of the spectrum, it can be abusive and alienating. A method of separating you from other friends.

At the very least, those compliments are about things that make no sense to someone who has a responsible/nurturing streak and ALSO has a low self-esteem. Of course you try to make things easier for someone if you’re a nurturing type.

But you don’t want to make things so much easier that they don’t know how to go on without you. As a woman especially, it’s something I was told: be sure you know how to do something for a job. It’s one of the reasons I went to college. So that, if something happened to my husband, I could support myself and go on. Too many women of my mom’s age group and more especially her mother’s age group, went and got married and had children, and were extremely good homemakers, but had a very hard time translating that into a well-paying job later. Yes, they could clean someone’s home; but those jobs paid a pittance. As a result: it’s not a compliment to tell someone they’ve removed your agency.

Yes, we want to be more than a pretty face. And yes, it’s nice to be told you’re needed. But compliments are above more than all of these things.

Three affirmations

This was a Camp NaNo prompt, for warming up for this month’s project.

Obviously, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like. I recognize that I hardly ever do. It’s one of the things that has me considering the fact that, perhaps, just perhaps, I’m Not a Writer.

Yes, that’s overly dramatic.

My main problem is, and always has been that I have a lack of discipline when it comes to writing. If it isn’t immediately interesting, if it requires work, if for whatever reason I get distracted; I won’t work on it. If I absolutely must have it done, well, then I’ll probably get it done in time.

Fear of sounding horrible.

Not finishing.

This was queued up from 2017, around camp time, and I didn’t do a very good job of affirming.

Leaving the above so I can see my brain fighting and trying again, but twisting it:

I like processing thoughts through words on a typewriter. Sometimes with a pencil or pen, but more often with a typewriter as it’s easier to fix malapropisms that exit my fingers and I catch later (or as I’m writing – ‘exit’ was almost ‘exist’). That means I’m a writer. I write, therefore I’m a writer. Adding on descriptors like “good” or “professional” are meaningless for the moment.

Sometimes being overly dramatic has a point. To shock the reader into stopping and thinking, or arguing and processing their opinion via that argument. Sometimes it’s simply a good way to purge the emotion from the writer’s brain – as in journaling.

I definitely have a lack of discipline problem. I need to start scheduling time. And when I fail at that, I need to restart. That’s just all there is to that. Just because I fail, doesn’t mean I’m not eventually succeeding. There’s the affirmative twist to the previous negative.

I will probably sound horrible. It will suck. I will hate knowing I sounded horrible. But there are times people like what I write. Yes, they’re friends, and maybe they’re “supposed” to like things I write because they like me; but most of them are also fairly discerning readers and I should probably quit deflecting and being bashful and unsure and just listen to them. Sometimes, I won’t sound horrible. Sometimes I will sound good.

And so, I’m going to consider this post finished. Even if it’s under 500 words. Because there are now three, almost four affirmations from the original negative “failure”.