Playing Pinball at Fifty

Today is my fiftieth birthday, and a time of reflection. Not that all of my days aren’t reflective but this is a big one. It’s a time to assess my life, measure it against where I wanted to be. I’m happy to say this is exactly where I want to be, in a calm, peaceful life with loving people around me. I have a good job, a cozy house, more pets than I should, wonderful friends throughout the country, and the world, and of course Ryan and Ivy, the center of everything.

Ryan and were talking over dinner last night about other paths I could have taken in my earlier life. This will sound metaphysical or religious, but I don’t think it matters at the end of the day which path I chose, because I was always going to end up here. Despite being irritatingly logical at times, I believe in destiny, in fulfilling what we’re supposed to when we’re here.

My mother taught to always look at a situation and ask what I learned from it. I remember learning about Jonathan Livingston Seagull when I was very young, pre-kindergarten. It was one of my earliest exposures to literature along with my Golden books and. Dr. Seuss. That book, more than any other, imprinted in me a guide to follow. For all the other belief systems I’ve had over this life that one stuck. Even if there is no reincarnation, or Heaven, even if this is it, we need to learn from everything we do and correct ourselves accordingly, so by the end of our lives we are that shining white seagull. gull

If I had a bad experience with someone, a break up for instance, Mom would say, “Well it was meant to be.” Most people say that because it helps them to find purpose in bad times, but it went further. She may say, “You needed to be in that relationship to teach you about resilience” or alcoholism, or tolerance, or patience. What I learned as an adult was that each experience wasn’t about what it taught ME. I look at some relationships or friendships and for the life of me don’t see any purpose. I could delete those months or years from my life and nothing would be different, for me. But maybe crossing my path changed their life in a fashion.

pinballLife is like a big pinball machine with Someone Up There banging the edges and harshly, sometimes with anger, pushing the bumpers when we get off course, redirecting our paths. We’re all going to die someday, end up with that third ball going down the hole, but the plan is to play as long as we can, and score as many points as we can. Not money points, or big houses, or expensive cars, but soul points.

I couldn’t tell you how many times my life has abruptly BAM, been thrust into a new path, only to get bounced around, and around, and around, and then feel like it was a failure. And then starting again and bouncing around more. There were times when I was utterly exhausted from the constant movement and change. I kept mental notes of it all, stopping at each turn to wonder, what did I learn?

Of course there are times too when you hit the mini jackpot and the lights go off, and the bells and whistles and you feel victorious. But you keep moving and changing paths and zinging around because that’s what life is. Some people avoid the life changes, zoom out of the birth canal, lead a mundane existence, and go down the death hole, not winning many points at all. But for every point we rack up, for every time we’ve been bounced onto another path, and another, and rung some bells along the way, we’re growing, evolving.

peaceThings are peaceful now in my life, which tells me I’m where I need to be. No one Upstairs is banging the giant pinball machine in the sky to move me toward something else (nothing material at least). My ball is still in play, and I’m ringing bells as I go. A couple of weeks ago I decided to learn Mountain Dulcimer. It’s not a big thing, but there are new lessons there, and who knows what will spring from it? I meet new people all the time, in stores, at events. Some may lead to new friendships, others just plant a seed in me or them, mini moments of enlightenment, but it is all easy and flowing with bursts of joy and contentment, the ringing of a bell, flutter of a neon light.

Maybe where I am in life, in California, isn’t about where I needed to be for me, but for Ivy. She is where she needs to be right now, for her purpose, to learn and to help others. She would not be where she is, also experiencing a period of peace and calm, if not for all the path changes over our lives.

We can veer off course all we want, but we’ll always come back to where we’re supposed to be. Things line up where they should, no matter what choices we make. Some people seem destined for hardship and pain. Do they choose it? Do they make their beds, do they draw in negative energy and cause all the bad luck? Or is just the path they are on this time around to learn, their Job existence if you will.

My greatest fear for the last twenty-two years since Ivy was born, is that I will die and Ivy won’t be able to cope without me and she will fall apart and I won’t be there for her. A few weeks ago we had one of our frequent deep talks. She said she likes me in this “Mom role” but realizes that even if, God forbid, something happened to me and I died, she would understand that I did all I needed to here and had to go help someone else. She’d be crushed of course, but she’d understand. This is about the deepest thing she has ever said, and she is a deep, intuitive person. I’m not sick, I’m not dying, I’m clearly not depressed, (knock on wood for all those things) but on this fiftieth birthday, I feel more content than at any other time. I don’t have a life filled with regrets, or dashed hopes, or unfinished business.

I have made me peace. Everything isn’t a hundred percent perfect but acceptance is a powerful and empowering tool. I won’t say Let Go and Let God because I’m really not religious and I think we have to do all the life work while we’re here. I hope I live another fifty years and continue to make meaningful connections, and change lives, and that Ivy changes lives for the better. I hope that her road is less rocky than mine was because I got her where she needs to be. Between us we’ve got a lot of soul points racked up, and believe me, we earned them.

Here’s to another fifty years of playing pinball

-Carly G.

Train Friends

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Back when I lived in Massachusetts and worked full-time in Boston, long before the concept of telecommuting was an option, I spent hours each day with my train friends. For many years before that, I lived in towns without a train and had bus friends. You spend eight hours a day in the office and have what they term your work husband or wife, or work friends, but no one talks much about the train friends. For most of my work career, I spent about three hours a day on a train or bus, longer with Cape (Cod) traffic in the summer, or snow in winter, or train engine or track issues. Even if I use the lower end of three hours a day that’s sixty hours a month, side by side with the same people in an enclosed space.

There are some train friends I still talk to either on Facebook or email, or visit when I’m home, but others…I wonder whatever happened to them. This concept may be foreign to Californians who almost exclusively drive to work, alone, listening to podcasts or audiobooks. With the advent of telecommuting, this next generation will have a very different life/career experience than I did.

The routine of waiting for the train, and chatting with people who would all sit in the same seats every day, of updating each other with stories of our children or spouses or our work drama, was the cornerstone of my life for so many years. I have one friend, Joanne, who I met on the train when Ivy was very little. Her daughters were younger and they all attended daycare together. Ivy must have been about six as that was her age when we moved to Bradfield. Twelve years of sitting together except for vacations or meetings that pushed us to later trains. Over that time, there was so much we went through. Joanne and I were isolated in our two-seater or sometimes in a three-seater with a third rider. We saw each other’s children grow from tiny to adulthood. We saw each other through illnesses in ourselves, our children, the passing of her in-laws, her husband’s side career as a Jazz Clarinetist, moving houses…the time her nephew was on Biggest Loser, several cars, my marriage and divorce to Husband # 2, and the subsequent rebounds until I met my Ryan and moved away.

For a time there was a young woman with a toddler daughter who rode the train with us. She reminded me of when Ivy was the same age and I took her on the train to work/daycare from my previous town. We’d watch as this woman chatted happily with the conductor. He’d  carry the little girl with him sometimes and let her “help” collect tickets. We were all very surprised to hear one day that they were not a couple but just friends, and she would be moving to California to marry her military fiancé. It was sad seeing her go and the conductor seemed hard hit but we heard later he visited her and her husband and daughter in California.

There was another woman at my stop who reunited with her high school boyfriend when they were in their late fifties, both divorced. It was an adventure hearing about their long distance relationship and hoping along with her that it would work out. It did. I was there when she got the call her mother passed away and she was crying and trying to hold it together. She retired at one point and I lost touch with her but having that years’ long vignette, it was something.

In the early years, when I lived on the other side of Boston and took the southbound train each day I used to sit with a really nice heavy metal guitarist named Randy. He worked for an insurance company by day. He later moved up to New Hampshire and got married so I didn’t see him on the train after that but thankfully I am Facebook friends with him and still get to hear about his adventures. He got a mention as a fictional extra in one of my novels.cropped-band-large-soe-2017.png

When I first started on the workforce in the late 1980s, I used to take a bus and sit with a man named Fran.  He played hockey at night and one time came in and had knocked out a tooth. He came to my first wedding to Arnie G. Over time, he met a divorcee with children and moved away and we lost touch but I really enjoyed talking to him. He was my first commuting buddy.

During my second (albeit brief) marriage, I met Steve, a long-haired architect who had been with a woman in Italy briefly and worked on a grape orchard but now was a landscape architect for a firm in Boston. He boarded at another stop and I saw him all the time for a short time then only sporadically. When Joanne was selling her condo, I sent him to check it out as he was looking for a place and I thought it would be fun to have him in my town. He really brightened a dark time for me, as that second marriage held more downs than ups. He was working to get his Master’s degree and loved his job. It seemed months went by and he wasn’t on my train, then one day he appeared again. I had news I said, I was leaving Husband # 2 and was so happy. He had news too. He found out his ex-girlfriend was carrying his baby and planned to raise it with her current boyfriend. The bigger news was that he had been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. I was crushed about all of it. He was, at that time, about the coolest person I knew. He was worldly but down to earth, and intelligent and witty. He had so much going for him.

He blurted it all out, his new life plan. He was forgoing the Master’s, quitting his job, taking all his retirement money and living as much as he could before his body betrayed him. He was on the fence about getting to know his son. Would it be cruel to let the baby become attached to him only for him to die? Was it worse to not know him at all? Big questions for a train friend whose sessions were just a bit longer than a therapist’s.

He’d researched the disease thoroughly and was most upset that your body failed you long before your mind did and people were just shoved into nursing homes. One thing he wanted to do, he said, in the few conversations we had before he stopped riding the train, was to make homes specifically for ALS patients. Even then he’d hatched the beginning of a plan. He’d get donors and funding and he’d make a difference before he “had to go.”

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And he did. All those things. We were MySpace friends then, this was pre-Facebook, so I watched his journey. First it was skydiving, then scuba diving in foreign seas. Much later I saw a picture of him holding his toddler son and I smiled that he chose to know the boy as long as he could. Then I started getting emails about fundraisers and eventually about the construction of the treatment center and nursing home for the ALS patients. His first home opened in 2010, the Steve Saling ALS Residence, the first long-term care facility for people with this disease. I was happy to read an article about him (as I was writing this blog) to see he designed a tool for patients to control devices wirelessly. He made the grounds of the facility beautiful and the grass wheelchair-resistant. He found ways to allow the residents to go outside and “live,” not just exist for years in bed, forgotten and sad. The article from 2017 said he went to his son’s school for a presentation. His son was ten years old then. So much time has passed since I knew him and despite his challenges, he has indeed made a difference. He’s still making a difference as new facilities inspired by him are sprouting up.

There were dozens of people I got to know on my morning and evening commutes. Living where I do now, and telecommuting almost 100%, meaning I’m home with the dogs and the cat and four walls, there is a palpable absence. My day used to consist of taking the train to work, then sitting in a cube for eight hours next to people who did the same thing. I’d start the day with train friends, then have different conversations with the work friends. On the way home I might have a different pack of pals depending on the timing and which train I was on. There was so much routine and guaranteed socialization that I didn’t have to seek out. Maybe that’s why I spend so much time on social media now, to fill the gap. I am blessed to have some good friends here but I don’t see them for hours every day. I don’t have the luxury of having them help me process even the most mundane of situations. I sit quietly at home and I work. I see Ryan and sometimes friends, and all the processing of mundane situations happens almost exclusively in my mind.

I don’t miss the expense of the train, or the time lost that I could be home. But sometimes there’s SO much home time. Writing this makes me think I should go in the office more, make some connections again. The trend of giving people a better life/work balance is wonderful, and I enjoy the option I’m given to stay home, but there is a part of me that misses the long group commutes and my train friends. Even the ones who weren’t my close friends but fixtures in my day, the ones I made small talk with, and who I wonder about.

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There were the bad rides, when the AC or heat was broken, or the time we ran over the man who jumped in front of the train. But on the flip side, there was an incredible sense of safety when I hastily boarded my train home on 9/11, and the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, and to a lesser extent during countless snowstorms or hurricanes. I was always grateful to step on board to see my friends and head home.

There’s no lesson to be learned here, just a glimpse into my Carly past, and a shout out to the MBTA.

Thanks for the memories.

-Carly G.

 

 

Lessons from our Temporary Mabel

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YA little over a month ago, I was walking Scruffy by my house and I ran into a woman holding an old, funny looking dog on a leash. “Do you recognize this dog?” she asked.  I said no.  After a few minutes of talking I discovered that she had found the dog running back and forth in the street, looking lost.

Since I work with a local rescue that almost always reunites lost pets with their owners within hours, and since we were in front of my house, I said, “I’ll take the old girl. I can hold onto her until we locate her parents.” We nicknamed her Temporary Mabel as we didn’t think she’d be here long.

That was about thirty-eight days ago. The last thing we wanted was another dog, but she grew on us. She’s got a pointed tri-color Corgi head, short constantly-shedding hair, a few bald spots, no tail, and short pencil legs. She’s anxious, at least nine years old based on her chip, and emits a high-pitched yowl when anyone leaves or comes into the room, which in a warm way reminds me of my childhood dysfunctional beagle.

She was not content with our fenced in yard, and demanded brisk, long walks. The first couple of times I took her out she pulled on her leash until she coughed. We bought harnesses for all the dogs, suddenly questioning why we subjected them to collars all these years.

Mabel and Scruffy on the hillBefore we got Scruffy, it never occurred to us to get a dog door or visit our town’s lovely dog park. Scruffy’ s needs taught us new things I wish we’d known when it was just Lily.

IMG_2373And Lily? Until I got her with her sensitive tummy and skin allergies, my pets always ate basic food, dry and cheap. But for her I had to upgrade to grain-free, limited-ingredient kibble. Then Henry the cat began eating the expensive dog food so I upgraded the kitty food too.

Comparatively, people who have a bunch of human kids get the opportunity to improve their parenting skills with each new child. But you don’t get a start fresh with parenting when you have just one.

I thought of this the whole thirty day waiting period that Temporary Mabel was gradually transforming into Permanent Mabel. I love Ivy and she’s the best daughter anyone could ever want or have; but I feel guilty that I made so many mistakes while raising her, and that as an only child she didn’t get the benefit of lessons learned from mistakes I could have made on earlier siblings.

get-attachment.aspxI don’t think I was ever a bad parent mind you, but I would have done things differently if I could have been sure it wouldn’t change the outcome. I love my life now and Ivy loves hers so maybe everything that happened was predestined. But you gain experience when adding children. If you have a bunch, by the time the fourth or fifth kid comes along you are flawless. And that lucky child gets the most learned, best version of you. Disclaimer: that view could be my fantasy imaginings as the mother of an only child, the grass is always greener and all that.

You foolishly believe when you’re pregnant that after the baby is born the time will go slowly, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to figure it all out. But it doesn’t work like that. You pop the baby out, and next thing she’s in her early twenties and you’re scratching your head wondering how the heck this much time went by. You berate yourself for expecting her childhood to last forever, that each stage would go on indefinitely with ample time to research and do everything just right. a4

Maybe that’s why I can’t resist being a mother to this abundance of animals. With each new pet I raise I get “parenting” a little closer to perfect.

I hope that Ivy learned from some of my missteps and that her children get the very best version of her. If not, she will learn as she goes.

If nothing else, we hold fast to the belief that we did a way better job of raising children than our parents did, and that they were more adept than their mother and father and so on. If that were true though, our ancestors would have been absolutely clueless, and it’s only our current child-rearing experience that achieved perfection.

Clearly that’s not the case. Each parent starts fresh and makes a lot of the same mistakes. Be it from not knowing better, or stubbornness, or immaturity, or through loving too much and not wanting to set boundaries, or from setting too many. For better or worse, we devour and entrust that generation’s Guide to Parenting which conflicts with those of other generations. No matter how astute our parents were, we think we’re wiser… Until our kids are grown and then we reconsider and mull over the decisions we made, the paths we chose. We rethink our own parents’ actions.

Oh, now I understand…is a mantra that is often in my head.

We may not all be human or pet parents, but we are all constant learners, rushing to get it right before the clock runs out. Take a deep breath, savor the moments as they come, and use your life experience to be the best, kindest person you can be.

Childhood is temporary. Life is temporary. But you don’t realize that until it whizzes past you in a blur of fuzzy memories. All we can do is be humble and learn from our mistakes, our successes, our children and parents, and of course from our dogs.

-Carly G.

The Heart Grows Fonder

3I drove Ryan to the airport early Wednesday morning so he could visit his father in Minnesota. We’re together almost all of the time but I rarely mention him in this blog anymore except as “Ryan said this” or “Ryan commented that…” It may seem that the big love affair I captured in the blog over six years ago has lost its magic. It has not.

After spending only two nights alone, it has hit me how close we are. I don’t mention him just as I don’t mention that I have curly hair, or a penchant for being hypersensitive, or that I have big feet. These are all part of what makes me the person I am. It’s not that Ryan formed me into someone else; he’s fostered my Carly-ness from day one. But he is always by my side in a way I hadn’t realized until this week when suddenly he wasn’t.

I glance fondly around the quiet house we share, our old Granville House, named from It’s a Wonderful Life. We called the house this initially because it’s on a street with the same name as the one from the movie—a fact my aunt pointed out before we moved in. Like the derelict Victorian in the film, our home was long empty, beaten down and worn, and in need of someone to bring it back to life. I had a sign made for the outside that proudly proclaims it as Granville House, because we are corny and romantic that way.

After we moved in, a Carly-esque coincidence happened. On looking through some old documents from the original owner, I got a big surprise. The previous owner was a widow who lost her husband and son many years before, and who herself had passed away about four years earlier. The legal document I found listed the widow’s late husband’s first name: Granville. We were shocked by this, as we’d been calling it Granville House the whole time meaning something else entirely. Truly it was Granville’s house. Signs like this cemented the fact that we were on the right life path.

The last couple of days I’ve worked eight hours (from the living room/my home office) then spent long, quiet, lonely evenings missing Ryan. I have my animals as companions. Rebound Dog Lily is almost seven years old now. Hard to believe it was that long ago I crept into a Starbucks to write a blog about dating and how I was never going to do it again. About how I was going to get a rebound dog instead.

7 Lily

My full-blood, nine-hundred dollar Yorkie ended up being a mixed breed (so says her DNA). She weighs fifteen pounds, is deaf, has two leaky heart valves and a murmur. She’s had 19 teeth removed this year and has no enamel on the others so will lose those at some point too. But she’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever had. The absolutes I proclaimed about dog breeds, and my chronic checklists about everything—that’s not me anymore.

1A couple of years ago Ryan and I went to the pet store to get Henry (my now nineteen year old cat) some food. We spotted the pen of rescue dogs in the main aisle and fell in love with Scruffy. Ryan was resistant to adopt at first, until the little ragamuffin looked in his eyes. A ten month old they found in the street, the lady said, saved from a kill shelter. It’s funny how close Lily and Scruffy have become. They’re inseparable in the way Ryan and I are. They may not be glued to each other 24/7 but you can be sure that if one of them goes somewhere without the other (like the vet) there is panic. Like me, Lily was resistant at first to the idea of someone new in her life. She spent two solid weeks running away from Scruffy, avoiding eye contact if I held her up to the new dog, much the same way I avoided even the concept of having a new relationship. Then one day, she realized that Scruffy was the best thing that ever happened to her.

I love my house, filled with the touches that make it a CarlyRyan museum of sorts. Little bits of things collected since we met online. From the jar of rain I sent him from Massachusetts so many years ago, to the old Coke machine we got at the thrift store in our town. Everything in the home speaks of “us.” There was never the conflict of my stuff/your stuff I’ve had in other relationships. Sure, he’s got his book room, and the hall closet that’s a book nook, and I’ve got my Harmony Box collection and some dolls, but the feeling when you enter Granville House is one of peace, contentment, and unity.

Ivy is graduating next week from her community college. She’s a couple of years behind my original plan, but schedules, like lists, have become insignificant to me. Living and enjoying life is what matters. She started her new job this week, working with autistic children and adults. She will work there full time in the summer and hopefully part time in the fall. In August she will start school full time at a California state school to finish those final two years toward her bachelor’s degree.  I have never seen her so happy and relaxed and content with life. I have never seen myself that way, until now. The path we’re on certainly seems to be the right one. It’s where we belong. Neither of us would be here, if not for Ryan.

In the early days of my relationship with Ryan, when we only emailed each other, when we had no idea our casual correspondence would turn into a cross-country, long-distance romance, he sent one message that will always stick with me. I’ve quoted this before but it was early on and bears repeating. “You’ve had a bad run of luck and you are a bit punch drunk. This is going to change for you…”

He was certainly right about that.

5I sit now in the living room, looking out the French doors to the patio, where my plants and flowers thrive. Greens and pinks and yellows and reds blend together like a kaleidoscope. Lily and Scruffy play together endlessly. They are as bonded and as close as two beings can be while still retaining their individual personalities.

29025584_10215200801121470_603387100577923072_nI look wistfully over at the side of the couch where Ryan normally sits. We watch television at night, continually pausing the show to discuss things. He’ll hand me his phone and say “Hey did you see this story about it…” Or I’ll stop the movie to read him a text Ivy just sent. Or we put her on speaker when she calls and we lean into the phone to hear about her day. He generally falls asleep during whatever show we turn on. And he’s up long before me, in his study, doing book layouts. He’s quiet and unobtrusive, but his presence is inexorably linked to mine. He is my best friend, and he is my home.

His absence is tangible right now, but thankfully he will be home in two days, back to me, his dogs, his old cat, his older turtle, and our happy little life in the old Granville House.

Here’s to love-Carly G

On Learning from the Young

1Until I was old enough to attend kindergarten, all my knowledge came from my stay-at-home mother. The way I talked (wicked strong New England accent), the truths: wear clean underwear in case you have a car accident, always use mayonnaise and never Miracle Whip, spicy things will hurt your stomach, grease and flour your cake pans, color in the lines, connect the dots in order, the world is scary, new things are scary . . . My mother’s view was my view of the whole world. mom and daughter

By middle school though, and certainly by high school, I formed my own opinions. And in my teen years I went through a phase where I fought vehemently that all her ideas were wrong and all mine were right. I lacked the perspective of aging and failing at my endeavors, so for that short time I was utterly brilliant.2

When I was a teenager, I did a lot of babysitting. Two of my wards were adorable British children with even more adorable accents. I asked my mother at the time why they had accents if they were born here. She explained to me that they spent almost all their time with their British mother, but once they went to school and were exposed to American children, they would assimilate and lose their charming way of speaking. Years later, my mother ran into the family and confirmed that they were 100% Americanized.

I thought of this recently and how many parts of me changed from when I was a child, once I assimilated to all the people outside my home. The kicker is that a lot of the internal stuff is still there. So many of the major decisions in my life were made by the sheltered child inside, the one who still has the accent, who doesn’t color outside the lines. We may learn to talk differently, to dress differently, but aren’t our strictest convictions and beliefs the ones from our childhood:  fear of dogs, and mean men, and monsters in the closet, of being left? We don’t easily let those things go. 3

My mother knew, and told me, everything about her past and the past of the world she grew up in, from her perspective.  I took her past, and my present and future and ran with it. I relayed to her what I found, what I discovered along the way, things that were different from what she’d understood to be true. I tried to tear away the beliefs she’d had since she was that sheltered child. Similarly, in the last few years, as Ivy has grown into a young woman, I have learned from her. Be it new speech or new food or habits, in many ways, she has become my guide.

We moved to California a few years ago, and she became a vegetarian. Without planning to, so did I. I can talk to her about relationships and friendships and she gives good advice, better than I would have given at that age. I don’t know when she became so sage, but I sense a reversal of the teaching process.abus

As with my mother, I can teach Ivy everything about my past, and the past of the world I grew up in, but I know so little about the present, how things are now outside of my bubble and my experiences.

When I was young, I spent so much time growing and learning about who I wanted to be. As we age, we become formed and solid. That quest to change and develop slows down. It is our children, or any younger people we know, who pull us along to remind us that we are not done growing and changing. Until we are dead, we have life lessons to learn.

Ivy brought up a good point the other day, that she heard somewhere. If someone bangs into you walking on a sidewalk, you determine immediately that the person was not paying attention and is a jerk. But if you then discover that person is blind, you will grasp that your take on the situation was skewed. You will reconsider and feel like a heel.

We have run ins with people all the time, on social media, at work, on the freeway, and we are quick to get angry. But we should apply the same kindness and understanding we felt running into a blind person (blind being a metaphor for someone whose condition is not what we think). Everyone who irks us is not blind, but they may have something going on that we do not understand. Great advice from my teacher, Ivy, and another lesson to add to those that guide me on my path.

Many people resist new ideas, new perspectives. They feel they have earned the right to sit back and cruise for a bit, with the knowledge they accumulated over a lifetime. But knowledge is a relative term based largely on truths drilled into our heads as children, or personal experiences from a set point in time, with a set cast of characters.  We can ruminate over our pasts all we want, and rehash all that happened, but in the end, it’s only new perspective that changes our minds, and then only if we are willing to accept it.

2018-05-01_19-40-44I do not want to be bound to the past, and use only that as a reference for pivotal life decisions or for how I treat people. You can learn a lot from your elders, but you can learn much from your children too.

I may have lost my New England accent (for the most part) but so much of me is still that child inside, watching and listening for perspective, growing and developing into who I am going to be.

In the words of Ivy,

sbcc

 

Peace Out-

Carly G.

White Noise

thSW7XF2SPA couple of years ago, I bought a white noise machine for the bedroom. I’d heard about them for years but never saw the point. I like to sleep with quiet, not noise. Ivy’s dad bought one years and years ago, before Ivy was born. It wasn’t white noise though, it was rain and forest sounds. That was fine but then there would be a random cricket or a bang of thunder and I’d pop awake.

thBut I bought this machine anyway, probably on a Black Friday sale or something, I don’t recall. What I do recall is that by about day three, I couldn’t sleep without it. It shut out all the other real life noises, like dogs and cats jumping off the bed, or Sugar Glider barks, or crickets in the bathroom, or neighbors driving by. And mostly, it quieted the noises in my head.

I won’t go so far as to say there are voices in my head, because that sounds too much like insanity. But there is a lot of noise all the time, a lot of my own thoughts, and replays of songs, or television shows, or general music, plus the sound memories of a million different experiences from the day going a thousand miles an hour. There are endless what-if scenarios running on all the time, being played out layer after layer. Sometimes the white noise machine isn’t enough but it certainly takes the edge off.

blurred-racing-thoughtsI bring this all up because about a month ago I decided I needed to give up added sugar. My weight has gone up and down a bunch of times since I started this blog. I’m on an upswing now. I’m pretty heavy but holding fast and not gaining. I gave up eating meat about six months ago and gained weight because I was eating a lot more carbs. I’m sticking to being a vegetarian but there’s no excuse for all the sugar. Plus, as I age my cholesterol is going up. I’d never read labels for sugar before and certainly never really thought of it as anything but my harmless and much-adored drug of choice.

The first few days of not having sugar were miserable. I was shaky and so hyper even I wanted to slap me. Seeing the effects of withdrawal sort of woke me up to how addicted I truly was. After that initial adverse reaction though, I became calm. Too calm. The noise in my head was gone. It was uncomfortable for me, this silence. There was just…nothing. I felt depressed, which is not like me.

As moods go, I’m mostly zippy and bubbly all the time. I’ve been likened to Winnie the Pooh, Pollyanna, and Holly Hunter’s role in Broadcast News. But suddenly I was flat and sad. I took some vacation time from work to use up days and binge watched TV. I didn’t write at the same time or work on my dollhouse or read. I just sat. I was worried I was actually “depressed” and not just blue. Then I became concerned that maybe this was the new normal. Maybe this is how regular felt and I was usually so (sugar) high all the time I didn’t know it.

crazy_thoughts_by_treefrog_productions-d48jkcqI craved the erratic chaos in my head, the wide-awakedness, the creativity I couldn’t staunch. But it was just white noise inside. I had physical energy. Too much really, so I was still jazzed up that way. I did a ton of yard work and carried 130 bags of mulch, some in the rain, to spread. I laid weed barrier and hurt everything in my body. I weeded the hill and sliced my dirt-packed finger on a palm tree and kept working.  But the frenetic mental self, the crazy Carly inside, she wasn’t there.

I met a guy in an airport once who asked if I was Hypo Manic. I said no. He said he was and he took meds for it and it changed his life. He explained that most people hover a little above and a little below the normal mood range. And people like us, we’re almost always up up up. It’s not as drastic as bipolar. It’s like mini bipolar. But without as much down. At least that’s how I understand it. Back then I questioned why the heck I’d want to tamp down my constant happiness.

But after the last few weeks I kind of get it now. Part of me was sad because I missed the high, the explosion of mental positive energy and creativity that NEVER SHUTS DOWN. And the other half of me was so damn relieved to rest. To shut down and stare at the TV and binge watch Netflix shows. That side of me dreaded when the next wave of super energy would come back because I realized then how utterly exhausting that can be.

Lake-Placid-and-vicinity-6055989-smallTabletRetinaIt’s been a month since I gave up added sugar, or at least knocked it way down. I feel okay now, not sad, not excited just kind of even. I still get a little burst of happiness from hugging Ryan or the pets, or looking at the flowers in my garden, but I’m not Roger Rabbit happy, and that’s okay.

Maybe as time goes on my brain will continue to readjust to the lack of sugar, and will rewire. I will be super hyper all on my own, driving everyone around me to drink. Or maybe the little white noise machine in my head will keep running, and I will know how it feels to feel quiet, to feel placid.

This is my first blog in a month or so and I guess that says something about my emergence from the “drug” withdrawal. I made it through Easter without Cadbury Eggs which is a feat all on its own. Today I picked up a Snickers three times in the store and set it down. I then picked up a Three Musketeers. I set that down too and left with fresh strawberries.

I’m not saying sugar has shaped my personality, only allowed it to flourish and go unchecked and unbridled. Maybe I won’t be writing a book a year, and writing screenplays and stories and trying to learn Spanish and renovating the house and volunteering and working full time…but I’m good with that.

For the first time in my life, I think I’d be good to just sit for a while and be content and hear…nothing.

To accepting tranquility,

-Carly G.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fountain of Youth

IMGWhen you’re a kid, your life revolves around playing with your friends and focusing on the now.  You give very little thought about the future because the assumption is that you live will forever. You haven’t yet learned about race or class, or that you are better than or less than a friend because of social standing. It’s a time of purity and wonder.

As you age you measure yourself against others, obsess about achieving. You feel inadequate if your house isn’t big enough, or if you can’t afford a house. If you have a job you love it’s not good enough, you need to get a higher position in the company to feel validated, and make more money for a bigger house. These are generalizations. There are plenty of people who live frugally and have the home and car they need and do not spend their lives discontented with their present station in life. Good for them. They are a step ahead of the rest of us for whom there is a burning desire to fare better than our parents did, live in a nicer place, get more education…

A couple of weeks ago, Ivy and I took an unexpected trip to the Salton Sea, to visit my father and step mother, Lola. It’s about a two hundred mile drive to their place, which we’d never seen. When I’ve visited them in the past bunch of years, it was at my sister Tammy’s place in Arizona. Ivy hadn’t seen them since she was nine years old which was way too long.

Ivy and I drove, chatting along the way as the miles flew past. As we neared the destination, there was a movie-like fade in. Windmills.  Hundreds and hundreds of them in sync, blowing, spinning round and round like enormous pinwheels. I imagined a voice narrating. “And now it begins.”   windmills

After the surreal windmill scene, miles and miles of nothingness followed. Dry, dead, drought grass as far as we could see.

file-1Then suddenly to our right we saw light gleaming off the Salton Sea, the one-time tourist attraction extraordinaire turned highly salinated, somewhat toxic, dead-fish-on-its-shores site. It’s stunning to see, as mesmerizing as any real ocean, with its sparking waters, and rhythmic waves. It was a joy to spot this oasis, this vast rolling ocean within  miles of barren landscape.

Before long we saw the RV park up on the left, a bright white oval eye against a flat, dry yellow face. I know, I know, me and my symbolism. In my defense, the park is called Fountain of Youth so I’m not the only one who is a symbol enthusiast.

Front_Entrance_Fountain_of_Youth_Spa400This 55+ park is where Dad and Lola have spent most of their time in the last nine years or so, going up north to another park in summers, or to stay with Tammy. Once we passed through the security gate, Lola pulled up on a golf cart and told us to follow her. We drove down the small cozy paved roads, peppered with flowering shrubs and trees, until we reached their home. We dropped off our things, jumped in the cart, and drove to their friend Sophie’s lot where we spent most of the rest of our visit.

There was a parade that day, and we watched as the residents, all of them good friends, marched on with their floats, each proudly showing off their activity: hiking, bocce, golf. People from all around the world ended up there. Two fire trucks showed up for the parade too and everyone waved at them. Lola said they see the emergency workers a lot because it’s a senior park and people are always dying. She said it as a matter of fact, no emotion or commentary. I thought of a neighborhood of children, when suddenly one child leaves in a moving truck, never to be seen again. You move on and just enjoy the friends you have left. The residents here do the same.

After the parade, the crowd flowed up to the deck at Sophie’s place, the roomy home with the desert and sea view, with a wall of bright pink azaleas and a mini Mourning dove who watched us suspiciously from her nest. The Chocolate Mountains perfectly completed the backdrop. The whole day felt like a movie broken up into scenes with Ivy and me moving from seat to seat, spending time with different combinations of Dad and Lola and their friends, listening to their conversations, telling them our stories.

th1BQYRXVGThere was a lot of champagne flowing that day, and the people at the party were as lively as college students, and enjoying their lives just as much. Fountain of Youth, indeed. From what I saw and heard, their days consist of hanging out and playing, reading, enjoying the pool and hot tub, and taking walks with their dogs. Their pensions or social security or savings cover their expenses. They can just enjoy living, having earned it after so many years of “adulting.” I’m sure there are real issues they deal with beneath the surface, worrying about their grown children, or people they have conflicts with, or their health; but for the most part, they collectively seemed to be content, right where they landed.

At one point I sat with a British man from Canterbury. He and I sat on a wicker couch. I asked him what he did…before. Everyone here was retired after all, and from all over the world. I was curious about his job when he was on the work force. He paused, said no one ever asked that. He was fine with telling me but realized no one ever asked. His life before does not matter for this blog, only the point that everyone in the park lives in the now. He looked around and pointed, “I don’t know what he did before, or him, or her…” but added, “They’re good people.”

I suggested that everyone was on a level playing field here, it seemed. He said yes, exactly. Some of them had a lot of money, some not so much. In the complex, there were probably doctors and lawyers and who knows what, but now they’re retired. What they had before or were before…none of that mattered here. He said something along the lines of, “I’ll probably die here but I’m okay with that. I like it here.”

contentmentIt got me thinking. At the end of the day, or the end of your life, when careers are over and your children are grown with children or grandchildren of their own, it’s your time.  Your season to hang out with friends, and relax, and talk about the journey you are on together, in the now. Because then is long gone and what remains is all that matters. All the corporate climbing, and the fancy cars and clothes, and how popular you were in high school, it matters so little in the scheme of things.

Now they are all living in similar small seasonal homes, drinking champagne on a deck and looking over at an ocean that was at its prime when they were children. And like them, time may have changed it, weathered it, made it not as healthy as it once was; but it is just as strong and vibrant and full of life.

They take each moment for what it is. One bocce tournament at a time, one karaoke night, one homecoming parade, one round of golf on the sand course, one friend leaving forever in an ambulance…

The next morning we went to Bombay Beach before breakfast. To me it was a sad, forgotten place. The area was mostly abandoned. The beach sported derelict buildings and structures that many years ago could have been thriving hot dog stands or amusement park rides. I pictured tourist families running around on the beach, excited to be escaping from their life to come to this miracle ocean. I contrasted it to life now: the empty beach, the empty buildings. No one around except for some residents who live close by, in the tiny area of homes before the vastness that stretches on until the park where Dad and Lola live.

We went to the American Legion and met their friends from the night before. A man who was probably eighty held up a paper cup with a Bloody Mary in it—the drink of choice for all of them. “Some party last night!” I didn’t know him but laughed at the relaxed frivolity amongst them. In the corner, an older man played his guitar and sang country music. We sat with Dad and his friends at a long folding table, and we ordered off a paper slip menu with check boxes. It was an adventure.

I couldn’t help but imagine the narrator’s voice then, the Buddha-esque Carly who puts things in perspective. “This is the scene where you look around and drink everything in. Where you came from, where they came from does not matter. You are part of their journey and they are part of yours. ” Their friend Sophie looked at me then and smiled. “There’s a lot of kindness here.” Her eyes scanned the room as mine did. “A lot of kind people.”

A short while later, Ivy and I said our goodbyes and began the drive alongside the Salton Sea, now to our left. We drove until we were surrounded by the windmills again, lulling us back from what felt like our dream sequence, the symbolic end of our trip. And into the heavy traffic of the 10 and the 5 and 118…and back to our own version of now. The hurried, break-neck pace of our lives with jobs and college and our everyday challenges.

There is something to be said for retirement, and slowing down, and appreciating life at face value, seeing your friends as you did when you were children, without the filters of color or finances. The gift is to savor what is here now and not what is next. Life is fleeting, and the next thing may never come. But now is all around us, and there is a lot of kindness here.

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And that is what I learned on my trip to see my father.

-Carly G.