The Importance of Feeling

Welcome to 2022!  Here’s to a happy year ahead. May you all reach your goals and find peace, joy, and acceptance of yourselves and others. Those are my daily unspoken resolutions. My specific one is the usual “lose some darn weight before the doctor forces you to take cholesterol meds.”  My first post from ten years ago mentioned losing weight and here I am still talking about it. It’s not that I don’t love my body, or I have self-esteem issues. I’ve made great strides in those areas over time. At this age it’s about health.

My oldest dog, my Mini Schnauzer Anna, passed away the day after Christmas. She had heart trouble for at least three years and ever-worsening dementia the last two. At first it was the little things, like her forgetting how to get back in the house, or standing in the hallway looking lost. Then it was bigger worries, endlessly fretting when something was in the wrong place, like a toy or blanket in her bed. The last few days her combination of deafness, decreasing vision, and her memory loss manifested in her being confused and upset for longer periods each day. We knew we needed to put her to rest once we were sure her quality of life was lousy. That’s not always easy to tell in dogs because they appear happy so much of the time even when they’re suffering. That last very late night she suddenly reached a state where we couldn’t console her or calm her down and she yelped all the way to the out-of-town emergency vet, and until she got her IV of propanol to calm her down. From then she whimpered quietly until I said my final goodbye.

We got home about one in the morning and I had to work the next day. I was numb, sad, though relieved she didn’t have to suffer. The next day I did what I do when I’m stressed. I ate a lot of cookies. I don’t even like those tinned butter cookies that taste like lard and coconut and have giant sugar crystals you have to crunch through. I also don’t like the apple caramels in the snack bin but I had some of those too. Anything I could get my hands on to soothe my sadness and help with my exhaustion.

All that said, I know I’m not the only one who does whatever is humanly possible to avoid feeling. Our culture rallies against any physical or emotional discomfort. Feel sad or sore or scattered, there’s a pill for that. Can’t sleep or sleeping too much? There’s a pill for that too in an effort to make everything comfortable and make sure we never hurt. The consequence is that we numb ourselves into a flatline of emotion and then rely on other drugs, prescription or otherwise, alcohol, food (my drug of choice) to perk us up to an acceptable level of “just right.” We could experience life, rage and cry, fully immerse ourselves in tragedy and disappointment when it happens, face conflict and daunting situations and find we are stronger than we thought. But many of us don’t. Instead we numb ourselves until it’s second nature and we become daunted at the very idea of emotion, all to protect ourselves from unpleasantness.  

 I sit in a corner of my living room nine hours a day speaking virtually with people all over the world. I’m dreading the threatened Return to Office because it’s hard. I’ll need to wake up earlier and drive a long way in L.A. traffic, walk across a parking garage, figure out how to use the new docking stations and my headset. I’ll have to interact with people all day long, many I don’t know, whose names I’ll have to remember. I’ll have to use social skills and NOT BE SHY…. I’ll need to leave my virtual office and exist in a real one with real people and then drive home tired. On the one hand I think it’s unnecessary we go back to the office because the way it is now is easier and more comfortable.

 On the other hand I think back to the summer before fifth grade and what would have happened if I hadn’t been forced to leave the comfort of my home. My parents had split up for part of a year and we all got back together that summer in a new town with a fresh start. At the time it was a luxurious apartment complex with a swimming pool but I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to stay inside with my mom and watch TV and write stories. I didn’t want “the real world” because it was scary and I didn’t want to feel scared, didn’t want to make the effort to overcome it even if there were potential rewards. My dad called from work and told my mother in no uncertain terms that she needed to make me go outside and make new friends. I cried and begged and got myself hysterical, but to his credit I went out, chubby, shy, and with puffy red eyes. I made friends and barely left the pool all summer and it was one of the best times of my life.

Sometimes when I’m complaining about being forced back to the office and how it’s supposedly good for our mental health (blech!) when we’re working perfectly fine right where we are in our home offices with our dogs, in our pajamas, I catch myself and think of the swimming pool and how facing my fear, literally kicking and screaming, made a huge difference in my life.

None of us want to experience anything unpleasant but we need to. There are rewards to facing fears, to letting grief wash over us, to leaving our homes and taking risks, but it’s so much easier to stay in our cocoons, communicating via text and Facebook, watching other people live life on TikTok. And when we’re tired of that we watch TV, hundreds of streaming channels and thousands of shows in every language, convincing ourselves we’re having true-life experiences and that crying during a Hallmark movie is the same as crying over your own lost dog/parent/job/spouse.

In 2022 I will lose weight and keep it off because I’m going to stop using food as a crutch and a band-aid. It’s never the food itself that’s the problem, it’s how I overuse it to feel the rush of endorphins that keep me safe and happy. I’m going to force myself into social situations (with a mask) and stop saying an instant “no” to every activity that involves leaving my bubble. In a couple of months little Trevie will be here and I want him to have a healthy-weight Grandma who will be there for his college graduation and the birth of his kids someday. I’m not going to teach him that the path to happiness and solace is sugar. The path the happiness is living your life and thriving on all the emotions, good or bad, that are part of the process.

Here’s to self-awareness, joy, and looking forward to whatever lies ahead.

-Carly G

Thanksgiving 2021

In November every year, many of us take a day to reflect on what we’re grateful for. This Thanksgiving season was filled with blessings, illness, and tragedy, and more than ever drove home what really matters.

The first week in November Trevor’s mother threw Ivy a lovely baby shower. Since his family lives almost three hours away, we decided to get a hotel and make a weekend of it. This was the first time we’d met Trevor’s family and I was nervous about it. I’m shy by nature and though I do fine in crowds, the anticipation of crowds panics me. The thought of meeting essentially everyone in Trevor’s family, on their turf, after little to no socializing throughout this pandemic, was intimidating.

That Saturday, the night before the shower, we had dinner at his grandparents’ house. When we drove up, a stately, yellow Colonial style home radiated warmth and coziness even before we walked through the door. Inside, the kindness and feeling of love was tangible, and was cemented after spending the evening getting to know Trevor’s grandparents. They’re from the east coast as it turns out so that helped with my comfort level tremendously.

The next day, we got to meet all of Trevor’s family and friends and see where he grew up. Another gorgeous home filled with unique and interesting things. Seeing Trevor the last six years in his world in Santa Barbara gave me a different perspective than I got from hearing stories, and seeing pictures from his childhood. His mother and stepfather, father and stepmother, lots of grandparents and aunts and uncles, friends from his childhood and from his Santa Barbara life. I was blown away by how much work his mother put into the party, and was impressed at how smoothly everything went, so many friendly people milling about to celebrate the new baby.

Though it was a perfect day, a perfect weekend really, my favorite part was how everyone kept coming up to me and telling me that they loved Ivy, that they were glad she was part of their family. I watched her, so at home with everyone, and was grateful too that she was part of their family. I don’t dwell on my mortality much but at times like that, I was relieved that if anything ever happened to me, she’d be okay. There’s a whole, very big, family there who would make sure of it. All this made me even more happy about Ivy’s and Trevor’s future.

Midweek the next week, Ryan texted me that one of his bosses went home sick. Ryan had developed what we thought were allergies and didn’t think much of it at the time, but when his boss went home that Wednesday with fever and chills we feared COVID. When Ryan got home, even though he wasn’t all that sick, he took an at home test. It was negative. The next day his boss went in again and left early. Ryan felt a little worse and we started to get concerned. By Friday, Ryan had a fever too so came home just a couple of hours into his day. One of his other coworkers also started to get sick.

That Friday, two weeks before Thanksgiving, when Ryan got home we did another COVID test and it was positive. He texted everyone at work to let them know but we were still all thinking it wasn’t that bad. He’d been sicker in the past, he said. It was a mild head cold with a mild fever. Nothing major. The thing about COVID in our society, people are getting relaxed. Many of us have been vaccinated, some got boosters, a lot of people already got COVID with or without symptoms. Everyone is tired of quarantining and staying home. With vaccines we’re lulled into this false sense of safety so we go out more. We wear masks everywhere and wash our hands constantly but with people we see all the time, we’re not so careful. At work, for Ryan, with just five people in the front office it felt safe. All five of them caught it.

By Sunday he’d had a fever for a few days. His coworker had also gotten sicker and developed a fever. His boss, who’d been the first one to get sick, texted everyone Sunday night saying he’d been admitted to the hospital. We were in shock. Admitted? It made Ryan’s symptoms seem a lot more scary.

On Monday we got a call at five in the morning. His boss died overnight. Only a few days before, they were working together in the office, and then he was gone. They’d all worked together thirty years and he was gone just like that. This is the man who grew up in the house we now own, who slept in the rooms we sleep in, who played outside in our yard, and spent his teen years watching television in the living room where I am now, typing this blog.

By Wednesday, Ryan was only getting worse. He had a fever, cough, and was dehydrated. We decided to go to the ER to get him rehydrated. I wasn’t allowed inside but the nurse said he’d only be a couple of hours. I went home and went back to work expecting a call any minute to pick him up. Except I didn’t get that call. Instead Ryan texted me to say he had pneumonia. Later he texted again that he was being admitted. A couple of days later we found out his other boss had been admitted, was right down the hall and in worse shape. The details here don’t matter because finally, six days later, Ryan was released in time for Thanksgiving. His boss got out four days after that.

The following Monday (over a week ago now) everyone went back to work, weak and tired, his boss on oxygen. His other boss gone and leaving only memories and an empty desk as a reminder to how things were just a couple of weeks before.

During the week Ryan was in the hospital it hit home how reliant I am on him as a companion and best friend. I missed all the little things, like how when I get up in the morning my coffee cup is loaded with Cremora and is parked in the Keurig machine. Or how he’s always on the other side of the couch when I watch TV, and I squish my cold feet under his thigh. Or how we always go everywhere together even if it’s just the grocery store. The smell of Old Spice, the diet soda always stocked in the fridge, the cute texts and gifs he sends me during each day.

If it weren’t for Ryan, Ivy wouldn’t have met Trevor or be pregnant with a California baby. She wouldn’t have the loving extended family, who threw her a shower and who are grateful she’s here.

We are all thankful this year for what have and for everyone who has entered our lives.

I am truly grateful for you all, and blessed that it’s all worked out just as it should.

-Carly G

And Baby Makes Five

A few months ago, Ivy and Trevor decided to give up their Santa Barbara apartment to save money, buy a truck, and live a somewhat nomadic life. Our house would be the home base but mostly they’d travel around, work remotely and take life day by day, filled with adventure. Though I would have preferred them to be locked into salaried jobs, with a solid life plan, these are different times and we are different people and trying to fit them into a life plan of a girl born in the 1960’s isn’t fair.

They moved most of their belongings into storage and left the rest with us. A bit later I confessed that this plan made me nervous and asked that they explain it to me so I’d feel better about it. They looked at each other then to me and said they’d decided instead to live with us formally, and travel when they could, once in a while. I was relieved. I liked knowing they’d have electricity and running water, and shelter from the heat and cold.

Once they settled in, and the day before leaving for one more long trip, this time to explore the northern states, and circle back through South Dakota and Utah, they handed us a couple of scratch tickets. This didn’t seem out of the ordinary as I buy tickets once in a while. When we scratched them, Ryan had one and I had another, the “we’re having a baby” prize confused me. I looked to Ivy and asked “Is this real?” She nodded. Meanwhile Ryan was still scratching his and hadn’t yet uncovered his prize. “Ryan,” I said, “scratch the prize section at the bottom.” He did but didn’t seem to grasp the message. “Ivy’s pregnant,” I explained.

After the initial surprise, and my getting carried away with rapid fire questions about jobs and insurance, and Ryan telling me to not hammer Ivy with questions and directives, we celebrated and hugged them.

The two pictures on the left are Ivy’s ultrasound pics of Trevie (short for Trevor the 4th). The blurry one in the right was my 26 year old ultrasound pic of Ivy. Technology sure has gotten better.

It’s been a while now, and we’ve all gotten comfortable living together. I think Ivy is almost 23 weeks with a due date of 2-22-22. I dug out her old baby book, where I’d started recording information that first night in the hospital, the day she was born. I also pulled out the baby book my mother started for me. It’s interesting to see the similarities and the differences both in thinking and in technology. Ivy found an online version of a baby book for her little Trevie. I believe she can later print all of her pregnancy and post birth experiences into a nicely sorted book.

Below is a picture of me in the hospital the day I was born, and one of Ivy. Back in 1968 the resolution of photos from home cameras was terrible. There are pictures of Arnie G and I holding Ivy in the hospital. I don’t have any of my mother holding me as she was taking the photos. My father was in Vietnam at the time so my mother delivered me alone. Back then I’m not sure if husbands were involved in the labor but knowing he was so far away must have been hard for her. Trevor will be beside Ivy in the hospital, as he’s been by her side for the last six years.

Ivy and I were born about the same time of day. I was born at 6:04am and she at 5:02am. I was 7 pounds and 5.5 ounces and 20 inches and she was 7 pounds 14 ounces and 21 inches long. I was 27 when she was born, and she will be 26 when she has her baby.

She is a lot like me but is her own person. I wonder what little Trevie will be like. Will he be a carbon copy of Trevor or Ivy? A combination of both? Will he take on Ryan’s love of books and black and white movies? Or will he be, like all of us, a mixture of past, current, and future cultures, which will both confuse and inspire us? I imagine someday Trevor and Ivy will talk to little Trevie and say, “When we were your age, this is how WE did things.” And he will look at them and tell them they don’t understand, and HIS is the generation that has things all figured out. As grandparents Ryan and I will remember fondly when Ivy and Trevor said the same thing, or when we said the same to our own parents. We all think we are the first to experience a revelation and true understanding of how things should be. But the older I get the more I see the relativity of everything.

We spend our lives on a quest to find the answers. At the end, we realize we don’t know much more than when we started and that’s okay. Maybe life shouldn’t be spent trying to solve mysteries and find definite answers and solutions to every variable, and get others to buy into our philosophies, but to admit that none of that matters. It’s only the experiences of being alive and giving and receiving kindness and love that sustain us. The rest is semantics and noise we have to drown out to get to the good stuff.

The night I had Ivy, as she slept cuddled between my legs on the hospital bed, I filled out the Dreams for Our Baby page of the book. Though the picture below shows the text, I’m writing it here too, because they are important dreams. They say be careful what you wish for but in this case, and based on the writings of a new mom almost twenty-six years ago, my wish for what she would become was granted.

“As the baby’s mother, my hope is: that the baby has a wonderful imagination and believes that any dream can come true. I hope she retains a child-like wonder about everything and an innocent hopeful view of the world.  I hope she is brilliant and succeeds in whatever she chooses to do with her life. Above all I hope that she is always happy and never forgets for a second how much I love her.”

Here’s to new life, new babies, and remembering what really matters

-Carly G.

The Last Episode

In a few hours I’ll be fifty-three years old. When I think back to my early youth, teen years, early twenties and onward to the present, the scenes play in my head like TV shows.

With the advent of DVDs, blu-rays, and streaming services, I have gotten in the habit of binge watching television programs I once viewed over the span of years. I’ve watched MadMen (twice), New Girl, The Mentalist, Eureka, Ally McBeal, Sister Wives, House, How I Met Your Mother, Monk, Leverage, Schitt’s Creek, and others. The thing about TV shows, binge watched or the old fashioned way, is that when they’re over I feel an immediate sense of loss. Those characters I spent so much time getting to know, they’re gone. Done. The series is over and my contact with those characters is over. I won’t get updates on their lives and I just have to hope the writers provide a darn good series finale to tie up every loose end.

Sometimes I go back and try to watch shows I used to love as a kid or a young adult and it’s not the same. I used to love That Girl. A few months ago I tried to watch it but it was different now. Societal norms changed since then and so did I. Others I can watch over and over, and starting with the pilot through the final episode is like hanging out with old friends. Then there are other series that I can’t rewatch, not because they were bad, but because they were so real to me, and when they ended, it was painful. MASH is one of those shows. I can’t explain it but whenever I see a reference to it I’m transported back to the last episode, and the time in my life when it aired. With everything else going on in real life, it was heartbreaking to know I wouldn’t be able to hang out with Hotlips, Hawkeye, and Radar anymore.

I was thinking about this lately and how periods of our life end with finality in the same way. We graduate from high school and maybe we stay friends with some of the people but the high school experience of…well all of it, it’s done. Would I want to go back, walk the halls and relive the happy and sad times? No. No I wouldn’t because it was such a special and integral part of my life and going back and “rewatching it” would ruin it. I talk to high school friends on Facebook but it’s now, from here. As much as I get nostalgic about my old town, and the Taunton Green at Christmas, it’s something I want to preserve in my memory. I don’t want to watch MASH now and find it’s not as wonderful as it was then, and I don’t want to see my old hometown with new eyes.

Throughout our time here we star in so many life episodes and series. Some are pilots that never aired: a job I didn’t get, an unfulfilled crush, a short relationship that could have been a long series if things had gone differently. And then there are the years-long series as my life played out: Childhood, My Dating Years, First Marriage, Dating Years, Second Marriage, and so on. There were friendships and relationships that should have ended after a season or two but went too long until there was nothing left. And there were others that I wish had lasted longer, when “characters” died or left, and I was forced to adjust and start a new path. There were times when the consequences of my life choices played out before me in tragic fashion, when I’m sure friends and family knew what was coming and were screaming at their proverbial TV sets, “Don’t do it!” or “Watch out!”

Ivy and Trevor gave up their apartment and will be staying with us for a while to save money for a house. A couple of months ago I drove to Santa Barbara to help pack up the last of their things. Though Ivy’s had three apartments since we moved to California, she’s always lived off the same exit, Bath Street. When I drove to her house that day I got a little choked up. This would be the last time I’d be taking that exit, the last time I’d look to the right on Haley Street and see her first place, and then her second on Ladera. And finally driving up that too steep driveway to the place she’s lived in for five years with Trevor. It’s the end of an era. I saw a crocheted Bernie Sanders which was one of the last items to be packed. It was handmade by the little girl who used to be my stepdaughter. She’s all grown up now but the last time I saw her she was pretty young. Like the Brady Bunch kids, she’ll always be young to me.

As we’re preparing the house to make room for “the kids” we’ve all gone through a lot of boxes filled with old photos, greeting cards, books, you name it. We’ve been engulfed in memories, and sifting through what we need to keep from all our prior years, and which items lessened in importance over time.

The other day I found a small notebook with a cover that read “Jamaica ’91.” As soon as I saw it, I remembered that this was a journal I kept when Arnie G. and I went to Jamaica to get married. I read it, wondering what I’d recorded thirty years ago. It was sweet, the way I chronicled everything: how I felt, the food we ate, the souvenirs we bought, the yoga party and the talent show, the people we met… It was sad because I know how it turned out in the end. I know later we had an irretrievable breakdown of our marriage, and Arnie had an irretrievable breakdown of his mind. I don’t think I’ll read it again even if it was a wonderful story while it lasted.

With break ups, of romantic relationships or friendships, you usually can’t go back and continue on. When it’s over it’s over. You can try but usually by then so much has changed that it’s better to leave the sleeping dogs alone. Same with when they try to reboot a show after so many years. Sometimes it works but more often than not it’s unsettling making the leap to accept characters in their older bodies and pretend it all still makes sense.

When I left Arnie, when I moved out of the Middleboro house, and later the house I shared with Husband #2, and even later the condo, each of those was a period in my life, for better or worse, that ended. I get sad when I see the old places, because each one, at some point, had its final episode and I had to say goodbye.

Though there were happy memories, I wouldn’t want to go back. Those episodes are over. Many a series has ended and I’ve moved on, living in a spinoff, a married fifty-something woman living in California, with her charming and funny husband, her adult daughter and her fiance. I’m the same actor I’ve always been, but I’ve learned a thing or two about acceptance, flexibility, compromise, and method acting. I’m deeply entrenched in this role, not just playing a temporary part as I’ve done in the past as I waited for the big part to come, the one that would fulfill me. This is it. The big part, the role of a lifetime.

The life I have now will change. It always does. The big Director in the Sky likes to add drama and add in excitement. He likes to add story arcs, and new characters to make sure that we, the characters, are always evolving.

I look forward to more episodes.

-Carly G.

Working with Oils

About six weeks ago I bought an art class for Ryan and me on Groupon. I checked the artist’s website ahead of time which showed both his work and that of some of his students. I was blown away and very excited to learn skills that would allow me to create art like that. Here’s one of his paintings. He has a lot of paintings for sale so contact the artist directly if you’d like to purchase any.

When we arrived at the class later that week, we saw it was on a residential street. Ryan was a little unnerved by this, as we were in “The Valley,”and we didn’t know “this guy.” I maintained that he was from Groupon, not Craigslist, and that his art spoke for itself. We had a talk in the car we have pretty often. “You trust everyone too much,” he stated, and my routine reply, “You don’t trust anyone enough.” We agreed to disagree on who has the better approach to strangers.

Ultimately we parked and entered the converted garage next to the house. The plain white walls were covered with gorgeous paintings by the teacher. A YouTube video of his gallery is HERE. His website gallery is HERE. Most were portraits which are my favorite. I’m not sure words can truly convey the level of emotion his paintings elicited in me. I’ve been to museums and though I like paintings, most of them don’t blow me away. Some do but it’s rare. But these…I was stunned. It was surreal, all the stories these paintings told, and how well they told them.

There were about ten easels set up, each with a work in progress. There were two for us, each with two rows of colored circles. After a brief instruction the teacher showed us how to mix colors using instinct to replicate the colors on the canvas. He said the colors we created didn’t have names because they were mixes of so many others. This is something that never occurred to me before. When I use crayons or markers, I always pick the color I want, without regard to what comprised it. I knew the basics from kindergarten: yellow and blue make green, red and blue make purple, purple and yellow make brown. But there was much more to this. One tip of color after another and another until the color was just right.

Sitting in the studio for four hours, listening to quiet music, feeling the smoothness of the oils and watching as the colors transformed before my eyes and I was hooked. I signed up for weekly lessons.

Though I entered into this thinking it would be a peaceful weekly getaway, it’s been a bit grueling. Not because I don’t have a skill set, or because I’m not artistic. (I don’t have a skill set yet but that can be learned). The biggest challenge was my perspective, how I see things. Week after week, the instructor explained that I can’t paint a tree as a tree, with my kindergarten grasp of a brown trunk and green leaves. Everything is made up of tiny atoms and dozens of colors that run into each other, that blend together. He told me I need to start seeing things as shapes and colors, not as defined items with lines. This was really hard for me to grasp.

I talked to my mother about my class and oil painting overall. She told me, and this is the first time I’ve heard this, that her father was a very talented oil painter. “He painted a picture of me in a red polka dot dress, sitting on a log.” That may not seem like a big deal but understand that until that day all I heard about my maternal grandfather who died when she was a child, was that he was an abusive alcoholic. She implied he didn’t love her, was always mean to her, and even her few happy memories were marred with violence. That defined him. But suddenly there was another part to him, an artist. A man who loved her enough to paint a picture of her that made her feel proud and loved. He died in 1953 so I never met him, but the stories I heard defined him. He was a flat, cardboard cutout, a stereotype. How many other people have I put in boxes over the years? It’s what we, as humans, do. We classify others based on our experiences. There are solid lines around their shapes, around who they are.

But this class awakened me, started me really looking at how I see not only things but people. I feel like I’m pretty good already about trying to see a whole person and not labeling them by their situation, but I see now I’ve only scratched the surface. After the second week of lessons this is what the painting looked like.

Throughout that first night I painted a lot. And the teacher would walk over, shake his head, dip a rag in oil, and wipe it all away. “Stop painting trees as trees. They look cartoonish.” He’d sit down and show me by example, then I’d work on it and draw from what I knew, with my same vision of what a tree is. Honestly at the end of week three, the picture looked about the same. I hadn’t learned much.

One day I was out walking and looked down at some grass. Grass is green and straight and uniform. That’s how I always viewed it. But when I really looked it, it wasn’t green. It was yellow and black and white, with some purple and gold. There was some green but so many different shades, and the blades were a hundred different directions and lengths. It was an epiphany. I looked at tree trunks and saw gray and orange and purple and red and black, maybe a hint of brown, nothing like the solid brown trunks in my imagination. Flower petals now had a dozen colors and Granola’s white face was a ten shades of gray.

In between classes I practiced at home. Here are some early home paintings. I’d bring them to class and he’d tell me what was right or wrong.

The crayons were fat and misshapen. I thinned them, made a new crayon, then painted my paintbrush because that’s what I saw. That week the instructor was pleased with some portions of it (not all) but it was progress.

Last week we finished the first painting. I didn’t do everything the way he wanted. Some he let go, some he fixed. A lot of this finished work was his work over mine. But a lot is also mine.

Maybe I’ll get the hang of painting, and seeing the surface of people as shapes and shadows and colors, but what of the underneath? My characterizations are sometimes cartoonish, a big brute, Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil, a perfect princess. Seeing people differently is going to be a lot harder than seeing the many colors in trees. What we learn in kindergarten about mixing colors and about people is probably not too far off from what we think as adults. Assumptions, expectations, our insistence that a bush is a round circle, or that all (insert your category here) are (add your adjective) result in a cartoonish view of life.

Another lesson I learned in class is always start with broad strokes and dark colors. Then you add a lighter layer with a little more detail. Then you add more paint, lighter colors, more detail. Layer after layer after layer until there’s a finished product with hundreds of strokes that blend together.

Life is like that. In early days, we don’t know what we’re doing and we paint everything in broad strokes. We haven’t refined anything by our experiences yet. We get older and learn and add more experiences and depth to our lives. We course correct based on mistakes and our next path, our next layer of paint so to speak, gets added. We learn more, we approach things differently, and we add more shades of color. The colors mix with what came before so green is never just green, love is never just love, and loss or failure or triumph is never a single emotion, and never the same for two people. .

We age and we get lines in our faces, but not straight lines, not if you look closely. Our age lines are hundreds of hair-thin occasions of emotion. A frown, a smile, minutes, months, and years of laughing or crying.  Tiny lines which blend together over time and deepen the contours of our faces, adding realism. We are living paintings created from hundreds of layers of experience and we are never truly finished.

To learning new skills

-Carly G

The Old Woman in the Shower

I have a lot of hair. There’s a filter in the shower but with the volume of hair that falls out as a natural progression, there’s an inevitable clog every few months. A couple of years ago I bought a snake from Home Depot, and every few months I use it in the shower. The first time I ever did it, back in the Massachusetts condo, I was horrified to find what looked like a giant black rat. It wasn’t a rat but a huge cluster of hair. Now I know to expect it and laugh whenever I clean out the drain.

Over the years I’ve lived in California, I’ve gradually dyed my hair lighter so it wouldn’t be jet black with gray roots. It was dark brown with roots, then medium brown, then light brown. The sun helped to lighten it too. And each time I’d pull out the clog I’d notice it getting gradually lighter.

Recently though when I cleaned the drain, there was a mass of gray hair. What the hell? I instantly thought of the woman in Stephen King’s, The Shining, the woman in the bathtub that scared the life out of me when I was a kid. I held it, confused. I was aware that I’d decided to stop dying it and let it go natural. The quarantine triggered this because I could let it grow out without seeing anyone at work. And honestly it’s been a relief. I used to be so insecure about my roots showing, and before any event I’d have to buy a box and dye it. Letting it grow out with its natural gray color is freeing. Because the underneath is black with gray, and there are stands of white, and light and dark brown, and crazy curls, it looks pretty cool. Whenever I go anywhere people compliment me. This always surprises me and makes me happy. Men, women, young and old, stop me in stores and say they love my hair. So that’s the good part.

But then there’s the reality of seeing it in a slimy handful from the drain. More gray than not. Old woman hair. When I saw my wedding pictures I thought, “Well, that’s who I am now. This is the real me, my real, fluffy, untamed hair.” There was one Facebook poster who said, “Dye your hair. You’re too young to look like that.” And it stung for a second but then I thought “WhatEVAH,” and instead thought of how happy I felt, finally, in my own skin. And anyway, I’m not too young to look like that because that’s what color my hair is, like it or not. And everyone else complimented me on the wedding photos because they DID look nice. The photo above is from a few minutes ago, what I actually look like when I’m just hanging around the house.

I got some new crayons yesterday and was drawing this evening since I can never resist trying out fresh crayons, reveling in the smell of them, the whoosh sound the paper makes against my fingers, the waxy smoothness as the colors transform a white page to a story. I drew this picture, a Carly in the box. Sometimes I feel like the picture on the front of the box, then, crank, crank, crank, BOOM out pops this old woman.

Ryan said it was silly and I don’t look like the Carly in the box at all and I have natural beauty. That’s why he’s my husband, because he’s nice like that. More and more though, I do feel pretty even without makeup, even when my hair is a little all over the place and gray. Before I moved out here, I would never, ever, leave the house without makeup. I remember my mom putting her makeup on before bed so my stepdad would wake up to her “beautiful” face. I never did that but more often than not would “put on my face” before Ryan got home from work. My exes rarely saw me long without makeup. It was part of who I was then, and my actual face was never enough, not for me.

Maybe it’s another side effect of the quarantine, but I wear makeup less and less. I used to see women without makeup in stores and think, “I could never do that.” But lately I wonder why. This is who I am, and this is my face, and my hair, and my body. I’m the same on the inside, that has never changed. I just feel better about the outside now. Maybe it’s my age, or Ryan’s acceptance of me, or the year-long stay-at-home order.

Maybe it’s the inner artist that has burst out of me, that’s caused me to feel alive and content in a t-shirt and shorts, a red bandana in my hair and grout caking my fingers. Why is it that I feel prettier and more fulfilled when I’m eyeing a giant mosaic on the outside wall, band-aids on my fingers from broken tile, my cheeks red from the California sunshine, than when I weighed a lot less, and had Clairol brown hair, lots of makeup, and fancy cocktail dresses?

I like this acceptance of myself. I’m losing weight to live longer and be healthy, not because I hate the feel of me. Not because I had more worth then, even if some people thought so. I’m not 100% anti-makeup of course. I have some insecurity, like a lot of people. I feel better with eyeliner and lip gloss. But I don’t feel ugly without it and that’s been a big step for me. This other picture is from earlier tonight. This is how I feel on the inside, most of the time. Even if my photo shows me different, this smiley girl surrounded with sunshine and flowers is who I am at fifty-two, just below the surface.

To loving who were are

-Carly G

We’re Married!

A week ago Ryan and I got married. Looking back now, I’m not sure why it took so long, especially where our relationship has stayed nice and easy-breezy for almost ten years. If anything, I think I was afraid to rock the boat.

In the past, I worried I’d fall into my old control-freak habits like I did with the other two marriages. What if we got married and I changed, and suddenly all the little things that didn’t matter started to matter? After all, that’s what happened before. But to be fair, in past relationships, they weren’t little things I worried about. They were big, relationship-ruining things. Leading up to the wedding day both of the last times, I was in panic mode, wondering if I should back out but thinking it was too late because it would look bad. I ignored the red flags, and once I was married couldn’t ignore them. That really didn’t make me a control freak like I’ve been telling myself for so long. This time it was different.

During an after dinner talk a couple of months ago the conversation came up. It wasn’t a formal proposal, it was more a spin off of a conversation about health insurance. We don’t need to be married to be on the same plan but it occurred to me there was no reason not to. And actually, it might be kind of nice. As the days passed and we talked about it more I got pretty excited. With COVID restrictions still in place we couldn’t have a big ceremony which was fine with me because part of the stress the last two times came from planning. Taking that out of the equation meant it could be more about us, and our union, and not about having a big party. I called Ivy and Trevor and asked what they thought. Ivy said it was long overdue and of course I had her blessing.

Then we told our friends J&M who have been part of our small COVID circle. The media was talking about vaccinations right around the corner, and after a year of not going anywhere, we decided to hit the ground running and go to Las Vegas. Hotels were open there, it wasn’t all that far, and who doesn’t love neon? Six people on a long weekend trip and we’d come home married and happy. A perfect plan.

I’m pleased to say it was perfect. No strings, no stress, no slipups. We decided collectively that since this was not to be a traditional wedding that anything was fair game. We arranged a photo shoot at a place called The Neon Museum, and the ceremony in front of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. We found a wonderful company called LuvBug Weddings that arranged everything for us, from the planning to the pictures, the limo, the venue, the marriage license…and lots of positive energy throughout the process. We felt bad keeping it a secret from most everyone until the very end but we also didn’t want anyone to make a fuss.

One thing that really made us laugh that I took as a positive sign was when we got stuck together. At my last wedding, which I’ve written about before, it felt like every force in the universe tried to stop the wedding. Our first two venues were destroyed by a tsunami and a hurricane, respectively. The photography equipment didn’t work. It rained. My grandmother fell going into the restaurant. My father had emergency quadruple bypass surgery the day before. My dress ripped…

This time, as we stood on a strip of land with the freeway on either side of us, strangers milling about to get their picture in front of the iconic sign, and airplanes flying overhead, we reveled in our tight, happy group on a lovely spring day. We women wore 1920’s flapper dresses, mine being red just because. Ryan wore a 1920’s style suit and a retro Mickey Mouse bowtie. As the minister said, “you may kiss the bride,” and Ryan did, we moved apart and got stuck.

The microphone clipped to Ryan’s shirt to allow for audio in the recording, impossibly clasped itself into the lace of my dress. The video rolled as we laughed and tried to unhook the clip. Even then, as we worked to separate ourselves I thought of the Universe telling us, “This is your sign that you should be together.”

We went to dinner at a restaurant called The Mayfair Supper Club in the Bellagio (where we stayed). The ceremony was done early and the restaurant not only took us early but gave us an open-window seat facing the fountains. Every twenty minutes or so the fountains shot up with a firecracker-like BOOM. We could feel the spray on our faces as we ate what is arguably the best food I’ve ever had, and the live band performed music from a bygone era. The singers came and talked to us for a bit, gave us a shout out during the next set. The waitress brought me a long stemmed red rose and signature sundae. The picture below was the view from our wedding dinner table. It was magical.

When we finally all went back to our room to enjoy the wedding cake Ivy and Trevor had picked up for us, I was thrilled that it was from Milk Bar. I’d seen the story of that restaurant on Chef’s Table and always wanted to try it. Like everything else, it was not traditional but it was perfect. Delicious and fun and whimsical. Ivy played the wedding march on her phone as we blew out the candles.

Ryan used to tell me, back when we were emailing back and forth, before we talked on the phone or knew we would be a couple someday, that relationships shouldn’t be hard. When it’s right, it all works out. It’s not about constant compromise or fighting or forcing it to work. It should just work. And it does.

Despite not being as thin or young as at the last wedding, I felt pretty. With my lace COVID mask and my short nails and cuticles that I cannot stop chewing, and my unruly silver/white/gray/black/brown hair, and my extra-Carly love handles, I felt good about myself, and happy. It’s comforting to know that I made the right choice all those years ago when I first started talking to Ryan on Facebook. When I told him I liked him “that way” and when we took a leap and changed our relationship status to “in a relationship” before we ever met in real life. I took a bigger leap of faith and moved my and Ivy’s lives to another coast, chasing after a dream. The dream paid off.

To taking a chance on love and happiness.

-Carly G.

The Road Trip

This weekend Ryan, Ivy, Trevor and I are going to Las Vegas for an impromptu weekend getaway. Our two friends J&M are coming with us. Since Ryan and I haven’t been on any sort of trip since COVID came along, this is a big deal to me. We’ve gotten our vaccines, cases are low, and the idea of glittering surfaces, fun, neon lights, and bright colors is enticing. I’ve been pretty excited about the trip for a while now and so have been working on a playlist for the long drive.

Ivy has an EP on Spotify so I downloaded the app. Since then I’ve been adding songs left and right, mostly from when I was a child. Though Ryan is only five years older than me, his musical tastes run older and he’s not a fan of most of the “new” music. Most of the songs on my “nice music” playlist are ones I memorized all the words to throughout my life. Because most of the songs are from the 1960s and 70s, those are also the “add new song” recommendations I get. The list is pretty limited.

Last weekend Ivy and Trevor were visiting and I showed them the playlist. Sadly, I realized that Ivy didn’t know a lot of them. I wondered how that was possible. Weren’t these all the songs that were a soundtrack to her life too? No. I was inadvertently leaving out whole chunks of my life on this playlist, still stuck in the songs I “grew up” with and leaving off the ones that carried me along as I was actually growing.

This got me thinking of all the road trips I’ve had since Ivy came along. We made many, ten-hour, each-way roundtrips to our relatives in Prince Edward Island in the summers. We took many trips (car, ferry, ferry, ferry, car) to East Hampton to see those same relatives. We made trips from Massachusetts to New Jersey to see That Writer who was in our lives for a while. We had lots of plane trips all over the place (Curacao, Canada, Florida, New Orleans, Chicago…) but the car trips were the best. Stress free and plenty of time to sing ourselves hoarse.

Before Ivy was around, Arnie G. and I made a few, six-hundred-mile trips to see my Dad, stepmom, and sister in western New York. Back then we listened to Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Pink Floyd on cassette. Then Ivy joined us and it was the Annie or The Little Mermaid soundtrack on CD. When Ivy and I were with Husband # 2 we often drove to Poughkeepsie, NY to see his family. We didn’t sing as loudly and openly on those trips but music was always a backdrop. I’d taken Ivy to see Mama Mia in Boston so that soundtrack was a regular favorite in that era.

I tried to think of which songs we’d listened to during those other times, the ones that brought me here. Suddenly I wanted to immerse myself in all the music from those unsettled years, the drama years when I was always searching for something instead of just living. There’s some 80s music in my list but then it sort of stops in time. I called Ivy yesterday and said, “Hey remember that trip we took to western Canada with That Writer that summer? Besides that schizophrenic psycho song, what was that other one we really liked that he played over and over in the car?” Without missing a beat, she blurted it out, though the trip was from about thirteen years ago. “Second Chance. By Shinedown.” All these years later it was fresh in her mind. Once I listened to it again I remembered so many others from around that time. Shine by Collective Soul, and some Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Zombie from The Cranberries was a memory from the time I sang in the Writer band in Burbank.

I deleted some of the old songs, because my life playlist can’t be solely from one, short time period, or handful of bands. I have been vibrantly alive for fifty-two years and that’s a lot of music. Once I started adding songs from the 1990s to current time, Spotify changed its recommendations to paint a better picture of my past. The new collection of songs remind me of old relationships, old houses, new towns, fights and friendships, relatives I don’t see enough or those who have passed. They remind me of loneliness and celebration, middle school, high school, night school, all the jobs and towns, and years and years of becoming who I am now.

As we take the road trip this weekend, I won’t be the Carly curled up in a ball of safe music from her childhood , but the woman she has become because of everything that happened since then, with music playing in the background along the way. Ivy’s life playlist and ours intersect but they don’t totally overlap. I had special songs before her, and since she moved out, with Ryan. And she has loads of them that are hers alone, and some with Trevor from their many trips.

When I was young, my mother didn’t listen to music much because the songs reminded her of other times and other people. For me, I want to be reminded. During this trip I’ll run the gamut of all my years in music and be all the happier for it. I am woman, hear me roar. Yes, I added that song too.

We look back at pieces of our lives and sometimes only remember the bad, or only the good. However it actually was, those times and people need to be remembered, and celebrated, for better or worse, because they got us where we ended up.

To playlists, and the biggest road trip of all. Life.

The Very Bleak Day

Anyone who knows me personally, or even online, can attest that most of the time I’m “up” moodwise. Ryan and I have been binge watching Monk and to quote that character, “It’s a blessing and a curse.” Mostly a blessing. My brain is busy but not bad busy like it used to be. I don’t obsess over potential disasters (often), and mostly use my positive energy to try to bring joy to others and/or be really productive. I’m no stranger to sadness, and the littlest thing affects me. Sometimes it’s a TV show or songs from when I was kid that still get to me. I can’t listen to “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, or “Abraham Martin and John,” by Dion without welling up. But I enjoy the sense of feeling emotion, after a whole bunch of year of feeling numb, and pretty quickly bounce right back.

Last week though when I was working, multi-tasking with several instant messages going, emails rolling into my Outlook box, and a meeting starting in minutes, one email caught my eye. “Jimmy P has passed away.” I froze. Opened the email from a co-worker from our Los Angeles office. “Passed away unexpectedly.” Within seconds everyone was sending me instant messages. “Can you believe it? Are you okay? What happened? Does anyone know what happened?” We all sought each other out, unsure of what else to do. Jimmy couldn’t be dead. He was just here. I checked my phone. It was a month ago I’d last spoken to him which made me even sadder, wishing I’d talked to him since. It was a frenzy of messages to and from people. All of us wanting to offer comfort while needing it ourselves. A friend sent me a news article that said his car went over a cliff and landed in a ravine. This was the worst part. Not a heart attack while he slept peacefully, or a stroke, but an accident. Driving along, maybe headed to the grocery store, and then it was over.

I jumped onto a routine business call. Everyone was enjoying their usual banter when I said quietly, “Jimmy P is dead.” Silence. The shock from everyone who knew him could be felt. Our boss called an emergency meeting and mentioned counseling services, and we all talked about our memories. We were told we could take the rest of the day off, as long as we needed. Normally I would be fine. I expected to be fine. I’m a rock! But I was overcome with sadness and even with my chronic stoicism couldn’t fight it. Nor did I want to.

I went for a walk, hoping the arroyo and sunny shining water and lovely nature would alleviate the pain. It was so clear to me that day how much I avoid that emotion, usually successfully. I have minor dalliances with it, on my terms with TV and songs and sad stories. But this… As I stepped out the door I saw the gray, cloudy skies. Though it’s mid-March we’ve had a cold snap that’s dragged on for what feels like months. I grabbed an umbrella and started walking. The cold rain stung my cold face but I resisted using the umbrella. Rain and cold is so rare where we live, and it fit with my mental state. Sunny skies wouldn’t have been appropriate.

That day there were no bright colors. Everything was gray. A gray hawk in a tree with gray branches whose spring leaves hadn’t grown in yet. Gray geese walking in dark mud. Colorless puddles. I felt like I was in a black and white comic book. As the rain fell harder and I walked around the duck pond, my fleece jacket soaked, my feet slipping in the mud, I reveled in how grateful I was to be alive, to feel all of this. I raised my face to the silver sky as the rain washed over me. My umbrella was clutched, unopened, in my hand. It sucked that Jimmy P. was gone, that he left behind a wife and kids. That he’d only retired a year ago and had his whole new life to look forward to. He’d never get the dog I was always pushing him to get. It sucked that his last year on this earth was spent in quarantine, unable to enjoy the time off to travel. All the things he was going to do once the world opened up again, he’d never get to do them.

As I made the long walk back, freezing and not caring, a memory sprung to mind, of walking through Animal Kingdom in Florida with Husband #2. We’d gotten caught in a torrential downpour and everyone was running for cover. I’d lazed along, my face to the sky, enjoying the rain as it washed over me. I always loved the rain. Husband #2 reprimanded, “What’s wrong with you?” I ignored him and continued on my rainy walk. It was a forgotten memory. “What’s wrong with you?” It made me want to call him twelve years later and say, “No, what’s wrong with you?” I didn’t of course. In my life now I can’t imagine Ryan ever reprimanding me for finding joy and even solace in a rainstorm.

I felt no better when I got home but losing Jimmy P. reminded me how unexpected life is, how precious, and how for all your financial planning and eating right and exercising, it can all end just like that, That night I reached out to several people I don’t talk to often, but who I care about. Just checking in to say hi, letting them know I cared.

It took a few days but gradually my mood cleared. I’m still sad when I think of him being gone, and when I picture his family, when I look at the Christmas card he sent to us in December with his uncharacteristic quarantine shaggy hair. But as with all the losses and changes we experience, we have to carry on.

I added a Jimmy P. mosaic to my wall as a memorial. It made me happy as I was fitting the broken tile on the wall. As soon as I finished, it started raining again. One last day of bleakness. A couple of days later the sun came out and I was able to grout it. And now when I see Jimmy P. each time I walk onto my patio I smile. I think of all our great talks and all he taught me about my job. He was my boss for a while. I neglected to mention that. But he was more than that. He was a friend.

Thanks for all the happy times and for being my friend,

-Carly G.

Thanksgiving 2020

Like everything else in 2020. Thanksgiving was different, and sad. Since Ivy and I moved to California six years ago, our tradition was to attend dinner hosted by our good friends Harold and Gerry. With the exception of one year, every Thanksgiving we have a delicious dinner, with contributions from the many attendees, most of whom we only know from this yearly soiree. This year Harold canceled the traditional big dinner because of COVID-19. We understood as home socializing can be especially risky.

In a way, we thought, this worked out just fine because we could have dinner with Ivy and Trevor since they wouldn’t be going to Trevor’s parents. So that was the new plan and I bought enough food for ten people even though it would just be the four of us. But then Ryan got sick. He had a scratchy throat and a runny nose, but we assumed it was allergies. The winds were blowing like crazy, for days on end, and everyone’s allergies were triggered. A few days later he still had symptoms, including a fever. Then I caught it. I had a sore throat, and a dry cough. Though neither of us had the classic symptom of not being able to taste or smell, we got tested for COVID-19. Ultimately we tested negative but didn’t get our results until Thanksgiving morning. Even without COVID-19, Ivy and Trevor didn’t want to catch the cold we both had.

So I made the veggie “turkey” loaf and made Ryan a small turkey breast. We made all the sides and our friend’s mother sent over a pumpkin pie. Despite being all alone, it was a pleasant day. We posted the Thanksgiving picture of Granola and were thankful for our test results and our happy lives in general. We planned a make up Thanksgiving for the following weekend with the kids.

Later that night our old Schnauzer Anna began coughing non-stop. Long story short, she didn’t die. But we spent from after midnight until just before dawn sitting in the truck, outside the emergency vet in the next town. We huddled under blankets, waiting to hear if she could live without the extra oxygen. We finally went home, and later in the day were told to come get her. It was the same heart issue we’ve dealt with for two years, and seemed to be a flare up. In those hours before we knew though we were sure we were going to lose her, as we lost our other two dogs this year. We went through the sadness, the mourning . . . and then she was home. A Thanksgiving miracle.

A couple of weeks later, though Anna continued to do well on her new medications, our cat took a turn for the worse. Our almost twenty-two year old kitty, “Henry” went from manageable kidney failure and arthritis to being barely able to walk. He was so weak he couldn’t stand up for long. We considered increasing his fluids from three times a week to four but knew if we put him through more to keep him alive it would be for us, not for him. When I drove him to the vet, in the middle of a workday between meetings, he stretched out on my lap on the car ride. He didn’t meow once, just flopped over. As I carried him in the special door (my third time there in 2020) he was lethargic and I knew it was time, that this wasn’t something we could or should put off any longer. It was devastating, as I got Henry when Ivy was only three years old, when we were still with Arnie G. We had so much history with our fellow traveler, and letting him go was heartbreaking.

We had a power outage recently, a planned outage from the electric company to prevent fires. The winds raged outside and dried palm fronds fell from the neighbor’s trees and banged against our house. Ryan and I sat with the pets in the living room. Granola and Scruffy asleep on the couch, Anna in her dog bed, breathing comfortably. Ryan and I sat in the candlelit room, our little haven away from the world. We played word games and talked, tried to recall all our teachers’ names from kindergarten on. It was peaceful. Despite the pet deaths in our family this year, and the closing of so many businesses, and not being able to do so many of the things we took for granted, or see family in other states, we were at peace in our little cottage.

The next night at dusk the power came back. The Christmas lights against the sky felt magical, a little nudge from the Universe to keep my chin up.

We find solace here as the winds rage on and the news shouts out the dire warnings for our present and our future, and in 1984 style changes our reality daily. One day masks are not needed, then they are, then everything closes, then it opens, then it closes. Drug X will fix it, then it won’t, and vaccines will prevent the virus, or it won’t, or it will but we don’t know for how long.

I watch Scruffy and Granola cuddled on the couch, content to just be, with full tummies and lots of love. They don’t fret over what once was and what is no longer, or over what is to be. They just are. They are not riddled with anxiety over the unknown, because right now they are content, and right now is all that is real. They live and they love and they spread peace because their inner light is so bright. There is so much to be learned from dogs.

I don’t know what Thanksgiving 2021 will be like but today we are all okay, and we have love to see us through, in our little safe haven, our Granville House.

To finding joy wherever you can

-Carly G