One Year Ago Today

I remember exactly what I was doing on this day in 2014, because I had just arrived in Seattle after having driven all the way across the country from Florida. I was in a weird place mentally. I was excited about my future. I was shocked that I had actually pulled this relocation off. And I was also scared shitless.

I knew nothing about Seattle. I knew no one. I was about to start a new job and move into a place that I had rented sight unseen. Were the butterflies in my stomach a sign that I was anxiously anticipating a brighter future, or were they fighting to get out because I had just pulled the biggest bonehead move in a life that has been, to be painfully honest, chock full of bonehead moves? It could go either way.

At one point during that day I was lying on the grass in a park with my dogs. I remember feeling kind of weird because for the first time in about a week I wasn’t zooming down a highway. I had come to a complete stop. I was tired. But I felt safe. I could breathe. I liked where I was. I now pass that park every day on the way to work. I sort of wave at the memory of myself when I do.

At the same time, though, I felt a little removed from all the people around me. A stranger in a strange land. The climate, the terrain, the vibe… it all felt like I was in a foreign country. As much as I love to travel, I’m usually longing for home at a certain point. Would that happen this time? It was a moot point, because there was no turning back. That’s a rather terrifying concept.

In truth, it took me a long, long time to stop feeling strange. Some days I coped with that better than others. But I’ve begun to make friends. Romance has eluded me, but I’m starting not to really care, most of the time.

Fast forward a year. While running a bunch of errands, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t even bothered to turn on my GPS. When did that happen? And I was getting tired, and looking forward to going home. Home. Where I live now. I’m home.

So maybe it wasn’t such a bonehead move after all. Would I do it over again? I wish I had done it 30 years sooner!

There’s no place like home.

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The Stupidity of Loneliness

One of the problems about writing a daily blog is that you’re always left with a vague sense that you’ve written all of this before. I could swear I wrote this blog entry within the past couple weeks, but I’ve searched and can’t find anything. So, if you’re a regular reader and are feeling a sense of déjà vu, my apologies. On the other hand, maybe I just thought about writing it and then never got around to it.

I had an epiphany the other day. Loneliness really makes no sense at all. It’s the mistaken assumption that someone out there, whom you’ve yet to even meet, holds the key to your happiness. How absurd.

First of all, from a mathematical standpoint that would also mean that I hold the key to some stranger’s happiness, and I’m keyless and clueless. So that formula is easily disproven. (And I don’t even like math.)

Also, loneliness means you’re giving all your power away. I don’t like that concept at all. I’m not going to live in some emotional limbo, on the off chance that some random person is going to come along and care enough and be capable enough to fill my every emotional need.

Ever since I had this epiphany about two weeks ago, I haven’t felt lonely at all. It’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I sort of feel as though I’m back in the driver’s seat of my life. What a liberating feeling.

Not that I plan to go live in a cave in the wilderness, mind you. I still want friends. I still want companionship. I still have itches that I very much would like to have scratched. But suddenly the urgency is no longer there. The sadness is gone. I appreciate my life for what it is, and look forward to what it can be, in whatever form that may take.

I hope this feeling lasts.

[Image credit: wallpaperscraft.com]
[Image credit: wallpaperscraft.com]

My Own Personal Garden Song

After pulling up stakes and moving 3000 miles across country to a place where I know no one, essentially starting over at age 50, I spent a lot of time beating myself up because upon arrival I didn’t instantly have it all figured out.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Was everything supposed to fall into place, as if I could just pick up where I left off in Florida, like the new job and the new place to live and the 3000 mile drive were  mere hiccups in my day-to-day routine? Reinventing yourself isn’t for sissies, let me tell you.

Fast forward 6 months, and yes, I love where I’m living. I’ve even more than halfway unpacked. I love 95 percent of my job, and I actually go long periods of time not dwelling on the other 5 percent. I’ve even started to establish a stable, albeit quirky, routine. And I can now go several places, like the library and the grocery store and to work, without relying on my GPS, which is nice.

But yeah, I admit it. I haven’t made a single friend outside of work yet, and that sucks. I’m lonely. And before you even go there, I’ve been given a million suggestions about how to rectify that. If I pursued them all I’d probably be so popular that I’d have to change my phone number just to get some peace. So I feel kind of guilty. I should be on top of things. I have all the tools. And yet, here I am, alone.

But today I started humming the Arlo Guthrie version of the Garden Song, which has also been famously sung by John Denver; Pete Seeger; and Peter, Paul, and Mary to name a few. I’ll attach the video so you can check out Arlo’s hilarious take on it, but meanwhile you know the song. It starts, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…”

And I suddenly realized that what I’m doing is transplanting my life. I uprooted myself from Florida and I’m putting down roots here. That’s going to take some time and patience, some love and care. I just need to go inch by inch. I don’t have to beat myself up when, at the end of the day, the whole darned garden isn’t planted and in full bloom.

I need to give myself a break, do things correctly and with positive intention, and it will all work out in the end. Yes, I have the rake and the hoe. I’ll get there.

Next stop for me is signing up for a pottery class at the nearby community college. That starts in April. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure I’ll meet some amazing people.

Forward motion is what counts. Even if it’s only an inch at a time.

On Being Number One

There’s no lonelier feeling on earth than the realization that no one considers you to be their top priority. Sadly a lot of us can say that. That’s why so many of us have pets. You just can’t beat having someone who is happy to see you when you get home.

If you are somebody’s number one, don’t take it for granted. It’s a precious gift. And I hate to say it, but speaking from experience, life is so incredibly fragile that that comfortable feeling could pop like a soap bubble when you least expect it. So if someone loves you, cherish that person. Show your appreciation. All the time.

In fact, now would be good. Right now. Get up from your computer and tell the person that you love most in the world that you love him or her. Because nothing else matters. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for all of us who don’t have that gift right now. Because let me assure you that when you don’t have it, you ache for it.

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[Image credit: archstonerecovery.com]

Loneliness or Something Else?

I had an epiphany on my way to work today. (Kids, try to avoid epiphanies when you’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.) Here it is: I don’t think I’m lonely after all. Here I’ve been, obsessing over my loneliness since I’ve moved to Seattle, and trying to figure out ways to make friends, when in fact loneliness is not my issue.

I haven’t had to think about this in decades because I’ve always had someone in my life, but the fact is I’m perfectly capable of entertaining myself. I’m not bored with my own company. In fact, I’m quite comfortable when I’m alone. It’s the only time I can truly be myself. I like being able to sleep when I want and do what I want and eat what I want. I enjoy the luxury of a total lack of need for compromise. So it’s not loneliness that I’m feeling.

I don’t think there’s a word for what I’m feeling. It’s part grieving for my late boyfriend, and I think that is effecting me in a whole multitude of ways. And it’s definitely part unsatisfied sex drive. (Why does nature bother putting these urges in people beyond child bearing age? Life would be so much easier without them!) But I’m not an animal. I require an emotional connection with someone before I can feel intimate, so this attempt at connection has been disguising itself as loneliness, I think. And then there’s a need for reassurance, as driven by self-doubt. It would be nice to have someone around to say, “You’re doing okay.” (I really need to work on not needing that so much.)

Once I figured out that I’m not lonely, I felt this massive weight lift off my shoulders. It’s not some social deficit on my part. I haven’t failed some test. I just need to shift my focus and re-prioritize and let the universe unfold as it should. I’m doing okay.

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[Image credit: seethegood.net]

Writing a Dating Profile

Okay guys, I’m starting to get my feet under me in this new city, and now that I’ve had a chance to lift up my head and look around me, I realize I’m lonely as hell. There. I said it. I don’t know anybody here, and while talking to my dogs helps, they tend to keep their own counsel.

Normally I’d make friends at my UU Church, but my work schedule doesn’t really allow for that at this point. I‘ve never really had to expose myself like this because up to this point a good man always seemed to cross my path just when I needed one. But I’m not getting any younger or any thinner. So I’m stuck with doing something I thought I’d never do. I’m going to put myself out there on one of those internet dating sites.

God, I feel sick even contemplating the potential rejection. But you can’t win if you don’t play, right? So the first step, I suppose, is writing a profile. I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll Google “Writing a Dating Profile” and see what advice I can get there.

Apparently you get a much better response by including a photo. Oh, God. Well, I may as well be honest right up front, because sooner or later the truth will out. I don’t understand people who fake their pictures on these sites. Yes, starting off with a lie will get you a first date, but it sure isn’t going to get you a second one. If someone is shallow enough to reject me based solely on appearance, I’d rather skip over that person anyway.

And I’ve noticed that a lot of women’s profiles talk mostly about their curves and their physical attributes. I refuse to do that. Sorry guys, but if that’s all you want, you couldn’t handle me.

Unfortunately, most of these sites relegate you to about 200 words. I can’t even wrap my brain around that type of restriction. How do I sum myself up in just 200 words? Here’s what I’d like to say:

Hi, my name’s Barb. I’m a 49 year old liberal, intelligent non-smoker, and I just moved to the Seattle area from Florida for a job as a bridge operator with the city. I don’t know a soul here. Sometimes I am proud about this gutsy move, and other times I think I’ve lost my marbles.

When I drove across the country, I stopped at Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and Gingko Petrified Forest along the way. This is an amazingly gorgeous country we live in. I’ve been to 19 other countries, and have sorely neglected my own. I’m looking for someone to explore the city and/or state with me. I live to travel. My best trait, I think, is my curiosity. I enjoy learning and discovering.

The other day I went to Chihuly Garden and Glass and wanted to pitch a tent there. I visited the Gum Wall and thought it was gross and twisted. I loved it. Discovery Park took my breath away. The view is spectacular, but the loop road nearly killed this flatlander. I have some adjustments to make!

I’d love an epic romance, sure, but I’d be happy with a friendship, too. It feels really weird being this isolated. All the people I love most are 3100 miles away. Thank God for my dogs, but as much as I love them, they tend not to hold up their end of a conversation.

As you can see from my picture, I’m not skinny. No sense in lying about that. You’d figure it out sooner or later. If you’re looking for a Barbie Doll, I doubt we’d have much to talk about anyway.

I’m a Unitarian Universalist, which means I think everyone has their own path to walk and I’m fascinated by the many different paths that people choose. I can’t really relate to people who think their religious beliefs are the only correct ones. I guess that means I’m intolerant when it comes to intolerance.

I really enjoy watching other people do the cooking. I love eating pretty much anything except Sushi, Brussel sprouts and lima beans. I think it would be a blast to go to Pike Place Market with someone, pick out some really good ingredients, and then come home and help them create something delicious.

I like to go and do things, but I also like to read and take baths and stay at home and eat pizza and take naps with my dogs. My most embarrassing guilty pleasure is reality TV.

I don’t wear high heels or much make up. I fart and I snore and I hate it when I giggle but I think a good dry sense of humor is extremely sexy, so I’ve learned to get over myself. I’m extremely passionate when properly inspired, but I couldn’t be less interested in shallow and meaningless encounters.

I’m not really into sports. I’m also child free and smoke free and would like to keep it that way. I believe that if you’re still getting drunk in my age group, that’s probably the tip of an extremely troubled iceberg.

I’m told I’m interesting to talk to. I love to write, and maintain a daily blog. I think I tell some pretty good stories, and I love hearing other people tell them as well.

I love my job. There’s nothing better than sitting up on a drawbridge and watching the moon rise over the city, with its long silver reflection over the water. And I’ve always loved non-traditional jobs that allow me to think for myself. But in the interest of full disclosure, my work schedule is insane. I never have the same days off twice, it seems, and sometimes I work mornings and other times I work evenings, and it’s subject to change without notice. Occasionally I work ten days straight. That means I can be a bit hard to pin down. But I’d like to think I’m worth it.

So far I’m loving everything about Seattle except the traffic. I’m itching to get out there and see more of it! Care to join me?

So what do you think? Would you date me? And how do I boil myself down to 200 words? This could be an interesting writing exercise for other bloggers. “How to Shove Barb Into a Nutshell.”

Ugh. This whole vulnerability thing sucks.

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Dodging Bullets

Every once in a while you’re afforded a view of what your future might have been like if you had taken a different path. Sometimes it’s one of those moments like the final scene of The Way We Were. “Your girl is beautiful, Hubble.” It could have been great. If only. But this isn’t the movies. Mostly I find that in these situations I react with a huge amount of relief and a heavenward glance that says, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

That’s what happened to me yesterday. I was informed that someone that I lived with unhappily for 16 years is now engaged. The final straw with this guy was a blatant demonstration of lack of integrity, so I exited stage right. You should never be in a relationship with someone who sits idly by while you get thrown under a bus.

Even so, it is a weird feeling when you see that someone has moved on without you. That throws you into a When Harry Met Sally kind of mood. “What’s the matter with me?”

Then I remembered that I was expected to do all the heavy lifting in the relationship while he coasted calmly through it, so I got to be the bad guy. And his sisters treated me like crap and talked about me behind my back, and went out of their way to make me feel unwelcome. And it was years before he kept up his financial end of things. And I remembered how lonely I was, even when he was there, and how I used to cry myself to sleep.

So now I’m really happy because he just became someone else’s problem, and I am looking at it as a pleasant reminder that I’m free. Cue the music! Boooorn Freeeee…

Honestly, though, if he’s happy, then I’m happy for him. But my God, I could tell his fiancé a few stories that would curl her toes. I wish her luck.

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Born free…

Can Johnny Come out and Play?

Parents don’t hear that plaintive question at their front doors very much anymore, because kids are too busy glued to their computer screens to go outside. I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid riding a bike or I had to slow down to drive right through the center of a stick ball game in the street. You never hear about baseballs crashing through plate glass windows anymore. These things annoyed me at the time, but now I miss them.

And even if you grew up in an era when you did get to ask that question quite a bit, you learned quickly that after the age of about 21, it becomes increasingly harder to get your friends to come out and play. The older you are, the more you become bogged down with responsibilities. “I can’t come out and play today because I have to earn a living.” “I can’t come out and play because then who will watch the kids?” “I’m just so tired. Maybe next week.”

Trust me people, if you die tomorrow, your last thought isn’t going to be, “Damn, I forgot to wash the dishes.” If you have regrets, they’ll be about the things you didn’t get around to doing with friends and family.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to play again, but there’s really no one to play with. No one fits my whacky schedule. Everyone is busy, broke, exhausted, content, lethargic, or overwhelmed. And that’s probably the loneliest paragraph I have ever written in my life.

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[Image credit: quickmeme.com]

When No One Wants to Take a Stand: A Story of Neglect

I was 17 years old and a freshman in college, and I witnessed something that to this day I don’t fully understand. I’m sure there is much more to this story than I’ll be able to tell you, so I apologize in advance.

Among my fellow freshmen was a girl whom I’ll call T. To be brutally honest, she scared me. She was clearly quite severely mentally ill. I’m not just saying I could sense this, or that something was not quite right with her. I mean she was obviously and completely not there. Not even partially. Everyone knew it.

She ran everywhere she went, head down, arms kind of forward, panting, seemingly terrified. She had puppets. Quite often she’d only talk through them. I remember that one was a witch that had a creepy voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention.

She’d put on impromptu puppet shows which were incoherent cries for help. I’m fairly sure that she heard voices. But at the very least she was trying to communicate in the only way she knew how.

She should have been institutionalized, and yet there she was, with us, at a high-end private college in the Appalachian Mountains.

Even a rank amateur could tell that this girl was schizophrenic, or, uh, something, and there is no way on earth she could have possibly kept up with her studies. Any writing assignments must have been bizarre in the extreme. There couldn’t have been a question in any professor’s mind that there was a problem. T needed help.

The girl that had the misfortune of being T‘s roommate begged to be reassigned elsewhere, anywhere, but the administration refused, which is another big part of the mystery as far as I’m concerned. That girl spent the entire school year hopping from dorm room to dorm room, sleeping on our floors, essentially homeless. No one could have possibly felt safe sharing a room with T. How could you turn out the lights and sleep comfortably with someone whose only substantive relationships were her puppets? For Pete’s sake, I got the willies just passing T in the hallway.

I used to watch her running agitatedly across campus, completely disconnected from reality, and wonder why her parents had sent her there. They must have been rich. No way could she possibly have gotten scholarships. They had to have known she had a mental illness. There was no hiding it. What could they possibly hope to accomplish by foisting her off on academia? She needed help, and this wasn’t helping her.

Finally one day I couldn’t take it anymore, and I went to the Dean of Students. I told her all I knew and all I had observed about T. I could tell none of this was coming as a big surprise to her. There were only 500 students at the entire school. She knew what was up. I was hoping that someone in a position of authority would do something about this situation, but all I got from this woman was that there was nothing that could be done. I was in shock, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I’m ashamed to admit that I gave up on the whole thing right then and there.

But I would watch T, from a safe distance, running to and fro, and it always made me sad.

At the end of my freshman year I transferred from that school for unrelated reasons. I have no idea what became of T. Did she return the following year? Did she graduate? Did she ever get the help she needed? Where is she now? I don’t know.

But looking back from an adult perspective I can’t help but think that T was the victim of an institution-wide form of neglect. Obviously her parents had influence or she’d have never been there in the first place. But they didn’t care about her. Every one of her professors looked the other way as well. The administration chose to do nothing but take that tuition, which is rather sickening in retrospect.

And the girl in the center of this storm of indifference? She was just left to battle her demons by herself. And what a terrifying and lonely place that must be, emotionally and mentally speaking.

It’s so easy to just look the other way and assume that someone else will handle difficult situations. But when every adult, every single one, stands by and does nothing when a child is suffering, as far as I’m concerned that’s criminal behavior.

This, of all the stories that make up my life experience, is the one which cries out for the closure which I know I’ll never get.

T, if you’re out there, I want you to know that someone cared. I wish I could have helped you. I really do.

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8/22/13  Perhaps a little bit of closure after all! I just heard from T’s former roommate. She did want me to specify that these are vague recollections and not hard facts, but this is what she said:

“Hey, I read your story. I hadn’t thought about all that in a long time! I really only lived with her a few weeks. Then I went to the Dean of Students and asked if I could move to the room next door with M (who’s roommate didn’t show up). She grudgingly said yes. So I did. I lived with M the rest of the four years. I don’t remember if T came back the next year or not, but I don’t think so. I just can’t remember. Last I knew she was at a farm for mentally disabled people. I think she’s been there a long time. Hope that helps!”

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(Image credit: puppetsbypost.com)

Darkness Revealed

When I drive to work at night it’s a completely different experience than when I work a day shift. Even the nuclear power plant, normally a blight upon the landscape, looks beautiful. It is all lit up and floating in a sea of blackness like a nighttime cruise heading for the Bahamas.

The traffic flow is different as well. There’s less of it, and although it seems like a more lawless group of drivers, and definitely a more alcohol-soaked one, it feels safer. This is a dangerous illusion that requires one to be on the alert.

Criminals rule the night, or at least that is what Hollywood would have us believe. So there’s also this underlying sense of excitement and danger. Most people who are out at night are there either because they have no choice or they like the thrill and the atmosphere or they don’t have the sense to be vigilant. Or they are predators who are up to no good. And since these people can’t be told apart, you have to assume the worst.

What I like about the dark hours is the sense of isolation. Even though there are still the same number of humans on the planet, somehow at night you can often feel as if you have it all to yourself. What a luxury. I look up at the sky and revel in the quiet and imagine that all those stars are a part of me. We are star stuff, after all. I seem to breathe easier at night. I feel embraced by it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

It takes a certain amount of faith to feel safe at night. You are, after all, being deprived of one of your senses. Anything could be in the darkness. Anything at all. You can’t really be sure. There’s so much out there that you can’t see. Everything is hidden from you, and there’s quite a lot of it.

Indeed, that feeling of abundance can overtake our senses. At night we become more. More romantic, more fearful, more uninhibited, more exuberant, or more lonely and depressed. People hate to be alone on a Friday night. You never hear them complain about being alone on a Friday afternoon.

The nighttime feels like an grand entity that the daytime can never even hope to become. It takes a special effort to overcome that prehistoric desire to hide, to hibernate, to wait out the darkness. But if you make the effort, you often reap rare and sensual rewards.

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