Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The case for average

I'm not sure when I wrote this, but my letter grade in life hasn't risen any since then. 

I'm coming clean. It's said that confession is good for the soul — plus it's a novelty in this day of not admitting to anything. Makes me feel all sanctimonious and Marmee-like. So here goes.

I am not a leader.

Umm, felt good. I'll say it again, louder and longer. I'm a follower with absolutely no aspirations to lead.

I have never dreamed of gathering obscene wealth or dining at restaurants where cute guys park your car and paparazzi snap pictures of you as you walk past. I've never longed to be a CEO or a member of any other profession that has initials as its description.

If I'm helping at a seminar or conference, I'm the one making sure the speakers have fresh water and directing people to the coffee urn and the nearest bathroom. I'm never the one smiling out over the crowd and saying, "Can everyone hear me?" I don't want to be heard.

I play Jeopardy along with the TV show at home — badly — but the idea of actually going on television for any purpose makes me turn pale and fumble for my Zoloft.

The last time I had jury duty, I was elected to be the foreperson based on my being the only one who had served before. I explained that all this meant was that I knew where the bathroom and the coffeepot were, but the other jurors seemed to think that was sufficient knowledge. I hope those people are never around when conference speakers are hired; they might recommend me!

When I was in high school, I was always a third-row member of pep club, never a cheerleader. In physical education class, the bane of my existence, I warmed the bench in basketball, was the 27th batter in baseball, and the only time I ever got a volleyball over the net was when the hard-as-a-rock ball bounced off my nose and I thought it was broken. The nose, that is, not the ball. If I'd gone away to camp to improve my skills the way young scholars and student athletes do now, I'd have ended up being the tent monitor because I was too lackadaisical to excel at anything else.

While I admire excellence and do on occasion strive for it, I'm more often happy with good-enough. My husband — whose leadership qualities I hesitate to acknowledge just in case he takes it upon himself to lead me — thinks if you're going to do something, you should do it right or not at all. Having been raised by a mother who ironed everything, I became an adult who can survive years at a time without opening up the ironing board. However, if I'm wearing a jumper or a vest, I will break down and iron the collar and sleeves of the blouse I wear underneath. It looks … you know … okay. My husband considers this beyond laziness and well into slovenliness, so I let him iron my blouses whenever he wants to.

I am — dare I say it? — incredibly average, to the point that I've never been able to buy my clothes off the clearance racks because my size is average, too. When I gained the requisite 20 pounds and two sizes after I stopped smoking, so did everyone else.

And you know what?; I don't mind being average. A friend suggests that this is because I don't want the responsibility of excellence. I don't want to be the idea person, the trouble-shooter, the Moses of the workplace. She's right.

But at the end of the day, when all the ideas are presented and the games played and the conferences over, everyone needs the bathroom and a cup of coffee. They need to sit and unwind without worrying whether there are wrinkles in their blouses. They need to just be average.

So, the bathroom's just down the hall there and the coffee's fresh. Cream? I'll be glad to get you some. That's what people like me are for, and it's not bad at all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Donut Man and Led Zeppelin

You may have noticed that when I get overwhelmed--or lazy--I beg invite friends to join me here. They have tons of information to share, are funnier than I am, and present a new view through the smudged glass of the Window Over the Sink. This week, Joe DeRozier's back. Thanks to him for coming and for sharing what he calls his ramblings. See you next week--unless another funnier, smarter friend shows up - Liz 

It's dark... I'm tired...

I grab the mountain of paperwork from the passenger seat, climb out of the car, then go to the back seat where I put the bag of garbage that Kat left for me by the back door.

I throw the garbage in the dumpster, trying to stay aware of where my keys and important papers are so as not to pitch those in there as well.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I had to climb in that dumpster to retrieve my things. I used to fling myself up on the side, check for racoons, then jump in. It's harder now. I get a ladder if I can...things sure change...

I unlock the bakery door and walk in to pitch black. It doesn't really matter. I KNOW this place better than anywhere. Besides...my eyes are still closed.

It's seven steps in, and slightly to the right at about 45°. More than likely there is a rack there. At chest level there are light switches on the east wall. I hit those and there's an instant flood of light. It takes a second to adjust my eyes.

I look at the freezer temp and the condensation pump for anything that needs immediate attention.
All good…

I grab a 50lb cube of shortening. They're not as light as they used to be. I fill the melter, check temps, then start my prep work.

I check my phone for messages. Most people contact me through Facebook, so the only messages are usually telemarketers. Salespeople used to stop in and ask for my dad because I looked so young...that doesn't ever happen anymore.

Actually, while I'm thinking about it, salespeople never come in...or donation people. They call or message. They'd do better getting off their phones and stopping in...maybe I'm just getting old...

I get the first 85 lbs of dough ready to mix. I roll racks, move boards, put away dishes, get the proof box ready. I scan the bakery to figure out what I've forgotten to do. There's always something.

I forgot to scale cake donuts...

I head to my office, a.k.a. “the cave,” and fire up my computer, where I print out my "donut bible" and the invoices.

I start my dough, then head back to the cave to do more paperwork.

The dough finishes and I throw it on the tablewell, I USED to throw it on the table. Now I roll it as close to the
table as I can, assess the situation, pick it up and say a quick prayer.

I'm still strong enough... it's the pain...

I have 10 minutes to let the dough proof...

This is the best 10 minutes of the day... I have coffee... I sit down by the table. I'm alone, with Led Zeppelin playing in the background. It's quiet...

I think about my family... I think about my dad, a lot. I wonder what wonderful things will happen with my kids. How long will my wife put up with me? Will her eyes lock in the "rolled" position?

The timer goes off. My coffee is cold.

It's 3:30 am, now.

I create some donuts. I'm slow at first, then get into a rhythm.

Mason and Michael come in. They always come in to help. We talk. Some about business, some about Peru. Our wives/girlfriend (Mason's girlfriend is my daughter, April, so he has to say good things). Politics, weather... we make fun of each other. We fry, fill and ice, and pack up the donuts.

Ed Stuber from Main Street Market picks his donuts up just as we're packing them. They're still warm.

We get everything cleaned up. Mike and Mason eventually leave.

People from the other stores come in. There are brief salutations...nothing more...It's quiet again for me. I try not to fall asleep. I have a few hours to wait until I start all over...

The time comes...I start my dough, this time knowing there will be about 300 pounds. I'll only mix and cut these, but no one else is here. I see customers in the storefront and store workers going back and forth... of course, they're too busy to bother with me...

I'm around a lot of people, but I'm alone, really.

Just me and Led Zeppelin playing in the background...

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Climbing into the day...

We didn't mean to, but my friend Debby Myers and I seem to be doing a little series on grief and depression. Mine is at Peru Indiana Today and Deb's is here. The fact that we both wrote on it at virtually the same time without the other knowing made me think about how many people are in anguish, be it physical, emotional, or mental. How many people are suffering in silence? In aloneness? Thinking there is no light at the end of their personal tunnel? It's important to share it and to take care of it. Sometimes finding someone to talk to is your first step to "getting out of bed."

Thanks, Debby, for sharing this part of your journey. I feel privileged that you write for the Window. - Liz

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Have you ever really asked yourself? Oh, sure, you have the usual reasons―go to work, go to school, go visit friends. But what if you didn’t have anywhere to go? What if you couldn’t go even if you wanted to? Would you get out of bed? After all, sleeping is how we spend 35 percent of our lives. Being in bed is where we are most comfortable, where we are relaxed. Why get up? Do you have to have a reason? If you didn’t have to, would you?

Getting out of bed each morning is really a matter of self-worth. In my opinion and from my experience, it’s something you have to do for yourself and no one else. It’s how we are meant to spend the other 65 percent of our lives―out of bed. Getting up, making the bed, eating breakfast, taking a shower, and getting dressed are all activities we do for ourselves. In my situation, I don’t have to get out of bed. I don’t have to hurry off anywhere, don’t have to go to work, can’t drive anymore to go visit friends or family.

For a while, I didn’t. I stayed in bed all day sometimes and never left my bedroom except to potty. I didn’t want to eat and I didn’t care about myself. Getting up for me meant more pain, more struggles, more facing my new reality.
But it’s when you don’t get out of bed in the morning that you know you may have sunk into depression. Often nothing or no one can pull you up except you. It’s not easy. I kept thinking, who cares if I get up or how I look? No one is coming over. I have nowhere to go. Why not stay where I am most comfortable and relaxed?

In my case, as I lay in bed in my jammies with the TV on at two in the afternoon, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was on. Yet somewhere in my subconscious, I heard a woman say, “You can never really love someone else until you love yourself.” Of course, I’d heard that phrase before, but this time it must have really stuck. I dozed off to sleep again and began dreaming about all of those I love―my husband, my parents, my children and grandchildren. But not myself.

When I woke up, I got up out of bed. I made the bed, ate, took a shower, and got dressed. I stood and looked in the mirror for a long time thinking about what that woman had said. I decided to put on makeup and style my hair. Afterward I looked in the mirror again and said out loud, “I love myself, I love myself, I love myself.” But the truth was – I knew right then, at that moment, I didn’t.

I had to do something. I didn’t really want to spend my life hiding in my bedroom. I needed help. I went on the portal for my neurologist. I wrote to her explaining and admitting for the first time that I was suffering from depression. Me―depression. Two words I never thought would be linked in the same sentence. She told me to make a list of reasons to stay in bed and reasons to get up each morning. Surprisingly the reasons to get up heavily outweighed the reasons to stay in bed. She also pointed out the obvious―that I had recently learned I had multiple sclerosis.

Finding out that you have a chronic illness and learning to live with it is like when you suffer the loss of a loved one, only that loved one is you. In an instant, your whole life changes and you lose who you used to be. My neurologist took me through all the five stages of loss.

1.   Grief – I’d had plenty of that and survived that one.
2.   Denial – already conquered that one too.
3.   Isolation – just got through that one.
4.   Depression – that’s where I am now.
5.   Acceptance ― This was the one I needed to survive and conquer now.

I am so close to that last stage, so close to accepting and loving this new version of me. I've accepted that I don't have to lose who I used to be. I have to accept and love who I'm becoming. Number Four still holds me back sometimes. That is the reason my neurologist had me complete the list. So when that depression creeps in, I can look at the reasons I DO have to get out of bed in the morning. Most days it works, but just like with loss, I can slip back into any of the stages any time. My goal for now is to stop lying in bed wondering, "Why do you get out of bed in the morning?" It's then I'll feel that I've moved on to Number Five. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A room of my own

I write too much about being retired, perhaps, but since that's what we are...well, it comes naturally. I wrote this one a few years back, about the shock of it all when it first happens. I'm still in my office at the desk in the picture--new computer, though. The seven quilts I promised to make have been completed. A few books and a lot of these slice-of-life essays. He has new knees and new guitars. We've had grief and loss in these years, occasional discontent, times of being alone even when we are together. We've also had a blessed amount of fun. Of music and laughter and family. Of the other side of being alone that comes of knowing we never really are.

Duane and I had been married nearly 40 years when we retired, sharing space with all the attendant noise, mess, and drama that comes with having three kids, a house, and two jobs. By the time we started collecting our pensions, of course, the kids were grown and all the noise, mess, and drama were our own. We looked forward to all the time we were going to have to pursue our own interests and also ones we shared. He wanted to play golf and music. I wanted to travel and eat meals I hadn’t chosen, shopped for, and cooked.
            Whenever anyone talks about retirement, there’s always a “however.” Have you ever noticed that?
            Sharing a house during evenings and weekends was a piece of cake. We’d always done that well. Okay, maybe not always, but most of the time. Then suddenly, we were sharing it 24/7.
            What were we thinking? I mean, really.
            I still got up at 4:00 AM. He slept until 8:00. I’d probably turned on the television three times in our married life—he didn’t realize it had an off switch. I wanted to travel…oh, maybe once a month, to a different place every time. He wanted to travel once a year to Florida. He didn’t care what he ate or when as long as there were pastries involved.
            One of the interests I wanted to pursue was quilting. I’d promised the grandkids—all seven of them—I would make each of them a bed-size quilt when I retired. Not that I even knew how to make one, mind you, but that’s a whole different story. However—there’s that word again—quilting has quite a volume of mess involved with it (at least when I’m the one doing it), and no small amount of drama when it came to me learning how to cut things out. Especially triangles.
            He still wanted to play golf, but his knees were wearing out, so it wasn’t much fun. He still played music, but having me there all the time he was doing it bothered him.
            It appeared we just might spend our happy golden years driving each other crazy. It was a learning time. With a steep curve. Oh, way steep.
But then my husband, with help from our boys, built an office/sewing room in the garage. It is the best of things, what Virginia Woolf wrote about in A Room of One’s Own, an essay which I must own to never having read, but one that embraces the theory that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." If Ms. Woolf had been a quilter, she’d have expanded that list of Must Haves a bit.
Sometimes I feel guilty because I spend so much time out here, but most of the time I’m just thrilled to have it. We are still together 24/7 (although the busyness of retirement makes that a gross exaggeration), but in addition to being a unit—the parental one, the grandparental one, the other halves of each other—we are also freely, happily ourselves. Virginia Woolf had it right.
Till next time. Have a great week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Important Places

“All these places have their moments…” – Lennon and McCartney

My father-in-law was here this morning for a while. Seeing him, naturally enough, made me think about my mother-in-law, and miss her. And my mom—and miss her, too. I gave him a cup of coffee and thought about how many cups of coffee there had been at how many tables and then I thought of places that have been important to me.

          In case you didn’t know it, this is how a writer’s mind works. Forget any idea of sense or linearity or neatly dovetailing thoughts—there aren’t any of those. A writer’s mind is a whole lot like the junk drawer at the end of the cabinet, full and messy.

          But, yes, places. Starting with kitchen tables. My mother’s, where the homemade bread and sugar cookies cooled and she taught me to iron pillowcases. My sister’s, where no one was ever a stranger. My mother-in-law’s, where we sat while she cooked and gave the grandkids whatever they asked for. The tables from our 30s where girlfriends and I sat and shared coffee and confidences. Our kitchen island now, where we play Farkle and I write Christmas cards and make plans. Kitchen tables are so many things—pulpits, confessionals, meditation sites, places of both privacy and society. They are where we laugh and cry and make life-changing decisions. They are important.

          Desks have been instrumental since the first day of first grade, when I
learned the word “Look” and from there on couldn’t be stopped from reading every written page that crossed my path. It was at a desk where I learned to love American history although I never got good at it and where I had to stay through several recesses because of talking in class. It was where I was sitting when an editor first called and said, “I want to buy your book.”

          Bleachers are way up there on my list. They are where I watched my kids grow up and learn things that might have been missed outside the arenas of sports, drama, and music. They’re where I had my first experience with civil disobedience back in high school. When I was 19, I sat in the bleachers at the softball diamond in Maconaquah Park and tried to figure out what I was going to do next.

          Church. Obviously, it’s the accepted place to worship, but I believe you
can worship anywhere. It’s also where people are married, baptized, dedicated, and eulogized. It’s where we have chili suppers, noodle suppers, sauerkraut suppers, and tenderloin suppers—and that’s just in September and October; there are plenty more to be had throughout the year. It’s where, if we’re lucky, party affiliations and grudges are left outside the open-to-all doors. It is, when all else fails, a safe place.

          Norris Lake, Tennessee is important because our family in its entirety spent Thanksgiving weekend there a few years ago. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had—it’s also the last time we’ve all been in the same place at the same time. That could be bittersweet, but it’s not—it’s all sweet. Although it’s important not to live in the past, keeping good memories in a pocket inside your heart is just as important.

         The Nickel Plate Trail. I don’t walk much these days, but it’s still my favorite place when I do. I’ve done a lot of plotting there, spent quality time with family and friends, and remembered what a gift nature is.

          The school up the road is important if for no other reason than there have been family members in it ever since it was built. It’s where I have so many memory bank deposits I can’t begin to keep track of them all.

          There are so many others. Favorite vacation places, the side yard where the deer graze and the birds dive-bomb each other and the sun slips quietly and beautifully into the horizon, places I’ve voted, music that has been so stirring it created places of its own.

          The pleasure in important places is that you don’t have to go back to them to experience them. As faulty as memory becomes—and it does—happy times still live there. You may not be able to remember how to get back to the physical places that are important to you, but you’ll remember how you felt there. You’ll remember the perfect meal with 16 of you at the table and the day you were laughing so hard you were falling off the barstools in the kitchen and the taste of those sugar cookies that you’ve never once been able to emulate. And you’ll know those places—and times—were important. Capture the joy.