A Surgery Surprise

Mary Oliver

Mary J. Oliver, July 29, 2011

As I reported in my post Life Postponed this January, I haven’t been feeling well for quite awhile.  I finally did get in to see a surgeon on February 21 for a consult. He promised to   call the following week to set up  gall bladder surgery sometime in the near future.

My body couldn’t wait that long.  I had a horrific flare-up on Friday, February 24.  The pain was almost unbearable in the afternoon, but  I “toughed it out” that night.   I have a high tolerance for pain, which has not worked in my favor this time in my life.

Saturday morning I woke up with a fever, so I phoned the on-call nurse.  She told me to report to urgent care, where I was seen very quickly. After an interview, an EKG, check-up and blood tests, the doctor spoke to Dave and me.  He said my white blood cell count and bilirubin was way up and I needed to report to the emergency room.  I thought, “Well, I’m finally going to get this ugly old organ outta me!  It may be a more expensive way, but it will be OVER!”  We were pleased that I was getting the attention I needed.  After an ultrasound of the gall bladder area, I was admitted to the hospital and hooked up to several IVS.

It took a day or so to get my blood count and bilirubin in better zones.  Once this was settled, I went to surgery at 8:40 a.m., Monday, February 27.  Surgery to remove the gall bladder is usually a one hour operation.  When I woke up in the recovery room, there were two nurses hovering around me.  Even without my glasses, I could see the clock hands pointing to noon.   Too woozy to fully take that in, Dave joined us on our journey to room 731 at St. Joseph’s Hospital–where my sister and I were born, where one of my sons-in-law was born, where my mother died 22 years ago, where my youngest grandchild was born almost six years ago.

Dave was a acting weird.  He was pacing the floor, stretching his limbs and finding it hard to sit still.  He told me that Dr. Panian, the surgeon, would be in very soon to talk to me about the surgery.  Meanwhile, I was chattering away about the Academy Awards ceremony I watched the night before.  I generally hate awards television, but it was the only show available on the hospital network that I was even remotely interested in.

Dr. Panian arrived around one o’clock.  He told me that the operation had been much more difficult than expected because the gall bladder had become hard, dried out and fused on one side to the stomach wall and the other side to the duodenum.  He had to enlarge the slits for the laparoscopic surgery.  With the laparoscope he detected a spread of cancer cells from the gall bladder to the side of the abdomen and across the duodenum.  Considering the sites where the cancer had spread, this was an inoperable cancer.  My prognosis, with palliative chemotherapy, is one to two years.

Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bl...

Anatomy of liver and gall bladder

Image via Wikipedia

 

Dr. Panian had talked to my husband after the surgery, so Dave knew all of this. He  had volunteered to tell me, so Dave had tried to mask the knowledge and keep me as “Mary, who did not know she had cancer,” as long as possible.

One side of my brain doesn’t think it is real, but the rest of me feels assaulted by bad karma.  I feel cheated out of the opportunity to grow old with Dave–which we had promised ourselves when we got married almost 16 years ago. I don’t want to leave my two daughters now that we are in fulfilling times in our lives.  I want to watch my three grandchildren grow up.  I still have plans and projects that I will not see through to the end. I will miss the change of seasons, my cats, the wildlife around me.  I’m not ready to leave yet.

Covered Bridge near Yellow Springs, Ohio

We will be talking to the oncologist this week to decide the course of therapy.  My nasty old gall bladder had placed me at the bottom of the surgery list.  My cancerous gall bladder puts me right at the top.  It is unusual to have gall bladder cancer at all, but a 64-year-old having it is very strange.  Dr. Panian told us the only cases he encountered were in women in their mid-seventies.

I am fortunate to have a loving husband and sister, as well my daughters, relatives, friends and friends of friends to offer up prayers and good wishes.  In the midst of tragedy, there are blessings.

Yellow Crocus between bricks

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Time Tunnel

On an especially hot Saturday evening a few weeks ago I had a strange experience with time traveling.  While waiting for Dave to settle in so we could watch a movie, our television happened to be tuned in to PBS during one of their interminable pledge drives.  Lawrence Welk was the featured program.  Nothing takes me back to my childhood like the champagne bubble music of Lawrence Welk!

My parents watched Lawrence Welk sometimes, enjoying the singing, dancing and staging of his numbers.  My father was especially fond of variety shows.  In fact, as long as the humor was clean and wholesome, this Illinois farm boy cum middle class urban businessman–loved anything vaguely burlesque.  Mr. Welk’s show almost fit the bill–it was squeaky clean with sanitized performers and performances.  All it lacked were skits and comedians.  This particular show was produced sometime in the late sixties or early seventies and was broadcast from a beach in Oahu.  The strong breezes played havoc with everyone’s hair; the sound engineering was clearly a nightmare.  From a hula dance to sentimental love songs to Norma singing about love lasting forever, this was a vintage Welk telecast.

The broadcast, with its perfectly matched costumes, idyllic setting and complete naivety, shot me back to my youth and early adulthood.  There was no hint on the show of the turmoil in America or anywhere else in the world, even though the controversial Vietnam conflict, with its daily count of fatalities, topped the news.   How could anyone, paying any attention at all, escape the street protests against the war, the university shutdowns over the draft, the racial tension with the rise of the Black Panthers? Somehow, Lawrence Welk and many other entertainers  of the time managed to do just that.

At this point on a Saturday night in the present, I had some kind of reality break, unlike anything I have experienced before.   I saw myself in the late 1960s—not a hippie, not a protestor, living at home with my parents while my husband was serving in the Mekong Delta.  We had married on November 9, 1968, a month before he left for Vietnam.

Mary & Rob wedding 9 Nov 1968Mary at Ola Poana Gardens, Kuaai, Hawaii 8/1969

I spent part of my senior year on campus after his departure, and the remainder at home with my parents while I completed my student teaching.  I remember being caught between several worlds—one where every minute of the war was sheer agony and death counts were personal; another where I was a daughter living at home with her doting parents; a third where I was a student on a college campus living in the dorm.

On a Friday, a week before Labor Day weekend in 1969, I boarded a plane to fly by myself to Honolulu.  My husband flew from Vietnam to Guam, and finally landed at Hickam Air Force Base.  We spent his R & R together in Hawaii—almost a full week in a tropical paradise, where we stayed in the nicest hotels and ate in the best restaurants.  The merchants, hoteliers, restaurants and businesses offered us 50% discounts throughout the islands.  From that point on I was in love with everything Hawaiian—songs, tropical scents, Asian food.   It was the paradise of young love, and loss, as he left on a bus to board the plane returning him to a jungle at war.  When Hawaii Five-O premiered on TV that fall, I wouldn’t miss an episode, especially the exciting opening with waves, surfers and the skyline of Honolulu.

Rob boating Kauai, Hawaii, 8/1969

During 1969, I did pay attention to what was happening—I hated every bit of violence perpetrated on anyone anywhere because I personalized it all.  That person had a mother, a father, a wife, a child… I voted in my first election for Hubert Humphrey while my husband voted for Richard Nixon by absentee ballot. When Rob returned from Vietnam, very thin and sick, he watched me graduate from college.  He shared his expectations and dreams with me, fueled by his year of avoiding strafing, planning bomb drops and meeting the native villagers in his town.  I knew then that I didn’t know this man, and probably never had.

Mary's graduation from college 12/1969--almost on time!

A few weeks later I left home and everything I knew—the mountain-filled horizon of Denver with all its vivid sunshine was a huge loss.  I became a part of another family in Chicago.  My mother-in-law asked me to take care of Bobby, a name I never used for him.  When I told my mother about this, thinking it was very sweet, she remarked, “I hope he is going to take care of you!”

Rob (Clark Kent) and Mary (Lois Lane) celebrating Christmas in Chicago

After celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square (NYC), my husband and I moved to Bitburg AFB in Germany.   We lived there for almost four years.  With everything different and my childhood gone, I became a young wife, a teacher and a European traveler.  As my experience broadened, I saw America from another side and I started to become an adult.  Those were exciting, frightening, eye-opening, disillusioning years that I will always treasure and would not trade.

Christmas in Berchtesgaden, zither player, Dec 1971

Our marriage did not survive our return to the United States.  We had two wonderful daughters to cherish, but civilian life and adult responsibilities did not become my husband.  He followed his own path to Florida while my daughters and I followed another back in Denver.  Our daughters grew up in the Denver Metro area, visiting their father in Fort Myers, FL, every summer.  As I wrote in an earlier post, I did mourn his death from a brain tumor in 2007, more than forty years after our first meeting in July 1967.

On this recent Saturday evening in July 2011, when Dave finally settled in, I asked him if he ever felt disconnected from the present.  Here I was, trying to figure out my new iPhone while watching Lawrence Welk. How weird is that?  We live in a world of technological wizardry, the people we were and many we knew are long gone, but somewhere in that time tunnel is a young Mary, in a very different time wearing a lei, breathing in heavy Hawaiian air, awaiting her young airman husband.  Was I ever that young?  Am I really that old?

Thank goodness Dave completely understood my strange mood.

Remembering Tumultuous Times…

3. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights act...

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In July my husband will be drawing Medicare, in addition to the Social Security he now receives. He was born in 1946, one of the first year tide of “baby boomers.”  I was born in 1947, during the second year of “baby booming” in post-war America.  While drinking coffee and reading the paper–a rather old-fashioned notion in my children’s household (not the coffee, just the newspaper!)–I read that the sixties are going to trend in television next season.   The sixties are cool again, thanks to Mad Menit’s the style, not the substance, however.  Don’t get me wrong.  We love Mad Men too, but we watch it with more irony than the generations that follow us.

Don’t get me wrong!  I remember the sixties and the late fifties as well.  My sister and I used to play “apartments” in the new fifties ranch house suburban neighborhood we moved to in 1954.   Lots of slamming of doors and a drinks cart always played prominently in our games, as did smoking.  My parents both quit smoking early in the fifties, so we copied the elegance of TV starlets.  Apartments, drinks carts and cigarettes were all the height of sophistication we didn’t actually see anywhere except on television. My parents didn’t have a drinks cart or a bar, so we used my mother’s glass tea cart with water glasses.  My parents hid a lot of their true selves when we were growing up.   They secreted their liquor in the master bedroom so my tee-totaling grandmothers never knew they imbibed.  Just for the record, they also kept it a secret that they were Democrats, since The Grandmothers were rabid Republicans and would have disapproved.

My sister and I were in junior high and high school during the first half of the sixties.  Fear was in the air then, with the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the glow of President Kennedy and then his assassination.  Civil rights conflicts raged in the southern states,  filling the TV news and the headlines–Freedom Riders, lunch counter sit-ins, peaceful marches ending with police batons and fire hoses.  The angry faces and hate-filled quotes from angry white southerners amazed me, although one of my grandmother’s said the same kind of thing when she visited us.   I graduated from high school in 1965, just on the cusp of more turbulent times.  The Vietnam conflict ramped up and both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.   I attended a quiet teaching college, but MLK’s assassination prompted class closures and protests.  No one could have escaped the clear message: The times they are a-changing…

This is how I remember my childhood and adolescence–sophistication, strictly defined gender roles, frightening upheavals, fear, threats of war and war.  Television messages: cowboys and Indians, pointy bras and ruffly aprons, housewives concerned with their dish and clothes detergents, wise dads and well-intentioned kids.   My own life included a working mom torn between her home, family and huge ambition;  a father whose dreams were never the same after World War II–all he wanted was his home, family and a steady, 9-5 dullish job.  My grandmothers who remembered a past without cars, telephones, washing machines, played a prominent part in my life.

The fifties AND the sixties were iconic times for me, as are the times for anyone remembering the 18-21 years of  growing up.  Both my sister and I married early, within six months of each other.  Our weddings were almost identical since we each wore our mother’s circa 1942 satin wedding dress.   Boy friends, engagement rings and weddings were expectations when we were very young women.  We had church weddings and receptions in the church basement.  Do people do that anymore?  Church basements?  No chocolate fountains or champagne at our weddings!

The new retro television shows coming this fall resurrect the overt sexualization of women that many women, as well as men, bought into.  They are titled The Playboy Club  and Pan Am.  The Playboy Club  needs little explaining, butPan Am does.  Fifty years ago, flight attendants were good looking women only.  No men were allowed, no married or older women were allowed, no overweight or unattractive women were allowed.  Stewardesses were sexualized by innuendo, but that was seen as a plus.  So, these programs will romanticize the style over the substance, once again.  We will tune in for Mad Men on AMCenjoying our blast from the past, but give the network shows a miss.  I don’t really want to be reminded of Playboy or stewardesses.

My sister, my father and I near the beach in Southern California, 08/1960

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The Joy of Grandchildren

Julia, Beck and Andrew

Not too long ago I saw a teaching colleague whom I hadn’t seen for years.  We discussed retirement and caught up with the doings of our children.  When she mentioned that her daughters were married and lived in other states quite far away, I expressed my regrets.  She said, “Oh, that’s fine.  I don’t have to babysit my grandchildren.”  I was amazed!  How diminished my life would be without my children and grandchildren close by!  They are my family, and family is right at the top of my list of priorities.

I’m writing this after we hosted our grandsons for an overnight this past Saturday. We always try to plan ahead for their visits so that we have the right treats and activities available.  Andrew is six and Beck is three.  Actually, they are “halves”–three 1/2 and 6 1/2, which does make a difference, especially for Beck.  A year ago he fussed for his mother, but now that he goes to preschool, he pushes her out the door.  I guess he is asserting his independence, which part of the whole growing-up experience.

The evening moved smoothly with Moon Sand (appropriate for indoor play, but very messy).  It is made in Sweden, but marketed by a Chinese company.  Just so readers know, it isn’t something fancy.  I bought it at Target.   The package  says the sand stays moist and no water need be added.  Well, it was moist, but neither Sweden or China had anticipated a dry mountain climate.  Frustratingly, the molded sand didn’t hold together very well, but that didn’t matter to the boys.  They built roads, walls and ramps and ran their play dump trucks over and into  them.  When we were ready to clean up, Dave found more of Beck’s sand on his chair and the floor than on the table.  For those who might wonder, it cleaned up beautifully!

Andrew is the best big brother I have ever encountered.  His mom and dad have taught him to look out for Beck and he takes that role seriously.  He is as vigilant as a parent.  Not only that, he thinks his brother is very funny, which he is.  When Beck demonstrated the Happy Feet penguin dance, Andrew ran up and hugged him.  He remarked that he was lucky to have Beck as his little brother.  What a sweetheart!  During dinner, Beck took a big bite of pizza and then grabbed my water bottle, taking a big swig.  He then remarked, “That was spicy!”  Andrew commented, “That’s Beck!”  When Beck decided he wanted to eat breakfast in the kitchen rather than in the dining room with us, Andrew advised, “Just ignore him.  He does stuff like that, but he’ll eventually come in here.”  He was right!

The previous two sleepovers we hosted included the boys’ cousin, Julia.  She is 7 1/2 going on thirty–also a very responsible young lady and full of creative play ideas.   Our townhouse is her stage, with the boys trailing along behind her while she serves as the director.  Andrew used to just let her tell him what to do, but occasionally he will say, “I feel bad when you leave me in the other room and go off with Beck.  I don’t like what I’m doing!”    Usually, however, they mesh very well, all three of them.  Both boys adore Julia.  One day she said to me, with a big sigh, “I don’t know why my cousins want to be me.”  I remarked that they looked up to her because she is the oldest.  Her reply: “Just wait until Andrew gets into second grade.  It is really hard.”

Whenever the grandchildren leave, the house seems very quiet.  We both suffer a let down, with all their young energy gone.  Young children are infinitely fascinating–their perspective and immediacy.  Of course, I was an elementary school teacher, so I’ve always enjoyed the freshness of young eyes.  However, Dave doesn’t have children of his own, so he has never had close enounters with youngsters growing up right under his nose.  He loves how the ordinary is extraordinary to kids–all his household tools, kitchen utensils, flash lights, hats–it goes on and on.  One of Dave’s great assets is his ability to remember how it felt to be a boy and the fact that he had a wonderful Dad who taught him how to do things and honored his curiousity.

“Our granchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us,as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends–and hardly ever our own grown children.”~

Time Warp

This past Sunday Dave and I browsed some favorite antique and collectibles stores, and we discovered some new ones too.  When I visit one of these stores I have an  “out of body” experience because I travel into my past.   Dave always teases me because I like to touch everything, pick it up and hold it, often losing myself in a rush of nostalgia.  It is fortunate that the shops we like are not high end!  I guess one of the reasons my husband and I are so compatible is that we are historians even more than collectors–always connecting the past with the present.

Because I am in my sixties, the items I find that link me to my childhood or teenage years are now between fifty and sixty years old.  On a shelf I might see a doll with a cloth body and molded plastic face, very much like the one I spotted in a baby picture of me.  I don’t even remember the doll–just a wisp of memory that I can’t really capture.   A darling fitted wool coat with matching hat and muff  tickles a memory of me wearing such a coat to church or school when I was my granddaughter’s age.  Aisles and aisles of dishes, lamps, spice cans, old magazines, Golden Books, Life magazines, furniture, Corning Ware, pottery, coffee carafes–all of them transport me back to childhood remembrances  of a different world, a different time, another country all together.

Recently we have begun renting old television shows from Netflix .  These anthologies come from Playhouse 90, Kraft Theater and Westinghouse’s Studio One, to name a few.  The one we watched last night featured Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in a 1953 Studio One performance.   Of course they are performed live, broadcast  in black and white with patchy sound and the poor picture quality.  Nevertheless, Gleason and Carney’s talent surmounted all of that.  The story was nuanced and and had a spiritual quality to it that is missing from much of modern television.   Of course, early television was avant garde at its outset.   These shows originated from New York City, so they featured Broadway actors for the most part, many of whom were experienced and older than the actors who populate most of our television today.  Given the newness of the medium, they were pioneers and took chances.

Cable shows such Damages, Breaking Bad and Mad Men dare to take these kind of  risks with meaningful stories today, but they are a premium. Anyone who views them pays to have cable or satellite link-ups.   I guess, in a way, people in 1953 who could afford a television set and lived in an area where it was available also paid because televisions were a luxury item.  The argument that I am making, however, is that television producers and their sponsors believed that people wanted quality programming all the time. They had respect for the  audience.  Even the old Perry Mason series featured a more complex vocabulary than most television today.

Okay, okay–I’m beginning to sound like my grandmother, talking about the malaise of the modern world.  I guess that is part of having  lived several decades so I can compare and contrast, but I have to say that I don’t think everything new is an improvement.

Another program we ordered from Netflix was a documentary from 2005 titled The End of Suburbia. Since it was produced in 2004/2005,  it seemed prophetic when it predicted the recession and decline of the American lifestyle, the continuing war and threats to American safety, the gasoline price crisis and the problems we have because we built our lives around suburbs, cars and highways.   The huge divisions between haves and have-nots were also analyzed.  In fact, experts knew in the late 1960s/early 1970s that we would run short of oil before the end of the century, but kept silent about it.  Anyone who did speak out, such as Jimmy Carter, was called a gloom and doom naysayer.   Dave and I  kept pausing the video to analyze all that we were hearing.

On our drive home from “antiquing”, we talked about how much more complicated life has become.  We know so much more than we did twenty or thirty years ago and the world has changed so fast, even within the last ten years.   The very idea of living to 100 years of age seems daunting–how much more change can we absorb?   Childhood seems a long, long time ago.  And 30+ more years of life seems more of the future than we might be able to endure.

Joining up…

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform. ~Mark Twain

Despite my age, there are some aspects of my personality that continue to amaze me.  One of them is the dichotomy between yearning to be accepted by a group and the suffocation I feel when I am.  I’ve always felt like an outsider, although I don’t think I am perceived that way. When I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator many years ago, I was assessed as an INFJ, which means:

Introversion vs. Extraversion, iNtuitive vs. Sensing, Feeling vs. Thinking, Judging vs. Perceiving*

Since that is the least common type in the U.S. population, and allowing for my borderline results within half the dichotomies of F/T and J/P, it is no wonder that I find it hard to be a joiner.

Growing up an INFJ was not easy, especially in my childhood household.  I suspect my father was an I, possibly a N, and definitely a J. My personality resembled my father’s (I??J) more than my mother’s, but my father didn’t participate much in the intricacies of raising daughters, leaving it to my mother, who was probably an EFTJ.  She was mystified by dreamy, sensitive girls like me.  I discovered that I could please her by getting good grades and having some kind of social life.  In high school I joined the kind of clubs  she would have joined and held onto one boyfriend throughout high school so that I could be assured of invitations to dances.  I even joined her sorority in college, envying the GDIs the whole time.

I grew up in a religious family (Methodist), with various minister ancestors who preached their way west.  I liked the “belonging-ness” of church membership because it seemed safe, warm and predictable, even though I had abandoned my belief in the tenets of the faith by the time I was twelve.  Through the years I learned that belonging to a church   was constricting, demanding and definitely unsafe for me.  By the age of 45 I abandoned all pretext of declaring myself religious.  Politically I have yet to abandon my party affiliation, mainly because our country is so polarized and I don’t see how change will happen without working through the system.  However, I do not plan to use my blog for political statements, so I will simply define myself as a humanist.**

Despite the insights about myself I have gained, I know that I am still evolving as a person.  There are no easy answers to the Big Questions about existence.  I also know that working against who I am is fruitless.  I will continue to gain understanding and self-acceptance, enjoy learning something new, but I cannot be other than I am.  The biggest mistakes in my life began when I followed someone else’s drum beat, rather than the drum beat of my own heart.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

**http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?page=what&section=main

Life-Work: Finding The Space

So far 2010 has been about organizing my Stuff–and it needed to be!   People who have retired from a paying job still crave some kind of  work.   When I retired from teaching elementary school in September 2002, I thought I knew what I would do as a “second career.”  I had spent four years working as a half-time teacher, “transitioning” into retirement.   After that “practice” retirement, I realized that the real thing requires on-the-job training.

Throughout the years I worked as an elementary school teacher, I dreamed of being a writer.  I had always kept a journal, but I added poetry and stories when on summer breaks from teaching.   During the school year, inevitably I became  frustrated with the regimen of classroom teaching.  I  saw myself setting my own agenda and working as a writer from home.  In hind sight, I know that most people become frustrated with their work, picturing  what they would do if they had it to do all over again.  Often writing is one of those romantic choices.   However, during those years, I was the only person I knew who believed she was a writer trapped in a classroom.

However, this isn’t a blog entry about suddenly discovering my calling.   Rather, I am writing about life-work.  Although I love children and I am glad that I had the opportunity to teach, I have never been sorry to be doing something else.  My teaching experience has helped me to play creatively with my grandchildren and enjoy being part of their expanding discovery of the world around them.  I have no regrets about my professional choices because they gave me insights into childhood and the importance of keeping my mind open to new opportunities.

Since retirement I have worked as a writer, though I haven’t received much money for my efforts.  I  finished writing a book in November.  It is “resting” while I decide on marketing and publishing strategies.  I love blogs and  blogging and have now started my third blog (!).  I’ve also developed numerous hobbies that are both creative efforts and keep my days full.  Fitting new interests into a townhouse, however, requires a different kind of creativity.  Enter Dave, my husband, the architect.  He knows all about space!

I have two working spaces in the house.  One of them is this room where I am writing.  It contains my computer and printer, paper, notebooks, pencils and pens–as well as two cat beds.  I also do the household accounts, so I have calculators, check books and the bills here.  This is The Office.  Since I  also taught myself to knit recently, I have knitting books, needles and the yarn I am currently using stored in here.  My bookcases contain dictionaries, writing books, genealogy books and family records (another hobby), most of the pictures from my ancestors,  childhood and my life up to now.  We also store some of our cookbooks in this room, plus my recipe collection–although cooking is not one of my hobbies.

Upstairs I have another room, called The Atelier.  It is also shared with our two cats, two more round beds for them and the towels stretched across a top shelf in the sunniest window.  This space was to be Dave’s architectural studio, but the room’s orientation is too hot and bright in the afternoons–which is why the cats like it and it is sometimes referred to as The Lair.   Dave’s  closet and bathroom are off of this room.  The walls show off some of his favorite architectural scenes and the bookshelves store his favorite mystery books. There I have my sewing machine and table,  patterns, wool for felting, felting needles and tools, as well as sewing books & doll magazines.

I restarted my doll collection after I gained a granddaughter, so I have my doll collection in a display case in the bedroom.  Dave built a play scale (not miniature) doll house for my granddaughter Julia and me.   When she comes over we play elaborate games with my dolls, and a few that I bought for her.

This doll collecting led to another mini-hobby–buying and selling dolls and doll stuff on eBay.  That endeavor has gone into semi-retirement, although I did enjoy it.  I had many business writing experiences creating descriptions for dolls, as well as reformulating my shipping and return policy. I also resold online most of the hardback fiction that I bought and hadn’t passed on to friends and family so that we would have room for other Stuff.  Our new neighborhood library, conveniently located several blocks away, sees a lot of us now!

For the last few weeks Dave and I have been reorganizing and storing my cloth and yarn stash since he has moved his office/studio to the basement.  Now that he is a retired–but still open to options–architect, we reshuffled his Stuff, my Stuff and our whole living space.  Most of my teaching materials and supplies are long gone.

During this next phase of both our lives, and the lives of friends and family who have retired, we have noticed that retirement isn’t easy on a number of levels.  My father said that you have to prepare for it, but I’m not sure that is really possible for everyone.  Most people don’t realize that retirement can feel like being “side-lined”, whether you chose to retire or were forced into it–with tinfoil parachutes, as my sister-in-law called her sudden forced retirement not long ago.

Even though I wanted to retire, to start something new, I still felt at loose ends.   My job had defined my daily parameters with schedules and requirements, so I was ill-equipped to delineate my own timefor a long time.  Then there was always the question of where to spend my time.  I had whole days to “squander,” which didn’t feel right to me.  I was flighty and unfocused.  It has taken years to work my way through all that I thought I wanted to do and find what fits my evolving interests.

I know I am a work-in-progress, just like the two sweaters I am knitting.  I work awhile, tear out a few rows, re-knit them and add that many more.  I’m counting on the sweaters being done long before I am!

Bittersweet

The most prevalent flavor of life is bittersweet. ~Anonymous~

I finished writing the memoir about my parents on Sunday.  I can hardly believe it.  I am stunned.  I am at the place I have longed for, after working on this project for over eleven years.  Shouldn’t I be jumping up and down and shouting hooray?  But I’m not.

As long as I was writing about their lives, I was recreating them as living creatures once again.  Then all last week I was rewriting every moment of their fading away, including their deaths and scattering their ashes.  Now I am numb.

Where do I turn next?  When I finish a large project that I have been pouring so much of my conscious and unconscious energy into, how do I turn it off?  Is it good enough?  What else can be tweaked?  My husband advises me:  at some point you have to let it go.  You have to decide that it is done.

The irony is I have wanted to be done for such a long time.  I have abandoned this work two or three times, but it has nibbled at me, then yelled at me, then discouraged me.  I have rolled my chair around the office, sorted paper clips, cruised eBay and Facebook, even balanced the checkbook, rather than work on the book.

Now I am finally done, and I can’t let it go.  My brain is clicking, waking me up in the middle of the night.  What do I work on next,  now  that I can do all those things I’ve been longing to do, everything that I’ve been putting off until the book is done?

I know I feel this urgency because I’m at the fast end of the hour glass.  There is so much less sand now and it moves so much quicker.  I don’t want to waste a minute, even though I remember all those moments I have wasted when I thought I had so much.