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Posts from March 2014

Hanging Pictures

Typography pictures

Living room wall

For thirty years I have been afraid to hang a picture on a wall. Over those thirty years I have lived in nine homes, but only in the first apartment can I remember hanging pictures. I cannot blame deposit-withholding landlords, since I was an owner in half of those homes, and in one that I rented I painted the walls of one room cranberry and raspberry.

A threesome of fears prevented my putting hammer to wall: picking the wrong spot, leaving a nail hole, positioning pictures crooked. But as an avowed Type Z slacker to the Type A perfectionist, I can pin the initial blame behind those fears on my mother and my ex-husband. My mother would brag about how good she was at hanging pictures and making perfect picture groupings. It was her specialty, neighbors called her in for consultations. She made it into something difficult, something that only some people could do successfully. My ex-husband, who intimidated me in so many ways, seemed intent on showcasing my inadequacies in so many ways and hanging pictures that were at odd angles to each other was, I knew, waiting in the wings, so why give him ammunition if I didn’t need to? Besides, I told myself, bare walls aren’t so bad.

A year ago, I bought my apartment, and at the end of May my younger daughter and I moved in. She immediately did her collage thing of taping magazine pictures of beautiful girls and boys on her walls, but me, I leaned pictures against the wall on the mantel, in a picture stand on a chest, and on the bathroom floor (it’s a big bathroom), but hang a picture, not meek me.

A month ago, I used velcro-like hangers (selling points: no nails and easy to remove) to hang three pictures in my bedroom, a safe place where no one (unfortunately) would see my picture-hanging inadequacies. Those hangers had been in my car for months.

Then, two weeks ago I burst into a moment of to hell with it, and went on a picture hanging binge that involved hanging eighteen pictures in the living room, the entrance space, and the bathroom, and then yesterday I hung another thirteen on the wall opposite my kitchen. Many of the frames are crooked. Some of the frames need to be repositioned because they are either too close or too far from their neighbors. Some of the pictures inside the frames are crooked, and need moulding and matting. And I’m not sure if the groupings are harmonious. But it is glorious to have pictures on the wall. I remember places I have been and think of places I would like to go, I see my smiling daughters and my father on vacation. I see me.

Perhaps it was not the fear of failure that prevented me from hanging pictures, perhaps it was that I didn’t know what I wanted to represent me. It was not about having a good eye or finesse with a ruler (hah), but it was about stating who I am for all to see. Not surprisingly, now, when I walk around my apartment, I am comforted. No wonder that I told a friend today that I finally feel at home: my space reflects back my mind’s eye, and it is not blank. 


What Do I Deserve?

Still snowing

Almost buried by the snow


It’s another snowy Monday up here in the tundras of Virginia, so school is closed and the roads are slick, which means that I’m home. After a weekend of already having been home alone, I have reached my procrastination threshold. I did just hang (crooked) the picture that fell off the wall on Friday morning, and I graded enough papers on Saturday and Sunday to have put a significant dent in the pile, but I can’t bear to finish because I need a break from reading the work of 14-year-olds as I have reached my frustration limit with their willful ignorance of the comma, their adorably literal take on poetry, and their breezy familiarity with the Holocaust after doing a few hours of research. So it is time to finally sit down and think, or space out, or, as is too often the case, consider what I will eat and when.

In a sad display of where my mind travels, I already know that today I will have frozen pizza (probably the whole thing between lunch and dinner), finish the apple crumble that I made on Thursday for my book club (four women said they were coming when I planned the menu, but only one showed up), probably snack on trail mix, and maybe finish the chips and salsa (also purchased for the book club no-shows; otherwise, I would have stocked up on potato chips when the snow forecast came in). It’s probably not horrible that I think too much about what I will eat, but what bothers me is that I feel bad about it. I feel bad about eating, that somehow just the fact of planning what I will eat indicates that I am a weak person. Of course, I have to lose weight, but as I tell myself, I still shop in the regular women’s department and not in the Women’s department with all of its euphemisms for Xs, so it’s not too bad.

Why should I think that I’m not deserving of food? I am not a 15-year-old girl with an eating disorder, I am a healthy 52-year-old woman with a modicum of self-confidence in both my self and my looks; and since I wouldn’t consider wearing yoga pants in public, what’s with this perpetual disdain? Perhaps it’s because I think that I should be doing something important with every moment of my day. (I should be improving the world. I should be learning a foreign language. I should be making more money. I should be training for a marathon. I should be doing anything, everything, other than just living a life, my life). What makes a person value herself enough not to pry into her confidence?

But perhaps it’s not so dramatic a cause; perhaps it comes down to a way of breaking up the aloneness and the sameness of an ordinary life. “What will I have for lunch” is a way of breaking out of the daily struggle to come up with ways to enliven teenagers so that they do care about semi-colons and do wonder about the figurative meaning of a bagel rolling down a street. Perhaps this is my antidote to burrowing in and resigning myself to ordinary being dull as opposed to interesting. Every meal (except breakfast, don’t toy with my bagel and butter) can reveal something else about the world and can be a moment of enjoyment that the tedium does not offer. It is wrong to relegate food to the calories wasted as opposed to the flavors captured.

Still. I wonder what I can say to truly convince myself that I am not shallowly wasting thinking time.

Can I admit that I don’t generally have fun? Reading political articles and books about the Holocaust, while I choose them, don’t bring on a joyful laugh, rather they enforce the perception of the tragedy inherent in our humanity. The interlude of feasting, then, even if it is opposite the computer screen watching a documentary, gives me a moment to appreciate my life, life. It is a way to keep me balanced, just as long as I keep off the scale. It is a way, then, to be human in an experiential way and not a thoughtful way. It is being, so why begrudge myself? Maybe if I lightened up on myself, I would lighten up, too, on this nagging perception that I must be worthy every moment of every day, and lift this burden of purpose from me, and admit that I have value, regardless of what I do, and deserve to be alive—to be happy just because. 


Modern Spinster Poet: Divorced, Empty Nester, Writer

March snow

March snow

Sometimes I feel like one of those spinster poetesses who farmed the terrarium of her solitary life for meaning. This connection has come to me now that I live alone, with no responsibilities beyond my job, and no entanglements beyond the occasional phone call or text to my daughters and the daily phone call to my mother. The part of me that still believes that there should be action and gloss to life for it to be worthwhile rejects this abstentious life, but within my soleness I perceive that this quiet life is as true as a cloudless day.

Or, perhaps I have finally come to understand that it is true for me.

Or, perhaps I have the life that fits my purpose, which is, in essence, to be as those spinster poetesses: examining the basics of life.

Which is how I have finally come to appreciate the still activities of home.

If I cannot appreciate the outlines of my life, then what have the preceding 52 years been about? How long can a person rage against the system and the self? (Generally) dropping the tension of world-wide betrayal has, not surprisingly, enabled me to shift my focus from what I should be thinking about if I were a serious writer and person to the stunningly adequate thoughts that flit in and out. How have I let myself stand critiqued so harshly by myself? To what end? Is there anything more than a good life? Can there be a better life? Judged by whom?

There is this life. As wild or sedate as it may have been, it has been the right life because no alternatives exist in the way that day has followed day, and decision has followed decision, and the twisting and bending to the winds has always been a factor.

Truth, or the reality of one’s life, does not need embellishments, it only needs acceptance.

Hot Flash

Spring is coming

Spring is coming.

There is a distinctly world-bite-woman sense that has enveloped me now that my time to hot flash has come just as my home has emptied of my daughters. Am I to be my own hearth now that no one else needs my heat?

My first hot flash came this past Tuesday; all of a sudden a hotness welled up in me, warming me, then heating me like an overworked furnace, and then it was gone. It felt orgasmic in the way that it rolled into me, captivating me with its intense sense of my physical self. This intense focus on sensation was sensual, except for my frantic struggle to rip off my sweater in the middle of talking about the Holocaust to 25 14-year-olds.

But it is not only heat that gathers me into myself: I’m also having cold flashes. Granted, it is a winter’s winter, but it is more than that. The same rolling into me, the same forcing me to notice myself as with the hot flash, but this is cold, so cold that I shiver within and the thickness of sweater has no impact.

This is the season of my seasons. What’s the message? Now that I am too old to begin a life, am I to be a world unto myself? Or am I to notice that I have already become that world? These flashes are more like news flashes than obituaries to my reproductive self, telling me to release expectations and their disappointments, and pushing me from the botany of feverish spring to autumn’s solemn harvest. As my daughters fill with spring’s hopes and fears, I try to shed mine, helped by these flashes that flush out what has lost its usefulness. What should remain? All that I can be, without all that I wished I could be. A recollection of what was and shiver for what still may be, me.