Saturday, April 30, 2005

Alone With Myself (Ha ha, bad misanthropic poetry)

I’m having a pretty intense period of “alone time” right now. I’m not freaking out about some intense personal issue, which is sometimes the case when I hide in the house. I did call Mindy and leave a message to see if she wanted to do something tonight. (I haven’t heard from her yet even though I sang her a version of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” with her name in it.) However, I’m not freaking out that she hasn’t called back which must meant that I’m not lonely. I’m just kind of quiet. I’m not really motivated to do anything but it’s not because I’m depressed or miss my mom or anything. In fact, I’m a little nervous that I’m about to go over the line to lazy. When does talking care of oneself become slacking? The house is a freaking mess. Only the lack of counter space and my possession of only four glasses have caused me to do any dishes lately. I am knitting like a crazy woman. If I didn’t have to wait on Netflix for each batch of episodes of The West Wing, those would all be consumed by now. However, I have only a little bit of my quilt top left to finish and I just can’t seem to clear the yarn off the ironing board and get back to it. Laziness is a definite possibility.

Maybe I’m in a transitional state. Summer isn’t here yet (it’s a huge season on the island with all sorts of connotations attached to the word) but the weather’s too nice for it to be considered winter. I don’t have much work but I’m facing reduced expenses when I move into Mindy’s so I’m not really worried about it. I have 40 hours of work set up for the summer. I got the job waiting tables at Doe Bay for $10 and hour plus tip share and I’ll be at Shearwater’s desk for “more than $9” most mornings. However, neither of those jobs have started yet. 40 hours seems like a death sentence. I worry a little that all of these things that I’ve been able to do this winter (working with Rhonda, quilting, writing and reading so much, etc) will be edged out if I am working full time. It’s a silly worry since I used to work 60 hours a week coaching speech and teaching English plus the time I spent grading endless stacks of papers. I think I’ll be fine. So, probably I’m in a transitional state and I should just enjoy the time on the couch knitting and listening to Tom Jones Live at Ceasar’s Palace.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Living the Life

When we arrived at Mindystock on Saturday night, the hostess, Mindy, was not at the party site because her rooster had gotten into a fight with someone’s dog and had run off into the woods.

I have a book that came into The Exchange called BE HERE NOW, which is apparently a pretty important Buddhist text in the US. Stephanie, who works at The Exchange, told me that it is the first book that she remembers reading that sort of opened her eyes to her path in life. Well, it advocates that we, strangely enough, should be here now, rather than reflecting on the past or thinking about the future. I've been doing that for the last few days.

Thursday was class and lunch after class, then working at the Island Flavor. Friday was The Exchange and then on Friday night we had a kickoff party for The Exchange ART (appropriate recycling technology) Show, which showcases art made from garbage. That party was at The Grange which is next-door to The Exchange. Saturday was the ART show and all of the employees were there so no one really had to do all that much work. We had a keg of root beer and set up a sound system on which we played various records that have come into The Exchange. Lots of people liked my entry, which was paper bowls made out of pages from BE HERE NOW. I called them Dharma Bowls. Saturday night was Mindystock, with the aforementioned rooster incident. Sunday was church and then back for a short shift at The Exchange. I spent Sunday evening by myself watching Star Wars: Episode I, baking with baking soda that was kaput and centering myself after so much socializing. I also got to spend a little time talking with my brother Daniel.

So, no big philosophical realizations today. I was just experiencing life as it came at me. I did just finish reading A Passage to India and Professor Godbole describes the Zen moment (without using those words) that I have mentioned before, like this:

But how, if there is such an event, can it be remembered afterwards? How can it be expressed in anything but itself? Not only from the unbeliever are the mysteries hid, but the adept himself cannot retain them. He may think, if he chooses, that he has been with God, but as soon as he thinks it, it becomes history, and falls under the rules of time.

I wonder how I could connect this sense of simply experiencing with the rooster? :-)

Simon Says

I totally just dreamed that I was on American Idol. Actually, it was a mix of that and America’s Next Top Model because I was one of the last two to be passed through to the next round because of some requirement I felt indignant over. However, soon, we were going to be showing our acting skills and I felt pretty confident about that. I sang Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” for the first round and then Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud” for the second. When I woke up, the other girl that had been warned to improve with me had not and was eliminated but I had accomplished a major turnaround and was now looking like a contender. I was one of the last six, four of which were guys but the remaining girl was totally hot and I was pretty sure her sex appeal would win over my stage presence. Tee Hee.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Here is what I did yesterday. I caught myself taking it for granted and thus realized that it had to be pretty typical AND pretty special for me to be accepting it as routine AND feeling bad about that.

Woke up at 7:00. Laid in bed waking up slowly and enjoying the warmth under the flannel sheets and the contrast to the coldish air until 7:45.

Got up and showered, got dressed in Carhartts, hiking boots, alpaca support socks, techno-dri long-sleeved shirt, Sesame Street T-shirt and Patagonia vest, put my hair in pigtails.

Made and ate my breakfast of eggs on mayonaise toast while listening to the commentary on Star Wars Episode II. Left for work only a little late at 8:40.

Picked up a hitchhiker and reminisced with him about the last time I picked him up when he had a neckbrace. He said he woke up in the morning feeling like a hot dog.

When he asked where I was working, I started to describe the location and realized that I had the right house pictured in my head but had located it near the wrong landmark.

Swore profusely while also apologizing that I was going to have to drop him off here. At least I got him closer and he was a good sport about it.

Consulted the navicomputer and recalculated my trajectory.

Drove past various farms and some pretty spectacular ocean/mountain scenes. Passed two cars that were going the opposite direction in 15 minutes. Kept to the speed limit.

Arrived at the job site on time but got to sit in the sun for 15 minutes because my boss was late, comfortable because I knew I would get paid regardless of when I actually started working.

Once Harold arrived and gave instructions, I spent the morning picking up sticks from the lawn I had raked a month ago, then trimming the fence line with pruning shears. There were 3 other people there so I wasn't lonely, but my work was independent so I could just work quietly. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was the perfect 75 degrees with a view of the ocean. It was 12:30 before I even thought to see how long I had been working.

I worked raking the fence line, then took a break for lunch at 1:30. I sat with Harold and discussed the pleasures of peanut butter and jelly with cold milk and the best summer meals of our childhood. I picked the fresh stewed tomato sauce my mother made with butter, garlic and fresh basil over fresh pasta that Mom went and bought at Barones. He talked about going out to the garden a picking a row of green beans with his 6 brothers and sisters that were then boiled and served over new potatoes with butter.

After going back to work shoveling pine bark mulch onto the bases of the apples trees, I heard a noise like a tiny droid approaching and turned to see a little brown hummerbird looking at me, then zooming away. The next time we thought to ask the time it was 5:15 and time to go home. Harold worte me a check for the day's work and the work raking a month ago. I'm now$270 richer and can comfortably pay my car insurance at the end of the month.

I went home and ate navy bean soup that I had made, rinsed off in the shower, put aloe vera on my face and went to choir.

I arrived at the Orcas Center a little early because I wanted to practice my solo a little. I can practice fairly well at home without a piano because I can sound out the intervals. However, the last two times I sang at choir, the accomplanist had to help me hit the high F, so I wanted it to be solid that night by drilling the notes into my tonal memory with the piano.

Enjoyed working hard at choir. When we rearranged into loose quartets, a second person talked to me about joining the more serious a capella choir. Then we sang the song with my solo. This is not the same one that fell on me like artillery shot by my own side. This one is like a descant on top of the third verse of a modern arrangement of a traditional folk song, but its not rediculously high up there like so many descants are. The first time through, she said she couldn't hear me so I had to move up to the front row. I shuffled like the bad kid being sent to the corner mugging for laughs. The second time through, I sang out louder and then everyone could hear me. My performance wasn't perfect and I was still shaky but I knew where I was going. Catherine, the director stopped the choir and explained that although I would be taking the breaths that I needed since it was a solo (some of the notes are high and long), they should not follow my breathing, but continue only taking breaths where she had directed them to. I didn't know I had that kind of power! The third time went well and we moved on to another songs. Since we were mixed up and not sitting in our sections, I got many kudos.

Drove home with that good tired feeling. My body was tired from physical labor and my brain was tired from learning music and trying to pull together all the elements of singing well. Once home, I realied that I had a West Wing DVD in my post office box so I drove the five minutes into town to get it. Watched two West Wings that I had never seen before while knitting and then went to bed.

Fell asleep immediately.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Identified Flying Objects

Today I substituted at the local high school for the first time. I only covered two classes and it was the first day of the quarter so the teacher just gave the kids a study hall. Very easy. There are only 150 kids in the entire high school. I was dubbed “Best Substitute Ever” when I sat down to play Magic (a fantasy card game) with the two nerds in the class. I also had the satisfaction of saying, “I believe that throwing things was discussed in our initial conversation.” Then, when the student said, “But they’re throwing things over there,” I did not turn my head so he could not throw the pen back to his friend while it was turned. I got to say, “Did you think I was lying when I told you I had taught high school for five years?” Smiles all around for that one.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Waste not; want not

People on the island are interested in my story. Upon hearing that I came here directly from Chicago, they look at me in bewilderment and ask, "How did you find this place?" I tell a good story in which I look like a romantic heroine, selling my house, giving away most of my stuff and leaving for the island with only what fit in my Saturn because I was at a transitional point in my life and fell in love with the sense of community and the beauty of the island. They like that.

Thursday, at lunch after class, both the professor and this very neat, sarcastic older lady named Linda asked simultaneously from two different ends of the table, "What are you doing here?" In the ensuing conversation, though, the conversation turned from its usual course. I gave the usual intro and they were suitably impressed, but as we talked about other things, I began to telling them that I would probably move back in the Fall. I don't normally tell this to island folk because I don't want them to withhold themselves because I'm temporary and not worth the investment of friend energy. But, in two different conversations, I found myself saying that to stay here, even as perfect as it is, would be wasteful.

I have a great family. We like to simply spend time in the same place at the same time. I don't know if I can speak for all of us, but I feel like I can only ever be totally myself with my family. If others are around, I have to think about loving them or what they think of me or being polite or what they're going to do next. People are unpredictable. Their love is most likely conditional. Whether they like me or not is up for grabs. My status in their lives can change. This sense of uncertainty is never at the forefront of my mind, but I'm always aware of their presence and my own is affected because of it. With my family, it's different. I know exactly where I stand with them. I can be myself because they have to love me. It's a system that works well for us. We can completely enjoy each other because we are completely comfortable with ourselves together.

I realized that I did not want to look back at my life when I was 50 and regret that I hadn't spent more time with my family. That would be a waste. So many people have uncomfortable families full of underlying agendas and old hurts. Hearing their stories makes me realize that I should not take mine for granted. Finding community on Orcas is great and eye-opening but the community that is my family is worth so much more and my family is in Chicago. I can't waste that.

At lunch, I was also asked about teaching. I got the usual shock that I had taught for 5 years before coming here. I swear, I must look like I'm 22 to most people based on the disbelief I encounter when the events of my adult life come out in conversation. These people from class don't even know about my marriage yet. Jeez. In addition to asking about teaching, they asked specifically about teaching urban kids. I found myself talking about my calling to teach urban kids. I was asked an odd question. I was asked, "Are you good at that?" I admitted that I was good at teaching urban kids and that I loved it. They reminded me that not many people are actually good at teaching, especially urban kids. I can't waste that either. To have a calling and a calling that one is good at is - like my family - not something to be taken for granted. Of course, there are no urban kids on Orcas Island. That, too, is calling me back to Chicago.

When I came out here to give myself some space to discover what I wanted to do with my life, I did not predict that I would discover the same paths that I had found when I was a sophomore in college. "The hardest to learn was the least complicated," as the Indigo Girls sing.

Big Brother

Seriously. Someone found my blog because they were searching on Yahoo in Ohio for Ben Merbitz, one of the guys that always delighted me in junior high and high school. I think that's very cool. I wrote about him in my Nerds vs. Islanders realization. The downside of tracking this stuff is that AOL users can't be tracked for some technical reason that I pretty much understand but can't explain clearly. Therefore, it's hard to put a total figure on the amount of people that read my blog. However, that does mean that my dad can't stuff the ballot box. :-)

Friday, April 15, 2005

It's Friday Harbor, but Sunday's a coming

I am blogging to you from a real live internet cafe, which is a first for me. I am in Friday Harbor, which is on San Juan Island and is the county seat. I went to traffic court today to see if I could get the equivalent to court supervision for my speeding ticket and I'm pleased to tell you that it was a success. It was a free ferry ride since I just walked on and left my car on Orcas. I didn't even have to see the judge; he looked at my application for a "deferred finding" while still in chambers and granted it. I paid $100 and if I don't get caught speeding again in the next year, the ticket will not go on my permanent record, so my insurance will not be affected. Woohoo!

I have been ass-on-the-couch sick for Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday of this week and have gotten nothing done. I think about what that would have meant for my old life and my head hurts just thinking about the amount of work that having a substitute in my classroom would have required. Here, I had a little difficulty finding someone to work for me at The Exchange on Wednesday, but otherwise was allowed to live life on the couch. I went over to Jeff's on Monday night and camped out there for the duration because he has TV and fed me. I got back to my house on Thursday morning and had only one phone message to return. Of course, Thursday afternoon there were three. I guess that when one disappears on the island, three weekdays is about all you get before people start wondering where you are.

I'm in the process of looking for a new job for the summer. I have a lead at Shearwater Adventures to work the desk at the storefront, which involves scheduling kayak trips for tourists, doing some of the paperwork and communicating with the guides on the mornings of the trips and doing basic retail. I'm fairly confident that this is definite although I don't know what I'll get paid or how many hours are available. I'd like to do about 20 and then wait tables somewhere two nights a week. I'd like to be able to tell places that I have experience once I move back for grad school and here is as low-key of a place to learn as anywhere else. I don't think that I told you that I turned down the job writing grants at the Funhouse. They wanted a two-year commitment, but I think they were willing to take a chance on me if there was a possibility that I would be here past 6 months but I'm getting pretty sure that I'll be moving to Chicago in the Fall. I felt good that both of the women that interviewed me said that they were impressed by the interview.

Well, I think that's all the mundane news that's fit to print right now. I've still got two more hours to kill until the ferry takes me back, though, so I may think of something else. :-)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Steps and Exes

“Maybe that’s it,” said Nona reflectively. “Maybe that’s the New Romance. Love being limited. Necessary, but not as central, not the single measure of a woman’s success. After all, women’s lives are more than compendiums of the men they’ve slept with. Women are asking more from the world. If the world gives you more, then you need less from men. Women are asking less from love. If you ask for less, you’re more easily fulfilled. If you’re more easily fulfilled, you can get on with the rest of your life, and all the possibilities in it. Men have to be time-effective for a woman. Romance,” she added, beaming, “in the age of efficiency!”
-Laura Kalpakian, Steps and Exes

Only men think it’s so romantic to go it alone. Look at you – you’re off with your boat – you and no other. Man against the sea! Why do men think you can only be a hero by yourself? Man against Nature! Man against Society! Why don’t men ever acknowledge that keeping something together can be just as heroic as being all alone? Men are always against something. Why can’t they be for something? [. . .] I’m not committed to universals. I’m for very modest, particular things. An ordinary life. Watching my daughter grow up. Making a home for us. A living. Nothing very grand or ambitious.
-Sunny, Steps and Exes by Laura Kalpakian

Well, I’m sick on the couch and in a moment of respite caused by taking some ibuprofen and eating some lunch, I want to tell you about this book I just finished and that I think everyone should read. (Not every book that I read is an everyone-should-read-this-book book. For instance, I also just finished Neal Stephenson’s System of the World and although I loved it, I don’t think everyone would.) The book is called Steps and Exes and is by a woman named Laura Kalpakian. It first came to my attention several years ago when I read a review for it in Glamour magazine. I liked the premise of a woman who lived life so generously that she had accumulated a huge, complicated family of step-children, in-laws, and ex-husbands. However, since I don’t usually go out and read books because of their reviews in magazines, I didn’t think about it after that. When it came into the shop, though, I remembered it and grabbed it. As it turns out, the book is also set on a fictional San Juan island (that what my group of islands are called) and the author describes island living very accurately.

I would compare this book to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees because it is about how people interact in a world where the old rules about loyalty and family no longer apply. They are about women who cannot make traditional choices of marriage and at-home motherhood because of circumstances out of their control. Both authors tell the story by allowing the reader to access the experience through characters that seem familiar and are therefore both heart wrenching and enjoyable, just like the people we actually know. Since Dennis left I have been thinking about marriage as an institution and how it applies to my life. Books like these two get me closer to figuring out the truth.

I want sweeping romance and a partner who is also my best friend. Often, though, I believe that sweeping romance is impossible without innocence because I now know that sweeping romance does not always come packaged with a suitable partner. Hormones and timing have much more to do with creating love than long-term fitness. So the quote from Nona (who is an aging romance novelist that has just been told that her novels no longer appeal to women of today, most of whom are divorced, working mothers) feels right and makes good common sense. I am now making a life for myself in which I make decisions based on what is good for me, rather than what is good for my relationship and I am more at harmony with myself and the world around me than I ever have been. But I miss that kind of absolute commitment and devotion to another person. I want that perfect package, and with a shiny bow. And I know that if I lower my expectations, I will only get what I expect. I don’t want to give up my idealism and my optimism. So, Sunny’s words also speak to me. I love that these quotes seem to contradict each other in attitude but both are meant to be mouthpieces for the theme of the book. Both quotes communicate that women must be self-sufficient but that there is more, too, if we look for it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

You say that so often.

It's not fair! They save seats! The old people! They save seats! I showed up for class ten minutes early and still couldn’t find a seat at the tables. I had to sit in one of the chairs in the back. And they still call out, “Louder!” in the middle of a peer poem recitation because they can’t hear.

Anna Lisa is the only other darkhair in the class. When I pointed out this phenomenon, she explained in a mock older sister tone, “Well, it’s the senior lunch room. Think if your days were empty how much you would value a seat at the table. You’ve got to earn it.”

I love this class. I just recently learned the phrase, “Zen moment.” It is a moment in which you are so perfectly focused on only the task in front of you at that moment that you don’t even realize the perfection until you’ve stepped out of it. I used to feel this way on the softball field. Dr. Bray’s, Dr. Montgomery’s and Dr. Bushnell’s classes were like that. I’ve felt that way singing in close harmony with people. This class is a Zen moment. I totally understand why the old people want a front row seat. Richard Fadem is pure entertainment to listen to. He is the quintessential literature professor. His passion is for the English Romantics. On an island of people wearing jeans and fleeces, he shows up for class in pressed khakis and a university shade of maroon sweater with the cuffs and collar of his white button-down shirt peeking out. He has long, wavy hair that crests back from his hairline. Well, in the fifties, it would have been considered long but doesn’t actually touch the base of his neck. He has a beautiful voice with an accent that is a blend of a Southern childhood and a youth spent in New York. It’s almost a refined nebbish speech pattern. Like Woody Allen if he were totally comfortable with himself and his place in the world. He has an almost regal stature; it’s definitely like a celebrity has walked into the room when he arrives. I’ve definitely seen some of the women leaning too close to talk to him and tipping their heads as they laugh at his anecdotes. He’s probably in his early to mid-sixties. He was a young professor at Columbia University in the Sixties. As we discussed the Romantic use of birds as symbols, he confessed to us that he has “a dread of birds.” He talks about the emotions that Yeats’ use of liquid L’s evoke. When most high school kids plagiarize in papers, it is because the books that they are researching in phrase the information so succinctly and directly that they are loathe to rephrase it in their own ungraceful syntax. Richard talks spontaneously like the best writing. “In this poem, Yeats is speaking not only of physical beauty but also of the cultivation of courtesy, high-mindedness, intelligence [two more perfect words that I couldn’t write fast enough to catch] that it takes to be a woman.” Stunning word choice through the entire two hours. I love this class.

I will totally be a half and hour early next week. Maybe I’ll even save a seat for Anna Lisa.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chick Fight (read "Pack it up" first)

Although I was raised with three brothers, which is often indicative of a rough-and-tumble, tomboyish childhood, my brothers did not fight me. This was because, as my mother puts it, I “went for the kill.” The idea of scuffling never occurred to me. If I was angry enough for it to come to blows, I wanted those blows to hurt. If I had known the term “pulling your punches,” it would have seemed a contradiction in terms.

As I grew into an adolescent and an adult, this characteristic bled over into verbal fights. I don’t remember any specific ones in high school, but I’ve been informed by people that knew me then - through discreet facial expressions and kind corrections when I tell stories - that I was kind of a bitch. I do remember one of these fights from college. A girl named Ang had hurt my best friend Susan. I think it was by promising her a ride somewhere, then reneging at the last minute because something better came along, causing Susan to miss whatever it was that was important to her. After Susan had come home crying, I called Ang in one of those my-anger-is-under-control voices and set up an appointment with her to talk the next day. I went into that conversation intending to make Ang cry and I succeeded. I never called her names and I never yelled. I did, though, tell her how charismatic she was and how people wanted to be her friend. I explained to her that with that type of personality, she had a responsibility to those people that followed her. I remember her debating with me and me explaining how she could not be so reckless with people’s feelings. Basically I set up a ridiculously high standard of expectations and then I pointed out all the ways in which she had failed to be a good person by not meeting that standard. I had learned enough techniques of persuasion and domination that I convinced her that both the standard and my interpretation of her behavior were true. I won the conversation because I went for the kill.

I don’t know how I feel about this memory. For the most part, I’ve lost the sense of triumph that I once felt and I’m relieved at that. But, on one hand, Susan is worth fighting for and I’m glad that if I was going to behave so appallingly in order to protect someone, I’m glad it was for her and not some schmucky boy I had a crush on. On the other hand, well, the other hand is obvious. I hurt Ang. I’m ashamed of my lack of control and I’m sorry that I did it. She didn’t deserve that. Jung wrote, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” I can only hope that any transformation that I catalyzed in her was not too negative.

However, I’m willing to believe that my own transformation was a good thing that came out of the experience. My transformation was that I finally realized that I could go too far. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” Making Ang cry taught me how long my arms were. My pain at Susan’s hurt did not give me the right to move beyond swinging my fists in frustration as a release to beating up on Ang to make me feel better. I can’t guarantee that I haven’t hurt anyone as badly but I have not since then set out with that as my goal.

I’ve been thinking of this moment during my sophomore year of college today while interacting with Gretchen. She came in the store today and had a little meltdown because I was not doing what she thought needed to be done. I used the same tactics with her that I used yesterday: vague responses but continuing to do whatever it was that I was doing before she began giving me instructions. She did not come and confront me but instead asked in a super-sweet voice what I was working on when I was on the computer. My rehearsal yesterday of what to say came in handy and luckily Jane was standing there with me. I said, “Jane and I have talked several times about what my tasks are and she is comfortable with the level of work that I am doing.” Jane made eye contact with me and she and I walked to another part of the store to talk about which books I should box up next. I had been on the computer because I was letting Jane think out loud to sort out what she wanted to do next. I had been knitting and on the computer because I was staying calm. Staying calm is important for two reasons. The first is that I do not believe that freaking out about someone else’s project actually helps that person. At the new store, there are a lot of chiefs putting it all together and thus, a lot of tension. I was trying to be a haven for Jane by being an indian. The second reason for me to stay calm was the more important one: when I stay calm, I don’t swing my fists into other’s noses. When stressed or frustrated, I forget to pull my punches and go for the kill. The breadth of things I could have easily said to put her in her place is shameful. Because I did only what I was instructed and nothing more, I didn’t say any of those things. The best way that I can love others is to stay calm.

I felt bad for Gretchen as she had her meltdown because I have so totally been there. My poor family. These last couple of years it seems that at every holiday meal I’ve slammed down a plate of food that someone asked me to pass and left the room crying. Divorce is hard on holidays. Because she was hurting, I’ve really been asking myself if I have been loving her in the best way that I could. Was I causing more hurt than I was preventing? Really, couldn’t I have just done what she asked? Was I just refusing out of stubbornness that she wasn’t the boss of me? But after writing down the story of Ang, I’m still comfortable with my behavior. Someday, maybe, giving in and doing something I don’t want to do to make an acquaintance feel better will be a possibility but right now, my old instincts are not totally under control and the tasks that she wanted done would have been extremely frustrating to me. Time will help me control the instinct to go for the kill but until then, the world is a better place if I just stand aside and give her the space she needs to pull herself together. How weird.

Pack it up

I think I'm doing the right thing here. I am trying to model my current behavior after every older and wiser grandmother type in both books and movies who acts as a spiritual guide to frenetic, stressed-out (and therefore bossy) younger people. Since I no longer want to be the latter, I figure I might as well try for the former since so many people have told me I'm an "old soul" anyway.

It's been moving day here at Pyewacket Bookstore. I have asked Jane several times what she wants me to do, making it very clear that I'm willing to do any task she sets for me. She has asked me to sit and hold down the fort at the old location while she and the other volunteers flit back and forth between the two shops. She also asked me to pack certain books when I'm by myself, which I did until I ran out of boxes. So, in the midst of moving chaos, I sit at the register and knit. I asked Jane again when she came in the last time if she wanted me to be doing something and she cackled and said, "It's not like I'm standing here fuming and muttering to myself, 'Why isn't she working harder?' You're doing what I asked you to do."

This suits me just fine. I decided awhile ago that for me to attempt to make order out of Jane's chaos was fruitless and frustrating. When I start projects that she and I haven't talked about ahead of time, I have to listen to her explain how I did a great job but this is the way it actually needed to be done so that it fits in with her overall vision. Even if we have talked about it or I do it perfectly, I have to listen to her explain to me what I've just done as if I haven't just done it. So I tend to just maintain the status quo when I'm working here.

Gretchen, however, walked in yesterday afternoon, saw the moving mess, and immediately began reassuring herself aloud that everything would be all right and we're having fun, right? Gretchen is, remember, the preschool teacher who also works here and only reads metaphysical books, has trouble alphabetizing and occasionally forgets how to close out the register. I was sitting and knitting behind the register as she was making giant grimaces and making herself frantic with her over-exaggerated attempts to calm herself down. I smiled sympathetically and made vaguely positive noises but continued knitting. I knew my assignment.

So Gretchen got to work attempting to make order out of Jane's chaos, which I was completely fine with. However, she soon began telling me things I could do to make order out of Jane's chaos and I was not fine with that. Let me clarify here that in no way does Gretchen stand above me in a management hierarchy. She's done this before, though when she's left notes listing things I could do in my spare time around the store. Then, I reacted to that with angst that set me off balance until Ash Wednesday. This time, though, I tried to be the crone from the classic female trinity (maiden-mother-crone) and simply be patient with her transferred frustration. (I figure why not aspire to the crone since I've gotten them all out of order anyway?) I made formless noises in response to her instructions and then promptly ignored them. However, I also helped her accomplish tasks she was actually doing herself when she asked me to, like carrying boxes of books to her car.

So, finally I feel somewhat successful in an inter-personal interaction on this island. Although I could see her getting frustrated in the beginning and she said snarky things in her preschool voice like, "If you have time, you could . . ." and "If you're looking for something to do . . ." I think a perfectly actualized crone would be able to focus on her own affairs and put the buzzing fly out of her focus as ineffectual. I wasn't the completely unflappable crone that I sought because I kept rehearsing how I would respond if she accused me of being lazy in some way. However, none of these responses were overly defensive or nasty. I feel good about that. And anyway, I guess my being conscious of her distress while also attending to my own needs was a step closer to loving her. I certainly feel better than I would have if I had engaged with her distress in some other way. Woohoo!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Adventures in Anthropology

“Excuse me, Miss, but backpacks aren’t allowed in the museum.” The 22-year-old security guard in the requisite ill-fitting sports coat was speaking to me just as my foot was dangling over the line separating the lobby from the ramp to the Great Hall.

“Thank you for waiting until right now to tell me.”

I have been bitchier. However, since it was usually with better cause, which implies a more complicated relationship with those individuals, I do not believe that I have been bitchier to a stranger.

I spent most of the time touring the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia thinking about this encounter and what it indicated regarding my journey away from sin and toward loving people more. So, I really tried to suss out what I might have done to cause the aforementioned young man (How old am I?!) to wait until the very last minute to order me around rather than to be considerate and let me know a little earlier in a friendly sort-of way so that I wouldn’t have had to interrupt my motion in order to comply. If he had been one of the bored Black ladies at the threshold of the Art Institute of Chicago, I would never expect it since they spend their entire shifts with their focus narrowed to that line since there are so many people coming through with potential contraband. However, this young man had already engaged my family when we walked through the front door to cover for the guy that was supposed to be working the admissions desk by telling us that we would only have to wait a few minutes for him to come. You’d think maybe I could have filled that time putting my backpack in the lockers provided free of charge. I, in fact, muttered something to that effect as my dad volunteered to put the bag in the car.

As my mother and I walked down the ramp sans backpack, the first thing that I realized was that I had spoken somewhat loudly and people were looking at me. So, my initial annoyance was quickly converted to self-consciousness that I had been the ugly American representative to the Canucks and so I quickly took a right turn to disappear into a back hallway away from people who had witnessed my descent into cliché. My mother said, “You need to leave that island,” but she offers this as a solution to most of my problems right now. However, that led me to trace why this one inconsiderate act caused me to react so violently.

I guess the most surface reason for my overreaction is that men who behave passive-aggressively by default surround me. There are just a lot of gentle men and straight-talking women on this island. They’ve been pushed to the island because their natural personality traits were in the minority on the mainland and that was uncomfortable. This reversal of gender roles leads to a lot of conflict. I’ve experienced it myself and listened to other people’s experiences. As a society, we’re just not used to women in the dominant social role. Even with all of the good work of the Feminist movement, we like our men to be strong and our women to be good-looking. So, island people, without the benefit of being able to follow the herd, have to figure out how to interact on our own. This reversal causes a lot of miscommunication so tension and passive-aggressive behavior erupt. I had assumed that this security guard was reacting to something about me personally by waiting until the last minute to mention my backpack. Because of my experience on Orcas, I have begun responding to these passive-aggressive attacks - which are indirect by definition – with direct frontal assaults. I have found that they fester less and I can get over the encounters faster. So, habit resulted in my inability to simply shrug off another’s inconsiderate behavior.

Additionally, I have to own the fact that I did things to provoke Mr. Navy Blue Polyester. I had looked for a sign when I first came in, suspecting its possible presence and when the pictograph was of a briefcase and an umbrella, I made a decision to try to rush the gate to see if maybe he would let a backpack pass, especially if I didn’t make eye contact. I was putting into effect the classic chant, “Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact,” in the hopes that without that tacit initial permission, he would not move outside of the normal North American comfort zone to open communication. I was betting that his youth would make him timid. (I personally got over this habit both by working at the Renaissance Faire, where I would have to make initiate eye contact in order to hawk my wares and as a teacher since I had permission as an authority figure to break standard etiquette rules in the course of fulfilling my responsibility.) However, it is possible that the pigtails and the jumper worn over jeans might have made me look slightly less forbidding. So, I brought the patronizing tone on myself since I did, actually, know better. As I so often remind my students, one can’t expect respect before one gives it. I didn’t respect the rules and got smacked down for it. As usual, humility had to hit me hard before I noticed her.

Don Miller writes, “If you don’t love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel. When you love them you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easy to serve.” I did not love that security guard or institution that he represented and so I was annoyed, which is exactly what I’ve been working hard NOT to do.

Juxtaposed with my own disrespect, I noticed that the museum showed respect for its visitors in several different ways. The sign next to the briefcase/umbrella sign did not completely ban flash photography; it simply asked that people use flash judiciously. Visitors were respected enough to be allowed to know already that flash could be harmful and to make their own value judgment regarding its use. In another part of the museum, several hollowed out wooden drums hung suspended within reach. Again, rather than black and white denying access or providing a paltry reproduction, the museum respected our ability to control our destructive urges by stating, “You may gently tap on these artifacts.” Finally, like other museums, this one does not have the resources to create informational, aesthetically pleasing displays of all of the artifacts in its holdings. Rather than tuck away the extras into dark, safe closets, this museum uses a “visible storage” system. Items are somewhat crowded into glass cases and specimen drawers with only numbers to identify them. If people are interested, they can look up the number in big books to learn more about them. I loved that they didn’t assume that I needed information fed to me with an airplane rubberbanded to the spoon.

The innPenzance

I think I know where my dislike for quick changes in plans comes from. My poor mother. She had booked us in this bed and breakfast that was written up as the home of a woman who had raised her five children in the house, then converted it to a B&B that she ran with one of her daughters. It was described as "a Rosamunde Pilcher novel come to life." (Rosamunde Pilcher writes epic romances that inevitably take place on a heath flecked with gorse somewhere.) However, it became clear as Mom and I read the email confirmation that the hotel had been bought by Ron and Evan, which forshadowed an entirely different experinece altogether since they had also changed the name from Labranum Cottage to The innPenzance, as in "Pirates of." After two rounds of bad directions from Evan, we found the place tucked into a classic suburban subdivision. What wasn't classic was the garish Caribbean-style sign at the foot of the driveway, complete with palm tree. As we pulled up to the house and were ushered in by both Ron and Evan, it became obvious that they had bought the business and had immediately begun slapping paint anywhere they could. (Although we didn't see Evan much after this, Ron turned out to be a very gracious and intuitive host.) On the first floor, primary colors were edging in on the living room slowly, like the gentrification of a city neighborhood. The trim, fireplace bricks and mouldings were bright yellow, while the rest of the room maintained its original design of pale yellow, lush with crystal, velvet and lace. Florals abounded. The hallway going up the stairs was royal blue and my parents' room, dubbed The Silk Room, had been almost entirely transitioned over to an oriental theme. Satiny material in pearl grey with mandalas covered the bed and a life's accumulation of oriental knick-knacks covered the walls. Fans, children's "traditional" outfits, bullet hats with attached black single pigtail braids, fancy small swords and various pastoral interpretations of the Chinese countryside were tacked up around the room. Red cushions were dispersed liberally throughout the room. They were decorating as they got the money, though, because floral flannel sheets were hiding under the material that was acting as a coverlet. I think it was the exact opposite of a Rosamunde Pilcher novel. My poor mother. To have spent the early part of the day and the entire day before putting up a strong front while touring my life and trailer, all the time thinking that she would be able to rest in gracious, floral settings at the end of the day. Instead she arrives in the dark to two men and their schitzophrenic house in the dark. I'm not sure why she didn't cry. I would have. The nice part of our arrival is that Evan offered me my own room once he saw that I was an adult daughter and probably would only barely fit on the twin bed that was in my parents' room, for which I was very grateful. It was a really nice gesture on their part since my dad snores. It was unnamed, although there was a bare spot on the door where a plaque once hung. I imagine I was in the Babbling Brook Room or the Victoria Regina Room. I do not think they use it very much, since it still looked like one of the rooms in the Danville Historical Society. As I poked around in the closet, though, I did find some thigh-high red fishnet stockings. Those Victorians! So conflicted about the sexuality!

After the disappointing arrival, our reaction to the place did improve. Fantastic beds certianly helped. As we compared notes in the morning, we all slept like very heavy things. As I said before, Ron was a good host and good baker and we developed a sense of humor about the decor, especially as we got into our car and saw that the exterior of the house had been painted royal blue and bright orange. Another family came in as we were leaving. I have never stayed in a bed and breakfast before but I remember an episode of the Gilmore Girls when they did under similar bait and switch circumstances. All of the people there wanted to get to know the girls, much to their chagrin. Thinking this might be true of most B&Bers, and having reached an impasse with the hat I was making, I asked the mother of the family if she knitted. When my own mother found out about this, she was aghast. It just goes against all of her personal social sensibilities to engage a stranger in conversation although it is very much in line with general Murphy characteristics. I was rewarded for my tactics since she turned out to be a Home Ec. teacher (she had a updated term for it) and reminded me how to purl brilliantly, even correcting me when I called the yarn string.

So, another adventure was had, this time into the world of bed and breakfasts. And now I truly can say that I am the very model of a modern major general.