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I started thinking about my friend, Mary S., yester-eve. I’d just gotten off the telephone with my brother, lamenting the fact that my youngest suffers agoraphobia and has cut most of her family off. She’s told us, in no uncertain terms, that interacting brings on “too much stress” and she needs to stay away for an indefinite time, perhaps forever. She’s told her siblings who were not raised with her, her cousins, and what few friends she still has that I know as well.

This is juxtaposed against the last time I saw her, shortly after her first, “please don’t contact me” plea: we had a good visit. She hugged me tight and whispered into my ear, “I love you, Mom.” It’s a treasure I hold to my heart knowing she may never overcome what she is dealing with.

Mary never did.

I first met Mary, or was even aware of her existence, when I was seventeen and a Senior in high school. She lived two blocks away, in a low brick house surrounded with a wrought iron fence (I could be making the fence up). Mary’s husband had committed suicide in the basement of that house. Mary was home when he did it. She never left the house afterward.

Well, not until they carried her out.

Mary was in her mid-sixties, older than my parents. Her husband, I suppose, had been a friend of my dad’s. Dad knew everyone, and even his enemies respected him. Maybe it was through the Lions’ Club or the Elks, but Dad kept in touch with Mary in the ensuing time after her husband’s suicide. They had no immediate family, but a niece in her twenties lived with Mary.

I need to stop here. I can’t write about Mary S. without hearing her whisper in my ears, “Oh, screw that!” Mary loved Neil Diamond. Mary swore like a sailor. Mary told things like they were, even if they weren’t like that. She was one sassy old lady.

Mary’s niece had to go on a trip and Mary needed someone to stay with her. See, Mary not only could not leave her house, but she could not be alone in that old house. It was a conundrum that could only be Mary S.

And, in a way only my father could, he volunteered me to stay with this strange agoraphobic old woman who I didn’t even know existed. There I was, standing on her doorstep, nervously waiting to introduce myself.

We watched old movies. She cranked up Neil Diamond until I thought my eardrums would never recover and the police would soon be knocking on the doors. We laughed. We danced to Cracklin’ Rosie, Sweet Caroline, Cherry Cherry, and Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. We were free spirits inside a house with a history, a ghost of a husband who decided he couldn’t take life anymore so he turned a revolver on himself.

Mary S. hated guns. She hated being outside. She was terrified of being alone -in that house – but she would not leave that house. She knew she was mentally ill, but she couldn’t – wouldn’t – seek help.

I spent two weeks living with her. We had a crazy blast. We wrote long letters to each other when I went away to college, letters that gradually dwindled to nothing.

Then she was gone, an old woman who died afraid of her shadow, but still rocking to Neil Diamond. Forty-five years later, I miss Mary S. Forty-five years later, I miss my own daughter. Forty-five years later, I cannot find the words. At 17, she was my first elderly friend. She was fierce.

And she would roll her eyes at me, slap my wrists and say, “Don’t tell people about me. Turn up Neil Diamond. I want to hear Song Sung Blue one more time. LOUD.”

 

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I struggle with words these days.

A season – no more.

Empty

of my words.

“Have you adjusted to retirement yet?”

If my husbands answers, he says something about my inability to sleep in/stay up late, but that seem to be enjoying my time “off”.

But if you were to ask me, I’d say that it’s going jolly well, although a bit slow. I’ve organized my studio.

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Yes, it still looks cluttered, but it’s only 20×20′ (give or take) and I have a lot of artistic hobbies. If I can see the area rug in its entirety, I consider the room “clean” and “organized”. Each hobby has its own area. (That’s Godot, my first faerie creation,enjoying my wicker chair. Godot is several years old now.)

I have cleaned out my closet and dresser, and presently have four or five boxes of items to donate to a thrift shop, much of which is business attire. I am not a business attire sort of person. I’m a blue jeans and tee shirt sort of girl, maybe a hippie dress in the summer, and I’ve recently discovered how comfy yoga pants really are (especially for those of us with a bit of a muffin top).

Have you been watching that series on Netflix about decluttering? Well, I have not. I don’t think she can help me. Much of what we own (that clutters our lives) is vintage and antique, unusual, and definitely collectible. And there are the books, which, if you have followed me over the years, are currently in shelves approximating the Dewey Decimal system. The books are a pleasure to us. Apparently, Marie Kondo, hostess of the Netflix series, believes that one should own no more than 30 books.

No. Just – NO. The unread ones beckon, the vintage ones scintillate, the antique ones are bound in leather, and the resource ones have SO.MUCH.INFORMATION in them. What butterfly is that? What herb & what use? What mammal? What bird? What rock? There are a ton of books on our shelves that beg, “Re-read me” even though I’ve read them several times over.

OK, I do have some cheap paperback mystery/romance books to recycle at our local library’s used book store.

I have also been s-l-o-w-l-y cleaning the bathroom. I thought I’d be done by now with such a small room (6×9′ give or take a foot) but it hasn’t worked out that way. I damaged my right rotator cuff and I have to do the work with my left hand/arm. I’m ambidextrous, so that isn’t a problem, but I do tend to use the right arm more out of habit and the sheer strength of the arm. I’m scrubbing te lodged in dirt out of the baseboards, scrubbing the stained white linoleum, and scouring the porcelain. The shower stall has been the worst: soap scum & mildew. I an claim I am finished with that corner now, but the truth of the matter is this: nothing gets rid of the mildew. Today, I bleached. No go. We’ll have to pull the caulking out and clean, then re-caulk with mildew resistant caulking.  There’s no getting around it.

However, I have scrubbed the soap scum off the glass doors and you can see through them clearly now. It’s amazing! I’m trying to do this without using chemicals, but sometimes I have had to capitulate. It is slow going, but I am loving the results. I’d rather have tile in that room and a little more color than white. I have managed to not hurt my shoulder anymore, and that’s huge. I’m not sure how it will work when I try to clean underneath the full-sized cast iron claw foot bathtub..

Meanwhile, I am also working on some of those myriad hobbies, but that’s for later.

My answer to the question? I only retired from the 9-5 routine. I have so much more work to do, and time to do it now! I love it!

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Dear Mom,

I finished organizing my tiny sewing corner. It’s not much. Yes, that’s polymer clay supplies in the crate above the yarn. What can I say: it fits. I use sewing supplies for making creatures, anyway, not really for sewing. Sewing is for mending. I just did not inherit your gene for enjoying creating with thread. Fabric, yes: it’s the texture.

Oh, I do want to ask you about that coconut head there. I really don’t understand it. It has a soft purple satin lining and that – that funky face. I’m not certain if it is racist or creative, but I can’t bear to part with it. My grandchildren may condemn me for it, so I will put your name inside it and a disclaimer. “Not certain if Mary Lou Wilcox made this or inherited it, and I don’t know its purpose, but I couldn’t bear to part with it because it was hers. It’s funky. You have to love the FUNKY. In any case, it was created circa 1950-1965. I think.”

After I took that photo, I started moving things around in the studio.

Looks like my bedroom when I was a kid, doesn’t it? I swear that was because my sister refused to pick up her things, not because of me. She was the guilty party. Remember: I kicked her out of our shared bedroom when I was fifteen. I piled everything of hers – including her bed – in the hallway. I was tired of being blamed for that mess!

I promise this all has an ultimate purpose. Not kicking Denise out of the bedroom – that was so long ago! – but the current mess in my studio. I’m moving furniture and storage units around so that I can clear a perimeter and have a nice, neat, organized studio again. I have a plan.

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This is hardly the end plan, but I did get one wall lined up. I can’t reveal my plan – I don’t have it written down and I only have a blue print in my head, but it involves changing out the contents of the red tool box, the round industrial soap container, the quaint tole house, and the locker.

I have so much crap.

Love,

Your oldest daughter.

PS – I really was the Neat Freak. You never had to ask me to make my bed or clean my bedroom after I kicked Denise out. I’m sorry you had to move your sewing room downstairs to give her a bedroom to sleep in. It really was for the best. And I really did love her.

Except when she dressed like me. I really, really, really hated her when she got up in the morning and put on clothes to match what I was wearing. We weren’t twins, you know.

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Dear Mom,

I decided to sort through some of my sewing stuff. Well, it didn’t start that way: originally, I decided to pare down all my beading stuff, and store it in smaller containers because, well, I don’t really do much with beads that could be called ‘beading’ and I wanted tyo be able to see what I had on hand at a glance so I don’t go out and buy more. That led to the discovery of all the sequins in different containers – and I didn’t purchase those sequins. They came to me via you. I also uncovered the box of Styrofoam egg shapes that I was going to decorate for Easter some day. And with the egg shapes was a wreath form which reminded me that I recently purchased a heart-shaped wreath form with the idea of hanging a Valentine wreath outside after the Christmas decorations were down.

I went in search of ribbons and discovered what a mess my little sewing corner is. I have some of yours and some of mine, all knick-knacks and supplies hoarded over the years. Yes, you hoarded things long before I did, and I brought some of your hoard home with me after Dad died.

I spent a rough couple of days getting up and down, staring near-sighted at sequins, beads, and messes of ribbons, lace, and – this will crack you up – my assortment of screws, nails, pins, push-pins, thumbtacks, hasps, and the little tins I use to store those items in.

At the end of the day, I don’t think I made much progress, but I did darn a pair of socks that have been waiting on my sewing machine. I threw a lot of stuff into the “thrift store donation” box. I made the decision to toss the bits of ric rac ribbon you saved (really, Mom? four inches of silver ric rac and six inches of gold and two inches of red?). Oh, and I decided to donate about ten packages of unopened bias tape. I’ll never use it.

I hauled out the red-yellow-green plastic drawer set I bought years ago for Chrystal to store her toys in. I was using it to store fabric in, and mending jobs, but I really hated it and it took up so much room. I taped a “FREE” sign on it and set it out on the edge of the lawn, by the stop sign. It was gone within the hour. The fabric is tossed in a corner on the floor for tonight, but I have a plan on how to store it.

Finally, I got out my (new) hot glue gun, the basket of old laces, and the last of the silk flowers. I wrapped the heart-shaped wreath form, glued, and wired it to hang. Simple, and now that Christmas has been officially retired for the season (on Epiphany, not the day after like Dad always insisted we do), the wreath is a timely asset to the front door. I think you’d love it.

That’s enough for today –

Love always.

“Do what makes you happy”

I have already accomplished one goal (website debugging) and my artist friend, Mary, has pointed me in the direction of another (making cabochons), so I figure I am starting the year in good form. That, and I didn’t have a hang-over this morning.

WRITE. Blog more often. Edit some long standing manuscripts. Keep up my personal journal. Send letters and cards more often (snail mail, the real deal).

PAINT. Bigger, better, more often. Take a class. Acrylics, gouache, oil, maybe even watercolors. Pastels. Colored pencils. On canvas, on metal, on wood, on ceramic, on glass. Maybe even on a wall or the side of a bathtub. Definitely on the stairs.

WEBSITE. I can check off getting it debugged. I paid someone else to do that this afternoon. After that, it will be maintaining and adding new content. (The website is different than this blog – I’ll post the link at a later date. I want it debugged first.)

CREATE. This is different from painting. Sculpt. Experiment with textures. Make more masks. Costumes for cosplay. Faerie houses. Polymer clay creations. Send my paintings off to make cards and cabochons.

GARDEN. Every opportunity. New plants. Harvest berries and grapes and apples and make jams, apple butter, and just plain eat the harvest. Vegetables. Kill weeds naturally Encourage birds.

PHOTOGRAPHY. Every.Chance.I.Get. Have the camera at the ready and my phone (love that macro lens on mine!) charged at all times. Experiment. Birds, flowers, insects. Food, beer, and what my coffee cup is up to at any given time.

My coffee cup painted Italy/T-Rex one morning. The designs are often interesting. I post the pics on Instagram.

INSTAGRAM. Follow more. post more. @thejacidawn Build my art business.

REMODEL. I have my Pinterest account full of ideas. My husband, when I showed him some of my ideas, said, “I’m not the handyman you think I am.” I replied, “I didn’t think you were going to do these. I am.” Because, yes, you are not a handyman – after 39 years of wedded bliss, I have this figured out.

My projects include: painting the press-board stairs after I pull the ugly carpet off of them. Paint the bathroom floor or tile it. Trim the parquet in the kitchen. Paint the kitchen cupboards with chalk paint. I have more in mind, but I’ll start there.

DE-CLUTTER. This is huge. We need to clear out the “collectibles”. The vintage, the odd, the antique. I have books (paperbacks) that I can let go of. I have boxes of stuff that needs to be put into scrap books. I’ve already cleaned my closet of work clothes (I’m keeping a pair of black slacks and a simple black skirt for professional events or funerals). I see either an Etsy or E-Bay store in my future.

That’s the short list. I start tomorrow morning. (C’mon – today is a business holiday. And I already paid for a clean up of my website. #goalaccomplished )

I have debated whether to write this morning and look back at the past year or to wait until tomorrow and start all over. 2018 was nothing short of a disaster for my personal goals, and – yet – it heralded a positive lifestyle change in the very last moments.

There were days when I felt I was in a black eddy, sucked into a whirlpool of mediocrity where all creativity, imagination, and desire was sucked out of me. I got up in the mornings, went through my paces, drank my coffee. The highlight of my weekdays was my ten o’clock and 3 o’clock breaks at work, when I’d wander down to a nearby duck pond and visit the semi-tame puddle ducks there. Occasionally, something interesting would happen on my walks (I did rescue some ducklings caught in a drain). More often than nought, those walks were times of prayer, meditation, and questioning.

The job was losing its luster. Good changes came in waves, but I felt no enthusiasm for them nor for the bright and shiny new tech tools that were dropped in front of our collective noses like carrots before the proverbial horse on a treadmill. I nibbled, but the taste seemed bland. The company offered carrots and I wanted apples and molasses-sweetened oats.

There were high points to the year, of course: my garden, the birds that fill our little 10,000 square feet haven of pesticide- and herbicide- free patch, the trip to South Dakota and home,  our exploration of the local brew pub culture. and our grandchildren and their parents coming for a long visit. The presence of our grandchildren pushed me toward being creative again: they begged to see and play with my little canvases of animals.

The ale caused me to gain weight.

The lowest point of the year was the loss of my father-in-law, a man so red-neck and boisterous that his loss sucked a hole in our universe. It’s hard to describe Sonny without describing all his shortcomings, but it was those very things that endeared him to us. Sonny’s life was construction, hunting, fishing, hunting, and fishing. Did I mention he loved to hunt and fish? One cannot think of Sonny without thinking of rifles, camo gear and fishing rods.

Emotionally, psychologically – the year was a cess-pool. I stepped carefully around my own illness, uninspired, tired, drained – it was as though I looked at my creative self and murmured, “Someday, I’ll rescue you, but for now, you stay locked in this tower room. I can’t help you, and you can’t help me.” I don’t even have the long hair to lower to a prince in disguise (nor did I sense there was a prince to come to my rescue).

I made the decision to jump out of the frying pan into ice cold water sometime before the fourth quarter of the year: I would retire at the end of 2018, putting to rest the anxiety of getting up every morning and doing work that didn’t benefit me in any other way except to put money in the coffers. It was a freeing decision. I applied for Social Security early and began counting down the days and hours. 2019 would be the first time in my life that I would have a little income coming in and a whole lot of time to myself (no small children) in which I could pursue my dreams. It wouldn’t be lot of money, but enough to help cover the bills and feed us.

The change came a tad bit earlier than I expected: my employer sent me home at 10AM on Friday with my last paycheck. I was retired.

So – what now? I’ve dinked around all weekend, itching to start my projects. My mind is aflutter with ideas. I’ve filled my Pinterest Boards with DIY projects. I’ve begun to reorganize the house (at least in my mind). I’m trying to take a four-day weekend before I jump in, but it’s very hard. That artist stuck in a tower seems to have discovered the secret entrance and a whole world is outside, beckoning that imprisoned creator into the open.

My next post will be the definition of the “what next?” – the hopes, dreams, and resolutions of a bird whose soul has been set free. I hope to start soaring.