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I don’t seem to be able to finish a blog post lately. My thinking is fractured, what with all the shootings and bombings, the Brexit vote and the ensuing financial chaos, the potential of violence at the upcoming political conventions. Or it could be my late-night binge-watching of Downton Abbey. More than likely, though, it’s Donald Trump’s fault . . . most things are.

Anyway, all I can do is offer you fragments of what were to have been several brilliant and insightful blog posts, possibly capable of moving you to tears or laughter or a personal epiphany.

One: A Memory

I remember the moment. I was nine years old, crunched between my older brother and sister in the back seat of our Dodge Dart as we drove along a main street in Miami Beach singing along with Petula Clark on the radio at the top of our lungs. “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go, DOWNTOWN. When you’ve got worries all the noise and the hurry seem to help I know, DOWNTOWN.”

My Dad glanced in the rearview mirror, probably deciding at what decibel level he should intervene. My mother rubbed her forehead.

“DOWNTOWN!”

“OK, enough,” Daddy said.

My sister Lannie let out a dramatic teenaged sigh and said, “I just loooove the city.”

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I heard my voice say, “Not me, I like the country much better,” and then I froze. I couldn’t believe I had disagreed with her. I worshipped my big sister and always tried to emulate her taste in food, music, clothes, movie stars — everything. Even though I spent my afternoons squatting on the muddy banks of our backyard pond catching minnows and frogs while Lannie spent her afternoons sunbathing by the pool slathered in Johnson’s Baby Oil and reading Glamour magazine, I still aspired to grow up to be just like her.

I think this memory sticks because it was the first time I expressed an opinion all my own without first hearing what everyone else thought. I’m sure that psychologists have a term for this — differentiation or some such thing. That moment as a child when you realize that you are not actually part of one family organism, you are separate and can have different opinions . . .

Two: Afraid, Afraid, Afraid

Going back to work. A phrase that strikes fear into any “fake retired” person’s heart. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the words for months now, to decide what they mean and how I feel about them and why.

I’m afraid, that’s for sure. Afraid I’ve forgotten how to apply myself, afraid I don’t have enough energy, afraid I won’t take to someone telling me what to do, afraid I have lost all ability to learn, afraid I won’t be able to master new technologies, afraid people won’t want to hire an “older” worker, afraid I won’t be able to muster the confidence for interviews. Afraid, afraid, afraid.

Even so, I think that taking a seven-year break in the middle of my working life has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, if you can call it a decision. In a way, it just happened. I definitely decided to leave my career as an environmental lobbyist, and then I decided to go back to school for a Masters in writing, but did I envision leaving the working world for seven years? No, I don’t think so. I didn’t have a plan . . .

Three: My First Day Back at Work

I wake up thirty minutes late for my first day at my new job, can’t find the number to call the supervisor, curse myself, step in cat vomit on the way to the bathroom, and then burst into tears while brushing my teeth.

This anxiety dream woke me at 6:10 a.m., five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Flooded with relief that I had not actually overslept for my first workday in seven years, I turned off the alarm, made it to the bathroom without incident, and brushed my teeth. Victory!

The next challenge was making lunch. I figured PB & J would be fastest, but then noticed mold on the lovely multigrain bread I’d bought at a little bakery in upstate New York a few days earlier. Oh well. I quickly boiled some eggs, tossed them in a brown paper bag with an avocado, a banana, and half a cucumber. So they think I’m eccentric. At least I’ll be on time.

Now I’m at my desk in the front office of my housing co-op. I’m feeling capable, if somewhat winded.

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So far today, I’ve dealt with phone calls or visits from co-op members who have asbestos in their basements, ants in their kitchens, mildew on their aluminum siding, burst pipes in their bathrooms, and clogged sinks in their kitchens. Phew!

I look at the clock, figuring it must be about lunchtime. It’s 9:30 a.m.

Contractors come to fix the internet, pick up a broken computer, drop off gutter-cleaning reports. A guy comes in to say his brother has died and he has to rehab his home. How should he proceed? I do not tell him my brother died. This is progress, I think. I am (at last!) more than someone who has lost a sibling.

I am given a tour of a back room lined floor-to-ceiling with bulging folders and files and binders. I feel at home here amidst the piles of papers in this old-fashioned, uncomputerized office. I can hear the clicking of a keyboard, but I haven’t turned on a computer all day. I like that.

Finally, it’s noon. I feel shell-shocked and ready to escape. I did not get a chance to meditate or pray or journal this morning, and I’m a little off-kilter. I’m surprised how much more introverted I’ve become in the past few years. It’s tiring having to deal with all this humanity . . . 

Four: A Blackjack Poem (Three Lines of Seven Syllables)

Involuntary:

Soon they will take me away

I will protest as I’m dragged:

“It’s not hoarding, it’s just books!”

Stack of vintage books isolated on white

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The Work of Rest

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My neighbor stood at my back door in his usual state: bare torso sweaty, blue jeans dirty, and straw hat terminally tattered. Despite his appearance, a sweet, fresh aroma entered with him when I opened the screen door, as if he had just been rolling around in his herb garden.

Van held out a carton of eggs and a paper bag spilling over with yellow squash, cucumbers, parsley, and basil. Before I could thank him, he proudly announced what he knew would be an even more welcome gift. “I just bought a brush hog!” he said with a grin.

“Oh my gosh!” I squealed. I knew he was looking for an effusive response, but I was also sincerely  thrilled because my hay fields are going to be forest very soon if I can’t find someone to mow them.

“I’m going to start on my fields tomorrow, and then we can see about yours,” he said. “And you gotta come down and see the solar shower I just rigged up from the rain barrels. Don’t worry, it has a curtain.”

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The Industrious Nature

Like a lot of folks up here in New Hampshire, my neighbor Van rarely sits still. He’s up before his rooster crows, feeding chickens, weeding the garden, or transplanting bee balm and lilies around his Rest Easy Pet Cemetery down the lane from my place. He hammers a lot, building fences and sheds and such. I think this industrious nature may be in the blood — many generations of chopping mountains of wood to fend off the severe winters and farming dawn to dusk during the short growing season.

It’s not that citizens of the Granite State are frenetic like the people in D.C. where I live most of the year. They know how to relax. People in rural New Hampshire work hard five or six days a week, but they don’t work much past five o’clock. On the weekends they go to ice cream socials and sidewalk sales, and they actually stroll in the park (without phones glued to their heads). The bars and businesses in town close early, and then everyone goes to bed at nine or nine-thirty so they can be up at dawn.

So it was with a tone of confession that I answered Van’s query of what I’d been up to: “I’ve really done nothing since I’ve been here.” I smiled apologetically.

“Well, isn’t nothing what you’re supposed to be doing?” I love Van.

“Well, I better get a move on; got to get the chickens in,” he said as he headed for the door.

Re-Imagining Work

What exactly am I supposed to be doing? Is this it? Then why do I feel guilty and ashamed? This was my plan for the summer: a month of cleaning out my family’s house in D.C., then a month resting and writing up here — back and forth each month and catching the fall colors both places.

Yet somehow I feel I should be “working.” I haven’t even been writing much, except for some bad poetry I wrote while sitting by the beaver pond.

Perhaps what I’m doing can be re-imagined as work?

Inspiration for some bad poetry

Inspiration for some bad poetry

The Writer at Work

I feel slovenly when I spend an afternoon reading fiction, but they say that writers should read incessantly — it is part of our work. I’ve finished almost three books in the short time I’ve been here — Keri Hulme’s The Bone People; Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (awesome); and an Agatha Christie mystery, Cards on the Table.

I say I’ve hardly written, but I’ve actually filled more than twenty-five pages in my journal and covered ten pages of a spiral notebook with random bits of blogs, essays, and poems.

Spiritual Work

Much of my writing has also been spiritual work. I came up here with a specific goal for myself: to examine and pray about some of the character flaws I’d like to have God remove — anxiety, contempt, a need for recognition, and envy. (The latter is an insidious little bugger — I’ve only recently realized I have it!) If you’re interested in my navel gazing about some of these flaws, scroll down to my last post.

I am making an effort to get back to my favorite form of meditation, Centering Prayer, which is seriously hard work because it entails trying to surrender everything in your brain to God, becoming nothing but a vessel for love.

My walks in the woods can be considered spiritual work since most of my wandering is spent in reflection, and they are also a workout for my body. So is my occasional thrashing around on the floor in front of a Rodney Yee yoga video.

A Working Chef

Cooking! Surely that counts as work, although it’s fun and something I usually take significant time for only when I’m on vacation. Summer is abundant here, and I never miss the farmer’s market.

Summer Abundance

Summer Abundance

I’ve made gazpacho, fresh corn salad, potato and lentil stew, cabbage and pasta with garlic, tomatoes stuffed with eggplant curry (dreadful), and nearly daily caprese salads with perfect local tomatoes and basil from my backyard.

Does building up the compost pile count as work?

Shucking corn is hard work!

Shucking corn is hard work!

Working Dreams

While we’re pushing the boundaries here, how about dreaming? I’ve heard of “dream work.” I decided to stop setting the alarm because I’ve been waking up anxious, something that happened after my mother passed away and which returned after my brother’s death. I don’t think I understood the psychic cost of keeping the phone by my bed every night for seven years in case my mother or my brother had a crisis or was dying. No wonder I wake up anxious!

After I nixed the alarm, I slept eleven hours several nights straight and had intense and involved dreams of my mother and my brother. The subconscious at work . . .

What I’m Supposed to Be Doing

The work of rest. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

Partners in my work - Mayasika and Eliza Bean

Partners in my work — Mayasika and Eliza Bean

Rest is essential to health and creativity.

After my mother died, I went on a retreat about calling and vocation — I thought I had to get busy since my caregiving role had ended. (Little did I know I would become my brother’s caregiver for the next six years.) On that retreat, I learned that restful healing is a calling in itself. I just forget sometimes.

I will not talk about the work of grieving, that goes without saying. It is what I do these days. Except to say that part of grief work is learning to have fun again. Saturday I went to a party and met a bunch of interesting folks and laughed a lot. On the way home, I stopped at the fairgrounds and watched the town’s end-of-summer fireworks.

I am where I’m supposed to be.

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