Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some thoughts on silence

I've never been comfortable with silence.

When I was young I got the silent treatment from my mother. It felt like I'd be in solitary confinement for the rest of my life. But her silence rarely lasted more than a day or so. When she'd finally speak to me again I'd feel redeemed. I'd swear to myself I'd be so good it would never happen again, that silence. But, of course, it happened again. Many times. For years I thought the problem was me.

I didn't realize that all over the world, millions of other mothers were doing the same thing to their children.

I've realized that this kind of silence is "incoming". Other people's silence affects me. I take it personally.  Even now, in my seventh decade of life, when someone is silent I assume I've done something wrong.

Here are some examples:
  • I communicate with my adult children mostly by text. If I don't hear from them within a day or so, I think they don't want to talk to me because I am a bad mother. 
  • My husband is a morning person and likes to spend a couple of hours in the first part of the day eating breakfast, reading the paper and working the crossword puzzle. If I start a conversation he sometimes gets annoyed. I think he cares more about the Seattle Times than he does about me.
  • I send a Facebook message to a bereaved friend. She doesn't respond for two days. I think it's because she thinks I am a nuisance.
If I were reading this in someone else's blog I would probably laugh. It's obvious even to me that people are just living their lives. They're not being silent to punish me. The adult me knows that. The little kid me doesn't.

Here are some legitimate reasons why other people might be silent:
  • They are busy doing things besides texting. Like reading or sleeping or camping.
  • They are spending time alone, in quiet.
  • They are grieving.
  • They feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed or afraid.

"Outgoing" silence is a different matter. I do this a lot. I'm a talker, but not always.

Here are some reasons why I might be silent:
  •  I am writing. This blogging business takes time and care, and so does the other writing I do. I am within myself and there is no room for anyone else in there.
  • I am having a conversation. I rarely answer my phone when I'm sitting face to face with someone else. I want my complete attention to be on what's going on between us.
  • I am keeping a confidence. In the vault of my heart I carry the secrets of my family and friends. Not the "elephant in the living room" kind, where we keep the conversation light and just don't talk about important stuff, but the secrets that keep people awake in the night until they find someone safe they can tell who will hear them without judging. Listening to someone else, and carrying their confidences, is just about the most important gift I can give them. 
Recently I discovered a secret someone else has carried for nearly 40 years. I do not even know the person, but I know how important my silence is to them, and I will remain that way unless they choose to talk about it.

I am a grownup now, and I know the silence of others is not about me. It is about them.

Friday, May 13, 2016


I am finally home in Washington, in body and mind and spirit. It took over two weeks this year, longer than usual. That might be because we stayed longer - three weeks longer than the four months we stayed last year. I need to remember, for next year.

I had interesting comments to last week's post called "Adrift":

Mona said, "I had turned to one of my sage friends during a period of angst, looking for consolation and commiseration. She said, 'Good. Stay with it and see where it takes you.' And like you expected, trust that you are just where you belong."

Tom said, "Thank you for this post which reminds me that we all have the same problems. Transitions are often difficult, and it's hard to give up things, whether they are favorite activities or piles of old stuff that often hold so many memories."

Jann said, "Any change can be hard. It's a process. I try to remember that each stage of change brings its own challenges. It gets even more complicated when you go through a lot of different changes at the same time and need to work through the stages for each of them. I have to reassure myself when I feel nervous or unsure that it's just the process...ride the wave, you don't know where it will take you."

Madeline said, "...I agree with your friend who says you need to release first so you can say YES to new happenings as they come up--I am in an in between space right now too..but it's feeling good to have a bit of NOTHING on my plate for a while!!"

And Barbara said, "I have always called that feeling 'The late arrival of my soul.' It is as though my body is here but my heart and soul is still back there. Thankfully it does pass and I let go of one to regain my life at the other."

So, what are the learnings from this?

1. Transitions are hard. I'm giving up the known and taking on the unknown. I can't go back to where I was because life has moved on.

2. I have some choices. I could decide to stay home all year, or to move someplace else and stay there all the time. I am not making that choice because of Arizona winters with sunshine and without arthritis and because of Washington summers with its sunshine and glorious green beauty. With the choice to have two homes, I get the transitions. Nothing is all good, all the time.

3. A transition may involve where we live, our health or the health of others, our friendships, our financial situation, or other factors. There's not always a choice. But when I talk or write about my own experience, people around me listen and empathize and share their own experiences. I am not alone. We are all in this together.

4. With the ending of my two community responsibilities, I've gained some extra time. To sit in my garden and read or meditate, to nap in the afternoon if I'm so inclined. To spend less time planning and more time relaxing. And to remain watchful for the next Right Thing I know will present itself.

5. Hospice for the dying is a merciful thing. My friend passed away on Monday, without pain and surrounded by love. I mourn the loss of this lovely, kind woman but am so glad she did not linger. I still think grieving alone is difficult, but I'm grateful that I have friends to grieve for.

Mostly, I need to trust the process of transition and know my soul will eventually arrive back home, wherever that is. As my friend Barbara says, "It always does. It is attached by a long silver thread."

It is finally good to be back home again.

Friday, May 6, 2016


No, I'm not on a boat. But I am in transition and I don't like it much.

I knew it would take some time to adjust to my life in Washington State after four and a half months in Arizona. But I expected to be finished with that by now. And I'm not. Here's why:

  • The weather is different. The rainy season is ending but there's still enough moisture in the air to make me feel my arthritis.
  • The terrain is different. It's hilly. When I take my two-mile walk in my neighborhood I'm getting aerobic exercise. When I ride my bike in my neighborhood I'm panting by the time I get to the main street, and I'm in the very lowest gear. It's a good thing, I know, but I'm not used to it yet.
  • The traffic is worse. Sometimes I have to wait for nearly a minute at a stop sign before I can make a left turn across traffic in my neighborhood.
  • Friends are not within walking distance, except Jennie next door. Today I drove nearly a half hour to meet my friend Bev. Granted, we went to the beach at Mukilteo, but still.
  • My house is three times larger than our place in Arizona. I notice everything annoying. Like carpet that needs to be cleaned (done this week). Like dingy colors in our bedroom (most of it got replaced today). Like weeds in the garden (hired grandson Kyle last weekend).
  • My house is full of STUFF. I get the urge to declutter, to make Goodwill runs, to donate books to the library and old glasses to the Lions Club. I can only do a partway job, though, because my husband Art is not a declutter. He is a saver. When I think about the possibility of downsizing sometime in the next five or ten years, I feel exhausted by the idea of how much STUFF we'll need to get rid of.
That's just the whiney part of adjusting. Here are the harder parts.
  • I like to be busy, but things change. I've been mediating in small claims court for my county for a couple of years now. Last year I led a team of three to five others every other Tuesday. But I'm gone for a good chunk of the year. The dispute resolution center where I volunteer needs a lead who is there year round and can be consistent. That's not me. So I will still mediate, but I won't be the lead. It's good for the dispute resolution center but it was an intake of breath for me. 
  • I've been the liaison between 27 Massage Envy clinics in the Puget Sound and the State Massage Board for the last year or so. That role will probably be ending by the end of the summer. Legislation has happened and I won't be needed in the role I've been service. Another intake of breath.
My friend Deb points out that if I want to say "yes" to things that come along, I have to have enough space in my life for it to happen. So letting go of the things that are changing does that. But at this point I haven't said "yes" to anything new, so I'm slowing down a bit. Yesterday, for example, I didn't do a thing except order a new refrigerator to replace the one with the broken compressor at our Arizona place. Well, not exactly nothing. I read, I went for a walk, I took a nap. But my days are rarely like that. I know there will be comments on this post about "Well, you should rest and take it easy from time to time. You're retired, after all."

There's another thing. I have an Arizona friend who has just today gone into hospice. She's in Illinois now, being cared for by another Arizona friend who also lives in Illinois. My winter Arizona community is being kept informed as to the friend's condition. But we're not in Arizona now, where we can support each other. We're in Colorado and Michigan and Florida and Canada because we've all gone home. So each of us is alone with our heavy heart. Email doesn't quite cut it in a grieving group. I'm doing solitary grieving and I wish I weren't. 

Come to think of it, I'm not actually adrift. I'm between. I know where I've been but I'm not exactly sure where I'm going. But I suppose that's always the case, really, isn't it?

In the meantime, it's spring! We have little baby cherries and apples and pears and blueberries in our garden, and the strawberries will be ripe in a month. I look forward to a delectable summer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Another case of synchronicity: where I'm going in August

When I was in college in California in the 60s, my parents lived on Oahu. I spent a couple of summers there. I acted in a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals in the community of Kailua. That was where I met Jenean, a local girl also in the cast. She was 16 and I was 19 and we became good friends, sharing laughs and dreams and "deep conversations". Years later I lost my address book in one of my moves, and Jenean's information was among the missing. Two years ago, while vacationing on Hawaii, I suddenly remembered the unusual spelling of Jenean's name. I looked her up on Facebook. She now lives in the Bay Area and works for Facebook! We had a long FB conversation and decided to get together when she traveled to Tacoma, where her mother currently lives. So far, that hasn't happened.

Several years ago I hosted a couchsurfer named Stacey, who lives in Fairfield, Iowa. Stacey was traveling up the West Coast looking for venues to display her artwork. My husband Art was out of town, so Stacey and I spent a couple of evenings talking at our dining room table. A year or so later, Art and I took a road trip to Iowa and Stacey hosted us in her beautiful off-the-grid place. We became Facebook friends soon after.

Last September Art and I took a trip to Eastern Europe. Our travel plans happened to intersect, in Budapest and Salzburg, with many refugees from Syria and other countries. You can read about those encounters here:

When we got back, I couldn't get those refugees out of my mind. I wondered if I was supposed to help refugees in some way, whether as a mediator or otherwise. When we were in Tucson I looked for opportunities to help Mexican immigrants, but didn't find any that were a good fit.

At the same time, Stacey was posting about her experiences working as a volunteer in Lesvos, Greece. Stacey is a second-generation Greek-American so I'm pretty sure that's why she was there.

So. One evening last weekend I was on Facebook and I noticed that Jenean was online. I asked her what was up and she said, "I've just finished making my travel arrangements for a weeklong trip to Lesvos, Greece in August. I feel like I'm being called to help there as a volunteer."

I remembered the refugees I'd seen. Without my usual thoughtful caution I said, "Can I go with you?" Jenean said yes, that I was the only one she had told who had asked if they could go.

I asked Jenean where she was planning on volunteering. I know the refugee situation in Greece is pretty fluid, and I wanted to be reasonably certain we wouldn't just be turning up on Lesvos hoping to find some refugees to help. Jenean said she'd heard from a friend about an organization there called "Dirty Girls", where volunteers are washing the clothes and blankets of the arriving refugees. She thought that would be a good place to start inquiring. I suggested she friend Stacey on Facebook. Within five minutes, the two of them were friends.

I found the Dirty Girls Facebook page. And scrolling down, who should I see smiling from the page but my friend Stacey!

Good grief!

I messaged Stacey and told her what Jenean and I had in mind. I asked how we could volunteer. Stacey suggested I friend Alison, the founder of Dirty Girls. So I did.

My plan is to meet Jenean in Paris and fly on to Athens and then Lesvos. We'll have a car and a comfortable place to sleep at night. We'll be there for a little less than a week. It will be hot and humid - my least favorite kind of weather - but I can do anything for a short time. Besides, the refugees have no choice.

This is about the least-planned trip I've ever taken. I guess I'm learning to trust the process.

I guess Jenean and I will have plenty of time to catch up!

Synchronicity usually means I'm supposed to learn and grow. So, once again, I'll say yes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Up in the air

That's where I am now, literally. Due east of Redding, California and due south of Boise, Idaho. Left home in Tucson this morning and going home to Seattle this afternoon.

Someone asked me last week, "Which home do you like best?" I answered right away. "We love them both."

In each place we have a place we love and people we love. Friends and activities. Twelve-step meetings.

And the Internet. For finding out what's going on in the world and at the home we're not at. For staying in touch in real time. For online ordering of what we need, which will be waiting for us at our appropriate address. For streaming Netflix and reading blogs and texting. For taking online classes. For playing Candy Crush (I'm now on level 1526, which is synched among my phone, laptop and Kindle).

In Tucson, we have blue skies and sunshine most days. In Brier we have beautiful green and a fruit and vegetable garden. In Tucson we have doves and in Brier we have crows. In Tucson, we have friends. In Brier we have friends and family. It's flat in Tucson and hilly in Brier.

We have Larisa the Designer Cat in both places. Wonderful food (Art's the shopper and the cook) in both places.  A comfortable bed in both places.

We're ready to go home. It's warming up a bit in Tucson, and the rain is lightening up in Brier. We found the sweet spot!

Our time in Tucson was rich and rewarding. I expect our time in Brier will be good. I am blessed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What? I'm not bored?

It's been three weeks since most activities ended at our winter community in Tucson. Nearly all of the seasonal residents - including most of our friends - have left for home in places like Wisconsin, Washington, Michigan and Oregon.

So why are we still here?
  • We want to stay in Arizona long enough to avoid most of the seasonal rain in Washington. But we don't want to broil while we're waiting. We figured April 20 - a week from tomorrow - would be a reasonable day to leave. The weather is still pleasant here; the thermometer has hit 90 degrees only once, and that was last month. Alaska Airlines is picking us up next Wednesday at the airport, and we'll land at our home airport - SeaTac - about three hours later.
  • Off season is quite different, with lots of quiet and little traffic. Fewer voices on the street, fewer cars in driveways, no waiting for a seat in the restaurant. Mostly I hear birds celebrating spring. I'm watching a pair of quails building a nest in a palm tree just off our deck and right at eye level. I hear occasional jets from the air force base, and trains on the dual tracks by the interstate. Nothing rushed, though, or very noisy. It's nice to be here in this quiet time.
And what are we doing?
  • We had a few things we wanted to do around our little place this season, but we were both so busy with Oklahoma! - Art was in the cast and I was responsible for ticket sales - that we didn't have the time or energy to get to them. Now the shelving has been put up in the new shed and the old, falling-apart shed has been relieved of its storage responsibility and dismantled. We've moved a bookcase to the shed and agreed that next year we'll change out a few lamps in the Arizona room, move the recycle boxes to the laundry room and replace the TV table that came with our park model with something more functional and visually appealing. We'll buy a couple of silk plants to disguise the electrical cords.
  • I've scheduled appointments at home for next week and beyond. Haircuts, massages, mediation workshops, lunches with Washington friends. 
  • I'm looking at ways of modifying my exercise routines. I've been doing water exercise for three years, but I find it's not aerobic enough. I'll need to walk on the hills in our neighborhood at home or ride my bicycle. There is one water class, two days a week, that emphasizes balance and strength, and I'll probably continue to do that. We've made a decision to sign up for a Road Scholar program next year to walk portions of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It will be in May or October - and I want to be fit enough to do that without being too tired or footsore in the evenings. 
  • I'm writing. I now have enough blocks of time to work most days on my next book. So far it's called "Why We Travel: A Love Story." In the current quiet, my mind is opening back up to all our times away. The memories are clear and draw me back into this work. 
  • We're reading. Magazines left over from last year. Brene Brown's book "Rising Strong" as I finish up her online course. "The Poet of Tolstoy Park", aloud to Art at night before we go to sleep. John Shelby Spong's latest book for my spiritual reading. And Art is reading mystery and espionage as Larisa the Designer Cat sleeps next to him on the back of the sofa.
  • We're riding our bicycles in the park. 
  • We're watching "The Americans" via Netflix DVD most evenings. We finished "House of Cards" and "The Good Wife". Last week we watched "Field of Dreams" again - one of my all-time favorites - and "The Intern". 
We have a lovely, quiet calm routine. Until next week. Then we'll be home, reentering the activities we love there.

Nope. I'm not bored!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

End-of-season gratitudes

With two weeks left before we return to Seattle, I'm sitting here full of gratitude. Here's my list:

1. The outside is just beyond the screen door. I can hear doves and the Corinthian chimes on our deck. Most of the neighbors have left already. It is quiet. So quiet. No road noise, no voices. I get to sit here in all this peace.

2. The temperature hit 90 yesterday and I was okay with it. As a matter of fact, it was 86 inside and we never turned on the air conditioner. It was more pleasant to leave the doors open for the outside sounds. I am finally, finally becoming acclimatized to dry desert heat.

3. I got a massage this morning. I get to do that every week.

4. I met this afternoon with the director and the production coordinator for next year's Voyager Light Opera Company musical, "Anything Goes." We're working on the budget because I'm doing the production finances next year. It is very good to be useful in a project I love.

5. I got a text from my friend Marion. Her husband Mike broke his wrist playing pickleball last week. Marion drove the 1400 miles from here to Oregon. They arrived home today. She said, "I miss you already." Marion and I and our friend Pete started a new 12-step meeting here this year, for friends and families of people afflicted with addiction. We got to make a difference in our winter community.

6. My friend Tamara posted one of her usual thoughtful pieces so I know she and her husband Tim made it back to Wisconsin.

7. I watched "Field of Dreams" last night with my husband Art. It's one of my all-time favorites.

8. I get to have lunch today with my good friend Joan, a sister of my heart.

9.  People ask if we're glad to be going home. I say, "We love both our places." We feel so fortunate to be able to say that.

10. I read it was sunny in Seattle yesterday, so I think our garden will be ready to plant when we get home.

I am a fortunate woman.