7 weeks and 5 days. That’s how long we’d been apart. I don’t know what I was expecting when Al arrived, except to feel relief and happiness. That’s how I felt, but all too fleetingly. He came in at night, and we had our first argument a few hours later. It had to do with me wanting to stay in Florida longer next year. He said something rude and I snapped back and we went to bed without saying sorry. First night!
It happened again the next night and the night after that I picked a silly fight over nothing. I vented for about five or six pages in my journal and started to notice I was going over all the ways he’d let me down over the years. I stopped and went to bed, third night in a row with no kiss goodnight. We always kiss goodnight. What the hell was happening with us?
The next morning I remembered a book I’d been reading by Amy Morin…one of the things mentally strong people do not do is dwell on the past. There’s a check list with every chapter and I’d come out as needing to work on that. (Out of the 13 Things, I need to work on 6 of them!) So I reread the chapter and noticed that dwelling on the past means there are unsolved issues that need to be cleared up.
I realized that I was angry with Al not because of the past but because next year we were supposed to be here for four or five months together. He was supposed to retire at the end of 2017. When he told me he’d decided to work a few more years, I immediately buried the hurt and rejection I felt because I wanted to be supportive of him in his career as he had always been of me with both writing and teaching. I didn’t even realize I’d bottled it up.
Instead I waited until he got here and picked on him about stupid shit. Finally that 4th morning, I told him how hurt and upset I was about him not being with me next winter. He started to remind me that we always supported the others’ work decisions. I said “I know and agree, but that’s in my head. In my heart, it hurts.”
Al did not say “that’s it, I’m retiring tomorrow.” He’s still got his plan, which is fuzzy and depends on when his auto plant actually closes down. I hate having the future be so unclear, but I do know I can’t abide another Michigan winter. It has been more lovely here than I ever could have imagined. I did just fine on my own, something I would never have suspected. I’m dreading going back to Michigan in a few days. That’s probably not very mentally strong of me, because mentally strong people do not fear change, but at least I am admitting the problem. And I’m working on it.
Sometimes I get in trouble. I never mean to, because I dislike conflict. So I try to get along with people, but I am a liberal, so if someone tells a racist joke or utters a homophobic remark, I might say something. Sometimes I just walk away, other times I’ll say, “you might not know you’re telling a racist joke” or “I support the LTBGQ community.” I don’t hide my ethics or values, and I very much dislike when bullies gang up on good people.
I am the program director for Detroit Working Writers, an organization I’ve served since 2008 in many different capacities. I’m currently program director: I find seasoned, well-published people within the organization (or they find me) who want to give workshops to the membership. I’ve been doing this since being appointed by President Carl Anthony in late 2015. Naturally now that I live in Florida part of the year, I’ve had to resign.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to finish out the workshops and other events I’ve scheduled. I also have had lots of interest in others who want to give workshops. Really talented people who have won awards for their writing, been nominated for Pushcarts, and just really good folks who want to help our members reach their dreams. But I’m not planning any workshops for 2018.
So. Dilemma. Then I met with our president and said “Can we utilize this talent with a conference?” DWW has had an annual conference for several years, but the board had not been enthusiast. Nobody wanted to chair an event that takes a lot of work to pull off. So President Carl and I decided we’d do the work required and Carl got two other members who are not on the board to help. We have a conference committee. This 2017 conference will be the last event I’ll participate in for DWW. Because I love Florida so much I’m going to be here even longer next year.
But also because our board has become divided, which is normal. Despite my once held belief that all writers are liberal, that’s not actually true. You have your liberals and conservations in writing circles too. So the board is currently at odds which is awkward for me. I’m in Florida, away from the fray for the moment. I wish I could stay here forever.
Despite the fact that periodically I had to stoop to their level when my weight got out of control and my doctor started talking about diabetes, I used to think people who continuously made the care and feeding and exercising of their bodies top priority were missing something. I pitied them because I had an idea of their sad motives: vanity and fear of death.
This was not my first stupid idea, but it’s been the most persistent.
It’s not a secret: I love to write. Writing is a reliable friend, words knit me together, there is safety in sentences. Everything else is black and white, writing is color. I used to say I’d write until I died, and I still believe that, but in the past few months I’ve gotten way more laid back about the whole writing thing. I recently stopped writing morning pages. I just didn’t want to do them anymore. Maybe the urge to take pen in hand before the first cup of tea is done brewing will come back, maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m cool with it.
Contentment, I’ve learned, comes in more ways than one. The gym rats knew a few things all along that I never guessed. Like how much mood improves with exercise. Yes, I “knew” this, just thought it didn’t particularly apply to me. I had the creative person exemption.
Turns out, sunshine helps color my world, too, way more than I ever dreamed during the frozen Michigan winters. I think I might have had S.A.D. my whole life, but it felt normal, so I didn’t know any different. The Florida sun has lit me up in new ways. Ways that have me thinking that maybe writing doesn’t fix everything wrong in a life. Maybe all of it can be in color. With palm trees and pink flamingos.
Thousands of self-help books later, the truth dawned because I did a geographic. My good life comes not just from exercising creative muscles but by balancing body and mind. By walking out there in the world with my own two legs. Working on my physical self for my mental health might not be the ultimate vanity project. It might in fact be the next right thing to do until I die.
While becoming a little annoyed by Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, I have to admit the course has brought big changes and been a good companion on what has been an amazing and mostly solo journey. Julia’s been nagging me to take a walk, but I’ve been too busy dancing. And very week there’s a new artist date to plan; these dates are to be taken alone so nothing I do with friends counts.
This week I got the bright idea to combine a date and a walk and take myself on a beach walk. I’ve been five minutes from multiple beaches for a couple of months, but not once have I ventured to a beach alone. Not sure why. I love walking on the beach. The mellow sound of the waves rushing to shore. The gritty sand under my feet. The way each new wave washes my toes clean. The glitter of sunshine reflecting off water.
I guess it’s just always been something Al and I do together. If there’s any prevailing theme of this winter in Florida, it is Going It Alone. It’s been fine, but, honestly, I didn’t get married so I could be alone. I was terrified much of last year leading up to this time, worried about how I would handle things on my own. Al calmed my concerns by pointing out that it would only be for this one year–he planned to retire in December of 2017. That plan has changed, and it looks like I may be here on my own again next year, and possibly the year after that.
I don’t have to be here. I can stay with him in Michigan and we could rent this place out for the season. But I have a choice and I know I don’t want to live through another Michigan winter ever again. This has stirred up a bunch of uncomfortable feelings. I feel selfish. I feel tricked. I never planned to have a long distance marriage, even for a season, so I’m attempting to overturn an image, burnished over a lifetime, of what I thought a good marriage should look like.
Honestly, I’m a little upset with my husband for deciding not to retire quite yet even as I understand that he’s his own person and he should pursue his career the way he sees fit. He has always allowed me that same freedom. So yeah I’m a little pissed off at Julia and Al but I also know that each of them, in their own way, is helping me go mine.
Been dancing my fool head off in Florida. I love to dance, so this has been kind of a life saving surprise. I live in the Long Bayou condos, and they have quite the social schedule. There were two dances in February! Not to mention their line dancing and ballroom dancing classes. All of this happens at night, and when I first got here I was firmly in Michigan mode, meaning I didn’t go out after dinner. Ever. 7 pm saw me with a glass of wine and a book.
Then I got a peek at the social schedule for this place. They actually put a calendar out every month and it is jam packed with excursions and classes and activities. I saw that there was going to be a Valentine’s Dance, and I decided to take line dance lessons every Tuesday night so I wouldn’t look too much a fool. The Valentine’s Dance was so fun that I went to the dance they had the next week. And this weekend I went out dancing with some people I met here. Imagine a bar full of 60-somethings. I didn’t think such a thing was possible but it happens here in Florida.
The place was right on the Gulf and there were two bands, one outside on the deck and the other inside after dark. We danced until the sun went down, and then we went inside and danced some more. It was so much fun. I’m starting to make some good friends and I’m thankful for them. I could have never predicted that I’d be dancing so much. Apart from the perpetually warm sunny days, it’s been the best thing about my new life in Florida.
Have to admit: it’s not all dancing in the moonlight. I really miss Al. And not just as a dance partner. I miss every single thing about living with him. All the things we take for granted from that first cup of coffee in the morning, through dinner together, to curling up in bed next to each other at night. But I’m hanging in there. I have placed framed photos of him around the house, we phone each other every day, we text. And we have an end date to this long distance marriage. He’ll be back in Florida in three weeks and I am counting the days. When he gets here, I’m taking him dancing.
A few days ago, not quite halfway into my three month experiment of living alone in a Florida beach town, I was waiting for something to happen. I’m reading Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, the book that had promised to break things open for me, I was living an experience I knew would challenge me and maybe, I hoped, release some kind of something inside.
My hopes for this time alone were ambitious. I wanted to finish a book, start blogging and lose weight (again). I was so far away from inspired when I came down here. I’ve been round and round the weight loss routine for too many years to really believe I could create lasting change. I was starting to give up on ever finishing the book I’ve been writing off and on for a few years now. I needed help, but only the kind I could provide for myself. I had to do the work, whatever that was.
Julia’s book is at the center of my plan. At the end of each week, she concludes with a series of questions about how things went. She always asks about synchronicity. Synchronicity is when you notice that certain themes keep popping up in your life. After weeks of faithful work, I wasn’t having any of that, and I wanted some. The thing with synchronicity is, you might be having it and just not notice. It might be tugging at you and you’re brushing it off.
Two weeks ago I read a novel by one of my favorite authors with a hypnotherapist main character. Since I read that book, I’ve been thinking about learning more about hypnosis. Then out of the blue the other day my dad (who quit smoking via this method) mentioned hypnotherapy. This propelled me to the bookstore where I found Instant Self-Hypnosis. When I got home I realized I’d just experienced synchronicity.
Hypnosis is not exactly what I thought it was. There is no “going under” there is no time where the hypnotized person is not in complete control and fully aware of what’s happening. After you’re hypnotized, you remember everything that happened while you were in the trance. It’s like the flow I enter when I meditate, or when I write.
The difference is, with hypnosis, the place I enter is not the still calm center of my consciousness or the place in the story where my characters are currently playing out my plot. The entry point in hypnosis is your subconscious. By relaxing, the conscious mind opens a door into the unconscious and then slips in an intention, like losing weight or finishing a book. It’s a simple process, takes about 20 minutes. The author suggests you undergo the process three times for any one thing you want to change in your life. So three 20 minutes sessions for weight loss, three more for finishing the book.
I’m going to try it. The thing that made me really believe that hypnosis can work was not that the AMA (American Medical Association) has given hypnotherapy its stamp of approval as a solid method to help stop bad habits and start good ones. No, what intrigued me most and felt most promising to me was something that I intuitively knew was true about myself. On a conscious level, I really do want to lose weight.
But on an unconscious level, I know I’m ambivalent about the weight loss. Does it mean I must forever forego chocolate? Wine? Pizza? Chips? Not Fun. And that formerly unconscious false belief that all fun will be drained from life if I lose weight is what has kept me from losing weight for good. I’ve lost 25-30 pounds half a dozen times. But I always gain it back…probably when I decide, on an unconscious level, I’m done being deprived and want to have fun again.
I understood this dynamic in a flash. But understanding a false belief is not the same as changing it. For that, I’m going to try hypnosis.
Popular psychology suggests that happiness has nothing to do with weather. People get used to a mild climate very quickly, happiness research suggests. According to this research, Florida is not gonna make me happier than Michigan this winter. That may be true…but it doesn’t seem true to me.
I never take the delicious feel of the sun on my skin for granted. I love the greater mobility and peace of mind snow and ice-free roads affords me. But happiness is more complex than that. Without the snow and cold to hinder me, I get around more, and being active, researchers agree, does contribute to happiness.
I’m not sure why I had to move to another state to figure out that I needed to get busy and move my body more, engage with other people, socialize more. I had to come here to figure out I couldn’t just sit in my room every day and write my book. I need to write, but I also need to get out and about, meet people, be social, do stuff like dance. I really danced a lot last night at a Valentine’s Day party here. My new friend Karen was out on the floor with me as were others I’ve met since moving here.
In Florida (Dad calls it “God’s waiting room” because so many people move here after retirement), the condo associations do all kinds of things to bring people together socially. A healthy social life makes a happy person, researchers agree. And here the calendar is full of different kinds of events every day, all opportunities to meet new people. When I decided to go to the Big Dance a couple of weeks ago, I started dropping in at a line dance class that meets twice a week at the clubhouse, just a stone’s throw from my condo. Yes, I was rusty with the dances, but moving that way, however awkwardly, brought me joy. And class was mild compared to really dancing like I did last night.
I sat here this morning and tried to figure out how long it’s been since I’ve danced like that. My body says a really long time…and after thinking about it, I’m pretty sure it’s been three years! This from a woman who used to go dancing every weekend. All the things I used to do somehow slowly dropped away in winter, snowflake by snowflake. I pretty much stopped pursuing activities that are proven to increase happiness, like socializing and dancing. Despite what the research claims, moving to a warmer climate has made me very happy.
I wanted something to happen this winter. I knew the outer landscape would be different, but was hoping for big changes on the inside, too. Now that I’m into my second month in St Pete, I’m making progress on those inner goals: to figure out my reluctance around writing, to work on my health, and to make friends.
In December, I was ready to take a three month break from novel writing, that’s how confused and conflicted I felt about my current project. To my amazement, one day last week I realized I was ready to get on with it. Not only ready: absolutely eager. Writing breakthrough, check!
Another pleasant surprise is how well the whole self-improvement plan is going. I wanted to work on my health: exercise more, eat less. And I’ve been doing that, faithfully attending Weight Watcher meetings (the ones I’m going to in St. Pete are so inspiring). I surprised myself by joining a line dancing class. Whew, those ladies work it! I didn’t take a correct step all night, but nobody minded, which helped crack my third goal, making friends.
Besides dancing, literally like a fool, I have been going to the weekly coffee our community hosts. Just trying to be friendly and open to meeting people. That’s working out, too. I met a few neighbors I really like. I’m even going to the Valentine’s Day dance this coming Saturday. Despite not being so great at line dancing, I really love to dance. My new friend was going alone so I said I’d go with her. I bought a ticket and everything!
I’m not sure if me buying a single ticket is what prompted one gentleman to ask “Are you a widow? Divorced?”I got a chill having those labels applied to me, however innocently. I felt disoriented, even a little shocked that somebody would just come out with a statement like that. “I’m married,” I said. “And my husband’s at work.”
Which is true. Al is at work. In Michigan. Wish he was here. Six more weeks!
Marriage is a series of compromises; everyone has a different idea of their necessary percentage of YES. Mine is 50% which means about half the time, I hold back from doing or saying, buying or selling, something I want to do or say, buy or sell. It’s not that simple either. I need to be 100% in control of my own mind/body/spirit and I need a 100% YES every time I make a plan to visit my kids and grandkids.
Maybe these compromises are why the idea of a do-over, of a blank slate, is so appealing. Movies and novels use this theme all the time. The amnesia patient. The partner running from a violent relationship. The secret wish, expressed fervently, to go back in time and correct what seems to be a mistake. Even the widow who discovers her husband is not who she thought he was…liberating her from grief and granting her the blank slate.
I’ve thought about leaving my 32 year marriage once or twice during a rough patch when my calculations said I was getting the short end of the stick and when nothing I said or did seemed to make change likely. I’ve planned my escape out and the most appealing part of it is not being responsible for anybody but myself. Not having to compromise. To start over and do life exactly the way I want to do it.
Now I’ve kind of got that blank slate (for a limited time) without rancor, grief or divorce. It feels as lovely as I’d imagined and nowhere near as lonely. Of course my husband left our Florida home less than a week ago for Michigan, and I’ll see him again in a few months. I’m sure I’ll have my lonely moments. I concocted an ambitious plan of self-improvement to help me stand strong in my newfound freedom. So far, it’s working.
For example, the stubborn door lock to our new home. Some days the key would open it right up. Other days, it stuck. Yesterday was one of the stubborn sticky days. Jiggling the key, I saw a can of WD40 in my mind. I knew just where Al kept it, although he obviously had not gotten around to using it for the lock. Never mind, how hard can it be? I thought. The answer is not very. I gave it a couple of quick squirts and the lock now works like a charm.
I felt a sense of achievement disproportionate to the action. I texted Al about it. I posted on Facebook as proud as if my latest novel had hit number one on the Amazon chart. My marriage works because we are each comfortable in our own spheres and neither of us treads far into the others’ domain. But now, for the next little while, I will be taking on some Al tasks and he’s back home in Michigan doing the stuff I usually handle.
I didn’t expect any of this. We found a place we weren’t looking for and entered into a new way of life we’d only vaguely contemplated. The whole thing happened quickly, which is so not our style, but it felt right. The blank slate was a bonus I wasn’t thrilled about at first. Since I retired, I’ve been restless and at loose ends. Also, sometimes, lonely and depressed. I thought that lonely and depressed part would just be worse if I was all alone. But the opposite has happened. At least for now.
I love color. The problem last week was, we were living in a white house. White walls, white cabinets, white carpet, white doors, white window blinds. We went to the paint store and began the task of coloring our Florida world. I had my original idea of what sort of color and design I wanted to achieve back in Michigan months ago. I would bring my Desert Rose dinnerware and use the dusky rose and moss green colors. I had this idea that I wanted to do an update of the “Old Florida” look, the one I remembered from my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s houses, the Florida before Disney. The pattern of my dishes was a good starting point, but I have not painted my house dusky pink. We chose sand for the main rooms.
In the bedroom I was going for an ocean blue, although the one we ended up using was a bit darker than it looked on the little card in the paint store. That was fine, I was getting some color and it made the white that remained pop. There are white sconces in the living room that look awesome with the sand walls. We used a latte color on the baseboards, which had previously been, you guessed it, white. So, house is painted, or most of it. I am reserving the right to paint my tiny kitchen dusky rose. That can be a project for me after Al leaves later this week. Not looking forward to dropping him off at the airport on Thursday. It will be sad because we (usually) have a lot of fun together.
Also this week: finally took delivery of a real bed! I hope to buy a few more pieces before Al leaves (he’s still got a job in Michigan,which is why he’s leaving. My hope is he misses me so much that he retires). I have no idea how I will cope without him for two months. We’ve never even been, in 31 years, apart for two weeks. Here’s an example of the kind of guy I married: I meant to hire a painter but Al said he’d do it. The man is such a worker and he’s meticulous. The house looks great in color 🙂 I’m gonna miss him for more than his handyman skills, though. We’ve been having fun getting to know our neighbors, visiting friends, and checking out our new town.
Another thing that reminds me of “old Florida” ~ as a kid I used to go to shows like Weeki Watchee. I’ve loved mermaids ever since. Back in Michigan I was thinking of doing a long boring hallway in a mermaid mural. Al was not impressed, but I figured out a more subtle compromise. I found an abstract painting and the way the colors are layered reminds me of a mermaid swimming the ocean. I found a brightly painted mermaid carving too.
Now that the nest is (mostly) feathered, I just need to figure out how to be alone.