Lucky

You may not know this about me, but I’ve been married three times. Once when I was 18, then at 20, then at 30. Third time’s the charm; we’ve been married 35 years. Retirement agrees with Al as you can see by the twinkle in his eyes. He was actually telling me not to take his picture but I had to, because it tells so much about him.

He does dishes. He makes coffee every morning. He cooks, he cleans, and he golfs. Golf may be the most important thing he does for me, as when he leaves the house with his clubs, I write. Working the second novel in my new series “Jane in St Pete Mysteries” and I’m loving it. So happy Al and I have naturally evolved into spending time together but also time apart. We are both of the same mind about that.

Yesterday he cleaned the basement, which is full of stuff, including furniture we thought we wanted from our old house, but then realized didn’t fit here.. He was down there for hours. Now I can gather up my smaller stuff, mostly for donation (books, knick knacks, old clothes, old decor). Our original plan was to get a booth at the Armada Flea Market but the virus has made that not such a good plan. This is better.

We’ve been home from Florida for five weeks and I kept wanting him to vacuum the spider webs and make space, but I didn’t say anything. I knew how busy he was cleaning the deck, bringing up the patio furniture, fixing his car, fixing the ice machine in the fridge, fixing the AC, installing a new humidifier, and a million other little things.

We came home to a fire alarm beeping, even though he changed all the batteries before we left. So there was that. Every day he didn’t golf, he was playing catch up with this house. But yesterday was the day! Never has the sound of a shop vac sounded more dear to my heart.

Oh and did I say he grocery shops? And reads the sale papers. And finds all the deals. When I was a single mom, before I met Al, I had to watch every penny. I kept a running tab in my head and scrutinized prices. It was painful but my boys were young so PBJ, hot dogs and mac and cheese all sounded great to them. After Al and I were married, I vowed to never look at a price in the grocery store again. And I haven’t. I just buy what I want.

The best thing about Al’s retirement is not that he helps me with chores (Although he cleans the bathrooms and polishes the wood floors and will pitch in on anything else I need help with.) or that he keeps the cars running and the appliances too. It’s his financial sense. He’s like my own personal financial consultant. I feel safe.

Also, he’s fun. And funny. Even during a pandemic.

On Rules and Breaking Them

In writing and in life, there are rules. The words “creative” and “writing” don’t always coexist, even for fiction writers. Yes, it’s creative to come up with a great plot full of surprises and twists and insights, but in setting that plot down on the page, there are constant rules. Sentences! Spelling! Grammar! And so on.

Genre writers have even more rules. Happy Ever After for romance writers. The criminal will be captured and made to pay in mystery. Those are the biggest rules and there are so many more that, should you be lucky enough to find an editor or agent to read your manuscript, you’ll hear them all. There are also books and workshops and classes and blog posts that will give you the rules as they understand them. Many writers will attempt to abide by these rules because they want to be published.

Yet something strange happens if you adhere too closely to these rules as a writer. You lose the creative impulse that spurred you on to write in the first place. You paint by number. You give your publisher and your readers more of the same, book after book. Readers expect it. Publishers demand it.

The art of creating something new is the thrill and now it’s gone. But if you persist in your specific vision, if your work is both original and compelling, it might win you acclaim, prizes and money. Or not. So following the rules as a creative writer brings risk, just as, recently, gathering in public is a risk. Certainly if you are not wearing a mask, you pose a risk to others.

I hate the mask, but I wear it because I try to live by the rule of “First, do no harm.” If you are out in public in a crowd without a mask, you may be doing many people harm. I used to suffer with my mask and become annoyed, even angered, by those who went without. Why were they being so selfish? Didn’t they understand that the mask is not only to protect themselves, but to protect others?

There are several answers to this question of why people do not obey the health guidelines to wear a mask in pubic. There’s not a thing I can do to change a single one of these folks’ minds. I wouldn’t even try. So I simmer in anger and bitterness, which I dislike almost as much as the mask.

The Buddhists have a solution, of sorts, to my anger at people who refuse to wear masks in public. It’s not easy, but it works. Anger and other negative emotions are the perfect opportunity to practice compassion. The practice goes like this: you find yourself angry because the person is not following a rule, you recognize you are angry, you turn your anger into prayer for this person, and for all persons like them.

It’s akin to the Christian rule to love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,” said Jesus on the cross. “May all humans be free from suffering,” loosely translates the practice of turning your own anger into compassion. For a person not wearing a mask in a crowded public space, the prayer might be “May this person (or these people) awaken to the need to protect their brothers and sisters from this virus.”

On this Memorial Day, I give thanks to all the women and men who have lost their lives fighting wars for our country. And I honor all of those who have lost the fight against this virus. Namaste.

Appreciating The Journey

I can’t get away from myself these days, though I’ve made the usual tries: television, food, books, writing. The pandemic caused “Blacklist” filmed in New York, to become part graphic art, part cinema. That was interesting. By far my favorite escape is books and as soon as I got home I grabbed my copy of Emma by Jane Austen. I’m deep into the activities of three or four families in a country village.

My non-fiction book, the book I read at night to ease me into sleep, is Pema Chodron’s new one: Welcoming the Unwelcome. Pema is a Buddhist nun, but this book seems written for everyone on the planet at this particular moment. Because…the pandemic is the most unwelcome thing ever, at least in my life. Traveling home through the pandemic was challenging although there were more cars in the Starbucks line than on I-75.

Once home, I got busy using my three most missed machines: washer, dryer, and dishwasher. One way to appreciate something that seems like drudgery is to do without it for awhile. There was never a happier sound of all three of my mechanical helpers cleaning things all at once.

And that’s one of Pema’s lessons: appreciating whatever is in front of you. For me that would include this husband who is suddenly with me all the time. Dropping judgements and negative labels and just let things be as they are between us. I haven’t worn make up in two months and I think I may possibly never wear it again. I am 65 years old. I see myself just as I am. And I’m okay with that. Al is too.

What comes when society is moving, with lunch dates and dinner parties and sitting on the patio in the sun chatting with the neighbors is this need to “put on my face” like every other female in the room. One of the lessons I want to fully take in during this time is wanting to know myself, my authentic self. I’m not saying makeup and hair and a lovely pair of jeans plus cute sandals are not okay.

It’s not either/or, it’s both. Female dressing up is great. So is not dressing up. I’m dropping judgement on this topic. It took the pandemic to make me really see that I don’t need to “fix myself up” because I’m fine just the way I am. And so are you. Buddhists believe everyone has a basic goodness under the fixed ideas we have of ourselves and others.

So I’m letting go of some of the concepts and labels I’ve attached to myself and to Al, too. They no longer serve me. Instead I will really look at what’s right in front of me and appreciate fully exactly what and who that is.

Going Home

Life feels flat these days. Too little to do in too small a space. Yes, I’ve been reading a lot, and writing some, but I can’t wait to get back home to Michigan. I love Florida and want to move here permanently as soon as possible, but we have unfinished business in Michigan, which is the least evil thing the murderous pandemic has halted for now.

We could fit this entire Florida condo into our basement at home. And that basement in Michigan is full of furniture and everything I ever thought I needed and then after awhile decided I didn’t. Al’s going to finish the basement, something he’s talked about since we moved in. “When I retire…” he always said. Okay, that’s now. But first we need to clean out and box up what will go into the eventual estate sale. Organizing the basement is the one part of the plan we CAN take action on now. And it will help deplete our pent up energy.

Funny that a chore I have avoided for years seems almost like something I want to do. I’m editing my book, too, but all other choices are limited, no matter where we live. Driving home will be a possibly dangerous adventure. I have heard from others that the highway rest stops are spotlessly clean and read numerous articles that swear hotel chains are stepping up their high-touch area cleaning game. As added protection, we have our masks and gloves and a very large jar of hand sanitizer.

Sunday Drive

Don CeSar Hotel opened in 1928

After Saturday night, I knew I needed to get out of the house. I needed to see the water, and people, and downtown. Isolation has been fine, except when I’m not reading a book. My recently retired husband is very good about my writing and reading habits. He has the same habits, in fact. I love how the two of us, each with our own writing and reading material, sit scribbling the mornings away. Yesterday he explained his writing and research to me. He’s forecasting financial trends which involves many numbers and those pesky stock market abbreviations. Henceforth, I will admire him with pen in hand from afar.

But we still have to eat. And cook. And wash the dishes, as we have no dishwasher here in St Pete. This is really where things started: me washing, Al drying. He dropped a large pan on the ceramic tile floor Floridians favor, and the clang it set up caused me to startle. When I startle, sometimes I scream. It depends on my anxiety level and with Covid, and Staying Home, and grocery shopping with a mask, I’m never really completely free from anxiety. So I screamed. Then I felt ashamed and ridiculous. I said sorry to Al, which he doesn’t require as he knows this part of me, he knows I don’t mean to do it. It’s my fight or flight response.

This time, for the first time, I could not calm myself down with deep breaths and my anxiety built into panic before I could swallow any medication. Then I sat breathing, apologizing, worrying a neighbor would call 911, until the pill did its magic. Al, wanting to help, asked “What were you thinking happened when you heard the sound of the pan falling?”

I explained again that the response comes before thought, involuntarily. In that moment I was a cave woman alerting her man of danger. Some of us have a bit more cave woman left in our reptile brain than others. But I did say “I need to get out. Let’s go for a drive tomorrow.” And then I went to bed with my book.

On Sunday I felt much better and we set out for Gulf Blvd to see what, if anything, was afoot. Our beaches and restaurants were still closed yesterday (they opened today) but except for the yellow tape blocking off parking and the large signs reading BEACHES CLOSED, you wouldn’t know it. It was a lovely day (as is most every day here) and people flocked to the beaches. The patio seating at the few restaurants that braved opening early were packed with people shoulder to shoulder hoisting beers.

We tut-tutted from the safety of our car. Further down the Gulf, we passed the elegant Don CeSar. The parking lot was almost full, so I suspect they were serving brunch out back where the water views are splendid. Don CeSar is a hotel, very old Florida, so hotel guests would be exempt from the beach closures. We were going to dine there on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. I’m sure Al is secretly pleased because they are the kind of place that don’t have prices on the menu.

By the time we got downtown, cruising Central Avenue, which is on Tampa Bay, not the Gulf, we saw people walking, enjoying the day, eyeing the yachts in the Bay. These people were social distancing in groups of two or three. But the one restaurant open downtown, off Central on the pier, was jammed. Yachts and other luxury boats bobbed on the Bay. And why not? No ordinance against that. Still, we were dismayed that every single shop on Central, and every restaurant, too, was closed. We knew it was for the best, we knew it was the rule, but we couldn’t help speculating how many of our beloved local businesses would never be able to open again and would be snapped up and turned into condos.

As we headed home, we decided to stop at Target for a few essentials. We slapped on our masks and filled a cart with lettuce, avocado, and chocolate. The chocolate was for me, as I deserved a treat after my odious evening before. Also, we purchased ice cream. Same reason. At home, Al helped me enjoy these treats and then he had a healthy salad. On a final note, about half the people in Target did not wear masks. And there was no hand sanitizer to be found. But there is a happy ending!

Old St Pete Distillery, on 31st Avenue, has turned many vats once used for liquor mixing into hand sanitizer cauldrons. They have distributed free sanitizer for weeks to medical and other needy institutions. And they sell it to consumers. With every bottle of booze, you get a free travel sized vial of hand sanitizer. This is all done through their website. I ordered a few bottles of my favorites and a large (1.75 liter) bottle of hand sanitizer. For when Covid returns because people are not abiding by the safety rules!

Luckily our order, we were informed by email, is ready for pick up. Coconut rum does wonders for my worries.