Recently I wrote that I love my things, but my things don’t love me back. (The Things I Love)
And I do love my stuff. But I often find myself minimizing my stuff. You know, pretending that I don’t care about it or that I only bought it because it was on sale – the kind of thing you say because you don’t want to seem to be too boastful about all your stuff.
And something happened a couple of days ago that left me thinking about loving my possessions.
We went to one of our numerous county fairs. It was incredibly hot for September and the fair was crowded. And since it was the last day, most of the events were over. My husband and I were trying not to eat too much junk. Given all of that, we were not exactly having a good time. I was cranky and sweaty, miserable and complaining mightily to my equally miserable husband. I mean, for God’s Sake, even the Apple Fritters tasted horrible. So there I was, visibly gaining weight by the second right through my sweat on food that didn’t even taste good!
I stopped off at the restroom. Now restrooms at the county fairs can be nasty places, although this one wasn’t too too awful. They have an attendant making sure that people flush and clean up and not make a mess because for some reason, people are disgusting at the fair. (Perhaps because they are hot and as cranky as heck?)
Well, I managed not to have a melt-down in the hot restroom and as I was washing my hands, I watched a young girl and her mother. I would guess this girl was maybe eleven or so – not a little child but not a teenager either. That awkward age. I love that awkward age, by the way – those kids are unbelievably interesting, if anyone ever bothers to listen to them.
Anyhow, this young girl was changing her shirt, right in the center of the restroom. Because she had bought a little top and wanted to wear it immediately.
And here is what she said – on that miserable steaming day in that putrid bathroom:
“Oh my God, Mom. It’s perfect! I love it! I LOVE it!!!!
This was a black racerback tank top with a heart or rainbow or some other trivial design.
And the girl was right.
It was perfect.
BECAUSE she loved it.
I went out and rejoined my husband and he bought me a gajillion-calorie frozen cappuccino.
And I felt a lot better.
I went home and gave a little extra love to some of the things I love: my shower, my aromatic shampoo, my hairdryer, my makeup, my pantry, my air conditioning, my comfortable flipflops.
And I put on a black racerback tank top.
Today, for my daily tip from Theo on Twitter, I posted:
Years ago I went out to San Diego to attend a wedding.
I had never been to California before.
I think now – at the place I am in my life right now – I would fit in quite well.
But thirty-five years ago, it was quite a shock.
Because I met people who were enjoying themselves.
I couldn’t fathom it.
I met four women who lived together in a rather small apartment. Each worked part-time: waitressing, office work, cleaning houses.
I met a guy and his wife who were caddying at a golf course.
We all went to a Padres game (the first Major League baseball game I ever saw, and I saw a grand slam home run, by the way). All these folks came with us to the game. It was a weekday afternoon. No one I met said, “Sorry, I have to work.”
We went to Tijuana for a little shopping. We went to the beach. We went to the zoo.
No one said, “Sorry, I have to work.”
These folks didn’t have much. They were – in my mind – one shaky step ahead of bankruptcy. They all seemed to work just enough to avoid eviction. They owned a couple of changes of clothes. One or two had a car – an old car. It was a life lived in flipflops and sunglasses.
I have to admit – I was appalled.
I was working my ass off in Connecticut at a fifty-plus hour/week job. I had just finished graduate school while working full time. I had recently been promoted and working towards the next one. I had a decent apartment, no roommate, a late-model car, a closet full of clothes and shoes. I had purchased a dress for that California wedding, but wasn’t sure how dressy the wedding would be, so I bought a second dress – just in case.
One day on this trip, just before the wedding, I was making conversation with the husband of the husband/wife caddy team while he prepared a memorable and deliciously simple dinner, and I remarked at how many people worked only part-time.
“Is the job market really soft out here?” I asked.
“Not really, ” said the husband. “It’s the weather.”
“Yeah. It’s just about perfect here every day. If you worked all the time, you couldn’t enjoy it.”
“But if it’s perfect every day, you could work more and you would still be pretty sure of having beautiful weather when you got a day off.”
“Ah,” he said. “But why not enjoy it more?”
How lazy was that!
How would he ever get a car?
How would he ever have a nicer apartment?
And what about the latest clothes?
And the satisfaction of a great job and money in the bank?
Where was his ambition?
Why was he living hand-to-mouth, day-to-day?
Why was he not planning for the future?
Why couldn’t he see the big picture?
What a fool he was.
But thirty-five years later –
Now I know.
Because I see the big picture.
He really was living day to day.
He really did have an ambition.
To live day to day.
To live each day.
What a fool I was.
Years ago, when I was just starting my working career, I rented a tiny apartment from a very nice older couple.
These folks, Mr. and Mrs. Manchester, were really old. I mean, they must have been the age that my husband and I are now. But of course, that made them very old indeed to me at the time.
They had a lovely old house with a detached two-car garage in their backyard. Years before, the husband had built a studio apartment over the garage for his own mother, where she had lived for many years. After she passed away, the apartment stayed empty for quite some time, and eventually, they decided to rent it out.
They rented it completely furnished with all the old woman’s things – which was perfect for a young person like me who had nothing. There were furniture, pots and pans and dishes, a vacuum cleaner and an ironing board and iron (I love to iron, by the way… I really do.) The tiny kitchen had a two burner stove and a bar-sized refrigerator. But that was perfect for me, since I ate mostly canned ravioli and hotdogs.
I had a very-low paying but promising job that had taken me eighteen months to find. As an English major, my office skills were sparse, but I knew the alphabet. I could file and type. And the small nonprofit I worked for did not have a big staff, so they were happy to get someone with good brains, who’d work for peanuts. And it wasn’t long before they encouraged me to acquire some business skills – by paying my tuition for an MBA.
In the meantime though, I had plenty of nothin’ and was happy to have a pot for my ravioli and an iron, even if it meant I had to wash my hair in the old claw foot tub.
And my landlords were generous and kind and smart. They left me veggies from their garden in the summer and cleaned the snow and ice off my car in the winter.
I often stayed for a cup of tea with the missus when I stopped by on the first of the month to pay my rent.
Their house wasn’t fancy but it had a warm well-used kitchen, good furniture (including a baby grand piano) and some interesting art in all the rooms.
One day over tea, I notice some beautiful plates on display in the dining room.
“Those are really lovely,” I said.
Mrs. Manchester aid, “Thank you. They are very old family heirlooms. They are precious to me.” She added, “Do you see that the one on the right has been broken and glued back together?”
“I see that now,” I said.
“My grandchildren broke that piece three years ago. Knocked it off the wall.”
“What a shame.”
She laughed. “If my own kids had done it I would have strangled them. But when it’s your grandchildren, you say, ‘Oh, that’s okay, sweethearts.’ And you get out the glue.”
“I guess so,” I answered doubtfully.
“I thought my heart would break,” she said. “But it didn’t.”
Years later, I surprised myself by becoming rather a business success. I eventually got myself a beautiful condo and lovely expensive furniture, including some antiques. I acquired fine dishes and crystal and a few good pieces of art.
Of course, I had to clean the snow off my car myself, so there’s that.
Also eventually, my adorable sister had a bunch of adorable kids, and my nephews and niece became an important, loving part of my world.
Mostly I visited – and babysat – at their place, which was childproofed in every inch of every room, of course.
My place was a bit more fragile.
But I loved having the family over. When I wasn’t working like a maniac of course… which was most of the time.
So there’s that.
And one day when my family had come to visit, the kids were playing in my spare bedroom and there was considerable noise emanating from that direction.
My brother-in-law frowned. He said, “I worry about all your beautiful things when we come here. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t visit until the kids are out of college.”
And I thought of Mrs. Manchester and laughed – like she laughed when she told me the story of her family heirlooms.
“Oh no!” I said. “You – and the kids – can come anytime. You are always welcome here.”
“But what if they break something precious?” he asked.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I love my things. I really do. But you know… my things don’t love me back.”
My heirlooms. Only one set loves me back.
Earlier this week, my husband and I stopped for ice cream, which was practically mandatory as it was ‘buy one, get one half price’ day at Carvel.
We don’t usually take full advantage of BOGO day, which I think annoys my husband because the offer is for sundaes, but I would rather just have a nice cup of vanilla, thank you. So my little cup at half price is not as much of a bargain. I have tried to convince Hubby that we save even more money this way, since the sundaes are more expensive to begin with. But savings 50% off something expensive does seem to have more appeal. I lessen the sting of buying something cheaper by getting one size larger than I normally would. That way Theo can have a bit too.
But this little anecdote really doesn’t have anything to do with the bigger anecdote.
Which is this one:
We sat down at a long picnic table where a man and woman already occupied the far end. They were old, very old. Perhaps almost our age. Perhaps a bit younger.
The man wanted something, and it appeared from the conversation that he wanted it quite badly. I didn’t hear what it was that he wanted, as I was a little late in my eavesdropping.
But the woman asked him,
“What would you give up for it?”
This, I think, is a very good question.
They got up and left and I never heard the answer.
But I started thinking about that question and my answer.
What do I want and what would I give up for it?
Well, naturally I want world peace and a cure for cancer and justice for the poor and abandoned. I guess I would give up quite a lot if I could have all three. Some people even give up their lives. That is astounding to me.
The closest I have come is when my nephew was diagnosed with cancer. He wasn’t even two. He was so desperately ill, and I wondered – especially in the middle of the night – if there is a God and whether he could or would help this little baby. I wondered if someone told me I could change places with this small child – if I could take on his cancer so he could be healthy – would I? I thought about that a lot. I decided I would. I would rather have cancer myself than to see it in that sweet kid.
Once I knew that about myself, I felt a great sense of comfort. And my nephew survived and is a teenager now. He’s well – in every way that one measures wellness.
I’m still not sure I believe in God, but if She exists, I think She mostly helps doctors and nurses to do their jobs well.
And what about me personally? What do I want?
I would like my novels to be recognized and successful, for one thing.
But you know, as far as what would I give up? I don’t think I have to give up much. Because I like them, and I am proud I wrote them. So they are already successful to me.
But oh, if everyone else loved them! That would be pretty sweet. But extra really. I’m good right where I stand.
And wealth! I want to be a billionaire.
What would I give up to have an endless supply of money?
Well, I wouldn’t want to work at a job I hated. I wouldn’t want to be unethical in my dealings or have to lie constantly. I wouldn’t want to move away from my friends and family. I wouldn’t want to be hated. I wouldn’t want to give up a single year of my life for more cash.
So what would I give up to be rich?
Not nice weather. Not my favorite songs. Certainly not my pets.
Maybe coffee. But maybe not.
And of course I would like happiness now and through the end of my life. Well, I think I am okay there too. No one can predict the future of course, but I see a happy future.
What would I give up to ensure future happiness?
How about worry and envy and resentment?
You would think that those are easy to give up. Not so, I see. No one wants to worry. No one wants to be angry. And yet, like most people, I am. Often.
I hang onto my hurts and grudges like they are the flags that define me. I nurse them in my heart.
I need to take much better care of my joy.
While I sweep away my resentments with the toaster crumbs, I need to take out my joys and look at them over breakfast every morning. And admire how everlasting they are. How strong.
I wouldn’t give them up.
Not the books I have written. Not the books I have read.
Not the walks I have taken. The sunrises and sunsets I have seen.
Not the flowers I have planted and seen bloom around me.
Not my pets. Not Theo the dog. And not the cats – not Thor nor Niko nor Athena – not even cranky old Lillian. Not Moonlight the horse.
Not my friends. Not my old friends from childhood. Not the new friends I have made.
Not my family – and not their health. Not my husband. Not my mother. Not my sisters nor my brother. Not their families, including my in-laws, my nieces and nephews, and the children of my nieces and nephews.
And if I should lose some of those I love – and I will, of course, eventually – they are still everlasting.
Everlasting in my joy.
I’m not giving that up.
You can keep the money.
Do you ever wish that the writer of the book you just read or the movie you saw would have consulted you before she decided on that particular ending?
Sometimes it is simply historical reality that makes people or characters act the way they act. But I see so many occasions where there could be a much more interesting outcome.
Take Jane Eyre, for example.(my favorite book since I was twelve… and still 55 years later.) In 1847, Jane could hardly embrace immorality, but when you think about it, she does anyway – despite the mores of the times. She returns to Edward Rochester not knowing that Rochester’s crazy wife is dead. She returns to him willingly, aware that he already has a wife. So Jane was plenty subversive – for 1847.
But how I would love it if, when Jane Eyre returned to Thorncrest, she had found everything pretty much as she left it. Mad Bertha still alive, still living in the attic. And Jane stays anyway – her own decision. Married (by love and commitment only, not by the church) to Edward, she has a family of her own, including Adele. And Jane takes good and compassionate care of Bertha, too, for the rest of their lives.
I love the movie Baby Boom. I am willing to suspend all logic and reality to accept that Diane Keaton can inherit a baby from a long-lost cousin, and that Diane had never so much as held a baby in her life. And I even accept that she can be her ditzy self and still hold a high-level management position. I can accept that she gives it all up for a falling-down farmhouse. I accept it all because Diane is adorable and the baby Elizabeth even more adorable. And because she gets to say “screw you” to her big, important job.
But. Oh, how I wish Diane Keaton went to Vermont to that ramshackle farmhouse and fixed it up and didn’t meet a handsome veterinarian. And liked her life anyway.
I loved Friends. I never missed an episode. I planned my Thursday evenings so I could be friends with all those friends. I loved every quirky one of them.
Phoebe was my favorite. I just wish she had pointed out a lot more often to Monica and Rachel how fantastic it is to be completely independent. Not needy. And honest without a trace of meanness. You do not have to lie to get out of an unpleasant situation.
I was on vacation at Cape Cod (in a tent, as I was one of many penniless students) when every other song on the radio was Rod Stewart’s Maggie May. No matter where we were and what we doing, when we heard that mandolin, we would all stop – and sing.
But I wish Maggie May had said, “YOU feel YOU’RE being used??? Get your freeloading ass out of my house, and go back to school. Learn something!”
Years ago I went to a party and there was a guy there I had not seen in years.
He was surprised to see me.
Because six months earlier there had been a murder in my town, and the poor young murder victim bore the same last name as mine.
And this distant friend exclaimed, “Oh my God! I was sure that murdered girl was you!”
As in, “Although we have seen each other hundreds of times, I had forgotten your first name” sure?
Or as in, “I wasn’t surprised that you would be murdered, since we’ve all wanted to kill you at one time or another” sure?
Either way, I was pretty insulted.
But now, more than 40 years later, I don’t think so.
Not that it has taken me 40 years to get over it… no way…
Just that if that happened today, I would see it in a totally different light.
Because I don’t get insulted much anymore.
Because I am the arbiter of what is insulting.
And hardly anything is.
Like when someone told me they hated a certain movie, but that it was the “kind of thing I would like.” Well, now I just think they must mean sweet, simple and touching. Yes, I am like that.
Like when someone commented that I wore an awful lot of makeup. Well, now I just think, they mean that my makeup looks so perfect I look like I had it done by an expert. Yes, I am that good at it.
Like when someone said my dog runs around like a maniac. Well, now I just think that they think my dog is so energetic and fun-loving. Yes, I have raised a happy dog.
Like when someone told me I needed to work on my management skills. Well, now I just think that it’s not in my nature to criticize another person’s work. Yes, I am kind like that.
Like when someone came to dinner and brought her own food because my cooking is not up to her standards. Well, now I just think how much money I just saved because she was generous enough to bring the main course. Yes, I am grateful like that.
Like when someone said that I had a stupid laugh. Well, now I just think that I laugh like a nut all the time because so much in life is so nutty. Yes, I am happy like that.
Like when someone wrote a review on Amazon and said my first book was predictable, unreadable and a complete waste of time. Well, now I just think…
Yes, because I am sensitive like that.
Theo’s pup tips have made my Twitter very popular indeed.
In fact, he is WAY more popular than I am.
That is because he is so much wiser than I am.
Here is some of his latest advice.
Theo would also like you to know that he may have a book coming out soon. His fans are demanding it.
There is a road I take on the way to my mother’s house that has one medium-size hill.
Not a huge omg-will-the-car-even-make-it kind of hill, just a rise that is short but pretty steep. By the way, those runaway truck lanes on hilly highways give me the creeps. Did you wonder how many trucks must have terrible brakes that engineers thought they should make a separate road just for failed-brake trucks?
But anyway, as I climb this little hill on the way to Mom’s house, I reached a point just before the top where all I can see is the nose of my own car. And for that split second, I feel helpless. A sudden queasy flash of panic. I don’t have any idea of what I may encounter on the other side. What if a car has broken down just over the rise? What if there is a child or an animal in the road? Ice? A crater?
I am driving into a complete slightly terrifying mystery. For three long seconds.
And then I hit the top.
And everything is clear. In fact, there is a lovely view and I can see for miles.
Life is like that.
Oh, not the rising of the crest and seeing that everything is beautiful and safe.
It’s the three seconds of complete and blind ignorance.
Only not three seconds. It lasts your whole life.
Each time you think you’ve crested and that you are about to get the view… you realize that the hill is just a little steeper and you still can’t see.
That panic sets in – that you don’t know if there is an obstacle in your path on the other side. There are companion-panics too. Will you even have enough power to make it another foot? Will you have the brakes you need if there is a treacherous downhill section on the other side?
How in the world do we live our whole lives not knowing where we are even going?
All we can see if the hood of our own car. Our own reflection.
Life is terrifying and we never quite get a glimpse of safety.
But we do know that under the hood, we probably do have enough power to get there. We may not be able to accelerate but we can keep going.
And despite our worries that our brakes will fail, we also know that we can pull over to the side – turn on our flashers for safety – and get a breath. Let our engine cool down a bit.
On the side of the road.
There’s where a lot of nice stuff happens anyway. On the side of the road. There are sometimes wildflowers. And an apple tree. A cool brook. There might be a spot for a picnic. Maybe a little dog to pet.
The birds are singing.
Did you know that the birds are singing even when all you can hear is the sound of your own motor straining from your effort?
So when you are ready to resume the endless uphill climb, turn off your flashers and open the windows.
You still won’t be able to see what’s on the road ahead of you, but you may be able to hear the birds.