Letting it go

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Bikes have been on my mind all year. Riding. Shopping for a new model. Joining a biking club.

I let a casual acquaintance know and she said, coincidentally, that she was selling her bike.

We arrange a time and day for me to come to the Victorian-era duplex in Detroit where she shares space with a half-dozen folks. After a bit of small talk, she leads me out to a big wooden storage shed. She wrestles with the padlock, throws open the wooden doors, and stands there silently for an awkward amount of time. I stare at her as she stares inside at the array of rakes, brooms, and garden implements. She squints. She clicks her tongue a few times and continues to stare.

Then, as if waking from a trance, she shakes her head, sighs with a big huff,  and pushes closed the wooden doors.

“What’s going on?” I ask, because what just happened here?

“Well, I guess I don’t have a bike to sell you.”

She laughs, latches the lock with a snap, and turns toward the steps.

I follow. I wait. I don’t say anything.

It isn’t easy. God’s truth is I’m wondering why she isn’t getting mad, or firing off rhetorical questions about the missing (stolen?) bike, or looking for her housemates to ask them questions.

Instead, she pour us cups of ginger tea and leans against the Formica countertop, scanning the recipe books on a nearby shelf.

While I stew in silence she contemplates stew for dinner.

I know her well enough to know there really was a bike in there at one point; she isn’t messing with me. But what I didn’t know about her until now is how well she handles life’s sucker punches.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, I know as sure as the sun will set  in the west that I’ll go home and rant about this to my husband. For at least 10 minutes. I’ll vent and pitch a million unanswerable questions out of the ball park. Then I’ll remember (because it’s always just around a dark corner inside my head) the one that got away.

In 2001 my mountain bike was stolen from our garage in rather dramatic fashion. There was ruckus and a brief police chase. I was at work at the newspaper and heard it on the police scanner. My husband called excitedly to tell me about the drama in our neighborhood. He called back a few minutes later, his voice much quieter, to say it was my bike that starred in that show. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over the loss of that bike. I’ve had inexpensive replacements, but they were never the same. One thing I know: I had no idea what I had until it was gone. You’d think international spies had kidnapped my precious firstborn. It’s embarrassing, really.

It’s taken me a decade (that’s a lot of obsessive thinking, folks) to recall the make and model of that stolen bike, for when it happened I went blank. I had a mental image of letters in a pattern but I could not put them together to form words at the police station.

During an Internet search for high-quality used bikes, I found a picture of that bike. The color, the logo, the lettering, all unlocked a dusty box of memories. It had been an indulgent Mother’s Day gift from my first husband after the birth of our daughter. It was an expensive Band-aid to a hemmoraghing marriage. I thought about all the places I rode that bike. How I rode it hard to work off stress and heartbreak.  How on that bike I dreamed of escape. That bike traveled with me away from that marriage, into single motherhood, and then into the garage from which it would disappear forever.

I wonder what I’m really holding onto in this unresolved anger over a hunk of metal and rubber? Is it the inability to replace what’s lost? Is it the shock of realizing how attached I am to material objects? Is it that I am unable to forgive?

I’m working on this one.

What keeps you stuck in a rut on the road to self-improvement?

 

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Why blogs are important

While on blogus hiatus I didn’t publish, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t write. Here’s a draft from mid-August:

My first blog

I am in a world of pain today.

The kind of pain delivered bedside, on a cold platter, following a night of alcoholic indiscretion.

My breakfast of regret consists of humble pie baked with the fruits of worry, stress and fear. Weeks before, I planned a night out with friends* that did not happen because hours earlier I could not access my bank account.  Today, I opened a stern letter from the IRS explaining everything.

The letter says the games are over. Since I didn’t pay up like they asked, they have my lunch money and they’re not giving it back. Oh, and if I don’t comply with all their terms, they’ll come back and take more toys.

Life feels very unfair. We work hard. We live very frugally. If we go on vacation, out to eat, do anything, it’s with cash, and planned with careful consideration of our household budget.

Simply put, our brown rice days are rarely spiced with spontaneity.  We landed in trouble a few years ago when the economy severed our main sources of income. I tried for almost a year to find work. Here and there I had odd jobs with expiration dates. We drained our savings and retirement accounts to keep our home. We relied upon the help of family and friends and the food pantry at our community center until we could get above water.

Then, my daughter with asthma lost her medical insurance.

I’ve gotten really good at reducing, recycling, and the wonderful world of resale. (Really, we have some fabulous second-hand shops around here.)  We grow vegetables. We take part in clothing and household item swap parties and freecycle with our neighbors.

Slowly, things have gotten better. I found a solution for my daughter’s health care. Things are not what they once were and won’t be until I find full-time work to replace the lost income. We’ve made good on most of our problems except one. And that isn’t an easy fix. Finally, it seemed we had a solution. All we needed to do was sign the papers. But before we could uncap our pens, they swallowed my modest little bank account.

*Meanwhile, I live in this wonderful community of people who really do hold one another up. Many of us are paddling the same straits. That is why we often go out, not expensively, to boost morale. Most of this spring and summer I’ve been too preoccupied or sick to join the group outings. I so badly wanted to go out on this night. Most of all, I wanted to save face.  

And I almost made it. But I didn’t get past the ATM. My shame and fury sent me home that night.

Five days later, at book club, I am a raging river. I want to apologize for not showing up the week before. One thing led to another. Suddenly I was really drunk.

Usually I go to the gym or ride my bike or meditate or clean.
Usually I know better than to hit the bottle.
I was too drunk to drive, to make any rational decision. The host sat with me for an hour after the meeting, on her couch, talking, while I sobered up enough to drive the few blocks to get home.

I woke this morning to a cup of hot coffee waved under my nose and the worried faces of my family.
I suffered through this day without taking so much as a Tylenol to ease the throbbing.
I sat with it, with what I did, what I said, all of it.
This is why blogs are important.
This is why I am back.

Phallus impudicus
— or skip this if you’re eating

I’m a curious sort of person.

So, on a string of late summer nights, when I heard through the open windows a low trilling coming from a thick stand of trees in my neighbor’s yard, I began yet another obsessive search for answers.

I spent some late-night hours on the Internet bird sound databases trying to identify this almost imperceptible sound, almost like moth wings fluttering in the dark. Finally, in late August, I cracked the case. It was an Eastern screech owl. I’d always assumed a screech owl, would, you know, screech, so I’d not considered anything in the owl family in my search. Sadly, once I identified the sound it was never heard again.

But, nature has a funny way of keeping me hopping. Late last week as I was digging a hole in one of my backyard gardens to plant a vine cutting, something odd caught my eye. I bent down to get a better look. That’s when the smell grabbed me by the deviated septum.  With one hand pinching my nose, I used the other (gloved) hand to carefully pluck this phallic fungus from the mulch.  I marched it over to the compost pile. Along the way, I felt a little like Lorena Bobbitt.

Fancy Internet picture

The beige, spongy base narrowed to a green, mottled, rotting-flesh-scented tip that dripped slime.  It is one of the most revolting things I’ve encountered in a long while.

Yucky, real-life shot

After I photographed this fetid fungal specimen I went inside, calmed my stomach, washed my hands, and began Googling Michigan mushrooms.

I didn’t have to look far to find out I’d bagged a big, bad phallus impudicus, otherwise known as a stinkhorn. Turns out the white, slimy, furred thing nestled nearby was a stinkhorn egg.

What would Georgia O'Keeffe have done with these beauties?

Mycologists, or mushroom experts, have a sense of humor about these things. Other names for the stinkhorn are pricke mushrooms, and fungus virilis penis effigie. Then there’s its little red cousin, the mutinus caninus, commonly known as the dog penis mushroom. The sites I visited relished in explaining how the slimy egg’s parts, which look suspiciously female, are edible. At maturity they quickly erupt and thrust a shaft skyward with astonishing speed and force, apparently powerful enough to penetrate asphalt. They, too, are edible, but seem appealing only to carrion eaters.

How have I lived almost 47 years and not heard of any of this? Perhaps the answer rests with this final tidbit: In Victorian-era Cambridge, matrons of the manor ran about the woods collecting in baskets these shameless phallus to later be burned. All this to protect young maidens from encountering the frightening and stimulating objects while on an afternoon stroll.

So, there you have it. My yard is a field of rotting genitals.

 

 

 

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Permission

Blue autumn by MZ

I’m giving myself permission.

On Monday, I got up early, showered, ate a protein bar for breakfast, then escaped the city grid. The sky colored itself an achingly beautiful blue, the sun cast a soft glow on the slowly decaying landscape. I spotted several maples flashing flares of red. I drove an hour to what is known as the orchard region. Soon its quiet roads will clog with apple pickers and pumpkin, cider, and doughnut seekers. But on this day, it was still quiet except for the buzzing insects and bird calls and the crunch of gravel under tires.

I’d been invited to mountain bike on and around the orchard trails. We pedaled 22.5 miles along bumpy, unpredictable paths. I could have sailed forever through those sun-dappled tunnels of trees, along those fields rippling with corn and soybeans, the neat rows of fruit trees bursting with produce, the earthy woods and fields. I pumped my leg muscles until they ached to ascend the steep freeway overpasses and felt the flutter in my stomach on the high-speed rush of the descent into the woods.  Sweat trickled down my back. Wayward grasshoppers smacked my face. The sun baked my already browned skin.

It was wonderful. This day, this experience.

I felt freer than I’ve felt in years. This summer I started bike riding again after a long break. I found a bike at a garage sale. Found another for Girl from the East. Together her father and I taught her to ride. Now, all of us rolling along on wheels. It’s almost beyond description, the rush of wind in the face, the feeling of almost flying.

Amid the sensory rush, I felt a poke. It was guilt trying to ruin my day.

Guilt about being on a bike on a Monday when I could be home polishing my résumé, or taking an online refresher course, or over at Michigan Works! getting career counseling, or painting our peeling porch railings.

The hell with guilt. I flicked it off my arm like an errant bug and kept pedaling. Guilt didn’t belong on this glorious September day. In Michigan, a day like this in late summer/early fall is a precious gem. You do not waste it inside unless you have no choice.

I had a choice.

Why should I court guilt? I may not have worked full-time with a salary and benefits in five years, but I can assure you I’ve had no down time.

Here’s how it went. In 2004, my husband and I began the international adoption process, which signaled the start of two years of non-stop paperwork, turning inside out every detail of our lives for strangers to inspect, navigating inter-country bureaucracy, and unexpected stumbling blocks such as an angry ex-husband against the adoption and how it would affect our daughter.

Oh, there was stress.

Somewhere between then and 2006, I initiated a legal matter with my employer. Most of 2006 was embroiled in this legal matter. It was very stressful. So was the adoption. Then I was transferred to a branch office far, far away from home and moved to the night shift.

In August 2006 came our adoption referral. We began preparing for the arrival of a baby, for our trip to China.  We applied for travel visas. I prepared the final dossier with  the necessary papers for the formal adoption in China and the immigration process at the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou.

At the same time, I learned the outcome of my legal matter. The arbitrator had ruled against me.

In October 2006, I applied for and was denied family leave. Bone tired of the legal system at this point and ready to go to China and start the new chapter in my life, I resigned my position. My last day of work was mere days before our flight to Beijing.

When we came home as a family of four in November 2006, my husband resumed his crazy-busy life, Girl from the West went back to her seventh-grade school year. I, quite shockingly and suddenly, was home alone with a shell-shocked baby, ripped from the only world she knew.

It took several months for the two of us to emerge from the fog of our days and nights.

Last Wednesday my girl, who was absolutely ready to begin this part of her life,  started all-day kindergarten.

“What do I do now?” I asked a huddle of emotional mothers at the first day of school coffee and doughnut mixer at school. “Go home and clean?”

“Yes. For now. Go home and clean and rest,” said a tearful mom.

So I did. I cleaned. But I did not rest. I felt guilty. I had no sense of where to begin.

Then it hit me: This is the first time in years that I’ve not had something large looming overhead, some oppressive deadline, or a constant demand for my attention and services.

I realize I need some time to get my bearings.  I need to feel freedom rushing through me like the wind.

I need to taste boredom.

 

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This place won’t pick itself up, will it?

A blog is like a dog. You need to feed and water it. You need to take it out for walks and let it poop on people’s lawns. Then you pick up the poop.

Some thing like that.

Right now, this is the equivalent of a furred husk curled up next to an empty kibble dish.

My dog, er blog, got sick last month. I took it to the vet, who said it only needed a shot or two and it would mostly be back to normal.

My dog, er, blog now has a wonky eye, has forgotten its name, and walks with a limp.  My motivation levels for this site as it stands are very low.

I have as much drive to fix this mess as I do to pick up 500 piles of dog crap in someone else’s yard.

But I do not plan on giving away the dog, er, blog. I may take it to the doggie salon and have it prettied up. Then, I know I’ll want to love it and keep it again.

Something will happen. I know it sucks to check on a site and find the same moldy post.

So much is happening outside of this place I cannot focus within this place.

I need to give it time. I need to get my writing mojo back. I need to find my voice. A new voice of a woman on her own again, at least for most of the day. My job as full-time stay-at-home mother is finished. The next chapter awaits.