Scarlett’s Letter October 11, 2013

I jumped out of bed this morning! I’m such a liar. I slid very slowly out of bed this morning. I made myself get all ready and ate a quick breakfast, without coffee. As planned, I headed to the coffee shop for, well, coffee, a bit of work, and some nice cello music. I have been wanting to go to the coffee shop to listen to the cello player for all of time. It was cool this morning, a little overcast, too, but the kind of overcast you can tell is going to burn off any minute. I really didn’t know what to expect as far as parking, crowds, and seating at the coffee shop. If the cello player is there every week, would there be a crowd. As I neared downtown Napa and approached Second Street at Main, there were tons of empty curbside parking spots. I took a chance and rounded the corner at Main and entered the parking lot closest to the coffee shop. There were multiple empty spaces and a couple more freeing up. Yes! Hopefully, there would be seating inside, too. As I approached the door to the coffee shop, I could see people inside. I was late, just a bit. The musician was to begin at 8:30, it was 8:38. Shucks. I pulled the screen door open, then pushed open the glass door. I could hear lots of conversation and the espresso machine, but no music. I got in line as I surveyed the scene. A couple of tables were empty, most were occupied. Nowhere did I see a man with a cello. Perhaps he was late. I ordered my large, black coffee and found a table with a single chair with a dirty mug on it. I tossed my stuff on the chair as I dispensed my coffee into the empty cup I paid $2.60 for. As I did, I spotted something that had escaped my attention the other times I’d been here. A table near an electrical outlet. In two very large strides, with a brimming full cup of molten hot, extremely dark roast coffee, I snatched my stuff from the chair I’d placed it on and sort of flung it like a heavily weighted sling ball at a chair proximate to the table with the outlet. There were several people in line for coffees and I just knew one of them was coveting this power seat. I lunged over to the chair in the best low impact leap I could manage with the full cup of coffee and plopped down on the chair next to my purse and tote bag with my computer in it. Safe. I got the power seat!

I enjoyed my coffee, I enjoyed people watching, I enjoyed writing and two hours later, still no cello player. There was no mention of the cello player and no one else in the coffee shop seemed to be expecting any more entertainment than the new female employee with the Mohawk. I’m thinking the “ad” or “event” in the Napa Register just runs every week and, maybe, at some point, someone with a cello shows up and plays. I don’t know. I may try again next Friday, just for grins. At the very least, I am up and out in the magnificent world far earlier than normal. The whole breakfast table routine in the morning is nice, visiting with Mom and all, but there seems to be some sort of time vacuum involved with that.

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Mom was at the table this morning when I inhaled my breakfast and ran out the door. We conversed, briefly, and all was well. When I returned home shortly before lunch, she was showering, from the sounds of running water and then her hair dryer. I went to my office and continued working. Suddenly, I was nearly blown out of my chair from the sound of Mom’s clock radio on her AM news station. From behind her closed bedroom door, no less. I’m pretty sure I swore as I arose from my chair, clasping my ears, and shut my door. Still, I could hear it, loudly. I turned on my Pandora station in an attempt to make the din less obtrusive. Mom is a little hard of hearing, but that was one loud radio, even by her standards.

I have a real problem with AM radio, and news stations especially. For my entire childhood, I was awakened by the soft but annoying sounds of the alarm clock radio in my parents’ room and the morning news on the AM station at 5:30 AM. When I was a wee toddler, I used to climb out of my crib and into their bed to join them. My dad got up before the news came on every morning and made coffee for himself and for my mom. They had their coffee in bed while listening to the news, they had their coffee in the same mugs every morning, the mugs were each placed on individual trays, one for each side of the bed. I can still hear the spoon against the mug, clinking as my dad stirred the sugar into his cup. Seven stirs, never more, never less. That was my cue. When they were finished with their coffee, sometimes, I remember, I would go drink the last bitter bit out of the bottom of each mug from the cups on the trays, on the floor, next to their bed. I know, pretty hard core, especially for a three-year old.

As I got older, though, the radio began to bother me. I really didn’t like the sound, perhaps the frequency, it just bothered me. Every time I was in the car with my mom, she’d listen to the same news station on the AM radio in the car. The older I got, the more it really bothered me. It wasn’t the news, so much, that I disliked, it was the quality of the broadcast, again, maybe the frequency. I remember, as a teen, begging her to shut it off and being nearly in tears it disturbed me so.

When I met my husband it was alternative music that sort of brought us together. That and the gym. Those were the things we had in common enough to choose to spend time together. Both alternative music and fitness were brief in his life and much more of a constant and a passion in mine. I think it was on the premise of sharing our obscure music collections that the first date was made. I’ve always loved music and finding someone who had the same taste in alternative music, in the mid-eighties, in Sacramento, of all places, was pretty awesome. Once we were an “irreversible item”, as in, we had pets together, he stopped listening to music completely, and became addicted, exactly like my mother, to talk radio. The relationship deteriorated from there for the next twenty-five years. AM radio was the first of the many irreconcilable differences.

So, the blaring radio station today was far worse than all the heavy equipment and jackhammers and street repair out the front window. Fortunately, the loud radio was shut off within a minute or two and peace was restored. But not long after, there was a knock on my office door, not just a knock, but pounding. I said “come in”, again, and again, and Mom opened the door, sort of wide-eyed and yelled, “the door doesn’t knock”. How can a door not knock? I was still kind of recovering from the radio thing, and the pounding on the door kind of got my adrenaline going, I thought there was an emergency of some sort, so when she opened the door and told me “it wasn’t knocking” I told her it was, and in fact, she was pounding. She waved off my remark with disgust and a dirty look, and slammed my door, like it was my fault “the door didn’t knock.” Shit. WTF?

A little bit later, from behind my closed office door, again, I am nearly thrown out of my chair, this time by the sound of the radio in the kitchen, downstairs. It is on absolutely full blast. I can’t take it. I go downstairs and ask her why the radio is so loud. She can’t hear me, and I’m yelling, by this point. I am yelling so loud to be heard over the radio, to be heard at all, that my throat hurts. Not yelling in a mean way, yelling like you would at a concert. Conversational yelling. She really can’t hear me. She turns the radio off, thankfully, and goes about whatever she was doing. I guess I’ve been dismissed, so I go back upstairs. It is very quiet for quite a while, until the doorbell rings. My dad replaced the doorbell at some point with one that causes the entire house to tremble when it is rung. There are multiple sounding devices located strategically throughout the house, sort of like the telephones. I’m pretty sure the neighbors four blocks away know when we have callers and visitors. I’m in the middle of something and don’t go to answer the door. Apparently, neither does Mom, and she was about five feet from one of the sounding devices when it chimed it’s long and loud, cheesy, electronic, Westminster chime tune. When I went downstairs to tell her I was going to run some errands, there was an envelope, outside, visible from the window next to the front door. I opened the door and retrieved the envelope that had been placed, leaning against the glass. One of our neighbors is an author and my mom just loved her last book. She had dropped off some blog articles for my mom. I took them down to her and tried to explain, but, again, either she wasn’t hearing me or I’ve gone mute.

Mom was just sitting in my dad’s chair, not hers. She always, always, always sits in her chair. This just now strikes me. I look at her sitting there, looking up at me from my dad’s chair, and she even looks like my dad. She has the same expectant expression like, maybe, sound will actually come from my moving lips. My dad was quite hard of hearing, we all suffered from it. I can only imagine how isolating it must be to be unable to hear. I mean, in loud bars and restaurants, concerts and other noisy venues, I struggle to hear conversations and it is frustrating. I cannot imagine this being constant. It is isolating, also, for whoever lives with someone who cannot be heard. I really feel as though I’ve gone mute, I was often unable to communicate with my dad. Now, my mom. But that this occurred so suddenly, within two hours, is quite alarming.

I am reminded of my return from a business trip a month or so ago. In my absence, there had been a power outage. Mom complained that after the power outage, nothing worked. The TV sound didn’t work, the phone didn’t work, even the garbage disposal stopped making noise. I knew that wasn’t possible and thought maybe she’d had some kind of temporary hearing impairment, but since she was hearing as well as usual by the point she was telling me of her experience, and nothing more came of it, until now, I stopped worrying about it.

Mom is still looking at me expectantly from my dad’s recliner. I grab a pen and one of the five hundred “notepads” that have been made from six years worth of printed out Facebook pages, mine. Dad used to print my Facebook pages out for my mom to read. Yes, she is that computer illiterate. It’s cute and kind of frustrating all at once. I write on the note, “I can’t possibly speak any louder. Should we go see a doctor? I am concerned.” She writes back, she doesn’t think she can get an appointment with a doctor, on short notice, on a Friday afternoon and she doesn’t want to go to the emergency room and that she is concerned, too. We exchange several notes. I go run my errands and pick up the short list of items she’s asked for.

Upon my return, we share an Amy’s organic cheese pizza, a Drake’s Brewery porter and some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I’m running fifteen miles tomorrow, I’m carbing up. We pass notes back and forth throughout dinner, which is really not a bad way to communicate. Lord knows, I love to write. She begins to speak to me and I write in response and this works. At some point she says she’d rather lose her hearing than her sight, and I assure her that I think this is temporary. I didn’t mention that I thought the power outage incident was really a hearing impairment incident, but I’m guessing that by tomorrow, her hearing will be restored. We shall see.

At any rate, it has been an interesting day, and, as I must get up very early in the morning to go run, I am planning on an early bedtime tonight, and, a mixed blessing, the television is not on and blaring, shaking the floorboards of my room, for the first night, well, probably since the power outage I wasn’t here for. Peace reigns.

A quiet dinner shared with Mom. Amy's Pizza, the best frozen pizza money can buy, and a Drake's Brewery Black Robusto Porter.
A quiet dinner shared with Mom. Amy’s Pizza, the best frozen pizza money can buy, and a Drake’s Brewery Black Robusto Porter.
Is this a new flavor? Thanks, Ben! Thanks, Jerry! This is awesome!
Is this a new flavor? Thanks, Ben! Thanks, Jerry! This is awesome!

 

(Postscript; as suspected, the hearing loss was temporary and likely something environmental, normalcy has been restored).

Imperfection

Life is imperfect. The sooner we all come to terms with that the happier we’ll all be. There is no such thing as perfection, in anything, including life. It is wholly unrealistic to expect to execute a single day to perfection, and most certainly not life as a whole.

When we are young, with our youthful optimism, we just know that our lives will go pretty much according to plan and will someday live up to that ideal of “perfection”. The finish line just keeps getting pushed out a little. And we keep racing towards it, our chests pushed out, just waiting to feel the finish line break across our breast and be the winner. As soon as we’re in middle school, life will become perfect. And it isn’t. But it will be once we get to high school. And it isn’t. For certain when we get to college. And it isn’t. Then once we graduate from college. The disillusionment and disappointment at each stage mounts. We are always so sure that life is going to get easier, yet with each milestone, the race seems to become longer, the finish line is further off, and we realize we are beginning to tire.

Depressed yet?

There is a way out, and I’m not talking suicide.

We need to find perfect imperfection. This will be a personal journey, no two people will travel the same path. Perfect imperfection is a state of mind where you come to peace with all the imperfections in your life, accept it, and live it. I’m not saying to settle and become complacent, to become a martyr, no, you need to find a balance and then strive to keep it. Imagine standing on one foot on an uneven surface. It takes some time to find your balance and hold it. Now imagine the surface shifts and moves without warning, what do you do to keep your balance? You may have to flail your arms, touch your other foot to the ground just long enough to stabilize so you can achieve your balance again. It takes a lot of core strength, which develops over time. Many fine muscles and ligaments in your legs will have to develop to be able to hold the position and adjust as needed. Of course, all of this takes time. And this is just like life, the perfectly imperfect life.

Trying to balance on one foot on a flat, perfectly motionless surface is difficult enough. As with life, it is difficult enough. What we consider stable may indeed shift. Perhaps frequently. We need to be strong at our core, flexible and able to adjust as the very things we stand on shift.

To achieve this metaphorical ability to balance on ever shifting, uneven footing, we need to develop our inner selves. We need to eliminate those things that will cause us to tip too far to one side or the other. We need to be lean and fit, in our being, to manage the fluctuations life is bound to bring.

If we can just step back from everything for a moment, maybe a for a little more than a moment, things may fall into clearer view. We need to find a way to be quiet in our very noisy worlds, to find a time and a place to be calm, regularly. In this quiet, we need to just sit and think, without an agenda, without a time limit, without a plan. Some people call it meditating. I find once you label it in such a manner, “I’m going to meditate now”, that it becomes completely impossible to sit still and be calm. Perhaps that’s just me. For some, sitting in quiet is difficult. I often find my most zen moments in motion; hiking or running. I can slip into the deepest of self when rhythmically breathing, climbing a steep trail, or putting some miles on my running shoes. In this routine of quiet, just sit peacefully and consider what’s really important right now. Put yourself in a place where possessions and ambitions and plans are absent, where you are alone with your breath and your pulse, which are really the only things you need at any one moment to survive, the barest minimum. Consider in this quiet; do I need money at this precise moment in time? No one is there with their hand out asking for money as you sit and breathe, it is not important now. Is the size of your house, the type of car you drive, the brand of watch you wear, where you shop for clothes, important in this moment of quiet. No. Once you strip yourself of all this clutter, you begin to discover the truest of self. Your core.

When all the clutter of the world falls away, and you have only your breath and your pulse, what else is truly important? What actually matters? Your family, perhaps. Your health. Your friends. These are what would be left if something were to happen that caused you to lose your house, your car, your watch and your fancy wardrobe. Write those few things down. That is what is really important now. And for these things, be grateful. And express your gratitude for them regularly, as part of your quiet routine.

Now that you have identified what is truly, truly important, now, and you have mentally and perhaps even emotionally disregarded all the other clutter of your life, even if only for a few moments a day, make yourself become comfortable with the fact that if everything else fell away, you would be fine. If you lost your house, your car, your watch, for designer, name brand clothes but you had your family, your health and your friends, your would still be rich, or you would be left with what you’ve already decided truly, truly matters now. And it is always now. This is a discipline, this is an acquired thought process, one that takes practice. There are those of us in society, more today probably than there have been since the Great Depression, that have lost everything and now realize, out of necessity, what in this imperfect life is actually perfect, what it is in life that is truly important, now.

This, like anything worthwhile, will take time. No sculptor ever took a slab of stone and chiseled a work of art in moments. So it will be with the practice of quietly coming to identify and appreciate those few things important in your life. A temple could never be built in a day, not in ancient times, and even in our technologically advanced society, perhaps because of our technological advancements, a temple still would take a great deal of time to construct. In building the temple of your beautifully imperfect life, expect to labor, expect to strain, expect to struggle. Build it one block, one stone, one board at a time. Focus on it only one brick at a time, only what you can accomplish in the now. In time, your life, beautifully imperfect, will take form and shape. It will first be just a cornerstone you can rest upon. In some time, it will be a small wall you can sit and rest against. Then a wall that provides some shelter from the wind. Eventually, with diligence and perseverance, you will have a sturdy shelter that will protect you from whatever storms life may offer. Those who master this will have a large, sturdy castle, greater than any home money could buy. And this should be our single ambition, to find bliss in our perfectly, imperfect lives.