2012: A Sink Odyssey

If you have come to see that the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth while others do not, the End of the World has come for you. For the world as it was for you has indeed ended.”

From Thou Art That by Joseph Campbell

We had a sink problem recently. I had some work done in our garage that was supposed to fix one problem, but led to the sink problem.

Our old utility sink, into which our washing machine drained its cycles, had to be disconnected to complete the work that was supposed to fix the original problem. When it came time to reconnect it, the fittings were so old, they crumbled and needed to be replaced. The original thingies (technical term) to which you connect the sink are over sixty years old. Let’s just say that the interface with new materials was not compatible. Kind of like trying to hook up a manual typewriter to a wireless printer.

Well, not quite as bad as that, but close.

Our options were to find a way to connect the sink, or sink (so to speak) more money into drilling and cutting our way into the pipes to let the washing machine cycle drain.

Tom was eventually able to reconnect the sink. He is one of those men who combines a highly developed artistic sensibility (he’s an amazing composer) with a roll-up-his-sleeves ability to master common, and not so common, home repairs.

I am, in some ways, responsible for the odyssey. The person I hired to fix the original problem had found me wandering bewildered through Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) looking for a thingie (again, technical term) that would make the thing you use to turn the water on and off for the hose outside fit the thing it was supposed to screw into.

He presented himself as a fixer of problems, down on his luck, who would fix things cheaply. He seemed nice enough and knowledgeable enough that I convinced myself he could do the job in our garage, which involved laying cement.

To make a long story sort of short, he scheduled then rescheduled the work because of doctors’ appointments, upped his estimate the day he showed up to start the job, kind of did the job, it kind of led to the other problem, and he was indeed down on his luck—so far that a dark cloud hung over him.

He told me that the fittings didn’t match, instructed me on what I needed to get from OSH (the place in which he found me floundering, let’s not forget) so he could reconnect the sink, then went to his car to go to another job.

He couldn’t get his car into gear. It was frozen in park.

He was clearly freaked out. He needed the car for work so he could pay for his medical bills which had mounted up since he lost his job and so his medical insurance.

I called AAA, used my card to get his car started, watched him drive off, and decided that perhaps keeping him away from our garage might be a wise decision.

Let me be clear. Tom did not blame me for any of the fallout from my attempt to “fix” the problem.

And, while I don’t exactly feel I am at fault for the cascading events of fix-it folly I do see something that has lurked in my psyche—a bit of a demon really—that leads me down a questionable road.

I sort of felt sorry for our fix-it guy. I told myself that, well, these times call for us to cover each other’s backs. He needed work. I needed it done economically. He gave me an estimate. I believed him.

A warning bell went off when he had to reschedule, and then rang again when he raised his estimate just as he started the job. But the demon whispered to me that this was as good as it was going to get. And I listened to the demon. My bad.

Now, here is where I see progress in my life—stay with me, I think this will make sense.

For much of my early life, my relationships were based on decisions much like the one I made about Mr. Fix-it. I made excuses for behavior impelled by mortal emotional wounds, believed we had mutually invested in working towards a healthy, loving relationship, then thought this was as good as I could get when it became clear that our ideas of investment were not—shall we say—equitable. I was the one who tended to have the AAA card in case of emergency, for example.

This was my MO for romantic as well as friendship relationships.

I woke up when I was 40 and thought, “Hmmmm. I seem to be doing something wrong here.”

That’s when Tom came into my life, and I discovered what it was like to be with someone who cherished me. We’ve definitely had our rough spots—we are, after all strong personalities. But underneath it all, we cherish each other. And because I am cherished, I have learned to extend that requirement to other relationships.

I am learning that I don’t have to give my heart away to have the open heart I need to live my life fully.

I think that demon got towed away by AAA to the land of junker demons.

Which brings me back to Joseph Campbell’s quote. This might be too much of a leap, but what the hell.

That demon had the influence he did because I wanted someone or something else (God) to rescue me from my own life. The voice of that demon was a compilation of “truths” that were bequeathed to me by well-meaning family members, and reinforced by a social zeitgeist that enforced the rule that one must mold oneself into an image of God that existed out there—somewhere—and existed without any connotation of what it meant to be human.

Trying to find the divine out there is a fruitless search. It happens here, inside us and in the beauty of the world around us.

2012. That’s the year the world is supposed to end according to the Aztec calendar. Or so people believe that’s what the Aztec calendar predicts.

I think, perhaps for me, the world as I knew it has come to an end. It was a world of shame for being human—for not knowing.

This new world is about stumbling through life to discover what life is to me.

The end of the world ain’t so bad.

Our sink odyssey led us to purchase a new sink. I love our new sink. It brightens up the garage.

People ask, ‘When will the Kingdom come?’ The Kingdom will not come by expectation. The Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men don’t see it.”

Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas

Beans and Meatballs and the Pink Stuff

My mother was not known for her cooking. She wasn’t a bad cook, she just approached it as she did her housekeeping—a duty for which she had no calling. One of her signature dishes was beans and meatballs.

My mother’s recipe for Beans and Meatballs
Soak a package of dried pinto beans for however long
Add the right amount of water, then turn up the heat ‘til the water boils
(Make sure you use a pot big enough for this)
You might want to turn the heat down to medium highish or so at this point
(Make sure you cover the pot)
Add salt and pepper to a pound of hamburger meat
Turn it into meatballs (whatever size you want)
Add the meatballs to the pot of beans
(Before the beans are done cooking)
Slather margarine on a piece of white bread
(Use Wonder bread if you can afford it)
Place the margarined bread on a plate and cover it with the beans and meatballs when the meat is cooked through.
Note: do not use butter. Butter tastes too rich.
(To emphasize what you mean by this, stick out your tongue as if to
show the coating of butter that lingers there, and say, “Bleah.”)

I can’t begin to tell you how satisfying this dish was on a cold, rainy night as we sat in front of the TV watching Captain Satellite.

My father was actually a better cook than was my mother. He would take over the duties when a strike or work drought left him at home while my mother worked. We would have hamburgers with walnuts mixed into the meat because—well because the walnuts were there and he thought it was an interesting idea. It was.

My mother’s mother had recipes galore. When she was in her nineties, living in a senior apartment (living by herself for the first time in her life), she boasted, “The manager says I keep my house better than most.”

But my mother—not so much. She had a wooden trivet emblazoned with the statement:

My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.”

It hung on our kitchen wall. I don’t think it ever got used as a trivet.

My mother didn’t have a career so much as she had jobs outside the home—pink collar jobs that she hoped would catapult her into the world of power she imagined men had because they got to spend their days outside the home.

Those pink-collar jobs did not land her there because the power she imagined the men had—well, they didn’t really have it either.

I think what she was looking for was an expression of self. The workplace was not set up for that for either men or women.  But men did have a patriarchal power—women couldn’t get credit in their own name, for example, no matter whether they brought home a paycheck.

My grandmother never worked outside the home. Everyone thought that was just fine with her. The oldest of nine, she was matriarch to her siblings and their children. Family was everything to her I always heard.

When she turned 90, I recorded her life story. “I really wanted to be a telegrapher,” she told me. “But there were nine of us at home so I thought it was time I got out to the farm and set up house with John.” She was 18.

And so, with a vengeance, setting up house became her life’s work.

I think that was a recipe my grandmother gave to my mother—a recipe of sacrificing one’s selfhood for marriage, as if the choice were one or the other.

Because the recipe had been handed down to her, my mother advised me in my late teens that I should not know myself too well, or I would never be able to mold myself enough to marry someone.

Anyone who knew my mother is surprised when I tell this part of her story. She seemed so much her own person. And, she was. But somewhere, buried inside her, encoded on her DNA, was the belief that women had to sacrifice themselves if they wanted home and family—they had to disappear their heart’s and soul’s desires.

That was the heart of my conflict with my mother. She wanted more for her self, she admired me for striving for more for my self, but it scared her when I began to respond to my heart’s and soul’s desires.

I began to feel entitled to my self.

It was a not a recipe the family had ever tried before.

It was a conflict that reared its head just before she died; we did not resolve it. After seven years, there are moments I mourn that she did not, could not, give me her blessing before she left.

I think that might be the way it is between mother and daughter: we need her to bless the recipe we choose to follow.

The other dish my mother made that I loved was her Thanksgiving special—a dish I came to associate with Thanksgiving. I called it the Pink Stuff because it was pink and tasted pink—not airhead pink like cotton candy—but luscious pink-rose pink. It included cherry Jell-O, cream cheese, pecans, and cranberries. I think that’s all the ingredients. But I don’t know for sure and I don’t know the portions and I don’t have a clue how to put it together.

I don’t know where the recipe for the Pink Stuff is. It got lost somewhere when we cleaned out her house.

So the Pink Stuff will have to remain her unique dish, one I cannot duplicate. I miss it. It is the empty place at the table that once was hers.

I did create my own recipe for beans and meatballs. My mother tried it and liked it. She said I had a way of taking a recipe and making it my own.

My recipe for beans and meatballs
Sauté one small onion (chopped finely) with a handful of pine nuts
Combine ½ pound of ground beef with ½ pound of ground pork
Add a cup of ricotta cheese to the meat
Mix in the sautéed onion and pine nuts
Add some finely chopped fresh rosemary
Let sit if you want for an hour or overnight, but you don’t have to
Form the meatballs (keep them on the small side)
Brown the meatballs on all sides until golden brown
Remove meatballs from the pan
Put an 8-ounce can of chopped tomatoes into the pan (open the can and empty the contents)
Add a cup of red wine
Raise to a boil then turn to medium high
Add the meatballs and cook until they are well done
Heat a can of white beans (any kind you like–again, open the can and empty the contents)
To the beans add garlic
Toast some dried thyme
When the beans are done, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the toasted thyme
Place the meatballs and beans in separate serving dishes on the table
(I place the meatballs on the trivet that says, “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy”)
and let your guests do with them as they may

Note: I think I gave you all the ingredients and methods. If not, improvise!

Unconventional Wisdom

The trees are bare outside my Writing Shed. Four small birds share a thin branch. Persimmons hang like ornaments from another tree. It is my California home’s version of winter.

Winter is actually the beginning of things – the time when light returns. I heard once that as the sun goes into Capricorn, the moon goes into Cancer, calling to the seeds planted deep in the earth that it is time for them to wake up and start their journey of growth.

That is how it feels to me, this time of year – like something is calling me to wake up and start a new journey.

I was thinking as I sat staring at the blank screen – we need rain. And then I thought well, yes, that is what I need. To end my dry spell.

I have a fantasy that I have this audience out there that has been waiting with bated breath for my return – who wonder why I stopped writing right after I posted a blog about getting women writers out of the corner — over six months ago.

I wish I knew why I did. I certainly started many posts. But none of them seemed to find their way. The blogs I started included: about a bowl filled with plastic fetuses at my local Farmer’s Market on “Family” night; the reaction to the movie The Help; that what America means to me was formed by the civil rights movement – and all its successors; about the death of a high school friend who gave up his law practice and became a teacher at our former high school; about the two “young” people who had a booth at the local Farmer’s Market that displayed the poster of Obama with a Hitler moustache; about the death of Steve Jobs.

Each time, after starting to write, I felt the need to remain silent — that more would be revealed in time.

I think it was a decision. I continued to write in my journal and started writing a story. None of it was for publication. At least not yet.

And, then, this morning it became clear to me that what had been rattling around in my writer’s soul was an increasing awareness of my mortality. Not so much a fear of death. More, the unmistakable reality that life will leave me some day.

My family lives long lives. My uncle died last year at 100. My grandmother lived to 99. Her father lived to 106.

I could have close to another 40 years of life.

On the other hand, my mother died at 83 and my father at 77.

I could have somewhere between 15 and 20 years of life.

My high school friend returned from a hunting trip feeling ill, went to sleep and died of a heart attack.

He was my age.

I’ve already had six more years than Steve Jobs had.

The point is, I don’t know — we don’t know — when Death will come knocking.

So that leaves me with: how do I spend my days? In fear, or making them count?

Not surprisingly, I want to make them count.

Yet Fear hangs in the air these days, nourished by political forces that seek power as an antidote for their own fear: “Push the unworthy in front of the speeding train to prove your own worthiness—in the eyes of God.”

It can make you want to stay curled up in a seed underneath the earth. I already started unfurling myself from the seedpod, so too late for staying curled up.

During my months of silence, I read a book about cave paintings in the south of France. The oldest are 32,000 years old – those discovered in the late 90s in Chauvet. The Lascaux paintings – discovered during World War II – date back to 14,000 years ago. The author noted that the culture of cave painters lasted for some 18,000 years. He also noted that like everyone else who visited the cave paintings, he came away altered, changed in some profound way – almost unnerved.

It gave me a perspective on time, including my time. Conventional wisdom says that in the days of Google, staying silent for so much as a month can lead to death by Google contempt. I’m hoping that I was following unconventional wisdom, that there is time and room for silence even in the day of the Internet.

I started this blog in May of 2009 to change my story.  I think that taking myself out of the corner was the end of my old story — that in the silence I found my way to the beginning of my new story.

I received an email from WordPress that linked me to my 2011 statistics. I was surprised to see how few blog entries I had posted (7) and surprised to discover that nevertheless, my audience had included folks from pretty much around the world.

I think that My Writing Shed is my cave – the place where I allow my story to unfold. And, hopefully, it is a place where others discover my story and find a connection to their own.

Here’s to more story in 2012.