Monthly Archives: July 2014

Nesting

“There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits”

– Robert Southey (English Poet and Writer of prose. 1774-1843)

Here I sit at my rickety card table, courtesy of Goodwill of Tacoma. It’s the only table in the house at the moment, and I’m glad to have it. But I find myself cranky and out of sorts because we’re on our third week now of camping out in a mostly-empty house. It’s a lovely house; built in 1956, it reminds me of my grandmother’s home in Watsonville, California. As my husband says, (wow, it still feels odd to say that – I giggle a bit each time I refer to D as “my husband”) this is a thoroughly middle-class house, and we must make it ours. We’ve begun the process, repainting a few rooms and repairing some leaky plumbing, and trimming up some unruly bushes and vines.

But I find myself out of sorts and cranky because we still have two weeks to go before our stuff will arrive. Our pots and pans, our towels, our books and tchotchkes and electronics and furniture – all of this is sitting in the Port of Tacoma, not yet released to the movers. I want my stuff! And I feel like a silly twit for being in such a snit over mere stuff! I mean, all my basic needs are met, and we’ve been able to improvise temporary solutions to problems posed by lack of stuff – hanging laundry in the tulip tree because I don’t have drying racks or clothespins, for example, and sleeping on the new couch. I must be spoiled indeed to get so hung up and stressed by this temporary separation from my material possessions. That’s not the sort of person I want to be.

But dammit – I want my stuff! Familiar surroundings over which we have some control – that’s a deep human need, I think. Of course, there are people who enjoy travelling light, moving from place to place with just a backpack and really soaking in the new surroundings. Do they not have this need to control their environment, I wonder? Or have they evolved beyond the reliance on stuff to feel comfortable and safe? I enjoy travel too, but I enjoy it most when I have a comfortable “home base” – hotel room, flat, RV – in which to spread out and organize my stuff. I hate, hate, hate living out of a messy suitcase.

Even homeless people carry around familiar stuff – often quite a lot of it – and set it up “just so” to comfort themselves, to protect themselves from the crazy, noisy, intrusive world that swirls around them – and inside their troubled heads.

I did a quick Google search for “the human need to control one’s environment” and found only some dry, scholarly articles. I also searched “the importance of home” and found mostly right-wing discussions of “family values” and their role in raising children. A search for “nesting” led to articles about how pregnant women tend to sort and organize their belongings shortly before giving birth – not what I had in mind. A search for quotes about home turned up thoughts about the people who live there – not quite what I’m looking for. No, what interests me right now is the importance of home as a place of stability and comfort, a place where we feel safe and in control. Right now I’m focusing more on the actual building, and all that it contains – the yard, the home base, the shelter, the stuff, and why it’s so important for our peace of mind to arrange that to our liking.

Homesick – that’s what I am. I expected to be homesick for Germany, for Europe, for the friends who are still living there. And I do miss that place and those people – but what I’m missing most right now in a bone-deep way is the feeling of “home” I got from having my nest set up to my liking. I think we’ll be happy here in this new house, this new city. But I don’t yet feel nested here, and I really want to feel that way. I want familiar things around me. I want my comforts and conveniences, the physical ones that made me feel safe and well taken care of. And that feeling of being off-center and on edge because my stuff is not here – that bothers me, dear reader. I do not want to be the sort of person who defines herself by her belongings, yet without my belongings I feel cranky, unstable, dissatisfied.

For his enlightening book Material World: A Global Family Portrait, photojournalist Peter Menzel photographed families around the world with all their belongings laid out in front of their homes. (If you haven’t yet seen this book, you really should. Then take a look at his What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.) In global terms, what we have in this house right now far exceeds what many of those families have. We have enough clothing, for example, to wear a fresh outfit every day for three weeks without having to do much laundry. We have a skillet, two pots, and a wok. We have dishes for four people, and we’re only two people. We have a fridge and a microwave oven and big, new, comfy couch. So I feel like a silly twit for whining about wanting my stuff.

And yet, I know that I’ll breathe a huge sigh when the stuff arrives and I can set up my nest. I obviously have some spiritual work to do, but I think this need to furnish one’s nest is probably a very human need that we all share.

How about you? How attached are you to your nest?

We’re having a heat wave.

What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.

– Jane Austen

So much for the cool, rainy Pacific Northwest that I was warned about. Today’s weather in Tacoma reached the upper 80s. Ugh.

What not to do on a hot summer’s day:

  1. Paint the bathroom. But that’s what we’re doing today. The little drops of paint that patter down onto my face are not refreshing. Neither is the smell.
  2. Cook a hot meal. But that’s what I’m doing today. You see, I’ve vowed to stop wasting food, and there are these odds and ends that would make great turkey burgers with a fresh tomato-pepper sauce, and a potato gratin to use up the leftover cream cheese and spinach dip. It’ll taste great in the cool basement.
  3. Try to think of something to write. Unless it involves murder. I’ll bet a lot of mystery novels get their start on an oppressively hot day. I’m not at all angry – in fact, I’m feeling quite mellow. And yet, wouldn’t it be thrilling to shake off this lethargy by doing away with someone who really needed doing away with? (In a strictly fictional sense, of course.)
  4. Garden work. I hear you slithering down onto the lawn, you big ol’ magnolia leaves, but I’m not going to rake you today. You can just lie there until you rot.
  5. Argue with your computer. Fine, you want to put the curser there, you miserable, second-guessing slab of electronic trash? Go ahead! Jump that curser all over the page! And then decide to turn my bullets into numbers – I’ll show you… Hey, perhaps a novel about a woman who goes berserk after arguing with her computer on a hot day, then poisons the sneering, unhelpful computer tech by feeding him a potato and death cap mushroom casserole, and then buries him out in the back yard under the pile of magnolia leaves!
  6. Oh, but corpses attract flies, and there are too many flies here already. Ah well.

 

 

Of change, and blessings, and writer’s block

Hey y’all, I’m back!

 

I began this blog project in 2013 as a way to put my money (fingertips?) where my mouth is. I like to write: fiction and essays and rants about life’s great injustices, comic quirks, and puzzling dilemmas. I particularly wanted to focus on finding my way to the good life in my 50s, and I thought that the blog format would encourage me to write and post regularly. I envisioned writing for friends and family members who are around my age, on the same journey, and hoped to start/join a conversation about the joys and challenges of this age and stage of life. Then things got complicated.

2014 has been an incredibly busy and eventful year. At the end of April, I got an early retirement offer. DoDDS (where I taught, the schools for US military families stationed overseas) needed to thin the herd of teachers because of the ongoing drawdown of military personnel overseas, and I was one of the lucky few who was close enough to retirement to get the golden ticket. My now-husband retired too – he was ready to go. It’s not a generous pension, but we can probably get by if we’re frugal. So – 26 years of teaching in Germany, and suddenly I’m a retiree. Feeling like I needed to write first about this huge change has held me back from writing anything at all. The fact is, it’ll take me a long time to process how I feel about being retired. I do know this: when people ask me (and so many have), “Will you look for a teaching job here?” I can answer with a resounding “No way!” Maybe some tutoring, or teaching something fun like creative writing or exercise, but no more classroom teaching for me. (That’s another blog post I ought to write, why I’m done with being a classroom teacher, but it’s so ponderous a topic that I haven’t yet begun.)

Moving back to the US is another huge topic that I ought to write about. (Yes, I’m a retired English teacher, but “about which I ought to write” just sounds pompous.) Sure, I’ve visited the US most summers, but I’ve spent most of my adult life in Germany, albeit working among Americans. Now we’re living in northern Tacoma, WA. So I do feel a bit foreign, not quite with it when it comes to so many little details about how life works here. This is another blog topic from which I could draw many, many entries. And I haven’t written them yet.

Finally, I got married. That is a HUGE topic, my sisters! I find it intimidating, quite frankly – not the marriage itself; D is great, the best partner I could wish for, and our relationship hasn’t really changed that much as a result of signing the paper and saying “I do.” But the whole topic of getting married – again, in both our cases – having faith that this relationship is THE ONE, that we are a forever sort of thing, and saying so in front of our friends and family – well, that whole experience is a huge topic to wrap my mind and words around. I’m still working on processing that.

You see, like so many people, I process my thoughts and feelings by writing them down. Keeping a journal or blog is very therapeutic, but it takes me some time to sort out my thought on any big change, and there have been so many in the past three months. I’m just overwhelmed. So I’ll just take small bites and write about those, until I can begin to see the bottom of my plate. It’ll be a long time until I’ve licked the plate clean. In the meantime, my search for the (frugal!) good life over 50 continues!

 

How about you? What changes, big or small, are you facing now?