Thursday, December 30, 2010

Think of the Flowers

(Poppies by the artist Venus:

Especially when I was younger, my aunt Diane, when talking with me about an upsetting situation, would advise, “Think of the flowers.” Bless her heart & I knew she meant so well, but that image always sickened me. It made me think of old ladies (probably wearing the kind of perfume that people shouldn’t wear on an elevator)…the large exotic arrangement I got when I was in the hospital with a scent so cloying I sent it to the visitor’s lounge within 10 seconds… and worst of all, sometimes “think of the flowers” made me think of my dad’s honeymoon with my stepmother in the 1970s, a short road trip to see a botanical garden, after which, unforgivable to my preteen ears, my dad made a joke about using their borrowed RV for what people do on honeymoons.

Last night while trying to calm myself about something hugely upsetting like the faint sound the furnace was making, I remembered the flowers advice, and from somewhere got the inspiration to try to make it work for me. After all, it’s not that I don’t like flowers – I like many flowers (just not the stinky, old lady ones) – and I even have floral paintings in my collection. Not surprisingly, thinking about my paintings brought in some endorphins.

When I woke up I made a special online art album of just my florals. It was fun although in my Sarah way I got hung up on rules – well, not really rules, but with a project like this I try to impose order that can’t ever be consistent. I didn’t allow myself to include paintings of trees or tree leaves since this was meant to be a flowers experiment, even though I love the combination of flower paintings with tree paintings in my house (the green and the height and stalks of the trees dilutes any remote cloying quality the flowers might have). I decided it was OK to show flowers in a field and of course a still life of flowers with fruit was OK, but I hesitated about a still life with 4 bottles, only 2 of which held flowers…so is this a painting of flowers, or bottles? (See how my mind works? See why I have night anxiety…and other anxiety.)

If you had forced me to recall all 36 paintings in this album from memory, I probably couldn’t have done it, so part of the fun of making the album was the surprise of, “Oh yeah, I have this cool one too!”

The earlier flower paintings I bought were not girly (that’s part of what I like about Carol Nelson’s style, it has a boldness of line and color you don’t always see in female painters) but they were more realistic (more like real flowers) than more recent purchases, some of which are almost abstract. This change wasn’t just because my taste evolved but also had to do with the artists I happened to discover first versus the ones I found more recently. Also when you collect pieces from different phases of an artist’s career you realize that they evolve too, sometimes with some quick changes and even U-turns.

This winter I started making wish-list type online albums of paintings. Capturing the image of a painting I would like to buy feels a little like the satisfaction of making online albums of the paintings I have really bought. It helps a little with the craving to purchase.

With the wish-list paintings I am less picky with my decisions to “acquire.” I have a lot of flower paintings in the wish-list albums, but I hesitate almost every time I attach one. I never stop asking myself, “Do I really like paintings of flowers? Is this too girlish?”

Girlish… old ladyish…I should really give flowers a break.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brown as a Color Mix

Several months ago an online artist acquaintance ( reminded me that colors, including the ones I rhapsodize about on Facebook… “Look at the red in this painting, you can’t have too much purple!, I can’t resist orange…” make brown and black, when they are mixed.

I like to wear dark brown (chocolate brown especially) but I don’t like brown in home décor, although it is hard to avoid in home décor, at least the brown shades that are usually the default readiness of a living place at my budget range. I also really like to wear black, but it is quirky in home décor so I don’t have much of it – also dog hair is not kind to black things in the home.

I think Gerard was responding to something I said about craving color. I liked the deeper meanings in what he said – that colors are building blocks more than we may realize, colors are contained within what seems to be non-color, and color not treated properly appears muddy, unappetizing.

I didn’t realize until a friend pointed it out that on Facebook I most often showcase paintings with blue and orange. And guess what those two colors make, mixed - yep, brown.

If you Google color mixing you get many, many how-to articles about paint mixing, and many of the sentences sound unintentionally poetic. For example, from Rosemary Pipitone’s site “Blue and yellow do not always make green; sometimes you get mud... If your color is too dull or too muddy, just start over using only two colors. Mixing with too many colors will always mix muddy colors. Avoid over mixing colors, too many colors will result in a dark muddy hue.”

Actually, re-reading these sentences, they are maybe not so poetic. I read poetry into them because I relate to them. I have been known to overmix my writing, which clouds the points I’m making. Sometimes I group emotional issues in ways that makes the combined murk harder to deal with.

From childhood:
I remember that after rinsing the watercolor brush too many times without changing water, the water turned purple-brown or gray-black. When we used colored dough to make “stained-glass” Christmas cookies and got tired and sloppy with the leftover scraps, purple-brown dough accents were what we got.

My mother’s mother usually only made 2 kinds of cakes when we visited – Brownstone Front Cake, which everybody but me loved (I found it dry and not chocolaty or caramel enough, I never quite “got” that cake) and angel food, a cake that to this day bores me. Sometimes Grandma stirred red sugar sprinkles or red food coloring into the angel food cake…didn’t help the taste. The same lame trick was used on vanilla ice cream at Grandma Schmidt’s house – the adults would put some red sprinkles on the vanilla ice cream and let the kids stir it a bit to make a pattern. Usually what would happen, especially in an unairconditioned house in Texas, was that both the red sugar and the ice cream would melt really fast.

Following the messy food tricks of my older brothers, I would also stir up my Neopolitan ice cream. Of course that turned it into brown melted goop, which disappointed me – no more pretty tricolors! (And in this case I would call the ice cream brown “pretty,” since it was chocolate.) I think we believed, at least I did, that one day we might get a different ice cream color from stirring. Well, occasionally if your serving had more strawberry, the brown goop would have a pinker tinge.

When Googling goofy things like “blue orange makes brown” to look for illustrations for this post, I found Q&A forums where people were asking things like, What color can I mix with orange to make blue? Uh no, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t work backward to get a primary color.

One answerer suggested that if you were determined to get blue from orange and blue, you could add a whole LOT of blue to the orange and then the result would look blue. Not really color mixing – you would have pushed the combination unnaturally.

Pushing the mix, forcing a color result by exaggerated means…good metaphors there, in the intention, the process and the results.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Want, Need - a short essay on a big topic

In 1982 I had a short stint working weekends at the Dallas Granada, then an art-house movie theater. At that age and stage I was so self-conscious I could barely move in front of strangers – my happiest hours as a theater employee were spent cleaning the parking lot. (Even though that particular job dirtied my new leather K-Swiss, but the manager said he appreciated my hard work, so at the time I thought that made it OK.) My scariest hours were spent sweeping popcorn off the lobby carpet (the manager didn’t like my technique and loudly told me so – he was no kind of an introvert) and much worse, waiting on customers. Actually all I did at the snack counter was scoop up popcorn and put butter on it while a more mature, outgoing employee asked order-related questions (thank God) and rang up the sale (really, thank God). My only verbal interaction was asking customers if they wanted butter.

Well, the manager’s supersonic ears picked up on my poor delivery of that question. “Don’t ask, 'Do you want butter on that'! You should say, 'WOULD YOU LIKE butter on that'!”

I was SO embarrassed. A Scholl of Tomball, an “A” student, daughter of an English major, and I had to have my grammar corrected. All I can say in my defense is that I thought I sounded professional regardless of grammar and was trying to present a casual (hahahaha) persona.

I think that was one of my last nights at the theater. This was a 2nd job for me and after a month I still dreaded every shift. I didn’t have the awareness or labels back then to say, this is not a good job for me since with my personality I am not comfortable dealing with the public. (Or being yelled at by a petty despot.) Rather than give a generic reason for resigning – maybe I didn’t know of any, being 22 and really naïve – what I said was “I am having some emotional problems.” To which the shift supervisor – not the manager – said, “Oh, me too! I hope we can stay in touch!” (We didn’t.) My next moonlighting job was…waiting on customers at a doughnut store! After that, waiting on customers in the Dillard’s lingerie department. So sad that entry-level jobs are seldom suited for the introverted…

The movie theater manager’s phrase correction has always stuck with me. Not just because I was embarrassed to be corrected – and because I think the manager overreacted, I’m sure I WAS professional – and this was a sticky-floored, hole-in-the-upholstery little theater anyway, why was he being so lah-de-dah about things – but also because I was told not to use the word “WANT.”

Really, with butter on popcorn, isn’t it Want, not the dainty “like”? When I go to the movie with Craig he usually buys our tickets but then stands 30 feet from the snack counter, waves for me to go stand in line, and says, “I want popcorn with extra butter and a slurpee and raisinettes and a pretzel and a hot dog…” He is kidding (he only wants popcorn and maybe to share a soda), but the “want” part is true. Nobody “likes” spending a fortune on movie snacks. But they “want” to munch and slurp junk food in the dark.

This came up as a blog concept because yesterday when I was at a church craft fair, I announced my purchase decisions as, “I need…the sangria colored pair of earrings (the wine bottle bar light, the green millefiori earrings…)”. Three vendors in a row laughed at the word “need.” The first vendor laughed with me, with the second vendor I directed the laugh at myself…the third vendor laughed in a puzzled way. In fact when I said, “I need the Malbec,” she didn’t realize I was requesting her bar light made from a recycled Malbec bottle, she asked hesitantly, “Are you saying you need a drink?” Said with a nervous laugh.

Why aren’t we – people, adults – supposed to say Want and Need? Does that mean we are spoiled, gluttons? Children – immature?

But why put a wordsmith coating on it? When I click the “purchase” button, haven’t I decided and stated that I Need another original painting…one of the dozens I have bought this year…more than I Need a savings account?

I don’t think Need is a value judgment – or is it? Maybe all of us have gotten that confused.

Most people would agree that Want is not a value judgment – it is a gut desire. The “Should” may be applied to the Want in order to be…adult? (haha)? responsible?

But I guess Need is thought of in a different category – we Need water, oxygen, food. We need recognition, friends, various categories of things, in different intensities of need, to survive and to thrive.

But is it wrong to say, I need this novelty bar light? I need a 500th pair of earrings?

I guess I will keep laughing when I say “I need.” The laughter, real or fake, seems to help navigate the choppy seas of social interaction. And I will only say “I want” within my intimate circle, whatever that is.

I wanted and needed to blog about this. Aaaah. Satisfied! (For now...)

Friday, October 8, 2010


(This was the best generic photo I could find for this post...LOL...doesn't she look like me? With no computer. And RED wine. And a couple other visual details that might be different...)

So I have this title I wrote down a couple of weeks ago: “Write what I want.” I think I stole it from a painter’s blog, the painting version of the line: paint what I want. It seemed resonant and important. It was going to be an empowering topic.

Now I am scared of it! Or made lazy by it.

I am only working with this topic because the other titles on my inspiration list are about topics I am certain will be hard to write about – Sarah work/family angst – and this one looked easier.

(Sitting back in chair, deep breath)

Right now the problem is that I don’t know what I want to write. Sometimes I know what I want to write but…I’m not energized enough to dig into the topic or I worry too much about my audience. Those are problems too, since they keep me from writing what I want.

In the bigger picture, I liked the topic/title because it seemed like a battle cry for Expression, Creativity, Turn Off the Editing Voice, Don’t Worry about Saleability…

I guess it also means, why doesn’t someone pay me a big salary, with benefits, to sit home and write what I want when I want to write it. Yes this reads as silly on paper but I am not the only one to have this creative dream!

I believe I intended the writing on this topic to be serious, about motivation, psychology, memory, personal history…maybe listening to music and drinking wine and Friday night after a loooooong week are not the right environment for such lofty goals.

I should probably turn off the music – I don’t usually write with music, unless it’s a wild topic or I’m just editing/publishing. Noise short-circuits parts of my brain that I need for the deep-thoughts writing. Music is fun though. Especially music on Friday night with wine.

(Music off)

(Can’t I click over to Facebook for a break from working on this? NO!)

In the corporate world we think of short- and long-term goals, sometimes broken down into little bits, 30-day, 60-day, etc. I have Writing Wants for the long term and the short term. Long term: Get things published, be famous. But what’s inside of that is that I want to share my inner self with people who connect with what I say. I’ll always love the philosophy that when you read, you don’t feel so alone. Especially when you connect with what you are reading, you don’t feel so alone. I actually made a written note to myself in 1982 (yes I was a young puppy), a mission statement before I knew what a mission statement even was – heck the term may not have been invented yet – that I wanted to make readers feel better about themselves by sharing myself with them.

Short-term: I would like to write without picking myself apart (“you suck, nobody cares”) and feeling tired and lazy and cracking the whip. Deep breath, that sentence felt good to type!

Slightly longer than short-term: I would like to be more regular with the blog and more confident with it. More in-the-mood, stream-of-consciousness. Less editing voice! Less worry about readers!

Painter David Larsons Evans’ blog states, “I paint because it’s a nuisance not to.” (

I think the gut-level Sarah feels that way about writing. If I don’t write fairly often and about a lot of things, I get locked up. Stopped up. Not-writing is not what I am meant to means I’m off my track. BUT I so rarely do it – write every day, freewheeling choices of topics – I have the same old obstacles, worrying about whether I am in the mood for a topic or have the energy to finish it (who says I have to finish?, I only have to start!), or whether I am a good enough writer yet to tackle it.

Many painters redo old canvases – writers can do that too.

Yay, this post is getting at least a little empowering! Maybe a bit preachy though…I don’t like that, and I will definitely not like it when I reread it. Oooooh, I am a cruel rereader: “Why did you say THAT?!”

And another time category, longer than slightly longer than long-term: I would like to find a way…have a way occur to me, fall into my lap or however it may happen…to get the blog habit into a project-writing habit that could be a book. I have several books in development. And notes to be added to those books in development. These are kind of collecting dust right now.

Most of the time it feels like all I can do to create a blog post. Occasionally post, not even regularly. Which is depressing, and as I have said, a blocked Sarah.

OK, let’s go back to the gut – lots about breathing in this post, I know, but here I insert a deep breath in and out:

I want to write…

(Music back on as an hopeful aid…will check Facebook as a hopeful break…)

(That was a good long break – opened more wine, also Craig came home and took over my computer to check his FB page…)

I thought of more words I wanted to write but not sure I can collect them now…here goes something…

Tonight I wanted to write, period. I wanted to blog and I wanted to publish it and send it to my subscribers and whoever else happens across it. I want to keep wanting to write and trying to write and trying to write better.

I also remind myself there can always be a part 2, a revision, an apology, whatever – a redo. Deep cleansing breath! Perfection is not necessary. (Smaller breath but still cleansing.)

(I just had another long Facebook break including listening to a video someone posted…I think I am done blogging for tonight…)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Winter Inoculation part 2 – beyond the holidays

I thought the 2009 Christmas holidays were a bit blah, but the dark and/or rainy January, February and beyond were worse. At some point during that I had a routine appointment to see the MD who does my medication management, and she changed my medication. That stressed me out further and I ended up going back to the old prescription, which I guess in a way was comforting – as if it validated my mood being appropriate to circumstances. Also in Dallas spring comes pretty early, at least in its intermittent way, so it is hard to make a case for the necessity of chemical proactiveness.

A decade or two ago (fuzzy on the self-realization continuum) I dimly got that I was affected mood-wise by the onset of September, very likely because Mother had died early that month. Also it’s a time of year when things cool, die…in Texas we experience that more as rain and murk/muck but still, one can sense a change is coming weather-wise, at some point.

October used to be a more purely happy month – my birthday and the weather finally staying cool, so you can more consistently wear your new fall clothes (yes I have been hot in lumpy new cotton sweaters, but kept them on anyway, because they were new and it was my birthday day). But since my oldest brother Tim, he of the 10/14 birthday always before mine on the 19th, died, I have a mix of honoring and celebrating and mourning…all of which could be approached (my first version of this said “managed” instead of “approached”, LOL) with alcohol and food abuse, but how much and on which date? And now that my dad is in his mid-80s, his birthday is not just an “oh geez another family birthday” but a time for angst also.

When my mother was alive we never combined birthdays, even when they were a week or less apart – it still, turning 49, startles me that my dad’s is less than a week after mine – which didn’t sink in more deeply because Mother made them separate occasions. Usually we had a cake for Tim, another cake for me, then a pie for Daddy – sometimes 2 pies in that sequence – very occasionally 3 cakes – but there was always something on The Day of each birthday person. With the blended stepfamily of an additional 7 people, it all got diluted. My second year in college, I received a card mailed by my stepmother fairly close to the date but not received until after the birthday that she had obviously signed for four people – all the same signature. I wasn’t ready for that level of birthday acknowledgement, but it wasn’t only her fault. My dad has said for many years, “We have too many kids to make a fuss over birthdays.” In response to which I always thought, that’s not the kids’ fault.

So I started dating an only child, who I only later realized had beaucoup relatives with October birthdays. During the years of must-please-hubby’s family, the card buying and mailing was intensive. I also added people like my dentist’s office staff who had October birthdays. I called it a Mission , the sending out of cards to friends and their kids and even the person at the dentist’s office who deals with insurance companies – now I have backed away from it as not the best use of Sarah resources.

This year I have a new perspective of maybe being a Highly Sensitive Person (, which maybe (not all experts agree, some would say I need shock therapy to patch my flaws) helps explain my discomfort with low temperatures (also high temperatures), scratchy clothing (i.e. winter clothing that sometimes feels claustrophobic and warm, even in Texas), and sensitivity to noise, movement, and a zillion other things. Add to this my anxiety syndrome that has me worry our world will end every time the planet turns into winter’s dark position, and you get a person who hates summer but doesn’t think she likes winter either.

My first semester of college was spent at St. John’s in Santa Fe, NM. A lot did and didn’t happen in those short months, but I definitely remember beauty, dryness, desert light and desert darkness. My Uncle Harvey took me to New Mexico on a college tour while I was still in high school and blessedly visited me, flying in with a fellow artist and long-time family friend who enhanced the experience further, during that first semester and my first Thanksgiving outside of Texas. Since I dropped out that December, I have thought of the school and the location many times. I went back to visit a friend a couple of years later, but that was an odd trip because of things to do with her relationship and I cut it short – a surreal weekend framed by desert scenery that I didn’t even have time to appreciate. My New Mexico memories, and select photos of Uncle Harvey’s from our trip (he mailed me a wonderful half a shoebox of them, back before digital cameras you got photos with glossiness and weight!) have somehow encouraged me toward the images of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Recently I was looking on for a copy of O’Keeffe’s “Red Hills with White Shell” and saw a print of “Black Door With Snow,” an image that was totally new to me. Wow – not like she’s still painting new stuff (sadly), I just hadn’t seen it before, which felt fortuitous in an exaggerated way. The image both warmed and calmed me. I immediately thought, with this visual I can face the winter. Not that what she painted is cozy – it is stark or at least plain in its rendering, a black doorway, brown wall, there is earth and sky and snow flakes. But somehow , looking at it, I feel less lost and in the dark. The image seems to be of a back door, which reminds me I have a front door…and a richer life, and a future, and a spring to come. Yes, all this from a simple O’Keeffe image. She is an artistic genius!

I know it’s always a trap to think, if I just get this, buy this, I will feel better – but as soon as I saw the print online I was convinced that if I had it on my wall I could feel so much better, could better face the winter. For a week I tried just looking it at on my computer desktop – uh, no – of course that was not satisfying. Plus I kept thinking how good this print, with its black & beige colors and white mat, would look hung on my right-hand office wall with my O’Keeffe print, “Above the Clouds.” I wouldn’t necessarily keep the snow print on the wall all summer, but I could put it up in the fall, like a seasonal tradition – a ritual, something that would bring a spiritual or maybe even pagan consolation. (Isn’t fear of winter really pagan at its core?)

Maybe not so differently, I have been for several weeks intrigued by Rivkah Singh’s Breaking the Cycle trio of paintings. I was disappointed when it disappeared from eBay, but when she relisted it the next week I couldn’t quite commit to purchase – I love the look and the thought behind the look but…you will rarely hear me state this…my house is SMALL.

I love the red underpainting, the tree image (metaphor), the small dimension (the paintings are just big enough to show significant detail), the triptych aspect (I always feel a power in repeated patterns) and the use of snow, especially Rivkah’s explanation of that, as part of her detailed blog post. ( These are beautifully and complex representational paintings, and I hope they find a wonderful home soon.

So on the week of September 27, a blah Monday with weather that stayed cooler than we expected – which I had thought might be a relief but instead seemed to trigger a pre-lapse of winter anxiety – I became convinced I need Georgia O’Keeffe’s snowy image although not sure it will help me through Christmas (so many complexities come up during the holiday weeks) – I clicked Purchase. I am still thinking about Rivkah’s trio of trees against snow, although also leaning toward several Mark Rothko prints I have had in my shopping cart on, thinking their warm colors and small, well-priced size will help me cope…especially if I hang them near “Above the Clouds,” which sort of echoes winter in terms of tone – acceptance of space – alleged vastness.

Waking during the night after I started writing this post, I made this note to add regarding O’Keeffe’s winter image: “Acknowledge the snow. But emphasis is on the house, the being protected from the snow.”

That’s it – my winter mantra. It may need the reinforcement of more art, more prescription medication (and/or more carbs and alcohol?) but at least in early October I am approaching things proactively.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trying to inoculate against winter, part 1 – the holidays

Last winter I found myself depressed at Christmas, which surprised me because don’t all working people think of the holidays as a release? We had some nice relaxed plans with Craig’s family who came to town, and I also saw some of my Scholl family that month, although I didn’t get to spend much time with my sister, who I really reconnected with last year and thus thought about so much during Christmas, only our second one as recommitted sisters.

I love the house we moved to in early 2009 and I generally find the low ceilings cozy, but last winter there were many days the house seemed too dark. Funny, since our old house also had brown wood and brown carpet, and not enough windows in the right places, and in so many ways I prefer this house, but… I figured it was midlife angst or delayed adjustment to the move.

I don’t think Craig and I are the only childless couple who even after many good years together struggle to establish meaningful routines at Christmas. We always have things to do, with each other, other family, and sometimes outreach beyond that – and some years we have made major trips, as in, off the continent – but still, there is an internalized perception that Christmas is for kids, or people with them.

I did have a strong inkling last year that some emotions from the past were churned up when right around Thanksgiving my shipment of a gumdrop tree (I don’t even like gumdrops, but I wanted to acknowledge the 1960s family tradition of poking them onto plastic tree limbs) disappeared, the package apparently stolen….also and maybe not less importantly I had ordered an orange crystal pendant I wanted to wear at Thanksgiving – gumdrops and costume jewelry for the special day – and when I first put it on the chain for the pendant broke. Yes, I overreacted to that, the world seemed dark and dysfunctional (which it is, but on higher-endorphin days we try to ignore that fact).

It was fun to entertain Craig’s family on Christmas Eve, at least those who could get here with the unexpectedly heavy snow, but that same weekend I remember calling my sister-in-law B. and her asking if I had been drinking. Uh yes? Holiday, hours spent alone (I like to be alone…don’t I?), thinking of deceased family members, doesn’t that fit the profile of someone who would fill up a glass before dialing a phone number?

As I go through more life ages and stages I am getting more…and less…adjusted to missing my mother and my oldest brother at holidays, and the traditions, or at least activities, we did and didn’t share. I am glad that widowed sister-in-law B. has a new husband as of 2010 and is making new traditions. I also established new routines when I married Craig, but every holiday I still feel an unexpected yearning …stuff that’s either not expressed or maybe only occasionally expressed in a therapeutic setting – for my family of origin (the 6 of us intact until 1974, before my stepfamily and several deaths) and our traditions, imperfect as they were.

Craig has at least two families, being an adult child of divorce, and I have a few extended families myself. You would (I would) think this cluster of people would feel warm and homey. Sometimes it does – other times you miss your original little unit from the childhood decades, or just want to go out to a restaurant as a family/couple of two and have wine with dinner and please only yourselves all day – the restaurant concept being not a bad Thanksgiving, as I will testify. (No muss, no fuss, being with your favorite date!)

Decorating a tree is a hassle, worth it if you care – many years I have, some I haven’t… We have a small mini tree that’s prelit that I no longer bother to decorate, and for Christmas 2009 we pretended that tree was a décor accessory and left it up and sometimes lit till…maybe April?

I also bought a cheap Wal-Mart tree (we had been boycotting nice big trees since our dog Billie ate two of them in her teens) that since I waited too long to go shop for ended up an odd size/color, skinny/tall/black, the Wal-Mart early December remainder of whatever they had had when their Christmas stock first rolled out. “Black spruce” but looking almost witch-like in shape and color. I put ornaments on it, got out my camera and posted images on Facebook but something was not right. Not really wrong, but not right either.

I think last Christmas went wrong inside Sarah – I don’t blame the tree. Regarding gifts – I got some nice ones, practical ones plus unexpected, from Craig (he stood in line at a holiday-crazy accessory outlet store and got me a chartreuse watch with a puppy on the dial!, which I love, of course). My sister somehow managed to sneak a handmade blanket under the tree, mailing it to my cousin who has a key to my house, without my realizing it was from her…the drama was heightened because we have another relative who shares my sister’s name, so I didn’t even figure out the gift tag till I opened the package.

(The perfect gift - it just took me by surprise!)

Last winter I didn’t have all the colorful art I have today – although even with all the couple of hundred (yesssss) of colorful paintings in this house, on overcast days it still feels dark. Which makes me think/wonder/worry, if I hadn’t bought the art, would/should I have spent that money on new lighter-color kitchen cabinets, painted the walls bright colors and? had enough in the bank not to worry too much about resale-ability if our jobs or marriage, or lives otherwise, took a downturn…are these thoughts wrong? (More wrong than the lack of preparation?)

(To Be Continued…)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reading to Escape, part 3: Transported Beyond the Tomball Library

The Tomball library was a block and a half from our house, which for this indoor child felt like 10 miles when I walked there in the summer heat. This new location was completed when I was in elementary school, and I remember going to the opening reception, at which I wanted to pick up more cookies than was polite. They were small cookies, and until Mother hiss-whispered, “Sarah!, that’s too many!” at me, nobody had spelled out that it was impolite to put more than 2 on your little fancy napkin. (Guess I should have figured that out by the size of the napkin, but I never scored high at spatial relations.)

The high-ceilinged, well-chilled building was huge compared with the old library that had been crammed into a little frame house and had a couple of roaring window units that probably could hardly keep the humidity out of the books. This new library probably wasn’t as big as I remember because it only had 2 toilets total, one for men and one for women. The bathrooms impressed me too, because they were new and large with echoey tiles on the floor and walls, but my sister ruined that for me when she said sister-snidely after one library visit, “I could hear you singing in there.”

In the first year or two the books rattled around on all the new shelves, but I liked that because the volume and density of the books felt less intimidating to little me.

I usually went right to the youth section, except for occasional detours for a couple of feel-good favorites from the children’s section. (There was one I really loved about a hamster or some other rodent, I can’t remember which, that took his lunch to school, a lunch that included bread & jelly and a boiled egg and salt, and he ate on a paper placemat…never mind.)

Gradually I ran out of material and bravely (guiltily) ventured into the adult section. It seemed huge, and once I found Harold Robbins I tended to stick with that aisle. I picked up best sellers and then looked for others by the same authors, but it took awhile before I really browsed much beyond Robbins and Victoria Holt (whose Gothic romances balanced Robbins’ smut nicely). When I went too far afield I always seemed to make direct eye contact with a nonfiction book about The Devil that my brother Dave had read a couple of years before, which (both the book cover and his having read the book, and I think he read it twice, looking for more meaning) both impressed and scared me. My dad had asked him if it was any good and Dave said something both dismissive and inconclusive that, as usual, intimidated me Dave-style.

I used the periodicals section if I had to do a school project , but since I got so stressed out over homework (I had trouble rewording factual sentences from National Geographic without plagiarization terrors) and I was grossed out by the scratched, sticky protective magazine covers on Time and similar magazines, if I was over there on a non-homework day, I was probably just sitting in a chair with a hardback book, feebly trying to make this my home away from home.

Near the seating area were revolving racks of skinny, tousled-edge romance novels with lurid red covers toward which I somehow had an innate snobbery. I don’t know what made me pick up one – supreme Tomball ennui, probably, and it was probably during yet another long summer. I don’t even think I surveyed the selection on the rack, I just grabbed one with dismissive wrist posture and thought I could glance at a couple of pages, put it back – after a mental checkmark, I have checked these out – and keep feeling superior.

I’m not even sure I took a bathroom or water break – I sat there and finished the book. Probably took me at least 3 hours. I had felt bits of romantic giddiness before but not the swoon that sweeps up through your whole body. Yes, I had been swept away by the book and would have liked to be swept up by the male lead character. Of course he would have terrified/ignored me in real life but the point was, I had been taken completely out of my real life, but taken someplace that felt intensely real, or at least I really wanted to be in that place, which at that town in that year was almost the same thing.

The book had what for several years was my favorite plot (yes, I now see psycho-sexual-social problems with it), marriage of convenience followed by love. (And some of the Harlequin and/or Silhouette romances, at least in the late 1970s/early 1980s, had forced marital consummation, very disturbing by modern standards.) I think this one was set in South Africa, even more exotic than the Australian ones I later grew addicted to, both types generated by foreign writers documenting their experience and their fantasies. Later my preferences transitioned, I am proud to say, to men and women who were platonic friends or stated enemies first and transitioned to romance, or who were consciously attracted to each other early on but then got blocked by situations of varying credibility. (The preferred modernistic version would be women less dominated by the men, both man and woman dominated by the power of their love.)

I also later discovered a Dutch Harlequin author whose men were at least highly educated (usually doctors) and gentlemanly, and not abusive unless you would consider a blunt marriage proposal after absolutely no verbal foreplay (and/or what Americans call “dating”) to be abusive – the men were not critical but neither were they flattering to the women, and the heroines were rarely pretty and slim…while the men were always tall, strong and wealthy. Often widowers with kids…confirmed bachelors…yep, marriages made in heaven – but somehow the author made it all gel, at least for 20-something Sarah.

Anyway, back to my Tomball Library breakthrough…the setting was exotic, the heroine was short and hen-like (think Jane Eyre) and the man was powerful and enigmatic – they lived on a farm but it was quite successful, more of a ranch, and the setting was exotic enough (African hills in the distance, employees of varied colors) to provide escape from Tomball, which of course was rural in its own right. I think there were some incidental issues with stepkids and an old girlfriend of the husband, standard stuff but new to me since this was my first Harlequin (wow!, hard to remember that freshness). I was a virgin reader, and this book was just comfortable enough that flat-chested, shy me didn’t feel horribly intimidated by it, but sweeping enough that I felt blessedly carried somewhere.

Afterward I walked back home, floating on a cloud of swoon, and for reasons I can barely remember felt compelled to share my discovery with my new stepmother. Disclaimer: I know she tried and/or wanted to be a good parent to me, but we were such different people and my first mother had been so different… I can’t remember (maybe I don’t want to know) whether I was so excited by my discovery of Harlequins that I just wanted to share it with the family matriarch, or whether I more simply (?) wanted to let her know where I had been for 4 hours.

Ooooommmmmppppphhhhhh. She said in a very critical tone something about how I didn’t need to spend all day reading. Somehow I took this as a criticism of sensuality and escape (which concept was worse?) and not just a criticism of time away from chores (which we both knew I would probably not have been doing anyway).

More to the disclaimer: She was very driven for all her working years – she had 6 kids and her first husband had died suddenly, then she threw herself into a church secretarial job, working many hours as secretary, church daycare assistant, doing church cleaning and other duties. (Work equals virtue, right?) I have only seen her read books in the last few years, and sadly she may have waited to be a reader until her comprehension had already diminished.

But back in the 1970s, she was probably wanting to help me out of my introversion and social discomfort, and didn’t always know a better way to do that than criticizing my solitary activities. In a way her critical speech was a good thing for me since I needed signs to help me understand that, well, frankly, this woman was not my mother and I would need to look elsewhere for Sarah-centric mothering, or learn to do self-comfort, haha at that developmental age – yep, both scenarios were problematic, but at least during the next few years when I continued to defer to my stepmother I had the reminder to brace for criticism (or to blame myself if I hadn’t braced…well, everybody who goes to therapy has some kind of trigger, I had many).

AND, YES…maybe the adjudged criticisms, my guilt about Harlequins, made them sweeter to read.


I didn’t have access to Harlequins at my first college in Santa Fe – gosh, I stood out at that highbrow place for even having a tiny TV set, but I read my copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ “The Flame and the Flower” over and over. And I watched All My Children almost every day between classes…and the school library’s idea of fiction was Gertrude Stein (as a modern writer). Which I checked out, but couldn’t read. I left that worthy school at the end of the semester. (I would love to be there now! As a full-time student, studying the classics in seminar fashion, like the ancients – what’s not to love about that, when you are middle aged and more confident in yourself.)

In my next college in Georgetown (Texas, not the East Coast), I worked my way through the Harlequins at the city library, which didn’t take long, and then bought more at the grocery store. One of my favorite non-Harlequin library books from the tiny town library (I think it was on Main Street), was one I have never seen or heard of anywhere else, the second novel from Kathleen Winsor, whose first book was mega-breakthrough “Forever Amber” (notable in the 1940s for its length and sexuality), which I never read. Her second one was about the difficulties of being a writer with a first bestselling book, which I saw as a roadmap for…something.

After moving to Dallas I checked out Harlequins from 3 different libraries, bought them at the grocery store, and at a small used bookstore - a place so small and friendly that when I told the manager I was writing my own formula romance (which Harlequin turned down, as they should have, it was not worthy) she immediately said they could have a signing party for me, and seemed to believe in me as a professional.

Years later I found out that the same store was soon after bought by my recently-rediscovered childhood friend Henry and his wonderful partner Jeff, who turned it into a gift shop, which probably made more money than the bookstore ever did. When I saw from the sign that the store had stopped selling books I probably never walked in it again, so it took me another 2 decades to reunite with Henry. (But he is kind of the platonic Love of My Life, so there!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reading to Escape - part 2, other kids' lives

(Love this opening image because she is reading books and wearing orange - THOUGH LOOKS NOTHING LIKE ME!) Now, back to the Sarah blog...

I always had a library book with me during the school day, and despite whatever noise was going on, if I finished my in-class assignment early I would take out the book and read. I would never say I coasted through school – I was obsessed with grades so I spent a lot of time on my class work – but given some of the unfortunate others in my class that were part of our main stream…let’s just say I almost always had time in class to read my book.

I never read nonfiction – probably didn’t read it voluntarily until my 30s, except for biographies or autobiographies. (Correction: I used to do the summer reading program at our library where you had to read a certain number of books including science and social studies – I remember forcing myself, in great boredom and other discomfort, to read a book about flower stamens, and one only a little less boring about life on an Israeli kibbutz.) I only wanted to read about people – people with more fun lives than me – which meant biographies or FICTION.

One of the thousand reasons I never considered myself smart in grade school was that I shunned the Newbery Award children’s books. They were always on a special shelf at the town library, which was proud to have them – but I couldn’t make myself like them. I remember one had details of an Eskimo boy chewing whale blubber, and another had a Middle Eastern girl embarrassed by her farts, inevitable since her diet had so many chickpeas. Now, who wouldn’t rather read a late 1950s/early 1960s teen romance, with hardly even a kiss at the end, but lots of description of 50s clothing and dates at coffee shops and soda fountains?

I am proud of and grateful for my family, but frankly the family element of a lot of books I read was a big part of my escape. Families where both original parents were living – where the younger siblings were not too bratty – where although dating didn’t come easy, there was usually a bad boy (safe-bad) to be rejected and a boy-next-door to be accepted. These books sound really old, don’t they! They were possibly nowhere in circulation other than the Tomball, TX library by the early 1970s.

One of my dad’s early dates with my stepmother was a Christmas concert, to which of course I took my book. Basically I took a library book to everything but church – trust me, if I could have gotten away with it, I would have been reading during church services too. Dim concert lighting? No problem – I would squint and just not read as fast. On this particular date that I remember, my youngest stepsister-to-be Debbie came along. Debbie was friendly but shy-me soon ran out of dialogue. I remember her saying, “I’ll just let you read your book,” and thought, uh-oh, I hope I didn’t seem rude. But really, I DID want to read my book. The heroine and her mother were baking a family specialty for her birthday, brown walnut cake – I think they used burned butter – it sounded kind of like a cake my maternal grandmother used to make, but better… I think the heroine was in the school play, there was some kind of drama going on, centered around her birthday – her life was not without conflicts but the book was very upbeat in a Midwestern kind of way. Actually this book was not set in the 1950s!, a rarity for me. I remember loving it. I wish I could remember the name of it…

As an adult I almost never reread books, but back then I read lots of my favorites multiple times. Yes, I guess this was partly due to the poor selection… But in retrospect it was a good thing I absorbed them so thoroughly, since today I could not find those books if I tried! (And I HAVE tried to locate a couple of them online.)


A few of my favorites, murkily remembered:

A motherless girl spends her last few years of high school with a relative in Florida, visits an orange juice stand shaped like an orange (actually I have seen such a thing in the real Florida, but that’s irrelevant), finally comes to appreciate the relative she lives with (uncle? aunt? step-somebody?) and make a new life for herself – gains a nice sweet dark-haired boyfriend who at first was “just a friend.”

A girl in a largish family spends all the money from her summer job on herself – she buys grownup clothes like a black sheath dress, a linen jacket, linen pumps – just as she is about to make a deposit on an apartment for after high school, she comes to her senses, re-embraces her family (she will live at home during college), and returns the unworn professional outfits to the boutique where she bought them.

(I have saved the best for last:) A plump, surly teen loses weight, learns French, and gains savoir faire while on a study program in France. When she returns to her family in New York City, she has become poised enough to sing a solo on her father’s TV program (I kid you not), something she had whined about for years but was never truly ready for, before. As she sings on live TV, she half-closes her eyes and thinks with sweet sadness about the French boy she left behind.


OK – excuse me for digressing, but here is a final image as silly as some of those plots. The official title is, “teenage girl holding book.” Holding – not reading! Excuse me, this is soft porn! (It came up when I searched for Young Girl Reading Book.) The photo, not the book, is porn…there’s no telling what is in the book. She certainly doesn’t know.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading to Escape - a rough Part 1

I do have high reading & writing skills – I won’t be overly modest about that, it’s been tested – but unlike a lot of kids/people who intimidate me, I didn’t know how to read before I started school. In fact I’m not even sure I knew the alphabet before starting school – I remember it seeming new in First Grade. (I didn’t get bored until maybe the end of Second Grade. Before then I was avid for what Tomball Elementary had to teach me!) In Second Grade I learned to read – words, sentences, not a lightning flash of comprehension but no big road block either. In my memory, it seems that as soon as we had learned to read short Dick & Jane sentences (yes, I think that book was still in use…at least in 1968 in Tomball) there was a “who can read the most books” contest. Pressure…2nd grade version. For the first few weeks, other kids (girls, and nerdy ones at that, of course) were in the lead, but then I pulled ahead. I didn’t stay in the lead for weeks at a time, but I emerged as a contender.

Because the competitive Sarah reared up – that Sarah who had already been oriented to competition simply (or not so simply) by being the little sister of two intelligent, book-loving older brothers. A historic letter of my mother to her mother quoted me as saying that when I got a little older, I would be The Oldest Child! – apparently I couldn’t wait for that ascension – not only did I want to rule but I wanted to be the smartest of my siblings. I wanted to correct their mistakes. For example, a zillion years later I am still smarting that my brother Dave – snarkily, adolescent-style – corrected my pronunciation of “salmon.” (I argued with him, but of course I lost. I still check dictionaries sometimes to see if the pronunciation I thought was right is at least secondary. Dave still acts superior though, so it doesn't matter.)

Anyway, books…early reading, and reading since…what reading seemed to mean to my family…the horrible periods of time that I couldn’t read because of no access to books, or even worse, no ability to concentrate…the times I couldn’t stop reading... This big subject could almost use its own blog, my gosh.

To try to help myself get started – yes, I am intimidated by this topic – I looked for a section I remembered from one of my draft novels. OK, yes, it is a romance novel, but I don’t always refer to it as that, don’t want to pigeonhole it, would prefer it considered in a special category. (I would like myself considered in a special category! In all things. Unique is the way to go.)

Even if not a published writer, I have written a lot of stuff in my 48 years and it feels good that I have something available to borrow when needed…don’t have to create after a long day at work, can ethically steal (great phrase!) from myself.

Although actually this excerpt below was hard to clean up – when I last worked on it, in 2002, I was not yet on anxiety meds and could only write creatively if I put a huge number of question marks in every sentence. It made me too anxious to make actual final word decisions when I was in the creative mode – I left that for the editing phase, which never came – I mean, which hasn’t come yet. If I live to be 100 I know I will have time/resources-energy to finish this particular book! Given 50 years to procrastinate that ship will finally dock, I think.

My blog readers might find a few questions marks cute, but not dozens, not in 2-3 paragraphs…so I must draw on the anxiety-suppressing meds I swallowed this morning (hours ago), and persevere.

DEEP BREATH. (And yes, big gulp of Chardonnay.) I am going to take out question marks, delete mysterious phrases, add missing words, and basically smooth out the sentences. This is not to submit to a Manhattan book publisher – this is for a Tuesday night blog post. And the finished product will almost surely NOT please me anyway. I wrote it years ago! I have evolved since then and so has my writing. Why didn’t I just do this from editing really easier than creating? Is the editor part of my brain still awake? OOOOKKKKKAAAAYYYY. Geez – it is such a short excerpt – but so hard to contemplate an unfinished novel – where is my wine glass…


Beth was hard on herself that she didn’t have more pop cultural knowledge as defined by, for example, Wheel of Fortune – not that Wheel of Fortune was the height of culture, but game participants and viewers were assumed to have a certain degree of cultural knowledge. She read a lot of library books but too much teen romance (1950s teen romances, which the library had a lot of, plus a few recent Judy Blumes) and Harold Robbins. She had read the newspaper – at least skimmed it – for 3 World Events topics during a high school social studies project. Had clipped a couple of recipes since… Maybe the problem was not enough primetime TV (the family still had TV rules, just having finally gotten a TV hadn't busted open the floodgates) and not enough nonfiction. Beth knew she mostly stayed in her own world – not the junior high world. Not the hometown world. Lots of visits to fictional worlds, but…

She had done what she could to move her level of knowledge up toward an adult notch. Not at an adult notch, but aiming that direction. One day she came home and announced, “Mother, I checked out some books from the adult section,” and her mother had said OK. Having already – if unknowingly – started her last year on earth, although having a not-bad day, Mother did sound a little weak and distracted. Beth didn’t clearly see that sad future either, but she immediately felt some guilt because she didn’t think a complete, coherent approval had been approved from her mother. Mother probably assumed Beth, who was an early and good reader, needed more challenge book-wise.

Yes, Beth felt guilty over having sneaked Harold Robbins and his smarmy writer compatriots past her mother this way, but once she started with Robbins she didn’t want to stop and the ability to continue without confrontation felt more important than complete honesty. She was far from articulating what would later become a prime philosophy of hers, “It’s OK to tell a white lie when you know people don’t want the truth.” But she knew that when the grandmother-age librarian lady usually stationed at the desk, who unfortunately attended her church, balked at stamping the Harold Robbins check-out cards and worse, suggested that she read some kind of smarmy series about somebody with freckles – sounded like an extra-boring Anne of Green Gables – she should hold her head high. “Mother knows I am checking these out.” There wasn’t much that grandma-lady could say that to that.

Of course the next time Beth checked out another book that – in Beth’s mind – would prove to be a valuable resource in understanding about pornography, prostitution, and transvestites in general – the Grandma librarian would ask again about the Freckles series. But Beth would hang tough.

Beth suspected her junior high peers weren't reading these books. They knew more than Beth about almost everything in the pop culture. But they were strangers to Harold Robbins. Yeah.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Line in the Sand

Periodically someone whose opinion is important to me makes a comment that brings up this topic – drawing a line between self and work (not so different from the line between self and family…but that’s too long a topic for one little nightly blog).

From 1986 to 2000 I worked for an executive search firm that was obsessive, as most of the successful ones are, with client service. (One of the best ways to justify high prices, apparently.) We admin assistants usually had to take up the slack on ignored deadlines – our bosses would run out to do something they pretended was important – with a client or their personal lives, their personal lives of course being more important than ours. I remember many instances of making family or friends wait while I finished typing or proofing or copying a project to get it in that night’s Fedex, or even canceled doctor appointments when an important client or even just a prospective client (any degree of client being God in that environment) was waiting for something from us.

In our office we had a saying that the more dysfunctional admins were more successful. I don’t think we spelled it out to each other but we admins, maybe even the bosses, all had some degree of awareness that those who were children of alcoholics and/or motherless daughters, and in some sad cases women in currently abusive relationships, did “better” at putting up with the pressure to sacrifice self.

The New York office had a different cultural dynamic than our Dallas one – there the admins still worked very hard and probably made similar sacrifices but were known to utter comments like this infamous though brilliant “Enough!!!” cry:

"And why don't you stick a broom up my butt while you’re at it, then I can sweep the floor while I type!”

Even after I was no longer an admin and had transferred to a sister company that did less pricey work but still prided itself on customer service, I found myself working evenings and weekends. The overtime wasn’t specifically requested of me but I was praised as someone who “got” business needs and showed a sense of urgency and service orientation

Only after my 6 months at home in 2002 (I had volunteered for a severance package to focus on my writing) did I really pull back from the martyr end of the worker continuum. After I went back to the corporate world – in a job with yes, a client service focus since that was what I knew and had a pedigree in – I still grieved for the months at home when Sarah was both boss and employee, peer and janitor, everything. I missed the world where only Sarah made the rules, scary and imperfect as that world was (no completed novel, no paycheck, frequent questioning of my talent and my work ethic…sunny fun!, yes). That sense of loss hasn’t sunk down too far from the surface years later, but I have a strongly automatic response to the sad twinges: “You need a paycheck!” Yes, OK.

The psychotherapists of my lifetime have had varied perspectives on office pressures. One took extra pains to listen since she was developing a subspecialty as a workplace coach, my current one is experienced and compassionate enough to let me tell my story and respond as if the story is new. But another therapist, that I saw briefly in the early 1990s and think of as the Monkey Man (he was small and hairy with a twisted expression, once I spotted him on Greenville Avenue in an expensive convertible and I swear, he looked like a monkey in a clown car), was determined not to see anything positive in my attachment to my job.

Here is some good perspective on Dr. H, who by the way was recommended to me by a former therapist, a wonderful and helpful and sensitive guy, who had moved out of state – one day I waited 10 minutes past our start time for Dr. H. to come out of his office into the waiting room. (He had a solo practice with no receptionist). At which time he barked at me for not knocking. I said, I didn’t knock because your door is usually open so I thought you might still have a patient in there. He said, But this is your appointment time. Don’t you think enough of yourself to announce your arrival? (oooookkkkkaaaayyy)

Now you see, or wonder, why I kept going to him for multiple months – well…because he was so extremely challenging of my personality type that I thought I might get some good balance out of it. And when I fired him – which in the therapy world means, calling to say, “I’m not coming back,” without agreeing to come in for a goodbye session – it felt really good.

In our most memorable session, after what I admit was a l-o-n-g Sarah Monologue about a Rubik’s Cube set of international travel arrangements I had had to make for a client, covering time zones including China, and requiring me to go in early and stay in late and check messages from home (folks, this was before the Age of Email, so checking in from home was especially cumbersome), Dr. H. asked this thunderously resonant question, in reference to work-life barriers (come to think of it, I don’t think the phrase “work-life balance” had been invented yet either):

Why don't you draw a line in the sand with your boss.

My response was immediate, since I had thought about this question – even if it had not been directly asked of me – a lot and defended my choices a lot: “Well, the admins who draw that line, and stay on the side of it, are not successful in my office environment.”

His response was a monkey-like smirk.

“So....Dr. H., are you saying that it’s not possible for a well-adjusted person to be a successful admin assistant?”

In my memory, he just kept smirking at that.

I meant to mention earlier – it sounds quite dysfunctional to mention it here – really, it sounds dysfunctional anywhere I would mention it…my boss and his wife always made a point of remembering me on all holidays (including Valentine’s Day and Halloween), work anniversaries and birthdays. Think of the impact of this on a 20-something, even 30-something motherless daughter who felt lost in a family of 3 siblings and 6 stepsiblings. My boss D. and his wife felt like my family in a way. And I expected family to expect things from me. Yep. That was our office dynamic.

After Dr. H. I tried to stay with therapists who were at least willing to discuss my work dynamics – to talk through the complexities with me – without making blunt statements and donning monkey faces.

I made the big career break with the big boss D. in 2000, but I made a smaller, earlier break in 1997 when I stayed in the same office but transferred from him to supporting two junior partners. At first it was a blessed relief – the pressure of our workload and our 11 years together had gotten me to the point of literally yelling at him to get his attention – but I found that within a few months, hell maybe even just weeks, I missed working for him. It was partly the prestige – an admin’s rank is clearly determined by the rank of her boss – but I also missed the busy days, the sense of work importance, the Being Needed, with capital letters. My then-therapist, the workplace coach type, said there might be an important lesson in learning to embrace the less-busy daily reality that my new bosses generated, but I confess that idea made even less sense to me than “line in the sand.”

My old job was available because my replacement, a tough-talking Chicago native who told me proudly in the interview that she was “Not afraid to say no to people like him” (and I don’t think I imagined the dig at Southern-gal Sarah in there) had had one issue too many with D. and was ready to move on. Her story was that she questioned D.’s ethics. His version was that she had made too many major mistakes (this could have happened to anyone…but one night she parked a super-important binder of client info in an empty cardboard box without noticing the box had an old “trash” sign on it…). After I went back to D., more than one client told me that my temporarily permanent replacement did not have my customer service orientation.

For a long time this same woman was the only person I knew who had returned a shelter dog to the shelter, after having given up on him. I think I connected that with her giving up on a tough office job. Saying it was the right thing to do, but basically not being up for the challenge.

But…this July I also gave back a dog that I had earlier sworn to love. That experience changes a person’s judgment of situations, self and others.

These days I really try not to work more than 40 hours. Yes, finally, I consider myself more important than the job. (And I have guilt repercussions for that. Maybe genetic, definitely familial. More therapy is needed…)

But the job I have right now does not generally demand – at least not loudly – more than I offer. During the mega-hours-a-week years I got superlative reviews and frequent raises. And often a bonus. And annual profit sharing. That was their part of the deal. They met it.

So, what is the moral. I don’t know, and I won’t ask the Monkey Doc. But it needs more therapy…enlightened therapy. Non-simian.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chips & Drink, the perfect unbalanced meal

One of the combos that drove me toward a diet – and that I most miss, being on a diet – is having chips (pita chips, sesame sticks, anything starchy and salty) and wine for dinner. I never quench my hunger or thirst with this combo and I keep wanting more. That’s mostly in the past tense…mostly. Tonight I have had 2 (make it 3, 4) almonds, 6 (6-plus) pieces of turkey pepperoni…and “some” wine” so far. (And I still might eat a real dinner. You never know.)

In an earlier cycle of overdrinking and being overweight, 2006 version, my favorite chips were one of those snack mixes – wheat Sun Chips, little cheesy bits, I forget what else. Back then Miller Lite was my beverage. Slurp, snack, repeated a million times…again, never got full, finally got drunk, definitely got bloated from the salt. When I realized in 06 that my blood pressure was up, I stopped buying that kind of snack mix.

(That was a funny end of paragraph above, but true. I did some other good things, but not great things to improve my lifestyle. I am still on blood pressure meds. There wasn’t a nice long PS to “stopped buying that kind of snack mix.” The stopping of the buying of that particular poison was pretty much a standalone thing.)

Yes, I have had chips since – and after the beer years, the wine years came – and that food & drink combo still sounds so good when I get home from work. Is it the self-indulgence, the naughtiness? Maybe just the salt…maybe whatever feel-good chemicals come from giving into a food addiction. Or obsession, compulsion…what’s more acceptable to say, what’s more realistic. I usually say addiction because it feels right – self-critical, but right. Not very compassionate, but I don’t waste my best compassion on myself, haha.

Can I for the rest of my life blame my junk food love on my deprived childhood? And some definitions are needed – I don’t love all junk food, but the kinds I do get a deep and guilty love – something that feels illicit, almost sexual? (Maybe for a Libra food is the sexiest thing, at least consciously – LOL – we Libras have deep layers.) My childhood wasn’t deprived of food by any means – we always had plenty to eat and the cookie jar was full of homemade stuff. And we also got certain junk food items, like Oreos, Hershey bars, greasy hamburgers – for special occasions. (Mother added the cheese at home, why pay an extra 10 cents…you know there is a novella in there somewhere!) Now, what kind of message does that send, processed food being a treat!

Well, I know the message it sent me…I am a special person and I want every day to be special. (I think we know where that kind of thinking leads. Serial killers would be one end of that spectrum...)

My first real paycheck was from a summer job when I was 17. My stepmom suggested I write down everything I spent it on. In a new spiral notebook, I wrote down 3 magazines, 2 candy bars…looked at the page and thought, Uh no, this documentation thing is not for me.

And I am still paycheck-to-paycheck in 2010, still prefer to forget everything I just spent money on.

Around that same teen age, I discovered a prehistoric version of what became today’s Chips & Wine. I would get an order of fries from the Tomball Sonic, with a medium or large Coke. (I don’t think Diet Coke had even been invented yet…but I wouldn’t have ordered that because this wasn’t really a diet meal.) My theory was that since I was not getting a hamburger or hot dog, I was cutting calories. I remember feeling virtuous as I ate! I thought this combo was an advanced version of the tip my older cousin (and guru in all womanly things including the art of the diet) had said years before, “You don’t have to eat all the Thanksgiving dishes – just focus on the ones you really like.” Eureka! So I could have just dressing, beans, mashed potatoes and 2 kinds of pie at Thanksgiving. (No turkey, cranberries, salad, sweet potatoes – belatedly I see I was skipping the healthy parts. Oh well!) And at the Sonic I could have fries and a soda.

My eating life has had cycles of binging and cycles of dieting, and French fries have been woven into all of the above. I remember baking frozen French fries on a little pan and tearing dainty pieces of one slice of cheese to anoint the fries. Someone else in the room with me (some stupid man, a family friend circa the 1970s) said, You can’t eat that on a diet. He was wrong! I knew exactly how many calories I was preparing, and it wasn’t many. (And it wasn’t filling. And it didn’t have vitamins. But I was young so my body manufactured vitamins out of the humid Tomball air.)

Here I am, out of Tomball but still in the state of Texas, summer 2010. Still craving the wrong foods. Still spending my paycheck on the wrong foods! Just another cog in the state’s economic machine, I guess.

Actually, I don't feel quite so freakish during State Fair time of year...chocolate covered bacon, Krispy Kreme cheeseburgers...those and more nasty recipes are part of this year's pre-Fair hype. Why, I am relatively mainstream in my appetites!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Determined!!! to get Back to the Blog

I did update my Grateful/Grieving section a month ago – but the last blog post was TWO months ago. Really? That’s even worse than I remembered. Glad I didn’t check the date because I would have been even more down about the situation than I’ve been not knowing the date.

Have been combinations of busy, lazy, not feeling good and otherwise buried semi-alive under Dallas heat. At what point do the discomfort/inertia and the procrastination merge? Hard to say, maybe too frustrating to speculate on. But tonight I had a little zip of energy – it’s a week since my sinus-allergy explosion hit – and I am determined to blog something. Something. It won’t be perfect. But it will be sent live.

At an earlier point in the murky summer I was wanting to blog about the flip sides of Grateful & Grieving. The list at that time (June? July?) lent itself better to that. Tonight, with my updated list, I am not so vividly aware of the two sides of things. Well actually I am, because I have yin-yang notes with several entries, but I guess now I’m back to my usual personal style of putting the contrast right up there with the original statement. Immediate shades of gray, cross-hatching of black with white (like when you choose a pattern in Microsoft Excel for shading), that’s me.

Also back in the summer's murk, a friend asked a question that annoyed me at the time: "If you could change one thing, what would it be?" Gray-area Sarah doesn’t like those questions but since this was asked after a litany of my whining about everything not up to par in my life, I gave some thought to it. Actually I answered him right away, “I would wear Chucks to work.” He and others laughed, but I was serious. Every morning I grieve that I can’t start dressing by choosing my Chucks first, and when my feet get hot and tired in non-white non-cotton socks and non-canvas shoes, I grieve more.

The dress code is not within my power to change. I have tried to strategize ways that it could be, but it isn’t.

My next thought for what I would most want to change (I hate corny phrases), kind of casting about, was… “I would like to lose weight.” That surprised me a bit. I have been wanting to lose weight for years, and it has been years since any diet attempt was successful for more than 3 days.

Finally, I had a perfect storm of diet motivation. (Yes, amazingly...I should say, "Finally...amazingly...") Observing overweight others, being startled how I looked in a recent photo, realizing even my feet were getting fatter (the Chucks were tight!, and I have hundreds of size 7’s!). And my friend’s question was also important, because it somehow propelled me past the “I should” approach to dieting to a personal version of what I would gain from the journey, not just the outcome – every day would bring a greater feeling of control, I would be heading toward a goal. More corny stuff but when you come out of the perfect storm, the corn becomes a strong crop. It’s where you choose to put your efforts.
I had been unblogged for so long that when I found my spiral pad of notes, I had forgotten what was on there. Actually…that felt kind of good. Sometimes I feel too aware of my thoughts and to-dos and everything else. Being lost in this summer has been miserable but finding my way back to blogging has felt like an adventure hike – more natural than I usually am, me against the elements, not so much preplanning…not so much second-guessing or play-by-play criticism.

Another topic note on the green page: “How am I doing? Fine? Bad? How do I know?” When I hear Craig describe my state of being as “fine” to relatives who ask on the phone, I want to correct him, but to say what? The people that life assigns as your relatives are not necessarily likely to understand or want details of how you aren’t fine. And even when talking to people who I would consider to be some degree of a Sarah Intimate, I would not necessarily be so likely to give details.

Maybe the “I’m fine” comes from me after all – not from Craig – or not just from Craig – or not originally from Craig, or…

No, it’s not that simple. The inner Sarah wants an audience for her voice. She doesn’t want to be squelched. But sometimes she is too tired – too beat down – too hot – to go into details. And sometimes it feels kind of comfortable to pretend that Craig is the one who doesn’t invite questions about the state of “fine,” while Sarah hibernates with a book in another room.

"One More Chapter" by Belinda Del Pesco

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Painful new features

Why is it so hard to start blogging again after a break…what is the biggest problem – perfectionism? Lost the pipeline of paragraphs-in-development? Inertia? Maybe it’s more specifically June-July, Dallas heat.

I have been thinking for a while about retiring the Endorphin Index and Addiction Archive – they are getting repetitive anyway, I always eat and drink too much and buy too much art and worry about family and have a hard time dragging myself to work – even I run out of different ways to say that.

But inspired by artist-blogger’s Tilly Strauss’s list of “grateful for,” which I find more inspiring for its no-frills format, I have been wanting to do two new sections: Grateful For and Grieving For. Tilly is an internet friend and responded on her blog, , that she liked the idea of a Grieving list. She has been doing a gorgeous multi-media series on the topic of her divorce and several pieces of that had to do with grief, so I knew it wasn’t too far from her consciousness.

While driving to work this week (isn’t that everyone’s best time to think?) I started on a Grieving list and it seemed to stretch out exponentially. So now I am having creative blockage writing it down – will it scare most people?, will it offend certain people?, will writing and reading it make me feel worse? Can I really focus on a Grateful For list or is that just a feeble thing offered as a balance to the long list of complaints? And I also realize that the Grateful For and Grieving For lists have different qualities, not just quantities. Grieving is sometimes, at least for me, easier to identify. Grateful I take for granted – or do I? Of course the relative weights and merits shift often, if not constantly. But there is still a sense of Sad-Bad List and Good List, the two being separate.

Now, maybe that last sentence is something to focus on – can I take things to another level so that I see good in the grief, at least some parts of it? Yeah maybe, but not tonight. I am intimidating myself with this idea – stop it. Of course I am good at finding grief in the good. I think I was born with that skill!, certainly had it back as far as toddler years, LOL.

(Not necessarily in priority order – please readers, don’t nitpick about that, I am trying not to obsess about it.) Husband, job, house, sister/father, cousin-sister-friend, other important family and friends. Those that are not part of the problem are usually an important part of the solution!, or at least make the process bearable. Friends include internet friends! Therapist, therapy family, favorite authors, favorite painters – my art collection. Blog readers!, if not already covered in the friends mention. The renewing human body that absorbs so many of my excesses. Dogs – when they are good, and I guess as a learning experience even when they are bad. The good parts of my genetics. The low cost of living in Texas.

Certain aspects of the jobs I used to have – special handling of my special talents, projects that utilized both sides of my brain. A work dress code relaxed enough to allow Chucks. Two living brothers, a living mother. The slimmer body I used to have (and didn’t appreciate…but that’s another story). The available credit I used to have…the retirement savings I used to have. The healthy feeling of my feet and legs in the cooler temperatures of mid-June London and Paris – the energy and stamina I had there, sigh.

WOW! The Grieving list was relatively short! Am I too drunk, too tired to keep listing or to amplify my thoughts...or maybe (maybe) writing down the most compelling bad-sad controlled it somewhat.

There may be more, or a lot more, next time - but that's OK. (I can state that with certainty after a big gulp of Chardonnay.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

London 2003 - Dukes Bar, WEDNESDAY night

(isn't this stolen web image JUST like me?, LOL)

[After a long day of sightseeing I spent a couple of evening hours at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I had already had a glass of wine…one of the many pleasant features of their weekly “Late View,” where selected galleries were open late and there was food, wine and live music. K. had originally agreed to go with me but then said she was very tired and had too much work to do. I knew this was a working trip for her but it was still a little disappointing and I had trouble suppressing the thought that she had never been gung-ho about the idea anyway... I had noticed that her ideas got canceled less than mine did.]

It wasn’t all that late when I got back to the room, but K. was prone on top of her bed, in her jeans and t-shirt, as if she had had a surprise energy wipe-out in the middle of doing something. She stirred when I entered the room but wasn’t able to say much. Although her laptop was open on the sofa, the screen was dark – in fairness, that was probably a screen saver feature, but I had enough bitchy feeling left in me to suspect she might never have turned it on, because there were no papers sitting around and her briefcase was closed. However, it seemed obvious she wasn’t up for any social activity, and I admonished myself that there was little point in my taking her wipeout personally.

I shrugged off my coat, picked up the key again and stated pleasantly that I was going down to the bar. Any remaining doubt I might have had about how K. was feeling was settled by her not making any pretense of joining me, unusual for her since she is definitely the over-commitment, “Do till you drop” type (which of course I envy/admire). Instead, in response to my announced leaving, she slid down to an even flatter position on the bed, which moved her to the zone of appearing so pathetic that I felt I couldn’t (didn’t want to) have any residual resentment over finishing my evening alone. I laid the room key down on top of a spiral pad to carry both downstairs – although the prospect of attempting to get down detail on even my few days so far was still overwhelming, making trip notes was going to be my prop/justification for sitting at a table alone to have more wine.

This time I sat in the outside room – nearest the entrance, not the seating area closer to the bar. There seemed to be fewer people here. I saw clusters of fancy-looking couples out together, which was kind of depressing given my solo social state, but at least they didn’t seem too drunkenly loud yet. My waiter, the younger-looking bar employee from the night before, introduced himself as Tony. He remembered me well, asking, “No most post cards?” Hoping I sounded wittily appreciative and not too desperately grateful to have made conversational contact, I laughingly replied, “No, it’s my diary tonight…I did 20 post cards yesterday.” Tony seemed properly shocked (which isn’t the same as being impressed) at this postcard count.

I was sure this guy was the one I had seen on the Dukes web site, making a martini at a counter stagily set with a heaped silver dish of olives and an over-large lemon that had a strip missing (ostensibly cut off to make a garnishing twist for the drink). Tony himself was shown with a smirky expression that could have meant a personality disorder or just shy nervousness at being photographed for the web. Even if I hadn’t seen him on the Dukes site, Tony would have seemed familiar, because he kind of looked like a Central Casting Italian (which is probably cliched racism, but seems to reflect how people’s minds work) – meaning, medium-sized, early-mid-aged Italian type, with the expected accent but also the expected English ability, so that he could talk to you in enjoyably-accented English (enjoyable to listen to, adding to the evening ambience and whatever sense of Anglophile superiority one might have had).

In retrospect, Tony was a very significant character of my week, even if just by my learning his name. Funnily (embarrassingly) enough, when I got home and unloaded the extra business cards that I had taken in my purse (packed despite my insecurity/self-consciousness that no one anywhere on the globe would want to know Sarah) in case I made some Brit pen-pal friends, I had to admit to my socially-challenged self that I had hardly learned anyone’s name in England except Tony, “Sam Elliott” (who may or may not have really been the Gilberto so familiarly mentioned on Graffiti Wall as the go-to man for offsite Italian dining), the Canadians Mary Ann and her sister (sadly, I had no clue of the sister’s name) that I met at Tower of London, and also from Monday’s tour, guide David and John-the-driver (David’s term for him).

Maybe it was because of the hour – later than when I had come down the night before – but tonight my table top held no snacks, no nuts or crackers. I didn’t know if this was something to do with the table size (a two-seater tonight instead of Tuesday’s four chairs), or with the time of day. Maybe it was assumed that everyone in here now had already had dinner and wasn’t hungry, although I would have thought that by Continental standards, any time prior to 10:00 was too early to assume that anyone had a full stomach.

At several daytime (and sober) points of the trip, I had entertained the idea of having champagne next time I found myself at a bar – the concept seemed appropriately romantic and celebratory, since I was on a special trip (maybe even the “trip of my lifetime,” since it was possible I would never get the money together to come back after this) – but when asked for my order in an actual bar, I continued to vote for Chardonnay, even though I was never quite sure whether Chardonnay was actually the variety of white wine I was being served. Maybe I subconsciously went for Chardonnay because in the U.S. such a request often gets you a generic potion, and here I was hoping I would get a similarly cheapish bar brand of white wine, and thinking that this would be easier and better to chug than something truly special or expensive.

Tonight I made a feeble attempt at “branching out” and instructed Tony, “A white wine…whatever you think…” He seemed happy with my pliability – or maybe he and the bar staff were tired of looking for a bottle of Chardonnay for me, since for all I know, actual Chardonnay is in short supply in London. Whatever Tony’s personal thoughts were on the matter, I have to say that the wine he promptly brought me tasted a lot like the “Chardonnay” I had had the night before (and the white wine of Sunday’s room service).

As a change from my usual procedure, I forced myself to try sipping it slowly – my previous gulping style wasn’t conducive to nursing the wine long enough to last for a decent amount of writing. The writing needed to be my focus tonight, and I wanted to get a big chunk of writing done, in my real notebook – not on the back of something, like an afterthought, as happened the night before. Just having brought down the notebook had increased my feeling of trip-recording/diary pressure, although it also felt nicely official and validating to have a dedicated notebook. A notebook that was already partially filled might have lessened the pressure, but I always pack fresh new ones for a trip…as if I might get marooned, and inspired (out of boredom due to the marooning), and write my way through all the empty pages.

The wine helped push down the curling tendrils of writing-panic – more wine would have been a stronger anxiety suppressor, but I needed to be mindful of the delicately narrow balance between alcohol-triggered creativity and confusion born of too much alcohol. I knew I had crossed over to confusion on Postcard Night – I was embarrassed to remember how after I finished each postcard I started murmuring aloud the sentences I had just written, to see if they made sense or whether I had left out key words. I wanted to stay in an anxiety-managed but still coherent zone for as long as I could manage it tonight. This zone shares a highly permeable border with the land of compulsive writing and rabid getting-down of details, but I knew there was no way to avoid all the discomforts of such proximity.

I really did have just one glass of wine, although since the Dukes bar was generous with portions (which felt almost virtuously welcome here, since as a guest I only had to stumble upstairs to get to a safe sleeping place), it was not a small one, although not inappropriately overfilled either. Rather surprisingly, Tony didn’t bring me any unwanted refills – maybe he was busy, or my table on the side of the room was away from his main circuit of other customers, but he proved to be easier to manage than Gilberto/Sam E. had on the previous night. I don’t think I sounded more insistent or stern with Tony than I had with Gilberto, but maybe Gilberto had picked up on the negation (“No means yes”) in my giggly/slushy tone, a sound that I didn’t have enough grape in me to achieve tonight. It also helped that now I was alert enough to signal by dragging my hand up to cover my glass when I saw Tony come through the doorway. Or, maybe the lesser emphasis on refills was a feature of this outer bar room, somehow related to there not being free snacks on the tables when I sat down.

Having less wine may have contributed to my somewhat negative mood, or maybe this was just a classic symptom of being past the halfway point of my trip, on the waning end. Wednesday was my fourth day of being in a hotel where clearly all the other guests had a more glamorous, affluent life than mine. Although now comfortably ensconced in the Dukes bar, I didn’t feel settled there and reflected that I was kind of ready for a change from this posh hotel. I really didn’t fit in at Dukes, although none of the staff or other guests had been rude enough to outwardly hint at this.

My lifestyle was probably several cuts above that of most of the brown-toothed Dukes employees [who by their accents I guessed were immigrants from Eastern Europe], but this perspective didn’t ameliorate my state of covetousness toward the other guests. A somehow wealthy-seeming and otherwise imposing lady (in a simply cut skirt and blouse but with real-looking gems in her necklace and earrings) came walking out from the room that was nearer to the bar, and she called out a hello to Tony as he was leaving a table near me. To her bossily plaintive comment, “We were here at Christmas but you weren’t here!”, Tony replied in a respectful/seemingly sincere manner.

The act of my writing was mostly involving, but in other ways almost boring, as I flew [well, maybe not that weightless of a transition] back and forth between a chronological listing and important/must-get-down stuff that I was compelled to add even out of sequence. Since I have shifted mental gears like this for most of my life, I was able to stay on track (such as the track was) and the wine (even one glass of it) helped the interruptions feel less schizo than they would have normally. Despite the loud conversation in the bar (the volume was high only by genteel Dukes standards), most of the words were pretty easy to tune out, except for snatches that I absorbed intermittently and reacted to in a patchwork combination of interest and annoyance.

I admit that some of my gut responses were born of jealousy… The two couples at the table near the window were having a conversation guaranteed to intimidate an American of my working class – I heard one of the guys mention “my new BMW” more than once, in a tone meant to convey that this was one of a series of the car that he had purchased. It’s not that I would never hear this in the States, but my attention was grabbed by how somehow similar and yet subtly different it sounded here. The matter-of-fact tone and brevity of his comment almost seemed to express modesty, yet the fact that he had announced a purchase and specified a brand name had to be some form of a grab for attention. It seemed to me that in America this category of rich but pretending-to-be-modest people was fairly rare – American rich people either hid their money completely or shouted the exact (or inflated) amounts of it from the rooftops.

I tried to keep in mind that I wasn’t versed on all the class complexities of London bar conversation – these people weren’t necessarily old money, they could even have been ordinary suburban dwellers, but I now had a general idea how expensive it was to park, buy and gas a car in the London area, and a BMW, while not the highest-price option, was still an expensive car. The men were wearing office-type suits and the ladies were in nice blouses and skirts which could either have been nice office clothes or cocktail-time attire. No one had on anything traditionally English-tweedy or elbow-patched, but I was kind of hoping to see or hear something English-cliched so I could more neatly categorize this group. My desire was met when the other man at the table, who looked beef-fed (with a thick head, broad shoulders and blond hair like a Midwestern football player), said in a somewhat grim tone that I think was meant to convey casual pride, something about getting a “viller” in Mustique and inviting everyone there to visit. I almost clapped my hands in glee at the classically British-Continental pronunciation of “villa” (a luxurious country house) with an “R” stuck on the end – this was the kind of people-watching/listening I had been wanting.

I realize that a broader cross-section of classes go on sun holidays from the U.K. as compared to the U.S. – since southern Europe is not so far away and there’s a big business in all price ranges of vacation rentals and timeshares in Spain and other countries that get hot and sunny for at least most of the year. However, I had a dim idea that Mustique was not a cheap resort, and it struck me that the beefy guy mentioned it in the kind of commonplace way a Texan would refer to going to Galveston or Padre Island for the weekend.

Even allowing for real estate agency hype on the sites I found in my later web research on Mustique, the prevalent adjectives “luxury, privacy, celebrity” reinforced that we weren’t talking about a place in any way resembling the Texas Gulf Coast. This “unspoiled” Caribbean island (with only one hotel but many private “villa rentals”) was originally developed by the British for its sugar trade, then purchased by a private individual, and was only opened to outsiders in 1968. Between the original development by the first British people and the 1960s opening to visitors, I was struck by a couple of timeline items – “the native tribes were quickly decimated with the arrival of European planters” and “the English fought off invading French troops.” I doubt that today’s visitor has any awareness of anything in any way turbulent in the island’s past.

Per, the Mustique development company provides a video library with over 500 movies!, a number that is meant to impress us since the island is only 1 ½ miles by 3 miles and contains less than 200 homes. explained, “The tiny island is not easily accessible without a private plane or yacht,” and told me that these private planes have carried homeowners and visitors “the likes of” Mick Jagger, Phil Collins, Princess Margaret, Kate Moss and Calvin Klein.

Even before realizing that Princess Margaret was a Mustique fan, I knew I had little in common with a person who was talking about going there. I was getting fussy from reminders of my economic and cultural status, which was definitely a part of my looking forward to a return to more modest activities and more laid-back creature comforts. When I changed hotels tomorrow I would be in a different part of town, and I thought I had seen on an Internet map that there was a movie theater near the St. Giles. I felt a disproportionate sense of excitement that I could soon enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing a movie (and not feeling much concern about what movie might be showing), which told me that I was definitely on the low end of my trip if I was craving the kind of time-killing comfort I would have availed myself of at home.

Still sober enough to efficiently multi-task, I listened to this foursome by the window while scribbling fairly furiously about what I had eaten and who had annoyed me in the last several days of my trip. I wasn’t sure what the exact mix was of my being a little trip-fussy (thinking about home and simple, non-Dukes comforts) and being more specifically annoyed with the personalities of the two couples. There was also a mixture of my being intimidated by their apparent wealth, degree of sophistication, and London-ness – and my strongly wondering how much class they really had by London standards. It was inarguable that they were from a different country than I was, but they were less surely of a vastly different class than me.

They spoke in gay (upbeat) tones and what I was pretty sure (from the brandy snifters and wine glasses in front of them) was a glibly liquored manner. I continued to struggle to categorize them – just when I became bored by the pedestrian nature of their topics, such as “We’re due for a parent-teacher meeting soon…” (spoken by a man and woman in unison) and “I’m feeling a bit nervous about having the laser surgery…” (from the blond lady, slightly plumper than the brunette one, but still very trim, with a short, smooth bob of hair) – they talked about something closer to what I would consider a human interest category. The Mustique Guy went on about a mutual friend who, according to him, continued to “Look for the wrong elements in her relationships.” This seemed a bit non-macho as a topic – I think Craig and his male friends occasionally discuss their single friends’ psychological problems, but my impression is that they have to be drunk on whiskey, and/or high on cigar smoke, to do so. Unfortunately for my piqued interest, the group immediately went from talking about the girl who loved wrongly to discussing mutual friends who had died. I couldn’t always identify the voices and I wasn’t facing the table – I was only clear that it was the beefy blond guy who had mentioned Mustique because I turned to stare when he first said that vacation word, and I also knew from that same brief look to blame him for the reek of cigar smoke that continued to permeate the room.

I think it was the Mustique Guy who said in a loudly heartfelt way that so-and-so was “a great chap…” and “You know his wife died of cancer…?” Everyone murmured appropriately after hearing the C-word, and when someone mentioned that the specific disease was breast cancer, they uttered a group “Umm-hmm” at the unfortunate commonness of this disease. When the guy continued, “He calls my son every morning, to check in with him,” this comment got a few approving-type murmurs too, although it sounded odd to me. How many male family friends call someone’s young son every morning, to the approval of the parents? Maybe these people were desperately looking for any type of positive socialization for their kids – all four of them went on about how their kids watched “too many DVDs,” a complaint which certainly put them closer to an American-middle-class range of parental problems.

They conversationally ended their evening with what I felt was a letdown of jet-setting class – the brunette lady with slightly past shoulder-length hair cut in an expensively casual/girlish style giggled that she had had too much wine, and oh dear, now she had to make her way on foot to the Tube. My surprise at hearing this went along with my disdain at the OLDH tour agent’s Monday question of what tube stop Dukes was near, but I was beginning to realize that my dismissal of the subway was misguided snobbery – how silly of me to think I knew what was and was not within proper social parameters for an upper class of people. And how logistically narrow-thinking I had been – probably their fabulous/palatial (historic?/inherited?) London homes were right by a tube stop and they had learned it didn’t make sense to drive and have the hassle of parking…or maybe they lived in a suburb that was very ritzy but near enough the city to be on a tube stop. My never having ventured onto the subway didn’t show any kind of superiority, it just made me look more like an ignorant American tourist.

Belatedly, my limited degree of altruistic concern for my fellow man kicked in and I realized it was doubtful that these people were sober enough to drive their own cars home anyway. I assumed that Britain had little tolerance for drunk driving, and in this (as in few other U.K. cultural and legal things) I was correct. Per the U.S. Department of State’s Consular Information site, “U.K. penalties for drunk driving are stiff and often result in prison sentences.” A novelty site with semi-serious travel info, “American Girls Are Easy” (subtitled, How to Find a Man in Europe and Leave Him There) says that the British are “extreme” about drunk driving and gives the interestingly practical example that if your date is “caught with keys in his pocket and he’s within 50 feet of his car, he can be arrested for a DUI.” I’m not sure how reliable a source “American Girls” is for U.K. facts, due to the goofy meanness of some of its tips and insights (example: “There’s nothing noteworthy about the dogs in Britain, but you might be curious to know that the nation’s number one road kill is the hedgehog”) but I was impressed that the site went to the trouble to clarify (in its acid tongue) a common subject of tourist confusion: “Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland. Most people don’t understand this technicality, nor do they care.”

Tony didn’t protest my request for my check much more than he had expressed disapproval (with a small frown and a slight shake of his head) at my refusal of more wine. I was gratified that I felt clear-headed after my one glass of wine – this made it easier than usual to figure out how much British money to leave, and I felt more confident than usual about my calculation. Maybe I had drawn energy from the process of writing out my inner thoughts (having finally started in earnest to belch forth a degree of detail that it was unlikely anyone would even pretend interest in)…and/or maybe I had finally arrived at the exactly optimum amount of alcohol I should consume in order to have a solo evening with a doable amount of creative output. I felt I had at least a little more writing in me still, even without having another drink (this lesser than usual need for alcohol signified true inner fire), so I went across the small hallway to the drawing room, a new setting for my creativity.

There were no other guests in the drawing room at this weeknight hour of 10 pm, but the empty room had a better vibe than on Monday – that night K. and I had had to look at other people’s dirty dishes on some of the low tables, but tonight everything was completely clean and quiet. The peaceful atmosphere didn’t immediately make me sleepy but it didn’t encourage my work ethic either – I was suddenly moved to fold shut my notebook and pull out my trusty purse book. I did pretty well at managing my guilt that I had stopped writing, because I was feeling rather kind to myself, given my mostly successful solo adventures of the day and my numerous countable pages of writing output this evening. It also seemed possible to make a case that although four days in London had provided me with enough material to potentially keep scribbling all night, for sleep and health reasons it would be better to set a limit on writing and concentrate on reading Ann Rule’s published words.