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…)