Thirty years ago… I was a teenager in middle America who’d never been anywhere more exotic than the family vacations to Florida (Sorry Toronto, you were lovely, but much like home. Oh wait, there was that time in Hawaii, but I was only five and didn’t sufficiently appreciate it.) A biology teacher with an incurable travel bug at my high school ran Student Trips, sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter. He was young ~younger than I am or have been for a while now~ and energetic enough to keep teenagers safe, if not entirely out of trouble, teach us valuable lessons for loving the lives we’d live, and still have a good time himself.
One of the first lessons of travel, “Hurry up and wait,” was better preparation for living in Italy than you can possibly imagine unless you’ve done so. But “Get it while you can” is the one that still echoes around my skull and shoots through my spirit when it matters most. I know for a fact that monumental turning points in my life hinged on the moment I changed my mind from what I had planned to the thing that was suddenly on offer. This doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t like surprises and I loathe sudden change. But I am forever grateful for having been taught to embrace it.
One… or maybe four of those trips I did were to the Bahamas. We sailed with a shoestring educational operation called International Field Studies. That first summer… the first day… we got to our 41’ Morgans and my Laura ~who’d done this before~ dove straight over the side into water that couldn’t have been more than two feet deep. I could practically count the grains of sand on the bottom. She saw my gaping face and told me to check the depth gauge; I threw myself over the life-line into that phenomenally clear water. Something in me burst open, like a tiny seed sprouts leaves and roots when the conditions are finally right. This place, these tropics, were home to a part of my soul I’d never known was there. The bath-warm turquoise water, the relentless sun beating down, the vivid colors assaulting the eyes, the musty boat smells, I loved it all from the first. We learned about tropical flora & fauna and navigation and wind ~and no wind~ and teamwork and a little partying and finally, leaving. That was the hardest. Last times are the kickers because they seldom announce themselves, “Hey, this is it. Soak it all up. We’re done here.” So, when I promised myself I’d be back, as I always did, one time it was thirty years before I kept that promise. But this year, I did.
We have friends who ‘boat.’ Boats boats boats! (Hi, Zed) They used to charter power boats until they realized they needed one of their own. Which they had until they realized they needed to sell it… in order to boat in more distant seas than where the Two Queens … er …Silver Satin (are you reading, Uncle T?) stayed. I’ve been pestering them to sail, for real with a mast and canvas and lines, in the Bahamas for years. Two months ago, I stepped aboard a craft almost entirely unlike those humble old Morgans. Bring Back the Magic (yes, that was her name; how perfect) was a 48’ catamaran with huge fresh water tanks, four heads, galley up and bigger than a closet, and … air conditioning. What? Really?! No! who would want that? Apparently, grown-ups do. But whenever the weather and the swamp angels would permit, I slept above as I used to, under the stars. But grown-ups like towns and restaurants and marinas more than do chaperones of teenagers, so the blood suckers could find us more often. Still, I was back in the islands. The water was all those shades of blue. We were visited by sea turtles, flying fish, and dolphins ~ oh the dolphins! A pod of ten cruised along with us just under and around the bows for an hour one day. I hope that made the rough crossings to and from Spanish Wells worth it to those who did not enjoy riding the high seas as much as I did. And I came home with the effortless tan provided by the exquisite reflectivity of white fiberglass. Tan feet without strap marks walk in my happy place. The magic, yes, not exactly the same, but magic never is.
In the Bahamas, on Andros Island, a particular kind of batik fabric is made. They call it Androsia. I had a shirt and some shorts for many years, but eventually they wore to threads. But it’s a sentimental thing. The marina where we spent the night before taking possession of the boat had custom-made Androsia curtains. I was so tickled to see it again. Days later, I found bolts of it for sale in a little shop. But what would I do with it? I stewed over it through the morning, then went back and bought a half yard with turtles on in the most Caribbean blue. That would be enough, just a memory. Looking at the pattern, there were clusters of turtles and a few Androsias, hand written. I’ve been doing silk painting, “framing” the pieces in an embroidery hoop ~easy to do, easy to hang, inexpensive. It would be a quick job to frame a nice bit to hang where I can see it. And there would be enough to make one for my Laura, too, because she showed me the magical place that opened a door in my soul all those years ago.
They say, and I suppose I have too, that you can never go home again. But sometimes one can get close. This post may smack of the self-indulgent, even meander into sentimentality. Although, if I’ve done my job well, gentle reader, there may be resonance in your own spirit as well.
I live 5,000 miles away; an ocean, a continent, and several countries from anywhere that counts as Home, capital H ~ aside from ‘where the cat is,’ which is truly “home,” lower case, where I hang my hat, as it were. But Home, where I hang my heart, is parceled out across the United States. Some of those places feel like home because I’ve lived there and the vibe of the place is comfortable; it fits me. Some are because individuals make it so. But there is one spot, in the middle of the fly-over states, at the confluence of rivers, a modest house on a one-block street where I grew from an abstract idea to a 22 year old college graduate. Home. My sister lives in that house now.
This summer, July 4th weekend (because they are always July 4th for Upper Arlington High School,) was my 30-year class reunion. I wasn’t close to a great number of my classmates, but a few are most of the best friends I’ll ever have. There are some who were in my inner circle back then, but we went our own ways, who turned up for the gathering. Reconnecting with them, just for an evening, watered desiccated places in my heart I hadn’t even noticed were there. Dry roots reaching back to youthful days were enlivened. I remembered us. The insecure 18-year-old stood up inside this middle-aged woman and shed the old anxiety like a sweater on a hot spring day. The past was liberated to be reintegrated without regret. It, too, was delightful to see some of the others, what they’ve done with their lives. The surprises were kind of wonderful, finding commonality with the fully formed humans where there wasn’t much in our callow youth.
But it was the Out to Lunch Bunch ~as one father christened this giggle of girls who ransacked his home, ate his food, and borrowed his cars~ who were my everything then and remain at the bedrock of my life. We had a cookout one night to put spouses and children et al together. Off to one side, with another friend, we discussed those friendships versus any that come after. Maybe it’s because everyone is neurotic and/or annoying in their own way, but when we understand why because we were all there together, possibly even the cause of it, compassion comes naturally. You can never make a new old friend. New friends are great and absolutely necessary, especially given our mobile society, but when I am with these women, whom I’ve known since before we were women, something is revitalized, remembered, renewed. Time with any of them, these friends I’ve kept, is an infusion of mojo, a booster shot of my best, strongest self, something to re-inflate my flagging identity when circumstances leech it away.
It was thus invigorated, after our weekend together, I set about revisiting my Home, taking care of business, and soaking up the centering and serenity it gives me.
A quick rundown of things I keenly appreciate due to the profound lack of them in my day-to-day life:
- Spacious parking lots and garages, often without any fee at all, with empty spaces and cars neatly centered in only one space at a time
- Big, old trees casting mottled shade over a yard of soft grass
- Wide, multi-lane freeways, with clear signage, thoughtfully engineered to move people through and about town efficiently
- Wall-to-wall carpeting
- Good ethnic food everywhere
- Customer service ~ people expressing a desire to sell me something I would like to acquire
- Wood floors and solidly-constructed window frames
- Cardinals and their songs ~ so brilliant in the trees, the sweetest music in the air
- Something for everyone ~ in groceries and malls and restaurants, so many things I never imagined and would never want, but also things others couldn’t identify but make me giddy
There is much transpiring here which I do not recognize nor understand. I do feel like a stranger in my city and an alien among my people. Some is just progress, which is also acutely absent in my current locale. Some of it comes from perspective I’ve gained living and traveling with the other. But there is much here which worries me. Just passing through, I try to ignore it. I sit in the most peaceful place I know for miles around ~ the screened-in porch of my childhood; the garden has changed but remains lush, quiet, and calming, the cats have cycled but they are lovely cats; Papa Red sings for me, “pretty pretty pretty,” and the wind chimes play gently with the breeze ~ and meditate on my great good fortune: friends, family, opportunity, places I’ve been and will be, people I’ve known who have taught me well, loving and being loved, peace in my heart even when it isn’t in the land.
“Eenie beanie, hilly billy, let the spirits speak.”
I opened my dejected eyes. And smiled. A tanned and grinning face, framed with white hair flowing from beneath an old ball cap greeted me. The friend, standing behind me, stopped rubbing my scalp. The jolly stranger, who was also on our recently cancelled flight, inserted himself into the parallel non-line waiting with those who would eventually approach the counter agents of “No.” I had made closure with the end of my Bahamian sailing adventure. I was ready to go home. But, due to “weather” which the other airlines evidently couldn’t see or didn’t mind as they continued to fly, our single option to leave Marsh Harbour that day was off the table. I know how these things go from bad to worse. First they cry, “weather” to absolve themselves of any liability, then put you on the StandBy list for the next oversold flight. It had already been an expensive holiday, my gut clenching to think of further haemorrhage just to be cooling our heels. Lerici is a long way from Abaco, so adding 24 hours ~or more~ to the journey was dispiriting.
But this funny man turned up, making me laugh. Our intrepid Captain was already on the phone finding a nice spot to spend the night. I’d envisioned sleeping on the floor in MHH, subsisting on my emergency rations of granola bars and stale nuts. So, the Lofty Fig, with rooms to rent only because they had been booked by people on the flight which would have done a turn and taken us away, was a charming place to sleep, bathe, and repack more carefully. The proprietor is a lovely man who feels upstaged by his wonderful dog, Brandy.
In the morning, back at the airport I hear, “Eenie beanie, hilly billy…” Marc and his long-suffering wife have also returned to have another go at going. We’re early for lack of anything else to do or to be first in line when it all goes pear-shaped again. We would be entertained, or nearly so, by Marc’s stories and diving videos until our plane indeed did depart. At one point, he said “I’m as dumb as a stick. My wife, now, she’s the smart one.” Many people whose greater gifts do not lie between their ears are not so self-aware or comfortable with the fact. Being smart or dumb is no more something we can help than height or the ability to sculpt. Marc seems like a really nice guy. He does the maintenance on the boat where they live up north and was very concerned about getting back to the work awaiting him. He did what he could to keep spirits up amongst people who had more on the line for being delayed than I. He’s a talker and teller of tallish tales, but still better company than some insufferable smart people I know.
Listening to Diane Rehm this morning ~man, am I going to miss her show~ they were discussing the most recent US Jobs Report. Fewer unemployed but some have just given up looking, discouraged at their prospects in a technological world. I thought about Marc and people like him, those who do their best work with their hands. As automation fills the factories, those that are still left on US soil, what of people who aren’t built for keyboarding? There must still be valuable roles in society for people who live in the physical world more than in the mind. Other generations have seen their traditional livelihoods obsolesced. They found new things to make and to do. What of this generation? What new services might we envision to enjoy and employ? A glut of massage therapists on the market would make me happy. Services which deliver everything to make dinner seem to be a thing. What if the delivery person stayed and cooked it, too? Could we be convinced to value things well-made from wood and other nice stuff over cheap plastic crap imported from China? That might mean we buy fewer things. Which, overall, is also good. As we save so much money with robots doing the repetitive and dangerous jobs, where is it going? Union pay doesn’t seem to have followed former Union assembly line workers into their new minimum wage jobs. The panelists on today’s podcast speak of “the working class.” It’s a common expression. We know, give or take, who it means, what a “working class neighborhood” looks like. But it seems to imply that the other classes don’t work. Curious. Does the upper class subconsciously believe that what they do isn’t quite the same as actual labor, building things, picking produce, walking a beat, tilling a field, fighting forest fires? Or is it economic privilege to allow someone else to claim the title of “working?” What of the lower class? They have no privilege, but no voice either. And semantics matter little when there is nothing on the table.
But I digress. We’re brainstorming about a new economy! What are we doing with all this wealth and leisure the robots / computers / progress are giving us? I support organic farmers whenever I can. In fact, just yesterday, I met a 1st-generation, as in eight years ago, goat farmer and cheese maker. And her happy, healthy free-ranging herd. She’s working to save a particularly rare species. I give money to people doing work I support but cannot do myself, mostly animal rescue, but that’s my bag. You get to choose your own. Buy the good stuff, but less of it, then take care of it. Quality will out. I travel and try to support local interests. Use your leisure time mindfully. Invest it in your loved ones. Invest it in the unloved. If you’ve found your path to financial independence, you are fortunate and should be grateful. What of those still searching for their vocational answers in complicated environments?
The days of corporate loyalty are over, companies to employees and vice versa. People have many jobs over a lifetime, sometimes several at once. People are stitching their worklives together to suit their needs. There are Master Gardeners who sell their expertise and their time to people who need everything from simple guidance to physical help. I’ve heard about Task Rabbit, but am too far from civilization to have seen it in action. It’s in that ambiguous new field where workers are left a bit out to dry, but have great opportunity, e.g. Uber. If Americans didn’t need a “real” job for insurance just to feel secure enough to fall ill or get broken, the system would function much better. Seriously. I’d sign up as an IKEA Installer. Because I like it and I’m good at it and I know there is a demand for it. Yes, I’m afraid one of the biggest problems with people being able to make a living doing what they like and are good at is medical coverage. We spend more for poorer outcomes than most of the rest of the developed countries in the world. The crux is the insurance industry. And it’s probably too late. Too big to fail. Too big to fix. What can we do? We’re ingenious Americans! There has to be a fix. Keeping people healthy keeps them working, is good for society and the economy. No one should go bankrupt because the ladder broke while he was fixing his roof.
Wow, how do I tie together this long-winded ramble? I met a man on vacation who made me think about being nice rather than clever, what is to become of hard workers who aren’t great thinkers, and how our society is stuck with a dysfunctional accretion of a health care system (which values neither health nor care). Maybe you don’t get a tidy wrap-up. It’s just my blog and what’s percolating in my brain today. I’m still waiting for those spirits to speak. And I didn’t even mention plant-based-diet or show pictures of cats. I really am branching out.
Oh Bowie, you’ve done it again. I’ve never seen this interview before, heard your expression of the idea, but you touch my artist’s heart to the core.
<please watch this, it’s only a minute>
A feeling I know so well, walking out into the water, being comfortable in the surf, letting it gradually lift me up until it begins to carry me; I can’t touch bottom: a perfect metaphor. It’s been a while since I’ve waded so far. I stand in my studio, watching the inks & cloths & canvas & paint lapping over my toes, but washing away again without coming to rest as a new thing in the world. I am undisciplined. I have always loathed practice, rewrites, also anything less than. So, I research & ponder & dream, putting off the beginning for fear of failing my vision in the end. But what good is that? The vision remains unborn in my soul rather than beginning a life in the world, an imperfect existence, struggling, but out here where it just might touch someone, the only way it may.
Yes, David, tomorrow . . . tonight. . . I will invite one small vision to come out into the world, to become. I will keep walking until I cannot touch bottom.
Yes. Well. It’s a noble idea and functions smoothly to benefit the environment and general population. Somewhere else. I’m talking trash. Not throwing shade… yet. Actual trash. When we arrived here, the garbage collection system was to carry one’s refuse up the street to the dumpster and pitch it in. Some time after that, giant underground bins were installed for garbage plus glass, paper, and plastic recycling. And in an uncharacteristic move of self-awareness, a monstrous receptacle for used cooking oil (note the lack of aluminum recycling). Also lacking was any suggestion as to which types of plastic to deposit, which immediately led me to believe that none of it would be recycled but rather all of it hauled off to an illegal dump run by the mob. As it always has been. But the appearance of recycling would appease the EU. And justify the expenditure of whatever EU funds were sent to bring the place up to code. Perhaps larger bins would ameliorate the piles of garbage which mushroomed by the dumpsters as they overflowed before they were emptied… or someone was too lazy to put their bag inside, thus giving the impression of overflowing and setting the precedent for everyone else. Evidently, none of this came to pass. Garbage plus recyclables continued to accrue on the sidewalk and the EU mandated a more complicated and potentially enforceable scheme of collection.
Which brings me to the day I saw a poster in town about a new system of recycling. I understood that at that very moment, new household bins were being distributed at the theatre. I was, as I so often am, mistaken. A talk was being given on the subject. Nothing happens in Italy without an affliction of oration. I listened to the man describe all the various types of garbage and recycling which may pass through a household. And what particular sorts of food we may have purchased in said packaging. Yeah, I can identify all the things. I used to live in Santa Cruz (CA). So, I asked a young mother at the back, jiggling a fussy baby on her hip, if they were distributing the bins today. No, that will be another day. Right, that’s enough of that then.
Immediately upon exiting the theatre, I bumped into a life-long expat friend who owns a shop in town. She is always a font of useful information. There had already been much hand wringing and hair pulling on the subject amongst business owners. There would indeed be bins. And bar codes. I said I would like to participate. I’m all in favor of ecology. And I love fresh, new organizationals. Yes, IKEA is a little patch of paradise for me. She said, yes we would like to participate because it will be legally mandated by the EU. HA! I’d like to see them enforce it. Really, I would. But in a country with an order of magnitude more laws than even France, who invented bureaucracy, the only laws enforced with vigor are the unwritten food rules.
Some days later, I spotted a stack of notices at another apartment building’s door. Relying on previous experience with whomever is responsible for delivering things to us, I snagged one on the way past. There were none at ours. It was the announcement of our Date of Bin Distribution. Which fell while we would be away. Same friend, J, to the rescue. She used her ‘foreign but known’ status to collect bins for the ‘unknown foreigners’ who weren’t on the list. Our landlord has said nothing of this new, legally mandated scheme we’re to join. There were barcodes, but they were not in any way associated with us. So, where the voluminous instructions speak of Yellow Cards for putting out the wrong bin and Red Cards for mis-sorting the recyclables, J speculates said Cards are solely for education. There won’t be enough Red Cards to get down the street. I’ve observed how my neighbors “sort” their refuse.
So, I have collected, in theory, one year’s worth of: yellow plastic bags for all plastic and metal (really? I am again suspicious; nobody takes every type of plastic with no mention whatsoever of the number codes), large paper bags for paper and cardboard, a plastic bin for glass, large grey plastic bags for non-recyclable/non-rotting trash (which is called “dry”), and <drumroll please> one large solid plastic bin, one small perforated plastic bin, and a stack of small paper bags for everything that rots: fruit, veg, meat, fish, terrace garden pruning et al. They call it variously “organics” or “wet.” Yes, the paper bag is for this. Ostensibly, it goes under the kitchen sink, in the plastic basket, with the holes in the bottom. It puts the rubbish in the basket or else it gets the hose again. Not in my kitchen, it doesn’t. That whole operation can live on the back porch and I will shuttle out discrete quantities of rottables.
Along with all these bins, bags, and baskets, came Instructions. And a booklet of every thing one might want to dispose of, listed alphabetically, and how to do so. Quite thorough, really. It’s a crying shame that most of the population won’t be bothered to give it a thought. Rumor has it that it’s been implemented in the larger city just down the road. And is, as expected, an unmitigated disaster. Our new system was to come on-line May 1st. The man and I decided that as we don’t create much garbage, we’d just wait and watch, see what our neighbors do, as the exhaustive Instructions do fail to note just where we are to place the bins and bags at the designated days/hours of the week. The scheme is called Porta a Porta, “door to door,” but our door is at the end of an alley beyond a lift gate. I have little hope for seeing the end of walking around town carrying sacks of garbage. But we were ready, bins, basket, and sacks.
As I went out to the gym on May 2nd, I noticed exactly nothing outside our building’s door. The girls at the gym were talking about it. Nope, not today. Maybe next week. Maybe two weeks. One of them gave me a FaceBook page to check for information.
The meeting to determine who would receive the contract for collection was going to be held… wait for it… May 4th, three days after the whole dog & pony show was supposed to be fully under way.
To be continued. . .