A Thoroughly Modern..Mensch.

A Thoroughly Modern..Mensch.

Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Annual occurrence, with the additional pressure of McDonald’s.  Somehow a fast food chain can activate itself to flip its golden M arch into a busty golden W, but I can repeatedly miss the boat.  March 8, Steph.  Every year.  It is International Women’s Day. A day in which hashtags drum upon hashtags and postings pop and feminist ideals highlight the media.

………………………………

Mensch.

I walked into the courtroom with a first glance at the clock.  Scheduled for 9:30, I had arrived with a comfortable cushion of thirteen minutes or so.  The circuit court judge, the court reporter and the clerk of circuit courts were already seated.  Their casual talk was easily heard but I could not now remember nor would I have ever been able to remember exactly what they were saying.  Upon seeing me enter, they too checked the clock.

The three made note of the time and my presence by glance.  With the judge’s instruction and invitation, I walked through the gated area to one of the two desks before the bench.  The three excused themselves, disappearing into what I imagined to be chambers or prep rooms behind the judge’s bench.  In the more historical courtrooms of the courthouse building, this room would be larger.  But I was thankful this morning for the smaller space.

It was shockingly modern in a historic building and about as non-Perry Mason a courtroom as would ever be imagined.  Yet, the conveniences of technology and the necessities of security envelop me.  Entrances and exits are tightly spaced with safety glass and security scanners.  The deputy whose presence in prior versions of this case unnerved me, was now comforting.  Large screen televisions dotted spaces in front of  empty juror chairs and lined the edges of ceiling and wall behind the gated area.

The judge himself and the circuit court staff were seated physically close to me, with each station equipped with individual computer systems.  They were labyrinths and mountains in this small world.  I was comforted by the formality of the distance between my desk and those of the court.  As I looked around, I imagined each step in that room was weighted with the different meaning of placement.  Step too close to the next gate, the one which separated plaintiff and defendant from the court officers, and it would have caused the deputy to stand.  One step further would have caused alarm.  One step.  Four steps behind me, back through the gate, and I would have no longer been a plaintiff.

But I had minutes.  I decided to walk the room because there was no one there.  I studied the thickness of exterior walls.  I had heard that the building is constructed as a brick veneer which means that the structure itself is not masonry or brick upon brick, but a wooden frame with stone facing.  If so, the framing would be thick, at least a foot here on the first floor.  The windows are proud, turn of the nineteenth century, three part windows with the upper most being a lovely leaded transom.  The interior doors leading into the room match them.  The sashes of the windows are thick, well-maintained, corded and clean.  The foot thick wood sill is polished warm, tanned oak.

I prayed.  I was nervous.  I waited for the last minute cancellation of the defendants ( a tactic I have since learned about, from the beginning of this process).  I looked out the window into the traffic, thinking of how ridiculous prayer would be, at a time like this.  I thought, as I watched delivery trucks and loggers, of how ridiculous would be the notion to ‘give it to G~d’ at this point.  This was a court of man, I rationalized.  G~d would have no place here.  I kept thinking of how thankful I was, learning my lessons during this process, a process which had begun in April 2017.

Eleven months passed as I watched those cars, blurring by the windows.  I am a landlord.  In April 2017 my then tenants in the residential space of my building paid me with checks from a closed bank account.  They had then refused to pay utilities which, up until now, I had kept in my name.  (Yes, that is correct.  I learn my lessons hard.)  The months from April until the court eviction of August 1, 2017 had been a succession of lessons for me, lessons as tough and bombastic as the blockheaded and egotistical notions of my own ignorance.

There is no ‘nice guy’ to the law.  There is the law.  And that is nice.  Odd, isn’t it?  The law is law.  In April 2017 I wrote my then tenants a letter to either pay or leave.  I gave them thirty days.  (I thought I was nice).  I might have been nice but it was not the law.  My tenants knew law.  My tenants also knew about how the law is enforced.

From April to August 2017 I was in court four times.  I did not realize at the time, but the court was moving fast.  I read about state statutes, about notifications, about legal wording and about the law enforcement and service professionals who I needed to employ in order to proceed to the next step.  The Five Day Notice to Cure.  Fourteen Days Notice of Termination of Tenancy.  The Court ordered Eviction.

In August 2017 I earned, from a court of law, an eviction.  A court ordered eviction is now part of the record of my former tenants which will surface on their records.  That, and the court declared they owed me $3049.

Evasion.  I am not sure, but I believe, as I stare out the courtroom window, that my tenants may have evaded the law, but me?  Who was I kidding.  I evaded me.  And that may not be law, but it was my lesson.

The judge reappeared.  I scampered from my observation point at the window, to the plaintiff’s desk in time for the traditional “All rise.”  (I do believe I heard the deputy chuckle.)

As the case was re-introduced, one of my former tenants walks through the door.  He is late.  I proceeded to outline my request for an increase, an amendment to the monetary judgment due to damages, cleaning and the additional expenses.  I have photographs.  I finish speaking.

It was my former tenant’s turn.

At first I did not listen.  I remembered my thoughts at the window.  How silly, I thought, to pray before court.  I do not expect G~d to save me.  I do not expect G~d to give me a positive result. In the minutes my former tenant spoke, I remember the first time in court.  I remembered learning, as he spoke in court, that people may say anything about another person, about me.  I remembered the first time I heard him say things about me that were not true.  I remembered how it stung.

Still, I did not realize the significance.  I had sat there, emotional, on the brink of tears.  I remembered thinking ‘How can he possibly say these things?  How can he lie?”  I had begun to defend myself, my character, to the court.

In my memory, I cringed at the thought.  Here I am, today, listening to the same voice.  Nothing.  And again I thought to myself, why would I believe now, to give this – this situation here – why would I believe now, to give this to G~d?  Why would I be so, so arrogant and so blatantly self-serving, to give this situation, to G~d?

I had given the documents, my exhibits, to the court.  The court accepted them.  I had enough copies for the defendant and the court.  I could have been clearer and more exact on some of the dates.  I listened. (Ok, I interrupted once.  Advice – don’t do that.)  But by and large, I listened.

The judge and the court officers left to decide upon my request for amended judgment.  The defendant and I left.  I stretched, walking to slurp at the water fountain. (Plus, I liked the comforting sound of footsteps upon the marble floors in the hallway. Such an old building! I imagined, with the silly hope of its history, secrets to seep onto my skin).  I welcomed returning to the comfort of the empty room, with the structure details still in my head and thoughts of why on earth would I “give it up to G~d”.  I sat again at the plaintiff’s station, my own desk for possibly thirty more minutes.

With me, in my seven dollar chantilly pink faux leather tote that looks like ‘the bomb’ of an outfit with my twenty-five year old black leather coat and an equally pink faux fur stole (three dollars, thank you), I had packed extra paperwork, my weekly schedule, to complete during any wait time.  “Thank G~d” for my schedule which I never quite follow yet by which I feel totally guided.  I smiled.  “Thank G~d indeed.”  I had been praying all along as I reasoned about the silliness of prayer, here, in court, by myself.

 

The court awarded me an additional $450.  In order to collect the nearly four thousand dollars, I now need an attorney.  The money is a significant sum.   Greater is the lesson of  finding kindness in an increased knowledge of the law.  Along the way I found expertise and professionalism of others to a level of which I could only aspire.

In that courthouse, a building which I have passed by my whole life, I realized the truth of others lies and the warning, the reminder to myself, to never allow theirs to become  truths of my own.  I regret I had not learned these lessons earlier.

The court awarded me a resolution I sought but had not earned.

………………………

My son arrived home from school hours later.  He grabbed a broom to knock icicles off the eaves.  I stood in the doorway, watching for Wally, as we recounted our day.

He smiled that smile. And I remembered.  I remembered standing in the windows of a courtroom earlier.  I shut my eyes remembering the wonderment of giving it to G~d.  “Why should I pray in a courtroom?” I had thought as I had uncovered my stacks of attachments for my court exhibit.

I remembered months.  Then, I did not.

You see, the wind came up, through our woods. My ears tingled, tickling my eyes to open.

“You are welcome,” the Wind breathed in my ear.

Thank you.

Love, lots and lots of love.

And a kiss. (for luck, just saying.)

~Stephanie

 

Proposing a Lioness Adventure, (with soot. dirt. smudges.)

Proposing a Lioness Adventure, (with soot. dirt. smudges.)

The vying of moon, buds to burst, sentinel pines and soot-stained stars and stripes.

March 1, 2018

Majestic.  The sky’s contest, a vying among the then waxing moon, the awakening buds of a virile maple, my ever-diligent sentinel pines and, of course, my old stars and stripes.  Which one is the prouder?  Which one is the most apt frame for bluest blue skies?  Majestic.  And a heady question to delight my eyes and tantalize my mind.

Nope. You haven’t missed a holiday. (At least I don’t think so.) I just liked the picture, my old flag with white stripes now stained with dirt blown through trees and the soot of smoke from bonfires.  Even though the metal clips are now replaced with unceremonious yellow plastic ties, it flaps through the breezes, royal, even if its permanent perch is the four by four post of my deck back in the woods.

I have stories to tell you and a promise to keep as I was thinking about writing.  As I wrote in my head – which I do a great deal of the time – I noticed how “nifty neato” it would be to tie things together with the proverbial “I awoke from the dream.  It had all been a dream.”

Um no.  I promise to never ever write that ending or those words.  That story line has to be the prayer of writers “Please, no matter what, please let me not resort to the ‘it had all been a dream”) We are, life is, my story, is not a dream.  Well, actually it sort of is. (Could I write any worse?)

‘One with the trusses.’ I had been wrong.  Higher up was easier.

The tempest of Wisconsin weather renewed my attention to the structure of the roof.  With earlier warmer temperatures, the roof scupper on the east side of the building had drained water.  I apologize for my attention to the roof, but I will not apologize.  The entire roof, 6800 square feet, had been replaced three years ago.  The roof is surprisingly peaked, not flat, supported underneath, in part, by four dramatically handsome 1923 steel Triple Howe trusses (I am still unsure about the type, but I believe I am on the right track).

After that thawing, the weather turned brutally cold.  My roofer, whom I almost have on speed dial in order to call through my panics about the roof, calmed my fears.  The new roof, although huge and with thick insulation (11 to 12 inches – R35 – thank you very much), is surprisingly light in comparison to the load of the old roof upon these same trusses and the roof’s supporting and stabilizing exterior walls.  I had time.

A longer thaw arrived five days ago. I turned up the temperature on the heaters I have placed near the roof drain pipes at the point in which they drop from the ceiling to the second, then first floor, and finally near the last larger six inch pipe in the basement which leads to the storm sewer in the alley.  I had bought two rolls of heat tape to attach to the east side drains which lead directly from two spots in the roof to the inside of the building.  I never had any freezing on the west side drains, but the east side I needed to prevent another ice build up as had happened last year.  Last year, the scuppers – the drain pipes which flow to the exterior, would spill off the water as the snow and ice melt.  A good fail safe to have, but not how a properly maintained roofing system should perform.

Four days ago I could procrastinate no longer.  The thaw was going to happen.  I needed to attach the heat tape.  It is one thing to climb a ladder to remove framing around the trusses but quite another to climb high enough to wrap electricians tape around the roof drain then attach the heat tape.  The end of the tape needed to go as high up as possible on the drain pipe, under the plywood decking, without actually touching that wood.

At first I allowed enough heat tape to extend upward.  I could not make myself climb higher than the first elbow in the pipe.  The piping’s elbow had iced the prior year, my roofer reminded me.  I climbed the ladder just high enough so that by stretching I could wrap the tape to secure the heating tape.  That particular drain pipe suspends above a clay-tiled closure which housed the old piping.  When you are above it, you can see straight down, two and one half stories, from underneath the roof to the basement floor.

Scared? I was oddly petrified. I hugged that ladder, proud with every wrap, yet scared.  And I knew I still had the worst to do.  I hadn’t wrapped from the elbow up to the roof, the most critical piece.

Two more days went by.  The day of the thaw.  I climbed, hugging the ladder.  I had forgotten or missed that there were old wooden rafters below that section of pipe.  My 18 foot ladder would not fit unless I aimed the ladder’s top into the spaces between those two by eights.  I aimed the ladder.  I walked the ladder.  This trial and error rearranging the ladder to fit in a spot I had not considered both drained and disgusted myself in myself.  But I had heat tape to attach.

I climbed.  Nor had I figured that I would need to go higher on the ladder.  Seemed like another obvious point, but I think I thought I could stretch a bit more to cover the last foot and a half of drain pipe.

I squeezed myself between the rafters and the ladder. I realized I was no longer looking up at the rafters nor a foot away from them.  I had pinned my body against the truss and hugged it.

I looked down.  I looked at the expanse across the tiled closure.  I hugged that truss.  Being higher up was easier.  I smiled.  I had ‘made it’ across the two and one half story drop.  I had left what I thought would be the most difficult because I was so scared of going higher.

No, Steph, no.  Smilingly, I reprimanded myself.  How thankful I was, that I had not wrapped the beginning part, the highest spot.  I would not have realized or appreciated it.  I had been terrified each step across the closure.  Here I was, higher up by at least two and half feet, but not reaching.  I was hugging the trusses.

 

 

Look closer.. the sunlight dances with the breath of ice crystal fog.

It is a non picture sort of picture, a Wisconsin day of snow among a line-up of such days, in a little piece of woods, in a non adventure of adventure.

I do happen to own two buildings, the youngest of which is a ninety five year old brick former armory and technical school, with the intent of really making my business a profitable one.  It could be a rather snobby existence but the business ownership and the creative processes are the personal passion.  I have a dream!

But the biggest adventure has been the adventures of nonadventure.  (Did I mention I am a huge fan of Yogi Berra-isms?  A sample, in case my references are dated, is “It isn’t over until it’s over.” Sigh.  Beautiful. True and succinct.)  Like these line-ups of Wisconsin snow days I have been recovering from years – no a lifetime – of, well, to state so politely, turbulence.  Of violence not of my own making.  Of harshness.

I love photography but rarely would I share, purposely, a nonpicture picture.  But to me it represents the beauty of my adventure as it really is.  Nothing about buildings (although I love them), but an adventure about building days upon days of nonadventure wholeness, a softness not of the pillow variety but a softness of the touch of persistent wind and softness of gentle determination.  A loud silence of ones own thought.

That and once in awhile a good belly laugh. (If I am going to be adventurous, I might as well write the book on ‘happy adventure’.  I mean, why not?)  So, please give me the adventure of walking through the woods during winter.  Let me walk down the road in a blizzard with the dog, my jacket wide open to feel the bite of winter wind upon my usually sheltered skin and my mouth just as wide open, scooping up snowflakes, giggling as I call after Wally, my dog.

I have nothing against the trips to Barbados and condos around the globe, but I think for ninety percent of us, that is not life.  And life gets pretty grey (and not in those ‘Shades of Grey’ grays either.)

 

 

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The above pictures?  Adventures of inspiration.  My annual experimentation with poinsettias and colors.  Softness and growth.  Adventures differ from person to person but that is itself a starting point.  Launch yourself into active observation.  Give yourself time.  Give your brain a chance to breathe.  Learn to make decisions.  Learn to think without stress.

 

So, I am on an adventure.  My own kind.  Depending upon how you look at it, I am either resetting or maybe, I finally found my path.  Oh, I do not think I messed up like ‘look at all the years I wasted.’  No, I think it took my lifetime to realize how greatly I wanted that path.

 

During a snowstorm on a Monday night with 1983 soft techno, instrumental vibey music videos with pre-digital art videos, with the smell of a cup of coffee I had spilled, and with the sounds of my son’s voice and the sight of Wally at my feet, I begin my nonadventure adventure.  Softly. Purposefully.

Lioness 101

Seems fitting, to choose a Monday adventure that which scares, yet calls to my heart.  To be lucky enough to have a chance to choose.

 

Lioness 102.

I have a long way, a long long road before I ever begin to write decently.  But that’s another point of my adventure – I have learned about myself.

The first thing I have learned?

I never give up.

(giggle).

Love.  Lots of love. And a kiss.

~Stephanie

How to love Valentines Day ~ from a Heart of Soot

How to love Valentines Day ~ from a Heart of Soot

February 14, 2018

Ah, Valentine’s Day. As long as I have been writing, Valentine’s Day wrenches the writer out of me whether I am in mode celebration or succumbing to a full-out rant.  Some years I ignored the day entirely or at least made appearances to do so.  One year I wrote that all-out rant as if by philosophically and emotionally shredding the day I could somehow show, beyond that doubt’s shadow, the meaninglessness of the day.

Nope, not a fan.  Not a fan of the day, I would write.  Not a fan of the openly, sometimes shallow demonstrativeness of the day and especially not a fan of inflated price tags.  Or I could have been a bit jealous.  I would not now deny that possibility.

But I smile remembering that there were years when I declared myself to be the love warrior.  I had believed in the greatest power on earth, that ability to love and be loved, and I was the champion of that cause.

Are you cringing yet?  Yes.  And then my world fell apart.  Ouch.

But all that is past tense.  This is 2018.  It is Valentine’s Day.  2018.  And…it is Ash Wednesday.  I am sure the two have collided along the way before, two holidays so hopelessly opposites, kissing each other like lovers caught in some sort of flaming dimension warped by time, pecking quickly at each other, reuniting in a twenty-four marathon until they spin off again.  Ashes and love, love and ashes. Surely there is a story there?

The imagery and colors of such a reunion is an artist’s orgasm of black and red;  the smoking embers glowing in the nests of the phoenix;  Cupids and Aphrodite pulling love from the burning hell of hatred.  (It is almost too much artistic possibility to process).

On the Valentines Day side, I do applaud the couples in my life.  Their unions are cheer worthy.  I remind myself that there are people who have found each other, and twirl through life in health, love, and adventures all their own.  In that manner, though, I have found, life feels as though I have drifted away from any thought of both love or the hurt with which I associate love.  I drift away from it all.  Yet life has gotten very sweet.

I had pulled out my selection of Valentine’s Day decorations, had laid them on the grey concrete, then arranged them all complete with lighting from two strings of gummy heart lights. I had in my mind those gooey red heart lights, five red tapered candles with as many red candle holders, heart dishes and cake pans and, of course, the stuffed black and white cat who, upon the pressing of a paw labelled with the instructions to press it, speaks in a charming voice to ‘love me, darling’.  I had wanted to photograph an explosion of valentines sentiments which I had kept for twenty years.  It had seemed jolly fun, smugly, tongue in cheek, which teetered neatly and abundantly upon sarcasm.

It would be my official Valentine’s Day photograph.

 

 

But, I could not do it.  Oh, I had taken the photographs.  But as I began to edit the reds and the adorable stuffed kitten and red tapers, my eye was captured by those strings of gooey red hearts.  As I looked at the photos, my eye kept latching to those hearts, especially to the few that held unto its cord back to the outlet, their gooey color, red flames upon the cold grey concrete.

I grabbed those hearts, stringing them against the brick of the fireplace.  There, there it was.  Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day.  Simply, with my heart smudged with soot.

I had built a beautiful light display with purple lights entitled “Glow”.  I meant it in tribute to a family who lost one of their family members too early.  She would have been the type of person who would have loved my building and the plans for the gallery.  She might have loved how bold the building is and how subtly it changes.  I think she would have really loved the story of how the building and business began and what has meant to my life.  I had meant to continue with the light display, but as I looked at the gallery space, I thought…

Well, I would have wanted her to see the work, the building first.  If I had but one chance for her to see the gallery, one chance for her to see or for anyone, I would want those eyes to see the building more than me or my lights.

So I decided to get to work.  I had read of a woman who had watched Youtube videos to build a home for her family. (She did it too).  Granted, I cannot do that with a commercial space, but I certainly did not have to wait.  As much as I love the artistry of lighting, if I had one chance, I would want to show those steel trusses.

So, for an early Valentines Day gift to myself, I rented a dumpster.  I am exposing those handsome ninety year old trusses and removing any materials I cannot salvage.  Step One.

How does one love Valentine’s Day?  “Oh let me count the ways,” or so the poem reads.  Imperfectly is the first thought that comes to my mind.  I have thought about the exotic combination of Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday 2018, an undeniable dance of color, philosophy, mysticism and even theology.  Woefully unqualified, I pray for the guidance of whether faith defines itself ultimately with a loving heart simply sewn with ash or our human hearts a speck among the loving ashes?

Hmm.  Those are questions to ponder.

My conclusion?

I found my answer in those gummy heart lights and in the cardinals which visit my birdfeeders at eleven in the morning, each morning.  I believe that I do not have magic seed for them, but I think I am graced with the perfect combination of food, quiet, and warm sunlight.  The male cardinals typify the angry bird character in their chubby brilliant red chests and blackened beards to outline proud orange beaks.  Stunning, sharp colors.

What I had not ever noticed were the colors of their backs and I have been fascinated by them ever since.

The male cardinals, their backs, are a beautiful grey.  It is a grey purpled, almost as if singed by the flame which colored their red chests.

Sooted.  A heart of soot.

 

Somehow, with that thought, I could love Valentine’s Day.  For me.  I could love Valentine’s Day with my heart of soot.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Love you. Lots.

Stephanie

 

Small Enough to Stand Tall

Small Enough to Stand Tall

For fifty cents, without guarantee, there is the possibility of a blue plastic alien…

February 3, 2018

Happy February! Happy First-Saturday-in-a-new-month! (The days are getting longer and I have been graced with fresh snow this morning.  Combined with Saturday itself, does life get any better?)

Today started, as many do, as “Tall Enough to Stand Small” and I am still uncertain as to which way is better.  As the days progress, and I continually debate about many life paradoxes, I lean toward the preference of feeling small to stand tall.   Days upon glorious days in which the only spectacular declaration or happening is the fact that I can say I am still here.  Marvelous!   I can walk in the moonlight, in the woods, feeling the strength of legs, torso, spine – feeling tall enough to walk with a bit of swing and a prideful chin.  In any instant I only need to look to stars and moonlight or the outline of majestic pines in reassurance of my own smallness.  I am but a speck, a drop, a piece of dust,  a mere mite alive for a flicker. My flicker, my flame. Me.

And, a small flicker is enough.

 

The steel trusses at Matthias. I am cutting away those lower boards, the old ceiling rafters, and the old framing around the bottom of the trusses.

The Brick Dandelion.

 

I confess that I never thought about being single for any length of time after the divorce.  I find that revelation about myself a little creepy.  I have been divorced for almost three years, in my fifties, working a daily job for an insurance company and creating my own business.  Again, uncomfortably I have realized that I never planned to create my life for me.  Not this life anyway.  My son grows more and more to be well on his way.  As a mother, I cycle through countless tears and joys as his growth signals successful parenting from both my ex-husband and I while also affirming the distance of his experiences in another impetus of life paradoxes. As a parent, I could not be prouder, happier and sadder.

But every day I thank G~d I got to be a mother in my life.  I got to be a mom.

(Please insert a big sigh, a sniffle and a grin.)

 

 

After the extreme upheavals of the past seven years, I am only now turning life into life by creating one worthy of the label a ‘journey’ (I know its one of those ‘ew’ words, but…)  And I have to admit to the happiness in my vacillating behavior worthy of being twelve, seventeen or once in awhile, a fifty-two year old woman.

……………….

 

 

 

 

I blame his “I’m sorry.”

With those simple words, cushioned by the safety in time’s passage, I did see, really see, without a smidgen of fear or doubt, that I had lived through some horrific times.

I blame his “I’m sorry” for a forgiveness within myself, in a strength of words which overcame any residual quest to unearth the culprits’ evils, to smear the bowels of their souls on…..

Oops.  Sorry.  Welcome to me. At twelve. A bit visceral. A bit?

“I’m sorry” could be its own chapter in my speck of life.  When faced with the truth, the settling of my continual churn, I finally declared “Enough.”  The truth is that I was finally ready to hear “I am sorry” both from him and from myself.

Ugh. Enter the period of my life in which I finally – again finally – decided to create my life as much as I had created for my world around me.  I gave myself permission. (Ew). I needed to learn to be my cheerleader.  Really?

Somehow being my own critic and naysayer was both more fun and cooler.  There’s something magically dark in the twisting of oneself. But in a days worth of both dark twisting and positivity, in the choice between how to spend time – fifteen minutes – I could no longer afford my usual plunge into the shredded pool of my own confidence.

Well actually, I could.  I can multi-task, remember?

I could, but – again in the most selfish way I have ever felt – I do not want to. (Huge gasp here).

I do not want to.

I cannot continually pull myself out of that cesspool.   I do not want to constantly search for the ladders all the while wondering why it took me so much time and energy to swim in the first place.

Ugh, Steph.  Cmon. Steph. Swim.

And I wished to live my life not as their victim.

I do not want to.

In the past weeks, I gave myself permission to want.  I want me.

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The dance of winter

I had always dreamed of spending a winter caretaking the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.  What it would be like, roaming the halls, checking pipes and windows and the roof all winter, throughout blizzards with winds that roll across great lakes, meeting to tap at the windows and doors.  What it would be like, to write and read and walk all winter long…

I had forgotten that dream until this last snowstorm.  Seven or eight inches depending upon how you measure and my driveway was not plowed for a day and a half.  Honestly I have a jeep and an old 95 pickup truck which I am sure I could have bombed through drifts. But why?

I may never live the Grand Hotel winter caretaking dream but for two days Wally, Poesey and I rejoiced at the blowing snow circling around us in the woods.

“Permission Granted” was the original title to this article.  I am finally internalizing my own permission to take care of myself – all of me – my brain, my body, my soul, my ‘squad’…my beautiful flicker of life.

The Story of Es.

“Look,” Es tapped me on the shoulder. She had lifted her shirt to show the wound from the shadow beast.  The ooze of blood had disappeared with a curve of red and pink.  Only days before the wound looked battle-torn but now, as Es assessed her condition, she seemed pleased with the mending of new skin.

“Do you think it is a serpent or a flower?”  she asked, her eyes dancing while a finger traced the slice on her stomach.

Es laughed.

“Maybe it is the dance of both…”

All my love,

Stephanie

Of building, bonfire and all that is bricked beautiful.

Of building, bonfire and all that is bricked beautiful.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How dare we think of January only as a month to last through, as if the unfolding days are not worth their time.  I was a Christmas snob cloaked in my sentimentality of  holiday songs, warm passionate holiday colors and evergreen trees and boughs which adorned my home. Or perhaps I just really really like Christmas. (I am still brushing up piles of pine needles as I sweep carpets, floors and heat vents.)

Oh I know I lamented, refused even, to give into the crisp blues and sparkles of January, but I did.  (I did paint my nails the frostiest blue I could find).  It was time.  With ridiculous stubbornness, I unplugged the building light displays.

But subzero temperatures had delayed family Christmas season outings until Epiphany Saturday.  And while the meal, conversations and football games were more than enough, a true new tradition was born when everyone had left.  Everyone that is, except for my eighty-two year old mother and I.

With a fresh pot of coffee, the two of us packaged and organized Christmas village decorations back in red Christmas storage boxes.  She dusted tree ornaments, most of which had been given to me from her.  We both smiled.  I rewrapped.  Ornaments were retucked in their green plastic storage container.  In an epiphany of epiphanies, I saw spread out before me an organized color-coding of history, memories and a bit of the rights of womanhood.  From my mom.  From me.  From years ago.  Hmm. My excuse of not having the capacity for creativity, high intelligence and organization was becoming very flimsy (yes, please laugh and roll your eyes).

My mother and I packaged and talked until two in the morning.  We also managed to eat half a fruitcake.

Shhh.  I am recycling red and white.  Turns out, I will be early for Valentines Day.  Shhh….

Technically the days are again growing longer.  Every three days or so, almost by instinct or habit or both, I find myself measuring the sunset shadows from trees to snow, partnering with the hands on the clock.  A bit further.  A bit longer the day.  A bit brighter.  Unfortunately the day’s length has little impact upon the temperature; an inviting sparkling hand which tempts a person, “come nearer,” with the bitterest of freeze-dried soul.

I have found a peculiar new passion for January in Wisconsin in grilling experiments and bonfires.    There is something magical about both, in the subzero temperatures.  The night blackens so quickly with the sun disappearing to a mild glow through the wooded horizon.  And then the sky is black.  With a moonless night, the stars are diamond studs lain across black velvet.  There would be no other way to display the universe’s finest.  In the woods, all around you is blackness except the soft blue-white snow and the lights of the house.

And of a bonfire crispy licking at the eight degrees below zero air which surrounds its flames.

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Graduation Clock. When I was young, I enjoyed tinkering with clocks to the point of reading about their mechanics.  This repair was only the scratching of those battery points and their replacement, but I have to admit to a reawakening of the joy…..of timekeeping.

He said, “I’m sorry.” Words I had never heard from him about anything deeper than a forgotten orange juice.  And that even might be giving him credit where none is due.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

I looked at him, stunned.  He had continued to explain he knew exactly when ‘it’ became clear.  I am not sure when he figured ‘it’ out but it had not been during months of marriage counseling.  During the thick of our battles, he had never been sorry.  Now you could be wondering about what type of shrew I would be, to not admit my faults.  Oh, I have plenty of ‘fault’.  I have plenty of sin and blame to place upon my shoulders.  I have no problem admitting it.

“I remember the night we went out to eat, for a Friday night fish fry.  It was just the two of us.  I messed up.  I’m sorry.”  Now, of course, the survival of a twenty year marriage does not depend upon one night out.  The spark is not lost on one incident.  Through the wretched last years of marriage, through the counseling and battles and attempts, it was an evening to which I kept referring.  We had gone to eat at a favorite country tavern.  It was one of those perfect ‘date like’ couple moments in which your top notch clothes and top-notch preparations are not demanded (because in reality, although a person loves Friday night, you have worked.  Best jeans, please.  Nice outfit.  Smell good.  Look smashing. Yes.  Black tie / pantyhose? Nope, save it.)  In Wisconsin the Friday night fish fry is a cultural staple.  Religious, not religious.  It does not matter.  Fridays are fish night.  A person may wonder at the quality but I assure you that this particular pub has the best baked scallops (and a wonderful whiskey, wink. ) and always the resounding echos of a week’s earned laughter.

It had been our chance at a romantic Friday evening so many years ago.  What happened I really wish not to write.  But it was not romantic and it was not salvageable.

We both began to cry, separated by the comfort of the distance of the kitchen island, a stove top width between us.  In a sappy romantic movie, the moment could have been a rush into each others arms.  A reconciliation.  It was reconciliation for us too, but it was a reconciling of one of the too many moments in our marriage which had been infliction rather than affection.

I let myself cry with him for the first time in three years, the distance he and I have traveled since the divorce. I did not rush into his arms. Nor did I run away.  I physically moved away from the kitchen island to the other side of the room in order to cry, still in the same room yet at a distance.  It was a space of a sorrowful kindness and tears of gratitude.  Healing in the first days of the new year.

Eventually our tears dried.  Managing the details of the business of raising our son replaced the scattering sentiments of our broken bond.  Our marriage was broken but not our family.  We have truly figured out how to be friends.

The beautiful blue white drama of Wisconsin’s January

“I’m sorry” had rung in my head.  For hours I was not really sure of neither how I felt nor of how I should feel.  I was stunned as if hit by bad news but I could not figure out why.  Was this not good news?

It took hours into the following day to realize the recognition of reality.  For the first time he had  admitted to what he had done.  Like a rope flung to another side of time, back to that time in my life, his apology secured a piece of my soul, bridging what I had written about to another perspective.  He had been a participant and a witness to the time when my whole world changed.  I had written journals during those days, trying to clear my own disbelief at the extreme nature of hatred I had felt from people who had called themselves my friends.  I had wrestled with understanding all of them, coupling their actions with justifications. I still held a smidgen of my own disbelief.

What happened to me professionally at that time was the literal icing on the cake.  I worked in a field, in a segment of society, which prides itself by the vows of its own doctrine, to lend a hand to those who had been downed.  I had been through years of a marriage in turmoil and during the last months of my marriage, my professional life and the life I had fell apart.  There had been no one to help me.  There was no hand, not to me, not to my husband, not to our marriage and especially not to our son.  In the months prior I reached for help to only find mockery and no one to help. Not from that part of my life.  Lately a new question popped in my head.

Why did not my friend, my boss, why did she not stand for me?  Why did she not reach out either to those above to assist me or to others around me? Another curiosity to which I no longer need an answer.

But I did find friends. I did. And I did hear an “I’m sorry” that seemed to be one of those blanketed apologies like an all-encompassing blanket property insurance policy.

It covered all damages.

 

His voiced words were like the painting of golden brushstrokes.  It was a moment of kintsugi. My wounds, my scars. I was sorry too.

Kintsugi.

My building, Matthias. Here, in the 1940’s, owned by a local national fox furrier company.  Rumor has it that Ms. Jayne Mansfield selected her furs here.
Me, the brick dandelion

 

Blessings to you.  May my life, to you,….well just know that anything is possible. Healing is possible. Have faith, work hard, believe, love.

Love you. Lots of love.

Stephanie

PS.  Oh! I almost forgot – the January vegetable grilling recipe.  Two red peppers for sweetness and color.  A large container of fresh baby bella mushrooms and a good sized head of broccoli.  Szechuan sauce and a bit of olive oil. Grill in aluminum or in a grilling vegetable basket alongside the meat.

Why do I feel like the adventure is just beginning? Hmm. Stay tuned. X

2018.

2018.

January 1, 2018

 

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Number 46. The Key Secret.

Of Buildings.

I found a key numbered ’46’ at Matthias.  Upstairs, among the demolished interior walls which now lie in chunks like ice flows upon the concrete floor, I had been staring at my future office studio when I saw the rusted backing of a coat hook still anchored to cinderblock, just as it had for the past seven decades.  I thought to myself about how I had clutched to different people, things and times in my life.  Clutching never works well in the long run.  Everyone wishes to say that are above such behavior but this is such a lie.  We are conditioned for it.  There are times in ones life that all you can do is grasp on tight to weather the storm, no matter if it a storm of bad circumstance or the weathering of ones own personal growth.

The clutching, although embarrassing is meant for just that, the weathering through it all.  It has taken me a life time to realize our conditioning or even the threat upon such behavior.  As a woman there is always the unstated threat that if you are genuine and if in that genuineness you find yourself at odds with mainstream expectations, well then you are wrong.  If you do not change, if you do not clutch or cling then you will find yourself – gasp – alone.  You will end up alone.

I am hoping I have finally learned that to make the choice is making the choice.  (From years ago, I do have a tendency for Yogi Berra-isms).  Like marriage in reverse,  I do not give up my choice.  It is an unconditional vow to the peace of my soul.

Perhaps the vibrations of the jackhammering or the blunt force when the interior walls fell loosened the screws, but between the rusted hook’s plate and the painted plastered cinderblock stuck a rounded piece of steel, relatively untouched by the years.  With a screwdriver and my fingernail tips, I picked hopefully until the object started to slide.  I had imagined it was someone’s secret spot for a locker key.

It was.  Number 46.

 

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Robustly, amorously Christmas

On my seasons.

My world blued in a matter of days.  Not with sadness but with a reluctant vibrancy in imitation.  I had forgotten how quickly the rest of the world changes from celebrating Christmas with heated reds upon plaids and golds and silvers.  No matter what your favorite colors of Christmas, there is a warmth.  Maybe it is the hope of evergreens.

But within a day of the holiday, the world seems to turn icy blue.  Lights get dimmed and decorations get tucked.  Every year I fight it but I am happy to discover there are in existence, others who hang onto the reds and greens, that warmth and celebration despite a return to work and other daily activities, who return home after a day to a Christmas house.  At least until the twelve days of Christmas have passed.

……………..

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My studio office. I’m a bit too proud, but I’m running with it….

It was two days until the new year when I decided to set my goals for the coming year.  Within fifteen minutes – bam, done.  I had been rather cocky about it all, spouting to the cross on the wall in my combination kitchen/dining/living room which,  in the home design philosophy of the 1990’s was called a ‘great room’.  (This same layout may or may not now be called ‘open concept’).  It is open and I think it is great but the main feature when I plan and hold meetings with myself is that I can spout to the cross on the wall while pacing a bit.  I have enough room to get it all out.

So I spouted for fifteen minutes.  Tongue in cheek, inspired by the magnificent bravado of Christmas, I laid out, aloud, a list of goals I had for the coming year.  Stopped me right in my tracks when I heard the slight echo of ‘my plan’.  Doggone if I had not done it.  Fifteen minutes.

……………………..

Es.

“Es,” I asked in a softer tone than usual, a bit breathless from our brisk pace. She turned to me in a somewhat startled mode as we had walked for hours without saying a word.  “Es what is that mark on your back?”

We had been walking side by side until the path narrowed.  We quickened our speed in a delight of the ease of the path.  There was nothing to do or ponder.  The path just needed to be walked.  As I took my place behind her, she had turned, absentmindedly checking on me.  As her torso turned, the shirt covering her back untucked, catching the wind.  There, in a jagged line parallel to her spine, it looked like a scar from a decades old kidney operation.  I had never seen it before.  The scar furrowed her softened skin into a shiny pink ridge.  

It looks worse than it is or was”, she said, of course adding her smile.  I had not seen the scar before.  

“Years ago a watch dog attacked me,” she explained.  “I had gotten in between it and its master.  An innocent mistake of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  The dog had almost been looking for a reason to attack.  That was decades ago.”

She continued.  “When I dove between the two beasts, the shadow beast, the beast of many had lunged at me.  I was lying face first in the mud, protecting my head and my heart, but its tooth, while aiming for my spine, caught on the ridge of the scar.  I could feel the immediate heat from blood rushing into the trench.  I did not know how deeply the beast had dug into my flesh.  I did not know if they got my spine or not. 

“But I never saw blood…” but my words drifted as she turned to face me.  Es had this peculiar fashion notion to wear shirts backwards.  There, on the front of her shirt were the smudges of chocolate reminiscent of the bloodied wound.

She smiled and I had wished briefly that she would not.  But in her smile I saw something new and remembered something else new.  She had not cried.  Not now in the retelling nor for the last hours we had been walking.  She had stopped crying.

I remembered the voice, the cries of the beasts.  As I lay in the mud I waited for kindness.  I had hoped at least one of them would show the others how to help.  I had been lying there, bloodied, and even though they showed no remorse nor any indication that they should feel remorse, still I had hoped.  I knew one of them would call out to the others, to instruct them to be kind, to demand that they halt their attack.

Instead the voice of the beast mocked me.  The one voice I had waited for, was no longer.  The beast knew I would never retaliate – I would have never believed its duplicity.  I do not think the beast knew I heard it, but I had.  I had heard his words.”

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Not sure why, but my favorite self photo. At Matthias, twenty below outside. 12/31/17.

 

On Epiphany.

To be fair, Mother Nature urges me along.  I know it.  Steph, the rest of the world is going on to January aka “White Sales / Inventory / and pre-Valentine (don’t even get me started on the ‘Love Holiday.’)

I decided – well, that is not true – I am letting my project lists dictate an elimination of the past.  My Epiphany is once again, ‘my epiphany.’

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Epiphany cookies.

For New Years Eve, I grilled and baked star shaped sugar cookies in honor of Epiphany.  At my age I am rather ashamed of myself to admit that I ate so many of them that when I awoke in the new year, I smelled like a rather giant, albeit delicious vanilla-like, cookie dough woman.  Frightening.

In Wisconsin, the first extended cold snap wrings out any color other than the chilliest crispest blue.  The moon is no longer white but a blue gray as its light filters through sky-born particles of ice.  The bark of trees stand solemnly with the grey of dormancy.    Ah, just a few more days of the robust reds.

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……………………

Months and years it has taken me to come to this point.  That retaliation is not my suit.  Neither is tribulation.  And, to wit, neither is justification.  I

Secretly I have looked forward to this time of year and particularly, this time of year for this year.  As I correct myself, clean my home, make small improvements (aka replace the toilet seat),  I think I am going to roll around – amore – at home in my gumdrop red, vanilla white and evergreen home – knowing that temporarily I am dreadfully passe with the rest of the world who is fashionably into the whites and cool blues of January whether in ice storms or waters of tropical escapes.  And, for a few days I might be privately at my own height of fashionista with earthy geometric print leggings, christmas socks, olive green button sweater and a spring floral blouse..

(I have a lot of deep freeze work to do).

Hmmm.. Maybe I could paint a few fingernails glittery icy blue….hmmm…

Happy New Year. 

May your new year be happy – yep, happiness.  Peaceful, sustainable happiness and wild personal growth.

May your 2018 be icy blue moons and sultry blue waters.  May you know the robust red of life love and the soothe of evergreen.

And everything in between.  

Love. Lots and loads of love.

stephanie

 

 

 

The Thirty-Second, Red Light Vow

The Thirty-Second, Red Light Vow

December 25, 2017

 

Within two blocks I drove myself from a self-proclaimed twelve year old to a seventeen year old.  No, I am not desperately clutching youth.  (For the record, if I would be aiming for recapturing my younger experiences, seventeen would not be my year of choice).  Recovering from years of personal trauma and numbing self-doubt has been a harvesting of bits and pieces of psyche, flung and scattered through a woodchipper.  I am not fooling myself.  I will never be a tree again.

With Christmas carols blaring, my off-key singing and admitted split attention between road conditions and holiday decorations – I remembered holidays past.  I remembered the winter of 2014, the November in which I slept in the camper until the weather got below zero.  It was the Advent which I now like to refer to as my advent, my beginning, a gift of light in which I saw people’s behavior as I had never seen before.  Out of that turmoil I now realized, three years later, came a gift for which I will always be grateful: a bed, for now I know what it is like to not have a safe bed to sleep upon and the gift of true friendship for now I know more of human behavior.

In this past month I stayed away from anything which reminded me of that time.  I no longer needed to destroy myself nor did I need to allow anyone in my life who did or who would like to hold that knife.  Nope. I still wrestle at times, with the notion that somehow life grows people who do actually breed upon the misfortune of others. A confusing odd and what I find, a waste of energy.

I felt joy.  I remembered what it was like to feel happiness, that twelve year old happiness in which fresh bubbly soda tickles your nose and fresh apples crunch between your teeth and you cry at movies you have seen at least half a dozen times.  You forget to be embarrassed about any of it in an irreverence to your own limitations.

In those two blocks I began to remember it was Advent and sort of an anniversary of when it all happened.  I imagined what it must have been like for them to choose what they did to me and to choose to do it during the holiest of seasons.  As I braked at the intersection, the seventeen year old me looked at the vibrancy of purple red neon lights against the blackness of night.

I did not cry.  Without choking back tears I remembered the events and I remembered the feelings.  I remembered celebrating with them at a local bar, with my friend, my boss, who had held meetings just the night before.   I remembered not knowing what they did until years later.  In half a minute at these red lights, I thanked G~d for my ignorance.  For the first time I realized what a gift it had been.  I had no clue what they were doing.  At the time they met, for some reason, G~d and events kept me swimming with their children during the Christmas party as they met to fire me.

Thank you, G~d.  Surpasses all understanding, indeed.

…………………………………….

Part of my vow at the red lit thirty seconds, I decided to give myself Christmas.  Beside the Advent of 2014, I have, in my years, known a disproportionate number of people who are monsters at Christmas.  Nope, I was going to give myself Christmas.

I have worked to manifest the vow itself in quite a few different ways.  One is at my renovation project.  During one of my daily checks at the building, I stopped at these southern exposure second floor windows.  Early in the process when I was not quite sure where my life was headed I imagined living spaces in that upper floor.  I had chuckled to myself with the memory but as I did so, I flung my leg on the concrete sill.  It was a perfect height for a ballet barre. And I stretched.

I decided to change my studio office space.  I had planned on the first floor southern space because it has been the spot for my first work area.  But the first floor is commercial / retail – every square foot must ‘price out’.  I had imagined my office to be in the second floor space above main street, where an office should be.  But where I really want my office is here, looking south, by just one of those windows which catch the morning and had caught me so long ago.  I had imagined artist studios there but what I really wanted was my studio.  Such an odd way to make a decision, in the stretch of ones leg upon the concrete sill.

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 My studio office space

In that pink red magenta Christmas magic all its own, an equally dangerous thought came to mind, a radical idea of release from the convenient bondage of suffering, from a self-imposed desire to remain within that prison.  I decided to embrace that seventeen year old spirit.

Funny thing though, that seventeen to me never meant wildness or irresponsible behavior.  Very few times in my life have I ever been irresponsible and those times never really coincided with the norms of female development.  I was a tad bit irresponsible in my late twenties.  And a bit rash in 2015.  But as a seventeen year old?  No.

I smiled at the thought of seventeen year old me – focused, smart and with no clue exactly how powerful she was and was supposed to be.  And, the blessed fun she could choose.  Yep, in thirty seconds of not crying I returned my smile.  Some of seventeen year old me are gone but there are no rules to what I choose to try.  Not now.  And why not?

img_9900 And I decided I wanted my office, I wanted my building, I wanted my life.  It was a gift to me – pieces of my experience for my lifetime.  And I jumped in, ready to fail, ready to try, ready to study and wanting to learn.

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Ventilation systems, machinery, the guts ~ the history of the building I love.  
Christmas and Hanukkah.

I found,however, that I cannot stop the tears whenever I lit the Hanukkah candles.  I really did not attend to the candles as I had other years, missing some evenings due to weather.  At home we only lit one night of the menorah.  Still, the nine candles were lit to mark the conclusion.  My mother could see them as she drove by each evening to visit my father’s grave.  She will never admit it, but I know she checks.  I cried each evening as I added a candle.  Through the holiday season I began to feel my old, obnoxious self, the over the top Christmas / winter / snow / lights / decorations spirit.  I felt happy.  Even when I remembered the Advent of years ago, I became happier at the passage of time and the distance my life has traveled.

But when I lit those candles I remembered my own sin.  I should have stood up for myself and my heritage as they made fun, mocking.  I should have stood up.  But I did not.  I sat there holding my Star of David charm in my fingers.  I thought of the secrets of generations before me.  A grandmother not ever telling me of our heritage until she was dying.

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I half expected Es to tell me she needed to walk the rest of her path alone but she did not.  Brushing the dirt off herself – halfheartedly – she smiled and kept walking.  I’m not sure why she even bothered dusting herself.  I knew she could care less about how dirty she was and there would be no one else on this path, this we both knew.  She never asked if I would be going along.  We both just knew.

As we began again, the stones seemed to rise up to guide our feet along.  Easily and steadily.  

Es smiled again.  I could not tell her she had dirt on her face and in her hair- she had missed cleaning off the dust.

She smiled, stepping, wearing the dust of her path as the wind again kissed her cheeks and brushed the hair from her eyes. 

…………………..

I had not sawed at the building for years.  I grabbed the saber saw I used in 2015 to cut lat boards when I was building wood blocks for window openings before that winter.  I had left lots of my tools lying there.  Again, as I had vowed in that thirty second red light stop, I gave myself Christmas.

I grabbed my saw.  I cut a board.  I cut a board!

Merry Christmas!  Give yourself Christmas.  Make a thirty second red light vow.  To you.

And, given the chance, kiss the Wind.

Love.  Lots and Loads of Love,

Stephanie

(I apologize.  Not my best writing, but another piece of my vow. Write it.  I’ll never be a Hemingway without doing the work.)

#writing #christmas #red light #thirtysecond