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all but the cats write here ... to remember, to share, to mumble, to shout ... follow along by RSS or email if you like.

Filtering by Category: fears

Westward Ho! / Day 7 ... Letting Go in CO

bethany

Sunday, August 21

We had a lovely couple of hours in the morning before picking a bunch of wild sage, saying goodbye to the river, and pulling out for I70 again ... heading for a lunch date in Carbondale.

Michael did a Sol LeWitt job in Aspen a few years back, and one of the crew had been a CO local named Takeo. We met up with him for lunch in a local park, before heading on west towards Utah. Passing Vail and Breckenridge in 93° weather was a far cry from what high ski season must look like, but it didn't hold any real appeal either way … my tolerance for big crowds seems to diminish with every passing year.

 The mighty Colorado

The mighty Colorado

We stopped in a town mid afternoon to try to figure out a campsite, and after spending 20 minutes thumbing through the apps I use (Allstays and RV Parky and freecampsites.net if you're interested) … the string broke.  The string that connected Freedom Bird's steering wheel to my Navigational Ninja hat, which was lying crumpled somewhere in the pile of snacks and papers and resentment swirling around my feet. 

After some toasty but productive discussion, my desire to have a known destination by late afternoon proved to be too much to deal with, so we ended up chucking it out the window, along with my responsibility to find said site. It honestly was mostly a relief.  My fears of a state trooper knocking on the door at 3am because we'd end up sleeping on the side of the Interstate? They ostensibly followed the planning out the window, but remained stubbornly glued to the side of Matilda, just out of sight. Hmm.

Just over the border into Utah, we stopped at a scenic overlook to watch the sunset.  The fact that we had no place to rush to meant that we stayed for almost an hour, soaking up every last drop of the changing light.

Three hundred photos later, we pulled around the curve to leave and discovered a level-ish spot on the edge of the drive; making the split-second decision to pull over for the night, right behind a rig already parked there. Voila, a free spot! And a beautiful one to boot. I felt less apprehensive about getting in any trouble for it, because someone else was already there. I know, I know, but it's how my mind works.

Wedding T-7 and counting …

lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6

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Churned

bethany

Two mornings ago, I came into the house where my family had gotten together for a few days (we slept in the camper in the driveway) and my sister informed me that the boys had made butter before I got up. The Boys would be Fynn and Alex, my sister's youngest son. The two that had been nearly inseparable for a month now, but periodically needed to be separated as they tend to squabble a fair bit … two last-borns competing for attention I think. But, butter! They'd made butter. I found a half pint jar on the table, with a nice golden lump swimming in some cloudy liquid. It didn't appear like they'd used any, but simply had the fun of shake/churning it before I ever got out of bed. I really wish my dreams were as efficient as that.

Not making any sense? I thought not. I haven't been for awhile now … my thoughts churning and flip flopping all over the place, without any real answers or solutions or clarity appearing at all. No buttah, just lots of queasy stomachs and cloudy hearts.

Back when I started homeschooling, my sis-in-law warned me that I'd be confronted with my own issues in ways I never had before, so be prepared. I was a bit baffled, but soon saw exactly what she meant. Time together with someone who has large quantities of the same DNA and spirit and abilities that you do can be utterly maddening, delightful, and problematic. You see yourself reflected, amplified, and not always in the best light either.  No one warned me that this trip would do that all over again, but in deeper and more fundamental ways. That I'd be confronted with memories of all kinds … things I'd buried, feelings I'd stuffed, and wounds I'd never licked. Relationships lost. People I'd loved. Personas I used to be.

Tangled together with all of this is the undercurrent of my mom's continued slide into Alzheimers, and what it means for me and my family as a whole. I'm already utterly uprooted physically, I'm watching one of my foundation stones crumble, and I'm trotting around the country throwing myself into the laps and homes of past friends, new friends, relatives, and all kinds of people who know me directly or indirectly, get a lot of my past, and often have at least a fraction of an idea of who I am and what makes me tick. Lots of mirrors, lots of shards.

Churned, but not seeing much gold yet.

So part of what's made me able to even articulate my current state is thinking back to the 6 weeks we spent on the East coast of Florida, in the Hobe Sound / Jupiter / West Palm Beach area (picking up right where I left off in the last post).  Michael had committed to another Sol LeWitt job a couple of months earlier, so we'd had to prearrange where we'd be when that started. I'd also been invited on a cruise with my sis and friends, leaving from Miami, so parking ourselves on the coast near friends in Jupiter just made a lot of sense.

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Michael's job started first, so the day after we got set up in a campground in Hobe Sound, we shipped him off for 12 days of scribbling in NYC. The kids and I settled in, and then went to visit Rebecca and her family … the Rebecca I've known as long as I can remember. My first concrete memory of her is playing on her family's rooftop in Lima Peru, making pea soup out of the pellets we found up there … only to discover it was rabbit turd soup thanks to the abandoned hutches left by the previous owners. I could go on for days … countless long summer weekends playing on her farm in southern IL (driving 4 wheelers all over the place while our dads talked for hours), wandering San Salvador in rattletrap taxis and on foot when our families visited there together in our teens, 3 weeks backpacking in Europe, an infamous spring break in AL that resulted in spending a night stranded in a gym with the residents of an old folks home, after we tried to get home ahead of a once-in-20-year snow storm. Her gregariousness balanced my shyness beautifully … we were always friends.

We drifted apart somewhat in our 20s thanks to a split in the church, and after her wedding we didn't see each other for what turned out to be many years. A couple phone calls, finding each others blogs, and news via friends kept us up on basic life events, but we'd not had more than a cursory conversation in nearly 20 years. I missed her though, and was pretty sure our kids would get along famously if we'd give them the chance. Within 5 minutes of walking into her house, I felt right at home. Open hearts, open book, open door. Picking up for the most part right where we left off.

By the time Michael got back the kids were fast friends, and we'd been woven right into the community she and her husband John have beautifully gathered around them, including going to church with them, and meeting old and new friends there too. Waters I'd barely stuck a toe into for the previous 12 years … but ones that are a huge part of who I am and where I come from. My tribe by birth. The tribe where my real foundation as a Child of God was inadvertently trumped by Child of BTP, Daughter of Don, Granddaughter of Albert, Great Great Grand of A.H. Rule.  Shoes that pinched just a bit too much when it came to my freedom to worship, and so I'd left them on the mat and backed tearfully out the door ten years ago. A massive churning, that was.

So going to church with John and Rebecca was no little thing. Not to my gut, my heart, my history. I dipped a toe in, wondering if I'd get scalded, but trusting too that if Rebecca's heart was representative of what I'd find there, I had nothing to worry about. Love won, hands down. Hearts were just as open as I used to find them … even when my last name and history were figured out … and my fears crumbled. I was met with warmth, understanding that surpassed anything I'd expected, and offers of friendship and work and help.

 Lots more Florida pics if you click this photo.

Lots more Florida pics if you click this photo.

Help that I was still afraid to ask for mind you, for fear of taking advantage somehow. Need won out over fears however, and when my brakes failed as I was about to pick up Michael from the airport, I eventually called John and he came right over, diagnosed the problem, took me to pick up Michael, bought parts (and then more parts), and had the burst brake line fixed by the next afternoon. Love and kindness, that was.

Community loves on each other, helps each other, and looks out for each other. Shares when it can, builds when it can, and reaches out when it can. Knits itself into a unit of some sort that functions best when all its parts are working. The church I grew up in excelled at community, and still does in many cases. I missed that almost more than anything, after walking away … it was a huge piece of my foundation. My sense of belonging somewhere, to something bigger than myself. I've found bits of it elsewhere … in a co-op preschool the boys attended in Brooklyn, on our block in NYC in the later years, and in the delightful neighbors we had on the Delaware River in PA. Truly developed communities, that worked together like a family.

So to find community in Florida, in a group I was no longer nominally a part of, was somehow a shock. A heart-twisting one, given that I'm not willing to give up the freedom I have to worship elsewhere in order to 'belong' to that group again. But it showed me I didn't have to belong to contribute, nor do I have to give up what I believe is right. If I love across invisible fences, they have a tendency to disappear. They're only fences if I treat them as one. Love wins.

We left Florida after I got back from a week of utter bliss on a boat in the Caribbean with 3 women whom I adore, and I took with me the feeling that something had healed (in me), something had grown (my hope), and something was breaking (my heart) the more we started wandering north. Alabama and New Orleans and Mississippi and Arkansas and St Louis were all still to come, but each one was a step closer to Chicago, to my folks, and to a year's worth of changes in my Mom.

My beautiful Mom who now needs 24-hour care, is confused often, and has less and less ability to access the memories that are becoming locked in her head thanks to Alzheimers. There's been a guilt war waged in my heart for months now, as there have been hints here and there that maybe I should go be her caretaker as I'm 'free' at the moment. While I don't feel called to do that right now (and my family would have very little of me if I did), I trust that if I am hollered at, I will listen. In the meantime, my inherited and well-exercised tendency to guilt is alive and kicking … some things are hard to let go of, yes?  I'd do well to take notes from my Dad, whose acceptance of what is happening to Mom, and steadiness in the face of constant change and curtailing of his own freedoms, is rather astounding. A glimpse of that buttery gold, methinks.

Carry on, Mr. Bowditch.

(Onward)

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“The One that Got Away, and the One that Didn't”

bethany

We left Palmetto and needed a few solo days as a family before Michael took off for a Sol LeWitt install in NYC, leaving the boys and I parked on the east coast of Florida, near friends in Jupiter. We didn't have a campsite booked when we pulled out, and didn't really have a budget for anything, so aimed for a boondocking site that was mentioned somewhere online, supposedly on the edge of a USAF Bombing Range in central FL. Right up the boys' alley, and so I did my best to navigate us in the right direction. We pulled up at the gate at long last, only to discover that all three camping areas were “Closed for a military event” and that was that. When we asked for any local alternatives, the gate guard mentioned a County Park on the other side of the lake we'd been circling, before allowing that “You can turn around right over there ...” and shooing us off.

We pulled around the bend and out of sight before pulling over to do some Googling and some calling. There's a mighty LOT of Googling and calling on this trip by the way, mostly done by me. I don't know how we'd do what we do without it, though the Atlas is pretty handy too, and lives on my lap when we're driving. But back to the side of the road along Arbuckle Lake in central Florida, just out of sight of the tight-lipped USAF gatekeeper. Michael called the County Park number, and got a very down-to-earth guy named John (I can ALWAYS tell the character and accent of who he's talking to, as he unconsciously mimics every single one), who said that they had plenty of sites for a mere $22 a night, and only a couple spots were currently taken. As I was really hoping not to WalMart it for the next two nights, we headed the long way around the lake (the USAF owned half the perimeter), and several phone calls and a hitch hiker later, we finally found John. Google didn't know where he was, once again telling us “You Have Arrived” in the middle of a deserted road. (A paved one this time, however!)

John chatted, showed us possible sites, offered parking advice, chatted some more, talked about his grandkids and the history of the place, mentioned the gators and their usual hunting spots, pointed out the fence 15' from our door which marked the border with the other side of the USAF Bombing Range from where we'd started, and made us feel right at home. Michael parked, and I raced through inside setup while he chatted with John some more. We seem to have that bit down to a science now … Michael and the boys unhitch, put down the leveling jacks, stow the sway bars and all that, and get the whole camper leveled out. I do the power and water and sewer hookups, and move all the things inside back to their “camped” places that were secured elsewhere during travel.

We kept the cats in the first night, not willing to let them out after dark, though Michael took the boys out on a moonlight wander, which included the sighting of an owl. The next morning we got up for sunrise (yes, really!) and scoped out the lake, the dock, and the humongous wild grapefruits just out of reach over the fence. The USAF fence. Just barely out of reach, mind you.

We mucked around, did a little hike, and let the cats out but kept a pretty close eye on them as the gators were known to stroll past our chosen campsite at times. We had a little point of land between our campsite and the water, which was defined by The Fence, a reedy bit on the lakefront where gators were known to feed, and cypress trees along the third side that bordered the boat ramp inlet. A magical little spot with some benches built into the trees, and piles of lizards scampering through the cypress knees. A veritable cat paradise.

My nervousness about the cat/gator situation was much higher than Michael's, and honestly it's higher than the rest of them pretty much all the time when it comes to the cats. I'm the natural worrier, and wary of rule-breaking, as well as of the cats getting into fights that they very likely might lose. Most places require leashes, which we have and sometimes use, but Sparrow HATES it, while Edmund has learned to tolerate it. We often go against campground rules though and let them wander, after checking with the vibe of the place, and sometimes with our immediate neighbors. The dangers of local wildlife and traffic are assessed, as well as the likelihood of offending others or angering the campground hosts. Most places people seem to gladly turn a blind eye, or more often truly enjoy them, sometimes trying to get the cats to come and have their ears scratched. They never comply, but skitter just out of reach. This place had no rules, just cautions from John about the gators.

So the second night there, Michael gets it in his head that it's a crime to let those massive grapefruits fall off and rot, and he's determined to get one. He knows better than to tell me what he's plotting however (see the previous paragraph) and so the first thing I know about it is him coming in the door of the camper with one of the grapefruit cradled in both hands, and a rather triumphant grin on his face. He explained his process of making sure that our camper was between John and the chosen tree, and how he'd just barely hopped the fence. It was truly the best grapefruit I think I've ever eaten, and chock full of seeds, which we saved. So delicious in fact (stolen fruit and all), that the next day a second one was procured with the assistance of a certain smallish someone standing on his father's shoulders. Ahem.

The second afternoon was a lazy one, and I was sitting outside the camper reading, keeping half an eye on the cats' whereabouts, after scanning the water and not seeing any gator heads at the time. Lost in my book, I suddenly heard the SNAP of jaws at the tip of the point, and saw thrashing and splashing through the bushes. Terrified, I threw down my book, hollered in the camper that there was “a gator that just caught something on the point and I don't know where the cats are!”, before taking off at a hesitant trot towards the point. I quickly found Sparrow, unceremoniously tossed her inside, and went back to hunting for Edmund. It was clear that if he was dinner then that was it, but I called, went as close to the still twitching water as I dared, and then ran the other way, hunting and calling.

I finally found him waltzing slowly up to the camper from the other end of the park, and my heartbeat began to slow a wee bit. It only took about 2 minutes in all, but it was an awful two minutes. I know it's the price I pay for letting them out, and the risk we take, but the alternative is miserable cats as they've never known being cooped up. So be it.

I suspect what did turn into gator dinner was a heron or something like that, though I never went close enough to check for floating feathers.

Lots more photos here.

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10 things, one year, 4,517 miles

bethany

Christmas Eve marked the one-year anniversary of the start of this adventure, and over 4500 miles on the road so far.  It's been full of surprises, realizations, growth, and much joy.  Without further ado, 10 things that stand out for me about the first year of heartLOOSE …

1. Adapting to life in the camper has been way easier than I expected, in terms of the physical space and the ramifications that has on four people plus two cats. I've very rarely found myself wishing for something I didn't bring, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind is proving pretty accurate. The lack of kitchen counter was rather sucky until about two months ago, and now is no issue at all thanks to our reconfiguration of the kitchen table area! We have a lovely 6' long wooden counter that can either be 12” or 24” wide, and when not in use we have an extra wide couch area instead. Yay!

2. I didn't know how much more in love I'd be with my husband after a year of this, I was really afraid that we'd both miss personal time and space so much we'd get pretty cranky with each other. While that's happened a few times, it's nothing like I thought it might be. I love working with him and being with him more than ever, and actually parenting together? That's nearly a first … we so rarely were both with the kids at the same time in the past, other than a few evenings a week, and some weekends. It changes everything. In a very good way, and I love it.

3. People we visit are far more open than I ever expected. I wrote a bit about that last month, but it continues to amaze me. Open hearts and open doors … the trust, the vulnerability, the sharing of daily life in all its beauty and pain and sometime drudgery. Anything done together ceases to be drudgery though. Sharing the burdens and the joys for a bit is energizing, eye-opening, and delightful. It's a kind of intimacy that I had much more of when I was younger, and the sometimes false sense of connection I get via social media is no real replacement for face-to-face and side-by-side.

4. I thought we'd be on the West Coast by now! Twelve months and we're right back in the spot where we spent the 2nd night of the trip, in Knoxville?! While it is home base for us, I figured we'd have made it through a lot more states by the one-year mark. Hitting roadblocks in the first 5 months is the biggest reason for that, but we're also staying places longer than I anticipated. There's just more to do, and more willingness to let us do stuff, as well as the need for downtime.

5. Speaking of downtime, we do need it, a surprisingly large bit of it actually, in between visits. One or two nights on our own aren't enough … we need space to be just a family, to recalibrate our relationships with each other, and to concentrate on the things we can't do easily while we're “docked”. Things like writing, phone calls, do-nothing days, and getting stuff fixed and modified in our living space. And most importantly, head-space to figure out what's next, and take stock of the bigger picture.

6. I think I've learned more about myself in the last year than in the previous ten. A surprising and delightful side effect of getting out of my comfort zone, having lots of deep conversations and friend-mirrors, and being unbound from the usual constraints of time and expectations and commitments. I'm loving being unmoored, but had no idea it would help me see myself more clearly. Change of scenery, change of perspective. Similar to that vacation-inspired epiphany that makes you see your real life as needing a tweak or even a wholesale makeover once you get home. I've got an IV-drip of that going on. It's not all vacation mind you, and in fact far less so than you would think. But it's a real chance to gain viewing points, perspectives, and skills for choosing to act and react differently to things. Some of those things are absorbed just by watching relationships work, and some come by being introduced directly to new ways of thinking, healing, and interacting. A smorgasbord of information and knowledge.

7. Living one day at a time is easier, and more peaceful, than I ever expected. I knew I need to let go of a lot of things to make this way of life work, and yet I feel like the first five months of feeling stuck were partly because I didn't trust God to really take care of us. We thought we had to do more. Plan more. Become side-income wizards before we could take the first step. Hah! We just had to take the first step … and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on … one. day. at. a. time. Living on faith that if we do what's in front of us, and move on when we feel it's time to go, that it will all work out. And so far, it has. The blessings keep piling up … mostly in ways that have nothing to do with money, and everything to do with life.

8. It's become screamingly obvious to me that emotional work is just as important as physical work. For all of us. Not just the four of us, but everyone we meet. People are increasingly hungry for meaningful connections, and maybe I'm just extra hungry after two years of living without much contact with anyone but my kids for five days a week, but we need to spend time connecting. To listen, and not judge. To be heard, and still loved. To see, and speak truth. To hear, and understand. To learn, and change heart. It's all as vital as putting food on the table and fuel in the truck. We need to love, and be loved, and it happens best in person.

9. I love working together with my family. I know I'm repeating myself but it's true that it's one of the most personally delightful parts of this trip for me. Not to mention, I'm learning a LOT and reveling in that too … I do love adding new things to my skill set. It feels healthy, and good for all of us. We're not harnessed together, but we do dance, and it's deeply satisfying. We haven't yet gotten the boys to feel the same about it all, and while they never may, it's my wish that they at least learn how to work through all this, and then they'll be equipped to do anything they choose to apply themselves to in the future. They're not there yet though, and I'm hoping to find a better way to teach that, soon.

I just re-read the list so far, wondering what 10 should be, and it jumped out at me from number six …

10. I'm loving being unmoored … living the wandering life. I was not at all convinced that would be the case, and thought that being rootless would be a huge strain on my routine- and home-loving heart. So far, that fear is completely unfounded. I don't crave schedules, or a fixed address, or steady income. I do miss having a regular community, but I'm finding ways around that. I have no idea how long this will last, but I trust it to take me at least as far as the end of the trip, wherever and whenever that is. It's a bit like I've come over to the dark side (no plans! disorder! irresponsible freedoms! unconventional freaks!) and feel way more at home than I ever thought I would. My Type A tendencies (except when it comes to the boys' Lego habits and haphazard cat care) are in remission, and may stay there indefinitely.

It's been an exceptionally interesting year. One that has defied expectations, and slithered away from too much definition. It's been, simply ... rich, remarkable, gut-wrenching, savory, and full. Thank you God, thank you friends, hosts, family, and followers. Yours is the love on which we feast, the hope which we carry, and the work which we do.

Onward.

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité

bethany

I had a dream last night in which I was in some kind of school/college setting, and everyone else was wearing blue plastic watches given to them by the school, but I didn't have one as I'd just arrived somehow. I took my place at the end of a long conference-type table with all the other students, and tried to figure out what was going on and how to catch up.

 

At 5am the sounds of the highway next to us started to pick up, and I woke for the first time, the dream nearly drifting away from me completely. Daylight? Why was there warm light seeping through the mini blinds? I rolled over and pried two slats apart with barely functional fingers, and then remembered … we're camped in the WalMart parking lot … the lights never do go off, do they? The lights themselves weren't actually visible as the window was covered in beaded moisture, some of it drifting in rivulets down the pane. A night's worth of breath, condensed and pooling in the window frame. I felt hungry, slightly stirred up, and a bit adrift. Should I get up? Go back to sleep? How cold is it out there now anyway? I picked up my phone and wasted some of the last of its battery life checking the weather. Summersville WV, 21 degrees, but feels like 17.

I chose to haul myself out from under the two wool blankets, cotton quilt, and sheet that keep us toasty on most nights, flipped the covers back down so both Michael and my side of the bed would stay warm and Sparrow wouldn't be covered, and padded to the bathroom, past the green-wrapped bodies of my gangly boys half falling out of their bunks. A pretend flush (you hope you've peed enough to send the toilet paper down without any added water), and I scuttled back to bed, the camper swaying slightly with each step as we hadn't bothered to put down the stabilizers for one night and were still hitched to the truck.

Back to sleep? Why that dream? And the other really bizarre one about part of my toe falling off? Really? I want to write. I need to write. I wish I could write in my head while I half-sleep in that delicious skid towards the deep trenches of rest where you're too far under to dream, and then have it magically transfer itself into a word .doc the next morning. I need to tell the stories, and need to have them read. I don't know where I fit anymore. I haven't a community. Not one I can see, or one that sees me regularly at least, and worries if I don't show up. I feel utterly invisible, except when I blog. Or Instagram. Or post on Face Book. I have incredibly great conversations at every house we stop at, and love every minute of it. Then we move on.

I bring bits of each person along with me … snippets of conversation, memories, recipes, advice, new books to read, things to pray for, and the feeling that I was truly part of their household for awhile. Let in both the heart door and the back door. All in … briefly a very real part of their daily lives, and not just walking past the warm window casting its glow into the dusk, wondering how that family lived and what went on in their house. I can't tell you how many windows I've wondered over in my almost 45 years, it's tens of thousands by now I think. And now I'm actually getting into some of those living rooms, and it's the most fascinating thing ever. A growing trail of places that I know, and people that I love, from the inside.

So why am I dreaming about nondescript school life and feeling behind? Perhaps I have an inkling that living sans-watch, as we do now, is going to make it hard to integrate again into a more fixed life. So be it, but the watch was only part of it. They'd all been together for some period of time, doing life together, and I was just arrived. It's the community that I miss I think. The knowledge that I'm a part of some greater collection than just us four, and that I have a meaningful part in it. I have no doubt that I DO have that, I just can't see it at the moment. Can't feel it a lot of the time, either. It's a new kind of lonely. It always happens, and I just now realized that's part of the process going on in my heart. The more the love, the more the potential for feeling alone. It's happened at with marriage, kids, and how this. I'm stealing from one campfire to the next, taking treasures with me, and my heart now knows exactly what it feels like to stand in Jane's kitchen and chop carrots next to the sink while she stirs the stew and I watch her neighbors run their dogs in the twilight. It knows that Erica's probably planning her outing for Wednesday, and putting Kayla to bed in the next 20 minutes. That John's puttering around his basement getting tools for some project, and Marcie's taking the dogs out for the last time before bed, shivering in the cold but not quite ready to put on a winter jacket. The list is endless, the heart is stretching yet again.

I can't see the whole picture. I feel it being stitched together though, with heart strings and prayer bits and smashed fingers and new understandings and shared lives … I just have to get my bearings a bit every time the scene changes. Figure out how to assimilate what I gained, process what it all means, and check that my heart is intact and my mind still my own. I'm a fitter-inner, and historically have played the chameleon a bit if I'm not sure how my opinions will be received. This no longer works, and in some ways the constant scene-changes are facilitating the growing tendency to speak my mind. I'm just not sure what it's doing to the whole story. The one I'm writing without words, but with my life. I like to KNOW, and this I can't. I like to feel SURE, and that's now reserved for the fewest of the few things. I like to BELONG, but am leery of being boxed in or judged. So I'm gathering up the warmest stones and most interesting bits of fireside chat and relationship gold, and praying that when they're no longer wet from the current (and tears) of this journey, that I'll find them even more worthy of carrying onward.

 

I did go back to sleep, woke once more to eat a banana in the half dark, and then slept again till just before 8, when a brilliant sunrise started drying up the condensation on Michael's window and warming the room up a bit.

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Chalk Softly

michael

Things take time here in Knoxville, so I wasn’t surprised it took Event Services four days to call me back.  Lorraine, with whom I spoke, seemed somewhat taken aback when I answered.  This, upon reflection, was because the voice mail I had left was in my best southern drawl, very unlike the one speaking with her.  She told me no, I could not sell my portraits in Market Square downtown, but I could draw for donations, in which case I would be considered a “busker” and would not need a permit.  Buskers are welcome anywhere there is not an Event so long as foot traffic is unimpeded.  “It’s strange,” she said “we don’t have ANY portrait artists.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “Artists don’t like to give their work away for free.”  This was not MY feeling, however, I was stoked.  The police, who directed me to Event Services, had led me to believe I wouldn’t be able to draw at all.  Drawing for donations is something I love.  It relieves the pressure of meeting expectations and places the value judgment of your artwork in the hands of your subject and their conscience.  You never know what you’re going to get, but what you get is always genuine.  And getting anything sure beats nothing.

The next day we packed a lunch, piled in the truck, and headed downtown for the Chalk Walk at Market Square.  We had been to a Chalk Walk in Raleigh, NC about a year ago and loved it.  This would be a great way to scope the ropes for setting up while enjoying a gorgeous day out looking at art. 

The sky was blue.  The dogwoods were blooming.  We had enough diesel to get there and back.  The shoestrings we ate for breakfast were sitting well.  We found the free parking garage and just as we were getting out of the truck, Bethany says “OH NO!”  She’s staring at her phone.

“What is it!?” the boys and I say in unison.

“They’re trying to take the storage fee out of the wrong bank account; the SAME ONE that bounced it four days ago!”  This was Bad News.  Bethany puts so much time and care into juggling our four accounts that something going wrong is nearly unimaginable.  Going wrong twice is a show-stopper.  It was that stomach-dropping horror when a deer leaps out and you can’t stop the car.  Time slowed down.  I tried to breathe in the green spring air, but it was sallow and thick with despair. Chalk Walk would be the funeral procession of our happiness.

Bethany was seething hot angry tears, staring at her phone and stamping her foot some fifteen feet away.  Douglas and I stared at each other wide-eyed and frozen until Fynn, blithely unaware that the world was ending, began asking trivial questions.  “What’s that pipe for?  How tall do you think most High Top vehicles are?  We’re a High Top, right, because we parked in the High Top parking?”

We both turned to Fynn.  “Fynn, no.  This isn’t a good time to-“   THUMP!  Bethany was beside us again slapping the truck.  Matilda took it.

“There’s NOTHING we can do!  I BEGGED and got the fee waived LAST time.  They’re not going to wave it AGAIN!  I don’t even know WHY PayPal took it out of this account.  I RESET the defaults!  There’s NO STINKING WAY we can afford this!”

From some remote place, I heard my voice saying “I think we need to call the banks Right Now and see if there’s ANYthing to be done.  We’ll never enjoy this day unless we do.”

“Yeah. OK.” Bethany said, knowing she would be the one making the call, “But first we find a bench and we eat.”  We headed out of the garage in silence.  We made it half a block.

“Hey, Mom?”

“What, Fynn.”  Steel and Ice.

“Why does that sign say-“

“Fynn.”  I interrupted, “Don’t talk to Mom right now.  Walk with me."  We trudged uphill toward Market Square, the bright sunlight dimly penetrating our dark cloud.  I strode ahead, forcing Fynn to trot, as I quietly answered his continuous stream of questions.  I saw grass between buildings ahead.

“Why are we crossing the street?”

“Because there will be benches.” I pointed.  And there were.  We sat.  We prayed.  Bethany called PayPal.  We ate.  Bethany called Citibank.  I kept the boys occupied.  The grassy area was a nice little spot lined with benches, trees, and a few sculptures.  It just happened to be the one my sister had told me would be perfect for drawing portraits in.  Through the trees we could see people milling about the Chalk Walk.  After half an hour, Bethany resurfaced, triumphant.

“I didn’t realize that PayPal has a separate account for debits which is how storage is paid and that comes straight out of Citibank not 360 or TVA and the guy at Citi waived the fee but said this was the last time as long as we get the money in there by Tuesday which gives us three days but of course PayPal may have already taken out a fee and storage will likely slap us with a bounced check fee which means we’ll need to find 40 more from SOMEwhere to put in but for now the disaster won’t snowball, thank you God!”

Yes.  And thank you Bethany.  The sun was out.

Years ago, when we would hit hard times in Brooklyn, I would tell Bethany that she was overreacting.  These were merely circumstances.  Anger wasn’t going to fix anything.  This did a lot of good.  Like gasoline to fire.  The smoldering cloud of gloom would last for days, weeks, even months, and I would do anything to get away.  Hide.  I wasn’t going to let my Don’t-Worry-be-Happy get sucked into that vortex, so I would go to my studio or crawl in a bottle leaving her alone with the anger and despair.  It took me far too long to realize these were her Feelings, not enemies, and she needed me there feeling her feel her Feelings.  Not cringing or judging or attacking, just being there.

It’s hard.  It’s suffocating.  But, man, has it changed things.  I’ve learned that her anger was not because I’d saddled her with the financial responsibility but because the financial situation had gotten out of her control and there was nothing she could do about it.  “Ohhh…” you say, nodding sagely, “she’s got Control Issues …”  Shut Up.  She’s damn good at what she does and she already knows what her issues are.  I’ve also learned that what I thought was despair over our circumstances was despair that I would be remote and Absent.  Again.  That’s heart-rending.  But now I’m getting an inkling of where this could go.  The cords I’m not severing from my heart to hers go both ways, and the commitment I thought I was lacking from Bethany is now pouring into my heart through those same cords.  So, if she’s angry, I’m going to be there for every terrifying minute of it.

The Chalk Walk was a lot of chalk drawings, the more of which you looked at, the more you wanted to do one yourself.  At least that’s how Fynn and I were affected.  I really liked the shark one. 

This lady won last year …

This one was done by a grade-schooler ...

This girl did beautiful work. I don't know if she ever finished.

Beer on the moon!  This one looked even better once the sky was black, and full of stars.

IMG_2173.JPG

Halfway through, Fynn pointed out the free-for-all section in the central plaza.  Lots of kids were drawing.  He began asking to go and draw about every three minutes.  “Let’s just look at everything first, and then we’ll see,” Bethany or I would respond.  As we were hot and the crowds were wearing down our patience, we moved through the second half faster and faster.

A table on the edge of the free-for-all area was selling t-shirts and boxes of chalk.  They also had a box of leftover chalks from those who had finished their drawings.  It wasn’t clear if these were for sale or free for the using, so we sent Fynn to ask, figuring he had the best chance of charming free ones from the lady.  Fynn returned with three chalks; white, lavender, and yellow.  “Dad, are you coming?”  Of course I was.

Douglas and Bethany chose to relax in the shade while Fynn and I found a spot he could draw.  “Dad, are you drawing?”  He asked hopefully.

“Well, are these all the colors you could get?”  Yellow, white, and lavender is a very limited palette, especially drawing with chalk.

“No, there’s a whole bunch in the box.”  Bless him.  He was only being polite, taking three.

“I’ll be back,” I said, and went and picked out one of every color I could find. 

We had fun.

Right before we left, the UT physics club had set up a table of things they had drug out of the lab and were doing demonstrations and soliciting donations.  What a bunch of geeks!  Douglas fell right to talking with them as if he wasn’t introverted at all, and Fynn nearly dove head first into the bowl of liquid nitrogen. They geeked hard for 15 minutes and even made donations from their own wallets as we left.  I looked around.  Tomorrow I would come back and I would work for donations.

Douglas pointed out in the truck that Fynn’s knife was the most potentially violent drawing in the whole Chalk Walk.  “At least there wasn’t blood on it,” I said, “Though the drawing of Galactus showed him destroying the earth.”

“Even that,” Bethany said, “didn’t evoke the same kind of danger.  There was a gentleness to everything there.”

“Yeah.” I said.  “It crossed my mind to have him draw some chopped carrots."

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struggling, and asking, and this may get messy

bethany

I've been all over the map in the last few weeks, and rather than just saying so, I've been trying to post yay-progress! kind of things about getting packed and closer to our current (hoped for, I'll-lose-it-if-we-don't-get-out-of-here, please God work it out by then) departure date of Dec 21st.  happy things.  of which there are many (did we mention getting the camper enough times yet?!) but I'm still struggling with the details.  the setbacks to whatever schedule I'd hoped for last week, or the week before, or the month before that.  and feeling guilty that I'm not still giddy over the camper, but am still feeling impatient about getting on the road. 

we got the camper thanks to the art sale, and i'm still in a bit of awe over all that.  and in a bit of an emotional ditch that I'm having trouble getting out of, as a result.  let me try to explain. 

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