The Farm, The Weariness.

posted in: Family 3
The bus stop my dad made for me and my sisters so we would have shelter waiting for the school bus each day. Photo: Me
The bus stop my dad made for me and my sisters so we would have shelter waiting for the school bus each day. Photo: Me

Claus came over from Chicago for a visit while I’m here. Aside from the interest he has in seeing where I grew up, it’s objectively great for him to see a quaint Midwestern village. It would be the same for me if I were in Germany; I’d probably travel miles to see a “real life” German village. I’ve shown him the theater; we went to see some covered bridges; we’ve eaten several meals at the local Northside Cafe; we checked out the high school football field.

And this afternoon, we took a drive into the countryside. But it wasn’t just any old Sunday drive; we drove seven miles south-ish and west-ish of town to the farm where I grew up.

Lord Almighty, all our old pains. So precious, so deep, so white-knuckled. Our most blinding pains are woven into us and the older we get, the older the pain gets and don’t you dare pull that thread. It’s the first tragedy of my life, leaving that farm, and the story of it — mythic, epic, now — has been squatting on my heart ever since, despite hours of therapy, true love, art. Despite travels to Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, to the far reaches of the galaxy, to Florida. I’d love to say it was different, that I’m resolved and actualized and enlightened by age if nothing else, but I see that farm and it all comes back. Blah, blah, blah.

I was little. My sisters were little. My mom and dad were getting divorced. My sisters and I got on the school bus one day. We never went back to the farm. We didn’t know we wouldn’t go back, we just never did. We never slept in our beds again. We never saw our toy box again. We didn’t say goodbye to our cats. We were country kids, then we were not. Cry me a river. Amazon.

Why go out there? I don’t know. One may select from a variety of Sunday afternoon activities and ghost-hunting is an activity one may choose to select when you’re me, in Winterset. It’s all out there, just seven miles out, south-ish and west-ish of this particular and particularly quaint Midwestern village. The acreage looks a lot different from when I was eight, but it’s the same. It is exactly, exactly the same and I would know because I know every inch of that place.

There’s a long drive to the property from the road. It’s not possible to get to the house without making a big production of it: you don’t visit my farm by accident. I don’t know the people who live there, so Claus and just parked the car on the road. That was for the best. I wouldn’t be able to handle touching the yard, the doorknobs. I just know I couldn’t. Squinting at things from far away was plenty.

Claus took pictures of the landscape and of me. Of all the pictures he took, there’s one that truly works. It’s a closeup of me. I’m wearing my Iowa Hawkeyes hooded sweatshirt. The wind is blowing my hair around and I’ve got one hand up to hold it back. My nails are lacquered red because I got a manicure for TV taping tomorrow. The sun is glinting off the gold baby ring I never take off. I’m squinting because the sun is behind the camera. I look every day of my thirty-six years. I’m not smiling. But I’m not crying. The farm is behind me, blurry.

*There’s more about all that right here.



Relationship Styles: Think Flowbee

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv 0
Illustration by Kate Greenaway, b.1846.
That’s me the other day. I can’t remember why. Illustration by Kate Greenaway, b.1846.

I’ve been spending time with A Person. (Not the doctor, who was a one-date situation but I get asked about it a lot for some reason. I keep meaning to tell the rest of that story because there’s more; I promise to do that tomorrow.)

Person and I have spent enough time together over enough months now that parts of myself that I don’t understand have come back and are staying in my guest room. Relationships bring out sides of ourselves that don’t exist when we’re on our own. Unless you’ve been married fifty years and have done a lot of workbooks, the negative stuff that gets revealed is hard to change. The older I get, the more annoyed I am when I realize I’m doing X again in a relationship, or that I responded so badly to Y when I damn well knew better.

We all have a relationship style. Some people try out that style on one person their whole life; some people try it out on a whole lot more. There are fabulous elements in a person’s relationship style, (e.g., a photographic memory for how much butter you like on your popcorn); there are not-so-fabulous elements (e.g., yelling.)

Now that I’m seeing A Person, I am reminded once again that I am the most impatient person I’ve ever met. Now that I’m seeing A Person, I am reminded that I am moody. Now that I am seeing A Person, I must remind myself that it’s okay to let someone else chop the salad and that if it’s not done exactly the way I like it — which is of course the right way — no stars will fall out of the sky.

Now that I’m seeing A Person, I am reminded how frightening it is and frankly how exhausting it is at this point it is to stick my heart out.

Too late.

Love, Thyself.

posted in: Day In The Life 0
My homecoming queen.
My homecoming queen.

Recently I skimmed a book passage in which the author encouraged single people to practice “self-love.” In lieu of being actively shown love by a partner, in other words, the singles were encouraged to actively show love to themselves. You’ve surely come across this idea, single or not. But in a culture that by and large looks at the intentionally single person as suspicious, damaged, and inexcusably narcissistic, it’s downright dangerous to seriously talk about loving yourself, much less actively practice it. Are you serious? I mean, could you get any more selfish?

I have chosen to remain single since my divorce. I have had several opportunities to “couple up” and I have declined to do so. This has come with some pain for both me and the fellow in question, but I remain resolute: I am single, and I like it that way.

At this point, there is surely the reader who thinks, not without kindness, “Well, that’s easy enough when you’re young enough to change your mind — and you will.” Others are a bit gloomier: “You’ll be sorry when you’re old and alone.” And still others will resent that I proclaim my choice to be single with such unabashed satisfaction and confidence. “People are meant to be married. Who does she think she is?”

I’m quite sure that being single is, for me, the only way to really find out.

There’s much to say about my decisions to go stag, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to corral my thoughts back to the “self-love” article. The concept itself calls to mind sappy scenes: should I run a bubble bath in a candlelit bathroom and float rose petals in the tub? Should I wrap myself up like a burrito and listen to nature sounds? Perhaps self-love is something rather, uh, too private to write about here.

Many of the suggestions for self-love I find are based on suggestions for acts of love between a couple, and those are often sappy and unimaginative. (To wit: rose petals in a bathtub are gross. They turn into blood-colored spitballs that stick all over your wet, naked body. Romance fail.) I pride myself on being a pretty creative lover of people, so when it comes to loving myself, I’m creative about that, too. Because it’s true that if there’s no one to be sweet on and no one to be consistently sweet on me, I’ve got to do something about it.

I’m naked a lot. One of the first things I do when I come home is take off all my clothes. The naked body is so great! We all have one. Being naked and putting the dishes away is one of life’s greatest pleasures, as long as you don’t drop a glass, of course. Being nekkid as a jay-bird is kinda silly, and it’s very important when you’re single to not get too serious about it. Besides, my poor body has been through a lot and it’s a loving thing to let it be visibly more healthy today than it’s been in awhile.

I keep my house quite tidy. If I lived with my best friend, I would keep the house very tidy and clean because I love my best friend and that is the right thing to do. Well, it’s the right thing to do for me, too. An organized house = an organized mind. This is a fundamental belief I hold. Get me my Windex!

Admittedly, buying myself flowers is not the most creative act of love, but boy does it work. I have fresh flowers in my home, always. Always. I love the gladiolus and I have fresh glads as long as I can throughout the seasons. They are tall and sumptuous, intelligent. The flowers go from these tight little fingerlings to these papery, sashaying blooms and I buy the green ones, the red ones, the white ones. I love them and they love me right back.

And whenever I come home from a trip, whenever I’m gone all day and I put the key in the door, whenever I feel like I’ve been away physically or mentally for too long, I enter the hallway and greet my condo with a, “Well, hello! Hello, my darling! Welcome home! Yes, you are lovely, lovely, lovely!” or some variation on that theme.

Who can I miss? What could be wrong with it? And who could ever regret these days?