The Incredible Enough-ness of Being (bumped)

(I wrote this the year I turned 50 in 2008 – it still seems timely – I have lost a beloved mother and three pets, but life is still Short and Sweet and Full of tickle grasses… so I am sharing it again.)
More than half my life is over. This year I turn fifty and I can no longer console myself with thoughts of “Oh, I still have over half my life to live…” I suppose this was true when I was 45, because even then it was very unlikely I had another half to go. Having a pacemaker, I might have been pushing it to wish for ninety, but now that 50 approaches I have to think realistically and face the reality 100 is a faint flicker, gradually sputtering toward being permanently extinguished.

So why am I happier now than I have ever been in my entire life? It isn’t that life has necessarily gotten any easier or less stressful. In many ways – I have more worries now of a more complex nature than at any other time in my life. Maybe it is simply the fact OF life that makes me feel content. I am here, now, and this is life. So, I make the best of it.

At one time in my life, I wanted to be an actress. Now that I am approaching fifty, I can relax and let that little fantasy fade to black, as they say. It is an absolute certainty I will never appear in a major motion picture or, my personal secret goal, a full blown Merchant Ivory costume, big screen feature film depiction of some obliquely pertinent English novel: something by Henry James or another long suffering closeted gay late 19th century, early 20th century writer. Knowing that ingénue roles will never again be a possibility for me is really quite liberating. And the fact that I wasn’t able to fulfill my completely irrational fantasy to portray tightly corseted ingénues rules me out of the completely left field fantasy to play free spirited, gray locks flowing down the middle of my back, blowing in the wind, spinster character roles as well. The bottom line is this: it’s over – I will not be an actress. So that’s that.

Somewhere in my late twenties I began to develop a passion for interior decorating. Not the kind you see in furniture showrooms; my own individual quirky kind. I determined I loved all white interiors. I crafted all white slip covers and painted everything I could get my hands on with Martha Stewart ironstone white paint (before Sears had the paint.) I was an interior decorating version of Emily Dickinson, only my house was my preferred medium. I suppose you could say I was fashioning my own private sanatorium!

I carefully studied my favorite magazines, Victoria, Country Home, Country Living even English Country Living! I once actually paid $89.00 for an entire year to receive Country Living, English Version. I gardened (gardening is a whole other blog post, so I will save THAT topic for later.) I was consumed with decoration and little lovely things. I CREATED little lovely things. By the time I was thirty five, I even sold some of my little lovely things. Victoria Magazine was my absolute favorite and my actress dreams became “Clever Me Featured in a Magazine Article” dreams. I hired a photographer (a student at the photography school) I had professional pictures made of my little lovely things, I designed a unique and gorgeous letter to Victoria, I sent it. They actually replied and said they were very interested and would get back to me in a year or two, since everything was planned that far out. And then, Victoria folded, the magazine shut down just as the two years was about to be up and my “Clever Me Featured in a Magazine Article”dream faded away as well. I sat on my white couch in my white living room and pondered Martha’s ironstone white walls and thought, well, that’s that.

I still have all my pretty slip covers and things, but I consider my house to be fully decorated and keeping up with the times doesn’t hold the appeal it once did for me. My house will gradually descend into outmoded. Soon, it will be like a typical grandmother’s house. Neat and tidy with things that people decorated with over twenty years ago. My twig wreaths will be the 21st century equivalent of crochetted tissue box holders. I have to face it. It is over. It was not my destiny to be featured as a clever doer of lovely little things in a magazine. And you know what? It is ok.

With the exception of acting, I still do many of the things I used to do. I make pretty little things. But I find that I can’t part with them. They made me happy while I created them and the memory they provide makes me happy when I pull them out and look at them. Maybe that is why I am happier now than I have ever been. Somewhere along the way, I discovered the joy of being satisfied. It has filled me up and it has made me whole.

Now, I look forward to what lies ahead for my daughter. Only, I try not to impose any expectations. I only want her to discover this same happiness I have found. I hope she finds it sooner than I did. I want her to know this joy of enoughness, the pleasant realization of this is it-ness, the contentment of here and now-ness.

I want to say Happy New Year to all who read this. May you be filled to the brim with self contentment and the life affirming spirit of liking yourself-ness…

My Summer Vacation


My summer vacation. Fifty summers. Fifty summer vacations. Like a homing pigeon headed north, I fly. North. To the Northwoods. To the land of lakes and birch trees and hemlocks. We drive two days through the mountains and the cornfields and finally the forests, my mother and sister and niece and I.
As we wind through the Appalachians, I remember the first time I saw a mountain. I was 17 and I was enchanted. I remember a feeling bubbling up inside of me. Like a hidden spring, the possibilities of topography dawning on me, all those embossed globes of my childhood, I could feel, like a blind person the memory of my finger tips running down the spine of a mountain range and now, here it was like a wall before me.
I wondered if I had somehow missed out on something deep and mysterious and ultimately more tremendous than the dark black Illinois loam of my mother’s peony bed by having spent my first 17 years on the prairie. I would have had a similar reaction to the ocean except for the fact that Lake Michigan had prepared me better than my paper mache globe.
But now, in my fiftieth summer, as we round each curve in the Daniel Boone National Forest, my body pressed from centrifugal force against the car window, I find my heart beats harder the closer we come to Indiana and the vast expanse of corn fields all wearing their long lace collars of Queen Anne’s lace. I am going North.
When I finally see the first corn fields ahead through the asphalt mirage of the highway and glimpse the dark heart of Indiana’s hardwood forests beyond in the distance, I start to feel as if I am going home. I sigh, a long sigh, as if I have been holding my breath for yet another year when we finally stop for the evening, our first day of travel complete. I feel as if my own fetch greets me. The ghost of the girl I once was. It is the air swirling around me. It takes me back to my Midwestern girlhood. It reminds through flashes carried into my senses on the breeze. Like the ripple of playing cards in a dealer’s hand I can see of all my summers. I shiver and It reminds me why I never wore sundresses without a sweater.
In my youth I resented having to cover my pretty shoulders and now as I stand outside the Comfort Inn in Crawfordsville, Indiana which stands in the middle of a cornfield, I ache to go back in time and cover my shoulders all over again. Now. Even now when I know about the mountains and the oceans and the sultry beauty of Savannah and Charleston, I want to go back to the time when all I knew was perfectly straight strips of highway hidden in the precise grid of gently swaying cornfields and the fact that summer was only, truly, three weeks long.
In years past, our daughters stood, teeth clattering at the edge of the Indiana motel swimming pool, lamenting the chilly early July evening air and yearning for their Southern summer swimming pools. Our Southern born daughters who understood nothing about their riches of sweater-less sundresses, our daughters whose lungs ached for the languid blanket of humidity which made it possible to always wear the thinnest cotton over a bikini in the pitch black midnight of Georgia. There is a beguiling sense of recklessness inherent in a Southern summer evening. Yet only a Northerner can truly spot it. Southerners, like our daughters, raised as they are in so gentle a climate are blissfully unaware of the joys of owning multiple sundresses and walking sweater-less on a summer evening. Yes, Sundresses sum it up nicely.
The next day we drive up through the straight center of Illinois, Land of Lincoln and Chicago and me. Dan Fogleberg once sang Illinois, Illinois, Illinois, I’m your boy. If Dan Fogelberg was Illinois’ boy than I am Illinois’ girl; I can barely stand to see the road signs which point to Decatur. I drive and glance continually to my left after we leave Bloomington and Decatur fades in my rear view mirror. For reasons I can’t explain, the green interstate sign declaring this way to Decatur reminds me of my college love making conducted in a dorm room somewhere in Decatur and the sweet boy I left behind. I remember first kisses and secret good byes and because I know I can never take that exit again, my lips quiver a bit.
Soon we are flying by Rockford and then we are finally in Wisconsin and the flat land gives way to rolling hills and perfect farms with barns and silos and dairy cows that frame either side of highway. We accelerate a bit, in hurry now to exit from the lunacy that is interstate 90/94. We exit and find Highway 51, our impatience growing now to be on our island and rowing on our lake.
As the Northwoods loom ahead of us, my melancholy fades. I manage to shake off all the places I have left behind forever and turn my attention to the constancy of my ancient cottage, tucked away on a tiny round island. I am returning to the place I can always return to: the place where time stops. Here, bull frogs serenade little green ladies throughout the night and loons wail distantly in the hidden bays of the lake. Dragon flies who ironically wear Carolina Blue land on my knees and I remember I live in North Carolina now. The herons abide in marshy alcoves and otters play on their backs at the edges of our shore. A mother deer and her babe sneak across our filled in road to drink at the water’s edge and we watch humming birds drink at the feeder we have placed on an old wrought iron lamp stand outside the window.
For fifty summers I have traveled north. North. Toward the stars. On my way to heaven. My summer vacation.

Dorothy Trades Places with the Tin Man

I just won a writing contest at Memoirs Ink. It is the first contest I have ever won. Being a grown up, it felt like all the Christmas mornings of my childhood. 

I began this writing journey four years ago when I enrolled in the MALS program (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Feeling restless and bored, sensing I needed something more, I responded to a curriculum catalog I picked up on a newsstand for the University which listed a class called “Writing for Readers.” I thought to myself, “I read, I used to write, why not?”

I remember feeling humble and scared at the first class. The teacher (amazing woman) had us go around the room and introduce ourselves and then she made us write. Everyone in the room was hesitant. We had to respond to a writing prompt with a mere paragraph. It was agony. For ten minutes we struggled and erased and crossed out and there seemed to be a collective groan pulsing like high frequency sound waves in the air. To top it off, she requested we read our responses out loud. She didn’t force us, but we could sense her eagerness and we already recognized her amazing-ness, so we acquiesced.

I will never forget driving home from that class. It was about a twenty minute trip and I wrote a poem in my head all the way and ran into my house to write it down. I still have it. I think it may be a very bad poem, but I love it. Since my name is Dorothy, I wrote a sort of metaphor about The Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy had kind of morphed into the Tin Man and how I, Dorothy, was now the Tin Man, released from my frozen, rusted state. I wrote that “words” had the same effect as oil and suddenly I was alive again, my pen limber and flowing. The poem may be dreck, but the sentiment is real. I began writing again that night and have never stopped.

I say I began again, because I have always loved to write. As a girl I wrote stories. I remember starting a novel in the fourth grade. “The Mystery at Blackberry Hill.” Obviously an homage to Nancy Drew. I wrote myths and fables. In six grade, I wrote a story called, “A Girl from California.” It was about a girl from California (duh) who moved to a suburb of Chicago and had trouble making friends and then she finds a really great boyfriend so everything is peachy again. It was written in the style of the short stories that appeared in Seventeen and Mademoiselle Magazines. Reading the short stories was the first thing I did when I received the magazines. I loved them.

“A Girl from California” was all me. Constance (the girl) looked like me and wore the same shade of lipstick as me (secretly, on the way to and from school.) The plot was me, the boyfriend was the boy I had a crush on and the mean friends were my mean friends. My teacher wrote on the story, “Very good story, did you really write it?” It didn’t occur to her that all the reading I did may have shown me a few tricks and informed my writing.I was devastated. Of course I had really written it. But her reaction, even though she apologized to me when I went to her in tears to proclaim the story was all me, spoiled writing for me a bit. I still wrote stories in high school, but dread always followed when I handed them in. I think I became gun shy.

When I saw the class “Writing for Readers,” I remembered sixth grade and thought, “see, reading DOES teach you a thing or two.” And it did and does. All of the stories written in my class, by supposed novices, were incredible. I even belong to a writing group now, “Scribblers,” with two of my former classmates. When the class ended the amazing teacher reminded us to keep reading, “read when you get stuck,” she said, “it will help your writing.” It’s true. It’s like saying “open sesame.” It works. I wish I could tell my sixth grade teacher THAT.

I want to thank Felice Austin of Memoirs Ink for choosing my memoir. I also want to congratulate the other winners whose stories I just finished. WOW. They are amazing as well. I love your stories, Deborah Thompson, Lisa Piorczynski and Merry Gordon.

Words are wonderful. Life is good.