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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Strawberry Jam Under the Sun

This week, I’ve been busy re-establishing my life, which for me involves so much more than just finding employment and a place to live. I’ve been immersing myself in activities that I believe will thrust me into the company of people and events that enrich one’s world. In other words, I’m getting involved.

 Last month I went to my first meeting with the Sarasota Book Club. The book up for discussion was “Salt, A World History.” I thought the factual, non-fiction book a strange choice since most book clubs lean towards literary novels, but I plowed through the book and went to the meeting anyway.  I felt like a nervous little kid walking into a new classroom as I pulled up to a woman’s home and walked through the foyer to face strangers. I’m used to book club meetings being held in less intimate settings, like a library. But the moment I walked in the door I felt at home. I was greeted by a lovely, social group of 20 plus readers (sometimes, when a more popular book is on the agenda they have up to 60 people in attendance, I’m told – that is huge for a reading discussion group in my opinion.) The member’s newsletter encouraged everyone to bring food, so I wasn’t surprised by the table laden with salad, brownies, lasagna, and appetizers (I brought sweet and sour meatballs). The afternoon began with a huge lunch spread, then moved on to a vibrant discussion about the book. I so enjoyed being in the company of people like me, nerds willing to pass up hanging at the beach on a gorgeous Saturday to do something mundane, in this case, discussing a dry history book….  Intellectual stimulation – sad to say that’s my idea of a cheap thrill.

Speaking of books, this week I met someone who recently experienced a trying passage of life – she’s been successfully battling a brain aneurism. The family is interested in hiring me to ghost write a book about the ordeal, so I made plans to meet with them to discuss the possibilities. Not much money involved, but I sense this would be a great learning project for me, and I can use a challenging distraction from my personal issues, so I’m game. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

This morning I contacted the Sarasota Senior Center to volunteer my services to teach writing classes, specifically memoir and journaling. I’ve always felt more grounded when a small part of my life is devoted to volunteer work, and I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be rewarding to help older people preserve their life stories for their families and for prosperity. The problem is, every time I tried to get something along those lines started in my small town in Georgia, I hit a wall.  In Sarasota, thanks to the sheer numbers of the population and the available money allotted to non-profits, opportunities abound, so I’m going to try again. I pursued my MFA for personal life enrichment rather than career training, but the more I think about it, all that effort could be channeled to enhancing the lives of others as well. I don’t know if I’m going to be any good at the task of teaching writing as opposed to dance, but hey, I’ve offered my services for free, so the worst that can happen is I’ll develop some teaching skills and meet some wonderful older friends.

I joined two writer’s groups in Sarasota hoping to turn my attentions back to the dream I had hoped to pursue full time when I retired from my business. It didn’t work out for me due to other family choices, but the fact that writing can’t be a full time pursuit now doesn’t mean I can’t plug away at it. The Florida Writers Association has asked me to lead a new writer’s group in my area. Cool beans.  But I look forward to participation more than taking on the responsibility of leadership. The diverse input you get from hanging with an eclectic group of writers in any fiction group is priceless. I joined the Sarasota Author’s Connection as well, because it offers readings and book signings along with short writing sessions that interest me too. Haven’t joined any romance writer’s groups. Guess I’ve evolved beyond that. In a way, I’m sorry. Anyway, that covers the writing angle of life.

Next is running. Yes, I’m running again – not well,but steadily. Not a day goes by that I don’t head out the door, look up at the brilliant sunshine and the flat stretches of pathway beckoning to me and don’t feel charmed by Sarasota. I was disenchanted with this town when I left, but I’ve returned like the prodigal son, with new appreciation for the quality of life here. Running is one of the things I missed most about Florida, the emphasis on health and wellness, the active culture and the beautiful weather allowing consistency if you love exercising outside. I was not a very active member of the running club when I lived here last, but with a mere $20 a year membership fee I thought, “what the heck”. I rejoined the Sarasota Running club, hoping it might inspire me to go to a few races. For good measure, I also joined the Lakewood Ranch running club. They have some wonderful social events for runners that will get me out of the house and among people who make fitness a priority. Last but not least, I’ve looked into the Sarasota bike club. They organize long rides on weekends that start right by my home. The problem is, I’m a bit intimidated by this group. I have no clue how far or how fast I can ride. I’m guessing I’ll be an abysmal slow-poke if I just show up without some preliminary training. One of these days I have to get my bike out and ride as far as I can and time my ride – then I’ll check the distance with my car. I’ll probably think I’m going 20 miles at a good clip, but find out I’ve gone two in slow motion. But hey, the fact that I want to evolve from a runner to a bike rider doesn’t mean I expect to be good at it. Never been a good runner either – but I do love plodding along and feeling my heart race. Makes me feel alive. Riding might prove the same.

The other day I was driving down the street and a stand was set up selling flats of fresh picked strawberries from plant city. My heart went pang and I thought, “If I was in Georgia, I’d pick some up and make jam or wine . . . I will really miss the organic, natural element of my former life.”

Then it occurred to me that moving doesn’t mean I have to give up the things that enriched my life in the country. People are but the collective experiences of their lives, so everything I learned and loved in Georgia is still with me, and always will be.  I swerved over and bought two flats of gorgeous, plump strawberries. When I got them home, I looked at my tiny kitchen and thought, “who am I kidding…. I am not set up for this kind of thing…” but the dang strawberries didn’t fit in my fridge, so I had to make something out of them. I went to my garage and pulled out my canning materials, dragged them upstairs and at 11:00 that night was finishing my second batch of jam. It was such a pleasure to be cooking again. There I was, rocking out to the blues in my kitchen, singing as I ran a hand over the steam as it shot out of the top of my pressure cooker while I licked strawberry jam off a big wooden spoon. Figuring out how much steam pressure was appropriate was a new experiment for me. A part of my old canning pot was missing after the move so I was attempting a new method. That meant breaking out the pressure cooker for the first time. Cool tool.  Anyway, I now have 24 jars of fresh strawberry jam resting on my counter. Of course I’ll only use about two or three jars myself, and I’ll no doubt want to make other sorts of jams as different fruit comes into season, so I’ll be giving most of what I made last night away. But making jam is not about eating – it’s about cooking and having a gift of food for others on hand at all times. So shoot me. I love feeding others.

Someone asked me the other day if I miss my “expansive life”, a life that included raising llamas and growing tomatoes. I responded that I really didn’t think my life was expansive because of where I lived, but more because of how I lived. I like to think I embrace and explore the opportunities present in a given life situation.  You can lead an expansive life anywhere – it is simply a matter of seeking ongoing growth as a person – of being curious enough about the world to get off your duff and live large. I certainly hope my children have learned that from me if nothing else. 

Frankly, I felt my world was expansive when I lived in New York and I dived into dance and theater fearlessly. I felt it was expansive in Sarasota when I learned about running a small business, bought my first home, had a family and began writing. I felt it was expansive in Georgia as I experimented with organic living and explored the natural world. No one place has ever been more educational or stimulating than another…. no single place was better or worse – just different. Collectively, my life has felt expansive – not because any of those lifestyles were uniquely different from how other people in the area lived, but because moving from place to place provided me with diverse life experience.  Change is good. 

What’s important is to not lose sight of the fact that a person can make strawberry jam in Georgia, Sarasota or Timbuktu. I have a counter full of jars to prove it.

We learn as we go

You know you watch too many movies (and read too many
novels) when you start observing your life from a distance, like through a
camera lens, rather than experiencing your days in a way that allows the
sights, sounds and feelings to wash over you and stick. Seems a fair
description of me lately as I go through the motions of starting life over. As I’ve
been depressed and despondent, hardly able to function, yet there’s this voice
in my head sizing up my choices, like the narrator in Bridget Jones Diary (only
my life isn’t nearly as humorous and my commentary isn’t emphasized by a great
soundtrack). My inner voice can’t resist poking fun at me, making sarcastic quips
as I wallow in self pity or get all determined to dig in and tackle my problems
only to deflate and give up within the day. When life throws you for a loop it
is easy to sway between these two states of mind every ten minutes. I often
feel as if I’m floating, wishing I would land so I can plant my feet firmly on
the ground. But the earth still seems so far beneath me that even if I point my
toes I simply can’t touch it.

During this ordeal, I’ve learned there are people who’ve
dealt with worse divorce and financial issues than I. Lots. Trust me, they keep
coming in an endless stream.
Getting divorced is like getting pregnant. When you’re pregnant, it
suddenly feels like EVERYONE is pregnant, or at the very least, their best
friend, mother, sister, co-workers, etc… are.  And everyone attached in any manner to pregnancy feels
compelled to tell you childbirth horror stories, as if this is going to make
you more pregnant-savvy and prepare you for what is to come. All it really does
is make you feel panic, depression and/or confusion, thank you very much. But
people do mean well, and I suppose it is nice to be reminded that the most
trying stages of your life are naught but common human experience. Divorce is
like that, but at least anyone who has ever gone through it tends to be
sensitive and supportive, which helps you feel less alone. Such an alienating
and crushing life experience isn’t easily to forget and people feel compelled
to help you through it. I’m grateful to new friends and old who have displayed
concern and caring for me during these dark days.

I will not share the details of individual people’s
divorces, though I’ve heard enough stories to write a dozen novels with spine
tingling scenes. But I will say that a few gems I’ve heard had made me rather
proud of my own painful, (but not hateful) divorce. Like the friend whose wife
put all his clothes in the driveway and poured paint on them because he
wouldn’t return her call in a timely fashion.

Or the friend whose spouse went to law school, made him pay
for it and used what she learned to take him for everything, leaving him to the
ears in debt as she boasted, “I’m not going to stop until he’s destitute,
unemployable, and ruined because I’ve learned how to accomplish just that.”  And she did.  Now, ten years later the anger in him bubbles to the surface
at just the thought of her. Or the friend who shared just a few words of the
nasty commentary sent to him on a text that he plans to keep in his phone forever
just reminding him how evil his ex can be. He shared it to me and said, “This
is so I never soften towards her ever again. My significant other never liked
me as a person. She likes the life I provided, but not me and after living
together for 18 years in that state, I have good reason to resent her!” Or the
fellow who described alimony as a woman’s idea of a pension plan. Or the woman
who was cheated out of her life savings by a spendthrift husband who, after
bleeding her dry felt she had nothing left to give, thus was dispensable. He
agreed to provide support, but bailed the moment she left the house, leaving
her destitute and unable to care for her child. Then he pleaded a case that he
was more fit to raise the child than her due to his financial position.

I listen and wonder how romance, once blooming with promise
and joy, can take such a 180-degree turn. Divorce changes people like the
invasion of the body snatchers. Sad. And listening to numerous people unload
the heartbreak and fury attached to their divorces, I began wondering if my
depression wasn’t just about my own losses, but also because a magnifying glass
has been held up to highlight the endless stream of romance stories with
unhappy endings that are everywhere around me.   Listening to these scenarios is witnessing the death
of everything I’ve always held most dear – the idea that love endures. I’m a
big believer in happy endings – and if this one isn’t it for me, I’d like to
think the next one will be. But to trust that, I need to come across at least
one happy ending.  Sad to say,
romance novels are the only place you find happy endings anymore, and damn if I
haven’t given up reading that kind of material years ago.

Anyway, it seems the entire world population has a story to
share about divorce, and not a day goes by that I’m not treated to yet another heart
stopping tale of anger and loss.  Everyone,
everyone, from friends and family to
lawyers, doctors and Indian chiefs, continue to lift one eyebrow and say, “You
may think your divorce will proceed amicably, but it will get ugly. They all

Me? I continue to shake my head in a condescending way and
say, “You don’t know my ex. Perhaps we can’t live together, but we can work
together. Always have. Always will. Besides which, we’ve already discussed
things and have agreed on how to proceed. I’m moving to Florida to arrange work
and set up a life that can support me and my daughter– Mark and the kids even
packed the truck for me and sent me off with a hug. There is nothing to fight
about. We have jointly agreed it is time to separate, but we appreciate our
colorful past and recognize what was good. We will be best friends always.”

Why does this always earn me a jaunty “you’ll see” smile? 

Then IT happened. I was hit with a lawsuit contradictory to
all our agreements that threw all our congenial plans out the window. Suddenly,
after years of loving parenting and caring for my husband, I was being accused
of being an unfit mother, an adulteress, and an all around horrible person who jaywalks.
An abandoner! And just like that, I’m dragged into a battle for my respect and
my children, who overnight changed their opinion of me. Spending their days as
if all things are normal with my ex while I am in my dismal state in Florida, they
grew cold and unresponsive – My eldest even wrote to tell me she never wanted
contact with me again in a message filled with such venom and ugliness that
when I showed it to a few selective confidents they crinkled their brow and
said, “And you want a relationship with this child why? I don’t believe any
parent could excuse those comments, nor should they. I wouldn’t.”

I sat with that message for a day, rereading one
particular line in a long paragraph of vicious accusations, (and this wasn’t
the worst.) You are no mother. You are a
sick, sad, confused individual in need of help and I need NOBODY to tell me

I tried to think of any circumstances that might
inspire me to say such a thing to my own mother, no matter how mad I might be,
but short of sexual abuse and/or being burned by cigarettes as I was locked in
a baby highchair, I couldn’t imagine any.
So I thought, OK, enough is enough.  Time to let go. Time to stop crying and defending my family’s
behavior. Time to stop trying to understand and be patient. Time to stop crying,
hiding, and feeling so sorry for the state of things. Time to stand up for my
rights, to set the record straight and remind everyone I’ve been a good parent,
wife and family provider for over 20 years. I may have been out of work the last 5 years, but during that time, our life tanked. Now I’m relocating to a place where I can kick into action to provide opportunity for my family as I have for the past 20 years. I was major financial contributor for most of our life, and I recognize the need to be that once again. Don’t know how I’ll rebuild, but I have to try. All I know is I sure don’t deserve this kind of
treatment – certainly not because of some selfish scramble for money or custody
or because of a defensive knee jerk reaction to a jointly agreed, long overdue separation.

Now, here I am, changing lawyers, gearing up for battle, planning to
devote every resource I have to force a fair distribution of assets. I will
fight to be recognized as a good mother, even if it means I end up with nothing
at all in the end, a ‘la war of the roses. It’s the principal of the matter. And
at long last, instead of being devastated and feeling beaten and alone, I’m actually
angry, feeling strong.

 Yesterday, I paused in the bathroom and got a
glimpse of my own eyes. They were not unlike those of all the people who have survived divorce, the ones sharing horror stories, warning me to
beware, prepare, and not to trust. And recognizing that I have finally been dragged into
this ugly state made me sadder than ever.

 Everyone was right. I WAS naive. My upcoming battle is the comeuppance
I deserve for boasting that we could end 20 years of loving each other with
respect. I was wearing dark sunglasses to hide tears – but they were really just rose

But even as I prepare for a fight now, I still wish they were
wrong.  I am finally angry, but
beneath that emotion I still feel a deep sadness
– a sadness so profound I feel awash in it, as if melancholy is seeping
into my pours and will leave a parlor on my skin, heart and mind forevermore. I
can’t imagine ever feeling cleansed of it.  

   Of course I’m mature enough to know this too will pass. Life
goes on, and happiness only awaits those brave enough to sake steps to
pursue it.  Divorce when a marriage
has gone wrong is a very important step towards happiness for both parties. It may be a horrible end of something on the one hand, but it offers the promise and hope of
a fresh beginning too.

 Mad, sad, or whatever…… I hang on to that.