Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I am overdue for a true vacation. I love to travel, apart from the airline stuff. (What a bother that is these days.!!!) While I have stamina and (a little) youth left, there are places I want to go and things I want to see. I think I need to make a bucket list. Not that I'm kicking off any time soon - I just think everyone needs goals. Paris, Russia, Bejing, the Pyramids, The Parthenon... Hell, I'm excited that I finally saw the St. Louis arch!

In my head I tend to plan from major event to major event or bit of travel. It gives me something to work toward and to look forward to. I don't have any such thing on my horizon right now, apart from my son's wedding in a few weeks. This will be fun, but not a vacation by any means. A vacation is a respite. It's an interlude of fun for fun's sake. It's a refresher of the soul/spirit. It's INTERESTING, for heaven's sake. I don't want to sit on a beach somewhere staring either. I want to SEE places!

The economy being the way it is, this is not the year for big travel. My husband is on an expensive fishing trip, but he's worked his butt off for the last several years and has earned the money and needs the rest, frankly. I hope he comes home renewed and happier, because that is what a vacation should do. I do not fall into his category, but I went into downtown Chicago with cousins and my daughter yesterday. It was fun and SORT OF like being on vacation. We walked around, shopped a bit, had a nice little snack in a little bistro and a delicious dinner at a favorite restaurant. It was hot and steamy walking in the city in nearly 90 degree heat, but I didn't much care (especially after I put my hair up, which I should have to begin with.) It was a get-away, and EVERYONE needs a bit of a get-away sometimes.

I went to Europe on my own two years ago to meet up with my son and his girlfriend, who had been traveling for three months there already. We went to some exotic places (well, for me.) Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Munich, etc. And we drove in their rented Renault. It was wonderful and one of the best times I have ever had traveling. I have been on fancier trips - like to Maui or on a European Cruise, or even Caribbean cruises, but the pace and company of that trip was great for me. I liked everything about it. I loved being with my son for two weeks. I will treasure memories of that trip forever and hope I get to travel with him again some time. He's a med student so time is not his friend these days. Not much to spare. Still I hold out hope.

If I know one thing about myself, it is that I need to look foward to something. I'm a planner and a list-maker. I need to know what I'll be doing next month and the month after. THis year, after the wedding is done July 31, I really don't have anything on my platter that falls into the category of "looking forward to it." It's bugging me. My daughter is going on a cruise with some cousins in October. I am dying to go with, but I want to go with my husband, who won't take the time or spend the money to go this year. And really he is right, we shouldn't spend the money. But it seems there has to be a way to do something together that doesn't have anything to do with running the business of the family or commerce. I am longing for a vacation and need a change of scenery and a few new experiences. And I need time with him.

I think a vacation does not have to be a huge expense. We have a lake home in Wisconsin. I love being there, but I don't want to sit up there alone. I spend A LOT of time alone. I better get cracking on some plans for the future and some trips to break up my (long) year. My sanity and happiness literally depends upon it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Writing

I have been thinking the last few days about writing. I fancy myself somewhat of a writer. I write grant requests for a non-profit. I've written articles and newsletters. I've written whole training manuals over a variety of (mostly banking or managment related) subjects. And for better or worse, I blog. I have a few loose stories floating in my brain that I have thought about working into a novel (or two), but can't seem to get a real solid idea out of any of it. I have written some chapters, but just this week sat down to read them again after an absence of some months.

They aren't good. It's humiliating really. I felt I was being so clever when I wrote the beginning to my big story, but now in rereading I just think it comes off as maybe nearly juvenile or at a minimum, unedited and raw. I've been better (from a writing perspective) than these chapters. At any rate, it's forced me to rethink not only about whether or not I'm cut out to be a writer, but what I maybe want in life in general. (And yes, this is a big topic for me.)

I think I work best in a collaborative environment. Some people are loners who have to do it all themselves. I am better at refining and focusing an idea. I'd make a great editor, probably, even though I don't often edit myself enough. (Who does?) How one gets to BE an editor anywhere I haven't a clue. I just think I'd be good at it.

Is the nature of being a writer to have self-doubt? To wonder if anyone will be interested in what I may have to say in print (or cyberspace) or if even I will be interested after a time? Certainly in rereading my text I have come to see how raw the work is and that I'm in need of a genuine tight idea to go with my spectacular setting. And how do people come up with names for characters or places anyway? Maybe I should join a writing club or something? Is there such a thing? I'll have to Google/Bing around looking.

But back to the collaboration thing. When I read books there are always long lists of thank yous from the authors to a myriad of people in their life who helped them (A) finish the work in the first place and (B) give advice or actually read and edit the work. Does that count as collaboration? I think I need a team, really. I work better on a team.

When my kids were young I used to make up bedtime stories off the top of my head. We (they) called them "Stories without a book". And they were usually of the ilk of campfire type stuff - mildly scary or fantastical. Its funny, but my 22 year old daughter still remembers some story I told them about a place I called "Diamond Lake," and she had to be maybe 5 when I wove that yarn. Obviously I can make up stuff when I have to. How is it when I have to WRITE it though, it's harder? Is it the commitment to the words? Commitment to the work?

I read alot about authors/writers. They all seem like driven individuals who are nearly compelled to write - like they HAVE to do it. They are letter writers and bloggers and twitterers and diarists. I'm not that way. Truthfully there isn't anything I feel that strongly about - that I HAVE to do it or I'll be sad, or feel "less than" or feel something is hugely missing for me. What does that say for me? I think perhaps I am more in love with the idea of being an author than acually becomming one for real. Like everything else, it's gonna take a lot of work. It's about making a decision. And I've been putting a few off for a good long while....

So writer's block be damned, I want to work on that story. I know I can do it. I just have to carve the time out (and what else do I have, really...?) and get to work. Hatchet Island, here I come. Now what exactly WILL be out there? Hmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I have had the song "Mr. Cellophane" in my head all day today. The one from the musical "Chicago". It came up this morning in a conversation I was having with my therapist, actually. I was trying to describe how I feel a good deal of the time to my family and friends and this is what popped into my mind. All day I haven't been able to shake the song (my son used to call this a "brain worm". )

It's not really the catchy tune that hooked me, but rather the feeling of the song and some of the lyrics. "...oh you can see right through me..." When I am a little overwrought and feeling like I am likely the last person on everyone around me's list, I feel like cellophane. You know it's there, but you can see right through it as if it weren't. Lately I'm humming this tune more than I would like.

I used to have more people in my life to whom I could turn for a good ear, a little advice and little (less or more) judgement. It's at these times I miss Kate most of all, God rest her. She always seems to be sympathetic and encouraging and allowed me to vent, as we all need to do from time to time. I don't think I have had that luxury in my life for some time now - that is, the comfort and security with another individual to let it out and vent with no fear. Not that I just want a bitch session with a friend - I'm really talking about something deeper than just moaning about kids, husbands, pets and families.

It is about being seen. I'm rather tired of not being truly seen. I'm REALLY tired of being the one everyone calls to fix their problems but not really having anyone who can help fix mine. (Not sure my issues are actually fixable - that's something to chew on...hmmm). My daughter pops in my office or room nearly daily with "just a little favor" she needs, or calls me on the phone at the last minute to find something, do something or go somewhere for her. Frustrating because with a little planning she needn't rely on me. Kind of like my mother-in-law, whose philosphy seems to have been "why do it when someone can do it for me" for the last 30 or more years. Or my son, who ignores a text message from me asking when he may be available to help me with my garden - about an hour's worth of work I cannot do alone, but when he needs a little cash it's an easy call to Mom.

So today it was suggested to me that others may not know what I need because I don't vocalize my needs. I did think on this alot today, and have realized that this is by-and-large the truth. I have my moments of frustration or anger when I'll just blow up, but I'm more or less a calm person, so this doesn't happen very often. So it got me thinking, how in the world should I or can I tell those around me what I need for my own happiness. Seems selfish to me to ask, but there it is, I guess I will have to, otherwise, they will continue to "see right through me". The old adage, "Ask and Ye Shall Receive."

It's the asking that's the hard part of course. Everyone carrys around their own sack of "stuff". The worries, troubles, doubts, fears, personal histories, and experiences that make us individual. Some people cannot look past their own stuff to others' stuff, as much as we may almost want to WILL it so. It's that measure of not wanting to feel like cellophane, but rather having someone express a care or concern without having to ask. Maybe that's unrealistic? I don't know. I really don't. I have a hard time expressing my troubles - especially to those really closest to me because I don't want to burden any of them further, and this is particularly so for my hard-working husband.

So it seems its a bit back to the rock and hard place for me. I AM fed up with being taken advantage of, and being "looked right through" by my family especially, but by the same token, I don't want to add a log to the fire and create more of a fuss than is needed. It will just boil down to communication of course, and being (somewhat) a writer you'd think I'd have this covered, but nothing is further from the truth, really. It's a WHOLE lot easier to talk to cyberspace than face to face with a human being. It's why kids get so worked up about Facebook comments and cyber-bullying. Half of it wouldn't go on if they had to be said aloud to be heard. But I digress...

I have to work on this communication thing. My husband comes home from a fishing trip tomorrow. I haven't really had time to sit and talk with him for more than 10 minutes in probably a month or more. I guess there's no time like the present. IN the meantimes...."Cellophane, Mrs. Cellophane...Oh you can look right through me...."


Sunday, June 6, 2010


It has occurred to me lately that I am a person who allows herself to become overly obligated. This applys to nearly every aspect of my life, from charity work to helping my kids (who are now fully grown). Why I continue to do this to myself is a little beyond me and leads me to endless bouts of depression, self-pity, resentment and anxiety. Pretty lame. I think I may have it figured out finally though - what drives me to keep taking on more than I should.

It's my "drug" of choice. Some people drink, others eat, shop, are promiscuous, do actual drugs, exercise themselves silly, etc. All obsessive compulsive behaviors. Keeping myself loaded up with "stuff" to do has become for me, the way I tamp down feelings or avoid getting to things I really ought to be doing or thinking about/addressing. I've written before about my apparent inability to say "no" to a friend or family member who's asked for help. I don't think that it's because I seek approval so much as perhaps just filling up the ennui of my life. At least this is what I have been thinking lately.

Of course the problem with saying yes all the time is that the obligations do pile up. I end up feeling anxious because I'm behind schedule, overstretched financially or just plain TIRED. I end up with stacks of commitments that end up making me feel guilty if I can't get to them. The other side of this coin is feeling good if I DO get to the piles of work and get them done. It's just that there always seems to be a new pile.

Maybe this is how life is? Perhaps we all take on too much and fill our lives with tasks, debt, social and work obligations and the minutae of daily living/households. Where is the time to just STOP and be quiet, both literally and figuratively? For me, even when I sleep my mind seems to be racing, all the time. My dreams are filled with chasing, vivid color and quests, as if even in sleep I can't keep up. The result is endless worry and never being able to outrun, outwit and outlast the chase, to borrow a "Survivor" phrase.

American life has gotten pretty fast. It's why I love going up to the Northwoods so much. There I seem to be able to handle my tasks - maybe because I'm watching the buzz of hummingbirds and gazing out at a pretty lake between jobs and tasks. I take the time to go down to the pier for even 10 minutes in the evening just to sit and stare. It's wonderful. I find the time to read when I'm there. Or to play a game of cards or boardgame with friends or family. Life slows down - or so it seems. Whay can't that translate to my life when I'm at "home".

Something to think about. Now I have to go fish the puppy out of yet another wastebasket, put another load of clothes in the washer and shower for a barbeque this afternoon. Let the races begin....

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mystery Island

There is an island on a lake in Northern Wisconsin that positively intrigues me. Denby Island, between Medicine and Laurel Lakes in Three Lakes Wisconsin is the setting I have chosen to use for a story I've been writing (or more like thinking about writing.). It's a seriously creepy place that sparks my imagination in a huge way.

The island is shaped (from the air) like a hatchet. In fact, my story will be called "Hatchet Island" or something like that. The large part of the isle is fenced in with 10-foot high chain-link fencing that is topped by barbed wire in some spots. Parts of the fencing appear almost new - other areas are in disrepair, though still standing. Where the large island joins the long spit that juts out from it there is a stone archway set with a door in the fencing. Then a bridge over to the spit, on which sits a several-hundred year old French chateau, slate roofing and all. Apparently it was dissassembled and brought over near the turn of the century. There is also a small caretakers cottage on that spit, along with two over-the-water boathouses and a permanent dock. Near the bridge is a grotto of some kind with a sundial and two other arches made of stones. That area seems nearly like a ritual setting. The chateau is stone and the whole of that spit and the big island is heavily wooded. From the water, one cannot see into the interior of the large part (the hatchet) of the island, though I know there are a few buildings in the center of it. (My son and cousin did a fly-over and took pictures from my cousin's two-seater plane a year or so ago for me.) Those buildings appear to be either barns (or something similar) and perhaps a big greenhouse of some kind.

Whenever we have asked townspeople about the history of that island, it seems to us that the questions are either evaded or met with a shrug. Can no one know what goes on (or went on) in that large part of the island? For two years we have asked and asked about this property. The local antiques shop proprietess claims to know the owner and have toured the house, which she claims is "loaded" with french antiques. Interesting. But no one seems to have been able to get on that island to look around at what is going on. Hence the mystery. As to the buildings in the center of the large part of the island - well no one knows about them - or at least is talking.

It so happens my son is good friends with a local boy. The young man has stayed with us a number of times at our property nearby. I asked him about Denby's history and was again met with the "I dunno" shrug - but this time with a promise that he'd ask his father, who is postmaster in that area for the last 20 some-odd years. So he knows both the owner and some of the details about that property. At any rate, the father has agreed to get me an interview with the owner, who is apparently quite elderly. Am I ever excited about this. I've been photographing that place for two years from the water. Maybe finally I'll get some answers!

Guesses about what has or is going on there have ranged from "Jurassic Park" kind of wild-goose musings to the more practical suggestions of "deer farm". That doens't seem to fit either though. Deer farm in the Northwoods of Wisconsin? Kind of an oxymoron. It has to be something else entirey. My son thinks they are growing "weed" up there. My daughter thinks it's a government operation. See what I mean? Hugely varied ideas about that place.

Certainly that place has seen its heyday come and go. Much of it appears in disrepair. The owner is in her 80's and reputably, her offspring aren't interested in the place. I've seen her once, walking up to the house from a pontoon boat moored at her boathouse landing. I am so looking forward to meeing her and maybe even getting a tour myself. It seems that one day very soon, the big mysteries of the island will no longer be consigned to my imagination but will be out-in-the open.

Not sure how I feel about that. Sometimes it's a whole lot more fun to guess. :) Now back to my story writing....

Gal Pals

I just saw the movie "Sex in the City II", or whatever it's called. I have never been a fan of the series, having seen maybe 1.3 episodes over its entire run, but I have read enough about the characters to know a bit about the show. And I'm just not a huge Sarah Jessica Parker fan - I don't get all the hype. And I dig her character, "Carrie Bradshaw" even less. So I didn't have a whole lot of expectations for the film, nor any real vested interest either (I went because my daughter wanted to see it.)

At any rate, I did think there were some really funny momemts in the movie (the gay wedding with Liza as minister was indeed hilarious.) I read a review of the movie before going to see it, which I usually don't do as most movie reviews are so wrapped up with the reviewers' points of view, politics and biases that I just skip over reading them mainly and go a see what appeals to me and make my own judgements. I have to say though, this particular review was accurate - this movie tried WAY too hard to be clever and ended up being its own cliche. I don't know any one person who would use the term, "inter-friend-tion" when referring to giving advice to their gal pals. It was too contrived. And the characters have become caricatures, really. I don't think I'd ever be friends with any of them - maybe just Charlotte the stressed out Mom. I don't believe New Yorkers are so cosmopolitan in general either. It just didn't seem plausible. So I didn't really get the vibe of this flick because it just seemed so over-the-top fake. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know - it's just a movie, and belief is supposed to be suspended - yet I just don't think women talk to each other or act with each other the way these women do. And I know lots of women.

What the movie did is get me thinking about friendships in general, and in particular, women as buddies. I have never been a person with a gaggle of female friends that meet regularly for chic lunches with all of us decked out in four-inch heels and the latest haircuts and bags. I have few really close friends, and only one best friend that knows me more than anyone. My closest female friends tend to be family members, which can be complicating. Still, as the movie portrayed these four women who'd been through thick and thin together, I can see where that would be both reassuring and maybe a bit cloying too. Do people stay in one place long enough any more to hang onto a "crew" of friends? There is some comfort in shared secrets, camaraderie and histories. Do we as women need that? I got me wondering if I need it.

Maybe I am an oddball in this. Or a loner? I never used to be. I did have a bunch of girlfiends growing up and through high school and college. I still talk to two of those gals from gradeschool to this day, from time to time. I've even remet some of those college sorority friends via Facebook lately, which is kinda fun. Still, at this moment in time, I don't have a pile of girlfriends to go out to the theater with, or to the city for cocktails and chic dinners. I don't really even have anyone nearby to just go to a movie with - usually it's my daughter with whom I do these things, which frankly has to be a drag for her, even if it comforts me. It's really not until I see a chick-pack movie like this one that I think to either miss having a scad of female buddies or want to have them at all.

Tonight I could be out seeing a friend's husband's band play, but I'd have to go alone, which I just hate doing. My son was going to come out with me, but we both ended up opting to have a quiet night. I have lots of them. Lots. Maybe I would have met some friends there - but more than likely it would have been awkward for me, and I just would rather closet myself at home on the computer than be uncomfortable. I'm wondering what this says about me and where I am in my life. Because I think I really could use a gaggle of girlfriends to shop with, have lunch with, etc. every now and again, as Carrie and company in this movie. Nothing like a girlfriend to dissect your troubles. Chasing my puppy around all day just ain't cuttin' it. Waiting for the phone to ring with my husband calling is getting old too. Conversation is what is missing in my life.

So I am beginning to "get" this girlfriend deal. My mother has been friends with the same eight gals from the time they were in high school together. They are now in their 80's. How cool is that? They all settled in the same general hometown (or close by) and have remained close, having regular golf games, bridge games, dinner parties, etc. I always kind of envied her that group of "girls". I guess it's a rare thing to stay close to your high school friends your whole life. People move away, grow up, have familes - there are a million ways to grow apart. Yet this group of eight never has. It's astonishing, really. And a great comfort to my mother. Still, can't imagine that group having an "inter-friend-tion". Ewww.

So I guess once again I'll pine away for somthing I don't have and probably never will. However, my high school best friend is STILL my best friend though - so I'm fortunate to share a 30 plus year history with her. We have dramatically different lives, yet respect and love one another. A male friend of ours having dinner with us a few years back claimed we "speak in code" - the shorthand of a long friendship - finishing a sentence with a knowing look or a raised eyebrow and a laugh. It's that sort of thing that made the "Sex in the city" flick watchable and the only part that seemed really believable for me. Because anyone who's had a friend or two for a long period of time can appreciate the compexities as well as subtleties of that level of relationship. At any rate, the concept of four friends hanging together through the years is nice. I've had a real life example of that to look to all my life, watching Mom and her pals.

So maybe it's time for a margarita night with a few gal pals after all? Gee, we can get all gussied up and give each other advise and speak our minds without fear of judgement or recrimination. Yeah right. I am far more likely to share a simple meal at Panera Bread Co. wearing jeans and tennis shoes than four-inch Louboutins and Chanel. And amen to that. Just keepin' it real. My best friend and I will meet in the shoe department of Macy's halfway between where she and I live - do some cursory shopping and then settle in for a good chat over pasta someplace in the mall. I think women are more likely to be forthcoming one-to-one, and not in a group anyway. A glass of blush wine, some gnocchi and a little gossip. That's interacting. THAT is what a real long-time friendship looks like. Not four gals dolled up in harem pants and hideous hats jetting off to Abu Dahbi together, as cartoonish as that was on film. I'll take my one long-term buddy over four fake pals any day.