Feeling It

I’ve always thought that anniversary thing was BS. I didn’t mourn my dad on the anniversary of his death (difficult because in real life he died on February 29…). I don’t even know what day my mom died. My brother? I know but I didn’t know it at the time…

But I definitely remember September 15. September 15, 2003, I closed the deal on my dream home in the mountains of San Diego County and moved in.

On September 15, 2014, I closed the deal on the same house and began the serious and final preparations for moving out.

We planned it that way, my real estate agent and I.

I didn’t feel much last year. Everything was focused on getting OUT and getting on the ROAD and finding a place to live. I arrived in Colorado on September 20, 2014 and moved into my new house four weeks later. Exactly. The deal didn’t close formally for five more days, but it didn’t bother anyone that I was living here while they finished replacing the roof.

The anniversary thing.

Yeah, this one I feel, perhaps because I couldn’t feel it then. Now I know how those 30 years affected my view of the world. How working in the way I did for so long formed me into a determined and highly focused person. I also, today, faced the reality that I didn’t really want to leave. I loved my house. Those mountains were easy, small, accessible and familiar. I also know, now, that no mountains anywhere are any different, really, except in matters of scale. The 7 inch waterfalls at Mission Trails Regional Park are no different from any waterfall here in the Rockies; they’re just smaller and harder to see.

But I learned to see them.

Still, I’m grateful I’m here. I was thinking this morning how great it is not to be working. I think I actually worked LONG past my sell-by date without knowing it because I had no choice. I’m grateful for the concatenation of events that let me to lose my job at City College and end up at San Diego State University long enough to get the wonderful retirement benefits I have now. Someone was looking out for me.

Lately I’ve also come to understand that I’m no longer obliged to prove anything to anyone. I can relax. No one’s looking any more; the race is over.

So…

Thank you little house in Descanso for being a home and haven during hard times and for sending me off with enough money in my pocket to find a new house and a new life. Thank you for eleven years of your 90 year existence. You are beautiful and I hope everyone who moves into you loves you as much as I did — and do.

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Psychological Arrival

Retirement is one of life’s biggest life steps — lots of people die of coronaries just a few months in, physically unable to make the shift from a working life and the retired life. I kind of had a choice; I could have begun teaching this fall at Adams State University. I had lined that up for myself a couple years ago, but I knew when I got here that I wouldn’t do it. At the time I contacted the English department at Adams State, I still saw myself as a teacher. Now, no. I don’t want to read student papers and my ego/identity stopped being fed by the role of “classroom star” a while back.

For the last few months I’ve been struggling with something I don’t even know how to put words around. I’m not depressed or unhappy, but everything remains new and somewhat unreal. The people I’ve met and gotten to know are amazing. They’re nice, down-to-earth, friendly and value me — value me far more than I’m used to being valued. I have found that disturbing. I realize I got used to being expected to perform whether I was valued by anyone or not. I learned to do things for their own sake, to live by the notion of serving the task, doing well for the sake of doing well.

The mentality of people in the part-time teaching quagmire of California is intensely competitive and reasonably desperate. Most of us didn’t know — don’t know — if we’d have work next semester. After 30 years of this, the identity one develops is solitary and somewhat paranoid. Even a union contract was no real protection against the political machinations of administrations or full-time faculty.

And all I did was teach, drive, grade and in stolen moments I wrote novels and painted pictures.

I was really alone. After 2008, I had almost no time to build or maintain friendships and, anyway, I’d been burned enough by friends for whom friendship was transactional. If someone sought your friendship, it was because you had something they wanted and friendship was a way for them to get it. It a sense it isn’t exactly the same as using someone because they believed they had something you wanted. But I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised in a world in which friendship was friendship, given openly and freely with no interest in gain. You just didn’t use people. If someone used you, they were no friend.

Sadly, I got used to living in a different world and I’m been knocked off balance by the friendship offerings of people here who sincerely like me. The difficulty is that I’m not here. Part of me is operating on my California auto-pilot. “Be kind, keep your word, go home.”

I imagine I’ll arrive sooner or later, but right now I find I cannot handle being tied down even by the loosest of threads. Meanwhile, while I wait for the rest of me to arrive, I’m so glad I’m here.

Grand Opening

I moved here without knowing anyone and, of course, I brought my personality with me. I’m a friendly introvert and that means if I’m drawn out, I enjoy people but contact has to be focused on something outside of me.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been involved in a new business here in Monte Vista. I’m a small player, but it’s still something that helps my town, and the people I’ve met are wonderful. In a small place like this there is every kind of person you find in a big city, just fewer of them, maybe one of each. It has brought home to me how much a communal effort demands a variety of types in order to succeed. It’s never easy — communication styles and needs are so different — but, at the same time, each type is valued highly. The one thing everyone has in common is wanting the co-op shop and gallery to succeed. There’s friction — substantial friction — but we all know that without each others unique talents we’d have less chance of making it.

Yesterday was our Grand Opening — and it WAS grand and sweet. We all brought food. One of the members borrowed the church coffee maker and stressed that she had to get it back before evening so it would be ready for Sunday. We had live music — including a very, very talented high school violinist. We had door prizes (each of us contributed something). We had artist demos — in my case this was painting the window outside the shop, an immense, hot, fun project I shared with two other co-op members and the granddaughter of another.

Some of the members of the co-op raise animals, harvest the wool, clean the wool, card the wool, dye the wool, spin the wool and make it into things people can wear. Others are crafty and make cute things people like to buy. Others make jewelry. Some work with wood. But the things in our store would go for hundreds of dollars in an exclusive shop in La Jolla if this were California. I don’t think this group could exist in California.

Yesterday was one of my happiest days in recent memory. For one thing, I painted all day. The shop made $700 — that’s a LOT of money for a small shop in a small town. We had lots of visitors and the atmosphere was truly joyful. I had several jobs as a member of both the Marketing and Special Events committees. I had already designed and produced invitations. I made raffle tickets. I designed flyers to pass out. I designed a window painting that was probably 30 feet long. Friday I went to the co-op and painted white on the windows to serve as a sketch and a better background for the paint. I’d sketched designs and downloaded photographs to make it easier for me to share the work with other co-op artists. I knew for sure I had one partner and I hoped to recruit at least one other painter for this big job.

Everything about the experience was great.

First, I got to — for the first time — use my tool box. It’s a big old metal tool box, red, that I painted with drippy gold spray paint years ago. That led to one of the worst fights I ever had with my brother who argued that you can’t paint gold over red, that it violates every rule of art. I’d just returned from China and red with gold drips and spots and sparkles was good luck. I had dreams — at the time — of taking this paint box out to paint with. 30 years later? It happened.

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Then, I wrote a novel about a muralist — a street painter — but I’d never done street painting. In Martin of Gfenn, the protagonist earns his living by painting frescoes on the sides of buildings and the walls inside churches and homes. I’d imagined every step of this process, so when it finally came my time, I knew what to do. I followed “Martin’s” procedure to prepare myself. And there I was; outside, painting.

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The co-op member — Cynthia — who was painting with me was nervous, but once she got into painting a rendering of a church, she got into it and forgot being nervous and had fun. There were a couple of sweet surprises — I (in her words) “gently kicked” the ass of another co-op artist, Jeanette, to come out of  (her words) “the closet” and paint in public with beautiful results. And, the eight year-old granddaughter of one of the other co-op members joined me in painting scenery around the horse. We’d already painted together one morning when I was working in the shop with her grandmother, so she had the idea that painting with me would be fun and it was.

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Cynthia Stone painting detail onto the scene she developed through the day.

My colleague’s grand-daughter putting a cross on the church

I love painting. I love my town. The people I’ve met are great and unique. In a small community everyone matters. It was a sweet, miraculous, beautiful day here in Monte Vista, CO.

Monte Vista, 9 Month Update

Above is a painting I did when I was 6. It looks like the Sangre de Cristos with the Rio Grande.

9 Month Monte Vista update. So there I was this time last year on the verge of losing my main job because the classes I taught were being phased out of the college. My contract didn’t count for )(*&. My options were retirement from the university and continue teaching at two other schools or making a big leap and retiring completely (taking social security and moving on).

I waited to see how things would unfold and I began looking for a place to live. I found a house in Monte Vista, CO, a town I’d never seen. The house seemed perfect (it wasn’t) and the town seemed great. Now I know the truth. The house needed work and the town needs help. I’m sure it was hit by the 2009 economic downturn and jobs were lost in the Forest Service and other government agencies. And more. Most of the store fronts on the main street are empty. Most of the houses around me are empty — nice homes, too. I’ve learned that buying a house here is a more serious commitment than I could ever have imagined because houses don’t sell. People move away. I keep thinking of ways to change that. I have a lot of ideas, but no way to initiate them. I have pitched it as a great place to retire to a few of my high school friends who are thinking of moving back to Colorado. That would be great for my town and great for me.

So what do I think of my decision now that I’ve been here nearly 9 months?

I don’t regret a thing. I love this town. I loved it the first time I saw it and I love it more now. I love the way people are fighting for its survival — it’s a town in which volunteers run the movie theater and all the take from the movies goes for more movies and upkeep. I love that I meet HAPPY people who have lived here all their lives and people like me who moved here because they WANTED to.

The mailman and I were talking about it yesterday. “So how do you like it now?”

“I love it.”

“Can’t beat the climate,” he said. He wasn’t joking. “Sure, it can get cold, but it don’t last.”

I said, “I don’t mind the cold, OK when it gets ridiculous like 30 below, that sucks, but you’re right. That can’t last.”

“No. I hated it walking to school back in the day, but it didn’t kill me.”

I walked to school in weather like that, too, back in Nebraska, and it didn’t kill me and I agree; this is a perfect climate.

I still think this is the most beautiful natural landscape I’ve seen (and I have some great landscapes to compare it to). I’m looking forward to getting out into the mountains as soon as my current responsibilities (joyful and laborious, both) wind up a bit. I still haven’t been many places, but I’m very eager to.

I was right when I drew this picture back when I was 6. This is where I’m supposed to be.

A drawing -- self-portrait -- I did when I was six years old. It's clearly the San Luis Valley, but I had never been here. I think it was a letter of some kind, me telling me where to go.

A drawing — self-portrait — I did when I was six years old. It’s clearly the San Luis Valley, but I had never been here. I think it was a letter of some kind, me telling me where to go.

Over the last couple of months I’ve met people and that’s been great. As an introvert, that’s not the easiest thing in the world for me, but I’ve been really happy to be part of the Valley Art Co-op in its opening days/weeks (month and a half?) and also the Monte Arts Guild. It’s been great to go out into the world as an artist not as a teacher. It’s exhilarating, even a kind of relief, even if I have a lot to learn as an artist and a long way to go. That’s all fine with me.

Still, inside me lives a teacher and I’ve finally managed to make some peace with my 35 year career and the way it ended. I don’t think most people in the world have had my good fortune, to spend more than half their life doing something they loved and believed in. The icky experiences of the last couple months recede further back in my memory, replaced by the many, many, many great moments I had in the classroom. The years I spent teaching ESL, I was in contact daily with the whole world. And when I made the transition into teaching native speaker English and business communication I felt that I was involved in helping the future be more articulate, to think more clearly and (hopefully) to have more tools for the enjoyment of life. I don’t feel confused and angry any more as I did last year. I can see now — from this distance — that the bad moments were a couple of months of a whole that was marvelous.

Oh, a real photo of the valley, for comparison. 😉

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An Artist’s Life in the San Luis Valley

At the Historical Novel Society Conference I met a couple of women who live in my “hood” — the hood is as big as Connecticut but it’s a hood nonetheless. They collaborate on historical mystery novels and so we instantly formed a writer’s group. Earlier this week I went to one of their homes for lunch and our first meeting. Since I’ve never worked with other writers, it was an interesting experience and it will be a little challenging for me NOT to be an English teacher. I was upfront about that and asked, “You sure you want to deal with an English teacher?” so they are getting into it with their eyes open — not that I’m picky about stuff as the stereotype of English teachers would imply, but…

And, this week, I hung some paintings in a show in a coffee house in Alamosa with three other members of the Monte Arts Council. It’s a small show (not much wall space) and I hung only four paintings. This one, the largest:

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and these…

Southfork

Berkeley Pit Mine

Honeycrisp

It’s fun to have a social life after months of virtually constant solitude (which was also fun). I’ve learned of other painting opportunities that I am going to pursue.

The Valley Arts Co-op store is something else. I do not think paintings will move out of that store, but I’ve made note cards that might when I’ve finished with the packaging and so on. I think selling paintings requires a real gallery where people go intentionally to look at and maybe buy paintings. I do know that if nothing of mine ever sells in the co-op store, it will not be worth it for me to remain a member and mind the store 16 hours/month.

How does this relate to today’s daily prompt? Well, last year when I wrote this prompt, I was five days from driving away from California. I didn’t know where I’d live, what my house would be or even where it would be. Now I’m here and life opens a little more every day. Knowing ahead of time what will happen would steal the fun from the moment and from the future. I stand by my Bible verse: Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not ye be busy into the morrow, for the morrow shall be busy to itself; for it sufficeth to the day his own malice. (Wycliffe Bible)

My City’s Not Gone

I’m in Denver for the conference of the Historical Novel Society which, for some reason, I have no interest in. I ditched the whole day and went into Denver. I had no special mission, only to deal with a strange feeling of intimidation and sadness, nostalgia? for a city where I spent the most important years of my young adulthood.

Maybe it’s true that we can’t go home again and truth be told, I don’t want to, but I didn’t want “home” to be gone. Maybe everyone who leaves (somewhat against their will) has the same feeling; I don’t know. Once I started out I began to recognize names of streets, some landmarks, directions. I also saw what a small city this still is if you peel away the concretions of suburban towns sprawling in three directions (the mountains to the west slow that down).

I simply drove down a street familiar to me since my childhood. The street takes me by the neighborhoods where I was a small girl and the (now condemned and soon to be torn down) duplex in which I was a baby. I passed the university where I got my MA, saw that the old deli on Evans and University had been replaced by a fancier new building, spied the roof of the apartment where I’d lived. I was a little surprised that I ultimately didn’t feel like making a real journey to all the old places; I didn’t at all. Once I started, I realized I don’t live here now and don’t want to, but I did some things.

I spent some time in the neighborhood where my Aunt Martha had lived when I was a kid and where I lived later. I shopped in my old grocery store and ate a picnic in the park. I looked at the trees and remembered when they were MUCH smaller, I remembered racing my little brother from one tree to the next. I enjoyed seeing Mt. Evans, the skyline of the city, the buildings where I once lived.

I feel so much more peaceful inside now. I can only begin to explain it. When I was sitting in the park, watching the people, I thought that perhaps everyone has an urge to make sense to themselves, to be acceptable to themselves and perhaps everyone has a hard time letting themselves be. I have found that is very difficult for me since I retired and I believe it’s because I no longer have an identity tied to a profession. I’m not a teacher any more; I’m a free agent. Somehow that’s made me want to gather the pieces of my life, particularly before I began teaching, and see if I can find the whole person in that.

A little research on the process of adjusting to retirement was helpful and I found this:

5. Reorientation – Building a New Identity
Fortunately, the letdown phase of retirement doesn’t last forever. Just as married couples eventually learn how to live together, retirees begin to familiarize themselves with the landscape of their new circumstances and navigate their lives accordingly. This is easily the most difficult stage in the emotional retirement process and will take both time and conscious effort to accomplish. Perhaps the most difficult aspects of this stage to manage are the inevitable self-examination questions that must be answered once again, such as “Who am I, now?”, “What is my purpose at this point?” and “Am I still useful in some capacity?” New – and satisfying – answers to these questions must be found if the retiree is to feel a sense of closure from his or her working days…”

I don’t feel I need “closure” from my working days. I finished 5 years ago. Right now my question is the identity question. “Who am I?” Are we what we do? I have always believed that what we do is not who we are, but rather a projection, a product, of our being.

But at least my city’s not gone. 🙂

Six Months!? Introspection…

How is it possible? Today I have lived in my house for six months. It seems longer and shorter, both. At six months reality has definitely set in. I am no longer “moving in” but finding the next transition which is living here…

I’m not really living here. I have met two neighbors. I have not made friends. I don’t know what is here that might engage me — in my mind is the possibility of getting a walk/bike path along the irrigation ditch going as a community effort. I know I would enjoy that and it seems others would, too. Otherwise, I do not want to go to church, I do not have any spiritual affiliations and I don’t want them. I do not see myself volunteering anywhere though there are a lot of opportunities. I decided not to rush it. I am discovering myself as much as I’m discovering Monte Vista.

The other day I was thinking of how school is practice for life. I faced similar challenges as a child, challenges “fitting in.” It made me independent and detached, or perhaps I was independent and detached to start with.

I did not expect the move to change me. In fact, I knew that once the novelty was over, and I began seeing things as they are, I’d be compelled to contend with myself. It’s not easy to be a new person in a new life and that’s what this amounts to. Spring itself is newish. I haven’t experienced a real spring for thirty years. It was never my favorite season, though at a certain point I was able to buy into the idea of “hope” and a “new beginning.” My life for the past six months has been a new beginning. Maybe I want something else now?

Lily’s recent death was hard on me and on Dusty. I knew it might be for him, and I was right, but he’s slowly accepting that Mindy, this goofy sweet and somewhat curmudgeonly Aussie is his girl now. She’s tolerating him. I’ve thought of another dog, but haven’t found the “one.” About a month ago, I finished a complete draft of the novel I brought with me when I moved. When a project is over there is (for all writers, I think) a feeling of emptiness. For me that coincided with having had to put Lily to sleep.

So at six months, I’m contending with real life. Ultimately, life can only distract us from the main event which is living successfully with ourselves.