The Things She Carried

July 9th, 2020

Today marks the second full day I have lived without most of my possessions.  This morning I felt for the first time, after (finally) a good night’s sleep, that I have already begun this new chapter of my life.  I had envisioned it beginning as I drove away from San Diego, and of course that will be perhaps the most dramatic early marker, but it  is good to have a transitional period, where I am still here, more or less in my old life, while in a significant way it is irrevocably over.

Some time ago, I posted here :// being invited in by my tenant when I met her by chance in the hallway. I wrote then  how surprised I was to feel nothing about seeing my space, still by and large as I left it.  Someone else was sleeping in my bed, leaving my dishes in the sink, putting their things on my coffee table, but I felt no sense of possession, longing, or even interest in any of it.  I glimpsed even then how true it is that I am simply not emotionally attached to material things, much as I may enjoy having them.  Yes, I took a lot of care choosing the furniture for my condo, the first place I ever bought on my own, but once I felt the need to be free of it, it was just more stuff.  In fact, if anyone asked what I most want  to carry with me now, near the top of the list would be my blender.  Go figure!

So, what is this liminal feeling like?  Mostly exhilarating.  I walk through my empty condo without nostalgia, appreciating the echoes that mark my complete removal from the space.  Life here was good, and now it’s over.  All I think of now is how terrible the bedroom carpet looks and how badly the walls need a paint job.


Sometimes I wonder if there is something a little bit off about me, that I tend to grieve so little. No, that’s not exactly right.  It’s not so much that I couldn’t feel more, but simply that I don’t let feelings of loss grab hold of my life. Maybe it would be healthier if I did, but I don’t.  Easy come, easy go.  Sometimes hard come, hard go, but the net result is the same. Move on. Yesterday is over and tomorrow will be good.   Adjust to the new until you can genuinely embrace it, stay there a while, then move on to the next new.

I think some of this is the result of moving a lot when i was young, but more centrally, I think it comes from the cruel reality of having had to reconstruct my life after my son took his life.  Once you have lost a child to early death, nothing will ever phase you again.  May you never, dear reader,  have a chance to test this theory. If you already have, I am sure you agree.

This cold core protects me from pain and helps me see many losses as opportunities.  It makes it easier to go through life with a smile on my face, or at the least a sense that a nasty day is likely to give way to a better one.  Is that good? Maybe there is something I would gain by saying, “Okay, Laurel, what are you really feeling?” Or am I better off leaving well enough alone?   Something to explore more as I get reacquainted with myself, largely unencumbered (see photo of most of what goes in the car) on this new part of my life’s  journey.






Did You Hear About Ms. Parker?

July 9th, 2020

A little sort-of poem I wrote about what it’s like to see people pretending they can go on like normal in the face of nothing being normal

Did you hear about Ms. Parker?

Pop Quiz Parker?  No, what?

She died, man.

No kidding?  From what? School lunch?

Nah, she got the Rona.

Aw, shit, that’s rough.

Yeah, on a ventilator for a couple of weeks.  Someone at church told my mom.

Have you seen the pictures?  Lying on their stomach, ass hanging out…

Till they flatline. Don’t know you’re dead.  That’s how I want to go.

Yeah, but no time soon, man!  It just kills old people.

Bye bye, Boomers!  More room for us.

Hey, you wanna meet up?  Tiff’s throwing a party.


Tomorrow. I’m going to the beach to meet friends today, then pizza with my cousins after.

TIff’s hot! Maybe she’s got a friend for you.

For me?  Why don’t I get her?

Too much for you to handle, bro!

Yeah, well, maybe she’ll have two friends for me.  Double down!

You dog!

Hey, don’t forget to wear a mask—all day at the beach!!!!!

Yeah, right, like that’s gonna happen. Text me Tiff’s address.

I’ll see you there.

Small Is Big, Less Is More

July 3rd, 2020

I gave up paper dolls at an embarrassingly advanced age, because I have always loved telling stories.  As I grew older, I spun fantasies about eternal bliss with every boyfriend I was remotely serious about, down to the names of our children.  When I actually was married with children, the fantasies shifted to vacation brochures about bicycling at the edge of the Sahel, barge travel in Burgundy, and yes, cruising.  All of this had to be done in the lap of luxury, of course—hey, it was fantasy, so why not?

When life hit me with a ton of bricks, the stories I told myself were about the happiness I believed I could eventually recreate.  When I felt mismatched with several jobs, I did the same.  Looking back, I can see a shift in thinking as I grew older, from fantasies to real-life stories that were in my control to shape.

Some of what were once fantasies began to come true.  At forty, I started traveling a little.  I saw Paris for the first time, and Florence. At fifty, I finally found a job I loved, as a community college professor. Also in that decade, I began to channel my fantasies into writing historical fiction. By sixty, I was well into in a beautiful relationship that made me realize what I could  have been looking for all along. Little by little my dreams came into better sync with my resources, a true blessing.  Now, as Sinead O’Connor beautifully puts it, I do not want what I haven’t got.

Retirement was eye opening for me because it gave me a chance to think anew about what to do with my time.  My fantasies of seeing the world materialized in the form of more potential cruise bookings than I could handle.  Suddenly I could say yes to any cruise any time without a thought to the academic year.  I have spent most of the past few years in a daze about what I have actually been able to make happen, from Borobudur to Bangkok, the Côte d’Azur to the coast of Chile.

Then in 2020, as for all of us,  my life shrank overnight.  For so many of us, dreams have been put on hold, but for me, it’s been a opportunity, now that the buzz of my life over the past few years has died down, to  pay attention to what my dreams are at seventy.

I am still so eager to get back to seeing the world, but maybe I am ready for different kinds of exploration.  I have seen the edges of every continent except Antarctica, but I have not ventured farther from port than can be done on a day trip.  Land travel sounds excellent and  it doesn’t need to be exotic.  I have seen very little of the United States even though I have been in a hundred foreign countries. I have not indulged yet the most do-able of fantasies, as my friend Jane did when she went off to live for a month in Spain. How about Italy, or France, I wonder, or someplace more exotic—just for the experience?

The most momentous shift in my thinking has been about how I want to live.  Seven years ago, I needed a sense of security as I rebuilt my life after Jim died, so I made the logical decision to buy a condo while the market was at a low.  It was a sensible move at the time, and financially I don’t regret it, but I have found, as I examine the foundations of my happiness, that I am not really cut out for home ownership.  It has been, to be blunt, a pain in the ass.  I am paying for something i am not using a lot of the time, and getting and keeping renters has its own stresses. I need to be free of that obligation to live in a happy mental space.

Since this pandemic forced me into a world the size of my condo,  my thinking about my comfort zone has shifted radically. As a result of cruising as much as I have the last few years, I now feel totally at home in temporary spaces.  I am fine living out of suitcases for months at a time.  I don’t need to be surrounded by possessions.  I don’t need a bed that feels exactly the same every night.  The pleasant sense of cocooning is internal now, not reliant on a settled place to call home.

Suddenly, with this realization, life opened up.  I don’t need a condo.  I don’t need a permanent  address.  I don’t need my furniture, or most of what I’ve been carting around  from one storage spot to another without ever looking at or using.  More than indifference about such things, I actively needed to get rid of them in order to discover who I am at seventy and who I want to be.

So I leapt.  In a few days, the movers will take my furniture to my son, who is also setting up a new chapter of his life in Phoenix.  Almost everything I owned is gone, except for a few boxes of files and some memorabilia I plan to pass on.  Note to self:  Never again buy anything it will be a pain to get rid of. Seal that promise in blood.

My condo will be painted and repaired, then put on the market.  I am past the tipping point, and I am feeling the beginnings of relief.  When a few details fall into place I will be on the road to British Columbia.  I don’t have a date to leave, nor a place to stay, but I am far less stressed about this than I was about what to do with some beat-up bookshelves and old IRS files, and what time  the movers can  arrive.  Shredding, shedding, and fretting—what has been taking up my life these days is now almost in my rear view mirror, as I find out what life looks like for the me I am becoming.