Tuesday, May 20, 2008

willing to be amazed

Someone emailed me recently about my continuing optimistic outlook and tendency to focus on the good things around me.

It's true. I can be almost Pollyanna-esque in my view of the world.

However, I do have bad days, and little fits of angst and obsession about things I can't control. The year my son was born I became obsessed with lead paint. Just ask my husband about the dark green goop he had to paint the bathroom with, in the old house we rented. It supposedly sealed in the lead. After many crying spells and dramatic musings on a house I had previously adored, he tried to get at the core of the problem. Why was I so upset? I remember his face when I went into great detail about the various cracks in the old plaster ceiling and how lead dust was just shooting out of them into the air.

This is the kind of thing that feeds my obsessions - the vivid images come and it can be so hard to push them out of my mind.

Not too long after my revelation about geysering lead dust, the landlord/owner insisted on sandblasting the garage, one wall of which bordered the back yard. I begged him not to do it, and explained about the lead issue and young developing brains. He thought I was being ridiculous. When he had his son-in-law come over to start the process, I stood on the back steps and watched. White paint chips quite literally flew everywhere. Like snow. All over the little garden I had tended for years, into the lawn where my year-old son played. It was my little nightmare image made real and worse than I'd imagined.

When the landlord came over to inspect the work, he found me with a shop-vac, trying valiantly to vacuum up the paint chips in the back yard. It was a futile effort, and I was crying because I knew I couldn't get it all up. I told him we would be looking for a new house, and that I was sorry he had chosen to ignore my request. He left in a huff, but returned an hour later and apologized. He begged me to reconsider, and promised to never raise our already below-the-market rent. He started crying himself.

This is the kind of scenario that could go many different ways, but for me, what always happens is the realization that something bigger is going on. Standing there with the shop-vac nozzle in my hand, a gruff old man crying because I had called him on his behavior, and my in-the-moment decision to give notice on a wonderful house that was so cheap to live in it was almost a miracle, I suddenly knew that something amazing was happening. We were supposed to move. It was time.

I said this to him, and we made our peace. I found a house in a neighboring town where my private practice was already located, where my husband could take the classes he'd wanted to take without the hideous commute, and where my parents could visit so much more easily.

Everything rolled quietly into place.

This is just one example of the "flow" of life I've noticed and trusted for many, many years. I don't really know why. But I've experienced it so much I expect it to happen, and perhaps that's why it does.

Awhile back, someone remarked that they start reading every book looking for something to make them fling it aside. My response was that I start every book I read willing to be amazed. And often enough I am.

In a way, that's the mantra I try to live by. It comes pretty naturally to me, so it isn't a chore. Occasionally it has drawbacks, like when some fantastical idea I have gets shot down by the reality of a budget, or circumstance. Sometimes I have to run through a patch of angst before I get to the flow. But as I get older I find myself skipping that stage and getting to the good stuff much more quickly.

Today, we have gray skies and some mild gusting wind. Potentially severe weather is on the docket this afternoon. But yesterday my husband loaded each stall with clean shavings, and this morning I made myself the brown sugar-cinnamon oatmeal a character had in the book I'm reading. (I read this passage last night before bed and it made my mouth water) I know that when I walk out to the barn there are four horses and a little donkey who will neigh and bray and remind me that, yes, there is lots to be amazed about. And I'm perfectly willing to let them show me.


Grey Horse Matters said...

That's a wonderful attitude to have concerning life. I always try to keep an open mind and let things just seep in and amaze me, especially when reading books or doing research for something. My horses always amaze me it seems they purposely think of odd or out of character antics just to see if I'm paying attention. I do have to say though, my granddaughter amazes me on a daily basis, we sometimes forget to look at life through a child's eyes but when we do, the mundane becomes special.She is a real joy.
Talk about being outside with a shop vac, we had a glass tabletop break on the patch of grass outside the barn we leased, tried to shop vac it up and did a pretty decent job. The Poland Spring man showed up as this was going on with a "Well now I've seen everything"!
I like how you knew it was time to move,sometimes there are signs and they must be followed.
Short story: A few weeks after my mom passed, a woman knocked on my door and asked if the house was for sale? We had just gotten in from a horse show the house was a MESS, she looked around and begged me to sell it to her. Called my husband and told him I just sold the house. And that was it, we moved.

billie said...

I love your story about selling the house!

I started reading Ellen Gilchrist's book called The Writing Life today - I wish I could type in the entire first essay in that collection. I kept wanting to type in a quote or two, but couldn't figure out where to stop. She had four marriages and three (or four?) sons and didn't start writing seriously until she was 40. From then until she wrote The Writing Life (she was 66) she published 22 books! And now has a new one out.

She talks a lot about her grandchildren and how wonderful they are. When I met her, she had her grandson with her and was quick to introduce him, as if HE were the real wonder, not her at all. I told her about my red-haired daughter (Ellen has red hair and many red-haired sons) and said she reminds me of one of Ellen's characters, Rhoda Manning. I said something about parenting such a firecracker. Her response was: "just stay out of her way."

I loved that.

If you haven't read her novels or her nonfiction, I think you'd enjoy it. I resonate with everything she writes. She's been inspiring me since I was 24 years old. That's nearly a quarter-century!

Victoria Cummings said...

I was at a local antique/folk art store yesterday with a friend who was visiting us. He bought a wooden sign that said "Love the live you live". It makes me think of you.

billie said...

As long as I focus on the moments, I do indeed love the life I live.

I can get sidetracked with wanting to do big projects NOW and wanting to make certain parts of the farm better, but when it comes down to the moment, and when I focus on that, I realize pretty fast that what is here right now is pretty wonderful.

Thanks for thinking of me!

Matthew said...

Wow, such a wonderful read Billie. Just letting it soak in.

billie said...

Matthew, you get to see the whole picture, angst and all!