Life is always under construction, but currently so is my house, it feels as if I’m perpetually bewildered, unbalanced, on the brink of the unknown. It’s awkward like racing into the women’s bathroom and realizing you are surrounded by urinals.
We celebrated Mother’s Day in our backyard this year, Nic cooked his fabulous meatball lasagna, Kelley surprised us with appetizers from Sushi Confidential, Dante replenished the beer supply, Jim and Sue made a delicious dessert but all I remember is the homemade whip cream, Nancy arrived with gifts and fine wine. It was a full table with granddaughters and dog mulling about.
We were discussing, okay disparaging, the design and functionality of my old kitchen. The one that has been gutted and carved as if a pumpkin at Halloween, and yes, I take everything personally because as Kelley claims, “it’s all about me.”
Julie says, “when we were living here (note the appreciative tone) we needed two coffee pots because Dad’s coffee tastes like muddy water.”
Nic says, “honestly, it wasn’t drinkable.”
Larry says, “It was plentiful and free.”
Dante says, “they had three coffee pots cluttering the counter, there was no room to make toast.”
Cheryl says, “yeah, we had a pot for the muddy coffee, one for the millennials, and a Keurig for those of us that need a caffeine hit in the afternoon. But our circuitry is ancient, you can’t have two things operating at the same time, or we blow a fuse.”
Sue says, “Wait, why didn’t I know about this?”
Larry says, “It’s true, you can’t run the toaster or microwave if the coffee is brewing or everything blows.”
Everyone looks at Larry as if he’s missing a chromosome.
Sue says, “How long has this been going on?”
Cheryl says, “Thirty years.”
Jim says, “Why am I not surprised?”
Julie says, “Nic and I would wait for Dad’s coffeemaker to beep and we’d run in from our room to hit the start button on our pot before Dad stuck his oatmeal in the microwave.”
Cheryl says, “it was the Amazing Race, people sabotaging each other for energy usage, I was brutally condemned if I ran the dishwasher during prime time.
Nancy says, “I imagine if the television was on the same circuitry it would have been fixed decades ago?” (my sage)
She gets the look from Larry who says with the practiced calm of a felon, “the entire house has been rewired, we can now run all the appliances in the kitchen at the same time, even when the television is in use.”
Julie says, “perfect timing Dad.”
I had the perfect comeback but I held my tongue because “my thoughts were so awful it would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (Anne Lamott).” You’re welcome.
Here’s the real issue I’m struggling to rope but keeps alluding me.
How do you retire when you still have some fight left in you? It’s as if I’ve been flank strapped, lassoed, and callously wrestled to the ground? Cowgirl style. And trust me I don’t have the balls for this sort of activity.
This is not my first rodeo, but it’s most likely my last, by the first of June I will have sixty summative projects to grade, final classes to conclude, co-workers to bid farewell, and a LinkedIn account to retire.
I mean who am I without a job? A retiree?
The truth is most of us stay in occupations, homes, even relationships long after they no longer serve us. In fact they can be toxic and yet we remain loyal, trustworthy, and professional until the bitter end. Why is that? If I were honest I would say I’m scared of living without purpose, of not being valued, of giving up the leverage a paycheck affords me, and the security of being in close relationships, even imperfect ones.
Can I just admit I’m freaking out! How will I spend my days? I won’t have anyone to lecture, lesson plans to fuss over, papers to grade. My bank account and brain function will be as stagnate as a pond in the middle of summer. I’ll have nothing to write about. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Something could be wrong with me, but I’ll need to grieve these endings, I’ve convinced myself that this is quite normal, and I’m pretty tight with my self-deceptive side, so please don’t try and get between me and my delusions. It won’t end well for you. Ask Larry.
“There is a tiger in my room,’ said Cheryl.
‘Did he bite you?’ said Larry.
‘No,’ said Cheryl.
‘Did he scratch you?’ said Larry.
‘No,’ said Cheryl.
‘Then he is a friendly tiger,’ said Larry. ‘He will not hurt you.’
‘Go back to sleep.’
Russell Hoban [adapted]
When my mind is in the middle of a massive gentrification, I try not to go in alone, that’s why I write so I don’t have to chase my thoughts around as if a tiger chasing her tail. There is a children’s story about this, but it’s no longer considered politically correct (consider this is your
tiger trigger warning), and has been condemned by cancel culture but strangely enough I still find it a potent tale.
The story goes like this, a stylish kid goes for a walk when he encounters four covetous tigers and has to surrender his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so that they will not eat him. The tigers (symbolic of the way my thoughts behave) are vain and each thinks that it is better dressed than the others. They have this massive argument and chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of butter. The kid then recovers his clothes and goes home, his father later collects the butter, which his mother uses to make pancakes.
This imagery is so deeply embedded in my subconscious and it surfaces when I’m trying to manage my internal conflicts. Outside the doors of my home it’s uncivilized, envy is crass, some things are not worth fighting over, but resolution can be found in a good meal, with lots of butter. I’ve organized my life around this philosophy. How could it be canceled?
As John Vaillant notes this is precisely where the tension lies, Panthera tigris and Homo sapiens are actually very much alike, and we are drawn to many of the same things, if for slightly different reasons. Both of us demand large territories; both of us have prodigious appetites for meat; both of us require control over our living space and are prepared to defend it, and both of us have an enormous sense of entitlement to the resources around us. If a tiger can poach on another’s territory, it probably will, and so, of course, will we. A key difference, however, is that tigers only take what they need.
Really? And they need my most fashionable vices?
As my tension reaches a crescendo I start thinking a new kitchen is not enough, I need a whole new house, a new religion, a new career, a new wardrobe, maybe a therapist, when what I really need is a long walk, a glass of water, and a medicinal movie with heavily buttered popcorn.
We all have to decide if we’re going to buy into this illusion of control or if we’re going to honor the muddy, unappealing, flagrantly futile truth about being human, we’re fragile, and it’s a jungle out there.
We don’t need to be pleasant all the time, or appeasing, we’re enough with or without our crazy, circuit-blowing, disordered predicaments.
Silenced, placating, controlled people don’t change the world, they go after the uncaged, wild, living on the edge types, who can abandon the trappings of modern culture with the bravery and majesty of a tiger.
I’m Living in the Gap, my current situation is primitive, let’s roar.
- “Life is a tiger you have to grab by the tail, and if you don’t know the nature of the beast it will eat you up.” Stephen King
- “The romantic movement, in art, in literature, and in politics, is bound up with this subjective way of judging men, not as members of a community, but as aesthetically delightful objects of contemplation. Tigers are more beautiful than sheep, but we prefer them behind bars. The typical romantic removes the bars and enjoys the magnificent leaps with which the tiger annihilates the sheep. He exhorts men to imagine themselves tigers, and when he succeeds the results are not wholly pleasant.” Bertrand Russell
- “With destruction comes renovation.” Wally Lamb