Conflict Happens

But I Don’t Have To Like It

“And perhaps that might be the way to write — to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.” John Steinbeck

Every house has its own personality, like husbands and dogs. Some are vivacious and alive, others solemn and quiet or deceptively charming. One of my favorite houses is our cabin on the shores of Clearlake, she’s a salad of shabby chic, vintage, and Mediterranean. You’ll have to trust me. It’s better than it sounds. 

There has never been a time when I haven’t loved walking through those front doors, I love the way my blood pressure deflates as I drop my bag, and kick off my shoes.

If you’re wondering why my writing sounds freakish this week, I’ll explain. I just finished reading Cannery Row and although I enjoy my own elan, I have no qualms about sliding into another author’s style as if it were mine. I decided John Steinbeck’s words perfectly described weekends at the lake. He says, “it is a poem, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” Clearlake is a gathering place. A place to hang up your worries and concerns, let your hair down, unfurl. 

I realize we’re retired, and you might be imagining that we’re in a perpetual state of unfurling, but you would be wrong. We still get wound up about all the normal things. Taxes, flu shots, Amazon deliveries, but more commonly, it’s the silent knots of disapproval that remain so deeply embedded in the fiber of our relationships that we can never quite work them out.

You know the ones? 

Bonds so interlaced they can be activated with the slightest lift of a brow, a wayward tone, a divisive demeanor, and out come those reckless words, or worse, the carefully crafted ones.

I refer to them as the thorns that make us grow, how we negotiate being a couple without losing sight of ourselves or each other. 

Although I have found… the one who initiates the aggression is almost always in the wrong. Tuck that note in your pocket.

As you know, I dream about water when I’m overwhelmed, so it mystifies me that such an ancient body of water has become my shelter, shade, and solace from the world at large.

There is an aroma that assaults your nose upon arrival at the lake. It is a combination of rot, algae, mold, dead carcasses, damp leaves, and the ether of a wild landscape left to its own devices for the last million years. 

I find it appealing. 

Pristine is both the right and wrong word to describe this landscape. There are weeded lots, unkept cottages, abandoned boats, shabby restaurants, sketchy bars, secondhand shops, Canibus stores, Casinos, and a Walmart with customers you could only characterize as sketchy. You know who I’m talking about? Steinbeck calls them the drunks, drug addicts, homeless, mentally ill, gamblers, and generally unruly types. So basically everybody. 

We’re human. As a species, we embody all the above, but we’re also saintly, holy, compassionate, and on rare occasions, wise. 

The lake is a charming combination of the saint and the sinner. Intertwined with the rustic parts are charming wineries, new eateries, drive-up coffee bars, specialty cafes, a mercantile, antique shops, a movie house, Elks Club, high-end grocery store, post offices, fire stations, libraries, hardware stores, schools, pubs, and pizzerias. 

It’s a micronism of the entire world…water and land, flora and fauna, joy and misery, all overseen by a benevolent God who allows us the freedom to heal or hurt one another. Some defer to hurting because healing requires a faith that is rare, like the lady who reached for the hem of His cloak.

In the early morning, when the wild ones are still asleep and the lake huddles under the cloak of night, I’m unable to control a persistent cough, and I slip out of our warm bed to honor his sleep. Tiptoeing across the living room, kitchen, and through the french doors, I step onto a cold dock now covered in dew, bird shit, and a smattering of toys, wine glasses, mismatched flip flops, wrinkled magazines, children’s life vests, and memories.

Placing both hands on the railing, I lean into the view and my recollections of last night. Mesmerized, I stand there, jagged, slightly chilled, foggy, with unexpressed gratitude whirling in my gut. 

A flock of pelicans is huddled below our dock, white, fluffy, bobbing along the rippling water wing to wing, resembling a giant cotton ball. I assume they are squabbling about the lack of threadfin this year, but maybe they’re anxious about their offspring, their spouses, and if there will be a nest to return to in the spring. 

Gathering the memories from last night as if a deck of cards, I struggle to put them in order. Winery pickups, espresso martinis with the clan next store, bratwurst for the kiddos, lingering bathtime, sipping wine, a slab of fish, piles of dishes, and in the end, I am left slumbering on the couch.

Rubbing warmth back into my arms with slightly arthritic hands, I move back to my chair in the corner of the room as if a petulant child who has given herself a time-out. Burling under the soft fury blanket, I slip easily back to my sleep.

Waking from the chair, I scan the empty room, relieved to know that the epic flood was only a dream and I no longer need a sign that hints of solid ground.

Loading the car with hugs and smooches, we bid our hearts goodbye. The grandkids blow kisses through the side windows as their minivan rounds the corner. There’s a birthday party and a friend to celebrate, so they race back to Campbell, back to their own lives.

In the emptiness of the house, a little after nine, something shifts. It could have been my wayward brow or that sleepless night, but I’m reproached by Larry with what I would characterize as pedestrian issues. Negotiations ensue as I try and square our conflicting versions but to no avail. 

The problem with words is that once articulated; they can not be withdrawn.  

They burrow into the texture of our being, recharacterizing memories and moments, often leaving a defenseless past slightly eclipsed.

As you know, I avoid conflict at all costs, whereas Larry thrives in the arena of discord. Enneagrams eights! They really should have their own planet.

I deem the entire rant as divisive and immediate withdrawal to a secure location, to a kinder place, huddling as if a flock of pelicans with the best and worst of me. Thank God I brought my coffee.

After closing up the house, both of us staying in our prescribed lanes, hushed, paltry, and righteous, we lock the front door and head back to the bay.

Hoarding the last views of our pristine lake as if I were awaiting parole, my eyes savor the fading body of water, the last gas station, the last motel, the last winery, and the last passing lane before we merge onto the sixteen. Silently merging our way forward.

I watch this story literally crawl onto the page as if a garden snail determined to extol its worth. Because weekends at the lake are sacred, in my opinion, a respite from life, an echolalia that refuses to change, and disillusioned eights will just have to deal. I stand by my initial elucidation, in Steinbeck’s own words, “it is a poem, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”

I’m Living in the Gap, inching my way through life, care to join me?

My book is NOW available at Black Rose for preorder! If you are compelled to purchase a book or two prior to the publication date of February 23, 2023,  Grow Damn It!: The Feeding and Nurturing of Life, you get to use the promo code: PREORDER2022 to receive a 15% discount. Your pre-ordered copy will process and ship on or prior to the release date. So you get it first!

Whoot! Hoot! This might be a proper occasion for champagne!


Leave a Comment

  1. What I enjoy most about your writing is your ability to take me to that place with you. A place I have never seen, nor will see, a place imagined. I was with you watching the Pelicans, and I heard the harsh words that caused division for a time. You relate a story of a life to me, a life so different to mine that I should not be able to comprehend it.
    But I do. I get it. 100%.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I couldn’t love this comment more, Pete. There are no kinder words to a writer than “I should not be able to comprehend it. But I do. I get it. 100%.” The problem with writing is it comes from the thoughts and images taking up residence in our brains, and just when I think I’m being perfectly clear, someone says, “what are you talking about.” Never say never, Pete. If you get to the United States, there is always a room reserved for you and Julie at the lake! Hugs, C

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The aroma of your cabin brought back memories of our river cabin in Washington. It was our weekend retreat where there was no running water but a well and a pump — no electricity and an outhouse. And that same lovely aroma you described. I’m like you and want to avoid conflict while my husband creates it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That aroma is so distinctive and unforgettable. It becomes part of the landscape. What ever happened to your cabin? It sounds like a rustic dream. And so we have similar husbands too? It might be why we write! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had to laugh. Yes, that’s probably why we write. We tore the cabin down but left the stone fireplace standing. We had too much vandalism. People broke through the door, lit the cabin on fire, etc. It was a hazard. We enjoy the property and the river and use it for day trips when we’re in Washington.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your description of the lake. Such a beautiful place for respite. And I found your naming of the thorns that make us grow so thought provoking-true! Beautiful post. Hope you feel better and sleep better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Wynne, our cabin on the lake is most often a place for respite, and laughter, but as we know roses come with thorns. I so appreciate you pulling out the central message. The thing I sometimes forget is we invite people into our lives, maybe because we believe with their influence we become our best selves, but damn that can be annoying, okay painful. And by the way I’m feeling much better! Thanks for the kind words. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting that you noted the images and emotions that come from words because I was still stinging when I wrote this and feeling every word I wrote. In fact I had to go back and tone it down as if a photograph overexposed! Thank you Fraggle, Hugs, C


    1. Hi Jane, thank you for your kind words, for traveling with me to the lake, and diving into my thorny tale. I’m sort of overjoyed by your comment and I’m going to sit with this a while, leaning against a fluffy pillow early morning, smiling. A cup of coffee in my hand. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Enneagrams eights! They really should have their own planet.” That’s the part that fired up the pleasure centers in my brain. I love good challenges. I taught classes in Dealing With Difficult People years ago. What motivated me to do it? Guess.

    Anyway, relationships are dances. We often don’t need confrontations to change the dynamic. Just see what our reactions are and make subtle shifts so we don’t buy into unhealthy patterns.
    Get curious and observe, observe, observe. Then choose a different, and hopefully more effective, response. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. But don’t throw away your personal power by blaming others. That power is way too precious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cheerful Monk! I’m thrilled to have “fired up the pleasure centers in your brain.” That made my day! And I love that you have so much experience in dealing with relationships! I definitely need to learn a few new dance steps so I avoid stepping on toes! I love the advice “observe, observe, observe,” because I believe that is key. And holding on to our personal power is vital in any relationship! Thanks for jumping into the conversation and adding such sage wisdom. This is brilliant! Hugs, C


  5. You do have a God given talent when it comes to putting your thoughts into words neighbor!
    I enjoyed reading about conflict without the details, and especially enjoyed your cathartic approach to dealing with it, melding your experiences in the moment into the situation.

    Like Terrie and I six years ago, you two now, untethered from vocational stress move into the ’24/7/365 until-death do-us-part’ segment of your lives. . . with maybe a third of your dual-shared existence to go: Lots of travel, lots of adventures, lots of time with grandkids and lots and lots and lots of just 🎵🎶🎵I Got-You-Babe🎶🎵🎶 time. An opportunity, apparently for a bit of attitude 🙄 to develop, and who else to share it with? Lucky You! I write this from experience. The male of the species is uniquely adept at protecting, providing for and dishing shit to the ones they love. At least until they are called out on their bullshit. Oh, don’t think it will end, just that the frequency will decrease. The phrase “Pick your Battles” delivered with a firm glare and folded arms got through to me. . . Feel free to wear it like armor.

    You’re welcome 🤗❤️🙏

    P.S. the perfect time for champagne? Whenever it is cold and there are two or more people to drink it with.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry for the delayed response Chris, we’ve been in Death Valley with only a few minutes each morning with internet access! Wow, what a place. I might have to write about this gorgeous valley in the middle of nowhere. You’re spot on about adjusting to the “24/7/365 until-death-do-us-part segment of life.” We’re in the adjustment stage but maneuvering quite well considering all things. I’ll keep that Pick Your Battles armor close at hand. I can see the merits of such a stance. Your champagne motto is familiar, “when ever two or more are gathered,” it is certainly time to give thanks and partake! Hugs, C


  6. Hi Cheryl,
    I seek penance, as long time no write. Indeed, it has been a while. So ends my busiest time of the year. Now I can get back to regular living.
    I have read this entry several times, and my thoughts are all over the map. To begin with, what a great heading photo. It captures the beauty of the lake, but has a melancholy flair. I think it fits this post to a tee.
    I agree that your cabin at Clearlake does have its own vibe/personality. I would also describe it as a salad, but it would be a combination of good times, great fellowship, wonderful food, relaxation, all wrapped in a feeling of love. A love of life, a love of happiness, and a love of friends and family. A willingness to accept people for whom they are.
    I love your description of how a couples interact, with this quote “I refer to them as the thorns that make us grow, how we negotiate being a couple without losing sight of ourselves or each other.” In my mind I visualize a couple growing closer together, in part aided by knowing where the thorns are. But sometimes, the thorns become an issue. As you state “The problem with words is that once articulated; they cannot be withdrawn. “ Like a punch thrown or a shot fired.
    Your description of the lake is both beautiful and apt, broken up with the humor of “Tiptoeing across the living room, kitchen, and through the French doors, I step onto a cold dock now covered in dew, bird shit….” No glossing over things. Just hard-hitting reality. However, the bottom line, still, is that when I read your description of the Lake, I just want to return. A warm cup of coffee in the early morning chill, the serenity of the lake. Seems just about right. And yes, as Steinbeck stated, …..a dream.”
    When you return to the humdrum of daily living, you can take a break over a delicious cup of hot coffee, and dream on.

    Miss you all.
    Happy Anniversary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well hello Mike! So good to see your wise words appear in the comments! I’ve missed you. We’ve been in Death Valley for the better part of a week and although it was enormously beautiful, unbelievable star gazing, and a topography that captures you at first sight ~ it has very limited internet! Okay, first observation about your comment. How is it that a doctor such as you, has a busy season? Don’t people need your services fairly evenly all year round? Or is there a season for your specialty? I’m sort of fascinated. Regardless, I’m pleased that you’re back to “regular living.” That has to be appealing. I should explain how influenced I became with John Steinbeck after doing a practice ride in Pacific Grove. Nancy heard I was searching around for a copy of Cannery Row and of course she promptly went out and bought me the book. I have the best sister in the world. But that’s well known. So I finished the book up at the lake, and when I went to start a post, his words kept jumping on the page, his style, his descriptions. I think I’m enamored. Not only his words but the way he told a story. Nothing ended up the way you wanted or expected, his conclusions were more human, tragic, and forgiving. Like our lives. So I tried to weave that into our time recent visit at the lake, a busy time with all the grandkids, and those rowdy neighbors, but when everyone left we (by we I mean Larry) were a little testy with each other, which is so Steinbeckish! It’s just life, learning from the thorns. I love that you want to return to the lake! Just let us know when it works for you and Gail, we’ll have your room ready! Love the song! Happy Thanksgiving to you, Gail, and the kids. Miss all of you! Hugs, Cheryl


  7. Your talking about your husband reminds me of your post about Lady Bird Johnson: “If art is an expression of human imagination, then crafting creative solutions to our most difficult problems is actually a window of opportunity, one that opens the human soul to a myriad of possibilities.” Hurray for love, compassion, and creativity! I’m looking forward to seeing what opens up for you.


    1. You know Crystal, I think we are designed to grow from each other, or bleed to death! I’m going to go with the growth scenario! This life makes so much more sense when I focus on the tiniest evidence of improvement and forgive the rest. Hugs, C


  8. Dear friend of my younger mom years…. I was right there at the lake with you… leaning over the dock railing in the early morning, sitting quietly with coffee, seeing the kids off to the next activity, and encouraging you when words were challenging. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully with us. Love you bunches and always… onward!


  9. I am also a big Steinbeck fan, and of course a big fan of yours!

    Your style and subject matter are among the reasons I enjoy and appreciate your posts so much. I am also a fan of country music and when I looked up Mr. T. Rich, I discovered he will be in nearby Grand Rapids next month. Small world!

    I am also California grown like him and like you, and I think we all say that with pride! Thanks also for sharing your philosophy about couples quibbling. Specifically, your thoughts about “the thorns that make us grow, how we negotiate being a couple without losing sight of ourselves or each other. Although I have found… the one who initiates the aggression is almost always in the wrong. Tuck that note in your pocket.”

    I recognize that pattern and response (or lack thereof) in the interactions I had with my idiot-ex, especially the one where he went 5 days refusing to speak to me and then shut the door in my face while saying he was afraid he would hit me. Obviously, that was pretty nearly our last “conversation”.

    I’m sure Larry is not an alcoholic as my idiot ex was, and the fact that I am finally in a good place and moving forward in so many ways is something that I am extremely thankful for on this Thanksgiving day. Ironically, I almost feel like I could be friends with idiot ex’s wife #4 after cyberstalking and discovering that many of her facebook friends are friends with a lot of people I know and like a lot in Oak Ridge. I almost feel like warning her about him while wondering how many lies he has told her and how much he hides from her. Not my problem, not my business! But still…Oh, well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sue, I love knowing you’re a fellow Steinbeck fan, he has a way with words. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your remarks about style and subject matter, and they you enjoy reading my essay. It means the world to me. I suppose I was trying to understand conflict and why it persists in relationships. Sometimes you can see it as a path towards growth and other times as a red flag warning you to leave. I’m glad you got out of a bad relationship and that you are safe and resettling yourself. I hope you continue to find things that delight you, that fit in your new situation, and that you finally get to rest in joyful peace! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you LaDonna, I so appreciate your kind words, for taking the time to read and comment. Life does present us with unexpected challenges and I’m always looking for a reason. Sometimes it’s just how it goes. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

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