Tag Archives: neighbors

When God is your Travel Agent, Don’t Argue the Itinerary

I dreamed last night that I was back in Safe Haven, the psych-facility where I recently spent ten days, and the dream felt comforting. The place is well named.

landline phone cord "remember these?"

a phone with a cord… and withOUT Google!

My cell phone was one of the things I missed most in there—not for calls, but for Google (I hadn’t realized how many things-a-day I look up!) and the camera, and for texting. This post gets doodles instead of photos, because I didn’t have my camera!

We were allowed, between group-sessions and scheduled activities, to take turns using the phone at the nurse’s station. My first day (when I was still miserably trying to claw my way out of there) I was calling my husband nearly every other hour. That’s a lot of calling for someone as phone-phobic as I am, but I was looking for the comfort of his voice.

Technically, I could have announced my intention to walk out at any time—I was on a voluntary hold—but I was looking for someone to tell me it was okay to go. Let me be more honest: I was  trying to manipulate the psych-doc into telling me it was okay to go. But by the fourth day, I told her I was maybe doing TOO well. She mistook my announcement for another attempt to get myself released, but I corrected her interpretation. “I’m actually afraid to go home right now. I think I’m feeling TOO good.”

For the first time, I was recognizing that “feeling-really-good” can be a symptom of the manic end of a scary bipolar swing; it’s the prelude to that other shoe dropping. It’s the warning sign that I’m probably about to hit an equally extreme low.  I wasn’t ready to be back out in the real world when that happened—I hadn’t yet figured myself out enough, and I wasn’t sure enough of the new meds.

All in all, I had made an attitude U-turn as I got comfortable with the place, and with my “neighbor-patients.” We were bonding and joking, and I was finding value in the group sessions at which I’d wanted to scoff a few days before.

imageAnd in contrast to the emotional all-time-low that had landed me there, I was finding joy in really small things. The arrival of coffee in the morning. The good food at mealtimes. The smoke breaks. An unexpected laugh. A newspaper brought in from Outside. My husband’s cheery “Hello, Baby-Doll” when I called him from the nurse’s station (not with the obsessive frequency of my first day). Being given a coloring-page or a crossword. Making fun (with my new friends) of the bendy-and-bossy yoga instructor in the video we used during “recreational therapy.”

I was getting medical and psychiatric care, and my real world outside was essentially “on pause.”  (As a matter of [shocking] record, that outside world even seemed to be still spinning without my management!) For ten days I got to be nothing-but-Kana, no expectations of “filling any roles”… In there, I wasn’t anybody’s employee or daughter or mother or wife or sponsee or Sunday school teacher…  Just Kana.

my name(s) by my door

my name(s) by my door

The nursing staff kindly put “Kana” (which is actually part of my middle name) on the whiteboard by the door to my room, along with the first name which shows up on my medical chart, but which I don’t use now. My girlfriend Teresa commented last week that my multiple names—especially if you add in the various nicknames to which I answer—might be symbolic of the diverse variations of me…  Though (unlike my late husband, who used different names for his drinking-self and his sober-self) I don’t see my moods as separate versions; “Kana” inclusively covers all the things I am now, while those other names are more like past versions of me. Still Me, but not me-now. In Safe Haven, I was only expected to be Kana, whoever she is.

notebook sketchTherein lies my problem, though–I found myself in the strange situation of beginning to figure out WHO that is, exactly. I started keeping a “lab-notebook” about myself, scribbling madly in the (way-too-girly) notebook a nurse had given me at three in the morning when I first arrived.

I tracked moods against events to notice that they don’t seem to correlate; I could be at a manic high even when my mind was bummed that a friend had just checked out and left. I realized how much I “cover” my lower moods with an appearance of cheerfulness, that “default-setting smile.” I watched my manic-self chattering away, thinking “oh my gosh, this girl can’t shut up!

(When I shared that one with my mom, she busted up laughing. This is not news to people who have had front-row seats to “the Kana Show” for years…)

My “neighbor-patients” helped me with the project at my request, pitching in with observations more easily made from their viewpoints than from mine. Isaiah good-naturedly invited me to “listen to the sound of Kana NOT talking,” other people shared that I talk super-rapidly when I’m wound up, and that my volume is louder than necessary. And armed with those observations, I can be more self-aware; the rapid-fire mouth can actually alert me to the manic nature of my mood.

a couple friends made a joke of labeling labeled our water-cups one morning...

a couple friends made a joke of labeling our water-cups one morning… People-connections and humor are therapeutic too!

Over the course of the week, the new medications helped my moods even out—the highs weren’t so high and the lows not so low—and the group sessions, the interactions with psych staff and my neighbors continued to help me, and I began (without pushing for it) to look forward to being home.

I looked forward to Google. And mirrors. (Though maybe it was just as well I’d been without, given that I’d been sporting scrubs and pigtails—probably lopsided—for over a week.) I missed real pens and toothbrush (you get miniature, floppy ones on a psych ward, so you can’t hurt yourself). Shoelaces, confiscated for the same reason. (And I saw more buttcracks during that week than I care to say—no one is allowed a drawstring or belt.)

the current "lab notebook"... two weeks' worth of writing, and nearly full

the current “lab notebook”… two weeks’ worth of writing, and nearly full

And although Jon had brought my teddy bear (who, like me, got strip-searched before they allowed him in), I looked forward more than anything to snuggling into my own bed with my own husband!

My “vacation” proved to be a hiatus from the stresses and challenges and expectations of daily life; as small as those might be, I hadn’t been handling them. It’s not the vacation I would have planned, but it was exactly the one I needed.  And hey, when God is your travel agent, you don’t argue with the itinerary! He put me right where I needed to be, with help from my husband (and my Probation Officer).

It was a much-needed course-correction… And the current project is to implement the new meds and new thinking in the context of my actual life. A work in progress!

bipolar tigger eyesore


Living Large by Living SMALL

I’m sometimes convinced my purse is cursed. It swallows the things I want to find (it has happened on more than one occasion that I’ve had to empty out the entire contents in order to lay hands on the cell phone that has eluded me through three thorough rummaging-searches) and mysteriously fills with things I don’t need to find.

purse kitchen sink

everything AND the kitchen sink–a bursting purse

Seriously. Why did I end up toting Pizza Hut packets of parmesan, plastic Communion cup,  cinnamon-scented pinecone, tire pressure gauge, metallic Sharpie markers, a pair of chopsticks, completed crosswords, a fishing fly in a prescription bottle… Okay, not all of these things at one time, but those are actual examples of things my purse regurgitates when I only want my phone!  The lesson here is that if I have space, I WILL fill it—whether that space be in a purse or in a home.

If I live in a house, the STUFF I own will inevitably expand to fit the space. (I’m certain this happens without any help from me— surely I’ve played no part in accumulating said stuff, ahem…) If I have an attic or shed or garage or storage space, that stuff-expansion will continue till all the corners are filled in. Picture a marshmallow swelling in the microwave–that’s the sort of bloat we’re talking about.

movingI’ve moved eight times in the last eight years, each time with enough boxes to build a fortress. Each time packing, hauling, and unpacking all that Stuff. I would intend to sort and dispose, but I’d cave to the “Keep-its,” afraid to get rid of things I might want or “need,” hesitant to let go of sentimental items or gifts… Every time I packed more stuff than the previous time, instead of less.

The stuff I owned was owning me right back.

I suppose I could take comfort in the fact that this is a thoroughly American dilemma; it shouldn’t shock anyone to hear that Americans invented the self storage facility, an industry that Slate magazine called “a surprisingly fertile cultural indicator.”

What’s the most ubiquitous business in America? I would have answered Starbucks, but the New York Times reported this country supports seven times as many storage facilities as Starbucks stores, with customers’ “third-most-popular use” admitted to be “storing items that they ‘no longer need or want.'”

from a LetGo.com ad

skydiving with sewing machine: a LetGo.com ad

The humorous ads for LetGo.com might be puzzling to people in other countries (the continent of Europe apparently has about 1 storage facility for every 25 in the U.S.) but we here in America understand the underlying truth that makes them funny: people here DON’T let go of their stuff…

I may not have been paying out extra monthly money to keep the stuff I didn’t want to keep, but I was still dutifully packing and moving all of it at least once a year.

fifth wheel RV camp

Home! 350 square feet…

This February I married Jon and we moved into a fifth wheel RV. It’s good-sized for an RV, 40 feet long with a toy-hauler “garage” section for the motorcycle and some storage. Still, we’re talking something like 250 square feet of living space and another 100 for the garage. Big for an RV, yes, but tiny-house-small compared to most American dwellings.

I was watching a marathon of “Tiny-House Hunters” the other day in the RV park-office where I work (or where I work in busier months, anyway—this time of year it may not qualify as “working”)… I’m amused by the whole “tiny house” fad, and even more amused by the fact that the people who enjoy this show are some of the same who seemed aghast that we would consider moving into an RV.  The home-buyers in these episodes riff on common themes: simplicity, sustainability, mobility & flexibility, financial freedom, minimalism…

packingSo I picked up a word that’s new to me: Minimalist. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but I hadn’t heard it (or hadn’t heard it capitalized) until an episode in which a buyer repeatedly used the word to reassure himself about tiny-house squeezes. When his pragmatic sister challenged him with almost any question (“Where will you put furniture?“) he would automatically respond, “That’s okay; I’m a Minimalist.”

Another episode’s couple reported that they had taken the “Minimalist Challenge” before deciding on tiny-house living. The 30-day Challenge calls for disposal of one possession on the first day, two on the second,  and so on until the player/experimenter/prospective-Minimalist has either jettisoned 465 items or decided that Minimalism doesn’t suit.

Apparently I qualify as a Minimalist. I spent most of January sorting and winnowing, taking daily carloads to Goodwill and watching with satisfaction as my furniture walked out the door, piece by piece, on the shoulders of Craigslist buyers. By the time my mother arrived in town for the wedding, my three-bedroom apartment was echoing and empty, save for a small stack of boxes and luggage in the living room. “You must have some serious storage,” she commented. I didn’t correct her assumption at the time, but in truth, everything I own is now in this fifth wheel.

RV living room fifth wheel

still roomier than a sailboat…

Also truthfully, to a person who has long dreamed of living aboard a sailboat, this roomy rec-vehicle didn’t seem squeezed or unfeasible at all. Like a sailboat, it makes the most use of every space, tucking storage areas under the bed and in lofts by the ceiling… Like a sailboat, cabinets are built to keep objects from achieving flight when the home is in motion. Like a sailboat, the shower sports a hatch skylight and the toilet sports a flush-pedal and the tanks have to be monitored and maintained… It’s all familiar enough to be comforting, even exciting.

And for a Gypsyish soul like myself, the wheels beneath have as much appeal as the compact home itself. I have sat in the park office and watched my house roll by, knowing that HOME will be somewhere other than where I left it. And guess what? I didn’t have to pack a single box! (I will admit, though, that it felt odd to affix a license plate to my house!)

Gypsy-mobility is its own topic, about which I could write volumes (and probably will), but for now let me just say that my life is open for Experiences. When my counselor asked me recently what I want out of Life, “Experience” was the word that flew out of my mouth.

sailing skipper

greatest riches are in my mind… Skippering a sailboat, 2008

“Living Large” is not my aspiration; my greatest riches are in my mind. The things that fill pages in the box of journals stored in the RV’s extra bunk, or the pages of this blog. These are riches no one can strip from me—they won’t go into foreclosure or get repossessed or have a tax lien put on them. I may be an “anti-packrat,” but I do collect one thing: Memories. And fortunately, memories don’t require storage space—not even in the form of mementos or souvenirs.

The idea of minimalist living seems to appeal to many people on the surface—just look at the popularity of magazines like “Real Simple,” which hawks facsimiles of Streamlining & Simplicity with exorbitant price tags! …but minimalism does require some Letting Go. Actually, a lot of it.

vase of flowers

“small space” DOESN’T have to mean “cluttered”…

I had a conversation in the park office the other day with another full-time RV-er whose possessions are piled up in storage units, and who expressed curiosity about how I had managed to minimize my own Stuff enough to eliminate the need for storage. Like most Momentous Things, it’s deceptively simple.

Um, I got rid of the Stuff.

I suppose a person (if she does want to minimize) has to consider the various reasons why she has been keeping the Stuff she has. Does she use it or wear it regularly? Is it Important to her for some reason or another? Does she feel “guilted” into hanging on to it? Does she love it?

Things in the “use-it-regularly” category I kept. You might be surprised what a small pile that is, compared to the sum total of the Stuff you own!

storage boxes

TWO sentimental-storage boxes… (AND some unused space)

“Important” things—well, that can be subjective. I kept the little fire-proof safe with birth certificates, passports, and the like. I kept a large-ish box containing four decades’ worth of journals. I kept a smallish box of mementos: a handful of my kids’ baby-things, my own baby-blanket, some other items I feel strongly about… But honestly, the majority of things I’d been saving for “sentimental” reasons could fulfill their purpose in a photograph as well as in person. I took pictures, and I let things go.

fifth wheel autumn

the view out my window: my Best Friend’s home…

Things I would have felt guilty about getting rid of, I offered to the other people who might feel strongly about them. I gave things to my children, who live elsewhere; I took family-furniture to my parents; I handed family genealogy records to my sister-the-historian. And some things I really didn’t need. The current FaceBook comments from high school classmates mean more to me than what they wrote in my yearbooks a quarter-century ago. I dismantled bulky photo albums and simply kept the pictures.

Living a mere mile from the Oregon Trail, I feel a strong affinity for its travelers of long ago: people who embarked on a new life with everything they owned stowed in a very small, mobile space. The trail is ahead of me—we’ll see where it leads.

imagehome is where we park itI’m packed, and I have more than I need. At the end of the day, as the country song goes, “Ain’t never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch!”

(If you haven’t heard the song, I recommend spending the three minutes—just click below.)  :)

 

 


What Charlies Are For

Charlie's bike, guarded by BunnyHopper

Charlie’s bike, and BunnyHopper

Charlie keeps things simple. The rack and saddlebags on his bike can carry what he owns. So far as I can tell, that consists of: a tobacco pouch and plastic cigarette-roller, some T-shirts and socks and a second pair of jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and a camouflage coat, several hats and a mismatched pair of gloves, a pool cue that unscrews in the middle, a sleeping bag, a plastic water bottle, a pair of reading glasses, and usually a paperback novel or two. Oh, and a Magic EightBall—except he doesn’t have that any more, because he gave it to me.  (I was lamenting, one slow afternoon, that I wished I had a magic crystal ball to TELL me when we wouldn’t see a customer for three hours, so I could close up and go home for a nap. Charlie held up a finger and dug in his magic saddlebag till he came up with the Magic EightBall. “There you go: you can ask IT.”)

The stuffed rabbit riding his handlebars answers to “BunnyHopper,” sneaks Charlie’s cigarettes, and tends to sass back. (No, Charlie isn’t “crazy”—he’s just brimming with humor!)

Thanksgiving 2013: with Christian, Elena Grace, and our dinner guests

Thanksgiving 2013: with Christian, Elena Grace, and our dinner guests

Last Thanksgiving we didn’t open the restaurant for business, but we did put the restaurant kitchen to use. My husband Keoni—with the help of our sons, Kapena & Christian—cooked dinner, while our daughter Elena Grace pushed together dining room tables and set places for guests. The previous two years, in tight financial straits, we’d gratefully accepted the generosity of other people to put Thanksgiving dinners on our table. (Many thanks to our local food bank, and to our oldest daughter Kulia’s “Operation Gobble Gobble” charity drive!) But now the (laden) tables have turned; with the new restaurant thriving, we’re blessed with food enough to share. In the week ahead of the holiday, we put out word through the neighborhood “homeless network” that anyone lacking Thanksgiving dinner would be welcome to join ours. It wasn’t fancy—paper plates and plastic forks—but everyone left with full stomachs and food in hand, and I was pleased to watch our kids unselfconsciously chatting with the grubby-but-gracious strangers seated next to them at the table… And that’s the day we met Charlie.

With two bucks to his name, Charlie bought flowers for us instead of a beer for himself. Delivered with HUGS!

With two bucks to his name, Charlie bought flowers for us instead of a beer for himself. Delivered with HUGS!

Charlie could usually be found at his favorite hangout—the bench in front of our local grocery store—almost always with a book in hand. (He refuses to “fly a sign,” to borrow the street parlance for roadside-begging, but picks up odd jobs that allow him to put his mechanic’s training to use, and his semi-regular employers know where they can find him.)  On our way into the store to shop we’d stop for hellos (as Christian accurately observed, “Charlie gives the BEST hugs,” rib-crunching in their intensity!) and started bringing paperbacks as we finished them, swapping out for whatever he’d just finished. (It had dawned on us that he can’t qualify for a Library card without a “home address”…)

There’s an unfinished storage-space above the restaurant, which we’d originally intended to convert into a hang-out spot for the kids. When we found a rental home just up the street, though, we abandoned the playroom project, as well as the mattress we’d hauled up the stairs… until one of our kids thought of a better use. On a snowy night with temperatures in the single-digits, Kapena unlocked the upstairs door and went to find Charlie and convince him to get himself out of the weather.

Because  Charlie is adamant about not taking “hand-outs,” we’ve arrived at a working arrangement that doesn’t ding his dignity. He keeps our parking lot clear of trash and weeds,  takes care of our indoor plants (and potted & nursed the tomato plants a friend brought us), unloads several hundred pounds of groceries out of our car every morning, scrapes out the BBQ, and hauls our trash and recycling over to the bins. He’s done mechanical work on our minivan and our son Kawika’s brakes. On occasions when we’ve run out of something mid-day (and the restaurant is too busy for one of us to leave) Charlie is always happy to hop on his bike and do the “emergency” grocery-run. When we’ve showed up at three in the morning to start the smoker for large catering orders, Charlie pops up like a security officer to make sure it’s US and not an intruder.

with Charlie (and the tomato plants he tended all summer) at the back kitchen-door of our restaurant.

With Charlie (and the tomato plants he tended all summer) at the back kitchen-door of our restaurant.

We tease him about the advantages of having “our own personal Charlie” to help out with so many things, and he always responds to my thanks by saying, “Well, Ma’am, that’s what Charlies are FOR.”

When our van threw a belt this summer, Charlie took it on himself to ride his bike around town (in hundred-degree heat) to find the right belt, and came back to report where he’d found it, and for what price. We gave him the forty bucks to cover its purchase, and he pedaled right off again to bring it back, carefully handing over the receipt and counting back the change, and then spent the rest of the hot day with his head under our hood. His latest project (his idea) is working on the paint-job on my old/new Subaru. He floated the idea, with a simple list of what he’d need, and I expressed my delight. “Well. That’s what Charlies are FOR, Ma’am.”

Sometimes when he has a couple bucks he buys me flowers… And I know he has sometimes made that purchase at the expense of buying himself a beer (the other “treat” in his life–along with his books). We’ve talked a few times about our shared trait of Alcoholism, though I think it makes him uncomfortable because he starts apologizing for drinking, which was never my intent. (In fact, Keoni sometimes prevails on him to accept a couple bucks to buy a beer and drink it “vicariously” for us.)  The thing is that (unlike either of us!) Charlie’s personality doesn’t change when he drinks. He may be less steady on his pins, but he’s never less Charlie.

What I love best about Charlie (in addition to his hugs) is his outlook on living. I’ve known so many people with more stuff and easier situations, who still manage to be displeased with their lot. Charlie, on the other hand… stands by our barbeque with his hands on his hips, looks up at the blue sky, and pronounces: “I love Life!

Reminders of the joy in living, appreciation of simple things… THAT’s what Charlies are for.