Adventures in Distraction

My world is filled with mixed messages. First, it’s go slow. Then, it’s do as much as you can. Enjoy your leisure. Make the most of this retirement you’ve worked so hard for. You deserve it. Friends want me to have the time of my life, go on a big vacation or do a multitude of other activities that’ll prove I’m being good to myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I know everyone means well. But when I received an inheritance this year, the pressure to ramp it up increased. According to some well-meaning friends, that was s a sign I should let loose and do something really special. So this last summer, I boarded that runaway train of instant gratification and traipsed from one unpredictable escapade to another. I said yes to everything.

First, two bus trips, one to a play and another to a historic tourist town and a Mississippi riverboat ride, a Brewers baseball game and two writing conferences. The Madison event I call my writing spa retreat, a week on the campus of UW-Madison. The next, a five hour drive to Rhinelander, was challenging but worth it as I learned the fine points of poetry. Then, precious days spent with various groups of girlfriends doing what girlfriends do best. And finally book groups, writing groups, lunches and coffee dates with friends all mixed in; cap that off with an exciting four day extravaganza to New York City. What was I thinking!

I’m two weeks back from New York, it’s the end of the summer and I’m still feeling “the lag.” So glad I did it all but also happy to be settled in and home once again. Time now to think it all through and process the experience. A large part of my thinking includes many words of wisdom from books and articles I’ve been reading lately. Very esoteric topics. Appreciate solitude. Be mindful. Allow yourself to be distracted.

All the way back in 1988, Anthony Storr, an English psychiatrist, in his book Solitude: A Return to the Self, extolled the virtues of integrating into our lifestyle what he calls” the capacity to be alone.” This is especially important as we age since older folks no longer rely so heavily on primary relationships as they did in their earlier years. Time to become acquainted with ourselves, he said. Or get to know ourselves maybe for the first time.

He speaks at length about how we shouldn’t automatically think there’s something wrong when we see older people who seem isolated since this is a natural stage of development. Gee, maybe this needs to be added to Erik Erickson’s famous developmental tasks.

Storr opens the chapter on the Use of Solitude with: “In a culture where inter-personal relationships are generally considered to provide the answer for every form of distress, it is sometimes difficult to persuade well-meaning helpers that solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support.” I think I’ll have to read this to my well-meaning friends.

Phillip Chard, in his syndicated column Out Of My Mind, says that what he calls an “intentional distraction” can be a good thing, a way to feed one’s imagination, solve problems and foster creativity. He further states that getting mentally sidetracked can be very beneficial.

The definition of distraction is: a condition or state of mind in which attention is diverted from an original thought or focus of interest. For example, Chard admits that he occasionally plays word and video games on the computer and says this is a chance to zone out and get in touch with the subconscious. Einstein, Chard notes, said that he never realized any of his scientific breakthroughs using rational thought alone. He relied on his intuition and his best ideas often emerged when he was distracted.

In the Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer states that “in the age of speed…nothing can be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in the age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” He reports that in a new field of interruption science, it takes an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call. Yet such interruptions come every eleven minutes. That means we never catch up. That is, unless we make a conscious effort.

All these thinkers say we need to slow down. Therefore, I’m giving myself permission to take as much time as I need to recover for my big summer adventures. I’m also no longer looking at the time I spend playing solitaire on the computer as wasted time. In fact, I’m thinking of it as meditation, a benign distraction that will calm me and help me be more creative. So, all you out there who say you’re addicted to Candy Crush and Words With Friends need no longer feel unproductive or guilty.

When I think of my writing, it’s good to put aside that essay and let it percolate for a while. I get it that there’s nothing like returning with a fresh set of eyes a few days later. How can I argue with what works for Einstein.

I’m enjoying being home among familiar surroundings once again. I’m sure I’ll go on more trips and might even re-visit the craziness of New York City. But I’ll do it on my own terms and not feel guilty when I say no thanks. Most important, I’m welcoming distractions into my life and seeing them for the priceless opportunities they are.

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Regrets

Wise woman, tired and worn
Wife of one
Disappointment
Elation
Mother of many
Disappointment
Elation

Hardworking, sacrificial
Bargain to please
Absolving the pain

Memory of youth
Radical and joyous
Risk abuts folly
Prices to pay
Put away for love
Put away for hope

 

Misunderstanding

With the scattering of my dad’s ashes at his old hunting camp in the summer of 2009, my siblings and I were given a wonderful chance to honor him; we also had a priceless opportunity to spend some extended time together. How could I know what troubles would result? I’m choosing to remember the good parts.

At his memorial service in October, 2008, Mom revealed Dad’s final wish. According to her, he’d told her long ago that “when it’s my time, just scatter my ashes up at the shack.” The shack was near Rhinelander and since I lived close by, I said I’d do what I could to locate it.

We found the property quite easily in November, 2008 and got permission from the present owner. When we were home for Christmas, I reported our progress to Mom and she gave me a cardboard box of ashes. I was on a mission to do this last thing for my Dad.

At first, Bud and I thought we’d just take a drive out there one day, scatter the ashes and that would be that. But then, Bud said he felt uncomfortable doing this without Corky’s family present. After thinking more about it, I e-mailed my sister.

1/29/09 – From Karin to Karla…Now Bud thinks the family should have an ash scattering event…he says he doesn’t feel right doing it without Corky’s family there……..so what do you think …Karin

1/29/09 – From Karla to Karin….I think you will be hard pressed to get everyone to come up there for a scattering.  Just my feel….Karla

1/29/09 – From Karin to Karla…..Hey…..Karla……Re: ashes……I wasn’t really thinking anyone/everyone might be interested……..I’m just willing to do it…..if anyone has other or better ideas, I’m open to that also….Karin

My research to locate the shack had resulted in an article published in the local newspaper in May, 2009. I’d sent a copy to family and had received many nice compliments. Next, I sent out an e-mail to all, describing generally what I had in mind for an ash scattering.

My siblings expressed an interest, depending, of course, on their availability. Everyone had stipulations. I’ll have to check my schedule…it depends on the date…maybe it would be better to wait until fall……etc…etc…..If we did this during the summer, we were still nine months past when Dad had died. I didn’t want this to be put off too much longer. No one said they absolutely wanted to be there.

I’d done an internet search that provided many suggestions for ash scatterings and felt this would be a neat thing to do. A summertime Saturday with maybe a cookout was what we I thought. Mid-day, so driving up and back on the same day was possible since it’s a five to six hour drive from southern Wisconsin.

Next, we looked at our calendar. We considered Father’s Day weekend and decided there’d be lots of competition from multiple plans and/or obligations. We had two vacations already scheduled that summer, one in the first half of July.

Then, Bud was approaching publication of his book and had a late summer deadline in mind, so we wanted to keep August free. We had to drive to Wausau to the publisher each time there was a change or a glitch. Then, post-publication book events had been planned.

Mother really wanted it done and had asked a few times about it. Lots of pressure between getting it done this year and setting the date soon so people could start planning. Right or wrong, I’d especially wanted to accommodate my sister, Karla, who’d been Dad’s durable power of attorney.

In fact, she’d done more for both of our parents than all the rest of us combined. She said she definitely wanted to be there. The dates were quickly being winnowed away, down to the two last weekends in July. The only one that worked for both Karla and us was July 18. So that was it. From there we devised an agenda and I sent everyone an e-mail.

May 31, 2009 – From Karin to all
Let’s send Corky off in grand style
I planned this so people who want can make the round trip in one day
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Schmidt’s OPNORT RESORT
2:00 pm Cook out
3:00 pm caravan to the Shack, scatter ashes
Say goodbye to those heading home
For those staying: return to our place, go shopping or other tourist things
Fire in the fire pit in the evening, s’mores and more, Lodging information is forthcoming

Then the trouble began.

Date: Sun, 31 May 2009 20:57:58 -0500

From Kris to Karin….Any way we can do it the following weekend?  That is one of the 2 weekends that won’t work for us – we have the Waukesha county fair that weekend and we run the admissions so there is no way.  sure would appreciate it…Kris

June 1, 2009 – From Karin to Kris…so sorry……I looked at all schedules and this is what worked best for us…..the more people I talked to, the fewer dates worked…..then there were our own time limitations….I knew summer would be busy for many…..but think on it…maybe you can work something out……Karin
6/2/09- From Kris to Karin…of Form

So who else cannot make it on the 18th – I suspect it is just me.  thanks a lot – there were 2 dates in the whole summer I could not make and you picked one of them.  I cannot work out the fair – it is the same me every year and since Keith & I have run the admissions for 20+ years it is not an option.  I read that this was a family consensus to spread the ashes at the shack – so I never heard about it until I read the article.  Seems like I am being shut out. Then why don’t you just take me off the family email list and I will quietly go away!!

Kris

6/2/09 – From Karin to Kris…

…this seems like a huge misunderstanding……my sincerest regrets that you feel this way….….but please understand, I have no devious intentions toward anyone….…I am just trying to do what dad wanted and what mom said I should do……as the summer season approached, Bud and I started planning, sat with our calendar and figured out a date that worked best for us to open our home and thought hosting a cook out seemed a nice addition to the day…..then I simply put out the information in case people wanted to participate………due to the distance I figured not many would be able to come but wanted to make the offer anyway……..simple as that……..Tell yah what…if you want….. I’ll save some of the ashes and you can come up another time and we’ll do it again…..…we live so close, it would be easy……and I’m sure Dad won’t mind being scattered to the wind more than once….Karin

6/2/09…Forward from Karin to Karla….did you read the reply from Kris…..and my answer to her……how can I please everyone…..no one else has mentioned a problem yet…..Bud and I talked and went over our schedule and there are just not any other dates…..we also expected that some will have a conflict and not be able to come………tell me not to feel bad!

6/4/09…From Karla to Karin…..I like your response.  In talking to Helen, the woman I ride to and from work with – her opinion is that everyone makes a choice. Kris has chosen to go to the fair.  If it meant so much to her to be there she would have chosen to be there instead….Karla

From there this modest little event took on a life of its own. Planning was daunting. So many details! Karla and her son and daughter signed on and said they’d camp. Karleen couldn’t find an affordable hotel so her “yes” turned to “no” until I arranged cheap lodging in Eagle River. I was tickled that some would actually be there. A small group but I was pleased.

The Monday before, we had only Karla, Karleen, Paul, Kristin and Craig. Then, only days before the event, Kurt said he could come and was bringing two of his daughters. Finally, Kent called to say he’s made last minute arrangements for a ride from his fishing camp to our house. I had one last detail to tie up. Back to e-mail.

7/7/09 – From Karin to Kris ……Hi Kris……just a reminder…I can save some ashes for you if you want to come up some other time…..let me know…..Karin

7/7/09 – From Kris to Karin…..NO

I’d spent an unbelievable amount of time, thinking and worrying about my sister’s response. In fact, I’d almost obsessed about it. The general reply from anyone I’d told was that people make choices. The fair was a volunteer experience. Was she that indispensable?

Another common comment was that “every family has one.” That just didn’t help. But I was feeling wonderful that my other siblings would be there. There was much excitement with the planning and the silly e-mails back and forth as things firmed up. The prelude was almost as much fun as the event.

Finally, the day arrived and it was so wonderful to see my family setting up their tents, unpacking their gear. I didn’t even know there were any campers in my family! Turns out, we had the most wonderful time, lots of laughing and talking. Brothers and sisters who’d been somewhat distant experienced a new closeness and this was one of the neatest times with my family I can recall.

All in all, it couldn’t have been better. Yes, it could have been. My absent sister could have been there. In the days after everyone went home, e-mail was buzzing as pictures and funny comments were shared with the whole family. It was a hoot to see all the pictures and between everyone, we’d hardly missed a precious moment. Until.

7/20/09 – From Kris to all…..Do not include me on any more of the July 18th event e-mail comments

7/20/09 – From Karla to Karin……I saw that…it was what I was afraid would happen.  Skip called me and Kristin emailed me as soon as they saw it.  I’m not surprised…Karla

7/20/09 – From Karla to Karin….I just feel sorry for her…Karla

As time has passed, I’ve finally accepted that there’s no way this could have had a different ending, except changing the date to what Kris wanted. Bud continues to think all this is his fault. I simply remind myself that we, Dad’s family, were small players in this; it was about him and what he wanted.

Karla says she wants to have another campout next year. I told her that’s fine with me but she should do the planning. Let’s see if she can navigate those choppy family relationship waters better than I’ve been able to.

X X X

*all e-mails are verbatim, as sent and received

Into the Wild of New York City

Our plane, landed at La Guardia for a four day visit to New York City, Labor Day weekend, 2015. I quickly realized I’d gone into the wild, a different kind of wild, but the wild no less. Current wisdom says that it’s good to get out of our comfort zone and that’s what I did. Of the nine in my group, everyone but me was an experienced traveler who’d been to New York many times. I was nervous but excited to be doing something I’d always wanted to do; I had no idea what I was getting into.

For what little comfort I had, our plane might as well as been a helicopter dropping us on an Alaska glacier. Or, our hired van, whisking us through the city to our near Broadway and Times Square hotel, could have been a rickety wagon leaving us in a foreign village in the outback.

I’d just finished reading Into the Wild, the story of a young man (Alex Supertramp he’d named himself) who wanted to commune with nature and find solace by going into the wild, into the bush. Then I’d read Wild, the story of a young woman (Cheryl Strayer) who hiked the Pacific Crescent Trail in order to find herself after significant losses and disturbing life changes.

They both bought into the magical appeal of nature and were sure this experience would change their lives. Alex and Cheryl were naïve and ill prepared for what they were undertaking. Cheryl found herself and published a well-regarded memoir. Tragically, Alex lost his life. I’m not saying that my recent trip to New York City bears any resemblance to Alex and Cheryl’s ominous journeys but my expedition was certainly portentous in other ways. Urban wild can be as exhilarating as the wild of remote places.

A couple of pairings within my small group had extensive pre-planned itineraries; my humble goals were to see a Broadway play, take a carriage ride through Central Park and see a certain piece of art that had been featured in a recent movie. Due to my physical limitations, I was just happy to be able to visit New York and planned to see and take in as much as I could.

jluie 006jluie 007My hotel room on the twenty-first floor had two windows, one that faced 46th street and the other 8th Avenue with a view of the Hudson River off in the distance and Times Square two blocks away. Late at night I stood, leaned toward the window to look down at the jumble of lights, traffic, shops, theaters and hear the clatter in the street below. You’d have thought it was high noon.

Each morning, the quiet of the elevator as it dropped down to the lobby came to an abrupt halt as the door opened to a din of voices, chatter, laughter. That’s the last quiet I’d have until re-entering the elevator at night to return to my high in the sky hotel room.

New York is best known for Broadway and Times Square and it was just as depicted on TV. People in Disney and other cartoon character costumes expecting tips when they pose for a picture with a child. The very tall person in a Statue of Liberty costume. The old and wrinkly woman wearing ragged and worn jean shorts that revealed most of her bottom and a halter that revealed most of her top. Her look was completed with a scraggly straw hat. Was she part of Times Square entertainment, a regular New Yorker or a tourist just wanting to fit in? Who knows.

It’s not possible to walk but a few steps without being accosted by someone shoving a pamphlet or brochure into your face. Bargain tickets. Discount shows. Most of these young people, I’m told, are extras or minor cast members in Broadway productions. Moonlighting on a higher level. The bleachers on Times Square must be for serious people-watching or for rest as long lines form near the kiosk known for cheap same day tickets to a Broadway play.

Walking down 44nd Street with the colorful and bright marques of one theater after another. The Lion King. The Book of Mormon. Hamilton, all in a row. Sometimes next door to each other. And some people actually drive their car here, even though its $17.75 for one hour of parking in automat-style boxes that jluie 003elevate up and down into the ground and into the air.

Scan0015I quickly became accustomed to the $15.00 cocktail and the $20.00 sandwich. Location, location, location. Before the theater, we went to Sardi’s and in their bar I had an appetizer (grilled shrimp) and a cocktail. $40.00. I began to think of shrimp as my signature NYC dish and ordered it many times in many places for lots of money. At the top of the Marriott Marque’s View, the only revolving restaurant, one drink cost $15.00. At least they didn’t rush us as we waited for the New York skyline sunset.

It’s an international community where I was often the only English speaking white woman in sight. French. Asian. Italian. At the hotel coffee shop I watched a group from the UK signing in for a cake decorating convention. I had my picture taken with Jimmie Fallon. Not the real one. Madam Tussaud.IMG_20150907_135151717

 

 

 

 

Each day was non-stop. Morning to dusk. Once home, it took two weeks for me to finally feel rested. My only regret was missing the piece of art due to long, long lines. And not having a hot dog from a NYC street vender.

Now, my heart begins palpitating each night when Stephen Colbert begins his Late Night show with NYC scenes playing on the screen at his back. It’s also great fun to follow along with the designers of Project Runway as they cavort through NYC’s fashion district. I giggle as I mentally return to those streets. To that flash. I was there, I walked down that street, I know how that feels.

 

 

 

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