Saturday, July 28, 2012

I Would Prefer Not To

 I Would Prefer Not To

Bartleby the Scrivener is not the typical character to come to mind as a shining example of a successful life. But there is one thing Bartleby had that I have always envied, and that was his ability to meet any and all situations that were not to his liking with one simple and stunning phrase : “I would prefer not to.” Among humans whose nature it is to demand “why?” Bartleby had the one answer after which there could be no further questions, leaving his questioner neither offended nor provoked, merely baffled into silence. Long after Bartleby had gone on his way, maintaining his impenetrable demeanor, had it been me, the space between me and my questioner would have been piling high with qualifications, self-deprecations, and worst of all, the sort of impulsively revealed personal information that has the effect not of discouraging but inviting and justifying even more revelations.

 Broken Contract

I’ve tried the Bartleby maneuver. I remember two years ago, after the four thousandth detailed description of why I was leaving my job and what sort of life I hoped to pursue afterwards, I answered my unlucky Interlocutor Number Four Thousand One with an abrupt “I’d rather not say.” Had I knocked them over the head with my office chair, they could not have looked more shocked, hurt and betrayed. Clearly this sort of thing works a lot better in 19th century fiction than 21st century reality. But worse than the reaction were my own feelings of guilt, as if I had somehow broken the human contract by allowing my sense of loyalty to myself take precedence over my obligations as a compliant and well-mannered member of society. 

 Small Talk

Don’t get me wrong. In the right mood, when all the bluebirds are singing above my head, I can smalltalk and socialize with the best of them. I can cheerfully volunteer whole chapters of my life story when clearly a brief summary would have been adequate. I can be the first to accept an invitation to a social gathering and the last to leave, and greet everyone I meet with an open mind and heart and indefatigable energy to offer both. I can be a tree in spring bursting into bloom. And I can go home with no one the wiser and collapse for three days afterwards.

 Please Don’t Talk to Me

Then there are other times, and I seem to be having a lot more of them lately, when I feel I am about to shatter into a million pieces if the pleasantries with the bank teller persist beyond three sentences, or a passing stranger maintains eye contact longer than I can hold my breath. Times like those, I know what’s best for me, and that is to stay far far away from other human beings until I am fit to be among them again. It will do no one any good to have as a party guest a tense little stormcloud who can’t hear what you just said because all she can hear is the mantra inside her head pleading “please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me…”  Last week I attended a barbecue at which I sat poolside in a plastic chair, donned dark glasses and did my best to become still as a statue or flat as a shadow, hoping no one would ask me why I moved to Rutland. It didn’t work. I managed an early escape, still feel exhausted by the effort, and have burst into tears several times since then. And why did I not stay home? Because to decline seemed rude. Because it was easier to go than explain why I couldn’t. The hosts were kind people, they fed me food, they did nothing that could be interpreted as unpleasant, except that I preferred not to be there, and was.

  Oh What a Tangled Web

I’m getting better at the necessary refusal. I still feel guilty. I still feel that I have broken my faith with the world by shunning its people when their only offense was to seek my company. But instead of going ahead and placing myself in an uncomfortable situation to spare the feelings of others, I now have the occasional summoned self-respect to spare my own feelings instead. What I still have trouble with is the explanation, for there is always that horrible moment, the fee if you will for the night of solitary freedom I am buying myself, of needing to provide an excuse, one that comes out with such incontrovertible confidence it allows for no further negotiation. I hate spinning stories, and find that even a good lie can come back and haunt you, such as pleading emergency or illness, only to be visited later by well-meaning self-appointed and utterly unwelcome bringers of relief.  Pleading busy, especially more than once to the same inviters, can’t help but come across as rude and rejecting, and will be tucked away until the next meeting for the purposes of teasing, good natured and not. One thing is certain, whatever you plead, you will not be allowed to forget it anytime soon.

 Good Fences

That leaves the truth, which always sounds pathetic, such as I’m just not up to it, I’m feeling a little down, I’m not in a party mood, I need to be by myself, maybe next time. Even friends that know and understand me have been reluctant to accept such lines. The two most common reactions are outright dismissal (“oh get over yourself, stop wallowing, come out and have a good time, you’ll feel better!”) to undue concern (“Are you alright? Is there anything I can do to help? Will you be okay alone?”) Face it, there is really no way to make “I don’t want to be around other people” NOT sound even the slightest bit offensive to – other people.

 Setting a Pattern

As I write this I am still recovering from that one acceptance to a social occasion I foolishly made among a recent necessary flurry of refusals, the last of which is allowing me to be sitting here writing, something I know is much better for me than holding onto a determined smile and a glass of wine at a reception trying not to visibly wince in the crossfire of new names, enthusiastic handshakes and oh, the questions, being thrown like showers of hailstones at me. The ones that demand quick biographical summations I wish I had on a tape recorder concealed on my person and could recall with a press of a button instead of making my mouth pronounce the same words for the millionth time. And then of course the greatest hazard of multiple refusals – setting a pattern that itself opens me up to a line of questioning I have faced far too many times. Where have you been? Why don’t you come to these things more often? We missed you.

Self Respect

Sometimes I wonder when exactly I became such an old curmudgeonly misanthrope. But now that I've arrived, I'm waiting for them to send me the necessary paperwork, in triplicate, that releases me, especially in times of vulnerability or low spirits, from defending, explaining and otherwise apologizing for who I am. Perhaps then I will acquire the grace and privilege of uttering with no possibility of further explanation to myself or others  --  “I would prefer not to.”

On the occasion of my 100th blog post I'd like to thank all of my readers, old and new, who have never expected me to be who I'm not, and have even made me feel pretty damn good about who I am. Much love to you all. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Visual Summary

Old Times

Last week, on the day that I donated blood for the first time, another momentous event was taking place in the center of the city. Some 212 vintage vehicles parked in downtown Rutland as part of the Model T Ford Club International’s weeklong tour of Rutland County.  It was strange enough to see these cars pass by on local roads throughout the week, but to have so many of them gathered in one place to see and touch was a singular occasion, and seemed the perfect subject for some Holga photography.

 Wheel to Wheel

Of course it was a really bright and hot day, and hard as I tried to cradle my camera out of direct sunlight, most of the twelve shots I took were marred by white streaks caused by light leaking into the camera body. I know people who go to great lengths to tape up all the seams of their Holgas so this sort of thing never happens. I actually like the strange unplanned effects that light leaks can create, but like everything else connected to a Holga camera – sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

 Last View Before Going Home

Last week I also managed to finish off a roll of regular film that had been sitting in my camera since my trip two months ago to New York City. Reviewing the three dozen images was a visual summary of what I’ve been up to in that time, or at least the things I considered worth recording. Above is the last photo I took at the South Street Seaport before the rain drove me home.

 About to be Blown Away

This image is from way back in June when the dandelions were all turning to fluff outside my house. I’ve always admired the beauty and tenacity of what is in effect a weed and considered a pest by most caretakers of lawns. But that is the subject of an entirely different post!

 Falls in Black and White

At the end of June Brian and I visited a gallery in Middlebury that sits atop an old mill with a creek that ends in a fantastic waterfall. I learned that it is a lot harder to take good photographs of shadows and water than I thought!

 Face to Face

And finally last weekend we spent some time at a local alpaca farm, reminding me why I adore these peaceful curious and highly photogenic creatures, other than their amazing fiber!

 Key at Hand

I wish I could say that my fortunes have improved as much as my amusements these past few weeks, with equal opportunities for financial as spiritual fulfillment. Sadly this is not the case. We have been here for 8 months and are still very much struggling to piece together a living from various sources, including the continued generosity of friends and family. But as I write this, I do believe the key is near at hand and soon things will be moving along smoothly again. Brian has good news to report over at his blog, a tangible sign that we are beginning to find our place in this community. It only gets better from here. As ever, many thanks to my followers. You really do make the journey that much easier!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Here and Now

 Choosing Not to See

Readers of this space know that my move almost eight months ago to Vermont has not exactly been rewarded with instant fame, fortune and fulfillment. When life is hard, with art sales slow, and not a good job to be found, it can be tempting to submit to such a negative attitude and outlook, so focused on bleak projections of the uncertain prospects ahead of me, that in effect, I make a choice not to see what’s right in front of me and around me in the here and now. 

 Morning Paper

This morning I woke up early and instead of returning to bed, took a cue from the birds already into their second hour of morning song, and began my day with a cup of tea, a green view and a quick reading of the local newspaper. I was encouraged to read that Rutland law enforcement is getting just as frustrated and angry with the recent rising number of incidents of disorderly conduct as I am, and has decided to do something about it. As the weather gets warmer, it seems that more people of varying ages with nothing to do turn to petty crime and bad behavior, ruining shared public spaces for the rest of us.  Last week someone causing a disturbance not only assaulted two officers trying to remove her from a local park, but kicked out the window of a police car in the process. This young lady will now be under a lifetime ban from all city parks, as will any other vandals, punks and vagrants who don’t know how to behave in a civilized lawful manner. Bravo, says I.

 Blood Drive

Riffraff disturbing the peace is not what Rutland is about. Yesterday, for the first time in my life I signed up to donate blood at an event being held here in Rutland next Tuesday. Last winter, Rutland hosted its annual Gift-of-Life Marathon blood drive and fell  just short of the national record of 1,968 pints donated, set by neighboring Manchester, NH. However, the 1,855 pints that were donated in Rutland earned the record for the greatest per-capita blood donation in the history of the United States.  Not bad for a city of 17,000 souls. There is even a documentary chronicling the event called “The Blood in This Town.” That is what Rutland is about. And that is what I want to be a part of. And I will, next Tuesday, at 1:30 pm.

 Salt Cave

Earlier in the day, Brian and I visited the Pyramid HolisticWellness Center. Not only has the owner Dr. William Kelley been a welcoming and supportive friend to us both, but he provides for a community that has way too many opportunities to indulge bad behavior, a sanctuary and resource center for everything that promotes sound body, mind and spirit. One of the most intriguing therapies offered, one which I had never heard of nor encountered before, is called The Salt Cave, a room meant to simulate a salt mine, in which you recline in the enriched atmosphere listening to soft music in a soothing dim light, and emerge an hour later feeling as if you have just had a full body massage and a day at a spa, and the best night’s sleep of your life all in one, except it only costs ten dollars - yes you read that right. I don’t know how it works and I don’t care. I’m making it a regular part of my wellness routine. Thank you Bill for bringing this to Rutland. 

 Nature's Bounty

Right after reading the newspaper, I walked down the hill to the Saturday Farmer’s Market that has grown in recent years from a few intrepid farmers in a parking lot to what feels like an international culinary festival of over 90 vendors of produce, prepared foods, wine, cheese, meats, and local crafts. I spent 24 dollars and came home with the bounty you see above. Every weekend it seems there are more items to choose from, and every weekend I recognize more of the vendors and customers who are my neighbors. What a wonderful way to start the day and how lucky to have it within a five minute walk from home. It makes me feel good to be a part of keeping these small growers in business and keeping Vermont strong, not to mention enjoying a week’s worth of healthy and delicious fresh ingredients!  I’m sure I’ll feel even more fulfilled next Tuesday as I walk out of the beautiful Paramount Theater, also mere minutes from my home, and part of the Rutland Downtown Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For what I will take away with me, one pint of blood seems little to give.

All things considered, I’m happy to be here.