Stuff

I bought a dresser.

When I walked into my apartment on May 11, 2013 after a fire incinerated everything that I owned, I had little more than a garbage bag of clothes, a grocery bag of canned goods, an alarm clock, and a cot. The only piece of furniture I still had was a kitchen island with bar chairs that had remained in my car in its original box. I could not carry it up the three flights of stairs to my loft with a herniated back, so it survived and serves as my kitchen table now.

Like my clothing, I received a lot of second-hand furniture and household items for the living room and kitchen. For my bedroom, I bought crappy put-it-together-yourself furniture from a big box store. This winter, the bottoms of the bottom three drawers of my dresser all fell out at the same time. There was wardrobe everywhere. After years of trying to reassemble it, I gave up. I bought a real dresser. Thank God we celebrate President’s Day with up to 70% off all furniture…

But the truth is, it’s not the crappy dresser’s fault. I was trying to stuff too much stuff into it and it exploded. And as I look around my home today, it is bursting with items that seemed to just appear one day and never left. I walked in here with nothing and now six years later there is too much. But isn’t this how it goes for all of us? We live in our hovels with an ever-expanding pile of stuff that creeps up so slowly that we don’t notice it- until there isn’t room to live in our living rooms. Unless we move, we are not really forced to take stock of our stock.

This has all got me thinking about what happens to the heap after we are gone.

My mom has terminal blood cancer and is now too tired to consider sorting out her stuff. 2013 stands as the worst year of my life because, among other things, in January, my childhood home burned and then in April, my apartment burned- four months and 400 miles away. All of my stuff ended up in a dumpster in front of the building. All of my mom’s stuff went into storage. This means that when she is gone, we inherit the pile of products. We have to shift the shit.

Consider the difficulty of letting material things go. I was able to take the tack that no one died and the rest can be replaced. It helped that miraculously, all of my photos and the hand-written copies of my writing survived. I was also given only 24 hours to get out of the burned-out shell of what was my life. I didn’t have time to reminisce. If my friends had not come to help me, I have no idea what I would have done.

My mom could not bring herself to do it. Always, it would be someday that she would get her stuff back or go through it. She had to downsize into a smaller house so my advice to her was, take a picture of the thing and then get rid of the thing. You don’t need the thing. What you are after are the memories and the feelings the thing provides. Unfortunately, she didn’t do this and any suggestion that we help her sort through it was met with stubborn resistance.

Now we are at the end.

First, we will make good memories. Next, we will walk through health decline and hospice. Then the funeral. Then the estate. It would be easy for me to get angry, but I think about the 45 years my mom lived in her home, the cancer she was diagnosed with shortly after it burned, and the MDS she was at risk of developing from the radiation treatments that now will take her life. She just didn’t have it in her.

And time flies.

If this experience does anything, please let it teach me to keep my home in better order, to dispose of things in a timely manner. I want to enjoy my space. I would like to have people and laughter fill my home rather than piles of paper, knickknacks, yesterday’s fashion… Maybe buying new, quality furniture is just the kick in the pants I need. It’s the return of feeling invested in my own life, my own happiness.

That feeling has been gone way too long…

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2019

Wardrobe

My mother has terminal blood cancer (MDS). Year 2020 is not guaranteed to her. If I were being honest, year 2020 is not guaranteed to any of us. I live 400 miles away and she is not online, so the telephone is all I have. Calls have become more frequent as I try to support her during the twilight of her life.

A recent conversation came up around the subject of clothing. She said she needs to buy some clothes but didn’t want to waste the money because she’s at the end. I told her to go out and buy designer clothes. It’s not as if you can take your money with you and just because you feel like shit does not mean you have to look like shit.

In all seriousness, if not now when?

Then the conversation led to her burial clothes. She designated an outfit that she only wore once, hanging in her closet, that was “good enough”. She mentioned that when she had this same conversation with her own mother, it upset her. Designating her final clothing does not upset me but the lack of careful consideration does. But I’m the same.

Put my body in whatever dress and throw me in the ground.

I want dignity for her life. Dignity for her end of life. I offered to drive down and take her shopping, but she didn’t sound interested. Mom was never one for consideration of fashion or ‘Girls’ Day Out’. She did try to look nice but more often the choice was dictated by what was on sale, on clearance, good enough… What difference does it make if it’s clean and looks decent?

But it does make a difference, doesn’t it?

I am a taller than average woman at just over 5”9’. If I wear heels, I am stacked to about 6-feet. Brick house. I’ve been asked to wear flats and slouch by a short date- his ego, not mine. I’ve watched other big women try to shrink, try to look smaller than the body they were born into.

I’ve done it too at various points of my life depending on what was going on inside of me. Mostly I wanted to disappear, to be left alone to deal with my pain and grief. But shriveling up your outside self, and inside yourself, in the hopes that you will not be noticed never protected anyone. You end up a target either way.

I am what I am.

I remain the same person whether in my Frye motorcycle boots or my cycling shorts. I can be statuesque in a floor-length dress or have legs for days in a miniskirt. I wear business casual for work, Boho-chic for hanging out, frumpy mom sweaters when I am too through… I may not wear anything to bed. But in all cases, I am the same being.

I think a lot about the role of clothing in a society. I was in theater as a young person and have always been fascinated with costuming. And costuming is what we do everyday of our lives. It’s about ego, status, and advertising: This is who I am. This is how much money I have. This is the sub-culture I belong to.

There are dress codes for a reason- to reduce friction, reduce distraction. Create as welcoming (antiseptic) of an environment as possible. Stay clean and subdued so that others may feel safe. In business, we are not there to make friends. We are there to get the job done and get along as well as we can with customers and co-workers. The product of the industry determines the dress code.

I don’t want my lawyer, therapist, or surgeon to dress like a beach bum while on the job. Sorry.

On the flip side is individual expression and counter-culture. If you don’t dress like a member of the club, you’re clearly not in the club. You must dress a certain way to show that you are an artist, a computer nerd, a sports fan, a devotee of religion, etc. There is a standard you must meet and that changes depending on who you are interacting with. The guy with the painted face at the football game is going to have an opinion about you if he thinks you dress like a fair-weather fan… And God help you if you don’t look ‘cool’ around a bunch of ‘artists’. If your reflected glory does not put enough coins in their ego bank, you best exit the scene no matter how talented you are.

FYI: your store-bought counter culture doesn’t make you a more interesting person.

For years, I’ve wanted to conduct an experiment: once a week, dress in any sort of subculture that I can think of, go to Mall of America on a Saturday, and see what happens. How do people respond and why? Because it’s not me- it’s them. I am the same person. I have seen some girls online who have conducted these kinds of experiments regarding their weight or clothing and it’s fantastic. Expose that cultural pressure, that bias we all must deal with in one way or another.

I currently wear a winter hat that looks like an artic fox fell asleep on my head. I found it at Glacier National Park in Montana in 2017. I fell in love with it but hesitated to buy it. I was convinced I was too old, it was too garish, that it was meant for some hot ski chick in tight pants. My niece encouraged me, so I bought it but was unsure when I wore it outside for the first time.

I really underestimated how Minnesotans appreciate a great winter hat. I have mostly received compliments. And it really makes a statement- a big fuzzy white hat against a fitted black coat. It’s not the kind of hat most people could pull off wearing.

But the truth is, it’s not the hat. It’s me.

So what statement do our final clothes make? What is the importance of how you are dressed in your coffin? Funerals are for the living but it’s also about dignity. How can I maintain my mother’s dignity through these final months and honor her final wishes in the end?

My father was buried in an expensive three-piece suit. He wore that every day of his career as a mechanical engineer. He also had a pocket protector and steel toe dress shoes. I think mom left those out of the casket. I think I remember a red tie and his 25-year work anniversary pin. It was 1985 and the memories of a 12-year-old are fuzzy.

Mom put a lot of thought and care into how my dad was buried. I want to do the same for her. How can I best express who she was in life through her clothing in death? I don’t want the clothes to be whatever she wore once that are hanging in her closet simply to avoid spending money. I want her to go out wearing red heels and all that jewelry she loved buying off the QVC channel.

I want her to greet St. Peter in style. Her style.

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-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

Valentinus

February is the heart of winter and the Feast of Saint Valentine is less than a week away. I have heard Valentine’s Day referred to as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’, but it has been observed for over 1,500 years. Valentinus, or St. Valentine to us English speakers, was martyred (beheaded) on February 14, 269 for marrying Christians in Rome.

This might explain why he is the patron saint of such seemingly unrelated subjects as affianced couples, against fainting, beekeepers, happy marriages, love, plague, and epilepsy. Think about it. Does falling in love not make one heave and become light headed? Are we not plagued by obsessive thoughts of our beloved? And how much does unrequited love sting us to the marrow?

The photo with this blog post is allegedly the flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine because nothing says love like a daisy chained dead guy. And nothing says love like hearts printed on boxer shorts, fake roses under glass, heart shaped pizzas, pink cookware, or a stuffed skunk bearing chocolate either.

FYI- If you are my secret admirer, please send the book ‘Love Poems’ by Pablo Neruda.

I was once stood up for Valentine’s Day. It turned out the guy was living in a motel and was strung out on Oxycodone, so he was actually doing me a favor. So much for online dating. Valentine’s Day is often a reminder for us single dateless losers that we are single dateless losers. Actually, it is a great day to avoid going out to dinner if you don’t like watching crowds of people kiss.

I will celebrate this year with some left-over chocolate from Christmas and a beautiful Grand Reserve 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard in Argentina. Every year on February 15, I spy single ladies buying heart shaped boxes of chocolates on clearance. Why the hell not. Get yourself a dozen roses too. The truth of it is, if you wait for someone else to get it for you, you might wait a lifetime. Better yet, find a group of single gals and celebrate Galentine’s Day together.

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
-(from Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Juliet) By William Shakespeare

Love for me is not defined by high romance and it is not inextricably linked to happiness. There is a song ‘Hallelujah’ written by Leonard Cohen. The lyrics of this song state that ‘love is not a victory march; It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah’. I think this is often interpreted as the bitterness of broken relationships. But for me, it speaks to the true nature of deep, devoted love in those hours when it is so hard to love.

When the beloved is struggling, when the bank account is empty, when there are significant health problems- this is when the real work of love comes to bear. And often all we can do is surrender to our heartache and powerlessness and offer our tearful prayers to God for a hopeful resolution. There is a reason that wedding vows refer to poverty and illness and remaining faithful to the beloved in spite of it…

It’s easy to celebrate love when you are young, starry eyed, and horny.

My ideal Valentine’s Day is my ideal any day. Here, I wrote poem about it:

Valentinus
By C.M.Mounts

Plucked truffles
Tissue lined box
Push gently
Through
Wine stained
Ruby lips
Low fireplace
I kiss you
Lean in
Speak poems
Gently
Your ears
You know
How much
I love you…

Have a blessed Valentine’s Day. Don’t get beheaded.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

Photo Credit: Relic of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome by Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32487809

Outerwear

No matter what the groundhog says, we are only halfway through winter. It is still 7 weeks to the vernal equinox and the astronomical start of spring. I have heard it said that there is no bad weather, only bad gear. These people have clearly never dealt with -55°F windchill.

Like most Minnesotans, I have multiples of all my winter outerwear: parkas, boots, hats, and gloves. I even have a sense of the temperature rating of my socks. You do not wear the same ones in 20°F as you do in -20°F. All cold climate residents will tell you, layering is the key to staying warm.

Back in April 2013, I had an apartment fire that consumed almost all my possessions. My entire wardrobe and all my winter gear did not survive. In the following months, each season of the year, I had to assess what I was missing. What were the most urgent items to buy and what had to wait for next year or the year after that. When you have nothing, you start with a hairbrush and go up from there. It was a constant state of flux in budget and stress. What can I afford? What can I do without?

It is hard to express how humble an experience like that can make you.

Friends and strangers stepped up and gave me their extra clothing and other household items. The thrift store is also a great way to immediately replace large sections of a wardrobe for not a lot of money.  This got me through the spring, summer, and fall months in clothes that didn’t fit quite right and were not my style, but I was so grateful to have. They were clean, gently used, and good enough for my job.

2013 stands as the hardest year of my life. By the end of it, I was worn down by grief, stress, and anguish. Somehow, I managed to forget that January in Minnesota was coming. I had to scramble to find a good parka that fit me on the post-Christmas clearance rack. What I found in my price range that fit and was sturdy was a men’s Jack Spade army green down jacket and some grey snow pants.

FYI- There is nothing sexy about snow pants.

Cheap women’s coats may be cute, but they are often poorly made. At 5’9”, I have a long frame and the sleeves on women’s clothing is often too short or cut too tight around the shoulders. If I want cute that fits, I have to spend money. So, I just bought my man-coat and wore my man-coat and dealt with people thinking I was a man in a coat.

In the basement of my apartment, there was a lighter men’s Columbia yellow polyfill jacket that hung to dry for over two years. The person who owned it obviously did not live in the building anymore and I was sick of looking at it. I intended to donate it to the thrift store but tried it on and it fit perfectly. Now, I had two man-coats. This one had a logo on it- “Winter X Games”. I know about the X games but don’t care about the X games. I didn’t notice the logo until someone decided it was cool and asked me about it. I still need to come up with a better story than “I found it in the basement”.

When you are a man in a coat no one questions your choice in outerwear.

One of the great mysteries of life is why some men have chosen to monitor whether women have overdressed for the weather. It is not clear to me if they are sick of their girlfriend complaining she is cold or if they are personally dissatisfied in your lack of sexiness or if they experience discomfort with ambiguous gender identification or what. I do not understand people who think nothing of verbally accosting strangers about their choice in outerwear. They have absolutely no clue how useless cute, cheap, shitty women’s coats are.

I will almost always choose quality and value over style. It is why my army green man-coat has lasted me these five years. But I’m tired of wearing men’s clothes. The general consensus that big women don’t need cute and that there are not enough big women to produce stylish mass market clothing gets old. I want to be pretty too. And even though my man-coat is still good and saw me through some raw years, I decided for the sake of my self-esteem, I needed to up my game. And as it turns out, if you spend some money and take some time, you can find coats that are stylish, warm, and actually fit.

Here’s proof:

IMG_20190125_184835

Happy mid-winter festival, everyone. Stay warm no matter what you choose to wear!

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

The Great Wide Open

More than one person has said to me- take time. Be with your mom before the cancer makes her really sick. Plan a family vacation somewhere and make some quality memories together, one last time. We’ve been talking about what that might look like in practical terms of time, money, stamina, and risk of viral infection.

I love to travel. I am willing to travel just about anywhere in the world, for almost any length of time, for almost any reason. I am an adventurer at heart, an international explorer. One of the greatest gifts my father gave to me was his love for travel. It made me understand that there were other places, with a lot of other people who did not look or act like me.

Nothing held more interest for my dad then just getting out and seeing the USA. His career gave us the ability to take two big vacations a year. These trips were what I would describe as ‘The Bill Mounts Family Vacation’. They were characterized by an extreme urgency to see everything you could possibly see in the short time allotted. Two weeks was just not enough time to sit and relax. We had to go, go, go and went, went, went we did.

By the ripe old age of twelve, I had traveled to no less than forty states. I had been to innumerable national parks- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, Red Wood Forest, Rocky Mountains, etc. I had been in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. I had been to countless museums, forts, State Capitols, wayside historical markers, tourist traps, national monuments, scenic overlooks, zoos, amusements parks, etc.  Once dad died in 1985, our annual family vacations stopped for the most part.

Mom did take me to Hawaii…

So, where do I take mom for that one last ride? From my perspective, the most obvious choice is Florida. Dad was in love with Pensacola. He was stationed there during his time in the Navy and my parents planned to retire there. It feels like we visited every year while he was still alive. We camped on Santa Rosa Island, played on the beach, visited Fort Pickens, Trader Jon’s, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and wherever else dad wanted to feel nostalgic.

That was all before the island was built up with hotels. You could still collect sand dollars, starfish, and seashells. We even picked up a couple conch shells once. No one was combing the beach at the break of dawn collecting them all to sell. I have very clear memories of the smell of orange blossoms and the feel of the white sand beaches. I count them among the happiest memories of my life.

But that was Pensacola of the 1970’s & 80’s. It begs the question: could a trip to Florida today ever live up to those memories? And does mom want to go where dad would have chosen? Or does she have one last great adventure in her, one last uncharted destination, one unfulfilled wish?

It remains to be seen. And it may come to more than one trip this year with the various members of my family. We may not all be able to get the same time off. Quality time with more intimate groups of people might be a better way to go. And if we end up hanging around the mid-west… well, at least we won’t get lost.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Party of One

It is customary to mark anniversaries. This is a powerful week for me because it marks ten years of being single. My first long-term relationship ended twenty years ago. My second long-term relationship ended ten years ago. These dark cold days of January must really get to me. I will not get into all the reasons each relationship ended. I will only say that we disagreed.

In the ten years since the last break-up, I’ve had to recreate my life at least four times. I had to figure out who I was again, figure out how to manage my life of one- cooking, housing, living, and trying to have some fun. I had great hopes to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and have a home and a child together. I was only 36. I thought I still had time. None of that happened for me.

Life kicked me right in the head. I seem to be on some kind of three-year trauma cycle: 2010 (life threatening depression), 2013 (worst year of my life), 2016 (major medical crisis), and 2019 has the potential to be a real whopper (mom is terminal). It takes two years to recover from one bad one, then it starts all over again. The in-between years are spent losing weight (cycling) or gaining weight (eating) to try to cope with all the emotional consequences.

I have tried to date on and off with very little success. In general, the advice I was given about how to be single was to “stay busy”. Later, I was questioned whether I had time for a relationship… Other great advice from well-meaning people was to “just pick someone”. FYI- whoever you pick is going to be scrutinized to the max by friends and family.

I’ve been told all the reasons I am still single: too serious, too tall, too fat, too independent, too mysterious, too aggressive, too angry, too loud, too stressed, too smart, too confident, too busy, too much a career woman, and (my favorite) because I am not dating women. I’ve been asked, “Do you think your laughter drives men away?”

I once had a girl’s dream of what love was supposed to be… waiting on my one true ‘soulmate’, waiting on that one person who would see me clearly and erase all the pain and fix all the wrong and live up to my impossible standards… And of course, no one could.

I do not have a girl’s dream of what love is anymore. I understand that while love can bring happiness, they are not inextricably linked. In fact, love is most often expressed in patience, in silence, in forgiveness, in acceptance.

It is expressed when you allow another to collapse under depression on the couch by just being there and letting them be. It is expressed by sitting in an ICU for a month, watching someone cling to life, hold their hand and talk to them though they cannot respond.

That is the true work of love, where the rubber meets the road in loving another. It is not high romance or happy memories or exciting and fun. It is the highest form love takes: I am here. I am here. And I love you even now when it is so hard.

I have been asked if I get lonely. Of course I do. But I also know that I’d rather be alone than in bad company. I’d rather be alone than BE the bad company. I was no saint in my relationships. We each brought our good and bad. We each made our mistakes.

I love both of them- that’s a permanent condition and I will not fight my heart on that matter. But I can’t be with them. If we spend too much time together, the stress increases, we start to argue, and who needs that? Not them and not me.

When relationships end, you have to grieve the loss of the life that can never be. You have to grieve the loss of your hopes and dreams: the house never bought, the children never born, the shared memories through time that will sustain you in old age that simply do not exist.

I can not tell you how to deal with it, only that you will cry a lot and maybe for the rest of your life. You will cry at odd times. When you least expect it, a memory will return of what was once so good and is now long gone and there is nothing that can bring it back. You cry and you move on. I read once that in the end we are all faced with a choice: be bitter or not.

Love has yet to return to me but I do believe it is possible. I have many friends to see me through the hard times, past and future. To be honest, sometimes walking through trauma alone is better simply because you only have yourself to worry about. I am not dragging another person down with me. I can be sad or angry or lay in bed all day and no one cares.

I suppose you want me to write about how exciting single life can be and it’s true. I get to travel a lot, even internationally. I can be footloose and fancy free. Meeting new people is exciting. So is getting dressed for a night out with the girls and collecting all those glances the men steal. Feeling good, looking good, concerts, dancing, socializing, bars- it’s not all bad. And I get to hog my queen size bed. The mess in my apartment is mine alone. The orange juice will still be in the fridge where I left it as well as the dishes and laundry. But it’s my dirty underwear and coffee cup. So yes, being single is great in many, many ways.

But I miss the kisses… I miss being held. And most of all, more than anything else, I miss coming home to someone who asks me, “How was your day sweetheart?” and they really, truly want to know.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Resolution

It’s the new year. Like most people, I overdid Christmas. I celebrated with reckless abandon knowing that the last two weeks of the year are to feast, imbibe, and be rowdy. Let’s face it: I travel for Christmas, I’m not exercising in the hotel gym even if you paid me, and I am not cooking at home. So, letting go of my fitness goals is just reality and I embrace it.

But then New Year’s Day shows up with its fresh calendar and same old life, same old body. There seem to be two types of people- those who make New Year’s resolutions and those that don’t. For those that don’t, I get it. The turning of the year does not change your life. New Year’s Day is just January 1st.

But I fall in with those that make resolutions. Or I at least reaffirm my commitment to the goals I already have and work toward every other day of the year. I meditate on where I was at this time last year. What in my life has changed? What did I learn? What am I grateful for and what was hard and painful? And I readjust my course.

I have three major goals guiding my life at all times: Health, Wealth, and Purpose.

Health is paramount. Everything else is built on this single goal because without it, you cannot do anything else. Ask people with chronic illness and they will tell you this truth. Health  goals for me include physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The big ones of course are diet, exercise, and managing my depression. But it also includes meditation and prayer, seeking companionship with those who love me, and recreation.

Wealth at its simplest definition is money but I mean more than that here. Paying off debt and saving for the coming rainy days. Focusing on my career and what I want to do before I retire. Planning for major purchases like a home. Managing my current possessions and budgeting for my current bills. At the end of the day, money is green paper but life without it is so mean we dedicate a third of our lives in its pursuit. But I understand that it is simply a tool that I must use in order to function in our society, not the purpose for living.

Which brings me to my last goal- Purpose. What is my life’s purpose? I have enough work, projects, and writing to shut myself off from the world for the rest of my life. I could isolate and focus only on my plans, accomplishing them one by one, and maybe stop to appreciate how far I’ve come but that’s unlikely. There are always more plans to be made, more goals to achieve, no time for satisfaction… But that is not what life is for. That is not what brings life meaning.

My life’s purpose is simply this:

  1. Learn how to love others. Learn how to allow others to love me. Both require the hardest of all: Learn how to love myself
  2. Write my truth and share it with the world
  3. Live well according to my Higher Power’s guidance

It’s not about resolutions. It’s about refinement and recommitment. It’s about gracefully accepting the lessons of time and allowing all those big, big plans of youth to fall away to focus on what really matters. Time passes so much faster than we realize. It is the most precious commodity we have.

And what I would say to you for the New Year is simply this: figure out what you really want and resolve to do that in whatever capacity you still can. What else is this time for?

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019