Revisiting days gone by

For another blogging project, I have been revisiting old posts from 2015 and 2016. It’s something I rarely do, and now after having done so, I wonder why I don’t more often. Well, there’s the typos and wrong word choices and maybe I could have stated something better, but with my stream-of-consciousness blogging style I suppose it should be expected. And really, those should be small cakes issues in the larger picture of taking a peek back at what I memorialized here on the blog.

It made me feel good about my life and it’s progress. I reread some of the comments received and was touched all over again by how great my readers. It’s an emotionally squishy time for me right now; I get that I am likely to be more moved than usual by words and acts of kindness that mean a lot to me. Still, while bawling is a little overreactive, I do not take you who read me for granted. Sometimes the reminders of where I was, where I presently dwell, where I will venture is so overwhelming and positive.

Life is fluid. Sadness will not last forever. While friend J is irreplaceable and I miss him terribly, I am grateful for so many other old and new friends who fill up my life.

But right now, work is slamming me, as is concern for C and A out in Tampa and experiencing their first hurricane season. We are concerned, of course, but not precisely worried. What can we do from here? They work at the same company and their center closed at noon on Friday and will not reopen until at least Tuesday, so they are hunkered down in their apartment and stocked up with recommended supplies, batteries, flashlights, water, food, etc. They have bags packed and the animal carriers at the ready for the fur babies if they are told to evacuate. If there were more we could do for them, we would, but it is simply a hope for the best, plan for the worst scenario right now. And from clear across the country, we just read the news and text back and forth.

So just a brief post today, because I need to get to the gym and then onto a very long work weekend ahead. No complaints, though. I would much rather feast and feel the pressure of work than famine and feel the pressure of not enough.

Tides

Emotionally, feeling the bounce toward my typical push-pull life balance. Gaining perspective doesn’t happen in a vacuum with all my sadness and grief under lockdown. Unfortunately grief is a process and there are no shortcuts.

Tuesday mornings I have a standing 5:30 conference call with an east coast client. It is typically an energetic phone call, because they are rather dynamic people and nearly always have something new and interesting for me to do in the days or weeks ahead. Funny me we have now been working together for over 2 years and have actually met in person exactly twice. But I got a really strong recommendation from another mutual client/friend, and they are very happy with the work I am doing for them as a group as well as individually. So it’s always a boost because they are appreciative of my time and efforts on their behalf and express it every week. I know they mean it; we all know they don’t have to carrot-and-stick me to get their work done. Our conference call is just a highlight of my job-related work week. So that makes me happy, too.

My former big corporate firm (BCF) wants me to do some limited consulting, so yesterday I looked at my September calendar and emailed them a proposal with a discounted hourly rate and how much time I could give them for the month. I thought it very fair, considering how they tried to screw me over and now find they need me. Cynically, I fully anticipated they would come back with either an observation that I’m already getting paid (via my severance package) or protest my rates were high. Sure enough, this morning there was an email expressing their surprise at the rate quoted. Dumb asses. I guess they figure I am sitting around eating bon bons and living off my severance package rather that hustling for self-employment clients and keeping myself well over scheduled with work. Laws of supply and demand, lady; I’m in demand and will be billing more than 40 hours per week through the end of the year with or without the 10 hours per month I have offered to you.

Yes, I suppose I am a still hostile toward these people. I have not yet responded to her counter proposal, because I’m in a particularly snarky mood and not willing to be tolerant and diplomatic in light of her bullying bullshit. Her undervaluing my ability is a huge issue for me, but my not needing the work is going to prove tricky for her. Whatever happens, I will remain profession and reasonable, but BCF is so far from a non-profit and I am unwilling to volunteer or donate my time to people who do not respect or value me. If I am merely a commodity, they can damn well pay for my services.

Assholes.

Really, I am only hostile toward them the firm management, not my former crew or the clients they took over and who are not complaining loudly enough to make BCF approach me for help. Rest of my clients do like me, like working with me, because for the most part I am more than reasonable and easy going about the hurry-up-and-wait nature of consulting. It’s the flow of the business. BCF, though, made what seems like a typical mistake of pooh-poohing anyone who is primarily support or overhead labor. They are paying for it now, and the only reason it’s not a lot more expensive is because of my relationship with the former partners.

Perhaps I just need a good strong dose of indignation to catapult me out of my funk. Or the long weekend is over (for everyone else) and my phone/text/email are blowing up as clients and business associates get back to work and reach out. Whatever it is, I’m grateful to be focused and fully engaged on something other than misery and grief.

Relationships matter

After a day of couch surfing, crying, feeling sorry for myself, I finally picked myself up and got annoyed enough with something else. So I got started deep cleaning my shower, which led to decluttering the countertop in the master bathroom. And more crying. One of our final interactions we were looking at apartments for friend J and I was fretting over the size of the bathroom – the vanity was single sink, barely any counter. But being a guy and a minimalist guy at that, what the f**k did the countertop or bathroom size matter? It has a toilet, sink, shower – all he needed. Medicine cabinet over the sink was a bonus.

Made me smile.

But after a couple of hours of frenzied deep cleaning all through the house, I feel better. M came home from a day of running and trail sweeping and I got irritated with him for tracking in crap on floors I’d just steam cleaned and wiping his feet on entry rugs I’d just vacuumed. Not his fault, of course, but I’m trying to burn off my funk and feeling cranky because of it. Essentially it was one of those pissy days in our household.

As I wait for a final load of laundry to finish washing to be loaded into the dryer, my alternate thought spin cycle has begun making its rounds in my head.

Work is for the most part going very well. I’m busy enough and engaged enough with the clients stable I’m serving already, but they bring me projects with quick turnaround deadlines and it keeps things especially interesting. I have no real complaints and am enjoying this aspect of my life.

Or I was, until Friday.

As you may recall, my former firm was bought out by a much larger corporate firm and I was given a damn generous severance package. My former bosses are still consulting and working cases that were continuing at the time of separation, and my former boss’ corporation remains a client of mine as we wind things down. It’s a win-win situation, because I do really enjoy working with them. I also remain close to my associates who are still working for Big Corp Firm (BCF) and meet them for lunch or drinks/dinner at least once a month. These people are my friends and the relationships are important to me.

Over the last couple of weeks I have gotten calls from BCF about various issues. I rarely answer the telephone when the regional operations coordinator phones, because as far as I am concerned, they instigated the separation, tried their level best to screw me over before and after said separation, and are therefore completely untrustworthy. Our communications are always going to be on my terms, not theirs. This does not mean I am so unprofessional as to completely ignore their email inquiries or telephone calls; it just means I do not jump when they snap their fingers. Kind of a childish control issue, I admit, but they are not nice people and treated me very poorly.

Anyway, the questions they have been asking have been very routine, stuff we went over several times before I left. I’m not impatient with them, but I find it tedious when someone who is supposed to be intelligent and in charge of a business group asks me the same questions in different ways over the course of a week. I learned during the Friday meeting with the partners that the problem is not so much a misunderstanding so much as it is a conflict with a couple of very fussy clients.

The partners asked me if I would consider a limited consulting engagement with BCF for these few specific clients with very particular issues and a much healthier respect for me and how I dealt with them. Just to get things transitioned completely. Had BCF treated me more professionally, I would do so up to a specific number of hours each month without charge. But I know their coordinator knows there is a huge amount of distrust and resentment toward them, because I have stated it in those precise words with very specific reasons for my feelings.

But relationships matter. My relationship with my former bosses/present clients are important to me, as is my reputation among the BCF, even if they think I’m scarcely more than a clerk for not having a law degree. Refusing this limited engagement with BCF will ultimately hurt my former bosses, because they do reap a share of the revenue from these ongoing cases until they are settled once and for all. Everyone also knows that the request coming from them is impossible for me to refuse.

Even if I dislike my choices in the matter or the people I will have to work with on the grind of getting the relationship repair work done, it’s business. I am probably more upset about being put into this position, because completely hiding behind my mask of professionalism will be almost impossible in this situation. But they need me, and the greater good for people who do matter to me means making the best of the situation. I cannot even charge them a premium because of the circumstances to make myself feel better about it.

The bright side is that I’ll get to be back amongst my peeps a few times each month, and I have missed seeing and interacting with them on a routine basis. It is also a limited scope thing, something that will likely only last through the end of the year. Biggest bonus is they need me, not vice versa. My irritation with them for their big corporate practices is greatly tempered knowing that they are under enough pressure to address the concerns of a client that they had to try and recruit me back to help them smooth things over.

Framed that way, I feel very vindicated. Perhaps I will even come to enjoy the time spent with the vipers of BCF. I doubt it, but I have to retain a facade of optimism about the relationship and situation.

Malaise

It’s been 2 weeks since my close friend J died. During that time I have primarily carried on as normal, albeit with more crying and feelings of sadness and grief. But work has continued, my exercise and better health quest carries on, the immediate paperwork and document filing associated with someone’s passing have been handled. The list of personal bequests was fulfilled.

And today I could barely drag myself out of bed and through the shower. It was a struggle and a fight to get dressed and start thinking about going to the gym. Knowing it would likely make me feel better did not motivate me to get my ass in gear and going. The List was not especially difficult, but even the lighter weights I was using felt heavy. For the first time in a lot of months, I felt disconnected, uninspired, and completely dejected about the work. I did see my son in passing – he cruises by to use the shower after his marathon training group – and that made the sun shine again for a few moments. It was a brief fly-by, but when I get the blues this way any ray of sunshine helps.

External distractions are not really working for me today.

So I’ve wallowed. I’ve cried. I dropped and broke not just a glass but also a glass bowl that I brought home from my mom’s house after she died. I cleaned it up  and cried harder, so frustrated and angry with myself. Then I got out the stainless steel cup for a glass of water because I obviously cannot be trusted with anything more fragile.

I did some listless grocery shopping for the week, came home with ice cream, ate it without any guilt or any joy either. I cried while eating it, too. And after months of no dairy and minimal sugar, I’m paying for it with an upset stomach on top of everything else.

Which makes me angry at myself, for being so ridiculously stupid and eating crap that I know is more likely to make me sick than anything else. Sparking anger is somehow better than sitting here crying over things I cannot change. Anger tends to inspire me to action, rather than lying around waiting for lighting to strike me down. Since it’s over 100 degrees again today and I’m inside the house, that lightning would have to be a self-directed strike from Mother Nature herself.

Yep, it’s been one of those kind of days. Completely unlike me anymore, I have done little other than lay on the couch reading depressing news and feeling the big giant void.

After 2 weeks, the anesthesia of shock has worn off and the malaise of grief has overwhelmed me.

I miss him so much. My world is such a smaller place without him in it, and I continue to marvel that life does go on so normally all around me.

I am mostly functional most of the time. I work hard. I exercise and eat the same boring foods over and over again. I have a lot of fun with my friends and my family. And life goes on, and mostly I’m really glad. Because to hurt this way 24/7 is beyond my ability to cope.

Until it doesn’t proceed as normal, and I have this day of wallowing in my sadness and loss and struggle to gain some ground on the concept of coping.

Practical me knows this too shall pass. But reality bites in the midst of it all.

Grief really sucks.

Hopeful realism

After starting this post during lunch and scanning it quickly just now, I recognize that shock of sudden death is starting to fade and I am in full-on processing mode, albeit the scenic route.

I live a small life. It’s not big, not flashy, not glamorous. But in the ways that are important to me, mine is a big, bodacious, overflowing, bursting kind of life. All good things.

What I value, I prioritize. My relationships – with M, my kids, extended family tribe, friends, clients and business associates – all are important to me and somewhere on my personal hierarchy of values scale. Work is on that scale somewhere as well, and not just for the financial support and stability it provides us. Accounting is not a flashy profession, and the type of work I happen to do is not as lucrative as being on the career track of a national or even a prominent local firm. But it’s infinitely more satisfying to me. The clients I have know me as a person and trust me to tell them the truth, no matter how much they don’t want to hear it. I have also come to care about them as people and experts in their own fields. There is some sort of new classification where the professional respect bleeds over and becomes a personal friendship as well. Having worked in larger corporate firms, it is so unlikely for me to have developed a work-life balance that blurs and blends into something that fulfills my need for mental challenges and stimulation as well as the emotional security of not having to hide myself behind the professional mask many hours each day.

From the work M and I both do, our basic needs are met. We have a nice home, an abundance of food, transportation, health insurance, employment, and money in the bank for our even older and grayer years. We have many wants as well, yet none that burn so hot that we are left feeling deprived and unhappy for its absence.

It’s the bigger losses that we cannot recover or replace that leave us sad and wistful for a different outcome.

I do not feel especially ambitious about travel or vacationing right now. If anything, I am enjoying being at home when I am not working on work-work. There is so much to do around our homestead, between decluttering and maintenance and planning/negotiating future projects. Just a few examples:

  • The dining room set we recently purchased used – $150 for an oak table with 2 leaves and 8 chairs – requires a good scrub and polish to make it our own. Then we need to move it from the dining room, put a newly purchased rug on the floor, and toss out the ugly old one presently residing there to protect the laminate.
  • There is more tree trimming to do, then the growing pile of dead branches need to be loaded in the truck and carted to the dump. But it’s been so hot; such outside tasks are lower on M’s to-do list.
  • Then there is our garage, a weekend job of organizing and decluttering all on its own. Again, the heat is a factor in this project; it’s difficult to get either of us motivated to take care of this crap when it’s 100+ degrees outside and not much cooler in the garage, even with the doors wide open.
  • Installing shelving in our laundry room. Part of this is just making decisions about how much shelving to put in there, purchasing and installing the materials, but it’s been low priority. However, my latest born-again zeal for getting rid of crap and doing a better job with available space has me eyeing this more critically and wanting to make get busy planning to make it happen.
  • Our hallway linen closet needs to be reorganized. This is currently the favorite dumping ground/stash location for anything and everything we’re not sure what to do with.

Left to my own devices much of this would likely already be done, either hired out or boatloads of crap tossed or donated long before this. Unfortunately, being married, staying happily married means some negotiation about how the shit gets done. With the way our lives and work/life balance tends to work, I only have small pockets of time to work at a project before I have to go out for a meeting or be at my computer working or am simply tired and in need of a recharge. Both M and I have health and fitness-related activities that consume their own chunks of time and are highly prioritized for each of us. Hardly matters if the trees are trimmed or crap we want/need to retain is stowed properly if our health is so poor we can barely do much for ourselves.

What often times judgmental me feels is lollygagging on both our parts about projects outside the scope of essential housekeeping or work-work tasks, the reality is our lives are full of commitments and responsibilities we desire to pursue or are part of the continuity of our lives. The projects on our lists will get done, eventually. Or we will relent and throw money at the problem and hire it out, something M is loathe to do if he himself can eventually get it done. In my impatience defense, I only suggest hiring out things he likes doing less than others, or that would take him on his own an extraordinary amount of focused time. Painting the exterior of our home immediately comes to mind. While M could most definitely do it and do it very well, I’m not sure our marriage could survive it. For such a big, time-consuming task, I would much rather there be a licensed contractor overseeing and doing the actual work, because when I reach the point of screaming because it’s not being done right, they are not showing up as promised, or it is taking too long because of the first two factors, a contractor can skulk off and escape my wrath at his own home. M, not so fortunate. I see this as a win-win as well because M, with his perfectionista tendencies, can follow along behind our painting contractor and either point out what he wants changed or touch-up to his heart’s content.

The point pounded home to me again and again, all this stuff means less than a hill of beans where grief is concerned.

This heartache is fresh, raw, and hurts dreadfully. Yet, even down here and squirming in the trenches of the freshness of pain, I know it will pass, heal over, scab and then scar. Life does go on, no matter how awful it seems in these moments.

I am not now nor will I ever be one to compare pain or wounds with other people. We feel what we feel in the ways that we feel it, and we are each unique beings. Talking about pain or happiness or other emotions is comparing apples and oranges, and I nether win nor lose any coveted prizes for hurting more or less that someone else experiencing loss. Loss hurts. Grief sucks. And life continues as if nothing of any significance happened in the world at large.

Such is my reflection of the smallness of my life. Someone significant in my world died, and I am learning to navigate this new normal. It has not turned me more cynical, dark, desperate, or depressed me into paralysis. I take it as a reminder that life is precious, our expiration dates unknown, because the future is not promised. All those cliches and platitudes designed and deployed to try and make us feel better about a fact of life we cannot change are true and yet they do not make me feel much better.

Mine is a hopeful reality. I love and lost a dear friend, and it hurts me deeply. He was among the first folks I would always want to share good news, on speed dial when I was troubled. Our email correspondence is epic, and like me, he seems to have saved every one ever exchanged. It’s precious to me, and even the mundane, day-to-day reporting leaves me feeling a little lost as to how I adjust to a world without my best friend in it.

Thing is, I will adjust and life continues. I still smile and laugh and extract full measures of joy in my days. And how quickly, how easy it still is for me to forget he’s gone, and when the thought flitters through my mind of how I will frame the funny moment or tiny victory, I feel the ice pick in my heart as I remember he’s not here to share with anymore. And all over again, it hurts and grief sucks.

The life I have built for myself, the world where I personally dwell is a beautiful and amazing place. It was before he passed and remains because of the zillions of memories  created. And going forward, I still see a lot of beauty, life, brilliance, humor, and love.

It’s a fresh, new, raw wound, one that may take a lot more time and resources to heal than I can presently predict or imagine. But I think mine is a long view, mixed with a dash of something akin to faith that we will meet again. For now I am living my life, feeling my pain, enjoying my joys. Hopeful realism at its finest.

Gone KonMari crazy with a little weep

For about the last 18 months, I have been on a mission to declutter. I mean, it seems like I am always decluttering my closet (that infinite space that reproduces even more crap the minute I close the doors). But I’m more serious this time. I’m even openly attacking Mark’s clothes, albeit rarely worn dress clothing that was once worn by the much bigger man version of him. Really easy to tell him he’s absolutely NOT wearing dress clothes he wore when there was almost 40 lbs. more of him a few years ago.

My friend C told me about her volunteer job – a thrift store boutique that specializes in high quality, exceptional condition and very gently used donations. I had been in a quandary as to what to do with my stuff, because it felt like it was too nice to just drop off at my local Goodwill. I could have tried selling it online, but honestly, it does not seem worth the effort to me. If I were still doing eBay selling regularly (something I did during my last major purge a few years ago – handbags alone netted me over $2,000) I would probably be more inclined. I rarely to never even look on eBay for anything, and for clothes the FB group sales will consume my available time and generate a disproportionate amount of resentment. Nope, C’s mention of her volunteer job is a perfect solution. I do believe my donations are a close match to what they are seeking and this stuff will soon be out of my house.

So, thus far 5 large shopping bags of clothing. Due to my physical person downsizing, beloved workout capris, leggings, tops, sweatshirts, and light jackets have been neatly folded and now bagged. There are also skirts and dresses I have saved and maintained well but now find are too big for my evolving frame. I’ve also packed up some of M’s slacks, dress shirts, even ties. In another bag there are handbags, wallets, gloves, knit hats and scarves. If they accept them, I also have several pairs of worn once or twice (or not at all) running shoes waiting, plus athletic bags of various sizes that I had tucked away in a box and forgotten. I also have more dress shoes to sort out if those are something they could find useful.

A lot of stuff I have worn, loved, maintained well. It is good to pay it forward and let it go to its next owner and perhaps generate some income for a good cause.

But I am far from done with my decluttering. Next I am back in the kitchen and will be ruthlessly weeding out items we no longer use. Tomorrow, perhaps. Today was all about clothing and accessories.

I cried while doing a lot of this activity. Not at all about the items I am releasing to others so much as grieving the loss of my friend. My heart seems to shatter again each and every day. It’s hard learning to accept the finality of such change, a lesson I must learn, relearn, learn again daily. While it’s only been a week, the leaden weight is so heavy it feels like months and years.

I am grateful for any and all distractions, including going through all my stuff and seeking out that “spark joy” feeling. While I feel broken and sad inside, I am a master compartmentalizer and so much of life still sparks joy. Frequently tiny sparks build into something bigger, and in this, in the aftermath of loss, I have no choice but to be patient and wait for events to unfold. In the meantime, it gets tucked away in its box through day to day demands and responsibilities and taken out so I can bawl over a functional sun hat that I do not even like very much and am actually delighted to be shedding.

This process reminds me again that my needs and wants are actually pretty simple and continuing to filter and simplify as I mature and move along. Yep, still have a drawer full of clothes for the gym, but as it’s my new hobby-obsession, it feels relatively justifiable and almost required. The rest of my closet is FINALLY looking like I have decluttered. My business clothing closet is manageable, my supply of jeans, shorts, and weekend casual tops still quite flush with things I wear all the time. I do have my next clothing purge in the planning stages, though, because I think there are some jeans and pants from winter that will be too big this year. But when it’s hot outside, even in the comfort of my air conditioned home I do not want to be trying on flannel lined jeans, wool slacks, sweaters of any weight.

For someone who is not much of a fashion follower or clothes horse, I have a lot of clothes. Since I am not a slave to fashion or the trendy sort, pretty much everything I own has simple lines and is consider classic pieces. All good, as I believe it makes reselling relatively easy as well.

I won’t miss a single item that I have bagged or boxed for donation. I probably will not think about a single thing in any of those bags or boxes after I drop them off. But my friend has become as much a part of this home as the foundation and the house itself. I miss him terribly and I resent his death and the rollercoaster of emotions it has unleashed.

M and I went to his pod late yesterday, allowing ourselves only an hour to gather some specific, personal bequests to pack and ship to other friends. It is a bittersweet act for me, but one I take seriously and feel compelled to complete as quickly as possible. It’s written down, on a list, and I want to get it resolved as quickly as I can. I recognize the actions as something within my control, versus everything else well outside of it. Idly, I wonder how I am going to feel when the list is cleared and there is nothing left for me to do. Will I feel better? Worse? Relieved? Still angry?

Unpacking and repurposing stuff – it’s part of life, I suppose. The adventure is sorting out the emotions attached to the experiences as I move through it.

It is a challenging balance. Decluttering is good. Grief sucks.

Dinner bell

It has been a rough week, but into all sadness a little levity sneaks.

I put some chicken in the oven tonight for dinner through the weekend. Nothing fancy – just a simple, roasted chicken. Since it was cooking for 45 minutes, I stepped outside to chat with M about projects he is working on with pool and tree maintenance. My phone was in my pocket, because I thought I had set the timer to get the chicken out on time.

Working outside is not my strength, but we have been working on cleaning up old crap from my mom’s home and that we have had for years and years and apparently carted to and from various houses and storage units. Our efforts at downsizing continue, but it’s a long slog. In the back deck area, we’ve had boxes of stuff to be sorted out, some to donation, some to trash, a select few item to keep. I got started on the last few boxes – almost all ended up in the trash can – but since I was sure the timer would be going off for dinner, I completely lost track of time.

Next I know my phone is ringing. It’s our alarm company, which apparently we have some sort of sensor – either a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide monitor that had alerted them. When we did not answer them on the interior speaker, they rang my phone. Conversation was something like this:

Alarm Monitor: Hello, this is alarm monitor. Is everything okay?
Me: Of course. Did the alarm go off?
Alarm Monitor: The fire sensor thing went off and you did not respond to our call.
Me: Oh SHIT! (ripping open slider and smelling the burning dinner)

And that, dear friends, is how homemade charcoal from chicken is created. It is no wonder we tend to stick with the grocery deli rotisserie chicken when we want actual roasted chicken.

I ended up eating a sandwich and M had some canned chili for dinner. Could have been so much worse.