Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Since I’m In the Neighborhood

The change express I’ve been ready to board doesn’t seem to be running, at least not any time soon.  So what do I do while I’m still here, waiting?  Lately I’ve been raking, something I skipped last year, sweeping ten bins of oak and redwood droppings into yard waste bins once a week for over a month.  I’m sure our garbage service crew is quite tired of my productivity.  I am too, even though I’ve listened to several books on IPod while I’ve been wielding my rake and snow shovel (an oversized dustpan). 

Back in May when I finished the writing for my MFA and before my husband knew he was going to leave his job, I’d arranged to lead a memoir group through the recreation department of a neighboring town, and to offer writing help for junior high students at my local library.  I bowed out of the commitments before they started, hopeful that I’d be relocating mid-session.  But no one has looked at our house since July.  And my husband is submitting a job proposal to “the adoption group” at the world’s most innovative company, asking them to create a program and position he is eminently qualified to run, but not part of their current plan.  If they adopt, we have no idea how long the process takes.  So here we are for the foreseeable future. 

I have been retired from ministry for over a year and finished my master’s degree in August.  Since then, I packed up all our knick-knacks, photos, every item that distinguishes our home from a vacation condo.  Many of my books are packed, but there are enough on my shelves to keep me reading for several months.  All our CD’s, DVD’s, videos, are boxed and stored in the shed, but streaming Netflix in the form of Mad Men is entertaining us in the evening.  If I keep packing, I’ll end up unpacking.  I might need to unpack some as it is.  All my craft supplies, the words I cut from magazines for collages, and my yarn and needles are boxed and stored in the back corner of a shed in our yard, and I need a creative outlet.

What do I do with myself in the interim?  Time yawns before me.  Three months, six, I have no idea, but part of me doesn’t think it’s wise to plan to lead groups and help students on an ongoing basis.  So I undertake short-term projects.  I’m blogging once a week.  I set up a website.  In three weeks I’m attending the final gathering of a clergy group I participated in two years ago, even though I have left pastoral ministry.  I was part of a clergy writing group that came out of the initial gathering, and felt like my tribe.  It will be wonderful to reconnect with the writing clergy, as well as other participants.  Plus, the main speaker, Trevor Hudson (a white clergyman from South Africa) is fabulous and the Nashville campus is beautiful in the fall.  I wrote a short story and will be reading it and leading worship (the first time since June 2010) on October 30th.  I scheduled a short story workshop for early November (let me know if you want details), and a trip the following weekend to Boise with my husband, choosing a city we had never been to and could reach within two hours using our Southwest airlines miles.

I spent money I’m considering an investment—in my marriage--on a two-person open top kayak, for Kevin and me.  We went kayaking off the Santa Cruz wharf in July for my birthday and loved it.  No matter where we end up, water will be close by.  We’re launching Friday for the first time in the beautiful Lexington Reservoir that runs parallel to the commuter’s Highway 17, and hasn’t been open to boating in years.  I’m thinking up a regional bucket list, since I’m still in the neighborhood. 

I could even turn my attention to the memoir I’ve been slowly writing over half a dozen years.  Without pastoral responsibilities and school requirements, and real estate and packing frenzies, my writing could become my main preoccupation.  If I am diligent, and spend less time checking Facebook and reading other people’s blogs, I might even finish my memoir in this in-between time.  And if I don’t, at least I will keep myself occupied in this itchy waiting time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Careers was my favorite board game as a kid.  As players we wrote down our secret success formula before beginning play, a combination of fame, money, and happiness that had to total 60 points. I always weighted my formula toward happiness, which meant I usually “went to sea” rather than going to Hollywood (fame) or becoming a Uranium Prospector (money). 

Happiness was paramount for me when I played the game and when I pictured my future––however vaguely an elementary school girl can picture adult life.  Money and fame were necessary for the game, and for life, I supposed, but they didn’t interest me much. 

That’s still true today.  I’m most interested in happiness, although I have money and a certain amount of name recognition (Careers fame) in the United Methodist Church.  My husband has been an excellent monetary provider.  But making money, as in getting rich, has never been his motivation or mine.  We’ve been thankful for having enough and more than enough money at times, so that we have been able to help family and friends in significant financial ways.  Financial success has been the byproduct of my husband’s dedication, passion, commitment, intellect directed into the world.  Money and recognition (more Careers fame) are the only ways the corporation can reward employees.  Money and fame don’t bestow happiness, no matter what value my Careers game bestowed.  Happiness is up to the individual. 

It might be easier to make decisions about our future if I could pull an “Opportunity Knocks” or “Experience” card from the Careers deck and know how a job for Kevin at a cloud computing company in Palo Alto stacked up against a job for Kevin at a cloud computing company in San Francisco, or an internet service in Oakland.  How would the happiness, money, fame quotient be distributed if we stayed in our current home and town and he commuted an hour each way to work?  Would it be different if we moved to the Peninsula to the fog and a house with an ocean view?  What if we lived near a BART (commuter train) station in the East Bay and had a view of the bridge but also one straight into our neighbor’s house?

I’ve been looking at houses for sale near BART stations, thanks to a website called bayareaforsale.com. Then I’ve looked up the corresponding cities at City-Data.com, where I can find out all sorts of statistics about population, age, occupations, crime, businesses, churches, colleges.  Of particular interest to me are:  population size, crime rate, housing density and high temperatures.  The lower the number in each category, the more appealing the location is to me.  The lower the numbers, the happier I will be.  Factor in a water view, and my happiness points increase.

Some part of me is aware that my rankings are nothing more than a grown-up version of Careers, a game that prepares one poorly for real life.  I run search engines while Kevin embarks on his job search, looking for his own winning combination of money, fame, and happiness––recognizing all the while that the happiness component of the equation is entirely up to us.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In a Fog

 “But Pacifica is so foggy,” most of my friends and acquaintances say in all seriousness when I mention that my husband and I are thinking of moving there.  As if we might be enveloped in white mist never to be seen again, as if fog is something to be feared.

Pacifica is also home to a portion of the San Andreas fault—a routinely active fault—that runs through parks and open spaces, paralleling Interstate 280 in the northern peninsula, skirting backyards along Skyline Boulevard and other streets, like Imperial Avenue, where homes offer spectacular ocean views in exchange for treacherous footing.  Years ago, I worked on an earthquake safety campaign for a central California city also near the fault line, and I’ve lived through my share of fairly large quakes—one that struck Simi Valley when I was a child, and the Loma Prieta quake that destroyed eleven homes on my street in the Santa Cruz mountains, miraculously sparing ours from damage.  I’ve lived with days of aftershocks, our entire congregation springing to our feet during worship, mistaking the movement of a room divider for another temblor.  A fault seems a reasonable thing to fear, a reason not to locate on a particular street, even a particular town.  But fog?

I think about fog.  It’s cold and damp and hard to see through.  It blocks the sun, but waters outdoor plants, is worse in summer in Pacifica, and burns off (usually in the afternoons) eventually––even with climate change.  It all seems manageable.  I could wear jeans and sweatshirts for the rest of my life, not missing bathing suits or shorts and the sight of my puffy ankles, wrinkled kneecaps and bruised shins.  I could turn lights on in my house, carry a cup of hot tea throughout the day, and avoid driving in zero visibility.  

I can’t seem to muster genuine trepidation about fog, but sometimes I worry that I’m missing something, that I’m too careless in my dismissal of other’s foggy fears.

I think about how I’ve reacted to others who have embarked on relationships, taken career paths, and moved places I would never choose for myself.  Often, I have worried about what will happen to me in their new plan, and if we’ve been close, I’ve been afraid of being left behind, forgotten.  At my best, I can set my selfishness aside and be genuinely happy and supportive.  I’ve never thrown myself at a friend’s feet and pleaded, “don’t move (to England, or Ohio, or Spokane),” but I’ve felt like it imagining the hole in my life that person will leave.  Long distance calls and letters (and now Facebook) make the gap smaller, but don’t prevent it.  And sometimes, instead of saying honestly, “I will miss you,” or “It will be hard for me without you in my daily life,” I’ve said things like, “Doesn’t it snow there?”  As if my friend might answer, “Yes, and I hate snow, so I’ll stay here with you and life will go on exactly the same.”  As if she might ignore God’s call in her life and make mine easier instead.  And when I think about it that way, I recognize that it’s my fear and distress speaking, and that it has very little to do with my friend.

So, yes, dear ones, it is foggy in Pacifica.  But I’m not afraid of fog.  I’ve been afraid of many things for many years, but I want to leave fear behind and step out in faith.  I’m ready for the next adventure in my married life and to leave this town we’ve lived in for 23 years when the time comes.  I will miss you and the redwoods and the place you’ve had in my daily life, and when I do leave, our lives will be different, our relationships will change.

Our future might be too foggy to predict, but God will be there, guiding, calling, beckoning.  I hope we are all brave enough to follow.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It’s Not This So It Must Be Something Better

The most innovative company in the world did not offer my husband a job yesterday.  Clearly, they did not get my memo.  Kevin left an exploratory interview in July with the strong impression this company wanted to hire him, was going to create a position specifically for him––knowing his skills from working cooperatively on projects with the company he just retired from.  This new position was supposed to be funded beginning the next fiscal year, which begins October 1st.

This summer, in addition to downsizing and donating books, toys, knick-knacks, and clothing, I have imagined our new life in the fixer-upper house in Pacifica.  In great detail––Kevin commuting on BART to San Francisco each week day, me hopping on an afternoon train to meet on Friday nights to catch a play or a band, even a poetry reading.  I found the independent bookstore, wine bar and menu for the Italian restaurant at the foot of the street I want to live on.  I Googled chiropractors and acupuncturists, grocery stores and churches, found a mainline Protestant denomination with a choir I could join.  I bookmarked the Pedro Point restoration project and Pedro Point Neighborhood association, thinking involvement in those groups would introduce us to our human neighbors and neighborhood geography.  I signed up for Pacifica alerts on “The Patch” media network and may know about local news there (including the delay of the Devil’s Slide tunnel on Highway 1) than I do in my current town.

I visualized the house and the furniture we’d need to buy once we moved—a dresser, bookcase and desk (ours are built-in here), and thought about which window would provide the best ocean view from the dining room, from the desk.  I thought about the surfing beach less than half-mile away and my 23-year-old nephew who is a skilled carpenter who enjoys surfing and how fun it would be to hire him to help my husband remodel. 

The evening after we went house hunting I was chopping vegetables for dinner, asking myself why I wanted to buy the clumsy fixer-upper with the disgustingly moldy apartment below the house that would have to be gutted.  Kevin and I spent thirteen years in the first house we bought in a continual state of building projects.  I’d relished the idea of moving into our current home after it was done, instead of living through the mess.   Why wouldn’t I be content with a smaller tidier healthier house?  There was one that offered plenty of parking for us, our RV and guests, and an ocean view from the front windows.  But there were things we didn’t like about it—the sloped ceilings upstairs made for cramped closets and little floor space, windows that opened to the side of the house, not the front.  It seemed like anything we chose, we’d want to improve on.  Why not keep it minor?  It was the feeling we had at the house on Grand Avenue––the quiet neighborhood, the dead-end streets, the beach below, the mountain behind, mature plantings, it felt like a retreat.

A retreat, I thought, and then the idea came to me while I was slicing onions, an idea delivered as a gift, an offering from God to me.  Build a writer’s retreat under the house.  Offer the quiet, the peace, the view, to someone who needed to get away from the demands of their daily life to work on a writing project.  Provide the gift of hospitality we had consciously built into our current house—which has been the site of business and church meetings, writing workshops, temporary housing for friends and relatives, and permanent housing for my sister.  Friends and family could stay in the apartment we would build, but equally important, I would make it available to writers, also offering my services to them, as much or as little as they required—encouragement, editing, groceries, breakfast, airport transportation (the house is only twenty minutes from SFO).  Kevin was in the room when the brainstorm hit and as excited about it as I was.  Kevin would work for the world’s most innovative company leading a team doing work he believed would make a positive difference in the world, practicing, “Compassionate Capitalism.”  I would lead memoir classes at the community center, write at my desk by the window, contribute my presence and limited abilities to Kevin’s remodeling expertise, and then when the apartment was finished, begin a ministry of writing hospitality.

I have been preparing, waiting, and dreaming this summer for the birth of this new life I imagined.  And, outside forces are not aligning with my plans.  The owners have not responded to our rent-to-buy offer, and their listing is currently inactive.  We don’t know what happened.  We don’t have a buyer for our house.  The job offer I was expecting (Kevin was optimistic but less certain and therefore less disappointed than me) didn’t materialize.  I was momentarily stunned when he called me after yesterday’s interview and said, “No job offer.”  “That’s the wrong answer,” was my reply.

I needed to take a walk, even though it was ninety-five degrees out.  I had to recalibrate my brain, realign my intentions.  A wise advisor told me that in praying for our desires to manifest, it’s wise to pray for, “this or something better.”  If I just pray for “this”, I’m limiting God’s ability to work in my life, to provide something better, something different that I can envision on my own.  And then there’s the Biblical, “not my will, but Thine,” another reminder that I am not in charge.  So “This” might not be it.  Or it might be.  My husband was invited to submit a proposal for his idea to develop a new program for the most innovative company, and it might get approved and if it does, he might be the one to manage it.  Or he might get a different job altogether, in an entirely different geographical area, after all, he’s barely begun looking.  We still might get that house with its tranquil view, or we might rent a townhouse in some town we move to only temporarily. 

If I sinned in being too certain about what I thought was to come, it was a sin of enthusiasm, a desire to move away from fear of the future to the embrace of the future.  I dreamed up a future I could embrace, because it was too overwhelming to embrace the unknown.  When it comes down to it, I have no idea what’s going to happen and I’m learning to be okay with that.  So here I am, trying to embrace a new truly blank future, trusting that as long as it includes Kevin and our three cats, it will be wonderful.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two Weeks Notice

My husband was supposed to be out of work two weeks after he accepted his “retirement package.”  He was going to wake up on July 9th without an alarm clock and corporate responsibilities and begin creating a vision for our future––his and mine––narrowing down dozens of career possibilities into a plan.  Would he buy an Ace Hardware franchise in Southern Oregon, work as a “Genius” at the Apple store in San Luis Obispo, hire on with the Santa Cruz contractor who built our house, form a consulting group to continue his work in entrepreneurial development, teach business courses at the local community college, or drive our R.V. cross country while I conducted memoir workshops at United Methodist Churches? 

“I can be happy doing almost anything,” Kevin says.  And it’s true.  Throughout his career my husband has often been assigned to, rather than choosing, particular areas of focus in the corporate/computer world.  He always becomes a passionate advocate for the programs he’s responsible for and to, dedicating his considerable intellectual resources to their success.  Kevin has a natural ability to see and articulate the big picture as well as attending to every detail involved in creating and implementing programs.  He inspires and empowers those he supervises, believing in sharing power rather than clinging to it, encouraging others to grow and thrive––success that benefits everyone.  Kevin’s dedication and leadership have earned great respect from both his supervisors and team members, even when it hasn’t kept his departments free from budget cuts and downsizing. 

Two weeks notice turned into two months notice at Kevin’s manager’s request.  So, instead of spending the summer daydreaming about his future, my husband has been figuring out how to slash his program drastically while still honoring the commitments he and his group have made to entrepreneurs around the world.  Along with reorganizing, he has had to “make redundant” (layoff) employees, and equip the “Fantastic Four” who will remain with his vast store of knowledge.  He is relieved not to have left the program in limbo, but the extension has been taxing, as corporate life often is.  Tomorrow my husband will say goodbye to his peers in an all hands meeting, turn in his badge and exit the building, leaving behind a fifteen year relationship. 

From the parking lot, he will drive straight to an interview with the most innovative company in the world (according to a recent ranking in Forbes).  And why is Kevin planning to wear a suit and not overalls to work for the next few years?  One major reason––we consulted a mortgage broker when we listed our house for sale to ask about financing possibilities for the purchase of smaller, less expensive home, most likely in a different community.  We found that underwriters, when looking at employment verification, want your job experience to be in a related field for a period of several years.  This “retirement package” wasn’t the time for Kevin to completely switch careers, unless we could do that in our current home, which would be difficult.

My husband and I are fifty.  God willing, we have a few dozen years ahead of us.  In those decades, we will have myriad opportunities to explore and experiment with location and livelihood.  For now, we are excited about Kevin working for this innovative company that has built corporate philanthropy into its DNA.  It aligns so closely with his values and his work experience that we both think it is meant to be.

We are envisioning a home in Pacifica, a job for Kevin in San Franciso, commuting via public transit.  We’re looking forward to more time together, to building a new life in a new community while we remodel a house. 

We wait for the interview tomorrow, for a response to the rent-to-own offer we made on a house last week, for a buyer for our current home, anticipating changes, and believing “yeses” will come into our lives.  Moving forward as if intention has become reality.