Quality Counts

I recall favorably the first night I spent in my spouse’s garret twenty years ago.  Naturally, I maintain this memory carefully, doting on it like a delicate photograph that’s aging, edges first, a creeping brown border and satellite-like spots threaten my recollection.  There are certain details which remain as crisp as a carrot because their impact struck me with tremendous velocity: his lingering fragrance hidden in the cotton of yesterday’s white shirt, the organization of his morning rituals: washcloth, cream shave, razor, brush.  I remember these sneak-peaks into his privacy because they played important roles in who he was daily.  All men have similar morning rituals but what impressed me, even back then, was his carefully selected instruments.  Many men could care less, but for him it was important to have the precise razor or brush or after-shave balm.

Another time we’d been invited to a business colleague’s home for dinner.  He orchestrated a wonderful meal which reflected skill, passion, and pride in what he presented to his guests.  But most amazing was the absence of commotion, replaced instead by ease and fluidity and sufficiency produced by efficient use of very few utensils.  I never ask for a recipe, but I did ask the secret to his efficiency.  His reply?  Limit yourself to four knives, but buy the very best knives: spend the extra money in the beginning, rather than repeatedly replacing them.

I allow myself the luxury of paying close attention to my private rituals and the tools by which I perform them.  Personal details or items (whether tool, accessory or peculiarity) does someone select?  These very personal choices provide a glimpse of who they really are, who they are and how they behave in private, when no one is watching or evaluating.  These details are the intimacies of an individual.  They’re not declarations or pronouncements or bravado; they’re not obvious, are often found in private rooms (bedroom, bathroom), are easily overlooked as an insignificant article or one of propriety’s niceties.  But I have found them to contain much more passion than everyday items.

Personal details are often sought out or surreptitiously discovered or introduced by way of kindred spirits.  They’re rarely received as gifts because their personal significance is concealed for fear of ridicule by friends for their dandiness.  Cost is rarely a deterrent; if a person has selected a specific item their determination to acquire it is very strong; they’ll scour the marketplace; they’ll participate in auctions; they’ll keep abreast of discounts; and if all else fails they will happily exchange money for the possession or, if it is simply beyond their reach, they’ll step away and always admire the item with the hope of a giddy teenager meeting her teen idol.

It’s possible to obtain objects which are more than capable of performing the same tasks.  For example fountain pens and ball-point pens; Bulova and Breitling watches; thermograph and letterpress stationery.  It’s not the price that assigns value.  Workmanship, materials, design, style, function and longevity all play important roles in my decisions.

A word of caution if the item is categorized as luxury: the old adage you get what you pay for is very important.  A replica of an item is not an inexpensive version of the item.  A replica is, at its basest, a forgery, misrepresenting itself as authentic at a 75% mark down.  If you find a deal too good to be true, it is too good to be true!  If you’re really in the market for luxury items do a lot of homework first; learn everything you can about the item; understand the difference between worth and value; and don’t buy as an investment unless you’re an aficionado.

These are my personal details: Grooming: Merkur safety razor, Niegeloh Topinox nail trimmer, Erbe scissors (Solingen, Germany); Kent hair brush (UK); Proraso shave cream and after-shave; Burberry Brit Eau de Toilette; Stationery: Letterpress monarch paper and envelopes, fold-over note card and envelopes, calling card, and return address label; Nakaya Urushi-Lacqured Long Writer fountain pen; Kitchen: Victorinox 10-inch Chef’s knife, 3-1/4-inch Paring knife, 12-inch Granton Edge Slicing knife; ARY Hot Gloves with red silicone grip; Polder Digital timer; Kuhn Rikon can opener; Audio: Etymotic Research HF5 in-ear earphones; Etymotic Research High-Fidelity ear plugs; Etymotic Research er89-2 Bluetooth cell phone headset; General: Fenix LED flashlights; Boker Solingen pocket knives; Barking Dalmatian Soap Dispenser.

Called Life This Morn: Took A Sick Day

It took me much longer than I’d expected to find their number.  Having never actually called before, it took me a while to figure out how to reach them.  Liz, one of my friends who decided to resign all together said that they found her“Oh yeah,” Liz said, “as soon as I took the exit, there they were at the stoplight.  Waiting.  Walked right up, smiled like we’d known each other forever.  I’m thinking, easy-sneezy: this guy’s going to give me directions!  Then he pokes my shoulder and says “You didn’t call this morning,” he said sounding serious, “Why is it, do you think, that people don’t call?”  I said I just wanted to quit.  Figured if I never showed up you’d get the message.  Then we were nose-to-nose, “The only time I get a message is when people don’t call.  Then I’ve got to waste my time to come out here and drag you back. . .”  That’s when I became aware. . .aware of my failure. . .aware of all the facial. . .”

Liz never finishes that story; she always stops right before she describes her consequence, which is evident when you meet her, but of which she just can’t describe.  The best she can do is, “I avoid mirrors.”

Because I couldn’t find the number and when I did, I was still on the fence about calling and just punching in, I greatly increased my chances that someone would answer.  It’s Saturday I thought, maybe they’re off.  Slowly I dialed the number; by the fifth ring I knew I was in the homestretch and could leave a mes. . .  “Department of Human Services, Life speaking,” he said, and then repeated, “Human Services, Life speaking.  Hello?  Hello?”  Uhm, yes. . .Life this is T.M. Mulligan, I said sheepishly.  “Yes Mr. Mulligan, why do I have the pleasure of this call?” he asked.  I told him I was ill and taking a sick day.  “So you’re taking a day away from the human race, Mr. Mulligan?”  His interrogation could be found on any page of a dime-store detective paperback.  Yes, I replied, I’m just not up to the task today; not even the battalion of amphetamines could take command of depressions beachhead; everyone’s at a block party, my spouse made brownie’s, the dog’s been there twice already.  I just can’t go.

“Can’t be part of the party?  Rather be alone?” Life asked.  Today, yes.  Not every day.  Just today, I answered.  “How many people do you think call Time and tell her they’re taking off?  And Birth, do you think those kids call Birth and threaten a sit in?” he asked.  Well, I don’t think they have phones in there. . .  “Or Death?  Death never answers, and they don’t have voice mail; they’ve dumped their phone into a trash can and threw it in the closet.  But Life?  Life’s phone is always answered; even if I personally believe you could act as if you were having fun, you’ve had your share of suffering recently and, except for once in July, 2008 you’ve always managed to drag yourself out of abysmal despair and try to live life.  I’ll mark you down as sick today, and we’ll see you tomorrow?”  Yes, I stammered, yes I’ll definitely be in tomorrow.  “Until tomorrow, then.  By the way, I’ve sent you a little sunshine.  Good-bye, Mr. Mulligan.”

The line went dead and then the doorbell rang.  Cupped in the hands of a delivery person was the essence of Life: A bouquet of sunflowers.

The Bay Window With A New Outlook

The previous owners of our little Queen Anne Victorian house renovated the back porch into an extension of the kitchen.

Architecturally speaking, the renovated back porch is the antithesis of design style compared to the rest of the house.  The renovation didn’t stop at the load bearing central wall and chimney stack.  It carried on for six more feet thus absorbing one of the three bay windows of the dining room (which are mirrored at the front of the house (the living room).  They omitted lighting fixtures and HVAC ducts; installed one 2-gang outlet and a very narrow skylight; and failed to insulate the floor or remove that one bay window and convert the opening to a doorway or seal it with drywall.

Well, after 12 years of living with an interior, vinyl-clad double-hung window which opens into the enclosed back porch, I had the idea to demo the window and modify the opening with antique glass and the velvety alabaster color of poplar into a double-sided book-case.

And I must say it turned out beautiful; but more — unique.

Sometimes, I’ve discovered, that people see the obvious as the only answer.  Obvious things tend to be common, expected things.

What if a window were a book-case or a picture frame or a Gemini Clock?

The Rough Patch

The thoughts washed over me like a warm dishcloth in the hands of my mother, softly scrubbing the days grime and grit away.  The thoughts brought comfort and tenderness.  The thoughts eased my anxiety.  The thoughts allowed deep breaths out of shallow breathing.  The thoughts had me wonder, “would anyone care?”  The thoughts came to me through cupped ears, uncertain of the message and always certain of the sound.  The thoughts came to me in hushed tones, as though they were being spoken in a pew in church, or a movie theatre, or a play.  The thoughts popped into my head like bread from a toaster, but with less fanfare.  The thoughts came to me like a piccolo in the distance or the bark of a dog through a curtained open window in summer, somewhere far away, present and avoiding distance.  The thoughts always came to me as I was thinking of nothing else, crept in like an intruder or a rapist.  But the thoughts were always the same, “it would be better if you were gone.”

When you live with mental illness, you also live with suicide.  Not as a threat, or a cry for attention, or a misdirected plea for help.  A life with mental illness means a life with suicide.  And thinking about it daily is a good thing.  For me (and many of my friends who live with mental illness), we understand the destruction, the collateral damage, the years of anguish suicide dumps onto those left holding the bag; this bag, now empty, once held a precious life to those it touched.  But to the person to whom it belonged?  It became too heavy to carry or too light to matter, too crazy or too solitary, too depressed or too manic, too congested or too separated, too observed or too ignored, too involved or too bullied.

To those of you without mental illness a word of caution:  Suicide isn’t the end.  Suicide is the beginning of horrific nightmares, overdue and now regretful answers to calls, lamentable hours sorting things which recently were belongings but no longer hold meaning, the gash of your disappearance which takes years to heal (if ever).  It will never be an answer: it can only be a question.

Journal Entry: July, 2008 (three weeks post diagnosis)

After yesterday’s euphoria (the hopeful effect of an increase of medication), I thought, if this is the way I’m supposed to feel then I’ve been depressed for a very long time; I thought, if this is the way everyone else feels, then what have I been missing all this time? The grip of my obsessions were like strong hands around my throat; vaguely familiar hands determined; patty-cake hands.  But yesterday they loosened, fatigued by their own doggedness, they let go as a whistle floated past my lips like the sharp squeak of a slowly deflating balloon.  I saw light for the first time. There wasn’t that constant dullness. In one night my life had been rubbed free of tarnish and shone as though it were new: sparkling like a new silver tea service.
Last night was fitful.  I wasn’t sleepy when I retired though I was extremely tired and the meds kicked in rendering me dopey. I laid awake wondering when my eyes would close, wondering if the next day would see a marked improvement over yesterday. Once I did fall asleep I kept waking at two-hour intervals and needed to use the restroom. I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee which Nick was kind enough to brew, but I felt like the Golden Gate Bridge encased in fog.

Again, today was disappointing. I had blue moods; not quite the deep azure of days past, but not Nick’s sky-eye-blue either.  I felt listless. I pushed myself to work on my blog and again experienced difficulty in navigating through the myriad choices of photographs, layouts and information. I became exhausted quite quickly and felt tension in my head. I realized finally that though I had shown improvement, I was not healed.

I’m a problem-solver by nature and not prone to patience. Get them in, get them out. No problem is ever to great. I can solve anything. Except this damned disease! And it’s in a place I can’t see or touch or feel. It’s up there, back there, behind my eyes, under my scalp, between my ears. I can’t scratch its itch. I simply rub my forehead trying so desperately to relieve its grip like you’d soothe a Charley horse or tired feet.

And so I sit tonight again fearing my bedtime. Wondering if sleep will overtake me quickly as it did when I was a child. My mother used to tell me that the last thing you think about before you fall asleep is what you’ll dream about. I’ve been thinking of sunny days when I laugh and enjoy the loves of my life and am happy.  Disappointingly, the mornings have always come up a bit short.