So many times that it would be hard to limit it to just the last time
This limitation was proposed/imposed by Bloganuary
So first off, everything on my About page was out of my comfort zone because I was doing all of it for the very first time!
I’ll start with the obvious. Mom has been under somebody else’s roof and care since the beginning of June. The never-ending divorce finally did get there, officially and hopefully forever, as of about the end of November. Both of these events really marked the end of a lot of my personal responsibilities and stressors. As a result, I have been both able and forced to figure out what I want to do with all my free time and space. My choices, for good or ill, have been limited by the biggest ongoing personal and global responsibility and stressor for all of us this year – COVID.
I don’t know where or when I will hopefully land at least semi-permanently somewhere soon, so there’s not much point in buying stuff that isn’t perishable or to think about living anywhere but here, though I did get an offer to purchase this old house! Where would I go and what would I want to take with me? I don’t have to make those decisions yet but if travel gets safer and easier again, I am already thinking about and starting to plan a “snow bird’s” tour of places I at least would like to visit and might even consider living in to keep away from cold Kalamazoo winters!
I have friends who live in different places and have already been warned that I might be coming their way. So far I’m already thinking about St. Louis, Albuquerque and Tucson for sure. Other possibilities include Boston, Florida, North and South Carolina and the DC area. If any readers here might like to join me, or can think of other places to add to my list, you are more than welcome.
My New Life (In Old Books) or Is It My Old Life in New Books?
I can hardly believe that I am now nearly three years into my second retirement. Finally, after all that time, close to eight years in total, I feel ready, comfortable secure enough to do what I imagine many other people do at this time of year: look back at where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished and also try to look ahead to what might enhance the value of this time, its quality and purpose, along with, best case, its joy and happiness or, at minimum, its feeling of satisfaction.
One of my more annoying and detrimental personal habits, which I have lately come to recognize in my early senior citizenship, is that I have often been a slow learner, perhaps more correctly, a late bloomer. Maybe that’s a trait that comes from being a true Taurean. As an old fart, looking back now, I might have advised my younger self to set goals, to have dreams and aspirations, or to at least have some type of design or plan for my life. Alas, over most of the prior half century, I have been more often driven by the philosophy of the late, great John Lennon, who advised us all, just before his own untimely death, that “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Here and now though, with the luxury of having a lot of free time on my hands, I can start applying my hard-earned and slow in coming self-knowledge to a new and probably more achievable design for the remainder of my life.
Unpublished Draft Post written in 2017 or 2018
I wrote all of that way back in 2017 or 2018. Back then much of what I was reading and trying to implement for myself, my life and my future had to do with goal-setting and plans and efforts of that ilk. Given the turn of events in my life in general and in the world in particular it’s clear that anybody who thinks they can live their life on that basis is at least pretty delusional and possibly even insane! About (Created May 2021, Updated September 2021)
When I started this new blog, which apparently and coincidentally seems to have really happened at the beginning of the year, I said on the very first post
While that is still true, I guess I could also add that, given the thoughts I started this post with, besides teaching my daughters all about me I may also need to teach me about me through my blogs more than through a memoir alone. I want to belabor both these points at this time and in this post.
First, the bit about the past informing the present for both them and me. Much as I have tried not to rehash my marriage and my divorce and everything that went before each of those events, I can honestly say (and my daughters and my friends will attest to this sad fact) that I have not been able to stop myself from doing that over the past year. It is my hope, though, that whatever I have to say about that here will, best case, be the last time it is a subject of any posts this year or the main subject of my thoughts and feelings at any time going forward.
Again, looking back over the past couple of years and, yes, even farther back than that and indeed even wider than that in the present, I can see that I am not the first or only one to realize that it makes no sense to put the effort into developing goals or planning life around what one may expect or anticipate and continue to try to convince oneself that these goals are (1) achievable or (2) really what one would want to achieve if possible.
To get some perspective on this dreaded looking back exercise, I of course went to the written history of the thing. As a sort of old school old fart correspondent, this consisted mainly of emails and texts written and received. I had already reviewed a lot of what I had received but after finally getting back to doing this catch-up exercise on my sent emails I can see that the marriage probably entered its final death throes in 2019. Reading between the lines of what I wrote, especially to my spouse, I think I see where our mutual resentment started to build as I got more and more involved in more and more activities outside the home that made me happy.
At the same time, it looks like he was getting more and more morose and out of sorts. I base this guess on what was a clear and mainly continuing pattern of his atypical, at least for an adult male who could be considered by some to be in the prime of his life, sleeping and active periods. Like a stubborn baby or an average really old person, he slept during the day and worked on his hobby at night.
Throughout that pre-pandemic year we became more and more like “ships passing in the night” with those passages most often occurring in the late morning or early evening. In the evenings we at least both tried to indulge one of our fewer and fewer common interests by watching TV programs, sports and movies together. But in the mornings when he came up from his mancave to my woman cave in our split-level home, he would usually find me in front of the computer, often just playing games. This latter exercise had been going for some time before and when this part of our macabre marriage death dance started, I would get up, come around my desk, sit in my rocker-recliner and we would try to have a conversation, a check-in about how and what each other was doing. I think we both noticed that I made this effort less and less, until his attempts to do this started declining, too. Maybe the patterns and comforts of our lives had moved so far away from each other that they and we were beyond reconnecting.
Another probable point of resentment, I’m guessing, is that I did not participate as actively as he wanted or expected me to in his (unrealistic) dream of making a business out of his hobby. That was where his time and our money went while a lot of my time and our money went into reading and traveling and socializing. I know I’d expected him to enjoy those last activities with me. Over time, though, his enjoyment of and interest in doing either had ebbed so low that I had begun to know better than to even ask him to join me because I knew what his answer would be.
There were other stressors that year that in retrospect could have brought us closer together but in the end seem to have had the opposite effect. That was the year that Daughter #1 got married and Daughter #2 started medical school. Both of these momentous events turned into wedge issues that drove us farther apart from each other.
Here I can add that another longtime festering wound in our relationship was how differently he treated our children. Again, these differences and disparities became more and more glaring over the years, though I can’t really pinpoint how far back they began and of course I don’t really know the reasons why. My guess is that he took for granted or accepted or expected #1 to be totally like me and therefore “perfect” while he presumed #2 would be totally like him, an imperfect and stubborn addict who would always be “less than” in the eyes of everyone that mattered, including himself and possibly, in his mind, even me. I surely had reached that point by the end of that year. There is no better indicator of this disparity, and how it finally blew our marriage apart for good, than summarizing his participation in the life of Daughter #1 and his withdrawal from participation in the life of Daughter #2 over the last six months of 2019.
And just to be complete and to add to my disappointment, I’ll have to throw in the monkey wrench that entered our relationship at about the same time. That was the necessity for someone to devote more time and effort to taking care of my mom. I’d expected my husband, who’d said and even written over and over, over all the years, how much he loved and appreciated “Mom” to do just that. He’d also warned me, based on the similar trajectory he’d endured with his mom, that I’d have to figure out what to do with her sooner rather than later by this time.
It also just dawned on me that he’d handled most of that without the help of his one remaining brother just as I found myself in the same situation vis-à-vis my one and only sister. Wouldn’t you think that shared experience would have made a better and possibly even average person more sympathetic and helpful to one’s most beloved spouse rather than drive said simpatico away? Oh wait, in fact and reality it seems to reinforce what he finally told me, after I told him I didn’t think I could continue to live this way.
In a nutshell, that was that we should have separated fifteen years earlier, based on his presumption that I would not move two thousand miles away from home (and Mom) when his job relocated. I did it because I didn’t want to break up OUR family. I can see now, as I should have seen before, that he just didn’t care about that. It also clarifies what he first told me and repeated in those six months. “You are number one for me. I am number five for you.” That first part was a lie though possibly the last part had been true for quite a long time. I’d always said he knew me better than I knew myself.
More of what I did that made me happy when I lived in the place where I was happiest.
I can’t remember where I picked up for the first time a strange small booklet that laid out a quite confusing driving tour of Oak Ridge. Turned out one of the reasons it was so confusing is that the topography of the area (valleys separated by hills) conformed to the purpose of its design to keep all the different development areas separated and secret from each other. These factors also kept all the housing areas separated even though they all required similar facilities to maintain the functions of daily and family life.
The city ended up with five downtown areas, most of which are now rundown and for the most part sadly closed down except of course schools and churches! The driving tour booklet was so outdated that it included some of those closed places which added to my confusion so I worked with the ORCVB president and other members to get it updated, modernized and republished which finally happened just before I left!
My first visit to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge (CMOR) also came just before I left town. That visit was timed to the official opening of the Oak Ridge headquarters of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in that building when the museum also offered free admission. I hadn’t visited earlier since I didn’t have any young children to take there so I was quite surprised to discover many of its permanent exhibits also educated adults on Oak Ridge history. CMOR’s website page on “The Manhattan Project” summarizes a good part of what I saw there in my first short visit.
Oak Ridge was built as a planned community, with dormitories, apartments and prefabricated houses, and featured amenities such as restaurants, a library, churches, medical facilities, and clubs and organizations of all kinds. Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge’s “Difficult Decisions” and “Manhattan Project” exhibits house many artifacts from the period and help tell the story of Oak Ridge.
The most fascinating parts of CMOR for me were (1) the very extensive exhibit of area Girl Scouts with some of the troops that started when the city did still very active (2) another Ed Westcott gallery and (3) a re-creation of a room of one of the “Alphabet Houses” to show kids today how small houses used to be! I was so proud that Girl Scouts had been established and retained more importance there than Boy Scouts!
I joined several book groups and a couple of them both read and discussed The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. Among the “girls” the author met while doing her research in Oak Ridge was Virginia Coleman Spivey. Virginia came to town in WWII as a scientist, as did Lianne Russell. I met both of these highly educated and motivated and liberated for their times ladies in a memoir writing class. Unfortunately, both passed before they could put pen to paper.
There were already a range of articles written about Lianne and her achievements. I had to pry shy Virginia’s story out of her so I could summarize it for a series of articles in the local paper. Later, I wrote another article about another liberated for her times woman I knew, who happened to be the leader of one of those book groups! The last article I did was to tout an upcoming ORHPA speaker, another woman who also happened to be the Program Manager at the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. Learned as she was, Lydia Simpson shared the irrational fear that Oak Ridge was radioactive but still agreed to come to town for a tour. As I’d expected, throughout our afternoon with Ray Smith, Lydia’s appreciation for all the aspects of what had gone on in town increased exponentially.
Links to the articles I wrote that were published can be found here. Scroll through the dates and you’ll find the ones I wrote: 6/8-7/26/17; 10/25/17; 1/10 & 1/17/18.
I’m also not sure where and when I first learned about the “Alphabet Houses” but, given the diversity of the people who lived in town, I was most intrigued by the development philosophy employed by its military governors in directing its layout by a civilian design company
In a town that was the developed by the government, I was surprised to learn it was actually built pretty quickly and efficiently. This revelation led to an exhibit titled Secret Cities – The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project on display May 3, 2018 – July 28, 2019 in the National Building Museum that became the central focus of a visit I made with a friend to Washington, D.C., just before the exhibit closed.
As a fan of HGTV programs I have learned just enough to make me dangerous if/when I might ever encounter a new (to me) home that I wanted to remodel. Many of the programs talk about load bearing walls and how expensive they are to replace when remodeling. So, imagine my excitement when I learned that Oak Ridge’s historic and unique Alphabet Houses have no load bearing walls! I was ready to redo and release a few to the young people I hope will be coming to work in Oak Ridge so they can preserve and revitalize the place where I was so happy. I want a new generation to live and work in this Secret City, to keep it current and relevant as a source of information in what I consider to have been the setting for a great social experiment. I know they would make more fascinating history there!
This is what I did that made me happy when I lived in the place where I was happiest.
During the short time that I worked in Oak Ridge, I didn’t learn a lot more about its history until my employer co-sponsored an event at what may be Oak Ridge’s biggest claim to fame, the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE). I took advantage of this free opportunity to look at all the exhibits, the biggest and best of which introduced me to the history of Oak Ridge and The Manhattan Project. The most interesting and salient points of “The Oak Ridge Story” were laid out as a timeline supplemented by copies or reproductions of artifacts that filled in the details of how it all had come to be and a lot of what it looked like back in the day.
From there, I took a long and wide road to discovering my interest in historic preservation in a pretty short time. I probably started by looking at news and stuff in the long running and now nearly defunct local newspaper for leads and then most likely followed up with stops in the city, county and college libraries nearby which probably got me to places like local stores and restaurants and even to city hall. After all of this I reached the conclusion that, at least from my perspective, most of the best parts of Oak Ridge were still kind of secret, and decided to do what I could to rectify that situation.
I became a Board member of the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau (ORCVB) and developed a particular interest in restoring as much as possible the existing stock of the city’s historic buildings. I joined the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association after I found out that my neighbor was one of the founders and president of this nonprofit whose purpose is
ORHPA’s meeting place (and repository of other pertinent info it has collected since its founding) is located in the Midtown Community Center which was itself a Historic Preservation Award winner. The building, located now in what I think of as the heart of Oak Ridge, was completed near the end of the war and gained its most popular moniker in 1951 when it became the “Wildcat Den”, a hangout spot for students at nearby Oak Ridge High School. I never even entered this building until I became a member of ORCVB which was located at one end of the building at the time. I had already driven by it countless times by then and never even noticed any of the signage around it, directional or otherwise.
Even before it officially became the Oak Ridge History Museum, the glass cases in the Wildcat Den, in the big meeting room that housed the dances then and where meetings happen today, held a lot of memorabilia from the times that I barely remember as a child in the 1950s and 60s. That was all there was until ORHPA and other longtime citizens gathered their own personal collections in the museum to shine a light on the “human side” of the Manhattan Project, focusing on history and people’s day-to-day lives during World War II (and really the decade or two after as well).
All of my personal introduction to Oak Ridge’s fascinating real-life history is now combined in The Oak Ridge History Museum since it received or purchased and now displays 100 items from the American Museum of Science and Energy. Circling back to what got me into this pursuit I can still see the timeline of Oak Ridge’s history, displays about the founding of Oak Ridge and the largest collection of original Ed Westcott (official Manhattan Project photographer and one of the first hires in Oak Ridge) photography available.
This is where I lived most happily for the most part for most of the last ten years.
Have you ever heard of the “Secret City” Oak Ridge, Tennessee? I had barely heard of it myself before I pursued a job opening there after my first very unhappy period of retirement (2006-11). Most of what I knew about it came from what I could read on the highway signs along Interstate 40 which may have included “passing” mentions of the town’s nickname and the Manhattan Project. I may have looked it up in Wikipedia before the job interview; it’s introduced there thusly:
Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project—the massive American, British, and Canadian operation that developed the atomic bomb. Being the site of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex, scientific and technological development still plays a crucial role in the city’s economy and culture in general.
That last sentence was what brought me there for a job but what I learned beyond that about this place, succinctly summarized in the first sentence, is a big part of why I wanted to stay and why I want to live in a city that has a Historic Preservation Coordinator or, as in the case of Oak Ridge, an official city historian.
Oak Ridge was instrumental in the United States win over Nazi Germany but when the U.S. government purchased nearly 90 square miles of mostly rural farmland, narrow valleys separated by ridged and rolling hills, in 1942, it did not appear on any map even though, by the end of WWII, it was the fifth-largest city in the state! In addition to being the new headquarters of the Manhattan Project after it was moved from its point of origin in the original Manhattan (New York City), it became the place of employment of nearly 100,000 people and the place of residence of 75,000 people, including Project employees and their families.
Oak Ridge today carries on the legacy of those fateful years so long ago. Several highly-secured nuclear research facilities still exist in the community and the city is home to a wealth of historic sites that tell the remarkable story of the Manhattan Project and the dawn of the atomic age.
Oak Ridge is now one of three sites of the recently established Manhattan Project National Historical Park. I fortuitously retired right before the park officially opened and unfortunately had to leave before many of the real historic sites, along with new museums to augment them, would officially reopen.
The easy answer to that question is that I don’t give a darn who might happen to read my “innermost” thoughts here. Anyone who writes a blog is really writing for anybody other than themselves. Come to think of it, isn’t blogging the antithesis of the traditional purpose of a personal diary?
There’s also a chance I may attempt to publish parts of my “personal story” in some other format. This will include the posts tagged Places of My Life from my first published blog plus some edited and condensed versions of vignettes I drafted in my memoir classes.
I will continue to write my personal life stories. I hope to split them into two or three or more sections or pages based on what I see as the distinctive phases of my life so far.
At my current age of 65, I can see a defining line at the denouement of my youthful experiences with my graduation from college.
Young adulthood will encompass exploration of the big wide wonderful and scary real world when I went out and lived my own life and, to quote a movie that was popular at the time, Urban Cowboy, “all that that entails.”
I’d say I had to become a responsible adult when I found myself “knocked up” at the then very geriatric (for that sort of thing) age of nearly thirty-five. This is probably the longest uninterrupted and least interesting or enlightening part of my life’s journey. It might also be the most rewarding from my current perspective since it yielded at its conclusion my two daughters.
This is the modern social media version of the perennial authors’ question: Who is my intended audience? I want this blog, and maybe my possible book, to appeal to non-traditional non-stereotypical women of all ages. I describe these ladies as superwomen who are able to at least handle if not master the dual practices of having a career (or at least a job) and having a family (or at least a personal life), usually at the same time.
Coincidentally (or maybe not so much since we are at the beginning of a new year), I just finished, this week, a free online 7-Day Book Writing Challenge. That course, and this exercise, both reference a manifesto: a statement of what one believes, written to help others or oneself.
Wikipedia expands the description of a manifesto by adding that it usually accepts a previously published opinion or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It almost feels like this definition was written with my skillset in mind. I don’t have many totally original ideas but believe strongly in expounding on and supplementing the ideas of experiences of others with my own thoughts, opinions and IRL events.
What do I hope to accomplish if I successfully blog throughout the next year?
I want a bunch of people to really like me! But really, I want to like myself as the woman I am now. Outside of my blog, which will be a look back at things that happened and therefore cannot be changed, I hope to confirm to myself and other women that we do not need men to define us, for good or ill.
I will share episodes – real things that happened to me, as I remember them with as much specificity as I can muster on my thoughts and emotions at the time. The time and place and context in which they happened are pivotal, IMO, to understanding my behaviors and reactions then which may or may not be realistic or relatable to the working woman of today.
In return I hope to receive feedback from especially Western women who may have had similar experiences, in the same time period or not, or may have learned from themselves or myself or others, how to thrive as their own authentic selves wherever they may be and at whatever point – past, present, or future – they occupy in the arc of modern life in the 21st century.
Are we in general and as individuals moving forward or backwards? Or is the net result of movements in both directions just a wash for today’s women, as it may be for me right now?
How many times can I or will I have to or be able to start over to get there, the place I think I want to be now or very soon as I draw closer to the end of my life? Will this continue to be an open-ended and uncomfortable pursuit, like Scarlett O’Hara’s dream on an overfull angry stomach. Will I ever get there? Did she?
There may never be a definitive answer but I hope to continue the search, exchanging ideas, thoughts, opinions, memories and wishes along the way.