Mice, cookies, and other tales of home…

If you are unfamiliar with the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, I should warn you that things do not stop at a cookie. He will then require a glass of milk, a straw, a napkin, a mirror, some scissors… the dominoes begin to fall, and it’s all downhill from there. If you ARE familiar with the book, then you may well know where I am going with this. My dear readers, I must confess: I am a mouse. A house mouse. I am not sure if it was the dawn of the New Year or the profound anxiety and subsequent relief of the changing of the guard, presidentially speaking, and along with it the shiny sense of a new day, but I have been on an absolute bender of a home refresh. Nothing as calculated as a specific room, mind you. No, no, it has been as meandering and quaintly maddening as the cookie mouse’s whims. Buckle up, my friends…

Quarantine has been a weird time. Most of us have been lucky enough to stay healthy — home and bored and feeling cramped while the world falls apart outside our doors and friends or loved ones fall ill. Boredom and doom see-saw for our attention. What has remained constant, though, is our collective need to make our homes work harder for us. Dining rooms have become home offices. Home offices have become playrooms and homework rooms. Bathrooms have become many of our sole opportunities for solitude. My own January saga began when the bottom drawer of my dresser broke. Ugh. Dressers are surprisingly expensive, folks. After some online browsing I turned to Facebook Marketplace, bought a dresser for a fraction of the price of a new one that I was assured was solid wood, and then once I got it out of the car the following morning, realized it surely was not. The broken one I had was much sturdier. So. We put or heads together, moved a few little things out of the living room, and voila! An underutilized space in our living room was suddenly rife with functional storage. AND with some elbow grease and wood glue, I was able to fix my old dresser. Win, win!

My appetite was whetted, folks. Soon I was mentally lamenting the wasted space that our pair of mismatched desks left in our “study,” aka the small area between our dining space and our bedroom. My desk was too deep and too tall for me — a kind hand-me-down from my in-laws at least a decade ago. Maybe I could get our home office space to work harder for us, too? An L-shaped desk could help perhaps? I was on a budget, but I thought a pair of simple Parsons-style tables could work if I couldn’t find an L-shaped desk to fit the space properly. Ikea had a ton of different options to customize last I knew, so I hopped online and found just the right sized items. Except… they were all sold out. Every style. Every finish. Most leg options. Currently unavailable. COVID-19 had hampered supply chains AND there are a ton more people working from home, so I was out of luck there. One excruciatingly long internet search later for something inexpensive, inoffensive-looking, and the right dimensions, I eventually found a pair of desks on Amazon. They arrived two days later, and victory! I listed our older two desks for sale and had buyers within a few days, but we had the too-big desk smack in the middle of in a major walkway for a way too long while we waited for it to be picked up. Wah-wah. It made me crazy for those few days, but the payoff was worth it! Functional new desks with room for both of us, and no space wasted.

Not long after this episode I was sitting on my couch, looking through the doorway of our kitchen. My admiration for all the various glass display cabinets popping up in beautiful home spreads magically collided with my continued desire to use our spaces more effectively, and *lightbulb* I knew what I wanted to do. Another comically exhaustive internet search followed, resulting in my procuring the very last display cabinet in stock of any model at any Ikea in California. The black framed glass Milsbo was MINE ALL MINE and it was perfect. I was elated. Drunk on victory. Rearranging and plate-stacking and styling made our kitchen prettier AND more functional. Success (again) was sweet. Wasted space begone! Storage is here! Except now I had a spare side chair to find a home for…

I began adding and subtracting and moving and shuffling in the living room. I wondered if perhaps a small table and pair of chairs would work at the far end of our living room. (I should mention that around this time, the striped side table I’d been wanting to add to our living room had arrived. So now I had a spare side chair AND an extra side table, full disclosure.) In the end, a pair of our dining chairs and a stool migrated and made a nice bit of additional seating in our living room, the original extra chair was rehomed at my dining table, and my sweet niece inherited the side table for her new bedroom. All was well. Except…

Again, while lounging on the couch scrolling through my Insta feed watching Netflix my gaze wandered, and it occurred to me that out of all the artfully mismatched chairs around my dining table, none of them were actually the ones I loved anymore. My favorites now were residing in the living room for the guests we’ll get to have once upon a dream and far far away. I started thinking a matching set of chairs could be a fresh, harmonious change of pace after going with mismatched chairs all these years… you see where this is going, don’t you? Spoiler alert: our hero bought a set of chairs. Beautiful mid-century ones. Except now she (I) had 6 (six!) extra chairs to find homes for. Up for sale they went. And my sweet niece now had a pretty velvet chair to go with her new table.

Same tale for the DIY mirror on the dining room wall that I replaced with a sleeker, more geometric option. My cloud mirror now lives in my bedroom, but to make room for it, I had to move an old TV that I hated having out in the first place. So then I thought, well, why don’t I use this opportunity to make room to store it by cleaning some things out? I was selling my dining chairs anyway, so I figured I could get rid of some items I had languishing, disassembled in the back of the closet. Up for sale went a couple end tables, an old art print, a wall hanging, the faux fiddle-leaf fig that I relocated earlier in the pandemic… I was on a ROLL. Out with the old, in with the new, bitches! This girl was on fire!

Then, while proudly showing my mom a photo of our newly freshened dining room, I decided realized our entryway cabinet was now “too much brown” with our new dining chairs. Eye roll. Forehead slap. Yep, I even annoyed myself. Yet another exhaustive search ensued, except this time… I came up empty! Nothing attractive, affordable-ish, and the right size materialized. I was stumped. My phone was crying for mercy with low-battery warnings after repeated searches, because I was SURE I just had to figure out a slightly different search criteria to find the right thing. Google would not fail me, right? And yet, still nada. Finally, I had a sudden surge of creativity born out of desperation. A small cabinet I was using for odds and ends near my desk, freshened and beautified with a whopping $8 investment in forest green spray paint, became the perfect answer to my entry conundrum! And goodbye to the too-big, too-brown old cabinet. VICTORY! All it took was yet another round of shuffling things into different storage spots. Eeesh.

By this time, however, I was starting to get frustrated by the fact that our theoretically freshened, beautified, more functional home was actually starting to feel like a cluttered warehouse. Some but not all our old things had sold, and extra storage or the luxury of a garage are not part and parcel of our 1920s home. Today, after a buyer bailed at the last minute AFTER I assembled a table for them to pick up — dear reader, I snapped. SNAPPED. I was cranky and annoyed and my poor long-suffering husband had to listen to me very un-gracefully rant about people who don’t follow through while I piled as much extra furniture as I could into the back seat of my little car, just to get it OUT OF THE HOUSE.

And here we are. If you have made it this far, I salute you and offer my thanks. All this to say that home — and our concept of it — is ever-evolving. There often is no such thing as “done” or completed or finished. We are living, changing beings with a myriad of needs and wants and aesthetic desires, and it’s okay to change our minds, or refresh and refocus what our homes are and how they function. Also, the middle is always the messiest! To make changes you need to pull things apart and rework things before they come together, so don’t despair if you are in the middle of a project — whether it is a large scale remodel or some small-scale organization — and you want to tear your hair out. It will come together. Trust. I know my house will feel more “done” soon. And it will be worth it — it will be the home I need and love right now.

Rest

With the end of an old year and the beginning of a new, reflections often come hard and fast. The end of 2020 was certainly no exception. Rather than resolve to be less — to drink less, to weigh less, to take up less space — I’d like this year to be a year of more. And instead of a list of resolutions that will make me feel defeated before I begin, I like the idea of choosing a word for the year that I can grow with. I thought a lot about what I’d like my word for this year to be, and although I kept circling for something big and dynamic or profound (?), I returned to something simple over and over: rest. My personal word for 2021 will be rest. As I have delved into myself over the past year, I’ve realized I can’t seem to allow myself to truly rest. To just be. Any rest time I have, I have been consciously or unconsciously “recharging my batteries” for something. I have been focused on the need to be productive again, rather than the rest itself. Readying myself for the next slog instead of actually enjoying my downtime. What an intense epiphany.

I am goal-oriented, highly motivated, and am a relentless perfectionist have high expectations for myself, so I suppose this should not come as a total surprise. But to be 100% honest? This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Have I really gone 38+ years without allowing myself to truly rest? No wonder I am always. so. tired. Rest for me comes with the expectation that I will soon be able to resume some kind of output, some kind of productivity, some kind of movement forward, always. And guilt comes with inaction for me, also always. Can I truly rest if I am feeling guilty about it the entire time? Turns out, the answer is “no.” Shocker, amirite?

So, perhaps my word isn’t so simple after all. Perhaps grappling with personal expectations, productivity, relaxation, downtime, self, and rest will be a complex journey. And perhaps… perhaps that is the best kind of journey. Cheers to more in 2021 instead of less — more love, more joy, more freedom, and more rest. I’m rooting for me, and I’m rooting for you, too.

vertigo

high and low

swerving and dipping between

extremes of intimacy and indifference, teeter totter.

but really, why

is my heart so fragile — 

so indebted to the whims of one who cares

not enough?



balance is

so elusive 

when you’re falling

through space and time

for someone not quite new.

will I crash land?

or will a touch to my cheek cushion my fall

from grace

into sweet madness?

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

Out of my head

Blue moon, 10/31/20

Votes are still being counted as we wait and hope, stress and wonder, cross our fingers and keep looking forward. Here is a poem I wrote some time ago that seems to fit my mood this week. I’m craving some mental quiet as we hope and wait, wait and hope. Wishing you some serenity this weekend.

____________

I want to

peel off my skin

get out of my own head

escape into silence

for a while

find the quiet stillness

that my restless

spirit so 

craves.

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

Grief and respair

  • respair: the return of hope after a period of despair

This week, a post on anything but grief feels wrong. We lost the formidable Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week, and Breonna Taylor’s murderers walked free — charged only for the bullets that missed. I am gutted.

Instead of trying to parse my own grief into words, please let me share novelist Jesmyn Ward’s piece On Witness and Respair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by Pandemic. Ward loses her husband, suffers through the pandemic in a grief-fueled depression, sobs and bears witness to racism protests — and does so with lilting grace and courage.

I hear you, Breonna. I hear you, Jesmyn. I hear you, Ruth. We are here. We aren’t going anywhere, except forward.

Shelter and place

Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of hearing truly luminous readings from an incredible line-up of California poets: Dana Gioia, Garret Hongo, Robin Coste Lewis, Luis J. Rodriguez, David St. John, and Gail Wronsky. Cartography of Poets, a virtual poetry event presented by Visions and Voices at USC, centered around the ways history and place shape the poetic experience. The idea that writers and their work are shaped by their environments is certainly not groundbreaking — what would Henry David Thoreau be without Walden Pond? — but this event got me thinking about things in a more contemporary, more personal way.

Fires are still raging in the West. California is on fire, breaking records and breaking apart lives. Amidst this landscape, this small reflection by Dana Gioia reminded me of the beauty of our summers:

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.
An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.
. . .
And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

from “CALIFORNIA HILLS IN AUGUST”
by DANA GIOIA

We continue to shelter in place, and meanwhile, I am contemplating shelter and place, and the way we inhabit both those spaces. Our shelters — the homes we have been confined to and seek succor in. Our places — the solidarity of New York on 9/11, the orange glow of San Francisco’s skies, the hazy rain of ash in Los Angeles, and the ways we shape and are shaped by them. I think of how we are all nesting, all trying to make our homes work better for us — dining rooms becoming offices, offices becoming playrooms, kitchen tables becoming classrooms — and how beautiful the adaptability of the human spirit really is. The way we keep working, toiling, and finding joy in between.

I put up new lamps this week that I love. Something to bring a small joy in a small way. I think I am puttering, not doing much of import, and yet my friend exclaims over how productive I have been. And I think, well yes, I suppose I have. To shelter and find small joys is no small thing, today, yesterday, or tomorrow. I am here in this place, California sunshine streaming through my windows, and I think, I am lucky. I am of this place, I have shelter, and I am learning to find joy.

This American life is killing ̶y̶o̶u̶ us

Reflection, 2020, Charla M. DelaCuadra

Back in February, when I was mulling over my own stress levels and what I wanted my future to look like, Eric Rittenberry’s essay The American Life is Killing You landed in my lap like a call to action.

“The reason you don’t feel alive is because you aren’t alive. You’re merely going through the motions in a fast-paced, consumer-centered culture that has transformed our once beautiful land into an asphalt wasteland strewed with digital billboards, fast food joints, soulless malls, and complete carnage… Your constant craving for objects and status (the American way) has robbed your life of its freedom and creative zest. You live routine and stressed and you’re chained to a sluggish and predictable way of living.”

“Yes!” I thought. This is me. 100 times this. Somehow I had begun throwing money at problems trying to make life more bearable, rather than making any fundamental changes to fix what was making it unbearable. Why hadn’t I seen this before? It seemed so obvious! Was it too obvious?

“You have to unplug from the machine and take back your life and learn to live with less and sit under trees and read the great minds and create art and listen to music and sound your ‘barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.’ Quit doing things you hate to impress the faceless people among us. Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly — you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.”

I was curious this week, though, after 7 months of a pandemic and a racial inequality crisis, how this essay has held up to where we have landed. Looking back at Rittenberry’s advice now, I realize what was irking me under the surface was the inherent privilege of his message. A mandate to learn to live with less and sit under trees is very easy to throw out there, and very, very difficult for the majority of people in this country to even contemplate. I’m not sure the millions of unemployed out there right now are choosing to live with less so much as they are being forced to, and I also don’t think they have much mental bandwidth for the kind of barbaric yawp-ing he suggests. Are a lot of people blindly trying to keep up with the Joneses? Sure! But are a lot more people struggling to keep a roof overhead and meals on the table? Absolutely.

In my case, I left my job this week and have never felt freer. But I realize this is an incredibly privileged position to be in — and it was certainly not without a lot of planning, buckling down, and streamlining our finances down to just what matters. And for me, what matters is my capacity to live in a way that allows me compassion, clarity, and bandwidth to help others. Maybe we can find a way to turn inward and decondition ourselves from endless consumption, so as to free ourselves to be more kind? And maybe instead of admonishing people for their consumerism, we can look at the system that is driving that consumerism, and dismantle it. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and we are all in this together. Self-actualization, to me, is not the end point, but rather a jumping-off point towards giving others the same opportunity. And I really hope we can try.

Stumped on where to start? May I suggest an hour to yourself to decompress, and maybe a donation to the Loveland Foundation? As someone who believes strongly in therapy and mental health, their commitment to opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls, is a cause close to my heart.

Exorcism wanted

Brugge, Belgium July 2019

Wanted:

an exorcism of the heart.

A friendly spirit has come to stay 

settled in

made me home

made me

     restless 

     ache

     long for

     wonder.



Imaginings 

haunt me daily,

while this little spirit of mine

stays on

uninvited.



Time to go,

to set me free.

I’ll always remember you fondly

even though

it would hurt less

to forget.



One exorcism

wanted. 


Fuck the bread

I read an excellent piece by Sabrina Ora Mark back in May, and it resonated with me. Her piece, Fuck the Bread. The Bread is Over., is a rumination on this bizarre moment we are living in, on motherhood and identity, on self and work and obligation and fulfillment. I’ve been thinking about it often lately, as the pandemic stretches and contorts time and the realities we are facing draw in ever-sharper focus.

“I’ve wanted a job like this for so long, I barely even know why I want it anymore. I look at my hands. I can’t tell if they’re mine.”

If there is anything I think I am gaining from quarantine, it is perspective. I’ve been considering my future, what options I might have, what contentment looks like — and those answers are becoming simpler. I used to think I had found my dream job. And for that self in that time, maybe I had. But now, like Mark, I barely know why I want that job anymore. The days I spend here at home working, one after the other? I no longer feel like those hands are mine. In some ways, they are not. I am just going through the motions. I began thinking that my depression had reduced me to this — a shell devoid of motivation. The couple hours I spent doing my own creative work on a day off recently were a revelation in that regard. I felt more vivid and engaged than I have in a long, long time. There is more to this life than “getting this bread.”

What does it mean to be worth something? Or worth enough? Or worthless? What does it mean to earn a living? What does it mean to be hired? What does it mean to be let go?

“I can’t pinpoint what this lesson is exactly. Something about identification and possession. Something about buying time. As I empty the bags and touch the moss, and the leaves, and the twigs, and the berries, and a robin-blue eggshell, I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves. I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded.”

I am so lucky to have my health, and a kind, healthy husband, and funny furry pets to keep me entertained and grounded. I want more time for these things that matter. Really matter. Life is too short to waste on miserable, interminable days that are dictated by people without my best interests in mind. I want to carve out time for real engagement, and for the things that remind me that this life has so much capacity for joy and fulfillment. I want to feel as though I have intrinsic worth. I shouldn’t have to earn the right feel alive.

“But also I wanted an office with a number…. I wanted the whole stupid kingdom. “And then what?” says my mother. “And then nothing,” I say as I jump off the very top of a fairy tale that has no place for me. “You’re better off,” says my mother. I look around. I’ve landed where I am.

I like it here.”

In the coming weeks and months, I am hoping to land someplace new. Someplace where my days can be more “mine.” Days when I can stop just existing and start living again. Days when I can enjoy some contentment. I don’t know what that will look like yet, which is scary. Terrifying, really. But I will never know if I don’t make the leap. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I can fly.

Wonderful small things

This is becoming a year of wonderful small things.  The big things have been overwhelming, to say the least: we are still in the middle of a worsening pandemic, our government continues to make our country a hateful and divisive place, Black Lives Matter is still not considered a universal truth, police brutality is an ongoing issue… there is so much for us to cope with.  To remind myself that it is still worthwhile to get out of bed every day, I am trying to remember the small things.  This way I will always have something to look forward to, to enjoy, or to revel in.  A particularly good lunch.  Snuggles with my pups in the morning.  The way the light filters into my bedroom on a weekend afternoon as I lay down for a nap.  A package out for delivery.  It’s these kinds of tiny daily joys that help me keep perspective, and keep me fueled to keep fighting for a better world.

Each time I venture out to Trader Joe’s for much-needed groceries, I buy a bunch of silver dollar eucalyptus leaves. I love having fresh greenery in my home, and it feels like a luxury even though it only costs $4. Plus, they last forever compared to cut flowers!

The new perfume I ordered arrived this week.  ‘REPLICA’ Lazy Sunday Morning is a unique scent that somehow perfectly captures the feeling of fresh crisp sheets on a breezy, sunny morning.  I sampled this perfume on my last outing with friends before the pandemic really hit, so it carries thoughts of dear friendships as well as idyllic lazy mornings.

Also, I was so happy to receive the Rain + Bow necklace I ordered a few weeks ago.  It is weighty and so well made, the packaging was so sweet with it’s little extras, and it is a wonderful daily reminder that I am always in the process of overcoming.  Also I am thrilled that a $10 for every necklace sold is donated to Mental Health America.

Be well, stay safe, and don’t forget to wear a mask. We’ll get through this. Little joys are there for us to find, even though it may seem bleak right now.