On Perfect Moments and New Phones

My new phone is passive aggressive. It supposedly uses facial technology to open. Or that’s the idea anyway. Sometimes it “recognizes me,” but mostly I get “no match” when I stare into its heartless little lens for facial recognition. Doesn’t matter if I give it a stink-eye either. Time after time I’m forced to plug in my PIN to get access to this possession that seems to own me, rather than the other way around.

I am overly dependent on my phone. The landline was cut long ago, and my computer is also being uncooperative these days, so I’m forced to use the phone and all its glorious apps for multiple things. Interestingly, I hardly ever use my phone as an actual phone. I take more pictures with it than calls. Once it grudgingly opens, the suspicious little phone takes lovely snaps, but there are days that I miss the delayed gratification of taking a picture and not knowing if it turned out okay until I take ALL the pictures on the roll, then get it to a developer.

When the kids were small, 15 or so years ago, we’d take our film to Costco to be developed and get doubles of everything, not knowing what would be good and what would not be, and to include the better extras in letters (!) to my parents. Even back then, ruffling through the giant bin of developed photos belonging to multiple people, I marveled at the trust inherent in that just-leave-it-out process. I mean, I could’ve grabbed someone else’s photos no problem, and the same could have happened to us, but there was never an issue. We didn’t want those other people’s photos, just ours thanks.

I’ve been attempting to purposely break free from technology since the start of the year. Maybe the phone knows this, and its non-admittance is its form of a sit-in. Long walks and swims help, but I still find myself called back to the screen more often than is properly healthy. I did have a perfect moment of peace the other day. I was sitting on our couch in the late afternoon with a cup of tea, reading a mindless novel (oh okay, you will totally judge me for this but it’s Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, the whole Twilight saga from Edward’s point of view.) I was neither tired nor hungry nor thirsty, nor hot or cold. The window was open, and a cool breeze lightly ruffled the fluffy edges of our single blanket that survived The Fire four years and two weeks ago.* I could hear the light tinkle of the neighbor’s wind chimes. Someone had started cooking their curry for dinner, that wonderful scent just a whisper in the air.  At my feet my old dog, who is still hanging in there, was snoring in her contented old-dog way. In our own kitchen, I could hear the sounds of our youngest son prepping to make dinner, the dim music from his earbuds leaking through as he pulled out pots and pans. I breathed in, and out, and watched the edges of the blanket move gently in the breeze, and for that bit of time, all was well.  I recognized it for what it was, an exquisite moment from the gift of life and savored it. I remembered a bit from the classic play “Our Town” where the dead warn Emily to pick an ordinary day to return to, not an important one, that the pain of the beauty of an ordinary day would be almost too much to bear. I hadn’t fully understood that warning before, but in that moment, I did.

I pay a price for them, though. Soon after they happen I am gripped with anxiety that something in that peaceful picture will be ripped away from me soon. It’s the aftermath of The Fire, this belief that at all good things will be taken away. It comes along less often than it used to. Time does heal. Maybe it’s time I take a cue from my phone, and when those thoughts arise, firmly state, “No Match,” and refuse to let them in. Not even if they give me the stink-eye.

*ON SALE! You can read in detail about The Fire and donate to animal shelters at the same time! “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything is available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback – its part of Kindle Unlimited at the moment and discounted too!

 Amazon.com: On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything: Uncovering Resilience and Finding Joy after Disaster Strikes eBook: Upton Bracey, Stacey: Kindle Store

On Transitions and Deep Ellum

One simply does not swim in a thunderstorm.  I got up at my normal ridiculous time of 4.30 am to go for a swim workout with my fun Dallas Area Masters group (the acronym for the group is DAM which never fails to give me a sophomoric chuckle).  As I did my morning shuffle to the kitchen (and oh dear, is this what getting old feels like?  I must start doing yoga again), I heard sound of rain pattering on the windows, and then the dull flash and crack of a thunderstorm on the way in. I was tremendously happy about this, happy to not drive on the freeway at 70 miles an hour half-awake over to SMU and strip down to a swim suit in the chilly morning air and then slide into an even more chilly outdoor 50 meter pool.  For those of you not versed in pool size, that is the great big one that Olympians use.  I hate getting wet, which is probably some sort of existential chuckle, as my self-selected lifetime sport is swimming.  I don’t mind BEING wet, it’s that transition from dry to immersed that bites. There is always a heinous moment when one either needs to commit fully and jump in and go or just say “chuck it” and do the walk of shame back to where your clothes are sitting and leave. Spared that choice, I curled on our new couch (everything in our house is new, because of The Fire – it’s exactly like living in an Extended Stay hotel – nothing has memory or meaning yet, so its pleasant but not connected to us in the slightest. All we need is some ubiquitous, bland art to put on the walls and the illusion would be complete) and opened an email from my son who is finishing up his first year in college at GWU. I got to sit with my pomegranate fizz stick and read over an essay he thoughtfully sent me from college to look over and feel momentarily relevant in his life.

My thoughts have been with my boys a lot this past week – they both flew in for a short visit but are gone again.  It was wonderful having them in the house again, to call out, “not around the neck” as they wrestled with each other, and to remind them in nearly-stern tones that we live in an apartment now, and the nice neighbors below us with a brand-new baby probably don’t appreciate full body slams reverberating through their ceiling.  It was fun showing them some places in Dallas we’ve found in our time after The Fire, especially Deep Ellum which reminds me of living off Melrose Ave in Los Angeles some 30 years ago during its gritty transitional time.  Back then, Melrose was an uneasy but vibrant mix of punk rockers with giant mohawks, and the people of the Jewish Retirement home (now replaced by trendy stores) sitting outside and watching them go by with bemused faces.  There were a few stores, some crack houses, and ethnic restaurants. You knew that while it was an okay street by day, at night you just needed to stay in your car and drive on by.  Deep Ellum is located just slightly off Downtown Dallas, and a whole section of it is underneath a massive freeway tangle. It’s not beautiful, but Deep Ellum is in that cool gritty stage Melrose sported 30 years ago. It has its share of empty buildings and shady deals going down, but there is a lot of development, tons of music venues and restaurants and a few retail stores. The neighborhood is fighting gentrification, but my suspicion is that in a few years just like Melrose it will be taken over with higher rents, trendy boutiques, and have less parking. You should go see it now.  We really liked Cane Russo and Twisted Root for eating.

During the visit, I couldn’t help but think what our life would be like if the boys had both chosen to come to Dallas and SMU for college instead of their respective schools. Would Craig and I be more involved?  I think the proximity would have lent itself to at least a few more dinners together, and perhaps a few more chances to tell them things we know. There are a lot of those, things we know but never got the space to say while they were home.  Craig and I miss them both more than we realized we would. I wonder if the year-long college process of testing, sorting and finding, applying and writing the damn essays and visiting and getting accepted and visiting again before a final verdict is rendered is an unintended Mercy for us parents.  One is so grateful to be done with it, you don’t realize your time to deeply influence your child’s life has effectively ended.  In many ways, this new phase of parenting, the hands-off phase, is even harder than the other phases that went before it.  Not that I want the teen angst phase back again, or the diaper phase, or especially the dreaded my-science-fair-project-is-due-tomorrow phase. I’m happy to have those in our rear-view mirror. It’s the seeing the boys daily that I miss.  They are changing and we only get to see end results, our time of helping them shape the men they are becoming is gone. Craig and I have been replaced by peers and professors and other cities and adventures that we may or may not hear about. This time of transition feels exactly like that tenuous moment before diving into a wet pool – I really don’t want it to be my current reality, but I do know if I hop in, immerse myself in acceptance of this change, I will feel better in the long run.  It’s just a little chilly starting out.

Image credit: Robert O’Neil