Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah





The Purge

25 years’ worth of stuff. No, I under-exaggerate. Over 50 years’ worth of stuff. Because I am still holding on to… way too much. A baby blanket used on newborn me. My first teddy bear, now creaky and rusty jointed and leaking his innards. Loose photos that never made it into an album or a frame. Vintage dresses I used to wear when I waited tables in a dark and smoky bistro in Charlottesville, VA. Old batting gloves that have not fit either of my children in at least ten years. A variety of dust-coated flower vases I don’t use. Why don’t I use them? I use the other 7 vases I have that I actually like. How many napkin rings does a person who does not use napkin rings really need? Why did I keep four small paint smocks in a drawer for 15 years after the last time my children and their playmates fit into them? I am grappling with these and other questions with a lot less angst than you might think.

So I started this whole thing out saying, “I am still holding on to way too much.” Make that “I was holding on to way too much.” Getting rid of my stuff is a kickass metaphor for getting rid of the shit clogging my chakras, the energetic holds on my heart, mind and spirit, the past that interrupts my present and screws with my future. Etc.

Context: A tumultuous year included two moves during which it dawned on me that I might have a bit of a stuff-burden. Now, I may, in fact, have way less in the way of material possessions than many Americans, but what defines “too much” for me might not be what it is for someone else. Clearly, having anything at all to put into a home with more than one room is a lot more than most people in this world possess. But, regardless of any judgment on how much is enough or not enough or too much, for a bunch of reasons, when I moved the first and second times in 2012, I was not in any condition to make purgative decisions when the rest of my life was in such flux/emotional turmoil/confusion as I coped with a series of over-the-top versions of joy/grief/ecstasy/terror/heartbreak/hope/misery.

But a funny thing happened. Due to circumstances within my control (but that’s another story), I lived for 5 months with 98% of my belongings in a storage unit. Nester, homemaker, keeper of stuff that I am, I was living out of 4 boxes and two suitcases. Period.

As the months went on and I lived with this pared down collection of the necessities of life, a lesson of great importance seeped into my underneath consciousness. A lesson I am putting to good use now. If I can be comfortable out of 4 boxes and 2 suitcases, I can release some of the crap collecting cobwebs in that storage unit.

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog about just this topic. I was in the midst (and still am) of my purge, and it rang my chimes. (Here’s a link: ) The items piling up in boxes on the porch look like objects, feel like objects, collect dust like objects, but they represent – they are – energy. A static, clumping, blocking, curdling kind of energy that gets in my way, even when I don’t realize it.

I remember one summer when my son was about 15, I decided to tackle the basement (aka cellar) of my house. It was a dark, dank mess of a place containing a washer, dryer, freezer, furnace… the usual, plus a lot of other, well, mysterious crap. I borrowed a pick-up truck. My son, Win, and I hauled junk for hours, up from the cave into the light. As the truck filled, I’d schlep it up to a nearby town where there was a dump. A for-profit garbage place that had a cave of its own into which I deposited my unwanted stuff.

A very pale young fellow who may never have seen the light of day spent his working hours unloading other people’s unwanted items from their trucks and cars and tossing them into inexplicable piles, according to his own sense of order, inside the cavernous space.

Each time I entered the confines of this sprawling compound of garbage, my truck would be weighed. (They got an empty weight when I first arrived.) At the end of the day, when I went in to pay for the privilege of giving my rejected items (old doors, rusty pumps, decrepit shelving, an ancient crib that was from the previous owner of my house and so on), the woman behind the counter told me the total weight of the day’s many hauls: just over one ton. One TON. Win and I had carried one TON of SHIT out of our basement. How had we ever lived with one unneeded, unwanted TON cluttering up the energy of our home?

I feel the same way now. But this time, the things I’m releasing are perfectly good. They are useable. Meaningful in the world, to someone. But not me. Not any more. I won’t haul it to the dumping ground. I will offer it to the Memorial Day shoppers who cruise tag sales in the New England springtime. I will put prices like 25¢ and $1.00 on decent items. Polished up, washed, shiny and like new, or not so like new, these things will find a place of positive energy in the world. They will feather someone else’s nest. Maybe a young person getting her own apartment. Or a divorced father starting over. It doesn’t matter.

I release you, stuff. I clear my space, feng my shui, open the pores of my environment. Feels damn good.