Never enough

Not so long ago, I came to the conclusion that I am a deeply unsatisfied person. Almost at any given moment, I am thinking of how that moment could be better. How I could be doing something, being something, or experiencing something higher.

I usually consider it my own fault—that I am not organized enough to be the best self I can be. Or perhaps I am lazy and slothful. And St. Paul’s words echo in my mind: the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do [Romans 7:19]

I never get around to doing what I want to do, but all the shit I say I will stop doing—that’s what I end up being very faithful with.

For these and many other reasons, I figured out that I am just an unsatisfied person. This will not change, and I had better find a way of living with it.

I don’t mean that I don’t have things I enjoy. There are also the exciting and exceptional moments of action that absorb my total attention. Sometimes I get in the zone while writing; very very often when I am dancing I am utterly taken away, and sometimes a project can fill me and satisfy me well.

But those are rare and precious moments. For all the other moments, I am wishing for the higher thing—the greater, the more.

I was trying to explain this to Chris. The explanation went somewhat awry, since he is a sweet and wonderful man who wants me to be happy. For him, it is not a good thing for me to be unsatisfied. It is a problem, and must be fixed.

We are both interested in my happiness—he even more than I. But this new understanding I had about my nature seemed both under and over the stuff of “happiness.” Metaphysical realities are not so susceptible to temporal fixes.

But what was it I had really discovered? What did I mean by all this? Maybe it is really a personal problem, something that pills or prayer would fix.

Maybe it was all in my head.

But then I read this from John Stuart Mill:

It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect.

But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections qualify.

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

Mill, no fool, got it! I discovered my dissatisfaction on my own, but I am not on my own in the feeling.

AND I am a “highly endowed being.” I’ll take that.

Of course, I am also required with my endowments, to bear all the imperfections I so keenly perceive. That brings my mind back to the Bible, this time the red letters of Jesus’s words:
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. [Luke 12:48]

I guess the Endower of my gifts would have a right to require me to do something with them.

And I would not have it any other way. I want to be and make the best of myself that I can.

I’ll just have to find a way to bear my imperfections.

They should tell you about chapstick

They should tell you to wear chapstick. Heck, they should provide you with chapstick. With your mouth hanging open for hours and your whole head anaesthetized so you can’t feel anything, split lips must be common.

I hate dentists. But they are something that must be endured.

I’d wished I’d had chapstick on my last visit to get my teeth x-rayed. I came prepared this time, so my lips were well lubricated. But why do dentists expect you to converse with them while your mouth is full of their hands and metal equipment? I suppose for the same reason none of them ever think of providing lip lube for the procedure.

I was scared. There were needles. It took three injections to make me numb. One big needle, then ZZZZZZ goes the drill. “Ow!” goes me. In with another needle. Repeat.

Think peaceful thoughts. Tell yourself how professional this dentist is. The mantra: he knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Why does it feel like he’s drilled entirely through my upper canine into the other side? What’s going on?

Breathe. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

I breathe. Then I count to one hundred repeatedly to tick off the necessary seconds it will take to complete this.

Then I search around in my head to think of something else to think about. I decide to think about my credenz. In my head, I imagined all the things I needed to do to refinish this piece of furniture.

First, I would need to take the old and discolored stain off. The top, the sides, the drawers would all need to be stripped and scrubbed. I’d take off the drawer handles and scrub every nook and groove down to the bare wood.

I’d wash it, and then sand it, and wash it again.

There would be a few repairs to make. The two front legs are wobbly. I think that just takes a nail to secure in place. But the one drawer sticks when you pull it in and out. I’m not sure how to fix that. Maybe I can look it up.

These thoughts kept my mind away from the dentist drill.

I love to think about all the parts and steps of a process. One of my earliest memories—I was maybe three years old—was lying under the pew at church trying to figure out how it was made.

Naturally I was bored with the sermon. So I wiggled underneath the pews, which had been lovingly made in the pastor’s garage.

First, I was struck by how different the pew looked from underneath.. I even got up to look at the pew from the top again. Yes, it was the same object.

Then I started trying to understand why it looked the way it did. I saw the bare wood and the edge of the fabrics tacked down by staples. I saw edges of nail on the sides where the legs were.

I began to see how this pew was constructed! It was very thrilling to me. I could see in my mind, how they very carefully tucked the fabric around underneath and stapled it in place, and then took the backs and sides and nailed them in place after the upholstery was there and not before.

I could tell how the whole thing was put together. I ran it like a movie in my head, all the steps along the way to make this familiar thing.

All the steps that must be done carefully and in their right time—any other way and it wouldn’t work.

I think of these sorts of things all the time. What step? What’s needed? When? Anything else? How will it get there? How will people know they need it and find it when it’s needed?

Not everyone thinks this way. Perhaps some people just can’t. I can see the far goal and the immediate steps that start the motion towards that goal.

I try to have patience with those who don’t see that near/far view. The little and the big make the world go round.

Of course, my credenz is an unchanging object. It will stay still until I get around to it. Other projects are actually processes.

Processes are things that you do repeatedly. Every morning I must wake, shower, dress myself and drive to work.

Can I improve that? What would happen if I set my clothes out the night before? What about the shoes? Shower the night before? These are all ways to work on and improve a process.

It takes thought. It takes FORE thought. It takes AFTER thought. It takes awareness and willingness to notice and try.

It takes faith. You have to believe that what you are doing is important and worth doing better. You have to believe that your time and your life’s quality deserves attention and thought. You have to believe that you CAN improve the processes.

I saw a representative from Wal-Mart discuss this principle on TV. Wal-Mart is known for squeezing their suppliers to get the best price.

There is a bottom to how low the prices can go. Even Wal-Mart can’t get all their stuff for nothing.

But they have a commitment to getting more and better ‘deals’. If they can’t get a cheaper pair of shorts, then let it be a better-sewn pair. And once it’s quality workmanship, there is still a way to go one better.

Let it have cute little flowers sewn on the pockets—‘fashion.’

Never never rest. Always look for a way to do better.

Is it any wonder Wal-Mart has the staggering success it has?

I want that. I want to be with a bunch of people that want the bar of ‘better’ to be raised on a regular basis.

Good enough should never be good enough. Good enough is boring.

I want to be like the kids playing outside. ‘Can you reach that tree branch if you jump? Jump as high as you can. Yay! Made it. What about the next one?’

Jump high! Be better. Because it feels good to be good. And it feels good to be better.

That’s what I want for my credenz. I want to remake it beautiful, and I want to do a good job at this difficult task. I know that I can do it all by myself and I don’t have to rely on anyone else. No worries, I can make it perfect. It makes me happy just to think about it.

The dentist is finally done. He tells me that my new crown is “temporary” and I have to come back for a permanent one in two weeks.

Bad process. Why didn’t they tell me this when I made the appointment? Come to think of it, they didn’t even tell me what work they were doing before I arrived.

Bad process.

I think about telling them about my chapstick idea, to help with patients’ lips.

But I do not have faith in them. I do not think they will hear me.

It’s all about the grandmothers

I love to cook.

I don’t get much of a chance to do it, because I always thought I was the only one who would eat what I ate. Chris is very finicky, to my thinking. He doesn’t appreciate the experimental.

But this is Thanksgiving, and officially the time to cook and bake. I’ve been longing to make a pie for weeks now. A good pie is a glorious thing. In fact, I had expressed my longing for piemaing at work and the we all had talked about favorite pies. Rhubarb was a favorite, and also very tart fruit pies. I told them of my walnut pie, which is a regional innovation.

However, our cupboards were bare, and we had to go shopping.

“We have to stock up. Lots of things will be on sale.” I told Chris.

“I think you’re wrong. I don’t rememer things being on sale for Thanksgiving.”

“YOU are wrong. I know for sure that things will be on sale. The will have the buy-one-get-one-free sale on things like sugar and flour.”

Chris thought that stocking up on sugar and flour was a bad idea. He hardly ever uses flour.

In the store, I was checking on the sugar and flour prices, but he was scoping out the mixes. He has a thing for Betty Crocker. He likes to look at all the pictures of delicious things and think about eating them. He does the same with the dessert menu at restaurants. But the fact is, he seldom eats them.

There were a lot of mixes on sale. He came back over to the cart with a mix for cinnamon coffee cake.

“Baby, you don’t need a mix for coffee cake! That’s very easy to make. I could make you one, if you really want one.”

“But..” he looked at the picture on the package. “It wouldn’t have cinnamon.”

He’s adorable.

So back at the house, I had some baking projects to do.

To my dismay, I had misplaced my holy cooking book, “The Joy of Cooking.” I know it’s here somewhere, but I can’t find it.

Well, no problem. I have the internet! Coffee cakes should be easy to find.

It turns out that internet recipes for cinnamon coffee cakes favor ingredients like sour cream, buttermilk and apples. Didn’t pick those up at the store. They also like nuts, which is anathema for my sweetheart. THIS at least I have learned in our time together.It took me into page three of the search results to find an appropriate recipe.

When I mixed it up, and I make twice as much streusel as they called for, because I love Chris and he loves streusel. I made him watch as I sprinkled the streusel on, so he could appreciate what I was doing.

It came out pretty good.
coffeecake smal.jpg

Of course, while the cake was baking, I began to work on the pie.

Pies are a glorious food. Really and truly. On the whole, they are ridiculously simple to make. Except for the crust. But many people choose to have a premade crust, so that takes care of that.

If you ever want to impress someone with cooking skills you don’t think you have, make a pie with a premade crust. Pies are only a half a tick more difficult than instant pudding. I mean, geez! You just mix up about 4 ingredients, pour it into a pie crust and cook it. WAY easy.

But, I am not satisfied with premade crusts. I want a little challenge in all this. I want to master the crust.

The last pie I made was lemon meringue, last december. And the crust was too tough.

I hoped to do better with this iternation. I wanted to use my grandmother’s pie crust recipe.

My grandmother died during the holidays of 1995. Mom was called to the hospital before she died, and she asked me to come with her. We were able to be with Grandma in her last few days.

I had not grown up near my grandmother. I just didn’t know her that well.

But after she had passed we were eating holiday leftovers at my aunt’s house, . I was munching on this key lime cheesecake pie.

I exclaimed: “This crust is really good!”

My cousin, who had always grown up around my grandmother, looked at me incredulously. “Yeah,” she said, “That’s grandma’s pie crust. Didn’t you know she was famous for her crust?”

Yes, actually, I had heard that. But, I’d never had a chance to taste it. It was only a posthuous pie that let me know.

So, I looked up grandma’s pie crust recipe. It was a very different concept from the recipe of the former failed crust attempt.

I mixed up a walnut pie, using the recipe on the back of the Karo syrup bottle. I made two changes:
1. I used walnuts instead of pecans
2. I splashed in a little brandy. Brandy is very yummy.

Walnut pie was introduced to my family by my sister-in-law Karen. Her grandmother’s best friend had a walnut tree in the front yard. As Karen said, “That’s a lot of walnuts. You come up with as many ways to use walnuts as you can. Therefore: Walnut pie.”

But I like it for it’s own sake. Plus, Walnus are cheaper than pecans. And it’s unusual, so it makes me feel cool and creative.

Karen always used the half walnuts, but one year I could only find chopped walnuts for sale, and I like how that ended up looking. So now I always use the chopped walnuts.

Here, dear readers, is the resultant pie:


Now, that was not enough. I wanted to make cranberry sauce for the dinner. My brother Mark is an excellent cooker of cranberry sauce. Therefore, I am sad when we must resort to canned cranberry sauce.

HOWEVER. Chris’s grandmother has a doctor’s injunction against seeds. But, I thought…I can strain out the seeds an make a cranberry jelly, instead of a cranberry sauce.

All I have to do is cook up the cranberries and then strain them through a cloth to get the juice and keep the seeds out.

I love cooking fresh cranberries. The skins POP when they are boiling. It’s cool.

Straining the pulp was a bit harder than I thought. Probably because I was impatient and did not wait for the cranberry mush to cool. This is what it looked like when I was done:

That’s the strained part, not the jelly part. The jelly part is jelling in the fridge. It may need to be put back on the stove with some cornstarch. We’ll see.

But that was what I did all night. I love to cook, but I’m pretty tired after that.

overheard yesterday

“Cooperation is not the same as collaboration”

Very true. Going along to get along never changes anything.

So, one very likely way for change to happen is to make people mad at you.

You’ve got to be so damn tough.

Peace and war


Originally uploaded by murphy_h2001.

We went to look at the puppies. They were very cute.

All the airedales were acting remarkably like Mac. Mac is 90 pounds, and these dogs were smaller, more like 50 pounds.

We put a deposit down so we could have one of the puppies when they are born.

Now, we have to get the cat ready. He doesn’t know what will hit him.

The last time I walked out the door

December 30, 1991. That was the last time I set foot inside my parent’s home, the home that I lived in from age 12 to 19.

I didn’t know it would be the last time. Why was it the last time?

When we left, we thought we would return the next summer. But the house sat vacant for 2 and a half years, until it was finally rented out to someone and eventually sold.

I am suddenly very sad to realize this.

It wasn’t such a bad house.

It is now 2006, 25 years later. Only now, I realize that this was the case, that that time was the last time.

I am trying to write about December 25th through the 30th of 1991. I have written a short chapter about it. But I am not satisfied, and I woke up at five am this morning, thinking “Maybe I need more detail. What did the house look like again? Where were we sleeping on the 26th? Did we still have our beds?

Yes, we had our beds. We had the orange nougahyde couch with the cat-scratched arm in the living room. And we had the tweedy hide-a-bed couch there. The wood stove was burning—we must have left it full of ashes. The dining room table made of railroad-ties was still there. All our hand-me-down furniture from the church-going people who were done with it and didn’t want to have to throw it away—the things we had rescued and put to use. It was still there.

Our pets were not. I know the dog Penny had been given away, but I don’t remember what happened with the cats. I liked the cats better that the dog, too. I suspect they were given to the pound. Poor Chang and Bill.

It was cold. Of course it was cold. December in Alaska. There was snow on the ground, I remember that.

We had put all the house plants—well, the ones that were our favorites—down in the first floor. Someone from church had said they would take care of them for us until we returned.

April was going to take care of mine, and I don’t know where mom’s plants were going. But April told me that although she came to get them the next day, they were frozen when she came. The house had been left with no heat, so the plants didn’t make it.

Maybe she was lying. She did lie a lot. Maybe she forgot and didn’t get the plants for weeks.

But for the last days, while we were still in it, the house was warm but bare. The kitchen was cleaned before we left, because of course Mom did not want dirty dishes or dirtiness in general to greet us when we returned.

If I had known that I would never set foot in the house again, I might have done something different. I might have…taken a walk around my favorite paths and then walked through the door again. One last time.

But I did not do that. I was scared out of my mind. I was filled with thoughts of surviving in Russia, getting to Russia, and whether or not the Federal warning to Americans to leave Russia would result in us…being killed? Being thrown in a Russian prison?

But my little teenage mind was too tenacious to consciously dwell long on death or imprisonment. My most uppermost thought was of whether or not I would ever see my heartthrob Alex again.

I did not.

But I had at least been warned about that. He told me he probably would not be back when I returned. As it happened, he would have been back when I should have returned. But I did not return the next summer.

I did not return until a year later. And then only for a few weeks. We all turned around and went right back.

But Alex had warned me that he did not expect to be there when I returned. So I knew I would never see him again. I mean, I hoped I would, but I knew I might not.

I was not warned that I would never see that home again, except from the road.

When we did return, we did not stay in our home. We stayed in other people’s homes. I stayed with April, a mistake for sure, as it turned out.

But our home was still empty then. Why didn’t we stay in our home? I know why. For the same reason aspiring actors in Hollywood do not work to get good ‘normal’ jobs. They don’t want to be comfortable; they want to be actors.

So we, we did not want to be comfortable. We wanted to go back to Russia.

What did I want? Did I know what I wanted?

I was so pushed along by the currents. I remember wanting to go back to America so bad that I could barely breathe. Not that I didn’t love Russia. Not that the time I had spent there and the friends I had made weren’t the absolute pinnacle of my life—they were!

But if we hadn’t come back when we did, we would have lost our ability to return. The return airplane tickets we had would expire if we hadn’t left when we did. And they were not cheap. $2000 dollars in American dollars at a time when candy bars cost $0.35. Two thousand dollars when dollars cost 500 rubles and a loaf of bread cost one ruble.

If we hadn’t gone back, we would have been stuck in a volatile Russia with no way out. I didn’t like no way out. Even then, I had to know where the back door was.

Is that so astonishing? How many people do not survey and make sure they know the way out of any given situation they find themselves in? I do. Maybe that’s when it started for me, the fall of ’91. That was indeed the season that set a lot of personality cement.

But we finally and at the last minute did not let our escape ticket expire. We went back to Alaska and did not stay in our home.

Did I want to go back to Russia? Yes, I did. I do believe that I did. Russia was the best time of my life. And we had left those poor people at the school hanging. Maybe they needed us.

Maybe they didn’t. I don’t know.

But I did go back. All of us went back. And I ended up living on my own—well, not with my parents—in Yakutsk.

After Masha went back to college, Mirnyy was much less interesting.

Yakutsk was pretty good. I met Lena.

But then when I came back from Yakutsk, when I returned to Alaska and left Russia behind for good I also did not go back to my home.

It had ceased to be my home. I didn’t want to live with my parents anymore, and living in their house would have meant so many things.

It would have meant free rent…But, no, it wouldn’t have. The mortgage on the place was 1200 a month. The church was paying that while my parents were missionarying in Russia.

Would the church have allowed me to live in the empty house while my parents were in Russia and they were paying the mortgage?

By ‘the church’ I mean the pastor, April’s dad.

My earning power at age 20 would not have managed to pay the heating bill, let alone the mortgage.

I am certain that Mr. Byron would not have let us stay there. I say ‘us’ because Chris had come back too.

I didn’t want to live in my parents’ house when I got back. I wanted to be an adult and making my own way.

I did not want to live in Wasilla, with no prospects and no hope. That town had been tapped out before I even got there at age 12. It had nothing for me. In Wasilla, the best I could hope for was a job as a checker in a grocery store. And I would need several years of experience doing entry level work before that promotion to checker could be an option.

I didn’t want a job as a checker. I wanted more.

More meant Anchorage. Anchorage was the promised land, as far as I was concerned. That city would never be tapped out. The big city. It had so much going on, I would never run out of it.

And that was where the university was. I wanted to go to school. School! And school where I could take part in the social life. Where I could date if I wanted to, something I hadn’t really been able to do. My first year of college was a mine field of avoiding and deflecting possible dates…The ‘rules’ for accepting a date were too extensive and embarrassing and, basically, impossible to make it happen.

But no one even thought about the house for Chris or I. No one suggested that the dusty door be opened to let us in there.

My parents’ car, the one we were going to leave behind until our return had seized it’s engine right before we left. There was no family car to go with the family home. Certainly, the subdivision that the house was on was remote enough that we would need a car to be able to live there. It took 15 minutes to drive to the nearest grocery store from the house.

And it took 25 minutes to drive to church.

And an hour and 25 minutes to drive to the University of Anchorage.

But I didn’t want to stay in that house, because it would have meant going to church in Wasilla.

I could not do that. I could not not not go to church in the church I had gone to all that time.

I had decided that in Russia, the first year. I had decided that, and told my parents about it. We had discussed it, and the consensus was that I would not have to go to that church again because I would not live in Wasilla. I would live in Anchorage when I returned, and I would choose a new church there.

But only my parents and I knew of this agreement.

No one from that church suggested that I had a home in my parents’ home anymore. My parents included.

So, the last thing I remember is looking back on the dark brown carpet of the first floor and seeing our plants sitting together in the middle of the floor. My impatients plant and African violet that had been given to me age 14 in the hospital and the spider plant.

Chris gave me the spider plant later that 14th year after we had been fighting. Mom was sick of us and told us to do something nice for each other. I made Chris a cup of tea. He painted a card for me and gave me a spider plant he had grown from one of the spider plant babies. I felt cheap then, for my measly cup of tea.

The spider plant survived. The other died.

But that was the last I saw of that house. I never saw my room again. I never walked in the woods and returned through the door again. I never warmed my hands on that wood stove or whacked creosote out of the chimney pipe again.

That was it. The end. And I didn’t know it at the time.

High Desert


Originally uploaded by murphy_h2001.

So, this is a picture of the east side of the mountains on highway 15.

Highway 15 is best known as the route to Las Vegas. Los Angelinos and other Southern Cal residents zoom up 15 to let what happens in Vegas happen.

I was not on a Vegas trip when I took this picture. I was going to Victorville for work. The scenery was really impressive to me, so I took some photos.

Chris and I will be going ‘up 15’ this weekend if all goes as planned. There is a puppy breeder who lives out there, though not as far as even Victorville, let alone Vegas.

The time has come to secure the family dog. The breed of choice is airedale. And since Chris is made out of marshmallow, he must have a puppy.

Puppies are cute.

Provided this puppy comes from a well-mannered and well-kept home, we’ll be bringing one home in January.

The desired puppies are still in their airedale-mama’s tummy.

But that’s okay, because we need to puppy-proof the home and begin to prepare the cat.

We just put Skellig’s food up on a table. If we left it on the floor where it has been, the puppy might eat it. That would not be good for inter-species relations.

So I assembled a table and put his food on it. I put him up there, so he knows where it is.

But he’s been lying on the floor near where it used to be, and wapping his tail thumpingly on the ground to show that he knows we are up to something and he doesn’t approve.

This will take time.

Rejection letters

I am very very proud of my book. I published it this year, and it took a lot of hard work.

Recently I was listening to an interview of Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander. She talked about the party she had after her book was published.

She wallpapered the room with her rejection letters.

I should accumulate rejection letters, I suppose. I feel slightly averse to it. I mean, they are rejection letters, after all.

But, it also seems the path many successful people take.

I wonder.