Changes ahead

My Wonder Woman silver bracelet, a gift from Salida artist and friend Susan Bethany

A friend recently commented that I maintain a “relentlessly cheerful” front. The remark, tossed out in the thick of a heated conversation, was not meant as a compliment. It hurt. The friend saw that and apologized immediately. But the words made me think.

I am by nature a happy person. That’s generally a good thing. Viewing the world through a lens of happiness and love has carried me through some hard times–not unscathed, but more or less whole. It may in fact, have saved my life.

That tendency to look for the positive side of things is not a good thing though, if it blinds me to my own unhappiness, grief, fear, or just feelings of uneasiness or being overwhelmed. I need to notice when all is not well within, because I’m not a superhero. (Despite my striking Wonder Woman bracelet!)

The house a sculptor built, in a photo shot on a rare snowy day last winter. (The guest cottage is the left-hand bay, the main house is on the right.)

Lately I’ve felt rather more mortal than not. I’m tired, overwhelmed, cranky around the edges, and prone to be short-tempered and emotional. Do you suppose I could be grieving for the love of my life? He died from brain cancer less than nine months ago (eight months and 23 days–not that I’m counting obsessively or anything).

That’s definitely part of it. I suspect I’m also grieving for me, for the changes his death brought. Not the least of which is, he’s not here.

The living and dining room, seen from the breakfast counter in the kitchen. Steel dining table by that same sculptor….

His absence leaves me alone, without his company and with the care and feeding of half a block of property, a 2,400 square-foot house with attached guest cottage (a house which while quite wonderful inside and out, isn’t quite finished; it’s lacking trim, some cabinetry, a finished master bath, and interior doors), and a 1,700 square-foot brick and timber-frame shop building that turned 100 years old this year. I am not, as I’ve said before, Tool Girl. I’m learning, but building and restoring and fixing does not come naturally to me as it did to Richard.

I don’t have his support in a host of other ways, from cooking and paying bills, to talking about every aspect of our lives and snuggling.

I’m learning to live as Woman Alone. And mostly, I’m okay with the concept. I don’t have much choice. The execution of that concept, though, needs a lot of practice and brings tough decisions.

Richard’s historic shop/sculpture studio

The most important decision, which I’ve been mulling for months, is what to do with this “lovingly crafted” house and guest cottage combo, the grounds, and the historic shop. The place is too big for me, and while I am devoted to finishing it, I don’t want to devote the rest of my life to maintaining it. I’m a writer, not a curator.

I had imaged forming a partnership with an arts non-profit and selling them the property at a much-reduced price to use as a community center for creative endeavor, along with, of course, serving as a home for the Terraphilia Artist/Writer Residency program.

That partnership didn’t happen. And the residency needs to change in order to survive.

The upshot? I have decided to sell the house my love built for us, along with the cottage, the restored dryland meadow yard, and his shop. There’s that finish work first, so I don’t plan to put the place on the market until next summer. (If you know of anyone who is hankering for small-town life in a house heated and cooled by the sun, with its own organic kitchen garden and wildflower yard, plus a generously sized studio, feel free to pass the word along….)

A small house with big views, heated by the sun and connected to the surrounding landscape.

Where will I go? Not far. I’m going to build my own much smaller house on one “arm” of this formerly blighted industrial property. I’ve already subdivided that chunk, and am working with a designer on plans for a house that incorporates much of what I love about this place, in less space. A lot less: 860 square feet for the house, plus a small garage with a second-floor studio.

There’s uncertainty in this decision–money, timing, finishing the current house, selling the property, downsizing, and so on. But it feels right. When it’s not terrifying, that is.

That’s life as Woman Alone, or at any stage of our allotted span: we feel our way along, learning, growing, sometimes terrified or grieving or confused, but walking forward as best we can anyway, hearts and spirits open.

Here I go….