musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Musings (Page 2 of 10)

Insulating Oneself Against the Cold, and the Darker Places in One’s Mind

The Home Improvement Series, Part 9 of 10

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The problem: The vermiculite abatement (see The Home Improvement Series, Part 4) also stripped the attic of its insulation, just ahead of a New England winter. Not good. For me, a person who hates being cold (it must have been a previous life experience), new insulation was essential.

The metaphor: It wasn’t just about restoring physical warmth. It felt like I was craving emotional warmth and protection from the darker, colder thoughts, in addition to the elements. It was also about making the most of one’s circumstances, and about being comfortable in one’s own skin.

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Fitting It All Together: The Repairing of Door Frames

The Home Improvement Series, Part 8 of 10

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The problem: Things weren’t quite fitting right.

The metaphor: Squaring up the frame to accept a new door felt like working on the structure of one’s life. Sometimes, one must examine our structured life to make sure it will allow for new ideas and experiences to come in.

It is important to have structure in one’s life, to face the world and come at new challenges from a secure and steady place, but it is possible to become overly rigid. A dear friend once said to me that one of the most important lessons we can learn as we get older is to be flexible.

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New Doors Will Open to New Possibilities

The Home Improvement Series, Part 7 of 10

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The problem: Corrosion, and in some cases, an incorrect type of door. For example, a door to the garage that houses a gas burner must be fire-resistant, not made of wood. A crappy wooden interior door with no insulation and no deadbolt is not a good idea for an outside door.

The metaphor: I must keep myself secure from negative outside influences and distractions that keep me from my important work. But at the same time, doors allow escape from confinement, and they allow others in.

New doorways can represent new possibilities, as in a direction not previously investigated. As one steps across a threshold, choosing a new direction, one learns more about oneself and the world.

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New Windows, Better Access and a Fresh Outlook

The Home Improvement Series, Part 6 of 10

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The problem: The windows were broken — hard to open; even more difficult to close.

The metaphor: I am hoping for a clearer vision outside of myself and my immediate surroundings. Also, when the windows are clear, when defenses are cautiously lowered, others are allowed to see in.

In the past, I have had difficulty in navigating access to the outside world. The question has always been: What do you share and what do you keep private? Once you give others complete access, it is difficult to pull that access away. You may be seen as insincere. It is best to have clear boundaries from the beginning. But don’t be too difficult to open.

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A Small, Rotting, Rickety Old Porch

The Home Improvement Series, Part 5 of 10

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The problem: Sometimes something that’s old and no longer viable must be fully knocked down and cleared out before you can begin anew. In a physical sense, it was an old wooden enclosed front porch—tiny, nearly useless and sinking fast into the ground. The entire thing was pitched at an angle, the roof no longer level. Long ago, carpenter ants had feasted and moved on to more fertile surroundings. It was long past time for me to move on as well.

The metaphor: Like the old porch, I had become rickety in my belief and confidence. I needed to break out of the narrow confines of my self-image and into a more expansive space where I had room to grow.

It’s about expanding one’s boundaries, real or imagined, and setting one’s sights on broader possibilities and a wider horizon. The new porch will be made larger and open to the outdoors. There will be expanded vision, out to the ocean and to the open sky, getting out of my comfort zone and out of a restricted space, into the larger world.

Remade of stronger material, we will be resilient in the face of strong winds, challenges and adversity.

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What’s a Little Asbestos Between Friends?

a.k.a. The Vermiculite Abatement

The Home Improvement Series, Part 4 of 10

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The problem: Nasty vermiculite in the attic, under and around fiberglass batting. Extremely difficult to accurately test, as samples can vary and asbestos fibers settle over time. It was tested by the manufacturer for barium, which indicated that it was indeed theirs, and most probably contained asbestos. The presence of this godawful substance seriously complicates the sale of a home and renders the entire space virtually unusable (unless one wishes to take chances with one’s health). Not to mention the fact that it’s as messy as all get-out, and ends up everywhere if you’re not careful. The presence of vermiculite nullifies eligibility for energy efficiency rebates.

A little history: Vermiculite as an insulation material may have seemed like a good idea at the time (1920s, when the mine began operation, until 1990), but as it happened, like so many things, it was a really bad idea. The infamous Libby, Montana mine, owned by the W.R. Grace Company, became embroiled in controversy in the ’90s, when people in and around the mine began dying of asbestos-related illnesses. It was discovered that the mine was contaminated with asbestos. As part of a court settlement, money was eventually awarded to former miners, Libby residents and homeowners who used their Zonolite product (more than 35 million homes).

The metaphor: For a while now, I have been locked inside a mental prison, not seeing or believing that things in my life can change. Removal of mental toxins like old guilt, fear, uncertainty and lack of confidence is critical to my future well-being. I have been existing within narrow confines, not wanting to take changes, but the time has come to stretch out and explore other areas of experience, so I can reach my full potential.

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New Roof, Higher Aspirations

The Home Improvement Series, Part 3 of 10

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The problem: The roof of my porch had started to leak, and I was fearful that the winter winds would bring further damage.

The metaphor: These past few years, I have been feeling shaky and vulnerable — physically, emotionally and spiritually. This year, I have been fortifying myself for whatever lies ahead, while trying to leave myself open to new ideas and opportunities.

It made sense to construct a protective barrier, like the roof’s new protective barrier against ice and harsh conditions. A ridge vent lets fresh air in, and I try to not close myself off completely from other people and new experiences. After threatening for years to move to the West Coast, I decide to stay on the East Coast for the time being, and focus on bettering my situation and my perception of the situation. Much of everything is perception.

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Cleaning Gutters of Mud and Small Maple Saplings that had Begun to Grow

The Home Improvement Series, Part 2 of 10

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The problem: Old mud from autumn leaves and maple saplings from prior years had settled nicely and made a home for themselves in the roof gutters. Baby trees were now taking root, preventing water from freely flowing to the ground.

The metaphor: The difficulties of the past months, after losing my parents in 2017, and the subsequent paperwork, purging and self-examination, had left me emotionally “gummed up.” Old debris from my life, sadness and regrets, was getting in the way of creative flow. I couldn’t write. Suddenly, I had nothing to say. It was the worst — and longest — case of writer’s block I had ever experienced. I had the time, but no longer had the will. Not knowing what else to do, I began to unclog things on the physical plane, hoping that the spiritual plane would soon follow.

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But for the grace of god

Dear Diary,

I had a ‘but for the grace of god goes I’ moment today.

For many months, I’ve been absorbed in my life, my self-doubts, my madness. And then I was forced off my little island, away from the comfort of my lair and into the big, bad world.

Julie, the spoiled; Julie, the privileged; Julie, she with her head up her ass
with her first world problems and neuroses.

I was in the Lynn Economic Opportunity office. I had no business being there, among the truly needy — single moms struggling with multiple jobs to keep their kids fed, clothed and relatively healthy; older folks trying to get by with meager, monthly social security payments.

Why was I there? I was trying to get income verified for a Barrier Mitigation Grant, a program administered by Mass Save and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources for middle-income homeowners so they could grab a chunk of money from the state to get rid of asbestos containing materials during a home improvement project.

As I sat down to wait my turn, it occured to me that many of those who came into this office were likely homeless or living in section 8 housing. There were WIC brochures and information about Head Start and fuel assistance programs in kiosks on the wall.

And here I was, with my canvas bag full of mortgage papers, account statements from my brokerage, a passport, a list of estate debts and an inheritance.

Julie, the non-hispanic white caucasion; Julie, the fortunate;
Julie, the loathsome.

When it came time, I took a seat at the woman’s desk and prefaced my financial story with a lame apology, something to the effect of “I’m a bit embarrassed to be here, as I’m much better off than many,” followed quickly by, “I just want to say, you’re doing very important work here. Thank you.”

It sounded ridiculous, and I felt like the pathetic, self-righteous, holier than thou white girl that she was no doubt sizing me up as. But she handled my awkwardness graciously and seemed pleased with the compliment.

I wonder now how those in the Lynn Economic Opportunities office feel about acting as a clearinghouse for what’s certainly a stream of middle-class folks trying to get those elusive cash grants. She was polite enough not to let on.

What was more embarrassing was that, taking just my income into consideration, she said it looked like I was in their low-income range. Surely not! I have substantial stock and IRA portfolios, my own house, and last year, before mom and dad passed away, they supplemented my income whenever I had trouble paying the bills. But because I was a freelance worker, they immediately knocked 40% off my wages for their calculations. That’s the rules. It seemed wrong somehow.

Dad would say, jokingly, “We never should have raised you to be so honest. That will be your undoing.” Perhaps. But they also raised me to be compassionate towards others, and to recognize injustices, however slight.

They both worked in the medical field, helping people in large and small ways. Mom was a registered nurse. Dad was a medical equipment researcher, with patents for light and sound scanning devices that could detect breast and prostate cancers. They both served in the Navy during World War II. After retirement, Mom volunteered at the local blood bank and cared for an elderly neighbor whose own family had abandoned. She became my adopted grandmother. When I was young, Mom brought me along to collect old clothing for the Revitalization Corp, a charity group in Hartford. Me? I’m a wannabe writer with a few clients and a half-baked notion to write novels “someday.”

Julie — the underachiever, the anxious, the unwashed.

Helping people afford asbestos abatement, whether they’re low income or middle income isn’t really a big deal. It’s expensive work, and many people earning even $45,000 a year, especially in the Boston area, won’t have $10,000 available for a home improvement project, even for one that could have health ramifications. Truth be told, a $7,000 abatement grant is nothing compared to the special treatment in place for the wealthy, from tax loopholes to offshore bank accounts, so that they can hold onto more of their money.

Do the wealthy also ponder the unfairness of it all?

Maybe I’ll get some assistance. Maybe I won’t. But one thing I do realize now is that I must find a way to give back, somehow, to those not as fortunate as I. This is the real reason I was in that office this morning.

Julie, the awakened; Julie, the humbled; Julie, the grateful.

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The Home Improvement Series: Dead Trees and Frightful Shrubbery

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This has been a very strange year for me. Circumstances forced me into the role of “homeowner” — a character I’ve never felt comfortable with, and a performance I’ve never been terribly good at. The year began with having to assess and clear out the contents of our family home (for nearly 50 years), with the intention of listing it for sale. There was never any question — debts had to be settled, and it was the only way I could manage it. The place was in rough condition, due to years of necessary neglect (life happens). I undertook a few necessary repairs, so that people wouldn’t get electrocuted and the walls wouldn’t crumble and left it at that. The house was sold “as is.”

I then turned to my own Massachusetts hovel. I say that lovingly, but the place was a mess. Not quite as bad as the Connecticut home, but close. I suddenly found myself with some funds to clear dead trees, clear baby trees from the gutters, replace a leaking roof, remove godawful vermiculite from an attic, fix broken windows, replace a rotting porch and steps — you get the idea. We’re not talking about a designer kitchen or a marble bathroom. It’s a 2-bedroom ranch built in 1955. It is what it is. But property values in the Boston area being what they are, it made sense to sink some money in.

My uncertain foray into the world of home improvements coincided with a major Saturn return reassessment of my life. What should I get rid of? What do I want to keep? How should I move forward? And the big, all-encompassing “Who Am I?”

Welcome to The Home Improvement Series.

Dead Trees and Frightful Shrubbery

The Home Improvement Series, Part 1 of 10

The problem: One day in early March, after a home inspection from my homeowners’ insurance company, I received a notification of substandard conditions. It was as it sounds. I was threatened with the cancellation of my policy if I didn’t immediately clear dangerously overhanging tree limbs and plants growing in the gutters. Though not specifically outlined in the letter, there were also overgrown bushes and vines that threatened to swallow the house whole.

I had begun to cut what things I could manage with a hand saw, leaving a graveyard of forlorn trunks. Plus, there was the crabapple tree, which had all three trunks felled by different years’ storms, one after another. Sadly, none fell into the street (which would have brought out the town DPI crew to clear it), but happily, none came through my bedroom window.

Yes, it bloomed like that, but mowing the lawn was a bitch.

Yes, it bloomed like that, but mowing the lawn was a bitch.

The metaphor: I had let my insecurities and fears grow unattended all around me, and they had taken over to the point where I couldn’t see clear of them. Without a complete clearing of past ideas of oneself and one’s situation, it is impossible to move boldly forward into a brighter future. Uncertainties, like tangled vines and gnarled branches, had blocked out the sun and prevented more delicate thoughts and newer growth from taking hold and flourishing.

After the dead trees and unsightly shrubbery pressed up against the vinyl siding were removed, each stump was pulverized to prepare the ground for something new to be planted, replacing the old with the new. It is critically important to fully remove the old ways and old ideas that keep one from moving forward in one’s life.

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