Saturday, December 26, 2015

In a Fix: The Danger of Renovation Relationships

When I was younger, I entertained a romantic illusion about buying a fixer-upper house and restoring it with the man of my dreams. No turnkey ease for us! We would steam away wallpaper, scrape carpet from hardwood floors, and paint the walls—tenderly wiping the paint splotches off of each other’s noses.

And then I grew up.

Well, partly. I nixed the idea of fixing up the house—I get a crick in my neck when I even think of repainting walls. Problem was, I shifted the idea to the realm of relationships; I thought I could find a fixer-upper man and transform him into flower-boxed, picket-fenced realtor candy. I would help him achieve my—er—his dreams for himself. How marvelous of me!

Strangely enough, the men I dated also tried to fix me. Imagine! In fact, the main relationship of my 20s was a doomed, mutual renovation attempt:

He thought he needed more money to make me happy. I thought I needed his happiness to be happy.

He would have liked me thinner. I would have liked him to build a bit more muscle.

He wanted me to look better in photographs. I wanted him to be as kind as he looked in photographs.

That real estate bubble burst long before 2008.

We couldn’t renovate each other, but more importantly, neither of us had bothered to renovate ourselves. I am so grateful for that messy relationship because of what it taught me.

Now, on the brink of forty, I know that I don’t want a partnership built around constant trips to the relationship equivalent of Home Depot. With someone or without, life throws us enough hail damage, burst water pipes, and busted heating units (literally and figuratively). I want any improvement adventures to be the exception, not the rule. As much as possible, I want to be turnkey. I want the man I share my life with to be turnkey, too.

In short: I’ve done my work, and I’m looking for a man who’s done the same.

Still, I’m single. Thoroughly. Not even a whiff of “it’s complicated.” I enjoy my life, and I want to share it with someone. So last year, I succumbed to friends’ suggestions that I re-enter the world of online dating.


“Fine,” I said. Years before, I had tried, but I cancelled an account after glancing up at the “mail” button one night and—in a brief second—mistaking it for “mall.” I panicked that I would start to treat this search like shopping.

This time around, I tried another site. I dutifully uploaded photos and filled in the little boxes. In the field asking, “What are you looking for in a partner?” I listed several qualities that work both ways—like cultivating joy despite circumstances and communicating openly.

But reading the profiles of my “matches”—at least the ones who’ve taken the time to fill out their own little boxes—I am amazed at how few of these dear souls seem to have done their own work.

*Clarification before I proceed: I like men…I’m looking for one. I’m not bashing them here—they just happen to be the gender that I have experience searching for on dating sites. I am confident that plenty of women do the same things I mention…probably because I have done/thought some of them myself. With the exception of the photo-op.

When choosing traits they are looking for in a partner, many prospective matches opt for words like good listener and sympathetic. I have a theory that these are often “Fix Me” traits in disguise—a desire for external renovation instead of internal. Such words are the relationship real estate equivalent of: unfinished garage and undeveloped lot with potential. What these matches are usually saying is: “Yeah, I haven’t fixed parts of myself yet. I’m going to need someone to help me do it or…hey! You want to do it for me?”

No. Really, I don’t. And you shouldn’t want me to.   

When I do happen to find a potential match, or at least one who ran spell check, we usually move to the Q & A section. But…when selecting a round of questions to ask a prospective mate, many matches choose questions from the drop-down menu like: “If I came home tired from a long day at work, what would you do for me?” Again: “Fix me” alert.

On the site I’m using, you can also write your own questions. So I do. I ask things like: “What are the dreams you are working toward in your life?” That usually kills the conversation. In fact, it just did again last week. It fascinates me that few to none of my matches—or near matches—within a twenty-year age spectrum or from any country on earth (the search settings I chose)—is building their own “dream house.” They either want someone to build and/or renovate it for them, or they want to step right in to someone else’s.

(And one man out there apparently wants to attract a mate who’s interested in a photo of himself with his head sandwiched between a woman’s thighs. That’s not exactly the kind of dreaming I’m referring to.)

One match, a defense contractor, did seem promising. He’d filled out his profile with panache and wisdom, asked and answered meaningful questions, and sent me a Valentine’s email from Afghanistan. But after replying, I never heard from him again. Obviously, I still have some of my own work to do because I couldn’t help but wonder: was he killed in combat? That would be a terrible reason for the silence, and the more likely one is straight-up rejection. Of course, I hope it was just rejection….

Oh, humanity.

I’ve been thinking about turnkey in the context of relationships for years. But I only just looked up the word. According to Merriam Webster, turnkey’s primary definition is “one who has charge of a prison’s keys.” Hmmm. The second definition is an adjective meaning “complete and ready to be used.” Also, hmmm.

I am saddened by how many of us choose to sit in the fix’er-upper (or fix‘im upper) of our lives with the Home Improvement Channel cranked up to full volume and the roof about to fall in. If we do hear the sound of a key turning in the front door (Aha, There is my soul mate! Finally!), we often mistake it for 1) the warden coming to release us from our drafty, self-made “prison,” or 2) the arrival of one who is ready to use us—or someone we’re ready to use. Unhealthy dynamics whatever way you tilt the miniblinds.

I’ve observed something in successful relationships that have lasted twenty-, thirty-, forty-plus years; those partners know how to share their lives. But they share from their own wholeness—not trying to take from the other what they need or trying to give to the other what that person lacks. They each do their own work, and then they work together to build something even greater together.  

It has taken me several continents, years, and online dating sites to be able to propose a third definition of turnkey as it would apply to relationships: “Complete and ready to share.” So I am adding “good sharer” to the mutual list of traits I seek in a partner. And I’m practicing it here by sharing this essay.

Meanwhile, I keep my life ready to share with someone. I continue to enjoy the things I’ve fixed and to fix the things I haven’t—in myself, no one else. I don’t expect perfection, and I’m hardly perfect: the door to my heart can stick and requires a bit of a push. The ventilation system of my attitude can short out and needs occasional service to let in the fresh air of perspective. But I know how to get such things back in working order myself. Even more importantly, I’ve gone down to my soul foundations, made sure that the load-bearing values are built with integrity, and painted this entire structure in the color palette of joy-despite-circumstance. The furnishings aren’t bad, either.

“Charming and quirky” would be suitable descriptors for my real estate listing—I mean online dating profile.

And if my future partner does come home from a long, hard day at work, I’d love to make him his favorite dinner. Among other things. But I’ll do it from a place of completeness—not fixing or being used.

Turnkey woman is ready to share her life with turnkey man.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The If of Paris

I wrote this poem about two months ago. I had forgotten about it until I returned from Paris and was organizing poetry this morning. I didn't change a thing, but I liked reading the last line aloud without the "if." 

The If of Paris 

If you spoke my name
If I gave you roses
If you built me palaces
If the table is set for two
If the table is set for two million
If your markets sell delight
If I wore this dress to walk with you
If you sing in a choir
If I sang from your hills
If we danced to your river
If we need love more than water
If we remember our history
If this day ends
If it begins
If there is light

Monday, October 12, 2015

Orange Trees, Zellij tiles, and Tagines

The Deep Travel Workshop is about to begin! I'm looking forward to exhibiting some of my travel sketches of Morocco at the legendary Cafe Clock Marakech next week. If you want to see the virtual version (or order prints), check out my gallery for Travel Vignettes Morocco. Here's a glimpse: 

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Elements of Southern Oregon: An Art Exhibit

I am in love with Southern Oregon in general, and Jacksonville in particular. The art in this exhibit portrays elements of our region—both natural and man-made.

There’s nature: I walk the Jacksonville Woodlands almost every day when I’m in town. The Manzanita, the oak, the pine—all have become like neighbors. Each time I walk a trail, I notice a new detail: the vein of a leaf, the spread of a petal. These paintings celebrate such details. Heres a sampling: 

"Acorn Falls," 12 x 12, Acrylic & Charcoal on Canvas

"Milkweed Sings" 12 x 12, Acrylic & Charcoal on Canvas

"Thistle Dreams," 12 x 12, Acrylic & Charcoal on Canvas

There’s the man-made: I often sketch places and spaces I enjoy in our region—from coffee shops to vineyards. These vignettes capture an element, too: a flower pot, a sun umbrella, a window. I like to use quick sketches to highlight everyday surroundings. Heres a peak at a few of those watercolors: Lucky & thunder at Applegate Lake (a man-made reservoir), under the umbrella at Pony Espresso, and overlooking Dancing vineyards....

And Ill also be showing other paintings I have created in Southern Oregon that don’t necessarily portray its subject matter. But since they were “born” here, they, too, are elements of this region I’m happy to call home.

The art reception will be held on Thursday, 8 October, from 4:30-6:30. The show runs through the January 6. 

Pioneer Village
805 North Fifth Street
Jacksonville, OR 97530 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sol y Sola

Find this and other sketches of Chile here

***A new and improved (and hopefully published!) version of this poem coming soon....

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Heaven. I’m in heaven.
And my heart beats so
that I can hardly speak
and I seem to find the happiness I seek
when we're out together
dancing cheek to cheek.
       —from "Cheek to Cheek" by Irving Berlin

heaven, sky, air

On a gray and grafitti'd street
in a town named for paradise,
three men in fluorescent jackets
take a bread and beer break.
With my Spanish limited to nouns,
I ask the way to Ascensor
Espiritu Santo—the funicular
named Holy Spirit.
The men smile, and one points
around the corner.
I thank them, walk five steps,
pay 100 pesos, and climb
into the square box
that will take me up the steep hill.

A man sits inside on the thin bench,
holding a plastic bag of fresh pan.
The funicular fills with the smell
of his bread. Another man enters,
then an old woman, also carrying
a bag of bread. Then one more woman
and a young man. We are six.
We smell like a panadaria.

We sit and stand in silence.
I want to ask how often these residents
ascend the oily-railed tracks, but I don't have
the words beyond bread and heaven. 

The box lurches and we launch up,
the three of us on the bench shifting
into each other in a bodily kiss of greeting—
the three standing sway as if starting to dance.
Who extends the invitation?
And to what will we or they be invited?

We rise the mountainside without using
our own limbs. We have entered a body
beyond ourselves. We have been invited
to a communion of passage,
drinking height as we rise up the rails
to a different story. And though we don’t feel it,
we are being transformed in these loud
seconds of ascension, as gears sing
with practiced harmony, as the memory
of an oven sends the bread praying
to air, sky, heaven.

The Sunday before, I visited
a small church, knowing only the couple
who invited me but not their language.
All the small congregation kissed
my gringa cheek in greeting as they entered.
I waited for the six guitars to begin their praise,
my face raw with buenos dias.
Just before the music began,
a woman with a box of grape juice in her hand
and worry on her face, asked me a question
I could not unravel the words to.
Yet I knew what she asked.
Si, I belief. To being able
to eat the bread and drink the blood.
Yes to remembering a body beyond myself.

The funicular stubs to a stop.
We passengers look anywhere but into
each other’s eyes. Maybe one minute passed,
yet all of history has broken open among us.
The plastic bread bags rustle, announcing
the end of this brief service.

The door rattles open. We arrive
to El Museo de Cielo Abierto.
Choose your translation: The museum of
Open air? Open sky? Open heaven?
Here, the walls, the streets, the stairs
are covered in murals dark and light,
dull and bright. A sleeping dog
and stack of pink trash bags watch
over the entrance to this steep place,
filled with every art—to this steep life,
the Museum of Open Heavens.

Yes, I choose heaven.