Thunder: I Was Dreaming of Bigger Things, And Wanna Leave My Own Life Behind.

And now you know why I love him:

Today this is not a boring watercolor blog. Today this is a fascinating philosophical blog in which we ponder new furniture, cats, and the randomness of life.

What got me thinking about new furniture and cats (it’s a twofer) is because, as you read last week, we got two new couches delivered to our house here on the north shore of Long Island, and the cats immediately made themselves comfortable:

Right. The upholstery of these couches (a fashionable tweed in shades of gray with contrasting piping)  will never see the light of day as long as this herd is in residence. We will remove the sheets when we entertain ..wait…I’m laughing too hard … because we “entertain” about three times a year … right: When we entertain, the sheets and the cats will be banished and it will appear, to all who enter, that Top Cat and I live a normal life with furniture fit for grown ups and a not-crazy number of pets. Keeping up appearances, and all that.

So far, the couches are just couches, and not the catalysts for a great change in life like my previous couch experience. That’s OK, I can be patient and let life unspool itself on its own terms but this I know: my choice of couch has put something in motion.

So, with notions of unforeseen consequences swirling in my head, that’s why this old review in the New York Times (I’m catching up on my reading) from May 7, 2017, resonated with me. The cover story is about Penelope Lively:

The British novelist Penelope Lively is fascinated by contingency — the idea that an entire life is shaped by small decisions that seem inconsequential at the time. In 2005, she published a sort of anti-memoir, “Making It Up,” in which she imagined all the different directions her life might have taken. What if she’d become an archaeologist? What if she’d married an American? What if she’d had an illegitimate child? Sitting in an upstairs room at her London house at the end of March, she said she still thought this way. “I have six grandchildren, in their early 20s,” she said, “and I look at them now and think they’re making the sort of decisions that are going to determine the rest of their lives. It’s quite alarming. But mercifully you don’t know that at the time.”

Does this strike a chord with you? Does this make you look back, and review your 20s, and speculate on the small choices that you made back then that had lasting, monumental repercussions? Because it did me. And I already knew the exact point when my life took off on a trajectory that, at the time, I was completely unaware of.

It was in 9th grade, when I decided that I was going to learn French in high school. I was pretty good at it, and then I went to Paris, and traveled in France, and picked up a lot more language, so that by the time I was 30 I was fluent. And my being able to speak French has totally changed my life, not least because back then, when people knew you spoke French, they assumed that you were far better educated, and not the hick that you actually were. I have leveraged my French language skills into life experiences that were far, far beyond my imagination back when I was a 13-year-old picking courses at Upper Moreland Junior High in Willow Grove, PA. All the way to West Africa, Buenos Aries, and Giverny.

I wonder if you, too, Dear Readers, looking back, can pinpoint a moment when you stepped down the road less travelled, chose the prize behind Door # 3, listened to your heart and not your head, or listened to your head and not your heart, and that — as the poet said — has made all the difference.

Today’s musings are dedicated to our Dear Reader Alex, who is at a crossroads. Which is a pretty cool place to be when you are at a time of life when you thought that crossroads were something that only happened when you were too dumb to know that you were at a crossroads.

What’s your story? If it wasn’t taking French I in 1969, what was it?

In the meantime, I was at the gym and this song came up on the huge video/speaker system and I loved it…although I was doing bicep curls at at the time and hating it, and this song gave me the oooopmph to pull through. These guys are new to me — are they new to you?

It also struck me as pertinent to this conversation (except for the contortionists in the video what is up with that?) that, When You Are Looking for A Way, Everything Becomes a Path (Alex, You Are Thunder):

Have a great weekend, everyone. Next week, we will have to discuss Kirra’s sabbatical to study music in Salzburg !!! and Elizabeth decamping to Morocco !!!…all you Dear Readers have such  interesting lives!!!



15 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan June 1, 2018 @ 3:34 am

    Oh Steve is lovely. Our Mr Jolly used to charge up the stairs in the morning when he knew we were waking up, he chatted all the way up the stairs at the top of his deep booming voice. He loved a chat. When Mr Jolly left us and eventually Clive happened along we were surprised at his tiny tiny soft voice, he is now getting a bit more chatty, no match for the happy gregarious Mr Jolly but nice to have around. Have you thought about leather upholstery? Marvellous and easy to clean the cat fur slides right off. Thanks for the great blog, my French teacher said I was fluent at about twenty five years of age and after about fifteen years of learning French… sadly I never used it and all that money was wasted. You put me to shame Vivian.

  2. Kathy June 1, 2018 @ 4:45 am

    I love Steve. He reminds me of one of my ferals, TT, who is also black and white. TT chirps and answers me like Steve does. I was enamored with you when you made Steve’s winter abodes.

  3. Casey June 1, 2018 @ 7:23 am

    I love Steve!! All that, and a Manx too!!!

    For me, it was choosing college because that determined several life-long friendships that have made all the difference. College is where you learn to be different than your family (in my case) and I was lucky that I diverged at a great place, a small liberal arts college in New England, that could not have been more different from my roots in the midwest.

    Life is all about pivot points. Or crossroads. And it’s true that as the years go by, you find yourself at fewer and fewer of those life-changing moments, but they are there. Don’t they always say that Life Is Change?

    Good luck Alex, on setting out on a path of your own choosing.

  4. Casey June 1, 2018 @ 7:26 am

    P.S. Wow. That is some herd of cats hogging all the good spots on the new couch. The sound of their purring must be deafening.

  5. Maryanne in SC June 1, 2018 @ 8:58 am

    The “That Moment When…” story — September 1969, starting college. I was going to be an English teacher. Dreadfully homesick, but determined to visit every building on campus before I gave up and went home.
    Strolling the upper floor of the Student Union, I heard rock music coming from the end of a dark hallway.
    It was Led Zep. (YES!) I went down the corridor, and hesitantly opened the door to the radio station studio.

    Ever the mistress of the Obvious, I asked, “Is this where you play the records?” (Children, it was 1969. Everything was on vinyl.)

    The cute D.J. looked up, said, “Yes. Can you type?” Boom.

    I became the station’s traffic manager, and then got an on-air slot. I added lots of Radio & TV courses to my class schedule. I picked up jobs at radio and TV stations. I joined the tribe, and now …49 years later… it’s still work that inspires me every day. It was how I met Dear Reader Jeanie.

    But if it wasn’t for Led Zeppelin …

  6. Steve June 1, 2018 @ 9:35 am

    I love those cat pictures! I expect we all bave moments when our lives could have taken one course or another — I can definitely think of several — but fortunately I think I made the right choice each time. It would be pretty disheartening to think I’d made the wrong ones. Or maybe there is no right/wrong — maybe it’s just a choice and then a different road.

  7. Margaret June 1, 2018 @ 9:47 am

    In 1979, at age 20, I envisioned my life as a series of boring office jobs and crappy apartments. One day on my way home from work, I stopped at a consolidated military recruitment center. The doors were in alphabetical order, so I ended up in the Air Force. I was trained in broadband radio maintenance, made a career out of it, got to live in Turkey and England as well as several US locations, and also earned several college degrees. Somehow I remained a staunch liberal and now teach English at a two-year college. The only problem is that life once again seems a little too settled…..

  8. Alex June 1, 2018 @ 9:55 am

    Thank you for the dedication! And for the lovely Steve clip–BOTH your voices are delightful.

    I’ve given myself one year (from May) to find the path that doesn’t simply lead away from the bad, but rather leads forcefully towards the good. This is because turning points in my life tended to be of the bolter variety, which is a longstanding multi-generational family trait (when the going gets tough, the MacKenzies get going–run away!). Now I want to run *TO*, not *FROM*. It’s a difficult mindset to change, and I thank you again for posting such wonder words of late, at a time when I needed them.

    My couch has a slipcover. What can I say? Dogs rule!

    Maryanne: As a teenager, I painted lots of portraits of Robert Plant. In 1972 I got to see them in concert. 23 years later, I saw Page & Plant in concert, and loved them just as much as ever. You just can’t go wrong with Led Zep! What an amazing turning point you had!

  9. Susan June 1, 2018 @ 10:32 am

    Your little chat with Steve is very endearing. Mutual admiration, love and trust. Love the covered couches and all the kitties enjoying the new furniture. I can relate. My 3 cushion couch is the dog’s couch in the living room. The sectional is for people. Our fur babies must have their creature comforts! In my early 20’s I made a decision not to circumnavigate the world in a sailboat and take my dream job. The job led to more opportunity. Travel and rising in the corporate world. Sometimes I wonder what would have occurred, if I went sailing??? The path, not taken. Some would say, it was not meant to be or fate rules. Questions?

  10. Patricia June 1, 2018 @ 3:57 pm

    My moment was the exact second I decided to divorce my first husband. And that opened the doors that led to the rest of my life. Thank you rotten marriage and subsequent divorce; you helped me become the person I am now.
    Right now I consider nearly just about any motion above shoulder level as “contortion”. Fractured my right shoulder in February and just last week was able to shave my armpits! Made me ridiculously happy. The video was fun and yes, new to me too.

  11. Becky June 1, 2018 @ 7:22 pm

    I loved the video of Steve talking with you. What a sweetheart! Your covered couch makes me laugh. Both of mine are covered with quilts…..they both belong to the dog. I got the urge to change furniture around in the tv room and it completely unnerved her….so I moved it back. Sometimes change is short lived.
    The beginning of your blog is so profound. You never stop to really think about where life takes you. I ended up in a college where my best friend wanted to go, but I was accepted and she wasn’t. I became an elementary schoolteacher…..but my love was art. I often wonder if I had been more adventurous and pursued art where I would be today instead of retired and at the beck and call of the dog. (Here I agree with Alex wholeheartedly) In her mind it is ball time all day long. I am not complaining. It was a good life and my life is good now….taking art lessons….doing some light traveling and just enjoying every day.
    Elizabeth’s and Kirra’s choices sound so wonderful and exciting. Best wishes to both.

  12. Carol June 2, 2018 @ 10:22 am

    I love Steve, too! My Rocky is a tuxedo and squeaks when I talk to him.
    I listened to my heart in college and switched to art instead of elementary ed. One of my wisest choices.

  13. Kirra June 3, 2018 @ 3:12 am

    Thanks for the philosophical blog this week Vivian! But also all the lovely cat photos, and a video of your chat with Steve who is very cute. You know I’m sure the cats are appreciating the nice new couches with their firm stuffing even if you have to cover it to keep it nice for people to use.

    Thinking about a small decision which may have changed your life can be tricky…..I am glad that my parents brought us up in a small town in the hilly countryside where my twin sister and I made a group of friends in primary and high school who are still our best friends now. It feels different to growing up in a city. Even though most of us now live in various cities we’re still close and it’s really nice to have people that understand your life history and can relate to you easily. The second thing would be that I persisted to study music teaching, even though when I applied they made a mistake with processing my university application and I didn’t get in! After many phone calls it turned out I had got into my chosen degree but they had made an administrative mistake. I love my job and all my music teacher friends I have made, who knew there was so many cool music teachers out there? Not me…until I became one, ha ha.

    I feel I am being rather adventurous now heading off to live overseas in Salzburg for a year and study, even though it’s always been a wonderful dream to go and study this international course for music teachers (since I went to a summer school there in 2011). I haven’t lived anywhere else but Australia, and though I love travelling I know living somewhere else will be different. The funniest thing will be living in the same time zone as my sister and brother who both live in Berlin, and also not in the same time zone as my parents in Australia. It will be an adventure and at the least a ‘mid life retirement’ from work, as my friend called it when she lived in the USA for two years for of her husband’s job.

    Good luck Alex, I hope you find a positive way to move onwards! You still have many months till next May to come up with your action plan.

  14. jeanie June 5, 2018 @ 7:12 pm

    What IS it about those black-and-white cats? Lizzie talks incessantly, both conversationally and otherwise. I loved seeing your Steve in action. Of course you adore him — who wouldn’t? And Kirra, big sigh! Salzburg! And Morocco for Elizabeth? Wow!

    I think my life has been full of accidental decisions. I happened into my career by mistake. Someone asked me to volunteer for the public tv phone bank and then to do pledge breaks and pretty soon I was working at the TV station while I worked my way into the masters I finished (the first was in theatre like my undergrad and ironically, I use those skills almost every day of my life!). Which, as pointed out above, is indeed how I met Dear Reader Maryanne in SC! The other was when I decided to move into a duplex rather than another apartment (after being evicted from my apartment for an illegal cat, the late, great Stimpy). The duplex belonged to none other than the Rick I’ve spent the last 22 years with (it took us three years of being neighbors — because I didn’t take his place — to get to the starting line but all was well. Ironically, when I am old and infirm, I intend to move into that original duplex of his I looked at all those years before because it has a ceiling tall enough for a big tree and after all, it would be about time we sort of actually lived together!

  15. Marilyn June 7, 2018 @ 11:04 pm

    That’a quite a pile of cats on the couch. Love the talker too. Sometimes that talker actually sound like they are speaking English, at least mine does. I think yours does too.
    What an interesting thought. Hummmm? Well I went to a college that my family found acceptable, but would have rather gone elsewhere. It did change the direction I would have loved. It took me until 40 years old to do what I wanted, but then I had a husband and kids. I sometimes wonder how life would have been if I had rejected the college my family approved of and went the direction I wanted. Life has a way of twisting and turning in ways we don’t fully know.

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