Herewith is the expanded, illustrated version of the newsletter I mailed out at the Winter Solstice to family and friends. Whenever you click your computer mouse on any highlighted, underlined phrase or word in this blogpost, you’ll see additional information and/or photos.
First, the Unhappiest News
The most significant personal event of 2019 was my joining the ranks of the “adult orphans” of the world. This year’s holidays will be the first for my family that my mom won’t be a part of.
Marge was 92 years old when she died, and until the aftermath of her injuries from her falling again in late August, we expected she might live many more years. Exhausted from coping with the debilitating results of three “minor” strokes she suffered several years ago, Mom told us at Thanksgiving last year that she really hoped she wouldn’t be here for another Thanksgiving, and she wasn’t: she died September 13th while Randy and I were away in England. Fortunately, the rest of my siblings were with mom during her final days.
Being one of the few people I know whose mothers lived as long as mine did, her suddenly and permanently not being part of my world any longer (my dad died in 1999) has been a somewhat disorienting experience. On the other hand, witnessing how unhappy and frustrated my mom had been trying to cope with her diminished mental abilities, and witnessing how much misery she was in when I last visited her (the day I left for the trip to England), I am grateful she’s no longer suffering. Plus mom hated being permanently incapacitated and unable to independently manage her personal affairs and be as active as she had been for so many decades.
At some point I plan to post something to my blog about what Marge was like, and what it was like to be her eldest son, and about the unusual experience of having one’s mom in one’s life for over 70 years. I’ve been putting off writing that blogpost, but I have very fond memories of what people wrote and/or said to me when they learned she had died and of what some people said at mom’s memorial service in October. All my partners and most of my friends knew or had met Marge, and she was adored and by all her relatives back in Arkansas, some of whom traveled to Georgia for the memorial service.
Meanwhile, my frequent trips over the past few years to visit mom after we moved her out of her house three years ago have been replaced with the tedious, unfamiliar task of settling mom’s estate.
The partnership Randy and I embarked on back in September 2017 is still going strong. Sometimes satisfactorily, sometimes exasperatingly, it continues in its original format: we still live in separate houses and spend probably as much time apart as we do together, especially during the daytime. Our routine is to spend three nights each week at my place, followed by a day and a night apart, then three nights at Randy’s house. (Fortunately, our houses are only 3.5 miles apart).
We don’t yet see a way to merge our households into a single, affordable, and sufficiently large house in a mutually-desirable (and affordable) neighborhood. Given the investments in, attachment to, and affection for our respective abodes – and the absurdly expensive Atlanta housing market – Randy and I may never end up living together 24/7. Then again, miracles do happen. Perhaps, as the Quakers say, “the way will open” at some point.
In any case, I am still quite smitten with Randy, and although Randy is happy with being semi-retired (vs. fully retired) from his career as an arts educator, we’re still finding lots of things to enjoy together as we gradually become better acquainted with each other’s families and circles of friends.
The combination of my having met Randy and being retired – and having sufficient savings to enjoy being retired instead of spending so many waking hours earning money, even at a job I mostly enjoyed – has definitely made these past few years one of the happiest chapters of my many-chaptered life.
Dept. of Domestic Bliss
I made several improvements to House & Garden this year, some of them practical as well as (“merely”) aesthetic changes. I mention these changes partly to indicate and emphasize how much I enjoy being in my house and yard, as tiny as they are.
• I switched my bedroom furniture into my previous study, and vice versa. Now Randy and I can enjoy the view of the back patio from the large floor-length windows in the “new” bedroom:
The room-swapping also resulted in more conveniently-arranged work surfaces in my study. I now need only one rolling desk chair to use all three work surfaces! And now I also now have room to import an additional filing cabinet, something I’ve long wanted to do but had no space for in my former study.
• Thanks to the generosity of my friend Charles, I added two additional bookcases in my guest room, making a total of four – enough space, finally, to house my still-growing collections of 200+ house décor and 100+ gardening books. These magnificent bookcases are identical, have deep shelves, and are stained a pleasant cottagey shade of green. My friend Maureen gave these bookcases to Charles and me when she purchased new bookcases for herself a few years ago.
• I replaced my dining room chairs with less rickety and way-more-comfortable ones. Which is a Very Good Thing, considering how often card games or Scrabble are played while sitting upon them.
• I replaced my previous refrigerator with one similar to the one I’ve long admired at my sister’s house: its freezer is located at the bottom instead of the top. Kitchen bliss – and no more leaking refrigerator!
• In April, my brother Michael built me a small flagstone patio in my front yard, something I’d long fantasized installing for those times when I’d rather sit out there and read or have lunch or watch ye passing parade instead of enjoying the privacy of my various backyard perches.
In November, I installed a flagstone walkway to connect the patio to the flagstone path that leads to my front door. Randy loaned me a table to use beside the bench out there. Voila! Another congenial outdoor sitting area!
• After putting it off for way too many years, I finally hired someone to install pairs of metal hand railings for both sets of outdoor steps to my house. Now my friends can visit me with less foreboding about their arrivals and departures. Safer for me and for Randy, too!
• I finally purchased a damper for the fireplace in my living room. If I live 20 more years, I will have recouped in lower monthly heating and air conditioning costs the expense of installing the dang thing.
• I spent a boatload o’ cash having four of my five clocks repaired and/or cleaned. Now the challenge is to get the three chiming ones to chime in unison!
I’ve only one negative thing to report, domesticity-wise, for 2019. Not foreseeing that it wouldn’t rain a drop during the three weeks Randy and I were in England in September, I didn’t arrange for anyone to water the plants in my garden. Probably 40% of my plants – even some of my potted herbs – didn’t survive the September drought, and my 20-year-old climbing hydrangea and 10-year-old gingko tree look mighty dead also. That’s a lotta (preventable) plant death for a single year.
Incidentally, after living in this house for 25 years now, I’ve begun wondering if my nest-feathering activities might be drawing to a close. I certainly can’t envision more major changes I’d like to make (well, changes I can afford), and there really is no room in my tiny abode for more furniture, more rugs, or even many more knickknacks!
Perhaps my life-long habit of trawling through garage sales, estate sales, thrift stores, consignment shops, and antique malls – a habit that, for better or worse, Randy shares with me – is too strong to ignore, and I’ll simply start replacing things I already have instead of adding to what’s already here, despite the fact that I’m very content with my current surroundings? Perhaps I’ll sensibly transfer my persistent abode-tinkering energies from inside the house to making some much-needed improvements to my front and back yards, and to re-establishing the inhabitability of my garden shed. All of these certainly need major attention before they, too, can be transformed into their long-fantasized-but-not-yet-realized ideal states.
• In April, my siblings and I – including my brother Michael, visiting from Oregon – spent a delightful weekend together at a rented condo on St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia. While staying there, we made forays onto Jekyll Island and to Amelia Island (where my sister Lori hopes to retire in a few years).
• In November, I joined my friends Franklin and Martha and Martha’s husband Peter for a day trip to Comer, Georgia, for a reunion dinner with a group of acquaintances from our exhilarating and profoundly formative years as undergrads at Mercer University.
Randy continues to be an enthusiastic and super-compatible travel companion, and we gallivanted together quite a bit this past year:
• In May we spent a week with ten Gay Spirit Visions friends at a rented house on St. George Island off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
• In June, I tagged along with Randy to Asheville, where he was attending a Gay Spirit Visions board meeting.
• In August, we drove down to Moultrie, Georgia, for memorial service for Randy’s nephew.
• In September, we enjoyed an extended stay in England: a week on a narrowboat cruising on the Oxford Canal with two friends; a week-long road trip through the Cotswolds; and brief visits to Oxford and to London.
• In October, we drove over to Mansfield, Georgia for the wedding of Randy’s niece.
• In November, we took a week-long road trip to Arkansas, spending about half that time exploring the Ozarks, which, despite the fact that I was born in Arkansas, I’d never seen. We spent three nights at the delightful circa 1890 New Orleans Hotel in downtown Eureka Springs:
We made several day trips from Eureka Springs, one of them to Bentonville, where we spent many hours at the excellent Museum of Native American History and the equally excellent (although Walmart fortune-funded) Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art where, among other marvelous things, we got to tour a re-located/re-constructed Frank Lloyd Wright house:
Another sightseeing highlight of our Ozarks road trip was our visit to Thorncrown Chapel just outside Eureka Springs. An amazing structure!
Before we arrived in Eureka Springs, we traveled down many gorgeous winding back roads to find the home of high school friend Chip Wood and his wife Pat, who’ve lived in rural Arkansas for many years.
After our Ozarks road trip, Randy and I (and two of my sisters, two nieces, and two of their kids) spent Thanksgiving Day with a passel of relatives near Little Rock, followed by a quick but fabulous visit with my aunt Gloria, who lives in North Little Rock:
Out-of-State Visitors to Chez McLendon in 2019
• My friend Roy, from Phoenix, in March.
• My brother Michael from Oregon, twice this year (in April when he was visiting our mom, and again in October, for mom’s memorial service).
• My former partner and dear friend Harvey, from San Francisco, in September.
• My cousins Gena and Rex from Arkansas and Scott and Laura from Louisiana, in October when they traveled here for mom’s memorial service.
• Gay Spirit Visions buds Kraig and Scotty, from Chicago, in Atlanta for a GSV board meeting in October.
Not a visitor this year, as she was for so many years, was my dear departed friend Blanche Flanders, who I met in the mid-1960s and who died in June 2018.
After all these months without her being alive, I am still in denial about the fact that we will never visit each other again, continuing to pretend that her absence is only temporary. Throughout the past year-and-a-half, there’ve been so many times I wanted to tell Blanche something, show her something, ask her opinion about one thing or another, or just sit and listen to her distinctive voice or hear her distinctive laugh again. Nothing like the permanent absence of a life-long friend to make you treasure the blessing of knowing other friends who are still among the living.
Miscellaneous Notes for 2019
• Something that I had been hoping for years would eventually materialize in Atlanta was a local Death Café. Two of them meet here monthly now, and 2019 was the year my schedule finally allowed me to start attending one of them. The sessions I attended were even more informative and moving than expected, so I look forward to more of them.
• I took a free online course about the Book of Kells, taught by faculty at Trinity College Dublin. I’ve taken several online courses in previous post-retirement years, and hope to take more of them, as the smorgasbord of offerings by outfits like FutureLearn and Coursera are tantalizing.
• 2019 has seen a dramatic increase in two specific – and decidedly somatic – experiences. Naps have been a Daily Thing ever since I retired over six years ago, but apparently my 70s have ushered in an era of Multiple Daily Naps. These naps are not very long, mind you, but they are all delicious. Similarly, taking hot showers has also been a life-long pleasure, but this past year I’ve been deliberately prolonging my hot showers instead of showering “efficiently,” and, wow, what an easy way to add some extra happiness to one’s daily round! (My friend Franklin is responsible for this highly-recommended – feature to my post-retirement “happiness quotient”: he mentioned it in a talk he gave at the First Existentialist Congregation about the various definitions and sources of happiness.)
• I bought a new iPhone in June, which due to my chronic antipathy toward making and receiving phone calls, serves mainly as a way to get and send text messages, as a camera, and as a device for determining driving directions (or, on my trips outside the city, for locating nearby antique malls). I did finally (and reluctantly) add email and Facebook apps to my phone, but I’m still way behind the curve when it comes to exploiting other allegedly marvelous features an iPhone apparently offers. (For example, I still insist on lugging around everywhere I go my desk calendar, vs. inputting my scheduled appointments, etc. into my phone’s calendar.) My main priority with this iPhone remains trying not to leave the damn thing behind when I leave the house, trying not to lose the damn thing, and trying not to drop it so often. Kudos to my brother Mike for not only giving me my original iPhone, but for this year suggesting that I buy a magnetic do-hickey for my car’s dashboard that allows hands-free iPhone (including GPS) use while driving.
Many of this past year’s activities and interests I’ve enjoyed now for many consecutive years:
• I still spend quite a bit of my free time reading. Howver, I sadly report that I have been plagued for another year by the frustrating fact that I can’t sit and read for hours on end as I used to (i.e., before my mid-60s). My book-reading harvest this year totaled only 31 books, but among them were some of the best reads (and re-reads) ever. As in previous years, most of the books I read are sufficiently obscure enough to require my obtaining them through the (free!) Interlibrary Loan service at ye local public library. Several of the books I read this year were remarkable enough to purchase my own copies of (for me, this is a relatively rare occurrence), so I can read them again (or loan them to others in the unlikely event they might be interested in reading them).
• I still attend weekly classes at a nearby tai chi studio (eleven years of classes so far).
• This was the fourth year of monthly gatherings for me and Randy with ten other gay men studying and discussing the Enneagram. This year, Randy and I also began attending the excellent monthly meetings of the local chapter of the International Enneagram Association.
• Randy and I continue to attend the monthly potluck dinner meetings of the book club we belong to.
• I attended most of the monthly meetings of the local calligraphy guild, plus several of this year’s working sessions of a sub-group of the guild, plus four guild-sponsored workshops taught visiting calligraphers. (Making the time and finding the energy to actually do calligraphy projects outside of these workshops is, alas, something I don’t do very often.)
• For a sixth year, I’ve attended the monthly meetings of activists, librarians, and archivists who constitute the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project. In March this year, several of us traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for an informative and inspiring multi-day conference sponsored by a sister organization, The Invisible Histories Project.
• My friend and neighbor Charles are still playing Scrabble several times most weeks. Let it be noted that we both now frequently deploy as part of our respective two-letter word arsenals (like za, nu, ae, aa, oe, etc.) two new-to-us-this-year words: ta and xu. In other game-playing news, I’ve also enjoyed more often this year than last playing Wizard with my card-playing Gay Spirit Visions pals Jim, Paul, and Lashes.
• After 10 years of posting to two blogs I started 10 (!) years ago, I am still plugging away at trying to post more often. Writing still being a rather excruciating chore (rather than a joy) for me, I’m still not posting, like some bloggers, daily: in 2019 I managed only a dozen posts to my personal blog and only 33 posts to my all-things-bookish blog. However, I am glad to report that this year I finally decided to sign up for WordPress’ “premium” (i.e. non-free) subscription service, so I can post more photos, choose from a wider range of features and layouts, and obtain instant, crucial assistance from what the company calls its “happiness engineer.s”
• Once again this year I spent way too much time monitoring my Facebook newsfeed than is healthy for either my under-exercised body or for anyone’s mental wellbeing. I am hoping the extent of this stubborn screen-staring-at addiction will take a nosedive once the federal government has a different president and fewer awful Senators.
• I also still attend many weekly silent meditation meetings with the local Quaker congregation (where I’m still the Meeting’s volunteer librarian), although not, for some reason, I haven’t attended as often this past year as in previous years.
• This year I enjoyed compiling yet another Solstice-themed music CD to give as presents for friends and family members. I started doing that 30 years ago (although I recorded on cassettes for the first seven editions). Doing this is still one of my favorite things I do every year. The older I get, the more I appreciate the special magic of music, and the music I lasso from various mostly New Age-y piano-playing performers is some of the most calming, dreamiest music I’ve discovered. Having listened repeatedly to the Solstice CDs that I’ve made in past years (as I do often between listening National Public Radio news broadcasts while I’m driving in my car), I’ve pretty much decided that giving away these CDs every year is the most significant (if admittedly modest) contribution to Human Happiness that I have managed to make over the past three decades. A bonus aspect of this year’s Solstice CD is the fact that its cover is a photo Randy took one magnificently misty morning on our leisurely trip down the Oxford Canal this past September.
• Although I attended “only” three memorial services this past year for people (besides my mom) who I personally knew, several literary celebrities whose books or plays are especially beloved by me died in 2019, and I mourn their disappearance from our planet: Edward Albee, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), Diana Athill, Harold Bloom, Clive James, Peter Mayle, and Mary Oliver.
Some Streaming Video Recommendations
Although in theory I’m hardly a television-watching enthusiast, and although Randy and I have found very few movies we’ve decided we wanted to see, Randy and I did discover several recommendation-worthy shows via Netflix or Amazon this past year.
The series we binged-watched:
- The Crown
- Grace & Frankie
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
- The Republic of Doyle
Our favorite documentaries were:
- Ken Burns’ The National Parks
- Genius of the Modern World: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud
Solstice Merriment at Chez McLendon
On the Winter Solstice (December 21st), I hosted an open house for assorted friends who uncomplainingly squidged themselves into my tiny abode as they came and went throughout the day. It was nice to share with them some holiday calories and carbohydrates and to visit (if only briefly) with so many Good People. Randy’s help in hosting was really wonderful, as was his help in decorating the house for the occasion. A few snaps of this year’s festoonery:
Throughout 2019, Randy and I continued to make occasional – mostly three- to four-day – visits to the cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia that I’ve co-owned with friends for over 20 years now. As in previous years, we’ll be making a longer-than-usual cabin visit this year during the week leading up to New Year’s Day. As much Randy and I both enjoy being in our houses and gardens, it’s also fun to be away, undistracted by chores – especially when friends decide to join us there to see in the new year.
All the best for each of you in 2020, and thanks for reading!