Straddling Fences

My sister-in-law,  my intimate companion (IC), and I sat around the dining table yesterday morning, talking about the accumulated stresses we individually and collectively have experienced during the past year.

The conversation led us to explore one of those simple quizzes that tally both positive and negative stresses that, taken together, might culminate in health emergencies (e.g., heart attacks and the like). Most people likely are familiar with the list of stresses included in the quizzes: death of a loved one; marriage; divorce; new job; lost job; major illness; child birth; major change in romantic relationships; significant weight loss; significant weight gain; move to a new home; global pandemic; political battles; religious transformations; death of pet; adoption of pet; adoption of child; home purchase; home foreclosure; etc.; etc.

We did not get to the ultimate measures of just how dangerous the stresses of the past year might be. For that, we would have had to offer up our email addresses so the quiz results could be sent to us (and so marketers could seize upon the opportunity to deluge us with unwanted messages in perpetuity). But, even without the formal results of our quizzes, the message was clear: we have put our bodies and minds at great risk simply by living through the chaotic experiences of the last year or so. In spite of the fact that the quizzes were “all in good fun,” ignoring the danger of those stresses would be at our peril. It is imperative, I think, that we work through the stressors to avoid their potentially dangerous, even fatal, consequences. How we do that, though, is up for grabs. Usually, we’re advised to get more exercise, meditate, listen to music, get adequate sleep, get professional counseling, etc., etc. Most of the stress-reducers are relatively easy to execute. However, we tend to be stubborn creatures of bad habit. More often than not, we initiate stress reduction only after significant warning signs like minor heart attacks, The problem with waiting until we get those warnings, of course, is that they’re sometimes far more than simple warnings;  they emphasize, with deadly certainty, the need to “chill.” And I’ll leave it there. We can learn by thinking it through or by failing to acknowledge reality.


My IC put her house on the market yesterday. The real estate agent expects action—that is, one or more offers to purchase the house—within forty-eight hours of the time the house is listed on the Multiple Listing Service.  That potentiality brings into sharp focus the need for us to quickly decide what to do with duplicate furnishings as we merge two households into one. We need to decide what to sell, give away, put in storage, or otherwise dispose of. And where to put what we keep. And where to find strong, capable young bodies to handle the heavy-lifting involved in moving big, weighty pieces of furniture and appliances. Speaking of stresses…

To add to the stress, I hired a handyman to do some major work on some closets, garage storage, and various other projects around the house. Like replacing all the screen in the screen porch. And more. My timing probably was not the best. It amplifies the stress involved in the time-crunch of integrating two households into one.

We do it to ourselves. I am attempting to reconfigure myself in the midst of a major reconfigurations of society and my own life. Hmm. More meditation may be in order. And more sleep. And perhaps medication. And exercise. And maybe exorcism.


Obscenely good food and beer. That describes, in part, our experience yesterday afternoon with two good friends. We drove to Little Rock, where we had a late lunch (I had a “Stupid Hamburger,” which was wonderful, and my IC had a monstrous Philly Cheesesteak), preceded by appetizers of fried olives and bleu cheese chips. One of our friends ordered my beer for me: a wonderfully flavorful Flyway Brewing’s Mango-Habanero IPA, which is exclusive to the restaurant where we ate, Brood and Barley. The beer had a very slight hint of heat that grew just slightly after swallowing a sip. It was delightful. After lunch, we walked to Flyway Brewing, just up the street, where I had a Pick-a-Pepper Pale Ale, brewed with jalapeño, serrano, and poblano peppers.

Being in the company of our friends is a great way to reduce stress, I think. These two women, in particular, are especially good fits with us; they are intelligent, have wonderful senses of humor, and share many interests with us. Plus, they are—like us—quirky. They are fun-loving people who we delight in being around.


This afternoon, our same two friends will join us and some others for an axe-throwing experience. One of our other friends, in particular, has been intrigued with the idea of axe-throwing for some time. Her interest has spurred ours in exploring the…what? Sport? Game? Interest? Whatever. This afternoon and evening, we will go to downtown Hot Springs, where we will go to Big Axe Battleground for some good old-fashioned axe throwing. Then, we’ll have dinner at Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden. I think there will be nine of us. I can feel the stress flowing out of me as I think of it. I hope what I feel is not blood escaping from a gaping wound caused by an errant axe.


My IC and I have not abandoned the idea that we might move to a new place, but the thought is tempering a bit. We both like my house very much. With some relatively minor adjustments, it could become an oasis. In fact, I’ve committed to the expense of installing a new mini-split air conditioner in what I call my “sky room,” which will make the small room (essentially floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides) comfortable no matter the season or the outside temperatures. And my handyman soon will repaint the white structure of the screened porch; white will become dark grey to match the deck railing. He also will replace all the screen and the indoor-outdoor carpet. With the addition of some of my IC’s outdoor furnishings, the porch and the deck will become a more colorful, casual, inviting place.

Aside from the physical “place,” we have developed a small but increasingly close-knit group of friends who we value more every day. An intimate group of friends can make an enormous difference in one’s attitude toward life in general and one’s place in it.

Yet we’re still not certain we will stay here. We wish this place was more walkable. We wish for more entertaining, more casual places nearby to go and experience. Restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, etc.  But we love the relative solitude of the forest community. But we wish for the amenities of the “city” or even the “town.” We just don’t know. And it may take a while to know. Time, though, does not stop to wait for us. The incredibly strong housing market may not last forever. A real estate assessment of my house suggests I should (if I chose to sell) market my house at $413K, which could result in offers beyond the asking price. With that kind of money, Tulsa or Fayetteville or even Flagstaff could be “doable.” Yet would we find good friends there? We could, of course, invite friends to visit and we could do the same. But moving would unquestionably reduce opportunities to spend time with people we have grown to enjoy enormously and who, I think, enjoy our company just as much.

When we mention the possibility of a move, our friends urge us to forget the idea. Of course they do. And they may be (and, it seems increasingly likely) right. But ultimately, we have to make the decision. Yet another reason to form a cooperative or a commune or a co-housing alliance. But we still have a hard sell on that one. Except for one woman, a friend who I think is ready to jump into co-housing at a moment’s notice. She and I, I think, are among the strongest proponents. We just have to find ways to explain what co-housing is really like. And maybe that would require spending time visiting co-housing communities to see, first hand, what we’re all missing by living separate lives with only tastes of what real community can be like. I am, at heart, a socialist. I want to be in love with the best aspects of humanity and with people who share my utopian ideals. I got an email from a friend yesterday, who said of the two of us:

…we are both still on the fence: utopia on one side, real life on the other.

True, that. She peruses my blogs occasionally, obviously reading and understanding my wishful thinking.


Today, the woman who cleans my house every few weeks is scheduled to come. So, I must spend time this morning getting ready for her. I would not want my cleaning woman to find an unkempt house, would I? I sometimes wonder if I have enough good sense to live in the real world.


Time for breakfast and more coffee. And, perhaps, a spark of brilliance that will answer all my questions and their competing answers in a way that will, once and for all, guarantee happiness for all time. Yeah. That’s it.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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