The “no” conundrum

Like a lot of women I know, I am a yes-woman, a rescuer, a helper. I say yes when I can’t possibly even do the thing I’m saying yes to because I’m already overbooked with all the other things I said yes to. I say it in my head, “no, no, no” but the other word forms on my tongue and before I know it, yes just slips out of my mouth before I can grab it back.

I was shopping last week for a work trip, looking at some dresses that I thought would be cool and comfortable for steamy California, when I started a conversation with a woman nearby (I do this often, and I like this about me). We quickly got to the fact that we were the same age, that we were looking for cute summer dresses, and the conversation flowed so easily that I somehow got to telling her how, at 49, I have trouble saying no to people.

Well. She wasn’t having any of that, and gave me a lesson in self-preservation that brought tears to my eyes. There needs to be nothing beyond the no, she said. No “no, I can’t do that for you because…” or “I’d love to help you, but… .” Just plain old no will do just fine.

I heard her.

I admire this kind of strength and honesty. What do we gain by putting ourselves aside to do for others at the expense of our own needs? Exhaustion, that’s what. Burnout. A heaviness that becomes oppressive and crushes our spirits. A silencing of our own voice.

Maybe this is the conundrum of the middle-aged woman? Dealing with work, adult kids, aging parents, growing commitments at a time in our lives where we thought we’d have less on our plates. We can’t just shirk our duties, quit our jobs to go live on organic farms, trip through the rest of our lives doing only what we want to do. But maybe no can become part of our vocabulary again, like it probably was when we were younger.

Of course I don’t want to stop doing things for those I love, but I’m going to be 50 in a few short months, and I hope to get more honest with myself and say no when no is truly what I mean to say. If this means pausing to gather my nerve, I will do that. I’ll remember this gorgeous woman, whose name I have already forgotten (I’m bad at names, I don’t like this about me), steel myself, and say no.

Just no.

Full circle

In the winter, I resurrected my mother’s old point and shoot camera (a Canon Sureshot circa 1980s). It came to me when my dad moved, I think, and I shoved it into a drawer or cupboard or closet and forgot about it.

A battery was left in it, which had corroded and the corrosion was leaking out. I painstakingly cleaned off the muck with vinegar and q-tips; carefully dried it out; gingerly put a new battery in. When that motor whirred to life I felt a jolt, a sudden excitement, like my mother had tiptoed back into the land of the living.

I put a roll of film in, which advanced as it should. And…

my daughter as model


…it worked. It has a ridiculously loud motor that made me laugh when I used it. And there is a unique joy that only a point and shoot can provide. No messing with settings, no choosing a focus, no missing anything that might suddenly come into frame.

In hindsight, I see a circular nature in this experiment. My mother’s old camera. My own old fake fur jacket, given to me by someone I once knew when I was the age my daughter was this winter, when I asked her to wear it so I could photograph her. My son, who developed the roll in his black and white film class a few months later, even though I didn’t have a way to see the images other than to hold the negatives up to the light and squint. And today, the delivery of a film scanner so that I can do more with the negatives piling up in my office because of this new film addiction.

Okay, maybe a sketchy circle. But it makes at least a little sense to me.

I’ll admit I’d been snobby about the idea of a point and shoot. But my mother’s camera was a breath of fresh air, a kick in the ass to remind me that fussy isn’t necessarily better, or more fun. And a way to reconnect with her, if only for the time it took to shoot a roll of film.

Detroit, Fisher Building in distance


Sadly the camera croaked when I tried to remove the film. The motor just flat out stopped, and no amount of cleaning the battery compartment or shoving newer batteries in there would coax it back to life. I took it to my local camera repair shop where I’ve had several vintage cameras worked on, and they said it wasn’t worth repairing.

It was fun while it lasted.




There is a 56-turbine wind farm nearby, in western Michigan. The turbines are the backdrop to rural homes and rolling farmland, stalwart giants towering over corn and grain fields, orchards and farmland.

I’m both drawn to these behemoths and terrified of them. Okay, maybe I watched too many of those original Godzilla movies as a kid, but I swear they will morph, uproot, and come lumbering after me, crushing farms and terrorizing the horses and cows in their path, smoke and fire spittling from their terrible blades, screeching like Godzilla’s adversaries.


Unless you’ve been up close (or, close enough, in my case) you might not realize that they make a humming, whirring, eerie mechanical sound that makes me wonder about the tolerance level of the neighbors. I wouldn’t want this on my farm, near my house, a whir and flickering shadows so definite and inescapable.

What have we done to our landscape?

I’m not opining about the pros and cons of wind energy. I don’t have the knowledge or experience for that, nor am I speaking for anyone who lives near this wind farm; I’m an observant bystander only.

As art, I think they can be beautiful. As neighbor, I don’t know. As for noise, you could say the same about living on the ocean or a big lake–the sound of the waves can be ceaseless. Or living on the plains or open land where the wind howls relentlessly. But those are natural things and in living in those places, you might know what you’re in for. These were planted in people’s backyards one day. Well, not one day, but you get it.


I’m just saying I’m in awe, and a little afraid, and a lot wondering.

Ancient Mariner

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I’ve watched this boat just up the beach for years sit lonely and unused tucked into the grasses on the bluff in front of a cottage, which I can only guess has also been lonely and unused, as it has a for sale sign perched near the steps leading up to it.

captured on 35mm film last fall as she rested

From the boat’s name, I surmise both the boat and the cottage owner to be one of the beach’s older residents, white haired, probably bearded, a seasoned sailor, maybe at a transition in his life where the boat was too much to handle on his own anymore, bringing it up and down from the dwinding beach, rigging the sail, fixing the ropes.

Today as I walked the beach I saw two men rigging her, about to test her in bitter waters and little wind. I asked about the boat and learned that one of them, the owner of a neighboring house, had just bought her and this was about to be his maiden voyage with her.

I didn’t ask, but I wondered if the new owner was going to change her name, as he is definitely not ancient (I don’t know about his mariner status), and may have no connection to the poem. I’m not sure why this makes me so happy, a new owner of this boat and its use after a long rest, but it does–even if the name gets changed. The bluff between the beach and cottages here is dotted with mostly unused small sailboats, Sunfishes and Lasers and Hobies that stand as sentinel to a time before jet skis and kayaks and paddle boards, and most recently, kite boards. The sails are starting to stir again, though.

Things come around.

and the Mariner today


Sky drama

I’m a sucker for a dramatic sky. There is no shortage of this on the shores of Lake Michigan, which is fortunate for me. I cannot get enough.

I was in the water, and then lying on the beach in the sun, watching this interesting cloud formation as it moved toward the shore. You can see it in the lower right of this photo just hovering above the lake.


It looked like a long finger of a cloud, but with smaller tendrils shooting off of it. It changed shape as it moved and ended up diffusing. The cooler air this little system brought in eventually forced me up to the cottage.


I have to leave here next week, which is always bittersweet. Of course there are things in the city I want to do, but the longer I stay here the more I think about what it would be to give that up. Could I live here year-round? I think I could.

It’s just simpler here.