The Road To Heaven

I woke up this morning. That was a good start, and it got even better. It was early- 5:24am to be exact. No alarm, my sweet puppy Stevie Nicks lying peacefully by my side. I feel blessed, excited and dare I say it… content?

It’s a good feeling. One I haven’t felt in a while. Welcome back, old friend.

In March of 2020 I closed my optical shoppe for 9 weeks. It was unexpected, both mentally and emotionally crushing, and physically isolating.

For the last 2.5 years I had worked in the downstairs portion of my historic building and lived upstairs in a super cute remodeled historic apartment. I was technically living alone, but not a lonely person. In 2019, I treated the apartment like a condo and basically left almost every weekend to travel both near and far. It was fantastic and I was on a roll. The practice was thriving, and I was thriving. Full stop.

Covid hit. Office closed. I wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, so I stayed home. Alone. I went to the grocery store once a month. I watched CNN constantly. I tried doing the 9 jigsaw puzzles I had sent over from the game store across the street. I think I managed to complete two puzzles in 9 weeks. I had no energy, no creativity.

The one thing I did manage to do was cook and bake out of my pantry. I made some good stuff, ate it, and gained 8 pounds in 9 weeks. Uh oh. Looking back on it now, I was doing a dance with a bad date called depression.  I had no idea.

Luckily, a dear friend noticed I was losing it. She insisted I visit her. She was in a COVID bubble, I was in a COVID bubble… we should be COVID bubbles together. I fretted about it and finally gave in. I visited and we cooked and laughed, and I managed to find a few pieces of her jigsaw puzzle. We walked her rural road. I went to visit her several times over the next month or two. Depression started to lift. Thank you, dear friend.

The office was closed, but we started to get some orders for contact lenses. My staff took turns meeting me at the office every few days to send off orders. We masked and stayed apart. It was a saving grace for me. We shared stories about lockdown. It gave me perspective. I realized that being alone during a lockdown can be easier than being in lockdown with others. There are two sides to every coin.

The office opened 9 weeks later. It was a beautiful thing and still is. My team and I did everything we could to maintain safer standards. Patients did their part- they came in and were willing to do the COVID shuffle. My schedule was full. I have since seen over a thousand patients, and I can count on one hand the number of issues we had regarding COVID policy. Of course, I remember those incidents. When I do the math- statistically it was a minute percentage. This helps me to remember… most people are fundamentally good, kind, and willing to help.  

For me, the hardest part is accepting help. It’s a flaw. I blame it on my upbringing, which is what I do whenever I face issues about myself that I don’t like.  The problem with blaming everything on your upbringing is that somewhere around age 30 it gets old and worn out and your friends and family get sick and tired of it. Around age 50, the people you like to blame for your issues are dead. Your excuse is gone for good. Time to take a good look in the mirror and figure some stuff out.

I am learning. I am learning how to ask for help, accept help and be thankful for it.

Fast forward 3 months. I’m working hard now. Busier than ever. Still a little lonely as things are not back to ok with COVID. No vaccination yet. I’m starting to have COVID envy. I have a few friends and family that got COVID and recovered and are going out to dinner. Son of a bitch.

I would love to go out to dinner and be served. I don’t care what it is. If someone were to ask me, “Ma’am would you like another?” I would respond immediately, “Yes, please.” I don’t care what it is. I just want to be pampered and waited on. If I had my choose-it’s I would prefer an VO press Old Fashioned with pickled mushrooms, but I would settle for a cold Bud Light. Envy. Envy- the green-eyed girl. Wanting what other people have is usually a recipe for disaster. This includes medical conditions, choice of spouse and children, and bank accounts.

Fast forward another 6-7 months. I’ve now acquired a darling black lab puppy named Stevie Nicks. She is my new best friend and is living up to her name. She is beautiful, independent, maybe a little wild and very loving. She was an unexpected addition to my life, and I will be forever grateful. Stevie and I had some crazy times living upstairs and trying to get potty trained in the middle of winter in Wisconsin.

Stevie- Love At First Sight
Stevie in the window seat with a gigantic bone

 Stevie and I went downstairs every two hours and walked around the little park next to my office. In my work clothes, in my yoga pants, in my pjs and robe! The neighborhood folks got used to it and we made friends.

I had been looking for a little house to buy for some time. If you have been paying attention to the real estate market, you will know that it’s a real challenge to find a house. I looked, looked, and looked some more. Just when I gave up… yep, my dream house found me. I bought it. Stevie has a yard and I have a kitchen. We are happy clams. It’s perfect, and I didn’t change a thing. Timing is everything.

Stevie in the garden with poppies growing every which way.

The tricky part is how to handle life when life’s timing isn’t in sync with my timing. There are many books and memes and prayers that address this very issue. A friend sent me a little meme during the pandemic. I can’t remember the whole thing… but it basically said, “You are Loved.” There was some other stuff I can’t remember, and “You are Enough.” Those two things I remember. I hope you remember them too.

Life has slowly returned to almost normal. I’ve been socializing a bit and seeing friends. I am one of the youngest people in my group. Some of the others are a bit older and starting to retire. I’ve been around when the talk turns to retirement and money. I was feeling bad about it. I am late to that game. I spent most of my youth and adolescence screwing around. I did what I was told by my parents, went to the same college as Dad and The Sisters. I stayed in the same dormitory, I took the same classes, went to the same underage bars. Haha! I was young, naïve, and not particularly driven. I mostly liked to have fun. I was pretty good at it, but that doesn’t really show well on a resume or add to the retirement account.

Drinking beer and grilling hot dogs for a Badger Game. I’m not sure the year…1991?
I lived in a shack! I’m on the right. That was a fun time. Age 22. Clark, CO.
Fun on the Chief Waupaca with one of The Sisters. We went to many of these parties. This was early in the evening before anything too crazy occurred. We are all still wearing all of our clothes, so that is how I know. I am not sure of the year. 1990’s but that’s all I am sure of- that was a crazy decade.

Somehow it all worked out and now I am structured and have a roof over my head and a decent job, so I won’t go stick my head in the oven. That being said, let’s spend a moment to think about life. It does require a certain amount of intention, or things tend to go haywire. Mom used to say, “The road to Heaven is paved with good intentions.” To be honest, I never gave it much thought. That has apparently gotten me to my current state of being.

Heaven and Hell. Decision, decisions decisions…I always thought the sinners had more fun and it might be worth it. I also think the road to Hell might be paved by kombucha! What?? Seriously, I was just at the new co-op and tried some and there is no amount of Tito’s that can fix it. I promptly made a nice cup of French press coffee to go with my Thunderbird Bakery pain au chocolat and life improved dramatically. I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. Intention. Intention deserves a bit more thought.

Never underestimate the power of a good cup of coffee and pastry. Worth the indulgence.

I spent some time thinking about it and determined that for me- I want to work. For one thing, Anderson’s live a long time. Mom made it to 90 and Grandma A made it to 103! That’s a lot of years to finance. I didn’t do so hot when I wasn’t working during the shut-down. It only takes an hour or two to work out and clean your house and then what? There are a lot of hours in the day. So, I need to figure how I want to work. I’ve given it some thought.

I don’t want to work like a crazy person and be stressed out. I want to work and have a balanced personal life. I want to like my patients and staff. I want to feel valued. I want to be interested in what I do. That’s a lot of wants. I will need to make a few changes.

There is never a good time to change. I’m looking at it as a positive because I am choosing to change instead of having change forced on me. There is a difference. Let me provide an example.

About 15 years ago I worked for a doctor in his practice. I was miserable. The terms weren’t as we discussed. I tried to communicate and negotiate for a tolerable and fair situation. No go. I finally quit. Then, and only then did the doctor want to communicate and negotiate. Too late, pal. “Freedom’s just a word for nothing left to lose.” Thank you, Bobby McGee. It was a hard change. It cost me in many ways… the only thing I regret is not leaving sooner.

Good change is what I am trying to achieve. I have changed my work schedule and I am entertaining the idea of adding a sub-specialty to my practice that I find interesting. There will be some short-term pain. I am doing my due diligence and not jumping into anything without a plan. This is progress, friends. In the past I would have jumped both feet forward off the cliff with no plan. I still plan to jump, but I will be wearing a parachute, just in case. Progress.

I have a friend who is very strong mentally. He’s got a good relationship with his wife and children, works hard, is physically fit, and likes to have fun. Overall, a balanced person. One time when I was complaining about something he said, “There are facts, and there are excuses.” That shut me up.

Don’t complain about being fat if you haven’t done anything to not be fat. Don’t complain about not having enough money if all you’ve done is go out and spend money. Don’t complain about being bored it you made no effort to connect with people and make plans. Don’t complain about your house being dirty if you haven’t done your part to keep it clean.  

I now use that statement in my head to help me control my actions and emotions. I used it two days ago. I turned my apartment into an Airbnb. It took a bit longer than expected to get ready, but it has turned out great. I had it booked out months ago for the big summer event in town, EAA Airventure. Every hotel is booked solid for 30 miles. It’s a money maker. Two days ago, my renter cancelled at the last minute because her teenage son and adult daughter contracted COVID.  The show starts in two days. I’m screwed. I was bummed out. Then I applied my new thinking. There are facts, and there are excuses. The fact is, I did my part. The apartment is clean and ready to go. I kept my end of the bargain. Done. Stuff happens, whether it’s COVID or something else. It doesn’t matter what happened to change the trip. It’s out of my control. It’s done. Once I got my head around the situation, I felt better. It’s a disappointment, but in the grand scheme of things not a deal breaker. Mental fitness. It’s a game changer.

The other night I went on a boat ride across Lake Winnebago. The water was smooth as glass. It was a beautiful evening. We ate at a tiny restaurant by the water. This spot is known for it’s beautiful sunsets and we were expecting a treat.

The restaurant was struggling to serve the patrons. There was very little staffing. We were served by children- literally- age 10 if not younger. Nothing came out as ordered. But, it was okay because you can’t expect children to know how to be servers at restaurants. Clouds were coming in and the wind was picking up. There was no sunset. I paid the bill and left a huge tip.

We had jackets and foul weather gear. The ride home was bumpy. I stood up the whole way, holding onto the railing and using my knees as shock absorbers. It wasn’t exactly a fun ride home, but it was exhilarating. I’ve got a good grip. We were all laughing and shrieking as we hit the big waves. It’s good to be with people who can laugh when things get dicey. The boat and captain were solid. I had faith we would get home in one piece. Ironically, we aim for the lights of the insane asylum to find our way home. That also seems appropriate for my life. It’s the journey, not the destination.

This is a good sunset from the same place we were the other night. No sunset that night. Stormy weather.

GGJ

Split Personality

I almost changed the name of my blog today.

I read recently that if you are going to be a writer- you have to take yourself seriously and treat yourself like a writer. Huh? The idea being, that if you are going to take the time to write a story, you should have the balls to put your name on it and put it out there. Hiding behind an alter ego is fun but it might also be a cop out. I wasn’t sure if Gypsy Girl Jilly was real or a cop out.

My real name is Jill Anderson. There. I wish I had a neat story about how my Mom decided to name me Jill for some meaningful purpose – but the truth of the matter is that she couldn’t think of anything else. She was reading a magazine in the hospital after just giving birth and read an article about a person named Jill and she decided she liked it. Plus, Anderson is a long last name so she wanted something short so that I could fit my name in the allotted space on documents. Hence, I became Jill Anderson.

Nobody calls me that though. At least not people who know me. My Dad always called me “Jill the Pill”. He used to say I was a pill.  It may not have been a compliment. I was head strong, talkative, independent… pretty much straight out of the womb. I did my own thing from the get go. I don’t recall asking for much advice or permission from my parents when I was a kid. I just did it and either did not get caught or asked for forgiveness on the  occasions I got busted for doing something I shouldn’t have been doing or been somewhere I had no business being. When you are born the last of three girls to parents who are a bit older than regular parents… things happen.

Everybody else calls me Jilly. That is who I really am. Jilly loves dogs, reading, boat rides and adventures. Jilly loves to laugh. She has a soft heart and a long memory. She has the scars to prove it. Mostly, Jilly loves whatever is coming next. She can get antsy if she stays in one place too long or becomes stagnant in her daily life. She is a Gypsy. This is both a blessing and a curse. Being a Gypsy sounds good in theory, but day to day living requires fortitude when it comes to building a career and family…both of those areas have given me a lot of trouble in life.  Forever is a very long time.

I am about half way through my life. You would think that the urge to throw everything into the back of your truck and start driving West would subside. If anything, it gets worse. I am working on some ways to manage the urge to head for the hills. It seems counter-intuitive, but I have been making some changes in my life to become more structured. What?? That seems nuts. (That is GGJ talking.)

I am an optometrist. This May I will have been practicing for 22 years. Can you believe it? Me either. I became an optometrist because I wanted to please my parents and I was good at science and quite frankly I did not know what to do with my life. I was good at school so I kept going to school. People ask me if my passion is “eye stuff” and I say “Nope.” They can’t believe it. I think it is because I act fairly normal at the office.

For 18.5 years I worked as an employee for other doctors or for big corporations. I made a comfortable living and worked with some good people who became friends. I lived in a bunch of different towns and had a couple of houses and/or great apartments.

Eventually, I kind of settled down in my old hometown. I purchased a super cute house with a big yard with a little river running through the back. I spent a lot of time and effort fixing it up.  It was perfect… until one day I came home from working on a Saturday. All of my friends and family were out having fun. I took my beloved dog Macy for a walk. Something happened on that walk. I realized that I would not be able to spend the next 20 years working nights and weekends for someone else. If I was going to work this hard- it had to be for myself. I went home and looked up the For Sale ads for optometry practices in my area.

I found it right away. There was a listing for a small practice in Oshkosh, WI. It was a friend of mine who was retiring. I gave him a buzz. He had another interested party, so I had to act fast. I went to look at the practice the next day and two weeks later I bought it. In hindsight, it was a big decision and a normal person would have thought about it a bit. I am a leaper before looker kind of person. When it works out – its great, but when it doesn’t…well the drop can be a killer. This time, it worked out.

I bought the practice and worked hard to make it my own. Three and a half years later, I find myself being the happiest I have been in a long time. Optometry-wise anyway.  At the office I am Dr. Jill. Monday through Friday I am Dr. Jill.

My personal life has been a little schizoid. That can happen. Recently, I was forced to take a long, hard look at the choices I have made in my personal life. My life hasn’t exactly gone as I had anticipated. No husband or kids. No tattoos. Nothing permanent.

I would love to blame it on other people. Trust me, I have tried. That works for the first 25 years of your life but after that no one cares if your Dad loved you enough or being raised Catholic makes you an chronic sinner and guilt ridden person. At some point, you have to grow up.

I don’t think I ever grew up. Not really.

When did you start making decisions and acting on your own accord? When did you learn how to say “No.”?  When did you learn to walk away from people, places and things that were not good for you? When did you figure out what it was that you really needed to be content?

For me it happened…

It hasn’t totally happened yet. I am working on it.

Time has started to shift for me. In one way it has slowed down…and in another it has sped up.  My axis has shifted and thus the gravitational pull of my tides has changed.  (This is a little woo hoo, but stick with me.)  Even if all else has stayed the same… everything is still different.  Nothing stays the same. No one stays the same. To think it can be that way is…. unrealistic. It is a direct path to disappointment, resentment, dissatisfaction and ultimately failure. Failure to communicate, failure to thrive, failure to find peace.

Next year I will be 50 years old. Part of me thinks that it has gone super fast… and another part of me thinks it has taken forever. The old adage is true… time speeds up as you get older. The last ten years of my life has gone much faster than the first ten years of my life. A minute is not a minute, a day is not a day. Someone needs to figure out a new calculation for time.  It’s got to be a fraction equation. I always get confused when you try to multiply or divide fractions. You have to flip everything upside down and backward.

Let’s see… where was I? Oh yes. I am trying to be more structured in an effort to gain freedom.  

I am figuring stuff out. You can’t be a dodo bird airhead your whole life.

A lot of headache and heartache stems from worries about money. I haven’t always been the greatest when it comes to finances. It’s not my thing. But, it should be. So, I now have professional people in my life who help me. I am slowly getting over the fear that I will be homeless and eating cat food when I am old. It’s always there though. It has made me afraid. For a long time, I was afraid to buy a practice. It’s a big investment. Then I did it, and it’s been the best thing for me.

So, now I am taking it a step further. I just bought a building. Instead of paying rent to a stranger, I will be paying the bank to eventually own the building. It will take awhile… it’s a commitment. But, it’s a commitment to myself and my future.

101 High

I used to say I wanted to be free so that I could move away. Back when I was afraid to buy a practice, an old friend/vendor of mine that has known me since year one pointed out that if I wanted to move away I probably would have done so by now- having stayed in a one hour radius of my hometown for the last 18.5 years. That comment pushed me over the edge to buy a practice. He was right.

I am staying. Time to make an office that will grow with me and be comfortable.

The project is expensive and Dr. Jill will admit to feeling some stress and nerves about the whole thing. Gypsy Girl Jilly is loving it and is making friends with the demo guys. She is baking them cookies and can’t wait to get upstairs to rip out the old carpet to see if the wood floors are worth saving. There is an ancient old gas stove upstairs and she wants to keep it. Dr. Jill is hoping there will be enough $$ to get a new stove and new bathtub. GGJ doesn’t care.

Just when I was back to normal finances, I went and bought a building so now I feel broke again. Back to living frugally. Damn. Actually, it not that bad. I have found out a couple of things. Most of the stuff I really like to do is free. I love walking in the woods. That’s free. I love listening to music. That’s mostly free. I love reading. I used to buy a ton of books, but now I download them from the library. That’s free. I love writing little stories. That’s free. That’s a lot of stuff for free. Free- dom. I am getting there.

I am hoping that there will be enough spending money to do some traveling down the road. GGJ loves to see new places. A good road trip once in awhile should do the trick. Years ago when I was making lots more money, I went on a trip to New Orleans and stayed at the Ritz Carlton. It was super fancy and quiet. It was almost too fancy and too quiet. I was afraid to laugh too loud.

I will be satisfied to drive somewhere with the windows open and stay at a Mom and Pop place on the side of the road. Dr. Jill will be nervous about getting killed, but GGJ will see it as an opportunity to gather some story making material.

I can’t quite see my future all the way to the end. I feel pretty good about the next 15 years or so. I am going to be Dr. Jill at the office and GGJ outside of the office. I fought it for a long time. I have finally come to the conclusion that it is both of these sides of myself that make me a complete person. They need each other.

Gypsy Girl Jilly is the one who writes these stores. Therefore, she gets the title.

GGJ