Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sitting On The Fence

photo by Jeff Greenburg date unknown

This week my horoscope mentions

It's a ripe time to revise and rework your past, Pisces. I'll trust you to make the ultimate determination about how best to do that, but here are some possibilities. 1. Revisit a memory that has haunted you, and do a ritual that resolves it and brings you peace. 2. Return to the scene of an awkward anomaly that remains unsettled, and finally do a duty you neglected. 3. Make your way back to a dream you wandered away from prematurely, and either re-commit yourself to it, or put it to rest for good. 4. Dig up and contemplate a secret that has been festering, and come to a decision about what you can do to heal it.

I spent at least five figures in therapy so I’m not haunted by memories; I haven’t a clue what he means by an “awkward anomaly”; I don’t do secrets, so the only thing festering is what I’m giving TG for Christmas next year. By process of elimination, my job this summer is revisiting a dream and moving aside the fear of putting together a fiction written in no less than three notebooks and one dream journal over the last twenty plus years. I have wrapped months of energy around my fears.

The first and foremost fear is the whole thing sucks and I’m wasting my time with this old idea. Next out of the basket is I subject my closest friends with readings and they feel bad when they have to tell me it sucks. Years ago, I participated in a disasterous workshop with part of this piece. The writer guy--a real Bukowski type--hated it; thought it was a piece of crap; basically told me this would be on the list of things he is condemned to read in Hell. The criticism was particularly painful as he salivated over the other woman’s piece. She was one of those wispy women prone to wearing long flowing scarves and equally long flowing hair; her voice soft but emphatic when she read. Her piece was a story poem, a phantasmagorical fruit salad of magic realism meets surrealism meets Jane Austen. I thought it was a mess against my straight up piece of narrative. I think it was just a few months ago, I realized Bukowski workshopped with his dick. Perhaps he would have liked my story better if I had been more like Jori Graham‘s disciple: young, pretty and eager to get stoned with him. In hindsight I can’t believe I let this sorry old man wannabe Beat poet take away my pen and my notebook . Leave it to me to be silenced by an old and lecherous hippie.

Aside from this blog, emails, Facebook updates and random chat on Table Talk (link) I don’t write much. I can use the time sucks as excuses. I can use my kid as an excuse. I can use the house and the endless chores as an excuse. But I’m out of excuses. The only thing Beav needs me for is my driving, banking and cooking skills; the big house projects are done (!) and the nuts and bolts of house work takes maybe four hours a week.

My other excuses rest in the end product. This will all be a waste of time because print is dead and the only people being published are writers like Nora Roberts and that chick lit Shopping/dating/I’m a fabulous wreck of a Gen Y woman. This will be a waste of time because ultimately, it will suck and no one would read it anyhow. Ok, my family might read it and say: “Well at least you tried hard” or some such platitude which ultimately means: “don’t quit that day job cuz you need to eat!” Finally, why would anyone give a shit about this yarn I‘ve been spinning in my head. But my very favorite excuse: someone wrote a lovely book and used part of my title(link). The title I've imagined for twenty years. People will see my title just before her’s on the Amazon list and will think: “That woman copied Azar Nafisi’s lovely title!” (as if it’s already published, see excuse number one)

The fence was already getting uncomfortable before Rob told me the stars were aligned just right. Before the star’s blessing I had promised myself the next four months of habitual writing. Not daily, that’s a recipe for disaster. The only things I do consistently every day are brush my teeth and whine. Rather, I have set aside time three days a week to write in four hour blocks. If our patient census remains low like it did last year, I’m devoting my call days to writing. Writing what could be a doomed novel is more productive than sitting on my hands waiting to be called into the hospital. Hell, with all those notebooks to combine, I have enough material to edit this summer without generating any new ideas.

September I will evaluate if it’s time to put this dream on the shelf or proceed onward. Years ago, during my other lifetime, I read Canfield’s The Aladdin Factor and I learned an exquisitely simple formula: If I ask for something there is a 50/50 chance the answer will be yes. If I don‘t ask, the answer is always ‘no’.

It’s scary to ask for what you want. Much like standing en point atop a picket fence.

photo by David Street 1998

Thursday, May 21, 2009

To Be Continued

I've developed the habit of writing while I'm waiting. I keep a stack of index cards in my bag--Moleskins too fine for the likes of my hackery--and free write either what I'm observing or things weighing on my mind. The Beav graduated from the eighth grade yesterday and I was actually early for something so I seized the opportunity to write.

The Beav has successfully graduated from many things like sucking his thumb, sippy cups, diapers, kindergarten, lying about taking baths and the fifth grade. Today is another graduation referred to as a "continuation". This is my fourth continuation and Wally cheated me out of an actual graduation because he didn't want to be "bothered" with the ceremony and "sitting around just to hear my name". I feel alien to this White Mommy Daddy world so gatherings at the boys' schools make me a bit anxious. I am seated alone and not bothering to save places for Ward and Alexis especially after last night's Saga Of The Pants.[Ward was supposed to buy Beav some new pants and didn't. I got to do it at 8:30 on Monday night after a very stressful twelve hour shift which evolved into thirteen hours. Needless to say the conversation we shared was colorful]

The people around me are dressed in a sort of upscale casual and one woman in particular takes this continuation thing seriously, donning a lovely geen and white halter dress more suitable for an evening wedding. I can't image what she wears to weddings. Sparkles? But it suits her, she of the blond carefully exercised set. The type I see talking in a quick clipped cadence on wee phones as they pause between the hearth breads and chocolates at Whole Foods. Her resplendent dress is a relief, I thought I was overdressed in my flowy black linen dress, the sort of thing worn on a patio sharing drinks and sailing stories with people named Mimi and Biff.

So many familiar and well known faces in the gym this afternoon; many acquaintances for the last two decades a few of them were even friends. But having fallen out of their orbit they have forgotten me. Pity this, I'm a lot of fun to know and interesting company. Many of the mothers are easily ten or more years younger and this is probably their second big milestone with their kids. Most of us are watching from the jaded seat of having done this a few times before and know the real pay off will be when they graduate from high school.

I recognized one mom of a boy Beav played with when they were kindergartners. I still remember where I was standing and what I was doing when she called to tell me her boy was no longer allowed to play with Beav at my house. My first conclusion was she had heard via the grapevine I was lesbian. She gave me a self-righteous speech about how she didn't want Little Darling playing at a divorcee's house in the city. I was polite and gave her a canned speech about how we would miss Crown Prince. I wanted to ask if she was she afraid the ennui, dissatisfaction and final despair I experienced would jump onto her boy like a cold germ and then rub off on her hands as she scrubbed away the wretched city dirt after his playdate? Or was she already infected and couldn't risk further exposure in an effort to keep all the bad stuff dormant? "Is denying you are unhappy easier than admitting failure like I did?" Most of my days as a young mother were marked by unhappiness, frustration and helplessness. Years ago, Dear Abby poised the question "if you had to do it all over again, would you have children?" My resounding answer would be no. I have too much baggage to visit on defenseless children and I am far too selfish to be a good mother.

But this particular emotional mud puddle won't keep me from milestones like a Continuation. My regret and insecurity won't stop me from feeling joy and pride when Beav's name is called as an honor student. Beav is my pay back for watching the heart wrenching struggle and defeats his brother experienced in school. Regret doesn't prevent me from feeling cheated I'm not watching Wally walk across the stage after spending so many years symbolically dragging him through school.

Milestones like this lighten my dark and heavy heart because I have succeeded in continuing as a mother when so many days I just wanted to quit. The darkness doesn't dampen the joy I feel when one or the other succeeds at something, nor does it quiet worry when I see them making decisions I perceive as ruinous. Last week, Wally proved I had done something right. Nestled in the thorns of all of my bad parenting he has found his path . Wally made a life altering decision completely independently from me or his father. Isn't this what we ultimately want for our children the second they leave our bodies? Isn't independence the goal? But when I heard he had stepped away from the Navy and joined the Army I was angry. Over the thunder of my helicopter blades snapping the air as I lectured about commitment and seeing things through. Now I can see the root of my anger rests solely in not being consulted. My eldest is continuing without me. As it should be.

Image by Blake Flynn

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Domestic Bliss /dripping sarcasm

The Girl is installing the kitchen floor and it's going to look grand. I helped cut the crappy vinyl and the fabulous Armstrong Solarium Linoleum underneath. I don't try to help with the tile and the grout, it doesn't go so well. We tried to demolish the old floor by hand for about thirty minutes and had peeled away exactly six square inches. Thankfully The Big Orange Store had a tool for the job and this proved the better plan. I can now include "operation of Linoleum cutter" on my resume in case maintenance is included in my job description.

In the meantime, I'm continuing to work in the garden and gathered my first bouquet this morning. First light is early and I love sleeping with the windows open so the light greets me early.

Despite the snow on the mountains, I think it's finally safe to say spring is here.

Poor Kipper is trapped inside the house while we work outside he suggests you stop by and rescue him so he himself on a walk.

Wally has exactly four more days of school and despite his best effort to NOT graduate, he will indeed possess a high school diploma. The Beav is on his way to high school and I never ever have to set foot in that stupid middle school again as long as I live. I'm considering having a beer in the parking lot next Wednesday after the Continuation just for the Hell of it because I'm really a fifteen year old with ODD.

Tomorrow I'm smashing plates and tiles for a mosaic counter top.

Bliss, it's bliss I tell you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Big Plan

When I was a little girl, I made elaborate schedules for myself and at eight, had I known what a algorithm was, I would have taken the self scheduling thing one hundred steps further and substituted this:

Get up
Brush Hair
Brush Teeth
Feed Cat
Feed Self

With some sort of schematic for what I was supposed to accomplish every morning before school.
(Seriously, this is what I posted--caps and all--on the back of my bedroom door when I was eight because I needed a reminder to feed the cat) I was very diligent with this schedule, too. I wish I still had that first list because it was the beginning of a compulsion: making schedules for myself in the form of to-do lists. Unfortunately, with age my lists have become more elaborate and if I were completely insane I’m sure I would have algorithms in place with arrows and lines as back up plans. Today has proven to be one of those “best laid plans. . .” days, where the to-do list looks like an algorithm what “oh God, what now! “ My day was supposed to look like this:

Get up (I find it necessary to include this forty years later in case I try to work out or take a shower while still in bed)
The Beav to school
Work in the yard
Beav from school
Read (I’m such a freak I schedule my ‘recreation’) [this is also code for lay in the sun]
Dinner prep

This is what happened:
Don’t sleep
Get up in time to make sure The Beav is up for school
Decide he needs one more sick day (just a cold no H1N1) but should go to the doctor
Go back to bed for an hour
Make doctor’s appointment for the boy
Go back to bed for another hour
Run errands on the way to the doctor because the dry cleaner and the vet are on the way
Go to the Doctor
Finally do something on your to do list (this is where the arrow goes around to “write” on my dream list)

Lessee, I’m accomplishing one thing on my list so far.

I came up with my dream schedule while I was cleaning yesterday. This was going to be my day. No more cleaning, no more digging in the dirt or moving things around. My only real responsibilities were The Beav and dinner. In my defense, this slothful day was brought about after nearly a week of planting two large flower beds and a vegetable garden. Most people wouldn’t balk at being this busy. But I refuse to be overscheduled. And I loath people who are always: “Ohmygawd! I am so crazy busy! ” The evil people in my head want to say something like: for the love of God just stop doing whatever bullshit it is you do because it really doesn’t make you or your life more important if you are “too busy”. I strive at under scheduling my life and my housewife pals always admired my boundary setting skills. “You want me to bake something for the preschool that day? Nope, can’t do it. I already have something planned for that day and I don’t plan more than one activity a day! “ I must confess this penchant for avoiding over scheduling too much is not from mad boundary setting skills but sheer laziness.

I had to leave off the slothful life because the flower beds were prepared and the calendar says it’s May. I was daunted by this task because I’ve never taken on such a huge gardening project. I had helped with a vegetable garden when Wally was a baby. Ward did the heavy lifting, I weeded a bit and harvested. The Fabulous House in the Suburbs had established landscaping and I did attempt one flower bed but it was an abysmal failure and led me to believe I had a black thumb. The “do you garden” question was always met with an apologetic shake of the head. However, the success of my seedlings (now out in the big world) and the many thriving plants in the beds for nearly a week, all surviving my hand are leading me to believe I might be a gardener after all. More telling, than week old plants, is the joy I felt working in the dirt. The only way I can describe the joy I feel when I look out on my flower beds is like the small child who has successfully built a miniture building from random blocks. Remember how they look when the complex and architecturally impossible structure was complete? My boys would sit back on their haunches, arms outstretched, eyes never leaving the towers and shout out a gleeful: “Ta-Da!!!” I want to stand in the front yard and shout: “Ta-Da!” Maybe I will in August when my lovely garden is blooming.

I loved working in the beds and it felt good to be dirty and sore. Part of me wishes I had more to plant; but until the fall, I must be content with watering, deadheading and weeding. I had always thought the whole: “just go outside and you will feel better” advice aimed at the depressed was some kind of pseudo hippy back-to-nature bladdy-blah. I found the dirt theory has merit; I felt rejuvenated by it and the fresh air. It even felt good to work in the damp drizzle for a couple of days. And had I known how meditative gardening is, I would have started years ago. At last an excuse to live in my head! I found myself composing letters to the long lost in my life. The letters were stories rather than self flagellating apologies which is the tone my spinning usually takes (link). At times I did have to pay close attention to what I was doing. The work was niggling and fussy when the roots of a few of my new plants (I’m looking at you Shasta Daisies) were matted and tangled in big clumps. The exercise of untangling the mass without breaking them, to separate the plants safely, reminded me of untangling and unwinding the small IV lines and life support tubes connected to my wee patients years ago in the NICU. Fussy work is not my favorite sort of work.

Transplanting the seedlings was fussy, too. As I transplanted the tendrils, I recalled a dream or a memory of helping my father when I was five or so. We had a big garden and my job was to stick my finger in the dirt making a small round hole where he would place the seed. My finger placing round holes with such diligence, I can still see my dirty and bitten nail as I pulled it from the loamy soil. I remember watching him coax the seedlings into the ground with the aid of an iced tea spoon’s long handle; the handle a sort of guide or crutch against the tender new born stalk. The mind works in such magnificent ways and I found myself doing just this with my own wee cucumbers; only then remembering the close heat and sun on my neck, the smell of the pine trees and how, when I looked up from my task, they made a gigantic fence around our yard. I know remembering the cloying heat helped me tolerate the damp chill the other day.

When I had decided to attack the new flower beds this week, I was going to catch up on Podcasts while I worked. But I forgot my Ipod and discovered the sounds of the crows, dogs and breeze, even the distant traffic, was friendly company. I can’t remember if it was quiet in the garden when I was a little girl. Chances are the silence was punctuated by birdsong which was then interrupted by construction noise. My favorite silence is the silence of the mesa in a snow storm. I have never heard such quiet as the sound of snow covering that vast emptiness.

So today, The Big Plan was flummoxed and thrown out the window and we went, instead to the dry cleaners, doctor and vet. The Big Plan hit the first wall last night at midnight when I still wasn’t asleep for worrying over the dog’s panting and labored breathing. I lay awake for hours listening to him; composing how I would prepare myself to find him miserable and exhausted this morning. It would be time for his last car trip. I rehearsed what it will be like to make the phone calls when it is time for him to leave us. Fortunately, the only one worse for the night’s troubled breathing was me. Kip awakened his merry self, wanting to go outside to have a big sniff and make sure all was right with his world. He was fine and would be with us yet another day. He felt well enough to woo-wooo-wooof at us for food and grrr-grrr-grrr when we wouldn’t let him outside to play in the sprinkler.

My perfect day stalled by life. Yet again, life having a more perfect day in mind for me. I was lucky enough to have an interesting conversation with The Beav that ranged from his persnickety math teacher who doesn’t believe in time to make up homework if you are sick (my question was: what if you are in a coma or your hands are burned?) to the labor reforms which came about after The Jungle was published. I still had plenty of time to fuss over this writing exercise; I’ll have time to hang in the sun for an allotted hour, water my plants; maybe even have a beer. But we won’t harsh my mellow with the gritty reminder I must cook dinner tonight.

Perhaps if I hacked up a lung, I could get out of dinner. Unfortunately, I can’t let that happen because it’s not on The List.
*the photo is from flikr Creative Commons by "A River Runs Through It" thanks to the generosity of such creative folks.