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I remember when I was a child, an aunt asking me what I thought of putting my mother in a mental hospital against her well. I immediately said no--I said that she should have a choice. It was wrong to force her to go to a hospital if she didn't want to go. I wasn't saying that out of any special feeling for my mother--it just seemed wrong. "But what if she doesn't realize that she's sick?" my aunt asked. Years later, I wonder why my aunt asked my opinion; I was just a kid, probably not more than ten.
I write every day--but do I write enough, and do I use my non-writing time to feed my creative spirit? I fritter away too many minutes checking Facebook statuses and responding to emails--even deleting and archiving takes time and doesn't enrich me, not the way reading a fun book, chatting with a good friend, playing my violin, petting a cat, or just walking neighborhood residential streets to 7-11 for a small coffee would. I think I'm a tad bit addicted--writing is lonely, and it's fun to connect with others, be it a stranger forwarding a petition or a Facebook friend.
Mental illness is the elephant in the room of my memoir. If so much unhappiness in my life was determined by my mother's mental illness, do I think people who are mentally ill shouldn't be allowed to raise kids? No--that smacks of Hitler's extermination policy, makes me think of stories of convents forcibly taking babies from mothers. The real determining factor was the lack of support. A friend of mine has suffered mental illness and is an advocate for people who are mentally ill. If she became pregnant, I wouldn't worry: she's loving, self-aware, and has a great support system.
When we take Daisy to the vet, I comfort her.
She hates going in the box.
Neighbors say hi.
People on the bus stare.
Some say hi to her.
I'm not sure what she's saying.
At the vet's, some of the dogs are five times her size.
Their barks aren't small, either.
"It's OK, Daisy," I tell her. "We'll be home soon."
Not sure if she believes me. But I feel bad for her.
Dr. Brown is cheerful though.
"Daisy! Good to see you!"
Not sure what Daisy is saying.
Now she doesn't want to get out of the box.
Dr. Brown examines Daisy. Weighs her. Takes her temperature. Poor Daisy is shaking.
"Poor thing. I wish she weren't so scared," Dr. Brown says. She smiles. "I love animals, but they don't love me."
I never thought of that. I feel bad for her. Because I don't think Daisy likes her. But that's why she became a vet--because she loves animals.
Hm. I wonder if doctors feel bad that people hate visiting them?
Dr. Brown has to give Daisy a shot. I hate shots too.
Daisy is happy to get in the box.
"She's healthy--bring her back in a year!"
This morning when I woke up, my cat Helenore was sitting atop the high bureau, and I thought of my cat Belly Button, who died in 1998, who used to sit atop the same bureau. I especially remember how he'd sit there, overlooking my son's bed, when my son was a toddler. During the day he'd stay out of my little boy's way, but at night, he seemed to be his "guard cat." Now Helenore is 16 years old, takes daily medication, and so does her sister, and I wonder how long they'll be with me, and I feel sad.
My life is boring--but I like it. I love heading over to Dunkin' to write and enjoy free Wifi on my Chromebook and listen to peppy pop music and eavesdrop on workers and customers--much more comfy than a yuppy Starbucks, and tbe coffee's better! I thought of joining that community chorus, but it would have eaten up writing time, and I'm not naturally gifted--I need to work at my writing, I need to put in the hours. But I'm not doing enough to make the world better--hard even writing letters to the editor now, as newspapers are cutting those sections.
It annoys me when I call my doctor's office, ask a question, and am basically told, "because the doctor said so." Um, yes, so I assumed, but that doesn't tell me why. Wish I'd had my specific questions ready--I'll be prepared next time. But it angers me that patients are considered dumb and expected to be implicitly trusting. Hey, I wish I could go to the doctor with complete trust and relax and turn off my brain, but that's a fool's way. If I'd followed that approach, I'd be blind, as that one doctor blithely encouraged me to ignore floaters.
I'm always excited about making new friends; I'm so happy C's mom suggested that we have coffee at Dunkin Donuts again and chat! T. will shake his head, smile, again compare me to an enthusiastic eight-year-old when it comes to friendship. But you know what? That's OK. When I was eight, I didn't have friends, so I'm having fun making up for it now. Wish I had romance in my life, too, but that's harder, more complicated, to pursue. Thought I was developing something with R--until out of the blue he admitted becoming serious with his old college girlfriend. Yikes.
I remember, as a small child, before kindergarten days, looking out grimy windows, watching raindrops and imagining two of them racing each other. Was that a story I'd heard? Or was I older, and was that something I'd read in a "Highlights" magazine while waiting in a doctor's office? Those were lonely days without friends, so I liked to imagine that inanimate objects were sentient, that knives, forks, and spoons formed families (the knife the dad, the fork the mom, the spoon the kids). Francie of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," also a lonely kid, similarly pretended numbers were people.
When my niece/goddaughter was born, a blackout engulfed my neighborhood; temps were one-hundredish. Picking up my son from the park distract at the end of the day, he was so thirsty; we stopped in a darkened fast food place. Later we treated friends to dinner, thanking them for helping us move months earlier. Home, in the dark, the call from my brother. I don't remember G's length or weight, just the happiness in J's voice. Later I called our sister. "Little J, a dad," she said, wonder in her voice. As half-sister, I didn't know him when he was little.
I hate being called "young lady"--since I'm obviously not young, what is the person addressing me trying to say or imply? What's the correct response, a stereotypical titter, or a sign of resignation? Why any reference to age anyway? It rarely has anything to do with the interaction, and there is such prejudice against older people. If I lost my job, not sure if I'd be able to find another. Yet I feel as competent or more so than ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, and I try to keep up with technology as best I can. Don't label me.
My first Sunday swim session since October or November, and my first with my new left knee! Of course, this was a lesson, not lap swim, but I predict that I'll be able to get back into doing laps sooner rather than later. Since I haven't swum for six months, I'd wondered--do I like swimming, and what about all that preparation and showering time, making sure you pack everything? But it's sort of like a tea ritual, where the preparation details are part of the whole wonderful experience--although of course I have to treat myself to coffee and writing afterwards!
Will I enjoy writing on Chromey at FSB or Dunkin? Will I be able to save chapters offline? How heavy will it feel to carry? Looking forward to trying it out at Dunkin, maybe Wednesday evening when T. is working. Right now I have to go to the dentist, maybe to talk about a root canal, ugh, and despite it being mid-April, it is snowing outside. Plus I feel sleepy after a lousy night's sleep, and the apartment is varnish fume-y from work they're doing in the apartment upstairs. I should be feeling happier about my chromebook, but I'm glum!
I'm stumped. Ms. P's brother is OK, but she doesn't find out right away. Is it because he's a scatterbrain who forgot his cell phone? Did he not even have a cell phone? Since he's younger, that doesn't seem likely. Or was he injured? From what I see online, not many people were injured; you either made it or you died. One person received serious burns in the lobby from flames coming from an elevator. Could that have happened to him? Or does he not call his sister right away because he's ashamed he survived when more responsible coworkers died?
Ms. P is terrified--her brother works in the Twin Towers in a restaurant on one of the top floors. He's a struggling starving artist who loves the fast-paced energy of New York city and is working as a waiter while going to art school. Does that make her sympathetic to R whose passion is art? Ms. P. doesn't know that he never made it to the Twin Towers that morning as he overslept because of a cold and was running late. When do the kids learn that her brother worked in the towers? When does she find out he's OK?
Writers usually complain about the blank page, but what's worse for me is the page full of words that needs to be revised when I have no idea what to do, and sometimes changes make the piece worse! Rewriting can be fun, when you're in the zone about what you're writing/rewriting about, when you see a clearing through the untidy forest of your words. But when you read your stuff and think,"This stinks. The characters are stereotypes. What happens is so sickeningly sappy, so not real" but have no idea how to make the characters real, or the action real--ugh!
Easter. Jesus rose from the dead. Did that really happen? But even if it didn't, as a metaphor, it is true. I think all religions contain a basic kernel of truth, and so, Easter too. The Jesus of loving enemies and forgiving others 70 times 7 lives on, even if only as a dream or an ideal, whether or not his body actually rose. I think of J. and M. They died, but the joy they spread in life lives on in all who knew them. That's why life after death seems possible, because it isn't the body that matters
Sipping coconut-flavored decaf at Dunkin Donuts is wonderful while happy pop music plays and the counter guy chats with customers and, out the restaurant window, St. B's steeple juts against blue dusk sky as I write words in Chromeo (my Chromebook) hoping to somehow create meaning and beauty. I want to be home before dark, but writing in a coffee shop feels so inspiring after months stuck at home, first because of knees awaiting surgery, then a winter of unrelenting ice and subfreezing temps. I am grateful and am savoring every minute of walking and taking buses around the city.
I hate feeling sleepy when I want to write loads of words, when it's a perfect Sunday at Dunkin Donuts, pink streamers and cut-out chicks and bunnies hang from the ceiling in honor of Easter Sunday, and soft pop plays, and cashiers talk alternately in English and Spanish, and outside bright sunlight gleams on passing cars with windows open. I'm happy from a good swimming lesson where I was able to explain my goals and my teacher was cool with them--but my ears are plugged up from pool water. Life like a picnic--there's always mosquitos--so it's best to embrace imperfection.
So what happens with Ms. P's brother? R. and her friends are concerned, knowing how overwhelmed with worry their teacher is, but I don't think he dies. Why not, if he worked in the Twin Towers? Was he late that day? But he's horribly affected, too--he lost coworkers, he lost friends. He comes to Chicago to live with Ms. P and her husband; he desperately needs nurturing to recover. He feels guilty--the more responsible ones died and he feels to blame. Makes no logical sense, but that's how he feels, and Ms. P's eyes show the strain of helping him.
I have to figure out about Ms. P's brother. What happened or doesn't happen to him on 9/11? Ms. P is concerned--he works in New York City in the Twin Towers--concerned isn't strong enough, she's terrified. She and her brother are very close, they email back and forth all the time and call each other--is he her big or little brother? Little brother, I think, and she's always loved being his big sister. He was born when she was twelve and she'd just accepted always being an only child, and her parents were ecstatic, too. That he should be missing--heartwrenching.
I write in bits and pieces, in fits and starts, taking breaks between thoughts, as though a marathon runner stopping for water every half-block. That's why I like writing at Dunkin Donuts where my shifting from Chromeo (my Chromebook) to my Nook to my notebook doesn't seem quite so unfocused, and walking about to order another cup of peach-flavored decaf doesn't seem so aimless. And, of course, I take a break to check email and Facebook and even email my sister. But when I get back to my words on the page, I feel refreshed with new ideas. Whatever works!
How can I write about religion in my children's book so it doesn't sound as though I'm putting other religions down, or as though I'm saying Christianity is the only true faith? But I don't see any way to write about 9/11 and how people dealt with it without looking at religion. R. wonders why God let the attack and other painful things happen, if He/She truly loves people, if He/She is truly all-powerful. Something deep inside her believes that there is an answer, that God is good, but she knows that her dad and a lot of people feel otherwise.
Sometimes I feel like I should be ecstatic, and yet instead of rejoicing in blue skies with whipped cream clouds and spring temps where you only need a sweater, in a day off when I can visit the Art Institute and muse over Impressionist landscapes or sit outside in the garden or take long walks or write at Dunkin' Donuts, I find myself obsessing over a stupid email or losing myself in stupid past what-ifs. What if I'd gone to a different college or hadn't started to get involved with D or...Why can't we just will ourselves to be happy?
I feel so spoiled as I sit here at Dunkin' Donuts with Chromeo drinking half-caf coconut-flavored coffee, but feeling annoyed that it seems to take forever to get access to emails or log into Facebook. The D from thirty years ago would be aghast--"You mean you can write a letter to M in Japan and it'll get there instantaneously? You have access to a whole worldwide library of knowledge right at your fingertips and don't need to go to the library and wait for the librarian to set up the microfiche machine? And you're complaining about seconds or minutes?"
I'm tempted to write to the columnist who complained, last year, about mothers celebrating Father's Day. Guess he felt women were stepping onto men's territory and minimizing the importance of fatherhood. But celebrating Father's Day wasn't my idea--it was my son's. I remember the one year, waking up and finding a muffin and a musical Father's Day card (with "Mom" inserted into the greeting), addressed to "Mom/Dad." Today, talking about Mother's Day, he says he thinks of Father's Day as really being my day. What's wrong with him appreciating the extra stuff I've had to do as a single mom?
I first attempted NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) five years ago; I remember sitting in a Starbucks for hours while my son took his SAT at nearby Illinois Institute of Technology, and how I enjoyed coming up with ideas and scribbling stories. Ideas descended nonstop, both for picture books and more adult fiction. But in the years since, I've started NaNoWriMo but only think of boring, shabby plots and flat characters; sometimes I just rewrite stories I imagined that magical year. We writers tend to scoff at inspiration, but while you can't just wait for it, it's so wonderful.
Today is the first day of Grateful May, and I am so happy that my son is doing so well, finishing his honor's thesis and giving a great, well-researched presentation, and teaching lessons in math that have English students beaming because they finally get a concept. But more than that I'm grateful that he's a good, gentle person who isn't embarrassed to take a walk with mom, who has a good circle of friends who value him, with parents who beam and say how grateful they are that he's their son's friend. And I'm grateful he has passions like sports!
The man walks down the street, cursing the heavens and, literally, the church doors he passes, crying out that people are people no matter what color, his speech full of obscenities. Thirty-ish, curly dark hair and brown face, wearing quilted jacket, and half of me is afraid of being confronted by him, and part of me is ten years old again, walking aside my mother, the stares of passersby searing into me, wanting so to belong to a family where random cursing and sudden rages weren't to be expected. Yet I felt for the man, too--he was an open wound.
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