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Labor Day, and I'm hanging out by myself at Dunkin' Donuts writing--but I don't feel alone. My son's with friends but still likes hanging out with me; my sister-in-law called earlier and I chatted with my fifteen-year-old niece about planning another Art Institute adventure. And writing is all about communication, so when I'm immersed in writing, am I really alone? Sometimes I'm even hanging out with imaginary characters, entering their worlds and discovering their thoughts and what they're going to do next. And here at Dunkin', it's cheerful, with peppy music playing and lots of opportunities to eavesdrop and people-watch.
I don't like when people call G amazing--not that she's not. I hope that when I'm in my nineties I'm half as sharp and self-sufficient as she. Hell, I wish I was as emotionally self-sufficient now as she is--being deaf-blind must be so God-damn isolating and horrible, yet she keeps her sanity, remains interested in the world, loves company. She has always hated being called amazing--"Man can go to the moon but somebody db drinks a glass of water and it's 'amazing.'" That says it--but more, it dehumanizes her, makes her into an idol rather than an equal human being.
"Born in the USA." Reagan loved it, mistaking its rousing chorus for an unquestioning cheer of all things American, in the "Love it or leave it" vein. He must never have listened to the words. Yet the song is just as patriotic as "God Bless America"--does seeing your country's flaws mean you love it any less? A good parent doesn't only see his or her child's virtues, but also the child's flaws and loves the kid anyway--and a good parent tries to make the child a better person. Is loving your country any different? Aren't we all our country's caretakers?
At work today, I keep overhearing references to "nuts" or "crazies" as we do a lockdown drill; later, when I say "Yes!" while reading an email, a coworker laughs, "Talking to yourself?" making the circling-side-of-head gesture for crazy. Her teasing is affectionate--but what would any of them say if they knew my mother was seriously mentally ill--someone I'm sure they'd consider "nuts"? I say nothing, afraid of inviting "like mother like daughter" suspicions, even though they've known me years. I've read of studies showing people more tolerant of felons than of people with mental illness.
Such a crush I had on R, though it never would have worked. Everything had to be just so; he once said of his ex-wife that she--gasp--had messy drawers! (I'd consider that a positive sign of creativity!) But he had a good heart and once, when I was going through divorce stuff, dropped by unexpectedly to loan me a book on divorce and kids; he and his son had been through a lot, so he empathized. Funny--his ex and mine had the same birthday. But we lost touch; I learned he died. I hope there's a heaven and he's happy.
I've always had trouble with plot. Back in fourth grade, I was shocked when Mrs. K said stories need structure--plot, setting, characters. I read constantly but only paid attention to characters; I read to hang around with imaginary friends and enter their world. Didn't matter if the setting was the most boring street in the most stifling small town or some exotic city in another continent, if the plot was dusting (in one "All-of-a-Kind Family" chapter) or a Nancy Drew mystery involving a jewel heist. I read to hang around with Nancy and the All-of-a-Kind Family kids. I haven't changed.
A Facebook post asked, what kind of friends did you have in your twenties,listing a range of modern possibilities, from barristas to yoga class members. Who were my friends? People I'd gone to high school or college with--and I'd gone to three different colleges in my search to find myself and a career passion. People from workplaces, past and present; I bounced around job-wise, too. People from a disability rights group I volunteered with.
I wasn't selective about friends; naively, I believed that each person had good in him or her, and it was my job to find that good.
What stories could I tell in 100 words? My 100 word entries tend to be journal entries or mini-essays, or tiny bits of novels or picture or chapter books I'm working on. I should try a rebus, too. Trouble is, condensing a story into a mere 100 words seems to focus too much on plot, on what is happening--how can you develop character in 100 words? But maybe it would be fun to start with a character and see what happens! I could pick an interesting person or animal and see what they're concerned about and how they resolve it.-
Sometimes I'm so ungrateful! Instead of enjoying my life and plunging ahead into the future, I keep craning my head backwards so much my neck aches, doing "If only." If only I'd chosen a different college. If only I'd dated a different guy. And yet, I've had signs that I'm heading the right way--getting my first job in my field exactly ten years after the accident that propelled me into the field. Getting a check from the land of my ancestors for the exact amount I needed for my son's birth, when I had no insurance. Yup, I'm a fool!
One day, H snuck out. T was going to play basketball, and he knew he'd be late. His team needed him! But he couldn't leave H! He and Mom chased H up and down the street. She ran up stairs. She ran down stairs. She hid under staircases. She chewed on leaves. She hunted a squirrel. T cried, "What if we can't catch her?" H was having fun, but T wasn't! Finally, H lay down in the grass and rolled about, purring. T tiptoed over and grabbed her. "I love you, H!" And he and his team won the game!
September 11. Thirteen years ago, arriving at work, a coworker told me she was in shock.
"You haven't heard?!"
I went to a meeting; the TV was on. Flames. Planes. Collapsing buildings.
One of my staff was on the phone; she was from New York and a friend worked in the towers; my boss suggested I tell her to go home. (Her friend survived.)
I stood outside the school with a cluster of other parents, waiting. Home, my third-grader and I played outside, the weather too beautiful.
That night, I sang with the choir; we tried not to cry.
Being sick is so annoying. If I hadn't been coughing nonstop today, we would have gone to the Sox game. I haven't written hardly enough the last couple of weeks because of this stupid sinus infection, afraid that if I didn't rest and drink tea I'd miss more work. And then there's the worry about infecting people--but you can't stay quarantined away forever for ever little cold.
I've always caught colds a lot. A former classmate, at a reunion, snidely asked, "You were always so straight and narrow in high school. Did you have perfect attendance?
did." Not hardly!
Superstitions. My grandmother had quite a few. If you left the house, forgetting something, you were supposed to sit down for a few minutes before jumping up and leaving again. My mother said that shoes on the table meant a fight. (Not even sure you need a superstition to explain a fight under that circumstance.) If you spilled salt, you were supposed to sprinkle it over your shoulder to avoid bad luck. Break a mirror, seven years bad luck. Don't walk under ladders. Don't let a black cat cross your path. And, of course, no one likes the number 13.
Some people preach that we shouldn't patronize fast food places because of the low wages they pay. In theory, I agree; I've signed many petitions advocating for the living wage. I've worked minimum wage jobs and they're hard work. I don't buy the argument that they're just stepping stones; any work that needs doing deserves decent pay. But as a single mom who sent her kid to Catholic school and now college, I can't afford fancy restaurants and coffee shops--and the atmosphere at fast food places feels comfier, less snobbish. I suspect many of the preachers can afford pricier restaurants.
One day, Fluff snuck out. T didn't want to be late for his baseball game. His team needed him! But he couldn't leave Fluff! He and Mom chased Fluff up and down the street. The cat ran up stairs. She peeked down the alley. She hid under bushes. She chewed on leaves. She hunted a squirrel. T cried, "What if we can't catch her?" Fluff was having fun, but T wasn't! Finally, Fluff lay down in the grass, She rolled about, purring. T tiptoed over and grabbed her. "I love you, Fluff!" And he and his team won the game!
Idea for a picture book--Getting ready for you! What does a mom and dad do beforehand? Mom eats lots of salad and other healthy foods! They take a class! Paint and decorate your room! Get a dresser and baby clothes! Have a party where everybody brings gifts for you (even though you're not here yet). Tell everybody! Get the family pet used to the idea. Gets siblings used to the idea! Maybe move to a bigger place. Buy lots of books, some toys. Say prayers! Keep a journal to show you someday. Plan a ride to and from the hospital!
Eyes. Why did I have to inherit my dad's blue very nearsighted eyes, the risk of his mother's glaucoma, never mind my maternal grandmother's cataracts? Not to mention the Irish tendency for ocular rosacea. I've already had surgery for retinal tears, eyelashes grow inward, and now I'm seeing an ophthalmologist twice a year to monitor whether glaucoma has made its presence known (although they haven't yet said the G word). My mother's dad didn't even own me as her grandchild, yet I still inherit her eye disease--what's the fairness in that? Family--you can't escape it, or your family member's eyes.
Being published is so much fun! In the last couple of months I've had an essay published in a literary weekly and a letter to the editor in a pretty reputable newspaper. Best of all, maybe my words about race, being a white mother of a biracial kid, and the NFL's--and society's--response to child abuse will make a difference. My eight-year-old self, who wanted to be an "author" when she grew up, would give me a high five. Maybe someday, as that long-ago me dreamed, my name will be on the spine of a book--but for now, this is great.
"I Hope You Dance" plays at Dunkin' and again I want to cry, thinking of M. That was the song on the card from her memorial service, and that was her--so full of life and fun and love, and yet she cherished my friendship. If she were alive, how happy she'd be that I've been published, what celebrating we'd do! How we'd gossip about Match.com events, how excited she'd be for T's student teaching. Oh, I hope her spirit wasn't just extinguished like a discarded snuffed-out candle. How wonderful it would be to KNOW that death would mean a reunion.
T and Mom take the bus to preschool. First, they cross at the stop sign. At the bus stop, T counts how many red cars pass by. The bus comes! "Hi, Bus Driver!" T loves the window seat. A blue garbage truck roars by, and a cement mixer. A fire engine screams past, with flashing lights. T waves at the fire fighters. Maybe that yellow taxi is taking someone to the airport! Maybe the green moving truck is moving friends into the neighborhood. T sees his school and pulls the cord. The cement truck is building a new school playground!
What am I grateful for today?
-a son who has great values and who's adored by his little cousin
-healthy senior cats
-an affectionate rambunctious not-senior cat
-a job writing, where I get to use my mind, and serve people who a lot of times are unserved
-hand braces that allow me to type and not worsen my tendonitis
-a 7-11 store a perfect four blocks away, giving me a great daily mile walk
-having been published
-having known my father
-two knee replacements that enable me to walk and swim
-Ys that aren't far away
Ideas for rebuses:
- getting ready for a new baby
- starting preschool or kindergarten
- one twin shy, one gregarious
- kid considers himself a great chef
- what want to be when grown up
- naming the goldfish
- naming the new pet dog or cat
- Daisy who eats (artificial) daisies
- the weirdest cat in the world
- going to a shelter and choosing a cat
- learning to play the violin
- taking the bus to preschool and all the interesting trucks the child sees
- taking a walk and all that the child sees
What's the solution? If we keep up the bombing attacks, aren't we creating more terrorists? Inevitably, innocent people will die, and their children may well vow to avenge them. Yet I read a thoughtful article comparing ISIS to Nazism, proclaiming that we can't just ignore evil, that we must fight back. But how? I wish we had a Congress with courage; instead, our representatives and senators gutlessly avoid a vote. The Daily Show aired a video of Parliament members debating involvement in the war, and voices were raised, arguments offered on both sides. We need that kind of debate here.
Divorce anniversary. I sent out announcements on pale purple paper; although the marriage probably should never happened (except for the wonderful child it produced), its end didn't feel like reason to celebrate in bright yellow or vibrant green. No matter how bad a marriage, it started with dreams, and T was the first person who ever supported me in dealing with my family, who'd visit my mother with me. And who's to know if I'd ever marry again--and, eighteen years later, I haven't. My dreams of true love endure, and I continue to dally with online dating, but I'm wearier.
In eight months I'll hit another decade. Logically, I should be rejoicing that God has let me live this long on the earth, didn't make me abandon my child at a young age. And I am grateful, I am--but age scares me. I have so many stupid health issues--arthritis, a bunch of eye issues, never mind my trigeminal neuralgia--and they're only going to get worse. But the worst part is that people look at you differently--going back to school is amazing or ridiculous, and dedication at pursuing a dream is complimented, not expected. Luckily, I've always enjoyed ignoring people's expectations.
Checking Facebook, I read a Root post headline--a white mother suing because the sperm bank mistakenly gave her the sperm of--horrors--a Black donor. She's suing because of "emotional suffering." That poor kid--who looks beautiful, reminding me of my son's baby pics. Of course, I'm posting before reading the entire article--I mean, the sperm bank did make a mistake, and she has the very American right to sue--but how will that child feel? Will he feel like he's a mistake? That his mother really wants to exchange him for a lighter version? I want to cry though I'm sitting at Dunkin'.
I think of the two Ds: my half brother, now deceased, who never accepted me, who referred to me as a stepsister at our dad's funeral; the other, a cousin whom I barely knew who killed himself at age 19. How I wish I'd really known both Ds. I'm sure my brother and I had similarities and could have bonded in some way; my cousin must have been sensitive, and maybe we could have helped each other. My son doesn't get the bonds of family--says, except for me, there's nobody he feels he's supposed to feel any special way about.
It's always a dilemma, whether to take a mile walk to 7-11 during my lunch hour, and then write when I come back, or to take shorter walk to Dunkin' and write there. Thing is, often when I come back from 7-11 I don't write--I get immersed in to-do's and before I know it, I'm back on the clock. Of course, at Dunkin' with my Chromebook, other procrastination temptations exist--checking Facebook or responding to chatty emails. For now, I vary it, enjoying having alternatives--once snow and ice hit, I'll probably be stuck writing at home and pretending I'm at Dunkin'!
Hate when I'm feeling moody for no reason--but I do have a gift for creating reasons! If my boss doesn't compliment my work, I assume they're getting ready to fire me. If a friend hasn't called or emailed for a week, there goes the friendship. Shoulder pains--tendonitis forever, and I probably won't be able to write tomorrow. And, of course, I keep trying to rewind and re-record the past, choosing a different college, dating guys I brushed off. Doesn't matter that my life is pretty good--I write for a living, belong to a great critique group, have a wonderful family.
Which makes more sense--to choose joy or realistic pessimism? I remember the writing teacher years ago, an older woman whose husband often accompanied her, and she said, "Life is sad. No matter how much you love somebody, one person dies first." I look at my happy life--wonderful son, my brother's great family, terrific friends, a dream job--but know it could evaporate in a moment. But--focusing on despair discredits the people in your life. Would M and J want me to remember their deaths, or the joy they had in living? M once said she liked me because I was happy.
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