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My friend has been writing 100 words for five years. When he first mentioned it, I thought it to be a foolish activity, a waste of his talent and not enough discipline to make it worth his time.
After years of watching him, I’ve decided to do it for myself.
I lead a chaotic life. I tell myself I thrive on chaos, but I don’t know if I tell myself this because it is this way and I know no other way to live or because I actually do. I have no idea what life without chaos would be like.
I used to journal.
I didn’t call it journaling. I called it self therapy.
It was a way of sorting through the chaos of the overwhelm to figure out where it came from. Overwhelm is insidious. It is vague. It is real.
My method was simple. I’d begin with the question: What is bothering you? An answer would come. Then the next question: What about that is bothering you? An answer would follow. The pages would fill until clarity came.
Later when my children were in the fangs of overwhelm we would use this technique. Theirs were called “worry lists.”
I raked leaves today. Rather, I helped to bag them. I don’t do enough of this. It’s good for me to shift away from the cerebral.
Each day begins with a fire to put out – a phone call or an e-mail. I then frenzy my way through the day until I drop from exhaustion.
I don’t STOP on my own, to shift gears, to move to another realm. I am inertia.
Today’s activity was extrinsic, this stopping, this leaf bagging.
Extrinsic is good for a person like me. It catches me off guard – gets my attention and shifts my momentum.
1948 plus 60.
Birth plus 60.
When did I start to do this?
When did I start to acknowledge that my time past is greater than my time future?
When did I start to recognize what future means?
When did I start to conceptualize a future that I can create?
When did I begin making plans?
In my cancer days there was only TODAY. I reviewed the treatment plan. I asked the odds. I went through the prescribed, yet horrifying motions. I did what I was told.
Now – three years post: Sixty.
1948 plus 60.
Birth plus 60.
I am a reader.
I used to be a reader.
I think of myself as a reader.
I have books.
I buy books.
I love books.
I don’t know when I stopped reading.
I listen to music.
Reading involves light.
I want my music.
I want my darkness.
When I was sick, I read.
I read everything that found its way into my house.
I could not move.
I could not get up.
I read until I wanted to SCREAM.
I threw the book across the room.
I am a reader.
I have books.
I buy books.
I love books.
When I was a child my father bought a lake place not far from where we lived. My sisters and I loved this place. My mother was alive then. She didn’t like it there, and when we were teenagers we’d drive out on our own. We painted it bright colors inside and used contact paper accents. We played scrabble by the hour when it rained. At night, when the moon was high, we’d drag out the white wooden raft that sat atop floatation barrels. We’d swim off of it, and haul ourselves up into the moonlight using the rickety ladder.
After my father remarried, he built a cottage on the site. It was like no cottage I’d ever imagined for this lake of my childhood. My father designed it and proudly shared the story of how he had drawn it out on a napkin with his children – a lovely story without a shred of truth. The cottage my sisters and I had imagined was a lake house nestled in the woods.
I guess my sisters knew about it when it was built but they were sworn to secrecy. Secrecy was big in my family. My mother’s cancer comes to mind.
The old Dorsett ski boat with the 100 HP engine was traded for a pontoon boat. The house was a simulated A-Frame, sitting high above the lake, three stories to the main entry. Later when arthritis overtook them, the impracticality must have occurred to him and when Alzheimer’s was added, those stairs took away his haven.
When we got his cancer diagnosis, I drove out to the lake with my own children and my two nephews. They sat as they had as toddlers, with feet dangling over the edge of the loft overhang and talked quietly. I sat below.
That was the last time we were together. My nephews lived in Boston. Their mother had died three years before, also cancer – my baby sister. We all convened for Thanksgiving that year and just happened to be there for the diagnosis. I walked into the room and the doctor was there.
I returned south with my children and my nephews flew back home. I drove back the following week to be there. Just to be there. He died an hour before I arrived. No one could figure out how I’d gotten there so quickly. They didn’t realize I was late.
My older sister was in the hospital in California – also cancer. Her diagnosis was two primaries, lung and kidney. Her surgeries: One kidney removed along with the lower lobe of her left lung. She insisted upon being discharged early to spend Thanksgiving Day with her husband away from antiseptic fumes and understaffed hallways.
I quietly planned the memorial service: Flowers, rabbi, caterer, obituary, interview with the newspaper journalist regarding his career.
My sister received permission from her doctors to fly in for the service. When she arrived, the house was filled with relatives. I was the only one she knew.
When I returned to work my old boss called with a job offer.
“Why would I want to work for you?” I asked.
He’d recruited me on his way out the door. I was his legacy. He hadn’t been candid about the job description and didn’t mention he was working his notice at my luncheon interview.
He persisted. I resisted. He offered. I refused. I hated my job. He knew it. Come take a look. OK, I said. At night, he said. Rumors you know. I knew. I went. Write your own bonus plan. I did. He wooed. I went.
I received unemployment and then cancer. The unemployment status was welcome. The cancer was not. The unemployment status was expected. So was the cancer.
I was in the emergency room one night, unrelated to my own diagnosis. A doctor friend was there. We hugged and when we parted, I remarked that we were sporting the same hair style now. He had lost his hair and so had I.
I told him I’d lost my job and got my diagnosis a week later.
“Oh,” he replied with a laugh. “You had seven good days!”
I just love a man who understands.
Recently my friend told me I was good at cutting people loose.
Terminal illness can do that to a person. Was I that way before?
I think I had the tendency but I wasn’t as deft about the process. I allowed old relationships to linger for no reason other than that they had existed once in some other form.
My friend may be wrong.
I kept one relationship long beyond its natural conclusion. He later became my closest friend. He understood I was drifting away and hung on tight. He became the heart of our relationship.
And then he died.
I lived in a dorm on campus until my father bought a luxury condo behind gated walls. The doorman always waved me through without a glance; however the other owners were not so blasé.
My father received a call which was followed by a formal letter from the Board of Directors. He was informed that his daughter was allowing her friends to sleep there with sleeping bags in tow. I found this amusing. Our furnishings included two queen size beds in the master bedroom and twins in the adjacent studio.
My father overlooked the humor. I found that even funnier.
I packed the pinto wagon with what I’d need for endless travel with work along the way: Dog, sleeping bag, eight track tapes, bicycle, Coleman stove, typewriter.
I planned to stop in Colorado, but found that wasn’t enough road time and so continued west. Oregon stopped me. I carefully rented an apartment with allotted cash, opened a bank account and began to look for work.
I had skills to make a temporary agency swoon. It never occurred to me there would be no jobs. I looked every day for two weeks, my nest egg dwindling and my apartment rent receding.
I worked as a lifeguard one summer and another in a book store. The two jobs were separated by several states and as many years but they link together in my mind.
My ex husband thinks I’m flighty and impractical. He says I don’t stay with jobs. My father thought the same as does my sister. My daughter is quick to agree with this consensus and so am I.
Their spin however is that there is something inherently bad about my style of life. I, of course, can see no other way to be.
They pity me. I pity them.
When I was in junior high, the guidance counselor called me in for a planning conference. She asked what I planned to become when I finished school. I had no answer. She quickly cut the session off, made some notes in my file and told me I would know before long and not to worry.
I had a similar conference in my freshman year, sophomore, junior and also senior year. I attended a Liberal Arts University and took a liberal arts program.
I switched my major from math to philosophy to human relations. Human Relations looks fabulous on a resume.
My favorite client interaction involves human nature and theatrics. While reviewing my completed work, the client began asking why I had selected this word, or chosen that. He’d paid dearly for my work and was clearly nervous about his investment. I allowed him this luxury and after a bit, moved into theatrics.
I pushed my chair back, looked into his eyes and stated, “I chose these words because I am a writer. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. I’m a writer. I write.”
He picked up his packet. Turned and shook my hand and left without a word.
I started a new job in August. I’d been out of work for a long time and had passed the panic point to the acceptance – knowing that it would work out how it did and in fact it has.
I really like this new job – or did until December 9th when I had an entire new job dumped upon the first. Now I’m not so sure. Will it level out? Will I take it in stride? Will I cower under the weight and give it all up?
I need this100 words to ground me. Each day. Every day. Ground me.
I was up late in the night.
My daughter was here burning a cd.
Life stops when she visits, but time doesn’t.
And now it’s morning – 6:00am and I’m awake again.
My son’s girl is coming for the holidays from Canada today.
Preparations involve a white board list of to dos. We complete, erase, add, complete, erase, add, add, add, add.
He was up late too, putting blue holiday lights on the front porch columns.
I went to see the lights when I woke up just now, after letting Fargo outside.
And I smiled.
And I smiled
And I smiled.
I’ve been working on this house.
I rented it when I came back down from the mountain after my frenzy of trying to catch the wave of a better job.
I ignored the sociological babble that leaving my husband would equate to financial suicide. Finances weren’t so great while married to this man. He did fine. I did not. [This was our marriage – should I wish to summarize it into six words.]
I’ve finally acknowledged that I live here – in this house. For years, it was where I was living. Now I live here.
And I’m making plans to move.
I’ve begun to make plans.
This job has allowed me the luxury of making plans.
Or maybe it was my birthday.
Yes – my birthday.
Or is it that my children are close to independence? A two year plan to independence?
Mine? [Or theirs?]
I’m nearly ready to take it back.
My friend quizzes me [Himself?]
What will you do with this new life?
Detail it out for me.
We discuss regrets. [Mine? His?]
We have none. [Well he did.]
We explore this – digress as we do – cycle back to the beginning – take a break – drift off to sleep.
It feels good tonight.
I see a bit of happy peeking through.
I fixed coffee.
Cheese and Crackers.
Left over motza ball soup.
She’d brought over a season of the Office and quizzed me about which one’s I hadn’t seen.
We settled into the movie room – companionable – easy.
I dozed. She prodded me to stay awake.
I asked for a blanket. She said it would make me sleepier.
I asked again and again she said no. She paused the DVD, went for a cigarette, tossed me the blanket.
There was a shift, and easy feel to her tonight.
Wednesday morning now.
Yesterday’s sunrise brought me to my desk early this morning.
Too early maybe?
The birds were chirping behind the shade – or at least I thought that’s what I was hearing. I couldn’t be certain because the washing machine blended with them until I had to raise the shade to see, all the while knowing that when I raised the shade the movement would frighten them away.
I did it anyway.
Life is like that.
The act of acting changes your focus and when you open your eyes again you’re dealing with an entirely new set of circumstances.
It’s three o’clock on Christmas day.
Family has disbursed and I’m alone.
I love alone.
Sipping my water, sitting at my computer, watching the birds at the feeder, listening to my music.
They asked, “Do you want to watch a movie with us?” My reply, “Thank you, but no. I need some me time now. But thank you. And you enjoy your movie. Thank you, but no.”
Morning tensions are washed away with the closing of the door.
Respiration creeps back to normal ranges.
Wanting to prolong this part of my day into my week… my month. my year..
He came to me in 2000 - November
He came for no apparent reason – and stayed, also for no apparent reason
I wanted it to work.
I hoped it would.
Too many unknowns came together to become the knowns which became the it won’t work to become the you stay, I’ll go to become the, OK we’ll try still, but these are the parameters.
And so we tried again and still
We moved and this time it was with hope
And just because we did
I did a lot of that in those days: The just because I dids.
He seeped into my being, this man who came to me in November of 2000.
My protests that didn’t love him pale into semantics now that I’m living in the aftermath of his death.
2008 – June 11
2000 – September 15
1999 – May 9
1967 – September 9
He filled my life
With the details of living – this man who came to me in November
He filled my life
And my sister’s death lay hidden
He filled my life
And my lover’s death lay hidden
He filled my life
And my mother’s death lay hidden
the details of life lay hidden.
I was working
I hadn’t worked since August – yes, 10 months!
But I was working – no.
I’d driven up to see my daughter’s friend in prison that day.
My friend, too.
He wasn’t my responsibility.
Not the man in prison – keep focused here.
But I was his?
And so I called him.
He didn’t always hear the phone.
He couldn’t always get to the phone.
I knew this.
But I knew that day.
I dialed 911.
Made my calm report.
Will you be there when the police arrive?
No – that’s why I’m calling YOU.
I live alone
It hasn’t always been that way.
This Rod McKuen poem has stayed with me since this pop poet hit the airwaves in the sixties. He made recordings of scratchy love sad poetry and we bought them – the college co-eds of the day.
I have three of his volumes on my book shelf. Random House was his publisher. Cover art: 9/67.
Glenn Yarbrough was another artist of the genre. He was with the Limelighters but his work isn’t clear in my mind. Looking up his discography, much to my amazement he recorded the Rod McKuen Songbook in 1969.
I was sick yesterday. Sick in the can’t get out of bed way, in the not caring what’s being missed or left undone way, in the try to sleep it away way. I was sick in the don’t turn on the light way, in the care about me but give me silence way.
Restless, I tried to get up but fell back into the pillows.
At three in the morning, I’d had enough of being in bed and tried to get up. That didn’t work. I slipped back into the pillows, eyes wide open, mind clear with can’t sleep thoughts.
George Gershwin knocks me out. I played Rhapsody in Blue for my piano recital when I was a child. He would’ve been proud of my efforts if not my phrasing.
I have his sheet music and sit at the piano with eyes closed trying to remember the notes without looking.
This has always been my favorite piece.
I listen to it now as the backdrop to my life. My breathing changes, my mind and heart fill with the soaring notes. I turn the volume up and lean into the music. It stops me – I lose concentration and become the music.
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