OK Fine, I Get It

roll

No good deed goes unpunished, right? Isn’t that the saying?

I have never been a fan of those “my word of the year” nudges that start trickling in around mid-December. “What’s your word of the year for 2020?” It showed up, seemingly, EVERYWERE, this winter. I always thought it was kind of simplistic to boil everything down to one concept, as though my needs would never change over the course of twelve months, as though my scattered, low-attention-span mind could hold just one word in the front of it for twelve months and then, once it had a good, solid grip on it, be able to just release it and pick up another.

Besides that: I love words. How would I ever be able to pick one?

But then, toward the end of 2019, a lot of big change seemed to be coming for me and my family. I had finally signed a contract with a literary agent for the memoir I’ve written; my oldest daughter was a senior in high school and applying to college; my parents, who live far away, were beginning to struggle with some health issues; and I just couldn’t picture any longer what my life would look like in three months, six months, a year. When my kids were small, the path forward was pretty clear: fourth grade and then fifth, middle school and then high school; I’d work and make dinner and go to their soccer games and plays on the weekends. Even when my younger daughter’s illness made some things murky (would she ever eat well? would she make it through this next surgery?), I could imagine life on the other side even if I didn’t like what was coming. At the end of 2019, though, none of the next steps were predictable.

As the new year began, a friend invited me to her birthday party at a local boutique where we could make our own hand-stamped jewelry. (Side note: this boutique sells wonderful things and is doing online orders. It’s run by a lovely person who could really use some sales, so maybe buy some stickers or jewelry or a mug or some greeting cards!) At my friend’s party, I was trying to decide what to write on my little piece of metal.

I’d been talking with friends the week before about how I’ve been thinking about all this change coming my way, and knowing it was all too big and too much for me to control or brain-my-way through, I’d just decided to roll with it. Continue Reading…

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I Was Made to Cook Like This

born-to-cook

No more restaurants, my husband and I said to our daughters when the stay-at-home order began. And no takeout. Just too risky.

But I’m a good cook — inventive, curious, mostly patient. I’ve been pressure-tested in ways that have made me adaptive and flexible. I understand substitutions on almost a molecular level because, for the first nine years of my daughter Sammi’s life, I learned to cook in a gauntlet of food restrictions I could never have predicted.

I learned to cook first without almost all forms of acid: no citrus or tomato or chocolate for my toddler with severe reflux.

Then I learned to cook without dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and wheat (all at once) when she was misdiagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis.

Eventually, worst of all, I learned to cook without fat after a surgeon nicked her thoracic duct after cardiac surgery.

So after all of that, cooking normal, unrestricted meals every night while we’re staying at home seemed like it would be no big deal. At first, it was exciting — unlimited time to make whatever I wanted. I even started a journal for the first time since middle school: a few sentences about our day and then a note about what was for dinner and what we watched on tv. My tone was light and my dinners were pretty impressive. I felt proud of the fact that my family could eat well — both in quantity and quality — with me at the stove.

Over the ensuing weeks, I learned to be careful about planning in a whole new way than I’d learned when Sammi was little. Now she and her sister Ronni are both teenagers, and instead of planning around holes in our diet from medical restrictions, I started planning around holes in our diet from grocery shortages. It was — and remains — nothing like shortages in the history of our country or the world; the stores are full of food, and after one fraught trip to our local grocery on March 19, we’ve been ordering our supplies online. They simply arrive at our door, where we sit on the stoop and wipe down package after package of treasures, but always, there are some things the grocery store doesn’t have. Continue Reading…

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Let Me Weep

I am a midnight writer
I am a sole survivor
I am chemicals colliding

Awake late in the night with a baby in my lap, I have turned the tv on low, the mist from the nebulizer clouding the screen. Though the steroid drugs wafting from the machine should amp my daughter up, she is limp across my thighs and sweating damply into the crook of my elbow. It takes twenty minutes to give her a full treatment, until the hissing starts breaking up and popping sounds come from the ampule of liquid feeding the machine. I run my finger down her velvety arm, feel my pulse quicken.

Years later, I find that an afternoon Diet Coke takes me past the edge of hyper over-exhaustion and into sleep. What should stimulate me — caffeine — sometimes helps me rest. I drink it in the bright sun streaming through my window and then lay on the couch, drifting. My daughter and I, it seems, have our own rules about sleep.

Continue Reading…

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Where To, Lady?

where-to-lady

Today, I could work on this web site or this other web site. 

Or I could spend some time writing that essay or commit to the next chapter of can I start calling this a novel?

There’s laundry piling up, and there are appointments to schedule.

Also, what am I making for dinner?

My life for the last seventeen-plus years has trained the focus right out of me. Continue Reading…

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Roll and Be Rolled

lake-michigan

 

I grew up along this lake, just two hours north of where I live now. When I was a girl, I wasn’t allowed to walk the crumbling wooden path down to the beach nearest my house without an adult, but when I was a teenager, I was given permission to walk just a block further south to the wider, gravel path that led all the way down to the beach and also to what my family called “the overhang.” That was as far as I could go alone, but it was so much better than not getting to see the lake at all. From the overhang, I could see it and smell it, could hear the sound of the waves, and could sit and write my teenaged poetry and sing the songs no one wanted to hear anywhere else. In a neighborhood with nowhere else to go — no stores or parks or libraries for miles around — the overhang by the lake was my sanctuary.

Oh my goodness, those terrible poems were everything to me. I wrote all the things I couldn’t say, shared all the hurts and the unrequited love, the injustices, the overwrought outpourings of a girl who wanted so badly to run away.

Look how far I ran: I took this picture last summer, on the same lake two hours south of my childhood home, less than a mile from the house where I live now. How far did I run? Not far, and very far, depending on whether I count the distance in miles or resilience.

There’s so much I’m choosing not to write now, on a bench near the lake or otherwise. Some things I find myself pulling back from the page because of superstition, worried that naming them will make it hurt all the more if they don’t happen. Some things I know have to wait their turn in the light of the screen, to protect the privacy and the feelings of the people who aren’t ready to have their story told. But even so: I clutched those poetry notebooks to my chest for years — decades now — and few have ever seen or read them. So why not write anyway, for myself, to hold for the decades it will take to free the words?

I’m trying hard not to hold anything tightly. Words trap feelings, somehow, and sculpt fluid images into frozen statues. I could hold a scene in my hand — the expression on her face, the way he held his coffee cup — and pin it to the page, but then when I returned to look at it in a month, six months, a year, it would always be just-so. I would not be able to turn it around in my hands, see it from another angle, play it out with the volume lower or higher. I read that memories are always distorted; we are remembering something only the way we remembered it the last time it came to mind. Our brains keep tweaking it, making it better or worse or more interesting or more dramatic. If I write it, I lose the opportunity to recreate it later.

This year, things will happen to me, just like every year things have happened. I’m trying with all my might to let the events that shape my year wash over me, rock me to one side or the other, and not to pin the outcome — any outcome — to the page. My career could tilt in one direction or another; old friendships seem to be gently falling out of season; shifts are happening in the generation above me; my older daughter will go to college somewhere; my younger daughter reminds me less and less of the frustrated, sick girl she once was. It’s all changing. I don’t know where my life will land.

I’m practicing coating my body with an invisible layer of something soft, something breathable, something cushioned, to protect me from the rocks on the shore, to hold me safe inside as I’m pushed all about. I’m practicing rolling over with the tides and the waves, rolling while things roll over me, being patient with where things settle and for how long.

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions or step-by-step plans. I’m learning to roll and be rolled. I’m listening to the water.


This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com. This week’s prompt was “my word for 2020 is…”

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