I read a lot of other bloggers. I learn from how other people write; what they write about; and what subjects inspire them. Last year I found a blog called All of Us (http://all-ofus.com) that was a mother chronicling her child’s journey with cancer. It’s good to report that the journey had a happy ending. Along the way I was amazed and inspired by the grace of both mother and child and found myself rooting for them each step of the way.
Recently I’ve been following a blog by Ruth Rainwater. It’s a simple blog that lists a different gratitude every day. I look forward to reading what she writes. She makes the seemingly mundane beautiful and important. She takes things that I would have thought of as flat, and makes them full. I know that there is great power to change the heart and mind by being grateful. Gratitude has gotten me through some fierce sorrows. Sometimes the world seems like it is full of crazy bat-shit people and they are all in my way…those are the times that I especially appreciate the Ruth Rainwater’s of the world who inspire me to get a grip in the face of challenge and humble me to open my eyes and appreciate every moment of this life!
Today I am grateful for other bloggers and the inspiration that they bring. I didn’t write much this past year because I had so many changes to deal with–retirement, a move to a new state, a new home, and all the purging and packing that come with those things…but I continued to read and seek blogs that move me. As I get settled into my new home, it is my intention to write more and get back into a rhythm of posting. My writing chops are weak. “Use it or lose it” applies. I struggle with finding my voice and the confidence to write each day…and I do know that this is the way back. Just get in the chair and write. There is no muse or calling that will do it for you…just sit down and write. But I digress…the Word Press community is more valuable to me than I have previously realized. I am grateful I had blogs to read this past year when I was not writing so much and grateful now that those very blogs are inspiring me to get with the program again.
Ruth begins all of her posts with “Today I am grateful for…” So, here’s to you kid: I am grateful for Ruth Rainwater and all the other bloggers who share their messages of thanks and hope. It was Meister Eckhart, the 17th century mystic who said: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was thank you, it would be enough!” Onward to new beginnings!
You should not brag about the great sex you had last night. No bragging about how much money you make or whether or not you are the smartest person in the room. You don’t want to go through life looking like the child that got way too much praise during potty training!
On the other hand it is acceptable to brag about your grand-kids, your new living room couch or published works. I do not have any of those things, but today I have bragging rights anyway because I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 5o thousand words in just 30 days.
For the past month while this poor blog lay fallow, visited mostly by spammers, who are now “following this blog,” I sat every single morning and wrote down approximately 1,666 words, creating a novel, my first…a couple of excerpts can be found in the November archives under the heading of “The Angel Twin.”
The long-format has been too daunting for me to consider in the past. How do you sustain a voice for 150 pages? And what is the story that you want to tell? I did not know the answer to either of those questions when I began on November 1, but I will tell you this–the way that you learn to write in long format is the same way that you learn to write in any format, you just get your yaya in the chair every day and write. And on the days that your story is flat and your imagination has left for Cleveland, you write anyway.
While I didn’t create the great American novel, I did create new muscle. I am proud that I took the challenge and made it to the finish line. As far as what I wanted to say–well, I made it up as I went along, just like I do my life. I started with a premise and went from there. Now I wonder what I might be able to do with an outline!
Thus ends the month’s saga of NaNoWriMo, a process that I recommend to any writer looking to stretch their talents and gain new strength and confidence.
I promised myself a day off before I revisit what I’ve written to see what is actually there. In the meantime, I am dreaming about possibilities, all the while blessing my faithful little laptop and feeling pretty darn good about myself!
Note from the author: Excerpts from the story, “The Angel Twin” are not installments given in particular order of the story. They are just little tastes here and there that allow me share something about what is my first pass at the novel format. I’m happy to report that I have crossed the half-way point to 50K words in 30 days and though I have no idea as to the quality of the work I am churning out, there is something to be said for just plowing through on a daily deadline and word-count! It certainly develops new writing muscle Thanks for the support and good will. NaNoWriMo is a pain. It’s a ridiculous endeavour, and it’s still fun! Here’s a little tidbit, introducing a new characterfrom The Angel Twin. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it:
Richard Rosen sat at his desk with a glass of water and lemon. He had stopped drinking six years ago because it made him meaner than he already was. He had also stopped doing the premium Columbian coke that he used to brag about to the clients and colleagues with whom he shared the white powder. And after his second divorce, he had sworn off of any relationship longer than a two-day stint with hot looking twenty-two year olds. In short, Richard was an ill-tempered, minimally misogynistic ass hole that was riding through life dressed in power suits and intimidation skills. Handsome beyond what any 50-year-old should be, it wasn’t enough to sugar coat his dark personality.
Late at night, alone in his office pouring over big-money divorce cases from the rich and famous who treated marriage like an accessory that was exchanged and tossed around– wives and husbands that became undesirable– last year’s fashion. Richard hooked them up with public relations experts who spun the unsavory tales of profligate laisons into media spin about “remaining friends” and “still caring deeply for one another…” this was Richard’s world and it had colored him cranky at best, and evil at worst.
Richard Rosen was your guy if you wanted to save your assets from the young trophy wife that you had impulsively married on a weekend binge of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Richard Rosen knew all of the PR people who could paint the story in your favor and make you look like less of a dick. Richard was ruthless and mean and didn’t buy sad stories, but remained focused on the financial bottom line and for that, there were many who loved him. Not that they would ever show up for him in any real way, but they did keep the referrals coming.
Alone in his office, Richard could not stop thinking about Sami King. He had taken Martin Fedderman’s case as a favor to an old friend. There was some, but not a lot of money involved and Martin had wanted to fairly split the assets accumulated in the year he was married. He had wanted to add a bit more to help Sami get on her feet and have a chance. Richard had tried to tell him that people don’t change and that Sami would be back to her wild and crazy ways sooner than later. Martin was just throwing away his money he had told him.
Still, there was something about the Sami King story that had touched him, though he could not name it. And he found himself going against his better judgment to concoct a plot and a conspiracy that would get the young woman into rehab. He had eventually stopped giving Martin his opinion and just listened to what Martin wanted. He had gone through the perfunctory paperwork to move the divorce forward, along with paperwork that assured Sami’s health insurance and car insurance would pay from some of the fiasco, thus lessening Martin’s financial burden. It was all awkward and distasteful to him, but he kept going. And today he had finally met her—Sami King.
Sami did not see herself the way that other people did. Richard saw her accurately. Sami was a tall, lean woman with a ballerina body. She glided into a room with legs that seemed to go up to her neck. He had noticed her hands. They were soft and delicate, with long fingers that could have been an artist’s inspiration. She had an angel face. In spite of the hard living, her face was sweet, slightly round and framed by flowing dark brown hair. Sami’s green piercing eyes were a combination of sexy and soulful and compelled the viewer to look hard and fall in. That’s how Richard had felt when he met her, like he was going to fall in.
The thoughts and feelings that he had about Sami King were a surprise to him. He had some odd sense of wanting to protect her; wanting to hold her. He took a swig of the lemon water on his desk and realized that he wished it were scotch. Scotch to help him through the uncomfortable feelings, the unfamiliar feelings of a man who was smitten. “I would never ask her out,” he muttered aloud. “She is nothing but bad news. It would be unethical of me to date her.” Yet he could not get Ms. Bad News Sami out of his head and in an unexplained small way, she had already burrowed into his heart. “Fuck this,” he said and he stood up, placed a stack files and papers into his brief case and decided to go home.
Richard Rosen was the kind of bad choice that Sami had made a dozen times. The difference was that Richard had been clean and sober for six years. He was a focused and ruthless attorney who had been wildly successful. There was enough money in his accounts to retire at any time and he sometimes dreamed about a life that was quiet, something away from the negative pall of walking entitled and demanding clients through divorce for the sake of profit.
Sometimes Richard Rosen would sit on the patio of his beautiful home in Coldwater Canyon and watch the squirrels scurrying around the branches of the big eucalyptus trees. The furry little creatures brought him an unbeckoned joy. Mr. Rosen was a paradox of a man who had long ago lost himself to the trappings of power and success, but was captured and entertained by the small furry creatures dancing in his trees.
The rush of taking on the challenge of writing 50 thousand words in 30 days has grown weak, or maybe I should say week as in the beginning of week two. All the experts, the writers who have done this challenge more than once and made it to the finish line, or not will tell you that week two is a bear. Of course, when I read those cautionary tales, I was certain that they were not addressing me, because I was too busy enjoying the high of telling all my friends, at least the ones that would listen, that I was going to take on this challenge and make it to the finish. Then I would humbly add, that I was sure I would learn a lot. Oh cringe!
Week one was nothing short of committed, inspired and focused. Week two has been kicking my little yaya sideways with a leathery old boot that magically talks to me. It says:
1. You are flying by the seat of your pants, here.
2. You do not know what you want to say.
3. This is crap
4. What was I thinking?!
I am also assured by the experts, that if I can hang in there with week two, week three holds all kinds of new promises and joys. Cranking out 1,700 words at a time is not the least bit daunting. Cranking out 1,700 words per day in order to keep up and have all of those words be part of the same story relates to item number four: What was I thinking!!!!!
I am happy though. I spent most of the day in my pajamas, thinking about my characters, writing and knowing that I wasn’t writing my greatest stuff but I was going to stick with it any way, and who knew I could write this much? For anyone who is a perfectionist (you can all put your hands down now) all of your perfectionist issues arise on the NaNoWriMo and slap your face multiple times. Meanwhile, you still attempt to give yourself permission to do what Natalie Goldberg told you to give yourself permission to do on the original rule list of “Writing Down the Bones,” and that is to write the worst junk in the world.
Even though week two of the NaNoWriMo is similar to what I believe Dante was describing about hell’s inner circles, I am still glad I took on the challenge and am still going strong, albeit slightly bruised.
Note: This is another excerpt from the NaNoWriMo Challenge. I don’t post continuous excerpts and only plan on doing a few. Keep in mind that the story is being told from the angel twin’s point of view. Wish me luck as I enter into week two of the challenge, a place that I’ve heard can unwind the best of writers. Here you go:
A seven-year-old Sami sat in the darkened movie theater with a father that she didn’t know very well. Her parents had divorced three years ago and she had seen her dad once in that time. The lights dimmed and a picture of a sunrise filled the screen. The voice over said “in the beginning was the word, and the word was God…” Sami’s father leaned over and whispered in her ear: “promise me you will never believe that.” Stuck for a response, she weakly replied “Okay, I won’t.” The words were engraved in a long line of criticisms, disapproval, and above all, invisible edicts that underscored the expectation of how she was supposed to be in the world.
That summer, her mother had sent her across the country to be with him. Sami had not seen her father in two years, which was a very long time when you are only seven. He had picked her up at the airport and driven her to his small apartment in Alexandria, where they ate canned ravioli and watched Paladin on the grainy black and white television. Her father still had the bunk beds that had been her brothers, back when her parents were married, and it was here that she would sleep in what was to be her room this summer.
The next day, her father’s girlfriend, Virginia arrived to spend two weeks. Virginia was a nice woman, slightly plump with short red hair who brushed and braided Sami’s hair and could be heard moaning in the night in the closed-door room that was her fathers. Virginia wore low-cut tops that pushed her boobs together and created a line. Sami wanted to know what “that line” was and Virginia explained that it was called cleavage. Sami later tried to create her own cleavage with a crayon, but it didn’t look the same.
Virginia stayed the two weeks and did kind and useful things that a mother would do. Her father also stayed at home for two weeks, having taken vacation time from his job in Washington DC. They made a good little unit for that time, visiting Mt. Vernon and the Washington Monument; walking through the Smithsonian. They picnicked on the banks of the Potomac and ate pistachio ice cream at Howard Johnson.
Then Virginia, packed her bags and went home and her father went back to work. Seven-year-old Sami was left to her own devices with a $5.00 bill for breakfast each morning, and the knowledge of how to get to the swimming pool in the apartment complex. She made herself a bologna sandwich and wrapped it up in wax paper, putting it into a little bag that she carried to the pool. She swam all day long, with nothing else to do, her only friends being those that she met at the pool. She waited for her father at the bus stop in the evenings and they walked back to the apartment together for TV Dinners and an evening of television or reading. On weekends, he sometimes went to the pool with her or planned an outing in the area.
The movies had been such an outing. An epic film about Ben Hur, and an unexpected direction about the state of her beliefs. At seven, Sami wasn’t really too sure what to believe. Her mother was a non-practicing Catholic who still kept statues of the Virgin Mary around the house. Her grandmother feared for her “immortal soul” and could be heard chastising her mother for not baptizing Sami. There were plenty of beliefs to go around—one that said don’t believe anything, and a bunch that said if you don’t, something bad is going to happen to you.
Sami had gone to church with her grandmother. Trips to the bins of scarves at Woolworth’s, downtown, allowed Sami to choose a scarf to wear to the Sunday service. She liked the candles and the incense, the ceremony of the man in the fancy robes, and the light that slid in through the stained glass windows and wrapped itself in colors around your feet. Though she didn’t understand the words, she was lulled into peacefulness by their rocking, song like sound. Better though, than the hours in this building, were the hours in her grandmother’s garden, a garden filled with statues of saints and angels, nestled among snap peas and tomato plants. It was here that she sat with her grandmother on the cool ground, sun on her neck, pinching back leaves like her grandmother had shown her. She had sweet and warm memories of pulling weeds, while her grandmother fingered a rosary with one hand and place removed the green beans from the vine with the other. Sami believed in God when she was here, could feel it, in fact.
“Promise me you will never believe that” and the response that Sami gave in her weak “okay” was a lie. Sami knew there was something greater, something better that lived in the sky and the clouds and protected her grandmother in the garden, made the vegetables grow and kissed her neck with sunshine.
Even though Sami had flown across the country to spend the summer with her father, he was as absent in those hot and humid months as he was in the rest of her life. But it was the incident at the pool with a new friend, that made Sami realize once and forever that he would never really be around when she needed him, that faith in the garden God would better serve her.
Sami had met a friend, Cathy who came to the pool everyday–a friend whose mother worked in the city and was not around during the long summer days, either. Cathy was also seven and lived in the same complex, near by. Each day the girls would meet and swim, making up games and stories to entertain themselves. After a day of swimming and sunning, the two were walking the side of the road back to Cathy’s apartment when a pick-up truck slowed down and a man leaned over to talk to Cathy. “Oh hi,” Cathy had responded to his greeting. “That’s my baby sitters brother, Eric” Cathy said proudly.
Eric asked if the girls wanted a ride and my feathers went up and on high alert. Cathy climbed into the cab, and then Sami. The truck moved toward Cathy’s building, while I hovered. Sami was looking straight ahead when she got a hard elbow in her side. Cathy was nudging her and pointing a Eric’s john willy, which was now fully exposed and in his hand. Seeing that the girls had noticed, he asked “Do you want to go to the woods where there is a river.” Sami, started yelling “stop the truck, stop the truck” as she was pulling at the handle of the door. “Stop the truck.” Now Eric was laughing, but he did stop the truck and Sami grabbed Cathy’s hand, pulling her out the door. The two little girls ran as fast as they could to Cathy’s building where they made it inside and slammed the door, locking the dead-bolt at the top. They were laughing a nervous little laugh when they heard him knock and ask to be let in. That’s when Cathy began to cry, and Sami did what her mother had taught her and that was to pick up the phone and tell the operator what had happened. The operator stayed on the phone with the girls until the police came.
Parents were called and Cathy’s mother came home first, concerned and comforting. Then Sami’s father showed up and he was pissed. But he wasn’t pissed at Eric the perv, he was pissed at Sami and Sami didn’t understand why. Later that night as Sami lay in the bunk bed, she heard her father talking to her mother on the phone. “She is just a willful child with an over-active imagination. I don’t believe that any of that ever happened and she is certainly in no danger, she just got hysterical.” At her mother’s demand, Sami returned home early and finished the summer at home. Her mother had found a day camp for Sami and Sami was not left alone to fend for herself for the rest of the season. They never talked about what had happened, but her mother hugged her a lot more.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God—Step 3. Sami reviewed her life, playing out scenes like the one with her father over and over in her head and on this day as she sat in her favorite place outside, she felt the sun on her neck and thought, “this is how I understand God. God is the kiss of the sun on my neck; God is in the vegetable garden; God is in the life that is held by those trees.” For the first time in a long time, Sami felt a kind of peace that the seven-year-old Sami had known. There was something in the quiet of her heart that she had been afraid to face. She had kept it at bay with drugs and drink for most of her adult life, and now what she once thought was the dread was holding her in peace as she cried.
Note: this is an excerpt from the NaNoWriMo writer’s challenge that I have decided to participate in. I have never tried to write a novel. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I will finish the challenge of 50K words in 30 days, but I am going to try. It’s a little scary to put it out there–because this is a writing genre where I don’t have a lot of confidence, and “popping off” about certain 650 word topics is a lot different from making up a story that is good and then telling it. So forgive me now for all the bad writing mistakes I will probably make in the next 30 days. I am going to post a few excerpts from time to time and welcome all comments and most especially support for this undertaking! Here you go:
The Angel Twin
By: Stephanie Raffelock
“You don’t have to do this, you know.”
Christine had taken Sami’s shoulders and was looking directly into her eyes.
“You don’t have to do this.,” she said with all the firmness she could muster. “I can have you into the car and outta here in two minutes.”
Sami pushed Christine hands away and turned to face the mirror where she adjusted her veil. “I make a pretty good lookin’ bride,” she said.
The Hotel Bel-Air had not been Sami’s first choice for a wedding. It was so rubber chicken and green beans almandine. But the place in the canyon had fallen through and wouldn’t have seated a hundred guests anyway. The bride’s changing room was elegantly appointed with nicely draped floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the lush Bel-Air grounds, and floral print chairs where a few family and friends now loitered, waiting for what was next. Sami had already had several pictures taken: some with her mother, who had surprisingly shown up for the wedding and was acting as if she and her daughter had always been oh-so-close; acting as if her daughter in the pure white gown hadn’t run away from home and moved in with a rock n’ roll musician when she was seventeen. No, mom was just being good ol’ normal mom, adjusting Sami’s veil and smoothing the train of her dress. All photo worthy. There were some pictures with Christine, her maid of honor today, but forever-best friend on other days, and some by herself, sitting poised in front of the window, gazing demurely at her bouquet of white Stefania and pinkish Alstroemeria.
It’s a beautiful place for a train wreck, Christine sighed. “Do you want this?” Her open palm and extended arm was offering a blue 10mg Valium.
“No, I don’t really need that,” Sami said practicing her soft voice. “Okay, maybe half.” Then, “Okay gimme me the other half.”
The little voice in her head that had only a day earlier resolved to not take drugs on your wedding day was quickly usurped by a stronger, more familiar voice that said “what the fuck, let’s party.”
The truth about this wedding, about this very respectful and nicely appointed place, Hotel Bel-Air, was that there was nothing about it that reflected the complexities and reality of who Sami King was. Sami was the girl who took the pill being offered at the party and inquired later as to what it was that she had just taken. Sami was the girl who not only stayed up all night drinking with the boys in the band, but often stayed up for days at a time with a little help from stimulants that came in the form of tiny white pills, or white powder. She was bawdy, loud and funny. She was confident and assertive and it seemed like she wasn’t afraid of anything at all—and yet, here she was on here wedding day, already afraid and knowing that she had made, or was about to make a terrible mistake and that in the grand scheme of things, she would leave another body in her wake and heartache enough to go around.
The wedding is as good a place as any to begin the story. So much happened leading up to this point and I am the most qualified to comment and bring you up to date, because even though Christine is Sami’s best friend, I have been with Sami since the womb. I am her angel. Her twin. I carry the common sense. I’d like to help Sami, but I am here to bear witness to her life, not to interfere with it. Complications kept me from being born– some cosmic last-minute change that put Sami out into the world on her own. Karma. Whatever. Anyway, she has never really been on her own. I’ve always been with her, hoping that at some point she might come to know me. But I digress. Here is how this whole thing unfolded:
When Sami was 19, she woke up late one night with bad, cramping pain. She called a doctor that she found in the phone book and he agreed to meet her at his office. Then she convinced her alcoholic, this is all about me and should never be about you, boyfriend to drive her to the doctor’s office. He complained all the way there, accusing her of being a hypochondriac and a drama queen. He asked her for gas money. He whined that he had better things to do with his time. Unfortunately this was not an isolated description of the kind of guys Sami chose to be with.
The doctor’s exam concluded that Sami had a fairly large ovarian cyst and he made arrangements to have her checked her into Cedars Hospital. On the drive to the hospital, boyfriend kept his mouth shut. Settled into a non-private room with three other young women, Sami got comfortable in the requisite issued white and blue gown that didn’t close in the back and a shot of Demerol that was most pleasant. The very next morning she went into surgery, where both an ovary and a cyst were removed.
Bedside, a few hours later, the doctor explained that the cyst was a “dermoid” ovarian cyst and that there had been little pieces of bone and tissue in the cyst. This was a very creepy story for a very edgy girl. When questioned as to “what the fu…” doc replied, “some say it is your unborn twin. You should have been a twin.” When he left the room, Sami sat with that odd story and the odd sensation of a twin, something she would chew on over years. So, that is I. I am the twin. That is how I came to be, came to know her since the womb, and came to follow her around as an angel bearing witness to her life. Having never been born, I was never given a name. I am just the angel twin.
When the string quartet started to play, Christine arranged parents, bridesmaids and herself at the starting gate and made sure everyone launched down the aisle with Sami following behind on the arm of her older brother. One hundred guests were standing on the well-manicured lawn of the Hotel Bel-Aire, in front of the white, wooden folding chairs that you would expect at a wedding. Next to them was a lake, that for just a moment, Sami pictured running to and jumping off the picturesque arching bridge that went from side to side. “Bride Jumps Into Lake At Own Wedding,” the headline would read.
Walking down the aisle, she looked at her guests and smiled a smile that was really more of a grimace. A face that betrayed what would normally be a day of celebration and happiness, she wasn’t happy. She thought this wedding might make her happy, might instate her as an upstanding citizen in her community—might actually make her normal.
Normal was something that Sami longed for, craved, even felt desperate for. Normal meant a level of okay-ness that made your good heart visible. Most of the people here did not know her that way. They knew her as the feisty girl who partied hard and kicked back shots of whatever. Guys thought that she was “one of the boys” and they dug her for it. Women were cautious of her, and rightly so. She had few true friends. Christine was one of them. Christine knew her good heart. Knew her angst of wanting to be normal and tried to support by teaching her basic life skills, like keeping a checking account and waiting one month before you brought a guy home to sleep with you. “Anyone can keep up party manners for 30 days,” Christine would say. But the 30 day rule rarely stuck, even though Sami recited it often. Christine probably kept her from totally derailing. And Christine always knew to carry a Valium when she was going to be with Sami, because if common sense couldn’t calm her down, Valium had at least a fighting chance.
The two had met at an office party given by Christine’s company, a naked lady magazine that easily lured and captured starlet wannabe’s with the promise of worldly fame, all for the easy price of taking off your clothes for publication. Christine worked for the magazine as a copy editor, training an eye that wanted to write…hopefully one day, something beyond “Your Most Secret Sex Questions for the Editor.” For the present, it was a good job and a writing job at that, and she didn’t have to look at the naked ladies, just edit the inane pictorial bios of “turn-offs” and “turn-ons.”
Anything was an excuse for a party in the naked lady business. Sami had gone with a photographer friend with plans of leaving alone. A party meant free food and that had been the appeal. She was scarfing at the trough of a buffet when she noticed the woman next to her doing the same. “Blind munchies?” Christine had asked her. “Not yet,” Sami replied. And without further conversation they snuck off to an outside fire escape where they lit up a nicely rolled doobie and inhaled deeply, looking down to the throngs of ant-like people, scurrying on the sand hill of the Sunset Strip, that was coming alive in dark hours of the night. From this point forward, Sami decided that they were best friends, and Christine went along for the ride, mesmerized by the unbridled, unrepentant, wild and crazy Sami King.
As Sami reached the small, white gazebo, festooned with flowers that matched her bouquet and the lavender and pink dress colors of her three bridesmaids, the Valium hit, and a warm and a relaxing mood engulfed her like a long, lost friend. Her smile softened from grimace to something pleasant. And though Christine would later describe it as a lamb being led to slaughter moment, Sami managed to slip gracefully off her brother’s arm and offer him a cheek to kiss before he went to join the other guests.
Words blurred into words that did not make sense. Promises and “yes” collided into each other like fat skaters on bad ice, and the ceremony seemed as though it had lasted about a minute and a half. The groom stepped on the wine glass; the hundred guests said “Mazel Tov:” the music burst into something cheery and that was it. One very stunned Sami King had tied the knot and was looking forward to a marriage that would last no longer than any of her previous relationships…about one and a half years.
Still as you will see, the date was to mark a change, an awakening to something a little more ambitious than having “normal” as a life goal.
After six weeks of unwinding my business and four weeks of packing up used to be my office, I stand upon the precipice of a big “what’s next?” The packing and the unwind were a good distraction from taking any action. You see, I don’t really know what I want to do next. I am someone who has rushed at life for most of my life, so this whole idea of allowing life to unfold and reveal is a bit outside my comfort zone. In spite of my “seize the day,” or in some cases “strangle the day” attitudes, life is unfolding, coming to me, and illuminating a path toward Chapter 3.
I stood at the kitchen window this morning, cradling my cup of hot tea in cold, grateful hands. Thick frost coated the lawn and a group of children bundled up like little Michelin men trudged to the bus stop, accompanied by parents and dogs. I never tire of this morning parade of vibrancy and promise. I headed upstairs to my “office” and realized that life has settled down enough for me to do what I love best in the mornings: read and write. Not exactly your “extreme sports,” but exciting nonetheless.
A day ago I committed to participate in NaNoWriMo–something I learned about from one of the blogs that I read. NaNoWriMo happens every November for 30 days. It stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a challenge whose rule are to simply write 50,000 words in the month of December. The prize is that you finish that task. It’s big and it’s bold and I am excited to participate. I will post some excerpts on my blog as I go along. The goal is to learn more about being a person, more about being a writer and more about just how much you can do if you push yourself. Right up the alley of an individual who does not do well with ambiguity. This writing challenge unfolded and presented itself at a time when I was thinking I wanted/needed the magic of a deadline. If you want to learn more, you can visit http://nanowrimo.org
If you read my blog, I hope you will cheer me on to finish. It means risking writing bad stuff, because 1,600 plus words a day is daunting, but I want to be in it for the long haul and I appreciate the support.
I’ve read that if there is a question when you die, it’s probably this: Did you live fully and love well? In my sixties, I am more taken than ever by what really should be for me, a daily inquiry. There is an arc to life that I feel I have crested, but not yet completed. Is the trajectory down hill as potentially invigorating and vitalizing as the strong trajectory up? Today, I would have to answer yes, but it is a different yes than the one I might have given twenty-five years ago.
Twenty-five years ago, tennis was my game. I loved the feeling of getting up early and hitting for an hour before work. I loved the cute little tennis outfits. It was a vibrant game and it made me feel vital. But as nature sometimes compels, that particular sport was finite in my life. A scoliotic back and disc degeneration saw to it. Those two physical messengers had their way with me. Eventually I would stop playing tennis, downhill skiing, or any type of aerobics where my feet hit the ground and my back took a pounding. So, what was left? Walking.
Walking is an activity that nurtures aliveness. I have learned to walk all year-long and in all conditions. I walk in the spring and marvel at the wild flowers that fill the meadows and mountainsides. I walk in the summer and stop to take sips of cool water and breath in the offerings of the panorama. In the fall, I delight in the changing of leaves. And of course, the great winter snow hike has become one of my favorites, because in my way of seeing, there is nothing quite as joyful as watching my dog romp through snow, and nothing quite as exquisite as the lone grey heron standing on the ice, keeping watch over the frozen water.
Being in my sixties has given me a perspective of the grace contained within the conflict and challenges of life. Cocky thirties made me think I could do life without such things, but I realize now that I would not have wanted to. There is a comfort in knowing that your marriage is so solid and committed that in spite of disagreements, snarls and frustrations, there was never an instance where you didn’t eventually sit down and work it out, thereby strengthening the union.
As for failure, you can put up all the posters of “Failure is Not an Option” that you want, and good luck with that! I have failed many times. Sometimes I have beat myself up for those moments, wrapping the failure around me like a scarlet letter. Failures though, have propelled me forward in business, friendships and making peace with the limited, finite human being that I am, albeit with an infinite and loving soul. Failure has taught me that God loves me in every moment. Failure is, as Billie Jean King once said, “only research.”
There was a time in my fifties that I mourned the loss of youth and its beauty. I don’t know a woman (if they’re honest) who hasn’t stood in front of a mirror and gently pulled the skin of her face back to remind her of a time that her face was not headed south…and then entertained for a moment some magic surgery that would restore it all, if only for a while longer. In the blink of an eye, the world seems as though it is no longer yours, but belongs to women who still wear high-heels and know their way around an i-phone. But the grief of that passing, was kind and swift and I have started to grow comfortable with the sags of my face. The important things are that I stand tall and straight and that I walk. I am learning that the geese that fly overhead sing their songs for me. I have begun to understand that the fox that trots across the open field and stops to look at me with curiosity can fill me with wonder. In short, I have slowed down enough to take in the sights and sounds of the natural world, letting it fill my heart and speak to me, and that makes me feel as though I am living fully. I know that I can and will walk until the end. When Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night,” I believe that he was talking about living until you squeeze out the last drop from it.
I still stress too easily. I give in to the sorrows. But even those things, when observed with clear eyes and distance show me that they have added texture to a journey that keeps edging me toward the meaning and purpose of being human. Stress is just a wake up call to stop and breath deeply, go read People Magazine and take a hot bath. Stop and realize that nothing is so important that it should disturb your health or your peace of mind. That’s the tough one—we all make things too important and over identify with that importance. It’s a killer. As for sorrows, a little sorrow in life can break open the heart to the suffering of a world that needs you to reach out. Too much sorrow is like indulging a seductress that will take you somewhere you don’t really want to go.
Cycles of the season, cycles of age, all of it meant to be. The sixties are not so bad. In a way, I feel like I am doing my best work. I finally have some perspective on life and am now looking forward to what my seventies might bring. I love to write my thoughts and then go walk in the early hours of the day. And as Irenaeus said; “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” Did you live fully? Did you love well? Is it ever to late to take those questions to heart and count the blessings and the joys of waking up and doing the day one more time–fully alive?
Some mornings, most mornings, I wake up with the committee blaring in my head. There is the usual to-do list, then a tremendous amount of junk-copy enticing me to grab and chew on it. I have to sit for a while with my tea and stare into space before everything calms down enough to prioritize the chatter. Some mornings I read something inspirational. Right now that would be Brother David Steindle-Rast–“Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.” I like the focus of the book. I find that gratitude practice is a useful tool if the large committee in your head is sometimes harsh or unkind. In other words, counting blessings can heal a lot.
This morning, I was going to read, maybe sit on the back deck for a bit and ponder writing. With so much going on in my head, it’s hard to believe that I feel I don’t have anything to say, but I often hold that thought. My friend Jennifer is teaching me to let things percolate, sit with them for a time before you start pouring them out onto a page. That’s hard for someone who lives life honoring the most immediate of tendencies. Still, I learn…some days just sit with what is going on. Ponder before you dive for the laptop.
I read my emails in the morning and today there was a post from “Finding Amy.” Her post read:
Hi there, I nominated your blog for the Liebster Award! Congratulations! If you hate me for that just ignore this. It means I enjoy reading your blog and you have under 200 followers and someone nominated me so I’m paying it forward! So now the request is that you do the same – answer the following 11 questions, nominate 11 (I only had 6) blogs under 200 followers you like, and relish in the glow of the Liebster.
Thanks for this. We all like to be acknowledged. I had received another of these awhile back, and wasn’t sure what it meant or what to do with it…and I certainly don’t know how to grab the little badge thingy and paste it on the sidebar, like I see on other sites…however if anyone feels that they can teach me that trick, this old dog would be happy to learn something new about cyber space. So now, I will answer the questions…which get me to shift my focus from the committee (oh just shut up, will you?) and do the Leibster.
1)What was the last thing you said?–Do you want a cup of tea? I asked my husband that at 6:20. He’s down for the count with a nasty flu. I think that tea cures everything.
2) What are you doing after 5pm today?–Running a hot bath and soaking away the day.
3) What would you do for a profession (anything) if you knew you would succeed?–I wouldn’t give up. Even when things looked bad or were tough. I would keep my vision close by and I wouldn’t give up.
4) Favorite quote?–I don’t know where this came from, but I love it–“Living is like licking honey off a thorn.”
5) Do you search forever to find a close parking spot or just park and walk?–I sing a silly little song “My right and perfect parking place is coming to me now, my right and perfect parking place—” you get the idea. It annoys my husbands and my dog, but I usually get a place near where I am going.
6) How do you deal with anger?–Sometimes I stuff it in the eff-it closet. Sometimes I peel it back and wait for the tears. Sometimes I just stew in it until it speaks and I understand it’s purpose. Then I let it go. I never hold a grudge for more than a couple of years…;-)
7) Have you ever had shark?–Never had a shark, but swam with the dolphins once.
8) Gold or silver?–I prefer silver and that’s mostly what I wear. Gold was never my thing.
9) What is your primary responsibility?–Running a couple of different companies. They are small, but mighty. Taking care of hubby, home and dog. Everybody needs a walk, including me.
10) What’s one thing you want to know about me (not that I’ll answer)?–Describe to me when you knew that you had to write, just as much as you had to breath?
11) Pet peeve?–People who talk on their cell-phones when someone is trying to help them at the bank or a store–it’s just rude.
Well, I guess that I have now done the Leibster. Below are a list of links that I encourage you to visit for a little inspiration, hope and thoughtfulness:
Sunday is the best day of the week. It stretches before me without schedule or obligation. It makes no demands. I pour a mug of hot black tea with honey and return to bed, sitting among pillows and comforter with my books and my laptop, the accessories of Sunday morning.
A spring snow fell most of the day yesterday, a heavy grey shawl that wrapped itself around the house and closed us in, leaving my husband to work at his desk and me to finish the chores of a weekend; laundry that filled the kitchen with the sound of churning machines and the clean smell of soap; groceries—my only outside venture of the day—that were organized in fridge and pantry; a prayer of gratitude for such things. Clean laundry and food in the fridge always make me feel secure and happy.
This morning, the sky is a brilliant blue, the way that only a Colorado sky can be, stretching infinitely beyond snow-capped mountains to places wild, beckoning me from this reprieve of leisure to get out and walk before the trails get slushy and muddy. Church happens for me walking in nature, the wide vision of wonderment filling the empty places in my heart and healing the wounds of exhaustion that the workweek wrought with her incessancy.
I read the next chapter in Brother Steindl-Rast’s book, “Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer,” and then read a few pages from “Letters to a Young Poet,” by Rainer Maria Rilke. From Steindl-Rast’s book, I came away with thoughts that I will allow to pecolate during my upcoming hike; thoughts of purpose and meaning, vision and action and contemplation as an entering into the temple of one’s own heart in order to sit in the light of praise, thanksgiving and gratitude. It is precisely this grateful attitude that Rilke writes about to the young poet, pointing out that gratitude can inform a life and strengthen its wholeness; can make the moments of darkness more fruitful in their contribution—the gift within the gift.
Rilke has helped me to see the value of such life-passages without judgment. A decision made long ago influences me now—a vow to live the examined life has remained a constant, sometimes throwing me into chaos when those around me were having a party. I have remained faithful to that, uncomfortable or not. The examined life retreats to its depths and is born again. Retreating and birth again and again, opening and closing to itself ,all to become more aware, to see with a keener eye, to expand in heart and mind to a greater understanding of self and its place in the story of the human condition.
Sundays are the best day; ripe for contemplations and ponderings; for time in nature; for play and leisure that balance out a life so tightly woven with responsibility. A hike and back into the jammies—not a moment of Sunday given to anything but the quiet appreciation and rest that allows the heart to fill and the journey to continue.