The Crazy Side

Just finished watching the latest episode of Army Wives, one of the few TV shows I watch regularly.  In this episode, one of the “wives,” a nurse at the post hospital, receives an unexpected gift from a patient-his beloved motorcycle.  As a double amputee, he figures he won’t be riding anytime soon, and Denise has shared joyful memories of her youthful riding experiences with him.

Denise’s character is quite conventional – her husband is a bit of a brute, and her decision to return to work as a nurse caused huge upheaval in their relationship.  She’s reluctant to ride the motorcycle, and leaves it sitting in the hospital parking garage where she stops to admire it daily.  One day, a handsome young doctor rides in on his own bike, and they strike up a conversation.  She admits the bike is “hers,” even though she hasn’t ridden it yet.

“I don’t even have a license!” she says.

“License!” he scoffs. “Who needs a license?  You’ve got a crazy bone somewhere in you, don’t you?”

“Oh no,” she demurs, “I don’t think I do.”

“Sure you do,” he says with a wicked grin. “Everybody does.”

Hmm, I caught myself thinking. 

Where the hell has my crazy bone gone to?

Truly, I haven’t done a crazy thing in God only knows when.  The last remotely crazy thing I did…see, I can’t remember one.  I haven’t even gone out speeding driving in my car with the windows down and the radio blasting since way last summer.  I’ve been limiting myself to one glass of wine a day, going to bed at 11:30 every night – what could be less crazy than the life I’ve been living?

There’s been a restless yearning in my heart lately, a “need for speed” – not just physical speed, but a desire to feel a heart racing excitement, an adrenaline rush, a fist-pumping acclamation.  The emotional equivalent of that wind in your face feeling you might get doing 80 mph on a Harley.

Don’t you think we should indulge our crazy bones once in a while?  Cut loose from that oh-so-responsible person who always does the right thing, shows up for work on time, follows all the rules, tries to be nice and helpful and good?

Today, I met with my aunt and uncle, both in their 80′s.  He’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, she’s a cancer survivor who’s battling crippling arthritis.  They continue to live independently, in the home they purchased  back in 1954.  A few weeks ago, a man followed them home from the bank and robbed her as she was unlocking the back door to the home that has been their sanctuary for the past 54 years.  Now, she’s afraid to leave the house.  He has no recollection of what happened, no matter how many times she relives the story. 

Talk about living on the crazy side.

Of course, it’s not that kind of crazy I’m looking for. 

What I am looking for is an opportunity to enjoy life, to indulge my “crazy bone” in case fate intervenes and casts a shadow of true insanity upon my existence.

Anybody know where I can get a good deal on a Harley?

 

Sunday Scribblings-Vision

“I can see clearly now, the rain has gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

Gonna be a bright, sunshiny day.”

 

Funny how sometimes a tune will pop into your mind, and, once there, refuse to leave.  When I read this week’s Sunday Scribblings prompt, these lyrics immediately came to mind, and now I wish I had an escape key for the microprocessor in my brain.

Nevertheless, they’re appropriate for the topic.  After all, “I can see clearly now…”seems the perfect seque to a reflection on the word “vision.” 

Unfortunately, it’s the second line of the song that seems to dominate my thoughts. 

I can see all obstacles in my way.”  I wish I were more of a visionary, but after 50 plus years on the planet, I seem stuck in my overly pragmatic (bordering on pessimistic) outlook.  Everywhere I look these days, in the wide world and in my own little backyard , I see obstacles – monetary, political, environmental, medical. Many of my own dreams are on hold because of the faltering economy and shaky socio political status.  Health concerns loom in my family right now, from the oldest members on down to the youngest.   All of life’s obstacles are clearly visible, and they’ve gathered overhead in the shape of some pretty formidable clouds.

At first it seems that phrase is a little out of place in the general “sunshininess” of that song, doesn’t it?  I mean, if you can see all the obstacles in your way, how the heck can it be a bright sunshiny day?

Our minister’s sermon this morning was quite appropriate to my thoughts today.  Entitled “Weeds in the Garden” he talked about the pervasive nature of “weeds” in our lives – those obstacles that spring up totally unbidden, flourish despite our efforts, and threaten to destroy the vision we have for our lives.  How do you fight these invaders? he wonders. 

Three things…a vision, a plan, and committment.  Have a clear picture in your mind of what you want your garden to be, make a plan to achieve it, and committ yourself to whatever it takes to keep the weeds out.  Of course, if you have a spiritual life, then God (or your higher power) becomes the guiding principle in your life’s plan, as well as in the means of bringing it to fruition.

Having a vision seems to be the key.  If you can dream it, you can do it, as the saying goes.  I struggle with that  – not the dream part, because I have those in abundance.  But in finding a means to make them come true.  And a big part of that is not allowing those inevitable obstacles to blind you to the brightness of your vision, and in allowing the universe to do its part in making the dreams come true.

So, I continue to work toward “openess to possibility,” toward looking for silver linings of opportunity peeking out from beneath those obstacles of clouds.  In the midst of economoic turmoil, I’m grateful everyone in my family has good jobs; amidst concerns about health, I’m reassured that hopeful solutions exist; despite a loss of focus among our current leaders, I have faith that new leaders will emerge to provide inspiration for change.

And so, maybe it will be a “bright, sunshiny day.”

  

 

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love…

Writing from home!

Michele tagged me for this meme the other day, and I’ve been so busy “writing at home” I haven’t had time to complete it. 

Now that Write On Wednesday is up and running (or launched as they say in the web design business), I can sit back (in my favorite comfy chair), put my (bare!) feet on the ottoman, drink my tea (Adagio Rooibos Tropics…delish!),  enjoy the new music I just dowloaded on my I-Pod (Mozart Piano Trio in B-flat major), and think about some of the reasons I love writing from home.

Hmmm…I believe I just told you quite a few of them.

Being comfortable is a big one. 

Having my doggies nearby is another.

Being able to multi-task on the homefront is huge.

Most of all, being flexible…if the muse is being stubborn, I can prod her along with a walk, or by sitting down at the piano for a bit, or picking up a favorite inspirational book on writing.

One thing I try never to do when I’m supposed to be writing at home…turn on the television!  For me, it’s sudden death to any creative urge or ambition!

I’ve been fortunate in that I can also do a good deal of my office job at home -it’s writing too, but of an entirely different kind.  And all the same reasons apply. <smiles>

How about you? Can you work at home? Would you want to? Or do you like to keep work and home life separate?

 

 

Sunday Scribblings – Happy Endings

“You were foolish to expect this to work out,” Angela told me, carefully folding my navy blue satin pajamas before placing them into the suitcase atop the pile of sweaters and skirts she had already pulled from the closet.   “There’s never a happy ending in these situations…you should know that by now.”

I sat huddled at the foot of the bed, watching her work with her usual businesslike efficiency.  Angela and I had been friends since fourth grade, and even as children she would come to my house and organize my room while I sat moaning about my life – the teachers who didn’t like me, the parents who overprotected me, the boys who used me.

“You have this fairy tale view of life, Tricia,” she continued, turning her stern gaze toward my pathetic form.  “You expect that every man pays you the least attention or treats you remotely decently is going to be your Prince Charming.”  Her expression softened into a smile, the kind you give a recalcitrant puppy who pees on the rug even though you’ve just taken her outside.  “Even married ones,” she sighed.

It’s true, I don’t have great judgment when it comes to relationships.  I’ve fallen in love with the wrong men ever since I can remember, starting with Billy Tucker, that nasty little five year old who lived behind us, and who came to my house every day just so he could play my brother’s computer games.  I was certain he loved me, and was crushed when I invited him to my birthday party and he just laughed in my face.  

And now I was packing up the remnants of my latest failure in love – or rather, my best friend was packing them for me – a year long relationship with a really super guy who conveniently neglected to tell me he was still married.

“I just want a life,” I said, realizing that the words “like yours” were the implicit ending to the phrase.  Angela had a great husband who adored her, and seven year old twins who excelled at everything from soccer to chess.  Talk about happy endings.

She sat beside me and wrapped her arm affectionately around my shoulders.  “I understand,” she said. “But you have to be realistic.  And your life doesn’t have to be like mine,” she continued. “Your happy ending could be something completely different.”

I knew what was coming next.  Her familiar “you have so much talent and you’re not using it” speech.  Angela was certain I was then next Pulitzer prize winning novelist, if only I would work at it a little harder. 

Who knows, I thought, maybe she’s right.  She’s been telling me as much ever since I read her my first short story, “The Black Room,” a gothic potboiler penned at the tender age of 11. 

“Come on,” she said, pulling me to my feet.  “Let’s get you out of this apartment before Mr. Wonderful comes back.  You’re coming to stay with me for a while.  I’ve got a room ready for you, and I’m going to lock you in every morning and not let you out until you’ve written 2000 words on that novel.”

“I don’t have a novel,” I whined. 

“Then it’s about time you started one,” she told me, closing the door firmly behind us.  “Just make sure it has a happy ending.”

 

for more happy endings, go here

 

 

 

 

 

Write On Wednesday-Where in the World Do You Come to the Page?

I love my back porch on summer mornings.  A soft breeze whispers through the evergreens, a chorus of birds serenade me with early morning wake up songs, no one else in the house is stirring  (not even Magic or Molly), and I can savor the solitude.  Still in pajamas and slippers, my first cup of coffee close at hand, I tuck my laptop under my arm, pile my books and notebook on a wicker side table, and settle into the chair.  It’s a perfect place to write.

Of course, I write in other places in the house.  I’m fortunate to have a “room of my own,” with a writer’s desk and large overstuffed chair (with extra wide arms perfect for propping up a laptop).  Most of the time, that’s where my writing happens, seated at the desk or curled up in my chair.  There are bookstacks everywhere in that room, and though I keep cleaning them up, more seem to appear in their place.  Whether I’m writing blog posts, or book reviews, or even working on a short story, I seem to need bookstacks around. <smiles>

I’m nosy about writer’s desks, aren’t you?  There seems to be something magical about the places people write.   I readily admit to chills running down my spine when I stood in Virginia Woolf’s study at Rodmell, and Charlotte Bronte’s parlor in the parsonage at Haworth.   Every year, I purchase a copy of The Writer’s Desk calendar – photographer Jill Krementz has made a study of writers and their desks, and has published a lovely coffee table sized book as well as these annual calendars. (See, I’m not the only nosy one!)  And it isn’t just writer’s desks that intrique me – it’s all the “writuals” that are associated with the writing process. 

Stephen King wrote Carrie and Salem’s Lot “in the laundry room of a double wide trailer, pounding away on my wife’s portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child’s desk on my thighs.”  He advises writers to “have a space of their own,” a place with a door you are “willing to shut, telling the world and yourself you mean business.”  (On Writing)  Conversely, Natalie Goldberg advises leaving home occasionally, going to a cafe or public place to write.  “It’s good to change the scenery from time to time,” she says, “because at home there is the telephone, the laundry, the refrigerator, the dishes to be washed, a letter carrier to be greeted. If you made the effort to get to a cafe, you can’t leave as easily and go do something else, the way you can in your own home.”  (Writing Down the Bones)

Awareness of place is important, not just because of nosy friends like me, but to set the stage for all the writing that you do.  Before you can convincingly relate a feeling of place to your reader, you must first feel it for youself.  If you’re connected to the place you write in, Julia Cameron tells us, the “accumulation of details, the willingness to be specific and precise, the willingness to ‘place’ a piece of writing accurately in context – all these things make for writing the reader can connect to.”  (The Right to Write

How about you?  Last week we talked about why  we come to the page, now I want to know where  you come to the page.  What’s magical about your writing spot (or spots!)  Free write about the places you put pen to paper.  Post pictures if you can  – that would be even more fun!  (I can’t because the battery in my camera is dead!)

Leave a comment  with the url  linking to your blog post, and we’ll all come and spy on each other. <more smiles>

By the Handful

A handful of blueberries, nestled in my open palm, small nuggets of sweetness washed and ready to sprinkle on a bowl of vanilla yogurt.  They were on sale today, and so I indulged in this rare treat, usually a dearer price than I care to pay. 

As I shook them from their plastic container into my hand, I recalled another time when I held a palm full of blueberries.  These had been freshly picked, though, and I had eaten half again as many as I collected, unable to resist the allure of plucking them straight from the bush and popping them into my mouth.  It was 15 years ago this summer, I realized, shocked once again by the swift passage of time.  And I was with my mother in law at her home on the lake.

It was our first trip to the lake after my father in law’s death.  His illness had prevented any of us from traveling north that summer, or from properly opening the house.  Imagine our distress when we opened the front door and saw the roof over the family room had leaked, stagnant smelly water had soaked the carpet and furniture.  My mother in law burst into tears, unable to withstand this latest blow. 

“What in the world will I do now?” she cried, and I knew she wasn’t speaking just about the damage to her home.

Knowing the trip would now take longer than the weekend we had planned, I agreed to stay on and help her while Jim and Brian returned home.  So for the first time in the 20 years we had known each other, the two of us were living together, without the buffer of our respective mates.

My mother in law was never an easy person to be with.  In the best of times, she was demanding, negative, and emotionally distant.  (My husband would add illogical and self-centered to that list as well.)  When Jim and I first met, she had quite an iron grip on his life, but he quickly began prying her fingers away, and the results weren’t always pretty.    I knew she considered me the interloper, corrupting her precious only son and luring him away from his family.

But we got along all right, and, especially after Brian was born, I think she cared about me in her strange, remote sort of way.  We had grown closer during my father in law’s last illness, as I had spent a good deal of time with them, talking to doctor’s, arranging for care givers, driving her places she needed to go.

So those few days alone in the “place up north” weren’t a terrible burden.   We fell into a routine, as people will.  She always got up early, for she was a woman who was perpetually busy, and one morning after Jim left, I looked out my window and glimpsed her behind the row of blueberry bushes growing along the border between the house and garden.  Quickly plucking fruit from the branches, she had nearly filled the large plastic bowl tucked under her left arm.  I slipped into my clothes and shoes, and stepped out the back door. 

“Are they sweet yet?” I asked.

She looked up, startled, I think, to see me up and dressed so early.  “Well,” she admited, “I don’t know.  I haven’t tried one.”

“For goodness sake,” I chided her good naturedly, making my way through the thick, wet grass, “why don’t you eat some?  It looks like there’s plenty.”  I pinched a fat navy blue berry from its stem and placed it in my mouth, letting my teeth sink into the musky flesh that somehow tastes just like the color blue should taste. 

“Mmmm,” I said, quickly grabbing a few more and greedily gobbling them up.  “So good!”

Almost furtively, she placed a berry in her mouth, as if she weren’t allowed to enjoy them, only pick and collect them for some future use.  She widened her eyes in surprise, and then delight, almost as a child would in discovering a surprise gift of candy.

“Oh, these are good!” she exclaimed.  “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten them right off the bush like this.” 

Such a small pleasure, denied to herself for whatever strange, perverse reason.  So we continued for a while, happily picking, eating, and occasionally tossing a few more berries into the bowl.  It became a ritual of our mornings, those moments in the berry patch, and we’d eat our fill, and then pick more to give to the neighbors.

During those few days that we spent together, cleaning things, buying new furniture and carpet, going through some of my father in law’s things, the balance of power started to shift.  “Now what do you think?” she began to ask me, about everything from buying a sofa to ordering dinner at Ron’s Restaurant.  And she’d take my advice, sometimes even acknowledging “what a good idea” it had been.

Today, as I taste my spoonful of store bought (alas!) blueberries, I think of her as she was earlier this afternoon when I visited her at Chestnut Village, the dementia care center where she lives.  Hunched on the sofa, legs crossed, her chin propped on prayerfully folded hands, she sits and dozes for hours.  Mary Alice, the lovely lady who leads activities, smiled at me, then came over and touched her lightly on the shoulder.

“Chris,” she said, “we’re taking some folks outside to play horseshoes.  Wouldn’t you like to come?”

She looked over at me, eyebrows raised.  “What do you think?” she asked.

“I think you should go play,” I said.  “It sounds like fun.”

“Well, okay then!” she agreed readily, taking Mary Alice’s hand to help her stand up.  I watched her totter unsteadily out of the room, my presence – my very existence, even – already forgotten. 

I always take a small gift when I visit, usually something sweet, like those tins of sugar cookies, or a package of Hershey Kisses. But next time,  I believe I’ll take something different – perhaps a handful of blueberries would be nice.

 

Write on Wednesday~ Postscript

Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts about “why in the world they come to the page.”  I was enlightened and insprired by each one of you.  (A reminder that Write on Wednesday lasts all week, so if you decide to respond to the prompt with a post on your blog, or a comment here at the Byline, then feel free to do so.)

 

As a postscript to this week’s WOW (Susan pointed out the aptness of the acronym),  here’s a quote from I found this morning on Writing Time - it’s from a man named Frank Smith.   I especially like the last two lines


Writing is for stories to be read, books to be published, poems to be recited, plays to be acted, songs to be sung, newspapers to be shared, letters to be mailed, jokes to be told, notes to be passed, recipes to be cooked, messages to be exchanged, memos to be circulated, announcements to be posted, bills to be collected, posters to be displayed and diaries to be concealed.

Writing is for ideas, action, reflection, and experience. It is not for having your ignorance exposed, your sensitivity destroyed, or your ability assessed.

 

 

Happy Writing!

 

Write on Wednesday-Why In the World Do You Come to the Page?

Frustration has been the name of the game this week.   Our computers at work are wonky, we have a new staff member in the office meaning there’s all kinds of unusual verbal and social interaction, and then one of our senior staff members decided it would be fun for all of us to have instant messenger so we could IM each other within our huge (7 peeople on a good day) office.  I’m ashamed to say I spent at an hour creating my avatar…you see, I was trying to find this one icon of a fluffy white dog (see what I mean about wasting time?)

So I got home about 6:00, after fighting my way through rush hour traffic, and what’s the first thing I feel compelled to do?

Write.

Wouldn’t you think that after a frustrating day, a day when every accomplishment, every task was completed with much virtual hair pulling and screaming, wouldn’t you think that after a day like that I’d crave nothing more than a big glass of wine, a huge box of chocolates, and my easy chair?

Why in the world would I come to the page after a day like that?

“We should write because writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insight and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance,” says Julia Cameron, in The Right to Write.  “Writing is good for the soul.”

While I don’t necessarily think of writing as cathartic, I do believe it helps me make sense of my world and myself.  There are times when a striking truth about my life suddenly appears before me on the screen, complete and utterly honest, coming straight from my spirit through my fingers and onto the page.  For a writer, there is a great connection between the heart, the mind, and the pen.  The act of setting words on the page seems to open a door directly into my writer’s soul, letting me in on the secrets that are stored there.

Perhaps that why writing is such a restorative act.  “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises,” Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird.  “The actual act of writing turns out to be the best part.  It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.  The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

Indeed, there was a sense of relief, of reassurance, to come home, kick off my shoes, and curl up in my easy chair with my virtual pen and paper – my little laptop perched precariously on the chair’s overstuffed arm.  I admit, there was wine involved too, but the comfort and relaxation which flooded my body had more to do with the words flowing from my fingertips than from the alcohol flowing past my lips. 

Writing replenishes my spirit, it rejuvenates my mind, it relaxes my emotions.

And that’s why I come to the page.

How about you?  What brings you to the page, and why?

Write on Wednesday  is back!  This column once appeared regularly here at the Byline as a weekly look at the craft of writing in general and my own in particular.  Write on Wednesday  will appear each week throughout the summer, and this time you’re invited to participate by creating your own blog post using the topic of the week’s post as your prompt.  
You know the drill…leave a comment here with a link to your post.  I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

 

The Responsibility Ticker *Updated*

*24 hours have passed, and with it a noticeable slowing of the ubiquitous Responsibility Ticker.  Much was accomplished today, proving once again that if you allow yourself some breathing room, it’s easier to get into gear and get things done.

I did indeed clean out my closet today, and my husband’s closet as well.  I’ve have four big bags of clothing to donate to a local charitable organization, and decided I obviously have plenty of clothes to get me through the summer. (Sad, since I love buying new clothes, but better for the pocketbook.)

The most exciting thing is this…about 11:00 this morning, a crew of six very cute young men arrived with heavy equipment and cut down all the bushes in front of my house.  (Yes, Brian, every one!)  You see, I have an old house with old landscaping, and I’ve been wanting to replace it for years, but always felt it would be too expensive. 

So, why finally take the plunge in a year when I really have no money to spare?

Let’s just say these guys were not only incredibly cute, they were incredibly cheap.  In less than an hour, 50 years worth of overgrown bushes were history.  In a couple of days, I’ll be meeting with a landscape designer to pick out a new look for my old house. 

And everyone needs a makeover once in a while, right?

Yeah, I felt a moment of sadness as my husky helpers chopped those bushes off at the roots and fed them mercilessly into their deluxe John Deere chopper.  I admit it, I’m sentimental about stuff.  After all, this is the girl that used to tuck blankets around any of her picture books that had pictures of puppies on them, in case the puppies might get cold. 

But these old bushes were long past time to die – they had overgrown the sidewalk and were blocking our view out the windows. 

And so it’s on to something new – for the house, and for me. I’m starting to think about what new and different things may develop in my life over the next months…

And I’m excited.

As long as I can keep that old Responsibility Ticker at bay. *smiles*

~~~~~~

When we came home from Florida on Monday, I was eagerly anticipating more temperate weather.  It’s been a relatively cool spring in Michigan, and after the heat and humidity that was ramping up near the equator, I was not wholly averse to returning to my Great Lake breezes.

Well, no such luck.

It’s been hotter than a firecracker, as my grandmother would say.  It’s 93 degrees and humid today.  Plus, the wind is blowing like crazy, so when you step outside, scalding hot air slaps you hard across the face.

Yech.

We’ve all been inside most of the day, because none of us likes the heat.  Our little Molly completely wilts when it’s hot, and even though the house is air-conditioned to a comfortable 78 degrees, she mopes around as if she’s lost her best friend (no matter that he’s trailing along behind her).

I have to admit I’ve done nothing today.  Nothing I consider productive.  I despise days like that, and sometimes I’m afraid there’s something seriously wrong with me, because I have this huge list of things that need to be done running through my head like the New York Stock Exchange ticker…clean out the closet; do the laundry; pay the bills; visit your mother in law; visit your aunt; clean the bathroom; mop the kitchen; finish the short story; clean up the car; make some dinner; an endless loop of responsibilities, none of which I can make myself do!

Yech.

So closely following the ticker tape of tasks, is the ticker tape of guilt.  Your wardrobe’s a mess; the hamper is full; your credit rating is sinking; your mother in law is languishing; your aunt is needy; the bathroom is grungy; the kitchen floor is sticky; the short story stinks; the car is a mess; I’m hungry.

Now my husband, bless his heart, seems to turn his resposibility ticker to OFF on the weekends.  He can lay on that leather couch in front of that big screen tv with the ceiling fan whirring overhead and a beer on the table beside him just as happy as a clam. He can lay there for hours, days even.

So why do I get so bothered by the fact that I haven’t checked anything off my list this weekend?  And where is that damn OFF switch?

I’ve always allowed resposibility to weigh too heavily on my shoulders.  It’s battered me into the ground on more than one occasion, held me back from opportunities I wished I’d taken, and prevented me from moving away from unhealthy situations.  I allow my motivation in life to come from shoulda’s instead of coulda’s.  Then I feel guilty when I don’t perform to my own expectations.

And sometimes I get angry about that.

It’s 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon.  I’m going to stop feeling guilty, I’m going to pour myself a cold glass of wine, slice a bit of smoked Gouda cheese off that wedge, grab some plump red grapes, and settle into my chair for at least 30 minutes.

Then I’ll clean out my closet.