Friday, August 31, 2018

Using What's Available

Image: Low row of bricks alongside a sidewalk

On the sidewalk in North Chicago, just outside a large, upscale grocery store, Lola and I walked past a woman about my age building this brick wall. She was likely homeless, had a disposable plastic shopping bag filled with her own homemade mortar - newspaper bits, water, mud and other things only she knows - and was bent over stacking bricks and patting the mortar. Nobody challenged her, and she spoke to no one.

The next day as I walked to the El station, she was nowhere to be found, but I noted her progress and wondered whether she'd be back or if she ran out of materials or energy or drive to do more. I wondered whether she was trying to wall someone out or someone in, or if she was making herself a place to sit up off of the ground, or if she was simply creating, making something with her hands that made her feel productive.

I like to think it is the latter.

Even after all the therapy and reading and journaling and work I've done to counteract the cultural and familial narratives I've ingested for the last 47 years, it takes effort to remember that not everything I do has to make sense to anyone else. It doesn't have to garner a paycheck or be in service to some bigger societal machine. It can simply be me using the materials I have available to me to create, to follow my heart and instincts and do what I do best and love most.

Lola, Eve and I spent the last week in Chicago, exploring, walking, shopping, and moving Eve in to her freshman dorm room. It was, by turns, uplifting, gut-wrenching, exhausting, and hilarious. These two sisters have their own secret language such that they can read each other's emotions and rush in like a bubbling spring of water to fill in the holes, buoy the other, amplify the laughter. They know when to be quiet, when to lighten the mood with a carefully placed insult, when to link arms and raise an eyebrow to show support. It is an absolute pleasure to witness. So many times in the last week, I sat across a table from them or followed a few steps behind on the sidewalk and felt my heart swell at my good fortune. I get to be part of this.

We complained about the humidity (it was really gross - Pacific Northwesterners aren't built for that much warm moisture), people-watched, got makeovers at Bloomingdale's on a whim. We sat on a beach at Lake Michigan and marveled as a swarm of dragonflies swooped around in a cluster, creating their own mini-hurricane near the shore. We laughed and ate and filled an entire shopping cart at Target with hangers and laundry soap and bedding and school supplies.

I had one on one time with each of them; watching Glee with Eve late in to the night, sprawled on the couch, talking about nothing and everything. Lola and I hit five thrift stores in one day and ate tacos in the sunshine, simultaneously wishing we were home and dreading saying goodbye to her sister.

By the time the two of us settled in to our seats on the plane for the trip home, we linked arms, tipped our heads onto each others' shoulders, and sobbed. One of the three legs of our stool wasn't coming home with us.

Upon our return home from Chicago, I was a little lost. To be honest, I still am. I know there are essays to be written and sold. I need to continue sending out my memoir manuscript if it is ever going to be published. I have an agent interested in seeing a book proposal for a manuscript I wrote years ago, so I could work on that. None of those things pay much, if anything. Neither does mothering. I'm a bit paralyzed - do I look for a job that does pay? What can I do that's valuable and useful? What do I enjoy doing? What can I stand doing that pays?

There's something in me that says to wait. Just give myself time to roll with this new phase - settle in to having one less chick in the nest and use my energy to support both my girls through this transition. I don't often think about modern technology - even as much as I use it - but I am tremendously grateful for the ability to text my girls. It means that I can offer advice and insight no matter where I am, so that when Eve feels a tiny bit homesick or has a question about returning textbooks she purchased for a class she dropped, I'm 'there.' Because what I know is that I am a good mom, and relying on my strengths in that area feels good to all of us. The fact that the girls know they can ask me anything, anytime, and I'll want to answer, jump at the chance to engage with them - that is immeasurably important to me. It is a constant for all of us, a reminder that we are a team and while the characteristics of our connections might change over time, the fact that there's a connection there is a given. I don't support them because I have to. There is no sense of duty there. I am truly overjoyed to be their travel companion, sounding board, keeper of memories. I am using the bricks and mortar I have at my disposal to create something, and it may not look like much, but it is strong.

When I get caught up in the "but you're not making any money" narrative in my head, I have to remember that I'm ok right now, that I do my best work when the work I'm doing is something I love and something I'm good at. And right now, the things I love most of all are mothering and writing. In that order. Today, that's good enough. Better than good enough. It's great. Amazing. Phenomenal.


Thursday, August 02, 2018

When Life Moves as Fast as the News Cycle

I am often astonished at how much less I write here than I used to, and for a while, I attributed it to the speed of life. There have been so many changes - substantive changes - in my life in the last two years that I can barely keep up.

For a while, I was trying to peg some freelance writing work to the news cycle - writing about depression when Kate Spade was discovered to have committed suicide and realizing that by the time I wrote my piece it was Anthony Bourdain that was in the news and by the time I heard back from an editor, the world was talking about North Korea and then the next school shooting and then family separations at the border.

Funny how much that felt like my life.

Separation after 23 years of marriage followed by (or in the midst of) my oldest daughter's senior year in high school with the attendant college preparation/final Homecoming/Prom/graduation. Searching for an alternative to the youngest daughter's school and finding the Running Start program that allows her to enroll in community college in lieu of finishing at her high school followed by divorce and moving to a new home. Watching my mom descend further in to herself and trying to help arrange for her move to a long-term facility and preparing to help my daughter now move across the country for college.

The speed of life.

As I walked the dogs in the cool mist this morning, I realized that part of what has been weighing on me is a feeling of failure - that I am doing so many things and none of them very well. I've sold some writing, but not enough to live on. I bought a new house and there are still pieces of furniture where I don't want them and the outdoor space isn't as inviting as I want it to be. I don't cook as often as I used to and I am afraid I'm not showing up for my girls in the way they want me to.

But when I took a moment to really say those words in my own head - to bring them out of the shadows where they play havoc with my heart - I realized that I've actually done a pretty damn good job in the last two years simply by putting one foot in front of the other. The fact that I've sold any writing, finished my manuscript, bought and sold a house, navigated the end of a decades-long marriage, and managed to stay upright and kind and tell my girls every damn day that I love them is almost a miracle. If I've failed in any way, it was a failure to accurately assess what my future was going to look like, and I think it's a human trait to be pretty bad at that kind of prediction, isn't it? By making an effort to stay grounded in who I am and what's important to me and focusing on the next best step, I've strung together quite a path thus far, so while the news cycle of my life is still hurtling along at a fairly fast clip, I know it won't always be like this. I'm just going to hold on and keep doing what I've been doing for the next little while and believe in my own abilities.
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