Three months in and how’s it going?

Yes, I know it’s not exactly the end of February, but it’s close enough. We’re chipping away at 2011. One fourth, twenty-five percent, of the year is gone. Whether you made formal New Year’s resolutions or just had vague hopes for this year, how are you doing so far?

I like the idea of a fresh start. Of course, years of our lives never begin without the baggage of the years before. But we can set new goals each year. My first 2011 writing goal was actually a publishing goal, and I’m on-track to accomplish that.

Making a serious dent in writing my next novel is my second goal. I’d like to say I could write, edit, and have it polished by the end of the year, but I’m not sure that’s a realistic goal. I don’t know how publishing Brevity will affect my writing life.

I’ll also be a partner in a new writing blog. It’s top secret right now, so I can’t give specifics, but you’ll hear all about it soon. My obligation to that will be a weekly post and commenting. And since I’ve sort of stumbled off the path on my own blog posting and commenting, that will be a challenge.

But challenges are good. Goals are good. Moving forward, even if at tiny baby steps, is good. So now …

Your turn: How is 2011 going for you so far?


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Change is Always Happening

Twice before, I’ve written posts about Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion, and how it touched me. Now and then, I pick it up to re-read an entry at random. A few days ago, I read this:

Change is always happening. So simple. So obvious, really—and at the same time so terrifying. A friend had recently sent me directions to her house, and in describing the way the names of the roads changed for no apparent reason, she had written:  Everything turns into something else. No wonder I didn’t want to think about this. What was the point of thinking about this? Love, joy, happiness—all fleeting. Trying to hold on to them was like grasping running water.

I’m older than a lot of you reading this. I think Dani’s realization is one that comes to most of us as we grow older. Everything is fleeting. Everything turns into something else. What was most important to you at the age of five is forgotten and replaced by real concerns at fifteen. And then again at twenty-five. And forty. And …

Everything changes. All things renew, reform, restart. I think back on the times I thought, I can’t survive this. But I did. I remember the times I thought, Nothing will ever be better than this. But I was wrong. Everything changes.  Everything turns into something else.

Grasp what you can and don’t worry about the rest flowing through your fingers. This is a lesson I need to relearn daily. How about you?


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Irony, an update

Irony is a cruel teacher. A couple hours after I published yesterday’s post on Christmas tree tradition, I prepared to decorate this year’s tree. My husband stacked the containers of ornaments in the back hall, and as soon as I popped the lid of the top one, my heart sank. Mildew. I lifted the lid and slammed it closed a second later. Not ready to believe what I’d seen, I pushed it back out on the porch.

We knew we had a leak in the garage roof, so we’ve stored all our Christmas decorations in plastic bins under a tarp. The lid on this one was still closed tight, and there were no obvious cracks in it or the bin, yet somehow water had entered this one. Where I live, it rarely rains from April to October. We had our leaky garage reroofed in late summer, so for at least seven months fungus had been growing in the container. We sprayed half a can of Lysol before even attempting to look through things. All the boxes fell apart when touched. I attempted to wash off the glass ornaments, but they were so damaged the paint came off immediately. At least seventy purchased ornaments went into the trashcan.

I hated that waste, but that’s not what upset me. The largest box in the container—the one with the thickest growth—contained ALL the handmade ornaments from my children’s and grandchildren’s school days. The kind made mostly of paper and yarn, the most fragile and most loved. My favorite bulb from my own childhood was stored in that box, as were my beautiful hand-painted glass eggs and the tree topper we’d used for decades. And my last golden bird. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Only one thing was salvaged. One. A maroon glazed-clay disk engraved with a star, made by my son, Michael, is the lone survivor. With a new gold ribbon hanger, this one ornament will now represent all my family Christmas memories.

I cried.  Of course. But what’s done is done. I must let it go. During the process of dealing with the damage, not one writerly thought distracted me. But later, after the shock wore off, I started to analyze. I wondered at the coincidence of my writing about memories and tradition so soon before the loss of physical objects that embodied some of mine. Considering the sadness, near grief, I felt when I accepted the destruction of those personal treasures, I glimpsed how truly devastating it must be to suffer the loss of every personal item by fire or flood.

There’s a lesson for me in this event. For me, this year has been a progression of losses, some minor, some not. The pessimist in me prays I’m not being prepared for a greater loss soon. The optimist hopes this was only a reminder to value what’s most important, and let the lesser things go. Any thoughts?


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A thought on tradition

As I sit here writing this post on Saturday night, the virtual fireplace roars and pops in all its high-definition glory accompanied by orchestral holiday music that reminds me of classic black and white movies. Thoughts of childhood filter through, though considering I have memories that go back to the age of two, not many of them are of Christmases. Our family often struggled financially, so I expect this commercialized holiday was rather low-key at our house.

My first Christmas memory is of the year I was five and spoiled Santa for my sister. My next memory is of my ninth, when I got my last baby doll—yes, nine. We grew up much slower back in the olden days. The next one I remember specifically, I think I was sixteen. That was the year my mother bought a silver tree. Silver as in aluminum foil! Due to its nature, we couldn’t trim that abomination with our traditional colored lights, so she’d bought the rotating color wheel accessory. I detested that tree. It took its presence as a personal offense. To this day, I blame that misguided experiment for inciting my slavery to Christmas decorating traditions.

Three years later, I celebrated my first Christmas as a married woman. At that time, we lived in Germany where my husband was stationed with the U.S. Army. I shopped for my decorations in the village, and my husband and his friends drove up in the mountains to cut down our tree. While holiday music played on Armed Forces Radio, I hung blown-glass bulbs and clipped on delicate glass birds. I arranged and rearranged them seeking a perfect display from three sides. When I finished, we went to see a movie on base.

Two hours later, we arrived home to find our beautiful tree on the floor and shattered glass everywhere. My birthday present kitty had wrecked my Christmas tree. Most of the birds survived because they were secured to the branches, but half the bulbs were now glittery pieces. We drove a nail in the wall and secured the tree upright with fishing line. Military pay didn’t stretch far enough to replace the broken ornaments, so I had to stretch the remaining ones over the tree.

The next summer, many of the remaining bulbs and a couple of birds broke during shipment home of our household goods, and others disappeared through the following years. Now I have only one, slightly battered, golden bird left, and I give it a place of honor on my tree every year. Though I no longer have real trees  because of family allergies, mine is traditional in every other way. Tomorrow, I will spend most of the day decorating it. My collection of glass ornaments has grown to hundreds and I still arrange each one with care.

Your turn: What is your Christmas tree like? If no tree, what holiday tradition is your favorite?


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Unacceptable Loss

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you’re gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

Those words are from the song “Rain” by Patti Griffin. I first heard this song a week or so ago, and when she sang these words, I burst into tears. And I don’t mean silent tears; I mean a real boo-hoo. I was listening to this in my car, on the way out to shop, but had to come back home to repair my makeup. That kind of crying.

Why did these lyrics hit me so hard? Every so often, without warning, I fall into a deep deep deep sadness. I feel like crying. And sometimes I do. I feel the need to hug myself. And, inside, I do. Nothing has happened in my life to account for this sudden darkness. It’s happened so often for so long I’ve learned to just ride it out. Just wait. This too shall pass.

But I never had an explanation for it—until now.

Yesterday, while under one such cloud, I picked up Dani Shapiro’s Devotion, which I had started reading a couple months ago. I read this part about what happened to her after she moved from New York City to the Connecticut countryside:

“In the country, I stopped being a person who, in the words of Sylvia Boorstein, startles easily. I grew calmer, but beneath that calm was a deep well of loneliness I hadn’t known was there. No wonder I had been running as hard and fast as I could! Anxiety was my fuel. When I stopped, it was all waiting for me: fear, anger, grief, despair, and that terrible, terrible loneliness. What was it about? … In the quiet, in the extra hours, I was forced to ask the question, and to listen carefully to the answer: I was lonely for myself.”

Instantly, I knew. That deep deep deep hurt, that sadness that makes me want to weep weep weep, is loneliness. I miss myself. A part of me is lost. And I must find it.

This is an unacceptable loss.

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