Row the Boat

This is week 17 of a countdown to 1.

At the one week mark, I shall be running a marathon.

But I’m not thinking about that. Not really.

I am thinking about beginnings.

I am thinking about how every single day if you wake up, you are given a chance to be better, be the person that you really want to be.

I’m thinking about excuses.

I’m thinking about Elena Ferrante and friendship (lovely essay by Laura Maylene Walter to be found here.) and what it feels like to be unmoored.

There are times I feel like a helium balloon and the only thing keeping me in place is the tight grasp of my children. Man, do I owe them for that.

It is so easy to get caught up in life, in friends that are no longer around, in commutes and train schedules, in a job you detest. You get home and you have laundry and dishes and homework folders that need to be gone through. By the end of it, the end of that day, all you have done is emptied the water from a row boat with a prominent hole in the center. Always emptying, never truly dry.

Do you ever feel completely exhausted? Yes, I know you do. We all do.

We’ve surrounded ourselves with things that just don’t matter in the scheme of what life is, what life should be, what we could be.

And so.

A few weeks back, I texted my best friend that we needed to do a marathon. And she said, yes, we do.

An odd response given that we’re both mid-forty and we both have bad backs. We both work full-time. We both have children that we let down on a daily basis. We can’t do everything and God help us, there are times we can do nothing.

But she said yes because she knew. She knew that feeling of beginning again.

Of starting over.

Of taking a moment, finding that impossible thing, and making it happen.

I’m running to bring me back to writing, to bring me back to a better version of me. Perhaps the best version of me.

I’ve been working on a short story and it’s horrible. You see, I’ve forgotten how to write. I’ve forgotten why it’s important. I’ve let myself drift out in a row boat with a hole.

But when I say, I’ve been writing, what I mean to say is that I wrote something that I thought had potential and then began typing it to realize it is just bad. So I stopped. I said, I can’t do this. I said, I suck. I said, what’s the point of writing anyway. Who cares?

The last marathon I ran was ten years ago. I had to prep to even begin training by running a mile run. One mile. Over and over that one mile until I could run two.

I just got home from a three and a half mile run and it’s my short run for the week.

But I’m not thinking about that. I’m not thinking about anything other than tomorrow I run again, I run just that one run.

When I’m done here, I’m going to finish typing the bad short story, the one I ran from. Then I’ve got about an hour until the Valentine’s party at my son’s school and in that time I’m going to reread my bad story and see if I can make one sentence not so bad. I’m going to see if I can make one sentence fantastic.

And that’s how I start. That’s how I plan on sealing the hole in the boat, one run, one sentence at a time.

Because every morning you get to begin again, and today I remembered that I want to spend my life rowing the boat around the lake, not scooping out the water.

One small thing today. Not tomorrow. Not next week.

Today.

xoxo

 

 

Cut

I’ve just made a second pot of coffee. I have today and tomorrow off from work because tomorrow is my birthday.

For various and sundry reasons, I’m contemplative.

I cut my hair off recently. It was well past my collar bone, faded blonde and thin towards the ends. Now it is short, an inch or two on top and trimmed around the ears, tight in the back.

People asked me why I did it, and my answer was short, I needed a change, It was unhealthy, I didn’t want to be stuck.

Those aren’t lies.

They just aren’t the truth.

There is an interesting social profile about the people who genuinely like it, and the people who really, really don’t. For the most part, they don’t think I can tell the difference. What they don’t know is that reading people’s faces is my superpower. I know when I’m being lied to. It’s why I detest talking on the phone.

In general, men fifty and younger hate it. Women 40 and younger hate it.

Women over 40, love it. I think they know without knowing why a woman past 40 would chop off all her hair.

So much of my life has always revolved around my weight. Have you ever played the Once-I-Lose-Weight game?

Once I lose weight, I’ll cut my hair. Right now, my double chin will be show.

Once I lose weight, I’ll buy new clothes that make me feel good. Nothing looks good at this size.

Once I lose weight, I’ll be the me I’ve always wanted to be.

Once I lose weight…

Once I lose weight…

Once I lose weight…

So the reason I cut my hair was simply because I wanted to stop being somebody I wasn’t. I wanted to force myself to see that I might not ever be smaller than I am now. And that I was okay with that.

When I was in high school, I’d eat a rice cake and some grapes and run around a stadium track after school. I would tell my parents I had eaten dinner at a friend’s house, and I’d tell her I had just eaten at home.

I’m 5′ 9″ and weighed 125 pounds. Nothing was more important to me than keeping that weight there. When I put on a pound, I’d stop eating.

I am now 185 pounds.

So I cut my hair because I want the magic of life to begin now. I  needed to prove to myself that nothing, absolutely nothing, has to wait because I am larger than I have ever been before.

My weight does not control my happiness.

So I cut off my hair to prove that I am a woman, not a girl, and I control my destiny. I decide who I want to be and how I move through the world. I am not trying to be 25 anymore. I am embracing, as of tomorrow, 44 years on this planet, and I’d like to spend them surrounded by people who are kind, who are thoughtful, who are creating anything, whether a craft project with their kids or a literary masterpiece.

And in turn, I want to be creating things. In the last week, I’ve finished a short story first draft. Today I’m going to work on another one and maybe type up the first one. The form seems more conducive to working full-time, and spending the little time not at work with my family. Short stories can be squeezed in on the train.

And I’m not thinking about publishing. I’m thinking about writing.  That’s it.

I’m thinking about second chances and what it means to be human. What it means to fuck up. I’m thinking about how life can surprise you when you don’t resign yourself to what is, but rather to what it can be. I’m thinking about magic and embracing all of me, not just the parts if they are improved. I’m thinking about work, the work on myself and the work of making art.

I’m thinking about making time for what’s important.

(Thanks to Nanea Hoffman of Sweatpants and Coffee for the quote above. If you don’t know about her, take a look. She gets the joke, my friends.)

Pursue it relentlessly, my friends.

Relentlessly.

But make another pot of coffee first.

Love.

 

 

 

A Tiny Big Thing

We took a child-free trip to Columbus that involved a Dead & Co. concert, runs every morning, and walking the streets the rest of the time. We stayed downtown and walked to the German area where they have a restaurant, Pistachio’s, that serves the best chocolate-filled croissants I’ve ever eaten.

I run to eat.

We walked miles upon miles incorporating a brewery and finally to the art district where we had a pizza with eggs oozing over the fontina cheese and pancetta. Oh my.

The drive was six hours each way. I love a good long drive. I’m a podcast junkie and finding a new one is like making a new friend, the excitement of not knowing what conversations may come once the polite talk has ended.

My new addiction is A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment with Sherman Alexie and Jess Walters. Two writers whose friendship goes beyond the writing share works in progress, talk to poets, novelists, musicians and challenge them to show the goods before it’s pretty. They laugh at themselves, at each other, and I find it so encouraging to see that what is published is nowhere near where they start out.

In essence, they talk about how it doesn’t get any easier. They discuss mental illness, therapy and what it’s like growing up poor and now having money.

They talk about juggling family, obligations, and the desire to create.

They talk about complications.

I love this show.

We listened to them for 12 hours, the entirety of the drive.

I got to thinking about who we surround ourselves with, the real people in our lives, and how perhaps we don’t do ourselves justice.

I consider myself a thoughtful person. I am unlikely to get into a political discussion whether you’re with me or against me because I can’t stand the intolerance that has become our world. Meme after meme on Facebook is spewing both side’s nonsense. There is very little thoughtful right now. And when there is, no one can hear for the noise.

Someone I know recently posted a Facebook meme declaring that Obama needed to get out, our borders needed to be sealed shut, and we needed to bring back ‘Merica. That was the gist if not the exact phrasing. I saw the smiling face of the profile picture and thought, why on earth is this person even tangentially in my life.

The fact that someone, regardless of their views, would think that anything is so simple, and then spew it as fact, while the comments flooded Amens, made me sick. They wouldn’t consider themselves a racist.

I have liberal and conservative friends. But we cannot be friends if you don’t understand what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany. We cannot be friends if you don’t realize what happened to Americans of Japanese decent who were thrust in internment camps, right here, on our own soil. We cannot be friends if you simplify the world to suit your beliefs and fearmonger to rile up hatred.

There is enough hatred in the world.

What we need is more understanding.

And the problem, as I see it, is people like me allow people like you to spew your nonsense and we remain afraid to offend because we know we’ll run into you in the grocery store, at the school events, and we don’t want the awkwardness.

I say, no more.

If you believe that we cannot find room in this great big country of ours, the country that our ancestors violently stole from the Native Americans, we cannot be friends.

If there is no room in your world for doubt, for conversation, for more than a posting of a meme worthy of a maladjusted child, please unfriend me before I have to unfriend you.

If you don’t believe kindness and compassion is large part of the way out of this, move on from me.

I believe you have more to you than this.

I believe there is more to all of us than this.

Surround yourself with people who make you think, who believe in art, in literature, in shows that make you think.

Because you owe that much to yourself.

What We Do When We Aren’t Writing

And by “we”, I mean me.

First, there are cats. I had an older cat, Pearl, who needed a friend. An old bloggy friend rescued a cat in Georgia. She drove him down and voila, Porkchop was added to our family.

We had to put Pearl down. She was 18 and her health failed. Porkchop needed a friend so we went to the Humane Society and Mrs. Goldman joined our family.

My oldest son is a cat lover. His birthday was coming up and he didn’t want anything. Nothing. So as any insane person would do, I thought, hmmm, another cat would blow his mind. My husband, not a cat lover, but a lover of his family, came around. The Noodle joined our family.

We were a three cat family. One more than most normal people have.

Enter Molly. My mother-in-law lives in a small apartment, and as many older people become, she was lonely. She loved being around the cats at our house so for mother’s day, we brought her to pick out a cat. One that she became highly allergic to.

Molly moved in this week and is currently sitting below me, still enclosed in the library, with three cats spying in at her through the french doors. We’ll introduce them tomorrow.

We have become the crazy four cat family.

Instead of writing, I pet cats, clean litter boxes and wiggle cat toys that look like bugs.

My seven-year old loves monkeys. He wanted to be a monkey for Halloween. We found some ears, but no costume. For some reason, once boys are out of the toddler phase, they immediately enter a very specific costume arena. He could have been an angel of death, a ninja, a zombie or a superhero.

I bought some brown fuzzy fabric, and some pale yellow fleece. I hand-stitched an oval on for the belly, and sewed two seams down the sides. Some holes for arms and head, a tail, and oh yeah, he had to have an oversized banana, which he uses as a machine gun. Go figure.

Did I mention I don’t know how to sew? This took me five hours to make.

Instead of writing, I make Halloween costumes.

When I get on the train in the morning, I read. I pretend that I’m not going to work and that I’m headed to my loft where I’ll spend the day writing before headed back home at night.

Then I get to my real job.

I nap on the way home, brain dead.

Guitar lessons, band concerts, dentist appointments, kid’s homework, dinner, shower, put the kids to bed and it’s nine o’clock.

People who love to write, write then. I grab a beer, or maybe a glass of wine and watch people on television renovate houses. I watch people with so much money they’ll buy an overpriced trailer and call it a Tiny Home. I watch Fargo. I watch Dr. Who. I watch bits of movies I’ve seen a thousand times.

I won’t even remember in the morning what I’ve seen because I’ve had four to five hours sleep.

Instead of writing, I watch meaningless television.

My hair was weighing me down. I got it cut. Short. I mean, short short. I found out that some people hate it, some people love it, but I’m still the same person who was weighed down.

Instead of writing, I dramatically cut off all my hair.

I put on weight so decided to start running. In true fashion, I decided I need to run a spring marathon. So I shuffle my heavier-than-ever frame down the block and trip over the sidewalk landing hard on my knees and wrists. I walk home and clean up the blood, bandage the wounds and run a mile and a half.

My knees still hurt from a week ago. My aging back hates the weight, hates me running and begs me to stop.

But I can’t. If I stop the craziness, I’ll disappear.

Instead of writing, I run. Slowly. Painfully.

So this is where I am.

I emailed a friend and said to her that if I was really a writer, I would be writing instead of doing all of this other stuff.

She said when she sits down to write, doing the dishes sounds more fucking appealing.

Yes.

So here I am.

Instead of doing anything else, I’m writing.

Spoonfed

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s still me. Due to a conflict of interest of the work/life sort, I’ve had to switch out to a nickname. Enough business.

Hope This. A small lending library in the middle of the Adirondack mountains.

I consider this a view of hope.

I read the news all day at my job. Reading the news is a large part of my job.

There are days that I think, I need a new job. Many, many days.

Right now our country is saturated in fear. Our fear has led us to collectively make some questionable decisions and helps explain to me how Trump is not only running for President, but moving up in the polls. Fear-mongering leads to a collective amnesia about what fascism looks like.

A country isn’t a business. A country certainly shouldn’t be run like a business in 2015 where money is the one, the only priority. People are losing jobs because of a bottom line in which companies see no need to take care of people.

When children wash up on beaches because a shot at hope is the only alternative to certain death, and we’re too busy arguing economics, we have lost sight of what it means to be a human being.

Technology has led us into a hole of the unreal. Depending on the day, my Facebook feed is one picture after another of propaganda about why I should arm myself and my family to keep us safe. Religion is being used as a shield of protection against the enemy. But who is the enemy?

We’re all the enemy.

There is no safe. There is life and living life.

We went camping this weekend in Michigan and went to a storytelling on the beach around a campfire. Mike, our storyteller, told stories that he had heard from his dad as a child. We sat on benches in the sand and listened to Native American stories, ghost stories, stories, stories, and more stories. As the night wore on and darkness fell we looked through telescopes pointed at Saturn. We saw the Andromeda Galaxy. I still have trouble wrapping my head around it, an entirely different galaxy. Jesus.

The only thing certain is death. We have no idea when it’s going to come, but I wonder how many of us are truly living now.

And that’s what this is about. I want to rebel against the fear that we are being spoonfed and embrace the power of living our lives, making each day a little bit better, a little bit kinder, a little bit more worth living because we are countering all of this anger and fear, with art and kindness.

Art matters. We cut it from our schools so we can compete in a global economy. Fuck STEM. How about we teach ourselves and our children how important it is to read, to write, to draw, to play an instrument?

When was the last time a brawl broke out at a reading? A band concert? In a library?

The idea behind the little lending library above is that you give a book, you take a book. The person who created it knew that some people might take the books. And that is enough for some people to think the whole idea an idealistic comeuppance.

But here’s the thing. Maybe someone takes a book that changes their life, that saves their life, that helps them to save somebody else’s life. Maybe it’s the way you view it.

Maybe we give people the benefit of the doubt and try to make room for us all.

Maybe we turn away from fear and toward kindness.

Maybe.