Fishful Thinking

Deeper Understanding of Our Facts

Knowing something and knowing something can be two different things. Most of the time, we know a thing intellectually, like global warming is changing the face of our planet, or that our partner loves us. We accept those things as facts, but it isn’t until we have a sort of emotional awakening to go with that knowledge, that we fully comprehend it.

We see a picture of how a glacier is now 50 percent of what it was a decade ago, or we have a narrow escape and see our partner completely distraught because of it, and we suddenly have a more complete picture of the fact we merely accepted before.

I had one of those recently: I’m approaching elderly.

It’s not as though I wasn’t aware; of course I was. I can count the candles on my cake. I make jokes to the supermarket checkers about being able to remember when an avocado cost a lot less than a buck.

Lately, I’ve been annoyed by a spate of articles blaming everything that’s wrong with modern life on Baby Boomers (and no – realizing we did the exact same thing to our own parents and grandparents and they to theirs doesn’t make it any more palatable). I knew intellectually that I’m considered old by a good sized segment of the population. It’s irritating to have people discount you because you’ve lived longer than them, but it happens. Still, both the number of cake candles and casual ageism were just facts that I accepted as evidence that I’m older. Not the same as knowing it.

Lots of people mark their aging firsts – first grey hair, first noticeable web of wrinkles, first chronic ache or pain. But age can still sneak up on you; you might not really notice even when your social chatter has gone from who’s doing whom, then right past investments and baby sitters, to what the doctor said the last time you had an office visit. Because you never actually feel old. No one does until they can’t help it any more.

And eventually you can’t help it because some thing, a fact, conjoins with experience, causes an emotion, and all of a sudden you realize.

I’ve got some medical issues – most of them related to genetic predisposition (thanks, family), but nothing that can’t be regulated by some medication and a little more attention to self-care. Except for the tendinitis from decades of keyboarding lots and lots of words, I haven’t noticed much difference in my physical life. Then last month, my doctor took me off one medication and moved me to another because she was worried that the previous meds were interfering with my kidney function. Just an adjustment. A minor adjustment. And yet…

All of a sudden, I saw myself at the beginning of the end of the road. I didn’t have a panic attack about it, but I admit to being unsettled. This type of thing is the point where you start looking for mitigation – people in my family tend to live long lives without much frailty and I clutched that observation to me as though it was a life ring. But even as I tried to minimize the effects aging has had on me so far, I truly understood for the first time that, from now on, my life may become more and more circumscribed by a process over which I have limited control.

Someone once said that from the moment we are born, we move towards death. I could have as many as four decades left or as little as one day or even one hour. No one knows when their existence will end, and I’m fine with that.

What gets me is how I went from knowing this thing to knowing this thing.

I attended a block printing workshop a month or so ago and had prepared by drawing what I wanted to print, only to discover my drawing was slightly too large for the block provided. It would have taken a while and materials I didn’t have to reduce the size, so I opted to improvise by drawing something new: A wide-eyed cat with little fish raining down around her.

When I started writing this post, that block print came to mind. We all indulge in fishful thinking – it’s our capacity to imagine, to daydream and turn those dreams into something concrete and touchable that makes for some of our most worthwhile creations. But we’re also the kind of creatures to let facts lay shallow in our minds – to understand them on a thin level, not touching us in any other way until something happens that changes that, which is usually an experience.

So we might say we understand that saying “one day at a time”, but it takes on a deeper, richer meaning when you have to struggle hard to maintain your equilibrium because of addiction or illness, whether yours or someone else’s.

Accepting the facts of your life is something many religions and philosophies strive to teach, but they also teach that we should work for a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. Deeper understanding can be hard to achieve, despite putting in a lot of work. So it almost seems a wonder – those moments when a fact comes together with experience and emotion to create that deeper understanding. Like an unexpected and unusual rain.

Because we only have the one (physical) life on this planet, living it is the most important thing. But living it with the most understanding of what it truly is – connecting what we know to what we have experienced and what it makes us feel can challenge us and result in a richer understanding and appreciation of our lives, no matter how long they may be.

Ruminations at Year’s End

Snow gauge
Copper Snow Gauge at gardners.com

I had an odd thought yesterday while I was out walking my dog. I’d put on my winter standby coat – a lined wool Winnie the Pooh letterman’s jacket I bought from the Disney Store when I was in NYC in 2001, standing with co-workers on line in Times Square in below-freezing temperatures, hoping to get tickets to The Lion King.

All of a sudden, I realized that I had owned this jacket for 17 years. I had worn it every winter since 2001 and lost six friends and a husband, a house, and two jobs in that time. What a strange thing to think, I said aloud. And yet, like most of my seeming non sequiturs, it has a context.

This year, I had Christmas dinner with a family friend and another guest was a recent widow. This was her first Christmas without her husband of more than 40 years and she was dealing with it better than I think I had. She had still baked Christmas cookies, gone to a cookie decorating party, celebrated the season. I had not celebrated for years. In fact, this 11th year since my husband’s death was the first time I took any real pleasure in Christmas and the first I made more than a half-hearted effort towards enjoying it.

My husband died on December 6th, so that first Christmas was a complete mess. I bothered with no decorations, no Christmas dinner, no gifts, no cards.

This year, my hand-stamped cards were completed in November, addressed, postage affixed, and mailed the first week of December. The effort reminded me of how much time I had spent 20 years ago on finding just the right cards, carefully calligraphing the addresses, writing a humorous holiday letter, and getting everything out on time – an endeavour that my husband’s relatives said only pointed up the fact that their guy had truly become a married man because cards for any reason had never been seen before with his return address on them.

An article I read today spoke to how many widows and widowers had to find new traditions for the holidays. For me, contemplating an old tradition, like Christmas cards, or something new like a watching a different holiday movie, meant using a pain gauge. Did the idea of doing this thing cause me pain and if so, how much?

For quite a few years, my husband’s death alone was the pain gauge. But as other people disappeared from my life for one reason or another, the pain gauge also became about memories and relationships other than having been a wife. Losing friends I had known even longer than I had known my husband became part of the equation.

When I was very young and fascinated with life, I heard that old people sometimes welcomed the idea of dying and I found that mystifying. At 66, I don’t feel old and yet I find I understand that thinking much better. It’s hard to lose those with whom you were close – with whom you shared a particular set of moments in time, events, other people. It’s the same as losing a part of your life – a piece of your soul and history entwined forever is ripped away and it leaves a mark that can’t be erased. When it happens a lot in the space of a few years, it can be overwhelming. The pain gauge pegs in the red and all you can think about is getting away from the pain; part of you shuts down.

This year has been a mixed one for me. I’ve had a couple of blessings and some challenges that have pegged that pain gauge more than a few times. But I also enjoyed Christmas this year and that brightens me in a way I didn’t expect.

For the first time in the 11 years since my husband died, I didn’t mark this December 6th with tears and a sense of loss. I acknowledged the day, but the pain gauge needle didn’t move much. And that’s probably a change I still don’t realize the immensity of. I probably won’t understand it for a few more years as I approach future Christmases.

I expect that in those future holiday times, I will once again pull out my Winnie The Pooh letterman’s jacket against the cold weather. Probably when I do, I will be reminded of those who have left this life since I have owned it. I hope when I recall them, it will be with wistful fondness and the pain gauge will register that feeling appropriately.

What Hurts

 

Anxiety out of control

Reassurance is try and miss

Taxi cruises up and

it has the light off

Face of a friend who doesn’t hear you

when you call out in a crowd

Visit to a museum gallery while they announce

they’re closing in 15 minutes.

 

Read. Type. Look at Pinterest

Midsection squeezing itself like a lemon

while you pin a picture of a cute dog

No workout pictures because you already have

tight abs, yes, they are really so tight

you almost can’t breathe

 

There’s a hollow feeling in the middle

Can’t be hunger

Food would make you vomit

You eat anyway but you don’t

taste anything

which is okay because

you don’t want to

The realization of that presses down

on you and you do stop breathing

for a bit

 

You want to live and enjoy

living but you can’t remember

how you did it or when

No sand castles

Just holes in the beach

You dig up the sand with your little shovel and

the tide fills them in and makes them

soupy

 

You start again a distance away repeating

it’ll be okay like saying it will

make a difference this time

it’ll be okay.

Summer Reading List Nostalgia

Woman reading a book at the beach

Every year around this time, publishers, booksellers, and reading sites ask us “What’s on your summer reading list?”

Phooey. Or as Nero Wolfe spelled it, pfui.

This question always takes me back to the 1950s and the olden, golden days of Madison Avenue when everyone lived in NYC. While the working poor were sleeping their summer evenings off on the cool of their fire escapes, the more well-to-do were escaping to their summer digs, where the full-time mom let the children try to drown themselves in the lake or the Atlantic Ocean while she rested in the shade of a tree or umbrella with her lemonade (liberally spiked with vodka) and her Summer Reading.

Please.

These days, your summer reading is likely to consist of a paragraph or two on your smart phone hastily crammed into the short few minutes between picking the kids up from summer day camp and the dinner making, laundry doing, bedtime madness to follow.

If you’re lucky, your kids are older and you can get in a few paragraphs or maybe even some pages (!) before bed, preferably with a glass of wine.

But whatever your situation, you are not likely to be considering which book you will lovingly peruse over the next few glorious, slow summer weeks.

Kids have summer reading lists. Everyone else has the next book in their stack left over from spring, which was left over from winter, which was left over from fall, which was…

But we’ll probably never hear the end of the question “What’s on your summer reading list?” It’s a marketing ploy that has petrified roots in the book world. Every year we will be asked this question and those of us old enough to remember back in the day will sigh and hear the faint sounds of ice cubes melting in lemonade with the musical tinkling of wind chimes. And people too young to remember will wonder what the heck they’re talking about.

Driving in a Loop

02_loop_road_everglades

A friend linked to a post about being present in the moment and how doing that with her daughter made her see how much of her life was a journey undertaken on well-known roads.

It’s the well-known that makes the days blur one into the other. As children, everything is new to us and each day seems long and intense and full of discovery. As we age, there is less new to our lives and the days shorten and become bland. They no longer require our full attention.

One of the ways we can regain the ability to focus on the moment is to be shocked into it. Dramatic news can do that. Like what seems to be an unwarranted number of creative people dying before 2016 ended. Or the unanticipated shock of a surreal election result.

Another way is to do something different. As the author of the post pointed out, this can be as simple as taking a different way home.

These things I knew.

What I didn’t know but learned in the last few years is that well-known roads are only detrimental if they lead one into complacency – it’s a cul-de-sac where thinking is minimal and much happens on auto-pilot. I lived on a cul-de-sac once, and it was peaceful but boring and sometimes I thought I would go out of my mind living there.

But well-known roads only lead to cul-de-sacs if you take the turn off. And for the last 5 years, I have not. Instead, I’ve continued to drive in a loop.

I never thought this would be me. My younger self was on fire to discover the world and I couldn’t wait to get started. But then my husband became ill and two economic downturns happened. And when it was over, my husband was dead, I’d lost my house and our savings and though outwardly I seemed the same, inwardly I’d lost my courage and my taste for new roads.

I’m better now and getting stronger all the time. But I stay on the well-known roads for the most part because getting off them for any length of time makes me anxious and worried. Minor setbacks still have effect out of their proportion. While this is true, I will continue to travel the loop.

But I have come to know myself well and driving the loop forever is out of the question. Even now, I occasionally take a side road to somewhere I haven’t been before. A quick look around, and then back to the loop. Someday soon I won’t be satisfied by those drive-by experiences. I will get off the loop and mostly stay off it. For the last two years I have been planning trips I want to take and things I want to try, and though I have reasons I haven’t yet done them, I know those reasons are pretty much excuses, and I accept that. The part of me that hasn’t yet healed will continue to resist, but the part of me that longs to be off the loop will continue to plan, and poke, and prod and eventually, the wounded part – which will never be completely healed – will give up.

I know this will happen.

So as I drive, I am patient with myself. I drive the loop, but I am in the moment as well, understanding that I take comfort from the well-known road and accept it at full value, knowing that it will not, cannot, should not, last.

Tapped Out?

Image via Wikipedia Commons

I’ve been working on a short story. It’s supposed to be slightly horror – that is, it should unsettle the reader, though won’t likely scare anyone. A horrific thing happens and you can see the lead up to it, but because of the viewpoint, the reader never gets all the information and when the story concludes, they’re likely to have more questions than answers.

I’ve never written one like this before, and that was the point of it. I wanted to stretch myself, challenge myself as a writer, and so I came up with a few ideas that I thought might help me do that.

Problem is, I haven’t been working on it.

This may mean nothing – I haven’t been working on anything lately. I have a painting on my easel, just waiting for me to get back to it, a watercolour planned, a diorama kit of an abandoned gas station I’d like to get to, and some felt soft sculptures that need finishing. Instead, I’ve been thinking about other people’s writing, trying to make some room in my tiny cottage by going through three boxes of long unplayed LPs, gardening, and working on my family’s history.

This isn’t unusual for me. My creative output is always low because I’m easily distracted by all of the other things that interest me – volcanoes, history, political science, mind science, and everything I’ve never heard of before. Lately, I’ve had a near-obsession with Ancestry.com and working my way up and down the family tree in every direction. This is complicated by the fact that I’m also working on my late husband’s family tree at the same time.

But getting back to the story.

So distraction is part of the problem, but I try to at least write 200 words a day. Very little, considering I have done upwards of 3-4K a day, when I’m on writing fire. Which I’m not with my writing lately. In the olden days, and with most of the very short fiction I post here, the writing sort of took off and I was just along for the ride. Hasn’t been like that with my longer works – I struggle to feel my way through as though I’m blindfolded rather than the helter-skelter gallop I have been used to and got high off of.

That’s obviously another part of the problem.

Distraction I can – and have – dealt with. But it’s not a problem, when I’m fully invested in the work. Yep, there’s the real issue – I’m not fully invested in the work. And I don’t know why. Other stories I’ve told were just as complicated and I had no difficulty starting or continuing. If anything, I had difficulty turning off the flow at any point.

The only thing that comes to mind is that maybe I’m overthinking. Trying to infuse what I write with as much literary goodness as possible might have sucked all the fun out of the process and caused the tap to close. And while the desire to open the tap is there, the handle seems to have been mislaid.

How I can fix this, I’m not sure. But I know that, in the meantime, I have to work on finding the discipline I need to continue putting the words down, even if they’re only 200 at a time. If I let myself off the hook for one day, getting back to it the next day is harder and the temptation to skip another day is easier.

One day, I hope I can find the handle for that tap and see my words flowing freely again. Until then, I’ll have to savor each drop I get.

Why We Grieve

spock2

Leonard Nimoy created many firsts on ST. The Vulcan Salute, Live Long and Prosper, Mind Melds, the nerve pinch. He ‘sneaked’ Jewish culture into mainstream television in what was already a groundbreaking series featuring the first competent black woman officer, the Prime Directive, and so much more.

Those who never watched it or weren’t old enough to see it when it was launched will never know the excitement ST engendered in we who were already fans of science fiction and how much of a game-changer it turned out to be for television and film in its 3 short seasons.

Star Trek, the original series, is kind of like the Beatles. If you weren’t there at the time, you won’t be able to comprehend the fuss. But if you were, you know all the reasons we grieve today.