On the Theme of Everything Costs Something

Words that will never be written about me in the New York Times: Ms. Williams’ debut novel is an astonishing tour de force.

Every once in awhile, someone suggests I pursue an agent and a traditional publishing deal.  There’s part of me that longs for acclaim, that aches for that line in the NYT book review, breathless articles about the fairy godmother tale of my discovery.  Bidibidobidiboo.  (Spell check knows the word, which is a fun surprise.)

But everything costs something.  And fame and fortune are no exception.  Of course, I’d love to sell more books.  I’d be okay with not having to go to work, at least in theory.  I’d be ecstatic if I had the money hanging around to buy a streamlined insert for the gas fireplace.  But I’m okay doing my own gardening (you should see the size of the wild grape roots I ripped out last night.  Like wrestling with a 6-foot black snake with tentacles.)  I’m good with the limits my life gives me.  Okay, so I could have stayed in bed another hour this morning, but isn’t discomfort what gives pleasure meaning?  If I could wake up whenever I wanted, what joy would there be in sleeping in on Sunday?  

(Random curiosity: what does Kim Kardashian dream of?)

My vote for the grand unifying theory of everything is that the Universe demands balance.  Whatever is given to you comes with a cost.  I don’t fly all that high, all things considered.  This month’s excitement was getting a new sink and faucet in the kitchen.  Next month, there will be an overnight train trip with a sleeper car.  But the lows aren’t that low either.  I know who my people are.  I don’t worry that my friends are only there for the access, for the drugs and the swag bags and the view and the piles of cash laying around.  The love in my life comes with expectations: reciprocity, loyalty, consideration, mutual assistance, honesty…  but the expectations aren’t monetary.  No one is walking away from me because I can’t pay their car note.  No one is disappointed because I’m not making it rain.  

Too often the cost of material gain is in the quality of your relationships, and if that’s the choice– love for money–I’m sticking with love.  So the NYT hasn’t noticed me.  I’m not an astonishing tour de force.  I’m a slow writer with an infestation of wild grape and a crazy dog and a family that is both crazy-making and indispensable, and love deep enough to swim in like friggin’ Scrooge McDuck.  I think I can make my peace with that.  

On the Theme of Everything Costs Something

It’s a Small Life

This observation isn’t a complaint, just an observation.  I look around at who I spend time with and who I call…  Aside from working hours and relationships, my priorities by way of time and energy is family.  There is no straight answer as to what is going on with my father.  MS, medications, lingering aftermath of a horrible surgery that took place nine months ago…  Not sure.  But we turn inward.

Not the royal we; me and my sisters.  And my dad too.

Not too far from that core are my best friends from high school.  Tink and The Mixologist are in touch as they can manage it between work and their family demands.  Most everyone else is either on a long tether or has slipped away.

I’m grateful for my long-tether friends.  People who don’t hold long weeks of absence against me.  Friends who can start up from six months of radio silence with no feelings and no awkwardness, because none of this is personal.

Even those who have slipped out of orbit entirely.  No negative feelings about this because, for the most part, I think I understand.  We all have our reasons and our methodology for pursuing those reasons.  I can’t be mad about it.

And honestly, if it is going to be a small life, I have no cause to complain about the company.

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It’s a Small Life

Starting Late, but Right

I fear I am headed back into serious territory in the next few weeks, but for now—having taken a bit of a break from thinking about much at all—I want to kick off 2016 with gratitude.  2015 didn’t distinguish itself by being an easy year: but it was a good year, overall.  Mostly because of the people.  I have such lovely people in my life.

My father.  After some serious challenges this summer with his health, he is as feisty as ever.  Already this year, I’ve had to fuss at him for using a chainsaw alone.  He agrees and then does exactly as he planned to before I got all concerned about his welfare.  He’s teaching me woodworking and I’m facilitating his time in the workshop.

My sisters.  Superficially, it might be hard to see how we all come from the same family.  Vastly different interests and lives from each to each.  But the core—fair-minded, stubborn, family-fierce—cut from the same cloth.  I’m so proud of my family.

Tink.  Our lives are out of control, but the knowledge of a friendship that runs bone-deep provides sustenance.

The Mixologist.  My favorite curmudgeon, save my dad.  As we are both headed for the straight and narrow in 2016, we made sure to take it off the rails on the last day of 2015.  She is always there for misbehavior of the best sort.

Isoke. We couldn’t be more different.  She is organized and focused, I’m chasing butterflies.  But god knows I need this woman.  She is sticking with me so far, even though I know me and my butterflies have to be maddening.

Ratwell.  Story consultant.  Technology guru.  Ever-ready source of calm.  Also, a good example of what patience in practice looks like and the reason I get out to see nerd movies.

Neal.  A reason to be grateful I can’t begin to explain.

  1. I don’t know where to start with the reasons I’m lucky you are around.

In short?  I hit the people jackpot.  Which I’m going to call better than winning that $1.5 billion powerball from a week or so ago.

Starting Late, but Right

7:35

A year ago today, at 7:35 in the morning, my mom died.

A time machine wouldn’t be of much help if you can’t go back with a cure for cancer that has yet to be invented.  If you can’t get around the cancer, if you can’t undo the part where it crept into her brain unnoticed until the Saturday after Thanksgiving…  then a year later I have nothing but gratitude.  Certainly not gratitude for her death, but gratitude that we have no regrets.

Maybe a good death would be sudden.  An aneurysm at 93 with all of your faculties, at home, in your own bed, in the middle of the night.  But given the iron-clad premise of cancer at 67, she had a good death.  The best in care, the knowledge that her family came when called, colleagues and friends who came to see her in the hospital, an unplanned last meal with some of her favorites: matzo ball soup, lemon cream cake, tea from Teavana.

Last year, I made the calls that you make when someone dies and drove six hours to my sister’s house.  They had already put up their tree and we had the exuberance of the boys to propel us through to New Year.  This year, there is a Christmas tree in my house.  It is the first in at least 14 years.  Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I put up a tree that I had some kind of ownership over.  I certainly didn’t have a Christmas tree stand and I can’t remember if I ever owned one.  I have a stand now, purchased the same day as the tree.   A stand and a tree with LED lights and ornaments with stories: a salty peach, a crocheted hat made by my aunt Norma, a replica of the Serenity.  No, seriously.  The Serenity is hanging on my tree.

As already mentioned, I’m not a Christian.  The cognitive dissonance here is minimal.  The tree is an older, pagan symbol of fertility and these rituals are at least as much about fertility and the cycles of the earth as they are about a man who, by some scholarship, was actually born in September.

But tonight I stood in front of the tree with the same kind of reverence you bring to an alter in a designated house of worship.  And gratitude.  Profound gratitude that I have a house to put a tree in.  Gratitude that we did family right by seeing mom through her death, and then in the aftermath, a conflict-free grieving process in which we (my sisters and I) continue to support each other.  For the abundance of love in my life.  For the dog and the cat.  For employment.  For all the ways I am privileged beyond my earning.

I’m not bragging.  I didn’t earn any of this.  But I wouldn’t dare minimize the good things that are present in my life by focusing on what a selfish mind might find lacking.  Not tonight.

7:35

What You Wish For

These grand thoughts seem to happen fairly regularly in the shower…  Seriously, before the invention of the shower, where did people go to have their grand thoughts?  It is entirely foofy, but I want to believe water is some superconductor between a body and the Universe.  I was standing there in the dark and I realized that I am the thing I wanted to be when I grew up.

It doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like.  At sixteen, I saw myself standing on a cliff in a black skirt on a walk with four dogs after a long day writing and teaching.  It doesn’t look like that.  There aren’t many cliffs in DC and I don’t wear black Stevie Nicks skirts to work most days.  My teaching duties are more “other duties as assigned” than they are classroom with chalk.

But I am a writer.  I write books, though that doesn’t pay me nearly enough to survive on.  I write reports – I’m currently up to my eyes in Ebloa, which I will wax eloquently about later.  And I only have one dog.  It isn’t the way I thought it would be – these things never are, but it *is* what I wished for.  After a fashion.  I’m incredibly lucky…  loads of people are still looking for where they belong, or making intolerable compromises.  There are things I don’t like about my work – I don’t like it when the experts come in and muck up the flow and rhythm of my paragraphs.  There is nothing about technical or scientific writing that says it can’t have a flow or that every sentence must start with “the.”  And I get frustrated when I can’t fix it because the expert on Ebola trumps the (more-or-less) expert on words.

So no, it isn’t perfect.  But perfect would be boring – we all need something to squawk about.  Still, it’s kinda sorta what I wished for…

What You Wish For

a pretty good year

It seems odd to make that claim so close to my mother’s death.  This was a year that saw the return of my mother’s cancer, a move, a break-up of disastrous proportions, the end of a job, and the rapid deterioration of my mother’s health, concluding in her death.

But it was also a year wherein I discovered just how strong my relationship is with my sisters.  I got back into the pool this year and found a little peace underwater.  I got solid with what passes for spirituality.  I added a new and lovely mentor to my collection of smart women that are willing to tell me when I’m full of shit.  I’ve spent more time interacting with my niece this year. There were book reviews and new followers and real progress towards being done with TCR II.  I got to cuddle with my nephew.  And I was positioned perfectly to be there for my mother’s last breath.

Nobody is calling it a pretty easy year.  Not much to claim by way of having a pretty joyful year.  But if good includes growth, or grounded, or stronger, or more solid, or smarter, or braver, or in better alignment…  If good includes being in a place now to ride with whatever happens next…  Then it was a pretty good year.

a pretty good year

Lego Engineer

Yeah, I’m going to need someone to get me an honorary degree in engineering, stat.  We were carried through the day buoyed by the 4-year old’s effervescence.  That and being so absorbed in following the directions with the various self-assembled toys that there was no attention left over for looking about and wondering where Mom had got to.

I put together a marble run called the Vortex.  Loads of part number 13 to attach to piles numbered 12, 11, 10, and 9, respectively.  Bring on the engineering degree, of course, but add managing a “helpful” 7-year old to the mix and it’s somewhat amazing no blood was shed.

After that adventure, there was the Lego helicopter.  My sister had suggested this particular instrument of torture and, having proven adept at putting together the demon Vortex, the 7-year old pressed me into service.  I prevailed.  Both toys are now assembled for the breaking.  The swear words were minimal, the temper tantrums (mine) were manageable, and the melt-downs among the children were limited to one or two.

Besides, what could be better than hunting for atom-sized Lego pieces than having the younger of the two miscreants find a big enough gap between my elbow and my ribs to wiggle through on his way into my lap?

Lego Engineer