Conversations on Death

When the subject comes up and I tell people my mom died in the recent past, I watch them, watching me. They always look uncomfortable, like I’m about to burden them with some embarrassing display of emotion they won’t know how to respond to. The assumption seems to be that I’m sad, even though I’ve said nothing about being sad. They act like we’ve stumbled on an awkward subject that I don’t want to talk about, but nothing could be further from the truth.

conversations on deathOur vocabulary for grief and our experiences around death and dying is dismally limited. Losing my mom when she was 60 was/is a big deal, but I’m not “sad,” exactly, and I’m continually frustrated that I can’t have more meaningful conversations about my experiences around my mother’s death.

Most of my exchanges on the subject are like having an iPod that came with one song on it, and not being able to download more. I put on that same fucking song whenever I feel like music, but that song almost never matches the mood I’m in. I get up and dance to it anyway, because I want to dance and I don’t know what else to do. It’s pointless, boring, unsatisfying.  Continue reading

First Friday Freewrite #66: “My favorite mistake…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.first-friday-freewrite-square

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “My favorite mistake…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #65: “In the light…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.first-friday-freewrite-square

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “In the light…”

Happy Writing!

Show Me The Door

“Show me the door, and I will walk through it.”

This is the promise I made to myself during the most difficult time of my adult life, when all the elements of my existence seemed to be in discord.

doorwayIn the months – truly, the first raw years – after my mother’s death at the age of 60, not one thing in my life felt congruent with me. In dealing with her illness and death, I’d reconnected with parts of myself I’d long buried or shoved aside.  I now felt obligated to honor my “highest and best” self unequivocally.

This transition started many years before Mom actually died, when she suffered a traumatic brain injury. After that, my husband’s career was sucked into the vacuum created by the collapse of the housing market. Then our dog succumbed to a swift and brutal illness.  Mom’s cancer was diagnosed shortly after the loss of our dog, and although I carried on with my usual optimism and bravado, I must admit to feeling a little beset.  Still, I had this sense that even these difficult circumstances were leading me somewhere – deeper into my own life, to a more complete knowledge of myself.  Continue reading

First Friday Freewrite #64: “When it’s over…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.first-friday-freewrite-square

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “When it’s over…”

Happy Writing!

Missed-It Monday Freewrite…Or, First Friday Freewrite #63: “Thirst…”

Alrighty then!  As one of my more vigilant and devoted Freewriters gently pointed out, I completely forgot to post a freewrite on this past “first Friday.”  So, better late than never, here it is…

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writingFriday-Freewrite-Image prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “Thirst…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #62: “Going without…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writingFriday-Freewrite-Image prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “Going without…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #61: “In dreams…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve aFirst-Friday-Freewrites a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “In dreams…”

Happy Writing!

Choosing My Life

Lately I’ve been obsessing over careers, particularly mine but also the topic in general. I was recently offered a promotion to a management position at work that I ultimately turned down. Through the process of evaluating whether being the remote manager of a team of 50 people was a fit for me (and concluding that it isn’t, at least not right now), I had to take stock of my current situation. What, after all, do I want from my job? Do I want recognition? Status? Money?

This photo is here for a reason...I'll get to it...I promise!

This photo is here for a reason…I’ll get to it…I promise!

Since I said no to the job, I’ve wanted to do nothing but sleep. I’m tired, though I’m not sure from what. It’s not as if I took the position, worked myself to the bone, then decided it was too much and quit. Rather, the idea itself seems to have been too much for me; I became exhausted by the mere prospect of it and the energy it consumed to weigh my options, making lists of pros and cons, deciding what is most important in my life now.

I’m not just relaxed and listless – I’m sleeping big drugged sleeps that come to me in lumbering waves and crush me with their weight. I awaken feeling more tired than I started, and so I have no choice but to sleep some more, even though it’ll undoubtedly just make me more tired still, like a junkie for whom one last fix inevitably leads to another. I wake up amazed by the amount I’ve slept, palpating my neck for lumps, idly wondering if I have lymphoma. (Working for cancer doctors for a decade can do this to a person; there is a cancer for every innocent symptom in the book.) Then I remember the ten pounds I gained last summer, the ones it took me all winter to lose. I dismiss the thought of lymphoma, roll over, and go back to sleep.

Oddly, whatever dissatisfaction I had in my current job before I considered the promotion seems to have evaporated along with the opportunity to make a change. Before I was offered the new position, I’d grown so impatient with my medical transcription work, which I admit can be tedious at times given my inherently restless nature, that I’d contemplated seeking out the very position I ended up turning down. Although I didn’t actively seek it out at all, when I was actually approached and offered the job, I assumed, as did everyone else, that I’d say yes. It seemed I was ready for a change, a new challenge, an opportunity. But the more thought I gave the matter, the more clear it became that I’m adequately challenged enough as it is, balancing my job, household, family, and hobbies. Now I have settled back into my “old job” gleefully, newly appreciative of the harmony it allows me to maintain in my life. My suddenly deliciously simple life.

Ambition has never been one of my attributes. Perhaps I should feel guilty about not having more of it, but in fact the only thing I feel guilty about is that I don’t feel guilty. In college I aimlessly shifted majors until life sent me in the direction of starting a family, at which time, vaguely relieved, I let go of any career goals I might have been halfheartedly harboring (a nursing degree, at the time) readily and without a backward glance. I’ve never known what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m starting to think I never will. Working in the health care field, I have been surrounded by people who have put their educations and their careers above all else, and I’m not sure how much happiness these choices have afforded them.

As if to illustrate this point, I recently learned that a former coworker of mine, someone highly educated with a license and a degree, has gotten herself into some difficulties involving narcotics, a costly transgression that may end her career. She’s not someone I’m currently in contact with, but I’ve found myself compelled to reach out to her. As if, I remind myself, what she really wants right now is for old coworkers to come crawling out of the woodwork and say – what? I hear you’ve made a big bungling mess out of your life – do you want to talk about that?

Suspicious of my own motivations for wanting to talk to her (am I some kind of inappropriate rubbernecker, ogling at the scene of an accident by the side of the road to see how bad things can really get, wanting to put my own life in perspective?), I realize that I’ve always been attracted to people who’ve led difficult lives. It’s a tendency that’s brought me as much fulfillment as it has misery. Damaged people have been chipped away at by the many traumas fate doles out – inept or outright abusive parents; a sudden tragedy; or simply a white-out snowstorm of the mind that sends them stumbling blindly into an abyss of drugs or alcohol, or crippling depression and anxiety – and what’s left after circumstances have worked them over with hammer and chisel is someone more worth knowing. A more authentic human being.   Whether these people have triumphed over their situations or not, they have been forced to live from a place without veneer, without artifice. They’ve been forced to be real. It’s the realness that draws me in. I want to be close to that because it feels like the only thing that matters.

So I often find myself drawn to screwed-up people, people who have suffered trauma of one sort or another, either self-induced or circumstantial. I myself am not overly damaged, but I’ve been chipped away at a bit myself over these last few years: a brutal attack on a family member; a stupid, pointless run-in with cancer that took my mother’s life; the vacuum left behind when the housing market collapsed, a void which sucked in my husband’s lucrative career; a succession of pet losses.

Still, not knowing what to say, I don’t call my friend from the old days who has committed professional suicide, even though maybe I should.   Instead I just turn the story over and over in my mind, feeling empathy for her and a sort of kinship, even though I’ve never done the things she did.   Beyond all the misery getting caught has no doubt brought her, I hope it has also pushed her toward a healing of sorts. She might even be feeling relieved that it’s finally over, that who she is on the inside and who she is on the outside finally matches. There are no more secrets, no more lies.

Beneath all our pride, we desperately want to live a life of truths. Even though it’s painful, we’re secretly glad when our virtuous intentions are brought into check by our undeniable depravity and moral turpitude. We live our lives stretched taught as a piano wire, twanging under the tension of these opposing forces, caught between our desire to appear perfect and the absolute certainty that we are anything but. When the wire finally breaks, we are devastated…but we are free.

Somehow, saying no to the big career change has given me a new freedom, a new affection for the status quo. I’ve made a little more peace with my lack of ambition. My life is just fine; my career is what it is. At least it leaves me the time and energy to do the things I love: writing, gardening, tending to my family. I have chosen a career that doesn’t cause me ridiculous amounts of stress, doesn’t force me to miss out on important family moments, and doesn’t drive me to write myself illegal prescriptions to numb myself out.

So, what do I want from my job? Not power, not prestige, not even money, although I need a little bit of that to make things work. What I want is my life, this life, with all its splintery surfaces and slippery slopes, and with its rare glimpses of piercing truth. I want a job that gives me time to sit down with myself, to examine the areas that have been chipped away at, that have left me broken but also more whole, more me. And this is the job I have. It gives me time to get to know the authentic person I’ve become.

Happiness is Overrated?

What if it’s true? What if happiness is overrated?  No, I mean it.  Think about it.  We think we want to “be happy,” spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to get happy. But does it work?  What is happiness, really? An elusive moment, wafting by like smoke. We might be in it for a moment, but we certainly can’t hold on to it.

sunlight and shadeWhat if we were happy all the time, like we think we want to be? It might turn out to be incredibly boring. What would we talk about, each of us wandering around in a blissful daze?  There would be few opportunities to grow. We cut our teeth on the sharp edges of things. Without those edges, life would be…well…dull.

Maybe we should get used to the idea that we walk in the shadows as well as in the sunshine, should stop trying to be so happy and appreciate each moment for what it is: part of the acute, often uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and fleetingly pleasurable act of living.