Life in General

Rejoicing in Relaxation

Last week we spent a few days in Dallas with our son and his family. We had been hoping for warmer weather, and Texas obliged us for the first couple of days, enabling us to take some nice walks in their neighborhood.

Our grandson is a walker. He eschewed the stroller a long time ago and doesn’t much care for his tricycle. I having a feeling he’s going to prefer his own two feet for transportation - at least until he gets a set of four wheels and an engine to move him from place to place. 

One afternoon he decided we needed to take a walk to the park and check out the fountains in a large estuary pond. His mom was taking a much needed afternoon rest, so the two of us set out on our own. Connor kept up a steady stream of conversation all the way to the fountains, which I’d estimate is at least 3/4 of a mile. We spent some time discussing the state of disrepair of one of the fountains, a subject he finds endlessly fascinating. We watched the ducks waddle around (the ducks in Texas are HUGE, like everything else in this larger than life state), and counted people going by on bicycles.

About halfway home, I could tell his short legs were getting tired. Heck, MY short legs were getting tired. We had reached the playground opposite their subdivision, so I suggested we take a rest. We found some large boulders and sat down to watch the kids at their games.

Connor scooted up close to me and popped two fingers in his mouth, his little security habit. We sat in silence for about 10 minute, just observing some older boys and girls hanging from the balance bars, riding their bikes around the paths, climbing trees. 

“Isn’t this nice?” Connor said. “We are just relaxing."

“It is SO nice,” I agreed. What could be better than to sit quietly in the sun with a three year old who was happily content to watch the world go by?

Another 15 minutes went by, and I admit I was starting to get a little antsy. That rock was not the most comfortable sitting spot, after all. “Are you ready to head home?” I asked him hopefully.

“Not yet,” he said. “Let’s just keep relaxing."

I shifted my hind quarters around a little bit and got myself as comfortable as possible. Connor started a running commentary about the cars going by, identifying each one as belonging to one or another of his menagerie of stuffed animals. “That’s Ping’s car right there,” he said, pointing to a Jeep Cherokee driving down the street. “Ping is coming home from work. Harvie will be coming soon. And then the scooters will be coming out at 17 o’clock."

We continued our “relaxing” for about 10 more minutes. “Let’s go see Mommy now,” Connor suddenly announced, so I unfolded myself from our relaxing spot and we finished walking home with renewed energy.

As any grandmother will attest, these are the kinds of moments that are as precious as gold. We weren’t doing anything, we didn’t have any books or toys (or ELECTRONICS!) we were just relaxing and enjoying each others company. This is so rare in today’s world when we always feel the impulse to be busy doing something productive or else choose to connect ourselves to outside sources of entertainment. But everything is endlessly fascinating for little kids - the fountain that doesn’t work, the ducks that come begging for bread crumbs, the bigger kids hanging off tree branches and teasing each other. Even the steady stream of cars going by can spark their imagination. 

That’s what I want more of in my life - that willingness to slow down, take it all in, observe and notice and wonder.  I suspect there is a lot of time within my daily routine that I allow to be sucked up by “busy work,” the kind of stuff that’s akin to the mimeographed worksheets our elementary teachers used to hand out when they were sick and tired of us and needed a few minutes to regroup. 

My new goal every day - relax more. I don’t want to plan it, I don’t want to schedule it, I just want to recognize when there is an opportunity to revel in it and not allow myself to succumb to the call of the internet or the laundry or the cooking or the shopping or the bill paying.

Of course, it won’t be quite the same without my little companion by my side, or our nice rock to sit on.

But I’m going to rejoice in it all the same.

How about you? Do you take time to really relax each day?

The In Between

I’m a hurrier. I move quickly through my day, grabbing and tossing and scrambling. I like to get things done and over with, dust off my hands and move on to the next thing. Tick all the boxes on my to-do list. Finis.

But with age (and a less lengthy task list) has come a the desire to back off, to slow down. I have a new awareness that there will be time and that it’s alright to shift those undone things onto tomorrow’s index card of things to do..or even next week’s index card. Or maybe some days it’s alright not to have an index card at all.

But it can be a struggle for one who doesn’t like the in-between, for one who likes things completed and off the list. I feel uneasy with unfinished projects hanging over my head.

Right now there is an enormous project in this stage of in-betweenness. It’s my book, Life In General, the one I’ve been thinking about and working on for the past couple of years. It’s done, but it’s not done. It’s on the road to being in print and it’s almost there...but not quite yet.

I had planned to be farther along in this process by now, had planned to be in the very last round of editing and nearly ready to print. I had dutifully made my schedule at the beginning of this year, parceled out the months and what needed to be accomplished in each to bring this book to fruition. I ticked off every deadline, right on schedule.

Until I got to the end, and then I stopped short.

Even though I am a hurrier, I am also adept at the art of procrastination. So for quite a while even though the pages were ready, I wasn’t ready to let it go. Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) calls it resistance. "Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.”

I was resisting it big-time. Resisting the idea that this book project was finished. That it would be done for the world to see and judge, seeing and judging me along with it. Resisting the awareness that it was time to move on to something else. 

Then I brought myself back to the reason I’m doing this book in the first place. It’s really for ME - it’s a way I can hold in my hands the culmination of everything I’ve learned about myself and life in general through the writing I’ve shared through my blog over the past decade. The pieces I chose to include in the book were those that defined me and every life passage I went through during that time. The pieces that helped me make sense of Life In General and my own in particular.

It’s a gift I’m giving myself. I’m happy to share it, but sales are not the main motivation for its creation. As much satisfaction as writing on the internet has given me, it’s not ever going to be quite as satisfying as holding a book in my hands - holding a printed book filled with words I’ve written, thoughts I’ve labored to share. 

Reminding myself of the impetus for creating Life In General gave me the incentive I needed to move forward with the next and final steps toward the creation of that book. 

So even though I’m still somewhat in-between, I’m moving closer to the day when I can tick off an very important box on the Life In General checklist.

The one marked The End.

Pieces of the Past - Lovliest of Trees

Sifting through eight years of essays and blog posts to include in my book Life in General, has brought some persistent “themes” to light. One of them is Time - the quick passage of it, the constant dilemma of never having enough of it, the consistent question of how to make the best use of it. Many of my Facebook friends indulge in something called “Throwback Thursday”, posting photos of themselves from the past. I thought it might be fun to do something similar here, posting some of my favorite “ Pieces of the Past." Like this one from 2006. “Lovliest of Trees":


Too fast. That’s what I think about time.

It travels much too fast.

Remember how the days once crept by, every minute larger than life and filled with opportunities - for play, for laughter, for being with friends, for having fun. Did you ever give a thought to time running out, to not having enough of it?

When was the moment you first noticed the swift passage of time? For me it was my 16th birthday (and I need a calculator to determine exactly how long ago that was!) There’s a Polaroid picture of me in an old photo album somewhere, leaning in to blow out the candles on my cake, dressed in the plaid skirt of my school uniform, my long hair in two braids draped over my shoulders. Truthfully, I look more like 6 than 16 in that picture. Yet I recall looking in the mirror that day and thinking: “Someday you’ll be old.” Old like my mother, who was all of 45 at the time. Old like grandmother, who was 63.

Looking back on all the years since then, who could have believed they would travel so swiftly, a blur of college and marriage and motherhood. Like fast motion photography, it sped past me - my LIFE - leaving me standing here in the chill wind of ghostly memories. I brace myself each day, digging my heels into the earth to keep myself grounded firmly in this moment, whatever it might be.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m healthy, and strong. I’ve never faced mortal illness or danger. My family is rife with long-lived women, and thanks to advanced in modern medicine, I could conceivably count more years than any of them.

Yet those years fly by so fast, and there is still so much left to do.

There’s a poem by A.E. Housman, set to music by Ralph Vaughn Williams. It’s called Lovliest of Trees. It’s a lyric, poignant song which many of the high school girls I accompany choose to sing as a festival piece. It goes like this:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride,

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy spring a score

It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

If you do the math, the narrator of this poem is 20 years old, lamenting the thought of “only fifty more” springs. It makes me smile to hear teenage girls sing this song, trying to grasp the idea of a finite amount of time in which to save the cherry blossoms.

Well, I’ve had fifty springs, and more besides. They seem to roll around more quickly every year, those cherry blossom months. Soon, another long Michigan winter will have passed, the robins will return, and the sun will warm my skin. I’m grateful for that, although it reminds me of the swift network of time I’m traveling through.

So excuse me while I go wander the woodlands. There are cherry blossoms to savor.



life in general 2Sitting next to me on the corner of my desk is a mountain of paper. Six hundred and fifty six pages to be exact. When I’m sitting in my chair, the stack is almost level with my shoulder. From the corner of my eye it feels like a large benevolent companion,  patiently waiting for me to acknowledge it’s presence, offer it some hospitality, make it feel at home. Because it’s going to be with me for a while, this behemoth of paper. It has moved in to stay. It has come to be transformed from six hundred and fifty six sheets of paper into something wonderful and marvelous and all mine.

In the past few months I’ve sifted through archived writing that represents the past eight years of my life, events, experiences, thoughts, all chronicled on the digital pages of the three blogs I maintained during that time. These pages are the result of much searching and re-reading - they are what I plan to cull and craft into a small printed book of essays that are representative of this Life in General.

 Many similar themes emerged and reappeared as I revisited the pages chronicling the past eight years - my love of home, my need for solitude, my tendency to overload my life and time until I become frustrated and angry.  I recalled joyful moments when I announced my Grandson’s impending arrival and then his birth. Peaceful descriptions of summer days on the back porch, making my winter weary heart ache for such days to come again and soon. Painful stories of loss - so much loss in these eight years. And then two years ago the promise of our new house, of starting fresh.

Sometimes writing on the internet feels so disposable - we pour our hearts into blog postings and online magazine essays or stories, then push a button that disseminates them instantly across the universe where they become part of someone’s social network feed or blog reader for a few seconds before disappearing into the ether.  Creating this book feels a little bit like making a quilt, gathering the pieces, stitching the pieces together, and putting a binding around it to hold all the edges in place. It will contain the way I’ve experienced life over the past eight years and preserve it for me - and maybe for you - to learn from in the years to come. 

Writing on the internet has been good to me and good for me. I’ve met some amazing people who inspire me to keep at this writing thing. I’ve listened to and learned from their stories.  I’ve learned to use writing to help make sense of life in general and my own in particular. But at heart I’m a tangible person, I want and need to hold something in my hand to prove I was here. Artifacts of daily living are important to me. It’s why I cherish my grandmother’s sugar spoon and stuffing bowl. It’s why I keep photographs and greeting cards.

Life in General will be such an artifact.

I’m excited to begin.

Hieroglyphs on a Rock

I endured these (childhood) fantasies and premonitions by writing about them. The stories I made up were medicinal. My inner life was barbed, with jagged edges. Left untended, it felt dangerous, like it might turn on me at any moment. Intuitively, I understood that I had to use it. It was all I had. By writing, I was participating in a tradition as old as humanity. I was here. Hieroglyphs on a rock. I was here, and this is my story. Dani Shapiro (Still Writing)

Novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro often writes about the way her childhood influenced her writing. The only child of older parents who “fought constantly” and “whose greatest source of conflict was me," Shapiro says she “felt as if she were navigating the world on a borrowed visa.” She turned to writing as a way of coping, of marking her territory, of staying safe. 

I was here, and this is my story.

I can relate to Shapiro’s sense of danger and unease about her place in the world.  As the cherished only child of over-protective parents and grandparents, I was treated more like a china doll than a normal little girl. Ever fearful of my getting broken, my mother tried her best to keep me in a safe cocoon. In her eyes, disasters lurked around every corner like potential land mines waiting to explode.  I often had bronchitis and asthma, and so many of the activities my friends engaged in were off limits to me. Things like running (which made me short of breath), swimming (chlorine in the pool aggravated my asthma), ice skating (I might fall and break something), overnights with friends (their houses might have too much dust which would set off my allergies) were all verboten.

I developed a sense of fragility about life in general and my own in particular, a belief that I should never put myself in harms way- even if the potential for harm was practically negligible. So I learned to be content with quiet pursuits like writing stories, many of which were potboilers about young girls in dangerous situations - locked in haunted mansions, being pursued by ghosts or kidnapped by gangs of thugs. Interestingly enough, I rarely finished these epic tales, probably because I couldn’t conceive of a way to reach the happy ending I wanted so desperately.

I think I was in fourth grade when I first heard about the cave paintings in Lascaux, those images etched into the walls of a dark cave that appeared to be a form of primitive communication. I remember a chill running down my spine as the teacher explained how scientists believed these drawings to be early man’s first efforts at leaving a message or telling a story. Preserved for eons, these odd images were proof positive that some sentient being existed, one who was compelled to leave a message for posterity.

From that moment on, I became fixated on the idea of using words and images to leave a lasting legacy. My belief in the power of our individual stories was born on that day. No matter what might happen to me  (a fatal asthma attack brought about during a secret playdate in my friend Lisa’s dusty basement!) my mark on the world could be ensured through writing.

I was here, and this is my story.

This year I will publish a book called Life In General, a collection of essays from the past 8 years. These pieces will tell the story of my here and now, my life in this 21st century - what makes me smile and laugh and cringe in fear. They are the compilation of my hopes and dreams, my thoughts about family and home and reading and writing. They are the shared stories of women I know, those of us who struggle to balance our lives with the needs of children and grandchildren, spouses, aging parents, and employers. They are all aspects of my story, each one a hieroglyph on the wall of my cave.

I was here, and this is my story. 

And I’m excited to share it with you.