Thursday, October 29, 2015

feeling the story again


When I think to when I've felt the most myself, I remember the year after college, the year before I was married. I had my own apartment and worked breezy, carefree jobs. I had a TV but no channels. I spent my free time hanging out with friends or writing. Back then, I had dreams of becoming a writer. I have the same dream now, of course, but back then I was determined to make something of it, turn it into a reality. Now instead, reality has crashed my dream into a whimsy of my youth.

Everything I have done since then has forced me to grow up, to become a responsible adult. I got married, bought a house, finally have a dependable car. I took jobs because of stability or health insurance, rather than scheduling. I have two little boys and a dog to take care of. I am an adult, yes, but now without those carefree smiles I once had.

This week I read A Drinking Life, by Pete Hamill.  When I read his sentence, “I would lie alone in the dark, feeling that I was a character in a story that had lost its plot,” I inhaled deeply, words now assigned to something I myself have been feeling. And then, after he decides to enroll in art school: “…After months without a narrative line for my own life, I felt the story again.”

I have been going through a midlife crisis of sorts, just a tad earlier than common. I have been back at work for months, but this time a job that works with my life scheduling-wise, just like those jobs of yore. Perhaps it is that that has got me thinking about what it is I want to do from here on out. Perhaps it was considering going back to those adult jobs, the ones far removed from my passion. Perhaps it was Holden turning 18 months old, the age where he is cheaper in daycare and when daycare becomes an option. Perhaps it has been what I’ve been reading. Perhaps it is all of those things.

“You can do anything you want to do. What is rare is this actual wanting to do a specific thing: wanting it so much that you are practically blind to all other things, that nothing else will satisfy you…I mean it. There is reason for you to give this statement some of your best thought. You may find that this is just what is the matter with most of the people in the world; that few are really wanting what they think they want, and that most people go through their lives without ever doing one whole thing they really want to do.” ~The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

That specific thing has always been writing for me. I remember being a ten-year-old who wrote angsty diary entries and silly, juvenile short stories and dreaming of one day writing more – writing words that other people would read. I remember changing my major in college from education to writing because that was what I loved. I knew that as a major, it could be worthless, but I also knew that it was what I was interested in, what I enjoyed. I remember moving to Omaha and trying for a hot moment to land a job somewhat related to writing, but after one interview that I bombed, giving up and going back to what I knew – working in a restaurant until someone found something else for me to do. I remember the thoughts and dreams, I’ve just never put them into motion.

But now, with this mid-life crisis, I am rejuvenated. I am motivated to find the carefree, happy smiles that I had before I gave up on what I love doing the most. I have had a lot of distractions in the past decade, but although they detoured me, I haven’t completely lost my way. A few months ago, I applied for UNO’s MFA program. A few weeks ago, I wrote out a rough draft of a children’s book. Today, on a day without the children underfoot, I picked up my novel again, brimming with ideas for it. Steve texted me, “Getting some writing done?” And I replied that I am and I’ve missed it: “I feel the most myself when I write.”

Finally, I am feeling the story again.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gathering and journaling

Now about gathering, here is what I mean. 

My son Adam, his wife Betsy, and their little children Alison and David live in Minneapolis. When I travel there, I know I'll visit with family. Have good meals. See friends. Indulge in amusing conversations. Lots of fun music. (Adam is in two bands.) 

What it doesn't mean is writing. 

I can still accomplish daily things like keeping up with e-mail and phone calls. 

But I do no writing. Still, I consider these kinds of trips "gathering days." Good writing is made up of details. So on these hours away from the computer, away from actual writing, I become a collector of details. Some I collect actively, most passively. 

It may look as if a writer uses such stuff to keep her away from the actual hard work of writing. And in fact many authors will tell outsiders just that. But do not be fooled. It is actually all grist to the mill. 

...I realize that we writers still must live in the real world. That means cakes, letters, bills, clogged toilets, etc. That means reading other people's books, watching TV, doing crossword puzzles, chatting on the phone. That means taking children to school, to the orthodontist, to choir practice, to basketball games. That means working till 3, till 5, till 8, till midnight. That means vacuuming the living room of cat hairs, dog hairs, husband's hairs. That means running to the grocery store, the paint store, the shoe store. That means going to the doctor, the dentist, the hair salon. 

What that means is life. 

Besides, without life, what's there to write about? 

~Jane Yolen

I read this today and loved it. And I didn't just love it because it gave an excuse for not writing - quite to the contrary, I would love to write more than I do. I'm never waiting for the muse or lacking inspiration. Instead, I am always consumed with daily life and not making writing a priority within that life. I loved it because it made sense of the time we spend not writing. It gave that time the same validity and importance as what we create from it.

When I am not writing, I am gathering. I am gathering up life lessons and relationships and gossip and character sketches and ideas. I am gathering up love and angst and sadness and joy and anxiety to write into something someday. I just must be careful to take breaks from gathering to write it down, before my bucket overflows and some of the good stuff I gathered gets left behind, lost, and never written about.

And one last thing - did you know the word "journal" is derived from the French word "jour" as in "day"? We all know "jour" from "soup de jour" but it also in journaling means writing daily. So that is what I resolve. To spend thirty minutes a day journaling while what I've gathered is fresh. Thirty minutes is not hard, even if I am a mother of two rowdy boys. After all, I am writing right now while they are playing contentedly a few feet away. I can make anything an excuse, but making something a priority is where I will find fulfillment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

first yoga class

Although I have been practicing yoga in the comfort and privacy of my own home for the past year and a half, the time has come to join a yoga class. There is a yoga studio right across the street from the coffee shop I work at and they have a hell of a Groupon going on, so I finally signed up. Then today, after the coffee shop, I made my way over there.

I have had some trepidation about joining a yoga class. I had pictured it would be a bunch of upper middle-class moms - you know the type - the ones with nannies even though they don't have jobs of their own. I imagined they would talk about their $125 haircuts and roll out in their Lexuses and would wear full makeup and matchy matchy outfits. Of course they would be incredibly flexible and I would be clumsy and awkward and they would snicker and whisper and I would flee crying. I even had a dream that I was some outcast in class last night.

I had other concerns too - that I would need to run to the bathroom mid-class or that my sweaty hands and feet would be a problem. But I needn't have worried. I went to class and the instructor didn't snicker when I told her I needed to change into my yoga pants in the bathroom because I just came from work and yoga pants are no bueno there. I put on my weight gloves and kept my socks on and walked into the room. There were only four other women in there, and we each put our mats against a wall, creating our own little corners. Surprisingly, I was the youngest woman there. If anyone were to look like the stereotypical yogi type, it was me, not them.

The instructor told us how to bend into each pose, then walked around and ensured we were each doing it the best we could. I learned how to correctly hold the poses I've been doing wrong this whole time. I learned new poses. I breathed well for the first time in a long time. And before I knew it, the hour was over. After savasana, the instructor told us each to roll over onto whichever side we chose and then explained what each side meant. "If you rolled to your left, that means you need to slow down and take it easy. Usually we roll to the left when we do yoga at night or if you are worn down. If you rolled to the right, that means you are choosing to be filled with energy, some 'get-up-and-go.'"

I had just spoken to my sister yesterday, shortly after writing my latest blog and we both agreed that exercising more might fill me with more energy. Yesterday I took out the jogging stroller and took the boys to a couple of parks. Then last night I signed up for today's yoga class. And you bet I rolled over to my right side today. I choose to be filled with energy. I choose to rediscover my get-up-and-go.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"you're fine"

On Friday was my doctor's appointment for exhaustion. I felt a bit silly even making the appointment, sounding like one of those celebrities who checks into rehab for "exhaustion" when you know it's not really that. When I got there, the nurse checked my vitals and then said gently, "so we're treating you for exhaustion?" I gave her a genteel nod. "Do you have little kids at home?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "That's it," she said, neither joking nor serious.

The doctor came in and asked me a bunch of questions, each of us trying to decipher why I feel like I'm eighty when I'm only 32. He asked me when it started, what had changed. I started working part-time, my thyroid medication was adjusted. I lost sixty pounds last year. I all but stopped working out recently. I have two rowdy boys at home who never nap, don't even sleep through the night sometimes. Their energy is boundless which makes my limited energy all the more apparent.

He told me my thyroid adjustment will make me more tired and maybe although I am sleeping I'm not getting good sleep. That much is true. I'm a nervous sleeper - I awaken at the sound of the newspaper hitting our driveway, Tucker barking, Holden as much as turning over or coughing gently. Then I try to fall back asleep, but often instead I am worrying that I'm not getting enough sleep, counting the hours I'll get if I fall asleep right now, or how few I'll get if I don't.

I have bizarre dreams and I wake up thinking they're real. In a recent dream, I stumbled upon the intervention of a high school acquaintance and I woke up thinking of ways I could help her overcome her addiction.  It's ridiculous, this relationship I have with sleep. Even though I've been out of school for a decade, I waken suddenly thinking I have a big paper due and I have to run to the library to print it out before class. It's like everything I've ever been anxious about comes back to me when I sleep and I relive the nervousness each night. Restful sleep, my ass. It's always fitful. 

I told the doctor I have heart palpitations often so he told me in order to diagnose me they would run some blood tests and hook me up to an EKG before I left, then he would analyze those results and see if it's something easy to spot. If not, and I was still feeling exhausted, they could run more tests but if nothing came out of those, it might be something psychological. He eyed me at this, then, observing my calm exterior added, "but I doubt that would be the case with you." If only he could see my thoughts, I thought, if only he knew I was fighting back tears that I can't explain. 

The nurse came in and explained the EKG, then hooked me up to wires with stickers all over my abdomen. I thought of my kids quickly, (then morbidly) of how if I died they would be without a mother. A tear slipped down my cheek and I quickly brushed the evidence away with the back of my hand before the nurse saw and noticed I am weak. "If only your kids could see you right now," she said. "They'd think this was so cool - like something from 'The Matrix.'" I didn't think they would think it was cool at all, but I didn't argue with her.

I left and went about my business, then the next day, I called to get my lab results. My thyroid levels are still off, and I get slightly less Vitamin D than I should, but other than that, I am a healthy person from what they can tell. "See?" Steve said. "I told you you were fine." I smiled wanly. All signs point to that I should be fine. But people can't see what I feel and I don't feel fine at all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

bees

Parents get a lot of crap, when kids turn into adults with problems. Every time I see a movie or read a memoir and the adult ends up in therapy, they are finding a source for their issues, and that source is almost always their parents. Although sometimes that might be the case, I feel like parents end up taking a lot of blame when no one else is willing to accept any responsibility.

But despite my views on that, today I found out that I actually am responsible for a new fear of Holden's: bees. I am overly dramatic around bees. I have been stung exactly twice and it was two decades ago. My brother Chad stepped on a bees' nest while we were picking blackberries and I remember the angry swarm that rose out of the ground. Chad and I ran and ran, but he ran faster and I ended up with two bee stings on my back.

When I made it back home, wailing, my mom told me to take off my shirt (which I remember being humiliated by) and lie on the couch and then she put ice on my back. I silently reveled in the attention while acting like the pain was unbearable. Maybe it was to me then, before having children or even having menstrual cramps. Maybe that was the worst pain imaginable to me - a bee sting (OK, two. Maybe my melodrama had some merit).

So for the last twenty years, I have ran shrieking from bees. I have freaked out whenever I heard buzzing, relieved sometimes when I discovered it was only a fly. I have screamed outside many times, "a bee!" while the kids are playing, blissfully unaware. And then I run around frantically, looking like some sort of mental patient trying to escape the ward.

When Brandon got two bee stings on his face a few weeks ago, he cried for only a moment or two, and I thought, is he tough or are bee stings really not that bad? But I quickly decided he is tough and bees are still scary as shit. Manic bee behavior resumed.

Today, when I was instructing Holden to eat his lunch, he ignored all my pleading, endlessly saying, "bee!" loudly and pointing at thin air. He started to panic after a few rounds of this when I didn't let him out of his high chair or acknowledge what he was saying. Then he switched to saying, "out!" until I got the hint and let him out of his high chair.

I began cleaning the dishes and only then did I hear the buzzing myself. This time I was relieved to discover it was only a fly, but intermixed with my relief was the realization that I have passed a paranoia onto my baby. Oops, sorry kid. But I don't plan to pay for your therapy bills, if you ever have them. I still have hopes that everything of greater importance will turn out alright.

Monday, October 12, 2015

run down

My last blog post was weeks ago and at that time I felt exhausted, run down. Today, I still feel exhausted and run down. At first, I thought it was just my body adjusting to my early morning hours working at the coffee shop. But that is only a couple days a week and even then I go to bed at 9:30, still getting the 7-8 hours of sleep I should.

I thought back to when it started and I remembered I had told doctors at my last two appointments I felt fatigued, and that was before I started at the coffee shop. So I looked on my Nike+ app to see when it was I slowed down my running and realized that was back in March that my activity started declining, and by April I had cut my running into about a third of what it was.

I was keeping up on yoga for awhile, but even that dropped off, me spending any extra time now lying in bed reading or sleeping instead of exerting energy, because I really didn't feel I had any to spare. I googled extreme fatigue, and came up with some viable options: anemia, celiac disease, diabetes. But then of course there were more menacing, scary possibilities so I stopped my googling before self-diagnosing as cancer-stricken.

I've been trying to keep tabs on this, pinpoint any details I can. I've noticed I feel almost normal in the mornings and can remain as active as I once was until about 2 p.m., and then I feel sacked. I have been rushing chores into the beginning of the day, as well as field trips with the boys, working out (if it ever happens), and anything else of any productive value whatsoever.

But six hours a day is not nearly enough to fit in everything I plan to. So I'm going to see the doctor, see if there is anything diagnosable wrong with me, or if maybe this is just me now. I feel like I'm much too young for feeling this damn old. But maybe this is how damn old you feel when you reach this ripe old age of 32. Maybe I spent too much energy too early in life and the rest of it will be me lying around with books and complaints. God, let's hope that's not it though. I was just getting started.