Friday, November 24, 2017

The Gift

The day after Thanksgiving, the house is quiet. Last night the energy and chatter of fourteen sisters, nieces, nephews, and significant others bounced off these walls, a large furry family member curled at our feet under this large table where I now write. I’m dawdling. I have lost the habit of daily writing, of beginning each day scribbling words on the page – sometimes meaningless babble, other times scenes that find their way into a project at hand or inspire a new one. A routine ignored in the chaos of a busy life.
The evidence? I begin a rewrite of one plot line in my current memoir project. Frustration gets the better of me as I struggle with facts and chronologies. I dig out my notebooks – two large white plastic laundry baskets full – and search for those pertaining to the story at hand. The baskets hold a jumbled mess of notebooks dated 1974 to 2017. Following the advice I often give my students – get organized! – I sort and stack the notebooks chronologically by year. Once finished, the evidence is glaring: some years display hefty piles ranging from seven to twelve notebooks, 2017 has two.
I spend three and a half days in Mesa, Arizona. One cousin, the flight attendant, flies me down; the other cousin puts me up in her hillside home. A secret mission to surprise my aunt, their mother, on her 90th birthday. My aunt shows no sign of the dementia that cursed my mother, her sister. She’s bright and spry, attending yoga classes, driving her own car, and remembering anecdotes from the past better than either of her daughters or me.
My aunt inspires and encourages me. She asks about my writing, about when The Thirty-Ninth Victim will be re-released, about why the unpublished memoir I’ve written about my mother has not been published, about what I am working on now. She wants to read more of my work. That alone is enough to bring me back to my notebook.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Illusive Time

Seven weeks have passed since I last posted. How is that possible? How can days pile into weeks without my notice? I look at my calendar. I open iCloud photos. I search for highlights of time lost.

The week after my last post, fall quarter began with unusually large classes in a partially unfinished building. I'm in a spacious classroom with floor to ceiling windows that frame the changing seasons, and the folks in IT ironed out the frustrating computer issues by week two. Or perhaps week three.
By mid October, classes were settling, and it was time to winterize the garden. I’ve had a board and brick bookcase since the early 1980s. It was in my work office for close to thirty years until the building was torn down and I landed in a much smaller space. We re-purposed a few of the boards and bricks and brought in the potted plants for an indoor garden. Blooms blur seasonal change.
In late October, I accepted a new personal truth: afternoon gym workouts weren’t going to happen. So I began 6 a.m. spin classes. Enough time for an intense hour-long workout and still make it to my first class. I can’t pretend I like it, but I feel good when it’s over.

The month ended with streams of trick-or-treaters at our door. Such a change in West Seattle. When our daughter was knocking on doors, my husband watching from the sidewalk, she was one of few kids in the neighborhood. Now they seem to be sprouting like autumn mushrooms in the Northwest forests.
We are in a constant state of change as nature gifts us lovely sunsets and hummingbirds that flutter through the leafless branches and feed just beyond my office window.
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now