Willy-Nilly

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I have been writing, I swear. It’s just that what comes out won’t please, won’t make you laugh and lollop with llamas and fit into the mold of lighthearted fiction. What I’m writing wakes me in the morning and makes my fingers fly, roars forth, rips tears from my makeup-from-the-night-before eyes.

I’m expelling, I’m sure. Vomiting forth grief, and shock, and bemusement and fear for the future. I thought this grief would be quick. I thought the horridness of my father would make for a smooth transition to fatherlessness. I thought the equanimity of my divorce, the already-deadness of the marriage would mean I wouldn’t feel the loss.

But I guess not.

Mother’s Day approaches, and I remember how Mom liked flowers as much as any woman, and probably more. How she’d point out every bulb bursting forth from every tree planter on our block from Third to Lexington, every first forsythia cascading yellow over the grey-brown walls of the Central Park transverses, and ooh over the roses in the Conservatory Gardens.

I thought I dispelled my grief for her over months and years and therapy and trips to Kripalu to cry and commiserate and breathe deep yoga-scented breaths. But by damn, a little dose of Mom would go down smooth right now.

What to do, Mom? Buy a house and settle here, alone? Make no sudden moves, stay in my less-than-special rental, or move back to the city you loved and a love of which you instilled in your kids ‘til neither of us could imagine an identity other than New Yorker?

I still get Dad’s subscription, forwarded on to Santa Fe with the rest of his estate-of mail. And I still let it pile up, too precious to dump, and only read it for the cartoons or not at all, shameful I know. I suspect the New Yorker is the most shame-inducing, least-read periodical of all time. Even you were backlogged three issues on the nightstand, Mom.

Anyhow, I thought I’d be better by now. Ready to date, ready to commit, ready to write lovely llamas and hot tub hippies and heroes with a twinkle in their eyes. And I’m trying, I’m doing it by drips and drabs, though damn the work is slow. Only forgive me, gentle folks, if I need a moment still to let the “what the FUCK?!” flow. I’m still in it, whether I wish or no. And I guess that’s how it’s gonna be a little while yet.

My friend Pam asked me to describe my writing process. At this moment I’m in my living process, and what I write won’t be bent to my will. It just needs release, so that’s what I’m doing, whether or not the rage and pain and sadness ever see the light of day. Bear with me, friends. The llamas will come.

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On the Cusp

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A few years back, someone asked me what my goals were. I said, “By the time I’m forty, I want to publish a book and get back to the weight I was on my wedding day.”

Well, I accomplished both of those goals with six months to spare. But then a lot of things happened in those spare six months that I didn’t expect – the death of my father, my divorce from my husband – which shook me up and perhaps didn’t allow me to revel in my success the way I’d have liked. Now, on the cusp of turning forty, I’m looking around asking myself, “What next? What matters to me? To what am I looking forward?”

The truth is, I’m not sure. Right now I’m heart-wounded and tumbled upside down, and the everyday routines that formed my life are all unnecessary. I don’t need to cook anything for anyone, or pick up dry cleaning, or remove my dirty socks from the poor unoffending floor. My father’s long crisis is over, and there’s nothing to be done for him.

I’m free. But is free a good thing?

In the wind

In the wind

I’ve been told more than once that I’m an object of envy. This is a deeply uncomfortable thing to hear. I’m definitely conscious of how lucky I’ve been in my life. I’m healthy, stable, and have been given many opportunities, while others I’ve managed to carve out for myself. I’ve accomplished a lot in 39.99 years. Yet I can’t say that now is a very good time for me. I can’t call myself happy, or secure, or serene. Three months after my last parent’s death, one month after my husband and I split, I don’t feel safe, or optimistic, or raring to go. I still feel that sense of shock, that inner earthquake, and all I want to do is dig all ten claws into the dirt and hold on for dear life.

I’m grateful for many things – my dear friends, the new leaves on the aspens slapping softly together outside my window, the whistling hummingbirds’ return. I take delight in the little pink-padded feet of my rascal orange tabby as he shovels them into my face at five a.m. I’m fortunate to spend springtime in stunning Santa Fe, and for excellent books to read in my wildly unkempt backyard under endless cloud-strewn skies.

And yet, the sense of not belonging to anyone, or owing myself to anything urgent… it’s unnerving. I’d like to come to appreciate it, and I hope that I soon will. Until then, I’m untethered and in search of I know not what.

Death, Divorce, and Moving… On?

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Today would have been my mother’s seventy-fourth birthday, had she not died of pancreatic cancer three and a half years ago. Eight weeks ago, my father died of lung cancer at the age of seventy-six. And just under a month ago, my husband asked me for a divorce.

Last weekend, he moved the rest of his stuff out, leaving dents in the carpets where his bookshelves used to be, and deep grooves in my heart where the little, kindly routines of our lives were supposed to intersect.

I wake up wanting to tell him about that weird dream I had, or an idea for how to get the cat to stop drinking out of my bedside water glass… and I stop short, remembering.

Gone.

What do I do now with all the little in-jokes, the puns, the cutesy phrases I made up just to make him smile? How could I ever again look at the dedication page of BLISS, where I thanked him so effusively for being my partner, without feeling like a schmuck?

The reasons for the split are all valid, even if the timing was awful. But that doesn’t make my feelings now any less bewildered, my panic each morning when I wake up and realize I’m on my own diminish.  No mom, no dad, no emergency contact.

Just me.

Well, me and three cats who don’t care if their person is grieving.

You better get up NOW, two-legs, and put kibble in that-there bowl. Never mind that it’s 6am and you just got to sleep at 2.

So I’m sitting in what was supposed to be my dream life, kind of shell-shocked, trying to figure out how I’m ever going to feel joy again. Trying to understand where everything went so wrong, and knowing it wasn’t the fault of some mustachioed villain, unless you want to call life itself a villain. Trying to write a next chapter, literally as well as metaphorically, and failing utterly to imagine a happy ending.

I can’t control cancer. I can’t control other people’s behavior. And honestly, right now, I can only control mine about a third of the time. I sit down to write, and I just weep. I try to be graceful or gracious about the split, and I end up acting like a twit and saying passive-aggressive crap that purely appalls me even as I fail to rise above it. I put one foot in front of the other but half the time I’m drowning in quicksand no matter how furiously I slog on.

I see the daffodils in town begin to blossom and their yellow crowns make my heart clutch. My mom was a flower fanatic, and each year around her birthday when the forsythia and the tulips and the daffs and crocuses would reemerge, she’d gloat like she was personally responsible. I wonder what she would say to me now? I think she’d be mad that I’ve managed to alienate my handsome goyishe husband. Tsk her tongue at me for hiring an accountant to do the estate taxes instead of handling them on my own.

Would she be proud of me at all in this moment? I honestly can’t ever recall her saying such words to me. (It was always, “Oh, you got an article published in the Huffington Post? That’s great… but too bad they don’t pay!)

At least I know I’ve done as much as she could have, given the same circumstances, and that’ll have to suffice.

As for my dad… right now if illness hadn’t intervened, he’d be gearing up for April in Paris with his new girlfriend, planning to enjoy some good cheese and wine and art and hobble down the left bank best he could on gimpy legs.  Instead, the new, monogrammed Tumi suitcases he never got to use sit in my closet, waiting for my next venture.

Whatever that may be.

Why I haven’t written

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Why haven’t I written? The short answer is, my father died a few weeks ago. So I haven’t written any blog entries, twitticisms, or posted on my Facebook page.

I also haven’t worked on Book Two.

I haven’t written, I haven’t written, I haven’t written. I have had no desire to write. I have had no desire to do anything but eat cheese and watch bad television.

So, 5 pounds heavier and no lighter of heart, I sit here three and a half weeks after my father’s last breath, wondering who the hell I am and what the hell I want in the future. In a few months’ time I must decide whether to stick it out in Santa Fe another year, or move back to New York City, or find some other thing to do with my life and some other place to do it in.  In three months’ time I ought to be delivering a finished book to my publisher.

Shit, where’s that cheese?

I still feel overwhelmed, and underwhelmed, anything but whelm-whelmed. My relationship with my father was challenging, but now that he’s not here I feel so unmoored, yet so much more expected to be an adult, like a title magically conferred without any sort of education or preparation.

I fret that the history of our family, its identity, is in danger of vanishing, and my brother and I are its only witnesses, only carriers. Is it worth carrying? Ought it all to be forgotten? Does it make me a different person to no longer have this father, that mother?

What I know is that my heart is low, my interest in llamas and alpacas and charming little fictitious New Mexico towns is nil, and yet I have to get back to the business of life, preferably before I cause an international cheese shortage. I wish it were easy. I wish I could slide into the next phase of my life. But right now that’s not the case.

So bear with me. Happier updates to come.

PS – One bright spot: I can report that Dad’s two cats are settling happily into their new home in Seattle with a loving forever-guardian who will look after them well.