Sometimes I really miss the person who had time to devote to blogging all that was inside her head. Sometimes when I feel I have the time these days, I just sit and stare at the screen. Then I turn the computer off and go to bed.
At the same time, I'm happy to be busy and outside of my head more than I used to be. I think I needed the space away from myself. I think I needed the break from my own inner thoughts and obsessions.
She didn't come with a set of instructions. We just sort of muddled through, picking up the details we needed to know along the way, understanding that we would make mistakes and need forgiving.
She was my first close-encounter with my very own kind of miracle. The fact of her existence, evidence of my creative power, took my breath away. Then came the mind-boggling comprehension that she was mine, yet not mine at all.
I began to understand, quite early, how quickly this was all going to happen. The years rolling one right onto another, how effortlessly she grew from a baby to one who toddles to one who speaks and dreams and continues to alter the course of our daily rituals. I'd never been more content to simply observe, to drop everything I was and become for someone else, for however long she needed me, and then I would become again.
So here we are on the first day of year 18, with all its legal significance. She can vote. She can sign her own health forms. She can serve on a jury. She can maintain her finances privately if she so desires. And while I have no worries that she is capable, I have had moments of anxiety. Have I prepared her? Was there something big and profound I was suppose to have passed along by now that maybe I have forgotten?
Yet, it is a day like any other. A day we will continue to evolve in our relationship, she and I. A day we will continue to celebrate, both individually and together. A day when we will look back on where we've been, and look forward to all there is still before us.
I've always maintained the belief that creativity begets creativity. Writing, painting, composing... it doesn't matter the form. One creative act leads to ideas for at least two more. Most of the time I would claim to be engaged in creative work on pretty much a daily basis. Most often it is writing, but I've been known to draw a picture, pick out a tune on the piano, experiment with recipes or take photographs all with that same satisfied-at-having-created-something feeling.
I also enjoy spending time doing more rote, logistical type things that I've come to think of as creativity fueling. I enjoy being busy, productive, and there are certain tasks that I know I can turn to when my mind needs time to process its more unruly thoughts. I am delighted by spreadsheets, for instance, and I take pride in the management systems I have created with them to aid my work with the farmers market or in managing the billing and bookkeeping for my husband's law office practice. I suppose the act of generating a good spreadsheet is creative, but the act of using a good spreadsheet is incredibly satisfying (especially if you are confident of all of the mathematical functions because you placed them there yourself for reasons you fully understand). I place a number here, and it calculates this, that, and another.
Sometimes my creative mode turns more habitual, however, and I come to the realization that I've not so much been creating as going through the motions simply because I think of myself as a creating kind of person. Perhaps I am writing the same words in a different tense, or putting them to paper in cursive rather than print. Maybe I have turned to doodling for the sake of filling blank space. Or I am serving the same dish meal after meal and forgetting what everything tastes like. Sometimes I am so practiced at what I do that I can fall into the habit of work without really feeling the satisfaction of actually having created something.
It is interesting to look back at my life and see these patterns of actively and passively engaging with the creative process, and the pattern of falling into ruts (usually caused by finding a pattern that works so well I never want it to end). When I was younger, I was more prone to get caught up in the fear of changing things, but now I've almost come to the point of looking forward to those moments. I might recognize that I am getting stuck in a groove, but am more content than I used to be to wait for the right moment. I'm less likely to feel the need to hang on to actions or routines because they once worked. Situations change. I change. My creative process changes. Sometimes I have to do something different in order to move forward and move my creative life to a place of greater satisfaction.
It may be that I've come to anticipate those changes so much that the knowledge that they are coming is enough to fuel a resurgence of creativity. The hubby and I had an idea last week. It was a big idea, for us. An idea that would involve a new house and a new business. I don't know where that idea is going to go, or if it is going to go at all, but I have felt that opening of my mind. I'm ready for change. I'm ready to switch up my routine in a bigger than usual way.
Just the idea of making this move has resulted in an flurry of creative energy. It's infused my market work, my law office work, and my writing. I've got more ideas on the plate than I have room for, but I'm happy that way. I'm coming to the end of each day exhausted and satisfied. I'm excited about that open state of mind, the feeling that anything is possible, and whatever it ends up being, it will be good.
Sometimes I find myself sorting through a whole slew of responses, inside my head, that are not actually my own. I was sitting at the table when my middle kid (age 15) came in from a bike ride this evening. I kept thinking that there was something funny about the way the light was reflecting off her hair. Her hair is generally light brown. She was blond when she was little, but it's much darker now. Finally, it hit me.
Me: Did you dye your hair red?
Middle Munchkin (big grin): Yes... Yes I did.
Inside my head, I heard my mother gasp in dismay. In her world, hair dye was made to cover grey hair, and it was supposed to look so natural that nobody suspected. To be asked if she colored her hair was an insult. Inside my head, my mother... and possible my grandmother... shook their heads and worried. Coloring one's hair... especially something wild like red... just might lead down other dangerous and forbidden roads.
It takes a certain amount of effort to be miserable. It simply takes a different kind of effort to be happy.
These are not Ann Patchett's exact words, but I've been reading Ann Patchett and this thought is one of my take-aways from Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. I picked up Ann at the library a couple of weeks ago - This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. The book was billed as a collection of essays about commitment. I absolutely loved it. I devoured every essay, and a few of them I read twice. There were portions I wanted to print in big letters and wallpaper my room with them. She writes such lovely words. I wonder how it is I had not discovered her before now. And so my love-affair with yet another writer begins. When I returned the book of essays, I checked out one of her fiction and non-fiction books. I made it through Truth & Beauty in about three days, which is very speedy for me, as I always have at least two or three books going at a time and, except for weekends, my reading time is often limited to the few minutes I can keep my eyes open before going to bed. I will admit that I took Sunday as a sick day. I came home from "camp" (a Friday and Saturday event with my daughter) with a head cold and so threw myself upon the couch on Sunday with a box of tissues, a few pillows, a blanket, and the book. Unlike This is a Story..., Truth & Beauty was heartbreaking in content; yet still lovely in its way with words. It left me dwelling on the above.... on the effort of being miserable vs. being happy... I see this so often in life. (Or perhaps, more accurately, so often of Facebook, where people tend to put both their misery and happiness in words.) Far too often I think people get into the habit of demanding that their misery be noticed. I'm sad. I'm lonely. Nobody loves me. Why doesn't anyone appreciate me? I wonder why it is so hard to see the problem of focusing on what brings us down. Only occasionally am I drawn to respond. I might comment or send a private note to someone who truly seems to be suffering, but more often I turn away. Does that make me cold hearted? Does that make me a bad friend? It's not the occasional, "Hey, I'm having a tough day," that I'm talking about. We are only human, after all. I don't mind the now-and-then harrumph, or enough already, or man life sucks! But I have friends who have truly gone through some serious pain and loss and, yet, they still manage to smile and show their sunny side as much or more often than they frown out loud. My issue is the people who dwell there. The people who seem intent on expending all their energy on feelings misery when it seems that those feelings are primarily being generated by the person to create more misery. It's as if it were a contest and they want everyone to know that they are winning. As if collecting the "oh you poor thing" comments actually makes life any better. Manipulating others into feeling sorry for you only confirms that you are a sad and sorry person. Trust me. It doesn't make you feel any better except maybe for that brief moment of connection when someone looks your way (or comments on your wall). In the long wrong you have done nothing to improve your state of mind or state of being. Truth & Beauty was about a friendship... a lovely friendship that spanned twenty years. But honestly? As much as I admired Ann, and even admired her friend, to some extent, I found myself midway through the book thinking that I would never be a person, like Ann, who has that depth of kind and generous. I have many friends that I consider life-long, but I don't know that I could/would put up with the things Ann dealt with in her relationship with Lucy Grealy. Is my bar too high? Do I have unrealistic expectations that all of my friends should be stronger? Wiser? More capable? Perhaps the truth is that I find the line between happiness and misery too easy to cross myself. I fear tying myself to people who are so freely miserable. I've found myself in the position of purposely getting out of these relationships in the past. I let them drag me down until I finally see it, they are trying to take me with them and beginning to succeed. Maybe I am the one who is not strong enough. Maybe if I were stronger, I could spread enough sunshine for both of us. What I wish these people could see is that dwelling on what is wrong in life makes the wrong things grow big until it is hard to see beyond the shadows they cast. When instead, I've tackled my own grey clouds with a quest to bring a smile to someone else's face, I find that I can smile easier, as well. It works. I find happiness by focusing on good. To dwell on them, especially publicly, where I get feedback, only makes them last longer and grow darker. I don't want to be a person who runs from people who are in pain. I know that there are times in life when we simply have to embrace what is, even when it's hard and/or sad beyond reason. But I also don't want to be a person who exerts all my effort on chosing misery. I hope that I am wise enough to see the difference.
I went to a funeral on Friday. The deceased was the grandfather of a friend. He was also a client of the hubby's. I'd met him a few times. I remembered him as a very friendly man who was very proud of his granddaughter. She was our connection, and he was pleased to meet me, I felt, because of my relationship to her. That was several years ago, before I even thought of her as friend, to be honest. She was a market board member. She was someone in the growing field of "people I now know" in our new home of Emporia. Making these connections, matching grandfathers to granddaughters, is part of the process of becoming a member of a community when you are new.
I have had the good fortune to get to know this man's daughter, as well. She was my most faithful volunteer in my first years working as the market manager. I got to know her on our frequent Saturday mornings together. I absorbed her stories about her daughter, about her own grandkids, about her mother who had recently passed away, and her husband, also recently gone. I missed her this past year, when a new marriage and life events took her elsewhere for our usual Saturdays. We would hug when our paths crossed and we'd catch up, as best we could, and I would feel, again, as if my roots had grown deeper in this community. I loved the way she called her father, Daddy. It made my heart ache to hear the stories as she watched him decline and cared for him as his health failed. Her smile kept going strongly.
I don't usually expect to grow teary-eyed over the death of people I've known from a distance, people I've known for very little time, to be honest. Yet I pulled out a tissue as I listened to the stories, the letters written by daughters and granddaughter, and I felt proud to have known this man for a brief moment, but moreso to know his family and to have the opportunity to know them better in years to come.
I left a funeral today feeling inspired to be a more generous and kinder person. To be the kind of person Bill Wygle would have called friend. To be the kind of person to whom people say their goodbyes with tears and good stories and hugs... and even some laughter.