Writing Practice – 9/8/2018 – a Letter

Write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a long time…

Dear ________,

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in, gosh, probably 25 years, almost. The last time was when we were back in high school. And I do apologize – I’ve forgotten your name. Somehow. But I haven’t forgotten that you lived in Ames, Iowa. I thought it was cute, back then, like I thought you were cute.

Do you remember, we met on separate Choir trips to the same place? Must have been Chicago – that’s the only trip my choir ever went on. I was Treasurer of the club that year, so I spent more time counting checks than I did counting eighth notes. But that was okay – I learned quickly and sang well, so I could afford to miss rehearsals.

I would ask you how you have been, but I realize that’s a very bland, very “standard” question. I want to ask what has made you happy? What made you cry? Have you ever seen a sunset, all by yourself, standing or sitting at the top of a mountain you just climbed? What makes you laugh?

I would tell you about my life, but there’s too much. Facts aren’t that interesting, really. I know you want the stories – I want to tell them. Like how I ended up on the floor in my underwear at 2 am, crying and praying and dripping snot down my cheeks onto my chest. Or how I put half a dozen holes in the walls. Or how I almost passed out when I fell, once, and that shook me up enough to make some more drastic changes. You want to know my successes and failures. You want to know what I’m proud of and what I regret.

You know what? I’m proud of the fact that I can park 2 cars in my 2-car garage. It may seem like something people don’t often brag about, but I’m really happy I can do that.

You know what I regret? Not keeping in touch with people. Not just you – Andy, Andrew, Nathan, my brother for a while. I want to be a better friend. I want to support my friends in their journeys. I want them to support me. I don’t want to blow away like an ash from a campfire, tossed up into the wind, tumbled along without intention, without purpose, without goals that, when I achieve them, will bring a measure of satisfaction for a job well done.

I want to be happy. And I want others to be happy, too There is enough in this world for us all to achieve what we want. Why hoard? Why restrict? Give. Even if it is not returned to you, that happiness, that love, that community, give anyway. Because it is the right thing to do. If it comes back, then give again. And if it does not, well, then, you will have done the right thing, and that is most important.

Please, do write back. Maybe then I will remember your name. 🙂

Sincerely,

SJ

Extremely Bad Advice – How to Deal with Sentimentality

Stealing from Abby once again – ’cause I’m too lazy today to write a new question.

DEAR ABBY: My adult son passed away two years ago at a young age. We were very close while he was growing up. He married young, and I maintained a great relationship with both him and his wife. They gave me the most precious grandchildren any woman could ask for, and I am extremely active in their little lives.

My daughter-in-law has moved on. She met a nice young man, and they are planning to be married in the near future. Do you think I would be out of line to request to have my son’s ashes back home with me? We live near each other, I love her very much, and we still have a great relationship. I don’t want to damage it by asking this if it’s not appropriate.

I would pass his ashes on to his children when they grow up, of course, but for now, I’d love to have my son back home with me and his dad because she has started her new life. My husband is noncommittal about the subject. When I broach it, he says he “doesn’t want to talk about it.” I really have no one to ask or confide in about this. Your thoughts would be most appreciated. — STILL BROKENHEARTED IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR BROKENHEARTED,

Well, what can I say? I would say I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m not. I think “sorry for your loss” is about as meaningful as “the sky is really blue today”. If I was saddened by your loss, I’d tell you that, and perhaps that would do something. If I was interested in showing how much I care about you, I’d ask, “Oh, that must be hard. What do you miss most about him?” But, again, I don’t care, because your sorrow and misery really don’t affect me on the daily. Other than to provide fodder for my advice column, for which I will gladly say, “Next victim!”

Okay, here we go. The classic dilemma – who gets to keep the crispy bacon that used to be your son’s body? Because, let’s all agree, your “son” is no longer there any more, just like the dream I used to have of being an Abercrombie & Fitch model has blown off into the wind with that first hit of the mind-altering substance known on the street as Jif Extra Crunchy. Your son disappeared from the shell that held him the moment his cranial electro-activity ceased. What he left behind was the meatbag for DNA that did its job incredibly well by providing “the most precious grandchildren” [hold on – just threw up in my mouth a little].

And in order to do that, he had to procreate with his wife, your daughter-in-law (DIL). Who is now his widow. So, for that you should be grateful to her, not jealous.

What’s left is sentimentality. I get it. People have good memories of the past, and it’s hard to move on. It’s hard to imagine that your progeny wouldn’t love you as much as you loved him. How could he? You’re a mother, and everyone knows a “mother’s love knows no bounds”. He couldn’t reciprocate your devotion to him. And he proved this by not pulling an Oedipus and fucking you! He shagged the DIL, knocked her up a couple of times, gave her good memories, and now his burnt ends occupy a silver chalice on the mantle. Good for him and her.

But – you’re a selfish hag who has nothing left in her life, and you’re trying to fill your own void by commandeering what should be left to her in order to appease your own shortcomings. As evidenced by your question to me! Don’t do this. Would you be out of line? Absolutely. Don’t do it! Leave well enough alone. Your husband “doesn’t want to talk about it” not from an ethical or emotional perspective, but simply because you’re looney-tunes and he recognizes a bear trap when he sees it.

However, because I suspect you won’t take my advice above, being as reasonable as it is, I’m going to give you a bonus recommendation of some Extremely Bad Advice. This you’ll probably do with gusto. Have fun!

Step one: Offer to babysit the grandkids for a night. Give the DIL and her new guy a chance to go out and have fun.

Step two: Prepare for the switch. Get a plastic bag, about a gallon, clear (not white), full of ashes from your backyard barbecue pit. Take along a second, empty bag for holding.

Step three: Once the kids are in bed, make the transfer. Go full Indiana Jones. Play dramatic music, sweat profusely, look over your shoulder for booby-traps.

Step four: Revel in your glory. You now have your son’s actual remains, and she, the grandkids, and your husband are none the wiser. Dare I say they might view you as a hero for how magnanimously you deal with the situation? Visit a bar and order a glass of Chablis to celebrate. Send me the bill – I’ll gladly treat you for that job well done!

Writing Practice – 3/18/2018 – Concerning Happiness

Prompt: How far would you go to achieve your happiness?

I admit- this may be limiting me. But I won’t push past the boundaries of another’s satisfaction or happiness in life to achieve my own. If it requires me to leave a wake of destruction in my path to achieve that “happiness”, then I have the wrong idea of happiness or the wrong idea of the ideal.

I should not have to go to such great lengths, either. I should be able to find happiness wherever I am, whenever I am, without needing to search and seek and journey. I should be able to get to a level of happiness by my everyday interactions – by the things I am doing for myself, for my children, for my community, for my nation, for my world.

I should not need to look far. I am and should find happiness in the alarm clock – in the running shoes. In the dirty dishes, that transform themselves under my great care and safe tutelage into sparkling clean ones.

I should find happiness in a well-folded shirt. In an empty e-mail inbox. In a to-do list completely crossed off. In watching my son hit a double. In reading a story my daughter has written. In throwing crusts of bread, in throwing the whole piece out for the squirrels and the chipmunks and the sparrows and chickadees.

I should find happiness in the pen – in using it dry from my words on the push. I should find happiness win a well-covered page. I should find happiness in a well-read book. In a philosophical insight. In a historical lesson I can only now understand.

I should find happiness in ladybugs – in empty wine glasses – in watermelon rinds and runny noses on a winter’s morning. I should find happiness in a lit candle, burning to fend off to ward off to beat away the darkness of night.

I should find happiness in a hug from my mother. In a smile from my brother. In the touch of my lover. In the morning wind, in the stinging rain, in a subway car too full for me to squeeze in. I should find happiness in an evening newscast, and in laying my head on the pillow at night.

And – I should – So I Do.

Writing practice – 3/2/2018 – Vacation

Write about a family vacation…

Anticipation. Of fun, of laughter, of some danger. Of spending too much money on tourist traps. Of the inevitable arguments, about who is on who’s side, who touched what, who gets to sit in the good seat.

Planning. Of how to get there. Of what to do. Of where to go, where to stay, how much to pack. Be spontaneous or scheduled? Be open or structured? Be regular or non-traditional? Make memories either way, any way.

Packing. What will be on the first day? And the second? What do you put in your carry-on and what do you put in the bag that you pack on the back. Shirts, pants, shoes, belts. Toothpaste, shampoo. Phone charger. Charge cord.

Driving. Which route? And then, when we get into the car, do you put on the GPS immediately? Or do you try to wing it for a little while? Flinging it is just much more fun, because you don’t have to worry about rigid schedules, and you have the flexibility to deviate to that “world’s largest Golf Tee” exhibition when ever the mood strikes.

Driving. Driving. Driving. Stop at a rest stop, for a bathroom break. Clowns-out-of-a-Volkswagen first. Stumble up to the restrooms, evacuate bladders. Then approach the vending machines – find them “OUT OF ORDER”. Swear under your breath. Back to the car, hit the trunk and break open the packed snacks. Drive.

Drive. Drive. Play the “alphabet game”. Lose to the six-year-old who saw the sign for “Quincy’s Down-Home Restaurant” first and therefore got to R, then S, then T before anyone else was even close. An insurmountable lead, enough to take it all the way to the Z and earn the first traveling trophy of the trip.

Drive. Drive. Arrive. Tumble out of the van once again. Tumble into the condo, like cats exploring in their new environment. “Check out the bathrooms.” “Did you see that grill?” “Oooh, the view is spectacular!” “Hey, the neighbors have a license plate from Montana, that’s a hell of a drive.” Discover. Settle. Regroup. Smile. Hug. Huddle & plan for the next day. Unwind with a glass of wine and beer on the porch while the kids watch SNL reruns on the pull-out downstairs.

Smile. Hold hands. Stare at the moon. Enjoy family, for tomorrow it starts all over again, and wish this moment to last for as long as it can until the memory is indelibly etched into your mind, permanent, an artwork notable for it makes the whole world better for its existence.

Writing Practice – 2/17/2018 – Bad Date

Write about a bad date – on the calendar:

You see it coming from far away. The anticipation begins to build well before. It’s like it is hunting you, stalking you, lying in wait to ambush you as you creep along the forest path. It is a panther, large, sleek, terrifying, destructive, waiting for you, and you are helpless to stop it.

You see the beast ahead – you recognize the telltale signs of its lair, or its path, or its spoor, mocking you, teasing you, berating you for days, weeks, a month ahead. “Ha, ha,” it says, “You’ll be here soon enough! Can’t avoid me!”

And as much as you hate it, it is right. You cannot avoid its presence. You cannot avoid the memories it contains. Whatever happened, way back when, will continue, through our collective conscience, to surface, time and again, every year, like clockwork. April 7? March 24? January 30? These happpen. All. The Fucking. Time.

You cannot ignore them. You cannot go out of your way to ensure they don’t happen again. We don’t get the option to jump from May to July and totally skip June, forever avoiding that date on the 24th that reminds us of when dad died, when mom left, when our heart was broken, when we broke another’s heart.

We don’t have that luxury. Our path through the forest is one way, and there is no deviation from it. We see our enemy, our predator, our anti-joy lying in wait for us, and it fills our hearts with dread, with desire to turn, to run, to flee, to scream “No! Not this time!” And take to our heels, crashing through the undergrowth and breaking free of its inevitability. We long to separate, to dissolve whatever unimaginable bond it has over us; to rid ourselves of the mental & emotional shackles it somehow still holds – but we cannot. This is an impermeable chain. The metal binding us is of our own making – we have forged these bonds in the fires of our own emotional turmoils, and so they come with the strongest tempers of all – those of the heart. As much as we may wish to break free, we know we cannot, and we resign ourselves to press forward, one day more, one day again, one more day, creeping towards that midnight maw waiting, waiting, waiting to devour us. We go. We go. We go.