Winter has been killing me softly with its song, which sounds like ice scrapers and spinning tires and whistling wind. I haven't been writing much but I have been submitting writing offline for possible publication and have been working on Listen To Your Mother and a new design for this site. I've also been snacking on ibuprofen for back pain that I can't seem to shake. Actually, shaking makes it worse as do strenuous activities like yawning and sitting. I've honestly been a little stuck when it comes to blogging. I don't know what I want to say and then when I get an idea, I think, "Who cares about that?" If you think I'm being too hard on myself, my last idea was about conversation hearts. I was going to write about the fact that my box of hearts had printed rather than stamped love messages on them and spin this change into a sign of the collapse of modern society.
Sometimes, when I am struggling to write, I read, so, I started the Best American Essays of 2015. There are essays in there that make me think and reflect, that remind me of stories I still want to tell. There are also essays that make me sigh heavily and/or want to sleep for a week. Those essays, the ones that disappoint me, also inspire me because I remember that there is no special magic in writing. Writers sit down with an idea for a story and they do their best to tell it. I can do that.
I recently met a friend for drinks and we talked about writing and blogging and I said, "I think I've done some of my best writing this year." It's not the kind of thing I normally say and I still feel slightly uncomfortable owning my work and my words but it slips our more easily than it ever has.
Today, I took some time to look back at all that I have written in the past year to see if it stood up to that claim. I've never really compiled a list of my best work as some writers do, partly because I don't think I'm always the best judge of what I write. But, I did make a list of my favorite things I've written in the past year - a list of 10 because that's how lists go, right?
So, these are my favorites in no particular order...
My son, who was 12 at the time, said, “Mama, why do you still say ‘partner’? Why don’t you use the word ‘wife’?” With the hostess hovering and the restaurant din at high levels, I was tempted to answer with “It’s complicated” – parental code words for “You are too young to understand” or “I don’t want to talk about it.” But the truth came before I could stop it, “That word does not belong to me.”
In some weird way, Crazy for You felt like a promise to me. My friends were starting to date and I still had no interest in boys, but I wanted to believe that I would meet someone and fall in love. I knew I didn’t want Matthew Modine, but did anyonereally want Matthew Modine? I just wanted to believe there was someone out there who would make my heart beat faster, who would hold me close and dance with me like we were the only two people in the room. That song helped me imagine what love might look like someday as I started to hope for my own happy ending.
At various points this weekend, I looked around at the adults–some I’ve known for 25 years, some for 18– and thought of all we’ve been through together. We knew each other before kids. There have been break-ups and divorces and career changes and deaths, but there have also been weddings and births and so many joyous milestones. We have fought and cried and forgiven and laughed. We know each others’ weaknesses and flaws and still manage to love each other. This is the comfort of old friends.
One of my favorites is a picture of my grandmother, my mother and my aunts. It is poorly framed and they aren’t all looking at the camera and only two are smiling while the others appear to be yelling at the person taking the picture. In this day and age, that picture might have been deleted, lost and forgotten, but it lives on and I can still see their personalities in the imperfection of that moment.
I waved and smiled as I passed and she looked as surprised as I felt and I kept running but, with each step, I realized I had things I needed to say. We didn’t really know each other and we were at the gym and I had already greeted her–that was a sufficient response and appropriate given the layered circumstances. But the words kept playing through my head…
I’ve spent years trying to understand why I loved her so much, why I still consider her to be one of my heroes. People have asked me how I forgave her for the pain she caused and I could never articulate the why or the how of that forgiveness.
I think about this when the school directory comes out each fall and our children are listed with their two mothers’ names below them. I think about it when we walk into open houses and school auctions and plays. I think about this when we sit on the sidelines together at soccer games and cheer and answer the question, “Which one is yours?”
I remember sitting outside those rooms on uncomfortable chairs and old couches, watching sitcoms on television sets with broken antennas or reading a book I’d brought with me. I couldn’t hear the words clearly where I sat but I found comfort in the hum of the words intoned, in the swirl of cigarette smoke and the smell of stale coffee. I grew up in bars and grew up in different ways as I watched my mother try to get sober.
I could see all of him in that moment — his good heart, his loyalty, his sense of right and wrong and his impulsivity and temper. But I knew that the other parents staring from the sideline couldn’t see all that. They likely saw an angry kid and a poor loser.
And I also wondered if they saw us.
She gave us directions to our room, “Take two rights and then a left and go through a portal to an alternate dimension in which it is not becoming clear to you that you are staying in a hotel that usually charges by the hour.”
I learn so much from reading my own stories. I notice things I could have done better, details that I could have included or excluded. I see where I didn't quite say what I intended to say. But I also see the good. Every once in awhile, I read something I wrote and think, "Yes. That." All of it reminds me that I can sit down and try again, knowing I still have a few more stories in me.