Passion vs. Practicality; or, Is That A Burning Heart, or Just Heartburn?

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – creating spaces for an imaginary life.

(Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t watched all four seasons of “Mozart in the Jungle.”)

They play “with the blood.”

They drink, do drugs, and jump into bed with each other spontaneously, joyfully, seamlessly.

No fumbling around with condoms, no awkward conversations about past sexual and health history, no qualms, no jealousy, no regrets. Coitus with no consequences.

Artistic lives. Hollywood sex.

Passion unfettered with practical concerns.

Oh, except the first violinist/concert master with three daughters in college who tried to run an insurance scam by faking the theft of his priceless instrument.

By now, you will have figured out that I have been binge-watching “Mozart in the Jungle,” and getting a vicarious thrill out of the character’s lives in classical music. Who knew these longhairs (that’s what classical musicians were called when the cool kids were sporting crew cuts – before beatniks, before hippies, before I was born) were so lusty, so wanton, so drunk, so high?

They live with no boundaries, other than the demands of their art. Their hearts burn for music, for love. They play “with the blood.”

I finished season four last night.

Only then did I discover that the series has been cancelled.

Mozart disappeared. Rodrigo got fired and doesn’t know what’s next. Hai-lai (Hayley) seems to have taken over the symphony, based on Rodrigo’s faith in her, plus an unrealistically small amount of training and practice as a conductor and a second place finish in a major competition.

We’ll never know what happens next.

Bwaaaah! Curse you, Amazon! Why?

Back to the real world, where I impulsively signed up to go to the Midwest Writer’s Conference “agent fest” in early May (go for it, Annie! pursue your passion for writing! maybe you’ll meet someone! burn for love!) while worrying about spending the money on it (did I say money? I meant credit) and about how I’m going to manage care for my daughter for the one night I’ll be away.

What’s that pain in my chest?

The musicians in the show travel internationally on someone else’s dime and never seem to worry about who is taking care of the kids, if they have any.

Meanwhile back in heartburn land I watch my funds dwindle and frantically apply for jobs. Had two interviews, both went well, but I’m not hopeful. Even if I’m offered the weekend job I don’t think I can take it – two hour commute each way, on the weekends, when the trains and buses run slower and less frequently. The other is temp and part time, but it’s close to home and would bring in some funds, for a little while, anyway.

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – I seem to be creating spaces for an imaginary life.  I set up my “boudoir:” the little fantasy I created in my bedroom, which should have had that very expensive art-deco-y e mauve chaise, but instead has an oddly oversized, mid-century style, eggplant-colored fake velvet chair, and a weird little round Moroccan leather footstool that’s just a bit too low and a bit too blue, purchased from a warehouse full of unsold, unwanted items crammed in long dark aisles under a crumbling, water-stained ceiling.  Together they cost a tenth of what the chaise alone would have cost.

Across from the chair is the TV with the Roku stick, connected to a network that has, oddly, gotten slower and weaker after the fraught installation of a new router, even with the signal booster.

There’s a chrome and glass bar cart, optimistically (who am I kidding, more like ludicrously) supplied with two champagne glasses, two cordial glasses, two cocktail glasses.  I sit alone in the cheap purple fake velvet chair, next to the cheap (but really cute) glass and chrome side table, watching stories on the cheap TV of people who live brave, passionate, unfettered lives, with hearts aflame, mysteriously available funds and few regrets.

Passion! Music! Bubbly! Wealthy patrons! La vie en rose!

In between job applications and query letters, I’ll keep writing, imagining that before I die I will add the words “author of….” after my name on Linkedin (in lieu of “non-profit/higher education administrator” and “certified forklift/electric pallet jack operator.”)

I’ll go to that “agent fest” I can’t really afford, pitch my book and dream of a deal, but happily settle for some good advice.

As the money dwindles, I’ll wear a name tag and clean toilets if I have to.

But I’m damned if I’ll drive a forklift again.

Pinballing between dreams and reality, with heart occasionally aflame but mostly just with heartburn, I remain,

Your occasionally optimistic, frequently floating in fantasy,  but mostly moored in the mundane,

Ridiculouswoman

Menacing Midwinter

The rabbit survived. So did I.

The glass exploded. One just like the one pictured there, on the windowsill.

It didn’t “break.”  It didn’t “shatter.”

It exploded.

I could not believe how much glass was in that glass.

It was everywhere – inside and under the dishwasher I had just taken it out of, under the fridge across the floor, into the living room and the breezeway.

Tiny shards of it in my fingers and the meat of my hand.

WTF?

I had just taken it out of the dishwasher, and accidentally tapped it – just tapped it -on the underside of the Bulgarian-installed quartz countertop.

And BLAM.

It exploded.

Rational minded me instantly assumed that I had chanced upon the perfect point on the glass that was scratched or hairline cracked or otherwise weakened just enough to cause some sort of scientifically explainable reaction.

Kablooey.

I had to vacuum the inside of the dishwasher along with the kitchen and breezeway floors, missing a church service I wanted to attend, because it was unsafe for my daughter or Sophie the cat to walk through the kitchen until I was sure it was shard-free.

Earlier that morning, the relatively new television started acting weird, too, providing sound but no picture – just an odd sort of lavender glow.

Turns out I had connected the HDMI cables in the wrong inputs after switching out the DVR for a no-charge simple cable box (which still makes me mad – that even though I get internet service from this provider and I could watch TV via internet only, they still make me have a box and their salesperson was unable to give a technical reason why  – grrrr.)

Then the shelf on the new hutch on my new desk half-collapsed – one of the pegs that holds it up just suddenly fell out.

What’s going on?

There was nothing significant about the date that I could remember. I don’t remember what I was thinking about, other than considering giving up on my book, and missing Mike, and feeling a little lost about my future, when the glass exploded.

After I got the glass cleaned up and the shelf fixed, I spent a lot of time trying to complete an online job application, and just as I was finishing it, my computer spontaneously shut down.

Just turned itself off.

Wind? Was there a power surge and the strip cut the power? But the lights on all the other chargers plugged in to the strip were still on.

Weird.

These past few days, every time I veer in the direction of giving up on my notions of writing, speaking and singing, something interrupts, or switches off, or falls apart, or explodes.

It doesn’t feel like encouragement.

It feels like menace.

I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweaty panic, wondering what the hell I’m doing and what could happen, all the bad stuff that could happen, in my capacity as a professional-class worst-case-scenario OCD worrier.

My heart races. I cringe and writhe, remembering long-ago embarrassments, mistakes, and failures, imagining they will all happen again now, and be much worse. I read nonsense on my phone for two hours to try to calm down and go back to sleep.

And then, today: a sparkling bright, perfect winter day. No extremes. Just a spotless blue sky, sunshine and fresh snow on the ground.

One day of calm, after the vortex, and the ice, and the wind and the windblown snow.

The house has stopped creaking and snapping and kerpowing, now that the temperature has moderated, but I predict a spate of “giant potholes that ate Chicago” blog posts and news stories, come spring, because of the insane temperature swings we’ve had. A thaw-and-freeze cycle that cracked steel holding up Lake Shore Drive is surely causing concrete and asphalt pavement to crack and crumble all over the area.

Old Sophie caught a mouse last night, and lovingly left it’s gnawed corpse as an offering  in the middle of the library rug.  She’s still got it, the old girl. I just wish she wouldn’t flaunt it in the middle of the library rug.

But we’re gaining daylight – the sun is up when I rise, now, and I can still contemplate a walk in the late afternoon.

It’s too soon to say we’ve turned a corner – March is yet to come, all lion and lamb, and it always, always snows one more time in April.

Waiting for the clock to run out on the agents who have my query and trying to screw up the courage to start another round instead of giving up, I remain,

Your anxious, worried, but like the backyard rabbit who survived the vortex by hiding under the deck, as yet unconquered by winter extremes and associated all-night-vigils,

Ridiculouswoman

But Enough About Me, Or, What Have I Done For You, Lately?

Does this blog add anything positive to the world?

So, Grandma Noises. Mom’s face in the mirror.

I want to make it clear that I’m grateful for those things, and for Mom and Grandma and all they were to me and all they gave me.

I’m grateful I have made it to an age where I make Grandma noises.

I’m grateful to Grammie for being there in Maine, putting up with a snot-nosed, whiny, sad, bored, fat little punk like me, for two solid weeks, summer after summer.

I’m grateful I can see my Mother’s face in mine, and remember the good things she did for us, in her way.

Although they pretty much detested each other, my Mother came weekly to give Mike a day off when our daughter was an infant, driving 30 miles from the burbs into the city.  It was a long, long day, because I was commuting 70 minutes each way and was gone from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. most work days, and Mike took full advantage of the time, as he should have. He needed the break.

Mom cared for our daughter, making nurse notes (she was a retired R.N.) and cleaning up where she could, in an under-furnished and unamusing townhome in a transitional city neighborhood.

She produced funds when funds were needed in the dark times of under- and unemployment.

She taught me to drive a stick shift, picking up keys and announcing we were getting in the car one day, totally unexpectedly, when I was 16.

She whispered when she sewed, drawing me in, and teaching me how to hem and mend. She was frugal. I am not, but at least I know how to hem a dress or a pair of pants and I have made clothes when I had to (a dying art, apparently – I had a coworker who walked around in too-long pants, because she didn’t know how to sew. I was gobsmacked. How could any neurotypical child who can safely handle a needle and thread reach adulthood without knowing how to hem a pair of pants?)

Mom made pies, rolling the crust out with sharp, fast, angry strokes, this way, then that. Once in the pie plate, she crimped the edges with grim determination.

Both Grammie and Mom made jam and jelly and chili relish and awesome chowder.

They often persisted long past my tolerance in demanding I hand over new clothes to be altered,  get a haircut, or go outside when all I wanted to do was read.

But I wish I’d been more grateful, then, and that I had told them that I was.

I hope they hear me now, on the other side.

David Kanigan quoted the late Julie Yip-Williams, author of The Unwinding of the Miracle, on his Live and Learn blog recently. Ms. Yip-Williams wrote about her life with cancer (the same kind of cancer that took my Mike), and her book was published posthumously.  There’s a review of it in the New York Times.

“Live while you’re alive,” she wrote.

I confess I haven’t read her book yet:  but the Times review reveals that she meant “live while you’re alive” not in the bucket list, run-off-and-climb-a-mountain-or-run-a-marathon kind of way, but in the every-moment-no-matter-how-seemingly-ordinary-is-a-gift way.

To that I would only add, express gratitude to others, while they’re still here to hear you.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I do this – why do I blog?

(Seems to be kind of a theme, lately – Jungian synchronicity – I started writing this before I read Fractured Faith‘s or Writer of Words’s similar posts – but it seems several of us are currently thinking about what this blogging thing contributes).

For me, it started as a way to process grief, and just write. I love words (just ask anyone who has tried to get one in edgewise when I’m talking).  Building words into sentences that convey ideas or emotions makes me feel at home. (There are few places I feel completely comfortable – sitting at my computer writing, singing, and speaking or performing in front of an audience are about it).

But I don’t want blogging to be just for me. I want it to be for you, the reader.

What have I done for you lately?

Have I given you something to laugh about, cry about, something to feel, something to enjoy?

Have I given you writing that is good enough for you to bother reading it?

Has it meant anything beyond just me, yapping about my little life?

Has it made my little life less little?

Have I told you lately that I love you? For reading, for commenting, for being there?

Mike died. What will happen when I do?

Will I have contributed anything of value to the world?

Would anyone say anything positive about me? Would anyone even show up?

Trying to listen twice as much as I talk (ok, laugh, but I actually AM trying) and thinking about how to use what small gifts I may have to contribute something positive to the world, I remain,

Your loquacious, grateful, perplexed, anxious, wondering what’s-it-all-about-Alfie,

Ridiculouswoman

The Belated Obligatory New Year’s Post

Panic as a prompt…

We call them “revolutions,” not “resolutions.”

This year I’m thinking of doing two things that make me very anxious: first, opening up my Facebook page to “friends of friends” instead of just “friends.”

That might not sound like a big deal to you, but my brother is one of my “friends,” and he is one of those people who never ignores a friend request – he has over 1,300 friends on Facebook.

That’s a lot of aging hippies who love to argue about politics to contend with.

(Oh, alright already, “with which to contend.” Happy now, internal grammar bitch?)

Oy.

But my brother has 1300 friends because he courageously pursued his creative life from the tender age of 17, leaving college in the face of extreme maternal angst (but with paternal support, if not approval. And it was emotional support, not financial, as far as I know) and made quite a success of it. I’ve always admired him for that. Not sure I ever told him. I’ll do that today.

Which brings me to the other thing that scares me: posting the url for my blog on LinkedIn, and going all in on being the speaker, writer, blogger and singer (oh, and “aspiring professional party guest)” I want to be.

Oh, that’ll go over well among all those articles about how to improve teamwork and productivity and deliver deliverables, whatever the hell those are.

I’m supposed to be looking for a job. LinkedIn is one of the places I look. For a job job. You know, a day job. A real job. Something that might pay the health insurance and have a little left over for cat food.

But instead I’ve spent the last week designing products for an online store I intend to open to support my blogging habit, and emailing queries to literary agents who represent authors who are so, way, light years out of my league that I have a daily panic attack that goes something like this:

“Well, Annie, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Trading fear for flow, remember? Yeah, but look who she represents! I loved that book! I could never be that good! My God they turned that one into a movie! Who am I to be writing a memoir anyway? I didn’t grow up in a family of zealous religious survivalists (Educated) or dirt poor (The Glass Castle). The only group I might represent (see the interview with Stephanie Land, of Maid, who got an agent because she wrote an article that went viral – why didn’t you think of that, Annie, you dumbass? not that I could write anything that would go viral) is other widows in the US and there are about 11.75 million of them and 3.23 million widowers (oh, there’s some great odds for a date with a man who understands) and they’re all different from each other so no one person could be “representative” of them all and they’ll probably hate my story anyway because they are being good widow/widowers who don’t tell the world about the dark aspects of their marriages like I do in my book even though it is funny but also really sad and who wants to read that anyway? If I send it out there will be rooms full of snarky New York literary agents at conference tables laughing at me!”

Back here in reality, the second response I got, within two weeks of sending the query, was a request for the full manuscript. Rejected very politely after the read, but I got that far, anyway.  I’ve received two other polite rejections, one that even took the time to say “sorry for your loss,” and one that was probably canned (auto-reject), but it was a response, not a pocket veto.

Responses from four out of nine agents I’ve queried so far, in less than a month, and the other five are pending, still within the 6-8 week window.

So while I wait, I’m here blathering on about how I’m going to boldly pursue the creative life, when I should be putting all my effort into getting a job. Or at least getting something published.  Even if I do that, I’ll still need to get a job.

At my age, any job I’m able to land will likely involve a name tag, enforced cheerfulness and toilet cleaning. And still won’t pay the bills.

In the meantime I’m trying to work up the courage to do those things on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Facebook, maybe. I can handle aging hippies.

But LinkedIn? That’s my professional public face.

I’ll get another whole post out of that panic attack.

Losing my nerve, I remain,

Your shaky, anxious, fretful, stymied, what-the-hell-am-I-thinking?

Ridiculouswoman

Let’s Take a Moment to Overthink This

If the palm reader was right I’d better get busy – let me think…

When I was around 15, a palm reader at a renaissance fair told me that I’d live to be 63.

In other words, she told me I would die when I am 63.

Which is something no reputable palm reader or fortune teller (HA! oh, ha ha ha ha ha ha HA! Reputable palm reader!) is ever supposed to tell anyone, I suppose on the grounds that if they’re wrong, their pronouncement could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, or, if they’re right, who’d want to know? Just keep it vague and positive, right?

I don’t know why I remembered that recently. Maybe I felt like I was wasting time, dragging my feet, failing in my quest to really live every moment of whatever time I may have left as fully as possible – and with love and laughter.

But if we assume for the sake of argument the palm reader was right – that gives me only a few years, with an awful lot left to do.

Like getting a move on the query letter for my book, and deciding who to send it to.

(“Mr. Churchill, don’t you know you are never to end a sentence with a preposition?” Churchill to presumptuous twit: “Sir, that is a presumption up with which I will not put.” But I digress.)

I’ve been composing the letter in my head, reading the blogs and websites about form and what kind of letters are effective, and which agents represent what kind of books, and looking for agents who will look at memoirs, and somewhere in all that, I read that  memoir agents are sick of books involving cancer, particularly survival stories.

Well, mine isn’t a cancer survival story, because Mike didn’t survive.

It’s a love survival story.

But it has “cancer”  in the title.

So I changed the name of my book from “Detour in Cancerland, in which a Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood through Remodeling (and Lust) to “Love, Death and Carpentry, in which a Ridiculous Woman etc….”

And then I started to think, well, if they don’t like the word “cancer” in the title, they’re not going to like the word “death,” exactly, either, are they?

But the point isn’t the title: it’s to write a query letter that catches an agent’s attention enough for them to want to see the entire book. If it ever gets published the publisher will probably change the title anyway.

I’ve heard back from both my friends to whom I gave the book because I knew they’d be honest with me if they thought it was awful, and they both loved it and said I should move ahead with it.

Which led me to think that maybe I should have a few more “beta” readers to be sure I’ve gotten broad enough response to it. Every woman within 20 years of my age, when I’ve told them what it’s about, or just told them the original title, has said, “oh, man, I’d read that!” OK, so maybe I shouldn’t change the title.

The only other people I’ve given the book to are my brothers, one of whom read it and returned the thumb drive it was on to me, with no comment.

He’s the hypersensitive one, though, and there were things in there that I knew would upset him, and I told him in advance I wasn’t really looking for his comments, I only wanted him to read it so he wouldn’t be surprised, in case a miracle happens and the book actually gets published. I just hope he isn’t too upset. We’re having Thanksgiving together.

My other brother, the older one who is very free with his opinions (solicited or not) on pretty much everything, has started to read it.

Started 7 weeks ago.

He says he’s on page 90, but he too has offered no comment, which is very unusual.  My friends read it in less than two weeks. When I heard back from them I just told my brothers that I was going ahead with it anyway.  If he got to page 90 he’s pretty much read anything that would have mentioned him, anyway. So nuts to him.

Being irritated with my brother caused me to remember that I may have living brothers and sisters-in-law, with whom my late husband refused to associate, and who are not mentioned at all in the book (except for one fleeting mention of the smoking  habit of one of them), which sent me into another round of paralyzed anxiety.

Both of my parents are gone, as are my late husband’s. So do I really need to worry about what other unmentioned “family” members might think about the story, which is true anyway, when they aren’t even mentioned in it?

Isn’t that supposed to be something the publisher, if there is ever to be one, will worry about?

Which brings me back to the query letter.

And dying at 63.

And thinking about all the things I haven’t accomplished yet and how little time I have left if that damn, bored, mean-spirited palm reader (really, who would do that to a 15 year old kid?) was right.

Things like finding a new relationship, getting one more really good job, getting my daughter situated happily and safely out on her own with support provided by someone who isn’t me (because she’ll have to get used to that so we have to get started) and learning to sail and seeing Alaska before it melts completely and making the crossing of the Atlantic even though climate change is causing more and more huge rogue waves and the crews of cruise ships seem increasingly inept in their seamanship and skiing again and being able to buy a summer house in Maine and tracing some of the routes and visiting some of the (milder Mediterranean) ports of call described in the Patrick O’Brian books  and taking a screenwriting class and learning Latin and taking some kind of luxury rail travel and a steamboat trip on the Mississippi if climate change hasn’t caused prolonged drought and it is deep enough for that and getting paid singing and speaking gigs and publishing a series of Ridiculous woman books based on my continuing misadventures.

Which brings me back to that query letter…

Trying to conquer my fears and quell my OCD induced anxiety, but fully intending to be writing still on my 64th, nay, even my 84th birthday  (take that, bored, mean palm reader lady), I remain,

Your quaking, querulous, query-less, but still questing,

Ridiculouswoman

On, Wisconsin

Beer-cheese soup. Followed by apple cider. Spiked.

I thought “beer cake” took it. The cake, I mean.

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But then came “beer cheese soup,” served with a warm pretzel.

Heretic that I am, I skipped the mustard. But still.

Pumpkins, gourds, hay bale and obligatory (too sugary, but what the hell, it’s October) apple cider obtained, rustic roads driven, stables located for Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride version, planned for tomorrow. Weather scheduled to cooperate. I’ll keep you posted.

And oh, by the way, trusted friend two has submitted a second positive review with a few minor and constructive editorial suggestions and a vote for pursuing publication (no idea how to do that, but I intend the first step to be an effort to obtain representation by a literary agent. Which I also have no idea how to do. Advice welcome.) Activate Plan A.

And bonus, here’s something I learned from getting a good review from a trusted friend right after returning from Fall Excursion Two: fresh apple cider tastes pretty good when mixed with champagne. And mild terror. Just sayin’.

Gathering courage for the next step (which also may include hearing from brothers, who are much slower than trusted friends in reading the book), I remain,

Your nervous, jumpy, over-caffeinated and energized by the crisp fall weather,

Ridiculouswoman

Frost, Flannel, Fall Excursion

October’s bright blue weather has come at last. Time for flannel shirts and Fall Excursion(s).

Fall excursions were among the first things I wrote about on this blog, which caused it dawn on me that sometime in the past two weeks, this blog had its first anniversary.

I guess I’m supposed to mark that milestone, in some way.

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What have I accomplished in that year?

What’ s this blog got to do with it?

Well, I wrote a book, and wrote about writing the book on the blog.

I “met” some wonderful new people who kindly and generously have liked and followed this blog, and offered support and commiseration.

I rediscovered my love of writing for writing’s sake, and found solace, inspiration, an outlet, and the beginnings of a new and very different kind of life without Mike. Writing has helped me try to turn that life from a life reduced, a life lived with absence,  a piece missing, to a life deepened, enriched and more appreciated, moment by moment.

I forgot to empty the bird bath despite freeze warnings – I hope the crack in it doesn’t expand – but now I know that if it does, if that symbol of my past life with Mike comes apart, I’ll survive it, revive it, somehow, with a new way of keeping a symbol of Mike in my heart with a new symbol of his love for birdwatching in the yard.

I think today is finally the day I’ll give away his fall coat, and his winter boots. I got them as far as the car a few weeks ago, when it was hot and humid. But today, someone is really going to need those.

I’m getting over the panic attacks, even though I’m giving myself a lot of reasons to panic, mainly having to do with money. The burn rate has gone off the charts and the market’s behavior this week was, erm, unhelpful, to say the least.

But something about getting through two years without Mike, and writing about it, and reading about other women’s experience of widowhood and aging, has made me, not so much stronger, as more willing to let go of worry, have faith in God and the universe, keep things in perspective and believe, truly believe, that whatever happens, everything will be ok.

We will emerge. Not submerge.

In the meantime, we will head off into the pumpkin fields, drive the rustic roads and enjoy the loveliness of the October sky, a loveliness all too brief and fleeting, like our “little life…rounded with a sleep.”

And that keeping things in perspective thing? While I wring all I can out of the few gorgeous October days granted this year, I know that it is springtime for followers down under – and through all the little losses and the major catastrophes blasting us everywhere in a daily barrage, rebirth and rebuilding happens, grief can be carried, and assimilated into a new life that is both heavier and lighter, simultaneously more profound and more ethereal, fleeting, yet eternal.

May you find your perfect pumpkin (or spring bloom, depending on your hemisphere), and find comfort that its inevitable decay portends its sure and certain return. Sic transit gloria, world without end.

Glad that my daughter is finally getting enough sleep, but anxious for her to arise so we can get on the road,

I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, dare I say? happy?

Ridiculouswoman