RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: March 2007

Starting home fires

Kent and I burnt the forest down.


Just another day at the Hendrys.


Let me make it very clear here that it was all Kent’s fault.


 


Mark left town this week to attend a 6-day intensive fine furniture-building course. The school is only about a 1 hour and 45 minute drive, but he knew he would be tired and the traffic is bad in the Atlanta area, so he opted to stay in a hotel. I always miss him when he goes away. I am unsettled. I have this feeling that things just are not right; like when you are grocery shopping and suddenly you start thinking maybe you left the water running in the bathtub at home. You know you are worrying unnecessarily –why would you have done that? Nevertheless, you now have this unease, because it is also remotely possible you might be flooding your entire downstairs while you are going through the mundane drill of purchasing bread and milk.


 


At the same time, I rather relish my spouse’s absence too, because a partner eats up a certain amount of time and energy. I get a great deal accomplished when he is away, and (dare I admit it) I get to do those things that I wouldn’t necessarily attend to when he is here because they fall under his category of tasks – or they are things he would interfere with one way or another.


 


Anyway, Mark left, so I kicked into high gear and started attacking all those things that are a high priority to me, but not so important to him. You know, the things a guy pushes aside with an attitude that “he will do it later”. Later had come. First, I took down the Christmas boughing that was hanging on our porch. It is March, for God’s sake. It has been driving me crazy. (When he saw it down when he got home he said, “Aw, now I no longer qualify as an official redneck.).


 


Next, I cleaned his office. The floor of the room has been filled with boxes, bags, and stacks of whatever, since the day we moved in. I don’t know how he stands it. He is always saying, “I have to clean that office,” but every time he goes in there, he sits at the desk as does other work (which is also important – but I could never think in that kind of clutter.) I pushed the bookshelves that were in the center of the room to the side so I could begin unpacking books and supplies. I threw out bags and boxes filled with trash. (If he had the mind to fill them with trash, why leave them in the room? Why not carry them out to at least make a dent in the mess?)  I picked up dozens of rolls of building plans – from the house, the cabin, the FLEX building at Lakewood Ranch – all kinds of plans just scattered on the floor, and put rubber bands on them and stacked them in a box in storage. I swept, hauled, and organized. I did not, however, touch his messy desk. I will clean, but I don’t want to be intrusive or lose something important. There is a method to this man’s mess, and I wouldn’t want to debilitate him by shifting that mess around. But, boy oh boy, did I want to tackle that too.


 


I took it upon myself to hang the pictures in the workout room and get it officially set up. We have all these dance pictures and articles that have been leaning against the wall in there, so I slapped them up. I knew Mark would hate this, because he is very particular about all things visual. I’ve never hung a picture in our home, set out a pillow, or purchased a vase that he doesn’t move or get rid of it within the week. A month ago, I bought two pillows for the couch that I thought were perfect. They lasted three days before he bought pillows he liked and tossed the ones I had chosen. This kind of thing used to bother the crap out of me, but I’ve learned to live with my lack of input in our environment. It is not as if he doesn’t have lovely taste, so why make an issue of it? Anyway, I bought a clock for the workout room and a small table so we can get our stereo off the floor. I put together his barbell rack. The next day, my new treadmill was delivered (we had purchased it a week or so prior). I must say, I am doubly inspired to spend time in that room now. I have all these wonderful memories around me, and the room “feels right”. It feels like a dance studio- without the work associations. I can log on miles on my spiffy new treadmill (which is my way of beating the Georgia mountains and the three months of icky weather) surrounded by proof of the very fulfilling journey my dance life took. I run towards (but because it is a treadmill, I never reach) my New York teachers and experiences, our FLEX history, and articles written about the programs we designed etc. I have pictures in there of student’s I’ve loved, and chapters of my life I cherish. It is now a great room, representing chapters of life I am most proud of .


 


I did some other house puttering (while also taking care of the family, of course – just because Mark was gone didn’t mean I wouldn’t invite his mother over for dinner, or workout with his sister, or take on his shifts of driving the kids to school. I also had Neva’s spring soccer practices, Kent’s band festival, Kathy’s lessons, Homework, etc. to schedule into my days. It was a busy week.)


 


I dared buy some plants and I put them into the ground myself. (OK, I know this is no big deal to other people, but this was a big act of independence for me.) Neva and I planted four good-sized raspberry bushes and some tiny blueberry plants Kent had given me for Valentines Day. I even bought four boxes of strawberries and six grape plants, but they are still waiting for Mark because we need to till the areas they will land. It was fun digging in the dirt with Neva, learning as I go. She was so funny, instructing me about putting plant food into the hole before we dropped the plant into it. She has more gardening experience than I, you see, and she knows it and likes to show off.


 


I cleaned out the hot tub and filled it. We have had it over a year, but never cranked it up. Finally the electrician came to hook it up.  I’m looking forward to using it at long last.


 


But the big thing I did in Mark’s absence was clean the garage. When we moved here, we just told the moving men to stack boxes and stuff in the garage, knowing we would get to it later. But there was no order to the madness, so each time we went rummaging around to look for something we needed to unpack, things got steadily messier. In the meantime, every time Mark brought packages from Home depot, they tended to land, unopened, somewhere near the door. We also had about twenty pairs of muddy shoes out there, and wayward tools and buckets of paint buried under boxes of trash, luggage and camping stuff that just didn’t make it up to the attic. There were laundry baskets filled with electrical supplies and light bulbs and whatnot. A big piece of plywood that the workers left right in the path to the door was an ominous obstacle we kept tripping over, and yards of torn paper the builders laid to protect the floor when they were finishing up inside which made it impossible to sweep (and thus dirt was forever being tracked inside).


 


Every time I stumbled through the mess with groceries, or couldn’t open the outside refrigerator door because of clutter, I wanted to scream. So, I determined now was the time to do something about it. I know Mark would get to cleaning the garage eventually, but that might be months from now. And if there is one thing I believe, it is easier (and wiser) to just do something about what you don’t like rather than bitch and expect someone else to attend to your priorities.


 


I enlisted Kent’s help. He is an amazing worker and thanks to his good humor, a joy to spend the day with, so his participation made the project fun. He must have lifted 80 boxes and carried them to the attic or the craft room or loaded them into the truck to take to the workshop. We lugged and sorted and groaned and made jokes about at the madness of the mess and made speeches about how much this particular thing or that had been annoying us for months, until we had finally made a dent in the clutter. And this inspired us to keep at it, even though by then we were so exhausted we could barely see straight. We had carted stuff into the driveway into categorized stacks, and Kent had filled the truck with trash for the burn pit. We decided to take it down to make room for more stuff in the truck.


 


We drove down to the pit in the field across from the house and unloaded the wood and a few bags of burnable trash. Kent pulls out a lighter. I tell him not to light the fire because Dad is not here and it’s a windy day.


 


He says, “Don’t be such a woos, Mom, I do this with Dad all the time.”  


I say, “I know, but Dad isn’t here, and I really don’t want to be burning without him.” Meanwhile, my kid lights the fire anyway, making jokes about what a nerdly stiff I am. The fire roars up five feet. Kent blinks and says, “Woops. I’ll stay and watch it.” (Meanwhile, he is stamping out the trash that is flying out and landing on the grass because, as I said, it was a windy day.) I grumble about how dumb boys are about loving fire  (it’s a caveman thing) and I return to the garage to reload the car with stuff for the workshop. About fifteen minutes later, Kent returns and tells me the fire has gone down. Not to worry. We load the truck again and decide to drive to the workshop to unload. As I drive down the driveway, I look over and say, “Wow, it almost looks as if the forest is on fire.” I do a double take, then yell, “Kent! The forest is on fire!”


 


“Oh my God!” he yells, jumping out of the car and running to the fire. I guess he thinks he will stamp it out. But when he gets there he stands there with his hands on his head and says, “Mom! Help. I don’t know what to do! The forest is on fire. Really!”


 


I assess the situation. Yep. The forest is on fire. Trees are going up in flames and every time a wind comes along another foot of underbrush ignites. I run to the house and call 911. Then I return to the fire, cursing the fact that we don’t have a fire extinguisher and our hose would never reach this far. Meanwhile, Neva is freaking out. She runs to the house to get her blankies (I don’t know if this was because she needed immediate comfort or if in the back of her mind she thought she should rescue the thing she most values from the house just in case the fire makes it that far . . . )


 


Kent is saying “I’m so sorry. I had no idea. What should I do?”


 


Now, this was a perfect “I told you so – why don’t you ever listen to me,” moment. But as a parent, my strongest inclination when there is trouble is to put my children’s fears to rest and to protect their sense of security. So I assured him things would be fine and that the fire department was coming, so not to sweat it. Meanwhile, the wind is blowing and every few minutes another tree goes up. Ee-gad. Kent keeps saying, “Dad is going to freak. We burnt the forest down.”


I gently correct Kent. “You burnt the forest down. I told you to wait. But it will all be over soon. These things happen. . . when you don’t listen to your mother.” (OK, so I couldn’t resist the “I told you so moment” for very long.)


 


Neva is sobbing, asking if we are going to die. Um… no dear. The fire is over there and we are over here. Her eyes open wide and she says, “What if the fire department can’t find our house?”


That might very well be a problem, considering we are a new house – off the map. I tell her that perhaps she should stand at the street corner and point, so she runs off to do just that, clutching her blankets with desperation. I feel better giving her this busy work and removing her from the scene of the fire.


 


Finally, a truck pulls up and out comes a single guy in camouflage pants with a shovel. Kent says, “God, I think that is our fire department. We are so screwed.”


 


This strikes me as funny. We do live in a small rural community, and we are forever making jokes about it. It appears my 911 call has resulted in this scruffy fellow’s visit.


I say, “I’m sure he is just here to check it out and he will report in.” But I’m not really so sure. And the idea of a single man showing up with flames beginning to engulf our forest started me laughing. I know I should have been more worried – I mean fire is a serious thing. And Neva is a wreck because she has heard such horror tales in school about fire. But the donkey is watching from the field as if this is the most interesting thing going on in his day and I keep thinking about our good intentions and how hard we worked to make things nice for Mark, but it will all be turned around because he is going to have a cow if we burn a part of his 50 acres down. And I can’t help but see the entire thing as humorous – like my life is a sitcom – the Lucy show – and this is a typical episode. I think about how I will be able to razz Kent about this for the rest of his life, how one day we will laugh about the day we cleaned the garage and burned the forest down. And I just can’t get worried or upset. I keep making jokes (inappropriately).


 


The fellow walks up, spits some tobacco, and tells me the fire truck is coming. He then walks over and throws a shovel full of dirt onto the roaring flames. Now, Kent and I both start making subtle jokes. We couldn’t help it. I guess the fact that someone with authority was there to handle things alleviated our concerns deep down. And it really was sort of funny, in a “three stooges clean the garage” sort of way.


 


In a short time, the truck comes. It is a standard red fire truck, but the fellows driving it are in jeans and t-shirts and cowboy hats or baseball caps. They are all carrying shovels. This is our fire department. Apparently, these men don’t stick around the station because fires are rare here. They stay at home and when they get a call, they drive to the station and then the truck rolls out. Under those circumstances, they were mighty expedient, in my opinion.


 


As they hosed down the forest, a few of the fellows sauntered over and talked to me about our land. They told me they played here when they were kids, before it was at all developed. They said they liked what we were doing, had a nice house, and they thought the horses looked mighty fine. Where did I get the llama? Do I like my donkey?  They talked about what a nice guy Jimmy Owen is (the fellow taking out our pine trees at the entrance to the land) and mentioned we were standing in a good place for a garden and since it is spring, I should consider putting one in. (I told them we were.) They heard a rooster and said, “Chickens too? Good for you.”


They told me about their homesteads nearby, and asked how I liked their fair city. They didn’t seem to think the fire was that big a deal, but they did mention that our fire pit was too close to the forest (gee, ya think?) We had a lovely conversation, just like we’d met at a church social.        


 


I asked a few questions about fire and how it spreads and what they do when it gets out of hand. I asked if they liked working for the fire department and what else they did on the side. I always like to learn about people. Meanwhile, I am watching the big circle of black ash that is now in the heart of our forest where moments before, flames ere flickering. I’m thinking it isn’t so bad really. Kind of like a big shadow in the trees.


 


I apologize for making them come out. They said, “Aw, that’s fine. We like running the truck once in a while, and it gives us a chance to see what ya’ll are up to out here. Looks good.”  


   


They were very, very nice, and in an hour the episode was over. . I’m grateful Kent and I only left for 5 minutes to fill a truck so this fire thing was an “accident” rather than a “catastrophe.” Lord, what if we had gone out to lunch or something? As it was, I met some nice people from our community. The entire 50 acres didn’t burn down. We discovered we can count on our local fire department. I figure Kent learned a valuable lesson. (Mother is always right.) Neva will need months of blanket therapy, but other than that all is well.


 


Six hours later, Mark comes home. It is dark. I am glad he is home. Sort of.


 


Proudly, we show off our clean garage. (Meanwhile, Kent is smiling at his dad, but casting a “are we going to pull this off” look at me every time Mark looks away, which makes me snicker. Mark reacts exactly as I expected. He has to act happy that we worked so hard on the garage, but he feels funny about it too, as if our cleaning it was a way of saying “you are a big fat slacker, so we decided to do the work despite you.” Which isn’t the case, but that is the hidden message when you do a task someone else has said they will do over and over again.


 


He says, “Gee, it looks great.” But then he says, “Where are my drill bits?”


I say, “They were buried under junk . . . “


“On the ottoman. I KNOW. I know where every thing was in this garage, ya know.”


OK, so you knew your way around this shit. They why didn’t you put things where they belonged? Are you implying that I should have left the garage in an upheaval forever, cause I couldn’t’ stand it anymore.  I didn’t say this, of course, but I am thinking it – You see, I am getting defensive now too.


 


He says, “And where are the bulbs I was going to plant?”


“Outside on the porch.”


“How about that box of house stuff. I was going to put that away. I had a place for everything in that box.”


I’m thinking, then you should have brought it in and put it away. What are you waiting for? Lot of good it is to know it is in a box.


Instead, I patiently tell him it is in the attic with another ten boxes of home decor that was left opened, but not unpacked. He need only take a few steps to get whatever he wants.


Then, he starts focusing on the fact that he has this fire wood holder that he had taken out of the original box, and the parts are leaning up in a corner unassembled. He wants to know where the screws are and the cover. I find the screws for him, but I fear I might have thrown out the cover. He gets really annoyed and starts talking about how he has to throw out the entire thing, (and they don’t make them anymore, of course-it can never be replaced) because without the cover it is worthless.


I tell him to put a damn tarp over the wood and make do. Life will not end because he doesn’t have a cover.


He gets argumentative and again says he knew where everything was in the garage before we cleaned it.    


I stare him down and say, “Tough. That is the cost of getting the garage clean. You’ve lost a cover. Deal with it. I can’t believe you are going to stand here seeing what is over 8 hours of back breaking work that your family did to save you the trouble, and all you can do is focus on the negative and try to find things to complain about. Can you take a minute to appreciate is done rather than what isn’t?”


 


He says he does appreciate the work, but . . . where is everything?”


“WHERE IT BELONGS.” I say. Tools are in the workshop. Camping stuff and packed household is in the attic, craft stuff is in the craft room. Jesus, you can just walk up the stairs and get anything from the attic you want. It is only about ten extra steps, but in the meantime we can function. Functioning is good.”


“But, now I have to find it all,” he points out. “And I lost my cover. And you put my ladder outside but it will get rained on. “


I’m getting ready to take that ladder and hit him over the head with it. “So, go bring the fucking ladder in and put it where you want. We’ve done our share of lifting, now you can do some,” I say.


 


Then, I find his damn cover. This, apparently, was all it took to turn the situation around. It was symbolic cover or something. He suddenly relaxed, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the clean garage. He did a little subtle oohing and ahhing. Nothing major, mind you, but enough to quell our frustration about his lack of enthusiasm for our work.


 


Nevertheless, Kent and I determined not to tell him we burnt the forest down just yet.


We went inside. He saw his office and said, “That is better.”


Better? Ya think. You have a floor. Who knew?


He saw the workout room and said, “You put up the pictures. . .” His tone made it clear he didn’t think much of their positioning.


I said, “You can change them when you get around to it. I just wanted them off the floor.” Now, you see, I am making excuses and practically apologizing for having done this work. I hated the words as they come out of my mouth, yet I couldn’t stop making excuses.


 


We go to bed. No discussion about the fire. Mark snores, which ruins my night’s sleep, but I like it. Good proof he is home.


 


The next day, at breakfast, Mark says (I kid you not), “At least you all didn’t burn the house down.”


 


I have to tell him about the fire then. He stares at me deadpan as I recount the story. Then he says, “I’m not surprised. I thought you might burn the house down or something.”


 


This really sets me off.  I’m like, “Why would you say that? Are you implying I’m incompetent? That I can’t function without you? For God’s sake, we are living in a house we built from proceeds of a business I founded and helped run for years. I’m NOT some bimbo that can’t accomplish any thing without a man.”


 


He says, “I didn’t’ say that. It is just that you are sometimes oblivious.”


 


“Oblivious?!? What the hell are you saying? I don’t screw things up. Hell, I don’t touch things if I don’t know what I’m doing. I planted a few raspberry bushes, but I went on line first and learned about how and where to do it correctly. I cleaned the hot tub and filled it, but because I didn’t know about chemicals I left finishing up to you. I don’t go around messing with anything I don’t understand and I don’t go around wrecking your precious things.” I am furious that he dares suggest I’m incompetent.


 


He says, “I only mean you choose to be oblivious about certain things. You live in your world of chickens and horses and cooking, but you don’t bother to learn how to set the coo coo clock, or set the house alarm, or test the water in the hot tub. Those are my jobs, and you leave it that way. So when I’m gone, I imagine the clock will stop and stuff. “


 


“But I CAN do those things if I need to. I just don’t choose to learn about them because I know you will do them. I resent your implication that I am some bubblehead.”


 


“I didn’t say that. But . . . well . . . you did burn the forest down.”


“No. KENT burned the forest down.”


“But you see, you don’t control the kids like I do. When you are gone, I run a tight ship. So, in a way, this means you burnt the forest down.”


I pointed out that I accomplished a month’s work in the week he was gone. And the kids got attention too, because I was there for their soccer and band. I made family dinners, even though it was just the three of us. And I entertained his mother and sister. I remind him I could have just laid around eating bon bons or doing my homework or blogging, but instead I worked on projects for him. But you can be sure I won’t do that next time he leaves.


 


He says he appreciated it all. Really. Now, why don’t we go on down and look at the fire site.


 


“Yea, OK,” I grumble.


So we went down so he could inspect the big circle of ash. He sort of blinked and said. “That must have been a real fire.”


“Yea.”


Time to change the subject. I walked him over to see where I planted the raspberry bushes. He gently pointed out that the blueberry bushes will get squished if I don’t stake them so people know where they are. That is fair.


We talked about where to plant the apple trees, our project for this weekend. He told me about his trip and all he learned about furniture building and tools and what he wants for his workshop when we can afford it. He told me about the dinner he had with a friend who happens to be the artist who draws spider man for Marvel comics. (Very cool guy). He’s also is an amazing pool player and he taught Mark some skills. When we get around to buying a pool table, I’m in trouble, because my husband keeps practicing on the sly.


 


I guess you can say, life slowly returned to its general pace.


I’ve thought about this, about those uncomfortable hours when he first got home. How I knew they were coming. I have a theory.


 


There is an adjustment period that occurs after a couple is apart. You both have to deal with the reality that your spouse’s life goes on in your absence. You are uncomfortably aware that the other person could actually live without you – or not. And you feel as if you’ve been cheated out of a short segment of life because things are not as you left them. Even if it is something good, like a clean garage, you can’t help but feel as if someone flipped a few pages of your life novel forward. The story goes on uninterrupted, but you will never know the fine details that occurred on those missed pages – the moments missed.   I know. I feel this way each time I return from Boston. Married, you are living a life run by what is actually a combined mind and combined efforts. When you wander different directions, even temporarily, with each other’s blessings and full understanding, you are reminded that you are actually separate beings, Perhaps this challenges our secure sense of partnership, or makes us doubt our influence on our other half to do, think, feel and act just as we anticipate they will. 


 


Thankfully, this is just discomfort – nothing that leaves any long-term impact.  Before you know it, you are back in your familiar life story again, swept up in the action – more interested in what’s to come than what happened previously.


 


Anyway, my husband is leaving again next week, going to Florida to do our taxes with our accountant and to take care of some business. I have decided I won’t do anything next time he is away except bury myself in my thesis. It is due in four weeks and needs the attention badly. And I think I’ve made enough single, executive decision, impact around here for a while. It is nice to shake things up once in a while, but it is more comfortable letting the sediment of living settle at the bottom of the jar. Why stir up muck if you don’t need to?  


 


Today, we will plant apple trees. Together. We will discuss where they will go, and after deciding mutually, we will dig the earth as a team, and scatter moss over the plantings before we water them. Later we will complain to each other about our planting aches and pains over a glass of wine at dinner, and we will talk about what is next on our family to-do list. Work like this is not much different than cleaning a garage. Just another day at the Hendry’s. But thanks to the fact that today involves the participation of all family members, you can be sure the potential fires will be kept at bay.



    


 

Meltdown

Friday, I had what you would call a “fortitude meltdown.” This kind of thing doesn’t happen often with me. I tend to store inner resources so I can muster up the energy to face a bad day when I need to. But I just couldn’t face Friday.


 


I was registered to attend the AWP conference in Atlanta, a huge conference for writers and writing program directors and administrators – a very academic literary event. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood to go. But because I paid for it, and because they featured a few classes that would provide beneficial research for my senior seminar this June (a graduation requirement) and because I always plug away and face whatever is uncomfortable when I know something is good for me (particularly in regards to accomplishing grand dreams), I dragged myself out of bed at 5AM to go.


 


It was raining. Hard. And the forecast was rain for the entire day. This put me in a funk. Then, there was the fact that the night before, one of my chickens had been murdered – ruthlessly, by my beloved Joe. You see, I had decided to introduce my smelly teenage chickens to the coop so I would no longer have to clean up after them in our basement. They are getting big, almost the size of drumstick (they will eventually be real big egg layers), so I thought they must be ready for their true habitat. I put them into the pen and watched all the birds interact for a while, until I determined everyone was getting along. Joe was slightly aggressive, but chickens always scrabble a bit when the dynamics of the flock change (pecking order, ya know) and I could see the spry young ones running away when he approached them, so I figured they would all adjust and get along fine. An hour later, I returned to check on them and one of my Lucys had been killed. The other four were cowering in a corner, frantic with fear.  I felt horrible. Responsible. I’m still not talking to bully Joe.


 


On top of this, the night before, Mark mentioned that we needed to talk about an important business issue. Feeling so blue about my chicken, I asked if we could hold off until the morning. He said sure. I thought he might wait until I got home, but he surprised me and got up at 6am to attend to our short official meeting. We just had a few decisions to make that really didn’t require much discussion, but we always make decisions together in respect to our family business. (Can’t blame anyone when things go poorly that way, I guess) This particular issue depressed me, and trust me, I don’t throw that word around easily, I tend to describe my down feelings as “sad” because “depressed” is serious stuff, and people tag themselves with that as flippantly as they use the word “love” (which I am also very selective in using). Anyway, I can honestly say, in this instance, I was depressed.  I knew the whole business ordeal was inevitable, so there is no logical reason I should react so strongly, but for some reason, I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry.


 


But, I didn’t. I got in my car and drove through the torrential rain to my conference.


 


The problem was, I simply didn’t want to go. I felt so low. I actually turned the car around four times, planning to drive home, but each time, I talked myself out of it and turned back towards Atlanta. Finally, one hour and fifteen minutes from home, I turned around, this time with true resolve. I was going to bail on my day. I even called Mark to announce I was coming home, thinking that if he were expecting me, it would surely stop me from going in circles like a ping-pong ball that keeps flipping back and forth.


 


I said, “I’m not up for this writing thing today. I’m coming home.”


He said, “Are you sure? That is not like you.”


“I’m just not in the mood.”


“It might make you feel better. It will get your mind off the business issue. “


“Not possible. Besides which, it isn’t that. It is something else.”


“What?”


“I don’t know. I just feel low.”


“Then come home. But let’s meet in town for coffee first.”


(I guess this is like a inviting someone into a holding space for potential quarantine. He didn’t want me back home until he had a chance to give me a checkup.)


So we met up at the coffee shop. Mark said, “You OK?”


“I just feel bad.”


“Sick bad?”


“No. Bad bad.”


“What about?”


“Everything. Business. My writing. My chicken. The weather. You didn’t kiss me this morning. Everything.”


He gave me a little pep talk (and a little peck on the cheek ), then proceeded to remind me of everything good in our life, telling me that we still had the power to make different choices if life wasn’t making us happy.


I told him I was happy. I just wanted to take a nap.


“Then, go home and do that,” he said.


So I did.


 


I went home, put on my pajamas, and crawled back into bed. A few hours later, Mark comes home and sees me in bed.


He laughs. “It’s that bad, is it?”


“I’m not getting up. Ever.”


“OK. I’ll pick up the kids from school.”


And God bless him, he did. Life went on without me.


 


I stayed in that bed, eating a gross amount of crap (yes, I felt bad about that too), listening to the rain and trying to imagine what nuggets of wisdom I was missing by not going to the conference (which is only held in Atlanta every ten years. My bad.) I didn’t get up. I didn’t want to cook dinner, or check my e-mail, or write a blog, or care for my animals or be a good parent, or read anything, or . . . well, you get it. I didn’t want to do anything. I think I mustered up enough energy to take a bath and read People magazine. That exhausted me, so I went go back to bed.


 


I wouldn’t say I was feeling sorry for myself, because I am logical enough to remember that my life is charmed and I have all the ingredients for happiness. I also know that we live the life of our own design, and for everything lost something is gained. I must take responsibility for whatever negative things are in my world. Like my dead chicken, or the fact that I rush around in the morning and forget to pause to kiss my husband to start the day right, or that I don’t work to be more detached regarding business, or the fact that I will now have to do more research later on for my senior seminar because I didn’t take advantage of this cushy opportunity to get some info now. The fact is, I may have missed something great at that conference, but I also know I should respect my inner voice and accept that if a meltdown is eminent, it has a purpose. Therefore, I chose to embrace my inner slug. Perhaps my batteries needed a re-boot. I just needed to shut down.


 


Anyway, I watched about seven movies that day. Ate 7984 calories. A few hours later, Mark joined me. Now, there were two of us imitating slugs. At least I wasn’t lonely. We ordered pizza. The kids were happy running amuck without guidance. Life did not collapse. No one died. I did not fail out of college. None of my problems were solved, but then, none got any worse for lack of attention either. It was just a mislaid day. A rainy, lazy, depressed mislaid day.


 


And honestly, I don’t regret it. I have to tell you, on a rainy, gray day when your heart hurts, the covers of your warm bed feel mighty good. And the most mundane movies somehow qualify as splendid entertainment. And even cold pizza tastes gourmet good.


 


Mark did ask me if anything was wrong, or if there was anything he could do for me, or if I wanted to talk, about a dozen times. I guess when a girl doesn’t have a fortitude meltdown very often, it is alarming to witness. I assured him I was fine.


 


And obviously, I was. The next morning, I got up at 6am and drove to Atlanta to attend the conference – confirming that I really didn’t miss anything all that important. I listened to a few lectures, sessions about writing endings and how to portray mid-life characters with realism, and I heard a few readings. I walked around the bookfair with over a hundred small press publishers and literary magazines represented, and picked up free issues of literary magazines and little chocolates used to solicit potential supporters for their nonprofit presses. All I could think was, “Who reads this stuff except the people writing or teaching it?” The literary world is really just another special interest subculture that perpetuates itself by its own membership. It seemed like a lot of indulgent hubabaloo to try to impress one’s intellectual peers. I guess it makes great contributions to the world, but it seems only the literary folks notice or care.


 


I got this really strong gut feeling that I was not supposed to be there. I suddenly knew that even though my degree prepares me for it, I don’t want a career in academia. Who wants to deal with all the university politics? And I don’t crave validation by being published in a small literary magazine that only other writing students hoping to get published might read. I looked into the faces of the thousands of writers there, amazed that so many people write – thinking they all looked stereotypically literary minded. They all looked intellectual. Broke. More cerebral than physical. They were people who portray life on paper so poignantly, yet most of them do not have the wherewithal or personality to live a life of their own with gusto. They will work for years at perfecting their ability to construct a sentence and fine tune research just so they can portray the thoughts of a mountain climber with dramatic authenticity – and yet, I much prefer to read a story written by a mountain climber who tells his real story, sans the literary genius. The literary writers take themselves awfully seriously, and I simply can’t do that with my personal view of the world. What can I say? I guess I’m silly.


 


Looking at the titles of the publications was like staring into the notes of a therapy avalanche. There was very little there I would look forward to reading. Where is the humor that lurks in every aspect of life? The celebration of living?  Who determined that good writing couldn’t be based on uplifting subject mater? I know, I know, life is tragic, but it can be a hoot to with the right attitude. I suddenly felt as if the literary world was a dark place, and I just wanted to step back into the light.


 


Who knows. Maybe I was still in my former day funk and this cast a shadow on my impressions. Probably. I just didn’t feel like belong in this literary world. I am at a point in life where I crave laughter, adventure, and romance. These elements are sadly missing here.


 


I called Mark and said, “I’m coming home.”


“It’s only 1 o’clock. (The seminar went until 8 that night) Stay. Enjoy yourself.”


“There is nothing to enjoy. I’ve seen what I needed to see and now, I am ready to come home.”


He was silent a minute. “O.K.”


 


Later, I told him how I felt at that seminar. I explained that for all I now understand and appreciate fine literature, I don’t want to make a career of it. I don’t want to have to work to build a reputation, or “play the game” to fit into this world so I can be dubbed “the real thing”. I did all that with dance. I did the conventions, the teaching, and the career building. I made a name- even made a humble fortune while I wasn’t noticing. And now, I am tired. And I sense that I might kill what I love about writing if I force myself to treat it like a business. The truth is, you can destroy what you love when you make it your livelihood. I know. When art becomes a job it strips the magic away. You start making compromises to “produce” generically so everyone will like the work. You make choices for security rather than following your artistic instincts for growth.  I don’t want my writing to be railroaded into what it “should be” or “what will sell” or “what proves I’m good.”


 


I don’t know how many real heartfelt passions I have left in me at my age, and I surely don’t want to squander those that burn hot. I love to write. I love to compose books and blogs and clarify my thinking with an essay now and again. I want to preserve that core premise. I have to preserve it. My writing must be for me. I do want to publish, and maybe teach and share the joy with others – I’d love to work with senior citizens to help them leave memoirs for their families or something like that. But I want to be an active writer without feeling pressured to achieve. I don’t like the idea of being a professional writer nearly as much as I liked being the owner of a dance empire who wrote books on the side. That was more remarkable by far.


 


I asked Mark if he thought this was a copout, that perhaps I’ve lost my edge, was burned out or had self-defeating issues or something. Fear of success? Was this a reaction to my feeling inadequate in this arena?


He chuckled and said, “You? Hardly.” Then he said, “It is like the song, there is a season, Turn, Turn, Turn. A season to work, a season to play, and a season to do nothing. I think you have spent years working and driving yourself to accomplish big things and now, you need to just stop. Not do anything. Don’t feel bad about it. You’ve just never experienced a time of non-doing, so it makes you uncomfortable. But it isn’t forever. Trust me, you are still you. One day, you will wake up and be fully fueled with an idea and nothing will stop you from making it happen. It will be writing a book, or publishing a new magazine, or opening a coffee shop or something else. And your time for rest will be over. Then, watch out world. For now, just embrace your nothingness. It’s OK. You’ve earned it.”


“But it feels wrong. Out of character.”


“How would you know? You’ve never experienced this particular stage of life before. It might be the exact right reaction at the exact right time which will lead you to do exactly what will make you happiest.”


“What about you?” (Actually, Mark has been rather a slug too. It is not like us, and I wonder what it means. Is this a sign that we have lost something important, the very thing that made us tick .  . . and tick so well?  )


He said, “You know the general store they are remodeling?”(This happens to be a building near us in the middle of nowhere. It’s been for sale for ages. We often mention how much we like it – how it would have made a great dance school, but it was too secluded to be good for much else. But years ago in Sarasota, we would have gone crazy for a building like that. We don’t think it’s good for any of our potential purposes now, but we still find the building fascinating. Anyway, someone bought it and they are remodeling it into a small convenience store with a coffee shop now. We watch with curiosity and a touch of envy. But we still think location will be a problem for them.)


          


Mark said, “I drive by and watch the progress and I am jealous. I wish I had a project like that going on in my life. I’ve been thinking how much I miss having a business, and how much we learned in the years we ran one successfully – how I want to put it all to the test again. I want to dive in and face the challenges without all the business history serving as bad baggage. I’ve been thinking a lot about an art gallery, with or without a coffee or wine shop. Maybe not now, but soon. I feel like I am getting ready. Not yet. Someday. For now, we will rest. And wait for when the time is right to swing the bat yet again.”


 


I think he is wise, and he has admirable faith in the both of us. I’m grateful. His confidence alleviates my concerns a bit. So, I’m waiting – not in bed like the big meltdown slug I became the other day, but not what anyone would call a real life action figure either.


 


In the meantime, I am following my instincts, and they tell me to preserve what I love about writing. I will fight the pull of ego and remember that no person’s opinion or public acknowledgement truthfully validates one’s efforts. I believe success is knowing what you need and where you belong. What is important is loving your life; however you might feel compelled to nudge it to unfold a certain way.


 


Most importantly, you can, and should, wait for a lot of things, but you should never wait for happiness. Take responsibility for that, above all else.