Once in a while you do something for the fun of it, and the rewards are greater than expected. The gentlemen referenced below attend the Monday breakfast for seniors at which I volunteer. Each of these men are engaged and eager and live lives replete with laughter. The three youngest asked me to write the story in honor of the their 96-year-old golfing buddy. The story received good placement in the "Citizen's News" in our local newspaper which catapulted the four subjects "over the moon." As for me, well, this was one of the most enjoyable and inspiring pieces I've had the fortune to write over the past two years.
If I every feel tired, or heaven forbid, too old, I'm going to remember the fun I had interviewing these men and writing their story. Then I'm going to go out and do something I love.
This is a repeat of a post I wrote last year, a few days before Thanksgiving.. The count is 29 for today, our Coast Guard nephew having been transferred. Other than that, little has changed for which I am entirely grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.
I love this week. Really I do. We’ve been putting on Thanksgiving for so long that we know how to manage it—even when we goof and realize that the head count of 29 is really 30. We know what to prep ahead of time, how to spread four—no, make that five tables through the dining room and living room—oops, six if you count the little table we put up for the two youngest boys. We know that people will bring extra and that there will be more than enough food, even for teenagers who go back for plates piled with seconds. We know that though the bar has to be set up in the garage, adults will gather on the old rug we spread on the cement floor in front of the table and ignore the tools and shovels lining the walls—while the teens will find a haven in the basement. We know at meal time, as the hosts, my husband and I will have to situate ourselves on the kitchen-side of the table because otherwise, we’d never get out.
I love prepping good food for our family; apple pies, pecan pies, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. I love that now that we must have two turkeys, I can try new stuffing recipes, knowing that Mom-in-law will bring her family favorite so I’m not even messing up tradition. I love that our brother-in-law will bring squash and sweet potatoes and creamed onions and that his quiet assurance will keep me calm during that critical and crazy half-hour before we get the food on the table (well, on the counter—with 30 people, we HAVE to serve buffet style.)
Most of all, I love the tickle of anticipation, today, tomorrow, on Wednesday and especially those quiet few minutes— just before everyone arrives; when the house is dusted and vacuumed, the pictures and mirrors shine, the tables are set, the do-ahead things are resting on the counter and the three of us look at each other—excited for the festivities to begin, knowing that not only will we be celebrating with a huge family—on Thanksgiving we'll be surrounded by our friends.
I don't do this often. In regards to blogging, in some strange way, even though it's all out there, I tend to keep things close to the vest. I write, I read blogs, I follow, I comment, but I'm not into the big splash of contests and awards and prizes. Not that I mind those who are, it's just not me. So as you read this, please know that I'm writing these words because in this case, I embrace the assistance this social networking or what ever it is, can offer.
Over the two years plus since I started Middle Passages, I've "met" so many people I admire, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some are more special than others. We all click with different people. In my case, Carolina Valdez Miller has been a regular champion. She's an astounding writer who has offered me such insight and encouragement. She sits at the top of the list of people I'd like to emulate--in my writing sure, and now in a more giving manner.
My insides tend to drop a little when summer comes to an end. It’s a symptom of living in New England. I know what’s coming. Fall arrives and dread ensues. This year though, we’ve had a warm autumn, so my seasonal adjustment occurred later than usual. I threw on my lined jacket for the first time last week; grateful for the leather gloves stuffed in the pockets from last spring.
Something clicked though, at 4:17 pm on Saturday afternoon, at which point the house smelled like cinnamon and cloves from the pumpkin bread I’d baked to freeze for Thanksgiving. My hands were stiff from Murphy-Oil-Soaping the kitchen cupboards. Beef stew simmered on the stove top. My husband entered the kitchen after a day of raking, carrying in the aroma of fresh air and pine, mulched needles and composting leaves. He crumpled paper, laid kindling and lit a match. A puff of smoke billowed from the fireplace before the draft inhaled the smoke upward.
At that exact moment, like a picture in time lapse photography, I transitioned from summer to fall, from afternoons plowing through glimmering water on a following sea, to bone deep warmth delivered by seasoned logs popping on a cast-iron grate.
It’s so hard to relinquish summer. It takes me weeks to let it go, to settle into long hours cooking in the kitchen, afternoon sunsets, earthy red wines alongside dishes of thickened stew. The missing piece though, arrives with fire—hot embers wrapping me in cashmere heat, offering me permission to tuck myself inside.
I have mixed feelings about the new part-time job I’ve taken. I loved the quality product offered at the specialty food and cheese shop where I worked for the last fourteen months. But an opportunity developed and for reasons with which I shan't bore you, I've moved on. The upshot is that instead of working 2-3 full (and I do mean full) days per week, I’m working four short days and even though daylight savings deserted us on Sunday, I get home before dark.
Which means there was still plenty of light on Tuesday when I walked to the bedroom, sloughed off the professional clothes I haven’t worn in over two years, pulled on my blue jeans and sat down to finish a freelance-writing-related invoice. Then, I looked out the window.
The sun was burning through the trees behind our house, and on a hunch, I grabbed the camera, climbed into the car and drove to the pond, 300 yards down the street. As I suspected, the sun mirrored itself on the motionless water. I forget you lose all subtlety when you take pictures directly into the sun though. Standing on tiptoe to try to reach above the reeds cluttering my view, I clicked the shutter 16 times, hoping to capture the sunset sinking below the horizon, while it flamed into the pond below.
I only turned away from the sunset once. Gosh, I’m glad I did.
Sometimes I contemplate what life was like in the dinosaur days, you know, before digital camera. Before I say anything further, let me assure you that I know old fashioned film photography still results in the best photos. If you question me on that, click here.
Anyway, though I remain an amateur photographer, I have loved taking shots of the world around me since receiving my first Instamatic camera before leaving for college. Back then though, photography involved heartbreak. I’d buy film, use it all up, mail it off to an out-of-state developing lab and tap my fingers waiting for my pictures to arrive home a week later. Opening the envelope, I’d swallow disappointment at blurry shots, photos that were too dark or over exposed--pictures nowhere near as beautiful as the vision recorded by my eyes.
My now-husband gave me my first 35MM camera for my 25th birthday. With it came the ability to focus, take close ups, telephoto pictures and filtered shots. My sister still tells the story about how when tailgating at a football game, I artfully arranged a glass of wine and an apple in different corners of our red-checked picnic blanket, forbidding anyone to eat until I Iined up a perfect shot. The resulting picture came out expensive and ordinary.
With digital photography though, I've discovered the freedom to take shot after shot, to experiment with settings and apertures, to crawl in the grass to freeze a view from a different perspective, without worrying about expensive film. The best thing though, is the computer age has offered the additional luxury of editing packages offering darkroom capabilities at the click of a mouse.
Downloading pictures to the computer, I shave off unimportant aspects and highlight what I want, changing the perspective and focus along the way.
Even when a picture come out a lesser quality, I play with it and improve it, and know in the end, I have an opportunity highlight the ordinary, to make it sing.
It strikes me the whole process is an awful lot like writing, don't you think?
Over the twenty-plus years I worked in HR for a national retail chain, I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. Over the course of that career, I performed as a high-functioning “square peg in a round hole.” Since the job paid well and the location and challenge level enabled me to be an available mom for our growing daughter, I stuck to it. When the business began to struggle and layoffs occurred, I thought, “If I go, I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I won’t do this.” Of course, I said those things thinking: “It will never happen to me.”
Until it did.
Most Middle Passages readers know that the day after my job disappeared, words welled up inside me, and a blog was born. Two months later, I’d scored a personal essay relating to my layoff in the Boston Globe Magazine. I’d been published in a niche magazine a few times prior, and won a monthly writing contest on WritersDigest.com. But an essay in The Globe fulfilled a long-held dream, and for the first time in my life, I thought, “Good gosh, maybe I really am a writer.”
Working with my outplacement coordinator, I sculpted a freelance writing business, then took a part-time job to help tide over the uneven nature of the freelance beast, and continued my own writing. Through the encouragement of The Artist’s Way, I challenged myself to write a book. I “finished” that one, if you call getting the story down on paper and muscling through one revision “finished.” A print out sits in a folder on my desk in my living room under a pile of books. Last winter, I started writing another one and currently hover at about 50,000 words and change.
Here is my insecurity. I’m starting a new part-time job on Monday, which is a marginal economic improvement over my current situation. Until the layoff, I was a significant contributor financially to the bottom line. For the last 2.5 years though, I’ve been a drag on our resources and yet for the first time ever, I’m doing what I know I want to do. I’ve earned a few more publishing credits. The writing friends I’ve made on line and in person support and challenge me and my husband stands beside me. But guilt wheedles its way in and tweaks down deep. Our daughter has just started college. My lack of earnings impacts not only our present circumstances, but our future retirement, yet, when I contemplate going back full-time to the business world, nausea ensues.
What if my focus on writing is nothing more than a big excuse to avoid doing what I should be doing? Sometimes I’m afraid the word after my name shouldn’t be writer. It should be fraud.
As a three-year-old, our daughter watched the same Peter Rabbit videos every weekend when she was home from daycare, before her nap, while resting on a sheepskin rug my sister sent years ago from Australia. The stories were as naive as they have always been, a silly goose who trusts a fox to watch her eggs, a disobedient rabbit who escapes from a farmer’s garden.
The graphics were simple, yet unlike many of the videos and books that our girl demanded to “Do again! Do again!” they never bored me. Rather than gnashing my teeth after the thousandth viewing, I sat mesmerized, addicted to the haunting, ethereal introductory music which stroked like light fingers on cool skin. Each time we watched one, I waited impatiently for the closing credits, which included the same song. No one was allowed to speak while it was playing.
Like all things toddler, we grew out of this video habit. We put the tapes aside and forgot about them until last fall when I was cleaning out cupboards and discovered one tucked in back. Waving it above my head, I literally jumped up and down before turning to face my wide-eyed husband. “Remember how much I loved the song from this? Thank goodness we still have a VCR. I can hear it one more time.” Popping it in, the music began and I froze, head cocked, inhaling the sound of the piano, the flute, the crystal-voiced performer. Sitting as still as I could, I let the music bleed through me. When it was done, I moaned to my husband. “I hate to get rid of this. This song is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.”
The good news is that one person in our house had his brain turned on that day. “Find the name of the artist in the credits and see if you can download the song from ITunes,” my husband suggested.
Oh how I love that man.
The artist is Miriam Stockley, the Song is "Perfect Day" and when it came on my play list as we ate dinner Saturday night, I paused, as I always do, while the lyrics and voice seeped like a slow brook way down to my center, to puddle at the heart of all I love, at the core of my softening soul.
Words and music and art--sometimes they tickle like a hot breath at the back of your neck or cause you to shiver like a kiss on the ear. But we are luckiest when they are arranged in an ultimate combination, the one that seems to speak to us alone, the one that stops us cold.
If you'd like to see the clip from the beginning of the Peter Rabbit videos we watched with our daughter all those years ago, including a repeat of the song, click here.
Do you have a song, a poem, a picture that touches you this way? If so, care to share?