Category Archives: Essays

December 2022: Waves

Anyone older than a New York minute knows that bad stuff happens seems to happen in waves. There’s a year or three where everything goes ass-over-teakettle: skin cancer, fractured ankle, job loss, death of a beloved pet, divorce, heat wave/drought/flash flood, new wrinkles that you think are from sleeping hard on a creased pillowcase but no, they stay all day and then you look exactly like your grandmother but your knees are too achey to sit and meditate long enough to come to peace with that reality so: back to the blank page, where we are only as old as we feel/write.

Feeling younger inside than we are outside is kinda funny, for a while, but it’s also kinda stagnant, to stay the same despite having wheeled through multiple decades. It perhaps has to do with our culture’s ageism, and the ways we’ve all internalized prejudice against aging/elders (see Priscilla Long’s latest book, Dancing with the Muse in Old Age for some terrific wake-up calls about the results of that bias). When I heard that a story I wrote when I was younger will be in Little Patuxnet Review‘s forthcoming Winter 2023, I was of course tickled: Publication is how writers share our work, but it is not, for me, why I write. I write because I can’t not write; I write because characters keep showing up and yammering at me. And getting that particular story published didn’t fix the thorny patch my current story is stuck in. It didn’t mean the perfect word for my current character’s ennui magically appeared without me hunching over the thesaurus for half an hour (still looking, BTW).

Ten days after that good news I learned a flash essay that was published back in 2014 will be republished this coming weekend, through Creative NonFiction’s “Sunday Short Reads.” (You can sign up here.) I had a half-day of feeling that all my best writing happened when I was younger (see internalized prejudice reference above), and then realized that I didn’t submit my work regularly when I was younger, because: life. Duh.

The empty nest has given me the gift of enough time for the administrative aspect of my writing life, and the good stuff happens in waves, too. I’m going to enjoy riding these until I’m tumbled ass-over-teakettle back onto the shore, and then I’ll pick the sand out of my undies and dry off and find the thesaurus and spend half an hour looking for the best way to say: still going.

May it be so for you, too.

November 2022

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, and evenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations. (Anaïs Nin, 1903 – 1977)

So many months–18!–since last I posted here. Y’all know all the climatological, viral, and political shenanigans that we are all operating under, with, beside. Those are nothing new under the sun, in the big picture, though yes yes yes the speed of climate change is human-sparked. Not so speedy as a meteor crashing into the planet but still. We are influential.

Re: influence: I asked my elder young-adult son for his perspective on his role, as a white male with all its attendant privileges, what he sees as his role as vis-a-vis BIPOC, and he thought and then said he tries to not take up space. H’mmm, I thought, maybe that’s what I’ve been doing by not-blogging: I’m not-taking-up-space.

Being silent is a form of influence, too. The silent treatment was regularly deployed in my family of origin and to this day silence triggers my body’s fight-flight-freeze response. (Which I will refer to from now on as the FFF response. Which sounds, IMO, the way I feel when panic is short-circuiting my nervous system. I often also say f*ckf*ckf*ck so this works on two levels.)

I can notice this reaction before choosing my response more frequently than I used to. I often opt to ask a question, or just take a breath and wait.

But when I received a “friend” request from someone I knew years ago, someone who is one of my #metoo experiences, I FFFed and freaked and blocked and chose silence rather than engagement.

And then felt cowardly, wimpy, weak: I don’t even have the ability to say no, retroactively! On the other hand, maybe that was a case of manifesting my body’s wisdom: life’s too short to engage with someone who no longer has no influence over me or others.

I argued both sides of that proverbial coin in a long conversation with an old friend, a conversation wherein I was the opposite of silent, and her influence helped me untangle myself. Steady myself. Re-orient myself.

Nothing new under the sun, indeed. We hurt each other. We learn from each other. We need each other.

May it be so.

My Perfect Job

I’ve landed the perfect job: helping people ship their documents and packages at a small independent store. It offers a place for people to drop off their returns to Amazon, faxing, copying, envelopes. Anyone can drop off their extra bubble wrap or packing peanuts, and we’ll re-use it. We also sell boxes of all shapes and sizes, packing paper and tape. We ship for auction houses and Virginia Tech departments. We rent mailboxes. I’ve wrapped everything from a seven-pound box of homemade cookies (to someone’s 90 y.o. mother who “doesn’t like to share treats”) to immigration forms to bull semen.

Every person and every package is interesting in one way or another, but most interesting to me in my first months is the response of acquaintances when they see me behind the counter. One of these spoke with a tone of shock and disbelief when they saw me. “You’re working here?” As if the shop were a smelly, sticky thing on the sole of their shoe. “How is your writing?”

I felt defensive. In 2021, working behind the scenes to ship packages isn’t prestigious–but writing is, at least to some folks. And if you can write, why would you work in a store? Although most of my peers recognize the gift of behind-the-scenes services, not many of us join the ranks of those serving. And our unconscious bias about worthy work slips out when they see me, one of their own, in that role.

Francis Assisi is credited with saying “[f]or it is in giving that we receive,” and this job manifests that: every day, a half-dozen people walk in worried, confused, or anxious, and I can give them clarity and reassurance. In return I have the tremendous privilege of witnessing the full range of our humanness: lonely and wanting to talk after we’ve finished packing their box; grateful and wanting to tip me after I’ve collected their package at the door; frustrated with bureaucracy that requires 20+ page faxes; eager to receive the 25 laptops they’ve won at a surplus auction; giddy at sending the “perfect!” birthday gift to a best friend.

So how is my writing? Pretty good. I received an honorable mention in Zoetrope’s short fiction contest for a story I finished during the pandemic, and I have another two stories in second-draft stage. I have a monthly online critique group, I’m trading weekly accountability goals with another writer friend, and I write with my nephew via Zoom every Wednesday. And when I sit for my pretty-regular-but-not-perfectly-so daily writes, my pages are crowded with the riches of the hours I spend helping people ship packages.

May it be so for you, too.