Congruence in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

Unlike the Lost Colony that landed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1587, my whereabouts in Kitty Hawk will be well known if only because I am a lone, Texas woman traveling with a cat.  Gatita does not, however, partake of the beach with me on my early morning walks or my end-of-the-day strolls.

I was so anxious to see the ocean on that first day, August 19th, that I emptied as much of the Jeep as I could, hurrying in my sky blue flipflops to the entrance of the beach as though the water might disappear before I got there.

I walked north first, to the Kitty Hawk Pier, my face looking out toward the white swells of water rushing in to greet me.  I swear I could hear, Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you…  A mixed laugh-cry almost escaped with that first view as I felt all the second-guessing of this trip recede with the tide.   And my chest, heavy with joy, almost giddy, and holding the most important part of me, knew that my faith had not been for naught.

This is exactly where I am meant to be.

~   ~   ~

Whatever final tears I hiccupped out as I drove away from Austin on August 13th, I did while saying out loud, almost in defense of myself, “I have to do this!”

The oppressive, 104 degree heat from that last day had not only worn me down, but left me with a dusty smell and a shirt that stuck to my back, while sweaty running shorts continued to crawl up my crotch.  I’d spent the last four hours in Austin shuffling small possessions back and forth between the Hook House and the storage unit while I battled a stuffed up swimmer’s ear that still has not completely gone away. I was starting to feel not as though I’d never get out of Austin, but that I’d never escape the hell of south Austin.  It was 10:30 at night when a drug-free Gatita and I hit the road.  Since I was determined to leave regardless of the late hour, my sister-in-law, Mary Joy, suggested I stop in Waco, so I’d at least be out of Austin but halfway to Dallas.

I took her advice which was easy to do because my eyelids drooped as soon as I left the city.  Since I hadn’t researched venues that accepted pets, I checked into a Motel 6 knowing the price was in my budget.  I assumed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and requested a room on the bottom floor to easily transport the cat to and from the Jeep. Aside from crying for the first 30-minutes of our trip, Gatita was exceptionally calm at least until we realized that there must have been hookers in the room next to ours. Doors opened and closed all night long, but oddly this motivated me to be freshly showered and on the road by 6:30 am, making for a cool, early morning drive into Little Rock.  The tunnel of green trees lining the highways in Arkansas was a welcomed sight from the browning, burnt foliage in Texas. When we crossed state lines, I whispered, “Good-bye for now,” in anticipation of everything good, especially my first visit with an old friend and colleague from the mid 1990s.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I've traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I'd like to go but doubtful I'll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I'm far enough along in my writing, I may.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I’ve traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I’d like to go but doubtful I’ll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I’m far enough along in my writing, I may.

After two nights in Little Rock, I drove east toward Nashville and met up with the daughters of one of my best friends.  My plan was to stay only one night, but I hadn’t booked a long-term stay in Kitty Hawk yet.  Even though I’d already called three realty agencies representing a good portion of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, and even though I scoured Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO sites while sitting inside a well decorated, cat-friendly La Quinta (way outside our budget), and even though I spoke with private owners who indicated “pet friendly” on their websites only to openly practice feline discrimination, my options for finding long-term accommodations that would accept a cat were dwindling fast.

There was one more hour before I had to decide whether to re-map a route from Tennessee up to Michigan by way of North I-75, instead of remaining on East I-40 straight into North Carolina.  Although Kitty Hawk was my preferred destination, I’d spent so much time on the internet and the phone that I would have agreed to any place that allowed Gatita. Otherwise, I was going to have to alter my entire 12-month driving route.

~    ~    ~

Sea Kove in Kitty Hawk

Normally, I'm not a paper lover except when it coms to maps & books!

Normally, I’m not a paper lover except when it comes to maps & books!

When the cat and I arrived Kitty Hawk, our heads hummed from the accumulated 1,720 miles I’d driven.  Although she has been an ideal travel companion, her map reading skills are nada, and my brusque, unfolding of paper maps seemed to freak her out at inopportune times.

My co-pilot

My co-pilot

But I want to write, here and now, that I am forever grateful to the travel and cat gods for the presence of Gatita.  I absolutely love having her with me and only slightly more than I love, Love, LOVE living in Kitty Hawk.

Three days before, on the 16th, I’d spoken with Bill, whose kind, southern accent I knew would lead to an elderly gentleman.  He runs a series of rustic cottages called Sea Kove with his artist wife, Cari.  He promised to call me back even though his website clearly states: We are unable to allow any pets.  I explained my sabbatical and how I was looking for a place to write for six weeks, and would he consider allowing me and my cat to rent one of his inns?  I probably said I was quiet, that Gatita wouldn’t be any problem; I may have even offered to breathe less oxygen.  I’ll have to ask him why he altered his long-standing pet policy since I hadn’t dropped the widow card, nor blurted out how this was messing up my plans to create a whole new life.

Bill said that my “kitty cat” was welcomed and that although he didn’t have the same cottage for the full six weeks, he would make sure I had a place at Sea Kove for my entire stay.  The next day, Gatita and I left Tennessee, making an overnight stop in the rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. This halfway point from Nashville to Kitty Hawk allowed me to have dinner with a friend, my first tenant that leased out my home in north Austin during the Mexico sabbatical in 2004; forever spoiling me to expect perfection from future tenants.

And all the foot dragging I did before getting here? It inadvertently helped me to avoid most of the summer beach pricing.  In another week, I’ll be in off-season rates making this a perfect fit for a sabbatical budget.

~    ~    ~

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

In my room of retro wood-paneled walls and vinyl faux tile floors, there is no microwave but wi-fi and cable are free – a television treat I never allowed myself in Austin. Central air does not exist but a personal a/c wall unit above the electric stove, with burners wrapped in tin-foil, keeps my efficiency ice cold.  The rock hard mattresses might squeak when I lay down but not before I say goodnight to the rhythmic sound of the ocean from my private backdoor porch.  While I do this, Gatita takes her nightly dump underneath the cottage on stilts, in what has become her gigantic, sand litter box.

Yes, we are in harmony with our new home.

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

In the mornings as the sun beats in from the southeast, I walk out the front door to sit in the long, shaded balcony that connects me with my neighbors. This is where I sipped my coffee that first morning as the cool northern breeze floated in, and where I met Becky, another a widow of only nine months.  She lost her husband of forty-nine years, Big Dave, to congestive heart failure.  I remembered what nine months felt like for me. The only reason my cottage was available to rent was because someone from Becky’s family, who’s been coming to Sea Kove for over 20 years, wasn’t able to make it this summer.

Becky was “Mom” and “Grandma” to her family, but she was a woman with a broken heart to me. Before she left three days later, we exchanged hugs and information about a book, Seven Choices, written by a Texas professor, Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, who lost her husband after only four years of marriage. Seven Choices led me to find the strength to do this sabbatical because even in grief there are multiple junctures where we must choose:  To stay stuck in the past or dare to move forward.

No widow wants to lay in misery, to remain rooted in sadness, but it’s a Sisyphus kind of existence, seeming as though no action will ever lead to a different ending.  HDU_WarriorofLoveI was hardly a woman who was half a person when I met my husband.  I was then as I am now — whole — but when you love someone, you meld into one another.  They do not leave this earth without a part of your own spirit going with them. You don’t even have a say so, and this isn’t something that heals in a year. Harper Neeld gathered research data that indicated — on average — four, long years to move past grief when it is no longer the primary way in which you identify yourself.  In the future, when you meet a widow and she is happy again, know that time does not automatically heal all wounds.  That widow had to work at it.  She is a warrior!  We are all warriors — my widowed friends and me — because we dare every.single.day to make choices that test our emotional boundaries, hoping that these actions will carve a path to a future full of joy again.

~    ~    ~

Had I remained in Austin one more night, I would have insisted on staying in my emptied house, pulling Hook’s thermal sleeping bag from the Jeep, unrolling it upstairs on the shampooed carpets then wetting my pillow with tears until I fell asleep.  Instead, I only wept as I drove away.  I apologized to Allan for not being one of those widows satisfied with starting over where things ended.  Or, maybe there was guilt wrapped up in the fact that if it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t be taking this sabbatical at all.

In the past when I’ve needed a re-boot, a healing of sorts, I would venture out, leaving my homeland for extended periods of time. This sabbatical is not about the travel, though; It’s about the writing.  In the same way, that it was the spilled words of grief that saw me through the first year, I will write my way into this next phase of my life, doing finally what he and I have been waiting for me to do all along: Set myself free.

The book I’ve chosen as my debut will be the reality fiction story of Ava and Daniel, about love, loss, and the beautiful struggle to find joy again. It’s got Hollywood written all over it. The working title, Down Under (In The Land of Oz?), has little to do with Australia or at least I don’t think it does.  I’ve already written 70,048 words because I’ve been rough drafting on and off since last November.  I’ve yet to plot the timeline or even create descriptions for the characters, so I’ve weeks and weeks of background work to organize to get it to a place where I can move into a second draft.

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

In the meantime, I jump out of bed each morning hoping to hit the sand before 6:30 am.  I give greetings of “Hello!” and “Good Morning!” to my fellow disciples of this liquid healing, sitting in meditative state, or walking with the woosh! of the waves, our only music. We are the new pilgrims of the 21st century, welcoming the sun or saying good-bye to the moon.

At night, my gluteus maximus aches from the twice daily hour of sand trudging. But even though I worry about the intense sun on my adult face, I am a child in wonderment each time I bend over and reach down to collect the black and gray and beige shells littered along the shoreline.  I cannot resist these treasures from the ocean any more than I can hold back the transformation in my heart that is happening.

The second anniversary of Hook’s passing is coming. Until then, Gatita and I are comfortable in our place of contemplation and with life on the Atlantic.  And if I may, I’d like to dedicate this post to those Warriors of Love, whose widowed paths I’ve had the good fortune to cross, who have helped me at various steps along the way: Gail, Greta, Celia, Karron, Cindy, Tomas, Valerye, Kristen, Russell, Felicia, De, Sharon, Laura, Becky in Colorado, Becky in Maryland, Loretta in Arkansas, and the young ones – Erin and Taryn.

And to Megan Ehrisman for recommending the unbelievably, perfect Outer Banks when my original plans for San Diego fell through.

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived. I think it's a sign!

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived.

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Fourteen Days

HDU_Hemingway_mindThere’s no good way to admit that I’ve spent the last two weeks crying every day as I sift through, once again, Hook’s things including the mounds of files with his handwriting on them. Many times, I don’t even understand the pages of notes that I’m reading…

Chimila sp. nr San Rafael. Cumito Road, 1, 20.v11.1999

Enoplolindenius haubrugei 1012 mi N. of Arima N 10.718 W61.297 5x.2004

Brasso Seco N10.746 W61.285

Brasso Seco.  I know Brasso Seco.  And then the tears come, and I remember how I handed the blue plastic container to Carl, his naturalist friend, as we stood in the Brasso Seco rainforest in Trinidad.  Carl, who already had tears falling down his dark face, promised to walk Hook’s ashes deep into the jungle, a day’s journey one way, to lay him to rest in one of their favorite camping spots.  It’s this memory that has me screaming out from my center, big gulps of tears at the unfairness of it all, the unfairness to Hook, to us, to not have had more time to figure things out.

Grief does not pass without me realizing that the emotional strangulation is greatly diminished from a year ago, yet it cuts deeper in its permanence.  Then another moment rises as I learn something more:  This is what hurts differently forever means.

It was a toss up whether stuff like this brought on laughter or tears.

So, I am not further along in my packing even though I will leave almost an entire month later than originally planned.  Instead, I use the precious time to read through Hook’s Selective Service papers or his Lifeguard Evaluations from the 1970s. I collapse into chairs and cry out for him, sometimes whispering, Why, sometimes only, I’m sorry. And I know that this sorrow is because I’m leaving our home which feels like leaving him.

I’m not, only I am.

Then without warning that original horribleness of gone descends, and reality causes me to sit down slowly as the temporary shock floats in and I say out loud:  My God, he’s really dead.  I see with clarity and feel the insanity – all over again, always all over again – the madness of these last three years.

I’m packing and Hook is dead and I don’t understand, I don’t understand why things are this way and screaming out, I DON’T UNDERSTAND, does not magically help me to understand.  I cry for leaving but I cannot stay.  I must do this.  I don’t understand except that I must do exactly what I am doing next.

Thank goodness for the chairs.

~   ~   ~

There is a small, black storage bin I’ve been avoiding because it contains every letter and card, each sweet note Hook ever wrote to me from the time we dated until our 4th wedding anniversary, three months before he died.  It was not unusual, especially for birthdays, for him to draw naughty cartoons on the envelopes, the female characters with Barbie boobs and enormous nursing nipples.

Most people wouldn’t have known, but Hook was a master at choosing mushy cards. Usually, they were poetic and handmade, developed out of recycled paper, sold in one of the many trendy shops in the SoCo area of south Austin. He put as much effort into card selection as he had with his copious research notes, which is to say, I now have some wonderful paper treasures.  But in the black bin, there is also a series of four handwritten letters from Hook, mailed to me during his last summer in Trinidad.  I both love and loathe those posts because shared throughout them are health symptoms he was having that I now know were indicators of his illness.

HDU_Timeline

CLICK TO MAKE LARGER: Insanity at its best. Until this week, I hadn’t added Hook’s date of death.

When I rediscovered the letters in my last move, I began to create a timeline, a list of dates I’ve since spent over 10,088 minutes or 168 hours or 27 days researching and verifying as though managing the wildness of this hindsight would somehow alter the past.

I haven’t looked in that plastic bin for over a year, but it’s not the only thing that could cause me to fall down on bended knees in our master bedroom, my face wet with tears and snot, crying so hard I finally lay down on the Berber carpet, eventually falling asleep as I whimper myself out.  I slept in that position long enough for Gatita to walk in and find a curve in my S-shaped body which she snuggled into so we could snooze together.

But it’s not all boogers and grief.  I can brag now about how organized my office files are because I’ve gone through every single piece of paper that has ever affected my or Hook’s life, dumping out three recycling bins worth.  I’ve also been able to let go of Hook’s garage bins more easily. Gone now is most of his swimming and camping equipment.  Even his hockey gear found a new home as did his lawnmower.

What feels odd are the attachments I’ve formed to things I rarely paid attention to like his science books, especially the ones written by his mentoring professor, Howard Evans.  Those books did interest me years ago, but Hook wasn’t keen on me touching them. (He never actually said anything but I knew “the look” — the one that let me know he obviously did not have to share a lot as a kid, or he did and he didn’t like it.)  Of course, now I say out loud: Look how I’m touching the books, Honey!  Touch-touch-touch, getting my grubby peasant fingers all over them! 

Two weeks after Allan passed away, I attended a grief group close to the crack house.  One of the handouts, with prompts answered by me from that lone meeting, fell out of a book on my shelf during this packing:

  • Here is how I feel:  Like shit
  • I remember how you used to do this during holidays:  Make curly Qs
  • Here’s what I wish I could give you:  A day full of laughter

It was that last prompt that led to sleeping on the carpet in my bedroom; because I could hear it.  I could hear in my mind, his deep-throated laugh which sounded like he pulled air from his diaphragm. That unique Hook sound always touched some part of a laugh bubbling inside me, causing my own cackle to be even harder.

When I awoke two hours later, I rubbed my cheek to massage out the indentation formed from sleeping on the edge of one of the thick books that I must have pulled from the bottom shelf to use as a pillow.  I unfolded myself as I stood up, looked at the cat still curled into a ball and said, “Okay, nap time is over.”  I returned to organizing and packing, sometimes dry-eyed, sometimes not.  The Selective Service papers I kept; the grief prompts I threw away.  All of his words, and paperwork from his childhood, I placed back into the Allan folders and re-packed them away.

Tenants and the Road Trip

After a ridiculous amount of foot traffic into the Hook House, I have signed tenants without children but tenants with pets.  Before you scrunch up your faces, remember that you can require pet deposits but not child deposits.  As any honest parent will share, children are incredibly wonderful and unbelievably destructive with their cherub faces and sticky, mark-up-the-wall fingers.  But of course, one cannot discriminate based on whatever. Still, I managed to keep at bay a trio of testosterone-driven, sperm-on-the-wall party men who would surely have had more sex in this house in one year than in all its fourteen.

My movers arrive August 10th to transfer all of my belongings into storage.  I walk the new tenants through the house in the late afternoon of the 13th. Then, I get into the Jeep and drive to Dallas for the night.  An overnight in Dallas makes for only a five-hour drive to Little Rock, Arkansas – my first stop to visit with an old friend.

A temporary home for Gatita is still pending.  I can leave the Hook House, but I cannot leave the cat without a loving home, be that with someone else or riding along in the Jeep with me. If you happen to be that someone interested in hosting a non-litter box using, rabies free, spayed, 11-year old persnickety cat, and if you have no pets of your own (she doesn’t like other pets), then I’ll pay you $100/month to host her:

~   ~   ~

The German philosopher Nietzsche said that what makes us heroic is going out to meet our highest suffering and our highest hope.

As a society, we tend to turn away from grief.  We don’t always understand that there is a richness to be found if we’re willing to embrace and feel and live our experiences fully – the good as well as the grotesque.  Even my horror-scope this month said to grapple with my deepest pain, to be both healed and motivated by it.  

I don’t need a road trip to do that.  It’s just the means that I’ve chosen.

Fourteen days.  Until then I do what I must to say good-bye.

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Processing the Sabbatical

Deep Eddy in the 1920s.

Three great things happened to me yesterday. The first was getting a swim lane to myself when I showed up at Deep Eddy, the oldest swimming pool in Austin, where frigid water temperatures begin at 65 degrees.  Me and bunch of other die hard swimmers lined up with our caps and goggles at 7:55 AM waiting for a half-naked Millennial to unlock the gates.  At Deep Eddy, you’re lucky if you don’t have to share a lane with two or three other people “circle-swimming.”  The shock of the water’s temperature nearly crushed my elation but my pre-menopausal hot feet loved it.

The second present was the call from my CPA.  Although I’d filed an extension which I inadvertently wrote on my calendar as, File Tax Evasion, and transferred a hefty number of dollars from my sad little widow’s account to the big ‘ol mean Internal Revenue Service, I still held up both hands with fingers crossed that my April 15th payment would be enough to satisfy the sadistic revenue bastards at the I.R.S.  When my CPA’s telephone number popped up, I immediately furrowed my brow and tightened my lips in the same way I might if I found myself in public realizing a bowel movement was imminent.  When I heard him say, “refund,” I gasped in disbelief then relief and wondered if I should go buy a lottery ticket.

The third surprise was the free soda at the movie theater.  Considering that one needs to take out a second mortgage to spend an evening at the movies, my joy was not out of place.  Except, to the teenager behind the bullet proof glass with an air hole at the bottom plenty big enough to fit a gun if someone really wanted to shoot him, my excitement may have seemed amusing.  I explained to him and his equally young co-worker about the swim lane and the CPA (because they would of course understand as they make minimum wage) and don’t you know that they suggested a lotto ticket.  But the Texas-sized soda was a wonderful end to an okay day that was trying very hard to impress me.

Troll

Rosemary troll is cute but she’s awfully annoying.

I tell you all of this because last week as I was running the Town Lake trail, the troll in my head said, I think I’m depressed.

After mile two when the head troll returned with the same thought, I screamed out loud, “Depressed people do not get up at 6 a.m. and run four miles! You are not depressed!”

Only two strangers heard me yell at myself.

It took some time to understand my melancholy.  This leaving for a sabbatical, it’s a process of regret.  There are stages I go through, have gone through, and will probably always go through as I say good-bye to one thing in anticipation of another.  And I struggle with this choice not only for the leaving but because I am still comparing this sabbatical to what the “great Australian adventure” was supposed to have been. It’s an emotional flagellation of sorts with letting go and letting go and then letting go some more.  But my marriage saw me graduate from the desire to travel solo to the desire to travel with someone, an independent someone — Allan. Acknowledging the irony of my situation did not help but it was a good reminder to turn towards people rather than away during my journey, including the part of this adventure which is now.

The Rolling Stones Again

I remember meeting three women at a youth hostel in Amsterdam when I’d checked into a backpacker-friendly lodge in 1994.  We were all in our 20s and as one of the women and I got to talking, she confessed that her friends bickered non-stop and were about ready to poke each other’s eyes out.  Although they’d planned to travel together for two months, none of them had thought to consider that being with another human 24×7 is not only unhealthy, it’s unnatural.  She told me how lucky I was to be traveling alone while I was thinking how lucky she was to have friends to share the experience.  I’d already navigated my way through four Western European countries by that time, butchering the language of each.  Chatting in my native tongue with a fellow American had me believing I should have planned my travel with someone.

It’s not uncommon to want the opposite of what we have, assuming that something different will make it all better, when usually what we have can be made to be fine or at least altered to fit us.  But sometimes what we want one day doesn’t fit the next. We have to know ourselves enough to know what our core needs then shift as our wants change.

I cannot hop into the Jeep with another person and drive cross-country through the U.S. If I did that, the next time you saw me would be on a t.v. screen with my arms shielding my face and a caption reading, Woman Stabs Road Trip Companion for Breathing Too Loud. It’s also why Gatita cannot travel with me.  After hour seven of her incessant crying, I would slam on the brakes in Texarkana and scream, “Get out!” as I crossed over the state line.  (Don’t worry – I think found her a home for the year.)

So as I’m figuring things out, I’m learning that it’s not same-o, same-o and how idiotic of me to have thought so.  But now that I’ve had this revelation, I can almost see Hook shaking his head as he stands at the kitchen counter rolling an American Spirit cigarette, his deep voice saying, “It’ll all be okay, babe.”  And I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away I might travel, I will never be without him.

Sabbatical Update

WHAT:  Shhh about Gatita as I work my magic on her unsuspecting (and not 100% confirmed) temporary owner who, as far as I know, does not read this blog.  They’ve met, he brushed her, she lifted her backside. I call that love. The only downside to Gatita is she’s close to 65 in cat years which is sort of like inviting a post-menopausal female with wickedly sharp claws into your home.  But again, shhhh.

HOW:  Although I’d put off calling the realtor until the second week of June, the house is officially available to lease.  That I have not cracked open even one packing box no longer worries me. I now know that my slow poke ways weren’t because I hate packing like any normal person but because I feel like I’m leaving Allan behind.  So all of my years of waiting for us to leave this house permanently now have me resistant to moving.  Poetic justice or poetic grief?  I’m thinking poetic packing.

Shark attacks in 2015: I will not be going in the water while in the Carolinas.

WHEN: A departure of July 15th is iffier every day but if a tenant takes the house by then, I will be on the road as planned.  The Jeep has four new tires and a recent tune-up, and it’s been shampooed and vacuumed inside.  When the detailer told me, “Don’t get upset if some of the coffee stains resurface,” I laughed, explaining that his team’s wash was the first time the inside of the Jeep had been touched by soap and water in fourteen years.  Oh, I’m also a new premier member of Triple A and they’ll drive 200 miles to change my tire or tow me away and save me from Deliverance.

WHERE:   I haven’t really thought much about the where on the long stretch of islands known as the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  But the other day, an artist neighbor I’d recently met shared that she and her husband would be heading out to Kitty Hawk on the stretch in the middle of July.  We agreed to connect if our travel time there crosses over, and I’m sure I’d be a welcomed third wheel after their month-long togetherness on the road.

~   ~   ~

I never should have written that I’d blog, weekly on Mondays. That was the crack talking.  It’ll be Thursdays and I’ll try for every other week until I hit the Outer Banks.

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Vices in Week Two

HDU_LitLast Saturday, I created a dinner out of organic peanut butter, leftover chipotle sauce, and two scoops of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream that had been forgotten in the back of the freezer in a decaying container.  As a dessert, I added a freshly peeled carrot – a real carrot and not one of those tasteless baby carrots that dry out within an hour and start to whiten with what looks like toe jam.  If you’re wondering, the assembly food line looked like this:  Scoop the peanut butter, pour on some of the sauce, dip both into the ice cream, lick the spoon dry then bite the carrot.  Fresh carrots have that slight, earthy taste which balanced out the processed sugar I was shoveling into my mouth.  The limited protein reflected my refusal to hop into the Jeep and drive 1.5 miles to the grocery store.  That would have required a shower or at the very least, contact lenses in the eyes instead of my outdated, see-into-the-future glasses.  I was much too busy dreading my still unfinished taxes by tending to my vices of which the over-consumption of sugar is only oHDU_booksne.

My second vice is actually only a vice when I give into it on a non-stop, 24-hour, no showering or brushing my teeth basis. (Always, personal hygiene is the first to go.) Because I’m trying to up my writing game, I’ve checked out from the library books in twos and threes.  Telling myself that I have to read is like telling myself that I have to eat Godiva milk chocolate salted caramel bars. There is a danger with both, because I don’t read and I don’t eat — I inhale — and if I’m in procrastination mode, I run the risk of either overdosing on words or passing out from a sugar coma.  That both would find me in the same state — laying on the sofa, mouth open, dribble flowing and the cat perched on my chest causing me to gasp for air while trying to sleep — shows my consistency in all matters vice.

To avoid my taxes which I finally dropped off to the CPA yesterday morning which is why this Monday afternoon blog is posted HDU_taxpaperworkon a Wednesday evening, I checked out five books from the library while putting two more on “Hold.”  I started out with respected memoirist, Mary Karr, and two of her triology memoirs, The Liars’ Club and Lit, switching over to (some say) the 21st Century’s great American novelist, Jonathan Franzen, and his novels, The Corrections and Freedom.  Franzen once snubbed Oprah unintentionally-on-purpose saying her book club wasn’t where you’d find his readers, the literary elite. I’d inadvertently checked out his book in LARGE print so that it felt as though HE WAS YELLING AT ME THE ENTIRE TIME I was reading which, if he was snubbing Oprah, this self-proclaimed “unashamed elitist” probably was.  My literary jury is still out on Franzen but I’m sure he’ll still sleep soundly at night.

It was Karr’s writing that Gatita and I curled up with.  Her writing pulls you in like a child’s hand reaching for yours during the scary parts of a movie, leading you through the icky parts of her memories so you’re not overwhelmed when she does share.  You can hear her small, east Texas girl’s voice as she writes, “My nickname was blister tits,” or “My daddy’s Pete Karr.”  How do you read the words “my daddy” without automatically hearing a dialect from the south?

On any given day before I would give in to Mary Karr on the sofa, I’d exhaust myself through exercise so much so that I dreamt about three roaches in my house-in-the-dream.  Cockroaches in a dream symbolize being fed up with ourselves, annoyed at our own stalling of whatever it is that we’re putting off.  I had walked by that table full of tax paperwork for so long that I’d taken to running or swimming or walking five to six days a week in avoidance, sometimes occupying myself with two forms of cardio in the same day!  And I’d be 10 pounds lighter if it weren’t for the processed sugar. But you know, now that I’ve dropped off the paperwork, I congratulate myself on being two whole months earlier than I was this time last year.  So yes, I did drink a margarita today and I was damn proud when I did it and my daddy’s name is Lou!

The Writing Projects

What was originally written in memoir form might become fiction but the title probably will not change.  Without Flag (WF) is about an American Hispanic woman who leaves her home in the United States to live and travel throughout Mexico so she can learn Spanish and maybe even a little about how to embrace her Mexican ancestry.  Instead what she discovers is how to accept her Mid-western, American roots.

Is that the story I start with or is it Down Under (DU), currently written as fiction with Daniel and Ava as the lead characters whose lives are turned upside down by tragedy. The obvious autobiographical tones cannot be ignored except the story begins with five young adults standing in Waterman’s Bay in Perth, Western Australia, facing the Indian Ocean.  One is reading a poem while another is holding a canister of ashes, Ava’s ashes, and the rest of the troop are wondering what it all means … while I wonder in real life how the story will turn out.

I know I will not begin with the how to, career book, The Mystery Behind The Masters (MBM), targeted at back-to-school professionals and which already has an unreadable first draft to it.  It’s still a worthy write but not this year and maybe not next year either.  The sabbatical will definitely not start with Noisy Neighbors (NN), a fictional comedy about Hank and Lucy and the wacked-out, eclectic neighborhood they moved into.  Because Hank has difficulty remembering people’s names, Lucy dubs each of the houses by their owner’s personalities.  In NN, you meet the young couple, the gay guys, the single lady, the weirdos in the green house, the surveillance freaks, penis boy’s mom and dad, and of course the noisy neighbors.  NN is both comedy and drama because these neighbors are actually connected by more than just their zip code only they don’t know it.

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Gatita in the front cactic bed of the Hook House. Apparently, I’m not scratching her enough so she’s taken matters into her own face.

Even though With Love, Big Lou (WLBL) isn’t on the short list, I can’t help jotting notes into the biographical WLBL files as memories spill out about my father and a series of letters he wrote to me over three decades.  Nor is 30 Days in The Jungle (30 Days) on any list except my hard drive one, about my online dating experience prior to Hook when I dated 12 men in 30 days and tiered the dates based on where I was in my 30-day menstrual cycle — the jungle.

Are these short stories, essays, books, or novels?

It’ll be interesting to see how and when each of these writings reveal itself.  Oh, and I almost forgot the last writing project titled, How I Survived in the Austin Wilderness After My Sucky Owner Deserted Me.  I could never desert her so you — whoever you are that is reading this post — you call me, okay, and say you’d loved to take my cat for a year.  Like Hook, she urinates outside.  Unlike Hook, she also defecates out there relieving me or anyone else of the litter box hassle.  (Actually, I can’t say Hook never defecated outside.  Let’s just say there is a hand-held spade in the garage that I never touch.)

My goal before July 15th is to choose only one of the stories above, to accept that as my calling and to resist “should” or “need to” or “must” and devote all of my energy and carrot-eating ways to writing that story.

“… someday if my life flashes in front of my eyes, it will at least hold my interest.” – Gregg Levoy, Vital Signs

Until next Monday …

Rosemary

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Artists in Week One

HDU_bobnewhartStand-up comedian, Jen Kirkman, quipped when describing her wedding day which she said is supposed to be the best party of your life,

“There’s no party that begins with church.”

And there is no sabbatical that begins with filing taxes and writing a check to the Internal Revenue Service but that is where I am today.  In my Pre Sabbatical time after I write in the mornings, I sift through paperwork and drop figures into a tax organizer for my CPA. But once I get on the open roads next month, neither the I.R.S. nor the Texas jury summons I responded to online will be given my attention.

The first morning of my first day, I did not wake up at my normal 5:30am but at 10:30am (noisy neighbors).  I didn’t let a few hours lateness take me off course, though.  I rushed downstairs, flipped on the coffee pot and sat my butt in the writing chair which for now is not my writing office but the dining room table.  For the briefest second after opening the laptop, a bolt of fear hit and I said out loud, “Oh shit,” as in Oh shit, what did I get myself into.  Why did I have to tell the entire world that I was going to write a novel? But I didn’t say novel. Did I say novel? I don’t think I said novel. Who writes a novel in a year? WTF was I thinking?  

But that was only one-half second, maybe a full one, then I laughed and I started writing.  It’s so much fun to be insane!

Bob Newhart

PBS aired a program, Stand-up to Sitcom, about comedians who successfully transitioned to television from the stage — Newhart, Burnett, Barr, Seinfeld, etc.  Bob Newhart was an accountant before he became a comedian. Those familiar with his stammering style of delivery can picture him in a starched white shirt and office suit and tie. While tabulating figures and processing endless rows of numbers, Newhart scribbled out comedy bits at his desk throughout the day.  In the evenings, he frequented clubs that would allow someone dry like him to stand and tell jokes. He was the most unlikely of comedians so that when he quit his accountant job to pursue comedy full-time, everyone including himself, thought he was crazy.  The hardest lesson Newhart said he learned was how to become a comedian as he was being a comedian.

That’s where I am. I’ve no illusions about my writing.  Well some. I can definitely picture Oprah interviewing me on a maroon velvet sofa while I say how I really got started. Like Newhart, I have to learn what I do not already know with grammar, prose, basic editing.  I will be learning to write as I write.

It’s no secret that writers expand their craft and vocabulary by becoming not voracious writers but insatiable readers.  As I mentally pack my two suitcases for my writing road-trip, I can share that the contents will look like this:  One suitcase will be full of clean undergarments and a selection of clothes not falling apart.  The other will be filled with books and maybe even one of Bob Newhart’s for inspiration.

The Rolling Stones

I had two wonderful writing professors when I was completing my graduate work.  The first guided me in the art of free-style writing where you sit and let the words flow out, not worrying how they sound or whether they make any sense. (Apparently, I’ve mastered this.)  The time for editing comes later she always said.  The second professor was much more in love with the perfect prose and never held back on her critiques.  She was the kind of mentor any struggling writer needed to develop a style.  When my sentences didn’t make sense or inanimate objects performed action in my stories, a great deal of red marks showed up in my manuscripts.  Her favorite phrase:  “Show me, don’t tell me.”

The writing project I completed for the second professor ended up being more than a 52,000 word essay, but it took me 30,000 words before I found my writing voice.  My final manuscript was good enough as a thesis, but for consideration by a literary agent, it needed to be re-framed.  Even though I knew this, I still stalked writing agents at a conference in 2012. One asked to see my first fifty pages and after I sent off that manuscript, I received a pleasant, “I like it but I can’t sell it.”

I would have believed the agent more if she had said, It needs work, as it so obviously did.  I realized my own truth when a month after the agent’s initial rejection, I received an email from her that began, “Dear Rosemary …”  The email went on to read that she and her literary house wanted to publish my work titled – [something not mine]. The entire time I was reading the email, my heart was pounding fast but not with excitement as one might expect.  I wasn’t saying Yes! Yes! Yes! in my head.  My heart was pounding No! It’s not ready. It’s not good enough. It still needs so much work.  And I was right because the agent wasn’t talking about my manuscript but someone else’s, and the attached contract wasn’t for me but for another Rosemary.

The color red filled up my cheeks from embarrassment but not the humiliation that comes from thinking you were picked for a team then they decided to choose the other guy.  I was shy about my own work and I hadn’t realized how deeply until that moment.  The problem was, I didn’t know how to fix the manuscript, how to do a full overhaul, how to build a whole new framework.  I’m not even sure I know how to do this today.  What I do know is how to go about trying, who to contact to figure this out, and I feel oh so much more comfortable admitting that I don’t know what I don’t know.

After the sad second rejection from that literary agent, I put that writing pile aside.  I did email a few more anemic requests to other agents and when they did not respond, I shrugged my shoulders with indifference.  Over time, I surrounded my writer’s pile on the desk until I almost couldn’t find the original manuscript when I walked into my writing room. All of this, of course, was happening simultaneously with Hook’s diagnosis.  After a few months of dribbling words on the laptop screen in that old manuscript, I gave up.  I gave up not because Allan was sick but because it was a great excuse to say, “I have writer’s block,” when really I meant, I have writer’s fear.  

I turned inward to the only consistent, writing outlet I had, which happened to be a blog — this blog.  This was a safe platform to dump a truckload of emotions, to share pieces of a world that made less and less sense, and to write and write and write. It wasn’t manuscript writing, but it was the lifeline that I needed at the time.

I vaguely remember a song playing at Hook’s memorial, The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.  I’m not sure why he mentioned it during our awkward “which songs would you like played at your memorial” conversation. Whether it was for him or for me or for both of us no longer matters, because yes, we get what we need.  Sometimes what we need comes in the oddest forms and timelines and when it reaches us finally, we have to answer that calling, we have to answer our truth.

Pre Sabbatical Update

What I really wanted to share were some of my writing projects — what they’re about, how far along they are.  But, I am determined — Determined! — to reduce the number of words per blog post.   Here instead is a quick and fast sabbatical update:

  • WHEN:  Pre sabbatical now; Road sabbatical July 15th.
  • WHERE:  Expect first landing spot to be the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
  • WHAT:  There is someone out there who has no pets but likes cats.  You know you want to call me.  Call me!
  • HOW:  Note to self:  Call the damn realtor.

Until next Monday …

Rosemary

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Pre Sabbatical

WBR_SabbaticalI’m still trying to figure out how to write a blog post that doesn’t involve 3,000 words or 30 hours.   I’ve decided to post weekly from now on even though I know that what I write in Week 1 might not be true by Week 4.  Like, how my sabbatical landing spot will probably begin on the east coast of the United States instead of the west coast.

With all this planning, my emotions are jacked-up so that it feels like I’m swaying on a pendulum with ecstatic and absolute on a Monday that could swing over to doubt and insecurity by a Friday.  I remind myself that this vacillating uncertainly is nothing like the god-awful unknown of 2013.  No, this is good unknown, uncovering the unknown and when the tiny Rosemary troll on my shoulder tries to mutter, But what will people think? Or worse, What if you fail? I easily shrug her off with: People aren’t thinking about me because they have enough to think about in their own lives.  And the failure?  Not possible because just doing the sabbatical in the first place makes it a success.

That’s the absolute truth.

We hold back on so many choices sometimes wondering how it will look to the outside world.  But who is this outside world that we’re concerned about?  It’s not our family, they love us.  It’s not our friends, they’d support us however and wherever we needed. And if we did happen to fall flat on our faces, those same family and friends will be right there to help us stand up.  The people we’re worried about are the ones we don’t even like, the ones we don’t even respect.  In our lives, they are non-essentials and so what if they’d like to see us fail and fail miserably.  Theirs are not the voices that the universe will hear at least not when it comes to us.  When a person trusts what the universe is offering and they heed this instinct, the communication between that individual and the universe becomes clear.  We just have to listen and respond and slap back any trolls when necessary.

I’m in pre-sabbatical mode right now which I’ll explain in a moment. Sabbaticals in general are meant to be a time of rest and relaxation except when I’m writing there is usually little rest and relaxation. On my sabbatical there will probably be a lot of running and swimming and fretting and yelling at the laptop – That sounds like crap or For God sakes, use a comma already.  Sabbatical time for me means space – on the calendar, in my mind, where I live. It’s for focusing on only one writing project at a time instead of trying to edit multiple projects simultaneously. It’s a time when I sit my butt in the chair and resist texting friends asking if they want to meet for happy hour so I can escape the house and the white screen.

During pre-sabbatical, I must figure out:

WHEN does my sabbatical begin?  If you call my voicemail or send me an email, the message says I begin a sabbatical June 1st 2015 because today is when writing becomes the priority again on the calendar. That means no clients, no client meetings, no client-related business of any kind, and no business networking events.  The only social events are those related to writing or editing or publishing or how can I improve my writing, editing, storytelling and on and on and on.  This is how strict I have to be with myself, because I can easily fill up a week with breakfasts, coffee chats, lunches, happy hours, dinners and never write a word in between. But I will still be in Austin for June tying up loose ends until a firm departure date is set for mid-July. In the meantime, I will blog weekly with the goal of less words per post.

– WHERE will my sabbatical begin?  With previous sabbaticals (Europe, 1994) and (Mexico, 2004), my primary focus was about exploring other countries or immersing myself in those cultures. This current sabbatical is about absorbing my writing but with a different vista than my current one. Some folks have asked why I’m going anywhere at all, why not stay in Austin. And I could except I desire a change to my physical environment – not permanently – but for this writing year.  Even though I’m calling this my writing sabbatical, it is also a time for centering my energy and healing my heart and saying good-bye and good-bye and good-bye.  It’s about growth and learning and maybe a couple of visits to U.S. landmarks. And because I do my best writing near water (recent torrential rains in Austin aside), nearness to the ocean is essential, and someplace not overrun with tourists which is why San Diego got knocked off the starting list. I had a recommendation for the Outer Banks in North Carolina and am seriously considering this now as the kick-off place.  I do know that for the month of October, I will be in New York to have coffee with Hillary in Brooklyn then I’ll be attending a writing conference in Greenwich Village. (Do you believe me about the Hillary thing?)

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A twofie of us. You can’t see it in this photo but Gatita has beautiful blue, eyes — cross-eyed.

– WHAT do I do with Gatita?  My cat is needy, she wants to eat all the time, and she cries for no apparent reason. She’s exactly like me. Gatita is what I hauled back to Texas from my time in Mexico, her and her little kitty passport with her scrunched up feline face. I’ve thought about taking her on the road with me in the Jeep, but there’s a strong possibility that a month-long portion of my sabbatical time will include a return to Mexico for research on one of my stories. Mexico may have let Gatita out, but I do not think they would let her back in.  Plus, as vivid as my imagination can be, I cannot visualize her hind legs stretched tall while her front paws are latched onto a rolled down window, her cat face gloriously blowing in the wind.  I could picture that if a horrifying wail were emanating from her mouth at the same time.  If you know of anyone who would enjoy loving on a bilingual Siamese who understands “No” in both languages, please holla.

– HOW do I manage the Hook House?  This one I’ve almost figured out. The thought of packing and moving again, even temporarily, makes me want to curl up on the sofa into a fetal position and binge on Netflix. I could lease the house furnished but then I’d have to toss everything when I returned because I cannot do someone else’s cooties.  But the cootie situation does not eliminate leasing a furnished house from the option list.  Whatever I decide will be fine. It’s the process of decision-making that causes acid to drip into my stomach and the fact that I always learn way too many lessons about leasing after instead of before. Maybe this time will be different; and, maybe my 20-year old metabolism will return.  I have until the end of this week to call the realtor.

In the beginning of this mental planning in late 2014, I kept thinking that Hook was perhaps frowning on what I wanted to do.  It would have been so unlike him to embark on a sabbatical without knowing exactly what he would accomplish and with whom and how it would all turn out.  But when I allow myself to trust my own instinct instead of worrying what might have been his, I feel a warmth, a reassurance of sorts deep in my chest. That’s him. That is him letting me know that whatever I decide, he’s perfectly okay with it.  And, if I’m to continue being honest, I’ve been waiting.  I hadn’t realized for what but now I know.  I’ve been waiting for the tears to dry up, waiting until the hopelessness went away, waiting until I felt comfortable with removing my wedding rings completely.  I didn’t even feel bad or sad or much of anything when I took the rings off to tuck away in their original bronze-colored boxes.  After I placed my bands next to Hook’s, I kissed each one and thanked Allan for understanding.

One last thing before I close. When Oprah Winfrey was interviewed at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 2014, she shared an hour’s worth of wise nuggets about career and life.  One piece of counsel stuck with me, and it applies to how I painstakingly chose to finally grant myself this sabbatical and knew with complete certainty that this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

Oprah said, “Listen to what feels like the truth for you.”    

I am learning to listen and to heed my truth, and I want so much for you to listen to yours, too.

Until next Monday …

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Everything Happens for a Reason

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This was me being silly in class.

Two nights ago, I finished a three-week painting class in Austin. Actually, I’m not sure my work can be considered painting as much as wild stroking of a brush.

Will you keep painting, our instructor asked each night as she walked back and forth in front of our easels, the ones we stood behind as we sprinkled water on our blank pads and smoothed over the page with rounded mop brushes to prepare the paper to accept paint. I led with my right hand then switched back and forth between left and right.  I’d painted this way once before, a year ago, so I wasn’t surprised to find equal comfort using my left to water down the thick watercolor paper.

Watercolors.  I didn’t realize it was a watercolor and book-binding class.  I’d read the course description, in fact read it out loud. After I received an art list of supplies from the Dougherty Arts School on what I needed to purchase prior to the first class, my memory still blanked about the content of the class.  I showed up that first night with my brown bag full of watercolor paints and brushes and charcoal pencils and an odd assortment of other materials.

I wondered out loud, “Will we be drawing a nude?”

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Cover of the art book I made in class. Double-click to see full sized. Rosemary Hook, Dougherty Arts School, 2015.

The instructor was a young creative – a hippie I think – who taught art for a living and played the saxophone for fun.  She agreed how cool drawing nudes could be and I didn’t let on that I just wanted to see a naked body especially if I didn’t have to touch it.

Someone said recently, You have to start dating.  Actually, no I don’t.  It’s not a law of the United States or even of the Widow handbook.  I do applaud those widows, though, who have fallen in love again.  For now, anyone other than Hook appears insufficient and lacking somehow or at least that’s how I explained it to a friend of Hook’s.  But I’m not sad or wanting in any way.  Well, maybe a little but it’s not the held-back-from-living that it was this time last year.  I wrote to that same Hook friend that it felt odd to say out loud that Allan has been gone for over a year and a half.  That’s like no time at all.  I know he’s not coming home but the memories still hang around and unlike divorce, you’re not at all interested in falling out of love with the person who is gone.

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Rosemary Hook, Dougherty Arts School, Austin, Texas: 2015

But we do need love in our lives and I thought to do this by bringing more color into mine and this was how I signed up accidentally-on purpose for a watercolor class.  Now that it’s over, I am declaring that my painting is not horrible.  I mean, I don’t think anyone’s going to call me on the phone and offer to host an exhibit but I learned that 1) I paint in the abstract and 2) my abstracts are less awful than when I originally painted them.

What does it mean that I would paint what I would not normally gravitate towards in an art gallery?  Analyze that one for awhile.

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Rosemary Hook, Dougherty Arts School, Austin, Texas: 2015

I like to see people and structure and bold colors in artwork.  In fact, I’ve never purchased original artwork that doesn’t have one or all of those aspects in it.  It was difficult to resist a glop of deep cobalt blue on starch white and instead apply a watered down version of that vibrant azul.

You don’t have to be afraid of using more water, the instructor liked to say as she shared how she took a watercolor course by accident-on-purpose, too.  She needed a final class for her undergraduate work and a watercolor class was the only one still open.  She had begrudged the time on her academic calendar until she fell in love with the paints and now here she is more than ten years later teaching watercolor painting.

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Rosemary Hook, Dougherty Arts School, Austin, Texas: 2015

The second part of the class and the tangible goal was to bind a book from the art we created.  Our instructor kept reassuring us how great our bound paintings would look which was hard to imagine as we splashed water and color and sometimes salt onto 22 x 30 watercolor pads while occasionally drawing an outline before applying paint to paper.  I could not see how anything I was creating would be worthwhile to keep especially compared to the delicate works of my classmates.  But after we painted pages and pages and created a collage from cut outs, we trimmed down those same sheets into book size dimensions and well, now I could see.  I could see how focusing on a small piece of the full creation highlighted its beauty.

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A real Pepsis thisbe, tarantula hawk wasp, can be found at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve in Austin, Texas. Had I painted her, you would see her red satin wings and soft black underbelly.

I will not be teaching a painting class to anyone – in the universe – ever.  No amount of margaritas could ever trick me into believing otherwise.  Although, maybe if we had had margaritas in class more of my Jackson Pollock would have emerged instead of a sketched, mutated Pepsis thisbe which began as a homework assignment then turned into me inventing a story to explain why this tarantula hawk was stylishly disfigured.  In the children’s story in my head, Pepsis thisbe had two winged friends:  Glenostictia pictifrons (Glenda for short) and Sceliphron caementarium (Cammie in the story).  They all have female names because they are all female wasps.  I’ve not passed into science nerd-dum but my teacher in this subject matter exited the world so I’m left making up stories about Pepsis, Glenda, and Cammie and their two mantis friends, Hook and Rosemary.  They all, of course, live at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve where humans occasionally visit.

Oh yes, I could go on and on.

But that’s how creativity of any kind works.  You can start out in one channel and end up in another. As an untrained painter, I was excited about what I produced in my classes.  I thought about framing and hanging some of the pieces in the bathrooms of the Hook House and only mentioning them to visitors with a casual, Look at this from an unknown artist, what do you think?  But there would be no reason for me to be in the bathroom with someone so that wasn’t such a great idea.  Nonetheless, this artwork in its amateur form represents a time in my life in a way even words have not been able to do.

The instructor had a unique way of deconstructing our work for us.  She invited us to see our paintings from her angle – pointing out our distinct strokes and what she saw as our artistic style.  She’d softly offer suggestions for alternative brushes or how we might continue to add other colors over time to these pieces if we wanted a different outcome.  Did I want a different outcome?  Yes, but in more than just my painting.

Someone said recently without meaning harm, “Oh so it wasn’t recent,” in reference to the length of time that Hook has been gone.  I have to remind myself that the rest of the world isn’t tuned into Hook’s absence at a level that I’d like them to be. Some of his friends and colleagues still are.  When I hear from them or receive a hello or his name is mentioned by anyone other than me, it’s like opening a small gift full of joyful tears. It’s not all Hook all day anymore but that doesn’t remove my secret desire to use a bullhorn to announce:   He died, yes, but he hasn’t disappeared forever!  At least not for me, never for me.

Everything Happens For a Reason …

WBR_baddecisionsI used to like this saying because it was accommodating, and because life often appeared more acceptable if one were willing to allow for this unexplainable wisdom.  Then the image on the right popped up on my Facebook feed.  After my stomach stopped hurting from all the laughing, I felt a What? creep into my brain.  It was an uncertain What that pokes and prods and uses a foot to open a door so that self-doubt can sneak inside.

My art instructor felt there was a reason she ended up with that watercolor class she never wanted. There is no reason that would make sense to me as to why Allan had to leave when he did, and my only true consolation comes from knowing he died having lived a full life. No regrets. No bucket list items still to be crossed off.  But the same is not true of me.  I have a one-item list that is prepared to haunt me if I do not act on it soon.  I don’t want to be one of those, I wish I would have people. And if everything happens for a reason, I’ll either be successful or unsuccessful and it won’t matter one bit because, well, everything happens for a reason. See, it’s accommodating.

Had I fled the state of Texas after Hook died, that would have qualified as a bad decision. Mourning doesn’t know logistics. Instead, I held onto a buoy in the middle of my life. I swam through the worst of grief while building my business back up and did my best to re-create a new home.  My progress was slow, true, but it was progress nonetheless.  I’ll even give myself a B+ for overall effort with weekly outbursts of, Today was an A day!  (I actually say this stuff, out loud, to myself when I’m alone.)  What I’m trying to explain is that I didn’t run away. I did not give up hope but mainly that was because I had no hope to give up. I did become slightly amazed at what I’d been able to produce writing-wise without discipline and through tears. I mention discipline because real writers write every single day or nearly every day. It is their life, and it prompted me to ask myself what could happen if I actually committed to this craft daily.

So I signed up for a NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – where each sadistic writer agrees to pen about 2,000 words a day and/or at least 50,000 words in a month. I never wished I was on crack more than in the month of November last year.  Although I didn’t need to start another new novel, I did and for the sole purpose of proving that if I cleared my calendar and physically left my home office that I could sit in a chair every single day without wireless access and with no other purpose than to write.  Could I do it?

Well yes I can.

I’m not Allan. I could never be him. I don’t wear plaid. But I’m so (glad? relieved?) that he was wholly satisfied with what he’d accomplished in his life before he left it. As I continue to strive to live in my now, I’m ready to say out loud what journey is next for me — a year-long writing sabbatical.  The questioning What? bubble was meant to test whether self-doubt would mar my choice as being one of a “bad decision.” This is the writing sabbatical I never took with Allan.  It is time.  It is time for a year of focus and carefree creating in whatever direction my right hand leads me.  I must answer for myself whether I have the discipline to finish a novel.

That I will publish something before I die is a given assuming I do not die next week. Even if the world falls into chaos, I will at least finish a book. But it is one of my in-the-works novels that my heart and my mind want to jump into first. I’d been holding back rationalizing that I needed to be focused on a non-fiction book first.  I stalled, because when I’m not working on what I really want to be working on, it’s drudgery to do anything else. Drudgery is what I put in the to-be-filed tax paperwork. I could spend another year stalling on both the novel and the book wondering how long the universe will keep trying to get through without any action on my part.  But I would have to be dead to ignore the communique.  Besides, since anything is possible, I could finish both a novel and a book!  If I produce nothing at all, it will not be because I was not disciplined. It will not be because I did not sit in the chair every, single day for hours and hours at a time to write and only write.

My soul is begging to create what it wants to create, to conceive what it feels drawn to conceive, and to be let loose to do what I’d meant to do back in 2012 before our world fell apart. Crying for a year and a half does not count as a sabbatical.  If everything doesn’t happen for a reason, then I plan to make one up with a splash of paint and pray to God that I don’t end up living down by the river in a van.

Details about the upcoming sabbatical in the next post!

xo

Rosemary

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