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I got back from Kiawah a week ago, but I’m only now getting
caught up in all the things I let slide while I was gone. The trip was fantastic and totally worth
it. I got more work done in a single
week than I have in nearly a year of writing.
I said it was going to be a week about volume, and it was.
Rob asked if I have been able to maintain some of the
momentum now that I’m back home, and I really wish I could say I have, but I
haven’t. At home, there are children and
dirty clothes and appointments and volunteer activities and grocery shopping
and essays to grade. Not that those are
bad things. It’s just that when you have
an entire week to yourself where writing is the only thing you are responsible
for, it’s a lot easier to get it down on paper.
But I’m still writing, still working on the book and getting
it down, even if only in tiny increments.
That’s just the reality of it. I
sometimes fantasize about living a writer’s life like I’ve read about. Carl Sandburg sitting in his Adirondack chair
and looking contemplatively out over the Blue Ridge Mountains as he penned his
poetry in a leather-bound journal.
William Faulkner working diligently, pipe in mouth, at his typewriter in
his lovely old silent and peaceful home.
But you know what’s glaringly absent from those daydreams of mine? An off-kilter washing machine beeping angrily
in the background, a constantly ringing phone, a dog scratching to be let out
and then let in again almost immediately, and most importantly, the laughter,
and sometimes screaming tears, of my two non-silent, non-peaceful
children. And while that does lend
itself well to writing lots and lots of pages, it sure does make for a less
So my productivity level has declined dramatically this past
week, but my absolute joy for living has not.
I met some friends for a run last Wednesday night, and I told them about
my trip and one of the most important things I took away from it.
In a strange turn of events, I ended up visiting an old
friend in a nursing home while I was away.
When I arrived, several of the residents, including my friend, were in
the middle of a community sing. There
were 13 old women and one old man seated in a circle in the common living area
with a younger woman leading the group in old songs they knew from their
youth. We sang things like “A Bicycle
Built for Two” and “Red River Valley” along with “America the Beautiful” and
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” after which everyone shouted, “God bless America!” It was a really beautiful experience, and I
thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly when we got to an old song called “You
Great, Big Beautiful Doll.” After we
finished, a tall, elegant looking lady spoke up even though the CD had gone on
with the next song. As the music played
in the background, she told a story about a time when, as a young woman, she
had been standing on a train or subway platform in Manhattan. She was all dressed up and just waiting when
the train pulled up and a young man standing on the bottom step handed her an
orange and said, “There you go, you big, beautiful doll.” She paused and smiled and then said, “That
was so much fun.” Everyone nodded and mumbled
in agreement. I took a long look around
that room. Every person in there had
once been young with dreams and expectations.
And many of them had lived a life full of good memories that come back
to them from time to time in the words of an old song or the images in an old
Later that night, as my housemates and I sat around talking
over wine and good food, the topic of artists and figure drawing came up. Somehow we ended up discussing nude modeling,
and I confessed that I had once wanted to have a nude painting or drawing done
of myself. Of course, I never did
it. Lois, who is 70, exclaimed, “Oh, I’d
love to have a painting like that of myself in my prime!” I told her I thought my prime had already
passed, but she assured me that it had most certainly not. “If I had a picture of myself at 40, I’d have
that framed and hang it over my couch in the living room,” she said, and I
believe she would. We all laughed at the
thought, but it really got me to thinking.
Some days, I feel pretty old and worn-out, but that trip to
the nursing home and my conversation with my friends at the beach made me
rethink this, and I realize that not only am I not old, I’m still very
young. And I need to act like it.
One of my running buddies, upon hearing this story, said,
“Are you just now figuring this out?”
I guess so. I mean,
I’m not one of these people who lament turning 40. Frankly, I think that’s stupid. I’m able to do more now than I did when I was
25, so I don’t have a lot of hang-ups about my approaching birthday. However, last week made me realize what a
funky rut I’ve gotten into lately. I am
in my prime. It’s one of the reasons I
run like I do. I don’t want to be someone
who sits around in my armchair and complains about how bad I feel all the
time. But in other ways, I’ve sort of
This isn’t some life-shaking revelation in that I don’t want
to run off and join the circus or anything.
I don’t even feel the need to dramatically change what I’ve got going on
right now. It’s more about attitude. This past week, I’ve quit putting off little
things that somehow had just gotten to be too much trouble. I painted… a lot…, I played more, I sat down
and read even if it wasn’t time for bed, I signed up for a couple of races, I
played outside, I dug in the dirt, I emailed people for fun and not because I
had to for work, I watched a movie, I tried a new recipe, and I took a new yoga
class. And somehow, miracle of miracles,
the laundry still got washed, the kids are both intact, and I finished all my
work. In fact, I think I might have been
more productive just because everything seemed like less of a drag—even
After writing an uncharacteristically bold email and hitting
Send without so much as a second thought, one of my friends said, “Boy, you
sure are feeling the joie de vivre, aren’t you?” Yes, I am.
And by the way, my email, which had heretofore been ignored, was
received very enthusiastically. Go
It’s all about attitude.
I’m only 39 years old. It’s not
nearly over, not by a long shot. There
is so much more good to come. And when
I’m old and hear a familiar string of notes, I want to be able to smile and
say, “That was so much fun.”