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Friday, January 27, 2012

A Morbid Little Blog

Once Upon a Time I was pretty sure I’d live forever and have all the time and energy in the world to write whatever I wanted.
Then time sped up. Decades passed in a blur. The rate of death around me rose from the rare, hideously tragic, premature death, to the more mundane sad but not entirely unexpected. Now I find myself able to discuss the relative merits of various funeral/memorial styles with aplomb, and have opinions on how I'd like my own "celebration" managed.
Which makes a woman start asking herself this: If it takes a year or two to write a book, and a year or so to find the right home for it, then a year or two for that home to kill all the necessary trees or whatever it is they do that takes them so long to get the damn thing printed... Well, she begins to wonder how many more of those cycles of waiting, and rejection, and waiting, and hope, and waiting, does she have left in her? How many more can she stand?
And she asks herself this, too: Remember that guy* with locked-in-syndrome who had to blink out his exquisite little novel The Diving Bell and the Butterfly?  letter by letter with his one good eye? 
Shouldn’t we, (and by “we” I mean “I”) concentrate on writing only the stories that are so dear and important to us that if we had to, we’d blink them out?

That leads to the other question: Which of my books would I have written if I’d had to blink them?

Laziness being as it is, I know I’d sooner eat whatever they served me in the home than blink even my menu selection. 
None the less, a new book must be started. Never mind that beginnings are not what they used to be. Never mind that if I swam, which I don't, I'd have to enter the pool from the ladder now, rather than the high board.

Never mind that I can no longer just jump in, tra-la-la, and start banging away at any old book. I can't pretend not to know how l-o-n-g and hard the process is. Can't trick myself into thinking it will be easy.

So, it has to be a book worthy of the countless future hours and months of straining to get it right, of the sore back and stiff fingers and furrowed brow, and eye strain. Worthy of self-inflicted misery, insecurity, pacing and re-writing and sleeplessness and self doubt. 

Because even if it’s not “blinking” it’s still blinking.  
And even if we're feeling fine, we never know which book will be our last.


*Jean-Dominique Bauby

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recycled Birthday!

(Dear Dears, can't write right now, so am running a b'day op-ed from the LA Times (with a few tiny edits) from last year. If you feel that's cheating, feel free to skip it and just send CASH!)
Every year about this time I start to squirm, watching my birthday lumber forth. I'm glad not to be dead. And even though my birthdays come way more often than they used to, and their numbers are surreal, I'm content to keep aging. That's not the problem.
The dilemma is what to do with the damn thing.
That is, after I've checked my newspaper horoscope, gleaning pertinent wisdom for the year ahead. Then, to my computer, where my b'day alert will have magically appeared on the screens of every one of my nine-hundred and forty-million close, personal Facebook friends. 

But the chore of pressing the refresh button and typing my heartfelt "Thanks!" over and over will only dispatch a fraction of the day. If I'd planned better, I might be able to eat my way across town gorging on free birthday meals, but I've neglected to sign up for any.
It's the puzzling birthday life cycle at work. 
As a little girl, when birthdays seemed eons apart, I'd recover from the disappointment of one less-than-magnificent birthday in time to get giddy in anticipation of the next. But I slowly learned that happiness didn't come in a box, no matter how promising the bow.
The next phase in my birthday evolution was wanting it to be an event. A big, crowded, noisy, inebriated celebration of my fabulousness by classmates, co-workers, strangers in bars…
After that, I just wanted my boyfriend/husband to do something romantic, which led to the next phase — kids.
During the chaos of planning and cleaning up, physically and emotionally, from my children's birthdays (the jumping houses, reptile sleepovers, chicken pox), my own birthday wishes ran from wanting a chance to shower alone in peace to fruitlessly begging the kids not to fight for the entire day, and maybe clean their rooms.
Years later, my wish was that I not have to bail them out or talk them down on my birthday.
My mom, in her 80s, keeps her birthdays quiet so the Evil Eye won't notice she's still alive. The only gift she requests each year is that my dad get rid of something from the basement.
My dad is pleased if the kids call, but I suspect his dearest birthday wishes are to see another birthday — and not to have to part with anything from the basement.
My mother-in-law still wants something sparkly for her birthday to make her friends jealous. My husband likes to hike to the top of things. My brother wants to smoke a cigar indoors. My kids just want money.
I turned 50 a few years back, right in the middle of my daughter's chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's lymphoma. Until her diagnosis, I'd been dithering about maybe having a party for myself, since 50 seemed like such a big deal. Ha! Life and its shifting expectations.
And that brings us to now. My babies have grown, survived and flown. I no longer have to feign interest in blowing out candles or hearing the birthday dirge. I don't need or want anything you can wrap; I can shower unmolested whenever I wish; and I already eat plenty of cake.
So, I shrug, and go back to sleep.