Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free to Be

Growing up, I wasn't a girl who imagined her wedding day. If asked I would have said, yeah, I planned on having a husband and children, and sure I’ll have a wedding someday. But if I'd been asked a single detail—location, attendants, kind of flowers, cake, dress, groom, color of flowers, cake, dress, groom—I wouldn't have had an answer. For an entire decade I couldn’t have even specified the sex of the “groom.” I’ve never been a big “imagine my future” kind of person. The main way I’m aware of having expectations of things—events, people, situations—is when they fail to live up. That way you get knocked flat on your ass with disappointment—totally unaware!—on a regular basis. And if you’ve never pictured the future, it’s difficult to know whether you yourself are living up. Living up to what? Exactly.

If a person doesn’t know what she’s working toward, how will she be motivated to get anywhere? If you aren’t clear on what you wish for, how will you know to jump up and down when it arrives? If you’ve never envisioned what you want in a mate, how will you know when the right person emails you on Before I met Dr. Fiancé, I dismissed such questions with a wave of my hand and a plugging of my ears. My parents raised me to be spontaneous, noting that life takes us in directions we never could have imagined. Careers will involve tasks and technologies not even invented yet, and friendships and love affairs will occur with people we couldn’t have dreamed up. It’s the creative writing approach ... what do you mean outline? (The plugging of the ears came from the nagging notion that other peoples’ ways through life are the right way and since I can be quite a good outliner, fully capable of making a to-do list and getting deep satisfaction from crossing things off the list—preferably with a fat Sharpie, maybe I was kidding myself thinking that the creative approach was the best one for me. That is to say, I was plugging my ears against something I didn't want to consider.)

Beyond college, I had no plan other than to “live my life,” whatever that meant. When I was in second grade everyone in class had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. The drawings would be made into slides and projected onto the wall of the cafetorium as we sang “When We Grow Up” as part of a school-wide performance of Free to Be You and Me. My classmates drew doctors and pilots and railroad engineers. I stared at the blank page wondering, “How do you draw nothing? And will I get in trouble if I don’t make something up?” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be something or was convinced I wouldn’t live to see 29—I just couldn’t put my desires into words, much less pictures. I wanted to be a mom, but that clearly wasn’t what the song was getting at. Beyond that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I didn’t want to hem myself in. Also, I'd kind of taken the title of the show to heart and didn't want to become something so much as to just be myself. In the end, I drew a teacher.

Dr. Fiancé and I have been engaged for three months and besides the type and color of groom, I don’t have answers about what our wedding will be like. Other than the ridiculously poufy dress I bought at Goodwill, I haven't specified—can't even imagine—the details. This probably has less to with my penchant for not outlining my life and more to do with Dr. Fiancé and I having a lot of stuff to sort out before we’ll be ready to have—much less plan—a wedding (and by “stuff” I mean that we have to figure out whether we can find a way to resolve conflicts without giving each other an ulcer or a bad case of manic-depression). But maybe if I could picture the event—or perhaps the shared life together after the event—I could calm down and have faith that we will have a life together. Can I not picture our wedding because we’re going to break up and I’m psychic (who knew?!) and for a psychic to be able to picture an occurrence, the occurrence has to eventually occur? Can you imagine how exhausting it is being me? Can you imagine how exhausting it is being my fiancé?

I’m 33 years old and apparently grew up to be a writer—a writer who writes on a laptop—an image I couldn't have drawn in second grade because laptops didn't exist in 1982. I also, obviously, couldn't have drawn a blog because Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet. In a few weeks I’ll be teaching creative writing to high school kids, and though I don’t have the semester planned out, I do know this: I will not ask them to write about what they want to be when they grow up. I will not ask them to write about how they imagine their life at age 33. I will not ask them to write an outline, and chances are I will not make them sing. I do reserve the right to ask them to draw things—just not things in the future. Unless they’re psychic—which will make for a very interesting year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Word of God

Passed by a churchyard. This week's cute saying: A Parent’s Life Is a Child’s Guidebook.

God help everyone who has ever had a parent.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vertigo Is the New Black

I get my life back today. I have all the time in the world and nothing to do but write—at least until I start teaching creative writing one day a week next month. It’s thrilling and frightening and inspiring a sensation much like vertigo. When I think about the rest of the day or week my knees get a little quivery and my brain starts to gyrate a bit in my skull. When will I have time to get my friend a housewarming gift? When will I have time to sign up for low-income health insurance? When will I have time to pack up the rest of my stuff at the Old School and move it to the house? When will I have time to finish applying black paint to the robin’s egg blue falling-apart “antique” dresser from the Confederate side of the family? Oh, that’s right—whenever I feel like it. Terrifying.

No more are the structured days of 9–5. No more waiting for the 8:34am bus on the stoop of the adoption agency. No more furtive prayers to the Bus Gods for a clean-smelling someone to sit next to me. No more getting anxious every morning as the bus passes the county hospital, the county jail, the methadone clinic, the city police headquarters. No more black cubicle walls, black chairs, black computer monitors, black keyboards, black mice, black wire baskets, black filing cabinets, black bookshelves. No more bosses and their black moods. No more food poisoning at obligatory free Friday lunches. No more waterfront smell of fish and salt and tar and cruise ship exhaust and fried food and seagull poop and sour, scalded Starbucks milk. No more elevators filled with computer programmers and their stale cigarette smoke scent and Aspergery commentary (Did you hard-manage the hosting broadband before you upstreamed the code to maximize your team’s QXL? Peels of laughter.)

One of my favorite co-workers—a man who showed up for his first day at the magazine factory in a well-worn sweater with a radish appliquéd on the front—asked me yesterday how I was feeling about leaping into the great, poorly paying literary unknown. Did I have any regrets? Let's see... I feel... excited... anxious... a little terrified... and... what's that? A wave of relief! A hurricane of joy! A tsunami of eagerness! The perfect storm of getting on with my life!

No, of all the guests visiting my psyche today, Regret was conspicuously absent.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Active Verbs!

What I Learned by Working as an Editor for a Year-and-a-Half:
Writing is hard.
Writing creative nonfiction is hard.
Writing good creative nonfiction is really hard.
Minimize use of the verb "is."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Silence of the Ferrets

I love my fiancé, but he is not a quiet man. My job at the magazine factory ends in a few days, and as I sit at my desk practicing for my life as stay-at-home writer, I’m realizing exactly how much noise Dr. Fiancé makes—quite a bit more noise than a writer would like to have in her quiet, cozy upstairs writing nest.

We’ve spent months preparing the sunroom in the back upstairs corner of the house (a spacious Craftsman with views of both a sparkling lake and a jagged, majestic mountain range) to be my writing (and occasional art-making) studio—picking up paint chips from the paint store, choosing the perfect color for the walls, returning to the paint store when I change my mind about the color (the antiquey shade of green of my old chalkboard or the ever-so-slightly bluer shade of green of this long-sleeved t-shirt?), finally settling on a color I dreamt of one night (a creamy mushroom color that is no shade of green at all), moving 4,113 boxes of books from my apartment, buying a charming little shabby-chic dinner-mint-colored desk and glass-front cupboard from a garage sale at which the purveyor explained she was having the sale because she’d just gotten engaged and was moving in with her fiancé. When I told her I was, too, she asked, forlorn, “And he lets you have this kind of stuff in the house? I've had to switch to a modern-Asian aesthetic, which I don't mind, but. . .”

Ah, yes, aside from his distaste for my family's rhubarb crisp, I have the perfect fiancé. He owns a house! He's Jewish! He's a doctor! I'm engaged to a Jewish homeowning doctor!

Though did I mention the noise? Dr. Fiancé clomps and sighs and paces and slams and stomps and shouts “English!” and “Customer service!” into the phone more often than would seem necessary. It rattles my bones and grates on my nerves, and I can hear it all perfectly from my upstairs corner pocket. After decades of bachelorhood, the doctor is accustomed to having the house all to himself. And did I mention that when the house was built back in the early 1900s, they used paper for walls and cardboard for ceilings? We’re not allowed to pee in the upstairs bathroom when guests are over because from the couch, every drop that falls into the toilet sounds as if it’s falling on your head. I don’t mind so much, but the doctor has a greater sense of decorum about such things. As he is fond of saying, he was not raised by ferrets.

If he had been, he’d likely tread much more quietly on his tiny little paws.

Monday, September 01, 2008

From Iowa

According to Gertrude Stein, You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always very well taken care of if you come from Iowa.