Where I Write

Where I Write
A room of My Own

April 14, 2014

The Final Chapter

I recently brought an article from USA Today to my writer's group about the trend for individuals to write his or her own obituary. There are even web sites that instruct you how to make your obituary shine, with helpful tips as including fun, even quirky, details such as your favorite coffee cup or first kiss or advice to loved ones you are leaving behind.

To my surprise I was met with less than enthusiastic interest from my writing pals. I had wrongly assumed that writers, more than any other group of people, would be eager in making sure their life stories were accurate and interesting and, yes, a good read. But then I guess I forgot that even thinking about one's own death is as much fun as getting your teeth pulled, or doing your tax return, or cleaning toilets. Maybe my writer friends were thinking there were many more subjects they planned to write about before composing a final chapter about their life for the daily newspaper. I took my unwelcome writing obit article home and stashed it away.

Then, the very next week, I came across this obit in the Arizona Republic where a man named Michael (see half way down where it says Michael wrote himself) included an essay beneath the formal obituary written by his family, or so I assumed. Michael shared many loving thoughts as well as reflections about his own happy life. Lucky for Michael his family had nice things to say about him, too.

Not as blessed was Mary Ann Smith. I found this obit a few years ago. In it the writer says "Mary's life was full of bad choices, many of which she would come to regret terribly." It goes on to say other nasty stuff about Mary.

Who doesn't make bad choices? All I have to do is remember some of the men I've dated, or that shiny disco outfit I wore in 1977 with the neon yellow stripes, and cringe. Okay I know those choices only hurt me, but still, shouldn't there be some mercy toward the deceased? Writing your own obituary would be insurance against revengeful family members.

When I worked at a newspaper in a small town, I was the obituary writer. I'm sure some of the obituaries I wrote were clipped out and put into bibles just like the photo above. With newspapers dying around the country, I have a feeling that will be a lost practice. There's the Internet to take it's place. For many people, the obit it the only time his or her life will receive public acknowledgement. Why not make your life shine for the world? And what better way than to do it yourself.

This doesn't mean I've actually written my own obituary. I don't have a favorite coffee cup, and I can't remember my first kiss. I'm just like my writer friends. I would rather write about other subjects. In fact, I like this article even better.

Hey, if I live to be 100 I might not even remember my actual life. Instead, I will make up a story. For my obituary I will write I was a gypsy who lived in Romania and sailed around the world, dancing and having many lovers, before I settled on an island where I lived in a thatched hut, wrote steamy novels, drank rum drinks with pink umbrellas, and danced in the moonlight until I died.

Now that would be an obituary.

March 27, 2014

Creative Drought

It's been a dry and warm winter here in Arizona. Rainfall has been sparse, or non-existent.  I've heard all about the the snowy, grey and cold winter people have had in the Midwest and Northeast this year. I wouldn't want to trade that harsh weather for the balmy winter in Phoenix. Still, the lack of moisture in the desert has made for minimal, close to zero, desert flowers blooming this Spring. Last year at this time the desert was awash in yellow, and orange and purple, and grass even sprouted from the stark desert floor.

The desert is a fragile yet tough place, like a wide, burly football player who cries at sappy romance movies.  Those who don't know the desert well might assume it is unchanging. In the Spring, when there has been plenty of rain, it alters and flourishes with color. Alas, not this year as you can see from photo above. It's been so dry my car windshield wipers forgot how to work.

While hiking this week on a familiar trail outside of Phoenix a few days ago, I thought the desert, and the drought here in the southwest, is a metaphor for my own creative life. The lack of rain similar to the lack of time and attention I've been giving to my writing.

I don't know about you, but I get busy busy, like a bee building a hive, with tasks, appointments, family obligations, work, and life. Oh it's not that I'm complaining. I enjoy so much about life, my family and friends, but just like the flowers missing from the desert this year, the color creativity gives to my life is absent.  Sure I feel productive when I check off something on my weekly to do list, tell someone how much I accomplished that day.  Sometimes it's as if I'm trying to prove I'm worthy to be on this earth. Look how much I can do in a day! Aren't I amazing.
As I climbed higher on the dusty and oh so dry trail, I thought why not look for small ways the desert is creative, even in a drought.

I saw a tiny yellow poppy that sprouted in the sandy dirt. One step of a hiker's boot could destroy it's delicate perfection, which made it even more important that I appreciate it while it lasted. How brief we are on this earth, and does it really matter, I thought, if I cross everything off my to do list?

I spotted some tiny purple flowers clustered beneath a rock. They were so small that they could easily be missed, but they matter just the same. Perhaps, I thought as I walked that day, if I take even small amounts of time to write, to honor my creativity, that would be enough.  The flowers didn't worry if they were accomplished, and I was glad they were just there for me to enjoy.

The tips of the Ocotillo Cactus bloom a bright, showy orange, but this year they look starved for rain, shriveled and downright silly, like dried chili peppers. The Ocotillo Cactus doesn't care if its blooms aren't perfect. I could be like this cactus. Not as skinny, of course, but let myself write and not attempt to be pefect. Just be.

Because there are so few flowers, I was delighted to see this bunch of daisies blooming bright. One of the best parts of writing, is to be surprised by my creativity. Life is even more interesting when we are creative for when we create, no matter if its dancing, or singing, or cooking, it takes us to places unexpected. We can delight not just ourselves, but people around us. It enhances my joy in life, to wear a scarf someone has crocheted, eat tomatoes from someone's garden, or hang a oil painting on my wall done by a friend.

I finished my hike and I realized I had looked mostly down on the ground during my walk. Well, it is important to look out for snakes and other things that bite. I stopped and, beneath the hot sun, gazed at the sky. It looked like thousands of angel wing's stitched together. As I write this now, I think oh that sounds dumb. There's that inner critic again, the enemy of creativity.
I write the sentence anyway.

The desert isn't ashamed  because it it lacks Spring flowers this year. It isn't beating itself up because it is in a drought.

I made a promise to write even if the time I have, and the work I do, feels as insignificant as that one yellow poppy. Our creative lives do matter, if only to us.

February 27, 2014

The Fear Factor..High School Reunion


Is there anything more motivating than an upcoming forty year high school reunion to make one want to spruce up a bit? We vow that before we see people again who knew us when, we will shed those unwanted love handles which is a misnomer because we don't love that extra fat at all. Or we might want our teeth brigthened. How did they get so brown? They look as wooden as George Washington's teeth. A trip to the plastic surgeon for maybe a tuck or nip? I haven't yet mistaken myself for a man, but as we age hair can sure grow in some places it just doesn't belong. There are men who just wish they still had hair and maybe even teeth, or wonder if they ever had a flat stomach.

I don't care if you are the most together, confident, hip, oh so wealthy and successful, person in the world all of us at one time or another will, or have, looked into the mirror and think who replaced me with that old woman, or man. We might ask how I can face people who knew me when I was bright and shiny and so full of promise?

My high school, James B. Conant, in Hoffman Estates, Illinois is planning to have our high school reunion this summer. I've gone to all my reunions, and this one has made me feel the most old for some reason. Possibly because I am old.
I never thought when I went to my first one, my ten year reunion, I would someday be planning to attend my 40th. I guess I never expected to live this long. There were times when I did some stupid things, involving motorcycles and men, and almost didn't. But those stories are for another day.

This is a group photo from my ten year high school reunion. Actually it is just half of my class. I lost the photo of the other half, but no matter because you can't see my classmates that clearly, anyway. Which is a shame because we are still young enough at our ten year high school reunion to look fabulous. In our 20s we are full of ourseleves. We bragged about our recent marriages, babies, wonderful careers, new houses. We were so thrilled to be  grownups. I was living in Colorado and working as a waitress.  I wore a black and white dress to my ten year high school reunion which made me look like an Oreo cookie. Thankfully I have no photos of that dress which took me days to find and which I paid too much.
Above is a photo with me and my two friends, Debbie and Katie, at our twenty year high school reunion. We all wore black. I guess we were in mourning for our twenties. I was only 30 something year's old. I should have worn bright pink!!! Also, I had an unfortunate perm right before the reunion which is why my hair looks like a hay bale set on top of my head. was living in Phoenix and teaching English to adult refugees, making very little money. I think I got this dress at a thrift shop.
The twenty year high school reunion was less attended as the tenth year reunion. By that time you're not so sure you really need to see these people who knew you when you were a pom pom girl. The poms poms are frayed, and who cares anyway. Maybe that wonderful marriage turned into a divorce, and your job might be a grind, and was this how life was suppose to turn out?  Or we were so happy, why even look back.
Still, even those of us who had fallen on hard times, were still optimistic because  there was plenty of time to recover from that bankruptcy or have that baby, or move to our dream city. We were only in our 30s!

Then came the thirty year high school reunion. I wore blue. I found the outfit at the last minute. I had searched for weeks and nothing made me look young or thin or pretty enough, worthy to exist in the world. I'm not sure who two of the people in this photo are.
 That's what happens as we age. We forget people. I was still living in Arizona, and free lance writing now.
I danced a lot, and drank quite a few glasses of wine, and by the end of the night my hair was stuck to my head. I laughed so much at the reunion  I could have used a package of Depends. At this point, at a forty year high school reunion,the crowd has gotten smaller. Kids are growing up. Parents are aging.  People are looking at their lives with an eye on the clock.  Our knees or back hurt, and we are familiar with disappointments and loss. We also know joy and peace and how silly it is to think we can predict the future.  It's a mixed bag. Being grown up takes a lot of work.
 Everything we thought we were so sure and clear  about life at our ten year reunion looks a lot more uncertain and opaque. I had to use that word opaque. I just love it. 

All this thinking about appearance, and worry about how to impress people with all that I have accomplished in my life at my upcoming reunion, was interrupted today when I thought of my high school friend Patti. She's on the far right. We were on our way to our Senior Breakfast. Debbie is trying to get into the photo on the far left. She's such a ham though she is a vegan now and would never eat ham.
  I noticed it was Patty's birthday today and one of our classmates had wished her a Happy Birthday on Facebook. Patti died last  summer and she won't even have the choice of whether or not to attend our high school reunion. So when I start obsessing about if I will look fat, or wrinkled, or my life will sound like one big mess, I will think about Patti. What really matters is truly invisible to the eye. I will remind myself how blessed I am to be able to hug people who knew me when I was young, and remind me that I was actually was young. I'm grown up but it sure is nice to remember being a kid again. Sometimes it's hard to believe that.

February 11, 2014

Dolly Parton and the Chippendale's Men

I was intending to write only about Dolly Parton, how I went to her concert last week, how I was able to check seeing her off my bucket list, and how much I admired and adored her every since I first heard her sing in 1975, the year my mom died. I was a grieving teenager then, and Dolly Parton and her music made me feel less alone. I fell in love with her.

I wasn't a fan of country music back then, and I'm still not, but I stumbled upon Dolly on the Porter Wagner show. Here she is with Porter who looks as if he borrowed an outfit from Liberace. On the show, Dolly would descend on to the stage via a swing while singing Love is Like a Butterfly. She looked like an angel. A sparkly angel. Her outfit glittered, the swing shimmered, and her  hair was as white as angel wings. I was 19, and I missed my mom terribly. Dolly's big smile, sweet voice, and aura of joy and kindness, reminded me of my mom, and I became a fast fan. Since that time, I continued to love Dolly and her big hair, long nails and sassy attitude.

As years passed, I admired her ability to be true to herself, not caring if people criticized her appearance. She writes and sings and plays instruments, and is still going strong in her late 60s. She has worked hard, and is less an angel to me now and more of a self made woman who did what it takes to achieve her goals. She inspires me.
 So that was going to be my blog, but then I went to see the Chippendale's perform last Saturday night.

The Chippendales have never been on my bucket list. In fact, I didn't even ask for the night off to go see them. A friend just called at the last minute and said she and some other women  were going and there was an extra ticket. The restaurant gods were on my side, and I got off work early on  Saturday night. So there I was sitting in a showroom surrounded by women screaming and shouting. At first  I was thinking how dumb it all was. Why were all these adult women acting like teenagers? Women of all shapes and sizes and ages, too.
 Then the men came on stage. I found myself cheering.  Loudly. There's something about a man with tight abs, tight pants and big, let's just say smile, that makes women downright giddy and a little crazy, too.

These grinning women look as if they just opened up box with a Tiffany's diamond necklace inside. It's just a guy without a shirt. Okay. I admit I was grinning and clapping, too.  As the men swiveled on stage, dropped their pants and ripped off their shirts, I wondered why I wasn't getting bored. The men do basically the same thing over and over again. But they do it so well and look so darn good.

How do they get their shirts to rip so easily?  While sipping cocktails after the show, my friends and I had a long discussion about this perplexing matter. We decided those couldn't be cotton shirts. We couldn't figure out what material is used. Then we discussed how often they must work out to stay in such great shape, and then we pondered other important matters such as if they have girlfriends, if they even like girls, and other intellectual matters that can only be solved while drinking cocktails.

Life is a mixture of expectations and surprises. We all have bucket lists which seem to become even more important to complete as time passes. It's common  to make a list and check stuff off, but how about embracing the unknown? Saying yes to something even if it wasn't in your plan, like watching a group of physically fit men who have no problem getting naked in public dance around a stage.
That way if I ever write a memoir, as Dolly did, I will be able to include both the goals I achieved as well as all the beautiful, wacky, risky and fun detours along the road of life. I think Dolly would agree.