Writing has fallen by the wayside. Again. What is a wayside? The edge of a road. My thoughts are a bit disjointed if you can’t tell. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve put pen to paper in my journal and I’m starting to feel the weight of it. All the thoughts and ideas that keep churning around without a place to put them.
I start another writing class tonight which is actually week two and I’ve been catching up on the material I missed last week. One of them was an essay by Terry Tempest Williams titled “Why I Write“. It’s a beautiful piece and it covers just about every reason to write and I nodded along as I read. “I write to quell the pain. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts.” Yes, yes, yes. And also this: “I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient.”
Reading that made me miss writing and I wonder why I’ve left it for these few weeks. I suppose I let the busyness of life take over. School is in full force and the activities have me in a tizzy. Soccer, Cross-Country, Tae Kwon Do, Lacrosse. I was graced with a kid who wants to do everything and I’m finding it hard to reign him in. I don’t want to snuff out his youthful enthusiasm before he hits his stride.
But I also have to remember who I am and what I want because if I let it go too long I will forget. I signed up for class because I need to hold myself accountable. Left to my own devices I will let too much time pass before I return to writing. I’m always nervous about starting a new class but it’s a good nervous. It’s the energy of a new situation and getting out of my comfort zone. It’s exposing myself to ideas that will help my writing bloom and grow. It’s giving me a time and space to express myself. It’s giving me a place to be more me.
New York city is often on my mind as a destination to take in some culture. We were there in May, sans kiddo, to celebrate my husband’s birthday, but as is usually the case when we leave our son overnight, the trip was a hasty get in, get out endeavor. When Liam found out we were going there without him, we had a very sad kid on our hands. I had taken him to the city last fall and he loved it and has been asking to go back ever since so I promised him next time.
This year turned out to be perfect timing for adding a summer in the city to our family agenda. Liam, who is heading into fifth grade, was assigned to read and write about the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwwiler by E.L. Konigsburg. The book was first published in 1968 and follows the travails of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid who decide to run away from home and inhabit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week.
After reading the book with him and the accompanying worksheet from his English teacher, I saw the suggestion to either complete the work by visiting the museum’s website or to visit in person. I haven’t been to the Met in years so I thought a field trip was in order. Last Saturday morning we left early and caught a train into the city with a few ideas of things to do on our two-day sojourn.
It was about lunchtime when we arrived and we were quite hungry so after checking into our hotel, we headed to Le Parker Meridien which is home to a tucked away burger restaurant aptly named The Burger Joint. We discovered this great little treasure a few years ago and like to hit it up when we’re in the mood for a burger in the city. If you go, have a snack beforehand, because you’ll likely find a line snaking down the curtained hallway next to the hotel’s reception desk that leads into the small restaurant that will guarantee you about an hour wait. It’s worth it.
From there we decided to try our luck at the half price theater ticket window and stood in line until they opened at 3:00 making conversation with a family visiting from Massachusetts. We acquired some very good seats to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the evening and then hopped in a cab to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. This is the first time I’ve been to a memorial of this magnitude for an event that occurred in my lifetime. It’s hard to believe nearly sixteen years have passed since the deadly attacks.
I had visited the memorial pools outside the museum for the first time this past December when I was in the city with my co-workers, but to see it on a glorious summer day with my family and thousands of visitors from the US and around the world was a moving and emotional experience. The museum had exhibits and films that were a testament to the sadness of the events we groped with as a nation that week. I couldn’t help but be transported back to those days surrounding September 11, 2001, and how we sat glued to our television, numbly captivated by the coverage, helpless about what to do.
We wandered back uptown after our visit to the museum, full of emotion for the vast number of people affected by the terrorist attacks. The long chain of friends, family, and colleagues who lost someone important in such a senseless and unpredictable way and who would be forever changed.
There wasn’t much time to squeeze in dinner before the show so we meandered into Whole Foods in Time Square and were delighted to find an array of options to get a quick meal. After dinner, as we were hurried to the show I noticed Liam wasn’t next to me and when I turned I saw he had been approached by Mario (of Super Mario Bros. fame) and they were holding hands. I wasn’t planning to take a photo but they looked so sweet. As I pulled my camera out, several other characters swarmed in and I was caught in a dilemma about whether to take the picture because it felt almost like being extorted! I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, though, so with gratitude I handed each of the characters a couple of ones for their time.
On to the play, which was fantastic. It was Liam’s first Broadway show and he loved it. Every so often I would look over and catch his rapt gaze as he sat forward in his seat. It was definitely worth standing in line to see that look on his face.
On Sunday, we slept in a bit and then headed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for mass, with Cardinal Dolan presiding. He is a wonderful and plain spoken homilist, relating the day’s readings to our current day seamlessly. It was also nice to see the beauty of the cathedral without all the scaffolding as had been there on our last several visits.
From there we hit up Joe’s Shanghai midtown location for brunch where we indulged in several orders of the soup dumplings they are famous for. I wanted to get to Chinatown for a real dim sum experience for Liam but this was a great alternative given we still had to get to the Metropolitan Museum. Something to keep for a future visit.
We decided to Uber it to the museum after lunch and arrived in no time. Just looking at the Met from the street made my heart sing. I had to remember the reason for our visit was Liam’s class project and that I probably wouldn’t get to see many of the paintings I love so much. I barely got a glimpse though as most of the visit was limited to the first floor where the Kincaid kids from the book spent most of their time. The Egyptian Wing, The American Wing, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Greek Arts were the sections he needed to find various objects from the book. It felt like we raced through the exhibits but we spent three hours looking through the bottom floor. At 4:00, exhausted from the weekend, we decided to call it a day. As we left, I looked up the great staircase and silently made a promise to myself to return on my own next time!
The weekend went much better than anticipated. I wasn’t sure what we’d be doing other than a visit to the Met and I was a little nervous there’d be a meltdown or at least arguments along the way. My fears were completely unfounded and we had a great weekend making new family memories.
I am now a proud user of something called a CubeCorner 36 which is basically a standing desk. When I googled it to link for the link, I was brought to a picture of a desk a bit different than the one I have in that it is white and a little wider. I love things that are white because they make me think of clean design and it’s a bit more of a contrast to my black monitors. I’m a bit jealous I didn’t get a white one, but since the office paid, I will not complain.
How does the desk work? It goes up and down by holding a couple of handles on either side and then you pull up and forward to go up and push away and down to go down. Going up is pretty easy but putting it back down was a bit of struggle at first. I’m either getting better at it or the joints in the desk are loosening up.
I didn’t know if I should jump right into standing so I did a little reading on the topic before commencing this activity. A few sources recommended starting slow, maybe 20-30 minutes at a time which I’ve been gradually increasing over time and now stand about 2 hours a day in 30-minute increments. I think the goal is to spend about 3 to 4 hours standing each day which is about half of the workday.
As to some of the logistics, I do like to dress up for work (dresses, heels, etc) so I’ve had to make an adjustment with my foot attire. I still wear the heels but keep a pair of my super comfy flip flops under the desk for the standing part. I use the heels for when I go to meetings, lunch, and the bathroom since flip flops are frowned upon at the office.
A benefit to the standing desk is it allows me time away from my messy desk for a while. I try to keep my actual lower desk area clean and organized but inevitably, by the end of the week, I’ve got stacks of papers I’m working on peppered around the desktop. On the standing desk, I only have my computer screens, keyboard, mouse and cup of tea. The standing desk also allows me to have the photos and inspirational quotes I’ve put on my cubby organizer at eye level which otherwise, I rarely look at.
But, Mary, what are the benefits of actually working while standing up? Glad you asked! I’m finding it very similar to working while sitting down although I’ve read a few articles that indicate sitting down is better for things that need extreme focus or require fine motor skills. I can understand the focus thing because standing up, at least right now in my early weeks of using the desk, is ever present in my conscious mind. It’s not like I’m going to forget I’m on my feet and it can get a little tiring after a while.
I find standing best if I’m actively typing something rather than cruising the internet because I get a little sloppy with my stance when doing the former. When I’m using the keyboard, I’m in full upright position, shoulders back, hands in proper typing stance and I don’t see any lag in my typing speed. Standing has been especially good for my posture and I’ve noticed my core is getting stronger. When I’m not typing, I find myself leaning into the desk, crossing my legs, putting more weight on one foot rather than equal distribution so I need more attention to keep a proper stance.
I also listen to music while I work so at times I’ll find myself boogying or swaying to the beat which probably burns a few more calories and, in addition, makes me look a little silly. This does not deter me because I’m already a bit of an outlier at work and well, we all have our quirks. Moving to the beat does make the day a bit more enjoyable.
So, I give my solid approval to this standing contraption. I may change my mind down the line when I have a bit more experience under my feet (haha). But for now, it’s two thumbs up.
I’m not one to plan too far ahead. There are always fuzzy plans in the future and then about an hour or two before we’re to set out, I’ll start to consider what the plans entail. This happened Saturday when we had to go to a party hosted by one of the partners at my husband’s firm. The party was to begin at 2:00 so at noon I began sending him a flurry of texts about the afternoon ahead. Do we need to bring anything? How long will we be there? How should I dress? What else do we need? This is where I find out it will be a pool party so I hunt and gather the things Liam will need: swimsuit, towel, flip flops, sunscreen. Flowers for the host. After a time, we’re ready to go.
I forget Liam (a 10-year-old) sometimes has an issue with new situations and I didn’t foresee that this would be one of them. Surely anything that involves a pool is outside the realm of social anxiety. I’m not sure where he gets this. OK, he gets it from me. I was an awkwardly shy kid and still get quiet in new situations or with meeting new people.
For a good hour, I sat with him on a couch away from the other party guests coaching him on strategies on how to enter into the fun going on in the pool. I empathized with him about new situations. I reminded him of other occasions where he overcame his fear in similar circumstances. I reminded him how much he loves to play in a pool. I asked him what was the worst thing that could happen. What was the best?
Finally, I outright bribed him. $2 to jump in the pool. He upped it to $5. I said he needed to do a cannonball and stay in 15 minutes. He suggested he could jump in and get right back out for $10. Nope, $10 was too steep a price for something that should be fun, but if he’d stay in for 30 minutes, I’d consider it. We weren’t getting anywhere so I settled on $10 for him to jump in and get right back out. Negotiations had fallen apart because I was dying for some adult interaction. He agreed but still couldn’t bring himself to do it. Defeated, I buried my face in my hands and then heard a splash. He did it!
He realized it wasn’t going to kill him so he got out and jumped in again. And again. And again. I told the host he was going to have trouble getting rid of us at the end of the night and I wasn’t wrong. Before I knew it, Liam was leading the younger kids on an excursion into the woods where they discovered a giant family of frogs. Many, many frogs. Apparently, we have a shortage of frogs around our house and he begged to take one or two home.
I know there are people who are great with stories and explanations about why their kid can’t or shouldn’t do something. I tried to channel this skill. The frog could die if we take him out of his habitat! He could get lost in the car and die there! The frog might not find any friends in his new home and die of loneliness! All roads led to death for the frog so apparently, I wasn’t very good at this. Eventually, I gave up and said if he dropped the $10 surcharge for jumping in the pool and having fun, I would allow the frog to be transported home.
This may have turned out to be the wrong choice, however. When we returned home, I won the battle of leaving the frog outside on Saturday night. Liam gave him intermittent attention throughout the day Sunday but at one point I went to get something from the bedroom and was stopped short by the sight of the frog languishing on my new throw pillow (cue the prickle) while my son looked on as though he couldn’t believe his luck to have found such a good friend. I was left wondering if the frog would suddenly transform into a person right there on my beautifully crocheted and tasseled pillow. Of course, I screamed. The frog, now known as Tony, has been returned to the pond in our garden so he doesn’t die.
It has been my goal for a very long time to write a book. I let the idea go for many years but over the last several months, with mid-life firmly fading in the rearview mirror, I can no longer hold off the voice in the back of my mind: write, Mary, write (channeling Forrest Gump here). I am trying to squeeze in the time to write and so I’ve signed up for an online writing course to hold me accountable and to get help in starting the process.
Today I am working on week 2 of the class where we write the first chapter (or any chapter or scene). Week 1 we completed a story summary which had sort of come to me a couple of months ago and I’ve been trying to suss out the characters over the past few weeks which helped me dive into this week’s assignment. Who they are. Where they’ve been. Where they’re going. It’s been an interesting process!
I submitted a couple of scenes earlier in the week and now I’m looking at the feedback and all the holes I need to fill, the main character’s qualities and motivations I need to shore up. I’m questioning if writing is a sane and feasible goal when being a reader suits me so well. I am finding just about anything else to do instead.
The dishwasher needs emptying. Dirty clothes are strewn in piles around my bedroom floor (three rooms away from where I’m working). The kitchen floor, which is in my sightline, is shouting to be steam cleaned and the bathrooms, well let’s not get started there. The counters are begging me to remove all objects to clean and dust. I think you get the picture. Believe me, these things go unnoticed and unchecked Monday through Friday because we’re barely home or I’m sitting outside reading until it’s almost time for bed.
So now I have an empty house (key element) and I’m fighting to keep my butt in this chair. I need to empty my brain of all the ridiculous clutter that is spinning around and get back to work. So here I am emptying it. And my dishwasher is unloaded and a load of laundry is spinning in the background. Sometimes you need to give in to your inner voice to go forward.
Oh my, it’s been ages! We are officially at summer’s halfway point (at least in my mind) and I should update you on what’s going on here. I don’t know if you remember, but back in May, I decided the family needed a technology break (including me). I have posted just a handful of blogs since that time because you know, I’m on a break which means everything is happening offline, including writing.
The break from technology has been, overall, a mostly fabulous experience. You know how sometimes you don’t know how stressed out you are until you are sitting on a beach with sand filtering through your toes and then you dig in a little deeper to get to the cool, wet sand and you let out a huge sigh? That’s kind of what it’s been like. To know that you are not going to be fighting with your kid about when to turn off their iPad and go do something outside like you did when you were a kid is just, well, pretty amazing.
I won’t lie. It hasn’t magically been all love and sunshine in our house since we made the decision to go tech free. Sure, there are times I’ve wanted to run away but I think that’s pretty normal in parenting. No one wants to give up on the fantasy of having a child comply immediately with every request to use a toothbrush, clean their room and be presentable (clean) every day, but face it, it’s not very realistic. It’s all about the process of learning to be a human who lives in a world with other humans.
I do feel a bit adrift because while I’m living offline, I haven’t kept in touch with people like the way you feel you do on Facebook. I haven’t posted any pictures to show I’m having a great summer and I haven’t been scrolling through and hitting like on any of my friend’s posts. I’m probably missing out on births and deaths and general milestones in everyone’s lives but on the other hand, I have lots and lots of time to do things I want and choose to do. If it’s important I’ll hear about it.
Speaking of milestones, I managed to hit one myself this summer – I turned 50 last week! I know, I can’t believe it either! It was a beautiful day and I took myself to Edith Wharton’s country home in Lenox, MA to celebrate and it was lovely. My husband treated me to a fantastic dinner when I got home and then I went to bed with a really good book. I don’t imagine I thought that’s what I’d be doing at 50 when I was 25 but it works and life is good.
I’ve had so much more time to read since I checked out of social media (and candy crush). I have breezed through about ten really good books in July alone which is a pretty big deal since I work and parent and all that other stuff that gets in the way of reading really good books. Here’s some of what I read:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (loved this quirky title character)
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (immigration, class, race, American dreamers, flawed and well-drawn characters)
The Sunshine Sister’s by Jane Green (not my favorite of her books but entertaining and I can relate to the unshakeable bond of sisters even if you don’t always see each other)
Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (I’ve been anxiously waiting to find out what happened to these characters from Everything We Keep which was a book I stayed up all night reading this past spring)
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. (I found out she wrote her first book at 50 and there you go!)
Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser (I had to know why a father disappeared with his small son a few days into their family vacation. It was emotional.)
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (great characters, an interesting plot and a lot of family dysfunction)
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a humorous, modern telling of Pride and Prejudice)
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy (a parent’s nightmare of losing your kids while vacationing in a foreign country)
I Found You and The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (I read her books years ago so now catching up with her current offerings which I enjoyed very much)
As we roll through August I plan to keep on reading and writing offline but at some point, I realize I need to consider a re-entry strategy to the digital world for both my son and myself. If you know of a good book about such a topic, let me know!
Hope you are enjoying the summer wherever you may be.
Several months ago, our nephew lost a long battle with depression and addiction at the young age of 32. It is not something I could imagine being able to survive, but my sister-in-law bravely took to the podium to talk about his life and referred to this piece by Linda Ellis. She spoke of the dash between his dates of birth and death and told us the story of his life in a moving and beautiful way. He was not to be remembered by how he died but the dash he lived between the two dates.
The death of a loved one is always a shock to our system regardless of whether it is expected or not, whether they are young or old. Whether the person lived a full and happy life or it was cut too short, we are sad. And it lingers. But it also can serve as a wake-up to those left behind and this is a good thing. We are human. We are going to die someday and we don’t know when that time will come. We must make the most of our dash.
My dash has been relatively eventful as is with most. From birth to now I have loved and lost (pets, people, things, and beliefs), experienced poor health as well as good, been financially unstable as well as solvent. I’ve felt very low personal emotions such as shame, anger, hurt, and resentment but also joy, excitement, hopefulness, and pure love. I am a wife, a parent, a daughter, sister and friend. I have faced addiction and sobriety. I have been both greedy and generous. I have traveled near and far and tasted countless beautiful meals. Many of my bucket list items have been attained and I’m working fervently on one of the longest, most sought after items.
I am in my dash and don’t know when it will stop so I must keep moving. God is in the dash of everything I do. Sometimes I forget He is there but then I’m reminded by a beautiful song in church, the perfection of a day, the peace in my heart. I would not be able to live out my dash without Him.
What will you do with your dash? I wish you a long and beautiful one.