When I am an old woman

Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old.  Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg.  Keep going…”  Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off.  They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo.  Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.

Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs.  Some had oxygen.  All had a helper pushing them.  One was staring at me and my kids.  Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face.  She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her.  I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other.  As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.

The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts.  They were just playing and having fun.  The old lady could have been grouchy.  She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds.  Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave.  But she didn’t.   She recognized the joy of the moment.  The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy.  The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus.  The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch.  It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.

While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling.  Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other.  Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her.  As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.

Writing away the soul raisin


Have you read the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel?  It is one of my absolute favorites.  I’ve read it, listened to the audio-book, and am now experiencing the joy of studying it in my apocalyptic fiction class.  If you read it, be warned it won’t wow you out of the gate.  It’s a long slow dance of a book, and you won’t even recognize there is music until you are a hundred pages in and the true melody isn’t apparent until over 200 pages in.  But I think the symphony she creates is worth listening to on repeat.

I’m talking about those people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed.  Do you know what I mean?  They’ve done what’s expected of them.  They want to do something different, but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they are trapped….

I love the story because it’s an apocalyptic mystery punctuated by eye opening life lessons.  One chapter, in particular, speaks to me in such a way it is literally life changing.  Literally, literally, not like Gwen Stefani in The Voice literally.  (Gwen, your head has never exploded.  Just stop.)

…because I think people like him think work is supposed to be drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness, but when I say happiness, I mean distraction.  You know what I mean?

Section 4. The Starship.  Chapter 26.  Page 160.  No spoiler alert here, other than the life changing kind of spoiling.  Clark is heading in to do his job.  He conducts assessments of executives who need to improve and then makes a plan for their improvement. In this chapter he’s interviewing someone who works for the unnamed executive.  Her words cut through my soul.

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I have moments when I love my real job.  Moments when I feel important and valued and when I honestly believe I am making the world change for the better.  I love my team and the people I work with completely.  But… but… we work in renewable energy.  We are largely federally funded.  The bottom is falling out of everything.  Our leadership team changed and no longer values managers, like me, but values self-managing PhD’s and I have nothing but a bachelors of science.  I have indirectly been told that I am not qualified and not worthy.  The bureaucracy becomes oppressive and there are days, weeks, months when I can feel my soul shriveling to a tiny soul raisin in my gut.  There is enough good at work to keep the soul raisin from drying up completely, but I don’t want to live with a soul raisin.  I dream of a soul grape or, can you imagine, a big plump soul watermelon that fills my entire body cavity.

…they are like sleepwalkers…and nothing every jolts them awake.

So last week I made a change.  A scary brave change.  I dropped to 32 hours a week.  I gave myself a gift of Thursday, so that I can write.  So I can try to publish that short story that is almost perfect.  So I can write the second draft of that book that calls to me on my 45 minute commute to and from work.  So I can finish that second novel that just recently developed a muse who will not shut up.  She’s throwing books in my way that inspire me.  She’s providing workshop comments from my class that make me want to sob with the joy that somehow my story is pouring out my fingers, onto a page, and translated through reader’s eyes to something even better than I imagined.  Stephen King wasn’t kidding.  It’s magic.

So here I am.  I’m doing it.  I told my boss.  I told my boss’s boss.  I told my team.  I told them I am taking time off to pursue a masters degree – which I will get to – and to write.  (The masters degree makes the whole thing more legitimate to the engineers, and will be relevant to book three.)  I told them there was a novel that needed to be edited and another to finish writing.   And like most big announcements it had grown so much bigger inside me than it actually was outside of me.  People were kind.  They were interested.  They said they were jealous of my passion.

…he had been sleepwalking, Clark realized, moving half-asleep through the motions of his life for awhile now, years; not specifically unhappy, but when had he last found real joy in his work?  What was the last time he’d been truly moved by anything?  When had he last felt awe or inspiration?

So here we go.  I’m promising myself a year.  A year to finish what I have started.  A year to write, edit, submit, get rejected, network, and see where this journey takes me.  And even if at the end I don’t end up with a book anyone else will publish then I will do it myself, and I will do it having grown a grapefruit of a soul.  Because I want to live all of my life and I want it to be filled with awe, joy, and inspiration with a tiny contrast of drudgery.  The drudgery is still important, because if all you know is joy and a watermelon soul you can’t possibly appreciate it, right?

Now, time to write.


Credit for all quotes go to Emily St. John Mandel and her glorious Station Eleven.  Thank you for the amazing book, and for providing words to convey my unhappiness,  which motivated my change.

Solstice Gift

My husband raced downstairs tonight with happy crinkles decorating his eyes.  “I have a present!” he announced.

My daughter waited in anticipation, but I didn’t even need to ask.  Only one thing could make him so happy:  our chickens laid their first egg a month before we expected it, and on the shortest day of the year no less.  A week after temperatures didn’t reach 0 Rosie decided it was time to make an egg. (Well, we think it was Rosie.  Even though she is the youngest in our flock her comb and waddle are the most developed, which is supposed to indicate egg laying readiness.)

The upside?  Well, the beginning of eggs of course.  The downside?  My chickens have trumped any hope of me being responsible for delivering the true joy of Christmas this year for my family.  I’ve been trumped by a bird.  My daughter is running around singing, “All I want for Christmas is another egg…another egg… Oh!  Another eeegggg.”  My husband semi-jokes that he’s going to sleep with the egg tonight.  There is nothing wrapped or planned that can match the miracle of the first egg this season. 

I think I have a tiny bow downstairs.  Maybe I’ll stick that on the tiny precious gift and call it good.  (Or is that what they call gilding the lily?)
Happy solstice everyone!  May your own families be as lucky as the Aftheads and have their hearts filled with whatever gives them joy this week.  

A Letter to my Daughter

Today your world is amazing.  You are in the middle of your three friends, not on the outside.  Our two tiny foster kittens are thriving and run to you when you enter a room.  Twenty little boys in your soccer skills class picked you as the best soccer player and literally bowed to you saying “I am not worthy.”  You are at a marvelous age where this embarrasses you a little, but mostly makes you proud and joyful.  I thought you would float off the field last night, and you want to share your story with everyone.  School just makes sense right now, and you are recognized by your teacher for excelling.  Again, this praise is welcome and soul building.  Mean kids haven’t learned how to belittle your accomplishment and turn it against you.

I sit on the sideline of your life and I want to bottle this day.  I want to take how you feel and how I feel and keep it safe, because these perfect times are fleeting.  There will be days when you are on the edge, don’t get picked for the team, or don’t get invited to the dance.  There will be days of sickness and fear and loss.  There will be days when all of these bad things happen at once, and I want to offer you a sip from today and heal whatever hurts you have.  I want to be able to take a sip from today to remind myself of how amazing you can be.

Today I try to weave a bottle of words hoping our eyes can sip when we need a reminder later.