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Category Archives: Carpe Diem

Rabbit Reset

Which way shall I turn next?

On the first day of July, tomorrow morning as I’m writing these words, I’ll wake as I usually do, sorting and ordering the activities of the day ahead and filtering out the already dones of yesterday. The small grey kitty that somehow manages to simultaneously curl up into a tight, tiny ball and sprawl across the lion’s share of my bed will stretch and demand attention. At some point the reality that it’s first of the month will swim into focus and I’ll say, out loud, “Rabbit, rabbit.” Thus guaranteed good luck for the coming month, I’ll spring up to face the day.

Of course, there are no guarantees.

But just as finding a penny heads up, as I did yesterday on my own front step, and making a wish when returning the clasp on a necklace to the back of my neck, feel like opportune moments, sticking to the tradition I learned at nine in England feels like it can’t hurt. I rarely miss a month and, having spoken the words out loud, will generally go so far as to post “rabbit, rabbit” as my status on Facebook.

When they were really little, I taught my kids. They think nothing of “Rabbit, rabbit,” as a greeting when they wake. They’ll sleepily say it back. At one point—they were about Four and Seven—I researched the tradition and wrote a theatrical, the script for which surfaced this spring as I was cleaning out boxes in the basement. The scant theories about origins for the practice (and its many variations) wove through a princess tale in which we and every stuffed rabbit in our house all had roles to play. Like a faded old snapshot, the script brought back memories and connection to a sweet long ago.

Saying “Rabbit, rabbit” on July 1st will usher in not just a new month, but the second half of 2017. Just then, I almost wrote the second side, a phrase my yoga students will connect to practice, when a series of poses is complete on the left side, for example, and we get ready to begin the sequence again on the right. There is a balance to it—working the body equally—and there’s a marvel as well, how different one side can be from the other.

For much of the first half of 2017 I felt like I was on a water ride, sliding across a cascade of changes that included Ninety-Two’s health challenges and associated changing care needs and launching my house onto the spring real estate market. In the swirl of May, Eighteen docked at the end of his first year of college and shortly thereafter Fifteen powered through finals and flowed into summer. Whereas I’d been paddling hard, struggling to keep the boat afloat across white water and despite strong undertows, quite suddenly I landed, the oar feeling a little like it was broken off in my hands. The constant, unpredictable motion of the spring stilled.

Honestly, it took a little while for me to recognize and stop padding. I’m still puzzling about where I am. I don’t know if I’m sitting on the beach, my suit itchy with sand, or floating in a gently swirling hot tub. And while there’s always a next storm, I don’t really know if the hatches are securely battened and we’ll be fine or if there’s a ton of shoring up to do to prevent disaster. What I do know is that this is both entirely new and somewhere I’ve been before: at the end of a series of events and plans that were so consuming I couldn’t take time to consider what my world would look like after or precisely what to do next. I may not truly be in the aftermath, maybe we never really are. Yet, there’s a stillness, a chance to reconsider and relaunch. It’s a great time to clean house, physically, metaphorically, metaphysically. And with that in mind, I welcome the opportunity to reset—both for a new month and the second side of this adventure-filled year—and I’ll take all the luck with that I can get. Rabbit, Rabbit!!

Much of my world is on sale, including these lilies that bloom faithfully each June. They’re on sale because the house they’re in front of is for sale. In that spirit, for the month of July my novel is also on sale, over at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628). If you haven’t enjoyed it yet, maybe some summer reading (half off 7.1–7.31)? xoxo

As serendipity would have it, my twice-rescheduled colonoscopy is Monday. Rather than dreading it, I see it as a part of the overall reset. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday and many have a few days off, it’s not unlike the turn of a new year—a big party with bright lights and lots of festivities, followed by a chance to begin anew. Have you thought about it? Which direction will you turn now? Rxoxo

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Following Instructions

Following Instructions

What are we writing today?

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. – Mary Oliver

It’s a rainy Friday in May, cool outside the coffee shop. The line for the drive-through wraps around the building and winds through the parking lot. Most of the tables are full. My writing partner and I are nestled in our customary spot, the twin chairs in front of the picture windows just beyond which the cars edge forward, their drivers anticipating coffee for their morning commute. “Perseverance,” my writing partner counsels wisely, “we just need to sit in the chair.”

My tea tastes more like the cream I impulsively added to it than black tea. I’m shifting and fidgeting in my chair, balancing my laptop on my knees, wondering if I can get into the creative flow that I came here looking for. For some time Mary Oliver’s quote has been on my desktop, at times mocking me, at times simply calling to me. I want to explain to her that I’ve been paying attention and plenty astonished by the last two months. I’ve been failing at telling about it.

In the big picture the pieces have shifted and shifted again, like one of those puzzles where you keep sliding the tiles around to make a pattern or organize the numbers. Seventeen is now Eighteen and finishing his first year of college in a blaze of excellent grades, new friendships, wonderful memories, and age-appropriate frustrations in pointing his car toward home where he understandably feels his life goes on hold for the summer. IMG_8170Fourteen will be Fifteen shortly—the past four months together have been a wonderful exploration of our mother-daughter duo—and she is excitedly headed toward summer through the end-of-the-year obstacle course of finals, projects, recitals and concerts.IMG_8173 Ninety-Two has come back stronger than before from a health crisis in April, astounding us all. My house is on the market, creating a combination of uncertainty about where we’ll live next and requiring the constant upkeep of living in a “Pinterest house.” Each of these is a story unto itself, full of little and big astonishments; spring, though, is about mushrooms and rainbows. So it is these I shall tell about:

Mushroom Soup

Ninety-Two’s health crumbled in early April. Another hospitalization landed her back in skilled nursing, where a team of physical and occupational therapists helped her get back on her feet. The fabric of support from friends and family for both of us was truly astonishing. From meals delivered to rides for Fourteen to flowers on my doorstep to kind words via email, phone, and text, we felt the love from near, far and wide. One email arrived with this welcome news: Morels … Found a bunch and I’d like to share them with you. Might make your mom happy.

My mother and I delighted in morel season on our farm, going out into the woods to look together, squealing when we found a mushroom. They are undeniably delicious, but also a herald of the spring with summer to follow, seasons of ease and abundance, of heat and leisure, of a shift away from the arduous slog that was winter life in the country. Disappearing as quickly as they appear, morel mushrooms are earth-magic, little wonders like four-leaf clovers and rainbows that you will only see if you pay attention.

Our morel benefactress zoomed up to the yoga studio in her black car and handed me a paper bag through the window. I hopped from one bare foot to the other on cool pavement in my bare feet, telling her I had devised an entire plan since her email the evening before. At home with the morels, I started diced onions in oil, the beginning to any good recipe and one that used to bring my mother out of her room when the scent of sizzling onions wafted around the corner. To these I added garlic and chopped crimini, then mushroom broth, simmering the flavors together. IMG_8153With the immersion blender on its last legs, the motor whining as much as it smooths, I puréed the soup in the pot and added thick cream from a local dairy.

Leaving the soup on low, I turned my attention to the paper bag bearing the most perfect morels. Lifting them one-by-one, I carefully sliced them the long way into quarters while my pan heated on the stove. Cooking them the French way meant tossing them into the hot pan without oil or butter, turning them rapidly and waiting for their liquor to release. When they were just right—cooked through with their edges and flavors intensified by heat—I tossed them into a thermos and trapped their heat with the lid. The soup went into a second thermos, and both went into a bag with a bowl, a cream-soup spoon from our farm days, and a kitchen towel. Defying the Pinterest house, I left a mess in the kitchen and went to deliver spring to Ninety-Two.

Whatever the results, there is something life affirming about knowing the impact of our actions. I’ve gotten things completely wrong plenty; sitting with the feelings of regret or dismay or despair is the surest way to forge through and rebound, but it isn’t the least bit pleasant. On occasion, I’ve gotten things completely right. Delivering morel mushroom soup to my convalescing mother was one of those occasions, worth everything I put aside to make the soup while the mushrooms were fresh, worth every dish I zoomed home to scrub in my otherwise barely used for-sale kitchen. I watched her exclaim and spoon up every bite, adding more broth so that each spoonful was a silky mixture of soup and mushroom. Later, while Fourteen and I were enjoying morels with eggs and asparagus, Ninety-Two’s email arrived, celebrating the soup and, in hindsight, heralding the turn toward her remarkable recovery.IMG_8154

Which leaves just rainbows to tell about—if you live in the Midwest you’ve seen some amazing ones recently. One morning I woke up in the yellow glow of morning and realized I had woken up inside of one (pictured below with May hail and the rainbow that followed). If mushrooms are earth-magic, then rainbows are the generous gifts of sky and wind and rain and sun, heralds of changing skies and astonishing times to come. But we won’t even notice them if we don’t pay attention and we won’t receive their gifts if we aren’t willing to be astonished. With intense gratitude for your presence on my journey and for letting me tell you about it, Rxo

Extra Miles

Are you all recovered now?

Six days after I walked the Des Moines Half-Marathon with Seventeen, finishing in a respectable 3 hours 32 minutes and 16 seconds, I was still aware of feeling deep fatigue, the kind that finds me propped in bed with a movie at 8:30. He, of course, rebounded after a long nap. More surprising to me than my recovery time was the fact that I have zero desire to enter any more races. There’s a 5K or better just about every weekend until it’s too cold to exercise outside, many with chocolate at the finish line, but I don’t want any part of them. While I genuinely enjoy shared physical activity—I’m a yoga instructor, after all—and can’t imagine any better community than one devoted to fitness, the aspect of the race culture that doesn’t fit me came as a surprise: the noise. When the going gets tough, I thrive on quiet to recruit the strength I need to keep going.

On race day the noise from the start/finish line reached us several blocks away. By the time we got up close, the announcers and their roaring countdown couldn’t be ignored. They nattered about race times and the elite runners and sponsors and how we could all get back and have a beer. It was incessant. Out on the course I was grateful for the fog, a reminder to keep my attention on the task at hand and dismayed by the well-meaning people pounding pans with wooden spoons. It took a couple of miles for Seventeen and me to find our groove, but once we did we were in it and walked briskly in spite of sticky humidity and a slick course.

There were some joyful highlights. We felt famous when young women at a water station greeted us by name, until we realized that our first names were emblazoned on our race tags. Nonetheless, they provided just the right amount of cheer, water and thirds of banana we needed to boost us between miles 3 and 4.

At mile 7 Seventeen allowed as to he might actually be exercising. And we were both thrilled between miles 8 and 9 when the elite marathoners with their police escort ran by us. Shortly thereafter we were caught for some minutes in the noisy crosswinds of a self-appointed entertainer who surely meant well but was pitchy at best as she strummed and sang top 40 songs and the announcer who would call us in for bacon at their refreshment stop (Seventeen: “Even I don’t think bacon sounds good right now.”). The long hill up to the Capitol building followed and then it was north across the interstate and back south again, passing mile 11. The closer we got to the end, the more people stood on the sidelines cheering, playing, banging, yelling. For the last two miles I felt a little like the Grinch: It was all just noise, noise, noise, noise!

Seventeen took my hand and we crossed the finish line together. A smiling volunteer put a medal around my neck and Fourteen, who had been volunteering at the final water station, was standing there to greet us. Remembering that moment of triumph just now, it’s a tableau without a soundtrack, as though all the noise stopped for a few moments of sweet celebration with my peeps. And then it was back, louder than ever, as we threaded our way through to the food booths where Seventeen replenished all of the calories he had burned. A rock band played, the beer garden beckoned, and happy people with medals around their necks danced with their friends. I could barely move. And suddenly I realized all I wanted was the solace of quiet.

So my half-marathon completion party was just me, submerged in a tub full of warm water and Epsom salt until only my nose broke the surface.

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I’m proud of this medal!

When you’ve been striving for something with dedication—my training took over my summer and fall—it’s particularly interesting when it’s done, a different kind of quiet. Into the space spent thinking about hydration and training advancement, not to mention the time commitment for short and long walks every week, arrives an invitation, an opening. I was pondering just that after I dropped Fourteen at Nutcracker rehearsal, tooling over to get the torque on my recently rotated tires checked at Costco. Into the space walked a woman and man on a journey of their own that just for a few minutes intersected with mine.

I had parked when they approached and I could see they were both looking concerned. I wanted to set them at ease, “May I help you?”

The woman, tall, svelte, a little older than I am, looked relieved, “Yes, actually. We’ve locked our keys in the car and my phone is with them. If we could use your phone to call a cab I guess.”

“Of course.” I lit up my phone and dialed the number she reeled off from memory. As she waited for a dispatcher to answer, she was talking more to herself than to me: “I usually use Uber but the app is on my phone. They’re not answering. We only live about two miles from here.”

“Why don’t you let me drive you?”

If it seemed awkward at all to accept a ride from a stranger in the parking lot, she didn’t hesitate. She handed me my phone. “Really?” A big smile.

“My name’s Robin,” extending my hand.

“Mary,” she replied, shaking it. “And this is Charlie.”

Charlie declared he would go in and do their shopping, sending Mary with me. Truth be told he was looking a little askance at the convertible, even though it was a lovely fall day, bright sunshine and blue skies, a gentle breeze. Mary gamely climbed in, gave me directions, and we were off.

We exchanged information, but mostly Mary talked. They were just back, it turned out, from a celebration of life for the parents of longtime friends. But the real shadow in Mary’s life, it came out just before we arrived at her house, was that her own mother had died about ten days previously. “It’s no wonder,” I soothed, “that you locked your keys in your car. You’ve been through so much.”

Mary had clear social graces and did occasionally ask me a question, but mostly she talked and I encouraged her. It wasn’t long before we were back by her car, key in hand, and there was Charlie pushing out a cart full of wine. By way of thanks Mary said, “I wondered what I was going to do to enjoy this beautiful fall day. I guess it was ride in your convertible.”

“I’m so glad,” I said, and I was.

As I waved goodbye to Mary and Charlie, I felt grateful that there was enough silence when we happened upon one another in the parking lot that I could respond with the kindness they needed. I remembered just then that one of the elite runners, somewhere between miles 10 and 11, had gone tearing past Seventeen and me, no longer accompanied by motorcycle police or the other four runners. Was he running more just for the fun of it? Adding mileage for some Herculean running test ahead? Or was he running on for the joy and freedom he felt for having finished his task? When he zoomed down the street, his back splattered in dirt, his arms and legs moving in wide free form rather than the disciplined lockstep intensity we had seen earlier, all I could wonder is how he could have run a step beyond the finish. But after my ride in the sun with Mary I realized that we each have extra miles in us—they just don’t all look the same.

Wishing you joy-filled extra miles and the start of something big as we slide into the middle of fall under a new moon. xoR

Ad-Venture Capital

Where are you going this time?

Long before there were Minimalists (visit them here) who traveled the world with fifty-one things and before Marie Kondo (http://tidyingup.com) sparked joy with her life-changing magic of tidying up, George Carlin (enjoy the video) famously pinged our devotion to stuff. In his routine he mentions needing a place to store such important items as our “fourth-grade math papers.” I’m guilty of moving school papers of mine that date back to third grade more than 2300 miles over 42 years and through six houses (not to mention storing those same pages with my mother for eons). I’m equally guilty of rarely looking at those papers, although when teaching the boy until recently known as Sixteen, now Seventeen, about taking notes for class a couple of years ago, I reached into my box and found a perfect example of what I was talking about in my philosophy notebook from college.

That specific collection of school papers is corralled into one storage bin. Not so well filed are papers from Seventeen and Thirteen’s school experiences along with files of my first full-time job search, pages of creative writing from before there were computers, and financial records, some dating back thirty years. In the unfortunately accommodating storage area of my basement, it’s all too easy to stack in bins and crates what my mother years ago named “scream boxes”—those collections of things or papers that tumble together into a tangle to be sorted some other time.

Looking through the basement in preparation for this year’s garage sale, I found I’ve got a mix of scream boxes and organized packets. Ignoring these, it felt really good to skim out items from the basement we aren’t using, and set them, along with things from every room in the house, out in the garage at the beginning of May. Strangers came to look over our things and few left without purchasing something. You have really nice stuff, one person told me. “Now, you have really nice stuff,” I smiled back, handing her change and a bag holding her treasures.

The garage sale was the most lucrative I’ve ever had, but of course it’s the human interactions that I remember the most. There was the lady who has recently become a mutual funds investor who started talking to Seventeen, giving him advice about life. In short order they were exchanging email addresses, because investing is something he loves to talk about and he has acquired a surprising wealth of knowledge already, even if he’s still working on accumulating actual wealth. There was Larry who readily dispensed his version of life advice to my son: “Work with this,” he said, pointing to his head, “not with these,” and here he wiggled his fingers.

More than one person asked Seventeen about his accent. Born in Maryland and an Iowan since five and a half, his intonation is sometimes a little surprising, but he doesn’t have an accent. It isn’t the first time, he told me; he’s been asked about it at school.

The most hair-raising and smile-inducing visitor to our garage arrived in a shiny silver Jaguar that likely cost more than will Seventeen’s first year of college. Seventeen and I were leaning out of the garage to gawk at the car as he walked up the drive, “Did I park funny?”

“No,” I told him. “We were just admiring your car.”

Seventeen said something affirmative and enthusiastic in response to which the stranger looked straight at him. “Do you have a driver’s license?”

“Yes.”

“Take it for a spin,” he tossed the keys to Seventeen and added, as an afterthought, “Is that okay Mom?”

Off they went down the driveway together where the Jag’s owner showed Seventeen how to adjust the mirrors. I caught my breath as the big car purred away, my son at the wheel.

“Awww, Mom,” the car’s owner walked back up my drive, “don’t worry. I have plenty of insurance. Every boy should have an opportunity to drive a car like that.”

As his story unfolded, it turned out the owner of the Jag had grown up on a car lot, driving all kinds of luxury vehicles. He had, he said, been driving Jaguars for thirty years.

What seemed like an eternity but likely only a quarter of an hour later, Seventeen brought the car back, grinning from ear-to-ear. The owner, too, looked pleased, having given the kind of gift that stories are made of. He strolled off to climb back into his machine, one of our few customers who left without making any purchases.

For two and a half days our belongings left in the arms of strangers. Reactions around the house were varied—watching from the window Ninety-One said she felt a little like she was being robbed. But when she made her way out into the garage, she found the items there had lost their emotional energy and she was glad to see them go. Seventeen is practical—anything he doesn’t want to take to college should be turned to cash. Thirteen spent a happy hour spreading the contents of scream boxes excised from her room a few years back around the basement, discovered a packet of glitter, and proceeded to sparkle her hair, clothes, and the basement floor. Her contributions to the sale itself were few.

In three days we easily divested ourselves of any number of things we no longer use, with a healthy balance going to charity and resale shops over the next two weeks. The experience offered so many gifts: the house feels lighter, brighter, and more welcoming, easier to navigate and to consider what’s still here; I spent a weekend in my garage with Seventeen, enjoying his company at the beginning of what is his last summer at home before he leaves for college; and we put into the bank a tidy sum toward our summer family adventure, the memories from which are sure to be much more precious and important than any knickknack or unused bowl.

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The delight of a list on which everything is crossed off! This one represents hundreds of items donated, retired, or recycled … and my exploration of the plural of trellis shortly after I worked the broken pieces of ours off the house and down to the curb.

May is a month like December, a whirl of activities, concerts, recitals, and endings. There’s a big commencement in our world—Seventeen’s graduation from high school this weekend. So while May took me away from writing as much as I’d like to, it is presenting me with plenty to write about. Look for the inevitable post about my graduate soon and thank you, as ever, for sharing the journey with me, Rxo

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice

Who needs Wonderland?

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Thirteen, a Cheshire Cat in the recent junior high production of Alice in Wonderland

 

One school year we left the farm and moved into town—my parents rented a ranch house on a little-traveled street in a neighborhood where I had school friends within walking distance. The house showed every sign of being a flower child, complete with a car port, shag carpet and avocado green appliances. That year, one of my prized possessions was a plastic record player, orange, that I could carry around when it was folded like a brief case. I would set it up, plug it in, and play full-sized LPs, either Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun or a complete recording of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The latter was four records, the unabridged text, and took about three hours to listen to all the way through. I listened over and over until I could recite the story line-for-line from just about any starting point in the book.

Alice was one of my childhood heroines, more friend than literary character. Just as I felt with Dorothy’s Oz, I never fully bought into the “it was all a dream” framework of the story. Wonderland was real to me, the intro and ending added, I was certain, to appease adult sensibilities.

A few years later my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Ostrem, would forbid us from ending our work with any intimation that the foregoing had been a dream. It was, she instructed, an authorial cop out. If we asked her about Dorothy or Alice, I don’t remember her response. But hers was one of those lessons that taught me to compartmentalize—I loved the stories I had always loved even as I worked to discern the literary merit of crafting a fantasy world that held sway without the dream device.

At the end of her romp through Wonderland, Alice—grown back to her right size that is enormous in comparison to the creatures who wish her beheaded—stands up to them all and asserts, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards.” In the traditional John Tenniel illustration of this moment, Alice stands sideways, her head ducking, her hands raised against a flurry of playing cards that are ineffectually leaping at her even as a menagerie of animals scurries out from under her feet. In the next moments her sister is brushing leaves from Alice’s hair saying, “My, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

That illustration came to mind again and again as February, launched by a broken ignition coil, turned into March: the barrage of pesky cards kept flying at me. While I refuse to complete a financial tally, by the time the injured-reserve list included the washer, a toppled pine in the backyard, the vacuum, the radon-abatement system, and Cooper the squirrel, we had also been derailed by stomach flu, bronchitis, and worrisome maladies in the extended family.

In the depth of it all, even though I could barely catch my breath to do so, the time arrived to share the news with the Radiant Om Yoga community that ROY will close this year. There is no good time to deliver disappointing news, and with life already spinning through an unpleasant Wonderland, the timing felt destabilizing at best. The email (click here if you’d like to read it) went out and another barrage of reaction ensued. Holding space for everyone to respond, I thought: Who needs Wonderland?

And then the answer came: I do. Because making a point of attending Alice in Wonderland in which my Thirteen played one of a chorus of Cheshire Cats, once for dress rehearsal with my mother and again on closing night, being able to make painted-rose cupcakes for the IMG_6059concession stand, having the wherewithal to remember to purchase real roses for my actress, and being granted the escape of a couple of hours of live theater are what it’s all about. As there were junior high students at the production helm, they chose to blast “Welcome to Wonderland” before and after the show. My ears picked up just enough of the gist: Welcome to Wonderland/This is your new address/You’ll love it more or less/…Everyday it’s something new/Problems up the old wazoo/…Life can be fantastic every minute/For as long as you can just stay in it/…Welcome to Wonderland. And I thought, Yup. Theme song, and added it to my playlist. And no, I’d like to tell Mrs. Ostrem, none of it—not the weird, worrisome, disappointing, nor delightful—has been a dream.

Happy full moon—can it be spring already? Wishing March is marching along with gusto wherever this finds you. Thanks, as ever, for reading, xoR

Anything but Routine

It’s what time?

A couple of weeks ago, in the days before, the battery on the little clock near my treadmill died and the clock, predictably, stopped. Equally predictably, it didn’t much matter. I’m a creature of habit. So long as I’m on my treadmill by 5:30am (alarm: 5:05), I’m back upstairs by 6:20 and while it’s a frenetic twenty-odd minutes, I can get Thirteen’s lunch made and shuttle her to the bus stop by 6:45. Back up the hill and into the garage, the next hour focuses on Sixteen, his departure for high school on a full belly with a lunch box full of leftovers. My own morning routine threads through the minutes in between, and by 8 the day is on schedule and well underway.

I’ve been thinking a shift would come when Thirteen no longer rides her early bus to junior high. But in my imagination, the break would not mean altering the order of things, just the time at which it would all get rolling. I should insert here that I’ve been walking on my treadmill first thing weekday mornings since March 2001. When there have been breaks in the routine, they’ve always been those kind of gaps where something feels a little out of whack all day long.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take a day off once in a while. I did just that last Monday, Sixteen’s first day as a civil servant. Leaving high school early to “serve his country” (as his band director put it while excusing him from the semester final), Sixteen started his new gig as a page in the Iowa Senate. The first day of the legislative term was his first day on the job—a whole new reality of getting up, getting washed and brushed and pressed in his dress clothes and heading east into rush hour traffic to commute from our house in the western suburbs to the gorgeous Iowa Capitol. I opted to lend him my support from the alarm clock on, so skipped the treadmill and was happy to be on hand to wave him out the door.

The next morning, versed in the experience of the day before and knowing that this day two lunches needed to be ready by 6:45 (the food at the Capitol is decent but expensive reports our Page), I woke early enough to hit the treadmill and stretched, turned, and snuggled deeper under the covers. I let the day roll around in my head, thoughts emerging for things that needed attending to, ideas forming, and, when the cacophony of alarms started sounding down the hall, I got up, jotted down my to-do list, and headed to the kitchen for tea. The peeps were out the door with lunches and thermoses, Thirteen complete with her viola and almost warm-enough clothing for the weather, Sixteen on the way to day two of his job.

I stuck to my Tuesday rounds—the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy, my desk—finding my way onto the treadmill about 3:30 in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, it was 1pm. On Thursday, shortly after 2. Friday, even though the resident civil servant had the day off, I opted to continue my delicious morning lie-in (yes, it feels like sleeping in when I don’t get up until 5:45), and headed to the basement for a walk only after I’d had enough time to digest the delicious breakfast Sixteen and I enjoyed together.

At one point I looked at the clock: the little hand was on the ten and the big hand was on the two, in the classic formation of clocks and watches for sale. My first thought was the clock had stopped again—didn’t I just replace that battery I wondered? Could it have been already depleted or from a bad batch? Had I put it in backwards? It took a few steps for me to realize, no, wait, it really was ten minutes after ten. And with that dawning of understanding came delight. Too often in the past when the routine changed, I had let my treadmill time or other things important to me go in favor of the to-do list or, even more likely, meeting everyone else’s needs. But this week I didn’t do that. I walked, instead, every day, including Saturday when I never do, and hit 18 miles for the week. And even though the time never correlated with my internal idea of when I should walk, it worked. I found myself looking forward to my walk, whatever time it happened.

Another week and the timetable hasn’t gotten any less topsy-turvy. Walking around the clock still feels a bit off to me, but I’m pleased that I’ve embraced the shift and prioritized the time anyway. I started walking first thing in the morning years ago because it’s important. But in the literature surrounding just about any self-care practice, that is always the advice: do X first. Want to build a good exercise or meditation habit? Interested in drinking lemon water in the morning or getting organized for a successful day? Trying to write a novel? No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish the advice is always the same: do it first thing in the morning. The reality is I can only do one thing first thing, so I am learning to prioritize the activities in a day that are important to me. With twenty-four hours available each day, selecting how I will best live them is what’s important. Rather than routine or schedule, I’m subscribing to rhythm and liking all the possibilities of each moment24 hours

The full Wolf Moon of January shines all over the world—if it’s not behind the snow clouds. Hoping wherever you are, you and yours are safe and warm and digging your own new year’s rhythm. Thanks for attending my journey with me, xoR

Digital Immortality

Is this what fifty looks like?

April 28, the day before Fifteen changes his name to Sixteen, four of my father’s books, out of print for many years, will become available in electronic editions. The books, The End of My Life, his first novel published in 1947, The Violated (1958), Confessions of a Spent Youth (1960), and Brill Among the Ruins (1970), are a part of my father’s backlist, a literary bequest of ten novels and three works of nonfiction, one coauthored with my brother. They were written without exception by his two index fingers on a series of typewriters large and small. He would eventually adapt from the hard press of a manual to a more responsive electric typewriter; he never comfortably touched a computer.

In fact, my father’s fantasy writing device was a wall-sized keyboard that he could set to take a full-body punch or a light tap, depending on his mood. The room, as he imagined it to me, would contain a collection of costumes, so that he could dress as a ballet dancer one day, twirling from key to key, a boxer the next, punching the keys hard to get them to imprint letters on the page.

In today’s digitalized world, such a typing room is technologically possible. Perhaps one even already exists. It’s ironic that my father, who loved, read, wrote, and lined our houses with books, now has a chance at being discovered by a whole new readership devoted to their e-readers. I don’t know what he might have made of these re-releases, but since I do remember that he liked to stay abreast of changing times, so long as he himself didn’t have to manage the technology, I suspect he would have been pleased.

I know that I am. Working with the professionals at Open Road Media has been a pleasure. On spring break in New York with Twelve, I took her with me to meet with the editor and media relations team at the publishing company. It was a legacy trip, the kind of trip I went on with my father at about her same age. We took the meeting, enjoyed a tour, and left with new impressions of the publishing world. They asked for a suitable photo of my father for marketing purposes; I promised I would see what I could find.

In my all-time favorite picture of my father, his face is close up and his head is ringed by a laurel wreath. The photo, taken at his fiftieth birthday party by Iowa Writing Workshop director Jack Leggett’s wife Lee, shows my father the way I remember him best, eyes twinkling, fascinated by whatever conversation he is enjoying at the moment. I don’t need a color photo to remember how blue those eyes were.

Vance Bourjaily, 9.17.1972

Vance Bourjaily, 9.17.1972

For the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, in 1972 when I was newly seven, he took out an advertisement in the Iowa City Press Citizen and invited everyone reading the ad to come to our farm for the day, bring picnics and celebrate. My parents’ parties and events were legendary and frequent, but I like to think that the fiftieth is one I remember distinctly. The pasture was dotted with picnickers, the pond full of happy splashing people.

When Twelve and I are back from New York, I find the photo and am relieved to discover it isn’t professionally fixed in its frame. I take it in for scanning, another digitalization of my father. It is only when I’m fitting it safely back into its frame that I realize and remark to my mother:

“Dad was fifty in this picture. My age … or at least the age I’m about to be.”

I’m turning fifty in four months. Unlike forty, I find I’m not the least bit concerned by this milestone birthday. I am intent on celebrating it, although perhaps not with a newspaper ad invitation. But gazing at Dad’s image at fifty gives me pause. Do I look as old at fifty as he always seemed to me? Have I accomplished as much as he had by fifty? How much are we alike, and how much do I live my life on my own terms? What are the important lessons of being my father’s daughter?

My father never got his fancy wall-sized keyboard on which he could pound or prance, but in his most productive writing years, he protected his writing time. We all did. Dad had a room of his own where he could and did write nearly every morning. His afternoons were reserved for his students at the university, tennis, farm projects, and the huge garden he planted every summer. Evenings after dinner he would sit, absent-mindedly chewing on this thumb, reading. My father was a writer his whole life. And I never hesitated, when I was growing up, to say if someone asked what my father did: My father was a writer.

I do hesitate when people ask me what I do. It’s complicated, I tell them, or, I own a yoga studio, but I don’t elaborate. It’ll be some time into the conversation, after I’ve also copped to being an editor and a mother, when being a writer might come up. But I stepped into the digital literary world ahead of my father, launching this blog in 2011, engaging in social media, and publishing my own novel, Throwing Like a Girl (available through Smashwords), earlier this year. I think, perhaps for my fiftieth birthday, it would be a gift to both of us to learn to say upfront: I’m a writer, just like my Dad.

Happy new moon on Saturday—wishing you glorious blooms and soft spring evenings. Thanks for walking along on my journey with me, Rxo

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