Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anticipation, Part II

Two weeks ago I wrote this post that included a bit about the high of anticipation.  But there are other facets of anticipation.

We've all done a fair amount of waiting in our lives. The photograph in this post is from my father's hospital room; in another hospital room on another day we waited for him to breathe his last breath.  Anticipation then was dark and sad and filled with tension, and the outcome seemed impossible. It was anticipation of something we knew was inevitable. We were powerless in the face of it.

And then there was the earlier nebulous anticipation of the time my dad would die.  Even before he fell, I would spend time thinking about what it would be like, preparing myself for the loss. It seemed that I might think that he had lived a good life, be thankful for the time we were together, grieve and move on.  The first two things happened.  I was grateful for his life and our time together.  But I haven't really moved completely on from it.  Grief is bearable now, but not finished by any means.  So this was anticipation not based in reality.  

When I found out I had breast cancer and the doctor started talking about surgery and radiation treatment (I wasn't a candidate for chemo, which is good and bad), I freaked.  I won't even let my dentist take x-rays of my teeth unless I'm in pain; the thought of exposing my heart and lungs to killer rays scared the hell out of me.  Plus I was going to have to go every day except Saturday and Sunday for six weeks. And that doesn't even address the surgery (which ended up being two surgeries).  The anticipation was agonizing, but in the end it wasn't all that bad.  I got into a routine for the six weeks, the treatment was (seemingly) innocuous and took only minutes once I got settled on the body mold, the staff was pleasant, and the surgeries went well with a minimum of scarring. So this was anticipation in the form of fear of the unknown.  Fear makes you high, but it isn't healthy.

Sometimes when I had done something that I wasn't very proud of, like hiding my smoking from my family, anticipation was my constant companion. It was the anticipation of getting caught, of hurting my family, of being ashamed of myself.  I replay this getting caught scenario often in my dreams; did last night as a matter of fact.  This kind of anticipation is a high too, but not a good one.

When I was getting ready to quit smoking, I tried to anticipate what I would do when I couldn't go outside and blow off steam and smoke, relax and smoke, play cards and smoke.  I began slowly to substitute what I wanted my new behavior to be and in that way eased myself into better habits.  In this case, anticipation was of a preparatory nature like that around losing my father; I was able to make a significant change in my life by looking forward to a time when I didn't smoke.

Anticipation can be useful or detrimental. It can set you up for disappointment and it can cause undue worry.  It can make you high or it can make you physically ill. It can enhance an experience by prolonging the joy it will bring. Whatever role it plays, I believe it elongates time.  Waiting.

I know we're supposed to live in the moment.  A devotion to that way of living would do away with all my anticipation, but I'm just not there yet. In the meantime, I can remind myself of the times my anticipation proved to be nothing, or that anticipation was useful, and cling to my habit of anticipating good things.

What forms has anticipation taken in your life?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Randall Kenan Workshop

This weekend an amazing group of writers met with author Randall Kenan to give new life to old photographs.  You might remember reading about it a few weeks ago. 

Not only did these people speak to us, but sometimes they didn't, and that was one of the more surprising developments.  In the beginning, I insisted that people randomly choose their prompt photos; some just could not connect to the faces.  We discovered that we brought who we are individually and historically to the writing pad, sometimes in ways that could not be overcome.

In the safe environment of a workshop, it's okay to explore these things, and we did.  We laughed a lot too.  But mostly we did some writing that will astound you at the January 2013 exhibit.  More about that as the time approaches.

Look at these photos and think about what you assume is the story.  It's my opinion that if we open ourselves to the expressions and setting and arrangement of photographs, we can find a tale in every one.  In my own family, I can take a photograph of the five children and read my father's mood from our expressions; so it's possible to tell something about the photographer too.

It was a weekend of growth for those of us who participated. We grew as writers as was expected in a writing workshop. I think we learned something about empathy too both from listening to our fellow participants and looking into the eyes of those captured on paper.

Next week I'm going to go back to the idea of anticipation, inspired by something my yoga teacher said last night.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Planting Seeds

I am a Capricorn which is an earth sign.  I like to garden some, but I'm not a fanatic about it.  It occurred to me this morning though that I love to plant seeds and see what comes up in a different way.

This planting can take many forms.  I might have an idea, mention it to someone or a group of people, and see what kind of reaction I get.  This might be compared to testing the soil.  Is the group ripe for growing the idea?  Is the person I'm collaborating with fertile with more ideas around mine?

I could be planning an event, setting the scene, roiling up my space to sow seeds of creativity.  I change sheets and clean bedrooms for guests, get out dishes to set a table for eight, pull in a fabulous facilitator, enroll some friends or acquaintances, make a circle of chairs.

I sign up for a class and anticipate the fertilizer it will provide for my future work.

This sowing of seeds has the same sort of anticipation of growth that real planting does.  The table is set, the idea is spoken, the rough draft is written, and now I have to wait to see what comes up. In fact, I might say that my new drug is anticipation.

It's the anticipation that the mail will come with a letter, anticipation that my family will call, anticipation of a workshop or a weekend trip with my husband.  Anticipation of my story being accepted (or even rejected).  Anticipation of nighttime when I grab a book that I've wanted to read all day.  Anticipation of reading my writing to my writing group and hearing their feedback.  Anticipation as the printer reveals one of my photographs on paper, anticipation of a friend receiving a card that I've mailed.

This is not frittering away the present for the future.  It is using the present to make the best of what is to come.  My stomach is kind of churning right now from writing this post.  I know it's because I'm nervously anticipating green shoots from my "garden."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Louisville, Part II

This photograph of my mother and me was taken in 1982.  I was thirty years old and she was fifty-five.  I was pregnant with my second child.  A few months later, she died one morning of a heart attack.

It has taken the death of my father for the fact that I didn't really know my mom to slap me in the face.

My youngest sister and I took the trip to Louisville to see what we could find out about her.  I can't say it better than I said it to her friend, Lucy, in my thank you note to her:

August 28, 2012

Dearest Lucy,

When I talked to Nan [another sister] the Wednesday before we left for Louisville, she said, “Ask Lucy what Mom was like.”  I laughed—it seemed so vague—but that was really what we all wanted to know.  What was our mother like?

You told us this weekend.  She was kind and fun and everyone loved her.  She and my dad had their problems, but she never wanted to hurt him.  She looked after you when you moved to Carolina Beach and needed a friend. And you returned the favor when she needed a friend:  you checked on her often and finally paved the way for her to go to Fellowship Hall.  She suffered when her sister and mother died. She thought my dad was a good catch. She was vibrant and had a great personality.  She was there when people needed her.

I feel as though I am mourning her loss a second time.  I didn’t understand her at all, and wasn’t always very kind to her.  Kids act like that, I know, but it must have been very painful for her.  I wish I had known her as you knew her, had had more time with her, had seen her as I see you with your grandchildren, spending time at the holidays and in the summers. 

I wish I could tell her I’m sorry, that now I understand.  I understand not just because I’m a mother too, a wife with an imperfect marriage, a person who has suffered loss and knows that grief lasts a long time.  I wish I could say I understand the kind of pain that drives a person to the bottom of a liquor bottle, and the same pain that you can’t avoid once you give up the booze.  I would love to say I’m sorry I ganged up on her with my siblings and with my dad and regret that we teased her, that I could tell her that I loved her laugh and her ready smile.  I wish I could say “thank you” like I mean it.

I know that had she lived to be eighty-something, she would have been an elegant woman, just like you are, that she would still welcome Melissa [Lucy's daughter] to her home as you welcomed us into yours, that she would have lived every day of her life just as you do.  She would have been a doting grandmother.

Thank you for your graciousness, your honesty, your friendship with my mom through all those years, for sharing your knowledge of Louisville with us. I know we will see each other again before thirty years have passed!  I’m so glad we made the trip.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!


We asked Lucy some hard questions and she honestly answered them. It was nice to look at the answers with adult eyes; we felt totally non-judgmental.  We learned a lot about her relationship with my dad--not from his perspective, which was rose-colored to say the least--but from someone in whom my mom confided her deepest secrets.

I know my mother better today than I did the day she died.  And as I said, along with understanding comes regret. But it also comes with a whole lot of gratitude.