Thursday, July 27, 2017

Big Words: Backsliding

(I want to acknowledge Tanya Shirley, a Jamaican poet, whose “A Chant Against Fear” inspired part of this.)

            Backsliding – should I be afraid of it or look forward to it? Mainstream culture says backsliding is bad. We must always be moving forward. Like sharks, if we don’t keep moving (forward, of course), we die. If we take one step forward and two steps back, that’s a tragedy.             What if there’s a time for backsliding.
            Jack died. Did I tell you that? I’m supposed to be moving forward, finding closure, healing. But I’m not backsliding into grief. Grief is beside the point.

            We met when we were 21, married at 22. We were children. I know, some of you may be 21 or 22 and think you’re adults. We thought we were adults, thought we knew who we were and what we were doing.
            We were lucky, together for the next 52 years. At the beginning, I was a shy, reserved person afraid to speak up because I knew no one would listen to me. I’ve becomw confident, outspoken, standing up in front of classes, sometimes crowds, like this, becoming a boss, hiring and firing, traveling to many countries with strange languages. Women’s liberation had a lot to do with this transformation, but Jack supported it, too. Without him, I’m afraid I’m backsliding to that earlier me.

            When we met, I was on my own and supporting myself, but I was still unformed, malleable. Going from family to roommates, I’d only ever lived alone for two weeks of my life. The first time I was completely on my own, in my own place, I sat on my sofa/bed and cried, for half an hour. I retreated home, to my parents. Then I was afraid, of the silence (no radio), no one to talk to (on the pay phone out in the hall).
Fear of loneliness.
Fear of not knowing who I was.

            A few months after Jack died, fear came roaring back. Now I was home, and my fears were different:
Fear of losing the person I’d become via loving Jack and he loving me.
Fear of being old as a single person, as a single woman, as a woman who’s 75.
Fear of forgetting Jack if I’m successful in learning to live without him.
Fear of the open-endedness of freedom, with no one to share it with.
Fear that having a daily plan will constrain me, but
Fear that having no plan will leave me unmoored.
Fear of dying.
Fear of being a person who is afraid of dying.

            The fear ebbs, but never disappears. I remember what the great Negro Leagues xpitcher Satchel Paige said, “Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.”  But if I look back, if I backslide into that fear, perhaps I’ll learn something I need to know.
I read this at the July 24 Big Words series, which had the theme word "Backslide."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Two Sentences

I just read the short fiction by Elif Batuman in the January 23 New Yorker. I quite liked the story (first generation freshman college student at Harvard), but two sentences stood out for me. "The cocktail party was reproduced in miniature in Gary's eyeglasses." And "Such names were unheard of in New Jersey, where everything was called Ridgefield, Glen Ridge, Ridgewood, or Woodbridge."
            That first sentence is a transition, from the narrator's surprise to her reply. But I can't help wondering how the author came up with that image. "Gary's eyeglasses" play no other role in the story, and the cocktail party is a cartoon being shown in an art seminar. How long did it take for Batuman to come up with that image? What other images did she try out? What made her choose this one over the others? Writers' questions.
            The other sentence just made me laugh. I know two women who once lived in one of those New Jersey towns, Ridgewood or Ridgefield, I can never remember. They have long since left, now residents of New York City, where they are much more comfortable and happy. 

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Air Travel Hell

            I’ve been traveling a lot lately, but last Thursday was probably the nadir. Here’s what happened.
            I was scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia on American Eagle nonstop to Dayton at 1:06 (I was headed to a college reunion in Yellow Springs). I arrived at the gate around 12:30 and everything was fine. About 10 minutes later, the flight had been postponed an hour and a half. Ten minutes after that, it was canceled. I was being picked up at the airport, so I first had to text my handler so the driver wouldn’t head to the airport.
           Next step: customer service desk, where a small line had formed. A text from American said I was rebooked the next morning on a 6 a.m. flight, but that was not going to happen. I was behind a woman with a young boy, who I later learned was 7. While mom was on her phone, the boy didn’t have any toy or book to occupy him, and he was clearly already extremely bored. It took almost an hour to get to the desk. Here I was offered the choice of the 1:06 flight the next day, or a 4:35 flight to Washington, D.C., connecting to a 10 p.m. flight to Dayton, getting me in at 11:35.
            Going home to return the next day felt like moving backward. Besides, flying to Ohio in the summertime is always iffy; a few years ago I’d been making this same trip and two flights were delayed by weather. Dayton is about a half-hour drive to my final destination, but it seemed hard to expect a volunteer driver to come get me late at night. If I could get a room at a hotel near the airport, it made more sense to take that choice.
            My phone gave me the number for a Hampton Inn, and I was able to get a room that night. And the clerk assured me that there was a 24-hour free shuttle bus. So I was soon on my way to D.C. And once there, lining up for the next leg, I was once again behind the woman and her son. Here’s where I learned that they had been in New York for an annual checkup with a doctor, where they had stayed in New Jersey, though on previous visits they had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. This implied something serious, but the boy seemed totally normal and I hesitated to ask why he needed annual checkups with a doctor in another city.
            Finally, we arrive in Dayton, and I immediately call the hotel to find out where to find the hotel shuttle bus. The desk clerk tells me that there is no shuttle bus because the driver called in sick – and there is no backup driver. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. The desk clerk next tells me that he is the only person working, so there’s not even another staff person who could come get me.
            Fortunately, there were taxis at the airport, so I did get to the hotel. And the next morning, a volunteer from the reunion staff picked me up and got me to the reunion. Reunion was fun, and I danced for more than an hour at the Saturday night dance. And the two-hour delay on our flight home felt almost normal.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

#52essays2017, Essay 10: K Is for Keep On Keepin’ On

(I’m way behind the essay a week writing challenge, and have clearly not kept up with the daily Blogging AtoZ Challenge for April. So I will combine the two for my essays and try to catch up, which could mean writing two or three essays a week for the rest of the year. Haven’t checked a calendar yet for a real schedule.)

My husband died last year. I keep saying that, and it’s probably getting boring for other people. But it still feels like the most important thing that’s happened in my life recently.
            It was a moment, the moment Jack died. Up until that moment, our lives were entwined. We were not the joined-at-the-hip type of couple, like my husband’s brother and his wife. We had our own friends, we traveled separately often, we shared housework—and we kept our money separate. He went to the gym almost every day, I went maybe three times a week. But we both loved baseball and went to games together, went to the movies, had some friends in common. And we were both storytellers, though he was much better than me.
            When he got sick and said things like “if I’m here next year,” I ignored the implication. I continued to believe our “moments before,” alive, would go on forever. Denial, much? It’s the “moments after” that continue to mount up, to add on, to move me steadily away from those moments when Jack was alive.
            Yet I have to keep on keepin’ on. Remembering the past is not the same as living in the past. But integrating the past into the continually-moving-forward present is a paradox when one member of that past is no longer present to continue that work. His memories have evaporated, or live, imperfectly, in the memories of others. I don’t want to be stuck in the past, I don’t want to lose the past, and I want to keep on keepin’ on with the past as companion. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

#AtoZChallenge and #52essays2017 (#9): J Is for Jumble

            The jumble is my mind. I have not been able to settle on a J word for weeks. J could have been Jack, my late husband who was never late and would have hated being referred to as “late” (I didn’t think to ask him about that as he waited for death, which was not as on time as he wanted, but was not too late either). But a brief post about “J Is for Jack” would not have been possible.           
             J could have been Jaffe, my family name. But that too would not have been a brief post as I gathered Jaffe stories. And would they be stories about the family I grew up in? The family my father grew up in? It could have been only how his father came to this country, since I know very little about my grandfather’s family, besides his coming from Vitebsk, Russia (the same city Marc Chagall was from), in order to escape being drafted into the czar’s army.
            “J Is for Joy” is too clichéd. That it was one of the first words that popped into my head was reason enough to reject it.
            Jumble. Yes, my mind has been a jumble. I sometimes find myself at the end of the day wondering, “what did I do today?” “What did I do yesterday?” Last month I missed a meeting because I had it in my mind that it was at 6:30, when it was clearly written into my datebook for 6. I write an e-mail to my daughter every week (and she to me) to let her know what I’ll be doing, when I’ll be home or out. (Before Jack died, he talked to our daughter almost every day, so he was up on her activities. The e-mails are my attempt to replace that exchange.) But then I forget and have to keep consulting the datebook myself to be sure I’m in the right place at the right time. And my to-do list? I add to it, then never look at it. There are items on it from a month ago; I look at the list and can’t deal with the phone calls or other tasks, but can add one or two more.
            Enough. I’m going to a friend’s 70th birthday party in a pouring rain. It’s the middle of May in New York City, and it’s 52 degrees outside. Mother Earth is not happy, as a full-page ad[[]] in yesterday’s New York Times attests to. 
 I never finished April's Blogging AtoZ challenge, and wrote this weeks ago and forgot to post it. Maybe I can catch up with the #52essays2017, which I only got up essay #8, which also did double-duty.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

SOLTuesday: Street Scene

I’m walking down my block today, past the school. A little girl, 2 to 3 years old, has stopped, leaned over, and picked up a white feather from the sidewalk. I think, she shouldn’t be picking things off the sidewalk, and I look around for the pertinent adult. About 25 feet ahead, a tall man carrying a child’s backpack has turned around, looking back toward the girl. As I continue walking, I think about telling him that she’s picked up a feather from the street. But I say nothing.
            An instant later I hear him say, “Put that down.” I keep walking as I hear her voice the perennial child question: “Why?”
            If my block were a village, I would have known that child and her father. It would have been normal for me to say to her, “Don’t pick up feathers from the sidewalk,” or to her father, “Chloe [or whatever her name is] just picked up a feather.” We might have stopped and exchanged stories about what small children see on the street at their feet and find fascinating.
            But hundreds of people live on my block and around the corner, and many children attend the school I’m passing from other neighborhoods. I can’t know all of them. That’s the price I pay for living in a city where I don’t have to own a car, where there are dozens of movies playing every day, dozens more museums, walkable streets and parks. I have my own “village” of friends around the city, just not necessarily those I see on the street.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. Add one of your own.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

SOLTuesday: Windows and Blinds

            A couple of months ago I was taking a shower when I noticed a man on the ledge of the school next door, which is maybe 15 feet from my bathroom window. We have never had a window covering on the bathroom window because our apartment is on the dark side: second floor, tall building on other side of narrow alleyway. Why make it darker with a shade?
            Standing in the shower, I was able to get into a corner that was out of the sightline, and when I peeked out, I saw the man had his back to my window, and when I was done  with my shower, he was gone from the ledge.
            That school building’s ledge has two immense fans, probably part of the air-conditioning or heating system, and there is usually never anyone there — except maybe once every few years. And then there’s Local Law 11, which requires every building to inspect its exterior walls every five years.
            Why did I never check to see if anyone was there? Because when Jack was alive, he almost always woke up first and alerted me if there were workmen able to see into the bathroom. And if there were, I’d rig up a temporary shade with a towel on a curtain rod for the duration.
            Now, I no longer have Jack as early-warning-system. And why shouldn’t I buy blinds or a shade that would be open most of the time, and closed only when necessary? I stopped at the nearest home décor store, ordered a shade for the bathroom and a blind for the bedroom that used to be our daughter’s, and which she claims had a blind in her youth but I have no recollection of it.
            Now I look out the bathroom window every day before getting in the shower, and there hasn’t been anyone on that ledge since. So no need to use the shade — yet.
--> It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.