Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Important Stuff

Several bloggers I read regularly are talking about what's important. How much writers must sacrifice and what we shouldn't be willing to give up to achieve our dreams. They say it very well. Marcy Kennedy, Is Chasing Your Dream Preventing You From Living  and Kristen Lamb: Are We Being Busy or Fruitful? I agree with them.

I'm a very relaxed writer. That makes me laugh because it seems redundant to me. I'm a writer! Writing has always been about breathing, thinking, typing furiously for an hour and dreaming. It never struck me as a harried profession. Not until self-publishing came along. Of course, before that, it was a dream and self-publishing makes it a reality for me. I'm thankful!

Still, I sometimes think I'm a typewriter sort caught in the digital age. Here's the thing: I want to write, more than anything. I do it all the time! It's in my blood, my heart and soul. I was born to it and I will write, there is no question in my mind. I do write. Understand, however, I will do it in my way. I won't sacrifice time with my family or the joy I have in being with them. As much as writing is in every fiber of my being, I won't put it above them. It is a thing I do, an extension of who I am, but they are people I absolutely adore. As much as I it would be easy to measure success the way the world does, I won't. It isn't how I was raised. It isn't what I believe.

Today, I'm remembering. Maybe that's how I "don't" work even if sometimes remembering is work to me. It's all work, all useable, productive time. Fruitful, to put it another way (thank you Kristen Lamb!) and valuable to the writing experience.

This time of year reminds me of so many things. I have been through a month of what I like to call "emotional anniversaries." I didn't blog much in August, but, contrary to the gurus and how they say I should, I don't follow the norms. I'm a rebel. I blog when I choose and I respect your right to read me if and when you feel like it. This is how I stretch my writing muscles and I hope you draw something useful from it, whoever you are, whatever your profession.

My father passed away in 1996 between the wee hours of the last day of July and the first of August. The anniversary of my the day my Mother was born is August 5th. Last year, both Panda the Grumpy who became Panda the Loving and Sweet while Shirley was in the hospital passed away a few days before our dear Aunt Shirley did - both in August. This year, it was doubly difficult because we exhausted ourselves physically doing in one Summer the repair and restoration work of ten years. My darling husband spent hours in the ER (in February June AS WELL AS August) due to his chronic arrhythmia -a roller coaster ride if ever there was one. My daughter started college and her brothers have returned to college as well. Three kids in college - all living at home!

You'll maybe understand, a little, why I'm glad for the arrival of September. It is a month of memories, too, for someone as old as I am now; but ... these are better sorts. My Son Spot, my first boy, was born this month. The memories that brings back fill my eyes with happy tears. There are both melancholy and sweet memories associated with sending all my children off to school, but those are August memories too. They always start earlier than we did when we were kids.

My September memories of going to school myself are good ones. My mother loved having all seven of us at home, so she never failed to send me off with a hug and the reminder to, "Walk with the King today!" I also love having my children at home, unlike our modern media would have you believe of mothers who want to send their kids off so they can have a moment's peace with a cup of coffee. Really? That's what the media believes? Where did advertisers grow up?

I grew up on a tree-lined suburban street in southern New Jersey. I loved it there. Some of my very best memories are being in my parents house with my six siblings, Mom and Dad, around the holidays, or during Summer vacation.

In all seasons of the year we played in our yard under the huge maple tree. We drove go-carts and pushed the little black Prinz around. (Just like the one in the picture, only, as I mentioned, black. And Awesome, by the way.) My father had such plans for that car, but we'd put it in neutral and one of us would drive (never me, they never let me because I was the youngest) while the others would push. I remember pushing by the right front mirror and tripping over one of the Maple's roots (big tree, big roots) and I fell. My brothers and sisters just pushed that sucker right over me. I wasn't hurt, but they left tire tracks on my legs, so I went inside, a bit miffed. "Mom, they ran me over!" As miffed as I was, I remember it very fondly.

We did so many exciting things when we were young and "poor". We didn't have a lot, but we had enough. God and my parents provided. My parents were good stewards of the things they were given, including us. My father was a clever man, a Renaissance man. (So, blessed me, is my husband!) He could build almost anything and he cultivated relationships with people who could get him the things he needed. He would help them by providing a good or service he could and they would do the same.

We couldn't just buy a camper or recreational vehicle, but my Father got a deal on a used school bus. He converted that old bus to a camper that slept ten! It had two tables where we could all fit to eat together. Those tables also converted to a double bed space for my parents to sleep in while we slept in bunk beds he built into the bus. Each bunk had storage under the mattress for dry goods. It had a toilet, in a curtained off tiny space, a sink, a propane stove and cabinets in the back and front. It was utterly amazing. We called it "Rolling Rover" because school buses in those days always looked like big dogs. We afforded it personality and I always felt as if took care of us. The folding door possessed an array of stickers from every gas station along the routes taken. Maine, Virginia, Texas, and California to see my brother who was in the Navy. We visited many states in between, saw the Grand Canyon, spent one rainy night in Canada, long before passports were needed. We drove through the mountains of Tennessee, felt the beat of the USA in the heartland and were awed by desert sunsets over distant mountains and marvelled at the moonrise. I saw a UFO in the sky, not in Roswell! Held petrified wood and volcanic rock. I got my first glimpse of a real Roadrunner and took that left turn at Albuquerque.

What did not amaze me was that my very own Father had done this thing. He took something someone else no longer needed and turned it into something magical. There was blood, sweat and tears involved, I have no doubt. Yet, I never saw those things. Never saw him doubt it would work, or doubt for a moment that God gave him the tools to do it. He had a brain and hands and worked hard. No excuses. What a precious example to me. One that I confess, in this day of technology, I can all too easily forget. I have those things too: a good mind, good hands and I can work hard. So what if I have carpal tunnel? I know my father had arthritis but he didn't let that stop him from doing what needed to be done. He never used his bad knee, his headaches, his aching back or any other physical problem as an excuse.

I still remember with remarkable clarity seeing the joy and pride he had in showing us our beautiful country. We were a Navy family and we protected this land, he said. Returning home to our tiny town of Collingswood, I was seven years old but I remember how it changed. Before our trips, I thought my backyard was BIG - after all we had the Prinz, Rover, a van, and a station wagon in it at once. The Bus we parked on the grass and still had yards and yards of room to play in. But as we returned to our beloved street, I had the stunning realization that the world I lived in was far larger than I'd ever imagined there in my backyard. Big enough to hold every dream. It was more than good to be back home, it comforted me. I saw our friends and neighbors waving and shouting, "Here come the Jennings'!" What a terrific street I grew up on. What beloved neighbors and friends!

Who does that today when the neighbors return home from a trip? People peek through their blinds and murmur to one another, but no one waves from their porch and smiles, delighted that you're back safe and sound, do they? I'd love to know that they still do, somewhere in this great big country. That we don't merely sit and tweet about it, but we go out and greet them and smile and are happy.

That's some of the important stuff. The stuff that matters to me, the stuff that shaped who I am and how I write.

What matters most to you?

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