Here’s a selfie I took this morning, me wearing my favorite mask. As I believe this pandemic is going to last a long time, I’m collecting a variety of them. How very strange. Of the many things I’ve done in my life that seemed unimaginable, wearing a mask daily ranks near the top of that list. I remember having lots of conversations with people about how if time travel was possible, as portrayed in films like The Time Machine or Back to the Future, I’d never have chosen to go forward, to see what was waiting for me down the road. I still feel the same way. I didn’t realize I’d accidentally taken this photo of my hair today, some time when I was out in the garden, looking for my newest blooms or insects on the wing. I thought it was both funny and oddly artistic. My garden, along with my funny little kiddie pool, are my salvation during these seemingly endless repetitive days of social distancing. I know that because my country’s response to the coronavirus has been so abysmal, I’m likely to be occupying this unexpected peculiar life for many months so I’d better make good use of whatever breaks the monotony. Outside I go, absent intolerable weather, to hunt for what nature has to offer daily, a beautiful little transient moment that I can freeze in time. Here are some of today’s little treasures.
I have lots more photos from today and many other days. They’re easier for ne to edit and publish than a post I’ve been grappling with for a week. It’s chapter 11 of my small book about the years of Michael’s cancer and death – Be 278. I knew I needed to write that narrative, even when Michael was still alive. I thought it would not only help me come to terms with those challenging years, but also help others whose lives are upended by a terrible diagnosis. I’m at the part when Michael has risen from the proverbial ashes, rescued from what we thought was imminent death, by a drug that for him, was essentially a miracle. This chapter is about remission which I thought would be easier to describe than some of the more painful moments. But it isn’t. I still get overwhelmed. I take breaks, going outside to see what the birds are doing, and other winged creatures or random garden visitors as well.
This is all great distraction. I give myself a break for being undisciplined about writing all that hard stuff because living it all over again is really brutal. I remember a lot of it, vividly, even after five years which in reality, is only a little time. But I also have my journals, pages and pages of feelings and descriptions, of ugly moments and painful beauty. I get involved with reading them to the point where I’m so exhausted that when I’m finished, I can’t write a word. That’s when I go outside, or read a book, or splash my feet in my little pool and watch the clouds go by while I listen to music on my ridiculously large headphones. I think it’s good to know yourself well enough to listen when your mind tells you to take a step back. This evening I was immersed in the journals again, trying to establish a sequence of events, having gotten almost 1400 words squeezed out of my head that for the most part, seem coherent. While flipping the pages, I came to a number of them that I wrote in the fall of 2015, at a time when Michael was still in his exceptional response to treatment and I felt safe enough to venture back into the non-medical world to do something for myself. I took a creative writing class. I remember how great it felt to be participating in a normal retirement activity, doing something I’d always wanted to do, years before I initiated this blog. I didn’t remember all that much about what I wrote though. I liked my teacher and distinctly recall an ego-boosting moment when she read what she felt were the greatest first sentences in fiction and I could identify every single book. I felt like this part of my brain that I’d forgotten was abruptly, back up front, away from cancer studies and clinical articles. I even remember the first sentence she read: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which happened to be my favorite novel.
After that class, our assignment was to write ten sentences that we thought would be engaging starters to a story or novel. What I found tonight in my journal was what I wrote for that assignment. I was fascinated by them but I never had time to go back and use them to go any further. Michael was still living and when he was at his strongest, I wanted to experience as much time together as possible. And when remission ended, and we walked those last months to his death, I forgot about creative writing. After he was gone, I took more classes, mostly about science and genetics, with jazz thrown in on the side. I started this blog about 6 months after Michael’s death, committed more to memoir than fiction. But now my interest is piqued. I don’t know whether I’ll pick these up and go anywhere with them. Regardless of what I’ll do, here are my 10 opening sentences, written five years ago.
1) When the sun broke through her bedroom blinds, Belle pulled the comforter down far enough to peek over it with one eye and register dismay that she was in the same room where she’d fallen asleep the previous night.
2) No matter how hard Jack squeezed and twisted the nightgown, his face pressed against the slinky cotton, no scent of Emily remained.
3) Goldfinches swayed on the pampas grass, denuding the plumes of their seed bounty in the brisk November wind.
4) Low tide, the edge of the beach covered in the former homes of sea creatures who had made a splendid snack for the inevitable predator.
5) The house appeared to be average for the neighborhood, effectively concealing the emotional disarray behind the sturdy wood door.
6) Every time Claire drew closer to Chicago, the sky’s subtle transition from blue to a sickly yellow color was a reminder of why she’d left so many years ago.
7) Although a distant geology class had provided the reason for the change in the color of the earth, the brilliant orange ground never failed to stun him.
8) “Keep your head down and don’t make eye contact with anyone or we’ll never get out of here.”
9) When they walked to the lake that morning, neither one imagined that this particular day would provide sanctuary for them through all life’s agonies, small and large.
10) Impossibly, a fountain pen with green ink and a piece of damask paper was enough to blot out the disappointment of last night’s dismal sexual failure.
So, there they are. Ten beginnings. I still like most of them and have a fair idea where I’d go with them. We’ll see. Tomorrow, I go back to the remission chapter. Time only allows for the occasional step back at my age.