This morning, I saw the results of a Mother’s Day poll indicating that half of all moms have to ask their kids for technical support with their phones, computers, and Kindles. I’m ashamed to admit that I fall into that technologically inept group of women, even though I did show my grandfather and grandmother how to operate their new Kindles. Sadly, this past January, during my first semester of teaching, I had to call my daughter in Colorado in a panic not once, but twice, because I couldn’t figure out how to copy my Powerpoint lecture onto a flash drive.
Last week, my son dropped his iPhone into a swimming pool. He checked our AT&T account and was excited to see that we were due an upgrade. But he was not so thrilled when I told him that since I was paying for the new phone, I was taking the iPhone 5 and he was getting my old one.
In fact, he was so irritated that he posted this to his sister’s Facebook wall: “I’m getting Mom’s old piece of shit. She’s getting a 5. She doesn’t even know what Siri is.”
I have been acquainted with Siri, but I don’t know her well. So yesterday, I decided we should to have a talk. I was driving, and I needed to call Claude’s Chocolates in St. Augustine to order some Mother’s Day boxes. “Siri, please find me Claude’s Chocolates in St. Augustine,” I said into my new iPhone 5.
“I found fifteen places matching ‘parts’ . . . eight of them are fairly close to St. Augustine,” she replied.
I tried to say it more clearly, “Claude’s Chocolates. St. Augustine, Florida.”
This time, Siri went to Europe and found me something sounding like Choc Haus. It was in Germany. “I found some places, but they’re not close to St. Augustine,” she said apologetically.
I gave up and Googled Claude’s. It took me eight seconds. But I decided to give Siri another chance. I had to change my haircut appointment, so I pushed her little button and said, “Siri, please find me Panache Hair Salon in St. Augustine.”
That bitch had me calling a salon in Davidson County, Tennessee, which is basically Nashville. While I always wanted to be a Hee-Haw girl, that’s a long way to drive for a cut and color. However, I have taken the oath of Annelle in Steel Magnolias, vowing that my personal tragedy would never interfere with my ability to do (or in my case have) good hair, so I persisted. Siri found five hair salons around me, but since I wasn’t at home, Panache wasn’t around me. I Googled it.
Determined to get something out of Siri that I could boast about to my kids, I said, “Siri, play Jimmy Buffett.”
I have over three hundred Jimmy Buffett songs on my iPhone. I have “Margaritaville,” “Fins,” “Come Monday,” and “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” his biggies. But the one Siri chose for me and immediately began playing was “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”
I don’t even want to think about what that says about me. Still, Siri had gotten something right. Encouraged, I decided to text while driving. “Siri, text Lauren Testing Siri I love you,” I said.
“Alright, here’s your message to Lauren: ‘Testing Siri I love you.’ Should I send it?”
It was perfect. Overjoyed, I said, “Yes! Send it!” Two minutes later, my girl replied, “I love you, too.”
I got my message across, and I didn’t have to ask a kid for help. Happy Mother’s Day to me.
She pushes the cart into the checkout line, answers the paper or plastic question, and begins unloading.
“Can you taste a difference?” The cashier is holding up a pound of grass-fed ground beef. It’s more about what’s good for you than taste, she thinks, but decides that sounds too superior. So she just nods her head.
“What do you do with this?” The frozen acai berry packets are for smoothies, she answers, and the woman asks what acai berries taste like. ”Are they sweet?” She knows it would be rude to suggest that the woman try them for herself, so she smiles kindly and explains that cane juice is added to the berries.
“OXYMORONIC!” The word startles her. The cashier is scanning a bag of Cheetos. “How can cheese puffs be all-natural?” Realizing the cashier is getting ready to read the ingredients aloud, she cringes. ”Sea salt! Whey! Ooooh, the corn meal’s organic!”
There’s nothing to say, really, so she merely smiles.
“Now, here’s something I buy,” Ms. Checkout says as she scans the tub of unrefined coconut oil. “I eat it and I wear it.”
And all she can do is look at her next item. Bananas. Please don’t comment on the bananas, she silently pleads.
Anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain, don’t carry the world upon your shoulders. . . . The words to the 1968 Beatles’ hit were playing in the background yesterday morning as I sat down to breakfast with my parents at the FA Cafe, a little hole in the wall across the street from the St. Augustine Beach Pier.
It’s a long song, so I noticed it was still playing when my unsweetened iced tea showed up. And that it was still going when I ordered Margie’s Eggsceptional omelet. I wouldn’t have thought another thing about it, except I got home from breakfast and sat down to read Abigail Thomas’s memoir Safekeeping. Thomas had chosen these words for her epigraph: Take a sad song and make it better.
The line is from “Hey Jude.” The coincidence made me stop and wonder why the song kept pushing itself into my consciousness. What was the message?
I thought back to June 2002. I was in Destin, Florida, with my in-laws and my kids. My husband was in a treatment facility in Los Angeles, and his parents had taken me and the kids to their condo in hopes of diverting the kids’ attention away from their dad’s absence.
I was in a tremendous amount of pain, afraid that my husband had resumed an affair I’d thought was over. One evening, we walked with the kids down to the Sunset Grill, a little dive boasting fresh steamed shrimp, margaritas served in salt-rimmed solo cups, and weeknight karaoke on the patio.
Dave, the karaoke DJ, was an ex-truck driver with a tenuous heart. Every time I saw him, I worried it would be the last. He grinned when we showed up and asked if “Wild Thing” would be performing that evening.
My older daughter had earned herself that title on a previous trip. Not quite twelve, she had been known to memorize entire movie scripts. So it was no wonder she knew every word to The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and had perfected her act. After she’d performed and the crowd’s cheers had died down, a short, nondescript guy wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt stood up and belted out “Hey Jude.”
Take a sad song and make it better. I sat watching that tie-dyed guy sing, wondering how, exactly, I was supposed to make my sad song better.
I didn’t figure it out that night. Or even that year. I realized yesterday morning that I had figured it out at some point but just never knew it.
I didn’t know because I’d never connected all the dots. I’d certainly thought about the tie-dyed karaoke guy every time I’d heard “Hey Jude” since that night over a decade ago. I even thought about him when Paul McCartney sang the song during the Opening Ceremony of last year’s Olympics. I’d always had a warm, happy feeling surrounding that memory. It wasn’t until I saw those words — take a sad song and make it better — on the page that I remembered exactly what was happening in my life on that long-ago karaoke night.
And that, I think, is how we take a sad song and make it better. We’re the sum of the stories we tell ourselves. For every event in our lives, we’re the writers telling a story of how it happened and what it meant. My sister is finishing a PhD in psychology, and her specialty is memory. As I understand it, scientists are discovering that memory isn’t this immutable rock that has the power to shipwreck our lives. It’s more like shifting sand. And we always have the option of sliding our ship onto it, hopping off in a happy spot, and allowing the painful parts to wash away with the tide. Even better, we find a Sunset Grill with good drinks and karaoke to anchor a bit of happiness into the scene.
Paul McCartney reportedly wrote “Hey Jude” for John Lennon’s son. Lennon and his wife, Cynthia, were going through a divorce due to Lennon’s affair with Yoko Ono, and the song was McCartney’s way of helping the boy cope with his parents’ divorce. And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do, the movement you need is on your shoulder.
Because it’s never about anyone else. You’ll do. Just tell a new story.
You might not know this about me, but I’m a contestant on a reality cooking show.
The show is called “What’s For Dinner, Mom?” Here’s the premise: Each contestant must cook a palatable, nutritious dinner while a screaming toddler hangs on her left leg and a three-legged Australian shepherd counter surfs, occasionally scoring a stick of butter or a hunk of cheese. The completed dinner is set on the table next to a pair of sweaty shin guards and a dachshund who believes her best chance of getting fed is to just stand on the table and wait. For the final challenge, a husband walks into the scene, lifts the top off a pot, sniffs, and says, “I’ll just have a protein shake tonight.”
The judges are an 8-year-old, a 5-year-old, the toddler, and the dachshund. Unlike ABC’s The Taste, in which judges decide a contestant’s fate based upon just one bite, this contest has a three-bite rule. If every judge takes at least three bites, no one shoves a blueberry up his nose during the meal, and the three-legged dog doesn’t barf up the goodies he scavenged from the countertop or the trash, the contestant makes it to the next round. Actually, all contestants make it to the next round. Forever. Or at least until that toddler finally leaves for college.
I’ve been the star of this show for over 22 years. I’m not quite sure how many rounds I’ve completed, but let’s say I averaged three shows each week. That’s 26 times 52 times 3, or 3,432 evening meals I’ve prepared in my life.
That’s a lot of lima beans. It’s vats of spaghetti sauce and enough rice to cover an elephant. It’s a small mountain of onions chopped, truckloads of quesadillas grilled and ground beef browned. It’s also a lot of last-minute scrambling to figure out what’s for dinner. Once, when my older girl was three, I asked, “Baby doll, what do you think we should cook Daddy for dinner?” She let out an anguished wail and said, “You can’t cook Daddy!”
It was this English professor’s first lesson in making sure I used precise grammar in front of my children, that it’s as essential as good nutrition. (And little did I know then that daddy would one day cook his own goose.)
I tried to be a great cook. Honestly, I tried. For several years, I attended Ursula’s Cooking School in Atlanta. Ursula, who started that operation in 1965, used to boast that she’d never repeated a recipe. Unlike my teacher, I’ve repeated recipes, well, repeatedly.
But last Sunday night, I tried something new. My kid was skeptical when he asked, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” and I asked how he’d like nachos. He wasn’t sure, he explained, that I would be able to get the cheese right. He finished three plates, then looked at me and said, “I think that was the best dinner you’ve ever made.”
He’s going off to college, so my run on “What’s for Dinner, Mom?” will end soon. The toddler who used to hang off my leg now towers over me and sports a hollow leg or two. He and his big sisters are healthy, happy, really great people. So to my way of thinking, I won that damn reality show. I won big.
I’ll miss my kid, but I don’t think I’ll miss the cooking show. In fact, I don’t plan on cooking much after he leaves. I wouldn’t know how to cook for only one person anyway. So I’ll probably just have a protein shake.
Life has given me lots of lemons. I’m not talking about the metaphorical lemons as in “when life gives you lemons.” I’m being literal here. I have lots of lemons.
A year ago, I planted a lemon tree behind my house. It was about four feet high when it went into the ground, and it’s still not as tall as I am. But in the past month, it’s been loaded with lemons.
I’ve had big plans for these lemons because of a trip to the Amalfi Coast of Italy in 2010. One night, at a beautiful restaurant in Sorrento called Ristorante Donna Sofia (a tribute to Sophia Loren, who spent a portion of her childhood there), I had my first taste of limoncello.
Our party was already a couple of bottles of wine into the meal when the waiter brought out a platter of frost-covered shot glasses and proceeded to pour a creamy yellow liquid into each one. “Limoncello,” he announced, explaining it’s a traditional after-dinner drink in that part of Italy.
The five adults in our party finished the slim bottle of limoncello, and that’s where my memories of the evening get a bit fuzzy. I do recall asking the waiter if I could keep the empty bottle because, apparently, the teenagers in the group and I hatched a plan to put a note in it and fling it into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The next day, during a walking tour of Sorrento, we marveled at the size of the lemons growing in that town. The Giardini di Cataldo (Cataldo Gardens) had a sign outside of their walled-in lemon grove with this offer: “Free tasting and selling of the products of our production.” We would have purchased some of the products of their production had we been able to figure out a way to slip a lemon the size of a Nerf football past US Customs.
I did, however, take home a bottle of limoncello. Months later, when two of those same friends came to visit, we opened the bottle and sipped it while reminiscing about that trip.
For much of my life, I’ve had an uneasy relationship with alcohol. When I was a kid growing up in a preacher’s house, back in the days when Christian fundamentalism was the fashion, alcohol was strictly forbidden. My ex-husband’s stint in rehab only fueled my fears. And now that I have college-age children, I need to be an example of responsible drinking. I realize, though, that every one of these attitudes is filtered through another person’s perspective.
What, then, are my true feelings about alcohol?
Well, for starters, I’m in the process of bottling the first batch of limoncello from my own lemons. So I’m not banning it from my life. In fact, for the first time in my life, I think I’ve managed to sweeten my metaphorical lemons.
The limoncello recipe states emphatically that in peeling the lemons, it’s very important to only use the yellow parts of the peel. Any white part of the peel that goes into the mixture will make the final product very bitter.
Did you catch that? Even marinating in vodka for a month doesn’t remove the bitterness. And sugar won’t cover it up. Like those lemons, any bitterness inside of us can’t be mitigated or sweetened by alcohol. More often, alcohol merely emphasizes it.
Secondly, the most meaningful times I’ve had involving alcohol are the special occasions when I’m sharing it with friends. It’s about remembering where I was, who I was with, and what we were celebrating. In other words, I believe every problem with alcohol boils down to the difference between drinking to remember and drinking to forget.
I love the idea of drinking to remember, of getting together with my favorite people and making memories. It’s a way of paying life forward rather than looking back. Like the sign said, we truly are the products of our own production.
The limoncello is now bottled and resting comfortably in my freezer. For those of you who drink to remember, here’s my offer: drive on down to St. Augustine Beach, bring a joke or two that will make me giggle, and we’ll crack open a bottle to find the message in it, that the reason we’re here in the first place is to take what we’re given, turn it into something sweet, and be happy in the process.
The average person has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts every single day. At least, that’s the number that comes up when I Google the question.
The discrepancy in those two numbers is quite large, I think, and I wonder if the difference is because scientists just can’t get an exact count, or is it that some people’s brains are literally slower than others?
Maybe it’s that at certain times, our brains just churn out thoughts at a faster pace. Like when you’re driving alone in a car with no satellite radio and the only thing on is a song called “She Cranks My Tractor.” Your thoughts will swarm like a hive of angry bees, all seemingly saying What the hell? Who wrote this? People are actually paying money to listen to it?
Ten days ago, I got into my daughter’s little coupe, which was crammed with most of her worldly belongings, and headed to Boulder, Colorado. I was going to visit my girl, who is now a student at Colorado University-Boulder. I couldn’t wait to see her new campus, her apartment, and all the places where she now spends her days. But that long drive was daunting. And I was dreading the trip.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t have the car shipped to her and just fly out there. It would have made sense, given rising gas prices and the risk of running headfirst into a Kansas snowstorm. The reason is that a week after she got to Colorado, her dad called to ask her if she’d found a job. “No,” she answered, “I’m waiting until Mom brings my car out next month so I’ll have a way to get to work.”
“Tell your mother to ship your car now,” was his reply.
If any other human being on the planet had suggested that I ship the car, it would have arrived in Colorado before the Martin Luther King holiday. But because her dad TOLD me to do it, well, you know.
So I showed him. I got into that bitty Beemer my girl has named Claudia, taking for myself only what was absolutely necessary for three days on the road – a few clothes, a toothbrush, an extra ponytail holder, a John Grisham audiobook, and a case of Pellegrino.
My son called about an hour into the trip to ask how miserable I was going to be alone in the car for three straight days.
“I’d rather be alone than having someone talk my ear off for three days,” I said.
He thought about it for a second and responded, “But that’s better than having your brain talk your ear off for three days.”
He asked if I was going to attempt a new land speed record from St. Augustine to Boulder, a fair question because I’ve been known to play “beat the navigation system’s ETA” on every road trip I’ve ever taken.
“No, my goal is to make it all the way to Boulder with no speeding tickets.” Plus, you don’t have a navigation system in this car, a helpful little voice reminded me.
“Mom, you’re used to the drive from here to Atlanta, and you know where the speed traps are. You’re going to have to be careful because you don’t know those roads,” he cautioned.
I stopped in Atlanta for lunch with my Granddad, who echoed that sentiment with a simple, “Drive careful.”
I spent Friday night in Jackson, Mississippi, with friends and headed out the next morning intending to make it all the way to Wichita, Kansas, where I had a hotel room reserved.
As I crossed the state line into Texas, a little voice in my head let out a cheer: The speed limit is 75! They won’t care if I push 90!
My older, wiser self told the little voice to hush because it’s not smart to mess with Texas. And then my foot and that little voice began battling with my older, wiser self over exactly how fast I should drive.
Turn on the cruise control. Naw, you’re only going 85. They won’t stop you for going 10 over. Keep it under 85, just to be safe. But you’re in Texas, where the roads are mostly straight and flat. You can spot a state trooper before his radar can lock onto you.
Not only were the voices in my head talking my ear off, just like my son had predicted, but they were also about to get into a fistfight.
A new voice entered into the fray, advising me to begin looking for a good exit because Claudia needed gas, and it was time for lunch. It reminded me of my personal rule #8: Never Eat at a Place That Also Sells Gas.
I was almost halfway into the trip, a couple of miles outside of Tyler, Texas, when the voices got really quiet. Almost silent. I was listening to Lenny Kravitz and keeping pace with a couple of cars bearing Texas tags when we came over a little rise and there he was.
You were only doing 84, the voice that had so vociferously insisted that Texas doesn’t care about speed whispered in my head. Um, look again at how the hash marks are laid out on this speedometer, the other voice interrupted. It was clearly 88. But don’t worry. You were moving with traffic, and the speed limit is 75. They won’t care about 13 over.
As it turns out, the voices in my head don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Because I’m here to tell you that the State of Texas does care about speeding, and apparently, going 13 mph over 75 qualifies as such.
Yep, I messed with Texas.
The state trooper who approached my car was tall, dark, handsome, and very, very nice. After asking where I was headed and why, (and then why I didn’t just ship the car to Colorado!), he told me to have a very nice day and to slow down just a bit.
I took that to mean 84.
I made it to Colorado on day three. I’d logged nearly 2,000 miles, 30 hours of driving time, around 180,363 random thoughts, and 6 all-out mental brawls.
Oh, and zero speeding tickets.
I used to think Aristotle had it all wrong. The Father of Reason, the man who was said to know everything there was to know during his lifetime, was not a huge fan of comedy.
He actually equated humor with lesser intelligence, writing in Poetics that it was “an imitation of the worse than average . . . . the Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly.”
I’ve always believed the opposite, that humor is a sign of intelligence. Unlike Nietzsche, who believed wit to be the altar on which we sacrificed feeling, I’ve always seen it as a way to turn pain on its head and, by poking fun at it, gain the psychological higher ground. It’s a way to feel the pain and still win. And because humor stems from intelligence, I believed, it is a valuable character quality.
(I was willing to concede, however, that a quick look at a list of famous comedians probably proved Aristotle’s point. They’re hardly a handsome lot. Some would even argue that their homeliness adds to their hilarity.)
Then I read the results of a Match.com poll released this week. The survey asked 5,000 single men and women what they judge first in a potential mate.
According to the survey, men are primarily concerned with teeth and grammar. Which begs this question: who, exactly, did Match.com survey? And does this mean dentists will now make more than plastic surgeons? I wonder if TLC is considering replacing their show Plastic Wives with something more lucrative, like maybe Molar Mistresses.
And does anyone believe men really care about a woman’s grammar? I’ve yet to hear about a phone sex line called “Girls Talking Impeccable English.” And if you find a strip club hiring only women with a master’s degree in Communication, please let me know.
I’m not trying to make fun of men. I don’t exactly buy what Match.com says women are looking for either. The survey said women are most interested in, well, the quality of a man’s teeth and his grammar.
(Didn’t some warning bells sound at Match.com when their survey showed that men and women are looking for the exact same thing?)
Maybe there are women whose first question to a man is “Can I see your dental records?” Although I suspect there are few who would rather see if his credit card is green, gold, or platinum. Then again, I shouldn’t speculate. I have proof that women could care less about good teeth and grammar.
I have a girlfriend who is freshly divorced. A truthful Match.com profile for her ex-husband would read: “Divorced white male with 30 extra pounds, teeth roughly the same color as a school bus, currently living with his mother, seeks sexy younger woman willing to take care of my kids every other weekend. Love to travel if it means setting up my parents’ motor home inside a Nascar track. Enjoy decomposing with a cold beer after work every evening. Definition of cheating is open to interprecation. Please, only respond if you’re C cup or bigger.”
But he doesn’t need that profile. Against all (Match.com) odds, the man already has a girlfriend.
Did you catch that? A woman is willing to sleep with him at his mother’s house. And I can tell you he didn’t woo her with Shakespeare. The man probably can’t deconstruct Green Eggs and Ham.
He’s completely lacking in the teeth and grammar categories. And he’s really not that smart. I guess he makes her laugh.
Okay, Aristotle. You win.
God is in the bars, and I can prove it.
I’m not writing to prove the existence of God. We’re all grownups here, and it’s really up to each of us to answer these questions for ourselves. But I do have a little story that, I think, might point to an omniscient, omnipresent power that truly has our backs.
My older girl is a senior at New York University. She’s in the Gallatin school, less formally known as the make-up-your-own-major liberal arts school. It’s actually kind of prestigious in that you have to impress them with a proposal for a major they don’t actually offer, and if they’re suitable impressed, they’ll let you pursue that major and, with guidance, allow you to choose the classes appropriate to that major.
She proposed that they allow her to study The Psychology of Entertainment. The school blessed it (enthusiastically, I might add), and she proceeded to take as many of the acting classes the NYU’s Tisch School is famous for, along with entertainment law and entertainment psychology.
For her mom, who’s all about a liberal arts education, it sounds like heaven.
Last semester, she enrolled in a class called Heroes and Villains, a study of famous good guys and bad guys in the arts. All I could think was that I would give a big toe to be in that class.
One of her assignments was to construct a puppet from scratch illustrating one of her personal demons.
Being a college senior, my girl put off her puppet making until the night before the assignment was due. And being a girl who got her craft-making skills from a mom who can’t cut a straight line, she put off the puppet making because she had no idea how to proceed. So around midnight on the night before the puppet was due, she schlepped herself all the way up to the 24-hour Toys ‘R Us in Times Square to buy a puppet, intending to make up a story about a personal demon appropriate to whatever puppet she could purchase.
The only problem with that plan was that the perpetually-open Toys ‘R Us was, for some strange reason, closed. My girl fussed a bit at the security guard standing in front of the locked door, who shrugged and said, “There’s a Duane Reed down the street.”
Frustrated, she walked into the drugstore and picked up a stuffed pony and a set of incense sticks, then headed home to try to make a puppet out of those materials.
On her way home, though, she decided to stop at one of her favorite bars for a drink because, you know, when you’re worried about an assignment, the best thing to do is drink about it.
While waiting for her drink, she pulled out the stuffed pony and began trying to poke the incense sticks into his legs. People around her began watching her, curious to see what she was up to. Then they began taking pictures of the crazed girl who was doing bodily harm to a cute stuffed pony. When the bartender handed her the drink, she looked at my daughter and said, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Trying to make a puppet.”
“Give me that,” the girl said, grabbing the pony and incense sticks, then disappearing into the back room of the bar.
A few minutes later, the bartender emerged with a working puppet. Amazed, my girl asked her where she’d learned to do that.
The bartender answered, “I was a puppetry major at NYU.”
My daughter turned in the best puppet along with a story about how she’s haunted to this day by the story of her childhood horse, Frenchie, who was electrocuted during a terrible thunderstorm. The professor was touched by the performance, and that’s what it’s all about when you’re studying entertainment.
A practical mother would probably shout, “Oh my God! That’s what happens after 4 years at NYU, you end up being a bartender?!”
But I see it as proof that God takes care of drunks and children. He is absolutely in the bars.
He’d had pneumonia, or close to it, and still wasn’t feeling well. He called my uncle, who quickly got him to the hospital. It was there that the doctors discovered that he’d had a heart attack.
We were all sort of astounded by that news. “You didn’t know you had a heart attack?” I asked him.
“Well my chest was tight, and I was feeling week, but I thought it was the pneumonia,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders. And all I could think was that, for a man who pulls his own teeth with a pair of pliers, it made sense.
A subsequent heart catheterization showed some blockages (hey, he’s 90 – what do we expect?) but relatively strong heart function for a man his age. And it showed that the veins leading to his heart are corkscrewed.
It’s like his heart’s been sucking blood through a crazy straw his whole life, and all it did was make it stronger. It’s been strong enough to survive the Great Depression, to dig graves for Holocaust victims at the end of World War Two, and to bury the love of his life after nearly 60 years together. Strong enough to be patient with two teenage boys who frequently tore the transmissions out of the car and to make sure they became good men.
Ten minutes after he got back to his room following the heart catheterization, I caught him trying to rearrange the furniture. “What are you doing?” I said, my voice pitched high in panic.
“The bed’s crooked. I’m trying to fix it,” he said, pushing on the hospital bed.
“You can’t. It has a brake on it. Now get back in bed,” I demanded. And he obeyed, laughing.
See, that heart’s strong, but he’s never let it get hard.
I’ve mentioned before how the story my mom tells about him coming over just to watch me sleep when I was a tiny baby was what changed my concept of self-love. As I sat in his hospital room watching him kindly interact with the nurses and doctors and allow his family to make his medical decisions, I was struck by his level of surrender to the process. You see, he’s made it clear to us that he misses Grandmom and would prefer crossing over to be with her. Yet he’s okay with sticking around for us a little while longer, maybe because he knows we still need him.
I hope I got his heart.
Ernest Hemingway used to give himself a pep talk when his writing wasn’t progressing the way he thought it should. In A Moveable Feast, his memoir about living in Paris during the years before he started to truly earn a living with his work, he says he would sit in front of the fire and squeeze orange peels into the edge of the flame and watch them sputter. And he would think to himself, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Ray Bradbury, the author of Something Wicked This Way Comes, says that all good stories are the same in that they’re written from an individual’s truth. “He must forget the money waiting for him in mass-circulation. He must ask himself, ‘What do I really think of the world, what do I love, fear, hate?’ and begin to pour this on paper” (from Zen in the Art of Writing). Bradbury promises that those questions, when coupled with honesty, will bring clarity to writing. Furthermore, he claims, “ . . . he will relax because he thinks right and he will think even righter because he relaxes. The two will become interchangeable.”
I find his advice about relaxing interesting because I get my best ideas when I’m near water – either walking on the beach or in the shower. I never understood the connection, always assuming it had something to do with water but never being able to articulate why water was the magical formula, why it helped me. But after reading Bradbury, I believe I know the answer.
New Age guru Deepak Chopra writes in Creating Affluence: The A to Z Steps to a Richer Life, “It is important to have a clear goal in your awareness, but it is also important to relinquish your attachment to the goal.”
Relinquishing attachment and relaxation go hand in hand because we automatically relax once an attachment has been released. And that letting go, the surrender, is the answer. Where we get stuck is in believing that every person should have the same way of getting there. The truth is that the process is unique to everyone. Chopra swears by meditation. Bradbury claims it comes by putting in hundreds and even thousands of hours into honing the skill of writing; in other words, the work sharpens the craft so that the writer can relax. Hemingway’s process was getting relaxed in front of a fire and meditating on the comforting thought that he’d had always written and would always write.
Me? While I’m walking the beach, I like to roll these lines from a Jimmy Buffett song, Manana, around in my brain:
I got to head this boat south pretty soon
New album’s old, and I’m fresh out of tunes
But I know that I’ll get ‘em, I know that they’ll come
Through the people and places and Callwood’s rum
Yes, rum helps. And at the moment, that may be the truest sentence that I know.