Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Person's Crazy is Another Person's Courage

"To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become; that is courage." ~ Charles Dubois

"Crazy is as crazy does." ~ Forrest Gump

A year ago this week, I chose to leave my life in Portland, Ore. After three difficult years, my decision had the tone of reactionary. I tried not to view it as rash. It felt necessary for survival. I wanted out of Hell. I don't use this word lightly and do not direct it at the city of Portland itself. Portland is world class. Progressive, eclectic, sexy, infused with food and fanatics. I fit into Portland, personality-wise. We just had poor timing.

I anguished over whether to leave. The allure of the place had definitely hooked into my ego. Portland caters to writers. If you're a writer, go there. If you're already a writer in Portland, stay there. It carries great potential along with cachet. Even if you're a bad writer, the line "Portland writer" on your resume puts you in a different section of the train car -- one reserved for notables.

The writing scene there is vibrant, supportive, irritatingly creative. I had stars in my eyes, literally. Cheryl Strayed, Chuck Palahniuk. Powell's City of Books paraded all the literary roadshows through its cavernous rooms. No name in publishing would pass up a chance to read at the distinguished standard-bearer for independent book stores.

Powell's was a scene unto itself. A tourist destination, of course. But an overdose of nook-and-crammed; book lovers left drunk on lit. I suffered Powell's Paralysis. I'd browse and end up empty-handed because of the overwhelming choices. When everything is at your fingertips, the best choice is elusive. (Blame it on being a Virgo.)

I left it all behind. I left a good job. And two writers' groups and professional support networks and my growing group of writer friends and parenting cohorts. Phhtt. Gone.

I fled because I thought it would make me feel better.

I fled because my extended family lived 2000 miles on the other side of the country.

I fled because when life gets too hard, you cut your losses and hope a change of address will bring you peace.

I fled because I felt insane.

An ironic, but important, aside: The comment I heard frequently about my decision to relocate, solo-new-widow-mom, across the country was -- you are so courageous. 

For a month on the road, I felt pretty good. Maybe a tad heroic. It's easy to feel good when you don't have a house to keep up, an electric bill to pay, a clock ticking in the night beside your bed, calling you to wake up and make some money.

Friends commented before, during and after my escape about my incredible journey. Someone, she knows who, called me Oh Wandering One. It was sarcastic, meant to goad me back to the ticking clock.

My clock ticks now. As I write this. Maybe a digital would be better.  A year later, my plan to leave the strain behind has disappointed me some. Would it surprise you that there are days I pine for Portland? Of course not, you say. It could be a longing for the normalcy of my old neurosis. The bad that I knew. Not the bad that is new.

Did I make a courageous choice to leave? That's debatable. I wear my stiff upper lip headlong into single parenthood, into discovering myself again, into holding my breath, into dating (oh, what a blogpost that could be -- my working title is Sex, Grief, and the Young-ish Widow; or maybe, Girl, Don't Date w/o Meds).

All is not bad. I arrive at a place with possibilities. More specifically, this is a time full of potential and not a physical place in the road. Change often evolves when great adversity strikes. I have been struck and struck again. It isn't time for another change of scenery, but a change of psyche.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Valley of Write

Whenever you are sad, write.

Whenever you are lonely, write.

Whenever time cracks open, write.

Whenever you need strength, write.

Whenever the voices take over, write.

Whenever the stars need praise, write.

Whenever you are whole or part, write.

Whenever your cup runneth over, write.

Whenever you need to remember, write.

Whenever you need to access peace, write.

Whenever all places are a foreign place, write.

Whenever the rain drowns your parade, write.

Whenever the troubles of others flood in, write.

Whenever black and white don't contrast, write.

Whenever the headache is really heartache, write.

Whenever you can't tell the difference inside, write.

Whenever the nerve of every nerve is frayed, write.

Whenever someone hurts you and you hurt them, write.

Whenever you cannot walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, write.

Write, for yourself and the wonder.

Write, for all will be well.

Write, for purity.

Write, for grace.

Write, to know.

Write, because.

Write and feel.


A collection of poetry from my years living in Portland, Ore., is available in paperback this month. This poem isn't in it. Many in the collection are light-hearted. Hope you find the book amusing and inspiring.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Letting Go of Nonsense

The firsts end today. A friend in Portland has gently reinforced this idea since last March. This is supposed to comfort me. The first year without Daryl ends tonight at midnight.

My last visual memory of him is from Portland, from the window of our house. Standing in the living room, I watched him lift his mountain bike into the hatch of our Subaru. He had on a ratty t-shirt and shorts, ready to get muddy. We didn't say good-bye. Unusual. He didn't come in for a quick kiss. Again, unusual.

This post was unplanned. I'm just letting it come out.

Our youngest daughter had been invited on the bike ride. She decided not to go. This troubles her now. It was for the best. He rode with a friend up a trail in Forest Park. He became short of breath. It was a beautiful day and the trail was green and perfect. They stopped to rest on the side of the trail, and the friend called me on my husband's cell at about 5:30 p.m. Daryl had punched my number, handed it to his friend and said, "You better talk to Jennifer."

For all I know, the last word my husband uttered was my name.

I didn't hear him in the background during the call. I didn't talk to my husband, only the brave friend. Words were quickly exchanged about Daryl's shortness of breath. I told the friend to call 911 and waited to hear back. Frantic stuff happened on my end. I had no car to go to the trail and didn't know where it was. By 8 p.m., a man in black arrived at my door. Yes, he was literally dressed in all black.

Daryl had slumped over as soon as the friend ended the call. He had died on the trail, probably instantly. His heart, which had suffered a mild heart attack the year before, stopped.

I never saw him again. It was too painful to go to the morgue.

I had no intention of writing this, like this. But this morning is different. It is the last of the firsts.

Death stories have a voyeuristic quality. People want to know what happened. I told the death story probably more than a hundred times in the first week after his death. Friends. Family. I tell it now whenever anyone asks. Maybe not all the details, but the elevator speech. It has become an elevator speech. I usually don't cry. This is considered normal.

Death changes life. It changes people. It changes circumstances. This isn't always negative. But it readjusted the interior timepieces. I tick differently. It just happens.

I'd like to say the hard part is over. I cannot assure myself it is. That's because of the strong feeling of arbitrariness this event has imposed on my directions. Plans are wonderful, aren't they? It's good to make plans. Make them. They comfort us and give us goals. I have made some plans and kept them this year, but ... always the "but." Where does death fit? It doesn't fit into plans. It makes nonsense of them.

I've only recently begun to write a little about this major event in my life. I know it is a huge bummer. Why would anyone want to come back to a blog about a subject no one really discusses in public? Or wants to hear about? That's okay. I'm working through it.