Keep At It

“I remember doing it but I don’t remember how I kept at it.”

“As I recall, you made it a non-negotiable, a prescription you had to follow. So you did.”

The first steps on the path are the hardest. Not because they take the most energy but because they require focus and commitment to get to the point where you can actually take them. The car ride to the wedding or the reunion or the funeral. The first day of the first class of the first year of middle school or high school or graduate school. The new job when you worked for the old employer for most of your professional life. The ring sliding onto your beloved’s finger.

Can you feel it? All those one-liner stories spring from other stories. All those situations have an antecedent – you can imagine the something that comes before.

“I remember doing it.”

The walking that I did two years ago. Almost every day. Three or four or five miles or more. I had no fewer than five routes mapped out. In the cooler weather, in the warmer weather, in the scorching sun. “I’ll be gone for about an hour, guys.” And maybe it was that long. Maybe longer. Rarely shorter. It broke down like this: 20 minutes to fume, 20 minutes to ponder, 20 minutes to wonder.

The packing I did for a four-day trip to Charleston. There was flatbread and wheat crackers, homemade hummus, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, red onion, tzatziki sauce, grapes and apples and oranges. Probably some cereal bars. Some kind of drink but I don’t remember what. Actually, I think I wrote a blog post about it way back then. We ate at a couple restaurants and stopped at a convenience store on the way home where Noah locked himself in a bathroom and we had a couple tense minutes trying to figure out how to get him out but there wasn’t one fast food pit stop. And we even had some left by the time we got home.

The going to the yoga class at the gym that’s only a couple miles away. It wasn’t “proper” yoga – it was a combination of yoga, Pilates and tai chi. I loved it. Because it made me feel powerful. Because it made me feel present. Because it made me feel alive. I used a cheap mat I bought at a discount store. Just before I stopped going, I bought an $80 mat that ended up sitting in the corner of my master bathroom for almost six years. I’ve still never used the yoga mat towel I bought with it.

“You made it non-negotiable.”

Like having to be to work at a certain time or pay your bills on a certain day or picking your child up from school when they’re sick. You do it because you have to – how you FEEL about it is up to you. (Hint: you don’t have feel the same way about “it” every single time.)

It’s time for me to make some things non-negotiable. And it’s time to return to my mantra: Sleep, Eat, Move, Write.

And it’s time to keep at it.

Cafeteria Concert

There are smiling students handing out flyers next to the entrance to the cafeteria. I take one and we enter, neither of us sure where to go. My son looks at me (he still does this, though I know he won’t for much longer) and I gesture for him to choose where we sit. He selects a seat near the back, a little apart from the other parents, families and friends. It’s not a large audience; this is just a practice performance. He points out his friend who invited him. She plays the bass in one of their school’s orchestras. He points out other friends, too, mostly boys.

The school offers six orchestra classes, two per grade, that are comprised of about thirty to fifty students each. This is one of the six classes. The teacher-conductor explains that they will be playing three songs with a short break between each for the judges to write notes; they will be performing in a few weeks in a judged competition and hope to achieve superior marks. The judges’ notes this night will help them determine where to focus their improvement efforts in advance of the judging in two weeks. My son is still whispering little things to me about his friends until just before they are ready to start. I forget we are in public and kiss him on the forehead. He doesn’t seem disturbed so I pretend I didn’t do it.

Moonlight Tango begins and tears spring unbidden but not entirely unexpected to my eyes. It’s not this piece of music but the stringed instruments that do me in. I try to hold still, just let the tears fall, breathe normally so I won’t turn red trying to hold it in. My purse is in the car and I have no tissues. I hope it will stick to tears and my nose won’t decide to join the party. A little at a time, I brush them away and enjoy the rest of the song.

In the quiet between the songs, the audience sits patiently. The musicians sit at ease but ready. I remember those days, the way my tummy would roll just a little. Butterflies, not whirlwinds.

Another teacher-conductor steps up to lead the second song, Canyon Sunset. It’s nice but it doesn’t affect me the same way. My brain is working on what we will do after the performance. It is time for my son to have some space of his own, even if he does know he’s ready for it yet. I want to go gentle into this new era, want him to want this freedom for himself.

A third teacher-conductor steps up for the final song, Stone Mountain Stomp. It’s a livelier number than the other two, though all three are very typical of middle school pieces. That’s to be expected – they are learning. To my ears, the lower-end range instruments are a little too aggressive, overwhelming the more delicate melodies of the higher-end range instruments. Our band director was always warning our trombone and tuba players away from the same thing thirty years ago.

They are done and we are thanked for our attendance, invited to the performance in two weeks. It’s in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday and I know we won’t be going. I suggest to my son that he go speak with his friend, let her know we enjoyed the music. He looks unsure but scans the crowd for her. The assembly clears quickly – another group will be in shortly, the other orchestra from the same grade having their practice performance. He can’t see where she’s gone. I tell him I'll wait out front of the school if he wants to go look for her. He heads for the door. I tell him I’ll go along with him if he wants to look for her. He stays on his path toward the exit. I let it go and follow his lead.

Out the door we go into a sunny late-January evening. He quickly takes several steps out ahead and I don’t call him back to walk beside me. There’s energy in his step. The sunset is beautiful.

Back Roads Connoisseur

My home is in the suburbs but where I work is tucked in the middle of the opposite of urban. There’s some farmland, some wooded areas, a large lake, and the kinds of spaces that make up the distance between most small Northeast Georgia towns. Boat storage lots. Used car dealerships. Bait shops. Fruit and veggie stands. Boiled peanuts, trailer parks, Dollar Generals, and Piggly Wigglys.

And lots of back roads.

I learned the joys of back roads long ago. My father drove them, we lived on them sometimes, and exploring them was a reasonable weekend activity in which our family could engage without cost besides the gas. There was no telling what we’d find on our little adventures. The funny part is, I can’t think of any specific story right now, but I remember the feel of going out and just wandering around. My dad has an excellent sense of direction and though we might occasionally become turned around, I doubt we were ever actually lost. I try to pull off the same magic when I go out roaming aimlessly, but I’ll cop to pulling out my phone and using its GPS any number of times to correct my course mid-drive.

I found the little place in the photo above not far off my main route home this evening after I left work. It sits at the end of the pavement where the road forks off unpaved in two directions that are both clearly marked “KEEP OUT” and “NO TRESSPASSING.” Always in ALL CAPS, just so. There’s no way to really tell by looking how long ago the place might have been inhabited but I’d hazard a guess of no less than a decade, maybe two. The sight was transfixing and kind of sad – I always wonder how a home gets left behind to fall into rot like that.

I thought up the title of this post as I was getting back in my truck after I took the photo. I didn’t want to stay there too long and have someone come along and interrogate my motives. The only thing I was there for was the photo but I didn’t go there intending to get the photo; it’s just where I ended up and what I happened to find there.

After I got home, I texted my dad to see if he was okay with me using the phrase “back road connoisseur” to describe him. I had hoped he would see it, as I do, as a compliment. He approved and I sent him the photo. He replied that he and my bonus mom would have scoured the place for treasures once upon a long ago day. I can’t say why that shocked me but it did. I can’t quite imagine plucking up that much courage to roam around the wreckage.

At the same time, I don’t have a valid argument for why I shouldn’t have walked around the discarded remains of the once-upon-a-time home, if I had wanted to or simply felt like it. I wouldn’t have damaged anything and I hardly think anything short of fire would have made a noticeable difference anyway. I'm not keen on arson, so that's a non-issue.

Still can’t imagine leaving the pavement and walking through those tall weeds, though. My heart is pounding just writing about it. Maybe I’ll revisit the place someday and see if I feel like being a rebel then.

Suicide's Sister

Two years ago, Suicide’s sister sauntered into my living room, sidled up to the couch and snuggled down with me there. It was late on a Friday evening and she held me, paralyzed, for what I think was literally hours. My husband was upstairs working late, our children were in bed asleep, the cat was… Wherever she was. I don’t remember. There’s a lot I don’t recall clearly about that night.

Racing the Sunset to the Lake

We live less than 10 miles from one of the largest lakes in Georgia and a little over 50 miles from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It's beautiful country and I don't spend time in it enough. My drive to and from work takes me very near the lake, yet I seldom slide over there to visit. Even tonight, to capture this, I had to park on the far side of the road and scoot across. There wasn't much traffic but I felt... Exposed. Awkward. Almost as if I was trespassing (I wasn't). I wanted to enjoy the sound of the waves. I even tried to make an Instagram Stories video (failed). I did get this photo but cars kept going by behind me and I couldn't get any closer to the water's edge due to low visibility and the breakwater and... Something of the experience was lost as I watched the light fade and I started to get cold.

Root In

Our apartment at the time was lovely. Walk-in level with a two-sided wrap porch that overlooked undeveloped land. Three bedrooms, two baths, a well-appointed kitchen with separate dining area. All the typical community amenities, centrally located within the county, less than four miles from where we worked, and safe enough that I never worried about coming home late at night from my second shift job.

Tell Me About Your Mourning

The character of John Watson on the BBC’s show Sherlock as played by Martin Freeman is an exquisite mourner. You cannot watch his experience of grief and not be moved if you are at all engaged with the show and its characters. It’s an overused phrase, but Freeman is brilliant in this role.

There are so many flavors of mourning. Flavors? Yes, because they each leave their own taste in your mouth, one you remember every time you roll it around your mouth. That’s the other thing about mourning – you return to it, weighing and measuring it over and over. As the flavor changes over time, so does your experience of the pain.