Finding Life (in obvious places): Moving Day

Moving day today. Big day. I picked Julie up with the car loaded down with my three boxes and assorted other things. She came running out to meet.

“You all ready?”

“I think so.”

She looked through the back window. “Is that all?”

“Yeah. Isn’t it enough?”

“I guess so. Well, you want to come in, say hi to Mom and Dad?”

“Not really. I want to get moving, you know.”

“Okay, but give me a second, alright?”

She ran back into the house and I shut the engine off. I looked back at my stuff and thought about her parents. How they were so proud of her and nice to me and such the perfect couple themselves. Her dad smoking a pipe and wearing slippers around the house and her mom fixing big meals and not eating anything herself. The perfect couple. I never saw anything else.

Once we made it to the house, it only took an hour or so to move all my stuff in. Still, I was tired and sat down on the floor, waiting for Julie to finish arranging.

“When are you getting furniture?”

“Soon, I guess. Probably go to auctions and stuff.”

“Be sure to get a love seat. It would go perfect next to that window, facing the television.”

“What television?”

“You are going to get a television, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Now, curtains…”

“Why don’t you take a break?”

“Why?”

“Well, why don’t you join me?” I must have had some grin on my face, cause she came over smiling, trying to look all sexy.

“What did you have in mind?” she asked, brushing against my shoulder.

“Why don’t you lay down with me?”

“On the floor?”

“Would you rather go out in the yard?”

She laughed and started unbuttoning her blouse.

Then there was silence. A lot of it. Well, almost silence. No words. I don’t know.

+     +     +

She got up and put her blouse back on, and the rest of her clothes. I stayed there, looking at the ceiling and over at her.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed.”

“Why?”

“Someone may stop by.”

“Who’s going to stop by?”

“You never know.”

“Come on, Julie.”

“What?”

“Come back here.”

“I will. Just give me a minute. Patience is a virtue, you know.”

“I’m not very virtuous.”

She went to the bathroom and brushed her hair. I lay there, looking at the ceiling. She came back with a big grin on her face.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“I’m just happy.” She lightly kissed me on the cheek.

“Well, good.  I’m glad.”

“I was thinking about…. I don’t know.”

“What?”

“About how it could be like this all the time.”

“Like what?”

“You know. Being together, all the time.”

“You mean marriage.”

“God, you make it sound like some plague or something!”

“Well, it is, sort of. Look, let’s not…”

“Let’s not what? You never want to discuss it. You know how important marriage is to me. I thought, since you got this house…”

“God damn it.”

“Nevermind. Just nevermind.”

She went into the kitchen, crying. I kept looking up at the ceiling. I noticed some brown-stained water marks that could mean a leak somewhere. After a while, I went into the kitchen. She was standing near the window, looking out.

“Julie, I’m really sorry.”

“You…”

“No, I’m really sorry. I just… well, I’m just not ready to start thinking like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like about marriage and all. I’m just not ready.”

“I know. It’s just. You don’t understand I need change too. I need something definite. Something secure. Something I can count on.”

“I know. I understand. Look, can we just wait and talk about this some other time? I mean, the house and all..”

“Okay.”

I took her home and thanked her for her help. On the way back I stopped at a used furniture store and saw this old love seat that probably would have fit in the corner, next to the window. It was too, much, though, so I bought a floor cushion instead.

Velvet Love Seat

{This is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places). To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): A Call to Mom

I knew the bank would laugh at me trying to get a loan, so I called my mother.

“Hello?” She exhaled, then took a deep puff on her cigarette.

“Hi Mom.”

“Is this my son.”

“Of course it’s your son, Mom.”

“Oh, okay. It’s just been so long since you called. I usually call you. So, how have you been?”

“Fine, mom.”

“And Julie?”

“She’s okay, too. I guess.”

“What do you mean you guess? You are still seeing Julie, aren’t you?”

“Yes, mom.  Mom, listen. I have a favor to ask.”

“So that’s why you called. Well it’s good to know I can still do something for you. What is it?”

“Don’t be so bitter.”

“Who’s being bitter? Tell me the favor.” Exhale. Deep puff.

“I want to buy a house.”

“A house?”

“Let me finish. Yes, a house. And I’ll need to take out a loan.”

“A house? Why a house? What’s wrong with your apartment?”

“Nothing’s wrong, I just want my own place, that’s all.”

“My son, the spot welder, wants his own place. Why not build a new house? Hire a gardener and a maid…”

“Stop it, Mom.  Listen, just forget it. I only wanted… just forget it.”

“Now, now. I’m only teasing. Don’t be so sensitive. How can I help?”

“I only wanted to ask you to co-sign.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. Who else would I ask?”

“Well, why not Julie’s father? I assume this means you two…”

“Stop assuming things. We aren’t getting married. I want the house for myself. That’s it. Okay?”

“You’re so much like your father. Always thinking of yourself.”

“Okay, forget it. Forget I asked.”

“Now, now. I’ll co-sign already.”

“You will?”

“Sure. What have I got to lose?

“You don’t mind then?”

“No I don’t mind. Of course, you could save your money and come back home. You know that.”

“Yes, Mom. I know that. We’ve been through this.”

“Alright, already. I’ll co-sign. Is that all you wanted?

There was a long pause. I tried to clear my throat, but nothing came out. I was sorry I’d called her. Sorry I’d had to call her. Sorry I hadn’t called her more often.

“Can I take you out to dinner sometime?” I asked.

“You don’t have to.”

“No. I want to. How’s tomorrow?”

“Church.”

“After church.”

“Fine.  Or, you could join me for church?

“No. I mean. I don’t…. I’ll pick you up afterwards. Okay?”

“Fine.”

Well, it’s something. I’ve got mom to co-sign on the loan. I’m taking her out to dinner. It’s something.

I look at her photo on my dresser. Taken for her high school yearbook. She was going to become a nurse and travel overseas as a missionary. That was before dad came along. His motorcycle promised a more accessible journey to exotic places than she thought she’d ever go. Then I was conceived and her dreams of going to distant lands were replaced by days and nights of dirty diapers, incessant cries, and constant worries about bills and a husband always off even when he was around.

I look in the mirror and her voice comes back to me. “You’re just like your father.”

The Mirror of Parenting--great post about what to do when we see our own ugliness reflected in our kids

{This post is part of an extended work Finding Life (in obvious places) written in 1985 and currently being revised. To find the other posts in the series, click on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): Marriage and M&Ms

It was a usual Monday at work. Guys coming in unshaven, disheveled. Girls coming in made up, worn out underneath. Plenty of stories about how much the guys had drank and the girls had forgotten. Oh, they weren’t all like that. One guy had gotten pulled over by the cops and didn’t come in at all. Nobody made his bail.

On break, Ralph asked me how my weekend was.

“Okay.”

“You go out with that girl of yours? Julie?”

“Yeah, we went out.”

“Boy, she’s something. Bet she’s great in the sack, huh?”

I smiled and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”  He was eating peanut M&Ms and offered me some. “You know, I saw this house yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“It was for sale and I think I might just get it.”

“Are you and Julie thinking…”

Pages

“No, no. It’s not that. I’m just… tired of the apartment.  You know…”

“Yeah, it gets to you.”

“So, it’s a great two-story house in the old part of town.”

“Better be careful. Those things are rat traps. You sure…”

“No. This one’s great. I mean, heating costs’ll be out of this world, but…. well, I’ve got some put away.”

“Working in this place? Come on!”

“No, really. I’ve been saving up.”

“Listen, it’s your life. But I’m saying you’re better off in the apartment until you can find a wife that’ll work. That Julie works at the bank, doesn’t she?”

“I’m not marrying Julie!”

“Hey, sorry. It’s none of my business. I, just, well, I just don’t want you rushing into something. It’s tough enough, working at this place, without having a house to care for. By yourself.”

“Yeah. I know. I just, well… I need something.”

“Ain’t Julie taking care of that?” He laughed so hard he coughed up his last three M&Ms. I gave him the change to buy another package. He came back and offered me more.

“You know,” he said slowly, careful in thought, “marriage ain’t so bad as they say. I know I give my wife a hard time, but truth is I wouldn’t know what I’d do without her. She’s a great girl.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I mean it. Before I got married, I was staying out late, coming to work all hungover. I’m a changed man, and I have her to thank.”

“Well, I don’t drink that much.”

“That’s not my point. Listen, I’m only saying this cause I’m your friend. You better hang on to that Julie. She’ll make a great wife someday.”

I shook my head.

“Just you wait. But not too long. You hear me?” He went off and started talking to a group about drinking beer.

I went back to work and thought about marriage. My grandparents. Constantly yelling and screaming at each other. Especially on Sundays, getting ready for church. Then Mom and Dad. Until Dad ran off and Mom was left with only me and my sister to yell at. That was marriage. A lot of yelling. Especially on Sundays.

Ralph got divorced about a year later. His wife caught him with his pants down parked in the driveway of her best friend. Ralph was never the same. He developed sugar diabetes and started blacking out and losing body parts, one at a time. His ex-wife felt sorry for him and married him again, took care of him until he died. She buried him with a package of peanut M&Ms.

{This is the third entry of a work of fiction called Life (in obvious places) I first wrote in 1985. To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below).

Finding Life (in obvious places): The House

Once again, I am beginning another writing assignment – taking a collection of stories I wrote in 1985 called Life (in obvious places) and adding a narrator’s perspective from 30 years later (in italics).  My plan is to write the first draft in serial form over the next several months.  I will continue to post on other subjects, such as “Mental Health Mondays,” so stayed tuned…

Finding Life (in obvious places) begins here and continues here…

Today, I walked down a street I used to wander as a child. Old houses an arm’s length apart, old paint peeling away at the edges. My grandparents used to live around here. Sunday afternoons we’d play croquet in the front yard and watch the neighbor, Mr. Shepler, sweating like a pig and yelling at his lawn mower and three children. Mrs. Shepler would come out with a pitcher of iced tea and listen to him curse the weather, how hot the summers were getting.

About five blocks away from the Sheplers’ I noticed a “For-Sale-By-Owner” sign. I decided to explore. It was a two-story house, with attic and basement. The white painting was graying and the gutters were falling down. The grass was high; tall dandelions covered the front yard, some creeping through the cracks in the sidewalk.

I thought of the family dinners where Grandma would put the dandelions we’d picked for her in a Mason jar and use it as a centerpiece, as proud as a peacock. Mother never understood the dandelions. She’d say they were just weeds the didn’t belong in the house, much less on the dinner table.

After Grandpa died, Mr. Shepler started moving Grandma’s yard — early on Sunday mornings so he could get to his own in the afternoon. Grandma was grateful, though she also believed he was committing a sin working on the Lord’s Day.  The other widow ladies would drive by slowly on their way to church, staring at the sweaty 75-year old with his unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt and Bermuda shorts. Grandma just closed her shades.

“What?” I moved over to his chair. He sat still, but motioned with his arms.

“Ya interested in buying? The owners are out. Moved to Chicago. I’m watchin’ over the place.”

“Well, I was just… Kinda walkin’ around.”

“Cliff Barton’s the name,” he said, lifting his arm.

“Robert Thompson,” we shook hands.

Ya lookin’ to move, Robert?”

“Well, I don’t know. Wouldn’t mind…”

“It’s quite a find. Solid foundation. Fenced in back yard. Quiet neighborhood. Course it’s old. Price of heating these days. But it’s a nice house. Got a lot of good use.”

“I’m sure it’s a fine house. It’s just… well, I wasn’t actually planning on buying my own…”

“Where ya from?”

“Around here. Stonehedge Apartments.”

“Got a family?”

“No. I’m a… well, I’m single.”

“Yeah? I don’t suppose a young man like yerself’d have much use for a house.”

“It’s not that. Actually, I have been thinkin’ about getting out of the apartment. I’m tired of paying in and not getting anything out of it.”

“You got a good job? That is, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“No… I mean I don’t mind. I, um, I work at Arvin’s.”

“And yer lookin’ for a place of your own?”

“Well, yeah, kind of…”–

“Here, let me show you the place. I’ll go grab the keys.”

I reach in my front pocket and pull out that same set of keys, gently worn from thirty years of use, held together with a John Deere key ring. I look out at the neighborhood — the same neighborhood Mr. Barton watched thirty years ago. It looks much the same, but so much has changed. Cliff Barton died in 1986, right after Allison moved in. Thomas was born. Then Mary came along.  For a while, the place was so full of life. Now it’s just me, sitting in this old lawn chair, looking for life in obvious places.

vintage metal lawn chairs

“vintage metal lawn chairs” from Rhonda Zoch in Home ~ Goods

Finding Life (in obvious places): Me and Claudia Matson

Some time ago, inspired by Leanne Sypes’ post about her accordion-file time capsule, I dug through my big-bin of writings.  Like my mind, there was great disorder — to-do lists from last month crammed in with devotionals from 1983.  Father’s Day notes my daughters had written to me brought a smile to my face, love letters from my wife that brought tears to my eyes.  I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.  I am not at all at peace with who I’ve been –  as a husband, a father, a pastor. 

To cope, I retreat to my writing studio with a book I found — a book I wrote before becoming all these things, back when I was a 21-year old, single, aspiring writer totally unprepared for the war that would rage within (with mental illness), ill-equipped for responsibilities I would frantically assume.

What follows is the opening of Life (in obvious places).  It is a work of fiction, but as I do not possess a wild imagination, it is firmly based on experience.

Seven years ago, in Freshman English, I was staring at Claudia Matson and her large breasts when I heard Miss Farkas explain what keeping a journal meant to her.

“When I write, it’s as if I were tapping into hidden resources of images, ideas, and thoughts. My journal is an expression of my sacred Self.”

I laughed.

“You find that humorous, do you?” she asked me.

“Well… yeah.”

It was funny, you have to admit. Still, she made me apologize to the class and write, “I will not laugh at the teacher,” five hundred times.

Miss Farkas died last summer and Claudia Matson is in college becoming a nuclear physicist. And I have this journal. It’s personal, but it’s sure as hell isn’t sacred.  I’m writing for myself, but with people in mind. In my mind. Just about things that go on. It’s not a novel or anything.  Just a journal, for Christ’s sake.

It has something to do with my father, I guess. Or my family in general. Dad took off on his motorcycle one Sunday while we were in church. He didn’t leave a note or anything. He never did write much.

My sister started a personal diary shortly afterwards that I stole one night to read. It was mush. A bunch of emotional crap about love and how it should last forever and how horrible Dad was for leaving. I don’t know. Miss Farkas may be right, but how can you tell a story without laughing? It just doesn’t make sense,

So, I moved out of Mom’s house right after high school, started work at the factory, and took to apartment life like an ant to a molehill. That was four years ago. Now I’m wondering what I’m doing here and why I can’t just get married and live normally in some suburban white house district.

No, that’s not it. I’m just trying to figure out where I am and how I got here. And what I’m looking for when I go on walks for hours. I know it’s a pretty tall order.  Maybe I should have gone to college.

The Walk - Fallen leaves - Vincent van Gogh  -  Completion Date: 1889    Place of Creation: Saint-rémy, Provence

“The Walk – Fallen leaves – Vincent van Gogh – Completion Date: 1889 Place of Creation: Saint-rémy, Provence”

from Carlos Leiro in Van Gogh, Picasso, Joan Miro

Great Writers (and me) on Writing

Tony - Writing

I have some great news for which I am very thankful.  I have accepted a position as a writing instructor at a local community college.  The course is called “Introduction to Academic Writing” and it is primarily designed to teach beginning students to construct well written, persuasive essays.

To make the most of this educational opportunity, however, I want to share my passion for writing as well as the mechanics of how to do it well.  To prepare, I have pulled out part of a post (below) I wrote on writing.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ― Maya Angelou

The primary purpose of good writing is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems.  This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective.  The song must be sung, not explained or advocated or shouted out.  Which leads to my next quote –

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems.  Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression.  Pay a therapist to do that.  Instead,  paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of  “The Blue Umbrella” –

Blue umbrella
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ― Mark TwainThe Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count.  Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount).  I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete.  I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays.  If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete.  Try again.”  One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom.  The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life.  Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.”  The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. ― Flannery O’Connor

In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap.  It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind.  Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.

In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody. ― Oscar Wilde

What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become almost literal truth today.  I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits).  E-books are being published that sell almost no copies.  You can’t even give them away.  We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read.  Read what others are writing on their blogs.  Read new books being published by known and unknown authors.  And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.

What are your thoughts on writing?  What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?

The Language of Relationships: A Blog Hop Story

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Bruce: “Here’s a nice bench.  Let’s sit here.”

Carl: “What a gorgeous November day this is.” 

Bruce: “It sure is. So peaceful.  So calm.”

Carl: “What’s for lunch today?”

Bruce: “I have pastrami on rye.”

Carl: “Ah!  With hot mustard?”

Bruce: “Mayo.”

Carl: “Mayo?  Who puts mayo on pastrami and rye?”

Bruce: “My wife does. She puts mayo on everything. It’s sort of a thing with her.”

Carl: “Why don’t you say something to her? Or make your own sandwiches?”

Bruce: “I don’t want to take that away from her.  She thinks she’s being helpful. God love her.”

Carl: “She’s a sweet lady. But you shouldn’t treat her so delicately. Let her grow up.”

Bruce: “Since when did you become a relationship expert?”

Carl: “My third wife was a marriage therapist. She taught me a lot.”

Bruce: “Hey, Dr. Phil, how about helping me move that log over for a stool?”

Carl: “Sure.”

Setting down their lunches, they roll a large log over beside the bench.

Carl: “So Alexandra, my third wife, the therapist, used to say, ‘A woman is a vowel. A man is a consonant.  A woman can stand alone, but together with a man can express more meaning.”

Bruce: “Wow.  That’s profound.  Whatever happened to Alexandra?”

Carl: “She ran off with a mime.”

Bruce: “Oh, sorry for that.”

Carl: “Yeah, it was tough for awhile.  Until I met Samantha. Sam is the long ‘e’ to go with my ‘m’.  She fits me perfectly.”

Bruce: “Boy, you could write greeting cards.  You know that?”

Carl: “Thanks. So how’s the pastrami?”

Bruce: “I’ve had better.”

Carl: “Even with mayo?”

Bruce: “No. The mayo pretty much ruins it. You want the rest?”

Carl: “No thank you. I’ll stick with my ham and swiss.”

Bruce: ”Unlike your wives.”

Carl: (laughs)  Hey, I resemble that remark.  No, I don’t see how you do it.  How long have you and Joanna been married?

Bruce: 23 years this October.

Carl: Boy.  23 years. What’s your secret?

Bruce: Avoidance, mostly.  Things are better left unsaid.

Carl:  Like the mayo?

Bruce: (laughs) Exactly.

An alarm sounds.

Carl: Well, time to head back to the spaceship.

Bruce: Yeah, we don’t want them to send out a search party.

Carl: No. Hey, whatever happened to that Lewis fellow that was always late coming in for lunch.

Bruce: They vaporized him.

Carl: Oh.

Bruce: Hey, that reminds me of your ex-wife with the mime –  a long “o” with a silent “h.”

Carl:  Ah.  That, too.

(This story is part of the Blog Hop found at Writings and Ruminations. Photo courtesy Leanne Sype)

Finding Life (in obvious places) – The House

Today, I walked down a street I used to wander as a child. Old houses an arm’s length apart, old paint peeling away at the edges. My grandparents used to live around here. Sunday afternoons we’d play croquet in the front yard and watch the neighbor, Mr. Shepler, sweating like a pig and yelling at his lawn mower and three children. Mrs. Shepler would come out with a pitcher of iced tea and listen to him curse the weather, how hot the summers were getting.

To read more, click on the title below –

“Finding Life (in obvious places) – The House”

vintage metal lawn chairs

“vintage metal lawn chairs” from Rhonda Zoch in Home ~ Goods

Dear Dr. Love, You Should Change Your Name: “P.S.” by Jill McCorkle

Cezanne

“P.S.” has all the elements of a disgruntled Freudian romance (minus the sex).

It is written as a letter from “Hannah from three suburbs over” to her former marriage therapist – “Dr. Love”.  She bemoans the way she appeared after sessions “like s–t on a stick”.  She blames religion for the break-up of her marriage – “I think that marriage vows should include an escape clause that says the contract is broken if one party ups and makes a big switch in religion…”.  She regrets her investment in therapy – “I wish I could get all that money back from you.” Hannah has decided to move on – beyond therapy, beyond marriage, beyond religion.  She now realizes –

I am someone who does believe in the higher power of necessary medication.  Amen.  At times, a smidgen of this or that is just what you need.  I loved the feel of Demerol when I was in labor, and I don’t know what I would have done without that epidural — scream out lots of terrible things, I suspect, which I did anyway… And I believe in spiritual highs, too.  What I don’t believe in is someone having the power to dictate someone else’s spirituality or aesthetic code.

Hannah’s husband Jerry was not “born-again” when they married.  He was a Mensa nerd who worked at a Toyota dealership and solved Rubik’s cube.

But being normal wasn’t enough for Jerry, he had to always be into this or that.  He always had a new hobby, and he’d go at it full tilt for a few months and then move onto another interest.

From Sudoku to pottery, model trains to beer making to a kind of tag wrestling” Hannah refers to as “homoerotic dance”. Hannah goes on in her letter to speculate about what mental and emotional problems led Dr. Love to pursue the field of psychology.  She advises him not to charge her for the time spent reading her letters – “like that lawyer keeps doing every time I e-mail or call him back to answer a question he asked me.”  She wonders what his life is like at home, with his wife, after a day spent listening to other people’s marriage problems –

“She looks a bit older than you, and so I did wonder (when I saw the photo on your dresser) if she had had a husband before you and how you had adjusted to that or if you all have some different kind of marriage like a mentor/mentee, or mother and child.”

She recalls her “big confession” – having sex with the plumber – and admits it never really happened, that she had made it up as an interesting story because she was bored.

No, my biggest betrayal to Jerry is that I quit trying.  When I finally found my own voice, I realized I had nothing else I wanted to say to him.  I stopped talking, nothing feeding nothing until  nothing was huge and nothing begot nothing.  Feeling nothing is not good, but it’s where a lot of people stop and stay.  The nothingness is so delusional and numbing.

As a contemporary reader, I ache with the realization that Hannah is right – in so many relationships finding your own voice often leads to disruption. As a man who is separated from my wife, I feel convicted by her observation that a lot of people (like me) stop and stay with nothingness. As a person of faith, however, I find hope in these sacred words –

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (Genesis 1:2)

The Spirit of God moves, even in the void.  Out of nothingness, comes new life.

“P.S.” was first published in The Atlantic. It can be found within Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle.

image above from elly gay onto Artwork and More Galore: Art, music, politics, writing, books, women, photograhy, etc. GALORE

For Allison (my former muse)

Just a beautiful young woman by *katz
When I was a senior in college (before Al Gore invented the Internet), I set out to write a book.  To accomplish this, I needed a muse.  I had three requirements –
1)    She had to be beautiful.
2)   She had to be smart.
3)   She had to be passionate about creativity.
As if by divine decree, along came Allison.  Allison was a lively young woman with wavy shoulder length hair, an athletic build, and a wonderful smile.  Her eyes sparkled with hopeful curiosity as we talked about God, music, and mostly writing.
Every night after dinner I would turn to her and ask, “Can I follow you around like a puppy dog?”  She would smile.  We would walk to the Point (overlooking the Ohio River) and I would tell her about my story.  Her body reacted with each scene, she listened so attentively.
Some nights we snuck into the chapel and lay on the floor looking up at the ceiling.  I wanted  to reach out to her, but she was already touching me with her soothing words, her boundless energy, her hope-filled faith.  We lay beside each other and let the light between us fill the darkness.

With Allison as my muse, I finished Life (in obvious places) on the day we left for Winter Break.  I handed her the first copy.  She was eager to go.  I was looking forward to coming back from break, spending long nights together wallowing in her admiration for my work.

The next time I saw her, a serious expression had replaced the smile on her face.  She reached out and handed me a note.  “I want you to read this,” she said simply.  And she walked away.
It was a note about love.  She said she wanted to break off our relationship.  I was crushed.  We never once talked about my book.
One day, I found Allison on Facebook.  She is still smiling, now beside her adoring husband and two beautiful children.  Her oldest looks just like her.  There is so much joy inside her.
Some weeks back, Allison sent me a message to thank me for introducing her to the music of folk singer John Prine – who is now my muse.  I figure it’s much safer to have a muse who is as close as a button on my keyboard.
P.S.  I sent an earlier draft of this reflection to Allison for her blessing to post it and perhaps a picture of her in college.   She wrote back while her youngest was making a delicious fruit salad.  She couldn’t oblige with a photo, but she did offer her blessing and had some very nice things to say.  In spite of our mutually selective memories, I think we can agree that ours is a fond one.

(image above – “Just a beautiful young woman” from *katz, some rights reserved)