November 27, 2009
Day 27 of Nanowrimo
I am starting with 30,711 excruciatingly bad words and have to add 5000 to the pile today. That's what this novel feels like ... a pile ... no organization at all ... nothing sorted or folded or even clean ... just laundry, crumpled, often musty, dirty laundry thrown into a pile on the street for everyone to see. Good grief! What was I thinking?
The only blessing is that at the end I can go through it at my leisure and perhaps find a few hundred worthwhile words to keep or to start me on something better.
No, that's not the only blessing ... I am writing every day (well almost every day) ... and I have discovered something I quite like ... a three strand novel form where the narrator writes about present day happenings in her life as she interacts with a ghost from the past and discovers a purely fictional storyline that has to do with the ghost's (and her own) history.
If I were to take a purely fictional narrator with her own fictional history and ghosts I would have a real novel ... but I suspect that parts of my own journaling would still enter the fray.
Freud says we play with ideas we love ... and I would rather this were a playful time in a sand box than a labour of any kind.
I am too old for heavy labour. I just can't be bothered any more.
Not even a labour of love.
My trip to London, spending time with Pat and Claire, and even going to yesterday's party have all been wake-up calls. There isn't that much time left ... at least not that much productive time. And if one of the big scary diseases doesn't reach out from the dark and pull you in or damage you in some way, old age will get you anyway.
One of my daughters told me yesterday that the brain's lubrication system breaks down rapidly after a woman stops producing estrogen. Maybe that's why we all become creakier as we age. And here I thought it was arthritis ...
I just looked back over the pictures I took at the party and was amazed by the percentage of photos that showed frowns or pain or concern in the expressions. The happiest one was of a woman called Heather who has been happy ever since I've known her. She has taught in Ghana and in special needs classrooms; she had a brush several years ago with breast cancer, and she retired soon after I did. She is beautiful. The one of Jimmy, who has bone cancer, is another happy snap. His first career was in the army and then he returned to university and began teaching phys ed as a grown up. Jimmy always played Santa on the last day of classes before Christmas ... a great tall lanky Santa. He is one of the most generous people I know, and, despite the pain, he keeps smiling. Both Jimmy and Heather have been happily married (not to each other) for as long as I have known them ... and for years before that.
When I first viewed the photos I wondered if we were all telling sad stories to one another. But Jimmy and Heather would have heard the same stories ... they just seem to have an inner happiness that warms their faces and their lives.
I would love to discover where that inner glow originates ... surviving terrible illness? ... happy relationships? ... who knows?
"I know," said a soft voice.
I turned to see Eva smiling at me. "Well don't just stand there," I said. "Tell me the secret."
"Your grandfather knew the secret," Eva said.
I thought about Grandpa ... always out for a good time ... "Are you saying that being irresponsible is the secret to happiness?" I asked. "That's doesn't jibe at all with my experience. Heather and Jimmy are very responsible ... and they stayed in relationships and made them work."
"Paul was able to separate out what was entertainment and what was serious and important. He knew how to play and he knew how to fix problems ... but most important, he knew when to let go."
"I suppose you could say that, but what I meant was that he didn't harbour grudges and he didn't cling to false hopes. He was very clear sighted about what was worth his time and energy."
"Is that why he was able to be your friend even when he knew there was no hope he'd ever be anything more to you?"
Eva nodded. "And it is also why he didn't try to get even with Marie. He never resented the fact that his parents supported her all those years. He knew that what they gave her was not being taken away from him. He understood that people can love more than one person, that there is no contest going on."
I thought about something I'd just read in an email:
"Whatever your religious views, psychologists say the ability to forgive is closely correlated to happiness and mental health." It was part of an article called "Forgiving Without Condoning Or Forgetting". It began with the best reason for forgiving ... we create more unhappiness for ourselves than for the person we hate, then went on to describe grudge-holding, and talked about moving on with your life, something impossible if you cannot forgive. It wasn't all sweetness and light. You don't have to condone, excuse or forget the harm done to you and you don't have re-establish a relationship with the person. He talks too about the need to empathize, to be able to see things from the other's perspective in order to forgive, and believes that the older we get, the more forgiving we're likely to become.
The article made me think about my forgiveness of my parents ... Once I understood that my mother's upbringing was likely responsible for her failure to stand up against my father, I was able to forgive her.. It took me longer to understand my father's actions, but I think I forgave him because I knew he loved me even if he didn't know how to love me properly ... and he lived in a time when mothers were expected to be virgins, not whores..
I cannot understand why he treated my grandmother so badly. She'd always loved him and treated him well. But I do understand that people sometimes act inconsiderately because they know that they will drown themselves if they don't shove away the person who is pulling them under. Was my grandmother pulling him under? I don't think so. I think she was simply an inconvenience. So I still have a way to go before I can empathize and forgive him for sending her away to a strange land to die.
"Maybe you don't know the whole story," said Eva.
Startled, I looked up. I was surprised to find her still there, and I kept forgetting that these phantoms could read my unspoken thoughts.
"So you think that's why he died happy and Marie lived a long miserable life, because he was able to forgive and she couldn't ?"
"That was part of it, but Marie was a very unhappy woman who always wanted more. She thought happiness was something you could buy."
"Of course Grandpa always had money. I wonder whether he'd have been happy without it."
"I am sure money helped, but he was very generous with his money. He didn't hoard it away or ration it out. He was as freehanded with money as he was with smiles and kisses."
"Was Marie miserly with money?"
"Marie thought that money could buy friends and so she occasionally appeared generous, but she always went looking for a payback. Paul never expected anything in return when he gave anyone anything."
"Were you happy?"
"I loved my children and my work, and I was a well loved wife. Yes, I was happy."
"Did you ever wish you and Paul could have had more?"
"I always knew we could have had a love affair, but that would have destroyed the life that made me happy."
"Grandpa would have married you."
"Paul thought he wanted to marry me, but I would never have been happy in the role of wife to someone who was always looking for greener pastures or younger, prettier women. No. I liked the security of knowing my husband would never stray ... not even in his thoughts."
"And you think that Paul was content with that too?"
"Paul accepted things for what they were."
"And so did you."
Eva gave me a smile. "Yes. That is why we were both happy people."
I thought about Mark. "Mark hasn't got enough time or energy to work as hard as he does and give two women what they need to be happy. I don't think it always works as simply as you seem to think it does."
"Are you happy with your life apart from Mark?"
I thought for a minute before saying I didn't need Mark in my life to be happy.
"Then why ask for more than he can give?"
"Probably because I want enough contact to be comfortable with him. Both the brain and the vagina need estrogen to stay lubricated. You can help the brain by challenging it regularly, but the nether regions need more than just Replens and regular exercise."
"What do they need?" asked Eva.
"I don't know about other old women, but this old woman seems to need regular contact and open communication lines. I need to know that I am loved."
"What if you were his wife? Or the only woman in his life? Would his work be your competitor then?"
I thought for a long time before I finally answered Eva. "No. I understand that kind of focus. I know what it's like to be addicted to an idea or a job or to lose myself for hours in the creation of a piece of art. And I know what it feels like to want to do something really well."
"Could you also accept his procrastination which lures him away from getting the work done?"
"I'd likely get pissed off at times and wish he'd just use his time better, but yes, I procrastinate too, so I'd likely be able to deal with that too."
"So it's just the fact that he's spending time with his ex-wife."
"It's the fact that he's still connected to her ... still on her leash ..." I began, and then stopped myself. "I wish he didn't compartmentalize things the way he does. And I wish he didn't have that particular compartment in his life."
"Don't you compartmentalize too?" asked Eva. "I know I did. I'd never have got anything done if I hadn't.
"Mark's compartments are like steel boxes, not like fish bowls or office cubicles. They are impervious. Until he's ready to unlock the door and emerge, the only way in is to use dynamite. And then you screw up his ability to concentrate because you've forced him out of one cubicle into another."
"So it's counter productive."
"Yes, and I hate to impose."
"Does his wife have the same compunction? Do his daughters?"
"No ... they bug him all the time. But I like him too much to do that to him."
"They probably do too but maybe they understand him better than you do."
"Maybe," I said, and I knew that I would be letting this idea play in my subconscious for a while.
Nolan called last night at midnight London time to tell me that Pat was in Intensive Care after the surgery; that they had performed the biopsy on the lung, and that they were draining the incision. He didn't know how long she would remain in the ICU or when the biopsy results would be available, but he would call me tonight. Once Pat moves back to the ward I will be able to call her on her cell phone.
I've been re-thinking cell phones since this trip. The public phone booth that was impossible to use. Pat's connections with family and friends through her phone no matter where she found herself (except of course in ICU). Maybe they are not the devil's invention ... maybe like everything else in life, they can be beneficial if used judiciously. Like television ... and sports ... and DVDs ... and computers ...
I've also been thinking more about the loneliness of being ill if you live alone. We will all die alone. But Pat's illness is made more bearable because she is surrounded by people who care ... her son and his family who live close by ... her friends ... her other son and her brother who maintain daily contact ... but it is Nolan who trucks himself off to the hospital every day, often twice a day. It is Nolan who takes her dirty laundry home and brings back the things she needs. It is Nolan who waters the plants and keeps the household running. And it is Nolan who looks after her Canadian friends so that Pat can enjoy their company.
My neighbour who died early this fall was terribly ill in her last year. I often thought how lucky she was to have a husband who loved her and took care of her. They were married for fifty years, and in that last year he devoted himself entirely to her, accompanying her to appointments, driving to Montreal every Sunday and returning every Friday night while she was undergoing radiation ... a whole winter of these weekly commutes. He bullied her into walking small distances when she emerged from the first set of chemotherapy treatments, knowing that she needed the exercise and the sunshine; that she'd feel better for having taken these walks. Later he fed her, helped her bathe and get to and from the toilet. He helped her choose the wig she would never wear because the cancer outran the chemo. She was less kind to him than to any of the rest of us. Because he loved her best. Because she knew she could never lose his love and support. Because she was having such a hard time and he was the only one she could rail against. There was never any point in shrieking imprecations against a god she didn't believe existed. But Tom was there. Tom never wavered, never walked away.
And Pat is harder on Nolan than she is on any of the rest of us for all the same reasons.
I will not have anyone to rail against. And I will lose not only my health but also my home when the time comes. I will likely spend the last years of my life in some institution cared for by people paid to do their job. Is that why I am fussing about Mark? Foolish, if it is, because he lives a continent away, and neither of us can stand the idea of living with another person.
I threw away the one relationship in which I could have grown old with my own Nolan or Tom beside me. And once you've tossed it aside you can't pick up the pieces and put them back together. Relationships are a lot like Humpty Dumpty ... and that is what parents reading nursery rhymes and fairy tales at bedtime are doing ... trying to inculcate values and teach truths to tiny children while they are still young enough to be imprinted. I seem to have remembered the stories but not the lessons.
OKAY ... I've put in half my allotted time and I am going to take a break!