Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Better than nothing; the substitute I wrote after my computer froze

The computer ate my homework. Does that count as writing with adversity?

A lot of professional writers have gone back to writing on typewriters--a Selectric or some such, and I understand why.

Wrote a good blog last night on aging candidates,  the future, health expectations....it was a really good one. Reread it just a few minutes ago, and I liked it this morning as well. But BlogSpot had frozen. I couldn't save it, publish, nothing.

So I deleted it.  That train of thought has ended and I can't get back on board. I never dreamed that the adversity of creative writing would be the actual loss of my work periodically.  If I am in the middle of what for me is original thinking--even though someone else undoubtedly has thought the same--I don't seem able to stop, save my work, re-enter creative thinking and go on.

It may be a skill I will have to learn.  The frustration of losing last night's work is something I am pushing down and down. I'll take a walk in a bit and let that frustration evaporate with movement.

I am trying to get back to this writing from my personal viewpoint.  There's a kind of rhythm, a music to the words that is satisfying to string together.  It is handwork as surely as carving or sewing, or rolling out piecrust. The piecrust used to be another handcraft of mine, but that skill is gone now. I never carved. I never sewed, except reattaching buttons.

But I have done and still do, write.   The computer freezes intermittently, probably one in ten outings. Negative reinforcement; in other words, the most powerful discouragement.

I woke up this morning, and everything works.  I still have critical thinking in my head.  And I am grateful for that.  With my hands on a keyboard, I still have a voice. Even when my computer sometimes mutes it.

I once started a poem, writing, "My life is a river, strong, and deep, and wet--I don't know where it's going yet."   I never finished the poem past those words because, you know, I didn't know where my life goes. I still don't know, except that it goes on, and it goes forward.

I still am trying to see what is around the bend ahead.

I still want to know.

 That may well be my favorite thing about myself.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I Already Had An Emergency to Solve; Then Sept. 11 Happened.

Funny, but I am not sure I've ever written it all out. Maybe it took a few years. I know details and chain of events are smudged. I think this is a pretty good combination of emotion, effort at factual recitation, and enough years to try to do both.

The day recalls the reality. The truth unfolded slowly as we attempted to live our normal lives.

I had an important meeting. It wasn't about money or regulations. It was about what I and the State of Texas and CPS was going to do about a mother with three kids under 3 who were temporarily living with a couple of really hands on, interfering Good Samaritans.

And they were good samaritans. If they hadn't taken her in, as part of what they saw as Christian duty and love, she and hers might have been separated with the kids in foster care.

She wanted to pack up her and hers--including an incredible amount of stuff she had gotten from local charities--and head for family in Arkansas, just over the state line. The couple would have to pay for some of it.

It was a life-changing decision and it had to be made today. Otherwise, and maybe anyway, the state of Texas would do its meager best to care for the whole family. And I was very worried.

No matter what, you don't miss a meeting like that.

I got up earlier than usual to drive to the home, about 45 minutes from home. I always listened to Dallas Radio KVIL news and music.

As I dressed, Andy McCollum, news manager, said something about a plane hitting the US Trade Building Tower.

"What was that?" Jody Dean asked. (I remember his saying this after the first crash, not the second. I may be wrong.) My memory says McCollum answered he didn't know, maybe a small plane.

I do remember the small plane comment, but maybe Dean asked "what was that" after the second crash. In Dallas, they still had no information. It was evident something truly bad was going on.

I thought, "terrorists!" But who? From where?  Was I simply panicking?  That unknowing remains a remembered frustration. I wondered if I were simply freaking out.

SOMETHING BAD was happening in New York. I had a family in Denton County to settle. I got in my car and drove. Maybe it wouldn't affect me much, but be something horrible somewhere else.

The third plane hit the Pentagon.

I screamed at my radio. "What is happening?" and I didn't know. I kept driving.

We were under attack. By then I knew that. But I didn't know who was attacking. And that made it even more frightening.

I don't know the sequence when Flight 93 crashed, or we started hearing what happened. Was it before or after the government ordered all planes to land? I think after. Some reports of portable phone messages from Flight 93 appeared. Also the info of scrambled US fighter jets. I drove on a highway parallel to DFW airport and saw some planes land, and I thought, "Those are the last planes I will see in the sky for awhile." And I was right. It would be four days, I think. It was surreal.

 I was a journalist for many years. When I heard about the crash in Pennsylvania, I was not only broken-hearted, but even then, relieved. I wonder if we will ever publically acknowledge these heroes for more than foiling further attack. US fighter jets would have had to destroy them, which would have done irreparable damage to our spirit as a country, but it would have had to be done.

I reached my destination. They let me in, and they had the TV on. The mother was restless, excited with the action, more so when the buildings came down. At that time I feared maybe 50,000 were dead. I saw the people jump. I saw the people run in the smoke and dust. I saw the police and firemen--I guess--I've never heard of a woman on those teams. I watched them almost swagger as they marched in to help, and then to die.

So much more was going on, some I didn't hear for years, like the private boats ferrying people out of the chaos and morass.

For the first time, we had a national catastrophe on television for everyone to see almost from the first minute. It was horrifying. It was riveting.

When the buildings fell, the couple, the mother and I prayed. We choked back our tears. We pulled our socks up, and then we had our meeting. I think, actually, we made some good, rational decisions. All of us were satisfied. By the time I left, it was almost noon.

I stopped by Kentucky Fried Chicken for a take-out order, which I often did. (2 pieces dark meat and cole slaw, iced tea.) The woman I saw so often was there, and I realized what a hard morning I had had, and knew she had too, but she had to keep working all the way through.

For the first time, I asked a personal question.

"Are you okay? " I asked.

"I'm doing all right," she answered, then her face crumpled. "But it's hard, you know?" She shoved my sack over, credited my debit card. I kept eye contact, I nodded. I said,"I know." 
And I watched her pull herself together for the next customer.

Staff without morning appointments had been watching the television in the staff room. They had left to eat.

I sat with my KFC lunch and tea. I ate. And I continued to find out what was going on. If I filled out more agency forms and narrative the rest of the day, I don't remember it.

It was the next day before we had a clue who the enemy was.

Like so many others, I had never heard of Osama bin Laden before, nor Al Quada. When I did, it wasn't real.

We had been attacked, as surely as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But we didn't know who. We didn't know where they lived or were. We had no idea how to strike back.

The emptiness of it. The sheer tragedy of malignant action with no way to strike back or retaliate.

In the recorded history of the world, did that ever happen before?

I don't think so.

And that made it all the more frightening and frustrating. National leaders handled it well.

President Bush said, "They win if you cower in your homes."

That helped. So we continued to live, and go about.

Maybe we hugged a little more.

I remember Johnny (my ex-husband) insisting that all of us get together for a meal together, crowded into a booth at a local Italian restaurant. He insisted we take the time to celebrate each other, and that we loved each other. While he and I were friendly, this was unusual.

He was right.

One of my sons wrote today it was the single worst day of his life. I thought about it. Was it the worst day for me? Well, not quite.  Because no one I knew personally died. Disaster is extremely personal.
Living in Dallas as a college student when President Kennedy was shot was personal in so many ways. Dallas was affected deeply. I don't remember hearing a single laugh for 3 days.

My father's death when I was 19 was another deep blow. I developed a deep impatience with funeral processions then, looking out the window of the funeral limousine as cars pulled over or tried to get past when we headed for the cemetery. We were a grieving family, and the world was getting larger and more populous. I thought the custom was ridiculously self-important for modern cities.
I have not changed my mind.

Both events greatly changed my expectations from the world, and those changed expectations indeed shaped my life. Sept. 11 horrified, frightened, and grieved me. It did not disillusion me.

That had happened earlier.

This is personal. I am not commentating on the world.


Monday, September 5, 2016

When September Reminds Me I am Rich Indeed

My computer and I have been arguing for months now about this site, but now I can write again.

It is September, when I am most homesick for the New Mexico of my youth.  The mountains are still there, and most of the trees. The skies are still clear. From New Mexico, you can actually see yonder, into the universe. Aside from one atomic bomb explosion, New Mexico hasn't interfered too much with the environment, from what I hear.

We never did have lightning bugs. But I guess you still can see the Milky Way from many chairs in the Tularosa Basin and beyond.

In my childhood, not so many people, and irrigation schedules through the not-too-deep ditches through the population meant we had soft grass to lie on and stare at the moon and stars and that milky pathway in the dark night I learned looked that way from so many, many more stars. If you lay on your back and looked at the sky at night, you did get an idea of exactly how big and important you were in the scheme of things. And you knew, somehow, you still mattered, like the mountains and the trees, the desert and the stars. At least, I did feel that way. I understood the universe was vast, the world was huge, and somehow I was a part of all that.

Apparently, you don't have to live there to experience that oneness with the universe. I will always believe it is easier in New Mexico.

I say "there" because all my adult life, I have lived in North Texas. I have found so much to love in what is, actually, my birth state. But I will always miss the mountains.  It's been a few years now since I have driven that way, but in the past, every single time, several hundred miles from Dallas/Fort Worth when I saw the Davis Mountains, tears would spontaneously spill from my eyes. The first time really startled me.  I expect it these days.  (As I sit here writing, I am about equi-distant to the seashore or the mountains. Either way, it is 600-700 miles. Maybe more. I don't cry when I see the sea, joyful though I am.)

So now I live on the edge of a 9-million population metropolis. I have open fields and ranches around, and the Big and Bigger cities right down the road.

In New Mexico, the air is crisping in mornings and evenings. Later on--are any cottonwoods left? They used to drive me delirious with the deep blue of the sky somehow dipping into the leaves and turning them, branch by branch from the tip-top, golden with the pure blue sky and frosty air.  It was like watching flames take the green leaves one by one and leave them glowing before they fell.

Oh, yes. I loved my home. I loved  the Tularosa Basin. I loved New Mexico. I always will.

I  remember the broken voice of a dear older woman I knew whose  voice was failing her, but she forced out the words. She said, "The mountains, I ...could not....live...without ...the mountains." She knew where I lived, and she smiled when she asked, voice still crackling," "how...do...you bear it?"

And I can only answer, I have the people I love most all around me.

Mountains, however omnipresent, cannot hug, say, "I love you", or laugh.  Nor can the sky.

I am far enough out of the Metroplex I can see my favorite constellations. I have the smell of fresh. And if the petrichor of longed wished-for rain on the prairie and trees here is not quite as entrancing as when the rain falls first on the pines, then the cedar, then the greasewood (creosote) bushes that perfume the air like maybe a Turkish harem might have smelled like in our dreams, the smell still is alluring, transforming and delightful. It is the smell of life, and promise of more.

I have traveled widely. It surprises me that I have only lived in two states--both quite large. I have never traveled in the Northeastern states, and that is a wish still hanging. Maybe.  The uncertainty of it makes living so much more attractive.

I have chosen family over mountains, and I laugh. In my mind for awhile, many years ago, at a certain fork in the road, there was a contest in my mind.  I took the richer road.  Mountains don't take much tending. But family takes every part of us. Families take action, love, effort, care, work, and yes, often redemption.

I'm glad for my choice.

In September, especially, I still miss my mountains. I miss New Mexico.

I love my life, and  all the memories that enrich it.