As we step toward a new year, consider…

“Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” ~ Neil Gaiman (via Dinty Moore on Facebook)

It’s Almost a New Year!

I’m pretty good at meeting goals and keeping resolutions when I make them. Like the year I vowed to eat fresh (only!) vegetables every day, prepared in a healthy way—no canned, no frozen. I did it for 365 days and beyond. When I was in high school, I stopped eating chocolate for two years. I don’t know how I did that, but I did. I don’t want to do that again. Years ago, I resolved to eat no sugar for a year. I was successful to my knowledge, and the first taste of sugar afterward was sweetly offensive.

Most of my goals over the years have had to do with health and writing. Regarding health, I’m with the rest of the country—“lose weight” and “get fit” are among the most popular resolutions. Regarding writing, I’m in a smaller crowd. One year I vowed to write a column every week. I did it—52 columns—and published all in an online journal I edited and published under the heading “Rhodes Less Traveled.” (Yeah, corny, I know.) Many writers simply go with “I want to get published.”

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I think the secret to keeping new year’s resolutions is to narrow them down and get specific. If they are too general or vague, it’s easy to let a day or a month…or a year…slide without accomplishing anything or staying on track. For example, “eat healthier” is a general goal and not measurable. However, “eat fresh vegetables every day” is specific and clear. You can be held accountable for whether you do or don’t.

As far as writing, what do I want to publish? Pick a particular story or essay and resolve to send it out five times a week until an editor bites. I’m bad about finding the time to send it out once and waiting for the expected rejection. You get nowhere like that. So I vow to pick two essays, and I know which ones they are, and send each out five times a week for three weeks. It’s a start.

In 2013 I want to finish my book manuscript. I want to finish it by March. So—how many words do I want it to be and how many do I have now? If I’ve got 50,000 words left to write and thirteen weeks until March 1, then I must write 3,800 words per week. Doable. It’s time to get serious. Not that I wasn’t. But this is a specific resolution, and I’ve made it public for the whole world to see, and if I don’t reach my goal, then I am a failure. And a vow breaker.

And I don’t break vows.


Unraveled Like an Old Sock

“Joyce Carol Oates sincerely regrets that, her life having unraveled like an old sock, she is unable to aid you in knitting up your own.”

Perfect.

Joyce’s husband died four months before mine did, and I’ve been reading her memoir A Widow’s Story. She uses the “W” word. I won’t. I never will.

Life changes when you lose a spouse. Maybe “change” is not the right word here. Life is over when you lose a spouse. Keeping on doing what you were doing before your spouse died – in the messy, chaotic tangle of grief – is a futile attempt at keeping some semblance of your life together. At some point, though, it’s going to fall apart. You are changed, different, you are frenetic, you have new responsibilities and less time, you have little patience, you feel agitated and antsy, your emotional pendulum swings faster and wider, and yet people hold you to what you were, clawing at you until you are bloody.

I’d kept my life pretty much together – pushed myself and pushed myself to keep on going, for three years and ten months – until the spring of 2012, when something happened that shouldn’t have happened, and it changed me, and I found my life finally unraveling. I was tired of it. I’d had enough, I was filled up, I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t go on.

For ten years my life had been devoted to helping others, mainly writers, knit their own lives up. I did a lot of volunteer work in the local writing community. I gave inordinate amounts of time … and money … helped market the books of others … put writers in contact with those who made a difference in their lives … gave up a year of my life to work on an anthology. I was burned out and worn out from it all. As it turned out, I wasted ten precious years. It’s a “taking” world. People are selfish. They push and pull and squeeze the last drop out of you and spit you out. I was stupid to not see that sooner.

For eight years I edited and published an online journal – a place for emerging and established writers to be published. I published the works of nearly four hundred writers. I wanted to do it. I loved doing it. I thought it was a good thing; it was a good thing. It was rewarding and fulfilling, and I wanted to keep it up forever. But then came the spring of 2012, and I couldn’t do it any more. It broke my heart. And I felt guilty for having to let it go.

And then I read Joyce’s statement. I found peace. And I let go and floated in my newfound freedom. I felt Self emerging. I found “my resting place.”

I think this will be the title of the memoir I am writing.

Thank you, 2012, for bringing this all home to me, and thank you, Joyce, for telling me it is okay to take care of my own sock. Now, I am learning to knit.


December 7 and WWII

“December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” My mama was twenty years old and heard President Roosevelt say this on the radio. On this date the United States was brought into World War II.

If it weren’t for the war, a lot of things wouldn’t be here. Like me. And Silly Putty. The shiny pink silicone plastic went public about the same time I arrived at City Hospital in Cleveland, Mississippi.

Silly Putty wouldn’t be here because it was created by accident during wartime research for rubber substitutes. When Japan cut off our rubber supply, we needed a new product to make gas masks, soldier boots, and Jeep tires. Silly Putty failed as a rubber replacement, but in 1949 it found its way into the hands of a toy store owner, who saw those fun balls of plastic bouncing all the way to the bank.

I wouldn’t be here because the two people who created me wouldn’t have gotten together. Dad grew up down South on a farm in the Hill Country, near Philadelphia, Mississippi. His ancestors moved there after the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty took the land from the Indians and after the stars fell on Alabama. His daddy grew cotton. Dad graduated from high school the same year as Pearl Harbor, he got drafted into the Army, and he went to Georgia for training.

Mama lived up north in Cincinnati. Her great-great-grandfather was a soldier and spy during the Revolution and got a land grant in Ohio. Mama grew up on the banks of the Ohio River in a house that had served as a station on the Underground Railroad, hiding slaves who were moving north toward freedom.

Mama had her fortune told by a gypsy in 1937, when she was sixteen, and it came true.

“You will travel over many waters—not the ocean, but rivers. You will be in uniform. You will marry a man in uniform. You will have two daughters.”

Mama said she just laughed at that prediction because why in the world would she have on a uniform? Two years later, World War II broke out. Two years after that, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and bang, the United States was in the war. Two years after that, Mama joined the Army and traveled over many rivers to Georgia, where she met Dad who was a Tenth Armored Tiger and married him six days before he shipped out to the front lines with the Third Army and General George Patton, and then ten years after that she had her second daughter, my sister.

I am one of many post-war babies…one of many now holding her deceased soldier/veteran/father’s medals and veteran caps and flags…and…and stories about the war.