Sunday, October 23, 2005

One big happy?

Went to L's Fall choir concert Thursday. All of us.

Probably doesn't sound like a big deal to most people reading this post, the idea of spending family time together attending ball games and parties as one big happy. Most people probably just get up and go, barely giving the all part a second thought.

The all part is big for our family. The all part rarely happened last year or the year before that or the year before that.

More often than not when we headed to this function or that, we did so as a subset. Because more often than not, E was sick. Take last school year, for example. By the end of October, E had missed at least a month of school. She wasn't mental-health-day sick. I'm talking actively sick with a bad cough and fever for a week or 10 days at a shot before it started all over again. The cycle never seemed to end. By the end of the school year, we lost count of her sick days.

Contrast last year to this. So far E's missed only two days. Is this run of luck a sign of things to come? Testimony to the rightness of the meds she's been on since late last Spring? A shift of the universe in her favor? I mentally knock on wood as I write this, pray this trend continues, try not to look over my shoulder...

And muse about how I survived the rigors of the Vermont College MFA program.

Two critical essays, twenty pages new creative, and twenty revised due each month for two years. How did I make all my deadlines? How did I carve out the time to write my critical thesis, and rewrite my novel multiple times while juggling meds, and countless doctor's visits, and holding the barf bucket? How, in the end, did I manage to graduate on time?

Certainly, part of my drive came from what Debby Dahl Edwardson observed on our class listserve--the fact that the VC program provides students with the permission to say no to PTO fund-raisers and yes to writing. And then there's the cheerleading and support I received from my program advisors Ellen Levine, Sharon Darrow, Jane Resh Thomas, and Tim Wynne-Jones. But while their mentoring was transforming, it was not the sole reason I kept going. Something else spurred me on. Something I can't quite articulate.

As E embraces this school year with gusto, I long to embrace whatever it was that kept me writing through the dark times. For the first time since the aneurysm, E's in such a good place. She's finally well enough to attend art club, Scouts, Sunday school...and her sister's choir concerts. I'm thrilled for her. And frustrated for me.

Here I sit. Free to embrace "Life After the MFA" to its fullest. I've got a book to finish, two editors who want to see it as soon as it's done, two classes to teach as soon as I give the word, a non-fiction book proposal an editor wants me to write. So much I want to do. So much potential.

Yet, in the distance, E's upcoming surgery rumbles like a rising storm. How do I write through this?

1 comment:

Debby Dahl Edwardson said...

Kim, are you there? I type these words and look at the spaces in between them and wonder what else there is to say to a mother in your situation.

With seven of my own I expect I should know. When my kids were young I looked at an older friend of mine, who also had a large family, and asked, "When do I get to sleep though the night?" He laughed and said, "Never."

It's almost true. There isn't a night that goes by when I am not saying silent prayers in a dark room for one child or another who seems to be on the brink. Two adult children, as I write this, are delving too deeply into drugs and I no longer have any control over what life may do to them and what mistakes they may insist on making.

Did I ever? Do you, sitting there next to Elena's bed as--I pray--she faces a slow recovery?

The writing--the art--is what anchors us, isn't it? How does that saying go? Life is what happens when you've made other plans..

Art figures into this somehow. It always does. You sit there, at some point in your life, with a clean desk and a lot of paper, twiddling your fingers bursting at the seams with feelings but lacking the words to express them. And then the phone rings and you are launched into a series of activities that barely leave you time to breathe, some of them heart-wrenching, some exquisitely beautiful, some horrifying and you keep glancing backward, longingly, at that clean desk which is receding further and further into your own past.

One day it's gone altogether and you are forced to sit down hurriedly at the kitchen table and suddenly the words come pouring out of nowhere. The stories were there all along, telling themselves and ripening, even when life kept you too busy to think about it.

Behind our backs, Kim, always behind our backs.

I pray you are okay. I know the story is there behind your back and it's a powerful one.