Resolutions, revelations and restorations.

One of the handy options in WordPress is the ability to write headlines when we don’t have time to actually sit down and write an entire blog.  Later, we can come back and jog our memories and write something profound – or doodle around the margins until something sticks to the page. That is how it usually works. But today,  an old headline brought with it much more meaning than originally intended.

This weekend, I sat down and started to putter through the dusty corners of this long-neglected online diary.  I have been in quite a slump and have not been able to write much of anything. Maybe I can kickstart my brain by playing with this blog.

I had last logged in on April 1.   That was the day I had written an email to close friends and family members about Mark and how he died. I pasted it into blog form. Before that, it was late January, when I pasted the words I said at Mark’s memorial service.  But I  never got around to hitting “publish” on either one of them. Until today.

Then, I went back to look at some drafts and headlines from Before. Resolutions, revelations and restorations. This was a headline/idea I saved on January 2, 2017.  In case you have not been following along, that was Before.

I wonder now what  my resolutions would have been if I’d taken the time that day to write some words.  Mark’s foot surgery. Trips to the beach and Texas hill country. A refresher course for Barkley at Dog School Austin. Some landscaping around the pool. And regular entries in this blog.

Those plans seem pretty unremarkable in the After.

Knowing that my only faithful reader is my good friend, Janice Williams, I think she would have written back and jokingly complained about me kicking her into gear and we would have agreed to be better about writing this year. Sometime between then and now, I have misplaced my resolutions.  The bulk of my revelations have involved gut-punches. But there have been some major restorations along the way.

Resolutions 2017:2.0: To-do lists, phone numbers, probate, refinance and other tasks fill three Moleskine journals,  as my resolutions have gone from us-plans to basic survival skills. There was a moment early on when  I thought I might write down actual feelings and work my way through this somehow.  That was a frivilous thought. I could barely write my name. One day, I wrote out a check for the housekeeper and didn’t even recognize my own signature. Even my handwriting has changed. The thought of going in to change my signature card at the bank crossed my mind. Add it to the to-do list.

I am marking some of those perennial resolutions off my list forever. You know, the ones that come back every year. They are not nearly as important as they were Before. Who really cares if I organize the garage  – this year or never. Starting now, I am going to work on putting one foot in front of the other every day.  I am going to heal. And see where I go from here.

Revelations: I have a bucket full of these.  And many are blessings. Women. Friends. Sisters.  This is family.  Real people who may or may not be related by blood, but are really Here. And who say and do the right things. Or nothing at all.  Those who do the dirty work with and for me, like juggling their schedules around the probate court. And those who email and call and insist that I really should go out for frozen pizza at an old friend’s house, or to a girls’ night slumber party out in the country – to chicken dip in a pool, and laugh at and with ourselves. (By the way, I learned a new phrase this week: toC chicken-dip is to skinny-dip in your bra and panties.)

And those who let me cry. And be angry. And sad. Those friends ask how I am today — rather than a simple “How are you doing?” And they tell me they think I am doing better.  And in spite of myself, sometimes I believe them. I may not be better than last year, but I am definitely better than last January.

Restorations: The  most obvious is that I have a fabulous new Talavera-tiled bathroom. My bedroom en suite reminds me of San Miguel de Allende. A good place. It’s bright and cheerful and warm, and I know that Mark would love it as much as  I do.

I have successfully rearranged the furniture in most of the rooms in the house, and even though the living room arrangement is anything but Feng Shui,  I was just going for different.  I didn’t want to walk in and immediately look for Mark in his familiar place on the recliner. And no. The arrangement really doesn’t work this way, and I have stubbed my toe on the corner of the displaced ottoman several times. So yes, I am probably going to rearrange it again sometime this month.

The first hundred days were a fog. I don’t remember details but can look back in Moleskines and be reminded of important names – of coroners and mortuaries,  probate judges and appraisers, and painters and tile masons and plumbers.

The main restoration I am working on is The Second Hundred Days. Along the way, the kids and I were all together when we realized that we were on Day 98. Someone pointed out that we had come pretty far from that horrific first day. Looking back, I guess we had. The meltdowns had grown further apart, the tears were no longer several times a day,  and the construction crews had quit coming in waves.

Today, we are almost halfway through the Second Hundred Days. In fact, I am writing this on Day 141. After.

Somewhere along this journey,  I decided that this  hundred days would be my chapter of Revelations: The Time of Me. I have started going to a sweaty, no-frills gym and am trying to take better care of myself. I redid my office and am getting more organized. And looking at ways to make myself stronger, happier and more secure, in all aspects of life. And I am struggling to learn to let myself have some fun along the way.   I really do want to learn to be happy again. Recognizing that I have to “learn” is a step in the right direction. I am grateful for those who offer to help.

I don’t know what Forever will look like. I don’t even believe in Forever anymore. I have lost a lot of faith in a lot of basics that I once took for granted. Mark and I promised each other we would never take one another for granted. We kept that promise till  the last time I spoke with him.  We knew all along that  we would not have as long as we wanted- but Mark always believed in Forever more than I did. He knew he would have my heart as long as he lived. I guess I always knew the reality. I would likely outlive him. And I wanted more.

I am tired of the “how to grieve” gift books. A mountain of these books sits next to my reading chair in the living room. Grief guides tend to be like travel books, telling you what is around the next bend.  This is not a trip – like DisneyWorld in Three Days or A Week in Kaua’i.  Some of the well-meaning titles are really bad. And I have come to realize most of the advice just doesn’t work for me. So far, I have found two books that I will carry with me through this journey: Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B and Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gifts from the Sea.

I am weary – and wary –  of platitudes. I am tired of being angry when people ignore what happened.  Or say, “I know how you feel.” Or compare this to someone else they know who lost a kitten or a mother or a grandfather or even a spouse through natural, albeit sudden causes.

No.

It. Is. Not. The. Same.

And I know now that I will never be the same. I am different now. It’s not easy. But it could be worse. I see improvement. I am not sitting on the ground in the front yard sobbing. That deliniation between Before and After will always be January 3, 2017. I will never look at the New Year with the kind of excitement I did before.

But I made it through the memorial. And Valentine’s Day. And our wedding anniversary. And Easter and Mother’s Day and a couple of our kids’  birthdays. And I am still standing –  most of the time.  Maybe that is a good enough goal for now.

It’s After.

And i am still here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

i

Posted in Backstory, Mark., Words | Leave a comment

Burying the Lede

Dear Friends,

I cannot say thank you enough to each of you for what you have done for us over the last eleven weeks and four days (but who’s counting).   To  say that it has been a struggle would be an understatement. But we have all grown a lot since January 3, 2017.  In a single instant, I learned two of the most important lessons of my life. I cannot control anything, and I cannot fix everything.

We have also learned enough to write a book about what to do – and what not to do – for grieving families. Wow! The what-not-to-say book is something we have already begun to smile about – if not laugh out loud.  (Note: Do not call a widow who lost the great love of her life less than a month before, and tell her that she is going to be okay because she’s “still marketable.”)

On the other hand, our extended family, friends and community have raised the bar so high in Being There. And, equally important, in Giving Us Space.  Amazing meals. Bailey’s Irish Cream. Chocolate Covered Almonds. Advil PM.  Dog Walks. Bringing Toilet Paper. And Trash Bags. Pantry Organization. Spice Cabinet Alphabetization. Folding Clothes. Going to the Laundry. Haircuts. Crystals. Moving Mark’s Clothes. And Moving Them Again. Holding My Hand. (And kicking my ass a couple of times when I was just being pathetic).

And after the memorial, you were still here. A phone call away. (though I have been avoiding the phone so please forgive me if I have not returned calls promptly).  A knock on the door when I thought I wanted to be alone and I needed you most.

And so here we are. It’s been eleven weeks and three days since I lost the great love of my life. I cannot say enough about how amazing the past 13 years have been. Mark took my breath away.  I kicked my foot up when he kissed me. And we laughed. And since January 3, I have been heartbroken and lost.

Our lives have changed. All five of our children are closer than they have ever been, and I feel closer to each of them than ever before. Maybe in part because of those two lessons it took me this long to learn. I never wanted to let them see me weak – and not in control – and not able to fix things.

Today, the meltdowns are rare. Not completely gone.  I do stand in front of the gift bag (yes,  a red paper gift bag with white fiberboard box that fits perfectly inside and holds Mark’s ashes) and say, “What the hell am I supposed to do now!” pretty regularly.  And my heart skips a beat when I see something I want to share with him right now and remember. He’s not here.

As much as I have struggled with what happened, I have been stumbling over what’s next. I considered writing a blog but quickly realized that I didn’t want to read some pathetic tome about getting through loss. There are plenty of people doing that. Geez –  even I would avoid my own blog about that.  I thought about writing a lot of those thoughts I have been meaning to put down in my Moleskine journal. Just for me. And I will probably do that sometime.

Meanwhile, life is going on. For the past year, I have been working on a video project that will be shown in police departments across the nation during their shift change briefings – about resiliency and recovery, and how the actions of the first responders immediately after a traumatic event in a community or a neighborhood or a family can start the recovery at the scene. We will be talking to survivors, and heroes and community leaders – folks with boots in the ground who helped in the recovery. Lessons learned. Things that work. Things that don’t.

Little did I know that I would face my own boots-on-the-ground experience on January 3.

It was a fairly normal day.  Mark was suffering from what we thought was a terrible allergy/sinus infection. We had been in the ER a few days earlier where he was given allergy meds and antibiotics.  He was scheduled for foot surgery in December in San Antonio – complications from diabetes that had limited his mobility to the point where he was unable to drive and only walk with a walker. The surgery had been postponed due to the upper respiratory issues and was on the books for January 19. I was leaving on Jan 5 for the Delbert McClinton cruise, to pre-promote the book, and rest and relax and listen to great music. Mark loved the cruise the year before but could not go this year because of his mobility issues. DeLynn was planning to come in and stay with him while I was gone, and help Patrick with the usual routine.

Mark woke up as I was getting ready for work and asked me if I was hearing all of that. I heard nothing. He heard voices like someone had been injured on the lot next door to our house and was screaming for help.  There was nothing.  I said that maybe he was half dreaming and he agreed. He got up and started his morning routine.  I said, “I love you,” and he said, “You’re gorgeous,” and I laughed and gave him a kiss, and went to work.

I had to run an errand and stopped by the house at about 10:30. He was sitting in his chair and watching CNN. He was planning to have a salad for lunch. Routine conversation. I said, “I love you, have a good day.” He said, “Love you too. See you later.”

Mark and I wrote emails, text msgs, and notes to each other all the time. I generally went to bed before he did, and it was not uncommon to wake up the next morning and find a late night love-letter email waiting for me to start my day.

I got an email from him at about 1:30 that afternoon. “Just watched Paul Ryan get sworn in. Think I’ll go take a nap. Love you.”   I was busy and didn’t get another email from him.

In journalism lingo, here comes the part we call “burying the lede.” It means beginning  the story with details of minor importance while postponing the most newsworthy or essential facts.

I left the office a little before 5, got home and he was not in his usual spot on the sofa. I went into the bedroom and he was not on the bed. Barkley was laying across the doorway to the bathroom.  I stepped across him, and Mark was slumped in a chair. I thought he had hit his head or vomited. There was something all over the floor and blood everywhere.  I grabbed him to my chest to try to fix him, and said,  “Oh no. Oh Mark.” And screamed for  Patrick. I went to the living room and dumped my purse and found my phone. Patrick ran with me back into the bathroom. He was reaching for Mark to move him to the floor when I saw the gun – on the floor of the closet – where it had fallen after he pulled the trigger.

The firearm was a family heirloom – a Colt .45 that his highly decorated Marine Corps father had purchased in 1943 and carried with him through WWII, the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, and leading the 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division through Viet Nam. He had showed it to me and told me the story about it, but I had never seen Mark shoot it. He never shot a gun in the 13 years we were together.

Patrick and I were both on the phone with the 911 operator when I saw the gun. She told us to go outside and we did –  holding one another on our knees in the front yard, sobbing. The fire department, EMS and police came. They asked me who I wanted to call. I asked for my colleague who just retired from the SWAT team.  John Curnutt arrived quickly.  Our neighbor, Brian Burleson, drove by the house and went directly around the corner to the Porterfields’, our best friends. He told Winton, “A lot of emergency vehicles are at Diana’s and Mark’s. Joanne Prado (Justice of the Peace) just drove up.” Winton was at our house within minutes. Kim arrived soon after.

We started making calls. Our family has blended famously, and it is hard to say stepchildren or mine and his – but I called “my” kids,  Jenni, Sterling, and HalleyAnna and Dustin got to the house quickly.  Patrick made the hardest call. He called his sister, DeLynn. I asked him to call his mom, Becky, and ask her to come over too. DeLynn drove up from Katy and was here in record time.

That evening and the days to follow blurred together. I knew that there was little I could control anymore but one thing was important enough to push through the fog.  I did not want everyone to know that Mark had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  I did not want him to be defined by that final moment.

(As an aside, we are still awaiting the toxicology reports from the autopsy, but there is evidence that there was severe kidney failure, causing him to hear voices and gain a substantial amount weight in the last two weeks)

When the Austin American Statesman called about a news obit, they asked how he died. I said “From complications from diabetes.” I will stand by that. The diabetes was at the root of all of his illnesses. And if the toxicology reports come back and say the findings were “unremarkable,” I will live with that. (They have not come back yet).

Mark did not leave a note.  In fact, he had paid the electric bill online and written the mortgage check earlier on that ordinary day. But he didn’t leave any indication why this happened. If he made the decision that he was not getting better and did not want to spend more time in hospitals, filling up with prescription meds and being basically locked up at home, I am going to accept it. I have come to learn that I don’t really have a choice in that.

The kids have been unbelievable.  At least one of them is within arm’s reach (or at least their phone number is) any time I feel like I might fall. They are pulling together and surviving their own challenges while keeping an eye on me.

So, we got through the first couple of weeks. We got through the memorial service. We got through getting the cremains (in the gift bag).  We got through sorting through Mark’s clothes, and giving them all good homes. And I got through Valentine’s Day. Our anniversary is right around the corner. I think Barkley and I may take an adventure to celebrate that happy day.

And here I am today. Eleven weeks and four days from the moment Mark was pronounced dead. Suicide. My life is now divided by an indelible demarcation  – BEFORE and AFTER January 3, 2017.

Last Tuesday, while working on the video project, I found myself in a debate with someone about the use of the word victim vs. survivor, with regard to community tragedies and school shootings. I considered the mortally wounded “victims,” and those who lived through It “survivors.” The other person said he thought everyone involved was a victim.  I said, “Victims give in. Survivors go on.”

And then I went home and wondered which word describes me.

The  next day, DeLynn sent me a text about an “Out of the Darkness” walk at the University of Houston. Hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it is an event that is dedicated to providing support to those affected by suicide.

She wanted to create a team to raise money for the AFSP, to bring the stigma  of suicide “out of the darkness,”  and to memorialize her dad, but first needed to be sure I was okay with it. I said, “Of course. I am glad you are doing that.”

She asked if I was sure – because, she said that if she does this, she wants to tell the story.

The stigma is real. Today, I don’t know who among our family and friends knows and who doesn’t know that Mark’s “complication from diabetes” was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I have come to believe that most everyone knows, and thankfully you are too polite to ask for the  (literally) gory details. I have tried to give you all of the details in this email, and answer the questions you may have.

I have no more answers to any questions, and I really have a difficult time talking about it.  When people wisely nod and say, “Oh yes, everyone’s grief is different,” it is often followed by examples of what worked for them. And I have pretended that whatever they said would help.  But it has  gotten better.

I have learned a lot in the last few weeks. It was only last Friday when we finished dealing with the insurance claim for remodeling the bathroom, and paid the contractor. And I have put great effort into imitating myself – or the person I used to be.  And that leads to people saying, “Wow, you are doing great.” Or “It’s good to see you back in the swing of things.”  And I try to smile and say, “Thanks.” And “Fine.” And “Yeah.”

I am glad that DeLynn’s idea of the walk was the catalyst think I am coming out of the darkness, too.  I am cautious. I am sad. I miss Mark terribly. And most of all, I do  not want him to be remembered for the last thing he did in his life. I hope you will remember  what an amazing, wonderful, romantic, funny, smart and loving man he was. And how happy we were together.

I listening to my wonderful psychoanalyst, and taking her advice. I have learned that post traumatic stress is real, and am dealing with this the only way I can.  I can’t talk on the phone. I cannot talk about this – and now you know all that I do.  I am going “off the grid” for a little while. I desperately need to take some quiet time for myself. And both my psychoanalyst and internist have told me that I need to start focusing on myself. And try to heal my broken heart. I am the only one who can do that.I understand it will take time and I have to take some baby steps to get there.

Then I will turn the page or start a new chapter in my life. It may be a whole new book. Thank you for being there.

Love,
Diana

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Instead of Sheep

(Diana’s remarks at the Celebration of  Mark’s Life, January 22, 2017)

Thank you all for being here today to honor Mark Hendricks, the greatest man I have ever known.   If you have known Mark, seen the tribute website, or heard the words and songs here today, you are going to know a lot about him.  Please allow me to tell you a little you might not know.

Before we began dating, Mark was diagnosed with health problems that had gone undetected for too long and had already caused other complications.  He  warned me that his doctors had told him that he might not live eight to ten more years. Even if the doctors were right, we had found each other and we knew what we were in for – and we vowed to celebrate every day loving one another.

On January 24, 2004, 13 years ago this week, he asked me to marry him. Today, I can honestly tell you that I would have wished for forty more years with the great love of my life. But we got thirteen so I guess we “beat the house” on that one.

As you know, Mark and Becky had DeLynn and Patrick, and Kent and I had Jenni, Sterling and HalleyAnna.  Blending a family can be a challenge, but ours came together, even if often in a chaotic way.  Patrick and HalleyAnna grew into kindred spirits as they grew into adulthood. .DeLynn asked Jenni and HalleyAnna  to be bridesmaids in her wedding, and Sterling quickly considered Patrick the little brother he always  wanted. Through chaos and fender benders, boyfriends and grandchildren, we have watched the family grow.

When Kent died in 2015, I was there. When Mark died, Becky was here.

Remember when they used to call those “broken homes?”   We are thankful for this blended family gathered here today.  We are family. And I am so proud of each of you. And we are so blessed to have Mark’s 92-year old mother Mary living within walking distance.  Not only do we get to celebrate all of our holidays together,  but she has led by example and offered me sound  advice for getting through this time of heartbreak and sadness, in the true manner of a  Marine Colonel’s widow.

In 2014, when we adopted Barkley from PAWS animal shelter – Mark was convinced that it was Barkley who rescued us, rather than vice versa. Barkley is pretty much the best dog in the world, and I don’t make such boasts lightly.(Note that we have never made such claims about  any of our five children!)

We have filled the past thirteen years with the stuff that sappy love song are written about.  We have had fun and traveled, had parties and good friends. Kim and Winton Porterfield are about as close to next of kin as we can get. And the outpouring of true friendship in the past two weeks has been overwhelming. I will never be able to thank each of you enough for all you have done to help us get through this time.

We were so lucky.  Who knew love could be so easy? We have chronicled those precious years in notes and journals, cards and letters.  On our first anniversary – the traditional paper gift year –  he wrote a note to me on a standard sheet of paper. It began with: “Paper is an interesting substance. It can be torn but also has remarkable strength. Take a typical piece of paper. Yes, if you start at one edge, you can tear it apart. But if you hold it by two edges at the same time and try to pull it apart, you can’t do it.  There’s something meaningful about the kind of strength in paper. One of us could be torn, but together we cannot be pulled apart…”

He was right.  We have stumbled,  and hit a few walls, but we were never pulled apart.  Father Ben reminded me this week that Mark and I are still together, and it’s okay to still talk to him – and hear him –  – and be “us.” Even if It is in a different way.

Mark brought three important lessons to our marriage that have served us well.

  1. We are on the same side. We never argued. We debated sometimes but we were on the same side – we both wanted the best for US – and we knew that working together, things would work out.
  2. Do one thing at a time.. Do your best, and move on to the next thing. (That has certainly come in handy in the last couple of weeks.)

3.. “It will be seamless. Trust me.”  Stop worrying . When I would fret about the what if’s and consider all of the bad things that MIGHT happen, Mark would remind me what his father told him. Generally if you are in the right place doing the right thing, for the right reason, it will work out. But Worrying is not going to change the outcome one way or another.

 

While I am talking about platitudes – I have one more to share.   We had a wonderful – if uneventful new years eve three weeks ago – at home alone – watching  the new year roll in across the time zones, listening to one after another of our favorite songs on our playlists.

As we were toddling off to bed well after midnight,  Mark said , “You know,  we should get a giant rock  – big enough to sit on – and set it out back by the pool.  I want to put a plaque on it that says “Instead of Sheep.”

I said, “Instead of sheep? What the heck does that mean?”

Quoting the Irving Berlin song from our favorite holiday movie, White Christmas,

Mark said,

“You  know:

If you’re worried and you can’t sleep,

 just count your blessings instead of sheep

And you’ll fall asleep,

counting your blessings.”

 

So that is my next project.

Instead of sheep.

Thank you.

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Resigning my commission

newer_sleeker_wonder_woman_tiara_by_zigorc-d61rsdg.jpgToday. I am respectfully resigning my commission. Turning in the tiara.  I  have finally come  the realization that I don’t have to try to be Wonder Woman anymore.

As is customary with strong southern women, firstborn children, and peasant stock, I was raised to think that I was The Fixer.  My goal in life – my predestined profession – was to be Wonder Woman. And I guess I was pretty good at fixing things and making it work– from dead car batteries to broken spirits.  Mine was the generation of self-improvement books. Entire sections of bookstores (remember those?) were devoted to empowering us to be all things to all people. Maybe I skimmed over the self part of self-help.

My generation was one of New Pioneers. We came of age on the cusp of the second generation of women with (almost) equal rights — we knew we could Have It All if we worked hard enough. We learned about getting a seat at the table and breaking glass ceilings. We cracked the pantyhose Legg and laughed at our mothers’ girdles. And believed that we all we needed to do was keep climbing – and climbing – and continue to prove our competency at all things for all people.

It didn’t stop in the workplace. My generation of mothers raised our children with stacks of books next to our chairs. We championed Benjamin Spock, and fought for legislation for car seats and bicycle helmets. My generation proudly created hyper-parenting and helicopter moms. And some of us couldn’t let go. I believed that parenting came with a lifelong contract.

It has occurred to me in recent months that my adult childen have morphed into these fairly competent hybrid adult friends.   And they don’t really need me to  hover and offer advice and tell them how they ought to do things. In fact, they will be better for it if I let them fly and make a few mistakes and learn from them — like our generation did. And I have permission to let go. We can land that helicopter now.

Community. It has always been important to me to be a community organizer, activist, volunteer and, when necessary, leader.  But I started looking around tables as i sat on   advisory boards or planning committees and I saw a room full of people my age  or older – somewhere between 48 and death.   Where are the 20s and the 30s… and even the early 40s.  Who is giving them a chance to become community leaders?

And so today, after much consideration, I am resigning my commission as Wonder Woman. I am proud of the accomplishments of my generation – and I am grateful for the opportunities to serve my children and my community. The glass ceiling has cracked if not completely broken – and I am comfortable with my professional life.

And now it is our turn. The way I see it, my generation  has a new challenge. Letting go without guilt. I am going to try to pioneer that movement  – at least for me – starting today.

I am proud of our children and believe that they have and continue to learn to make good choices. I cannot deny them the privilege of learning life’s lessons for themselves. And deciding what they want to do to make a living and how they are going to work toward their own dreams. And I will be respectful of their decisions.  Our children’s generation has a new battle to fight. Who is going to write the self-improvement books about that?   Someone needs to write Overcoming Hyperparenting  or Letting Go Without Guilt.

It’s  been a good job  but I believe my work is done. I am looking forward to a  new  chapter in life, one  of relaxation, love, respect and friendship with those great human beings that we have raised and come to know. They have earned their independence.

My well-worn and slightly tarnished tiara is going up on a shelf. My track shoes are going in the trash,  and I have landed the helicopter.  It is their turn.

I am still dragging a little guilt around – but am learning that it is time to let go. It’s my turn to focus on happily ever after with the great love of my life and those dreams I have put off for so long.  What are your dreams? What is your happily ever after?

It’s  our turn. We can fly. But we have to give ourselves some quality time.

Listening to  I Can’t Be Your Hero Today by Jimmy Buffett

 

 

 

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Time Wrangling: A daydreamer’s guide to time management

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But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.  – Robert Frost

Bobby Frost and his snowy evening poem have crossed my mind a lot lately, with so much to do and so little time. But wait. What is important? What is urgent? And what are we  committing to simply because it’s easier to do it than to teach someone how to do it? And what are we doing because it is simply too hard to say no.

Whatever the reasons, I know that my  must-do list has grown to a level that is causing that constant low hum of stress in my brain. And that is going to stop. I am backing up and de-committing. I want more time for quality things. And for being completely lazy, truth be told.

I listened to a time management consultant this month – who talked about budgeting time like it was money (okay – so I am not very good at that either…) . Look at the “fixed costs” and the priorities, and then determine how you want to spend the rest of your time. He said to make a one month plan – and see how that works. See if you can discover the time thief – And to go from there. So here goes.

So what is all of this obligation anyway? What do we want to quit? What do we want to do? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff?  Freelance writers, dreamers and creative people in general tend to struggle with time management. Most of our time  is divided into four  work categories —

The work that pays most of the bills;

The work that fulfills the dream;

The work that makes a difference;

The work to which we cannot say no.

Sometimes I  find that the “work” to which we cannot say no tends to cause the most stress and take the most time is the least appreciated and is generally the least rewarding.  And so —

Beginning on March 1, (the day after tomorrow thanks to Leap Day) let’s turn over a new leaf. I am going to  work on some time management strategies and see if for one month, I  can change some of our patterns and get a few things accomplished.

I am fortunate that my “work that pays most of the bills” is a very rewarding career. I am afforded a level of freedom and creativity that makes it fun and allows me time to think while on the job. It takes about 40 hours a week. So there is my first 40 hours. (btw, that includes 2.5 hours of exercise — which I can start using on March 1 — to get some steps in. What the heck – in for a penny, in for a pound.

Next comes the work that fulfills the dream – right now  that is the Delbert book. I need to focus more time on that.  For the month of  March, I plan to commit ten solid hours per week to the book.  That’s right – On the clock.  That will amount to 40 hours of effort on the book for the month of March. This will work. I am committing to time efficient hours of actual work. Not falling down rabbit holes and wandering down roads less traveled. I will spend the first 10 hours this week, plotting the schedule, working with the publishers, and creating the final structure.  By the end of March. I should have another 10.000 words ready to go.  This week:  2 hours outline; 2 hours publisher, 2 hours setting up interviews; 2 hours transcribing, 2 hours research.

The work that makes a difference – I can count the day job as that – because it does – and I can probably include a little bit of gratis work for organizations i believe in – like HOME for musicians and the Center for Texas Music History. I will give that sort of work 1 hour a week. This week: 1 hour Austin Artist Development.

The work to which I cannot say no -that includes odds and ends that I get sucked into by the nature of my spirit. My fault completely — I feel flattered that people ask me to help them with things -and then I am stuck working on projects that do not fit into my schedule -and take away from what I really need to be doing. Ah-ha! That is a time thief! That is what takes much of my time and keeps me from focusing on what really matters.   I have two projects that I have obligated to – and I will complete them – and stop. And learn to say. I wold love to but my schedule won’t permit that now. Difficult words. I can spend  2 hours a week on that work and get it all done during March.

Somewhere along the line, I would actually like to have some quality time with family and friends. Let’s carve out about 20 hours of that as well.  That does not count sitting on the sofa watching tv or playing computer games. That is real, enjoy-ourself, complete focus on one another time. That is about two hours a day.

So let’s do the math. 40  + 10 + 1 + 2 + 20 = 73 hours.  So there are 168 hour in a week.  Let’s subtract those 73 hours — and now let’s rest for 55 of those hours (8 hours a night) – and we are down to 40. Let’s cook and eat for three hours a day (21)and now we have 19 hours left for incidentals.  Let’s take 2 hours a day for personal time — so that leaves us with 5 hours of  bonus time. Wonder if I could make that work.  It doesn’t have to work like a machine, the time management guy said — but can serve as a guide to try to kick start a more rewarding and productive life – with ultimately more time for what I want to do. I told myself I would write this down – and remember it- so here goes.  The math may be a little off – but if it is, I will take the time away from sleep. Who needs to sleep for 8 hours a night anyway? 🙂

If I do this for one month to prove that I can, then perhaps I will be able to find a nice balance between the two. Let’s see how it works. Thankfully, today is Leap Day and I am considering this a 24 hour bonus to kick off the test.

PS. Maybe these are lofty goals. I think I will try it for one week – starting on Tuesday, March 1. And let you know how it goes. 🙂

Listening to: “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letters.

We open the mailbox most days to a pile of circulars and bills. The closest we get to personal  letters are invitations to fundraising events and an occasional wedding announcement. Sometimes I am tricked. The envelope looks hand-written. A real stamp is affixed to the top corner, a little crooked.  But it’s just a sales pitch from a car salesman or a financial planner who wants to buy us din11741225_10103148670196777_7941987607073222440_o.jpgner at the local steakhouse.

I’m guilty. I don’t hand-write, stamp and mail letters either. I guess  I should lower my expectations. But I do have two very special letter writing pen pals.

My good friend, Janice Williams recognizes the value of archiving our lives through correspondence. She is a geneaologist  (why does that word insist on autocorrecting to gynocologist?) and has connected with family members all over the country and collected their stories. She has even written a book about the Cunningham Family that is so good, people outside of the family want to read their story.  She had names and vital statistics, but she dug deeper. Found pictures and letters, and learned  the stories of her ancestors. How would she have done this without old letters bundled and tied with string. How will our generation be remembered?

The internet seems to be the answer to everything. So the information superhighway will probably take care of  our birth and death stats, marriage licenses and other legal documents. Most likely, handwritten letters will go the way of the quill and ink well. Are we really hearing arguments about whether or not to teach cursive to school children? Who needs it?

A sidebar here: No Cursive? How our grandchildren to read such great works as the Declaration of Independence? How will they read signatures? How will they understand the phrase, “Put your John Hancock right here…” How will they…. Oh.  Not to worry. There will be a New Way.  It will be better.

Back to Letters.

Janice and I write email letters back and forth with fair regularity. She is one

of my best friends. We live 30 miles apart and make a point of seeing one another at least three or four times a year.  And we always

say we are going to do this more often.Time and life get in the way of those plans, but we stay connected. We don’t depend on those visits to keep us up to date. We know what is going on in our day-to-day lives by way of letters. Janice is a great writer. We push one another to write more – not just letters, but blogs and magazine articles and just everyday stories waiting to be told. We know our current prescriptions and latest diet plan and favorite new wine,  and share the ordinary days in our lives. While the letters are not necessarily filled with earth-shattering news, they touch us. Connect us. And bring us joy. Sometimes, one of us or the other will j

ust send a quick note: I owe you a letter! so that we know to expect something soon.  It’s better than The check is in the mail.

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Pals.

My other pen pal is my son, Sterling. He lives about ten miles from me, in the same town. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord.” Like David,  Sterling has traveled much in Central Texas. He has a good eye for seeing things the rest of us might miss. He has a wonderful knack for storytelling, and a beautiful way with words. We don’t write to one another about the weather or the latest headlines. Mostly, lately, we write about the great people, stories, writers, teachers, moments in our lives – and one another.  We might throw in an occasional dream or goal.  A theme to our writing? It might be No Regrets.

One of our favorite songs is Kilkelly, Ireland. Written by Steven and Peter Jones, it is the true story of John Hunt,  an Irish emigrant to America. The song is based on a box of old letters written between their great-great-grandfather, Brian Hunt, and his son John, their great-grandfather.  The father,Brian was illiterate, so the letters were actually written by dictation to the local schoolmaster, Patrick McNamara, a family friend, who mailed them to America.  Steven and Peter found the forgotten box of letters in their grandfather’s attic.

I am grateful for boxes of old letters.  And for cursive. And for people who like to receive and send letters.  And for Janice and for Sterling. My pen pals.

Listening to Kilkelly, Ireland performed by Robbie O’Connell. . 

 

 

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The Great Book of Unfairness

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A friend of a friend decided that there really should be a Great Book Of Unfairness. And that people should write down everything that is unfair in this Great Book and let it go. So she set forth to do that. She passed the book along to some of her friends to pass along and send back. It wound up with my friend. And in the fullness of time, my friend passed it along to me and told me that I had a week or so – and one page.


The Great Book of Unfairness came to me in a big black briefcase. Like the kind someone’s dad used to carry to The Office in the 1960s. The book is the size of a Houston telephone directory, it was bound, black, hardcover, with bright endpages with quotes. You could say the book was heavy with the burden of unfairness.

About 60 people had written in it. Some wrote one word. Some filled their page.  Someone just doodled around their paragraphs and daydreamed about what they wanted to say. Someone almost tore a hole in his page trying to erase something that maybe wasn’t that unfair after all.

Day One: What a great idea, and I am glad I get a chance to write in it. I have a lot to say. I need to gather my thoughts. Only one page? Will I have room?

Day Two: Granted, it’s a big page but where do I begin.  I should write in small print so it will all fit. I probably should write with a pencil with a very sharp point in good handwriting. I can use that good box of Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils. My handwriting used to be good but I’ve gotten out of practice since I rarely write words with a pen anymore, unless you count the occasional signature on one of those screens at the grocery store when they say credit or debit, or doodles on the side of an agenda as my mind wanders in stifling meeting.

Day Three: Organize, I think. Don’t waste this opportunity.

My head spins as I think about how to put the unfairnesses in order.

Chronologically?

By level of importance- or greatness?

Alphabetically? I am sort of blocked. I cannot think of an “A” unfairness that is worthy of this list. Wait, I just thought of one.

Day Four: I know – How about if I start with the self-created rule of promising to let go of the personal unfairnesses that I write on My Page. Will I be able to do that? Do I want to make such a commitment?

Day Five: Should I begin with those unfairnesses that have fallen on me personally, or those of a more global magnitude? I’m thinking it would be a little unfair to have to give up my page to those big picture things. But then again, it is sort of a big page.

Day Six: Maybe I should divide the list into columns: Personal unfairnesses | General unfairnesses | Global unfainesses | Historic unfairnesses | Friends and Family Unfairnesses …

Day Seven: Has it been a week? Where has the time gone? I am starting to feel panicked and a little guilty for not doing this already. Maybe I should just write one sentence and draw some stars and circles around it and let it go. Things will slow down tomorrow. I will do it then.

Day Eight: No. I cannot just scrawl out a sentence and send this book on its way. This is My Chance. Not just for me, but for my friends who don’t get to write in this. I am going to sit down and start that list tonight.

Day Nine: Maybe I should not have started a “draft” list on a legal pad with a pencil. Lessons learned: Unfairnesses are hard to categorize. It is hard to come up with equal numbers for the Personal list and the Global list and the Historic list. And when my personal list starts to get long, I feel obligated to add those poor children with cleft palates in the ads in the Reader’s Digest, and people who don’t get Morton’s Iodized Salt so they get big ol’ swollen goiters on their necks, and wildabeasts that get run down by lions and die painful deaths. And while those are huge unfairnesses, they seem sort of generic and general, and they seem to diminish some of my personal unfairnesses… and then all of a sudden my pencil is getting dull again.

Day Ten: Maybe I ought to just use a nice roller ball pen and just push on through with a few random thoughts and scratch out and make edit marks when I mess up and when I get to the end of the page, I should just close the book and let it go. I am starting to think that I am overthinking this opportunity.

I have to start somewhere. It’s my turn. It’s my page. So don’t judge me. That would be unfair. *I really do have a strong social conscience, and I am sorry for all those things in the world that are unfair that are too many to list here.

I am going to start at the beginning of my life and use this whole page and let go of the things I write about.

… to be the firstborn child of an 18 year old girl who deserved much more. And before she knows it, that mom is raising three kids by herself, and then she is 34, and has a 16 year old daughter who is getting to do things she never got the chance to do. But it’s not fair. She’s only 34 – or 36 or 40… .   No matter how successful the mother’s life may become, she can not get past the youth she sacrificed.  It’s not her daughter’s fault. And to be fair, it’s not her fault either. From a distance it’s easy to see the problem and to rationalize how to heal and improve relationships, and believe it is not too late. But up close, things blur out of focus and lots of lines are crossed. Someone owes someone something. Or maybe no one owes anything at all. And no one quite knows how to let it go – or hold on. Unfair.

… to try to not make mistakes with my kids. To read all the books on parenting and relationships , and debate whether to use cloth or disposables, or schedule feedings or feed on demand, or piano lessons or t-ball, or television or books, and believe with all my heart that I am doing the best job I can do – and then to suddenly have grown children and see as clear as day, all the mistakes I made, and feel sick about it, and wish with all my heart for a do-over. My greatest fear is that my children will resent me for not being the parent they deserved. I know now that I could have done better. I read somewhere that a parent only gets 936 Sundays between the time a child is born and he or she reaches the age of 18, to spend quality time doing something worthwhile. Boy, I wasted a lot of those days. And I didn’t do that great of a job some of the time. But there are no do-overs. Unfair.

…to finally find the great love of my life and truly know that if I get to spend fifty years with him, it won’t be long enough. To know that his was my last first kiss and that THIS really is happily ever after. And know that we won’t get fifty years. That we might not get twenty years, and we have already had almost eight years of this. And to wake up sometimes and wonder what life was like before US. And if I will be able to accept the inevitable with grace, thanksgiving, and Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss-esque platitudes like “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Be happy because it happened.” Is this an unfairness? Maybe not. But it is a useless worry that is far beyond my realm of control. So I am going to put it here and try to let it go. Unfair.

…to have let myself go. To carry an extra 40 pounds and to not have the willpower to make a life change. To know rationally that all things would be better if I invested more time in self-improvement and less time in self-destruction or laziness, but not having the core drive, motivation and self direction or whatever it is that some people have – to make that change. Unfair? Maybe that is not the word I am looking for.  

When it comes to tying knots in a length of ribbon to let go of my worries, or writing words on a page to let go of unfairness, maybe my list is not as long as I thought it would be, after all. Maybe I don’t need a whole page in this book after all. In the big picture, my unfairnesses are couched in good fortune. I have a mother who wanted to fight for me almost as much as she fought with me. I have children who, if you asked them, probably think I did okay by them, at least today. I have a husband who loves me, and we both recognize and cherish our good fortune to have found one another. We know our time together is precious and try to make every minute count. And I am going to see what I can do about that self-improvement thing. Writing those words in this book  is a giant step forward.

While I am not an overly evangelical person, I have been, for the most part,  what can be deemed a “good Episcopalian.” And for anyone has read this far into my trivial list of unfairnesses, I want to share this benediction that my friend and priest, Ben Nelson offers: “Friends, our time here is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those around us. So be quick to love. Make haste to be kind, and be assured that God is infinitely more concerned with our future than our past.”

And I think that’s fair.

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Afterword:

I wrote most of this essay in 2012 – after my week with The Book. A young friend is going through a rough patch right now and I told her a little about it. I went back to find this essay and update it. And today – three years later, I have learned that it helped to make that list, to  write all of that unfairness down. And let it go. Glue the page together. Burn it in a fire pit. Tear it into tiny pieces and scatter them to the wind.   Or just save a file in the bowels of your computer.   Did the unfairness go away? Did everything get better? Well, yes and no. Butterflies are not circling my head. But since the day I closed that book, I feel stronger and happier and – I guess “at peace” with unfairness. It’s out there. In a book. In a briefcase. Somewhere. Just one page of many contributed by people who have had much bigger and somewhat smaller and louder and quieter unfairnesses in their lives. And three years later, I am glad I saved this essay and dusted it off to read again.

I told my young friend to get a journal and write her list of unfair things in it. And then glue the pages shut. And to keep writing – and doodling – and dreaming. And in the midst of her to do lists and dreams and plans and wishes and wants, to start writing one good thing every day.

And for those good things, she can have all the pages she wants.

Listening to: I Had A Real Good Time by Delbert McClinton.

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