Monday, August 19, 2013

What today is...and isn't

Today, August 19th, is the birthday of Frank McCourt, my daughter Cait’s favorite writer. In addition to his memoirs Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man, he wrote, with his brother Malachy, a really wonderful two-man play called A Couple of Blaguards, which we were fortunate enough to catch at the historic Deertrees Theater this summer (on another big, important day, August first, Tony and Will’s shared birthday).

Today is also the birthday of former president Bill Clinton, a longtime crush of my longtime best friend. (I, personally, have never found him all that attractive, but, love him or hate him, you have to admit that veganism has been good to Bill.)

It’s the birthday of Gene Roddenberry, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my friend Belinda is busy baking a cake to commemorate the special day of the creator of Star Trek, since Roddenberry’s legacy is, in her opinion, one of the greatest gifts to humanity ever.

It’s the birthday of Ogden Nash, who did not write that poem about the purple cow (that was Gelett Burgess), but did write the inspired words, “I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree / Indeed, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”

As you may have begun to suspect, I got most of the above info by listening to “The Writer’s Almanac” on NPR this morning. (There was also a great poem by Jim Daniels about American cheese, which was a staple in my childhood home, as it was in his.)

Today is Day 500 in my streak of Consecutive Days of Exercise: at least 30 minutes of walking, hiking, biking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or yoga, every single day since April 7, 2012, without a miss. “That’s so awesome!” said the nurse when I was at the health center getting my toes stitched up after slicing them on an old metal bed frame back in June. (I was wondering aloud if I could figure out how to get in and out of my kayak without getting my foot wet, since weight-bearing exercise would be out until after the stitches were removed, but I was determined not to break the streak.) “How much weight have you lost?” (I told her the truth: not one single pound. It turns out that exercise makes me really hungry. I gave her my usual line about my goal of “fat but fit” and she “mmm-hmmed” without saying much more.)  

Today is my 24th wedding anniversary. Tony and I had been dating for one day less than eight weeks on August 19, 1989, although we’d known each other slightly for several years, and I’d been a little obsessed with him ever since he’d asked me out in the soup aisle of the IGA in early May. We were married in the backyard of the house in Locke Mills where we still live, the ten-minute ceremony performed by a justice of the peace named Bunk, who also sold fish out of his pick-up truck in the mill parking lot on Saturday mornings. (Our wedding was timed to give him a chance to go home to Bryant Pond, put away his fish coolers, and shower and change first.)

Today is not, although it was supposed to be, the day I returned to work for my fifth school year with the Head Start program. A combination of budget cuts and restructuring led to the elimination of my position, and my annual summer layoff became permanent. I’ve left a lot of jobs in my lifetime—at least ten that I can think of off the top of my head—but it’s always been my choice to leave. It always felt a little scary, a little thrilling—maybe a little like closing my eyes and jumping into the lake from the high ledge at Rock Island (which, I admit, is not all that high…but--unlike more recent generations--mine was not raised to think of risk as a positive thing).

I have to admit that, in contrast, being laid off felt a little bit like rejection at first. It’s unavoidable, I think, to feel that way. After all, “it’s not you, it’s us” sounds a lot like the way my high school boyfriend Tim broke up with me.

In spite of a rough year last year, I was planning to stay in my position for the foreseeable future. After four years, I had already been at this job longer than all but two of my previous ones. I felt committed to the kids and their families, to the agency’s philosophy (“Helping People; Changing Lives”), to my wonderful coworkers.

And I loved (loved, loved, loved!) having the summers off.

OK, let’s be honest—I probably loved having the summers off better than anything else about the job. I know I shouldn’t have let myself think about the end of summer vacation so much, but each year, almost as soon as school got out in June, my scheduled return date—August 19th this year—was hanging over me like a dark cloud.

However, once I knew I wouldn’t be going back to the preschool after all, August 19th started to look a lot less like an end, and a lot more like a beginning. It doesn’t hurt that both Tony and Will, from the moment they heard about my permanent layoff, have been encouraging me to “figure out how to be a writer,” that thing I’ve been putting off for the past…well, all my life.

It also doesn’t hurt that—working part-time and part-year—I was making so little money that figuring out how to replace it through creative endeavors (I’m envisioning some combination of writing and pie-baking) isn’t that daunting. ObamaCare and the health insurance exchanges are going into effect at just the right time for me, and Tony’s Medicare birthday was last year. I’ve made a lot of contacts with other writers recently, including some who are quietly freelancing their way through life, maybe not making a big splash, but not commuting to a job every day, either. I’m beginning to see that maybe, just maybe, it can be done.

I’ll just close my eyes, try not to think too much, and jump.

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