Friday, January 16, 2009

The Grease Cup

Dave and I were talking the other day about the grease cup that we used to keep in the back of the refrigerator. On the outside it may have said Prego or Alpo or Campbell's Soup, but on the inside it was a congealed mixture of hamburger fat and bacon grease. If it had been there long enough, awaiting further contributions, it sported a fuzzy blue coat of mold on top. In a perverted sort of way I guess it represented health: whatever fats had solidified in the cup had not been consumed. Why didn't we dispose of them down the drain while they were still in their liquid form? Because over time the fats clog up pipes—even ones much bigger than human arteries.

Until we were talking about it, I hadn't realized how long it had been since I kept a grease cup in the fridge. Probably not since my meat-and-potatoes-crazed first husband was alive. That would make it more than eleven years now. These days our diet is much more lean.

That isn't the only change that's occurred in the past decade, of course. At the time of their father's suicide my sons called me "Mommy" and held my hand to cross the street; now they are both in college, making their own way in the world. Acting on what I felt to be a true calling, I've written two novels. Over and over. I've started an editing business. I have healed enough to write a memoir about moving on after Ron's death, inspiring me to transcend my anger enough to dare to remember that I was once crazy in love with him. Eleven years ago I thought a 2-mile walk a few times per week was quite the accomplishment; now I walk over 3 miles most days, even in this frigid weather (I'm going for my walk as soon as the thermometer rises above 17). I anted up and remarried, gambling that my unfulfilled relationship dreams might still come true—and won the pot. I traveled abroad for the first time, and looked back to wonder how on earth it was I lived in Bechtelsville PA for a quarter of a century.

I may not have moved, but I have not been stagnant. The grease cup memory reminds me that my life has been in constant forward motion. My life may not be perfect, but I am making better, more healthful choices. That progress can be hard to see on a daily basis; the liquid nature of "the present" won't allow contextual evaluation. Stepping back and looking at a larger chunk of years, though, is like putting the grease cup in the fridge—it's easier to see what's accumulated once your accomplishments have solidified with time. 

I'll have to come up with a new metaphor for examining my next decade, though. The grease cup, like many of my poorer and thankfully outgrown lifestyle choices, is something I'm glad to leave behind.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What to give up this New Year

That's it, I am spread too thin. As I look out over the stretch of time the New Year affords, I think I need to give something up.

My writing? This is a huge time-guzzler and brings in little money, so its worth must be reconsidered, with my husband poised to retire in two months. And in this economy, why bother, anyway? Publishers are further consolidating, bookstores are either closing or dumping inventory, conferences are finding it harder than ever to attract editors and agents seeking new projects. Even established mid-list authors are struggling to get books published. It would seem the world does not, at present, need any "new" published authors. And who needs all that rejection? 
On the other hand, I haven't changed—I'm still a deeply introspective person who needs to shape words and ideas on paper to make meaning of life, and a creative who gets all fired up doing so. Plus, when I'm not dedicated to my writing, I gain weight, as if the scale is indicating that my whole life is weighing on me too heavily. And if I keep writing I might even create an advantage: if the tough economy discourages writers more faint of heart from pursuing publication, and I keep getting better and better during this dry spell, and continue to network and build my audience through public readings, I'll be poised to reap the rewards when things pick up again. And hey—if submissions go down, agents and editors will remember my name more easily!


My editing? Sometimes it seems the editing projects I take on usurp the creative energy I need in reserve for my own writing. Do I want my clients' projects to see publication more than I do my own? I have to admit, sometimes the notion excites me just as much. Should it? 
Yet I have never felt in competition with other writers, because my philosophy is one of abundance: those who are truly called to writing, and are willing to perfect their work to the best of their ability, will see publication. I am perfectly suited to being an editor: I'm a natural teacher, I'm critical and analytical by nature, I enjoy playing the role of cheerleader to developing talent, and I love to read deeply. Each manilla envelope that arrives feels like a gift. 

My volunteerism? I was drawn to membership at my current church because of the way their special music program enhanced the worship service—a program that ended with our former pastor's exit, since his wife led it. 
Now I book the special music, creating performance opportunities for the incredibly talented high school musicians in the Boyertown area, and allowing me to keep up with their progress. I support our pie-baking fundraisers so that I can roll out dough elbow to elbow with vibrant senior citizens who share the most amazing stories. My work with the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group and the Philadelphia Writers Conference has given me valuable contacts that enhance both my writing and editing lives, as well as cherished friendships. I run a monthly book group so I can share my love of reading and support the publishing industry [see our book club's micro reviews, a new feature, at right]. Why would I give any of that up?

My exercise/journaling/healthy cooking? Granted, these take longer and longer as I get older. My metabolism is harder to rev, at 52 early arthritis has slowed my handwriting, and "creative distraction" (not all my writing is done at the computer) contributes to more dropped items, both from my grocery list and in my kitchen. 
But I certainly can't afford to give these up! Without a healthy mind/body/spirit, I have less to contribute to life in every way.
So do I give up...

Life as I know it? I often daydream of getting a job in corporate America. Not because I think a woman stands a chance of corporate initiation at age 52, or because I could for one moment survive in that catty, often demeaning environment, where true creative challenge and doing one's very best are valued less than bottom-line driven subservience and doing "good enough," but because I think it would be so cool to have someone say "I think your time is worth $65K per year plus benefits" (the kind of offer my advanced degree should engender, according to my younger son). I haven't had such a job since I walked out of a health club franchise in 1981, after learning I was the only idiot who actually believed in health and physical fitness—the owner and his managers used the business as a front for dealing drugs. Since then I have owned two sole proprietorships, running them from my home office, and not one dime has come in that I haven't earned through my own marketing efforts. 
But while the self-discipline can wear on me, I do enjoy the flexibility of being self-employed, which allows me to honor both my biorhythms and creative whimsy, and until two years ago allowed me to raise my children the way I saw fit (the memory of which reminds me of what it really meant to be "stretched thin").
You may think I've decided nothing can go—but you'd be wrong. For this one year, I'm going to try something new: I'm going to give up questioning whether the life I've built is the right one for me. I resolve to daydream about my writing projects and marketing efforts, not corporate America. I plan to revel in the way my life as it is currently constructed allows me to give of my talents, earn money and express myself—and once and for all, forgive myself for downsizing my material needs to accommodate that. My guess is, if I give up all that questioning, I'll have a lot more energy for the rich palette of activities that bring such meaning and joy to my life.