Archives for category: Real life


Earlier this month, I celebrated the birthday I’ve been dreading for so long. The one with the big “0” at the end. For months, it felt like I was walking the gangplank, getting ever closer to the end as the date approached. Everyone told me that the other side was “incredible” and “better than ever” and I believed them, but still: it isn’t nothing.

It was like having a massive neon sign in my face reminding me of my own mortality. It’s not something I ever consciously forget, and yet: it’s easy to ignore the idea of your own end until a milestone like this appears. It made my breath hitch. I woke in the wee hours of the morning, mulling over my missteps and triumphs, wondering how I could do better.

It’s a good thing. Except for the getting old part.

I must have learned something over the years, because setting a deadline for myself to finish this book by my birthday was the best idea I’ve had in a long time. It gave me something to do with the angst, a place to shovel all my frustration and fear.

I won’t declare that writing is a lark, or a rhapsodic journey, or any of that nonsense, but it’s also not a dreadful chore. This is the only writing I do where I get to choose every word. Not a client, not a colleague. What happens is up to me.

Ok, but what about the deadline?

I didn’t finish the book, whatever that means, but I did finish the first draft. Before my birthday.

116,334 words. A beginning, a middle, and an end.

Cue the party horns!

It’s messy, oh boy. It’s a tangle of words + scenes + dialogue, but the story is there.

My next task is to do a big, massive sweep through the entire thing – re-writing, tightening, trimming – until it’s tidy enough that I can share with a few people without the fear that they’ll throw it back and run away screaming.

I’m giving myself 6-8 weeks for that process. And it continues.

The photo at the top is the Cloud Gate in Chicago, where I spent a fun, chilly birthday weekend wandering around the Art Institute, utterly amazed by all of the beautiful things.

The transition between summer and fall makes me wistful.

It’s a feeling without a specific object, a vague longing for something I can’t quite name.

Perhaps it’s a vestigial emotion, linked to another lifetime, when I lived in a place with vivid seasons and fall signaled the arrival of cold and rain.

Perhaps it’s leftover from childhood, when fall meant the return of home school. Of gathering around the kitchen table after breakfast to say the pledge of allegiance, first to the Christian flag and then to the American flag. Of opening up textbooks and trying to concentrate while babies cried in the background. Of squeezing algebra equations in between laundry and applesauce-making. Of imagining real kids in real school, carrying backpacks and book and self-conscious smiles. I wanted so much to be one of them, then. Hearing my friends share even the most banal anecdote – taking a math test, or running sprints in gym class – filled me with sharp, bitter envy.

Now the shifts between seasons are slow and subtle. Nothing starts or ends dramatically in my world. The sun still streams through my windows in the mornings, drenching my office in light. Sunsets inch earlier and earlier into the evenings, but the temperatures remain mild, even warm. I look at the sweaters and coats in my closet and wonder if I’ll need them at all in the coming months. If this year is anything like last year, I’ll pull them on only a handful of times.

The writing continues. I’m still deep in the weeds, sorting out this new architecture, patching and pasting and making sense of it all. It’s good, hard, quiet work.

Happy September.

We were almost home when we saw it: an object lying in the middle of an intersection that looked like it could be a purse or a briefcase.

It was the twilight hour, when the light begins to gray, and shapes that once appeared solid begin to blur around the edges. I pulled the car up beside the thing and opened my door. It was a black leather satchel, of middling quality, with a shiny silver zipper at one corner. It hadn’t been run over or tipped out; it must have been dropped only a short time earlier. We conferred for a moment before deciding to pick it up. What if it belonged to a neighbor?

It was heavier than I had anticipated; it weighed as much as a watermelon, or a bag of flour. Imagining all sorts of nefarious things, I peered inside, but the contents appeared to be innocuous.

Once inside the apartment, I sat on the floor and pulled items out of the bag, one by one.

A real-estate listing for a condo. A thank-you note, sans envelope. A school photo, the kind you cut out of a sheet with scissors, of a grinning boy who looked to be about 10. A near-empty tube of hemorrhoid cream. A multi-page statement of work from an auto mechanic, detailing repairs on a vintage car. A reminder for a cardiology appointment. A checkbook, the register filled with a blocky, forward-slanting script: CITIBANK. INSURANCE. A blister pack of antacid tablets, half of them gone. A receipt from a savings account withdrawal.

And finally: a stack of business cards at the bottom, with a name and phone number that matched the name on the checkbook. We called him right away, but he didn’t respond to our calls until much later, when he seemed baffled. He had been on the other side of town, he said, and wasn’t even aware that his satchel was missing.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the spread of items, the way they collectively offered a glimpse into a life. The life of a middle-aged businessman, saddled with the cares and concerns that so many of us share. The meaningful and the banal, all mixed up together.

What stories would someone concoct about my life, I wondered, if they laid out some of the scraps that I carry around?