To be blunt, this has been a summer straight out of Dante’s Inferno. In late June, my father-in-law was admitted to hospice, passing from this world just before the July 4th holiday.
I did what I needed to do to get through it. Love the spouse. Fly the child home, family notifications, funeral arrangements, meetings with bankers, fond stories from friends of his you don’t know. Hug the spouse. Hug the child. Walk the dog. Honorarium? Oh crap. I never even thought about that.
Prayers were said and incense was burned. The President of the United States, the U.S. Army, and a grateful nation thanked us for his valiant service. Would we like the shell casings from the twenty-one-gun salute? Where would you like the cut flowers delivered? Is there a luncheon?
As everyone else drove away back to their lives, I watched as they sealed his vault in a wall of other crypts. The sealant looked like the caulk that’s in our bathroom. Then the staff vacuumed under it and walked away. In the end, he became just another name on a wall, differentiated from the others in his little alcove only by the date of 2019. It was just so… mundane. My father-in-law was extraordinary. I could write blog after blog after blog about how extraordinary he was. How unique, how funny, how creative, how caring… But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even write a blog about vault caulk. Or whatever it is.
We cleaned out his place, donated his clothes, said goodbye to the PHENOMENAL staff at his assisted living facility, and moved his furniture and all the art he’d collected over the years down to our house.
Where it still sits.
Because a month later, my SO (significant other) decided that the best way to end a week of nausea was with a perforated appendix. Emergency surgery. Oh! So that’s what we’re going to do with the father-in-law’s old hydraulic lazy-boy. SO now has a way to get in and out of a chair without using the abdominal muscles so recently sliced open.
Again, I do what I need to do to get through it. Manage the dog, the house, the SO’s pain levels and medical regimen, decide if I need to take off work or not. How much vacation do I have left? What do I need to leave to plan for the rest of the year?
Ten days after surgery, the SO was one of seventeen people “outsourced.” The job that made our mortgage for the last nine years now belongs to a contractor in India with no skin in the game at all. “Here’s a little bit of severance and some recommendations. It’s been great. Bye.”
Looking for the silver lining.
You might notice, this is not long on how much writing I did this summer. Because writing didn’t happen this summer. Writing couldn’t happen this summer. At least for me. I’m sure there are superheroes out there who can manage all this, six more things and write an entire novel. Heck, Brandon Sanderson publishes stories he writes as palate cleansers. There people out there that are the writing version of Ginger Rogers- doing everything Fred Astaire did perfectly except that she was backwards and in high heels.
I am not Ginger Rogers.
And I fight with that. Because I feel like I should be Ginger Rogers or Mary Robinette Kowal, or any of the other authors I admire. I want to grow my writing CV, I want to be productive. I want to sell some work- you know, the toxically enchanting goal of “GET PUBLISHED.”
To do that, I should be so in love with writing that I can’t wait to put my marvelous thoughts to paper. I should have deep thoughts about deep subjects. Didn’t I have time while surgeons removed a leaking appendix? I don’t have thoughts about a company that now employs some yahoo on another continent? Can’t I put that into writing? Heck, I have friends who jot down thoughts at Saturday morning coffee and I can’t come up with at least a blog about a father-in-law that I adored? Or at least vault caulk?
The thing is, I do have those thoughts. And lots of other thoughts too. I’m just not Ginger Rogers. I can’t do it all. In fact, I’m not sure I can do any of it.
I struggle with my limitations. I was raised from an early age to be hyper-critical of myself and it’s a skill I have elevated to an art form. For me, harsh self-judgement is a way of life. I can tell you why that is, and you can respond with how wrong I am or what should be done about those feelings, but the end result is the same. I can’t be perfect, so trying be Ginger Rogers is a constant battle of “go for it” vs. “why bother.”
But here’s the thing I do love about being a writer: when I finally opened my laptop to type out some thoughts, my computer didn’t judge me. I didn’t stare at a blank page that asked where the hell I’ve been the last several months. It didn’t ask me why I wasn’t Ginger Rogers. It didn’t ask me any of the questions I asked above. My laptop doesn’t care that I’m not perfect. My notebook doesn’t care that I’m not perfect. My half-finished superhero story doesn’t care that I’m not perfect. (Though it did remind me to listen to my beta readers.)
So maybe I should leave being Ginger Rogers to other people.
At least I’ll try to. After all, I’m not perfect.