Away and Towards

It’s been two months since I stepped away from my career as I’ve known it.

Away from managing concurrent multi-year projects. Away from organizing and archiving and writing within prescribed boundaries. Away from cramming dinner and homework and errands and soccer and and and into small blocks of hours.

Towards walking my kids home from the bus. Towards regular exercise and meals that take more than thirty minutes to cook. Towards writing for myself and my kids. Towards a happiness I have not felt in years.

I’m revising the book I drafted. I’m taking care of house projects that have lingered. I’m walking dogs and running errands and donating platelets and meandering in the woods and helping with homework and working on an exhibit installation contract. I’m adjusting to a less frantic pace and pausing to watch the late summer light make magnolia leaves glow.

It’s glorious.

A Draft

Yesterday, I finished the draft of my middle grade novel. It’s a little over 19,000 words with 20 chapters. It’s the single longest thing I’ve ever written, and I anticipate that it will get a little longer by the time I finish revising. I don’t know everything it needs yet or how many revisions it will take before I’m ready to share it with anyone.

Honestly, I find the prospect of revision daunting because I’ve never written this way before. I’ve never slogged through a draft without self-editing. I’m prone to stopping and tinkering with word choice and sentence structure. What I’ve never done is read a piece and with an eye toward chopping it to pieces and reassembling.

But, I did it. I put my butt in a chair and wrote the story Noah and I dreamed up. And now I’ll wait. I’m walking away for a few weeks. I need the perspective that can only come with hindsight.

A special anniversary

August 5 is special. It’s not a birthday or my wedding date. It’s not a religious or secular holiday for me. The weather is often brutally hot, and it’s always during the rush to get the kids ready for the beginning of the school year. Yet, no matter what else is going on, it’s a day for me to pause and remember.

August 5 is transplant day.

I’ve written about being a living kidney donor, both on this blog and for StoryBoard. At this time two years ago, I was under anesthesia. I remember – in that abstract way that pain induces – the couple of days in the hospital that followed. The most salient part of that time were the moments I spent in George’s room trying not to make each other laugh. Our spouses couldn’t be with us because of COVID-19 precautions, so we were each other’s only company. We were friends before all of the tests and surgery and recovery, but our relationship changed over those days into something I haven’t found the words for yet.

Today, I wonder how best to share my experience. There is a fine line between using this story to advocate for living donation and self-aggrandizement, and I strive to stay always on the former side of that divide. The doctor at my two-week postop appointment asked me to please tell other people about living donation. He said living donors are the best voices they have to help find matches for their patients. We are the ones who can say, “Did you know someone like us, with no special training or saintly disposition, can save a life? We can help just as we are by getting tested to see if we’re a match and good candidates for surgery. It hurts, but it passes, and it is worth it. You remember the echo of the pain, but not it’s intensity. It’s like childbirth that way. Think about it.”

I recently had the realization that my path to living donation started years before I realized. It’s the kind of thing that could only be recognized in hindsight. Over a decade ago, my friend Steve mentioned that someone we went to church with was an altruistic kidney donor, which he thought was incredible. That was my first exposure to the concept of living donation. That it came in a conversation with a person I admired and respected mattered. It stayed buried in my mind until the day I started to ask myself if I could do the same thing. When I started asking, that man from church was there as an example of what saying yes looked like. And it looked like something I could do.

And so, each year, I’ll share this story again. I’m what a living kidney donor looks like. And so is that man from church. And so is a priest I know. And so is the caretaker of a church in my neighborhood. Examples abound.

I’ll share it in hopes that it kindles a question in someone’s mind. If you’re asking if you could do it too, I believe you can take the next step.

New and scary and wonderful

For many years, as long as my husband has known me at the very least, I have wanted to write a book. I haven’t had a plot or a research question or a compelling personal exploration in mind, but I have had an unrelenting whisper in the back of my mind that I want to try.

So, I am.

I find myself in a unique position of being able to devote time to my writing. With that comes the new reality that I have to put my butt in a chair and actually write. It’s one thing to dream of writing. It’s another entirely to devote time to sitting alone and putting words on the screen. It’s hard and wonderful and full of self-doubt. It’s a slog and a joy and might be terrible. Or maybe there’s gems in there. Maybe I’ll have an audience of five – two children, two nieces, one nephew. Maybe other people will read it too. Maybe I have no business writing fiction for 12-year-olds. Maybe I do. Generally speaking, I don’t love living in the gray spaces, but it’s where the writing happens, so it’s where I find myself.

Noah and I came up with an idea for a middle grade novel about a missing dragon, so that’s what I’m working on now. I’ve got eight chapters drafted and no idea how many more to go. I’m sitting my butt down and writing. Then I’ll edit. And then? Then, I’ll see what happens.

Starts

I have started so many writing projects without ever writing the elusive words “The End.” The evidence hit me in the face yesterday. I spent the afternoon cleaning up my digital spaces – reclaiming 1 gigabyte of storage by deleting emails and sorting my Google Drive into submission. As I compiled bits and pieces of writing into one folder, I found paragraphs I’d forgotten writing. Outlines for ideas that I never put time into fleshing out. I read reminiscences, reactions, responses.

I’m hoping this current project – the one I’m dedicating time to sitting and working on, regularly and with intention – will be the first one I end. My son is going to keep me honest because he’s heavily invested in the story; he helped me dream it.

Garrett + Sofia

My youngest not-so-little brother is getting married in a few short hours. To a remarkable, kind, funny, smart, talented woman who I am thrilled is becoming my sister.

It’s an amazing thing when your family grows. I was reminded at last night’s rehearsal dinner as I overheard members of discrete groups – some of which have been joined for years – create a new family. My mom’s family, my dad’s family, all of whom are my family. Sofia’s family. People from across state lines and down the road.

The family of my family becomes mine too. It is an expanding web of belonging that grows stronger the more threads are added.

A wedding, exciting as it is, is only the start. It is the tie that binds, the starting point that unites.

My brother found his wife. And incidentally my new sister. What a blessing.

Okay

It’s not a secret that I have generalized anxiety disorder. Actually, it’s the opposite of secret. I disclose my diagnosis all the time. New doctors, new friends, new coworkers, anyone with an internet connection. Anybody who is going to be around me for longer than one meeting. It’s because there are certain things I do, the ways that I manage my triggers, understanding where my mental fault lines are, that I want the people around me to know.

It’s not about making excuses; it’s about explaining what they will see me do. I’ll get my stuff done, I’ll be present in conversations, I’ll do my best, but I’ll also need some grace and accommodations sometimes. It’s not something I can outwork (tried that), out plan (tried that too), diet, medicate, or exercise away. Those things help (not the outworking, that’s a disaster), but sometimes they are not enough to overcome the chemical imbalance in my brain that causes my symptoms.

Because I have a medical condition.

It’s clearly off-putting to some people when I am frank about my mental health. I decided a long time ago that anyone who has a real issue with that is not someone I need to spend much time around.

Today, I am okay. Not “I will be ok if (a) or (b) things occur.” Just okay.

I’m okay! That is earthshakingly wonderful to me. Even keel is a remarkable place to be.

Pride

“I’m proud of you for doing your best,” Noah said as grabbed my hand to hold as we walked past the bocce courts on the way to our car. We had stayed late, waiting until the end of the team bocce tournament before taking our tired children home.

After two years without the festival, I had forgotten the sublime pleasure of standing in a crowd around a reconfigured baseball diamond, waiting to see how close the rollers can get the balls to the pallino. A band played on the main stage, and Louise and Anna danced while Noah diligently watched the judges’ decisions. I stood next to my friends while our team rolled their way into second place, our best finish in years. The only injury was Mimi, when a ball jumped the board and hit her ankle.

The kids were tired, but it was worth every minute of their slow steps to be with our people under a cloudless sky. As we made the slow journey to the car, Noah asked how we had done in the cocktail and Anything Italian contests. I told him we wouldn’t know until Saturday night.

That’s when he told me he was proud of me, which is what I often say to him. I’m glad it appears to be sinking in.

Urban Nature

My home is in the middle of a mid-sized American city. The house itself was built in 1941 on a .226-acre lot. That makes it one of the young ones in the neighborhood. I’ve been steadily and happily working to improve our small part of the ecosystem since we arrived in 2013.

While it might have been under our care for only a nine of its 81 years, I’m proud of the work we’ve done in that time. I’ve torn out privet and greenbrier. I removed nandina and English ivy. We have a vegetable garden where the invasives once roamed free. I planted a buttonbush and a beautyberry.

Louise asked for butterflies, so we’ve steadily improved her perennial butterfly garden. The passionflower vine is putting on a show for the Gulf fritillary butterflies as I type. Noah wished we had birds, so we have bird feeders and places for nests. I wanted fewer mosquitos, so we added a bat house. Greg wanted flowers, so I’ve planted a riot.

We lost an oak tree this spring, and in the loss of canopy, we are taking solace in the sunlight that now lets the roses grow. And we take comfort from the second oak that is growing strong and straight.

I recently read Mary Laura Philpott’s memoir Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives, and I was struck by her relationship with the turtle that visits her Nashville yard. Not a pet, but a regular visitor, a nudge that nature is around us constantly. It reminded me of the pair of mated cardinals that make regular visits to our feeders. They are welcome co-habitants in our ecosystem.

It is easy to appreciate nature while standing atop a mountain in a state park or careening around rapids on a pristine river. But perhaps the key to connecting with the natural world of which we are a part is to really see the small beauty of a honeybee on clover, a blue jay bossing the other birds, cucumber vines running, dahlias unfurling.

Nature — urban or otherwise — is right out the window.