If your parents are 90, every day you’ll connect with someone you don’t want to connect to. A doctor, a nurse, a caregiver, a lawyer, a bureaucrat. It’s like dealing with the Village People except you don’t have sex at the YMCA.
As your parents continue their unsteady march into their 10th decade and the news gets grimmer and the choices tougher, each connection with the doctor, the nurse, etc. hits a little harder. Today was one of those days.
If you’re a writer, the way to deal with turmoil is with habit. Write at the same time every day, for the same amount of time. Begin with a ritual, a bell, a song, something that signals the brain that now is the time. End the session with a ritual that tells the brain to take five. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Gustave Flaubert knew this: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” No one will ever mistake me for Flaubert. I tend to write in unruly and unpredictable bursts, at widely varying times of the day and night. I achieved a few things today in the Clarion West Write-a-thon, but not what I had planned. I was too long derailed.
“Never mind the ridicule, never mind the defeat,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. “Up again, old heart!” One hundred and seventy-five years ago, Emerson knew how to represent:
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
A couple of months ago, I was visiting Antique Parent Land and I had dinner with my favorite high school English teacher and his wife. At one point, Roland asked me how my folks are doing. My folks are not much older than he is. I gave them a summary, then I said I realized how fortunate I was. My sister and I are the only people we know in our generation who still have both their parents.
“It’s a blessing,” I said, and paused, because I realized I was about to say “and a curse,” the natural pairing with blessing, and how could I say that out loud? Roland smoothly finished my sentence with “and a responsibility.”
I haven’t been Roland’s student since 1972, but he’s still teaching me.