Monday, May 10, 2010


This summer, I'll celebrate 10 years as a freelance writer. And let me tell you, I know how lucky I am to work from home. My flexible schedule means I get to be the one who sends my kiddos off to school in the morning and greets them when they come home in the afternoon. It means I can chaperone field trips, meet friends for lunch, run errands before the 5 o'clock rush, and take off for a long weekend without submitting PTO forms. Frankly, the savings on shoes and dress clothes alone is enough to throw a party.

Funny thing, though: The benefits are also the detriments. My world is nothing if not a blurring of the lines. Without the 8-to-5, work wiggles its way in to evenings and weekends--while family and community obligations like to set up shop right there in the middle of the day. And those long weekends? You bet I take them -- but I also take my laptop right along with me.

Take today's to-do list: Chaperone the 2nd-grade field trip to the Olmsted County History Center. Write the end-of-program report for an arts grant. Answer reader mail from last week's column. Stress out over my sons' class sizes, and daydream about starting my own private school. Clean the bathroom, which was recently hit by Hurricane Christian and Bergen (and, yes, Hurricane Jen). Do the dishes. Wonder if it's going to rain like they say it will before hauling out the hose for the potatoes I finally planted yesterday. Attend a school volunteer dessert, which I really have no time to squeeze in -- except that it's DESSERT. Run to OfficeMax when I realize I'm out of the paper AND the ink I need in order to -- oh yeah -- work.

That last line best describes how my days have felt lately: "Oh yeah -- work." It's always the easiest thing to put off, isn't it?

Today, work entails tweaking an essay I wrote earlier in the semester. I have to send it to VCFA today in order to make my next workshop deadline. (A "workshop" is a session in which a writer sits in a room with a dozen other writers, listening to them talk about the pros and cons of his/her story or essay. Did I mention that the writer -- in this case, me -- isn't allowed to speak?)

I'm sending a piece titled, "After". The essay, which currently stands at 22 pages (but must miraculously top out at 20 by 4 p.m.!), intertwines two unrelated stories -- one of which explores how my grandmother is coping with my grandfather's death. I'll include a small excerpt at the end of this post.

Which, it turns out, is where we are now. (As much as I've stalled, it turns out that essay isn't going to trim itself into a tidy 20 pages....)

Wishing you the peace -- or the controlled chaos -- you long for! I've found that either option is fantastic, really, in its own way.

An excerpt from AFTER
My grandma and I take the boys to the zoo. We're checking out the blowfish when my grandma calls out in pain and grabs her arm.

“What happened?” I ask as my hand flies to my neck where I can feel my heart beating too fast. “Are you okay?” I'm the last person anyone wants nearby in an emergency. I panic.

“I'm fine,” she says. “Just a pain.”

By the time we get to the shark tank, it's happened again. Twice.

“Seriously, Grandma,” I say. “Do we need to leave?”

She takes a step closer to me. “If anything happens, my keys are right here.” She pulls them out of her shorts pocket and jingles them in front of my face. “See? Here.”
She returns the keys to her pocket and says, “I'm going to go find a water fountain and take an Ascriptin.” As she shuffles away, I hear her mumble, “I've learned just not to worry too much. If it's my time, it's my time.”

Two hours later, after feeding the giraffes, protecting our bags from the goats at the petting zoo, and taking a 40-second, $18 ride on the water taxi with the boys, we head for home. My grandma—who did not have a heart attack and die in the aquarium—sits low beside me, barely seeing over the steering wheel of her Park Avenue. We're just a few blocks from the house when she makes an unexpected turn. She likes to take odd routes sometimes just to shake things up, so I don't say anything. Thirty seconds later, she asks, “Where am I?”

“You just turned off Sun City Boulevard,” I say. “You're two blocks from home.”

“Oh!”' she says, covering her mouth. “I did that last time, too.” She slows down to pull into the next street.

“No, Grandma—you can't turn here,” I tell her. “This is a cul-de-sac, a dead-end.”

“I know where I am,” she says, annoyed. “I like to go this way.”

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