Since the onset of my midlife crisis (assuming I’m only going to live until 78), I’ve been exploring the edges: of my comfort, of the choices I make, of how socially acceptable practices work for me.
At one point, having been accused of having no boundaries, I made a list of the lines I would not cross:
- No cocaine.
- No wearing the hat being passed around at the party.
- No infidelity to my husband.
It came as something of a relief that I could come up with borders, as my country was expanding into formerly unexplored realms. I was doing things I hadn’t known I would do, like acting on stage, and acting in movies, and acting like a diva in public. What I wasn’t doing, according to some sources, was acting like a wife, mother, and college instructor. I was acting like an artists, living life more intensely than other people, in part because I was filling hours other people might fill sleeping by staying up all night swapping (and living) stories.
Last night I was asked if writing every day meant I found myself narrating as I went, living the way I live in order to have something to write about. I knew people like that in graduate school, who wrote “fiction” in which the events they’d gone through 3 weeks ago became thinly veiled written tales, or who wrote poems that came from the great stories they told.
“Hey, that’s a great story. It would make a great poem,” someone would say, and a few days later, the poem would show up in the workshop.
A) I’m not living my life in order to write about my life. B) Just because it’s a good story doesn’t make it a good poem, or good fiction. Experience doesn’t make itself into worthwhile reading material.
Neither A nor B above are rules. They are observations, truths, and subject to change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about rules lately — hell, my whole life — because I want never want to get caught breaking rules. At the same time, I use the language of rules and cheating fairly casually, and I’m getting tired of it. It just might be that my willpower is getting drawn down because, while I refuse to say I’m on a diet, I am experimenting with some dietary guidelines in order to feel more energetic and happier with what I eat.
Right now, I’m not all that happy. One reason is I’ve had two choice days in a row. Some people might call these “cheat” days, but since I’m only competing against myself, if anyone, I don’t consider eating the food put in front of me to be cheating anyone other than me. By selecting things I’m pretty sure I’ll be sorry for in the morning, I’m missing out on the experience of paying attention to what is truly satisfying.
Honestly, I’m a bit confused, bodily. Today I met with my sister to work on our collaborative memoir about our father. Dad died in January of 2013, and tomorrow is the day he would have turned 73. Waves of grief come up from time to time, and the time around his birthday is getting pretty wavy.
Working through a piece of the manuscript, I found myself thinking a lot about French fries. There was nothing on the page about French fries, though Dad talked a lot about many kinds of food when he was in hospice. To keep him as healthy as possible, my sister designed a regimen of drinks that we nudged him to sip on all day long, and while he sometimes complained about the effort that went into that, he was grateful to be taken care of and we brought him whatever kinds of food he asked for. (Except coffee; I made the decision that the effort that went into sitting him up to drink coffee and getting it the right temperature cut into valuable caloric intake time. He had Thai iced tea several times a week, however, unless he was having a mocha shake.)
What was on the page, in a document entitled “Saddest Stories Ever,” were details of his mother’s and father’s funerals and my parents’ divorce. Also, maddeningly, there was the ongoing saga of Alfred Tarski and Abraham Robinson, two mathematicians Dad was obsessed with. Every time it seemed to me he was getting to the good stuff, Tarksi would come up again like a shield against intimacy. After a while we laughed, but today, as I was writing, I cried and craved French fries.
I don’t really want the fries. I might choose to have some. Really, though, I crave something I can’t choose to have: a new conversation with Dad.