What It Takes

I waited a long time at [Large Office Supply Chain], in line behind someone who was coming up with what he wanted on a banner while I and increasingly more other people waited. “I do not wish to be an angry person, Lord. And yet here I am,” I prayed. “Help me to be patient, at least, even if I don’t feel that way.”

The lady at the counter continued to help the man ahead of me, but the man who had helped me two days ago came over from the self-serve copiers, where life was temporarily going as it should, and said, “May I help you?”

“Yes, thank you! I’m waiting for my two copies of my thesis?”

I spelled our name, and he tried three times and found it at last.

He ducked under the counter and stood up again.

“Here!” he said triumphantly, and handed me the folder with my original thesis. No box, no bag, no remaining paper. He beamed at me as if he wrote it himself. And at first I start to smile back. It is a lovely thesis. But there seemed to be too few pages.

“Wait. That’s my thesis.”

“Yes!” he said, happily.

I shuffled through the pages. Only one copy. *The* one copy that I dropped off.

I took a deep breath and didn’t let all of it out.

“I had asked that you make two copies on the paper that I bought? And I wanted the leftover paper?”

“Ah!” he said, and dug under the counter.

“Here!” he said, once again triumphant.

It was the work order and the leftover paper in a box with no lid.

I channeled the person I have to become to substitute for Kindergarten, where their intentions are always good, always, one tells oneself. Always.

“This is the extra paper, which is good, but I had wanted the thesis? Two copies? And could I have a box for this, please?”

“We took your lid for the paper box?”

“Yes, apparently, ” I said, with a regretful little nod as if I were the one who lost it.

He looked around, and could not find the lid, so he took out another box for copies, giving me a look that bordered on reproachful

“Could we find the copies of the thesis?” At this point, it was a real question.

Once more he looked under the counter.

“Ah!” he said, and handed me two boxes.

With no small amount of trepidation, I opened them. Yes. Both had one copy each of “Words So Far from Roslindale.”

“Thank you!” I said, smiling at last.

“You’re welcome,” he said, and seemed genuinely pleased.

“And, could I have a bag?”

His face fell.

Apparently, I could not.

“We don’t have one the right size,” he said. “But wait! Would this do?”

“This” was a large box, somewhat crushed, one foot by two, maybe four inches tall, missing a flap.

It did do. Close enough. If I took the box and smiled, I could leave the store.

I took the box, thanked him, smiled, and left, oh, I got to leave, I left the store.

And now my thesis is handed in.

And glory be to God.

Photo credit: Liz Henry via Remodel Blog / CC BY-ND

Leaving Galveston

Sitting here soaked from the shower,
wearing a denim dress and letting my hair drip,
I remember returning from Galveston beaches,
All four kids in the car, and my visiting brother,
Heading home to my husband.
Soaked and sandy,
some of them sleeping,
having been hot, and now cooler,
we drove past places
that offered tasty meals, memorable movies,
beach clothes and cold beer,
but I drove, determined,
smiling slightly,
aware that something better awaited,
hurrying to my husband,
up I-45, and me not yet forty,
far from it,
and for once thinking of nothing north
of Webster, Texas. Wonderful.

Photo credit: tempoworld.net via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The Writing Life – Reject Letters Mean You Are Writing

I received another reject letter today, but the nice kind, the “we only have so much space, please understand” kind rather than the “we don’t understand why this wasn’t written in crayon; please never darken our door again” kind. I had forgotten that I wrote up the essay specifically because of some request this publication made to writers. Now I have the story and I am free to edit it (needs it) and send it out to another audience. It’s a wonderful story and it needs to be told better and shared. Already, I know how I want to fix things.

It’s not winning, but it’s not losing.

When I was little and fell and hit my head, there would be this moment of stunned silence where the universe froze, after which I would wail piteously and loudly. My father always said, “Thank God you can cry! It means you’re awake and breathing!” It wasn’t until I had falling children of my own that I understood the number of ugly scenarios that dance through a parent’s brain during that horrific silence.

So. Thank God I have a reject letter to complain about. It means I’m still writing. That said, it would be nice to be able to post the other kind of news….

Jean Kerr quotes her pious Catholic mother as saying “What I want, dear, is a blessing that isn’t mixed.”

Photo: From the Metropolitan Museum of Art — Ralph Steiner (American, Cleveland 1899–1986 Hanover, New Hampshire)

Planting with Purpose

Writing and gardening are closely intertwined in my life. I graduate, in July, from Fairfield University’s limited residency MFA program in writing. And I just laid claim to this patch of ground on the side of our house. For fifteen years it was in the shadow of a huge pine tree. When the pine tree came down, I was assured that the soil was so changed that nothing could grow. But when I came back from last summer’s ten day residency away from home, this vegetation greeted me. I have no idea what half those plants are. I love that they prove that something can grow in the space. But now it’s time to go for what I really want.

For Mother’s Day, I asked the young men in our house to please help me by preparing our vegetable garden (a small patch of ground roughly the size of a double bed) and this newly liberated area for planting. The vegetable garden has always been a little wild. My husband and I work at several jobs but none that pay much, so the “landscaping” of my garden depends heavily on discarded construction materials and ingenuity. The beans grow on trellises forged of tomato stakes and vinyl lattice trimmed from porches; the front border is made of cement blocks whose holes each contain a different herb.

This new space, however, will be something altogether different. I bought plastic fencing and fertilizer, mulch and rose bushes. The men and I pulled weeds, and they rotor-tilled the hardened ground, put up the border, spread the mulch and manure. On a day when the writing wasn’t going well, I took a shovel and dug four holes, one for each rose bush. I planted seeds I had chosen at the store, surprised by the combination I settled on. We watered the patch. We are waiting.

Before I applied for the MFA program, I was already a writer, had been paid to write, had edited an online magazine, had articles and even a podcast published, and had given speeches. Why, then, did I undertake an MFA in writing? For the same reason that it was important to weed, fence, and prepare the soil for the new flower bed. The vegetable garden feeds the body. The roses, sunflowers, cosmos flowers, petunias and lavender that I planted where that chaos had reigned will feed something else. But they couldn’t grow without the structure. And I applied for the program because I needed the same preparation.

I had taken a hiatus from active publishing and lost touch with my writer friends while my children were teenagers. When I came up for air, I needed peers, mentors, new technical skills, and inspiration. I found them all in this program, and now I am applying what I’ve learned about writing to my life, for which gardening supplies so many metaphors. When I am launched, in July, into the pool of gracious, generative, funny and talented alumni who have helped me so during the past four semesters, it will be time for me, also, to bear fruit.

I welcome the strange plants that appear in my mulch pile, and if they are hearty and desirable, I transfer them to the garden. But I have learned that if I do not plan and plant, weed and tend a garden, something will grow there, and it won’t be what I want. It might not even be something I recognize.

And so I embrace serendipity in my writing, at the seed rack, in my garden, and in my life. But serendipity works better if you’ve first rotor-tilled and mulched, set up a border and defined what it is you want to grow. There have been years when both my writing and my garden  had to lie fallow.  But now, it is exhilarating to plan and dig, to till and weed, to write and edit, to plant, and to submit.

I look forward to sharing what grows.

Photo: This is the before picture of my new attempted flower garden. Copyright: Ann McLellan Lardas

 

No Way to Talk to Oneself…

I had to sigh and stop myself this morning.

Once again I had fallen into the trap of saying things to myself that I would not allow anyone (including and especially me) say to one of my children.

You know how it is. You make a mistake, or something goes wrong, or an experiment fails, and the words “stupid!” and “always!” are launched inside your head like misdirected torpedoes.

I wasn’t going to to do that any more.

But it is a habit that has to die. Really, this is beyond a “giving it up for Lent” thing. This is a thing that all of us, and perhaps especially women, have to work on. Yes, on some level, we all have to be our own severest critics (though surely there are people who seem to have volunteered, in all of our lives, for that position). But the law of kindness has to be in our heads before it can be on our tongues.

Rewinding the tape, re-evaluating my evaluation. Breathing, and not letting That Voice win the day.