Endings, Small and Large

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Photo by Nicole Avagliano on Pexels.com

Today would have been my ex-husband Ed’s 53rd birthday, but he died nine months ago—at the beginning of 2020—back when we didn’t yet know what a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year it would be. While there are still four months remaining for this year to redeem itself, Ed is never coming back.

Ed’s birthday, falling on September 1st as it always did since 1967, marked the end of summer. I really thought his death would be the end of Ed’s role in my world, in my brain space, in—even—my heart space. True, we did divorce 18 years before his death, but we’d had two kids together and the continued parenting of those kids kept us bumping up against one another, in large and small ways.

But then, endings are always also the beginning of something else.

Today there’s a definite chill in the air in Minnesota when, just last week, it was too hot and humid to sit outside for any length of time, unless you were by water. Ed loved water. That’s what I spoke about at his memorial service when the pastor invited attendees to get up and tell memories about Ed. But no one came to the front. Minutes passed and still the pastor waited, patiently. Too patiently.

I’ve always been the kind of student who would answer a teacher’s question—even if I was wrong—just to end the silence in a classroom. That’s why, I think, I got up to speak about Ed—to end the silence.

My 27-year old daughter had already read her prepared memories about her dad; her 24-year old brother does not like public speaking—so she’d interlaced his memories with her own. Ed’s widow was too broken apart to speak. Ed’s youngest brother had already read a kindly embellished version of Ed’s obituary. The rest of Ed’s family had been mostly estranged from Ed—or he’d been estranged from them—for the better part of the prior 13 years. I don’t know that they had much to say. Did he have friends who were holding back, I wondered? He’d never had a lot of friends when I knew him best: high school, college, and the first decade of my post-college years.

So, it fell on me—I guessed, to speak on Ed’s behalf. I assumed I was his longest-known friend in attendance at his memorial service that came just three days after he unexpectedly died when his heart stopped during an endoscopy. There was more to it than this, of course; his health had been poor, his organs were—quite possibly—floundering, but none of us had expected him to die; not yet.

Up in front of that funeral home, I spoke about how Ed had loved the lake. While there are definitely more than 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, where I live (where we lived), when you speak of “the lake” in Minnesota, you’re referring to the lake that is most special to you, especially if you are fortunate enough to have a family with a lake cabin. We both had that good fortune—at the time when were together, we—along with many other family members—owned the lake (two different, but geographically close, lakes) where our grandfathers had once built cabins. By the time of the funeral, however, both cabins had consolidated ownership under aunts, uncles, or cousins, that were not a part of our immediate families. By the time of Ed’s death, neither one of us had the good fortune of having a lake anymore.

The older I get, the more I understand that life brings us a series of small endings that lead up to that one large ending, the one we’ll all reach one day.

But even without owning the lake anymore, I talked about the lake at his memorial. I told everyone how Ed was the happiest when he was fishing or swimming—at least when I knew him best. Later that evening, I would wish I’d talked about how Mozart, my parent’s springer/lab rescue dog, would dive down alongside Ed, who—with his snorkel and wetsuit on—would point out clams for Mozart to retrieve. I remember Ed laughing heartily; I remember his huge smiles on those days when Mozart retrieved a clam. It was something to see. Ed loved dogs and babies (which may explain why we had two babies before I turned 25, before I even knew I wanted babies).

While, I didn’t talk about dogs and babies at the memorial, I did tell the attendees about Ed’s smiles when he was near water. Well, maybe I did tell everyone about how much Ed loved those two babies of ours, now in their twenties. Whatever else I said about Ed, I had the definite feeling that I’d gone on too long—like I’d been leaving one of those exasperatingly long voice mail messages I used to leave Ed before we had cell phones; before he could see he’d missed a call from me and he’d know he had to call me back to see what I’d called about. He always called back—as I always called him back. Neither of us wanted to miss out on a message about one of our kids.

Ed loved those kids so much, but that love couldn’t save him from his drinking. Addiction is a disease, you know. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad disease that sometimes takes people before their time.

So, after I’d run on too long up in front of those people, at least half of whom I didn’t know—the other half, I surely hadn’t seen in years—I abruptly wrapped up. I sat back down and, no one stood up after me. Even so, the pastor waited another uncomfortable length of time. But I couldn’t break the silence a second time. My power, if I’d had any, had been spent. And I couldn’t bring Ed back with my words, as much as I couldn’t stop his drinking.

But today, on what would have been Ed’s 53rd birthday, I feel myself wanting to speak up for him again. I want to say that Ed was often a really good person, even though some of the time he wasn’t. He had a really nice smile, a warming laugh, and he loved dogs and children—especially his own two children (our two children), the ones still shedding their grief, the ones so fervently missing him today.

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2020 Word, Intention, Prayer

HEAL

In November, I was hit by a delivery truck (while a pedestrian) in a parking lot. This mostly impacted my already shaky left shoulder, which has been frozen (Google “frozen shoulder” for more info.) thrice this decade.

My answer to this accident: begin Mandolin lessons, even if it hurts. Life is too short to not (at least) attempt learning my favorite instrument.

Last week, on the day after Christmas, my feet slipped out from underneath me while I was taking out our puppy (our 65-pound puppy) at 6 am. I fell and struck my upper back on the stairs leading out to our patio. I had the leash around my right wrist at the time. My fall jerked puppy June back and the leash pulled the tendon away from my right thumb. With the wind knocked out of me, I looked up at the stars on the patio (it was a warmish morning and I was in my pjs only–no jacket to insulate from the cold cement or the hard steps) and wondered what Louise Hay would say about the energy involved in these two upper back injuries, so close together. At that moment, my back hurt so much, my thumb injury hadn’t yet registered and would only be caught by the orthopedic doctor during the ensuing morning spent with my daughter at a local urgent care.

As I face towards 2020, I can hardly type and I can no longer practice my mandolin, on which I was already learning my second song and had been surprising myself with my dedication to practicing each day.

As it comes, so it goes.

No resolutions (see my December 31, 2018 entry) this year and just one intention:

HEAL.

May our wounds serve as a point of reflection, guiding us in the direction we need to go for inner and outer healing.

Writer’s Contract With Self

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I woke up this morning, I was hit by the realization that the time period covered by my writer’s contract had expired. This is a contract I entered into last year (prompted by Professor Kate Whouley) as I exited my MFA program. I haven’t often referred back to the terms of the agreement, but I’ve allowed my days (and year) to be governed by its key directive: write, only write.

In a follow-up blog post, I undertake a performance (self) review to evaluate my compliance with the terms of this agreement. To give context to that later blog post, I am copying my writer’s contract here:

Dear Idea Heidi (aka Heidi Parton),

From our past dealings, I know that you like movement and action; you crave progress. I get it and I appreciate the many times this trait has served our joint enterprise. I am, however, asking that you thoughtfully consider my offer of a one-year contract of employment. Your “work,” during this year’s time, will be simply to practice the art of waiting. Indeed, it will be much like a vacation for you; I plan on doing the heavy lifting this year. But I need your full cooperation.

To be in full compliance with the terms of this agreement, you must not seek out additional employment (even if the brightest, shiniest job announcement or offer comes along) during the entire calendar year, commencing on June 1, 2017 and ending on May 31, 2018. Any move toward “outside” employment, will be taken as a violation of the non-compete that I will be asking you to sign, in exchange for the full consideration of the opportunity to explore the job of your choice (be it in teaching, publishing, bookselling or otherwise) at the end of this term without any resistance from me.

As further consideration, if you do find your so-called “dream” job (after the term of this contract), I will no longer whine to you about not getting proper writing time. You will be free to engage with the broader world unhampered by my nagging pleas for more time to write. I promise that I will, at that point, be content to slip my writing into the margins of your employment situation. To gain this career freedom, however, you must sit back, rest, and wait out the entire term of our contract.

Because I know how impatient you are with inaction, I’ve outlined my mission statement and plan for the year below. Please trust that I will be using our time in an efficient and productive manner.

Mission Statement

I will encourage and uplift other creative nonfiction writers, of which I am one, on their writing paths. The success of each writer will be celebrated as my own. We all win when we tell our stories and bring our truths into the world. There is not “you and me,” only ever all of us, here together. There are no finite limits on publishing opportunities. These opportunities only grow and expand as the world has more opportunity to be introduced to an ever-increasing supply of compelling, well-written works of creative nonfiction.

Guiding Value

I will participate in the world of creative nonfiction on a daily basis. I will find ways to celebrate the wonder of emerging talent and stories, mine and those of other writers.

Plan for Diligent Execution of “Free” Year of a Writing Life

During this year I pledge to:

  1. Spend at least fifteen hours per week on my own writing (strive for a minimum of 2,500 words each week);
  2. Read creative nonfiction books (at least one book per month) and, after reading, take at least one of the following actions:
    • Reach out to the writer directly about their book
    • Write a review on Goodreads
    • Tweet the book, copying author when available
    • Write blog post/review
    • Write review to submit to literary journals;
    • Read at least two essays each week in online literary journals and comment on one;
    • Continue administrative role in The Fisher Cats—an online writing group of “motherhood” writers—encouraging submissions and celebrating the publishing success of group members;
  3. Submit a minimum of one new essay or poem (to multiple publications) per month;
  4. Attend writer-based events in my own local literary community (at least one per month) AND network at event;
  5. Get together for coffee or a meal with other writer(s) once a month (breaking bread with those of similar interests/backgrounds lowers stress and burnout risk);
  6. Make time for three writer’s retreats (at least one carried out in solitude);
  7. Read four books outside of my genre (for these purposes, graphic memoir will be considered “out of genre”);
  8. Take two relevant writing classes at The Loft Literary Center;
  9. Continue steady work and progress on my memoir (at least 5,000 words/month); and,
  10. Search for an agent or submit directly to indie publishers and/or contests (when or if my memoir feels ready).

In full consideration for signing the below non-compete, the undersigned will be, on June 1, 2018, granted full and unencumbered permission to search for paid employment in the the world of publishing, teaching, or book selling (or, even, to pursue your interest in becoming a death doula).

Very truly yours,

Heidi Fettig Parton

(AKA Writer Heidi)

Your signature below will serve as the full and complete execution of the non-compete agreement set forth in the above letter.

__________________________________          _______________________

Heidi Parton                                                          Date

Acting Head of Idea Heidi

And That’s a Wrap: The Graduate

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On Bay Path’s lovely campus in Longmeadow, MA.

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The top of my hat, decorated to pay homage to my three years as a student of creative nonfiction.

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I am grateful to have had such an inspiring MFA program director, Leanna James Blackwell.

 

 

Completing my MFA; Entering the Void

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Normally, by this point in the school week, I would have long since written the requisite blog post for my Immersion in Publishing class. This week, however, I’ve been dragging my heels. When I paused to assess the reason for this uncharacteristic procrastination, I realized it was because I was putting off an ending.

With this post, I am completing my last assignment for this class, which is the last class of my MFA program. The moment I post this on my blog, I will essentially be done with my MFA (aside from a few final responses to classmates and one last class this coming Thursday). As much as I’ve looked forward to (even counted down the weeks) to the ending of my MFA program, now that it is upon me, I feel myself hitting the brakes. Why is that? I think it’s because I know I’m entering the void: the void created by the absence of the MFA program.

The truest thing I’ve learned over the past three years of doing this MFA work is, I am a writer. Submitting pieces and receiving rejections is a part of the game. Having an essay or poem rejected is an ending (of the hope you had). It creates a different sort of void. To fill that void, I’ve learned to do one of three things: revise the piece (again), put it aside to mature (and then revise), or submit it immediately to another publication. This game is always half terror, half hope. But play I must; the act of writing is what I love.

And now, I step into the void. I promise myself, I’ll keep on writing.