WRITING SHORT: 19/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Now that our traveling days seem over, summer months mean nothing is planned. They also mean visits at short notice from family who live elsewhere. The cars line up tightly behind each other on our side of the double driveway we share with next-door neighbors. The sounds of laughing children echo loudly in our two-story family room where the adults sit. (The children are running up the stairs to pet our two frightened pussycats, who flee to hide under the bed.) We visit hot playgrounds and parks with the guests, set out impromptu meals on paper plates for as many as can squeeze round our smallish table. There’s much talk coming from all directions, hard for aging ears to follow. And then, all the cleaning up afterwards. Whew! At last we can rest!

Who said? Two sinks are clogged and the plumber is coming. The cats’ nails are too long and the youth we pay to catch and clip them is coming. Honda has sent me a recall notice to replace a defective passenger-side airbag. (Only now, after eleven years?) Bill’s having a root canal, a procedure so dreaded he needs a tranquilizer first, which means I have to drive him there and back (before the new airbag arrives for installation).

Why is it always something? What ever happened to “nothing is planned?”

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WRITING SHORT: 18/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Bill often dreams about his second wife. Let’s call her Norma. He says they’re nightmares. In all our time together, he’s never dreamed about Marie Claire, his Swiss first wife. Bill and Norma were married for eighteen years. It’s been twenty-four years since they divorced. For the last fourteen of those twenty-four years he’s been with me. But it’s always Norma I hear about in the morning.

“What terrible thing did she do in the dream?” I ask for the umpteenth time. He never remembers. He does remember plenty about what she “did” in the marriage, beginning six weeks into it when she smashed a valuable objet d’art on the floor that had been a wedding present from his sister.  I’ve heard it all, always knowing Norma’s account of their eighteen years would differ, and sometimes imagining her version, despite not knowing Norma herself.

I used to think the Norma of Bill’s dreams might be a metaphor for me. We do have our squabbles. (Although I don’t resolve them by smashing valuable gifts on the floor. Not that it’s relevant, but his sister never gave us a gift to smash, probably because we never married. It wasn’t because she didn’t like me, although she didn’t. She didn’t like Norma either.)

Bill assures me dream-Norma isn’t me. He’s a psychiatrist; he should know. But I take nothing on trust. “So will you get Norma out of our bed!”  It’s supposed to be funny, although not entirely. I really am sick and tired of Norma.

This morning when we woke up, he had a new announcement: “I dreamed about you last night,”

“Really me? Not Norma?”

“Oh, yes. You, Nina.”

“Bad dream?”

“Not awful.”

“What was I doing?”

“We were squabbling.”

“What about?”

“Nothing much. What’s for breakfast?”

A dream like real life! Could this be at last the end of Norma?

WRITING SHORT: 17/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I attended a special city high school for smart girls in Manhattan. To get there, I took the E or F subway train from the Union Turnpike station in Queens. I was just twelve and a half but went by myself; parents didn’t helicopter back then. Those weekday trips were my earliest exposure to lives quite different than mine.

Only two other students took the E or F train home. Marjorie, who lived at the end of the line, was about my age. She was the youngest of five or six, some still living at home but working at jobs (as were her parents), so she had three hours to herself after school in an empty house. She said that every afternoon she baked a cake and ate it all before beginning her own job, which was making dinner for the rest of the family. I didn’t know how to bake. My mother was always there when I got home. I longed to eat a whole cake like Marjorie did. I never thought she might be lonely.

Jacqueline was a grade ahead of me. We connected only in my third year, which was her last. She was a serious student of French; her parents had even paid for extra tutoring from a French lady who lived nearby. As we clung to the central pole of the lurching train car, she told me of her summer love affair with the Mexican ward of her tutor. It was 1946. She was just sixteen. He was already twenty — tall, handsome and smart, but very poor — and had a full scholarship to Harvard. They made love under a tree in the park after dark, and sometimes in the tutor’s car. They made love! As I listened, my eyes consumed her curly dark hair, blue eyes, white skin lightly dusted with freckles. She had small breasts — which he had fondled? — modestly concealed beneath white blouses tucked into dark pleated skirts. Why couldn’t I be more like Jacqueline? Why couldn’t I meet someone tall, handsome, smart, foreign and poor? After she got out at the Jackson Heights stop, I would think of her and her lover all the way home. I still remember his name.

WRITING SHORT: 16/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The opposite of never not thinking is to not think at all, to be entirely sensate. It would be wrong to say that both are equally hard. You can try to never not think, even if you keep failing. You can’t make yourself entirely sensate by trying. (Experienced meditators may claim otherwise.) Either it happens, or not. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that apart from orgasm, for most people both are equally rare. You’re entirely sensate when you’re coming. Once the floodgates of pleasure open, you are only that pleasure.  It’s involuntary. But otherwise? Whatever else you feel, there’s almost always a low rumbling in the head about something else.

The only time I can remember being entirely sensate was on Prince Edward’s Island. I’d  been given an unexpected four weeks of paid summer leave from my job while they found an office for me in a different department. (They were planning to fire someone I would replace but had to give her notice.) It was too late to make overseas travel plans. I got in my car and drove north towards Canada. I intended to tour New Brunswick, PEI, and Nova Scotia, returning home to Boston via Campobello. It wasn’t bad, but not great. I was alone and sometimes lonely, especially in the evenings.

On Prince Edward’s Island, I went to a beach. There were almost no people. When packing, I hadn’t thought to bring a suit. So I lay face down on my arms between two low outcrops of reddish rock which shielded me from the occasional stroller along the shore. The sand was silky, the sun gentle on arms and legs and upturned cheek. Fear and worry melted away. I had no thoughts at all. I was one with the ground beneath me. Cradled in warmth, I drifted slowly into sleep.

When I woke, it was over. And it was only the once. I doubt I could ever again find that beach, with its protective rocks. But  I’ve never forgotten how I felt there.

Animals know how to just feel, just be.  Sometimes I envy them.

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WRITING SHORT: 15/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Between the second and third years of law school, I was one of thirty-two summer clerks at a major Boston law firm. We were all sure what we did and said that summer would determine whether the firm made a job offer. Actually the firm had already decided. It took really bad behavior not to be hired. But we didn’t know that.

To ease our way through the summer, each clerk was assigned a mentor. Mine was a senior associate who’d been a published poet before becoming a lawyer. He didn’t hover. But he was always friendly, helpful and generous with his time when I came to him. One day, a partner made a light remark about one of my research papers as we passed in the hall. I went to my mentor: “Is this something I need to think about?” His reply: “Never don’t think.”

At first I assumed he was telling me how to succeed at the firm. Later I began to wonder whether this intelligent and widely read man had also been offering wisdom about how to live. Never not thinking is not the currently trendy “mindfulness.” It means always looking behind the obvious, the conventional, the clichés and soundbites offered by pundits, politicians, talking heads, even by ourselves to ourselves. It’s hard to do. You can quickly develop a headache just thinking about never not thinking. But if you don’t, aren’t you living a lie?

When I later came back to the firm as a first-year associate, I sought out my former mentor to explore this interesting proposition. He had become a partner. His secretary asked what it was about and said I could make an appointment, but he had a lot on his plate that week and probably wouldn’t have time for a while. I did run into him now and then at the Friday all-lawyer lunches. He would smile, offer a pleasant nod of recognition and move on. I was no longer his assignment.  Now that’s something to think about.

WRITING SHORT: 14/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Three summers ago I stopped to inspect a vegetable display at a large supermarket where I don’t usually shop. It was mid-afternoon; the produce section was nearly deserted. Lying on top of the cucumbers was a worn black wallet.

Before bringing it to the customer desk, I looked to see who it belonged to. Nothing inside but paper money. No driver’s license, credit or insurance cards, identification of any kind. No way of knowing who had left it there. Finders keepers, losers weepers?

Without further thought, I thrust the wallet deep into my shoulder bag and pushed my shopping cart casually down the aisle while my heart pounded. Only after I had passed checkout with a few purchases, driven home and locked the door behind me did I open it again. It held $143 in fives, tens, twenties and singles. I was a thief!

But was I? Surely the money would eventually be missed. Yet would its absent-minded owner remember where she left it? If I’d turned it in, how could she claim it as hers? By identifying the exact amount of money inside? Would she remember that? After a day or so, wouldn’t one of the teenage summer staff develop itchy fingers?  I put the money away and dipped into it only for household cash. Then it was gone, and I could forget about it. Except I couldn’t.

A strict ethicist would tell me not to keep what isn’t mine. Another person might say it’s not my job to pick up after unknown careless people. When is stealing stealing? I still don’t know.

WRITING SHORT: 13/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Phone call from younger son to mom. Son reads mom’s blog. (Most of the time.)

Son:  Hey mom. It’s July 23. Happy birthday!

Son’s mom:  Thank you, sweetheart.

Son:  Anything special on for today?

Son’s mom:  Well, your brother and the kids came down Saturday. Bill brought me a dozen yellow roses. We’re going out to dinner. (Pause.) Did you know my parents were married on July 23, too?

Son:  No I didn’t. Quite a coincidence.

Son’s mom:  Back when I was eleven, twelve, I used to say I was born on my parents’ wedding day. I thought it sounded risqué. A very pregnant bride being rushed to the hospital right after saying “I do!”

Son:  I guess it could happen. How many years earlier did they really get married?

Son’s mom:  Six. Then my mother wanted a baby. She got more than she bargained for. Thirty-six hours of labor. Husband out of a job in the middle of the depression.  I heard all about it. Especially the thirty-six hours of labor. She used to joke I didn’t want to come out. They had to pull me out with forceps. Lazy from the day I was born.

Son (tactfully):  Was that why they didn’t have another?

Son’s mom:  Maybe. But my mother also felt one was enough. When I was pregnant with you, she was not supportive. She asked what I needed another for.

Son (quickly changing subject):  Those little summer posts you’ve been doing lately: how does it feel to just crank one out and be done with it?

Son’s mom: Well, I don’t really just “crank.” It takes time to come up with a topic at least some people might be interested in. Bill says I could write about anything. I don’t know about that.

Son: Sure you can.

Son’s mom: You think? Suppose I wrote about being born on my parents’ wedding anniversary. How would readers feel when I criticize my mother to everyone?

Son: They’d be fine with it. It’s not as if you’re complaining about everything every day.

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So son’s mom listened to son. Was son right?