On being thankful…

This post is a re-tread from 4 years ago and I’m astonished at how much has not changed. While we no longer live in Atlanta, my mother is now 93, not 87 and my son is wrapping up a Masters degree in engineering, not starting college as he was in the original post, the important bits are the same–mainly the intense gratitude I feel for all that I have: my friends and family, my country, my hope for the future, and my thankfulness for today.

It’s Monday afternoon.  I spent some time this weekend marveling over the gorgeous fall colors all over Atlanta—a full month later than they’ve ever shown up before. Today I also note that the cooler fall weather has finally come to Atlanta which doesn’t matter because my husband and I will soon be packing up the car and heading south for Thanksgiving as we do every year.

Inside the house, the fireplace has been burning all day. My day has been full of last-minute freelance projects—received late and needing to be done early on top of cooking, cleaning and editing my latest novel.

And I am so thankful.

I am thankful for the chance to write books for a living. I’m grateful for a cozy little house, and for four non-psycho pets who enhance my life, for friends, for a smooth transition of my only child’s introduction to his first semester at college and for my own relatively successful entrée into the world of the empty nest.

Tomorrow my husband and I will drive six hours to my mother’s house in Florida for Thanksgiving. My older brother and his wife have come from northern California, my son will come from his campus fifty miles south of his grandmother’s house. My other brothers will come, loaded down with ham and pies and photos to share and stories to tell. I am thankful that we will have the whole family together again for another year.

My husband and I will bring the dressing as we do every year, the recipe handed down from my father—gone now these past 25 years—and one I have enjoyed for nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas of my life. We shopped Trader Joes and Whole Foods and the local markets in my Atlanta neighborhood for ingredients and specialty items that we buy only once a year. We picked up bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, tins of holiday cookies and candied nuts. This afternoon, as I fried the sausage for the dressing, I thought how lucky I am to be able to buy all this food, to not have to think twice about obtaining the things I felt I needed to make our family’s feast.

I am most thankful that we will all be together for the first time in a year. Through all the health scares, the employment woes, the insecurities, the stresses—both financial and emotional—I can’t forget how lucky we all are to have each other. I know my mother, 89 this year, will sparkle for as long as all her chicks—every one present and accounted for—are gathered in her house. I know this time won’t last forever and that one of these Thanksgivings, we won’t all be together. I know how lucky I am, and how grateful I am for Thanksgiving 2012.

Finally, regardless of how you felt about the outcome of the recent elections, I think you have to be truly thankful to live in a place where the threat of bombs and tanks and guns does not exist. This week, when you spare a thought—among the table settings and turkey drumsticks and football schedules—for those families on both sides of the Gaza/Israel border, I think, like myself, you have to be grateful for our country and for the peace that most of us have always known.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

In defense of an unbalanced life

30358445I have believed for years that balance and moderation were the ideal way to live my life. I haven’t necessarily always lived it that way, but I always strove for balance and I always bowed to the wise ones among us who preached it as the roadmap to a sane and happy life. For too many years, I accepted as law and right the idea that your diet should be balanced—not too much chocolate or bacon, just the right amount of greens and protein—your work/family life for sure should be balanced: you might work the odd weekend now and then but you always had it drilled into your head that your kids’ after-school events were at least as important and needed to be put on the scale right up there with the thing that paid the mortgage and put food on the table.

I read somewhere that you should keep your writing schedule consistent in your writing week and if you missed a day, it would be noticeable in the absence of flow in your prose and your storyline. I believed this! I would create these complex schedules that squeezed a good ninety minutes a day of writing into a schedule that contained a full time job and all the stuff I’ve already mentioned and even so no matter when I scheduled it, I rarely made it there two days in a row. And because conventional wisdom said my writing would suffer as a result, I would become discouraged and think, well, what’s the point? YOU try continuing to get up at five a.m. every day to create magic on a page when ALL the experts say if you miss a day you might as well not bother!

For years, I had trouble going to my fulltime job and then coming home and writing novels and setting the table for dinner and properly feathering the nest for my one and only child the way I wanted to. My solution to it, after years of frustration and outright failure, was to throw one of the balls in the juggling mess out of rotation and when you’re a writing parent with a paycheck that’s needed, the ball that gets tossed is writing.

When my fledgling flew the coop last fall and I was concomitantly catapulted from my latest adventure in corporate communications, I thought I would have an easier time fitting in all the things I needed to do in order to have a balanced life: exercise, my writing, time with my husband, keeping an eye on my elderly mother, maintaining my friendships and all of that.  But I was wrong. Even without the annoying full time job hanging around my neck, I still struggled to get the daily word count done for my writing projects.  And the laundry? Fuh-ged-about-it.

Which is why I was stunned to discover that, for me, the key to my productivity was not a matter of balance. Never was.

I learned this last year when I came off a week’s vacation with my husband and son and, without knowing what I was doing, plunged myself into an impromptu writing marathon. We even got a brand new puppy to add to the mix and it made not a whit’s bit of difference to the fact that I was compelled to sit down and write and did so pretty much nonstop for about three weeks.

16342405For three weeks there was no exercising. No grocery shopping. No making meals. No TV. Half the time, I didn’t even climb out of my pajamas before three in the afternoon and wouldn’t have even then if my husband hadn’t started to look worried. I didn’t write to a word goal, I just wrote until my back hurt and I couldn’t sit up at the desk or until my husband called to me to mention it was after one in the morning. I wrote without any sense or desire or attention to balance of any kind.

And I loved it.

When the book was finished, I did laundry and made lasagna and drove my son to his college and visited with my mother in Florida and picked up the threads on a few other things that had gotten dropped during those three weeks.  I didn’t write a single word during this time. And when I was all caught up and the house was clean again?

I sat down and did it all again the very same way: in one exuberant, happy, obsessed gush of words and story, tumbling out of me with no time to mind yoga schedules or laundry or any other so-called necessities to maintain a balanced life.

I figured it out way too late but at least I know now: for me, a balanced life is overrated.

I grant you she's balanced, but she looks miserable.

I grant you she’s balanced, but she looks miserable.

I know if I added an hour of yoga to my daily round, I would likely add health and see diminished pounds on my 5’3 frame. I know the merits of balance and moderation, I do. But I now see that it’s not the full story. It works sometimes and for some people. But there’s something very big to be said for indulgence and impulse and immoderation and being at the mercy of your passions and your drives.

I like living this way. Bottom line, it makes me feel alive. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the best kind of balance there is.