“How was your day?”
This question my husband asks is the most everyday part of my everyday. With it, he invites me to punctuate the hours with a label. Good or bad. Busy or lazy. Sometimes with an exclamation point or two.
But last Monday, rather than responding with the usual ‘good’ and almost always, ‘busy,’ I allowed frustration to have its say. For surely it was frustration and a series of sleepless nights which made me respond that I was frittering my life away. You know, a little time here. A little there. With nothing much to show for it.
Because everything inches along in my everyday life, in stacks of varying states of “to do,” without anything ever getting done.
First, the garden. Never ending. As I like it.
Then, my home improvement du jour. Never ending. As I like it.
Ta-da, my work on Dad’s story. Never ending. Not at all as I like it.
In truth, I am overwhelmed by that story of my father’s growing up years. And as much as I wish to work on it, — or wish to wish — I fear it’s too much. And I wonder if Dad’s story isn’t the biggest time-fritter of all — what with research and re-reading of notes and just THINKING about all those stories floating around without a timeline and gleaning perspectives from others. It’s exhausting without being exhaustive. Black holes. Galore. My ghostly subjects move all across the map like they are running from the law. Or from me.
Of course, sometimes they did. Run from the law, that is. At least, my grandfather did. It was part of his ‘get rich-quick-and-easy scheme’ that didn’t pan out. You know that phrase — crime doesn’t pay — well, it could have been coined by all of my grandfather’s hard-working Greek cousins and uncles who got rich the hardworking way — when talking about my grandfather behind his back.
Have I mentioned — somewhere along the way — that my grandfather did a little moonlighting for the Mafia in the twenties and thirties? Probably not. It doesn’t come up too often in conversation.
Anyway, since last Monday, I’ve put Dad’s story on the back burner — to get a few things done. I guess I had need to point to a few dead and done bodies. I began by laying my first ever flagstone path … which I’ve thought about all the warm winter long — and found it to be much like putting together puzzle pieces of a different kind.
Then, I got my hands dirty in my new herb garden that once, not so long ago, was the concrete pad of the previous owner’s jacuzzi. Then, since I’m a gambling gardener —
rather than one who plays in the dirt safe — I planted five tomato plants three weeks before the official planting date — my shy way of living on the edge. I think they’ll be okay. Especially since my sister said that our mother said that Granny always said that the danger of frost is over once the Elm trees leaf out — which mine did earlier this week. (Sis shared this bit of gardening wisdom with me while we were painting her bedroom a lovely Carribean blue yesterday and today.)
So here’s the crazy thing. Six years ago, I would never have imagined that I could have done any of these things I did so handily this week. Flagstone paths? Garden designs that required the breaking out of a six inch concrete pad? Painting crisp, clean lines free-hand at the request of others?
So maybe, if I keep frittering away at Daddy’s story… a little time here, a little there, with a whole lot of living on the edge, it will all come together. Somehow. Someday. So help me God.
Yep. It could happen.
Joe Pineda said:
Dedication is about never forgetting as much as it is always working hard.
Funny you should mention that ‘never forgetting’ part of your dedication ‘formula.’ While I put my father’s stories on the back-burner this week, I failed to mention they remained ever in my thoughts as I laid flagstone and worked on those plantings and painting. I’m not sure whether it was the switch from ‘active’ to ‘passive’ working on this writing project, but the time away from the desk and computer helped me sort out what I knew and what holes in the story require filling.
Kind of you to stop by and leave a comment.
Ironically, what you describe here is precisely the path suggested by Zinsser in his books on memoir. He says the trick is to write down memories as they come, perhaps one every day. Don’t try to organize them or construct a narrative structure – just keep writing them down. Then, one day when it seems there’s enough in your stack, lay them out and look at them all together – the internal structure, the “way it’s ‘sposed to be” will begin to emerge, and it will be time to start writing.
Maybe it’s the flagstone path way to writing. 😉
And I wouldn’t worry one lick about your tomatoes – except maybe for hail. There are hints this is going to be a rough spring. The attitude down here is “OK. So keep it under dime-sized, and we’ll take it, as long as we get the rain.”
Speaking of fritters – do you know how frustrating/tempting it is to read about fritters at 11:10 p.m. when you know you’re not going to make any, but you do a google search anyhow, and land over at Ree Drummond’s, and decide you are a sluggard for Not Being Her?
I do have some apples lying about….
Apple fritters sound wonderful. I’ve only made them a couple of times; and I won’t lie — the thought of fritters did come to mind as I was frittering away at this post last night.
I’ve read that Zinsser book you mentioned, a couple of years ago, I think, on your recommendation, in fact. So yes, the process of writing down individual stories as they come and as they are ready to pour out of me is the way I’ll reduce them all to words. But first I need to be nine months pregnant with it. I need to toss and turn and lose sleep over it. I need to become Daddy and Carol and my Greek grandfather too. It’s the way I write — the way I’ve always written — even from those early days of writing long, boring tax treatises and protests of why ‘our way’ was not only defensible, but perfectly in accordance with cross-border tax laws.
When I sat down to write last night, I had no intention of writing about frittering frustrations. But I felt better for it. Especially as I saw the ‘turn’ in the story – by seeing with new appreciation the other ways I now create beauty so effortlessly — that not so long ago was unthinkable.
I imagine it’s the same with many, if not all of us. Even Ree Drummond, don’t you think?
Well, maybe, re: Ree. But methinks she just would have treated another book like she does everything else and hired a couple of good ghostwriters. Like Martha, she makes good use of staff. 😉
Really? I figured she wrote her own blog posts. But then, maybe you’re talking about her cookbooks? Or her romance story?
Either way, with or without help, she’s come along way in the last five or six years. Will be interesting to see where she and we are in another five or six.
Oh, I’m sure she does her own writing – but perhaps not all the photoshopping, editing, page arrangement and such. On the other hand, she may just be better than I am at that Focus! Focus! Focus! business.
So on the subject of focusing, any apple fritters yet? 🙂
You sure got a lot done by frittering away your days. What achievements: a flagstone path, a great garden and remodelling a room. All beautiful work! You should be congratulating yourself. Allow me to give you a hearty virtual pat on the back, Janell. As for me, I fritter my time and days away by … yes, blogging. Trying to get those books read to write reviews, reading tweets and articles from them, … etc. keeping me from my writing project, a screenplay still half-done. OK, you can call it a sustained writer’s block. But I’m happy to see you’ve done great things with your everyday frittering.
Oh, thanks — though last week’s projects weren’t fritters, per se, but rather a form of fritter antidote to what had come before.
You see, I spent the previous two weeks mostly on the computer doing research on Ancestry.com and combing historical newspaper archives looking for a few missing puzzle pieces to Dad’s story. Too many hours and all I have to show for the time is one very special newspaper article that I understood did not exist. And all the same unanswerable (for now) questions that I began with….
What’s become clear is that my expectations were unrealistic. So the time-out was good, not just in getting a few things done in those areas where I’m on firmer ground (no pun intended), but maybe even in helping me realize that this story of my father’s needs to be courted rather than conquered.
By the way, something unexpected and sweet may be coming out of my reading of Midnight’s Children — since it’s given me food for though on ways of telling my father’s story…
Who knows but that maybe all your “side-dish” reviews will prove helpful in a similar way, when you pick up your screenplay again…