The Process of Progress

Behold the “Work In Progress,” fondly known in the writing community as the WIP. A million ideas crammed into digital folders and old-school file drawers. Half-started, almost-finished stories and essays and collages and poems.

I have written before about unfinishing, about how we are all works-in-progress. And if my current WIP count is somewhere between 60 and 100, then I say: whatever. Rather than beat myself up over lack of completion, I choose to embrace the wellspring of inspiration that flows between places and moments, a yoga mat, the pen, a candle, the sea, the desert.

I used to believe the WIP folder was where dreams went to die, but now I see how works in progress lead to words in progress and eventually, words in print.

I have also come to appreciate the effervescence of these projects. My writing and art—completed or not—is a reflection of my real self. With a tug of my ancestral threads, I fashion a patchwork of the writers and artists who went before me: grandfathers, a grandmother; uncles and aunts; my mother, my father.

Excerpt from “This Demented Life” novella-in-flash

And as I occasionally share some of these creative scraps, I invite you to join me in celebrating the unfinished as we view progress through the imperfect lens of reality.

Grateful Dead?

Not the tie-dyed, acid-dropping, dancing-bear type of affair. An undertaking far more grave. A solemn, ponderous challenge: is it possible to be grateful about death?

Throughout my blurred twenties, I was a self-professed DeadHead. After attending twenty-plus concerts overlaid with as many years of hard drinking, I finally left the dead shows behind and went to the first 12-step meeting that would eventually become a way of life.

In that first meeting, in the flickering fluorescence of that dingy room at the back of a Dallas strip mall, an elderly woman with more wrinkles than a box of raisins told the group she was a grateful alcoholic.

Grateful? That she’s an alcoholic? How can that be? I asked the co-worker who had brought me to this cramped smoky space, with its rusty folding chairs scraping the chipped linoleum floor like nails on a chalkboard.

Stick around, she said, you’ll find out. And I have, for the past 23 years.

And over those years, I have grown to understand the incongruence of being grateful for things that at first seem horrible. Grateful that, in crossing over Rainbow Bridge, my 14-year-old golden retriever made space for two new rescue pups in the family. Grateful for the various running injuries that remind me to slow down and listen. Grateful to lose a steady paycheck but gain a deeper relationship with my mother, even as dementia slowly inhaled the life from her earlier this year.

These days, between waves of despair and grace, I am grateful for the quality of life and loving care my father—who penned a 700-page memoir entitled “Grateful Ned”—receives as he burrows deeper down the tunnels of assisted living and hospice.

Because in the end, I am grateful. For the life my parents gave me, and for the lessons I learn in death.

Out of Control

Glass topped table. Silk plants, baker’s rack, an ancient oak-and-brass ceiling fan. Beat-up linoleum and bleached pine cabinets. The kitchen of the 90s.

All of this will soon be gone. The skin of our house—the first house my husband and I bought when we married twenty years ago—peels off like dead skin after a sunburn.

For now, we spend life in uprooted disarray.

Yes, we are out of sorts, off the beam, living in the chaotic dissonance of renovation. It’s not as hard for me to adapt; this is my life. It has been my life, from the cross-country childhood moves as my father chased oceans for his career, to numerous alcoholic-fueled “geographics” that landed me in new cities and never produced the anticipated fresh start, to two decades of business travel, and later, family caregiving.

But the rest of my family is a different story. My mother, disoriented in the depths of dementia, was never quite sure where she was. My father, who has now moved three times in the past five years grows more cranky each time I unpack him.

And my husband. “I don’t like change,” he confesses, as he searches for a protein bar on the cluttered dining room table. He’s like the pets when any tiny tweak to the routine—new food bowls, closed doors, that ache when something small or large, in this case and entire room—is inaccessible.

Through all my years on the road out of suitcases, hotel rooms, totebags, boxes and airplanes, I learned the necessity of getting organized and establishing a schedule. Immediately. Even if I’m only away for a three-day conference or a week of petsitting. It’s all about retaining a sliver of control, when it feels like most has been taken from me.

For me, this remodel is just another adjustment to the routine. I embrace and accept the bedlam. The kitchen will be done when it’s done; the contractor’s two-week project completion timeline a broken promise the moment it came out of his mouth.

Yet suddenly, in this tiny space I’ve been forced into for an indeterminate length of time, the little desk from my kitchen writing nook shoved in the corner of the dining room-turned-kitchen, I find myself writing volumes. And I realize the words have always been out of my control.

Because, after all, control is merely an illusion. A myth we tell ourselves again and again, to avoid confronting the ultimate truth as inevitable as death itself: we have never had control over anything.