While peeling potatoes for Thanksgiving this year, my mind wandered, aimlessly unsealing memory pockets. This sorting process usually occurs at night, triggering insomnia. To clear my head, I jotted bits and pieces down.
ThisThanksgiving, there were many things to be grateful for, especially having all the “kids” over for dinner. We don’t take their presence at our table for granted. They’re all active, childless, busy adults. Their interests are varied, and their perspectives different from ours on how best to spend a holiday weekend. Both my husband and I are mired in the traditions we grew up with.
Thanksgiving in my parents’ home set the bar high for holiday expectations later in life. From the ceremonial uncorking of the wine to including friends who might have otherwise spent the day alone, my parents demonstrated an exemplary generosity of spirit. There was always room for one more at their table. As my mother used to say, “There but for the grace of God goes you.”
At nineteen, I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner for five. I was young and broke but optimistic. I was appropriately thankful, but I think there was much I took for granted. Feeling genuinely thankful doesn’t always happen naturally. It is a learned mindset. Learning is not always an easy or pleasant process.
Fast forward about fourteen years. I was newly divorced, with a son just under three-years old. My ex-in-laws wanted him for Thanksgiving, so I decided to make the best of it and go to a holiday buffet with a friend. As I stood on the doorstep of my in-laws’ house handing over my son, the scent of Thanksgiving permeated every cell of my being.
I don’t think anyone would ever call me stingy, but I’m not a big spender either. I choke at the cost of a pricey new outfit, and cringe when the grocery store checker reads me the grand total. I consider myself a relatively frugal person, but there’s one major fatal flaw in my frugality. I’m totally hopeless with coupons. It doesn't matter what kind—the “buy one get one free” deals on meals or the “cents off” for drugstore and grocery store items. When the cashier hands me coupons along with the receipt, the paper they are printed on is a waste of a good tree.
I love the idea of thrift. Who doesn’t want to save a few bucks when shopping? But somehow I seem to be unable to turn the theory of thrift into reality when it comes to saving money with coupons. I’ve placed a clipped stack right by my purse on the kitchen but managed to walk right out the door sans coupons anyway. I’ve even put them on the passenger seat of my car. That should work, right? You’d think. But, there I am, half way home with a full load of groceries before I notice the coupons sitting there, mocking me.
Some things never change. I started to write this post, I came across a short piece of flash fiction I wrote a few years ago, based on my ineptitude for couponing. It sort of says it all. Full Price Frances was published in 2014 by ALongStoryShort; however, their links are no longer active so I’m going to copy the text and repost here. It’s light and a bit daft, but maybe it will make you smile. (Please click Read More, lower right, to see the whole story.)
Full Price Frances
With a sigh of impatience, Frances shoved the ad flyers, the scissors, and the remaining unclipped coupons to one side of the small kitchen table. She propped her sandalled feet onto the cleared space and switched her cell phone to her right ear.
"I don't know, Michelle. This coupon-clipping thing is just so time-consuming."
Frances tried to modulate the exasperation in her voice. She examined the chipped nail polish on her big toe while her sister's voice harangued in her ear. Darn, she was sure she had a $5.00 coupon for her next nail service, but where was it?
"Michelle, I'm single. I just don't need that much stuff. I get out of the office so late, I usually just get take-out anyway… yes, I know you and Mom want me in your couponing club. Sounds like fun."
Frances grimaced and picked at the ruined pedicure.
Like a lot of you, I’ve been on a major clearing-out-clutter tear. A few weeks ago, three large bags of winter clothes joined a trunk full of items bound for a charity thrift shop. Last week boxes of household items were taken to a non-profit for their annual yard sale. I’ve culled my shoe collection and emptied bins of holiday decorations. The kitchen cupboards and pantry are re-organized to the point that my husband doesn’t know where anything goes anymore. (He’s decidedly unappreciative of my efforts.) I even tossed out stacks of special-interest magazines, but only after tucking unread articles into sheet protectors and snapping them into a big binder. How’s that for overkill?
The house is reasonably ship-shape, or at least heading that way, but I still can’t shake feeling edgy, almost twitchy, whenever I stare into a closet. It’s like my body's been taken over by an alien being with a compulsive need for order. Think of it as a Stepford-wife-on-steroids version of PMS.
When I sat down long enough to mull over this uncontrollable urge to purge, I came to the conclusion that my zeal to over-organize is, in fact, a “productive” coping mechanism. This revelation hit me after listening to an onslaught of mind-numbing TV newscasts, receiving word that our one healthy dog needed surgery, learning that yet another friend had passed away, and processing it all with too many glasses of red wine.
What I have come to terms with is this—the unvarnished truth—the stress of life’s minor upsets is accumulative and can quickly shift from exhausting to unmanageable. We become targets in a carnival game. We take the hit, bounce upright in time for the next pitch, and then over we go again. Do you know what I mean? To heck with having a five-year plan, how about an uninterrupted five-day plan? I'm still waiting for that to happen.
When I can’t cope with the news of another mass shooting, out-of-control wildfire, political derailment, or when crisis-after-crisis tempts me to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed all day, I change my focus and diligently put my own house in order. Yes, it's all feel-good smoke and mirrors: a vain attempt to find the elusive nirvana of a serene life and a calm mind. The truth is that no matter how many times I redo that pantry, neither my personal ducks nor those of the world will ever line up in rows as neat as the serving spoons in my kitchen drawer.
Coping with life’s challenges while trying to stay emotionally balanced is like being caught between the two maxims, Life is What Happens While You're Making Plans and Man Plans, God Laughs. Only I have to tell you (your mouth to God's ear), sometimes it’s not so damn funny.
The manuscript of Dancing Between the Beats is back in my hands. It spent July through September with Joshua Cochran: published author, poet, and current head of the English department at Pima Community College (PCC). He read through most of the draft for a general developmental/content edit. His input was, as expected, invaluable.
As I work through Joshua's notations, I find everything from a confidence-boosting “wow” in the margins, to “ground us in setting”, “refine delivery”, and even few eagle-eye line edits. I am paying attention to all. He also pointed out that I overused the word just. I think overused is a gentle understatement. When I searched the document, I found 533 iterations of just. If I use this word in speech as often as I did in the draft of my novel, you have my permission to slap me the next time you hear it coming out of my mouth.
Between input from Joshua Cochran and in-depth critiques from my writing group, Vista Writers, the hard work of revision can now seriously begin. I'm still working through line edits before delving deeper. Next will be the more time-intensive process of major revisions: grounding the reader in setting, tightening the tension, using more internal dialogue to add depth to characters, and killing my darlings (as per William Faulkner). I’ve created a revision outline to help me stay on track and plan to stock up on coffee.
The hardest part of the revision process is the self-discipline involved. I'm anything but a person of routine, but to tackle the task on hand, I will have to set a writing schedule and avoid distractions. Did anyone say squirrel?