Time Runs Out

July 7, 2018: I called a friend  to talk about a common interest. His voice was quiet when he answered and I checked if this was a good time to visit or if he was with a client.

“I can’t talk well anymore,” he said. “I don’t have long to live.”

We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents during the early winter that had left him feeling unlike himself. In late spring he was still trying to keep the situation under wraps from his employer which was difficult because his work is up front with clients during the design phase of projects. We were concerned, but assumed he would get stronger.

But he didn’t, and he won’t. His wife took over the phone conversation. Our friend was diagnosed quite recently with untreatable brain cancer and it is taking him quickly. She said they are limiting visitors to family. He wanted the phone back and told me that our friendship had meant a lot to him. We had a garbled last few sentences.

That’s the end.

We were supposed to talk about his writing project and a fundraiser for a nonprofit. And he’d tell a few good stories about his grandkids, kayak fishing, his wife’s garden and when he planned to retire.

Life goes on. His family is keeping vigil and we are cleaning the garage, going to the post office, talking about August and September plans. On any day someone is dying and someone is having the best day of their lives. No matter how many friends or family members we lose, the loss is always new because it has a different name.

 

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In memory of Joe who passed away July 28.  And Skye’s husband who also died in July. With warm thoughts for my first publisher who has begun hospice care. You will not be forgotten.

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Beyond the Bestseller–The Answer to a Book Lover’s Dilemma

My recent purchases

I’m always reading novels, memoirs, or essay collections, sometimes two books at once. Given my love of reading, it seems odd that in recent years I’ve had trouble finding books that I really enjoy.

My tastes have changed. Since 2016, I often have wanted to step back from the real world and put my brain on the rinse cycle for a few hours. Unfortunately for me, some of the books that attract critical acclaim often are challenging to read.

The stories may portray truly awful events (slavery, abuse, war crimes) so vividly that reading them leaves me drained, not recharged. Other stories feature antihero characters who are so unlikable that I don’t want to spend a week with them. Or the author may be experimenting with narrative techniques that are intellectually interesting but not emotionally satisfying.

I want escape, but not just any escape. I’m not looking for syrupy sweet, happily-ever-after novels. Instead, I prefer a believable, involving story, one in which the characters are likable or interesting enough that I can engage emotionally and care about their plight.

Finding good books has gotten harder. Zillions of books are published every year. Amazon has millions of them. The public library has thousands. So what’s the big deal?

I’ve realized that my habit of reading with Kindle (whether purchased books or books checked out from the library) has stunted my reading list. In both cases, the recommendation and search algorithms are pretty rudimentary. Just finished a novel about the Holocaust? The library’s app and Amazon’s will suggest three more Holocaust novels. Wait, noooo!

The problem is compounded by the way book marketing and promotion works. During any given month, only 20-30 books are being touted, and the same ones appear on everyone’s bestseller lists and in numerous articles with titles like, “Best Books of 2018” or “This Summer’s 10 Must-Read Books.” Obviously, there are way more than 30 new books out there!  So how can I find them?

An aha moment. Duh. At bookstores. Where they have actual books. Made of paper. Recently, I visited Magers & Quinn and quickly found several good books by award-winning writers and added more to my “Want to Read” list. The books I chose are considered to be “midlist” (which is publisher-speak for a well-written book that is not a bestseller), so none of them were mentioned in any of the reviews or blogs I consult.

What a relief! The books are out there, but I’ve been looking in the wrong places!

If you’re curious, here are three really enjoyable books I purchased recently–The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, Day After Night by Anita Diamant, and I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows.

 

Technology Work Around

Relatively low-cost technology including a reliable computer, makes freelance work possible for over 53 million Americans. It’s not enough to be able to use the old office suites, now there are multiple suites plus programs and apps. For many talented freelancers serving as their own IT department eats project, or personal, time when least appreciated.

My desktop computer began slowing down months before I was willing to accept it should be replaced or brought to a tech service group. The unit cost about $400 when I bought it on sale five years ago. The manufacturer still sells the exact same unit at a higher price. With confidence built on owning a new primary laptop, I decided to strip the desktop model to the manufacturer’s settings then reload what I needed. There seemed to be no downside unless you count relying on a couple of websites for total tech support.

About two hours later the desktop computer was back in working order and humming along as quickly as its old processer would allow. It isn’t fast, but better than good enough for writing and word processing. My tech confidence soared.

The devil is in the details that I haven’t been able to restore. While I know using the cloud to transfer data from the laptop to the desk unit may be the culprit, I haven’t been able to correct the annoyances. For example, I now have double entries in my contacts. A mess of old files found their way into my Dropbox. One email account doesn’t want to make itself visible. So I work around or ignore these issues and work on correcting them when there is time and energy.

Staying on top of technology is a challenge for many self-employed or retired people. I have a pair of role models that define expectations. My father managed technology fairly well into his eighties when motivated to learn about streaming services to follow his favorite baseball teams. We knew his cognitive skills were slipping when there were more calls for routine tech actions. My mother-in-law was ninety-one when she began struggling with printing photos from her iPhone and keeping up with hundreds of friends online.

Our smartphones and computers are a necessity of a full life. What will be more frightening to the Baby Boomers: giving up their car keys or losing the ability to schedule a Lyft?

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I Really Did It This Time

They came and built things.

I didn’t think it would happen.

I thought I had it all under control.

I figured, I’d just pull the cross-country captains aside plus my own two children. It would be a business-like meeting. Just the facts. No feelings.

Jody and I regularly open our house to Juan Jose’ and Crystel’s friends and their sport teams. Our swimming pool is ideal for an ‘end of a run’ swim.

What we don’t want is any dunking or kids pushing one another into the pool. When things get reckless, people can get hurt.

The solution was simple. Bring the captains and my own kids together, and spell out their responsibility.

However, things didn’t go as planned.

They came and jumped off the diving board.

The coach called on me to speak.

I scanned the crowd. Adults, teen and middle school cross-country runners, younger brothers and sisters. All of us gathered for a barbecue at Augsburg Park in Richfield.

Crystel told me later that she knew it was going to happen.

Jody, Juan Jose’ and Crystel have a detector for my overwhelming emotions. Usually it will be Juan that says, “You’re crying, aren’t you?”

Any matter-of-factness I had ran out of the park when I eyeballed their friends and teammates, and I contemplated just for a moment losing any one of them to a drowning.

I paused a number of times during my ‘welcome to our home but I don’t want to go to a funeral’ speech. Even so I ended up weeping.

My tears are a gift from Juan Jose’ and Crystel. They broke me apart with love when they came into my life. I haven’t been able to put myself together since.

They came and relaxed.

I really did it this time, I thought. No one will want to go to that lady’s house. She’ll start crying.

“Don’t worry about my crying,” I said. “Juan Jose’ and Crystel know I cry all the time.”

The group laughed.

Thing is, I do cry all the time. What a gift.

I just don’t intend to share it so openly.

We will just have to see if the teams come around.

 

 

After the Fireworks

We sat under the hazy sky in the cooling humid air, scented with bug spray. All around us were clusters of people: young parents taking family photos of their daughter in the near dark. A group of young women to our left talking loudly about their lives and shrieking with laughter. Two young couples sharing a blanket behind us, speaking Spanish and laughing about what a weird word “fireworks” is—why “works” one asked. An extended family in lawn chairs in front of us whose father was telling a lengthy story. To the right of us, a bored preteen plugged into his phone on a blanket with his family, who appeared to be of Indian descent. Each group was self-contained, distinct. Not unfriendly but joined only by clapping to hurry up the show and later in appreciation.

I wondered what the day meant for each of us.

For me, it was a more thoughtful day than usual. I love this country but also am deeply troubled by so much of what is going on. For the first time, I wondered if or how the America I believe in will survive. But I set my worries aside and immersed myself in the spectacle of fireworks and enjoyed the magic. I don’t know if the people surrounding me attended to express their patriotism and commitment to our country, or if like me, it was mostly something traditional and fun to do on a hot summer night. What was remarkable was the ordinariness—the fact our mingled heritages sitting together peacefully at the fireworks.