Sweeping Up

Sweeping them up,
Then not sweeping them up —
Fallen leaves.


The past year rose to Dickensian proportions, didn’t it? The times were indeed the best, the worst, wise and foolish, believable and incredulous, light and dark, full of hope and despair just as they were in 1859 when A Tale of Two Cities was written. It reminds me of the Tom Robbins line, “the situation is desperate, as usual.” Do you remember Amanda Gorman lighting us up with her poem last January, that bright yellow bird with her ruby crown, and a new government that brought order out of chaos to an exhausted country? Seems long ago. There’s still chaos, but somehow it’s the expected kind, not the Trumpian-what-the-fuck-repetitive-daily-am-I-going-crazy kind.

I don’t need to tell you about the world, you’re living it every day. I deeply admire and am inspired by your stamina, your flexibility, your kindness, your get-back-on-the-horse ability. Perhaps practice makes progress.

Here in my world I’ve been using a mental whisk broom to collect my 2021 details into a tidy pile. I look them over, and then… what? Resolve to do better, repeat what works, lose my frantic grip on what doesn’t? A few aphorisms rise to the top of the heap, words that shine out at me, anchoring themselves for consideration:

Trust the process
Stop trying to figure things out
Allowing, not controlling
Intentions, not goals
Soften, sweetheart (don’t you just want to call yourself by pet names?)

And aren’t these more doable than “lose 10 pounds” or “be kinder” or “save the world”? Though if you’re inclined in that direction, more power to you. The world could use some fitter kinder heroes.

We saw so many doctors this past year (all is well now) that our new band name is The Feeble Geezers. It could be inexorable decay, or it may be a flukey year where everything goes wrong but won’t repeat, like all the dental work I had done in my fifties. Nevertheless we persist.

There were some dark months while Alan fell into persistent AFib (atrial fibrillation), his blood pressure and pulse so low that he slept a lot and did little. The range of medical terms I learned was exponential, like that time I was on the jury of a mesothelioma lawsuit. The impact was huge – on his life of course – and mine too since we are joined at the hip. We faced uncertainty, suffering, and disappointment about the many canceled plans. It was an exercise in patience waiting for doctors and hospitals to have time and space, while anti-vaxxers took up their energies. I struggled to let go of the hate in my heart, some days more successful than others. Modern medicine came through, we came through, maybe wiser. Trust the process. We came up with several rhymes for fibrillation.

My grandkids started homeschooling for reals this fall, giving us plenty of access, time to do cool stuff, and allowed us to be out while everyone else was in. They felt every nuance of the year’s stress, but their resilience is inspiring. How many times can we bounce back? Endless it seems. Their new house is only a mile away, and while I don’t miss the traffic-y drives through Portland, I do miss the frequent trips across the city’s bridges with soaring views over the river. Seven years in, those bridges still thrill me.

December view of the Marquam Bridge looking north over downtown Portland, my once-frequent commute.

We love science and vaccinations. Seven year old Ezra looked at the line of people behind him waiting for their shot and called out, “Too late to turn back now!” I could fill a page with his gorgeous statements. I helped him at the playground and he said, “Thank you for encouraging me.” Passing a hiker on a trail he called, “It’s pretty steep up ahead but there are lots of footholds.” Turning to me, he said, “I gave her confidence.” He spouts things like, “This is a well-trodden path.” He described his messy bedroom “like the Finnish coast peppered with bollards.” You might say he’s a literary fellow.

Hoping to improve his table manners, I fell back on that stupid old thing about what if he were invited to eat with the queen. Questions followed – who is the queen and why would I eat with her, and I gave up when he said, “I’m going to have an eating contest with the queen, and I’m going to win!”

Then there’s Rosa, now 10, who says things like, “I wonder what’s beyond the observable universe? Is the observable universe like the unobservable universe? What if a galaxy from the unobservable universe crashed into a galaxy in the observable universe and we observe that happen, what would it be like? I think I’d make a good astronomer.” I have to write these things down as we go, or I wouldn’t believe it myself. We try to keep up.

It’s not always pithy statements and creativity, but you don’t need to hear about the rest of it. It’s all a package – easy hard, thrilling exhausting. We take each other to the river, the park, the woods, the ocean, and we’re all better for it. Allowing, not controlling.

It was a good writing year. Daily writing groups are my passion and addiction, as is connecting with a few other bloggers. I started and expanded friendships with like-minded writers, most of whom I’ve never met in the flesh. I suppose hooking up online has been around for awhile – I’m now catching on.

I completed 70,457 shitty first draft words for November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) though it will probably never leave my cloud-based bottom desk drawer. Rosa wrote along, a series of stories about Detective Corn, a unicorn (of course). My story was not as creative. I’m thinking next time I will add unicorns.

I hit the four year mark on my blog, and published 44 posts. Wait, really? Twice as many as the year before. My logorrhea is pandemic related for sure. My readership is somehow growing, though having readers from Hong Kong, Russia and Uganda make me a tad suspicious about WordPress statistics.

Really WordPress? Readers from all these countries? 🙂

My foray into songwriting continued, with bad songs, mediocre songs, and occasionally songs I sort of like, with titles like Imposter Syndrome and 50,000 Words. It’s the sort of torture that feels good when it stops, but then you miss it. Soften, sweetheart. Without my choirs, and with a hand that goes on strike when I play too much mandolin (yes, x-rays, shots, PT, massage, blah blah blah), I will stick with songwriting for now.

I read 41 books, in case you need suggestions. With all the rain and snow, there will be more in 2022. Intentions, not goals. So many standouts – thank you writers. If you haven’t read any Brian Doyle or Ann Patchett essays you might want to check them out.

My great joy, an antidote to the reading and writing, was finding an outdoor pool – a rare breed in the PNW. Indoor pools are claustrophobic, uninspiring germ-breeders. Give me the sky, gray or blue, and the air, freezing or warm, and weightlessness. As I swim laps (mostly in an empty pool to my great joy) I watch a bald eagle circle overhead or streams of geese in a graceful V. My kind of multi-tasking.

Cold on the outside but warm on the inside. And no kids while I’m there.

There was a mid-year scary-thrilling minute when everyone thought the pandemic was winding down. Folks went back to traveling. A few beloveds visited from afar. My social skills aren’t what they were (never great), but with practice I hope to recover. Will that be in 2022? Stop trying to figure things out.

We watched a lot of backyard birds and their life cycles, and the kids caught on enthusiastically. We nurtured a thriving garden, went to parks, hiked trails, watched water flow, stood beneath tall trees, and immersed ourselves in open water. It was good, and will have to do.

I wish all good things for you in the year ahead, especially health. Thank you to all who read here; I know there’s a lot of alternative distractions out there. I feel you out there, and some day we’ll meet, or meet again. I’m trusting the process.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

PS What about the 2021 weather? I’m glad you asked.

It was the warmest of times, it was the snowiest of times,
it was the wettest of times, it was the driest of times.

15 thoughts on “Sweeping Up

  1. So many great lines. “There’s still chaos, but somehow it’s the expected kind, not the Trumpian-what-the-fuck-repetitive-daily-am-I-going-crazy kind.” “Stop trying to figure things out.” And that Ezra, I love him. And Rosa! Oh my. Well done on NaNoWriMo too. You are amazing, on all fronts. All I can do in these crazy times, I figure, is be the person I wish other people were. Can’t fix them. I just hope the good guys win in the end. Why does everything have to be such a struggle? Fortunately there are many good people writing down the stories. Thank you for yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So happy to hear that the health issues have been resolved. I can’t imagine the frustration with navigating the crowded and often unruly medical system. Grateful you had each other. Big hug for you both.

    In considering that it truly “takes a village” these days, I so appreciate the myriad ways you have helped raise those young people to be kind, curious and thoughtful humans. So much to be proud of with those two. (For what it’s worth, my money is on Ezra in the eating contest). Thanks for sharing all of it and for the many encouragements you’ve offered me. Nice to be engaged in such joyful ways as we step into whatever comes next 🧡

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wish I could step on a plane to come over and give you all a big hug. Stay well, stay out of doctors’ hands. And please stay addicted to daily writing, I look forward to post #46 ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a year! Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m glad to hear that health has returned and also homeschooling. I’m so glad you mentioned Brian Doyle. He is one of my favorite writers, was. But still his books and essays fill me with so much hope and compassion for this being human stuff. Congrats on all the writing! And living! All of it! Happy New Year, Nancy!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. omg loved this so much and love YOU. Beyond grateful for your health and Alan’s. I can’t wait to catch up on the 44 other posts. you remind me of what living should be xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am so blown away by the beauty of the writing, the photos, the children, the lives you are living – that I am speechless. Nothing to say but wow. Sending love and gratitude that you are both healthy, alive, and writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is a great practice to try to boil everything down to a small essay, and find that what I get is the nectar, the concentrated sweetness of life, and the harder stuff just steams off and dissipates. Thank you for your kind words, for reading, for being part of my life.


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