Monday, September 30, 2013

The Custodial Arts

When I post a good blog that is well received, I tend to fret for the week following it, convinced that I will never write anything good again. The sad Balloon hinted that there might be people alongside me every day, even in the grocery store, who are hurting something awful.
Last week’s blog was a challenge to write. Then I spent a week at work vacuuming, listing to music and audiobooks, cleaning things and moving table and chairs. Most of the time, that’s when good ideas come to me. But the thought never got away from me how much I just enjoy my job. Was I so lost for a topic that I had to write about being a custodian?
Looks like, doesn’t it?
I don’t know how many kids want to grow up to be a janitor. Some might, if the school janitor makes the job look enjoyable. But there is a certain stigma that comes with being in the blue collar field of cleaning person. When I first started my job as a custodian several years back, I had been unemployed for six months. A job was good. My new boss told me what I was doing was a ministry. And it felt good to think of it like that. But I was still self-conscious about what I did. I wondered what the rest of the staff thought of me and what my family thought of me. It may be that my self-esteem was not good at the time anyway.
It may be that up until then I hadn’t thought much about janitors. I remember the janitors at my school being frowning, cursing people that frightened me. At college there was a janitor lady who loved to stop and talk.
But my main impressions of janitors were from the media. Janitors in movies and television were often the coolest people in the cast.
I am the eyes and ears of this institution.
Carl, the janitor in The Breakfast Club seems happy with his job. But if you look carefully during the opening credits of the film, you see his picture on the wall as most likely to succeed. The movie still portrays him as a failure. But he chats up the main cast and says that he is the eyes and ears of the school. Later, after he blackmails the principal, they bond for a while.
But my favorite janitor is from the TV show, Scrubs.
If I find a penny in there, I'm taking you down.
The actor is a comic genius. His character, just named Janitor, is the patron saint of all custodians.
I don’t think I’m like either of these characters. One is a bitter loser, and the other an evil scheming genius. I enjoy my job. I like making dirty things clean. I like going into a room and re-creating it in my image. (Okay just re-setting it for the next event). I love it when people ask me if I have the key to something and I say that I do. I love working alone for hours on end. I love listing to podcasts, music and audiobooks.
And there is no real stigma at my job. I am expected at staff functions, not just fun meals, but meetings where decisions are made.
So last week I wrote about how the guy at the grocery store might be having a bad day. Today I want to say that the janitor with a mop might be having a good day. But just like the guy with the balloon, he’s thinking about something. If he doesn’t have his headphones in, you can talk to him. There may be a chance he would share what he’s thinking about, which is what I just did.

Writer's Update

     I don’t like using the words always or never unless I really mean it. So when I say I am always anxious about writing a blog after knocking one out of the park, I mean always. Last week’s blog was not only well received, but I was pleased with it. So as the week went by following the post of The Sad Balloon I did what I normally do after a successful blog post. Fret.
     Prajna offered up some good suggestions. She never tells me what to write, but has told me in the past some good directions to take my blog. Also a few times, she has advised me what not to write. She suggested that I write a topic earlier in the week and spend the week revising it. My blog is supposed to be a writing exercise. It’s a way that I make sure I write at least once a week. Most weeks I write at least four days. That includes my blog that I post on Mondays. Prajna thought I could compose something on the day that I usually do, but then spend the week revising it and post it a week later after polishing it.
     That’s not a bad idea at all. I have the habit of writing pretty well established. This blog isn’t as much about that anymore. If I want to really grow as a writer, I am going to have to work more on the process of revision. First drafts are allowed to be lousy. The technical work begins when that first draft is done and it’s time to go in and start trimming the deadweight away. I could turn my blog into an exercise in revision, not just writing.
     One problem with that is that I like the topic to be fresh. I try to write what I’m thinking about. If I compose a blog on a Sunday afternoon and then work on it for a week before posting it, I may not feel like saying that anymore. I don’t like just writing random things. I want to say what’s going on in my life as currently as possible.
And the other thing is this: Roadwalker is a side project right now. I don’t think I want to spend the week working on it. The main thing that I’m working on is a memoir. I write about 3 days a week on it. Lately I have been writing in baby steps. It’s been tough going. Things didn’t get better after I bought that balloon, they got worse.
So I am directing my time to another project right now. In a couple weeks I am going to take a weekend away, a sabbatical, to be off by myself. I plan to spend some of the time at my campground outlining the novel I want to write this November.
Then during the month of November I will be writing an entire novel for National Novel Writing Month. The novel is going to be a space western called Sidewinder. I have some characters in my head as well as a solid setting and a very vague plot. There is little else I look forward to as much as this.
But in November I will be writing seven days a week. I’m not sure what will happen with my blog. I might post excerpts, I don’t know yet.
There are 563 words before this sentence. I had planned on writing this morning about how much I liked my job. I was going to say how when I fret about what to write, very little beats operating a vacuum cleaner and spending a day alone listening to music and audiobooks. But then I just went on and on about my writing. And here it is. Not what I intended, just me talking about myself. And it will be time for me to start breakfast soon.
I will be breaking eggs into a big bowl. Some eggs are resilient and take a good strike and the yolks are still intact. Other eggs almost disintegrate in my hand and the yolk breaks, sometimes with shell fragments. Sometimes I can just tell that something will come out good when broken out of its shell or just be a mess. Eggs are like blog topics. Sometimes they make me smile with satisfaction and sometimes I sigh with disappointment and try to fish out the shells. But I like them  to be fresh. Maybe ideas should age more than an egg should and my analogy is beginning to crack.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Sad Balloon

     I didn’t write much the week before last. This past week I did better, writing for three mornings. I think writing should be fun. Why else would I do it? I am really looking forward to National Novel Writing Month and have my story, Sidewinder vaguely planned out. But what I am working on presently is not so fun to write. One reason is that I am convinced that it isn’t that good right now. I am working on the first draft of my memoir and writing as much as I can remember, which it turns out is a lot. This first draft is almost like casting a huge mold that I will eventually carve down to size. Before carving it down, I have to make it big enough for its eventual shaping down. So I’ve been sitting down to write, many days knowing that what I am writing will never make it to the final draft, or even survive the second draft. Yet I feel I need to write it anyway.
     And now I am at the part in my life when Naomi had cancer but we didn’t know it yet. Naomi was finally admitted to Maui Memorial Hospital for tests. That afternoon I went to a grocery store to buy her a balloon. Last Wednesday I wrote about that day. And I learned some things about myself that I had not realized before.
     I used to be pretty withdrawn and bitter until I met Prajna. Having her in my life and going back to church helped me to come out of my shell and go back to being more amicable. I stayed like that for a long time. But years later, I found myself plunged into an abyss of depression and mistrust. It hadn’t happened overnight. It was clear that Naomi’s illness and the loss of her are partly responsible for putting me there. But when did it begin? Last Wednesday while I was writing, I think I found out.
     This is an excerpt from what I wrote. (I don’t blame anyone in that grocery store back in July of 1999 for anything. The passage is written in the voice that I was feeling at the time.)
Later that day I went to the grocery store to buy Naomi a Mylar balloon. I wandered through the crowded store. It was a weekend afternoon and the tone of the crowds seemed terribly cheerful to me. I got to the balloons and choose the most cheerful one. I was stunned. Touching it made my eyes start to well up. This happy Get Well Soon! balloon in my hand matched the world around surrounding me where everyone was happy. But it didn’t match my world.  How was this little balloon supposed to cheer up a little girl in the hospital?
I wanted to shout to the store. Didn’t anyone see what I had here? This balloon was for a spindly little three year-old girl was lying in a hospital bed, miserable and lonely, missing her brothers and sister. Didn’t they care about that?
I walked through the store with the balloon and felt everyone looking around and through me. A new thought came to me, or perhaps an old, old thought that I hadn’t felt for so long that I had forgotten it.
No-one cares.
It sure seemed apparent to me there as I walked through the store, feeling ignored. Emotional pain began to rise up in me. It took hold of my bones and weighed down my shoulders and spine. I was hurting, and no-one cared. Maybe if someone had come up to me that afternoon in the store, maybe if someone had looked at me and asked me who the balloon was for, I could have told them.
My little girl is in the hospital, I thought to no-one. We don’t know what’s wrong with her and she’s sad and miserable and the only thing I can do right now is buy her this shiny balloon and hope. I can just hope that maybe this balloon will make her smile just a little.
No-one spoke to me and the friendly casher rang up the balloon and bade me goodbye. I walked out of the store with that emotional pain still. With the balloon lifting up, something new was just beginning to pull me down. The thought that people are not going to be there for me. They didn’t understand and they wouldn’t be a part of my life. I was on my own.
On my own. That was where I had wanted to be for so long. If I was going to take care of Naomi I would have to be strong. And if I was going to be strong, I should not be relying on anyone else to take care of me. That was how it had been in my past, and that was how it was looking to be now.
Naomi liked the balloon. But it didn’t brighten her mood much. Later that day they told us that she would have an MRI the following day.
That was an unhealthy attitude. But I didn’t feel like that constantly starting then. Even the next few weeks had bright spots. When Naomi was diagnosed we were surrounded by prayer from friends, acquaintances and even people we didn’t know. The support was comforting. People did care.
But here is the point. When I wrote this last week, I saw where it began. The start of a long fall. It took more than just time to heal, it took Celebrate Recovery and other people being there for me. Once again, writing allowed me a discovery. I can look back and see it and fortify my life to not let it happen again.
Aside from discovering this leaden milestone in my life I realized something else. Or maybe I was just reminded of something. People are out there having bad days. I might see them right there in a grocery store, maybe even holding a balloon. I wonder if there is anything I could do for them. Is there anything that might make a difference?
     I don’t know what would have happened if someone had stopped me in the store and asked about the balloon and how I was feeling. It wouldn’t have re-directed the course of my life, I’m sure of that. But it would have been a little light in a dark day.
     When I wrote that, and as I reread it now, I feel moved to go to the grocery store and see what kind of light I might be able to shine. Let’s be there for each other.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why I get up

     This doesn’t sound right, so bear with me until I explain it through. Prajna was gone for three days and two nights last week. I thought I could get along alright. I was just concerned that I might have trouble falling asleep at night. It turned out that I dropped right off both nights. It was the mornings that I wasn’t prepared for.
     Each evening I set the coffee pot to start brewing at 5:45 a.m. Next morning am usually up and about to hear it uttering its last gurgles as the smell of fresh coffee begins to creep through the front room. So what I’m saying is that most mornings, I am up at least by six in the morning, maybe before. Mondays I either write my blog or polish what I composed the previous day before posting it. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I write whatever my current project is. Right now I’m working on my memoir which I have gone on about quite a bit here already here. The other three days I get up early but don’t write and am over at Yucaipa Christian Church by 8:00 am either to work or because it’s Sunday.
     So Prajna was gone Tuesday and Wednesday morning last week. I woke up a little before 6 o’clock in the morning the way I always do, with no alarm clock. And both mornings I sighed and didn’t get up until after 7. The two mornings I woke up without Prajna next to me are the two mornings I stayed in bed. That really looks like when she’s not there I am content to lie there and when she’s in bed I just want to get out of there. That’s what it looks like, but that’s not what it really is about.
     When I realized that I was staying in bed, I felt I needed to examine why I did this. I knew it couldn’t be what it looked like. And it didn’t take a lot of contemplation to realize why I was staying in bed when she was gone. I love Prajna a lot. And knowing she is there is my motivation to strive to achieve.
     It’s like this: The easy thing to do is flip the pillow to the cool side and hit the internal snooze alarm. My brains can do astounding mathematics early in the morning and calculate how many minutes there are left to sleep. The difficult thing to do is shake off the blissful sleep and lift myself out of bed, and it isn’t even winter yet. Once I am writing I feel great, especially when the coffee starts to kick in. The transfer from horizontal to vertical can feel life-ending sometimes, but just about every morning I do it. Even on mornings I don’t write I get up. How and why? Because I have her in my life. And because I have Prajna in my life, what I do matters.
     This sounds a little codependent, finding my purpose in another person. And yes, it is a little. What would I do without her? Well, I’ve discovered the answer to that. I would stay in bed. I will try to keep this adoration healthy and not put my whole identity into another person and I will not demand or expect her to be my reason for being, or even writing. When it all comes down to it all, I write for myself. Having Prajna in my life is a blessing that makes me feel significant. Difficult things are worth doing.
     I am also blessed with the progress I have made on my memoir. It took several months and 24,775 words to get Naomi in Maui Memorial Hospital, she hasn’t been diagnosed yet. But I don’t regret any of this bloated first draft. I have made some astounding discoveries while writing it. I think that stepping back to look at one’s life will inevitably provide new insight. And insight is what led to this blog entry.
     So last week I didn’t write much. What I did write was feeble. I have 7 more weeks to work on my memoir before taking a break from it. I have another project in November that I plan to write every day of the month. I won’t go any more into that now. That’s not what this entry is about.
     I just wanted this to be about how a simple examination of my life revealed something that I wasn’t really aware of. Prajna is one of the reasons I feel I am able to accomplish things. For that I am grateful.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Euphoric Dawn

     When I was cast in a local theater production of The Sound of Music, the principle cast got together to talk about their characters. I was playing Rolf, the tragic hero of the story who unlike in the film, saves the eldest Von Trapp girl and her family by calling to his Lieutenant that there is no-one there. I think the director cast me instead of the better looking kid who was probably more talented because I had an innocence about me. At the auditions, my friend put on his lady-killer smile while I just looked mystified and unsure of myself. That is what the director wanted for this little subplot of the story. For better or worse, I definitely knew how it was to be lost when it came to girls.
     So when the cast met we sat in a circle, the director asked us pointed questions about our characters. Most of the rest of the cast were adults who played the adult roles. The director asked about my character. I explained how Rolf got his job delivering telegrams and why he joined the German Army. Then the question came, how did Rolf fall in love with Lisel?
     I was stumped. How? Why? Yes, why did my character fall in love? Why does anyone? I looked at the floor and chewed my lip.
     “I don’t know,” I murmured. “Does anyone know why they fall in love?”
     It was a sincere question, but the reaction shocked me. There was laughter and applause. I raised my eyes to see the men in the cast smiling and clapping for me. What was so funny? Could it be that I had stumbled on some cosmic truth about love and no-one knew why it happened?
     “Okay then,” said the director, smiling too. “We’ll just say it was chemistry.”
     I had no idea what that meant either.
     I may not have learned about how to be smooth and cool like my friend, but I learned something that night. Love was an enigma.
     I went through the next several years still not knowing too much about love. I figured it had something to do with meeting each other’s needs and being happy together. Then Prajna showed up late to rehearsal.
     This was eight years later. Prajna and I had become friends as we worked together for another show. I worked tech and was looking for Prajna to give her a radio headset. She arrived just a little late because she had just come from National Guard duty. When she found me she was dressed in military fatigues. My breath was taken away. She looked a little regretful for being late, her doe eyes fixed on me in apology. And all I could think of was how the military’s battle dress uniform was made to blend human beings, not only to their surroundings, but to each other. One wasn’t supposed to look different from another. The goal was to appear as a unit of look-alike drones. That said, the uniform made Prajna look adorable. I thought that any girl who can defy the United States Military that way had to be special.
     Maybe that was this “chemistry”. It wasn’t love. Actually what it was, was romance. Love developed from there over the next weeks and months. I don’t know when I felt it and didn’t tell her that I loved her until I was positive of it. From that time in the theatre until today it’s been 22 years. After all this time, can I define what love is now?
     I can say that romance was a spark that opened my eyes and softened my heart. But the love, the real deep down love grew like the sky at dawn beginning dark and then over time slowly brightening, finally to the burst of brilliance at sunrise. I was not aware of the lightening at first. But there came a point where it was unmistakable… and unstoppable. The warmth began before the dawn and that brought on a euphoria that felt different from any feeling I had felt before. Was that love? It was the dawn of it.
     The allusion of falling in love is like a sunrise gets a little tedious when I think how hours later the sun goes down and it gets dark and cold. So I will dump the metaphor now. The real love I feel now isn’t something that can just sink away. I married Prajna, not because I loved her, but because it was obedience to God. And having a love founded in God’s love has made the sun never set.
     So this week Prajna has a birthday. I was talking to her about a blog I’ve been musing over, something about a megalomaniac and a butterslide. But she advised me not to. So I wrote for her birthday today instead of Thursday the 12th. We can celebrate all week. Happy Birthday, Prajna. The love I have for you is not enigmatic, it makes everything clear.