Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Turning 66

I wasn't quite five in this picture.  We'd gone to Vero Beach from Illinois to hang out with Dad a while before he went into the Army.  He'd closed his doctor's office in Tuscola, made all his arrangements to be gone a while.  He'd been rejected by the service in WWII because he had a broken back from high school football.  But now he was a doc and they needed doctors in Korea.  He was about thirty or thirty one -- my sister Maureen is far more exact with the dates and ages.

This morning, my 66th birthday, I'm meeting my daughter Laura age thirty for coffee in Winter Park.  Life is good.  A lot of people at about this time are thinking of retirement,  but I have a beautiful job at Rollins College and I don't feel old enough to retire (by my definition of old enough).  And besides, writers don't actually retire, that I know of -- they might retreat from the work-a-day to make more time to write, or to embark on a big project, I suppose, but I must admit I love to teach writing and good contemporary reading and it keeps my head in the game.  I am just returning from a year-long, actually 15 month long, sabbatical.  I won't bore you with how good it was.  I traveled a good deal, taught three weeks in Shanghai for Rollins, borrowed a cabin in Highlands, NC from wonderful friends, drove straight from there to the Spalding Fall Residency (low res. MFA) where I mentor fiction and some poetry, then after Thanksgiving rendezvoused with my cousin John in Rapid City, SD for a journey to visit with my dad's beloved sisters Virginia and Elaine (a loop that took us across South Dakota and Nebraska), then Dad's beloved brother Father Steve Deaver in Western Nebraska (birthday 8/15/33), then after Christmas drove from Maitland to Bluffton, SC to borrow a beautiful house to write in for a month (thanks so much to Diane and John!) -- my sister came for a week to help settle me in, and that was a great gift --, then in Feb. we joined my lifelong friends Herb and Bonnie in Key West and celebrated Susan's and my anniversary; I was home the month of March for work and cataract surgery, and back on the road to Fairhope, AL to occupy that very literary town's writing cabin (thanks to Roy, Skip, the Fairhope Library committee, and Mona for being great hosts) for all of April.  In May, I was a weekend in Tallahassee for a workshop, then Melbourne, FL at the writing workshop at Florida Tech, always a great experience, and went from there directly to the Spring Spalding residency, then home for the summer except for a July trip back the Highlands to do a workshop and then to Hendersonville, NC to hang a few days with my sister and her husband in a great rental house there.  In all of it, I'll admit I did relax.  I did have solitude and quiet.  I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped, but hoping isn't how you write.  :-)   Self-talk.  Oh, yes, a lot of self-talk on the sabbatical.

I'd still like to shag some fly balls again someday at the Rollins baseball field, and take some infield, maybe get in the cage and take some swings.  Need I mention that I have three giant volumes of fiction I want published before I croak.  One is a novel in novellas called Past Tense; one is a novel in stories called Forty Martyrs Suite; one is a giant volume of short stories called Dreams of Her.  There's another volume of poems coming along.  I've long wanted to write a screenplay, have given it a few robust tries but that's still out there ahead of me, oh, and I'd like to make a movie also, in the single camera mode of "Blue Valentine" -- not that story of course but one of my own that is as intimate and stormy as "Blue Valentine" and has as much hope in it.  :-)   So the future is out there ahead of me with some considerable challenges and still a bit of ambition.

I am obsessed with current day politics.  I'm glad the election is coming up, and we can get that behind us.  It is easy to see that the Republicans don't want or need to be in the White House because, being the actual embodiment of the 1%, they can make most things happen or not happen with their current obstructionist strategy in Congress.  Meantime, that poor attitude toward the rest of the country and world will give us twelve more years of Democrats in the White House -- including the first African American President, whom we have now, and, next time, the first woman President.  Oh yes Tea Party, read the Tea Leaves in the bottom of your cups.  It's coming, a renaissance of diversity.  I'm glad of it.  It is coming surprisingly fast, summoned by the Far Right because of their attitude, their resistance, and their cynical deceptions (voter suppression being one of the most profane).

I'm not about to digress further about it.  I've got a syllabus to write.

I have been very lucky in my life.  Those who know me will agree.  It was a lucky start, first-born into the household of a doctor and a nurse.  That picture above, that's lucky me at 4.5 years old.  I've had good friends along the way, most of whom have remained friends or at least I feel like they have.  I'd love to list the names.  At the age of 52, after writing since grade school, I got a job in a college as an English professor and teacher of writing.  When I got here, they asked me what I'd like as a title, and I said writer-in-residence.  It describes me to this day.  I've had two sabbaticals since I came, each one worth a million dollars.  Sabbatical is so supremely valuable, right, and good that I have to think Rick Scott will stomp it out of existence because it isn't "good business."  Well, neither is a greed tumor on Wall Street so advanced it gave a generation a look at what a depression could be like (but didn't impact the purveyors of the damage much at all) -- perhaps that's how "good business" works.  Stop.  That was a digression.  I loved the sabbatical.  I wish one for all my friends.  And sabbatical is just the tip of my good luck iceberg.  The people in my life!  The stories that have happened!  The whole amazing world breathing, erupting, rocking, around us.  At 66 for me the cup runs over.

This afternoon around 4:30 I'll settle onto the yoga mat, my daughter nearby.  Tomorrow I'll run at the gym.  Monday, classes will begin again.  It will be a writing and teaching year.  I'm only five years younger than my mother when she died.  My children now are the age I was when I finally woke up to adulthood.  Times now, for them, are not as good as the idyllic sixties and seventies when I came through, more Phil good luck.  Our families need each other more than ever, I think.  This is no time to take my foot off the pedal. 

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