Monday, September 19, 2016

Taking Time to Smell the Roses

Retirement life...well, not exactly. I spend the time explaining to people on the road and at home what I've chosen to do and how that connects to the concept of retirement. I have come to one conclusion, I am not the classic retiring type, and really don't know anybody who is.

In the past month, I've traveled from South Carolina to lower Manhattan, from Pennsylvania to the Upper Peninsula (boy is it getting cold there!) to the middle of Ohio and then to Santa Fe. By the end of my current trip, which is from northern Chicago to Wisconsin, I'll have covered countless miles on land and in the air. I'm working hard to get as close to 10K steps in as well each day! I'm busy, yes. But gratified as well.

When I face a new group of teachers at each stopping point, I thank my lucky stars that I have as much experience as I've had over the years, connecting with kids around reading and writing. I talk to them about legacy, something that can get lost when we're dealing with data and testing and the countless emails we get as educators each and every day. I love my new job. It connects the dots to what I've done in the past and the future of America's kids with an enthusiastic group of hard-working teachers across this great country of ours.

But along the way, I've had to stop myself to take the time, catch my breath and smell the rose of the moment that looms in front of me.

A week or so ago, it was a rental car attendant, Gabriel, that checked my ID and my papers at Hertz in Ohio. It was 1:00 in the morning. I'd gotten in way later than I'd expected due to airline delays (never a surprise). Gabriel was enamored by the spelling of my name, and proceeded to share his varied heritage with me once he knew how my name tied to my Irish background. He told me about his hopes and dreams, his bucket list...the Great Wall, castles in Eastern Europe, it went on and on. But I could tell from Gabriel's attire--his frayed shirt and pants, his whiskered face, that perhaps it might be hard for him to meet those hopes and dreams. So, I took that moment to share my moment on the Great Wall, in Tiananmen Square and in the crowded streets of Beijing. It made me realize how lucky I am to have had all the experiences I have had in this lifetime.

Later, I entered my hotel and was greeted by another weathered night warrior. This time it was Terrence or Terry, as he liked to be called, craning like a stork over his computer, not really looking up to greet me, but sustaining that gaze on the blue screen. I thought it odd at first. He was a diminutive character, clothed in a khaki vest and pants, cresting 4'10" at best. "You're one of two people," he said.

The words shocked me...they spilled out with such familiarity. "I guess I'm not the rotten egg," I said.

He straightened. His jet black eyes met mine. "I should say not. You are a vision of the night."

What could I do but laugh. This one was a character, one you don't see every day.

"I've been doing this job for 32 years, and I haven't lost a guest yet," he said. "In fact, 32 years and I haven't missed a day until one day last week. I love my job." He handed me my plastic key, and walked me to the elevator.

Thirty-two years. The exact number of years I'd spent in the classroom. But, he had me in the age category. I'd loved every one of my 32 years too.

"I'm 77 years old and I love my job," he said. I looked at him, and despite the thinning of hair, stiffness of frame and a few wrinkles on that face...I thought to myself, he could be that young boy who probably started as a bell hop or desk man at one of the Hilton operations somewhere in the states. The work was clearly keeping him young...the connection to people, the opportunity to flirt with a female arriving late in the night, and the chance to hold the keys to a 500 room mansion that houses Americans on the go.

The next morning, I spotted him talking to the security guard as I carried my breakfast plate to a table nearby. "You've been awake all night?" I asked.

"You're darn right," he said. "Been doing it for 32 years."

"Well, you look darn good," I replied.

"And you, my dear, are the paragon of sartorial splendor!" He stood straight in his khaki vest and pants and bent at the waist at me. For the first time in my adult life I had no reply to this. I knew what he meant, I thought...but of course, I'd have to go home and look it up to be sure! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Writing through the Mud

Anybody who knows me, knows I'm obsessed with my beautiful four-legged beast. He--Reilly, is named after my mentor, Patricia Reilly Giff. Reilly is, at times, my one and only empty nester's high maintenance kid. 

But Reilly is so much more than that to the writer in me. Yes, I do have to work around his needs. He gets his food in the AM before I get my coffee. He goes out, and then rushes back in for a cookie (his vitamin), settling into my lap for a snuggle after that. But once I push him off my lap? He knows the routine. I write and write, grab a second cup of coffee and write some more. I'm serious about the words I put on the page. 

But lately, I've been looking more closely at him. I, of course, always have a dog in my stories. Life just wouldn't be the same. I study that face of his, so serious at times, with that furrowed brow and those eyes lazored on me. He even has a pout that works to his greatest advantage if he thinks I've stayed with the writing too long. He rests his head in between his paws and stares me down, longing, wishing, pleading, and sometimes whimpering for his walk at the farm. 

I tell myself--a writer has to ignore outside distractions. I take a long sip on my cold coffee, and get back to my work. But then, as always, the mud comes. It does. I run out of steam...or a question comes up that I don't have the answer to yet. This morning, I started I on a path, is there a path at all, or is this quick sand I'm sinking deeper and deeper into? 

Writing is like driving a car without your hands on the wheel. The car has a mind of its own, and the mud is all around. It's been a while since I've written anything outside my middle grade fiction work. I've tried hard not to stare at twitter and Facebook and blogging has been set aside for the somewhat not-so serious, serious stuff. But today, I got to thinking...I was reading a Cynthia Rylant short story, Spaghetti with the kids at school. And I could not help noticing all the little paths in this piece...the things one might think at first sight were headed into the mud. But then she lifts you up and reveals them to be the little jewels along the path to great story. 

Oh, I so wish I could be her!

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