The month of August was eventful in terms of family visits. One weekend was devoted to the in-laws in the environs of Rochester, N.Y., with the following weekend to my own family in Tucson. In between the two, I spent a few days relaxing at the New Hampshire farm of my best friend’s family. I needed the break to recover from the one reunion and to prepare for the next.
There were lots of children.
I was lucky to have had work to do while in western New York; I still have to write the article on the Episcopal churches for the old paper, so on my second day there, I holed myself up in my husband’s old bedroom (now a storage area for toys and clothes for the grandchildren) with some noise-cancelling headphones and transcribed some old interviews.
(Transcription is another area where I could make some money freelancing. It’s tedious, but I can do it, and my friend Tom says there’s money to be made there, because most people hate it.)
There’s nothing like spending your days with nieces and nephews to make a childless person not want to have children. Of course they’re adorable and I love them and all that, but when you put four of them together, aged 6 through 1, even in a big house, it’s enough to make one swear off procreation. It becomes harder when you’re known as the fun childless aunt or uncle who plays with kids, when those same kids expect you to play with them every minute you’re around. I am therefore developing and grooming my un-fun persona, boring childless aunt who doesn’t want to play right now. My husband probably needs to do the same, but he really enjoys playing with toys, so I’m sure he’s feeling conflicted.
The thing I love the most about going to western New York is thrift-store shopping (without kids). The goods are often high-quality, bountiful and cheap. I have perfected the art — only look at clothes your size with the tag color that’s 50 percent off, unless something really catches your eye; else you could be there all day. I wanted to be at the Volunteers of America all day, when in addition to the normal 50 percent off color, they had another color that was 75 percent off, and all tanks, shorts and capris were half off. That quadrupled the amount of clothing I would normally look at, so my husband and mother-in-law had to wait for me, having valuable one-on-one time on a sofa, while I tried on a hundred things. You can’t make them wait forever, though, so I made myself leave the store after only seeing a fraction of it.
When I got to New Hampshire, there was more quality time with children to be had. My friend’s son is a cute 2-year-old with a train obsession (“Play choo-choo, play choo-choo, play choo-choo!” is his usual mantra with his adult playmates — I, the sucker that I am, being one of them), and her 3-year-old nephew Jack is a doll. So I didn’t mind too much when I ended up being the child-minder for a bit one day, when we picked what was left of the glorious blueberries in the yard and wandered down the freshly cleared nature path through the woods on the property. It did get tiring, however, to make sure they didn’t kill each other with the paint-rollers that were doubling as lawn mowers. Boys are hard to manage in a way that is alien to me; I never had brothers so I’m unaccustomed to their brutish ways.
There are a lot of best things about going to the farm in New Hampshire — my friend, of course, is at the top of the list, but the blueberries and the clear, brisk water of the lake are close behind. Even though that week was chilly, I still went in for a couple swims.
Then, Arizona, land of so much personal baggage, because that’s where the family’s at. We did successfully celebrate my father’s 80th birthday and my mother’s lunar birthday, with two giant meals. Of course, all of us (three sisters, their significant others, and two nieces) besides my parents, who are divorced, got to gorge ourselves silly almost every day of the trip, since we had to go from one parent to the other, to be “fair.” Though it was hectic and stressful at times to coordinate, I was glad to be able to spend time with both my sisters at once, since the last time we’d been together was at my grandmother’s funeral about five years ago.
My two nieces are lovely, and since they’re older, they aren’t quite as noisy. They’re going to grow up to be great women, I can tell. The last evening, though, one of them was feverish and grumpy, so they argued rather too loudly for many of our tastes. Being a parent mediator would be a difficult job.
On the flights to and from Tucson, I read my friend Patrick O’Keeffe’s book, The Hill Road, which was superb. It contains four novellas, all of them set in neighboring farming villages in County Limerick, Ireland, where Patrick’s from. I highly recommend it, and if you aren’t convinced simply by my saying so, you can even read the first 35 pages on Google’s e-book preview. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did have a long period of time to start the whole first 20 pages or so, I couldn’t put it down. I cried on both plane trips reading the first and second stories.
It’s inspiring to read an excellent book by someone you know, but it’s also a bit daunting if think of yourself as an aspiring writer and start making comparisons, so I’m trying to focus more on the encouraging and slightly cocky voice of our friend Tom — “Just do it!”
I did, the other day, reread something I had written — the start of what could be a personal essay or memoir or novel — but the problem with it, I think, besides the fact that it needs tons of revision and editing, is that I don’t know what it is yet. Do I want to write an essay or a whole book of memoirs? A novel, a short story, creative nonfiction? I guess I don’t have to worry about it now. I’m supposed to just write, and when I’ve got enough written down, I can decide later what it really is. The problem, however, is making myself “just write.”
The goal for today is at least to start that article on my old town’s Episcopal churches, so that it can be done and out of the way. I may have to force myself to go to the neighborhood cafe to do it, since all I do around here is putz around the internet in my pajamas. I do apply to a few jobs every day, now that I’m back, but I could probably be a bit more proactive and send things to publications without waiting for job postings. It’s hard for me not to be overwhelmed by all the things I “ought” to do. Which is why I often find myself playing mind-numbing Facebook games, probably.
In other news, I started the InDesign course online this week, to make myself learn the program, because some employers prefer their copy editors and editorial assistants know how to use it. Next week I start a short online course on HTML.
Keep self busy.