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Blog Essays Memoir

Discover Prompts-Day 30: Grateful

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash.

I know that I have much to be grateful for in this life – a roof over my head, food in the cupboard and refrigerator, love in my life, a young dog. I’m not food insecure or housing insecure. Yet, I’m close to it.

After a 33-year career in higher education, I have had difficulty finding a stable job. When my adjunct teaching assignments began to dry up in 2017, I lost 2/3 of my income in 2 weeks. Searching for anything at all, it took me 6 months to get a job at Starbucks, which I started in Jan 2018. On my first day of work, I had serious flu and had to delay my start day by a few days. I didn’t much like my work at Starbucks, but near the end of the first month, I could see the light at the end of the training tunnel. I preferred gathering foods and working the cash register and cleaning to making the drinks.

I found a job that paid $2.00/hr more at a busy deli counter at a grocery store, so I had no choice but to take it, even though my time at Starbucks was short. That store faced some cutbacks as well and for a while, my work was part-time, until one week, I didn’t get any assignments at all. Then I was transferred to another store, the largest in the chain (Sprouts Farmers Market) with a large island for a deli-counter. I had full-time work and it was difficult work. I mostly worked the closing shift, which brought me into conflict with the young people closing, who wanted to cut corners with cleaning and close up the counter much earlier than the store closed, so they could get out of there. I preferred to do a good job and make sure everything was neat and clean by the book so as not to jeopardize health.

I liked the deli job, especially working with customers or making sure tasks got done through the day. But it was grueling work and hard on my body. I quit that job to move across country, from San Diego to New Haven, picking up one teaching job on the way.

I had spent the 6 months working at Sprouts looking for more teaching work. I was hired by Southern Connecticut State University to teach 2 sections in the Fall and 1 in the Spring. I got the call on our first day traveling cross country, in two cars, with each car loaded to the roof with our personal belongings. When we reached Connecticut, I traveled to Norwalk to interview for another teaching job. I didn’t get that job, but stuck my head in the office for a developmental writing position. I got that section, a 6-unit course. So between the 2 courses at Southern, and the 1 6-unit course at Norwalk and an online class finishing my contract at San Diego Mesa College, I had a full-time teaching load.

But I no longer had health insurance and had to buy insurance. Almost half of my income went to health insurance. I would receive 70-80% of those monies back several months after completing my assignment, provided I didn’t miss a payment by a single day.

Adjunct teaching is a hand-to-mouth existence. My teaching experiences ended badly, with a disagreement with the militant director at Norwalk and practically comatose students and a curriculum that was far advanced for them, and an unresponsive administration at Southern in the wake of a hostile student. I served out my time for another semester with a mostly silent class.

Only teaching one class, I now had to file for unemployment and Husky health, the free health insurance for people with no money. I was suffering from nerves, anxiety, caused in part by the teaching situations. I signed up with New Haven Works, an organization that is supposed to help New Haven residents find jobs. My job coach stood me up for appointments three times. After the third time, I called her and she said, “What?” on the phone… “Oh, it’s you,” she said in a deflated voice. I raised holy hell and wrote to the executive director to get a new job coach. Finally, I got a temporary job at Sterling Memorial library at Yale University. After two months, I was switched from a temp worker to a limited duration employee at the end of May. That gave me health benefits again – GOOD health benefits. Plus I finally got my old 401K back into a system to be managed, and I was earning decent money without having to take work home – no more grading.

So I took up writing, which was, after all, my goal when I started college in 1981.

Now my Yale job is ending. Today is the last day, even though we haven’t gone to work for about 6 weeks due to COVID-19. The job was 5 weeks from being completed, but now the project has been canceled. All the jobs I have applied for to try to get full-time work – I’ve been passed over.

So I’m basically in the same position as before, 33-year career in higher education, with no prospects, a potential residence move coming up at the end of July and no idea how I’m going to earn money.

But it’s writing I’m most interested in right now. I’m perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through a memoir, with a great idea, which I need to execute and then contact agents to sell it.

Am I grateful? Most every day that it’s not raining, the girlfriend, the dog-Herman-and I walk in the woods at Guilford for some fresh air and exercise. The woods are beautiful. Spring is coming but it’s not in full bloom yet. It’s taking its sweet time getting here, which is fine, because that means it’s not getting hot yet. I’m grateful when I’m out on the trail and realize that I’m not sick, that I have food, that I have a roof over my head and someone to love who loves me back and Herman the Dachshund to accompany us.

For most everyone in the world right now, it’s not clear where the next meal, the next paycheck, the next opportunity is coming from.

Gratitude is foreign to me. I’m not ungrateful. I’m just not philosophical about it. I think the universe is more neutral and benign than the word “grateful” means. Grateful to whom or to what?

I didn’t think that life would throw me aside like this, nor that I’d have to scrap and struggle to get by after dedicated so much of my life to students and learning and caring for people.

I’ve chosen my paths through life. Not everyone has the freedom to do that. And I’ve been kicked and passed over and pushed aside. But I’ve never given up, and I’ve always tried to keep on the positive side of what’s coming next. That has kept me going.

It would be nice to know that in my retirement years, I can relax and not worry about paying the rent or putting food on the table, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, not yet anyway.

I’m one best-seller away from saying – “okay, I’m grateful.” Until then, it’s wait and see.

I am grateful to my readers. From here on out, my writing focuses more on memoir. And I’d like to hear from you. Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep writing more of what appeals to you.

Be safe and be well.

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Blog Essays Memoir

Discover Prompts-Day 29: List

Photo by Little John on Unsplash.

For my entire life, I’ve been a list-maker. From the Book of Lists in the 70s and 80s to lists of games or pennies missing from a collection, or baseball cards, to daily to-do lists and master lists for large projects, I’m all about the list. I’m also a wizard of words, looking up words and word histories for the sheer joy of knowing all I can about a word.

The word “list” in an intransitive verb form means “to tilt to one’s side” or as a noun means “a tilt,” usually with regard to boats or ships. The word comes from, “Perhaps an unexplained spelling variant of Middle English lysten ‘to please, desire, wish, like'” with a sense development from the notion of “leaning” toward what one desires. Compare “incline” as in “We’re inclined to favor Beethoven over Bach.”

Of course all of this leads to an event, as it always does.

So this happened. On a weekend sailing outing on Pegasus, our 38 ft Hans Christian Mark II sailboat, it had grown late and we came in from a long day outside of San Diego Bay. We had plans to moor in Glorietta Bay, just on the south side of the Coronado Bay bridge. There one could moor a boat for the night, take a quick dinghy ride to shore for a walk and a meal at a nice restaurant or just take in the lights of San Diego from the boat. It was rarely crowded and quite private and serene.

We made it back under the bridge after dark, and we were tired from a long day of sailing. I located the yellow markers for the mooring zone and we dropped anchor, backed up to secure it and checked our position. After an hour, we re-checked our position and hadn’t moved. So we readied the dinghy and went into town for a bit. We came back and were exhausted, ready for a good night’s sleep.

Near 4:00 am, we woke from a rattle in the boat. We woke to find ourselves listing at near 30 degrees. The list increased rapidly until we were almost at a 45 degree angle. This made sleeping impossible as we were half upright in the berth. The rattle was pots and pans and equipment falling out of cupboards on the boat. The tide had gone out. We had moored on the wrong side of the yellow mooring buoys, and we were now on the land side of a large sand spit.

We weren’t in any danger, but we had to secure items so they didn’t fall off the boat or breakable items didn’t fall out of the cupboards. Traversing the deck at a 45 degree angle is treacherous. A wind had kicked up as well as if a storm were blowing in. After securing items, we tried to sleep some more, but it was almost impossible as there was no way to lay flat. We dozed a bit though.

We woke in the morning to a strong spring storm. The wind was pushing the boat into the shore, and we were dug in quite deep into the sand and mud bottom. We would have to wait until the tide rose enough to set the boat upright. The weather forecast called for increasing storm activity through the day. We weren’t far from our marina, but it would take us a little while working against the strength of this wind. But first we had to get off this spit of land.

Once the list had subsided, we tried the engine, but the propeller was buried in the bottom. There was nothing to do but wait. We noticed that when we tried to move the boat, we were pushed hard to land. This was going to be a challenge. Once we felt the boat become buoyant again, we tried starting the engine again. We were immediately pushed toward land. We had to start it and gun it in reverse to give us clearance, and get enough motion going that it would counteract this strong wind. Even with sails down, the boat served as a wall to be pushed to land.

We gunned it and slammed it into reverse. The propeller was still in sand, but more toward the surface. It churned up the sand and water and we headed backwards. It was enough to get the boat some clearance so that we could then put it in forward and make a sharp turn to head away from land. As we turned, we were broadside to the wind and were pushed strongly to land. The propeller starting churning up more sand and laboring. If we didn’t clear the land, we could bend the prop and propeller shaft. But fortunately, we made the turn and headed into the main part of the bay.

The short distance across the bay and down 1/4 mile took us 2 hours, a very slow crawl, straight into the wind. At one point, we were being pushed backwards by the force of the wind despite our strong diesel engine.

We got in our slip in the marina and safely tied up. The trip was exhausting and we were dead tired. The next day, as we tried to retie the boat, we had an accident. A small screw had fallen out of the gear-shifting mechanism in the steering column, nothing we could have ever known. We pulled out of our slip to reset the boat, and as we were positioned where we wanted to be, I shifted from reverse into forward and gave it more gas. Except nothing happened. I gave it more gas, and before I knew it, we had accelerated backwards. We slammed into the back of a boat, about 5 slips down from our own. We mangled their dingy hoist and ladder and chipped their hull a bit. Thank goodness for boat insurance.

The crash sent marina folks scurrying to help. There must have been 10 or 12 people turned out to help. We turned off the engine. There was still a brisk wind, but we hand-over-fisted the boat behind the other boats, pulling on lines and shrouds, to tug our boat into the slip. It would be some weeks before we could figure out how to fix the shifting mechanism and thus, we were in effect grounded for a while.

Screws fall out everyday, it’s an imperfect world. At least in the slip of our marina, we would stay upright and not list to starboard or port. But I did make a new list that day: things to fix and do to secure items on the boat and file an insurance claim.

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Blog Essays

Discover Prompts – Day 28: Focus

Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash.

Recently, I had an emergency root canal. During the procedure, they handed me a small squeezy ball with an emblem of the world on it in relief. It was not soft and spongy but rather firm, though I could still squeeze it some. When I found it difficult to concentrate because of the drilling or when I felt I was choking, though I was not, I found myself more attuned to squeezing the ball or turning it over and over in my hand. The ball helped me focus on something else while going through an uncomfortable procedure.

I’ve always had a fondness for a talisman, particularly rocks. I like worry stones, a smooth rock that I can rub, holding it in my pocket or out on the table. A shiny coin will do as well, or a piece of string long enough to tie into a bowline.

In fantasy video games, characters will often have a slot for a focus device that helps them have energy in one part of their being. That device could be an amulet or talisman, a small stone or piece of jewelry. It’s not big and it’s not a weapon per se, but an object built around the need for concentration to channel some energy or power.

Isn’t that really what focus is? Channeled energy or power?

Many people think today’s inhabitants lack focus, that they have the attention span of a goldfish (a “fact” that has been disputed and proved wrong, by the way). I do think that cell phone lives and the world of Social Media have changed our abilities to stay on track with anyone task. But so has the internet and the 24-hour news cycle. We jump from idea to idea so quickly, even in our exercise routines, cycling through activity after activity, working this muscle group and then switching to that one.

But our ability to focus is just training. When is the last time you sat down to read a book all the way through? That seems like a luxury of time that so many of us don’t have anymore. But what are you doing during the pandemic? Netflix stocks are up. Are your own stocks of reading and imagination up? My profession is heavily involved in reading and writing, of course. Even I have fluctuated through time with reading. I’ve had periods in which I’ve read less and when I get back to it, I find it takes me a little time to get a rhythm back to be able to focus on a book. But I’m always pleasantly surprised and energized when I do.

The trick, of course, is to learn to maintain focus for a period of time and then switch gears to something else. Today, I’m trying the pomodoro technique for my writing time, to see if that gives me the focus needed to work through some more difficult material.

Discover prompts has helped me to keep a solid routine of writing, even if I did get behind and have to make up the days. But I can see that I will make my goal this month. This blog will change focus, too. It’s time to get serious about memoir blogging. Oh do I have stories to tell.

I see many of you reading my blog, and I thank you for that. I also write on Medium.com. I’ll make a post here to share links to my Medium stories. But if you would like, please click the button to the right to sign up for email notification of my stories.

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Blog Essays Memoir

Discover Prompts-Day 27: Team

Photo by Amanda Wolbert on Unsplash.

My first love is baseball, but I didn’t start playing organizing Little League until I was 10 years old, a couple years later than my peers. I was a bit bigger than the 8 year olds, but very skinny. I was also a little stronger, so I could make the throw from 3rd to 1st and won the coveted spot as the 3rd baseman.

I wanted to pitch, but everyone did. I just wasn’t very good.

Our manager, Mr. Nelson, was smart. He drafted mostly 10 year olds. And then we had a couple of kids get hurt, so he recruited two very good players from outside our league, kids who could throw the ball so fast that the other teams could hardly hit them.

Our team was called the Penguins, and I was number 10, just like Ron Cey, the 3rd baseman on the Dodgers at that time. Obviously, our team colors were black and white.

Because of the unfair advantage of the ringer pitchers, our team went 18-0. We lost 4 of 5 games in grapefruit league practice games, and then we won the 1st half with a 9-0 record and we won the 2nd half with a 9-0 record.

We had a full contingent of teams, 8 or 10 teams. Our chief rival was the Eagles, coached by Mr. Sherman. We had two playoff games, one to end the first half and one for the championship. In the 1st half, the coach’s son, Richard, wanted to pitch. The Eagles hit 3 triples and 1 single off of him to open the game and the manager took Richard out as pitcher. He was angry and threw his glove at the fence. He was normally our catcher.

We held the Eagles the rest of the game and we won the game 4-3. We won the championship as well with a 4-2 victory. The teams were evenly matched.

What struck me the most about this first team I was on is that we weren’t that much better than the other teams. We had one or two great players and the rest of us were just kids. The great players certainly helped us go undefeated, but we also learned to play baseball as a team. We learned to bunt, we learned strategies, we listened to our coaches and ran the bases well.

During the 1st half playoff game, I took a sharp grounder at 3rd base that hit a rock and bounced over my glove and smashed into my chin. I picked the ball up and still made the throw (and out) at 1st base. But the manager took me out of the game. He put in my friend, Stephen, who usually played 2 innings to the 4 I played at 3rd base. While Stephen was in there, he made a running catch for a foul ball at 3rd that I probably would have missed (I was not good at catching fly balls). That helped stop a rally. My jaw was seriously hurt that I couldn’t open it when we had our pizza party after the game.

We also had great players in the outfield, making the catches when we needed them.

In all, it was always a team effort. One of the times I remember the best was our 3-2 win over the Pelicans. The Pelicans were really bad, next to last, but one day, they played us tight. We won the game, but the coach chewed us out after the game, telling us he was disappointed in how we played. I understand that, but as the player who always won best sportsmanship, I knew that Mr. Nelson was wrong to chew us out. He acted just like the parents in the movie Bad News Bears. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he was too competitive.

My 2nd year of baseball, I was drafted by Mr. Sherman on the Wildcats in the minor leagues, rather than the Farm league. Mr. Sherman was a teacher and a much nicer man than Mr. Nelson. I had more fun on Mr. Sherman’s team, learned the game better, played different positions, and remember my time more fondly. The outcome was the same. Mr. Nelson coached the Bobcats to 1st place, and Mr. Sherman coached the Wildcats to 2nd place, just like in the Farm league.

I enjoyed my time in organized ball, but I wasn’t very good since I was so skinny for so long. So when I was in my late teenaged years just starting college, I volunteered with a neighbor to help coach his son’s team and eventually, I coached my own team and joined the board of directors, hiring the umpires, holding umpiring clinics, and umpiring myself, as well as helping out all over the fields as much as I could. It was my way of giving back.

I grew up in Granada Hills, and Granada Hills Little League won the Little League World Series the year I was born. That must have been the first sign that I would be a baseball fan.

Someday, I will write to tell you about my favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I’m still stinging from two straight World Series loss and a loss to the eventual champions, the Washington Nationals in the playoffs last season. I have much to say about the Houston *Asterisks cheating scandal and the Boston Red Sox. But win or lose, I’ll root for my favorite team, the Dodgers, for all time.

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Blog Essays

Discover Prompts-Day 26: Hidden

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash.

The hidden life is anathema to healthy personal relationships. Couples or friends who hide or keep things from each other play dangerous games that lead to more overt and conscious forms of deception.

Honesty has no limits, though it may be guarded by useful tact at times. I’ve never thought that anything good could come from keeping secrets, keeping things hidden from view of a lover. The minute one says, “I’m not comfortable sharing that with you,” or rather, not telling another something, “Let’s just not tell Paul about this lunch,” or “I won’t tell Susie about her hideous dress if you don’t,” that’s the point at which a relationship starts to crumble around the edges, a flake of stucco here, a chunk out of the cement wall here, a loose brick there. Before you know it, water flows through the holes, erosion gains a foothold, seeps into the foundation and the house sags into the earth.

But there are details in life that don’t have to involve another, that can be mulled over like treasure, like a worry stone worn smooth from care and caressing. I like to reserve at least one detail a day, if I’m being conscious to life, that’s just mine. In the movie Stand By Me, Gordie LeChance, played by Wil Wheaton, is the story-teller/writer of the story, looking back at a time when he and his friends take an overnight trip to see a dead body in the woods. At one point, Gordie is sitting by himself in the morning, thinking, and a young deer stumbles by close to him. It looks almost drunk. It just looks at Gordie, and then stumbles on its way. It’s a brief encounter with life, a living creature. Gordie doesn’t tell his friends about this encounter. He keeps it hidden, a gem of a memory for himself. And as the writer tells the story, he says that he never told anyone that detail until now.

These hidden details of life can become meaningful in the context of stories. For me, it could be the colors of a sunrise, when I’m up long before others. It could be a mistake, dropping the canister of coffee in the morning. It could be something unsettling, a fleeting dizzy spell that, among so many others, is not worthy to be told. It could be a bad dream, or a good one, though I don’t like to keep dreams hidden. Rather, I like to tell them as quickly as possible so I can remember them. It could be a fear.

I don’t embarrass easily, so I don’t keep anything hidden for sake of ego. Especially with close romantic partners, spouses, close family, I don’t ever think anything is TMI, too much information. If anything, I think the world cracks and splinters when there is too little information shared.

Underneath the warm covers of this existence lies a hidden world that can be visited and revisited. Someday, those blankets will be pulled away, and I like to think the accumulation of those hidden artifacts, those tell-tale signs of a life lived will be particles of essence that upon death seep deep into the earth and make the new green shoots grow, or that float away, making each star shine just a little brighter.