I have a room in my house set aside for creative projects. It used to be the bedroom of a child who can’t live here any more. I think I thought that making it a generative space would be healing in some way. That hasn’t quite been the case.

My words have dried up. I am interested in images, but I spend more time looking at others’ than making my own. I’ve thought often of Ira Glass’s words about how creative beginners have to struggle through a (usually long) period of producing stuff that doesn’t live up to our vision for it. He thinks we’re driven by a desire to create works that match our good taste, and that we have to understand that our work won’t, at least initially.

My grandmother is 100 years old. I send her a handmade card every week. Originally, I thought I would scan or photograph each one before I sent it–so I’d have some record of them–but I haven’t. It didn’t seem worth the effort. When I visit her, I see all of them in a stack on her kitchen counter. I guess I will get them back eventually, probably sooner than I would like.

Whenever I get them it will be sooner than I would like.

A blogging friend writes about taking photos to help her see the beauty in everyday life. I like this idea. My photos aren’t particularly great, don’t capture what I see–but they are enough to remind me of what I was doing and how I felt when I saw.

Maybe when I can no longer stroll through a farmers’ food coop in Chimacum, WA with my mother, a photo from a June morning in 2017 will remind me of how I felt and what I had when I once did. That will be good enough reason for its existence.

My grandmother knit sweaters when she was younger. She used gorgeous, high-quality yarns. Wool, not the cheap synthetic stuff. She taught me the rudiments of knitting when I was 8, but I’ve never made anything more than cotton dishcloths. When I was in college, I wrote a poem about her knitting. I called it her art. She gave me her knitting needles when she was done with them.

I want to take the time to muck around with images and words and paper and cloth and ink and yarn and thread, but I rarely do, other than when I make the weekly card. I cannot quiet the voice that says, Is this what you want to do with what remains of your “one wild and precious life”?ย And the one that says, “What are you going to do with your not-very-good art, anyway?” I don’t hear them when I’m making the cards. The images I make are not the point. My uncle tells me that the cards are a highlight of the week. He tells me this three times when I visit for an afternoon.

A Facebook friend I never really knew in high school posts his anguish one night over the death of a childhood friend, a musician who was once almost famous. Something about his words reflects like a mirror, and I write back. Later, he thanks me, and I respond that I know something of grief. Don’t all of us, once we reach a certain age? Doesn’t the exchange of words about that make us real friends?

When my son is leaving for Marine boot camp, I tell him that I will be cleaning up his room. “Just don’t make it, like, a sewing room or something,” he says. “You’re not gonna do that, are you?”

I want to say, “That’s not what cleaning your room is about. That’s not what it will ever be about.”

What I say is, “I already have a room for sewing.”

When I am done, the room is both his and not-his. I open the door every few days, wishing and not-wishing that I will see a tangle of blankets on the bed, dirty clothes on the floor, an empty chip bag on the nightstand. I don’t know why I keep opening it, but I do. Every time, it’s so damn clean. And empty.

It will never be my sewing room. I hope he knows that.

A friend I first met in a poetry workshop 32 years ago tells me to write whatever I want. He tells me not to worry about genre, or form, or making meaning for anyone else. He tells me to write–or not write–for myself, that it is time for me to do that now. He tells me it is OK if I’d rather grow flowers or make food than write. He tells me I don’t need to serve the world with my words. I don’t need to serve the world with anything. I have served enough, he says. His wife died last year.ย I worry about his heart, which is failing. Who will tell me these things if he’s not here to say them?

I go to lunch with my grandmother, my uncle, my parents, my brother. I look around the table, wondering when everyone got so old. I feel the engine of us shifting into a lower gear. I miss my grandma. I miss summertime lunches in her backyard, tuna salad on her homemade bread, iced tea in a sweating glass, bees buzzing among her flowers. I hate this Applebee’s, with its TV playing silently on the far wall, its too-big plates of pasta with gelatinous sauce, its air-conditioning that leaves all of us cold on a warm day.

On Saturday, a different writer friend posts on Facebook about how she misses writing. She says she is going to start telling stories again. On Sunday morning I am here, after making my weekly card, gathering the first of these words without worrying about genre or form or serving anyone else, in the former bedroom of the child who doesn’t live here any more. (I am tired of stumbling over what to call this room. What will it mean if I give it another name? Which stage of grief would that act represent–denial or acceptance?)

The world as we know it is ending, you know. No one’s going to save it. But here’s the thing: The world as we know it is always ending. Ira Glass tells us, “You’ve just gotta fight your way through,” and he’s right, but for the wrong reasons. Being creative is not about persevering to make things of good taste or to achieve ambitions. It’s about staying in the gorgeous struggle–and living to tell.


19 thoughts on “Postcards

  1. randi kander says:

    I’m not sure how I got on your feed, but your words spoke to the place I live most of the time. right now, I struggle with loss and meaning and the value of being creative. My Mother passed away at 85 a month and a week and a half ago and before that I called her every day for the last 6 months. I thought that she needed me and she did, but I didn’t understand how much I needed her until she was gone. She’d suffered for a long time and I am glad she is free from the pain and sadness, but it’s a whole new world without her. This journey of grief is a strange one. Thank you for letting see a bit of yours. I feel less alone.

    • Rita says:

      Hi Randi, welcome. I am so sorry about the loss of your mother; that is one I never let myself contemplate and don’t plan to until I have no choice. More and more, I think that helping each other feel less alone might be the main reason to create anything, especially when we are on the journey of grief. Please feel free to return here. I post only sporadically, but there’s a small community of very kind people here. You might also check out some of their blogs, too.

  2. Rebecca says:

    This aging thing is hard. Was the world always in such turmoil, or in our youth did we see hope? My hope lessens almost daily in this Trumped-up world, and I am, by most accounts, privileged. I made it to the other side of a working class life but can’t quite leave the mentality of not good enough. And now in my fifties I am invisible and inside battle fear and anxiety at every turn. Conversely, I am angry, but without a voice that matters. So I distract with crime novels and YouTube dog videos and too much food.

    I have missed your writing. Your voice matters.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, yeah–this aging thing IS hard. I think the turmoil in the world is old, but that it’s taking new shapes. Like you, I “made it to the other side of a working class life.” I think that for me, the new shapes are frightening because they’ve shattered beliefs (illusions) that helped me make that journey, and they’ve shown me how precarious my position is. I have spent the better part of a year wrestling with how to be in a world that is changing while I am changing and my place in the world is changing. I don’t think I’m done wrestling yet. My distractions are light novels and trashy TV. On bad days, I pair one of those with a glass of whiskey or ice cream. On good days, I fight some form of the good fight. I think it’s OK to have both kinds of days. And for whatever my opinion is worth, your voice matters, too. The trick (I think?) is finding the right people to talk to.

    • Rita says:

      I love you and your writing, too. I’ve missed it, but totally understand and support your decision to focus on other things right now. Because someday, you are going to be someone’s grandma, and nothing you might write in the next few months will likely be as important as the memories you’re writing in the heart of that child’s mother. It’s like money in the bank. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Oh, and I gave my grandma a really good hug when I saw her. Not too hard, because she’s gotten a little tiny, but really good all the same. (Not really any such thing as a bad Grandma hug, is there?) I know I’m lucky to still have her.

  3. Marian says:

    Oh, Rita. So much …
    I confess my heart aches over the marine boot camp. I want to reach across the continent and give you a hug, mother to mother.

    Your weekly handmade cards to your grandmother are so touching — and although I too suffer (way too much) from thoughts of “Is this what you want to do with what remains of your โ€œone wild and precious lifeโ€?” — I can completely understand how time spent making these cards would be exempt from that. And my goodness, of course they would be the highlight of your grandmother’s week. She’s so lucky to have you.

    I think “staying in the gorgeous struggle” is all about love. It’s about taking time to do the small and seemingly insignificant things. Because those things aren’t small and insignificant at all; they’re vital, they’re maybe what makes us human. It’s about actually seeing each other, it’s about reaching out and saying the words, it’s being a granddaughter, or a friend, when a granddaughter or a friend is exactly what’s needed. I feel like so much of that has been lost over the last several decades, that we’ve all been so caught up with ACHIEVING that we’ve seemingly forgotten or misplaced our humanity along the way.

    “The world as we know it is ending” — just this morning my daughter sent me this:
    I nearly cried. I am heartbroken that this is the future our children face.

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Rita. Please keep writing.
    xo Marian
    Marian recently posted…Making, Meditation, MeaningMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Gosh, Marian–I really wish we didn’t live a continent apart. I would so love to sit down at a table with you and a cup of tea and just be able to talk. And get that hug in person (though the virtual one is much appreciated). I can’t read through that whole article. I mean, I can. I guess I’ve decided not to. Not from a sense of denial, but because I already know and it makes me feel powerless. I saw it going around social media yesterday (along with a different article that claimed the original one is not alarming enough), and I just let it go by. I have been trying to figure out these past months just what staying in the struggle means. I agree with you that it’s about love. I am trying to decide what that means, what the best way to love others is. I don’t think its quite what I see so many people around me doing. I know there’s more than one way to love, and the world likely needs and benefits from all the ways that we each do what we can. I’m just not sure what my way will be. Your last post was really helpful to me in that pondering, though. I agree with you that there’s been too much emphasis on achieving. Achieving what? And for what end? I’m much more interested in being, these days.

  4. Laura Millsaps says:

    My thoughts about this subject of loss and grief and change have lately been so disjointed that I’m afraid my comments will be too. So: My heart smiled big when I saw the Kooser poem (Also, he grew up in a house a few blocks from where I live, but that’s a different story for a different time). I’m having difficulty writing about anything other than trivial stuff if at all, and I wish I had a friend who told me it was okay to “grow flowers or cook food”, because all my creative energy seems to be dedicated increasingly to very transient things, like cooking meals, and arranging flowers in vases. Is that because transience is what I’m trying to accustom myself to as my parents age and my kids take flight? I don’t know. I am not sure that I like that either one of us are on this path, but I’m glad someone else is seeing the same signposts. That way I don’t feel quite so lost. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Rita says:

      Kooser is one of my favorites–he seems like he would be a very nice neighbor to have. As for the path, I think it’s one that everyone travels. Doesn’t make the journey any easier though, does it? You’re not alone in the disjointed thoughts (hence, the format for this post) or the feelings of transience. All I know is that everything feels in transition, and time feels very fluid and mind-fucky. Can I be the friend who tells you it is OK to grow flowers and cook food as your creative work? Because it is. It definitely is.

  5. Lisa says:

    Hey! Long time no comment. :-/ Your writing is lovely and gives me all the feels, even if I don’t say so often enough.

    Everything seems to be in a state of transition, yes? Kids, family, the state of the union, the world….I have a feeling of sailing my little dinghy around a swirling vortex and just hanging on for the ride, and not having much energy left over for anything else, which kind of sounds like you, too.

    My grandma died a few years ago, and the older I get the more I wish she were here. She was the reason I kept blogging. I think the handmade cards for your grandma are lovely–and I bet the feeling she gets every time she opens one is that someone cares about her.

    Write more, I miss your writing ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Rita says:

      I’ll write more if you do. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes, everything is in transition, and I think it’s just wearing me out. It’s not that I couldn’t be doing more, I just don’t feel like it. Instead, I read or watch stupid shows on TV or think about things I could make (but don’t). I haven’t felt like writing. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I’ve been feeling so stretched and tired that I haven’t much cared.

      I’m sorry about the loss of your grandma. I also miss my grandparents more as I get older. Maybe we can blog more for each other?

      • Lisa says:

        I have been toying with blogging again….but as you can see I haven’t ๐Ÿ™‚ I feel like right now blogging would be a WOE IS ME list because everything is in upheaval. Lots of changes going on right now. Maybe once everything settles down and I can be like “hey, look at what a crazy year we had!” instead of “gah, look at my insanity.”

        As of tomorrow we are homeowners again, so there is a new house to decorate (that I own! All white walls! No more swine beige!) so odds are high that I will get around to putting something on the interwebs eventually.

  6. Skye Leslie says:

    Hey Dear One: I’m usually always taken aback when a writer writes about not writing. Somehow, it seems, all the glory of the words that writer feels she cannot find, may not find, seem to appear on the page – lyrical, moving and commentary related to how when we’re really not looking – all that we’ve seen or been or experienced, just takes root on the page and serves to stir within the reader a sense of “well, this writer certainly knows how I feel but wasn’t , I thought, able to say it.” That’s what your write this time did for me and it was lovely and heartfelt and real and beautiful. Thank you for taking the time.

    Also, I had no idea your son had joined the Marine Corps. As the daughter of a Colonel in the USMC – I know the entity well. I especially know “boot camp.” My dad ran the boot camp, for years, for the Republic of Korea Marines. I know what it means to have to fire a rifle as a marksman, to run those endless miles – packed up or not, how minutes are given for ingesting food at meal times and the psychology that is applied to making the men in to a unit rather than making them in to individuals. Your son certainly chose the most disciplined, most loyal, most fiercely protective – of all the armed forces to join. I wonder what that was like for you? And, how you’re coping with it now? I know he will leave boot camp more finely equipped, more regimented in his habits, more attuned to his fellow Marines, more physically exemplar than he would have in any of the other services. I hope that is of some solace to you – if you need solace at all. Most of all, regimented or not, I hope he leaves boot camp with his sense of self still in tact and it will be my prayer that he is not deployed to any of the areas of great concern in this world. You’re in my thoughts and prayers – as is your beautiful son. Love. Always Love. Skye

    • Rita says:

      Skye, thank you for such kind words and such a thoughtful reply. Yes, there is some need for solace–but in truth the whole thing has been a complicated mix for me. Fear and pride and hope and worry and grief are all on the ride together. Last week he graduated, and now that I’ve been able to see how he is some of the worry and fear have been alleviated. Yes, he is still him. Seeing that his sense of self is intact has been the greatest relief. He is in physically better shape than he’s ever been, and that is wonderful to see. I’m guessing you know that traveling alongside as children make the transition from dependent to adult is a strange and wonderful and often uncomfortable journey. I’m hoping I can write about it soon, but there’s so much to say. It’s hard for me to know where to even start.

  7. Kate says:

    I read this the night you first posted it and I wanted to write something then, but life has this silly way of not slowing down lately. And I have this silly way of taking any spare moment and filling it with a project or mini-trip or pile of laundry but I wanted to drop by and say how good it was to hear from you in your little corner of the world. I was wondering how your “play” projects were going, if they were going. I know you’ve had a lot of change and upheaval.

    I love that you send weekly handmade cards to your grandmother. How wonderful. I want you to know as a fellow maker and doubter – whatever you are creating – words, pictures, dishcloths – is enough. Choosing to stop creating because it isn’t bringing you joy is enough too. As my percentage of life left to live gets smaller, I’ve found I have less and less tolerance for doing things that sap my energy and don’t leave me with a finished product I enjoy. (I word it this way, because I find cleaning exhausting, but I do love a clean house.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that your post resonates with me and as always, I love reading your words. Sending hugs, Rita.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kate. I wouldn’t have been able to answer you any sooner myself. We were busy with the amazing experience of watching Will graduate from boot camp the past nearly-week. I’m only just now starting to feel like I’m getting back to normal–not that there is any solid sense of “normal” for me now. Hasn’t been for some time.

      I am with you on wanting finished products that I enjoy. And I’m getting even less tolerant of processes that I don’t enjoy. I do love a clean house, too–but there’s little enjoyment of it if I’m exhausted from the cleaning of it. Still in search of some elusive balance. Sometimes that feels like the big task of my life. I’m guessing I’ll never really find it. And maybe that’s OK.

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