Soul Cleanse, Act One

Part One of a Three-Part Series
There’s no iced tea in the fridge. No beach towels on the clothesline, only weatherworn clothespins laden with dew. My mother’s favorite chair sits empty, a soup-stained throne awaiting its queen.

She’s not coming back.

I’m here for a month, at the island farmhouse of my childhood, with its fifty years of scrapbooks and hat collections, colored pencils and muffin tins. Room by room, I flit, pruning the weeds of a once brilliant mind. Armed with plastic totes, a fresh box of contractor trash bags, toilet cleaner and my pink Do it Herself toolbox, I’m cleansing the soul of this house.

I find multitudes of notes scrawled in her once-meticulous handwriting: “Church Sunday and Wednesday.” Her name. My cellphone number taped to every doorway. Baskets. Yankee magazines piled high. Broken pens. Thirteen spiral-bound notebooks, filled with sketches and daily observations.

I’m exhausted. just looking at it.

140 in 140

I’m a writer, a label that often makes me feel as unworthy as when I first started running thirty years ago. I considered myself a jogger then; runners, I thought, win medals. For most of my life—spent largely in a financial career I never wanted—I believed the same about writing. Writers publish novels.

But if running has taught me anything about writing, it’s this: training is everything.

To run a marathon I train gradually, building speed and distance over time. The goal is simply to finish.

Writing this way deflates the all-or-nothing realm of perfectionism. Pressure-free writing trains us for the next step. Blogs teach tighter prose. Short fiction leads to a novel. Contest submissions prepare us for rejection.

At the start line of my first marathon in San Francisco so many years ago, my husband, an accomplished racer, asked me this: When does a jogger become a runner? Heart pounding, I had no answer.

“When you pin the first race number on your chest,” he told me. “Put one foot in front of the other and repeat.” His words propelled me to the finish line and inspire me in every race.

When I write, I put one word after another and repeat. And yet, I still wonder: When does a writer become a “real” writer?

It’s simple: When our words inspire others.

I train to run. I train to write. And if my words inspire, then I am a writer.

Enter the soul of a writer, runner, caregiver & beyond in my new #flashwriting project, “140 in 140.” Follow me on Twitter for 140 days of 140-character microessays.

Midnight Caller

My mother wants a phone. “If I only had a communication device,” she laments. It’s become her daily mantra.

She misses grasping the receiver, hearing a familiar voice on the other end. For years, the landline was her lifeline. It kept her company when she stopped driving. It reassured her I was alive. She rehearsed conversations, cleverly scripted to prove she was normal while Alzheimer’s stripped away her identity.

She struggles to come up with the word, but she remembers the comfort a phone represents. Besides church, it’s the only thing I wish she’d forget.

I hate phones. Robocalls aside, I prefer my conversations face-to-face. Even though I visit her every day, she forgets. My efforts to refocus have failed; I finally caved.

And so, the dementia-friendly phone patiently waits, ready to unleash fear-laden midnight calls upon a sleeping daughter.