Dear Diary

by Jeff Oaks

It’s been approximately too long since I posted something. When I first began this blog, I wasn’t sure what would be an appropriate numbers of blogs per month. I thought there’d be more than two per month. I thought most likely it would be once a week. At least. But a blog like everything else in my life has moved from a honeymoon period–a hey-look-at-this kind of period–to something more measured this summer.

Part of that is because I’m in a transitional state myself. It’s been five months since my mother died, the biggest event in my life so far, an event that was more or less two years coming and so had become part of the fabric of my life. When could I get some time to visit her? I called her about every other day, and then after she assured me she wasn’t going anywhere immediately and needn’t worry so much, once or twice a week. I got used to it at a certain level, normalized a certain level of anxiety that I used to write a manuscript of poems, a group of essays, used as an excuse to not do certain jobs that I ordinarily would’ve taken on even though they would have taken energy away from my own writing, used it in a number of ways I might not even have realized, including as a way to rid myself of certain people who were not really contributing to my life.

Now what? in other words. I’m trying to reorganize my time this month, largely because of the pressure of the fall term, in which I will be teaching three classes, two of them for the first time. I’m excited and terrified at the same time. What will the next book look like? What will capture my attention and imagination in the same way that my mother’s struggle with cancer did? Telling myself to relax, that something else always comes along because if life is nothing else its that which is always coming up with something else.

I feel like I’m making headway. A couple of weeks ago, I hired a friend to help me clean up my basement, which has stayed the same for the last ten years. It’s full of my ex’s boxes, which I’m returning to him after six years. I’m curious to see if that will free up some energy I didn’t know I was secretly holding onto. Or if I’ll finally be able to grieve the last bit of that relationship. I don’t even know how much space that will clear out of the basement. One of these days I’m going to have to replace my furnace, and I’d like the basement to be as clear as possible then.

Yesterday I went out and bought $200 worth of cleaning materials and things like new bath mats, a new hamper, new doormats for the front hall and the back door. I began with the bathroom, cleaning everything but also decluttering it, putting away the ironing board I was using as a shelf for just about everything–clothes, Windex, change, books, nail clippers, receipts, dryer sheets, and so on. Put things in their proper places, I said as I worked. The new bath mats brought in a rush of color. The soap scum came off pretty easily. Pretty soon I felt happy enough to take a shower in there again.

Then I moved one of my mother’s trunks up into my bedroom, a move that was about two months in the making, and suddenly I could put away all the bed linens, pillows, duvet covers, and quilts that had been several piles on the floor. I could put the books on top of that trunk and violá half the floor was visible again.

Today’s job is to buy some new furniture and tomorrow’s is to get rid of some furniture I don’t use really. One of the gifts of a little money is that I can replace things now. The old stuff is being given to a nonprofit furniture reseller. Some stuff is being simply thrown out. Some stuff is being returned to a former owner. Let it go. See what happens.

“Let it go. See what happens” ought to be the motto of this blog. The threshold for acceding to change, to make a change, is quite high for me. I don’t trust change. I always assume the new will require more work than the old. I think I work best when my personal life is stable enough to support a regular schedule. But too much stability becomes stiff, brittle, boring. Just like grief is supposed to. We’re supposed to keep going. No one we really loved would want us to wallow or engage in the what if’s, even if they’re inevitable for a while. We’re supposed to develop into a new thing–someone who remembers but isn’t drowned by the memories.

I think one of the things I like about a blog is that it’s in two worlds; it’s got to be public and so readably coherent, but it’s also supposed to be at least somewhat informal, intimate, imperfect. A foot in both worlds. Or a voice in two bodies? So what is there to be afraid of? You start with one sentence, one piece of furniture you already know is in the wrong place.

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