Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dreaming an Idyllic Future

Last Sunday I wrote about living in the past and feeling more comfortable there than in the present. During my early years, I lived, as most children do, in the present. Up to the age of thirty, when I left the convent, my mind and spirit were rooted in the day.

But between December 1966, when I left the convent, and 1992, when A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story was published, I lived in the past, stewing about the experiences that had left me emotionally scarred and immature.

During those twenty-six years. I taught in grade and high school, earned a master’s degree in American Studies, worked as an editor and curriculum developer, and became a successful freelancer.

During those same years, I volunteered at an AIDS clinic; taught in an African-American dropout center; tried to organize a union in a department-store factory; taught in the inner city; got involved in Civil Rights; worked in political campaigns; and protested the Vietnam War.

The events of the day caught and held my attention, but still, when alone, I lived in the past, trying to discover why my psyche was broken.

Then in 1992, Crown published A Cat’s Life. The New York publishing firm later credited me with selling most of the 14,000 copies of the book that reached an audience. I liked to do all that marketing entailed. Within months, the hoopla affected my thinking patterns. Throughout my life I’d longed to be special. Then no one would abandon me as I thought my parents had in 1941.

And what, I thought, could be more special than a famous author? Almost overnight I went from dwelling in the past to dreaming of a bright and shining future. A future in which I’d be healed.

I longed to have an agent represent my writing; an editor encourage my ideas; a publicist market my books; readers who’d ask, “What’s your next book going to be about?” “When's it being published?” “Will your author tour bring you to our city?”

I dreamed of fame. Not to be a celebrity, but to be assured that readers would eagerly await my next book. And my next. I didn’t long for a wagonload of money—just enough to build a four-season porch on my house. I wanted my name to be recognized so my writing would be read.

The years passed: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008. During all those years, I continued to write and to send query letters to agents. No luck; no interest. I began to accept that I couldn’t write well enough to be published. I was a hack.

Then in May 2011 I began to blog. A number of those who read my posts left comments complimenting my writing. Ah. Perhaps I wasn’t a total failure at the craft of writing. Perhaps.

The following year, Wayman Press published Dulcy’s second book: A Cat’s Legacy. Once again I spun dreams of the future: I’d be successful. Readers would enjoy my stories. I’d build that porch! I’d hire someone to help me research my planned Bronze-Age trilogy. I’d hire an artist to illustrate the cat books I planned. Once again, I dreamed big! Whenever I dwelt in thought, I lived in the future, dreaming of what might happen any day, any week, any month if only I held on.

I went from dwelling in the past to dreaming of an idyllic future. What would guide me into the delight of the present? That’s next week’s post!


Photographs from Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dwelling in the Past

Until I was fifty-three, I spent most of my life dwelling in the past. My childhood had been somewhat difficult with health and family issues. College brought four years of relative calm, followed, upon graduation, by eight-and-a-half years in the convent.

Those years had also proved difficult as I was emotionally immature upon entering. I thought that if I became a saint—which in my mind meant that achieving perfection—everyone would finally find me worthwhile and not desert me. Striving for perfection led to an emotional breakdown toward the end of my convent years. I left, nearly catatonic.

Then came my re-entry into the “secular” world. The Vietnam War raged. I entered the age of hippies and war protest. Between 1969 and 1971, I attended grad school at the University of Minnesota. However, that experience also proved difficult as a depression led to a near suicide. Upon graduation I taught. That ultimately gave way to a career in publishing and in curriculum development.

In my early forties, the third psychiatrist I’d seen since leaving the convent recognized that a ten-year depression had resulted in a chemical imbalance in my body. She prescribed an antipsychotic drug that took away the hallucinating I’d been doing all that time. Because the drug worked, much of the lassitude of my existence disappeared.

Still, the present wasn’t inviting; I dwelt in the known past: on all that had happened to me as a child and in the convent; on my own immaturity; on my inability to be authentic; on how I faked normality, knowing that I felt not only inadequate but worthless.

In 1989, when I was fifty-three, Dulcy, the cat with whom I’d lived for seventeen-and-a-half years, died. She was more than feline; she was friend; family. I grieved her loss and the loss of the unconditional love she’d offered me.

Two days after her death, I woke on a Saturday morning and felt compelled to go downstairs to the computer. Turning it on, I placed my fingers on the keys and began to type. The first words that came were “At the end all that matters is love. My love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone, and they will comfort her.”

My fingers stopped typing, and without understanding, I gazed at the words that had come unbidden. Who was speaking? Not I. Then who? . . . Dulcy.

That day and for one hour each day for the next two months, she remembered—through me—our life together. From some deep place inside me—the place where Oneness dwells—came the story of the loving relationship Dulcy and I shared.

Crown, a division of Random House, ultimately published A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story in October 1992. The slim gift book sold over 14,000 copies and was reprinted in Germany, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. The event changed my life by lifting me out of my obsessive dwelling on the past.

For years, I’d sifted through the tragedies of my life and found myself despicable. Then Dulcy’s book came to comfort me. Slowly I moved out of the past. I began to see possibilities. All during my life as a teacher, editor, and curriculum developer I’d just lived. I’d never thought of what the future might hold. In fact, I’d never even invested any money so as to have a future beyond retirement. The past was my home. To it I would retire.

Next week, I hope to share with you what happened next.