Michael Veazey.

Rest in peace. Rockin’ that bowtie. Elsa Klensch is so proud.

I’m supposed to be writing. An article about hot dogs of all things for a local weekly. Then there’s my novel, which is in pieces, and my semi-workable treatment for a nonfiction book. Instead I’m looking through old photo albums and listening to cassette tapes full of abominably bad dance music from 1987. Because my friend Mike died. He up and died suddenly, tragically, without so much as a whisper. The one in our group who looked forever 15, without a wrinkle or shadow of age upon him. Just a glimmer of grey at the temples to remind us he WAS there back then, and not just born in 1996.

Incredulous, I didn’t find ONE picture of us. All those years spent as friends, roommates for Chrissakes, and not one picture? Sadly realizing this was a reminder of just how much partying I really had done. But on further reflection, I cracked up laughing. We must’ve had a pretty good time to forget to record it.

It seems only yesterday I was writing about a reunion my friend David put on which brought us all together again. Now I’m writing about one of us dying. I’m starting to feel like Ender in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead because every time someone I love passes away I sit down and eulogize. Which can be good and bad. When you eulogize you forget the reality and paint over everything with a rose-colored gloss. The person might have been a total asshole, but if you cared about them at all the eulogy becomes a glowing A+ report card of all their best qualities.

But with Mike this is the truth. He truly was a great guy. You hear that a lot, but seriously, I have never met anyone who ever had a bad word to say about him. Ever.

He was quiet, well-dressed, always a part of the conversation and yet just a “skoche” off to the side. Mike seemed to prefer the outer edges to the raucous middle where all the action lives. I got that so well and often joined him. Speaker of dry humor, lover of fashion. The eye roll, the head tilt. His “What are ya gonna do, that’s just how it is,” shrug of the shoulders. In his black plaid Willi Smith blazer. That’s how I’ll remember him eternally – he wore that jacket everywhere.

Through the years I’d run into Mike every so often. I found it wonderful that even though he was alone, he always seemed content. And now he has gone and there are almost 200 people on Facebook wishing him well. So he wasn’t really ever alone. Not really.

I kind of can’t believe I won’t ever hear his voice again because I still hear it in my head, the way it would lift and fall, the way he drew out his vowels. I loved it so. Musical and lilting like he was always on the verge of saying something scathing, sharp, and dry. But not quite yet just to keep you in suspense. It was lovely.

Mike was a guarded person, very private. But the neat thing about him was in every conversation he made you feel like a confidante. Like the two of you shared secrets. Like you’d known him for decades even if you only just met. Like it hadn’t been 15 years since you’d seen him last, but only a few days. He made you forget you really knew very little of his past life. Unlike me, who tends to go on and on about every little injustice done in her childhood should the moment present itself, Mike rarely did that. He was very present. In that moment, with you, right then.

There’ll be a lot of compliments thrown around at the memorial next weekend, a lot of fuss. He’d hate that I think. He’d be so embarrassed at all those accolades. “Y’all! (drawn out like taffy) It’s just me!” he’d say, hands on hips with a little laugh. And then give you his signature look of feigned pissed-offed-ness, that one eyebrow raised in mock anger. Classic Mike.

Thinking about it all makes me tired. And so sad. I thought there would be time. I thought there would be time for all the plans we’d made, the cocktail lunches, the antiquing trips. Mojitos on the porch when we were both old. Fuck, we’re old now. I was looking forward to seeing Mike again, in Carytown, or at parties. I was always looking forward to seeing Mike again. He put you at ease that way. He made you feel like the conversation you were having right now was great, but the one you’d have over lunch……someday……would be even better. He left you with a bubble of hope.

Eulogies exaggerate. But there aren’t many people I would venture into hyperbole for. There just aren’t that many people whose passing would or will affect me the way his has. And I’m not even sure why. We were friends. Friends who’d lost touch, but hadn’t. Friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while, but in some weird way, were still in each other’s lives, if only in our thoughts. We will miss you Noodle. You hated that nickname, but there’s something I never got to tell you. And I wish I had. Only the most beloved friends get nicknames. Peace and much love, Jenée.

I’m a Writer.

In high school, I was on the editorial committee that decided which poems and stories would make it into our literary magazine. Every submission was anonymous, and the committee would first have someone read the piece aloud, then the rest would comment. My junior year I submitted a poem, one I was proud of because it stated my deepest longings, my most deep-seated fears, my hopes, my wishes. It was angst-ridden. My cry for help. After it was read aloud, the committee frowned. “It’s pretty obscure,” someone commented – the nicest comment of the ones that followed. For what seemed like an eternity the group tore apart my poem, line by line. The criticism was not constructive, but cruel. They gorged like lions at a fresh kill while our teacher looked on, silent. I never submitted another piece again, and from that point on, I kept my writing hidden from the world.

Writing was my life, my reason for living, but I pushed it down, pushed it away, because obviously I sucked at it. It didn’t help my parents never encouraged my writing, but instead pushed me into music, art, dance, anything else. After high school, I pursued a degree in illustration, which pleased my mother to no end. When that didn’t work out, I tried every other job imaginable: store manager, barista, bartender, receptionist, typist, copy editor, proposal writer, newsletter editor, English teacher. You’ll notice those last few jobs incorporate writing. I like to think of them as “writing adjacent”. Even though I feared writing, my gut couldn’t get away from it, and so I took jobs to get NEXT to writing without actually touching it.

Even if the job didn’t involve actual writing, I made damn sure it involved my time. I said yes to every project, forged ahead with every new plan and proposal and development at whatever job I happened to have. I wanted my entire day (and sometimes night) FULL, so unconsciously I didn’t have to think about the fact I wasn’t writing. For a time, I even worked two jobs, 16-hour days, which only left me enough time to come home and drink myself into a blackout stupor before starting the whole merry-go-round of denial once again.

But recently, I endured what I like to think of as an existential crisis of conscience. My last job involved some writing, so it was “writing adjacent” but it took up so much of my time. Not only that, the circumstances of the job were so stress-inducing I often found myself lying awake at night – ALL NIGHT – trying to think of ways to make the job better. How could I get up in the morning, go to this job, and not go into the bathroom stall and cry every day? How could I make it more endurable? When you’re describing your job as “endurable” it’s probably not a good thing. Not at all. I had buried my fear, my desire to write so deeply that here I was trying to figure out how to turn a job I hated into one I could at least endure another day. It was a breaking point for me.

I quit. I had to. I was so deep within it, I couldn’t see I was pushing my desire to write away, allowing my fear to act as a wall against it. I would rather die of stress at this job, constantly fighting to make it better, constantly denying my love of writing to sneak into my psyche, rather than just letting it all go. It took a good friend to show me what was going on – to take me by the hand, pull me outside of myself, and show me the scene as it was playing out. She was like the Ghost of Christmas Present in that Dickens tale, her hand around my shoulder, showing me the scene. “Do you see what you’re doing to yourself? Why are you fighting so hard?” Isn’t it funny how someone outside can see the solution so easily when you’ve been banging your head against the wall for years? I remain grateful for her insight, and her swift kick in my ass.

So I cut all ties to that job. Now I was unemployed, untethered, like a balloon set aloft except there’s no wind to carry it anywhere. It’s just there, floating, waiting for someone to blow on it. Waiting for direction. It’s incredibly frightening to feel like that, but exciting-frightening. The anticipation, the faith you have in yourself while you’re untethered is what keeps you aloft.

Elizabeth Gilbert said when you begin a major life journey, when you finally let go and do things differently for the first time, heading into a direction you’ve never been in, you have to have faith the truth will be revealed. And everyone you meet on your journey is a possible teacher.*

This is the truth I keep coming back to. My truth. I have no idea where to go or what to do next. But I keep reminding myself the truth will be revealed. I have been listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” again on audio. It’s amazing how her journey for balance parallels mine for purpose. Because that’s what I’m looking for – purpose. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be? In Chapter 30, when Liz finally decides not to become a mother she asks herself, “Okay, so who am I now?” It was like an arrow of light went right into my heart. Because that is me. That is so me it hurts. I say “arrow of light” because it was so validating to HEAR another woman state what I was feeling. I had read these words two years ago, but hearing them now, it really sunk in. I heard it with my heart, not my head.

My husband and I tried to have children, and then when it didn’t work out easily, we decided not to pursue it. We are happy as we are. And even though we didn’t really talk about why, now I know. Both of us, having had happy childhoods, also still possess a huge amount of painful memories and demons we’re still working through. It would be so unfair to bring up a child, the hardest job of all, without having worked through this. Without letting this go. While I might not know my purpose, I do know we were brought together to take care of each other in this life. And that’s more than enough purpose. Except it isn’t, is it? Taking care of my husband is so easy, and my greatest joy. I’m still left with the question, “What now?”

Recently, someone asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a writer,” I replied. The words felt awful in my mouth, like I had just decided to find out what rocks taste like. They rolled around on my tongue like maggots and it took all my force of will to get the words out. I wear a bite guard at night, and frequently I have dreams where I’m trying to speak, but because the guard is blocking my talk the only thing that comes out are squeaks and inhuman noises. This felt just like that. I was like Helen Keller discovering water, except I heard the words and I didn’t believe them.

For the longest time I was a quiet mousy girl, but because of all the shit I’ve gone through in my life I blossomed into a mouthy broad. You can’t shut me up now, and you better not even try unless you want your ass kicked. Now I just need to learn to open my mouth on the page. To get to the point where writing is as easy as talking. So for the time being I’m an untethered balloon. Floating and silent, but emitting a squeak here and there. And that’s fine for now. I have faith.

*I’m paraphrasing, can anyone find this quote for me? I gave my copy of the book to a friend who really needed it.

My Nostalgia Shield.

“You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is – working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows.” —Pema Chodron

This quote is me. At Thanksgiving. At any holiday really. Struggling, fighting, throwing an emotional temper tantrum because things aren’t going my way. Because what I see isn’t what I want to see. People have changed. I’ve changed. But I want things to be as they were. As they were all those years ago when Thanksgiving was perfect, the potato rolls were on the table, the country ham was never too salty and the turkey was never too dry. When all your loved ones were still with you, and the only stress you had was whether or not you’d have room for Nana’s perfect pecan pie.

The memory you have in your heart is always perfect. Unblemished. All year long I eagerly await Thanksgiving because I crave the closeness and the gratitude and the peace that comes from family. Okay, I just wrote that and re-reading it microseconds later I don’t even believe it myself. If family=peace Hollywood movie writers wouldn’t have any material. But somehow in my mind I equate Thanksgiving with all the happy memories I have of that time when I was a child. It’s like a perfect portrait of nostalgia. Not saccharin like Norman Rockwell, but certainly something close to it.

Except that picture doesn’t even exist. Life isn’t a stagnant oil painting. We grow up. Loved ones die. People move away. Things change. And the picture is a lie anyway. It doesn’t show everything. It only shows the happy, pretty surface, not all the pain, baggage, and crap the kids in the picture carried into their adulthood. Carried with them like a second skin, refusing to ever let go. You can’t see that in the picture. In the picture all is well. It’s this perfect, unrealistic picture I’m carrying around with me, constantly trying to recreate. Struggling to recapture in vain. Not ever looking past the pretty surface, hoping to forget the painful shadows and only see the pretty highlights.

In my head this is how Thanksgiving is SUPPOSED to be. Happy happy. Pretty pretty. Perfect. And so every Thanksgiving rather than accepting what is, surrendering to what I am and what I have, and what I can handle, I fight against what I think it should be. What definitely ISN’T there, but what in my mind SHOULD be there. Instead of living in gratitude, I’m struggling and fighting.

I haven’t accepted change and so I use nostalgia and memories as shields – to guard against the very real fact things are different. We don’t get together as a family anymore, I don’t have children, and things are never again going to be the way they were. And that’s okay. I can’t live in the past. It’s getting tiring. I am grateful for Pema’s words, because in reading them it’s helping me to be aware. I might not be ready to surrender my shield just yet, but she promises that maybe relief from all this fighting is in sight….awareness is the first step.

Trouble is, this whole blog is about remembering. Recording and remembering for when I can no longer. How do you record and remember without totally getting lost in the past? And how do you accept change and begin to move through the holidays without losing yourself in nostalgia? Without fighting. Accepting and moving on. Being truly grateful for what you have instead of spinning and spinning in this longing for what you think you’ve lost. Creating new memories rather than longing to bring back the old ones. They wouldn’t be as great as you remember anyway, would they? If hindsight is 20/20 then nostalgia is Blu-Ray…