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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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TTFN, Darling

Just a few days ago I was anticipating the arrival of Jane and her husband Jimmy. They visited this weekend to see the production of Fiddler on the Roof that my partner, Doug, directed. They arrived on Friday, and we spent Saturday driving around, talking, and writing before going to the show in the evening. Every minute was precious, and we savored like crazy.

Around noon yesterday, I said goodbye to them and headed to campus to visit some former students who came back to see Fiddler. We shared some laughs and hugs, then they went to the show and I went home to catch up on chores. For the rest of the day, I felt unmotivated. After a weekend of great conversations, my life seemed quieter than usual as I folded towels.

No matter how much I prepare, I’m never quite ready for goodbyes. They surprise me. I try to anticipate how to make them go well. I suppose I try to write the goodbyes I’m involved with, which is not quite the same as trying to control them. But goodbyes are odd when scripted. At best, they’re moments of improvisation. If something memorable happens, it’s by chance. Usually, though, they don’t seem significant. It’s time to go, so you say “bye,” or you avoid saying it. No one likes a long goodbye filled with “farewells” and “darlings,” except for Norma Shearer’s fans. You simply wave, hug, maybe salute, or lovingly flip the bird. Then you get on with your day.

There’s no closure in goodbyes, at least not in my experience. A goodbye points to the next thing while glancing backward. And given that the next thing is usually laundry or Monday, no wonder I’m looking back wistfully at yesterday’s goodbyes and the fun that led up to them.

I’m probably too aware that any goodbye could become significant. What if a particular goodbye were the end of the story? Would it be a decent story? Would the ending serve the story well?

Goodbyes are moments of surrender. I have a history of not being gracious about letting go. As a child, I hated saying goodbye to my grandmother. I would hold on and dig my little fingers in (to the moment, to a bed post, to her arm–whatever I could grab). I would refuse to say the word, but that didn’t stop her from getting on the plane, and I would be without her for a while, weeks or months, until she came home and I could pretend I would never have to go through that again. I dreaded her death, which didn’t happen until I was 30. Meanwhile, other people in my life died, which increased my anxiety about her mortality and everyone else’s.

It’s not always true that the best defense is a good offense. In regard to grief, this is definitely not a healthy strategy for living.

I learned that goodbyes happen whether I like it or not. And my story continues whether or not I’m in the mood to write. A lot of it writes itself. Any moment can end up being a significant moment. The details of typically forgettable day can become valuable souvenirs. You can regret the last conversation you had with someone. You can spend years trying make things right with the departed only to realize all you can do is learn from what happened, and really, did either of you say anything that bad anyway? More than anything, you become grateful for the memory because it makes you smile and cringe, which is a much better tribute than a vase of fresh plastic flowers.

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3 Responses

  1. It’s not “goodbye”; it’s “we’ll see you again soon:”

    Now let’s both get back to writing…

  2. That’s what it is! That’s why I get so upset every time I leave Susquehanna and/or the friends I had there. I can’t articulate besides “I’m sad.” or “I wish it were still the weekend.” But what you wrote…. that’s perfect.

  3. I’ve been thinking about your post all day, and selfishly ruminating on my own experience of goodbyes and how I handle them. Always, always after a goodbye I am imagining the next call, e-mail, or visit. It’s fantasy, for sure; I’m not crafting my next move. It’s more like my sadness at something being over starts working its way into a look ahead. Kind of like a drug addict, probably.

    Not to be glib, though. This made me think too of how the hello/goodbye process may be somewhat aligned with one’s creative process. I mean, I enjoy writing conclusions — I like the challenge of pointing to the next thing while glancing backward, as you say. On the other hand, I dislike writing beginnings, and I even feel uncomfortable beginning, and therefore I get tentative.

    Yes, during an aftermath, I am grateful for the memory. For me, the memory also motivates the next step.

    p.s. Notice, I haven’t addressed death, and I won’t. My imaginary conversations are always with the living.

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