Angela Amman

Gratitude and uncertainty

grief and the holiday season I used to drive to holiday celebrations with my phone in my lap. A minute, sometimes two, after we were scheduled to arrive, it would ring. My dad would be on the other end, gauging our progress—always close, never there quite on time—and making sure everyone was safe. We don’t have to drive with the phone in my lap anymore, one of the tiny details about life after my dad’s death that stabs through the layer of normalcy hanging over most of our days.

This year’s holiday season has me in a state of flux: half of me wants to throw myself into it with the unbridled, childish joy dancing around my house and the other half wants to sleep until January. Both seem impossible, because I’m not a hibernating bear and who can match the excitement of kids with LEGO and American Girl catalogs and too many desserts?

thanksgiving and grief

Thanksgiving rolled around quickly, nipping at the heels of Halloween. We gathered in my mom’s new condo, welcoming my aunt and uncle to her table, and finding unexpected joy in the juxtaposition of new and familiar traditions. The kids miss their Grandpa, but their grief comes in pinpoints of realization while mine feels like a chasm spanning both sides of my existence. One little misstep or shift in balance, and I plunge from the bridge I’ve been building over the last six months.

With guests in town, the holiday stretched from Wednesday through the weekend. The kids hung out with the family while I went to the hair salon, we ate together, and we spent time at the hotel pool where my aunt and uncle were staying. Being around people who understand that chasm of grief can help more than talking about it, our silent realization that we miss him is shared without words.

thanksgiving and grief

My dad and I shared an intense love for one of my favorite picture books, The 14 Bears in Summer and Winter. My parents passed it along to me when I had Abbey, and both my kids love it—but not nearly as much as I do.

During the bears’ hibernation season, they wake up to celebrate Christmas, skating on a frozen pond and peeking into a decorated house, crashing a sled into a snowman and decorating their little homes before falling asleep again to wait for spring.

Thanksgiving felt a little like that, and I’m sure Christmas will be even more complicated. We can’t let our grief force us into hibernation, and we’ll do our best to find those moments of joy, light, and love that come from celebrating in the best way we can this year. Spring will come, it’s true, but like everything else, it will happen in its own time. We will welcome it when it arrives.

The tenuous line between failure and success

balancing between success and failure

Michigan is teetering, too, between fall and winter

I committed to doing National Novel Writing Month at the beginning of this month with crossed fingers and cautious optimism. The last time I completed the challenge—50,000 words written in one month—I let the partially finished novel languish in a drafts folder I’ve only looked at a few times since. (I still think that story will be told; I’m just not sure when.) This year, I planned to attempt a different sort of project this time, a collection of short stories I’ve been contemplating and dabbling with since this summer.

Like most people attempting NaNoWriMo do, I began strong, clacking away at my keys and racking up my word count. My keys don’t actually clack as much as they could, by the way, but a computer is so much more efficient than a clickety-clackety typewriter—though much less picturesque. My random collection of stories gathered together, and a theme began to shine through the characters and plots that wove and twisted together each day.

Then life happened. The election threw me off course, arguments I hadn’t anticipated, worries about things both in and out of my control, the looming first Thanksgiving without my dad. I stared at a blank screen and massaged my temples and tried to find my rhythm again, not because those heart-rending events ceased to matter but because they still matter so much. Life will always happen, and it will always be an impossible combination of beauty and madness, and wallowing in inertia wasn’t changing a thing.

I began drafting again, adding words to my total and watching stories take shape around (what I think is) the thematic cog for all of these moving parts. I mulled and discarded a couple of story ideas I had thought would work at the beginning of the project. I drafted a completely unexpected story thanks to the suggestion of a friend.

And today, with two days remaining in NaNoWriMo, I validated my word count at just over 33,000 words. There will not be more.

Of course, during the editing process for this collection, I may amass additional words or shed them like a snake growing into something that fits my concept a little more fully. I can’t anticipate how the project will change by the time I finish it (hopefully sometime in 2017).

For now, though, the stories are finished, and I am definitely short of the 50,000 words it takes to complete National Novel Writing Month. The line between success and failure has never felt so tenuous. When I started the project, I knew there was a possibility that my little short story collection wouldn’t exceed 50,000 words. I actually considered working on a novel instead, simply because the length is better suited to the November challenge.

I wanted to tell these stories, though, and I’m glad I did. Even without the “completion” badge from the NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ll enter December—and the editing phase—excited and rejuvenated about writing.

Let the slashing and reshaping begin!


Fall update

photo by Abbey (she’s in the midst of a self-proclaimed leaf project)

I drive down the same few streets most days, the kind of routes my car could likely make on its own, where I’m more attuned to what’s flooding my speakers or what the kids are saying from behind my seat. The leaves began turning a little while ago, reminding me each time I see another tree bursting into color that time is streaming forward whether I’m ready to see it go or not.

I’m currently tired and a little worn down. I feel caught between expectations and the realty that hours and minutes can only be stretched so far before something has to give.

A few weeks ago I started a workout challenge at my studio: 18 classes in 21 days. As I already took class most weekday mornings, I personally challenged myself to get the classes finished in 14 days instead. I met my goal, but my body fought back: a sore calf that doesn’t seem to want to bounce back into action anytime soon.

I’m trying to breathe through it, to accept a handful of rest days, maybe do a few days of juicing while I’m not worried about keeping up my energy for workouts or runs. I’m struggling, though. Working out prepares me for the other items on my to-do list; I have more patience and focus and overall enthusiasm for less-than-exciting tasks when I start the day with grit and sweat.

I can’t tell quite yet if the kids are thriving this fall or trying to find their footing as well. We’re busy with activities, but we’re not over scheduled to the point of falling into the house at night, exhausted. Their amazing teachers have both limited homework this year to readings, some math practice, and work they didn’t finish in school. I’ve already noticed a difference in the way our afternoons go, and I’ll probably write more about that later, when I’m not so scattered and staring out the window at the sun turning leaves into burnished gold instead of a faded yellow.

My dad’s birthday fell during a time when we were replacing an old car with a new one, bringing up all sorts of “what ifs” and “I wish” and an overall sense of sadness that continues to crop up when I least expect it. We’re working through our grief, I think, though I’m no longer sure “through” is the right word for it. Maybe we’re working with our grief, finding solace in each other when we need to and learning to take care of ourselves when it seems like the last thing we should be doing.

My words here took a turn I wasn’t expecting. I’d planned on more of a brief update about where we’ve been this fall, since it hasn’t been in this space. I’ll leave them here, though, allowing them weight and space, and hoping they make room for something new.



Start and stop and start again

Caffeine Fix My coffee doesn’t look nearly as sun kissed — or as prepared by a barista — this morning as it did a couple short weeks ago when we were driving home from Michigan Adventure. I wish it did, of course. The chill in the air is partially welcome, especially by a certain, sweet girl who desperately wants to wear her new fall clothes, but I’m still feeling a bit wistful for summer.

School started with the best intentions, and we attempted to settle into a routine. Unfortunately, a misunderstood fire code and other shenanigans meant the kids were home again this Tuesday and Wednesday. Any semblance of normalcy took a backseat to a few days’ rewind to a summer mindset.

As life does, the two days with the kids reminded me time marches in one direction only. Despite a bit of humidity and temperatures warm enough to warrant bare shoulders and bare feet, we’ve clearly entered fall. They bickered a bit, in between the moments they read together and separately, asked to watch TV, careened down the street on bikes and scooters, asked for snacks, and counted down the minutes to extracurricular activities.

I thought about playing hooky with them, pushing off deadlines or working into wee, wee hours of the morning. (Yes, the second wee is necessary, because try as I might, I seem to be up until wee hours of the morning even on a normal day.) I felt beholden to my obligations, though, the ink of my fall responsibilities still too damp on my planner pages for me to feel entitled to tossing my hands into the air for unexpected fun.

We were all ready for the walk to school this morning, and for that I’m grateful. Their enthusiasm for summer and breaks and fun is matched, for the most part, by their enthusiasm for their days spent in their classrooms. I miss their breath in the house, that certainty of knowing I can reach to touch them or laugh with them within seconds. At the same time, I appreciate the silence, the music I turn on without worrying about contradictory requests from opinionated little people whose opinions seem to be forking away from each other’s — except when they’re not.

My blood pulses with start-stop-start-again lately. Too many ideas and not enough time. Too many plans and not nearly enough tables filled with double vats of caffeine. I hope it’s enough, that start-again. Enough to meet actual goals, not just to check off items from a to-do list. Enough to climb a little closer to the precipice I see from where I stand.

How are you adjusting as we inch closer to fall?

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