Angela Amman

Living in the village

Christmas villageI put up my Nan’s Christmas village this year, little homes and a winery and lots of people and trees curated on a table.

When Nan moved into her senior living apartment, she couldn’t set up her village and my sister-in-law and I divided it amongst ourselves at her request. My first attempt at a set up was a little bit more of an experiment than an implementation. I didn’t do fake snow or shoeboxes for hills, and I let the kids figure out their favorite places for the figures.

With the miniature houses lit and my own house quiet, I kind of wished I could crawl into the sort of life promised on a single tabletop. A toy shop, lighthouse, and a little school, all within walking distance; kids playing in the snow and a fisherman resting on a bench while seagulls perch near him.

Some of my stories take place in a town called Warden’s Bluff, a little corner of the world that I imagine looks a bit like the village I set up earlier this month. Yet even in a world I’ve created, my characters can’t manage to live up to the utopian ideals of a Christmas village. Life, both fictional and real, is messier than ceramic houses might lead you to believe.

Part of me thinks that if I make the right resolutions and goals at the beginning of the new year, I can create my own version of the idyllic village. If I just do the right things, find the right combination of action and ambition, I might also be able to find myself walking past a clock tower while dodging snowballs from impeccably dressed children.

The other part of me knows the Christmas village only exists on a table in my family room.

2016 hurt. Losing my dad changed the way I look at the universe; the infinite suddenly feels finite, and I find myself vacillating between urgency and paralytic doubt. Life was achingly beautiful and undoubtedly disappointing, both before and after April 10th, but my reactions to those moments haven’t been the same since.

Right now, the idea of resolutions seems insurmountable. Some days I want to change everything, and other days I want things to stay exactly as they are, at exactly that minute. I’m not the only one who feels like that, and a few years ago I noticed people claiming a word for the year instead of making a list of resolutions. I’ve done it in the past, and I’m going to try it again for 2017.

My word of the year is a wisp of a word, but it might be one of the things with which I most struggle.

In 2017, I want to “do”.

I spend a lot of time dreaming and imagining, thinking and planning, and sometimes the doing falls between cracks.

I can’t shape my life into the sort promised by shellacked ceramic, but I do hold strongly onto the hope that by “do”ing more this year, I can make my own life a comfortable place filled with joyful moments, surrounded by the family and friends I love.

Happy New Year, friends. May your 2017 be filled with light.

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!

Currently

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.

 

 

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