Friday, October 2, 2009

Miles To Go Before I Sleep

I took a three hour nap today. That's right. Three glorious hours, asleep, in my bed. It was awesome.

Only, I kept dreaming that I was dreaming. I hate that. If I'm going to invest the psychic energy required to come up with a complete work of entertaining fiction while I'm sleeping - and I can't even do that wide awake and hepped up on Diet Coke, for cryin' out loud - then the plot line had better involve more than me in bed saying, "Gosh. I think this is a dream." I'd nod right off if I weren't already asleep.

But that's the kind of week I'm having. I dream that I'm dreaming. I write about writing. I talk about talking. And I'm perilously close to blogging about blogging.

I think it's because September gave me the chance to consider what it means to live while you're living. My dad died. My college kids moved out. My mother and my husband both celebrated birthdays, and those are starting to stack up.

And I'm realizing, no matter how hard we try otherwise, we eventually leave the planet with a few things undone. Jennifer Love Hewett may believe her clients have a corner on the business of unfinished business, but I've got news for you, Jenny: It's piling up all around us.

At least, I think it's supposed to be.

My husband and I had dinner last night with one of my favorite people in the world. Ed Thompson was my mentor and the head of the music department when I was a student at the University of Utah a hundred years ago. For the last year or so he has been serving as the interim Associate Conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir while they searched for a permanent replacement.

And for the better part of the last 25 years, he's also been one of my dearest friends.

I had heard that Ed's health had taken a scary turn a few months ago, so I asked last night what the deal was. It's his story to tell, but the upshot is he nearly joined Melinda Gordon's club. The number of little miracles that lined up to save him is significant. And I'm glad he's still around.

Ed was in Las Vegas attending a photography conference. He's like that. He spent the first many years of his life designing airplanes, putting his advanced degrees in Physics to good use. Then he decided he wanted to do the music thing. Another PhD eventually found him running things at the U of U and conducting the Utah Symphony Chorus.

And now, at 70-something, he takes pictures. Really cool ones. The new set of Christmas CDs just released by the MoTabs has a photo of his on the cover.

This is a guy who lives life while there's life to live.

And he's got me wondering if I'm doing the same. Call it a midlife crisis (that's what I called it here), call it the narcissistic meanderings of a brain that is currently fried on candy corn, call it a shamelessly transparent attempt to write about something when there really isn't a good subject at hand.

I just can't help but wonder if I'm really doing all that I could be doing with the gifts I've been given and the blessings that just pour down on me day after day.

I love to teach. So why don't I teach school? Teach college?

I love to speak, to laugh and commiserate with, and hopefully inspire, others to take on the challenges of life with a bit more confidence, a bit more optimism. A bit more faith.

So why don't I do that more regularly? Why don't I take that talent, that message to a larger audience?

I'm a pretty darn gifted musician. How come the only thing I'm doing with those abilities right now is teaching piano lessons? (Actually, I can answer that one. I'm sulking. See the above referenced post.)

And while I'm no Tolstoy, I can occasionally string together enough words to assemble a sentence or two worth reading. So why haven't I taken the necessary risks to publish any of my work? What the heck am I waiting for? Moroni and a big stack of plates with instructions to "Write this and tell people it's worth reading"??

My husband has an ancestor who did not leave with the Mormons when they were driven out of Nauvoo, Illinois. Instead, he stayed behind and manned a ferry across the Mississippi. Did that for several years, actually.

Sometimes I wonder if that's who I am. A person who is content to help others across one obstacle in their otherwise active, productive, useful lives, but who never really moves on herself.

I'll teach you how to play the piano. I'll open the scriptures to you. I'll write the family Christmas letter and maintain my little blog. But don't expect me to jump on board and cross that river into more adventurous territory. Things are quiet for now. I'll just hang around here a while.

I realize this isn't the cheery nonsense you're used to finding here, and I apologize for that. I'm tired, and I'm kind of on empty at the moment, which is unfortunate because it doesn't keep people from lowering their buckets into my well.

It's not their fault; that's what the well is there for. I'm the mom. I'm the wife. The sister, daughter, friend, teacher, neighbor - and they all have a legitimate claim on whatever water they can find down there.

But between us, I'm worried that I'm not doing everything I could to make sure there's something left over for me. And I'm not talking about the self-sacrificing mommy stuff. I'm talking about making something of the time and the life I've been given. Isn't it time to stop being so afraid of rejection and failure, stop making excuses for holding back? Start carpe-ing a little more diem, for heaven's sake?

When my turn comes to finally head to that great fudge counter in the sky, I want to leave truckloads of unfinished business. I want to be so busy, so engaged, that it will take an army of volunteers years to wrap up all the things I was doing. Poor Melinda Gordon will be in the Home for Geriatric Mediums by the time I finally go into the light.

No more dreaming about dreaming. I'm going to get a little more steady on my feet, fill my well with some good stuff, and move on with the business of living.

Although to be honest, what I could really use right now is a nap.


L.T. Elliot said...

I know I'm fairly new to your blog but I'm not just here for laughs. Sure, you're hilarious but there are many different rocks that circle a well and all of them are essential to keeping in water.
Sometimes, life just drains us. It's always good to see where our levels are, reevaluate, and refill. The wonderful thing about being a well is that it's never too late throw a penny in.
Wishing you the very best of luck.

Hel said...

Bum... how could I possible sound half way intelligent after L.T. Elliot's comment?

Nowhere near intelligent considering I started with the word "Bum".

I have certainly felt the same way, DeNae - I am certain that it's the feeling that I get preceding a period of growth. I am content, I get restless, I try harder, I grow.

Does this make sense? I may have had too much caffeine today and now my thoughts are jumbling together and not really making sense. I am not sure how students think caffeine actually helps them. Maybe it only affects me this way. (Hel, you're rambling... just get off the computer).

Righto... I'm off to watch some Donald Duck cartoons that I know by heart.

by the way - I love you DeNae, whether you are retrospective, melancholy or just downright hilarious.

Melanie J said...

Yeah, I think Hel nailed it. It sounds like you're about to embark on a period of great growth.

Sorry about that!

(Kidding. Kind of.)

Slightly more seriously, I don't think you should overlook what you really have accomplished already. I know you're thinking of what to do next, but I think you've done a darn fine job of magnifying your talents so far. I'm interested to see what your next iteration will be.

The Damsel In DisDress said...

Sounds an awful lot like life over here, right down to the teaching piano lessons part.

M-Cat said...

You might be sharing part of Splenda's brain right now (sorry).

Just Thursday as we left the pain clinic and we evaluated my situation, watched others there in the office suffering, and thinking of his own appointment next week to see where his health issue is at, he turned to me and said. "You know what this means?"
I expected him to say something about tightening out belts to watch our money, or something practical like that.

Instead he said. "It's time to REALLY start living". We need to start doing all those things we've wanted to do, but haven't because we've been raising a family." He reminded me that life is short, you never know what obstacles are going to come your way, so instead of waiting.... we start living!

Go girl - do all the wonderful things that you can and know how to do. You'll continue to bless the lives of others, but you'll also be fulfilling the measure of your creation.

I love you!

brudcrew said...

All I can say is your well is a heck of a lot deeper than mine. In fact, there's just a slobber filled puddle over here. Melanie encouraged you to recognize your accomplishments up to this point and I agree!
As for what to do next, I AGAIN suggest some more publishing. I'd buy it!

Lara said...

I think that life has a definite ebb and flow to it. I find there are times when I'm really living life to its fullest, and times when I am just plain empty. And then there are the times in between.

I tend to want to be everything for everybody and then lose steam halfway through because I'm not filling up. I totally get where you're coming from. I have always had big dreams, and while sometimes I'm disappointed with what I have accomplished, sometimes I'm amazed.

And there's always more big dreams on the horizon.

For now, take a nap.

Kristina P. said...

I think all the "little" tasks you described are just as important at the great, large ones. And people are so grateful for all the small but simple things we do for one another.

Amber and I met for dinner last night, and she told me how much you mean to her and how much closer the two of you have become since you both started blogging. Such a small thing, like blogging, can have major consequences.

Now go watch conference and then take a nap!

Lesia said...

It must be the season that promotes this feeling. I had to chuckle because I just posted a blog called "Reflections" about almost the same subject! Brilliant minds think alike....or we all live in a yellow submarine and have been underwater together for way too long!
Love ya, DeNae!

Stacy said...

My random contribution: I was also majoring in music during the Ed Thompson years at the U of U. I was a violinist though, so never had much interaction with him personally.

And now for the topic at hand- it does me a lot of (selfish) good to read that others have the same sturggles that I do. I think periods of reflection, frustration and struggle like this are common as we stretch and grow. Its only through dissatisfaction that we are driven to find a better way.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

DeNae, here are random thoughts that are about as useless as the comments I make in Gospel Doctrine, but since I know you to be bright and deep (truly), I'm going to take a gamble that you'll be able to make sense of them and how they all tie together somehow.

1. Elder Uctdorft's talk this morning was a direct answer to prayer for me-- the delicate balance of priority making and the condition of our hearts. And the love that orchestrates it all.

2. President Monson's message in Oct. Ensign. The story at the end about that guy who served and blessed with the life he lived.

3. You may have seen on my blog that I've had mother Teresa on my mind lately. She said, "we can do no great things, only small things with great love."

4. Back to Pres. Uctdorf again and something he said about ordinary acts become extraordinary service when motivated by love.

5. I have no recollection of the reference for this, but the phrase "wearing out our lives in His service" comes to mind. Best way I can think of to really live.

Don't know my point really, except that all the stuff we CAN do (and even be great at) somehow falls second to the good we can do. And my guess is that your capacity for that even surpasses (in a divine way) your capacity for all those other areas in which you excel. They could simply be vehicles for love. See? I knew I couldn't say it well. Here's hoping that your next dream will make this all clear. :)

Kazzy said...

I appreciate your honesty, with no false humility, concerning your own potential and talents. You know what you want and need to do, and now that your kids are getting older it is a great opportunity to start setting some personal goals. I get it because we are in the same phase.

Your idea about leaving this earth with plenty of things left undone is a brilliant thing. Fill it up.

Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

Homer and Queen said...

At least you have talents! I got nothin'! Not only cup has been al little half empty lately. I don't want to be busy when I meet Miz Gordon...I want to sit on the beach drinking Diet Coke and doing NOTHING!!!! I vote that is how it should work, at least that is how I vote today.

And I missed Uchdorft's talk, was in surgery with WB...thanks Steph for making me feel guilty!!! LOL (OK so maybe I needed that kick...)

JBSquared said...

3 things come to mind...

#1 - the phrase "I'll open the scriptures to you". Anyone who can do that (as well as I'm sure you do) is NOT doing nothing in life. It may feel like the same old thing to you, but to the ones you teach it is everything. (Of course, you know this.)

#2 - I have never thought of life this way and I'm so glad you've opened my eyes. Living life means you're never finished. I love the idea of leaving so much "unfinished business"! I am so going to use that in my next Relief Society lesson. (Seriously!)

#3 - Thanks for sharing this. It's nice to know that even the awesome people in the world sometimes feel tired and drained by life. Makes me feel like there's hope for the rest of us.

Hope you have a great day!!

Rachel Sue said...

Don't ever apologize for being a real person. This was one of my favorite posts of yours. It's a lot to think about and I love it. What am I doing with the time the Lord has given me? What an important question to ponder.

And I loved how you mentioned that even though your well is low that hasn't stopped people from lowering their buckets. I feel like that so much of the time. And I don't know what to do about it. Knowing that there are others who feel the same way gives me a little solace.

Sarah said...

Just remember that along the way, you have "ferried" some people to their own destination too, and without the ferry no one would be able to cross the river. Just because you feel that you haven't done anything extraordinary doesn't mean you haven't. Just ask anyone who's life you have touched.

wonder woman said...

Fantastic post. I've only commented a few times, though I've been reading for a few months. I hadn't been following for very long when your father passed away. I felt like I didn't know you well enough to offer comfort or trite words, so I didn't.

I'm sorry.

I'm so sorry for you loss. I read Amber's story and can only imagine what a great man your father was. I'm so sorry for your loss.

This is a great post, and something that I think many people have floating around the back of their minds, but rarely bring to the surface to dwell on and do something about. Myself included. So thank you. Love your essays.

The Garden of Egan said...

I think you underestimate yourself DaNae. I've read the things you write on your blog and MMB. You are truly awesome.

InkMom said...

Just let us fill your well for now, okay? Because we love you. And you're fantastic.

Sometimes I feel just the opposite: there are miles to go before I sleep because there are so many darn things on my list that have to be done. And most of them I didn't (intentionally) write on there myself -- they are things that came along with the motherhood I signed up for but wasn't really fully prepared to execute in a complete way. (Who is?) As I struggle to do just one more thing on the "have-to" list, I find myself adding things that are not, ostensibly, requirements, but are the only way I can seem to hold onto the person that existed before my children, and, hopefully, will be left, to some degree, when I reach the stage of life you are in now. Are you still in there? I think you are. I know you are, and it gives me hope that being a mother -- a bucket-filler -- will make me more of who I really am instead of less.

Honey, if I died right now, they would foreclose on my house because my husband wouldn't know how (who, even) to pay. His business would drown in a sea of "Oh, crap, what is the QuickBooks password?" and my children would wear pajamas all day, every day, and they would be the wrong size. All the underwear would be pink. The hardwood floor would never get cleaned. There would be 17 half-finished quilts for someone to remake, and three children's lifetimes worth of photobooks to finally finish and print (because I am VEHEMENTLY anti-scrapbooking). There would be curtains hanging in my living-room that still needed to be sewn because they've been pinned over the curtain rod for . . . um, 7 years. (I'm not joking. I swear it's because I'm just too short to take them down without a step ladder.) But are those the things I really would want to leave unfinished? Or are those the things that I let fall by the wayside so I can concentrate on more meaningful endeavors?

I've also had the same conversation with myself, though: where is my motivation to do something great, when I know I've got it in me to do it? Where was my motivation to practice the way I should have when I was in college -- I know I could have been better. Where is the drive that other authors have to produce something? To make a mark of some sort, in any way? I sometimes feel guilty about the talents that I have -- like maybe they should have been given to another person, one of those unlucky enough to have the drive but not the gift. It seems unjust.

I'm rambling now, and I'm not exactly filling your well like I intended to, but here's what I'm really trying to say:

You're on the right track, my friend. You are loved, and you are doing great things. Have you looked at your fantastic children lately? And go read that Ezra Taft Benson quote over on my post about our women's conference. It's the best possible place to start.

Love you.

DeNae said...

Every one of you has said something that has touched me in some way. I don't know what I have done to deserve such kindness from such wonderful people, many of whom I only know in this blogging world, but there is nothing "virtual" about the blessing you are in my life.

I'll rally, I promise! Just kinda in a funk, y'know?

Lynne's Somewhat Invented Life said...

I'm not here just for the laughs either. You say profound things. You are articulate. You have faith and you have integrity. You make us laugh, sure and for a few minutes or maybe even a few hours we forget the things that are tearing us apart and we feel better.

I don't know what kind of writing you want to do but I hope that you do it and get published because you have wit and wisdom, too and the world can laugh and be enlightened and uplifted all at the same time.

And your music is a gift you are giving to the world. It makes a difference, all of it, all of you, you make a difference.

Motherboard said...

I think that running that Mississippi ferry is just as important as running headfirst into adventure. The world needs steady, grounded people. That's what you are. Steady and grounded.

Your post resonated with me today on so many levels, as you well know.

I'm thinking a road trip soon may be just what the Dr ordered for both of us!

Hilary said...

I am fairly sure that sometimes, part of having a well -- is learning when to put the lid on and say NO MORE.

Personally, I am still building that lid, but I digress....

R Max said...

After your nap, could you teach me piano?

Personally, I think European vacations are a great way to help you reflect and re-evaluate your life. That's what I'm doing. Wanna come with?

AS Amber said...

I think we're (our family, anyway) all feeling a little drained. How can we expect to feel anything else? And maybe one of the lessons our Father in Heaven wanted us to learn by taking our earthly father so soon was that we need to take inventory of our lives. And do more with the gift of life He's given us.

Because you're right, time is running out for all of us. And we've been shown first hand just how short this life really is.

charrette said...

That? Was awesome. I hear you on this one, big time. As you know, I just spent the last week doing something adventurous and feeling very much ALIVE in the process. But as you also know, there is so much more I want to do, say, be.... It's starting to feel like life's too short. Like it might pass me by if I don't get my act together.

And do you think it means something if many of my dreams are not even about dreaming, but about being too tired to move?

The Crash Test Dummy said...

Hee hee hee I love your closing line.

This is a great post. Very contemplative. You hit the nail on the head.

Go out there and do a job!

That's what my hub's college basketball coach always said. It doesn't really make sense, but it sounded good the way he said it.

You are going to do something important girl. Now get on it.

After your nap.