Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Always Eat Dessert

This week’s TIME magazine has.a long section on aging.  “How to Live to 147.”  It said I could add years to my life by proper diet and exercise.  Then I picked up the current issue of The Week and found a special report on retirement. 

All this information is too late for me.  I am already old.  Next month I will be 87.  I  “retired” when I was 54.  I never expected to live this long.  I had breast cancer.  When the doctor came in after the mastectomy and told me the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, I thought it was a death sentence.  That was 25 years ago, and I am still here.  Seven years ago I was told I had “end stage kidney disease.”  That made me reevaluate how I wanted to spend the time I have left. 

Some things can not be avoided.  I have been on dialysis for six years. I am used to sitting in a recliner three days each week with my left arm attached to that machine.  That’s when I read magazines.  I can not travel any more.  I make the most of every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

All that advice about proper diet can be tossed out as it applies to me.  Because of the kidneys I must avoid high potassium foods.  That means no potatoes, no beans, no fresh fruit.  The only vegetables that are low in potassium are lettuce, cucumbers, eggplant, and green beans.  I was told to eat white bread and avoid whole wheat.  I should not eat avocados or asparagus, but sometimes I cheat.  I am not diabetic.  I always eat dessert.  

As for exercise, in this new place where I live my apartment is such long way from the dining room that I take a walk every time I go to lunch or supper.  I march along on my own two legs.  I don’t use a walker -- not yet.

I live in a retirement home with other old people.  Everyone has some sort of health problem. 
People must face the truth: bodies wear out.  The lucky ones are those who may be creeping about with a walker or zipping along in an electric wheelchair but whose minds are still alert.  It frightened me when I could not remember names, but my psychiatrist said it was all right if I remembered later. .

Here’s what I want to tell to young people: Take care of your health and you will grow old.  And when you are old you will have lots of aches and pains.  You will have arthritis and cataracts and become hard of hearing.  Then you will take pain killers, get artificial lenses in your eyes, and pay a fortune for hearing aids to put in your ears. 

And life will still be good.  I always eat dessert.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Life as a Writer

I know old people who retired and then decided to write a novel.  They have been reading books for years, so it should be a simple thing to write a murder mystery or a romance novel.   They are amateurs.  l am NOT one of those.

I published my first short story in the school paper when I was in junior high.  In high school my journalism teacher saw a story I had written and published three installments in the school newspaper.  Neither of these was a good piece of writing, but I did not realize it at the time.  All I knew was that I was a writer.

At Texas State College for Women I majored journalism.  I also took a course in “creative writing” in which I wrote short stories that, again, were published by the school in its “literary” quarterly. Mamie Walker, our creative writing teacher said,  “Ilene thinks of the whole life of her characters.”  I knew then that short stories would not work for me.  I wanted to write novels.

After graduation I worked for the Fort Worth Press, writing reports on weddings and women’s clubs.  I wrote feature stories on local women, always interested in how background and experiences shaped their lives. But I did not want to do this for the rest of my life.  I enrolled in a course in “Modern Drama” at TCU.  Also in the class was Wallace Gaarsoe, a young airman stationed at Carswell Air Force Base who was trying to complete his sophomore year of college. He persuaded me to marry him and go to Chicago where I was to work and help him obtain his degrees.

First I worked as a secretary in the Chicago office of The Billboard, the entertainment weekly.  A fun place to work but my boss told me bluntly, “The Billboard has never had a woman reporter.”   Then I found a job at Retailing Daily, where I reported on lamp manufacturers, curtains and drapery retailers, and got to go to the semi-annual furniture markets at Joseph Kennedy’s Merchandise Mart.

My career came to a halt when I became pregnant with Karl.  I became a stay-at-home housewife and mother.  While pregnant with Martha I completed a long novel about a group of women growing up together who all had very different lives.  Wally was furious when he found out I spent time typing instead of scrubbing floors.  The novel went into a box on the closet shelf.  For years all the writing I did was letters to my mother and Sally. 

At last my three children were all in school.  I wrote a second long novel.  I sent the manuscript to Simon and Schuester, who kept it six months then sent it back with a printed note, “We only consider books submitted by agents.”  I spent the next year trying to find an agent.  They all said, “We only handle published authors.”   That novel went up on the closet shelf, too.

Wally and I were divorced.  I went to New Mexico where I participated in a play-writing seminar at the University of New Mexico.  I also met Joan Leslie Woodruff, who has had 13 books published and who assured me “You are a real writer.”  I wrote a novel, “The Baglady with the BMW”, based on my experiences during the difficult years when I was suing Wally for support.  I could not find a publisher who would look at it.

Today I have boxes and boxes of manuscripts, boxes I’ve moved from a house in Illinois to apartments and a house in New Mexico and on to a house in Garland, Texas, and to two retirement homes. 

My son David said, “Mom, you need to get published.”  He set up the blog, where I have been venting my opinions for the past seven years.  I often wrote about my travels.  One of my most loyal “followers” is my grandson, Doug Schumann.  He said, “Grandma, let’s publish your blogs as a book.”   With his encouragement I put together a story based on the trip I made to Europe with David when he was a little, thirteen-year-old kid. 

“Mama Goes to Paris” is almost ready for publication.  Will anyone buy it?  For me it will be the satisfaction of finally seeing one of my books in print.   

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Doubts and Determination

My editor e.mailed me the final version of “Mama Goes to Paris”.  I am filled with dread.  I invested a lot of time and money in this project.  What if the book is not as good as I think it is?

All of us go through times when we are assailed with doubt and uncertainty.  I remind myself of other times when my situation was so awful that I became so depressed that I considered suicide.  The only thing that kept me alive was knowing how happy Wally would be if I were dead.

I had no premonition of the many years of happy times that lay ahead for me.

Back in the 1980's I went through a horrible time.  Unable to work (I went really crazy after menopause) I asked Wally for enough money to live on.  He refused and cut off all communication with me.  He even sued me for harassment.  This man I loved for 30 years came into court and on the witness stand swore it upset his second wife to find mail from me in their mail box.  The “mail” consisted of a birthday card and a “Happy Father’s Day” card I sent to the father of our children.

I had moved to New Mexico, where I had lots of fun, and returned to Illinois to sue him for support.  I did not have enough money to rent an apartment in Downers Grove.  For three years I depended on friends to have a place to sleep. When I could not bare to ask my friends to do any more, I went to a shelter for the homeless.  That’s when Martha and Don reluctantly let me come to stay with them.  They were newlyweds, and it was a difficult situation for the three of us.

I could have given up and gone to New Mexico to live on welfare.  Instead, I found ways to make life as enjoyable as possible.  I bought an annual pass to the Morton Arboretum where I hiked in the woods in all seasons.  How gorgeous were the daffodils in the spring!

Another time I spent my last $1.50 on a coke to meet Nancy at a singles at a bar where Parents Without Partners was having a mid-week break.  Nancy did not show up, but that was the night I met John Durkalski.  What I worried about (i.e. dying of hunger and lack of medical care) turned out totally different.  I never dreamed such a fine man would take on the responsibility of crazy, mixed-up, unattractive me.  John and I married and had four gloriously happy years.  Too brief, yes, but wonderful. 

Even after death John took care of me.  I am financially secure.  His money is paying for publication of  “Mama Goes to Paris.”   If no one reads it, I will still enjoy holding in my hands my own, published book.