January 1st, 2018

see ya 2017. its been real. depressing and wondrous with a mixture of confusion and clarity.

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

Didn’t this year seem to vacillate between extremes? JANUARY started out as much of the year would go. From a burning stick to the eye to being deeply moving as the courageous showed us what it looks like to be unafraid to feel. The Women’s March in January to the Harvey Weinstein tsunami of takedowns this fall. Change is resentful to some, and a wake-up call of relief to others, especially for the once silenced women and men who came forward. The trembling nightmares of the men lying in bed at night with squeezed fists wondering if their acts will surface. #Finally.

Grateful in FEBRUARY to have survived 60 years around the sun. I wrote about it here: http://www.robingaines.net/60-years-around-the-sun/

In MARCH I finished a manuscript. With pages and pages of critique on what needs fixing, I put it away for a few months to think about how to proceed. While doing all that thinking ELJ Editions, the publisher of Invincible Summers, sent an email to its authors informing us it was closing down December 31. Today, as I write this, my novel is orphaned. And while I’m grateful it had a place to call home for the last eighteen months I hope it finds new digs in the coming year.

All that “thinking” led us to buy a condo in Florida in APRIL after renting for years to take a break from the Michigan winter. Our beach rental was R’s happy place. Think golf and sun. Things I try to avoid. He’s worked sixty-plus hour weeks for more years than I like to think about. Now, he still works hard but can do it from a kitchen table looking at the Gulf of Mexico. Any place near water is my happy place too (Pisces!), and I’ve had my share of writing ideas just staring at the horizon. So while I think people move to Florida to die, it has given both of us a vista to reflect upon and exhale.

MAY brought another big calendar day, our 35th wedding anniversary and R and I spent it in the most beautiful place, Positano, Italy. Think Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins for scenery. A place so stunning in every way. Travel readjusts my complacency about everything and becomes a spiritual journey for me.

After my sight was inextricably altered by Positano’s beauty, in JUNE I got to sit and listen to Thomas Lynch wax and wane about the poetry in family and how we come to write the same story, essay, or poem to try and figure out our roles in the tribe. Of course, he said something much more eloquent than that. I needed a fresh page to ponder, and Tom’s workshop at Bear River on Walloon Lake gave me that and the beginnings of an essay I’m still working on about loss and a three-legged dog. There was also the woman’s voice in the workshop who commented: “There is more to the missing leg, Robin, that you need to explore.” (More on this—see OCTOBER.)

Then, if JUNE couldn’t have begun any better, I flew overseas again!! to pick up an Honorable Mention Award for Invincible Summers at the Paris Book Festival. It was an intimate dinner with the award recipients and their plus ones. Each of us got a chance to speak. I spoke on how incredibly joyous the day had been for me as earlier my favorite bookstore on the planet, Shakespeare and Company, across the Seine from Notre Dame, and a pivotal character in a chapter in Invincible Summers agreed to stock my book in their lending library. I’ll die thinking about that day.

In JULY wedding fever took over and my daughter, a painter, married her best friend, a poet, on a cloudless day on my oldest daughter’s lavender farm. I looked around that evening and realized how lucky I am to have the love of family and friends—what else is there.

AUGUST. Eclipse Day. In the morning I read Ann Dilliard’s eclipse essay, which is fabulous and haunting and just plain genius. I was alone with the three-legged dog on Walloon. The day was quiet. The sky eerily devoid of color beginning around 1:40 pm. A turpentine washed blue. The lake perfectly still. No boats or birds. A Melancholia kind of surrealness. I watched most of the happenings around the country on CBS’s Live Feed. I cried. Twice. Then again when they played “Good Day Sunshine” by the Beatles and the ELO song, “Strange Magic.” Everyone looking up to the sky instead of down at their cell phones. Even the President looked up. He could have ruined the day. He always does. But he didn’t. It was that magical.

I can’t remember SEPTEMBER. And I can’t find my calendar pages for the month. How weird. I’m sure something wonderful, depressing, confusing or clarifying happened. Amnesia induced September.

So I’ll throw in some of the movies I loved this year: Lady Bird, Three Billboards, The Meyerowitz Stories, Get Out. And while recuperating from foot surgery, I binged watched Ken Burns The Civil War series.

I was late in discovering Lemonade and then played it nonstop all winter.

I read a lot this year. I liked or loved the writing, the characters, the fearlessness, and/or story in parts of all of these books: The Dinner Party and Other Stories by Joshua Ferris; Marlena by Julie Buntin; My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul; The Burning Girl by Claire Messud; Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan; the poetry of Marie Howe; Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugides; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders; and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.

Oh, OCTOBER, you are always a bitter-sweet month for me and this year proved no different. I woke up on October 2 to a phone filled with texts asking about my newly married daughter and her husband who were working the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas. Hysterical I dropped to my knees until I read the last text delivered by my daughter at 1 am. “We are safe.” It was the worst mass shooting in modern American history. Fifty-nine dead. Over 500 people injured. And still our lawmakers do nothing. I have made it my mission to campaign for every new gun law advocate in 2018.

My kids survived. I think daily about those who lost loved ones. And the maimed, either emotionally or physically or both. I think about how NOTHING is being done to combat the chaos. I’m ashamed for all of us.

The emotional coaster ride to the start of the month continued when I found out I had an older brother who passed away in 2013 and four nieces and one nephew I’ve never met. I tried to find him once, pre-internet and Ancestry dot com, which is how one of my nieces found me. Given the wrong middle name and the year my brother was born, I hit a wall. When an aunt (my deceased father’s sister) told me she thought my brother died in Vietnam, I gave up. It turns out the lady in Tom Lynch’s workshop who told me there was more to the missing leg—that is, more to my daughter’s dog with the missing leg, she was right. The brother I never met lost his leg in Vietnam when he was in his early twenties. The phantom leg theme lives on as I chip away at this essay.

NOVEMBER was truly a month of thanksgiving. First at a successful reconstructive foot surgery on Halloween and to my friends and family for the food and company. Cheers to my husband who has no patience for being patient with this patient. I have been hobbling around first on crutches and then dragging this ball and chain of a steel boot around for the last three weeks. I’m grateful for good doctors and physical therapists and empathetic to all the permanently handicapped people living in a world not kind to them.

So here we are at the end of another year. DECEMBER and its constant end of the year lists and featured highlights. Sorry to add another one. Writing helps me to understand. And since it appears 2017 was a year of intense “thinking” for me, I’m hoping 2018 is the year I focus on what’s important and what I do with it. In my perfect world that would look like action instead of reaction.

If you’ve stuck with this rambling blog post, I wish everything you dream to come true. Cheers to you and yours in 2018.