The Tyranny of a Blank Piece of Paper

The tyranny of a blank piece of paper is know by anyone who writes or needs to get a proposal done. It is not very different from the death of a spouse, each day begins with a blank page.

I will repeat my mantra about closure because during a class I am attending a fellow student reacted in horror when I said ‘Closure is indifference, it is denial said pretty’. I guess not seeking closure following the death of a loved on is abhorrent to some. You can find my various posts on closure here, here, here, and here and why it is not a bad thing.

It has been six years since Donna died. I can say I am largely out of woods of grief though there is a new grief. The grief of how am I going to find my way forward when the fabric of my meaning and my purpose is in tatters. The path forward feels as treacherous and riddled with obstacles as anything that grief over Donna’s death has presented.

Filling The Silences of Time

During these blank page days I find myself filling silences of time with unimportant activities. Those small meaningless tasks flash a moment of purpose and just as quickly are replaced by ‘this is what life has devolved into: stacking books in size order, cleaning the glass coffee table (again), empty the dishwasher (that is never filled), do a load of laundry, etc’. Let me not gild the lily here, I do volunteer at an animal shelter and other organizations. I have written a book and am pitching it so all is not desperate. I am taking classes.

Time becomes the interstitial spaces between activities. Compare what I am doing today to what I did prior to Donna’s diagnosis or during her caregiving. The value my time has for me and how I feel about that time is profoundly different today than it was then. The time I have on hand now is greater and echoes in the silence of my own breathing.  Previously the spaces of time between ’things’ was compressed. It had its own heart beat and rhythm. I was able to do all that I wanted to do and needed to do plus run a business or care for Donna or consult. The busier the person the more they can do seems to fit here. I am a slow-mo version of who and what I was.

Another and more apprehensive comparator of then and now is enthusiasm. Not sure I can quantify enthusiasm then to now. Then, the activities were keeping the business open and going. Pay rent. Paying salaries. Pitching business. Those tasks may not qualify as enthusiastic endeavors. They had to get done or else. They were part of a larger life and movement though time.

Comparing Then to Now

Today am I enthusiastic about emptying a dishwasher? It doesn’t have to get done. The dishwasher got done before because it was in the way of the next thing to do, watch TV with Donna or make dinner or go to a movie. Meet with Donna’s oncologist. Now the dishwasher gets emptied because it is an activity that fills space and time. The word enthusiastic may overstate what I am saying but, it felt like there was drive to do and do more then and in doing those things feel accomplished and enthused. Now, not so much.

I have been noticing that I am looking for things that I can loose myself in and relish the time spent lost. In this day and age of WWW and social media there is an abundance of things to do, watch, read, and follow. Those all become a passing moment, literally a glancing blow to my attention. Why?

My curiosity is as active as it has ever been. I want to devour as much as I can especially new things. Though the  bouncing from activity to site to podcast to book is the blinking neon sign of ADHD. I feel as if i am trying to find something to lock onto. I was locked into caregiving or my business. Now?

Case in point, I am a fan of the video game Destiny. I’m new to gaming. You can read about me and gaming here, here, and here. Truth be told I am not playing many if any other games which right there is a bit of this dragon fly behavior, darting around a pond touching the waters surface for a second and moving on. A new Destiny, Destiny2, will drop in September. I have been listening to Bungie Podcast and following players. My excitement extends beyond the game to thinking about what is like to create something to launch it to test it. My comparison point is working in pharmaceuticals knowing what it takes to get a drug to market and how similar this feels. All the phases of testing the product, identifying messages based on the outcomes, marketing, and launch. I wrap the warm blanket of my past around this new world and have a burst of enthusiasm. Dare I say focus. And …


I had lunch with my lawyer who is retiring this year. We were at a lovely little Vietnamese hole in the wall called Pho King. (Howard has been to Vietnam many times and remarked how good the food was. As good as the street carts in Hanoi he said.) I was bitching that I need to buy a new oven. He said without thinking, “That should take up three weeks of your time.” And there you go. Filling time with activities. In a way it is the theory of brief cases. Have a big brief case you fill it up. Have a small one not so much. That is time these days a big brief case that you need to fill sans enthusiasm, meaning, and purpose.

I remain undaunted to find that one or two activities that motivate me that fill me with ongoing wonder and hope where I can loose myself in. The poem below seems to capture that, discovering a place for the first time. I look for the return to the place I started for the first time.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
                        Little Gidding V,
                        Four Quartets.
                        — T.S. Eliot (1943)

Sundays and Banana Bread

It was Sunday and I was getting ready to make some banana bread.

She called out from the bedroom, “I am going down to Century 21 to pickup some things.”

I rolled my eyes and took a deep breath to steady my response, “Okay but don’t spend a lot.”

Now in the kitchen looking at me with that smile of WTF, “I work, my money, I pay half the bills, and savings so shut up. Besides there is always a sale, so it is free.”

Pulling at my logic, “Its not free, even on sale, you pay something.”

Turning to head out she notes, “It is free especially if I buy two for the price of one. One is free.”

I can’t win, “Okay I am going to start the banana bread. You can have some when you come home. Bye.”

“Bye bye, la la la la” she sang as the door closed behind her.

 Sunday Dinners

It’s Sunday. My bike ride is done, her lattes were made and finished, the Sunday Times devoured, played with the dog, and now looking at Sunday recipes at rest on the stainless steel island.

I run my fingers over the listed ingredients to animate them. Make these black letters and words on white paper come to life. These words expressed in this order will fill the kitchen with the scent of warm embracing flavors and create a home, the home, our home, for us.

As a child Sunday meals anchored the family. That and going to church. We’d pile into the Ford dressed in our church outfits for the 10am service. My brother and I wearing ties, jackets, and feeling constrained. Dad in a suit. Mom in a dress and my sister wearing a print frock and hat. I was an acolyte for my teen years. An acolyte needed to be at St. Andrews early to put on the cassock, cotta, and light the candles.

The service ended at 11:30. And then we’d pile back into the Ford loosening our ties and the top button on the starchy white shirts poking and prodding each other with all the pent up energy of children held captive. We’d race into our rooms strip off the church clothes being yelled to to hang everything up.

Mom would do most of the work preparing the Sunday meals. We would be charged with setting the table, the dinning room table, not the kitchen table. Forks on the left. Napkins under the fork. Knife and spoon on the right. Water glasses and plates. There was always a table cloth. It felt elegant, stately, and formal as if we were dinning out within our own home. Afternoon sunlight came though the dining room window and the place settings cast shadows on the white table cloth in a still-life moment.

While dinner was being cooking the Sunday paper was consumed which included the comics in the Star Ledger for the kids. Mom and dad would fight over the Sunday Times Crossword puzzle.

The food was only part of this day. It was the act, the real life moment, of sitting and eating that made it Sunday. “Please pass the carrots. May I have some more chicken? Can we watch Disney tonight? May I be excused?” And then there was the instructional moments, “The fork in the left hand!” “Use your knife with your fork. “Sit up don’t slouch over the plate.” “Put your napkin on your lap. Chew with your mouth closed.” We were all there all present all engaged around a meal with each other.

During the teen years there was the sullen jealous arguing of siblings. The sharp retorts to imagined insults or hurts that fractured the meal which at times ended with “Leave the table and go to your room, now!”

The specifics of the meals were there but the memory has a larger life. It is the family gathered around the a table like an alter offering the warmth and comfort of a meal in a split level suburban home. Eight steps up to the living room, dinning room, kitchen, three bedrooms, and bath. Eight steps down to the rec room, spare room, utility room, door to patio and yard, the utility room, and garage. Sitting in a small subdivision in central New Jersey. NJ was a long way from the tenement in a Worcester neighborhood where the entire side of my mothers family lived. Sunday meals there were events of a magnitude that rivals King Arthurs Court. Extended family members grandmom’s, aunts, uncles, etc. sitting around the table talking and arguing about everything and anything. Politics, something called the stock market, work, and the crazy uncle who was not there. Mom, grand-mom, and aunts all jammed into an apartment kitchen cooking without a bump or foul. A ballet of food and fire.

This was as close as I got during those early years to imagine what it must have been like living in a village a hundred years earlier where everyone was family. This tenement in Worcester translated well to the split level in NJ. The warmth of the kitchen the food aroma, the chattering over dinner and the sense of family. Family is less about a birth order and more about environment. Sunday dinner was the environment that reinforced family.

She didn’t really have that family Sunday dinner environment. Loss of her dad when she was young. An older brother with issues. A mother who worked to keep a roof over the family. I think more importantly was the fact her mom was not a cook.

I wanted to return to those Sunday meals for me. It was less an active choice and more instinct or DNA. Since it was only her and me. Our Sunday meals did not begin as plan to make up for what wasn’t. It happened over time. Beginning in small cramped apartments and kitchens making something, eating together, sharing a bottle of wine, and steeling ourselves for the week to come. By the time we ended up here 28 years ago the Sunday meal was an event. She would set the table. On the Sundays she cooked I set the table and washed the pans etc.

Sunday Dinner Dishes
Franciscar Dishes

She would select the dishes as carefully as she set type. Were the settings to be the midcentury Jetson looking dishes, her mothers traditional set, the Martha Stewart set in taupe, or the Fiestaware. Dishes were chosen according to the meal and the season or the date. Placemats matched and the silverware pulled along with water glasses and wine glasses. And of course linen napkins. It was Sunday, no paper napkins.

This preparing the table was independent of my youth yet resembled it so well. There is that part of us deep within the brain that seeks order, family, comfort, peace, etc. It was less about trying to give back what she lost as child but more that we as humans crave that prehistoric life around the campfire. In my mind I began to rationalize Sunday meals as returning to her what was lost.

 Baking Banana Bread

Right now the table was waiting till she was back from Century 21. Make the banana bread.

I went to the pantry and pulled down the container of flour. Removed the cover and reached in for the scoop. Slowly sank the plastic scoop into the flour and watched small mist of flour plum up. I poured it into a one cup measuring cup. A knife was scraped over the top to ensure its level with the rim and emptied it into a bowl. I repeated it again and returned the flour to the pantry and took out the whole wheat flour. Measured 1/2 cup repeated the actions. Added 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Two cups of sugar and two sticks of butter were placed in the bowl of mixer and turned to low. Slow steady turning of the paddle attachment pulling and pushing the butter and sugar together. The color and texture changed from white and yellow to golden softness shinning ice like.

Now for the fun part, mashing six bananas. The bananas were lying in the bowl. Small logs speckled brown and soft. I picked up the potato masher with the red plastic handle given to me by my mom when I got my first apartment after college. It and the other utensils were from the 1950’s. They were classic and weighty. I slowly pushed down on the bananas and watched the fruit squish and rise up between the ends of the masher. The repeated mashing produced a grey colored wet paste. Resembling mud at the edge of pond.

To the mashed bananas four eggs were added and whisked. The gold of the yolks blend into he mashed grey bananas. The yellow swirled in a vortex and slowly disappeared into the bananas changing the grey to a yellow tinted gelatinous mass that would become banana bread.

The blender working the butter and sugar was waiting for the bananas and eggs. Once added the aroma of the ingredients filled the air and took on a firmer texture. Slowly the flour mix was added. The dry flour melded in to become a batter of grayness. Scrap the sides until the scars of dried flour was gone. I pour this into two loaf pans and place in the oven.

Forty minutes later I removed the loafs of banana bread and cooled on a wire rack. The house smelled like home. I sat on the chair and closed my eyes. I was startled awake by a dream of which I have no memory.

Where was she? The aroma of banana bread was there that was no dream. The mist of sleep evaporated from my mind. I remembered, she is not coming home. Donna died six years ago.

It was still Sunday. It was still our home. There is no reason not to continue. I imagine she can smell the banana bread.