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After the publication of her first book of self-transformation (A Year by the Sea) in 1999, Anderson writes of being consumed by a pressing schedule and a web of family cares that have derailed her from her original trajectory of self-truth. While her first journey consisted of separating herself from a previous life that had defined her as compliant and dependent (a wife and mother), her current journey involves taking stock of the progress and strengths gained in the previous 10 years. She attempted to get back on track by discounting "counterfeit journeys" (such as illusory ambition), refusing to be blackmailed by her ailing mother and resisting the urge to join her grown children's already-charged households over Christmas. Instead, she found sustenance in weekend seminars with other women; a pilgrimage to Monomoy, Cape Cod; and a magical three-week stint to the island of Iona, Scotland. Self-help platitudes abound, as Anderson quotes her mentor Joan Erikson ("The most important thing is to share what you know"), and her similes grow tiresome (she compares herself to a tangled, empty lobster trap). For readers eager for more, though, she does drop hints of marital discord and of leaving her journey unfinished. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The actual arrival at a goal always creates a turmoil unconnected to any previous imaginings. -David Whyte
* * *
It is a glittering September morning, and I am sitting on a deck at the edge of a salt marsh, coffee cup in hand, feet up on the railing, relaxed and more than ready for a morning of catch-up with Ro and Susan, two of my closest friends on Cape Cod. I take a deep breath, gaze out at the marsh grass, now turning burnt orange as the sun climbs higher, and remember why I love the Cape so much-especially this particular spot, where if the wind is blowing just right, I can hear the roar of the Atlantic in the distance. Here, in a moment such as this, I feel an abiding sense of harmony. Everything is right with the world.
"So," Susan begins as soon as the basket of croissants has been around once, "you've finally made it to the porch-first time in three months." I turn sharply away from the landscape and toward the note of sarcasm I hear in her voice, and I am startled to see severe looks on both her and Ro's faces.
"What are you talking about?" I ask, and then I take a gulp of coffee and wait for an answer that is not forthcoming. I was in the mood for a long overdue social gathering, one of those leisurely mornings we used to share regularly before the chain of appearances associated with promoting my last book and writing the new one got in the way. But it is obvious that they are preparing to take me to task. I know the signs all too well. Lately it seems I can't keep anyone happy. At the end of August, after the annual family gathering, my kids left complaining that I had seemed distracted the whole time they were here; my ninety-one-year-old mother stops by every morning and sighs loudly when I remind her I have to work; and my agent is forever pestering me about impending deadlines. No matter how hard or how fast I pedal, I constantly feel as if I am slipping backward as I head uphill.
"You two know how much work I have right now," I say with more than a hint of frustration. Both used to hold high-pressure jobs before retiring to Cape Cod. Susan had been a television producer and Ro a marketing executive. Both women had also raised children and sustained marriages. They came to the Cape tired, worn out, and ready for adventure. We've kayaked, hiked the Cape's beaches, shopped, and shared a lifetime's worth of secrets. They are usually sympathetic to my schedule, and they are the first people I call when I am stuck and need a good trek through the woods to sort out my thoughts. So I am surprised at the sharpness in the air.
"This is about more than your work, Joan," Ro says. "If I lived in the three-ring circus you do, I wouldn't be able to produce a thing. That's what's got us worried-you seem to be your own worst enemy right now. You've become a glutton-always putting more on your plate than you can possibly handle-and the overload is killing you. For God's sakes, look at you. When was the last time you got your hair streaked-probably before your last book tour. You certainly don't take that kind of time just for yourself anymore."
"You've written three books and delivered countless inspirational talks urging women to rid themselves of the deference to other people's expectations, yet here you are, dancing furiously to a tune of others," Susan adds. "It's kind of weird-don't you think?"
She's right, I've been fitting in my personal life and needs around my work ever since A Year by the Sea became a best-seller-on top of which I've had five grandchildren arrive, a husband retire, and my mother go through a series of eye and stomach surgeries. There is never enough of me to go around. So while I would prefer to laugh their comments away, I can't. Instead I bite my tongue and turn back toward the marsh, where a mother osprey is coaxing her babies to fly, and feel the peace I seek whenever I am in the presence of something wild and natural.
"Don't go passive on us," Ro says, picking up on my subtle withdrawal.
"I'm not. I'm just concentrating on what you're saying. It's kind of profound for early morning." The high spirits I brought to the porch are beginning to plummet. I've been up and down a lot lately, relaxed and expansive, like I felt a minute ago, and falling precipitously into exhaustion and gloom. I know that this moodiness is just one more byproduct of a cluttered calendar, but I am truly at a loss for what to change. When I wrote my first book, I had no idea success would be so busy. At one point, I naïvely thought it would mean more freedom, but I've learned that I am only as good as my latest sales figures. The trouble is, I like what I do. Sure I spend more time talking on the phone, returning e-mails, meeting with fans and business associates, and whatever else it takes to promote my work than I do actually writing, but I'm glad to feel so productive and fulfilled.
"Look, I'm doing the best I can," I answer defensively. Besides, it's easy for them to point their fingers; they are both retired, with comfortable financial packages and Jots of free time on their hands. My husband retired on the early side, and his educator's pension doesn't always reach far enough.
"We just want you to get your priorities straight," Susan continues, sounding a tad patronizing. "Remember, we've been there. Both of us let our work suck the life out of us, and we just want to help you before it's too late. Whatever I was chasing at my job was always a hair out of reach."
"My job was just the same," Ro chimes in. "Before I retired, my life was like a Dilbert cartoon with irritable bowel syndrome. I never had a chance to recharge. We would no sooner finish one marketing campaign than the next would begin. Everything was about the deadline-never my personal deadlines, mind you, but the deadlines set by the marketplace. I tried for a while to justify all the imbalance with illusions about the good service my company provided for people. But those excuses all disappeared when the personal products company I worked for bought Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Slim-Fast on the same day. My first reaction was, I gave my forties and fifties for that? Joan, neither of us wants you to repeat our mistakes."
"So, it is time to ask yourself just what is driving you: the money or the message?" Susan pushes on. "You toss around amazing nuggets of wisdom, but are you living your message? Ro is right-you look haggard and tired."
"Well, thanks for the compliment," I say, dumbfounded by her frankness and at a loss as to how to reply. Like most good friends, they have been in on too many of my secrets, but I'm not ready to declare defeat. There are so many differences between their corporate work experiences and the life I am living, and there is still so much I want to do. I just have to become more organized and gain a little more control over my schedule. I reach for another croissant.
I am curious, though, about why they are suddenly so riled up. I remember hearing a sitcom star say at the close of her long-running show that she hoped to get back all of the friendships she hadn't had time for when she was working. Is that what is going on right now?
"Do you guys feel as though I've left you out somehow?" I ask.
"No," Ro says too quickly for my liking. "We feel that you are cutting yourself out of your life-giving it away and taking none of the goodies for yourself. It's got to be damn lonely being you-best-seller aside. You are chained to your computer, and when you do go away, it's to an empty hotel room."
"Yes, we do miss you," Susan adds. "We don't care about your competency, or your Amazon numbers-what happened to plain old Joan-the loosey-goosey woman who parties hard, skinny-dips in the moonlight, and drinks too much wine?"
I remember that woman, too, and the memory makes me smile. Still, this morning's mood has turned, and now I feel awkward. I want to remain aloof and pretend, somehow, that they are talking about someone else, not me. Ro must sense my discomfort, because she quickly switches from pointing out the problem to proposing a solution.
"So here's the deal. I'm making you sign back up for the gym," she insists, passing me the registration card she just happens to have tucked in her back pocket.
"And I'm going to drag you to tai chi," Susan adds.
I look at both of them aghast. I am willing to admit that I need to slow down and make some time for myself. But I have to clean up my desk and plan this new book, not add exercise lessons to the docket. It is true that life, as I am living it, has lost its luster. But today, all I wanted was a beautiful sunrise, the quiet company of good friends, and a chance to catch my breath.
I make my way to the door, give them each a hug, and thank them for their suggestions. On the drive home I'm overwhelmed by unpleasant thoughts, not the least of which is a recurrent dream I have been having recently. In the dream, I am standing in the basement of our home-which, because of its age, has a dirt foundation. I am convinced I've murdered someone-and buried her in the corner. I visit the grave each day, praying that the body will decompose quickly so that my crime will go undiscovered. But there is never any change. When I wake up, I am always anxious, and I feel certain that I've committed the crime. Could it be that the person I have killed is myself?
Truth, like anything else, can be picked up or left alone depending upon your frame of mind. Right now I am willing to hear what my friends are saying, but I don't have the strength for prolonged self-scrutiny. Besides, there must be some small adjustments I can make that won't require a complete rethinking of my life. Any more radical overhauls will have to wait until I've finished this manuscript and gotten through the next few months of booked retreats. Still, deep down I know that the measure of my continuing identity must come from refusing to be swallowed by my goals. Having chosen my own set of complications, I have no one to blame but myself.
The light turns red and I come to a stop. I promise myself I'll analyze my calendar and begin to eliminate anything that seems superfluous-lunches that are purely social, meetings where I have no leadership responsibilities, parties that aren't appealing. I'll clear my desk of would-be writers' unsolicited manuscripts, refrain from answering the phone until the afternoon, and attempt to get help for my mother. The simple act of coming up with a few immediate, manageable solutions gives me comfort. When the light turns green, I push the gas pedal a little harder than is necessary. Everything will be fine.
TWO WEEKS LATER I finally make it to my internist, only because she won't renew a prescription unless I make an appointment. I've never enjoyed going to the doctor, and sitting here half naked in a cold, sterile examining room, waiting has me half crazed. Doctors seem to be in the business of trying to find things wrong with their patients, and since everyone has been pointing a finger at my lifestyle, I am more than certain the doctor, too, will find something to pick on. I hear the doorknob turn and brace myself.
I chose Dr. Pressman because she is a woman, recommends yoga rather than tranquilizers, is intelligent yet sensitive, and most of all, because she seems mortal. One of the things I like most about her is that she always seems to have enough time to talk a bit; her gentle, genuine questions and the fact that she remembers details about my life I forgot I even shared always settle me down. This time is no different, and as we babble for a few minutes, I start to relax. But then she slides back on track and gets to the real business at hand ... my blood pressure. It had been elevated some months back and she had put me on a mild diuretic, told me to do more aerobic exercise, cut back on the wine, and lose ten pounds. Aside from the exercise, I didn't much heed her instructions.
"My God, Joan, what have you been up to?" she says, as the blood pressure cup releases its air. "Your pressure is higher than last time."
I try to sound nonchalant, although I can see her eyes register alarm.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," I say, attempting to sound casual.
"Oh?" she mumbles, while scribbling her findings onto my chart. "Didn't you just come back from a book tour? Where did you go this time?"
"All over the place. I ended up in Philadelphia. Other than that it's hard to distinguish one place from another."
"Really?" she says, peering over the rim of her glasses with a critical glare. "Did you ever think that might be a sign that perhaps you have too much on your plate?"
"Don't we all," I joke.
"No, I'm serious, Joan. These numbers are scary. You are going to need to rethink your priorities." There's that word again. This conversation is beginning to sound all too familiar.
"Well, I'd be hard-pressed to cut anything out," I snap back. "I'm off to speak in Connecticut today, and I have a pretty full calendar throughout the fall. I can't just up and quit."
"Well, you'd better figure it out. Your entire cardiovascular system is at stake. This issue isn't reversible, but it is controllable. I'm ordering a stress test to be done next week, and you'll need to see our nutritionist-your sugar levels look suspicious, too. Here are some prescriptions," she continues, ripping the papers off her pad. "I want you to have an EKG. Take everything off down to your waist and put on this johnny. My nurse will be in momentarily."
Moments later, I am flat on my back, electrodes attached to my breasts, neck, and arms, staring at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling while her poker-faced nurse stands watching the machine spit out the paper that graphs the state of my heart. Minutes later, she deftly removes each of the electrodes and informs me that I am free to get dressed. I hop off the table, pull on my turtleneck, run a brush through my hair, and leave without even bothering to stop at the desk to make my next appointment. For the time being, the medicine will take care of things. It is, after all. only blood pressure, not something that requires hospitalization or surgery, I assure myself. Besides, I need to be on the road in an hour, and I still have to pack and say goodbye to my husband.
"HOW DID IT GO?" he asks, peering over the top of his newspaper.
"Oh, not bad," I answer casually as I hurry toward the bedroom. "I still have the blood pressure issue, but it's nothing that drugs won't rectify. I have to have a stress test when I get back and maybe see a cardiologist. Her whole response was a little over the top if you ask me."
"Actually, I don't think so." His stern voice stops me in midstep. "You're a runaway train, Joan-you never stop, you never say no. You drive here, fly there, all to have an other damn best-seller. You've become nothing more than a publicity whore. Whatever happened to being present, living the simple life, knowing the moments-your lines, not mine," he says, sounding very much like Ro and Susan. "I'm glad you've been caught. It's long overdue. The question is, do you have enough self-respect to listen?" And with that, he tosses his newspaper in the trash, gives me a salute of sorts, and walks out the door.
How dare he leave me on such a note? It's as if everyone thinks I enjoy the pace of my life. And besides, what is he doing to help our cause? Ever since he retired, all he does is play golf and volunteer for a variety of local political committees. I know those are activities he never had time for before, but they don't relieve me of any of the pressure I feel to pay the bills and grow our savings. I rush off to the bedroom to stuff toiletries, makeup, and a warm-up suit into my overnight bag. The more I think about his abrupt dismissal, the more furious I become. Why does my marriage seem harder now than before? I suppose it has to do with the old adage about retirement: "Twice as much husband for half as much money." Besides which, his schedule is totally erratic. One day he might be playing golf and going to a town meeting, totally unavailable to me, and the next three days he's just hanging around. I never know what to expect from him, and because he's made it clear that he values his newfound freedom, I haven't dared to ask. Whatever. These issues can't possibly be resolved in haste. I scribble a note with my whereabouts and bolt-glad for the escape hatch.
Excerpted from The Second Journey by JOAN ANDERSON Copyright © 2008 by Joan Anderson. Excerpted by permission.
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