The Uncertainty Principle


We’re staying right now in an RV park that we’ve been to before. It’s on tribal property at an Indian gaming casino. It turns out that the attached RV park is one of the nicest ones we’ve been to, bar none, so we have come back several times.

When we made the reservation last week, we could only get two nights, Wednesday and Thursday. We were put on a wait-list for the weekend nights – number eighteen. That meant there were seventeen folks ahead of us.

Now they did say they tended to get through the lists fairly rapidly, but there were no guarantees.

When we checked in on Wednesday, we’d gone from number eighteen to number sixteen – up two spaces. Okay – still a couple of days to go so no biggie.

Thursday was a not great day. A bike ride that we thought we could handle turned out to be much longer and more strenuous than expected. This was partially due to being out of shape, relying on both apple and then google maps to route us back and forth, a much hillier terrain than we were used to, and just plain, it got real hot. When we finally returned to the coach, hours and hours later, I ended up having severe leg cramps and then I fainted. My poor husband thought I’d had a stroke and called the paramedics and I got to spend a chunk of my afternoon in the emergency room.

The good news is that severe dehydration has a relatively simple fix – more hydration. Two liters of IV fluids pretty much fixed me right up and I feel great today.

The bad news is that dehydration is a sneaky devil. I mean, I was trying to chug fluids throughout the ride, but the heat and lack of humidity got the better of me, and I’m no spring chicken, either.

So it felt like we just plain lost a day of our relaxing, albeit very short getaway. Yesterday, I trudged to the office to check on our position on the wait-list. Number thirteen! We’d gone up a total of five spots. Which meant – we’d have to leave the park.

Well, no guarantees.

An hour later we were ready to leave and had decided to just boondock (or camp without any hookups for electricity, city water and sewer) in a wide open lot next door to the park, but still within walking distance of the casino. We went to check out and mentioned what we were going to do and said we’d be happy to come back into the park if we managed, somehow, to get to the top of the list. Yeah, it’s a hassle, but we were willing to do this, rather than try and find another park, or just go home. I also casually mentioned that I was the lady who went to the ER on Thursday. Yeah, all that dramarama was for little old me.

In the middle of checking out, the staffer says, hey, wait a moment, checks out her book and informs us that well, there is a spot open but just for tonight (Friday night). Not the entire weekend.

Okay – we’ll take it! We were pretty elated – it’s hot and being able to run the air conditioning is nice. Plus we hadn’t had much writing time, and we really wanted to be able to get to the casino and the pool which hadn’t happened yet, either because we’d lost Thursday.

So no guarantees for the entire weekend, but hey, one night was good.

We moved the coach two spaces over, and got to writing. Then about an hour later the phone rang. Yep, it’s the office and yep, there’s another space that opened up for both Saturday and, if we want it, Sunday night, too. Oh yeah, we want it.

Again, a bit of a hassle to move the coach, but it’s a thirty minute hassle. And we don’t have to go home and it’s over the weekend at one of our favorite places.

We went from number thirteen on a wait-list Friday morning to right at the top by Friday afternoon.

Obviously it’s a small matter whether or not you get into a show, or an RV park, or a restaurant that’s popular or during a particularly busy time. The larger matter, though, is how anyone handles uncertainty.

What we had come to when we went to check out yesterday was – we were prepared to leave, although we hoped we could stay. And we told the “powers that be” (in this case, the office staff) this. We didn’t just slink away and think, well, there’s no way we’ll be able to stay. Nor did we arrogantly not have a plan B in mind in case it didn’t work out.

So three things – 1. We remained positive; 2. We had a Plan B just in case; and 3. We let the powers that be know what our intention was, without necessarily saying they had to do anything about it.

See, if you think the office girl magically found me a spot because she felt sorry for me – no, that’s not it. What happened was that she had one night open and normally most folks want both weekend nights. She hadn’t thought to offer it to us because she knew (or presumed) we only wanted both. I think she was a bit surprised when we jumped on the one night so quickly.

I think telling her we were willing to leave and come back communicated that we would probably be very happy with just the one night, too.

Yes, this was much easier for us to do because we were already here. A lot of the other folks above us in line were probably only coming for the weekend so if they were put on a wait-list, they had a bigger incentive to find an alternative place or face not getting anything for the weekend. We, of course, had an equal incentive (to play the odds or just find an alternative) as we’d come mid-week.

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I didn’t always have a good way to handle uncertainty. As a child, I lived with plenty of it, having been abandoned by my divorced father in favor of his new family and living with a mentally ill mother. I craved certainty and guarantees, as many as possible. I hadn’t learned that life never hands any of us those things.

My husband, on the other hand, lived with relative calm and stability in his youth and one would presume he’d be much more able, constitutionally, to handle uncertainty. In some ways this is true. But in other ways, he can get quite negative when things don’t go as he assumes they will. In this case, he went to the negative side, assuming we’d end up going home a couple of days early and kicking himself for not booking sooner.

As I’ve grown, though, I notice that I strive for equanimity in relation to ‘not knowing’ – I don’t always succeed but that is my goal. In the face of the ‘Publican’s negativity about it all, I said, well, it really could go either way (I figured there were fairly equal odds). I convinced him, I guess, that there was no downside to staying positive, as long as we came up with a Plan B, too.

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This theme – handling uncertainty – was explored in two TV shows I watched recently.

In the first, Mad Men (one of my favorite shows), Trudy Campbell fails to secure her daughter a coveted nursery school spot at the Greenwich Day School. Pete, of course, demands a meeting with the headmaster who basically says, well, no, your daughter isn’t getting in – (once again, no guarantees!), and the failure to have an alternative was the fault of your ex-wife (she didn’t even bother to apply to any other schools for the little darling.) And also – you’re a double dealing Campbell from hundreds of years ago in Scotland. In response, Pete sucker punches the headmaster (he being a MacDonald) and the headmaster yells, “See! Sucker punched by a Campbell!”

On a more serious note, the last few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy have poignantly highlighted the theme.  Dr. Derek Shephard (McDreamy to most of us) is just driving along, witnesses an accident and stops to help out the folks.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t moved his own car out of way and when he gets in after the accident, he’s broadsided by a semi rounding a bend.  McDreamy doesn’t die immediately but is later killed off by incompetent doctors who are not used to handling such traumas.

Meredith Grey has a husband one moment, then loses him the next. Bam! And, it turns out, she’s pregnant. Double Bam! So she’s heartbroken, her kids are confused (they’re little) and she’s giving birth to a baby sometime after the death of her husband.

Can you imagine the bittersweetness of it all? No husband, no father and now three kids to raise on your own. It’s the big casino of no guarantees in life.

Part of this character’s back story is that she’s faced a lot of the same circumstances I did earlier in life – mainly a chaotic childhood (but more severely so than mine), so she’s somebody who seeks a lot of certainty in life, from picking her career (the same as her mother’s), to even adopting a child when she and McDreamy are having trouble getting pregnant.

It was a nice touch on Thursday night’s show that they interwove Meredith’s story with that of her own mother (Dr. Ellis Grey, played by Kate Burton), who faced with somewhat similar circumstances, didn’t just run away, she tried to kill herself and thereby abandon her daughter.

Meredith also runs away, but not because she’s self destructive. Her running away turns out to be very self protective, as well as protective of her children. The pregnancy, which we learn about later in the episode, infuses her running away with positive, not negative, meaning.

She’s not like her mother – rigid and self-destructive in the face of life’s vicissitudes. No, at the end of the episode she returns to Seattle as a new mother and widow, a woman coping with her ‘new normal’. Ready to be a mother to her kids and a surgeon to her patients. Maybe ready to even smile now and again in between the grieving.

She’s learned to bend and flow with uncertainty.

♠♠ ♣♣ ♥♥ ♦♦

I would only hope to be as graceful as a fictional character if faced with similar levels of uncertainty. Of course that would mean someone else would have to be writing my lines for me.  Shonda Rhimes, where are you when I need you?

Instead I blurt them out higgledy piggledy and I’ve been known to be pretty negative when faced with the unexpected bad news (Shonda, come on!)  My challenge has always been – I have to examine my own premises and beliefs about myself and my place in the universe, and figure out if they serve ‘me’. That is, the ‘me’ I am now, not the me I was as a damaged child or teenager. Only then can those thoughts that come hurling from my brain and out of my mouth be relatively positive, tempered with a knowledge that the negative, too, can happen.

Only then can I flow and bend with life. In all of its horrible and glorious uncertainty.

What’s In a Pen Name?

pen name3So today is my birthday.  Not a particularly special one, but one more in the can.  Entering my 58th year today – in a few years, I’ll be 60.  Well, in three years to be precise.

My husband is 60 on Sunday.  Sorry, honey, I know.  Who wants to be reminded of that birthday.  Even if 60 isn’t what it used to be (or 57, for that matter!)  You did notice, smart reader that you are, that our birthdays are exactly two days apart.  Not that we planned it that way, but it is curious.  Yet in my dating life, it wasn’t so curious at all, as I knew a lot of people born in October and November.  For some reason, I gravitated towards them or they gravitated towards me.  My first husband’s birthday is a week before mine, too.

Statistically, October is a big month for birthdays – which must have something to do with the fact that January is a pretty cold month in the Northern Hemisphere, so people get busy indoors.  With the predictable result happening in October.

Not that I mind, but it’s crowded in our family.  My son was complaining the other day about this – all the birthdays are this month!  For him, that’s his sister, his girlfriend, his mom and his dad and his step-dad, and than in very early November, his two step-brothers (who are twins).   That’s a lot of birthdays.

So enough of birthdays – they happen, we’re lucky that they happen as they mean we’re still here and that’s that.  They are just one day a year and for most folks who don’t share my birthday, October 24 is no big deal (unless you work at the United Nations, then it’s also their ‘birthday’ or anniversary day of their founding, so you probably know about this day, too.)

I’m still at work on the novel and gearing up for NaNoWriMo which starts in about a week.  I’m going to use scrivener this year to write book two of my series.  Of course, I haven’t yet finished book one, but I’m pretty close.  So I’ll probably bang that out at the beginning of the NaNo month – and if you don’t tell, neither will I.

And along with all this writerly stuff, I decided that I’d like to maintain some separation between my fiction writing versus any non-fiction writing I may try to publish.  So for that, and for the fact that my real name is boring, I’ve picked a pen name.

I should back up a bit.  I’m a bit loosey goosey on names anyway.  Most women are, quite frankly.  After all, traditionally we are the gender who actually changes our name upon marriage – and less often changes it back upon divorce.  Names have a fluidity for many women that men cannot begin to understand.  Well, after all, we do live in a patriarchy, or so I’m told constantly by young third-wave feminists.

In fact, some of them are giving a rasher of shit to George Clooney’s brand new wife for changing her name to his.  She’s already gone so far as to have her name changed at her law firm in London – I’ll bet she even got new business cards with the new name.

Because some people are making a deal about this, I applaud the new Mrs. Clooney.  She wishes to give her husband this gift of aligning herself to him in this way.  I know . . . why does she have to align herself to his family?  Why doesn’t he choose to change his name to hers?  Well, in this case, he’s too well known by his name and she is less so by hers, which is probably part of it – but okay, I’ll go with patriarchy as the primary explanation.

We’re living with this a bit in our own family right now.  My step-son and his girlfriend are having a baby in March, a boy.  They’ve had the name discussion – not just first name – and agreed that the baby’s last name will be my step-son’s, but that the middle name will be a family name from her family (although not her last name apparently – she’s using another family name which can double as a first or middle name.)

There really is no reason why this baby has to have my step-son’s name, obviously, or even hers.  Parents can, legally, pick any name they want for their child, and that includes the last name.  But almost always babies get their father’s name – yup, there’s that patriarchy again.  Sorry – I guess in this way it’s real at least in the Western world.  I’ve no idea if this is the same elsewhere, although I’ve been told that in Japan if a man marries above himself in class, he often changes his name to match his wife’s family name, which serves as career enhancement.

And in our own house – I am finally in the process of changing my name to match my husband’s.  I did it once in 1981 when I married for the first time.  It took awhile and it was a real pain, the memory of which obviously has lasted longer than the marriage.  When the ‘Publican and I got married in 2006, I had a private practice under my first married name (I didn’t revert when I divorced because I had a child), so until I retired a year ago, it never occurred to me to change it to my husband’s.  People knew me by that name – I had a whole adult identity tied up with that name.  Although boring and somewhat common, it was mine (okay, and a whole lot of other people’s too).

But when I retired, I re-thought it.  My reasons for keeping my first ex-husband’s name – not really that relevant anymore.  Most of our family knows me as either that name or as Mrs. Husband’s name.  So why not just go for it?  And The ‘Publican liked it too, even if he never wanted to force me to do it.

Well, I’ve not done that much to effect the change, but I know what I need to do which includes dealing with both the DMV and Social Security Administration, neither of which I’m really looking forward to.  But it’s on the list and rising higher there, so it will be done – just about nine years later than usual.

So . . . back to the pen name.

Once the decision was made,  then it became what should it be?  And you know, it was an easier choice than I thought it would be.  I wanted the last name to be my father’s last name – or as we quaintly put in the patriarchy, my maiden name – and then I wanted to use a variation of my middle name which also is a variant of my mother’s name.

This honors the people who gave me life and is probably not as common a name as the one I carry around on a daily basis, and it’s a nod to the patriarchy, too, I guess.  After all, I’m going to use my father’s last name as my pen name, and yet, change my every-day name from my first husband’s to my current husband’s.  Brother – I need some re-education somewhere, I guess!

My actual middle name is Suzanne (yes, my mother’s first name is Susan, so Suzanne is a variant of her name.)  My pen name is Susannah.  Just a more musical sounding variation.  And a slightly different spelling.  I’ve always liked Suzanne as a name and when I was a kid I experimented with dropping the Laura and just using Suzanne.  That never stuck entirely, but I’m fond of the name and I’m especially fond of the variation of Susannah.

My maiden name is Brewster.  I didn’t realize what a common name this is in England until I visited for the first time many years ago and saw it splashed on manhole covers and on the roads of London.  I think the company either built the roads or, at the least, quarried the asphalt that made them.  When I was growing up I didn’t know anybody with the name, of course, and for some reason I got teased for it.  It’s obviously not any worse than most last names and is a whole lot better than a lot of them, too.  Yet, as a child, I was called “rooster” and, oddly, “booster.”  Okay, that’s not awful, but couple this with being a fat kid with glasses, and it was just one more thing to be unmercilously teased about.

I was glad to shed it upon marriage.  I never looked back, even when I got divorced and there was the question right on the form – “restore wife’s former name”.  Nope.  I was keeping this name I’d married into.  Although to be even more honest, it wasn’t even the real name of my husband, but his middle name that he’d changed to legally.  He was born a Smith and he couldn’t stand how common that name was, so he took his middle name as his last and picked a new middle name.  His father wasn’t too pleased about it, but other family members understood.  I was never Laura Smith.  I probably would have ditched that upon divorce!

I did say I was pretty loosey goosey about this stuff, right?

So . . . Brewster was a name I didn’t like as a kid, but was stuck with, and now I’ve mellowed about the name and, as an only daughter who didn’t pass on the name further, I decided to revive it with a pen name.  I guess if I get a book or two published, that will be a legacy of sorts that honors my dad.

So after all this buildup and meandering, I introduce my writer persona, Susannah Brewster. 

Now, back to writing!

It’s October – Where is Zental Floss?

So I’ve been writing. In fact, I’ve written a lot of words – on a novel. Yes, one of those. I’m in the third act and trucking along on the first draft. Will it be good? I don’t know. Probably not.

First novels aren’t usually that good. Okay, exceptions exist. Always.

But I’m not that lyrical a writer – not yet anyway. I have modest goals. I don’t need the money. Although that would be nice.

So I suspect when I finish draft number one that I’ll sit on it for a bit. Will I even have the guts to start revising? Because revision is a whole other ballgame from getting that first draft done.

I’ve never gotten this far before. Several years ago I finished NaNoWriMo with about 55K words give or take on a novel, but it was a mess. Most of it was the middle and I couldn’t figure out how to finish it up. I didn’t write it in order, and it was written in Word, so it wasn’t as easy as using Scrivener to move sections around. And frankly, by the time NaNo ended, I was done with the story. I just didn’t like it that much.

Maybe it was the story I had to write and almost finish to just do it.

Last year for NaNoWriMo I rebelled and wrote over 50K words on blog posts – both for this blog and another one I was contemplating. A dark and ironic political blog. Hah! Nobody wants to read such things, but I got a lot of venting out during November.

Now in less than a month, NaNo calls my name again.

Where I’m at with my story is this – it’s part of a series, I already see that. Otherwise, the book would be inordinately long. It’s a genre story. In a category that I’ve made up, but it borrows heavily from Romance and Chick-Lit. I call it “Dame Lit” because it’s really chick lit grown up and gotten divorced. You know, for the boomer, over 45 set. But positive and optimistic – yes, there’s a HEA or HFN. Which for those in the know is the hallmark of the romance genre – the “happily ever after” or “happily for now” ending. I’ve got a lot of nice things in the first book. So I think NaNo will be for book two of the series.

And that way, I don’t have to do any big revisions to book one. Ha. See how I did that. Just pushed over revisions to another time. Like December or something.

On another note, October. Where did September go? And most of August?

For us, August was for some significant birthdays – My father-in-law, my father and my mother. My mother turned 80. My father-in-law 87 and my dad 84. Now every parent is 80 or over in our family and yes, we have all of them present and accounted for still.

Then in September, it ended. First, back in late July, my husband’s aunt died at 95. Then on September 6 his uncle died at 97. Then seven days later, my father-in-law died – yes, at the age of 87. A mere youngster.

So now our parents are starting to look like more normal families – it was rare at our age (I’m 56 and my husband is 59) that we had all four parents still. Now we don’t.

Weird. Who’s next? Unfortunately, the race is between my parents – even though they are both younger than my mother-in-law, they both smoked for decades (and my mom still smokes). Neither is in great shape. The one who will live the longest will be my mother-in-law (she of the siblings who lived well into their 90’s.)

And on a more positive note, we will be grandparents again – my husband’s oldest son and his girlfriend are having a baby boy next March. We’re excited about that. And for the gender balance as Nugget is a precocious 2 1/2 year old girl. I of course have already stepped in it, as I’ve offered my screed on names, which is never a good thing to do. Parents are going to do whatever they want on names . . . (I keep telling myself to shut up on the topic.)

When 2014 started I predicted that it would be a year of funerals. I wasn’t wrong. I’ve been to three in about six weeks. I can take a break now, really.

And I’ve got a few ideas to not completely abandon this blog, too. It’s been fun and I want it to continue to be fun. And I want to finish the novel and write the next one.

Can I do it all? (big breath.) I think so. Thanks for hanging in there and reading this.