Armen Bacon

The too-muchness of life

Ron Cephas Jones, left, is William, the birth father of Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown in the series “This Is Us.” In a recent episode, William, taking his last breath, grabs his overachiever, workaholic son’s hand and offers deathbed wisdom: Roll all the windows down…and crank up the music.
Ron Cephas Jones, left, is William, the birth father of Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown in the series “This Is Us.” In a recent episode, William, taking his last breath, grabs his overachiever, workaholic son’s hand and offers deathbed wisdom: Roll all the windows down…and crank up the music.

In a perfect world, a writer writes. A painter paints.

If only it were that simple. But it’s not. Life gets in the way, often times causing a head-on collision between our must dos, dreams and desires.

This is an excerpt from the endless, ongoing commentary I share at least once a week with a dear friend whose passion is painting. Both of us retired, our arrival at this juncture theoretically licenses us to run wild with the wolves, live out loud, and feed insatiable cravings without guilt.

Both of us remain, however, addicted to busyness, slaves to our own mania, which, of course, leads to more conversations – these born of desperation, exhaustion, fury, and the need to find white space or green fields. In other words – anything resembling a safe haven, sanctuary. Sometimes we concede a padded cell might do.

Like many others in our circle of friends, we suffer from the “too-muchness” of life. Our plates are full. Our cups runneth over. We are bursting at the seams, and it seems that this is the new normal.

Wanting to blame someone, my first instinct is finger-pointing: political turmoil, technology overload, troubled times. Minutes later, I accuse a new medication whose small-print side effects include mental confusion, depression. A therapist friend suggests I might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. After all, it’s been almost a year since I landed in the hospital not knowing my name or date of birth.

Fragility of life, mortality and impermanence, the “iffiness” of the human condition, are perhaps finally sinking in.

It turns out to be none of these things. Instead, it is all of these things.

There’s more. Opening my Sunday newspaper I stare at obituaries of two young, vivacious, treasured colleagues. Both have perished at the hands of tragedy – one in a skiing accident, the other of cancer. Death in prime time. There is no undoing this, I think to myself. The news is paralyzing.

Sandwiched between their death notices and narratives is yet another loss – this one a more natural passing, another recognizable face, the former owner of China Peak, a place where I spent winter weekends during college years.

Drifting from present to past, catapulting back in time, experiencing what surely must be an out-of-body experience, I look down on myself sleeping in the back of a VW bus in the ski resort’s parking lot, bundled up in goose down, waking up to fresh snow, sipping hot chocolate, traversing the mountain without a trouble or care in the world.

I write my editor confessing I am at impasse and a loss for words. He asks if I have an inkling what I might write about next. In all caps I reply, “NOT A CLUE,” but share with him I have just watched a gripping episode of NBC’s hit series “This is Us” and one of the show’s most loveable characters has died.

Taking his last breath, he grabs his overachiever, workaholic son’s hand and offers deathbed wisdom: Roll all the windows down …and crank up the music.

I tell him that maybe I will write about this.

Because as a writer, I know there’s a fine line between being devoted to my craft and living life. When there are children to raise, bills to pay, errands to run, dishes to wash, time travels fast. But without these real life everyday experiences, a writer has nothing to draw from, no stories, lessons, or wisdom to share.

Trapped in the conundrum of life, determined to find balance, I realize I need a vacation from myself. My husband and I renew passports and book a trip. I also reinstate lunch dates with friends. I know this sounds small, but it’s a start. Breaking bread with friends can be strangely centering, buoying to the spirit.

Next week I begin teaching a writing class for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Fresno State. I will tell students about my writing journey and personal sacrifices, including the occasional insanity required to be a storyteller, author and columnist.

I will remind them the time is now to chase their passions, even if that means they stall washing dishes, doing laundry or fine-tune their television habits. Seriously, no one needs to watch the news every night.

Whether it’s March Madness or the too-muchness of life, it’s time to catch our breath. Find our bliss. I read not long ago that humans need 30 minutes a day all to themselves. Time to dabble. Dream.

Or roll down all the windows and crank up the music.

Armen D. Bacon of Fresno is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and two collections of essays, “My Name is Armen: A Life in Column Inches” and “My Name is Armen: Outside the Lines.” Write to her at armenbacon@gmail.com, @ArmenBacon.

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