|She Came, She Saw, She Kicked A$$|
“I don’t believe in dying. It’s been done. I’m working on a new exit. Besides, I can’t die now – I’m booked.”
– George Burns
“And so my life has gone: a series of tasks and joys waiting to be finished and savored.”
– Jennifer, your webmaster
Recently, I posted “I Died on December 5, 1984, at 8:30 p.m.” – What If..., a 1984 essay in which I eulogized myself – as if I were already dead – written for Death and Dying, a college course.
Using each section of that essay as a backdrop, I update how incidents in my life have played out and changed since then.
Again, this is probably more of a personal essay, perhaps not of interest to most readers.
No insult taken if, my dear readers, you decide to move along to something more interesting.
When I wrote my 1984 eulogy, it was with the understanding – my bargain, so to speak, with Death – that this was a faux passing, a chronicle of my first 34 years on earth, a life unfinished.
This 2014 update is not a faux eulogy revisited because, at my age, Death is less likely to make bargains – that to pretend might jinx what life I might have left.
Instead, let’s call this a 30-year review...
Back then, I was young and naïve, newly married – for the second time – to Jerry.
We are still married, a testament to our ability to stick things out, even when life threw us a few curves. I often say that my second marriage has been the one aspect of my life that has endured; Jerry is the rock of my life.
I have come to realize that deep love transcends the physical spark that drew us together in the first place.
And now I can definitively assert that he didn’t marry me for my writing or svelte physique (LOL); no doubt, he has stuck with me, through thick and thin, thick and thin, thick and thin, and thick.
In other aspects, I have continued to flit, given that jobs and other relationships have come and gone, books begun have remained unfinished, and our house has remained in chaos, full of junk and minutiae collected over the years.
In my life, I have done things I shouldn’t have done, but who hasn’t? Back in 1984, I expected perfection from both myself and my husband; in 2014, I realize that perfection is a myth, a milieu of fairy tales and happily-ever-afters – that, sometimes, settling for compromises is actually the best course in life.
Even as I wrote my eulogy, I was bargaining with death, wishing I could have lived just a bit longer, on some level, recognizing life as “a series of tasks and joys waiting to be finished and savored.”
I made it very clear that I wasn’t ready to die at such a young age, citing my exciting recent life changes.
But in 2014, I’m still not ready to die – still too much left undone – books to be written, completed, and published; domains to be sold or deleted; blogs and websites to be revamped; financial affairs to get in order; junk to be weeded; house to be cleaned; posts to be written; children and grandchildren to be visited, etc., etc., etc.
But, now, I’m at an age when, statistically, death looms closer. At 34, death was an abstract concept; at 63, no longer a concept, but an unwanted visitor peeking through the window.
In 1984, my concerns were different – no internet as we know it today.
In fact, my eulogy was hand written. Can you imagine? For all of the instructor’s pickiness, she accepted hand written assignments. I find this amazing, given that other profs required typed papers. But I found typing a pain; I had a Smith-Corona typewriter that used a cartridge for both ink and corrections and to use the correcting cartridge, one had to switch out the ink cartridge.
And I make a lot of mistakes at the keyboard.
Slow, slow, slow.
Personal computers were just hitting the mass market, but they were big, slow, and expensive, and we would not own a desktop until 1986: 20 meg hard drive, sold to us as the gold standard. The techie who put it together for us said, “You’ll never ever need to buy another computer.”
HA! Somehow Moore’s Law escaped his knowledge base.
Domaining. The oldest registered domain name, nordu.net, was registered on January 1, 1985, less than a month after I wrote my eulogy; Symbolics.com, the oldest .com, was registered on March 15, 1985, over four months later. The internet and domains were the milieu of computer geeks, not ordinary people like me.
Who knew that money could be made selling words?
And who could have predicted that I would be involved in this business?
Never in a million years.
Let me make one point clear: a “domainer” and a “cyber squatter” are not the same.
A domainer buys and sells generic and non-trademarked “brandable” names – a perfectly legitimate business, the virtual version of buying and flipping real estate, such as homes and businesses.
A cyber squatter purposely buys and sells trademarked terms, typos of trademarked terms, and/or versions of trademarked terms for the purpose of making ad money based on some else’s business and/or attempting to sell the domain to the TM holder. A lot of money can be made cyber squatting, but it’s not for me.
So, in 30 years, I have morphed from hand writing my assignments, essays, stories, and poems to setting up websites and blogs, blogging, buying and selling domain names, and using simple code.
In that time, the world of communications has undergone momentous change, and I had no way of knowing that I was standing at the edge of it.
Personal. In 1984, I considered the impact of my death on Jerry and Eric, my son.
I still don’t think Jerry would cope so well; I was absolutely dead-on when I said, “I fear that he won’t cope very well with my death, for he tends to give his ‘all’ to his relationships with people, and he certainly [gives] me a lot of attention and love. I just hope that someone in the land of the living will help him through this difficult time.”
Eric, now 44, would also mourn my death, but, again, it would be different for him. He would grieve and then go on with his life. I would want nothing less. He has grown from being “one tough kid” to the wonderful, kind man that he is today. He has experienced a few tough years – a wife who left and a major job loss – but he has found Amy, a wonderful woman and mate, and created his own design business. Whether I live or die, Eric’s sense of humor and brains will continue to help him throughout his life, as he develops his business acumen and grows his new relationships.
Thirty years ago, I worried about Jerry and Eric keeping in contact, cultivating their new and fragile relationship. Had I died in 1984, I had hoped that Eric and Jerry would have stayed in touch, that Eric would help Jerry through my death.
Now I realize that was an unrealistic expectation; Eric, still just a child, would have gone back to his dad, and stepfather and stepson would have drifted apart.
Now, however, these two have developed a deep relationship, further cemented by our granddaughter, nine-year-old Rhia. Also, Jerry had also nudged Eric into college and willingly contributed significant financial support during his seven years in college as he earned his B.A. in Architecture. I am convinced that Eric would have never enrolled in college but for Jerry’s persistent intervention.
l believe they would keep in touch – if for no more reason than Jerry’s persistence.
I offered some special goodbyes to some other loved ones:
My grandmother “Mo”: Back in 1984, Mo and I still had unresolved issues, but by the time she died (October 1987), we had resolved many of them. I was with her when she died – nine sheets to the wind. Part of me was glad to be impaired at that time because watching her die while sober would have been too difficult. (Let me be clear: I’m not much of a drinker, and “nine sheets” equals about three drinks.)
I hope she understands, but I do expect a lecture in the hereafter.
Her death was less difficult for me than Dee Dee’s. For one thing, I was younger when he died (March 1974), and his was also the first major death I had ever experienced.
With Mo, I never experienced conversations in my dreams – you know, those dream conversations with the dead that don’t feel like dreams – but Dee Dee and I conducted them a lot, at least in those early years. I suspect that those dreams occurred because Dee Dee and I had left a lot unsaid, while Mo and I had, in life, pretty much tapped out our conversations.
One of my “conversations” with Dee Dee led to this observation in the 1984 eulogy: “I’d like to tell Mo that I am in touch with Dee Dee ..., and he’s doing well here in the spirit world. He’s a bit worried about her upcoming hip operation because although he would like to see her soon, he also realizes that she has some unfinished business in life.”
In my dreams, Dee Dee and I had long casual discussions, nothing negative, just everyday conversations about life itself, our lives together, and my future plans. I miss those dream-state get-togethers, and, after 40 years, I still miss him.
In my early years, I had issues with both grandparents, culminating in my great flameout and schism in 1968-1969, which I wrote about in my memoir:
Certainly, blame could be assigned on all fronts – my behavior and their handling of it – but writing the memoir has diffused much of my residual anger. Readers so inclined can find out about all the flapdoodle by reading my book.
Finally, I made this dead-on observation about Mo: “Like it or not, she understood me more than I had ever let on.”
Sue, my once-best friend. There isn’t much to say about Sue; something came between us – perhaps she knows what it is – I sure don’t. I last saw her in 1998 at a book signing for a mutual friend.
I have come to terms with this loss, simply because I’m not sure what I could have done about it; this is what happens when people won’t talk about bothers them.
A closed chapter in my life.
Jeanette, my ex-mother-in-law, and Anita, my mother-in-law. Jeanette and I remained friendly, until her dementia and 2013 death took her from us. It was difficult to watch this vital, funny, playful, and intelligent person slip into a shadow world of unknowing.
After she died, I had a dream in which she was holding an infant and apologizing to him or her – when I first met her, she was still recovering from a miscarriage, so I believe that this dream has sprung from my own guilt for causing her major headaches back when her son Jeff and I were living together. In my waking hours, I am well aware that she had no need to apologize: she loved all her children fiercely, even the little lost one who never really was. While this dream was a surprise, I loved her as my first mother-in-law; I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect MIL, except...
I hit the MIL lottery twice. I didn’t specifically mention Anita in the 1984 eulogy because I still didn’t know her very well, but, boy, did that ever change. Until her 2006 death, she was the mother I had lost when Mo died. I even called her “Mom.”
She had every reason to dislike me – I’m not Jewish and we argued a lot – but for some unfathomable reason, she loved and defended me fiercely (as she did Missy, her other daughter-in-law).
We enjoyed the easy ways that mothers and daughters tend to enjoy. We learned to speak our minds, sometimes with a bit of conflict and often with comic outcomes. She taught me that total honesty (highly prized in my family) is not always desirable, and I showed her that when her loved ones asked questions like, “Where would you like to go to dinner tonight?” they really wanted an honest answer, not a tap dance around it.
We could argue and still come out of it friends – that was important to me and to her.
She had a wicked sense of humor, as evidenced by this anniversary card, which I posted in 2012:
I loved her like family because, to me, she was total family.
Jeff, my ex-husband. I have not changed my view of Jeff. He remains a friend to both Jerry and me and a great father to Eric and grandfather to Rhia, Eric’s daughter, and William, Julianna’s son (sadly, Julianna, Jeff’s stepdaughter, died earlier this year, at 35).
In 2009, I, perhaps, tested our friendship when I wrote my memoir, in which Jeff played a major role.
I knew that the book could cause some rifts between us, so I decided to face the problem head on: I gave him a copy of the draft and asked him if he would like me to delete or rework anything. I also asked if he would like me to use an alias for him. I’m glad I gave him the opportunity to offer his input because, at first, he was uneasy, but then grew to accept and even embrace the book. Imagine if I had blindsided him – I wouldn’t want that done to me.
By the way, he didn’t ask for any cuts (though I later made my own significant cuts, lessening the impact on him), nor did he ask that I use an alias.
At first, my grandmother Mo couldn’t stand Jeff – probably due to circumstances having to do with my running away to live with him – but she eventually came around, realizing that Jeff is a pretty decent guy – that no one is perfect. For years, they conducted a correspondence, even after we divorced.
Granddaughters Victoria, 18; Rhia, 9; Lily, 12; Holly, 8. I’m so happy that my “death” at 34 had been just an exercise; had it been real, I would have never met my granddaughters, and I would have missed so much, and, perhaps, they would have missed something too.
Victoria is growing up to be a poised young woman – she looked absolutely beautiful in her prom gown this spring – quite different from that newborn I held in my arms all those years ago.
Rhia, my ruffian lass, is smart as a whip and funny as hell – nothing much gets past her. She is my internet baby girl because when she was born, Jerry and I were living overseas. Her in utero and first pictures arrived as email attachments, and I didn’t get to see her in person until she was two months old.
Holly and Lily are my Joanie-come-lately granddaughters because I met them only four years ago, but I adore them and am so happy they have come into my life. Lily is such a warm, sweet young lady, and Holly is a delightful sprite who loves to climb!
I mentioned a few other important people and alluded to others: “...These people know who they are.”
An unfinished life. Is a life ever really completed? At 34, it wasn’t even close, and I spent this section lamenting what I had left undone and what I would be missing. At 63, I still have a sense of an incomplete life, although I’m well aware that I have more past behind me than future ahead of me.
At 34, I cited as my main accomplishment my undergraduate degree and how that was important to me. I would say that finishing the degree is and was more important than the actual degree as a credential – mostly a sense that I had finally completed something on my own without grandparents and teachers trying to push me forward.
So, in 1984, not finishing my graduate degree at The University of Florida was a major disappointment; in my mind, I had regressed to someone who wasn’t capable of following through.
Fortunately, in late 1991, I was accepted at Goddard College for the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and graduated in early 1994. My two research papers were published in juried journals, my creative thesis was published as a short story collection, and one of my short stories was published in an national anthology.
This was an important time in my life and also a time of personal crisis – a crossroads, so to speak. Fortunately, my sensible self prevailed and I pulled through it, I hope a better person.
I continued in the college library until 1987, when I decided to quit and work part time in The Writing Center and write full time. While still in graduate school, I started teaching part time at the college and continued that job until 2008.
During this time, I wrote and published some stories and articles. In 1987, I even won a poetry contest for “Starlings,” posted here.
Even so, I haven’t written as much as I wanted to, but I have no one to blame but myself – my lack of self-discipline persists.
Still, I have, so far, managed to complete and publish three books.
The 2000’s brought about a revolution in the publishing world; self-publishing was suddenly inexpensive if one was willing to put in a little elbow grease.
The good news: anybody could publish.
The bad news: anybody could publish.
Certainly, self-publishing has fired the gatekeeper and thrown away the key; one no longer had to grovel, hat in hand, in search of a testy and snooty agent or editor. I have taken advantage of this and published three of my books and one long short story.
I even published my ex-husband’s novel on Kindle. After dragging him through my memoir, I owed him no less. But it is an exciting read, so I highly recommend Has Anybody Seen the Invisible Man?
In 2014, how quaint this 1984 observation seems: “Perhaps my husband will find and gather my works into a collection now that I’m gone. What if he should choose the wrong poems or short stories?”
If you have read this far, then, perhaps you might want to visit my Amazon Store, link at the top of this page.
One of my visions have come true: starting a literary magazine. Three times.
While in graduate school, I (and others) started a literary magazine: Onion River Review. The magazine lasted three issues (1993, 1994, and 1996), but, ultimately, without funding, we couldn’t continue. Had e-publishing been available, I believe it would have endured because we did have momentum, just not the cash.
At York College, as I had envisioned in 1984, I resurrected the literary magazine and (with input from the department chair) renamed it The York Review, which continues to this day, under the auspices of the students and their advisor. I had envisioned a Gettysburg Review kind of magazine, but the college had another vision. But that is okay. Because...
Now I own the very casual Poets.net. I publish when I feel like it and am beholden to no one, just the way I like it. Still, one of my unfinished goals involves beefing up the site...
In my eulogy, I had mentioned that Jerry and I had been discussing possibly spending a year abroad in England or Scotland. We were looking at three years in the future, during his sabbatical.
What happened: Jerry’s sabbatical and our trip abroad actually occurred four years later and in Skopje (then-Yugoslavia) when Jerry was awarded a Fulbright for the 1988-1989 academic year.
In fact, Fulbrights and living abroad became somewhat routine, once in Belgium, twice more in Skopje, Macedonia.
In many ways, that first trip to Skopje was the most eye opening; neither of us (two complete rubes) had been to Europe before, and we had arrived just two years before the Balkan wars. Moreover, we were very isolated from the U.S. in a country that was still socialistic – no internet back then. Our connection to the English-speaking world was The BBC via shortwave radio and occasional copies of English-language Newsweek International and International Herald Tribune.
Talk about getting doused with serious culture shock!
But we learned quickly how to navigate a bewildering social and socialistic culture – for example, 100% monthly inflation, money exchange, shortages, when to buy bread, when to “stock up” on goods (for tomorrow they might be gone), how to behave in social situations (never refusing anything, presenting a gift to one’s host, and returning invitations), how to deal with government matters and identity papers, paying TV and other bizarre taxes, driving on dangerous roads, where to go when something needed to be repaired, etc.
In Belgium (1997), we had no internet (too expensive), but we had access through Jerry’s university, and the country was more cosmopolitan, reminding me of a French-language version of Washington, D.C.
In 2004 and 2009 Skopje, we had reliable internet, which totally connected us to friends and family back in the states; also, Macedonia was changing rapidly into a capitalistic type of government (complete with growing pains).
The world had suddenly grown very small!
The real shocker (and something I never envisioned back in 1984), I was awarded my own Fulbright, as a creative writer, quite possibly the capstone of my life, at least professionally. In 2009 - 2010, I taught great courses (Creative Writing, American Literature with Emphasis on African-American Literature, and Academic Writing) with wonderful and smart students and colleagues at the Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Macedonia, the country’s premier university. Had someone told me that this would occur in my life, I would have laughed out loud.
I love when life hands you lemonade – forget about the middleman lemons – spiked with rum!
Obviously, I have learned to manage my fear of flying – mind you, I’m not over it, I just work with it. It doesn’t help, though, when a jumbo jet (Malaysia Flight 370) has disappeared without a trace.
Still, I exhibited a bit of humor when I said, “Of course, before going to Europe, I would have needed to get over my fear of flying. How silly that seems now that I’m dead!”
One last regret: I still struggle with weight, and I’m going through a particularly rough patch now in that regard. But it is what it is, and I have become more accepting of it. I just have to let go of the notion that I will have complete control over my life – it doesn’t always happen.
I’m still a “late bloomer”: I was 59 when I was awarded my Fulbright, and if I ever have a best seller, I’ll probably be in my 80’s, just like Helen Hooven Santmyer, who sold a gazillion copies of And Ladies of the Club when she was 88 years old.
In my eulogy, I said, “I regret that I didn’t make a difference in the macrocosm. But I’m glad that I did make a difference in the microcosm – to my husband, son, and family, and that’s important.” This is still very true; in my personal life, I feel at peace (accepting that which I cannot change), and, professionally, I have made more of a difference than I could have ever dreamed – any additional awards and accolades will simply be gravy.
This update does feel like an extension of my eulogy, and I do feel a bit uncomfortable knowing that some of my words may be read at my funeral, so I have taken care with my tone and attitude. Nobody’s life is perfect – my life is far from it. Like everyone, I have axes to grind and people that I wish had never walked into my life, but I wish for my chronicle to emphasize the positive and leave the negative in the dust – just like my dead body someday.
When I do finally die, I want it to occur while I’m still doing the things that I love; I want to die in medias res, and at an advanced age, very advanced. If I ever get to the point where I feel as if my life’s work is complete, I will have seriously failed.
A life should always remain unfinished, with plans in the hopper.
In closing, I would like to remove that God-awful “Bobble” poem from my list of works to be read at my funeral.
What was I thinking, anyway?
Instead, please play Chris Hadfield’s Youtube version of Space Oddity and some jazz, including Louis Armstrong’s It’s a Wonderful World and When the Saints Go Marching In.
Oh, and don’t forget The Beatles – something from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album would be perfect.
On my tombstone: “She came, she saw, she kicked a$$.”
Please check back – I might change my mind again.
(Jennifer Semple Siegel, 2014)
“I Came, I Saw, I Kicked A$$ – and I Didn’t Die on December 5, 1984, at 8:30 p.m.” (How My Life Has Played Out Since My Eulogy...), copyright 2014 - present by Jennifer Semple Siegel, may not be reposted or reprinted without permission of author.