On Writing

“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well, he would never know, now.”

                                    –Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1936)

Gunking Out



Today was the day for those disgusting November outdoor chores that I keep putting off. I am glad that it is raining, giving me the excuse to put it off. Yet, the cascading waterfall over the eaves trough that isn’t draining, making a lake out of the flowerbed, and the leaves molding on the deck, keep nagging at me for attention. No one else is claiming this fun chore.

This afternoon, the clouds cleared for an entire hour and the sun showed its face. It was time. I donned the warm coat, but didn’t bother with sunscreen.

I eased into the experience, first hosing off the deck’s collection of half rotted leaves accumulated from the last three storms. Now that the trees are bare, there is no excuse to wait.

The still dripping eaves trough, and the pool of rainwater flooding the flowerbed called my name. Dark clouds were moving in, signaling the return of the November monsoons. Time was running out.

I wrestled with the ladder, wondering if it will teeter a little too far and send me flying.

“Death by downspout” — will that be my obituary headline?

With one hand on the ladder, and one hand dipping into the great ice cold black water and whatever has morphed into existence here, I plunged in.

I gunked out the eaves trough and the top of the downspout, liberating the thick wad of matted conglomeration of leaves, moss clumps, shingle grit, and whatever else lurks in the eaves troughs.

Webster’s doesn’t think “gunked” is a word, and refers me to “muck”, which can be a verb. I like “gunked” better. It sounds more like the near gagging I experience as my hand pulls out a wad of something, be it gunk or muck. And, that special feeling of black ooze dripping down my arm.

My mind envisions the swamp monster in that old Fifties horror movie, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. Will it grab me and haul me into the depths of the morass?

I thought of wearing gloves, but, really, nothing gets the job done better than bare fingers fully immersed in icy rainwater and gunk. Dealing with sodden gloves would only compound the experience. You try to fling the evil smelling mess out onto the lawn, but of course, some of the liquid runs down your arm, and splashes on your face and clothes.

The downspout, finally liberated, gurgles to life, releasing a torrent of black gunk and water.

To anticipate a tweet, “the swamp has been drained”.

I climb down from my precarious perch, and find the hose to rinse off my fingers and arm, and everywhere else the mess had landed.

One last wrestle with the hose coils and the ladder, and I am done, ready for a warm house, some serious hand washing and something hot to drink, as the first splatter of the new rain cloud strikes my face.


–Neal Lemery 11/28/17

Cleaning Up Procrastination

Procrastination is a funny thing. It has many moods and often hidden reasons. Sometimes, when I delay working on something, the problem gets solved or someone else takes it on. And sometimes, my subconscious is chewing on it. I need more information and more thinking time. Then, the answer somehow miraculously appears. I tell Mr. Guilt that I haven’t really been lazy. I’ve been working on it the whole time.
This week, I took on a big project, one of those that was ever present, almost annoying every time I walked by it. But, almost too big to start. At least that was my feeble reasoning.
There are a number of those in my life; sometimes I take those on and sometimes I don’t.
I’d have that twinge of guilt: the ignored project. That twinge would pass and I’d find something else to do. Yet, I’d walk by this again and there it was–undone, still on my to do list.
But, yesterday was the day. At least I’ll start, I said to myself. One step at a time. I can do one or two things, and at least do something. I could even feel good about it. Starting, that is. Actually getting it done, oh that’s another matter, something for another day.
It really needed to get done on a nice sunny day. And the day was one of those wondrous perfect September days.
One or two actions became three and then four, and soon, I was halfway finished. Another half hour and then a break for lunch, and I’d be able to finish it in a day.
A few more hours of sweat, and I was done! It looked so nice. All cleaned up, things put away, even some long needed maintenance work done.
Fall is like that. There comes that day of rain, warning me that winter and the rainy season is coming, that summer is waning and it is time to get some projects done. Leaves are turning colors and dropping to the ground. Then, some more amazing late summer days, tempting me to believe again that summer is never ending, and I can just enjoy the day and put off doing what really needs to get done.
“Time,” Nature is saying, “is moving on. I won’t wait for you.”
“Maybe I was just figuring out how to get this done,” I told myself, trying to rationalize the long time I’ve spent in not doing the project.
Or maybe I really was procrastinating, hoping that this project would somehow miraculously get finished by itself and summer wasn’t going to end soon.

–Neal Lemery 9/25/2016

The Spiritual Samaritan

“A spiritual Samaritan lives knowing that if we were to leave this world tomorrow, we were the best humans we could be and we touched the lives of as many souls as possible. We are not asked to be perfect. We are asked to make a difference.” —Molly Friedenfeld

“You mean I’m not perfect?”

Not by a long shot. But, then, maybe I’m too hard on myself, too self critical. I make mistakes. I don’t get it right the first time, or even the second or third.

After all these years, I’m still trying to accept my humanness, my continuing ability to not get things perfect the first time, or ever. I keep learning, I keep trying. I plug away, sometimes one step at a time.

My stubbornness gets in the way, too. Being wrong isn’t always the answer I accept willingly, so I don’t always learn very well, and stay on the wrong path. Perhaps smarter people would have figured it out long before I do, and change their approach, trying a different method, one that has a much better chance of success.

Or, I procrastinate, simply not taking on the task and doing the work.

“Later,” I tell myself. “I have other things to do now.”

But, later comes around and the task still sits there, at the top of my to do list, waiting for me to get around to it. I know waiting won’t make the task easier, but I still do my dance, avoiding what needs to be done.

Maybe it will go away. But, it usually doesn’t. What’s left undone still hangs over me, uncompleted, calling me to get it done. Just do it.

But, I often don’t.

Again, I realize I’m not perfect. The cycle repeats, and, once again, I beat myself up, thinking that I am a failure. I’m not perfect. But, I am pretty good about beating myself up, reinforcing my human trait of not getting it right, making more mistakes.

So how do I know when I’m moving forward in life, when I am actually getting something done? I look around me, seeing if things have changed, if I am making a difference.

And, in the end, that is the real question. Am I making a difference? Am I changing someone’s life?

When it comes to people, seeing if I’m making a difference isn’t always tangible. Helping others out, helping them move on in their lives, giving them the encouragement to see their own talents, and to go out and live their own dreams, isn’t easily measured.

Yet, there’s progress. People are moving ahead, taking charge of their lives, and finding the courage to live their dreams, and not be caught up in the past, not judging themselves, again and again for what they did a lifetime ago.

People change, and people find the courage inside of themselves to move ahead, embrace new values, and to live their dreams.

I hear many stories, many tales of success. Conquered fears, dreams realized, real change. People find their courage, and they are moving ahead.

I’m making a difference with myself, as well. I need to take stock of who I am, and who I am becoming. My task is to realize what I’m capable of, seeing that I have ambition to get something accomplished. Yes, I have my own fears and doubts, but I know I can face them, and use those challenges in order to move myself ahead, and make a difference, a difference with me.

I am a spiritual Samaritan, helping myself and helping others move ahead with life, accomplishing tasks, honing skills, and improving lives. To do that, each of us must believe in ourselves, our capacity to love and realize our dreams, and to help others along the way.

—Neal Lemery 8/26/2014

This New Emptiness, Filled

Go, and create, you said
with your eyes, a few words spoken into my soul—
You have something to say, something to offer,
and the world needs to hear it.

Impatient, almost,
you always checking on my progress
to move, to contribute, to change this world,
your words pushing my procrastination.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

“When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver

You left us too soon, yet,
and yet, your words
to live fully, with passion,
echo throughout my being
in the silence
left in your passing
into the beautiful, the mysterious

—Neal Lemery, June 2013

In memory of and tribute to my friend, Judy Allen