Friday, July 21, 2017

Examining the Past

by Linda Rodriguez

We are preparing for the early-August final walk-through prior to selling our big house and moving to our new, drastically smaller home in early September. I've been decluttering and downsizing my home of 42 years for months now—in the midst of final cancer treatments, multitudes of writing/ editing/ teaching deadlines, and the vicissitudes of daily life. So it's no surprise that I've been revisiting the past lately as I sort through family belongings and oh-so-many papers.

The first thing that catches my eye is that I used to do so much. It feels like I'm constantly busy now, but I've had to learn to slow down and say, “no,” because of autoimmune disease and cancer. My schedule now, packed with deadlines as it is, is nothing compared to the schedules I used to keep twenty years ago with a demanding full-time job in higher education administration, lucrative fiberart and writing commissions on the side, almost a full-time job as a community volunteer (at one point, I sat on almost 30 boards), and a grade-schooler, two young adults, and a husband to take care of at home.

I look at a week's schedule printed out, hour-by-hour, to send to my boss to show that I really couldn't take on the major project he wanted me to lead, and I shake my head at days that run from 6:00 a.m. breakfast meetings to late-night meetings after an evening event with every hour in between packed with meetings, activities, and events. (Spoiler: I gave in and added that requested project to my already bursting-at-the-seams calendar.) What I can't figure out is how I planned all the programs and wrote all the speeches, reports, and articles with days like that. Then, I read a note from one of my graduate interns, joking about a wee-hours assignment email—“Do you ever sleep?”

Suddenly, I remember that feeling of running constantly on just a couple of hours of sleep a night. That feeling of being always a few steps short of complete collapse whenever the adrenaline would run out. Those were crazy times—immensely productive but absolutely mad. It's probably no wonder that I developed a couple of autoimmune diseases, which are often triggered by constant stress for too long a period.

I'm locked in another stressful period now, as I attempt to clear my house of its decades-long collection of family heirlooms and detritus, so I can start packing for the move to the new home. It has seemed a Sisyphean task, at moments, as I've tried to fulfill other obligations at the same time, but I've made a point of trying to ensure a decent night's sleep along the way, and now, the end is finally in sight. Age brings with it some basic sense and the realization that we must take care of our bodies and minds if we don't want them to rebel against us. Now, I couldn't handle a schedule like that weekly one I found among my papers, and rather than feeling sorry for that, I'm glad I've become smart enough not to try.

Have you had crazy busy times in your life? Do you find, as you grow older, that you are much more willing to say, “no,” and set firm limits?

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


  1. I am luxuriating in the broad margins of my retired life, in awe of the me that could teach six classes a day and complete six errands on the way home. I recall warning students with a notice on the board to "Be considerate. Your tired teachers were a parent conferences until 9 p.m. last night," and with their help making it through the day's classes. I have fond memories of those students, but love my status as human be-ing rather than do-ing. My last week, I raised a fist to declare, "as God is my witness, I'll never set my alarm for 5 a.m. again," and my first period students applauded . . . 7:25 a.m. is too early to start school.
    I hope your move goes smoothly and the new home is perfect for you. <3

  2. Mary, I would love to be retired, but I don't see that happening in my life. I hear people say they're so bored since retiring, and I think that I have so many things I would love to do for pleasure from studying several foreign languages and academic subjects to all my fiberarts to simply reading for pleasure again.

  3. Have a swift and relatively stress free move. With every move we make, I find things I'd forgotten about and lose things like a set of measuring cups or my favorite knife. Gremlins!

  4. Sixty has been good to me so far. I'm learning to say no.

  5. I hear you, Margaret. I've already discovered some things that had been long lost. I hope we won't lose anything important in the move. Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

  6. Juliana, isn't that the hardest thing to do? And just as I think I've got it, I find I have to re-learn that lesson again.