With the death of my dear friend, Susan Rasky, I dedicate this post to her. She was right there with me when I began my blog and her messages tell my story. My words are in bold.
After my mother was released from the hospital and into a nursing home at the beginning of 2010, Susan wrote this to me:
What’s important now is your life at home. Time for your dad, to the extent he can, and your brothers to tend to things on that front, while you concentrate on your husband and children. Write when you need to vent or want support.
There is something else I have wanted to tell you. There is a common pattern among journalists who cover very intense stories – fires, quakes, wars, plane crashes, and even big investigations. You go hard and fast for a period of time, living on adrenaline, and loving it even when you are exhausted because you feel like you are doing something so important (I tell my students it’s even better than sex). Then the crisis abates. And almost without realizing it, you get depressed. Some people actually crash. I hope you won’t face this, or if you do, that you will be kind to yourself and take the time to re-center. Please, please don’t let your parents or other family members take advantage of you.
I don’t want this to sound like a lecture, but I repeat, you must rest and replenish yourself. Tennis today was a start. I think the email support network is wonderful therapy because it forces you to reflect, don’t let it become a burden either! I wish you peace of mind and some quality time with your own family for a while.
I began to miss writing to my friends and family once my mom was in stable condition. I shared with Susan my thoughts about continuing to write.
It’s been really nice to rekindle the family connection with you, Judy. I feel almost like you are a younger sister, and that is really quite wonderful.
I think it would be a beautiful for you to put a journal together. I know this whole episode with your mom opened up a well of grief over the son you lost. Jason must have been a magical child, and I remember my parents telling me about his illnesses and his funeral.
My father apparently sobbed throughout the service; my mom said she had never seen him so consumed with grief. I can’t begin to imagine the pain you have lived with, nor how you found the strength to go on, but surely that strength is what guided you through this recent ordeal.
But no more sadness! Time to enjoy your beautiful family, and to pick up the art and music that give you such pleasure. Keep emailing.
I began my blog and named it “I’m Taking Off.” My first story was about an upcoming meeting I had with a music producer who would hear some of my original songs. But I was out of practice because I hadn’t played my guitar much for 30 years!
Judy, I think it’s so cool. Don’t you dare be intimidated by him. What have you got to lose? You’ll be great!
Blog is fantastic. Give yourself a window to write, Judy. I’ve saved all the emails that I think would work as book material, so if you are missing any, you’ll have an archive. Take it easy.
A few months later, Susan wrote:
I continue to be amazed at how prolific you are. Writing must be the only “private” thing you get to do, which is part of the reason you love it so much. I’m glad you are pushing your dad to take a little more responsibility. Take deep breaths, little sister. Take time to just be, even if it’s only a few minutes.
Jude, I want to hear about you and your family. I love the deeper stuff, so keep me in loop as far as the blog, or draft essays for the blog.
I wrote a message to Susan about something that had happened not long after I started my blog:
Oh Sue, I’m so upset right now. My husband and kids were making fun of the blog and I actually cursed at them to stop. I can’t believe I did that! I guess my filters were down and it was quite shocking. However, I guess I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore.
Judy, they’ll get over it. Right now the blog is an extension of you, so it makes sense that their teasing hurts. Of course you are feeling and emoting, as you say. NOT TO MENTION THAT YOU’VE BEEN LIVING WITH ALL THIS PAIN. DUH.
Come clean with them. Tell them they are difficult and that you need the blog to vent and to regain your equilibrium.
Promise them that the eventual book will be respectful of them and their feelings. Maybe involve them in reviewing it. They do have a fair complaint, and you have to deal with it. Doesn’t mean you stop writing, but take some deep breaths. You’ll make it.
Susan continued to support my writing:
As far as finding a new blog title, it will come to you, probably when you are not trying so hard to find it. My best stuff is usually from the shower.
Eventually, you will find distance from your initial writings so that you can structure, edit and rewrite for a book. It will happen. You’ve been operating at warp speed for so long (and out of such necessity) that until now you haven’t been able to just sit back and reflect. Don’t be afraid to slow down.
There is no pressure to write the Great American Novel or anything else. As I’ve always told you, those routes take a lot of the pure joy out of writing and might not give you the wonderful feedback and clarity you are getting from the blog. Not to mention the comfort and advice your blog entries give to others. With all of your trials and burdens, you deserve some time just to be happy.
Susan was blunt and honest with me. I knew she always had my best interests in mind, even when I didn’t follow her advice.
Jude, content is great and important, but I also want you to consider style. Think about how you might want to shape and edit the blog. You can convey a lot of personal anguish without ever revealing details of your personal life. I already see you doing some of that on the blog, and that’s a great leap.
Judy your “ordinary life” posts are where your writing talent shines, where your sense of humor and ability to laugh a little at yourself comes through.
I swear I could make a book of those posts interspersed with your family anecdotes. If I were a book editor, I would tell you that your parents and the permanent ache of losing Jason are the shadows, but not the substance of the book you should write. To me, the book is a comic romp of your real life!
You also need to separate your blog from your art illustration business, in my humble opinion. Do you really want your clients to know the private details of your life? Sorry. I sound like such a wet blanket but if you want to make money with your other wonderful creative talents, I’d argue you need to have some distance between that material and your raw emotion. I always sound like such a crank. I’m sorry. Feel free to ignore my unsolicited advice!
Later on, I created a second blog named “Illustrating My Life.” Susan had given me a great idea. That blog received a lot of traffic and views. It was also very therapeutic for me to create.
Judy! I love the art blog! Haven’t made my way through all of it yet, but tone is right. I can tell. I think this is because you have a detached (yet involved) feeling about your art career. It’s the perfect perspective. And I love the title.
I think about you all the time, and I am in awe of your illustrating talent. If life would calm down enough for you, it would be wonderful to imagine you teaching young people (private art lessons, community college or design school) to draw. I wonder if you realize how good you are.
Susan, continued to express her concern for me:
Jude, pay attention to those mood swings. Some of it may be menopausal, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or potentially in need of special attention. I worry constantly about you running in a thousand different directions at once (just from your creative endeavors!) let alone the overwhelming responsibilities you give yourself with the parents. That seems to me to be just the inside out of turning off all your feelings and retreating from life.
I’ve been so worried about the manic energy, Judy. You’ve taken such huge steps this year; I want you to savor the good stuff without having to feel cheated when life settles to just some of the old routine. Am I making any sense?
I never shared with Susan how lonely I was in my marriage. But she sensed it.
I keep thinking that some of finding the balance means finding common ground with your husband again. And I know that’s really hard after all the two of you have been through. Just know that I am thinking about you and trying to talk to you like an older sister. Doesn’t mean I’m correct in any of my amateur analysis, by the way, but it does come from genuine care and affection and belief in your many talents.
Eight months after I began my blog, my old high school boyfriend, Sam saw a story on my blog named “The Very First Song I Ever Wrote.” On my blog, I call him Dr. Sam and the song I wrote for him was named “You’re Not the One.” Sam and I began corresponding and Susan was very concerned about it.
Judy, I’ve been wondering where you were. Are you emailing less or just less to me? Either way it’s ok, as long as you are all right. School starts this week, so I’m busy with last minute doctor appointments and syllabi.
It caught my eye this morning when you mentioned that your tennis friends told you to stop emailing with Sam. They felt he was wooing you and it wasn’t good for your marriage.
I agree with your tennis buddies. Please, please cool it with this fellow. I’ve been thinking you are probably ripe for an extra marital fling. This Sam would be so wrong to have a fling with. He would hurt you, and you would hurt your husband and your kids for nothing. Sorry to sound so melodramatic, but a whole lot comes through in the email exchanges.
Sam came with his wife to meet my husband and I at our house around that time. I reassured Susan that my messages with Sam were completely open and chaste; I really appreciated Sam’s caring and his friendship. Sam was a religious man, an Orthodox Jew. I told Susan there was little for her to worry about. But Susan didn’t trust him.
I beg you, don’t get sucked into this! The idea that orthodox men don’t cheat on their wives is nuts, and, as Jimmy Carter once said; lusting in your heart is the real issue anyway. What all this should be telling you is that you need some romance and spice in your life. How about figuring out how to make that happen at home?
Judy, your LIFE is a country music song waiting to happen! The lyrics could write themselves. Think of one good line and let your friends riff the rest. The music will come to you. I think it would be great if you wrote one just for your hubby.
Much love, your Big Sister (I mean it, this is big sister advice!), Susan
Sam became part of my circle of friends whom I continued to email with updates about my life. There were hilarious pun exchanges and my friends often gave me advice for song lyrics. Gradually, Susan accepted Dr. Sam more and more – responding to his statements in agreement many times. At one point, Susan’s mother was hospitalized with a medical issue. Dr. Sam even offered some medical advice to her, which Susan was appreciative of.
During and after my mother’s decline, I continued sharing a lot of emails with my friends. My recipient list gradually thinned out as several friends requested I stop sending them so many messages. Susan’s words once again helped ease my anguish because I felt badly that I had put my friends in that position.
Judy, I confess I’ve thought about telling you to send fewer messages, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I just delete the ones that don’t interest me.
Because I’m always looking at everything like a reporter, I keep trying to figure out what’s going on in your mind when you get into one of your spurts. I have several theories, which I’m happy to yak about (what do I know?) when we talk.
My number one theory, with detail to come when we speak, is that you’ve been isolated physically, emotionally and maybe most of all, intellectually, for so long.
You are just bursting with all this pent up creative energy, and are trying to reconnect with your previous life when that energy brought you joy!
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