Friday, May 29, 2009

This One Wild & Precious Life

from Jacqueline

It’s been one of those weeks. One thing after another. OK, so I will not go into details, because that would be just too much information, but here’s one of the things that happened to me this week – the quick overview (I don’t want to be dramatic here). I had to have some medical investigative work done a couple of days ago. The sort of investigative work that only has two possible results and you hope you hear the good news that makes you want to blow a ridiculous amount of money on a bottle of vintage Bollinger, or whatever is your celebratory tipple. The other response is the one that immediately makes you drag out the bucket list. I’ll put you out of your wonderings and tell you right now – we had champagne this evening, and fortunately, by the time I got to the store, I had my senses back and went for the twenty-buck bottle of bubbly and not the silly money bottle.

All the same, it was a week spent in speculative limbo, during which, not for the first time, I wondered what was really important. What really matters. It was almost like having one of those wildfires on your doorstep, so you grab as much as you can that means something to you and get the heck out – and halfway down the road you realize you have your people, your pets, your photographs and maybe your memory stick with all the writing you’ve ever done in your life. Everything that mattered, and it all fitted into the car.

It’s not that I realized what was important for the first time – I know what’s truly important to me – but it was an AFGO when I went through some of the things I thought I might want to do or see, but turns out I didn’t, well, not in a big way anyway. Remember AFGO? I wrote about AFGO’s over a year ago when my friend Helen passed away. She’d always referred to those challenging moments in life as being AFGO’s – Another F*****g Growth Opportunity.

My AFGO made me remember my daily prescription – it’s a prescription I’ve had for years, only I forget to take it sometimes.

Years ago, I was having one of those long heart-to-heart conversations with my friend, Kas, and we started talking about having a personal prescription. It’s all in the question, “If you had to choose five ingredients you need each day – to be balanced and whole, what would they be?.” Hmmm. Here’s what I said:

Some time in nature every day – be it hiking, out on my horse, walking with my dog, sitting on a beach, or working in my garden. Doesn’t have to be a long time, but it has to be there. The first thing my mum always did when she came home from work, before she even changed her clothes, was to go out into the garden, dead-head the roses, pull a few weeds and just sit and look at the sanctuary she’d created.

To write every day, stir up the creative juices in some way or another. It’s not just about the books, and the deadlines, it about who I am.

Eat properly – good nutritious food. I know I get cranky if I don’t eat well.

To connect with people I love and who love me in return.

Some time spent alone, just me, just thinking. Doesn’t have to be a long time, I can get a lot from five minutes of solitude.

OK, I know there are some things that appear to be missing there – reading, exercise, etc., but I’m talking about the prescription, the medicine that makes everything else work. And it’s not that I’d abandoned my prescription in a big way, but instead of just waving to my brother as he passed me in his truck a couple of days ago, it was suddenly important to flag him down, pull over to the side of the road and have a chat.

In the past few years, several of my women friends have been diagnosed with either breast cancer, in particular, or ovarian cancer. I can’t think of any one of them who went off to one far flung clime after another, or suddenly began jumping out of airplanes or scaling mountains – the treatment is a big enough incline. Two in particular come to mind, and both in their very early fifties. One took early retirement with her husband to finish the house they were building high on a hill in the middle of nowhere – today she spends her days tending her extensive organic garden and reading. They have solar and wind power and draw their water from their own spring, so they work on their land a lot. The other gave up a very high-powered job and though she will go back to the corporate world at some point, it won’t be in the same way. She’s happy spending her days on her prescription – she walks with her friends or alone, sits down to lunch with her husband, who works from home. She reads, paints and cooks and she’s not overly concerned about the savings diminishing because there are more important things to worry about and she knows that it will all come right. She knows that everything she loves can fit into the car and she’s here to enjoy it.

I guess I realized that for me, it’s not about bucket lists or the 1000 places to see before your time’s up (and what is it with this glut of books on the market about all the things you should do before you die?). It’s all about the daily prescription and the daily rhythm of life with the people you love and the things you like to do. And if a job you don’t much like helps you to do that, well that’s OK (I had a job for years that I really didn’t care for, but I loved the freedom it gave me to write) – it’s not necessarily about throwing everything away either. But maybe the prescription should read something like this:

To be with people you love
To be in a place you love
Something to do that you love
To provide good sustenance for the body
To be at peace with life, whatever that means to you

We’re privileged to be able to think in this way, when you consider what is going on in the world, where some people have no choice. I’m amazed we don’t do it more often.

And finally, here’s an excerpt from A Summer’s Day, by Mary Oliver:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

So, what’s in your prescription?

Have a truly lovely weekend.


  1. Some essays are so complete, perfect as a snowflake, that nothing can be added. At least, I don't have the thinking or writing ability to add anything.

    As for a personal list, I'd have to sit and ponder. Can't do it off the top of my head. (I do know, however, that after fulfulling my personal prescription for the day....a Philly cheesesteak would be in order).

  2. from Jacqueline

    What a lovely thing to say, Paul.

    Wow, a Philly cheesesteak! I don't eat red meat, but that sounds really great after a day of deliberations. The funny thing is that, after leaving the hospital a couple of days ago, I told my husband I was really hungry, and he started reeling off the places we could eat where you can get good organic food. I shook my head. "Let's go to McDonalds," I said. "I'm craving chicken McNuggets and a large fries."

    I know chickens don't have nuggets anywhere on their little chicken bodies, but boy, they were good!"

  3. We have champagned together before, Our J, and I'm so glad we have an excuse to champagne again. Have we told you lately how much you are loved here at Naked Authors?

  4. from Jacqueline

    Aw, Patty, thank you SO much - and yes, I am looking forward to champagne - ing again. And may we champagne on many, many more occasions.

    And I love you all too! (Don't we have some fun together on this blog?).

  5. Dear Naked Authors,
    I found your blog after attending Jacqueline's book reading for "Among the Mad" in Cambridge, MA. I find all your posts so wonderfully varied - humorous, passionate, and thought provoking - and I now have your blog bookmarked in my very selective list of Daily Favorites.
    I love the idea of a daily prescription for living! Thanks, Jacquie.

  6. Hi Jackie,
    I'm an aspiring writer who met you at the Book Passage Conference a few years ago. I love your books and have read your blog regularly since meeting you. This was the most beautiful post. I plan to save it to remind myself what really matters. And I am so, so glad you got champagne news.

  7. from Jacqueline

    To Carolyn and Kim - thank you for joining us here at Naked Authors, it's great to have you join us. I'm delighted to hear you're enjoying the blog - we have fun with it, so we're glad our readers come back for more. And shouldn't every day be a champagne day, even if we don't spring for the bubbly?

  8. so glad your news were bolli-news, jackie!!! and i hope they always will be.

    your list is just perfect.there's no need to add anything to it.

    here's to your health, my friend!


    ps.: i must say, i envy people like carolyn and kim for having a chance to meet you when i haven't seen you in oh so many decades.

  9. from Jacqueline

    Hey, Sybille,

    Thank you for your lovely comment. I think I could easily become like Patsy from Ab-Fab, "Bring out the Bolli, sweetie-darling!" Well, maybe just for a day or two.

    And I am sure we will meet in person again, Sybille.

  10. i love ab-fab and if you're patsy i'll to be eddie

  11. from Jacqueline

    I don't know if I could quite match up (or down, as the case may be) to Joanna Lumley's wonderful character, but I'd give it a go! As I said before, bring on the Bolli!

  12. she sure is one of a kind. my favorite episode is the one where she "inhales" the kitchen.


  13. from Jacqueline

    OK, I have a confession - I could never really be a Patsy, because I could drink no more than one glass of champagne - that's sort of my limit, otherwise I just fall asleep! I tend to drink sparkling water most of the time - I know, boring. But a glass of Boll on a special occasion is just lovely.

  14. don't worry, jackie, your secret is safe with us. actually i'm a teetotaller myself - well, not even tea or coffee. since i've become a diabetic it's just three litres of water a day for me.

    whitsun weekend in the old world, which means an extra day off for us, yippeeeee!


  15. Such a lovely post, thank you.

    My prescription is pretty simple. If I get some quality time to myself every day, I can cope. Doesn't have to be a lot of time, just quality time.

  16. from Jacqueline

    Have a good Whitsun, Sybille. And Rae, quality time, whatever you are doing, is what it is all about. Thank you!

  17. May I suggest a $12 bottle of St. Hilaire French sparkling wine? See my New Year's Eve post for more information.
    It's delicious and at such a great price you'll find yourself drinking a bottle "just because it's Tuesday" -smile-.