Blank Boxes


It is damp out from two days of rain and on and off showers all morning. Cloudy, and while the weather channel seemed firm on their mid-sixties projection, it never really made it out of the mid-forties. Out over the bay the sky is grey right to the horizon toward the eastern shore so that it is difficult to immediately separate the sky from the sea. It’s choppy and the current is strong, moving south. A few Canada geese moved about near the riprap but then took off.

I’m not feeling so great today, a chest thing, so I stopped at the library because there’s something about damp winter days when you’re not feeling one hundred percent which seem to say to go to the library. I had brief ambitions to read the paper, maybe check out the new books or get online and play Tetris. My son is working there today, though, and when I went in he was busy and a few ladies were reading the paper and some guy who I think lives on his boat nearby was on the computer, so I drove home and made tea and some crab soup.

Then I read a post by a friend about her new date book for the year and how she loves starting the year with a new date book, and I thought, “yeah, me too.” There’s something so empowering—all those blank boxes just waiting to be filled in and that sense that you can fill it in however you damn well feel like. So, I got out my date book which I have yet to touch for the new year and sat at my desk, looked out at the damp, grey skies behind the barren trees to the south, and opened to the first page. I wrote my name and immediately realized something different about my 2019 date book than pretty much any I’ve started in decades: This will be my first full year not tethered to the trials and tribulations of the last several years. My health has drastically improved over the last three years, my obligations to anything other than my own schedule and whims have drastically decreased, and while I still have some commitments to a couple of colleges as well as some writing obligations, they are all by choice, with pleasure, so they remain commitments I welcome and look forward to. I blocked out what I know so far about writing deadlines, a few classes I’m teaching, and a few trips—Florida, Ireland, Maryland–and found some motivation.

I filled in what I could, which includes various other small known obligations to take me to the first week in June. After that, it is still completely blank. That’s never happened before. It feels good. A blank date book is not unlike a blank sheet of paper. Is there anything more promising and full of potential as a blank sheet of paper? Whitman, for instance, wrote Leaves of Grass. Good read, and everyone knows the work Whitman wrote and how it still grows in the literary field. But I have the uncritical blank sheet of paper, and with the right choice of words I may harvest my own grass.

So too the blank date book. Maybe I’ll sail around the Bay for the summer, or take pottery classes, filling in my Thursday nights with a little “Mathews Art League Pottery Workshop” through August. I love this so much more than resolutions to do things like read more books or exercise more. Those are lifestyle obligations which shouldn’t be anywhere near a resolution list—eating right and exercising and reading should be in the same category as breathing and urinating. They shouldn’t be something you need to commit to; rather, they are part of being alive.

But learning to harvest oysters—no one needs to do this, so filling in a box with “Deltaville Maritime Museum Oyster Growing Class” is exhilarating—it is a choice and something to look forward to.

Like…maybe…learning to play the flute or going to the zoo in DC or maybe taking a class in landscape painting, or maybe taking a poetry workshop. Maybe I’ll buy a goat. Perhaps I’ll leave the boxes blank, hang around home and garden, go for walks, simplify again, sit on the porch again and at night look at the stars. They’re my damn boxes, after all. 

Or maybe I’ll just go back to Spain.

See, here’s the thing. If I went to the store and bought date books, which right now are at fifty percent off, how many more would I need? Twenty more gets me to seventy-nine, and really at that point the blank boxes might be filled in with when to pick up my meds. So while I might—God willing—have plenty of date books after that point, the number of blank spaces for scheduling impulsive ideas is rapidly shrinking. That in itself doesn’t bother me—I’m a realist when it comes to the passing of time. But since I’ve recently turned a few corners and find myself now staring at more than a few possible paths, I want to fill in those boxes carefully and with passion.

I suppose if I had a Cavanaugh streak in me and kept all my old date books for some anal-retentive reason, I’m sure there’d be many boxes I wish I could erase or cross out or simply burn. I would have spent more time with my Dad and certainly would have visited my sister and my brother way more often. I would have filled in more than a few with flight departure times. I’m not regretful (well, a little), but looking back now at the pilgrimage so far makes me keenly aware of how to move forward.

Mostly, I want to fill in those boxes with the names of people I love, friends who are like family, family I don’t see enough, and leave a few boxes blank for those I’ve not yet met.

I haven’t started a year like this in thirty years, and except for the cough and the desire to finish my tea and crawl into bed, in some odd ways I feel like I’m in my twenties again.

Maybe a drive to see friends in New England. Maybe the Island where I haven’t been in way too many years. Maybe I’ll just stay in Ireland and herd sheep.

Maybe I’ll just go back to Spain.



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