The Privilege of Breathing


It was one of those “stuck behind a truck with a ladder” moments yesterday.

No way to go forward, no way to go back.

Do you ever feel this way? Like your entire life is stuck in slow moving traffic?  Zero forward momentum? I’ve frequently joked that “My Life Behind a Plumbing Truck” will be the title of my next book.

Lord knows this book isn’t moving fast enough. Most authors, unless they’re either lying or have no ego, (unlikely)  will tell you that they dream of their book being on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I’m just saying. And even while I am beyond appreciative of every one of you who’ve supported my writing, have bought books and been so incredibly generous, there are days when a girl gets down. Like yesterday, when I found myself in a very un-Zen like, hypocritical, churlish mood, gunny sacked in a pocket of frustration and anxiety, after I got a cheery email from a writer friend of mine who just received a contract from a literary agent, and shortly thereafter learned that another author friend of mine from the same indy publisher I belong to, is getting his book reviewed in the Sunday paper after Thanksgiving, (gee, no readers there….) while that same reviewer has been sitting on my book for two months. It makes me want to chew on that GD ladder in front of me,  especially after having a process server show up at my doorstep earlier in the day. Something about a delinquent account?  He asked for me by my “old”name,  so I could honestly say that nobody by that name resides in my house anymore. Ah, the liberation of going back to my maiden name. Such close encounters with rent-a-deputies are the peril of a writer who created her own fiscal cliff. As I’ve said before, nobody put a gun to my head and told me I had to jump off one of my own making.

But I did, really. There was this story. There was this story inside of me just waiting for the right conditions to rise to the surface. Which did, unfolding mile-by-mile, stripe by stripe on two-lane highways from here to Ely, Nevada and back again. Despite my momentary mania, sick with worry at times, even now, despite my self-professed enlightenment, I strive to cling to the lessons from the road. There was one big one, in particular.  If not for the traffic jam on Interstate 10, in the California desert, I would not have come upon a band called
The You and Me Thing;  three musicians from Glendale, AZ whose chorus foretold my future.

You and Me Thing - California

The You and Me Thing, I-10, CA, August 15, 2011

Hold on, hold on, there’s something more than you’ve been wishing for. 

Sail on, sail on, there’s something further than this compass can explore.

Same traffic jam, which turned out to be the result of a fatal car wreck inspired an entire chapter of my book, The Privilege of Breathing. I know it sounds a bit morbid, but it’s actually not. It’s a chapter largely devoted to my brother, Garrett Daniel Whatley. He passed away ten years ago today. A decade; I’ve endured a decade of my life now, without my brother Gary –musician, painter, sculptor, soccer coach, concert promoter, charmer, schemer, wheeler, dealer. We were thick as thieves, he and I, for reasons that take more pages that I can devote to here. (It’s in the book….) I miss him terribly. I resent not being able to enjoy his company– it would have been AMAZING for us to be old codgers together, between the two of us, Lord have mercy, our kids and grandkids would wonder how we were still alive.

But he didn’t make it. That’s what Chapter Ten in my book is about, call it survivor’s guilt if you want, but it’s about the duty to carry on, the opportunity we’re afforded to let our lives play out a bit more, one more day, one more mile, one more decade, one more love.  

Sometimes it takes a traffic jam, or two, to make us appreciate the privilege of breathing.

Landscape by Garrett Daniel Whatley

New Mexico landscape by Garrett Daniel Whatley, 1996

***Please allow me to share a portion of a sweet remembrance I received today from one of my brother Garrett’s long time friends in Albuquerque. I had not seen her for a decade, when she showed up at my book signing there in October. This is the kind of love which makes me, indeed, very grateful to be alive. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, God bless.***

“I’m still in tearland today.  Last night was tough.  I went to my local bar and had two beers barely listening to my friends talk at the bar because my thoughts were in the clouds.  I love stories about Garrett.  I don’t know that I feel robbed, just sort of left alone.  I don’t make friends easy, I never have, so I miss his friendship the most.  His ability to make all the bad stuff feel just a bit better is what I miss. It’s a rare person who makes me feel comfortable with my bad side – and you know we all have those bad sides.  Seems I’ve been wandering round this Earth alone for many, many years.  It’s a tough thing to shake. Remembering when I last saw Garrett on the street, saying “later, see you next time” on Lyon and Haight and how happy I was on that day as I bounced on down the street.
Yes, I hear him lots, too.  I’m glad I can still remember his voice and laugh.  I miss his wit and your mom’s too!  Holy crap, those two together were something else.  Not only that, but I miss their insight and commentary about our fucked up world.  Oh man, do I miss that.  Such genius minds they had.

I send you lots of Love Jean. Lots and lots of Love.”

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. On this day, may you feel peace and love, and a sudden and unexpected connection with your brothers and mom. May all your contests be with yourself and not other authors. Your book is just revving it’s engine. Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Jean, I am definitely one of those writers who said…..and it was way before I’d written more than a couple of chapters of my memoir….that my memoir WOULD be on the New York Times Bestseller List! I even wrote it down. (remember Oprah telling us to write down and dreams, in order to make them come true??) Well, I have an old note tucked away in my make up box (which is actually a small wooden treasure chest…and how Zen like is that??) anyway, my handwritten note has three sentences on it.
    1) I will write and finish my memoir.
    2) I will get a great/good publisher.
    3) It will be on the New York Times Bestseller list!
    So far, I got 2 outta 3…..SO, I KNOW yours will be on that list, too!!! Keep on believin’!

  3. Thank you Jean. That is very kind of you to share. And, I am always grateful to be a small part of the Whatley Clan…seeing you all makes my heart swell with happiness.