Sunday, December 27, 2020

THE BLESSINGS OF FAMILY

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family in the Catholic Church, and it was a true celebration of family for me.  Last night I went to Mass with my oldest daughter and her family and my second daughter and her family. There were 15 of us and we filled four pews of the patio outside where we had Mass.  I thought of the difference between Christmas and Easter. At Easter, I was alone for the first time in my life and could only watch Mass on live stream.  I remember it being a rather somber time with the Pope giving a special Urbi et Orbi  blessing in a rainy, empty St. Peter's Square, and the Easter Vigil Mass filmed in our parish in an almost empty church. Now we can once again go to Mass and receive Communion, and to be able to attend with so much of our family was a great blessing I also will no longer take for granted. I treasure every hug and every chance to talk in person; playing Christmas duets outside with three of my grandsons on trumpet, horn, and trombone was something I had been hoping to be able to do for a long time.

The reading from Isaiah for Christmas has the line, "The Lord has bared his holy arm," not to strike his enemies dead, but to reach down and offer us his son, a baby born to a homeless, migrant family who could find only a cave with a feeding trough where they could lay him, a tiny child vulnerable and pursued by the soldiers of Herod, his fugitive parents fleeing over the 400 miles of desert to Egypt where they had to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture and build a new life.

PASSAGES

I remembered looking down at the star carved

in the stone of the narrow niche hung with lamps

and thought of the long journey to arrive—

the crowds, the smells, the noise,

no hospital, no rooms or beds, or compassion

until someone pointed to a cave forgotten

in the onslaught of winter travelers

with a pile of straw in a corner where they could           rest

for, of all who came, they looked the weariest

until at the child’s dawning they rejoiced

and angels began to fill up the sky,

whose silent echoes I still heard in Bethlehem.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

FIREWORDS

Over the last couple of months, I have been reflecting on the process of writing my chapbook, Portal of Light.  It is curious to see how much it has changed since I began it.  In the early days of its construction, I had done quite a bit of research into ziggurats and flung up scaffolding around the main section of the chapbook as I built up the sections in layers and planted trees, shrubs and flowers as I raised the whole structure into a cohesive whole on which I could drape my poetry like the mythical hanging gardens of Babylon. It appeared to be created somewhat haphazardly; I began with a poem on our fifth daughter and did not proceed chronologically, except in ending with our son, who was sixth.

The sections on meeting the boy who would become my husband, our marriage, and ultimately his death and my widowhood did proceed in order in the chapbook although the years that included his illness and death and my becoming a widow seemed more like an illusory zigzag than an orderly progression of days and months.  

At some point, I was reflecting on a particular day and said that it had been productive but not full of fireworks. When I first wrote that, I said it had not been full of "firewords," which is a good description of what I am writing when I am into full-blown creative mode.

The ending of a poem I wrote for my poetry mentor, Colette Inez, is a good illustration of "firewords."

The poet's spell curls in from the sea,

bellows on billows sizzling foam and spume

forged into dazzling interior flares

so even our fingertips bloom into fire and flight.


Standing here, I juggle your spangled lines

fire-kindled, hammered to amber that sings

and burns:

splash them in clear streams

where they congeal into facets of crystal 

or filaments of flame, lash ourselves to dream

in their distant beauty till we ignite,

breathe them into bubbles, ether, champagne, 

blow them into glass, pour their wild

heat into molten sorcery

throw them on the wheel to rise on air

illuminated with radiant runes

dip our brushes in their dripping oil,

burnish them, weld them, whittle them into wings

to spiral Everest, ski them down astounded

Fuji, swirling calligraphy on scrolls,

enter their icons at door of the eye and shine

                    in aureole.


                            (from "Watching the Minting of Words" ©2020)


When I look back at something I have written and find that it expresses exactly what I hoped to say--and it often develops into more than I originally intended--I feel as if I am suddenly aflame, like a liquidambar tree that overnight exchanges its green cloak for raiment that has burst into garnet and gold, its pointed leaves transformed into tongues of fire.

My soul dances, taking effervescent leaps into the air, twirling trails of sparkling words and reverberating phrases like a gymnast's ribbon streamers, curving about into a spiral of gold and bursting forth into bell-rounded melodies with the ringing resonance of French horns.

As I enter more deeply into "Portal of Light" and submit to my daughter Mary's sculpting away of the dross, including the skeleton of the ziggurat, its heart occasionally leaps into a beat, heat rises in sparse streams of mist, and the wings begin to flutter at the tips. The spirit of creation begins to creep from one verse to another, animating the limp pages, and pouring fresh new color into pale icons.

Such kaleidoscopic pageantry as we head into the last week before the turning of the year and the lengthening of days and the distant light of spring!



Sunday, December 6, 2020

OF MASKS AND OTHER STORIES WE TELL

When I woke up early one morning, I was pondering the swirling debate over wearing masks.  I haven't been able to figure out quite why some people are so opposed to them. Yes, they are annoying to wear, but there do seem to be some valid scientific studies that indicate that they can protect the wearer as well as those who are around them from the possibility of spreading or catching Covid-19.

I remember that one of my daughters, who is a biochemist, told me that at one time she attempted to put all the facts together in an article for friends who were concerned that vaccinations could cause autism. She provided the information that the doctor who had published the original article claiming that vaccines could cause autism admitted that he made it up and that there are no peer-reviewed studies that give any credence to the theory that vaccines could cause autism. She was able to convince a  few of her friends who trusted her integrity and her scientific background, but most of those whom she knew just refused to believe it, and instead continued to put their children  at risk by refusing to vaccinate. Apparently, if someone believes a story that later is shown to be false, it is very hard for them to give up their belief in the first story. In fact, she discovered that the more you try to argue with someone, the harder they cling to their unsubstantiated position.

The mask and vaccine controversies, and the unwillingness of some to change their minds in the face of overwhelming evidence had me so puzzled that I couldn't go back to sleep.

However, as I continued to ponder this conundrum, it occurred to me that there is another controversy where the scientific evidence has piled up and yet it is being ignorantly or--by those who are making money from it--deliberately ignored. The most marginalized people in this country are those who can be killed because they are black or female or disabled or inconvenient because their geographic location makes them fair game. When you look at racism in this country, consider the fact that twenty million black human beings have been targeted and killed: that is half the black population of the United States.

From the time that Lennart Nilsson's spectacular photographs of the child in the womb were published in Life magazine in 1965, the "Drama of Life before Birth," gave evidence that what was growing in the womb was alive and human.  Yet those who believe that it is acceptable to end that life hide behind phrases such as reproductive freedom. It is curious that those who not long ago said that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, now demand that it be accepted up until the moment of birth, and that if a child should somehow escape the abortionist's poison or knife or crushing forceps, the doctor and the mother should decide whether anything should be done to help what is clearly a newborn baby.  It is curious that an ad that showed people who had survived abortions was rejected for the Superbowl. The commercial featured more than a dozen abortion survivors in varying stages of their lives from around the world, who asked, "Can you look me in the eye and say I should have been aborted?" The youngest abortion survivor featured is 7-year-old Zechariah Hagan, one of the first abortion pill reversal (APR, a treatment to reverse the effects of an initial dose of an abortion drug) success stories. The commercial was not graphic or violent in any way; these people were just asking why they had had no rights when someone was trying to kill them before they were born.  In addition, if it weren't for the financial gain, it seems odd that abortionists do not want women seeking abortions to see the ultrasound of the human being they are considering killing. Probably because 75% of those who see the ultrasound choose not to have the abortion, and that is bad for business.  What happened to freedom of choice?  Or why should an abortion clinic not be forced to follow the same safety and hygiene regulations as any other free-standing medical clinic? The clinic where Dr. Kermit Gosnell performed abortions and killed babies who escaped his deadly techniques by cutting their spinal cords was never examined for years although there had been many complaints. For the full horror story, the movie Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer recounted the actual events that led to the trial of Kermit Gosnell, a physician and abortion provider who was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three infants born alive, involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient undergoing an abortion, 21 felony counts of illegal late-term abortion, and 211 counts of violating a 24-hour informed consent law. The film is the true story of the investigation and trial of Gosnell, his 30-year killing spree, and the political and media establishment that tried to cover it up. He was finally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Now those who believe that abortion is killing are being told that we must pay for it with our taxes, and that doctors and nurses must kill the unborn no matter what their religious beliefs are. I believe we are coming to a point, just as we did before the Civil War, when the slaveowners in the South were not satisfied with being allowed to keep their slaves, but Northerners were being told that they must accept slavery because the slave was less than human. And those of us who object to the indiscriminate killing of human beings in the womb are being told that we must accept it because those human beings are also less than human. 

If we can believe that, it's no wonder that some people don't believe that masks offer some protection against Covid-19. After all, there have only been 270,000 deaths attributable to the coronavirus in the U.S. That number seems very high and we are right to be concerned about it. However, since 1973, there have been over 61 million abortions in the United States.  This number dwarfs the number of coronavirus deaths; while our first responders have been fighting non-stop to prevent Covid-19 deaths, abortionists deliberately cause the deaths of all those unborn human beings and sell baby parts at a profit (Planned Parenthood executives under oath admitted this). 

I have a hard time accepting rage against someone who won't wear a mask while we calmly accept the destruction of millions of human beings in their mothers' wombs. Perhaps it's the fact that we fear someone not wearing a mask threatens us, while an abortion merely destroys an anonymous, unseen child who cannot ask us for help or protection. Where is the mask that will protect that little girl or boy?

Sunday, November 29, 2020

ALL THE THINGS

It's always easier for me to see the negative, and I have to work at finding the positive. What could be better than Thanksgiving to focus on all the good that has been poured out over me? My frequent temptation in the last eight years had been to rage at the fate that took my beloved husband from me. However, as I look back I am grateful that we met in our senior year of high school and fell in love. We knew we were too young to make a permanent commitment then, and my family moved to Texas from New Jersey, but we kept writing to each other, and occasionally used student standby fares to travel to visit one another.  By the time I was a sophomore in college we knew that we were meant for each other.  We waited a year after I graduated from college, when he had completed two years of law school, to get married (he went through Harvard in three years which is how he surged ahead of me in school), but we were both only 22, which meant that we had celebrated 38 years of marriage before he died. While I would have rather have had many more, and we had been planning our 40th anniversary when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I had friends whose husbands had died after only a few years of marriage. As I told many people after he died, I would rather have been married to him for only 38 years than to anyone else for longer. Especially after we went on our World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend, our time together was an experience of deepening intimacy and passion and unconditional love, and it seemed as if we lived twice as much in those years.

In addition, we were blessed with our six amazing children. After our oldest, Elizabeth was born, we tried for a year to get pregnant again, and we started wondering if we'd have only one child.  We had my father-in-law living with us, dying of cancer, and it was a very stressful set of circumstances.  That summer, my mother-in-law (who was separated from my husband's father), and the younger children stayed with him so that we could get some time away for a vacation, and the very first night I got pregnant. We had challenges with each of our pregnancies, and I lost the seventh in a miscarriage, but each of our children was a miracle, and I am so grateful for each one, even the tiny 11-week old baby who waits for us in heaven.

I am thankful for my five wonderful sons-in-law whom I love as if they were my own sons. They have all been big brothers to our son, the youngest of our six children. And with my daughters, they have given me 22 grandchildren, each unique and filled with special gifts. The year my husband died, we were presented with three granddaughters, and the joy we experienced in welcoming those new lives helped us as we were saying goodbye to my husband.

My home is another beautiful blessing; the mortgage is paid off and since I have to stay here so much of the time during Covid, I am glad that in the 35 years I have lived here, we were able to turn it from a depressing house painted a dark, dreary brown, into a bright blue home with white shutters and indigo trim. Each of the five floods we experienced gave us the opportunity to change something else on the inside, so that now every room expresses my personality in some way, especially my office with lilac and purple walls.

I am blessed that I discovered my passion for writing when I was in third grade and noticed that not all stories began with "Once upon a time," but more often than not, in medias res, right in the middle of things. I have been writing ever since, and all the time that I was raising my children with my husband, I was also writing, and ensuring that I would have time to write every week by getting a babysitter or becoming a member of a babysitting co-op.  Monday afternoons have been my writing time most of my adult life, although when I had an inspiration I would often sit down and scribble it on a random piece of paper so I wouldn't lose it.  Occasionally I would have longer periods of time to write, such as when we took a motor home trip from California to Oklahoma and Texas, and while we were driving through Oklahoma I was refreshing my memories of my childhood and editing my novel about growing up there. That was a scintillating as well as a hot and humid experience.

When I was in eighth grade our English teacher assigned a poem and it was my first venture into free verse, which carried me through high school and college, although I did write some formal poetry. But it was when I took a poetry workshop at what was then called the New School for Social Research in Manhattan from Colette Inez, primarily because I was getting ready to get married and didn't think I'd have time to write a novel. Poetry turned out to be my grand passion, and after the class had ended Colette invited me to write to her occasionally and she would critique any poems I sent. Our correspondence and friendship lasted over 40 years until her death, and I cherish all her comments written on my poems. Her own poems were almost an embarass de richesses; I have never known anyone so madly in love with words who juggled them together so astonishingly. What a gift it was to have had her kindness and incisive advice as my own poetry matured. I only saw her once after we moved to California. We went back to the East Coast for a World Wide Marriage Encounter Convention, and my dear husband arranged a three-week whirlwind tour for us, as we traveled with our son from Virginia to New England. Near the end of the trip, we stopped in Manhattan, and visited Colette, had wine and olives in her apartment, then took her to lunch at a Turkish restaurant on the upper West Side. It was a memorable time, followed by a stay at the Waldorf, a visit to the Apple Store which wasn't there when we lived there before, and (for our son) a harrowing drive out of the city since he wasn't used to traffic in Manhattan. We met up with the Pennsylvania branch of my husband's family for a lunch at King of Prussia Mall, and ended with a stay at the very rustic hotel where he had stayed every time he had business at the company headquarters.  After the Waldorf, it was a sad disappointment to me, but I am happy in remembering that he was so delighted to introduce me to the bartender and everyone else there who knew him, so I could imagine his surroundings when he was working away from home.  It is one more example of how much he yearned for us to be united even when he wasn't actually with me. It is a comfort to remember all the things that showed me his love.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

THE JOURNEY OF THE ZIGGURAT

 I think it began with the "Gate of Gratitude," the original title of what has become my chapbook "Portal of Light." For some reason, once I had a gate, I decided that the gate would lead to a ziggurat.  It sounded Biblical or at least ancient and somewhat poetical.  The next step was research, and when I look back at the early drafts of the chapbook, I find entries on the hanging gardens of Babylon and the ziggurat supposedly designed by Sennacherib for his favorite wife, that involved sluice gates and Archimedes screws and the importation of vast quantities of trees and plants to duplicate the geography of wherever she came from. Despite this, Sennacherib was a despicable leader given to acts of cruelty against his enemies.  There is actually no evidence that Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame ever built a ziggurat or the hanging gardens of Babylon, whereas the British museum has some bas reliefs that show the levels of a ziggurat apparently constructed under Sennacherib, with the amazing plants that he installed there. 

Somehow looking at all those colorful renderings of a variety of ziggurats, inspired me to create levels of trees, shrubs, and flowers in my chapbook, and as I planted them in my lines, the ziggurat rose in my poetry.  It became an entity unto itself, which I fiercely defended against what I judged were unjust attacks by my daughter.  However, as she patiently chipped away at the construction, I slowly began to see that it was misplaced, and not an integral part of the chapbook.  At first, I thought it was the structure that supported the whole chapbook, but as I looked at it through her eyes, I realized that it was more like the first preliminary drawing or even 3D replica that enabled me to start the actual building but was more of a jumping off place that enabled me to soar into a higher creativity.

I finally, after months of wrangling with my daughter-critic, removed the ziggurat from my chapbook and replaced it with a landscape more reminiscent of the hills around Jerusalem, but as I was re-reading the notes I made on constructing my ziggurat, I was lifted up with a sudden joy at remembering how I copied many beautiful pages of artists' creative imaginings of what a ziggurat might have looked like, with plants ascending through all the layers. I felt as if I were a lark piercing the sky and singing for the sheer joy of the beauty all around me, even if it is all imaginary. It will probably evolve into a separate poem, because I loved so many of the lines, and I am beginning to see the glimmerings of a different journey than the one I took in "Portal of Light."  It is exciting to realize that the poetic journey is never really finished, that what ends in one long journey can open into new paths and an ever-widening vision.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN!

Recently I called my dental insurance to ask a question about something on my bill. It was somewhat involved, but eventually I got it straightened out, although the woman who was helping me told me I should check back in a month to be sure that the correction had gone through because, as she said, with a strong Southern accent, "You just never know what's gonna happen!"

That has been the theme of 2020.  During the Christmas holiday of 2019, all my family except my youngest daughter and her family were here, which added up to 30 people.  And all of us got sick sequentially over the course of the time we were together.  It must have been some variant of influenza; we went through cases of tissues and took turns never moving from our beds or sofa beds. We still had a good time overall because family reunions are hard to coordinate since there are so many of us now.  In retrospect, we wondered if it had been an advance onslaught of Covid-19, but various family members have been tested since then, and all were negative. Maybe it was just a prediction of what was coming.

I remember starting to hear about the coronavirus in China after that, but it was on the other side of the world, so I didn't give it too much space in my worry compartment. But soon the contagion was spreading like a wildfire in California, with sparks being carried for miles, and slowly the whole world changed. 

Masks appeared, hand sanitizer was hard to get, and toilet paper hoarded.  Choirs were forbidden, which meant that I no longer had choir practice on Monday nights. It also meant that I no longer had to go to the 9:00 Mass on Sunday to play, because Masses were suspended. My Bible studies were canceled. Soon it seemed as if everything was canceled. The Beginning Experience retreats that had been scheduled for May and October at the Abbey were canceled, along with everything else at the Abbey except for the normal routine of the monks.

I couldn't get together with the daughter who lives the closest and her family, and the daughter in LA and her family couldn't come down for a visit. Life seemed emotionally empty without hugs. For the first time in my life, I spent Easter alone, without being able to go to Mass.  Streaming Masses helped, but the Urbi et Orbi blessing from Pope Francis on Good Friday that he delivered from an empty St. Peter's Square, in the rain, was a melancholy reminder of how much had radically changed and that at the beginning of March, we surely didn't know what was gonna happen.

My grandchildren came home from school and we all became adept at Zoom conferences,  Skype conversations, and horn lessons over Messenger (with an inevitable lag). When some things began to reopen, it was tentatively and the masks and social distancing made it seem as if we were in a foreign country.  Talking with a mask even makes it seem as if we are speaking different languages. We've adapted fairly well, but we are also learning to pivot quickly.  Our parish started with Masses in church where you had to get a reservation because of the limited numbers allowed. Then we were able to have outdoor Masses, and most of those were enjoyable until it got hot. Then we were allowed to move indoors with 100 people, and the overflow was accommodated outside. But just as the weather turned colder, the Covid numbers went up, and we're all back outside again. In case we didn't believe it beforehand and thought that we are in control of our lives, we should now have learned that you really never know what's gonna happen, in 2020 or any other year.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

THE ROGUE COMPUTER

 As the iMac computer I bought in 2013 became, according to Apple, "vintage," and this year transmogrified into "obsolete," it has become slower and more stubborn about following my commands.  To me, it still looks like the sleek, large-screen desktop I bought when I made the switch from a PC to Apple. Our old PC was so riddled with viruses that my son-in-law, who is a computer whiz, told me that it couldn't be saved.  So I made the switch. I signed up for the program that included three years of classes on all the ins and outs of my new computer, as well as some help with my iPhone.

Within a year of getting the computer, it began to duplicate some of my photos, then they appeared in triplicate, and after that in quadruplicate.  In addition, if I had a picture with 6 people in it (for instance, my children), it would make 6 additional photos of each of them. Then it made thumbnails which on the screen of photos looked exactly like full-size photos, until you clicked on it, so there was no way to differentiate between a regular photo and a thumbnail.  I asked one of my instructors at an Apple class if he could help me figure out what was going on. He couldn't and said he had never seen that happen before. Pretty soon every person who worked in the Apple store knew me well and my computer even better. But none of them could explain what had happened, or fix it.

One of the Apple teachers was able to help me delete a big group of pictures. I think he found a tag on pictures I didn't need and we were able to delete them all pretty quickly. But at the end of the class, he told me I should go ahead and empty the trash on the computer, and it took three hours, which is eloquent of how many pictures were in the trash.

Eventually, my three years of classes ended, and I called Apple directly. They sent me to Tier 2 advisors. I lost count of how many different ones I consulted, but none of them was able to explain how it happened or help to resolve it.  After a while, I just gave up and attempted to ignore the multitudinous photographs that were on my computer, only about a fourth of them actually pictures that I wanted. The storage space they required slowed the computer but I just kept plodding on. I think that perhaps the photos were like the furry beings in the original Star Trek episode, "Trouble with Tribbles." When I turned off the computer they multiplied indiscriminately, so that there always seemed to be more than I remembered. In addition, I'd moved the photos from an old laptop onto my new computer, so I now had three iPhoto libraries and 2 Photos libraries, all burgeoning and growing from what I could see, like the fabled kudzu plants in the South which apparently could cover a haphazardly parked car in a day.

As the months passed, the computer gained weight and began to move more slowly every day. Sometimes it took an unconscionably long time to open Mail or Chrome, and it began to freeze at inopportune moments. I'd have to shut it down and turn it back on again several times before it would behave.

I finally realized that it was time to buy a new computer.  While I am far less satisfied with Apple since Steve Jobs departed the planet, the alternatives seemed even worse. I decided just to purchase a new iMac 27.  However, I discovered that I could not just walk into an Apple store and bring home a new computer, as I had done with the original one. There were about 10 different options, from Nano-texture glass instead of the usual screen to what kind of processor you want, how much Turbo Boost, how much memory in two different areas, and how much storage (up to 8 TB). It took me a week to figure out which of all these options was best, with input from my Ninja Mac expert son-in-law and my business partner who designs 3D worlds.  Then I had to place my order, and take out an Apple card so I could pay over 12 months with no interest. Then they started to build my computer, so it was another several weeks before the computer appeared on my doorstep.

I was thrilled, and soon had it out of the box and set up like a twin next to the old computer on my desk.  I called Apple and we started the Migration Assistant.  We tried three different times, but I think the amount of files (i.e. photos) just caused gridlock.  Then I called the company that takes back the old computer to let them know that I couldn't get it back to them in the amount of time they gave me.  I explained the difficulty and the woman to whom I spoke said she had never heard of such a problem and said that she would guarantee my refund no matter how long it takes.  I then asked her if she was sure she wanted it, since it appeared to be a rogue computer and might infect all the other computers in their warehouse. We laughed at that, and it was the first time I had been able to see the absurdity of the whole issue.  My son-in-law thinks that he can resolve it when they are down for Thanksgiving, so I will try to keep it under restraint until then and see what happens.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

FEELINGS: BEACONS OF INTIMACY

Recently, I was awakened by a dream that wouldn't let me go back to sleep. A woman was speaking to me, and she said, "I made some cookies and now I can tell my husband I am exhausted."  When I got out of bed I kept thinking about what she had said which didn't seem to make a lot of sense. As I pondered it, I realized that we are often more willing to share our thoughts than our feelings, and yet our feelings are the keys to deeper, more intimate communication, particularly in marriage. The woman in my dream apparently thought that making cookies for her husband was the action that would open the door for her to be able to share her feelings with him.  Sharing our feelings and listening to another's feelings with our hearts is actually the passageway to tenderizing our relationships.

When my husband and I were part of a presenting team on a World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend, we spent a good part of one of the early talks explaining the difference between thoughts and feelings--so much so that couples would ask us if we were teachers. Thoughts come from the head and feelings from the heart, but there is a very easy way to distinguish them.  (It will also give you a way to say "gotcha" when listening to someone pontificate on TV or news feeds.)  If you can say, "I feel ____," you're sharing a feeling. If you say "I feel that ____," it's a thought.  You can feel sad, happy, angry, joyful, and many other emotions. But if you say, "I feel that you should do the dishes/put the kids to bed/get up earlier in the morning/be nicer to my mother," you are expressing a thought. You should really say, "I believe or think that" whatever the phrase was that came after "that."  You can argue with thoughts, but feelings are spontaneous inner reactions that have no morality; they just are.  They are also windows into the soul, letting us see the inner life of the person who is sharing them. If that person is our husband or wife, we can journey together into our hearts and souls, into levels of intimacy that can be reached in no other way. My beloved husband and I wrote each other a love letter every day for the last 30 years of our marriage. We described our feelings in detail, and then chose one feeling to try to understand more fully. For instance, if I was describing a feeling of exhaustion, like the woman in my dream, I might say, "I feel exhausted as if I had run a marathon. I feel worn out, as if I had been chasing the children around all day and had gotten nothing else done.  I feel utterly flattened, as if a bulldozer had just rolled over me." We would then discuss our feelings until my husband would really understand what I had been sharing. We either took turns focusing on one of our feelings, or if there were a really strong feeling, we'd talk about that.  But over the years, we developed such an ever-deepening bond that our relationship grew more intimate as we fell more deeply in love. Getting to know another person in such a way is an adventure because every person has infinite depths. In the 38 years we were married, we were constantly discovering new facets of our love. And although I have lost him in this world, I know that I was deeply loved, and that we will be together again.  As a reminder of this, my oldest daughter Elizabeth sent me a text on the morning of the eighth anniversary of his death, "This fell out of a book at my house late last night--maybe you're getting a little message for today :)."  She included a picture she had taken of a 3 x 5 card with a heart sticker on it and a note from my dear husband, "I love being close to you."

And he still is.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

CELEBRATING POINTS OF LIGHT

 When I listened to Jennifer Louden's Writer's Oasis on Friday, she included a meditation that was based on something a therapist had shared with a member of the Oasis. She was told to imagine all the ingredients of the past week, the good, the bad, the ugly, being tossed into a giant colander. Then all the bad and the ugly are washed away, leaving only the good, the kindness, the thoughtfulness and the love left in the colander of your life, and each fragment of good shines with its own colorful light so that all your goodness sparkles and dazzles in the bowl of the colander.

I thought of this today, as I was helping to give a retreat called "Coping with Life Alone," sponsored by Beginning Experience of San Diego.  Beginning Experience is an international movement that primarily offers weekend retreats for widowed, divorced and separated to help them along the path of healing after their loss. We haven't been able to have our weekend retreats since Covid shut down so many things, but a couple of weeks ago we were finally given permission to have a one day retreat at a church hall, with masks and social distancing and Covid-19 regulations in place.  We filled every place on the weekend and had a waiting list, and most people who signed up said it was something that they needed.

The last presentation of the day was "Where do we go from here?"  One of the questions we reflected on was sharing our feelings with others. It was an opportunity to ponder the sea-change I have experienced since my beloved husband's death nearly eight years ago. "In many ways, I've been risking and disclosing my feelings since 1981, when we made our Marriage Encounter Weekend and then became a presenting Team Couple. But it's very different risking my feelings of grief and loss within the context of Beginning Experience. These feelings of plunging to ground zero as I faced the worst thing that could ever have happened to me, the one thing I begged God never to allow to happen but he did anyway, as the ground I stood on was cut away from me, and the work we did together which was rewarding and powerful disappeared the moment he died, leaving me on an ice floe drifting aimlessly in the Antarctic, frozen and numb and unbelieving, stunned at how, in a clap of thunder and a blaze of lightning, the whole landscape of my life was upended as if by a hurricane or a wildfire or an earthquake.

Sharing these feelings, with the slow toxic drip of pain, is far more difficult and challenging and harrowing. At the end of a Marriage Encounter Weekend, we'd see lives transformed, love renewed and strengthened, and bursting with the brilliance of the Holy Spirit. In what we do in Beginning Experience, it's a much slower process, where we learn to creep and crawl, to pull ourselves up little by little with bruised and bloodied fingers, and to hope little slivers of light creep in through the cracks in our hearts. I feel hopeful about doing this, but it is a pale hope, like starshine rather than the sunlight of a summer's day.  It's like the wavering steps of a child just learning to walk rather than the dancing leaps of children playing in the grass. Every step is hard-won and there are plenty of falls along the way. And each time I am sharing with others who are also facing their own zero hours of despair and desperation and horror. So we move ahead in the dark, comforted by the presence of others on similar journeys, none of them the same, but striking little flames of light as we find compass points together we can steer by.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

BALANCE OF POWER

When I went to Mass Saturday night, our priest talked about a balance of power between what we do with the gifts we've been given and the glory we are called to give to God for those gifts.  In many ways, the development of my chapbook, Portal of Light, has been like walking that tightrope.  When I began it, I called it "The Gate of Gratitude," because I realized that the first poem I'd written since my husband had died that wasn't overshadowed by grief was about "Serendipitous Expeditions" with my son to the Wild Animal Park in San Diego from the time he was quite small until he towered over me at 6'5" and the two of us celebrated my birthday there.  The poem then became "Portal" and later "Portal of Light." But the original gate became an arch which then opened into the idea of a ziggurat. That required an extensive amount of research into ziggurats and hanging gardens and pretty soon I was erecting my poetic ziggurat and planting it with trees and flowers until I had fallen in love with the vast construction watered by elaborate Archimedes screws and other inventions presumably of Sennacherib, who had apparently created a ziggurat for his favorite wife, although further research revealed that he was a brutal and terrifying leader. While I was creating this elaborate structure, I was also working on earlier sections about my children and what gradually became very clear was how many times one of them escaped serious injury or death. This led to the flowering of thankfulness even in the valley of the shadow of my beloved husband's death, for I had been left with a cloud of witnesses to his passage on earth and the goodness he exemplified both in our family and with everyone he knew. 

Then I discovered that my daughter Mary had the gift of literary criticism and was delighted to put it to use as I worked on the chapbook, and it grew from the first 7 pages to the current 47.  And that is despite the fact that I finally saw the point that Mary was making about the ziggurat not really belonging, even though it was the under-structure that I used to build the whole chapbook.  It may be a separate poem at some point, but when I finally took it out, I realized that the whole poem had taken on a life of its own and no longer needed the scaffolding that held it together in the beginning. It's analogous to my life. After Wes died, I tried to construct my world on the memories of all that we had done together, but I have gradually learned that now, in Chapter 2, I have to frame a new life and build a new home. It has the same foundation but I've slowly changed the colors, the functions of the rooms, the yard and garden, and time has been slowly creating a different landscape all around.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

THE REBEL UNBOUND

Recently, I was describing to someone what I most want as a rebel, and I gave them an example from the days when I rode horseback. For me, it is that experience of sailing over a jump--or a fence--into freedom.  When I was describing this to my daughter Elizabeth who used to ride with me, I told her that I had a similar feeling of freedom when I was 9. I had had serious surgery and was in the hospital for 3 and 1/2 weeks.  My family lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and St. Francis Hospital was in Tulsa, about 50 miles away.  I think my mother stayed with me the first day when I was coming out of the anesthesia, but after that, she went home, and she would come to visit on Saturdays.  After the first week, I think my parents must have felt sorry for me, because they paid for me to have a TV in my room, so I could watch Kennedy's inauguration.  From then on, I watched the game shows in the morning but turned off the TV when the soap operas started in the afternoon. There was a bookmobile in the hospital, and I loved its arrival in my room when I could choose books and then read for hours in the afternoons. There were lots of nuns working in the hospital, and they were all kind and motherly, as were the nurses.  Some thoughtful person had sent me a plant arrangement that came with three porcelain kittens.  I played with those kittens every day; it was the kindest present anyone could have sent me.

A couple of the nuns from my school, including my fourth-grade teacher, visited me in the hospital, and when Sr. Collette told me that I didn't have to make up all the schoolwork I'd missed that was a true gift, because it meant that the rest of the time in the hospital I could read and watch TV and play with my kittens with no concern that I should be working on math or English instead. In addition, I had no chores, which was a lovely perk. I don't ever remember being lonely. I accepted the three shots I had every day with good grace, but I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in bed, and the meals were almost always delicious. I had a sunny room and plenty of company in the nurses and staff people in the hospital. One of the nurses talked to me so much about her favorite book as a girl, Anne of Green Gables, that before I left the hospital she gave me my own copy. My overall recollection of that time was of untrammeled freedom; I could decide to do exactly what I wanted within the bounds of the hospital, and I'd never felt so lighthearted as I felt during that stay. It probably speaks volumes for how much dominance I experienced when I was at home, that in the hospital this little rebel stretched her wings and found it intoxicating. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

TRYING TO OUTWIT THE REBEL

 In an earlier post I shared some of the challenges I have been facing as I try to get organized and overcome my lifelong habit of procrastination.  One of my little victories was deciding to use 5 Post-it Notes at a time to write down tasks I need to do for my book so that I can pick one rather than feel as if it were something being forced on me.  The first attempt worked fairly well, along with the suggestion that I set a timer for 5 minutes to work on one task.  I did that one afternoon and finished the first one. The next day, I set the timer and after the first five minutes were up, I kept going and sailed through three more. I showed my "About the Author" essay to my business partner, and she immediately tore it to shreds.  At first I resisted listening to her, but then I realized that she had some points (she had run a publishing company for many years in Austria) and that I would have to rewrite it.  So now, I have that project again, and the last Post-it Note and have done nothing about either in over a week.  The rebel has dug in her heels.

Things that work for others don't work for me. Many of my friends swear by calendar blocking.  I've tried that, but as soon as I block it in, it seems to set up an internal alarm that means I will never get to it at that time on that day.  The one thing that I have stuck to for over 40 years is Mondays are poetry days.  When I came home after a week in the hospital when I had my first child, I decided that on Mondays I would write poetry. I had had a full-time job outside the home--and in fact, dressed for work the day I wound up going to the hospital--and now I was staying at home in our little apartment in Hackensack, N.J. I'd taken a poetry workshop from poet Colette Inez just before I'd gotten married and decided that poetry would suit the lifestyle of a new mother better than pursuing my dream of writing the Great American Novel. My first daughter was a good sleeper and I could count on a long nap while I wrote, revised, and mailed out my poems to journals and contests.  At the time, I was still using an electric typewriter and I amused myself with different colored ribbons so that each submission was in a different color. It was too precious for words, and I wasted a great deal of time changing typewriter ribbons when I could have been writing.  Despite this foible, one of my poems won 9th prize in a Canadian journal and I became a professional poet.

After my children were grown I decided I could write any day or every day and the result of this perception was that I often didn't write at all because there was always tomorrow.  Over the years the children were growing up, I did finish a middle-grade novel, and after my husband died, I wrote a book on marriage (the one with the accompanying Post-it Notes assignments). I submitted a full-length poetry collection to several contests and am waiting to hear from the current contest. I am (I think) almost finished with the chapbook of poetry, once my daughter Mary gives me her latest critique. The ziggurat that was her greatest stumbling block has been completely dismantled. However, when I gave her the version without the ziggurat, she took it home and later texted me, "Just finished reading 'Portal of Light.' Pgs. 36-37 are really excellent. The way you return to the cosmic imagery of the first poem to express the emotions and upheaval of that time is brilliant. Unfortunately for you, this means I have no guilt about pushing you on it because what you wrote is so, so good."  She has really mastered what we called in Marriage Encounter "the negative sandwich."  When the husband or wife wanted to share a negative feeling he or she would sometimes squeeze it between an opening compliment and a positive close.  However, the important thing was that by sharing our feelings we learned to understand each other more intimately. Similarly, all of Mary's critiques and comments have been focused on making the chapbook the best it can be.  

I have returned to my Poetry Mondays, without calendar blocking them because they were so intrinsic to my life that all I needed to do was raise the bar and click them back into place. Wednesdays have gradually become my days when I often call my daughter Teresa and Skype with Catherine. At 4, I have my Energetic Embodiment session, which I have never managed to describe adequately but which has helped me understand myself and others better and access more energy than I knew I had. In the evening, my husband and I would go to church for an hour to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  We did that for over 30 years and I continued after he died.  When Covid 19 shut down the churches, I just continued my hour of prayer at home. So I suppose I could say that Wednesdays are my days of interpersonal communication!  For nearly 8 years, Thursdays have been my days to work on my greeting cards with my business partner. On Fridays, I journal in the mornings and have my horn lesson, which can take 2 or 3 hours, in the afternoon.  That leaves Tuesdays if I want to work on my other writing during the work week. So I suppose that I need to approach Tuesdays with more of a sense of purpose--or perhaps as a rebel, I need to slide sideways into the day without thinking of it as an assignment, but maybe going back to the 5-minute timer and promising myself that I will only do 5 minutes and then give myself a reward for that.  The rebel is complaining that it's a dreary prospect, so perhaps I really have to find a good way to celebrate other than saying, "Great, you did your 5 minutes."  I am realizing even as I write this that I am going to have to do some serious thinking about celebrating and rewards!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A BRAW BRICHT MONOLICHT NICHT!

It was on a "braw bricht monolicht nicht" (a beautiful bright moonlight night) that a new friend and companion in poetry burst into my life. My daughter Elizabeth had met her on one of the online boards she frequents (probably not the Science Mommies board), saw some of her poetry and thought it might be interesting for me to read it. Now when people hear that I am a poet, I often get comments like, "I write poetry, too." When they inevitably show it to me, I usually encounter the "Roses are red, violets are blue" type or the somewhat more advanced greeting card verse that poetry journals are always warning you not to send.  I usually respond with a noncommittal comment along the lines of "That's nice," and they fortunately seldom back me into a corner with a request that I critique it.  However, Elizabeth, who is a biochemist and not a poet but who appreciates the poetry I write, suspected that this woman was writing serious poetry and sent me a few examples of her work. I was blown away. Not only did I recognize poetry at a professional level of intensity, but I suspect that that level may be several levels above mine.  It will take me a while to figure it out, because she is also Scottish and loves to include a lot of "Scottishisms" in her poetry. When Elizabeth told her that I was amazed by her poetry, she requested my email address, and sent me an email that was closer to an epistle, chock full of her poetry, along with a recommendation of an online Scottish dictionary so I can decode the words I don't recognize (although there are also words that I think are English that I will have to look up and I almost never have to do that).  I am telling myself that the educational system in Scotland is dimensions beyond the one in the U.S. but I think she is basically just brilliant as well as extremely well educated. 

In her first email, she ranged over Scottish ballads, Kafka, little known facts about Robert the Bruce, more little known facts about Clan Grant (my maiden name) which settled near Loch Ness, the poetry of St. John of the Cross and his use of Song of Songs, and included a series of poems about the full moons during Covid 19, asked my opinion on an opening line in one of her poems, and left me with the feeling that I had been for a ride with Lord Peter Wimsey in one of his fast cars touring a field of diamonds.

It was intoxicating and intimidating and effervescent. Since my poetry mentor, whom I had known for 40 years died recently, I hadn't had anyone with whom I could share the challenges of creating poetry who was also engaged in that demanding work.  Interestingly, on Friday, my horn teacher had asked me a question about the poem I had included on a birthday card for his wife, and I plunged eagerly into a half-hour discussion on how I create my unique verse structure, and I could feel myself coming alive as I described it. While my new friend's poetry is quite different than mine, there are also similarities, and the realization that I have encountered someone who speaks the same language has left me feeling as if I were breathing the sparse air of a high mountaintop, or as Keats wrote in "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (although it was actually Balboa who was the first European who saw the Pacific rather than Cortez),

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise 
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

However, Keats was actually talking about his discovery of a translation of Homer that was exhilaratingly different from the polished literary translations of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. A friend, Charles Cowden Clarke, brought him George Chapman's earthy, vigorous paraphrase, and the two men stayed up all night reading it, "Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination."
Lest I seem to be criticizing Keats, I will quote from the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse, 
In a postscript to the novel The Clicking of CuthburtP. G. Wodehouse says "In the second chapter I allude to Stout Cortez staring at the Pacific. Shortly after the appearance of this narrative in serial form in America, I received an anonymous letter containing the words, "You big stiff, it wasn't Cortez, it was Balboa." On the other hand, if Cortez was good enough for Keats, he is good enough for me. Besides, even if it was Balboa, the Pacific was open to being stared at about that time, and I see no reason why Cortez should not have had a look at it as well."

I suppose that since my new friend Alba is across the Atlantic I should make that my discovery--though I could get to Scotland going from California since the world IS round, but I feel as if I have discovered--"with a wild surmise"--an entirely new ocean of poetry that beats upon the shores of my heart.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

THE AUTHENTIC SELF IS READY TO ROLL

 Yesterday, I had my coaching call with our Mission Accomplished group led by Deborah Hurwitz (Productivity for Perfectionists) and we were discussing accountability and authenticity, and specifically how accountability is accessed through authenticity. At the end of the discussion, our homework was to decide what new action we would take as a result of laying claim to our authentic self. I was somewhat perplexed by this, since I usually see myself as authentic. I don't feel hemmed in as I sometimes did when I was a child. My beloved husband and I were equal partners in our marriage; he encouraged me in all my endeavors, especially in my writing, but also in taking riding lessons when I was 27 and painting classes in my 40s, but most importantly in going to a World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend after 7 years of marriage, and all the adventures that ensued--moving from New Jersey to California, giving WWME Weekends and becoming involved in leadership, and adding three more children to our quiver. I have never felt so fully alive as when we were working to enrich marriage and family life, especially when we coordinated the 2008 International WWME Convention. We learned to lean into one another's strengths more than ever before and learned how to listen deeply to other couples and priests and reconcile our differences.

As I told my daughter Elizabeth, when I was growing up, I would sometimes feel squelched by my parents, but now I can feel somewhat constricted by my children. For example, I was looking for some form of exercise that I would really love, and I remembered that as a child my mother would take my siblings and me to the roller rink one day and the swimming pool the next, and we'd alternate all summer long. I was a terror on roller skates and my husband and I had even gone skating when I was 5 months pregnant with our fifth baby, and I wasn't the one who fell! After one my daughters suggested I get one of those things you wear that supposedly says, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up," instead, I bought a beautiful pair of skates, and started skating on the sidewalk we have in our back yard.  However, I quickly discovered after a number of somewhat painful falls that skating on a sidewalk that has gaps and edges that have heaved up under pressure from tree roots, as well as branches that you have to duck under when you're over 6 feet in your skates is quite different from skating on a rink.  I eventually gave them to my daughter Mary for a friend who wanted to start skating and thought no more of it, because the rink where we used to skate had closed and was being turned into a carwash.  But Elizabeth encouraged me to see if the other rink that was farther away was still open. She told me that a friend of hers who had been an Olympic ice skater, and stopped skating when she was raising her children, started back recently, but that she hired a coach to help her ease back into skating.  That seemed like a brilliant idea, and as soon as I hung up, I looked up the rink online, which turned out to be a historical location, opened by Eleanor Roosevelt. They are closed for Covid, but have plans to reopen as soon as they are allowed to, and they have coaches.  Because I used to pass this rink every time I went to see my spiritual advisor, I know exactly where it is, and having to print out a map isn't even necessary.  I was unbelievably buoyed up by this discovery, and by the fact that I took action on my daughter's suggestion right away.  I put my name on their email list so that I can be notified when they reopen, and look forward to the day when I can lace up my skates and get going!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

SEPTEMBER 11

 I'm writing this on September 11, 19 years after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. When they happened, I was living in the San Diego area, and my daughter had called me to tell me about these and the other attacks, and said that the priest with whom she was working was preparing to say a Mass in time of war. When I turned on the radio, servicemen were being recalled to Miramar and all flights in the country were canceled. 

Because I had lived in New York City when my husband and I were first married, I was very familiar with the World Trade Center, and my husband and I had eaten in Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of one of the towers for our fifth anniversary.  In addition, I had interviewed for a job on the 80th floor, so I knew how massive those buildings were.  The elevators rattled and creaked as they made their way up in a way that made one think the buildings were rather poorly constructed, as opposed to the smoothly functioning elevators in the elegantly slim Empire State Building, where I worked until we moved to California.  The idea that a plane could bring even one of those monoliths crashing down was much more somber to me than to someone who had never seen the scale of the towers nor experienced them from the inside.

On the anniversary of the catastrophe, I pray for everyone who died, for the wounded, the grieving, the first responders, and all whose lives were inexorably changed by those acts of violence. And I give thanks for those of us who were spared and can live out the mission we have been given.


NEW YORK ECHOES IN SAN DIEGO


When the first trauma ceased to stun, November

overtook October and September

but few flew willingly.  I remembered

before the buildings were complete

I went for an interview on the 80th floor,

the elevator’s lurching left me unnerved,

rattling and shaking in the ascent, then doors

flew open, spit me out, slammed shut

before I saw where I’d emerged, and left:

skeletal 79th, cement dust,

ominous silence in the dampened air, 

and a jangling fear that I was not alone.

The call buttons didn’t work,

terrors lurked.

Desperate, I looked for stairs

then recalled that fire 

regulations sometimes required

all doors be locked except 

the lobby exit. Could I retreat 

down 79 long sets of steps

in my interview heels without breaking my ankle or neck?

Panic propelled me breathless up one flight.

Rushed, disheveled, I pushed the door—open—

back to the order of cubicles, computers and phones.


They asked if I were well, wanted children,

questions my husband said they weren’t allowed to ask.

I didn’t fit, had babies, worked at homely tasks,

escaped the pyre

of all those stairs collapsing into fire,

one more way my children gave me life.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

THE BATTLE OF THE ZIGGURAT

Last week, my daughter Mary surprised me by calling and telling me that their children had requested to come to my house for the last day of summer vacation.  Of course, I was delighted for them to come, especially after the long months of quarantine when I couldn't see them at all. Now we are all in a bubble together and can even share hugs.

The kids were thrilled to enjoy my air conditioning.  After years with no air conditioning in their home (they live closer to the beach and it is usually somewhat cooler there), my niece offered to loan them a room air conditioner while she is in England with the Navy, and I have an image in my head of the six of them sitting around the unit like others might sit by the fire in winter time. But having central air conditioning is much more comfortable overall. 

I was surprised that Mary had brought her latest comments on my chapbook, Portal of Light.  She suggested moving some of the new poems to various points earlier in the chapbook, and this made sense and was easily done.  I had a few changes to make in a couple of them, and have been working on them since.  

However, we finally came down to the ziggurat sections.  I had taken the whole last section of the chapbook, which was set on the ziggurat, removed some verses, broken it up into multiple sections, wedged in quotes from Song of Songs and somewhat vainly hoped that Mary wouldn't notice that the ziggurat was still there. She was adamant, however, that the ziggurat, while it might be a good poem separately, did not belong in the chapbook, since the additional poems she had had me write were set in Bethlehem or Jerusalem, not in the countries where the ziggurats might have been built (Babylon or Assyria, for example).  As she pointed out her vision for the other poems, and the points of intersection with the rest of the chapbook, I began to see past my prejudice in favor of the first idea I'd had of this chapbook and the much wider view that my daughter had.

So, although the ziggurat had appeared in my very first verses of the original chapbook, after I imagined myself walking through what I originally called "The Gate of Gratitude," I now have to dismantle the entire structure of the ziggurat upon which the chapbook was originally built. I had noticed that at one point I placed the action at the peak of the ziggurat and in the very next section, it was set in the mountains, and although at the time I constructed a verbal bridge from the ziggurat to the mountain path, it seemed very awkward. But I can see that by removing this foreign structure, as beautiful as it may have been, I will be allowing the chapbook to become a more integral journey of the heart through gratitude, grief and hope.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

CELEBRATE!

On Thursday, I received a copy of the Summer 2020 issue of the literary journal, The Lyric, celebrating its 100th Anniversary Year. The editor had accepted one of my poems for publication in this issue and had a question about a line in another poem I had submitted. I had written back to her and told her I agreed with her suggestion for a change, and when I looked in the journal, I discovered that she had published that poem as well. Having two poems published was an extra fillip to my day. I showed them to my business partner who was here for the day and let her read them, and it was nice to have someone with whom to share my good news. I was especially happy that "Diapason" had been accepted, because I dedicated it to our choir director, and I will send him a copy of the journal when I get the extra copies I ordered. Since he has very little  directing to do these days, I am hoping it will be an encouragement to him in the interim. The other poem is called "Bacchanale," and while I did have a glass of champagne before I went to bed to celebrate, I probably should have done a little happy dance as well.

Sometimes I wonder if am just taking these things in stride since I have had so many poems published or if it's because I no longer have my beloved husband to help me celebrate that my rejoicing is more damped down.

I wonder, too, if the fact that writing is now also my work and I'm able to spend more time on it means that I don't pause and rejoice in the poems that are published. I find myself striving to submit my poems but when they are accepted I no longer feel that rush of excitement that I often had when I was younger and just starting to have poems published.   Raising our six children took most of my time, and I loved being a wife and mother. Getting a poem published was like a mini-vacation, or getting a scholarship or hitting a homerun or sailing easily over a jump on a horse. It was out of the ordinary humdrum routine of my days of meals, carpools, laundry, and cleaning, reading a bedtime story for the 100th time or helping a child who was having a meltdown over an assignment due the next day, and hearing my husband quoting Anne Lamott, "Bird by bird," kiddo, "bird by bird," as he calmed both of us down, since I often panicked as much as the errant child.

Having a poem published opens a door into a magical world where the words I have spun together build a bridge to the reader. The poem is no longer locked in a binder, but flying out into the atmosphere like a shaman's call where it can echo in untold hearts and souls, and build one more corner of resonance and peace.  Sufficient reason to smile and celebrate!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

WANING AND WAXING

 The ebb and flow of my creative spirit has been very evident in the past week. When I look back two years ago in the comments I recorded in our coaching program, there was the same push and pull, riding the roller coaster, swinging from apogee to perigee and back again. I'll have a day when I spend a couple of hours on writing or revising a poem, and the next day it will seem as if I can't get anything done, I'm unmotivated, even almost paralyzed with exhaustion. One day I'll be moving forward at a fast canter, and the next day I don't even want to get on the horse.  Some of it may be understandable physical tiredness--I got only 5 hours of sleep, or I walked for hours in the heat uphill and down at the Wild Animal Park. It could be Covid-19 effects: depression, uncertainty, weariness, and loneliness. Why else would I chat at some length with the census taker who came to the house? Or look forward to going to the dry cleaner's?

I am trying to keep moving forward by baby steps when I can't take great leaps over obstacles, doing just one Post-it Note assignment a day on my book, printing and sending one card, or slicing oranges and blackberries for my infusion water bottle instead of making an elaborate recipe for a meal.

I think I am learning to accept the vagaries of my creative work and life. One day, when I have decided to do some cleaning, I might spend two hours cleaning the refrigerator and getting rid of science experiments that have wandered to the back of a shelf or two bottles of some kind of salsa that my son bought so long ago that they have expired.  The delight of having a clean and shiny refrigerator rewarded me for the work.

The next day, I had scheduled some garden work, and planted sunflower seeds in a good many empty corners of the garden.  It didn't take long, but I now have to water those areas by hand as well as the new plantings in the garden at the front of the house.  That gets me outside for some Vitamin D, so I am always happy to do that.

On Thursday, when my business partner was here, she helped me choose the size of my upcoming book on marriage, as well as a selection of photographs we are considering for the cover. That took care of several Post-it-Notes in one day.

I think that as I look at my calendar, I think that I should be able to work on all the creative projects I have lined up every day, but in fact my days are quite different. For most of my life, Mondays were always devoted to poetry, and much of the time they still are.  When our children were little, I always arranged for a babysitter or organized a babysitting coop so I would have at least an afternoon to write. Tuesdays tend to be the days I run errands or catch up on other projects. Wednesdays are the days I talk to a couple of my daughters on the phone or Skype, Thursdays are my work days on my greeting card business with my business partner, and now we're doing some of the projects connected with my book.  Fridays center on my horn lessons, which can take anywhere from two to three hours, and they are often the days I write the first draft of my blog post.

Saturdays are rather free form, although I soak my phalaenopsis orchids over the course of the day. I don't have a green thumb but almost accidentally when I bought an orchid in Laguna Beach the first year that we stayed there for our anniversary, I put it in my greenhouse window, which faces north, and it prospered. Over the years, others have given me orchids, and now the whole window is full of them so once a week I soak the pots in water with fertilizer, and they flourish. 

Yesterday, however, my daughter Mary and her family came over to celebrate my birthday belatedly, her daughter's Saint's Day (the Assumption of Mary on August 15) and her Saint's day, (the Queenship of Mary on August 22). They had been in quarantine for two weeks, and it was wonderful to be back together again. We had lunch and dinner together, played board games, and they are coming down again on Monday before their oldest son Jozef gets his boot off after breaking a bone in his foot. Once it's off, they will spend the last week before school starts online with trips to the beach which he had to miss because of his boot.

On Sundays, I'm able to go to Mass again, outside, but with many of my dear friends from the choir recognizable above their masks. Then I have a family Zoom gathering and a Beginning Experience community experience in the afternoon, usually capped off by a nap. I suppose I should accept the schedule of my days and how different each one is, but work to use more of the little slices of time for my various creative projects.  It seems to be something that I will be adjusting almost daily--and as a rebel, I don't like things to get into too much of a routine or I begin to feel restrained--not a good thing for a Texan who never wants to be fenced in!