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!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

WRESTLING WITH ORGANIZING

 I've started getting more organized than ever before in my life, and I'm discovering that it is an ongoing process. I got my desk cleared off, appointments listed on my calendar, and my Post-it Notes arranged in a box like quirky rainbows that bring a smile to my face while delighting the eye.

At the recommendation of one of my coaches (Caroline Garnet McGraw, A Wish Come Clear), I wrote 5 small tasks from the list given to me by my publisher on Post-it Notes, and each day I choose one to do, moving my book publishing adventure one step ahead, without scaring off my inner rebel who doesn't want anyone, including myself, giving her orders! Since I can choose whichever one I want to do, I sidestep the sense that it is a requirement.

Phone calls are the most difficult for me, ever since I was in 7th grade and my mother insisted that I had to call one of my teachers to apologize for my sullen behavior at school that day.  I pleaded with her not to make me do it, but she was adamant.  I undoubtedly needed to apologize and my teacher was very kind when she came to the phone, but the damage was done and it still lingers, springing out at me when I least expect it. For most of the quarantine, I have needed to take my French horn in for its annual electronic cleaning, and replacement of the cork pads which have worn down so that when I am playing, each time I depress a valve lever, there is often a click. I keep putting it off and thinking I'll do it another day, or that they are not open yet, except that I got an email from them not long ago saying that they had reopened with all the proper precautions.  Yesterday, I had it on my calendar, and decided to call them first before I called my granddaughter to wish her a Happy Feast Day.  Once I'd made the call, a very helpful man answered my questions, checked that they had a Jupiter horn that I could rent and told me I could come right in.  I have had excellent service every time I go to Bertrand's Music Mart, and they were just as friendly when I brought my horn in as they have always been, despite being disguised by masks. (I've known the owners and their four sons for years, but couldn't recognize if it was one of the sons behind his mask.  He wasn't, but he was also extremely helpful.) When I got home, I called my granddaughter, had a nice chat with her, and then talked to my daughter and told her how proud I was of myself for making that phone call. My children all know that phone calls are a challenge for me, so they let me brag when I overcome my reluctance!

Friday night I had finally chosen and revised the poems for a contest and sent them in via Submittable, which more poetry journals are using now than ever before.  But it had gotten late, and I hadn't filed the last batch of poems that were declined or the ones I just submitted. So my pristine desk--and my work table--were covered with binders, poems, and notes to myself about which poems I had sent and which had been declined.  It seems as if as soon as I get my desk cleared off, something happens and papers pile up as if they were magnetically drawn to the clean, empty surface. But yesterday, I got everything put away, got one of my bills put back on autopay and once again have a clear desk to welcome me in the morning. There are other parts to my current organizing system that I need to use more regularly, such as my reminders to send birthday and anniversary cards, but I am slowly getting those under control, and hope that I will never again discover three Christmas cards from last year that I never opened, in a pile that I am just starting to clear off.  As my horn teacher says, at least once each lesson, "Rome wasn't built in a day."  And an organized office, run by an easily distracted woman, isn't created in a day either. But I'm building it, one colorful Post-it Note at a time!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

FLYING FREE

During my coaching call this week, we were talking about confidence. Our coach, Deborah Hurwitz, introduced an intriguing drawing of a woman with a large cat (which I thought was a panther) emerging from her chest in such a way that there appeared to be parts interwoven between the woman and the panther.  Several of us were asked to give an interpretation of the drawing and they were fascinating. I have been doing some "energetic embodiment" work with Koichi Naruishi and was able to see the woman, who seemed to me to have a serene face, as representing the peaceful aspects of my personality, and the panther as embodying some of the negative feelings such as anger and fear. Because I have been able to start processing those feelings every week as energy, I was able to look beyond the larger part of the drawing to a much smaller hummingbird flying toward the moon or sun and saw that as emblematic of my moving beyond the turmoil of my feelings to a sense of freedom.

The picture and the discussion reminded me of a poem I had written years ago when my parents were still alive and living with us.  At the time I was struggling with a serious depression, our house was painted a dark brown, and our fourth daughter Catherine was a bundle of energy who stopped napping at 14 months, learned to climb out of her crib, and kept me running after her constantly to keep her from getting into trouble. I was convinced my parents thought I was a terrible mother, even though they didn't criticize me and in fact helped by taking Catherine every afternoon and entertaining her until dinner time, which gave me a much needed break.

However, all these circumstances combined to give me the feeling that I was in prison and that there was no hope  I would ever escape.

I started writing a poem to express my wrestling with despair.


CALIFORNIA PASSAGES


Drained at dawn, the night

sky is scoured blue;

soapsuds curl up on chaparral slopes,

with beckoning roads still

in morning lull:

here, there are no forced marches.


If I deny this gravity,

ignore the pull of house and street

and rise on buoyant feet


day lengthens into light,

mockingbird lyric, summer space

and glimpse of western ranges.

Heartbeat lengthens to a lope--


but calendars weave cocoons

of sentinel pines and splintered moons.

In the dark, gargoyles colonize

the eucalyptus trees,

coydogs, possums, cricket-charged breeze

swirl into dream.


I do not seem

a prisoner of this brown house, these days

of subtle routine chains,

riveted to a window view

--clock time framed--

distilled, restrained,

sparse slices of seasons,

like flint to flame:


one intense vision

held at bay.


I can remember so many times standing at the window, looking out at the dreary brown walls of the house, yearning for the freedom of the sky, longing to walk out for a few moments of fresh air but feeling as if I were locked in by the imagined demands of almost everyone in the house. My husband was a help--he did far more than most men who had a full-time job outside the home--but he didn't understand why I would let the critical tapes from my childhood play in my mind now. I can remember once asking him how he would feel if his mother criticized something he did. He looked at me and said, "I wouldn't care." I knew he wouldn't but that seemed impossible for me.

In those days, my only escape was through my poetry, and I did craft an escape in this poem, with this ending:


Birds paying morning calls

light the blowtorch of sunrise

etch arches 

in these stuccoed walls


I fly free.


This finale came back to me as I was pondering the picture in our coaching program, the ways I'm processing negative emotions through Koichi's help with "energetic embodiment," the huge leaps I have made in my writing and other goals thanks to the coaching program, and I can see myself as the hummingbird soaring above!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

PLANS FOR GROWTH

On Friday, I picked up a routine that I last followed in February, just before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect in California. Before that, I got together with friends every 6 weeks or so to discuss what we had originally called Couple Plan for Growth.  When my husband died, I changed my version to the Plan for Growth, and instead of sharing a couple plan, I talk about my plans for my own individual growth.
This began years ago when we went on a Values Weekend for couples.  We saw many important changes in the couples making the weekend, as they realized that the way they were living was not in alignment with their values.  I remember one couple in particular who decided to reverse his vasectomy and they went on to have more children.  
One of the offshoots of the weekend was pairing couples up to meet together every few weeks to discuss how they were living out the choices they made on the weekend, as well as continuing to evaluate their lives in light of their values. There were three areas to examine: their spirituality, their marriage, and their family. We were paired up with a couple whom we knew fairly well, but over the next 30 years, we got to know them even better.  We met regularly while we were still living in the Bay Area, and when we moved to Southern California, we still checked in with each other by phone, and met somewhat regularly either up north or down south.  One of the things we had all committed to was writing a love letter to our spouse every day and then discussing the feelings we shared.  When we reached the 25th anniversary of doing that, we went to Big Bear together for Labor Day weekend to celebrate.  It was the first time that the four of us had been on a vacation together without any of our children.  We had a great time with some deep sharing about our relationships, but one of the things we did which might have seemed silly for four adults was taking a cruise on a pirate ship around Big Bear Lake.  I suppose we're kids at heart--though we did have drinks on the cruise!
We introduced the Couple Plan for Growth to our new World Wide Marriage Encounter community and the last time we did it, we paired up with a couple who lives 5 minutes away from us, and we shared our journey with them every couple of months over dinner until my beloved husband died.  These friends have been wonderfully supportive as I've had to learn how to live life alone, and we continued getting together and sharing our plans until the quarantine shut down most personal interaction.  
But finally on Friday, after all three of us had been observing shelter in place regulations and wearing our masks when we had to go out, I went to their home for dinner--outside on the patio, at a safe distance, and we picked up the threads of our Plans for Growth.  I hope that I never take for granted all the parts of my life that vanished with Covid-19 and are beginning to come back, although in somewhat altered forms. We had blessings in abundance and never realized it, but I am grateful for every one of them now.