The nipping of CREATIVITY at her heels. All she ever wanted was to turn and soothe the beast. At times she did. Painting, writing, dancing in the dawn. And other times, the bark grew fainter to a whimper, waking her in the night. Was that a call? A dream, a spiderweb filament, on her face in the morning? Nothing more. She cupped her ear to hear the bark. DOUBT grew from a soft kitten to a lioness, proud, loud, nippier than CREATIVITY. DOUBT silenced the dog. Alas, SURVIVAL, a deluge of biblical proportions, drove both cat and dog away. "I matter," said SURVIVAL, "for planet, people, places, politics. Let CREATIVITY nip and DOUBT roar. I matter more." SURVIVAL set CREATIVITY and DOUBT to shelter, huddle, warm themselves, wait out the storm. But the two embraced, allied, befriended, plotted to overtake, save SURVIVAL -- or at least pacify, soothe SURVIVAL's alarm -- to dance in the daybreak once more.
After today’s second dose of the vaccine,
I feel freer but not free.
I will follow my bliss but ever so cautiously,
And here’s something to know about me when we meet again,
I will not shake your hand or anyone else’s hand for that matter,
Alas, I will hug you.
See, I met a doctor at Kripalu when I were there, from March 6 to 8, 2020, a few days before the world shut down.
She, the endocrinologist, told me that hugging’s safer than shaking hands.
Namaste, she and I said when we parted,
hand to heart probably safest still.
I signed up for an online Kripalu zoom class because I miss the vibe. The class began yesterday. And we were invited to
make a wheel out of the areas of our lives.
My wheel looked a little deflated.
I miss the walk down to the lake.
We will go again, hand to heart.
Be free. Follow your bliss.
Look what it is to ride out a pandemic the tear of masks from a new pup, call him Brandy, from the makers of masks in China or Russia via your school or workplace not made for the bite of a dog who mistook the mask for a bone. You noticed another pile by the entrance to the M5 bus, comfort to know there is more by the door, paper and cloth masks in a glass bowl or on a silver hook. And look what it is to give your mask away, three times now, and to grab another, in three different multiverses, oh tears for the people, the older, the younger, or maybe born on your same birthday birth year, who forget their masks or must wear the oxygen mask alone in a buzzing room with hazmat suits, flowers by the door, pings on the hospital floor, sirens closer or passing your home where you left no room, only tears, for the M5 ride or the dog walk or the recovery room, torn mask by the door for the freezing long hauler.
Inspired by today’s Poetry Foundation poem Torn Coat by Gerald Stern
Because we were theater nerds — RJ and I and who else? Pam maybe — we were asked by Mr. Martello to clean the backstage area and scrub the bathroom because Maine South was hosting a guest speaker of great importance. This was probably 1979.
I remember cleaning the counters for her. And putting flowers in the bathroom. I remember hearing her read her poetry. She was diminutive and grand.
The speaker was Gwendolyn Brooks.
I was jazzed by her colloquialisms. By her direct language. Though small of size, she was huge to us, to us in the lily whitest of white suburbs. Her poetry sang.
I especially remember her reading, “We real cool.” And I remember reading it on the page — how she set out the way to read it out loud by the way she broke the lines. She made us pause. At that time, too, I was learning about ‘the Pinter Pause,’ and I was excited by the pauses that poetic language could invite.
The “We”—you’re supposed to stop after the “we” and think about validity; of course, there’s no way for you to tell whether it should be said softly or not, I suppose, but I say it rather softly because I want to represent their basic uncertainty.-Gwendolyn Brooks
So this is February, Black History Month. And I’m pretty much in love with poetry written in spoken language. And I thank God for Ms. Brooks, and Maine South for introducing me to her poetry. In high school, before I learned of Ms. Brooks’ work, I had fallen hard, as young people do, for Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. We’re so lucky to have such a history of amazing women poets in this country. The dramatic work of poet laureate Amanda Gorman continues and expands this poetic tradition.
By hearing Ms. Brooks read her work, I discovered that poetry could merge with drama. That poetry allowed you to try out a new voice. Just as acting allows you to embody a new person. I celebrate the newness of voice and vision of great poets in this country.
You start your hand moving. And then you just keep it moving. You write, I remember… and you keep writing memories… popping like popcorn. One memory after another. Don’t worry about which era from your life wherein the memory emeges or how you feel or what it all means.
I learned this from Dani Shapiro who learned it from a book I Remember by Joe Brainard.
I remember. And the important thing with this writing exercise is to keep going. Keep your mind moving from memory to memory. I found it very relaxing and centering. It’s also a great way to mine some gems which may become sparkling jewels in your larger memoir story.
Weave the memory jewels into the tapestry of your life.
In high school, I had a friend Sue P., who always stepped into her home on her right foot — through the threshold on the same foot. And I was jealous of her ritual. Her magical thinking seemed exceedingly sophisticated. I admired her commitment to it.
What are my quirky rituals? Do I even have any? Of course, I do. We all do. Commuting via citibike to work? Or earlier in the morning, coffee with my journal, alone at the kitchen table. Yes, I have that comforting ritual.
I’ve been thinking about rituals and the purpose they serve. I believe they somehow connect us to the divine.
And these rituals, like bedtime prayers and journaling and making art and maybe even chatting on the phone with my mother every day now, keep us sane and connected.
I’ve been reading Eric Booth’s Tending the Perennials, lent to me by Lindsay. And we talk about the book as we walk the dogs — a ritual.
Booth writes about his pilgrimage into the woods for a week. Alone. Naked. He sets himself the task of writing or thinking of one thousand things for which he is grateful.
And today, when I started my day with journaling, I wrote about the things for which I’m grateful:
It started like this:
the sun peeking through the clouds
my parents, my darlings
the New York Times
homes full of light
travel to Italy, esp. that memory of riding through the wet streets on the back of a Vespa
jigsaw puzzle pieces
social media for good
And there is more. There is always more. At least one thousand good things more. It is a comfort to simply keep a ritual for which to remember gratitude.
If I visit the small lost and found department of my life, I wonder what I would find there. The things that I don’t even recall losing. That high-collared Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown, I wish I had it now for this spring dressed as winter in the North Country.
During this pause, this enforced sanctuary, I’m aware of the recent big and small trips I’ve missed. To commemorate my dad’s life in Sarasota; to volunteer at McCurdy School in Espanola. I grieve.
Take time to grieve so many losses. And the loss of certainty.
Of course, we’ve found things too. Vast swaths of uninterrupted time with darlings. Sometimes bickering. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes walking the dog. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) watching Netflix.
I’ve found that frisson of joy when I hear a friend’s voice on the phone. Definitely, I feel loved.
There is – yes – a sense of finding and losing. And we’ve experienced loss.
One recent twist, I’ve found a forgiving heart for any and all who live with fear, the shadow self.
And a desire to turn to visual art — as ‘not the thing I do, but the place I visit.’ Imperfectly, yes. For we are only human.
This prompt was inspired by my creative muse Julie Jordan Scott.
People will tell you where they’ve gone-Joni Mitchell
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia it was just a false alarm
Amelia Earhart. Flew alone. Flew and disappeared.
I’m thinking about Amelia as I wait and watch.
The view from the office window, I call command central.
The snow falls in slow motion;
that sideways snow,
white falling from the sky.
Watching from the window as if I had nowhere to go.
(I have nowhere to go.)
Nature puts on a last gasp of a winter show.
Like this little pup, we care for
for a few months,
Unused to flying like Amelia,
unused to stillness,
to slowing down.
To stop, stop, stop,
when I want to go, go, go.
Like the snow,
Embrace the view from and of and in the sky.
Become like the snow in a
slow motion life,
turned upside down, a snow globe.
Flying in the crystal sunshine.
Landing safely, slowly.
Amelia Earhart “passed the time by reading poetry, learning to play the banjo and studying mechanics,” while convalescing from the Spanish Flu one hundred years ago.according to Wikipedia.
- Who are your heroes?
- How are you getting by?
- Are you able to write? Make art?
- What’s your secret to slowing down?
- What’s the view from your ‘command central?’
Some people vacation in the Adirondacks in the summer. Yet the cold winter months in the New York mountains offer a beautiful and stark landscape, perfect for taking stock and taking time. How often do we pause to simply exhale and inhale the beauty of nature?
Getting out of your home comfort zone and into nature, even in the winter weather, refreshes your soul. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family went up to Westport on Lake Champlain. We took a couple of long walks on Camp Dudley Road. Nothing makes you feel so alive as a brisk winter walk. Breathe. Feel the bracing fresh air and notice the big sky.
Don’t be lulled into the belief that the only way to socialize with family and friends is to dine at home or go out to eat together. I contend that walking and talking and making art together offers a more fulfilling connection. Don’t get me wrong: I love sitting down to a delicious meal with family and friends. It’s a great way to share time and stories. But it’s not the only way.
Walking together makes memories too.
During one of my long winter walks, I hit upon the idea of offering a winter writing and arts retreat in Westport. I, for one, am looking forward to getting quiet, slowing down, going for long winter walks, and, okay, yes, dining together. Telling stories through art and writing.
Check out the February 14-18 Winter Adirondack Retreat. Take a walk. Take in the weather.
Writing is a solitary endeavor so the connection with other writers inspires and energizes you. Fill your soul with stories. Feel braver after a weekend away when you return to your writer’s desk. Write your one, true, beautiful story.
Here is my advice on getting the most out of writing conferences:
- Go deep fast
- Take time to walk alone
- Read your work
- Make one friend
- Whisper the words that you long to hear
- Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest
- Reveal the unspoken story
- Know that you are not alone
I love writing weekends because, beyond the substantive information, there is always depth, laughter, and understanding among writers.
Last summer we were a small and mighty group at our weekend in Lake George. We empowered each other as writers and fellow travelers on life’s crazy and unexpected journey. We want to do it again.
In this writing workshop, you’ll feel a sense of belonging.
For more information about the June 20-23 weekend, check out
(The early registration pricing has just been extended until April 15, 2019. $545 all inclusive — $285 without housing.)