A writing exercise

I remember…

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.

morning walk with Charlie
I think he likes the new dog bed.

BetterHelp

At about 10:30 pm, I went to sleep with three young adults laughing together in kitchen. It warmed my heart. At about 1:30 am, I woke to doors slamming and young people yelling. It froze my heart. I cop to joining in the fray. I am a beast when I’m awoken from a deep sleep. Or maybe a beast within me awakens. Even the dog started whimpering.

When the ruckus settled, I could not fall back asleep. Adrenaline. Guilt. Fear. Worry. Sadness. Failure. I don’t know. I’m reading Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion so I tried to comfort myself and recognize that we are in difficult times and there will be interpersonal conflict during our days and nights.

I am only human. And, as Neff suggests, how would I console a friend who was in a similar situation? Am I a not a friend to myself?

The upshot — hey, you know me, there has to be an upside — is that first thing this morning, I reached out to T.C. at BetterHelp, an online counselor. See, last fall, my primary care doc, Dr. E., had suggested, given the circumstances of my life, a regular mental health appointment could not hurt, might even help. I’m no longer on Zoloft. When I had protested, saying, “I’m too busy,” she, my wonderful Dr. E, said, “Try a virtual therapist. They can be just as good. Convenient.” Which I did. (I chose BetterHelp as it was offering free trials, which I discovered on one of my social media sites. But I’m sure TalkSpace or any other virtual therapy is also decent.) I was assigned T.C. who was smart and pragmatic. I think that she lives in the Albany area and has a bit of a Brooklyn accent.

We had several useful phone conversations and some texting check-ins. It definitely helped. But, hey, you know me, I was super busy. I did not want to be confined to any regular appointments, even phone calls.

Fast forward these several months to today: I am, like the whole world, circumstantially challenged by this time of necessary confinement. The circumference of my life has been compressed. While I’d rather not have woken and become a part of the middle-of-the-night mudslinging fest, I’m glad, in a way, that I did, because it prompted me to seek help. Over the course of my life, I have found therapy — talk therapy, especially — extremely beneficial. It helps me see the forest for the trees. I am grateful for any strategies for hope and healing. I look forward to better communications within the family about our emotions during these difficult days.

Earth Day

There’s a noise in my chimney.
that only the dog and I hear.
Of course, I wear hearing aids and the dog is finely tuned for sound
so it could be that we’re special?
I worry that some poor thing’s stuck in there–
not a vicious wolf in the wall (a la Neil Gaiman).
And it’s not that I’m scared. No, not me.
I’m not scared,
not at all
You’re scared, not me.
There’s nothing in the chimney.
but this morning when I walked away from the house, with Charlie on the leash,
he and I looked back at the house,
at the tin man’s hat at the top of the house.
at the top of the chimney.
A black bird was looking down the chimney. It called
for a lost chick
down my chimney.
Why a lost child? and not a lost spouse?
I’m surely projecting.
There’s no wolf or black bird in my farmhouse chimney.
Chimney’s are jolly places, just ask Santa.
Still.
I thought I just heard a slight thump
or a scampering.
It was the wind.
There’s nothing in the chimney.
Yet I hesitate to start a fire.
We need a fire in the fireplace for it snowed last night,
a little drafty at the beginning of spring, at the tail end of winter in the Adirondacks.
I’m happy to do nothing.
It’s only me Pandora who hears strange noises.
Well, me and Charlie.

Yesterday we bought Charlie a dog bed. And yes, he loved it.
But the dog flipped it over and lay on it, upside down.
“Oh God, you really are becoming my dog,”
I thought with a little dread and a little relief.
Who else turns things upside down?
Who else hears wolves and birds in the chimney?

I’ve been writing my posts first thing in the morning. I wanted to write about Earth Day today. Earth Day for 50 years! The commemoration lands on April 22, because it is the fullest, richest day of buds and blossoms of the whole year. Well, this morning I did not notice the beauty of springtime, because, again, WE HAD SNOW TODAY!! But here are a few pictures of flowers in the past. And they will be in our future too. Have hope.

Spiritual Liberation

Good afternoon from beautiful and sunny Westport, NY. On my morning walk with Charlie, I had a good (and brief) cry because I miss my NYC life. But I am not alone. We’re all missing some semblance of familiarity and normalcy in our current landscape. There are major and minor losses and shifts in our ways of relating to home — with each other and with the world. Knowing that I am not alone comforts me. I am full of gratitude for health and family.

I joined my beloved #spiritchat on Sunday morning. Sign in on twitter at 9 am (eastern time), type the hashtag #spiritchat and witness and join some amazing conversations for an hour. What follows are some of my remarks, observations, and tweets from yesterday morning’s session on ‘Spiritual Liberation.’ Every week, there’s a new theme.

Spiritual liberation sounds like women’s liberation and I am all for that. I love so many things about liberation. Been thinking about the theatre of the oppressed. I have a fleeting memory of meeting some adherents to this improv group in Rio de Janeiro back in ’93, I think. I was leading a small contingent of United Methodist Women leaders to an international conference. And the improvisation group whom I met in my hotel lobby was performing in the City Hall Center the next day. They invited me out for drinks that night. And as an improv performer and theater lover, Oh, I wanted to go. But I hesitated. I did not want to leave my colleagues and that day my camera had been stolen off of my person. I felt fearful. I didn’t leave the hotel that night. I have always regretted my inclination to play it safe.

Self forgiveness.

What are your constraints to liberation? The spatial distancing is getting old. I am trying to see it as an enforced sanctuary. Like Jesus’s 40 days in the Judaean wilderness. What lessons can we take from monks? sequestered nuns? folks on house arrest? How do we fricken’ do this much longer? Like many people, I am an extrovert; I miss the verbal jostling, joking with my colleagues and neighbors.

What is required for spiritual liberation? What is required for this moment in time? Stillness seems a prerequisite and pregnant waiting. Yes and I’m committed to listening to and following the health directives of people way smarter than me.

As for needing to ‘make do,’ yesterday we went on our weekly store run. We were so excited to be out and about — we bought the fixings for a cake but forgot the toilet paper. Note to self: Remember the essentials. Let them eat cake — for reals.

Someone mentioned ‘synchronicity’ on my twitter stream. I remembered being in college, in this course ‘Body, Mind, Soul,’ and I loved discovering Jung’s words about meaningful coincidences. Signs, symbols, myths.

And how does spiritual liberation relate to the community?

‘“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together,” Lilla Watson said. I find liberation in the mutuality of helping and working together.

And I’m keen to find the humor in our present moment. Where is the silliness in life? The other day we ordered from Ledge Hill, a local microbrewery, a beer called Compassion. The kids tried a sip. One wrinkled her nose. “Compassion is bitter,” I said. We laughed.

Feeling rooted in a particular place, I find comfort. A local artist here in the Adirondacks left seashells around town. I’m always seeing them as I walk the dog. It feels like such a gift — to come upon a seashell in the countryside. Like life is one big Easter Egg hunt.

Here are some pictures of the seashells in town.

Creating Rituals

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:
my nose
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
homemade quiche
social media for good
Deb’s generosity
hearing aids
home

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.

Morning walk today.
I find myself making flowers.

Lost and Found

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.

My dad would say, ‘what someone thinks of you is none of your business.’

This prompt was inspired by my creative muse Julie Jordan Scott.

Amelia Flew Alone

Amelia

People will tell you where they’ve gone
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

-Joni Mitchell

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,
we nap.

Unused to flying like Amelia,
unused to stillness,
to silence,
to slowing down.

To stop, stop, stop,

when I want to go, go, go.

Like the snow,

quiet,

sideways falling.

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?’

Silent Retreat

I have been thinking that I need a retreat from the world. With the grief that’s accompanied my dad’s passing, my worries about my husband’s health decline, and my general malaise with the current leadership in these United States, I need a break. The long, cold Northeastern winter does not help.

A fantastic think piece this week in the Wall Street Journal about Tapping Into the Sound of Silence by Anne Kadet who took a silent retreat within the framework of her own day-to-day life, got me thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t have to actually do any big whoop to retreat. I can simply turn down the volume.’

Incidentally, since getting hearing aids, I can literally turn down the volume. During the school day as I help to monitor middle school lunches, this turning-it-down feature really benefits me in the noisy dining hall. I can still hear boys’ conversations near me, but I don’t have to take in the whole big din. The dining hall becomes a bit more civilized when it’s not so loud.

When we get silent, there is a “freedom from self-preoccupation,” according to Richard Rohr. His message popped up in today’s emails. It is as if the world is trying to tell me something.

When we recognize something as beautiful, that knowledge partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries and symphony halls. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its particularity does not stand out.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation

To get quiet, one needs to focus, to control the kneejerk reaction to respond to every stimulus — whether it’s the red flashing breaking news update or the ping of a new email hitting the inbox.

The reward for this focus, this silence, this mindfulness, this absence, is the gift of noticing the world around you — be it the beauty of this winter season or the humor of children.

I know that I can be a little chatty. I love to joke around with my coworkers and family. But by freeing myself from the need to make noise, I am giving myself the gift of focusing more deeply on the natural world and on the people in my world. I am opening myself to all that is beautiful. I love to look at art and appreciate the specificity of words.

I’m tuning out, but not to drop out; my purpose is to drop in, go deeper, take time, listen better. Create a silent retreat right where I am.

Join me on the winter writing retreat where we will spend time in silence, in looking at art, and in noisy meal times.

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with acrylics and mixed media this winter.

Winter Westport Weekend

We walked for a while.
We stopped at the school house. I’m happy when I’m with my kids.
And I’m always at home at a schoolhouse.
We visited our old beautiful home. Memories of winters gone by.

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.

Stay Happy-Go-Lucky

“I will never stop fighting for justice.” I told my daughter at the kitchen table, the morning after the election.

“I know, Mom,” she said.

I was glad that she knew this. I was glad that I had not lost the fight. I have been focused on teaching well and not so much on writing well over the last few months. I have felt defeated by this beautiful country that I love and the election results. But I refuse to give up. Je refuse. 

I will find beauty. I will make sure kindness wins. I will serve others. Throughout my journey, I will remain happy-go-lucky. It is my rebellion – to fight for happiness and to remain carefree. Despite my cares. I worry, mostly, about the progression of Chris’s Parkinson’s.

Last night Chris and I watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. Chris loves getting movies from the library. I love movies about writers. It’s a win/win.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do this.

-From David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on my blog every other Sunday morning before noon.

Yesterday, Jolain and I went to the Cloisters. Here are a few photos from the day.