Posted in A Day In the Life

The Transformative Force of Grief

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Is it uniquely American to pick and choose emotional states, as if from a menu? Be happy. Don’t be angry. Choose joy, not sorrow. Aim for bliss. A positive attitude can be a strength in our lives, but what happens when it’s at the expense of authenticity?

There’s A Time and a Place: Ecclesiastes reminds us that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… So doesn’t that mean that there is a time to celebrate and a time to grieve?

The Lotus Grows From the Mud: Nature is rich with metaphors. The lotus plant roots itself in dark mud. Beauty and compassion are born from grief. Why then do we seem to hold it back, especially when it shows up as the unfinished business of healing?

Permission to Grieve: No one in this world escapes grief. Yes, it’s present in death, but grief is also the little losses that pile up over time. In these instances grief can reveal itself as melancholy, angst, or unexplainable tears. If we run from what is asking to be felt, is it any wonder why we are a nation preoccupied with psych meds? So, is grief a negative emotion? I don’t think so. Mostly, we turn our face from grief, because we are not well versed with being in its presence. It requires us to sit still with suffering and be its witness.

Winter’s Descent: For me, winter is the great descent. I’m prone toward the disconcerting rumble of low-grade depression this time of year. I’m also more likely to be quiet and reflective, figuring out things about my writing, my life, and myself. It’s the Persephone myth, playing itself out, and each year since I realized that, I weather the assault of the dark a little bit more easily. I’ve come to respect the place where emotions are just under the surface of my skin bringing me closer to the vocabulary of my heart.

Everyone Keeps Secrets: You don’t need a Ph.D. to see that the personas we craft for social media are all rainbows and unicorns. It’s as though the struggles of our lives are shameful and must be kept secret. We need places (probably not social media) to give air to what it means to be human. Too much energy convincing everyone of how positive you are while holding sorrow in abeyance, can turn a person numb.

No Apologies for Grief: The deep psychic dive into what hurts is liberating. We should all take a little more time to cry and wail, allowing tears to baptize us into fresh starts and new beginnings. No apologies for doing your personal work in the dark. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your door and know that nurturing a deeper understanding of grief grows us into better, more compassionate human beings.

Advocate for the Authentic: I am more interested in keeping it real than I am in any preconceived notion of what it means to be positive. In fact, I’d like to kick the whole “positive only” movement in its little ass, and shout to the world, that we are connected by our shared experiences of sorrow and longing.

Human beings tend to most deeply bond over shared stories of broken hearts and retrieved pieces. Each time that I sit with my grief, it teaches me something. And that is the transformative force that pushes this messy, awkward, wonderful life toward greater love and fullness.

Posted in A Day In the Life

November Means Thanksgiving

Prayer is gratitude and gratitude is prayer. It’s not in the asking that the heart is filled, it’s in the recognition of God in all of life that soothes our inevitable suffering.

The thing that I love most about Thanksgiving cannot be found in family gatherings or over-indulgent meals. Instead, Thanksgiving has become a day of grateful reflection. It took years of reflection for me to admit to myself that “honestly, I don’t really like roasted turkey.” So Thanksgiving dinner is either turkey vegetable soup or a stuffed acorn squash. And I always make something with pumpkin. I’m grateful I finally gave into simplicity.

My husband and I are pretty much orphans. There are no kids or grandkids to light up the day. Our parents have long been star dust somewhere far away. We spend our Thanksgiving walking in the woods, quietly absorbing the beauty of the natural world. Though traditions are the rich markers of time passing; the touchstones of living that cause us to reflect upon the past and aspire toward the future, it’s easy to be seduced by the Norman Rockwell / Hallmark version of the holiday. I fear that it sometimes stresses us out. I mean, who can really do dinner like Martha Stewart, except for Martha Stewart?

Each of us in our own way needs to find the traditions and ceremonies that hold the most value and meaning for us. For Dean and I, there are no longer large turkeys, or big gatherings. We have sifted through all of those things over the years and found our own path. It’s made up of slow simmering soup, a pumpkin dessert and most especially a long walk on a crisp and cool day that will fill our senses with the delights of the Oregon woods.

The things that I am grateful for could fill volumes, but here are a few: I am grateful for good health and the ability to walk for miles. I am grateful that my husband Dean is by my side in life and on the trail. I’m grateful for our faithful friend and four-legged companion, Jeter.

I am grateful that I have such a cozy office that welcomes me each morning when I come upstairs to write. I’m grateful for words and books and other writers and all of the literary things that I love.

I am grateful for small and tender things — the blue jay that sits on the railing of the deck and cocks his head at me; the last of summer’s blooming geraniums; movie night with a husband who always wants to hold my hand; mornings of sweet, hot tea; a stack of greeting cards sent by a fellow writer, now tied with string, and featured prominently on my desk.

Life is good. Life is God. Prayer is gratitude and gratitude is prayer. May your heart know joy. May you be blessed with gratitude, purpose and contentment in your life. May your life seem good.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I am grateful for you.

Posted in Thoughts on Technology

My Love/Hate Relationship With the Digital Life

iStock_000020654306_SmallSometimes the digital world just doesn’t work for me. The damn remote with its sleek face has created nostalgia for a past that was full of easy to manipulate buttons and knobs. A knob is a deliberate turn. Click. It’s either on or off. A touch screen is fraught with the danger of accidently brushing over something that you don’t want to happen. “No, wait, I didn’t want the DVD player. No, not that, I just wanted cable news. How did I get into Netflix?” All punctuated by a deep exasperated groan.

 Addiction Weary: I’m an addict. I am addicted to 24/7 digital accessibility. In the good old days, the first thing that I used to do in the morning was to read the newspaper and have a cup of tea. The last thing I did before bed was to read a few chapters in a book. Now I am addicted to checking email, texts, Instagram and the dreaded energy suck, Facebook. Even when I don’t post on social media, I feel like a troll, looking into so many lives– a voyeuristic view of other humans–the new millennium version of a nosy neighbor looking out the kitchen window in case the Smiths start fighting again.

The Longing for Human Touch: I liked the days when I called family on the phone, or they called me. I loved when my great niece Nancy Ann would visit from college because there was no Facebook yet, because we didn’t have Internet/email. We met. And I cherish the memories of those visits when we sat face to face on the couch, our shoes off and our feet tucked under us, sharing the dreams and the plans for our lives. Now I have to be content with a “like” or a comment on Facebook which will never be as satisfying as being able to look into her eyes.

Technology Is Eating My Soul: Even with the best of intentions, I can’t seem to ignore my devices for terribly long. I never go anywhere without a phone and a couple of days ago, I was in the middle of the woods when my phone chimed, as sweet little Zen like chime, and I actually pulled it out of my pocket to see who was texting me. Whether I answered the text in that moment or two hours later was not going to impact my life in any way. Note to self: if your going to bring your phone on your hikes (good idea if you’re hiking alone) then turn the ringer off!

 What I Can Live Without: I can live without social media for stretches of time. I am hard pressed to believe that anyone really cares about what I ate for dinner last night. And while photos, replete with captions about hubby, dog and self make me feel like I have a zillion friends, all thrilled with the fact that I just climbed to the top of Mt. Ashland; I notice that articles and blogs over which I have labored get little attention. It takes too much time to read, and isn’t that a sad commentary on the state of things?

Someone reading what I’ve written is a thousand times more important to me than someone glancing at my picture and “liking” it. It’s just that one gets you validated and one gets you ignored. I feel like we all go on autopilot when we’re on social media. We become zombies, seduced by cute, light and irrelevant — the kind of emotionalism that makes advertisers lick their lips and come in for the kill.

I Am So Over Marketing Gurus: Do I really need to promote my self as much as the marketing gurus say, or do I just have to keep writing and keep working at getting better? Will 3,000 “likes” make me a better writer? Probably not. And yet the push for “create content” is the mantra of so many like myself. I don’t just want to create content, I want to write about stuff I actually care about. And with that comes some thoughtfulness, which takes time.

Bah, Humbug?: There are times when I enjoy social media, but I know that it’s not a substitute for the face-to-face connection that I long for in my relationships. There are times, when I appreciate the convenience of having a phone I can carry around with me. Still, constant access to a phone often pulls me away from interactions with live human beings, because I tend to feel important, or maybe I get some kind of chemical surge when I check my phone to see who is trying to reach me.

But I Love My Computer: Every day, I get up and write, so everyday I’m grateful to have a laptop that allows me to type faster, spell check, cut and paste, save drafts and send pages electronically. I’ve never felt a longing for the loud, enormous Correcting Selectric IBM that was once the tool of my craft.

It’s a love/ hate relationship that I have with technology and I don’t think I am alone in this. If you know me and are reading this, in spite of being connected digitally, if you live in my town, just come on by and let’s hang out like we used to before we relied so much on technology to do for us, that which is innate in our own hearts — connect.

What is your relationship to technology? Love it? Hate it? Please share with me in the comments section.

 

 

Posted in Storytelling

The Story Gatherer and the Fairy Chairs

For a few weeks now I’ve been grappling with recent rejections. One day I’m strong and tough skinned and two days later, the disappointment at not having sold my novel creeps in and wraps its greasy little paws around my neck.

This morning as I sat in bed with my tea, I asked myself if I was depressed. No, not depressed. I didn’t want to hurt myself or anyone else. I wasn’t planning on staying in bed all day. Joy of life? Well, it was a little compromised, a “down, but not out” sort of thing.

I talk out loud to myself sometimes, a habit that amuses my husband but helps to bring me clarity.

Me: What do you want to do?

Me: Go into town and look for stories. I want to be a story gatherer today.

Me: Okay, take your camera.

So I did. I drove into Lithia Park and began to wander the artisan stands at the edge of the creek. I talked to a photographer who told me about his printing technique. His beautiful pictures were too perfect for my taste, but I appreciated that he’d captured the essence of the trees that shade this area like giant sentries.

I talked to a woman who makes brightly colored pillows and potholders. She told me about how her crafts are only part time and the rest of the time she works for her ex-husband in his construction business. She spoke in glowing terms of how they had found peace with each other.

People’s polite narratives are not that interesting. I long to see the heart of the matter, the source of meaning, fueled by angst and distress. It wasn’t until I got to the third booth, and met the woman who made fairy chairs, that I was ignited by a story.

I snapped a picture of the chairs.”

She pointed at my camera. “You should ask first,” she said with a thin edge of razor like sharpness.

“Sorry. Do you mind if I take a picture?”

She nodded.

“When did you start making fairy chairs?” I asked her.

“I had a life altering experience,” she said. “Something that changed me irrevocably.”

Story. There it is, asking to be felt, asking to connect.

“What happened?”

“Nine years ago,” she began, “my house burned down. I lost everything. I needed to do art so I could heal. I needed to make something from the ashes inside of myself.”

I was enthralled. The violation of expectation had turned this woman’s life on its head. Her heart and soul and been consumed by the flame of that fire. And she’d found her way back, down a path of mourning to the place where fairies dance. Suddenly I knew that I had to have a chair for my writing muse.

Carefully, while believing in magic, I chose the one made of abalone shell. I would put it on my desk, and now my writing muse would have a place to sit. I took a few more photographs and we said our goodbyes.

The essence of the story is this:  the fairy chair lady took brutal loss and morphed it into art, sharing the energy of healing with others. She understood the place of all consuming flame and the ashes left in the wake. Everyone has times when they must pick themselves up and keep moving forward, dust themselves off and find beauty in grief. We are never alone as much as we think we are.

And that, my friends, is the story I gathered in the morning light of a Saturday morning in Lithia Park.

Is there a story that is touching your own heart?  Please share.

2017-02-19 11.31.02

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

8 Steps to Dynamic Living After 60 (Or Really Anytime)

iStock_000015408259XSmallOur culture spends a lot of time and money on motivational books, inspirational blogs and personal growth seminars. Why is this?

Is it the need to heal some childhood wound of wanting to get it right? Or is there a deeper reason, like wanting to get the most from life? On some level, no matter how successful you are, or how right you get it, we all know the truth, that life is only temporary. And that’s what makes me want to live as fully as I can.

Satisfaction and Success: Satisfaction is sustainable, and success sometimes unattainable. Success is results oriented, often associated with fame and prosperity. Satisfaction is process oriented. While the self-help industry offers some good advice on creating success, the wise elder will do well to redefine the word success, becoming familiar with the nuance of making the world a better place; and become intimate with the satisfaction — doing for the sake of doing.

The Creative Force: The most alive, vibrant people at any age are those for whom creativity plays a daily role. In her 80’s my mother had a small hand-loom, upon which she made wool hats, dozens and dozens of hats. Every so often she would box up the hats and ship them to organizations that would distribute them to children who were in need of winter clothing. It’s the ‘making,’ that keeps the heart and mind engaged. Creativity is the life affirming power that lends itself to purpose.

Fitness of the Mind: My husband plays his bass every evening after dinner. He sometimes takes classes at the university in music theory. It stretches his brain, challenges him to think and process in ways that keep his mind fit. Whether it’s playing music or working crossword puzzles, a mind that is engaged in learning is more flexible. We’ve all heard the story about someone being “set in their ways.” The concretization of who we think we are creates a brittle mind-set, prone to disappointment. Whereas a curious mind-set continues to expand, adapt and evolve.

Fitness of the Body: Keep moving. That is the motto of anyone who has ever had a fitness regime. You know that when you stop, it’s harder to get it back. While pushing weights around a gym may not be the most ideal for older connective tissue, there are a lot of activities that you can do including but not limited to walking, swimming, biking, pilates and yoga. Fitness lessens pain and contributes to positivity and energy.

Fitness of the Spirit: Never grow tired of watching the sunrise or walking in the woods in the early autumn. There are places that evoke in us a reverence, a sense of oneness with all life. I seek out those experiences in nature. Some will find the same in religious text or mindfulness practice. The source of your wonder and awe does not matter as much as your ability to surrender to the sustenance of the wonder. In our later years as things change and end, accessing that place gives us a way to cope with inevitable loss.

Use Your Voice: Some people my age complain that they feel invisible after a certain age. The fact that some people still need to be educated in ageism should not be an excuse to slink away. Use your voice in activism and advocacy. Share your hard won wisdom with those you meet along the way. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Keep Your Dreams Close By: I dream of having three books published before I turn 70, and I am not opposed to sneaking that number up to 75 if necessary, or even 80. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from daily writing, whether it’s my blogs or a new manuscript. I’m good at what I do and I have courage. What I don’t have is a guarantee of anything, but no one does. So, dare to keep dreaming.

Go To Sleep At Night With a Prayer of Thanks on Your Lips: This was the best spiritual advice that I ever received. Say thank you at the ending of each day. Say thank you at the beginning. Life is a gift to be lived to the fullest and there are delights to be had in the successes and failures, the love and the loss, the wonders and the shock. Our best response to living well always be, in my estimation, thank you. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this life.

What’s the one thing that you believe contributes the most to your dynamic life? Please share with me in the comments section.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Happy Independence. Gratitude.

Patriotic Puppy Dog Sign
A is for attitude. Get a good one going on if you want your life to be dynamic and purpose filled. We cannot control the events that happen to us, but we can control our attitude about those events. Money, relationships, status and stuff are not what make us happy. What creates happiness is the attitude with which we walk through life.

I have yet to find any better attitude than gratitude. There’s a scene from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning that will always be with me. It’s this: a group of prisoners are being moved from one concentration camp to another. They are crammed into the boxcar of a train, like cattle. It’s daybreak, and the train is going by a mountain range. Frankl and his fellow travelers clamor to the side of the boxcar to watch the sunrise through the wooden slats. How beautiful. How amazing, they remark. Each time I think of that scene, I think of this horribly battered human being who still found beauty and awe in a sunrise. If he could do it, than it should be easy for me.

Some days a good attitude can feel far away. Politics and the perversions of poverty seem unstoppable and defeating. The way in which we treat each other shocks the senses. But just like Frankl on that train, I am reminded that beauty and ugliness do exist side by side and it is up to us to choose what we nurture. I choose to nurture beauty through advocacy and activism. I take part in my community to do the things that I can. While I cannot do it all, I can make a difference in my own small way and then sit back and appreciate that I’ve been given the opportunity.

Today is July 4th and our county celebrates its independence as a free and sovereign nation. I celebrate my independence and the freeing attitude of gratitude that does not exist in a bubble of isolation, but rather in reaching out to the world. We are only blessed in order to give blessings.

Happy Independence Day. Gratitude!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Insecurity, Not Good Enough and Other Sucky Things Writers Do to Themselves

Opened notebook, pen, books and glassesIf you are a writer, you’ve probably asked yourself why. Writing is serious business. It’s solitary. It’s demanding. And no matter how much you study and how much you practice, it is a craft that you never master.

On the one hand, you have to be a little bit crazy to want to lock yourself into a room several hours each day to create worlds with the written word. On the other hand, story telling is sacred art. Stories can teach us, provoke us and make us feel and think in ways that we might not have otherwise. And the writer is always looking for this–what is it that I am writing which touches a universal place in the human condition?

Even with a lofty vision of what writing is to you, it will always be an unforgiving taskmaster.  I write and perfect to the best of my ability only to discover the one flaw in the work that will unravel it all, baring my insecurities. I laugh at the rookies who when confronted with cutting 6,000 words thinks that they will be able to use it somewhere else, as through you can just cut and paste one world into another. But I digress. . . In spite of a daily discipline, in spite of focus and unending practice, I have moments where I wonder if I am good enough? Can what I’ve written cut muster? Why do I do this?

That answer ebbs and flows, and it sucks to wrestle with the demons of insecurity and not good enough. So why then, put myself through it? Why does anyone, in any craft where excellence is held in high regard, put themselves through it? It would be so much easier to be a lady who lunches.

I don’t know about other writer’s reasons for creating in this way. For me, I think it comes down to how it informs my unsettledness and gnawing discontent. It feeds something in me that wants to look down from on high and move the pieces around the board to make it mean something. Writing is born of a dark, chaotic place in my psyche that is engaged in the perpetual activity of examining the what if’s in life. The meat of grief, falling from grace, love, betrayal, revenge and how those things can push us toward transformation is my grist. It makes me lick my lips.

Still on a day like today, when I am filled with doubt and I sit down to write anyway, I feel as though I am doing the right thing. And I suppose that counts for something, that and a fervent prayer that I will get to the “good enough.”

Most people who read my blog are writers too. So the question of the day is: why do you write?