Like You Just Don’t Care

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The rare lower leg selfie.

Anyone have a neighbor who is often seen out in her yard wearing a bizarre mosaic of clothing that might include high-waisted jeans, old Beck t-shirts splattered with paint, bright blue socks adorned with cartoon versions of Bob Ross and his “happy clouds” (could be green and happy trees, depending on the day), and occasionally slippers when she’s forgotten they’re not actually shoes? Does she speak French to her chickens, whose responses are mainly limited to ‘buuuuuurrrrque (French for ‘berk’)? You may also have noticed her taking her undies and other laundry down from the clothesline during your summer deck party.

If so, howdy neighbor!

Yeah, that was me out mowing my lawn this morning in a get-up not too different from that described above (the summer version includes shorter pants, which is awesome if you’re my neighbor cuz you get to see more sock!), with the seasonal accessory of a white mask over my mouth and nose. Allergies suck, and I think it’s too late to hope I might “outgrow” them. At least I can eat peanut butter, and trust me, you don’t want to know me if I ever have to give that up.

We’ve had an exceptionally wonderful weekend here in Seattle (a smidge hot for this native, but I ain’t complaining after the long, soggy winter we just endured), during which I’ve had several occasions to spend time with loved ones who helped me celebrate my birthday. Lots of fun, with some downtime mixed in, and as a result, I needed to catch up on chores this morning.

I’m not tangoing to the mid-century beat yet, but it is pulling me onto the dance floor. (I love to dance, so perhaps if I think of it this way, aging won’t be so bad.) Meanwhile, I’m not a young thing anymore, and as a result, I find that I am getting less and less concerned with how I’m perceived. This is a blessing for me, but maybe a curse for my neighbors.

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Not to get too macabre about it, but by this point in life, it has become crystal clear that there’s much less time in front of me than there is behind me. I need to maximize every minute of every day (although I do like my occasional nap) to read everything I want, to continue learning, to travel, to see friends, to write, to garden, to work for social justice, to volunteer, to try new things. To finish this damn rug (tantalizingly close; see this post for where I was with it back in February).

As for trying new things, I’ve embarked on almost every creative ship that was departing Inspiration Bay. After enjoying a few days on beguiling new waters, I usually become bored of the horizon that stretches out seemingly forever and move onto another adventure. Such is the Gemini personality. The islands (i.e., closets) are strewn with the jetsam of my tossed-overboard hobbies, but nonetheless I have decided to set out on yet another journey.

I’ve always wanted to do sketch journaling, of nature, daily life scenes, travels…I am not artistically gifted, but as I allude to above, I’m trying to ignore the judgy neighbors inside my own head (and tune in to the Bob Ross socks instead*). I’m interested in this journal idea for a couple of reasons. One is to be in the moment and pay better attention to the world around me. Another is to use my right brain more, try to tap into a font of creativity. My friend Ed (whose great new blog Outpost4013 you should go check out immediately) often sketches and he’s one of the most creative people I know. I doubt I’ll achieve Ed-level creativity, but I still think it’ll be a good thing for me.

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Rosé with roses on a warm summer evening.

So I used money I got for my birthday and bought some portable art supplies. I had so much fun planning what to buy and looking at inspiring books (check out An Illustrated Life, which features many artists’ sketches of daily experiences, in various art forms). My friend and fellow gardener, Gilly, who lives in Ireland, sent me the book Botanical Portraits, which arrived a couple of days ago and I am excited to work with things right here in my garden. A timely and wonderful gift!

I have no idea how this latest adventure will go, but am wasting no time worrying about it. Even if I capsize, I’m sure I’ll gain new knowledge along the way. That alone makes it worth it.

* No I don’t think my socks are speaking, BUT, if they were, they’d be saying kind, supportive things, much like this or this Bob Ross account on Twitter).

New Holiday: Sunny Seattle Day

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A hellebore in our yard, growing rampantly like everything else

There’s not really a point to this post other than the fact that it has been a gorgeous sunny weekend and I finally just needed to find a spot in the shade to rest and appreciate the warmth after a busy day in the yard. I was catching up on a few favorite blogs, and today’s post from NW Edible Life inspired me to take stock of what we got done.

First though, there’s a crow somewhere on the gutter above me tossing the winter’s accumulated gunk onto the ground below looking for treats – not sure what they find in there, but apparently we don’t clean our gutters often enough (to be perfectly honest, my wonderful father-in-law has cleaned them out the past few years, since it’s a chore Doug used to do, but given he lives in Arizona, the gutters are totally neglected in between his visits).

Other than that, it’s a good, quiet time in the late part of these long afternoons, when the yard sighs in the shade of the massive poplar, most people have finished their noisier yard chores, and the hens have stopped heralding their latest ovoid accomplishment. On warm days, the feathered ladies do what I like to call “dust yoga.” They dig a disc-shaped spot in the dust (which isn’t all that easy yet, given the ground is still wet just beneath the surface) and roll from side to side in it with their wings out. One time I thought one of them died because she was lying there so awkward and still. It must have been chicken shavasana.

I planted a few seeds the past couple of days – zuke, green onions, radish, nasturtium and sunflowers. The tomatoes and peppers are still hanging out in the greenhouse, where they seem pretty content. Hoping to plant them soon. The yard is a mess though – it went from dormant to jungle in a few short days and there are fevered battles going on out there between morning glory, blackberry, lemon balm, some kind of tree sprouts that must be shooting up from an old root, and things I don’t even know the names of. This yard resists being tamed with all its might and I have my moments of wanting to just let it have its way.

I used to do an annual garden journal, but I don’t feel like I have the time for that anymore. I would note planting dates, harvest dates and amounts, what I did with the items from the garden, etc. An instructive process if one is consistent and rigorous in keeping notes. These days I’m lucky if I actually remember to mow and do some weeding. Today I did spend about 3-4 hours solid doing yard work and I felt a bit like my old self, where I got totally obsessed and didn’t want to stop; when I went in to clean up, I had leaves and bits of branch stuck in my hair. That’s when you know you’ve gotten carried away, in a good way I think.

Hubby cleaned off the patio where all the dead leaves and spiders have some sort of alliance, a chore I find terror- and sneeze-inducing. Very grateful he took that on. He also cleaned out the chicken coop and put new bedding in for them. He gets annoyed at how tired he gets from doing these things, but he doesn’t let it stop him. Have I mentioned how determined he is?

In a bit, I’ll go inside and figure out what to do with the rhubarb I harvested. I like to make shrub with it (basically you steep fruit in apple cider vinegar and sugar for a few days to create a refreshing elixir to mix with soda – it’s incredibly delicious, not to mention good for your gut). I also adore a good rhubarb crisp, but since I’m on a low-carb/low-sugar meal plan right now, I may have to hold off on that. The grandfather from whom I inherited the blood sugar issues passed away from complications of diabetes when my mother was 17, so I figure I better take this seriously. Man, do I miss bread though.

The next few days are going to continue to be sunny, but tomorrow it’s back to reality, our “real” jobs taking over our focus once again. We still have a lot to get done around here, but we’ll have to tackle it another day. Maybe Seattle will start making sunny days some kind of holiday, given how few of them we get. One can dream, right?

 

 

 

 

Celebrating With My Third Husband

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Anniversary week at Cannon Beach, bundled up even in the sun. #worthit

 

There’s a quote by Margaret Mead that says “I’ve been married three times, and not one of them was a failure.” (I also saw “I’ve been married three times, and each time I married the right person.”). In any case, I do like to joke that I’ve been married three times, even though I’ve only had one wedding.

I just celebrated ten years with husbands two and three, but before you think polygamy, keep reading.

I met my first “husband” in college and we stayed together over 10 years. While we never legally married, we bought a house and raised kitties together. When we split up, it was mostly because we’d found we wanted different things in life. We’re still in touch and I still love him as a dear friend, and cherish his parents as my former “in-laws.”

Then I was single for a while, before meeting my next beloved husband, whom I married at a wonderful wedding celebration in 2007. I was married to this man for almost 7 years before he had a life-changing stroke while we were in Hawai’i in 2014.

My third husband, the stroke survivor, shares many of the same cherished qualities as my second husband – he’s kind, determined, motivated, curious, physically restless – but he also has his own unique qualities.

This latest hubby is a talker, a wordy person. The previous husband wasn’t as verbally expressive, and didn’t like to goof around with words the way I do. Now, #3 has taken over the gift of gab in our household. He’s always rhyming, making up kooky plays on words, punning like a madman. As a Gemini, this is upsetting, since that has always been my lane. He makes me laugh a lot though, even when I’m trying desperately to get my own quips in. It’s like the world’s worst improv show at our house.

He has also taken up writing, an activity that his predecessor would never have sat still for. In fact, since I left my computer at home accidentally while on our trip (I had such good intentions to use it, too), I had to fight to use his for a few minutes as he worked on his latest blog post. He loves to chat with random strangers, an activity that introverts like us rarely engage in, and which I still find disorienting.

#3 also often wakes up with a “song of the day” in his head. There is no logic to the song it is, which is mystifying. Where do these songs come from? Trust me, it’s doubtful he’s heard these songs in the recent past to draw from; recently, a Simon & Garfunkel song made an appearance. Tomorrow it might be Pat Benatar, you just can’t tell.

He’s more impatient than my second husband. Which is ironic, because this is another example of where roles have changed. Impatience is a special skill I possess, whether it’s while driving or waiting in lines. I inherited this from my father, I consider it my genetic birthright. Hubby #2 used to tell me to relax, nothing could be done about it anyway. I used to tell him to shut the f*%k up because being frustrated was how NORMAL people reacted. Now I have to be the one who slows our roll, because getting #3 stressed out is not helpful or healthy. I’m sure it’s been good for me as well – all that fuming about things isn’t a great use of energy (although I will never be okay with people who don’t know how to merge onto the freeway, so please just figure out where the gas pedal is already).

I’ve often thought that I wasn’t really a grown up until I met husband #3. I guess I’m version 3.0 as well. We’ve all been the right person, and not one of us has been a failure – we’ve just been evolving. I am incredibly lucky to have spent these last ten years married to two of the most wonderful men imaginable. And I’m not sure what Margaret Mead would think, but three marriages seems like plenty.

Being in the Streets

Nothing much in the tank today. Or, in more climate-friendly terms, the batteries are depleted and the clouds are preventing much in the way of energy production. I’ve been crazy busy these past few weeks, and ran out of steam.

It was a really good weekend, with some work in the garden (peas have a semi-functional makeshift trellis), getting ready for and going to the climate march Saturday, and having dinner with friends that night. We hadn’t gotten together since New Year’s, and it was so good to catch up, scarf down pasta and take a walk in the last of the day’s light with a typical Seattle mist falling on our heads. We found a soccer ball in the cul de sac at the end of our block and ended up playing some convoluted form of soak-’em and soccer in the street until we were gasping from laughter. Ed, being on the opposing team from me and Tess, kept losing a shoe which I felt fully justified in kicking as far as I could from him. I think she and I still lost, although I’m not entirely sure.

As far as friends go, you can’t ask for much better. Aside from our parents and siblings, they’re the people we consider our family members. We’ve traveled together, gone camping together and have been trying to figure out for a long time how we could eventually all live together. Since among the six of us, only one has a grown daughter, it’s likely we’ll be having to find a way to care for ourselves as we grow old. I think about this a lot now, since of course I assumed Doug and I would be very self-sufficient well into our old age.

We’re barely self-sufficient now as it turns out, but we manage okay with help from these and other friends, and our parents who come take care of things around the house. Doug and I both have four parents, and while I’d never suggest divorce is good, we’ve had more than our share of parental love and support as a result. My stepdad Grant is 83 and still works on our cars. Talk about spoiled.

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Doug and Grant, the dynamic duo

Speaking of whom, he marched with us on Saturday! He has grand kids and great-grand kids, and he wasn’t the only grandparent there trying to do something to help keep our planet a decent place for them to live in the future. He’s really frustrated and worried and just wanted to be out there in the streets to protest with like-minded people. I felt really honored to be out marching with him.

climate-march-kidsWe arrived early to the pre-march gathering at Occidental Park and were right in the middle of the action when things got started with drummers, a marching band, and a not-coal train powered by people wearing wind-turbines on their backs. Lots of great creativity, as always. I really loved the person wearing a bee-keeping outfit, with paper bees attached to her by springs so they bobbed all around her head. Her sign said “Honey Makers Not Money Makers.”

A major element of the climate change movement is for a just transition away from our oil-driven economy, in recognition of how a changing climate will impact some communities more than others. And that the solutions should – and can! – improve our lives, with green energy jobs, cleaner air and water, walkable communities with healthy local food, and so much more. There is no reason for polluting pipelines to go through native peoples’ lands if we move to solar and wind power instead. There’s no reason to open our national parks up to gas and coal exploration either. None of these things is needed, but they make huge profits for someone, so of course they get pushed.

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This kid has major courage and conviction

At the end of the march, we rallied at Westlake Park and heard a bunch of great speakers, including two kids from the youth-led organization Plant for the Planet. Their goal is to plant a billion trees (!) around the world. These kids are amazingly well-spoken and motivated, and they aren’t afraid to call out grown-ups like us for not doing more. They’re taking the actions they can, and reminded us that we can vote. Ahem.

So yeah, we have work to do, and not just in the streets. But while we’re on that topic, today is the beginning of the annual Bike Everywhere month (read my 2015 post here). It’s one of my favorite ways to help the planet and stay healthy. Plus, we have some actual sun in the forecast, hallelujah! I feel more energetic already. Happy May everyone!

 

 

Earth Day at the Musée

SAM-brochuresLast week was damn busy – as I forecast in my Failure to Launch post. I don’t usually have so much going on, liking mostly to just come home and chill after work. I’ll write more later about the other events, including the two author readings, one of which held several fortuitous moments for Doug and me.

As I also mentioned in that post, I capped off the insanity by getting up crazy early on Friday to be at a monthly pre-work yoga and dance party called DayBreaker (@daybreakerSEA). The theme this month was the 80’s, in honor of the one year anniversary of Prince’s passing. I pulled together a semi-appropriate outfit in spite of screwing up my attempt to create a slouchy sweatshirt (basically it was so slouchy it was falling off) and danced like a very happy fool with my good bud Tess for two hours after doing a 6 a.m. yoga class on the floor of a bar. Doesn’t get much better than that (although, never been more grateful for a yoga mat, trust). In case I don’t get back to this at a later time, my impressions from club dancing, which I love and used to do often in my twenties:

  • Be yourself, together
  • Beats in your feet travel through your body, jumping up and down
  • Sweaty and free
  • Yes!
  • Not one, but TWO dudes dressed as Prince were there
  • Spandex (this WAS an 80’s theme, after all)

So my intention Saturday was to have breakfast, mow the lawn before the rain returned and then run some errands. Not much else, because I was SORE, people. Dancing at 47 is a whole different story than when you’re 17 or 27. Knees and feet particularly, plus shoulders and upper back from the yoga. I do yoga every week, but this was a bit more rigorous. I think the adrenaline was pumping, from a lack of sleep and in anticipation of dancing , so I overdid it. YOLO, right?

After mowing, I did my meditation (priorities!), and I realized that going to Costco on Earth Day felt akin to tossing plastic bags into a pod of whales. So I thought about what I felt up to doing, which unfortunately didn’t include the March for Science (first protest I’ve missed this year) or volunteering at a park restoration event. I landed on a long-overdue trip to the Seattle Art Museum to take in the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series that was ending yesterday. The Seeing Nature exhibit is also there, which felt appropriate for Earth Day. A wander through a museum felt like the speed I could handle.

I arrived early, which it turns out was a very good thing, since the room is small and the paintings are numbered, so are viewed in order. By the time I left the museum a few hours later, the line to get in the room extended all the way down the third floor.

The Migration Series was painted by Lawrence in 1940-41. The 40 paintings in the SAM exhibit (I’ve read there are 60 total, so some were apparently left out) depict the stories of African Americans migrating from the rural South to the North in search of better lives and new opportunities.

lawrence-copThe first paintings show life in the South and the conditions that black people were facing – lack of food, work and decent housing, boll weevils killing off the cotton, and lynchings. Meanwhile, the North desperately needed workers, so much so that agents were coming to recruit them. People started to leave for Northern cities, waiting at stations and crowding onto trains with their few belongings, leaving in such numbers that they faced harassment and even arrest to impede their exodus, but nonetheless they went. They sent letters back to those who stayed behind about all the opportunities, and the black newspapers covered the stories as well, compelling more people to make their way North. There were jobs (hard jobs in steel factories and railroads, but jobs), better places to live, more food, schools for their children.

Things seem good for a while.

Then the paintings start to show another side to the story. White workers angry with black workers for taking their jobs (unbeknownst to them, black workers were sometimes being recruited to replace striking white workers), sometimes resulting in violence, even riots. Different, subtler forms of discrimination, even from other African Americans who’d lived in the North much longer. Living conditions becoming overcrowded and unhealthy.

JL-paintingThe last painting is only a few feet from the first one as you finish the series, and by that point, there seems to be almost no difference in the story of those who migrated from the ones at the beginning. It comes full circle, but in the same way a merry-go-round does, ending up where you started, then being swept up again into the swirl. You circumnavigate the room and at the end, little seems to have changed. I found myself pulled toward the beginning (end?) of the line, wanting to start over, hoping for another outcome.

venice-paintingInstead, I headed upstairs and ambled through the Seeing Nature exhibit, which houses 150 years’ worth of European and American paintings depicting luminous landscapes, brilliant renderings of the Grand Canyon, and numerous scenes of Venice as seen through the realist, pointillist and impressionist lenses. This exhibit was entrancingly beautiful and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but in some respects, I wish I had seen it on a different day. Or maybe that I’d seen Jacob Lawrence on a different day. Seeing scenes of such disparate lived experiences on the same day was jarring.

Then again, maybe it worked out just as it was supposed to. As my mind turns to the People’s Climate March on 4/29, I try to grapple with what we are doing to our planet, the plants and animals, and ourselves, of course. The impacts will be felt by all, but not equally. Some people have fewer resources and won’t be able to cope as easily with the changes we are facing, whether it’s lack of water, food or habitable places to live.

What will those migrations look like and how will we respond?

 

Not Enough Sign

BLM-marchI put on my marching uniform and hit protest number three yesterday on the year, for Black Lives Matter. Could have been four, but I didn’t attend the Tax March in the morning, even though I obviously support the sentiment. Why hasn’t 45 released his taxes yet? It’s appalling. Many of the Tax March folks showed up for BLM though, so it was a good size march, around 7,000 people. The Facebook RSVPs numbered 18,000 so I guess a bunch of people decided not to come, which is disappointing. The organizer lamented the lower than expected turnout during the rally, but since we were the ones who showed up, not sure how helpful that was. (FYI, I did read on the event’s FB page that some black people in Seattle didn’t support this march because of the organizer; I don’t know much about that, so will need to learn more).

My hubby got to go with me to this one, having had to miss the Womxn’s March and the Immigrant & Refugee rally because he was sick or not up to handling the crowds. It made me really happy to have him there. I missed my other partners in resistance, but CG was away for Easter weekend and the others were working. Peg Cheng and her husband were there, but of course, we never saw each other! Maybe next time, since we know there will no doubt be a next time.

Two things hit me right away when we got there. First, there were WAY more cops than at the Womxn’s March, for way less people. I suppose they thought more people were coming, but even if all the RSVPs had shown, it would still not have been anywhere near the volume of the Womxn’s March. A giant pink sea of pussy hats must be less intimidating than a little pond of black beanies.

The second thing was there were no porta-potties. I don’t know if this was due to a lack of funding or planning, but it was a bummer. I hope there will be some for the People’s Climate march in two weeks, or my mum will be very unhappy.

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Remember their names.

You can’t really talk about protests without talking about signs. I spent days thinking about what I wanted to put on one, but in the end, I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to say. There’s too much to say to put on one sign. The theme of this march was to tie into the tax one, in light of the economic issues and disparities faced by black Americans, and especially in Seattle where our sales & real estate tax rates unfairly burden lower income and people of color. But Black Lives Matter is both more specific, to stop police shootings of unarmed black people, and broader, drawing attention to educational disparities, lack of affordable housing, environmental (in)justice, discrimination in the judicial and penal system, and so many other things that no sign could possibly capture it all. When you start layering in issues of intersectionality (i.e., gender, LGBT, disability, class, etc.) you might as well create a flip board. I may do just that at the rate we’re going.

BLM-sign1Of course, I saw signs I liked, like the one pictured here, which captures one reason why I wanted to be at the march, even though it’s only one tiny effort to dismantle a system that’s been in place for hundreds of years. I saw something online while I was thinking about sign possibilities – how instead of a wall, we should build ourselves a giant mirror, and look at ourselves, what we’ve become. If a mirror could also show us the past, perhaps we could accept what (or more accurately, WHO) built so much of this country’s wealth and prosperity, and figure out what kind of country we want to be moving forward. As white people, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge our role in an unfair system that we feel like we didn’t create, but still benefit from. Looking in the mirror and listening to black peoples’ experiences is the only way we can start to fix things. Racism is hard to talk about, but if you don’t start with that basic premise, it’s a lot harder.

Oh, and in case you missed it (I haven’t really paid that much attention to it myself), lots of states are trying to pass laws to curb protests and make punishments more severe, including here in Washington. Because it’s “economic terrorism.” Which is both laughable and infuriating, given we have a President who refuses to be transparent about where his money comes from and if he’s paid any taxes while the rest of us spend the next two days getting our taxes done on time. If you like irony, it’s a good time to be alive.

Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing

Absolutely loved this post – captures perfectly the whiplash experienced when trying to navigate learning the practice and craft of writing. Just write!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

shawna kenneyBy Shawna Kenney

First thought, best thought; revise, revise, revise. Write first thing in the morning when the mind is alert; write at night and never while sober. Do it alone, in an office with the door closed, surrounded by books; write in coffee shops, surrounded by stimulating characters and conversation. Use traditional quotation marks and capitalization Unless You Are a ‘Genius.’ Journal in longhand; always type fast. Sentences longer than three or four lines are unacceptable and tedious, unless you are William Faulkner, William Beckett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, David Foster Wallace or one of those other people who can get away with it. Short is good.

Write with an ideal reader in mind; fuck the audience. Never show anyone an early draft; find a workshop for feedback. Write to please everyone; quit workshop and hire an editor. Take classes…

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Failure to Launch

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My cousin & I showing our cards. It was almost the 80’s…

Two weeks now, two posts I’ve worked diligently on, only to get scuttled (well, I didn’t sink them, I just didn’t get them to their destination). I don’t know why, they just didn’t flow. One didn’t go anywhere, and the other one went somewhere but was lurchy. I think maybe I was trying to put too many ideas together and I ended up with a frankenpost. I felt like I was close to wrapping one up last night, when our internet went out for several hours, and today, I just wasn’t feeling it.

It’s also been really hard to focus on my own small concerns, given all the news lately. It was making hubby so anxious he finally had to stop reading it every day. I think there are quite a few people in the same boat. Real Change paper had an article recently called “Mental Wrecking Ball” about how area therapists are seeing so many patients who are traumatized by the President’s policies and the rift the election caused in relationships. I was looking for a therapist early in the year and it took me a while to find one who had any availability.

The good news is that I have been writing. Pretty much every day, which is great. I have noticed though that as the days get longer, my hands want to be in the dirt. Our weather has been pretty uncooperative this spring, so I haven’t had too much temptation yet to be outside instead of at the keyboard, but I can still feel that pull to get out there. Even if it means my hands cramp up from the cold.

Other than the usual homebody stuff, I’m looking forward to several events that I can hopefully use as fodder for writing – this weekend the Black Lives Matter march (got my black beanie!), then seeing James Osborne read from his book “Will Your Way Back” at the library, followed by Lidia Yuknavitch reading from her new book “The Book of Joan” and lastly getting up at crazy o’clock next Friday for Daybreaker in honor of the one year anniversary of Prince’s passing (#RIPPrince). It’s a pre-work dance party, starting off with yoga for an hour, then two hours of shaking your groove thing. In 80’s garb, of course. CANNOT wait.

To close out April, I’ll be marching with my parents and hubby in the People’s Climate march. With two more marches in one month, maybe my new sign will just read “Too Many Issues, Not Enough Sign.” In my research, one of my favorites was “Fossil Fuels are Ancient History.” Clever, no? Speaking of which [word nerd alert] – at the beginning of this post I used the word scuttle. Aside from the deliberate sinking of one’s ship, it also meant a pail especially used for carrying coal. And now that we’ve come full circle, I’m going to actually launch this one!

Be well everyone, keeping dancing and keep resisting.

 

 

NWB (The Group Formerly Known as NWC) Epistle #1

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Resources for writing, including a Webster’s unabridged dictionary from 1937.

Ladies, we have discovered ourselves. We thought we were a club. And we are, but turns out ours is not just your usual club for lost souls, but is in fact a gathering in the bardo. Is this a step forward or backward? I think it’s neither – more like a clarification of purpose.

As an introvert, I have rarely been comfortable in group settings, so this is one of the few clubs I’ve felt at ease being a part of. I don’t want to knock clubs – I have been in a few book clubs and have found them rewarding, a great opportunity to read things I may never have found on my own, and to learn from different perspectives. We ourselves have been a book club, during times when writing took a back seat (mostly my fault I know, during my year-long hiatus), and we’ve read some wonderful books, the most memorable for me being “How to Be Both” by Ali Smith. A book that not only sparked amazing conversation about the story, but about how to approach writing from wildly novel angles. Even when we weren’t writing together, we were talking about writing.

Coinciding with this realization of our dwelling in the bardo, we’ve once again committed ourselves to writing, following the advice of a variety of books and writing friends that recommend you sit down and just write, no matter what it is, every day. We’re holding each other accountable, and after a bit of catching up each week, we write for one solid hour together. We don’t usually discuss what we write, we just write.

Last week, I didn’t have a topic already in mind (well, I could have worked on my sweater story, but was so tired from not sleeping the night before I didn’t have it in me), so my writing meandered aimlessly from things I ate last week (veggies, peanut butter) to the group of nearby firemen (whose hotness later inspired one of us – not saying who – to contemplate heading home to set something on fire), to puzzling over why the old “popcorn” ceilings I grew up with had sparkles in them and how much poison I likely absorbed from that bizarre confection. Not a productive session in many senses, but at least I was writing. And hey, I just used some of that writing…

Of course, we also discuss the art of writing and how we might learn its mysteries. I bring this up because yesterday I unearthed from a neglected corner of my room a book on writing I had picked up not long before my hiatus, whose covers I had never cracked:  “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long. I don’t recall where I heard of it, but I remember it was very well reviewed and recommended. Finding it again felt like one of those messages we get from the universe, if we’re paying attention.

After blowing the dust off of it, I started wading into it. Just reading the first chapter, my mind was already starting to race in a million directions, so I’m slowing it down a bit. I’m only going to focus at the moment on her advice to develop your own lexicon. This list can be words you like (“treacly”), words to replace words you use too often (“ruminations” instead of “thoughts”) or words specific to places & times that you inhabit (popcorn ceilings). You can also go out and catalog things you see, like types of plants and birds, or words related to a topic of interest (for example, plant-based dyes). Your lexicon becomes a resource for becoming a better, more descriptive writer.

Oh, and did I mention just plain reading the dictionary? In “The Way of the Writer,” Charles Johnson recommends reading the whole thing, a task he’s completed. Why didn’t I know, in my book-devouring youth, that lexicographer was an actual job? That’s part of how I ended up in this in-between place, I was too afraid to trust my inner voice and deepest passions.

I guess it’s better late than never, right? Abasia: inability to walk properly due to lack of coordination of the leg muscles. Wait, what happened to aardvark? Had they not yet been discovered?

Perhaps having our own lexicon is just one of the pieces we need to come out the other side of the bardo, transformed into our final state. Meanwhile, we can continue to give sustenance to each other, through laughter, ruminations, poetry, bawdy stories, reminiscences (including 70s television shows), grimaces over treacly (ha!) music at the cafe, discussing books we’ve read or have just added to the pile, sharing our writing attempts, and whatever else we can to bolster ourselves during times both good and bad. If that sounds like marriage, well, we’re not neurotic wives for nothing.

Wellness and Self-Care for Writers

River in WashingtonMy planner this year did not list writing as a major priority for me. I also didn’t intend to take last year off from writing, but I did, whether to avoid dealing with tough emotions or just to focus on getting more things done around the house and yard (both, I think).

But then I felt called back to it, literally and figuratively. Literally by Peg Cheng, as noted in the post linked above, and figuratively because it felt right and good again. I’m not trying to escape anything, nor am I trying to solve all my problems, or decipher all of life’s riddles; I’m just seeing where the process takes me. That’s a big step forward for me.

To celebrate this progress and to push myself a bit outside my comfort zone, I signed up for Peg’s Writers Wellness Retreat, which took place a week ago. Getting up early on the first day of daylight savings time to attend a writing workshop – you know I had to be excited. This was my first writing workshop ever, but I knew it would be a rewarding experience with Peg running it, even though I don’t really see myself as a “writer.”

(I actually had a laugh talking about this with my therapist a few days ago, when I described how I introduced myself at the retreat, that I occasionally blogged about being a stroke survivor caregiver as my entry into the writerly club, but that I wasn’t really a blogger, just someone who posts things on a blog. After pointing out the illogic of what I’d said (in a kind way, truly), my therapist said it’s a very common tactic to not see ourselves as [fill in the blank] until we are being paid to do it. Her suggestion was to do what actors in Hollywood do, introduce yourself as an actor who is currently employed as a barista. I’m not quite there yet, but will keep thinking it over.)

During the workshop, Peg read to us from books on creativity, self-care, and writing (it was amazing to sit in a group and be read to, something most of us haven’t experienced since we were kids). After listening, we did 10 minute meditations, followed by writing based on prompts Peg gave us. We only got 2 minutes to write on each prompt, and it was interesting how some of these intervals went by like a flash while others seemed to drag on. The draggy ones tended to raise issues I really didn’t feel like thinking about, like what it means if I focus only on my needs. After writing on four or five prompts, we had the opportunity to share our responses. I typically find this a completely horrifying idea, but there was no feedback involved, we all just listened to one another. There were three cycles following this format throughout the day, with each segment having a different focus:  self-care, fear & creativity, and priorities. Toward the end of the day, we all did qigong together, another first for me, which I really enjoyed.

So it was a wonderful and fulfilling day, and I can’t thank Peg enough for organizing it and doing such a great job of leading it. Oh, and she gave us stickers and chocolate bars with pop-rocks in them, both of which my inner kid just loved.

After reviewing all my responses as a collection later, I realized that having introduced myself as a caregiver, I mostly wrote about my caregiver life and responsibilities. Obviously, this event and its aftermath changed our lives dramatically, but I realized how much I’ve allowed it to define me and our lives. It’s not that I shouldn’t talk about such a momentous part of our lives, but that I need not let it be THE focus, as though it’s the only thing about me and us that matters. Doug’s health and my changed role have created new limitations, but not necessarily boundaries. It’s as though I reached the shore of a river and decided there’s just no way across, so might as well stay on this side forever.

Taking that in was hard. It opened up a lot of emotions that took me several days to process. I found myself missing our dogs in a physical and palpable way – I swear I could close my eyes and smell their doggy smells. Going to work on Tuesday was hard, because I wanted to stay in my shell and not have to engage with others. But part of my promise to myself this year was that I would stay open, be curious and have compassion for myself, try not to allow myself to shut down completely. So I made notes in my planner, found things to be grateful for, went for walks in the very rare moments without rain, emailed friends, and had a relaxing happy hour with some of my colleagues one evening.

One of the greatest takeaways from the retreat was not just how important it is to take care of yourself and nurture your creativity (and put fear in its place), but also that self-care doesn’t only mean getting a massage or taking a bath (both wonderful things, of course), but that self-care can mean paying attention to your emotions and how you handle them. By paying attention to what I wrote last weekend, and how it made me feel, I realized that I want to broaden my definition of myself and what is possible.

Now I just need to figure out if I jump in the river, hop from one boulder to the next, or find a log bridge to balance my way across.