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.

BLM-names

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

Jeanie & Carl

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

writing-resources

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.

Brought to You By the Letter S

IMG_20170319_132610_1920x1080Sheltered in the south-facing porch, prolonging the lunch break just enjoyed. Slumber tempting but dozing seems a waste of one day’s pause from the ceaseless rain.

Skies a clear cerulean, unbroken by cumulus or cirrus.

Squirrel high in the poplar, scrabbling around the trunk for mysterious squirrel purposes.

Swishing of the breeze through evergreens, and gently swinging chimes.

Sheets swaying on the line, projection screen for leaf-sprout shadows.

Seductive smell of daphne blossoms signaling sleepy insects.

Small shoots poking up through still cold earth.

Shy robins scratching hopefully through semi-rotted leaves, bright eyes on the lookout for telltale squiggles, while companion red-breasts trill  a joyful song from nearby stations.

Emerging from the Bardo

MonteVerde-butterfly

Taken in my previous life while visiting Costa Rica.

This is a meditation on a book I haven’t read yet. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out how that works.

A week or so ago, I went to Town Hall with the NWCs to hear George Saunders talk about and read from his new novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.” I told M that I felt like a fangurl, I was so excited to hear Saunders, even though I’ve read a total of two of his stories (10th of December and The Falls). Both stories made huge impressions on me – so much humanity is evident in his way of capturing the thoughts of his characters, a rare and often funny empathy on display. In February, I read a New Yorker article about the new book and immediately knew I had to read it. So, when M found out he was coming to town, we all jumped at the chance to go. Our three tickets included two signed copies of the book, which I will be reading as soon as I can, given my usual embroilment in several books at once (slowly digesting Charles Johnson’s “The Way of the Writer,” commuting my way through “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and just picked up a collection of James Baldwin’s writings yesterday at the library). I am running out of time to achieve my life goal to read all the books!

On the off chance I don’t attain this lofty peak, I will have to hope that my bardo is filled with books and I can stay there for a while. Oh, if you haven’t looked up bardo yet – it’s a space (or place?) in Tibetan Buddhism between death and your next life. A sort of limbo land.

At dinner before the lecture, we spent some time talking about the intriguing concept of the bardo. Even though it’s a post-death phenomenon, metaphorically we felt that it could be about any period of limbo. When you don’t move forward and aren’t sure you ever will. I feel like I spent three years in the bardo, going through the shock, anger and grief of Doug’s stroke. I’d have to learn more and maybe there’s not even an answer to how one leaves the bardo, but I feel like I have emerged from this in-between place. Which isn’t to say I’m “over it” now, it’s not the kind of thing you ever really get over, but I feel I’ve reached a point where I am ready to find out what’s next. This next life has writing, reading, resisting, joining with like-minded people to work for racial equity, working with Doug to make a new plan for the rest of our lives together. So I am now really thinking of the bardo as a chrysalis, because you emerge with your old self still there but in a new form, sipping nectar instead of munching on green leaves.

Getting back to the book, if Lincoln is in the bardo, he must be dead, right? Not really. It’s his son Willy who is dead and in the cemetery, where Lincoln visits him. Lincoln’s actions and thoughts are narrated by a bevy of ghosts, interspersed with historical snippets that provide snapshots of the ongoing Civil War. Given this unusual story telling device, the live reading was unlike anything I’ve seen for a novel before, a bit like watching a scene from a play involving five people (in the section we heard). It was exciting to see a reading as unique and creative as the book itself seems to be. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more things to say once I read it.

Before and after the reading, Saunders talked about this first novel and his life as a writer (and the many odd jobs he did before that). If I was a fangurl before seeing him, I’m now completely enamored. He’s down to earth, funny, creative, just like his writing, which he talks about as this fun thing he gets to do, as play. Even though I love to write, I have a hard time grasping this idea, but he made it seem so possible. What if writing could just be a room full of all your favorite things to tinker with?

Along those lines – and this is going to sound ridiculous, since it is called fiction after all – although I love playing with words, I tend to get very dull and unimaginative when trying to write anything fictional. After reading The Falls, I had this sudden realization that if you want to put unconventional, funny, trippy, even inaccurate words into your characters’ mouths (or minds), you can just DO that. They can say all the wacky stuff you want them to, you aren’t bound by any rules. I’ve always been a rule follower, in life and in grammar, and this was just such a liberating moment. Even the beloved NWCs gave me astonished chortles at that confession, so I won’t hold it against you if you are laughing right now.

Saunders (who wrote for the New Yorker in 2016 while reporting on Trump rallies) wrapped up the evening with a Trump resistance poem he wrote in Seussian style (this link goes to the DC reading, which I think is slightly different from what we heard, but it will give you the idea). It starts out with him answering a question on the importance of art and artists in these politically challenging times. Perhaps this period of our country’s history is another bardo, and we will all emerge from it transformed, for the better one can only hope. More than hope – continue to work toward.

About a Podcast About a Blog About a Poem about Dusting

That’s a mouthful, I know. Let me explain.

20170304_212127323_ios

A book I may never have picked up if not for our many ways of getting information.

When I’m not able to read – while cleaning, gardening, cooking, wedged on the train in a way that prohibits even phone reading – I often turn to podcasts. I have a long list of them I like to listen to, ranging from football (Sea Hawkers) to learning (Stuff You Should Know) to word nerdy (A Way with Words).

I was listening to the podcast “On Being” the other day, when she interviewed poet Marilyn Nelson. I had not heard of her before, but my knowledge of poetry is limited to mostly white guys from the distant past. During the interview, the host mentioned a blog post she’d read by a professor on returning to her university office after a year-long sabbatical. While dusting, the professor was reminded of one of Ms. Nelson’s poems named after that very activity. How dust is made up of so many fragments of things of the earth and of life, through all of time – from “particles of ocean salt” and “winged protozoans” to “algae spores” that create “these eternal seeds of rain” – and it made her feel so appreciative of the dust that she almost wanted to stop dusting. (The reminder that we wouldn’t have rain without dust was a fact I’d forgotten, lost in the dusty corners of my mind.)

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. It made me realize that artists see the world in so many interesting ways and inspiration may come from anywhere. I’ve never looked at dust and thought ‘I’m going to write a beautiful poem about that.’ Perhaps next time I am doing some mundane chore, I’ll be moved to look at it differently. I could even expand on that and think about how we might view events, both good and bad, differently. The perspective of dust (i.e., it exists in a time span we can’t really grasp, as does the Earth and the universe) may serve as a reminder of how short a moment we have in this life. We are, after all, destined to become dust ourselves, contributing to the life cycle in another way.

On a less morbid and more mundane level, I am not a very great housekeeper; my house is usually cleanish but far from immaculate. I don’t hate to clean, but I’d much rather do other things. I often feel like I have to justify reading or writing when the house is a mess. This poem, the professor who blogged about it, and the podcast where I was blessed to learn of them, reminded me that our observations and thoughts (and sharing them) are so much more important than whether the house is clean. I did happen to be cleaning while listening to this podcast, so there’s some irony for you.

These are moments that make me realize how lucky we are to have so much information at our fingertips, how much more there is to discover and how seeking out new things can reward us greatly. Especially if the reward is feeling less guilty about spending time reading and writing in lieu of dusting.

Marilyn Johnson said that when she was 13, she prayed to God to “give me a message I can give the world.” I am grateful for her prayer and for the answer she received, because she is a brilliant poet and thinker. In its own circuitous way, one of her messages found its way to me and it gave me inspiration, comfort and motivation to keep doing the work of the mind. It goes to show you that you never know how your message might help somebody somewhere, if you just believe in yourself and keep going.

Revelations in Unexpected Places

While my writing habit is still (and likely always will be) under construction, reading on the other hand is a part of what makes me who I am, seemingly fully formed within my DNA. Reading is also a way to escape. Sometimes I escape a bit too much, but that’s a story for another day. Most of the time, I manage to strike a good balance.

Cats and books

Cats are good reading companions – until they try to sit on your book.

The only time in my life when I haven’t been able or wanted to read was right after my husband Doug’s stroke. My mind could not latch onto the information and in any case, if I had a rare few spare moments, I spent them sleeping or just sitting. Stories held no interest for me, as nothing in them spoke to me, and any escape felt impossible anyway.

That went on for nearly the whole first year. I slowly but surely started to have the mental and emotional bandwidth to re-enter into words and ideas outside my own lived experience. I realized that it requires empathy and engagement to be a good reader, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Thankfully, I am back to my old self, the person who wants to read every book I see (my NWC pals and I just went to Third Place Books and two out of three of us walked out with yet another tome for the pile while the third one said he found “$180 worth of books” to desire just on the first display table). Book lust indeed.

These days, I find myself reading two or three books simultaneously, in part due to all the platforms on which you can now read. I still prefer actual pages to feel and flip through (and smell, if it’s an old book), and I like reading non-electronic books at night, but I’m totally happy to read on my phone on the train. Yes, phones are tiny and therefore challenging for us aging folks, but I just bump up the font size to grandma and it works fine. I have to scroll about every second, so my finger (or thumb, depending on how crowded the train is; you CAN read on a phone with one hand if you have to) gets a good workout.

After perusing my writing friend Peg Cheng’s 2016 reading list, I picked up a copy of “Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms” by Katherine Rundell*. The ambiguous, joyful-yet-ominous title grabbed my attention. This is a book for “young readers” but I’ve never let that stop me (and neither have you probably…Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.). Books are books, I don’t care who the supposed audience is.

I knew the book had a great story and protagonist (a fiercely independent and happy girl named Will growing up in Africa who, due to some unfortunate events, is sent to London to a girls boarding school). Sounds entertaining, right? Strong female character, right on. So, totally worth reading on those merits alone. Will’s childhood in Africa was a revelation, in how utterly aware she was of her vitality and the joy she found in every moment of her life. Too often, I feel like we don’t appreciate what we have and we can only look back and realize how good it was later. A good reminder to stay present and stay grateful.

Even though the story sounds a bit unconventional, many of the themes are really universal. For example, as kids (and adults, if we’re being honest), most of us have had the experience of being “new” and like a fish out of water, getting made fun of (or outright bullied), and feeling mystified as to why people don’t seem to get, or worse, hate, who you are. To maintain your sense of self when you’re being battered by these forces is a fight, and many of us give up, capitulating to conformity.

For me, the theme that resonated the most was about coping with loss and change. Life can change dramatically at any given moment. We know this, and yet until we’re actually faced with a situation like this – where there’s the “before” and the “after” of your life’s story – we cannot know how we will respond. I won’t say much more since I don’t want to reveal anything, just that I wasn’t expecting to find clues to solving my own life mystery in this wonderful book. That’s what I love about reading, from any and all genres – you might only be trying to escape, but instead you are being found.

* This is an affiliate link; purchases support Peg’s work.