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.

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.

Where in the World I Was

People start blogs, keep at them for a while, then drop them. I swore I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be the cliché. But here we are. And I probably should have known it would happen, given my general habit of starting things but not finishing them. Like this bleeping rug that was hatched (can rugs hatch? why not?) in 2014.

Rug in the making

The hundreds of recycled clothing items that are becoming a rug.

I will finish it this year, even if I have to work on it in the sweltering heat of August.

In our post-stroke life, there is no shortage of excuses for not doing the things we should do – exercising, eating well, reading instead of watching TV – but in the end, they’re still just excuses. 2016 was a year I’d rather forget, but like every day of every year, there are consequences for our choices. I chose to focus on our own tiny sphere, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that life threw a bunch more challenges our way and I focused on those in order to maintain my sanity. It was all I felt I had control over, and even then, it wasn’t really in my control. Doug still has epilepsy and takes two meds to keep seizures at bay. Both our dogs still passed away last year.

Meanwhile, our democracy was in the process of driving itself right to the edge of the cliff, and we’re now teetering. Given my inability (or unwillingness) to take action to help prevent that, I’ve pledged to focus on helping us pull back, or at the very least, get the vulnerable passengers out of the damn vehicle. I’ve thought about this a lot, because putting energy into resisting all that’s going on right now is hard – not just for me, but for so many of my family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, and at times it feels daunting when I have a lot on my plate already.

It would be easy for me to go the victim mentality (which I have done at times, trust me), and just fall right into the trap of believing that Doug and I have paid our dues, so we’re off the hook. But the reality is, we’ve weathered our own personal tragedy so well because of our privilege. Our good jobs and medical insurance. Our families with means to help us. The flexibility in our schedules to focus on therapy and healing. Not everyone has these “luxuries,” which shouldn’t be thought of as luxuries at all. Basic humanity. Something that we should be able to provide in this country. Having this kind of privilege is a gift and shouldn’t be squandered.

So what the hell am I doing writing, NOW? Shouldn’t I be making phone calls to my representatives? Or volunteering time to organizations that help refugees, or protecting the environment? Yes, and.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the role of writers and artists during times like these, as well as on hope and activism. The resounding message is that action and words are both necessary.

Here’s a quote by James Baldwin that I read today (I’m currently obsessed with his writings; items in bold are my emphasis):

The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer — to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not — I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.

That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people — all people! — who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there.

I’ll never be Shakespeare or Baldwin, of course, but while I may write for myself, more importantly, I will try to find the courage to bear witness while I do that. And because you never know what your words might do for someone else. My writing inspiration this week is thanks to the wonderful writer and writing coach Peg Cheng (@pegcheng), whose blog I love and who tweeted me after reading this poor neglected blog. Thank you Peg, for the encouragement and inspiration.

Listless Listlessness

List is an interesting word. I looked it up because I am feeling listless today, in the sense that I can’t figure out what I feel like doing and hence I’m doing very little. This happens occasionally when I find actual moments of unprogrammed time. It makes my brain go haywire because I know I should be doing many, many things, be proactively tackling things to stay with the curve (there’s really no getting ahead of the curve around here), but I’d really rather sit and read, write, think…the freedom to do that isn’t really there, it’s just an illusion.

These times happen occasionally because I neglect (or forget or don’t have time) to make a list of things to do. The list is there, I just didn’t write it down. And so I have nothing to prompt me to keep moving and then I slowly lose momentum, all the while knowing that this lack of initiative will be regretted later.

In any case, looking a word up in the dictionary is doing something, right? I remember reading the dictionary for fun, when I was young and carefree. Words and their origins are almost like friends to me. The commonly used ‘list’ describing our organizing tool is not the same as that of the ‘list’ in listless, which is about desire (Middle English ‘lysten’ related to lust). So being listless is having a lack of desire. The concept of choosing is also in the origin, which makes sense, as being listless feels to me like having too many choices but not wanting to pick anything at all.

List has many other meanings as well. There is of course the still used sense of leaning to one side, as a damaged boat in the water. This also rings true for me today, as I messed up my left side the other day doing who knows what. The twinge has traveled from my neck and shoulder down into my lower back. I’m definitely listing a bit.

So I’m calling this a listless, list-free, listing Saturday. Perhaps I’ll pick a few things to get done and set my ship slightly more aright. In the meantime, I must also point out that cats really have no problem with listlessness (they don’t make lists and they are totally okay with it) as documented by this photo montage of Pablo. Oh, to be a cat…

Pondering how best to enjoy the sun

What should I do today?

 

Now we're getting somewhere

Maybe this sun needs some basking in…

This is how it's done!

Yup, totally made the right call

NWC Epistle #2

Dear NWCs,

I can’t think what to write today. This tiny 30 minutes will just get spent with me figuring out more ways to say I can’t think of anything to say.

I did see something interesting on my ride home. Going through the international district, there are always quite a few characters and goings-on to check out. I’ve seen girls fighting in the street and old men playing checkers on the sidewalk. Various smells come at you as you travel through – onions, fish, fortune cookies. It’s a feast for the senses.

Today I saw two tall thin men walking along. One was wearing the biggest black cowboy hat I’ve ever seen. In Seattle anyway. I’m the daughter of a Montana girl, so I’ve seen some big-ass cowboy hats in my day. Ten gallon ones. This one was like that. It dwarfed his head it was so large and yet he looked very striking, with his dark skin and dark hat. I guess anyone wearing a hat nowadays is pretty striking, especially one in a town not known for rodeos or cattle driving.

I wondered about this man, what had led to this moment of him walking through Seattle in his huge cowboy hat. Was it only fashion or did it serve some practical purpose? Was he visiting Seattle from somewhere? Has he always worn this hat (it didn’t look like something he’d just thrown on) or was it a special occasion? What sort of things did people say to him?

I have started taking notice of people more in this way – not just, oh, that’s a bit of an outlier, but trying to think about the story of the person. Perhaps I will spend some more time on this one to see what I come up with.

And the stove is telling me that my precious 30 minutes are up, so I’m off to make some dinner. Tell me about some interesting characters you’ve seen!

Little Blue Typewriter

This is our cat Jasper. He likes to lay on my lap when I'm typing. As cats do.

This is our cat Jasper. He likes to lay on my lap when I’m typing. As cats do. I don’t know what that lump under him is…

I got a card today from my dear friend Michelle. We live less than 10 miles from each other, but continue (or resurrect when it has fallen aside) the habit we began as teenagers of mailing each other letters (I still have a folder of correspondence between us – well, the pieces she wrote anyway – from way back in the 90’s). Sure, plenty of emails still get exchanged, but usually as part of larger group conversations. Or texts bouncing around during football games. But nothing is the same as getting a special piece of mail every now and then. Continue reading

Serendipity-do

dippity-doWhen I was a kid, I loved those jars of bright pastel colored hair gel called Dippity-Do. It still exists, but is in a boring squeeze jar, not this lovely magical tub. This and Aqua Net were the go-to hair products of the day, not that any of them ever helped me achieve the lasting curls I so fervently wanted. I used to do extravagant things to get my hair to curl, including perms using the tiniest rollers and the harshest chemicals available. I sometimes ended up with some waves in my hair and though it wasn’t what I’d dreamed, I was still happier than living with my snarl-infested, stick-straight hair (why do we say this – some sticks are definitely not straight…). I have long since given up on this goal, much to my toxin-level’s benefit, and often run into people with natural curls who tell me they always wanted straight hair like mine. Grass is always greener…but not as green as Dippity-do! Continue reading