Tuesday
Aug152017

Thankful Tuesday because we need it now!

It's not even Thursday but this week has been so ugly I'm countering with a gratitude surge. If every day offers an opportunity for thankfulness, let's make it happen now

Please join me for Thankful Thursday on Tuesday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. 

1.
As the first chords play, before the singer offers a single word, my face is wet. I'm in an audience of 25 elderly people, and I'm the one crying.

Not Jane who can't hear. Not Shirley who can't talk, not even Martin who is tenderhearted. They are dry-eyed. But me, the happy event organizer, is sitting among wheelchairs, dementia, and diapers, biting back tears. 

I turn to Dorothy, who looks at me with fright and confusion. Her eyes are wide and searching so I tuck a blanket around her and gently rub her arm. We hold hands. She loosens and breathes and in a tone that suggests this is a party and she is the host, says "I'm so glad you came."

2.
The next day, I take a long drive — to lose (and find) myself in an abandoned school, a broken down store, an endless road. I'm driving not to find what I lack but to remember what I have: wide spaces, big sky, long lonely stretches. I travel a bumpy gravel road that does, finally, meet solid ground. In everything, metaphor and message. 

3.
Today, because I'm waiting for the dentist, I count the minutes with agitation. The drill is not on, the dentist has not even appeared, and still I'm near tears because in my fatigue with the world this tooth feels like our collective rot. I'm wearing all the aches, and just want it to stop. 

4.
First, the heat of an unusual summer. Then the smoke and haze of unusual fires. Nothing is usual. The weather is erratic, the sun and moon are in a dance toward darkness, and something or other is in retrograde. It seems we're all spinning, spitting, hurting.  

And in this mess, the dentist brings me toothpaste instead of a drill. I find my way home to a soft bed and a good nap. And Dorothy and I sing quietly together.

Can the child within my heart rise above?

Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

- from Landslide, by Stevie Nicks / Fleetwood Mac

 

And you, dear one, what are you thankful for today? 

 


Sunday
Aug062017

Looking for Grief (in all the wrong places)

It started with just three lines: 


Separation

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.


—  W.S. Merwin 

 

Last year I made a file and called it "poems-grief."

Now, as the file grows, I don't know if this brings comfort or alarm. Each addition feels like a weed multiplying in a once-tidy garden. There is too much sadness, too much loss, and not enough blooms.

With each sickness, with each death, I searched for comfort in poems. I wanted someone to know my grief, to speak the words I could not find, to carry my heart in words. 

Much to my surprise, it was difficult to find good poems. I searched for books specifically on grief, and while there were plenty of collections none seemed for me. And I searched online endlessly, and again there were plenty of poems but nothing that wrapped me in comfort.

Admittedly, my criteria was strict:

No sappy or sentimental poems.

No happy endings.

No predictable poems.

No rhyming (which often feels forced)

No hippy-dippy, in-a-better-place, happened-for-a-reason poems.

No old poems, of a "classic" era with thee and thou and dost 

And, oh, no more Mary Oliver.

(Yes, yes, I like Mary. We all like Mary. She's good and prolific and written many good poems that I have loved and shared. But she is also sometimes too known and rote, too nature-is-inside-us predictable). 

Instead, I want real expressions of grief's relentless presence, its weight and fear. I want a way in, but not too much, and a way out, but not too quickly. I want someone to get it

And so my hunting and gathering increased and my collection grew with many good poems. But it was only a few months ago that I found one that really spoke to me. And once found, I sent it everywhere. Copies and copies were shared with friends who had lost a mother, a father, a pet. And colleagues who grieved an aunt, a brother, a son.

This week, I read the poem over and over to myself, for myself. I whisper the lines like prayer, and write them down, word for word copied to paper, as if the ink could bleed itself into my heart to form a pulse I would recognize as my own.

 

Blessing for the Brokenhearted
 

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

                                         — Henry David Thoreau

 

Let us agree

for now

that we will not say

the breaking

makes us stronger

or that it is better

to have this pain

than to have done

without this love.

 

Let us promise

we will not

tell ourselves

time will heal

the wound,

when every day

our waking

opens it anew.

 

Perhaps for now

it can be enough

to simply marvel

at the mystery

of how a heart

so broken

can go on beating,

 

as if it were made

for precisely this —

 

as if it knows

the only cure for love

is more of it,

 

as if it sees

the heart’s sole remedy

for breaking

is to love still,

as if it trusts that its own

persistent pulse

is the rhythm

of a blessing

we cannot

begin to fathom

but will save us

nonetheless.

 

 — Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul182017

No More Narrative


By Matt Groening

At a writing workshop years ago, the instructor provided a list of words to avoid. The list was lengthy and I remember just one: lavender

I loved lavender. The plant, the smell, the emotional elegance of its earthiness. I wanted to ladle lavender into every poem. 

But she was right. Lavender is too expected. Lavender is overused. As much as I adore lavender — the plant and the word — I left it for better, less expected, words. 

_____


Remember when green was used in every-other-sentence as a signifier for good and environmental, and then was replaced with sustainable. And then we suffered a cliche hangover and spoke in plain language that said what we meant?

Okay that last part didn't happen. We may have momentarily come to our senses, only to replace story with narrative and talk with dialogue (it's not a verb!). 

Here's a tip: Using bigger words doesn't work; it just makes you bloated and big-headed. It doesn't make you deep or thoughtful or smart. (I'm looking at you Krista Tippet). 

Just talk to me. In plain language. If you really want to conversate (yuck), just talk — directly in plain, easy language. 

_____


In the spirit of saving us from ourselves, I offer an updated list of words to avoid, in writing and in life: 

incentivize

paradigm

paradox

narrative

agreeance  (the word is agreement; don't try to fancy it up)

muse/musings  (unless you're 12 years old and writing with a pink pen)

dappled

moonlight (due to overuse the moon is no longer poetic)

luminous 

 

What's on your list?

_____

 

I miss Matt Groening's Forbidden Words. We need an update! 

 

 

Friday
Jul142017

Age, Illness, and Muddling Through

  A fundamental problem with our current
health care system is that its measure of success
is the delay of death, rather than the quality of life. 

— Ai-hen Poo 
from The Age of Dignity:
Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America 

 

Age and illness consume me.

And that's not a bad thing. My attention, and my reading, is centered around calls for change.*

With health care in general it seems we're muddling through, hoping our leaders will choose the least cruel of options. To that quagmire, add the  "silver tsunami" and we're in a real mire. Medicine, health insurance, hospital visits, long-term care, assisted living, home care — these costs add up, and quick!  Even if you've saved, you can't save enough.

Am I scaring you? I'm overwhelmed too. 

I've seen the physical and emotional impact that sickness and aging has on individuals and families. In my work at the nursing home, and in my own family, we wrestle with questions that have no good answers: what's covered? what's not? who pays? how much? What, really, is quality of life? Who decides? 

There are no rules. Each situation, just like each family, is nuanced with its own needs and expectations. Feeling adrift, I turn to books (again and always), for direction, solace, suggestions: 

Here are a few — each very different in tone and style — that I've found helpful:  

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Bettyville: A Memoir 

How the Medicaid Debate Affects Long-Term Care Decisions from Your Money - The New York Times

 

Your turn: Are you confronting these issues? What's helped? What hasn't? 

 

* Sidenote: I'm healthy! Everyone else is falling apart. (kidding) (not kidding). 


Wednesday
Jul052017

Thankful Thursday: Passively Active

It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more. Joy expands and contracts in relation to our gratitude. From small to super-size, from puny to profound, tell me, what are you thankful for today? 

 

It's summer. We now have permission to live passively active. Y'know, loll in hammocks, dawdle through books, sip cold drinks. As always, I'm thankful for these deliciously long sun-drenched "lazy does it" days. 

On this Thankful Thursday, I'm grateful for these nuggets of discovery:  

1.
Reading is a form of meditation

I've never been able to meditate. Sustaining good posture while enduring admonishments to clear the mind turn me fidgety and resentful. But now, I discover, I've been meditating all along:   

"Reading is one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce stress. Research shows listening to music reduces stress by 61 percent, going for a walk by 42 percent, drinking a cup of tea by 54 percent, but reading reduces stress levels by 68 percent" (according to this book, for which I'm also thankful).

2. 
Stamps as art


Have you seen the new stamps honoring designer Oscar de la Renta? (Of course you have because of course you write letters). Aren't they beauties? Makes me want to create long, confessional correspondence. Or even better, makes me want to open a letter addressed to me and adorned with this pretty postage. 

3. 
The world loves you 

 Here's proof:

“The secret is that the world loves you in direct proportion to how much you love it.”

 Laura Kasischke

 

Your turn: What are you thankful for today?