Monday
Feb122018

This will happen to you, too

The world is full of sickness and death. Or, maybe just my world — though I suspect if you live long and love deeply this will happen in your world too. 

In times of sadness and uncertainty, I turn to books. And so, for the last few years as sickness set in and death hovered, I considered what makes a good life, and a good death, and how do we get there? So you don't have to wade through the muck (death/dying/grief is a saturated market!), let me share the books that have helped me through: 

Being Mortal:
Medicine and What Matters in the End

Knocking on Heaven’s Door:
The Path to a Better Way of Death

 

God’s Hotel:
A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine
 

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Bettyville: A Memoir 
 

All the Dancing Birds


These books provided insight, perspective, and sometimes solace. But really, after all the research and study, the best information came from two unexpected sources: a movie and a friend. 

The Meyerowitz Stories is not a great movie but sometimes the right sentiment hits you in the right place at the right time. In this movie (available on Netflix) three adult children are dealing with their difficult, declining father. They are told the five things to say to him before he dies:

I love you.

Forgive me.

I forgive you.

Thank you. 

Goodbye.

These short sentences are powerful. And, it turns out they are adapted from a book — of course! —  The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living, by Dr. Ira Byock, a leader in palliative care.

Years ago, before I started walking my own family and friends to the end, a friend in the throes of her own loss tendered these wise words:

Death is not a crisis

Death has the power to make us reel, ache and fold in half. And it may feel like an emergency, all adrenaline and fog. But death, like birth, is nature, not crisis. 

 

 

 

Saturday
Feb032018

Age, erased 


AGE  


I've kept all the old photos.

We look known and owned.

 

You change.

The same ingredients

 

make velvet pearls.

You see confidence.

 

You see beautiful,

a simple cashmere

self. 

 

— drew myron

 

See more erasure / blackout poems here:

Hymn

Love heeds not

Horoscopes

Signs

Something of myself

 

 

Thursday
Jan252018

Creative clairvoyance (sorta)

My love of horoscopes is no secret (because I keep telling you). 

As a recap, I read three horoscopes each day: this and this and this absolutely poetic forecast.

This daily ritual is part research, part poetry, with a smattering of loose direction, chancy guidance, and good fun. 

And when my mind is jumbled and hands restless, I grab pen and predictions and search for "hidden messages". It can be a challenge, this practice of elimination, but it's mostly fun. The pressure is low; I'm not trying to write good, I'm just exercising some mental muscle — and the results can be surprising. 

A few from this week: 

CAPRICORN 

You may 

ignore

a sharp 

rotting 

no. 

 

AQUARIUS

Revive a

victory. 

 

GEMINI

You think

about pressure

too much.

 

LEO

You resolve 

to discuss 

pain 

often. 

 

As you can see, these "horoscopes" turned a bit dark. And direct. But that's okay. It's practice, an exercise to help launch the next story, poem, essay, grocery list . . . 

 

 

Thursday
Jan112018

Thankful Thursday: Warble

A friend sends music from our past, and for days I am swimming, tossed, turned, undone. And now, I keep singinguncertain emotions force an uncertain smile.

They say smell, with its ability to jolt your past to the present, is the most powerful sense. But music ranks right up there too — its power to set a mood, strike a set, dismantle and mantle me. All week I'm seeing myself in reverse. 

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends,” wrote Joan Didion, in the essay On Keeping a Notebook in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

________


We’re preparing for another funeral. We’re always preparing, we are never prepared. 

________


At the last funeral, the pastor read from Ecclesiastes:  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . ."

This is the same verse that was read at our wedding. And turned into a great song. And even the Academy of American Poets recognizes it as a poem (yes!). We’re always celebrating and mourning. Life, of course, is a series of small daily deaths. But you can't stitch that on a pillow, or put it in a pill. And so we make poems.

________


When we are together doing something ordinary, eating dinner, riding bikes, my tears are sudden and unexpected. The mind is busy cataloguing the album of life, filing all the firsts and lasts. 

I know grief. I've sat with death. I work among the old and ill. But this feels as if I’ve known nothing at all, so individual and unknown, and these tears so fresh and strong.

________ 


At work, Betty doesn’t speak.*

She warbles, bringing her hands to her mouth and letting out what I imagine are musical scales. I’ve tried to talk with her, and to play piano together but she doesn’t respond, just looks to me from deep-set eyes. I pretend she can see me, can see through me to some unsaid truth or intention. And so I do the talking.

Today she places her wheelchair in the center of the hall, and when I kneel to visit she offers a slight smile as if maybe she recalls me just a bit, and lets me place my hand upon hers.

How are you today? I ask. Her response is silence.

Will you sing for me?  Silence.

And so we just look at each other.

I smile because just looking is difficult. Try it. Talk to someone you don’t know and you have no history and you’re not sure they can hear you or see you or understand you. All you know is this busy hallway, this quiet moment.

So we just look at each other and she murmurs a note or two. And then, she leans in and slowly moves a strand of hair from my face. The gentlest of gestures, both tender and kind. And this is the happiest I’ve been all week.  

 ________ 

 

It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. Life contracts and expands in relation to our gratitude.  What are you thankful for today?

 

* as always, names have been changed



Sunday
Jan072018

Feed Yourself

It's January already, month of short days, long nights, and (impossible) resolutions to be thinner, smarter, better. To counter the self-sabotage, I've ditched all resolutions but one: feed myself! 

Not with food — I'm really good at that already — but with creativity: books, tools, time & experiences.

Step One: In this new year I'm treating myself to books that have been lingering in my want-to-read pile (otherwise known as my Amazon cart):   

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
by Twyla Tharp

I need a creative prescription, and reviewers says this book is it! "Prescriptive and motivational," they say, and akin to The Artist's Way and Bird by Bird (two books I highly recommend).  

 

Stumble, Gorgeous
by Paula McLain

Before she wrote The Paris Wife, the evocative interpretive fiction-biography (yes, I just made up that genre) of Ernest Hemingway and wife Hadley Richardson, Paula McLain wrote poetry. Her novel was so rich and poetic, I'm sure her poetry will equally enthrall. 

 

Bluets
by Maggie Nelson

When it was published in 2009, poets and bloggers were agog over this crossover of poetry and prose. It's lingered in my "Wish List" cart for years. It's time I finally get in on the gush. 

 

The holidays are over, the presents purchased, wrapped, unwrapped, and enjoyed. Now, it's time to tend to ourselves. What are you doing to feed your art, your mind, your self?