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


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. 


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? 




Good Books of 2017

The paper is ripped, the ribbon undone. The tree is now needles all over the floor.

It's time now to look back at what we've wrought & read. Here are some of my favorite books this year. But because I'm often late to the party, these are not necessarily books published in 2017, but books I enjoyed this year. 


A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara

Gripping, engaging, painfully sad. But also a real divider; half of my friends couldn't stand this novel. The others, like me, didn't want it to end. 


The Best Kind of People
by Zoe Whittall 

How often we rush to judgement, and how often we are blind to our assumptions. This novel is so well written, so taut and real. A true page-turner that will also turn you to knots. 


Make Your Home Among Strangers
by Jennine Capó Crucet 

A thoughtful novel with a "ripped from the headlines" relevance that reveals the real heart and hurt of immigration and integration. 


The Girls 
by Emma Cline

Loosely based on real life and with thrilling skill, this novel beautifully renders a tender and terrifying age. 

The Great Man
by Kate Christensen

A wonderfully sharp and observant take on art and its players, with richly complex characters. 



The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas 

Fresh, raw, real, necessary. Don't be fooled by the young adult categorization; this is a book for all ages. 



Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
by Katy Butler 

The best description of this book is from one of my favorite authors, Abraham Verghese, who says: "A thoroughly researched and compelling mix of personal narrative and hard-nosed reporting that captures just how flawed care at the end of life has become." 



We Carry the Sky
by Mckayla Robbin

A slim volume of poems that stand strong. In spare lines, this debut poet offers unusual depth. I first found her here:


Good Books of 2016

Good Books of 2015

Good Books of 2014

Good Books of 2013

Good Books of 2012

Good Books of 2011


Your turn: What did I miss? What were your favorite books this year? 


Thankful Thursday (on Saturday) 


Because attention attracts intention, which attracts gratitude, and gratitude expands joy, it's time for Thankful Thursday.

This week I am thankful for: 

• lists — grocery, shopping, to do

• this passage, from this essay by Sarah Cords:

"To be grateful is to live a full life. It is to know worry and accept worry. It is to shore up the foundations even in the face of the weathering forces of tragedies and time."

• oatmeal

• my sick mother, refusing to use words of war:

"I'm not a survivor," she insists. "I am not battling." 

• persimmons - my favorite ugly delicious seasonal fruit 

• the words grumble and coo, not necessarily in tandem

• small things with history, like this family christmas ornament, circa 1930


It's Thankful Thursday (on Saturday, because life gets full), a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places and more. Life expands with gratitude.  What are you thankful for today?





An ecological bridge between land and sea;

the line of debris left on the beach by high tide, usually made up of grass, kelp, crustacean shells, feathers, bits of plastic, and scraps of litter.

Everything is next to something. The grass next to sand, next to beach, next to sea.

The waves roll slow and steady, somersaults of saltwater meeting beach.

The low angle light casts long shadows.

Everything lives in the shadow of the grander thing.


I am waiting for pies to set, a phone to ring, my mother to not die, my sister to not cry. Beyond this wrackline of broken shell and damp decay, I am waiting for the next wave.


Here, once or twice or for twenty years, we cross states and days to leave dull winters, shed coats and shoes and transform into people who sun and swim. Here, we are people who laugh.

Yes, I have proof. See, here, the photo, black and white and faded with time — that's us, fresh-faced from the surf, strong and sure, smiling.


Every morning we wake and look to the flag, listless or stiff. Today it flaps both warning and invitation, an urgent red against a sky of blue.


Walking the wrackline, we spot glossy rocks, thin shells, stranded jellyfish, small sandcrabs. The water, a wave machine that never ends, softens sound and muffles our voices so that our tongues go slack with the work of language.   


On the shore between lost and found, I can't find my notebook, pages and pages of my history, my voice, my self. I panic, hunt, give up, begin again.

Wreck and re-do share the same shadow.


Once, here, we drank too much and quarreled home.


In the distance, a woman sits on the sand, where it turns from lofty to soft to firm but not yet wet. She is alone on an empty beach watching her friend — husband? lover? son? — bobbing in the waves. She wears an unnamed sadness, I imagine, like a grief she holds but cannot carry. I watch and watch, will not turn away. This is projection, of course, a misplaced empathy. But I can’t stop watching this woman who is sitting still, her back to me, living quietly contained.

I keep looking. I keep looking to really see. 


Once, a sudden storm pounded our car, a torrent of water flooded the street. We huddled inside, stunned, racked with a rumble of uncertainty we’ve yet to shake.  


Along this line, I walk for miles, each step a decision that finally brings me home.


Back at the pool and free of nature’s mess, the water is chlorine clean. Slipping in, the water amplifies my breath to truth: loud, ragged, singular. The body is weightless and floating, my face turns to a wide endless sky. My heart pumps pumps pumps, gives rise to tears, salted and soundless, the one thing that seems essential and true.