For Mother’s Day–An Invitation to Meet Some Moms!

For Mother's Day--An Invitation to Meet Some Moms!

Someday It Will Be December

We all come into this world because of our moms, and often we define what a mother is from that first experience: we are all a child to a mother. But as our lives progress, the challenges mothers face might alter the definition, expanding a mother’s roles to include teacher, caregiver, friend–and so many others. Today I invite you to meet some moms–Anne, Claire, Emily, Hazel and Sunny. Of the five women, some you might immediately identify with, some you might criticize, pity or weep for. But all of these women are moms and they all have a story to share with you.

Anne: She is In her thirties and divorced, a working mother with one child–twelve-year-old Cara. Anne must commute to the city to work, worrying about Cara every day. And though she tries to avoid him, Anne knows her co-worker Mark wants a relationship. But is she ready? Is Cara ready? When an attempted kidnapping occurs near Cara’s school, Anne has to ask herself if any of the decisions she is making are the right ones. Then Cara, asks: do men always want to hurt people? Anne must not only begin to explain sex to Cara, but also ask herself why she is in conflict about the purpose and wisdom of forming a new relationship with Mark. All is revealed in my story FACTS OF LIFE.

Claire Emmerling: Unmarried and unsure, Claire is in her early forties and pregnant for the first time. The father? Neurosurgeon Dr. Christian Farr who Claire has worked with for many years. She will not reveal the pregnancy to him, fearful that his words might distract her from becoming a mother. But when she finds Polaroid photos of her own mother pregnant with her–Claire realizes that baby was incidental to the sex, but the child that moves within her is everything–the sex incidental. How will Claire move forward? Read SOMEDAY IT WILL BE DECEMBER.

Hazel Enright: Hazel cannot eat hard-boiled eggs. A woods deep and dark with conifers frightens her and the smell of scorched linens makes her ill–because all of these plunge Hazel into the memory of being pregnant at sixteen and her parents forcing her to “go away”, have her baby and then give it up. How will this change Hazel? Read HAZEL’S CHILD.

Emily: Everyone is leaving Emily–her husband constantly on business trips, her children off to college and her doctor telling her she must have a hysterectomy. Is there anyone Emily can talk to who will understand the loneliness she is dealing with? When an old friend Veda calls and asks her to meet for tea, Emily dutifully goes, though she thinks she’d rather rake leaves in the rain. It might be the autumn of her life and then again, when Veda exposes that her life is not the fantasy Emily believed it was–the tables are turned. Find out how Emily resolves all of this in MAKING CHANGE.

Sunny: She’s a landscaper with a cheating husband, a daughter of her own and an adopted daughter, Colette. Sunny would rather spend time with an older friend, social worker Elise, than her own mother, Marilyn. But when daughter Colette takes too many pills and is rushed to the hospital, the jumble of Sunny’s life fades away and only one thing matters–to save Colette and to find the right words to make Colette see that there are good things in life. Sunny sees the chance for change in Colette’s astonishing hair spread out on her pillow. The profundity of it. From glossy filaments and tendrils in her baby pictures had burst this mass. It was like recognizing power in an infinitesimal seed, a coil of energy ready to spring, Colette’s hair pouring from her scalp in autumnal brightness. But what else was Colette germinating? Find out in YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG.

Thanks for considering meeting these moms and reading about them in A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, a perfect gift for you on MOTHER’S DAY, May 8th or for a mother you know. To purchase A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE from Amazon, B&N, kobo etc go here. And don’t forget the dark chocolate–one story a night with the tasty treat!

To read a story from A Mother’s Time Capsule go here and here.

COMMENTS ABOUT CAPSULE

What a wonderful book this is – filled with heart memories, a perfect gift for Mother’s Day for yourself or someone else! I love Elizabeth A. Havey‘s writing! Carol Boyer

Beautifully written. Emotional, thought provoking tales which are the perfect length for dipping in and out of. Cathy L.

This author has a unique voice and writes with such profound emotion it’s as if she’s left a part of herself on every page. Susan Haught

The extraordinary imagery of these stories is evocative of the early years when I was raising my two sons. “A Mother’s Time Capsule” artfully describes the woes and wonder of being a mother. I will read it over many times. Kelly M.

For Mother's Day--An Invitation to Meet Some Moms!

A Mother’s Day Gift!

Conversations With My House

Conversations With My House

Maybe the walls can talk.

I may be a bit crazy, but whenever my husband and I would drive away for a long vacation, I would look back at our house and say, “Be good, House. ” And this, out loud. Funny, I didn’t really greet the house when I returned, but was always happy to have the garage door go up and find things the way I left them. Houses are the warm womb we like to get back to: the pillow on the bed that is just right, the views that are old but warm the heart with their familiarity. And the feel of the doorknobs and how the stove works–it’s smooth and easy, like the worn slippers that comfort the feet. And no matter how big or small, well decorated or pared down–it’s that place that is ours.

WALLS MIGHT TALK, BUT THEY ALSO ADAPT  

But consider this. Houses hold the conversations of families and as the famous saying goes IF THE WALLS COULD TALK… well, maybe they can. Did my big house in Iowa slump with sadness when I left it? No. But maybe it’s plaster walls started to experience infinitesimal cracks because three little girls moved in and I’m sure they’re a lot noisier than my husband and me–the house’s last occupants.

We called this house, the House in the Trees, because we had 17 oak trees on our property. They were lovely, but tons of work. I created a plaque with that name and when we drove away–I left it for the new owners with a note, saying I hoped they would love the house as much as I did. But this is my pattern. These are the conversations with my house and the people who live in them. But will the new owners feel like I do?

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN

Our first house was a tract house, built on a piece of land with no trees. We had to put in a lawn and garden, attempt to create a “place” that was ours. It was wonderful to have our own walls, and this was the house where our first child began to walk and talk. But after awhile we left it, seeking a really old house that opened its arms to us and we lived there for seventeen years. Our two other children were born during that time.

There was a day when the doorbell rang and a young man stood on the porch. He told me he had been raised in the house, was back in town and just wanted to take a look. I warmly welcomed him. After he quietly walked around for a while, certainly trying to blot out our furniture and photographs so that the place he had loved would open its arms to him, he asked to see his bedroom. I took him up to see it. I think this was the end for him–the bright blue walls were now melon-colored and there were no trucks or trains or sports equipment–whatever had signified that this was his space. And so he thanked me and abruptly left. I understood. We had painted over the marks on the woodwork that traced his growth. Now our children’s names were there–for the while.

Something similar happened with the next home we bought and totally remodeled. The daughter came back and as she walked through–her mouth dropping open–she couldn’t believe the changes we had made. We had given the house the love that it needed, but I could not ask her which she preferred–the old shabby way or our new refreshed hardwood floors and remodeled kitchen. She probably liked it the old way–because that was what welcomed her home each night.

HAUNTED HOUSES 

In that remodeled house, my daughter whose bedroom was on the third floor, a room cut out of the attic, actually believed that a female ghost lived in the house. How the spirit dealt with the remodeling I don’t know, but one night my daughter was certain she saw the woman in a pink bathrobe standing outside her door. It’s possible. A woman had died in the house. The closest I have ever come to feeling a house is haunted is the sounds that it makes–the things you become familiar with like the top step of the basement stairs in the Iowa house–I can still hear it creak. Or the plumbing in the walls of that house that would clank when the water was heating up. This is how houses talk back, let owners know their personalties.

And they fight you. A remodel or a minor change gleams in your mind and when you or the people you have hired arrive to make it happen–the house resists. “Well, your plan won’t work because there isn’t a weight-bearing wall here…” “You electric will need a total upgrade..” etc etc. It ALWAYS HAPPENS.

HOUSES: An Ode to One’s Life 

When I miss some of the places where I have lived, I look at photographs and think about the joyous times–the births of our children, the Thanksgivings, summer barbecues with games on the lawn, the graduation parties, the visits from my family. And I think about the simple days: rising, breakfast, the newspaper on the front porch, the leaves to be raked in the back yard, the sun going down while we sit sharing our dinner with some flowers from my garden on the table. Houses are a gift. Though houses do need upkeep–I have often joked that the rather old and practical cars that we drive to help balance the budget should have a license plate that proclaims YOU SHOULD SEE MY NEW FURNACE!!

But it’s the warmth and safety that matters, that sticks. Virginia Woolf celebrates similar feelings in her short story THE HAUNTED HOUSE. Here is an excerpt, the ghosts (people like me who have left, though these are true dead spirits) coming back to remember what living there was, what memories pulse in the place. I think the walls are talking.

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

If you have to sweep a walkway or paint a room, remodel a kitchen or start a garden–rejoice. Your house will thank you for your tender care and your memories will linger even longer–because this is your domain, and as you work have that conversation. The walls might not talk, but they hear what you are saying. So even after struggling to install that new furnace–step back, enjoy the view and tell the house: THANK YOU.

Conversations With My House

Our House in the Trees. .

Love Her, Love Her Not

Love Her, Love Her Not

This post is a review of the above book, but it’s also the first of others that I will be writing about Hillary Clinton and the upcoming presidential election. The editor of Love Her, Love Her Not, Joanne Cronrath Bamberger, graciously sent me a copy of her book. My summary opinion: this book is an interesting collection of 28 short and extremely readable essays, all written by women who have taken an aspect of Hillary’s life or an individual personal view of Hillary’s accomplishments and/or foibles and run with it.

Love Her, Love Her Not will probably not change anyone’s vote. But it does zero in on an historical moment in American politics and history: we might be about to elect the first female president, now, in 2016. That’s awesome in itself. Bamberger writes in her introduction something that many people feel: Our country has a very complicated relationship with Hillary Clinton. 

MEDIA SKEWS and SCREWS THE TRUTH 

I think it’s more accurate to say that THE MEDIA has a complicated relationship with HRC and that we who are reading and viewing get sucked into it. For every candidate. Because politics is dismal these days–full of anger and in some cases hatred. On both sides, with both genders and affecting every citizen with every kind of background.

That’s why I enjoyed Bamberger’s collection–the writing is thoughtful, not hostile. It is honest and covers many aspects of Secretary Clinton’s persona. It feels fair to me and that’s what is missing in a lot of media coverage these days. FAIRNESS. HONESTY. If someone were to thrust me into the spotlight, I’m sure they’d find something wrong with me too. My hair, my clothes, my penchant for enjoying reading rather than sports. WHATEVER. So when reading about Hillary Clinton–ask yourself how you would measure up. That’s exactly what these thoughtful women writers did. BRAVO!!

THE FEMALE AGE QUESTION

Columnist Froma Harrop focuses on age discrimination and how it affects females in her essay Hillary’s Age as Shorthand Sexism. It’s an eye-opener to any woman who dwelling in a similar decade feels the power of the future and that life after child-bearing age is a time to grow, not shrink away. But obviously there are pundits out there who are going to USE it against Hillary. Harrop refutes the writing of Charlie Cook saying: Cook clearly had fallen into the cultural prejudice that perceives middle-aged women as over-the-hill while their male contemporaries remain vibrant, powerful and sexy. Like Harrop, the women and many of the men I know wouldn’t buy Cook’s garbage,

WHY DOES SHE STAY WITH HIM? 

Oh get over it!  The essay, Bill Clinton as Metaphor for America and Why Hillary Is Uniquely Qualified for President was a favorite. Written by Rebekah Kuschmider–she gets it. What person living today, man or woman, hasn’t been “betrayed” by someone or by some situation. And consider this, as Kuschmider writes, Bill Clinton was “the American Icarus sailing so very high and falling in a heap.” But afterwards, he got it–he set up an office in Harlem and paid back many times over. Kuschmider writes: Hillary wrote in LIVING HISTORY that Bill was a force of nature and that she resisted his marriage proposals for a long time because she didn’t know if she could weather his storms. 

Bill Clinton’s “affair” was ignorant and foolish. His selfish actions brought sorrow into their marriage. But how Hillary handled it–that was her business, no one else’s. As Kucschmider writes, Hillary has experienced sorrow in her life: turned down by NASA because she was a female; unable to get national healthcare up and running; the loser in the 2008 election. This is a woman who knows how to pick herself up and get on with it. And here is why. Kucschmider writes: Hillary loves Bill, yes. … But Hillary loves America more, the real America, good and bad, weak and strong, right and wrong. That love, that loyalty, that ability to see the real America–the raw, striving grasping with hope America–is Hillary’s strength, a nearly wifely attitude of loyalty–in richer and poorer, sickness and health, weakness and strength. A steadfast determination to stay…the way she’s always stayed and made it work with Bill.

Considering that if Hillary becomes president the media will still obsess over her clothing, two essays in the collection brilliantly address this. In Worshipping the Semiotic Brilliance of Hillary’s Pantsuits Deb Rox writes: …she forced the debate to the singularity of “what color pantsuit is she wearing today?” In doing so, Hillary degendered the playing field, making her appearance effectively recede to a question almost as innocuous as “what color is his tie today?”

And in No More Glass Slippers, Kim Cottrell explains the history of female shoes and how they hobble movement and become a metaphor for the female inability to keep up with the opposite sex. But Hillary has conquered that for Cottrell: So here’s my idea, Hillary friends. Let’s lace up our own shoes–you know the kind–tie back our hair, and celebrate the badass lines on our faces, the way our countrymen have been doing since forever, and get to work…we will do so (retain our superpower status) when we unhobble women and unshackle men and let them go to work together creating a shared vision of the future–wrinkles, flaws and all.   

Though this review is simply a glimpse into the fascinating opinions by women about Hillary Clinton, I hope it will interest you enough to purchase Love Her, Love Her Not and see for yourselves. Available here. Happy reading.

Love Her, Love Her Not

Five Days Blind

Five Days Blind

Probably after the surgery.

The memories are fresh and stark: my mother brings me to the hospital. I am five. She has kindly told me all that she can tell me–that Dr. S is going to fix my eye. He is going to put me to sleep and fix my eye, because my left eye rolls around a bit. I have strabismus or wandering eye. My mother didn’t use the word surgery. But I certainly didn’t know what to expect–other than I would miss some school. I was in Kindergarten and I didn’t know what it would feel like to be blind.

I think it was a Sunday when I was admitted at the hospital. I do remember that my mother was at one end of the room while this big nurse (I’m a nurse, but this woman’s touch felt cold and rough) did whatever she had to do to admit me. I had to take off my clothes and pee in a cup and she probably drew my blood. I just remember wishing it would stop. In the 1950s, I don’t think PATIENT EDUCATION was high on the list.

Finally that part was over and my mother could hug me and hold my hand again. We went up in the elevator to the children’s wing where I would have the bed by the door in a two bed room. I’m sure they put me in a hospital gown right away and put me in bed. NICE AND TIDY. And I probably had some clear liquids on a tray, if they fed me at all. My mother sat in a chair beside my bed. I did have a roommate, an older girl. I think she had had appendicitis, but she was very close to being discharged, so she never spent one minute with me. Not one. Eventually my mom kissed me and said she had to go home. She always had to go home.

Did I cry? I can’t remember. Then I slept. Monday was surgery day and this is what happened:

  1. My mother could not be with me. Some ancient hospital policy.
  2. I woke up hungry and remembered Mom had put some cough drops in the top drawer of this little bedside table.
  3. I leaned way over, got that drawer open and got me a cough drop.
  4. Moments later a nurse came in with a cart and made me move from the bed to that cart. I don’t remember what she said to me. Probably to be brave. I love how people tell you that, when you have NO IDEA what is about to happen. You are supposed to be brave about the scary future.
  5. Now I’m being pushed down the hallway, never knowing that my mother is peeking at me from around the corner. She is watching me, her brave girl, probably tearing up and praying. Again what a stupid hospital rule.
  6. Suddenly the nurse hears me crunch the cough drop. ARE YOU EATING SOMETHING? YES, I say, YOU DIDN’T GIVE ME ANY BREAKFAST. And she hurries into a room, grabs one of those scratchy gauze squares and says SPIT IT OUT! Again, PATIENT TEACHING. Five-year-olds are not totally dumb. And her you-know-what is on the line if a patient, me, is supposed to be NPO (translation: (nil per os) nothing by mouth.
  7. And the next step hasn’t changed much. I don’t remember the two doors to the OR swinging open for me, but they probably did. And then there are all these people standing there with masks on. Again, PATIENT TEACHING, PEOPLE.
  8. I want to remember that Dr. S waved or said hello or pulled off his mask and called me “Beth.” I think that happened. But though I don’t truly remember that, I do absolutely remember what happened next.
  9. Ether. They put some metal thing over my nose and mouth that had an awful strong smell to it. Later, I would decide it looked like a colander used to drain vegetables. The picture here isn’t quite what I remember. But it had holes in it and they told me to take deep breaths.
  10. I am sure I remember hearing bells ringing, though I can’t find proof of that in the literature. Ether supposedly makes you vomit, but I don’t remember that. Here is what I do remember and my mother confirmed it. When I was coming out of the anesthesia, I was probably in recovery and they must have let my mother in this time. Because I kept trying to tear the bandages from my face and talking on and on about THE GREEN HAT. For a few nights I had nightmares about that green hat and couldn’t understand why my mother wasn’t doing something about it.
  11. ORIGIN of the GREEN HAT: It was a typical winter head cover of the 1950s that my mother had kindly bought me. It was green knit material trimmed in fake fur, but my brain knew that its shape (see photo below) could definitely cover my eyes. And my brain was convinced that the green hat was now on my face, blinding me–and why wouldn’t anyone TAKE IT OFF!!
  12. The surgery on my left eye was successful, I learned later, but Dr. S had bandaged both my eyes so that for five days, I was blind. From what I have read, this is standard procedure after strabismus surgery–the hope is that the eyes will properly realign. But again–there was no PATIENT EDUCATION for me or for my mother.
  13. I lay in that hospital bed from Monday night through Sunday. Five full days. My mother had my brothers to care for and of course in those days, no child visitors were allowed. She came to visit me but could do so only during visiting hours. I learned to listen for her footsteps echoing down the marble hallway. Sometimes the footsteps would end up in my room and it wasn’t my mother, but Sister Frances who also worked at the hospital. I remember she brought me a box of chocolates shaped like Dutch wooden shoes. I also remember that one day MY MOTHER COULDN’T COME.
  14. Someone had to feed me. At night things were even worse. I had to sleep on my back and to make sure I didn’t move, they put sandbags on either side of my head and they put a cardboard cuff around each elbow so that I wouldn’t reach up during my sleep and mess with my bandages–you know rip that GREEN HAT off my face.
  15. But I got through it. And my fear of ever being blind remains with me to this day. I take extremely good care of my eyes.
  16. Sunday was a sunny Chicago day. My mother arrived to take me home. They let me sit on the side of the bed while they removed ALL the bandages and flashed a light in my eyes and had me look up and down and sideways. Then they lightly patched the surgery eye and let me out of that bed.
  17. I don’t know where my mother was at this moment. Maybe again they made her leave the room and maybe the nurse turned away for a second, because I was in heaven and I was moving around and bang, I fainted dead away, hit the floor. Again, PATIENT EDUCATION. People who lie in bed for five days need to ease back into things!!
  18. But I could see! My mother’s face, the face of the nurse, the room where I’d been imprisoned, the bandages etc etc.
  19. My mother drove me home. I remember it was cold outside and we had had a conversation about what I would want to eat my first meal home. Get ready: I asked for hot dogs and mincemeat and raisin pie–always the sugar lover. Mom agreed to both, but not at the same meal. We had hot dogs.

I recently read Alice McDermott’s latest novel SOMEONE, in which she too describes experiencing being blind after eye surgery. Her prose far surpasses mine. And it makes me think she either went through what I did or knows someone who did. Thanks for reading.

Thanks to Google Images.

Blind

The “nightmare” hat was like this, only green cloth trimmed in fake brown fur. It’s probably in a landfill somewhere and it can stay there!

Five Days Blind

An ether mask.

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

A reprint of my favorite Easter post.

Many people, Christian and non-Christian, have heard of Mary Magdalene. She appears in the Bible at prominent places in Christ’s life—two being at Easter: she was with the women who discovered Jesus had risen from the dead. And in another reading, she comes upon Jesus in the garden adjacent to the tomb. She mistakes him for a gardener. Such a lovely story to awaken deeper Easter meanings–this woman was highly regarded and blessed–a new idea for that time.

Easter is spring and rebirth and invites us always to look at our lives and to grasp new ideas, live our lives differently, make our lives better. Spring holds so many symbols of rebirth and rethinking. Even the plethora of chicks and bunnies says that on a small level. But the birth of new ideas is what we need to focus on. And what better way than to teach children, the coming generations, equality for everyone–male and female.

Maybe that’s why DuBose Heyward, a southern author who is best known for his novel Porgy that was the basis for Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, wrote The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes. The title page states: as told to Jenifer, his daughter, who needed to know that her sex didn’t have to hold her back from becoming anything she wanted to be.

This heart-felt story cherished by many families during the Easter season, tells the tale of a simple mother bunny and how she became one of the five Easter Bunnies who travel the world bringing baskets of colored eggs and candy to children. With a copyright of 1939, it’s a tale ahead of its time.

The storyteller describes his heroine as: “a little country girl bunny with a brown skin and a little cotton-ball of a tail.” Her dream was to grow up and become one of the Easter Bunnies. “You wait and see!” she would say. But the Jack Rabbits with long legs and the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses scoffed at her and put her down.

After Cottontail grows up and has twenty-one Cottontail babies, these same Jacks and big rabbits really laugh at her. “What did we tell you! Only a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us.” Heyward writes that “they went away liking themselves very much.” Note that Heyward’s editor wanted Cottontail to have a husband, but in the end she is a single mom.

The Grandfather Easter Bunny who is wise and kind, lives in the Palace of the Easter Eggs. In the story he must select a fifth bunny. This is Cottontail’s chance. She brings all of her 21 children to the tryouts where the Grandfather cannot help but notice her.

He tests her to see if she is as wise and kind as he is. But she must also be swift. When she scatters her 21 children and in seconds is able to round them up again, the Grandfather is convinced. She will be his fifth Easter Bunny. The writer tells us that when Cottontail arrives at the Palace of the Easter Eggs for this amazing duty, the other four Easter Bunnies do not laugh at her—“for they were wise and kind and knew better.”

Cottontail meets her challenges during this charming tale, her deep desire and loving heart capturing every reader and providing a sunny Easter morning finish.

Anita Silvey on her website A Book-A-Day-Almanac writes: The story stresses the importance of hope, determination, and courage. Not only was the book a feminist statement in a time when this perspective was rarely shown, it also celebrates the achievements of a brown bunny rather than a white one. Yet at no point does the reader ever feel as if they are being given a polemic—Heyward has created a totally satisfying world.

The copy I own is a First Printing, copyright 1939, paper edition. It is well-worn and well-loved. It might even be the one my mother read to me. But I know it’s the one I read to my three children. For anyone wanting to celebrate spring, rebirth and ideas that are meaningful–this simple story is powerful and yet gentle at the same time. Enjoy.

I want to thank my daughter, Christie, who is also a mother to a daughter and values this story for the simple power it holds for adult and child readers alike.

For more ideas on this interpretation go here.

Thanks to Istock Photos. Thanks to Washington Post photos.

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

 Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

When I awake in the morning, the first thing I do is think of my children and prayerfully wish them a safe and fulfilling day. My grandchildren too. That’s how my mind works–a day is open to accomplishments. And so I wish for them a bundle of good stuff (those things they will achieve) and thus can claim for their own. No day should end with a big bunch of emptiness, unless we’re sick!

As a mother, I’m sure my children often felt some pressure from my encouragement. I remember sitting near the front door with my son, going over spelling words as we waited for the carpool. I suppose we could have been telling each other jokes or being happy about the weather. And maybe we sometimes were. But many times I was squeezing in that last math fact or spelling word before he started his day.

As a mother, I filled up many day-moments teaching and encouraging, guiding my children toward school goals and extra-curricular goals–even if the latter simply meant driving them to dance, gymnastics or baseball and making sure they had the “right stuff” for the activity. Turns out that believing in what your children can do is half the battle for them to achieve the “right stuff.” Parents can light the fire to achievement in their children, but we all must learn how to step back and let it burn.

The second thing I think of as I’m rousing myself for the day is WHAT WILL I ACCOMPLISH. I make a mental list and being at the stage of life I am, there are few interruptions to alter my list–except the excuses I might make to prevent me from “making it happen.” Let’s just say I have the freedom to make excuses, but I try not to.

My goal: to be a serious writer.

Sarah Manguso wrote recently in the New York Times:

The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

I had to share that with you. It’s radically different from what I might have answered. But it makes perfect sense. Serious writing probes. It pushes down through the layers of life, asks important questions, examines and offers up answers. And this occurs in non-fiction and in fiction. Reading is a profound experience that can transport someone who is dying back to life. It can offer beauty and joy to someone who is downtrodden. It can be an escape or have the effect of awakening. As Sarah says: If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

I believe this is true of many art forms. Do you paint, scrapbook, work in clay, or spend your days painting furniture and walls? Valley Burke is an RN. She was born with severe myopia and was considered legally blind. But she found LIFE in art and began to draw as soon as she could hold a pencil. Burke writes: “As a patient, painting, drawing provided an invaluable outlet wherein I was able to go beyond the pain, nausea, fear, grief and sadness.” Later in her nursing life, Burke offered her art work to hospitals and saw that her work helped patients heal. Being involved in art can provide all of us with profound feelings of accomplishment.

Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

Burke with her painting RED GODDESS

Burke advises: “create a sacred space in your environment…dedicate a room and in this space, do what nourishes you. It can be writing, music, meditation, yoga, painting, drawing–anything that uplifts your spirit.”

Of course my space is for writing. And some days I can claim accomplishments. Others, the muse has abandoned me.

Sarah Manguso also writes: All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious. The result of this admission is humility. And a humble person, faced with the superior product of another, does not try to match it or best it out of spite. A humble person, and only a humble person, is capable of praise, of allowing space in the world for the great work of others, and of working alongside it, trying to match it as an act of honor.

Sarah’s words inspire me. I will always read and be filled up by the work of serious writers. I will always find myself transported by a sentence, a scene, the depth of a character. Will my writing do the same? I can strive, I can hope. I will be humble. And as Sarah underlines: allow space in the world for the great work of others–all the while doing my work, trying to match theirs as an act of honor. And I know that in following that goal, I will make it a good day!

What are you working on? What accomplishments can you claim for your day?

Thanks to You Tube, The New York Times and Nurse.com

Writing, Nostalgia and Spring

Writing, Nostalgia and Spring

She listened to the steady pounding of her feet along the roads. And after a while, she could feel it running in her veins, something that turned backward to rituals of spring–Lent, events of her childhood, like painting rain-washed colors on hard boiled eggs. The sky would scuttle from grey to blue to grey, rain spitting just as intermittently. But the air was becoming velvet, enveloping, warming the skin and when she walked now crunching spring detritus, a hollowness opened up inside her, a sweet opening as if she were ready, also, to suffer, to feel pain, to live and embrace. (from The MOON DOCTOR)

Writing about SPRING

I wrote those words years ago. They are part of a novel that sits in a manuscript box under my desk. I love those words and many springs I come back to them. But words of published writers also speak SPRING to me: “It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.” John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga There is simply something about the season that pulls words from the mind to the page.

Writing and Nostalgia

In a recent piece by author Jonathan Lee, he writes about the disquiet that occurs when a book is written AND published. Finally, it is out of your hands. You can’t mess with it anymore and yet something pulls at you about this fact. WHY? Anxious, Lee went to the library: looking for a book with a title like How To Get Through The Period Between Finishing A Book and Seeing It In A Bookstore Without Losing Your Entire Grip on Reality. But Lee failed to find it. He did find The Book of Disquiet, a collection of opinions of various writers. He decided it was a very sad book, drenched in nostalgia.

NOSTALGIA. Curious about the roots that formed the word, Lee looked them up and discovered: nostos (return home) and algos (pain). Writers, especially fiction writers, almost always deal in nostalgia. They are constantly attempting to return home, to reassemble in words the pain of life–and yes, the joys. But LIFE always seen through the lens of their own experience. The drug for writers is remembering–remembering who we are and where we come from and what we have experienced.

As Lee so beautifully states: We all know by now that the past is as much a work of imagination as the future. We re-form. We invent. We chase after moments that have already fled. We can never quite recapture the passion within the passion, nor the grief within the grief, but we make a version we can live with, shape, touch with color, and we start to exist within its architecture.

Reshaping Our Reality

All of us do this–not just writers. We shape our memories so that we can live with them. Sometimes to a fault, as we struggle to assign to ourselves a minor role in some conflict when truly we needed to accept more guilt. But that “remembering” allows us to move into the future with our recreated selves.

Writing by Committee

I am currently polishing and working toward a final rendering of my first novel–with the goal of publishing. I have rewritten the first chapter over six times. Writing is plastic, yes, but what affects writers today is the chatter about HOW TO WRITE. If the drug for writers is remembering, the antidote for that drug is all the VOICES on the internet imposing their views on what an agent or a publisher wants. It messes up your memory. It’s tougher than tough.

Writing by Committee occurs when a friend or fellow writer or agent who has rejected your query complains about your VOICE, or says the writing is too CLIPPED, or can’t fall in love with the character after one page. I do listen. Thus the changes. And thus I understand even more why some authors self-publish–they don’t want to write by committee–this is the book they have created, the book they love. But again, after it has escaped from the writer’s hands–the characters might still be walking around in one’s head, maybe changing their actions, altering their words. The only cure is for the writer to immediately immerse herself in another story and “forget those people”–or at least decide you did the best for them that you could possibly do.

Thoughts on The Reader 

Writing will always be a form of communication. But the question will also always present itself: do I write to communicate with myself or with future readers? Jonathan Lee concludes his piece:” …writing can be a beautiful and conflicted act—a private process through which we try, even with our most ridiculous lines, to reach an understanding with others.” So I write-on. And I read, always. Wishing for all of you a book that offers a tender rendering of life, an immersion in conflict, a perfect SPRING of a book. Let’s hear it for nostalgia.

THANKS FOR READING.

Writing, Nostalgia and Spring

This one is in print. I have let go!

Racism’s Cure: The One to One Relationship

Racism's Cure: The One to One Relationship

A few weeks ago I had a doctor’s appointment with a specialist, my cardiologist, for a routine checkup. I am grateful to this man who has a Mid-Eastern background and whose thorough care of me has improved my health! So after all the doctor-stuff was done and we were visiting for a few minutes, he asked me if I had any other questions. I said: “No. But I do want to give you a hug and ask you what we can do about Donald Trump.”

He didn’t seem surprised by this rather unusual request and he smiled and we did hug and then went on to briefly discuss the candidate’s anger and proclivity toward a nativist and scary rejection of the principles of American life. True, the United States has struggled with racism since its inception and throughout a civil war. But it’s time for us to remember the words of our Constitution–all men are created equal (women understood, thank God)  and the inscription that greets those coming to our shores, words imprinted on the Statue of Liberty. Do you remember them?

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

America should never be a land of empty promises. Yes, there are frightening events happening beyond our shores, but we are not totally innocent of their beginnings and a more tolerant and careful approach to securing what is ours should NEVER MEAN that we abandon the principles that have built our country. Otherwise, take down the statue or send it back to France. And begin to fear that the foundation of the United States will crack.

Many countries deal with struggles between races, languages, economic groups and religious groups. For decades we have been known as a country that for the most part embraces all–and we need to stay that way. We were doing so well!!  We had made great strides in conquering the remnants of the Civil War with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. (And then the Voting Rights act was demoted.) We had fought for Equal Education and Equal Housing.

But now? Too many are listening to someone who lives in a golden tower–and certainly it’s not “ivory” which often refers to the image of a scholar educating himself. Not this guy! If it could be put into a syringe and injected into humans–I think a whole bunch of people running things these days need a shot of EMPATHY.

FEAR easily whips people into a frenzy. Tell a lie, talk about people celebrating in the streets of New Jersey after 9-11 (lies) and you’ve go the ball rolling. Yes, and mean people beating up innocents on American streets or at the guy’s rallies. Then build upon it. And build some more. Do we really want to go back to pre-war Germany or Italy? This is AMERICA!!

But there just might be a cure–and I’m not talking about an election–though that might help, depending.

The cure is and will always be the ONE TO ONE relationship. Stop and think when you hear the blather, the scary words. And remember. You know people who are being ridiculed, negated, lied about, spurned. My doctor, for example. AND IT’S NOT A JOKE.

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you encounter the doctor from the Middle East, the African American civil servant, neighbor, teacher, friend and the Latino nurse, gardener, friend, chef. And I’m not choosing these examples to put ANYONE in a category, because ANYONE can appear and do appear in these positions in our society. The ONE TO ONE relationship will always fight back at someone trying to lump everyone together in a group. It’s ridiculous, stupid and most of all hurtful. There have been plenty of fools whose skin color is the same as the guy in the gold tower. Please don’t forget that.

But do remember that people with handicaps who this guy mocked at his rally have become architects and writers, artists and teachers. People of many colors, backgrounds, faiths, and languages have contributed to the functioning and success of the United States in ways too numerous to count. Everyone of us could shout back at the negativity with examples–and with empathy.

Finally I’d like to share an example of some push-back I once received. It’s only one of other examples but COME ON, this is life. Things happen. But in the end I was empathetic. I accepted the situation, I understood. I thought of the incident after reading an excellent article on the Kevin MD blog. Part of the title caught my eye immediately: Racism in our Hospitals.

As an RN who once worked in an inner city Chicago hospital, I had the privilege of working on the maternity unit with doctors, nurses, interns and patients of many different religious and racial backgrounds. We were a team and from my memory there was NEVER a provoking incident due to racial differences.

But one day I received a patient and worked up her chart, drew her blood, assessed the fetus and helped her through the early stage of her labor. Then her husband arrived. He took one look at me and left the room. I continued to do my work until the charge nurse called me out and said I was being relieved of my duties with this patient. The husband had requested another nurse.

I learned later that if he had his choice, no one would have been able to help birth his child, but forced with having to choose the personnel available, he wanted an African American nurse. At first I didn’t understand, but his choice had more to do with his Muslim faith than anything and the nurse that took over was excellent–so I knew my patient would be in good hands.

I have a wonderful friend, a doctor from South Africa, who worked at a time when black doctors couldn’t take care of white women. Finally, I remember in college reading a book about racism. The author said right out that racism messes up our brains and that how we are raised contributes greatly to racist feelings and reactions–like locking a car door when your eye sees a certain type of person coming up the street; avoiding getting in an elevator because of who is already occupying it and the fear that lurks somewhere in your messed-up brain.

Jim Grimsley, a white man, has written a new book about his own experiences: HOW I SHED MY SKIN. The Amazon Book Blurb reads in part: What Jim did not realize until he began to meet these new students was just how deeply ingrained his own prejudices were and how those prejudices had developed in him despite the fact that prior to starting sixth grade, he had actually never known any black people. And Jim writes that the first time he saw Ebony magazine, he was astounded: “I had never seen black people depicted in this way before, as if they were just like white people.”

I am old enough to say, and sadly, I had the exact same experience when I saw my first copy of Ebony. And again, the Bill Cosby Show was genius, because it showed us white folks that the black family was not unlike the white family or the Latino or Asian etc etc. We all have struggles raising children, working and being there for our kids, knowing when and how to deal with various problems as our children become adults. (So sad that Cosby’s current situation has pushed that show back into the film can.)

Finally, the best thing that I can take from thinking and writing about this issue is to remind myself every day that empathy and understanding can fill up the heart. Fear and anger will only make a person hard and mean–and in the end, probably shorten your life. Watch out for the stress that messes with the old ticker and makes your brain believe things that just aren’t true. Work for that one to one relationship wherever you go. And find a great doc like I did–he or SHE just might be from the Middle East!

 Racism's Cure: The One to One RelationshipRIP Pat Conroy whose book CONRACK (1974) celebrates his one on one relationship with back students on the Island of Daufuskie.

 

 

Conversations: Younger Self, Older Self

Conversations: Younger Self, Older Self

Breathe in the perfume of the peony flowers parading down the front walk

What would it be like if my Younger self and my Older self had some conversations with each other. I decided to try it, to see what memories I could recapture and how they would touch me. To see how reflecting back and forward might illuminate some things. To see where I might still be going on life’s journey.

So Younger says to Older:  Walk with me, okay? Let’s go outside–come and take my hand. We’re going out the front door of the house where you were raised. The door is heavy, give it a push; the floor boards of the porch shift downwards toward the street and the steps creak. Breathe in the perfume of the peony flowers parading down the front walk–better yet, let’s run and pick up some of those petals, toss them up toward the blue sky and watch them fall onto the grass. It’s spring–the bushes are full around the front yard–so no one can see us. We can climb the mulberry tree, but don’t eat those berries and remember you don’t like it when you step on the fallen ones and they stick to your shoes. Messy. But hurry now, and let’s run into the backyard, ’cause the mock orange bushes are in bloom. Another great smell.

Jeanie might come over later and we can play in our fort behind the garage. But right now let’s swing. You take the swing nearest the garage, pump hard now and up you’ll go, up and up so that your toes feel like they’re touching the top of the apple tree. But your toes can’t touch the house–because the flowering apple tree hides it–but you know it’s there, that grey house in the sunshine. That’s where mother sits typing in the dining room. She’s always there when you need her. And your body shivers a bit with contentment–the swing, the grass, the clouds, the birds–and the very best, the sun on your face.

So Older responds back to Younger: I knew about love living in that house. I felt love every day of my life, and even though my father died when I was very young–my mother made up for that loss. And my brothers. Then I found a true friend, right in the neighborhood. A boy-friend at that. I found that “other” who loved me–my mistakes as well as my brilliant flashes of insight. Together we found our differences to be the best glue for our bond. And we helped each other through the ups and downs of becoming adults. And then we married and had three children. But Younger, you didn’t always understand that your life and its trajectory was NOT like the lives of many people. You didn’t get that. Then, as a teacher at a high school you truly woke up–met children who had no food in their houses, few changes of clothing, few chances in life. And then even later in your life, you found more wisdom when you decided to become a nurse and worked at a hospital where often your patient was a thirteen-year-old girl.

That was hard, Younger. Because you were still very much running the show and you wanted to be judgmental–to ask: Why had this girl not stopped the passion or experimentation or alcoholic stupor that was NOW bringing a new life into the world? Didn’t she have the voice in her head that we had, the voice to guide her? Well, it didn’t take long to realize she did not. She didn’t have the grey house and the mother typing in the dining room.

But Younger, my Older self decided that in birth there had to be hope. That somewhere in her world this new mother, though so young, knew what love was, knew because of someone. And she could parent, model, could repeat in her actions that love she once knew. Or her child would bring her into that light.

But it was a struggle–to crack open my older heart so that my belief in a sustaining relationship between this girl-mother and her child would overcome my initial negative judgment. So Younger, you know what happened? Conversation. I talked to these young mothers about love, about gentle care–I did that despite risking that they might turn away, think me a fool. I even mentioned caution with the male person in their life, the father of the baby. I encouraged that they focus on their child and not another sexual encounter. Later, I even became part of a social project called RISING STAR, teaching pregnant teens how to care for their unborn child through good health practices and how to set goals so that a high school diploma would be what they would seek instead of immediately having another child. (Read more about this period in my life here.)

Younger, you were so fortunate to have what you had growing up.The love and understanding of our family helped you achieve, helped you to become empathetic so that you could reach out to others and help them–something that continually brings peace and happiness back to me now.

The world says that wisdom increases with age. Younger, I believe that as we age, we learn how to examine life events with more care and with more empathy. When good things happen in our own lives, it helps us reach out to others–to want good things for others. It’s about spreading joy and love. Younger, I attempted that as a maternity nurse. I did that as a mother. But I was blessed because I was modeling back what I had already learned from my own beginnings, the love that filled my home–being you, Younger.

This conversation between us, Younger/Older has clarified some things. And I want to thank you, Younger, for one thing especially–your memory. That was a guide for me, a pathway, a map. When an Older me got scared or lost or wanted to give up–I remembered my Younger self, my positive beginnings and I held on to those. I know others can succeed, Younger, even if they don’t have what we had. But it’s a much harder journey. Let’s remember that. Let’s reach out and help when we can.

Photo Credits: daily mail. co. uk

Conversations: Younger Self, Older Self

But my Older self decided that in birth there had to be hope.

Aging and Its Special Gifts

Aging and Its Special Gifts

A card that echoes a shared past.

I remember when I turned 30 and I was stunned by the concept. 30–was it possible!! My husband and I were already blessed with one child and hoping for another. Our day to day lives proceeded and before we knew it, we had our second daughter, had moved to a different house, were making new friends. What a good life! And then I woke up one morning and I was 42 and we had our son and I went back to school and my husband’s career kept expanding. Were we looking at our very lives??  Or were we living them. The latter. Because as life takes you down the pathway that you are kind of in control of–something else is happening. You are aging. Sometimes you realize it–a glance in the mirror, the death of someone your age, a disappointment. It causes reflection, which as we age becomes a gift.

The Gift of Aging–I’m Still Here 

I just had a birthday. I am healthy and pursing goals. I can look back on my gifted life and I can look forward. Certainly there’s more behind me than in front of me–yet a person in their twenties might hope it’s the opposite (more ahead than behind) but as mortals we never know.

Each day we could awaken and celebrate a gift. Wow, what would that look like?

  • My backache is gone
  • I don’t have a doctor’s appointment today, LOL
  • My daughter is going to call
  • I’m going to see my grandchildren
  • My husband and I have planned a hike
  • We’re picking up our friends from Chicago at the airport

There could be many more–I have time to read; I’m excited about the writing I did today; my hydrangea is finally blooming.

Slow It Down 

Life is blessed with the big and the little. And as we age, some of these things take on the importance that they should have always had. Because we now can examine each day with care, focus on the gifts of living, realize that the loss of a hectic life means time to take it in slowly and not in a hurried rush.

Friday I had a birthday. It didn’t end in a zero, but those years come around soon enough. Here are some of the precious and meaningful gifts I received.

  • My daughter in Boston sent me the collage above, reminding me that when she and her sister were little, we would make cards by cutting pictures out of magazines. The lovely gift echoed a memory that brings back cherished times. Thanks, Carrie.
  • My brother and his wife gave this gardener the gift of plants that will thrive, I hope, on my patio. Aging and Its Special Gifts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • My son called me, cheered me on, sent me two songs he is working on. Love you, Andrew.
  • My younger daughter hosted a lovely day with all the family who are living in California. We celebrated at a dinner where we watched the sun drop into the ocean. A perfect ending–or was it another beginning? Thanks, Christie.

    Aging and Its Special Gifts

    After each sunset, we hope for a sun rise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there were gifts:

Aging and Its Special Gifts

Wow, she knows me so well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brennan, my grandson, created a book for me, Brennan’s Kitchen Secrets. I’m sharing only one page of this cookbook. Who knows, one day it might be copyrighted.

Aging and Its Special Gifts

One of Brennan’s recipes.

My granddaughter made me a bracelet and my other grandson presented the gifts at the party–he makes a perfect host.

There were phone calls and birthday cards in the mail and gift cards online and a couple from Chicago who always gift me with the Happy Birthday song off-key–of course. What would I do without these treasures?

They are the things about my life that I cherish and always will–my family, my friends, their presents of love and hugs and kind words; their creativity and out-of-the-norm gifts. My husband and I need them in our lives. I guess you could say that these are the gifts that aging brings. Not so bad after all. A toast to that!!

Aging and Its Special Gifts

Aging and Its Special Gifts

The art of a granddaughter’s love.