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{July 8, 2020}   What’s in a Purse?

Rumi and the Red Handbag

Before I read “Rumi and the Red Handbag” by Shawna Lemay, I would have answered this question in a very literal way: all the things I think I might need on any given day. I am not a fashionista; my purse is just a necessary tool of life. This book made me see purses in a new way, as a metaphor for life.

“The purse is a diary containing the scattered sprawl and patient sticky grunge of life. It’s a skin, a husk, it holds guts and gizzards. Think of the disruptive depths, the darkness of a purse! The purse is a portal, a hinged door. It’s the heavy burden to the bruised portal of our intimate murky depths, our tranquil and far-off selves. We carry these objects relentlessly, courageously, anonymously, absentmindedly.”

And there is so much more!! Those words are part of a long soliloquy about purses by the character Ingrid-Simone, or I.s. as she is alternately known in the novel. She is one of two characters working in a shop called Theodora’s Fine Consignment Clothing (Lemay had me right there, I once dreamed of owning Theodosia’s Tea Shop in Glasgow KY…it captured my imagination) . Working with each other all day they become friends of a fashion, but though the character telling the story paints us a picture of I.s. as an amazing person, she discovers she didn’t know Ingrid-Simone at all.

This book is deceivingly short or small but so FULL of beautiful language and life lessons — just like a woman’s purse can be.

I have been following Shawna’s blog for a while (Transactions with Beauty) and really wanted to read her book (it came out in 2015). I ordered it online during quarantine. For me, it was like taking a bite of a freshly made truffle, and I savored the smooth deliciousness of it. And, thinking of my own purse, it inspired me to write a poem.

Overladen

Everything in my life is too small.

The purse I lug around

fat with old receipts,

salvaged change, and

everything I think I could need

on any given day.

My apartment and closet

crammed too — bursting with

things I refuse to give up.

Yet, I am frugal to the point

of deprivation;

I clutch tight with claws

and fists and defend,

defend my junkyard life

like a vicious dog.

All my life I’ve known nothing

but making do,

worrying the same old bone,

funneling my needs and dreams

into what I already have —

the only way I know to stay full —

constricting to fit the vessel.

In love too, I’ve shrunk what I want

into you:

someone I see so little,

someone whose life

is elsewhere — you —

holder of my stifled desire,

my dear old bone.

 

copyright 2020 Susan Merrifield Desrocher

 

But don’t be distracted by my poetic efforts…read the 140-pg book, “Rumi and the Red Handbag” which is one long beautiful poem, and maybe you’ll buy a new purse, or write a poem of your own.

 



{July 8, 2020}   And Then This Came Out…

And We Are On Track For…?

Of all times not to be able to express myself — I have struggled to write and keep up with my journal recently. An excerpt from a couple of days ago:


I don’t know why I’m writing less, not keeping up with my journals. During these unprecedented times I should be writing more…(Bear Witness as Margaret Atwood recently suggested) Somehow I don’t know what to say — I just feel– like a raw wound, an exposed nerve — Why is the loneliness so painful?

But yesterday I sat with the ball of sadness, tossing it from hand to hand and thought to thought and wrote this stream-of-consciousness “poem:”

 

The sadness is a heaviness we are all dragging around —

with all we are leaving behind, why does what we still carry

seem so heavy?

what else should be left behind?

Things we thought we knew —

what would never change —

we wake to summer gray, day after day,

a fog of uncertainty:

will the sun come out today or will it rain?

We wait and we wait, for what?

what comes next?

Yet the usual flowers bloom at their usual time,

but not us, not us.

I feel like fall is already here —

my edges are crinkling and I am shrinking —

the winter will come in the usual way

and masks will become scarves,

pulled up over mouths that don’t speak —

don’t speak of the sadness, maybe it will go away,

like this year, this long-short endless year

this year unimagined and unlived.

Copyright Susan Merrifield Desrocher



{April 28, 2020}   Pre-Pandemic Life

A year ago at this time, I thought my life was finally headed in the right direction. Besides working full-time, I was very busy doing things I loved: I was teaching a writing workshop and regularly attending a poetry workshop. One of my poems had been accepted to appear in a book, and the book was coming out. I was looking forward to an event where I would meet the author (Randy Susan Meyers) who had put the book together. And REALLY looking forward to an event that seemed to complete a circle in my life.

The proceeds from the sale of Women Under Scrutiny were going to Rosie’s Place. I was proud of that, because I knew about Rosie’s Place and thought they did wonderful things, and I had met the woman who started it, Kip Tiernan. Here’s my backstory.

When I was in my late twenties I worked with a wonderful editor at Houghton Mifflin named Edie Nicholson. She was a mentor of sorts for me and for many young women I knew. She encouraged my poetry attempts and hung one up on her cubicle wall. I have never forgotten that one time when I was feeling discouraged about the world and said I wanted to go live in the middle of nowhere in a cabin and not deal with anyone, she spoke to me passionately. “No, that is exactly what you can’t do! You need to get out and be an example!” Whenever I feel knocked down and want to run away I still hear her voice.

Well…on with the story. Edie’s long-time companion was Kip Tiernan. When Edie stopped working (she was over 80), we all missed her. One day my husband and I went to visit Edie at her Beacon Hill apartment. Kip was there. I visited with Edie and my husband talked to Kip. He was really impressed with her intelligence and political views. It was a memorable afternoon.

When Edie died, I wrote an emotional poem about her and sent a sympathy card to Kip, including the poem. Kip called me to thank me and told me tearily that she wanted to include the poem in the program for the memorial service for Edie. I was touched and happy.

My Poem For Edie

At the time of Edie’s memorial service I was no longer working for Houghton Mifflin. I had been laid-off when they decided to dissolve my department and I was a casualty. The head of Human Resources got up at the service and read my poem. Not planned–she said she just saw it and wanted to read it. I felt a softening of some bitterness about the end of an important period of my life and and a little less sadness for the end of Edie’s.

Fast forward to 2019: When the book excitement happened, a good friend at work told me to tell a man at work that I did not know that well. She told me he was involved with Rosie’s Place and might want to know about the book and hear my story. We had a wonderful conversation!! It turned out his mother had worked there for many years and he was an honorary member of the Board of Directors. He was involved with a big fundraiser gala that Rosie’s holds every May (but sadly not this year). It just happened to be coming up about a month after the book was coming out.

I could not afford a ticket to the gala ($500!), but he said he would try to get me involved as a volunteer. I was so excited! I took a vacation day from work. I worked a very long day beginning at noon doing blackboards for the restaurants that would have tables there, and that evening I worked selling raffle tickets for a diamond ring giveaway.

My Volunteer Handiwork

I could not stop thinking about how proud Edie (and Kip) would be not only for my poem being part of a book that benefited Rosie’s, but for my work there that day. In fact I felt like they had something to do with the serendipitous nature of the whole thing that took over thirty years to happen.

I was sore and exhausted the next day (I was not used to being on my feet for so many hours and I am no longer young), but what a wonderful night it was. I really thought it was the beginning of a new direction in my life. When the circle closes, it feels like some sort of pinnacle, and everything seems to make sense!

But the book faded away without much fanfare and I never met the author. The night of the publicity event was the same night my brother passed away in hospice with our family all around. There is always something more important than my own ambitions. Like a pandemic…:-(



{April 15, 2020}   Surviving during the Pandemic

A bee enjoying azalea

Keeping Busy

Being someone who needs nature for my mental health, this has been a tough couple of months. I have been out walking my neighborhood and some woods (safely with a mask, of course) whenever the weather cooperates. I have also been reading and writing a lot. This is one of the poems I have written during this isolation. This is survival for me.

 

Pandemic Response

 

This earthbound isolation is like quicksand,

survival by being still,

endless waiting, waiting,

keeping hands busy, mind empty.

 

But I need to ride the clouds spread

on the searing blue sky,

burrow myself into bright blossoms like a bee,

douse my eyes in the water of ponds’

shivering reflections searching for life –

tadpoles or tiny fish —

only this, only this

keeps me alive.

 

Susan Merrifield Desrocher

c 2020




Margaret Atwood Early Novels

My Margaret Atwood books

What better time to come back to blogging than these trying times? And who better to write about than Margaret Atwood? A Canadian Facebook friend, Sherry Galey, recently posted this, and I had to share it.

Margaret Atwood asks us to step back a bit and learn from history. Somehow she always finds a way to look at reality straight in the face, without sugar-coating, and still offer comfort and hope. (Globe and Mail today.)

In her book Payback she gathers ”the six reactions people had to the Black Death while it was unfolding. They were:

  1. Protect yourself.
  2. Give up and party, which could include drunkenness and theft.
  3. Help others.
  4. Blame. (Lepers, gypsies, witches and Jews were all blamed for spreading the plague.)
  5. Bear witness.
  6. Go about your life.

She says: “It’s not one or the other. I don’t suggest No. 2. Or No. 4 – giving up and blaming are not helpful – but protecting yourself, thereby helping others, or bearing witness by keeping a journal, or going about your life as much as you can with the aid of online support systems – these are possible now in a way that they were not in the 14th century.”

Also, an old friend recently sent me an email saying that he had binge-watched “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and also read the book. He was enthralled. He had never read Margaret Atwood before and asked me what other books of hers I would recommend. She has always been one of the first names that come to my mind when I am asked about my favorite authors. And yet, when he asked me that question, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I went to my bookcases. I realized that other than the fact that I had also watched the series with Elisabeth Moss (one of my favorite actresses of the last few years), which prompted me to buy “The Testaments,” all the Margaret Atwood books I owned were from early in her career.

Autographed copy of Bodily Harm

My Autographed Copy of Bodily Harm

This led me down my own rabbit hole (as it usually does). I remembered that I had gone to see Margaret read many years ago and had a book signed by her (not one of her most memorable ones). That also reminded me that when I saw her read, I had written a poem about it. Not a good one, but hey, I was only 23 years old! I went to Atwood’s reading and then went out to a club to see one of my favorite local bands, The Peter Dayton Band. The two sides of me…

Poem about Margaret Atwood's reading

A poem about Margaret Atwood’s reading

 

 

 

 

The first book of hers that I read was “Surfacing” in a Contemporary Literature class as an undergraduate in college. I liked it enough to search out earlier works. As I became more interested in poetry, I read her poetry and was quite taken by it. Especially this one from “Power Politics,”

you fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye

Wow!!

Although I did read some of her middle novels like “Cat’s Eye” and “Blind Assassin,” I don’t own the books; I was mostly using the library then. And I haven’t read any of her “science fiction” novels like the MaddAddam Trilogy. Maybe it is time? (although the library is closed during this pandemic) Or maybe I have new favorite authors? Any other Atwood fans that would want to answer my friend’s question? Or mine?



{August 20, 2019}   The Pain of Downsizing

So, I’ve decided to come clean or should I say “become clean?” It’s not really my decision; I no longer have a choice. My landlady says the stuff has to go. I now have a deadline.

My kitchen

After living 60 years, this is what I have to show for my life. Beginning with babysitting in my teens, I have worked for most of it and this is what’s left.

My husband took the best stuff: the leather sectional couch, the cherry king sleigh bed with the Temperpedic mattress and the Tiffany lamp (just to name the standouts so you get the idea). And I didn’t argue because I knew I couldn’t afford a place big enough to house that stuff, and I just wanted peace after years of misery.

He took his prizes and moved out of state. I moved to a small apartment that I was lucky enough to find in the newspaper (yes, my mother still got one, thank goodness)with my two cats. I was left to watch a family of renters with two Saint Bernards and two cats ruin our 5000 sq ft house. All the stuff my husband didn’t want was locked in the furnace room in the basement. According to the lease, I was responsible for the yard, and I struggled to mow the acre of hilly lawn before or after work. I did some weeding, but soon gave that up, letting my beloved flowers choke as I felt choked. All of this was hard for a woman in her fifties.

The renters finally moved out because the guy I hired came out three times and couldn’t fix the Thermador double oven and we couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Now what?

We would have to sell the house at a bad time. (No, I didn’t want to move back in and take in boarders as my husband suggested.) We would have to short sell it. And so began the process of going through what was left, yard sale after yard sale alone, making very little, because no one wanted to pay for anything. It was a heartbreaking lesson.

Then the selling process and the negotiating. The new owners fighting me for all the large items I had no place to put and couldn’t move: thousands of dollars of exercise equipment, the pool table, the air hockey table basically given to them. They were the ones who had the money to buy this huge home and they were robbing me! I felt hopeless, humiliated and angry. And my husband, from afar, was angry at me: couldn’t I see that everyone involved was making money but us??? Of course I could — I was the one witnessing everything up close and personal!

The night before the closing, my neighbors and my realtors helped me clean out what was left in the garage. My much-loved neighbors added to their own trash by taking stuff to their house to go out for trash pick-up and the realtors filled their vehicles to use the dumpsters where they lived and worked.

I had moved the items I didn’t want to part with to a storage unit. There were a few items of furniture, but it was mostly memorabilia and sentimental items. I had very little time to go through anything, working two jobs and taking care of my aging mother. The storage place raised the price of the unit every six months. I crammed more stuff into my apartment, gave some things away, had to throw some stuff out that got ruined by mice. Then I downsized to a smaller unit. I tried to put everything into bins so nothing else would get ruined. And the storage place raised the price, again and again, until I was paying the original larger unit price for the smaller unit. I finally brought everything to my apartment to save money.

Which brings me to now. I have consolidated and given away at least 6 bins worth. And now the rest has to go without any more painstaking sorting. And my anger has me writing this. (Healthier than drinking and taking valium.)

Believe me, I know I am fortunate. Plenty of people never have stuff to have to downsize from. And I know someone who lost everything to a fire, including countless gorgeous sweaters she had knitted over the years (I think I was more heartbroken about those sweaters than she was!) But I’m still angry. Angry at this throw-away culture, angry at the people who take advantage of people in bad situations, and angry at myself and my husband for all the money and years we wasted.

I have learned some tough lessons when it is too late to do me much good.

The dear friends who have watched me go through all this tell me I am amazing and inspiring, because I have found within me the resiliency to still try to have a life and find some joy. This is just the highlights (and lowlights) of what I have been through. Maybe I will retell my story in a much more literary and more grammatical format and detail in the future, but the anger and pain demand I write this now.

I hope this action burns out what is left of my anger and shame, and maybe teaches others something. Be kind to people you think are hoarders; they are not broken, they are people in pain and they have been through enough without your judgment.



{June 18, 2019}   Women Under Scrutiny

I have been pretty much MIA in the blogging universe for the last couple of years. I am busy working and trying to make headway with my photography and writing in the real world. And finally I have something to celebrate!

I had a poem chosen to be included in this anthology! I can’t write a better synopsis than this paragraph from the back of the book:

“Women Under Scrutiny is an honest, intimate examination of the relationships we have with our bodies, hair, and faces, how we’ve been treated by the world based on our appearance — and how we have treated others.” All proceeds go to Rosie’s Place in Boston, a very worthy cause!

You can purchase it on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Under-Scrutiny-Anthology-Stories/dp/173209361X

 

A great big thank you to Randy Susan Meyers and Brooklyn Girl Books for putting this together! And for her wonderful new novel “Waisted” about women struggling with the issue of weight loss in our judgmental society.

 



{November 8, 2018}   SAD is real

leaves blowing

Frenzied leaves

Every year around this time I go through it. I have my reasons: feeling disconnected at the holidays, my birthday, the anniversary of my failed marriage, the anniversary of my beloved father’s death. Despite this defensive litany, I know it started long before any of that. It is the grayness outside, the darkness inside. It is an annual battle; it is my civil war.

 

Civil War

One would think after all my years
I would be better prepared for this annual battle,
but I’m never sure exactly which day it will begin.

It could be early autumn:
the first chilly day, when the north wind barks its arrival,
sending multi-colored leaves into a frenzied formation,
a whirling activity that mesmerizes me in place.
Or it could be late autumn, when the dried leaves
huddle in the hollow places before the snow comes.
Or it could be when the holidays advancing
with their flags and torches beneath gray skies
and heavy clouds, like a low cellar ceiling,
fans my fears with a kind of claustrophobia.

But sometimes it is a sudden attack —
coming face to face with another birthday,
a civil war, the most brutal of battles,
so close-up and personal,
and the best I can do is cowardly sneak
away from the fray,
and stay away from mirrors.

C 2017 Susan Desrocher



{October 2, 2018}   Mourning Petty

Tom PettyI was writing in my 10-yr journal this morning; each page contains an entry for the same day for ten different years. I saw that one year ago we got the news of the Las Vegas shooting and the death of Tom Petty. It affected me deeply. I cried at work; the woman in the cube across from me played Tom Petty songs all afternoon. It motivated me to search for this drawing I had done in my younger years. Also, it motivated me to write this poem.

MOURNING PETTY

It was already a tumultuous time:

floods and hurricanes washing away

cars, homes, and lives.

The morning of that day

brought news of a horrifying mass murder;

a sniper in sin city,

mowing down music lovers.

Then came the unbearable

cherry on top:

Petty found lifeless,

plugged in/unplugged.

The news was confused

yet clear.

He was gone.

My brother told my mother

I lost “my man,”

referring to the sketch I drew

when I was young,

and so was Petty.

For a few years his image smirked

on my bedroom wall

as I rebelled against a “normal life,”

following music from club to club,

thirsty for meaning.

His nasal voice held emotion like cupped hands;

Wildflower, listen,

there’s no need to be thirsty

when you can drink from the spring

of creativity and life.

Forty years’ worth of his music

and it felt as if he told the story

of all our lives through song.

American girl, he reminds me,

keep searching.

Copyright 2017 Susan Merrifield Desrocher




I just found out that Donald Hall died last week at age 89. It prompted me to find the blog I wrote about him three years ago. The writing world has lost someone special.

Sued51's Blog

Donald Hall, "Essays After Eighty" Donald Hall’s latest book

Why would a fifty-something-year-old woman relate to the essays of an eighty-something-year-old man? Does that say something about him, about me, or both of us? This is not really a review, but a review of sorts; my stream-of-consciousness emotional reaction to his latest book. In all reality, just what a writer really wants…a confirmation of a connection made, not just an intellectual criticism of the writing.

I have always liked Donald Hall’s poetry, and when I read John Freeman‘s well-written interview with him in Poets and Writers (Nov/Dec edition) and read the excerpts from the book, Essays After Eighty, I was burning to read it. So off to the library I went.

Sitting down to read the first essay “Out the Window,” (without a window in sight) I can see what he sees — the old barn, the snow falling, the birds at the feeder — because he describes…

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