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One of Life's Big Questions...

One of Life’s Big Questions…

I have struggled to answer this question for probably my whole life, but last week I had an experience which showed me one very good answer.

One of my oldest friends lost her partner and best friend; he succumbed to a fatal illness in a short period of time. Attending the wake, I watched her standing alone to greet the mourners. I admired her strength and poise, even as I could see in the unguarded moments, the strain of the past months peek through.

I was impressed by the number of people who turned out on a week night — for her — despite more snowflakes and very cold weather, during a winter when travel had become an endurance test for everyone.

At one point I met one of her bosses. When she found out that I was a very old friend, she proceeded to tell me what a great worker my friend is: how skilled, how professional, and how well-respected. “I wish I had ten of her,” she said. “And she is completely humble.”  I thought to myself, how wonderful to not have to promote yourself because your work speaks volumes…and also to have someone you work for respect, love, and admire you so much. She gave me the heads-up about something that my friend did not know: she was going to receive an arrangement from a very prestigious client. When they found out what was going on with her, they said, “We want to send flowers.” “That is UNHEARD of,” her boss told me, “But they like her THAT much!”

My friend held a small dinner after the wake at a local restaurant. I sat at the end of one VERY long table. She was fussing over whether we had enough food and was worried that the family-style serving was not working, but not one person was greedy and filled their plate. All appreciated the food and appreciated her. Everyone knew this was costing her money she didn’t really have, and yet she wanted to show her appreciation to her friends.  She had been unable to work very much during the time her partner was sick, and she works in a field that when she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid.

Despite the terrible circumstances, I felt happy for her as I looked down the long table full of supporters. Her life had been particularly difficult lately, but even without her recent challenges, her life wasn’t necessarily one that many people would look at as a “picture” of success. But it was clear as a summer sky to me that night.

A successful life does not have to be one with all the trappings and media accolades. It can be one where, when you are struggling, you are overwhelmed by love and support, respect and admiration in your own corner of the world. To me, my friend won an Oscar.

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Outmyfrontdoor230This is the worst winter I can remember in New England. Not that I have TOO many years to compare, but certainly enough. I heard an interview with a 91-year-old woman on the radio…she has a lot more years to compare and even she said it was the worst one she has seen.

On Facebook we all share our “snow” pictures. But the pictures just can’t convey to people who aren’t here what it is truly like. It looks and feels like we are living at the beginning of one of those science fiction movies of the end of the world…Remember “Day After Tomorrow”?

All the services we take for granted: train service, trash service, mail delivery, interrupted or practically non-existent; people taking hours and hours to get to work and get home from work. Every task is harder and takes longer; sore backs and muscles from the endless shoveling…people dying of heart attacks. Everyone is completely on edge: mini-meltdowns are everywhere. Here’s a few vignettes…not horror stories, just stories of everyday life during SNOWMAGEDDON:

My experience — trying to take a left out of my driveway through a “hole” in stopped traffic (because you have to TRY to get to work sometimes…employers don’t expect you to stay inside until spring), completely blinded by snow piles and stopped vehicles I pulled out, only to get rear-ended. The woman and her passenger jumped out of their car screaming and swearing at me. Two kind men from one of the trucks that was stopped in traffic told them to stop yelling and back off. I was forced to retreat to my vehicle, shaking like a leaf. She completely frightened me.

My brother ‘s experience – he was in line at the grocery store before a storm…one of those places where there is one big line and someone directs you which register to go to. Suddenly the woman in front of him started attacking him and swearing about her “personal space.” When she got out of line, the lady in front of her turned to my brother and said, “Don’t take it personally…if that is the worst of her problems she’s got a lot more to deal with!”

I went to the Post Office to pick up my mail because it is not being delivered, despite the fact that the mailbox at my apartment complex has been shoveled out. (at least we have one…most people have resorted to cardboard boxes labeled with a Sharpie). There were others doing the same thing, not too bad a line though. The mail lady (who I have dealt with before and she was perfectly pleasant) would not listen to me…”Is it shoveled out so the mail carrier doesn’t have to get out of his truck?” she demanded. (Mind you, he has never been able to deliver it without getting out of his truck…even in the summer…not where it is situated…but never a problem before.) I told her I was just a renter…she said, “Tell your landlord they have to clean it out or we won’t deliver…and if you don’t fill out a yellow form to hold the mail, we’re going to start sending it back!” She went into the back to look for the mail for a customer ahead of me. He looked at me and sighed. “We have to help each other if we are going to get through this,” he said, and I nodded in understanding. But I filled out the yellow form…no arguing with her. I’ll go in there every day if I have to.

At my yoga class yesterday two ladies were talking about trash. “We don’t know when they are going to pick up the trash, and where do we put it? The days are all mixed up and no one tells us anything. My mother has been living with us and she has a cat. We keep bringing the bags of dirty cat litter down into the cellar…we don’t know what to do with them!” I smile to myself; I live in an apartment…I’m stuck with those bags. My complex has a dumpster, but I have to walk across an ice field to get there. When there is a lull between storms, I have to load up my car with bags of trash and drive them over there. But then…the “yoga” ladies were also laughing about the prospect of Valentine’s Day spent with her mother because the couple couldn’t go out to be alone…so amongst the complaints, there were jokes. Jokes about the weather people’s glee as they go on and on about the snow. “Better than hearing about ISIS,” I said.

Thank goodness there are some people able to grin and bear it, shared moments with kind strangers, like the men who checked on me after the accident, the old lady who told my brother not to take it personally, and the man in the PO. And there’s the wonderful jokes being posted on Facebook: snowmen being threatened with “harm”, signs that say “Massachusetts is closed!”

Finally, I want to share what one of my friends on Facebook said so perfectly. She thanked everyone for posting their snow pictures, stories and jokes because it made her feel like we were all in it together; no one was alone. We were fighting back against one of the worst effects of all…the isolation, especially for older people. I was secretly happy that the “yoga” lady had her mother at her house, secretly happy that woman wasn’t alone.

This isn’t a science fiction movie, it is real life and it WILL pass. Spring is only about a month away…hard to imagine, but that, along with the fact that I still have electric power and heat while I write this, is something to be grateful for.



{January 27, 2015}   Photography: A Life Skill?

I recently attended a beginning digital photography class through a Photography Meetup Group. I felt so fortunate: the instructor was an experienced photographer and the class was well-prepared, and helpful…and it was only $5.00! I met some nice people and chatted a little.

I processed the experience in my mind as I drove home. It struck me that many of the people I talked to at the class were not hoping or aspiring to become photographers. They had their own individual reasons for coming that involved unique ways of using photography skills.

One woman was an elementary school teacher. She talked about using her own photos to teach her children about nature. I told her about a photography walk I had taken at an Audubon Bird Sanctuary, when I had the opportunity to observe and photograph a hawk capturing and devouring a mouse (yes, I know it sounds gross), and she understood why I felt excited and lucky about that. She said, “Wow! I would have loved to have been there and got those pictures! I would use them to teach my kids about nature.”

Hawk

One of my less “gross” hawk pictures…

A woman sitting behind me was a graphic designer. I overheard her tell the instructor that she wanted to learn to take good photos to use in her designs so she didn’t have to pay for other people’s pictures. She thought it was a way to save money and improve her work.

Yet another woman was a crafter who taught knitting classes. She looked at this as just another “craft” or artistic outlet in her repetoire, and part of living a creative life.

I have written before about the relationship between my photography hobby and my writing. It now feels like an essential element of my personality and life and also a way to expand my “vision” in my writing. I think learning to observe the details through taking photos will improve my poetry and my ability to focus.

iphones have become everybody’s way of documenting their lives on social media. Can anyone image a life without digital photographs now?

So…do you think photography has become an important life skill?




Resolute

Boat Owners Summarize It…The Ultimate Tweeters…

“Resolute” is the adjective version of “Resolution.” My desk’s version of Webster’s dictionary defines it as “marked by firmness or determination; unwavering.”

The last couple of years, I can’t say that I have been a shining example of that word, but I have also realized I didn’t do a good job of setting myself up for success. The “resolutions” I wrote in my 10-year journal were too broad and unspecific (e.g., send out poems, learn Photoshop), and thus, impossible to accomplish. For example, I did send out poems (a few) but out of those few, none were accepted for publication, which left me with a feeling of complete failure. This year I decided what I needed was specific goals, not RESOLUTIONS; strong as that word appears to be, it didn’t work for me. (I know it doesn’t work for many other people either…how many people join the gym and try to go every day…giving up after a week or two?). So I thought I’d share my process this year in case it might help someone else.

I began by creating categories for different areas of my life: health (which included food, exercise, and spiritual and emotional health); education and career; money and finance; and hobbies/social. I also created an “other” category to be a catch-all for organizational goals and all those practical things we all feel we “should” want to do. Then I took some time and just wrote down whatever came into my head…a type of free writing. After I felt I written down quite a bit, I examined the goals and tried to make them specific: for example: “eat better” became “make a recipe from a cookbook once a week,” which is certainly a relatively easy goal to accomplish. I classified my goals also into “easy,” “doable,” and “stretch.” I also looked for overlaps, which would imply that those were more important goals to me, such as taking classes (which appeared in the education and hobbies category). I knew I couldn’t or maybe didn’t want to accomplish everything I wrote down, so I tried to see which were the ones I felt most strongly about. The ones I wrote up as weekly tasks will be scheduled into my calendar (something I vow to be better at…keeping schedules), making them more likely to get done.

This is the gift I give myself this year: I am setting myself up for success. The “easy” goals will allow me to feel I am accomplishing things; accomplishing them will give me the energy and keep me encouraged enough to tackle some of the harder goals. I think at the end of the year, I will feel more successful and more content.

The other thing I realized when I sat down to write my “summary” of my year in my journal was that I knew I had accomplished a lot of practical chores — thanks to monthly “to do” lists — but because I didn’t keep my lists, I didn’t remember what all those chores were. Again, this kept me from feeling successful. So…I decided to create a “to do ” book instead of just “to do” lists: a “chores” journal I guess you could call it. Now I can write my list weekly, move anything that doesn’t get done to the next page (the next week) and have a record of what I accomplished to look back on at the end of the year. I will be giving myself “homework” assignments for the week.

This may seem like a waste of time and overdoing things, but I think it will teach me a lot about myself: what things do I procrastinate on? Which things do I find are easy for me, and which do I find difficult? Also, maybe I will find that some of the things I tell myself I want to do, just aren’t really important or maybe I have some “fear” issues to overcome. These thoughts lead me to share one of my favorite Joan Didion quotes:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Joan Didion

Happy New Year to all…may you feel it is a successful and productive one!

 

 



{November 29, 2014}   Using Genealogy to Find Yourself

My Grandfather with his Sisters

My Grandfather with his Sisters

I love when the pieces fit. I started this post weeks ago but life got in the way and I was too busy to finish it. Then last week the writing prompt was “Digging for Roots,” and I said, well, that’s a sign I need to finish the genealogy post. The final piece was put in place as I was reading “The Law of Happiness” by Dr. Henry Cloud and he discussed the “mathematics of happiness.” I knew I had to finish this blog post.

The last few years I have been on a journey to find myself. This journey has required a lot of “textbooks”: Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, just to name a couple of my favorites. But the farther along in the journey I go, the more I am finding genealogy an essential piece of the puzzle.

This was confirmed for me as I read Dr. Cloud’s book. In the section on “The Mathematical Makeup of Happiness,” he breaks down the origins of happiness into percentages:

…at any given moment, circumstances may be contributing about 10 percent or so to your happiness….The next factor comes from your internal makeup, which is probably composed of genetic, temperament, and constitutional factors. This seems to account for about 50 percent of your happiness level….the rest of what goes into your happiness comes from things that are directly under your control: your behaviors, thoughts, and intentional practices in your life.

(In case you are interested, Dr. Cloud cites Sonja Lyubomirsky’s paper and book on “The How of Happiness.”) Of course, both Dr. Cloud and Ms. Lyubomirsky are focusing on the 40% under our control and looking at it as a positive finding. Of course, me being me — someone whose genetic makeup is to be a “glass-half-empty” person (or as my friends used to say, “every silver lining has a cloud” person) — I jump right on the statement that there is only 40% (or less than half) under my control. Also, I jump back to the 50% genetics…so my instincts in wanting to learn about my genetics seems to be on the mark.

I can blame some of my nature on genetics; there is mental illness and depression in my blood. But I also feel there is a “karma” of sorts flowing there. Like a story that hasn’t ended and needs to be played out. This is the thought process behind this first draft poem I wrote:

 

My relatives clamor for acknowledgment; 

my blood teems with their unmet dreams,

but I am a dead end.

The buck stops here.

 

My grandfather, who died at thirty-six,

wrote of the first World War

in tiny notebooks of concise script.

He filled letters with sketches, inspired by Paris,

he dreamed of art school, but never got there;

Perhaps it is from him I got the eyes squinting for beauty

that none of my siblings have,

covered by the glasses they don’t need.

 

My seemingly self-reliant, resilient grandmother,

Who married over and over, looking for the care

no one knew she needed, or the cure for the loneliness

no knew she had; she can no longer tell me

if after 102 years, and four husbands

she ever found it, but I suspect not.

 

My other grandmother did:

on her second try she found a kind man

who thought her as beautiful as her own father did;

she had the hats to prove it.

How she loved style and fashion,

but she lived with him in a little house set back from the road

in a tiny town, where she hermited herself after he died.

 

My grandmother’s first husband,

my blood grandfather, I know nothing of him.

He is the mystery ingredient,

the wild card, a scapegoat for the intangibles.

My father thought him dead for most of his life,

believing my grandmother’s well-intentioned lie —

her wave of a pair of scissors over photos made him disappear —

He died at mid-life with a new wife,

and no contact or acknowledgement by his only child,

or grandchildren.

Which leads to me, some combination,

unable to pass the buck to another generation.

They want resolution here and now, from me:

I feel all their pain,

but I am a dead end.

But now I am determined to learn more: understand the why’s of who I am on the road to the how’s of finding out how to be the best version of me. I may not be able to extend the dead-end with asphalt, but I can cut a path through the forest and build myself a cabin in the woods.



{November 5, 2014}   Talking to Ourselves

cartoon

Talking to Yourself

I have a confession to make: I talk to myself…a lot. I have done so since I was a child when my brother would harass me with his “talking to yourself” song and make me feel bad (and how many times in my life did people give me weird looks and tell me I was crazy…more times than I can count). But the reason I am able to confess this in such a public way now is because I’m not ashamed of it anymore. Now I realize how many people do it…a lot.

This thought struck me yesterday as I listened to a coworker: a lovely woman who I don’t think is crazy at all. And suddenly I became aware that many people I work with chatter away to themselves all day. I hear them as they use the copy machine, which is near my cube, and I listen to the mumblings that float over the walls. Is it more prevalent now than when I was young or am I just noticing it because of close working conditions? Is it an age thing? (Most of the people in question are over 40.) I’m not sure I know the answer to that, but I allowed myself to observe some of the functions this conversation seemed to provide for my coworkers (and myself):

  • We are helping ourselves get through a task (speaking the steps helps us to be involved in what we are doing). For myself, I find this especially helpful when I am doing something really boring when my mind tends to wander. It keeps me in the moment.
  • We are reminding ourselves of things. When I am interrupted, sometimes I forget that I had a planned list of things to do. “After I finish copying this material I need to put this on Joe’s desk and then stop at Kelly’s and pick up that file from her before I go to the bathroom on the way back to my desk…”
  • We “blow off steam” after an encounter with someone. “Boy, was that customer rude!” or “What a jerk!” It helps us get rid of frustration.
  • We are trying to make our own fun and keep ourselves entertained. I love hearing the little asides people mumble about conversations going on over the cube walls. They say it soft enough to not seem like they are participating in the conversation…and yet, loud enough that some people can hear and appreciate the comment.
  • Lastly, I think it relieves loneliness. Most workplaces discourage stopping by someone’s cube to tell them about an encounter that didn’t go well (or did); we are all supposed to keep our minds on our work and not socialize. And let’s face it, going to lunch with people who all sit silently around a table and look at their phones is not very satisfying social interaction.

So after writing all this I did a search and came up with this article. I guess I forgot that function of encouragement. That’s a big one.

Since it is now “okay” to talk to myself, I can at least make it work for me by making it positive instead of negative. Heck, maybe if someone overhears me congratulating myself they may join in.

All I know is that the constant chatter of people around me reminds me that I am not alone and I find it comforting.

What about you readers? Do you talk to yourself?




Stone wall

Walls Take Time to Build…and Dismantle

I am now calling myself a recovering writer, and I have photography to thank for it, but I’ll get to that later. Recovering from what you might ask? I have had a way-of-life-threatening case of writer’s block, resulting in my own personal Great Wall of China! The existence of Writer’s Block has been a topic on discussion boards and blogs for as long as they have been around…some people don’t believe the phenomenon exists. I think it does exist for some people and not for others. Some people see angels or ghosts, and some people don’t. I believe in writer’s block because I have unfortunately experienced it.

My wall has been truly impressive: years and years of perfectionism and expectations piled on top of each other, heavy and solid, leaving me unable to pick up my pen, no longer able to put words to my thoughts. Like the Tin Man, I became frozen in place.  My great wall was the physical manifestation of “missed opportunities,” a monument to my failure. Somehow I felt that building this monument was preferable to being mediocre; I suppose it gave me a “heroic” stature in my own mind. And yet… it was making me miserable not to write because it was clearly a passion or I wouldn’t have written all that I have written since a pen or pencil was put into my hand.  I couldn’t seem to resolve this problem. But then…I just walked away for a while; I did something I wanted to do instead of what I felt compelled to do. And now I hear the Ronald Reagan “presidential” voice in my head saying that it is time to “tear down that wall”! And I am seeing some daylight; I pulled out an old poem the other day and worked on it. I sat down to write this post, and not just “toss something out there.”  Thus, the title of “recovering writer.”  Now for the benefit of those readers who may be building their own wall, let me get to the “how” part. Read the rest of this entry »




New Moon Storm

It was a dark and wet ride home last night, a new moon Nor’easter,

But I was tired enough to sleep through the night without hearing it.

This morning the cat was hidden somewhere she thinks is safe;

I’d like to hide myself there too, I think.

But this morning my prayer group email is entitled “Clarity,”

and it seems true.

The Universe seems to be aligned,

I think there is also an eclipse.

Fitting that the trees have been cleared of leaves,

Their structure revealed, a kind of clarity,

My life changes revealed, I feel a surge of creativity.

After months of distractions and busy-ness,

I know what I want to say and I want to blab it!

But I have to work.

Ironically these are the days when it is hardest to work –

High energy days when it is almost impossible to stay where I am,

To sit and stay focused.

I’m like a horse pawing the ground,

Resenting the bridle and the rider, work and responsibility,

Let me go, says the voice inside,

Let me go with the wind and the leaves…

 

P.S. This was written totally off the cuff as a stream of consciousness in response to the Daily Post Prompt: Ready, Set, Done, so excuse grammatical and punctation problems…take it for what it is. It is written like a poem because it seemed liked random thoughts to me as a they came…more like a poem than prose. Hope you enjoy it!




Forgive me my absence. Being “time-challenged” I tend to be late for events, but working two jobs tends to make time fly in a broader way…fall already???

I had a weekend off from job number 2 and decided to take a couple days off from job number 1 and have a party! (Not really, just relax a bit.)

So I came home Friday night at the start of my four days of bliss to…a water leak in my apartment — sopping wet ceiling tiles on the floor of my closet. REALLY???

My landlady came over with her maintenance guy (another tenant) and I began removing things from my one and only packed closet to the living room: the only place I had any space. As I discovered wet journals and photo albums, I felt my stomach turn over…why does it have to be the things that I can’t replace?

We determined that there was some kind of invisible water buildup that had expended itself; there didn’t seem to be anything still leaking. Also, thank goodness it was NOT toilet water from the upstairs apartment. (This had happened before to tenants before me!) So…that was BLESSING NUMBER 1.

As I went through the wet journals, I discovered that many of those that were soaked were unused or partially used ones; only two of the wet books were actually filled with my life’s story. Most of the dripping papers were typed and printed poems, not penned material. Also, the small stack of literary publications that contained my published poetry were completely dry and undamaged…BLESSING NUMBER 2.

I was a bit teary about the photos, so my landlady offered to stay and help me get the photos out of the plastic-pocketed albums so they could dry out and be salvaged at least for scanning. It turned out only 4 albums were soaked; the rest were dry…BLESSING NUMBER 3.

We talked about people who lose everything in hurricanes and fires as we sat on the floor and cut open and discarded the photo album plastic pages. Surrounded by pictures, we talked about life in general, what we had been through, and what we were grateful about. My landlady joked as she held up some of the photos and asked me about them. “Everybody has these same photos,” she said, “Backyard barbecues, weddings, and scenery.”

At 11:00 pm, with barely a path to walk in the living roon, we finished the salvation project.

photos on floor

Photos, Photos Everywhere

Photos

A path through the photos

The next morning as I gathered up the curled photos and tried to group them by subject or timeframe to put them in shoeboxes, I found myself thinking about what I learned from the experience. I found that some pictures were generic…without the context of the other pictures from each book, where was this tree? This seashore? This sunset? Did I really need these? As part of an overall impression of a place or a trip or a moment in time, they were important, but as pictures on their own, what did they tell me?

There’s always a positive takeaway from moments like these, if you look for it. It’s just another step on the downsizing journey to learning what is important. It’s just…life.



{August 18, 2014}   Like a Bad Penny…

Punk Rock, Pet Rock

Punk Rock

You know what they say about a “bad penny”? You don’t? I had to look it up as I was writing this. Not sure it fits exactly, because it is not turning up multiple times, unwanted…but this little treasure just turned up in our recent forage through shed boxes. I had thrown it out back in the 80s, but here it was still kicking around. My father would sometimes “rescue” things we kids threw out, thinking they might be worth something or we might regret it later. I guess this was one of those items.

Of course there’s a story behind it. (Isn’t there always?) It once reminded me of a painful experience. But thanks to the blessings of perspective and maturity, it now makes me feel something completely the opposite. It now represents the love and caring of dear friends. What a difference years can make…

I thought I’d tell the story here and then toss it once again. (And hope it doesn’t return…it smells BAD! The cats think its musty mousy smell is VERY interesting, but I do not.)

Cat with Punk Rock

Mmm…smells good…

I’ll keep the details a little vague to protect the innocent. 🙂

Flashback to my club-going days: Jane, Julie and I were planning to see a former member of one of our favorite bands perform an acoustic set. We were looking forward to seeing him because the band had been broken up for while and we missed them. I don’t think he knew that I had received a phone call a few days before asking if I was coming. His friend and I had once had acknowledged but unconsummated feelings for each other. I didn’t want to be “the other woman” and he always seemed to have a girlfriend. For a long time I had held out hope that when he was done “playing the field” that we’d get together. Not sure how long it had been at that point since I had seen him, but was this the night? I started the night anticipating the reunion.

We got there a little early and our musician friend came over to chat before his set. Naturally the conversation included chit-chat on what his old bandmates and our mutual acquaintances were doing. He tossed a grenade without realizing it: his friend was engaged to be married! Julie and Jane looked at me…Luckily my face froze in a smile. I felt like it was obvious, but I guess it wasn’t, as he just kept on talking. When the smoke cleared, in walked the former “man of my dreams.” He came over and sat down next to me and Julie and Jane soon excused themselves saying they needed to get something at the store down the street.  I guess it was lucky that I already knew so I could give him my congratulations in a fairly convincing way. I even asked about some other guys he knew, making him think I might be after them!

Jane and Julie returned and said, “We saw this, and thought of you!” It was the Punk Rock! They didn’t have much choice at a Store 24, but it was the thought that counts. Somehow I got through the night without cracking, clutching my gift, knowing my friends understood and were with me. We walked back to the car after it was over; I touched the door handle and the tears poured down unstoppable. I cried the whole ride home.

A couple of weeks later, Jane bumped into the guy on the street. They stopped and talked for a few minutes. Apparently I put on a pretty convincing performance that night. He thought I didn’t care; she told him otherwise. He said he might write me a letter, but I never saw or heard from him again. As I moved on with my life, the Punk Rock did not come along. It reminded me of something I didn’t want to be reminded of, so I threw it away. But here it is like a bad penny…

But we are SO dramatic when we are young, aren’t we? Now it is just fodder for a blog post.

 



et cetera
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