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Although I have just celebrated my 7th blogging anniverary, last year I posted very little. As I explained in my last post on this blog, I have been concentrating on photography as my main mode of expression. That being said, one takeaway I have from last year is that there is more than one way to make a difference. Some people do it through charity work, some through political activism, some through the arts, and some through their chosen profession.

one way signs

Which way?

The year 2016 was a tumultuous year, full of terrorist acts, celebrity deaths, and an ugly election that exposed a gaping rift in our human community. After the sudden death of an old friend in March, I went through a questioning of my future and life purpose. Because of him, I decided to pursue a certification as a teacher. I studied for, and passed, the basic test all teachers in Massachuesetts must master: the Communication and Literacy Skills Test. I began to study for the more difficult English exam, because it has been 25 years since I received my MA in English Literature. As the year went on and life interfered, I worked overtime at my present job and continued to pursue my passion for photography; I began to question whether I had the stamina for such a big undertaking at my age, and I recognized that I cannot fill the hole that he left in the world. I have my own unique purpose for being here and what I bring to the world is not the same as anyone else. This is the source of all our grief: the people we lose cannot be replaced, not even by someone expressing themselves in the same form. David Bowie was not Prince and Prince was not Merle Haggard…everyone speaks their truth in a different voice.

And so, in 2017, I will not compare myself to others. I will leave competitveness, guilt, and jealousy behind and try to be the best I can be at expressing my truth in my own way. Does that mean I will blog more? I would like to say yes, because I still feel writing is important to me, but I have discovered it is my protective armor, my way of coping with darker feelings; it helps me to understand them and relieve the tension they create. But I want to bring brightness to the world, help others cope with a year like 2016. To do that I must put my best self out there, and I feel I can do that with my pictures.

So Happy Anniversary to me, WordPress, I’ll write when I can bring something positive to my readers. In the meantime, check out my other blog where I will try to be better about sharing my pictures. Happy New Year everyone!

 




An old friend of mine passed away suddenly in a car accident in March. Friends and acquaintances continue to post things on his Facebook page; he is truly missed. Though you, my readers, don’t know him, I feel that everyone should, so this is my attempt to spread word of this wonderful man.

Richard was inspiring, one of those rare and unique individuals that come along so infrequently, but touch the lives of so many. Here is his obituary, but that is just part of his story.

Richard was a gentle soul who loved to laugh, forever curious about the world. He was a much-loved teacher. Right before his death he had accepted a teaching position in Shanghai and was learning to speak the language. He loved to travel and was a master storyteller when sharing his travel experiences.

After some tough years of suffering from a rare form of cancer, he sacrificed his leg for his life, but he didn’t give up his spirit to live life to the fullest.

Because of him, I made a decision I can’t share yet, but I hope to share it soon. In the meantime, here is a poem I wrote right after he left us.

For Richard

One sudden death can produce ripples
as big as surfable waves;
some will ride their shock on
to greater things; they will heave a board
to the top of their dreams,
enjoying their own breathless ride
to its end with gratitude
and dedication, like you.

For others, the ripples will be bigger, scarier,
like tidal waves that gather their fears into a fury
that sweeps away all that they thought they had,
leaving them clinging to whatever has roots
enough to survive the disaster.

I want to be the surfer.
Let me hear the ripples of sorrow
with an attentive ear
toward my own future.
I can’t be you,
but I can choose to be like you.
Tell me, Richard —
where to get the board —
I’m listening.

Susan Desrocher

 



{January 4, 2016}   The Leaf and the Feather

leaf and feather

Uncommon Fellows

I took this picture recently — it was not one of my best, but it inspired me to write a little “children’s poem.”

 

A leaf and a feather

awoke together

On a balmy Christmas Day.

Their conversation

Was their situation

this balmy Christmas Day.

“Something’s not right,”

Claimed the leaf–

Thinking the sweep of the wind

Blew him south in his sleep.

“My friend,” he said, “if I may be so bold,

I’d really much rather

I sleep in the cold

Huddled close with my fellows

As I grow old.”

The feather  agreed

That things were not right,

He was used to the feeling

Of being in flight,

More feathers around him

Raising him up

and up like a kite.

But others like them

Were nowhere in sight,

no one else cared for

what they thought

was their “plight.”

The blacktop around them

Was dark and rough,

And the leaf and the feather saw

Their world as tough.

They knew they must see

themselves as enough.

They must accept change, just be–

Share this space,

find safety and grace,

in each other’s company.

Their talk made them realize

They both felt the same,

And learning to love this,

Was the name of the game.

So that was the way

that balmy Christmas Day

they bonded together,

The leaf and the feather.

 



{December 31, 2015}   A Truly Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Ring in 2016!

The year 2015 was a challenging one for me and several of my friends: we lost loved ones, transitioned to different phases of our lives, and struggled with aging issues, but grew. We did it together. Looking back at my year, its theme word would be “friendship.”

I shared the pain of an old friend who lost her partner and her mother, and another friend who lost 3 beloved “fur babies” in one year. I went through my own tough times: sorting through and letting go of a lot of possessions and short-selling my home, with the support of some new friends and a lot of help from the neighbors I would no longer be living next door to. I reconnected with old friends, basked in the reminiscing of old times, and reappreciated their roles in my life. And I finally found my joy and purpose and met my tribe: photographers who see the world in a special, beautiful way.

I hope to make more time for this blog in the year ahead and find a way to pull together my writing and photography in a new and wonderful way. I am truly looking forward to the next year for the first time in many years.

Thank you for sticking with me…Happy New Year everyone!

 



{December 17, 2015}   Photographing Time

tall grass, shadows, morning sun

Sun hiding behind grass

I race to catch the golden hour

as if I were catching a life-saving ride,

escaping disaster, fire or flood;

I’m trying to catch time

by the second.

 As the light moves thru the leaves

and shadows cross stillness,

I think I can see it, oh, so briefly.

Quick, there’s one,

catch it before it races away,

laughing at mortal me,

using mirrors in a fancy case

to try to catch joy.

Copyright 2015 Susan Merrifield Desrocher



{September 30, 2015}   A Wednesday Poem

shadows on windows

On and On

Life has been insistently busy the last few months and I all but abandoned my writing. This morning I pulled out my poetry notebook to jot down a couple of lines that came to me as I drove to the laundrymat, and I found this poem. Appropriately it’s Wednesday. So I thought I would share it. Never mind Mondays, can you tell I don’t like Wednesdays??

 

It’s Wednesday,

my week’s nemesis,

work’s dullest day.

It stretches like a desert

of time, the afternoon

especially dry and arid.

How to prepare for the journey?

What to bring,

not too heavy that

drags me to the ground

in the moisture-sucking air,

but keeps my parched brain

from cracking and splitting,

and able to savor

the respite when it is over?

copyright Susan Desrocher 2015



{April 19, 2015}   Dead Poets Make Great Friends

Jane Kenyon

My Latest Library Books

Dead poets make great friends; they let you know they understand, and they don’t reject you or make you feel untalented like live ones do.

Whose quote is that? My own.

After I read Donald Hall’s essays, the next thing on my library list became Jane Kenyon, A Literary Life by John H. Timmerman and Jane Kenyon Collected Poems., because I am fascinated by poet/poet relationships (e.g. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath). For those who don’t know, She was the wife of Donald Hall and she died tragically at the age of 47 from leukemia.

Although I had heard of Jane Kenyon, I had not sat down and done a concentrated reading of her poetry. WOW…She became a favorite in seconds flat. It could be that reading about someone’s life at the same time as reading their poetry makes for a feeling of closeness that reading the poetry alone does not give. Or maybe having read about her from her husband’s point of view first also adds to the feeling that she is someone I know, a friend that I haven’t seen in a long time.

I put the books down and immediately wrote three poems in my notebook. Hallelujah!

This one was not the best of the three, but it goes with this post. Copying it fresh off the notebook page without editing here reveals my immediate spontaneous feelings without polishing:

TEA WITH JANE KENYON

I look up from a book of your poems

expecting to see your face in an opposite chair,

your cup paused halfway,

like it is floating in the air.

Your words hang in the air too

like an echo, though your mouth doesn’t move.

You look me in the eyes

with first a question, then recognition;

we share a smile, the same smile,

like looking in a mirror.

But I blink and focus

and my opposite space is empty.

I think if I say out loud,
“My grandmother was a Methodist too…

and “she liked to listen to Teleevangelists…”

and “I know that yearning — the need to rebel

against rules instilled by someone you loved…”

Then I hope you’ll be interested enough to walk

back into the empty space and sit down

and talk awhile

and I would not be alone

with my demanding white paper and pen,

a strict teacher forcing me

to write something

over and over

until I learn my lesson

and get it right.

Susan Merrifield Desrocher

But now I leave you with a unpublished nugget from Jane’s college years, quoted in Timmerman’s book:

Today

I got

no mail.

What is it about the world that it wants

my cubby hole

kept in poverty.

My mailbox is bloated with emptiness

its opening —

an orifice

waiting for a word.

Hey.

Occupant,

That’s me.

And, my lesson to learn, this poem…

The Clothes Pin

How much better it is

to carry wood to the fire

than to moan about your life.

How much better

to throw the garbage

into the compost, or to pin the clean

sheet on the line

with a gray-brown wooden clothes pin!

Discover her or rediscover her during National Poetry Month…you won’t regret it! And maybe. like me, you’ll feel like you have found a new friend. 🙂




We are halfway through National Poetry Month and I haven’t posted a poem. Shame on me!

I decided to post one of my own today and share someone else’s before month end! Enjoy…

Clock made of Wood

Roy’s Clock

 

REMEMBERING ROY

On my wall, the clock Roy made

loses time every day, but I dutifully reset it.

I keep it for the picture of my grandmother

he varnished onto the pine wood tree slice

that reminds me of a knotty pine cabin

in the mountains of California she once owned,

a string to a memory of a summer visit there that made me soar with dreams and happiness.

I keep it to remind me of him.

The clock of Roy’s heart stopped long ago

in a tragic way:

he was run over by his own car

as he tried to stop it from rolling down a hill.

Our possessions sometimes betray us;

our death can be entwined with them,

just as our life is entwined with them,

like ivy running wild,

over time crumbling the very bricks

it is attached to.

Roy, maybe you knew this;

you thought you could bypass it

by giving away your dreams:

the bricks of your life repurposed.

I remember the day you turned us loose

in your garage of clocks;

you told us to take what we wanted.

After their crafting was done

and your time was spent,

they no longer affirmed your life

or made money to live on,

just collected dust.

With bitter generosity you let them go

 to pseudo grandkids,

like released birds you had once loved,

with hopes they would soar

somewhere you couldn’t.

Roy, I don’t even know where you are buried,

but across the country your clocks tick in small apartments,

twigs in the nests of lonely people;

where will they go from here?




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 his view in vivid language, in a poet’s way. But I also feel what he feels — the isolation of New Hampshire in winter (having just been through the worst winter in my life in MA), feeling unable to do what used to be easily accomplished, and feeling abandoned by contemporaries and left to spend time with the ghosts of old ancestors (those to be joined sooner rather than later). His writing just seems to add credence to what I already know…why? Because my best friend right now is my mother, who is 86. I talk to her daily. She watches out the window when she can and has dreams of cooking and cleaning and doing things she can do now only with difficulty, so I understand the mindset and the feelings. That, and the fact that timing and circumstances took me out of challenging but ultimately satisfying work too young; I have felt abandoned by a changed world that no longer values my skills and my abilities ($9 to $10 an hour to proofread…really?), and no longer believes in my beliefs.

Donald Hall describes old age and aging as “…alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae…If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.”

And though I have some decades to go before I officially get to his age, I feel the separateness as he describes, as if I went to sleep and woke up on a planet I didn’t recognize, where I was suddenly an outcast, where suddenly people could see my antennae.

Well, that is easily rectified you might think: study the creatures of this new world and remake yourself to be like them. Hide those antennae or — better yet — cut them off. But I can’t do it, ugly as they seem to be, all of my beauty is there. And all the positive personal development books I read tell me to value them. They represent that last crumb of hope I still possess that someday another alien will show up at my door with their own antennae displayed in all their glory, smile, and come in and sit down for tea. Maybe that being will tell me of a colony of others like us, which still exists, and that my isolation has kept me from finding. And we will set out together, where the warm sun and exercise will make me feel 50 again. The gears of my mind will squeak and groan, at first reluctant with pain, but begin to chip off the rust and neglect, and then revel in something too long lost and left behind. But I digress…as old people do.

The book also contains an essay entitled “A Yeti in the District.” Each of the essays in the book ends with Hall’s tongue in cheek, a wry twist on what has come before. This one made me smile from ear to ear. Its truth reflected in my librarian’s reaction to my checking out of the book.

Mr Hall reminisces about trips he made to Washington DC over the years, including the year he was Poet Laureate, and the most recent trip to receive a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. Let me be clear: the author is “scruffy” in his advanced years, but it doesn’t bother me (he looks much like my own brother!) In the “Yeti” essay, the author writes of the picture published in his local paper of him receiving the Medal. “Top of the first page was a photograph of the President looming over me, hanging the medal around my neck. My mouth is open in life’s widest smile as I confront the neatly dressed Obama in my sports coat and khakis, with my frizzy hair and reckless beard.”

He goes on to tell of the picture then being picked up by a blogger for the Washington Post named Alexandra Petri. “She identified me, called me a poet, and assured her audience that I was not a yeti. She announced a contest for a caption.” But of course in this age of Internet bullying, the picture brought in entry after entry “…gleeful with ridicule. Then there were reactions. I was praised and Ms. Petri was scolded. I was defended as a poet, and flattered despite my appearance.” He ends the essay with this: “…With our increasing longevity, Ms. Petri should live to be a hundred. May she grow a beard.”

Now back to my librarian. She handed me the book and said, “That’s quite the cover art,” with what I sensed as some distaste (and perhaps a little insult to me for wanting to read it??) I said, “well, yes, it is a bit of a close-up.” I chuckled to release the sense of “judgement(?)” I felt. And she went on, “Yes, I wouldn’t want to put that on my bedside table.” (I hadn’t read the book yet or I would have questioned whether she knew Ms. Petri?). This time I didn’t answer. And she still went on, “Yes, I wouldn’t want to put it on my bedside table because I would feel like someone was watching me.” I then made a judgment on her in return…You are a librarian and you are passing judgment on a Poet Laureate and Medal of the Arts winner???? But again, I digress.

Bottom line is that I enjoyed the book because I enjoy Donald Hall’s writing, his irreverence, and his sense of humor. I’m glad that after eighty he is still writing. And I hope there are plenty of people who won’t judge a book by its cover!




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 »



et cetera
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