A Special Place: Memories & More

I adore a line from Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.”

Writers live with a keen awareness of memories. (For writers, see an old post on Mining Memories.) We sift through memories in creating our work — poetry, essays, short stories, novels, whatever — something from our past experience plays a role in every creation. For me, memories of place often bubble up in my writing. Particularly memories of childhood places. My stories tend to land in rural New England, the place where my good and strong childhood memories were created. In fact, though I’ve lived most of my adult life in the Midwest, I’ve also wasted a lot of mental energy mourning New England. I hated the whole “bloom where you’re planted” platitudes. The comparison Wisconsinites make of Door County to Cape Cod made me guffaw. The bump Midwesterners called a mountain five hours from Milwaukee in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was the same size as a hill twenty minutes from my childhood home in Massachusetts. A two hour drive to Vermont meant arriving at a real mountain with good skiing.

Yes, I got stuck in comparing instead of experiencing. Never a wise move. I’ll defend myself by saying I was twenty-three when we moved to Wisconsin — and — hardly anyone in my extended family had left New England. Many hadn’t even moved from the town I grew up in. Instead of diving in and exploring my new home, I spent most of my vacations back at my old stomping grounds. Summers always meant a trip to Cape Cod when my kids were little so they would have time with their cousins. I didn’t explore much of Wisconsin until having lived in the state for twenty-five years. Cancer and radiation treatment meant I couldn’t wander far in the summer of 2008, so my husband and I explored Wisconsin during weekends that summer. I recognized, finally, that my longing for New England had been a hindrance to appreciating where I was.

Lately, I’ve had to think about my appreciation of and longing for another place. The Marian Center in Bayview, WI has been a special place in my life. For me, its magic has been all about writing, but for others, it holds memories of school days, of contemplating entering the convent. About twenty years ago I brought my son, then in second grade, to a summer writer’s camp there offered by Judy Bridges at Redbird Studio. Judy saved his summer. The magical sense of possibility and creativity pulled at me. I recalled a Gertrude Stein line, “This is the place of places and it is here.” Someday, I thought. Someday I want to come here and learn more about writing.

My son’s sixth grade reader/writer workshop class returned to Judy’s studio at the Marian Center and again I thought, someday. Two years later, my someday came. I hiked up the stairs to Judy’s Shut Up! & Write! Class. I didn’t know how the shape of my life would change. I didn’t know how important Judy and my fellow classmates, especially Kim Suhr and Kathy Lanzarotti would become in the coming years.

Writing, and finally owning the label “writer,” has been for me an awakening. A grand journey in paying attention. In the Marian Center’s walls, my eyes opened to the writer’s sensibilities. I had always been someone who paid attention to details, who recalled specific snippets of interesting conversations, who cared about reading body language. Suddenly these things (oddities to some) had a place. I had a place. I had found my tribe.

In time, Judy handed the reins for regular roundtables to Kim Suhr and Red Oak Writing. For years, with Kim and

Walking through the grape arbor at the Marian Center during kids' summer writing camp.

Walking through the grape arbor at the Marian Center during kids’ summer writing camp.

For years, with Kim and Robert Vaughan, I taught at the Red Oak Young Writers camps — many of which were held at the Marian Center. Some of my fondest memories – for all time – are tied to those camps. It is a beautiful joy to watch a young person take the steps from the hot rush of creating, to the sometimes cold hard truth of editing and arrive at a place where the writing sings. But, while we loved the campus, the lack of air conditioning and accessibility proved to be problematic. The camp has been using new — and equally wonderful — accommodations in recent  years.

My tribe is leaving the Marian Center because its Center for Nonprofits is closing in July, 2016. Official word has not come out about the plans for the Center, but I hope the old building will be preserved as much as possible, while being renovated to become handicapped accessible and then, maybe it could become condominiums? Who knows. Not me.

I hope my fellow writers won’t waste time mourning the Marian Center. Let’s rejoice in the gifts we’ve received there — but remember that those gifts truly are from the other members of the tribe — not from the floors, the walls, the bricks & mortar. Not even from the gazebo outside, or the grape arbor or the walk to the old cemetery.

The photo below is from our last writer’s showcase recently at the Marion Center. It was a beautiful night, food, fun, friends and fantastic readings.

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Left to right above are writers whose work you may know of, or, may want to keep your eyes on: Lisa Rivero, Aleta Chossek, Judy Bridges, Carolyn Toms-Neary, Jennifer Rupp, Kim Suhr, Robert Vaughan, Marjorie Pagel, Carol Wobig and me, Pam Parker.

Judy Bridges always loved circular stories, so I return to paraphrase the Dostoyevsky quote I began with. “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of finding your place, your tribe.”

Update from Kim Suhr:

The Search Is Over!

Last fall when I learned the Marian Center will close on July 1, I set three priorities for our new space. It needed to…
…be fully accessible,
…have ample parking,
…be “all ours.”
I also secretly (or not so secretly) hoped to find something a little closer to my home to shave a few miles off my 60-mi. roundtrip commute.

I’m thrilled to report we have a place that meets our needs. The new studio will be in the education wing of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 11709 W Cleveland in West Allis, just west of Hwy. 100.

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Escape into Stories — Jackie Mitchard

Photo by Janet Kay

Photo by Janet Kay

Jackie Mitchard was a known quantity to many readers before her book, The Deep End of the Ocean, was selected as the first book in Oprah Winfrey’s famous book club. Longtime Wisconsin residents will remember her essays in the Milwaukee Sentinel, before it merged with the Milwaukee Journal. Since then, Mitchard’s life has taken as many twists and turns as the family in Deep End. She openly shared with her readers the death of her first husband, the growth of her mixed race family, her second marriage and second financial catastrophe, her move from Wisconsin to Cape Cod. She is touring now for her latest book, Two If By Sea. I have not read it yet, but look forward to doing so. A recent review by Diana Andro in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says:

Bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard (The Deep End of the Ocean) balances love and loss in her new novel, Two If By Sea. It is a sweet story of one man’s road to recovery and the challenges he faces to protect the people he loves.

The saga follows American Frank Mercy from a tragic and terrifying Christmas Eve tsunami in Australia to his family’s aging Midwestern horse farm and finishes in a quaint, perfect English village straight out of a Bronte novel. (Entire review)

From this review and others, we learn that the sweeping novel involves loss and redemption, but with an unexpected (at least in my experience with Mitchard’s works) element of supernatural/magical forces. A young boy named Ian will enter into Frank Mercy’s life, along with a new love interest, Claudia, and we’ll have to see what happens with that trio.

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Click on image to order book.

Mitchard will be in Milwaukee, WI on Sunday, March 20th at Boswell Books and in Madison, WI on Monday, March 21st at the Madison Public Library. Later in the month, she’ll bring Two If By Sea to Wellesley and Brewster, MA, Atlanta, GA, Dallas, TX, and Coral Gables, FL. Many more locations are slated for April. Check her exhausting schedule here and see if she will be in your neck of the woods!

Despite this schedule, Mitchard graciously agreed to answering some questions about the book, her life, friends, etc. She even agreed to write a brief comment to her twenty-five year old self! I didn’t dwell on writing-specific questions for my readers who are more interested in general topics, but naturally, there’s a sprinkling of writer comments. A writer doesn’t e-chat with another writer and completely avoid the passion of our lives. 🙂 Enjoy!

  1. The main character’s name in Two If By Sea, Frank Mercy, is a great name! Did that one come to you easily or was he renamed many times? Any challenges with any of the names in the book?

He was always Frank Mercy. His name came to me before the story. And yes, it wasn’t until I’d messed around with the plot that I really “got” the name, that it meant, if you will, “genuine compassion” and that Ian meant “gift from God.” Those names were always there — before the flood, if you can pardon the joke.  ((Note from Pamwrites – I love that the name came before the story. That happens to me often too. The flood joke refers to the critical tsunami event.))

  1. A Goodreads reviewer says, “…one of her major strengths is writing families in crisis, and that is very evident here.” Did you ever consider “writing families in crisis” to be one of your strengths? 🙂

Well, I do, of course, because I think of families as bewitching, and every unhappy one is unhappy in its own way (I just made that up, of course!) Families are our harbor, our harbinger, our horror, our haven. When you put ordinary people under duress, they begin to reveal their truest selves. In life, that’s just awful. In fiction, it’s interesting.

 

  1. You have lived in two of my favorite places – Wisconsin and Cape Cod. I grew up in western Massachusetts and vacation often on Cape Cod in Eastham. While there are similarities in climate in Wisconsin and Massachusetts, I have noted a number of differences in the people. I wonder if you have and what your thoughts about any differences and similarities might be?

Well, they’re like the obverse of each other, in a sense. People in Wisconsin, where the temperatures can be harrowing, are generally (it seems) have a warmth and welcoming character as big as the big Midwestern sky. And in Massachusetts, where it’s a little more temperate, people can be more withdrawn, a little chilly — at least at first. However, old ways and old fears go deep in Wisconsin, and Massachusetts may be the state with the strongest sense of justice in the whole nation. In both places, I do feel safe, thank goodness, with my odd, mixed-up, mixed-race family of kids. We have been “taken in,” in both places, and I’m very shy, so that’s hard.  ((Note from Pam — Jackie nailed my thoughts on the Wisconsin vs Massachusetts folks.))

  1. What are your favorite things to do to keep your sanity on a whirlwind book tour?

I would say, I make sure I get a good night’s sleep, but that’s what I want to say, not what is real. I’ve had a good night’s sleep about ten times in half a century. I try to eat lots of greens and stay away from too much coffee, and, much as I want to, I don’t “see the sights” at the wonderful places I go to because I want to give all my energy to readers.

 

  1. Please write the first sentence of a letter to 25 year old you, from your perspective now. And, then write a sentence responding to you now from 25 year old you.   (Skip this if it’s not fun!)

ME TO 25-YEAR-OLD JACKIE: You just think that this is your destiny, but it’s not, and it’s not your fault. Escape into stories. Stories will always take you in.

25-YEAR-OLD JACKIE TO ME: Can I believe you? For I do feel that it’s all my fault, and no one ever said it wasn’t my fault. Stories are the place I hide. I would love to write them, but … I don’t dare.

  1. Who is one of the most fascinating people you have crossed paths with in your literary life? Do you keep in touch with this person?

Of course, I know some of the great writers of our age, you bet, and many of them are pals — Lisa Genova, Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, Hollis Gillespie,  Karin Slaughter, Chris Bohjalian, Paul Harding, Heather Graham — just people of such great heart and mind … The wonderful novelist Elizabeth Berg (Open House) did something so extraordinarily kind for me once that I can never forget it and I love her for it, as did the gifted novelist Beth Gutcheon (Without a Trace). My best pal, and neighbor, the mystery writer Thomas H. Cook, has just been my great friend for a long time, and my mainstay. I’m privileged in my friends.

 

  1. If you could cast a movie of Two If By Sea, who would play Frank Mercy? Ian? Claudia?

Well, my son (an actor) says Tim McGraw should play Frank. I said Colin Firth (with an American accent) or Ryan Gosling. The opinion was, I’m nuts. Claudia, we all agreed, would be Amy Adams. And the little kid who played Ray in Jerry McGuire would be the perfect Ian, but he grew up. (Jonathan Lipnicki)

 

  1. Last question — What is one question no one has ever asked you about writing that you wish they would???

You mean NEVER asked me. … No one ever asked me, is it hard? And I would say, yes, it is really, really hard not to do it, but to do it right, and the distance between one and the other is like the distance between Wisconsin and Brisbane!

 

So, there you have it. Thoughts on friends, living in the midwest vs New England, getting enough sleep and thoughts to a twenty-five year old self. Sending tons of thanks to Jackie Mitchard. I look forward to meeting her Sunday and hope you may be able to join her somewhere along her book tour.

 

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Marilynne Robinson trumps Trump

I’ve never made it a secret how much I adore the writing of Marilynne Robinson, but today, having just seen her essay in yesterday’s The Guardian, I could not admire her more.

Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Imagesin yesterday’s The Guardian, well, I didn’t think I could admire her more. I was wrong.

Please, take a few minutes and read Trump: the great orange-haired Unintended Consequence. I try to keep politics out of Pamwrites as much as possible — not to avoid conflict or offending anyone, but mostly because my political interest drowned when Watergate was happening in my tween and early teen years. It left me 100% convinced that all politicians were liars, cheats and buffoons. Rarely do I find that negative opinion challenged.  I have to force myself to pay attention during political campaigns because my brain is wired to turn the pay attention switch off. This election season, it gets harder and harder for me to listen and focus. This man scares me, and Marilynne would say fear is part of the problem. More on that later.

WIKIMEDIA.ORG

WIKIMEDIA.ORG

Like many creatives and educators, I lean liberal in my political choices, but I’m also a fiscal conservative by nature, so that can make my choices challenging. I have been wondering in this election though if we will begin to see a true change from the present party system. And then, I read this from the brilliant Marilynne Robinson:

Trump and the others are the product of the souring of the party system. Someone should point out, in these days when the constitution is so constantly and pietistically invoked, that political parties are not mentioned in the constitution, and that the prescient founders warned emphatically against them for reasons that should be clear to us now.

Robinson mentions the hardening of the Republicans into a faction “who define themselves primarily as the adversaries of the Democrats.” (I think we’ve seen this on both sides unfortunately.) She writes something that perhaps you have experienced too, I know I have: “In fact, the Republican situation is such a tangle of unintended consequences that it is impossible to sort it all out, or to make the attempt without laughing.”

Or crying, depending on your point of view.

Robinson has written before — often and well — about the dangers of fear in our society. Here too, Robinson brings the unintended consequences of the great orange-haired Trump back to fear.

In any case, American elections are long and grueling, just as they ought to be. We will spend months learning how things are with us. This is good and necessary, especially now when divisions in the society are deepening. They are deepening not only because of the stresses of the new economy, which a functioning government would meliorate, or the threats brought on by global disorder, which must be managed and will be, but because fear, anxiety and resentment are the stock in trade of important media and the politicians allied or symbiotic with them.

I hope you will read her whole essay. If you do, I would love to hear what you think about it.

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Happy Birthday, Bryan Cranston!

 

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Found where photo links to. Source not credited.

 

Today is Bryan Cranston’s 60th birthday! So, I’d like to send Mr. Cranston happy birthday wishes from your Walter White character’s twin brother.

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This fellow celebrated his 60th last year in Glasgow, Scotland. Yes, we had bacon.

11251379_975901405755527_4443547334238340640_oWe were in Glasgow while my husband was on sabbatical from his job as a…. wait for it….. an organic chemistry professor. As he traveled all over Europe, he was often stopped, asked for autographs and pictures. I look nothing like Skyler so we didn’t have that going for us, but, trust me, the man got a lot of looks.

And, here he is, Bryan. Toasts to you, from Breaking Bill. I wanted very much to get a signed picture of you for him for his 60th, but that didn’t work out. Just know that he wishes you the best and even as you read this, he’s probably drawing chemical structures that this wife refers to as “space dogs” and in case you’re wondering, we don’t own an RV. Yet.

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Say my name.

 

 

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Q&A & Giveaway

I have missed you all, blog friends. A few of you might be concerned that my absence indicates a dive into the depression quagmire, but I assure you, not so. Simply busy, busy, busy.

41lzLZqECyL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I want to share a quick update of an interview with me that appeared yesterday on Christi Craig’s blog. It’s about the creation of Done Darkness. She asked some great questions and I hope you might be interested in them and my answers. Here are some of those questions that I loved:

CC: This is a unique anthology on the topic of depression in that it includes not only personal essays but short stories and poetry as well. What sparked the idea for this book, and what was your biggest challenge?

CC: I’ve edited a few tiny anthologies and know these kinds of projects can be labors of love. When you envision DONE DARKNESS in the hands of readers, what do you hope they will discover?

CC: Instead of dividing the book into poetry, nonfiction and fiction, the collected works fall into chapters of Morning, Afternoon, or Evening. What is the significance of those chapter headings? 

CC: Neil Gaiman says, “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story….” What advice can you offer for writers (or readers) who desire to share their story but don’t know where to begin?

To read my answers, please click over to Christi’s post and be sure to enter her giveaway for the book. 🙂

Many thanks for the opportunity, Christi Craig!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Commandments of RSVPs in the Digital Age

Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and the young geniuses of Facebook, we were introduced to the idea that “Maybe” is an appropriate answer to an invitation. And, sometimes, that actually is sufficient – but not usually. Yes I am human and I have broken some of the commandments I’ll be sharing, so no need to shout at me about logs in your eyes, etc. I am trying to be better about RSVPing. As an author, I get invited to a lot of events for book launches, etc., all over the world. And I know that often the host knows I can’t be there, but they’re just trying to spread the word about their new book. I try to open those invites and reply with a no and good wishes. A reply is the operative word. Reply, response, answer. You don’t really want the ghost of Charlton Heston to come after you, right? Manners matter.

 

Here are some basic things to think about when you are invited to an event. First of all, for those who don’t know, RSVP, means “répondez s’il vous plaît,” which is French for “please respond.” Note: it is not French for, “open the invitation, look at it, and promptly forget about it or to answer.” If you know when you open it that you can or can not go, do your host a favor and reply yes or no. If you are uncertain, do whatever you do to remind yourself to get back to the invite in a day or two with your answer. If you don’t do anything to remind yourself, it’s time to find that thing that works for you. So…..mark your calendar to reply. Send yourself a delayed email. Text yourself. Whatever you need to do to get back to the invite, well in advance of the event, please do it, and then reply with a yes or a no. If you have replied with a yes, mark all your calendars with details about the event so you don’t forget to show up. Please, avoid “maybe.” Maybe is a pretty inconsiderate RSVP which should be avoided whenever possible. It basically says to the host — I’ll be there if I feel like it. Or, I’ll be there if I don’t get a better offer. Or, I’ll be there if the weather doesn’t suck (sometimes necessary, but wouldn’t replying yes and writing a note to host with that information be more polite?).

And now, drumroll please, I offer you

The Ten Commandments of RSVPs in the Digital Age

  1. Thou shalt open and reply to every invitation thou receivest. Manners mattereth much. (Modern English M.E.: Got an RSVP invite? Reply. Do it. Manners matter.)
  2. If thou knowest not thy response upon opening invitation, thou wilst mark thy calendar to reply promptly after checking with friends/spouse/babysitter/hamster watcher/place of employment for conflicts. (M.E.: If you don’t know your answer, create a reminder for yourself to a) check any conflicts, b) mark your calendar to reply after conflicts/lack thereof are determined.)
  3. If thou respondeth in the affirmative, thou wilst mark thy calendars to remember to attend the event. (M.E.: Said yes? Mark your calendar so you remember to attend.)
  4. If thou respondeth in the negative, thou wilst simply say, “No,” and thy responsibilities are fulfilled. (M.E.: Can’t go? Said no? You are done.)
  5. If thou respondeth “maybe,” thou ist an inconsiderate lout, in most cases. The Divine Creator of said commandments doth offer certain reasonable exceptions, but hath discovered that many humans abuseth the privilege. Thou shouldst avoid being an abuser of privileges. (M.E.: Maybes suck as an answer. It’s a non-answer. Avoid it whenever possible.)
  6. If thou hath read these commandments and still hath not opened all thine invitations, thou shouldst return to commandment one and proceedeth again. (If you’ve read to this point and know you haven’t opened all your invites, maybe it’s time to go back to commandment one and then do that.)
  7. Thou shalt be a responsible and considerate community member. (M.E.: Really, you need that translated?)
  8. Thou shalt treat the phrase “RSVP” as an action phrase. Though wilst reply. (M.E.: See RSVP? Respond. Yea or nay)
  9. Thou wilst not mutter cantankerous phrases against thy host, even when thou canst abide said host or wouldst prefer stepping into a pit of fire than attending the event. Thou wilst keep mean thoughts in thine head. Mean thoughts doeth not deserve utterance from thy tongue or fingers on thy multiple devices. Thou shouldst replyeth in the negative immediately and forgetteth the invitation. (M.E.: Can’t stand the host and/or would rather die than go their event? Keep it to yourself and reply no.)
  10. Thou wilst shareth these commandments with others thou knowest to spread the good news. A good and proper way existeth to handle the mysterious abundance of RSVP invites in the digital age thou livest in. (M.E. – Spread the word that there are ways to handle the abundance of RSVP invites in our digital age.)

 

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A book! A book!

A book! A book! I helped make a book! I didn’t quit. I saw it through. I am pleased, proud and just a tad postpartum-ish. 🙂 But reminding myself, that my personal moniker, persevering professional, serves its purpose.

January 7, 2016

We’re a week into 2016 and I haven’t sat down and written out any resolutions or goals. Resolutions, shmesolutions, I say. Though maybe I’ll say more on that tomorrow. My time has been devoted to giving birth to an anthology about a subject close to my heart, depression, and carrying on. The book, Done Darkness: A collection of stories, poetry, and essays about life beyond sadness, is now available!! Working with a fellow Red Oak Writing writer and friend, Kathy Lanzarotti, we have compiled a collection that I’m proud to say shares ideas and thoughts about living with depression that may encourage both empathy and discussion. More than anything, I want to continue to chip away at the stigma surrounding depression and other mental imbalances, and I do believe Done Darkness can play a small part in that process.

If we could have reached the band, FUN, we would have asked them if we could put the lyrics to Carry On in the book. It’s our unofficial theme song. Don’t know it? Have a listen.

If you happen to live near to southeastern WI, we will be having a launch party on Sunday afternoon, January 31st at 1:30PM CST at ComedySportz, because we all know that laughter truly is the best medicine! We are working on a video which will feature as many of our award-winning authors from across the country and the U.K. as possible. I’ll be sure to post a link here. We are so grateful for our authors and our editorial review board. If you haven’t ever visited our website, feel free. Will I do a giveaway here or there? Perhaps….

At the moment, the book is only available in print — paperback, not hard cover because THIS writer prefers paperback. (Hard covers are too heavy and hurt to read when wrist joints ache, fyi.) Plus, they’re less expensive and who doesn’t like that?

If you’re interested in ordering a copy, you can do so here.

If you get the book and it speaks to you in some good way, please, please help us spread the word. There are so many easy ways you can do so: like and share our Facebook page with friends, post a review on Amazon — it’s painful to say how very, very much this matters, post a review on Goodreads, talk about the book with your friends.

Now, on to postpartum work here, meaning take the Christmas tree down. May your day be full of light and not darkness.

#happywriting — if that’s what you do. 🙂

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Contentment & Perspectacles

Contentment & Perspectacles, or, Is it well with your soul?

My last post in November spent some time in whining land. November is hard for many. And December, if you’re a person who celebrates Christmas, can easily become another challenging month. But I feel a calmness, a sense of contentment that is surprising me — and I am loving it. The odds are stacked for me to be a nervous, depressed wreck. It’s dreary and rainy in Milwaukee — unusually warm. While that might mean – at other times – that my lightbox alone can’t keep me from the pits, this year it means something else. It reminds me of arriving in Glasgow, Scotland in late December last year and being delighted by the green everywhere. Normally in Milwaukee by now, we have slipped into monochrome season where the landscape is simply a blend of greys. These days have been so warm that it has been easy to keep my outside walking going without any worries of snow and ice. They will come, I am sure, but right now?, don’t miss ’em.

Did I get everything done I had hoped to before Christmas? Nope. But I got the “biggies” done. I made and ordered calendars for my extended family and my husband’s family. I found the top of my dining room table, threw out a lot of papers, vacuumed, and got the tree up. I also made an amazing Coquilles St. Jacques for company. Sorry, I know that’s braggy, but it was incredibly delicious. The recipe is here if you want to give it a try. If you’re in the U.S., splurge on the diver scallops. You won’t regret it.

Since our Christmas day will be small – just the hubby, me and our younger son, I’m lobbying hard for a Jewish Christmas day — Chinese food and a movie. 🙂 None of this sitting around feeling sorry for myself missing our older son, his fiancé, and the extended folks.

Why do I feel this calmness? Because I’ve put my perspectacles squarely on – I see very, very clearly how blessed I am. I am trying to stay mindful that few people, even in my privileged circle of friends, have it easy. In my circles, friends are struggling with pain, with children and parents, with unemployment, with depression, with finances; some are facing the demise of loved ones with ALS, Alzheimers, cancer, you name it — it’s life and all the stuff is there. I try to watch for when and where I can possibly help and then to do so. But sometimes, I just need to remember, that all I can do is be like a lighthouse.

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But, back to perspectacles and another quote from Anne Lamott.

Sometimes I think that Heaven is just a new pair of glasses. ~~Anne Lamott, quoting a priest friend

This has been a year of love, travel and growth in many areas, for me and my dearest ones. I am excited for what lies ahead — very, very soon, I will be reviewing galleys for Done Darkness, an anthology about life beyond sadness, which has occupied much of my psychic energy this year. I can’t wait to bring that book to fruition, to try to get it in the hands of all who want to help chip away at the stigma surrounding depression and other mental illnesses.

There’s an old hymn we don’t sing often in my church that I love and it begins like this:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

If you think you’d enjoy a Southern gospel version, please do:

May it be well with your soul in the days ahead. If it’s not, or if it’s just plain hard, try to do this one simple thing which a Pamwrites reader suggested to me (thank you Darlene Foster!) – before you go to sleep, write down three good things that happened that day. You may fall asleep in a happier state of mind and wake up in a more positive frame of mind. You might not even have to put your perspectacles on.

Only good wishes to you and yours. Shalom.

 

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November Noise

November is a hard time of year for many people. And, I’m one of those people. The plunge into shorter days, the loss of bright colors in the part of the world I occupy, the amping up of the media onslaught about the American version of the Christmas season (spend, spend, spend) all conspire to pull me down. The noises in my head are dirges. A steady thrum of mourning. My energy level drops. I’m in a constant battle with the chemicals in my brain, and it can feel like all hell’s breaking loose in my grey matter.

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I don’t sleep well, I have difficulty focusing and completing tasks and I’m always tired. My arthritis goes into overdrive which can easily lead to an extended pity party. And now, let’s add in the fear factor in the world following recent events in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Kenya. Regular readers of Pamwrites already know that I have adored Paris for a long time. It’s fair to call me a francophile. So, it’s not surprising that my Facebook feed erupted with comments, articles, photos, news blips, etc. when the attacks in Paris happened and in the coming days. And, when my energy level and focus are down, the easiest thing of all for me to do (because reading is challenging when my focus is shot) is to spend far too much time on Facebook. So, then, I see shaming and blaming and finger-pointing all over my feed. There are people who are pissed that so many in the western world are only concerned about Paris and no other cities’ issues. I have friends on both extremes of the U.S. political spectrum so let’s just say, people have forgotten things they learned in kindergarten about being nice.

Ah, what’s a wanna-be-optimist to do when the November noises are pulling her down? Well, I keep doing everything I know I need to do to try to fight off the cesspool of depression. I keep eating right, exercising, using my lightbox and taking my anti-depressants. And sometimes, doing all that isn’t quite enough, so what’s next? I’m going to have to limit my Facebook time whether or not my focus is shot. Clearly spending too much time there is only hurting me, not helping. But what else? What else? I tend to spend a lot of time in quiet, which I need, but right now, I think I need more music. More uplifting music. And, I need to let Rachel Platten‘s Fight Song be my mantra these days.

If you, or someone you know, is fighting the downward tug of these November days, maybe find some music to lift spirits. My absolute favorite right now is from The Piano Guys and combines The Fight Song with Amazing Grace, as well as the glorious setting of Scotland. Be transfixed and uplifted. Give it a few moments and then move on with your day, hopefully feeling better!

 

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Loving For Life

Every once in a while an essay I read will zing into my heart. I just finished “How To Keep Loving Someone,” by Jamie Varon which appeared on Medium on September 25, 2015. She had me at the killer opening sentence, “You have to love someone in the cracks between the big moments,” because really, life is mostly cracks between the big moments, isn’t it?

When Bill and I left for our sabbatical semester in Glasgow, I had wanted very much to treat the trip as a pilgrimage. I read Phil Cousineau‘s The Art of Pilgrimage and I pondered what exactly would my pilgrimage be. I had ideas, but they swirled and never seemed to coalesce into a specific plan. A few short months after we’d arrived though, that sabbatical surprised me. I understood that our time together, removed from our daily “regular” life and worries, was renewing our relationship. The sabbatical became a pilgrimage to rescue our marriage. I wrote about it here.

Lately, as we are back in the constant flow of the “cracks between the big moments,” we try to remember what we learned in Glasgow — to be there for each other, always. To remember “how to keep loving someone.”

Besides considering our own relationship, we have also entered a season of weddings in our family. While we were nearing the end of our time in Glasgow, my cousin got married. Our son and his fiancé announced to us and her parents that they were getting married – that will come in May of next year. Another cousin’s daughter recently became engaged and we have many young adults in my family also in the marriage-able category. Weddings and plans are on my mind, but more than anything I keep pondering what can I say about marriage. What can I say I’ve learned in thirty-three-plus years with the same man. Before I could find the words, Jamie Varon did.

Some of my favorite lines in Varon’s essay are as follows:

“To keep loving someone is an art. The start is the easiest part.”

Us, at the start, 1982

Us, at the start, 1982

“To keep loving someone is to know yourself and to know how your past weaves a story in your present.”

“To keep loving someone is an act of bravery. While it deals with matters of the heart, it is not for the lighthearted.”

“Love is for the ones who will risk being rejected in the hope of being seen. These are the warriors, the ones not willing to give up on another person. The ones who will not hold their partner to an impossible standard without analyzing themselves first. The ones who will not blame, but will solve — together. The ones who, despite living in Disposable Culture, will not dispose of a person for some far-off idealization of a perfect person.”

And, here we are, April, 2015 at Glasgow Green

And, here we are, April, 2015 at Glasgow Green

Oh, I do want to paste in her final paragraph, because it is sublime perfection, but I won’t. I really want you to click over and read this essay. Savor it. Share it if there’s someone in your life entering marriage season.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention those on the other side of this season. I think of friends and family who’ve shared loving for life and have lost their dearest one. I don’t know, or want to know, what that is like, but I hope that there is comfort and solace in memories of that kind of love. Love that matters.

#happywriting #lovingforlife

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