The wound has since crusted over but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was taking a college writing course and our assignment was to write a poem about current events in our lives. It was right before the holidays so I was immersed in baking, buying, and wrapping and that “inspired” me to dash off a stupid poem about the hustle and bustle of baking, buying, and wrapping (I know, meaningful right?) It wasn’t my best work. Heck, it might have even been my worst work. When I got my paper back there was no grade on it at all. At the top of the paper was simply one big, fat, phrase written in red ink and underlined several times for emphasis: “Who Cares?“ My heart fell when I read it; I was crushed. Up until that moment, the idealistic I-can-do-anything young writer in me had been thinking I might actually have some skillz. I certainly got smacked down a few hundred notches. I took it really hard. I was too embarrassed to even ask what my actual grade was and I left that day with my tail tucked securely between my legs like a cub cuffed by her patriarch. I went home to my cruddy one bedroom apartment to lick my wounds, raging about my mean and unjust crotchety professor. Between the curse words and the tears I started to think; what if he’s right? Would E.E. Cummings care about this drivel? Would Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson or Poe want to read it? Who would care? My answer was clear; virtually nobody-probably not even my own mother. This experience, while harsh, has stayed with me until this day whenever I write and although his delivery mostly sucked eggs, his message was unmistakable; look for my audience and write for them. Who will care about what I am saying? Say it to them. What will they care about? What should be included? What will they want to know? Who will they fall in love with? Who will they despise? And on…and on…and on… There was also an underlying but no less important note about quality. He was telling me in not so many words that I needed to keep my crappy un-thought-out puff pieces to myself and only release my best out into the world. My reputation would stand upon it. I will never forget this professor (although I have blotted his name from memory) for giving me this harsh criticism. From now on I will know my audience and they will know my character. I am eternally grateful for the two red, cold words he impressed upon me that day. Sometimes a blessing comes in a cold, spiky, disguise and I wish I could go back and give old Prickle Puss a big hug for shaking me awake.
Something I think is important for me to do as a new writer is to create space. Not only create space in my life in terms of time to write, but also a comfortable physical place to go when I want to focus.
I own a small company that has a lot of unexpected daily scheduling items. I often don’t know when I am going to have to leave the house to go out on a job at the last-minute, or have to triage a ton of phone calls and emails, or help an employee. I have an on-call 24/7 kind of business. This is one of my biggest distractions when it comes to writing. Heck, this is one of my biggest distractions when it comes to life! I can never get away from it; can never really “unplug.” I’m not much of a planner (more on organization in future posts, I’m sure) so to have things constantly pop up in “now” status is frustrating for me. When I am writing, I usually feel like I need an open-ended window of time to be able to stop where it is natural for me to stop, or keep going if I the creativity is flowing. I have, however, taken some steps to minimize the interruptions by speaking with my business partner and changing my voice mail message to let clients know when and how they will be contacted back if it is not an emergency. I have also begun to schedule what work I can and decline work that is not scheduled in advance. I have in essence, put limits on my availability. This has helped tremendously and created space for me from a hectic work environment. At home, I have been lucky that my family has been receptive to giving me the time I need to take for myself. I guess they see how happy this makes me, or they don’t mind the house being a little (a lot) messier. Above all, what I needed to do was learn to draw boundaries around my time. This was a life skill I seemed to be lacking.
I have also created the room in this picture to have a peaceful place to write. I painted it a soothing color I love. I know my style may not be for everyone but I have surrounded my writing “nest” with things that I think are beautiful and meaningful and inspiring. No work other than writing is allowed in this room! Two things I collect are crystals/mineral specimens and antique bottles so they are both represented here. They just make me happy. I have placed pictures of angels and a pair of wings on the walls to remind me that I am never alone and should I need help I only need to ask. I have also included a very small portion of my book collection. I have a deep love of books and these remind me what I’m aiming for; publication! I think it is very important to remember to be grateful so I have added “Take A Deep Breath And Take In The Abundance Of Life” on the wall to keep me focused on my many blessings. One of the most important things in the room is one of the few pictures I possess of my dad and I together. We are walking hand in hand in a wide open meadow in Yosemite National Park when I was about two years old. We didn’t have a close relationship during his lifetime and he passed away three years ago. This is how I stay connected to where I came from and it is a good reminder that I must overcome what I have always perceived as a broken childhood and grow the Hell up. I also have a window to look out of as I daydream and make my dreams come true. The one thing I am deeply unhappy with in this room is the chair. The God-awful chair. It is the most hideous, pleathered, uncomfortable, falling apart, cheap thing I could imagine. The chair cover is more expensive than the chair and that won’t stay on. It is as if the cover doesn’t even want to be near it! I borrowed the chair from my business partner because it was languishing in her basement and I had nothing to sit on. It is actually up on granite blocks to accommodate the legs of the laptop desk I built yesterday (all by myself) beneath it. I will be upgrading this shabby monstrosity as soon as I can! The poster board and cork panels stacked by the window will be my cheap version of a pin board instead of a store bought one ($50 YIKES!!) Hopefully with a little hot glue and effort it will become my story board for my book. Yesterday I dusted and cleaned in preparation for heavy use of this marvelous space I have created. With new oil in the diffuser (I love things to smell good) I am ready to go!
I think it is important to begin this process in gratitude. Part of this will become the acknowledgements in the beginning of my first book so I am going to begin here with expressing how blessed I am in life and thanking the people who truly have been behind me gently nudging me forward along this path. To begin with, I am so deeply grateful for my amazing children and my husband. My kids keep me on my toes and my husband brings me back down to earth when I have drifted too far off (which I tend to do more than I’d care to admit!) They endure endless interruptions and delays as I furiously scribble notes on my hands and scraps of paper, or type them into my phone. They give me the space to write and allow me time for myself.
I am also lucky to have these words and ideas filter down into my brain from the universe so I thank the universe for these gifts. I need only to listen, write it down, and there it is!
Most of all, I am so blessed to have my sister-in-law in my life. I do not believe this book would have been possible without her years of counsel and encouragement. She is my best friend and confidant, soother of my most raw emotions, sounding board for my dumbest mistakes (before they are made), and that girl who is best at pulling me out of a tree when I get wound up. She is the one who has challenged me to expand myself and become my best and I will never be able to fully repay what she has given me. For years she has been a beautiful mirror reflecting my highest truths back at me. She has helped me see who I am. I am deeply grateful for my brother’s good fortune that she said yes.
Living daily with gratitude is something I strive for. I believe what Deepak Chopra says is true:
“Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe”
She knows he is going.
For days now,
he has slowly leached the hues of the living,
gained the pallor of withdrawal.
He holds fast to her.
Desperate and unable
to shake the frigid, shattering ground that awaits.
He alone must face the fall.
Grasping, he begins to fade and slip.
With his last he cries out in vain, her name,
despairing of their long, cold, sleep apart.
She knows what it is to watch a part of her leave,
and he is not to be kept.
She loosens her purchase in love and lets go.
Dropping, spinning, gaining speed,
he hits the ground.
Rent from her and life, he curls up to rest.
I am using this blog to set my intention. I will write a book. I will also continue on my path of writing poetry. In fact, I have at least three books inside of me that need to be written. If I don’t follow this life-long dream of mine, who will, right? I have no experience other than a couple of college courses in writing more than ten years ago, I’ll admit that right off the bat. I am simply going to go through the process, finding my way as I go, into what has always been my unrealized passion. Mistakes, thoughts, roadblocks, what works, what doesn’t, challenges, ideas, and creativity will all be recorded here. May the grammar and punctuation gods smile upon me. Here goes
nothing something, wish me luck!!
To hear my mom wail hysterically and break down in powerless sobs from the bathroom the first time she saw herself in the mirror after her double mastectomy is something I will never get over. I will never, ever outlive the pain that resonated so clearly above the normal shower sounds we all take for granted. I will always have nightmares of the sound of her mourning her beauty, her health, and her womanhood. To bear witness to someone’s ultimate suffering, despair, and fear was soul consuming for me. I thought of my daughter, and what this meant for her future. I thought of my son, the brand new two-month-old grandson she had only just met for the first time. And I wondered if mom (and myself) would ever again be OK physically or emotionally. That was ten years ago.
Mom had always been the sort of woman who was neatly pulled together. She had her hair, nails, and makeup done every day, without fail. She was beautiful and even as a single parent, men couldn’t help but be interested in her. She was an impeccable dresser and her closet was neatly arranged to hold several full sections of clothes divided into work, evening, and casual attire. Her accessories were organized and selected to perfectly fit each outfit. What I remember most however, were her hands. Her beautiful-manicured twice weekly- hands. They were often bedecked with custom-made jewelry featuring unusual gold designs and stones, but even naked they were amazing. The product of years of tender care and regimen.
She was never one to ask for help but offered it freely to those who needed it (perhaps a little too often.) If something had to be done such as a home repair or yard work, she took care of that herself. The only things she seemed to stay away from were car repairs, which would mess her nails. Nothing else was off-limits though and I watched her learn the hard way through trial and error how to lay brick, redo plumbing and install flooring. This was all before you could simply sit down and watch a couple of YouTube videos to learn how to do stuff. She was proud and anything but a “helpless woman.”
Mom was the hardest worker I have ever known. She got up every morning at 5:30am to get herself pulled together for work at a great job at an important company. She had clawed her way up the ladder to success in a time when women just weren’t “successful.” Especially a divorcee with two unruly kids. She worked this nine to five job during the week, sold real estate on weekends, purchased and managed rental properties for extra income, and earned a college degree, all while raising us on her own. There were no limits to her energy.
That my mom was healthy was never in question. She understood nutrition and ate a healthy diet. She even made sure we had protein powder stirred into our orange juice and that our vitamins were on the counter every morning before school. She worked out at the gym daily, hiked often, played volleyball, and swam. Once she retired she religiously walked her dog every morning at the same time, on the same route, for the same number of miles. Her fitness was always a priority.
Mom kept her car clean and her home cleaner-everything in its place. Tuesdays the upstairs were cleaned and vacuumed, Thursdays it was the downstairs. She washed her car every week and taught us about taking care of what we had, which wasn’t always a lot. Her last home was the pinnacle of her success. It had everything she wanted. There was an amazing view out the back windows of her favorite rolling hills and oak trees. I will miss that view. She built a garden, put in the landscaping, and even constructed a covered swing, all by herself. She made her own food from the produce she collected; the real fruits of her hard work. Nothing gave her more delight than to harvest her own cherries and eat them straight off the tree.
After mom was diagnosed, she volunteered for years at a local breast cancer support organization that helped patients get to doctor appointments, provided in-home meals, fitted them for prosthetic bras, secured wigs, and provided moral and monetary support. After that, she volunteered and helped people in hospice care by reading to them, feeding them, and taking down their genealogy information so their stories wouldn’t die with them. She did all of this knowing she would someday experience the same downhill slide they were living. I watched my mom as she helped an elderly neighborhood couple by cleaning their home, providing repairs, and driving them to medical appointments two hours away because their vision was impaired. When I was young I remember her slipping a thousand dollars that she didn’t have into a coworker’s desk drawer because she knew this woman couldn’t afford her own cancer treatment. She connected with family she had never known and began caring for them as well.
I’m angry at breast cancer for making what remaining life my mom has left in her, so difficult. Small pleasures like walking her dog or going to the movies are now major chores and are often more trouble than they joy she can derive from them. I hate cancer for causing her bones to disintegrate, for causing her to take radiation and chemotherapy that she hates because they are toxins she vowed she would never let into her body, and for the excruciating pain she must live with daily that causes her so much discomfort. I detest cancer for making her clean out and sell her dream house, with her garden and view and swing, and trade it for a tiny one bedroom apartment with zero outdoor space. I will never forgive cancer for making my mom cry as she “dismantled a lifetime” and gave, sold, or threw away almost all of her possessions because they wouldn’t fit in that apartment. These were her words. I detest cancer for robbing my mom of her health, her dignity, and her independence. There is no pain on earth like a daughter being asked by such a proud woman to help shave her armpits because she can no longer reach them but still feels propelled to perform this most basic and intimate item of personal grooming. Cancer sucks but I have to let this hate go. I must focus on the gifts cancer has brought. The biggest gift is the precious awareness of living now. Experiencing each day while I can, with those I love. This is the only way I can get through watching a loved one suffer so.
I am deeply appreciative for all of the Breast Cancer Awareness organizations out there giving resources and spreading knowledge so that fewer wonderful souls have to walk the Hell my mom has walked. I am grateful to be able to sit down and really think about this powerful female role model that I was so blessed to learn from, and to be able to share her with my children. I am so lucky I have been reminded that her real legacy is her inner beauty and the light she spread in the many lives she touched. I am so filled with gratitude to know her soul will continue on and the love she shared here on earth will not die with her. She will live on in me and I am thankful today to be able to share her with you. In honor, I think of you, mom.
Here I am again at the end of one less day with you
watching shadows from the restless outside night
wash down across your fast asleep form.
I revere this day I was given you,
in no greater peace and terror.
Smiling, I remember your confounded attempts
just moments before,
to pluck shining jewel-drops from the far side of the window glass before us.
Rolling out of a furious sky they eluded you.
As if you could collect them in a basket,
as if they were yours to give away.
Finally exhausted, you dropped like a rock into a well of sleep,
right there on the sill.
I can only breathe in this moment and hold you,
fighting as it dissipates against my will.
I am left swirling and scattered in a storm of my own.
So like the curve of a tiny liquid lense you’ve sharpened me.
The gravity of every second
more pointed, potent, and focused in time.
Suspended like rain, reflecting me,
I’m completely swept away.
It’s humbling to at last hold a dream,
more fickle than a falling leaf deciding where to land,
in my hands.
I need you to survive.
You cling to me the way fresh fallen snow holds a tree,
melting and strengthening while you dream.
Your tangibility washes over me and
I unabashedly shed my soul and weep.
Drowning, I’ve loved you a lifetime already.
For you can only be explained in the silver-hued mother-tears that fall
now knowing this will one day end.
Hard beneath the concrete her essence stands, still.
In decay she feeds Mother Earth
with rough-climbing branches that will never kiss the sun.
I watched her bloom late and root shallow
in a craggy urban foothold.
She taught me to fight the rain,
collect due with outstretched limbs,
snap without bending,
and scrape dust in drought.
She all but shut down to survive
and never went deep enough to hold.
Shoots absorbed with blight,
produced fruit that was untouchable.
Her friends were fences and we, the children
who played around her just outside.
In spring she could light up the sky.
Beautiful, buzzing, humming with promise of growth.
But as time moved
we watched her face fall in anticipated dormancy.
When that bitter winter came,
her hollow rotted structure gave
and I saw her wither, withdraw, and leave.
Now, I must tend this bitter seed that grows in me.
(art credit: Bare Tree Behind A Fence by Egon Schiele)
The team of twelve loomed large,
cocksure on sturdy ground,
simply had it figured out,
came for a score to count.
They showed up anyway,
to face the bruising they must take,
resigned to another beating,
heads held high, and unafraid.
One’s loss is another’s goal,
and across the field that day,
disbelief on both sides gave way,
to a whooping celebration.
The score had been settled in play,
the strong had learned to break,
and the weak to appreciate,
a victory given away.
If time suspended,
frozen for a moment at most,
between the seconds
I would walk with you again.
Instead of grasping hands,
rooted truths would grow,
and hushed voices would survive intact
to quiet the chaos in my head.
No more lost perspective,
or blind alleys and angles,
the push and flow of resistance
A heart immobile
would quietly yield,
and breathe life back between us,
the clock starts again.