About brijens

I'm a hopeful but often cranky menopausal midwesterner writing about questions without looking for answers.

Where’s the Hope?

A couple of remarkable things happened last week. Yes, I’m talking about the heated, contested, and often disheartening confirmation battle concerning Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

A friend of mine suggested that hope is blooming in the midst of this clusterfuck. I wonder. I have to admit, that I felt very little hope on Thursday as I listened to white men explain that they believed “something had happened to Dr. Blasey Ford,” but that there wasn’t enough corroborating evidence to indict Brett Kavanaugh.

It certainly isn’t necessary for me to cover the variety of ways these statements laid bare the republican senators’ craven determination to confirm Kavanaugh. That an indictment isn’t necessary in a  job interview is only one of the ways they sought to cloud the issue at hand which is simply this–he lied.

Last week, as the confirmation battle heated up, I began reading Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Call Them By Their True Names. Solnit writes, “Language can erase, distort, point in the wrong direction, throw out decoys and distractions. It can bury the bodies or uncover them.”

I like to read with a pencil in my hand because I can underline and circle and star words, sentences, or passages that strike me. This is one I circled, underlined, and starred.

Solnit’s assertion about language and the nefarious ways we use it drives a stake into the republican’s and Kavanugh’s attempt to not only side-step, but to confuse the issue.

Kavanuagh lied in a variety of large and small ways. That lying coupled with his outrageous and partisan opening statements and his utter disregard–no, his complete contempt–for the democrat senators on the committee disqualify him for a job of such magnitude.

So where’s that hope?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Because I want to find it.

Back in 2004, still smarting from the election that found George W. Bush continuing to occupy the White House (do you remember the scream that canned Howard Dean’s nomination–boy those were the days), I picked up Paul Rogat Loeb’s The Impossible Will Take a Little While. It’s a thick book of essays subtitled, A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear.

The book includes a short excerpt from a longer work by Václav Havel. Havel’s words are where I found the definition of hope that rings most true. It’s the “hope” I cling to.

Hope . . . is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Each time I recopy these words, I’m buoyed by the idea that hope isn’t optimism. I want to remember that. And when I do, I can make out the hope my friend was speaking of.

Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony epitomizes this sort of hope. She did the right thing, not because it would turn out well, but because it made sense–sense in her worldview of what is right and what is wrong.

Those women who confronted Jeff Flake. They gave their testimony in a public place because it was right that their voices be heard.

The women who blew up Chris Coons’s phone. They stood to gain nothing from sharing, but they shared because information is important.

That’s where I see hope.

Not so much in the necessary bi-partisan maneuverings of Flake and Coons. Sure, they did the right thing, but I’m tired of the optics–two white guys saving the day.

I don’t intend to downplay the importance of their actions. I’m grateful as hell. If nothing else, the FBI investigation offers a slight reprieve.  But, and it’s a big but, there would have been no action without the concerted effort of women determined to be heard.

Not just Dr. Blasey Ford, although her testimony blew me the fuck away. But all the women who’ve been speaking truth to power. Their refusal to shut up is contagious. Their voices rise as I write.

That’s hope.

May the cacophony continue!

Find Ecstasy in Life–An Abecedarian (with a couple omissions)

Weird accounting aside, here I am Monday morning, ass in chair, writing. It’s wet, gray and autumn-ish except for a late-summer lingering mugginess. I’m looking out my window (yep, I am an old-school typist) at the fattest cardinal I have ever seen.

In fact, it doesn’t look like a cardinal at all–sort of pale colored with a bright gray beak and reddish tail feathers. In fact, I probably would have mis-identified if a spectacularly red parent weren’t a few branches above mirroring the small fat bird’s every move. It has to be a fledgling.

The back yard cardinals, hopping from one thin honeysuckle-entwined branch to another in the tangle of burning bushes along the fencerow, remind me on this news-addled Monday morning that there are indeed many things to be thankful for.

Sometimes I forget. Just a quick example:

When a woman comes forward with accusations of sexual assault against a man who is seeking a lifetime appointment on the highest court in our judicial system, accusations that will forever change the course of not only her life, but also the life of her family, and she is vilified and called a liar by the President of the United States, I forget to be thankful.

When I see a group of Republican women on TV discussing the allegations, and one of the women claims that all 17 year old boys act that way, I forget to be thankful.

Some days it takes a lot of reminding.

I’m going to be honest here, sometimes reminding myself that there’s a lot to be thankful for seems like a luxury, an indulgence I can’t afford.  And then I read some Emily Dickinson–Find ecstasy in life–the mere sense of living is enough–and realize that being thankful is not a luxury at all. It’s a necessity.

***

So that’s where I’m headed this Monday morning in this winding and meandering–looking out the window at the still yellow honeysuckle blooming, and the still green grass growing, and one really fat cardinal, and tiny chipmunks, and a single green  pepper plant that refuses to quit–essay.

The world outside the window, just what I can see from my desk, gives me plenty to be thankful for.

An Abecedarian, from where I sit,

Angles of grey light through branches of the white pine trees, and the Breeze ruffling leaves, and my iced Coffee with simple syrup and soy milk, and those tenacious Dandelions refusing to give up, and the squared off Edges of pallets from Sydni’s wedding now a Fence covered with trumpet vines, and the box Garden my dad crafted from treated lumber and filled with Humus and manure and topsoil, and the Honeysuckle I can’t help but love, and even the poison Ivy (well not the poison Ivy, but I need an I), and the Jangle of wind chimes my neighbor brought back from the Philippines, and Kindness and Love and Memory and Notepads with lists and reminders and wishes, and Oscillating fans for their whispery sound and wind, and Pencils and Pens and Paper and Prayers, and the Quizzical turn of a pug dog’s head.

Should I go on?

How about the Red crested feathers of the cardinal, or the air Swollen with cricket and cicada Song?

How about the Ta-wheee of the killdeer, the Usefulness of the garden hoe leaning against the pallet fence, the Whistle of the car wheels against the Wet pavement.

I’m skipping X and Z, but I will say that I’m grateful to, thankful for, and wildly in love with Yellow–Yellow leaves, Yellow mums, the Yellow beach shovel lying atop the dirt pile, and the old Yellow bee swing hanging on the chipped black swing frame we bought and never used.

Listen, I know it’s a bit contrived–this ABC thing–and still I love it. I love the shape it. I love the broad yet constrictive form. I love the exercise of fitting my thoughts into something already created. And doing this particular exercise–giving thanks–forces me to acknowledge how fucking small we and our problems are. The world is so big and so beautiful.

A couple of weeks ago I began my post with a quote from Emily Dickinson. This week, I am going to end with the one that got me started today.

Find ecstasy in life–the mere sense of living is joy enough.

 

A Few Things

Yes, I missed a week–two actually. However, this blog post will count for last week (in a slightly twisted form of blog post accounting I am allowed to use because it’s my blog) if I post this coming weekend too.

It’s slightly difficult to post a blog when you are experiencing fun-filled weekends away from home, unless you are more disciplined than I–and by that I mean disciplined.

That said–lots has happened in the past two weeks.

I traveled:

by train to Chicago and by car to Lexington.

I scarfed down:

a wide variety of sushi (plum sushi is the bomb), Brussel sprouts roasted in butter and brown sugar, wilted kale salad, a huge piece of pizza by a kick-ass fountain, sweet black grapes in a plastic cup by the sickly blue waters of the Chicago River, steak and eggs glazed with a light and earthy pesto, salty, crunchy stove popcorn in the kitchen of a tiny house with good friends, and a hummus/veggie wrap with an illicitly brought-aboard can of sparkling rosé on a evening train ride to Chicago.

I read:

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo. There will be more on this later. IT’s a call to action, and I believe we must take it if we truly want to live in a just society. READ IT and let’s have a conversation about it.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. I have been listening to this book for the past several month. I’m not a big audio book person, so I listen mainly when I drive. If you are so inclined, I highly recommend listening as Noah is both funny and earnest. Noah’s story is illuminating and crazy and hopeful and so filled with love it hurts.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book is hard to read. The evil acted upon the Osage in the 1920s is impossible to understand and terrifying to comprehend. This book and the history it relates will break your heart–it did mine.

Right now I’m reading John Hodgman’s Vacationland: Stories from Painful BeachesYou might remember Hodgman’s billionaire act from The Daily Show. I got the rec from Ann Handley’s newsletter–and I have to tell you, I love it. This book is exactly what I needed after the heavy and necessary reading above. Hodgman is funny–I’m laughing out loud while I read it, smart, questioning, and slyly subversive. Comedy at its best.

So to summarize: I haven’t written because I’ve been traveling, eating, and reading. I’ve also been knitting. I started this new thing that I’m calling #yearofrags. I started it the way I begin most things–with an overabundance of confidence and a plan to do way more than someone with my lack of discipline can accomplish. So what began as an intention to knit a dish rag or wash cloth sort of square a day, has morphed into more achievable plan to knit a dish rag or wash cloth sort of square as often as possible. As of this Monday, I’ve knitted 17 of these rags, and I plan to carry on this task for a year. We’ll see how I do. If you are interested in this endeavor, you can check it out on instagram. I’m bridgettmckinney there and the hashtag is #yearofrags.

 

One more thing–A cool thing that happened.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about Loving More and featuring the wonderful signs from the Love More group located in Whiteland, Indiana. And now the Love More signs are all over Olney. It’s pretty cool and the work of a great group called The Unity Project and some other neat folks. Anyway, if you have one, or if you see one, post it on my facebook page, or here under my blog.

 

And with that–I’m off to knit a rag and take a long walk.

To Live Is So Startling

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”

Emily Dickinson

Sometimes the answer to the question–the one you weren’t quite aware you were asking–comes in the mail. At least that’s what happened to me on Friday.

Let me backtrack a bit. I have this new plan to blog once a week. Well, it’s actually an old plan, renewed. But new or old the plan is to blog once a week.

N.O. M.A.T.T.E.R. W.H.A.T.

So I sat down Friday with little more than an idea in my head about continuing this business of trying to love more.  In a grand mood, I was home from a haircut with Robbin. She’s magic, that one. I’m always a bit hipper and prettier when I leave her shop.

And yet, even in my I-look-pretty-awesome mood, I was grousing around because on my walk home I noticed and avoided a lot of

dog poop on the sidewalk.

Hold on dog lovers, it wasn’t like one dog shit on the sidewalks. It was more like every dog in town pooped on the sidewalk. And the truth, while I’m not a super complainy- type person, I am a rabid hater of dog poop on sidewalks.

I don’t understand why dogs can’t relieve themselves in the grass–isn’t it more pleasant there? Hell, I don’t even care if dog walkers neglect to retrieve their dog’s poop, bag it, and throw it away. As long as it’s in the grass, I can imagine it decomposing and making its way back into the soil. Go Nature!

I don’t; however, like to see the decomposing poop on the sidewalk. I don’t like to almost step in it or worse to step in it and have to scrape it from the treads in my tennis shoes. I hate having to train my eyes on the path instead of the sky which on Friday was full of huge white clouds quilted with thin streaks of blue. I don’t like to almost miss the doe and her two babies making their way through the ball park as if they were late for a game because I’m worried about stepping in a big pile of poop.

So when I began my blog post about loving more, it immediately devolved into a blog post/rant concerning the treachery of dog poop.

Enter Ms. Dickinson.  Here’s how it goes most days–after writing for a minute or two, I get up. Writing for a minute or two affects me that way–I just gotta move–run a rag over the kitchen countertops, toss a load of towels into the washer, make sure I have enough salt or flour or milk for lunch, let the dogs out. You name it, if there’s a distraction, I’ll ferret that sucker out. On Friday, mail was the distraction of choice.

***

And in the mail–a letter from a friend. Handwritten on the envelope, this Emily Dickinson quote taken from a letter she wrote to T. W. Higginson in the 1870s. It was, perhaps, the truest thing I’d read all week.

To Live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.

Yes, dog poop on the sidewalk is startling, but so are sky-quilted clouds and meandering deer and the way early morning sun glints off the million beads of dew on shaggy late summer grass.

It’s not hard to love more, is it, when you wake to the sound of your husband  lifting a fallen nest of baby robins, and you open the curtains, just as he places the nest full of gape-mouthed babies in the hydrangea bush outside your window.

To love more is to allow yourself to be startled.

Wait, I think I can say that better. To love more is to say enough with the resistance–go ahead and startle me world! I may not be ready for it, but I sure as hell don’t want to miss it, any of it. It’s about acknowledging and accepting that uncertainty is the norm. It’s to remember, as Nina Riggs wrote beautifully in her memoir, The Bright Hour that:

living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

To be startled is to know we are always on that tightrope.

To accept that the whole damned enterprise of living is a tightrope.

We resist being startled to our peril, and goddess knows it’s hard not to resist it. How much news about passports taken away from Latino US citizens can you take? How often do you have to read that the Secretary of Education wants to protect the rights for those accused of sexual abuse on college campuses while reducing liability of colleges? How many times can you bear to hear the president say the press is the enemy of the people?

It’s startling. And when I get startled, sometimes I get scared. So resistance kicks in, doesn’t it. Who wants to be startled all the time?

Like Emily Dickinson contends–it’s hard to get anything else done.

***

And yet, I am calling on myself, and you too, if you’re interested, to resist shutting down. To go ahead and say to the whole damned world–keep startling me. Because I’m beginning to believe it–to live is so startling.

In my back yard, the honeysuckle is fierce. Every year, I pull some of it down, and still it comes back and it climbs and weaves and clings its way up through the lilac and the burning bushes. And the crepe myrtle is just now bursting fuchsia. Right now. Right outside the window!

It’s startling, isn’t it. The tenacity of the honeysuckle, the grand display of the crepe myrtle. It’s startling, isn’t it. The baby girl grandchild who calls you “Gigi” for the first time. The 19 year old who cries at the possibility of a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Life is startling, people. Every fucking minute of it.

***

A friend of mine has a pre-schooler who asked her the other day, “Mom, do you think president trump will get peached?”

She answered, “I hope so buddy.”

A few minutes later her son asked again, perhaps with a bit more urgency, “I really hope president trump gets peached this week.”

I love this story for a couple of reasons:

One, it makes my heart glad that pre-schoolers see the necessity of impeaching our president.

And two–what if we just peached the fuckers? I mean, isn’t that the essence of loving more? Peaching those we disagree with? 

***

I’d love to sew this up neatly. I’d love to make all the stories come together. That’s what a writer does, right?

Maybe so, maybe not.

Maybe right now our job (writers, parents, dog owners, politicians, bakers and artists and conductors and vets) is to accept that “to live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else”

and to act accordingly.

 

 

 

Love More

 

 

I Smelled It

 

I smelled it.

Every time I got close to my daughter, Audrey, I smelled fingernail polish remover.

I smelled it for a week, on her breath and on her skin. I sniffed her for a week while she slept—and she was sleeping a lot—while she ate, while she watched TV. Every time she turned around, there I was with my nose in her hair, or trying to get a whiff of her breath.
I knew something was wrong.

 
There were other symptoms, sure. She was dropping baby fat which could be explained away by her age—14. Maybe she was hormonal. Maybe her body was changing. Maybe things were shifting as she grew taller. She ate strange things like Frosted Flakes and Snickers bars, and she started gluting soda and lots and lots and lots of water. She peed all the time.

Of course, I attributed the peeing to the water drinking and I attributed the water drinking to the weight loss—I thought it was a strategy, one I had used my entire life; drink more water in order to fill up, in order to eat less food.

It wasn’t a strategy.

 

The night before the diagnosis, the fingernail polish remover smell rippled around Audrey like a gas leak, and so I asked a others to smell Audrey’s breath and still no one smelled it. Normally the lack of accord would have consoled; however, it did not console because I COULD smell it; at this point, I could see it.

I didn’t sleep that night because I was busy shuffling into Audrey’s room to smell her. Did I really smell it? Each time I leaned in for another sniff, I answered the question. Yes, I still smell it. In the morning before I woke her, I smelled her again, and knew I would have to do something. I woke her, took her to school, and then googled this: “Breath that smells like fingernail polish remover.”

 
And there was Dr. Oz. Dr. Oz and diabetes.

Now most of the time, I’m okay with Oz. He’s familiar, a friend of Oprah’s a purveyor good health! But the doctor had bad news. He warned that the fingernail polish remover smell was ketones, and ketones might mean diabetes.

I called the pediatrician, related to the receptionist my Google sleuthing and that I suspected, but wasn’t sure, of course, that Audrey’s blood sugar might be high. “Could she have a glucose test,” I asked. She’d get back to me, she answered.

And then I took a walk. You see, there was a part of me that knew Audrey had diabetes and there was a part of me that refused to believe it. Disbelieving Bridgett went out for a nice walk and saw some things that seemed like omens–a couple of big crows, a sky smudged gray, and a tree full of starlings.

I walked for a bit, and soon my phone jangled and the receptionist encouraged me to retrieve Audrey from her 8th grade classroom and bring her in for a blood test.

I called ahead to the school.

Audrey sat pale and drawn in the school office. I explained that we were going to rule out diabetes. Or maybe I didn’t say diabetes at all. I was toying with the slight chance that I was a worrywart with a tumor that caused me to smell strange scents on other people. Can’t tumors cause you to smell strange scents?

At the clinic, a lab tech drew blood, and then Audrey and I went out for lunch before I dropped her off at school. Within ten minutes the doctor called.

 
“Audrey has diabetes,” he said.
“Her blood sugar is over 300,” he said.
“We will need to transfer her to Children’s hospital in St. Louis,” he said.

“Okay,” I answered.

That’s when he paused, “Bridgett,” he said, “go get Audrey right now, take her to the ER, so they can stabilize her for the ambulance ride to St. Louis.”

“Stabilize her.” he said.

I remained calm, but I repeated his words.

I said to my husband who was home for lunch. “Go get finished up at work while I pick Audrey up and take her to the hospital, so they can stabilize her.”

I called my parents, “I’m taking Audrey to the hospital. She has diabetes, and they need to stabilize her.”

I called the principal and told her, “Get Audrey out of class, I’m on my way to get her. We have to go to the hospital, so they can stabilize her.”

Stabilize her scared the shit out of me. Stabilize her is not something you want others to have to do to your daughter.

It took four hours to stabilize Audrey, and when they did, they rolled her into the back of an ambulance, and my husband and I got into our van and drove to St. Louis.

 

The nice people at children’s hospital told us we were lucky Audrey was diagnosed on a Friday because diabetes education was unavailable on Sundays. We’d have one extra day to learn about taking blood sugars and giving injections and dangerous lows and Diabetic Ketoacidosis. And when we left on Monday afternoon after finishing our education, we didn’t think we were lucky, we didn’t think we knew enough, and we were very worried all the time.

Five years later, that hasn’t changed.

You know, people, as far as I can tell, like a good illness narrative where the main characters learn big lessons about life, love, and living. I can’t say it doesn’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does, but mostly diabetes stole Audrey’s childhood and robbed me of the handy delusion that I could keep her safe.

As delusions go—it was a hard one to lose.

Today it’s been five years. We’ll mark it the way we always do—with story-telling. I tell Audrey’s story because stories connect us. We tell them to make sense of what we do not understand—and even when understanding remains elusive, we keep trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Book Hangover–Kelly Corrigan’s TELL ME MORE

Whenever I finish a good book, I often feel out of sorts, a little heavy, worn out, peckish, hungover.  I never feel this way when I’ve finished a bad book although to be honest, I rarely finish a bad book these days. My attention span for bad writing is markedly small. It is interesting though, isn’t it. Why would a good book unsettle me?

I suspect it’s a sweet little concoction–a dollop of joy, a swirl of connection, and a healthy dose of fear that I will never myself write something so tender, honest, and moving.

Last weekend, I read the final pages of Kelly Corrigan‘s brave, giant-hearted, open exploration of what matters in a life, Tell Me More.

Gobsmacked. Agape. Enchanted.

Enchanted while reading and still when I shut the book Sunday afternoon. Agape a day later, when I started copying quotes into my quote journal. Gobsmacked. Yes Gobsmacked from the time I dove into Tell Me More until the moment I swam out, a little out of breath, a little disheveled, a little in love.

That’s how a good book works.

***

The impulse at the heart of Tell Me More’s 12 chapters is, I believe, a reckoning with love. I say reckoning because it is impossible to love deeply and to be deeply grateful for and invested in that love without also being deeply and wholly vulnerable to devastation and joy, hope and fear, grace and grief.

If we want to love and be loved we must reckon with imperfection–in ourselves, in those we love, in our families, in our relationships with others, in the whole damned world, damnit.

Brené Brown calls this being wholehearted and defines wholeheartedness as : The capacity to engage in our lives with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and embrace — not in that self-helpy, motivational-seminar way, but really, deeply, profoundly embrace — the imperfections of who we really are.

Tell Me More is a book about wholehearted living. Corrigan embraces these truths–

I just showed my ass, and (not but) you still love me;

You died, and it hurts like hell, and (not but) I wouldn’t give up one measly minute of loving you;

Dogs eat shit from toilets and back yards, and (not but) still we hold them in our laps;

Life is short, and life is short, and life is short.

Tell Me More is a road map of sorts. Both an examination of and an assertion about what matters–and the answer is love. And if love is what matters, then the 12 hardest things Kelly Corrigan is learning to say are a guide to cultivating, celebrating, and accepting love exactly as it is and where it is offered.

***

28 years ago, I married my husband with very little knowledge of what marriage and parenting would require of us. I grew up in a loving household, and because my parents were skilled practitioners, I didn’t know how hard love could be. I’m still learning.

In the first chapter of Tell Me More, Corrigan writes about teenagers fighting, and beautiful clothes not fitting, and heads aching, and lives ending–loss. She asks, “Shouldn’t loss change a person, for the better, forever?”

Who knows? Right? What we do know is that loss doesn’t sting without love. As my good friend, Lia, would say, “It is what it is.”

Kelly Corrigan writes, “It’s like this,” when she writes about love and loss …

“It’s like this . . . This forgetting, this slide into smallness, this irritability and shame, this disorienting grief: It’s like this. Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.”

This one, I’m going to remember.

 

 

 

Why Walk–an Alphabet

I just returned home from an hour-long walk with my newly-retired husband, Eric. It’s a beautiful winter day–cold but sunshiney with little dark-eyed juncos hopping about beneath the bare-branched bushes and brambles.

Yes, I said newly-retired. My husband and I are navigating this new course hand-in-hand as well as alone. I’m taking on more regular writing work to sustain us in this new venture while he enjoys the freedom to follow his own creative pursuits while doing a bit more laundry, vacuuming, and grocery shopping.

We’re taking walks, watching movies, and spending a lot more time in conversation. He’s there when I wake up in the morning which is kinda nice and kinda weird. It’s a lesson in never-ending, always-changing swirl of the world. Everything changes and everything stays the same–who said that?

(I actually looked it up and the saying goes–the more things change, the more they stay the same, and it’s attributed to a French dude by the name of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr writing in 1849)

Anyway, all of this to say I’ve been so busy negotiating this retirement deal that I’ve already broken my promise to write everyfreakingweek here at the 49th Year. There is; however, something to say for failing early. It’s liberating. I can see that the sky didn’t fall, the earth didn’t open up a big sink-hole and swallow me, the roof didn’t cave. I’m still here, dammit, and I can write a blog post this week EVEN IF I didn’t write one last week.

So there, committee!

***

I’ve been walking daily, thousands of steps–thanks Fitbit–for years. My writing life could take a tip from my walking life, so today I’m answering this question.

WHY WALK?

ASS–I walk for my ass–my biggest (and maybe most hardworking) body part. I walk to use it and I walk to reduce it.

BE–There is no better way to simply be, than to take a walk in your world.

CATS–I like these crazy creatures, and love to watch a stray cat skulk across a lawn or dart under a bush.

DARK-EYED JUNCOS–These little gray sparrows show up in Olney every winter and hop about until spring.

EMPATHY–Walk every day, and you will deepen your capacity to experience the vast wonder and mystery of the natural world.

FLICKERS–this list is bird-heavy, but if you ever scare one of these largish woodpeckers from the ground, you’ll gasp at the beautiful patterns on her wings.

GREEN/BLUE MOMENTS–My favorite author, the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal delightfully dubbed those moments when you look up at the blue sky through green leaves, green/blue moments. If it’s gray today, you can look through a gallery of these moments at textbookamykr.com.

HOUSES AT NIGHT–There is something intriguing and comforting about warm light shining through the window of a house on a dark night–if you see people moving about, all the better.

ICE CREAM–Stop in at your local ice cream parlor for a sweet treat on a hot day, and lick the ice cream off your fingers all the way home.

JOURNEY–If nothing else, walking illuminates the well-trod truth that the journey is more important than the destination.

KILLDEER–Memorize this bird with its black-banded neck running across a newly shorn cornfield.

LOVE–the green spring grass, the white streaky skies, the puddles and pine needles and Cardinals against the sticking snow, one leaf turning and falling and twisting in a slight breeze, the tap and slap of feet against wet concrete, the slurp and gurgle of an overflowing creek.

MISCHIEF–Keep your eyes on the squirrels.

NUMBING, NOTICING, and OBLIGATION–Walking aids in our obligation to notice the natural world. We only come alive when we begin to truly notice.

PLACE–I’ve been walking around the same block since I was 14 years old. What was it old Jean-Baptiste Karr said–the more things change, the more they stay the same.

QUIET–Except for the birds.

RHYTHM–Breathe, Step, Pause, Notice, Repeat.

SYCAMORE TREES–White branches against a blue or gray sky.

TREE TRUNKS–at eye level, gnarled or smooth or flaking away like paper, white, dark brown, covered in moss or lichen, cracked and oozing, struck by lightening, glistening in rain and bending in wind.

UNDER–rocks, branches, piles of leaves, clear-as-a-window ice, mown grass, wind-blown cattails.

VINES–twining around and dancing together to the very tops of trees.

WIND–breath for the trees’ songs.

X–look up, you’ll see one.

YELLOW–black-eyed susans and wisteria and dandelions and feverfew. Tickseed and goldenrod and Gingko leaves like gold coins in the fall. Daisies and moonbeam coreopsis and fennel and zoysiagrass and sunshine flickering through heavy clouds.

ZIGGING, ZAGGING, ZIPPING, ZITHERING–hummingbirds.

 

 

 

 

Living in Questions

I didn’t watch The Golden Globes this year, so it wasn’t until a few days following that I viewed Oprah Winfrey’s magnificent speech. I’m not going to get into the “Oprah for President” whirlwind–at least not yet, but I do want to focus on her momentous contention: “What I know for sure is speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

You would think that, as a writer, this wouldn’t hit me as hard as it does, or seem as subversive or revolutionary, so I ponder it for a bit, and it dawns on me–well, sure, I believe that speaking YOUR truth is a powerful tool, but MY truth. Well, that’s another story. It’s why writing has been so damned difficult this past year.

I’m an overthinker, folks, and I’ve got a loud and rambunctious committee, and they’ve been loud, rowdy, and a smidgeon mean the last year.

When I sit down to write they say things like: so what? or who cares? or who do you think you are? or quit whiney-assing around? or give it a rest already!

It’s hard to believe that MY truth is a powerful tool. But here’s one thing I know for sure–the committee doesn’t waste its time when nothing is at stake.

***

I’ve been reading two books since the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one–Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour and Ursula K. Le Guin’s aptly titled No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters.

In The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs contemplates what it is to live while dying. Her friend, Ginny who is also dying of metastatic breast cancer explains it pretty well when she writes to Riggs that

“living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope
over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease
is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss,
only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more
—sometimes the wind is blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

After reading this, I dog-eared the page so I could come back to it because I agree with Ginny that we are always on that tightrope. If illness is a constant reminder, then a lack of illness can obscure how tenuous our foot path is. I’ve written here before about my daughter, Peanut’s diagnosis and subsequent crash course in living with Type 1 Diabetes, and I believe that the ever-present undercurrent of shakiness was the first and maybe most important lesson for me.

Sunday night, after finishing The Bright Hour, and bawling my red and tired eyes out, I turned to Le Guin’s No Time to Spare, a delightful romp through the sharp and sometimes cranky mind of the prolific Ursula K. Le Guin. In her 80s, Le Guin is forthright and opinionated in these essays that were first published on her late-in-life blog.

I turned to Le Guin because I needed a little aid in processing the complicated and pressing questions I had. How could I be hopeful and distraught at the same time? Can grief be mitigated by hope? Does grief deepen hope? What the hell?

These are good questions. All of ’em.

In the introduction to No Time to Spare, Karen Joy Fowler reminds us that “for a seeker, the answer is less important than what the seeker does with the answer.” I might add that perhaps questions are even more important than answers.

And speaking of questions–the January 2018 issue of O Magazine seeks to bring questioning to the forefront of life by dubbing 2018 The Year of Big Questions. No, I’m still not getting on the Oprah for President bus, but I admit to being a huge fan of O Magazine. And I love the questioning call-to-action. The editors write,

Every momentous exploration, pivotal social movement, ingenious invention, and soul-stirring journey began because someone asked a question: How can we change things? Where does this lead? What’s possible? What’s next? In mind, heart, and spirit, human beings are compelled to seek answers.”

We’re hardwired to question. What a fucking relief, right, and I’m determined to run with this in 2018. I’m going to use my voice, speak my truth, and ask a shit-ton of questions. I’m making a New Year’s resolution a couple weeks late, but this blog is one place I’m going to be brave.

***

 

So back to those tears and those two wonderful books. It’s a bit strange. You see, I don’t cry a lot these days even though the the political climate of our country this past year has provided ample reasons. Maybe I’ve been stunned tearless.

Oh sure I dropped a few tears when I watched my granddaughter, Beauty, push into the world back in July. And I choked up when Peanut’s friend, Meg, got married over Christmas break. But mostly, I am dry-eyed during even the saddest movies and the most devastating books. Sometimes I scrunch my face up and hold my breath a little in an attempt to conjure up some tears; after all, I’ve cried on a dime, at the drop of a hat, without reason and gratuitously my entire life. My kids look to me for the tears they expect, and I feel like I’m letting everyone down when I can’t produce them.

The spontaneous and unexpected crying when I finished The Bright Hour surprised me. After all, I knew the book had been published posthumously. So why the waterworks?

Le Guin has an answer for me, for all of us. She writes, “A book that makes me cry the way music can or tragedy can—deep tears, the tears that come of accepting as my own grief the grief there is in the world—must have something of greatness about it.”

Yes, that’s what The Bright Hour did. It’s honesty and deep questioning made me “accept as my own grief, the grief there is in the world.” To do this, to accept the world’s grief is a calling.

And a gift.

 

Spending the Day with Wonder

Wonder is my grandson. He is a running, talking, eating, sniffing, grabbing, singing, lunging, throwing, two-legged, two-handed, two-year-old with a seemingly boundless supply of both energy and curiosity coupled with a an imaginative and fearless questioning of everything.  I mean everything.

Spending the day with Wonder is an education in how to live. Everyone is his friend. He doesn’t know how the curly-headed little girl at the playground voted and he doesn’t care. He can create a rousing game of PJ Masks with almost everyone, and they are all on the same team–interconnecting to “save the day.” He delights in a Charms Blow Pop for lunch and left-over pumpkin pie for breakfast, but he also gobbles eggs, butter-topped bagels, and barbecued pork with equal vigor.

He notices everything, that one.

So yesterday morning, I noticed everything Wonder-style.

We sat on the sidewalk and traced orange stripes marking power lines. We slapped the corresponding orange and yellow flags on their spindly wire posts.

We threw sticks in the creek behind Pat’s house and kicked hundreds of leaves up into the air.

We ran. And ran. And ran. You see Wonder taught me yesterday that it doesn’t matter how dorky you look if you run, running feels good.

We pulled a thick dead branch from underneath the leaves and stood it up well over our heads and let it topple over the side of the creek.

We held hands. Wonder’s hands are small and warm.

We tossed squirrel-halved walnut shells into rippling water.

We sang silly made-up songs because that is a specialty of mine.

We talked about white cars and blue cars and Cat Boy (Wonder is a huge fan) and Po’s 1990s era red Ford Ranger and Christmas and the way leaves sound when you crunch them into the ground.

We noticed Cardinals and Robins and Dark-eyed Juncos and Sparrows, and did I mention the leaves–they were everywhere beneath our feet and in our hands and still floating down from the trees or hanging onto stark limbs waiting for a big wind.

We found a very old stone deer in a pile of leaves, and before I knew it, Wonder took a ride! Continue reading