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.

 

 

 

 

Beckoning Lovely–St. Joseph School Style in Memory of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I made a video.

Actually I compiled the hard work and love the staff and students of St. Joseph School shared with me and other folks who live in Olney, Illinois last May. So I made the video, but they made and then gave away beauty, love, and joy.  In other words, they “beckoned the lovely.”

Let me back up a minute. “The Beckoning of Lovely” is a project Amy Krouse Rosenthal initiated on 8/08/08. Hundreds of beckoners met Amy at Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate (the Bean) sculpture in Chicago and participated in an event where they made and beckoned the lovely. It resulted in this video and in subsequent events in later years.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died this year of ovarian cancer on March 13, 2017. She left behind a loving family–read her New York Times “Modern Love Column.” If you have read my blog, you will know that even though I didn’t know Amy, I consider her a mentor. She continues to mentor me with the books she left behind.

Amy called herself a “person who likes to make things.” This is a simple way to describe a life of creativity, a life devoted to making and giving away beauty. In a world where good and bad people are devoting great chunks of their lives to the acquisition of stuff, I’d say that Amy’s way of being in the world was and can be revolutionary.

I don’t know what sort of revolutions are in our future (I fear that there might be one or two), but I know that this is one I can get behind. Make things, make beautiful things and give them away. When you do this, you “beckon lovely.”

***

So the video.

Well, here’s the story. Last May, the staff and the students of St. Joseph School in Olney honored Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s life by “beckoning the lovely.” They chalked messages of encouragement on the sidewalks in town. They painted stones and left them around as gifts. They created signs of love and encouragement and sat along the streets and waved them to passers-by. They created bird-feeders out of peanut butter and seeds because they didn’t want to forget out birdy friends. They walked to local business, singing on the way and then serenading employees. The littlest ones blew bubbles. Bubbles! I think that is genius! At the end of the week, they held a dance party/ band concert/ sing-along on a public lawn.

So yeah, I made a video with a little help from 200+ friends.

 

 

 

 

Emily Dickinson and Miss AKR

It’s National Poetry Month, and in celebration of poems, I am going to attempt (yes attempt–no promises) to post a poem a day–only poems in the public domain unless I get permission of the author to post.

But before I post a poem, I want to announce the winners of the Amy Krouse Rosenthal drawing. I did say WINNERS because I drew twice. I couldn’t help myself. I not only love to buy books for myself, but apparently I love to buy them for others. I think I just like to buy, read, mark in, carry-around, sleep with, spill coffee on, take a bath with (you get the picture) books. So I decided to hold two drawings–one for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal and one for Little Pea and The OK Book. So we have two lucky winners.

Karen Zuber is the winner of Encyclopedia and Textbook

Lauren McClain is the winner of Little Pea and The OK Book

The books are on the way ladies, I will message you when I have them in my hot little hands, and we can arrange a drop off or a pick up!

*******

And here’s your poem for today–a great reminder for me today to not take myself so damned seriously!

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)
Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Beauty Begets Hope: Missing Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I have not survived against all odds.

I have not lived to tell.

I have not witnessed the extraordinary.

This is my story.

And thus begins the cool-as-hell encyclopedic memoir of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a book that changed the way I think about writing and living. The book is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and it was published to acclaim in 2005. The copy I hold at this moment is not the first copy I’ve held in my hot little hands, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Since the day I opened the pages to this book, I’ve been shoving my own copy into others’ hands–“You have to read Amy Krouse Rosenthal,” I say. “She is one of my favorite authors.”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died March 13, 2017.

That Monday morning, I woke with a feeling of space between my heart and my gut–an uncomfortable space, a feeling of emptiness and dread. I’m anxious by nature, so I’m not new to this feeling of floating doom, but often I can point my finger at some insistent and persistent doubt or worry bubbling just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

And no, I’m not claiming to have powers of clairvoyance although I believe there is something of a mystic in all of us, but when I heard the news, I knew that emptiness was a direct and physical reaction to Amy Krouse Rosenthal leaving this world.

If you are a reader of my blog, you know that I am a fan. If I lived in the Chicago area, it is likely that I would have been a stalker sort of fan, haunting Amy’s favorite book stores, hanging out at The Bean hoping for a glimpse of the coolest writer ever. As it is, living in the southern portion of the state, I only made it to see Amy once, and it was one of the best days of my life because even though Amy was sick, she was full of life.

On her website, Amy describes herself as someone who likes to make things. In her life, she made 30 books, numerous short films, a couple of TEDx talks, three people she loved a lot, and beauty.

We weren’t friends although I did have the great pleasure of meeting her on August 8 in Chicago. Amy, who was sick with ovarian cancer at the time, held a book-coming-out party for her delightful new memoir-of-sorts, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

I’ve said it a million times, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life changed my life. I didn’t like it at first, but then to my surprise and delight, I loved it, I was enchanted, delighted, curious, I wanted to know how she created this outstanding record. It’s beautifully constructed, and the structure is inspired. I have read it over and over because it reminds me  that cynicism is overrated. It reminds me to be genuine and earnest and honest. I thought I might never love a book this way again.

And then Amy got me again with Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy with a group of giddy early readers of the book. I read it on the beach with sand on my hands. I didn’t expect to like the texting component as I don’t love texting to begin with, but it grew on me immediately. My phone was sandy and sticky because I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to hear the wine glass sing, to put a message in that bottle, to hear Ted Koch read his poem.

Amy’s memoirs aren’t like other memoirs. They are like walks through her brain on any one day. We get to know her through her thoughts. These memoirs are brain maps.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to write this blog post since the moment I learned of Amy’s death. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be worthy. I want it to be enough, but if I learned anything from reading Amy’s books and listening to her TEDtalks, from watching The Beckoning of Lovely over and over it is this–“Make the most of your time here” NOW, “Make do with what you have” NOW, “Beckon Lovely” NOW because NOW is more than enough. NOW is the right time to live, love, post on your blog, kiss your kids, eat another piece of blueberry cobbler, take a walk, sing with the Dixie Chicks,  watch that big bellied robin in the back yard.

So here I sit with my grief and my gratitude for Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I write.

A couple of months before Amy died, she went on a train to think, and she asked folks for things to think about. I was feeling pissed and depressed and anxious about the election results, and I wrote to her:

I have been thinking a lot about the place of beauty in the world. I’m wondering if it’s still important to put flowers in vases or set the table nicely or make art. And I’m a writer, so this is a big question. But sometimes I wonder—do we have time for all this stuff when things could get so bad?

I was a teeny bit self-pitying at that point, but Amy went on that train, and she wrote back.

Martin Luther King advised “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” Even in this time of doubtless disappointment, when I witness something beautiful—a tree, a string quartet, the face of a loved one—what I feel is hope.

She wrote a lot more than what I share above, but I want to focus on that hope. Beauty begets hope.

It’s not too much for me to remember. Beauty begets hope.

A couple of nights ago, a friend and I made the most of our time here now and we got tattoos. Beauty begets hope.

A yellow umbrella for Amy and a reminder that I’m enough, what I offer the world is more than enough.

It’s a lesson I may have to learn now that it’s tattooed on my arm.IMG_2479

 

As usual, I want to give you a pair of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books, so if you leave a comment, or send me a message, I will enter you into a drawing.