In Thanks For Teachers Who Start the New School Year with Smiling Faces and Open Hearts

This morning I had the great pleasure to spend 45 minutes with some of the best folks in town–a small dedicated group of teachers at St. Joseph School where my sister is principal. I have a long history with this little school I attended from 5th through 8th grade. It’s where I and my children learned to laugh and write and share and reason and love, and my grandchildren will know many of these same special people, walk these same wide and welcoming hallways.

I’ve written here before about two of my favorite authors, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brian Doyle, and how both died this year way too early. I remain shocked and saddened by the loss–for their families and for the world at large. We need their big love, their creative gifting, their exuberance and unbridled joy now more than ever before.

Earlier this summer, I shared a couple of Prayers for Ordinary Things that my friend, Julie and I wrote one morning in a coffee shop. We modeled our prayers on the delightful, funny, heartfelt prayers Doyle wrote and collected in A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. Reading Doyle’s prayers and then writing my own lifted my heart still smarting not only from the disastrous election but from the rise of intolerance and hate. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how lovely the world remains. It’s called cultivating gratitude, and it’s an essential practice for me these days.

So when my sister asked me if I would lead the teachers in writing their own prayers of gratitude as they enter the new school year, I said, “Yes,” even though I knew it would require me to stand up in front of people and admit, even espouse how much I love writing and reading and poetry. Why is this so hard?

It’s vulnerability, of course. Still at 50 years old, I don’t want to be seen as a dorky poetry geek, even though I am indeed a dorky poetry geek and not the least bit cool. It’s hard to share our hearts with others. And yet, it is the most important thing we can do. This morning those teachers and their writing blew the top of my head right off. They wrote the most beautiful poems/prayers and they read them with laughter and tears and a little shyness and tremendous vulnerability.

So as school resumes, I give thanks for teachers who start the new school year with smiling faces and open hearts, who will spend the next several months wiping noses and calling out bad behavior and shining light on good deeds and listening to ridiculous and silly stories; who will walk the perimeters of playgrounds holding small gloved hands; who will chase loiterers out of bathrooms and rouse sleepers at their desks; who will stay up late grading papers and creating accessible lessons and tests and assignments that will not only stimulate eager minds but also open them to bigger and wider possibilities; who will make the hardest tasks fun and the funnest activities meaningful; who will laugh with and cry over and sometimes yell the tiniest bit at the students who have burrowed their way like small wiggly worms into their unsuspecting hearts; who will foster friendships and cultivate collegiality and model restraint and passion and goodwill and hope and joy; who are the bravest of the brave for the love they offer again and again and again against all odds to our lucky children entrusted to their great and devoted care.

Pre-existing Conditions Revisited

I  haven’t spent much time here on the blog this summer. Vacations, family, kids in and out, badminton tournaments, long walks, and a new baby (a beautiful black-haired girl came into our lives a week ago thanks to my son and his lovely wife)–all of these hot-weather joys have quieted my yearning for expression. Instead I’ve been basking.

I’ve even tried to eschew the news and haven’t done a bad job. But this damn healthcare business won’t stop. The people whose healthcare won’t change are determined to make the American people pay for the hollow promises they’ve spent the last seven years making. Their brazen disregard for the elderly, the sick, the unemployed is mind-boggling. In fact, it’s so mind-boggling lots of folks are immune to it.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with folks about healthcare that ended with someone saying with cynical shrug of shoulders, “It won’t happen.”

I guess I’m not that cynical. I believe that they will, if they can, take healthcare coverage away from the most vulnerable among us. And we are all vulnerable. High blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, pregnancy, diabetes, cancer–if we don’t think we have pre-existing conditions, we are sadly and dangerously mistaken.

My daughter has Type 1 Diabetes. My father has life-long heart disease. My sister has a thyroid condition. I had an eating disorder when I was a kid. It’s time we took the legislators seriously. They are out for our healthcare.

Call your senators people. Call them now. Call them repeatedly. We must keep up the pressure.

The 49th Year

63 years ago, an 11-year old boy who loved baseball sat right next to his mother while a kindly old pediatrician explained to him–you have a hole in your heart. This meant for that young boy, no baseball, no track, no basketball.

I imagine this appointment broke that little guy’s heart, and his mother’s too. They didn’t have a lot of resources, and whatever disappointments they were handed, they took chin first. I have a picture of them in my mind, sun filtering through a high dusty window–dust motes flickering in the air. There were no tears.

Not quite 20 years later, my dad had open-heart surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to repair that hole in his heart. He had a scar that began at his belly button and traveled up almost to his collar bones. My mom remembers seeing him for the first time post-surgery, the breathing tube…

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In Gratitude to Brian Doyle–Prayers for Ordinary Things

Brian Doyle, who penned two of my all-time favorite essays, Joyas Voladorousa tribute to the beating heart, and Leap, died at the end of May. I love Brian’s writing, especially his essays–they are exuberant and joyful and magnanimous and funny and thoughtful and always probing into the workings of what it means to be human in a world both bewildering and beautiful.

Brian Doyle wrote about being Catholic in a way that made me glad to be Catholic. His writing helps me appreciate both the mess and the glory of the church, makes me glad for the sacraments and the ritual, prods me to hold more than one truth in my trembling hands.

Brian Doyle wrote so many things in his way-too-short life–essays, fiction, poems, and prayers–oh how dearly I love his prayers. In fact, since his death, I have taken to carrying around a small but powerful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. This little book, published in 2014, is a miracle in itself–a reminder to cultivate gratitude. The titles of the small prayers are reason enough to pick it up. Here are a few:

Prayer in Thanks for Decent Shoes

Prayers for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks

Prayer for Women Named Ethel and men Named Elmer, for We Wiill Not See Their Likes Again

Prayer of Thanks for Hoes & Scythes & Spatulas & Toothbrushes & Binoculars & the Myriad Other Tools & Instruments That Fit Our Hands So Gracefully & Allow Us to Work with a Semblance of Deftitude

Prayer of Bemused Appreciation for Handheld Mobile Devices

Prayer of Thanks for Suntan Lotion

***

Last Wednesday I visited my good friend and walking and writing partner, Julie, in New Harmony, Indiana where she was attending the West of the Moon Creative Retreat led by the equally fantastic Terry Price and Dave DeGolyer (known in literary circles as Lafayette Wattles). If you haven’t visited New Harmony, you are missing out. Lucky for me, I live an hour up the road, so when Julie invited me to visit, I said, “Hells Yes!”

I arrived in New Harmony in time for the West of the Moon Reading at Sara’s Harmony Way. The abundance of talent, spirit, and soul in that room blew me away. I love readings and the chance to hear original poetry, fiction, and essays in a small venue. Dave and Terry have created something spirited and soul-tending in their creative retreat.

After the reading, Julie and I got a bite to eat, and then we went back to the hotel where we started pulling books out of our bags, and guess what–we were both carrying the little book of prayers by Brian Doyle. It shouldn’t have surprised me as this sort of thing happens all the time with Julie–we are forever reading the same book at the same time without knowing it. We often have the same books in our to-read piles. Just two weeks ago, Julie sent me a book I had been wanting to read but had yet to buy.

We laughed sitting there in the small room holding the same small book in our hands.

The next morning, as we drank coffee and tea back at Sara’s Harmony Way, we decided to write our own little odes to Brian Doyle’s uncommon prayers. I thought I would share the exercise and our prayers here. It’s fun. If you give it a try and would like me to post your prayers, I would be delighted. I plan to write a few more myself.

Here are the instructions for writing Prayers in Thanks of Ordinary Objects:

  1. Set your timer for five minutes jot down a list of ordinary objects.
  2. Look over your list and choose one.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes or as long as you like and write a prayer of thanks.

 

Here are the prayers we wrote that morning:

A Prayer of Gratitude for Cloth Napkins by Julie Stewart

Thank you for cloth napkins, the washed softness of them on my cheek when I wipe away the errant dab of mayo. For providing a home for my daughter’s outgrown calico dresses, so that each time I pick you up from your place at the table, I touch her childhood again, what she was wearing when we sat outside on a blanket sharing a bowl of popcorn and a grape popsicle, the meal that consoled us earlier that day I had thrown a sippy cup at the wall and popped off the top and spilled grape juice, staining the white wall purple. Thank you for being small enough that I could salvage the section of fabric that remained unstained. Thank you for folding yourself up, crisply ironed, so that each time I retrieve you, it is like starting again, a new day, a change to nourish myself and clean my face of any messes I leave behind. Thank you for nestling the knife and spoon, waiting to meet the fork that stands guard on the left. Thank you for being square, for having sharp edges and straight lines, when so much of life is complicated, for being able to be folded in half once and then again to make a neat rectangle, but when life gets fancy, for being able to become a flower or fan, for being both beautiful and useful, the true measure of thing’s value. Thank you for coming back to the table again and again, never letting yourself be tossed away because life got a little messy.

A Prayer in Thanks of Spoons by me

Thank you for spoons, for their slightly ovally cupping. For their perfection in soup and sauces, for the way they make tasting easy, the way they hold liquids aloft and towards your lips, for their scooping and stirring and scraping. For big spoons and wooden spoons and plastic spoons, for those tiny spoons covered in a soft material that changes colors when the food is too hot—imagine a chubby baby without a spoon in his little curled up fist–eyes poked out, food not eaten if there were no spoons. Wait, imagine ice cream, yogurt, creamy tomato soup, oatmeal, milk shakes, banana pudding without a spoon, imagine iced tea in need of a little sweetening without a long handled spoon. Think of hot gravy, steaming in its boat on Thanksgiving without a sweet ladle to puddle it onto mashed potatoes and corn. Oh good glory to spoons and the way they feed us. The way we take their image into our beds, the way we shape our bodies in their likeness to hold each other close. Oh spoons.

 

 

 

 

 

Times They Are A’Changing

It’s true what they say–the less you write, the harder it is to write. It’s been a month since I’ve written here, and I suppose it’s about time.

The past month has been one of enormous change. But aren’t they all? We like to think we’ve got a handle on living, a sense of what’s coming, a method for navigating our particular circumstances, but that’s an illusion–or at least I think it is. Things are changing all the time. Things are enormously changing all the time, but mostly we don’t notice.

Take Peanut for instance.

In the last month, Peanut graduated from high school, enrolled in college, and flew off to New York for a quick five day trip with her lucky mama–that’s me. I hadn’t spent that much alone time with my girl since those first almost three years of her life–her older siblings were in school every day and her little brother hadn’t been born yet.

Peanut was not what you’d call a “good” baby. She cried a lot. She wanted to be held non-stop. But I had time, so I carried her with me everywhere, and I taught her to love the up and down motion that occurs when your mother is doing squats while holding you. This turned out to be a pain in the ass–MINE–pun intended.

But you know what else those early years with children taught me?

You never get it right.

Babies and toddlers are constantly reminding us that we have to go with the flow. And things are always flowing with those tiny growing beings. Just when I thought I had Peanut on a sleep schedule, she got a cold and the sleep schedule went out the window. Just when I thought I had a pretty good meal plan going for Sheldon, her little brother, he tossed his chopped broccoli sopping in butter to the floor and has not since eaten a green thing.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, in one of her many books or interviews or online classes says that change is always occurring–at the cellular level. IN other words, there is no stasis. (Forget for a moment that I did not direct you to the quote or section in her work and decide for yourself that you will look her up, order one of her books, listen to one of her many teachings on the Internet, and you will be forever changed although according to Pema, you already are.)

We cannot stop the march of time.

Cells reproduce and die, neurons snap, wounds heal and reopen and heal again. Children throw gloriously ridiculous purple faced fits and then sit calmly for hours. Hawks hatch from big hawk eggs in a nest down the street and fly away before you can zoom your binoculars in to get a look. Bird shit is washed away in the next rain and you’ll never find that nest again. This is the way it goes.

I fight change all the time. And fighting change is a hopeless endeavor, a losing battle.

I tell myself all the time–you’ll never get it right. I know it sounds pessimistic, but it’s actually pretty damned freeing.

A long time ago, when my two oldest children were toddlers only 15 months apart, Anne Lamott told me (no, not directly, but I like to pretend we are friends) that I was going to fuck up. It was a revelation to me. I remember nodding my head in wonder and relief because I was an uptight little mother worried about every tantrum, every banana not eaten, nap missed, watering eye, runny nose, all the scabs and bruises and those breathless NOs screamed with a demonic ferocity before red-faced and tightfisted my child collapsed into a writhing mess on the dirty vinyl floor.

I’m gonna fuck up, I thought. And everything changed. If I was going to fuck up, I might be able to just enjoy this glorious mess we call life.

Of course, I never remember this, but I’m a wee bit lucky because my kids and my husband are experts at reminding me that we all fuck up.

I hope they never stop because when I stop worrying about fucking up, I start looking around, amazed and awed by the ever-changing landscape that is life.

 

What Jimmy Kimmel Said

63 years ago, an 11-year old boy who loved baseball sat right next to his mother while a kindly old pediatrician explained to him–you have a hole in your heart. This meant for that young boy, no baseball, no track, no basketball.

I imagine this appointment broke that little guy’s heart, and his mother’s too. They didn’t have a lot of resources, and whatever disappointments they were handed, they took chin first. I have a picture of them in my mind, sun filtering through a high dusty window–dust motes flickering in the air. There were no tears.

Not quite 20 years later, my dad had open-heart surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to repair that hole in his heart. He had a scar that began at his belly button and traveled up almost to his collar bones. My mom remembers seeing him for the first time post-surgery, the breathing tube running into his throat–he looked like he’d been hit by a Mack truck. Family legend has it that her knees gave out and she sank to the floor right where she stood.

He survived the surgery (and another one 40 years later) and continues to live even though his heart still gives him the business. But his heart disease was a pre-existing condition. My parents spent the next 40 years, making sure that he had some sort of employee-sponsored insurance plan, and my dad worked his damn ass off–that’s for sure. But when he changed careers late in life, my mother went to work to make sure they had insurance. It wasn’t a given–not until they aged into Medicare.

 

***

30 years ago, a skinny college student with short hair, packed up her 1974 Dodge Gold Duster and drove home. Her parents were admitting her to a psych/eating disorders unit with her consent. She could no longer remember eating a meal that hadn’t been fraught–food was both enticing and frightening. She couldn’t eat with control like other people. The vomiting. The shame.

For close to 60 days, I lived on a split-third floor in a residential psych hospital. Half the floor housed mood disorders and half the floor housed eating disorders. There was overlap. I was not cured when they released me a few days before my 21st birthday, but the long stay did disrupt the cycle of binging and purging that marked the hours of my days.

There would be no more treatment. I now had a pre-existing mental health condition. Insurance companies could attach this nifty little thing called a rider to insurance policies. A rider excludes coverage for certain conditions. I aged out of my parents’ policy because I was no longer a student and I was 21, so insurance was out of the question until I was married and on my husband’s policy. I learned quickly to omit those 60 days from my health history.

***

In 2013, my 14-year-old daughter lost 25 pounds, drank a ton of water, and stopped menstruating. I thought she was following in Mom’s footsteps, but I could find no evidence that she was purging. In fact, it was weird, she was drinking sodas and gobbling down big bowls of Captain Crunch and Frosted Flakes. She had never been a sugar girl. She’d always preferred popcorn to Pop Tarts, peanuts to pie. I couldn’t figure this one out.

There was the strange issue about her smell though. She smelled like fingernail polish remover. I sniffed her. It drove her crazy. I sniffed her some more. She frowned and pouted and peed like mad. It took me a day or two of sniffing, but finally I looked it up–breath that smells like fingernail polish remover. And there it was–diabetic Ketoacidosis.

The nearest children’s hospital is almost three hours away. The ambulance was just the right size for the nurse and the IV delivering life-saving insulin and my daughter. I tried to climb in there with them, but there wasn’t enough room, so I had to travel with my husband. It was a quiet trip.

Insulin, test-strips, meters, needles–they aren’t cheap, but they cannot be done without. Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disorder. My daughter’s pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. There is no option for discontinuing treatment other than death. As we prepared to leave the hospital–to begin our post-diabetes life, the social worker told us–You are lucky the affordable health care act is in place. She was even a little scoldy, perhaps she was tired of arguing the ACA’s benefits–without Obamacare Type 1 Diabetes can be a nightmare for young people.

***

Just last week, while I sat in a hospital room with my dad who was soon to have his  heart shocked back into a sinus rhythm after a year of atrial fib, the House of Representatives voted to repeal and replace certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

While our president mouthed all over the place that pre-existing conditions would continue to be covered, the  new provisions allow states to apply for waivers that would let health insurance companies offer paltry policies. These policies wouldn’t be required to cover the 10 essential health benefits mandated in the ACA. States who wanted the waivers would have to set up so-called high-risk pools — to protect insurers from high-cost patients–like my sweet daughter.

My daughter, Peanut, and is 18. She graduates high school in one week. She can remain on our health insurance policy for 8  years. But what happens when she leaves our policy? What happens when she graduates college but finds a job that doesn’t offer employer-sponsored health care? She can’t go one day without insulin. How does she survive?

IMG_2592

Peanut on her way to Prom May 2017 (dad and Wonder photobombing in back left corner)

Here’s what a caring gal told me on FB about my concerns: if one of my four children was in a position where medical premiums or costs were incurred I would advise them to disconnect their internet, get a cheaper car or take the bus, and eliminate things that weren’t essential to take care of that responsibility.

I couldn’t respond to that.

How do you respond to that?

I guess this post is my response.

I’m going to leave you with Jimmy Kimmel who said it all so well.

Another War Poet: Siegfried Sassoon

While the press gushes over President trump and the “decisive” action he took against Syria without questioning why it’s better to bomb than to accept refugees, I have been reading some poems by soldiers who refused to  gloss over the ugly facts of war. Here is a poem by Siegfried Sassoon.
Attack
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

So, the Election

I started a shit storm on my FB page by posting this meme:

fb-meme

It made me uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I wanted to delete the entire post. I felt FB naked up there. Everyone who cared to (probably a lot fewer people than I imagined) could read what people were writing on my page in defense of Donald Trump. Others could see that I violated a new sort of FB creed–the one that says you shouldn’t post about religion or politics on your feed because it’s unseemly. I felt very unseemly, folks.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted an hysterical photo of his wife, their two babies (under two years old) and himself on Halloween. One baby is dressed in a sweet little costume, and both babies are frowning and crying, while he and his wife smile with the sort of pained smiles that young parents often wear. Under the pic, he explained that he doesn’t often post pics to social media because he thought it too easy to only show the fake parts of our lives.

What a bad-ass thing to write!  It is easy to post pretty pictures that depict happy families, children winning awards, delicious home-cooked foods, bottles of good wine, sun-drenched afternoons–and we all like to see these things. I know I do. I love to see my friends living their lives to the hilt with beauty all around. God knows, all I have to do is turn on CNN to learn that things aren’t all that peachy.

And still, my friend has a point about the fakey stuff that occurs on social media sites or anywhere else we are trying to create perfect stories for the consumption of ourselves and our friends (and enemies too, because God, don’t we like to stick our bright, shiny happiness right up in the faces of those who rub us the wrong way?  okay, maybe that’s just me).

So back to the shit storm. I didn’t take it down.

Over 140 comments later, I am still trying to figure out why it bothered me so. Why I felt ashamed. You see, I want people to like me. It’s as simple as that.

It comes down to vulnerability. (Seriously, Brené Brown)  To be vulnerable is to be susceptible to emotional injury, easily hurt, to be susceptible to attack. We look at vulnerability as a weakness, but I am learning, a wee-bit slowly, I think, that vulnerability is a strength. Vulnerability is the only place where love can thrive.

 

This election is important for more reasons than I care to write about here, but the fact that so many folks are going to vote for Donald Trump is, in my opinion, the most compelling aspect of what is going on in this election and in our country.

People are in pain. And whether or not I understand the pain or its origins, I won’t dismiss it. In fact, I believe we dismiss it to our peril. Donald Trump is banking his bid for the presidency on our dismissal. His fear-mongering, his hate, his outlandish lies all depend on our continued determination to dismiss a contingent of the population I prefer to pretend doesn’t exist.

That’s why I allowed myself to be vulnerable on FB this week. That’s why I left that post up and engaged in a lengthy discussion about abortion. I made a vow to myself when Donald Trump got the nomination that I would listen to the often ugly and hurtful things he and his supporters said, that I would not whole-cloth dismiss him or his support as an ugly anomaly.

It’s hard.

I don’t like it one bit.

But if I truly believe (and I think I do, I think I do, I really think I do) that love is big enough to hold us all, then I have to practice love–dammit–and this week that meant being vulnerable on FB, listening to shit I didn’t want to listen to, engaging in conversations I didn’t want to have, leaving it out there so anyone could read it.

I want the election to be over. I want to weep with uncontrollable joy when Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the election and becomes the first female President of the United States.

Until then . . .

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I’ll meet you there–Rumi

 

I Get To…

October.

For the last four years, October’s shorter, leaf-blown days signal the end of tennis season. This year, as the mums fan out in yellow and orange and deep purple blooms, as the Burning Bushes in my back yard go red, one oval at a time before dropping leaves like feathers on the grass, as tiny webs fly through the air and stick to my still bare arms, October ushers in the final tennis season.

Peanut is a senior, and last week she played her last high school singles match and qualified with her spunky doubles partner, Marie, for the state tournament where she will play her last high school doubles match.

Each of the three years prior to this one, I’ve welcomed the end of tennis season, the last of the all-day-long Saturday tennis tournaments, of the after-school matches that run from 4-8:00. Welcomed the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night Subway-less suppers, the end to the midnight oxy-wash laundering of the dingy white tennis jersey. And because Peanut has Type 1 Diabetes, the end of tennis season means that we don’t have to worry so much about overnight lows or stress-induced highs.

We catch up on our TV shows, the ones we have been DVRing since the new season began. We take walks at night and eat sit-down dinners.

As we all know, I’m a dreader. Normally, I would be dreading the state tennis tournament in Chicago. I would dread the long drive from southern Illinois. I would dread the city traffic, the distance between the different tennis sites, the cold weather, the early morning matches, the old Holidome where where we stay every year, but something funny has happened to me. I’m not dreading it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve dreaded one silly thing since tennis began.

This year, I get up early on tennis days to make sure that Peanut’s uniform–one white track shirt and a black skirt–are clean and folded. I pack the cooler with cold drinks and nuts and ibuprofen. I fill the car with gas, if the meet is not at home. These are not new things. I’ve been doing them since Peanut entered high school as a freshman. What is new, is that I look forward to all of it.

I’m not all-slumped shoulders with a deep woe-begone voice chanting in my head, “Another fucking tennis match, and I won’t be home until 10:00, and we’ll have to eat at Subway or McDonald’s for the 15th time this week.” The woe-begone voice never even showed up this year. Instead, I am Mrs. Giddy Anticipation, beaming out rays of happiness and joy. I get to attend another tennis match and watch my girl play again. I get to watch her hit her low heavy ball cross court. I get to sit with the other parents or joke around with the other tennis girls who call me Mama Bridge, and instead of embarrassment, I embrace it. I am Mama Bridge.

Is it possible that the ever-annoying, interfering auto-correct is correct when changing dread to dream or read or bread or tread? Has something changed? Is it me?

I think so.

About a year ago, I decided to insert get to for have toSomeone suggested it in an essay or a book. It might have been Shonda Rimes in her funny, smart, and entertaining memoir, Year of Yes.

I have to say, I always thought I should to learn how to say NO before I worked on yes, but because a wise, book-loving crone sent this book to me, I thought I’d check it out–and guess what, she was right. Shonda thought I should embrace my wonderful life, and I think little by little, I took her advice.

I don’t know if get to for have to came from Shonda or Pema or Glennon or Brené or Katrina or Amy, but I’ve been reading a LOT of women this year, women who know what it means to fail, to strive, to fall down, to dare getting right back up, to laugh, to cry, to be flawed and beautiful human beings, and by Goddess, I’m learning something.

I don’t know what will happen when tennis ends, but I don’t have to know. I’ll probably cry when Peanut hits her last volley, tosses the ball up for her final serve. I’m sure I will grieve a bit, the way I grieved when Peanut’s brother Lefty’s pitching career ended. Endings are a drag.

But you know what, endings are also beginnings, and I’ve been practicing all year at beginning again.

I’m learning, friends. I’m sure I will dread again, but I hope to remember how damned good it feels to dream or read or tread or even eat bread.

Tomorrow I will hop in the car, stop to pick up my awesome mom who is going with me, and drive our happy asses to Chicago. I plan to sing the whole damned way.

Does It Make You Kinder?

Last weekend, I spent four days in Michigan with a group of women friends. This might seem a little braggy, but I have a hellacious bunch of women friends. I’m fortunate in so many ways, but I am born under a lucky star charmed in the friends department. Over the next few months, I plan to write a bit about friendships between women because as I near 50–I’m four short months away–I have never been more aware of the absolute necessity of good women friends.

Let me tell you about this particular group of friends. There are seven of us although only five made it on the Michigan trip. I like to think of us as a writing women’s collective. We met in graduate school and fell in love with each others’ voices first and then with each other. We are a wordy lot. We write group emails and group texts. We share essays and novels in progress and short stories and blogs. And we talk and talk and talk.

We get together a couple of times a year. In Michigan we continued our tradition of walking, talking, eating, drinking, writing and reading. We hiked the Sleeping Bear Dunes of Lake Michigan and took long walks along the shore of Crystal Lake and the Betsie River. We enjoyed burgers smeared with bacon cherry marmalade and swooned over parmesan crusted toasted cheese sandwiches. We waded into Lake Michigan even though the water was so cold goosebumps pricked up all over my body. We completed a 1000 piece book puzzle in 48 hours and then whined (this was maybe only me) that the puzzle was finished.

We stayed up late drinking wine and roasting marshmallows. We made s’mores with dark chocolate covered caramels with sea salt. OH MY GODDESS, they were decadent. We talked politics for ten minutes at a time. This was not because we disagree on the big issues, but rather because we felt a ten minute bitch session about Donald Trump, his policies, and his incomprehensible rise to the top of the Republican ticket was more than enough when the air was ripe with birdsong.

We’d stop talking for a minute, take in the white bark of the Birch trees and the caw caw of two crows high up in the branches, poke at the fire, swat at a mosquito and then begin talking again.

Because there is so much to talk about.

I could use this paragraph to list the variety and complexity of the overwhelming problems we face today, but I seem to do that a lot, and each time I make a list (global warming, poverty, the lack of equitable education, the continued objectification of women in church and in society at large as well as the dominance of rape culture) I  am desensitized to the possibility of change and the questions we must ask ourselves. After all, if I can sum it up in a few words and sandwich them between other words and use some pretty bullet points or em dashes, then perhaps the anxiety that wells up in my gut and threatens to sit me on my ass for the next 24 hours can be avoided.

The truth is it’s pretty damned hard to live with and in the questions.

***

Questions, however, might be a good place to begin.

Like I mentioned, we talked our mouths off this weekend. We talked about the environment because we were surrounded by a beautiful one. We talked about young black men being shot because there is barely a weekend that goes by when another tragic shooting isn’t in the news. We talked about clowns running around in small towns because it’s kind of funny and supremely weird. We talked about cultural appropriation in literature and in life. We talked about books. We always talk about books.

But mostly we talked about being women, about menopause, and oppression, about vaginas–one of us is irritated by the wholesale use of the term vagina to describe the vulva or the clitoris or the labia–and boobs and rib fat and the glory of inhabiting instead of being at war with our bodies.

We talked about religion/church/spirituality because we all believe that God is love and that divine love resides both in these bodies we are learning to inhabit and in the body of the world. One of us was a hospital chaplain, one of us a theology student, one of us a former Catholic, one of us a doubtful and often reluctant but still-practicing Catholic (that’s me), one of us a joy-filled agnostic, and all of us seekers.

Let me tell you about my good friend, Lori. She’s smart. And she’s funny as hell. She is a storyteller and speaks with brazen honesty. Her strong voice is both tender and tough as nails with just enough twang to let you know she has spent the bulk of her adult life in Texas. Lori is long on love and short on bullshit. She’s got the truth in her sites and she doesn’t pull any punches to get there.

A few years ago, she and her very lucky son (because she is his very smart mother) were having a conversation about religion and church and Chick-Fil-A. Some of his friends’  families were patronizing Chick-Fil-A in the guise of a certain sort of Christian support for the corporation’s anti-LGBT stance.

Lori told her son that religion, that church should make you kinder. She offered him a hard-earned question she had asked herself when leaving her own faith years ago, “Does it make you kinder?”

We all stopped talking when Lori offered it to us. “Church or religion. It should make you kinder, right?” she said.

Yep, it should.

You see, I’ve been thinking about questions all year, allowing myself to settle into uncertainty, but damn this one’s got an answer. I’m sure that there will be times when “Does it make you kinder?” won’t be the only question I need, but for now I think it’s a pretty good place to begin.

Again.

 

 

I Feel Bad About My Neck Sweat

It’s early summer, and I’m standing at the pharmacy counter in CVS, waiting for the nice pharmacy staff to get my bundle of over-priced prescriptions. It’s a big prescription day, so I’ve walked here wearing a back pack. The temp outside is in the mid-70s, but the humidity is sky-high.

I walked here beneath trees swaying, leaves shimmering in the light wind. I should be comfortable, but I’m not. My body is hyper-aware of how fucking hot I am all the time, and is overcompensating in the sweat department.

Sweat runs–no pleasant trickling here–down my back and front, soaking the waistbands of both my underwear and my shorts. Sweat drips under my nose and all around my hair line. Sweat puddles in the hollow my bra has created in my rib fat–as an aside, the rib fat was a surprise when it popped up unannounced the day I turned 40. There is too much sweat for the expensive sweat-wicking tank top to handle; in fact, I have come to believe that tank-top salespeople are out and out liars. But nowhere am I sweating more than my neck.

Yes, it’s true, my neck sweats. Copiously.

I could be wearing an invisible sprinkler collar. That is how much water is rolling down my neck. I could water a peace lily with this neck, or provide ambience for your backyard garden…

 

Pretty, right. No, not if it’s your neck, and a very nice woman with gentle brown eyes is gathering your prescriptions and you can’t get too close to the counter, lest you leave a puddle of neck sweat by the cash register. Luckily, I find a pair of tube socks in my back pack–who knows why they are there, probably from a long car ride when I thought my feet might get cold, back in the 90s when I still got cold–so while I wait, I wipe at sweat with socks. They are surprisingly absorbent.

“Yes, I’m wiping my neck with a pair of socks. Menopause.” I say with what I hope is a humble sort of humor when the pharmacy tech returns.

“Oh yes,” she nods knowingly,  “I remember that.” She hands me a stack of prescriptions and looks me in the eye, “It does ease up.”

And I believe her, but I’d like a date. Like in 6 months maybe?

You see, I’m having a hard time concentrating on things that really matter with all this sweat pouring down my neck. I mean, the world is heating up, and Donald Trump is running for President and folks like Matt Lauer let him lie on TV, and the ocean is full of the little plastic beads from our exfoliating face washes, and pre-teen girls are wearing words like “chastity” on the asses of their too-short shorts, and our milk is pumped-full of hormones, and our drinking water is an antidepressant cocktail. Who the hell gives a shit about neck sweat?

The truth is I don’t spend a lot of time looking at my neck. In  I Feel Bad About My NeckNora Ephron wrote that her dermatologist said the neck begins to go at age 43. I’m 49, and my neck looks ok. It might be the extra layer of fat or maybe long-awaited benefits of oily skin. My parents promised me years ago that my genetically oily skin (thanks Dad) would save me from wrinkles when I got older. Yes, they actually thought that a future without wrinkles would appeal to a 16-year-old with acne. Kind of hostile of them, huh.

Last night, my sister and I were walking, and I began a rant about this neck sweat problem, and she had the nerve to say, “You know, I never notice all the sweat until you draw attention to it by rubbing your neck and talking about all the sweat.”

I draw attention to it? What?

“It’s funny.” I say, and then I kind of push her a little bit because maybe she will fall down and take it back. She doesn’t fall down, though. She just laughs.

Here’s the thing. Neck sweat is kind of funny and kind of gross. I’m a lot tired of sweat. Menopause arrives with a myriad of not-so-wonderful physical and mental changes–grouchiness, rib fat, sleep problems, hot flashes, achy joints, anxiety, and that’s just a taste, but the one that is knocking my socks off (and into my backpack, apparently) is the sweating.

Here’s the kicker: sweating is pretty awesome. My own body-operated natural a/c. My internal cooling system knows the truth: I am one hot cookie right now, and it acts accordingly with volumes of cooling elixir. Sure, I’d be happier if that elixir were a little less noticeable, a little sweeter in scent. But sweat’s good!

I mean men sweat all the freaking time, and they don’t give a rat’s ass because they’re MEN, and who doesn’t like a sweaty man. But let’s not forget that if their neck sweat were bothering them, there would damned sure be a pill for that shit by now.

And yes, there are pills for some menopausal changes, but I’m partial to my Lexapro–I’m sort of a one-pill gal. So I can either embrace my sweaty neck and grow up to be a proud and sweaty crone or I can put my sweat on the back burner where it’s sure to douse the flame.