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

Me too

Yesterday, I posted my own Me too status. I didn’t do so lightly because for the last 30 years the sexual assault I know occurred has been diminished over and again by the naysaying voices residing inside, as well as outside, my head. “Did you say NO?” they question. “But you didn’t say NO, right,” they assert.

I didn’t say No.

But yesterday, there were so many Me toos, I was compelled to add mine. The unuttered NO that stuck in my throat didn’t excuse the abuse of power, did it. That unuttered No did explain the crushing acceptance of blame and inevitability. I’m not all that brave, but I hate being vulnerable, and I had to get pretty damned vulnerable to post that status.

Today there’s been a wee bit of backlash—folks comparing Me too to the ubiquitous Facebook, Thoughts and Prayers.

When I first read a comment from a writer I admire, a writer who pooh poohed all the Me toos, I experienced the familiar old wash of shame, that warm liquidy feeling that starts in the gut and rushes up to the red face, accompanied by those same naysaying voices, Who do you think you are? What are you trying to prove?

I wanted to take it down—my Me too. I wanted to erase it. But I recognized those damned voices. I recognized the shame. And you know what—I remembered something Brené Brown teaches in her book and online course, Daring Greatly.

Shame cannot survive empathy.

Me too is empathy. Me too is witness. Me too is sharing our stories.

So Me too

for the woman pushed up on the hood of her own car, while the cop she called for help pulls her favorite shirt apart, popping all the buttons off.

and Me too

for the woman who stood bruised and helpless in front of the States Attorney who commanded, “Show me your bruises,” and “I know the man you are accusing of rape and I don’t believe he could do this.”

and Me too

for the 12 year old pushed into a corner of an empty gym by the cute dark-headed 8th grader with the deep brown eyes, the one who leaned in and assaulted her with his eyes while saying, “Have you ever been kissed?”

and Me too

for the multitudes of girls and women who were preyed upon in their own homes by their dads or grandfathers or uncles or or husbands or brothers or brothers’ friends or sister’s boyfriends or brothers-in-law or child-care providers or friends of a friend of a friend.

and Me too

for the 20 year-old student who believes she has made too many mistakes to stop her best friend from pushing her head into his lap while he unzips his pants.

and Me too

for any girl or woman who has crossed the street or turned around or sped up her heart smashing around the cage of her chest because the man in front of her or behind her might not be safe.

and Me too

for the woman who couldn’t say No because she needed the job, recommendation, money, drugs, shelter, pap smear, protection, food.

and Me too

for every woman who did say No and it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.
for every woman whose rape kit is stuck in a warehouse somewhere untested.
for every woman who can’t write Me too yet and for all those who just did.
for every woman who tells her story and for every woman who can’t.

Me too

if you have been fighting this battle for years.

and Me too

if you started fighting this battle only yesterday.

and Me too

for our daughters and nieces and granddaughters and sisters and mothers and aunts and friends who have by some stroke of luck avoided sexual assault and for our daughters and nieces and granddaughters and sisters and mothers and aunts and friends who have avoided nothing because together we can bear witness to and share our stories

Me too
Me too
Me too

Enough

What do you write the day after a white man (and yes, I do believe this is important to stress) kills at least 59 people and injures 500 more? With guns. With an arsenal of guns.

What do you write when your heart is broken? When you cannot understand how anyone, ANYONE can believe it is fundamental right of people to own weapons that can mow down that many human beings in minutes?

What do you say to your dad who has an NRA sticker on his truck window, to your Indian neighbors who are heaving a sigh of relief that the shooter wasn’t a person of color, to your daughter whose husband went to Afghanistan and Iraq for a country hell-bent on protecting Stephen Paddock’s right to bear arms but not his family’s right to healthcare?

Enough.

Can we say ENOUGH?

Can we say ENOUGH to the oft-touted bullshit that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Of course, people kill people, but killing is much more efficient with guns. GUNS.

Can we say ENOUGH to a society that demands protection for gun rights, but refuses universal healthcare for its citizens.

Can we say ENOUGH to the NRA buying our politicians with their big pockets.

Can we say ENOUGH to a culture that demonizes people of color but willfully ignores the misogyny, machismo, and white supremacy that is the fertile growing ground for these mass killings.

Yes. ENOUGH.

Now is definitely the time to talk about this. Now is the time to politicize these deaths. We must.

Say ENOUGH! Please go to Everytown for Gun Safety.  You can study the issues–did you know that Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered by a gun that people in other developed countries? Did you know that between 2009 and 2016 there were 156 mass shootings and since June 12, 2016 when 49 people were shot and killed at an Orlando nightclub, there have been 521 mass shootings?

Let’s say ENOUGH.

Please visit Everytown for Gun Safety and take action right now.

 

Is hope the thing with feathers?

Yesterday morning, I sat outside while it was still cool and the air was full of song–I wish I could approximate the warbling trills, the notes and the way they quavered in the whispering trees. I sat there long enough that I began to see the birds, hopping from one slender limb to another in the still full lilac bushes.

It’s funny how that happens isn’t it. First you hear the song, full and expansive, and then you hear the single notes, and finally you begin to see. It takes a while. It takes a certain sort of stillness, an attention to the moment at hand.

Anyway, I had my eyes on a tiny little bird I thought might be a chipping sparrow. To tell the truth, a friend mentioned a chipping sparrow to me one day, and I fell madly in love with the name–chipping sparrow.  I love the sound of that word–chipping. And while I never looked the bird up, I imagined I saw her everywhere. Anytime I saw a little bird, I thought to myself–I wonder if that is a chipping sparrow.

So I watched this little bird flit around in the green of the lilac bushes and I thought over and over–chipping sparrow.  It’s likely that I even greeted her in my own sing-songy attempt at morning glory, “Well, hello chipping sparrow,” I probably said because I have taken to speaking to birds and trees and even rocks and cicadas and worms trying like hell to make their way across the massive concrete slabs we call sidewalks.

At some point during this birdsong/cool air/ sun-shining-through-the green-tops-of-pine-trees series of moments strung together in what almost seemed like a prayer, that little bird flew up from the lower branches of the lilac bush and lit on the chair directly across from me. I could have touched her.

I didn’t try. I still remember the day I ran around my grandmother’s yard with a salt shaker because my father told me if I could salt a bird’s tail, I could catch him. Let’s just pretend that only happened once.

“Look at me,” she seemed to be saying as she gingerly danced her teeny little bird feet on the chair’s back, giving me a full view of her chunky little body, her long beak, her warm cinnamon-colored back, “do I look like a chipping sparrow, lady?”

I’m not a birder, but I’ve had wrens in my hanging baskets before, and I knew this little chirper was a Carolina Wren. And as soon as, not a moment before, the knowledge came to me, as soon as I felt that delight and wonder at being able to name such a delicate and wild thing, Ms. Carolina Wren flew off (no, I do not know she was a she, but it’s my story). She didn’t fly far though. She flew to the ground beneath the lilac bushes, and she rustled around with a sister or two in the pine needles foraging for wren things, I suppose.

I sat there for a very long time or for a few minutes. Time slowed down or perhaps it sped up or maybe it did just what time does and kept marching on and soon I found myself mired in the day at hand.

And the day turned out to be a doozy. Last night, my daughter, Peanut, received some very sad news–two of her childhood friends were involved in a tragic accident. I sure would like to bring this essay around, to bring the little wren back, to illuminate the harsh wonder of the world we live in, but I can’t twist the story to my liking, can’t stitch it up all neat and fine.

All day long, after my encounter with the little wren, Emily Dickinson’s poem was in my head:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 

*****

I have always loved that image–of hope being a winged thing–but this morning I am wondering if we do hope a disservice by imagining it thus. Hope isn’t ethereal at all. Hope is dogged and rough and resilient. Hope resides in the dimmest doorways and the darkest corners of our lives. Hope grows up from the disaster and the dirt, the fertile floor of grief.

Hope demands of us, we would-be-practitioners, determination. As Vaclav Havel wrote, “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.”

I would contend that hope is in that late night knock on my door. My daughter reaching out for comfort when there is none to be had. That’s where hope settles in, that is where hope begins the growing of wings.

Living in Questions

Last night I lay in bed, my head bursting with words. I wrote essays, letters, an entire book! I couldn’t sleep for all the words.

And all the peeing. Yes, my overactive and underperforming bladder got into the act too. I don’t think it’s her fault–my bladder I mean. She must be squished from all the baby-growing and child-birth I put her through.

Point is–it’s hard to sleep with words in your head and a bladder that will not quit.

Does anyone else out write in her head? If only I had all the essays and books and letters I’ve written at night while trying to sleep. The words in my head are always so clear, so brave, so brilliantly bound–each one a stepping stone across a wide roiling river.

And then I wake up and they have dissipated into the ether of a morning come too soon.

Point is–this blog post was much better when I wrote it in my head last night.

***

Two days ago, I visited my local liberal florist and ordered a bouquet of flowers for my oldest friend who’s always been a speak-the-truth-until-your-voice-shakes sort of gal. She’d recently (again!) spoken out when swigging her beer would have been simpler. I won’t go into the details except to say that she referred to our president as a pussy-grabbing asshole who made her fucking sick. This wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d been on my back porch with that beer, but she wasn’t. She was at her mother-in-law’s house, and her mother-in-law voted for and supports the president.

I don’t write here as often as I once did because I’m a wee bit angry, and I do not live in a community where trump support is an anomaly. It’s the norm. This is a problem if you are a wee-bit angry, usually out-spoken, leftist 50-year-old trying like hell to be authentic and honest.

I believe in love. I really do. But it’s a lot harder if I say something that incites someone I love or like or hell, even know, to espouse support for the orange monster in the white house. I want to continue to love, like, and know people.

It’s why I’ve been so quiet. I’m stunned.

Kind of like that bird who thuds against the front porch window thinking she would check out that shiny bottle of water on the coffee table–stunned.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously claimed that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  Most of the time, I’m able to pull this off with a little work–okay a lot of work.

Here’s where I’m having trouble. How can a person both be good and have voted for and still support donald trump? It’s the still supports part that hangs me up. I can accept that good people voted for the guy, but I don’t get it, don’t understand how any good person can still support him, can still defend him.

And I know A LOT of good people who do.

I LOVE a lot of good people who do.

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe donald trump is only a window into a world that existed all along–a world that because of my whiteness, my middle-classedness, my small-townedness I’d only visited off and on as a woman.

I imagine there are lots of folks who have been thinking these past 7 months, “welcome to my world, lady.”

***

When I began this blog, the 49th year, I was pretty certain that Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States, but I intended to live in the questions. I just had no idea how big and elusive would be the answers.

All this to say–I’m done. Done with the quiet act. Done worrying. Done pretending. Done half-heartedly laughing about our differences. I won’t avoid a tough conversation, but I will no longer deny that the cavern between us is deep.

Like my old friend, who loved the flowers by the way, it makes me fucking sick that our president said he could grab pussies at will because he was a superstar.

It’s that simple.

 

 

 

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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