Sunday, July 02, 2017

Not Sure What Bit Me

For a long time now, I've sorely neglected my house keeping tasks. There are some legitimate reasons for this, and some not so legitimate reasons. But during the month of June several things transpired and I cleaned house (or I began to work on cleaning house). I don't fully understand what happened.

I'd started doing Morning Pages (a la Julia Cameron) again and the condition of the house was one of the themes that kept coming up. Also, a while back, one of my grad student friends asked me when I cleaned house. I had to admit to myself (and to her) that I didn't, which made me feel decidedly not adult.

A couple of weeks ago, we had Tropical Storm Cindy come through. She was supposed to be very bad. We got two days off due to the wind and the rain that was coming through. Cindy was not as bad here as was predicted. But I was home alone (hubby was not given the day off due to weather) and what else was I going to do do? Being home alone on a rainy day provides a prime cleaning opportunity.

So I worked in my den and in my foyer. I threw stuff away. I put stuff away. I dusted. I vacuumed. I rearranged the furniture. I rearranged the pictures on the wall. I decorated. I cannot tell you how long it has been since I even cared about decorating. I was so very pleased with myself. I looked forward to my next weekend off so I could continue to get things done that had not been done in far too long. It made me happy. It made me wonder what the heck had gotten into me. I even cut my long weekend short to be home and clean some more.

Things are still far from perfect. There is still much to be done. But I've made a start and I hope to keep on moving forward.

Also, another odd thing. Today I pulled out a quilt I'd been working on. I was disappointed with the way it looked because I'd gotten somehow mixed up with my pattern. I sewed the two patchwork pieces back together and added a border at the top and at the bottom. I'm planning on adding another border around all four sides. It didn't turn out exactly like I'd hoped but it's a pretty good "save" if I do say so myself.

Perfection is overrated. Good enough is good enough. And practice makes progress. That's the biggest thing I need to remember, whether I am cleaning house or sewing a quilt top: don't get overwhelmed by what is left to do. Savor the progress you have made. And keep moving forward.

I'll show you a picture of my quilt top but I'm not yet ready to share house photos. Just believe me when I say it was bad and now it is better.

I"m not a big John Maxwell fan, but I've had this quote in my art room for several months now. It resonated with me when I saw it. I've not been too good at staying consistent with many small disciplines. I'll have to do better if I want not to lose ground and to keep moving forward.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Regrets

I was in a room somewhere, staring out at the Houston skyline, trying to think neutral thoughts for my last EKG done with the relaxation study people.

According to my husband, she plopped down in the chair next to his and asked, "Are you a patient here?" He was in the process of answering the woman when I came walking up. We introduced ourselves, the woman and I, she'd already introduced herself to my husband, and started telling our respective cancer stories. She'd had breast cancer around six years ago and now it was back, in her lungs and in her blood.  Her right arm was completely bandaged due to complications with lymphedema. Her left arm was swollen almost to bursting, it seemed to me. She mentioned the word "metastisized. I don't consider that a good or hopeful word (though I could be wrong, having cancer three times doesn't actually make me an expert).

(Let me insert this right here: If you're smart, when someone says they have breast cancer and it was estrogen positive, as yours is, and it came back after the sixth year, you will remind yourself that her story is not your story. Same thing with colon cancer stories. Don't even bother to compare. Every single cancer story has its own differences, along with similarities. But just don't think that just because this or that happened to her or to him, it will also happen to you. Back to the original story now...)

We talked about a lot of things in a short time. She'd been a nurse. We talked about sleeping and how she couldn't get situated at night due to a couple of broken ribs on the left and not being able to sleep on the right because of the lymphedema. She told us about a place that might do laser surgery on carpal tunnel syndrome.

She lives in the area we lived in when we were living in Houston, very close to NASA and on the water. What a small world it is.

We got around to the subject of art when she asked me about the relaxation study and we talked about the things that helped us to relax. She flat out said it, "I'm an artist"! We talked about how art soothes and calms us. She excitedly told me about how they'd converted her garage into a studio for her. She was most thrilled about having a sink! But she also got a full bathroom, with a shower. I told her a garage studio was my secret dream.

I'd already talked too long. I had to get to my next appointment. She was so engaging. I could have talked longer. I could have walked down to the coffee shop with her and visited all afternoon. We would have had so much to talk about, I just know it.

How I regret that I did not have the courage to just ask her if she would like to exchange emails so maybe we could keep in touch. 

Her name was Bess. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chance Encounters of the Sacred Kind

I've started back to doing Morning Pages again. If you don't know about Morning Pages, it's a practice from Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. Basically, you get up and write three handwritten pages every. single. morning. You just write whatever is in your head, going in a stream of consciousness style (which isn't hard for me to do). You keep your hand moving and if you can't think of what to write, you write "I can't think of what to write." It's supposed to clear your head of all the piddling things that run through it (and make room for creativity to flourish). Or something like that. Anyway, that's become part of my morning routine.

I've been thinking I'd also like to develop a meaningful evening routine, something I'd do, creatively speaking, that would be non-negotiable. I'd thought maybe I'd write a little short story about something that happened that day, or something I've noticed, in a journal. As it so happens, I have a story for tonight...

Maggie was out somewhere and ran into Brian, the guy who owned the skating rink that my kids and their friends all frequented when they were younger. They made their small talk and he asked her how Tyler was doing. She had to tell him that he had died 5 years ago. It was awkward and sad. They talked a bit about the memories. Brian went on to tell her how he always called her brother Bobcat. We all knew this, but we never really knew why he got that nickname. Today Brian told her. It was because of the way he pounced on the puck when he played roller hockey.

Quoted below is a piece of a poem by Rumi. The smell of Tyler has long been gone from his shirts. Sometimes, if I try real hard, I can remember how he smelled. Oddly enough, I was thinking sometime today of how I'd like to be able to hug him again, really just to sit and talk with him a bit. Things like the encounter Maggie had today can be sad. We are made aware again of our loss, an awareness that never really leaves us. Time doesn't heal that grief. But you can learn, through time, how to walk the changed landscape of your world. And these chance encounters where we have to deliver the news to someone who does not know can also bring joy. We have our family stories of Tyler, we talked about him on Mother's Day. My mom said, and I agree, that Tyler had an "old soul." Today we learned a new story about our Tyler. That makes me happy. It made Maggie happy. Other people's stories about the ones we grieve are a sweet gift. Today I can see Tyler pouncing on that puck.

Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob, blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his son and can see again?

But don't be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth,
without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you. . . .
(Rumi)

Today was our 42nd wedding anniversary. Burying a child is hard on a marriage. We've managed to walk together through our grief. I'm grateful for our continuing survival. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

More Reading

I read Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. For some odd reason, I didn't think I'd like it. I loved it. This is one of the quotes from the book that seemed important to me (even though, now, it seems rather obscure).

She talked some about doing our art while also doing our day job. It seems to be a recurring message for me right now that I have enough time to do whatever art I need to do in addition to enough time to work a 40 hour week. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about being home and working on creative projects all day.  She says we shouldn't expect our creativity to support us, that we should instead promise to support our creativity, that we can "make art on the side of" our "bread-and-butter job."

Meanwhile, in my day job, I've been busy cleaning my desk area and beyond. I had a couple of drawers that had not been cleaned or emptied since I've been working in this position (8 or 9 years). It felt good to be clearing clutter out and purging decades old paperwork that is no longer needed. I can only hope to be able to bring that industriousness home to my house. Time will tell!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Book Reports

I recently told a friend I don't cry over books. We were talking about the ending to the Harry Potter series of books. I'd been slow to jump on that bandwagon. I was surprised that I enjoyed those stories as much as I did. Now I want to see the movies. Sometime.

I inadvertently landed on two books about death in a short time frame. The first one, which I have already mentioned, was The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseki. He was cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project and he writes of his experiences of being with the dying. I borrowed this book from the library for my Kindle. I like it so much that I've since ordered a hardback copy of the book.

Two of his stories in the book brought tears to my eyes (I do not really consider that crying!). One was about a couple whose young son had died in their home. They wanted to stay for a bit with the body, and the author wrote the most touching recollection of the couple washing the son's body. One of the hard things when my own son died out of state was the waiting for his body to be brought to us. I know he was gone from his body, but I kept thinking about how he was traveling all alone with no one to be with him. And I wondered about how his body was handled by the various people who came into contact with it on his journey home.

The other story was about a female doctor who had grown disenchanted with her work, with the part of it that involved her telling people she did not know (in the ER) that their loved one had died. I can't remember the story well but the gist of it was that the author advised her to find a way to approach the task with intentional awareness. Her father and grandfather had been doctors. She brought her grandfather's doctor bag and her father's stethoscope to her work. When she went to inform someone of a death, she gathered up those two things to carry with her. She needed the reminder of her ancestors to help her make her way. She paused at the doorway, holding the things, taking a deep breath, and walked in to tell the family of the death. She no longer took the task for granted. She was no longer hardened to the task. She was aware and present. I don't know why that story made me tear up, but it did. It was probably something about the possessions of the ancestors she intentionally gathered to help her. I often feel very keenly the presence of my own ancestors. We talk about them and we tell their stories. In this way, they are still with us.

Now I am reminded of Dumbledore telling Harry Potter, "Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" I loved that quote.

The second book on death was When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. This one is about a young neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer just as he is finishing his final year of his training. He was in a relatively unique position of being doctor and seriously ill patient. His writing about his diagnosis and his thoughts on his death hit close to home for me (and caused tears to flow). . .

"I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn't really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live."

I don't consider myself as having a terminal illness (no more than I consider any of the rest of us having a terminal illness, but there is that quote about life being fatal). But the possibility of that does occasionally loom quite heavily over me. As he said in the book, "Even when the cancer was in retreat, it cast long shadows." So I have this shadow, and in this way, my own diagnosis is a gift, having awakened me to my own mortality and my own desire to live as well as I can (which honestly, quite often, I do not feel like I am doing). I also have the gift of a relatively good prognosis. I do not want to waste it.

I'll also say here at the end, that it's hard work, distilling your life and days down to the values that are most important to you. It's hard to kick the Shoulds to the curb. It's hard to accept (and forgive) your failure to meet up to your own idealized standards.  I keep trying. I keep failing. I keep getting up. And dammitall, I know I'll keep on trying.

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow." Mary Anne Radmacher.

(Look at me, giving myself a pep talk!)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Have You Seen the Sacred Ordinary?

I've been doing a little reading lately, gobbling stories up like Peanut M&Ms. I've been using the Overdrive app on my Kindle to check books out from the library. I didn't realize I was so hungry to read again. And there's just something that thrills me about borrowing good books from the library without even having to leave my house!

After finishing "The Five Invitations (What Death Can Teach You About Living Fully)", I moved on to "Big Magic", by Elizabeth Gilbert. I wasn't even sure I wanted to read it, but I did, and I loved it. It was very affirming. She helped me (begin to) resolve a few issues about my art/creativity, mostly by reiterating the fact that most artists have day jobs, and they still manage to create (and so can I).

I like this quote from the book, "Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative endeavors, you have a souvenir--something you made, to remind you forever of your brief transformative encounter with inspiration."

It also relieves me of the stress of worrying about things I can't control and cannot change. My mind is absorbed when I am working on creative tasks. 

I've been working on a few things this weekend, I got back around to my Kelly Rae Roberts class. I feel somewhat transformed and I have souvenirs!

I can't remember if I've already posted this one. It's a souvenir of a weed growing in our yard. The flower grows on a long stem and the bloom is probably no more than an inch wide. They are small but impressive when there are lots of them clustered together.

This is my not quite finished "sacred ordinary" angel. I toned down her blush after I took her picture! I haven't come up with her words yet. Or maybe I'm waiting on her to tell me something. "It has to be short and pithy, little girl," that's what I'm telling her. One of the other of us will come through. I just know it.

Friday, April 07, 2017

And Now It's April, Just Like That!

I drove over to Galveston to meet up with SpookyRach and then went on to spend the night with my sister. It had been to long since I'd had a short little adventure. Of course Rach and I made our way to a cemetery so we could take a few pictures. The next day my sister and I went to visit my favorite cemetery angel of all time. She (the angel!) was much smaller than I remembered (my sister is smaller, too, but that's a whole 'nother story!).

Here are photos from the Galveston cemetery.



This was a bas-relief piece which was fairly wide but there were buildings in the background so I got in close. I like her a lot too.


And here are the (phone) photos of my favorite angel of all.


I don't know what it is about this angel that I love. Not far away there were many small graves in an area called "The Baby Garden." That name makes me want to laugh out loud and wail with grief all at the same time. There was another woman there, kneeling in the grass as though in prayer. The tears did well up when I looked over and saw her. The last time I'd seen this statue, my son was still alive. My sister and I talked about young people we knew who had lived short lives and tried to make sense of it all, though we both know you can't make sense of it all. So many things we just can't know and must do our best to accept.

I haven't been doing much more in the way of art. I have been reading a lot. And thinking about writing. My thoughts don't seem to stay collected long enough to write anything. I'm in a bit of a funk, to tell you the truth. So it was good for me to get out a bit and see a different view for a while. I'm grateful I got to go.

Oh! Here's a "death poem" I read in one of the books I've been reading (written by Kozan Ichikyo, who died in 1360)! I don't know why I like it so much, but I do.

"Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going--
Two simple happenings
That got entangled."

The book I read the poem in is called The Five Invitations (Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living), by Frank Ostaseski. It's a book that is filled with little pearls of wisdom. It's well worth checking out.