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.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Confessions

I've had a few instances lately where I've wondered to myself (and may have found myself discussing the situation with others) how people can see themselves as being a certain way when clearly they are not that way. How do we get deluded ideas of who we are or what we are in our heads? How can we be so clueless about our blind spots (well they wouldn't be blind spots if we were aware of them)?

I decided a while back that I was going to work hard on not asking why he/she can't see the distortion in how they see themselves. I know I have a few big distortions of my own. But I'm not confused about the look of my reality.


I know what it looks like and I am often taken aback by the vision. I have this view of myself that does not reflect this reality. And I don't know how to explain the disparity. There is this inner core in me that remains serene (most of the time), in spite of the messes that often surround me.

One of my tennis friends once said something to me about how people see me, and don't expect me to play as well as I do. I never quite figured out what it was about my appearance that might make people think I couldn't play (my age?), but that's beside the point of my remarks.

Here's the thing, on paper, if you had a black and white list, I'd look a lot like a failure. I cannot not feel that. The fortunate thing is, I have friends who see me in a different light. They are not checking off a list of achievements and accomplishments (which is what I do, and how I see myself as having failed). They are seeing that inner core, the part of me that is not apparent to anyone who doesn't do anymore than skim the surface and move on. They are the ones who remind me: when I judge myself as a failure, I am looking at a list that is not mine to complete. Today, I am grateful for those friends.

I forgot, remembering the Johari window concept helps bring acceptance.We all have these parts to our selves. And our windows are not always the perfectly square window we see in this diagram! Some are more self aware than others. Some are more open than others. Some are both closed down and unaware. I think remembering the Johari window will help me to be a bit more patient myself and others.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Hello, March!

Here we are, already pushing into the third month of the year, and the Lenten season. As usual, I'm surprised that the time has passed so quickly. And I think about how to better manage my time so it won't feel like it's slipping through my fingers.

Doing arty things is, for me, a way of stopping time. I get into my zone (flow, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology). It's a very good feeling. And it doesn't matter whether I judge the art I'm doing as good or bad, the relaxed feeling is still there (the fact is, I am not judging the art at all, that's how I know I'm in a flow state, I am totally immersed in the pure joy of the process). It isn't always that way. There are times when I'm doing things and I'm so frustrated that I can't make the drawing look like what I'm trying to draw. That's when making art is painful! 

My sister gave me a set of pastel pencils and I had to try them out. I'm pleased with how my apple turned out (though some think it looks more peachy than apple-y, which is just peachy with me!). I did it in my journal so you can see the shadow of my writing on the page underneath.
I sketched out this woman using my Stabilo All pencil. It's a pencil that can write on almost anything and it's water soluble so you can use the brush to soften the lines and make shading. I bought a couple of water brushes (http://www.dickblick.com/items/05133-1000/) several years ago and I haven't used them much. Since I have this pencil, and have been playing more with my watercolors, I'm finding that I really love this brush.

If I am nothing else, I am solid proof that you do not have to be particularly skilled at making art to gain benefits from your attempts at making art! 


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Root, Hog, or Die

I forgot to say that since plants are pushed on by "coded cells," (they're gonna do what they're gonna do) and I'm ready for spring to be here (while still grateful for all the things already blooming), I threw some wild flower seeds out in a bare part of our woods, hoping one or two or four will push through and bloom. Otherwise, my bad self says, "Let 'em root, hog, or die." I know, that doesn't exactly sound like a loving or hopeful sendoff but it's the best I had at the time. I'll let ya know how they do.




Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ah, February

I've had my checkup at MD Anderson and all was well. I don't go back until June. I've had another birthday, celebrated by having a mammogram on the left side after doing the right side the day before. The doctor was annoyed that they didn't do both at the same time. I'd asked, but they told me I only needed the one done. Next time, I'll know, and insist that they do both or check with the doctor if need be. If I haven't learned anything else from "The Cancer(s)", I'm learning to speak up for myself.

I've been reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek again, and thinking of my blogging friend Jim. He encouraged me to read it. I've started and stopped the book a couple of times but I'm hanging with it this time around. My sadness is that I won't be able to discuss what I've read with Jim. He was right, now that I've finally settled down and stuck with my reading, I am enjoying the book. Annie Dillard is a fantastic writer. The book is awe inspiring and disconcerting all at the same time.

I've still been struggling a bit with feeling down. I'm doing what I can to take care of myself. One of the ways I do that is by getting out with my camera, which I did this weekend. I do think part of my being down is a normal (for me) seasonal thing. I'm ready for the next season to begin. And Spring feels like such a hopeful season. At our place in the country, the azaleas are blooming, and the wild jasmine, and the little daffodils that came from my grandmother's house. Green leaves are shooting out on bare limbs. Hope is everywhere.

So I took a few photos...

 These are the daffodils (I think that's what they are, you should know I am not great with details!) that came from my grandmother's house, that came from someone else's house.
 This photo was taken in the evening, during what is known as the "golden hour." I looked out and the light was so gorgeous, I had to try and capture the scene. I was actually almost too late.
These are the wild jasmines growing up in the trees. They have a pretty scent but the blooms were to high for me to smell.

Here is something I read in the Pilgrim at Tinker Creek book:

"The way plants persevere in the bitterest of circumstances is utterly heartening. I can barely keep from unconsciously ascribing a will to these plants, a do-or-die courage, and I have to remind myself that coded cells and mute water pressure have no idea how grandly they are flying in the teeth of it all."

See what she did there? You're all warmhearted and fuzzy about the plants persevering and you see your own self persevering and it's wonderful in your head. And then she hits you with the facts of coded cells and mute water pressure! And I can't help wondering how much my own coding is interfering with my current state of feeling glum, and how does that affect my attempts to get through this vague darkness?

More to come...

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Not Gonna Lie To You

My dad tells the story of a guy in his past who was often guilty of stretching the truth. The guy was telling a story one day that began with these ways, "I'm not gonna lie to ya now..." and before he could continue on, someone interrupted to say something like, "Gosh, son, don't make any exceptions, you lie to everybody else..."

So, I'll tell ya, I'm not gonna lie to you. Some of the things that have been happening after the election have disturbed and worried me. I've never been one to speak out about things. It's outside my comfort zone to do so. But there are things going on now in this country that just aren't right. I've been observing and reading the things my more outspoken friends have been posting on Facebook. I've been thinking about what it is I can do, or need to do. I don't yet totally know. I've been reminded that the best way for me to respond to any of it is in my own way.

They say art is healing. In some ways, I suppose it is. At the very least, for me, it's good self care. And I think a lot of us need plenty of self care in these days. I'm just not sure how that helps our country, which I feel is in great peril. These are tough times we are living in.




Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thresholds (and Horizons)

I go back to MD Anderson every 3-4 months for checkups. During the between times, I really don't think much at all about my history of cancer. But each time, as the time for the appointments gets closer, I do start to think and fret, just a little bit, over what they might find. I wonder whether or not the cancer has come back. I'm a realist, the return is always a possibility. I don't want to have a fatalistic attitude about the possibility, but I also never want to breeze in to my checkups with the mindset that this is a problem that has been completely and totally obliterated.

Sometimes I get aggravated about having to go back so often, about having to take so many days off work to go get checked out. It's just part of the process. And the times between appointments will eventually get longer, if I keep having clear scans. But right now, the 3-4 months seem to pass so quickly and I feel like I'm going again when I just returned from being checked! I'd like to put it all out of my mind and my sight and just move on with my life. Like it was before the cancer. Every time I go back, I am reminded of the vulnerable state of my health.

I've been thinking about thresholds this month. This past week, while I was in Houston, showing up for various tests and appointments, I realized, that's all this is--another threshold that I happen to be standing on. There is no need for me to fret or worry or resent having to stand here on this particular threshold. Every single time I stand on this or any other threshold, there is a horizon beckoning. I might not know what's waiting out there in the distance but it's always something and all I have to do is keep walking my path toward the beckoning horizon. 

We all have thresholds where we stand and look toward the horizon. I'm not the only one who has unpleasant and uncomfortable thresholds to cross (and cross again). I've decided I'm going to release the view of myself as vulnerable to my health. I am vulnerable to my health, to my own mortality, but so is everyone else so why should I whine about the vulnerability always being "in my face"? Lord knows I'm not near as vulnerable as some. I am more aware than some. But there is no need for me to whine and complain about it. The dang checkups are a part of my new normal now. I'll live with them and accept them as best I can. I decided early on that things like this can surely shape me, but they will not define me.

(All was clear this time around. I still have to go back in February for the breast cancer checkup, and return again in a few months for the colon checkup. I don't go back for a liver check until next January!)

"One never reaches a horizon...To move toward a horizon is simply to have a new horizon." James P. Carse

"Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold. W. Eugene Smith






Thursday, January 05, 2017

Project Thoughtful Thursday, Week 17

After two weeks off, I'm getting back on track. I never really intended to post these things online. They are playing cards and so many times the writing has been hard to read in the photo.

"The world is a miracle and you forget time and time again your whole life. But if you remember more than you forget, you'll be fine." Brian Andreas

And would you look a' there, as big as Dallas, I've written "you're" when I intended to write "your." I hope that does not distract us from thinking about how often we do forget that the world is a miracle. I know many of us are having to work very hard at remembering more than we forget. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Thinking On The Page

I've often wondered, in the past year, if blogging is still relevant. I've asked myself if it matters whether I blog or I don't blog. Facebook, with its near instant response and continually changing flow of news has usurped my blogging habit. I've never really been happy about that. But I also haven't done anything to stop it from happening.

One of the lessons in the Spirit Wings class (Kelly Rae Roberts) I'm doing is on building community. It's also one of the chapters in her book, Taking Flight, written in 2008. When I started blogging in 2004, the poetry community I'd been involved in had broken down and I sorely missed my online community and had no outlet for writing, or for bantering back and forth about writing. I was also in school, learning about photography and art, which meant my blog soon took on a focus beyond the written word. Visuals were added. Now I feel like I need to include at least one picture with every post!

(Plus, one of my male teachers at school, where I was an older, non-tradtional student, probably only a couple of years younger than the teacher, joked that I was "technologically challenged." I remember working on getting this thing up and running, and I had fleeting thoughts of "I'll show you!" Ha! I'm stubborn
tenacious! The trait has served me well throughout my life.)

Relevant or not, I've made some great friends through writing on this blog. I've met many of them. I have a virtual creative community, a tribe, a sense of belonging. I'm very grateful for that. I do still long for an in person face to face creative community but have not yet found that.

My writing, my art, my life, so much has changed in the last 12 or so years that I have been writing here. I count that as all good. To me, it indicates growth. And I want to grow until my dying day.

I won't give this up. The habit, however inconsistent it is, is still relevant to me. The friends, the community, the tribe I've gained from being out here is all lagniappe. I'm grateful for each person who reads and/or comments on this blog. I'm grateful for the connections made.

I am still operating under the radar, so to speak. Most of my day to day friends know nothing about this blog. When I think about going public on Facebook, I get all tight and nervous. But I think bringing the blog out in the open might be a growing point for me. Doing so does not feel as scary as it has felt.

So, to answer my own question, yes, blogging is still relevant to me. It is a creative outlet. It is a source of friendship, community, and support. It is a repository for pieces of me.

If you aren't interested in reading my long self-indulgent ramblings, here, have some art. I have more ramblings on the mere word "art,' but I'll save those for another day! I checked out a book to read for free on my Kindle because I like this artist's work and wanted to learn more about it. I think I'll probably eventually buy the book, The Art of Expressive Collage: Techniques for Creating with Paper and Glue, by Crystal Neubauer. That's one of the things I want to do this year, stop just admiring other people's stuff and do more of my own stuff!

Here...

 These are experiments of learning. I can see where I can improve. But I have all these old letters and pictures and I've always been reluctant to use them, for fear of wasting them. Fooey on that! I'm going to be courageous in wasting...using my somewhat vast store of ephemera. This piece is on an 8X10(ish) sheet of watercolor paper.

This one is on a 4X6 piece of watercolor paper. I have blank cards and I will probably glue it to one of those.

Happy New Year. May we all do the best we can at sharing our particular light into the coming year.