I wrote this poem to my dog Rosie soon after she died. That was well more than ten years ago and I came across it again tonight. I'm still asking the same questions….
What’s To Know
Rosie girl, tell me about heaven.
I expect you to greet me, you know,
Your soft stub of a tail wagging so effortlessly
that I will see you even in the back row,
and even in the faraway barley fields,
Your enthusiasm rocked by the flow
of something never lost,
Something never handed over.
Tell me what I should know about living
So I can get it right.
Tell me if abundance is real,
and if it is,
Tell me I can turn in my leash for a dance card
and stroll and roll through the back woods
knowing that every sacred scent is in place.
Tell me, Rosie, that it is enough to try.
Enough to care, enough to prepare,
Enough to get it right simply because
it’s all right.
I’m unable to know these things myself
but I trust you, Rosie. I know you know
what matters most
and what matters not at all.
Can you tell me about hearts?
Mine is pretty deep these days,
but still I wonder how far hearts can stretch
especially in the moments when they work overtime.
I wonder if perhaps a heart does not break
But maybe snaps instead,
a little fragment breaking off so it can rest somewhere in isolation
where certain memories and longings cannot be harmed.
Sometimes I wonder if I am up to the task
of letting every broken fragment finds its resting place--
Even if it means I can’t be whole.
Tell me Rosie, do I have to be whole,
if given the chance for love to stretch me
so far beyond my safe walls
that I forget I am confused and instead
feel only gratitude and greatness?
Rosie girl, I will spend my days
asking questions like this
and letting the answers and clues
Guide me home.
And Rosie girl, I will run straight to you
even before your ears shoot up
For our hearts’ reunion of a lifetime.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Here I am once again lamenting with good reason. A few weeks ago my beloved daughter Jess had a routine procedure and routine labs following a routine flu and to our complete shock she has lymphoma. Cancer. Good God.
She will have chemotherapy at the renowned Dana Farber Institute and the doctors and pathology reports say the goal is cure. It appears a routine flu that led to a routine procedure and routine labs (we're told) may have saved her life. We are however stunned. Jess has four young children, the youngest is 2, a loving and equally stunned husband, good friends, and wonderful in-laws. But I live almost three hours away complete with summer vacation traffic.
So in fast speed fashion, I started looking for a little space near her that I could rent. She'll need help with the kids and maybe trips to chemo and medical appointments and maybe just knowing her Mother is close by. (I wish I could change places with her: in a flash I would.)
It turns out apartments close to Boston are not cheap. I called about twenty places and wasn't comfortable with any of them. Except one.
I somehow have secured a studio apartment in a renovated mill building where thirty condominium owners live. They had this community room that nobody used so they decided to convert it to the only apartment in the building. It has the same high end touches that the condos have: exposed brickwork, a private outdoor patio, a granite walk-in shower, central air conditioning, a washer and dryer, a full efficiency kitchen, and a layout that feels much larger than the studio space it is. I am over the moon with my good fortune. Jess can come here and be sick if the kids are too much and I am five minutes away. The space has the feel of a New York Soho loft. I imagine I will have time during many days when I will be on my own and I think I may write well here.
The downside to this, besides for the reason I'm here at all, is that JB is back in Provincetown and we will have to figure out when I'm there and when she's here. It will be a challenge. Both of us have been unwell and on edge for our various reasons and Jess with cancer has tipped us perilously close to defeat. But somehow the apartment's helping. As I write this I'm looking out at the stone patio and there are birds and one sweet chipmunk scurrying around.
I caught a break with this apartment. That's positively good news. And one thing I know about myself: I can build on good news.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Since the beginning of my blog in 2008 this is the longest I've gone without posting. There is also a change in content because I like my blog to be upbeat and creative, informative. But instead when I do post I've been writing about myself and not in my normal optimistic way.
Here's a nutshell: JB and I moved to an ocean dream house last August. Even prior to that JB was in a wrestling match with anxiety, not because because of life events but because of genetics. You may or may not know that the management of anxiety is an art, not a science. The medication part is a trial and error process and it can take months.
So we move in August and from there, I have a routine annual physical. The blood tests are suspicious. So I have some diagnostic medical work ups--scans and specialty exams-- and they are normal except as an aside, the workups discover other areas that merit more workups and scans and specialty exams. That's where I am now--knee deep in unknowns that do not appear to be life threatening or life limiting but I'm not feeling quite right. That's the backdrop to last Thursday and beyond. I am at a friend's wake and I pass out, twice. I'm out long enough that it was a dramatic event. Poor JB. It was scary. We went to the hospital by ambulance. With a siren.
Now comes the grace part.
Five weeks ago JB and I traveled from Massachusetts to Arizona to visit a friend I hadn't seen in 35 years. She's had ovarian cancer for 7 years and she asked me to come. On the way JB and I won $ 6300 playing the slot machines in Las Vegas.
When we arrived in Arizona, my friend had just been given a prognosis of 4-6 months but it looked more serious than that, my friend's adult son had just moved in to help her, her ex-husband Max was there too, and her current husband was in the quickly advancing stage of dementia and decline, which no one had talked about until we got there.
I've been able to help with this: getting hospice involved, arranging cognitive medical care, assuring that wishes were honored and financial matters corrected, reconnecting with my friend as if no time had passed, building on a bond with my friend's son Eric that had ended when he was about 8 years old, and realizing that my long long friendship with Max has morphed into family status. My friend died peacefully a week ago and her family will have no regrets and great memories. I know I had a part in that. It was a privilege.
Thursday night at the Emergency Room, with JB and my daughter Jess (mother of four small children: what a gift that she could be there), I am in the middle of test upon test as Max and Eric walk in. They have left the funeral service to come to the hospital. Jess hasn't seen Eric since they played together when she was 6 and she has never met Max.
Here's what happened: the five of us sat in the ER cubby for 90 minutes, talked, shared, remembered, laughed. Then when I was discharged we went out to dinner (I moved slowly.) It was such a relief from sadness for Eric and Max and such a distraction for JB and me. And another thing: so often, by necessity, most of the time I step into my daughter's life. This time she stepped into mine. It was precious in a way I will never forget. I wonder if others (you) understand this, how precious the memory of a bad situation can turn out to be?)
I am now home again. I will see my local doctor on Monday. I am concerned about all these symptoms that don't seem related to each other and the truth is I don't feel great and haven't for a couple of months. But I'm not so concerned that I'm convinced I'm on a path of crisis. I'm bothered that I'm missing too much of Springtime by the sea; that my little yard doesn't have my gardener's touch; that I haven't made new friends here. But I know to wait to worry. So far I have no actual bad medical news.
Meanwhile, I keep thinking about the last few days. The ambulance ride was a low point. Poor JB was so scared. And then, in the process of burying a wonderful woman who fought to live and died in peace, five connected people came together in an Emergency Room cubicle and shared something deeply healing and deeply important; something that will be long remembered.
I'm convinced this is how grace works.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
I took a walk with JB yesterday and hundreds of black birds nestled overhead in the trees. It must have been some kind of special day for them because they sang more than they squawked. The weather and my perspective was grey and chilly and all those birds singing added an aura of intrigue that shouldn't have but it molded into sadness.
There are times when I feel so utterly alone and sometimes I welcome those times because I figure I need the experience for a time when that might truly be the case. It's a foreign place for me, really--to feel and be alone--and I think it would be a plus if only the feeling didn't include sadness.
You know those sappy inspirational quotes exhausting the serenity of living near the ocean and spending the day reading books and living leisurely? I know a couple of people who tell me that's how they actually live. Because I live near the ocean and have time to read books I think that should be me too. I view those people with awe.
I still work because I want to. Money has ceased to press on my day-to-day. I've had a few medical scares this year and my back screams at me to lose weight, but all in all I'm healthy. JB and I have been together long enough that the fibers of being known and permanent love and shared interests carry us past our differences. My daughter is married and it's a good marriage with four children who never fail to delight when they run to me when I pull into their drive way. I'm smarter than I ever thought I'd be and I have the creative benefit of loving to write.
To be clear: I have no doubt I'm committed to my own happiness. But at that point things get murky. I had this epiphany this week: with surprising precision I remembered the two months I came to the Cape to write a manuscript on Happiness. I sat on our red sectional couch each morning, the early morning sun poured in, I had my Peets coffee, and I began to write. I wrote for a couple of hours and then my dog Rosie and I walked one block to the bay beach and I let my mind think and wander and I watched her swim and I chatted with people about what a great day it was, and then I came back to the red couch and followed the same pattern through lunch and then dinner. By the end of the day I'd written for ten hours or so and I was thrilled. JB would come down on weekends and that was nice too.
Where the heck has that 'me' gone? Here I am again on the Cape and on this couch. It's not red but teal this time and the morning sun is more subdued in this house. But I have an exciting book to write and the bay beach is still a block away. What's changed besides the fifteen years between then and now?
I can answer this in a flash: a too-tight body, some too-soon losses, the too-high price of prickly wisdom. But there's something deeper. There's a core of 'me' that's this close to knowing how to really BE. Here. Now. Sometimes I already know. But other times I watch the knowing slip right through my fingers.
I starting writing this post three days ago, in a funk. Tonight I'm at the end of a good day and I have a feeling. What I'm looking for isn't out there.
I tell this story in the the training programs
"Long ago the wise and powerful gods of the world wanted to protect the secret of happiness. "Let's hide it at the bottom of the deepest ocean," one of them said. "No, they'll find it there. Let's bury it at the top of the highest mountain." "No, no," another said, "One day they'll have planes."
Then the littlest among them said, "I know! Let's hide it inside them. They'll never think to look there!"
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
It's easier to write when I'm looking up and harder to write when I'm falling down.
I'm not exactly falling but I'm in and out of the local health clinic like I have a membership. Twice I've had symptoms that really scared me and twice when I stopped being scared I've promised to wring every juicy moment from this life that is mine.
Today I asked my doctor, "Is it age?" He smiles. "The problem is your mind is still a very smart 4o."
I smile back.
Is it age?
not last or the one before that,
for four seasons now
I'm giving blood
and getting news:
this works but that might not.
I'm a weary pocket
filled with coins
waiting to cash in,
ready to roll
but lying prone
when I should be
In this year
the doctor reassures
but here's another test,
this one for kidneys
that one for lungs.
A knee, a back, two hips
and a damn tooth.
Body, it's spring:
time to wise up.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
I'm in Pismo Beach California, having left Burbank yesterday and soon to be in San Luis Obispo. I was in Burbank for a work assignment and I'm here visiting old and new friends. I'm also airport phobic (no idea why) so it was no small matter that my flights from Boston through San Francisco to Burbank took 16 hours and included two canceled flights and one skin-of-my-teeth standby. I came a distance for a 10 AM meeting in Burbank that couldn't be rescheduled and at 6:30 pm the night before I have no guarantees (Grrrr United Airlines) I'll be anywhere near Burbank, not even the next morning.
Not to mention my luggage. I've flown in the equivalent of a fancy teeshirt and comfy pants. Not business attire.
The whole time I kept saying, "Wait to worry, wait to worry," but my nerves would have none of it.
I'm writing this two days later and I made my meeting.
I stayed at the funky1960's orange formica decorated Tangerine Hotel near Warner Brothers Studios (no I didn't tour, a small regret) and my junior high school friend Max picked me up there. We stop in Carpenteria and have lunch with my friend Lori: she and I do some welcomed and good reconnecting. Max and I drive along the Pacific Coast to his home in Pismo Beach and last night he and his wife and I went to a bonfire on the beach in celebration of the marriage of a doctor and a nurse, both women. (I knew neither.) There was an ample bowl of Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups and Hersey's chocolate and hot dogs and fixings, all there to be roasted in the fire in the sand. Hot dogs and S'mores. The evening air was cold and it rained but in between the fire performed perfectly, except the heat made our eyes water.
Today Max and I will continue to catch up on forty-plus years of our lives since high school. We both talk non-stop and we both know full well that we are confirming and cementing that we will now stay close friends.
Tomorrow Max will drop me off in San Luis Obispo where I will spend the night with Sharon Lovejoy, my friend from these blogs. We call each other honey and her house and yard and studio and illustrations and articles and books have been featured in plenty of magazines. I will be delighted to have a night and a day with her.
When I return in two days to Ptown, it will be Spring. Crocuses and daffodil stems will have cracked open the soil and I will sit in the side yard or on my couch and wonder if I'm better off having a plan of what-when-why-how to my days ahead or just letting it all unfold. I don't mention this quandary lightly.
I'm not a good traveler. But I travel anyway. I'll wonder about that too.The thing is, a blank canvas doesn't stay blank either way.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
First of all, this is where I live. Not right here in the Provincelands, but no more than a mile or two away. In addition the bay beach is barely a block from our house, and whether the sky is puffy like this or deep pink or bright orange or wild grey or robin blue, light bounces off the water here in Provincetown and it makes the world here very beautiful. But too, it''s been a tough move. JB's been sick and settling into this small wonderful community has been slow. Socially, I'm probably as sedentary as I've ever been.
It has been a year since my Mother died. I factored her into my plans so much and so often that there's been a certain kind of day-to-day relief (freedom) since then. I find I think of my parents quite often: how lucky I've been to have been raised in a family who loved me and put me first. I'd never seen this picture of my Father and me until recently: I look so hip-nerdy and he looks so handsome-relaxed that I just feel proud that he was my Father. He was a mason with rough hands and easy tears whenever he talked about his difficult childhood or his lottery-winning gratitude that my Mother loved him. He died the same way my Mother died: surrounded by our family, unafraid, comfortable. I'm so thankful for that.
JB and I have begun looking for a shelter dog to adopt. Maybe even two. We're more cautious than we've been in the past because our last dog, Chase, a greyhound, never adjusted to living with us and we had to return him to be rehomed where he would live with other greyhounds. It was awful to admit he was wasn't happy or bonded with us. I wouldn't want that to ever happen again. We want an adult dog who's had a hard life, who's good with kids, who's very smart and a little goofy, and who like all dogs deserves a good home. We've begun the search.
I went to Colorado for two and a half weeks to help JB help with her sister's surgery and I came home thinking I'd have three weeks to write before JB came home herself. I began, but I got sick and stayed sick for the whole remaining time. So much for plans and preferences. I have a novel to finish and it's moving so slowly. I think part of the reason is because my main character thinks she can handle just about anything thrown at her and that's not quite how I feel these days. I'm not sure a writer is supposed to get bogged down identifying with her characters, so that might be a problem. Some of the reason is also because I'm working again and I can get pre-occupied with that. I wrote my first book in 2008. This second one is way overdue.
I feel that I'm damn lucky to love. I hope I love well most of the time. I know I've become far less judgmental as I've aged. I have strong opinions, and I shy away from people I don't feel good about, but I'm not righteous about any of it.
I wrote a stupid comment here on my blog about finishing up a work project and I made it sound like all I cared about was getting paid. It wasn't at all true that money was at the root of it, but my words gave cause for someone to be offended and my thoughtlessness created some waves and conflicts. I should have known better. I'm at a point and an age where I have zero interest in competing with anyone or winning a race. I just want to do my best and feel proud of what I do. (What a relief that is.)
JB is nudging me to take a walk with her every day and I am reluctantly agreeing. I'm trying to walk at least 1.5 miles a day. I know it's important for my health but I am at my core a sedentary person. I surprise myself by how lazy I can be. If left to my own devices, I could stay in the house for days at a time.
I am cooking more. And baking. I like that.
Ah my four grandchildren. I adore them. I try to see them every two weeks and lately I'm plotting how to have overnights here with one kid at a time. I like teaching them things, pointing out colors and clouds, telling them stories real and imagined.
Long ago I read this book and I remember thinking these "Agreements" were pretty much on target. I've come across them again lately, and I still think that. So I'm sharing: here they are.
He's six and he came for an overnight. It was a grand success.
We did a lot of things--movie, beach, shopping, eating, walking, coloring, story telling. But best of all we made sugar cookies from scratch and then frosted them. Drew wants to learn to cook. Here he is with JB in our kitchen which, by the way, is going to be completely gutted, probably this fall, a new and necessary foundation put in and rebuilt and designed. We're working with a space planner and it's exciting.
And finally, this is a typical scene walking along Commercial Street. It is just beautiful. Which is how I started this post. Life is wonderful and life is hard and the trick is not to miss the wonderful parts.