Friday, September 29, 2006

Thursday 13: Not About Reasons I'm Proud of Myself

I told jb I planned to write a "Thursday 13" on reasons I feel good about myself.

Silence. "Don't you think that's alittle vain?"

Me: "I was thinking it might be inspirational".

jb: "What will you say?"

Me: "I'll write about some nice things I've done.

jb: "If it's not vain, it might be boring"

Me: "I thought I'd give myself credit for a few things that might help someone else."

Silience again. "What other topics are you thinking about?"

Ok. That ended that. I'm leaving it at the following few kj facts: I try. I care. I see. I'm fun.

In hope of a non vain, non boring Thursday 13, here then is a hum'drum update on life in general:

1. I am still recuperating from my back surgery. I can now admit it was a major deal and it's been hard. I'm spending a surprising amount of time on the couch.

2. Friday I see the surgeon and hope he will tell me I can move and bend without being my paranoid hypocondriac self.

3. I can't stand the fact that I won't be planting spring bulbs and fall mums this year. This screws up my ongoing plans for the yard, not to mention the little stone border .

4. Our local friends have been great: offers to walk Stella, dropping by with lunch, even stacking some firewood. I am again aware how difficult it is for me to be vulnerable. I'm really really really trying to be myself in all this, including the vulnerability, but it's not easy.

5. I went to physical therapy yesterday and she said I am doing great. I probably am...

6. Any suggestions for babyboy names?

7. The first time I ever used e-mail, I knew I would love it. I never guessed I would love the blogs. Sometimes I sit in wonder at the range of creativity I experience from them and how genuinely smitten I've become. Since I tend to gallavant, I am certain I will meet certain blogger friends someday, and I would have never guessed that either.

8. I find CherryPie very fascinating. I love her spirit and her wit.

9. If I were to write about reasons I feel good about myself, I would say I made a lasagna for my grieving neighbor the night before my surgery. Her husband Steve died when he shouldn't have.

1o. The book proposal was finished and mailed (yay!) on Monday. Now I wait for my agent's response and hope she and I are both ready for the next steps. If not, I'll make new decisions, but there's no stopping me ..

11. My recuperation has led me back to Book # 1. I redid the outline and table of contents and I'm falling in love with it all over again.

12. I wonder if I should/want to start presenting workshops again. I know they matter, but they take alot out of me. I'm thinking this because the "little workshops on happiness" would propel again me into material for the book.

13. jb and I have a four day weekend ahead. Next week I can drive again and I'm channelling that I will be well more my old self by then.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Poetry Thursday: The Writer

I write from the smallest space—
Stripping details from salmon walls,
A little room near the magic cottage,
A studio and coffee cups in Bemidji Minnesota
And the park bench where the muse likes to visit.

From a single chair in the smallest space
the writing life is wide and wild,
Carousing the world for the tiny details
Of gloriously flawed, and ever hopeful lives.

Writers sit in solitary rooms
And choose one word, and then another
Wrestling the spikes of humanity
And the softness of giving up,
Choosing words that string together
like the pearl necklace,
Around that long proud neck, extending
From one writer to the next
Trying, trying to tell the truth.

I’ve met writers this year:
Justin--the tekkie with the tender heart, traveling east
Sara-- the teacher teaching to learn.
Me—the optimist who loses moments
John Denver—who died flying empty, asking What does it take for a blind man to see that there’s more than just meets the eye?
Vanessa, who finds a hole to find herself
Jessie--whose words alone assure you this is a good good person
Mary Oliver—getting it right in the Provincelands.

Words that pop like a perfect tennis ball
Make the whole day worthwhile.
Astonishment. Integrity. Grace. Velocity.
Words that bridge,
From sorrow to senrendipity,
From fallen leaves to the first crack of spring.
Words that tell you in the wild wide world,
It’s all ok

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mom and the Orthopod

When I arrive at your house, you're impectably dressed and waiting. You know we are going somewhere but you ask me five time from the livingroom and five times in the car where we are headed, and why.

I answer you factually eight times and impatiently twice, but not impatiently enough that you tell me I'm not being nice, so I guess you don't notice my slips.

We have made this appointment for your knees because it's obvious you can't maneuver stairs without using a banister to pull yourself up, and lately you've asked if you can get a cortisone shot. But today you do not remember any of that, and you tell me your knees are pretty good.

We don't know this doctor. Dr. R recommended him and I am glad because the other knee guy, Dr. H, was too rote. This doctor has looked at your x-rays before we arrive (good sign) and asks you to tell him what about your knees bothers you. You say, "The weather".

He says, "No, I mean, can you walk a mile? What can't you do?"

I am amazed he asks my 90 year old mother if she walks a mile. She answers directly, "No doctor, but I never could walk a mile". She and I smile. He continues.

He tells my mother, "Your knees are bone on bone. You could have surgery but I doubt you want that". My mother agrees. He continues, "You should be fine as long as you avoid stairs".

You say, "I can't--my laundry is in the cellar".

He says, "You have to find someone to do your laundry then. You shouldn't do stairs".

You smile. I know this is going right over your proud defiant head.

He tells you again. This time you act surprised. "Oh", you say, "I can't use the stairs?"

He says, "Are you in the same room as me?"

Normally I would find a way to tell him politely but clearly to be more respectful and civil, but my mother does not let on she cannot remember from minute to minute and he is trying his best to make a point.

When you again do not hear, he says, "Look, your knees are not stable. If you continue to use the cellar stairs, you will fall and break your neck and die. Then you won't have to worry about your knees".

My mother smiles.

When we get home, I am determined to use this in-your-face medical appointment to wean you off stairs once and for all. I tell you the doctor has forbidden you to go down the cellar. You protest and refuse, "I am not going to stop doing my laundry". You are emphatic.

I become more forceful, to which you finally say, "kj, you're making me feel like I'm a hundred years old........."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

OK, That's Enough

Forgive me if I end up making a political statement, but
I have to tell you so you don't ever think this is the way it is or should be.

It's a crazy world and some things never change. But something's happened in the USA and around the world that I can't let you believe for one moment is the way it was or the way it should be.

The United States is part of a body of nations that honors and adheres to the Geneva convention. This means we don't do and we don't condone torture. . This fact has never been up for discussion until the Bush Administration's response to 9-11. Please don't think that the current state of the US government--Congress included--means that something that's worked for fifty years needs to change. We don't do torture and we certainly don't expressedly condone it. Replace that and the moral authority of a free nation can no longer be a beacon for a free world. We've lost too much of that already.

Name calling by grown men solves nothing. Call a country a "evil" and label almost every mid eastern person who doesn't agree with you a "terrorist" and you get called names in return. That's how it works. Of course we have to have and consider military solutions for complex problems, but using "evil" as a black and white noun imflames and creates what we're now seeing: simplistic loudmouth cowboys who seem to forget we only have one planet at our disposal.

Ok, that's all I have to say. I know I am waddling into dangerous territory. War is hell whether it's for the right or wrong reasons. I won't debate that. I really don't want to know who's red, who's blue, and who's purple for that matter. But too many of my blog friends are in their late 2o's and early 30's. I have to tell you it's not supposed to be this way. Not this extreme. Not ever.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thursday 13:

This week I'm sharing some of my favorite quotes, organized by yours truly's principles for a happy life.

1. Keep It Simple
“A mess can cover up more than tables and floors. People lose themselves in the day-to-day stuff, and they don’t get to be who they really are.”
Organizer Extraordinaire, Laurie Arriola

2.Stay Present: Correct the Past, Plan the Future, But Live Now
“We are born at the rise of the curtain and we die with its fall, and every night in the presence of our patrons we write our new creation, and every night it is blotted out forever; and of what use is it to say to audience or to critic, “Ah, but you should have seen me last Tuesday?”
Michael MacLiammoir, The Bell,
“Hamlet in Eisinore”, 1952

3. Commit: Find a Purpose and Live It
“I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific”
Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner

4. Don’t Turn on Yourself
“When will you have a little pity for every soft thing that walks through the world, yourself included?”
Mary Oliver

5. Keep Conflict to a Minimum
"One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat. "
Woodrow Wilson, 1916

6. Laugh and Cry
“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
The Conduct of Life, 1860

7.Do Good Work
“Don’t ask your self what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who come alive” (Harold Whitman).

8.Bend Bend Bend: Choose Happy Instead of Right
“There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat.”
James Russell Lowell, “Democracy”
address in Birmingham England 1884

“I entered biology to understand the beauty of life. I started with the ecology of animals, but that wasn’t quite right, so I went one level deeper, to the study of tissues, then to chemistry, and finally even dabbled in the depths of quantum mechanics. Yet when I got there, I saw that the wonder of life had somehow slipped through my fingers along the way.”
Allbert Szent-Gyorgyi,
Nobel Laureate Biologist

10. Connect
“Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love IS everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. ..It really IS worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
Erica Jong, How to Save your Own Life, 1977

And a final word from the Saint of the Universe:
We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.
Mother Theresa, 1975

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Little Girl

I must be better. I'm writing again. Thanks to each of you for all the well wishes.

Some of you know I have written a career counseling book called "Good Work!" and have been working on the proposal to shop to publishers. But this is my 2nd book: the first was started now four or five years ago and put aside when I became discouraged by my agent's feedback.

This first book is on Happiness and it is the literary equivalent of the love of my life. This morning I revisited some pages I have not seen for quite some time. And for whatever reason, I've selected an excerpt. It begins a chapter called "Don't Turn On Yourself", one of ten principles for a happy life. I can vouch that every word of he story of the little girl is true:

“When will you have a little pity for every soft thing that walks
through the world, yourself included?” Mary Oliver

The little girl left for school every day wearing some derivative of a red plaid dress with a black pattern leather belt that matched her shoes and her folded down white cotton ankle socks. Every day, usually just before she arrived at school, and sometimes during recess, she threw up.
Every day she walked back home because she had soiled her dress or socks or coat, and on really bad days, everything.

When the little girl opened the back door and and stepped into the kitchen, her mother was there waiting, ready to hug her and tell her how brave she was. She helped her little daughter change into a set of fresh clothes that were already laid out on the back of the kitchen chair, and within five minutes, she was on her way back to school, where she was the teacher’s favorite and popular and comical among her peers.

The little girl is now a mother herself. She cannot imagine having the patience to clean vomit and prepare a second set of dress clothes every day. She loves her own daughter, but she cannot imagine this level of enduring patience. When she tells her friends about her childhood nervousness, she holds back tears as she says that her mother’s message—in word and deed—was that she was a courageous and strong little girl, never a shameful or difficult problem.

The little girl who is now an adult knows that this message resonates with her still, and maybe that is why she is able to take risks and engage in life even when she throws up.

Some Facts:
In a study on adult self-esteem, researchers found that people who are happy with themselves take defeat and explain it away, treating it as an isolated incident that indicates nothing about their ability. People who are unhappy take defeat and enlarge it, making it stand for who they are and using it to predict the outcome of future events (Brown and Dutton 1995).

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Back-Side

A brief update:

Looking up.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Poetry Thursday: If I Were You

What would I write if it weren't me writing?

If I were you
What would I do
When darkened winds
Came tumbling through?

I would hope
I would mope
Just long enough
To start to cope.

I would clear
My plate of fear
and let the godess
guide me here

To where I'd stand
Feet in the sand
Heart in command,
And definately no reprimand

Just a sense that being you
Is all I really need to do
To find myself
And make it true.

Thursday 13: Autumn in New England

This is a great time of year. The leaves change color and wood gets delivered for the season. It gets me thinking:

1. I'm gearing up to cook more, especially soups and breads

2. When the leaves change color, they become the most vibrant reds and yellows and oranges you will ever see. I can't imagine any place can be more beautiful than New England in the fall.

3. Our witch Esther (and her daughter Mildred) is preparing to hand out Halloween candy. She sits on a high stool in front of a black curtain backdrop and waves from the front door. Sometimes she throws candy at kids and their parents and sometimes she stuffs candy bars in her mouth. When people shake her hand, they are often startled and spooked because it's a real handshake.

4. Normally I'm wanting to stack wood inside for the fireplace, plant mums, and clean up and mulch the garden. Not this year, at least not until my back cooperates. (damn)

5. Sometimes jb and I spend our little amount of free time driving up and down country roads, stopping to buy $ 2 pumpkins at the end of driveways and funky gourds for the dining room table.

6. I love planning Christmas presents this time of year: I start shopping for stocking stuffers and promise myself I will be done with gifts by Thanksgiving. I never am.

7. I cook a turkey for Thanksgiving even when dinner's not at our house. I can't resist the smell of it all. It makes me feel grateful.

8. I tend to read more in fall and winter. I hope I'll write more too.

9. I love walking in bad weather, as long as my feet and head are warm.

1o. My big yellow writing group starts up again next week and this includes a writing retreat weekend in October. I like these folks so much! We write, read aloud, and then offer only positive feedback to the fragile seedlings that we are. I wish this kind of "community" for every writer.

11. I also ove the smell of wood burning. And evergreen candles. And my ashram sidda incense.

12. I reluctantly accept the coming of winter. I'm afraid to drive in snow and I don't ski or do winter sports. The only part I really like is giant snowstorms when everything shuts down and I do too.

13. I complain less this time of year because I figure I'm lucky to have a roof overhead that doesn't leak.

There you have it. Happy Fall.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Little Tree

Today I am scheduled for a hospital pre-op visit and final review with the surgeon who will delicately operate on my unsuspecting but appreciative upper back on Friday. I do not like the thought of being unconscious one bit, and I have no idea how I will feel when it's over. Last night I relied on butterscotch pudding therapy and it helped considerably, so I plan to use all the resources available to me for the next few days...

In this context of my first and only surgery since kindergarten, this morning my non-working supervisor-self gleefully watched the planting of an 8 foot crabapple tree, right outside my writing room. It will flower and grow as I do. So although I am driving into the little city soon for an afternoon of medical meddlings, right now I am looking at this little tree and I hear a soft little squeal of delight.

I'm taking the tree with me in my back pocket to bolster me through the day. And tonight if needed I'll arrange some more butterscotch pudding therapy.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11

Five years ago, like everyone else, I witnessed and watched the unthinkable. This hit very close to home: the Flight 11 terrorists stayed at a motel less than a mile from my house. And many of my daughter's colleagues were on that first plane.

Today, like everyone else, I watch and witness a world in turmoil. There are grave differences in the way we each hope and work for solutions, but today, and tomorrow, I pray that those differences pale from the weight of our common humanity. I pray that the commonalities and conscience of people across the world find a solution for a lasting peace.

Thursday 13 with a twist of yikes!

On this Monday, I'm very late in posting the latest Thursday 13.

1. When I'm depressed or scared, I handle my feelings pretty well but my body prefers to feel drained and sometimes sick.

2. My improving back problem isn't good: I saw a surgeon a few days ago and he said I need surgery--this week!

3. I feel drained and sick about it.

4. I haven't had surgery since my tonsils were removed in kindergarten.

5. I have no real symptoms in the area where the surgery is needed but if I were to, it could be difficult to correct--thus the urgency

6. This unexpected event is occurring at a very good point in my life--another forceful reminder to 'ride the horse in the direction she is going'

7. The doctor told me I cannot dig holes to plant the grasses and mums that await me. I will resourcefully find a way to be a non-working supervisor for this endeavor but I'm not happy about it.

8. It is easier for me to talk about something difficult afterwards rather than during, but I am doing it differently this time. Good for me.

9. My fall plans include the resumption of my weekly writing class, a big yellow weekend writing retreat, a trip to the Almalfi Coast in Italy, Jess' baby shower, adding a gas stove to the new porch, seasoned wood in the fireplace, and getting this yapping book proposal and book out into the world.

10. I am going to trust that my fall plans will all work out.

11. My mind is pretty ingenious: as soon as I have a problem I didn't know I had, I immediately notice the symptoms. This works in reverse too: if I think I am sick, then see a doctor who tells me I'm not, the symptoms I've had disappear. Just like that!

12. This weekend jb and I were in spectactular Vermont--visiting friends on Lake Champlain. I hobbled abit but had a fully fabulous time.

13. In health matters, I tend to be an optimistic hypocondriac. Or a hypocondriacal optimist. (pardon the spelling?). Either way, I'd rather be digging holes. But I'm pretty confident I'll be alright. This is microsurgery: I'll be home the same day as the surgery (Friday) or the next day. I plan to keep my feet well-grounded in front of me......

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Unmerited Grace

The title comes from Annie Dilliard's book on writing. I'm alittle "blue" writing this poem today(blue being the Poetry Thursday prompt this week) but blue is one of many colors in the fabric of my life these days.

Unmerited Grace

It slides through the window—
an elongated ribbon
Carousing the room,
A floating catapillar
With a mid air swish
Down the hall
into and over the lazy couch
And busy stove.
There it branches off blanketing
My footprints and car keys
And even my worn sweatshirt
With the Arizona decal on it.

I’m showing up here!
I’m trying to piece together
The cutting confusion
And the magnificent moments.

This unmerited grace
Wraps itself around my ankles—
Holding me in place
When I fall short
And pushing me forward
When I know better.
I’ve seen enough, really.
I know life can work when it doesn’t
And it can’t when it does.
I know prime can’t assure admission
And good people die
When they should be sunning.

I know all this
Only too well.
When that ribbon
Of unmerited grace
Finds me spent and shaking
In the far end corner
I could so quickly fold
like a dollar bill
Passed through too many idle hands.

But I don’t fold.

I shake and shudder
And sometimes whimper
From a place so deep
I can say
I’ve never been there.

But I don’t fold.

Finally, I know enough
To appreciate
The arrival of unmerited grace
In any form
And by any means.
When I see it
Sliding through my window
Swishing down the hall
Branching and blanketing,
I drop to my knees
And recite the only
Real prayer
I’ve ever known:
Thank you.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


It's been an active week with not enough time be a good blogger.

Instead, I'm passing on some helpful advice:

Bark less.
Wag more.