Sometimes I write

 

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Sometimes I write because my heart is too full and the desire to set beauty on the page feels like a song rising up, unrehearsed.

Gratitude.

Last night, I stood among faces I knew from long ago, the ones that filled my high school classrooms, sifted through halls, this colorful blur of velour and Jordache jeans, standing tall, yet awkward, spinning combination locks right-left-right, hip-checking grey/green lockers closed, arms laden with textbooks, covered in brown paper, scribbled with hearts.

I remember you. You touched my life, whether or not you knew you did.

We were tumbled together like this haphazard mix of pretty aquarium stones – not because we chose one other, but because we lived in the same small town, for the same 4 years – the town with the pretty white church on the long triangle of lawn, where each June, all would gather to eat strawberries, this annual Festival marking the close of one school year and  the beginning of summer –  something delicious to mark time passing – so sweetly, juicily, stickily.

Yet, our town seemed split across by railway tracks, this jagged old scar, littered and gravelly, overgrown.  On one side, there were these white Quaker stones sitting low, almost invisible in the block-wide field where the town clock once stood and the giant Sycamore, shedding its papery brown/white bark.

These remembered lives.  This litter of Life passing.

It is gratitude I feel for having grown beside you  – during years I was not yet the woman I am now (and still becoming), but the seed of her, I’m guessing.

Thank you for nurturing me while also toughening and strengthening me, through times marked by struggle, mostly the hidden kind.  I didn’t know then, what I know now.  That none of us felt like we fit in.  Even the cheerleaders, even those who lived in wedding-cake mansions on Chester Avenue, even football players who scared us with big bellowing voices, even the field hockey beauties, in their black and gold skirts, and pony tails swinging – no one felt at ease, as though she belonged.

How I wish I knew that back then.  How I wish I did.

Yet, perhaps that is the way it must be.  Perhaps we aren’t to know those things, when we are young and not yet fully-grown. Perhaps the discomfort is necessary and crucial for our lives’ unfolding.

Honestly, I don’t know.

Yet tonight, having returned safely to my home, here in Chicago, my heart full – to have been welcomed back, embraced again, by those I knew growing up – to have danced and laughed and eaten cake with them – all that remains is gratitude – this overwhelming gratitude that unlocks my voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the lines

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pure joy

snow sparks
the day’s brightness
hair, icy wet,
against cheek

we race
holding children
in circled arms
our too-small sleds spin out
toward each other

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I wrote this poem in December 2013, but my heart remembered it today when walking the dogs with my husband Mike on the icy pavement, the morning after the first snow of the season.  There was sun, but it wasn’t warm (and certainly not melting anything!), and the morning sky was this bright Virgin-Mary blue against the silvery white of snow on all the branches – and  I could hear, but not see, the sound of children sledding in the school yard, which is near our home – their laughter and shouts like bells, heralding memory in sweet beautiful waves, of childhood and joy and hope – the sound, I have to believe,  the same for all time of children at play in a first snow.

[But then, Dear Reader. if I were to be even more honest with you, which I guess I am being – the seed of this poem hearkens back a million more years to a similar day, in our first family home on Julian Street, when all the kids were small and the idea of racing outside in the snowy cold, dragging sleds and snow-suited children, was not an entrancing idea to most adults.  But it was to me, this absolute need to be outside in it – to be en-wrapped in the magic and beauty of it.  And he, my best friend, but a man married to another, a similarly practical, more sedentary spouse, said “yes, let’s go!” and off we went towing the kids behind us – sledding down hills ourselves, laughing for the pure joy that it brought us and our kids.

It is a memory of love that my heart forever holds – this moment of reveling in life with another, of being truly alive in the world.  It was (and still is) a North Star moment for me.  Its the image my heart holds, reminding what it feels like to be true to myself, what it means to love, to journey with another, and what it means to truly be alive in the world.

 

 

What if people told the truth? 

14880132_sWhat if people told the truth? 

Would one person feel less isolated, trying to nurse her infant,  as she herself cries uncontrollably, not at all feeling this overwhelming maternal love everyone told her she would?

Would a divorced parent find solace that another divorced parent hates Christmas and spends most of the holiday crying because the day reminds her of how much her life no longer looks like a Currier & Ives commercial, of how much she has lost?

Would the stay-at-home mother, in that most beautiful home, tell someone that her husband was leaving her, and that she was scared of losing everything and that she couldn’t sleep and was so angry and didn’t trust herself around her 3 children and needed help?  

I don’t know the answers here, but I do know that feeling isolated and alone contributes to feelings of depression and compounds it.   I also know that our default response when someone asks “How are you?” or “How was your weekend?” is “I’m great, how are you?” or “It was fun, how about yours?”  And that, as a culture, at least in the US, we seem to prize happiness (“the pursuit of “) above everything else, and when we don’t feel happy, assume that there must be something wrong with us, that we are doing something wrong.

What if we risked answering today’s “How are you” questions more truthfully? What if we didn’t pretend so much?

#DareToExcel


Craft a burning question of possibility.  – the was the first task of Tracking Wonder’s  the 30-Day Dare To Excel Challenge, an invitation to top-notch innovators, creatives, and companies to advance a big idea with a few minutes of action every day.

JEFFREY DAVIS researches, interviews, and works with creative innovators, scientists, and social psychologists to discover how creatives flourish in times of challenge and change.

Why I read. Why I write.

yin yang

“What is to give light must endure burning” – Viktor Frankl

Today, I was reading a memoir in literary magazine The Sun

To be honest, I never enjoyed reading literary journals.

As a 20-something, I felt I should read literary magazines because well, that is what writers do who want to be published.  Because if you are published that would mean  you’d made it, that your pricey English literature degree paid off and now you could walk through the world this super enlightened New-York-City-I-live-in-the-Village and-wear-horn-rimmed-glasses-and-sip-lemon-tea-with-3-stray cats-and-patchouli-incense-burning-and-long-stringy-spider-plants-draping-down-from-thick-macrame-hangers-bought-at-some-street-fair-somewhere-capital-w-Writer.

Oh please . . .

But seriously, until my friend Laura shared a old issue of The Sun with me (which I read cover to cover by the way), I hadn’t picked up a literary journal since that first year out of college (25+ years ago when I was working full-time in the basement of Anderson’s bookstore packing boxes of books for school book fairs, but also look! wearing my blue felt “writing hat” so people would know I was made of greater stuff.  Right.)

Anyway, today over lunch, I was reading a piece entitled Almost Unendurable Beauty by Jocelyn Evie.  I’m not going to tell you about the story because well, you should read it if you have a chance.

But please let me tell you my experience.  I saw myself in another’s words.

“I wanted badly to have some remarkable talent that would garner attention, but at the same time I also hoped to skirt by unnoticed” – from Almost Unendurable Beauty by Jocelyn Evie (The Sun, Issue 473, May 2015)

There I was reflected in one crisp, beautiful sentence (with juicy verbs).  The experience was stunning, so  much so, that I underlined the words (and I normally don’t do that).   It was like I’d heard the silver sound of a tuning fork – and I was now sitting up straight, properly aligned.

Through that personal, very intimate experience of reading the author’s words, her description of her thirteen-year-old self, I could discern not only recognition but also something a layer deeper.

I could see Why I read and Why I write.

I read to discover meaning, connection, understanding and beauty.
I read to be touched and to learn.
I read to experience that reverberant sense of “ah, yes, I see” and be changed.

This is also why I write.  (wow)

Reading and writing are this exquisite yin and yang, one-embracing-the-other-embracing-the other – I love the magic of that, the wonder of that, the connected-ness of that, the inter-dependency.

This was my experience today reading The Sun – being part of the concentric circles ever-widening – the author’s words,  my reading of them, my being inspired to write about the experience and now inviting you to read my reflection (and possibly the author’s memoir).

It is stunning really, when you think of it.

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With gratitude to Laura M. for introducing me to The Sun.
For the The Sun for remaining independent and for embodying the Viktor Frankl quote  printed on your masthead (and at the start of this blog).  Thank you for being there for writers and readers.
Special thanks to writer Jocelyn Evie (see bio below), whom I don’t know personally.  Thank you  for modelling what it looks like to stay committed to writing (with courage) all while living a full (and messy) life, being a parent and spouse, while also flourishing in a corporate career and writing!  You inspire me to remain open to possibility. 

Here is the link to the story she wrote and was published in The Sun:

http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/473/almost_unendurable_beauty

Jocelyn Evie is the pseudonym of freelance editor and writer living in California.  She’s spent most of her career working for large corporate clients.  Now, she’s thinking about writing a memoir using bullet points and PowerPoint slides

Moon Bear Dancing with Breeze – a legend

A long, long, day ago, there lived a girl and her name was Breeze.

Her hair had been of longest deepest black, though strangely marked with a lightening streak of white, which was especially strange for one so young. Her hair frightened those in the village and they laughed and shunned her, shaming her family and the girl herself.

One sad day, Breeze ran to the stream that raced with silver fish and she made a fatal wish.  She wished herself to be the same as everyone else, so that her family would not suffer the shame of her striking difference.  She cupped the water in her hands, drinking its mystery and hoping the spirits could hear her plea.

But instead the stream’s water had been poison, and the girl now slept in a room painted scarlet, smokey with scent of burnt hickory and sage.  Thin, tinny music was playing from a harp that lay on the lap of her mother’s only sister, who worried and rocked in her chair, while the girl’s mother wailed in sorrow.

Breeze was feverish. Her arms pale as tusks of elephant, yet limp and frail.  Her black hair was damp and brushed back from her forehead, it streak of whiteness hidden by a wet cloth, which an old woman, whom the family did not know, had placed there.  The damp cloth smelled of lemons, which made Breeze smile in her dreams, which were often

The old woman held a cup of steaming tea up to the girl’s mouth  and the girl’s father lifted her body up so that the tea could be swallowed.  The tea tasted like fish and cucumber peels in the garden, and rocks and rain.  Yet the girl drank the tea and the old woman left, her slippers rushing softly across the floor like a scratchy dance,

The girl slipped back into dreams and in her dreams, she traveled above oceans and mountains and lands she’d never seen until she stood before a wood with a shadowy path that led to a stone building painted white, where she could hear sad and scary sounds, cries of something she feared to look at.

Yet her heart carried her toward the place and she walked inside bravely.
The cages were black iron, as black as Breeze’s hair, and so small that the creatures inside them, with their great paws and claws like thorns could not turn to see her.  Yet, she could see there were many of these cages, all filled with fur, lined up in rows that seemed to stretch further than her sight could reach.

There was no one watching.  There was no one listening.

Breeze wondered what it was she could do, a sickly girl, with shameful hair.  And she could think of nothing so she turned away, looking downward, in shame, at the dirt floor. She kicked the dry dirt, angrily, so it made clouds as she walked.. Yet her shoe touched something hard and bright – a silver key hidden shallowly beneath the gravelly dust.   She picked up the key and tried the lock on the first cage.  It opened, yet the creature inside did not stir.

Breeze stepped back and waited and hoped.  And slowly, fearfully, the creature made its way out of the cage, onto the floor and crawled out on all four paws to the door.  The great creature turned, its brown eyes questioning and looking right at Breeze, beckoning her to follow.

Breeze could see now that the creature was a black bear  and even though everything inside her said, “do not follow”, she followed.

The bear led her forward, pulling her through shadowy woods, and toward a great and silvery stream, one that reminded her of the stream at home, the one in which she’d made her fatal wish.  She watched the bear lumber into the water and stand up, dipping his paws into troves of fish, that danced like rainbows, yet, none of the fish were hurt, despite the bear’s claws which looked to the girl like black thorns.

The bear having finished his play shakes dry and begins a long walk by the stream of racing fish, alongside trees as tall as mountains.  He walks for many days and the girl follows.

At last, they come to a thicket of young trees with berries, that sheltered a space littered with dry leaves, stones, and felled logs. There is snow in places too, even though the girl is not cold.  She sits on a rock and waits.  Bear after bear emerge from shadows,  They seem to dance all around her, first on all fours, then tall on just two,  Their fur is as black and soft as midnight, with creases of white, like fingernail moons or sometimes hearts.  It was as though the gods themselves had painted the bears that way, so that Breeze would recognize them as her own and call them beautiful.

After much time passes, the bear that had led her all this way stands giant before her, yet, Breeze is unafraid.  He crouches down and lays his head upon her tiny lap, which also does not frighten her,  Instead she cradles the bear’s mighty head, stroking its fur, and sings a lullaby from some long ago and forgotten time.

Together they sleep – Breeze and her Moon Bear – dreaming each other’s dreams without fear,without suffering.

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Author’s note:  With deepest gratitude to Jeffrey Davis & Tracking Wonder (http://trackingwonder.com), #Quest2015, and most of all, to Shaman Lora Jansen (http://www.onetribeonly.com/).  The plight of Moon Bears and the farming of their bile in Asia has haunted me since reading a reflection piece, which Lora published recently.  I offer this imperfect piece of writing to those who are working to heal Moon Bears, and to change the economic conditions that continue to make this practice profitable.  To learn more, see https://www.animalsasia.org/us/our-work/end-bear-bile-farming/

In addition, I dedicate this piece to the family of Breeze.  Breeze was a beloved Bearded Collie, with whom Lora worked with as a shaman – in the end, she guided his spirit as he passed in December 2014.  My heart sees Breeze’s spirit still dancing, still shepherding, guiding those who are frightened, gently to safety.   May all be healed,

Yes, there is suffering

mourningdove

Yes, there is suffering
And most of it we do not see.

And yet I wonder
how much of it we carry
inside
by the the breath
that is the air
that is the Wind
that connects us

Wind
un-spooling itself
across Ocean’s
great span of pewter
with fin-less sharks
bleeding blood
atop its waves

Wind
catching on
Mountain’s grand granite wrapped white
with featherless birds
grounded and silent
in smoldering black
barren-ness

Wind
en-wrapping
City’s concrete prisms
buzzing and sparking
then blasted to ruin
with grey ashes
falling
a snow in September

a hungry child hums of teapots and posies
a veiled woman prays Hail Mary on wooden beads shiny as chestnuts
a tortured man begs for mercy, knowing none will come
All touched and part of the invisible Wind

We swallow the Wind
We swallow the suffering we do not see.
It is ours to bear.
And yet, we sing.