Cranky List / Gratitude List

Things that make me cranky:

  • waking up feeling worse than when I went to bed
  • trading one set of medication side effects for another
  • feeling my body getting heavier and older
  • expecting to be able to exercise the way I used to when I was 25 and at the peak of training
  • days when the only thing I seem fit to do is putter around the house and take in a matinee
  • Boston’s schizophrenic spring weather
  • focusing on my own needs and the ways they’re not being met
  • getting away from support systems that help me feel connected
  • pollyanna-ish spiritual literature that tells me to just focus on the positive! and everything will be fine!
  • focusing on the things that make me cranky, especially when they’re things I can’t control

Things that make me happy:

  • posting cranky status updates on Facebook (and the one or two people who say they can identify)
  • comparing the treatments available today to what people used to endure 50-60 years ago
  • considering advances in genetic research that may make it easier for doctors to pinpoint which kinds of medication will be most effective for individuals with my illness
  • friends and mentors who can say the sorts of things that snap me out of negative thinking and help me focus on what will work
  • reconnecting with support systems that remind me I am part of beloved community
  • focusing on how I can be of service instead of on what I can get — or what I think I SHOULD be getting
  • remembering that work is a wonderful opportunity to be of service
  • making moderate progress while conserving energy — sometimes this is better than exhausting myself by FIXING ALL THE THINGS
  • identifying small, achievable tasks toward a larger goal — and checking them off a task list
  • putting stickers next to completed items on my task lists
  • remembering that all things pass — even the line in the Post Office on a Saturday afternoon
  • moderate exercise
  • intense exercise (in moderation)
  • dancing at weddings
  • professional massages
  • hot tubs and steam rooms
  • inexpensive (and free) self-care, like a spa day at home
  • vanilla-scented bubble bath
  • taking myself on an artist date
  • reading 101 artist date ideas
  • the unwinding feeling that comes with relaxation — in all kinds of ways, expected and unexpected. Sometimes in meditation, sometimes when I’m laying in a big bed all by myself, sometimes when I’m in a field of grass in warm weather, sometimes when I’m sitting with a cup of tea and looking at the trees as the sky fades from blue to darker blue.
  • the first time in 2014 that I smell rain on unfrozen soil

Rilke’s Advice to a Young Poet

You ask me whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you–no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself that you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and a witness to this impulse.

— Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. (tr. Stephen Mitchell) Vintage Books, New York: 1984.

Gratitude List

  • warm floors in the morning (radiant heat on the second floor of our townhouse)
  • a cat who comes when called
  • a cat who’s always willing to purr for you
  • that most intimate of moments when you are half-asleep next to your partner of years while the dim winter morning light filters in through the window
  • the discomfort that comes from trying new things
  • friends to call when winter blues set in
  • austere winter landscapes, with bare tree branches and empty skies
  • winter sunlight
  • walking into a heated building from a wind so cold you have to take off your glasses

November: National Guilt Month

Fallen leaves against grass and asphalt
The colors of November always surprise me — fading glory, but still glorious.

November is many things: my least favorite month of the year, one long sugar hangover between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the void into which the long evenings of autumn light become the sudden dusk of winter nights. It’s Movember, when men, women, and cars sprout moustaches to remind us that men should have shower cards too. It’s National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for those of us too hip to pronounce entire words). It’s Grateful November. In 2010, it was my own NaPoWriMo for about four days.

All of these 30-day, month-long commitments, all of these mutually supported do-good movements are great. They’re wonderful. They’re a sign of the in-gathering that is winter in the northern hemisphere: after the expansive summer and the exhausting harvest, the drawing together of the tribe around the fire to tell stories and… tweet about how many words they’ve written.

And for a perfectionist like me, they can also be a huge set-up for over-commitment and failure. Historically, November has been the worst month for me to do just about anything but plod along and show up day by day. The body knows this very well, but the mind forgets on a regular basis.

So this November, I resolve to do everything imperfectly. I will get my ass out of bed on a daily basis — imperfectly. I will express gratitude imperfectly, sometimes with mere gestures and sometimes with more sincerity. I will write haiku and journal imperfectly. I will update this blog imperfectly–perhaps weekly, perhaps less. I will join in the Dverse Poets community when it’s reasonable for me to do so, not each and every week, no matter how many times my calendar reminds me to.

I will conduct the next two sessions of my writing workshop imperfectly, doing my best to inspire and be inspired, enjoying the unfolding relationships developing among us all– and feeling lucky to be teaching writing, something so near and so dear and so close to my heart.

Imperfectly, I will accept the blessings and the gifts each day has to give me. And I will forgive myself for my own imperfections, give myself as many breaks and second chances as I need, and relax about whether I’m doing my imperfect November as imperfectly as I would like.

Beltane 2013: Union and Loneliness

Beltane fell on a Wednesday this year. It’s my favorite holiday, but even though it is a holiday of union, this year it leaves me feeling rather lonely. On Sunday I’d intended to rise early and make the trip across the river to my old church for the annual Beltane service — a tradition I resurrected when I was a part of the congregation and the Women’s Sacred Circle. It’s good to know that it still happens without me, but bittersweet. Even before M and I took the plunge and moved in together, I’d begun to pull back from the community at First Parish. It’s hard to say exactly why, although it’s definitely for more than one reason. Since the church is in Cambridge, there’s a regular turnover in membership. People finish their schooling and move away, or they pair up and move off to more affordable parts of the world. Once I’d looked on those people with disdain, but like so many of the people whom I’ve judged in my life, I came to find myself following that same natural progression.

I still remember the incredulity and joy I felt the first time I walked into the First Parish Cambridge Meeting House on a Sunday morning and heard an old, white man in a black robe saying things from a high pulpit that I actually agreed with. Things about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, the importance of social justice, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. There was a banner above the door that said “Support Marriage Equality — We Do” — and this was long, long before the tipping point of public opinion on that issue.

Continue reading “Beltane 2013: Union and Loneliness”

A Few Notes About April, National Poetry Month, and Related Topics

A few notes about April, National Poetry Month, and related or tangential topics:

  1. April is the cruelest month because it is neither one thing nor another. Especially in Boston, it is neither the callused braw of midwinter, nor the soft (and — thanks to climate change — rainy) flower-fest of spring. In February we laugh at freezing weather, we don our extra layers and our vaselined lips as a matter of course. In April, lulled into a sense of false security, we open our petals into the sunny breezes, decide to take out the summer dresses and the short-sleeved shirts. And then freeze and shiver in temperatures that felt warm to us in February.
  2. T.S. Eliot is a fussy little busybody who thought that shirtsleeves were sordid.
  3. This April, I want the fields to lay fallow. I walk the wavering line between abandonment and overpruning of my poetic garden.
  4. The sap rises up and I write, write, write, accumulating pages and pages of white, letter-sized writing pad, the blue lines running undercurrent beneath my  handwriting, sometimes scrawl and sometimes legible.
  5. The sap rises up and I want to run through the bogs screaming, expounding. The sap rises up and I rise with it, and then I return to the couch, or the breakfast table, looking at the birds who congregate at the feeder outside, along with the squirrels.
  6. How much longer can I keep both the squirrels and the woodpeckers — two downy, two red-bellied, none red-headed, in spite of the red head of the red-bellied woodpecker — in suet?
  7. The worst thing to do with the seedling is disturb it. Let it lay there, half in and half out of the ground. But when they start to crowd thick and green (because you never obey the seed-packet’s instructions, always spacing them too far or too close), then you must pluck and choose, which one will stay and which will go. Otherwise, they all die out, competing for the same scant patch of dirt and sun and rain.
  8. The squirrels and the chipmunks — and your own damn cats — will likely devour many of the flowers, even in their bloom. Look at the crocus, who finally bloomed only to become scattered-pink the next day, scattered and tragic petals among their white-and-green-striped arrow-leaves.
  9. Plant them anyway.
  10. Trust the wisdom of the numbered list.
  11. Stay in touch, whether casual, constant, or connubial, with those who understand the importance of a turn of phrase, the difference between Joe Green and Guiseppe Verde.
  12. Take it moment by moment.
  13. Remember to be of service — in both the meaningful work and the work that pays the bills.

Tiny Gratitudes

  • Sunflowers painted on the ceiling of an ultrasound exam room
  • Getting to an appointment 10 minutes early so I can sit in the car and stop rushing
  • Living in a place where the trees are taller than the buildings
  • Mentholated cough drops: bits of eucalyptus trees born thousands of miles away, soothing my throat and my lungs
  • A tiny white pill that keeps me from breaking into tears every 15 minutes
  • Miracle cures that ease cold symptoms, even if they do need to be taken again and again again
  • The rain washing down the windshield of the car, softening edges and smearing lights
  • The Fort Point Post Office, open 24/7/365, even at 7pm on the Sunday before Christmas
  • Working in an industry where skills matter as much as connections

30 Days of Thanks Starts on Day Nine

Forget April. November is the cruelest month for me, mashing rust-colored leaves in the raw days of no-sun clouds. A good month for a long slog, and long slogs are always easier in the company of others.

This year, I’ll be slogging on the gratitude train, with 30 days of thanks. Which starts on Day Nine for me, apparently, since this is the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll spare you the story of what I was doing for the first eight days of the month.

Gratitude opens new holes in the swiss-cheese brain of possibility. So here’s some gratitude for today:

  1. Star moss peeking out from beneath snow-patches, over rust-colored leaves
  2. The prodigal sun returns from in absentia
  3. Tom Robbins’s books led me enchanted through jungles of wordplay when I was 15 years old
  4. How extra glad I am to be the protagonist in my own novel, and not one written by Tom Robbins
  5. My thumbs work
  6. It is Friday.

30 Days of Thanks

The God-Shaped Hole, the Still Water

the god-shaped hole
must remain empty
so that god can pass through

it widens like the ozone
the world ends
and begins again

the guard opens the gate
and you make your way
to the pond with its
face of glass stillness

once before you came and sat
until the birds darted
over the gulf between bushes
and a red-winged
blackbird winked at you

now the water itself gulps
and returns to stillness
in the empty space of the evening

Through the Gates, in July, Something Different

you step through three gates of trees
expecting to see something different
and you always do

today, a turkey
almost to the end of the boardwalk
through the swamp, just before

a stream-bed that’s mostly mud
with the one big stone you’ve hopped
a thousand times

where you can glimpse
one of the huge houses
whose owners have been building again

you stop long enough to regard him
and he calls to you, or to
a well-hidden mate, you can’t determine

his gobble uniquely his
and nothing really like
the english word we made for it