Write By The River

 

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Saturday night. A bunch of giggling women are gathered at night in the dark woods behind the Garden Valley cabin, taking part in a wilderness survival exercise put on by workshop leaders, Christy Hovey and Amanda Turner. Elaine Ambrose, who is hosting this writers retreat for women is there, giggling right along with us. This is my first ever Creative Kindling Women’s Writing Retreat, and this little workshop goes to show you that you never know what’s going to happen when you get together with this bunch. I can’t divulge details. What happens at the cabin stays at the cabin. We didn’t pinky-swear or anything, but you just know there are some things of which you must never speak. Sisterhood and all that.

On Sunday morning, I’m sitting in a big ol’ rocking chair on the veranda, watching the mist play along the river bank. Just a few yards from the porch, deer are lazily grazing. It’s like a picture out of a story book, but it’s real. We’re sipping our coffee, cradling our steamy mugs in both hands. A fire in the hearth completes this perfect setting. The usually still morning air is alive with women’s laughter. Welcome to our women’s writing retreat.

When we arrived on Friday afternoon, most of us didn’t know each other. Now it’s Sunday, and we are reluctant to break this magic spell of camaraderie and leave our new friends to return to our busy lives in the city. If I had to say how they managed to pull off this magic transformation in less than 48 hours, I, the writer of words, would have no answer. Maybe it is our hosts and mentors, Elaine Ambrose, Amanda Turner, and Christy Hovey. Each has specific skill sets that every writer needs, and when you put them all together at this retreat, you get what I like to refer to as the Power Pack.

Not only did they host workshops with invaluable information, they each gave us a two-hour, one-on-one private session to work on our own specific current writing project. This is where the real gold is in this weekend retreat. This kind of personal coaching is not something you have available at most retreats. They also limit the number of attendees so that the feel is intimate and comfortable, and everyone has time to address any questions they have. As well, this made it easy to get to know the other attendees, and develop a rapport which made learning together fun.

In my case, I am currently working on a non-fiction book, Caregiver’s Quilt. When I arrived on Friday, I was stuck, bogged down in details and self-doubt about my ability to complete this project. Yes, I’d done plenty of writing over the years, but not a full length book, and this felt daunting. I didn’t know how to take my ideas and tame them into a useable book outline. Elaine worked with me on blogging, which gave me a better understanding of how a blog can help me write my book and gain readership. Amanda worked with me on my outline, and how to break my big book idea down into manageable sized chunks. Christy helped me get a handle on how to use social media to find my readers, and hold their interest.

Because we not only played hard this weekend, we worked hard too. Our attendees ran from fairly new to seasoned writers. It didn’t matter. We each found something we needed to move us along our writer’s path. Each of us came away with a sense of exhilaration. We were going home with something tangible to work on. And we got something more – a sense of sisterhood, and some new friends. Our attendees decided to form an accountability group, meeting for lunch once a month to update each other on our progress.

It was a wonderful experience. Sharing our ideas and projects with one another bolstered our confidence and our belief in our own project. It took something intensely personal and solitary and gave it life in the real world. Each of us challenged ourselves by reading some of our writing aloud to the group. We were met with encouragement and applause.

Our first workshop was on Friday night. After we dined like royalty on a delicious feast that chef, Robert prepared for us, we gathered around the table. Coffee and wine flowed in abundance. Elaine chose the subject “Music as Muse” for her workshop. The idea was that by using guided imagery, we would open ourselves up to memories and write about them, knowing we didn’t have to share them with anyone if we chose. I’m not going to lie. It was a difficult exercise. With the help of music, we silently revisited the most painful and the most joyful experiences of our lives. As much as I didn’t like revisiting painful memories, I have to admit that this exercise opened me up. And from that place of honest vulnerability I became ready to receive all that the weekend had to offer.

If you decide to honor your writing-self by attending the next retreat, come with a specific project in mind and come prepared to work hard. As well, come prepared to laugh. A lot. The next retreat will probably be in April. Plan now to be there. Opportunities like this don’t come often. Would I go again? In a heartbeat. I’m already feeding my piggy bank.

 

 

Check out Elaine’s blog, her award-winning books, and upcoming writing retreats here:  http://elaineambrose.com/

 

 

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Posted in Books, Life After 50, Midlife, Senior, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Saying Goodbye

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Dear Raymond:

Thank you for coming to comfort me after you died, for the visits where I could feel you near, your hand on my shoulder, the nights when I felt the bed move as you sat down beside me, and the times I felt you spooning behind me, your arm around me in a protective and loving way. I know you were there, and you were reassuring me that you were free, no longer in pain, no longer trapped in an old, broken, body, and more alive than perhaps you had ever been. Thank you for that. While your visits were comforting, they were painful, because my grief was so raw, because I had spent my entire adult life with you, because I had made you my life. The separation was like picking at a raw, festering scab, day after day, wanting the pain to end but unable to stop picking at it. I was so broken and weary by the time you died, that I could scarcely go on. But I did. We all did somehow. Yours was the most devastating death I had ever known. Now, some five years later, it still hurts.

The night you died, Raymond, I know you were ready to go. You had told me so many times. In fact, you had already notified them at the dialysis unit that you wanted to discontinue dialysis and let nature take its course. We discussed it, and your plans to do so never wavered. You had experienced enough. You were ready for your next assignment. I didn’t actually know you were going to leave me that night. I knew you were having a rough bout, but you had experienced so many of those, so many miraculous recoveries. Before that night, we talked about what you wanted to do if you faltered. You said you wanted to stay at home, to die at home, and I respected your wishes. But that night, as you struggled for breath, I saw the terror in your eyes. It is easy to make decisions when you are not in crisis, but when the moment comes, it is not so cut and dried. I held you, as you sat up on the couch so you might be able to breathe better. I asked you if you’d rather stay home or have me call 911 and get you to the hospital. You thought about it for a while, and asked me to call. Soon the rescue unit was there, doing what they do, and giving you oxygen. I wanted to know if “this was it”, you know, were you really dying, and they did what they were trained to do, take care of the immediate crisis, sound calm and reassuring, and make everyone as comfortable as they could. They did not let on that you were taking your last breaths. I didn’t believe it could be so. I knew that someday the time would come, but I wasn’t ready for it to be now. You know? I bet you weren’t either. I mean, when death comes, extending its hand to you, it’s just not how you would have expected it.

At the hospital, they did all the usual things, asked a lot of questions, hooked you up to machines, avoided my questions….and my eyes. That was my first big clue that you were going to leave me. Then suddenly, everything started to fail. All the alarms began beeping, people came running, a doctor was called, and they worked on your chest and started with the dreaded blue bag, to “bag you”. Patricia, our daughter, had gone out into the parking lot for a smoke and she missed it all. I was so afraid she wouldn’t have time to say goodbye to you, but I wasn’t about to leave you to die alone while I ran to find her. A nurse offered to go find her. I saw your bed crowded with medical people, so crowded I could barely see you. And I was all alone, and hurting at losing you, and wondering if miraculously you would pull through again. But they couldn’t stabilize you, and I saw them working your chest and bagging you, and I stood, wanting to tell them all to stop. You were so tiny and wasted on the narrow cot. Out of nowhere a nurse came to me and said “You get in there. You just push your way in.” And I said to the doctor who was head of the team, “Stop. Please just stop. He has a DNR, he’s been through so much. Please, just let him go. I promised him I wouldn’t let this happen. Oh please, just let him go. He’s suffered long enough.” He looked up at me, my anguished face, and he signaled for the group to stop. Not a word passed between us. They quietly packed up their gear, unhooked your monitors, and quickly left. Someone squeezed my arm on the way out. They drew the curtains so we could have some privacy. I was alone with you then. I came to your bedside and talked. I could feel your spirit ready to leave. I could feel your hunger for the next life, for some well-earned rest. I held your hand, smoothed your thinning but still magnificent hair back, I told you how much I loved you, wished you well on your journey, reassured you that I would be okay. I kissed your furrowed forehead, your eyes, your nose, your lips. I put my head on your chest briefly, careful not to put any weight on you, but just to have our skin touching. I told you that you did a good job, that I was happy for you. I smiled down at you, tears dripping off the end of my nose and landing on your flesh. And just like that, you sighed deeply, expelling all the air out of your lungs, and never breathed again. I felt your soul leave your body, and just the flesh remained. You were gone. I still could not believe you had actually died. I mean, Raymond does not die. He almost dies. He has flamboyant comebacks. He does not actually die!

Patricia and I took turns listening to your chest. No sound. Pulse? None. We waited. Surely you would come back. You always came back. You did not come back. We stayed awhile, giggled together as we marveled at our joint belief that you would suddenly sit up and say “I’m hungry. Can you find me something to eat?” Then when you didn’t do your famous Lazarus impression, we said our goodbyes. A doctor was called in to confirm your death, and we were left alone with you. I don’t know what happened after that. It seemed wrong to leave your body there, in the hospital, with us walking away, and yet, there was nothing else to be done. We walked out, hand in hand, into the cold October night. Patricia called her sister, Crystal. I don’t recall any of the details. I was in shock. You were gone, the man I had loved my whole adult life, after 31 years we were irrevocably separated, and my heart was ripped raw, from my chest. There was a canopy of stars overhead, twinkling like every wish was possible, and yet I couldn’t wish you back, knowing I would be sentencing you to more pain, more suffering, more of all that you so happily left behind. Not that I could wish you back anyway. You were already on to your new journey, how could I wish that away from you?

Patricia talked on the phone, and I stood by the car, watching my breath punctuate the cold night air, clutching my jacket around me, looking up at the stars, and thinking of that song, “Starry, Starry, Night”, singing it over and over in my head, but only the first line, because everything else was blurry…. I hope I did right by you. I wanted to. I really wanted to. When we got home, your presence was everywhere. Not the afterlife you, but the living, present you. The heaviness on my heart was so great, I thought it might just fall out of my chest. Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. But mostly, my heart hurt, and that ache continues to today. After 5 years, you’d think it would be over, that I had released all my pain, but sometimes it creeps up on me, like the insidious beast that it is, and sits on my chest again, and makes me remember, relive, relove.

Posted in Death and Dying, Family, Life After 50, Marriage, Midlife, Senior, Spiritual, Spiritual but not Religious, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dear Daughter

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My dearest daughter, I woke up today with thoughts of you, of your path through life, of what you’ve endured, what you’ve overcome, and last but not least, who you have become.

Your path, while unique, still bears the pattern I know so well from my own, a zigzag meandering back and forth, up and down, some nasty switchbacks along the way, and some mountains seeming impossible at the time, but you climbed them anyway. And here you are, probably not even half way through your life’s journey. Do you ever look back to see how far you’ve climbed?

You are living your deliciously imperfect life, in your own deliciously imperfect way. I have learned so much by watching you grow. From the moment I took all 4 pounds of you into my arms as you screamed your way into the world, I knew you were a force to be reckoned with. But really, I had no idea of the woman you would become.

As a child, you had no understanding of that shut-off valve most of us have that we use to censor our thoughts before they come out of our mouths. Other than the fibs you told to get yourself out of a jam, (and by the way, you were never any good at lying), you were the most honest person I had ever encountered. Now, you would think that would be a wonderful thing, but not always. Like the time when you sat on my lap running a hand over my face, and you piped up in a room full of guests, “Mom, why do you have a whisker on your chin?” Yeah. That’s my girl!

And I may have been a tad wrong about that “bad at lying” thing, because I just remembered something. The phone call I got at work from the principal’s office asking me to come in for a talk. It seems you thought your lunch looked pretty good so you decided to eat it on the way to school. Yes, you had already had breakfast at home. And when the teacher asked you where your lunch was, you told her that I didn’t let you take lunch to school because we had no food at home. By the way, thanks for that. It was just as fun as when I was hauled into the principal’s office as a kid.

You were, in a word, exasperating at times. I remember telling myself that the same things about you that drove me crazy, were the very characteristics you would need to keep you strong in a sometimes unkind world. You were also a delightful child in so many ways. Whenever I thought about you, I pictured a bright sunflower, face turned towards the sky, full of joy and expectation. And talk? You sure had the gift of the gab from the moment you could form words, so I am not surprised that you used it to carve niches in life that suited your temperament and fed your soul.

It still brings tears to my eyes when I recall those stormy teen years when you seemed so sullen and broken. Unreachable. Even when exhausted from caring for your sick father, I’d lay awake nights trying to figure out how to help you. It was like your light was not yet out, but flickering, and for once, you didn’t have a lot to say. That scared me. You and I had come so far. I didn’t want to fail you when you needed me most. It was the hardest storm we ever faced, and you taught me that sometimes what a girl needs is not something that her mother alone can give. Sometimes she needs space. And wings. Even if she’s not sure how to use them yet.

And now, look at you. Effervescent as ever, full-time career, busy mom with three rambunctious teenagers, and sometimes five. Your house is full of noise, laughter, bickering kids, barking dogs, wedding plans…it’s a place of happiness. And you made that happen. You, with your infectiously joyful spirit, your childlike sense of play, and your love of family. I couldn’t be more proud of you, not just as a daughter, but as a strong woman and a beautiful spirit.

I’m glad you still call me when something wonderful happens that you want to share, when something challenging comes up and you need advice, or when something awful happens and you just want your mom.

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My Book Review of A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock

A Broom of One's Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and LifeA Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life by Nancy Peacock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I devoured this book, too quickly really. Then I read it again, more slowly this time, so I could savor it, roll the ideas around on my tongue. This time I read some of the more delicious phrases out loud, enjoying them with not only my heart and mind, but with my ears as well. I gulped it down in the first read because I was thirsty for a book like this. It spoke to me with compelling honesty, and I couldn’t put it down, not even to sleep. The allure was the straight forward clarity in not only the thoughts and feelings author, Nancy Peacock laid bare, but in her delightful word play.

One of my favorites: “Even with a room of my own, writing is not a separate enterprise. It is not a jewel I keep in a velvet box and take out only when conditions are perfect. Writing is more like the yellow rubber gloves I pull on every day. I need my gloves to keep my hands from getting too dry. And I need my writing to keep my life and my mind moist and supple.” And who could resist this chapter title, “Ecstatically Cleaning the Toilet”?

By the time I finished reading this book for the second time, I vowed I would read everything this author ever writes. So far I have enjoyed Home Across The Road, and Life Without Water, both thoroughly engaging reads. As with this book, I couldn’t put them down. I’m catching up on my sleep because I can’t wait for the next one.

View all my reviews

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READING COMPANION

Reading Companion

When I see a book with pages turned down, or with scribbling inside, anything that hints at a disrespect for the written word, I have a visceral reaction so strong that I am filled with nausea. Since I consider a book to be a living, breathing entity, seeing a book defaced in any way feels like a violent act. To me, books are sacred. Some, more than others. But they are all holy gifts, pieces and shards of someone’s soul, of their deepest pain, their brightest thoughts, their greatest loves. On paper. Preserved. Shamelessly shared.

And yet… one of my greatest delights is the second-hand book. The more the previous reader leaves of herself in it, the better. I am a fan of all the little clues she leaves for me of who she is, what she was thinking, what was going on in her life when she read this, and more importantly, what impact this book had on her life. These clues are only possible if it she left it dog-eared, perhaps left scraps of paper between the pages, and of course, underlined text, and made notes in the margins. If she has done these things, I have a reading companion, one who will not interrupt me, but with whom I can murmur, “oh, what a delicious turn of phrase”, “Interesting take on the situation, don’t you think?”, and “Wow. I’d never thought of it that way before…”

Right now I’m reading a book I picked up at a garage sale. It’s a paperback, but tastefully done. Right across the top it says The National Bestseller. It’s called Follow Your Heart, by Susanna Tamaro. I had never heard of her. But the cover piqued my interest, enough to hand over a well-worn quarter, and clutch my new find to my chest in joy. The only artwork on the cover is a sketch of a window, with little blue shutters, a white curtain shimmying in the breeze, and a window box below it, filled with little pink and white flowers. Above Susanna’s name is this: “It was a gift from one woman to another – a confession that could set them both free…” I had to read that book.

It was only when I was back in the car that I discovered the real treasure. As I flipped through the pages, a piece of golden paper danced, like a tired Autumn leaf, to the floor. I picked it up. An airline ticket. Ted Bowers traveling Economy Plus from San Francisco to Honolulu via United Airlines Jan. 17th, Seat 24A – window seat. He travelled at 8:20 a.m. Doesn’t say what year. As I open the book to replace the ticket, I notice that someone wrote in the book. I was just getting used to the idea that a man was the reader of this book when I see the handwriting. It is definitely not a man’s handwriting. It is clearly a woman. Not only is the delicate slant from a woman’s hand, but the comments are distinctly feminine as well. Ah, a kindred spirit. She and I will surely enjoy this book together.

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Political Boundaries

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I know I can’t be alone in this. It’s about the political debates, the name-calling, the mud-slinging, the lies, false promises, twisting of facts, and the down-right ugliness involved in the heat leading up to an election. I can’t do it. I just can’t. There is a fine line between knowing enough to be able to vote intelligently, to vote for the heart and soul of this country, and knowing too damned much.

My feeling is that life is too short. I’m very careful on social media not to engage in politics or religion, but to try to post things that are uplifting, positive, good, decent, and often funny. Funny is always good if it is done in a light-hearted way and is not cruel or mean. There is already enough darkness in the world. I want to be part of the light. As such, I find that following the aforementioned political regurgitations on a daily basis just weighs me down. It does. And it is capable of spilling out into other areas of my life, if allowed. That cumbersome, dark cloud would follow me around and rain on all my parades, if I let it.

Not happening. I am the guardian at the gate of my mind, and I’m not allowing it to be filled up with crap. And it’s a choice. We don’t need to lap up every degenerate crumb that falls from the mouth of the politician. Some things are just too dirty to put into our mouths. Or our minds, especially considering the source. That is not how I choose to live my life. I love that we have free speech in America, and that we say pretty much what we want. I will also defend everyone’s right to do so. But at the same time, I defend my own right to filter out the crap. Just as I don’t have to gawk at the grisly scene of a fatal accident to know it was horrific, I don’t have to listen to every last dribble of political conversation to know that most of it is staging and posturing, bullying and bluffing. The big ugly.

Deciding to use the “spam filters” in my own head affords me to have a less stressed life, and use my energies towards ideas, concepts, and creations, that I deem worthy of my time. My philosophy for all things in life, including politics, is “take what you want and leave the rest”. There will always be someone else who will gladly hoover up the scraps, because they feed on them. Well, great. It saves me taking out the trash.

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The Powerful Voice of Women

There has never been a time in history when women could make such a difference in the world. All our sisters before us paved the way for this. The suffragette, the women who went to work in the munitions factories during WWII, the women who took over the jobs men used to do. And when the war was over, refused to be stuffed back into the kitchen, and kept their jobs. These women worked full time jobs and then came home to clean house, raise children, take care of familial obligations. They all made room for us, for this point in history.

We have at our disposal the internet, our gateway to the universe. It has the power to save us from isolation in a sometimes impersonal world. We have Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Pinterest, and so much more. We have blogs, and opinion polls, and we can say whatever we feel needs to be said. We are not barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. We are running marathons, heading up corporations, writing best sellers, designing buildings, and even spearheading movements. We are the voice of change, and together we are a powerful force.

We need to shrug off the cloak of what we’ve been taught a “lady” is, we need to run naked against the wind, and laugh in the face of the storm. We need to reinvent who we are, from the inside out. We need to forget what we’ve been told, and define ourselves using our own inner knowing, and speak with a voice that is not tentative and trembling, but bold and powerful. We need to trust our own thoughts and feelings. We need to test our daily actions and ways of being in the world, against how they feel in that deep center within us all. We need to use our powerful woman-force to effect change in the world. And don’t give me that “what can one woman do” crap. A woman can do by being who she truly is, and speaking her truth. We need to speak it with passion, and humor, and conviction, because it is the only voice we have, and one woman who is speaking from this place, from this center of her true being, is a force greater than everything else around her.

Being a lady is for sissies. Being a strong person in our own right is our true place in this world. With this understanding, we can unite with other women, and become unstoppable. That is our birthright. That is our purpose. Let no one tell you otherwise. We don’t need permission to be who we are and do what we love. We are the ultimate authority in our lives. No one, not parents, nor spouses, nor friends, nor siblings, has the right to force us to do or be something that we are not.

We are not victims of circumstance. We all have unfortunate things happen to us, we all feel trapped  in our lives at times, like there is no way out. But ultimately, it is our desire that will deliver us, so we need to keep the faith, because giving up is our worst enemy. There is always something we can do. It might not be ideal, it might not be what we would ask for if we had a fairy godmother waving a magic wand, but it is something.  Let’s start there.

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