Friday, November 25, 2016

a new book

fiddling with the end of her braid
slight smile
quick flip of the page
A new book.

(Found this poem while cleaning up some old notebooks. Thought I'd try to push myself to take more poetry breaks.)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

water and mind

I walk to exercise my body and to clear my mind. Were I to list out all the things to be thankful for, that my neighborhood walk brings me past this lake would be high up on it.

The sky around this lake holds the most amazing light. The water is tranquilly still or chaotically wind-blown, seeming to mirror my emotions, or acting on them.

Today, as I walk, I am thankful.

acting through mourning

I have given myself some time to mourn. Knowing the nature of grief and the cyclical nature of mourning, I know I am not through, may never be through, mourning this loss of faith in my country, I am, nevertheless, ready to begin action.

The leaders I admire most have acted for good in the midst of so much bad; they attempt to embody the world they want to see and so nudge - or drag - the world along with them.

I see a world that acts like a family, sitting together in a feast of Thanksgiving to honor the gifts of this world even though we disagree on how to use those gifts. A world that respects the rights of each member to live happily, even while we advocate for a different way. I want to be in a family that listens to each other with an ear for understanding, not waiting for a foible to pounce on.

And so, that is my first action.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

who's road is it?

On my walk the other day I stepped over this sidewalk scribble, not quite finished. Perhaps the graphic artist was called in for lunch or nap time. The words filled the road at an intersection in the back of the neighborhood, almost at the end of a dead end, where the right turn leads to a gravel road. You would think this spot hardly needed a reminder for people to obey the rule to stop at an intersection. But these kids thought it did. 
That right turn leads to a popular public beach on the edge of our little lake, beside which is a fabulously accessible playground. It's also the route to the outside world for people who live in the little houses along these black roads. So, despite the many wobbly kids on bikes, baby carriages, dogs at the end of leashes, and gangs of oblivious teenagers in the middle of the road, people take this corner as if there is nothing in their way. But three out of the four houses on this corner are packed full of young kids, ranging in age from toddler to tween, who use the road, as kids are meant to, as their kickball field and skateboard park, to sell lemonade and create art.
This is their road. They can claim ownership more than any of us taxpaying visitors. And they need us to stop.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

differences of remembrance

At the end of a story remembering a scene from childhood, the author says that her father, now long dead, doesn't care how she remembers him. And I gasped. Doesn't he? Do you really think that?
And then, catching my breath, I agreed. Of course he doesn't. I don't really think that my Dad knows how I'm remembering him - well, maybe I sort of do but the point it, that's not what upsets me about memories of my parents. What upsets me is hearing how others remember them. When their memories don't match mine I'm riled, defensive. Not the details - we remember different details, experienced from different perspectives - but the tone, the "Dad would"s or the "Mom would never"s. 
Um. Wrong. Your memory is wrong. Your opinions of these people I loved, love, so dearly is wrong. 
And I can't change my mind about this. 
I feel bad for my sister who has a completely warped picture of my Dad. She's missing out on the more tolerant, forgiving, accepting father of my reality. But I'm also, let's be clear, pretty pissed at her for her claims that my father, my father, would agree with her intolerant rants. My Dad could disagree with your politics and still respect that you came to your conclusions the same way he did, through thoughtful reflection. My Dad loved my pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-environment self even as he cast a vote for representatives who were anti all of those things.
Maybe Dad doesn't care anymore about how we remember him, but I care how he is remembered.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

our "way of life"

I’m sitting comfortably, legs up on the couch, full mug of coffee within easy reach, knowing my girls are safely sleeping away this Sunday morning in their rooms. But the Boston Globe has a way of messing with that comfort.

I can skip most of the references to Trump, smile reading about Elizabeth Warren’s untiring fight, but I started reading the article about the latest shootings in the US and I lost all sense of contentment. It was this line, by the mayor of Burlington, WA, Steve Sexton, that got me. “The city of Burlington has probably changed forever,” he said “But I don’t think our way of life needs to change.”

Doesn’t it? If we don’t change our way of life, won’t this keep happening? Isn’t it time to think about change? That’s been my struggle these past few months. What, exactly can I do to help set things right? Something’s got to change, and each one of us has something to offer in this transformation, something that we must offer in order for it to happen. Don’t we?

The issues are so big and overwhelming that it’s paralyzing. What the hell can I do to influence police training so officers are equipped to handle difficult situations without firing a gun? Do I have a part in the Dakota pipeline protests? How do my choices about drinking water help or harm people in Flint Michigan?

There’s a movement afoot to focus on small acts as a way to overcome the paralysis but I’m worried that the time for small gestures is past. How can taking a moment to notice the place I’m in and posting a picture help? How can bringing cookies to my neighbors make any sort of a difference?

And yet, that would be a change in my way of life. I am not only insulated from the pain around me, I’m insulated from the life. At school I’ve been teaching the kids about the interactions between organisms in an ecosystem; how each organism has an influence and a dependence on others in the system. Our “way of life” seems to keep us separate from our own ecosystem but really just keeps us ignorant of our place in it. My drinking water choices do impact Flint, and Portland, and Boston, and Cynthia next door. Noticing those choices, thinking about the interactions I participate in with each of those choices is a small and necessary step. How do I continue along the path?

One small step is to stop saying we are not going to let the terrorists change us. They are changing us. They have created a space for a fear-mongering opportunist to scare us into voting for hate. They have caused us to turn away from families trying to pull their children out of war and into a safe childhood.

We are changed by every act of violence spread across the pages of the Boston Globe. Isn’t it time we choose how we are changed?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

coffee in a mug

I wait all week to have coffee in a mug, not a travel cup, sitting on my porch with a book and time.

walking where I (don't) belong

My Wednesday walk takes me past all the old New England families that turned this town from woods and fields to fields and farms. Fletcher, Kimball, Prescott, Ward, they all lie here, in Fairview Cemetery, their monuments erected to keep their names alive.
I like this cemetery. It has great little hills, a manageable challenge that makes me feel as if I am truly working out. And the repetition of names is comforting and quirky. So many families named their daughters Lila in this town. Beside our old labradoodle, I don’t know anyone with that name now, but it was the Ashley or Jessica of its time around here. But then there’s this guy called Ivan that makes you think, “Wait, what? Where did he come from?”
But I also don’t like this cemetery. When I first started writing today, I was going to say that I feel comfortable here, like I belong and lately I don’t feel like I belong in this town at all. But, I don’t belong even here. When I visit my parents in the Lowell Cemetery, there is always someone around walking a dog, taking a jog. I used to bring my own daughters here to collect colorful leaves and hunt for acorns still wearing their hats in fall. We visited in spring to see if they had released the lion from his acid snow protective box yet and to add our own dandelions to his bouquet. Even before my parents were buried there, when it was just my estranged brother’s grave that I would walk the girls past with stories of his mistakes, and long before that when I would wander through just because it was beautiful, I knew I belonged in this cemetery. And so did everyone else. But here, in Fairview, in the town where I live now, which is not a city, which is not Lowell, even here I feel out of place. I hate to see a car pull in and brace myself to be told that it is inappropriate to walk for exercise through a cemetery. I don’t know why I feel like I’ll get this response except that in all the times I have walked through here I have never seen anyone else do the same, not so much as cut through with a dog on a leash. The closest I came was running into a few students one day who had been assigned to locate certain information for a history class. (To confirm the suburban stereotype, I ran into just as many parents as students.)

This is a lovely spot, green and well-treed, that calls out to be walked through. And so on Wednesdays, when I drop my daughter off for her horseback riding lesson across the street (yes I know, more suburban stereotype) I spend a half hour reading off the names as I walk past granite monuments to a rural past and sweat up the hills and limp back down. I imagine that one of those Lila’s had the same feeling of displacement here and longed to work in a mill in Lowell and join the girls at their Thursday night lectures dreaming of the excitement of a factory strike. I hope she made it and got to tell her grandchildren that she heard Emerson speak and attended a labor meeting with immigrant women from Lawrence. And I’ll tell my grandchildren that once I didn’t live in Lowell, that the dead of the other place welcomed me but the living had their doubts. More to the truth that I was the only one with doubts, I know, but it’s my story and I’ll likely be telling it as I walk my grandchildren through the Lowell cemetery, making a bouquet of orange leaves to place in the paws of the old stone lion before he’s put into protective custody for the winter. And I won’t care who drives by.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Not my brother - the people you meet

My brother just walked into the cafe. No, not really. My brother has been dead for over 20 years. It's just the kind of guy that reminds me of my brother. I see him all the time.

He looks unnaturally skinny but with a small paunch hanging over his belt. Unhealthy looking. It's a fairly warm day but he wears a long-sleeved button up shirt. Maybe it's unfair, but I assume he is wearing the shirt to cover the track marks on his arm rather than because he felt chilled when he got dressed. Maybe it's both. His black canvas bag looks designed to hold a laptop, which my brother never had. But I imagine, were he alive, my brother would have, like this guy, adopted headphones and smartphone as a way to block out the world.

People behind the counter know the guy, at least enough to greet him by name. He's quiet though, a word no one ever used to describe my brother. My brother's voice carried, whether it was appropriate to be loud or not. This guy seems like he's better able to regulate his voice. He can't stop his leg from bouncing, though, and his hand shakes as he raises the sandwich to his mouth. It's a Friday afternoon and he's not at work. Of course, neither am I, neither are most of the people here. But since this guy is my brother I imagine he doesn't have a regular job to go to.

The book I saw sticking out of his back jeans pocket turns out to be a thin black and white composition book, folded in half so it will fit. Yeah, my brother would do something like that, get a free left-over book from some organization and use it to death. I don't think my brother ever wrote. Maybe he did and his words were lost to the trash when he wasn't around to advocate for their preservation. I know he was a reader. This guy is reading the newspaper, left behind by another customer. Free. I bet he has a beaten up paperback in that black bag.

I'd probably enjoy a 15 minute conversation with this guy, get his take on Game of Thrones or Mr. Robot, then never see him again.

I like his face.

He reminds me of my brother.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

writing bravery

My birthday is a few days away and I have decided to give myself a present. I have decided to write. I was going to say that I would give myself the time to write, that I would take the time from my busy day, stealing it away from my family and other responsibilities but the truth is I have always had the time to write. If I said to my husband and the girls that I was going to take a few hours to sit at the computer to write and please don’t bother me they would say “great!” and my sweetheart would probably quietly refill my coffee cup with only a briefly distracting kiss on the neck. If I got up an hour early every morning, or took an hour after dinner every night or otherwise scheduled daily writing time, they would be on board, enthusiastically on board. So, I don’t have to give myself the gift of time; my family would give that gift happily. What I need to gift to myself is bravery

Writing scares me silly. I doubt my abilities, doubt the value of my voice. I worry what people close to me will think, even those generous and loving supporters who would rally behind my efforts. Will I be discovered to be a faux intellectual fraud? Will my version of events be challenged, or cause pain? Will I disappoint myself when, after three days I no longer have anything to say?

I’ve been back on track with daily writing for about a month now, after a long silence. When I look back on the difficulties I had this year I think there has to be a connection between my struggle to understand and deal with the complexities of life around me and my lack of writing. Writing is thinking for me. And that in itself makes it scary to share. Writing is thinking, processing, coming to an understanding. There is value in sharing this process. But sharing also inspires me to polish it up, to make my thinking clear to other than my own cluttered brain. In my job, as in most, clear communication is crucial (alliteration just plain fun). Giving myself the gift of writing, and sharing my writing, will help me in the process of becoming a better teacher and choosing the path to follow. 

But its much more personal than that. Writing is a spiritual process, and here is a statement that requires lots of that bravery I mentioned so I hope my birthday gift arrives on time. Writing is spiritual. I have long been reluctant to talk about my spiritual journey with anyone, have barely recognized the existence of a journey. It's a topic that makes me feel like a new-age poser even though I admire several writers who took the time to tell about their own journeys, and gained so much from their sharing. Spirituality is deeply tied to my thoughts on writing.

I grew up Catholic and we went to church every Sunday and “day of obligation.” I attended Catholic School through 8th grade and in high school, as a sort of self-imposed penance for some missteps, I taught Sunday School to young kids. My family was “openly religious” but we didn’t really talk about spirituality. There were a few religion classes at school, especially with Sister Roberta who had me thinking about becoming a nun in 7th grade, where we talked about the joy and mystery faith but for the most part it was all about obligation. I’ve struggled with finding my spiritual path as an adult. I’ve attended a few Sunday ceremonies at different churches and have been drawn in by some of the ritual there. I was incredibly moved by my mother’s funeral mass, filled with familiar prayers and songs, but when I attended my father’s anniversary mass, a regular Sunday with intentions for his soul, I was angry by the time I left at all the changes which felt like change for change sake because frankly I hadn’t been a part of the church or the conversation around making them. That mass was a betrayal to my memory but more importantly it separated me from the spiritual comfort of mass at a time when I thought a move back to church might become part of my haphazard spiritual journey.

Wait. This is not how I envisioned this post about giving myself the gift of writing courageously.

What I really want to say, to myself since I am my only guaranteed reader but here in public so I can feel as if I’ve made a commitment, is that I am going to write. I am going to write at the risk of becoming a disappointment, of being disappointed. I am going to take the time to be brave.

Happy Birthday to me.