Sunday, July 14, 2024

Grief is for People

After The Swimmers, I read Grief is for People, by Sloane Crosley, checked out from the library at the same time, and also the right book for the right moment. She's writing about randomly connecting the loss (by theft via home invasion) of some jewelry and the loss (by suicide) of a dear friend. "Grief is for people, not things," she says early on in the book, but the connection remains understandable all the way through. She does some risky things--her own detective work, going to Australia to jump off a cliff--but they make perfect sense, too. I really liked her prose style, and will seek out her fiction and essays.

Did these two books suddenly release me? I haven't been writing much lately, nor submitting poems, but this weekend I finished revising a short play and submitted it and also sent 4 poems to a contest. By chance, these submissions both had deadlines days away. Maybe not by chance? Have I become a procrastinator, motivated mainly by deadlines? Or was I inspired by Spenser Davis, who gave a lively, funny, and informative talk about playwriting at Heartland Theatre on Thursday night?

Possibly I was emboldened by this little girl, proud of her ability to stand up on her own in her playpen, and who is practicing walking now, too! Lately, I've been wanting to try new things, like writing songs--the music, not just the lyrics. Or learning tai chi. It seems impossible--I am way too busy!--but also perfectly possible--I could make room! I could change my life!

I've written before, and told people, relentlessly, about how I conflated the loss of our house with the loss of my mother. So it's no wonder I connected with Crosley's book. I was at the hospital with my mom in the morning, attended her transition to hospice care that afternoon, and drove to our house to meet Two Men and a Truck for the last load. That was the end. "Heavy is the enchantment of places you know you will never see again," says Sloane Crosley. 

Yes, but the very next day I flew to Oregon for the birth of my grandbaby. I feel lighthearted at the thought of Lola seeing a whole new world, and me seeing it again through her eyes. I'll be flying out again soon to see her. And here she is with her arms out like wings. 

Monday, July 8, 2024

Swimming in Grief

I'm swimming laps again this summer, as I've done for many years now, early in the morning, as exercise and meditation. I swim in the pool where I took swimming lessons and did water ballet as a child. After the first few lessons, when she watched us and/or read a book, my mother often dropped us off and picked us up, wet, later. Lately, swimming has helped me stay calm, rehearse things I have to do later in the day, let go of everything, and grieve. It's eight months since my mother died, and it surprises me how fresh the grief may be, in tiny moments, and insistent, like rain.

I am also reading a lot, and reading the right book at the right time. Today, I found The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka, and it's, of course, perfect. There's a woman in it named Alice, with mild dementia. "And even though she may not remember the combination to her locker or where she put her towel, the moment she slips into the water she knows what to do." This fits with what I just learned in Remember, by Lisa Genova, about how and what we remember. 

So far The Swimmers seems to be in a community voice, a "we" voice. "And when we are finished with our laps we hoist ourselves up out of the pool, dripping and refreshed, our equilibrium restored, ready to face another day on land." While I don't hoist myself up--I swim over to a ladder--I agree with all the rest of this! And, in keeping with water ballet, I am again awake to the synchronities of life and in my reading.

I'm reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu for the non-fiction book group at the library, about saving ancient manuscripts, and I just read (or re-read, as I think I read it as a teen, or part of it) Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen, for the adult reading challenge, where July = Africa. I'm aware of the irony of reading two books about Africa by white writers. At least I had already read some others on the list and the display by Black or African authors. With Out of Africa, I was consciously seeking out the author's voice to see 1) why this book is considered her masterpiece 2) what colonialism it carries in tone. Yes, the colonialism is there, along with a deep love and respect for the country and its peoples, and its animals, even the ones she shot. I was comforted when she moved past killing them to watching them.

Contemplating the Africa theme, I'd thought I'd like to learn more about Mali, as my parents housed a young man from Mali several years ago when he came to the United States to get his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He is still a family friend. Timbuktu is in Mali, so yay! I am learning a lot. I can ask if he's read this book in my next letter!

It surprised me--but why, given all the synchronicity lately? and the "plot," as I knew she would be leaving the continent--to find this in Out of Africa, which resonated with the loss of my childhood home: "In this way began for me a strange era in my existence on the farm. The truth, that was underlying everything, was that it was no longer mine, but such as it was, this truth could be ignored by the people incapable of realizing it, and it made no difference to things from day to day. It was then, from hour to hour, a lesson in the art of living in the moment, or, it might be said, in eternity, wherein the actual happenings of the moment make but little difference." This sounds like the emotional denial I witnessed in my dad, and the strange near numbness I sometimes felt, but I was most struck by the living-in-the-moment connection, for that is how I grieved and am still grieving, disconnected from linear time, and from my former self, but, yes, in the moment.

I go back to the moment of swimming. And to this line from The Swimmers: "The moment I see that painted black line I feel fine."

OK, and also this moment! Lola in the water. Eight months old and crawling. In love with her parents and with the world. Always in the moment!

Constantly countering my grief is my joy, from the moment Lola entered the world and my mother left it.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Okay, Fine!

OK, fine. The book that was making me laugh out loud made me burst into tears in the final chapter. Yes, I sort of knew it was coming, because she's a good writer, and I'm alive in the real world, and this is what happens. Then I got to laugh while crying, thanks to the phrase, "Stupid useless calimari heart valve*," which makes perfect sense in context. 

*But I will definitely be asking the heart valve doctor some important questions, thanks to this book, Sandwich, by Catherine Newman. My first question will be "Plastic or pig?" (or "Artificial or organic?," referring to what the replacement heart valve that my father might be considering will be made of. I will try not to ask, "Or calimari?" I believe in real life the calimari was being replaced with pig in a restaurant, not a hospital...But the heart valve might belong to the magical animal known as the pig.**)

**Simpson's reference

Meanwhile, it's still super hot here, and, evidently, in Portland, OR, where Lola has been given pink sunglasses and looks cool but  also dubious and hot. The pink octopus pal is good if you are teething, both head and tentacles.

Also, read this book if you have ever eaten a sandwich at the beach. Or been scared of sharks.

Also meanwhile, I celebrated the solstice last night in my friend Kim's back yard! My friend Devon recommended a ritual involving 9 flowers, which I found in my own yard afterwards, and a wish...or vision...?  (I had been drinking sugar-free gin & tonics...) 

Based on my wish, all shall be well! Happy still full Strawberry Moon!

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Joy Sandwich

I am full of joy these days, thanks to Lola, my grandbaby! Here she is in the sky! Later this summer, I will have some time with her in Oregon, helping out while her daddy is off on an adventure. My daughter and I will probably sleep in the family bed together, sometimes with Lola between us, a joy sandwich!!

I get to see my son in Oregon, too! All joy, all the time!

I've been waiting for the tidying impulse to strike me again, and it finally did. I recycled a bunch of old Christmas cards. Not the glitter ones, which I put in the garbage. I don't think glitter can be recycled. I felt a little like I was throwing away Christmas, but I got over it. It was joyful to re-see the cards, re-read some of them, and say bye bye. 

While tidying, I washed and then further aired out in the sun a bunch of overalls my son wore when he was a baby. 

Lola's growing so fast, she might outgrow them before she can wear them--seasonally--but there's a new baby boy cousin in the family, so double-stuff cookie joy sandwich!

And I'm reading a novel that makes me laugh out loud, Sandwich, by Catherine Newman. It's perfect for anyone who's familiar with menopause, children, a wonderful husband who might not always be emotionally available while you are raging due to hormones, and an annual weeklong beach vacation. Also, being of the "sandwich" generation, taking care of kids and parents... I knew when I read a book blurb that I would have to read this one, and tried to wait till my library got it, and ordered a non-fiction book of hers through interlibrary loan in the meantime, and then just gave up and bought it. I laughed out loud during Catastrophic Happiness, too!

So, while I have started tidying again, I have acquired another book. But it's something to keep for gems like this: "People who insist that you should be grateful instead of complaining? They maybe don't understand how much gratitude one might feel about the opportunity to complain." Ha! (as I wrote in my reading journal) Our family in a nutshell! And also for the grandpa's definition/compare/contrast of "schlemiel" and "shlimazel." I won't tell you what it is--buy the book!--but it's on page 104.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Spring Cleaning

I can feel that spring cleaning urge bubbling up inside me, and when it reaches full boil, I will clean, or, if the weather cooperates, get back out in the garden, but it's also possible I will just hunker down and read. Reading has been my comfort and my downtime for a long time, but is lately a bit like water, something I need to live. So it might be a Slattern Day for me, a Saturday of reading and writing poetry, chores only as they arise, and keeping an eye on my husband, who had the back of our Ford Escort fall on his head yesterday. It's a 1991 wagon, and we have to prop open the back loading door as the appropriate replacement longer exist? But yesterday was so windy, the box he was unloading was whipped against the prop, dislodging it. "That'll leave a mark," said the hubby. A dent.

The car pictured looks like our car, if it was newer, shinier, and lived in the mountains. And had all its parts.

For National Poetry Month, I am, as usual, writing a poem a day and providing prompts for such in an online workshop, where I commune with a bunch a lovely people, most of whom I have never met. For many years now, we have gathered in April. It's a joy. I am also celebrating by reading and reviewing poetry books by EIL poets over at Escape Into Life, most recently a selected works gathering by Keith Taylor, whose bird poems have delighted me in the past. This is a life's work! 

The title of this one comforts the slattern that I am, re: spring cleaning vs reading: All the Time You Want!

And, a delightful surprise, a cento I wrote recently for an art exhibit and artmaking workshop--a local gallery/library collaboration--also appeared in a column by Sarah Carson in Bold Cafe. She had asked for centos to use as a poetry prompt, and used mine! A lot of my poems are about my mom these days, and "Grief Cento" and its sources helped me process and depict aspects of my grief for her, and how that's somehow everywhere in the world around me...

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Poetry Month

It turns out I'll be celebrating National Poetry Month by catching up on my reviewing for Escape Into Life. The first review up in April is of Karen Weyant's book Avoiding the Rapture, which I loved from the start, thanks to its title and cover...and reading her work over many years!! I will probably be avoiding the Rapture for as long as I can.

Today it's been snowing on my yellow tulips, my white bleeding heart (tiny but already blooming!), and the various blossoming trees outside my workplace and on my route to and from. I might be a little grumpy about this, making it another Cranky Doodle Day in the blog, as well as the Hump of the Week. It's only Wednesday, but it feels like a Friday, and I'm doing laundry, so it feels like a Monday. Clearly, it's April, the cruelest month.

I am, almost an afterthought, writing a poem a day. It's something I do every year, providing the prompts at an internet site I participate in. This year, I almost forgot, distracted by too many personal things. Now, it is its usual absolute joy, and I am grateful.

Did I mention that clematis leaves have appeared on a trellis?! That daffodils I forgot I planted continue to surprise me by blooming, lately in the snow? That soon, possibly, my backyard will be overtaken by white anemone, coneflower, and oregano. It just keeps happening. Again, I am grateful. Maybe this year, in August, I will again read a book of poems a day outside on the glider. I don't know what will happen next. But I am grateful to have a baby in my life. She has found her foot!

Friday, March 29, 2024

Frog Music

My dad turns 92 on the 30th! Wow! He's already had a little celebration where he lives, and I was hoping we'd celebrate his actual birthday and Easter this weekend, but I had a surprise visit from Covid this week, so I am staying in. Already feeling better, and should be able to return to work, masked, next week. I guess I'll also play my first adult-league volleyball game masked, as well. Gosh, I did not expect this at all, having gotten all the available vaccinations whenever I was eligible. Was just about to line up the next! it came in this form instead. So it's a rare Cranky Doodle Day in the blog.

A couple more postcards arrived from the ongoing international postcard-writing/sending project. Here's my latest array.  I had also written ekphrastic poems for a special collaborative event--library & gallery--that I wasn't able to attend on Thursday, but they read and displayed the poems for me, and it went well, I hear! That cheers me in my crankiness! And I am grateful to have been able to work from home this week, and glad to be able to attend a meeting via Zoom tonight. Sigh...

My reading lately has been books from the ongoing library sale: Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue, and Homer & Langley, by E. L. Doctorow. They both hit the spot, good reading while resting on the couch! Both based on real people and real history, both fictionalized appropriately, both lucky finds! Learned lovely tidbits about folk music in Frog Music glossary, and had wanted to read the Doctorow book for a long time. 

The library sold out its used books in a few hours last weekend, preparing for a closure for renovation. I'm glad I had picked these up the week before and also that I got to see my desk moved down the hall, to lessen my disorientation on Monday when I return! Some of us will work at satellite sites, but my department stays put, based on the nature of our work. Meanwhile, I have 20 tulips about to bloom, tufts of bleeding heart, tufts of columbine coming, sprinkles of vinca and violet! Spring is aching to be truly here.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Where to Begin?


Where to begin? I'm so far behind in my blog posting! Well, I am still participating in the poetry postcard project, from Winter Solstice to Spring Solstice, so I have only a few more to go! Here is the array so far received, some strewn on the floor and some neatly stacked in my postcard-perfect tiny basket! I write suddenly, inspired by the moment, or in little batches, upon receipt of postcards, and send out from the p.o. Today I got a rejection, of a postcard poem I sent to a different poetry postcard project, but rejections are always fine, because it means I am actually sending poems out! In one way or another!

On Thursday, my dad and sister and I went to the local history museum to see my mom's picture hanging in the rotunda for Women's History Month. She looked perfectly natural there, among other local history-making women. I did not feel grief so much as amazement. At other times, tears overcome me. Today it was from hearing "Danny Boy" on the piano at church, a song that made her dad cry, my Grandpa Sid. I never know what's going to do it!

Yesterday I walked in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, an annual tradition. I think I walk in all the parades now, with various groups I work with. For Labor Day and St. Paddy's Day, I walk with the Democrats and/or to support specific candidates. At Christmastime, I walk with Heartland Theatre, as it's a small-business parade. In the ISU Homecoming Parade, I walk with Moms Demand Action. I would like to walk with them for Memorial Day, too, as we are remembering the dead and protecting the future. It was a beautiful day for a parade, sunshiny and warm. Today is sunshiny and cold, the wind making it feel colder. I am still wearing my shiny green hat, as it's actual St. Patrick's Day today, and still trying to keep it from blowing away. Sometimes I fail, and the hat is rescued! I made a little list of recent failures and mistakes, just to stay honest and analytical, and to forgive myself. I see the reasons why. They are mistakes to learn from, to apologize for, and/or not to worry about further! I failed to send out my usual remember-to-vote letter, for instance, so it will be revised and go out as a thank-you letter! I did canvas with/for candidates. The primary is Tuesday. I have to vote early and take my dad to the hospital in Peoria. My life is crammed with lists, duties, tasks, details. 

Lately, I just want to sit down and do crossword puzzles from a big book, to rest my body and put my brain to different use. Or write tiny poems! Or, speaking of hats, look at pictures of this baby! The baby brings me great joy. Seeing pictures of her, thinking of her. The reality of her! Thank you, baby!

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

King Cake

When you work in a public library, supporters bring you food! Today I had a yummy wedge of King Cake, and a colleague found the baby* in her wedge! Later, I wore numerous strands of beads to a committee meeting, distributing them to my fellow committee members. And when I got home, there were two poetry postcards in the mail, after days of nothing. 

A Fat Tuesday, indeed!

*Luck and prosperity!

I doubt that I will give up anything for Lent, except accidentally. Except a Lenten online writing workshop I participated in last year (and the year before? oh, Time, where are you?).... You should see my skinny calendar, all marked up with penciled commitments, meetings, rehearsals, deadlines, appointments....

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and we have no plans. Except, "Please bring home food, as I have back-to-back Zoom meetings." Must add milkshakes to the request....

Saturday, February 3, 2024


This morning I sent out my first poetry submission since October. It's hard to keep up, to catch up, since all the big family events. Lately I've felt like three people instead of one, keeping track of everyone's personal health details and doctor's appointments. A juggling* act and an identity challenge. (I have to put initials on my calendar,** so I know whose appointment it is.) Since my mother died, I'm down to two people,*** but even that's hard. Anyway, while I'm behind in many poetry-related things (submissions, reviews, new poetry features at EIL), at least I got this done, and the October submission is forthcoming this spring, so there's progress.

Meanwhile, I am participating in a solstice-to-solstice poetry-postcard writing project, and it is delightful to get postcards in the mail with such marvelous creativity on them. I love snail mail!

**Speaking of calendars, I need a hard copy calendar. Everyone tells me Google calendar is so easy, etc., but I know what I can handle (and I have a Google calendar for work). I use a slim, portable, free (from the Nature Conservancy) calendar I can slip in the side pocket of my black-and-white polk-dotted handmade (Sugar Creek Arts Festival) purse, and fill out in pencil (because my life contains many erasures). I also have a large, spiral-bound 2022-2024 weekly-monthly planner for my theatre life. It's all working, but it keeps me 1) split 2) hopping.

*Speaking of juggling, a college friend just reminded me on Facebook that I know/knew how to juggle. I juggled 3 oranges as Elvira in a college production of Blithe Spirit. My face was sort of mauve and lavender for that play, a directorial/make-up designer choice. Elvira is a ghost. I believe I must have been shocking to look it. I shocked my dad, who criticized the choice, to me, personally, as if I had made it, but that's another story (an ongoing story...we're still in it! Sigh...) I don't think I even put on that make-up. The designer did it every night.

***I'm one of them, but I'm fine. Routine exams, dentist, optometrist. Sort of slacking on that last. So it's a Slattern Day in the blog.

P.S. I don't have the 5-year butterly planner pictured above. I just like it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024


My sister and I are reading the same book right now, Wintering, by Katherine May. Chris got it from a friend, who found it good for grieving and healing, for hunkering down when needed, and I found it on the library shelf while collecting adjacent books for a display. The subtitle is The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, and we are both resting and retreating since the death of our mother. Bitterly cold, it's an excellent time to hunker down and read; "wintering," as much a state of mind as a season or kind of weather, is all about taking time and care to adapt to any bitter reality.

Chris is reading slowly and as part of her daily meditation practice. I am reading in soft, slothful chunks, slathered in sherpa and fleece on a comfy couch. Where I am in the book, May is currently swimming in the cold sea at Whitstable, where she lives, in southeastern England, with her family. And here's one of those coincidences I love: Whitstable is where a man goes for his honeymoon in the play, Every Brilliant Thing, by Duncan Macmillan (with comedian Jonny Donahoe, who helped develop the script by performing it). I had not really heard of this place till I read (and re-read) this play, and there it is in Wintering. The play is about a man who makes a list of every brilliant thing that makes life worth living, a list he makes for his mother. It's got ice cream in it, and donuts, and the color yellow.

As well as The Sorrows of Young Werther, a famously sad romantic novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that temporarily made suicide dangerously popular. Considered the first psychological novel, it features impossible love and Werther in a blue coat. I would have put it on the display, but the library doesn't have a hard copy. (There are many electronic versions available for checkout.) When I finish Wintering it will go on the display. Heartland Theatre is doing this play in February, and I will be there, perhaps more than once. Relying on audience interaction, it will be a little different every night. The playwright also suggests changing place names and dates to adapt to the local circumstances. So probably no Whitstable.

Last night, I facilitated the Poetry is Normal Presents reading at the library, a virtual one, with Lannie Stabile reading from three of her books, including The Inconvenience of Grief, about the death of her mother. She was in Michigan, equally cold. She read several poems on the "First..." (Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday) without her mother, what we've just been through in our family. The previous night, I facilitated An Inside Look, a discussion with the directors and designers of Every Brilliant Thing. It was, by coincidence, my mother's birthday. She would have been 91. And Martin Luther King, Jr's. He would have been 95. It gave me pause.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

100 Books

In 2023, I read 100 books. That's according to Beanstack, where I track my reading now. I read all kinds of things, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, murder mystery, young adult, and even a children's book, the marvelous Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, which I had heard about for many years. And I gave some books as Christmas presents, favorites from the year or from the recent months spent escaping, slothlike, on the couch, covered in fleece blankets. Speaking of sloths, I have already earned a sloth as a "completion prize" in the library's winter reading challenge, set up as a bingo card, where I have scored a Bingo from slothliness.

I gave Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, to my son, in hopes he will share it with his girlfriend, a big reader, and they can discuss it. It's about gamers, friendship, love, and compassion. Yes? With some sound and fury and meaninglessness, despair, and regret thrown in but also hope. OK, it's about being human. Also enjoyed The Book of Form and Emptiness, by Ruth Ozeki, a lot of which takes place in a public library! On p. 276, the Bottleman says, "Let me tell you something about poetry, young schoolboy. Poetry is a problem of form and emptiness." It sure is!

All my poems these days are about my mother, even if they are ekphrastic or written on postcards. "Grief deranges," says Gish Jen in The Resisters, a book I read in January, actually. "Healing is slow." It sure is. I am participating in a solstice-to-solstice poetry postcard project and have sent 8 postcards and received 3. (Maybe that will pick up after the holiday mail...) Some have gone to Santa Cruz, CA and Portland, OR, where I have family, and one went to Japan! I love the random coincidii...

I loved Stoner, by John Williams, which I hope to discuss in 2024 with an online book group, an occasion to reread it. Life as it is lived, academic life, at the University of Missouri in Columbia. I loved The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, a quiet Wow! book, a revelation, also, in a way, life as it is lived, but by someone not fully paying attention, until, well, until... I liked it so much I sought out the movie I had remembered shelving at the library, with Charlotte Rampling in it. Well done.

I gave Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett, to my daughter and my sister, who had already heard Meryl Streep read the audio version but now has a hard copy to cuddle up with on the couch, like a sloth. It's a mother-daughter story with a production of Our Town in it, perfect for our theatre family. I gave my dad compression socks, but I've been steering books his way all year. Stoner was one of them. I am very, very slowly getting back to real life. But thanking all those books.