Change is…

Change is stressful.

Even when it is a sought-for or hoped-for change, like welcoming a new child or moving into a new home.

An unwelcome change, such as serious illness, accident, or death of a loved one, is even more stressful.

Over the last several years, we’ve gone through the illness and death of my mother-in-law and my mother, the welcome addition of adult children and our first grandchild to our home and the pain of them flying away, and the crowding out of pursuits that used to occupy us. All of this personal change overlays the ever-shifting sands of tumult in the US.

I can attest that change is stressful.

People keep telling me to breathe.

After the stress of the first Christmas season without my mom, I decided to give myself  breathing space in the form of a mini-sabbatical, still attending to my vital tasks while allowing myself time to go to the movies or read or write or whatever else I felt like doing that day.

Of course, participating in Just Jot It January fit right into that plan!

As I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks, I am starting to formulate what changes I need to make going forward. Knowing that there will still be a fair amount of day-to-day uncertainty with our family life, I won’t attempt a strict schedule. I do plan, though, to be more deliberate with my writing practice. No, this does not mean that I will post every day for the rest of the year as I have been for Just Jot It January, although I do hope to continue posting without some of the major breaks I’ve had to take in the past.

In the area of writing, I do need to be more deliberate about editing and publication. I find the publication submission piece particularly daunting. There are hundreds of literary journals and magazines and small presses that specialize in poetry and it is difficult for me to figure out to whom I should send my work. Because submissions typically charge a reading fee, you want to invest in those publications that are most likely to be interested in your work. I tend to be overwhelmed by the choices and the specifics of differing submission procedures. I need to summon the energy to undertake these less fun not at all fun aspects of the writing process to get my work out to the public.

Oh, and I need to start doing some open mic and/or group readings. Reading in public, even with a small group, takes a lot of energy and courage for me, but it is very important for poets to do.

I also need to make a dent in reading the huge backlog of poetry journals, chapbooks, collections, and anthologies waiting for me. I will probably never catch up.

Years ago, I had a few dozen blogs that I read on a regular basis. I was a frequent commenter, as well. Even though I know this is what every good blogger should do, I don’t think I can go back to it, choosing instead to concentrate on poetry. I am committed to continuing Top of JC’s Mind, but I will spend the bulk of my blogging time writing posts and responding to comments. I will continue to read some blogs, but it will most likely continue in my current haphazard fashion. I know that means I will gain followers only slowly, but I’m not a big stats person. I do want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to all my readers and followers! I am humbled that you choose to spend part of your time here.

I also used to spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails. I was on a lot of mailing lists – against fracking and for environmental advocacy, for progressive political principles, for increasing social justice, for some specific candidates/officeholders, for reform of the Catholic church, and so on. I have cut back on a number of them and have lately taken to deleting a lot without even opening them. I will keep a core of them, because these issues remain important to me, but I will try to be intentional about which I read and take action on.

Sadly, singing has faded into the background. I never thought this would happen, but the seeming demise of my long-time chorus has taken away my usual Monday night rehearsals and rehearsing at home during the week. I don’t have ABC here anymore for impromptu renditions of “Old McDonald” or Sesame Street songs. I should be doing vocal exercises and sight reading practice every day to keep my voice in good form, but I don’t have the heart for it. Maybe, someday, I’ll feel like singing again.

I may limit evening activities to poetry gatherings, choosing to be at home with family otherwise. I’m sure there will be the occasional evening event that will draw me away, but I want to spend most evenings at home. In part, this is to spend time with B who works long days. Even if we are just watching television or reading or doing puzzles, it is comforting to be together. Additionally, given my own introversion, it takes a lot of energy to be in groups of people. It’s difficult to summon that energy at the end of the day.

I am also trying to make some changes that impact my physical well-being. I am trying to eat more thoughtfully, exercise (a tiny bit) more, and sleep longer at night. Rather than trying to make drastic changes, I am doing little things that send me in the right direction. I think that is a more sustainable way for me to proceed.

The other area that I hope to make some changes is making time for friends. This is not totally under my control, as many friends have their own busy lives, but I think if I actually make a call or send a note, we have a better chance of getting together, whether in person or by videochat. I cherish all my friends and feel their support, even when we aren’t able to get together, but I need to turn some of our vague “let’s do lunch or breakfast” into actual times and dates.

That’s a lot of changes to make, and, therefore, a lot of stress.

At least, it will be stress that leads to positive change.

Fingers crossed.
*****
The prompt for Linda’s Just Jot It January today is “change.” Join us! You don’t need to use the prompt – I seldom do – because anything counts as a Jot. Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/24/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-24th-2020/

Let’s be serious

I am sometimes accused of gravity.

No, that doesn’t mean that things are attracted to me.

Rather, some people think I am too serious.

It’s true that I am a serious person and have been for a long time. When I was a student, I was very serious about my schoolwork. I wanted to understand everything thoroughly and expand my knowledge. I played the organ at my small, country church, first as a substitute and, starting in my sophomore year of high school, as the only organist. Catholic mass is a serious undertaking and, with the organ in the front of the church, I had to be careful to stay attentive.

B and I were high school sweethearts. We were friends first and then fell in love. Even as teens, we had a serious relationship. Neither of us were into the social scene, which led to some interesting discussions with our friends. For example, some of them were pressuring B to ask me to his senior prom, saying that I wanted to go, which I assuredly did not. B and I talked about it and, because neither of us wanted to go, we didn’t attend either of our senior proms.

Being serious does not mean that we don’t have fun. Well, things that we consider fun. We spent part of our honeymoon at a living history museum, which was fun for us; we wouldn’t have known what to do with ourselves on a cruise or at a fancy resort or, God forbid, a casino.

We married in our early twenties after we had both graduated from college and set about doing serious, adult things, like buying a house and starting a family. Challenges with careers and medical issues and spiritual issues and educational issues followed, often one atop the other.

There were a lot of things that called for gravity – and, by then, I was very experienced with it.

I feel that there are many grave issues facing us at the current time, among them, climate change, war, inequality, discrimination, and lack of civility and commitment to the common good. I consider it a personal obligation to help care for people and the planet, even though I know that my personal impact is limited. I do trust, though, that all people of good will acting together can move things in a positive direction.

If that means that people accuse me of gravity, I gladly and gravely plead guilty.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Using the prompts is optional and most days I do my own thing, but today I decided to use the prompt “gravity.” Find out more about Just Jot It January and the prompts here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/12/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-12th-2020/

 

Review(ish): A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I may have made a mistake in my quest to catch up on movies.

Because I admire Tom Hanks as an actor and Fred Rogers as a loving and generous soul, I wanted to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I had appreciated the 2018 documentary on Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and wanted to see what more this fact-inspired fictional movie had to say. I knew that it was about a journalist who had written a piece about Fred Rogers, but little else, other than that Tom Hanks had been nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor rather than Best Actor.

I found the juxtaposition of the much darker story of the journalist, Lloyd, played by Matthew Rhys, with the gentle, caring, spiritual depth of Fred Rogers to be jarring. I also hadn’t known that the death of a parent is a major theme in the movie; while the situation in the film is very different from my own recent experience, that aspect of the story was still upsetting for me.

My reaction reminded me of my response to the film Julie & Julia, another film about an unlikely pair of protagonists in which I reacted positively to the elder and negatively to the younger. An aside: the link in the prior sentence is to a blog post I wrote in 2014 about my reaction to the film and blogging. Re-reading it just now was… an experience – and a chance to look back at a post from early in my blogging and poetry days and reflect on where I am now as opposed to where I thought I might be. At any rate, I think it still stands up as a decent piece of writing, so, if you have the time and are so inclined, check it out.

When my daughters were young, PBS was a mainstay in our house. I admit that I had a more enjoyable time watching Sesame Street with the girls than Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I wasn’t a fan of the slow pacing and I was not at all a fan of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Every time someone said, “Correct, as usual.” to King Friday the XIII, I cringed. Over the years, I’ve learned to think about it more from the child’s viewpoint and understand that the show was built to give children the time and space to deal with their whole range of emotions. This was not readily apparent to me as a young parent.

There is one episode that has always stayed with me. Yo-Yo Ma was Mr. Rogers’ guest and was playing a movement of one of the Bach cello suites. Fred asked him if he played it differently after he had had children and Yo-Yo Ma said that he did play it differently after he became a parent, that the emotions underlying his interpretation were changed because of his children. As a musician myself, this resonated with me and has stayed with me over the (many intervening) years.

Some of the most emotionally resonant moments in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for me were ones where something Mr. Rogers was saying reminded me of my own family. For example, there is thread in the story about Mr. Rogers’ attachment to his puppets, like Daniel Tiger, even though they were getting worn. In an attempt to draw him out, Mr. Rogers asks Lloyd about his own childhood “special friend”, which turned out to be a stuffed toy called Old Rabbit.

My mind immediately flashed to a story of childhood toys that take on larger meaning. When my daughter E and her spouse L had to spend major amounts of time on different continents while doing research or while waiting for the visa process to finally complete, they would exchange their favorite stuffed toys. E’s cow “Kuh” and L’s duck “Pineapple” made quite a few transoceanic flights and are now ensconced in London permanently with E, L, and their daughter ABC. To show you the extent to which Kuh and Pineapple were connected to E and L’s love story, here is the wedding cake topper that a friend made for them:
Beth and Larry's caketopper

Back to the movie. When the journalist Lloyd finishes his piece, his spouse reads it, saying that it is brilliant but not really about Mr. Rogers. I feel the same way about this blogpost, which is why I said in the title that it is “review(ish)”. Fred Rogers’ greatest gift was caring about each person he met on a deep level, meeting them where they were and helping them connect with and express their own feelings. It is all to the good that this film, the documentary, the vast archives of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and the non-profit organization he founded, re-named Fred Rogers Productions after his death, which now produces Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, serve as continuing reminders to accept ourselves and care for others.

Mr. Rogers often said or sang, “I like you just the way you are.” That message to me is part of the call, expressed in Christianity and held by those of many other spiritual paths, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who taught by his example. I appreciate those who are carrying his message in the present and into the future.

The world needs to hear that message now more than ever.
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/09/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-9th-2020/

Review: Little Women

As part of my “sabbatical”, I decided to see some movies that I have been wanting to see. The one I most wanted to see was Little Women, so I started there.

This is the best film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s book that I have ever seen. Director/screenwriter Greta Gerwig made some interesting choices. She begins the film with scenes that happen much later in the story of the March sisters, then moves back seven years to show us what had led to these opening scenes. The moving back and forth in time continues throughout the film, but without the onscreen warning of the first switch. Having read the book several times as a child and having seen numerous adaptations over the years, I could easily follow the timeline switches, but they could momentarily confuse those new to the story.

The cast was superb. I especially enjoyed Saoirse Ronan’s nuanced portrayal of Jo and Florence Pugh’s spirited portrayal of Amy, who is ages 13-20 in the film.

I especially enjoyed the settings. Most of the action in Alcott’s book takes place in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1860s and 70s. I grew up in the still-rural northwestern part of the state and the outdoor scenes with woods and fields reminded me of home. The architecture was also very appropriate to New England in that era. I made a point to watch for shooting location in the credits and was thrilled to see that it had been filmed in Massachusetts. No wonder the trees looked familiar!

At 2 hours 15 minutes, it is a relatively long movie by current standards, but it did not feel long because there is so much happening. I congratulate Greta Gerwig on her excellent sense of storytelling and pacing. It is a beautiful film which I hope many people will see, in theaters and in other formats, for years to come. It is a timeless classic.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/07/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-7th-2020/

intention

Other than One-Liner Wednesday and Stream of Consciousness Saturday, I don’t usually follow the Just Jot It January prompts, but today’s prompt is “intention”, which sparked my interest. If the prior sentence makes no sense to you, you definitely need to visit Linda Hill’s blog, Life in Progress, and check it out!

It was my intention to try to re-organize my life after so many changes in 2019.

Or maybe I should say “organize,” given that I can’t actually remember the last time I felt that my life was organized.

This is definitely not the first time I have felt that I should (re)organize. In truth, I have had multiple junctures in my adult life – when my daughters started school, or moved away from home for higher education or work, or when Grandma moved nearby and we weren’t trooping back to Vermont so frequently, etc. etc. – when I thought I would re-organize and have a schedule and maybe make progress on long-term goals.

Somehow, it never quite worked out.

I know that this sounds like either an excuse or a complaint, but it is not meant to be either.

It is a recognition of the vicissitudes of life and how priorities need to be reshuffled to meet a new challenge. I chose to prioritize caregiving over other possible activities – and caregiving is seldom a follow-the-schedule sort of thing. Unfortunately, my extended family has suffered an unusually large number and variety of diagnoses, some of which took years to pin down and some that are difficult to treat. I’ve spent time supporting friends who have had cancer and died at a much younger age than we had hoped. I’ve spent major amounts of time volunteering to address emerging community needs.

These choices were all intentional, but they meant postponing or jettisoning personal goals. There were times earlier in my life when I thought I would have my musical compositions published and might return to paid work as a church musician. Circumstances, including orthopedic problems and a crisis that tore my church community apart, intervened and those dreams disintegrated.

Serendipitously, my music losses made room in my life for more writing, albeit in a somewhat haphazard way. My blog and my poetry have shoehorned themselves around major caregiving challenges in the twenty-teens. My dreams of submitting poems for publication on a regular basis and of having a book in print by sixty turned out to be unattainable. I suppose the book part is still a possibility, but it is unlikely because now, at 59, neither of my poetry manuscripts is currently in shape to submit.

Which circles me back to my intention to organize my life…

It is true that my caregiving activities are lessened now, but they are still there and somewhat unpredictable. Something that I have said often over the last few years is also still true; sometimes, the problem is not so much lack of time as lack of brainpower. I definitely can carve out more time for writing now, but I don’t necessarily have the brainpower to do it effectively.

I’m tired.

I guess that, sometimes, when you have run on adrenaline and/or cortisol for a long time and then you stop, your mind and body don’t just jump back to normal function. (I’m not sure that this is medically true, but it is my current way of understanding how I am feeling.)

A week ago, while writing for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, an idea floated to the surface that has kept coming back to me. Perhaps what would be most useful right now is not a schedule, but a sabbatical.

I had intended, early this year, to do revisions on a few individual poems and to assemble my chapbook manuscript for critique by my local poet-friends, so that I could submit to contests and publishers in the spring.

Now, I am feeling that I should not put that pressure on myself.

Maybe I will rest for a while and then feel rejuvenated and creative and I will be able to work on it.

Maybe I won’t.

I just feel too tired to force the issue.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! You can follow the prompts or not as you wish. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/05/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-5th-2020/

calendars

I have forced myself to undertake one of my least favorite change-of-year tasks – transferring dates onto the new calendar.

Yes, I still prefer paper calendars. I carry a small one for noting appointments when I am out and about and keep a monthly one near the phone in the dining room. (Yes, I also still prefer to use my landline; only people who may need to reach me at any time have my cell number.)

I need to fill in appointments that are scheduled in 2020 on both the pocketbook calendar and the large calendar. This is tedious, but not especially challenging. What is more poignant for me is filling in birthdays and anniversaries, some of which include the applicable number of years.

Generally, age doesn’t bother me. I’m proud that B and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this year. Maybe, we will be blessed to reach a 65th anniversary, as my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, did.

Which leads to the poignancy of writing dates on the calendar…

As family members pass away, I make commemoration notes for birthdays and anniversaries on my calendar. This year is the first time that Nana’s birthday and Nana and Paco’s anniversary will be memorials rather than celebrations.

I think that Nana fought hard for a last chance to celebrate Paco’s birthday in March, their 65th anniversary in April, and her 87th birthday in May. She died a few days after her birthday. One of the last things that I helped her eat was a fruit tart that I got as a birthday treat for her from her favorite supermarket bakery.

Changing her dates from celebrations to memorials is just one more small expression of loss, added to so many others.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Learn more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/02/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-2nd-2020/

SoCS: 2019/2020

Some years stand out in memory as more difficult than others.

For me, 2005 was one of those years. Within a few months that year, I lost a close friend and my father-in-law to cancer. At the same time, our long-time parish disintegrated, just at the time when we needed spiritual comfort the most.

2019 has also been one of those years.

We dealt with the final months of my mom’s struggle with congestive heart failure and her death in May. Then, there were the many facets of dealing with her death for me and our family, the practical things like funeral arrangements and mounds of paperwork and the personal things, learning to navigate in a world without her.

This year also saw the bittersweet re-location of daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after E’s spousal visa finally came through. We love that they are finally able to live together full-time as a family, but miss having them here on this side of the pond. It was a privilege being here to watch ABC grow from a tiny newborn into a rambunctious, talkative two-year-old. We appreciate being able to visit London in person and to videochat, but it is still a big re-adjustment.

With the losses, celebrating the holidays has been difficult for me. We made lasagna for Christmas using a recipe from Nana and used one of her relish dishes for serving olives. There are ornaments that came from both sides of our family on the tree, as well as some baby’s first Christmas ornaments commemorating ABC’s birth in 2017. We appreciate our memories of Christmas celebrations with Nana and Paco (my parents) and Grandma and Grandpa (B’s parents). I smile thinking about the year that L proposed to E on Christmas morning while visiting here. I remember how, last year, the lower half of our tree was all unbreakable ornaments in deference to ABC who was then 18 months old. Now, there are fragile ornaments scattered throughout all the branches. Christmas this year was very quiet, with just Paco, B, T, and I here for the lasagna and Christmas cookies, which has been our tradition since the years when E and T were young and participating in Christmas morning liturgy for children and families at church. Lasagna was great because you could prep it the night before and bake after church to have dinner at midday.

Of course, all of the personal struggles come at a time of great upheaval, socially and politically, in both the US and the UK. We are all living in a world struggling to deal with present and future climate change and trying to marshall personal and political will to make the changes needed to addresses the causes and effects as best we can.

I know that some people feel a lot of positive energy when we enter a new year and a new decade. I admit that I am not generally one of those people, seeing January first as the day that follows December 31st and not as some shiny new beginning. I don’t know if this change of year will feel different or not. I certainly am feeling the need now to try to take stock and re-arrange the way I use my days, perhaps managing to be more deliberate, now that there are not quite so many factors in my life that require changes of plan and quick reactions to shifting circumstances and priorities.

Perhaps, what I really need is time to rest and take stock, like a sabbatical or a year of Jubilee as it is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Or maybe not a whole year, but a few months. I will have to ponder…

Sometimes, writing stream of consciousness stays in its own little stories. Today, though, it feels more like travelling.

As we draw close to the beginning of 2020, I wish that the year will take each of you where you most need to go.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “year.” Please join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/12/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-28-19

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! https://www.quaintrevival.com/