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/

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/

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/

SoCS: this time of year…

Stream of Consciousness Saturday works like this. Linda puts up the prompt on Friday for us to write without editing and post on Saturday. (Confession – sometimes I write on Friday and schedule the post for Saturday.) Linda’s prompt for this week was to write about a word that has “ingle” in it any way we like. As soon as I saw the prompt, I thought of this word that I am about to use and my (very stuffy) head hasn’t been able to think of anything else since – and, yea, verily, it is Saturday morning where I am right now.

When we were visiting in the UK, our granddaughter ABC sang long bouts of continuous choruses of “Jingle Bells”.  Often, she would also be dancing/running around, unless, of course, we were on the bus or train. Anyone who has been around a two-and-a-half-year-old knows that it is possible for a child that age to do, well, just about any activity repetitively, but it was revealed that Lolo, her paternal grandfather, had been encouraging this particular activity. Given that ABC, our daughter E, her spouse L, and L’s parents, whom I will call Lolo and Lola here as ABC does, all live together, there was a lot of time for encouragement. (Lolo and Lola are the common names for grandparents and those other family members of that generation among Filipinos, which is ABC’s heritage from her father’s side.)

We have been back in the US for almost a week, so I’m not sure if the “Jingle Bells” loop is still continuing with ABC or if she has tired of it, but I’m sure her little voice and legs and brain are busy with something!
*****
Join in the fun of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/12/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-21-19/

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

snow day

There have been a lot of big storms in the United States in recent weeks. Our region hadn’t had too much bad weather – until yesterday and today.

The storm started Sunday morning with an extended period of freezing rain, which made driving inadvisable. Sunday evening, it changed to a heavy, wet snow and it has snowed nearly all day today (Monday). The trees and utility lines are all weighted down with snow. We have lost some limbs from the trees in our yard.

The roads are impossible to keep clear and all the schools, including the University, cancelled classes. Lots of businesses decided to close, as well, for the safety of their employees and customers. Our museum and science center closed. Even our doctors’ office is closed.

B and most of his colleagues are working from home.

As I was contemplating all the closings, I remembered snow days when E and T were young. One of them had learned a song in elementary chorus and we used to sing it sometimes when there are snow days. “There’ll be no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, if it snows.”

And because YouTube exists now, I can search and find recordings! The words and music are by Jay Althouse.

writing, singing, etc.

I had been trying to post more regularly – and have now proceeded not to post for a week and a half. I’m sure that isn’t a shock to regular readers. As much as I hope to create a even a semblance of a schedule, I haven’t managed to get there yet.

Even though I haven’t been posting here, I’ve been doing a bit of writing. A letter to the editor at NCR online. A short piece that may appear as a Small Earth Story at NCR. A bio to accompany a poem that is going to be published soon. This will be in the mini-anthology that will be a companion to the winning chapbook from QuillsEdge Press; all the finalists will have a poem printed. This was also exciting because I had to approve the proof and sign a contract. It was a needed reminder that I am still a poet, even though I haven’t published much lately – or even submitted. Maybe, after the first of the year, I can concentrate on a revised version of the chapbook to send out…

I don’t have a choir with which to sing on a regular basis this fall, but have sung with the combined music ministry at church for three funerals over the last three weeks. All the funerals have been for family members of music ministers, the last being the brother of my friend, who has been director of music for decades. Sadly, she has had to play and direct for the funerals of both her parents and, now, her eldest brother. Another staff member described it as “her last gift to him.” Perhaps that, along with her professionalism and faith, is the way she can manage to keep her focus in such difficult circumstances.

At the luncheon after the funeral, I was sitting with people who I met years ago at our former parish. It’s been fourteen years since we were all together there. Even after so much time belonging to other parishes, we still miss it.

That our sense of connection remains strong is a testament to how special and loving the community was. It had a part in forming our identities and that is a lasting gift.

All Souls

In the Catholic tradition, early November is dedicated to remembering those who have died. November first is All Saints Day and November second is All Souls Day. Our parish does a special commemoration for All Souls Day of all the people whose funerals were held at the church since All Souls Day of the prior year. Family members loan the church a picture of the deceased and they are displayed on tables with name cards and candles for the whole month of November.

This year, my mom, known here on the blog as Nana, was one of those commemorated. I printed an enlargement of a favorite photo of her; Nana was not fond of having her picture taken, so photos of her alone are pretty rare. I bought a Shaker-style wooden frame for it. I admit that the liturgy was emotional for me, but it was also comforting. It also felt fitting that the handbell choir played at the mass. Nana always loved to hear E and T ring.

In the evening, I attended a concert for all souls by the Southern Tier Singers Collective (STSC). I know a number of the members, including one whom I met in University Chorus and with whom I have been close for years. The founder and director of the group is Bill Culverhouse, the current choral director at Binghamton University. The concert was beautiful, although the music was emotional for me, given that the loss of my mom is still very much in my mind and heart. Thankfully, I was able to join some friends from University Chorus in the audience, which helped me to feel supported during the performance.

The concert took place at Saint Patrick’s Church, Binghamton, which is considered the mother church in our county. The building is old, high-ceilinged, and has lots of hard surfaces, so the acoustics are good for choral singing, especially a capella, which is what STSC does. St. Patrick’s was the boyhood parish of my retired pastor, who sang there, in Latin, as an altar server. After his retirement from our parish, members of our music ministry came together there to participate in a mass celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination. It was a large group with instrumentalists, so I helped out by conducting. Several years later, we came together again to sing for his wake service and funeral, so thoughts of him were also present in my mind.

The most moving piece in the concert for me was Dale Trumbore’s How to Go On (2017). She chose to set texts from 21st century women poets Barbara Crooker, Laura Foley, and Amy Fleury. The passages speak more to acceptance of mortality than to mourning. I loved the language of the poems and the often haunting, often meditative, way they were set. The piece begins with a question from Barbara Crooker’s poem “Some Fine Day”:  “How can we go on, knowing the end of the story?” I could feel my own answer to that question working its way through my mind in response to the poetry and music – and could imagine my mother’s.

There was a third woman that I could also imagine, a woman my age who died recently. I had sung in the choir for her funeral on Wednesday. She was a beloved member of our community, who used all her skills and gifts in service to her family, her work, and charitable causes. She died at our local hospice residence, where she had been serving as president of the board of directors. I know that she must have found her own answer.

A passage from the movement “Sometimes peace comes” from Laura Foley’s poem “Syringa” speaks to part of my answer at this point in my life.

and you have stepped into
a place beyond time,
beyond sadness and form.
A wide, high plain
where in the endless, deep silence
you find out what it is, what it is,
and your part in it.