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/

sense of humor (or lack thereof)

I often joke about my lack of a sense of humor.

Wait! That doesn’t sound right…

I enjoy certain kinds of humor – irony, satire, political, word play, parody – but don’t like humor that is cruel, crude, or aimed at personal or group identity. For example, when I was young in my tiny, tiny town, other kids would often tell Polish or Italian or “dumb blonde” jokes. I didn’t find them funny then and still do not.

I can’t really tell jokes. Maybe it is a matter of timing.

I am sometimes inadvertently funny. Occasionally, I’ll fall into a double entendre without meaning to. Once in a great while, I won’t catch a joke and say something that the other people in the room find hilarious.

What bothers me is when people find something funny that I mean to be serious. This usually happens when I have written something. When it happens here at Top of JC’s Mind, it’s no harm, no foul. (I almost typed “no harm, no fowl,” which would be a humorous mistake.)

When it happens while workshopping a poem, however, I get discouraged. Sometimes, I can choose different words to clarify, but, other times, it seems that I am too earnest/unsophisticated/serious to even find the humor to address it.

Sigh. It’s really not funny.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Today’s prompt is “humor” but you can post about anything you like. I often do my own thing. Find out all about it here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/20/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-20th-2020/

SoCS: work

He’s 68 percent completed with the task. Which is not great, but will have to do for now. I wonder if I should send someone to help, although it might be more complicated to give someone else the necessary background than to have him just keep working alone.

I’d help if I could, but I’m only 85 percent, 72 percent, 59 percent, and 42 percent done on the stuff I already have in front of me.

We need more hours in the day and more days in the week.

(The opening words – see the prompt below – were from Rachel Maddow’s work, Blowout, which I reviewed here. They were so specific that I wound up doing something that I don’t do on my blog; I wrote a fictional vignette. It does sound a bit like the worklife of some people I know, though.)
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January and/or Stream of Consciousness Saturday! This week’s SoCS prompt is complicated, so I am copying it directly from Linda’s site:
Your prompt for #JusJoJan and Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “the first 3 words of the first full sentence.” Okay, follow me here. This is what I want you to do: 1. Grab the closest book to you when you sit down to write your post. 2. Open it to a random page. 3. Locate the first complete sentence on that page. 4. Use the first three words of that sentence to start your post, then take it from there–write whatever comes to mind. That’s it! Have fun!
You can visit Linda’s prompt page here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/10/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-11th/

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

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/

Blowout by Rachel Maddow

One of the most impressive parts of Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout is the end. No, not the index, but the twenty pages of “Notes on Sources.” I had often found myself thinking as I read the text, “How could she possibly know this level of detail?” but I know that Rachel Maddow and her staff are very dedicated to research and accuracy, so I didn’t doubt the veracity of the stories she was relating. I was pleased to see the “Notes on Sources” because she lists the books, papers, interviews, news stories, videos, magazines, etc. that she had used to find the facts, giving readers a chance to learn more and showing that she and her staff had, indeed, been diligent in their research.

The full title of the book is Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. That industry is, of course, the oil and gas industry.

Because of my many years in the anti-fracking and climate justice movements, I was familiar with the broad outlines of much of the oil and gas industry story. I appreciated the abundance of details on topics such as Oklahoma, the depths to which it rises or falls on fossil fuel dollars, earthquakes and induced seismicity, and the rise of Oklahoma City, including its entance into the world of big-league sports. I knew that Russia used its fossil fuel exports as a cudgel and that Putin and his oligarchs ran roughshod over whomever stood in their way, but hadn’t realized all the factors involved, including the immensity of the impact of US sanctions that stopped Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil from assisting Russian Arctic drilling and spearheaded Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

I was less familiar with the expressions of the “resource curse” in other parts of the world, such as Equatorial Guinea. These stories illustrate how the proceeds of the oil and gas industry flow to the already powerful leaders of government and industry and not to the general populations of the countries, who often remain mired in poverty and ecological devastation.

While I brought a considerable amount of personal background/geekery to my reading, the book is equally as enjoyable and informative for those who know little of the industry. Maddow’s writing is clear and compelling. Much of the book reads like literature, with compelling, recurring characters, rich details, and unexpected plot twists. That the stories are all true heightens their impact.

That we are continuing to deal with the repercussions of the events in this book makes reading it that much more important.
*****
Please join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/06/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-6th-2020/

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.