One-Liner Wednesday: Simplicity

I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/02/24/one-liner-wednesday-art/

How Does JC’s Mind Work? #1

For months/years, I have threatened/promised to write about how I got to be who I am today and what shaped me along the way. This sporadic series will try to unpack my personal history and influences and, I hope, set people to thinking about their own.

So, I seem to have developed a bad habit of starting a new series here at Top of JC’s Mind at the (almost) worst possible time, as I did when starting JC’s Confessions. (Shameless plug. See link to those posts in my main menu.)

Some readers have expressed interest in knowing how I evolved into the creature I currently am and, particularly during these fraught times, there seems to be new impetus for examining our viewpoints and how we came to hold them, so I thought I’d try to break open some of that for readers.

It seems logical to start with one of the early, fundamental parts of my life, which is that I have rural roots.

And I mean, really rural.

I grew up in a town along the Massachusetts/Vermont border with a population of about 200. We had our own grammar school, grades one through eight when I entered, expanding to kindergarten through eighth when Massachusetts mandated kindergarten when I was in fifth grade or so, housed in three classroom in a WPA-built building that also had the town office, small public library, and a gym that was used by the school and for town meetings and events. There was a small general store that included a post office, which we visited every day to get our mail, but we usually shopped in North Adams, which was twenty miles away and offered more grocery selections at lower prices. We also attended high school in North Adams. It’s where my spouse B and I met, although that is definitely another story.

Although the town was small, it had two distinct sections. Down in “The Bridge” lived the people who worked in the mill, which made specialty paper products, like the wrappers for Necco wafers. They were mostly European immigrant stock, drawn to the area to work in the mill. Up on “The Hill” were the older Yankee stock, some of whom farmed or worked for the town itself, doing roadwork, plowing, etc. They also got Rural Free Delivery of their mail, so they didn’t need to come down to the post office every day, which was a blessing especially in the winter when the unpaved road from The Hill to The Bridge shut down for months and could only be traversed by snowmobile.

My family did not live in either section. Our house was about a mile from The Bridge and was owned by New England Power Company, for whom my father, known here as Paco, worked. It was located near an unmanned hydroelectric station so Paco could reach it quickly if needed. It, an observation stand, and one of the first commercial nuclear power plants in the United States which shared the hydro reservoir with the much older station were our closest neighbors.

Like other small New England towns, everyone knew everyone else and co-operated in running the school and the town. For the most part, people took care of themselves and their families, although everyone kept an eye out for a few townfolks who had special challenges due to age or health.

Then, the mill closed.

A few people re-located to Georgia where the company had another mill, but most lost their jobs and, because the whole area was having similar closures in the manufacturing sector which was the backbone of the economy, many moved away. Certainly, people in my generation moved to other places where they could get work. The population dropped to under a hundred. The school closed when they had only seven students in K-8.

Last August, I was back in the area and wrote this post, which includes some photos from the town and a bit of additional backstory.

So, what does all of this have to do with who I am today?

Growing up in the country gave me an appreciation of the natural world, its beauty, and power. I knew the names of the trees and plants and birds in the woods around our house and knew to respect the bears that sunned themselves on the rocks on the hill opposite our house, the deer that came down to drink from the reservoir, and the porcupines, that, for some reason, liked to chew on our back steps. Especially because Paco worked in hydro, we payed attention to the weather; it was important to know how much water was in the snowpack to handle the spring runoff and how high the winds might be with a storm, in case they threatened the power lines. Also, when it is twenty miles and over a mountain to get to a doctor or store or other services, you have to know how much snow is coming and when.

Like most rural folks, we gardened and bought food from local farmers. We did some of our own canning, including making bread-and-better pickles, and freezing fruits and vegetables. We always had a well-stocked pantry and freezer because you couldn’t easily run to the store if you were out of something. We did most of our cooking and baking from scratch and, like most rural New Englanders, made sure to use everything, like making stock from poultry carcasses. A lot of these skills have come in handy during the pandemic when shopping has been difficult and supply chains unreliable.

Living in such a small town gave me an appreciation of community, of working together to accomplish a task with people who hold a range of opinions and viewpoints, and to always watch out for the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. While there was seldom overt reference to it, you usually knew what struggles families were facing and were respectful of them.

I admit that I also learned what it feels like to be an outsider. I didn’t live in The Bridge or on The Hill. Because my family was Irish-Italian, instead of just having one ethnic background, I didn’t fit in a category, not that this was a detriment because it averted the “dumb (insert ethnicity here) jokes” and what would now be heard as ethnic slurs from getting lobbed my way. I guess I also learned that people can make divisions among what would look to some observers to be a racially and economically homogeneous group. My grade in grammar school was relatively large. Although we had a couple of people move in and out, our core was four girls. The other three were all cousins who lived on The Hill, so I was destined to be an outsider. This was compounded by some academic decisions of our teachers that sometimes had me working with the grade above ours or on my own. I see this tension between community and solitary pursuits continue to play out in my life over time.

Because of what happened to my town when the mill closed and because I have continued to live in an area with a similar loss of long-standing industries, jobs, and population, I can sympathize with other folks who face similar situations in their towns. In my days of frequent interaction over issues around fracking and other energy/climate issues, I would often run into people with fears of what was happening with jobs in their towns. I could certainly sympathize with the issues, but I think where I differed was that they expected that their children and grandchildren would stay in town and have the same jobs with the same company as they, their parents, and perhaps even their grandparents had had. I, on the other hand, always knew that I would need to leave my town and make a life elsewhere.

Some people growing up in small towns dream of big-city life, but I am not one of them. Large, busy cities are overwhelming for me. The traffic makes me so nervous I don’t even like to look out the windows of the vehicle. I’m uncomfortable being in crowds and feel hemmed in with large buildings adjoining each other on both sides of the street. Still, I like the opportunities for shopping, restaurants, medical services, and cultural activities that a city can provide.

I think that is why I am content with the Binghamton NY area, where I have lived for close to forty years. There are small city opportunities nearby, but also rural landscapes, hills, trees, and wildlife. Given where I grew up, I don’t think of this area as “small town” but that is a matter of perspective. People that grew up in or near New York City talk about Binghamton as though it is “the country” but, for me, an actual small town girl, it’s plenty big.

How about you? Do you see your environment while growing up as impacting your life and decisions now? Comments are always welcome here at Top of JC’s Mind.

One-Liner Wednesday: words

I take it as an elemental truth of life that words matter.

Krista Tippett in Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, page 15

Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/02/10/one-liner-wednesday-drive-slowly/

One-Liner Wednesday: love and justice

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. 
—Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)
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Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/09/16/one-liner-wednesday-pin-codes/

Badge by Laura

a new chapbook from Merrill Oliver Douglas

I wanted to share the news that a local poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas has a new chapbook available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press. You can order here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/parking-meters-into-mermaids-by-merrill-oliver-douglas/

It was my privilege to participate in a manuscript review with Merrill and want to share that her work is both accessible for the general public and nuanced for those who enjoy the craft of poetry. You can read samples of her work at these links:
http://south85journal.com/issues/fall-winter-2016/fall-winter-2016-poetry/bereft/
http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/spring_2016/contributor/merrill-oliver-douglas
https://www.connotationpress.com/poetry/2370-merrill-oliver-douglas-poetry

And, seriously, who wouldn’t want to own a chapbook entitled Parking Meters into Mermaids?

One-Liner Wednesday: one day

“We’ll take it one day at a time.”
~~ what my dad would say during the months of my mom’s illness and what we are all doing in our current global challenges, although sometimes it is hour by hour instead of day by day

Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/18/one-liner-wednesday-a-challenge/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

SoCS: JC’s Confessions #9

A retired US armed services person – I can’t remember if it was a general or admiral – has been making the point that it’s important to make your bed first thing every morning because that will set you up for making a string of good choices for your day.

I’m not so sure.

I think many of us suffer from decision fatigue. What to do first/next, what to wear, what to eat, what to say, on and on and on. It can be mind-numbing.

I’m also afraid that some seemingly uneventful choices have deeper meaning. For me, making my bed in the morning is a reminder that I will spend a large part of my day doing things that are important to other people that aren’t really important to me.

It can make all those small, uneventful choices take on a deeper meaning – one after another after another.

It’s exhausting. Maybe that is part of the cause of decision fatigue.

In case anyone needed more evidence about my being what some would call overly-serious.

Non SoC note. I had been thinking of doing a JC’s Confession post about this topic, so when I saw Linda’s prompt, this was what came to the top of my mind. I’ve decided to list this as both an SoCS post and a JC’s Confessions post. I thought I should include my standard Confessions intro, so here it is:

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to write about “making small, uneventful choices.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/31/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-1-2020/

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.
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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/

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.
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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/

Capturing the moments.

Tric is a blogger from Ireland who writes beautifully about the full spectrum of life. I was especially moved by this post today and want to share it with you.

My thoughts on a page.

Growing up most of our photographs were of holidays, birthdays, gatherings or special occasions. If I were to have taken a ‘selfie’ as a teenager, people would have questioned my sanity. Nowadays, I rarely pose or share photos of myself and often forget to take my camera out during special occasions, but that doesn’t mean, I don’t like photos. I do, and rarely a day goes by without my taking at least one. You might be surprised to know, I don’t use a camera to take these photos nor in fact do I tell anyone I am taking them. I do it with the blink of an eye, capturing the moment and filing it away in one of my many albums in the far recess of my mind.

I began to take these photos twenty years ago, when a lovely friend of mine was facing the sad reality that her…

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