Ugh! There is so much stuff I want/need to do and not nearly enough brainpower to do it.
Admittedly, part of the problem is that I necessarily deferred a lot of things when I was involved with multi-generational caregiving for years and now there is a huge backlog that needs attention. Some are practical things, like dealing with the rest of the belongings of Grandma, Nana, and Paco that are still stored at our house and finishing the remaining work with Paco’s estate, including the final tax filings and, oh, our tax returns, too. Some are creative things, like writing blog posts and poetry, and the administrative tasks that go along with them, like getting submissions in, which I find both tedious and nerve-wracking. Some are educational, trying to stay informed about what is happening in the world and using that knowledge to advocate for social and environmental justice. And, of course, there are the errands, appointments, and household tasks that need doing, although I appreciate that B and T continue to cover a good chunk of the housework that I abandoned in recent years.
The biggest problem for me remains, though, that it’s difficult for me to muster the energy and concentration I need to tackle tasks that need critical and/or creative thought and decision-making. I suppose this is complicated by my INFJ-ness, which means that nearly everything for me involves deep thought.
There is also the reality that I am dealing with several years’ worth of grief and loss. The difficult period leading to Grandma’s death in 2016 followed by Nana’s struggles with heart failure leading to her death in 2019 followed by Paco’s decline and his death in September last year left me with a lot of deferred grief, which I have only recently realized and begun to process. There is also the personal loss of proximity to daughter E and granddaughters ABC and JG, who live across the Atlantic from us. Overlaying these personal losses is the pandemic and the upheaval, suffering, and death it has caused. The death toll in the US alone is 955,000, which, as staggering as that figure is, is probably an underestimate. The world is also in the midst of a major ideological rift between democracy and authoritarianism which is terrifying and destabilizing. I have lost the sense that the US is on a positive trajectory toward “a more perfect Union” as our Constitution terms it, which adds to my sense of grief.
It’s a lot.
I know it’s a lot and there are valid reasons that I find my concentration and energy so scant. I know I should be patient with myself, as I would be with a friend or loved one. I know I should be practicing self-care and not admonishing myself for not having the wherewithal to power through all of this and “accomplish my goals” and “be my best self” and whatever.
is something I have been saying to myself off and on for years.
The truth is that most of my adult life has been spent as a caregiver, some of it in very challenging situations dealing with long-term illnesses.
Not the kind of life that lends itself to following a daily schedule. If you ever think you know what is happening on a given day, chances are the phone will ring in the morning and you will be off dealing with some need that has arisen.
Let me be clear that none of this is a complaint. Rather it’s just a statement of fact – and evidence that I was privileged enough to be able to choose a life of unpaid caregiving instead of needing to take paid work and cramming in the caregiving around my employer’s schedule.
The day after Paco’s death, the hospice social worker said to me that now I could figure out what I wanted to do. We had first met during my mother’s illness, so she had some idea of what my life has been like over at least the last few years, if not decades.
While it’s true that I have spouse B and daughter T at home, we are able to collaborate on taking care of the house and each other, so the years of intensive caregiving are probably over for a while, as long as we all remain reasonably healthy.
So, I’m starting to piece together how I want to spend my time in the coming months. Admittedly, right now I am necessarily busy with settling Paco’s estate and final bills and insurance claims and such, which takes a lot more time and energy than you might think if you have never had to do this for a loved one.
I’m trying to keep from jumping back into everything I have put on hold in the past because I think there is a danger of over-committing and exhaustion. I do know that I want to spend more time with writing, so, perhaps, finally regularly posting here again.
I also need to return to spending serious amounts of time with my poetry. During the recent Boiler House Poets Collective residency, I was able to re-connect with my full-length manuscript that revolves around that area and my family’s connections with it. I am going to do a review of it with the Grapevine Group, my local poetry circle, later this month and then do revisions and look for submissions opportunities. I also need to look for more opportunities for my chapbook, as the rejections have been rolling in over these last months so it is only out at a few places at the moment.
I am considering auditioning for a local chorus, although that might not be until after the holidays. I expect that, for the first time in many years, we may travel for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I am staying in the loop but not spending a ton of time on environmental and political issues. I still send letters and do public comment on social justice and environmental causes and send emails to my elected representatives but I am trying not to spend hours every day on it, as I did for years during the height of the anti-fracking fight in New York. I admire the energy and commitment of today’s younger activists and support their efforts as best I can.
Church volunteering is still on hold. Eventually, the book study I facilitate may return but only if we can meet safely indoors unmasked. We aren’t there yet.
So, can I do this? Can I re-organize my life and have it stick?
On July tenth, there was a rare island of normalcy.
Or an almost normal version of a rare event.
I participated in a live poetry reading in conjunction with the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum. The reading was part of the Summer Art Festival, a collaboration of the Museum and the Vestal Public Library. Several of the poets from the Binghamton Poetry Project who have work included in Empty the Inkpots read from the stage/deck at the Museum with the audience arrayed in scattered chairs and benches and on the lawn. It was the first time in many months that I have participated in a live-and-in-person poetry reading. It had been even longer since I had had to read with a microphone. The amplification was useful because the museum is near a busy roadway.
I chose not to read the poem I had on display, which is about the early months of the pandemic; it is available at the link above. Instead, I read three poems from my manuscript about the North Adams, Massachusetts where I grew up. “Conveyance” appeared in the spring 2021 anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The other two poems, “North Adams Public Library” and “Monroe Bridge Mail”, are currently unpublished so I won’t share them here.
I was very happy with the reading on a number of counts. First, there were people in the audience who came at my invitation, including one who saw my Facebook announcement of the event. Second, though I was nervous before, I was reasonably comfortable during the reading, even managing the microphone adjustment without much trouble. Third, the reading was well-appreciated by our audience. We had six poets, with diverse styles and viewpoints, represented. We read in alphabetical order. Uncharacteristically, I was not first, which was helpful for me. I like to read early in the order, but I’m better at reading second than first. I was also grateful that the most experienced poet and performer was last as it gave a strong finish to event. No one should have to follow J. Barrett Wolf at a reading!
Lastly, I was pleased to receive personal compliments after the reading from family and friends, some of whom are also poets. What was most heart-warming was that a woman that I did not know came up to me afterward and told me how much she enjoyed my poems and asked where she could find my work. Of course, I don’t have any books of my own out, but I was able to give her my paper copies of my poems, which included my bio for the exhibit and the address for Top of JC’s Mind.
The reading was an island of normalcy not only because of the pandemic but also because most of my time these days has been wrapped up in dealing with the care of my 96-year-old dad who is currently in a rehab/skilled nursing facility after a fall and ensuing complications. It’s why it has taken me so long to post about the reading.
It’s also why, for the first time in years, I am not registered for the current sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project. I am usually visiting my father in the early evenings. Even if another family member is available to visit, I can’t predict if I will have any creativity/brainpower left late in the day.
It’s made the reading that much more important as a reminder that my poetry life is still there, waiting for me to go back to it when things are more settled.
One of the changes with the rules in New York State and with my father’s assisted living home is that I can now sign him out and take him for a drive. Previously, I could only take him to medical appointments.
My father, who is known here as Paco, loved to drive. He drove quite a bit when he worked for New England Power Company for 43 years and, given that our town was twenty miles from a grocery store, other stores, our grandparents and other relatives, the movie theater, and just about anything else that wasn’t work-related, he drove quite a bit on evenings and weekends, too. (My mom also drove, especially taking us to piano lessons and my sister’s dance lessons, but, if the five of us were going somewhere together, Paco always drove.)
In those days, it wasn’t unusual to “go for a drive” as a form of recreation. Given that we lived in the Massachusetts/Vermont border area, there was beautiful scenery in any direction you chose to drive. And hills. And what to us was normal but in retrospect were narrow, winding, and largely unmarked roads. It didn’t matter. Paco was used to it and was a very good driver with a very good sense of direction.
Paco had said that he would stop driving when he turned 90. That turned out to be not quite true. I think he stopped when he was 92. By then, my mother was entering her final battle with congestive heart failure and Paco was staying with her in their apartment nearly all the time. Their senior community offered transportation for the occasional trip to the grocery store or for medical appointments and I was nearby and there every day and could drive for errands or deliver things to them. They decided to sell their car and Paco replaced his driver’s license with an official state ID.
The IDs have a longer renewal term than driver’s licenses do, so his current ID is good until he is 103. He’s currently 96. He says he doesn’t think he will make it to 100.
Paco is famous among family for always saying “One day at a time.”
The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.
This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.
We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.
Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.
Yesterday, when I read that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “yarn,” the very first thing I thought of was my friend Merrill Oliver Douglas’s chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. The title poem is about yarn bombing. For someone who may not be familiar with the term, yarn bombing is when someone puts yarn, usually knitted, on unusual objects, like parking meters, or tree trunks, or lampposts. It’s a fun and quirky form of public art.
It’s been quite a poetry reading week for me! I shared the link for my reading with the Broome County Arts Council here and now I will be sharing an event that happened on Tuesday evening which is now available for viewing through Facebook.
The event began with an interview of Dr. Louis Hoffman and Dr. Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, both of whom are psychologist/counselors and poets. They are the anthology editors, as well as contributors of poems and authors of the introduction and response activities. I was fascinated to hear them speaking about how they use poetry in and as therapy. The discussion resonated with me as a poet who recognizes the power of poetry to evoke deeper truths and who often uses writing to work through my reactions to real-life events.
Following the interview, over a dozen of the poets read their work from the anthology, including me. The range of work is wide and, as you might expect, some of the topics of the poems are difficult. A poem that dealt with racism was especially searing as we had learned the verdict in the George Floyd case just hours before the event.
The links in the second paragraph will take you to the reading and to University Professors Press if you wish to order your own copy of the anthology. You can also navigate to other volumes in the series, which I’m sure are all equally illuminating about the human experience.