JC’s Confessions #26

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then 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.

Ugh.

Folks who have been reading my blog regularly (thank you!) know that I have been dealing with a lot of loss and stress in recent years. I’ve been struggling to find energy to accomplish things and often feel like I can’t concentrate.

I’ve taken a lot of steps to cut down on what I’m trying to do in a day/week but there are still days that nothing of import gets started, much less done. I’ve tried to reach out for additional support but there are times when I can’t even manage to gather the energy needed to reach out and arrange to meet. Granted, the pandemic waves aren’t helpful, either.

I recognize from friends who study such things and from my reading that I am still grieving and that my brain is quite literally rewiring itself in line with my new reality.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try to shift my perspective. I decided to set aside some things I had been trying to do/worrying about and to give myself more grace/space to wait out the brain changes.

My doctor warned me it would be difficult and it is.

There have been little glimmers of hope. I’ve been able to arrange for some self-care appointments that I need. I’ve managed to post every day this month so far for Just Jot It January, although I confess I’m looking forward to February when that pressure I’ve put on myself will be off. I’ve made progress on preparing my chapbook manuscript for publication.

Overall, though, I am still struggling and struggling to accept that I’m still struggling, which is a large part of what I was hoping to do.

Maybe that is the way things must be for now.

I just need to accept it.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/27/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-27th-2023/

Monterey Park

I’m sad to say that I woke up this morning to news of another mass shooting, this time in Monterey Park, California, near Los Angeles. Ten people are dead with ten more wounded and hospitalized.

The shooting occurred at a ballroom dance club, after an evening Lunar New Year celebration. Monterey Park is a predominantly Chinese-American suburb which hosts one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations in the area. Today’s activities have been cancelled in the wake of the shooting.

As I write this, there is no suspect in custody and no idea if this attack was motivated by racial hatred.

It certainly casts a sorrowful shadow over the start of the Year of the Rabbit. May the year bring healing to all who mourn.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/22/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-22nd-2023/

SoCS: count on it

Linda posts the prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday on Friday so that people have a chance to mull the prompt before writing the post, which is stream of consciousness so no editing allowed.

Confession: Sometimes, I write the post on Friday and just schedule it to come out on Saturday.

Second Confession: Sometimes, I plan the post in my head more than I probably should to be true stream of consciousness.

I usually do, though, manage to have some thoughts about the prompt or I just don’t participate that week.

Because it’s Just Jot It January and because I already didn’t do Stream of Consciousness one week because I had a post of my own I wanted to get out, I really wanted to do SoCS this week.

The prompt is to use “count on it” in the post.

When I read it Friday morning, I thought that it would be pretty straightforward. Something would pop into my head as the focus for the post.

But that didn’t happen.

A lot of things that I can no longer count on came into my head, but it seemed too unsettling to write about that.

I think the combination of personal losses, the pandemic, the divisiveness of the United States, and the feeling that I’m always waiting for the next shoe to drop – and it does – have left me unsure that there is anything I can count on.

It’s probably more feeling than fact.

It’s cold and grey today.

The sun will rise tomorrow.

I can count on it.

Yes, let’s go with that.
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Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/20/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-21st/

remembering Paul

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I attended a memorial service. My spouse B and I attended services for Paul Everett. Paul and B had been co-workers at IBM for many years before Paul had to leave work for health reasons.

While Anita’s had been a Catholic funeral, Paul’s service was in the Reformed Protestant tradition. Because it was in non-liturgical form, the service was more easily molded to reflect Paul’s life and gifts, which, if you read the obituary linked above, you will realize were many and varied.

For example, all the music in the service was arranged by Paul for folk instruments. Paul had hosted a weekly folk session for many years and compiled his beginner-friendly arrangements in the Wednesday Night Jam Canonical Tune Book. B and I had chosen seats near the ensemble, which included guitars, piano, accordion, tin whistle, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer, an instrument that Paul had both constructed and played. The gathering music took place at the beginning of the service rather than before it so that we could listen and reflect instead of being distracted by conversation.

The homily was given by Paul’s son Isaac, who inherited his father’s love of music and theology, studied them, and became both a professional musician and an ordained minister. Isaac used his father’s love for the Book of Jonah as a lens to relate who his father was. It was moving and heart-felt and beautifully crafted. I’m sure Paul, who had served as a deacon and lay preacher himself, would have been proud. Isaac also played guitar and piano during the service.

During fellowship time after the service, B was able to connect with some retired IBMers who were in attendance and reminisce about Paul, including his adventures and misadventures building boats and taking them out on the waters. Fortunately, Paul’s nautical journeys went better than Jonah’s!

Later in the afternoon, I went to vigil mass at my home parish. The opening hymn was “Here I Am, Lord” which was the gathering song for Anita’s funeral. At communion, we sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” which we had sung at Paul’s memorial service. The echo of these songs calls me to reflect on what my call is at this time of my life, increasingly cognizant that I am much closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

Rest in peace, Anita. Rest in peace, Paul. Thank you for your example of how to live fully until the end.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/15/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-15th-2023/

Saying good-bye to Anita

This morning, I sang for the funeral of Anita Alkinburg Shipway. She was a member of the music ministry at a church that I attended for a number of years, but our primary connection was through poetry.

When I joined the Binghamton Poetry Project in 2014, Anita was already involved. I got to know her better when we were both invited to join Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn. We later also participated in some workshops with the Broome County Arts Council.

I always admired Anita’s storytelling ability both in conversation and in writing. She often used the tools of narrative poetry to reveal the truth – and quirks – of human nature. She smiled and laughed easily while also being very sympathetic when we most needed it. I appreciated the depth of her wisdom as an elder.

When the pandemic moved the Binghamton Poetry Project to Zoom, Anita joined us as often as she could, despite some technical challenges. We often joked with her about the cuckoo clocks in her home that would add their voices to ours. She shared a poem about them here. You can find more of her poems in the Binghamton Poetry Project online anthologies.

Originally, Anita was scheduled to participate with me in a Zoom reading for National Poetry Month in 2021, sponsored by the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the Zoom waiting room and wasn’t able to be recorded. I sincerely regret not being able to share any video of her reading her work.

Anita died at Mercy House, a residence for those near the end of life. Anita had volunteered at Mercy House and it’s a comfort to know that she was in such a familiar and peaceful place in her last days.

I was upset to learn that COVID played a part in her death. Apparently, a COVID infection interacted with other medical conditions and Anita could not recover. It reminded me again to remain cautious. I know that, despite my best efforts, I may someday contract COVID and could infect someone else, but I don’t know if I could forgive myself if I was being cavalier about infection and passed the virus on to someone who suffered grave consequences.

Anita visited Top of JC’s Mind and would occasionally comment on posts. More often, she would write to me directly. I remember having a discussion with her about what it means for something to be “top of mind.” Apparently, her Midwestern upbringing a generation before my New England one resulted in a different interpretation of the phrase.

No matter.

Today, Anita is at the top of JC’s Mind.

Rest in peace and eternal joy, Anita. May choirs of angels greet you and lead you to paradise.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/10/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-10th-2023/

moving toward Christmas

I’m managing to do more Christmas preparation than I have in the last several years.

I have over half my holiday cards sent.

Yesterday, B and I went to the tree farm to buy our Christmas tree and wreath. Today, along with daughter T, we decorated the tree.

I love our Christmas ornament collection. There are ornaments that belonged to our parents. Ones we have bought on our travels over the years. Ones we received as gifts. Home-made ones by my grandmother, B’s mom, B as a child, our children. Handcrafted ones made by artists on four continents, including my friend Yvonne Lucia. Ornaments made of cloth, yarn, wood, birch bark, wax, corn husks, glass, paper, teasels, metal, ceramic, plastic, even eggshell. The angel on top of the tree is one I made from a kit with the help of a friend shortly after B and I married. The latch-hooked tree skirt featuring candy canes was made by my mother.

If our home suffered a disaster and our ornament collection was lost, it would be impossible to re-create.

Still, during the years when I was caring for my parents and in the immediate aftermath of their passing, as much as I cherish these ornaments, I couldn’t being myself to unwrap them, touch them, place them on the tree. Even when others had done so, I could only manage a few glances at them.

Dealing with grief and loss is an individual and unpredictable endeavor. Last Christmas, our first since the death of my father, known here as Paco, we traveled to visit daughter E and her family in London, so we didn’t have our usual Christmas decorations. I really wasn’t sure how much of the usual Christmas routine I would be able to resume this year, so I am grateful that I felt up to participating in some decorating.

Granted, Christmas this year will be quieter than usual. It will be just B, T, and I celebrating at home. I will be going to church on my own. There will be stockings and some presents to open. (I admit my Christmas enthusiasm has not yet extended to shopping.) We will have a nice dinner and dessert although we haven’t settled on the menu yet. We have decided not to make our usual number of cookies, most years dozens of cookies in at least a half dozen varieties. It just doesn’t make sense for three people.

I think one of the factors in my feeling some Christmas spirit this year was singing Lessons and Carols with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton last weekend. Given that I spent so many years doing liturgy planning and music in Catholic churches, I’m not accustomed to singing Christmas music publicly during Advent, but I think this year doing so boosted my anticipation for Christmas and helped me to feel up to helping with decorating.

If I’m lucky, it will carry me through finishing the cards next week.

If not, I will try to remember to take the advice that I offer to others who are dealing with loss: Be gentle with yourself.

Maybe the fragrance of the Canaan fir, the rainbow-hued lights, the meaningful ornaments will help lift my spirit if it flags.

Christmas trees are beautiful, even through misty eyes.

SoCS: too much

I’ve got too much on my plate – and my blogging has been suffering because of it.

I’ve been busy with poetry, singing, family activities, and chores and a lot of the other things on my plate, like blogging and doing poetry submissions have been pushed off to the side.

As is often the case, it’s not so much that I need more time as that I need more brain power. While I thought that I had gotten through the alternating bouts of numbness and thought-swirl that happen from grieving, this fall has shown that I was mistaken. I have only limited time when I can concentrate well enough to write – and some days that doesn’t come at all.

I know better than to make promises about catching up on blog posts.

I do have a few submissions that will be coming up on deadlines that need to get moved up on the list of tasks – or to the center of the plate if I can make myself return to the original metaphor – and I will need to work on holiday cards, which are a high priority item for me.

I’m hoping that I will have a couple of poems published in December, so there will be posts for those.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get my mind in a more stable place and clear some of the items off my plate.

(She writes, really trying to do stream of consciousness metaphor…)

Stay tuned…
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “on your/my plate.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/11/25/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-26-2022/

SoCS: ring

I’ve been out all day at the bicentennial of my hometown so this will be a short SoCS post.

When I saw that Linda’s prompt was ring, what came to mind was the poem I wrote about taking off my father’s wedding ring after he died. The first anniversary of his death was Wednesday. The poem was published this spring by Wilderness House Literary Review here.
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Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/16/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-17-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: Paco memorial

Paco and an Irish rainbow

Remembering my father on the first anniversary of his death.
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/14/one-liner-wednesday-he-was-a-fun-guy/

My First Chapbook!

I am thrilled to announce that Hearts, my first chapbook, will be published by Kelsay Books in 2023! I don’t yet have an exact release date but expect it to be around September.

Kelsay Books was founded by poet Karen Kelsay in 2012 and currently has over a thousand titles listed in its bookstore. This makes it a much larger press than most of my previous submissions, some of which went to presses that only publish one or two titles a year. I took a chance submitting to Kelsay because two of my local Grapevine Poets, Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers, have books forthcoming from them. I’ll be sure to post their books here at Top of JC’s Mind when they become available.

Kelsay publishes poetry exclusively under four different imprints: Aldrich Press for free verse poetry up to 90 pages; White Violet Press for formal poetry up to 100 pages (Burt’s category); Alabaster Leaves for chapbooks under 50 pages (Jessica and my books will be under this imprint); and Daffydowndilly for rhyming poetry by adults for children.

Another welcome feature of Kelsay is that they respond very quickly, generally within fourteen days of submission. I received word of acceptance on day ten. This is blazingly fast. The typical response time for prior submissions I had done was six months, with a few taking more than a year to send out rejections.

Hearts centers around my mother, known here at TJCM as Nana, particularly in the last years of her life as she struggled with heart failure. The first incarnation of the chapbook was assembled in fall of 2017 as an entry into the QuillsEdge Press contest with the theme “Transitions.” It was named a finalist and the poem “Sixteen Hours” was included in an anthology that was published in conjunction with the winning manuscript, Skin Gin. That version also placed in the top 1% of submissions in another contest.

That early positive feedback proved to be important in the following years. As Nana’s health continued to decline, I wrote poems to help me process but couldn’t think about reworking the manuscript. After her death in May, 2019, I took some time to extend, workshop, and edit the chapbook and started sending it out in spring of 2020. That version was a semifinalist in a contest but was also getting a lot of rejections from contests and open submission periods.

I continued to do edits and added a new poem in spring, 2021. At that point, my father, known here as Paco, was entering the last few months of his life, so doing submissions faded into the background. He passed away last September and I returned to doing a few submissions before the end of the year. I was doing submissions for my full-length manuscript, as well.

Kelsay was the 34th submission for Hearts in its various forms.

There is a difference of opinion on whether that is a lot or just run-of-the-mill. Most of the people that I’ve told have noted my perseverance and commitment in the face of rejection but a few, who have decades-long experience as poets, think thirty-four isn’t that bad or unusual.

For now, I’m still feeling joy mixed with relief. In these past years, I’ve watched many of my poet-friends publish their first books and had begun to wonder if I just wasn’t good enough. Now, I’m coming to think of it more as finding the right match. Kelsay Books makes clear they are seeking manuscripts that are accessible to a general audience. I consider myself a community poet, as my experience has come through workshopping with fellow poets and community poetry sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and others, instead of from academic studies. I tend to write in a narrative style. While I occasionally write in Chinese/Japanese-derived forms like tanka, I have never written anything decent in traditional European forms, like sonnet or villanelle. Every once in a while, a rejection email comes with a bit of feedback, which tends to run along the lines of my work not being crafted well enough or sophisticated enough. While I do continue to work on craft and revision skills, I will never write like someone with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree.

And that’s okay.

It’s just easier to believe now that I can say I have a book forthcoming.

I’m sure I will post more about this as I work through the process of publication and gain more skills along the way. Style guidelines. Fonts. Cover art.

One of the blessings of being in a community of poets, though, is that help is available if I need it. I also now have a publisher with a team of professionals to get my book out into the world.

It still feels strange to be able to say that.

But I think I could get used to it.

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