>Life is Good here at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta (in Buckhead) where my husband and I are spending a few days while he participates in a medical meeting. We’re on the 23rd floor with an incredible view… and a nice cozy office for me by the window.
When we arrived I set up my laptop and portable printer. And even though I can’t get my wireless mouse to scroll, and I can’t figure out how to turn off the touchpad on the laptop, those are minor inconveniences compared to how good the setup is here.
And Tuesday night life was good when my husband’s brother, Tod, who lives in nearby Marrietta, picked us up for supper at ESPN Zone… a crazy bar/restaurant for sports fans. It has a huge screen covering most of a wall, with 12 smaller screens, 6 on each side. At the individual tables and booths there are sound controls for whichever event you want to listen to. There are even tv screen in the bathrooms!
And down in front of the big screen there’s a row of lazy-boy type recliners with individual food trays and sound controls attached. Yeah, Life is Good at the ESPN Zone.
And Life was Good when I got an email from Nikki Hardin at skirt! Magazine saying she wants to publish another of my essays in the March issue. She requested a couple of edits, so I worked on them in my “office” and sent them off to her yesterday as well. I’ll post a reminder with links to the magazine when the March issue comes out in a few weeks.
Life was Good last night when my husband and I enjoyed a relaxing time with some of his friends who have been working together on a big clinical trial for the last ten years. After a nice reception at the Hyatt, a few of us went out for a few drinks and laughs at a nearby microbrewery.
This group includes folks from New York, New Jersey, Tennessee and Mississippi. As the work they’ve been doing together for almost a decade draws to a close, the buzz is all about “the next big thing” (the next big clinical trial) but also the fun they’ve had working together all these years.
I won’t name names, to protect the innocent, but the laughter was plentiful and the friendships were encouraging to me, the “outsider” in the group. (Not many spouses came to this meeting.) We’re looking forward to dinner at Houston’s tonight… my favorite Memphis restaurant, so we’ll see how the Buckhead Houston’s measures up.
But life isn’t always laughter and successes. This morning I woke early with a sore throat and throbbing sinuses. The sun is shining and I was looking forward to getting out and doing some shopping and site seeing, but it’s almost noon and I’m still not feeling up to it. I hate to “waste” a sunny day and the opportunity to get out and around in Buckhead. I keep hoping I’ll feel better as the day goes on, but room service and a movie are sounding more appealing by the minute. So even if I have to be sick, this is a good place to be!
A friend just called to let me know that a mutual friend in Memphis is near death… with Hospice care, she probably has 24-48 hours left. Her sweet granddaughter is in town helping with this dear woman’s care. I’ve been there with several family members over the years, and I know it is both the most difficult and most wonderful experience. This wonderful lady has lost her husband and has suffered much in her life, but has never complained. She’s always positive, always hopeful. Yes, if she could speak today, I’m sure that she would say that Life is Good.
The friend who called was on her way to a training seminar for writing resumes and doing job interviews. The seminar is part of her severance pay—she and quite a few others at her company were recently laid off. But like our friend who is dying, this friend just doesn’t complain She’s amazingly resilient and thankful for whatever comes her way. Her phone call reminded me to look beyond the comfort of a luxury hotel and even beyond the camaraderie of friends and coworkers. It’s easy for me to say, up here on the 23rd floor… but life is more than book deals and published essays and successful clinical trials.
>I’m reading a wonderful novel right now, Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos. I picked it up because I loved Kallos’ first novel, Broken For You. Like her first book, this one is a work of true literary fiction, which means it’s not a “quick read,” or at least not for a slow reader like me. I find myself re-reading sentences, just to relish the craft of her art. But I think I would be drawn to her work even if it clipped along at a rate more akin to commercial fiction, because she continues to chose subjects and craft characters that fascinate me. And that I can relate to.
Like Larken, the oldest of the three Jones children, whose mother, Hope, disappeared in a tornado in Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, in 1978. Larken is a history professor, who didn’t get parented well in her childhood, which results in her obsession with food and appearance. If you’ve been following my blog, you know my mother didn’t disappear in a tornado when I was a child. But for reasons of her own, she wasn’t able to parent me in a healthy way, or to make up for the emotional absence of my father.
“Larken makes a show of readjusting herself, rotating and leaning her body slightly so that she can dangle her arm into the bottom-right desk drawer, within range of the peanut butter cups; she brings her left hand to the front of her face, forming a kind of low-hanging awning over her mouth. While Misty regurgitates a predictable barrage of generalist postfeminist slop she’s undoubtedly plagiarized, Larken delicately fingers the peanut butter cups out of their wrappers…. And palms the first peanut butter cup and, with one flowing movement, bring it to her mouth. She leans on her hands now and lets the candy warm and soften, enjoying the way the delicately corrugated ridges on the side of the peanut butter cup contrast with its smooth top and bottom….”
This is either brilliant writing or the words of someone familiar with eating disorders, or both. And Kallos shows equal skill in describing her character’s obsession with clothing and skill with camouflaging her 5’2”175-pound frame:
“Larken always dresses in dark colors; today she wears loose black silk slacks and a maroon rayon shirt with its bottom three buttons undone. Her clothes are nice enough—she orders them online from Lane Bryant—but she spends most of her personal wardrobe and grooming budget on head and feet: salon haircuts, designer makeup, jewelry and scarves, expensive shoes.”
This and other passages about her practiced skills in dressing to hide her hefty size really hit home to me. And also this one:
“The air outside hits her like a boiler room blast. Instantly, she begins to sweat. Her thighs chafe together as she crosses the commons.”
And then the kicker—the beginning of revelations about the source of her body image problems:
“She thinks of her parents, of a conversational exchange she heard numerous times when she was growing up:
What a shame! Hope would say, sotto voice, as she often did when they passed a fat stranger. She has such a pretty face.
Pretty face, my ass, Larken hears her father counter scornfully. Pretty is pretty, Hope. Fat is fat.”
This description of Larken’s preparation for a social gathering she’s nervous about speaks volumes:
“She is stunningly accessorized: A beaded burgundy velveteen shawl is draped over her shoulders and she wears new earrings….Larken has spent the past two hours purchasing this confidence and satiety at a cost of just over $300…. These purchases are necessities. They’ve made it possible for her to survive the imminent hell of a university mandated schmooze.”
I’m only 2/3 through the book, and I won’t ruin it by telling you the story line, but instead I’ll jump to the other book on my bedside table, which isn’t a novel.
It’s Not About Food: Change Y our Mind, Change Your Life, End Your Obsession with Food and Weight by Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark, founders of Beyond Hunger, Inc. The book is ten years old, but I just discovered it (a friend shared it with me) recently, and if Larken Jones was a real person instead of a character in a novel I’d send it to her!
I’ve read countless books about dieting, eating disorders, addictions, etc., and some have even helped me understand why I have these issues, but none have actually shown a way to heal them. I’m not saying this is a quick-fix, or even a complete fix, but there are definitely some truths and exercises that are helping me at the moment I am stressed and therefore tempted to use overeating or overdrinking or other addictive behaviors to numb the pain. I’ve even been able to just let myself feel the pain, “be present with it,” and then choose healthier ways to soothe myself. Not always—I still use food and alcohol, but I’m hopeful that spending more time with the exercises and principles in the book will continue to help me. Here are few teasers from the book for those who might be considering reading it. Just read each one, and think about it for a few minutes. If it touches you, read the next one, and so on:
“Food and fat are not killing us, the obsession to control them is.”
“We believe that all of us who struggle with weight and food issues, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating, are strong, sensitive women who are mirroring these cultural wounds back to society and sending the message through our bodies that we cannot and will not take it any more.”
“Women who are struggling with weight and food issues stand at the threshold of an emerging new vision of what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century. And as long as the issue of weight is treated as purely a behavioral issue, isolated from the cultural and spiritual oppression of women, it will never be healed and our society will never evolve from this dysfunctional place.”
“In order to stop using food or controlling food as a way to avoid uncomfortable or painful feelings, you need to take time to develop compassion for why you needed to escape those feelings in the first place. If you were not taught, early on, to trust and stay with your feelings, if you were never supported in accepting them and going through them, there’s no way you could know how.”
“We’ve found in our own experiences, and in the experiences of women in our groups, that much of the pain underneath our eating disorders is linked to emotional needs that weren’t met when we were children. This is understandable since it is impossible for a parent to meet every emotional need a child experiences. However, as adults we can learn to meet our own needs and be our own parents. This is extremely important in recovery, because we use food not only to stuff down our feelings but also to take care of ourselves emotionally (e.g., calming ourselves or controlling situations). When we can take care of ourselves through reparenting, then we can let go of the food.”
I didn’t start writing this post to be so much about this journey I’m on to reclaim my body, and my life, but I’ve been struck by the common ground I’ve discovered between the characters in a fiction novel and the stories of real women who are changing their lives through the wisdom of women like Carol Normandi and Laurelee Roark. If none of this interests you, check back with me in a few days and I’ll probably be writing about something completely different!
Or even now, actually. Tonight with dinner my husband and I decided to open a bottle of wine that our oldest son, Jon, gave us for Christmas. Jon has much more refined taste in wine than we have, and he loves to introduce us to new wines. Tonight we chose a bottle of “Sin Zin” 2006 Alexander Valley Zinfandel from California. The bottle is intriguing, and Zinfandel from this valley has been described as “a bright, expressive nose, bursting with red fruits and crushed black pepper and a palate loaded with rasberries, strawberries and black pepper.” I couldn’t have written that description myself, but the wine sure was delicious.
What brought Jon and his wine to mind tonight was a sobering phone call from him earlier today. Evidently two Kiowa helicopters went down in Iraq today, killing all four pilots on board. They were with a group stationed in New York, where Jon used to be before transferring to the unit stationed in Savannah. Jon hasn’t been able to find out who they were yet, but whether they were acquaintances or close friends from his old unit—either way—the grief is great. He asked for his dad and I to keep them in our thoughts and prayers. So tonight as we gave thanks for our meal, we offered a prayer for these men whose lives have been lost in the service of our country, for healing of our son’s grief, and for his protection as he continues his work as an army helicopter pilot. He’ll be deployed again later this year, and we’ll be listening, again, to every news cast. But tonight we raised our glasses in a toast to Jon, and gave thanks for his safety… and for a very fine bottle of wine.
>Every time I visit my mother in the nursing home in Jackson, I take time to visit with the facility’s youngest resident, Charles Wilkins Walker. Sadly, Charles is only 55 years old. He appears to have had a stroke, but it could be something else. He uses an electric wheel chair, and his speech is difficult to understand, but his mind seems fairly alert.
The last time I was there, Charles said he was having trouble with his remote control and would I come look at it. I went to his room, just down the hall from Mom’s, and there he had a computer, lots of books, television, and shelves of photographs of himself with friends—which must have been taken before whatever tragic event landed him in the nursing home. Radiant smiles are on all the photographs, and the other people in the pictures are attractive, and appear to be active members of society.
So when I drove down to see Mom on Friday, sure enough Charles found us visiting in the front lobby and wheeled over to visit with us. My dear friend Sissy Yerger had met me for lunch and had gone with me to visit Mom. When I introduced Charles to Sissy, Charles said, “Are you related to Wirt Yerger?”
“Yes, he’s a distant cousin of my husband,” Sissy replied.
Now usually when I’m visiting with Charles, it’s hard to include Mom in the conversation for two reasons—for one thing, she can’t understand what he’s saying very well, and she can’t follow the conversation or remember most of the people we’re talking about. So, it’s always a balancing act, to be sure Charles doesn’t “take over” the time and attention I’m trying to give to Mom, but to also be sure I’m spending time with Charles, as he’s bound to be starved for company with folks his/our age.
“He was in the insurance business, wasn’t he?” Charles continues, talking about Wirt Yerger.
“Yes,” I interject, “and so was my father, Bill Johnson.”
I look at Mom, trying to draw her into the conversation, and she smiles a far-away smile but nods, so I feel that I’m succeeding.
“How long was your father in the insurance business?” Charles asks me, and also looks at Mother.
“Hmmmm,” I have to think about this. “For about thirty years, I think. And when he retired from that, he and mother opened Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports. Dad was a marathon runner, and Mom helped managed the store and organize the aerobics business.”
Mom is smiling and nodding, but not jumping into the conversation as I hoped she might. With each visit I realize I’ve lost more of her, fearing each time that she won’t know me. But she surprised me with what she said next:
“He was with the F.W. Williams State Agency of U.S.F.&G. Insurance Company.”
The words rolled off her tongue as though she said them several times a day. Dad retired from USF&G in 1982—27 years ago, and yet this information was such a big part of her memory that it’s not lost yet. Interesting how the brain works. She couldn’t remember if she had lunch or not, did physical therapy that day or not, but she could repeat this rather complex name of the company my father worked for so long ago.
As we walked up and down the halls a few times, as we do each time I visit—Mom “peddling” along with her feet in her wheelchair, me at her side—we ran into Mia, the nurse in charge of her wing. “Your mother is fitting in here perfectly,” were Mia’s words this time, which brought me great comfort.
A few minutes later one of the aids stopped and chatted with us—she and Mom exchanged a few light-hearted teasing comments to each other—and then the aid said to me, “Miss Effie tries to pretend that she’s a bad girl, but we know better.”
Interesting comment. Later Mom told me that she “got into a row” with someone that morning (probably the physical therapist) who wanted her to do something she didn’t want to do… and that later someone else “fussed at her” for not eating her lunch. I found her lunch tray in her room, so she must not have been in the mood to go to the dining room that day. I picked up the aluminum cover off her plate to see the stale French fries and sandwich, mostly untouched.
But she seems to have put back on some of the weight she’s lost since she broke her hip 3 ½ months ago, so I’m not worried about her nutrition. And each time I visit I pick up two giant cookies from McAllister’s deli and she inhales them as we visit, so she hasn’t forgotten how to eat!
This time when we were leaving, she came up to the front lobby to see us out, and it saddened me to see her watching us go through the doors to my car. She seemed more aware that someone dear had just left her world, whereas last time I left, she dismissed me as if I was another resident with a room down the hall. As much as I hate Alzheimer’s and what it does to the mind, there are times when it seems to cushion the difficult truths. The truths about all that she has lost—her life partner of almost 50 years, her independence, her physical strength, and significant portions of her mind.
And I look at Charles, trapped in a facility for old people because of his physical limitations, and I wonder whose truth is the most difficult. Yeah, reality bites.
>I’ve always been a joiner. In elementary school it was Brownie Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Music Clubs. In Junior High and High School it was choir, literary journal staff, newspaper staff, theater guild, and endless committees. College and young adulthood offered more opportunities to belong—sorority, PTA, and again, endless committees, some within our church and others within community organizations. Between the Society for Technical Communication, Home Builders Association (I was an associate member for a couple of years while I was publishing a magazine for builders and architects), Al-Anon, Toastmasters, and book clubs, my calendar was always full. (Not to mention the calendar of services at the Orthodox Church, and running three kids around to all their extra-curricular activities.)
The kids have been out of the nest for several years now, but nothing seems to have slowed down very much. Oh, I choose to slow it down from time to time, dropping off a committee here, not re-upping for a position there. For the past two years, as I’ve been concentrating my efforts on writing more seriously, I’ve tried to carve out more alone time. I think this will always be a struggle for me. The life of a writer can be lonely, and I feel that sometimes. So, I’ve continued to be a joiner, and this week it hit me that I’m a “member” of five “groups” that each meet once a month. The reason it hit me this week is that 4 of those groups all ended up with their meeting scheduled during this one week! Here’s an overview:
Women of Saint John—this is the one group that didn’t have a meeting this week. It’s my church’s women’s group, and while there are many committees and activities that flow out of its basic structure, the one “group” I enjoy each month is the one that meets in the home of one of our members for coffee, tea, and a time of teaching led by our pastor. Afterwards the ladies go to lunch. It’s a great way to stay in touch with women of all ages, from all parts of the city. The teaching feeds my soul, and the fellowship feeds my spirit.
Saint John Dinner Club (met Sunday night)—organized by a couple of women in our parish, these dinner clubs have been functioning for several years, with the groups changing every six months or so. Our current group has 9 people, marrieds, singles, young and old, from East Memphis to Harbor Town to north Mississippi. My husband and I have often remarked that when it’s time to start up new groups, we feel a sadness at leaving the old one! But we also have strengthened friendships with those folks now, so when we see them at church, our lives are more connected. We know what’s going on in each other’s lives, which increases our love and care for one another.
Adoptive Moms (met Monday night)—last April a group of women who have adopted children began meeting each month. Some of the women also have “home-hatched” kids, as one of our group likes to say. But we also have something in common that no one else can understand or relate to, and our support of one another as we try to hold together loving homes for these children who have suffered the loss of their birth families—and sometimes their birth countries—has been invaluable. Amongst the nine women who participate, we have 13 adopted children between the ages of 7 and 31, from five different ethnic groups and four different countries. I am extremely grateful for each of these women’s wisdom, love, and friendship.
Yoknapatawpha Writers Group (meets Saturday)—since September of 2007 we’ve been meeting monthly, usually in Oxford. The core group is 5 writers who met at a writing workshop at Ole Miss in June of 2007. Several others have come and gone from the group, but the core—the original 5 of us who live in 4 different cities—continue to critique each other’s works-in-progress and encourage each other’s efforts at getting their work published. Friendships have formed during this time, and we find ourselves traveling to workshops and festivals together from time to time, sharing our love of the written word.
Memphis Women’s Writers Group (met today)—4 women writers that also meet monthly for critique sessions. This group started up about ten months or so ago, and uses similar critique methods as the Oxford group. We met today, at a Starbucks, and helped each other polish memoir chapters, short stories and poems. Sometimes, like this week when the two writing groups are meeting 2 days apart, I submit the same chapter or essay to each group, and it’s really fun to see the differences and similarities in their critiques.
All that to say it does take a village… to raise kids, grow a church, or write a book, essay, novel or poem. And maybe even to grow into a balanced parent, church member or writer! So, even during a busy week like this one when I struggle to find time to write, I can’t image which meeting I would skip—the time spent with each of these folks is valuable.
I’ll close with some good news which I received this week from Kathy Rhodes, a writer from Franklin, Tennessee, whom I met at the first Creative Nonfiction Workshop I attended in Oxford in September of 2007. In March of 2008 I participated in a critique session with Kathy at the CNF Conference, again in Oxford. (That’s Kathy and me relaxing after a day of workshopping.) Kathy is editor of an online literary journal called “Muscadine Lines,” and she’s going to publish my essay, “Are These My People?” in the April/May/June issue. I love it that this particular essay will appear in this Southern journal, since it’s about a memorable trip with some of my writing group buddies to the Neshoba County Fair last summer. I’ll post the link to the journal again in April when the issue comes out. Until then, visit Muscadine Lines and enjoy some colorful Southern stories and essays! Kathy has also edited a print anthology by the same name, which you can order here, and a book called Pink Butterbeans, which you can order here. And I couldn’t help but notice that Kathy is a joiner, like me. She’s a board member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance and President of the Williamson County [Tennessee] Council for the Written Word. And she’s got an essay coming out in the next issue of The Best of Creative Nonfiction due out in July. Congratulations, Kathy!
>I feel like a kid writing a paper about “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” only instead it’s “How We Spent Martin Luther King Day.” It was a federal holiday, so my husband and I headed to Macy’s for the final day of their mattress sale. We usually purchase a new box springs and mattress about every ten years. But 3-4 years ago I led us down the wrong path by insisting we try a Select Comfort Sleep Number® Bed . We went to one of their stores and tried one out (for 5 minutes or so) and it felt wonderful and the concept made sense. But within a few weeks, I was sure it wasn’t working right. My side wouldn’t fill properly with air and my back was hurting from the slump on my side of the bed. Once we realized how bad it was, we were past warranty. Every time we called for help, we got the run-around by the company. What I didn’t know, until tonight, actually, is that lots of other folks have had similar problems. But the bed was expensive so I hung in there until my back couldn’t take it any more.
Back home with 2/3 of our Monday left, I continued the ORGANIZE part of my New Year’s Plan by organizing my sweaters into plastic drawers (from Target) and the space between them on my newly uncluttered closet shelves. There’s even space for my favorite small suitcase, for my frequent overnight trips to Jackson.
It was so much fun organizing my jewelry, and this newly cleared space on the shelves near my bureau is perfect for it. (The armoire comes with legs, but I chose not to attach them so it could sit on my shelves.)
And a week or so ago, I heard from a Memphian I haven’t met, Sandi, who left a comment on my blog, and later emailed me and sent me a link to this article, “Clearing a Space For Change: The Weight of Objects,” which was inspirational. (Disclaimer: I’m not into astrology and tarot and much that is promoted on this web site, but I did like the article about the weight of objects… and I continue to make trips to the trash bin and the Goodwill store as I organize each area of our house!)
When I saw this picture and read about Maryanne’s plan for organizing attics it made me want to number the boxes my daughter organized in our attic and make an inventory list so I don’t have to search for things up there in the heat of the summer or the freezing cold nights of winter! But I can tell I’m going to have to avoid the temptation to obsess over any one area, or the rest of the house will never get organized!
>It would almost seem irreverent to write a blog post today and not comment on the inauguration of President Obama. Some writers’ blogs that I follow have been full of joy over his election back in November, but also full of hateful derision for the outgoing administration. It saddens me to see so many jubilant Obama fans who seem unable to celebrate their victory without putting down their defeated opponents.
I wasn’t really a fan of either candidate, but in the end I voted my gut, which meant a vote for McCain. And, as spiritually slothful as I am most of the time, I found myself praying earnestly during the election, for God’s protection and guidance of our country.
And after Obama won the election, I continued to pray for him, and for our country, and for the world, as I will do for the duration of his presidency. I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back, but just to make it clear how I feel about being an American citizen. Once a candidate has been elected, I believe that all of us should support him with our respect and our prayers. I was saddened greatly during much of President Bush’s years in the White House by the lack of respect given to him by many citizens of our country. And not just lack of respect, but outright hatred. So, I approach this new administration with a prayerful spirit, holding them in my heart with hope.
But also with a degree of fear and trembling. Yes. There’s something a bit too rock-star-ish about the aura that surrounds our new President. And it’s not just the adulation of so many long-suffering African Americans. I don’t mean to take anything away from Obama’s followers’ right to celebrate, but there was something almost erie about the crowd’s rhythmic shouts of “Obama! Obama!” as President-elect Obama approached the platform for his swearing-in this morning.
In spite of my reservations about our new leader, I decided to watch the ceremonies while doing some paperwork and bookkeeping for my mother this morning. And yes, I wanted to be courteous and supportive when my African-American housekeeper arrived at 10 a.m. to clean my house. Sarah is a wonderful woman—and she’s raising two grandchildren because their mother is a drug addict and is unable to take care of them. When she arrived, I gave her a few instructions about what needed to be done in the house, and then I told her that she was welcome to sit and watch as much of the inauguration as she’d like.
She shrugged her shoulders and mumbled something about not really being interested, and went about her work. A few minutes later, as she came back into the kitchen, where I had my work spread out on the kitchen table, I said something to her about the significance of Obama becoming President. Her response surprised me:
“Just because his father was Black, that don’t mean he’s going to be a good President.”
“No, it doesn’t,” I chose my words carefully, “but don’t you think it’s an important victory for civil rights in this country?”
“Not really. It just shows that Black folks care more about electing a Black President than they do about taking care of business. He talks a good talk and gets everyone riled up, but I don’t believe he can do half of what he promises.”
I was a bit stunned, but I walked through the door Sarah had opened in our conversation. “Well, I didn’t vote for him, but it wasn’t because of his race. It’s mainly because there’s something in his character I’m not sure I trust. And also his approach to fixing the economy. And I’d have a hard time voting for someone who supports abortion.”
Wanting to end our conversation on a positive note, I said, “Well, all we can do is pray for him and hope for the best, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes ma’am. But I ain’t holding my breath. I hopes I’m wrong, but we’ll see.”
I hope you’re wrong, too, Sarah. I hope President Obama and the men and women he chooses to help him make decisions that will help our country become healthier in every way. And I’m thankful to be part of a church that prays for our leaders at every service of the Divine Liturgy, and encourages its members to pray for them.
So, tonight before I go to sleep, I utter this prayer:
Lord have mercy on President Obama and his family, and grant him wisdom and moral courage as he leads our nation for the next four years. Amen.
It’s actually a good day for writing, the second item in my goal, except for two things: (1) my husband is home today, and I can’t concentrate on writing unless I’m alone, and (2) I’m a little blocked right now. A little stuck between the psychological/therapeutic work that’s happening as I dig into the middle chapters of my book and the actual craft of writing. What’s a girl to do?
Step away from the computer and ORGANIZE another area of my house. Inspired again by Maryanne MacDonald’s column in the Commercial Appeal, , I’ll tackle the shelves next to my bureau in our bedroom, and maybe also the top of my bureau, and if I’ve got time, my bureau drawers. “Before” photos don’t really show how bad it is, because you can’t see the ridiculous mix of trash and useful stuff that’s piled up on those shelves over the past six years. But I know, so I’ll appreciate the difference.
Oh, for those who don’t want to read Maryanne’s article, the 4 boxes she recommends using for each area you clean out are:
Box 1 — Give Away or Sell
Box 2 — Goes Somewhere Else
Box 3 — Inactive Storage
Box 4 — Can’t Decide or Emotional Withdrawal
And I don’t necessarily use a box for #2 – “goes somewhere else.” I think I’ll just toss those items on the bed and carry them to their new places throughout the house later. We’ll see. Here goes! I’ll be back later this afternoon to post the results and photos!
It was fun to discover some hidden treasures, like these posters that I hope to frame some day…
And my newly organized office space provided a new home for a box of note cards and a few framed pictures. I’m loving how each space I organize helps me with the next one!
Only problem is I’m exhausted, and now I’m off to the gym to exercise. I think I can I think I can I think I can….
>I’ve painted several icons of angels over the years, (none of the images in this post are mine, however) and I’ve tried to cultivate a relationship with my own guardian angel, praying to him from time to time, but not very faithfully. So, when I heard that Joshua Armitage, a seminary graduate who works at St. John, was going to be teaching on angels on Wednesday nights, I was eager to hear what he had to say. Night One did not disappoint.
You see, on Wednesday nights at St. John Orthodox Church (some of the photos here are out of date, but at least you can see the schedule of events and directions to the church here in midtown Memphis… but the 2007 icon workshop is obviously over, as is the 2008 class) we have Vespers early, at 5:30 p.m., followed by a fasting meal (no meat or dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays) and a time of teaching. It’s all over by 8 p.m., very do-able on a school/work night.
Joshua used The Angels and Their Mission by Jean Danielou and David Heimann as one of the sources for his talk. He was quick to say that he didn’t like the book’s cover, with its Victorian representation of feminine-looking angels “with flappy gowns” that don’t inspire strength and courage. This is one reason I know I’ll be picky about book covers for my own books, if they ever make it to press, but sometimes writers don’t have much control over this.
Angels are bodiless, so however we represent them, unless we’ve seen them ourselves (and I know some people have) we can only depend upon descriptions of the forms they have taken when they’ve appeared in Holy Scriptures or other sources of Orthodox tradition.
So, last night Joshua gave the first of a series of talks about angels, beginning by saying that “real knowledge about the unseen world comes from experience, not from a venue like this—a lecture hall or a classroom.” So, right up front, we know this is a mystical topic, as much of Orthodox theology is. This emphasis on the “unseen,” as Joshua went on to say, was passed on from the Jews to the early Christians, and was especially taught by the apostles, who wrote about the angels in at least the following places in Holy Scriptures: Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:18-23; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1;1-14; and Hebrews 2:1-4.
Josh divided up his talks on the activity of the angels into three arenas: Heavenly, Cosmic and Earthly. Last night he dealt mainly with their Earthly activity, as messengers, guardians, patrons and God’s avengers. He explained that because angels are in a realm that is richer and deeper than our own-the unseen world—it is their task to lead us to true knowledge of God.
Each of us has our own Guardian Angel, but each nation also has a guardian angel.
The unseen world isn’t all good, though… Satan and his demons are still there, or as Josh put it last night, “The Devil and his shadow government.” Shadow government—what a great image of Satan’s realm. Josh said that each government also has a “patron demon” who works to destroy the angel’s work.
The abbess of a woman’s monastery that I’ve visited over the years once told me that monastics have two guardian angels assigned to them, because of how devoted they are to the spiritual life, and how much more fierce their spiritual warfare was. (I don’t remember if she also said that monks and nuns have two demons assigned to them or not, but that would seem to follow….) Anyway, during the years that I was more intensely seeking to live in that realm, praying more, spending more time at the monastery each year, and chasing down my own demons with greater vigor, she told me that she believed I also had two guardian angels, at least while I was at the monastery. I never asked her if one of them stayed behind when I went back out “into the world.” I hope not, because I really have a hard time believing that the struggles of lay persons living outside the monastery are less than those of the monastics within. Different, but not less. But what do I know?
I’d love to hear from my readers on this subject—your own personal experiences with angels or spiritual warfare, other good books/sources on the subject, etc. Please leave a comment (click comment, below) or send me an email and let me know if it’s okay to publish it. I hope to post about angels weekly while Josh is giving the talks… except that I’ll miss the one on January 28, as I’ll be out of town. Maybe someone else will pick up the thread and send me an email to use as a guest post that week!
Holy Guardian Angel, pray to God for me.
>Let me say up front that my Hit Counter seems to be broken. Right around January 1, it quit showing me how many of you are reading my blog. I was averaging about 100 hits a day when it quit counting, or quit showing me the count. I’ve sent an email to the support people at Easy-Hit-Counters.com but no one has responded. So, if anyone knows how to fix this, please let me know! (I’m wondering if you have to renew every year, since it quit around the first of the year… but it’s FREE, so what’s up with that?) But now, on to things I know how to fix:
I’ve now completed the first full week of my New Year’s Plan, Operation Order Out of Chaos , and I’m happy to report the following successes:
Organize—the Closet was done last Tuesday, and on Saturday I completed The Office. Well, like The Closet, I only organized HALF of The Office. My half. I share an office with a genius. Need I say more? Oh, before I continue, I must say that the first time I did laundry after organizing The Closet, I couldn’t believe how much easier it was. For example, as I pulled a black knit top from the stack of clothes I was folding on our bed, I carried it to the closet and voila! There was its very own empty shirt hanger, waiting in the middle of the other black tops. No scrunching the clothes together to make room. No searching for a hanger. And as I opened my drawers to put away folded items, there was actually room in the drawers, now that the sweaters are all folded neatly on the shelves in The Closet. Ahhhhh.
But back to The Office. The main problem areas were the stacks of stuff that had “grown” in the middle of the room over the past few months… some of it I had brought from my mother’s apartment in Jackson, and some accumulated while searching for addresses for Christmas cards. The rest was mostly writing stuff—craft magazines and folders from critique group meetings—all things needing their own place in this tiny shared space.
The other problem area was the tall skinny shelves by the printer. You can’t really tell how bad these spaces were by the pictures. The point is, I had no work space and it took me forever to find things when I needed them. Until NOW.
First I took a large plastic bin and filled it with all my VISA receipts since 2002…which were in various shoe boxes and envelopes throughout the office. Before closing it, I asked my husband if he wanted to add his receipts, to clear more space in his side of the office, and he quickly pulled them from file drawers by his desk and added them to the box. I labeled it and placed it at the bottom of the stairs for its trip to the attic later.
Two large cans were filled with trash, and in three hours the space was organized and functional. It’s not perfect—my computer desk sits in a space that used to be a closet, but at least there are nice shelves above it. And the files in our office and laundry room both need to be gone through, but that’s a bigger project than 3-4 hours, so I’ll save it for a weekend when I can get hubby to help. I’m thinking we’ve got a free weekend in 2010, but I’m not sure….
Exercise—I made it to the gym and worked out on the elliptical machine 3 times in the past five days! I’m scheduling only 3X week, but I hope to expand it to 4 or 5 eventually.
And the third goal:
Write—finally I’m back at “work” and was able to spend about 5 hours writing last Friday, and about 6 hours today. I’m restructuring the last two chapters that I drafted of my memoir, which takes a lot more energy than just getting a first draft down. Today I picked up where I left off on the last chapter, hoping to complete a draft in time to submit it to both writing critique groups—deadlines are this coming Thursday and Saturday. (one week before monthly meetings of each group)
But work on the book is such a long-term process, that sometimes I need a “quick fix,” so today I drafted an essay to submit to a magazine that has published several of my pieces in the past. I think the personal essay is my favorite genre of writing. It just doesn’t feel like “work” when I’m writing an essay. I’ll polish it a little more over the next few days (when I take breaks from the book) and send it in…. I’ll let you know if it’s published!
Other “work” that needed tending finally made it to the top of the pile that had grown on my workspace in front of my computer during the holidays—follow ups on email queries to a few agents, gathering information and registering for an upcoming conference, and prioritizing two essay contests with deadlines in the next couple of months.
Oh, and this weekend I finally tested some of new “portable office” gadgets that I got for Christmas. Beth gave me this terrific green wireless mouse for my laptop… it uses a jump-drive thingy instead of something with another cord to get in the way. And I got this precious mouse pad with the cute kitty on it.
>I’ve been writing about my mother for over a year now. She’s almost eighty-one, and has had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for several years. After my father died in 1998, I began to visit her (in Jackson, Mississippi) more frequently, and eventually began doing her taxes and other bookkeeping. Thankfully, while she was still thinking clearly, she made me Durable Power of Attorney and put my name on her bank account and investment account, so that I could manage everything for her more smoothly. Several people who are just beginning to take care of aging parents have asked me about various aspects, and this is one thing I strongly recommend, if the parent(s) are open to it. Especially where Alzheimer’s is concerned.
When I moved mother to an assisted living home in February of 2006, I took her to the bank first and we opened a second joint checking account. I gave her a debit card and a checkbook for this account only, and I put $200 in it, so she could have a little money when the shuttle took her to the drug store or other errands. By watching her account online, I could transfer money from her main account whenever she needed it. All her bills have been coming to me in Memphis (or automatically drafted from her account) for the past three years, which makes the financial end of things fairly simple. If only the physical, mental and emotional aspects were so easy!
I watch her disappear into her own world and little bit more with each visit to her nursing home. Since October, those visits have been almost weekly, but now that she’s settling in, I’m comfortable with making the trip every two-three weeks. My most recent visit was yesterday:
First I called Marzelle, Mom’s physical therapist, to let her know I was coming, so she wouldn’t schedule Mom’s PT during my visit. I love Marzelle—like Sondra, my favorite sitter for Mom, Marzelle is from South Africa. I’m not sure what the connection is, but both of these women are so compassionate. Anyway, Marzelle was glad I called, because she wanted to tell me a story:
“Yesterday your Mom got up on the wrong side of the bed. She was grumpy and wouldn’t cooperate with me at all, and even snapped at me angrily. Another resident who was in the PT room at the same time noticed her behavior, and later I saw them talking in the hallway, their wheelchairs side by side.
“The next time I ran into your mom, she stopped me and said, ‘Oh, I want to apologize for being so mean to you earlier. You are always so nice to me, and I don’t know why I was so mean. Please forgive me.’
“I was flabbergasted…. She seemed so lucid, to remember her behavior, and to genuinely ask forgiveness. Of course I told her I didn’t take it personally, I knew she was having a difficult time, etc. And then she went back to being her usual cheerful self. She’s wheeling up and down the halls all the time now, smiling at everyone, and going into people’s rooms to talk with them.”
What amazed me about this is that I don’t ever remember Mom acknowledging her own meanness, and there was plenty of it over the years. She’s always related on a superficial level, at least with me. She’s always given the appearance of being in control of her emotions. When I told a friend about this, she said maybe it’s too painful for my mother to be in touch with her feelings, so she’s always coped with this superficial personality. I think there’s some truth to that. When I was growing up, she was always either extremely cheerful or bitingly critical, nothing in between. (I think I have those same tendencies, and have to work on just being real.) Her father was overly strict, and I even suspect he might have abused her, as he did me, when I was very young. The sins of the fathers….
Anyway, I found Mom in the hall near her room and we went into her room to visit. I took her some cookies from MacAllister’s Deli (her favorite) which she gobbled up, and a pretty “suncatcher” which I attached to her window. She pointed to things in her room, like the calendar on the wall, and said, “I’ve been writing down some dates and trying to get things in order.” Then she pointed to a stack of newspapers on her tray and said, “And I’ve been doing some reading… you know—to understand the directions about where to go and when and all that.”
After a few minutes, Marzelle found us and asked Mom if she wanted to show me how much progress she’s making with her walking. She brought the walker into the room and helped Mom to her feet. Out in the hall, she took a few steps (see photo) and then pushed the walker away and said, “Someone else can have a turn now.” She started to walk on her own (which her hip can’t sustain yet) and Marzelle caught her and put her hands back on the walker.
“I can walk whenver I want to!” Mom exclaimed. She still has no idea that she broke her hip or needs help.
“My computer is broken,” I finally understand him to say, as he and Mom and I are visiting in the hall near the door to his room, which is full of books, a TV, desk, computer and lots of photos of him with friends. It saddens me that he’s stuck in a nursing home, his mind trapped in a body that won’t work. I always try to visit with Charles each time I’m there.
Mom starts waving her hands around in the air, and then points with her index finger as though she’s pushing an imaginary keyboard and says, “Well, when you get old like us, you just have to keep pushing all the buttons until one works.” Charles and I exchanged looks, smiled, and then broke out laughing. You just have to laugh.
“Those doors are probably locked, which is fine with me. I don’t want to buy anything today.”
“What do you buy in there, Mom?”
“Oh… sometimes there’s coffee, but they’re still working on that part….” And then she looks at her hands and points to her fingernails and adds, “And I’ve been trying to get them all even but I don’t want to paint them right now so I keep telling them just to keep them even.” Her nails are a nice length, obviously clipped and filed recently. Her hair is shoulder-length, for the first time in probably about fifty years. The beautician at the nursing home will cut and perm Mom’s hair, if she will let her.
“Your hair looks pretty, Mom. Have you decided not to get it cut any more?”
About then the Director of Social Services and another woman who works in the front office come out onto the patio for a smoke. They are sitting on a bench near the back side of the patio, and Mom starts “paddling” (making the wheelchair go with her feet) towards them, so I follow along beside her.
“Hi!” Mom says.
“Hi Miss Effie,” they reply.
“This is my daughter.” Of course they already know me, since I’ve been there almost weekly for the past three months. “She doesn’t come to see me very often.” My inner child wants to say, “Oh, yes I do, Mom! I’m a Good Daughter!” But I just smile and we keep moving.
A group of residents has gathered around a nearby table with the perky recreational director bringing in a short basketball goal and ball and starts getting some of them to play.
“Do you want to go and visit with them, Mom?” I ask.
“Oh, no. They’re always here. Let’s go back inside.”
We enter the lobby and Mom says, “Let’s go down this way.” So I go along with her to the transitional care unit, where the physical therapy room is. On the way down the hall she looks into every room, waving and speaking to everyone. In one room a woman about my age is standing beside her mother’s bed and Mom wheels into the doorway so I follow. The woman has something wrong with her legs and can’t walk, but her mind is clear, so I introduce Mom and me and she and her daughter do the same. Then the woman asks, “How long have you been here?”
Mom stares blankly, so I answer for her, “Mom came here on November 15, after two hip surgeries. Before that, she lived at Ridgeland Pointe Assisted Living for about three years.”
With that answer, Mom touches my arm and says, “But I’ve been knowing her all her life.”
We visit a few minutes, then head up to the front lobby, where there’s a nice view of the park next door with the huge pine trees. Mom wheels up beside a couch, so I sit on the couch, and she hands me a copy of a glossy home decorating magazine and says, “Here, I think you might enjoy this. If you’re ready for bed, you can just take it with you to your room. Are you tired?”
“No, Mom, I’m fine. I just want to visit with you for a while.”
“Well, I need to go down the hall and check on something. You just rest here with your magazine and I’ll see you later.” With that she turned and headed away from me, down the hall towards her room. I got up and watched her, as she stopped to talk with people along the way, and looked into the dining room, where coffee and donuts would be served at 3 p.m. I realized then that she had just brought me into her new world. I had become another resident there. One who might enjoy a magazine, or might need a nap. My eyes filled with tears, and I realized that it might not be long before she wouldn’t know me at all when I arrive for a visit. So I hurry after her and give her a hug and kiss and say, “Bye, Mom. I’ve got to go now. I’ll be back soon!”
In the past, whenever I would be leaving her, she would protest a bit, saying, “Oh, do you have to go already?” But this time, she just waved her hand in the air and said, “I’ll see you in a little while. I’ve got to take care of something else right now.” And there she was, off to try and figure out how to push the right buttons….
[Note: If you haven’t been following my posts about my mom, these are the links to most of the ones I’ve written in the past year or so. Just click on the title that interests you to read the post. Then close it and return to the current post to continue. Thanks for reading!]
Bingo December 2008
If Mama Ain’t Happy November 2008
HER Mother’s Keeper October 2008
My Mother’s Keeper October 2008
Unhappy Chairs September 2008