While the folks in New Orleans are still celebrating Mardi Gras (today is Lundi Gras and tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the final day of the Mardi Gras celebration) and Western Christians (mainly Catholics and Protestants) begin Lent the following day with Ash Wednesday, Orthodox Christians (like me) all over the world begin our Lenten journey today, with Clean Monday. We prepared for the launch of this season of spiritual renewal with last night’s service, “Forgiveness Vespers.” At the end of the litany of prayers, everyone present exchanged the kiss of peace, asking one another for forgiveness and responding with “God forgives and I forgive.” As we formed a line around the inside walls of the nave, exchanging hugs with our fellow parishioners, we stood together against enmity, jealousy, anger, pride, and everything else that often keeps us divided. We stood together for love, forgiveness, acceptance, and community. We did this not only for those of us present in the church last night, but for our families, our neighbors, our communities, and the world. It’s a powerful service.
Great Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, of drawing closer to God by removing some of the shackles that keep us away from Him, which is why fasting is part of the ascetic struggle. We also have many extra church services, and redouble our efforts with our personal prayers. All of this can feel overwhelming at times, and it’s often hard for me to approach it with a positive attitude. The fact that it happens as winter is slouching away and spring is arriving doesn’t help. Our non-Orthodox neighbors are outside firing up their grills and the aroma shouts “fun” while we’re fasting from meat. Spring break vacations and other events are scheduled and often conflict with the added church services. It all goes against the grain of our culture. And yet, I choose to participate, although I have in the past called my participation “Lent Lite.”
This year I’m calling my participation “Happy Lent.” I’m choosing to be happy. Matthew 6:17 instructs us to anoint our heads with oil and wash our faces when we are fasting, which pretty much means don’t make a show of it. Don’t look all sad and talk about your self-denial. I know some folks choose to go off social media during Lent, and that’s fine, but don’t tell everyone on Faceback that you’re doing it to be more spiritual. Drawing closer to God shouldn’t make us sad, and certainly shouldn’t cause us to shun the company of others, unless we have need of solitude for a period of time in order to take stock of ourselves. Even as I write these words I realize I can judge others who choose to do this, and that judging is wrong. We each have our own paths and may God bless us all in our struggle.
I just started reading two books (because I’m not sure I’m going to continue one of them) that don’t sound like “Happy Lent,” but I guess I’m searching for something. This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, a memoir by Daphne Merkin and The Dark Flood Rises, a novel by Margaret Drabble aren’t spiritual books. But they both talk about aspects of our humanness that I care deeply about—emotional health and care for the aging. I’ll post reviews if I finish either or both of them.
Meanwhile, I’m thankful today that our son was several blocks away from the nightmare that happened near his apartment in New Orleans on Saturday. A drunk driver ran his truck through a crowd at the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade injuring about thirty people. People who were celebrating life. Thankfully Jon and his friends weren’t close enough to get hurt, but the incident was jarring, so today he’s too concerned to ride his book the short two and a half miles to a friend’s house for a cookout. There are just a lot of crazy and irresponsible people in New Orleans right now, making the celebrations dangerous for those who are just finding some happiness in the festivities. May God protect him and others during these final two days.
I’m also thankful today for my first (FIVE STAR!) reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I don’t know the reviewer personally, but she asked for a copy of the book and offered to review it in a couple of newspapers and online. What a nice way to start Lent.
May God help all of us who are choosing to participate in Lent—at whatever level we are able and willing.
The waiting room at a cardiology imaging center is a microcosm of the medical world of Baby Boomers. This afternoon I spent three hours getting an echo cardiogram and a nuclear stress test. In between each phase of these tests, patients return to the “interior waiting room” (in our hospital gowns) to wait for the next part. Today the two men and four women in my group shared interesting stories and bonded in a way you wouldn’t expect strangers to bond in a three-hour period. Especially knowing that you’ll probably never see each other again. And although I was a bit anxious about having the tests done (because of an irregular EKG of unknown cause at my annual physical recently) my anxiety was lessened by the company of these men and women.
Most of us were in our sixties, although one woman must have been in her seventies since her grandchildren are in college or recent grads. But she looked so young. Sadly, her mother died of a heart attack at age 36, and she had her first one at age 40. She’s got stents in her heart, her legs, even her kidneys. Also a new-fangled pacemaker (dual chambers?) So she was used to having these tests and more (like cardiac caths). She had a beautiful smile (loved those dimples!) and was calm and cheerful all afternoon.
One of the men was nervous about whether or not he could do the treadmill test, since he had a hip replaced a couple of years ago. When he returned to the waiting room to tell us he aced it, we high-fived him like old friends.
The hot topic was the injection they give to stress your heart if you can’t do the treadmill test. My husband had this done about ten years ago and felt like he was dying—I guess he had a strong reaction to it. He claims they have quit using that drug, but I was scared to try it and was determined to do the treadmill test, although I have screws in my right ankle and haven’t done anything more stressful than the elliptical (no impact) or walking 5-6 miles a day in Paris last May, so I wasn’t sure how I would do. NO PROBLEM. Sure, my blood pressure got up to 180/something, and my pulse hit 160 (which they wanted it to) but my ankle never hurt and I wasn’t huffing and puffing too badly. More high-fives when I returned to the waiting room.
A 62-year-old black woman who looked ten years older and was too impaired to do a treadmill test was also anxious about the injection. She also has a pacemaker. The last time she had it she got nauseated and threw up, feeling like her heart was leaping out of her chest. Today’s experience for her was much milder, thank God. They must have changed the chemical they use.
The other gentleman also has metal in his foot and leg (like me) from falling out of a hunting blind and wasn’t sure he could do the treadmill. Another ace. Another high-five.
The last woman in our group was a bit overweight and unable to do the treadmill, but she weathered the injection fairly well, telling us that her blood pressure bottomed out and they had to deal with that, but otherwise, no problem.
I left three hours later greatly relieved (and feeling healthier than others in the group) although I won’t know what’s causing the irregular EKGs until some time next week. I’m always more anxious about the tests themselves than the results (I know that’s irrational but I’m a wimp) so for now I’m just glad this part is over. Next up? A colonoscopy this June. I’m three years overdue and finally getting my courage up. (I have done the FIT test every year for the past few years.) I’ve heard they’ve made the prep much easier (I threw up doing the prep last time, which was 13 years ago) so I’m getting ready to schedule this for early this summer. I don’t think the recovery room at the GI Center will be nearly as much fun….
There’s an excellent article in the November/December 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest called “How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing” by Grant Faulkner. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it the National Novel Writing Month that takes place each November. Participants sign up with a goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, or about 1,667 words a day. At the end of the 30 days, some people have actually completed a novel, and others have made a great start. I think it’s the discipline of writing for an extended period of time every day—and knowing that others are doing the same (like in an exercise class)—that encourages people to participate.
Faulkner’s article cites the importance of “practice” in order to excel, noting that most successful authors write thousands of words that end up being thrown away before ever publishing anything. I certainly did. So even the words you produce during NaNoWriMo don’t end up in a final product, at least you are writing in a disciplined manner. And the program includes “pep talks” from bestselling authors to each participant during the month.
Finding time to write is crucial for most writers who also have (1) day jobs and/or (2) children at home. Since I don’t have either of those commitments, and consider myself a full-time writer, time isn’t my problem. It’s how I choose to use my time that matters. And yes, I’ve been productive these past few years, and the work is paying off in the form of four published books coming out between January 2017 and spring of 2018, although two of those are anthologies I edited rather than books I wrote. So now I’m ready for another project, and I’ve decided to write another novel. This is so much harder than organizing and editing an anthology (at least for me) so I know I’m going to need some motivation. I’m not going to wait until November (NaNoWriMo month) but I am going to take some of their concepts to heart. Since I’ll be starting a book tour in just over a week, I won’t have an uninterrupted month until June, but on the days I set aside for writing, I plan to look at them as though they were part of that month. As though I had a deadline. One advantage, according to author Hugh Howey, who has participated in NaNoWriMo since 2009 with successful results, is this:
Piecing a novel together over a year or more, one paragraph at a time, with days and weeks off in between, does not produce the same quality for me as writing full-bore.
Writing full-bore. That’s how I need to approach this next novel. I really don’t want to spend six or more years on it (as I did with Cherry Bomb, when you count time off for my car wreck, and months spent querying agents and publishers, and revising with several different editors) and I hope that I’ve learned some things that will move the project along better this time. We’ll see….
This morning I’m reflecting a bit about the image of an iris on the cover of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. Sally Thomason, my neighbor, friend, and mentor, who has an essay in the collection, emailed me some information about the flower:
Iris was Zeus’ messenger who traveled to the underworld to gather water from the River Styx, the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (in Jungian and modern psychological understanding, between the conscious and the unconscious mind)—meaning that one must confront the unconscious demons in order to bring forth new or renewed life.
And this, from a book of symbols:
On a golden Japanese scree, the irises are perpetually alive, a vivid reminder of springtime’s renewal….the diverse exquisite hues of iris …represent the integration of all qualities in the Stone. Just as Iris heralded the approach of the gods, so, psychologically, the show of many colors [within the blossom] heralds the transcendent self in which the many facets of the personality, once opposing each other, are brought into a unity.
How wonderful that this meaningful image adorns a book about second bloomings, about women finding themselves as they move into (or continue in) the second half of their lives with newfound creativity, wisdom, and maturity. Most of these women have confronted demons (conscious or unconscious) in order to “bring forth new or renewed life.” They have also discovered their “transcendent self” and have in many cases brought the many facets of the personality into a unity. What a perfect image for this book!
I looked up more about irises and loved what I found on the Teleflora page:
The iris’s mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow (the Greek word for iris), acted as the link between heaven and earth. It’s said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Irises became linked to the French monarchy during the Middle Ages, eventually being recognized as their national symbol, the fleur-de-lis.
It’s like icing on the cake that the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, since four of the contributors and I (the editor) all live in Memphis. Faith, valor, and wisdom. Yes, these women are models of these virtues, and I’m so proud to have them in this incredible book. The five of us (Tennessee authors) will be at Memphis Botanic Gardens(fitting, right?) for an afternoon (3 p.m.) reading and signing on March 26. I’m thinking I need a vase of irises for the punch table….
Four months ago today I queried University Press of Mississippi for an anthology I wanted to edit—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. They jumped on it and we signed a contract right away. They asked me to have the complete manuscript to them by April 1. Today I sent them the completed 73,984-word manuscript, with 26 essays by southern writers (women and men) from ten states: Alabama, Washington, DC, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. (I’m kind of proud that Tennessee has 8 contributors, the most from any state, with Alabama having 6 and Mississippi contributing 5.)
Putting this collection together was so much fun. Alan Lightman wrote the Foreword! The essays were so polished that my work as editor wasn’t difficult. I had a great time grouping them into sections with themes, finding quotes to go with each section, writing an essay myself, and writing the introduction. SNEAK PREVIEW: Here are the contributors. If you aren’t familiar with their work, just Google them, buy one of their books and get to know them. They’re all amazing writers. We even have a few poets in the group.
W. Ralph Eubanks
Patti Callahan Henry
Harrison Scott Key
Michael F. Smith
M. O. (Neal) Walsh
It’s gorgeous outside! I think I’ll go for a walk before heading out to dinner with a friend, followed by my first ever experience attending an opera—“Pirates of Penzance” is playing at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. Have a great weekend, everyone!
In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.
At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:
Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….
So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:
The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.
Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!
Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management. So how do I move forward?
Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.
I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!
Turner Classic Movie channel is playing old Oscar-winning movies leading up to this year’s Academy Awards. I’ve been recording some of them to watch, and this weekend I watched “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. I had never seen it and really enjoyed it. And I haven’t been able to get the theme song out of my head… I keep humming it and singing it over and over. Here’s a video showing the boys at the school where “Mr. Chips” teaches singing it in assembly, when Mr. Chip’s wife bursts forth enthusiastically to join them. And here are the lyrics:
Fill the World With Love
In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through
In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through
In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?
It’s not just the music that has captivated me; it’s the words. They reflect thoughts that have guided me for the past year or more as I put together the anthology, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, which releases on March 1. The essays in this collection reflect on the various stages of life—not only the “first and second halves” but all the in-betweens. Kind of like this song:
In the morning of my life… when the world is new, I ask God to help me be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love.
In the noontime of my life… I ask God for the same blessings.
And finally, in the evening of my life… I ask God if I have been those things—have I been brave and strong and true? Have I filled the world with love my whole life through? I think I may be somewhere between the noontime and the evening of my life. Maybe I’m in the afternoon?
This song from 1969—the year I graduated from high school—is a wonderful anthem for people of all ages and in all stages of life. If only we would all have it as our goal to fill the world with love. Or at least our marriages, families, neighbors, and communities.
I just finished reading my fifth book of 2017—Jim Dees’ wonderful memoir The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails (Nautilus Publishing, 2016).
Jim is perhaps best known as the MC for the radio show, “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour,” (since 2000) which is broadcast live on Thursday nights for about nine months of the year at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. The show features an author reading from a book, a featured musical performance, and the house band. I’ve been to several of these over the years, and I’ve always admired Dees’ humor and professionalism at the helm. So when I heard about his book, I had to have it. He inscribed it for me following the last show I attended, back on November 3 when Cassandra King was the author guest.
Four of the six blurbs on the back cover are from well-known authors who live in Oxford, including New York Times bestselling author Ace Atkins, who called the book “A truly unique reflection on a storied Southern town at a turning point.” And Jack Pendarvis says, “It’s funny, violent, serene and surprising—a living thing, like a tree.” Tom Franklin writes that it’s “a loving look at small-town life, journalism and politics… this is the book I’ve been waiting for.” And Beth Ann Fennelly says it “provides so much entertainment that we might not notice how much we’re learning. This is a thoroughly necessary book.”
I’ve spent enough time in Oxford to recognize many of the locals Dees writes about, and I came of age in the turbulent 1960s, so I’m right there with him as he delves into Oxford’s (and Mississippi and the country’s) history of racial unrest. Taking one year—1997—and one event—the controversy over the installation of a statue of William Faulkner outside Town Hall to commemorate his 100th birthday—Dees covers a multitude of famous (and infamous) people’s influence on the life of Oxford. The resulting saga reminds me of Forrest Gump, the way he tells a story within a larger story.
Drawing from his years as a reporter for the Oxford Eagle, Dees has a brilliant journalist’s eye for details, as well as an intuition about people that comes through in his interviews and reflections. I’m thrilled to have him among the 26 contributors to an anthology I’m editing right now—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). His essay, “Off the Deep End,” is a candid story of learning to overcome fear—first of the high dive, and later of “flinging himself at the universe as a writer.” His voice in the essay is unique and genuine, just as it is in The Statue and the Fury. BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about my body—specifically about learning to love it and care for it, as one would tend a garden.
In a similar vein, this morning I read Richard Rohr’s daily contemplation, “Stream of Consciousness.” Rohr leads us through a thought process that teaches us to reject bad thoughts (about ourselves) and to be gentle with our souls:
Imagine a river or stream. You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past. While the stream flows past your inner eye, I ask you to name each one of the “vessels” or thoughts floating by. For example, one of the boats could be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.” Or along comes the ship “objections to my spouse” or “I don’t do that well.” Every judgment that you pass is one of these boats. Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.
I do this all the time—I’m a worrier. Always have been. Even as a child worry frequently kept me up at night. I love Rohr’s imagery here… as those “ships” pass through my mind, I can choose to just let them float by. It’s interesting that he says first to give each one a name. Maybe naming our worrisome thoughts can help us let go of them. But it’s also important HOW we do this:
The point is to recognize thoughts and feelings and to say, “That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.” But do it very amiably. If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into our other relationships.
That’s not necessary. It’s not necessary for me to dwell on my weight gain and my struggles with food. It’s not necessary for me to dwell on issues with family members or friends that might be stressful. What a better approach to those distractions than trying to attack them, or putting ourselves down when we let them overcome us.
I have an appointment with a cardiologist today, because of an irregular EKG at my annual physical a couple of weeks ago. Of course I’ve been worried about it, but this morning’s contemplation is helping me let that ship sail on by. That doesn’t mean I won’t go to the doctor’s office and deal with it. It just means that I won’t let it derail me. It is what it is, and worrying about it won’t help. (Easy words to say… much harder to practice, at least for me.)
You know, I don’t just worry about negative things. I worry about good stuff, too! Like the exciting book tour I’m embarking on in March. Now that the books are getting published and the events are scheduled (both wonderful accomplishments to be proud of and excited about) my “worry wart” (what my dad used to call me) brain wants me to be anxious about those events. What if not many people show up? What if I’m too nervous to do a good job reading and talking about my books? What if I don’t sell enough books at the expensive venue I rented for one event? What if too many people show up in a small bookstore and there’s not room for them to sit? (Wouldn’t that be a wonderful problem?)
Sail on by, worry boats. I’ve got good things to focus on today. And a wonderful soul and body to care for.
Last week I received a copy of the 2017 Spring/Summer catalog from Mercer University Press. Although I had already seen a PDF of the page with my anthology on it, it was so exciting to see it in this prestigious collection—on the third page!
The catalog leads with Steve Oney’s A Man’s World: Portraits—A Gallery of Fighters, Creators, Actors, and Desperadoes. Sounds like a great book:
A Man’s World is a collection of 20 profiles of fascinating men by author and magazine writer Steve Oney, written over a 40-year period for various publications. As the catalog page says of Oney’s book:
… he realized early that he was interested in how men face challenges and cope with success—and failure…. His agent, an ardent feminist, urged him to collect the best of his article in a book. “A Man’s World” is the result.
Turn the page and you’ll see a collection of essays by Stephen Cory, editor of The Georgia Review—Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural.
And then your eyes will land on page 3: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be:
“A Second Blooming” is a collection of essays by twenty-one authors who are emerging from the chrysalis they built for their younger selves and transforming into the women they are meant to be. They are not all elders, but all have embraced the second half of their lives with a generative spirit.
The catalog continues with more wonderful books from Mercer University Press coming out this spring and summer. Click here to see the catalog… I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll want to buy!