Plugged In = Gmail Offline

For the first time in more than two months, sitting down at my desk to write, I shut down my email. Which means I won’t hop back there to see if there’s something new, and then click Facebook real quick to see who liked my latest post, then back to email to answer a message or send one from my list to get done, then see if the library has the next book for book club and then check weather — will it ever rain? — and on to Amazon for Oxi-Brite to get stains out of doilies my grandmother crocheted before I send them to my sister.  And on and on, into that endless rabbit hole.

At the beginning of June, when I’d finished a major revision of the memoir and looked at all the weddings and gatherings and family time ahead, the week at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, a final trip as an Advisory Council member of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, I decided I was going to take until August 15 off.  Nine weeks with no internal obligation or commitment to writing.  I was going to take a vacation from writing.

I did and it was over last Monday.  The board member and friend and community member went back online last week, but the writer didn’t.  A few times during vacation, in the last three weeks when we were at the pond and looser than I’d been in a long time, David too, I’d see something — a cross hatch of ripples on the surface of the pond, the back lit silhouettes of ducks scurrying from Sam’s dog Quinoa as he jumped through shallow water towards them –and start to formulate the image in language, hold it in words, think about what it might lead to, a poem, an essay?

Then I would think, fuck it.  Why do I have to write everything down?  Could I just have these moments when some small particular pops out to grab a big chunk of world without trying to write it just right so others will see that too?

Last week I wondered about those thoughts, because when I sat down to write, my planned week back at work, I never shut off email, standard practice for me when I’m putting in my few hours a day of focused writing.  It helps keep me on track.  I wasn’t focused.  I wasn’t on track.  Talking with David I wondered if maybe I really was going to stop writing.  At least for a while longer.

“Not having to write everything down?  That’s what being on vacation is,” David said.  Of course.  Fuck it on vacation doesn’t equal fuck it forever.

Obviously.  I just wrote about the ripples and the ducks.

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Unplugged

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“This is the most unplugged I’ve been for a long time,” David said last night as we drove back to our house from our camp rental on Jenness Pond.  After three weeks of living on the water, mostly sleeping in a corner of the screened porch so that lying in bed at night I could look out on the overhanging maple and oak trees to the night sky beyond, and spending much of every day in the water or looking at the water, I knew just what he meant.

For the last three weeks it’s often been almost unbearably hot out in the world which continued to report the usual bad and distressing news.  On the water it’s been comfortably cool and when it got too hot, I got in the water.  When my periodic checks of the NYTimes website to stay updated on Trump missteps was too distressing I clicked off my phone, put it on the hutch on the porch and went outside.

There were stretches every day when I didn’t know where my phone was and didn’t care. There were days I didn’t open my computer.  There were many meals with many friends and lots of family eaten on the long porch table, watching the sun set over the pond. There was an unending supply of zucchini brought to the camp by visitors.  Emilio learned what a “dip” in the pond before bed is (a skinny one) and learned to jump off the swim raft, plunging deep and popping back up above the water with his eyes wide and blinking every time, as if he was just being born.  That was the big news of the week.

Now I’m on my porch at home, listening to geese chatter as they circle the farm ponds across the street.  There’s a breeze and late light on the horizon, the geese silhouetted as they circle the fields.  Tomorrow instead of waking up to water off the porch it will be the cows in the pasture.  But I may keep trying to lose track of my phone periodically. Unplugging  can be blissful.

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On Jenness Pond

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A small fish jumps from the water beside the dock and skips five times, like a flat stone, disappearing into the rushes that circle the pond, a green edging blushed with the copper of small flowers.

Dawn, no wind, thin shreds of mist floating a few feet above the water. When the sun breaks the horizon behind the trees to the east it colors the clouds which colors the water around the dock, a peach atmosphere.

A heron cuts across the view framed by the screened panels of the porch, barely clearing the water, great wings floating in their long, slow rhythm.

Light fills the sky and the hill across the pond brightens, a single tree near the top already golden, a beacon.

Wood plank rafts float in a curve that follows the shore, a long lane for swimming.  The water is warmer than the air for a change.  When I dip my foot in it feels like a hot tub.

A fragment of rainbow hangs over the trees on the far shore,  deepening as the morning comes on.

Swallows scan the surface of the pond for insects, twirling and swooping, touching down in quick spurts that send rings out into the barely rippled surface.

The clouds directly above begin to unthread and a rich blue shows through.

David and I sit at opposite ends of the table on the porch, writing.  A bald eagle flies by, scanning the length of the pond.

Evenings, a pair of nesting loons with two chicks float past the end of the dock, making a circuit on the pond, then scream and warble as dusk tightens.

Posted in Light, Outdoors, Water | 3 Comments

Dresses

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safe_image (1)Is it frivolous to have spent many many moments in the past few months discussing dresses to wear to weddings with my younger sister Meg?  Her daughter Amelia is getting married this weekend and her son Alex is getting married in October, and Dave, the middle son of our late sister Chris is getting married in two weeks.  There was also the wedding of my son-in-law’s brother this past weekend.  I’m officiating at two of the upcoming weddings, so there are mother-of-the-bride dresses to consider, officiant dresses, rehearsal dinner dresses, and wedding guest dresses.

Add to this the fact that Meg, Amelia and I have traded dresses at the last two family weddings, taking turns with each one.  Sort of like musical dresses, except no one is ever left without a dress.  At the last wedding we got a bridesmaid and mother-of-the-bride in on the swapping too.

That’s a lot of dresses.  So every time Meg and I are together we try on dresses from our closets (luckily we’re close enough in size that most everything fits), we buy dresses and compare, we look at dresses online.  Yesterday I got a text about the dress plan for this weekend just as I was headed in to Marshall’s to look for another dress.  Which I found.

To answer my opening question, no.  I don’t think spending mental energy and attention focusing on what dress to wear to which wedding is frivolous.  It’s a relief.  The world is a tough place to take in these days — a hate-mongering sociopath as a major candidate for President, constant reports of mass shootings and massacres and fatal shootings by police and against police, an attempted coup in Turkey, another too-young death of a friend, escalating climate change that may be a contributor to a dry enough summer that the farmer across the street is already putting out hay for the cows in the pasture where the grass has stopped growing.

The hard edges of life can’t be all we keep in focus.  People still fall in love and get married. People still have fun dressing up and usually look great when they do.  Having reasons to celebrate is a reason to celebrate itself.

Thinking and talking about and texting pictures of dresses back and forth with Meg is a happy thing to do and harmless.  Or maybe not completely harmless.  Maybe the dresses we’ve ordered and bought were made by women and children working in terrible conditions with inadequate compensation.  Do I have to think about that too?

Well, yes, but I can still enjoy myself, even if all those dresses keep stalking me on every page of the internet I open.

Celebration of life-affirming events puts good energy into the world, and right now the world can use all the good energy it can get.

Posted in Family | 2 Comments

What To Say

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Social media has been full of people struggling to find appropriate words for the anguish that rose in our guts last week.  So much loss, so much anger and mistrust, too many guns. What can any of us do?

Maybe instead of asking ourselves what to say, we should ask, what to read?  If you’re white and struggling with meaningful ways to respond to last week’s shootings, you could start by understanding how your skin color provides you with a privilege that’s probably invisible to you but that’s had a powerful influence on your life.

Read “White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” the 1989 article by Peggy McIntosh that has served as a seminal piece to help educate white people who strive to be allies with communities of color.  Doing ally work means understanding the ways in which whiteness has allowed you to move through the world with a freedom and lack of fear not available to people of color.

Then listen to the Code Switch podcast “Can We Talk About Whiteness” which includes an interview with Peggy McIntosh.  And while you’re there, subscribe to Code Switch, an excellent podcast that explores “race and identity, remixed.”  Keep the learning going.

Read two recent books that speak directly about the experience of being black in the United States, from both a woman and man’s point of view.  Citizen by Claudia Rankine is brilliant and startling, that she lives with so much overt racism everyday.  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is Coates’ letter to his son about the very real and often lethal danger that faces black boys and men in our country.

We all need to step closer to understanding how profoundly race affects people of color in the U.S.  Black lives matter.

 

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Youth

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As we moved in to summer I started crying, the light letting the sad memories in — how sick Chris was on the 4th of July last year, being in Humarock without Chris and thinking about what it’s like for her widower and sons to have that hole in their traditional family beach time, what it’s like for my parents.  But our family time in Humarock was also sweet, lots of family still gathered in a beautiful spot.

I don’t mind the crying.  It’s been balanced with the joy of having youth around me. Yesterday I sent Adrienne a chat and asked her to snap the kids for me through the day, happy enough just to see Emilio and Ava but knowing there was the bonus of two more children there over the weekend, adorable child video riches.  And I got to share those videos with the youngsters here, Melia and Mackenzie and a crew of their friends, of course not as young as the grandkids but still much younger than me, in lives that are still expanding and reaching out and full of energy and hope.

Not that I don’t reach out still, but more and more I’m content with what I know I love best.  Home, family, close friends, garden, time at my desk to write.  It’s not only me.  This is a researched phenomenon.  As people age, they more and more value time with a closer circle of people and experiences.  We’ve learned what we like and know there’s limited time left to enjoy it.  We get more careful about how to spend our time when there’s less of it to spend.

Being with our kids and grandkids is top of the list, always.  I realized this weekend David and I never mediate when we’re with our kids in spite of being regular mediators otherwise.  We don’t need it.

So my sad weekend was also a great weekend.  I love a full house, the crowd in the kitchen, the meals with multiple palates contributing to the taste, the conversations and laughing at stories, coffee and toast on the deck in morning sun, cocktails and beer on the porch in the evening. Now I have a line full of laundry, flags of the pleasure being with loved ones brings, soaking up the energy of youth

How lucky we are.

 

Posted in Family, Friends, Gardening, Grief, Home, Seasons | 4 Comments

Ready, Set, Write

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For me there is magic in writing with others.  A group of my poet friends and I gather every month (or try to make it every month) to generate poems together.  PoGens we call ourselves.  We each bring a poem by someone else to read, then offer a prompt.  I set my meditation timer for 10 minutes, we all write, and when the bell chimes we stop.  We go around and each read what we’ve written. Then we do it again.

At the end of the two hours we spend together there are 16 new poems in the world. During the sessions, themes and images and vibrations start to move among us and the writing deepens and builds.  Being in the physical presence of others who are writing creates an energy of its own that makes its way on to the page.  The opening poem and prompt light the fire, but the commitment to expression, and to sharing the process of expression, is what feeds the flames, what keeps us all burning.

This week I’m at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in a workshop led by Joan Wickersham, the author of The News From Spain and The Suicide Index.  If you haven’t read them, do so.  Her writing is honest, authentic, searing, tender and brilliant.

She’s also a terrific teacher and so far the week has been instructive, supportive, and magical.  The 10 of us in the workshop all have a piece that’s being critiqued by the group, and even when it’s not my piece being discussed I learn a lot.  What I learned from the group’s response to the beginning of my memoir, which I brought to be workshopped, was invaluable.

But most magical is the writing we’re doing together.  Joan gives us a reading every night which we discuss the next day.  Then she gives us a prompt and we write for 20 minutes. Like PoGens, after the writing we all share what has come out in those 20 minutes. Everyone in the group is a good writer so what’s been produced through the prompts has been predictably good.  And getting better.  The pieces we wrote this morning were excellent, every one of them.  The energy we create talking to each other about our writing, being honest with each other about the piece we’ve brought for critique, bending our heads together over paper for 20 minutes to respond to a prompt is pulling us all into our most creative and expressive selves.  Magic.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s chemistry and how being with others who’ve arranged their lives in order to spend a week in Provincetown, bending their heads over pads of paper to write about an object or a photograph or a memory allows us to write at our best.  We’re not alone. We’re not crazy.  We’re writers.

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