It’s been a while. I plead flu, travel, a rambunctious grandson of not-quite-three, and life in general. Somehow, when people spoke of retirement, I had thought it would be both emptier of duties and more peaceful. (I was misinformed…)
I also had a birthday, in my favourite month: National Poetry Month. I’ve been reading & writing & thinking poetry since I was verrrrry small. Probably as long as I’ve been able to think — listening to the rhyme in song, the music in speech. Noticing that my Grandma Skidmore had a Southern lilt & cadence to her words, while my Grandmother Britton spoke with the clipped authority of her teaching background. Hearing in my adoptive family members — amahs & elderly sitters & ersatz aunts & uncles — the inflections of Việtnamese & French & Thai & poor white Oklahoma.
It’s probably my drug of choice, language: I can follow an unraveling skein of etymology as if it was a treasure map, leading somewhere magical. The derivation of a word, its connection to another, the threadlike hairs that bring one linguistic family into contact with another. How Indo-European & Aryan underlay both Sanskrit and English, to the infinite gain of everyone.
Now, I’m recovering slowly from a bad bout of flu — fever high enough to ‘sunburn’ me from the inside out! I haven’t had that happen since I was a little kid! And a cough to rattle windows. (No kidding: the car window rattled!) But despite the flu, and the cough, and snow on my actual birthday, I held my grandson for hours. And was able to baby my beloved son & DIL. AND I saw my favourite sister-in-law, who drove up w/ my brother-in-law just to be w/ us for my birthday. How cool is that??
My youngest sister & her son took me to Irish pub brunch, and we talked about BOOKS! And ideas! And the things that have excited me for decades — these long decades of work & play that are a map all around me. While I basked in how very lucky I am to be a writer, and have at least some words for love.
Missing two weeks of a blog is HUGE — entire lives come & go in the space of two weeks. My new grand-nephew was born on my birthday (what a present!!); a dear friend’s mother passed just before. The cycle of life is also the cycle of death, and we ignore this to our own loss. But like with meditation, & following the (mostly reliable) breath, we return to our focus. And the thing about being pretty sick — & thus fragile & tired — is that you have to prioritise. You have to remember what’s important. And it may well not be vacuuming! It may be, instead, making tea for the iced tea you need to push for fluids. It may be feeding the birds, so you can sit quietly in the breakfast room & watch them draw ribbons of colour through the air. The goldfinches are brilliant — new-minted.
But you can’t focus on loss. It’s not productive (which is not the same as grieving — that is necessary). You have to move forward, allowing things fall into a more proper hierarchy of importance: you fix food (we need to eat!). You make tea, or cappuccino. You watch the birds, and you smooth the sheets for a nap. You write thank-you notes to the wonderful folks who remembered your natal day, and remember your real focus. You reorient to what you have gained: a reminder you’re loved, the ephemeral nature of life, the beauty of birth.
And it’s enough. It’s absolutely enough. It just takes remembering. And a return of focus.
It’s National Poetry Month again! I adore National Poetry Month. For one thing, it’s April, and that’s my birthday month. So I get presents (which I also adore). But it’s also an entire month when I can talk about poetry, write about poetry, admit to loving it, and be totally nerdy about it. And no one bugs me. Well, not tooo much, at least.
This year I’m off to a slow start, as I ready for a trip to see the grandson, and try to leave the house in decent order for my sister, who’s dog/cat/house-sitting. Given that I would rather do almost anything than clean house, there was a lot of catch-up…
People often ask me why I love poetry, as if it was some kind of slightly perverse affliction. Usually I shrug & say ‘Why not?’ But since I’m among friends, I’ll confess: poetry has saved my life. More than once. And I mean that in the sincerest of ways.
When I have been as immured in the darkest of self-imposed prisons, when my life has seemed worthless & not worth continuing, some poet has always been there to lead me back to light. A lyric of a song — not only the music, but the words like a message; a mantra of a phrase; even the half-remembered lines from a dense graduate class… These have been signposts and maps and stars. I owe poets more than I can say. That’s why poetry.
I toyed with the idea of giving you some of my own poems, but decided instead to link to the amazing poetry of others. Some famous, others not-so. I’m beginning with a poet who is pretty well-known in schools, but never has achieved the popular appeal I’d like for him to know. Poet Robert Hayden, the first African American to be appointed as ‘consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress‘ — now known as the US Poet Laureate position — is one of my very favourite poets. I have a kind of fangirl/author crush on him. His poetry is both accessible and rewarding of deeper study. He seems a great poet to begin with.
Here’s his famous poem Those Winter Sundays. Enjoy!
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
I have a love-hate relationship with social media these days. One year I gave it up for Lent, and I should have just kept driving in that direction. It’s a time sink of the worst order — a veritable black hole. Not to mention how it saps energy! (And creativity…)
That’s the bad news.
The love part of the equation is keeping in touch w/ the lives of all my friends & family who are soooo far away. My sons — on on each coast. My DIL, with my east coast son. My grandson, with them half-way across the country. My BFF, on the other coast. A dear cousin who lives in Arizona, friends from my former job whom I never see anymore, since I don’t attend work conferences. Not to mention a sister in Texas (at least she comes up regularly!), HER bff (who has become a kind of sister), and more former students, beloved colleagues, et al.
There are also the dear friends I’ve made through FB: the aunt of a dear girlfriend. The friends of my sisters. Several folks I’ve never met who read this blog. Through FB & Twitter, I can pretend I’m visiting with them. I can see the new garden art one has put up, and even tune in to the music another just bought. I can catch a short clip of my grandson jumping down a fireman’s pole (!), as well as check in on the health of a girlfriend who’s ailing.
With Twitter, I can even find out what people I admire enormously (but will never be friends with) think about various things. I follow several writers, as well as other artists. It’s a great way to keep in touch with trending art. Or publications I like.
But lately? There have been even more downsides than usual to social media, particularly FB. Political campaigns, warring candidate groups, and general rudeness and downright hate have left me heartsore. Family who follow men with the worst of motives (as evinced from their own words), and a pervasive aura of hate that fills the political arena. Even the ‘good guys’ are being mean…There’s so very much hate. I end up sick at heart.
And then something happens. Like a dear friend asking if someone would like to visit with her; she needs to talk. And being able to message her immediately — the welcome distance of text vs the intimacy of a phone conversation. Without FB, I would never have realised she was hurting. I doubt she had the energy to email me.
So I’m torn. I wonder what you all — readers & friends — do when it all just gets too negative? I’m a firm believer in the voice of the universe: it will talk to you, if just pay attention. So, when a friend needs me, & it comes through on social media, I’m thinking I can’t do what I had intended, and just quit. Can I? There are people I love out there.
We’re all connected. Just like with FB, or Twitter. Or Instagram, or whatever. It’s just not electronic, and it’s not always visible. The angry woman who responded today to a post I made weeks ago? She’s connected via that hot line of anger. I strengthened that thread when I wrote her back, trying to answer her arguments (& her anger) with evidence & firm attention. We’re all connected through a vast web, and FB is just the most obvious portion of it. So maybe the answer isn’t whether to disengage from FB, but how to engage w/ the entire web in a more useful manner. One that doesn’t make me feel like a burnt-out bulb. One that somehow isn’t feeding into the darkness.
This is my mantra lately. I’m backing out of my ‘commitments’ to try to squeeze in some time just to think. The problem w/not working outside the home is that people assume you don’t work at all. They don’t see ‘everyday life’ as work. And maybe for others, it isn’t. But what I’m finding is that the way I do it? It is.
Part of it — for sure — is the whole ‘learning to be an elder’ thing. Learning what parts of what youngers ask of you is your rôle, is giving back. I have been blessed with so many generous elders & mentors, that I feel honour-bound to offer my own learning to those who feel it will help. But all of it takes time, which seems to compress — even though I’m no longer in an office.
For instance, I need order without to have order within. Which means if the house is in chaos, or even just messy, it makes me crazy. I want time for tea, and time to sit in the sun and time to remember my face, before I was born. Or so the Zen koan goes.
It’s not easy, as there are all kinds of demands that ought to be met. Ought: that word so often fatal to the inner life. I ought to call this person, ought to email this other person, ought to do what that person would like. And there are legitimate responsibilities, as well, like… Grocery shopping. Dry-cleaning. Laundry. Not to mention the occasional ‘should’: doc appointments, vet appointments. Pick up birdseed.
I’ve been calling foul on many of these plays lately. I’ve dropped the hourglass that is the sands of later life on the floor, and left the mess for another day. In other words? I’m learning to unwind. It’s late for me — I realise — but I’m not always a quick study. As the eldest child, I grew up ‘taking care of.’ Of my younger siblings, of the pets, of my room, later of the house, of my mother when she periodically had a meltdown. Counting suitcases when we traveled half-way around the world. Researching a car for her and then going to the dealer to bargain for it. Figuring out her finances.
And despite the title for this post, it’s not really ‘self vs others’; it just feels that way sometimes. Because each of us wants to be there for the people we love — family, friends, colleagues. The environment, the world. But without time to nurture our own fragile selves, we aren’t worth much in the way of comfort. Sure, we can run an errand. But not with true grace (well, I can’t!). We can ‘show up.’ And yet…
Showing up is hard, as well. Because who do you show up for? And here’s where I’m weighing in: show up for YOU, first. Show up for time alone, time spent feeding your inner artist. Or your inner yogi, or your inner whatever-it-is that comforts & contents you. Without a steady, balanced you, there’s no helping anyone else. A very long time ago, there was a song w/ a line I think is really all about Buddhism: if I love myself enough, loving you won’t be so rough.
Yup. That’s the truth of it all: show up for YOU. Love yourself enough to show up for all the important things. And the rest will follow. It may take some practice, but you can do this. Honest.