Family · Health Care · Life on the Island · Uncategorized · Writing Life

Passing Time

Almost as simply as turning a calendar page, the air of summer has changed. The humidity has lessened here somewhat and a cool breeze foreshadows the coming autumn. This is as ever, a bittersweet time for me. I need the summer warmth and ease more than I used to, and I will be sorry to see it go.

August, already?

This school year will be a big one. T starts classes at the local community college in a couple of weeks. He is out of our tiny high school and into a much larger, more diverse arena. I hope that it will be good for him. P will be a Junior at the high school and starting to look at colleges as well.

I will try to make the most of my unemployed status. I have to get out of the house more this winter, and I need something new to work on. Ordinarily at this time of year, I’d be pining to take classes of my own. Of course since I am not working, no one is going to pay for me to go back to school. With all the medical bills, and tuition for T, loans for me are not an option.

I also seem to be going through something. It’s hard to tell whether it’s fatigue and depression or a true evolution, but I may be finally letting go of a career dream I’ve had for 20-plus years.

How do you know when to give up on a dream? I mean, it sounds so defeatist to say it like that, but I’m not sure that I really feel defeated anymore. I certainly did when my dream job was given to a less qualified man several years ago. It broke me. But I also knew that in the three months I had the job, I proved that I could do it and was very good at it. The hiring manager’s agenda had nothing to do with my qualifications or capabilities. I knew when I left though, that I would probably never get another shot, which is what broke my heart so completely.

That was over six years ago. When I think about it though, it still feels like yesterday in spite of since having had five years with a great manager and team, and lots of wonderful, creative challenges since. What’s different now is that I’m not sure I would apply for similar jobs anymore. I can’t yet tell if it’s because I’m tired of running up against an impenetrable wall or if I have truly moved on.

My lifelong interest in education and education policy also seems to be fading. I was on my local school board for 12 years and I loved it. For years I would independently dig in to the weeds of education policy and try to understand, without ever having held a teaching job, what made for a great school, teacher, classroom. I certainly still have my opinions, but I have noticed that our public school policies have gotten farther and farther away from what I might have considered ideal, The testing regime still lingers, charter schools have arguably made things worse overall, and it’s not a battle I have energy for or much interest in any longer.

Part of it, I think, is my age. I’m going to be 53 at the end of the summer. Assuming I make it, I will have outlived my father. When I was a child, no one could have predicted I’d live this long. Here, I am, way past expectations. The unexpected hiatus due to layoff and health problems has felt like a significant chapter closing. It has me asking; assuming I make it through transplant and regain my strength, what do I want to do with my “Book 2?”

For years I have wanted a job that involved less desk sitting, solitary heads-down work, more meeting, consulting and collaborating. Writing, of course, is none of the latter, but it might provide me with a little more variety than an office job. When I’m healthier, I want to do more travel, and I’m hoping that the things that I research and choose to write about will facilitate that. I’ve been dabbling a little, trying to figure out what the business of writing looks like, training I did not get in college. I have submitted a short story to a publication, and I’m looking to do more. I still am better at non-fiction than fiction, but I’m working on it.

Family · Uncategorized

Something to Celebrate!

Happily, we got out of town for a few days around Independence Day. It’s been hard to even think about celebrating this country lately because we are so far from the ideals we were founded on. It would have been awfully hard to watch our town’s traditional parade and the bonfire we have instead of fireworks. It would have been hard to go through these motions, the same as every other year, as if this year the country wasn’t burning down around us.

Thankfully, this year my husband’s family had a reunion. We rented a house in Vermont for 29 people. Only one person, one of my nephews in flight school, wasn’t able to make it.

L is the oldest of six and his family is scattered all over the country. Before we had kids of our own, we did a lot of traveling to where one brother or another was stationed, but with all of our kids getting older and having schedules of their own, it’s gotten harder and harder to get everyone together.

Ludlow, VT. Near Mt. Okemo, this house sleeps 30!

This reunion was two years in the planning. People far more organized than me took care of all the details. We travelled from all over the country, as far as Seattle and Mississippi to be together.

There were several times during our stay that I found myself close to tears of gratitude for having become a part of this family and that they were so loving and accepting. L and I have been married over 25 years and every so often it strikes me how lucky I am and how lucky our kids are to be a part of this clan. I can remember at one point sitting with many of them around the table thinking that this was the large, extended family I had always hoped for – the one for which I wrote stories played out in my childhood dollhouses. Here they were, in real life. I was surrounded by them.

There were twenty-nine of us and four dogs. Many of my nieces and nephews are now adults, starting lives of their own, scattered across even more states. One recently became a captain in the Air Force, another just bought a house and is expecting a child in November. One landed a killer first job in the office of her Senator. Two are starting college in the Fall.

Three generations watching old home movies.

There were old home movies that my sister-in-law had converted from the original film reels. I had heard about these, but never saw them. Apparently I somehow missed the ritual of showing them to each new significant other. L was never thrilled about them, so I didn’t pursue it back then. The clips went back to L’s first Christmases. Each new clip brought the next child, and through it all, my Mother-in-law was smiling. That, I think is what struck me the most.

For the most part, on that weekend, I forgot all about the politics of the day. I mean, we had a short conversation about my old bumpersticker and whether it meant that I was supporting Elizabeth Warren’s Presidential bid (currently, I’m team Kamala, though I love them both), but I was able to read, nap, talk to people about their lives, and mostly stay off Twitter. We watched Wimbledon matches instead of the news.

Two generations playing Cards against Humanity . I managed not to be too embarrassed in front of my kids.

We talked about going to see Ludlow’s fireworks. There’s just something magical about fireworks (not to mention, my eighteen year old son discovered he could buy them in Vermont; they are illegal in Massachusetts). When we looked into it, we realized we could see the show from the house we were in. It was wonderful because the little ones could watch in their pajamas and head off the bed when they were done.

There was cake!

We played games, several folks took hikes to the nearby river. There was cake. My youngest nephew, aged seven, followed my youngest son, seventeen, everywhere. P is not crazy about little kids, but he was remarkably patient.

My only complaint was the heat. Since the house is mainly rented by skiers in the winter, there was no air conditioning. There were a couple of nights I ended up sleeping downstairs on the couch because it was cooler. The heat may or may not have contributed to the short battle I had with Afib while I was there. I was a little embarrassed to be such a wreck in front of everybody, but of course they were wonderful. I managed to get myself back into normal rhythm, so there was no trip to the hospital. Later, one of my sisters-in-law told me that she was planning to take time off to come help me post-transplant. She lives on the other side of the country. I’m just floored. And indescribably grateful.

As it happened, we had plenty to celebrate this Independence Day, and it was so nice to focus on other people, their humor, and their gifts instead of my health and the politics of the day. It’s hard to remember when I’m worried about being sick, or about money, or about my teenagers, or the state of the world; but, of all the things I imagined for myself when I was younger, I got this wonderful family. And I get a few moments, every so often, to sit quietly and revel in it.

Now in my head, I know the time was made sweeter by the fact that we don’t see each other that often, but in my heart, I sure do wish they all were closer.

Community · Family · Uncategorized · Writing Life

A Memory of Geraniums

The smell of geraniums reminds me of my grandfather. He instilled a love of gardening in me and though I can’t match his work ethic when it comes to fertilizing and weeding, I have a reasonably successful vegetable garden and plenty of flower pots around the yard, including several geraniums.

They are available in many more colors now than they were in the 1970s. I remember the geraniums in my grandparents’ yard as solid red, and occasionally white, growing in a basket hung from the lamppost opposite a sign with the house’s number and a name, “Squaw Rock.” The name came from the large rock formation between the back yard and the beach and there is also another formation with the same name off the coast of a different part of town. Although Native/Indian names are common in the town and surrounding area, “Squaw” is now considered a slur and the name has vanished from the property as it stands today.

Squaw Rock in a Storm

Geraniums and salvia were part of my summers. The salvia was a treat because you could pull the red center part from the rest of the flower and suck a tiny drop of nectar from the end. These days the salvia I see at garden centers is mostly purple, and the geraniums can be peach or even a lavender.

My mother and I are not in frequent contact, but when we do talk, I have made a point about asking clarifying questions about some of the family lore. For instance, my parents both grew up in New Jersey, but stories made it sound as if my mother’s parents had grown up in Connecticut. Which is it?

My grandparents grew up in Connecticut. I believe my grandmother’s father founded the Congregational Church in their town (that’s another thing I’ll have to clarify). My grandfather worked on a farm there and the owner of the land had connections that led to a job for my grandfather on Wall Street. After the Crash, he was laid off and came back to a job at a manufacturing plant in his home town. He was bored and he hated it. He set about trying to find work back on Wall Street – during the Depression. He did find a job with a firm that sold odd lots (small orders) of stocks, moved back to New York, and eventually did quite well.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was a teacher. One summer she was taking some sort of certification classes at Yale. On the last day of the session she offered a classmate, Martha, a ride home in her Model T. Martha’s brother, my grandfather, was home for the weekend, and when he met Anne, my grandmother, he asked her on a date right then and there.

The house at 405 Stuyvesant in New Jersey

They eventually married and moved to an apartment in New York. They quickly had two sons, but when Anne was pregnant with their third child, my mother, the two of them decided that they needed more room. The story goes that my grandfather got on a train to New Jersey after work one day and rode until the train came to a stop where there were a lot of trees. He got off the train, walked around the town and picked out a house. He bought it without my grandmother ever seeing it first. They raised five children in that house through the war and beyond. They would often rent a house in the summer back in Connecticut.

As it happened, a couple of decades later, my father opened his business several blocks away on the same street in New Jersey. My mother would eventually meet him when she applied for a secretarial position there after a few years away at college.

I only have the barest details of our family history, but I have been increasingly drawn back to the towns in Connecticut where I grew up and where my grandparents had a house on the beach that is the biggest part of my summer memories. It started last winter with my uncle’s funeral, and intensified when his daughter died this past winter. I wrote about this pull earlier this year. I really can’t explain it, but a sense of place has always been important to me. Where you grow up has a huge impact on your identity, and your perspective.

I think about the books I’ve read that are based in the South, and how the climate and the culture are almost characters unto themselves. Surely, New England has some of that, in stories like Olive Kitteridge , set in Maine. But, Connecticut? What stories are there? I’m sure there are plenty, and I need to start somewhere.

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Summer Ahead

We went out for ice cream with our neighbors last night after supper. We drove out to the old Dairy Maid and waited in line with lots of flip-flopped teenagers brimming with the energy their youth and a warm summer night affords. I sat with my double-dip cone and watched them laugh and gossip and compare outfits and make plans. They had the whole summer ahead of them, and anything could happen.

I remember those days, when a new summer meant more freedom and movement and possibility. I can only think of one or two summers when something actually did happen; a first kiss/boyfriend, and, several years later, the job at the club which put me in the middle of everything. Yet there was the same excitement around the start of summer as there was around the start of school – just different crowds.

I’m always surprised at how quickly we race into summer. We’ve barely packed away the parkas before we’re in shorts and sandals. We gobble up the sun and the sand as soon as we can stand it. I can remember putting my feet in the Long Island Sound as early as April – cold, but still delicious.

I used to be a cold weather person. I thought I was going to be one of those tough old folks who retired in Maine. Not anymore. I keep looking at places like Finland and Denmark which are considered some of the happiest countries in the world, and I wonder how they do it with the extended winters and the long, grey weather with only vague hints of daylight.

I am determined this summer to appreciate as much of the light as I can. It really has an impact on my mood these days so I run out to the back yard any time the clouds part. I may sit and read or I might plant or weed something, but the point is to appreciate being outside. If I could hoard the sunlight for the coming winter, I would certainly do so.

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Dystopia

Orwell was just a little too early.

L and I started watching The Man in the High Castle last winter. Perhaps it says something about my emotional state that I was not ready to try this series, until after our 2018 election revealed a possible light at the end of the Trump tunnel.

We were five or six episodes into the series before I decided I really loved it. When we got through all the available shows, I started to miss it. If you are not familiar with it, the series begins with the premise that the Axis powers won the WWII and the United states had divided into Nazi and Japanese territory. It’s not a huge surprise that I’d be drawn to this. It’s got two elements that I seem to come back to in a story, regardless of what else I read; WWII and dystopia.

Before Trump was elected in 2016, back when I still believed that I knew how the political game would play out, before I started to clearly see how much mud and filth was brought to bear on the electoral playing field, I used to imagine what life and politics would be like in the event of a Trump victory. It was a experimental dystopia, though some of it was pretty clear from long-standing Republican policy priorities. In reality, the destruction of “normal” has been so much worse, and so much faster than I imagined. 

At this writing, in addition to the “Wag the Dog” moves the Trump regime appears to be undertaking aimed at Iran, another immigrant child has died in US custody, and even more tent cities are being ordered to house more children; several states have passed strict anti-abortion legislation intended to eventually make it to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Republicans who expressed reservations about Trump’s assertion that women who sought abortions should be punished, have tossed aside all such pretense now. The Georgia law leaves open the possibility that women who experience miscarriages could be investigated and potentially charged with murder, though experts differ on whether the law will really be used in this way. The same law demands the prosecution of women who travel out of state for abortion services and anyone who helps them, presumably with money or transport. Women in Georgia, it seems, are the property of the State. 

In addition to its own “heartbeat bill” Republicans in Ohio are seeking to ban private insurers from covering any abortion care including birth control pills and IUDs. The bill’s own sponsor is murky on the specifics of birth control methods and also believes that ectopic pregnancies can be replanted in the uterus. It really doesn’t matter. The point was never to get the science right, the point is to punish and trap women who have sex – whether they wanted that sex or not

We know you’re lying. Your lips are moving.

This is not even addressing the culture of constant lying that this regime perpetrates. It’s unreal. They will lie about big things, things that are easily fact checked, things that don’t matter. Even for those of us who are fairly well grounded in reality, facts, and research, it’s unsettling. And that too, is the point. If you are too confused to keep up, eventually, they figure, you’ll give up. It’s gotten to the point that, even if we had regime change tomorrow, it’s hard to know what kind of country we will have left.

Read that last sentence again. Now, I will tell you honestly that I hesitated several times before committing that sentence to print. Because in dystopias and authoritarian regimes, they go after critics eventually. Censorship and surveillance are part of the landscape. They are the lifeblood of governing by fear.

Every so often, it starts to look like we are coming to the end of this nightmare. Or at least the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning (Churchill in WWII). the next day there is some hold up or blockade that the Trump regime puts up to drag this out as long as possible. He’s currently floating the idea that he might serve more than two terms. It’s supposedly a joke, but what he’s doing is normalizing the idea for his followers with the hope that they will expect and demand it. It’s exhausting and bad for the country’s health.

Of course the point of most dystopian novels is the characters who find it within themselves to fight back, to disrupt the power grab. This was also the work of the Resistance/Maquis/Partisans in WWII.

If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in 1930s Germany; you’re doing it now. Health problems and the miasma of teenage uberdrama have kept me on the sidelines, but I am increasingly less satisfied there. Rebellion is in my nature. I’ve been trying to find my voice for the past year, and have bounced back and forth between keeping a watchful eye and guarding my mental and emotional health. This has bothered me since January, 2017 when I was too sick to go to the Women’s March in Boston. I was with them all in spirit, but it wasn’t the same.

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Not Today

Thirty years later, Arya Stark is the character I always wanted to be.

I didn’t really start reading fantasy novels until my senior year of high school and they kept me company well into my twenties – the very difficult years during and after college. There were plenty of heroes, but outside of The Mists of Avalon, I can’t recall a female main character that I admired or stuck with me.

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark

All along I figured that if I ever wrote a fantasy novel, it would be centered around a character who, in my day, would have been called a tomboy; who was a girl, but more interested in guy things and guy friends, was close to her father, lost him at a young age, as both Arya and I did, pushed her way to being trusted with a sword, and taught to fight. To look at her, you might not expect much, but she made a career out of surprising people.

I know there’s a tendency to dismiss fantasy as a genre. Years ago I had a co-worker who proclaimed that fantasy novels were just romance novels with names like Stavrin and Vayle. I was insulted, but he was not wrong. They are escapes, and they can be formulaic. I certainly didn’t know very many women who read them; but people were often surprised to hear I had played Dungeons and Dragons at one time. “Yes,” I would tell them, “and our Dungeon Master was a woman too!”

I gave up fantasy novels for years until, after grad school, I somehow stumbled on Game of Thrones, the first in the not yet completed Song of Ice and Fire series. I’m not sure what drew me in, but the fact that the author dared to kill off a major character in the first book surprised me so much that I kept on reading as new installments became available. I was thrilled that HBO had picked up on the series and I wondered how well it would do with what I expected to be a small audience. I had no idea it would be so popular.

I’m in my fifties now, my sword swinging opportunities long passed (I did get the opportunity to wield a sword in a shopping mall in Ottawa years ago. I was surprised by how good it felt). I’m not sure I’ll ever see a woman President, the women in the race today are struggling for media attention and the “likability” factor. I can remember the days at a company I worked for early in my career where any woman in a management position was either divorced or never married, and there are only a tiny percentage of women on corporate boards today, and we still don’t have equal pay. Our society continues to ratchet up the standards of parenting without much support for families. Every day there is a news item about another legislative assault on women’s reproductive health, and the Trump regime shows that women have not made as much progress as you would expect in thirty years.

So, I’m grateful for Arya; that young women might see themselves in her, even if they never want wield a sword. I’m grateful for this new generation of freshman women in the House of Representatives, even if I don’t always agree with them. I’m gratified by the efforts of the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March, and #TimesUp. I am excited about the possibilities of SuperMajority.

We’re not where I hoped we would be as a country, as a society. We’re not even where I thought we were five years ago. I no longer have the energy of an Arya, or an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I never dared as they have. I’m stunned by the pushback that strong women are still encountering, but I see them forge ahead nonetheless. I am hopeful.

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Renewal

In the week or so since I last posted here, the light and the temperatures have increased and I’m starting to feel a bit more whole. There have been more days when I don’t need to turn the heat up for a shower (we keep it ridiculously low throughout the winter making getting out of bed and out of the shower very uncomfortable). I got out to do some clean up the other day just to sit in the garden among the blooming hyacinths and inhale their generous fragrance.

Front Garden in Spring

I’ve actually fallen into a bit of a routine now. Reading with breakfast, a shower in late morning, errands or writing in the afternoon. The hours are still a bit off, I still wake up later than I would like and fall asleep later than I would like, but the sunlight is helping. A spectrum lamp I ordered in the Fall sits on my desk unopened. I never got out of bed or sat down to write during the winter at any hour when such a thing would be useful, but hopefully it will be there for me when the coming summer is over.

I don’t want to think about that just now. I know I mentally stretched out the existence of mild weather as much as I could last year, even as sweaters and fat socks once again became part of my wardrobe. The point was to get outside while I still could, before the cold air and the menacing wind made it difficult for me to breathe again. Any opportunity to notice the progression of Spring brings a smile to my face now. I got through the sluggishness of winter, and for that I am grateful.

Flowering trees are my favorite.

The warmer weather has made the idea of writing a story set at the beach a bit easier too. I’ve hit a snag, however, in discovering that the point of my story is not the main character’s relationship with a man in her life, past or present, but of the constant presence of the strong women she’s related to. This means that I have to build these characters out more and that the clattering of the plastic Scrabble tiles and the ticking of the banjo clock (two consistent sounds I have borrowed from my own childhood), as the aunts banter and bicker back and forth, will not be enough. They need to be fuller, more complete people, which means I’m going to have to be clearer about their experiences in life and get more specific about the times in which they came of age.

This is going to require some more research. I am very immersed in the history of WWII, but these women are more likely generationally associated with the years of the Viet Nam war, a time that I was too young to remember, and haven’t studied much, but was indeed tumultuous, and could include useful formative experiences for the aunts in my fictional family. I think I have to start outlining rather than free-forming it as I was expecting to be able to do.

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Come Spring

The dog was awakened this morning before 7:00 AM by a pair of deer walking in the woods behind our house. Whether he heard or smelled them remains a mystery to us because the woods are quite some distance from the house, and deer are largely silent creatures. The dog howled and barked up a storm; the deer remained indifferent, placidly searching for something to eat on the cusp of Spring. As they moved out of sight, the dog settled back down, but now the rest of us were all awake.

Stealthy Deer

Days like this I wish I was more of a morning person. I’d like to think I have a shot of having the house to myself in the wee hours, but as long as my eldest lives here, this will never be true. He is a very early riser, I will never beat him. As soon as he knows I am up he will come in to chat. In his eighteen years, he has not figured out that I don’t deal well with talk in the mornings.

In the years when I was commuting to Boston, I missed so much of the activity here on the island. When I would drive out to the highway, I’d think about the fishermen and the dock workers, and the people opening up their places of business. I missed so much of the community experience working in an office among the cubicles. Now that I am home and have the time, I am less interested in the community. It’s too cold to be out and about in the early morning without a real destination. I am too tired for the community to ask anything of me just now. I don’t get the local paper anymore, I’ve dropped out of all my committees, and this will be the first year in twenty that I am not going to Spring Town Meeting. I’ve become the hermit I once expected to be in my 20s. Now if I were writing productively, this would be a good thing.

So instead of people and projects marking the days, I have nature that I can see through my window. Surprisingly, there’s an awful lot of it, even in the winter. We’ve had coyote visitors, and the other day a fox crossed the street and bounded through our yard. We’ve had turkeys and a kestrel. I’m waiting to see an owl. Snowy owls winter in the area, and some of them are quite used to humans as long as we don’t get too close.

I’m taking the deer as another sign of Spring; mostly because I have not seen them all winter. I read somewhere that their stomachs adapt to the seasons – tolerating the leafless branches in winter and seeking softer fare in the warmer months. It’s still too early for leaves or even buds. We have had a few warmer days here and it is amazing how much lighter and happier I feel when I can sit outside even for a few minutes.

Now, at the end of the day, it’s raining as I write this and a local weather site I follow is suggesting that the patter at the windows is actually sleet. This is when I am glad to not have anywhere to go. I can stay in this evening and write.

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In Search of the Sacred

I wish we were better at secular ritual. I mean, we have them – weddings, graduations, some national holidays, but most of our rituals, including celebrations of life and death, are often tied up in various religious traditions.

A sacred space?

Our rituals used to be seasonal; tied to whatever was going on with the Earth and the skies at a given time – the first day of Spring, the longest and shortest days of the solstice, the planting, the harvest, and so on. Religion has so taken over these markers on the calendar that when you are without religion, it can make you feel adrift in other’s common experiences.

This has been on my mind this week as it was Ash Wednesday and every year I’m still startled by people who wear the ashes to work. I don’t come out of any proselytizing tradition, and to me religion is a private thing. I don’t really subscribe anymore anyway. I haven’t given anything up for Lent in years, and my reaction when it’s discussed like some universal, is pretty much the same one I had when my college classmates went to chapel without their parents dragging them – “Why would you do that if you didn’t have to?”  I often miss the ritual – the taking part in traditions with others. I haven’t found anything to replace them, but rituals are not going to make me a believer.

I miss the idea of the sacred. And yet the objects that we make sacred are strange when examined – bone fragments, a string of beads, plaster or plastic statues such as the one of Saint Joseph that I found buried upside-down in my yard. It was apparently put there by the previous owners who believed it would help to sell the house. I guess you could say it worked, but it was a particularly creepy find when I was trying to build a vegetable garden.  Are these objects sacred because they contain some spiritual essence of god or the universe, or have we humans decided to wear the cross or a crystal for a talisman, to ward off the evil eye?

There are myriad Biblical admonishments against idolatry, and yet, the Catholic Church would not be what it is without art. I think this is one of the reasons that other Christian denominations like to denounce Catholicism, but this is a line that the Church has long walked. We pray before a statue meant to represent a holy figure, not to it. But even then, sometimes miracles are said to be present in a statue that weeps, or bleeds, or materializes in unexpected places. All over Italy, artists and craftspeople performed their best work in honor of a God they believed in. You can feel the reverence when you enter these spaces, even if you are not yourself a believer.

As I watched friends and writers on social media prepare for the dance of decadence that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I remembered that this too has its roots in religion. I find myself wanting to know more about traditions that existed before Christianity came in and usurped everything.

And so; Lent. Giving up something for forty days never had much meaning to me. As a child, no real connection was made for me between this kind of discipline and closeness to God or any other experience of the sacred. It was, as so much of my experience of Catholic teaching, something you did without asking questions. At most, it meant Mac & Cheese on Fridays because my family didn’t eat much fish.

I guess envy those for whom it has meaning, like the rituals around Ramadan or the Jewish family celebration of Shabbat dinner. They are both community celebrations and meaningful commitments.

I am not looking for someone else, or something else to worship. I guess what I am looking for can best be described as connection or culture. That feeling of being grounded and the confidence that goes with it. Recently one of my sons was asking me about family traditions that made him who he was. Beyond making malasadas while we decorated the Christmas tree, we both drew a blank. Although we attended an Episcopal church regularly when the boys were small, I was feeling increasingly disconnected from any faith. My husband, also raised Catholic was even less of a believer than I, and so there was no reinforcement of teachings or practice at home. Church gave the boys a familiarity with Bible stories, and a patient community who welcomed them, both of my goals, but probably no long term belief to identify with.

This sounds so cliché, but the closest I’ve come to that feeling of the sacred is the twenty minutes or so of calm and serenity I feel after a yoga practice. This is hard to explain since I am neither experienced with yoga or very good at it. It was a real surprise the first time I noticed it, but it was pretty consistent while I was going to yoga classes. I need to go back, but in my current state of health, I’m not sure I can keep up.

What helps you feel grounded and safe?

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Winter’s Discontents

Probably the last picture I have of my father and me together. This was his 50th birthday.

The afternoon light is lasting visibly longer now, though winter stubbornly remains. February yields to March only after a twelve-hour snowfall, and more is predicted on and off for the next few days. As I drove home from yet another doctor’s appointment yesterday, the air was heavy with snow that had yet to fall, and I had the rare occasion to spot both a snowy owl and some kind of hawk, their sightings a special gift of the bare trees of winter. It is, I grudgingly admit, not all bad.

Today is my father’s birthday. It closes out what has traditionally been my darkest month of the year for decades now. My father would be in his 90s, but he died nearly forty years ago this month at the same age I am now. I know that the arc of what might have been changed that day. His passing was the first in a series of big endings that would happen in the next few years. I know my life would have been different, but I also sometimes wonder if I would have been more successful with his support; emotional, monetary, or otherwise.

This year is something of a marker for me; another ending. Health problems have pushed me out of a mildly successful career, and though I expect eventually to be healthy enough to work again, I’m not sure I want to return to exactly what I was doing. Learning design has changed a lot in recent years, largely for the better, but a lot of companies are simply looking for people to do software training which is not what I want to be doing anymore. Five years of working on management and diversity and inclusion learning and development have spoiled me for any kind of rote learning or simple practice exercises. I want to be doing videos, telling stories, helping people learn from their own experiences and responses. I need to do something that’s more creative and I’m not sure I want that to be a corporate endeavor.

So although this is an ending of sorts, I am also determined that it be a beginning as well. My challenge is finding a new launching point. Before I can get a foot in the door, I have to know what the right door is.

Since the Fall, I feel like I pared back everything I was doing. I stopped working, dropped out of the committees I was on in town. I’m really hesitant to take on anything new, because I’m afraid to commit to something I’ll lose either interest or energy for. I can get a few productive hours most days, but there are days I’m barely able to shower and get dressed. I can’t remember ever feeling like this before. This is a different kind of broken than I was when I lost my dream job more than five years ago, and I have a sinking feeling that not even something like that would interest me now.

Back in September, I asked my primary care doctor for an antidepressant prescription to help me combat the anxiety I’d been experiencing that I felt was causing my panic attacks. Soon after I started taking it, a lot of the circumstances that made me feel under siege started to resolve themselves. It’s hard for me to know how much the medication contributed to my feeling better and how much it was just the ups and downs of life.

I also asked for help in finding therapists in my area. I got a list of four, two of them look like they might be a good fit. I’m going to make some calls tomorrow. I’ve never had to do this before, actually I’ve never had the time between working and commuting, so I hope I can find someone to help me build myself back up.

I am determined to have that “second half” of life that my father didn’t get, and I want to put it to good use. I have some ideas about the kind of life I want to live post-transplant, and I want to know how to prepare that path.