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.


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.


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?


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.

Community · Uncategorized

Valentine’s Day. We’re doing it wrong.

Heart of Stone

My younger son went to the semi-formal with friends a few weeks ago. They dressed up, no dates, and had a great time dancing their asses off. There’s video. I’m not sharing.

My older son, who has a girlfriend, opted not to go. Their attitude was “been there, done that, thank you, next.” Since he is a senior, I’m guessing they’ll be more interested in prom when the time comes. I like that they made their own choices and that didn’t feel pressure to go or not to go.

I have always really hated Valentine’s Day because there is so much pressure and I see people all over beat themselves up for being alone from middle school onward. There was always so much drama over whether we would get a carnation from the right boy, even we even got on at all, and heaven help the ones who got one from the wrong boy.

As an adult, when I worked in the city, I used to see all these guys on their lunch breaks scrambling in CVS for a last minute card or a tacky pink stuffed animal. Why bother?

And then there are the folks spending a first Valentine’s Day alone after a break up. How hard that must be, and how it must seem that everyone else in the world is partnered up, even though that’s far from the truth. Torture by Hallmark holiday. So not fair.

For those of us who do have a partner, even going out to dinner with everyone else in the world creates unwanted pressure. If things aren’t perfect the occasion seems like an awful portent.

I don’t think I’ve ever really celebrated Valentine’s day. I’ve never been a really romantic person, and to start now would just make both of us laugh.

I don’t really regret my decision, but I wish now that I was able to make it fun for my kids when they were little like I’m able do with Christmas. I slogged it out year after year getting the kids to write out paper valentines for each of their classmates. They resented it, I resented it. They would come home with the little cartoonish cards or stickers from their classmates in a bag or a box and never look at them again. One year I even created handmade cards for 60 kids, but I never did anything for my boys at home. I should have. Whoever created “Galentine’s Day” and “Palentine’s Day” had the right idea (this is the first year I’ve heard of either), but they should all be on the same day.

Someone at this high school had the right idea. It’s fun, it’s inclusive and a little mysterious. More of this kind of thing, please.

My generation had to have a date to go to the Prom and there was so much drama and heartbreak and pressure around it. I’m so glad my kids are able to go with friends and just have fun. That’s the way Valentine’s Day should be.


I Need a Word

I find myself in need of a word to describe the almost tangible feeling that I really should be in a different time or place than I actually am depending on things like the season, the feel of the air, or sometimes the time of day. It goes beyond nostalgia, even though that’s certainly part of it. If you are watching The Man in the High Castle, it feels a little like that alternate life, complete with memories that feel immediate.

Some examples:

Both our our kids were adopted at the same time of year, two years apart. We did our first trips for each child in March, and the trip to finalize each adoption was taken in late April. We were back home in Boston with T on May 1, and with P on May 5. For years afterward, when the light would really start to change, and there was the smallest hint of warmth in the air in very early spring, my husband and I would feel like we should be packing for St. Petersburg again. It took years for that feeling to dissipate.

Every September, probably really starting in late August, I feel this incredible pull to be on a college campus again. There is an enormous hole in my life because I am not taking a class, or teaching a class, or a part of a learning community. I think I first noticed this the year I took a couple of classes at Boston College. Walking around campus, I really felt like I belonged; not at BC specifically, but in an academic setting. That was over 20 years ago. I never did get to pursue a Ph.D. and I didn’t get to stay in the dream job that I had on a smaller campus (long, ugly story), so there’s that pull, mixed with tremendous resentment and regret.

More recently, I have been experiencing the certainty that if I stepped out of my house and got into my car, I really should be driving around the town I grew up in and the town where my grandparents lived instead of where I actually live, several hundred miles away.

The view from my grandparents’ place, Branford, CT, sometime in the 70s.

This is a weird one. I don’t really want to live in my old hometown anymore and most of my friends and cousins are no longer in the area. I’m constantly grateful I am not living surrounded by people who knew me when I was a teenager. There’s really nothing left for me there. I couldn’t afford it now, and with the exception of my senior year, my time there wasn’t that great (this is more about where my family was emotionally than anything to do with the town). What is the draw?

I wonder the extent to which the draw is regret. I suppose this is related to my cousin’s death a few weeks ago, and that visceral feeling of reaching out for a person slipping away from you too soon. My mother’s family went their separate ways after my grandmother died. I regret that we all lost touch for so long. I regret decisions our parents made, actions that my generation had no say in, and so many of us were left adrift without our anchors. After twenty years, I had only gotten to know my cousin again at her father’s funeral. As we always do, I assumed there would be other occasions to connect.

I wonder too, if the “should haves” in my life have that much power over me, that I can feel them physically, as sing posts, or perhaps even roadblocks. It is a question for therapy, when I’m finally able to start. My life is pretty good but the should haves in my life are enormous. How do I continue to make something meaningful and satisfying out of the path I did take?

Life on the Island · Uncategorized · Writing Life

Procrastibaking, So There!

It’s 3º. The high today was 5º. It snowed and slushed for the better part of yesterday and then it all froze. Walking is treacherous. If it wasn’t already Martin Luther King Day, school would likely be cancelled. Post-holiday winter is here.

For my friends in upstate NY, the upper-Midwest and Canada, I realize this is nothing. Honestly, I thought I was going to be one of those crusty curmudgeonly types who retired in Maine, but now I am undone by single degree weather and the howling wind.

Apple Walnut Bread

I can’t imagine commuting the way I used to right now. I worked mostly at home for so many years that it’s hard to remember what that’s like. I used to enjoy the commute. And the commuter rail used to be reasonably reliable. Now I don’t have the stamina for two hours door-to-door, a full day of work, and then another two hours for the journey home.

I can’t really do fourteen-hour days anymore, though I really do miss being in an office, being part of a team. I haven’t settled into a routine of my own as of yet. It is the hardest part of having ADD; routines don’t really stick.

Every so often, L will ask me how I’m feeling. After multiple trips to the hospital this summer and fall, he is now always on the lookout. Generally speaking, although the cold takes my breath away, I have been doing pretty well. The problem is though, I haven’t been doing very much.

I’ve been sleeping a lot. Whether that’s physical, or depression-related, or I just don’t want to get out of my warm bed, it’s hard to say. My days these past few weeks have been starting around 10 AM, unless I have a specific appointment. I have been reading a lot, which I guess is a good thing. I’ve been making a real attempt to set the phone / social media aside for most of the morning and read a real, physical, book.

I need to be writing more. I need to pick a direction and get moving. I have had the germ of a novel simmering in the back of my head for years, but it is really not going anywhere. I’ve had this eternal problem with it; the setting is more real in my head than the characters because the characters are based on real people and I’m afraid of them being too recognizable. I may just need to discard the whole thing and move on to what I thought would be my second project. Maybe I’ll come back to it when I get better at inventing people.

The rest of my days are often filled with managing medical appointments and chasing after prescriptions (which really should not be this hard to manage, how do seniors do it?).

In the meantime I took advantage of the fact that this cold weather makes me want to cook. A friend calls it procrastibaking, which, it turns out, is a real thing. I made apple-walnut bread for the first time (yum!) and chocolate pecan pie, which has become the new favorite around here. I also made a thing I’ve always called coq au vin, but is really like a chicken stew with white wine instead of red. It doesn’t reduce the way I’d like in a slow cooker, so I’m not doing it that way again. Cooking does make me feel like I’ve accomplished something anyway.

Politics · Uncategorized

New Year, New Candidates, Same Stupid Sexism.

It’s been a little more than 48 hours since Elizabeth Warren announced that she was formally exploring a run for President in 2020, and already we are questioning whether she’s “likable” enough. Politico even ran a column asking if Warren could avoid the Hillary Problem. It then proceeded to run with every negative gendered stereotype ever ascribed to Warren, Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi; as a matter of inquiry, of course.

Courtesy of Warren.senate.gov

In the coming weeks, the media is going to want to talk about Warren’s Harvard salary, her Native American claim, the tone of her voice, and other nonsense, content-free “analysis.” Look for “But her DNA” to become the new “But her emails.”

In a few months, we can expect the same kinds of reporting about Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and maybe even Amy Klobuchar. Because the media has learned nothing from their role in the 2016 election.

We are still rehashing what went wrong in 2016. It comes up every time there is movement from Special Prosecutor Mueller’s office. As the conspiracy picture slowly becomes more clear however, we still can’t absolve journalists and pundits of their malpractice when it came to covering Hillary Clinton. It continues today.

Former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook captured it perfectly on Twitter:

Elizabeth Warren has a rich and complicated history of policy advocacy. She is a professor and a politician. She has the rare ability to describe complex banking and other regulation to the average consumer or voter in terms those of us not educated in these practices can understand. How much of that will be covered in the coming months and how much will we instead be subjected to articles highlighting how people feel about her?

Regardless of what candidates we are covering or supporting, we should be talking, in whatever media available to us, about policy priorities. What are the various healthcare proposals? What will they take to implement? What steps can be taken to rein in campaign spending and lobbying corruption? How much public money is being spent on privatization efforts, and what are the returns to the taxpayers? How do we connect immediate action on climate change to economic prosperity? What are the plans for combatting gerrymandering and voter suppression?

Too much time in the news cycle is spent not on the details of a bill, or a regulation, but on how people react to what they have been told it means by the politicians. We spend so much time on poll numbers, slicing data to illustrate and emphasize a divided electorate, and not enough on describing what a proposal really means to the people in the real world. It’s not just the politicians who are disconnected, it’s the media too.

Look, those of us who write about politics love the horserace. But the horserace is the environment, it’s not valuable information.

Are you writing about a candidate? Examine your language. Have you described the candidate’s outfit, or hairdo, smile, or some other personal attribute that would never be mentioned about a male? Do you find yourself using adjectives that are generally reserved for women? Why? Are you writing serious political analysis, or a piece for the Styles section? What policy questions have you asked or researched?

It will be a long road to November, 2020. We cannot afford the outrageous detours of 2016. Let’s do better.


More Sparkle

Yesterday I got notification that this blog is a year old. I do actually remember setting everything up so that I would be ready to publish something on the first day of the 2018. I was really trying to make more time for writing in my life. I missed my old blog and wanted to start a new platform to reflect where I am now in middle age, instead of who I was as a relatively new mother. It’s just as well that I didn’t get the time to write very much at the beginning of the year. It turns out I’m not even the same person now that I was a year ago.

I’m not going to do the traditional rundown of the past year. Much of it was so awful, marked by personal sadness for me and cruelty in the larger world. I simply want to forget and move on. However, I’m choosing to look upon this year as a turning point, and it’s now my job to make sure that I keep moving in the direction that I want, first by defining it, and then by following it. I’m speaking here primarily of my career and what is to become of it, but there is also family and now my health to consider.

Hoping for More Sparkle.

I’m still looking for that thing that I can do to combat the attacks on our democracy that have occurred over the past few years. Illness has kept me from marching or protesting, but the best weapon I have are the words that I write. Trump’s win upended my faith in my own political analysis, and the speed of the destruction that his regime has wrought has made it hard to do what I used to be so good at – seeing the game a few steps ahead and predicting the next moves on the board.

Between the mid-term election results, the gradually increasing clarity about the connections among the Trump campaign, the Trump organization, Russian money laundering, and other mob ties, it feels possible that there will be an end to this. I’m starting to feel more comfortable writing about politics now. I just don’t have any platform other than this at the moment.

Tomorrow, L goes back to work and the boys go back to school. Tomorrow I have to start looking at my next career path, avenues for my writing, and get back on the road of being a “professional patient” for a while. My hope for 2019 for myself and any of my readers, is for projects worthy of your time and talents, and maybe even more sparkle to the coming year.

Community · Uncategorized

Relax, it’s All Done!

I have to say this was one of the better Christmases in recent memory. Several groups we typically exchanged gifts with agreed not to do gifts this year, cutting both the expense and the frantic shopping.

The boys got along reasonably well, even buying for each other for really the first time. There were no fights, no complaining.

I finished my Christmas Eve errands hours earlier than I usually do, and L stepped in to make cookies for the neighbors’ party so I didn’t have to scramble to get home in time to do it.

We all took the week off, though it is going by faster than I anticipated. Yesterday was crisp and cold, no higher than the freezing mark, but there was no wind so it wasn’t uncomfortable to go out and fill the bird feeders, and throw a stick for the dog.

Chickadees and doves and two kinds of woodpeckers swarmed the newly-filled feeders, perhaps gathering what they could before today’s rain. Later that night a pack of coyotes howled and yipped in the distance; their calls traveling easily through the thin, frigid air to our dog, who stood on alert for nearly an hour.

Today it is raining, and though, according to our weather station, it’s warmer, the winter damp can be paralyzing. I am fighting a cold, not a bad one; sore throat, congestion. However, I have pulled something in my shoulder, so even coughing hurts. It is a good excuse for a nap, and truly, I haven’t done much else.

Life right now is about managing my energy, trying not to run myself into the ground the way I used to. I was reading an article about how much of the emotional labor of the holidays falls on women, driven to perfection as so many of us are. When my nieces and nephews were small, I put a lot effort into finding the perfect personalized gift for each of them, running around from store to store and spending way too much money. I stopped being able to do that when I had kids of my own. Similarly, we used to travel all the way to Connecticut late on Christmas night after spending the evening with L’s extended family. A few years ago, we stopped doing any visits at all on Christmas Day and it’s been the best thing.

I realized the other day that this is why I keep my Christmas decorations up as long as I do. There are those who take their decorations down right after Christmas and put everything away. I don’t like to take things down until the “twelfth day” of Christmas because I don’t have time before Christmas to relax and enjoy the tree and the lights. Christmas morning, after all the presents have been opened, is when the season finally belongs to me and I want some time to enjoy it.