Traffic is Light

I'm trying not to whine these days. I'm trying really, really hard to look for joy. To maintain my optimism. To be cheer-filled and hopeful.

But. Ugh. It's so hard some days.

(Especially when you get an attack of diverticulitis in the middle of a global pandemic and have to take a 10-day course of TWO antibiotics and can't have even a sip of alcohol for the duration.) (Like . . . not a drop.)

So today?  I'm just gonna whine.  

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Here are three things I miss the most while self-isolating:

1 - My car.  This one surprises me.  But last weekend, I got into my car for the first time in almost two weeks to deliver some groceries to my Dad (I can't visit, but I can leave a grocery delivery).  I got in my car, checked to make sure I had my disinfecting wipes handy, buckled myself in, pressed the START button -- and cried.  I guess it's not my car that I miss so much, but the freedom it represents.  And how casually I used to just . . . hop in.  And take off for . . . anywhere.  I really, really miss that!

2 - The gym.  This one does not surprise me.  I'm working out every day here at home.  We have a little gym set up in our basement, and I go on long walks with JoJo every day, and thank-you-Adrienne for your yoga videos . . . but it's just not the same.  I miss the equipment and the energy and the discipline that comes with my gym. My phone still reminds me of my gym classes - "traffic is light" (no kidding) - which makes it worse.  I suppose I should just remove all those reminders. But I'm not quite ready to let go. (Sigh.)

3 - My art classes.  This one doesn't surprise me, either.  I don't NEED to have a class to be able to "art" -- and I have space all set up here at home to draw and paint and dabble to my heart's content.  But I miss the camaraderie of my classmate and friends.  And the structure of going to class and doing the "homework."  And I really miss the inspiration of my teacher's tutorials and assignments -- and the work everyone else is doing.  And you know what else?  I haven't painted a thing since my last art class.

(I'd include my local library, too . . . except I haven't missed it yet.  I'm still working through the stack of books I picked up the day before it closed. This might be the only time I've been happy about having all my "holds" become available at the same time.)

How about YOU?  What are you missing most right about now?

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Note: I almost didn't share this post today.  I thought long and hard about just trashing it . . . because I know the things on my list - and probably the things on many of your lists, too - are minor inconveniences in the life of a highly privileged person lucky enough to be self-isolating at home during the pandemic. I know there are people all over the world missing so very much more than trite things like their car, their gym, and their art classes right now.

But in the end, I decided to hit "publish" anyway.  I see this blog as another way for me to journal -- to capture and remember what the days are like for me.  And today?  This is where I am. 

In upcoming days, I'm planning to talk a lot more about comparative suffering (something I really learned about while going through cancer treatment), and also suggest a few ways we might be able to help others who are suffering through this pandemic without resources.

So.
Let's just take a breath, support each other (wherever we are) . . .  and collectively whine together!  


Not Unraveling . . . Yet

This morning . . . we have the sun rising on a new day.  And a pile of unruly blue knitting that is beginning to wear me out.

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It's the kind of pattern that leaves much to be desired in the construction-and-instruction department . . . and you can't really try the unruly thing on during the making . . . and I'm nearing the finish . . . and keeping my fingers crossed . . . that it all turns out in the blocking. 

But it's been decent and mindless pandemic knitting, so there is that.

Let's have a poem instead!

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The Cure
Albert Huffstickler

We think we get over things.
We don't get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to "get over" a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish,
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape
and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That's what we're looking for:
not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life
without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.

=========

April is National Poetry Month, and each year, in April, I celebrate poetry here on my blog.  Hoping to win over some converts to the beauty and peace and accessibility of poetry.  Sharing something that brings me joy.

Today's poem was published in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, 2017, Grayson Books, and edited by Phyllis Cole-Dar and Ruby R. Wilson.  Information about the author can be found here.

 


Trust Me

About this time twelve (!) years ago, I was beginning my very unnerving, frightening, and frustrating path toward an eventual cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen.  How could I have known then . . . that the emotions and feelings of those days would be back to haunt me twelve years later in the form of a global pandemic!

Yep.  

They're all there; the same emotional elements . . . 

  • Shock . . . learning that life really IS temporary -- and that none of us is guaranteed a future.  Or, at least, a future that we can control.
  • Denial . . . this can't really be happening; they must be wrong; let's get another opinion.
  • Living in a "trance" . . . going through the motions of life while adjusting enough to deal with the reality of the situation.
  • Freefall . . . losing life-as-we-knew-it -- and the comfort of thinking that we knew what the future would look like.
  • Living in limbo . . . because we really have no idea what will happen next, or when, or what it will look like AFTER; hoping there IS an AFTER.
  • Fear and anxiety . . . about being sick, about dying, about not knowing, about, well, EVERYTHING.
  • Accepting . . . what we're dealing with, focusing on the facts, taking action.

Cancer diagnosis.
Global pandemic.
More alike than different.

Twelve years ago, I was going through these feelings on my own, really.  Now . . . all those feelings and emotions are collective!  Rather than just me feeling those feels . . . well.  Right now we're ALL feeling them!

Oh! Oh! There's one more thing.

Hair!

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When I first got my cancer diagnosis, the first question out of my mouth was not (as you might expect) "Am I going to die?"  Oh, no!  It was, "Will I lose my hair?"  

And, yeah.  I did.  (Lose my hair.)

It was devastating.  Pre-cancer-Kym cared a lot about her hair.  (A LOT.)

But it didn't take me long to understand that my hair was not really all that important in the overall scheme of things.  Losing my hair to chemo freed me in ways I never could have imagined before my cancer diagnosis.  When my hair grew back, I embraced the silver.  I kept a low-key, simple-to-maintain style.  I threw away my round brush!  I didn't worry about my hair looking goofy when I rolled out of bed and went to the gym.  Sure.  My cowlicks still bugged me, and I got regular haircuts -- but I didn't stress over it anymore, y'know?

A lot of my friends are stressing about their hair right now -- with all the salons closed and our favorite stylists sidelined with the stay-at-home orders.  Maybe you are, too?  

I'm here to tell you . . . it'll be okay!  

Use this time as an opportunity to start growing out your silver.  (You won't believe how liberating it is.) Now's your chance to let your hair grow long enough to try a different style.  Or grow out your bangs.  Go natural.  Maybe you've always wondered if you could cut your own hair.  You could even try some crazy, temporary hair dye and try something off-the-charts different.  

Or you can just put a hat on!

It's just hair.  
And it turns out that hair . . . is just another something we think we can control.  It's sort of a physical embodiment of all those other feels we're feeling.  Something concrete . . . in the midst of all that heavier stuff like the limbo and the "trance" and the freefall and the fear and the anxiety.

Keep moving.  
Once we get to the AFTER - and we WILL get to the AFTER - we'll ALL look different.  We'll BE different.  Our hair.  Our attitudes.  Our compassion.  The way we deal with adversity.  The way we see the world.  The way we see EVERYTHING.

Trust me on that.

 


Just In Case You Lost Track

. . . it's Monday again.  Time to . . . 

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As usual, on Mondays I share a bit of this and a little of that.  Things I discovered over the weekend.

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"Some days there won't be a song in your heart.  Sing anyway."
        --- Emory Austin

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(One of my neighborhood swans . . . )

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Let's talk face masks, shall we?  

I've been busy sewing face masks using this pattern, but . . . I really don't like the fit all that much.  I've tweaked and fussed with it for a couple of weeks now, and I'm ready to try something new.  After much (probably too much) research, I'm planning to try these today instead.  (This one is simple to cut out and simple to sew.  Fewer steps AND it looks like a better fit.)

Can't find elastic?  (Because apparently elastic is the new toilet paper. . . ) The pattern I'm going to try today includes options for elastic OR ties.  I've also read about suggestions for elastic-substitutes, including using hair ties or cutting up old pairs of tights or pantyhose.  Looking for an easy and effective fabric for making ties?  Use knit fabric or cut up old t-shirts (the knit will roll up on itself and make a comfortable tie). 

Want to make masks but don't sew?  Here are some great tips for making no-sew face masks.

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Looking for a creative outlet to get you through your days?  

Artist Kim Bernard is providing a daily 15-minute art prompt.  These quick little "exercises" are simple, fun, and a nice way to keep focused on something other than the news.

And artist/author Keri Smith is posting an Exploration of the Day (not every day but most days?) to help us all pay more attention to the world around us -- especially now that we are isolated, afraid, and unfocused.

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Have you heard about the Mouse Book Club?  I discovered these little books last year when I was trying to use my phone less (after my "digital detox").  These miniature phone-sized books are perfect when you're looking for a portable diversion out in the world.  (I used to keep one in my wallet, and pull it out instead of my phone when I needed to "kill time.")  Now that I'm not going out in the world anymore, I find I need a phone-sized something (now more than ever) to keep me from looking at my phone.  Again. 

Check it out!  A great diversion -- AND a great way to sample those pieces of literature you've been meaning to read anyway.

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Lastly, I have a couple of things to share that may help you with your anxiety and general stress about what's going on in the world.

First, something quick to read -- a simple antidote to help with coronavirus anxiety.  It's not going to solve all your problems, of course.  But it might help you make it through the next moment.  And maybe the one after that.

And then, something that will take a little more time -- but worth it.

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And that's it for this Monday.

Be well.

 


Finding Solace

Yesterday, we enjoyed an absolutely perfect spring day here in my corner of the world.  There was sunshine and blue sky all day long.  It was warm enough to work out in my garden - did you hear that? in my garden! - without even a jacket.  It felt so good to pull out my little garden cart and pull on my garden gloves for a while!

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I spent two glorious hours cutting back dead stalks and ripping out dead grasses and pulling some incredibly vigorous weeds.  It was wonderful.  So good for my heart and my soul.

And for those two hours, I (almost) forgot about the rest of the world.  It felt surprisingly normal in my garden . . . where everything is doing just what it's supposed to do in the spring.  Emerging. Unfurling. Budding. Growing. Even blooming!  I was reminded that . . . 

Despite everything.
Spring is here.

I found solace working in my garden. A little reprieve from the bad news. A feeling of normalcy. A connection with nature. I could breathe out there. And dream of a future that looked beautiful.

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I'm sure I won't be able to get out in my garden every day (because Spring in Michigan. . . ), but I'm going to get out there whenever I possibly can.  I'm looking for moments of solace.  And I always find them in my garden.

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May your weekend be filled with peace, and may you find the solace you need.

Here's a poem to set you on your way. . . 

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blessing the boats
Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

==

Learn more about Lucille Clifton here.

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Neighborhood Joy

(Today's post features Really Bad Photos.)
(But it's a nice story all the same.)

In my neighborhood, our mailboxes are all out at the street at the end of our driveways.  That way, the mail deliverers can just drive up and pop the mail in our boxes, easy-peasy.  A lot of people have little garden beds around their mailbox posts, so in the spring and summer I like checking out the plantings to see what's blooming. (I often have to resist the urge to pull other people's weeds, but that's another story). It's a bit early for all that right now, though, so mostly I don't notice the mailboxes at this point in the season.

Anyway.

Last Saturday, I was out for a walk in my neighborhood with JoJo.

As we were walking, something brightly colored caught my eye.  Too early for blooms!  Turns out . . . it was a little painted rock at the base of a mailbox post.

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As we walked a little further, I noticed another . . . 

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I found painted rocks at the base of signposts, too. . .

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They weren't at every mailbox, nor were they at every post.  But there were enough of them that . . . I started looking!

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There was even one at the foundation of our neighborhood "landmark" (a big metal barn just down the road) . . . 

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I have no idea who placed these painted rocks, or if they're meant to be part of some activity for kids in the neighborhood, or a sort of Easter egg hunt maybe???  All I know . . . is that they brought me great joy as we walked!

I was kind of sad . . . that I hadn't noticed  a painted rock at the base of MY mailbox.  

But when I got to my corner, I caught a little flash of orange!

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We live on a corner, and have a city-installed brick retaining wall next to the sidewalk (which the snowplows hit every winter, so the city has to replace the bricks every spring) -- and there was a sweet little orange rock on the retaining wall.

I was SO excited to find it there!  A bright spot on my corner!

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I have no idea who is behind these bright and charming painted rocks in my neighborhood (probably a crafty mom cooped up with her kids and desperately looking for things to do. . . ), but they have been a wonderful sight on my walks!

These days, it's really all about the little things that brighten our days.  
(And especially unexpected painted rocks embellished with glitter and pipe cleaners!)


Now More Than Ever

"Without poetry, we lose our way."
    --- Joy Harjo, Current U.S. Poet Laureate

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And now it's April.  

Which means it's National Poetry Month.  Each year, I celebrate poetry here on my blog during the month of April.  Hoping to win over some converts to the beauty and peace and accessibility of poetry.  Sharing something that brings me joy.

This April . . . I'm thinking we really need poetry.
Now more than ever.

So come along with me this month and consider poetry as a way to find solace in dark times.

Let's start with this one.

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On How to Pick and Eat Poems
by Phyllis Cole-Dai

Stop whatever it is you're doing.
Come down from the attic.
Grab a bucket or basket and head for light.
That's where the best poems grow, and in the dappled dark.

Go slow.  Watch out for thorns and bears.
When you find a good bush, bow
to it, or take off your shoes.

Pluck. This poem. That poem. Any poem.
It should slip off the stem easy, just a little tickle.
No need to sniff first, judge the color, test the firmness --
you can only know it's ripe if you taste.

So put a poem upon your lips. Chew its pulp.
Let its juice spill over your tongue.
Let your reading of it teach you
what sort of creature you are
and the nature of the ground you walk upon.
Bring your whole life out loud to this one poem.
Eating one poem can save you, if you're hungry enough.

Take companions poem-picking when you can.
Visit wild and lovely and forgotten places, broken
and hidden and walled up spaces.  Reach into brambles,
stain your skin, mash words against your teeth, for love.
And always leave some poems within easy reach for
the next picker, in kinship with the unknown.

If ever you carry away more poems than you need,
go on home to your kitchen, and make good jam.
Don't be in a rush, they're sure to keep.
Some will even taste better with age,
a rich batch of preserves.

Store up the jars and jars of jam. Plenty for friends.
Plenty for the long, howling winter. Plenty for strangers.
Plenty for all the bread in this broken world.

==========

I hope you'll come poem-picking with me this month.
Let's make enough jam for all the bread in the broken world.

==========

Today's poem was published in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, 2017, Grayson Books, and edited by Phyllis Cole-Dar and Ruby R. Wilson.  Information about the author can be found here.


What a Month!

Oh, March!
Talk about going out like a lion!  
Let's end this very . . . trying . . . month with some thoughts on my One Little Word this year.

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I'll begin with a little trip down memory lane . . . to my 18th birthday . . . way back in 1977.

For my birthday that year (my senior year in high school), I received a gift (I think it was from my sister, although it might have been from my mom) that I had been coveting for some months.  It was what I called at the time . . . an "empty book" --   just a  plain bound book full of blank pages.  

I know that sounds silly these days -- because you can go to any brick-and-mortar book or stationery store - or anywhere online - and find dozens upon dozens of "empty books."  But back in 1977, you couldn't.  You could buy diaries (by year, and often with a lock) (and I did have a new one of those every year), but blank journals just weren't A Thing yet.  

When I first saw one (I think at our local Hallmark store), I was entranced!  I had to have it!

I still have it. . . 

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It's nearly full.  

I used it to collect "sayings" (as I called them then).  And poems.  I drew in it a bit.  Practiced calligraphy.  There are LOTS of song lyrics in there!  Sometimes friends wrote things they thought I might like in my "empty book" (with my permission).  Unfortnately, I didn't always attribute the "sayings" or poems to their authors.  And I didn't date any of my entries.  But I know I started right out in March 1977 . . . and put the book away about the same time I graduated from college.  (There are no dates, but just based on the types of things I was writing down, I can tell what was going on in my life:  new love, break-ups, betrayals, growing up, discovering my own life.)

Anyway.

Here's the first page . . . the very first things I captured in my "empty book" back in March 1977 . . . 

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Now.

Let's take a closer look at the sideways writing on the right-hand side of that page . . . 

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"Don't push the river . . . it flows by itself."

You can probably HEAR my kids rolling their eyes out there right this moment.  Because this has been a constant mantra in my life  . . . well . . . since 1977 (at least).  And my kids heard it PLENTY as they were going through rough patches in their lives growing up.  Although I didn't attribute the quote to anyone at all, it turns out it's from Frederick S. Perls, who is the father of Gestalt therapy.  (Who knew?)

When I chose FLOW as my word for 2020, my first thought was, of course, "don't push the river . . . it flows by itself."

Pretty much a lifetime mantra for me.
How could I have known that it would be more important than ever for me this year?

These March days have been all about me . . . trying to push the river.  Wanting to control things I can't control.  Worrying.  Stressing.  Struggling.

It's time to quit pushing.
And let it flow.

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What have you learned from your word this month?

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Also -- thank you so much for all the wonderful birthday wishes yesterday!  You all made my self-isolating, social-distancing birthday so much nicer!  (What would I do without this commUNITY???)  


Another Monday

. . . but this one has a bit of extra-cream.  (Because it's my birthday!)  Time to . . . 

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"Worry is like a rocking chair:  It gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere."
        --- Erma Bombeck

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I don't know about you, but I spend way too much time these days . . . rocking.  

I really need to GET OUT of the rocking chair.

Over the weekend, I discovered this great list of 20 Questions to Help with COVID-19 Anxiety put together by author Kathleen Smith.  (Her book is called Everything Isn't Terrible.)  (I haven't read it.)  (Maybe I should.)

Anyway, take a look at the list of questions.  Maybe they'll help you, too.

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Speaking of masks . . . 

This piece from the Washington Post provides a very interesting perspective on the wearing of masks in public . . . by everyone . . . in the time of coronavirus.  It makes a lot of sense.  Now I'm going to sit at my sewing machine later today and sew more masks!  (Maybe I'll even figure out a way to distribute them to my neighbors.  Because I'm willing to try just about anything to stop the spread of this thing.)

And another thing -- Alabama Chanin has turned to manufacturing healthcare masks (and no -- they are neither stenciled nor embellished).  You can support their efforts with a donation -- or you can order a batch for your family or community.

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If you're looking for something to listen to . . .  that won't make you feel more anxious than you already do . . . have I got a podcast for you!  Check out Brené Brown's new podcast Unlocking Us.  It is smart, interesting, and oh-so-soothing for your soul.  Highly, highly recommended.  

(If you listen, let me know what you think!)

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In the Did You Know department . . . Last week, the National Emergency Library opened!  This digital collection of 1.4 MILLION books (!) "supports emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed."

You can click on the link above to go directly to the library, or you can read about the library itself in this article from The New Yorker.

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And . . . that's it for me on this Monday!

Here's a parting thought for you. . . 

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Things look bleak . . . partly because they ARE bleak.  But also because we're looking at numbers without real context -- and most of us do not know how to interpret this kind of data.  Try not to get fixated on the numbers.  (This is what I tell myself when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Do.Not.Fixate.On.The.Numbers.)

Stay well.
Wash your hands.
Flatten the curve.


Solace

In uncertain times, I look for solace in beautiful things.  

Art.
Music.
Nature.
Words.  

Here is a poem I read this week that brought me comfort . . . and a reminder to live in mindful presence.

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Instructions
Sheri Hostetler

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find God in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your Absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
    what your heart beats loudly for
    what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

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May your weekend be filled with peace, and may you find the solace you need.