Mingus at the Showplace : Digesting Experience

I heard an excerpt of this poem on my favorite morning radio show this morning, during a report about the Poetry Foundation. I howled with laughter at the first line, and delighted in the words as they flowed on.


Mingus at the Showplace 


I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,
and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat


Read the rest of the poem here.
And I am so thankful that in the digital age, radio hasn’t died, and neither has poetry. Happy Wednesday, friends.

Poem : The Movement

The Movement 

I’ve never been able to cartwheel.
Even as a kid.
But since everything in my life is changing,
Upside down and backwards to how
I thought I would feel,
I figure,
I should do things differently.
Make changes.
Try, for once, to feel triumphant,
I did it!
I’ll stretch my body out.
Reach my hands to the firm ground.
Let my feet feel the wind,
the free-flowing sky.
Let my stomach muscles loosen
and my belly-button see daylight.
Because I am capable of movement.
I am capable of being moved.

Inspired By.

I feel compelled to say something.
I hope that my posts this week didn’t mislead you.
Let me explain.
I lost my mom less than three weeks ago, and yes, I feel totally different than I anticipated.
I hope that my motivation and my words and my thoughts didn’t lead you to believe anything other than that this grief is real. I’ll be honest with you, I’m getting the “you’re doing so great!” line a lot. Maybe that’s my fault. I’ve been giving the blanket, generic, “I’m doing fine” line, too. And I appreciate the support and encouragement. Really, I do.
Yes, I have newfound motivation for my morning routine when I expected to be unable to get out of bed. Yes, I am writing now more than ever when I expected my words to run dry. Yes, I am focused at work when I expected to be incapable of functioning. Yes, I am making plans and goals for the new year when I expected to be stagnant indefinitely.
But this difference that I feel in my everyday, in my faith, in my self, is downright befuddling. Confusing. Strange. Surreal. It is not a “great” or a “fine” or a word that denotes anything close to easy.
I’ve encountered something, and it has stolen my breath away. I sense the vastness of life, and it feels so much larger and deeper than before. And it is a terrifying magnificence that evokes wonder and awe and worship and shock and fear. Maybe something like the astronauts felt the first time they looked back to earth from the moon. Or how a mother feels at the peel of an infant cry in childbirth. Or how a diver feels when he happens upon the Lions Mane Jellyfish. It is all surreptitiously heartbreaking and beautiful. I feel grief, and also peace.
And I don’t get it.
But I do get it.
But I don’t.
And so really, all I want to tell you, is that should you survive loss, like most of us have to do at some point or other, don’t expect anything. Prepare yourself for the reality of life and death, but try to let nature run it’s course, not just in the person you are losing, but in you. Let life overwhelm you and change you. I hope that you get that part of it, at least.
Meantime, here is some good reading for the weekend.
What makes me feel beautiful : wine and words.
“The real question at the heart of Harry Potter is, Can love win? And it’s answered in Snape, the second cruelest person in the world, next to Voldemort, who is somehow transformed by love.” – Snape is my type of hero.
“Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.” Sound advice, no? House of Reps, are you reading this?
Oh, and this photo.

Morning: A New Routine.

I am not a morning person. When the alarm goes off at 6:15 my body feels like a dead weight. My ears don’t really hear it until 6:30. And the purpose behind that annoying jingle doesn’t really register in my brain until 6:45. And then the dread sets in : the effort of getting out of my warm bed, making myself presentable, going out in the cold, dealing with morning traffic, answering emails at work, doesn’t make sense from the comfort of my fetal position beneath a pile of blankets. To my shame, I have been known to sleep until 8 a.m.
The bright spot, the one motivating event of my every morning, was my phone chat with mom on the commute to work. I would climb into my car, put on my headset, dial her, pull out of my parking space, and before I reached the end of the lot and started on the road she would greet me with a cheerful,
“Good morning, my Bethy.”
As the months of 2011 waned on and cancer took its toll on her body, this routine changed. The cheer in her voice lost its color and vibrancy. Conversations grew shorter. And there were many mornings when instead of that phone call, I received another one from my dad or my grandmother saying that they were taking her to the hospital again. I let the depression settle into me, keep me in bed a little longer each morning, away from the world, away from work, away from writing and everything “wrong” with my life.
You can imagine how different my mornings feel now, to know that our routine is forever changed. No phone calls, no cheery chats. It would be all too easy to justify staying in bed permanently.
Yesterday I pondered words for 2011. Today I ponder words for the first weeks of 2012.


The one word that seems to fit for this time : 

C H A N G E .


2012 is my year to accept that change. To live with it, work with it, respond to it. I figure that since my mornings are fundamentally different now, why not roll with it? I know what my mother would do to me if she knew I was sleeping in and arriving late to work every day. I can’t dishonor her like that.
So I’m getting up early, when my alarm actually goes off… Okay, here’s a secret : I employed the help of my best friend, who has to be AT work at 7 a.m., to text me repeatedly until I answer her that I am out of bed. And I can’t lie to her, so I might as well actually get up when I say I am going to.
And from my bed I walk to the kitchen, where our shiny new french press awaits, and my bright yellow tea kettle sings hello, good morning, and I pour a mug for myself, mom’s mug.
From there the day begins. I’ve even allotted time to pack my lunch. And instead of dwelling in the silence of a morning commute without my mother, I call my grandmother; it doesn’t do to dwell in the loneliness.
So let the change I feel be the change I need in order to rise early and greet the day in a new way, with gratitude, with discipline, with determination.

Five Words for 2011

1. S A V O R :
The bittersweetness of this year taught me to savor every moment. Through it I learned to be intentional about making memories. Life is so rich with blessings, even when times are hard. I see the whole of 2011 in the memorable moments : trips to the beachlong drives to and from Chicagovisits from my brothersgood conversations and good music and city excursions and goodbyes and birthdays. Every moment is a gift; let yourself enjoy the present.
2. C R E A T E :
2011 taught me so much about creativity. For the first time in years, I allowed myself to explore poetry and the visual arts. And those things, which seemed so secondary to who I am, became lifelines for me. They steadied me in a way that I did not anticipate, and also gave me a freedom that I could not attain in my work life or family life. Once I began, the instinct and drive were a force that kept me moving forward. Creative drive is transformative when we allow it to be. In 2012 I fully intend on pursuing these things further.
3. C O N N E C T :
I’ve crossed paths with so many amazing people this year, almost all of them as a result of this blog. I always thought of writing as a solitary experience, but words are universal; they have a way of tying us to another in a spirit of truth and creativity. I branched out in a big way by meeting with some of them in person, and I’m excited to meet more of you in 2012. I met Ally and Darrell in September when they came to Chicago for the Story Conference and I guest posted for both of their blogs. And I met AbbyMelissa, and Jess at the Business in the City event in December.
And as for the friends I “virtually” connected with,
- Missy and I exchanged her book for one of my paintings and have been connecting online ever since
Sam and I discovered in one another twin bookish tastes (among many other similarities)
An old college friend and I bonded over shared experience with loss.
- And Brynna, Mandy, Helena, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Blane all shared their writing with me, too.
4. R E F L E C T :
I wrote a lot this year through journaling, poetry and blogging. I am so thankful I did, because now in my desperation to hold on to the blessings that seemed few and far between in 2011, I have written record of them. Scanning through my blog archives and the pages of my journal, I see now that the year was full of good things. My reflections in my writing then created an opportunity to reflect on them in the future, too. I can reflect on those for years to come and keep those moments alive in my memory.
5. F O C U S :
2011 was full of distractions. I didn’t pursue freelancing in the last six months because I needed time to be at home with my family. I didn’t pursue grad school for the same reason. I didn’t make any changes to my blog over Christmas break because I was at home spending time with my mom, too. If you want me to be really honest, it also affected my finances, my marriage, my friendship, and my office job.
And though for a long time it seemed that I was being plagued by all these inconveniences and injustices, I realized as time went on that it was, in fact, one really important thing helping me weed out all the other inconsequential things which distract me from what’s truly important.
2011 taught me to say “no” in order to say “yes.” It taught me to work, blog, write, relate, and create with intention. It taught me to see life in death. It focused my priorities.
I wonder what my words will be for 2012. I think enough has happened so far that I can come up with at least one word before the week is through. Stick around. And tell me, what are your words for 2011?

Back on the Blog.

I’ve been afraid to start this, unsure that the words would come, unsure that if the words came that they would adequately touch the depth of this experience. But as with all forms and subjects for writing, the important part is to begin.
My mother died on a snowy Monday morning two weeks ago. We missed her by minutes. I slept fitfully in a recliner in her hospice room all night prior, counting seconds between breaths, trying to remember to keep breathing myself. My father slept on an air mattress next to her bed, doing the same. The nurse came in at seven to check on her and administer more medication and left to get a stethoscope. Our eyes drooped closed, and when the nurse came back, she had gone. The air slowly exhaled in one long quiet breath from her lungs, and she crossed over into the next world. It was as simple and as peaceful as that, just as we had prayed for.
I cursed myself for missing it, for not being awake to hold her hand and say goodbye. But now I understand that I was doing exactly that for the months, weeks, days, and hours beforehand. Things had become so apparent; as much as we wished it were different, we knew what we were facing. Therefore, important words did not go unspoken. Time was not wasted. There was no limit to love in those days; how grateful I am for that. And in the moment she left, it was appropriate that she make that transition independently; she didn’t need anyone to cling to her and beg her to stay as she made her way into a new life that she rightfully deserved.
I can’t say much without saying it all, and a single blog post won’t hold the whole of it. If you’re at all like me and you haven’t experienced death first hand, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your mind :
Is it scary? Can you sense death’s presence mentally, spiritually, emotionally? How do you know when they are getting close to the end (days, hours, minutes)? How do you carry on conversations with each other when things become that serious? Is it better to talk about it, or avoid it? How do you spend time with your loved one in the days before their death if they are conscious? How do you comfort and encourage them as they reach death? Losing a loved one is hard – where and how do you find solace and strength to keep living? When your loved one suffers from a terminal illness, can you really find relief in knowing that they are no longer suffering, or is that just something ignorant people tell you when they don’t know what to say?
There is a lot that people don’t talk about when it comes to death. Why bring it up now, when things are fine? But death is a part of life. Whether it is from a terminal illness, natural causes, or a sudden accident, it happens to each of us; it’s only a matter of time, and we never know for sure how much of it we have left. And there are so many ways that it changes us as we witness it, and as we draw closer to it ourselves. A sense of our own mortality is part of what makes us human.
So in the weeks and months ahead, as I process this loss, I will write about it here. If you have specific questions, or if you have your own story to share, please email me. I’d love to dialogue about it.

A Blogging Break.

I am standing this side of something. A tunnel. A current. A dark place. An ocean of grief. It feels so strangely appropriate to stand on the precipice of a new year, and to stand at the ledge of this experience. I know that light awaits me. And I know that the light will not meet me all at once, but in slow, gradual gradients as I make my way across. And then I will stand, feet in the tides, on the opposite shore and welcome the sunrise. But first I must take the plunge.
I’m taking a break from blogging to turn my focus to my mother as she lives out her final days with us. She has battled breast cancer for 14 long years. We are deeply grateful for her life, for her love, for her unwavering faith and strength to the very end.
I wish each of you a happy new year. See you on the other side.

On Writing : Louis CK Interviewed on NPR

The following is a quote from comedian Louis CK in an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air from a couple of weeks ago. I found this bit about script writing especially insightful. Louis had decided to write an episode for his FX series, Louie, based on some of his fellow comedians, in which a friend has informed him that he has decided to commit suicide. Louis wrote the episode mere months before his friend and fellow comedian Patrice O’Neal died of complications from diabetes.

Gross : Have you been in that position where somebody’s told you that they want to kill themselves and you have to decide what are you supposed to do with that?

C.K. : Well, it’s a scary thing to ponder, you know, but it’s emotional to hear that clip now because, I mean, I wrote that about a lot of comedians I knew coming up and comedy and show business are very cruel and they don’t have a nice way of saying no or good-bye, you know? And a lot of guys live really tough lives in this racket.

And I’ve known a lot of them and come up with some of them and some have made it, some haven’t. And, you know, the idea of somebody saying to you look me in the eye and tell me I have a reason to live, it’s terrifying to think, well, what if I fail them in that moment?…

And, you know, it’s just funny because I have such a different perspective on that issue of, like, someone’s not taking care of themselves. Someone’s not keeping themselves safe, and what is your role in that? And the anger I feel towards Doug in that scene is the kind of anger I feel about Patrice now that he’s gone. So it’s interesting to look back on it because the thing – the place I took myself in that scene, as I was writing it, I didn’t know where it was going. I knew I wanted to stand on that street and have him give me that news and I didn’t know where I wanted it to go. So I started writing to him my argument why not to kill yourself, and as I was writing it I realized for this argument to succeed would be really gross. For me to, like, be the guy who gives him the reason to live is so self-serving.

And the fact that I was even attempting it on paper, I was embarrassed alone in a room. And so the way that I – the path I found to the truth of the scene for me was having Doug be the one to tell me how full of crap I was for trying it. So in other words, as I was sitting there typing here’s why you shouldn’t kill yourself, I stopped and said to myself, oh my god. Congratulations, you pig. You know, who do you think you are? And so then I had Doug basically say that.

I think the quote speaks for itself, but I will say that this is something I contemplate often. In my younger years of writing, I felt afraid of writing what I know, afraid that if I wrote it, it might not be the truth because it’s just me and my perspective. Yet, I have this desperation to write and life as I experience it only spurs me toward writing more. I have to tell this story, I think to myself. How do I tell it truthfully? Will others understand what I mean by what I write?

But the truth is what you know when you’re writing in a room alone. It’s what you uncover, beneath layers of drafts and words and ideas, once you sit down. It is scary because it is real. Don’t be afraid to write the truth.

bookish : A Guide for the Dreaded Semicolon

The dreaded semicolon. Most avoid it using it, but it’s really not that hard to understand. Should you need a re-education in appropriate semicolon use, here is your guide, courtesy of the Oatmeal :

1. (of a person or way of life) Devoted to reading and studying rather than worldly interests.
2. (of language or writing) Literary in style or allusion.
3. (of art and all manner of lovely things) devoted to the written word as a form of art and as a way of seeing the world.
4. (of SheWritesandRights.blogspot.com) anything of the aforementioned characteristics as they are found on the interwebs and reposted by Bethany, because bookish and writerly things always give reason for amusement.