Getting Over Hysteria

Mom and the big pan of Pierogis we just finished making!

Mom and the big pan of Pierogis we just finished making!

We all have triggers. They can be aromas that remind us of days gone by. Like the smell of onions and garlic cooking that sends me to the times when Bill, my mother, and anyone else who wanted to take part, came into my kitchen and helped me prepare our best-loved food, pierogis. This traditional Polish dish of pockets of dough stuffed with delicious fillings has always been a part of our holiday celebrations. My favorites are the sauerkraut ones, with caraway seeds, and lightly caramelized onions. There were also those stuffed with mushrooms sautéed in butter with loads of garlic.

The smell of watermelon can also set off visual memories of the days in my youth when I lived on the shore of Long Island Sound. My free time was taken up with swimming, waterskiing, digging clams for supper, and the gritty feel of sand in my shoes.

Calendars can be triggers as well. The dates when loved ones passed away can set off another round of grieving for our loss, disconnecting us from holiday cheer or a season like spring, when everything is supposed to come back to life again.

Mom in 1997 before she became very ill.

Mom in 1997 before she became very ill.

I am sometimes triggered by seeing people who look like my mother, father, or the brother I lost six years ago. There is an advertisement for a senior community on a local tv station, in which a lovely gray haired woman is looking happy and reading a book as she sits in a rocking chair. She looks just like my mother before her health started to fail. Every time I see it I feel sad wishing I could go back in time and change the way things turned out for her. But alas, none of us has the power to do that.

Words can also set me off — like hysterical. The Cambridge Dictionaries Online says hysterical is the inability “to control your emotional behavior because you are very frightened, excited, etc.” It can be uncontrollable laughter or the shock and grief you feel when when you learn of someone’s death.

In the old days the word was defined as a neurotic condition, especially of women, caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. Whenever a woman became upset and cried, she was said to be suffering from hysteria. Many a woman found herself admitted to hospital and stayed there because she was too emotional.

Hysterical is what my mother called me whenever I cried as a child. And I don’t mean sobbing or bawling. Whenever she saw a tear on my cheek she said I was being hysterical. The day she called me to say that my father had been diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer and I began tearing up and sounding unhappy, she handed the phone to my dad and said, “Here, you talk to her. She’s hysterical. I can’t talk to her when she’s like that.”

Wouldn’t most people cry when they’re told that a loved one has a terminal illness? My reaction to those comments of hers always made me angry. I felt shushed — as though my feelings were stupid and didn’t matter.

I may be an emotional woman, but I do not suffer from hysteria. My mother was also an emotional woman. She had been abused as a child and lived with my father’s PTSD for over the forty plus years of their marriage. But she never cried in public or admitted a hurt. She hid her sorrow, grief, and pain from herself as well as onlookers. She self-medicated with alcohol which released her emotions in the form of anger. Using booze, she was able to let go of her pain for a while. But it always came back and the cycle of drinking began again.

Though I use the word hysteria and can laugh hysterically, almost wetting my pants at times, I still occasionally have trouble with both words. They can come out of the blue in innocent conversations and hit me hard. Just like the way the smell of onions and garlic sautéing can get my stomach rumbling, those simple words can make me feel stupid and unimportant. Awareness of those triggers helps me overcome emotional reactions. When a word sets me off I pause, remembering it is just a word and has nothing to do with the present and its context that I carried with me over the years. I can let it go and move on.

Do you have words or other things that can trigger reactions? How do you handle them?

Read about my relationship with my mother in my memoir, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, due out in September.  It is available for pre-order on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

I Am Not A Wind Up Toy!

IMG_0070 (1)For the past month or so I’ve felt like a wind-up toy. I’ve gone from one thing to another just trying to keep up with everything that needed doing. Part of the problem is that in early January, my husband had knee surgery. I spent a good deal of time taking care of him, making sure that his ice machine was at the ready to keep the swollen surgical site comfortable, and preparing meals for someone who normally cooks half of them. I also had deadlines to meet with my publisher and a blog and newsletter to maintain.

Taking care of some one else is not always an easy task, and can result in exhaustion and speeding around like a tiny wind up car. If you’ve ever played with one, you know they move fast. They don’t see what’s ahead of them and crash head-on into walls and furniture. They don’t really cause any damage, but if they were much bigger, say the size of a human, they could. I want to stop crashing into things and causing havoc.

My studio has stacks of old receipts and brochures taking up residence on my work table. I can’t work on my visual journal if I can’t spread out. I need my paints, rubber stamps, hand-made papers and magazine clippings where I can see them, so that I can go to work the moment inspiration strikes. I need to clean it up!

The same thing goes for my head. If I don’t let go of the clutter taking up so much space in my brain, I won’t be able to think clearly and make room for any artistic notions that my muse slings my way. I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to get some traction so that I can move forward, but I haven’t had much luck. And just like my work table, my head needs to be cleared out.

The patient is almost completely healed now. He’s cooking dinner again, doesn’t need to be checked-up on constantly, and in just over a week, he’ll be able to drive himself around again, leaving me with more time. We’re both very tired of it all and will be happy to see the end of this little adventure.

IMG_0049I’m starting to take more time for myself. I went to yoga last week and because I had dental surgery yesterday, Pilates will have to wait until next week. I’m taking afternoon naps and moments to simply stare into space. I’m planning on cleaning up my studio this week so that I can get back to work without feeling squeezed out of my space. But most important of all I will begin honoring the word I chose to guide me this new year … MINDFUL. In my overwhelm over the past month or so, it never had a chance. My mind did not stop to notice what was happening around me. Someone just kept winding me up and kept me going, crashing in to things. Mostly myself.

Today I’m throwing the key away and switching gears.  I’m starting my year over and I’m already noticing how much better I feel.

Have you ever felt like a wind up toy?

Wishes For A Mindful New Year!

IMG_0009Once more the year has rolled into its final week. Like everyone else, I anticipate what’s to come as the New Year begins? Who will be our next President? Will the wars in the Middle East spread further and further? And what will our country’s role be in trying to find peace? Will cold weather finally arrive and bring with it snow or freezing rain destroying these tiny gems I photographed on the day after Christmas?

There are also very personal wonderings. How will Bill’s knee replacement surgery go? Will my daughter’s fight with lyme disease finally be over and will she return to perfect health? Will I sell tons of books when my retitled memoir, SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, is published on September 20th? Yes, you heard that right, a new title which I think works oh so much better. And yes, it will be available on September 20, 2016.

Every December I choose a word to carry me through the next year, as a reminder of what is most important as I travel down the path I’ve chosen. As this past year has slipped by, I’ve found myself falling back into an old pattern that makes me extremely uncomfortable when I allow it to take over my thoughts.

Its name is Worry. I’m afraid that my predisposition for getting worked up over things has taken over my thought process and kicked mindfulness out the door. As a result, I spend too much time imagining what might happen to me, my family, or the world. I’ve also found myself kicking myself in the butt for mistakes I’ve made in the past and my sometimes pissy behavior.

Worry and Regret are not things I want to  carry around with me. So I’m going back to a word that has never been on my list of New Year Words, but is most important in that it has helped me in the past and will help ease my way through the coming months with a bit of sanity.

If I can bring back being MINDFUL during the next 365 days, I will be very pleased with myself.

I think it will take some work to be present in each and every moment, so it won’t be particularly easy or happen over night. And perhaps it shouldn’t be a New Years Word at all. Maybe it’s a Rest Of My Life Word. But I think all New Year Words do that eventually anyway. Or so I hope.

In the last week, I’ve started rereading, When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron. It’s one of her greatest, though all of her books are. It certainly is apt as I observe the state of our world right now. This particular book has helped me through some of the worst years of my life. Her encouraging words reach into my heart, helping to release my unease.

I want to be more appreciative of all of the good things, like those beautiful, little daffodils in the photo at the top of this page that don’t usually bloom here in December. Or these funny Halloween pumpkins that turned intoIMG_0006 something otherworldly by the end of November. They seem fossilized. Very out of season, they make me smile when I pass by them on my walks.

Today, I’m trying to be present NOW. It’s all I’ve really got. Those mistakes and bad behaviors I mentioned earlier happened in the past. Why run them through the wringer one more time?

As for the future, it hasn’t happened yet. For right now, I’ll concentrate on typing these words while I listen to robins singing happily outside in leafless trees. Later, on my way to lunch, I’ll notice the fine mist that is falling and how it gently settles on my hair.

What are your reflections on the coming year and what is it you want most to happen?


I’ll be taking a break from posting here for the next few weeks
so that I can be present for Bill as he begins recovering from his surgery 
scheduled on January 4th. 
Please send along prayers and healing thoughts.
They are greatly appreciated.

My monthly Newsletter will be published as usual on January 1st,
and is the story of how I became a writer.  Subscribe to it at the top
right hand side of this page to have it delivered to your email address.

I’ll be back here on my blog on January 19th.

Happy New Year to All!

Life AS A Work Of Art

“…. when I accept the call of creative passion, I am a bold stroke of vermillion, a renegade hyperbole, or the wild fury of jazz violin. The world is a canvas to explore, a blank page to fill, and an arpeggio of waiting experiences. This moving masterpiece called “life” becomes intoxicating when it’s lived as if it were art.”
Jill Badonsky

IMG_0118Outside the rain is steady and cold … It’s the second day of what is predicted to be a three day rain event. Thank goodness I don’t live in the midwest where this storm is producing snow and ice. But still all I want to do is crawl back into bed and sleep the grayness away.

Christmas is upon us. People are rushing about on the streets and nearly causing accidents. My Scroogy self is anxious for it all to be over. Her arrival comes earlier and earlier every year. I swear the city put up their usual snowflake lights on every light pole in town two days after Halloween. Christmas carols were heard playing in several grocery stores before Thanksgiving was done. What the holidays are supposed be about are love, gratefulness, and the birth of one of the world’s greatest teachers. What was once a spiritual celebration now seems to be all about things and money.

But amidst the long list of unread emails is a blog post I read and am always inspired by. Jill Badonsky, isDSC00444 a wonderful artist. She’s also a coach for those looking to live a creative life. I don’t know anything about her coaching style but she wrote the quote above and I’m more than certain that she’d be a fabulous person to hook up with to get unstuck.

Reading that line on her blog got to me immediately. Suddenly there I was remembering that I am an artist and writer myself. I have no business being a badass at this time of year. Life is a work of art and by golly I need to add some color to the dull and lifeless mood I’ve been creating in my head for a few weeks now.

As a starter, I’ll haul out my paints and throw some onto a piece of paper or canvas and see what happens. I’ll stop complaining about the state of the world, and sign up to support another group, who like me wants the violence to stop. I’ll bundle up and go walk in the rain, admire the red leaves still hanging on to the Japanese Maple in my garden, and enjoy the antics of a group of robins splashing about in puddles, grateful for not only a long drink of water, but a bath as well.

Encaustic painting, 6 1/4" x 7 1/2", September, 2012

Encaustic painting, 6 1/4″ x 7 1/2″, September, 2012

I’ve always truly believed that life is a work of art; that you can add a dab a bit of color here or there and come up with something much more balanced than the dark days I’ve been messing with.

If we want to change the course of the world or the way the holidays are, we can set an example and provide laughter and joy to each day instead of more darkness. When we turn on those happy holiday lights we dress our homes in, we bring light to world. It’s the same when we create a magnificent painting or write a beautiful poem.

Do you, like me, believe that life is a work of art?

Read the whole of Jill’s blog post here.

My Recipe For Writing A Book


When winter knocks at the door I love to cook soups and stews. They can take a long time to simmer allowing the goodness and flavor of the ingredients to be released into the pot.  Writing a book can be like that, too.

I’m over on Sherrey Meyer’s blog today with a guest post with a list of ingredients and the recipe I used to keep myself working on my book. I hope you enjoy it.