Giving Thanks

IMG_1251“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

– John F. Kennedy

This is what it looked like Saturday on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Bill and I were there for a three day retreat. I wrote for two days without interruption, visited a few family members, walked on the beach, and enjoyed the quiet peace of the shore when only a few other people are around. It was blissful and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be there.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and that your lives will be filled with simplicity and the grace of gratitude.

Choppy Waters

DSC01405I’ve been on quite a roll with my memoir writing lately. But suddenly I’m in one of those places, where to move forward even more, means that I must build up my courage and reenter places and times that were cruel and heartbreaking. I’ve been in this situation numerous times in the past as I’ve gone back in time, processing the occasions that brought me to the place on which I stand today. It means remembering and feeling the way I did when both good and horrible things were happening in my life.

The good parts are no problem. Who wouldn’t be willing to revisit the births of their children? As physically painful as those happy occasions can be, they are times of celebration, bringing new life into the world and watching as tiny copies of ourselves take wing and find their own way.

It’s the heart wrenching times that can send me into hurtful funks. But I realize that in order to go where I’m headed, I must enter a roiling sea of emotions and make my way to the opposite shore, where I no longer have to hide from the things that made my life a living hell at times..

By revisiting those dark memories and arriving on the other side, I stand taller, unafraid, and grateful for the chance to move along into my new life. It is a rebirth in which I release myself from the tangle of horrifying events that left me stranded; a broken, needy person.

When I  enter the dark, I find the light and recognize where I am, knowing that I am not all that has happened to me. It is who I am becoming now that is important. It allows me to live each day with joy and forgiveness. It’s a place I never thought I’d find and I’m very grateful to have arrived here.

So this week, I’ll probably spend a few days procrastinating.  I’ll sharpen pencils, clean up the huge mess on my desk, and feel slightly depressed. I’ll listen to my inner critic who seems to think I’m useless and a horrible writer.  When I get tired of  her ranting about how useless I am, I’ll don my Super Woman cape, hold my breath and jump headlong into the mess of living.  I’ll arrive on the other shore with much less baggage, watching her as she tries to catch up with me, rowing a small, leaky boat across the choppy sea.  She’ll eventually make it and will try to torture me with her presence once again. But she’ll still be carrying her oars and hauling the little boat that holds all of her heavy stuff, behind her. I will be freshly bathed and ready to dive into the next waves that roll my way.  She’ll be screaming at me as I go, but I’ll reemerge on the other side once again, even lighter than I was before.

A Gift For Myself

IMG_0504I’m on retreat, at the beach in Duck, North Carolina. Today is my last day here.  We’ll head on home tomorrow, leaving the calming sound of the ocean right outside our door. It’s a great time to be here. There are few people about and the beach is almost always empty. The sand is covered with shells of all shapes, colors and sizes and the weather has been spectacular.  We had one very windy, cold day and it was wonderful to cozy up inside, watching the sea as it crashed on shore.  The rest of the time has been fairly warm, and sunny. The house we’re renting is tucked behind a dune and it’s pleasant sitting outside around noontime with only a light jacket needed.

This has been a much-needed break. Things at home have been great, but it’s a busy season and finding time to write has been touch and go, with thirty minutes here, 15 minutes there, and maybe an occasional hour without some sort of interruption.

Here I’ve been able to write for hours at a time.  The phone doesn’t ring, I’m saving the laundry to do when I get home, and I’m not doing any cooking.  I brought things I made a while ago and put in the freezer, like a good chili and a big container of delicious curried cauliflower soup.  We do go out, too, but being here isn’t about the food, it’s about having time to just be, walk on the beach, take naps, and write.

Bill is rewriting a play that just had a successful reading last week at Live Arts, in Charlottesville.  And I, of course, am working on my memoir. I’m not one for outlining. I usually just write and see what I get.  But just a few weeks ago, an outline simply appeared in my head. Not being one who lets hits like that go, I wrote it all down.  I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally have a focus.

I’m also not one for writing things in order and knowing how I wanted to start the book and end it, I wrote the first chapter, the last, and even the epilogue. I’ve pictured the thing as a loaf of sliced bread … Wonder Bread perhaps … I have the end pieces and now I must add slices in between.  Many of them are already there, need rewriting, but I’ve also had other things come to me, now that I have a hint of where I’m going.

That doesn’t mean it won’t change over time. I’m well aware of how quickly things can change.  Even the most up-to-date roadmap will not show all of the detours and side trips that weren’t in place when the map was printed. So I write on, trying to keep an open mind, as new ideas come to the surface.

I have also decided to set a deadline for myself. If there are huge numbers of people who set about writing a novel during the month of November, for NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month,) why in the world can’t I set a deadline for my memoir?

I’m not so good at keeping up my pace unless there is a goal.  But, I am really good at procrastinating, often finding myself wasting time. So I figure, with a bit of scheduling, while still allowing time for a nap here and there, a book I can’t put down, or simply staring into space without feeling guilty, I should be able to do it by September 1st, of next year.

IMG_0511Wow! Did I just say that? Well, alwritey then. I guess I’m going to do it.  It may not be a final draft, but it will be a draft of some kind.  And if I don’t count December, because it’s an insane time of year, I’ll have nine months to do the work. That’s how long it took for my kids to cook in my belly.  Mark needed a little extra time, taking ten months. So maybe when September rolls around and I’m not quite done, I can give myself another month?

Seriously, I want to try.  I’ve told my sweet man, that I don’t want to go on any trips for the first few months of the New Year. If we’re all lying at the bottom of the cliff, as some are predicting, then we won’t be able to afford it anyway.  A weekend fling here or there would be fine, but I need time to get my words working. Traveling for long periods of time just doesn’t suite when I’m trying to focus.  But, if another retreat like this could be fit into the schedule, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Especially if I knew it would mostly be for writing time.

IMG_0517After this week of rest, relaxation, and writing, I’m ready to head back into the month of gift giving.  I still have a list I need to tackle, but much of it is easy and homemade.  But the best gift I’m giving this year is to myself … Nine months to finish growing my book.  Wish me luck!

Are you finished gathering all of the Christmas gifts you are going to give this year?  Most importantly, are you planning on giving yourself one?  What will it be?

Chasing Ice

© 2007, Joan Z. Rough. August 15, 2007, off the coast of Greenland.

It’s November. Halloween is over. Americans spent eighty billion dollars on candy and costumes this Halloween. When it comes to money, what we have spent on the current election is unspeakable. Christmas carols will soon be echoing throughout every mall in every state of the union. The big push will be on to get the biggest and bestest gifts to put under the tree, so that we all can have more things that we want but don’t really need.

There are millions of our fellow citizens still without power, water and food after the visitation of Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy.  Many of them have lost everything and are homeless.  On Tuesday, we will all trek to the polls to vote (I sure hope YOU do), making decisions that will affect how life will unfold during the next four years and beyond.  The big decision we make together as a nation will have consequences one way or another for all of us.  We all need to rethink what we value most.

I will be seventy years old this month.  I am not as concerned about my own welfare as I am for the children of this world and this beautiful blue orb we call home.  I have grandchildren ages nine and twelve, as well as a step-granddaughter who is twenty-four.  I think about how they will fare in the upside-down, topsy-turvy world they will be inheriting from US.  Yes, from you and me.

What will it take for them to reach their seventies as easily as I have? Will our nation be continuously at war, trying to keep peace around the world, while we ignore our own citizens? Today we argue about the issues we have with the economy, unemployment and health care. What about our infrastructure?  There is much of New York City that will need to be rebuilt in order for it to survive the New Normal that Mother Nature has in store.  There are bridges all over our nation that need rebuilding. Our ancient power-grid will not last forever.  Almost every aspect of life will need to change if we are to continue living here on this planet without destroying it and ourselves.

I could write pages filled with the things we need to do in order to keep us all safe and comfortable as we move into an uncertain future.  I could climb on a wooden crate on a street corner and yell and scream about the alarming rate at which glaciers in the far north are melting and that water levels around the world are already rising.  Would you listen if I told you we are running out of fresh water?  That the air we breathe is full of toxins that will eventually bring death and suffering to all of us?

Most of us don’t like to think about those questions. Who wants to consider painful scenarios in which there seems to be little hope. Some say we have no problems. They believe that we can live just as we are. If certain plants or animals become extinct, they won’t notice or care. But fifty-eight percent of us agree that we do have some major problems.  The rest deny that anything is changing and if it is, it certainly isn’t being caused by human activity.

Every November, Charlottesville hosts the Virginia Film Festival.  This is it’s 25th season.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing, Chasing Ice, a film that will be released to the general public in the near future. I urge all of you to see it, the creation of world-renowned photographer, James Balog. In 2007, he founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), a photographic project in which the rate of ice melt is being visually recorded in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana. Using the art of photography and the known science around global warming, he presents moving, visual proof that the glaciers are melting at a rate so fast, that it is almost unimaginable.

The stunning beauty of this film will take your breath away, as well as raise questions that all of us must consider. Through recognizing the tragedy that we are all participating in, and speaking about it openly, I believe we will find ways to adapt our behaviors in a changing world.


My home sweet home

“Home is not where you have to go but where you want to go; nor is it a place where you are sullenly admitted, but rather where you are welcomed – by the people, the walls, the tiles on the floor, the followers beside the door, the play of life, the very grass.” – Scott Russell Sanders  

Last Sunday, Bill and I returned from a trip to Niagara-On-The-Lake, in Ontario, Canada.  It is one of my favorite places to sneak away to.  It’s a beautiful small town on the western shore of Lake Ontario, which  hosts the George Bernard Shaw Festival every summer, and is also home to over twenty vineyards, where you can spend your days tasting superb wines.  This was only our second trip to this outstanding community, but it’s beginning to look like it could become an annual late summer destination for us.

We spent four nights at Brockamour Manor, a sweet B & B, where I’ve always felt pampered.  Having launched my gluten-free diet on the day we arrived, Colleen and Rick, the owners, quickly made adjustments to the breakfast menu for me, providing me with gluten-free toast to go with their delicious eggy dishes. On the morning they served pancakes, Colleen made gluten-free ones for me, topped with crushed strawberries and some maple syrup.  This is the only B & B to my knowledge where you’ll get dessert for breakfast.  My favorite is a rainbow sorbet pie, with a nut crust. I plan on making  that one here at home next time we invite friends for dinner. Fresh local peaches still in season, were served other mornings in a variety of ways.

We saw four shows at the Shaw Festival. My favorite was, A Man and Some Women, by British Playwright, Githa Sowerly.  We also saw the musical, Ragtime (fantastically great), Shaw’s own, Misalliance, and Ibsen’s, Hedda Gabler.  You can read Bill’s reviews on his blog,  View in the Dark.  We also had time and space to work a bit on our own writing projects, sip wine, take naps, go on morning walks, and enjoy well prepared food.  No stress. Just relaxation. My favorite kind of vacation.  I felt very much at home there.

What is home exactly?  For me, home has always been the place where I eat my meals, sleep, work, and share space with the people I love. Having lived in at least eight different homes by the time I was thirteen, home was where ever we happened to be. I found moving extremely difficult. It meant a new school and making new friends.  It meant I had to figure out where I was and how to maneuver in a whole new world.

My favorite home of all time, is the one I am in right now, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I’ve lived in this area since 1985, but have lived in three different houses.  Each one was always perfect for us at the time, but as the years passed our needs changed. This last move, two years ago, was to downsize and place us in town within closer proximity to entertainment, healthcare facilities, and community.

I guess I’ve never stopped moving. As adults, we’ve moved as a way to shake things up in our lives as we’ve searched for our own end of the rainbow. Perhaps when you continuously move from location to location, it simply becomes what you do. It becomes your habit.

One of the things on my life long wish list has been to “feel at home” in the world, no matter where I find myself. But I’m beginning to understand and accept that it’s a wish that I will never fulfill.  I visit New York City, several times a year, but I rarely, if ever feel at home there.  For one thing, there are too many people to share a relatively small amount of space with. It is difficult for me sharing the sidewalks on Fifth Avenue around four o’clock in the afternoon when everyone in the city is on their way home from work. There is also too much noise, and the energy level in the city is way over the top. I can comfortably stay four nights without losing myself, but after that, my nerves begin to rattle and I get anxious.  Being an introvert, arriving home to the peace and quiet of this town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is my reward for stepping out into the great big crazy world.

Big cities of any kind are not as inviting to me as places where I can connect to the natural rhythms of the earth.  I love being by the sea, watching and listening as the ocean pounds the shore.  The air smells and tastes salty. There are magnificent birds to watch as they make their living along the beach.  And walking barefoot in the sand is one of the most healing things I’ve ever experienced.  I almost always feel at home there.

Next month I will be taking my mother’s ashes, “home,” to Long Island. She was born there, and though she spent much of her youth in trauma ridden situations, it’s also where I believe she spent her happiest moments. Though as a family we moved from there to Vermont in 1960, she felt restless in New England and went back to the Island frequently to spend time with old friends and family.  When she moved here to Virginia after my father died, it was to be close to me and my family. She liked it here, but it wasn’t home for her.  Had she been healthier and younger, I know she would have moved back to Long Island in a heartbeat.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for me as well, as I was also born and raised on the Island. I’ve been back to visit once before and I love stopping to see the houses I once lived in and the schools I went to. But I love where I am right now and I consider this to be my home of choice.

What does home mean to you? Would you feel at home anywhere in the world? What do you love most about being home?