See You At The Gaithersburg Book Festival On Saturday

The big news here this week is that the rain came and finally we are no longer in a mild drought situation. But the even bigger news is that next Saturday, I will be in taking part in a Memoir Panel Discussion at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland. I’m excited.

Joining me on the panel will be fellow She Writes Press sister, Betty Hafner. Betty’s memoir, Not Exactly Love, published last year, is about her first marriage and the unpredictable domestic violence she lived with for far too long. For the multitude of women and men who live with physical abuse at the hands of their spouses, this book is a poignant guide revealing how Betty took back her own life, leaving the abuse she suffered behind. It’s a moving narrative filled with the stuff of real life. I found it hard to put down.

Seema Reza, author of another page-turner, When the World Breaks Open, published by Red Hen Press in 2016, will join us in our discussion about writing memoir and abuse. With raw honesty, Seema examines her own role in her dysfunctional and abusive marriage, as she struggles with fear, regret, love, loss, and motherhood. Written as a series of short essays, poems, and notes to herself she brings to life the lessons she has learned and the infinite wisdom one finds amidst suffering.

My own book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, about living with my mother during her last seven years of her life, sheds light on how domestic abuse by parents effects their children throughout their lifetimes and how the chain of abuse within a family can be stopped.

If you are in the area it would be wonderful to see you there. The panel will start at 11:15 AM and run until 12:00 PM, followed by a book signing.

Go to the Gaithersburg Book Festival’s website here for directions and a schedule of other interesting book events.

So, How Is It?

I’m in the process of remaking myself. Somewhere along the line I’ve lost my inspiration to write or make art. What gives? I don’t know, but I’m allowing myself plenty of time to do the things that seem most important to me right now. Like taking better care of my body. During the book writing process, I let my fairly strenuous exercise routine go down the tubes. Now I ache a lot and have gotten quite lazy. The result is a very tight body that isn’t terribly flexible. Though I still do my morning walks with the dogs, I haven’t kept up with longer walks by myself. I have added a restorative yoga class to my week and still go to my regular yoga class, and pilates workout. That’s all well and good, but if I don’t practice this stuff every day and continue to walk, it doesn’t help much. So moving, straightening out the kinks, and stretching muscles I haven’t used in a while is what I tend to do these days.

I love this poem my brother, Zed, recently wrote. I resonate with it because as I get older and try to clean up some of the stuff in my life, like finishing pieces of writing or paintings, I get distracted by the littlest things. Like watching a pair of catbirds feasting on Oregon Grape berries just outside my window. Moments like that are captivating.

I don’t like rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off. It isn’t good for the soul, my connections to other people, or the natural world. I’m moving more slowly like a tortoise.  Didn’t she win out over the hare in their race even though she was very slow?

Here is Zed’s poem:

So, How is it ?

How is it ?
I have a long list
Of letters never sent?
Combing through old emails
I learn to stuff them into multitudes
Of electronic departments of this life we have.
As if this helps me learn life’s lessons.
So, how is it?
The door knocks, dog barks, phone rings,
Or siren wails through the window.
Easy distractions with important moments to reflect or forget.

Zed Zabski
To Joan, April 26, 2017

So, how is it with you?

Azalea Time

I’m taking a week or two off from my blog.
See you on the other side! Enjoy this beautiful spring weather!

Being Present Where You Are

The Tree Peony outside my studio door.

“Where and what your body is living is not where and what your attention is living.”
Nancy Colier, The Power of Off

The woman dressed in black shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt strode ahead of me on the trail to the creek. The magical bird song that I’d been listening to before I caught up to her was gone. In its place was an insistent business like voice asking the person on the other end of the line which stock he or she would recommend to take the place of the loser they had just sold. There was laughter, a few swear words. On and on it went. I noticed a flash of white leap through the brush to her left. A White Tailed Deer, as disturbed as I was by the unnatural sounds, moved out of the way quickly in order to find the peacefulness she’d been experiencing before the interruption.

I had encountered this woman once before on my morning walks at Ivy Creek Natural Area and began wondering if I should change my early morning jaunts to later in the day. But I loved to be there early in the morning before groups of other people arrived and my thoughts were taken up with human busyness. I enjoyed being alone in the forest and fields, fully present to what I was seeing and hearing in this world I mistakenly thought was untouched by technology.

I’m naive that way. When I’m in the woods I expect to be hear wood peckers drumming away on surrounding trees digging for their breakfast. Or watch a doe and her spotted fawn taking in the early morning sun as they graze the grass in the meadow. If I was very lucky, I might see a beaver swimming across the creek, its mouth filled with newly sprouted twigs and leaves. My attention would be as present as my body. The stress I would experience later in the day was no where in sight and my breathing was slow and deep. Being in the natural world has always been my salvation, keeping me sane in what often seems like an insane world.

I know there is no other path ahead that will lead me away from the intruder, so I turn back and look for a way around her. I find another path that ultimately takes me in a different direction. I won’t be heading for the creek which was my destination, but who knows what wonderful sights and sounds will fill my need for this short but sweet inclusion in a world not as taken with itself as the world surrounding this two hundred acre preserve.

When I start the morning here in the woods I know my day will be easier to navigate through than it would be if I had picked up my cell phone as I ate my breakfast. Without the phone spewing messages and emails some are expecting me to answer immediately, I will taste the freshness of blueberries, freshly picked strawberries, the tang of plain yogurt, and the sweetness of honey I drizzle on top. If I choose to turn the phone on all of that will be lost.

I think of that woman walking through the forest, talking on her cellphone, hearing only her own voice, seeing only dollar signs while missing the bright red cardinal flowers blooming along the trail. It seems to me that if she had made that call later, after her walk, her day might have a different ending. We all need to take time away from our busyness and immerse ourselves in places where we can be present and mindful of the world around us.

I’ve too often make the mistake of taking my cell phone outdoors when I sit on my patio. I might miss the hummingbird flitting through the garden if I’m engaged with emails. What do you miss when you let your cell phone take over the present moment?

Outsmarting My Smart Phone, Part I

My first cell phone was too big to put in a pocket or a purse. It was larger than a Princess desk phone, and all the rage before wireless made its debut. We bought it because everyone had one. It seemed like the cool thing to do. It sat between the front seats in the car that Bill drove. We only made calls with it when we were going to be late for an appointment or in the event of an emergency … both of which rarely ever happened. It was more a pain in the butt than anything else. It was a while before I got a flip phone that I could hide away in my purse.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my cell phone. Firstly, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone that much anymore. I rarely give out my phone number and I often don’t carry it with me. I simply don’t like being interrupted when I’m shopping, eating a meal, reading a book, taking a walk, or anything else for that matter. When I’m out of town I do take it with me, just so I can be reached if there is a problem at home or with my kids. I think the use of cell phones in public is way overboard. I worry about the all the little ones who know how to use these gadgets as they are learning to walk. Then there are the teens and tweens like my grandkids who spend way too much texting, playing games, and not watching where they are going. It’s quite frequent around here to watch UVA students crossing the street without looking either way to see if cars are coming, because they are checking their email. And there are lots of adults whose cell phone manners are particularly atrocious. Have you ever had dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and he or she pulls out a cell phone to check emails, even before she reads the menu, or asks you how you are?

Over the last few years and the last one especially I’ve gotten more hooked on this canned entertainment than I’ve ever wanted to be. I believed those who told me that I had to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter to sell my book, and connect with my readers. If I didn’t have friends on the internet what did I have? Nothing, I was told. So I opened accounts on both of of those time wasters and took up checking my emails way too often, as if checking it eleven times an hour would guarantee that I’d just won a prize for my fantastic writing.

Then the last election happened and because I was so caught up in the anxiety and fear that many of us experienced, I was constantly on Facebook checking out the latest Breaking News that brought me into a dark period of depression. Being a news junkie, the cell phone did not ease my growing addiction to having to know everything that was going on all around me. I no longer needed a television set to tune into. I started carrying the phone with me everywhere, as if knowing what the president-elect was doing right this very moment would cause a major world war, or stop the world from spinning without my knowing it. I even checked it while I was eating breakfast and lunch. Something I said I’d never, ever do. If I had an appointment, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone as I walked out the door.

There were the hate posts from both sides chewing out those who were upset about the election and how to get over it. Even those I agreed with most of time got nasty to those whom they said weren’t doing enough to resist. Making phone calls, writing postcards, marching, and signing petitions was all the rage. If you didn’t do enough of any one of those things you were bashed by those who spent all of their available time doing them. I absolutely believe in resisting, but when those on my side start picking on those who can’t do it all, I really begin to question exactly what is going on here. Fortunately most of that activity is over at least for the time being.

Then one morning I woke up, feeling especially down. I realized how much complaining I was doing because I never had time to finish anything I started. As the weather warmed, I wanted to spend more time outside pruning last summer’s garden left-overs and listening to the birds chatter around me. But I didn’t have time. I wanted more time to read, write in my journal, and prepare delicious food. I spent a lot of time over a lot of days, trying to figure out how to change my lack of time. What I discovered that nothing was really holding me back from doing what I wanted to do. I was simply addicted to the cell phone, the internet and all that it represents.

I’ve started making choices about how to spend my time, rather than being run by robots and having my brain get hooked on something out in the atmosphere that I can’t even see. When ever I get the urge to check my email or see what’s happening on Facebook, I ask myself why I need to do that now. Sometimes I still go down the rabbit hole but other times I hold off and enjoy the sunshine and the newly blooming flowers that are growing around me.

I’ll be writing more about this over the next few weeks. I’ll share ways to have more time for yourself and be more mindful. In the meantime, have a glorious week. And before you check your cell phone, ask yourself why you need to do that right this minute!