Beautifully Blue

Beautifully Blue © Joan Z. Rough, 2002

Beautifully Blue © Joan Z. Rough, 2002

“This is the way I feel inside. Turmoil in twisted knots. Beautifully blue. And Black. And Purple. A bruise. But one that will heal to be more like the smaller, green outer pages,  Still somewhat chaotic but fresh and very much alive. Still breathing. “

I made this collage in my journal and wrote those words on July 18, 2002.  I was a year into taking care of my mother as her health declined. I invited her to come to live in my house. I thought I could help her through her final years. Bill thought it was a good idea, too.

On a day when Bill was leaving for a week in New York, Mom fell and broke her wrist. I was left alone with her to deal with her pain, her depression, and her growing neediness. It was not a life threatening situation. But it was an inconvenience. I felt overwhelmed and abandoned. I wasn’t ready to be a caretaker. I had no idea what I was doing. I had panic attacks, slept only a few hours each night, worrying about my mother.  I was angry about the disturbance in my life, about Bill being gone. I wanted Mom to go away. I didn’t think about what she was feeling.

It was the beginning of a steep learning curve that brought me to my knees on many occasions. I was constantly confused and wanted out. But at the same time I wanted to take care of her. There were moments when I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. And times when taking care of her meant the world to me.

In the car one day as I was driving Mom to see her doctor, she sighed and said, “If those old trees could talk it would be interesting.”  I was deeply moved by what she said. She never talked about her emotional state during her last few years. I wasn’t ever sure that she was processing what was happening to her. But when she spoke those words, I knew that she was thinking about life and death and the passage of time. Later that evening I took her words and wrote the following poem.

 She Said

“If those old trees could talk it would be interesting.”
And so we sat and listened.
She began to tell her own story
And when she was finished
The trees bowed to her in the wind.
The river never slowed its pace.

Looking back and rereading what I’ve written in my journals, I often feel guilt and heartbreak. But also very grateful. There is beauty in pain as well as healing.

Boston …

IMG_0677Yesterday was once again a day of terror and violence.  I took in the scenes on CNN of the attack on Boston and could only shrug my shoulders in disbelief. Today is the 6th anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, and every day it only seems to get worse. Will every day become the anniversary of a shooting or a bombing?

What has surprised me most is my own reaction.  Breaking news of the sort we received yesterday doesn’t seem to be news any more. I didn’t cry as I usually do for the victims of the other attacks. I thought, “It’s just what happens in our world.”  That scares me. It is not how I want to be.

I’ve lived seventy long years and was living a good life, the day JFK was assassinated … also when his brother, Bobby, was killed and let’s not forget Martin Luther King, Jr.

I cried for those who died at Kent State … young people simply protesting the actions of a President, who the day before launched a campaign on Cambodia, during a war that few supported.

There was Rodney King, in 1991 who asked, “Can’t we all just get along,”  after a horribly cruel beating by police officers who acted out of prejudice.

9/11 took us all by surprise. We never believed we’d see an attack of that magnitude on our homeland … home of free and land of the brave. But there have been other shootings, bombings, and wars all around the world, in places where people fear for their lives if they leave their homes, or go about their lives without noticing what is happening around them.  It’s just the way it is.  And I’m afraid there will be much more to come.

For me, the straw that finally broke my spirit altogether was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut.  It was a complete shock to my nervous system that even innocent children are not spared.  Now, I simply have no more tears. But I have the hope that the parents and spouses of those who were murdered that day, can lead this confused nation back to the reality before us and bring a stop to much of the violence. But they cannot do it alone.

All of us, who believe in peace at home and abroad must stand up to stop the violence. That includes our lawmakers, many of who are afraid of not being re-elected if they back the gun control laws they are now considering. The events in Newtown could bring us to a New Country, and maybe even a New World, where all people can live free without fear of going out in public.

If we do nothing, I fear we will become a complacent society barely noticing what is happening around us. We can’t let that happen. Please make your feeling known to those who can make new laws, and stand tall for peace.

Please note that I will be taking a blog break until April 27th, so that I can deal with the mess on my desk, write a few letters, and plant flowers in my garden. I wish you all a glorious spring through which we can hopefully bring our country back to a life without fear. 

Power Outage

DSC01557This past Wednesday when the power went out at 6 AM I started counting my blessings. I had firewood, a fireplace, a gas stove on which I could cook, and hot water.

The snow, ten inches in all, was not a problem.  It was heavy, wet and seemed to start melting as quickly as it hit the ground.  The roads were plowed in the late afternoon and it was easy to go out for a quick dinner in the evening, enjoying the warmth of good food and the Indian restaurant Bill and I chose.

Thursday morning, still with no power, it was more than difficult to get out from under several layers of blankets and a quilt. The fire had gone out overnight. Washing my face quickly enough to keep ice crystals from forming and sitting on the cold toilet seat made me a bit touchy.  I tried counting my blessings but it was hard. Mostly I complained and got whiny.

We decided that staying at home was nuts and reserved a room in a nearby Marriott where we had a comfy bed, a shower, TV and WiFi.  I started counting my blessings again, grateful that I was not lost in a sinkhole somewhere in Florida or fighting in a war somewhere in the Middle East. I’m cancer free and we are safe and warm.

We went home in the evening to feed the cat, sure the power would be back on. It wasn’t. Seeing the lights on in the houses on the street behind us, made me grouchy. One of the neighbors told me that he’d been told that power wouldn’t be restored until Saturday night. I started ranting. Where were my blessings?  Where was my gratefulness?

I got mad at myself for being a jerk. For complaining. For being a baby.  For not being grateful. For making a relatively easy situation into a mountain of goose poop. Where was my self-control? Because I didn’t stay at home and suffer through another day and night of being cold makes me a weakling … unfit for much and a nasty rat fleeing my frozen ship.

We checked in at home again on Friday morning.  No power and not a Dominion Virginia Power truck in sight.  I met a neighbor with a long face, leaving to visit relatives … to get out of what he called, “This hell hole.” I’m pissing and moaning too. But what good is it doing?

I decide to smile, start over again reciting my blessings, adding as many as I can come up with. I’m especially grateful to those now smelly long johns that helped to keep me warm all day Wednesday and through the night.

We go out to Charlottesville’s best breakfast place. Luscious food. Shrimp and Grits.  Fresh strawberries. The sun is shining. The snow is melting. Everyone is smiling. I’m still not liking myself much, decide I’m just a foolish human living in the “21st Century of Instant Gratification.” I promise to mend my ways.  I send thanks to whatever or whoever runs this place, assuring them that I’ll get over myself very soon.

When we check in again at five to feed the cat, the house is warm.  The lights work.  Everything in the frig and freezer made it! I’m saying thank you over and over again out loud … very loud.  I have power again!

Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, said, “There is no place like home.” And she was right. Regardless of where I’ve been it’s always a treat to return to my own special place.  Though my adventure over the last few days, was so much easier than Dorothy’s, I promise myself I’ll never rant again over a power outage no matter how long it lasts. But silly me knows all too well that I’m only human and will most likely have a hard time keeping that promise.

What happens when you meet up with a circumstance like a prolonged power outage? Do you get twisted up in ranting and raving or are you apt to stay cool and chill out?

Compassion And Being Enough

Hellebores ready for the garden.

Hellebores ready for the garden.

During the last seven years of my mother’s life, I was her caretaker.  Except for the last five months of her life, she lived in my home with me and my husband, Bill.  It was a hard time for all of us.  My mother was narcissistic and difficult in the best of times.  But as she  crept slowly into the world that awaits all of us at the end of our lives, she became even more difficult.  Her behavior triggered responses in me that I regret and have been difficult for me to come to terms with.  No, I did not physically abuse her.  Above everything else I wanted to help her through the darkest of days and to feel loved by her.  Now, six years after her death I know that she did love me, but at the time I did not see or understand what was happening.  I searched for comfort where ever I could find it, especially in books.  I often read the following quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book, The Dance, to help me through those dark times:

“In My humanness I forget that who I am is enough, especially when I am hurt or afraid of being unloved.  Immersed in the pain and fear that are part of this forgetting, I sometimes hurt another.  Yet even this failure, for which I must take responsibility, calls me not to change who I am, to hold myself within my innately compassionate heart.  And I learn about the expansiveness of who we are, an expansiveness that makes us capable of compassion where we thought it was impossible.”

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?