How To Be Sane In An Insane World

Virginia Creepeer

Virginia Creeper

“All through our gliding journey, on this day as on so many others, a little song runs through my mind. I say song because it passes musically, but it is really just words, a thought that is neither strange nor complex. In fact, how strange it would be not to think it — not to have such music inside one’s head and body, on such an afternoon. What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift I should bring to the world? What is the life I should live?
Mary Oliver (from “Flow,” Long Life)

While beautiful and amazingly wonderful things lie all around us, we often forget to notice them, finding ourselves angry, depressed, grieving, living in fear, and unable to make a difference in our horribly screwed up world.

How do we stay sane while thousands of human being are turned back as they seek refuge from war, death, and destruction in their home countries?

Why must we worry about school shootings, bomb threats, and other horrific events that have become a regular new kind of normal?

What can we do about the political voices spewing hatred, prejudice, and racial slurs over the airwaves?

There seems to be no end in sight of things to fear and worry about … the economy, global climate change, finding work, and keeping our families clothed and fed. But instead of making our lives miserable and filled with angst, we can become extra mindful, notice the good things, and spread the gift of positivity every where we go.

Notice the way the wind tosses the autumn leaves about. Hear them as they drop and hit the ground, sometimes silently, other times with a crunch.

Watch the birds gathering together in preparation for their long migration to warmer climes.

Say, Hello, to people you pass on the street. Give them the gift of your best smile. They may be angry, sad or depressed. But knowing that someone has seen them and recognized them as a fellow human being may help them find respite from their troubles, at least for a moment.

Point out the glorious rainbow arcing over the mountains to those who are complaining about the rain.

It doesn’t sound like much, and it may seem like a losing proposition to those who can only see the dark side of things. But being positive amidst the mess we find ourselves in, can make a difference, not only in our own behavior, but in those around us. Laughter is the best medicine and if we can find the humor in a situation and begin to giggle, we’ll often find others joining us, laughing so hard they can’t stand up straight.

We need to stop complaining and when the time comes, go out and vote for those who respect humanity and the struggles we all face. We’re too taken up by the loudest voices who bring us down, rarely noticing the good things happening behind the scenes. Change takes time. Begin to trust that amidst all of the chaos, noise, speed, and destruction we see around us, things can change for the better.

Every day watch the sun rise and be grateful for new beginnings. Hope and trust is present in every moment. Be there to experience it.

These are the things I practice to keep myself from giving up and expecting the worst.  What do you do to keep yourself happy and sane in this maddening world?


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Graduation And Remembering A Life

The Daily Progress, May 18, 2015

The Daily Progress, May 18, 2015

This past weekend the University of Virginia held its 186th commencement. There were 18,000 folding chairs set up outside on the lawn for well over 6,000 graduates and their loved ones. The university expected some 35,000 people to be on grounds for this festive event. The rain respectfully held off until late afternoon.

Graduation weekend here in ole C’ville is always a big deal. When first year students come to UVA, their parents often make hotel reservations for their kid’s graduation, four years away. They may also make reservations for their celebration meal at one of the areas outstanding restaurants, making it impossible for those who live here to go out to dinner, never mind finding a parking place anywhere in town.

On Sunday, I observed a parade of cars towing U-Haul trailers leave town, and was forced to remember my own graduation from college many years ago and what commencement out into the world meant to me.

Most dictionaries define graduation as a time when you have completed your education and receive a degree. I’ll add that it’s supposed to prove you have done your work, and are ready to take on the world. It also means letting go of a whole lot of things. You’re suddenly a grown up and it’s time to leave behind your teddy bear, blanky, and all of your other childhood pacifiers. What you hopefully get is a job and the ability to live your own life away from the rules and regulations of family and University.

I’ve been through two graduation ceremonies. The first was in 1960, when I graduated from Northport High School, on Long Island, and then again in 1965, when I graduated from Castleton State College, in Vermont. Yes, it took me five years to finish up because I took a year off and went back to New York to work and figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.

During this memory-fest, I thought about how we will all one day graduate from The School of Life. Along the way there are no paper degrees that we can hang on the wall when we commence from one step to the next.

My mind traveled to other events in my life that marked times of letting go and moving to the next step. I took two steps at a time when I got married one week after graduating from college. In 1967 I gave birth to my first child, and commenced from being childless to being a mother. Gone were the days of sleeping in, having privacy in the bathroom, and being able to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. Instead there were sweet hugs and kisses, and the thrill of watching my own children learn and grow.

When my kids had their own graduation ceremonies and moved out into the world, I was left with an emptiness I found hard to get over. I missed their mischief, their quiet presence when everyone was at home, safe and sound, and even the doors slamming when I said something they thought inappropriate. I took on worry, wondering where they were and what they were doing, until I slowly and gloriously realized that I was my own person and able to move about as I pleased.

When Lisa gave birth to Zoe, the word “grandmother” slipped into my vocabulary. Though I loved little Zoe to bits, I complained that I was too young for that. I didn’t want anyone calling me grandma, granny, grammy, nana, or ma-maw. A grandchild meant I was getting old. But I was in complete denial about aging. I finally caved when Zoe began calling me “Batty,” of her own accord. I took solace in the idea that this adorable little girl “got me.” We must have been together in a former lifetime.

Now Zoe is a teen. She’ll be fifteen and a sophomore in high school this coming fall, and already thinks she knows where she wants to go to college. She’s learning how to drive and will get her learners permit sometime in the near future.

So guess what that means? I AM old. My days are numbered and as Lisa used to say whenever I told her what to do during her terrible twos, “No, I don wanna.”

I’m seventy-two. I will have been married to the love of my life for fifty years on June 19th, and will have graduated from college fifty years ago, on June 12th.

Where has the time gone and where was I during all those happenings? I honestly have to say, I don’t know. It just all slipped by when I wasn’t looking.

I suppose my next and final graduation could happen any day now. But so far I’m feeling pretty good and trying not to complain too much about having difficulty getting up off the floor after a yoga session, or falling asleep before it’s bedtime. For now I’m going to pretend I’m fifty again. That’s when I really started figuring things out and began wanting to live life to the fullest.

I watch as new wrinkles take over my face and watch others my age retire to rocking chairs. I want to keep on going, full steam ahead. I figure that if I allow myself to accept those changes and find newness in my oldness, I’ll do fine.

How do you see it? What does graduation mean to you? What about aging?

Intentions For A Happy Year Ahead

Chihouly exhibit, January, 2013, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Chihuly exhibit, January, 2013, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

For the past several years I have chosen a word to carry with me through the year, reminding me of the inner work I have to do over the coming days.

You could call these words resolutions of sorts. Like working out on a daily basis, increasing my intake of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, and leaving sugar and all sweet stuff behind. But those resolutions don’t always work for me. They require a kind of do or die attitude that makes me anxious and is connected to success and failure. We all love to succeed, but being a failure can set us back into old patterns and behaviors that are not healthy. A single word or phrase, on the other hand, is not a directive of what I must do. It is simply something to think about and watch for as I navigate through life with the hopes of being a better person.

Last year I chose “audacity,” which led me to words like confidence and courage, both of which I felt needed to be strengthened. I was not, however, interested in other connotations of the word, like cheeky, defiant, and impudent. I’ve been all of those things at different times in my life and those are not traits I need or want to reinforce.

I do believe my confidence and courage has grown over the past year. I began writing guest posts for other bloggers and invited a few to write guest posts here. I finished the “shitty” first draft of my book. And then with a vast amount of courage, sent it out to beta readers and an editor. I learned a lot. Like it isn’t the end of the world if someone doesn’t like what I’ve written and that I need all of the help I can get to make my memoir the best that it can be.

This coming year I will start making my way on the path to publishing. I hope that within the next year or so my book will be available in book stores and on line. It all depends on a lot of things, like whether or not I can make it through another revision with one more editor.  I’m very much looking forward to working with her, and I’m feeling confident that I’m on the right track.

On occasion, I’ve thought about leaving my book project behind. Writing it has certainly brought me peace and healing, which was my goal from the beginning. Even without another revision it is together enough for future family members to read. But I’m past the point of saying, “Okay, enough already.” I know that what I have written could be helpful to others in their own struggles through life.

But sending a book out into the world is a scary process and an enormous amount of work. I will need even more courage than I’ve built up over the last year, as well as a vast amount of patience, which I’ve never been great at.

I’ve decided that for the coming year I actually need more than one word to get me through what is before me. Though some are words I’ve worked with before, I’ve added A few new ones. First, I need to BELIEVE in myself and what I am capable of doing. I’ll need to DARE myself to move FORWARD with a whole lot of PATIENCE because I’ll likely stumble on occasion and will need to TRUST myself and those who will be helping me get through this scary process.

So there you have it:

What are your intentions for the coming year?


To Sell Or Not To Sell

My Last Bike

My Last Bike

Wanting to up our exercise choices, Bill and I bought us a pair of bikes eight or so years age. We were both members of gyms and worked out on a regular basis. I also did some flat water kayaking on the peaceful river we lived on at the time. Never really a fan of gyms and exercising indoors, I was interested in being outside where there were no membership fees or waiting in line to use a particular machine.

We took our bikes with us when we went to the Outer Banks on vacation every fall, where there are bike lanes along a straight expanse of road. Traffic at that time of year is always light and I felt quite safe when riding there. Along with beach walks everyday, I was getting plenty of exercise, and I loved being out in the chilly air with the wind in my hair and the sound of waves crashing ashore in the distance.

The biggest problem with riding my bike here at home was that there were no great places to ride. Living out in the country, the roads were narrow and curvy, and we knew someone who’d been badly injured when she was struck by a car, as she was biking along one of them.

Sometimes I loaded my bike in my car and took it to a county park, where I rode. But after a while that seemed like a pain in the butt. We lived on a lovely cul de sac that was long enough to get some speed up and also had a few little hills. I happily rode back and forth, burning calories for a while until I got bored with that.

As many things do, the bikes started gathering dust when we weren’t at the beach. When we moved here into town, where we thought we’d ride them more, they took up too much space in our much smaller garage. Though there are some bike lanes here in the city, I’ve seen too many near misses to get up the courage to launch myself into the community on my bike. So, our nice shiny bikes gathered even more dust.Once ion a while we’d  haul them out, wipe off the cobwebs, and pump up the tires. They were ready for a spin around the block, which never seemed to happen.

Last year we decided that it would be best to sell them. We were too busy, or was it lazy, to make the effort to get them ready for rides we’d never take. This past week, Bill finally hauled them out, cleaned them up, and listed them on Craig’s List. I took one last wobbly ride down the driveway and back, just to be sure I wanted to part with my loyal stead. I decided my long morning walks were much safer.

But when the first call came in just after Bill had listed them, I felt very sad. It seemed like the end of an era and my youth. I felt older than my soon to be 72 years, and like I was giving up too easily on my need to stay young and fit.

My bike sold immediately. Bill’s is still in the garage, but I expect it to go soon. Feeling the same way I do, he and I mourned our losses together at Sunday brunch, over a scrumptious frittata, crab cakes, salad, and a Bloody Mary.

I have a friend, a few years younger than I am, who recently bought a new car. She was excited telling me about it. But the conversation ended when she added, “This is my last car.” I was taken aback. Her comment probably has something to do with the way I’m feeling about my bike, that isn’t mine anymore. I’m not that old, but the fact is I have to, “That was my last bike.” I do not intend to get another.

A few days later, I’m now thinking that it’s best that I did sell it. I wouldn’t want it to go unused and be something I’d trip over when trying to find something in the garage. I’m not giving up on my need to stay fit and young. I’m being realistic. I will not say that the car I have now, or that the next one I buy will be my last. But I am allowing myself to feel comfortable with the cross trainer in my studio that keeps me dry when it rains or snows, and the magical walks I go on when the weather is gorgeous.

DSCF0620Like right now. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, turning leaves are drifting down in a light breeze, and a flock of starlings are gathering in the trees for their long flight south. I’m putting on a sweater, and am heading out down the street. Selling my bike was not the end of an era. It was an end of a season and the beginning of another. There are many more still left to be lived … a little bit differently perhaps, but always as wonderful as ever.


Writing Memoir Is A Mixed Bag


Check out my guest post on Madeline Sharples, blog, Choices.

It’s about the difficulties of writing the hard stuff and the final reward of being able to see life in a new way.