Picking And Choosing


Acrylic on Paper, Untitled, © Joan Z. Rough

Heaven and hell are not some places I’m going to go to later on.  Heaven and hell are here, right now, and I create them for myself with my choices.

Hae Doh Gary Schwocho
Beneath Belief

Driving in Ireland is quite frightening for me. It’s one of those places where you drive on the left rather than on the right side of the road as we do here in America. It can also be very difficult to figure out where I’m going. I’m not always good at reading maps. When I reach a crossroads there are usually road signs pointing to the nearest village, but more often than not, the signs may have been spun around by the wind and I can easily be lead astray. Many an hour has been taken up in my travels on that magical Emerald Isle, backtracking … trying to find my way to where I’m supposed to be. Fortunately it’s always a beautiful drive along the way.

And so it is with life. Crossroads are always in front of me and road signs are rare, if they exist at all. One minute I’m in a state of bliss. The next moment can take me on the most terrifying journey I’ve ever imagined. Taking one road over another can sometimes make a big difference. It’s always a hit or miss situation. Though I may get to my destination in the end, one way may be full of boulders and potholes, while the other way may be a straight shot on a newly paved surface.

I try to follow my intuition most of the time. But I’m not perfect at it in any sense of the word. Moving to Virginia from Vermont was one of the best choices I ever made. Up north I felt at the end of my rope. I felt I had seen every horizon that existed. I didn’t enjoy the part every winter when the snow was deep, the winds would howl, and I’d get very depressed. I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a problem brought on by lack of enough hours of natural daylight during the shortest days of the year.

Here, in Virginia, the road has indeed been tough at times.  Though it was especially hard to move, my world suddenly opened up to new possibilities.

And talk about making choices … we’re close to Washington, DC, where things change or not, depending on how the Senate or the House are feeling on any given day. But right here in Charlottesville there are more educational possibilities at my fingertips and a much more diverse community than I found up north, close to the Canadian border.

The weather here is most agreeable until summer comes along and cooks me with its heat and humidity. I’ve been here for 35 years, and I’m finally getting a bit used to it. Gone are the days of my winter depressions. The only weather bit that sometimes gets to me are summer heat waves when going outside is torture. But summer here is much shorter than winter in Vermont, so less suffering.

Pick and Choose

Which to choose?

But it’s somehow the day-to-day choices that don’t seem to have a great impact on my life that get me in trouble … placing me on the hot seat within spitting distance of hell. Simple choices, like what to eat when I’m feeling I need a bit of energy. Will it be protein or sugar?  Usually it’s sugar. Should I do my hour of exercise in the morning when I have more energy? Or can I make myself do it at four PM when when I have some free time?  If it’s not done by noon, it won’t happen at all.

And so it goes. There are always questions to be answered and choices to make.  Should I hang out with Louise, even though she sucks all of my energy away? And exactly why don’t I tell Steve that I don’t want to see him any more?

When I do nothing about the things that really bother me and just let them be, no matter how much they hurt, I am making a choice. Most often doing nothing leads to the stress and anxiety I’ve already been suffering from. And because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t call Louise and invite her to lunch, or tell Steve, that I don’t love him, nothing changes. That is the kind of the choice that will most likely lead me to hell right here and now. The deed not done, is done.

But if I let go and decide not to invite Louise to fill me with her doom and gloom over a healthy salad, or tell Steve the truth about how I feel, there are also consequences. Those two people will be gone from my life and maybe I will miss them. Maybe I won’t be able to find another guy that is attractive to me, and I to him. Maybe there won’t be another Louise to whom I can tell my deepest, darkest secrets. But then, just maybe, I’ll be happier and feel free to go about my life the way I choose to.

Making choices always has consequences. Some are good. And some might be bad … at least for a while. Making choices means making changes in what fits in my life and what doesn’t. Maybe I’ll be lonely for a little while until I find just the right guy. But if I keep hanging on to someone who doesn’t naturally make me want to sing and dance with him, I won’t be happy ever.

When decision times come along, I always try to ask myself what the consequences will be. If I remain where I am, will I be happier or does the alternative have more promise?  Yes, it’s hard, but without change where would I be?

How about you? Are choices hard for you to make? How do you handle those monumental crossroads? What helps to move you along and out of the reaches of hell?


Getting Lost

DSC00269“When we lose our map, our real knowledge of the path begins.”

Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen

One Halloween evening, a very long time ago, when I was maybe in second grade, my mom helped me get dressed up as a gypsy. We drove to town and got lined up to be in the village Halloween Parade. It was complete with a high school marching band, police officers on horseback, and lots of other kids just like myself, all in costumes, ready to pick up the candy that the watching crowd would be tossing along our path as we marched down Main Street.

Mom stood right next to me and as we all started to move along, she dashed off to the side of the street, promising she’d be there, walking along with me the whole way. I remember being scared. I didn’t know any of the other kids and I’d never been in a parade before. I was a shy little girl, so there was no spontaneous going up to other kids and introducing myself.

I tried to keep an eye on Mom, as I moved down the street picking up O. Henry Bars, Almond Joys and all sorts of other sweets that were tossed my way. I was sure these goodies would overflow the orange paper sack I carried and that at home, I’d have to hide all of it from my little brother.  I imagined having enough candy to last me until next Halloween when I would simply do it all over again.

But halfway down Main Street, I realized that Mom wasn’t where she said she’d be.  I stopped in my tracks, looking up and down the street for her, as all of the other boys and girls kept marching by picking up all the loot.  The street was lined with what I thought were millions of people, but I couldn’t find my mother among them.

I started to cry. I stood there in terror, not knowing whether to follow the crowd or to go back to where I thought we had started.  A very kind man, dressed up in firefighting gear, came up to me and asked what the matter was. I told him I was lost and didn’t know where my Mom was. He took my hand and led me down the street to where the parade was breaking up. After a few very long moments, there she was, as concerned about me as I was about having lost her. She gave me a big hug, thanked the Fireman, and we piled in the car and went home. Needless to say, there were few pieces of candy in my bag, but I did have my mom and I was safe and sound.

I think about that story a lot whenever I’m in a strange place and don’t know exactly where I’m going. Fear still stalks me when I think I’m lost and will never be able to find my way home again. And too often I’ve held back, not allowing myself to venture out into the world, afraid of finding myself in a rundown slum, surrounded by the world’s most incorrigible creatures, begging for my life.

But then I tell myself, “Hey, what’s wrong with you?  We’re always lost and like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, we never know where we’ll find ourselves from one minute to the next.  Might as well, slow down and enjoy the scenery.”

Like the time Bill and I found a tiny perfumery, tucked away on a hillside on the Burren in County Clare, Ireland. Driving through that rocky stretch of ultra rural countryside, we got mixed up and horribly lost.  The road signs all seemed to be pointing in the wrong direction.  We were trying to find our way to Galway from Shannon where we had just that morning arrived on the Emerald Isle. It was a scenic and beautiful route and had we not gotten lost I never would have found the little vial of flower mastery that I later took home with me.  And we would never have found the roadside restaurant where we enjoyed some of the world’s best mussels flavored with heaps of garlic.

wr-1These days I still get lost both outwardly and inwardly. I’m discovering that allowing myself to wander about in the unknowing of life is much easier to manage than I thought … and the best way to discover the beautiful world I live in.

How do you feel about getting lost? Do you turn it into an adventure or like me get scared?

On Mother’s Day

Dublin Grave, Polaroid Transfer with Water Color.The ois

I wrote the following poem years ago when I was visiting Ireland, once a year, loving the peace and quiet of County Mayo.  I rambled through cemeteries, many forgotten and uncared for, learning about women’s lives by reading the few words on their headstones. Their lives were not easy.   Mrs. Heartwell shows up in many of my poems.  She can be a goofy clown, naive, sad, and joyous, but she is also very serious and filled with compassion.

on mother’s day

the light shines within us
like a candle
an eternal flame

reciting inscriptions aloud
mrs heartwell studies rows
of weathered stones
ponders praying angels
the one with broken wings
guarding tiny patrick

died in his mother’s arms
he was only three

beyond a drooping cedar
blood red roses
scent the path
where the queen of heaven
her tranquil face
etched with lichen
extends her arms
blessing sarah golden

brave soul entered
eternal rest
november sixth
eighteen hundred and ninety four
the mother of eight 

stumbling through thorny weeds
she finds
a rotting cross
bits of broken glass
rosary beads scatter
as she tries to keep
from stepping on
mary shepherd

gave her life 
for infant sophie


To all mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day
from me and Mrs. Heartwell!