Friday, August 05, 2011

the way life should be

We are spending some time in Vacationland--the beach, the lakes, the mountains. More soon!

Monday, July 04, 2011

interdependence day

A poet friend of mine posted on Facebook today that his partner is participating in an Interdependence Day Parade at a Buddhist retreat in the Bay Area. Simultaneously, in my search for wisdom on a personal issue, I found a quote from Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh:

 ...[I]f you take good care of yourself, you help everyone. You stop being a source of suffering to the world, and you become a reservoir of joy and freshness. Here and there are people who know how to take good care of themselves, who live joyfully and happily. They are our strongest support. Everything they do, they do for everyone. (qtd. in Why Talking Is Not Enough: 8 Loving Actions That Will Transform Your Marriage by Susan Page)

I definitely need to work on taking care of myself, and I know that a spiritual practice is part of that. In her book where I found the quote, Page describes what she calls "Spiritual Leadership," part of her concept of "Spiritual Partnership," and explains how one person becoming a "spiritual leader" can transform a relationship. One of her principles is that, when you are feeling dissatisfaction or disappointment with a partner, you should shift your focal point from them and your relationship to your own spiritual path. She quotes Thomas Moore: "Slight shifts in imagination have more impact on living than major efforts at change."

I confess that I have felt very much "out of touch" spiritually since Bob's death. Where before I often felt the presence of a positive force, a loving Spirit that provided guidance and lifted me up when I was down, I now find it hard to connect with that energy. I hope that will change soon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

remembering bOB

Yesterday was your birthday. Today is Father's Day. Missing you terribly. And trying to deal with it the only way I know how: writing.

Father’s Day

for R.E.B. III, 6/18/65 to 8/30/10

The blue pen flows, the gospel radio brays.
This day is different from all other days.
No mass, no kaddish, everything's been said.
We’ll plant a young tree with the kids instead,
right near the playground. Now we say Amen.
It’s bluegrass now. A love we shared. I met
my fiddle hero at that festival,
your gig. He died just two years later: old,
a lifelong smoker. You were forty-five,
ate vegetarian and rode your bike.
Six-two, one hundred sixty pounds of brawn.
I wonder if they’ll miss me when I’m gone—
the dobro twangs, the banjo taunts my ear,
the upright bass is—well, upright. Too clear.

Friday, June 03, 2011

grief for kids

"The grieving process is different for children," asserts this article. The piece is about a support group for bereaved kids, which sounds similar to the one that I have been taking Bobby to at The Center for Hope at the Cohen Children's Medical Center.

The group has helped him a lot--perhaps the most important thing is to be around other kids who have lost a parent or other close family member, to make them all feel less alone, less different. The kids get into small groups by age to do crafts and other activities designed to help them process their loss. Meanwhile, the parents meet in one big circle and learn about the kids' activities, and talk about how they can help their kids (and, often, themselves) through it. At the end, the kids come back into the "big room" and we celebrate birthdays and sing a special song written just for the Center.

The kids have been having some trouble sleeping some nights of late--not as easy to get to sleep, and waking up in the middle of the night or early morning. I'm looking into some grief-related services for children with special needs, so that I can get some support for Stella, too.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011 issue 27!

The new issue of is up and running! Go here to read it. If I say so myself, we have a very nice poetry section, featuring work by Valentina Cano, Shanna Compton, Derek Otsuji, Elizabeth Poreba, and Dana Elyse Tarasavage.

Check it out!

Friday, May 06, 2011

powow poetry reading

Tomorrow, Saturday May 7, I have the pleasure of reading with Robert Crawford in the Powow River Poets series in lovely Newburyport, Mass. It starts at 3pm at the Jabberwocky Bookshop.

Join us!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

code dependent

Well, one way to solve the problem of internet-based procrastination is to lose your internet access. The problem is, you also lose your access to the things you really need to do.
That's what happened to me. On Friday, April 22nd, at approximately 7pm, my computer went dead. Perfect timing--it was during spring break, and I was intending to catch up on some grading over the weekend. Plus I couldn't even get into my office because all the babysitters were out of town for the holiday weekend!And let's not even talk about the fact that the kids had two additional days of break (this past Monday and Tuesday) that FIT did not.

I took the laptop in to our IT folks first thing Monday morning. By Tuesday, I still hadn't heard anything, other than it was "work in progress." Finally, yesterday, I got connected with the guy working on it (aka My Hero). I'd somehow gotten a virus that caused my hard drive to be inaccessible. It had to be replaced, but fortunately he was able to retrieve my data files by connecting an external hard drive.

WHEW. I just got it back, four loooooong days later (and 6 and a half long days after the crash).

In the meantime, my only access to email, my online classes, and everything was during the time I was able to be in my office at FIT (thank goodness, I still have a desktop unit, albeit an old and slow-ish one).

The rest of the time I felt entirely cut off from the world, from my friends, my family, my boyfriend, my fellow writers and collaborators and partners in crime. It was like a big NOTHING. Silence. I couldn't get in touch with anyone whose phone number I didn't have. I couldn't check my bills and accounts. I couldn't even cook without looking up recipes on the web.

How did I become so dependent on this machine--this chunk of plastic, metal, and whatever other crap that circuitry and such are made of? It's a bit bizarre.

I realized yesterday that I had been going through a serious withdrawal, which was probably chemical in nature. I am a techno addict, and so it follows that my brain was deprived of the dopamine surges it was accustomed to. This reminds me that I need to read Dr. Gary Small's book iBrain, to see exactly what it up with our neurochemistry in this day and age. I've been meaning to get around to it, but now it's time to stop procrastinating and get to it.

I just found it in the New York Public Library's electronic resource, eNYPL. I'm going to download it as soon as I get home with my newly healed laptop. Because now, I can.

Friday, April 08, 2011

what i do instead

There are a million things to do. And unfortunately, I have a problem staying focused. Instead of doing what I "should" be doing, I keep myself "busy" with lots and lots of Nothings. I check my gmail. I check my FIT email. I check the Angel network for messages and my online classes for new discussion postings. I go on Facebook (aka World's Most Successful Time-Suck). Lately, I even started playing Klondike solitaire again--a Nothing I hadn't indulged in for years, but which became frighteningly enmeshed with my hourly routine.

I found a wonderful blog on Psychology Today called "Don't Delay" by Timothy Pychyl, PhD. According to his bio, Dr. Pychyl's research is "focused on the breakdown in volitional action commonly known as procrastination and its relation to personal well being." Reading the blog I discovered that, like creativity, procrastination is a sub-field of study in psychology research. Fascinating.

Of course, reading the blog posts gives me another thing to do--not quite a Nothing, and it really gives me some food for thought. Mostly, it helps me feel less, um, pathological--I am certainly not alone in my Nothing-ness.

I've also read that checking email or texts obsessively--or even compulsive Googling--is connected with the surge of dopamine you get from receiving messages and retrieving information instantly. The last thing I need right now is to get locked into a dopamine-feedback-loop. I'll never get free!

I have decided that, today, I will only check gmail once an hour (if that sounds like a lot, believe me, it's a huge reduction). I will only go on Facebook at lunchtime and the end of the day. And I will not play Pretty Good Klondike at GoodSol Online at all.

Instead I will write. I will get my tax information to my accountant (a BIG source of entrenched procrastinating energy). I will make headway on grading. I will chip away at the dozens of things I need to do for the family--paperwork for Stella, child care arrangements, spring break travel plans.

One thing I am proud of is my commitment to exercise. This week, I have gone for a run/walk every day except Tuesday. And last night I finally did a yoga class at my gym for the first time in a few weeks.

Having done at least that, no matter how much of a blob I've been in other ways, shows me that, in at least one area, I can make the choice to do the right thing, the smart thing, the thing that is good for me. I know that this good energy can carry over into the other parts of my life.

Wish me luck! I'll keep you posted....

Thursday, March 31, 2011

my creative brain ?

Needless to say, when you are recovering from a trauma it messes with your mind. In my honors class, Creative Imagination: Theory and Process, we study some of the research about the brain and how it's used while you're making art, solving a problem or coming up with innovative ideas. Our main text for the past few times I've taught it is Nancy Andreasen's The Creative Brain, which is a readable, manageable little paperback that digests some of the theories of creativity over the centuries, and presents the author's own research in neuroscience. We also look at a number of "case studies" of creative achievers in the arts, sciences, and business--from Michelangelo and Leonardo to Maurice Sendak and Maya Angelou.

I'm so grateful to be teaching this class right now--as usual, I feel that it's benefitting the teacher at least as much as the students. It's been two years since it was offered, and this semester I've been discovering some new publications on the subject. Not only do they give some important information (including new research in the social sciences), but I am finding them helpful to me on a personal level, as I struggle to try to write (always a struggle, but now more than usual).

One of the topics we focus on is what I used to term "Creativity and Mental Illness." Andreasen has a chapter called "Genius and Insanity," and the link between the artistic ability or exceptional intellect and psychiatric disorders has been oft-debated. After reading the introduction to Ruth Richards's Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature, I was very encouraged: Richard and colleagues have found in their research that the exercise of creativity (including writing, art-making, and other activities) can actually alleviate some of the symptoms of disorders like bipolar and depression.

Meanwhile, I was in the middle of Heather Sellers' amazing new memoir, You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, which is about Heather's recovery of and from a difficult childhood, and the discovery that she has a rare neurological condition called prosopagnosia ("face-blindness"). Heather has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, and her books Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter are lifelines for me when I need to pull myself out of the waters of procrastination and writers' block. In the memoir, Heather describes reading about schizophrenia (which she suspects her mother has been suffering from), and discovers that some of the uses of language that are "symptoms" of the disease sound a lot like things she tries to get her creative writing students to do! It's a fine line....

I was also thrilled to see that interviews with creative people who have been on Studio 360 (one of my favorite radio shows)  have been compiled in Spark: How Creativity Works. When my copy arrived from Amazon I stayed up much later than I should have because I couldn't stop reading it!

By far the most exciting of the new "creativity handbooks," though is Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. The author, Shelley Carson, has taken all of the research I've seen here and there and framed it in a usable, practicable, even "fun" way. I'm determined to read it cover to cover ASAP and put it into practice in my life!

Friday, March 18, 2011

everyday creativity: a way of healing

I've been doing some research for the honors course I am teaching this semester, Creative Imagination: Theory and Process. Our main text is The Creative Brain by Nancy Andreasen, and we have a number of handouts and a lot of books on reserve.

When I first started looking into this subject while I was working on the course proposal, I discovered that much of the research of creativity has come from the social sciences--mainly, psychology and education. (This was also at a time when "creativity" was a highly charged buzzword in the business world--every CEO apparently wanted to know how to make employees more "creative.")

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"the process"

This illustration depicts pretty accurately what I've been going through. Frankly, I'm getting tired of it. I want to feel better, or at least not as terrible as I do much of the time.

I'm tired of it interrupting my concentration. I'm tired of having an addled brain, faulty memory, glitches in thought, little irritations blowing up randomly into something that feels bigger, vast, huge, threatening to swallow me and everyone who comes within striking range.

I'm tired of feeling inadequate as a mother, of struggling to figure out how the hell to help my children deal with this. And alone, all alone as a parent.

Truth: No One will ever love these kids the way Bob did.
Truth: I am only one person.

So what? I do what I have to do. I was not prepared to be the parent of a child with a disability. One day I wasn't, and then the next, I was. And just had to deal as best I could. In the same way, I have to learn to deal with this, too. Play the dealt hand. Sigh.

A few weeks ago,I got into a routine, long abandoned, of reading and writing a little before bed. I like to use these Mead composition books with leathery-looking cardboard covers, different deep colors. Currently, my notebook is sort of an oxblood or maroon. Anyway, one night I was writing, writing about a tough situation I was going through, and then all of a sudden it wasn't about that situation anymore. It was about Bob. I went to my gmail and did a search through old emails from Bob.
Two of the messages in particular jumped out at me. The first was from March 09, when I asked for some reassurance in the wake of some emotional turmoil or other:

if you can learn to really love yourself well, that is without harsh judgements, without expectations, without shoulds, and without conditions, then you won't need validation from a 'partner' and therefore you will be in a better place to let go of prospects that aren't quite right or what you want ....  

It was uncanny how directly this spoke to exactly what I was feeling at that moment. It was, in fact, exactly what I needed to hear.

The other one was from a little over a year ago:

I do care about you and love you - that will never change until I die.

Truth: Bob would tell me, "It'll pass." He'd remind me, "your thoughts are not reality."  He certainly wouldn't want me to feel like a failure.

"You're beautiful," he'd say. "Brilliant." "You're a badass." (many of his friends and loved ones heard that.) "A great mom." That was nice, and I could almost believe it when he said it (which he did, regularly, even after we had separated).  

Now, I have to say it--and so many other things--to myself. And, more importantly, to believe them. Which was exactly what Bob wanted all along.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"how are you?"

Cartoon by Cathy Thorne
I love this cartoon, because it captures a situation that is all too much part of my current reality. When people ask this question, do they really want the answer? I know that people truly are concerned--about me, about the kids--and sincerely do want to know how we are doing. But most of the time, I am stumped for what to say. So I just say, "OK." I can't really come out with "Fine," or certainly not "Great!"

It's been five months now since Our Devastating Loss. The shock has worn off, and we are in a new phase--reality hits, and it hits hard. My feelings are complicated, of course, by the emotional impact of the three-year separation that preceded this tragedy. Sometimes I feel as if I'm going through the split all over again--and others I feel as if it never happened. Not sure which is worse--it's all mixed up with the incredible love I have for our children, the crushing weight of being their sole surviving parent, and the daunting task of shepherding them through these fields while dealing with my own healing process.

I have found myself taken over by grief at odd moments--on the subway, in the ladies' room of an Irish pub in Washington, DC, during yoga class. According to friends who have been through similar situations, this is par for the course. And it's unclear how long it will go on--being sideswiped and swept into a crying jag, right there in public. It's terribly inconvenient, and extremely undignified. But it is what it is.

So, dear readers, please don't worry about us. We are OK, and we have a lot of support. But yes, I do need help, and I don't always feel comfortable asking. In the immediate wake of loss, helpers are everywhere, but after a little while, everyone moves on--or maybe just thinks of us, wishing there was something they could do. There is! Help clean my house (please). Play games with Stella while I make supper or grade my online classes. Play Wii or XBox games with Bobby (I'm just not a gamer). Stay with the kids for an hour or two so I can do laundry, take a run, or go outside to make some private phoe calls. Take them to the movies, bowling, something fun that I may not have the energy for. Hang out with me some evening while I put the kids to bed, and have a glass of wine (or two) with me after they're asleep.

Or just tell me I'm doing a good job keeping this all together (even if I'm really not). Don't ever think you are bothering me--I appreciate your concern, and I know it comes from a good place. I wish I had better news to report, but it will improve, I know,  all in good time...