The WordPress Daily Post sent me an interesting challenge: “For this special mid-week photo challenge, we want to see portraits of you doing something that inspires you to blog.” The challenge for me is that I am rarely in a photo, as I’m usually the one behind the camera! However, I found a selection of 5 photos that may serve this purpose.
The theme of my blog is “Striving to live gracefully in my 50th year.” I began it on my 49th birthday, and its purpose was to give me a vehicle for sharing my journey toward maturity in writing and pictures. I find inspiration for growth all around me. These pictures illustrate just a few examples. Here is a self-portrait of me wearing the corset that was part of my costume as a historic interpreter. That job inspired many posts about history, lifestyle, and preservation. Here is a picture of me with my father before he died of Alzheimer’s disease. I have met others who are caring for a parent with dementia through this blog, and questions of facing mortality, change, loss and frustration with grace have inspired many posts and comments. Here is a picture of me hiking in Zion National Park. Nature inspires me and demands my maturity every day. How are we to live in harmony on this planet with all other living and non-living things? Here is a picture of me with my children and my partner and other members of Team Galasso setting out on a walk to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association. My husband died almost 5 years ago from complications of diabetes, namely heart disease. The process of grieving his death and parenting our children drives much of the writing which finds its way into my blog. And finally, here is a picture of me beside a campfire with an abandoned lamb who is dying of starvation without its mother. It illustrates the compassion that inspires me to blog, to connect with humanity through words and photos, to face the reality of our common suffering without looking away, simply to be present in the world, aware, and alive.
I started this blog 365 days ago. Today is the last day that I can claim to be “in my 40s”.
“What have you learned, Dorothy?” “I’ve learned that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. ‘Cuz if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?”
Umm…not exactly. My initial post said,”this blog is dubbed scillagrace to symbolize ancient elegance of manner, action, form, motion and moral strength. It is my goal to post entries worthy of the name. It is my goal to avoid being dogmatic and prissy. I want to challenge myself to go deeper into subjects that explore the ancient grace of life. It is a lot of name and a lot of subject, to be sure. We’ll see how it goes.”
Did I go deeper? Did I go beyond my own backyard? Here are my top ten Most Used categories: Awareness. Photography. Philosophy. Nature. Relationships. Writing. Psychology. Sociology. Education. Spirituality. I have 200 followers, but the most “likes” I’ve ever gotten on any post is 24. Which I suppose goes to show that you can’t please all of the people. Not even once. But statistics don’t tell the story. Numbers have no meaning; it’s the narrative that goes along with them, the interpretation, that gives any statistical information its significance.
Here is an ancient grace of life: deepening a relationship. I have made new friends in far away places through this blog. I have re-connected with people I haven’t seen for some time. I have bonded with my mother in a new way, and I’ve even come to know myself better. That will probably remain the enduring value of this blog. I have grown up this year, and I hope to continue to do so as I go on aging.
I am planning to continue to blog, but probably not as often. I am planning to get a new camera for myself and to spend more time writing. I will be going on a 3-week adventure in October when I end my season as a living history museum interpreter. There will be more change, more grace and, hopefully, greater awareness to come.
Traveling ’round the sun, it seems we’re always half way done. Imagining the opposites, the contrasts, the dualistic ideals. If what is happening now is somehow unsatisfying, we’ve only to think that on the other side of the globe, things are completely different. Somewhere, life is cool and peaceful while we struggle with heat and violence.
If we expand our thinking, though, we realize that everything is…always. It is cool and hot and peaceful and violent and slow and fast and everything in between. It is then and now and never and always. The distinctions and boundaries are simply concepts in our brains like the lines on the map that don’t really exist when you walk the earth. All is. Particular conditions arise and manifest particular things of which we become aware, but those materials have always been and always are in the world. There are no beginnings, no endings.
‘Tis a gift to be simple; ’tis a gift to be free; ’tis a gift to come ’round where we ought to be… When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight; ’til by turning, turning, we come ’round right. – Shaker song
My mother makes a very satisfactory leader of my Fan Club. She is, undoubtedly, First Fan, as many mothers are. The hallmark of her grace is in the way she embodies this position, not simply as a role, but as a genuine expression. I never get the feeling that she encourages me out of obligation. I believe she really likes me. What a stroke of good fortune!
This morning I got an e-mail from her titled “catching up on the blogs”. I felt her heart bubbling over like she had just emerged from an afternoon reading a favorite novel. She had associations, appreciations, memories, connections to share, like her synapses were fireworks going off. From a reader to a writer, this has got to be the highest praise. She started off by remarking, in all caps, that there has to be a book in this somewhere and that she wants an autographed first edition. Aw, Mom!
My mom is not a literary push over. She has a degree in English from Radcliffe (now coed with Harvard). She devours books regularly and always has. Her typical posture these days is sitting in her high-backed rocker with knitting in hand, book strapped in on her reading stand, mind and fingers flying. She used to hide away in her bedroom with a bag of snacks and emerge an hour or so later with renewed energy to tackle her household obligations, sporting a kind of secret glow. Get her talking about one of her recent historical sagas, and she will enthusiastically engage for hours! I love seeing her pull thoughts that have been carefully laid aside like unmatched socks and bundle them together with a flourish of discovery and pride.
She recently told me that her doctor mentioned her good prospects for living another 20 years. That would make her 97; she wasn’t sure she’d want to live that long. But think of all the books you could still read! Or that could be read to you, if the cataracts cause the eyes to fail. I can still hear my father’s voice reading to her behind the bedroom door. His partnership to her intellectually was so rich, until Alzheimer’s whittled his brain away. I wonder if she feels the same phantom guilt I have in enjoying a healthy body and a sound mind after our husbands’ deaths. Well, I suppose consciousness is a responsibility to approach with reverence. We live, we feel, we think, we read, we make connections still. May we both bring life and light to the world like fireworks, Mom, as long as we are able.
There are a million wonders along the path, many of them missed if you’re traveling too fast. You have to slow down to catch life in close up. Our culture resists this vigorously, of course. So I choose to live differently than most. I suppose this difference has been highlighted this week while I’ve been filling out government tax forms, listening to party politics and preparing to step back into the 19th century for my new job at Old World Wisconsin. I am not trying to move “up and to the right” like the business graph. I want to follow a different trajectory.
This morning I’ve been reading some blogs written by women who are caring for their aging mothers through stages of dementia. My father died two years ago from Alzheimer’s, but I was not a care-giver in his life because I live halfway across the country. I was a care-giver to my husband who died 4 years ago from coronary artery disease, kidney failure and diabetes. The perspective of life across different physical, mental and psychological ages intrigues me, and provides the inspiration for today’s poetry and photos. The photos are again from our trip to Wyalusing State Park. The first one was something Steve noticed as we walked. “Look,” he said, “little teenaged Priscillas!” He was looking into a stream where some water striders were sheltering between the rocks. My mother used to refer to me as a water strider when I was in high school. The poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo was to write a sonnet, 14 lines because today’s the 14th. I did not attempt to compose anything with a more formal frame than that. No iambic pentameter or rhyming scheme, just 14 lines. So, here we go with the pictures and poetry!
Skimming the surface, supported by tension
Riding the tide of everyone’s angst
A mere shadow in the depths, a dimple of contrast
Slender legs splayed out, weightless, of no consequence
A teenaged water strider, this youngest daughter.
What rock will plunge her universe,
Reverse the level of her lens and fasten her,
Securely, where the current flows and tugs?
In the wet of things, completely drenched
Attending top and bottom feeders, gasping, flailing,
Always moving, face in the water with wide opened eyes
Until another metamorphosis, an aged knife,
Severs the lines and sets her adrift
Above the ripples once again, that much closer to the sky.
I am learning a lot. The prompt for today is to write a “triolet”, which is an 8 line poem where lines 1, 4 & 7 are identical and lines 2 & 8 are identical. The rhyme scheme goes like this: ABaAabAB. Having never studied poetry, this is all new to me and fascinating to engage. What do you do with a structure? Play with it for a while, then take it apart and do something else, like with toy blocks? There’s no “right” way to play, is there? I think not. So I go ahead and see what happens.
I was thinking about the repetitive nature of this particular pattern, and it reminded me of a conversation I had with Steve on a recent neighborhood walk. We were talking about getting old, how older people spend their time until they die, the change in energy and the prelude to death. My husband was technically “working” the day before he died, although by that time, he was working from home at the dining room table, from a laptop equipped with Zoom Text that made each letter on the screen about 4 inches high. My father, in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, didn’t move or eat or do anything on his own. He eventually succumbed to pneumonia after he lost the ability to swallow food without aspirating it. My grandmother died in a nursing home rather uneventfully. She had lived with us for several years before moving into a place that could care for her more comprehensively. She spent her days watching TV in her room and would come to the dinner table and try to make conversation, often beginning with “They say….” My father always insisted she cite her sources. “Who says? Where did you hear that?”
Our concepts of dying are so complicated and irrational. What makes “sense” economically often offends morally. Questions, decisions, choices, preferences and emotions arise. What do we do with them? How do we communicate our wishes for life and death? To whom? I don’t have any definite answers. I hope I get to communicate what’s important to me to someone who is listening. I hope my views are respected. What that might look like, I cannot tell. Steve mentioned casually at breakfast that he’d like Schubert’s Octet played at his funeral. I asked him who he thought might be there. He couldn’t even say. I guess what matters is that I heard him when he said it.
Triolet for My Grandmother
There was nothing good on TV that day.
She turned her face toward the wall and died.
The years had slipped by while she wasted away.
There was nothing good on TV that day.
She’d listened and heard what they had to say.
They might have been right, but often they lied.
There was nothing good on TV that day.
She turned her face toward the wall and died.
National Poetry Writing Month
Fun for the whole family! My sister intends to match me, poem for poem, in the comments section of each of my posts. Mind you, this is NOT a competition. I have to be very clear about that and remind myself that this is about playing with words, creative collaboration, cleaning my windshield of mud and fear and stuff that gets in the way of my recognition of the wonderful ideas that I, even I, have shining on the horizon. I remind myself of this several times a day because my older sister is brilliant and has always been better than me at everything. Of course, that’s entirely my own hangup. I admit it, and I’m old enough now to face it head on. Right? Right!
I am using a very inclusive definition of “poetry” here. In other words, I’ve never been a student of poetry, I don’t know form and rules, but as a singer, I like words and rhythm. As a visual person, I like icons and imagery. Any formation of symbols that produce an experience can be called poetry in my definition. Also, it’s understood that any poetry posted here is copyrighted. If it’s not original, I will site the source.
I am tickled that this event is starting on a Sunday. Such creative connotations! And on April Fool’s Day, just so that we don’t take our creativity too seriously. I self-published a book of Poems and Parables back in 1997. This was the first one:
God is a poem
Infinite in meaning
Economical in expression
Clothed in symbol and harmony
A breathing Word
Engaging all perception
Today’s prompt is “Carpe Diem”, with a reference to Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress. I have to admit that my brain first translated that Latin phrase as something like “Fish Gods”. You know, Carp Deities. ‘Fish gods’ sounds like ‘fish guts’. I was going down that path for a while. But then, I remembered a conversation I had at breakfast with Steve about childhood development. We have often referred to ourselves as 3 and 4 year olds. He’s 3, and I’m 4. I got a chart of early childhood characteristics at my last teacher training session, and we talked about how the descriptions fit us. I often feel like we’re trying to get back to those authentic ideas of ourselves and that maybe, eventually, we’ll become infants again and live as though we were not separate at all from the environment.
So all that musing is background. I began composing my first lines in the bathtub. Here’s what I penciled in my notebook when I dried off:
My three-year-old comes out to play
With ne’er a thought about the day,
For what is ‘think’ or ‘time’ or ‘how’?
The only thing is ‘this right now’.
My three-year-old, with eye and ear
Stays open’d wide to what is here.
Experience is all, you see.
That three-year-old’s inside of me.
George William Heigho II — born July 10, 1933, died March 19, 2010.
Today I want to honor my dad and tell you about how I eventually gave him something in return for all he’d given me.
My dad was the most influential person in my life until I was married. He was the obvious authority in the family, very strict and powerful. His power was sometimes expressed in angry outbursts like a deep bellow, more often in calculated punishments encased in logical rationalizations. I knew he was to be obeyed. I also knew he could be playful. He loved to build with wooden blocks or sand. Elaborate structures would spread across the living room floor or the cottage beach front, and my dad would be lying on his side adding finishing touches long after I’d lost interest. He taught me verse after verse of silly songs with the most scholarly look on his face. He took photographs with his Leica and set up slide shows with a projector and tripod screen after dinner when I really begged him. He often grew frustrated with the mechanics of those contraptions, but I would wait hopefully that the show would go on forever. It was magic to see myself and my family from my dad’s perspective. He was such a mystery to me. I thought he was God for a long time. He certainly seemed smart enough to be. He was a very devout Episcopalian, Harvard-educated, a professor and a technical writer for IBM. He was an introvert, and loved the outdoors. When he retired, he would go off for long hikes in the California hills by himself. He also loved fine dining, opera, ballet, and museums. He took us to fabulously educational places — Jamaica, Cozumel, Hawaii, and the National Parks. He kept the dining room bookcase stacked with reference works and told us that it was unnecessary to argue in conversation over facts.
My father was not skilled in communicating about emotions. He was a very private person. Raising four daughters through their teenaged years must have driven him somewhat mad. Tears, insecurities, enthusiasms and the fodder of our adolescent dreams seemed to mystify him. He would help me with my Trigonometry homework instead.
I married a man of whom my father absolutely approved. He walked me down the aisle quite proudly. He feted my family and our guests at 4 baptisms when his grandchildren were born. I finally felt that I had succeeded in gaining his blessing and trust. Gradually, I began to work through the more difficult aspects of our relationship. He scared my young children with his style of discipline. I asked him to refrain and allow me to do it my way. He disowned my older sister for her choice of religion. For 20 years, that was a subject delicately opened and re-opened during my visits. I realized that there was still so much about this central figure in my life that I did not understand at all.
In 2001, after the World Trade Center towers fell, I felt a great urgency to know my father better. I walked into a Christian bookstore and picked up a book called Always Daddy’s Girl: Understanding Your Father’s Impact on Who You Are by H. Norman Wright. One of the chapters contained a Father Interview that listed dozens of questions aimed at bringing out the father’s life history and the meaning he assigned to those events. I decided to ask my father if he would answer some of these questions for me, by e-mail (since he lived more than 2,000 miles away). Being a writer, this was not a difficult proposition for him to accept. He decided how to break up the questions into his own groupings and sometimes re-phrase them completely to be more specific and understandable and dove in, essentially writing his own memoirs. I was amazed, fascinated, deeply touched and profoundly grateful at the correspondence I received. I printed each one and kept them. So did my mother. When I called on the telephone, each time he mentioned how grateful he was for my suggestion. He and my mother shared many hours reminiscing and putting together the connections of events and feelings of years and years of his life. On the phone, his repeated thanks began to be a bit eerie. Gradually, he developed more symptoms of dementia. His final years were spent in that wordless country we later identified as Alzheimer’s disease.
I could never have known at the time that the e-mails we exchanged would be the last record of my dad’s memory. To have it preserved is a gift that is priceless to the entire family. I finally learned something about the many deep wounds of his childhood, the interior life of his character development, his perception of my sister’s death at the age of 20 and his responsibility in the lives of his children. My father is no longer “perfect”, “smart”, “strict” or any other concept or adjective that I could assign him. He is simply the man, my father. I accept him completely and love and respect him more holistically than I did when I knew him as a child. That is the gift I want to give everyone.
I will close with this photo, taken in the summer of 2008 when my youngest daughter and I visited my father at the nursing home. I had been widowed 6 months, had not yet met Steve, and was anticipating my father’s imminent passing. My frozen smile and averted eyes are fascinating to me. That I feel I must face a camera and record an image is somehow rational and irrational at the same time. To honor life honestly is a difficult assignment. I press on.
*update from yesterday’s post* She Speaks commented:
“I found an online petition from the site “Democrats 2012″ titled “Where are the women?” This petition reads:
‘At a House Oversight Committee hearing, House Republicans convened a panel on denying access to birth control coverage with five men and no women. As Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney asked, “Where are the women?” Join Leader Pelosi in our call to Speaker Boehner, Eric Cantor, Chairman Issa and all House Republicans to demand that women be allowed at the table when discussing women’s health issues. Help us gather 250,000 signatures.’
Here is the link to sign the petition: http://dccc.org/pages/wherearethewomen
I’ve signed. Please help share this information and encourage everyone you know to sign.”
I’ve signed as well. Please forward to any US citizens you think would like to add their names. *thank you*
Okay, on to All About Me.
So, Steve wakes up this morning singing “Tiny Bubbles” (yes, we do this to each other, sharing whatever our brains mumble out first thing upon waking) …Don Ho…Hawaii…and I go back to being 10 years old, which was my age when I actually traveled to Hawaii. My 10-year old self got excited about many things in Hawaii. I thrilled at the choice of coconut or pineapple syrup on my pancakes because I hate maple syrup. I spent a good 30 minutes at a picnic stop trying to open a coconut by stomping on it with my sneakers. I had a camera of my own and could take my own pictures, a Brownie Starmite which yielded snapshots that the drugstore processed with a “bonus snap” of about half the size of the original included on the print and separated by a perforated line. I eagerly tried to pronounce any Hawaiian word just for the fun of letting the syllables bubble out one after another like waves on the beach. “King Kamehameha” “Queen Liliuokalani” “Mele Kalikimaka” “hukilau” “elepani”. I felt daring and adventurous sliding down a lava tube into a lagoon while my mother hyperventilated on the banks. And I got to go swimming every day! One other memory that will always stand out about my trip to Hawaii: I was often mistaken for a boy.
I had a growing out shag haircut in the spring of 1973. My mother had made me get my shoulder-length blonde hair cut VERY short for our trip “Out West” the summer before. She was probably thinking of the convenience and the hot weather. She also insisted that we wear bathing caps whenever we went swimming. I got the idea that the prime consideration in hairstyles was not attractiveness, and at the time, I didn’t care. Much. I do remember the excruciating moment when I debuted the pixie cut at school for the first time. I was at before-school choir practice on the verge of tears because I felt so self-conscious. I was wearing a dress with a Peter Pan collar, my vulnerable neck exposed. I felt whispers behind me. Then the girl behind me leaned forward to say something, and I imagined she was about to make a comment on my haircut. I froze, trembling, with blurry eyes. Turns out she just wanted to ask what page we were on, but the contact ripped me wide open, and I began to cry. After that, I got used to it and so did others. Folks in Colorado couldn’t tell if I were a boy or a girl as I scrambled up rocky mountains with my cousin, Christopher, and it didn’t matter to me. In Hawaii, my hair was a bit longer, but since it was the 70s, boys were also wearing their hair longer. My family went to a luau one night. Each of us was greeted by a hostess with an armful of flowers. My father got a coconut palm hat placed on his head. My mother and my three older sisters received a beautiful lei of fragrant orchids. I couldn’t wait to receive my own exquisite necklace. But what’s this? Hey! Why did you give me just a stupid, green headband! I’m a GIRL, dammit! Same thing happened on a boat trip a few days later. The guide/entertainer picked me out as a model to receive something he was fashioning behind me out of palm leaves. He probably picked me to keep me from getting bored, to amuse my sisters, or just because I was cute and charismatic…in a unisex kind of way. He placed a headband with a palm “feather” sticking up in the back on my head. My sisters howled.
So, before puberty, I didn’t care about being a girl very much. I played with the boy two doors down every day. When I was alone, I crossed the street into the forest preserve and played in the bushes. I enjoyed being physical, roller-skating and jump-roping especially, and I enjoyed “helping” my father at the workbench in the basement. I was not a complete tom-boy, nor was I a girlie-girl. I was just me, and I was fine. Then I hit high school at 14 in a brand new state, California. My mother decided we all should have a lesson on wearing make-up, so we had a Mary Kay consultant visit the house. I began putting on make-up and styling my hair every day before school. I also began flirting and listening to “funky” music. I began to find my groove.
As an adult, I think it would be a revelation to have a conversation with two people from my past especially. One would be the boy I played with every day in grade school, the other would be my first high school boyfriend of more than 2 months. Both of these boys are now homosexual adults, I’ve since learned. I would love to ask them what growing up felt like for them, what our relationship taught them about themselves, but sadly, we lost touch long ago.
Finding my groove in high school led me to two of my greatest expressions of freedom and physicality: dance and jazz. I love to dance. I have taken dance lessons, and I find that I am way too much “in my head” when I’m trying to learn steps and choreography. What I really love is just to free-style to anything with a back beat. Blues, tango, rumba, pop school dances, jazz. I auditioned and got into our high school jazz choir and loved the freedom of improvisation and the soulful feel of the slower pieces we did. From high school, I went on to get a degree in Vocal Performance at a women’s college. I didn’t do any jazz or dancing in those years. I was trying to be more *ahem*, serious about music.
Steve has a very serious music collection, but on Friday, he picked up something from Goodwill’s CD collection with me in mind. It’s “The Fabric of Life” by The Nylons. They’re usually about 4-part a capella vocal jazz, but this CD has percussion and instrumentals as well. He put it on at breakfast, and I had to get out of my chair and dance! It felt great!! My heart rate climbing, my hips swiveling, my shoulders shimmying, my waist stretching and slimming and twisting…I felt alive, physical, ME! Maybe I’m getting closer to understanding how to live in my own skin after all.
I think many women have a long journey to being themselves. It’s easier when you’re 10, I think. It gets pretty complicated through puberty and socialization. Maybe now as I get closer to hitting 50, I can grow into my own groove, be funky and fine and all me. I wish I knew more of my gay friends’ journeys as well. I want to be compassionate to every human and their story of growth.