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Archive for the ‘pondering life’ Category

Stacking my thoughts

I made Monday a Sunday.
Slept in. Dawdled. Worked only one hour.

Then I went to the beach by myself plus my soul and my snapshot machine. And beach blanket.

High tide was on its way in. So much for exploring.

My self said lets sit. No need to explore. We can see what we see from this spot on the rocks.

She was right. Our eyesight grew sharper with a short-sighted focus. What could we see in the sand and the gravel and driftwood from here? A lot it turns out.

Like flat rocks to stack, like thoughts on a shelf.

And blue mussel halves of size large and medium. Then lo and behold, a super small two-halves still-intact whole!

mussels-nested-DSC_0510 (600 x 399)

Add a half ancient shell with hole for a string to add to my collection back home, then a super small shell of the same kind, sans string hole.

Clear sandblasted glass then a green shard.

My eyes were having so much fun noticing, I mostly took pics with my mind.

I noticed how high tide comes in with so much stuff in the swells. It matches the muck in my mind that’s needing releasing.

The waves serenaded. The sun played hide and seek. The sand bugs jumped up and down in delight or delirium; it was hard to know what they meant in their popcorn-like frenzy.

Time slowed. Time passed. Sea slowed and did a 180 sans fanfare.

By the time dinner called I noticed the waves were clear of all stuff. So was my mind.

On the beach blanket

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emotikin-bluedoor600

Blue doors have been my thing for a very long time. I’ve always claimed blue as my favorite color, sometimes periwinkle, sometimes cornflower. But blue. I’ve never had a blue door though I’ve painted blue walls.

I have a blue door in the alpine meadow of wildflowers where I go when I meditate really deep. It stands there, no walls, in the middle of the meadow, as if I’m supposed to go through.

But I couldn’t. I would sit down with my back against the door. I heard a laughing invitation to just walk around the side, that I didn’t have to go through. But I couldn’t. I was stumped.

Another time, not long ago, I landed in my meadow out of the blue. I opened the door. Beyond it was a dark midnight sky full of stars. I stepped through and soared through the stars for a bit, tethered to the doorway by a silver cord. I didn’t stay long.

A few weeks ago, I finally stepped all the way through, not just that door but a whole series of doors. I erased some hard parts of the past, walked down paths now easier to see and to choose. And I heard, “Trust and believe. Expect miracles.”

I didn’t expect what happened the very next day. I saw my blue door, live and in person, around the bend in an old country road, in front of a cottage for sale, with a tree swing out front. I screeched the car to a halt and pointed. “Look! A Blue Door!”  We sat there in awe. Then we got out of the car.

bluedoor-sq-600

bluedoor-opening600This blue door beckoned. It seemed to lead to a land of bliss and enchanted forests and talking trees and one friendly sit-on-your-shoe kind of squirrel. The cottage holds a piano, built-in bookshelves, and wrap-around windows with a view to the sea. Only a cane in the corner would have made it feel like our own Miracle on 34th Street. It seemed to say, here is your doorway to heaven. You’re welcome. Come in.

So the question is whether this cottage for sale, this land of bliss, this tree swing, this door, this meadow with room for a horse and some chickens, is supposed to be ours.  It sure feels like a soul sign. It sure feels like a miracle.

I do know, at the least, that this real-life blue door is a sign from my soul to pay attention to miracles. To pay attention to gifts that come out of the blue. To open the door and walk through, with courage not fear. With hope, not with doubt. With wonder and more wonder and more wonder yet, and some patience to wait for the answer to “I wonder what this all means?”

I don’t know the answer. Not yet. We’re doing some work called Logistics and Research. That hard human work that makes miracles happen for real. Or at least invites the result. Accepting the invitation to a miracle takes as much courage and work as you can muster, it seems.

And I’m waiting to see if the sign was a “Yes, this is your home.” Or if it means something else. Trust and believe can mean anything. But I do believe in blue doors. And I believe that miracles might have a different answer than the one I first thought of. I don’t know the answer. Not yet. I just hope I am asking all the right questions so the right answer will come when it’s time.

Trust and believe.

Fingers crossed.

 

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The other day as I was walking home
I found these green pod things.

Seed pods?

Aliens?

Seedpods?

It was getting dark, so I brought them inside for a better look.

What were they?

I wondered if those spiky spiny things were good or not.

Like anything, it depends on how you look at them.

Three of a kind

I wanted to look at them up close. Roll them over. See them from all sides.

Like little ideas.  Seeds of ideas.  Good or not?

Juggling ideas

Do you weigh your ideas,
or stack them up against one other?

Bigger?

Do your ideas turn into worries
and get heavier. Bigger?

Anxiety?

Do some ideas just overwhelm?

Or maybe they’re good, growing stronger.

Cradle them

I decided I liked these ideas.

We all did.

We each took one

My family each took an idea.
Tossed them around.
Wondered what to do with them next.

Wait and see, we decided.

Wait and see.

So we waited.
One day and one night.

And the seed-idea seed-pods dried up.
Seeming sad to no longer be green.

But guess what?

Those pods had a plan.

See

Shriveled up seedpods
turned into teapots
and poured out a
hundred new baby ideas

like stars in a sky
made for wishing.

A galaxy of new ideas sprouted

A galaxy of new ideas!

Wonder what will come of those?

 

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the hollow log

Monochrome though the first month may be
I’m happy the longest dark day is behind me.

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Do I dive?

Do I dive?
Do I dare?

Decisions, decisions.

The long view of diving in

Decided.  It’s a good day to jump!

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Spiral to center

One who walked the logs
before me
left a sign
saying
move inward
inward
and in
deeper
still
within
then
outward
again.

High tide calmP.S. I marvel that today’s high tide is so calm and wonder at the metaphor.

 P.P.S.  This one who walks on logs throws logs for labradors who love them:

One who walks the logs

Ocean loving labrador

Happy water doghappy water dog!

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Aliens exist. Yes they do.Words to the wise.
Aliens exist. Yes they do.

Do you?

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My soul showed up at low tidePerhaps it’s only when you feel deserted by the ocean,
as if the water receded along with your hopes,
and even the moon seems gone…

Reflections of a soul

that your soul shows up with a story,
as upside down as it seems.
Find brimful meaning and truth
while the tidepool steeps her saltwater tears.

Her head in the clouds of low tideSoul wonders
which view you might choose.
“Girl, put your head in the clouds.”

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gretchen-posterized

In my dream, she looked taller and thinner, and wore her pearls,
The way she might have chosen to look as a glamorous grandmother.
In my dream, she said “I left my car down the street, like last year”
and handed me the keys, meaning, “Please park the car for me.”
I don’t know what party I was having in my dream. I’m glad she came.

This is the Emotikin who lived with her at the nursing home
for the last six months.
She’s a Fairy Tale Fairy wearing butterfly wings,
with a spool of pink thread as a bracelet,
(because she taught me to love fairy tales and sewing)
and she’s dancing.
I wonder where it went when she died?
Perhaps it went with her.

gretchen-bella-book-posterized

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We interrupt our regularly posted Emotikin photo-stories to add our story to “The Next Big Thing” a blog chain winding its way through the internet from SheWrites.com.  I’m happy to participate by answering 10 questions about my new book, Damocles’ Wife. Many thanks to Deborah Strobin for inviting me to join.

damocles-emotikin-posterized

1.  What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Under the Sword of DamoclesThe book is titled Damocles’ Wife: The Inside Story of Cancer Caregiving & Long-Term Survival in the Midst of Motherhood, Marriage & Making Life Matter. You wouldn’t believe how many working titles I had and how many years it took to find the right one!  I had settled on the subtitle before the title came to me.

Only Scott and I knew, as we feasted, that a sharp samurai sword hung in the air over our table, over Scott’s head, his Sword of Damocles. From where I sat, I could see it quite plainly. Is that the caregiver’s curse—to notice that sword on a thread more often, more clearly, than the patient himself? It was time to step out from under that sword.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had a feeling as soon as my husband was diagnosed with his brain tumor that I would want to write a book someday to capture what was going on inside my head and heart and maybe help others on the same path. I also credit Laura Ingalls Wilder, because I read the Little House on the Prairie series too many times as a kid, assuming everyone kept journals to someday write books based on their own life.

Scott sat on the exam table and I sat in the chair, facing the door. Such a small room, I was thinking, seeming narrow enough for my hands to push out on both walls, left to right, as if reality was already squeezing in. We didn’t talk. I kept clicking my ballpoint pen, poised over my brand new five-subject spiral notebook, and I turned to the third blank page, as if leaving room for a title and preface. It’s a habit I have with all my new notebooks

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Cancer caregiver memoir. I’d file it under “Health & Healing” with non-fiction cancer or caregiving or self help books.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, John Travolta and Kyra Sedgwick were already us in Phenomenon in 1996 – before our own story even started in 1998. For Damocles’ Wife on the big screen, I used to imagine Helen Hunt for me and for Scott, Mark Ruffalo (ironically, he actually had his own benign brain tumor in 2002). Since most of the book is when we’re only 33 years old, I’ll have to think of younger actors now!

It was two years after Phenomenon when Scott’s brain tumor arrived. Watching our videotape of the movie one night, we gasped at the moment when the character was diagnosed with an astrocytoma.

“God, maybe that’s why I couldn’t stop crying when we first saw the movie. Remember? What if part of me knew this was coming.”

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

These one-sentence rules are just SO hard! I’m trying to become a rule-breaker, so here’s my two:

Damocles’ Wife reveals the inner journey of a cancer caregiver, a young wife and mother whose husband becomes a long-term survivor of brain cancer. It’s the whole family’s story of summoning courage, hope and faith while learning to cope not only with the practical aspects of cancer and caregiving but, most essentially, how to really survive—in your soul.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is self-published under Two Louise Press … “because I could.” I learned the ropes in my former publishing job and I love the whole process of book editing and design, too.

7.   How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I lived my first draft by writing in my journals and wrote emails to document our cancer treatment phase, so that was about one year. Then a few years later I spent one focused hard-working summer to write actual chapters. That was wrapped between a few incredibly supportive semesters in a writing group under Women Writing for (a) Change. Some parts were really hard to remember and to put into words.

All summer of 2004, I had been struggling to write our stem cell chapter, still trapped in my fear on the church lawn that long-ago Sunday morning. But now I thought I could write of it, starting with the meaning of the oriole moment.

The bird story poured out on paper, but when I tried again to recreate the day in 1999, I was still stumped, unable to release my memory clamped shut by fear. So I revisited my 7/11/99 journal entry, looking for clues to my courage back then.

8.   What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

books-mini-posterized600p

As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked long and hard, this is the first cancer caregiving memoir to cover long-term survival. Most books for caregivers are non-fiction “how to” books and memoirs are written after a patient dies. Cancer survival, for us at least, was surprisingly harder than the treatment — facing permanent disability and how life changes so much.  There are cancer survival books written by the patient. Embrace, Release, Heal by three-time cancer survivor Leigh Fortson (who is my friend) is a memoir that addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects, and alternative medicine — it’s from the patient’s perspective not the caregiver’s. Mine is a hybrid memoir that shows the practical tools in action for facing cancer and also delves into the inner life of the caregiver. There are classic books that just help address the spiritual aspect of deep change that inspired me to keep going.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Julie with her Emotikin in 2003I had so much inspiration. The samurai-like bravery of my husband Scott for the way he faced his cancer, and my good friend Julie (pictured here), who had breast cancer at the same time (she was our trailblazer, with her diagnosis one month sooner than Scott’s).  And as the years unfolded, we became friends with so many other young couples facing brain tumors. Having met them made us feel more hopeful and connected, and I wanted to pay it forward by sharing our story in depth. Finally, our neuro-oncologist is one of the very few in the country who is beating the odds for brain cancer survival, so this is also a tribute to him and his team. Also see #10 below!

As we cleaned up the dishes and put plastic wrap on the leftover pies, Scott and I talked about how impressed we were by the McDowell’s calm grace and their willingness to interrupt their own treacherous, hectic journey to spend an hour with us. They didn’t come to solve our problems, but to share a slice of pie and their compassion.

“I hope we can do the same thing for other patients some day,” I said.

“Me, too,” he agreed.

You can meet someone with another type of cancer and feel some sense of connection. But until you meet someone with the same diagnosis, in the same boat, the same situation, you can’t help but feel alone, as if nobody has walked in your shoes.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My son was only four-years old at the time his dad was diagnosed, and so much of the book is about being a mom and all the considerations like child care, separation anxiety, talks about death, anger. On top of that, my mom is a long-term survivor of ovarian cancer, but her survival was a mystery to me and the book reflects on that.

And then there’s the Healing Touch, a complementary energy medicine treatment, that I think was as essential to  our family’s health/soul-survival as it was to coping with Scott’s brain surgeries, chemo, radiation and stem-cell rescue.

Caregiver burnout is a real thing and a health crisis that people are just starting to talk about – this book is my small way of trying to raise awareness by offering our story like a case study. In April 2012, TEDMED named “The Caregiving Crisis” the #2 most important health and medical issue of the year. My book is part of a caregiver support website that began long before the book called www.CaregiverHope.com.

Finally, as a clue to what I allude to in chapter 47, Learning to Play, this Emotikin website represents the creative project that saved me from caregiver burnout before I could even begin writing my book.

Creativity was my lifeboat. It not only kept me afloat, but it gave me the buoyancy to lift my arms and my face to the surface, frog kicking, breast stroking my way to the shore. Creativity was swinging from a rope like Tarzan’s transformed Jane, letting go, falling, feet first in a pond, squealing and yelling just to be loud, not caring how stupid you look soaking wet in a swimsuit. Skinny dip, if you dare. 

bella-wil-atriver-posterizedBella Luna’s photographic debut on the banks of the Colorado River, April 2003.

P.S. I have some emails out to other writers but don’t have names to list yet for the blog chain.

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