Category Archives: Writing

My Teaching Voice

Since leaving Lake Arrowhead three years ago I’ve been having trouble hanging on to my voice. And not just my voice really, but also my words. Sentences and paragraphs and pages of text I should be writing but that I push aside for a good novel or a movie or a great new recipe involving bacon, sweet potatoes, rigatoni, mascarpone cheese and fresh sage (this, a recent distraction—the dishes are still soaking in the sink).

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

Some of my writing inertia could be due to a mind busy with other things—new things, like teaching college speech and all that entails… learning innovative technologies, tackling a new curriculum, slugging through online faculty required “teaching”courses, trying to lacquer my wild mane into some semblance of what my imagination believes a professor’s hair should look like…oh so many time consuming diversions.

Still, I know I should also be writing creatively.

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

When I left Lake Arrowhead, a pain planted itself firmly behind my breast plate and I can’t shake it. I can’t walk it off, though my dear husband and I take many beautiful nature walks every single week. I can’t read it off, though I take time to immerse myself in many an enjoyable book. I can’t yoga it off, or massage it off, or wine it off. It is sewn in, gorilla glued, bolted; it is chained to my heart.

But that cannot be the only reason I do not write.

I did, in fact, write quite a bit a year and more back. (The book is about Lake Arrowhead.)

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Lake Arrowhead, CA

But I’m sure it’s not only that I am mourning.

I adore Wisconsin, and the weather here suits us perfectly. The vast greenness of the place in summer, the orange-red-yellow-green autumns, the take your breath away white frozen winters. A lake so big it looks Pacific. Lake Arrowhead, amplified.

Mourning comes to some of us for a visit. For me, without my children and my grandchildren, it stays. It has moved in to the quaint little Cape Cop home on the tree-lined avenue where we now live. It’s here to stay.

There, I’ve said it.

Missing Lake Arrowhead means missing a million moments that can never be regained—with my kids, with my grandchildren, with my friends, with all the people I was so fortunate to know. And as much as I love the cardinals and Canadian geese (and I love them a lot!), there is something sad about knowing that I will never happen upon a bear or be awakened in the night by the ungodly howl of a pack of coyotes closing in on its prey.

So, my voice began to falter a while back and has gone somewhat quiet of late.

My husband began to worry, so I finally forced myself to sit and write tonight, but as little as this accomplishment is, and as much as I love him, I cannot give him much of the credit for bringing me to my chair, for opening the blank page, for placing my fingers on the keys and letting them speak for me, expose me, help me… nor can I take any of the credit myself.

It came not from knowing that I should do it, it came instead as a magical gift from a miraculous profession.

Teaching.

Thinking I needed more family photos on my office walls, I drove over to Walgreens this afternoon to pick up some photographs I had ordered. They are beautiful photos of our newest granddaughter, Adaline Lorene, and her big sister, Jasmine, who visited us here in Wisconsin this past June.

As you can see, they are worth the ache. My girls.

     Anyway.

On my way back out to the car I stopped to ask a young man (who was coughing uncontrollably as if he might be choking) if I could help him. Just a simple, “Are you okay? Can I do anything?”

The young woman next to him, obviously his companion, said, “I recognize that voice! Do you remember me?”

The coughing continued, but she ignored it. She walked toward me. “I heard your voice and I said, ‘That’s my speech teacher!””

Of course, I remembered her, a lovely person and a good public speaker, animated and organized. We hugged. Her manfriend, ignored, coughed his way unaided to their car.

“Does he need help?” I asked. “Does he need the Heimlich? Because I’ll do it.”

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see you.”

She recognized my voice. Here, in Kenosha, a town of roughly 100,000 people. She recognized my voice.

It seems silly, perhaps. To place so much value on recognition. But I do. I suddenly felt a little less alone. The sharing of a past. In Lake Arrowhead, a teacher never goes out without encountering a former or present student, which sometimes unnerved me. I never realized how important it was to my self-image, to my belief that I was connected to the community. I knew that I loved my students, but I didn’t perhaps understand how much I needed them.

Today I was given back a small piece of my voice, reflected through a young woman’s memory. I still feel the pain, I still crave the everyday closeness of my grandchildren, and I still miss the bears, but I can write, and that’s a soft and soothing salve for my soul. I’ll take it.

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Filed under Depression, Gratitude, Lake Arrowhead, Nature, Reading, Teacher, Voice, Wisconsin, Writing, Writing Advice

“Reading with Ghosts” Some thoughts on a post by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess: “Sometimes tattered and worn = loved” August 9, 2016

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Like Jenny, I love used books, books that have a history of relationship with other readers that I can see and hold in my hands. The cover doesn’t need to be in great shape. There should be a name written in long hand somewhere within the first pages. Notes written in the margins. Words, phrases, paragraphs underlined. Exclamation marks, hearts, question marks in the margins. Old shopping lists stuck between the pages. Dedications to lovers, children, grandchildren, friends on the title page. This book reminds me of how very much I love being your mom.

Despite my librarian grandmother, my own library training and teacher training, and my years working in libraries and public schools, I’ve always been much more of a book sharer than a book protector. This doesn’t mean I condone random doodling, especially not of the tasteless variety, or nasty vulgarisms of any sort in any book (and I’ve seen plenty of those, believe me). And I am not advocating writing in any book that you do not own—please, respect all library books, and school texts! But I do appreciate a pithy comment that pertains to the content. I love knowing that I am sharing the experience of reading a particular piece with someone who found something striking enough to comment on right then and there, in the moment.Paris, 2013 154

Jenny Lawson says, “…reading those found books is like reading with ghosts, ones who eagerly point out their favorite passages or share their thoughts or questions in the margins.”

Books that I can remember writing in that are sitting around my house right now include:

Jane Eyre, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Catcher in the Rye (probably my first!), The Diary of Anne Frank, Man’s Search for Meaning, Teacher Man, Rebecca, Atonement, Prodigal Summer, The Glass Castle, Learning to Walk in the Dark, and lots of poems—“The Raven” comes to mind along with some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And memorably, the teacher edition of a literature anthology I used in my classroom for many years (not sure if this qualifies as defacing a public school text, but it did raise a few eyebrows during department meetings).

Funny story there. I was told, “That’s not your book! You can’t write in that!” back in 1998 by a wonderful teacher I respected and admired. Even so, I continued to write in the book. I planned on outlasting the book adoption cycle, and I wanted to remember what worked, what went flat, what insights, funny or touching, or what “light bulb” moments were expressed by my kids. When I retired in 2014 a young English teacher retrieved the same teacher anthology from the school library that I had written notes in for years. There hadn’t been a new book adoption in all of those years because the budget was just too tight for the district to purchase a new anthology. This new teacher wrote me a letter. “What a treasure!” she said. “Thank you for writing all of that down.”

A reader after my own heart. A teacher after my own heart. I hope she never forgets to write in the margins.Paris, 2013 108

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Filed under Books, Commentary, HIstorical Fiction, Humor, Jenny Lawson's Blog, Literary Fiction, Teacher, Used Books, Writing, Writing Advice

But Night Crawler is so much more Evocative

Our yard in May contains the world. Wisconsin teems with life. For many of us living in climates where the temperatures are at or below freezing for so many months of the year, this is a heady experience. One day you’re wearing your jacket and mittens and looking at everything brown and gray, and almost like Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland, the next moment goes blindingly Technicolor.

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A Few Minutes Ago…

It is grass that melting snow washes to emerald green. Tiny lime-colored leaves on black branches. Tulips, orange, and pink, and red. Daffodils, deep yellow and apricot. Lilacs, deep purple, lavender, and white.

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Munchkinland

Robin’s breast russet, and then those impossibly lovely blue shells their babies shed in unexpected places. I find one on the metal chair on the front deck. Cardinals, still here, looking tropical now, the crimson against the green. Red-winged black birds. White herons. Orioles, as orange as the fruit we feed them.

The sky at day, a brilliant blue, at night diamonds and velvet.

 

My husband calls me out to the yard.
“You have to see this.”
It’s dark and slightly cool. Wet.

“Look.”
He shines a flashlight across the lawn, catching the quiet, clandestine movements of thousands of earthworms.
They are everywhere. The lawn is undulating like the surface of a lake. I’m afraid I’ll hurt them.

He bids me come. “Step slowly. Lightly.”

I’m sure I shouldn’t be out like this, could never tread lightly enough. I say a quick prayer. “Please don’t let me do any harm.”

We stand together watching the glistening movement as the worms slide back into the ground. Everywhere the light hits them, they move. We talk about what they are doing. We’ve never learned.

I suspect they come up out the earth and the rich dark loom to gulp in the sweet, sweet air. My husband suspects it’s for sex.

We know very little about the life of worms. Such a common thing to know so little about. We feel silly, and are sure these must be things our parents were born knowing. Like the call of a mockingbird.

Then, a voice inside me says, Thibookworm-151738__180s is why they’re called night crawlers, Lori. And I know I am a complete dolt. How could this simple fact have escaped my attention all these years? Though it’s no excuse, night crawlers is not a term I ever remember being used in my family. Just earthworms, or simply worms. We didn’t fish, and we didn’t garden much. Out of sight, out of mind.

But “Night crawlers” is so much more evocative. Briefly, I picture little worm-sized, worm-shaped zombies crawling out of tiny worm-graves, marked by little crosses and a mausoleum or two—“Here lies Squirmy, Beloved Father and Husband”—our entire lawn a movie set for a new Tim Burton story.

graveimage                   How could I miss this?

“They’re good for the garden,” I say. (We’ve just planted tomatoes, peas, beets, onions, peppers, lettuce, and broccoli.)
“Yes.”
As we walk back to the house, I think, “And fireflies will be next.”

 

Rachel “Lori” Pohlman, Copyright 2016

*For some interesting facts on worms, such as the fact that, yes, there is some sex involved in night crawling (but that’s not all they do), go to: http://blog.nwf.org/2014/02/ten-things-to-know-about-earthworms/.

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Filed under Humor, Nature, Night Crawlers, Seasons, Uncategorized, Wisconsin, Worms, Writing

Fireside Chats in Springtime

 

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Silly me. I had this idea to write a WWII-era literary fiction novel a while back. Quite a while back.

I spent a lot of time researching in between writing scenes. I felt I had a decent grasp on the time period; my dad was a WWII marine—I grew up waking to The Marine Corps Hymn–and though I majored in English, not history, I spent a good deal of time learning about and teaching the Holocaust to my eighth-grade classes when I taught The Diary of Anne Frank. I even wrote a YA novel about a Polish boy falling in love in war-torn Poland for my Master’s thesis in creative writing.

I’d just need to check a few dates here and there, maybe read a few more books and immerse myself in the movies and music of the 1940s, and presto! I’d be good.

Not so true.

What is true is that old saying about “the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.” Today’s epiphany: Go Deeper. I stumbled into going deeper today almost by accident. I was looking up a few Roosevelt quotes for a scene in my manuscript where my protagonist listens to the president on the radio. Just a few lines, you know, to add realism and texture to the scene.

                                                                                                Paris to home 2013 033   GO DEEPER

And I find myself, hours later, too torn up to write the scene. I’ll write it tomorrow, or maybe the next day. You see, I found recordings of Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking to the American public. I listened to them. Then I found recordings of the broadcasts made by the journalists who had followed him throughout his long presidency talking about him on the day of his death.

These recordings are priceless. You will need Kleenex. And maybe a dog. Or a loved one nearby. Luckily, my protagonist has a hankie, a dog, and a brother.

Fireside Chat           (Not my photo)                 Silly me? Yes. But also grateful me.

If you haven’t done so, and you’re interested, go to http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/utterancesfdr.html to get started.

Three dates you might be interested in:

January 11, 1944: Radio Address to the Nation- State of the Union message to Congress (30 min.)

November 2, 1944: Campaign radio speech from the White House—“The World is Rising” (15 min.)

December 24, 1944: Christmas Eve Address (5 mins.) Make sure to stay tuned for The National Anthem that immediately follows.

Rachel “Lori” Pohlman, Copyright2016

 

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Filed under Fireside Chats, HIstorical Fiction, Literary Fiction, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio, Research, Uncategorized, World War II, Writing

My Body

Winefiction 002Last night in bed, I started thinking about my body. About how it aches. About the way it doesn’t move anymore, not in the ways it used to. About the way it gives me very little pleasure anymore. I mean, I still get up every day and put clothes on. I even walk my dogs most days. There’s some pleasure there. My body takes me up and down the street, along the river, and if I so choose, into the woods. The dogs definitely derive pleasure from these walks and I, too, am grateful for them.

I also still very much love hugs. And kisses, especially on the back of my neck.

I love the cool touch of the wind, and the warm caress of the sun.

I love the sound of laughter. And music. And falling water. And birdsong.

I still love the taste of good food and drink, but only late in the day after my tummy settles down from its angry-cramps-in-the-morning routine. Still, I do get to eat and enjoy doing so, which is a big part of the enjoyment of having a body. Oh, and a lovely chilled glass of chardonnay served outside in a garden—that’s pretty blissful.

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

It’s not that I am particularly decrepit for my age. I guess it might just be that I haven’t been this age before, and I am realizing how much I took this amazing body for granted for so long.

My skin, for example. I was never much enamored of my skin—too pink, too blotchy, too many freckles—and those moles. I covered my forearms throughout my entire puberty and adolescence, thinking that if anyone knew I had two moles on my left forearm, well, I’d never be loved. But my skin was amazingly sensitive. It buzzed with life and reacted to everything that touched it. Quite spectacular, thinking back.

My joints were supple. I could wrap my legs around my ears!

I ran. I ran for fun. I ran to cleanse my mind and change my emotions.

I was a sensual being. My body, well. All bodies, really, I hope. Electric.

My womb carried two babies, my breasts fed them, and my arms held them. Those were exhausting times, I remember, but oh so incredible. There was no end to the tasks needing to be done and no end to the hugely blossoming love that encompassed every simple movement. Ah, those nights rocking my baby in the dark, singing an old lullaby, afraid to get up and tuck the baby in the crib, afraid to lose the magic

.My body took me on camping trips, road trips, plane trips, and a few trips of another sort—like when I fell down a flight of stairs. What a crash. And what a healing. My body always healed.

My body brought me to my beloved classroom and allowed me to teach for many years. I remember when I could hop up on the counter while reading the scene from The Call of the Wild where the man in the red sweater breaks Buck out of his crate and all of the men in the yard jump up on the fence to watch. I remember replaying that scene in the classroom for years, and then one year, I just couldn’t make the jump. I landed on one of my eighth-grade students.

My body survived numerous surgeries, cancer, and chemotherapy.

My toes have been numb for several years now. Neuropathy from the chemo. My joints ache, especially those on the left side of my body. My skin is wrinkled. My hair is silver. I wear bifocals. I can’t hear out of my right ear. A one-mile walk leaves me exhausted. I find myself longing to go to bed with my heating pad early in the evening, and I basically never really want to get up.

My body likes to rest, and I like to try to forget about it altogether. Meanwhile, my mind considers other things. Like, maybe this is a normal part of aging. A stage of getting ready to let go of this old body and move on. So I pray, and read, and write, hoping to figure out what it is that is happening, and even if it is in fact, a real experience, or maybe it’s just a new and interesting facet of depression.

IMG_1192I look for articles about anything and everything connected with this sense of disconnectedness, wondering if anyone else feels this way, too. And then, today, my friend Stephanie posted an extraordinary article from The Washington Post about a rare illness that makes people think they’re dead. Timing is everything. I mean, it does seem that you attract what you think. Last night I’m thinking about being dead and today I’m reading this article. You can read it, too. It’s quite fascinating:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zombie-disease-makes-people-think-they-have-died/2015/10/30/ca8ab52c-532f-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html.  Though it doesn’t describe my experience, in particular, it does contain some familiar aspects of what I’m trying to describe.

I remember, for some reason, right now, something my brother told me after our mom died. He said she came to him and said, “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ok.” That’s all.

I was sort of miffed. Why didn’t she come to me? But I guess she knew Billy would tell me. And maybe that’s all I need to know.

It’s ok.

What do you think?

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Filed under Aging, Depression, Writing

Tatonka!

My computer screen scrolls my pictures. I’m sure many of yours do, too. Today, after my first full week (which was only 4 days long!) of work teaching high schoolers to become legal Wisconsin drivers, I came home to an empty house and decided to celebrate with music and a little bit of wine and writing. To be honest, my house is never empty, because I have dogs. They are not tatonkas, but they are furry and large (considering the extent of my downsized cottage).

I’m thinking of tatonkas because of this picture.tatonka!

The tatonkas pictured here are not real bison, of course. We are just three friends pretending to be tatonkas at a wonderful country western eatery and music venue located in downtown Chicago. It’s the picture that came up first when I turned my laptop on tonight. Sometimes a thousand words can be useful to describe a picture.

People who know me well know that I am a big fan of wolves—that I have aligned myself with the Defenders of Wildlife for many years, in part because of the hard work they do to protect wolves. Wolves, you may be thinking, are not tatonkas.

True. But everything is connected.

In the beginning of this story, there is a girl laying in the back seat of a 1972 Oldsmobile reading a book. It is a hot summer day and the car has stopped somewhere in South Dakota because the driver, my dad, and the copilot, my brother Billy, have come across a herd of buffalo. “Sis! Sis! Put down that book and get out here and look,” Billy says. “Bison!”

The girl, me, barely looks up. “What’s the big dif?” she asks. “Big cows.” (To be fair to the girl in the backseat, she has spent the bulk of her childhood reading because…well, there are all sorts of both good and sad reasons for that…and she has been living in the Midwest, a land that is loaded with large four-legged bovine creatures…she just doesn’t see the “big dif.” She is young.)

Fifty years later, she is still reminded of her disdain for the tatonka herd. And she is sorry.

Little did she know that the camping trips of her youth would have such an impact on her future world view. As she matured, the girl learned that such sights were akin to great magic. In 1990, when she saw Dances With Wolves for the first time, she was shaken to a degree that can only be described as cataclysmic. Tears. Yes. Weeping. Yes. Regret?

That, too.

Tatonka! If you’ve seen the movie, you are picturing the lovely faces of Kevin Costner and Graham Greene as they connect over the Native American word for buffalo. Just as she did. Finally.

And she began learning more about endangered animals, and history, and love… Eventually, she became a teacher. And eventually, she became a better sister. But never good enough. She bought Billy a beautiful sculpted bison one year for his birthday. She understood that her father had taken her to the wild and free places to observe and to appreciate the creatures of the world. And that her brother had always understood.

More years passed and the girl invited her brother and husband and dear friend to her graduation ceremony at a small college in Washington State. And what did these people see while driving to Goddard College in Port Townsend, WA? A herd of tatonkas, majestic in the green, green grass.

The girl’s brother, Billy, is gone now. Her father, too. But the wolves, and the tatonkas, even more strongly, are making a comeback. So we continue to celebrate and play tatonka when the time is right. The girl stops to catch her breath when she reads a story or sees a picture that reminds her of the great struggle every living creature makes, and must continue to make, to remain. To be remembered, revered, and yes, loved.

All creatures, great and small. All creatures.

Mahalo.bedtimesundanceGood Night.

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Filed under Buffalo, Camping, Dances With Wolves, Nature, Work, Writing

My Calendar

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I started a new part-time job last week. It’s a job closely related to teaching, a great love of mine, so I find it interesting and meaningful. Sadly, it doesn’t pay well and I haven’t found a way to increase my speed and productivity. In fact, although I believe my work is well-considered, maybe even good, I am nowhere near meeting my quota. My stats fall woefully short of corporate expectations. And I’m not getting any faster.

Speed has never been my forte. It takes me a half hour to eat a piece of toast for God’s sake! I don’t even like to drive the speed limit, let alone go above it. I nearly had a panic attack trying to get through the turnstiles in the London underground with all those nattily-dressed, running, right-handed people swiping their passes faster than the naked eye could see, jogging up the escalators on the proper side (Is it the right, or the left?) while carrying backpacks, and umbrellas, and flowers, and packages of all sorts, texting their loved ones, and wearing impossibly beautiful shoes. I mean, I almost didn’t make it!

Not that I wouldn’t go back to London in a second. I love London. I’m just sayin’.

East Finchley Tube Station, London

East Finchley Tube Station, London

I prefer kayaks to speed boats, shoes to roller skates, books to movies. I enjoy taking the scenic routes, and taking my time. Since I’m a much more a slow pour of molasses than a quick shot of tequila, I’m wondering if this is the right job for me… I mean it. I’m really wondering.

Meanwhile, I’ve done some training in preparation for another new part-time job, one that is also related to teaching. I’m just waiting for some paperwork to come through so I can begin that one. That job doesn’t pay well either, but it’s not so fast-paced. Even so, once that job begins, I will quite busy working two jobs and making hardly any money, basically working full-time. Busy, busy, busy. Hardly any money. Hmmm.

And there won’t be much energy left for creative writing. I know that isn’t an acceptable excuse. Hardly any writers have the luxury of devoting themselves to full-time writing. Most of us have other careers, other jobs, other responsibilities, and during the past year when I had quite a bit of free time, I didn’t complete my novel. I did get a lot of good stuff written, though, and it was really coming along. But the budget—not so much. As I’ve stated in other posts, I did manage to write when I worked full-time. I’m sure I can do it again. I’m just whining.

I don’t want to make a habit of whining, because it’s annoying and counterproductive and all of that. But I thought I’d try it out today anyway. I can see the sign: Warning! Do not enter. Dare I go down that road? Maybe—just this once!

There! I definitely feel better already! I didn’t travel far.

So why did I title this post My Calendar?

Here I am, still making big payments on my MFA, retired from teaching, and working for peanuts. I mean, I like peanuts (I even have a Peanuts calendar given to me by my adorable Southern relatives. You saw the picture.), and I like challenges, but I don’t understand why the skills I’ve worked so hard to hone are worth so little.

Go figure.

blogpictures 004And then I look up at my chalkboard and think about my friend, Ken Decroo,

and his wonderful advice. “Three pages a day, no matter what.”

Rather than, Online Shift 9-2 and Course Instruction 3-6, I’d like to write the following notations in my weekly calendar: Work on novel, Attend weekend writing workshop, Write, Go to writing group, Write, Complete another writing course, Write query letters, Write, Find an agent, Submit manuscript, Write, Get published, Write, Leave for book tour…

And I can do most of those things. I can choose my own road. So, guess what? I’m going to quit one of those jobs today. Right now. And get back to writing. Hope to meet up with you somewhere along Writers’ Way!

That’s all.

IMG_1197That, and Mahalo!!!

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Filed under Calendars, London, Underground, Work, Writing

Scanxiety

billyandloribabes

I belong to an appendix cancer support group, and one of the non-words I see quite often in posts is scanxiety, a condition related to the anxiety felt about medical scans that are given regularly for an indefinite amount of time after cancer treatment. In the beginning my scans were spaced three months apart; now they are six months apart. I’ve gotten good at coping with the anxiety nowadays (four years post diagnosis) most of the time, but when I get to the day before testing, as I have today, I find my mind casting away from anything productive.

My creativity is gone. I can’t concentrate on writing my novel or even reading someone else’s novel. I want to talk about it, but I don’t want to sound like a hypochondriac. I don’t want to seem negative. I don’t want to be told not to worry, everything will be fine. Even though I know it probably will be.

IMG_0679 This photo depicts my usual outlook on life, and was taken on my beloved mountain. This is not to say that I don’t love, love, love Wisconsin!

The thing is, I’ve never gotten over that initial out of nowhere diagnosis. I can only say that I feel vulnerable to invasion, or worse, that I feel like an unknowing host. I don’t understand cancer. There are so many different kinds of cancer, so many different treatments, so many different outcomes. Mine, Goblet Cell Adenocarcinoid Cancer of the Appendix, is supposed to be quite rare. It doesn’t seem so rare when I read the stories in my support group.

Sometimes I think I should drop out of the group; it reminds me daily of something I should not dwell upon. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and maybe reading the very real cancer stories, takes some of my shine away. But I also think that I should buck up—you know, be there for those who ask for a prayer or just need to vent and need to know someone out there really hears them.

I rarely participate in any length, usually just a word or two. Others in the group are much better at knowing what to say. Quite a few of them even offer up-to-the-minute cutting edge medical information, where the best hospitals are, how to connect with an appendix cancer specialist, the ins and outs of health insurance, tumor markers, treatment experiences—all sorts of really important information. I can’t help but feel I haven’t found a place of usefulness within the group.

And here I am tonight, inexplicably sad about the way that cancer changed my life and knowing I might be able to get some help from the group if I could just express myself without sounding like an infant. Most of the posts I read are written by or for those of us who are currently in the throes of the worst of the disease—those reeling and just diagnosed, those going in for their 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th surgery. Those who are in palliative care. The loved ones of those recently passed who write to break the news to the group.

And here I am feeling pretty darn good. I am one of the lucky ones. Makes me feel like a phony just wallowing in a selfish bout of survival guilt. And yet. And yet I am sad. Sad that my life changed so drastically since my initial appendicitis attack. The appendicitis that turned out to be hiding cancer.

Four years ago I was a teacher living on a mountain, surrounded by family, friends, students, colleagues, and neighbors that I loved. My four grandchildren all lived within a few miles of me.

That is not to say that my life is not good today, but it has changed dramatically. I miss my old life. I miss my kids. The circumstances of my life after cancer and my second surgery have impacted almost every aspect of my personal life and my career. Not all of it is bad, but some of it is. I’m not going to lie.

Paris to home 2013 085

Sometimes survival calls for sacrifice, or at least that’s the way I’ve come to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it’s nothing as noble sounding as that. Maybe I just got lazy. Teaching, one of my great passions, had always required great energy, energy that I no longer seemed able to summon. I was eligible for retirement. My husband needed work and found a good position in another state. My tumor marker tests showed increasing evidence of cancer at the cellular level, yet my scans were clear.

I’m not sure what tipped the scale and brought us to this new place. Maybe it was down deep merely an urge to run, something I’d done plenty of times in my earlier years. Grief over my brother’s death, financial hardship, chemo-brain, depression, debilitating chronic health issues, fear of recurrence…all of these things and more must have played a part. I only know for sure that the world changed after my diagnosis.

That’s the thing about cancer. It sneaks up on you. I had no idea that I had cancer until I went in for my post-operative check after my appendicitis surgery. And that’s probably the root of my malaise. If I didn’t know I had it then…

Scanxiety.

I’m grateful for what I have; I still have love and family, however far away some of my loved ones are, and I will be forever grateful for what I have had. Nothing can take that away.

Mahalo.GrandmaJazz

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 The Art of Living: The Art of Writing

I’ve been working on my third novel on and off for several years now. It occurred to me just now that I’m back at it after a month or so hiatus with renewed energy and even a sense of urgency. It’s not always that way. I guess if it were I’d have the initial draft completed at the very least. If someone asked me why I hadn’t written much lately, before thinking about it as I am now, I’d have said something about my new jobs, my husband’s emergency surgery, or maybe even the dog days of summer.latesummer2015 050

All of those things, and many more, affect my writing schedule, and perhaps more to the point, my creative energy level. But none of it is really time off as long as I get back to the “art” within a reasonable amount of time.

The jobs will allow me the luxury of buying writing supplies (Am I the only person horrified at the exorbitant cost of ink?) and of getting out of the cottage now and then to experience the living world and its people and cultures in the flesh.

My husband’s surgery gifted me with three weeks of total marital bonding time. It wasn’t that I was nursing him or waiting on him hand and foot as he waited for a diagnosis, underwent surgery, and then recovered, it was that we were together for three weeks straight, pretty much night and day. Like a really romantic vacation except he was in pain and on strong painkilling medications and he needed me to drive him everywhere.

I tried to write while he was in the hospital. I set up a little office in his hospital room (which was nicer than many hotel rooms we’ve stayed in—the towers at St. Luke’s in Milwaukee are fabulous!). But I didn’t write a word.

Part of St. Luke's 8th Floor Serenity Garden

Part of St. Luke’s 8th Floor Serenity Garden

Instead, I often climbed into bed with him, bringing a tray of snacks and the daily stack of funny and loving cards his many friends and family sent to wish him well. As his astute and talented young doctor told him a few days after surgery, my husband “is a beautiful man.”

Back at home I thought I’d write, but I was immersed in training for one of the new jobs, which was all done online. The online aspect temporarily morphed my beloved writing corner, desk, and laptop into a place of commerce rather than creativity. Gone were the stacks of notes and historical and creative writing books usually piled somewhat neatly at hand’s reach, replaced by technical manuals and handbooks. I found that once I finished the technical simulations and study required for the day I was more than happy to leave my little corner.

Then the dog days of summer really hit, and with them a disturbing lack of interest in anything. I am not a lover or heat, humidity, or mosquitos (I think I’ve mentioned the mosquitos before in other posts…); I seem to be biologically unadaptable to any climate where the temperature soars over 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Diesel cools down on Dog Days

How Diesel cools down on Dog Days

Cats never look hot.

Cats never look hot.

I simply cannot think or get excited about anything when I sweat.

I buy Off! by the case.

I wear ridiculous scanty clothing. The very thought of stuffing any part of my body into fabric of any kind makes me feel faint. My preferred dog day’s “outfit” is a brown sarong trimmed in red, green, and gold ala Bob Marley that I picked up in Kauai six years ago on an anniversary trip.

It’s not even a ladies’ sarong, for goodness sakes; the beautiful Hawaiian girl who sold it to me tried to talk me out of it. You would look so pretty in this blue one, or the pink one, she said. It would have been a perfect size for Israel IZ Kamakawiwo’ole (another beautiful man). But the fabric is so light and the large size makes it so loose. I said, I’ll take it.

There were other things that happened this past month other than my husband’s health crisis, my new work, and the heat that stalled the progress of my work in progress—things on my heart and mind that I’m keeping close. These things will eventually, somehow find expression and maybe even relief as part of my fiction.

The events of the past month, I find, didn’t really get in the way of my “art” at all. One of the wonderful things about writing is its permanence. The writer never stops writing, not really. Every experience, every sensation, adds another scene or scrap of a scene to be processed by the imagination and filtered through the writer’s soul. I’m writing again, and in that I find great peace.

IMG_0764Mahalo.

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Bumblebees on a Cool Wisconsin Morn

Mr. Bumble

Mr. Bumble

One of the many things I love about my little railroad cottage in Wisconsin is the abundance of fat, furry bumblebees who feed from the flowering hostas that surround the front porch. I love the bumbles, perhaps perversely, partially because they ignore me entirely. Playing hard to get, so to speak.

The other critters ‘round here notice me. The baby bunnies that were around last month became instant pancakes when I walked into the yard, their floppy ears laid flat along their backs, their little shoulders melting into the grass.

Peter Bunny

Peter Bunny

The baby birds stared at me, perhaps wondering if I was about to produce a juicy worm out of my pocket.

BabyBlue

BabyBlue

The mosquitos most certainly notice and adore me. They come, one and all, to create a moving halo around not just my head, but my entire body, each time I step outside. They want to become intimate. Here, they say, let us land on the flesh of your eyelid, the back of your hand, the tender skin at the back of your ankle. We love you.

I do not care for the mosquitos.

I have not taken their picture.

I love everything else. The cardinals, I expected to see only in the snow, but they are here all year. Red streaks against the blue sky. Scarlet flutters among the green branches. They are a bit reserved, I’d say, but they acknowledge me as I pass by.

The squirrels and chipmunks romp around, and sit up straight and still to say hello.

The robins are a part of the family. The butterflies dip and swirl around me. The deer plunge through the underbrush right before me, taller than I could reach, and very, very fast.

The bumblebees ignore me.

They have long tongues. They can get the nectar out of the deepest flower tubes. Their buzz is soft, as I imagine their fur to be. They move slowly. I don’t startle them at all.

Bumblebees do not produce extra honey, I’ve read. Just enough for their own tribe. They have a huge impact on the number of blossoms in my yard. I cherish the bumblebees. I cherish the flowers.

And yes, it is a cool Wisconsin morn.Bumblebees 006

Mahalo.

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