Yes, I was there: Katrina, 10 years on

In recognition of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I am re-posting this remembrance of my family’s experience. Ten years ago I was in my home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, approximately two hours north of the Gulf coast. As I sat tightly cradling my child against me trying to stem my terror, 200 mile-wide Hurricane Katrina was barreling north up Route 59 at approximately 100 mph…

Last one down and right through the roof

..(Originally posted September 3, 2008)

Sitting in the hallway on a mattress. The wind is howling. The roar is constant, like sitting in the middle of a major highway at rush hour – only louder. When it gusts, it shakes the house and you can’t hear the person talking right next to you.

We monitor the speed of the wind by how close to horizontal the small sapling is outside the bedroom window. Trees are toppling, peeling up the lawn into a game board of four-foot craters. The tornadoes springing out of the hurricane are snapping other trees like pretzels in a child’s fingers. The house across the street has two corners sheared off. One of the largest, vine-choked pines sways, leans, and then in a sudden blast from the south, slams into our neighbors living room.

Garbage cans, branches, and other debris is cartwheeling down the street, including part of our roof. One huge gust, a splintering crack, and a tree comes smashing through the roof. I watch it fall and scream at the impact. I am at my breaking point. The racket – for six solid hours – is more than I can take. My little girl puts her hand on my leg and says, “It’s OK, mama.”

Then it all but stops. The eye. Although the relative silence is a relief, my nerves are still firing missiles in anticipation of the other side of the storm.

But it never comes.

Two hours later, intermittent gusts and complete devastation are all that remain of Katrina.

Look closely – corner of our neighbors’ house is sheared right off.

Under all that is our back yard – we lost 15 trees in all

A Path to Publication, pt 14: Letting it sit

“Write blog post” has been on my to-do list every week for about four months now. But that task — which isn’t really a task because I love it really — somehow always gets pushed down the list (maybe the fact that it brings in no money or isn’t beating its sister over the head to get my attention has something to do with it). But today I come here, although I  have other work I should be getting on with, because I need a distraction. From an essay.

This essay, sitting just a click away behind that blue “W” at the edge of my desktop, is eyeballing me. It keeps saying, “Open me! Look at me again. Change a few lines here and there. This time you’ll get it right. This time it will be brilliant.”

This essay, for which the Muse finally decided to show up last week at 4 one morning after I had been begging her to for a couple of months, is the worst thing I’ve written in a long time. It might be THE piece of writing that finally convinces me never to write another word, to save the world from my drivel.

So, why do am I driven back to it over and over again? Because I need to see if maybe, this time, this revision (…if I move this paragraph down there, add this phrase here, put a transitional sentence there…) all the pieces will suddenly come together into a perfectly flowing, clever, inspired, inspiring, eloquent masterpiece.

But, like an avocado, its perfect moment of ripeness may not be when you’re wanting to make the guacamole. Avocados and essays tell you when they’re ready.

I know how this is supposed to work. As Anne LaMott told me to, I write a “shitty first draft,” then leave it alone. For a couple of days or weeks. Couple of weeks?! I can’t seem to let it sit for more than a couple of minutes. It’s like the kids’ Halloween candy which, because I’m a good mother, I hide in the cupboard so the kids don’t eat too much at once. I try oh, so hard, to not go near it. But it calls to me. Eeeeeeeeeeeeat meeeeeee. I’m here and I’m yuuuuuuummeeeeeee. My essay, on the other hand, sounds like this: Fiiiiiiiiiiiiix meeeeeeee. I’m here and I’m teeeeeeeerrible.

And it’s not like I don’t know that if I do leave it alone, Muse will eventually deem to do her job and wake me with the birds a few mornings from now. Then I’ll stumble to my office in the dark, denying myself even a cup of coffee before I start tapping away. Or I’ll be in the shower and Muse will rise with the steam and I’ll have to jump out naked and rush dripping to the computer because: “Eureka!” I’ll have it — the one puzzle piece which I needed to pull the writing together into a beautiful work of art.

But I’m impatient. I want it perfect now. I want my masterpiece. I want Muse to put on her big girl panties and deal with it now. Because I don’t like this feeling that I’m a crappy writer. I want to know I am a good writer again. Right now! I want guacamole now.

Hmmm, I guess I need to put on my big girl panties. Art cannot be forced. I must learn to be patient. So I’ll let it sit… and maybe go searching for some stashed candy instead…

Why did the rabbit cross the road?

This is a post written a long time ago. OK, only seven years, but it feels like a lifetime ago that my kids were watching these types of cartoons. My now-almost-3rd grader was just a baby!

I’m re-posting because I’m reminding myself that before I wrote for a living I used to write for fun – and could be funny too. This is the second of a bunch of posts I plan to reincarnate over the next few weeks.  

[Originally posted 8/28/08] 

Why did the rabbit cross the road?

Because he’s afraid of a squirrel.

Huh?

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Can someone please tell me why a rabbit, one that wears clothes, goes to school, and watches TV would be afraid of the squirrels in the back yard, and furthermore, why aren’t these squirrels also wearing clothes and conversing at the library about their homework with their fellow rodents? What kind of hierarchy is this where not all rodents are created equal?

I’m talking about the PBS show ‘Arthur’. In this cartoon world it appears some animals have evolved beyond others, even those who in the real world, are of a similar species. But what’s even more confusing is the episode where Arthur the aardvark – yes, an aardvark – who wants a pet takes a dog-walking job to prove he’s up to the responsibility of dog-ownership. Now consider that one of Arthur’s gang is also a dog. If you use this reasoning, in Arthur’s world, a human might be seen walking another human on a leash and scooping up its poop in a plastic bag.

I read a book to my daughter the other night where a pig, a sheep, and a cow, all wrapped up in their best winter coats, enjoyed a sled ride driven by… a horse! A human harnessed to the sled might be more logical, but a horse? What audacity! The horse is one of the noblest creatures in this creation and some author has deemed it appropriate to demote him as a servant to a pig.

Now, I could draw a political comparison between these disparities in the cartoon-animal world with that of the poor vs. rich or developed vs. third world. But I won’t. I’ll just continue to be amused and bemused by the rat, rabbit, monkey, aardvark, and cat living and learning in harmony while their squirrel and bird cousins peer wistfully in their windows, cartoon tears in their little cartoon eyes, wondering when it will be their turn.

Not in Kansas… er, Vermont, Anymore

Ironically, I write so much these days that I don’t have time to write. What I mean is, as a freelancer my work hours are taken up with writing for someone else, for money (which is fantastic–a dream come true!). Writing blog posts for fun have had to take a back-burner. But a few years ago I was writing for fun A LOT.

And apparently I was kind of funny too. I’ve been looking through some of my old posts and was pleasantly surprised to find (some of) them quite amusing. I’m just oh, so serious these days. So, it’s time to resurrect some of these old posts. I hope you get a giggle like I did.

(originally posted 11/16/08) I just have to say I’m not a huge fan of New Jersey. I’m sure it is a lovely state — in spots; it must be called the Garden State for a reason — but from where I’m sitting, it ain’t so grand.

The wind is howling around and right through my 8th floor hotel windows and the gray clouds are making the already gray panorama, well, grayer. All I see from this vantage point is asphalt and concrete; roads, parking lots, and boxes of concrete, with only panels of black windows to break up the concreteness. Cars and trains crawl through this tangled mass of blah and I have to wonder, why would anyone choose to live here?

Last night, after my husband’s 11 hour day in a conference and my day of writing (and re-writing and re-re-writing), we took our courage by the hand and ventured out. We knew there was a mall nearby, and after a couple days of over-priced and over-cooked hotel food our budget badly needed a food court. The map indicated we needed to turn left, right, then go straight and the mall would be right there.

Ha!

Turns out you can’t turn left in New Jersey, only right. We could see the mall just over there, but could we get to it? Heaven forbid! That big olNeiman and Marcus sign was shining bright – a beacon, a north star – but we two kings were lost in the desert. Round and round we go, no left turn, no left turn, NO LEFT FREAKIN‘ TURN. Eventually, (we ain’t too smart at this point, hunger had taken over our senses) we figured out that we had to turn right to go left. Well, duh! And, of course we’re cruising along in the left lane (as any intelligent being who wanted to turn left would be) and the Saturday night traffic, which is heavier than the worst Vermont rush hour, is preventing any intention of moving over in time to exit to the right.

By this point we are so far away from the mall, we give up and turn wherever we could and hope any dining establishment would be appear. As luck would have it, we had discovered another mall, a Macy’s and Nordstrom mall. But I am so frustrated and hungry by the time we get out of the car (an hour after left the hotel) that the normal little thrill I get from walking into a busy mall is replaced by fear and “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”-ness. I didn’t think I had become such a small town girl but the ugg-wearing, designer bag toting masses, the pre-Thanksgiving Santa, the knock-you-on-your-ass per-fumes, and the racket of the food court – oh, the noise! – was too much. I, me, who can’t pass up a clearance rack to save my life, was inhaling my philly cheese steak and racing for the nearest exit, my very un-designer bag flying behind.

Later as B and I were safely back in our dull hotel room, crying with laughter over an HBO comedian, I thanked my lucky stars that tomorrow we go home. Home, where you give directions according to the nearest barn, where you can turn left wherever you like, and the only concrete is the path leading to your own front door.

When writing makes you feel crappy

In a couple of weeks I will be presenting “De-Stress, the Write Way” at my local hospital for the second year. This blog post was written in response to my experience there and was originally posted at tlan.org with the title, “When Writing To Relieve Stress Makes You Anxious.”

pen journalI made a mistake.

I recently presented a workshop at a local hospital about using writing as a stress reliever. The small  room was half full. While I am fairly comfortable speaking or facilitating with a larger group, this was a new experience for me in that I was being videoed. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow for audience participation other than quick comments or questions. My usual preference after a writing session is to give the opportunity for sharing (with no obligation) so that the participants warm up to each other and become more of a cohesive group rather than silent students being “lectured at.” This allows them to get more out of the session – to learn from each other and themselves, and not just me.

This particular group never really relaxed. I’m not sure if it was the presence of the video camera or the time of night or the starkness of the room or the lecture-setting (I usually facilitate with the participants arranged in a circle), but there weren’t many questions or comments. In my experience, this was unusual. I could tell by the smiles and head-nodding that most participants were interested in what I was saying, and during the writing prompt times almost everyone wrote until time was called. But there were a couple of women I couldn’t read.

On the anonymous evaluation forms I later received, the comments were all positive. Except for this: “I got more stressed… I left with a knot in my stomach.” Our first prompt had been “What’s going on?” This is one of Kay Adams’ prompts (author of Journal to the Self and founder for the Center for Journal Therapy), and one which I actually had the opportunity to write on in a training with her. And this is where I had messed up in my presentation.

I had forgotten to tell my story.

I had been so excited to take Kay’s class and I sat there in my seat almost busting with anticipation about what I was about to learn. She opened as I did, with the prompt “What’s going on?” I wrote frantically for the timed five minutes. But when she called time I realized I didn’t feel so good. My stomach was doing flip-flops and I was kind of shaky. When Kay asked if anyone wanted to share their feedback of the writing exercise I raised my hand and admitted I felt awful, that the writing had drastically changed my emotional state from happy to downright anxious.

“Hold on to that feeling,” she said. “We’ll work with it later.”

Later, we did another exercise where she invited us to find a word or phrase that had jumped out at us during the first writing. Using another journaling technique I was able to dig deeper into what had actually made me anxious. As a result I made an amazing discovery, which, long story short, prompted me to quit my job in a life-move that was a major steppingstone towards where I am today. The words I wrote in that second write still resonate with me today.

So, I want to say to the woman who left upset: I am sorry. I wish I had explained what Dr. Pennebaker tells us in his book Opening Up and his other works, that writing expressively can cause you to feel worse initially but in the long-run, it will help. I wish that I had been able to tell you that feeling that knot is a good thing! It means you were experiencing your body’s felt-sense (to use Eugene Gendlin’s term from his book Focusing). It meant that you had touched something, made it come alive, got it moving, so that you could move past it. This was a first step towards healing.

I made a mistake which I won’t make again. Lesson learned.

For a video of my workshop go HERE

A Path to Publication, pt 13: How self-absorbed are you?!

To bring about a paradigm shift in the culture that will change assumptions and attitudes, a critical number of us have to tell the stories of our personal revelations and transformations.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon

I haven’t posted about my path to publication in a while because, well, last fall the path suddenly became a rut. I didn’t have the time or emotional ability to navigate that bumpy road at that time. But, as these things do, it hasn’t stopped nagging at me. Lately that voice has once again become too loud to ignore.

The question for me right now is: Do I stop everything else I’m doing, including pursuing other work, to dedicate my time to this memoir? It is so close to being finished (pre-revision finished, that is) it probably wouldn’t take too much concentrated time to complete it. But, as always, money and time are in limited quantities and I wonder if even the consideration of taking precious resources to work on a book is foolish.

Yes, the old fearful, imposter-syndrome, “who am I?” question has come into play. Why on earth do I think my story is so special that I have a right to spend anything on it?? Isn’t that kind of self-absorbed? Isn’t it just navel-gazing?

Well, here’s what my journal had to say about that last night:

If you are a good singer, you share your voice with others. If you are a talented cook, you feed others. You are a gifted teacher, you inspire others to learn. You have a story, you tell it.

I am a writer. A good writer, with a story to tell.

People respond to my writing. I have been given a gift. It is my gift back to share it.

I need my words to be read. I need to be heard.

And I have something to say. If it only resonated with one person, that’s reason enough to say it. Writing my story helped me to heal. Maybe it can help someone else too.

Humans are story-livers and givers. We relate, we learn, we empathize, we resonate, we make decisions, we change the world through story. It is my obligation to share mine.

In the Beginning was The Word

Here’s another poem written during grad school. This one is on the opening page of my thesis.
klimt mother child

In the beginning was The Word

And The Word was with Silence

And The Word was Silence.

In the beginning was Voice.

And the Voice was with Mother,

And the Voice was Mother.

It was with Mother in the beginning

Through it all things were made.

In Voice was Life –

The One-ness of all living things.

And the Voice became Flesh

Became Word

Became Face, became Image

Became Warmth, became Touch

Became Milk, became Taste

The Voice became Love

It resonated in the darkness

And Silence has not overcome it.