Friday, September 27, 2013

Guest Post...from my Favorite Writing Teacher

This appeared on my friend and mentor, June Calender's blog yesterday.  It nicely sums up what a small handful of "retired" Cape Cod women are doing to keep their creative lives up and running.  We started out with five and now, we're eleven strong.  We're open to new "members".  The only criteria for inclusion is the desire to accept the fact that all of us, by our nature as humans, are "creative".  It is when we are told that it is not "productive" or "acceptable" or "good" that we become otherwise convinced and tell people that we lack that spark.  When we get together every two weeks, it is amazing and wonderful to witness that spark having been lit once again.  Yesterday, the word prompt "sky" brought us all to new heights and in the process, we discovered so many new things about who we are.  We already are, I believe, who we "will" be one day because we bring to "that" day, all that we are doing with our todays and all that we have done with our yesterdays, don't we?

A Meeting place, with good food

I think this house has gone through several incarnations but I love its current life as the Chat House in Dennis, Massachusetts. A thoughtful young couple have turned it into a restaurant and kind of community center.  First came the restaurant idea (I think) -- a smallish menu of unexpected variety, pastries for the coffee and breakfast eaters, and a variety of interesting foods for the lunch and dinner group -- not a sit down and be served place but an order and settle in one of the variety of rooms, or the patio (in good weather) and enjoy.  Lately wine and beer have been added, definitely a plus!

Art shows by local artists -- good ones, often youngish, cover the walls and tend to sell (as the prices are usually reasonable).  Groups are encouraged to come, meet and talk. Many nights there is music  by local artists. They  have a story slam once a month and have instituted a poetry open mike night.  I, and various members of my family, have been going to the story slam and telling our stories. A new group, as of today named Creative Chatters, has met four times (every two weeks).  A very eclectic group of women brought together by a cheerful "communicator" as she defines herself, to come up with something creative inspired by a random word, drawn from a group of words brainstormed a couple of meetings ago. There are painters, writers, teachers, jewelry makers, crafts makers -- eight people today with two absentees. 

Today's prompt was "sky", in the past it has been sunset, maintenance, and yellow, for the next meeting it will be farm. What can will people come up with? There's no telling, being a born and bred farm girl, I'll think of something. The others are not farmers' daughters, I'll be curious what they do. We were mostly strangers to one another two months ago. As women do, we erupt into personal stories every so often, we are becoming friends as we become acquainted. I think this is always true of groups of women and it probably begins way back in grade school.

Women "of a certain age" have an advantage over men in this respect.  Men seem to have learned to bond only over sports, and later career/work or, still, sports watching. But women usually trust other women, rarely are competitive in the physical way men are and rarely have a single interest.  Especially after the age of 55 or 60 we have weathered many similar storms, most of us have been divorced, most have children, most have had one or sometimes many careers.

We find it wonderful that we can spent two hours sitting in one of the rooms of the Chat House chatting and "showing and telling" having coffee and/or something for lunch depending on the time we arrive. This is better than a coffee shop, it's a living room away from home. Such a good idea. I hope the couple feel their hard work is paying off.  I am happy to have extended my acquaintances to women I would not have met otherwise and I am inspired by the unexpected prompts.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reminder on the First Morning We've Needed the Heat on....

Last Spring, I took an amazing online writing class from a woman in California named Laurie Wagner.  A lot of what we wrote was never intended to be seen outside of our virtual classroom.  The name of the course implied that we would be telling true stories and that is what we students did for six weeks.  Naturally, I will not post most of what I wrote but one of the techniques that we used for exercise was the "Wild Writing" style which has the writer, pen in hand, writing for five minutes, non-stop.  In other words, pen meets paper and stays with it.  The writer just writes, freely, without thought to spelling, grammar or punctuation.  We go back later and fix that. There's no attention to style either.....just getting words out on to paper.  I recently went into my files and found this little piece that I had written during one of those exercises.  It's such a good reminder to me to take good care of myself and, as the winter approaches, that is sound advice.  Easy to take care when a long, beautiful day arrives and I respond by sitting beachside or poolside.  But, the winter song is so different and it's so much harder to simply remember to use moisturizer.  So, here's the wild writing.....

I have never done anything “wild” in my entire life so it is very funny that I am sitting down here for the next 15 minutes, creating an essay that exemplifies wild writing.  Why have I never done anything wild? I wasn’t allowed to, I was scared to, I was too inhibited by what I did not know.  But the idea of doing anything wild scares me not least of all putting it on paper.  I am looking out the window now and wondering if it is snowing but not sure it does look like there is some precipitation in the air but them why would the snow plows have already been dispatched. The trees look so bare and the entire outside of our apartment looks so bleak.  Yes there are snow flurries again.  I am hating this winter and I am not sure why.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that I had such a spectacular fall and miss my freedom.  My freedom from worrying my freedom from calendars and clocks .  When I was in Italy I was entirely on my own and it felt really good.  I was free to express myself in any way I wanted.  I was free to take my time every day to do anything and everything I wanted and needed physically and emotionally. It was such a lovely time one I highly recommend to anyone who had been through a trauma or a loss of a loved one.  Oh how I loved being in Assisi.  Oh how I wished it would never end.  Idid not miss anything or anybody here and was never ready to return.  My days were mine alone.  I loved getting up early in the morning, slowly welcoming the day, no need to rush.  I would get up, make my coffee, sometime bringing it back to the bed.  The bed was so comfortable and comforting. The down quilt was just the right weight and felt dreamy all the time. Pillow was perfect; room was beautiful not big but just right for me.  Bathroom was comfortable and I was so happy that there was a walk in shower, huge, good water pressure. I could spend hours in that shower. I took great care of myself, dried in between all of my toes put cream on my body really loved it.  I loved having that washing machine near the bathroom.  I did lots of laundry because I packed light for the trip.  I am still amazed at the great job I did packing.  Not too much, not too little, just right and so well organized. I never misplaced things and it felt so good to be so organized without anyone moving my stuff or without a care in the world, really.  I made myself breakfast every day and enjoyed every bite.  After the ritual of getting breakfast, cleaning up, taking my shower, it was time to get out for the morning.  Most mornings I had not agenda, I just knew it was time to go out and was always amazed that it was the same time every morning.  I just went out, with my camera and walked most mornings.  Some mornings I stopped for  cappuccino and savored it. I love cappuccino and it is so much better with a coronetto and the chocolate ones are the best of all.  I did not worry too much about the fact that they were loaded with calories.  I waked most of my calories off every day I think.  Besides I was treating myself in a way that a mother would treat a child who had behaved well.  Isn't that was this whole experience really was about?  I was treating myself as if I were a child. I was and am a child in the sense that I am somebody’s offspring.  I behaved so well during the time of my mother ‘s illness and death so it is natural that I was in store for a treat when it was over and I treated myself so well for one entire month of my life and that felt so good. Why can’t I treat myself as well all the time I ask? I’m learning.  Just this month alone, I purchased some things for myself that I ordinarily would not.  It feels good to actually go to a store and come out with something like a lavender candle or a soft throw for my chair.  Next I really have to think more about the fact that I do love myself and if I want to take care of myself physically it is okay because I am still my mother ‘s child and mothers want their children to take car of themselves because that is what I want for my own children.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On September 11th. A True Story

The scene, my office in the Colgate-Palmolive Building at 49th and Park.  The time, an afternoon, perhaps in November of 2001.  This is a true story.  The names have been changed.  I wrote it as a dialog assignment a while ago.  Seems like it all happened yesterday.  All of it.

Tom, you’re alive!!! “  The words fell out of my mouth as if they had been too many gigantic jelly beans.

Before me stood Tom Cahill.  Young, healthy looking, sporting his neat white shirt, understated blue tie, and beige tweed sport coat.  Always dressed impeccably, ready for his client meetings.  Tom Cahill, R.N., the father of three, one still a very young baby.  Tom Cahill, the nurse who did us all proud by carving his way into the corporate world, hired by a major company as a “consultant”. The very sound of that word, at that time in my life, rang bells in my head and before me I saw fireworks in the sky.  A man, a registered nurse, a consultant.  A friend indeed, in an enviable position.  That angelic, clean scrubbed face and lovely warm personality were parts of what made Tom a welcomed team mate. Tom, very much alive.
Our professional relationship began when Tom and his work associate,  Maria, became part of the team that was sent by their consulting firm as my company was in the process of selecting a Disability Management firm, one that would revolutionize the way  that the Colgate Palmolive Company handled non-work-related illness and injury.  Together, we would formulate a plan of action and interview several companies, based on criteria selected by our consultants.  We met often as a work group.
Mine was a somewhat lonely, beautifully decorated office.  My building, headquarters for one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, was located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, on Park Avenue, directly across the street from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  One could not ask for a better location or a better view from the company cafeteria.  My office was actually a suite of rooms, each dedicated to some aspect of corporate health and wellness.  If the rooms were all fused together, truth be known, I had a bigger space than did the Chairman of the company but he had more windows and he had many more co-workers.  I had a huge budget, all of the most up to date medical equipment, a lovely new ergonomic work station and a gracious waiting room for my clients.  Behind my work station was a room that was designed to my specifications.  It was called the “Personal Program Room”, a mini spa, complete with massage chair, room darkening blinds, and tinkly music.  One could use the room for praying, dancing, exercising or simply taking time out to “chill” during an otherwise stressful work day.  Two clinical rooms down the hall, another beautifully equipped room with a work station for the visiting physician and two “resting” rooms down a short corridor….but only one, solitary nurse.
The dubious distinction of being “THE” company nurse came with a few drawbacks.  It was I who answered all of the emergency calls, and with no less than one thousand people in the building at any one time, there were quite a few each month. It was I who had the job description that carried the implied duty of “never losing my cool” and always being ready to soothe the crowds should there be a major catastrophe, real or perceived.  All by myself….
So, the presence of another health professional in my workplace, if only for the duration of a meeting once a week or month, was a source of great pleasure.  Tom filled the bill more than adequately.
“Come on in Tom, sit down.  I’m so, so very happy to see you.  I was worried about you”
Thank you.  Believe me; I’m also very happy to see everyone”
“ Do you feel like talking about it Tom.  If you don’t its okay”
No, they told us it was good for us to talk about it.  We still have regular group meetings”
Tom asked me for a piece of paper and a pencil and sat down on the visitor chair beside my free-formed desk.  I closed the door and put up the “Treatment in progress. Please do not disturb unless it is an emergency” sign.
Slowly and purposefully, Tom started to draw a square on the paper.  Along the sides of the square, he drew smaller squares.
So, here’s my story” he began.
I was at my office, preparing a presentation for the next day, working later into the night. I was starting to get tired and knew that I had to meet up with the rest of my team in the lobby of the building the next morning, so I called car service, boxed up all of my hand out materials, and scheduled an email to arrive early the next morning at my office in New Jersey”
“Oh, that’s right, now I remember, you live closer to the New Jersey office than the New York office, don’t you? 
“Correct, I only live a few miles from the office, so close that I did not even turn my car radio on as I drove in”
Oh, Tom, I have a feeling I know what’s coming next…..”
“When I arrived at the office, ready to print out my materials and head to meet my team members, I was greeted by office assistants who looked at me and screamed, started crying out, telling me that they were receiving an email that stopped abruptly during its transmission”
Tom sighed, took a deep breath, and quietly went on
“I had not yet heard the news but they had. Already in a state of panic, my incoming email, from my office on the one hundred and first floor of the North tower of the World Trade Center caused several of my Marsh McClellan coworkers to fall down into a fetal position”
Taking pencil in hand, Tom started to inscribe a series of little X’s, filling in boxes in what I soon understood was a diagram of the building’s northeast corner.
“This is where Mary sat, and this is where John sat and this is where Phil sat, and this is where Cathy sat, right there where the nose of the plane entered the building.  And this, this is where I sat, right next to Ed’s office. I would have been sitting there had I not packed it in at 11pm on the evening of September 10th.”
Three hundred and thirty two of Tom’s co-workers, including their solitary “company nurse” perished that day.  I often wonder how well she kept her cool.

The scene, a walkway in Assisi, Italy.  I found a paver that was dedicated to Brian Sweeney of Barnstable, Massachusetts, another one from White Plains, New York, my husband's home city.  I wrote about the path in a blog post dated November 28, 2012 and titled "A Tribute Across the Sea".  

Rest in Peace

I Remember

It's just that kind of morning.  The first of more pre-Autumn days that bring me back to places.  Some of those places are simply in my heart.  I wrote this piece as an assignment for a class called "Telling True Stories" a few months ago.  The classes expanded my writing ability while at the same time, demanded that I kept memories, good ones and bad ones, alive. It's what we do with those memories that makes us who we grow up to be and we never stop growing, do we?

I remember that my first born child had one crayon red hair in amongst his strawberry blonde locks and then two years later, my baby girl, one white one.  I remember both of their births as if they were yesterday and thinking how incredibly lucky we were to have babies.  I remember thinking that I would never return to my own life. I remember the look on Doris Kelly’s face when Josh read his own Kindergarten questionnaire to her. She remembered thinking of me “oh, no, not another one of those mothers….” I remember when she told me how wrong she had been to think that and how special my child was to her. I remember the day the kindergarten bus dropped Sara off for the last time, me hiding in the bathroom so I did not have to face it.  I remember her handing a notice to me that said “Welcome to the world of Brownie Scouting”.  I remember the first time we dropped them both off at their colleges, simultaneously emptying the nest.  I remember how I cried and cried. Smelling what I was sure was baby powder as I walked from room to room before taking to my bed…..for hours on end. I remember Patty calling to check up on me. I remember the Christmas Josh bought the music box for Kelley and the damper we somehow put on his beautiful plan to present it to her under the Christmas tree.It made me recall so painfully  the day we went to the flea market at his high school, ready to sell something, anything to make us some extra money. He was so excited and tried so hard to make it work. I remember the glass dish that the lady in the next booth gave to us, as a gift.She read our pain so well. I remember the day that the law school acceptance letter arrived, how I ran up and down the driveway of our townhouse complex, shouting and dancing.  I remember how it all came to an end when Kelley left Josh and did not remember to tell anyone it was the end of their college romance.  I remember hurting as if it had happened to Joe and I instead. A scholarship for the second year of law school, turned down by a broken-hearted solitary soul.  I remember Sara failing her first road test.  I remember Sara’s romances and her own heartbreaks.  I remember her anger at us for not having the money to pay all of her tuition to Boston University and having to use financial aid for her education.  I remember her reminding me of this in the middle of the street, in front of her then boyfriend who’s father was a millionaire. I remember how humiliated and angry I was. I remember the pride only a parent can feel when she was admitted to the Bar.  I remember mother-daughter vacations and the laughter.  I remember Josh, when he departed our home for what he thought would be his new life on the West Coast, leaving a note for us that simply said “I’m proud to be your son”.  I remember when both of my children loved each other, were best friends, and could be in the same room together for more than five minutes.  I remember how my heart broke into little tiny pieces when I found out that my son had developed a painful ingrown toe nail because he did not want to tell us he had outgrown his shoes.  I remember the same heart jumping for joy when Sara delivered the commencement address to her department at her college graduation, to all the other graduates of the school of liberal arts, so many of them free of the post-graduate college loan debts that she would be saddled with.  I remember the night Lucy was born, how again my heart was on a plate, my entire body wracked with fear, Joe pacing, sick with worry because we were told that “someone” would be down to talk to us soon…..until I was handed the surgical scissors and invited to cut the umbilical cord of my first born grandchild.  I remember watching  Sara nursing her and then again, Phoebe.  I remember Alston and Brookline and Waltham and now Sudbury, the homes she and Jeff created for their beautiful family. I remember all the kindnesses of my daughter in law, Lisa, visiting my dying mother all the while knowing that her own father was at the end of his life.  He died a week after my mother. I look at my son and look forward to his future successes but remember how very successful  he already is at being a fine man.  I remember every time I see my grandchildren, so happy and so on their way to being what they, too will become and I remember how proud I am of Sara’s parenting.  I remember so much more about so many things and wonder what life will be like when I don’t any longer…..remember. Do all of these things make me happy or will I be happier when I can remember to live in the moment and just allow what I remember to shape my future?  I just hope I will be young enough to enjoy it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

To Sleep. Not.

Last week's Wall Street Journal brought yet another article on sleep disorders into our living room.  This one led readers to the news that there was new and exciting breakthroughs in the management of Sleep Apnea.  A new device will soon appear in the market, one that does not employ face masks.  This new CPap machine consists of a device that the user places in the mouth.  Oh, wonderful.  One of the women interviewed for the article is thrilled with the news.  She looks forward to the day when she no longer wakes up with marks on her face, residual proof that she wore her mask all night.  I should be so lucky.  If I wore my CPap mask long enough to make marks, I would paint my face green to show off.  I want to use the machine properly, it's just that I have so many other sleep issues and getting comfortable with a hose protruding from my nose just makes it so much harder.  I can only imagine sleeping with a device in my mouth. My fear of choking would out rule my fear of dying from Apnea.

This is not the first time I am writing about sleep.  More specifically, I write about my lack of sleep and the spectrum of sleep associated problems that I do battle with most nights.  You name the problem, I own it.
I'm not sure when it all started but I've been dealing with this for many, many years and it seems to be getting worse.  I really do not like to complain but what's a girl to do?  I have so many extra hours in my day, I might as well fill them with something.

Okay, so I have a well-documented case of Sleep Apnea.  I took the test, went to the sleep lab twice, once for evaluation and then again to sleep with the CPap machine.  Slept like a baby both times by the way.  Was it the Benadryl or was it the mattress at the lab?  Hmmmmm.  Anyway, I've been "using" my little bedside machine for well over two years.  I'm not sure of how many hours I've logged on but I do know that when I was alone in Italy, I never slept without it.  After all, if I woke up dead, who'd know?  Was it that fear or was it the nice, comfy bed and duvet?  Or, the nice dark room and complete silence until.....the construction under my bedroom window started.  Classic "can't win for losing" situation.  Most days, they started drilling into rock no later than six in the morning. Rock, I do not exaggerate.

So, why the lack of compliance now?  You try falling asleep with two rubber "pillows" stuck up your nostrils and call me in the morning.  If you manage to fall asleep, let me know if the machine gave you a sinus headache too?  Full disclosure here....I wake up with sinus style headaches a lot.  Nothing new again.  Have for years.  Post nasal drip until at least lunch time.  Add that to the list of sleep disturbers.

Alas, were it only for the Apnea problem, I might not be re-writing a blog post about my sleep issues.  No, it goes way beyond that.  For instance, I use not one, but sometimes three different pillows during the night.  I keep them handy, next to the bed so if you sleep over and wander, you have been warned.  Tripping over them has been a bone of contention for my husband on his nightly bathroom visits.  You may recall from earlier musings, these trips and the snoring/talking in his sleep, are not helping me.  Did I tell you that my
father used to wake my up with a bugle if I slept "late"....past seven on a Saturday.  Hmmmm. Men, they don't seem to get it.  I'd like to be one for at least one night.  I have no idea of what it feels like to have a restful night, to wake up refreshed.  Maybe a sex change would allow for that experience.

So, moving right along from pillows.....I also need at least two rooms every night.  I play musical beds. Here again, nothing new.  Have done that since my twenties so we can't say that I have anything new on my mind that causes me to drift from room to room, bed to recliner to sofa to bed.  I wake myself up with trying to fall asleep as I chose my resting place.  This makes overnight visits and house guest visits rather difficult.  We only have two "bedrooms" and one of them is our very little "family" room where we watch T.V. and use our desks.  The livingroom sofa is but a love seat and I'm not exactly petite.  I can't come up with many more excuses for turning down kind friends who plea "come visit us, we have the room".  I will have to start being very honest because I can't do it. Another problem, I'm up with the birds.  No matter how late I get to bed, I rarely can stay in bed beyond 5:30.  If I do, my entire body starts to ache and my hands get numb.  Yes, I have tried.  And yes, I know I do generally turn in too early. I'm tired early and on to the next problem.

I can't sit.  That is, I can't sit still.  Watching T.V. at night?  Can't do more than an hour if I get that far.  I fidget.  I cross and uncross my ankles.  My back hurts.  My attention span wanes.  I start to doze off and when I do that, I really have a problem falling asleep.  Kava tea?  I'm too worn out in the evening to get up to make a cup.  Coffee?  You have got to be kidding.  Benadryl, Ativan, Melatonin, Lavender, Valerian, and the latest, "Calms".  Homeopathics, pharmaceuticals, myths, beliefs, what works for one, not for the other.  I've tried them all.  All of the above plus black blinds in the bedroom (they look creepy during the day!).  Nada.
My friends send me articles on the promotion of sleep, they tell me what they have discovered to have been helpful for them.  I buy new pillows.  I tired the disposable things that you bite on at night to keep from grinding teeth (could not get through an hour with those). Nada.

Another day has started. It's almost 7:30.  I've put my extra time to good use, writing about it all makes it better or is it that it's always better when I'm not trying to sleep?  Who wouldn't feel better at the end of a horror show?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I Love You Cape Cod

There's something special about the first weeks of September.  I'm always quite amazed at how suddenly the weather changes as if Mother Nature knows.  The sky seems bluer, or is it that I just find the time to look up and gaze in appreciation?  After a full season of summer visitors, the Cape is now at rest.  We often remark about how it is as if a plug has simply been pulled.  Tourists seem to vanish and the hush is palpable.  Our home is once again ours.  No more invasions of our roadways.  We can make our way from here to there and back again with ease and it feels very, very good.

Today is one of those days that remind me that while so much is wrong with the world, so much is also right. The air is clear, almost crisp.  The sky is blue and I hear the gentle whir of post-season yard work in my neighborhood, interspersed with the sounds of birds.  Are they planning their winter escape?

Kids are back to school.  Beaches are empty and so much more inviting.  Gentle sea breezes beckon.  Friends are ready to regroup, to make plans for how we, just like the birds, will spend our next season.  I feel like flying from limb to limb too.  I feel like spreading my wings, returning to school in search of enlightenment.  I feel like jumping for joy in celebration of the new waves of air, those that are no longer laden with moisture that simply will not release.

Cape Cod is a beautiful place.  It's more than that.  It's a state of mind and today, I'm in a Cape Cod state of mind and I'm happy to be here.