Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chicken Soup Nourishes This Writer

Drum roll, please!   Hot off the presses today, I have an essay in the new "Chicken Soup for the Soul” title, Thanks Mom: 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love, and Good Times.  The book’s foreword is written by Joan Lunden, and the book features both scintillating but unknown writers like me and New York Times bestselling authors like Jacquelyn Mitchard and Brad Meltzer.   

My essay, “Turning into My Mother” (#63, p. 197) is true to my passion for exploring life’s gray areas, because—and I know you’re with me on this one—my relationship with my mom has never been black and white.   Growing up in a small town, I was in her considerable shadow for years and having broken away in my young adulthood, it’s both disconcerting and somehow comforting to find myself sharing some of her traits, while having rejected others
Because I don’t accept advertising on my blog, there’s no live link to an online bookseller here marked BUY NOW, so I’ll only say that this is, of course, perfect for Mother’s Day giving (Sunday, May 9, 2010, in case you’re wondering). And that if you are fortunate enough to have an independent bookseller near you, please patronize them.  They’re an endangered species. For more info on the book, go to chickensoup.com.

My wonderful mom, Suzanne Kullgren, has been very tolerant of my reflections on my life when the light of my reflections has hit her over the years, sometimes flatteringly and other times less so, but always with love.  Because all kidding to the contrary, I am my mother’s daughter.  

“I am grateful that I inherited her strength and resilience,
even if it comes with the rest of it. And who knows?
Perhaps one day I, too, will be a tough old broad.”
                                                   Karen Kullgren

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Are you feelin’ it?  C’mon, I know you’re feelin’ it, too.  Everyone’s walking around with a bit of a skip in their step and a smile on their face.  Work’s still stressful, finances still lousy, the world’s still full of tragedy and sorrow.  What’s changed?  The sun is out.  The air has lost its bitter edge and is seductively warming.  Spring has sprung. 

Yeah, I know, hopefully I’m not speaking too soon. You can’t see me but I’m knocking on wood.  Yes, in the Washington DC area if you don’t like the weather, as they say, just wait 5 minutes.  We may still have some more ups and downs in temperatures, but there is no stopping it.  Spring has sprung. 

Yes, I’m still dealing with winter’s damage, to my holly tree out front and to my vulnerable container plants that had no deep roots in the ground to protect them from winter’s ravages.  And the damage to my psyche, which is also vulnerable every winter, particularly because of the shorter days and lack of light (my therapeutic sunbox notwithstanding).  I always fall into the trap of globalizing. I think I’m always going to feel this bad and then suddenly the oppressive weight of darkness and cold has lifted.  Spring has sprung.

We all awake from hibernation.  It becomes more attractive to go out in the daytime for some exercise, to go out in the evening for some socializing.  I’m more eager to rise and greet the day. My mom is sprung from her isolation, out cruising around on her walker again, stopping in at her favorite neighborhood shops, no longer having to worry about a rogue patch of ice sending her tumbling to a broken something or other .  Outside my window, the geese on the lake are wildly flapping their wings and bobbing under the water, bathing noisily rather than serenely gliding across the lake. Some fowl spring cleaning ritual perhaps?   But I get it! We’re all giddy! I feel like flapping my wings, too.  Spring has sprung. 

The metaphor of spring is so deeply nurturing if we can keep it in mind through the dark days of the year and the dark days of the soul.  No matter what.  Reliable beyond reliable.  Nothing can stop it.  Always, always, spring will come.  Enjoy the grace of nature and the never-ending circle of life.  Have faith.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Editing My Life

It took two weeks of back-to-back snowstorms, but I finally got around to the monstrous amount of filing that’s been looming over me in my home office for, oh, about five years.  I’d staved off utter chaos and degradation a couple of times over the past couple of years, once enlisting a friend who was out of work for a while in a filing marathon (that’s how you can tell who your real friends are!), once or twice when my son was on school vacation (though I had to twist his arm to get him to work for me, even at more than minimum wage!) and again in a failed attempt to bring on an office assistant to help with my overwhelming workload.  But in a couple of days straight, followed by mop-up operations over subsequent weeks, I filed for hours on end, and even more satisfyingly threw away five bags of trash and recycled about four feet of stacked magazines, folders, travel brochures and papers. I donated boxes of books to Friends of the Library and I got A Wider Circle to pick up a piece of furniture that would find a place in the new home of a family moving out of a shelter.  I purged and organized (mostly the former) like a fiend.

I am sufficiently self-aware that I realized pretty quickly that all this organizing and decluttering was an attempt to impose order on one room while the bigger picture was that my life was spinning out of control.  More and more commitments and obligations, some externally imposed but many I will own to having placed on myself.  Even the interesting things on my calendar, the theoretically fun upcoming events, the meetings of organizations I find meaningful, were crushing my spirit.  There was no space in my days and my nights any more.  I was working from the moment I rose in the morning until the minute I blessedly fell asleep.  Which was another problem—I was having horrible insomnia, the kind where you stumble around all day with sore eyeballs barely able to keep your lids open, the kind where you are in a daze,  like someone put glue in your brain.  Something had to give.  
I woke up one morning last week and somehow these words were right there at the front of my brain: “I just can’t keep opening up endless portals into my life, endless claims on my attention.”  Like most messages, I had been hearing this message from the universe for some time, and nodding, and then going right along being “crazy busy.” 

I realized that for all the editing I was doing in my writing, what I now needed to do was edit my life.  So I have been.  I’ve been processing the sheer volume of “stuff” in my life—“stuff” being everything that demands my time and my attention, two commodities that are too precious to waste.  I’ve been practicing discernment about what to keep and what to get rid of in my life just as I was deciding what papers to file and what to shred in my home office.   I have withdrawn from the steering committee of an organization I remain committed to in other ways, and may be scaling back some of my writing outlets (among them, some book reviews I’ve been doing for a national website that have turned my favorite thing in the whole world—reading—into one more thing on my to-do list—SO not cool!). 

I’m also reassessing my connectedness through technology.   It is a blessing and a curse, one of the many “gray areas” I love exploring in life.  I’m a big fan of email, but I’ve just unsubscribed to more than half of the e-newsletters I used to get, and got off of notification lists on “deals.”  And I’m trying to spend only a limited time on my computer at night, though that’s challenging because that’s when I do most of my writing. I love Facebook, and I love reconnecting with old pals from my hometown and friends from college, but what does it say if I find a couple of them  living in the same area as I do and we want to get together but just never seem to have the time?   I worry that I am a tree with roots that are expanding but not deep enough to keep me strong and growing. 

I’ve also been in a period of hypercreativity, but that, too, is a double-edged sword.  It keeps my brain churning nonstop, and all the connectivity I’m feeling, like sparks flying and synchronicities firing with new people I’m meeting, whether in person or not, all of that requires follow-up and time, too.
All this decluttering of papers and junk is liberating and empowering.  But just as the biggest challenge in filing or tossing is not letting the piles reaccumulate, the biggest thing for me now is figuring out why I commit to or seek to experience more than I can healthily accommodate in my life and how to stay focused on the people and activities that matter.  I have to edit the story of my life, day by day. And make space for grace.

"I want to touch you in real time
Not find you on YouTube.
I want to walk next to you in the mountains
Not friend you on Facebook."
                                      Eve Ensler