But I do have this day before me. At 70, I am acutely aware of the passage of time.
A few years ago when I was letterpress printing, I bought Susan O’Malley’s book. I loved printing short quotes, and this colorful book drew me in.
Recently, I discovered Susan died unexpectedly at the age of 38. She’d been carrying twins, and they died, too. What a tragedy. That news settled in my gut and reminded me- once again- of our short time on this earth, in our physical bodies. As I spend these two weeks in Turks and Caicos, I am trying to work through her list.
Time may not be on my side, but I will sit and breathe, trying to remember that this is it. As Susan once said, “pay attention to the good stuff.”
I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks. That’s the word I use because I don’t want to use the word “stressful.” Or “anxiety-filled.”
I believe if I don’t say it, the feelings won’t actually be there. Crazy.
But, they were stress filled and hard. Yes, I’m retired, but I do volunteer. And I’ve discovered that my underlying anxiety, which for the most part stays beneath the surface, rises up when I am in charge of something. For the past two weeks, I’ve tried to manage emails, zoom calls, regular calls, and texts about a topic that means a great deal to me. Each day, I could feel myself getting more tired, stressed, anxious, and finally sinking into myself. Which is what I do when life seems overwhelming.
That seems silly to say when one is retired. Selfish is a better word, given the abundance I have in my life. But how much time in the day does not dictate whether or not you’ll feel stress. And I did. So I practiced my breathing. I took a Tai Chi workshop. I wrote. A lot.
Gradually, clearer thoughts emerged, and I realized I need to take this off my plate. Or at least, I need to play a different role in this organization. Once I made that decision, I could feel the weight lifting.
We are headed to the Caribbean for two weeks, and I plan to walk, read, write, and sleep. We’ve been to the same little hotel before, a place where I see the same lovely faces, walk the white, pristine beach, and find joy in tiny moments.
I debated about whether to write this. I tend to want to keep some things private. And I don’t want our choices to come across as arrogant or self-serving. But I want to share something my husband did for me. For us.
We lean left, as they say, politically. Until recently, we didn’t advertise that. But last year we decided to put up a yard sign for Black Lives Matter, and more recently a flag pole with rotating flags– one for BLM and one for gay pride. We had been thinking about ways we could take a stand, quietly.
Well, two weeks ago, someone decided to tear down our BLM flag while we were away. I was distressed and angry. Long story, but the sweet lady who watches our cat decided to buy us another and have her husband fix the pole before we got home. Their act gave me faith in people again.
Then this weekend, a woman with a dog knocked on our door. “Did you have a BLM yard sign in your front yard?” she asked.
She pointed down the street to a tall man in jeans, sauntering down the sidewalk WITH OUR SIGN! I shook my head, my mouth open in shock. She empathized, saying “I wanted you to know he just grabbed it and walked away.” These days I shy away from confrontation. Oh, who’s kidding? I have always shied away from confrontation. But I felt myself burning in anger.
David said, “we’ll buy another.” But the anger was still there.
Last night I walked into our living room and heard David on a phone call I didn’t recognize.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“The head of the NAACP of Fxbg,” he said.
Long story short, he had sent them a check, and the man was calling to thank him.
He explained that he had been thinking of sending a check earlier but when the hateful man stole our sign, he added much more to the check and sent it off.
“So there,” David said.
Somehow it really did make me feel much better.
I can’t demonstrate in large crowds, I hesitate to put myself out by writing letters, but I feel self-centered for not taking a stand. This felt right.
I’ve been following Jill Bolte Taylor since she had her stoke. Imagine at the age of 37, losing your capacity to talk, read, write, or recall the history of your life. But she recovered. And she has studied her healing every since.
Today I decided to listen to a podcast as I took my afternoon walk. I flipped my finger on my phone until it landed on Ten Percent Happier, a podcast I rarely miss. However, I hadn’t heard this one with Jill Bolte Taylor. Wow, I was so focused, I nearly tripped over a tree root.
She says: Our Four Characters take turns running our life. Our Character 1 goes to work, our Character 2 wants to make sure we are safe, our Character 3 gets us outside to play in the sun, and our Character 4 comes out when we feel grateful and connected to others.
Call a BRAIN Huddle, she says, when we want to make sure we are being who we want to be.
B for Breathe: Our breath is always with us.
R for Recognize: Once you bring your mind into the present moment, recognize which of your Four Characters you were exhibiting when you called the BRAIN Huddle.
A for Appreciate: Regardless of which character called the Huddle, appreciate the fact that you have four different characters and ask them all to participate in the Huddle. (This is particularly important when our fear-based Character 2 has been triggered and could use some support.)
I for Inquire: Invite all Four Characters into the huddle, so they can collectively voice their opinions and consciously strategize your next move.
N for Navigate: Life is made up of sequential moments and once our Four Characters are all in the BRAIN Huddle, we then have the power to choose which character we would like to have come out next. This is how we own our power, and no one can take our power away from us. With all of our Four Characters gathered in the BRAIN Huddle, we can choose moment by moment who and how we want to be.
I have to admit, this brings out my Character #2 in full force and makes me want to take a nap! But her explanation of it on the podcast has given me a reason to learn more.
Practice this 20 times a day, she says. It takes an instant “pause.” Become familiar with the characters. It’s like learning a new language.
I hadn’t been keeping track. But my friend, Donna, told me I’d written 52 poems for our project.
Writing, talking with Donna, planning, editing…all of this has been a joy. But I hadn’t really thought about the heft of this project until she mentioned the number. And that means, she, of course, has taken 52 photographs. The idea seemed simple: she’d send me a photo and I’d use it for inspiration to write a poem.
We didn’t plan for this to be so huge. We didn’t even envision it. We hadn’t realized how much this would end up being about those very things that drew us together in the first place– a shared experience with grief, complicated relationships with mothers, and aging. Our conversations drove this naturally, and it came to an obvious conclusion. A year. A season in our lives.
Poetry can be revealing, and for me so healing. Over the course of the year, as my poetry collection grew, so did my recognition of buried emotions. Writing about them helped me process feelings and come to terms with them.
Another challenge– imposter syndrome–came in like a storm. Even now I read some of my work with an overly critical eye, wondering who the heck I think I am to be writing poetry. This syndrome, first identified by Ruchika TulshyanJodi-Ann Burey, is one many women face.
Enter what’s known as imposter syndrome, which was originally coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their study of professional women in a clinical setting. For people with imposter syndrome, self-doubt, insecurity, and perpetual trepidation that their inadequacies will be discovered is a way of being in the workplace. Any successes and accomplishments can trigger anxiety. Women and ethnic minorities are often the hardest hit because hierarchical and masculine cultures can contribute to imposter distress.
I have learned to speak gently to myself, calm myself down. In a few hours, I am usually able to realize where this is coming from. People pleasing tendencies manifest in many ways. Also, I know I am writing for me, and this writing has been healing.
When we write about psychologically upsetting experiences, we actively confront the event and the emotions it has engendered. We are able to give perspective to the experience and its relation to the rest of our lives by opening up (… and) constructing an understandable narrative of what occurred. In this way, expressive writing is much like excising a wound – rather than obsessively ruminating about the event in a manner that yields no answers, thus allowing the painful experience to fester and possibly lead to mental health problems, expressive writing allows us to cognitively confront, process, and heal from the pain.
We will be putting the finishing touches on this project over the next month and then sending it to MILK, where they will create a beautiful book for us! I am so grateful to have shared this time with her. We’ve already talked about doing something together in the future. Both Donna and another friend Linda have rekindled my interest in photography. And I’ve signed up for a watercolor class. I don’t know where this will lead, but I am open to possibilities.
“Art is a wound turned into light.” ~ Georges Braque