Transitions

Summer is over. Not technically of course, but once school begins something in the air shifts even before the temperature drops.

We’re still adjusting here. My daughter to her new school, my son to his fuller schedule, and me, to longer stretches of time alone.

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First day of 3rd grade and pre-K

The first day of school, I sat at my desk and felt the emptiness of the house echo in my bones. My son was having his first full day, which meant, so was I. This was what I wanted, and yet I felt a pang of melancholy, and received a flash into the future when my children grow up and leave home.

Is it me, or does time seem to go faster the older we get? During our second annual vacation to Cape May in August, I tried to hold onto the hours and days, but it felt as futile as watching my son clutch a fistful of sand. The tighter the grip, the faster the flow.

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Now that we’re into the second week of school, I feel the beginning of a rhythm, though shaky. My natural impulse is to rush headlong into fall and not look back. I’m done with summer, I told my husband as we debated about going to the pool last week.

He looked surprised. I’m not, he said, and I suddenly realized I’m not either. My sadness about summer’s end is what makes me harden and give it the cold shoulder.

This is how I deal with change, with transition. When it’s uncomfortable – and it always is – my natural inclination is to hurry through it. I liken it to the Band-Aid metaphor: rip it off or peel back slowly.

I want to rip it off. I want to toss it in the trash and not look back. But my heart gently reminds me to care for my wounds, no matter how small they are, and what I really need to do in moments like these is feel. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

My mother’s death was the first time I truly understood the futility of hurrying through a transition. Grief is like a boulder. It’s not easily moved aside. You can fight and struggle against it, you can close your eyes, but it’s still there. Waiting for you.

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It’s similar when a person is struggling with their health or has a disease. There is no ignoring sickness. You feel it in your body. You’re reminded of it every day when you wake, every night when you go to sleep, and many hours in between.

Recently, I went for my annual physical and my doctor was concerned about the sound of my heart. She heard a murmur, the whooshing sound of blood going back and forth through one of the valves instead of just forward. To be on the safe side, she sent me for an echocardiogram.

Mostly, I was calm, but I felt a tiny sliver of fear. This is the heart we’re talking about, my heart. The life force of an organ that kept my mother alive even when everything else in her body was ready to quit. What if there is something wrong with my heart?

The (sort of) joke in my marriage is that I’m the healthy one. I don’t have allergies or celiac, I’m apparently immune to poison ivy, and I haven’t had the flu since childhood. I’m rarely sick. I think it surprised us both that something might be wrong with me.

My husband offered to take me to the appointment. I didn’t realize until we arrived at the hospital how grateful I was to have his company. He had already been to this hospital three times for his own tests, but this was my first.

The technician was kind and professional. She dimmed the lights and turned on music. Soft familiar strains of Enya floated through the invisible speakers. The gel was warm as she moved the instrument across my chest.

My head was turned away from the screen, but every now and then I caught a glimpse of the shadowy interior of my heart. I could hear it, too, the whooshing, and I was struck with how precarious life is, how fragile our bodies can be, and how miraculous.

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The Giant Heart at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia

In the days before getting the test results I mostly put it out of my mind, but the what if’s whispered on occasion. I thought about the research I did years ago for my MFA thesis, titled, The Night Side of Life: Illness in Fiction, which was inspired from a quote in Susan Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor.

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

We toe the line between well and sick every single day we are alive. At any moment, we can be pushed or thrown to the other side. My mother found this out when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 40. One day her life was moving along as expected, and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

My test results came back normal. Relief. Gratitude. I’m off the center line, back on the safe side, for now.

I can’t help thinking about how my doctor described the murmur in my heart. The blood not moving in a straight line, but whooshing back and forth. That is how I live my life. Dipping back before going forward, and back again. It’s painful at times, yes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I wonder how the transition into this new season has been for you. Do you also struggle to remain present inside discomfort? I’d love to hear from you in comments! I’ve missed you this summer, and now that school is back in session, I’ll be returning to my (mostly) regularly scheduled programming.

Also, as some of you know, I’ve spent many months preparing for my online journaling course, Crossing the River: Writing Through Grief, which is now scheduled to begin January 2017. 

If you’d like to be put on the mailing list for updates about the course, and the upcoming free (!) online seminar, click here

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[Please note, this course is NOT intended only for those suffering a loss from death, but ANY kind of grief. The scope or size does not matter, nor does how much time has passed.]

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Grief Roar

Summer is flying by, and while my morning writing routine (#writinglikeamother) has slowed due to life and kids (also known as life with kids), I’ve managed to carve out time to work on my upcoming journaling course, Crossing the River: Writing Through Grief coming this Fall 2016 scheduling update: JANUARY 2017 on The Gift of Writing.

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I’ve filmed several lessons which has proved both humbling and inspiring. As a writer, I’m used to being hunched over my computer with a furrowed brow, not staring back at my face on a screen.

Despite my initial discomfort at being in front of the camera, I’m thrilled to facilitate a writing course I know would have helped me after my mother’s death. Since much of my mourning occurred in (self-imposed) isolation, I suspect having a community to share my emotions with, and my words, would have been a lifeline.

[Please note, this course is NOT intended only for those suffering a loss from death, but ANY kind of grief. The scope or size does not matter, nor does how much time has passed.]

Recently I returned to Jena Schwartz’s Roar Sessions with a guest post about muted grief, and what might happen if we open up our mouths and hearts. I’d be honored for you to head over there and check it out.

If you’d like to be put on the mailing list for information about my course, and the upcoming free (!) online seminar, click here.

Thank you for letting me chime in during the craze and haze of summer’s end. I hope you’re enjoying these finale weeks. I am, as always, feeling both bitter and sweet about it.

Dana xoxo

 

 

Finding Time

I’ve been quiet in this space, but it’s been a busy few weeks in my life. Back to back birthday weekends (my daughter and husband) with a grand finale of Mother’s Day, which always stirs up my emotions. I’m relieved it’s over.

I prefer the quiet lulls between celebrations. Must be that introvert side of me, relishing the chance to duck back into my shell and recover.

Meanwhile, things in my brain haven’t been much quieter, but that kind of work I can manage better. I’ve been tearing through memoir and craft books, inhaling podcasts, and basically gorging on this new (to me) genre. I’m filling myself up with as much knowledge as I can before taking my own leap.

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I never thought I’d be doing this, writing a memoir, and yet here I am, about to begin, beginning. I bought a designated notebook, a special pen, and I’ve been taking notes, writing out scene ideas. I feel like a train, its engine rumbling, steam rising, the whistle about to blow.

But once I get going, how will I continue my momentum once summer begins? The two words “school’s out” used to bring on waves of panic, but this year I’m not feeling as concerned. In fact, I’m making goals.

What the heck?! Two new words spring to mind:

Early rising.

(Well, that’s the goal. I won’t make any promises since this is quite a departure for me.)

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Now please understand, I always get up early. My kids still wake in the night, and at least one rises with the sun (since birth, since birth!) and her clomping steps to the bathroom (if she doesn’t stop to peek in my bedroom first) always rouses me. Even if I pretend to ignore it, the cat doesn’t.

My old way was to grouchily flop back into bed and squeeze out a little more sleep, even the restless kind, because getting up at dawn felt like admitting defeat. I’ve fantasized about being the kind of writer who sets the alarm at 5am to write, but after being deeply sleep deprived for eight years, it seems sacrilegious to wake before absolutely necessary.

But then Saturday happened. I slept poorly (thanks kids and cat) and woke in a foul mood. The whole day I felt off, grouchy. It wasn’t until later that I realized why. That morning I had a chance to get out of bed before my kids. I heard my daughter close her door and knew she had turned on her requisite morning show on her iPad, but I forced myself back to sleep. Yet, for the first time ever, I understood that sleep was no longer winning.  What I needed even more, at least in the hour of dawn, was solitude.

I read this post by a fellow writer-mama Sophie a couple weeks ago, Why Early Mornings Are Good For My Well Being As Well As My Word Count, and this line in particular struck a nerve.

“If I don’t take charge of my day, and instead fritter away the beginnings of it in broken sleep, then when I am finally forced out of bed by a hungry toddler I am way more weary than I would otherwise have been.”

I’m more pissy and grumpy, but same idea.

The sleep I get from 6-7am does NOTHING for me. So why not write, or read, or watch the birds flit around the feeder in peace, with no one clamoring for my attention?

I tried it on Sunday and it was like a miracle. Not only did I get some writing accomplished, but by the time my daughter appeared at 7am (as per my firm request and the assistance of Netflix) I was feeling generous and sated as opposed to annoyed and disgruntled. I may have been spotted humming while cleaning the bathroom later that morning, but that cannot be confirmed.

It’s been five days so far, and though I slept in a bit this morning (due to staying up too late writing this!), I’m going to keep on with this habit. There is something incredibly peaceful about being the only one awake and drinking my coffee in silence.

Will I ever set my alarm for 5 or 5:30am? I don’t know, but the idea no longer seems unattainable.

This summer instead of surrendering my writing time, I’ve decided to set some goals. Not small ones either:

  1. Record all 12 video lessons for my grief course (coming to The Gift of Writing in October 2016 if all goes well, click here to be put on the waiting list!)
  2. Write 50 pages of my memoir about me and my mother

mom watching me

The trick is walking the tightrope of trying to meet my goals and not beating myself up if I don’t. All I know for sure is that there is no certainty, not in parenthood, not in life. I can’t predict what this particular summer is going to look like. Can I rise at dawn and still have my wits about me to deal with my two (often sparring) children? Will a babysitter be able to wrangle them or will I have to intervene?

I want to enjoy summer – the laziness of it, the surrender – without stress. Well, without the added stress of deadlines. But at the same time, having a goal to lean toward could serve as my fuel, what gets me through the bickering and squabbles, knowing I have my mornings, whatever may come of them.

What are your summer plans, and do you make goals, or play it by ear? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief 3 Ways

As you may have noticed, there is a running theme here lately, about grief.

I didn’t intend to write so much about it, but that’s the thing about writing – you don’t always choose your subjects. Sometimes, they choose you.

When my mom died, she was all I could think about, write about, but I kept it mostly private. This was almost nine years ago, when the blogging and online world was quite different. I wrote – as I’ve always done – to understand. It was more instinct than decision. Now, the journals I filled have become a reference for the work I’m doing now.

I’m almost done writing the content of my grief course which I’ll be facilitating on the site, The Gift of Writing, and it’s been quite a journey. Despite all the time that has passed, I’ve learned things about my mom and myself I didn’t know before. That is one of the hopes I have for the people who join my class. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up, you just have to be willing to write.

If you’re interested in receiving updates about the class, click here to add your name to the wait list and you’ll be notified when registration opens.

In the meantime…

grief 3 ways

I recently wrote a guest post on The Gift of Writing called, Every Grief Counts: How to Honor Your Grieving Experience. I feel strongly about the importance of this post because I think there can be a sense of competitiveness and comparison when it comes to grief.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that grief is extremely personal. But the questions still rise up. How long is it appropriate to grieve? Are some losses “worse” than others? Please take a look at the article if you haven’t seen it already, or pass it along to anyone you think may be interested.

I also wrote an essay about my mother and her caregiver, Lucie, and the different ways both women showed me their love. You can read that here, on the lovely site, Mothers Always Write.

Last, but not remotely least, I am so proud of my friend Anastasia for the second book in her Ordinary Terrible Things series, Death is Stupid, published by Feminist Press.

death is stupid

Using her gift of collage and her deep well of empathy, she has created a wholly original book about death – including all the nonsense (well meaning and otherwise) that people say to children when someone they love dies. I urge you to watch the book trailer, which will give you a glimpse at the magic she makes with words and art.

Just to assure you, despite all my grief-making work, I am not at all depressed. It’s spring, one of my favorite seasons, and I’ve seen enough daffodils and forsythia to prove it. Sure, the chilling temperatures are a bit of a downer (and I’m very sorry to my upstate and New England friends for SNOW, not cool), but sometimes I think we forget the capricious, fickle, and teasing nature of April.

It’s still early spring, nestled up against the cold cusp of winter, and maybe clinging to the old season a little more tightly than usual. I imagine a dozing bear, annoyed at being roused, and yearning for just a little more sleep before it lumbers out into the sunshine.

Here’s hoping it lumbers out sooner than later.

 

 

Old Wounds

A few weeks ago, I dug out the stack of journals I wrote when my mom died. I filled almost 6 books from the end of June to the end of April. Ten months of grieving, nine months of carrying my baby. Two more journals written sporadically after the birth. New moms have limited time, as you can imagine.

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Opening old wounds is like peeling off a scab and watching the blood rise in tiny glossy beads. It stings, but also feels strangely satisfying.

Rereading these journals brings me right back to those early days. After only a few words, the tears that have seemingly dried up, or gone into hibernation, pour out. I welcome them, as painful as it is, because grief connects me to my mother.

It maintains and strengthens our tenuous connection, the invisible string that binds us together, from womb to body, from life to death.

I’m reading these old journals not simply for connection, but for research. As some of you know, I’m creating an online grief course for my friend Claire De Boer’s site, The Gift of Writing. The course, (tentatively) called Crossing the River, is about writing through grief. Not as a means to an end, but as a way to connect and integrate (healthy) grief into life.

This course isn’t just for those who are mourning a death. You can grieve the end of a relationship, whether it’s a break-up, divorce, estrangement, or abandonment. You can grieve infertility, the loss of a lifestyle, or a dream. In a podcast with Rob Bell, author and grief expert, David Kessler explains that grief is about change. Death is a big one, of course, but grief is how we deal and process any major change in our lives.

While writing this course, my grief has returned to me in fresh waves, but instead of rawness and confusion, it’s a release. The tears come and go and so do I. Moving forward in my life, grief is my shadow. Not a dark or scary one, but a companion that I find comfort in knowing is always there.

What are you grieving, right now?

I’ll keep you updated on the course, but if you have any questions or would like to be notified when it goes live, send me a note in comments or here: writingatthetable@gmail.com

The Art of Finishing: Guest Post

You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures… And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking. – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I’m so pleased to be up on The Gift of Writing with my latest guest post, The Art of Finishing: Manifest Your Writing Goals.

I’ve mentioned my struggle with my novel-in-progress more than a few times here on the blog, and it’s a challenge I suspect many can relate to whether or not you write. In my post I offer three simple ways to move past your own resistance, which can be defined as any thing, thought, or person that keeps you from achieving your goals.

Writing the essay helped clarify my own plan and I hope it helps others who find themselves stuck or sidetracked in any aspect of life, artistic or otherwise.

Please click here if you’re interested in reading the article. As always I’m honored by your support in whatever form it arrives!

P.S. If you haven’t already, consider signing up for my newsletter. You don’t want to miss my  upcoming Valentine’s Day inspired theme – Falling in Love with Podcasts: The Literary Edition!

Own Your Story

I never thought I’d consider writing a memoir.

Fiction is my genre. It always has been, ever since I was a little girl crafting “books” out of construction paper and crayons. When I declared myself a writer at some point in elementary school, I wanted to write stories. I wanted to make stuff up.

There’s a safety in fiction that doesn’t exist for memoir.

Maybe that’s why I kept myself firmly planted there for so long. I never had to be held accountable. I could always say, it’s just a story, if anyone bothered me about autobiographical details.

Of course every writer, no matter the genre, weaves in elements of themselves, their lives, in their work. If not things that happened to them directly, then things they observed, sensed, or felt. Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. But fiction writers can hide behind a cloak of invisibility – or at least, pretend to do so – while memoirists are stark naked.

Over the last couple years, I’ve been taking some different kinds of chances. I wrote about witnessing my mother’s death and the birth of my first child, about postpartum depression and my daughter’s celiac diagnosis. Stories that belong to me, but also, in a way, to my family.

The part of me that values privacy – and secrets – wanted to muffle this new tendency. But something shifted inside me, a curiosity began to unfold.

Recently, a writer friend left a comment on my blog post that flung the door open wide open (thank you Julie Gardner).

“You have a memoir in there.”

Her words stopped me in my tracks. They sunk in and took root, even when I tried to brush them away.

They were part of what inspired my recent guest post on The Gift of Writing.

Own Your Story: Overcoming Fear About Writing Memoir is about my journey, which is still in progress, but also contains universal truths that I discovered in my research about common themes that hold people back from telling their stories.

Please take a look if you’re interested in the topic. Thank you as always for reading my words, here and beyond.