It’s Spring: A Poem and a Light-hearted Lament

A pretty yellow flower that says heralds spring.

Photo of a pretty yellow flower to herald spring.

Spring has well and truly sprung where I live.  The sun beams beatifically while a bellicose wind is determined to huff and puff the few remaining days of March.  In the background, my husband’s chainsaw gnaws through a pile of downed tree limbs — winter’s detritus.

Today is my husband’s birthday.  (Happy birthday, Bob.)

In a couple of days it will be April, which is National Poetry Month.  I love poetry as much as I love spring.  On spring mornings rife with sun, I often think of Wordsworth. Specifically the following:

My Heart Leaps Up

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I learned this poem many years ago when I was still the Child.  A few years ago, while thinking on Wordsworth, I jotted down a response to My Heart Leaps Up.

My heart despaired when I beheld
A codger in the dell:
So was it that my life began;
Yet here I am without a plan,
Fast closing in on next-to-dead.
Oh, bugger hell!
And I could wish my days to crawl
Before I have to chuck it all.

I must have been in a funky mood when I wrote that ditty.  In my defense, the too swift passing of time has been an obsession with me since I was about eight, and the only way around it is to poke fun of myself, which is what I am doing here.  (Plus, I do love the word codger.)

So, welcome to another spring; to young men’s (and women’s) fancy; to love and poetry.  Welcome, welcome, welcome all!

Vernal Blossom

vernal blossom

Yesterday was the first day of spring.  I found this lone flower blooming in a pot of greenery by my kitchen window.  Isn’t it lovely?  Oh, harbinger of new and reawakening life.  Oh, beacon of joy.  This is the stuff that stirs poets to pen.

Except that this is my Thanksgiving cactus which ordinarily produces its pink-tinged blossoms and white translucent wings in November, and it did not disappoint four months ago when it was awash with blooms.  In all the years that I have had it, it has never flowered in spring.  Nor has it ever only presented a single bloom.

This morning there was snow.  By the afternoon it was gone.  Harbinger of doom?  Who knows?  I do think we should all hang on to our hats; come summer we may be in for a hot, bumpy ride.

 

A Love Song

bob & jordan France 2

Just an old-fashioned love song,
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me.
Just an old-fashioned love song,
Comin’ down in three-part harmony . . .

~~~  Three Dog Night

 

Of all the photos I have ever taken, this one is my favorite:  My husband and our son walking down the street in a French village twenty-two years ago.  They are walking away from me not to go anywhere in particular, but to allow me to record how astonishingly narrow the street is, using them as a measure.

I don’t remember where this was specifically.  Somewhere in the Provence area.  We had rented a car and were driving around to various places we’d pinpointed on a map.  A guide book I read mentioned a villa outside this village that Picasso may (or may not) have lived in for a short time.  We thought it would be fun to say we saw where Picasso may (or may not) have lived.  It was the first trip we’d taken where we needed passports.  We were giddy with excitement.

Thanks to the digital services of online places like Zazzle, this photo now adorns the case on my cell phone, as well as cheering me from a mug as I enjoy a cup of tea.  I bought three mugs bearing this photo, one for each of us.  To remind us.

We are a love song.  The three-part harmony.  The Boy and his Dad striding step by step along side of one another, me capturing the joy of a free and easy moment to carry us through life’s rough patches.  For me, the thought of that is all the Valentine I will ever need.

 

A Wish for Grace, A Dream of Sleep

Fa-la-la-la . . . oh, forget it.

Fa-la-la-la . . . oh, forget it.

Today is the day before Christmas.  The last shopping day.  The last day to go out and buy food if we’re to have a proper meal for Christmas.  I have three baskets of laundry piled high:  His dirty clothes; my dirty clothes; clean clothes and towels waiting to be folded.  We’ve a tree (see photo above) with lights and an angel on top, but nothing else, and yet, I think it’s the most beautiful tree we’ve ever owned.  It is perfect, is it not?

I am tired.   Really, really tired.

This has been my refrain, my mantra — every single day this year.

After months of trying to find the cause, I learned that I have severe sleep apnea.  A machine recorded how many times I stopped breathing in my sleep, which turned out to be an average of once every 75 seconds.  I was hoping Santa would bring me a CPAP machine for Christmas, but it looks like that’s not going to happen.  (A higher power than Santa requires that he fill out forms and documentation in triplicate while also procuring the eyeball of a Komodo dragon, three sets of fruit bat wings, and a pair of fuzzy dice before he’s allowed to deliver medical equipment.)

All of that aside, this is not a post just about me.  It’s about you, too, my readers, my friends, my family, my tribe.  What I wish for us all.

I’ve had plenty of down time this year.  Hours spent lying in bed–not sleeping–waiting for the brain fog to lift, the morning headache to subside.  Time enough to think about all the important stuff, or my interpretation of it, anyway.  (Everything is subjective.)

And what I’ve come up with is this:  Life sucks.

Life is incredibly difficult and unfair.  It’s full of nasty isms — racism, sexism, ageism, terrorism.  Everybody hates something, or someone.   People are mean, politicians corrupt.  All over the world people are suffering and sick, afraid and lonely.   People are dying.  Too many are contemplating suicide.

Why should I stick around for this?  Why should any of us?

It’s been that kind of year.

And then someone on a social media site shares a cute cat video or (even better) the video with a penguin laughing — laughing — and for a few seconds I forget about how hard life is.  It occurs to me that life has always sucked, yet here we are, still hanging in there, wending our way towards grace and a little kindness through whatever means we can.

Tomorrow is Christmas, the Boy is home, and music and laughter will abound despite everything else.  Despite piles of laundry, an unadorned tree, and gifts that didn’t get wrapped (sorry, guys!).  Despite death and disease, hatred and terrorism, love, hope and charity still persist.

Wherever you are, however you hurt, hold on to the fact that there are people who love you.  There is generosity and love all around.  Sometimes it’s hard to see, but it’s there, I promise you.   You are enough.  You have done all you can.

Tomorrow is another day, another step forward on whatever path we choose. An added bonus here in the Northern Hemisphere is that we will have another minute or so of light.

That’s good enough for me.

May the coming year be better for us all.  May we all find joy in whatever nook or cranny it resides.  But most of all, I wish us peace.

 

 

 

 

Say His Name

shannon adams 2

I never met Shannon Lewis Adams, but I woke up this morning thinking about him.  I said his name out loud.

On September 11, 2001, he was twenty-five, about the age that my son is now.  A baby, still, his real life just beginning — the one his parents had spent years preparing him for. Nurturing him; encouraging him.  Loving him.

Fly, little bird, they may have thought then.  Go out into the world and see what there is to see.

And Shannon flew.  To a lofty building far from home.

I knew his father.  We grew up in the same small area in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York.  A place where most people are content to spend the whole of their lives.  Lewis Adams had a shy sweet smile that traveled  his face and was reflected in his eyes.  I’ll bet his son Shannon did, too.

I picture a space in the universe where all the lost smiles fled to that bright September day. They are there still.  We need just say a name and the space lights up with love.

Of all the names I know just the one.  But it’s enough.  One name, one face, one smile is all it ever takes to bring us to our knees.  And still we say the name.

Because we can.  Because we must.

 

 

A Stupid Place

Gram at 70.

Gram at 70.

A Stupid Place

A stupid place to put it,
she says, winding into another rant
about a ceiling fan at the wrong end of the room.
She sits and twists the ring on her finger,
and wonders why she is here.

Because she used to have a house.
Now she has too much furniture,
and a life packed in cardboard boxes,
honey-combed walls wilted by
the heat of how many summers?

Moments flicker and play out
in silent testimony to what came before
this place, this stupid place.
At the window, a curtain lifts like an apparition
in a breeze too flabby to last.

She turns her head and waits for
the next riffle of wind,
for the days that gather and roll
like dust bunnies beneath her bed,
while she sits and twists the ring on her finger

and her mind meanders in a space
too narrow for contentment,
a labyrinth of thoughts
that twists and turns upon itself
crossing the same trail, the same words,

A stupid place to put it, she says.
I don’t know why I’m here.

~~  Mary Pierce, 1995


The woman in the photo is my grandmother, Pearl Crawford Pierce.  She was seventy when the photo was taken, her hair color still hers and not from a box.  She cut her hair herself.  My grandfather had been dead for more than twenty years by then.  In those years, she had learned to drive a car and shop for herself, two things that my grandfather had always done.  She also got a job at the local paper mill, worked for a while, retired, and found a sense of satisfaction selling Avon products because it got her out of her house.  She had style and a snazzy Mustang by then.

A few years after this photo was taken she was mugged on her own front porch.  She stopped selling Avon and was reluctant to go outside.  A couple of years after that, in one of the infrequent times she did leave her house, her car skidded on an icy road and she hit a bank.  The kind you keep your money in.  She broke her jaw and her hip and cracked some ribs.  Eventually, she healed.  Physically.

By the time I wrote the poem, she had given up her house to a daughter and moved to a small one-bedroom apartment in a subsidized development.  Her short-term memory had moved somewhere else.  It clearly was no longer residing with her.  I wrote the poem after a visit.  That year I made many visits, driving from my home in Rhode Island to her stupid place in northern New York with a six-year-old in tow, trying desperately to find a way to keep her in her apartment and out of a nursing home.  Physically, in spite of her run-in with the bank, she was strong and relatively healthy, the one glitch being that she had developed high enough blood pressure to necessitate her taking daily medication.  Which, of course, she could never remember to do.

Twenty years and five months after the photo was taken Gram died in a nursing home after she fell out of bed in the middle of the night.  Had she known what was happening, she would have laughed at what a ridiculous way to go that was.  A few years before that, on one of my visits, she asked me to take her to the area she had been born.  We ended up at the cemetery where her parents and her baby brother, Rosco were all buried.  It was one of those lovely large cemeteries with mature trees and undulating hills, a place with a good view, she said.  We didn’t make it to the Crawford family plot because in our traipsing about, she lost her balance on the spongy ground and rolled down a hill before I could grab her.  When I caught up to her, she was unhurt and doubled over in laughter.  “Well, if I died here, at least I wouldn’t have far to go,” she managed to choke out.  And we both laughed like hell because the whole thing was hilarious, and what else was there to do?  Life is hard.  Sometimes, we end up in a stupid place.

I chart my grandmother’s journey in words and pictures because that is the best way I know to remember who she was.  To me, at any rate.  Others may remember someone else.  Despite the poem, despite the place she ultimately found herself in, it wasn’t the whole story.  I knew her as a woman of passion, of strength and the courage to guide me past a bear.  (Yes, a real bear.  A story for another time.)  But, she was also something more.  Scroll back up to that photo and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s there in her eyes.  Those are the eyes of someone who has always known how to dream.  An asset, because dreams will get you where you need to go.

No matter what place you happen to be.

All the words that fit

WP 15 table 2

The two women on the left thought a small retreat for writers of Kid Lit would be a good idea. Laurie Smith Murphy in the foreground, and just behind her, Linda Crotta Brennan. We owe them BIG TIME for their genius.

You see those people talking?  The woman laughing?  The lamp-lit snow in the window behind her?  Dim light and intimacy in a rustic setting; words shared in the middle of nowhere.  This was opening night at the SCBWI Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat last weekend, and I was there.

I have been lucky enough to have attended this event for thirteen years, the last four of which I had a hand in running with the amazing Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  Five years ago I wrote here about the anticipation I felt beforehand. This year was even more special.  It was both the 20th Anniversary of the retreat, and my last as acting Co-Director. There were more attendees than ever before, more mentors (three editors: Sylvie Frank, Kendra Levin, and Mallory Kass; three agents: John Cusick, Erin Murphy, Ammi-Joan Paquette), more words.  More fun.

I wish though, I would have taken more photos.  Talked to more people than I did.  I wish it would not have gone by in such a blur — good things always happen that way. And, yet, when words abound and fill the space you occupy, when ideas flit like birds, some will linger long enough to feel true.

These were some of the words that spoke the loudest truth for me:

  • I will wear a vest (more likely a sweater) of invisibility when I leave my room momentarily so that my husband knows not to talk to me.  I’m not actually in the kitchen pouring tea or water in my cup, I’m still at my desk. I’m still writing.  He will know that my head is filled with all the words that fit.  It cannot handle more at that time.
  • I will call my inner critic Velveeta.  Because how can you listen to, or believe in a critic with a cheesy name like that?
  • Without motivation, there is no story.
  • Writing is good for the soul.

To that last I would add that writing retreats in general are also good for the soul. It takes me days to process what I learned, which in turn improves my writing.  And it gladdens my heart to think of the kind and lovely people I have newly met and added to the list of names that I call friend.

It’s such a corny thing to say (Oh, shut up Velveeta I’m going to say it anyway), but I have drunk from the well of inspiration, and it was good.

It will sustain me for a while.

WP 15 Table 2

At this table more smiles and conversation. In the center, directly in front of the window, is my partner-in-crime, Lynda. She is the Energizer Bunny of organizing magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For in that sleep: what depression feels like

what dreams

 

Sixteen years ago my brother sat in a cozy chair in front of a picture window that allowed him a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ended his life.  He used a gun. The bullet tore through his brain and his family’s hearts.  We stopped breathing for years.  We told ourselves that he chose this because he was in constant pain. His spine was beginning to stiffen; he could not raise his head.  He went sock-less, because it was too difficult to pull them on.

It wasn’t just physical pain.  My brother suffered from depression long before the arthritis that immobilized his spine set in.  Like the color of our eyes or the set of our jaws, depression, anxiety, and addiction are characteristics that run in my family on both sides.

And, for the most part, we don’t talk about it.

I was a teenager the first time I thought about dying.  I took a fist full of aspirin, hoping it would — while also hoping it wouldn’t — be enough to send me to sleep for good.  My ears rang for days and my stomach burned.  Sometimes I felt so inexplicably sad and so utterly weary that I would simply start to cry.  If someone asked me why, I couldn’t give them a reason.  I didn’t sleep well.  Especially on nights when my father was particularly restless and drinking a lot.  I knew there were times when he thought of dying as an escape.  In the dark I stayed awake to listen, fearful that if he went, he’d try take the rest of us with him.

After high school I moved half-way across the country.  I made friends.  I drank too much, I still cried, but only when I was alone.  I laughed like hell with my friends; I was charming and fun.  My eyes darted around the room as I wondered whether anyone would guess how miserable I really was.  I felt like my feet were encased in cement — if I fell in a river, I’d drown.

I wanted just to be happy, to be normal.  I wanted to know what was wrong with me.  I kept those wants to myself.  I thought that in thinking about my unhappiness, I was wallowing in self-pity.  People wouldn’t want to be around me, if they knew.

Eventually, stress and the struggle drove me to the third story edge of an open floor on the house my husband and I were building.  I was alone there that afternoon.  I knew that if I let myself go, my family would assume I’d fallen accidentally.  I was afraid of heights.  There would be no shame.

I chose therapy instead.

Today, I am an ongoing work-in-progress.  I don’t know that depression ever completely goes away.  Even after years of therapy, and many more years of taking antidepressants, I sometimes still get blindsided by a cavity of despair so dark and deep, it seems never-ending.  Other times depression hits me with a flip-flop of emotions, wildly fluctuating from bleak despair to . . . Okay, I’m coping . . . wait . . . nope . . . going dark again.  Often, in the space of 30 minutes or so.  I have to talk to myself a lot.

Sometimes, I just want to hide.  I want to go into my room and not answer the phone or answer emails.  Mostly, I don’t want to tell anyone when I’m depressed. Generally, they don’t understand.  People seem to want an explanation as to why.

I’ve learned when I need to ride out the storm.  I know that when I’m tired and overwhelmed by things my husband and others take in stride; when I get so busy I don’t eat well (or enough), or when the damn world is just too much with me, I have to retreat for a bit and simply be quiet.

A great deal of the time I am happy with where I’m at, content with how I got here.  I laugh a lot and mean it now.  Managing depression is work, but so is living, even in the best of times.  We all struggle with something.

Several months after my brother’s suicide, my family got together, still raw and hurting from our loss.  We went to see What Dreams May Come.  I think we must have thought it would be cathartic.  It wasn’t.  The vision of Hell reserved for the woman who took her life horrified me.

Robin Williams’ suicide makes me crushingly sad.  It’s the kind of heavy sorrow that weighs me down.  He was the brother/son/father/friend we all wished we knew.  A rapid-fire wit with a thousand different characters, the genius of which we are unlikely to see again.  We all knew about his problems with alcohol and cocaine.  Addiction is flashy and loud and calls attention to itself.  Depression is a quiet little liar and a sneak.  It whispers in your ear and tells you lies that no one hears but you.  Robin joked openly about his battle with addiction.  He said little publicly about depression.

I hope that we start talking more openly about depression.  About how quiet, but debilitating it can be.  It won’t be easy.  I have a difficult time talking to anyone other than my husband and a few friends about it.  When I do, I feel awkward and whiny and I end up changing the subject.

For my brother, for a sweet prince of laughter, and for all the other voices stilled, please keep talking about depression.  Keep listening.  Listening without judgement, without asking why.  Be kind.  And if you or someone you know feels worthless and depressed, you can find someone to talk to here.

 

 

Tap shoes, dreams, and dust

gathering dust as forgotten things go

My tap shoes gathering dust.  The dark blotch on the top shoe is my fingerprint.

 

I dreamed of dancing, once
of twirling, gliding, flying
slyph-like
across space and polished floors.
My parents couldn’t afford lessons
so I danced with Judy Forkey, instead.
She was Baryshnikov
to my Kirkland
because she was taller
and could catch me

when I lept.

Later the rage was tap.
Girls who took dance
in the next town over
wore their tap shoes to school
on the day of their lesson.
I loved the

click click click

of metal against
the tiled school floors.
I stuck tacks in the bottoms
of my shoes
trying to approximate the sound

click click click

It wasn’t the same.

Years later
I realized that I was grown up
and in charge of my life
so I bought a pair of tap shoes
and stuck them in my closet
sometimes I took them out
to imitate dance moves
on my linoleum floor
just to hear the

click click click

again.

I can afford lessons
now
when I find the time,
but time is harder to find
than the tacks
I had to filch
from my teacher’s desk
for the faux shoes.

Certainly
harder to come by
than dust.


Intrigued by the thought of leftovers.

If Andy Warhol came back as a horse . . .

 

 

Would he look something like this?

Would he look like this?

A friend of mine has a horse she calls Rohan.  She also owns a tiny horse called Hobbit.  (She’s a huge LOTR fan.)  I took this photo of Rohan last month and then played around with it using various photo apps.  The picture makes me think of Andy Warhol.

What does this have to do with anything?  Nothing.  I just liked the photo.  It’s fun.  It’s summer.  And I’m not really here.

If you want to read something, though, here’s a VERY brief encapsulation of my entire life accompanied by 6 meaningful songs (plus a bonus track).  I’m featured with the very cool Hippie Cahier over at Life in 6 Songs. It’s a fun read, plus there’s great music.  What could be better than that on a summer’s day?

See y’all soon.