Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Why I Love Thanksgiving

November 23, 2012
Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal (Photo credit: limevelyn)

Let me count the ways. In reverse order of importance, they are:

5. The Food. OMG. My friend Karen Hester makes the most amazing pies, including a crumbly topped apple pie and yummy pumpkin with whipped cream. This year, I made a yam,  pineapple, and apple casserole. Simple, but utterly delicious. Karen hosted us for potluck dinner at her house – omniivores and vegetarians happily comingled to eat stuffed squash with rice and tofu or turkey and all the trimmings, depending on your preference. Delish!

4. The Beauty. The day was gorgeous: sunny, in the high sixties with a crystalline blue sky. We hiked in Redwood Regional Park for two hours and saw gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay to the west and Mt. Diablo to the east. Along the trail we encountered a happy melange of dogs, kids (including babies in front packs and in strollers), and even bumped into a few friends of friends along the way. We walked beneath towering redwoods and giant eucalyptus trees, redolent with fragrance. Food for the soul.

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The Company. This year, I was with my “chosen family,” Karen’s tribe of women friends, some of whom I only see at the annual Thanksgiving feast. It’s good to hear people’s stories of the past year, their successes, their losses, their plans and dreams. It’s a kind of shapeshifting oral history we share that enlivens the day. We played Charades after dinner, acting out books, movies, and songs and one of the kids in attendance entertained us with a performance on her flute. At dinner we all went around and shared what we’re thankful for – always an inspiring and moving exercise in gratitude.

2. The Family. Some years, I spend the day with extended family. The Jones clan is big and boisterous with three generations coming together, including the ex-spouses, kids, and grandkids. This year, my granddaughter Lucia’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving. At three, Lucia is a bubbly, funny, and often challenging girl with a mind of her own. I hosted a birthday party for her last weekend, and now it was her grandpa Ron’s turn to celebrate the holiday and Lu’s birthday with family and friends. Even when we’re not together, family is in my heart. The Vincent family is spread all other the country and the globe now – Germany, New Jersey, Massachusetts, suburban Washington, DC, and Ohio. Each one was in my thoughts. And, of course, our beloved Maya, her stepbrother Mark, and her cousin Eric, all of whom left the planet way too soon. I give thanks for their lives and send them love each day, but on Thanksgiving I can share with others how grateful I am to have had Maya for almost 20 years.

Family permeates our lives. I thought of my two grandmothers. Eleanor, who taught me how to make gravy which I did yesterday at Karen’s gathering. And Pearl, my father’s mother, who made the best lemon chiffon pie ever and taught me how to sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Zippety-do-dah,” which I now sing to Lucia. We pass along these family traditions and on Thanksgiving I become so aware of these influences and so grateful for them.

1. The Gratitude. I practice gratitude each day, often writing in a gratitude journal. On Thanksgiving, being thankful becomes a public ritual, shared by family and friends. Gratitude puts everything in perspective. It doesn’t mean ignoring the sad or difficult parts of life. It’s a means of balancing the scales. Death and life. Pain and joy. Loneliness and togetherness. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the experience of being human. There are no presents, and little pressure, only the sharing of food and conversation. Gratitude makes me happy and so thankful for all of life.

What are you grateful for this holiday season? Do you keep a gratitude journal? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gratitude: A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples

November 19, 2012

I first met Madeline Sharples at a writing workshop at Esalen. I was immediately drawn to her calm, empathetic manner, her beauty, and her poems. We quickly learned that we shared some important life experiences – we were both grieving mothers and both of us were writing about our children.

Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, first appeared in hardback in 2010. It was recently reissued as an e-book and paperback by Dream of Things, a small press based near Chicago. Madeline is a tireless online journalist and blogger, and focuses her energies on raising awareness of mental illness and speaking out to prevent suicide. She is currently on a blog tour to promote her book and I am so pleased to host her reflections on gratitude.

Gratitude

by Madeline Sharples

The holiday season has begun and once again I view it as bittersweet. The holidays bring up too many reminders of my son Paul who died just three months shy of his 28th birthday in 1999. Since Paul was born on New Year’s Eve in 1971, the holidays are difficult for our family.

I also view the holiday season with gratitude. Besides my continued good health, the love and support of so many family members and friends, and my ability to live a productive life, that I can even think in terms of being grateful is a miracle. However, as bad as life was after Paul died, and as much as I continue to miss him, I have found out that with such a tragedy come unexpected gifts.

Paul’s death has made me a stronger person, physically and emotionally. It was as if I accomplished getting stronger through brute force. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I took writing classes and workshops; I went back to work outside my home with my usual verve to compete on the job and to excel in my work; I embarked on a daily exercise program. I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.

I have reinvented myself as a poet and a creative writer. Four months after Paul died I found that poems just came spontaneously out of my pen. Though I write prose more than poetry, poetry is my love. My poetry writing has become my companion and my savior – something I can turn to at any time, or in any place.

I also wrote my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, and I’m busy writing a novel. I have been able to fulfill my life-long dream to work as a writer.

My husband and I have a stronger marriage probably because of a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and Bob’s willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient, we gave each other a lot of space, and we respected each other. We supported each other so that we could grieve in our own ways. Plus, we’ve worked hard to stay healthy so that we can still travel and enjoy many diversions such as movies, theater, and opera and long walks at the beach near our home.

I have a terrific bond with my surviving son Ben and his new wife. Yes, I’m proud to say I’m a new mother-in-law. My son and his wife live close by and we spend quite a bit of time with them. That he and Marissa wanted to have their wedding in our family home meant so much to me. That created a very special bond between us and provided a very happy memory to replace the bad memories of the past years.

I’ve also embarked on a new mission in life – to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide, in hopes of saving lives through my writing and volunteer work. My next project is to offer the wonderful jazz music our son composed and performed as a CD to raise money for charities that share my mission. In this way, I’ll be able to perpetuate his memory and hopefully save the lives of people who suffer as Paul did.

With patience and hard work, I discovered I could go beyond surviving and actually thrive – and so these bittersweet holidays also fill my heart with gratitude that I have gone on to be a writer, a mother and wife, and a survivor.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0984631720/ref=sc_pgp__m_A1M6YBJMM98MZH_1?ie=UTF8&m=A1M6YBJMM98MZH&n=&s=&v=glance

The Look Challenge

October 18, 2012
A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as take...

A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as taken from Walnut Creek (Panoramic made from a 14 image stitch) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The premise is simple: find a passage in your manuscript or book that contains the word “look,” post it on your blog, and tag five other blogging writers to do the same. Seems to me like a great way to introduce readers to other writers, so I’m all in.”

I received this invitation/challenge from my friend Madeline Sharples. Madeline’s book, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the tender and harrowing tale of her son Paul’s bipolar disorder and ultimate suicide. But more than that, it is the story of a woman’s courageous fight to not only survive but thrive after a life-shattering loss. To learn more, visit http://madeline40.blogspot.com

To meet the challenge, I randomly opened my book Swimming with Maya to page 210 and found this passage:

“Sprawling over a broad ridge, Oakmont Memorial Park has a direct view of Mt. Diablo. As I kneel above my daughter’s grave, I look at the jagged face of the mountain. It towers above the suburban valleys east of San Francisco, its saw-toothed outline a sharp, cobalt blue. Almost four thousand feet tall, and many miles around, this place was considered sacred by the native peoples who once lived at its base. I regard it with awe. To me, it is a temple of the gods, of doom, of wild horses – a mysterious place that swallowed my daughter in one sudden gulp.”

This passage leads from the narrator kneeling above her daughter’s grave at the cemetery to a fateful meeting with the man who received Maya’s donated heart, his wife, and their two children. Meeting Fernando and his family changed the course of my grief and my life. So in a way, the passage where I describe looking at Mt. Diablo leads to looking in a much larger sense. Looking at and examining the outcome of my decision to donate Maya’s organs and tissues at the moment she was declared brain dead.

I’ve written extensively about this in Swimming with Maya, and more recently in the Creative Nonfiction anthology, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die, edited by Lee Gutkind. Organ donation and transplantation are miraculous and complicated. Instinctively, I was using “look” in the descriptive passage as a metaphor for the meeting to come when I would look into the eyes of the man whose chest held my daughter’s beating heart.

When Fernando drew me into an embrace, with my head resting against his chest, I heard the strong whomp. whomp of Maya’s heart. I was looking for my daughter that day. And I found her, but not in a way I could touch directly. Maya’s 19-year-old heart was keeping Fernando alive but as I held him I realized in a new, deeper way that Maya herself was never coming back. It was searing, heartrending, and inspiring. I found what I was looking for but not quite.

Because we are visual beings, we are always looking. But do we really see? In what ways does looking and seeing inform your writing and your life? Post a comment and let me know.

Haircut

April 14, 2010

“You’re too vain,” my mother scolded everytime I’d obsess over a new hairdo I wanted to try, carefully copied from the pages of Seventeen magazine. I never looked liked the models, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I slept on brush rollers, pink sponge rollers with plastic clips, spoolies (anybody remember spoolies?) and – the ultimate dent in the scalp – orange juice cans. Ouch!

For many women, me included, hair is the pinnacle of vanity, the Everest of appearance. I hate admitting I’m that shallow. But when I own up to my hair fetish, it helps me acknowledge I’m human. I care how I look.

“Don’t cut the back too short,” I told my hair guy John at our 5:30 appointment this afternoon.

“It makes me look like a Planter’s peanut.”

He laughed.

John Sasso has been cutting my hair for 20 years. By now, he’s heard it all, but I love that I can still make him laugh. John has a studio in his home, a ten-minute walk from the Glen Park BART station in San Francisco. Every five or six weeks I show up on his doorstep practically panting I am so eager to get my  hair cut.

My hair is super thick and it grows really fast. For the first two weeks after a haircut I literally feel like a Planter’s peanut with an ungainly neck and huge ears. Then for about 10 days, it looks perfect, until suddenly, mysteriously, it’s gone gazinga! Until the next cut, my hair is completely out of control – shaggy, unruly, obstreperous. I look like the cartoon character Jughead. Every morning when I squint into the mirror, there’s a big pouf on the top of my head. Only generous dollops of hair gel and way too much hairspray keeps it semi-manageable.

John has a poster on his wall with a guy wearing an Elvis-style pompadour. It reads, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” I tell you, by the time I ring John’s doorbell, I am experiencing Sartori.

Today, I decided it was time for my spring hairdo – shorter, perkier, a little more daring. I’m still after that Suzanne Pleshette look, although it continues to elude me. I gave John careful instructions, including the part about not making it too short in the back, and away he went. We listened to Patti Smith, and Carole King. We talked about movies – we both loved The Ghostwriter and agreed that no matter what you think of Roman Polanski, the guy sure can make movies. We talked about travel, the last time we were each in Europe, and the geography of Switzerland relative to France – is Basel north of Paris? Yes, I insisted.

Before I knew it, an hour was gone, and my lap was full of reddish brown clumps of crowning glory.  So much hair! Where does it all come from? John wrapped it up in the crinkly material of the cape that covered me, and whisked it away. Then he spent five minutes sweeping up more of it off the floor. I felt light. I felt free. I ran my hands through my hair. I felt – oh my God – naked.

“I look like David Cassidy,” I said.

My hair is short, people. Walking to BART, I was surrounded by women with long, lush tresses. Pageboys. Ponytails. Flowing, blowing, feminine hair. Not an Audrey Hepburn or Suzanne Pleshette in the bunch. Just me, a gamine wannabe. I know it will grow back. I know probably no one will notice. I know that’s what I said I wanted. But gosh, I feel like a shorn lamb, or an ungainly guber with Dr. Spock ears. Or just a woman whose sacred perogative is utter dissatisfaction with her hair.


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