Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Accidental Blogger Gets a Prize

A year ago today I accidentally created this blog while nosing around in search of someone I don't remember anymore. It was accidental because I didn't know I was creating a real blog. I thought it was a test blog.

Now I head for the laptap most mornings and I cherish a number of people I might never meet. A few friends I still miss keenly since they stopped blogging, like Madison, Jenn, and Tall Kay. (Hi, you guys [waving at the air]! I'm thinking of you!) The rest of you make more appearances in my life than some members of my family. So happy anniversary, everyone.

But that's not all I want to say. The reason there's an egret in the post today is that I just won a great big prize for one of my poems. The California State Poetry Society's annual competition chose "How an Egret Saved Me" for first place this year. It's one of my favorites.

How an Egret Saved Me

I lay prostrate on the couch & worried & worried
The newspaper scattered like leaves around my bier
The syllables of war trip over the tongue like poetry
Afghaniraq darfuristan & the birds are fluttering
Into extinction In the latter days the seas arise
My aunt says God is coming soon but where is he
Where is his sign I’ve lost you to the television
& the latest tennis match among the titans
Worried & worried until I saw the water’s reflection
On the wall there A dancing curvature of light
& through the glass I saw the egret winging past
The long white neck folded & long dark legs folded
Trimly as a package born aloft on broad white wings
A love letter airmailed from a distant God

( A photographer code-named Actual took the photo of the egret.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

With a Head Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

So I woke up yesterday morning and found a little sore on my tongue. In two seconds I was wondering which cancer center I should go to, then I tried speaking without moving my tongue, then I asked myself: Do I want to do chemo?

No wonder I used to drink so much, with a head like this on my shoulders. A guy I know likes to say, "My head might be attached to my body but that doesn't make it my friend."

My friends and I call this kind of thing "disaster thinking," the phenomenon of immediately assuming the worst. It's a bad habit we have. Catching myself in disaster thinking mode is the only way I've found to combat it.

Too bad they don't teach this helpful stuff in school: reading, writing, and right thinking.

The poet Karen of the blog Keeping Secrets has ordered the Poetry Bus riders to ponder school this week. Like a good student, I did my homework so's I could catch the big yellow bus around the world. (The "U" that follows stands for Unsatisfactory Citizenship, if you're not familiar with this form of grading.)


After you died, I opened a cupboard.
I found an envelope addressed to me
at the house where I lived in first grade.

Inside was a chronological stack
of report cards, my education saved,
possibly prized through every journey
you took in your life.
You took it with you to your death.

I fingered through the leaves
of this sacred record, leading me
from Arithmetic to Algebra,
from Spelling to Literature,
a mostly satisfactory citizen,
growing up on paper, gifted, flawed.

One among them was much creased,
yellowed, worn: On the back,
a note, scrawled in red ink
in my fourteen-year-old hand:

One among them was much creased,
yellowed, worn: On the back,
a note, scrawled in red ink
in my fourteen-year-old hand:

This is a good report
card even if I did get
a U and I’m on the
honor roll so please
don’t hit me.

I remember the battles
and they suddenly slip
through my fingers
like leaves.

Catch the other riders here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

55 Words Say It All

Ice Cream Grief

I dig my spoon into the face of a glacier
in the Alps, pry loose a chunk
and slide it between my lips

The sweet vanilla snow melts
over my tongue,
grainy with chocolate scree,
and clods of cookie dough
crumble in my teeth

Again and again
until my hot heart

This is a Friday Flash 55. If you want to tell a story in exactly 55 words, post it and go tell the host with the most, the G-Man.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Kick in the Rear

I got up this morning and scared myself.

My head throbbed. My hair stood up in a mohawk. Random bursts of pain shot through my thighs. I wobbled into the kitchen, groaning, turned on the coffee pot, then into the sunroom and turned on the computer. Sometimes I shrieked.

I passed by the photo of me in Italy 20-some years ago, overlooking Florence in size eight jeans. The night before, I'd got wasted in some disco and I hadn't much sleep. The hangover was vicious. But there I am, smiling brightly, ready to take on Florence.

I'm not that resilient anymore. I've allowed myself to get decrepit.

If I don't want to keep going in this direction, I need to reverse some of my actions. I like the photo my daughter took of me, up at the top there, bending over to get a new perspective. It says to me that sometimes I can think outside of the box. And that's where I can start to change, envisioning a different way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That's Heavy, Man

Summer of 2010 will go down in infamy as the heaviest summer of my life.

Back in 1971, when I was 16, we used the word "heavy" to describe something profound, inexplicable, or really bad. "Wow, that's heavy, man" meant "I can't wrap my mind around that idea" or "That's a terrible thing" or "That's so deep I don't know what else to say."

This summer has been heavy. I watched my mother's mind retreat somewhere I couldn't follow. The repercussions of that amongst my family were emotionally wrenching. The three days of her dying were gripping. Her death has shifted my paradigm.

Then there's the whole issue of the hospital that held Mom hostage for five days in May/June, and the legal ramifications of that. I haven't abandoned my search for justice in that fiasco.

I'm home again after a weekend devoted to the totally irrelevant subject of my novel, and I'm wondering this morning what the heck I'm going to do now. There are work assignments to do, loose ends to wrap up, a couple of little projects that need attention, so I'm not talking about my daily schedule. I mean something else, something heavier than the little chores that have to be done.

Why do I get up in the morning? Why is it crucial for me to be alive? What's my purpose? I'm floundering here, trying to describe a question I don't fully understand. All I know is that some important thing has changed, and the inner Chris feels directionless, unbalanced, unmotivated, disturbed. It's heavy, man.

I'm a poet. I'm a wife, mother, writer, friend. I'm a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous and a child of God. I'm a blogger. There I come to a screeching halt. All these things are things I do, roles I play. I write, go to meetings, blog, pray, interact with others. But if you take away the actions, what is left? What AM I?

It sounds stupid. What's so imperative about Chris? Why does does it matter TO ME that I get up in the morning and walk through the day?

I've learned to not sit around in angst, gnawing on the problem. I know what I have to do today: Put my day in the Creator's hands, take care of the business in front of me, try to be helpful to someone else. Stay out of my head.

A note about today's photo: It's a lead weight, as large as my hand, that I found on the shore of the lake near me. I wonder what it's for. It can't be a fishing-pole weight; it's much too big. And people don't fish with nets in the lake. So what IS it when it is what it's meant to be? Kind of like me and my questions about Chris: What IS she when she is what she's meant to be?

That's heavy, man.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

You Want the WHOLE THING Rewritten?!!

The upshot of this weekend's critique of my novel by an agent, publishing editor, and writing instructor is: It's lovely writing, but change everything.

Change the main character.

Change the plot.

Change the opening.

Change the motivations.
Start from SCRATCH!

This morning I'm watching the gray ocean from the balcony of my temporary condo, and I'm laughing.

So essentially I asked these people, What do you think about my book?

And they said, Write a different book.

And I'm thrilled!

Like everyone else who's an ordinary writer, I know when my work needs work and even when I'm happy with something, I sense it could be better. I spent my career editing things.

But sometimes the mechanics of HOW and WHAT elude me. That's what I've got this weekend. The what and the how, from people who sell books and people who read them.

Nobody told me I'd be better off in a different line of work. That's a relief!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What If You Told a Lie?

Can you look down the center web and see the spider?

I told lies when I was little to get myself out of trouble. I told lies as a grown-up to avoid getting into trouble. I don't like to be in trouble.

My ability to lie has shrunk as I get older and less afraid of being chewed out. In the 12-step program I belong to, "honesty" is right up there with eating and breathing in terms of its significance to life itself.

So when I told a blatant lie last week to a business person, I was bothered, big time. I had excuses (I did it for a good reason), but the lie itself was inexcusable.

So on opening day at the writers conference, I squirmed on my seat long after everyone else fell silent. I had received a call from that business person.
She had confronted me with my lie. All I could say is "Yes, I did that, and I regret it."

I wish I had listened to the still small voice within that said, "Don't!"
It was too late. The damage to my integrity was done.

Closeup of the spider waiting in his web

Oh! What a tangled web we weave

When first we practice to deceive.

When was the last time you told a lie? Did it involve a relationship? Were you trying to evade 'responsibility'? Please keep me company here in my regret.

Hugs! Chris

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mourning Is Electric

A complete stranger, during a business call on Wednesday, became an articulate and insightful grief counselor who had lost her own mother a few years ago. "It's a life-shifting event," she told me. "Lean into the pain. Let it out, whether it be a whimper or a sob fest."

I’m doing well, I think. Sad for me, happy for my mom, full of memories good and bad, feeling like an orphan, being businesslike in attending to Mom’s estate, juggling everything at a time when I feel oddly weak and incapable. Following in that stranger's footsteps, my daughters and I held a wonderful ceremonial gathering at the ocean in memory of our mother and grandmother.

I took an armful of my garden flowers. We went to a beach where my mother and father used to take my brothers and me.

One by one we took a flower and thought of some wonderful thing embodied by my mother when she was younger, before the Alzheimer's took her away from us. Then we threw the flower into the sea.

It was a powerfully lovely thing to do.

Mom seemed very near, free at last and whole again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Animals think more than you do

I’ve walked the earth this week empty headed.

One day, when I looked at my dog Riley as he gazed thoughtfully out the window of my sunroom, I got the impression that he had more thoughts in his head than he could think at one time. So he was letting them float through his mind like highway signs:
Look at that cat across the street. If it comes over here I will bark at it. The sun feels good on my head. Where’s Dad? Dog biscuits. Yum. I wonder what it’s like to play a tuba. When I get out, I’m going to pee on that bush.

And there I was, nary a thought in my mind. I was just humming, that incessant, repetitive refrain:
Hm HM hm-hm hm-hm hmmm. Hm HM hm-hm hm HM hm-hm. HM hm HM hm hm hm hm.
This is otherwise known as: “I AM Jesus little lamb. EVER glad at heart I am. For MY Shepherd gentLY guides me. Knows MY needs and well PROvides me. LOVES me every day the same. eVEN calls ME by my name.” It’s one of the first hymns I learned, #648 in the old Lutheran Hymnal, by Henriette von Hayn, in the year of our Lord 1784.
A sweet little song, but imagine humming it over and over for FIVE DAYS.

While my dog ponders the universe, I’m a broken record with a 225-year-old kiddie tune.

It’s humbling.

I’m getting ready to leave tomorrow for a weekend writers conference. All week I’ve been a doer, not a thinker, taking care of household business, hanging out with my daughters (my eldest, Annika, is visiting again), looking at old photos, being with my kids while they process the death of their grandmother.

Even my cat thinks more than I do these days. Look at this face.

See the wonder? The curiosity? I believe she’s having an internal debate about existentialism versus determinism, and existentialism is winning. Can’t you just see Descartes in her eyes? I THINK, THEREFORE I AM.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Watch Out

The world's greatest Poetry Bus, invented by the world's greatest blogger, Mr. Totalfeckineejit of the Lost Land of Eejit, has embarked. See the previous post for prompts. Here's the photo I chose and the poem to go with it:


For a moment before
I asked you what was wrong
a sensation of otherness
swept through my blood
and my hand rose to stop
the words.
Call it intuition,
that foreknowledge
of my life about to break
in half. My hand paused
midway to my mouth:
Why? Was I suddenly brave?
If so, courage deserted me
when I saw your head begin
to turn and your mouth moving.
A suitcase swam through the air
on flippers like a seal,
caught you on your forehead
and knocked you to the floor.
It swam out the open window
and I never saw it again
although I called and called


And we're off:

Jeanne Iris is through the door here.

Rachel Fox turns everything upside down here.

Dominic meets his crossing here.

Karen stuns us here.

The Weaver of Grass embarks here.

Carolina sweeps us into her corner here.

The Bug stops here.

Martin grabs us here.

Emerging Writer emerges from hiatus here.

Gwei of the silken robes lies here.

Scott catches his first Bus here.

Dave leaps aboard here.

Doctor FTSE waves down the Bus here.

Lovely Jinksy parts the curtain here.

And here lies the Poetikat.

Heather flutters over here.

Helen hands us her ticket here.

Niamh bakes over here.

And here is Titus flayed.

Erratic Thoughts practices erraticism here.

Watercats croons a tune here.

NanU tells a gory tale here.

Jessica grips us here.

Izzy's here.

Yvonne paints a picture here.

And here's the frenetic Eejit man looking back at love.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here's What I'm Driving At

I started blogging accidentally in August last year. A writing conference was coming up, and I was checking out a workshop leader who had a blog. I saw an icon on her page and clicked on it. Suddenly Blogger had me by the hand. In that brief, awkward first post, I wrote about my demented mother. Bloggers welcomed me to the community and I felt increasingly at home.

It has nearly been a year, my mother has shuffled off this mortal coil, and I'm getting ready for another writers conference, this one up in the Santa Cruz area. I've dusted off my novel, a book for young people called "The Enchanted Oak," and I'm heading out with it under my arm. I almost never write fiction anymore, but that novel defined a special part of my life. I had just moved back to the small town where I was born, my beloved sister-in-law had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and I began to tell her a story in weekly chapters about a very special tree I had known as a girl in the country.

In a few weeks I'll take that book to the conference and look at it through the eyes of people who specialize in children's lit. I don't have anything more pressing to do now. For five years, I've been watching over my mother. Both she and I have been released.

Sometimes life has a lovely circularity to it. When my mother moved to this town as a little girl, she was in ecstasy to discover its Carnegie library. When I was a little girl, she took me there and turned me loose week after week to check out as many books as I liked. I met Babar the Elephant, Dr. Seuss, Nancy Drew, John Steinbeck, and many friends there.

But first I'm driving the world-famous Poetry Bus for the best blogger on earth, the Totalfeckineejit. Last night I gave great thought to this week's challenge. Really. I worked hard for more than an hour and burned up many calories. Here's what I came up with:

Please choose one of these nearly century-old photographs and write a poem about it.
Eugène Atget
Etang de Corot, Ville-d'Avray, 1900-1910

Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O'Keeffe--Hands, 1919

If you've posted a poem for the Bus, go here to my latest post and tell me. That's where you'll find our fellow riders too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pneumonia Sucks

Last night, the pneumonia turned mean.

We had the family over for supper. While a group of us had gone to see “Despicable Me” with my little nephew Jacob, hubby Joe stayed home to make his olive and cheese enchiladas and Spanish rice. It’s a popular meal with our crew.
The get-togethers are good. We’ve gathered every day since Mom died on Wednesday. For once, I didn’t care about the dust in the corners. But I felt so puny, I trundled off to bed right after supper.

Within an hour, the fever hit, with chills, aching bones, rapid and shallow breathing, plus a bunch of dramatic moaning and groaning. This went on for hours. I made a deal with myself: If the fever went over 102 degrees F, I’d go to the ER again like the paperwork from my Thursday evening visit told me to. By 2 a.m. it hadn’t done so, and the chills and pain were beginning to lessen. I got some sleep after that.

My brothers and I met Sunday afternoon to decide what we had to do next to take care of Mom’s business. Then the out-of-town family went home and I went to bed.
It has been a week since I found my mother in dire straits, and the vigil began. Everything we could do to make her passing easier, we did do. She was not left alone. She had me all through the long nights, even when it was terribly painful to bear. That gives me the gift of peace
Today would have been my parents’ 59th wedding anniversary. I’m sure Mom and Dad are celebrating it in heaven.

I’m going to hitch a ride on the Totalfeckineejit’s Poetry Bus today, driven by Jeanne of Revolutionary Revelry. She gives us three options, one of which is to partake of her recipe for Mint Julep Iced Tea and then write whatever is on our minds. Here’s my offering:

Pneumonia Sucks

1 a.m.
fever rising
rattle my bones
rolling, moaning
lungs gasp
like broken bellows
no one knows
I crouch here
on the couch
everyone sleeps
safe, secure
like they were
last week while
you and I
fought for your death
three long nights
days that bled
into each other
strange I should
fight to breathe
now as if my lungs
sympathize with
yours, they re-enact
your last act
but I realize
how much I gave you
simply being

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Buried Mom in Blue Jeans

My mother had two dresses at one point. One was an orange paisley polyester affair, The other was a floor-length wonder in pale blue polyester, which she made for one of her kids' weddings. I don't think she took it out of the closet since 1977.

We're burying her this morning at the cemetery where her parents and brothers lie. I realized on the way to the mortuary Wednesday that I hadn't brought anything for her to wear. So on the street in front of the funeral home, I rummaged through my trunk and found an old pair of her Wranglers and a chirpy blouse. She lived in blue jeans. The choice made me happy.

I am so grateful for your outpouring of blessings the past couple of days. Every one of you has lifted my spirits. I think I needed those prayers more than I realized. Yesterday after Mom's funeral service, I wound up in the emergency room unable to breathe and diagnosed with pneumonia. I got home, got comfy, and read your comments again. I feel surrounded by peace.

Here is the second-to-last poem I wrote for Mom:

My Mother’s Traveling Wardrobe

Since the FBI gave my mother the boot
four months ago, her wardrobe travels
in the boot of my car. The agents
put her caregivers in the pokey
for trafficking in humans, so
her blouses and pants steer through
traffic with me. G-Men made her
homeless at 79, demented and frail,
but I’ve given her clothes a home
in my trunk. They go where I go,
like Ruth wheeling after Naomi
crying Wither thou goest, I shall go!
Resting comfortably in the back of my car,
they cover the miles instead of her back.

As she vanishes within, her clothes
travel without, cavorting through
the countryside. She grows
more still with each passing day
but her wardrobe’s in motion
smelling strongly of her. Particles
of my mother waft into the car,
assemble on the passenger seat
and rub along jolly as rubber balls
bouncing down the road.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Mother Hits the Promised Land

To the very end, my mom does things her own way. She spent these past three days getting shed of the mortal body. I was there for most of it, and I used all my spiritual tools to endure.

Trying to care for my mother as she slowly died was the hardest thing I have EVER done. She was a stubborn Norweigian to the end, with a stout heart that didn't want to quit. I told her a hundred times that she was free to go, but she went when she was dam good and ready. She did pay attention to my request that she go on my watch, in the wee hours this morning, and I am thankful.

The photo I've posted here was taken of my mom 18 years ago. We had a wonderful life together. Today I'm working on remembering the good years instead of my final vision of her. Thank you all for your wonderful prayers and thoughts. You made it easier for me.

Here is my last poem about her journey, I think, written during the past couple of nights as she lay dying.

Your Dance of the Final Days

Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your old
cedar chest, scarred by memories inside it.
Here is your plywood sewing cabinet,
crafted by your father, its varnish worn.
Here I sit in your squeaky office chair
with the slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat
and its rusty chrome wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity
you skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Mother's Swan Song

My mother is dancing her last dance. I'm off line, holding her hand. Please keep her in your prayers. Her name is Frances.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So Long, and Thanks for All the Unkers

(Curlews and avocets on the Pacific shore)

My eldest daughter leaves today. I've seen her only a handful of times during her life, once briefly as a newborn, then later in her early twenties since we've reunited. She has been here for a two-week visit during her summer vacation, and now she's off for a trek through Southern California and possibly a meeting with her birth father.

(Annika in hiking mode)

I had hoped, when I started this blog last year, to meet other birth mothers and talk with them about the profound experience of relinquishing a child. In the past 25 years I've been able to share my birth-mother story with several adopted people, but not with anyone who knows what it's like to give up a child. This past year, I did meet a birth mother who reunited with her grown son, and that conversation via email was glorious.

When Annika and I get together, it's an ongoing process of discovery. We compare our toes, our thoughts, our personalities, our histories. We find points of contact and points of divergence. She gets to know her extended birth family and her roots. I get to know her. We stay up late most nights with our mutual fascination. I'm proud of her, and she's glad I'm one of her moms. It's a strange and beautiful relationship.

(View of Morro Rock in Morro Bay, California)

(The coast in Montana de Oro State Park)

She helped me with the Totalfeckineejit's Poetry Bus assignment this week. I've been collecting word verifications for a while now, intending to use them as my prompt next week when it's my turn to drive the Bus. But I've been preempted. NanU the Science Girl Traveler has challenged the Bus riders this week to write a poem in the odd language of word verification. So I gave Annika my list and she chose the words for me to use. It was a blast to invent subjects, verbs, and predicates out of words like slitter, coblego, and yeliale. You will find other creations here.

The Swan Song

Remonia sang
and lifted high her jugaries
to the god of Puronomb.
She beseeched him to relent
to withdraw the brilb
tormenting broken unkers
in her town. Down
slittered birds, weaving
wheapsins in the air.
Where yeliales flew
now harmelas drew
their final breath.
Remonia sonemt sadly,
marking how coatina
was the sky,
and her last coblego
echoed as the god
drew nigh.

(The coastal range, central California)