“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
― Mother Teresa
I feel the need to record on this blog what a great kid Maki is. A few weeks ago, he told me about a girl he knows at school who had recently lost her mother. We briefly discussed the idea of him reaching out to her because it was unlikely there were other kids she knows that have also lost a parent. I hadn’t thought about it again till yesterday when he told me he’d arranged to meet this friend and another friend for breakfast. He tends not to talk much about other people so he didn’t give me the details of their conversation, but it sounded like she was very ready to talk and she appreciated the space and understanding that Maki and the other friend gave her.
I am so proud of him. These are the moments that the world changes for the better, and to begin seeing that in one’s children is the best thing ever. I remember when we were first in the hospital with Vernon, we didn’t know a thing about hospitals or visiting or any of it. I had never known how important it is to visit your ailing friends in hospitals because I’d never had any yet, not really. And if I had, I didn’t know that it was okay for me to visit them. I just assumed you had to be the family. When my friends showed up every day for those first weeks, some even the very night they heard I was going to the hospital (Sue and Jim Skelly sat in the waiting room the first night I was there…they barely spoke to me except when I was leaving, but they literally held space for us on the other side of the wall) it made such a difference for us. I told myself that in the future, I would always try to visit ailing friends if I could. I knew these visitors were teaching me how to act when someone goes to the hospital in the future. Of course, that’s probably how they learned as well—by being in similar situations themselves. What they learned through difficulty allows them to keep changing the world.
I was thinking of Maki’s friends in the future. I think they will know what to do when they someday hear of a friend who is experiencing extreme loss. Sadly, for all of us, it’s not a matter of it happening, its just a matter of when. They can continue to change the world for someone else’s better, bringing comfort to that friend…but also teaching that person how to behave when they have a friend in the same situation. In this way, I imagine people climbing a mountain path, all holding a rope down to the person coming up behind them. We’re all climbing ahead, but the more experienced adventurers can make sure the beginners get their footing.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Some of you know that at the beginning of November I took on a creative challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month along with other writers all over the world. The NaNoWriMo project takes place every November. It started with a mere 21 participants in 1999, and in 2016, there were 384,126 writers who had signed up. It was a daunting idea, but it had been in my mind to do since the spring of this year, so when October 31 came up, I called my buddy Ty and asked him if he’d do it too. I haven’t actually checked in with him since then, but somehow knowing I had a friend willing to jump into the crazy 30-day marathon-of-the-brain made it seem less…well, crazy. We realized that if we broke it down into 1665 words a day, we could try to hit bite-sized goals. To break it down even smaller, that’s only about three typed pages a day.
But you know what I found? Three pages a day is a LOT of work. There was one day early on that I erased an entire day. I thought I had a fiction novel in me, or maybe a play—these are ideas I’ve been playing with for almost a year. The challenge gave me incentive to start unpacking the steamer trunk of my concept, but I hadn’t thought at all about formatting a plot, it was really only a handful of conversing characters that I’d had in my mind at all. I quickly found out that in order to fill my word quota, I’d have to release a lot more than my story ideas. So I filled those pages every day in character reasearch, imagining settings and scenes, and a lot of journalling. Every single night, I thought, “This is it. I don’t have enough in me. The writing-spatula has cleared the batter of my brain from the bowl of my skull. I’ll probably have to give up tomorrow. If I’m clawing toward the daily goal like this, there is no way to get to the final number. No WAY!”
But the next morning I would start again…and by the evening, I’d usually get to my goal. One day I even lost all my words and had to make them up the next. I knew I couldn’t fall too behind or it would be impossible. I can identify as an obsessive at times, its’ true. Granted it was the worst writing I’d done in my life. I don’t think I’ve even got a rough draft at the end of the challenge. But I still feel accomplished. It was a stretcher, and I needed that just then. I am less convinced I’m a novelist now than I was in October or early November. But I do enjoy creative discipline.
I may still have a book about the subject in me….the groundwork is done, at least. But I doubt it will be complete fiction. Maybe truth with some magical realism? Without telling the whole story, the characters I was researching and writing, at least the ones captured my imagination most, were the famous artists Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Lee Krasner. I was reading about these ladies while I was writing about them. I only painted two paintings this month, since all my spare time was given to writing. But one medium always compliments another, when you break away from your comfort zone. Most artists and storytellers know this. Anyway, I believe I can see a shift in my painting through the process. After spending time with these teachers, I think I can see some of their influence in my work. I did spend a lot of time looking at pictures of their artwork and trying to figure out what made these amazing people tick.
I encourage others to try…if not trying to write a whole novel, think about how can you jump out of your comfort zone for a month. It’s not a long term commitment….but its enough time for some serious growth. If I can do it, you can do it! I will say the best part of December so far is not having to write 1665 words a day anymore…or write at all, if I don’t feel like it! Whatever will I do with all this extra time? 🙂
Hello, friends. I’ve got some press happening this month that I’d like to share with you. I was privileged to be interviewed about my Groundbreaking Girls project and how it helped me navigate grief. The writer, Lindsey Linegar, who I knew just barely at the time, has since become a good friend. Here is article in the San Clemente Lifestyle magazine. Thank you for taking the time to read it. (More great writing on Lindsey’s website too, if you are looking for a writer, I recommend her.)
I also have this video to share. In the early months of my project, a beautiful person named Linda Parsi, whom I met on Facebook, contacted me with interest in sharing my story through video. She then connected me with a wonderful filmmaker named Kevin Strickland. He asked great questions and understood what I was trying to convey with my painting. It’s such a gift to work with people like that, very validating for an artist. And you know how important that is for us! 😛 Linda, too, has become a great friend over the course of the year. It’s fun to see the video after filming it in the spring. It feels like a long time ago, because the project has changed me even since then…and I’m still working on it. Again, thanks for taking the time to watch it. Please feel free to share it with someone you think would be encouraged.
Also, thank you to everyone who came to the art show and the workshop last weekend. It was great to connect.
Hi! I hope you are doing well. This is just an update on some events I’ll be involved with this coming weekend if anyone local is interested in attending.
On Friday night, I’ll be leading a lino-cutting/card-making workshop at the San Clemente Art Supply 6-9pm.
Holiday Printing Party with Allison Moore $25/some materials included….also materials available at the Art Supply before 6pm. Please call the store at 949 369-6603.
On Saturday and Sunday, my parents are holding a bi-annual show and sale at their home in Dana Point and I’ll be included. So if you’d like to come out and see some art and people this weekend, come on over.
“We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Das
On Friday night, my dear friend Sandy and I went out to dinner and a movie (Lady Bird). Later, we drove over to the local hospital. Sandy was concerned about a family friend of hers who had been sent to the Emergency Room earlier in the day, especially since the friend has Alzheimer’s disease, and might not be able to communicate her needs. Sandy and I have some shared history with that particular history, so we wondered allowed if it would be wise for us to go together.
Years ago, we went to check in on Sandy’s mother who had been taken to the ER earlier in the day. Within an hour or so of our time with her, she passed away in our presence. The experience had such an impact on my mindset and on my friendship with Sandy, that 15 years later, I arranged for Sandy to be with me when Vernon breathed last. These are moments that change a mortal forever.
We walked through the ER lobby, which really feels more like a TV set than a real hospital somehow. We found our friend had been admitted earlier, and we were free to visit her. As we walked through the long corridor to the main part of the hospital, both of us commented on how strange it was to be there again. She recalled to me the nights that her own husband had been rushed in for some complication of his cancer, the memories suddenly vivid again, many years after his death. I recalled the last time I had been in that hallway, walking through with my dad to find Vernon after his terrible accident. A chaplain had met us at the door, guiding us into increasingly quiet rooms, each with heavier air than the last until we saw him on the table, covered in blood. These are the memories that had been waiting for our return. Its as if they were stuck to the walls, the place with trauma changed us at a cellular level.
But the memories didn’t upset us. These things happened a long time ago, and we could reflect on that. We were able to walk through this haunted hallway and say, “Yes, I know this place deep in my body; part of me is at home here. This place, in some ways, made me who I am today. It doesn’t frighten me anymore.” We were able to walk the corridor of traumatic memories and smile at one another. Though we have experienced a lot of death together, we’ve also learned to walk near it. Our being here together made it a beautiful thing, rather than tragic. It felt more like a toast to our long friendship, and what we’ve endured side by side, rather than any kind of grief. We are traveling companions.
It was late, and the hospital floors were quiet. A giant Christmas tree was being put up and trimmed. What a comforting treat the visiting families would find in the morning. The charge nurse at the desk looked familiar. Was she one of the nurses who had tended Vernon? No, it was my cousin’s wife, but her hair was different, after growing back after chemo. We don’t know each other well, but I’ve always clicked with her when we see each other. In fact, years ago, when Vernon was sleeping in the ICU, she’d left me a note in the room, offering to bring my a coffee if ever I was around on the late shift (I never was, but I loved her thoughtfulness.) More memories. She was able to give Sandy some loose information and we went in to see our friend.
There we found her, peaceful in the bed. It was comforting to see that there was a hospital volunteer sitter in there with her, and that she hadn’t been alone the whole time. Sandy prayed a peaceful blessing over her and she responded with a word of clarity. We were also able to connect a little with the sitter, who told us that the reason she does this work is because her own son had died of cancer in his twenties three years ago, and this is her way of serving others in his honor. “I never want anyone to have to be alone,” she said. Isn’t it fascinating and wonderful how those who have experienced loss and death are able to be there for others who may be be alone and afraid at the threat of those things. Hospitals are filled with the threat of loss and death. But they are also filled with grace, surprises, history, and love. They are filled with all of humanity, at any given moment. And many of these people are going to leave changed forever.
Update: our friend was released Saturday evening, reportedly looking and acting better than she has in weeks. Her life is extended…as is hope.