My mother is moving. In May of 2012 all of my siblings gathered—and a few of the grandchildren—and we moved her out of the farmhouse where she was born, where she reared all of us, and into a retirement apartment in Chehalis, Washington. At the retirement complex, she had two bedrooms and big closets. She had a garage and a storage closet in the garage. We filled all the closets. We filled the second bedroom so full of miscellany that we couldn’t fit a bed into it.
This time around–my youngest sister and and I are moving Mom into a one-bedroom apartment in the main building of the same retirement center. (My brother-in-law helped; so did my mother’s 92-year-old sister.) In the new apartment, Mom will no longer have to prepare any meals for herself. She will no longer have a car, or a garage, or an extra storage closet.
I find myself mourning when I look at pots of daffodils outside grocery stores. Mom won’t have a patio anymore or a front stoop on which to set flowers.
Mom is excited to be moving. She’s excited about buying a small table to replace the huge farmhouse table she brought with her two years ago. When we moved from the farmhouse, we left about a thousand books (this is an underestimate) upstairs. For this move I packaged up five boxes of books to take away—mysteries that Mom thought she’d like to reread and hasn’t.
I’m not sure how to tie this to writing, except I thought I’d write about it. Things we found while packing: a 2004 Day Runner (never used); a ceramic toothbrush holder; a wrapped bar of used Irish Spring soap; a spiral notebook with blood pressure recorded for 2010; a certificate commemorating my grandparents’ golden anniversary; graduation announcements and pictures of cousins I’ve never met; three copies of Agatha Christie’s Curtain; two copies of … oh, you get the idea (those 5 boxes of books).
As my American Literature professor said many years ago, “The only stasis is in the grave!” What changes do you need to embrace? Can you imagine the next move? Can you write about it?
I thought you might like to see one of Jennifer Bullis‘s poems from Impossible Lessons. This is one that really leapt off the page for me, partly a function of the repetition (and notice the anklet, bracelet, circlet, newly…).
Ten Great Gifts for the Woman Who Has Nothing
For the journey out, figs.
for carrying the blame.
A womb, and a man
worthy to name it.
Another rib and even more backbone.
The pomegranate, secrets still intact.
Anklet of snakeskin, woven bracelet of grass.
A circlet of worry
for her newly conscious brow,
for her hair still smelling
of blossoms and smoke.
*Your assignment is to write your own list of gifts. Imagine what gifts you need that you haven’t yet imagined.
I had a great time at Soulfood last night. My daughter Pearl invited a couple of friends, one of whom has taken creative writing classes. With a little nudging, and my notebook, all three scribbled some quick lines and read on the Open Mike. Pearl’s spontaneous poem was about her music, and my friend Janet asked if she would sing — so we were treated to that, too. An awesome evening.
Jennifer Bullis’s poetry leapt off the page. If I haven’t recommended her book, Impossible Lessons to you before, I want to be sure to do so now. The goddess rules!
Before the reading, and at intermission, Jennifer and I talked about animals, kids, and teaching (she taught at Whatcom Community College for 14 years; I’ve taught about that long at Everett Community College). And we talked about writing. We talked about how, even for an established writer, writing every day is harder than one might expect. We let other things get in the way. My sister calls about my mom and I spend four hours calling doctors and Assisted Living residences setting up appointments and tours. My husband asks for help with a carpentry project. A daughter wants company at a movie. Errands, housework, laundry.
It must be guilt that keeps me from setting better boundaries. Writing is such a guilty pleasure after all and I can’t–not really–claim to be doing it for anyone but myself. Can I?
And then there are the other distractions–books to read or websites to investigate. These look like guilty pleasures in themselves. I can pursue them in my writing space, after all, and no one is the wiser. No one except me.
I was hugely surprised that my daughter and her friends wrote poems and read them on the Open Mike. And then I wasn’t surprised. There’s something so hugely satisfying about writing, and it isn’t just for oneself. It’s an unselfish act. It’s a gift to the universe. People make decisions about how to make money–often at the risk and expense of others–every day, every minute of every day. What if we spent a few minutes making poems instead?
Fifteen minutes, Bethany. Start with a single concrete image on the page. An hourglass, a stone horse, a thimble, a matyroushka doll. A fig. See what happens. See if you can push it a little farther, the image and the time. Go!
In the meantime, I am reading from Sparrow at SoulFood Coffee House, 15748 Redmond Way, Redmond, Washington, Thursday, January 16, at 7 p.m. The reading includes an open mike. Bring a poem!
For more information, directions, and a bio of my co-reader, Jennifer Bullis, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/soulfoodpoetrynight/
I found this in Marianne Williamson, Everyday Grace:
“A human being is a part of the whole called the ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of… consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in all its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.” -Albert Einstein
I am also reading Martha Bergland’s A Farm under a Lake, and thinking about aging and its indignities, its necessary–and unnecessary–losses. I am attracted to this idea of striving to widen my circle of compassion.
I have been thinking about my maternal grandmother. Arada Lusk (1895-1983) was a tiny woman with a huge presence in my childhood. I grew up in the house my mother was born in, and my grandparents lived next door, in a house built by their sons and sons-in-laws. The winter after my grandfather died, when I was 17, I often slept at my grandmother’s house to keep her company. I woke each morning to the sound of Elk Creek rushing by (only a few feet from the lower level), and found her sitting in her chair in the living room, reading her Bible and praying. Or dozing in her chair. She set out Corn Pops and half-n-half for me on the gray formica kitchen table. I caught the school bus with my cousins.
I view my own contemplative practices each morning in the same light as my Grandmother’s Bible and prayer. Joseph Campbell said, more or less, that a person who doesn’t have an hour each morning before television or radio or newspaper or social interactions, can’t have much of an inner life.
I read a little; I write in my journal. What do you do to stay in touch with your inner life?