What Was Once

“His mind’s all black thickets and blood”   from Songs of Unreason


The oak was ancient                            And he stood there nearby, his mind

once sturdy, but now                          all black thickets and blood

sapped of strength                               clogged

bent by the elements                            frail

but still remembering spring              he smiled for what once was











This is a cleave poem for Day 23 of Jilly’s 28 Days of Unreason, inspired by the work of Jim Harrison.




Aging, Dreams, and the Stories We Tell

Monday Morning Musings

“It is not true that people stop pursing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

–Gabriel García Màrquez

This past week, my siblings and I spent a lot of time discussing issues concerning my mom, who will soon be 93 and lives in an independent living apartment. She is beginning to need more care, but as she has reminded us, she is still capable of making her own decisions about how she wants to live. We’ve all discovered there is a fine line between concern and overstepping boundaries. At the same time, it might become necessary to—if not step over—then to somehow straddle that line. It is an uncharted course without a captain and only primitive navigational devices. Our simple map is marked, “Here Be Dragons!” We are warned, but necessity forces us on. We proceed with caution. We are at sea, adrift and facing icebergs whose hidden dangers lie far below. We can be slammed by a tsunami of guilt or a tidal wave of recrimination. The sirens sing, but we sail on.

During this same week, my husband and I had a phone conference with a financial advisor to discuss our financial situation in light of my husband’s recent retirement. This planning for getting old, it’s a game of speculation and “what ifs,” but for now, we’re fine.

         Two characters on the Netflix show, Sense8:

Riley: “But what if something terrible happens because of me going back?”

Capheus: “What if something wonderful happens? Eh?”

And that’s life, isn’t it? We don’t know. There could be dragons. But perhaps those dragons take you on a wonderful adventure. There could be ghosts—well, we all look back. We can try to plan for the future, but we don’t know what will happen. The best we can do is to plan for the worst–while actually hoping that something wonderful will happen—because, well, thinking the worst will happen is not much of a life. I go to the gym regularly, but I also enjoy a dessert or glass of wine. It is not “bad” or “good.” It is just my way–to keep my body in shape and to hope my mind keeps pace. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

On Saturday night, my husband and I saw the movie, Mr. Holmes. We seldom go to blockbuster movies, and we were kind of surprised that so many people were there at the 4:10 show. (My husband pointed out that they all appeared to be older than us.) The movie is definitely not a summer blockbuster. It is not an action movie–there are no car chases, no superheroes or women in skimpy outfits. No sex. It is not really even a Sherlock Holmes “who done it?”–although there is a mystery that the elderly Mr. Holmes is trying to solve. Ian McKellen embodies Holmes, a man whose memory is faltering more every day. Laura Linney as his housekeeper and Milo Parker as her son are also outstanding. It is leisurely, graceful movie that reflects upon growing old and on the regret of things done and not done in life. It touches on solitude, family, and friends—who are the people who care for us and who do we care about it? What happens when a person who has no one gets old? When both mind and body get frail who will take care him? Holmes learns the value of connection.

Holmes, who has spent a lifetime pursing facts, also learns to value the art of storytelling. In this movie, Holmes is real, but for those who have enjoyed Arthur Conan Doyle’s books or who have watched Sherlock Holmes movies or TV shows, he has always been real—as fictional characters are to those who love them. Fiction can impart valuable lessons—it is a different way of imparting and telling truths–and of sharing dreams. Telling stories is part of who we are. Stories help us define our world and slay our demons, or at least put them to rest.

So dragon, come close, let me tell you tale. Have you heard this one?

Embed from Getty Images

Graduation is Just the Beginning

I’ve seen dozens of Facebook comments about and photos of college graduations over the past few days. I’m happy and excited for the new graduates and their families. I remember our younger daughter’s graduation last year, and our older daughter’s graduation four years ago. This summer our older daughter is getting married, and in the next year, she will graduate from graduate school. Both daughters are excited and terrified at the process of becoming adults (and learning that the process comes in sputtering fits and false starts). They are both remarkably mature young women though, and in truth, they seem so much older and wiser than I was when I was in my early to mid twenties.

It seems like a century ago since I received my Ph.D. I was a new mother then, and learning to be both a parent and attempting to find a place in academia, a place I never found. But that is OK–because it gave my other opportunities. I am a different person now, more confident in myself.

Recent articles, such as this one in The Atlantic, have discussed the confidence gap that many women feel. I know my own lack of self-confidence and self-doubt have probably influenced the tract of my career (or lack thereof). I sometimes grimace at some of the things I said and did when I was younger. At the same, I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made and with who I am. I suspect I am fortunate in this. I have also tried to learn from my mistakes. I have found that to some extent the old adage about wisdom coming with age is true. Not that all elderly people are wise necessarily, but rather that life experience helps to teach us, IF we want to learn. In a comment on someone’s blog recently, I mentioned how I learned from giving a really awful presentation—I learned to trust my own judgment about what should be in my presentation, not what others, who are not experts, tell me they think they want me to discuss.

At the same time, I know I need to push myself to do things, such as presentations. And sometimes, I just have to DO them and take a risk, and ignore the “what ifs.” (Every time I push the “publish” button for a blog post I’ve written, it is preceded by a few seconds of “should I?” doubt.)

There is also the curse of perfectionism. Maybe I need to add one more thing. Maybe I’m not good enough to do this?

I love this quote by Anne Lamott:

“It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion — your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)”

And I’ve faced this, too–the people who think I don’t work because my I write from home, and my schedule is flexible. Sometimes. Thank goodness for deadlines, right?

So new graduates, I have no advice for you. Because really, who am I to give you advice? All I can say is this: Live your life. Be the best you that you can be. You will make mistakes, but continue on, and learn from them, if you can. Oh yes, and one more thing, cherish your friends and loved ones. The ones who truly love you will love you even when you make mistakes. They will also give you confidence boosters and an occasional “go do it already” kick-in-the-butt—which, let’s face it, is sometimes the thing we need the most. Well, along with coffee, chocolate, and wine.

I’m pushing “publish” now. Let me know what you think. And now I better get to work.