2019- Ready or Not!

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As the old year ends, I feel an urge to finish what I started, as if I need a clean slate to begin 2019. And then I laugh. As if that’s ever going to happen.

Just last month, I stopped reading a book I hated. It was for my book club. Which I’m dropping out of. I didn’t like the story or the characters or the writing. Or the members of the club. Or the hard wooden chairs we had to sit on. Can I quit now? It wasn’t worth my time, but I don’t like to leave anything unfinished. 

I have a half-done quilt on my sewing machine, wrinkled clothes waiting on the ironing board, and a Christmas tablecloth with stains I haven’t managed to remove. And then there are all the short stories and essays in progress on my computer.

My kids grew up before I was finished raising them. Wait, I wanted to say, I’m not done. I forgot to teach you to ice skate…or to make a pie…When they walk away, I still want to wrap my arms around their ankles.

My parents died before I understood them. I didn’t ask my dad what his childhood was like. I forgot to ask my mom if she ever doubted her faith.

I dropped freshman organic chem. I didn’t care about the experiments, my grades were awful, and a boy said I was taking the place of someone who had been drafted to fight in Vietnam.  

I dropped friends who moved away. Staying in touch was too hard in our busy lives. Or maybe they dropped me.  

It’s okay. If we hold on to everything we start, our lives would be a spaghetti-ball mess we could never untangle. Life is about choices.  

A new year is about to begin, a turn of the calendar’s page, opening more possibilities. What will I choose to start this year? What will I finish? And what can I quit in the middle of, knowing full well that “enough is enough,” that forcing myself to complete something that is no longer important is just a waste of my precious time? Time I could use for the things that matter.

Do you always “finish what you started?”

Comment on this post and I’ll put your name in the drawing for a copy of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, a practical book about inner peace and freedom.

The winner of last month’s drawing is Susan Berrodin. She will receive a copy of Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. Congratulations!

The Not To Do List

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It’s the end of January, and according to businessinsider.com, 80% of New Year’s resolutions have been broken. I’m no longer a “business insider,” if I ever was, having left the corporate world 27 years ago, nor did I make any New Year’s resolutions. But like most people, I have lists of things “to do.” They are useful reminders, and so satisfying to check off when completed. But what takes their place? Another to do list! It’s an endless daily process, and while it certainly helps me remember what I need to do next, that list can get overwhelming. Recently I came across the idea of a “not to do” list. Business writer Michael Hyatt writes here about how and why you need one to succeed at work. https://michaelhyatt.com/do-you-have-a-not-to-do-list/

Since I’m not reporting to anyone but myself these days, my not to do list is aimed at getting out of my own way so I can be happy, a lifelong quest I’m getting pretty good at. Since I believe it helps to write these things down, here’s my 2018 Not To Do List:

  1. Spend time with people I don’t like.
  2. Watch TV every night.
  3. Eat anything that doesn’t taste delicious.
  4. Compare myself to someone else.
  5. Take the best parking spot.
  6. Ignore my feelings.
  7. Say yes when I want to say no.
  8. Silence my voice.

What do you think? Is a “not to do” list is a good idea? What would be on yours?

Comment here on my blog and I’ll put your name in the drawing for my next book giveaway: The Moment of Truth by Damian McNicholl. Based on true events, it’s the story of a female bullfighter in 1950’s Mexico faced with all that the machismo culture can throw at her.

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The winner of last month’s drawing is Mary Lou Baldwin. She gets an autographed copy of The Promise of Pierson Orchard by Kate Brandes. Congratulations, Mary Lou!

 

The In Between Time

This is the week in the year when I feel most in-between.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are over and a New Year waits in the wings. I feel like the director of a play in which I hold back the actors for just another moment. Not yet, it’s not quite time, we’re not ready, please wait.

This is the week I launder the tablecloths from Christmas dinner, recycle dented gift boxes and toss out leftovers nobody wants to eat. It’s the week to relax and enjoy the pile of new books I received and to binge watch The Crown and A Place to Call Home, an Australian drama my husband and I both love. We’re both retired from our careers and enjoy artistic pursuits and volunteer work, but this week even those things take a back seat to just lounging and reflecting, reading…and eating.

As a writer of creative nonfiction, I’m a “reflector” by trade. This in-between time seems made for me. No rush, nowhere I have to go. I’m preparing for a party in the New Year, but even that feels relaxed, checking if we have enough wine, beer, plastic ware and ice.

I journal every day, but this week I read about other people doing the same. The newspapers, internet, and even TV all offer stories about new resolutions and looking back. It’s quite a lot of pressure to do something.

But not right now. I took a year off from teaching to finish my first novel. The second one is outlined, but I just can’t get into it yet. I have a new memoirs class coming up in March, so I need to plan. I’ve published four essays this year, and I’d like to write more. I finished editing A Woman of Worth, a project I’d been working on for a couple of years.  I have an idea for another book-length memoir. But none of these projects is calling me right now.

I could be anxious about that, but I feel lucky I can stay here a while. The kids are grown and living their own lives. Whatever I choose to do or not do is up to me. The weather is freezing cold and we’re in between snow storms here in southeastern PA. I know another one is coming but we’re not sure when.

So, this is the week I ignore the inner urge to “do something productive.” I read over the Christmas cards and newsletters, remember the leisurely conversations shared with family and friends by the fireplace, and allow gratitude for the love, warmth and companionship that graces this time of year.

There is a certain pressure to make a “to do” list for 2018. I know I work best when I choose one project to put most of my energy behind. This in between week feels a bit uneasy, but I’m going to stick with it. If we hurtle from project to project, we don’t fully appreciate what we’ve accomplished. We don’t allow ourselves to enjoy having written, being published, hosting a dinner party, receiving gifts. I’ll meditate every day and let myself off the hook for productivity for now.

What about you? What do you do when you’re not sure what to do next?

Comment and I’ll put your name in the drawing for my next giveaway: The Promise of Pierson Orchard by Kate Brandes.  Written by an environmental scientist, it’s the story of what happens when fracking comes to a rural community, told through the eyes of a family already breaking apart. Speaking of what to do next! You’re sure to enjoy this balanced look at both sides of the environmental debate.

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The winner of last month’s drawing is Nannette Benson-Nicol. She gets an autographed copy of An Uncertain Path by Sandra Carey Cody. Congratulations, Nannette!

That Wall

 

That wall by Sandis Helvigs at Unsplash.com
Photo by Andis Selvigs, unsplash.com

“I want that wall,” she says, and my back arches like a cat’s. I know exactly what she is talking about, and it’s not a Pink Floyd album. A leading Presidential candidate wants to erect a wall to keep out immigrants and my petite blond massage therapist likes the idea.

She leads the now rankled me down a quiet hallway to a dimly lit room in the spa I visit every month. The soft music and floral scent are pleasant as always, but her words have unnerved me. She looks like the same woman who is so good at working the kinks out of my back and shoulders. We have shared opinions about many things: raising kids, her brush with breast cancer, my back pain. I like her. A lot. And I can hardly believe my ears.

“I want to be Donald Trump’s massage therapist. I wrote to him.”

I sit on the chair to remove my shoes and my words rush out, too fast.

“Are you kidding? He’s a racist bigot.” My friends have been saying it for months. In here it sounds like a knee-jerk liberal talking point.

The young woman shakes her head, her wiry curls bouncing. Her dark eye flash. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

My mind goes to his face on the TV news – every day, all day, angry, vitriolic, threatening.

“I’m just shocked,” I say, holding a sock in my lap. “I don’t know anybody who likes him. I’m 180 degrees from where you are on this.”

“Well, I’ve had it with Obama. I can’t afford my health insurance.” She taps a foot. “Anything going on with you today?”

I say no, just give me a regular tune-up. She knows my issues – side pain, my need for pillows under my knees and stomach, stiffness in the hand I broke years ago – and reads up on them to better help me.

“Okay, I’ll give you a minute to get comfortable.” She leaves the room closing the door behind her.

Comfortable? How do I get comfortable with a woman I like voting for Donald Trump? I undress and lay face down under a blanket.

When she comes back I imagine her touch is unfriendly. I tell myself nothing has changed but my attitude toward her. Which means everything has changed.

I can’t let it go. “You can’t afford your health insurance?”

“No, I’m just a lowly massage therapist.”

“That’s too bad,” I say. And that’s all. I’m not going to argue during my massage. Instead, I concentrate on my slowly relaxing muscles. We are silent for the next 50 minutes.

On the way out, I don’t reschedule as I usually do. I’m still shaken. I think I’ll quit and tell the manager it’s because of her inappropriate political remarks. But then I’d have to go somewhere else for my body work. Shall I give up my principles for convenience? Or do I try to convert her to the “good” side?

In no way do I want to add to the rancor all around us these days. I believe strongly that most people just want to be heard. I teach my students to write their personal stories, to express themselves on the page. But this is the first time someone I like has come out in favor of a candidate I abhor and I don’t want to hear it.

My husband does not share my outrage. “He won’t win,” he says. But I’m not so sure. Now that I’ve heard from my young massage therapist, I wonder about all the others like her. As we progress toward the future, some people feel left behind. They want someone to blame for that. And they want what they perceive to be a strong leader, someone who says he will protect them.

My friends post anti-Trump messages online comparing him to Hitler, ridiculing his hair and other body parts. It’s way too easy, on social media, to get carried away with the vitriol. No one is standing right there, looking back at us. Someone we might know. And like.

Today I made another appointment for massage at the same spa with the same therapist. I don’t plan to bring up politics, but if she has something more to say, I plan to upgrade my listening practice. Maybe I’ll ask a few questions. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever support her choice. But I may learn something. And she may feel heard. We’ll take it from there.

Knitting Knotes

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This is the second in a series of posts by Kat Kowalski, protagonist of my novel in progress, Memoirs of the Queen of Poland.

Now that I’m back from my journey, I’ve thinking more about life in the 21st century. It seems like everyone blogs these days, especially writers, and I wonder if we do it just to get our voices “out there,” and if we take enough time to think about what we truly want to say, what truly needs saying.

My intention is to write here every month or so, after considering carefully what it is I need to say.

For this month, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with knitting, and how I love it. It soothes me, heals me, makes me feel useful. But I’m usually doing something else at the same time. Watching TV and knitting. Talking to someone and knitting. The excellent memoir writer, Louise DeSalvo, was an inspiration to me when I began to write my own story. She says “I can’t seem to write unless I knit a little.” That got me wondering: Is writing a kind of knitting? We weave our words together like yarn, following a pattern, always with the end product in mind. And is knitting a kind of healing, too?

These days, there is so much heartbreak and pain in the news. I don’t want to watch it anymore. In fact, I’m not sure I want to watch TV at all while I’m knitting. Meditating always helps me feel better, if I can get myself to sit down and actually “do” it. And knitting, all by itself, is a form of meditation, if I do it mindfully. I’m going to try this and see how it goes. Knit and meditate. Or knit and pray. Or just knit and breathe.

What’s your take on crafts and writing and healing? Do they go together?

Namaste,
Kat