Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I leaped first

Some of you might remember back in August when I posted about this little project I dreamed up.  I've been working steadily on it, organizing a workshop with author and UNC-CH professor Randall Kenan, getting writers to write, scanning old photographs, and doing all the million little things that need to be done for the January 4, 2013 exhibit.

One of my more ambitious undertakings has been to put together a catalog of the photographs and stories to sell at the reception.  I know there's no way people will have time to read twenty-two stories during the three-hour event. Add to that the fact that each of these amazing pieces is a tight package of literary art, meant to be read and re-read.

I'm not trying to make any money on the catalogs, just give people an opportunity to experience the fullness of the writing, re-coup some of the materials expenses, and maybe have a little left over to donate to a charity like Books for Kids out of Raleigh.

But remember when I've said I was put on earth this go-round to learn patience?

"Measure twice; cut once."
"Look before you leap."
"How many times are you going to...?"
"Haste makes waste."
"Patience is a virtue. Patience is a virtue. Patience is a virtue...."

Yep, all of the above statements have been running through my mind the past eighteen hours.  In my haste to save a few dollars in printing so I could keep the cost down, I sent the file off to be printed before it was really finished (to take advantage of Cyber Monday which was extended to Tuesday).  And now I'm stuck with fifty copies of the catalog, complete with errors.  I didn't save a dime.  I would have been better off waiting and ordering at the full price.

All of this has been a learning experience for me.  I've learned about the need for deadlines and expecting people to meet them.  I've learned a little more about self-publishing (including cancellation policies). I've learned that a one-page story from a found photograph can be the most powerful story I've read in a week.  I've learned about mounting the stories and photos for the gallery in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.  And I've used a lot of knowledge that I've acquired in other workshops, cooperative projects, and gallery events.

And guess what? I've had another lesson in patience.  One day, I'm absolutely sure, it's going to stick for good. If I can just wait....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holidays Loom Large

I'm thankful, you're thankful, we're all thankful.  This week we especially think about giving thanks for our loved ones, our groaning tables, our ease of life compared to everybody else in the world.  Yep, we sure know how to be thankful at Thanksgiving, don't we?

So after you've been thankful for a while, give some real thought to people you know who have lost someone they loved this year.  The holidays, birthdays, the Hallmark moments are really tough.

Do those friends a favor: Send an email, or better yet, sit for a moment and really think about what it means to be them right now.  Then write them a note.  Say, "I'm thinking about you," and mean it. Call them up and tell them you're available if they'd like to talk about their loved one and holidays past.  Give them a tidbit of memory about their loved one from your stash.  Make them laugh. Do it again next year because even if most people have moved on, they are still hurting.

They'll be thankful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Tang of Emotions

Yesterday I was driving to work and looking at the incredible beauty of the trees.  For a while I thought fall was going to bomb out - the leaves were dull and lying brown on the ground.  But suddenly it was as though every tree I saw was brilliant red, coral, orange, and yellow.  I kept slowing down to look; I wanted to enjoy each and every one. I felt high on the amazingness of it all.

A few blocks from work, I saw an older man by the side of the road.  He was holding a gas can; his car had obviously run out of gas. I felt teary, thinking about older people and their vulnerability, how so many of them are living hand to mouth, how some are sick with no one to take care of them or help them maneuver the intricacies of doctors and insurance and Medicare.

I went from happy to sad.  Just like that.

Toward the end of his life, my father cried quite a bit.  He would be talking on the phone about something in the news, maybe a child being hurt, and the phone would go silent.  I would hear a sharp intake of breath and then he would start talking hesitantly about what had happened.  Many things could reduce him to tears.

I've been thinking a lot about that this week. When we lose someone we love, two things happen.  One, the sadness around the loss is added to the sadness of all other losses we've suffered.  It's exponential.  Secondly, every loss we suffer makes us more empathetic to the losses of others, so we feel theirs more keenly.

At eighty-eight years old, my father had lost his mother and father, his wife, two sisters, and all but about three or four of his good friends.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins.  The amount of sadness he had felt in his life is hard to imagine.  It must have weighed a ton.

My father knew how to laugh too.  He laughed heartily at a good joke or grandchild's antic.  He loved a clever cartoon.  His laugh was loud and tears ran down his cheeks sometimes when he couldn't stop the hilarity from roiling up.

What I decided after all this thinking is that as we get older, some things do become duller.  Maybe our eyes get cloudy, we say "Huh?" more because we don't hear as well, our knees and shoulders creak when we move.  But what gets sharper is our ability to feel deep emotion, to empathize from a place of our own cumulative sadness and happiness.

Someone behind me on the road to work may have thought, "I wish that old woman would just go on."  But the glory of those trees and the poignancy of that elderly man by the side of the road stopped me yesterday and I needed to feel the tang of emotions that welled up.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What It's All About. Yeah.

You're not going to believe this, but that election we just finished?  That ain't what it's all about, folks.  In fact it wasn't even a little bit important to some people in this world.

While the rest of us have been posting vitriol on Facebook and wishing a pox on our enemies, bemoaning the overkill of campaign ads and doorknockers, some people have been suffering.  Suffering loss of home and life, loss of dignity and the means to support themselves, sitting at the bedsides of loved ones and saying the ultimate goodbye.  Asking what the heck happened and what did they do to deserve it. And maybe worst of all, there are people who have despaired of finding hope and the strength to face it all.  I know a few of them myself, and the past few months have been pure hell for those people.  Real hell, not just campaign hell.

To them, I send my love and support and share this beautiful song by Whitney Houston. Listen if you can take the time; read the lyrics too.  Then go let somebody know you've been thinking about them. Write a note, email, or make a phone call.  Go visit your parent in the nursing home.  Take a meal to a friend who hasn't been feeling well.  Look the person talking to you in the eye and listen. Hug your husband or your kids or your cat. Write a check to a charity or take some food to the Food Bank. Send your compassion out in as many ways as you can think of.  Because maudlin as it may seem, that's what it's all about.

The people to whom these lyrics speak need you. Badly.

As I lay me down
Heaven hear me now
I'm lost without a cause
After giving it my all
Winter storms have come
And darkened my sun
After all that I've been through
Who on earth can I turn to?
I look to you  I look to you  After all my strength is gone  In you I can be strong
I look to you  I look to you  And when melodies are gone  In you I hear a song, I look to you

About to lose my breath
There's no more fighting left
Sinking to rise no more
Searching for that open door
And every road that I've taken
Led to my regret
And I don't know if I'm gonna make it
Nothing to do but lift my head
I look to you  I look to you  And when all my strength is gone  In you I can be strong
I look to you  I look to you  And when melodies are gone  In you I hear a song, I look to you
My levees have broken, my walls have come
Crumbling down on me
The rain is falling, defeat is calling
I need you to set me free
Take me far away from the battle
I need you, shine on me
I look to you  I look to you  After all my strength has gone  In you I can be strong
I look to you  I look to you  And when melodies are gone  In you I hear a song, I look to you
I look to you  I look to you

(Song by Whitney Houston)