Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bedtime story

          As some of you know, I've not been sleeping well lately.  I can't blame it all on my restless cats and their incessant need to rouse me from sleep at four in the morning to feed them.  As the nights grow longer, they're all snoozing a bit later and now get me up around five.  Still, by that time, I'm lucky if I've slept three hours in a row.  When I do nod off, I have vivid, memorable dreams...and not all of them are pleasant ones.
          For the past month I've been studying both slavery and the Holocaust for the book I'm preparing to write and was not at all prepared for what I'd be encountering:  the first hand accounts of the slave ships, the concentration camps, the horrific experiences the survivors remember, and the stories of death.  Always death.  For many of the prisoners at Buchenwald, it was preferable over a life of misery, illness, and starvation.
          A couple of weeks into the research I learned to put down the books and turn off the documentaries well before dinner time.  I've visited the library daily to work, often sitting by a sunny window where young parents pass by with their children.  Otherwise, I'm certain I'd be sitting at home in tears, alone and overwhelmed by the material.  I chat with the librarians who know me by name.  Share books with adults who happen to engage me in conversation.  Smile at the kids as they walk by and see me reading. 
          It's also been a respite to watch "Are You Being Served?" - a bawdy and simply hilarious BBC show from the seventies, to read novels by T. C. Boyle, and revisit my favorite episodes from M*A*S*H.  They've all helped me cope with the grief and sadness that have been like a dark cloud hanging over my consciousness.  And they help me forget the gnawing pain in my stomach, the dull headaches I've been experiencing since the beginning of this project. 
          But it's at bedtime when my mind drifts back to the images I've seen, the memories I've been listening to online, the incredible plethora of information I've been gathering from the Shoah Foundation and The Holocaust Museum.  I lay there and try to sleep, but it doesn't come easily.
          A few nights ago, I was up late reading a novel, hoping it would help me let go of the thoughts of my notes from the afternoon.  I turned pages, but couldn't turn off my mind.  Reaching for my NOOK, I went to the OverDrive website, looking for a children's book I could borrow.  My favorite, Charlotte's Web, wasn't available, but the audio version was...thank goodness.  While it downloaded, I remembered my first grade teacher, Mrs. Bureau, who read the story to our class before we went on what was to be my very first field trip -- a visit to the movie theater where we watched the cartoon version of Wilbur and Charlotte's friendship.  I thought about all the years I read the book to my own first graders and how I can still quote some of the lines from memory. 
          Imagine my delight to discover upon hearing the first line, that E. B. White, the author, was reading out loud, his distinctive Maine accent infusing the words with gentleness, inflection, and wit.  White begins by saying, "This is a story of the barn.  I wrote it for children and to amuse myself.  It is called Charlotte's Web and I will read it to you." 
          Turning off the lights, I put my NOOK on the bedside table and snuggled under the covers, listening and reminiscing, letting my mind drift to all the nights I lay in my childhood bed reading Little House books, Great Brain books, and all of the Ramona books at least twice.  I recalled reading myself to sleep, often out loud, pretending I was a teacher or a mother reading to my own children.  I remembered countless Mondays when I'd tuck my pals, Satish and Danta, into bed and read picture books before it was time to turn out the lights.  In fact, there's a chapter in my memoir that tells the tale of why this simple ritual has been and is an important part of my life...every single day.
          I didn't really need to pay attention to the story, but it was soothing to hear other person's voice.  To simply relax into my own images of the words painted with White's resonant, reassuring voice.  Garth Williams' charming illustrations popped up in my memory when he read about Avery arriving for breakfast, when Fern tucked Wilbur into her baby carriage.  When she had to sell him to her Uncle Homer for six dollars.
          By the time we had reached the chapter entitled, "Escape," I was happily relaxed and attentive.
          "You'll be sorry, sorry, sorry if you stay up too late," my inner goose suddenly warned me.
          I didn't care. 
          It was one of my favorite chapters and although I knew exactly how it would turn out, I wanted to hear White's rendition of the flurry of excitement Wilbur's exodus had caused.
          "You have to get up early and teach yoga-oga-oga early tomorrow," the voice chastised again.
          I didn't care. 
          It was great fun (not to mention a great distraction) to pick up on the nuances of the dialogue I hadn't before noticed.
          "Get to sleep!  Get to sleep!  Get to sleep!" it tried one more time ... and at the same time to goose was cheering on Wilbur to "Dodge about...dodge about!  Twist and turn, twist and turn!"
          I didn't care. 
          The retelling of a story that is thematically about the loss of childhood, but told in a very loving, whimsical, and charming way helped to soften the stories of children who were lost during slavery and World War II.  
          At least for a little while.
          Today I finished my initial research and will begin writing the novel tomorrow.  I'm certain this will be the most difficult manuscript I've written, an ominous story of two young girls who have survived experiences I could never before have imagined.  But there is always hope...and both Sapphire and Keren are steadfast in theirs. 
          Hope for change. 
          Hope for freedom. 
          Hope for a new life once they have awakened from the nightmare of enduring slavery and imprisonment. 
          As for me, I'm hoping to find some relief from my sleepless nights.  But in the meantime, I have Mr. White, Charlotte, Wilbur, Fern, and even Templeton to keep me company when I find myself anxious and weepy after dark. 
          What a comfort to know that I'm never too old to be read to sleep with an enchanting bedtime story.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Do be do be do

          It's just recently occurred to me that I still invest a lot of energy in my past, so much so that I've planned a blog or two to write about it.  Well, this afternoon I asked myself, "Who needs it anymore?"  Not me.  I've come to realize that the more I dink around in what's already happened last week, last month, last year or even seven years ago, the less energy I have to spend on doing what needs to be done today. 
          Right here.
          Right now.
          In the course of teaching a self empowerment workshop a few days ago, I shared with my students the idea that your self esteem is the animation of your ego.  It's what we do that allows us to see who we are and what we will become.  It's not enough to simply want something -- a new job, a healthier body, a reciprocal relationship.  In order to create those realities, we need to engage outwardly.  Update and send out resumes.  Eat better, exercise, and listen to our body's messages.  Sift out our priorities and make the time to be with friends and loved ones.
          Take it from someone who's repeated affirmations until my brain hurt:  sometimes you just gotta get out of your head, get up off the yoga mat, and move forward. 

          Yes, there's a lot to be said about facing and working through issues that have been buried or denied.  There's a lot to be gleaned from healing the hurts of the past.  But what if I've already done years of my own work?  What if I know I may never get closure with a person from my ancient history?  What if I'm willing to take responsibility for my part in the drama, but they aren't?  What then?
          When people say to me, "Just get over it," I hear jagged nails screeching down a chalkboard in the back of my mind.  That's an easy thing for an outsider to say, particularly anyone who doesn't know me well and has no idea of the incredibly challenging strides I've already made as I strive to leave the past behind.
          In the course of researching for my latest novel, I've been watching interviews with survivors of the Holocaust.  One very wise woman said, "How can you ever get over a thing like the Holocaust?  You can never get over it, but over time, you can make it into something different.  You can see it in another way.  You can live your life and look back and know it wasn't the end."
          It is with humble amazement that I have read countless narratives of survivors who went on with their lives and thrived, despite the horrors they had witnessed and experienced.  They married and had children.  They ran successful businesses.  They engaged with the world to share their stories so the world could know the truth of their imprisonment and the necessity of their liberation.  I've learned it's in what the survivors have done in the years since the Holocaust that reveal their inner strength and determination to remain free, to embrace the life all of them felt grateful to have.
          Their unthinkable suffering and subsequent resurrection is an inspiration.

          So which comes first?  The intention or the action?  It's the old "chicken and the egg" thing I suppose.  As for me, I already know what I want.  I'm clear on a few things I'd like to see happen by the end of the calendar year.  And I'm also clear on how I keep myself from moving forward because I'm afraid that if I try again, the past will repeat itself. 
          Today it dawned on me that I'm the one keeping myself imprisoned with that testy little thought.  I'm the one who keeps rerunning memories in my mind.  I'm the one holding on to the anger and the impatience.  The one who keeps turning the wheel of the past, thinking I can change it...or at least change my feelings about it.
          I find I can't get over it...but I can get ON with it.  I can get on with doing something different (even just one simple choice) that can make a difference in how I feel about what's happening now.  I can get on with putting one foot in front of the other and choosing a different road to embark upon. 
          I can re-read Portia Nelson's amazing "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" and know I'm finally embodying chapter five (see below).  And in that "doing," I can finally be aware of the gifts that come when I shed the skin of my past.  To simply let myself do what needs to be done and then let the rest be what it's meant to be.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
My eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.


Thursday, September 11, 2014


          Every year around my solar return (i.e. my birthday), I pay a visit to my friend and astrologer, Sue Lovett.  It's a way to get a pulse on the year ahead, the energy that's available to me, and the planetary weather forecast for the next twelve months or so.  I was supposed to head over to her office yesterday, but torrential rains kept me home and pondering if I might need a canoe and oars to get out of the neighborhood today.  That super full moon and all its energy on Tuesday were gifts that just kept on giving...so too are the ups and downs I've experienced since last September.
          My life has been a mixed-bag this year.  Since January I've made a lot of significant changes in my work life, some that were my choice, others not so much.  But it was heartening to sit with Sue this afternoon and know that as time goes by, things are evolving for my higher good.
          "With your progressed chart, it looks like you're working from home a lot more," Sue said.  Then she explained how my progressed moon trines my natal Mars and my natal moon trines my progressed Sun and Venus.  (For those of you who have no clue what this means...suffice it to say, they're both pretty auspicious!)  All in all, my chart reaveals what I've been focusing on for the past several weeks -- research, digging deep, unearthing connections and common threads, and preparing for a lot of work that is coming my way this fall and winter.  And of course, writing...writing...writing.
          "With the two eclipses coming up in October, you're in a very good position to finally have some satisfaction," Sue continued.
          "How so?" I asked.  "In work or other areas of my life?"
          "Well, whatever you've been working on for a while will finally have some momentum."
          Well, hooray for that! 

          But really, chatting with Sue was more of a validating experience as I'm already feeling the contentment of moving into a new way of being.  A new novel unfolding.  Long hours home alone writing and researching.  Planning the foundation for The Lace Makers and experimenting with new characters' voices.  I've already started dreaming about them, so I'm off to an empowering start.   I figure by the time Halloween rolls around, I'll have some clarity as to how this is all going to play out in the world outside of the four walls of my office space.   But for now, it's all good just to sit here and know that as summer turns to fall, I'm turning another page, too...and that the Universe is conspiring in my favor. 
          "I'm all for endings and new beginnings," I told Sue as I was leaving.  "But it's the ones I didn't plan that are more challenging.  I do love to have control."  Then I laughed.  "I guess accepting that I don't have control teaches me to just let it be what it is."
          And in that space of letting go into the wonders and endless possibilities of an unknown future, I find the deepest satisfaction of all.