Have you ever given inanimate objects more credit for your future than they deserve?
I have. Earlier this month, I found myself getting to the end of my current writing journal. You may have seen the cover of it in a past blog or newsletter. It says "Organized Chaos" on the front. I have to admit it wasn't my first choice for cover designs, but like with clothes--often I go for comfort over style--the choices of journals with coptic binding were few and so I snatched it up. The important part is the inside (wow--what an unintentional, but heartwarming truth:) with its empty lined pages.
As Organized Chaos came to a close and school was starting, I pulled my next journal out from under a pile of clothes. (How I knew it was there, I have no idea. And why it had remained there--also, no idea.)
The next journal said, "Sunny Skies Ahead" on its cover. The colors were muted and everything looked calm about it. It was quite the follow-up to multi-colored, metallic organized chaos. That's when I started to believe, to genuinely hope, that the journal was making promises we all know it couldn't keep. Once I opened that blank journal I would be leaving chaos behind and sunny skies would open up and usher in the calm that everybody's been longing for after several years of not-quite-calm-at-all.
I suppose that's how desperate I am (we all are) as I grasp for a sign of hope somewhere--anywhere!
Being a New Englander I feel I have a leg up on unpredictability in life. I grew up used to wonky, random weather. It's cold, then hot, followed by a freak blizzard. Covid is the New England weather equivalent of viruses--only, instead of heading out to stock up on milk and bread and hunker down, toilet paper and tylenol top the list and that's only what you'll need if you're lucky.
Even if you don't catch Covid, a close contact or a near miss requiring a test or quarantine upends everything. Events, reunions, final exams, business trips, weddings and celebrations planned months before are suddenly not happening. Off the table completely. At least with weather there's the chance of bringing things indoors or holding it on a rain date. But, not with pesky, petulant, wild-card Covid.
It's pencils down.
Wait and see.
Wait some more.
Eventually cancel completely or postpone indefinitely.
But, back to my journal. This inanimate Nostradamus.
It is proclaiming that there are "Sunny Skies Ahead." That's a direct quote!
I know it's foolish, but I have to believe it. I'm hitching my wagon to it.
Sunny skies--here we come:)
This is the story of The Little Clematis that Could
A little over two years ago, we were preparing to move. We had outgrown our house and needed a bit more room, so like a crab we molted--shedding our old shell in favor of a new one. Being a gardener, I had so many plants in my garden that I wanted, but couldn't, take with me. One particularly striking plant was a Clematis vine with big, beautiful, purple/blue blooms that ushered in the spring brilliantly.
Knowing I couldn't uproot that large plant I noticed a "volunteer" down at the base, which was a small stem sticking up that had taken root and could be separated and taken with us. So, that's what I did--took it with us. In the crazy chaos of the move it got lost and quite frankly I forgot I had even taken it up as it was not the only plant I had taken a division of and moved around. That little plant found itself all alone and down the Cape, still in its second-hand pot, all winter long.
The next spring we went down to find a pot on the banister. It had to have been found by someone and placed there because it surely would have blown off onto the ground if it had been left there for months during the snowy, blowy winter. I almost didn't recognize it with no leaves and no label, just a desperate little stick of a stem with nothing to distinguish it from any other little stick of a stem just trying to survive a long, cold, lonely winter. But, alas--I had a suspicion it might be that Clematis.
We moved into our new home and I found what I thought was just the right spot for that little transplant. When I pointed it out to my mother she said, "Oh no, that won't grow. Clematis don't like to be transplanted." Hurrumph. Well, it was in the ground and I was going to water it and see what happened. And guess what?
It grew. It started growing and I went out and bought a pretty metal trellis for it to climb and I anticipated how beautiful it would be, but--a groundhog came along one day and ate everything in that garden right down to the ground including the Clematis. All I could think about was how much that little plant had survived and yet, just as it started to thrive it was cut short. So short--surely it was a goner.
With expectations very low I gathered a few tree branches and lay them over the spot where the stem still appeared in its heavily munched state. I figured perhaps the branches with their twigs sticking out all around would deter any hungry animal the next spring. I waited and waited and then--
Signs of life. The vine started to stretch and green up. The sticks I had covered it with were not a problem as the vine wound around, through and up. It grabbed hold of the metal trellis I had supplied it with the year before and it kept climbing up and up and up. There were lots of leaves now and it was spreading out in all directions.
Watering it one day I noticed a big hole behind it--clear of the sticks that had been placed in front of the trellis--between the trellis and the house which was about four inches. Bunnies! A bunny had decided to dig a nest for her babies back there behind my Clematis vine. How? Why? I don't know. Perhaps it seemed like a safe place for my Clematis and for some baby bunnies. Somehow the digging didn't bother the roots of the vine enough to kill it. The bunnies stayed, until they left.
Before too long the vine was green and healthy and continuing to climb so I cut away the branches I had put in front of it to protect it and was able to fully admire it. But then. Those bunnies. They were hungry and began to chew on all sorts of things in my garden despite the plentiful clover: my Amelanchier tree, a swamp Azalea I had planted only weeks before and yes . . . that Clematis vine.
The infuriating thing about it was that those bunnies didn't even eat the whole thing. This time they just took a nibble low on the vine so as to cut the power to the rest of the plant that had so miraculously climbed that trellis. Snapped it in half and walked away so that slowly the leaves of the top of that vine started to brown around the edges and curl inward toward itself. Feeling defeated and somehow emboldened I pulled away the dying part to toss into the compost bin and made a trip to the store where I bought chicken wire.
With little chicken wire experience I cut through it, shaped it, cut my hands up plenty, got about twenty mosquito bites as I worked, but was determined to surround the base of the Amelanchier, the Azalea and that Clematis with something strong and unpleasant. Life went on.
The summer was hot and rainy. With so many things growing I didn't notice the Clematis as much. Perhaps I didn't want to. It had been such a roller coaster seeing it grow and then be cut down, then grow and then severed once again seemingly beyond my control. But, there appeared to be hope. Somehow it grew and climbed once again and there was even what appeared to be a bud. Well, that could not be because this vine only ever bloomed in the spring. And this particular plant only ever grew to be eaten by animals soon after.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Labor Day. A holiday and the last gasp of summer. We sat out in the backyard to enjoy the sun and the air. I had sat down with my garden book to try to look up the name of a flower I had forgotten the name of. That's when my daughter pointed and yelled, "Mom!"
She was pointing to a big, beautiful bloom on my Clematis vine. It was September 6th. That little plant had seemed to live and die and live and die over and over and somehow, against all odds, it was blooming its heart out. It was a sign of hope. A sign that things don't always work out the first time, or the second--but at some point there will be a bloom of color and joy to savor and appreciate.
The big, violet bloom was also a message. It was telling me not to give up--ever. That little plant was surviving against all odds and there it was blooming for all to see.
So, I'm passing this message along to you because it's not a message to keep to myself.
It is a message meant to be shared.
Don't give up
This past year has taken a lot from so many. Most of the loss has been obvious--tragic, tangible. Other losses have been more like the heat out of a drafty window--largely unnoticed until one is alone in a room and the chill is highlighted by the absence of distraction. In some of the quiet calm of this summer's vacation days I felt myself feeling the loss of a year and a half of childhood for every child in the world--and more personally my own. No matter how fortunate, innocence was lost this past year along with the care-free nature that is the hallmark of youth. It is as if my vision was so blurred by all that has transpired, I now look up to discover I missed some of the tailwinds of childhood as they swept by. My children continued to grow though time seemed to stand still for so many of us. They have grown in so many ways! This poem helped funnel those feelings through and out. There is so much we have not yet processed and that only quiet, contemplative time can yield. There is much to lament and it is important that we all allow ourselves the time and space to do so. It's a healthy, albeit unpleasant and often awkward, part of the natural grieving process.
Summer. Sit. Sways to and fro -- already tomorrow. Drip. Tic. Drop. Tok. Sticky, sweet, slow -- honey. Swollen with time -- basking. Then switch. Flip. Tic. Fly. Tok. Did, do, done -- heat. Evaporating days, catching. Rising or setting? Giving or getting? Summer, stepping out here and there -- yesterday. Ride the waves. Fade into the haze. The legend of Summer Days . . .
Just stick out your chin and grin and get thee to the library!
So, here in the Boston area we are having our twelfth consecutive day of some form of rain, whether it is trace amounts or of the copious sort. Today the skies are very prolific and here's what has become a familiar sight outside of my door--
But I know from my days working at a bookstore, while raising my young family, that a rainy day is a great day for BOOKS! Hopefully you're able to cozy up with a book at some point today or your next rainy day.
I decided to go for a classic and tuck into an author I have surprisingly never read: Agatha Christie. And the best place to start was with one of her more famous mysteries: Murder on the Orient Express.
It's a great read so far. So, if you find yourself stuck with a day that's grey, go visit your local library--they are open now! Yay! Or step into a bookstore near you and pick something up to distract you from the rather soggy scene outside.
On one more positive note--for the gardeners and conservationists or people who like to save a buck or two off their water bill--my rain barrel is full to the brim this summer, so far. Not that I've needed to use it with all this rain.
Enjoy the summer months and hopefully we'll see sun shining soon!
It's summer. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused on a project when the sun shines, the pool waves, kids abound and schedules turn loose-y goose-y. So, I am grateful for my writer friends. We need them. You know the ones that like to talk about writing--
who are actually willing to read what you write.
I just got off the phone after a good chat about the most recently revised version of my manuscript Lucy Bound in Lyrics with my writer friend and author of the daily blog Existential Auto Trip, Dom Capossela. He was one of the small, brave group of writers who strolled in to be part of the writers' critique group I was starting over four years ago in 2017. Wow! Here's a photo of that first meeting--though the current members are all different now.
Lucy Bound in Lyrics has undergone several revisions since then and I have grown as a writer as a result. At least I hope I have:) If Dom's feedback is any indication, I am on the right track. He really liked Lucy and appreciated her father's character. It was good to hear from a father who can see through that lens since he is the first male beta reader I've had.
So, thanks Dom! For all your support along my writing journey. It's important to have people in my life who will read my stuff and, if I'm really lucky, are willing to carve out an hour to talk about it on a summer's day.
I am grateful for good friends and honest feedback!
Sometimes a gal just has to sit and be silent with her thoughts. The school year has come to a close and the bustle that goes along with that has kept me away from posting, but I've been busy in the garden. Here's one of my newest additions: art and nature doing their thing. Hope you're enjoying the arrival of summer and taking time out to soak in a little silence along the way. Happy Summer!
I did it. It's done. Well, any writer who has ever written anything, especially a novel-sized anything, knows that "done" is a relative term. Nothing is ever done--at least not the first time around. But, I have reached The End and as backward as this may sound I am relieved to be at the point where I stop and start all over again--at the beginning, ready for the first complete revision.
Above is a photo of the home stretch. With such nice weather I have taken my laptop out onto the sunporch for a change of scenery and more open space to glance around, breath it in and wrap it up.
So, that's it. That's all I wanted to share. Eleanor with the Weeping Eye (which may get retitled to Eleanor with the Violet Eyes) has by some miracle gotten untangled like the clump of necklaces photographed somewhere down below in an earlier posting. Once one strand got loose, I found the path of another and another and it feels good to sit back satisfied that most of the strands made it out in one piece.
Looking forward to sharing it with you all one day. Until the next revision, it ends: "That’s how I came to know Eleanor with the violet eyes and, in turn—myself."
Today I walked with my kids to school. I say, “walked with” because they have made it clear they do not require my escort services, but I let them know I need the fresh air, exercise, the undivided time to talk with them and a scheduled “event” to get my day up and running. Since the start of the pandemic, I've needed to create more structure to the day, especially when school was at home and there was no need to "get" to school at all.
A morning walk has been the silver lining for me. So, we walk.
Normally I just double back on the same route after we reach the school, but today I decided to take the long, uphill way home. It adds ten extra minutes to the walk and usually reminds me how out of shape I am once the hill kicks in.
Today—instead—it reminded me that we measure our impact on others all wrong.
On the way up the hill I came upon a family: a mother holding the hands of her two, young sons (possibly twins?) and a father pushing another in a baby carriage. Much to my surprise she seemed to recognize me and said, “Hey, are you the lady I see who always walks to school with your kids?”
“Yes, I do. I took the long way home today.” I smiled and enjoyed my celebrity status for a beat.
Holding onto those two all-boy bundles of energy for dear life, lest they break loose, she continued, “You inspired me, so we are walking.” She told me. “I saw your kids with the umbrellas and I thought . . . those kids—” I forget the rest of what she said, but I’ll imagine something poetic about my kids being able to tolerate unpleasant weather in the future.
I busted in with a, “Well, I heard there’s no bad weather just bad equipment.”
We all laughed and continued in our opposite directions, but that encounter stayed with me for the rest of my walk. “You inspired me.” Echoed around in my ears and it made me think. I thought of how we never know who we are inspiring when we live our lives the way we do. Never assume you don’t matter or that you are not making a difference in this world, the environment, children's health and wellness or whatever you feel passionately about simply because you have not yet met the person who has been inspired by you—even in just one small, but meaningful, way.
Why did this woman being inspired by me, now walking with her kids to school, make me happy? It wasn’t a fleeting comment about my hair or something on the surface. Truly, it had nothing to do with me, but with my beliefs and how I've chosen to live those beliefs out.
I believe kids who walk to school (with or without a parent) are better off: fresh air, some nature, social time together, exercise, gains independence, builds self-confidence and when they get to school they are more content to sit down because they've been walking. Not to mention the Vitamin D, social skills like saying Good Morning to neighbors, and the list goes on.
Sure, you have to wake up a little earlier but you’re talking to a gal who detests mornings, so if I can get into the habit of forcing myself out of bed a little earlier, than anybody can. The payoff is just too good. Not to mention the peace of mind it offers me when I'm running late or cannot drive a child to or from school. They know what to do—how to find their way home. Driving is stressful and any parent who has ever dropped off or picked up at school knowns what a cluster it can be. Stress. Beeping. Honking. Fender benders. Getting all kids—especially young ones—strapped in and sitting down. It’s a logistical pain.
Here’s the other thing that hit me, and this landed in the form of a metaphor: Wall Street vs Main Street. It’s something we’ve heard a lot about in the past several years. How do we measure success, the economy, etc? This felt like a Wall Street vs Main Street moment which, in my mind, is also a parallel to Social Media vs In-person Socializing.
Success on Wall Street and Social Media is measured in broad strokes. There are numbers, peaks and valleys, money to be made, master manipulation and plenty of dubious characters running both—encouraging and ignoring addictive behavior in favor of financial gain. It’s wholly impersonal. It’s extreme and volatile. It’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees when it comes to Wall Street and Social Media. There’s no time and no interest. Things move fast. Emotions are high.
Success on Main Street and In-person Socializing is measured one person at a time. There are people with faces and feelings. There is eye contact and imperfect conversations—awkward silences. There is humanity and the desire to connect, to form a relationship (whether that is the owner of a store or restaurant hoping to earn a loyal customer or a neighbor wanting to be friendly). People are nervous, bombastic, shy, rude and really funny. It’s wholly personal. It’s small and often a slow process—connecting with other human beings, especially strangers. It’s all trees in all their individual characteristics with squirrels and birds and various shaped leaves when it comes to Main Street and In-person Socializing. There’s the need to take time and take an interest. Things move slowly. Emotions are real.
Unfortunately we measure so much by how active we are on social media or how many followers and likes we have. I’m not on social media and have no plans to be anytime soon. I think it’s toxic to humanity. I think it’s the worst thing to has happened to our young people in so many generations—it’s a poisonous flower. It may look good and sell well in the shop, but it’s not something you want to bring home or let your kids touch. It’s a flower I could never sell with a clean conscience. So, I stay away. I encourage others to stay away, especially with so many better ways to spend time.
The feeling of satisfaction that meeting that young family offered me has not evaporated. It didn’t disappear with the next click. It felt so good and healthy and human that it prompted me to write—to tell you! Maybe, that mother won’t be the only one I’ll inspire to step outside and walk with kids or her decision to walk will inspire another family and another. Perhaps I can inspire you too to walk more, but also to reevaluate how you measure your success. Are there ways to live what you believe? Maybe there's one small habit you can form to reflect a passion of yours.
Not enough people are imploring us to ask ourselves: Is social media doing more harm than good in my life? Am I living my life on my own terms or by somebody else’s standards or rules that deeply contrast with mine in a way I can no longer ignore?
Let me tell you—you are inspiring someone right now. You may never meet them, but it is the human part of you that is the inspiration, so embrace that. Know that it doesn’t matter how it is received on social media. Connect with one person, maybe two, in-person and you’ll have a better sense of what is worthwhile. Less is, so often, more. Particularly when it comes to people. When it comes to words, I still have work to do in that department. I write a lot of words. I'll have to accept it as one of my flaws:)
Go take a walk without your phone, all alone—in the big wide real world.
See the forest for the trees. There are some amazing trees out there!!