Post Christmas

christmas paint

christmas paint (Photo credit: cassie_bedfordgolf)

Just as I vow no more sugar shall pass my lips, I realize I have Harry and David pears that are ripening and will soon turn to mush.  Fruit sugar is okay, right? Well, plus a little red wine, lemon zest, and cinnamon. Voila! Poached pears.

Once the pressure of organizing the celebration passes, there is a lovely “time out of time” in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Just the right time to make poached pears and do a little writing.

Jeffrey Eugenides has a great piece in the New Yorker’s Page-Turner column called “Posthumous” in which he recounts the great South African writer Nadine Gordimer advising a young writer to “write posthumously,” in other words without concern for what people think, the latest literary fashion, or money. Pretend you’re dead so you can free yourself to say what you really think.

So this is my week to play possum, hole up by the Christmas tree, and return to the world of words. Being quiet and apart from the real world is essential to the craft of writing. Yet, it’s the very thing I often find most difficult to do. If being a hermit – or a writer – were easy, everyone would do it.

The fine balance I keep aiming for is to be in the world but not of it. In it, but not excessively. In it, but still available to my own thoughts and wish for poached pears. As my publisher, Dream of Things press in the person of writer Mike O’Mary, prepares to relaunch my memoir Swimming with Maya as an eBook and paperback, the balance I’m talking about will be challenged.

It is difficult – some would say impossible – to promote a book and write at the same time.  I’m taking steps to ensure that I can, including meeting with my writing group to set goals specifically for writing early in January, signing up for an Amherst method writing workshop in February and March, and rededicating myself to writing first thing in the morning several times a week. It would be great if I could do it daily, but I’m a realist, and I know there are mornings when exercising or meditating first thing will take priority.

Living takes priority. So, as Eugenides advises, we can play dead in order to advance our art, but in the end, guess what, we’re still here. Those poached pears are still calling. The cats still need food and vet visits. And you will be seeing me at the office.

Enjoy this “time out of time” and celebrate the dawn of 2013. May it be a year filled with balance, quietude, good words, and equally good food. In other words, life.

The Why Question

Question Mark

Question Mark (Photo credit: auntiepauline)

Their smiles kill me.  A six year old’s gap-tooth grin flashes on the TV screen and I sob. As a grieving parent with 20 years of experience – and believe me, grief is a job – I mourn knowing there’s always more in the bank of tears. The mass killing in Newtown deposited a payload.

“Tears are the silent language of grief,” one blogger posted, quoting Voltaire.  At this moment, America is writing an epic of sorrow.

“Just wait for the funerals. Our heartbreak has just begun,” I told a friend who was crying outside the grocery store.

What can anyone possibly say to families in Newtown, Connecticut whose children will not be there to open presents on Christmas morning? For the rest of their lives, at every family gathering, there will always be a missing person.

Will tougher gun control laws or increased access to mental health services – or any of the dozens of other things we might do – bring them comfort? I hope so. But nothing we do or say will bring back their sons and daughters.

My 19-year-old daughter Maya died not because anyone willfully harmed her, thank God, but because of the confluence of bad luck and bad judgment. For years, the question why looped through my brain.  Why did Maya get on a horse bareback? Why did she end up with a devastating brain injury instead of a sprained ankle or broken arm? Why didn’t I teach her to be more careful? Why wasn’t the horse fenced or tethered? The litany is endless.

” Why” is the Big Kahuna in our search for meaning. In the wake of the mass killings in Newtown, the why question will take center stage. Even when we’ve plumbed the motives of the shooter in excruciating detail, we will never know for certain why he went on a murderous rampage aimed at six-year-olds.

After Maya died, a friend gave me this button: “Clinical studies show there are no answers.” Finally, I let go of asking why. But it took years.

“What” is a far better question. What will we do now as a society to protect our children? What can I do to comfort others and myself? What will bring more love and compassion into this world? Searching for those answers might actually lead to change and healing.

Our president asks, “Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage?”

I hope and pray our answer is “Hell, no!” Let’s channel our energies into finding practical, loving steps forward.

Tears are, indeed, the language of grief. But that language, when we listen with care, can ultimately lead to a commitment to do better by ourselves and our kids.

More Medication, Please!

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in the 1975 film.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in the 1975 film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”  Nurse Ratched arranges neat little paper cups of psychoactive drugs on a tray. The multicolored meds look like candy at a kid’s party. She won’t rest until every one of her patients is drugged to the gills. Sappy elevator music plays over loudspeakers to herald the arrival of oblivion. But Nurse Ratched never attempted to medicate a cat!

The scene here at my home is not unlike that loony bin, although I play George Winston-style piano solos on my Pandora. For perkier fare, I select the Keith Jarrett station if everyone is calm enough to handle Mr. Jarrett’s fortissimo accompanied by heaving moans. No mind numbing treacle for my cats or me!

Every morning at 8 AM, it’s time for Saffron’s medication. The medication, called Methimazole, is so potent that there’s a warning “Use Gloves When Handling” in big letters on the label. I don a pair of blue and yellow rubber gloves and crank up the calming music.

The moment I open the office door, Saffron crawls to the farthest corner beneath the desk.

But like Nurse Ratched, I’ve developed stratagems. I take in the supplies and set them on a little bench, almost as if they were an afterthought. Then I sit down on the floor and call gaily, “How about some pets?”

Or, “C’mon, Saffie, come and get some love.” Most of the time, he goes for it.

Saffron hobbles out from under the desk and comes to be petted, rubbing his head against my arm, purring loudly. His coat is glossy and soft now, not rough and filthy as when he first came back. I purchased a purple grooming glove and once he’s had his head scratches, I put on the glove and give his coat a thorough brushing.

He’s so blissed out by the petting that I can often administer the medication before he hobbles back under my desk. Lately, though, he’s gotten wise to my tricks and once the purple petting glove comes off and I begin to transition to the blue rubber gloves, he hightails it back into hiding.

Nurse Ratched stratagems exhausted, I crawl on hands and knees under the desk, pleading with him to take pity on me.

“C’mon buddy, time for your meds,” I say, even though I know that attempting to reason with a cat is fruitless or possibly insane.

He backs into the farthest corner, forcing me to crawl in after him, tilt his head back, and administer the Methimazole. The stuff costs $50 bucks a bottle! And he has to take it for the rest of his life.

But when I see how much better he looks, and pet his soft coat, and listen to the rumble of his purr, I think it’s a small investment for kitty love and well-being.

The majestic old cat, Saffron