Monday, December 11, 2017

Relentless cheer? I'll be in my pillow fort.

Sure, the songs say it's the most wonderful time of the year, but I often find the holiday season to be challenging and stressful. This isn't just because I find it very triggering for grief, it's because I have to deal with so many people all of the time and they are telling me I should be happy because it's Christmas. It's harder to find the quiet time I need to function well and I'm more likely to feel guilty about claiming it as needed. I'm not sure why, all I really need to do is go home and make a pillow fort, but something about the relentlessness of it all makes it seem as if I'm being a spoilsport by taking the time I need for my own mental health. This year in particular is difficult because it feels as though I am walking on cultural glass all the time; we have become so ready to demonize one another.

I love giving gifts. I love celebrating with the people I love. I love the foods and some of the music and even the lights. I just don't want to feel as if there is a mandate to consume and smile on demand.

None of this is to say I want to be a Scrooge. Most of the time I'm reasonably cheerful and relish the joy of others. If you love Christmas, that's great! I just don't always want to love it with you or at least not in technicolor-90-decibels-comply-comply-comply.

Maybe this is because I miss Kevin fiercely this time of year. Maybe it's because, as a non-Christian, I feel a bit excluded from the festivities. Maybe it's because I worry that if I actually wish someone a Happy Hanukah I'll both be at risk and will make someone else feel embarrassed. Maybe it's just because I'm tired of the constant messages that we should be HAPPY!

I don't always want to be merry and bright. Sometimes I just want to curl up with a cup of tea and read. Other times I find I can savor a bad mood for a while and want to be quietly grumpy. Sometimes in the privacy of my own home, I might even let my lower lip stick out a little and stomp while I walk. And sometimes I just want to marvel at the stars in the winter sky and be grateful for the world without having to ascribe a particular meaning to it.

Do we really need a holiday to be nice to one another? Must we wait for one time of the year to spend time with those we love? Is it required that we schedule cheer by the calendar? I hope not. I'd like to think I am kind to people most of the year. I try to spend time with those I love. My calendar is full of all kinds of reminders of joy. So, for the moment, you can find me over here, wrapped in a blanket, idly reading a book and maybe nibbling on just a little bit of peppermint bark while I ponder just how many latkes I will make on tonight.
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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Oh hey grief! So nice of you to visit.

I haven't written about grief in awhile. Don't misunderstand, I still feel grief, but I've not had much to say that seemed original, interesting, or necessary. The loss exists inside of me now as one of many emotional notes, not the driving one, most of the time anyway. In general when I feel that deep longing and loss I take a few deep breaths and remind myself to be grateful for the pain. It will pass soon enough. I might take a walk, talk to Kevin in the aether, and keep myself moving along.

Then my birthday rolled around, followed quickly by Thanksgiving and BAM! here I am, back in the land of the lost. Hi grief, how nice to see you. Pardon me while I wail for a bit.

I've written before about surviving the holidays, and that this time of year can be very difficult for those of us struggling with loss. There are such strong cultural and personal associations with Thanksgiving and Christmas (regardless of religion) that this season can be quite triggering. I'm finding it that way now, even as I approach my fourth Christmas without Kevin, even as I am living with my new love and building new traditions with him, even as I have learned to breath into the void.

Sometimes when grief visits, it helps to remember the sweetness and not just the sorrow, even though it makes me sad.

Kevin and I celebrated our first Christmas together with home baked bread and an open house for our entire community. The next year we did the same thing, only to lose power in the midst of celebrations because of a significant snowfall. We lit candles and the house was warm and bright with love and companionship. I remember how incredibly happy we were. We had a new tradition and one that we knew we would do for the rest of our lives.

And so we did, for the rest of his life anyway. I haven't had a Christmas open house since he died and I doubt that I will again. New traditions are rising up, but it's not the same. It can't be.

I miss him. I miss his excitement over Christmas (both the celebration and the religious aspect); I miss strategizing with him about gifts; I miss his dense, heavy bread; I miss how everyone would glow in the light he reflected. With Kevin I was almost able to believe in Santa Claus again.

Some people seem to think that because I have a new love I don't still miss Kevin, that one has replaced the other. That's nonsense. Our hearts are capable of enormous amounts of love, so having a new love doesn't mean the old one is forgotten or dissipates. It doesn't mean I won't miss him, won't hunger for what was even as I feast on what is.

I don't yet know what the holidays with C will bring this year, but I know they will include love and laughter and their own kind of light. They will also include tears because missing Kevin, feeling grief, is just part of who I am now.

It doesn't matter how new or old the loss is. When we love we run the risk of loss; grief is a part of what it means to be alive. The grief remains and visits at the most inconvenient times (I sometimes think of it as my own personal vacuum cleaner salesman knocking on the door. "Hey, let me just dump this dirt in the middle of your life.") but the love endures. Sometimes the visitation from grief just makes that love more robust and vibrant in the moment. Sometimes it just hurts. And neither the grief nor the love will be any less than a part of who I am.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

It isn't enough to be grateful: 10 ideas for action

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am a fan of gratitude. Keeping gratitude front and center in my life has helped me through some of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. It helps keep me grounded and, I hope, encourages me to maintain perspective on being one among many in the world.

In this season, when we are bombarded with reminders to be grateful, to be thankful (at the same time that we are bombarded with advertising for more stuff) I find myself thinking that gratitude isn't enough. It is important. It is an excellent first step, but it is just that, a first step. If all we do is list what we are grateful for then not think of it again, it has done nothing to change our lives, the lives of those around us, or the world. If we don't let people know we appreciate them how will they know? If we don't act to perpetuate the things we love, how will they be maintained?

Here are some ideas for turning gratitude into action. I hope you find this useful. I'd love to know how you act upon your feelings of gratitude and how you change the world.

  1. Start with a list. Write down what and whom you're grateful for and a little bit about why. 
  2. Make it a habit. Write down a few things you are grateful for every day.
  3. Tell someone you are grateful for them and why. It might be uncomfortable or embarrassing but it's worth it; would writing a letter make it easier? We all like to know that we are appreciated and remember, that person may not be around forever. Let them know while you can.
  4. Share something you love with someone you love. Gratitude can be viral and it's fun sharing something you are grateful for and enjoy with someone you love and are grateful for. If more people share your sense of gratitude for something then they are more likely to help it remain in existence.
  5. Make a donation or volunteer to support something you are grateful for. For example, I am grateful for the internet. I am acting to try to protect Net Neutrality so everyone can have access to a free and open internet. I've also made donations to organizations that provide reduced cost internet to needy communities.
  6. Protect the things you're grateful for. Be active in your community to keep the things you love safe. Love the outdoors? Work to keep public spaces public. Grateful for your education? Make a donation so someone else can go to school. Speak up when someone suggests that no one cares about something you are grateful for.
  7. Ask others what they are grateful for. Listen to their answers. Maybe you'll learn something new about that person or yourself. 
  8. Don't be too hard on yourself if you need a gratitude break. This season can be tough for a lot of reasons. It's easy to feel as if we're not good enough because the dinner wasn't perfect, we didn't get the right gift or we aren't grateful enough. Give yourself a break, we're all doing the best we can.
  9. Encourage others to express gratitude. It can be embarrassing to name the things you're grateful for. You can help others realize that it's a generous and good-feeling thing to do.
  10. Be grateful for yourself. You may not realize it, but you make the world better every day, by being aware and grateful of what's around you, by being generous when you can, by offering others the chance to share what matters to them. You are worthwhile and I am grateful for you. Thank you for being here.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

50 for 50, day 50: So now what?

This is the final post of 50, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read more here.

I set up these 50 for 50 blog posts as a kind of personal challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it, I missed blogging, and I hoped I might say something useful along the way.

So now what? 

Life is now what. Life continues. Tomorrow I turn 50 and I doubt if I will actually be much different than I am today. It's unlikely my hair will all have turned white or my breasts will suddenly sag down to my knees. I won't be appreciably wiser or richer or more enlightened. I will feel much the same as I do today. I will continue from moment to moment, trying to learn a little bit more as I travel forward.

That's the way life is. If we are very lucky we learn that no matter what is thrown at us the only thing we can really control is how we respond. We can become bitter or more compassionate, we can do our best to respond with kindness (though tempered with steel sometimes) or we can be dismissive, we can curl up and hide or we can try to create change. I hope I tend towards compassion and kindness and strength and hope. I don't always. All I can do is try again.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we are each the center of the universe. No matter how hard I try I will always see the world through my eyes so, for example, right now when my back is still giving me some trouble, it's hard for me to remember that not everyone has back trouble, that not everyone needs to be careful as they move. As I move forward into 50 and beyond I hope I remember this; we each are the center of the universe. Our own children will be the most important children. Our own pains will be the most important pains. Our own beliefs will be the most real. I hope remembering this makes me more able to see the world broadly, more able to connect and more able to create meaningful change. 

So what do I want to leave you with, you kind people who are taking some of your time to read this post? A few things.
  1. I am so lucky. Or blessed. Whatever you want to call it. You are, too. We are lucky to have the chance to try again and try differently, to fail again and fail better. We are blessed to have relationships and love and hope in our lives. 
  2. If I had a chance I would do it all again. Even with the pain and the sorrow, I would still have my parents, I would still love Kevin, I would still try and fail and try again.
  3. Love is worth the risk.
  4. Eat cake and ice cream (or whatever your equivalent may be) even when it isn't your birthday. Use the good china more often. Our time here is so brief. Please live your life.
  5. Don't be afraid to look foolish or be too afraid of what others think. Your own heart, your own standards are what will guide your life. If Brother Blue could live his life out loud and so powerfully, we can do the same. If I let fear stop me I never would have become a storyteller, a writer, or much of anything.
  6. I love you. All of you. Love is the easiest thing and I will not be a love miser.
Happy birthday to all of you. I'll see you soon.

Laura

p.s. I'm inviting anyone who wants to, to make a birthday donation to something they know I would love. You can find more here

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

50 for 50, day 49: With gratitude for my life and for you

This is post 49 of 50, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can find the rest here.

Yesterday I posted one of my favorite poems, a reminder to love ourselves and treasure our lives. I am so grateful for my life and for all of you who help make it what it is.

I am grateful for my body, mind and spirit.
I am grateful for my resilience.
I am grateful for my weaknesses as well as my strengths.
I am grateful.

I am grateful for all of the friends who have sustained me in spite of my failings as a friend. If you are reading this then you are one of them.
I am grateful for those of you I've never met in person, but who have shown me kindness nonetheless.
I am grateful for the passing kindnesses from strangers.
I am grateful.

I am grateful for books, for words, for poetry and story and song.
I am grateful for my own voice.
I am grateful for the ocean, for trees, for the chipmunks in my back yard.
I am grateful.

I am grateful for the pain.
I am grateful for the love.
I am grateful for the laughter, the tears, the wrenching silences and the howls.
I am grateful.

I am grateful for the strength to fight and the moments of rest.
I am grateful for my passion.
I am grateful that sometimes I make a difference.
I am grateful.

I am grateful for the chance to witness.
I am grateful for the chance to mend.
I am grateful for my place in this world, for this moment, for this life.

I am grateful.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

50 for 50, day 48: Love after love

This is post 48 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

Every so often I will copy out this poem by hand and give it to someone I love as a birthday gift. I know of no better celebration of coming into yourself, finally, than this. I would like to think that here, at the cusp of 50, I am learning what it means to be home in myself.

Love After Love
- Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

50 for 50 day 47: Wishes

This is post 47 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday.

I used to be a big fan of wishing. I've read the stories and know the risks; wishes are fickle things and not to be trusted, but I wished anyway. I wished on birthday candles, on the first star of the evening, on eyelashes and ladybugs and shooting stars and and and... This time of the year, four years ago, I was frantically wishing on anything I could think of, wishing that we would find out why Kevin was getting sicker and please make him well.

I don't tend to make wishes anymore. Not that way, anyway. And honestly, I feel so much more aware of the dark side of wishing that I just don't know if I could phrase that which I most yearn for in such way that it could not be corrupted. After all, I kept wishing for Kevin to be okay and, by some theologies, he now is.

All that being said, birthday wishes are special. There is something so intimate and knowing about making a wish on the day that celebrates your arrival into the world. I had a late lunch today and the waitress gave me ice cream with a candle in it at the end of the meal. "Make a wish!" She said with a big smile. By instinct, I did. I made a small wish and blew out the candle, then froze, feeling that traumatized fear that my wish would go awry.

I don't really think it will, of course, but still... it was an uncomfortable and surprising moment, both in the wishing and in the reaction.

My birthday is at the end of this week. If I were to make a wish, at this time in my life with my history of wishes as a folklorist, a storyteller, a widow, it might be something like this:

May I inspire kindness in all those I meet. May we all treat each other as we wish to be treated when we are at our best. May we receive blessings from all we meet and may we bestow equal blessings.

Maybe this isn't a wish so much as a creed I can consider carrying as I move forward through the rest of my life. Maybe that's what the best wishes are, after all, a roadmap that gives us a guide and agency to the best, kindest life.
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Sunday, October 22, 2017

50 for 50, days 45&46: With gratitude for Kevin and Charley

This is post 45&46 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I am so lucky. I have been blessed with amazing partners in my life. Each has given me different gifts (even if I didn't see them as gifts at the time) and each has helped me learn about myself, my capacity for love, and what being in a relationship means to me.

My partners before Kevin helped me understand how I wanted to be treated in a relationship, what parts of myself I was willing to give up and what parts must remain. They loved me to the best of their abilities, just as I loved them. I am grateful for their part in my history.

I have written so much about Kevin, about how he loved me, how he welcomed me into his life and his family, about how well we worked together and the love between us. He was a gift to the universe and especially in my life. Our relationship certainly wasn't perfect, none are, but I still marvel at the fact that we were at all.

The love between us was so powerful that when he was diagnosed it was never a question of him being ill in isolation. We had cancer, even though we both knew I would physically survive this illness and he would not. He told me once that he had the easier job of it. I don't agree particularly, but I understand what he meant. He didn't have to learn how to live without me. I had to learn to live without him.

Kevin helped me learn and grow and love. He helped me learn to be strong and embrace my strength. He gave me permission to never dumb down. He helped me see myself as powerful and able. He saw me as someone who could conquer her fears, whether of writing or standing up for myself or any of the other gremlins that haunt us. He helped me learn to love myself in ways I never would have thought possible. After all, if someone I admired so very much found me lovable, how could I tell him he was wrong and I was not worthy of love? I am so grateful for his presence in my life as my friend, as my lover, as my partner in the world, as my beloved, as the love of my life. I am so lucky.

After Kevin's death (and I have to say, that phrase still shocks me) I was stunned to find that I, too, didn't die. In some ways I did. Parts of me died with Kevin and will never return. I miss who I used to be sometimes, but what I have found, much to my astonishment, is that those vacancies inside of me are making room for new growth. Some of that growth is welcome, there are ways that I think I am a better person than I was, while some is dark and uncertain. But it is there, I am still growing.

What's more, I don't know if I could have survived his death had I not been loved so well before he died. He loved me so deeply and so thoroughly that I thought I would never love again. In fact, the power of his love gave me the courage to open up my heart.

I haven't written much about Charley directly. Where Kevin was extroverted and comfortable in the public eye, Charley is introverted and private, so I have worked to protect his privacy. This post is written with his permission and approval, so you know.

I didn't expect to find myself in another relationship, and certainly not within 18 months of Kevin's death. Charley and I met with different expectations of what could be between us, but his gentle nature, his intelligence, his own gifts to the universe, and his acceptance of Kevin as a constant factor in my life and my heart, helped me see him as someone whom I could love and accept love from.

Once I made that leap it became possible to imagine him as my partner, my friend, my lover, my beloved, the love of my life now. It isn't easy. There are days when I miss Kevin and am inconsolable. When that happens Charley embraces me as I cry or, if I ask, leaves me alone. I can't imagine how hard it is to leave the person you love alone when they are so sad, but he does it. And there are days when I feel guilty that I am so happy with Charley, that I am not still in widow's weeds, or guilty that I make Charley live with Kevin's ghost. Through all of it he tells me that he loves me, that he knows Kevin is part of the deal, and that it's okay. Some days I am able to believe him.

Most of the time Charley and I simply have a life together, doing all the things partners do. We laugh and bicker, talk and are quiet. Externally he and Kevin are very different, but in the essentials they are similar, both good men. Both smart, funny, kind. Both love me and care for me as best as they can. Charley takes extraordinarily good care of me and I am humbled. I don't know of I could have accepted his care had I not had to offer care for Kevin, care he accepted with grace and love. I know I am better at accepting care and love now than I was. They both have taught me about that.

I think the idea of soulmates has some merit, but the way we interpret it is wrong. Kevin was my soulmate. I have a different soul now, my old one died with Kevin, so Charley is also my soulmate. I am so profoundly lucky to have these two extraordinary men in my life.

I am so grateful. I am so lucky.

This is what 50 looks like. Loving for all she is worth and knowing that love sometimes looks like grief and sometimes looks like joy.
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Friday, October 20, 2017

50 for 50 day 44: Wonder

This is post 44 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

Webster's Dictionary defines wonder as:

noun:

  1. a cause of astonishment or admiration 
  2. a miracle
  3. the quality of exciting amazed admiration
  4. rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one's experience
  5. a feeling of doubt or uncertainty

verb

  1. to be in a state of wonder
  2. to feel surprise

Wonder is one of my favorite feelings. That sense of amazement and mystery when you experience something wondrous is something I search out on a regular basis. I love knowing that the world, the universe, even my own backyard, that each of these are full of wonders. I strive to increase my capacity for wonder. I don't want to become jaded, someone who no longer notices the small and the large.

Wonder is part of how I define myself. I am a teller of wonder tales, new and old. I speculate, I wonder, about all kinds of things. I keep my imagination supple with a steady diet of wonders commonplace and unknowable. I try to admire the wonders around me, whether it's a friend telling me of their life, the chipmunk's paw on my hand, or the staggering beauty of autumn change. I even try to welcome uncertainty, because it is in those moments of questioning that I am more likely to grow and learn.

Wonder is a basic part of who I am. I'm not suggesting that I am any more imaginative or prone to speculation than anyone else, but I do exercise that part of myself on a regular basis. I know it is one of the things that is essential to my wellbeing. It is certainly not my only basic state, but it is one of my very favorites.

I wonder, what are your basic states? Wonder? Joy? Anger? Hope? I'd love to know.

This is what 50 looks like. Trying to wonder at the world like a five year old.
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

50 for 50 day 43: Gratitude for my work

This is post 43 of 50, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

If you've ever heard me perform then there is a reasonable chance that you already know that, when I was little, I wanted to grow up to be a paleontologist, a fireman, and the President. It turns out that none of those were my career path. I have wandered through many jobs (as have so many people) including retail, human resources, epidemiology, sewing, short-order cook, on and on and on. Now I have work I love. I am one of the lucky ones.

Many people never determine their calling. If they do it may seem too preposterous, too far reaching to pursue it. If they do pursue it, many find that it ceases to be their calling and instead becomes just another job. What's more, work takes so much of our time and energy (at least in the U.S.) that having a poorly matched job has a significant impact on the rest of your life. I think many of our societal woes come from false expectations about work (linked to the American dream) and the pain of being caught in the wrong job for the right reasons.

I am lucky. I found my calling at a fairly young age and have since been able to pursue it without it changing into just a job. I told Brother Blue a story when I was 19. He shook his finger in my face and said, "You have the power," and in that moment I knew that I did. A few years later I met him again, told a story at his weekly gathering, and by the time I was done I knew I would be telling stories for the rest of my life. I didn't know how, I didn't know if I could make a living from it, all I knew was that storytelling was my mantle. My Excalibur. To have denied it would have been denying the core of who I am.

I'm lucky that I found this calling when I was still young enough to believe I could pursue it. I hadn't yet been worn down by years of struggle in challenging jobs, by questioning my own abilities and passions. I was still young enough to believe it was possible.

Now, 25 years later, I am still telling stories. Maybe more importantly, I am teaching others how to tell their own story, creating performance opportunities, applying storytelling skills in other realms. My work infused my life; the two are inseparable. This isn't always easy. I am working harder than I ever have before and when I make mistakes I feel them far more sharply. It's hard to not fall prey to imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and jealousy. Still, I am lucky.

I know not everyone has the opportunities I have had. Not everyone has had the financial security to take the risk. Not everyone has been blessed with kind of support I've been surrounded by. I know I am privileged to be able to do this. Certainly I've had to make choices. I make less money than I did in the corporate world, so I've had to learn to economize more. I never stop working, I need to remain alert for every opportunity. I don't have paid vacation, sick time, or automatic health care and retirement savings.

I wouldn't change a thing. I am so lucky. I do work that I love, work that I hope has a positive impact on the people I meet and the world, work that matters. I am humbled and I am grateful.

I sometimes imagine what I would do, were I offered three wishes. After the obligatory "more wishes please," I usually imagine something good for me, something good for those I love, and something good for the world. Maybe the good for the world wish would be that we all could find and pursue our callings. That it was not a piece of privilege but something available to everyone. That we lived in such a way that this was sustainable for ourselves and each other. I don't know if this would make the world a better place, but I bet it would help.

This is what 50 looks like. Grateful for my work and my place in the world.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

50 for 50 day 42: With gratitude for my parents

This is post 42 of 50 in celebration of my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I don't know anyone who would describe their relationship with their parents as "simple." I don't think it can be simple. We are animals with brains so large that we have turned the basic act of passing on our genetic material into the stuff of dreams and nightmares. My relationship with my parents is no less complex than most, but now, as I near 50, I can finally be grateful for them.

I think every set of parents imagines that their relationships with their kids will be better than the ones they had with their parents. I don't know if that is the case. I do know that they will be different. And I have finally come to believe that most parents do the best they can. I know mine did.

My parents are Harvey and Florence Packer (neƩ Green). They both grew up in American cities, the children of immigrants. They met at a party in Washington D.C. in 1966. Family lore has it that when my mother told my father that, as a librarian, her job was to read, he turned to a friend and said with wonder, "She reads!" He wasn't being sarcastic. Reading was part of the foundation of my parents' relationship, and of our family. They married a scant three months later and I came along ten months after that.

I think we have a cultural tendency to either idealize or demonize childhood. It was either wonderful and mythic or lurid and dark. Certainly the stories are better when we think of it that way. Mine had moments were mythic and others that were dark. Mostly it was a childhood filled with childhood things. School, friends, adventures, homework, family dinners, books, and more.

My parents certainly planted the seeds that have led me to my life's work. My mom was a children's librarian and I remember her telling me the folktales she would later tell the kids in her library groups. My dad would tell me stories from the radio dramas of his youth and would craft adventure stories just for me. I understood from birth that stories mattered and that telling them and that the connections forged in imagination were vital.

As I grew things became more complicated, they always do, but there are still shimmering memories. Going camping in the VW van. Watching the fire and the sparks that drifted up to become stars. The foods my mother cooked that I still associate with comfort. The silly faces my father made to make me laugh. They did the best they could to raise me to know my own intelligence and to know I was loved.

Older still and things became even more complex, but again, there is bright, there is dark, and there is the rest of the time. Hearing my father boast about my SAT scores. My mother dancing around the kitchen when she was proud of me. The way they looked at each other.

I grew older and moved out into my own life. My parents and I drifted away from each other and back, a kind of tidal movement maybe, where the ocean cannot deny the shore. Even at its most stormy, we each did the best we could.

It was never easy. It was never less than complex. But my parents, their relationship with each other, and with me, has of course shaped me into who I am.

I chat with strangers, the way my father did. I love junky monster movies, the way my mother does. I read, as they both did.

The last few years have held a sweetness I never would have expected. No parent ever expects to have to comfort their child for the loss of a spouse. Just as a parent never expects to outlive their child, so too they don't expect to outlive their child's mate. My parents did. They had to try to find ways to help me through my great storms of grief, even as they were experiencing their own, even as they were seeing the ends of their own lives creeping closer.

They did the best they could, and that was enough. The rifts in our journeys through darkness and light were smoothed over and, while maybe still an uneven path, there was finally a track we all could follow together.

My father died in the summer of 2016. I was there, holding his hand as he drew in his last breath. Prior to his death we sat together, watched a lot of baseball, said we loved each other and that we were sorry for the harm we had each inflicted. I am so lucky. I don't think everyone has that chance.

My mother now lives 30 minutes away from me. We talk almost daily and we end each conversation by telling each other I love you.  I don't know how much more time I will have with her, but I am grateful for it.

My parents gave me gifts of intelligence and words and music and books. They taught me (intentionally or not) how to be strong and resilient and ultimately forgiving. Now, as I turn 50, I know how lucky I am. It was never easy, but not many of the things that most shape us are.

Thank you Mom and Dad. I love you.

This is what 50 looks like. Still my parents' child, no matter how old I am.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

50 for 50 day 41: With gratitude for social media and knowing I am not alone

This is the 41st of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I have such mixed feelings about social media. I expect you do, too. There are ways that it's limited discourse, increased volatility, and certainly had a painful effect on our culture, and it's easy to focus on the negative impact. To do so would be limiting because, while social media has had some disastrous societal impact, social media saved my life in my darkest days and I bet I'm not the only one.

As you well know, I was shattered by Kevin's death. Many wonderful, loving people did their best to help me, but (as with any trauma) one who has not been through it can't truly get what it's like. Through social media I found others who had lost their beloved. Others who had lost their beloved at a young age. Others who had lost their beloved from pancreatic cancer. I found people who had stories close enough to mine that I knew they understood what I was experiencing and all I had to say was "today was a hard day." Most of these were on Facebook. I will not name them here because they are understandably private. If you need to know about them please contact me.

Through these widowed peoples' Facebook groups I found an online community that let me to an organization that hosts Camp Widow. At barely six months past Kevin's death I went to one of their events. The first night there I wandered into the hotel bar for the mixer. I saw everyone chatting, talking, laughing, and the enormity of his death, of my loss, came crashing down on me. I couldn't stop myself from crying.

Have you ever sobbed in public? I have, repeatedly. Most of the time people look at you then look away. They don't know what to do and are embarrassed, afraid. I started crying and immediately two women came over to me and, without hesitating, held me. One of them cooed to me, "We know, we know. You just cry." They did know. For the first time since Kevin died I had the overwhelming sense that maybe I wasn't alone in the world. That maybe I could find a way through because they did know.

I remained active in online grief support forums through Facebook, Soaring Spirits, Widowed Village and others. I could always find someone there, no matter the hour, and I know that this  companionship, this community born out of loss, is the only reason I didn't entirely disappear in my grief. No one there ever told me to get over it or stop, they just kept me company as I howled out my pain. If you think some of what I've written here is raw, it's nothing compared to some of the talk in these safe places.

As time has passed I've come to need this support less and less, but not entirely. I still check in, both for support and to offer support to those in a different part of the journey than I am. I check in to remember that I am not alone.

I don't know what I would have done without social media support, without those women embracing me, without this blog. None of that would have happened without social media. I am speaking only from my experience here. I know there are people for whom social media has been isolating, damaging, or even fatal. I am so sorry if that has been your experience.

I was moved to write this post because of the #metoo posts overtaking Facebook and Twitter. Again and again I am seeing expressions of relief at finally being able to name it. By naming we start to reclaim our own power. By knowing we aren't alone we can sometimes feel a little relief. If we find allies then maybe we can begin to change things.

Social media is by no means a panacea. The world is louder and more rancorous because of it. But it is a tool, and like any other, can be used for good or for ill. We get to choose to be passive and accept anything that comes through it or be active and seek out the resources that will be of most benefit to us. I am so grateful that you all were there when I needed (and will need) you. I never would have found you without social media and without you I don't know that I would have survived.

This is what 50 looks like. A little too obsessed with Facebook and Twitter, and so grateful to know I am not alone. #metoo
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Monday, October 16, 2017

50 for 50 day 39 & 40: Gratitude for my body

This is post 39 and 40 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here. And yes, I know this is merging two posts into one for the sake of numerical accuracy. I gave myself permission to do this occasionally before I started this quest.

I don't know anyone who has a clear and uncluttered relationship with their body. We are bombarded by messages telling us we aren't good enough, no matter how healthy, fit and able we are. I have friends who are consumed by their relationships with their bodies; from time to time I have been, too.

Today, on the edge of 50, I am so grateful for my body. I haven't always taken very good care of it, and yet it keeps going. Right now I am in the midst of a significant back spasm (I mentioned this several posts ago, it continues. Yes, I am seeing a chiro, doc, PT and am doing all the things I should. The traveling life does not lend itself to quick healing.) and still my body is doing the best it can. I am experiencing this because I didn't care for myself the way I should have, so my body is letting me know in the only it way it can. It took a very loud and persistent injury for me to notice. This very injury and the persistent pain are helping me be more grateful for it and care for it better, even as it hurts.

This body can be strong and agile. It can experience great pleasure along with great pain. It is the conduit for my stories. It is my vessel in this world and I am grateful.

Our bodies are nothing short of miraculous. That they work as well as they do when they are subjected to hours of sitting and inactivity, poor food choices, sleep deprivation, dehydration, unnatural light, and more, attests to how well they work. Imagine the miracles we could experience if we loved our bodies and cared for them as we care for our pets!

This is what 50 looks like. Living in the body I am in, learning to love what I have, and continuing to learn to take care of myself.
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

50 for 50 day 38: With gratitude for tea

This is the 38th of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

We each have it. That thing (or things) that help us beyond all reasonable measure. For me (and millions other around the world) that thing is tea. In my case the specific tea is hot, milky black tea with honey. It is the start of each day and what I turn to when I need inspiration, comfort, and a pause in the chaos of the day or my mind.

My mother used to make my tea for me. When I was little I think she put milk in because I was a child and she thought it would be easier for me to drink, but the milk stuck. I sometimes feel a little juvenile about my tea, but I like to remind myself that empires have risen and fallen, revolutions been declared, great works of art created, all on tea, much of it with milk and sugar.

My first few sips of tea each day help me balance and ease into the world. I am so grateful for it.

What offers you simple, necessary comfort and ritual?
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Friday, October 13, 2017

50 for 50 day 37: With gratitude for Brother Blue

This is post 37 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can find the rest here.

I've written before about Brother Blue (there are so many posts about him, maybe start here). Raconteur, storyteller, street poet, holy fool, he gave me and so many others permission to be who we are. He was the self-described "greatest storyteller in the world." Maybe he was. He was certainly like no one else.

I would not be who I am were it not for Brother Blue. Here is a little Blue to light the way forward.


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Thursday, October 12, 2017

50 for 50 day 36: Fear

This is post 36 of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I am at a book festival. Yesterday I told stories (fairy tales for grown-ups, not the fringe set) and today I will teach a class about applied storytelling techniques. I'm having a lovely time and am reminded of how much I love my work. I am also reminded of how storytelling can connect deeply with listeners, often in ways you don't expect.

As part of my performance set today, I invited questions. They were great, ranging from questions about my creative process to wondering if I'm a good liar (often but not always) to where I find inspiration. The last was wondering in particular if I found inspiration in dreams.

The answer is a resounding yes, and I shared the dream that led to a particular Crazy Jane story. The dream was unsettling, involving the devil sending me on a quest, but it turned into a great story. Frankly, the dream didn't bother me once I got over the chill of having met the devil. It was a dream. That's all.

After the set, one of the audience members lingered as I chatted with various listeners. They were all kind in their praise, some had additional questions, and then it was just me and the lingering girl. She told me that she had some questions about dreams. She was wondering if I was frightened by the presence of the devil in my dream. I told her that no, I wasn't frightened. She pushed, wanting to know why not, what if this really was a visit from the devil?

(What follows is an attempt to summarize a thread in what was a pretty far ranging conversation. Please be patient.)

It was a good question. At first I responded that, in my understanding of dreams, it couldn't have been an external evil force, that dreams are how we talk to ourselves (most of the time). I thought about it for a moment longer, then explained some of my worldview. I wasn't afraid because I can choose to let fear dictate my actions or I can choose to respond differently.

I tend to lean into fear. If there is something that frightens me I will try to understand why, then walk into it. I would rather confront fear (or at least understand it) than let it limit my world.

She was skeptical. She really wanted me to find supernatural reasons for this dream and that's just not what I think was happening. Then she asked me to talk more about why I lean into fear, why I choose to not be afraid. She told me she is afraid all the time and is so frustrated that she can't change anything, what should she do?

It's not comfortable being asked to be guru, but she was clearly in a place of some darkness. I hope my answer helped.

There is so little in this world that we can control. Politics, the weather, the footsteps from your upstairs neighbor. We can control very little. The only thing we really have a chance of controlling is our response to the things we encounter. I would rather not respond with or to fear, because I think fear drives poor decisions. I'd rather respond in other ways, whether that means leaning in, reaching for compassion or pushing back.

I told her that when I was in my late 20s, as she is, I was in a rough place. As I grew older and realized more and more how the only thing I could control was myself, things got better.

She replied, telling me that she feels completely powerless and just wants to give up. And I said that by giving up we let them win; I'd rather go down fighting than know I gave up my own soul. That seems like a clearer kind of devil than the one in my dream. Mind you, I don't know who her "they" are. I also urged her to get help, that she doesn't have to do this alone.

I do know this: Realizing that fear is a feeling like any other, realizing that I have some measure of control over my response to it, has changed my life. I do know that realizing just how little control I have over the world has helped immeasurably, because I can focus on the things that I can change and even small nudges in the fabric of the universe can make a big difference. I know that I'd rather go down fighting.

She seemed a trifle brighter by the time we stopped talking. I don't know if what I said made a difference then or will make a difference going forward, but I hope she finds enough in herself worth fighting for. I hope she is able to lean into the fear and is able to find her own power. I don't know if this will happen and it's unlikely that I ever will. Yet another thing I cannot control. I do know that I at least tried.

This is what 50 looks like. Surprised to find herself an elder and a little unsettled by the responsibility. But trying anyway. Lean in.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

50 for 50 day 35: Dear me, part 2

This is post 35 of 50, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

Dear 25 year old Laura,

I know, it's not an easy time. It will get better. It will also get worse. But you will be okay. That's the thing to remember, you will be okay.

Right now it's hard to know that you are not the center of the universe. I can feel just how offended you are by that, loudly asserting that you already know this, but the coming years will underscore it again and again. It's okay, being in your 20s is all about thinking you know everything and learning that you don't, as well as thinking you are at the middle of everything and finding out you aren't. This isn't to say you don't matter or that you aren't important, but soon you will start to see just how much you don't know. This is a hard lesson but an important one. It's actually a gift, you'll get to let go of so much certainty, the world becomes easier to navigate.

Soon enough you will find your calling. You can feel it already, I know you can. I know it feels too scary to look at directly but you will and you will soar. You'll tell that first story and you will have no doubt. I remember.

Soon enough you will have to face your own mortality. You'll be okay. Let it change you. This, too, is a gift. It will set you on a path that will empower you more than you would imagine.

I suspect it would take you awhile to warm to who you are now, me, twice your age. I know so much less than you, I am so much more comfortable with uncertainty. I'm sure there would be disappointments in who you grew to be. I've not gotten to Morocco or Hong Kong or so many places. I've not published that best seller. But I'm still here. And you are, too, in a place of much greater peace than you might expect, all things considered.

If I could tell you one thing that might change things, I'd tell you to trust yourself. Your instincts are good and you are stronger than you might think, stronger than you fear. Don't dumb yourself down for anyone. You are amazing.

I love you.

Laura

This is what 50 looks like. Loving myself. Finally.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

50 for 50 day 34: The World through my eyes, part II

This is the 34th of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see them all here.

The world through my eyes. Some of the things I've noticed in the last few weeks.

All images (c) Laura Packer, licensed through Creative Commons.










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Monday, October 9, 2017

50 for 50 day 33: Another poem I love

A long one that takes some work. That isn't a bad thing. You can find more by Joy Harjo here.

She Had Some Horses

Joy Harjo
(c) Joy Harjo
I. She Had Some Horses

She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers' arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren't afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, "horse."
She had horses who called themselves, "spirit," and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.


II. Two Horses

                   I thought the sun breaking through Sangre de Cristo
Mountains was enough, and that
                                                           wild musky scents on my body after
            long nights of dreaming could
                                                        unfold me to myself.
                 I thought my dance alone through worlds of
odd and eccentric planets that no one else knew
       would sustain me. I mean
                                                     I did learn to move
                                                                                       after all
    and how to recognize voices other than the most familiar.
           But you must have grown out of
                                                                      a thousand years dreaming
               just like I could never imagine you.
                         You must have
                                                    broke open from another sky
to here, because
                             now I see you as a part of the millions of
     other universes that I thought could never occur
        in this breathing.
                                       And I know you as myself, traveling.
   In your eyes alone are many colonies of stars
                                                              and other circling planet motion.
                                           And then your fingers, the sweet smell
                                            of hair, and
                                                                 your soft, tight belly.
       My heart is taken by you
                        and these mornings since I am a horse running towards
a cracked sky where there are countless dawns
                                                      breaking simultaneously.
There are two moons on the horizon
and for you
                     I have broken loose.


III. Drowning Horses

She says she is going to kill
herself. I am a thousand miles away.
Listening.
                   To her voice in an ocean
of telephone sound. Grey sky
and nearly sundown; I don't ask her how.
I am already familiar with the weapons:
a restaurant that wouldn't serve her,
the thinnest laughter, another drink.
And even if I weren't closer
to the cliff edge of the talking
wire, I would still be another mirror,
another running horse.

Her escape is my own.
I tell her, yes. Yes. We ride
out for breath over the distance.
Night air approaches, the galloping
other-life.

No sound.
No sound.


IV. Ice Horses

These are the ones who escape
after the last hurt is turned inward;
they are the most dangerous ones.
These are the hottest ones,
but so cold that your tongue sticks
to them and is torn apart because it is
frozen to the motion of hooves.
These are the ones who cut your thighs,
whose blood you must have seen on the gloves
of the doctor's rubber hands. They are
the horses who moaned like oceans, and
one of them a young woman screamed aloud;
she was the only one.
These are the ones who have found you.
These are the ones who pranced on your belly.
They chased deer out of your womb.
These are the ice horses, horses
who entered through your head,
and then your heart,
your beaten heart.

These are the ones who loved you.
They are the horses who have held you
so close that you have become
a part of them,
                          an ice horse
galloping
                 into fire.


V. Explosion

The highway near Okemah, Oklahoma exploded

                                                           They are reasons for everything
Maybe             there is a new people, coming forth
                         being born from the center of the earth,
                         like us, but another tribe.

Maybe             they will be another color that no one
                         has ever seen before. Then they might be hated,
                         and live in Muskogee on the side of the tracks
                         that Indians live on. (And they will be the
                         ones to save us.)

Maybe             there are lizards coming out of rivers of lava
                         from the core of this planet,

                                                               coming to bring rain

                         to dance for the corn,
                         to set fields of tongues slapping at the dark
                         earth, a kind of a dance.

But maybe the explosion was horses,
                                                          bursting out of the crazy earth
near Okemah. They were a violent birth,
flew from the ground into trees
                                                         to wait for evening night
mares to come after them:
                        
then                 into the dank wet fields of Oklahoma
then                 their birth cords tied into the molten heart
then                 they travel north and south, east and west
then                 into wet while sheets at midnight when everyone
                         sleeps and the baby dreams of swimming in the
                         bottom of the muggy river.
then                 into frogs who have come out of the earth to
                         see for rain
then                 a Creek woman who dances shaking the seeds in
                         her bones
then                 South Dakota, Mexico, Japan, and Manila
then                 into Miami to sweep away the knived faces of
                         hatred

Some will not see them.

But some will see the horses with their hearts of sleeping volcanoes
and will be rocked awake
                                             past their bodies

                                                   to see who they have become.
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