Life In General

Life In General: Sharing the Story

Happy Friday, and a happy official ending to the first full week of 2016. It’s been a busier one than I would have liked, especially after spending the two weeks of Christmastide doing virtually nothing and sleeping until 9 or 10 each morning. But we hit the ground running on Monday, and haven’t stopped since. 

Amidst rehearsals and meetings and doctor appointments this week, there was a lovely oasis of time on Tuesday evening...

Write On Wednesday: Into the World

Tonight I will be doing something brand new for me, at least new for me as a writer. Tonight I am attending a book club meeting in the role of “author,” a word I still feel strange applying to myself. It’s a momentous occasion, and, as you might guess for this introverted person, a little bit terrifying. 

But still, it’s something I have been so looking forward to doing, something I was honored to be asked to do. And in the end, I keep reminding myself, these women in the book club who read Life In General are women very much like me. They are in the throes of this Life In General business just like I am. I am hoping there was something in my book, something in the words they read there that has connected with their heart and spirit.

This week I’ve been reading The 10 Letters Project, a book by Jen Lee and Tim Manley that captures a year’s worth of emails between these two creative people, emails in which they discussed the intersection of life and art and work. It’s the perfect book to read this week, as I prepare my thoughts for tonight’s gathering. Six months after the publication of Life In General, I’ve been able to see more clearly the importance of putting our voice into the world and gain some greater perspective on the reasons this endeavor was so important for me personally.

And because my original expectations for my book were small, I’ve felt continually bowled over by the reception it’s received. I have been given the gift of being heard, of connecting my story to the lives of other women, many of them total strangers, who now know me in some way, who carry a small piece of me around with them. 

Make no mistake, it’s a scary thing to put your life out in the world for all to see. I have said jokingly to people that “my life is now an open book,” but it’s really true. There is part of me that sometimes want to pull it all back in, to run around and grab everyone’s book and say, “Just erase all that drivel from your mind.” That is the part of me that thinks my life is so ordinary that it’s not worth writing about, and certainly not worth reading about.  

But then one of those readers will reach out to me with a comment like, “I feel so much better since I read the chapter you wrote about church and religion.  I thought I was the only one who felt that way!” 

The gift of a message like that is two-fold: of course it’s validation that my words and experiences can mean something to others. But it also gives me the gift of knowing I’m not alone either. And for someone like me, whose circle of family is SO small, it helps to know I’ve left something of myself behind, let it loose into a world of people that become a little bit like an extended family to me.

“The truth is,” Lee writes, “that with all of our work we are asked to do it on faith. Faith that it is worth making whether we ever see the difference it makes or the pleasure it brings or not, because we never really get to know how far it travels and how much it means and to whom.”

Tonight I will get a glimpse of where Life In General has traveled, and I’m thrilled to go out into the world along with it.

The Heart of the Matter

We’re just home from a short trip to Florida - to the Disney World Resort, where we have a membership in their Vacation Club, which gives us the ability to stay in any of the properties scattered across the mecca that is Walt Disney’s magical “World.” We bought our membership back in the early 1990’s, and have used it to good advantage over the years.  Now that we have a child in the family again, I expect we will continue to make good use of it as we introduce Connor to the wonderful world of Disney.

The resort we like best is Old Key West - it’s style and architecture is modeled after the Florida Keys, and our one bedroom apartment offers a view of a quiet lagoon, with blue herons standing knee deep in the rushes, and willow branches sweeping gracefully over the balcony.

On this occasion, the trip was just for Jim and I, a few days getaway from the pressure of the nine-to-five. Or in his case, the nine-to-seven-or-eight, as it’s been many nights for the past few months. His work life has been extremely harried of late, something he’s not had to contend with for a number of years. So he was definitely in need of a respite. 

As was I. You’ve read my posts about the difficulties of this past winter, the chronic illness, the constant cold weather, the feeling of sadness and want and need that seemed to pervade my spirit. All of those feelings were evident in my writing, and certainly in the way I conducted my life in general here at home. I could put on a pretty good front in public, but at home the guard came down and the frustration and irritability took their toll.

These past few days as we meandered around the resort, wandering hand in hand along familiar sidewalks and avenues, lingering over a glass of wine at outdoor cafe’s, we began to feel all the tensions of everyday life disappear, and with it the tensions that had grown between us. We realized it had been almost two years since we had been away together as a couple. We’ve not been able to travel much recently, and when we have it’s been with friends, musical groups, or family. As enjoyable as those trips can be, it’s not the same as having unscheduled time for just the two of us, where we have only ourselves to amuse, only our own timetable to meet, only our own pleasure to consider. 

It was wonderful and much needed. 

When you’ve been married for nearly four decades, it’s natural to let many things go unspoken. You develop a short hand language - a glance here, a sigh there. Sometimes a raised eyebrow or an irritated shake of the head. There is a collective intelligence you have as a couple based on years of experience and daily life: each individual knows their role, and it’s easy and expedient to remain in the groove of it, to silently follow the familiar path you’ve created. 

But sometimes in marriage, as in life, it’s important to stand back and take stock of where that path has led you. Perhaps it’s to a place as lovely and tranquil as our resort in Florida; but perhaps it’s a prickly thicket of weeds. 

Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Part of the appeal of our trips to Disney World are all the memories we have there. For nearly every place we go throughout the 17 miles of “world” we found ourselves recalling a moment from the past. “Remember when we took Brian and his friend James on the speedboat ride at night to watch the fireworks?” "Remember when we came with the Birkby’s, and Cara was dressed up as Snow White for the Princess Breakfast?” “Remember when we would come here and spend the weekend while Brian was in college?” “Remember how Brian loved to swim in the pool after dark?”

We remember it all. Fondly.

But we aren’t the same people we were in those days. We’ve suffered losses, our health isn’t always good, we get tired much easier than we once did. We worry a little about keeping up with Connor on all those trips we hope to have with him here in the future. We worry a little bit about what life will be like for us in the years ahead, knowing how easy it can be to drift apart, to huddle silently in separate corners of misery.

Katrina Kenison writes about this very thing in her book, Magical Journey. “To grow without growing apart,” she says, "to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what has changed: Perhaps this is the challenge that must ultimately be surmounted in every long-term relationship if it’s to remain fresh and resilient, rather than growing stale and stiff with age, too brittle to bend and stretch with time. 

As we age and mature into marriage, we define and redefine “love” so many times. What was considered love in the early days - the intimate pleasure taken in all those “firsts” as a couple; the excitement of building a home and a shared future - all that changes as the “first time experiences become few and far between, as the future begins to look a little grim with worries about health and finances and long-term care. 

“I know my husband and I love each other,” Kenison goes on to say. “But it seems we’re both coming to see that love alone isn’t enough to keep a commitment alive; we need imagination, too. And enough courage and creativity to create a new form for our marriage, a marriage that’s growing old and being forced to adapt, just as we are.”

And there’s the heart of the matter. “Love” - however you define it - isn’t always enough. Yes, it takes imagination to find new ways of relating to one another. Yes, it takes courage to veer off those tried and true pathways, even if they are flat and devoid of scenery. It also takes time and energy, and all too often I spend so many of my resources in those areas on other things that aren’t nearly as important.

Already this morning I awoke feeling threatened by the overwhelming “to-do” list that runs like ticker tape through my brain. Make doctor’s appointments; straighten out a mixup with my mom’s medications; cut the dog’s hair; water the plants; steam clean the wood floor in the kitchen; have the windows washed; return all those shorts I bought that didn’t fit; go grocery shopping; take shirts to the cleaners; write reviews for those books I read; clean the stove in the kitchen...You all know the kinds of lists I’m talking about. They’re all things it seems necessary to get clear of before I can focus on the things that are my true heart’s desire.

The past few days reminded me of how much my husband and my marriage really are my heart’s desire, and how (despite a long daily list of chores, tasks, and modern-day dilemmas) finding ways to make that relationship a priority is what will make my heart sing with true happiness.


The Sunday Salon: The Reading Mother

My mother has many wonderful attributes and abilities: She is kind and caring, generous and considerate. She is a marvelous cook, has an elegant eye for fashion and interior design, and can grow any flowering plant. She is all these things and more. 

But one thing my mother is not is a reader. 

Oh, she reads the newspaper, which she continues to subscribe to mostly in order to read Mitch Albom’s weekly column. “Did you read Mitch today?” she’ll ask on Sundays.  “He really tells it like it is.” And she always enjoys her Southern Living magazine. She loves to thumb through cookbooks, sussing out new recipes to try. She once enjoyed fashion magazines, but says the styles are “too far out” these days to be of any interest to her.

But I’ve never seen her read a book. 

That is not until I gave her a copy of mine. 

You see, it came as a total surprise to her that I had even written a book in the first place. I think she knew I wrote things on the internet, but her understanding of the internet is similar to that of many octogenarians - sparse to nonexistent. 

When she unwrapped her copy of  Life In General last Christmas, she was confused at first. Then she saw my name at the bottom and looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and - I have to say - a little awe.

“Did YOU write this?” she asked.

“I did,” I answered, trying to retain my humility. After all, we never completely lose the desire to impress our mothers.

There was a suitable amount of ooohing and aaahing, some tears at the inscription I had written on the flyleaf, and some lengthy explaining on my part about how the book came to be. When I left later that day, she was still holding it on her lap, unwilling to part with it for a second.

The next day she told me she had read the entire book that night. “And I’m going to turn around and read it all over again,” she said. “It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve every read in my life."

Well, of course. She’s my mother. She thinks everything I write - from the gobbledygook typing on that first old typewriter I played with to my high school term papers - is the best thing she’s ever read. (And remember, she doesn’t read much.)

But then she said something that I would hear from a lot of readers in the days and weeks ahead. “I think every woman who has had a family, or a home, or been married, or gone through losing parents could relate to this book. I feel like you connect with all the things I’ve thought about and felt over the years."

Every year when Mother’s Day approaches, I realize once again how fortunate I am that  (1) my mother is still with me and still functioning independently; and (2) she has been so supportive of me and my family every step of the way as I’ve gone through all the experiences of Life In General. Although I’m not nearly the cook she is, nor is my thumb anywhere close to being as green, I hope I’ve inherited at least some of her ability to love unconditionally, to listen without judgment, and to give of her time, energy, and love without measure.

In the end, it didn’t matter that my mother wasn’t much of a reader. She completely supported my obsession with books, making sure I always had plenty of them around, getting me to the library whenever I wanted to go, and always encouraging me to read widely and often. She nourished my love for reading just as she did my love of music and dogs and cars and pretty dresses. 

Since December, Life In General has had pride of place on the coffee table in my mom’s living room. She says she picks it up and reads from it every so often. “Sometimes I laugh,” she commented, “and sometimes I cry.” It has prompted her to share many stories of her own with me, stories I’d never heard before about her life as a young wife and mother.

“Did you know,” she said the other day, “when I was young I used to like making up stories. I’d tell them to all the cousins, and they loved to hear them."

Well then. That explains a lot.


A Mother’s Day Offer

LIG, Mother's Day photo.JPG

Perhaps your mother (or grandmother, or daughter, sister, aunt or friend!) would enjoy reading Life In General too. In honor of Mother’s Day, if you purchase a copy of Life In General, I will beautifully gift wrap it, sign or inscribe it, and mail it to anywhere in the United States.

I will also donate 25% of all Mother’s Day book sales to Church World Service Blanket Sunday, which my own church supports each year on Mother’s Day. Donations are used to provide blankets, tents, food, and shelter to those affected by disasters worldwide. Read more about the project here.

To order a book as a Mother’s Day gift, use the order form on the Life In General page. In the notes section, indicate if you would like a special inscription inside the book, and where you wish the book to be sent. Books must be ordered by May 5, 2015.


Write On Wednesday: Opening Your Heart

Too many women, writers and non-writers, are scared to open up on the page, don’t trust their voice, let alone their stories. Too many women know how much writing, whether it be personal expressive writing, writing for publication or for longer projects, helps to connect with their truths but don’t prioritize practice.” Kira Elliot, Leader of Writing to Open Your Heart workshops

An acquaintance recently mentioned that since reading Life In General she’d like to sit down and tell me her own life story. “I want you to know more about me,” she said, “since I feel as if I know so much about you."

I had to laugh as I replied, “Yes, my life is definitely an open book these days!"

It’s true. The pages of Life In General contain eight years of open hearted writing. In each one of those blog posts, I “opened up” on the page - about aging, about mothering, about the empty nest, about caring for elderly parents, about loss and change and hope for the future. Writing those essays the first time taught me the truth of Kira Elliot's statement: Writing helps me connect with my truths. This was reinforced even more strongly when I revisited the essays during the process of compiling my book. I was reminded of how important family and legacy are to me, how reading, writing, and music are the foundations of my creative existence, how necessary it is for me to have quiet and reflective time in each day, how my ordinary rituals and daily routines can be sacred and healing.  

Just as my writing helped me connect with my own truths, I have found it so rewarding to hear the ways my stories have helped others reconnect with their own. I have been privileged to sit in conversation with friends who open their hearts to me with stories about their lives I’d never heard before. I am honored to meet new friends who have read the book and feel comfort from the connection of our shared experiences as we go through life in general together.

I  believe we all have a deep inner need to share stories, to open our hearts to one another. From these shared stories we take comfort, we deepen our sense of compassion, we celebrate our diversity in the midst of our common ground. 

Although I realize not everyone feels called to write, for me writing has been a consistent path straight into the heart of my emotions and experiences. Sharing my discoveries has given me a gift of connections that are comforting, validating, and energizing. 


Perhaps you’re interested in learning more about opening your heart on the page. Kira Elliott is offering a free one hour live video training about creating an open hearted writing practice. And do subscribe to Kira’s wonderful blog, which is filled with open hearted goodness.