Thursday, September 29, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Eight: Golden Moment

It has been a long week already and is not even over yet. There was a family medical emergency earlier this week that is resolved for now. I have had an atypically strong reaction to this week's chemo despite it being the very same chemo I have had for weeks now, so I have been dealing with fevers and cold chills and other miscellaneous reactions (but no nausea) since Tuesday. Earlier today I spoke at a Magistrate's conference in the late morning, leaving from and returning to Court, resulting in a late lunch. And today was a longer day than usual because we just started a new Victims Awareness group, which means working with the kids until 5:30 and then staying on to debrief until almost 6:00.

To say that I was done in by the time I got back up to my office after debriefing would be an understatement. I was way past done in. Done in was in the rearview mirror.

Before shutting down my office computer for the night, I checked email. Court email was routine. But in my personal email was a gift, pure and simple:

Hey Mom,
Just writing you to say we love you. We are as busy as ever as working lots and hanging out with Ramona and having a good time.

My son Benjamin could not have timed his email any better if he tried. It was just what I needed, a little shot of love that was totally unexpected, a little pick-me-up at the end of a long, hard day, a little moment shot through with gold.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Inch One-Hundred Thirty-Seven: Burning Down The House

Today's post is short, and comes from my job.

Several weeks ago, my fabulous coworker Cecelia and I started a new writing program at Juvenile Court. We work with a small group of juveniles (there are four of them in this this first round), giving them themed prompts and encouraging them to write. In any class, there are three to five prompts taped to the wall, and the juveniles may pick and choose as suits them. We then share the writing, discussing issues that come out in the course of the writing.

Did I say we encourage them to write? Encouragement has not been a problem. Sometimes, the issue is getting them to stop writing and share within the 90 minutes we have.

One of the unexpected consequences of facilitating the writing group is that I am writing more. For one thing, the kids expect us to write alongside them and demand that we too share our work. For another, it is impossible to be in a small room with everyone bent over their notebooks, pens and pencils scratching away, and not be moved to put down something. Not every piece I produce is a winner, but occasionally I sit back and think "not bad."

This week's class was about control. One of the prompts was "He was like a forest fire, burning down the excess beauty in the name of control." This is what I wrote in response:

Burning Down The House

Sometimes you just burn it all to the ground.

Sacrifice the curtains and the towels
and the china
and the painting over the couch.

Sit back and watch the show
The sirens coming closer
The flames shooting through the roof
The garden trampled by the firefighters.

Flick the soot off your jeans
and walk away.
Nothing to hold you now.

In the remaining weeks, we will be tackling such topics as goals and overcoming barriers. One of the prompts I hope to use is this one attributed to Mizuta Masahide: Since my house burned down I now own a better view of the rising moon. Seems like an appropriate one for me to write about it light of my piece this week.

I love my job. I love this part of my job even more. And I love that I get to go on writing with Cecelia and an amazing group of young people.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Six: Of Words and Writing

I am soaked in words today.

I am so soaked in words that I walked around this morning murmuring the opening lines of Eve, by Ralph Hodgson:
EVE, with her basket, was
Deep in the bells and grass,
Wading in bells and grass
Up to her knees...
Back in July, I wrote about Poetry Night. Although August was pretty much a wash for me because of travel and other obligations, here it is September and we are still at it. In deference to schedules (Michele being a teacher and school being back in session), we are going to a 2nd and 4th Wednesday schedule for the school year.

At this week's gathering, we talked a lot about the writing of poetry. Casey, who just joined the group, posed the question: How do you do it? We talked about the economy of words. Michele is teaching Emily Dickinson right now, and those are poems so sparse there is not an inch of fat on them.

We talked about saving scraps of lines, scraps of thoughts, a phrase or an idea. Michele presented a stapled together sheaf of papers in which she wrote down lines and ideas, thumbing through it to a draft poem she has not yet strung together in final form. I held up my latest spiral notebook, bought for dimes at back-to school sales and used until I have torn out every page.

Intermixed with that talk were readings of our own works and the works of others. Casey read this one by Raymond Carver:

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

It is a beautiful work that none of us knew and we all asked him to read it again, the words hanging in the evening air after the sound of the last line faded.

I walked home quickly in the gathering dusk thinking about the conversation, the topics, the words. Michele had talked about the making of ink from charred bones and that one stuck with me. Whose bones? I spent a good hour just now researching ink made from char. It is often called Ivory Black when made from bones.

I am watching the fruit of the dogwood turn red and wondering whether the little red pellets can be pressed into ink. And would I write a different poem in dogwood red than ballpoint blue?

I am wondering what it would mean to write a poem, tear the paper up, then soak and press it into new paper. What words might come to the surface of the new paper? Would it be a new poem?

I am thinking of little poems, of words writ small, of words scribed onto a sliver of parchment.

I am soaked in words today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Five: The Cost of Eating

My brother Mark called me Monday evening, as I was finishing cleaning up the kitchen from an all-day session of making stock and bean soups (split pea with ham, Cuban black beans) to freeze for eating later in the fall and winter. Somehow we got around to talking about our household budgets.

Mark and my sister-in-law Jackie just became true empty nesters with my niece Elizabeth (their youngest) moving to New England for graduate school. I said that ought to be a positive impact on the bank balance. In the middle of that discussion, I mentioned our grocery bill.

Several years ago, I blogged that we spent less than $200.00 a month on groceries, with another $25.00 on non-food household items (soap, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste). That figure did not include prescription medications, but did include eating out, which has rarely ever exceeded $25.00 a month (and usually does not exceed $10.00). When I was talking with Mark, I gave him the wrong figure: $100.00.

Mark was intrigued. "$100.00? Really?"

Well, not quite. I discovered my error today and emailed Mark and Jackie to tell them the figure was actually $200.00. During the phone conversation the night before, I told Mark that I had not tracked our food spending closely for a long time, and that I was tracking it this month to see if we are still close to that figure, given just the overall rise in the cost of food.

When I learned the target is $200.00, I was thrilled. Heck, $200.00? Piece of cake, especially since I think our actual spending is closer to $150.00. If anything, we have reduced our food expenses in the six years since that first blog post ran. 

At least I think so. I'll know in a few more weeks.

So I will be saving the grocery receipts, noting the non-receipt purchases ($7.50 yesterday at my friend Donna's great farm stand to get local sweet corn, some cherry tomatoes (mine having mostly bit the dust thanks to an invasion of cucumber beetles), and four of the most beautiful bell peppers I have ever seen and all four of which ended up going into the black bean soup mentioned above), tallying up the odd meals out here and there.

And then we'll see what September brings.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Four: An Apology Letter

Warren and I do not argue. Heck, we rarely pick at one another.


I know what you're thinking. That's unhealthy. That's the sign of a disconnected relationship. I know: I read all those "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" columns in the Ladies Home Journal when I was growing up too. Where couples said "we never argue," the counselor would be quick to note that all couples needed to learn healthy and vigorous ways to express their disagreements or the relationship would stagnate and wither.

But that is not our situation. We don't argue because at this stage of our lives, coming into a later-in-life marriage out of two contentious marriages marked by a lot of strife, we choose to resolve differences in ways other than arguing.

But last night came as close to an argument as we ever come, especially when I threw my napkin across the table, jumped up, sprinkled two inappropriate words in the sentence I flung at Warren, and stormed into the percussion room to cry and mop at my nose, which chose that moment to start bleeding.

The flashpoint? How I have characterized the vacation we just took. The match that lit the kindling? A sentence in a letter from our sister-in-law about "Warren's vacation."

Warren was hurt. It was our vacation. Why have I characterized it as his vacation? That makes it sound like he demanded we go to Colorado.

I was defensive. But this vacation was for Warren, I insisted, in that we revisited places he had hoped to see for the last few decades. I was thrilled to take it for the pleasure I hoped it would bring him. Why wasn't he appreciating that and accepting it as a gift from my heart? I'm not sure how many more vacations I have left in me and wanted one that would be special for him.

At one point Warren even said I characterized the vacation unfairly in my blog. I did not, I insisted.

I looked at my blog this morning.

Warren was right. The sentence is right there: This was Warren's vacation, revisiting places he had last seen when he was 15.

Crap. That is not what I meant to say. At all. What I meant to say was This was a vacation we planned together, in part to revisit some places Warren had last seen when he was 15. I figured everyone could read between the lines.

I help facilitate a class at Juvenile Court called Victims Awareness. It is a class for juvenile offenders who just don't get the victim piece. Either they are clueless they had a victim at all ("I shoplifted from a Big Store. It didn't get hurt.") or they don't care that they had a victim at all ("She deserved it.") One of the homework exercises the juveniles struggle with the most is writing an apology letter to their victim. They have to share the letter by reading it aloud to the class. We require the letter have more than just "I'm sorry." The letter must acknowledge the wrong behavior and recognize how the victim was hurt.

And it must be sincere.

Oh man. that's torture. I have seen kids turn red at this assignment. I have heard kids labor through the reading, not because their reading skills are substandard but because it is so hard to say "I'm sorry."

I know why this exercise is so hard for our juveniles. Because it is hard. It is hard to say "I was wrong." It is hard to say "I'm sorry" without adding a "but" to the rest of the sentence. The "but" leads to an excuse. Or a justification. It is hard to say "I hurt yo," especially when the victim is someone you know and love, like a family member. Sometimes our juveniles break down and cry reading a letter.

I am not crying while I write this blog post, but I think I now know how a juvenile feels facing that empty white page. I need to own up to my thoughtless actions that made a victim, in this case my dear husband. I don't get to say "I didn't mean it the way you took it" or "how could you think I felt that way?" or even (although I did not resort to this last night) "you know I don't feel well anymore and you need to cut me some slack."

I need to swallow my pride and excuses and defensiveness and own up to my actions.  So here's my apology letter:

Dear Warren:

I hurt you by my calling and characterizing our vacation as "your vacation." This is unfair and gives the idea that I had nothing to do with it except accompany you. My behavior diminishes the trip we took, the sights we saw, and the fun we had. I know from last night that my words have hurt you deeply. I am sorry.

With love,


Inch One Hundred Thirty-Three: Birthday

This girl turned four yesterday. Here she is from earlier this summer, when I was out in Portland visiting.

Grandpa Warren and I talked with Ramona very briefly last night: she was full of sushi and shouting, and very, very wound up at being FOUR.

I would be too.

Happy birthday, Ramona!