Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Monday afternoon I came down to Prairie Pond Woods for a three day writing sabbatical, which turned into a two day writing sabbatical after a bit of a relational hiccup on Tuesday. It is not uncommon for something strange to take place every time I come here with some sort of agenda in mind like writing; the power goes out, the water stops running, I get two-hours of sleep the first night, due to some ominous thump I hear just as I crawl into bed. Even my husband comments on how uncanny it is, since he is the recipient of all my lamentations over the phone. 

It is hard enough to overcome the fear and resistance of just sitting down to write, let alone having all your timing thrown off, your mood altered or your energy zapped. So, as I thought about why this happens so often, an idea came to the forefront of my musings. Perhaps my expectations needed edited out altogether; that "list" I think will be so helpful...when I will get up, take a walk, start to write, eat my meals, etc. I ACTUALLY write this stuff down, and I'm beginning to see it is this AGENDA that does me in. It doesn't allow me to roll with the punches, go with the flow, or any other metaphor that means to adjust my perspective and expectations when unexpected situations arise, or to simply let freedom reign.

Now, agendas are fine when I am running my household, conducting a meeting or planning an event, but for creative work, the ever present list just might have to go. So this morning, I took the rare opportunity to just lay in bed. I turned over at least twice after waking up at 7:00 am and went back to sleep. When I rose, I decided I would do whatever I felt like doing, whenever I felt like doing it, and see what happens. 

I wrote in my journal. I read from a book about writing called The War of Art. I watched a thunderstorm while sitting outside. I opened a bottle of champagne at noon (just couldn't do it before then), as a way of celebrating the creative act I was about to begin. And then I began...the hardest part of writing.

Not only had this idea to approach my sabbatical with more freedom given me the courage to start, but two passages I read earlier that the morning also motivated me. They are some of the most authentic and effective bits of wisdom I have ever read about the creative least for the novice stage I am in.
"Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, a desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are."

"The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death."
 I have asked that question more than once to myself, my husband and friends. It is, in part, a doubt  held over from college days when one of my professors told me a drawing I had done was "corny." Corny? That's about the worst thing anyone could have said to me. Tell me it was poorly drawn, like a monkey with pastels. Tell me I used all the wrong colors and it was hideous to look at. But don't tell me what came out of the depths of my creative soul was banal, overly sentimental, inane, or stupid. I was crushed, and just about everything I've put out into the world since came with a dose of fear that I am, at my very core, a corny creative. But the dosages are getting smaller. And the next page in the book encouraged me even more to plant my derrière and begin. 
"Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do."
"Remember the rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear: the degree of fear equates the the strength of resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that the enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there would be no resistance."
I'm trusting that. 

So, today I re-read, edited, rearranged passages, and talked out loud to myself about the story line. Tomorrow I will try to write at least 1500 more words or five, wait...tomorrow...I'll write however many pages I want. It helps to have an attitude, also.

College Days. Corny?  Nah!  Just attitude.

Monday, June 06, 2016


Tomorrow, June 7, is the 25th anniversary of my mother's death. Although I had it written in my calendar and thought about it at times over the last few weeks, it wasn't until I sat down on my front porch this morning to journal and make my list of "to do's" that I remembered today was the day...or so I thought.

What reminded me again was the weather. It was exactly like today, not on the morning of her death like I had thought, but on the day before, when I was alone with her and said my good-byes. I guess that day just stuck. I remember the tearful walk I took afterwards through the grounds of Hospice. It was a cool day for June, breezy, and the sun dappled down between the leaves of all the trees. Flower colors popped in all that brightness. As I walked in and out of shade and sunlight on the brick paths, I remember the pleasantness of being physically comfortable and the sorrow of being emotionally wrought. 

June 6, 1991:
"I said good-bye to Mom. I told her I would miss our lunches and our trips together. I said that my wardrobe would suffer and I laughed. I think if she heard me, she laughed too. Some people believe our spirits can leave our bodies and then go back. I believe it's possible - so I told her that if she was looking down, I would be okay. That I had God and Craig. That I would take care of Dad and try to help him. That I didn't know if I would have a baby, but if I had a girl, I would name her Marie. I promised her that. Marie Steffen. I think that's pretty."

After digging up old journals, it was obvious that not only had I had the date wrong but that months before her death had been stressful, which is probably why so much of my recall was faulty. Craig had started going to college full-time on top of owning his own business. Our dog had puppies two weeks before my mother's surgery in Florida to have her stomach removed. One of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, so there were visits, radiation appointments, crying, and awkwardness. Several friends' marriages were falling apart, as well as one of my brother's. And another brother, who had been estranged for 28 years, was unsure how and when and with whom to reconnect. 

Reading all of this 25 years later left me exhausted and bewildered. How could I have so many details wrong in my mind and not even remember much of it? We are not at our best under stress or in grief. This was true for my family and especially my for my parent's long, rocky relationship. What also struck me was the lack of any entries in my journal about my parents during the four months my mother continued chemo treatments in Florida before she came home, only to die one month later. What I did write about incessantly and passionately was my own lack of feeling significant, my artistic frustrations, and my desire to lose weight. We are not at our best under stress or in grief...

I had listed all my prayers, too. Prayers for healing, for restoration, for peace and for redemption, which never really came. At least not the way or in the timing that I asked. My mother died at the young age of seventy. My friend died the day before her 42nd birthday. And most of the couples got divorced. But disappointment, heartbreak and vulnerability are the Divine's good and wise teachers. The swaying trees this morning on the porch reminded me of that.
They say that smell is the sense most connected to memory. But I have tried very hard to forget the smells in my mother's room and in the hallways during that week in Hospice. What I remember most is the weather, just like today, when I let my mother go at the young age of thirty-five. In fact, so much so, it is in the first line of a poem I wrote after her death. 

On cool, breezy days in June, I will remember you...