Anger

I am thankful for a lot of things this year as I look to Thanksgiving’s arrival. It’s a lot of things that have comprised my list in years past: my husband and son, and my larger family; my teaching career and school; shelter, food, comfort and convenience; friends, new and old;…the list continues.

This year I have something new and, possibly unusual, to add to my list. Anger.

For really the first time in my life, I am seeing the benefits of feeling my anger. I have felt a lot of anger in the past several months due to a misfortune that happened to me when I was a small child. I won’t go into detail about the trauma, but I think it’s important to share that my anger has laid dormant for a long long time.

I have come to realize that anger can be a healing agent and much more than its simplest and careless forms. And, consequently, buried, ignored, and unattended to anger, in my experience, has been self-destructive because it has been turned inward. My dormant anger has masked itself in many disguises: depression, anxiety, sabotage.

Identifying my anger, facing it and doing battle with it has taken perhaps the most courage of my life. It’s fierce, it’s real, and sometimes it looks like rage or a piercing scream–but it’s not a pointless toxin or a misinformed monster. It is a very useful human feeling that has given me the power and strength to contend with the hardest and most tragic parts of my existence.

Anger is my torch in the darkness to the other side.

And, the other side looks like a promise of peace, especially on the inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Birthday Wishes For My Friend

I have a long history of writing lengthy cards for all sorts of occasions to people who are dear to me. Here is a transcript of a card that I wrote today to my friend on the occasion of her 39th birthday.  Some context: we are the same age — well, I’m a month older — and we grew up in the same neighborhood. We became fast friends in high school and have continued our friendship since. The birthday card features a magical like drawing of a mountain goat carrying a four leaf clover in its mouth. Without further ado, my birthday message to my dear friend, S:

Happy Birthday, S, in your 39th year! I send you the Good Fortune Goat, my favorite music discoveries this year, and Broad City Mad Libs — I think that should cover a good amount of what is necessary for a gal of our generation and circumstance. I hope that you have a good deal of whatever it is you want on your birthday, whether that be relaxing or something more upbeat.

I also wish you piece of mind and peace in your heart as we navigate what feels like hard times in our world. I hope that your ‘well’ maintains its vitality and sustains you. I hope that continued laughter, sense of self, and meaningful connections to others lights your journey. I hope that our paths intermingle frequently and that we enjoy the capacity of our longstanding friendship, which has meant so much to me, then and now.

Thanks for being there as I presently walk a difficult part of my journey. The hardest parts of our journey can feel so lonely, and I deeply appreciate your courage and love to walk with me a little. That’s been a real gift of our steady friendship. I love you a lot. Let’s see each other soon.

Yours, Deborah

 

 

 

Little Red Shopping Cart

Gus and I surged into summer yesterday. It’s the beginning of a lot of unscheduled time together, and I admit I’m scared. How will we, mommy and son, possibly fill the unused hours? How will I not die, at least, a little, of boredom? But then, I feel guilty thinking about the boredom.

After all, our trip to Trader Joe’s was fun. Gus asked, for the first time, if he could take one of the small, kids’ shopping carts. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure he could manage the task of controlling it. Images of Gus crashing into an innocent, elderly shopper or, better yet, a pyramid display of Chardonnay bottles, paralyzed my response. It seemed like yesterday, and maybe it was yesterday, I was buckling him in to ride in my cart. I looked at him. He looked small, but the little red cart suited him perfectly. “Okay,” I said.

Gus did well. In fact, he was one of the most polite cart pushers I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. I often overheard him saying “excuse me” to other shoppers or “hello”. For the most part, he stayed to one side of the aisle and, wholeheartedly, he focused on the task of steering straight.

I got so many smiles from strangers. “He’s doing a good job,” shoppers commented, like they knew it was his first time. It’s possible we gave ourselves away. Gus’s visible care and attention at all times, determined to join the ranks of pushing shopping carts – and me, all proud, with an obvious smile hidden on my face.

 

Chain Poems

Yesterday, I taught my students how to write a chain poem. It is poem of association, playfulness, and whimsy. It starts with one word and builds from there. Chain poems are great for hesitant writers as they encourage nonsense and surprise. All of my students had fun writing them. Here is the link to the lesson.

We used the word mirror to start our chain. Here is my chain poem.

a mirror is a fragile

image of the past,

an old photograph

or forgotten memory

hidden in the depths

of your abandoned thoughts,

a silent and secret

long ago identity

 

Here is a student example:

A mirror

reflects your personality

a pond

with ducks flapping their wings

a yellow leaf on the surface

baby chicks hatching

“tweet” “tweet” they say

turning into a graceful flying V.

 

Here is another student example:

A mirror has a

clear reflection

water rippling

fish swimming

shiny scales moving

lizards sunbathing in the

hot sun

desert sand storms

a cactus stabbing a fly

 

One more student example:

A mirror is like

a reflection

in a puddle

with a splash

in rubber boots

frogs leaping

bright green

the color of grass

cows grazing

Sunday Bath

My apologies, son

that we bathe you in this cold water.

I assure you, we tried warming it,

but boiling kettles of water

could not seduce its frigid infancy.

So we wildly scrub your fingers and toes,

dismantle the dirt behind your ears,

all while you breathlessly wail

a simple request to play with bath toys;

which, believe, hurts us not to honor.

My apologies, son

that we bathe you in this cold water,

but our school week emerges,

and like a hungry hawk, it is

bound to swallow us whole.

Metaphor

Last night a memory crept up on me. It felt a little intrusive since I was trying to focus my thoughts elsewhere. I tried quieting the memory, but, at last, it refused to be ignored.

It came to mind that maybe the memory was trying to tell me something important, so I decided to surrender and give it a fair listen.

The memory was of a night hike that I had taken in the fall while we were away on a school camping trip. The children were busy participating in an evening activity with the camp counselors, so a few teachers decided to meet up for a hike. I grabbed my backpack and prepared myself for an adventure with them.

When I met up with the group at the trailhead, Andrea told me to turn off my flashlight. This puzzled me because it was extremely dark. Thick clouds had invaded the night sky and swallowed any light from the moon and stars. With disbelief, I looked ahead to the trail. When I couldn’t make out the path in the dense forest, I felt unsure that I wanted to hike anymore. But then, I was taken by surprise when Andrea grabbed my hand and guided me into the darkness.

I was relieved that Andrea had sensed my uneasiness and impressed by her courage. She knew enough to know that I simply needed her hand without any questions.

I relied heavily on Andrea to lead the way at first. I walked carefully, hesitant that I might fall and injure myself. I tripped and lost my footing several times, but with Andrea’s support, I was able to regain my balance and continue on.

Halfway through our hike something remarkable happened, I started to see in the dark. I could make out where the path curved up ahead, and I could determine the shadows of the thick winding tree roots below. I felt my confidence slowly emerge, and I began to enjoy the hike. I breathed in the pleasant autumn air and immersed myself in the nighttime sounds of the forest.

An hour or so later, we approached the forest’s opening. The light from beyond signaled the end of our journey. I felt a little sad and like the end had come too quickly.

Andrea released my hand, and my heart filled with gratitude for the comfort she had given me. I knew that I would not forget her kindness.

Writing for me can often feel like a lonely expedition into the unknown. However, with the support of this kind and welcoming writing community, it has felt less like an individual journey. Reading fellow slicers’ work and seeing their courage day after day has made this journey feel like a group effort.

Lastly, I want to give special thanks to all my Andreas out there. You have made my journey possible.

Swimming Lesson

I remember my mom telling me the news in a Ponderosa and salty tears trickling to my plate of turkey and gravy. In those early days of my childhood, people didn’t die. Maybe your fish died or the neighbor’s tired, old dog died, but not people; especially, not people you loved.

But here was my mom, sitting across the table from me, saying otherwise. He had a heart attack she said. It’s when your heart shuts down and stops beating she explained. He had the best kind of heart, though, I thought.

I remember floating face up and staring at the twilight, and how the water felt tucked inside my ears. I remember the sound of water lapping gentle rhythms around my motionless body. I remember his arms cradling me and his instructions. Relax. Fill your belly with a big breath. Hold on to it. And let go.

Guardie, my godfather, had taught many children to swim. He and my godmother, Papa, lived on a lake in West Virginia and for many years they coached the local youth swim team. I remember watching Jeremy, their grandson, swim the butterfly. It was one of the most beautiful and shocking things that I had ever seen. I hadn’t known the body’s capabilities in water.

But, this was a first lesson, and I was not learning to curve my back or flap my arms like a butterfly. I was learning how to float. I took another deep breath and filled my belly with air. I leaned my head gently back into the water. I listened closely for Guardie’s voice and relaxed my body in his arms. Finally, I believed that the water would hold me.

I close this slice with a poem that reminds me of this memory and inspired this piece.

First Lesson by Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.