What To Do Now? Everyday Magic, Day 151

There are some days that I don’t know how to live. I mean, I could do one part of my work or another, clean a closet instead, take a walk or do yoga, make a pot of soup, or simply do what I’ve been doing for an hour: staring out the window without seeing much, sipping coffee, checking facebook and email, and thinking about playing Typing Shark on line, all of which don’t seem to be the right thing. This is to say that out of all of life’s great possibilities at the moment, I’m inadvertently choosing to waste my time.

Part of my problem has to do with what I hold on my lap right now: a lapbook, which enables me to work a little around the edges all the time. I find it increasingly hard to stop planning an event, revising a document, checking on an endeavor. So maybe I’m just not wasting time at the right time of the day. At the same time, I’m aware that I’m freakishly lucky to get to work at home or in coffeehouses on projects largely of my own creating.

I know that wasting time, after a certain point of course, doesn’t really restock the well or serve me. So picked up the phone, made a date with a friend to take a long walk, opened a big document of the novel in progress, and told myself that after the walk, I’ll play in that world even if it’s a day when I don’t know so well what to do, how to live and what it means to be here. Meanwhile, just writing this blog points my attention to the birds popping off one branch onto another right outside this light-filled window.

Writing Into Mortality & Beyond: Everyday Magic, Day 13

Today I had the joy of facilitating a mid-summer writing retreat for people living with serious illness at Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing in Kansas City (actually Shawnee Mission, KS). While this is something I’ve been doing  for years, each time is new, giving me a front row seat to witness courage, curiosity and the power of how we create (even and especially in the face of mortality). Many of the eleven people who participated are carrying long-term progressive illnesses or stage four cancer diagnoses, years of trying one new medication or another, weeks that stretch into long deserts of moving through chemotherapy or grief, and other assorted hard stuff. One woman just lost her beloved to late-stage cancer two weeks ago; another balances late stage cancer treatment behind her and heart surgery ahead of her; yet another watches her strength and balance ebb and flow due to Parkinson’s.

Whatever the story, it’s a story about facing mortality: our own or our loved ones. As such, it’s a story about loss and grief — even if we’re lucky enough to only lose a few body parts and a false sense of immortality. It’s also a story of the joy found in being present for whatever everyday magic life gives us, whether it’s a glimpse of a red bird singing to one woman from a rooftop, reminding her someone is watching over her, or a hanging out at a family beach party for another woman, a welcome respite from cancer treatment.

In these workshops, I use writing prompts that aim us not so much toward the hope of returning to the old life, pre-illness, but the hope of finding meaning, connection, love, acceptance and strength in the current life. This necessitates also facing, and sometimes writing or talking through, the times meaning evaporates, connections dissipate, friends and families don’t know how to show their love, and it’s hard to not feel betrayed, weak and lost. I tell the people in such workshops to try to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and kindness for whatever comes up in their writing, to treat their responses or even moments of not being able to respond as they would a dear friend. I also encourage us to witness each other: listen carefully. In doing so, we open the ears of our ears and then can better figure out what our own lives are saying to us. I also bring snacks, and today, that included cherries because even if life isn’t a bowl of cherries (or a chair of bowlies as Mary Engelbriet writes), we can still find sweetness that replenishes and nurtures us.

We laugh a lot. We cry (and always, there needs to be a handy tissue box). We talk about struggles, breakthroughs, fears, and great loves. Yet I’m also amazed by how quickly people make a circle of support together, offering each other not just resources, but a kind of understanding that helps everyone in the group look into the issues tipping out when their mortality is stirred. In these workshops, we often speak of how to live, especially when the days are numbers and yet no one knows what those numbers are. There’s something about facing the hard stuff of life, whatever it is, that rips the veil of whatever-ness off, and lets us see clearly what matters, who we are, and how to live.

Photos from workshop used with permission of participants. For copy of My Tree of Life: Writing and Living Through Serious Illness, a book I edited of past participants’ writing, go to the Turning Point store. I also encourage people with serious illness or who are caregivers in the Kansas City area to check out Turning Point, make contributions, and/or take some classes. See a blog by one of the class participants.

Orange Sky & the Ways of Orange: Everyday Magic, Day Eight

After the storm last night, which exploded 3.5 inches of rain from the sky in less than a few hours, I saw something I had never seen before: first a certain shade of gold banking the horizon, and then a deep orange, lit from within. The colors were smooth, watercolor saturated, filling the western sky under the wide lifting of clouds.

We ran out to the deck to watch, the rain still falling lightly around us, the air newly-cooled. “Look,” Ken said, pointing to the south, where we saw a sliver of rainbow, the sky through it darkening but still tinged with light.

I remember a student I had at Goddard who deeply valued the color orange, telling me it was the color of creativity, surprise and magic. Through her eyes, I’ve come to look for orange more, whether it’s the orange rounded fox in the firefox icon on this computer’s desktop, an orange shirt I see a friend wearing at the food co-op, or those lanky lilies crowding through weeds on the roadside. I’ve been learning the ways of orange, how it generally adds imagination to any setting, showing me something I didn’t expect and opening my mind to what can come at any moment. Like last night when an orange sky welcomed me home to where the storm ends and night begins.