Tuesday, March 18, 2008

heart disease, children, Ghandi, good reads,

Some of you know that March, in the past, has often been a difficult month for me. Both of my parents died in a March. We survived an airplane crash in March of 1986. And then there are those Ides of March…I used to call it Murphy’s March for all the things that could go wrong.
But over the past few years I’ve decided that I gave March a bad rap. It’s really quite a remarkable month. We do our “bounty counting” in March now (preparing our taxes!). The yellow bells, first signs of fragrant spring, sprout, reminding me of a time I went walking with my dad and stuck that tiny flower in my dad’s shirt pocket. All day he commented on how good everything smelled and only later realized that it was that tiny yellow bell that gave the gift.
There are birthdays that are special in March. Jerry’s mom’s birthday was in March. So was my mom’s. Matt’s birthday is in March. Bo will be 22 months old on the 17th! A great niece, Sarah Hurtley, will turn 17 in March and her Dad will be…well, older in March.
Winter wakes up this month and finds itself transformed into new beginnings and treasures.
I won’t know for another week or more about my heart test results but while they were being done no one said “Oh my!” or “I think you better wait until I share these with the radiologist” you, know, those certain looks suggesting maybe things are worse than I’d thought. So I’m not worried. After all, I took my own advice and guarded my heart and it’s March when I’ll learn the results so I think things will be fine.
We spent a few days last week on the Washington coast not far from where Emma had spent some of her days along the Willapa Bay (my Change and Cherish series). We walked on the beach, picked up sand dollars, ate seafood (lots of it) and read. I finished Robin Cody’s Ricochet River a book that like Sweetness to the Soul made the “100 best books about Oregon list.” Robin is coming to Sherman County on March 3 to spend the day with kids and the evening with adults and kids at the library and he and his wife invited Jerry and me to visit Sherar’s Bridge with them and talk stories. What fun that will be!
I started reading The Florists Daughter by Patricia Hampl, a memoir about her parents living in Minnesota (where my mom grew up) and brought along to keep reading – depending on my mood – The Hardest Time, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, The Audacity of Hope, The Path, The Hidden Wholeness, Bring Warm Clothes i(That one’s about Minnesota winters) and Eat, Pray Love (it was suggested I read this before leaving for Italy in two weeks), and Lee Iacocca’s newest Where Have all the Leaders Gone? You never want to be without books.
And we rented movies on the rainy afternoons. We don’t watch many movies on TV and going to them is a 100 round trip so DVDs at the hotel works well. I could enjoy them more too because I’d finished the rough draft of my 2009 novel just before we left! My goal had been to finish it before I leave for Italy so it was a gift to have it this far along! Lots of revising will be done, editorial comments etc., but this phase is finished and it is a milestone I celebrated walking on the beach.
Anyway, the theme of the weekend and the movies seemed to be the importance of childhood and protecting children but also about the gifts of childhood. Maybe I was just being open to these issues this month thinking of myself as a ‘daughter,’ orphaned now but then we are all orphans in some ways, seeking to find our way home.
Robin Cody’s book was a moving story of teens and love and life and hope and trials, about salmon runs and dams, about small towns and Indians and the stories we tell ourselves and how the lives we live tell stories, too. It was a compelling read and without a doubt I easily set aside all the other books in order to finish Ricochet River. I highly recommend it from young adult on up.
Anyway, the most profound film we watched was called Water. It’s an East Indian production, subtitled, set in the 1930s. It’s about a young widow (age 7) being sent to live in the community of widows which is what happened for Hindu wives whose husbands died. They could die with them, be sent to this widow’s town, or if the family allowed, be given in marriage to the younger brother of the deceased husband. It was a strict caste system and the story suggests it changed with Ghandi’s influence but as late as 2000 was still practiced by some Hindu people. This is women in history month and I couldn’t help but note that women, young women and old women still struggle in many places around the world, even in my neighborhood though we have no widow’s community.
Into this mix came the 7 year old widow. There were women who had been there for many years, who had also come at the age of 7 or 8, some of whom had never known the husband whose death had sent them there. It was not always a bad place but the wrench of being left there by her in-laws and the way that lives changed there because she was being a child and because these widows had to find ways to survive, moved me deeply. I think the last time I’d cried that hard at the end of a film was at the movie “The Deer Hunter” back in 1979 and it was probably as much as the power of the film as the fact that Jerry was having cervical surgery the next day…life seemed so fragile and of course, it is.
But I was held by someone who loved me while I cried and our friend who was with us, who also shed her tears, reached out to touch my hand and I felt so grateful, so blessed at my childhood, my life, my choices, my chances to lead the life I do, loved as I am.
My admiration for Ghandi’s work grew, too. Such a profound weight Ghandi took upon himself to change a way of life, to make a small dent in colonial influences left by the British in that nation (who had certain advantages by these widows needing to earn money for food), by the weight of generations of Hindu tradition that accepted how these widows of all ages should be treated. His faith and personal conviction were never displayed in the film; it was all about this one child but it personalized how a single life and the lives of those around her were changed and needed to be changed by Ghandi’s listening to his heart, by people knowing he was out there moving to make life better for the smallest child. The law was changed but it was another widow’s act of compassion that truly changed the child’s life, her act of courage to defy the rules and order on behalf of a child’s need.
Or maybe I was so affected because I’d also just come from leading a Presbyterian women’s retreat and as a way to get to know them, I’d asked the women to share their name and share something they loved doing as a child. As I always am at these events, I was moved by the diversity, the range of happy and sad childhoods but also that each could name something they had once loved to do, lost themselves in doing, remembered with fondness what they’d done.
Several said they didn’t do that activity much anymore and I suggested that maybe we ought to. Maybe a way to celebrate the gifts of childhood, (which to me are wonder and passion, un-conditional love, easy forgiveness of ourselves, siblings and even our parents!) is to once again engage in roller skating, horseback riding, reading for pleasure, taking walks with our grandmother, “playing church”, singing, trying something new even if we look foolish. If we were fortunate enough to grow up with at least one person whom we knew loved us, would be there for us, to “protect, border and salute” us (From a Rilke poem), then maybe as adults we could salute those times by repeating them or better yet, giving a child a chance to do those things too.
Someone in one of those books I’m reading said that if we are engaged in parenting, teaching and healing, then we are engaged in meaningful living. So that’s my task and joy this month: to look for ways to enrich the lives of others by parenting, teaching and healing in the best way I know how.
It’s Women in History month and I’ll be speaking at a few events this month and traveling to Italy at the end of it. But I think I’ll make a little more time to go walking with Bo and urging the old dog, Brody, to walk a little further than the deck. I’ll read for pleasure and not just research or to meet contracts. And I’ll be a little more grateful that I grew up as I did running free on a farm protected not from all the tragedies that can affect a child but protected in ways that allowed me to dream and to discover a faith that sustains and urges above all in this world to “love kindness, seek justice and walk humbly with your God.” We are so many of us, profoundly blessed even in this month of March, even with struggles yet for women’s voices to be heard. I am blessed beyond measure and I hope to do a better job of remembering that. Have a wonderful month!

Note and update: The heart tests I had revealed an enlarged left ventricle probably caused by untreated high blood pressure (which is now under control) or from my having had rheumatic fever as a child. And my EKG was abnormal…but apparently it’s always looked like I’ve had a heart attack! At least the one done in 2002 had the same strangeness that brought the doctor back into the exam room saying “Has anyone ever told you about your abnormal EKG?” They hadn’t but now they have. I’m ok. I just need to keep my BP under control. There was no evidence of buit or stroke-like stuff so I’m back on the treadmill my 4 miles a day and heading for Italy on the 20th! Thanks to all for checking in with me. I’m sorry this hasn’t gotten posted on my website yet but my webmaster had some trials at her house. It’s what living looks like.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Finishing Things

I've been remiss! I'll try to do better. My husband had a second surgery in January and I was busy trying to finish my novel due April 1 that will come out in April of 2009. It's based on my grandmother's life -- she was a photographer in 1910-1915 in Minnesota. I have a couple dozen glass plates that either she or my grandfather took and I've worked five of them into the story. Getting them printed was a treat and it was done by a local photographer so I didn't even have to travel more than 50 miles to get them. My husband is doing well!

I had line edits for a book coming out next month, A Mending at the Edge, last in the novel series due too this past month. That will be followed in September by a nonfiction book about the Aurora Colony in Oreogn that inspired my Change and Cherish series. That book is called Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt and Craft. I hope you'll look for it. My husband took a lot of the photographs and I just finished the line edits for it too. Now we have the photographic part to manage. The museum is quilting a replica of one of the original quilts done by Emma Wagner Giesy, the woman I've written about in my novel series, and there'll be a way for anyone to put their name into a drawing for that quilt come December...no purchase required!

In between I taught a class on writing with a mentor of mine, my first writing instructor, Bob Welch. That was pretty amazing, humbling and encouraging all at the same time.

What I wanted to say though is how good it feels to finish something. I know the novel comingout NEXT April is in it's first draft stage and I'm now doing revisions before sending it off to the editor. And I'll get to relook at it after she's considered it and makes suggestions. But there is something truly liberating about reaching for something I wanted -- like finishing the book before I leave for Italy next week for a conference I'll speak at but will also be a time of relaxation. For a lot of writers, that "finishing" thing is really tough. I try to remind them and myself that perfect does not mean "without errors" but rather "complete." Things that are complete are perfect. It helps me actually write "the end" and it helps me keep going even on the days when the Harpies sitting behind me are saying that what I've written is drivel.

I hope whatever your harpies are telling you that keeps you from feeling the joy of being finished that you'll put Duct tape on them. Someone gave me red duct tape and it really quiets those voices. But if you don't have real duct tape handy, just put a mental tape across their mouths and keep going until you've, well, finished! Stay well, warmly, Jane