Dry January, Memoir, New & Old, Patience, Publishing

New. Old.

All sorts of new things to be learned in January. It is quite an exhausting month.

On a very bracing twenty-degree morning walk last weekend I saw ahead of me, in the middle of the street, a man reach into his wool overcoat pocket then hand another man something glittery. Money? Too bright. Car keys? Too small. Who am I — Agatha Christie? He turned to me as I passed and offered me the same, a local confection, wrapped in gold and silver foil. “You won’t see me again when I have given them all away” he answered when I thanked him.

Two things I learned about myself right then: I wanted to run go find him another box of candy because come on what a great way to meet and greet the new year and this exact second of pleasure — not for the sweet but for his cheerful smile and jaunty cap — made me want to keep knowing this gentle man, just giving away his Christmas box of chocolates on a winters day.

And two: turns out I will take candy from strangers.

January, 2023 was also a good month to identify the culprits for my crippling insomnia so my version of dry January is a caffeine- free month. Now, it also might have something to do with my new PCP shuddering in horror when I told her how much espresso I consumed in a day. Ok, Ok! Covid habits die hard. As do post-covid no taste or smell untenable consumption of dairy products. So. There’s that; decaf everything. Hold the cheese. This is not new news, but old news I need to take seriously.

Also learned: I can live without caffeine. Maybe my blood pressure will reduce to passable numbers. And I thank the Goddesses that decaf exists in all forms. When January is up I will reintroduce ONE double espresso and see what changes. I will report back.

We made it through the holidays with a revolving door, a full fridge and a lot of ribbon. But my kids are grown. Two will be married by next December. I have been giving this a hard think: what can I do to help them create their own traditions and still get some time all together on, true confessions, my most favorite time of the year? This is a work-in-progress thought explore.

I learned: quality time is the only time. So if we get the sleepover-gift exchange-all around a dining table somewhere near the holiday, all together, I can make peace with that.

Back in the Pacific Northwest for my migration away from snow and cold to rework and get cracking on my memoir project after a long hiatus of short essay and flash non fiction writing. See my piece “Itch” January 16, published online in River Teeth, Beautiful Things. FYI I submitted in March, 2022 and the publishing date was ten months later.

I learn, over and over: Patience.

Alexandra Dane writes by the sea in Seattle and Boston. Her memoir-in-progress explores coming of age twice at the mercy of cancer; first as caregiver, then as patient. Her most recent essay, “Found. Well.” was published by San Fedele Press. “Itch” is forthcoming in River Teeth: Beautiful Things. Read her thoughts at www.alexandradanewrites.com. She knits to think.

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Brave, January, New Year

So this is January, 2023

We made it.

I woke up on January 1 and said hello you and did not get out of bed to see the sunrise over the harbor. Because I was tired. And I am enough as is, with more tea and a grand dog and the beautiful pink sky visible from my bedroom window. No matter what your travel, family or virus status has been for the last month, we came out on the other side. Stand tall.

The new year is just the old one with new numbers. I sit at my desk January 3rd with so many emails, piles of ideas and a few deadlines. There is a re-knit to finish, a literary submission and a bio to edit for a publication date. I had to push away bits of wrapping paper and an old cup of tea to find my pad. I made a list and prioritized. Tomorrow is plenty of time to tackle the second line.

‘Tis the season of re-do and frankly, I have been redone, remade and restarted enough times that me — all taste-less, smell-less, tired and lover-of-fruitcake-me, is fine, thank you. Take it all with a grain of salt, in fact, take THIS with a grain of salt, because we have been through enough to recognize the pointlessness of weight-loss pressures, or sales pitches or self-improvement bombardment. We made it, remember. Just as we are.

My word for the year is Brave. In my health, my writing and my desires. I will not entertain doubt because after all, here I am world. See my feathers unfurl.


It could be ugly. But I will know I tried.

Tea today with a friend I missed seeing over the holidays: I am bringing fruitcake, made by monks, a splendid cake studded with candied gems. We will roll our eyes and enjoy every bite, laughing over the days we made our own and coddled them on the kitchen counter for months, swaddled in linen and bathed weekly in booze. Let the monks enjoy that process now; I plan to pry the lid off and cut a big chunk to accompany our Earl Grey.

Meet yourself where you are today. And tomorrow. And beyond. This first month is really just the same old/new/wondrous month as the next. Do what you can; a new twist on bravery AND joy is ahead.

I look forward to hearing about it.

.

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Bike, Fixing, pain

Fixing.

“Fix your form, fix your life.”

Olivia, Peloton instructor

Yes, Olivia. In sparkle shoes.

I scoffed at that hunk of metal with pedals in the garage until one day I really, really needed to get out of my head and fix the downward spiral of my body. I was unpleasantly surprised that her 20-minute beginner class almost killed me. Then I realized that is the whole point, to push past the recovery-everything hurts-walking is fine year so far. I wanted to end on a much higher note in 2022.

For those that know me, I take on a new physical challenge every time my age adds a zero: yoga in my 30’s, running at 40, 5-mile-a-day walking in my 50’s. Until, midway, there was cancer and a hip. The 60’s have been a stutter-step pardon the pun of trying to get back to something without pain. Pain makes me a ‘no’ person. Pain makes me cranky. Pain — chronic — takes the stuffing out of my soul.

And then I hopped on this bike.

Interesting when a prosthetic joint lands on a hard, pencil-thin seat. Really, Peloton? I solved this problem by grabbing a hank of bubble wrap and swaddling the cruelly designed perch. While I am now wide open to hilarity it works. I fixed it.

2022 has been a year of feeling helpless on a large and small scale; politics, Ukraine, education, abortion, voting, my loss of taste and smell alongside clothing moths, cholesterol, sleep. I dig deep to remember that baby steps accomplish a lot and that the year had a lot of successes and joys, too: published pieces, an engaged son, everyone healthy, good books, loyal friends, clean scans, to name just a few.

For 2023 I will work on daily success, putting on my shoes and pedaling one minute at a time the best I can. And for the holiday season, finding fixes in what I can do vs. what I cannot. Do I really need to put out ALL the decorations or make ALL the cookies?

I can’t say that I walk nimbly from the garage to my shower after the 20-minute, now 30-minute sessions on the torture bike but Olivia assures me that “just showing up, you are awesome!”

And who doesn’t need to be told we are awesome?

Show up, do your best, remember the HoHoHo in the season. Put on your sparkle shoes and send out the year.

You are AWESOME.

Cheers, friends.

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'Tis the season, Stillness, wellness

‘Tis

‘Tis the season to do a lot of things well or wrong, too fast or too slow.

For me I do all these things mostly at once. There is baking and hosting and cleaning and family I want to see and then there is knitting and writing and not enough time for either because something is in the oven or needs to be or has burned in the oven or someone is coming over and napkins need to be ironed and lets not forget decorating and all of a sudden it is midnight or 4AM and neither time is my best time and the list is still long.

It is like I conflate an entire year of want-to-do or need-to-do into six weeks.

Stop.

I posted a list I found about Nine Types of Rest here is one: Stillness to decompress.

At the end of this week I plan to practice some stillness. And go to a new bookstore, find a chair, and kill time looking at something for a while. Then I am going to drink a hot, big, over-the-top coffee drink. And walk in a park. Or, stay in bed all day with a book. We shall see. Hold me to it?

What will you do to find rest in this season of joy and heartbreak?

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Cake, Coping, Courage, Holidays, Memoir

November goals.

Leaves. Frost. Owl calls. Vests. November in the Pacific Northwest; squeezing a little time with my writer support group, the island, cousins and friends before the holidays. I am reading a piece on a virtual site tonight about cake, coping and courage. My mother loved that word ‘cope’and overused it, especially with a child who didn’t actually know what it meant but I knew — from the force of her voice — that this was an important action to take.

It has taken me so far a lifetime to accumulate and practice the nuances of coping. They include blind faith, closed eyes, simple pleasures, complicated relationships and love. How did you cope during 2020, 2021 and now 2022 when we still mask, worry and take great risks in the most mundane places — movie theaters, the grocery store, weddings? Coping or crap shoot? I carry N95’s and wear in groups situations. I fly masked and without drinking/eating/snacking. I still have a sneaky cold today, picked up despite five vaccine jabs and the flu shot. Crap shoot week.

There is an endangered squirrel that found it’s way into the walls of Wren Cottage, and chirps in distress all night. Today we cannot hear it, and hope — with crossed fingers — that it found a way out. A few days ago we watched a little family of them play tag on a tree, little black creatures full of bounce. How sweet, small and vulnerable it is; “cope” I whispered to it before I went to bed last night. Why not.

The holidays speed towards me and I love them, lugging home gifted cookbooks and full of ideas. I simply do not know how to slow down about now, but maybe, after I make David Lebovitz’s Pistachio Rolande, I will sit in front of the fire, fork in the deliciousness and cope with that affliction.

Kick up some leaves. Remember down time. Thinking of you.

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Fall in, Friendship, Health, Layers

Live in the layers not the litter*

October 1, 2022.

Heat on. Wool shaken. Hat and mittens to walk the grand-dog. Crunch. All things pumpkin (orange brings joy!). Wind. Knitting. Morning reading, now in the dark. Bourbon is back. Boots dusted off. Tea to warm hands. Down comforters deployed. Socks. Lighting candles. Asters. Rinsing the crock pot. Planning next years garden. Wondering if the rake has one more season left in it. Finally wanting pasta. Stacking wood by the fire. Soup is back. Checking the outside thermometer in the morning. Zipping up, adding on, stripping down. Sharpening pencils.

In New England, the change of seasons keeps me humble. What I did just last week in 80 degrees I can’t do today in a crisp 45, maybe until many months from now — swim, feel the warm sun, wear linen, bare feet. But layering up will be intentional, inside and out; regain my health and hair, try the Peloton, find the best yoga downloads. The facts is I have too many down coats. I do not have enough boots. My writing sweater (there is one) is getting very ratty. But what really matters? I will fall in.

My change of season runs external and internal: a change of attitude, a shift of my needs. I plan to sweeten the time I have with people, layer on the best of the best; hunker down, switch on the lights, brighten the bulbs, light a fire, stay a while. So long, detris of summer. Winter has begun to roar.

See you; even if it means shoveling my way to your door. Wait for it.

Boule de Neige, Last roses, 2022

*Poem,The Layers, Stanley Kunitz.

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#septemberismymonth, Birthday, Spiders

September is my month.

In the morning the cottage doorway is draped with masterful spider webs, big as dreamcatchers, flecked with wings, leaves and sunlight. As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, spiders spin all night, increasing their web real estate to lure insects and mates in preparation for winter. This week I have opened the door numerous times forgetting to look up and taken quite a few face-first. On my early walk in the woods Saturday I broke through so many across the path that afterwards their glinting, gossamer threads were woven through my hair. I try not to think if or where those spiders have landed.

September has always been my month. I am renewed in cooler temperatures. I think of pencils. I make the first soups and gratin, thrilled to be able to turn on the oven more often. I read more (believe it or not). There are holidays ahead and pumpkin bread. A Barred Owl woke me this morning under a full Harvest moon.

It is also my birthday month. As a cancer patient in the middle of a ten-year watch I go a bit contemplative with each year around the sun; one more down, one more set of tests clear. 2022 was an important marker — five years — and this September I celebrate the gift of another favorite month. I also very deliberately do not think ahead; given this day is good. Given all of this month is even better.

This September I will split between my two favorite places and many favorite people. Cake is very optional because after a long post covid summer I still have no taste or smell. Instead, I may root for a berry cobbler and melty vanilla ice cream, a combination so dear to my heart I can absolutely convince myself I can taste the puddle of sweet and tart.

We weave our webs as we get older, catching the things we care for the most: friends and family, dogs, dinners around a table, armloads of late summer nasturtiums, starchy vibrant zinnias, fruit baked to perfection. Our family will weave a new member into our fold officially next spring, and we are so the better for her. There may be new puppies.

Just today, for instance: the sun, a giant Flicker at the feeder, an immense spiderweb hanging from the clothesline, a bowl of yellow tomatoes.

Spin, friends. Hold close what matters.

Birch grove at Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA. Some of you know what to do here when the day comes.

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Seattle, Security, Thanks

The Thing that is.

I met a favorite person at my favorite Seattle downtown bakery yesterday. We had only been settled outside with tea at a bistro table for five minutes when I heard shouting. Looking over her shoulder I saw a man, barely dressed, violently wrestling with equipment in the bakery doorway. “Open the box! Open the box” he howled. Seconds later a large man wearing a security vest bodily lifted him away from the entrance. Still screaming, the man turned on the guard, who proceeded to shove the flailing man away, inch by inch, down the street, away from the patrons. I was the only one who watched.

I would like to say that was that. But this happened three more times in the hour, each time the guard, implacably and without a word, removed them from the sidewalk.

I am not qualified nor do I know if the labels “homeless,” ‘vagabond,” or “mentally ill” apply here. But I felt a deep sense of divide that day.

When I returned to my car I couldn’t leave; for one, I had just witnessed people who were just, well, lost. And secondly, who was this stranger bodily removing people so I could have a cup of tea? I got out of my car and went back to the bakery, looking for him. I went inside and thanked the barista for having him present; she told me the building had hired him. I handed her cash and asked her to buy him a cup of coffee from me, or anything he wanted. Tell him a woman thanks him who watched.

I cannot change what has happened to the streets of Seattle, but I can and need to thank a person for doing a thankless job.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

BY ELLEN BASS

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Authority, Community, Connect, strangers

Moments in time

A few days ago in downtown Seattle I approached a crosswalk under construction, looked both ways (not at the walk sign) and put one foot out to jaywalk when I spied a police officer on the other side of the street watching me. I pulled my foot back in a comedy of slow-motion guilt. She burst out laughing, her teeth flashing, her braids spinning as she put her hand to her face and turned away. “I don’t see anything” she said. I was laughing too hard to cross the street.

I love moments of unexpected connection. So much was conveyed in that ten seconds: my hurry for the dental appointment (well, sort of), a police officer really clear what was important and not important, two women locking eyes and laughing on a stunning blue morning in a traffic-locked city.

When the “walk” sign flashed white I crossed and still smiling I apologized for letting the Boston in me take over at the curb. “It’s a mess down here” she answered.

I walked on around the block to the medical building feeling like the world was good, even though the next two hours were daunting.

Sometime during the last five years, and of course Covid, I discovered that I liked strangers; that instead of them being humans I did not need to know they were actually essential to know; their politics, choices, needs or even troubles. My world is more informed when I make myself open to their newness. In that short moment on the street I experienced an approachable policewoman, an amazing smile, a distraction from the two crowns and one filling awaiting me.

I went on to have good news at the dentist (only one crown and two fillings) and returning to my car waved merrily at my uniformed friend.

Connecting even briefly felt good. Stay open for it. Begin each day looking for it.

I am a better person for you, after all.

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Be Brave., Breath, Fearless, Midsummer, Travel

Midsummer.

I am counting/gasping under my breath and refuse to look up the impossibly steep bank of stairs: at step forty-five there might be stars in my peripheral vision. On fifty-five I hear birdsong. I bend my head, inhale deep into my boggy lungs and keep trudging up the cement behemoth that runs parallel to the elevators to Terminal A. I am alone on this mission, a few others sensibly gliding up into the terminal, hips cocked, phones out, on the soundless escalator. It is 5:30AM and for a brief moment I wonder with wry amusement if the birds are me losing consciousness. It dawns on me at number sixty-seven that I am hearing my daily programmed wake-up alarm on my phone. Wouldn’t it be nice to still be in bed.

I do not have the energy to stop, reach and search my bag to turn off the alert. The priority is to push myself after weeks prone, so muscles liquid I exhale — seventy five, seventy-six, done — and look around at the top, grateful I am not an EMT statistic and pleased I never once grasped the railing. I plod to the Starbucks line. This is the new normal, suffering the extremes.

After almost two years of wearing a mask I might have all my covid vaccinations but not one ounce of resistance to everything else floating around that humans are breathing on me. My cold was all the worst of the worsts — infected everything from the neck up. Yeah, me. I lost all sense of taste and smell immedietly, and slippered around my midsummer garden unable to smell the first peonies or the explosion of June roses.

Gone are the days of a simple cold or simple travel. Here are the days of determination, chaotic security lines and not a hope of curating my life in a straight line. I head to Seattle when there are barely tolerable airfares and I am in good enough shape. I pack hankies of the cotton embroidered variety. I mask every minute in the airports. People are over being happy to be together and do everything rudely this summer; stand too close, talk too loudly, sneeze into the open air. I drop my bag, wipe my brow and order a shaken espresso. Steps, alarms, travel, writing. Coping, breathing, breathless. It’s good to be back.

After two years of fear I find I am fearless.

My ticket and health are hard won. The peonies and roses await me in the Pacific Northwest, though I have still not regained smell or taste there is still hope. I have not fainted, just the opposite — just hurrying to get ahead of these decent days, straight up if need be.

Catch me if you can.

Wren Cottage, June 2022
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