Friendship, Support, writing

Map of Self.

I arrived in Seattle yesterday morning from Boston, my 7AM flight landing at SeaTac an hour early which covered two sunrises.  There was still snow in icy heaps back in Boston. Here, I can see a sea of cherry and plum blossoms from the Nest and this morning the birdsong woke me at 5AM. A pair of crows were stripping the flower garden below of dead, wiry nest material when I stepped out and smelled the air — that Pacific Northwest moist leaf and fertile dirt smell. I fed them some of my muffin, then I set up the ironing board, read fifty pages, edited a chapter and cleaned the Nest. These next five days might well be the most accurate map of my brain to date. But look closely at the lines.

On Friday I will participate in a public reading At The Fault Line on Capitol Hill, presenting an abbreviated chapter from my memoir manuscript. I am still whittling the reading to a strict six and a half minute limit (with no success — getting there). There is dress rehearsal tonight, the only one I could attend, and four more days to sweat the outfit. There is a little prayer involved that the writing lobe of my brain can make efficient edits and read clearly under the spotlights and under pressure.

I have discovered, in the words of Linda Kulman, that “ass in chair” is imperative to the progress of my manuscript, as is “stand in public and take it like a woman.” So here it goes, read out loud, the part of my story where I was at the fault line and had to decide which side to jump.

On Saturday I am the ‘featured designer’ at Churchmouse Yarn and Teas on Bainbridge Island, a yarn and design shop where, if I could split myself in two, I would work the night shift or be stock girl or even fetch coffee that is how much I love their business. My scarf caught their attention a year ago, and they transformed my meager notes into a versatile pattern that can be knit in a variety of yarn weights. I sent out requests to borrow all my cousins’ and daughters’ versions of the pattern and will have a glorious heap of scarves for the event. My flat smells of wet wool as I wash, resize and steam them on my knees, the floor covered in damp towels. I hope someone asks me a question or two Saturday afternoon, but to be honest, I will just be so darned pleased to be there.

And every day at tea time I will talk to my friend back east and try to ease her day a little, make her smile and remind her how much she is loved. This is the most important piece of each day right now, remembering it isn’t the spotlight, or the questions, or the perfectly aligned paragraphs/edges/manuscript page/outfit. I challenge that those lines are mapped out in my brain in pencil — I can erase them if needed, change them around, reschedule — as I did, staying east to be with my family and friends and missing all the rehearsals.

Because the most meaningful line in my brain, on my map of self, is written in ink. The giving line.

This other stuff will happen and be fun, the second draft of my memoir will get written but not quickly. On my map of self, the giving line is indelible. I choose plum-colored ink for her. It is that simple.

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Walking to Green Lake, March 26, 2017

 

 

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Grief, Support

Not About Me. All About You.

Ten days ago I pulled my only black suit from the back of my closet, brushed the dust off the shoulders, and prepared myself for the first of two funerals in forty-eight hours. Two young men, too early. Two young men so loved. Inconceivably, the universe fell further off it’s axis that week, with news of medical challenges for a person so dear to my heart. The beginning of February has been layers of sadness and bad news, sadness and grief, sadness and fatigue laid on so thick and fast I lie awake with my heart pounding.

I purchased this suit in 2005 for $30.00 at a post-holiday dump sale at Macy’s. A black suit of mixed fiber heritage, I stalled at the checkout —  there was a slightly ruffled hemline. Was this flirty? WAY too dated? Frighteningly inappropriate despite the color and square understated jacket? Really, really cheap of me?  I stood and sweated in the aisle, spinning the racks, rapidly depleting time and confidence. Ultimately, I decided my mother-in-law would be proud of my thriftiness and daring at her memorial service in the lofty New Haven, Connecticut, Episcapalian church, surrounded by sensible tweeds and twinsets.

The suit is the easy part. More challenging is how to gift ease to others at these times: the 101 of giving support and care is often counterintuitive. My first instinct is to barrel in, fix everything, spew wisdom, share stories, buy too much for a lot of money. In a love-driven, panic fueled sadness. But what I have learned over the years, in actual fact, is that waiting and listening can be the greatest gift, the most needed ingredient to help others survive loss or life-changing news.

My absolute is to remember nothing is about me. I try to pay attention to the little things —  a texted emojis heart, a small vase of daffodils left on the doorstep to allow privacy, sending a card. What helps and how will I know? Sometimes I don’t. But I always ask first, then take action if needed or wanted. I let my action be determined by the people that need it. Sometimes, it is all I can do to practice this, I want to fix everything so badly. But then I remember — this is not at all about me.

Nothing is good about five dinners delivered on the doorstep on the same day when everyone is sick to their stomach. But soon, in time, needs present themselves. The dogs will need to be walked, the groceries delivered, the laundry folded. And nothing is nicer than a card of encouragement that makes someone smile. Showing my love is sometimes about not showing up uninvited and sometimes takes every bit of willpower I can muster.

I never regretted the purchase, or the flirty hemline. It has held up to everything I needed, has been borrowed, dry-cleaned, tide-sticked, re-sewn, worn with-and-without a slip, always paired with dress boots over and over for the last twelve years. Always ready for whatever I need it to do. The little ruffle makes me smile when I am sad. It waits patiently and makes tough times easier.

Last week, I fully expected the skirt to halt at my hips, the jacket buttons to refuse to meet. It had not been worn for a long while. But each piece slid on, forgiving the last two years of injuries, accommodating the control top pantyhose, gifting me, once again, with ease at the time of extordinary sadness.

This is a silly analogy that means well. When the buttons buttoned I was so grateful the suit was just hanging there, waiting.

Find out what fits the needs of others. Sometimes, it is just waiting, listening or letting a family know you are available for the call.  Then you will be the perfect person, at the perfect time. And don’t forget to breathe.

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Marblehead, MA, February harbor

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