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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Facebook, Friendship, Social Media

Friend-back.

 

There is a lot I do not want to read this month — or see, or hear. Inconceivable to me a year ago, I have been making daily choices about the news: read the New York Times or toss? Turn on the evening news or Netflix? Scroll through Twitter or ignore.?

“Bear witness!” my cousin scolds me. But I need to manage my media diet to sleep at night. I have taken to skimming. I deleted The Skimm (suddenly, it seems too snarky and young when everything is too much in crisis). Facebook, however, has been a bit of a conundrum.

As a social media tool, FB has such information potential and such damage potential. A year ago, convinced I couldn’t listen or read what the Trump supporters had to post, I ‘unfollowed’ a lot of people. I defined ‘friends’ as those that agreed with my politics. But look where that landed me — in a bubble of Hilary supporters and no balanced perspective. I was crushed even more– a tough lesson in listening and not just to what I wanted to hear.

Since January 21st, 2017 the site has become a place to ‘click and share’ our rage and disbelief, media false or true, pictures that can be difficult to look at, rhetoric that ranges from “F***” to “Crying.” Frankly, who isn’t going through that range of emotion every day, regardless of which party you support?

This time, I won’t un-friend you. In fact, I have ‘friended-back’ everyone.

I am listening.

I fully understand that the rate of posting cute puppies or sporty photos in exotic locations has steeply declined. We are a nation in crisis. But you are my friends, and for that I will read your feed, wince in private, and be present to what is happening and for you.

Otherwise, I am uninformed and not a friend. But throw me a cute Scottish Terrier sometime just to keep my heartburn at bay.

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Birth Control, Facts, Feminism, Planned parenthood, Women, Women's March

Counting Up Your People.

Day #4.

You may think the hashtags are counting down the days (oh, so many) until we elect someone else. But actually, every day I am counting up the privileges I didn’t appreciate that are now threatened by the new Republican administration. Access to birth control. Accurate news. A president that tells the truth. The presence of elected women in the White House. To name four, on day four.

Women have marched and we are home now, reevaluating our strengths, finances and abilities to make change. The low-end estimate is 3.3 million  women and men that took to the streets on January 23rd, 2017. This is a fact. But I am one woman. What can my impact be?

I have given this a lot of thought — where can I make a difference —  even though by the end of the day I want to go on a dozen crusades. I mean National Endowment for the Arts?  Our National Parks? Freedom of the Press? But  I choose women’s bodies and for starters, Planned Parenthood.

Please unfriend me everywhere if you think God is involved in this decision. We will not agree and I am ok with that. If a man can obtain Viagra to go play I should have the exact same rights to obtain birth control to go play. Let’s put that on the table early here. You have a choice and I have a choice. Don’t click on this blog if you want to rant. I have work to do.

I have two daughters, and the thought that they will lose rights they were born into both stuns and infuriates me. Women are supposed to roll back the clocks to an era where men in suits decide when, where and what we can do with our bodies?

No

You know, I am going to rewrite my history in the next four years; my history of letting everyone else do the heavy lifting. I now get Twitter and Facebook feed from Planned Parenthood. I am stopping by next week to walk through the door and make an appointment to talk to someone about volunteering. One by one we need to walk, talk, count up and lace up. Remember this:

day32017I am, for better or for worse, privileged to be in my late 50’s and just now hear a call to action. But what better than a white woman full of words with some time to spare?

Find your people. Get to work.

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Drawing by Emma Dane Garfield http://www.emmadgarfield.com @edg_originals

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Feminism, Pussyhat, Vote, Women, Women's March

What She Carried.

Unable to slide my datebook into my purse today, I dumped the handbag unceremoniously over on the counter. Here, at the risk of going over my strict word limit, is what I found:

3 plastic dog poop bags, 4 different Boston restaurant matchbooks, stacks of crumpled receipts, a small notebook, my  checkbook, 2016 medical card (aha), 2 used handkerchiefs, 5 used kleenex, a ziplocked bag with 3 lip balms, 4 pairs of glasses, my Fitbit (finally), 5 hair clips, ear buds, mints, a book of stamps, a comb, five post-it pads, 6 pens, 2 pencils, 6 dusty dog biscuits, and a bra.

Really.

I should be embarrassed but in a strange, distancing-myself way I am fascinated by what she carried, this woman who ran rampant over the holidays, making, baking, decorating, wrapping, visiting, drinking, eating, not sleeping, not writing, feasting on family time. She needed lip balm. And very soon got the flu and needed tissue. She lost her glasses over and over. And her favorite bra after a massage session. A lot can be said about me, where I have been and where I want to go, if you look deep to the bottom of my handbag.

The 2016 presidential election has focused an intense spotlight on women — unexpected, thought provoking and worthy of examination. Women supported Trump overwhelmingly across the country despite everything he did that might indicate a different vote. No one looked deep enough into their purses and examined what they were carrying that affected their voting choice; their specific issues on jobs, healthcare, race, feminism. Turned out, just because they carried a purse did not mean they were going to support just any female politician.

I will be walking on January 21 in Seattle at the Women’s March. Don’t think I don’t have reservations, as the organizers dictate when and where participants can be silent and vocal. Or when I read the sheer numbers that are anticipated when as a firm rule I avoid crowds. But I am interested in what we carry, us women, and I hear we will all be there, dumped onto the streets in our pink hats, shouting our views, making the contents of our beliefs and feelings seen and heard.

America the beautiful. America the brave. We the people. Me, the coward, in the midst of it all. It is a year of seismic changes, from the street to my purse. Time to understand each other, to look deep, to lock arms. Even to shout.

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Read, writing

Books I Loved in 2016

Seems like a great day to review Alexandra Dane’s Best Reads of 2016 — a purely self-interest, subjective culling from the fifty books I read over the course of the year. I read everything and anything that catches my eye, mostly everything recommended to me, and then thousands of words every week of other writers’ rough drafts. I like to believe this is better than Sudoko.

2016 Favorites

Slade House — David Mitchell: I went down the rabbit hole with this author and would do it again. Don’t read late at night.

My Name is Lucy Barton — Elizabeth Strout: Spare scenes, complicated memories, will go down in literary history as one of the best books that makes the reader fill in the blanks and work for the story.

When Breath Becomes Air — Paul Kalanithi: Just read it. You need these words to wake up every day and feel blessed and mindful.

Girl at War — Sara Novic: With so much of our world at war, this story, through the eyes of a girl, will make you listen to the news differently.

Sweetbitter — Stephanie Danler: You can see a pattern of my favorites. Give it to me slant and I will eat it up. Pardon the pun. Intense story from behind the food scene.

Another Brooklyn — Jaqueline Woodson: Don’t let this thin volume fool you, the story whacks a good punch of awareness and meaning.

The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian — Sherman Alexie: I am late to the gate with Sherman Alexie, especially since I spend so much time in the city of Seattle which adores him. It is no secret I love the straight-forwardness of YA and this is no exception. I asked my local Seattle bookstore owner (Phinney Books) which one of Alexie’s many genres to begin with (poetry, non-fiction, fiction, YA) and this is what he plucked off the shelf. And FYI Tom Nissley’s monthly newsletter offers a trove of good, thoughtful suggestions. Just saying — anyone can subscribe.

How To See: Looking, Talking and Thinking About Art — David Salle: The character of art itself not just the artists. Thought provoking for your year of culture ahead.

The Man Called Ove — Frederick Bachman: Don’t see the movie first, find a copy of this book and feast your eyes and heart on the unexpected lessons of love, life, anger and cats.

The Atomic Weight of Love — Elizabeth Church: A woman, an atomic bomb, an era. When I read it, in spring 2016, women were about to break the last glass ceiling. Rereading it at the end of the year, I feel the tragedy of women’s choices even more acutely. Perhaps my favorite read of 2016.

There are plenty of books I wrote down in the back of my diary that I would never read again, fiction and nonfiction, but every, single read makes me think and that is the goal, no?

Cheers and Merry and A Healthy New Year, readers.

And ps. send me ideas for 2017!

Alexandra Dane

 

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#crushtour, Begin anew, Choices, Golf Fights Cancer, Kindness, Suzanne Wedel XOXOUT

Cowgirl boots. Attitude. Onwards.

Forget gentile resolutions. This is the day I am kicking stuff to the curb. There’s that word again. Time for my red pointy cowgirl boots and a big attitude.

Going:

People who can’t be fair or open minded about politics or gluten or sexual preferences.  Anger, prejudice, hatred is life-sucking, mean and tiring. If we were all the same life would be a big snore. I love you all. Thank you for loving me.

Sugar: Used to be just salt. Now I am going to scrutinize sugar. Turns out that is a sneaky unhealthy additive, too. Still researching the chocolate.

Bad humor: From me or others. A new barista has ruined my morning ritual with unfriendliness. I am killing her with kindness. We had enough animosity in the elections. Try the opposite effect.

Ignorance:  Fact. The divide will be greater under the next President. My cousin Nicole, on seeing a homeless family this week, asked them what they needed, drove to the store, purchased the items, and returned to place them at their feet. I intend to practice kindness with double intensity, especially to strangers. Do it more. Thank you, Nicole.

Wasted time: My dog is getting old. My 50’s winding down. I want to measure 2017 with all the good times. We have to make that happen for ourselves. I wasted a huge portion of 2016 addicted to the news. And we know how reliable that was — don’t cheat and waste time on people or places that do not make your heart soar.

Cancer. I may need help with this one, it is heavy. My son’s very best BFF is battling Gliobastoma. Ovarian cancer took a friend in March. Let’s #CRUSHTOUR every single day: Help crush cancer with your heart, feet, hands and your wallet. Suzanne Wedel XOXOUT Fund, Golf Fights Cancer, wherever people are putting science and money into understanding how to crush cancer they need you. Please. Your kick will make a difference.

And finally:

Looking down has got to stop. Look up. We are part of a vast, complicated, beautiful world. Be part of it. Look where staying in our own little reality got us in 2016. Open yourself to everything and everyone.

While Olive snoozes off her breakfast and the birds kick  seed into the air I write this short list. Write one of your own now. Let’s make a mountain on the curb. Let’s start something good tonight, like a New Year.

Kick hard today. The very best news about tomorrow, January 1st, 2017, is that the crazy horrible that was 2016 is out with the trash.

I’m taking the best bits forward with some serious attitude.

Adios, 2016.

Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

2016

May Sarton, New Year Poem, first stanza.

Bainbridge Island, November 2016.

 

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Feminism, Women, writing

Kick Butt.

I remember the day my grandmother taught me how to curtsey. She was somehow in charge of me on bridge day and I was dressed to be shown off, squeezed into an uncomfortable wool jumper, the white blouse underneath bunching up around my middle. I knew I fell short on many levels, but determined, she gave me a quick how-to before her guests arrived. Holding my plump hands in hers she positioned me in front of her and demonstrated: slide one foot behind the other, dip my knees together, look her in the eye.

I remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. At home I ran barefoot in the wheat fields. Why am I learning this I wondered. The year was 1965 and I had personally witnessed my mother throwing away her bra. “You can do EVERYTHING I couldn’t” my mother told me as she dropped it in the bin with a flourish. But I also knew, like my grandmother’s even, back-slanted handwriting, that today’s lesson held the key to being a lady, a term my mother scorned but the little fat girl secretly worshipped. I stood by the front door with my grandmother that day and executed a perfect curtsey to each guest. They cooed in admiration. This felt just fine.

So began my conflicted relationship with being a woman that frankly has not abated fifty-two years later. Does it ever abate with any woman my age? I write my essays on being white, middle aged and full of words. I question retiring from life when the kids leave for theirs. My essays and blog posts are sprinkled on the internet weekly and after publication I am full of heavy dread each time I turn on my laptop. Who will be offended? Can I live what I say and say what I mean?

But then we have the elections of 2016 and I face that I have been coasting along, letting other women do the heavy lifting. How to hone feminism and fifty and language to shape the next generation now keeps me awake at night.

“Look what we did for you!” was my mother’s favorite line when she pushed me to college, graduate school, begged me to get a PHD. This year I assure my oldest daughter as she plans her wedding, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” and I know my mother would be proud. Then I order my daughter monogrammed stationary. Because, honestly, I am still doing a little curtsey with a pen in my hand, bridging the worlds that raised me.

If I want my daughter to keep the path for equality and feminism open despite the elections of 2016, for her to be the next female president (why not?) or know her, I need to trample the have to’s and remind myself and other women daily that women can do anything. So here goes another blog, and some more words, and the choice of honesty.

You will still be a lady if you kick butt. Even more of one now in 2016. And you need to.

Thanks for cutting the path, Mom. Stomping on it right now for you and all of us.

lilacs1964

Gathering lilacs at Moose Hill. Alexandra Dane, 1965

 

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