It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since I retired. Weirdly, I feel as if I’ve lived a year already.
I’ve been able to spend quality time with family and friends, I’ve enjoyed seeing my poetry made into art, and Parkher, my 2019 Ford Explorer, and I have traveled more than 5,000 miles. We’ve seen sunsets and storms, sunrises and sprinkles…and a lot of beautiful country between Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
It still feels a little like I’m on an extended vacation, but I’m embracing the change. I even took an afternoon nap a few days ago, something I could never do before.
Like a migrating bird, I’ll start traveling south in the next month just as my retired parents did. I am my father’s daughter in so many ways, and I feel his presence on this nomad journey…”Be sure to log your mileage and the cost of gas. And how many miles to the gallon you get.”
“It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I didn’t hate my day job, but it seemed every day brought an onslaught of challenges.
I did, however, like the people I worked with and loved the routine the work week ushered in. I knew I only had so much time outside my work hours to get other work and writing done, motivating me to use and structure my time well.
This retirement thing is going to take some getting used to. Right now, it still feels like I’m on vacation. It’s a challenge to get into any writing done when I’m traveling.
So I’ll just have to steal moments of time until I settle into a routine that suits me. Meanwhile, adventure awaits…and I’ll be posting photos of some of my favorite places.
When I wrote poetry in the late 1990s, I wanted to publish a book of poems called Solitary Sojourns and Everyday Epiphanies. I never did, so I’ve started a new Instagram profile called SolitarySojourns where I share photos from my travels and thoughts on this, my sixth decade of living in a meat suit on this beautiful, blue spinning marble in the cosmos. My blog will become more of a photoblog while I focus my writing on finishing my memoir so I can move onto other things…and more adventures.
Writing Myself Home I don’t know if I could or even if I should dig through the debris of buried memory to get to the place where I can face… myself.
I wrote the above poem in the late 1990s and when I wrote it, I suspected it had to do with my mother’s mental illness and my fear it would happen to me. I had a good life with a husband who loved me and the daughter I’d always wanted, but something was always gnawing at me? I never felt satisfied, and my mother’s memory hung over my life like a grey cloud. I quit writing shortly after when work and family life took priority.
I came out to myself 12 years later. It would take another 6 years to come out of the “having a mentally ill mother” closet.
Last Fall after moving back to North Dakota, I read a call by the BisMan Writer’s Guild for a collaborative touring art show called The Art of Writing, sponsored in part by the North Dakota Art Gallery Association. Artists and writers were to submit samples and if an artist selected a piece of writing (or vice versa), they would create pieces of art inspired by the other’s work. I wanted to submit my poem, but it needed a title.
After having spent two years drafting, rewriting, excavating, and shaping my memoir, I realized the poem was a way to express what I could not. It was the beginning of “coming home” to myself. Then a year ago September I moved back to my home state of North Dakota. I literally and figuratively had come home, thus the title Writing Myself Home.
After I was discharged from the Marine Corps, my first mother-in-law asked me what would be a prescient question.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to be a writer.”
“Don’t strive to be a writer, write.”
It would take years before I finally put pen to paper, first writing poetry in the 1990s. Then in 2018, I saw a Facebook post saying the MilSpeak Foundation was hosting a Women Warriors Writing Workshop weekend at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. I only had to pay for my room and transportation.
I jumped at the chance and took an early flight so I could check out the Whitewater Center and take a zipline tour before the festivities started. Note to self: visit the Whitewater Center again and try whitewater rafting.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to reignite that dream, to write the book I wanted to read when I was struggling.
The weekend was transformative.
A Friday night welcome reception with Open Mic kicked things off. Several women were published authors, and many others were further along their writing journeys than I was. It was intimidating. And inspiring.
The weekend was filled with keynotes, break out sessions, and on Sunday a small-group workshop. Participants were asked to bring five copies of a work-in-progress, whether it be fiction, memoir, poetry, or an article. I went back to my room to write something so I could participate.
I could not write. I was so hung up on wanting it to be perfect that I couldn’t get any words out of my head.
Sunday morning I listened in awe while other brave writers shared their stories. I vowed one day I would too.
It’s been three years since that weekend spent in the company of badass women warrior writers. Although I didn’t write anything myself, I consider it the beginning of my writing journey because of the writing friendships I made and the inspiration I received…and the adventure continues.
Forty-five years ago today, I stepped off the bus in Parris Island, South Carolina onto the infamous yellow footprints, forever changing my life.
While I intended to stay in and make it a career, the post-Vietnam era was not a popular time to be in the military. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out after my four-year enlistment. Now, 45 years later, it’s crazy how fast time has flown.
I am forever grateful to be one of the Few and the Proud…Semper Fidelis my Sisters and Brothers!
We are inextricably linked to our parents on our birthdays: they brought us into the world and are our first teachers.
On this 66th birthday, I’m thinking about my Pa…the dice game 6-5-4, the double-six boxcars he loved to roll, and the life lessons he taught me.
How to be a good parent. He raised me to be independent, yet I knew I could always count on him to be a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or a soft place to land.
Be less judgmental and more accepting. Rather than passing judgment on something, he would keep an open mind and say, “Well, that’s different.”
Focus on the positive. Pa had had been through a lot in his life plus he had medical problems, which you never knew because his focus was on you and making the best of the situation.
Cherish friends and family, giving them your full attention. There was nothing more that Pa loved to do than sit and visit with family and friends.
Stay curious about people. Pa loved to meet new people and hear their stories. Being an introvert myself, I challenged myself to be more Pa-like during my 2020 pre-Pandemic Portland trip. The rich, memory-filled trip was one I’ll never forget.
It’s never a bad day for a drive. Pa loved to drive and said, “There’s always something new to see.” After he retired, he worked for car dealers and Enterprise, driving and shuttling clients while chatting them up. He racked up some serious miles, and I definitely get my sense of adventure and love of the open road from from him.
So my 6-5-4 take-away on this day is: 1) life is like a dice roll, you never what’s coming; 2) don’t be greedy and squander a decent score because the next roll might be worse; and 3) sometimes, when you least expect it, you roll boxcars and win the pot.
Mother’s Day has always been bittersweet for me. I became a mother to the daughter I always wanted at 30…and my mother passed three months later. She never got to see and hold her granddaughter, and I was motherless on my first Mother’s Day.
Mother/daughter relationships are complicated.
Five and a half weeks ago I had bicep and rotator cuff surgery. I had heard the recovery was difficult and I can definitely affirm that, but I was unprepared for how helpless I was to do routine tasks…and how much we take for granted having two functional hands.
Knowing I had surgery scheduled in a week, I started using my non-dominant hand to get used to doing daily tasks. I’m very right-handed so the awkwardness of brushing my teeth with my left hand continues to this day.
I reported to surgery at 5:30 AM where I had a pain block with anesthesia for my arthroscopic surgery. My daughter Daisy took me home just after Noon. She had arranged to work from home that first week and I was to recuperate in her big, beefy recliner. I was feeling no pain in my pain block fog so I went upstairs to do a couple of laps around the kitchen and dining room. Then I had a brilliant idea! I need a few things while I’m in the recliner so I’ll just put them in a bag and carry them downstairs with my left hand. Oh, and I need to eat something. Daisy heard the microwave door open and came rushing up the stairs.
“What are you doing Mom? I’m supposed to be getting things for you.”
In my pain block induced stupor, I looked at her indignantly and blurted, “I. Am. Independent. As. Fuck!”
“I’ll make you whatever you want. Please go sit down. You had surgery today.”
I took up my position on her recliner, she put a pillow under my legs, and tucked the blanket around me snug as a bug in a rug as my mom used to say. Not long afterward, she left the room to answer a phone call.
I started getting too warm so I tried kicking the pillow out from under the blanket. When that didn’t work, I scooted down a little and reached with my left hand to grab the pillow and push…and suddenly the reclined chair tipped forward and touched the floor, with the back end in the air. I couldn’t scoot up into it and I definitely couldn’t get out of it.
I was just getting ready to text Daisy to say, “I think I have an issue…” when she came back into the room to find me at the bottom of the topsy turvy recliner. She didn’t skip a beat.
“So how’s that independence working for you now, Mom?”
“Well, I may have been a little hasty after all.”
I spent the rest of that week in a pain coma, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep in my recliner. With my useless right arm hanging like a limp noodle, Daisy and I confronted personal care-taking that I hadn’t imagined. The helplessness I felt was mortifying. The second week was pain coma round two getting off the narcotics and alternating acetaminophen and and ibuprofen. With my elbow and right wrist immobilized, there was little I could do for myself. I needed help dressing, showering, removing bottle caps, and the smallest of tasks that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before the surgery.
Near the end of the second recovery week, the funeral of a beloved aunt, my Mother’s sister, was to take place. My Aunt June was the closest thing I had to a career mentor in the family who was a registered nurse. My Mother looked up to her older sister and one year for my birthday Mom gave me an engraved bent-handle nurse’s scissors hoping I would follow in her sister’s footsteps. When I was raising my daughter out of state, Aunt June kept me in contact with the family and always tried to visit us when she was nearby. When she took the train to see me in Michigan, I surprised her with a bus trip to Niagara Falls. When the bus arrived earlier than planned, we had just enough time to make the last Maid of the Mist tour if we ran. So we did, with fashionable Aunt June running in her platform heels.
The trip was one of my fondest memories and Aunt June meant the world to me. As the weekend of her memorial got closer, the realization that I may not be able to make it was crushing. I took it day by day and tried to regain some strength. My cousin Shane said he would help me so I could go and he picked up me, my suitcase, my ice machine, a cooler filled with more frozen bottles of water and ice packs, and off we went with his mom, my Aunt Myrt.
The weekend spent in the company of my Mother’s extended family and 14 cousins did more to help my healing than any amount of rest could. Their stabilizing presence in my life during my formative years when my mother was hospitalized helped make me the person I am today.
Daughters are always hardest on their mothers and I’ve spent my life trying to understand my Mother and myself as her daughter. Many times when growing up, the last thing we want to to be like our mothers. I’ve spent countless hours in thought, writing, and therapy about mother/daughter relationships. I wrote this poem in the late 1990s.
Healing My Mother Wounds
I will never be the mother my daughter needs me to be
Just as my Mother was not the mom I thought I needed.
I can only love, protect, and comfort her to the best of my ability
knowing that I'll somehow fall short of her expectations...
and that's okay, because as a daughter my greatest fear
was to become like my mother with her worrisome ways.
Until I became one.
Then I understood with crystal clarity...
She did the best she could.
Mother/daughter relationships are complicated.
The challenge is even greater when as a mother, you’ve always been in control even though your daughter is an adult. This recovery has been a humbling experience, but I’m thankful to have had Daisy’s loving help and guidance through it. I’m nearing the six week mark when I can start driving and become independent again. To say I’ve been a compliant patient is an overstatement, but I have learned to relinquish control in small doses.
On this Mother’s Day, I’m grateful to my Mother and all the Aunts and women in my life who have mothered me. And to my daughter, ten years ago when I came out, you tucked me under your wing like a mother hen. During this pandemic year we’ve survived break-ups, moves, and surgeries…and if we can get through this, we can get through anything. I am forever grateful that I am your mother, and I’m proud of the woman you’ve become.
With all the hope and optimism 2020 opened with, no one could have predicted the dumpster fire that it was. I didn’t write many posts because I was consumed with processing and reacting to changing life circumstances. First, reflections on the before times…
Where was the last place you traveled freely before the pandemic started shutting things down?
I flew to Portland, Oregon the first weekend of February for a writing workshop with Pam Houston and Stephanie Land at the Corporeal Writing Center. I had been tracking Covid-19’s impact in Europe through Twitter and wondered if I should be concerned about traveling.
In the end, the weekend was a magical mix of music, writing, synchronicities, and what Pam calls “glimmers”, things that you overhear, witness, or take note of that may end up in your writing. I am most successful at living in the moment when I’m traveling and having new adventures. I’ve missed that the most these last nine months.
What was the last thing you saw amongst a big crowd before the pandemic hit?
A friend and I went were among the throngs at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to see the self-described “Sarcastic Lutheran” Nadia Bolz-Weber on her book tour.
We snagged seats near the front and were treated to an amazing performance by America’s Got Talent finalists, the Detroit Youth Choir. I thoroughly enjoyed their joyous singing, but I wistfully wonder when we’ll be able to have those kinds of experiences again.
Michigan reported their first two Covid-19 cases on March 10th and the Governor declared a State of Emergency. By the following week, the state had experienced the first death and things were shutting down.
It’s been interesting to go back and read what I wrote over the course of the pandemic. In the beginning, there’s a sense of naivete and morbid curiosity as I was checking the Covid-19 statistics daily.
April hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized the 6-month California assignment I had applied for at my day job was cancelled. I died my hair purple and took refuge in nature, hiking and savoring each sunrise. Homes became workplaces with no commutes for decompression time.
There has been collateral damage but unlikely blessings as well. I’m grateful to have had so few of my loved ones seriously impacted by virus. I’m also blessed with a day job that allowed me to move closer to my family in North Dakota enabling me to spend Christmas with them, the first in 15 years.
I’m glad to leave 2020 in my rear view mirror, but who knows what 2021 will bring. Hopefully, widespread vaccination leading to lower cases, few fatalities, loosening of travel restrictions…and a return to gatherings for writing retreats, book tours, and live music.