Smoking Vicki

 

Another person in my building died last night. Living in a building for seniors, I am increasingly less shocked, if no less sorrowed, by death. Is this a good thing?

I didn’t know Vicki well. Still don’t know her last name. My friends and I referred to her as Smoking Vicki … This to distinguish her from the other Vicki With the Little Dog. That’s the way we remember names in an 11-story building filled with people who joke about memory loss.

Smoking Vicki – who sat in her car to smoke — was someone I learned to look for. Someone I stopped to talk with. She had answers to my practical problems or questions: Where do I go to buy new tires? What time should I get to the courthouse to avoid waiting for hours to register my car? Where’s the closest UPS store? The cheapest carwash?

But I also gave her my book when I learned that her husband had died, too, years back. She read it, sitting in her car, smoking, and crying. Commiserating about the challenges of caring for complicated and difficult men as they made their way towards death, we laughed through our tears. We talked of picking up the pieces, of carrying on when the reason for carrying on had died.

Smoking Vicki was ready for a laugh, a story, a frustration. She was kind, thoughtful. There for those in need. She drove and sat in the emergency room with a resident after he’d fallen off his horse. Went to the store for Saltines or Fresca when stomach flu’s hit. Always aware of what was going on in the building and who needed what. No big deal. No flap. No hesitation. Ready to help with words and deeds.

Curious and intelligent, she listened with interest and one more question rather than waiting to reply. Still working on herself, she was usually reading when I’d approach her car window. And she’d look up, stop reading … welcoming and eager for conversation.

She’d lost 40+ pounds in this last year. Was up at 4 a.m. and off to the gym by 4:30 to get her treadmill time in while most of us were rolling over for that last sleep.

Smoking Vicki was always “coming up to the final day of smoking.” Tuesday is the day, she’d tell me. This is the year I’m going to beat this damned habit once and for all. But now, instead, the final day of smoking has come up on Vicki. The smoking struggle is over and done.

Having watched my mom struggle through her final year … maybe two, I’m getting better at standing back, finding a kind of peace underlying my tears … or is it resignation? I hear myself say, Better … kinder … for her for death to come so quickly. But for myself and even more for her friends like Carol (not Cleaning Carol but Blue Van Carol) and Ruby and all the others who called Vicki friend or mother or sister, the loss is – as loss must be – yet another break of the heart (as another grieving friend wrote recently).

We are resilient and fragile, courageous and frightened. We face loss, accept death even as we grieve it. And, hopefully, we are (on good days) a little stronger, a little more compassionate, a little more appreciative of our lives and our loves.

Rest in peace, Vicki. I will miss you, am grateful for having crossed paths with you.

October 16 … Birthday Tribute to Winnie

Joan kissing Winnie.JPG

My mother was born on October 16, 1923. She died less than a year ago, on December 2, 2018, and would have been 96 today.   Her name, Winnie (Winifred Marion), was so endearing to me, I lovingly, whimsically called her that as often as I said, Mom. (In later years, she’d often introduce herself to new people, saying, I’m Winnie, as in Winnie the Pooh. So, I think she came to feel the giggle and pleasure of her name, too.)

So, here we are … on her birthday (how has a year gone by?), and I’m feeling the need to honor her in more than thought. Hence, this blog post.

At her funeral, my brother asked his two children – Winnie’s beloved grandchildren who always called her Winnie-Mom — to speak in her memory. He suggested that he and I let them speak so we wouldn’t have to battle tears in front of an audience. I was exhausted and sorrowed by her final days – though only grateful to have been present. So, gladly accepting my brother’s generous proposal, I listened to my nephew and niece with deep gratitude and love as they struggled through their tears. They were brave when I wasn’t, and I hope they know how grateful their dad and I were to them on that melancholy day. Their eulogies were heartfelt … moving … filled with their love for her.

In the few days between her death and the funeral, I stumbled about Winnie’s apartment in that odd state of emotional incomprehension that tends to protect us in the first hours and days of loss. Grief for Philip (who died three and half years earlier) reemerged, bundling itself up with Winnie’s death and leaving me weary to the bone.

But then, I found, tucked away in a zippered compartment in Winnie’s handbag, the Mother’s Day card I’d sent her seven months earlier.  That she’d been carrying it with her since May brought on yet another bout of tears along with the grateful tenderness that had deepened between us in the final years of caring for her in her weakening body while she continued to care for my grieving soul.

Ultimately, I tucked the card in the zippered compartment of my purse, not sure but thinking I could possibly read it at the funeral. However, when the time came, my mouth stopped working, my body felt leaden and nailed to the pew, and, well … it didn’t happen.

In honor of this birth date, therefore, I want to share the words that she’d secreted away and carried with her in her final months of life.

*****

May 2018

Dear Mom,

Thanks … for all you are … and all you do!

Happy Mother’s Day

I want to thank you for …

  • Encouraging me to write (handing me a blank journal as early as elementary school).
  • Showing me the wonder of books and how they invite us into so many new worlds.
  • Teaching me the value of kindness.
  • Sharing your love of art, music, and theater.
  • Giving me a safe and happy home, a secure ground from which to venture out.
  • Being there when I was hurting.
  • Being there when I was happy.
  • Teaching me to be tolerant, open-minded, and fiercely fair.
  • Supporting my dreams.
  • Teaching me how to dress tastefully 😊.
  • Loving and tolerating Philip … in all his Impossible-ness.
  • Your generosity beyond measure.
  • Your love that never faltered.     

Wishing you so much love and ease on Mother’s Day and always. Ever yours, joan

*****

Some of you know I’m currently working on a second book based on the three years (2009-2012) Philip and I spent in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) where I taught at a women’s college and felt as though I’d stepped onto the wildest, no-exit roller-coaster ride I couldn’t have imagined. Some also know the content for this book was another gift from Winnie. After writing to her nearly weekly (to appease some of the guilt I felt for leaving her on the other side of the world), upon our return, she showed me the boxes holding all my letters. “You have a book to write,” she said with both glee and gravitas.

I’ve been slowly making my way through letters, postcards, and photos over the past months. Transcribing the large basket filled with those that were hand-written, and finding, copying, and pasting those I’d saved in an, unfortunately, less than orderly fashion on my laptop. Ultimately, there will have to be an enormous culling, but for now, I’ve spent the past months being awed and entertained by the adventures and misadventures Philip and I had in Abu Dhabi, as well as on our trips to England and Europe during summer and winter breaks.

If Winnie hadn’t thought to save the letters, my memory could never have reproduced so many of the details of those three richly challenging years. But more surprising perhaps than being reminded of the many little and big incidents I’d lost to time are the many instances in which I found solace in confiding in her. The letters were therapy and Winnie the therapist/confidant. With her as my audience, I regained equilibrium and perspective because that’s who she was and what she’d always given me.

I hope it won’t take yet another three years to get to the bottom of the basket and create something resembling a book. But, for now, and on her birthday, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for the person I was so graced to have beside me and behind me for 66 years of my life.  I couldn’t have asked for a more loving or loveable mother.

Happy Birthday, 2019, Winnie. With all my love and gratitude. Always.

IMG_1213
Winnie’s last visit to her beloved Nassau County Museum where she volunteered for 17 years.

A Glimpse

sky at sunrise

 

This morning.

Eyes open on a new day. Consciousness returns to the familiar. I am wearied with the return to this same self. Stop. Remember to remember a reason to be grateful. But honestly … the gratitude-project feels forced.  Roll this same self out of bed. Drag through first steps … lift the blinds to gunmetal grey sky, drink water, turn the bed into a daytime couch.

Reluctantly clear space on the carpet for start-of-day stretching while listening to an online conversation between authors Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Such intelligent women. Such pleasure to listen to clear, precise British accents of a Jamaican-Brit and a Nigerian. Easy humor. Gems of thought that carry weight and clarity, depth and heft. At last, I’m waking into something better than my ungrateful self.

But … eye on the clock. 6:40 a.m. Should get out to walk before the build-up of the August heat. Stop to meditate first? Stop to catch a dreamy thought in writing before it dissipates? No. Get out … ahead of heat, ahead of procrastination.

Where did so many ideas about starting a day come from? Why can’t I get them into a working order? Why chase after routine? And why demand … expect to get so much done in each day? I retired, for god’s sake. Worked plenty for plenty of years. Prepared, provided, and served. Why go on forcing a work schedule?

And I’m so enjoying Zadie and Chimi (as Zadie fondly calls her, and, now, I fondly think of her). And suddenly the glimmer of a thought gains a touch of light … a counterpoint to all the Chronos-driven questions of the last paragraphs … the last weeks, months, years.  The light of insight. Like the light-limned cloud that floats now outside the window, white-gold sun glinting from beneath the elongated underbelly of a pearly grey fluff that looks more like an alligator by the minute.

What if I were to throw out Time and Expectation and Should? Oh, heavenly day. What if I allowed myself to enjoy each morning move … and each transition to the next? What if the mindfulness teachings were finally to come home? To be lived. If each endeavor, each moment was savored instead of automatized: brushing teeth, washing face, hesitantly checking to see if someone new might be gazing back at me in the mirror? (For whom am I waiting? And waiting with anticipation or trepidation or disappointment? But that’s cogitation for another day.)

What if that first glass of clear, cool, filtered water quenched soul as well as body? What if each movement and moment were experienced and enjoyed … outside of time?  What if I stretched with the languor of the neighborhood cats who wind themselves sinuously ‘round my legs? Can I notice, feel, enjoy muscles warming into moves? Could I slow down and pay attention instead of pushing through? Be grateful that I can still move this way.

And what if I chose to go on listening to the two ladies with their deep and rolling laughs, witty repartee, and foreigner insights into a country they’ve come to care for despite the fact that it doesn’t love them back? What if that means going out a bit later? Or what if instead of pushing along with should’s and time pressure and dutifully ticking items off the list, I decide to walk in the evening instead. Turn the day on its head. And if it rains, and I don’t walk at all… that would be ok. I would still be ok.

What if I picked up the book I started last night that is calling to me? What if I make a cup of tea and settle into my chair – with the alligator already gone, an amorphous winged snaky beast having replaced it – winding, floating lazily across an increasingly azure sky – and I sit lazily and read (when this is not my allotted time to read? How did I come up with so many rules?)

What if?

My rational self, my educated-into-new age-thinking-and-meditative-practice-self cheers me on. Says yes! Let go. No should’s. Let life unfold. Give up control. Note with fondness that the alligator has come and gone, the winged creature also morphed. Hundreds of undefined billowing puffs now blanket a silvery blue sky. Nothing defined, nothing permanent. Everything changing.

But I write those word and the fleeting ah-ha threatens to fall flat. It too has morphed … but out of true and into trite? Has this become one of the thousands of essays being published every day – in every mindfulness magazine and meditation instruction manual? All the overused words remaining unembodied. Are there other words for longing? Can words ever carry us home? Asks a writer!

How to make Real? How lift longings and deepen them into authentic, sensed inner and lived being? How take yearning into heart, mind, and soul, into daily action and attitude? Color the day with release. Paint freedom indigo. Nonjudgment green. Heartfelt action the color and scent of roses. Can the body digest, absorb, assimilate truth before the words threaten to flatten into clichés? Every day, I hear well-meaning people attempt to move closer to the truths, the inspirations, the aspirations of the few who claim to embody Wisdom. And with gentle but frustrated humor, I wonder how to get from here to there.  What does it take to sink down and deep from head into heart and body? From word into lived being?

To arrive in the here and now. Is it always just a glimpse? A moment’s sighting of the truth of presence before the alligator and the snake dematerialize, shift into something unrecognizable? Well, then, can I find gratitude for this glimpse … this glimmer, this which is just a tiny bit more than not this?

Awareness, forgiveness, presence, surrender, humor, tenderness. One forgiving step at a time. Two steps forward and one back? But keep stepping. Keep longing. Keep letting go. Watch the clouds morphing and passing with wonder. Keep loving and keep living … yes, even with gratitude … into yet another slightly less structured, slightly more gentle day.

 

A Writer Finds Her Spoken Voice

I prefer email to phone, letters to long visits. My introvert soul is ten parts hermit. Best days are days when there is no one on my calendar. If too many days go by without a retreat into solitude, I get overwhelmed, feel thrown out of myself.

However, there are more kind and hermit-forgiving friends in my life than I deserve. People who, having read my memoir, ask me to speak – individually over tea, to their book clubs, and most recently in a radio interview with host Kathy Partridge on KGNU. (Boulder/Denver – 88.5 FM/1390 and Fort Collins – 98.7 FM).

The show airs tomorrow morning, Friday, August 23. The recorded interview will play between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. Knowing that many … possibly most people I know will be otherwise engaged – with work or life or sleep, it has been suggested that I upload the audio file to my website. With patient and generous help from my current writing partner, Christine Christman of GoodWord Inc., this has been accomplished. So, if you are interested in hearing the interview on your own time, it is now available on my website and via my Facebook page.

If, on the other hand, you would like to ask me yet another question or share a comment, from 9:00 to 9:30 a.m., Kathy will open the lines and take live calls (303-442-4242). With the magic of technology, I will also be connected (sitting at home in my pajamas and sipping tea) and will be honored to talk with you.

My thanks and gratitude for your continued support.

Kindly yours, joan

 

Chasing After Understanding & Wanting to Be Understood

August 2019

In the past months, I have generously been invited to speak to book club groups who have kindly given their time and attention to reading Life with an Impossible Person. I’ve also just recorded an interview for KGNU radio station (Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins, Colorado) with broadcaster, Kathy Partridge, who also read the book and thought it would make an interesting conversation on the air (I will share the digital file when I have it). I am deeply honored by each person who gives her or his time to the book.

Being the anxious and insecure person that I am (despite what I have long been told is a calm, confident, and competent exterior), the thought of being asked and having to answer questions on the spot sent flickers of angst up and down my spine. My anxious and insecure response to this was to write my own questions … guessing what people might be inclined to ask … and then spending the time (good student-like) to articulate answers.  Once a student … always a student?

Having pondered, responded, revised, and responded yet again to my own questions … and having finally come up with responses that felt honest and hopefully not defensive, it then struck me that I could not go into groups or an interview and read my answers to the questions I had fashioned. Yikes. What then?

Again, the academic in me took to reading and rereading my words, hoping to become familiar with, and hence, ready to respond (should people ask the questions I’d written). Are you getting my absurdity here?

Well, the groups were kind, gentle, curious. Kathy Partridge, with whom I did share my questions, was compassionate and articulate. I did not need my notes. After all, I was talking about experience, my experience. Notes? Ha!

Nonetheless, because people asked other questions … or similar questions in different ways … and because I was talking from the uncomfortably nerve-racking position of being the center of attention (a position I’d happily put down in 2014 as I picked up my slice of retirement-from-24 years-of-teaching-cake) … some of what I wanted to say naturally didn’t get said.

When I returned home from yesterday’s book discussion and found my abandoned notes lying on the desk, I recalled my writing group’s suggestion that I could share in blog posts all those parts of the memoir I bemoaned cutting (to meet the standard notions of the appropriate word-length for an appropriate memoir … Who decides? Who counts words?!). So, why not these current notes?

There is this longing to be understood by others that quickly follows the desire to understand myself. It is, I’m guessing, one of those things that make us unique as human beings. So, this post offers the thoughts that only seem to emerge un-spontaneously with the time given to reflection. Forgive me for the absurd length of this post. There are few opportunities granted to explain and re-explain oneself. Blogging makes this possible. Of course, you can skip questions that are of no interest. Of course, you can skip the whole thing! However, once again, dear reader, I share hoping my words may touch and articulate some of your own longings and feelings.

                                                                    *****

Question: Why did you choose to write such a personal memoir?

Answer: I didn’t choose … at first. As someone who has always made sense and meaning via writing, I felt compelled to write to find a way to comprehend the incomprehensibility of death. This sense that the world is upended, forever changed is part of grief for many, especially in the first days, weeks, or months. With Philip’s death, life as I’d known it was permanently interrupted … deconstructed. I needed to write my way into and through the dark tunnel of grief.

Then, I realized that no one – neither family nor friends – knew what had happened in the last months (or longer) of Philip’s life. So, I wanted to give this back to them – to give Philip back to his son, his sisters, and brother, his niece, and nephews. I did this in the medium most natural to me — writing.

Huge learning and humbling have come from finding that few of these people for whom I thought I was writing have read the book (Philip’s brother, Don, being the exception). I know they each have their reasons – including, perhaps, finding it impossible to voluntarily step into the pain that reading this book will open. I am slowly learning – over and over again – that essential lesson: no expectations.

I just heard Elizabeth Gilbert respond to a similar question about why she wrote her very personal Eat, Pray, Love. She said (I’m paraphrasing) that anything she can do to help others feel that life is even a little less strange is what she wants to do. Anything I can do to make grief just a little less strange and crazymaking is something I want to do. I hope this book does that for some.

Question: Why did you choose this title?

Answer: Anyone who knew Philip, knew how eccentric, uncommon, and brilliantly creative his mind and psyche were … and anyone who knew how stubbornly committed he was to his beliefs and values, agrees that this is a perfect title. Living beside someone like this is a lifelong challenge … a no-charge daily personal growth workshop. We’d once seen a book in an antique bookstore. Its title was Impossible People. (It was old and out of print then, and sadly, I’ve never been able to find it again.) Even at that time – this was very early in our relationship — it struck me as a great title for a book about Philip. I often spluttered, “You’re impossible!” in moments of frustration.

It’s funny; I’ve since been surprised by so many people – mostly women – who nod and say something like, “Yeah … I live with one of those, too.” So, the title unexpectedly speaks to many.

Question: Tell me more about writing the book and the challenges you faced?

Answer: I began writing … journaling … while we were at the fasting retreat in Costa Rica. (I’ve been a journal writer on and off since childhood, thanks to my mom.) In the three long months of Philip’s sad slide toward death, I didn’t want to voice fear aloud. Didn’t want to plant doubt or add my fear to what he was feeling. So, writing was my outlet.

In the months after his death, I also had to write. There were so many conflicting feelings racing around in me. When a friend encouraged me to write a memoir, it seemed like the next natural thing to do. It was a way to stay close to Philip … and to grief.  In the first weeks after Philip died, I read Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking and Joyce Carol Oates’ book The Widow’s Story.  Those books articulated the swirling mess of emotions that were engulfing me. I needed to write for myself … and later, for others.

Challenges?  I was extremely wrapped up in the book. It was keeping the pain close and alive – which was hard but, I felt, necessary. Healing (for me) required staying with the pain –taking it with me on walks, sitting in coffee houses, or collapsing by the lake in City Park. It was the way to feel Philip’s continued presence.

Now, four and a half years later, when pain is no longer raw and jagged, I am sometimes startled, jarred to find his absence no longer frightening, unsettling, unnerving. Like it or not, time and life carry me along. The monstrous pain has gone, the train wreck –strangely cleared from the tracks. Searing pain has been absorbed and assimilated,  rearranging and changing me cell by cell. In the place of bone-crushing wretchedness has come a tender ache that can be lived with, incorporated into the daily round. The chasm of absence has gently filled with the love I foolishly feared to lose.

But back to the challenge of writing this down, when I began sharing first drafts with a few generous friends and then with my beloved writing group, I began to step back, to gain the distance to “see” life and love and loss somewhat more objectively. This was disconcerting, like writing someone else’s story. I’d be rereading a painful scene with my editing eye and deciding about verb tense or adding dialogue or humor (Philip was such a quirky guy, I wanted to include that). And then … I’d realize what I was doing and feel awful, detached, heartless. It was weird … and hard. But, ultimately, healing.

Question: Philip comes across as lovable despite his “impossible-ness.” Can you talk about your relationship and why you stayed?

Answer: Ahh … the big, little question … with no simple answer. Why do we stay?

As soon as we met, I felt “seen” … “recognized” as never before. Philip’s very first words to me were words of recognition: Ahh … it’s you. He embraced me as though we were reuniting. His laughter was like bubbling over warm honey. I was disarmed and enchanted – even if this was the ‘70s when people hugged before they knew you.

Philip wanted to know and be with all of me, not just my 28-year-old constructed personality. He encouraged my deepest, most complex, and often hidden – even from myself – aspects. If you’ve ever known this with another human being, you know the deep joy of coming home to yourself … and of being at home with another.

He was loving, endearing, childlike, spiritually generous. He was brilliant, creative, unlike anyone I’d ever met … have ever met. He’s why I stayed. He … and who I became in relation to him.

Question: What was all your seeking and traveling about? Did you ever find what you were looking for?

Answer: Philip believed that “place” has a huge impact on who we are and who we become. He didn’t believe in the wherever you go, there you are philosophy. Astro-cartography, a branch of astrology, says places have birth charts, too. That there’s an interaction between a person and the energy of a locality (its astrological makeup based on its birth date, time, and location on the planet). Just like people do better or worse together based on the alchemy of their conjoined birth charts, so people do better or worse in relation to particular places. So, we were in a perpetual search for our place on the planet. It’s those spots where you feel right … at home as soon as you get there. I felt that way in England and Portugal. I’m not sure that Philip ever found his place. Though he seemed especially happy in Portugal.

Question: Some readers may feel that you compromised or sacrificed your individuality and independence in order to stay with Philip.  Would the issues that come up have been issues if the roles had been reversed– if you had been the man in the relationship? Can a woman compromise in order to build and maintain a relationship with a man and still be a liberated woman?

Answer: It’s an interesting question. Even in today’s more “liberated” culture, if a man is the sole breadwinner in a relationship, does the question of him being liberated or unliberated arise? I don’t think so. Even today, when most American women work, I still think there wouldn’t be the same intensity of judgment and disapproval if I had been the one to stay at home while Philip worked at some full-time, socially accepted job or profession. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche writes, “It is not a man’s role to provide. In a healthy relationship, it is the role of whoever can provide to provide.” I wish I’d heard her say that years ago. What was unliberated, dependent, or sacrificing about my pursuing a career? Having a steady income? And what was unliberated about Philip doing everything a stay-at-home partner does? Cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, running errands – I rarely did any of that. That was our agreement. Our choice.

I always felt that I got more than I gave. Spiritually, emotionally, intellectually – Philip was the stronger, the wiser of the two of us. He was a unique human being. My monetary contribution always felt small in contrast to what I was graced to receive.

Did I compromise? Yes. Marriage requires compromise … and learning to compromise can be liberating, a loosening of ego and the need to be in control. I compromised on certain issues – diet, what to spend money on, whether to move. But it was compromise. I never felt forced. Never felt I was given an ultimatum: do what I want or I’m leaving. I never feared he would leave me. I gave way because I trusted his deeper sense of life and valued … wanted … his view of the world and how we could best be in it for the unfolding of our souls.

I felt liberated by his wide-ranging view of life in the world. Perhaps, in the end, it is futile to speak of this at all. The agreement between two people is a mystery … and a wonder.

Question: Can you say more about the juxtaposition of conventional medicine and alternative, holistic, non-medical approaches? Why did Philip choose a fasting retreat over more conventional medicine? How do you feel about him making this choice?

Answer: When we met in 1978, we were both vegetarians and shared views on holistic health and healing. We met on common ground. Neither of us believed in conventional medicine … except for broken bones. This position evolved and strengthened over time. By the 1980s, when Philip’s health took its first inexplicable dive, we sought out holistic, naturopathic, and homeopathic doctors. In the early 2000s, we learned about Natural Hygiene (a natural approach to healing and diet that believes in the wisdom of the body to heal itself. It started back as early as the 1830s and then picked up again in the early 20th century. Herbert Shelton’s many books on raw foods and fasting and then Harvey and Marilyn Diamond’s book Fit for Life brought Natural Hygiene to the 1980s). Philip had continued — on and off — to struggle with his health. This approach spoke to him. And as a result of the dietary change to a raw, fruitarian way of eating, he regained energy and health for a number of years.

He was more vehement than I … many thought fanatical, but that was just the way he was once he became convinced and committed to anything. Sort of wonderful. Sort of impossible.

He wasn’t going to a conventional doctor — ever. Wasn’t going to give up everything he believed. I respected his choice, honored his courage.

Question: What did you learn in the year following Philip’s death? About your relationship? About yourself? About honesty and guilt? About living with loss?

Answer: Well … that’s a book! That’s the last part of the book!

I learned that I could survive the most devastating experience of my life. I learned that my love for Philip could find a home in my heart, that I didn’t have to lose the essence of him … or the relationship. I learned that guilt is just part of what comes with the territory of grief. It comes and goes. I also learned (and have had to learn to accept this without guilt) that I am now most comfortable when alone. I’m very grateful for this ease and contentment in my own company.

Question: What challenges have you faced after writing and publishing the book?

Answer: Emotionally, it was hard to “finish” the book. To stop spending time with it daily. I feared I’d lose the intensity of intimacy with Philip. But this hasn’t happened. For one, as I said, I’ve realized that growing into adulthood with someone, spending 37 years living, traveling, struggling, and loving someone — places that person in your heart and soul … forever. Also, I am currently writing another book about the three years we lived in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. So, he’s still a big part of my daily writing life.

Regarding marketing challenges, since I didn’t set out to write for fame or fortune, I didn’t think much about marketing. However, since more people have read and responded to the book (the reviews on Amazon are so encouraging), I’ve begun thinking about how it might be good for it to reach others beyond my circle of friends and family. So, now, I’ve got it a Barbed Wire Books in Longmont and Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins. It’s also in the Poudre Valley Library and my brother has thoughtfully put a copy in his community library in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s listed on Book Bub. My hair salon – Europa in Fort Collins – has agreed to display it in their efforts to support local authors and artists. Friend’s book clubs have adopted it and invited me as their guest author. And there’s the podcast in the Longmont Observer and the upcoming interview on KGNU radio. So, the book is reaching much further than I’d expected or hoped.

Oh, and here’s something funny. All over Fort Collins, there are “little free library boxes” that people have planted in their front yards and in public spaces. We drop used books in and take others out. The other night, I was passing one of these and had to step around a young family that had stopped to see what was on offer. The woman had just taken a book out, shown it to her husband, and apparently decided to give it a try.  When I peered over to see what book she had chosen, it turned out to be mine! I stopped and laughed as she did a double-take – looking from the photo on the book and back at me. The serendipity of the moment was delightful. She said she hopes she’ll run into me again after she finishes it.

But the bigger, ongoing question for me about publishing remains — why? Why do I want to publish? Sharing what we express … that’s what writers inherently want to do. As do artists, musicians, and actors. But it brings up deeper questions for me. Is it ego? Or validation? Or, is it the hope to offer some solace to others? I hope it’s primarily the latter.

 Question: How did you decide to self-publish vs. seeking an agent and a publisher?

Answer: I was “pressured” by my 95-year-old mother to make the book be a book. As her health declined in 2018, she said she wanted to hold the book (not just the manuscript) before she died. So, I chose to self-publish to save time. I gave her the book on her 95th birthday, in the hospital, wearing a face mask, a gown, and gloves because she’d contracted shingles. That was two months before she died. It was a special moment … for both of us.

Question: Do you plan to continue writing?

Answer: Yes, I’m currently working on a memoir covering the three years that Philip and I lived in Abu Dhabi. I taught at a women’s college … and we had one of life’s capital E- experiences.

Question: What advice do you now have for those who might have a story inside them?

Answer: Write it! Don’t wait. Make your writing a priority. Don’t listen to all the real and imagined reasons why it’s too hard, why you don’t have time, why you’re not a good enough writer, and so on. Write it for your own ear, your own heart. And once you get going, once you are intrigued and driven by your story, then find help. I was an English instructor for 24 years and had done a lot of writing and teaching of writing. But I needed other eyes and other responses to make the book what it became. My first readers were tenderly supportive. Then I got up the courage to find a writing group and an editor. This group of three talented writers, one being my editor – Molly McCowan of Inkbot Editing – were beyond words wonderful.

Question: Where can readers find out more, and get a copy of Life with an Impossible Person?

Answer:

  • My website – joanheiman.com – has an excerpt if anyone wants a free taste.
  • You can find it (read about it and read reviews) on Amazon.com under my name.
  • As I mentioned – it’s currently at Barbed Wire Books in Longmont and Old Fire House Books in Fort Collins. And it’s at the Poudre River Public Library. And maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll find it in a free library box in Old Town, Fort Collins!
  • Finally, I’m very excited about the audiobook version that’s soon to be out! My beautiful actress niece, Katya Jadwick, has agreed to do the reading. The combination of her talent, a lovely voice, her lifelong love for Philip, and her understanding of my sense of humor, as well as my pain,  make her the perfect narrator. I will happily announce when it becomes available. Maybe by winter.

 

 

Weary to the Bone?

Written a year and a half ago:

I‘m struggling with the unexpected diagnosis (following my first bone density scan) of severe osteoporosis. Not the milder osteopenia. Not just the beginning … not just a warning. But severe and dangerous osteoporosis! How did this happen?!

I’ve been wandering about imagining myself crumbling. Recalling stories of a woman doing nothing more than standing at the kitchen sink when an ankle cracked; another of my mother noting one of her saleswoman standing next to a rack of clothes one minute and disappearing … collapsed the next, a third, stepping off a curb and … hip crumbling. My wiser self knows to quickly erase those images and replace them with those of lithe yogis, dancers, and athletes — strong and resilient women. Like me when Philip and I climbed the mountain in the photo above. But without even the defense of caffeine (caffeine, I read leaches 150 mg of calcium with each cup of coffee, so I’ve gone cold turkey on that), my spirits, as well as my energy, are somewhere down around my ankles.

My doctor wants me to start taking a drug called Fosamax asap. Having steered towards natural healing and away from doctors and conventional medicine all these years, the idea of being on a pharmaceutical (For the next 5 years, she says without flinching!) is more than a little unnerving. And the reported possible side-effects of Fosamax are horrifying. Close to home, my mother had a terrible reaction: the upper palate of her mouth began to fall down! The dentist panicked and immediately sent her to her doctor. “Off Fosamax!” was the doctor’s instant response.

The wise part of me says, Seek holistic opinions and options. The scared-to-death part wants to run to the pharmacy and take the first bottle all at once.  And the largest part just wants to lie down (again and again) and disappear into sleep.  By 9:30 am today and yesterday, my eyes were rolling up in my head, my head besieged by fog and longing to escape fear.

One friend responded immediately, “Sleep,” she said. “You’re in shock.” And much to my surprise and further confusion, every woman I speak to has intense feelings about this. One says, “You must take the drug; the risk is too great not to.” Another says, “Absolutely no to the drug.” (I’m sure Philip would be in the latter camp.) So … I’m feeling my way through. I bought the drug (fueled by panic last night) and took the first tablet this morning … much to my horror. You only take it once a week, so I have all week to consult natural healers and decide if I want to continue. Will talk to a nutritionist, two knowledgeable women I often consult at Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, my new physical therapist who’s been working with me for continuing back pain. (My doctor says the back pain is not related to osteoporosis, but I find it curious that the two places the scan shows the worst numbers are the two places that have been most troubling during this past year: 1. lower back and 2. right hip.  It seems to me there’s a connection, but she says osteoporosis is a silent condition. You don’t feel symptoms … until you break or fracture … or crumble?! Oh my god!)

I have been thinking about the back and hip pain symbolically. What have I put behind me, not wanted to see? (Philip’s death. My widowhood. Those are good for starters.) What burdens have I carried that have been too heavy? (Well, that’s fairly obvious considering the last months … years with Philip.) Do I feel unsupported? (Yes. Philip was what he was … so dependent in the end but also a lifetime’s partner and support.) What frightens or constricts my willingness to step forward freely? (Where am I going? And how am I to proceed without him?) And now, asking about this awful, bone-thinning condition – how have I become inwardly brittle, friable, fragile? Am I ready to break, crumble, collapse into small pieces emotionally?

The natural remedies proposed for osteoporosis include adding more calcium-rich foods and supplements. Also, other vitamins (including K-2 and D-3), minerals (including boron and something called strontium which sounds like some kind of strength from a far planet). I’m also told to do weight-bearing exercise and to move more, in general. How does a writer keep moving?

Life certainly can throw wrecking balls. And yet somehow — whether it’s health issues, friends moving away, or the death of our favorite person in all the world … life and I carry on. It’s awful and awesome.

Written today, July 15, 2019:

I’ve just found the above tucked away in a folder with potential blog posts. I wonder why I didn’t post it at the time. Too tired from the sound of it. Too frightened. I am still surprised to learn how many friends also have the osteoporosis diagnosis. (The International Osteoporosis Foundation says one in four women over 50 in North America have it.) Another thing we don’t talk about? Why is that? But today, still standing … not having crumbled … I think it’s important … Think we must talk about it for younger women friends who may face it a few years down the road.

Well, I am still standing. I threw that bottle of Fosamax out the day after I wrote the above. My doctor – a woman and a generally not over-reactive one – was and still is convinced there is no harm and much help in the drug. Every woman friend (but one who doesn’t have the dread diagnosis and who trusts conventional medicine more than I do), says, “No to Fosamax!” Even my dentist says, “Try every alternative before taking that drug. And then don’t take it!” I’ve decided to try every natural approach first. After all, I reasoned (when reasoning power returned), even after my mother had multiple falls in her last months of life, she never broke or crumbled.

So, what am I doing? Taking a class called Strong Women; Strong Bones where we move and use weights. Walking for 45 minutes to an hour daily. Lifting weights and doing my own body-weight-bearing exercises most days. Taking a natural supplement called Algae Cal Bone Builder Pack that combines plant-based, absorbable calcium, strontium and all the other minerals and vitamins believed to build and maintain bone strength and quality. (This product, by the way, comes with a 7-year money-back guarantee! They are that confident in its effectiveness.) I also make it a point to eat lots of green leafy vegetables (and go back and forth between my conflicting vegan principles versus a hankering for plain Greek yogurt and occasional cheeses … sigh …).

I will take a second Dexa-Scan (bone density scan) in January (giving this natural approach two years) and see what’s what. Improvement? No worse? One can but hope. And as with grief, one can but carry on.

My love, strength, and resilience to all.

Footprints in the Snow

I’ve been to two different events in the past week, both presenting stories that reflect beliefs about the afterlife. One was at the synagogue — so the Jewish perspective.  The other was at a local museum, which is having an exhibition supplemented by talks related to Russia, so – beliefs from an Orthodox Christian view. Not surprisingly, both Jewish and Orthodox perspectives have clear ideas about what happens to the soul once it leaves a body. Continue reading “Footprints in the Snow”