Thursday, March 26, 2015

Grief Story #2: A Poem and a Letter by Julie Lunden

The second installment of the Community Grief Story project.

A Poem entitled
by Julie Lunden

He didn't wait for me.
I thought he was my buddy.
I hurried to be with him. Only him.
He didn't wait for me

They said, “He's resting. See him in the morning.”
A neighbor woke me with the dawn.
“He's gone,” she said.

He was supposed to wait for me.
Now, I'm lost.

My friend. My buddy.
My mentor. Gone.
Daddy didn't wait for me!

I have been lost these past fifty years.
Perhaps someone will find me.
Maybe I will find Me.

Dear Family,

Those many years ago, I didn't know what I was feeling beyond the shock of losing my beloved Daddy.

I distanced myself from every one of you because, as I now know, you all lied to me and then left me to flounder: confused, fearful, threatened, insecure. I've spent my entire life being angry at you—collectively and individually—for the lies. 

“Your dad is getting better;” “He is going back to work the first of the year.”

Instead, you, we, buried him in a tomb in New Orleans. I can still hear the coffin slide across the cement floor, a grating sound of solid against sand.

You told me, “Be strong for your mother.” She, and all of you, should have been strong for the children, for me.

Up until that time, January 1959, as a family you guided me, planned my life, provided security and guidance, were caring, and gave me a safe place to grow.

In the catastrophe of Daddy's leaving me, there was no one to take my hand, to acknowledge my sadness and confusion. To this day I don't know how I came to be standing outside the circle of mourners surrounding the “city” of tombs. It's too bad we could not have stood together, supporting one another in the love and spirit of C.B., father and husband.

Because of my feelings of abandonment, I left home--did not write, call, or make any effort to visit. I learned then I could not trust anyone.

Now—these sixty years later—I choose to believe and live that a family is a circle that shelters our pain and delights in our joys. We can laugh together, cry together, and just hold us together and become “strong, freer, and more powerful.”


Monday, March 23, 2015

36 Tips And Tricks For Writers, plus Why I Like Writing Conferences

First things first.

The best thing you can do for yourself, as a writer, is to WRITE.

Yes, yes. You've heard this a million times before, and I'm pretty sure the Universe will continue to send you this message. Eventually you'll start wondering why you aren't doing it, and you'll go ahead and flail through your next book project. 

It's worth it.

The second best thing you can do for yourself is invest in going to a writer's conference. I go to two per year, volunteering at both so that my cost is very low. Conferences serve writers in a multitude of ways. Different writers want different things out of going to them, and most are extremely satisfied with the results they get.

Here are the reasons I go to conferences:

  • Networking with other authors and "book people" gives me a sense of belonging. I'm with my tribe. This borderline euphoric feeling I get carries me a good four or five months before I'm planning to attend my next conference.
  • Networking with other authors occasionally rewards me with paying clients for my freelance editing services or manuscript reviews.
  • I get to serve my community through my volunteering.
  • I get to meet famous authors! Which, I have to say, is both exciting and fulfilling. And it really gives the famous author a kick, too! We're all people who crave adoration and external validation, after all. (Well, at least I am.) And, at the end of the day, reminds me that I'm an author, too. 
Gail Tsukiyama at the Wordcrafters Conference keynote address.

  • I like supporting fellow artists, and when I buy their books and get them signed, and spend a few minutes talking with them, it just really toots my horn. Plus, it reminds me that there is a person behind these books we casually download to our reading devices or purchase with a click off Amazon. Or even buy from our favorite independent bookstores. A person wrote this piece of art and put sweat and tears and time into it. It humanizes the experience for me and pulls me into the reading in a different way when I remember that.
  • I learn new stuff. Always. Even if it's just looking at a problem in a new way. Which is pretty cool in and of itself.
Case in point:

On Friday of the Wordcrafters Conference in Eugene, Oregon this past weekend, during the lunch program, fellow writers were asked to write down their favorite Tips and Tricks for the writing life. They were posted, quaintly old-school style, on notecards pinned to a cork board. I thought you'd enjoy seeing them. Maybe one or two will have a lasting impact on you and your writing life.

  1. Find your way, but WRITE!! [Editor's note: See?! I told you the Universe would bring it up again.]
  2. Recharge your batteries--attend Nanowrimo, Wordcrafters, Willamette Writers meetings. Talk to other writers. Listen, too!
  3. BIG FUNKY HEADPHONES. Even if you don't listen to anything, people are less apt to interrupt you.
  4. When at final edit, read sentences backwards. It will make errors spellcheck misses--as well as missing words--pop out. Otherwise, your brain fills in the right word and you miss it.
  5. Make a binder with divisions for each chapter, then write your ideas for each chapter on Post-It notes and file with the chapter.
  6. Write On! [insert "hang loose" hand symbol]
  7. Don't worry about it. Just get it down on paper.
  8. Read a lot. Take on the inspiration and write soon after reading a great one. Take on the song and sing, too. [sic]
  9. Write first thing in the morning when you're still kind of sleepy. Ideas will be less censored. Your editor will take less hold.
  10. Select a piece of music which really resonates with you, your current piece of writing, and play as you write, as a kind of theme. Inspiring music!
  11. Think of the worst possible thing you could do to your particular character and DO IT.
  12. When receiving notes or feedback, keep in mind the source (person) of the feed back. It may or may not be total crap. Or it might be just the idea you've been searching for; your key.
  13. Eight minute walk every two or 1 1/2 hours during writing.
  14. There are only TWO kinds of writing. Writing that works and writing that needs work!
  15. Drink and buy books!
  16. Give each scene a title, and use your software's table of contents to help you keep track of your scenes. Make the title as descriptive as possible.
  17. Get off your phone and Facebook. :-)
  18. See yourself doing it.
  19. Write your heart.
  20. Turn off the T.V.
  21. I like writing in the company of other writers. It forces me to focus and there is someone present to bounce ideas off of.
  22. Don't edit until later.
  23. Write a minimum of 2,000 words a day, but never on Sunday.
  24. At the end of each scene, imagine a puzzle piece. At the beginning of the next scene, imagine a piece that fits it.
  25. I listen to thunder storms on Spotify while I write. No lyrics or rhythm to distract me and I can block out dog and kid noises.
  26. Schedule my writing. I have a standing appointment with myself at 10 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. I write at other times, too, but I always keep my appointments.
  27. Journal every day.
  28. Pause during moments of passion to capture the feeling of the experience in words.
  29. Dial up the tension! In every scene, infuse it with tension. If in doubt, add ninjas or zombies...pirates are okay, too.
  30. Enjoy distraction to prevent concentrating too intently.
  31. Talk to your characters in print. Ask them questions. Count the words in the word count.
  32. Don't turn off the T.V.! You'd be surprised how the "perfect" word will pop up.
  33. Get in a writing group!
  34. Do not over-plot or over-edit on the first draft. Even if you think that your first draft is horrible, just get your thoughts down. You will have another opportunity to edit.
  35. For a time, become the character. Act as he or she would act, be in the places where the character would be, dress like the character.
  36. "Write drunk. Edit sober." ~Hemingway

  •  And lastly, another reason I love attending conferences is sometimes I get to see my own book on the conference bookseller's shelves. Bonus! 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Be Life! Be Alive!

This is the first in a series of Community Grief Stories I've collected from students in my Healthy Grieving class.  Please welcome Deborah Benson with our first installment. If you have comments for her, please add them below.

Death is to Life like the night is to the day
Birth is followed by decay                           
Like the day ends with dusk                           
So our bodies rust and turn to dust

Life is the day like Death is the night              
Like night flees by dawn’s first light              
Death is followed by rebirth                        
So the Universe is full of mirth       

Light nor Dark can exist without the other   
So neither Life nor Death can exist without each other                                           
At dawn we go to the Sky Father               
And at dawn we come from the Earth Mother                                                          
By that irony our immortal souls seem not bothered.        

Several months ago, I found a lump in my breast. The doctor who examined me last week informed me that at this stage, it is more likely to be cancerous than benign. Even after preparing myself, I find that I am sliding into grief all over again. And in that grief, the Muses have come to visit, gave me this poem, and left their sister, Melancholy, behind to keep me company late at night when I can’t sleep due to the pain in my breast.

I have had Parkinson’s disease for the last seven years. I applied a positive attitude to it as I came around to accepting it and what I had to do, the changes I had to make, in order to have a good quality of a life. It may have worked too well. I have come to appreciate life for the first time, enjoying it in the moment and savoring every day the sun rose like never before in my life.

So I am sitting here trying to find the silver lining to perhaps dying within, say, one year if the cancer has spread too far, in stark contrast to the ten years I had hoped for to keep walking under my own volition with just the Parkinson’s disease. It is hard to wade through the stages of grief as I try to face my own death coming so much more quickly and yet try to live what I have left of life to the fullest. At first, I felt that it wasn’t fair, but now I think that it just plain sucks. It is like crashing into a wall where the dreams I did have left were the first casualties, besides the books in my personal library.

When I speak of my anxiety over surgery and the treatments afterward, the phrase I keep hearing from others—“There will be light at the end of the tunnel”— only leaves me chilled to the bone, not reassured that I will do fine. The metaphor is far too close to that dark and long tunnel where I lead those lost spirits that have sought me out on Earth through to the Light. That tunnel is none other than what humans see in near-death experiences.

Perhaps the worst is yet to come—I will have to tell my two grown children that I am once again struggling with a disease, but this time I may die. How does a mother tell her children that she is dying? I may never see my grandchildren grow up unless I were to pop in as an angel to watch over them, but then the “I” that they knew, or could have known, will be gone, never to hold them in my physical arms. The greatest emotional pain right now is that I have never seen my second granddaughter and may not be well enough, or alive, to be there at the birth of my daughter’s third child as I had planned.

It’s not my death that I fear; it’s the letting go of such a rich and joy-filled life I have finally found that hurts so much.

Be life! Be alive!

~Deborah M. Benson

Monday, March 2, 2015

Grief Unites Us

I've been teaching a class on Healthy Grieving for the past month and today's class was the epitome of why I do it. And why I'll continue to teach this class at different places around my city, for different sets of community members.

Today was Essay Day. The assignment, two weeks ago, was to write their story down. We'd spent the previous four weeks telling our stories, and sharing healthy grieving tips, and talking about how other cultures mourn losses encased in rituals, but this time I wanted it written down.

For a writer it doesn't even need to be said that writing things down helps us process our emotions and figure things out. But this same catharsis and self-reflection is available to anyone who chooses to write down their thoughts and feelings about their grief, their mourning, and their loss.

Everyone in class opted to read their essay aloud and the variety was so interesting. Some wrote poems; some told their stories enveloped in non-fiction fairy tales. Some told theirs in chronological order; some read stories in the future tense.

One woman today even surprised herself with an anger she didn't know was there. She'd written her story in the form of a letter to her family. She didn't have any emotion while writing it, but when she read it, she cried. She cried for the little girl that had been treated unfairly and was made to grow up way too fast.

I've asked my students for their permission to share their stories with you. Each week--starting next week--I'll include a new grief story from among them.

It is my belief that when we read of others going through similar experiences as ourselves, that we feel a kinship. We feel part of a tribe. We feel less isolated.

And in a world of go-go-go, smart phones, and texting at dinner tables, we need all the tribe we can get.

Please check back for a new grief story each week, as well as my personal blog posts about gardening, permaculture, travel, or my author journey.

And leave comments! I love to read them.