Monday, December 29, 2014


In a recent reflection on Robin Williams and his role in Mrs. Doubtfire, The Atlantic’s James Parker wrote, “Death, if we are loved at all in this world, is a centrifuge: at the moment of cessation, it throws our essence outward, and further outward, scattering us abroad with supernatural force and largesse. And in the hearts that receive these essential shards or sparks we are, for a short time, revealed –who we really were, what we really meant. For a short time….” 

I love this idea of our essence being cast wide at death, if mostly for an intense period of remembrance, mourning, celebration. But as I watch beloved family and friends ageing, I have come to think that in the time before death, an opposite process seems to occur. My wise mother has for years observed that, as we age, “our moreso’s become moreso.” I believe that as our bodies begin to fail us, our essential selves draw inward, become distilled, and we become quintessentially who we are, in a stripped-down, more easily discernible way to those who know what to look for.

I am just returned from a family road trip to Christmas in my ancestral South Dakota home, having visited less than a week before to help manage what I have come to call “my parents’ near-complete medical meltdown.”

My former footballer father’s medical issue required a total left hip replacement, rounding out his surgical score to Knees: 2, Hips: 2, Back: 3. He is recovering, eager to put the most recent unendurable pre-surgical pain behind him.  

But my mother, whose calm, understated, guiding intelligence has been a constant for all who know her, is not faring as well.  At times, she is almost herself, as I have always known and loved her; we spent a glorious morning lying on my parents’ bed remembering childhood friends and family foibles for a lazy extra hour before entering the day, and her recollections were as sharp and nuanced as ever. But some tasks and decisions are clearly overwhelming to her now, including the crucial, neverending routine of testing her blood sugar, calculating her insulin needs, drawing and injecting the correct amount of two insulin types, and recording all this information. Watching the “speech” therapist test her memory, seeing her flounder at reproducing a sequence of five unrelated words, hearing the assessment of “moderate cognitive diminishment,” broke my heart.

At the same time, I am seeing her distilled to her pure, wonderful essence, and feel blessed anew to have been mothered so well by such a remarkably kind and truly selfless, in the best possible sense, woman: patient love beams from her eyes with even greater intensity; her drive to serve and comfort others, even in her frail and weakened state, has not failed her; her utter lack of judgment of others, and the generosity of heart that I l long ago understood would not be one of the ways in which I most resembled her, are fully intact, newly realized. 

Each of us can only hope to be distilled to such a pure and positive essence in our final days, and to cast it abroad upon our leavetaking of this beloved, complicated existence.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Writing Territories List

A list- stories untold or needing to be told again- a home for those words I'll write someday. 

Writing Territories List 2015

Being home 
Being home with Sophie and Clark
Balance- working mom vs working mom at home
Parents moving- aging
PhD the final chapter
Moving- the 10th time?
Routine and Ritual
Barbie Pillow Cases
Hooks and Trampolines
Grammie’s Cards
Movies with Dad
Rummy with Mom
Birth stories
Meeting Clark
Gerdybird Goes Underground

I'm not one to keep New Year's resolutions. For years I wrote them down, only to find them the following year, unseen or remembered. With great determination for the new year to be different, I'd again write down the same promises to myself, because if I did or changed x, y, z... this year, I believed, would be my best... The journal would close... rinse, repeat. 

A couple years ago I replaced resolutions with a single word; a guiding word to lead me through my year. I'd have to dig through one of my many journals to find my word for 2014 or any of the words that have "guided" me for that matter. They, like my New Year's list, didn't guide me any farther than February.

Still, I love the idea of a new page, a beginning again of sorts. I want one without the pressure of holding myself to unrealistic promises though. I want a resource, tool for my tool belt I can add to throughout the year, pick and choose, keep what works and leave what doesn't for later or never. 

When I was teaching, each year we'd start by creating a Writing Territories List. Like my wishes for the new year, this list helped my writers guide themselves from project to project. They were suggestions and ideas they gifted to themselves. 

Part of the gift in making a list like this is sitting and dreaming about all the someday stories, people who have traveled in and out of our moments, being still with what has happened and may be. 

The light is returning, the gifts and challenges of holiday joy are winding down, and this year, instead of gifting myself a list of challenges, I'll sit a while with the stories that flit in and out of my head (usually when I don't have a pen nearby), and let them live together on a new page, a page for today or someday. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tones of Home

Written upon return from the Ghost Ranch Retreat, November 2014

I am home again as a traveler with few words
to write, essence of place like blanket of
skin – burns and keeps us in.
Bloomington, IN light mint green,
nothing audacious, or brilliant
nothing repulsive….
The hue mint, light on spectrum but
hardly perceptible as tone. 
Except to those who’ve come and gone.

Bloomington, IN light mint green,
not like violet Salt Spring, red-orange
Abiquiu, gold Ashland.
I wear a mint green cloak,
but see the vermillion
of my death.  Like deciduous
transformation, revelatory.

When I fall,
scatter my ashes in the sand,
return me to rest with the burnt
umber and sage -with Christ
in the desert.

Until then,
You’ll find me sipping peppermint tea
in a green tinted window.

Allison for PGM

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Great Sky

Early in November, I was part of a wonderful retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiqu, New Mexico. Here are a two short musings from those days.  BLR

Very early before the sun came up this morning, I heard the words of the poet David Whyte in my mind:
  sometimes everything has to be inscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you.

 The great sky is always above us and things --many things--maybe everything, is discoverable there; whether I'm in Indiana, or my family farm in Ohio, or on top of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, or standing on the Carolina shore or in the Cullins on the isle of Skye. Here I am in New Mexico-clearly with another opportunity and in another place where the veil between worlds feels thin: where earth world, underworld, and sky world meet up and beckon me.  Walking the ground today I felt something rise to greet me--maybe it was the ancestors, my spirit guides, or maybe it was my own awakening life force.  I think I'll just listen for messages and weave whatever poetic threads I can from the fibers of this experience.  Today I followed my feet with my eyes and the line of the rocky path below as it rose in front of me to meet the sky. It takes a great sky I thought, to find the one line. It takes a curious calling to set foot to path--and resolve to remember to breathe and look up. 


My daughter, Harper comes to me with a dream: tells me she was visited by an older sister, or someone who declared herself such. The dream visitor is an accomplished young woman, pre-med, following in her father's footsteps, absolutely holding a position of older sibling authority over her.  “How old was she?” I ask.  “Maybe two years older than me,” she says, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  “What were you feeling in the dream?” I ask. ”Mostly displaced, like I didn't have first position any longer, it was scary, uncomfortable enough to wake me up.”   She tells me this and my eyes well, as much for her discomfort and sense of displacement as for my own sense of what never was, the promise of a baby lost in an early second trimester almost two years before Harper was born. 

Each living sister has a ghost sister. They've never visited me in my dreams, so I'm curious and moved by how they might show up as guides for my daughters.  They know the facts, our girls, about our years of waiting and those mid-way pregnancy losses, but will never know the ways I mourned or the ways those losses shook something profoundly in me--unmooring me from my body in ways I’m still trying to heal, more than 25 years later. 

Life simply goes on.  It does and it did.  Am I envious of Harper's dreamtime visitation? It's been so many years and my living daughters continue to be my greatest work and love.  My glass is and always has been more than half full, so my mood and these words today scratch out only part of the story. What breaks through in the raw dryness of this mesa air, in the vast expanse of this spirit-filled sky, is today's deep sadness for all that promises to be and never is. For all that passes through me, unseen, unheard from again..., for the hard lessons of growing up that my young adult daughters face and on some elemental level, face alone.  And which I too... understand this moment in some fundamentally poignant way, as the long journey of growing up to learn how much loss is just love passing through.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse 12/7/14

Monday, December 1, 2014

Note to (Future) Self

Dear Future Self, 

I am not sure how to begin this letter. I feel as if I am writing to a complete stranger, so far away, I'm not sure I know what to say. 
I don't know who you are or what your life is like, but I hope you are well. I had big plans for you, and I do not necessarily hope you lived up to them, so much as I hope that you are happy. I hope you are loved. 
I look to you, Future Self, in times of desperation and pain, and it makes me wonder if you ever think of me. I am not asking for nostalgia or warmth, just acknowledgement. I only want you to know that you are not alone in whatever world you may be living in. I just want you to know I have faith in you. 
I am not trying to meet expectations, but I do wonder what you may be wanting to hear as you read this letter. I hope I am not letting you down. 
And along with everything else said, I hope you are proud of me. Not to be rude or bitter, but after everything I have done for and given you, I think I deserve something in return. I only ask you not to be ashamed of me, I only ask for a bit of forgiveness.

Anna for The Poplar Grove Muse
(Guest Blogger and Young Woman Writing For Change)