So the Thing Is…

So the thing about having a chronic illness is that you still get sick. The thing about having a chronic illness for 25 years is that you get sick of getting sick. You’ve gone through so many special treatment regimens and so many relapse prevention workshops, so why do you still relapse? Because you have a chronic illness.

So what if you manage it so well that you live a rich and fulfilling life most of the time? If you’re really managing it all that well, then you shouldn’t relapse at all. I did all the right things. I still got sick.

They say it’s like a spiral staircase; each time you have another bout, it’s the same but different. I haven’t been on this ride since 2014, but the whole thing is nauseatingly familiar: ER trip, inpatient hospitalization, outpatient treatment, FMLA paperwork, short-term disability paperwork, doctor’s appointments and follow-up visits, holistic therapy, yoga, meditation, slow re-entry to work. Yadda yadda yadda.

The slow re-entry to work is reminding me of the biggest factor outside of my control: the current crazy project that’s causing me current crazy stress. Add to that the doubled commute to my office’s new location and a change of personnel on my treatment team, and you’ve got a recipe for another floor on the same damn staircase. On the days when I’m not in the office, things go pretty well. On the days when I’m working, I limp to the end of the day, and sometimes I have to leave early.

So that happened. Which is why I haven’t updated this website since May. And why the spambots are now bombarding my comments with almost-legible suggestions that I visit their questionable links to learn more about how to increase traffic to my website.

A website, by the way, which has a fundamental design flaw that makes the thing crawl along before loading a single page. To the point that my web hosting provider has asked me to fix a problem that has no simple fix. So, in the near future, I anticipate a major overhaul. That’ll be fun.

To those of you who are still with me, I thank you.

Some Notes on Imbolc

Newborn lamb in a stable
  • Imbolc means “in milk,” or “in the belly.”
  • The Wheel of the Year turns to Imbolc on February 2.
  • If it is warm and sunny on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks. If it is cold and cloudy on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks.
  • Lambing season starts in February.
  • A shepherd’s hut is a tiny house on wheels.
  • At Imbolc, the shepherd is the trusted servant of the sheep. The lamb lies in the belly of the Great Mother. It emerges into darkness.
  • Shepherds wait in their tiny houses, they shiver and they stoke the fire.
  • They keep vigil with the ewes. They usher the lamb out into the cold.
  • Many cultures kill and eat a lamb in the spring. Easter happens near Ostara, when the sun shines merciless over the thawing ground.
  • Imbolc happens in darkness.
  • At the monastery, we would sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”
  • Continue reading “Some Notes on Imbolc”

Turmoil, Three Miracles

Three small miracles I saw today because I forced myself outside for a walk:

Two tiny finches circling and twittering around one another, one with a bright splash of orange on the top of its head, and another with a bright splash of yellow in the same spot

Three grey tufted titmice, who used to come to my feeder all the time when I lived closer to woods

A whole little flock of birds I don’t know how to identify, but who may be cedar waxwings: the size of a robin, but with a brilliant side patch of orange and an orange beak.

Also, deer tracks.

Some things keep happening in spite of humanity’s foibles. Even in times of great catastrophe, even in times of war and death and turmoil, the sun rises, the spring comes, the leaves fall, the birds migrate.

Open Letter to My Friends With Kids

I’m glad you had your babies. I’m glad good people are raising the next generation. Your children are beautiful and special and I enjoy watching them play with you and take their first steps and say profound things at bedtime.

Sometimes I’m annoyed because it seems like some of you have lost your identity and spend all your time posting photos of your children, but then again I’m sure I annoy a lot of people with my endless photos of our cats and our garden — not to mention my #365feministselfie project. Continue reading “Open Letter to My Friends With Kids”

Dispatches From an MFA Program: The First Packet

Photograph of very green woods

Creating my very first packet for the Lesley low-residency MFA program was both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s difficult to get over that voice of self-doubt in the back of my head, the one that says both “your work must be perfect” and “your work will never be perfect.” In one of her seminars, Erin Belieu observed that the voice of self-doubt is just as much ego as the voice of complacency and overconfidence. And it’s impossible to get into the flow state so necessary for writing when the ego is up.

Listening to the program’s professors reflect on their own practices as writers was a tremendous help to me. In a getting-to-know-you session with our mentors, I asked “what was the most difficult poem you wrote?” Their thoughtful answers led to some wonderfully deep discussions about the very reasons for writing. My mentor Sharon Bryan made a comment about a poem’s emotional truth that resonated with me. Even though poetry is a powerful tool that uses words in semi-rational ways to appeal to that emotional mind, it’s not something I’d ever heard talked about in previous workshops.

I came to Lesley with a certain amount of emotional baggage.  Continue reading “Dispatches From an MFA Program: The First Packet”

The Indian Family in the Hospital Lobby

Rushing between off-site meetings, I carve out some time to sit and eat lunch in the lobby of one of the hospitals in the Longwood Medical Area. There’s a huge family at the table next to mine that has an entire catering setup — I guess to feed everyone who’s come down to support their loved one. They take up four tables and are eating delicious-looking Indian cuisine, speaking in what may be Hindi or one of India’s many other languages.

Seeing them makes me think about frugality, and how it requires you to stop worrying about what other people think of you, and about what it means to live in a multicultural society, and about how diversity is hard because humans are hard-wired to fear the Other, and also about what it means for me to live so far away from the support system of an extended family. I’m lucky to have a huge constellation of family-by-choice, and friends, and kindred spirits — I know more wonderful people than I can possibly have deep friendships with. But the bond of shared DNA runs deep, even with the low-level irritation that can develop among grown-up relatives. When I’m in the hospital, it’s my family that comes to visit me. And if they’re not related to me, I begin to understand who truly is my family of choice.

For better or for worse, that’s my life: to be a stranger in a strange land, even when it’s one I’ve lived in for years. Writers and artists often live at the edge of society. It’s what gives us the perspective and the fearlessness to speak our own truths about what we see. I’m most comfortable on the edges of things, observing the swirl and color of human existence — I see things that I wouldn’t if I were at the center of my own drama.

And perhaps it’s why I need the company of plants and animals to recharge myself. They speak a quieter language free of the body-mind duality that plagues humanity.

Update: Five Things

Small figure walking in a desolate landscape
  • My father-in-law is dying of cancer. He is dying at home with round-the-clock care, surrounded by his extended family. My father died in a public men’s room of an overdose. The contrast in details is pretty stark, but the feelings are much the same. And in the end, they’ll both pass through that gateway alone. Grief doesn’t live in a line, but a labyrinth. I’m surprised every time I turn a corner to find it there.
  • I have a pile of review copies in my office. Interviews with a couple of poets are in process, but none are ready for publication yet.
  • I’ve completed applications to three low-residency MFA programs. Yes, Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen didn’t need MFAs to become successful writers. But I’m not living in the 19th century. Who knows what will happen during or after my course of study? It still seems important to try.
  • I’ve spent three days out of the past two weeks in bed. Having an “invisible” chronic illness is especially frustrating at times like these. Yes, it’s exacerbated by stress, but it’s not exactly like I can keep my life from being stressful. And it’s true that certain preventative measures can keep the symptoms down, but it’s not very helpful to beat myself up about not taking them (or being able to take them) after the fact.
  • We have a brief respite from February’s slings and arrows. I’m going to take advantage of it right now and go for a walk before the winter weather returns with a vengeance.

Photo courtesy of Akif Mert via Flickr, CC2.0

(In)Gratitude on Thanksgiving

All the FeelingsI recently heard a historian giving an interview about the original Thanksgiving. She pointed out that what made the English colonists so thankful was the awful year that had come before. The Pilgrims hadn’t meant to settle on a rocky coastline with poor soil and long, frigid winters. They’d been heading to Virginia but got blown off course and landed on Cape Cod in desperation. That first winter, they lost a huge chunk of their numbers to famine and illness. Native Americans in the area had also been decimated by a smallpox epidemic. If it weren’t for assistance from Squanto and treaties with other members of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would have been no more than a footnote in the history books.

Continue reading “(In)Gratitude on Thanksgiving”

On Samhain and Being a Bad Witch

Photograph of a jack-o-lantern with leaves and berries. Credit:

Think of the year as a wheel. Then divide that wheel at the Solstices and Equinoxes. Then divide it again between each of those days. That is the wheel of the year, and those eight holidays are the days when Wiccans mark the turning of the wheel. We call those days Sabbats, or the Sun Holidays. Samhain and Beltane are the two biggest deals in the Wiccan calendar. Many witches also observe the phases of the moons, or the Esbats. They’re important too, but I’m not going to talk about them right now. I’m going to talk about Samhain and why I am a bad witch.

Continue reading “On Samhain and Being a Bad Witch”

Trigger Warning: Jesus is Lord, Francis is Pope

Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States raised a lot of complicated feelings for me. On the one hand, I’m glad he walks the walk of his namesake. In the other hand, it’s far too little and far too late; nothing he does or says in his tenure as Pope is likely to repair the damage of my Catholic upbringing. Continue reading “Trigger Warning: Jesus is Lord, Francis is Pope”