The Writing Life

Firsts In This Pandemic Year

Smiling behind my mask

Each special holiday in this pandemic is a “first.” I’ve found it hard not to cling to how we used to do it, whatever “it” may be.

With each event/holiday/family celebration that came along, I’ve had the opportunity to create just how it will happen and how I will “be” this year. Birthdays, anniversaries, births and deaths, Easter, July 4, Memorial Day, Halloween. Each was a “first.” I had to take time, really focused time, to find a kind of balance on the scale of then and now. Many of my first creations morphed from the skeleton of previous celebrations. Most of those milestones had been spent in the company of multiples of people. How to fit 2020 celebrations in the parameters of staying safe? In our house that means essential and health-giving services only, masks in public, social distancing even with a mask, lots of hand-washing, lots of 94% alcohol wipes, and lots of hand cream.

This is not about personal interactions with my  “pod” and my sweetheart. Our needs and time for talking, sharing, laughing and supporting each other’s emotions and spiritual happiness is another branch of my life. This is about my social web that got quite a new spin.

Sure hasn’t been what we thought!

The 2020 birthday celebration was the first to go. 50 people at a celebration for our 146th birthday, me and my twin. Even tho’ outside, our birthday came in on the first wave of COVID. What the heck is that virus happening in China (which seemed oh so far away)? What’s going on? The Parks Dept. cancelled our reservation for an outdoor gathering. Our deposit was returned, barely noticed because at that time, mid-March, COVID-19 anxiety overshadowed the loss of a birthday celebration.

One year of giving up usual outings for future decades of health. I can do this.

And then along came Zoom to ease the required changes. Zoom check-in for writing group, Zoom for Odyssey Storytelling that led to storytelling in FL, CA, and NJ. The weekly listening support and sharing with my Eastside Writing Room colleagues is a boost for creativity. Eye contact- zoom boxes may be small but you get the eye contact. And face contact and voice contact. I love seeing and hearing laughter with my morning meditation Zoom call. Thank you, CenterSpiritualLivingTucson. I rejoined Ladies Who Lunch, my book club of retired teachers when I lived in New Jersey. We’re all eleven years older and it’s not as easy to have multiple conversations on Zoom. But the book discussions still make me want to read even more than I do. I see the good in every face I meet.

Birthday celebrations, anniversary songs, Zoom breakfasts, coffee breaks, and lunches. Set up the food trays in front of the monitor. The feeling of being open, relaxed, smiling lingers after we “leave the meeting.” Cy our music improv teacher advises “Blink and drink” after Zooming. I think she means water.

Sitting at my desk, my world has both shrunk and expanded.

Saturday night date nights- watching and laughing at the clever and wild antics of Unscrewed Theater improv teams. Sheltering at home gave me the courage to take a musical improv class online.

No vacation travels, no air flights. So we began family zooms, webinars with Viking. Of course it’s not the same, but it works.

Shopping for food, household stuff, clothes, gifts. I am blessed and privileged to take advantage of curbside and online delivery. Thank you, packers, loaders, and delivery drivers.

Spiritual and emotional aid  online – CSL morning meditations, FaceTime talks, Sunday services online, Jack Kornfield Monday evening dharma talks, mindfulness and yoga online from AZ, CA, and FL nourish and steady me.

Social distancing with friends and neighbors- driveway lunches, breakfast over the patio fence, the pluses of living in Arizona- hiking, biking, social distanced picnics. Yes, it’s getting cooler here in Tucson. We’ll just layer up a bit more to be able to get out and see a few people.

So here comes Thanksgiving and Christmas (my over-the-top favorite).

Thanksgiving will be with our family pod. This has been the core of T. Day since we moved here to Tucson. But other years it also included… You know what? That was then, this is now. And I’m doing my best to stay in the now.

A Thanksgiving Zoom with the larger family prevents a ICU Christmas. Sounds harsh to some ears. Maybe, but I’m abiding by it.

Yeah but…yeah but… Here comes that yabba yabba bird again. No “yeah but’s.” I’m putting all my creative eggs in the 2020 basket of innovation and new ideas. There’s a whole different perspective to “What’s new?”  How are you doing things in 2020? What’s new?

We will be trimming the Christmas tree. The ornaments, the baubles, the grab bag, the noise, the singing, the dancing. Might be a bit different this year. How can I get 50 people to be in on this and still be safe? I think Zoom will work. Breakout rooms, share screen for the annual Tinsel Singers song. Maybe I can attempt a short video clip. We’ll see. We’ll figure it out.

All I really want for Christmas is… P.E.A.C.E. – Plenitude, Equanimity, Acceptance, Compassion, Ease.☮

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Happiness- Pass It On

I’ve been rereading some of the responses to No % of Return in Worrying from my blog and November ELM newsletter. What jewels have come back to me! Many of you wrote to say thank you. And the thank you is reciprocal. Words and photos that go back and forth over the miraculous world of the internet have often been the kickstart of my days. 

Some pearls (somewhat paraphrased): “I’m letting go of the tatters of old ‘stuff.’”

“All is well with us.” Yes, all IS well. We are here. Alive. Breathing and have at least one person in our life who cares deeply for each of us. 

“The McDowell reference is spiritually uplifting; brings lightness and gladness to the heart and mind.”

“I’m going to share this with friends.”  Yes, please share!!!

“I know it (worry) as unnecessary suffering. Worry is useless but so hard to to control because things, little and large, swallow us up.”

“Inspires me to do more of the same.” (positive actions)

“Thanks for reminding us.”

I read these words over and I feel…  a great sense of well-being. I feel happy. Did you ever play that game “Pass it On”? It’s like the “Telephone” game. One person says one thing and whispers to the next or passes on a tickle, a hug, a kiss, (some day we’ll do that again) That’s kind of how I felt with the responses. Happiness passed around. People are quite creative, resilient and generous in sharing happiness during these pandemic days- think email, phone, facetime, Zoom, Distort, instagram, Twitter, cards and letters via snail mail. Out in the world- at a distance- wave, say hi, smile behind your mask. Sending happy thoughts to you

Someday…but until then…

 

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. ~Buddha

Happiness is not a goal- it is a by-product. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Happiness is caring, and liking one another. ~C.R., age 10

We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free. ~The Big Book p.133

Every day’s a kick! ~ Oprah Winfrey

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, “meets” weekly with the Eastside Writing Room, writes to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Jeopardy!: Art, Alex, and Me

A Tribute to Alex Tribek

November 8, 2020. Alex Trebek has died. It is, for me as for many TV watchers, the end of an era. When I think of how many years  Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! have been in my life I am amazed. Jeopardy! has been a constant through my careers of teaching, public speaking, counseling, writing, and storytelling. Over the decades, I juggled meetings, dinner dates, and phone calls so I could watch Jeopardy! without interruption. When Art Fleming retired, I doubted I could transfer my allegiance to “some new guy.” But I did. 

Alex Trebek first hosted in 1984 and became as welcome as Art was during his reign. I watched Alex Trebek through his full head of dark curly hair, to mustache, to beard, to clean-shaven eras. And always admired his impeccable language and style. He seemed to enjoy his job and I got the feeling that he also felt responsible to each of the contestants. 

With Alex Trebek’s passing, my husband and I shared our histories with Jeopardy! 

How, When, and Why I Started Watching Jeopardy!

Could it have been forty-four years ago that I first started watching Jeopardy!? In the mid-1970’s I lived with a colleague and her family in New Jersey, just a block from the elementary school where she and I taught kindergarten. One of the beloved members of the family was Grammie, my friend’s mother. In her late 80’s Grammie was an avid crossword puzzler, reader, baker, and “sharp as a tack.” Which leads me to Jeopardy!  

Kay and I walked home for lunch each day. This was back when lunch hours for educators were more than an hour, and no one had a “working lunch.” Lunch was lunch. Walking in via the back door of Kay’s house, the aromas of that day’s lunch greeted us-vegetable soup, bread with butter, and fresh-baked apple pie. Through the kitchen, past the dining room table, we’d head to the living room. Three TV tray tables with plates, utensils, napkins and lunch were set and ready. This was not a “What do want, sweetie?” lunchtime. It was always Grammie’s choice, always filling and delicious. Kay, Grammie and I would settle in for lunch and Jeopardy! 

In her late 80’s then, Grammie was quicker with answers than most of the buzzer-holding contestants. Literature, history, geography, science-she seemed to know ’em all. My friend Kay was almost as quick and correct. Listening to Kay and Grammie was like hearing an unbreakable call-and-response between TV and humans. Category-Answer-Jeopardy-Question! Watching with these two incredible women inspired and motivated me to learn more, more, more. Not necessarily to be a contestant but for the thrill of knowing information, from worldly to whimsy.

Still Watching

Years later and now in retirement, if it’s 4:30 PM MT here in Arizona, the TV is on for Jeopardy! We’ve been there for many of those 8200 episodes hosted by Alex Trebek. We “know” Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer. When Alex Trebek announced on March 5, 2019 that he had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, I felt a thud in my heart. And he continued taping shows as host with his usual courtesy and quiet humor until October 29. More inspiration that came from watching Jeopardy!

RIP to my Jeopardy! friends.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire with the Eastside Writing Room, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Tucson’s Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

There’s No % of Return in Worrying

Today

I feel really fantastic. I am holding a sense of “it is alright.” I’m in the center of believing this world is fundamentally good, and at humanity’s core is a huge mass of goodness.

Some days it’s too “easy” to worry, ruminate on negative “stuff,” and all the to-do’s. If someone else told me their thought process as I sometimes see mine, I’d be forced to back away- fast.  

Note to self: The truly easier, softer way is to focus on what I want, not what I don’t want, and, oops, not on what I want you to do.  

What’s Really Going On?

During the eight months of this pandemic, I’ve had plenty of time to become willing to step into my own personal space and look, explore, feel, what’s really going on when I feel irritated, anxious and, moving up the emotional escalator, scared. What the heck is going on? It’s usually old, old thoughts that I say I’ve dealt with. Some are almost hard-wired, so it seems automatic to go into worry mode.  If I care about my “self” as I profess to do, I have to be awake and aware, and dig around underneath some of the self-talk (“Feel bad? YOU must have done something wrong.” Or any one of those “not enoughs.” “This is not good enough/neat enough/pretty enough.”)

Digging around like that is kind of messy and takes time but so does brushing my teeth and daily flossing. Not glamorous, but the results are good.

And What To Do About It

Getting through/past/under the old habits that come to visit is like my spiritual flossing- it’s sometimes “humbling” but eventually I see, and feel, what it is I’ve been hunting for. Peace with me, peace with us, harmony, a huge sense of ok-ness. Oh alright, let’s call it serenity.

This hunt for peace was inspired by a Robert McDowell essay and that beautiful Hunter’s Moon we had here in Tucson on Halloween. Read more about our Hunter’s Full Moon Celebration

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, “meeting” with the Eastside Writing Room, writing to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

The Halloween Full Hunter’s Moon

My pandemic “pod” consists of my husband and me, and my twin sister and her partner. Over the past eight months we have separately established what feels safe for us during the early sheltering at home months and through the openings, closings, and reopenings of our local world coping with the pandemic here in Arizona. Our needs aligned enough to establish our pod. We have dined at each other’s home patios at separate tables and BYOE. Being together has eliminated some sense of social isolation and added family support.

An Invitation

“Come for dinner and a  celebration of the Halloween Full Moon, aka a Blue Moon” read their invitation. We got into the idea of costuming along with masks (hopefully next year, the masks will be over our eyes, not mouth), and watching the moonrise from their rooftop that offers a 360° view of the surrounding mountains. Learning this Halloween moon was also the Hunters’ Moon, we decided to make it an evening of entertaining. Dinner, costumes, dancing, and seasonal readings.

Discovering “A Full Hunter’s Moon”

As I searched for a story to read, I made what I think is a wonderful online discovery…a visual, peaceful essay, the “Full Hunter’s Moon” by Robert McDowell. It’s filled with lyrical phrases and descriptions taking the reader along with Mr. McDowell on an early morning walk to a farm. Phrases about two Canadian geese flying and landing “side by side in delightful controlled descent” and waiting “feathery shoulder to feathery shoulder” hit all my senses. I could see them, hear them, feel them. Robert McDowell.

A bonus of this peaceful writing was the shift in perspective about hunters. The poem includes a wish that we all find what we are hunting for. What am I hunting for? Immediately words like, peace, harmony, quiet, tolerance, love slid across my mental radar. I believe what I focus on expands. An affirmation comes to mind: “You already have everything you need.” McDowell’s Hunters Moon essay set me up to peacefully sharpen my focus on looking for, creating, and claiming moments, words, and images of peace and harmony.

Another bonus of reading this Hunter’s Moon piece aloud was that my sister’s partner had chosen the exact same piece to share. A special choral reading under the Hunter’s Moon.

 What are You Hunting For?

What will bring you peace? What do you desire? A personal yearning? A need to share kindness, compassion with one particular person? A calling to reach a wider circle of humanity? Read McDowell’s essay. Why not share the objective of your hunt?


Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Celebrate the Rain

Just after sunset on Sunday, October 25, dark black clouds rolled in from the Northeast. “Looks like rain” comments passed between us. But no rain. Then Monday morning around 6:30, I heard a weird tapping sound on the skylight. Rain? We had more than sprinkles. We had RAIN.

So what’s the big deal? Here in Tucson, in the southern part of Arizona, we had a hot, hot, hot summer with over a hundred days of over 100° temps. The extreme heat and heat warnings deprived us of time outside during the day unless we got out before 7:00 AM. The smoke and then burn scars from the Bighorn Fire in June and July kept mountain trails closed. And no rain.

Our desert plants were “stressed.” Here on the east side of town the water level was so low saguaros had used up their taproots of saved rain and were looking pretty thin. The prickly pear cacti were wrinkled and emaciated. And it was damn hot.

We assured each other the monsoon season (officially June 15-September 30) would usher in the rainy season in Tucson. Those great thunderstorms and teaming rain were on their way to deliver most of our annual 12 inches of rainfall. But, going along with the pandemic and social unrest vibes of 2020, we had a “nonsoon” monsoon. The monsoon was officially over and no rain.

So that swishing and tapping of rain overhead got me up. The foothills to our north were obscured by low gray clouds. Some areas of Tucson only had “seven drops,” or “a sprinkle.” Here off Catalina Highway we had a soaking rain. I had to go out and see it, feel it, smell it, yes, even get into that face-up-mouth-open-tongue-out position to taste it.

Today

Today I celebrate the smells of rain: the damp grassy scent off the fairway, the afterscent of creosote bushes. Scientists call it petrichor. We call it the “after rain” smell and it usually elicits a big deep breath and an “ahh” exhale.

Today I celebrate the sights out my office window: low-lying clouds that alternately obscure and reveal the foothills; the gauzy sheet look that has coated the outdoors with a gray sheen; wet ground, even a bit of a run-off down the street. I celebrate the surprise sunburst that makes our street a Technicolor scene while the foothills are still gray; and then the late afternoon sun and blue sky. Prickly pear cactus perked up from their emaciated “stressed” look.

Today I celebrate the sounds of the rain. At first it’s a soft intermittent swish. Is that really rain? Then the tck tck tck on the skylights. Then that steady cascade sound. The soft plink as more and more drops hit the water in our spool and ripple out. And the hard plunk of drops on the patio flagstones as the rain picks up.

Today I celebrate the silkiness of the air when I step out on the patio, and the cool taste of raindrops on my face. The surprise goosebumps from 59° air make me think t-shirt with sleeves, maybe, jacket. I want to savor the feeling of coolness and open all the windows after the rain stops.   ~ 10/26/20 ELM

Celebrate today.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement Ethel writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic, along with Music Improv classes at Unscrewed Theater keep her connected.

The Butterfly Effect Possibilities


A Butterfly Effect Story

A Director of Finance in Italy stared at the check with many zeros after a 7. She had no idea what promoted this unexpected generous donation. Her 16-year-old high school intern looked over her shoulder and muttered, “Maybe it’s like that butterfly effect.”

What if twenty days earlier I paused as I picked up my bag to leave my local Safeway market here in Tucson, looked into the masked cashier’s eyes, and said, “Have an astounding and lovely day.”

Mr. Cashier repeated his version of the farewell to the next customer.

Ms. Customer gave a thumbs-up and sashayed out to her car. She turned to her partner who was fidgeting impatiently in the car. “Isn’t this just a beautiful day, sweetie?”

When they get home Passenger repeats this remark (with or without the sweetie) to the mail carrier depositing the usual offering of junk mail in their mailbox. “Uh, I guess,” says Mrs. Mail Carrier.

Back at the mail depot Mrs. Mail Carrier, who is feeling the vibe, wishes her colleague a fabulous weekend.

Mr. Depot Person goes home and writes a letter, not an email but a real letter, to his brother who lives in Oregon saying he misses him and was remembering the fabulous week they spent in NYC  museum and bar-hopping when they were just out of high school.

Brother reads the letter to his sweetheart.

Sweetheart is moved to send some childhood photos to her former teacher who now lives in Italy but taught her about Renaissance art when she was in high school.

Teacher dabbles in art and paints her version of that young blonde-hair-in-braids high schooler staring with longing at Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.”

The painting sells for an unbelievable amount of money at a local auction and Teacher donates the money to a small obscure non-profit in her hometown in Ortigia, Italy that is dedicated to helping children.

So there you go, Ms. DOF. The Butterfly Effect.

What is the Butterfly Effect?

  • A small variation of an initial condition in a system that may produce a large effect in the long run on the behavior of the system.
  • A seemingly minor action, word, or deed by one person that can turn out to have a real big effect on a large group of people.

How Did the Butterfly Effect Begin?

In 1961, Edward Lorenz, an American mathematician and meteorologist, was running a numerical computer model to redo a weather prediction from the middle of the previous run as a shortcut. He entered the initial condition 0.506 from the printout instead of entering the full 0.506127 value. He was amazed to find the result was a completely different weather scenario.

One small change and a huge result. Some say this was the beginning of chaos theory. According to Lorenz, he didn’t have a title for a talk he was to present about this discovery at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972. Philip Merrilees concocted the title Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? as a title.[12]

Popular Culture Adapts the Butterfly Effect

The idea that the death of one butterfly could eventually have a far-reaching ripple effect on subsequent historical events made its earliest known appearance in “A Sound of Thunder,” a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury about time travel.[5]

Most folks like to have their small butterfly actions yield sure and certain consequences. Lorenz suggested, correctly, with his butterfly metaphor that predictability “is inherently limited,” which dilutes the idea of good results being an absolute guarantee.

But the social interpretation seems to prevail. Think about Pay it Forward, the power of positive thinking, Random Acts of Kindness, Flash mob music groups, the Wave.

Maybe we cannot guarantee 100% positive outcomes but it sure is fun to give it a go. Sources: Spirit Vine retreats April 2019. Wikipedia.  You Tube Brainwave Music. My friends at CSLT

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Books That Bring Me Back to Center

I’m a Book Junkie

Fiction, novels, historical bios, autobiographies, how-to, writing, comedy, essays, memoir, self-help, spirituality. Starting with The Funny Bunny when I was about five, I’ve had a lifetime diet of devouring genres. All that reading helped get me ready for life challenges that nudged me, popped up, and swept over me like a tsunami. Over the years, how-to and spirituality books have pretty much taken over the bookshelves. Alan Watts, Shakti Gawain, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Harriet Lerner, Dolores Curran, M. Scott Peck, Jack Kornfield, Annie Dillard. I consider them literary houseguests.

And Then COVID

When the pandemic loomed I retreated to shelter at home. In June the shocks of our Arizona wildfires, social and political upheaval and continued pandemic pulled me away from center. I had a month of high anxiety, Am I at risk? I inventoried my risk factors daily- sometimes more than once daily. Age, immune system weakness. What else? What else? It was not a fun place to be. I was on the hamster wheel of negative “what-ifs,” circling at the same time that I was doing a half-lotus pose on my yoga mat. When waning physical health became the big wake-up call I reached out to people, Zoomed, and prowled my bookshelves.

Seven Books That Bring Me Back to Center

They’re a mix of words to chew on, physical easers, anxiety-fighting ninjas, and loving parents between pages of books.

Metaphysical Meditations– Paramahansa Yogananda. This is the one with brief, beautiful phrases that lift me and soothe me. This led me to meditate daily, not because it’s good for me, but because it soothes me. A sample: “I will light the match of smiles. My gloom veil will disappear…”

Less is More- Domonique Bertolucci. The mental declutter how-to. Short chapters to clear out old “stuff” along with the physical items that no longer serve.

Walking Meditation– Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh at 94, now resides at the temple in Viet Nam where he was first a disciple. This small book with accompanying CDs teaches me that walking does not have to be a speed race. It’s calming, and my breathing also slows down. I do walking meditation at labyrinths, in our neighborhood, and even along the aisles of CVS- it’s not crowded, and no one seems to mind if I meander.

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change- Pema Chodron. I’ve been making friends with Pema Chodron for years. This is not one of the easy little books for me (though The Pocket Pema Chodron offers some quickies). Knowing ideas and beliefs that worked for me in childhood had to be discarded, I got this book. Outdated early adulthood and professional “rules” – more changing. Retirement and moving brought the need for more changes in attitude, behavior, beliefs. It’s easy to change when I initiate it.

Not so easy when the pandemic, fires, conflicts, both personal and worldwide, make me want to hold onto old ways of doing things. Not that they were working, but they’re familiar. But painful. Reading this together, my husband and I are willing to be witnesses as we update our emotional and behavioral habits. This book is like a blueprint for us: to be willing to commit to practice for our own personal growth and serenity, and for our relationship. The Tibetan Buddhist instructions in the book are The Three Commitments. The softener for this often hard work, is “you will have a growing understanding that you are not a bad person who needs to shape up, but a good person with temporary malleable habits that are causing you a lot of suffering.”

Repose, the Potent Pause- Victor Shamus Ph.D. Repose. What an easy word to visualize. This how-to book describes the end of my yoga practice – that stretched-out prone pose- even when I haven’t done any yoga. Arms out, palms up, legs apart. I lie down on a blanket, the floor or mat, and let my body flop. Ten interviewees shared their repose pose, how, why, and the benefits of this effortless way to relax and restore balance. A gem: “I would lie in an angel pose and it became like an oasis for me.” ~ Martha

The Education of the Heart- Thomas Moore. Brilliant passages from history, literature, cultures, Renaissance and Greek writing, psychology, theology that inspire through words and images. Topics like Storytelling, Romance, Family and Friendship make this a cornucopia of readings. A sample: “A friend is called a guardian of love, or a guardian of the spirit itself.” Spiritual Friendship 

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry- Jack Kornfield. I put this under “it’s simple, but it ain’t easy.” Or “Let go, let God.” or as my dear friend says, “Hey, just let it go, will ya?!” Knowing that it’s easy to be compassionate and serene on a quiet retreat at a lovely center where the weather is gorgeous and food is healthy, it’s still a disquieting experience when I come back down “off the mountain” so to speak. The laundry still waits. The author’s journey along with interviews and stories of monks, Buddhist practitioners, everyday people searching to find peace in the reality of the ups and downs of daily living make it easier for me to become willing to invest my self on this path of compassionate living. And the growing realizing that when I just go to bed and go to sleep, the answer is often right there like a shiny red apple on my kitchen counter the next morning.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Memories of Summer


The End of Summer

Once Labor Day passed, it used to be the official end of childhood summer. It signaled pack the summer clothes away, think about school supplies. Who would be in my class, what had my friends done over the summer? From my birth until I was sixteen I spent each summer at my grandfather’s home in Miller Place, on the north shore of Long Island in New York. My mother, sisters and I were there the entire summer; my dad drove out from our winter home and his office job to spend each weekend with us. Miller Place was a time of glorious innocence and freedom. So much so that I wrote my first book about it, Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort.

Soothing Summer Memories

This memoir is filled with reflections on my childhood summers in an idyllic town. My grandfather’s house was almost like a character itself – a big white house on a hill with a huge screened-in porch that was the hub of the house. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were eaten at the big old oak table. Most days were spent on the beach swimming in the salty Long Island Sound and diving off the rocks. On rainy summer days the wooden shades on the porch were pulled down against the gentle rain, lamps turned on for card games of Canasta and I Doubt It or 1000-piece puzzles.

Carefree summers at Miller Place in the 1950’s sustained my twin sister and me through the inevitable clumsiness of adolescence and informed the beliefs and values that serve me today.

Even during summers when Miller Place was a memory, the end of summer has signaled similar thoughts. During my  years of teaching, late August began getting ready for the end of summer. What had my colleagues done over the summer? Who would be in my class?

When I moved to Arizona in 2009, the line between summer and autumn became blurred. I was retired from teaching in school, but still teaching writing workshops. Mother Nature was capricious in her moods of hot hot days or a tease of a breeze in September. But there was still a hint of the laziness that came with summer; part-time hours of my choosing at summer workshops or writing in my office or with my writing group.

Summer Quotes

I’m not alone in these thoughts of remembering summer as a soothing memory retreat:

Yes, in summer we all live in the dreamy palace.   ~ Mary Oliver

Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language.  ~ Henry James

Summer with COVID

Summer 2020 is still too fresh, too raw, too … different to fall into a category of memories that soothe. What is this COVID thing? A wildfire in our mountains? The pressure cooker of social injustice passing the boiling point? Yes, there were some snippets of serenity: being on my patio at sunrise when the light is still early morning white, and the sky not yet blue, and the feeling of “it is all right” comes over me. But…I have not practiced “going there” as I have going back to Miller Place.

A Book Can Comfort

So when I need that memory retreat, I pick up my book and read Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. “In my memory I am resting in a hammock between a childhood that was and the reality of today. In it, I am in a place where I can still, if only in my daydreams, take off my shoes and run barefoot up the hill.”

 

What is a summer memory that soothes you?

Next up: Books that Bring Me Back to Center

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, at Zoom storytelling events, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

9/11

Remembering 9/11

We will always remember September 11, 2001, and this hilltop will forever have special meaning for the thousands who made their way to Essex County Eagle Rock Reservation to watch the shocking events unfolding at the World Trade Center. – Essex County Eagle Rock 9/11 Memorial 

9/11/2001

My husband and I lived in New Jersey in 2001 and were vacationing upstate at Lake George NY on 9/11. When we got home we drove over to Eagle Rock Reservation to look at the city. The Reservation had long been known for its panoramic view of the NYC skyline.

On 9/11 it was a magnet for New Jerseyans who watched and waited for family members who never came home, and later to wait for first responders, counselors, therapists to return after shifts of helping in the city. For weeks after 9/11 the skyline was a horrific dramatic reminder of the attack on the World Trade Center. Smoke rose in columns above where the Trade Center had been. The wall along the park view was laden with flags, photos, cards and candles. Day and night people came to witness, holding onto each other, faces wet with tears.

We went there more than once. Like other traumatic events, hours of sleep where night changed to the next day, played tricks on me. I’d wake up a day in late September or October or November and think, “Did it really happen?” Drive over to the park,. “Yes, it happened.” To stand along the stone wall to pray and maybe hug a stranger who was not really a stranger.

9/11/2020

Today the 9/11 Memorial in the Eagle Rock Reservation is a tribute to those who lost their lives in NYC. Each name is engraved along the wall and there is a large open book with the names of those from Essex County NJ.

Each time we go back East to visit family or friends in NJ, we go back to the Memorial to remember.

Essex County Eagle Rock September 11 Memorial 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.