The Writing Life

Dancing with My Mother

Sharing one of my favorite stories about my mother. She passed away in 2006 and yet I feel close and closer to her than when she was physically with us. This is an excerpt from Seedlings: Stories of Relationships.

I offer it as a memory, a possibility that relationships can and do change and deepen.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

The Garden: A fully grown story that I cherish more each year. My time with my mother in the last five years of her life was the jewel in the crown of our relationship. Mom had the same birthday conversation with each of her daughters, not remembering her age, and being equally delighted each time she heard us tell her. Who says repetition is boring?

So what will it be today? This was the question I asked myself as I strode down the hallway of the Regent Nursing Residence to visit my eighty-eight-year-old mother. My mother was declining, both physically and emotionally. A hemorrhagic stroke three years earlier had robbed her of any thought of independent living. Her retirement home with its well-tended gardens, indoor plants, and tiny art studio adjacent to the washer and dryer on the lower level had been sold. 

The stroke robbed her of right-sided movement, coordination to hold a paintbrush, and concentration for staying focused. Her activities were limited to wheelchair movement within the boundaries of the nursing home. Her patience and tolerance, never her strong points, were greatly reduced.

She was a true regent mother, garnering a private room with her own needlepoint armchair, drop-leaf table, and oil paintings from her dabbling in landscape and still life art. Most of the other residents shared both a room and institutional furniture. Mother thought the private room was only her due. 

Although she spoke slower than before the stroke, she still remained strongly opinionated and curious. So each day’s visit was a toss of the coin as to which Mom persona would be sitting in the wheelchair of Room 104. If the blinds were open and her favorite big band CD was playing, I’d visit with the childlike Excited Mom who was a delightful and sometimes outrageous companion. “I have a great idea for Halloween. Next week. Bring my old bathing suit from the 1930s. The one I used to wear to costume parties. Liven things up around here.” 

Or my mother’s body could be inhabited by what I called the Dark Force. Then the blinds would be closed, no light, no music. “Get me out of here,” she’d rasp. “They’re trying to kill me with boredom. Who wants to watch those ninnies on the soaps? They can never figure out the men are incorrigible rakes.”

Today the door was partly open. I arranged my smile and walked in. Blinds were open. Good sign. But no music. Not a good sign. Mom looked up from the picture album on her lap. She beckoned me with one curled finger, a terrific scowl on her face and brown eyes widened. “Come here,” she whispered. It was a Dark Force day.

“Hi, Mom.” I bent to give her a kiss. Her hand stopped me less than five inches from her face.

“This place is filled with old people.” 

“Yes?”

“This is a mistake. I don’t belong here. They’re all old and crotchety.” 

I know it’s hard to believe, but I was relieved to hear this. My sisters and I weren’t sure if my mother was aware of her surroundings in the nursing home. She went to Bingo and played Trivial Pursuit in the activity room with other residents. But she had never asked about where she was. 

Prior to the stroke, she had had almost weekly rants about the senior drivers in her town. “They drive like snails. Not the young ones. The ones with white hair. Those old people shouldn’t be on the road.” It was then an inner struggle to refrain from pointing out that she herself had more than a nodding acquaintance with the local traffic cop. Remember her warning tickets for speeding? The six of them lined up along the mirror frame in her dining room had been like old dance programs she had kept as a teenager. To hear her pick up a familiar thread of complaining was oddly comforting. 

“Yes, Mom, most people are here because they got hurt or got too old and could not take care of themselves in their houses anymore. You had your stroke and now you have someone feed you and bathe you here because you could not do that at home. You have the doctor and nurses right here to give you your pills and check your heart.” 

“Yes, yes, they’re okay. But the ones in the big room. Ethel, they’re all old ladies.” She curled herself even smaller in her chair and dropped her head in an exaggerated geriatric droop. 

“Well, even though they are so old, isn’t there anyone here that you really like?”

My mom was no fool. She had some choices here. She could be really contentious and say she hated everyone or she could pick the most unlikely candidate just to play devil’s advocate. She knew how to keep things lively.

“I like Helen.” Helen was the ninety-four-year-old female terror of Regent House. Where my sisters and I had nicknamed the female residents The Regents, Helen could easily qualify as the Wicked Queen. Her daily conversation was more than sprinkled with swear words. I think my mother was secretly envious of Helen’s freedom of speech. Helen had claimed a private table by the main column in the dining room, while other residents sat four to a table. No one objected to this because no one wanted to sit with her anyway. For some reason Helen had taken a liking to my mother and requested that Mom sit at her table. She would exhort my mother, who could only swallow pureed foods, to eat up. 

“Gladys, you eat like a bird. What’s this crap they’re feeding you anyway?” She had to be stopped from putting biscuits and chicken wings on my mother’s plate. She snuck contraband chocolate chip cookies into the bag on my mother’s wheelchair, which my mother took back to her room and dipped in water until they were soggy enough to swallow. Socially, it was a good match. Helen talked up a storm and my mother’s speech was slow and hesitant. Mom seemed quite comfortable with the eating and entertainment arrangement with Helen in charge.

Thinking of something to report about her day that also contained some shock value gave my mom a conversation opener. “Helen said a naughty word this morning at breakfast. The aide wanted her to apologize for saying it in front of me, but I told her it didn’t bother me at all.” 

I didn’t bite at the bait to get into a game of Guess the Swear Word whereby I would have to recite all the four-letter words I could think of thereby titillating my mother’s sense of racy living along with giving her the opportunity to play chastising mother at my speech. I saw a way to make my point about the median population at her residence. “Well, you know, Helen is in her nineties, Mom. Wouldn’t you say that’s old? She fits into the old lady category and you like her.”

“That’s Helen.” Mom dismissed my argument with a wave of her unimpaired hand. “She’s different. But the rest of them. Old nincompoops.”

I tried again. This was a possible segue into the conversation I wanted to have with Mom. Not a perfect segue, but you have to take the opportunity when it comes.

“Mom, your birthday is next week. Your other darling daughters will be here. I can bring a big cake for the residents.” 

“Those biddies? Bah!” 

“How about candy for the staff? We’ll have a celebration. Sing some songs. Talk about some of the exciting things you’ve done in your life.” I tapped the photo album from her trip with my father to Paris in the 1970s.

“What do you mean celebrate? Can’t move anymore. Can’t paint. Can’t write.”

I persisted in laying the groundwork for the birthday celebration. “I’ll bring balloons. You’ll get to wear the birthday tiara.” This was a silvery crown polished up for each birthday girl in our family. “We’ll play ‘Moonlight Serenade’ and you can tell us about you and Dad dancing.” My mother and father had been reigning dance champions in our family. They danced at home in the kitchen. Or Dad would lead Mom in a smooth fox trot on the porch on summer nights. Even into their late seventies, they went square dancing once a week. Their biggest claim to fame, albeit in a dance group, was dancing at the 1965 World’s Fair in New York. 

“Can’t dance.” She attempted a celebration block.

“You and I will dance,” I countered.

Mom hit the arm of the wheelchair with her left hand. “In this?”

“Yes.” I was not my mother’s daughter for nothing. I took a risk. I reached over and clicked on the CD player. Sounds of Glenn Miller began to fill the room. I reached down and released the brake on the wheelchair. My mother’s gaze followed my hand. The next few minutes were carried out in slow motion. 

I lifted the photo album and put it on the bed. I stood up, reached out on either side of the wheelchair, and turned it to face me. Standing in front of my mother, I waited while she raised her eyes to look at my face. I raised my right hand, palm open, an invitation to the dance.

“Remember, Mom?” 

My mother looked at my hand, slowly lifted her trembling left hand, and placed it in mine. I started to sway side to side. She mimicked my movements, rocking left and right. 

“Here we go, Mom.” I began to circle around the chair, gently holding my mother’s hand in mine. Up over her head and around. When I had gone full circle, I let go of her hand, took hold of the wheelchair armrests, and began turning the chair. 

“It’s a waltz, Mom. One, two, three. One, two, three.” I moved the chair in time to the music. “Forward two, three; back two, three. Forward two, three; back two, three.” A slow turn again in front of her. Letting go of her hand, I bowed.

“Thank you for the dance, madam.”

As I straightened up from my bow I saw my mother had dipped her head down, eyes closed in acknowledgment. 

Mom rested her chin in her hand and looked off to the side. “I suppose we could dance for my birthday.” She peeked at me without turning her head, like she was at the crossroads of a decision. Excited Mom was coming back.

“Yes, we will. We’ll dance for everyone.”

  Mom contemplated this with a thoughtful look down. A slow nod. “You pick the music.”

I was doing the fist pump internally. Yeeee-sss. “Of course, madam. It will be my pleasure.” 

“And bring the biggest chocolate chip cookies you can find for the biddies.” She had her pride.

“Yes, and a cake for you.” 

She shrugged, but smiled as she glanced away.

Now I was curious. “Do you remember how old you will be?”

Mom looked intrigued at this question. “How old?”

“Well, how old do you think?”

“Seventy?”

“Mom, you will be eighty-nine years old next Thursday.”

My mother’s face was a mosaic of emotions. She went from looking completely surprised, to wondering, and then absolutely delighted. Her dark brown eyes actually sparkled like I hadn’t seen in weeks. She sat up straighter as a smile captured her face. “Really! I look pretty damn good.”

“That you do, Mom. That you do.”

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. (books available on Amazon or contact me. 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. 

My Friend Bee

My friend Bee Bloeser has written a memoir, and revised it (several times), and published it. If you’ve published a book, you know the joys, torments, doubts, and exhilaration that travel along with you on the journey from dream to book.

Witnessing my friend Bee during her journey with this book has been awe-inspiring, to say the least. Looking at her journey through the lens of a writer, and focusing it with the colorful lens of our friendship, I knew when this book was published, I had to write about it and my friend Bee.

Meeting a New Friend is No Accident

I met Bee seven years ago in 2014 after a panel discussion on memoir that I had been a part of.

“I want to write a book about my husband’s work in eradicating smallpox in Africa,” she told me. Her husband Carl dreamed of writing his story but died while it was still folders stuffed with reports, letters, and memories.

It’s not unusual for writers and would-be writers to think out loud, dream, and fantasize about writing that book. I believe everyone’s got a story to write or tell. Indeed, at each meeting of the very first writing group I joined we repeated that belief. “You are a writer if you say you are- even if only one person hears your story.” Even if only one person benefits from hearing or reading it; it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Not everyone writes that story. Or some writers write their book out of frustration, or to correct an error in history, or to revise their “personal history.” Or as Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

So here was a woman who had a story she wanted and, by the determination in her voice as she spoke, needed to share. I knew that feeling quite well.

My writing group here in Tucson met on Tuesdays. We talk briefly about our writing intention for the day and spend the next two hours writing. The energy around the writing table was palpable. By a quirk of “coincidence” Bee lived not more than a 15-minute drive from my house. (We’ve continued meeting, and through COVID, on ZOOM)

I thrust a business card in her hand. “Here’s my info. Come to our group next Tuesday.” And she did. Tuesday after Tuesday after Tuesday.

I learned about Carl and Bee in bits and pieces as she shared some of her Tuesday writings. Her doctor husband Carl and she, and their young family spent most of the years of the 1970’s with the West Africa Smallpox Eradication/Measles Control Program. This petite, cheerful woman was dedicated. She was committed to her writing. She was tenacious.

She arrived with laptop in hand, then laptop with extra tote bag of documents, notes, letters. Then emails texts, not on Tuesdays. “Have you read this book on smallpox? I think I can use parts of this in my book.” Or “This book addresses what Carl and I went through. But I have documents that show a different perspective. Read this.”

Stories are important as they fill a container for our longings, anxieties, hopes and dreams.  ~ Terry Hershey, Sacred Necessities

Then came the period of time when we all realized this book about Carl’s work was destined to be an historical memoir. Bee’s musings uncovered discovery of her own courage and strength along with her husband’s in dealing with the differences in a culture on the other side of the world. Armed with medical training, and love and idealism, they dealt with the growing awareness of threats that came not just from the disease of smallpox but the diseases of ignorance, and greed, and political power run amok. All this went into the book.

You write your first draft with your heart, and you rewrite with your head. – James Ellison, Finding Forrester

As members of the Eastside Writing Room, we witnessed Bee writing, revising, discovering new documents, making timelines and speaking at Tucson organizations about her work. We watched as a post-it timeline grew along the wall of her apartment hallway- dates for chapters added, chapters revised, first draft completion. We watched the layers of writing and revisions begin to reflect information from phone calls, interviews, newly discovered files. Not being a digital native, Bee learned the ins and outs of fonts, margins, styles, saving, sharing, and how-to’s of social media, using her well-honed skill of asking for help and always appreciating efforts to help her on the journey to complete this book for Carl.

The timeline on the wall shifted to final drafts, researching publishing options, queries, suggestions that came along with rejections, more queries. The publishing decisions. Cover design. The emails to us in the group. ”Which cover idea?” “Think this color works with the title?” We were as thrilled as she when Sasha Polakow-Suransky showed a genuine interest in her work. She persevered for seven years to bring her story of her life and her husband’s commitment to eradicate smallpox to the literary world.

 The quest for a story is the quest for life. ~Jill Johnston

No detail has been overlooked in this quest for the book to be THE BOOK. Bee’s heart and personal history have been expertly crafted in her historical memoir, Vaccines and Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa Amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War. And this story has life.

The inspirational and timely result arrived in my mailbox this past weekend. Don’t just go by my words about this. Of course I’m biased. I’ve been a witness to this success for the seven years of writing. But there’s a heck of a lot of truth in what I say. Find out for yourself.

Vaccines and Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa Amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War by Bee Bloeser https://beebloeser.com

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She 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. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. Now that she is FV (fully vaccinated) she is looking forward to expanding her world in person.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to biological mothers, chosen mothers, adopted mothers, and all the wonderful people who have mothered others- for a moment of caring, for a short time,  for years, for a lifetime, whether in person or at a distance.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

A memory from 10 years ago that still makes me smile:

I recently started walking at the mall with a friend. We share the time it takes to do several loops. The faster we walk, the more we talk, mostly about relationships, particularly mother-daughter.

We both had our share of conflict with our mothers. I had been a rebellious teenager in the 1960s; breaking rules seemed the only way I could ‘separate’ from my parents. Fulfilling her mother’s high expectations had made childhood difficult for Candy too.

Our relationships had mellowed as our mothers got older and we gained insight into the perspective of our 1950s moms; perfect children equaled perfect mothers and imperfect children…. Well, you can see how it went.

Candy and I found the mother conflicts were replaced by our growing maturity and the common experience of caring for our aging mothers. We witnessed these independent and often difficult women move into various stages of illness and vulnerability that come with aging, sometimes with cranky or bitter resistance, sometimes with a sense of grace that was astounding and inspiring.

As Candy and I aged, there was also the realization: we were so much like our mothers. Now both our mothers had died; mine two years ago on Christmas Eve; hers this past winter. We are motherless daughters.

“I have my mother’s hands,” Candy said, spreading her fingers in front of her as we walked. “Arthritis,” as she touched the bumps near her joints.

“Me too,” as I located the age spots that speckled the backs of my hands.  “And all those years I vowed I’d never be like my mom.”

“Funny.”

One morning, post walk, Candy beckoned me to her car. “I want to show you something.”

Out of the trunk of her car she produced a needlepoint pillow, a kaleidoscope of colors sliding across in a vibrant collage.

“Wow,” I breathed. I knew Candy did needlepoint, but I’d only seen delicate patterns on pristine white backgrounds.

“Yeah, different for me,” she chuckled. “I got the colors from my mother.”

“Your mother?” I asked. Wait, this was embarrassing. I was pretty sure her mom had died. I had sent a card, a book.

“Oh yes, she died six months ago,” Candy said. “I miss her so much.”

Candy looked off with a smile as if she saw her mom in the distance, maybe walking toward us.

“When Mom died, my sister and I went to clean out her house. My sister found this box of needlepoint with Mom’s unfinished work and said there was more of a chance that I would make use of it than anyone else in the family.” Candy looked at me and chuckled. “After years of resisting my mother extolling the benefits of needlepoint work to calm nervous thoughts and hands, I had reluctantly tried it. It worked.”

She glanced down at the reminder of her mother. “My mother did needlepoint for years,” she said as her middle-aged hands smoothed across the pillow. “She had to stop when her arthritis became so painful. Maybe she thought she would start again, that’s why she saved all this.”

Candy’s eyes met mine. The same thought occurred to us. Maybe something made her save it for someone else?

Candy continued, “When I went through the mix of threads and pillow forms, I found this one. It struck me because it was so colorful and had already been started. That’s why I say my mom gave me the colors. I just continued the pattern, but…” she said with a final pat, “we did it together.”

“You know what I mean?” Candy asked aloud. Behind her words I sensed ‘Do you understand how I feel?’ I did. What a lovely gift from your mother, I thought.

The usually bubbly features of my friend’s face softened as she bent over to pull out a second unfinished memory. I could see in her face the girl, young woman, and now middle-aged woman who loved her mother as deeply as I had grown to love mine.

“Look at this. Green and red, almost finished. I like to imagine she was doing this one for me. I’ll do this one next—just in time for Christmas.”

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. 

My April Fools Day Playlist

Steeped in history, jokes, pranks, one-liners … and music. My coming of age era was the late 1950’s-1970’s. Here’s my playlist for April Fools Day. My particular earworm is “Chain of Fools”. What’s yours?

“Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers- 1956   Why do birds sing so gay, Lovers await the break of day. Why do they fall in love?

“Fools Rush In” Frank Sinatra  – 1960  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. And so I come to you, my love, my heart above my head.

“Can’t Help Falling In Love” Elvis – 1961   Wise men say, only fools rush in, But I can’t help falling in love with you. Shall I stay? Would it be a sin? If I can’t help falling in love with you…

“These Foolish Things” Etta James  – 1962  A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces, An airline ticket to romantic places. And still my heart has wings, These foolish things remind me of you.

“The Fool on the Hill” The Beatles -1967  Day after day, Alone on a hill, The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still. But nobody wants to know him, They can see that he’s just a fool, And he never gives an answer, But the fool on the hill, Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, See the world spinning ’round.

“Chain of Fools” Aretha Franklin -1971   Five long years I thought you were my man, But I found out I’m just a link in your chain. You got me where you want me, I ain’t nothing but your fool. You treated me mean, oh you treated me cruel. Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools.

“Everybody Plays the Fool” The Main Ingredient -1972   Everybody plays the fool, sometime. There’s no exception to the rule, (listen baby); It may be factual, it may be cruel, (I ain’t lying) Everybody plays the fool.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She 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. Ethel writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. She enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. Now that she is FV (fully vaccinated) she is looking forward to expanding her world in person and place by place. 

Zooming After One Year

Early Zooming- March 2020

Ah, remember the old days when we first started Zooming. Little black boxes with views of the tops of people’s heads. “Can you hear me?” “Can you see me?” “Where’s the chat?” “Huh?” “Wait. Wait.”

And the self-talk. Good grief! I look so pale/ or red /or in shadow/ or fat. It was a downturn revision of self-image through the filter of a technology that was not yet our ally.

using laptop for writingNo Longer a Zoom Beginner

Then there were the interim weeks and months where we learned a thing or two. Folks started bandying Zoom words about. “The chat button is along the bottom menu.” You’re muted. (with hand to ear, head turned for semi-profile). “I’ll share the screen with you.” “Who’s the host?”

This was when I began adding photos for a virtual background, doing my own version of travel during COVID. (only to have them lost in my current cyber confusion of a new laptop that is very much like a capricious child. Story for another day).

I can put on lip color, bring up better skin tones. Bought a ring light, raised my laptop to eye level on the shoulders, so to speak, of a 1572- page Webster’s Dictionary, an old but thick volume of Writers Market, and topped off with Buddhist Wisdom.

I became familiar with screen share, reactions, everyone chat vs. private chats (be careful here). Many of us embraced Zoom. I love Zoom and hope that some of my meetings will continue online even as “things open up.”

An Attitude Adjustment

As with other areas of life, I found familiarity brings with it a certain confidence, a panache, and a blasé attitude. Hey I know this: setting up meetings, going to breakout rooms. A click, tap, and zip, we’re there. Heads up, eye contact, semi-TV studio lighting.

Lights! Camera!…

The rehearsal for a virtual play is about to begin.

The host lets folks in from the Zoom waiting room. Participants #1 and #2 out of ten check in.  “Hey, hi,” etc. #1: “You know what? I’m just gonna get my coffee mug. One sec.”

Meeting participants #3, #4, and #5 arrive. “We’ve been waiting and waiting to get in.” #1 comes back with coffee and slides onto her chair. #3 is adjusting her screen height so we no longer get a full view of her abdomen. #4 disappears as she bends over to pick up her cat.

#3 is settled.

#6, #7, #8, and #9 arrive. Zoom boxes light up as folks talk. #8’s screen shows his ceiling.

#4 shows her cat up quite close to the screen. There’s a chorus of “aw’s.” The cat is actually preening.

#2 turns off her video. “I’ll be right back. The damn phone is ringing.” but we hear her on the phone.

#6 (in Maine) and #7 (in San Diego) are comparing the weather on the Everyone chat.

#9 inadvertently sends a Private chat to Everyone about his recent speed dating online. Oh dear.  Reactions light up the boxes of #3-8.

#2 comes back. “What did I miss?”   #8 is walking with his laptop. “I’m moving.” We feel like we’re at the final hour of the Titanic as his laptop jiggles and tilts.

#10 is on but muted, so we see her looking up and away at someone who has forgotten to “stay the #%** away when I’m on Zoom.” Her audio is muted but visual is on. The host is imagining the dialogue based on #10’s body language. It is not a happy conversation.

#8 is settled, feet up, with what looks like a full plate of lasagna in hand.

…And Action

Host: “OK. We’re going to begin.” It gets quiet. “I’m starting on p. 4 of the script.” There is a flurry of movement from #3, #4, and #5 who, you may recall, were the first ones to arrive, and early at that. “Gotta get my script.” “We need the script?” “It’s on my iPad and the battery is at 8%.”

Now there are three empty boxes. This brings back memories of theater ticket lines. “Hold my place, will ya?” Or it’s like rotating in and out of a volleyball game. Or my great-niece’s basketball game, which had far less delay than here.

Chatter is building again.

#3 and #4 slide back into chairs. #5 has moved to her yoga mat on the floor.

Just as the host is about to say, “I’m muting all to give instructions,” #7 looks up and into the light streaming in her window. It is perfect lighting for her complexion and her signature-color rust top.

#7: “I have to say this. The sunset out my window is just incredible. Pinkish and soft.”

#5 starts to get up and… her yoga training kicks in. She is mindful of what she is here for. She stops herself. She sets an example for #4, #7 and #9 who were on their way to their own windows.

The host mutes all, videos are on.

Host: “Look at each one here. Smile. Take a comfortable breath. Let the rehearsal begin.” She unmutes all.

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. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. Now that she is FV (fully vaccinated) she is looking forward to expanding her world in person. 

What’s Different? 3/15/21

It’s different this March. Instead of that feeling of going into the dark dark tunnel of 2020, I feel like 2021 is very very near the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Remember asking, “Are we there yet?” as a kid on a car trip that was getting really really tedious? Well, I think we are…just about .

March … the arrival of spring

Green buds are popping on the mesquite trees. Our lemon and lime trees show the promise of harvests to come with tiny buds. Our neighbor’s grapefruit tree is laden with fruit. With our recent snow (yes, snow), some of the cacti have decided to stand up a little straighter. The Tucson days are warm and sunny enough to let spring in through wide-open windows and patio doors. The feeling of that air coming in through the front door and out the back patio is absolutely refreshing! Also refreshing is the lowering numbers of COVID cases, and the lessening of “scary” reports. It’s not perfect- never will be and I don’t believe it will be like it was. I cannot recall that ever happening with anything. But Mother Nature has been consistent in her ability to show up for seasonal events like spring.

Daylight Saving Time (DST)

Clocks change everywhere in the US but Hawaii and AZ (except in the Navajo Nation which does change). When I want to talk to my sister, niece or nephew along the East Coast (Eastern Time Zone), it’s three hours difference. Then I have to do the clock thing actually looking at my analog clock as my finger goes around in the air – one, two, three, times. But now my friends in California (Pacific Time Zone) are the same as we are. Alaska and Hawaii – I Googled and got info about being Pacific time Zone minus 1 hour- but wouldn’t you think they get their own zone name? Anyone? And the folks in the middle (Central Time Zone)…

Vaccines-

We (my husband and twin and I) got our second vaccine. There was a different atmosphere at the second vaccine compared to our first time. At this second shot folks were chatting with each other on line, automatically socially distancing, speaking a bit louder and enunciating more clearly to be understood behind a mask. Some eager beavers were taking off jackets as they made their way to the designated shot seat. The post-shot room was one of the full-size conference halls at the Convention Center. The same over-sized digital clock was visible for anyone to see when the 15-minute wait was up, spaced folding chairs in the entire room. But there was more chatter. My twin sister, and husband and I felt like Santa going off in his sleigh as we left, waving with our designated shot arm, and exclaiming ‘ere we strode out of sight, “A great day to all, and to all- many good nights!”

girl twins in satiny dresses sitting by toys, one year oldBirthday Month

My Finn and I have accumulated 148 years. Last year (2020) we had a change of plans from celebrating at Molino Basin in the Coronado Forest (at a gorgeous open campsite with grills, picnic tables, a ramada, and trails) because of the pandemic. Now in 2021, we weren’t at “the end of the tunnel” so it was just the two peas and their pod having a celebration dinner and “blowing” out the candles with a candle snuffer. Happy to be able to be with my pod. I just know this next trip around the sun will be really different and in a good good way! Happy days to everyone!

Smiling behind my mask

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. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. Now that she is FV (fully vaccinated) she is looking forward to expanding her world in person and place by place. 

Happy Birthday, Eastside Writing Room

It’s Our Birthday!

The Beginning

On Feb 19, 2013 the Eastside Writing Room launched. Since moving to Tucson in 2009 I wanted to recreate the writing “space” I experienced in New Jersey  for over 10 years with Scriveners Writers. A place to gather for the energy that I always found came from gatherings of people with common goals.

Our goal- to write- without interruption, without distractions. For busy people, we found it helps to get away from the distractions of home and home responsibilities. Committing to meet with someone else is an extra insurance that I’ll do what I promise. Scriveners helped me accomplished my goal of completing, publishing and marketing my first book, Thinking of Miller Place.

On that February 19, I met with one other writer. We shared our intention for that day and wrote for two hours. I felt so accomplished! We met again in March and April and then went to once a week every Tuesday. Gradually our membership grew. Each Tuesday writers show up- enough to fit around the dining room table.

Why an Eastside Writing Room?

After calculating the time I was taking to drive to and from various writing groups in Tucson, I realized I could be using that time to write. Yet I wanted the company of writers. A wise person told me, “If you don’t find the book you want to read, write it yourself.” Why not with a meeting? If you don’t find the meeting that fits for you, start one of your own. The Eastside Writing Room attracts folks who live on the Eastside of Tucson and can get to the host house in 15 minutes or less. We have no geographical limits but most live pretty close to the host homes. Penelope Starr commuted for quite a few months before she said, “I’m going to start a downtown Tucson group.” And she did

We’ve been virtual since April 2020 and will continue weekly Zooming until the pandemic safety level is reached.

What We’re About

Gradually our group has grown – our mailing list is about 30 and attendees are regulars, returnees and occasional drop-ins. There’s an ebb and flow of members. There’s also no fee, no critiques, no interruptions, no cell phones. Just a quick share of writing news, kudos, suggestions, and then writing.

Results

Meeting and writing each Tuesday often inspired writing all that day and the next day, and knowing I have a weekly commitment to write. Seedings, Stories of Relationships was one of the results of this weekly writing. Inclusions in anthologies. writing speeches for public speaking, stories for Odyssey Storytelling and tellers of Tales, some weeks doing the paperwork “business of writing” were others.  Eastside members can list their accomplishments too.

Celebration

So now we are 8! At our Tuesday, Feb. 23 Zoom, we’ll celebrate our birthday, share accomplishments, light a candle, state writing intentions, and go off to write. All adult writers are welcome at our virtual Eastside Writing Room. Contact Ethel.

Happy birthday, Eastside Writing Room!

Smiling behind my mask

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. 

COVID Vaccine #1-Yes!

 

Got our shot-Vaccine #1

We’re strong, confident, and infused with Moderna. First shot was yesterday morning (02/10/21) with my sister and husband at the Tucson Convention Center. 

HERE WE GO

It was very organized, with volunteers along the walk-in lines guiding us to each check-in station, extra masks given out (although we had our own), and a quick shot in the arm. 

Our appointments were for 8:30 AM. We got there early, easy parking next to the Center, and on line around 8:20. We were done and out by 8:50. By the time we were in the car on the way home, we had received emails that we had an appointment for shot #2 ready to be scheduled.

Hank and I made a point of thanking each person who helped- the outside line check-ins and desk people, check-in at the individual booths for instructions about the record card (“take a photo of it – this is your only record”), guides who gestured which way to go with a courtesy I’ve seen from hosts at up-scale restaurants. And the vaccine giver and his partner. 

“Thank you for being here and helping.” 

“Well, thank you for coming in,” was a frequent reply. 

A shot in the arm, time notation on my registration sheet and move on. 

POST-VACCINE STOP

Last stop before we could leave. One of the huge convention halls was set as the post-vaccine waiting area. Our task – sit for 15 minutes making sure there were no negative effects. There was an array of equipment up front which looked reassuringly like medical aids. A huge digital clock kept the time uniform. 

It was the largest group I’d been among in eleven months. I felt like a tourist gawking at all the fascinating sights. So many people. Tall, short, old and older, manicured, natural, all sizes, shapes, colors. It was a vaccine Gathering- short, socially distanced, and sanctioned.

I sat within earshot of the exit door. The exit interview consisted of  “How are you feeling, sir (or ma’am)?”  Each person got the doorkeeper’s considered care as he looked at them and checked the exit time written on their sheet. He also deserves a diplomacy award for calmly directing one hurried person who wanted to leave without waiting back to his seat. It required several repetitions with consistently calm instructions and the arm slowly extended with the courteous back- to-your-seat gesture. Very cool.  

As I exited, this kind person asked, “How are you feeling?” looking right into my eyes. 

“Good. How about you?… I have a question. How many times will you ask this question today?” 

“Probably 300 on my shift.” Muffled laughter from both of us with a thumbs-up from me.

I’m sure he was smiling behind his mask because he had those smiley crinkly lines  around his eyes. With a glance at my info sheet and time, he said, “You’re good to go.” 

And I was. 

Smiling behind my mask

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. 

Expect the Unexpected

When my husband and I spent the Christmas holidays in New York City it was a homecoming for me. In 1969 I had gone straight from graduating Wagner College to a third floor walk-up in a renovated brownstone and then over to West End Ave. a few years later. The upper westside of New York City was my turf from 1969 through 1975. 

On our Christmas trip we stayed at a very upscale hotel on Central Park South, close to places that held wonderful memories for me –  Central Park, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim, Time Warner.

In many ways it was just as we expected. We were where we wanted to be. Store windows were a-glitter with holiday themes, Rockefeller Center was beautiful. We had the good fortune to see  “The Nutcracker,”  yet again.

So how about those unexpected things? The weather went from cold to freezing with snow for our Central Park walk. The next day at the 9/11 Memorial and walking the Highline we had sunshine and a high of 68°. The bill for our first breakfast at the hotel was… big. I ordered oatmeal orange juice coffee and a banana. Hank had bacon and eggs and toast and coffee. The breakfast bill was an amazing $97! Now that was unexpected.

What makes something unexpected? Well, it’s usually a surprise, or  “I sure didn’t plan on this”. (How often have you said that in the last eleven months?) Unexpected: accidental, astonishing, out of the blue, startling, sudden. My physical and emotional reactions are very different from reactions to a planned event. My physical reactions are instantaneous, followed by thoughts connected to what I’m thinking, what’s been in the front of my mind, what meta-cognition I have about the unexpected thing.

Big Bird in Central Park NYC

The most astonishing of our holiday unexpected events happened during a beautiful walk in Central Park. Recent snowfall covered the ground, icicles hung in uniform rows from park benches. As we rounded a bend up by the Fountain who should we see sitting on a park bench but Big Bird. No lie. A life-sized Big Bird from Sesame Street. My jaw dropped. There was a duffle bag at his feet which I’m sure held his ice skates. I had no words. Even now as I think about it I’m smiling; it was such a wonderful unexpected event. Central Park and Big Bird.

Unexpected can be an event, a remark, a feeling, a noise, a taste-unanticipated, unforeseen, unlooked-for, unpredictable. Seeing a friend at a book event who geographically lives 3000 miles away. The gulping tears that came with my first view of the Grand Canyon.

When I was teaching young kids, they had no guile to cover up reactions to unexpected things. As I walked into the local Shoprite one of my second graders and his mom were coming out. Bobby stopped and stared. No talking, no moving. Was he mentally recording this? Was his kid-size brain thinking, “Where do I know this person from who is in the wrong place? She should be in the classroom at Washing ton School.” He was gawking, his parent smiling broadly. The kid was transfixed. It was that Big Bird in Central Park moment.

The more experiences I have in life, the less I’m “thrown” by unplanned happenings. “Oh that’s just like when…”  or  “Hmm, I’ve met you before. Different face, same person.” It’s more of a response than reaction. 

But what about those unexpected things that bring about a more negative reaction? Mixing baking powder instead of baking soda for mouth rinse and taking a swig? For those who don’t ascribe to expiration dates, that first taste of milk gone sour. What about an “unexpected” that brings a heavy emotional burden? Notification that someone has died or getting bad news about an illness.

Or the pandemic. Month 1, month 2, month 3, months 4-11. Never expected a worldwide virus. Never expected we’d be using words like quarantine, shelter at home, abundance of caution, tracing, tracking, virus to epidemic to pandemic. Never expected conversations would begin with  “Are you OK?” or  “Did you get the vaccine yet?”

The unexpectedness of COVID opened up the need for me to look at staying home in a different way. I could only whine so much with escalating anxiety. I weighed the consequences. Home vs. out. What are some different ways to enjoy being at home? What can I do at home to help people?

Experiencing the unexpected was the calm and quiet of being at home. I discovered my comfortability with slowing down, creating new paths of intimacy with my partner, reconnecting with people in different ways- by Zoom, sending photos, emails, and hand-written cards and letters. I’m expanding my “self”: Buddhism, exploring Science of Mind, mindfulness, daily yoga.

I’ve had transfixed reactions like little Bobby had at the supermarket. When I explore the inner reactions, I find something interesting. Physical reactions in my body- stomach flips, lurches, butterflies, heart racing, face flushed, mind goes blank, or racing, or fuzzy-are very similar, almost identical, whether it’s from the stimulus check or the phone call about my mother’s death. My body doesn’t know the difference. So I rely on my self talk.  Slow down, you are ok. Breathe. You are ready for anything.You are not alone. 

I can’t control everything that happens in my world, the world, but if a belief consistently results in negative stuff or fear or anxiety, I can change the belief about it. I’ve done it. Going from seeing myself as a smoker, then non-smoker didn’t happen overnight. Same with believing I was not equipped to travel by myself (don’t even ask where that came from), but I did change that belief. The pandemic has put a hold on travel but not on the belief I have about doing things by myself.

When I get overly analytical abut this unexpectedness concept, I look at the post-it on my desk:  “Doesn’t expecting the unexpected make the unexpected expected?” ~ Bob Dylan

Still…

Expect the unexpected- with ease.

Smiling behind my mask

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. 

The Love Month

Are you ready? The Love Month is here. Celebrate love. ?

Hallmark sales spikes, chocolate overloads, scented candles, perfume and flowers top the credit card sales, and people tapping into their sometimes under-utilized romance files. 

I do love lots of things and people. All kinds of love. Friendship love. Loyalty love. Compassion, fondness, affection.

All Kinds of Love

I’m also a romantic–big time. My heart is on my sleeve. A part of my heart holds deep abiding love. My emotions run the gamut when it comes to caring/affection/love. One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the opening credits in Love Actually.  Families, couples, friends, people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and colors greeting each other at Heathrow Airport with hugs, kisses, laughing, crying. Makes me tear up and smile at the same time.  I can also sob at one of the last scenes in  Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff carries Cathy to the window so she can see the moors and smell the heather-one last time. (Multiple tissue rating if it’s the Laurence Oliver and Merle Oberon 1939 movie.)

When we flipped the calendar page to February, I felt a little flip in my heart too. Even more so, this year.

Suggestions to Share Love

Some quotes that get me going about love:

Everybody loves something, even if it’s just tortillas. ~ Trungpa Rinpoche

Two-minute free write: I love … pizza, sitting on the beach, cherries, smelling the ocean, seeing the sun rise from my patio, watching my husband make coffee because he is totally immersed and at ease in that one morning activity, naps, my friend JoAn’s carrot cake, walking a labyrinth, books, my office which is also my sanctuary and my creative writing site.

Suggestion: Do a two-minute free write about people, places, things you love. Can you stop at two minutes?

I love this scene- it’s peaceful and cool. It holds the memory of my parents’ retirement home in N. Carolina. They have since died, and maybe the bench is gone too, but I have this photo and memory.

 

Ya gotta learn to laugh. It’s the way to true love.  ~ John Travolta in  Michael

I love to laugh. Of course it doesn’t mean I ”fall in love” with my laugh buddies. But laughing relaxes me, and I’m more apt to see love when it’s offered. Laughing helps me forget the “shoulds,” worries, and small dark clouds that can drift across my emotional radar screen. Can you be mad or sad when you’re laughing? Can you be worried when you’re laughing so hard that you actually snort?  

My morning meditation group is usually bookended with laughter as well as prayer. Laughing at ourselves, at the funny way the cat sashays across my friend’s computer, preening for the zoom screen.

Suggestion: Who/what makes you laugh? Tell folks. Write about them.

I was at a party feeling very shy because there were a lot of celebrities around, and I was sitting in a corner alone and a beautiful young man came up to me and offered me some salted peanuts and he said,   “I wish they were emeralds”,  as he handed me the peanuts and that was the end of my heart. I never got it back.   ~ Helen Hayes

This has got to be one of the most loving, romantic  “scenes”  I’ve ever read. I can see it. I can hear the background noise at this party–music, laughing, the range of voices in conversations. And the beautiful woman sitting, waiting, although at that moment she didn’t know she was waiting. 

When I first heard my Hank’s voice, I felt a jolt in my heart. What the heck is this? Heartburn? But it was followed by a kind of excited feeling in my stomach and heart. I looked around to see where that measured voice with the easy listening tone was coming from. Then I saw him, but by then my heart had moved towards his. Lucky me to have followed that jolt. 

Suggestion: Write about love. 

My personal favorite, for fun and for love:

A man should kiss his wife’s navel every day. ~ Nell Kimball

May you find love every day, not just in the love month.

Smiling behind my mask

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.