Monday, December 10, 2018

Falling Out of Love With Boy-Meets-Girl Holiday Movies




It’s that time of year again when Netflix and the Hallmark and Lifetime Channels flood us with the “boy-meets-girl” holiday movies. From the prince-meets-commoner take on Harry and Meghan Markle, to the saucy woman proclaiming her career comes first—until she meets that guy at her grandmother’s candy shop in New England who helps save the candy shop and the town—it’s all the same.

Men rescue women from their loneliness and their inadequacies in a world which makes being single about as appealing as traveling to the North Pole. While the “heroines” are feisty and kind, they are also very confused as to what they want out of life—until, of course—Mr. Right walks in.

Wouldn’t it seem in this age of #MeToo and women’s rights they would have lost appeal? Like too much tinsel on the tree, they lack the charm of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney duetting “White Christmas” at the piano with a fire crackling in the background. Although that was ANOTHER FANTASY, it seemed more artfully done, considering the times. Movies have always been ripe with manipulation and marketing, but good music and Danny Kaye and Crosby wisecracking with each made for entertainment.



Instead, the contemporary holiday romance offers one dour message—neither boy nor girl is fulfilled without the other, and all—if you believe the fairy tale—end up living happily ever after in that quaint New England town, or on the throne of Aldovia, a fictitious country that resembles Monte Carlo. (Grace Kelly anyone?)

It’s easy to say that watching them is little more than a harmless pastime, background noise while checking the Instagram feed, Facebook postings, or zoning out after a long day. But are they more? Are they sugar overload like eating too many cookies and licking too many candy canes? Can they “rot” us inside and out? And, if so, why watch? I admit I’m guilty of tuning on and off over the years, although this year I found their banality and manipulation even more than a woman who prides herself on being a silly overly sentimental romantic could stomach.


Perhaps, it’s that they are mind candy for women believing all will be right if Prince Charming rides up on his white charger? I expected that too—forty years ago. So, I wrote about it. A man could save me, offer security—and then Prince Charming made an untimely exit.



I’ve never had a daughter, but, if I did, I would hope she and I could have a good laugh over these ornamentally bland fairy tales. I do have sons and the dating world they describe is light years from the drivel in these plotlines.

I mentioned to someone this weekend how cool it was that Margaret Atwood was writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. “I never read the book…too dark for me,” she said. I had heard this before. “Well,” I said, “it was a feminist watershed novel…” and stopped. Maybe people don’t want that either.

Yes, there is no elixir in life more potent than falling in love. I remember the moment. His eyelashes, his earnestness, his pale blue sweater complemented his dark good looks. 

After he died, I found writing. Writing puts us in touch with this moment…this falling in love…this indefinable something that races the heart and embraces at the end of the day. We find ourselves…our artistry, our expression as creatives. We need the writing to make sense of it all. And then we fall in love all over again with ourselves.

Meanwhile, holiday movies garner huge audiences. There are no murders, no domestic violence assaults, no men paying off women they’ve had affairs with. As for me, I’m tuning out and putting pen to paper and listening to "White Christmas." Oh. And rereading The Handmaid's Tale.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.



Monday, December 3, 2018

Old Horses Past Their Prime: A Memoir Moment



They say old horses should be put out to pasture. Their glory days are long over. What use are they? When the local horse retirement farm held its annual holiday open house for aged equines yesterday, I decided to go. I love horses. I do. Aging. I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Some days I still see myself as the younger version of who I am now. Running—if not galloping—through the fields.

I drive up a long mud-drenched roadway. The horse farm sits atop 400 acres of rolling hillside and pastureland. It’s Christmas and I want to get into the spirit, plus I like experiencing new things to write about. A dreary rain, temperatures registering in the mid-50s. Volunteers wave us over, gesturing where to park. One woman’s van gets stuck in the muck and two men run over with wooden planks to slip under her tires for traction, that’s how much rain has fallen.

After parking, I step inside the welcoming entry/office. Girls in Santa caps serve hot chocolate, hold cans of Reddi Wip. We all pretend it's snowy and frigid, not spring in December.

Still, I want to see the horses. As a little girl, china horses graced my bedroom bookcase. Like most children growing up in the suburbs on the perimeter of horse country, I read Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka. I follow the others to the barn. The odor of hay and horse accosts me. A long line of numbered stalls festooned with red ribbons and Santa caps. Heads and snouts push out in search of treats. Huge brown eyes implore. Their days of racing and dressage long over, plaques with their names and histories…Bella and Dancing Diablo…some had spent more than a decade at the farm, many rescued from abusive situations. Old horses past their prime dependent on the kindness of strangers.



Feasting on apple slices and carrots proffered by children and adults alike, they live out their remaining time, which on this day was pretty much a petting zoo for equines. One big old gelding had been born in 1989. How long do horses live? According to what I read, the average life span of a horse is between twenty-five and thirty years. But one named Old Billy, born in England, was 62 years-old when he died in 1822. Poor Old Billy! How ancient he must have felt in his bones.


The minimum age to retire at Ryerss Horse Farm in Chester County is 20 years old. These are the rescued senior citizens of the horse world here in my little corner of the world where roads named Horseshoe Trail abut woods and fields. Echoes of fox hunts give way now to the buzz of bulldozers, grinding the earth for half a million-dollar carriage homes for the 55-and-up set.

Who knows what horses dream? Maybe it’s not a big deal. Relaxing in stalls with other horses? Or maybe the aftershocks of no longer being “useful”—of riding trails and serving masters—they dream of galloping the fields of Elysian. In Homer’s writings the Elysian Plain was a land of perfect happiness at the end of the Earth.

I want to feel happy, I want to get into the holiday spirit. Either the dreary weather or the hoards of people and their kids who have to be told not to take more than two cookies from trays in the office area where the hot chocolate flows, leave my spirit a bit deflated.

Am I sad for these beautiful creatures or for myself? I go home and write:


So many Christmases now in the rearview mirror of memory. The boys in pajamas and bathrobes racing downstairs to unwrap Christmas presents under the tree. Mother in bright red wool blazer and skirt, wearing gold holly berry earrings. Dad in dapper coat and bow tie. 

Whatever my fate, whatever “retirement” holds, I’m one of the lucky ones. Who could deserve more than I who has lived the love of an amazing man, two strong sons, parents who never abused me? 

I’m not ready to retire, but I’m not ready to gallop full bore through the fields anymore. I turn off the computer. Time to get into my pajamas and go to sleep.

For more information about Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines and to help, visit their website at: http://ryerssfarm.org/

Monday, November 26, 2018

In An Age of Overwhelmedness, Writing Is Enough

In an age of overwhelmedness, the daily diet is 24/7 news, carnage, disease and disasters. What is the definition of 'overwhelmedness'? Simply stated, it is the state of being overwhelmed. 

Here's a thought for consideration. Writing is enough. Enough for what? Enough for one life? Enough to get through one day? Enough to move beyond feeling drowned in the overwhelming? Yes. Writing is enough.

But who has time? Where can I cut back, free up time to pursue my creative life? Can I shelve the anxieties, the stress, at least long enough to write this? 

And when I find the time, do I have the strength to mine those caves we fear to enter which hold the treasure we seek? 

In his book, Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most, Christian theologian Marcus Borg writes, whether you’re searching for God or not, hope and transformation serve as the pathway to meaning. Much the same could be said about writing. When we engage with others in meaningful and uplifting pursuit, hope and transformation naturally follow.

Why this story? What is my story? I share these words in the Women's Writing Circle. Everything is crafted from memories of my family, encounters with friends, politics, the woman's journey. I look for a line that doesn’t exist.

The writer chronicles the inner and the outer life...her faults and fears, observations and reflections. As we age, memory is intricate, shape-shifting. I think about memory and how to break through to what May Sarton calls "its rough, rocky depths." To work through the complexities of life, I have my writing to dig deep, unearth the secrets, learn more.

In order to get people to understand, you must slow time, go back and portray what you are seeing and feeling. My heart was open. I loved seeing myself through your eyes. We had seventeen years. Twilight evenings of lovemaking; a blizzard that winter I was miserable and pregnant; August by the shore, the sea stretching beyond the farthest horizon toward a future never to be.

***

Writing a book is exhausting and ninety-nine percent of them are going nowhere. Just look at Amazon and something like a million new books published in 2017 alone. But that’s not the reason we write—to get published. Still, it is easy to shrug our shoulders, give up, move on; we're all overwhelmed. Yet, for me, writing offers a place between the secular and the sacred, especially when done in community. 

One on top of the other, we build our stories.

Sultry summers and shimmering autumns…two dogs you will never know, faithful companions and sources of comfort and joy. Crises large and small, the suffering…all pass through the window of time.

You have to understand the terrain before you write a love story. Love is a terrain like no other. Our little boys are men now. They travel in their father’s footsteps, quietly, silently in moments when your spirit brushes theirs with a whisper of your name­─John─and you and they become one. Part of me felt rearranged after you died. Your death forever changed my life, my journey...society’s crushing expectations of the single mother, the widow…the woman alone. Widowhood has shaped my belief that out of great loss comes great abundance, if we―if I―allow it.

Now…a rose in bloom, the coo of a mourning dove, my dog’s velvet blond muzzle, a word artfully arranged here and there.
I write this and something akin to satisfactory acceptance that this is life, my life, overwhelms me. Writing is enough.


How about you? Does writing lead away from feeling overwhelmed?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts on the Popularity of Writing Memoir




This past week at the writing circle, a woman approached me. “Why do you think memoir is so popular?” I knew, like many in the group, she wrote life stories carved out of vivid memories. A writing prompt, or just listening to others read their stories, was all the nudge needed to put pen to paper.


I gave her a stock answer. Memoir is popular because people love true stories, I said. The popularity of memoir writing—not including celebrity memoir—has also been due to women feeling this was their time to find voice and embrace their stories before it is too late.


What I didn’t say and only thought of afterward was that we write memoir because it is a grieving process, a way of letting go. When someone we love dies, divorces us, denies us or moves on, we lose a part of ourselves. We have our memories, but the experiences, the history we had together, is no more. Who were we with that person? So, we write, I think.


One thing is clear. Life is about searching for meaningful connections. There are people who represent the ‘what’ in our lives (what they do for me)…and then there are those representing the ‘who’…. In other words, you don’t expect the same relationship from the bank teller or your hair dresser that you do from your husband or wife, your son or daughter, or a cherished friend. These are the relationships—built on trust—that offer the great gift of digging deep and discovering who we are.


As the philosopher Martin Buber once said, “All actual life is encounter.”


As writers, we record the “encounters.” It is foolishness to think any of us will be remembered after we die because everyone we know will die too; but in the meantime, the best we can hope for lies in connecting with each other through stories, which is why I love the writing circles. A writer takes a talking stone…possessing words like ‘hope’ and ‘brave’ and all our attention is focused on her as she reads.

***
I don’t have a big family, so my Thanksgiving will be a quiet affair, albeit with good food—a turkey cooked by my sons on the smoker (which Lily loves because we do it outdoors) and side dishes of macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes garnished with cranberries. The best part is that I get to spend Thanksgiving with the two people in the world I love the most—my sons. Together we dig deep into our feelings and, truthfully, there are few, if any, secrets between us—at least that I am aware. We remember with gratitude the man who made it all possible—my late husband and their father, John M. Cavalieri, who inspired my memoirs. 

For many, though, Thanksgiving can be ruthless. The curmudgeons, the people who make life difficult are far too many. The betrayals that bring out hurt and anger. The truth is, that’s another reason we write memoir. There’s grief in those encounters too. But by writing about them, we can let go of the pain.

How about you? Why do you think memoir is so popular?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Compassion and Mercy In 'The Year of the Woman'


This past week was a big one for women. More women and women of diversity are headed to Congress—a lot more. It’s an exciting time to be a woman. It’s an exciting time for women sharing their stories, their voices…celebrating our differences and our similarities.


I believe in the power of our stories to create a new conversation, a new legacy of empowerment for women to value, share and trust in their stories. This has become increasingly evident to me over the last decade facilitating writing workshops and circle read arounds for women. Each woman has a unique talent and distinctive voice and, yet (this is very important), we only grow as writers when, in sharing those stories, we offer love and support.


Dialogue and conversation are held in good faith with the understanding that instead of just reflecting back what I believe, it might cause me to move out of my ignorance.

As the holiday season approaches, keeping the conversation—the dialogue—open to compassion, mercy and love moves our stories forward in this, the year of the woman.

***

We’ve all spent a morning going through our junk drawer...tossing the unnecessary, the things we kept over the years that are collecting dust... and thrown them out. The writer’s job is similar. We cull our "junk drawers" and settle in on themes that draw us to our center. We delete the side trips, the unnecessary details and focus in on What is my story about? 

It's  important to try and discard thought habits locking us in. Instead, there’s often a tendency to go to a lower energy state, to confirm a bias. Why? Because it’s easy. 


***

I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. It’s a neat little primer of how mercy offers a pathway to “feeling free and fully alive,” as she puts it, despite all the horrors and evils surrounding us on a daily basis. A devout Christian, Lamott writes: "Mercy is radical kindness.”

This past weekend, I attended two choral concerts, one an all-women’s chorus, the other men and women, singing Broadway tunes and songs written with messages of Carole King's "Up On The Roof." Both concerts were held in churches. As I wrote last week, "when this old world starts getting you down," the writer seeks that place of serenity… steps back, takes a rest, remembering that compassion and mercy move our stories forward in this, the year of the woman. 

How about you? How do you find ways to move out of biases and thoughts that may hobble your writing?

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Writing Life: Finding Space for Serenity and Self-Care


Everyone has a voice, everyone has a truth. All of Them are vying for the space in your head.

What is your passion? What are your priorities? What role do you play as a writer?

In this season of divisiveness, finding a space for serenity and self-care becomes essential to the writer. A sheep herding mentality exists—either you’re on one side or the other—there seems no middle ground, and some demand you stand with their truth or you’re a distraction.

I see writers I greatly admire speaking passionately on Twitter and Facebook, unafraid of stating their opinions and political persuasions. I see others remaining silent, watching from the sidelines. Whatever we do, however we say it, this is not a competition for the truth.

It’s central to creative life to join together in small, collaborative communities where our stories are met with acceptance, in the belief that all voices are welcome, all relevant, all creatively unique and distinct.

All points of view and political persuasions should be welcome, too. You can concede or condone. Accept or reject. Once you come to a conclusion—your truth, your meaning—becomes your voice.

Writing at this stage of my life has focused on people I have known who made a difference—whose memories remain and serve as a doorway to craft into scene...impressions of life.
***
Yesterday was All Saints Day and I attended a lovely Evensong service at the Church Farm School in Exton, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1918, Church Farm School is an independent boarding and day school for boys in grades 9-12 in the Episcopal tradition.


Since the late middle ages, evensong has been the popular name for vespers (from the Latin vesperis,“evening”). In many Anglican cathedrals and other large churches, especially in England, evensong is sung by clergy and choir as a choral liturgy.
The boys’ voices soared to the rafters. Peace and reflection filled the small chapel—a community of worshippers gathered to commemorate all saints, known and unknown. I had felt it time to seek a place of quiet, or as a friend put it, "a space of serenity for self-care and restoration of spirit." 

As writers, this is our great gift…stories that bring healing and transformation, insight and awareness. And in that act alone, maybe we can find meaning and truth. Remember those who have come before us—those we have loved and lost—all the while never forgetting the importance of loving and caring for ourselves along this harsh and tempestuous sojourn called life.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Desk, A Memoir and a Day in the Writing Life


I want to thank my “mentors in absentia”—Virginia Woolf and May Sarton who wrote so eloquently about the woman alone—the life that writing offers of voice and exploration. 

A possible introduction for a new memoir? A book deadline is welcome, encouraging me to explore 'characters'; a priest who shies away from words like ‘empowered’ and ‘feminism'…a young woman whose burning desire to have a baby prompted a child born out of wedlock.



As autumn wends her way to winter, I write on a chilly October morning with a window view of orange and sepia-toned maple leaves.


My workspace has had its first makeover in twenty years, the old faux mahogany desk carted out for trash. I feel a sense of renewal, as I contemplate thoughts and reflections to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Women’s Writing Circle. I search for a title. In time it will come. 

One day in a woman’s life. Yesterday, lunch with my sons, a harvest salad of grilled chicken, cranberries and apple slices on arugula with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Alex and Daniel had put together my new desk and so lunch was on me. L-shaped, black with large glossy surfaces to spread out...books and papers, the watercolor presented to me by our Slants of Light authors. 

I bought the desk from a photo I saw online on the Sears website. I wanted to support Sears, America's last great department store. Several days later, packaging, weighing 720 pounds arrived. So many steps to put it together that by step forty-five, the person who wrote the directions joked, “Rome was not built in a day.” As my sons labored, they were not amused. They toiled over drawers and pull-out keyboard. Patience…following directions...screws and latches and sliders. They had inherited engineering skills from their father, certainly not their mother. I must write more about my sons, my story, not theirs. They have a right to tell their own story.



The old desk



The week before they built my desk, Alex and Daniel installed a new Dell computer for me—it moves so fast, not like the laptop, a poor lagging machine never quite the same after a computer store tech messed with its registry. The screen glows translucent, inviting me to begin writing these words ….



As Virginia Woolf said, a woman must have money and a room of her own and I have had the fortune of both. Woolf also said that a woman needs privacy in order to write. This is the advantage I have, which so many women do not, although it was by design. I could have been married several times over by now but need for privacy and the writing life away from the demands of an ailing or needy man won out. I must write more about this. The keyboard beckons.

How about you? Is your workspace one that inspires you to write?