Suddenly

I was sitting in yet another Zoom meeting when I realized that the sun was shining. I thought it was my desk lamp, but it was the sun.

There is light always coming from a computer but it is mechanical and cold.

It is cold outside but the sun was suddenly shining and it was so bright and sudden and unfamiliar that I wondered what it was for a moment. I turned off my desk lamp, which is such a poor imitation of the brilliant ball in the afternoon sky that its illumination wasn’t even missed.

It takes the sting away from winter’s deprivation of light when you realize that the long hours of darkness are accompanied by moments of yellow glowing out of nowhere, suddenly making an appearance, draping its arms around you like a friend who dropped by just to say hello.

This is Joy

A moment of Joy, seeing the golden leaves in the trees circling my home. Every fall, I worry so much about winter that the beautiful fall foliage makes no impression on me. Those golden leaves are just a prelude to the miserably short days, the cold claustrophobia of winter and, since I moved to Addison County, frequent power outages.

But that moment, walking up to my house from checking my mail, I noticed the trees’ spectacle. They were definitely showing off. In the gloom of a rainy afternoon, they were shining and swaying and dancing with the wind. Their shades of gold were flirtatious and even daring.

Like most humans with a cell phone, I took pictures. I’ve not looked at them because I don’t really expect the photos to capture the trees’ emotional tenor or my camaraderie with them. A photo can’t express the joy I felt while standing with the rain sprinkling my face, the wind rustling the leaves, and the trees smiling golden in the afternoon gloom.

This is Joy.

I suppose that joy is so remarkable and welcome because it is so fleeting. You can’t hold onto joy. You can experience it and remember it (as I do now). You can try to explain it in a journal entry or a photograph or a dance or a sound.

My body is tingling, my blood singing, my brain is filled with the memory of the gold, my mind with the sound of the tees and the feel of the cold and wet.

“Pause and feel Joy.” Something told me to pause and I felt Joy. Something told me to fill my eyes with the trees. I did and I am so grateful.

My heart is full as I remember that Joyful moment.

 

 

When You Have Nothing to Say

(Talking to myself and listening, too – an excerpt)

Say it with a lot of flowery and complexly strung together sentences. Say it with as much mess as you can amass. Massage the blank page with black letters that string along a lot of nonsense until something comes to mind, a compelling download from a voice that is struggling to be heard, a piece of wisdom stuck in your teeth that you – thankfully – never managed to floss away.

When there is nothing to say, say it loud and proud. After all, you are a wise woman with many years of nothing left to say said loud and sometimes proudly and sometimes with the attitude of “If you don’t like it, don’t listen,” or “If you don’t like it, forget it as soon as it is said, but I am, I have, I will.”

Don’t worry about grammar or tone or syntax. Okay, I know you. You can’t not worry about spelling. Somehow with all the things that keep you from expressing yourself – fear of failure, embarrassment, success, longing for more from the ones who listen – the thing that you worry most about is spelling. How mundane.

But mundanity is your stock in trade isn’t it? asks another voice that demands to be heard on this topic. “The Extraordinary Ordinary,” you respond with righteous indignation and not a little bit of astonishment that the being voicing its opinion doesn’t know the difference. After all, isn’t it part of you? Are there really parts of you that just don’t know what is going on though they emerge from the same source?

Channeling these voices is an exhausting process. You feel yourself losing steam just when you thought you had a good clip going and you know you have been hijacked by that lazy … okay not lazy … insecure … please don’t use that word … uncertain (sigh!) young person who never grew up because… well who knows why not. There seems to be some part of me that will always be a child. That has to be okay.…

The Edge of Winter

March 7th and my driveway is filled with snow. Four days ago, we had a nor’easter and I was one of the poor unfortunates on the road as the storm hit Vermont. That morning, snow had been falling as I left Bristol. Precipitation changed from snow to sleet to rain, as I drove north. Nothing was falling on Burlington.

But I wasn’t fooled. I knew that hazardous conditions awaited me on my drive home. Anticipating that the roads I usually take would be slick with snow and ice, I chose to drive down Route 7. It is a major road, I reasoned, and would be plowed. Also, given that the lanes are wide and have shoulders, it would feel like a safer drive. Shelburne/Hinesburg Road, Silver Street, and Bristol Road – roads on my regular route – are narrow, winding, curvy, bounded by ditches; and there are few places to pull over. I prefer sliding into a shoulder or guardrail, pulling into a store parking lot or someone’s driveway, anything that would give me the opportunity to back up and back out instead of getting stuck in a ditch.

As I drove home, precipitation went from nothing to sprinkles of rain, to sleet, to snow. The roads were dry, then wet, then icy, then slick, then just plain scary. I became part of a caterpillar of vehicles creeping along as the storm presented its mighty self. My expectations of road conditions turned out to be accurate, somewhat. Much of Route 7 had been plowed. Yet because the storm was in progress, the road was quickly covered with icy snow. Still, the width of the road gave me confidence that I had a chance should something go wrong.

An illustration of what could have happened played out before me. The driver ahead of me had braked, then stopped. An SUV sat facing east, horizontally, across north- and southbound lanes. I assumed the vehicle had lost traction and slid into oncoming traffic. As we waited, the vehicle backed onto the shoulder on the southbound side. The driver in front of me stopped alongside the vehicle, perhaps asking if the SUV driver needed help, then moved along. As passed, I saw the young man sitting there with a placid look on his face. I imagined that he was content to stop for a while and gather himself together. I know I would have been.

We drove for miles in whiteout conditions. For long stretches as I headed south, I saw the car in front of me, and a white wall beyond. In the northbound lane, a stream of yellow and silver pairs of eyes emerged from the snow-fog. The image reminded me of tired coalminers ascending from the depths. It isn’t a logical analogy, but I can’t shake it. The cars looked exhausted.

The snow danced a relentless and mesmerizing paso doble with the wind. The hypnotic waves shed icy layers onto windshields and windows. I lost track of where I was. I thought I was close to Vergennes, when I hadn’t yet gotten out of Ferrisburg.

At one point I looked up and there was a bright spot in the sky. Clouds had given way, showing a circle of blue, in the distance. For the duration of the drive, I believed that I would round a curve and the sun would be shining and the roads would be clear.

This never happened. The brightness remained far away.

When I got home, I was trembling so badly my shaking fingers could barely pull off my boots. It had taken me 90 minutes to complete a 45-minute drive, but I had made it. I texted my son to tell him that I’d had an icy, treacherous drive home but that I had arrived home without incident. I wanted someone to know that I was alive.

It is the edge of winter. March came in with 40 to 60 degree temperatures, then showed us that nature is in charge and spring is a long way away.

“I hate winter,” some part of me in the left side of my brain spoke up as I was writing this. I get it. I also know that it doesn’t matter how I feel about winter. And anyway, how can you hate a force of nature?

When I really think about it, I realize that it isn’t winter that bothers me. It is what winter signifies. Snow and ice are actually quite lovely when you can look at them without fearing for your life or what you are going to have to do to clear your driveway or deck, or protect your house; or when you don’t have to think about how you are going to survive a usually innocuous drive home.

My street was a snow-clogged path when I finally reached it. No one had plowed. Hours after the storm had stopped, the road remained thick with white. Days after the storm, my driveway remains unplowed and another storm is headed our way.

At the edge of winter, I am planning for next winter. I will find another company to plow my driveway (my current guy is unreliable, probably making more money working for towns).

Maybe I’ll buy a snow blower. Are they heavy, I wonder? Do they cost a lot of money? How much gas do they use?

Should I hire someone to shovel my deck?

Maybe I will move to a warmer climate.

Next winter. It is the edge of winter. The land is covered in white with winter-blackened vegetation peeking up hopefully, anticipating spring. I am thinking of next winter while living on the edge of this one.

Winter is always coming even when it hasn’t yet left.

 

Lessons from the power outage

From 1:11am Monday, October 30th through 11:35 am November 2nd, my generator provided my house with electricity. A massive wind storm devastated many areas of Vermont, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes.

Having a generator allowed me to cook (which I did), and even watch TV if I wanted (I didn’t). As the generator hummed along, I got work done. Then my internet service and landline went out. Though I could text and make calls using my cell phone, this was too much for me. Ninety percent of my work is done online. Once that was impossible, I tried to work offline. Then I began to obsess about when internet service would return.

I packed my bags and drove to town. Thank goodness, our local library – Lawrence Memorial – was fully functioning and open. Sitting with others seeking internet, solace, and company, I calmed down and focused on bringing “normality” to my day by working.

Still, I couldn’t help but listen to conversations among folks who came by to drop off books or seek something to read. Some had electricity and others didn’t. The outages were widespread and seemed random.

At home when I wasn’t feeling frustrated and helpless, I felt grateful that I’d invested in a generator. It had been a huge expense I hadn’t planned on but I’d already experienced a lengthy power outage and didn’t want to go through days without electricity again. More importantly, I was grateful that I’d had the money to make the purchase.

The outage reminded me of how fragile our connections are. Electricity is needed for most of the work that we do. When it is not available, we can become totally cut off from essential activities and each other.

I learned that I have the capacity to accept what is happening without feeling like a victim. I periodically contacted Green Mountain Power and Green Mountain Access for updates, making sure that I spoke with someone, and I asked them lots of questions. It took all my restraint not to resort to sarcasm and anger as I tried to glean why our area still had no power. Customer service representatives were helpful without promising anything, and they were very polite. Eventually, I put myself in their shoes: Probably hundreds of unhappy customers were calling them, many of them angry.  How difficult their jobs must have been during this time.

And when I felt really low, I texted or phoned a neighbor or friend to see how they were doing. I let them know they could shower or cook at my home should they want to do so. After all, I wasn’t the only person being inconvenienced.

Ultimately, the outage helped me to practice gratitude, patience, compassion, and kindness. It helped me to realize that I am rarely as alone and helpless as I think I am. Looked at from that perspective, it wasn’t that bad.

 

Writing Tip: Reduce to Revise

Revising an essay? Try this:

Underline the most significant sentence in each paragraph, one that evokes that section’s central meaning.

Or pick the sentence that is the most striking (in terms of imagery or ideas; you decide).

In a separate document, write the chosen sentences in order, creating paragraphs as (or if) needed.

This new piece is stark, with all the frills stripped away.

Now that you have the essence of your narrative, you can re-introduce passages that are absolutely necessary. Or, maybe this version is exactly what you were getting at all along!

In a five-minute freewrite, reflect on what emerged for you as you chose the sentences or read the stripped-down version of your original piece.

This exercise can be helpful when revising fiction or poetry, as well. 

Keep writing!

Listen

Taking into consideration Trump’s cabinet and advisers and understanding the direction in which our country is going, you might think that this is a time in which people of color, poor people, women, just about anyone except rich white males, have been silenced. And let’s face it, while there are many people protesting through demonstrations, letters, phone calls, blogs, etc., there are people who are afraid enough to be silent, and for good reason.

Consider this: Folks don’t try to shut you up, or shut you down, unless they are afraid of the power of your words.

No matter what your particular stance on the current situations, it is unlikely that you are neutral. These days, anger, frustration, fear, and even despair frequently permeate dialogues, blogs, poetry, fiction, essays, music and other forms of expressions. Whatever your viewpoint and whatever your artistic form, remember that your words have power.

Speak your truth. Know that others are speaking theirs. Listen.

Keep writing!

Ruth

***

Register for my upcoming course, Joyful Inquiry, at this link.

Ready to work with a coach or editor to finally finish that book? Contact me at 802-377-3001 or rfarmer@gmavt.net.

Embracing the snow

The snow is hip deep around my house. It started falling at eight o’clock on Tuesday and didn’t stop until Wednesday evening. On Tuesday I shoveled my deck and around my doors twice. The driveway was plowed twice. Within a few hours, the snow had barricaded the doors again. The deck looked as smooth and white as if I’d done nothing. The driveway was almost completely filled in.

I moved from wonder to frustration to despair to irritation when I woke up on Wednesday morning and witnessed even bigger flakes falling, saw the smooth undisturbed landscape. The snow had gently resisted human attempts to combat its quiet relentless power.

I adjusted my Wednesday morning ritual:
Meditated on flakes falling.
Gave thanks that I didn’t have to leave my house.
Sent prayers out to those who had to venture out.
Snowshoed around my house and on my deck, while shoveling here and there (no hope of really clearing anything).

The relentless snow reminded that there are things beyond my control. Embracing its presence, I finally felt a sense of peace.

Moments of Gratitude

I love the light and the dark.

This time of year lends itself to contemplation. There are fewer daylight hours. It is cold. Life slows down, giving you time to appreciate the simple things.

Yesterday, I stopped writing midsentence and dashed outside because the sun was shining so brilliantly.
A few nights ago, I was drawn to go onto the deck, to stare at the moon, the stars, the stark, leafless trees and the shadows they made on the land.

I am grateful for sunshine and moonlit nights and the long periods of velvet darkness that lead to self-reflection.

New Perspective

As I was driving from town to my home, I saw the houses, streets, landscape in a different light. I didn’t recognize the house where I buy gladioli throughout the summer. Without the table and colorful cut flowers perched in front, the place looked abandoned.

Looking up as I continued my drive, I noticed the multicolored mountains capped by a strip of clear blue and nestled by a blanket of gray cotton.

There is a green house behind the local school that I’d never seen before. It is accessed by a private lane, like so many houses in this area, including mine.

The luscious leaves that come in spring and delight in summer, and the brilliant golds and yellows of fall are so beautiful they blot out everything else. Sometimes I want to freeze the moment, forestall the cold white that is inevitable.

Today, rather than seeing fall as a prelude to winter, I notice what is revealed after the leaves have floated away. The land is new.

Look up. Look around. Notice what you’ve not noticed before.