I’m trying to juggle writing the second book in a series, editing a romantic suspense, drafting a short story and poem for upcoming contests, and marketing my first novel. It’s overwhelming.
Sometimes, I have to step away and play for a little bit. What do I do when I’m not stuck in front of my laptop pecking away at the keyboard?
I weave baskets. Yes, old fashion basketry. Did you know some of the oldest baskets date back 10,000 to 12,000 years? Believe it or not, I’m not the only one interested in this craft. In fact, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of men and women who belong to guilds all over the United States.
Every August, my daughter and I attend the Missouri Basketweavers Guild (see basketweavers.org) convention, spending the weekend creating amazing baskets and sharing time with other weavers. In order to keep our skills fresh, and just because we love doing it, we gather in my home with another dear friend about once a month and create something new.
I finished my first basket of the year this weekend. It’s called Lucky. The pattern was designed by Dianne Gleixner, a gifted instructor I met at one of the conventions I attended.
Basket weaving is my guilty pleasure, right after wine and dark chocolate. It uses another part of my brain that needs attention too. There’s something therapeutic about working the reed, packing the rows snug, and shaping it until it looks like the one in the picture.
Just for a little while, my mind isn’t consumed by plots and dialogues, inciting incidents and Amazon ads, Facebook posts and Book This or Book That. In order to achieve success in the craft, I have to focus on the pattern and use my hands and fingers in a different way. It frees my mind from writing, just for a short while.
What is it that you do when you need a distraction from your work? Do you sew? Read? Solve puzzles?
How about taking a few minutes to share, you never know when you might inspire someone to try something new.
Some time ago, a friend and fellow author, Amanda Bretz (https://amandabretz.wordpress.com), described a tender moment between herself and her father. No words were uttered. A simple squeeze of the hand spoke as loud as a pastor from the pulpit. The power of touch amazes and encourages me, especially when words are not enough.
As a writer, I draw upon an infinite source of words to fill the pages of a book, yet there are times when words are not enough to convey the intensity of the moment. A gentle kiss, a stroke of a hand on one’s cheek, a strong embrace conveys emotions unreached by mere speech.
Perhaps that was why I wrote the following poem some years ago as my mother suffered the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Although she could not verbalize her thoughts, we spent many hours just holding hands and sharing gentle squeezes, along with heartfelt smiles. I think if she could have expressed her thoughts, she would have said these words.
The memories of yesterday Will become distorted over time The written word will lose its strength A verse will lose its rhyme
The laughs we shared will pass by me My words will make no sense Such simple things we once enjoyed Will now seem rather dense
Old photographs will fade away Your face may lose its name You’ll think I’ve traveled far away But my heart will know you came
No need for words, no bouquets bright No trinkets made of gold No promise for a miracle Just your hand for me to hold
Your love’s the only treasure It will endure through all the pain Just speak to me in silence You’ll be my sunshine in all the rain
Have you been struggling to find the right words? Could the answer be in the power of touch?
It breaks my heart everytime I watch or listen to the news and hear of another young person arrested and jailed because of poor decisions influenced by drugs and alcohol. What life experience took them down the path they are walk? Who owns the problem?What is the solution?
So many questions. So few answers.
I welcome your thoughts.
When the Bough Breaks
From the boughs of a cradle, much like you and me,
so dependent on others, so innocent and free.
He grinned with a smile that would capture your heart,
no clue that his world would soon fall apart.
Left alone once too often; forced to grow up too fast.
The pleasures that warmed him were soon part of his past.
The drugs and the booze became his whole life,
such a sense of abandon, such continuous strife
From street gangs to prison, he followed the path.
Consumed by his anger, his hatred, his wrath.
Now death by injection, the sentence he waits.
So hopeless and helpless behind steel gates
The cradle is empty, the smile worn away.
No family or friends to protect him today.
He was still just a child when he sealed his fate.
Can a difference be made or is it too late?
Is killing the answer for the decisions he made?
Is one life for another a meaningful trade?
Does the slaughter discourage repeat of the act?
Is revenge more important than facing the fact?
What lesson’s excluded when just learning to crawl
that leads one man to stumble and one to stand tall?
Is it instilling belief in one’s own self-worth?
Is it learning to love from the day of our birth?
What’s missing from life that leads children astray?
When brown bottles and needles can lure them away?
Are they lacking the skills essential to cope?
Have they sunken so low there’s no sense of hope?
To own our own actions, to build on mistakes
To take pride in achievements – is that what it takes?
Much like the intricate quilt given to me by an aunt, I believe that we are all connected by a nearly transparent thread of life. If I take the time to look, listen, and ask questions, the delicate tapestry of my world is revealed. I also believe that when I follow my heart, I end up exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m reposting a fresh version of a story from a couple of years ago that reinforces those beliefs.
As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keeper. I paused to read more. Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life. The simple description intrigued me as I’d always dreamed of writing life stories of other people.
As enticing as the opportunity sounded, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization weighed heavily on my mind. The pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death associated to Alzheimer’s made me question my ability to perform the service and keep my emotions under control. I cut out the contact information and let the thought simmer.
The clipping remained visible near my laptop for the next two weeks, tugging at my heart and urging me to act. Finally, I picked up the phone and called the manager of volunteer services listed in the ad.
“I may be interested in the Story Keeper position. Can you tell me more about it?”
“We’re looking for someone to record the life story of a hospice patient for their family to keep as a legacy after the patient passes.”
“Oh,” I felt a hint of disappointment. “I’m not adept at electronic things, more pen to paper.”
“Why don’t you come in and talk further about it? It’s a new position. We can work through the details. And while it doesn’t involve writing, you never know where the journey will lead you. Maybe it was meant for you.”
The charismatic manager’s reassuring words urged me to make a leap of faith. I met with her to learn more. Within two weeks, I’d completed all the prerequisites: TB tests, study guides about working with hospice patients, and Hepatitis injections.
It wasn’t long before I was assigned my first visit. I studied the manual that came with the small, hand-held recorder. Since I was the first person to fill the position, training had been minimal. The anxiety and nervousness I anticipated never surfaced. Instead, an unexpected tranquility about the process made me excited to get started.
“The patient is hesitant to make the recording.” My manager warned me on the drive to his home. “The wife is urging him to do it for her. I thought you should know before we get there.”
The patient’s wife greeted us at the door and invited us in. The man, already seated in a recliner, extended his hand and nodded as he studied my face.
My manager made introductions and a brief explanation for our visit. The man frowned and grumbled, pursing his lips. Then it was my turn to speak. I wanted to help him relax and feel comfortable about the recording.
“We’re just going to talk today. I’d like to get to know you and your wife.”
“Ok.” The tense lines around the man’s eyes eased.
“Did you grow up in Florissant?” I smiled and tilted my head awaiting his response.
“Jennings. I went to Corpus Christi grade school.”
“I know that school. I attended St. Paul the Apostle. We were practically neighbors.”
“I went to St. Paul’s!” His wife announced with excitement. “Oh my goodness! You’re Dorothy’s daughter. I saw the resemblance to your mother when you first arrived, but couldn’t place who you were.”
My eyes welled with tears at the mention of my mother. I was unable to say anything for fear I’d start crying.
“I’m your grandmother’s niece. We’re cousins. I grew up two blocks from you.”
I realized that I knew her parents well, but because of our age difference, our paths had crossed briefly, probably at a funeral, but at a time when I was too young to remember. The emotional journey over the next hour was emotionally rewarding. The wonderful stories about my mother, who was an only child, and her distant cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years, brought such joy to my heart, I left the visit feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings. I even learned that my grandfather saved my cousin from drowning in the Mississippi River when she was a teenager.
Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife. From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together to create a treasured gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations. I completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on their 65th anniversary.
Although the story doesn’t end there, in fact it is just the beginning of my journey, I’ve learned my readers are busy folks and prefer quick reads. I’ll share more in my next post.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you.
When have you made an unexpected connection with someone?
Do you follow your heart or are you more likely to try and control where you are headed?
Blogs, email, text, twitter, FaceBook and occasionally, a phone call or face to face talk. So many ways to connect to others. But how do we connect with friends and family who have dementia and are losing or have lost these lines of communication? I wrote this poem during the final stages of my mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s. I think it’s what she would have said.
Silence Has a Voice
My memories of yesterday
Will become distorted over time
The written word will lose its strength
A verse will have no rhyme
The laughs we shared will pass me by
My words will make no sense
Such simple things we once enjoyed
Will often make me tense
Old photographs will fade away
Your face will lose its name
You’ll think I’ve traveled far away
But my heart will know you came
No need for words nor bouquets bright
No trinkets made of gold
No promise for tomorrow’s light
Just your hand for me to hold
Your love’s the only treasure
It will endure through all the pain
Just speak to me in silence
You’ll be my sunshine in the rain
Black stained glass graces the tangerine wings that rest upon mossy green foliage while hints of dandelion yellow tickle about
Perhaps you have a loved one who just needs to hold your hand. Don’t miss the chance to visit with him or her. Words aren’t always necessary. Silence has a voice.