While writing my second book, GriefINK, Tattoo as the Language of Grief, I searched for a poem about mourning. I stumbled across many that were familiar, but wanted that something special that will speak to the reader’s soul. A friend recommended that I contact a young female poet in Santa Cruz, California by the name Bri Bruce.
Her book of poems, The Weight of Snow, riveted me. The depth and cadence of her poetry set against the backdrop of nature solidified my choice of a poem for GriefINK. I wanted to know more about this young woman, and how her writing life has taken shape. Through the following interview, Bri shares not only her writing life, but also how her passions embody her work, creating poetry that whispers into the delicate corners of one’s heart.
Bri, thank you for letting me interview you for my blog. Share a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Felton and spent most of my life in and around the Santa Cruz area. I attended UC Santa Cruz to study literature and creative writing. I currently live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so I haven’t ventured very far (my excuse always being that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!). Some of my hobbies include surfing, photography, and traveling. I’m an avid beachcomber and collect odds and ends, mostly old cameras and books, antique bottles, and the like. I enjoy spending time outdoors and with friends and family.
At what age did you begin writing poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was in junior high. It first became a way for me to express and process my emotions, and I had this consuming urge to create. I have been journaling since I was nine, and poetry seemed like a different, almost more abstract way of dealing with the trials and tribulations of adolescence. My early poetry, of course, while very personal was also disjointed, experimental, and convoluted. It wasn’t until later that my work really shifted, then began to evolve into the kind of imagistic narrative it is today.
Tell us about the use of nature as your source of inspiration.
I’ve always been fond of the outdoors. I was the kid that, given the choice, would spend all day outside climbing trees, rolling in the grass, getting stuck in the mud up to my knees, and coming home with bugs in my pockets. My parents both had a huge part in raising me to be nature-minded. I grew up camping, fishing, backpacking, surfing, and diving. There really wasn’t any adventure sport or outdoor activity we didn’t do. It has instilled in me a passion to seek the out of doors and immerse myself in the natural. Even at a young age, my upbringing created this profound fondness and appreciation for the natural world that is impossible for me to shake. I’m in love with it, and this shows in my work.
Where do you write? Office or outdoors? Share your writing life.
I would prefer to be outdoors writing longhand rather than indoors on a computer. I still write everything by hand when I’m not using a typewriter (I know, I’m old school). Strangely enough, I also enjoy writing in loud, crowded places. I’m a regular at a few coffee houses around town where I like to hunker down in a corner for a while. I also enjoy writing when I travel and find that some of my best work comes from these instances. I usually keep a travel journal, but I often gather together lines of poetry that I later work into a cohesive whole.
I guess I could say that all of the processes of nature inspire my writing. Writing is in itself a process, and I believe the two are very closely connected. I love observing the happenings of the natural world, and juxtaposing them against our own lives. I feel a greater truth can be revealed, if only simple and rather instinctual or straightforward. My poems always begin as observations or narratives and evolve from there. I keep a small notebook with me at all times and write down certain words or phrases I like the sound of, or the name of a bird or a place I want to write about. Later, a large part of my writing process is stringing these all together.
Give the reader a peek into your world. What is your idea of a perfect day?
My idea of a perfect day to inspire my writing would be some sort of adventure to somewhere I’ve never been. New experiences always stir something in me. I like to go on these “adventures,” so whenever I get the chance to do this, I am immeasurably happy. I find I enjoy them most alone, which is something that others often find interesting. I’m extremely independent and I like exercising that independence. I would rise at dawn, watch the sunrise, and spend the better part of the morning tromping around. I would, however, want to share my perfect day with friends and family at some point, perhaps after my adventure and over a good meal. At night, I would want to sit at a desk with my typewriter and a glass (or bottle) of wine and write and listen to music, staying up late until I’m too tired to think! Drifting off into a fitful sleep full of consuming dreams is always a great way to end the day.
Would you be willing to share a specific experience that inspired you to write?
Sure. Last summer I spent a month alone in a small cabin in the remote forests of Northern California to devote myself to writing my novel and to work on a few collections of poetry. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. I was visited by bears on a regular basis and surrounded by wildlife. The nearest town was a 45-minute drive, and the nearest neighbors were a quarter-mile away. Among many of my experiences, one particular event comes to mind. I had just returned one evening from town to find that the porch light had attracted thousands of flying termites. Needless to say, the small cabin was infested. There wasn’t much I could do but turn the light off, and one by one pick up the termites that had managed to make it inside the cabin and put them outside. I was struck by how, all at once it seemed, they shed their wings and crawled away. In a matter of minutes, I was left with hundreds of pairs of these papery, ash-colored wings. I sat down right then and wrote a poem about it. I think this is a good example of the connection between processes of nature and the processes of a writer, the first step in the process of writing being observation.
I find your poetry to be very deep…beautiful…open to interpretation and it allows for the projection of one’s own experience. At Henry Cowell State Park stood out for me, and I have chosen it for my book GriefINK. What is the back-story behind that poem?
This piece was based loosely on an experience I shared with my mother on a hike through the park. My parents took me there as a kid to feed the ducks on the millponds and watch the trains. After not visiting for a while, I decided to take my mom up on her offer to go with her one day.
What spurred the poem is the sobering acknowledgement of the passing of time. On that day, not only did I realize how much I had changed since I last visited (I was no longer the little girl crouching in the reeds, holding out handfuls of chicken feed to the mallards), but it was really one of the first times that I was completely taken aback by that sense of realizing that someone you love has aged. I suppose parents feel this when watching their children grow, but it was as if I hadn’t been paying attention all these years, so busy and wrapped up in my own life that seeing, actually seeing, my mother looking older to me was like waking up one morning to see your yard covered in snow.
This realization of a person’s aging, and the inevitability of death, was foundational to this poem. The emotions captured in the poem are very raw and human, relatable. It was almost as if I was yearning for the years I had missed, but it was too late. I was facing for the first time the reality of a pending grief I knew would follow in the wake of my mother’s future passing.
When did you know that you wanted to put your poems out to the world in the form of a book? Talk about the experience of writing The Weight of Snow.
The Weight of Snow started out as a collection under a different title that I compiled while finishing my degree at UC Santa Cruz. For my poetry concentration, as a sort of thesis project, I was required to write a chapbook of poems. Many of these original poems ended up in more refined stages in The Weight of Snow, including the poem from which my book gets its title. The original manuscript was titled Middlestate, the commonality between all the poems being that they all took place or centered around the middle part of the State of California, i.e., where I live in Santa Cruz and the surrounding areas.
While I had been published long before that (my poems were first published when I was still in middle school), the response I received from my peers and my instructors was overwhelmingly supportive, and I never looked at my writing the same after that. My instructors, namely Gary Young (Santa Cruz’s first poet laureate), played pivotal roles in supporting and encouraging me to pursue my writing further.
I knew that I wanted to share my work and sending out my poems to be individually published by various journals and online publications wasn’t what I wanted. After working briefly for a small publisher in Santa Cruz where I learned a great deal more about the publishing industry, I officially started my own publishing company, building upon my graphic design and layout skills. It was through this publishing company (Black Swift Press) that I published The Weight of Snow. Since its release last February, it has garnered very positive reviews from a number of esteemed authors, including Gary Young, and is the 2014 International Book Awards Finalist in the Poetry Category, the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention Recipient in the Poetry Category, and is a 2014 USA Best Book Awards “Poetry” Category Finalist.
What are some of your current projects?
There are always projects in the works and ideas floating around! Aside from the plethora of notes I have lying around for novel ideas or lines for poems, I am currently working on transcribing a journal I kept on a typewriter during a residency I took last September. It’s kind of a look into the psyche of a writer, as well as an account of my experiences of and thoughts on the craft and my journey.
I’d like to take another residency to focus solely on my novel. If anyone ever has the opportunity to participate in one, I highly, highly suggest it. It’s such an enriching experience. Not only do you learn a lot about your craft, but you also get to know yourself as a writer much better.
My biggest goal right now is to publish five books before I turn thirty. I have four to go, but my second, third, and fourth are almost completely mapped out. I just have to find the time to edit, design, and publish (and hopefully promote beforehand). It’s that fifth book I’ve got my sights on. I have four years to write it!
What are some other aspirations that you have?
My biggest passion besides writing is helping other writers in realizing their dreams of publishing their work. I bring an author’s vision to fruition, whether through designing a book cover or actually helping them publish and print their book. There is nothing more gratifying than hearing an author’s elation at holding their book in their hands or seeing it listed on Amazon. I know this feeling well, and to be able to pass that on to others is very rewarding.
My biggest aspiration of all is to have not only my work but my words to have an impact, even if it’s small. I always hope others can feel through my poems and relate to them, even if it strikes a chord in them for an unrelated reason or makes them think about something else. I want my work to speak to my readers. If I’m able to achieve this, and feel satisfied with my own writing, then I’ve been successful.
Thank you so much, Bri. I wish you much success, and am so inspired by your writing, passion, love of nature, and free spirit. It’s only fitting to close our interview with one of your poems:
When the morning is darkest
we are roused by the birds
in the plum tree. I pull him
from the bed, beg him accompany
me to watch the egrets wake
in the cypress from the mist-veiled
cliff. I want to teach him forbearance,
point to the flowers that have appeared
along the path to the cove—
new irises have broken through
the soil, having burst from winter
hiding. I picture him leaning over
a shallow pool at ebb tide to touch
a slimed blade of kelp, his earlier
stubbornness dispelled. I imagine
I would not feel victory. I’d have
been impassioned by the way he
delicately gathered a fingerling
in his palm to show me forgiveness.
He sees things for what they are,
and nothing more. I’d have given
my hands that he might recognize
humility standing beside the sea,
the enormity of it before him.
First published in the January 15th issue (Issue 30) of Damselfly Press (2015)
If you are a writer who is looking for direction and/or assistance with publishing, you can reach Bri Bruce at:
http://www.bribruceproductions.squarespace.com or email@example.com
Learn more about Bri Bruce:
Today marks the two year anniversary of Butch Baker and Elizabeth Butler’s deaths. Both were detectives with Santa Cruz Police Department, and were killed on duty. It’s fitting that on this day, Garry Rodgers, a former peace officer in Canada, shares his insights on stress, grief, and the need to talk about on-duty trauma as a way to heal.
Garry Rodgers is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective and forensic coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams. He is currently an Amazon Top 10 Best-Selling Crime Writer for No Witnesses to Nothing, and Blogger at Dyingwords.net. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding the stress that peace officers and their families experience, as well as first hand experience of what it is to lose a fellow officer on the job. I invited Garry to share his insights about post-traumatic stress, what helps survivors—both peace officer and civilians—after a traumatic loss, and his newfound success of writing fiction crime dramas.
What drew you to law enforcement?
I grew up in a small Canadian town in the 70’s where the Mounties were held in high esteem. I wanted to be part of a greater purpose, to contribute, and to experience life beyond the backward, routine of my sheltered world. I’ve always been a risk-taker and adventure junkie.
You shared with me that you were with your partner on the force—who was also your dearest friend—when he was killed. How did that affect you? What was the process of working through the grief, anger, guilt? Was there a formal way in which the department debriefed you?
It’s 30 years ago this March 19th that RCMP Constable Mike Buday was cold-bloodedly shot in the back by a deranged bushman. We were part of an Emergency Response Team (SWAT) operation sent to arrest a madman wanted for murder in the frozen wilds of the Canadian north. Long story short, he got the drop on us, murdered Mike, then pulled the trigger on me. His round failed to go off and I returned fire, killing him. It was over in two seconds.
Putting my best buddy in a body bag is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not only did I train with Mike from day one, but also he lived with me, and I had to go home to a house with all Mike’s stuff, but no Mike.
Going into his room, I broke into gut-heaving grief… guilt… remorse. I dehydrated from tears and suffocated from a black cloud of guilt. If only I’d been more alert. If only I reacted more quickly. If only I didn’t cheat Mike out of life. If only… if only… if only…
I drank. In drunkenness I’d talk to Mike, apologizing for not saving him and asking his direction, but he never answered. I had to move forward. My grief lasted weeks, then eased with months, and settled out after a few years where I could talk about it without breaking into shakes & sweats.
Guilt and remorse took longer to dissipate than grief. Eventually, I rationalized what went down at that frozen place. We were bloody lucky that it wasn’t a helluva lot worse. Where I saw myself as a loser for letting Mike get murdered, others saw me as a hero for ending the incident and saving other lives. I no longer have guilt or remorse about it, and anger was never a factor.
Aside from my personal black pit at the time, my team-mates and other of Mike’s friends were also in pieces. We were young and this was the first real shocking tragedy we’d experienced. I put on a brave face to help them, which helped me keep it together. The Police Force was so supportive. This was 1985, and PTSD was on the verge of being recognized. We had numerous professionally assisted psychological sessions with the officers involved, direct family members, peripheral colleagues, and anyone who wanted to talk. Talking it out, in my opinion, is the best therapy in dealing with grief. And time.
PTSD is a different animal than grief. PTSD is a very real, very dangerous disorder, whereas grief is a natural, dissipating reaction that eases with time. My feeling about dealing with grief is to have as many people around you as quickly as you can, talk about the good times, and then time will heal. Fortunately, I’ve never displayed the classic symptoms of PTSD, but I certainly know other who have. In fact, I wrote a piece about PTSD that can be found at http://dyingwords.net/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-nasty-bitch/#sthash.ock3exn2.dpbs.
We hear of a great deal of marital/family stress in peace officers. Thoughts?
On-duty police officers are always under threat and that breeds an overly protective mentality. Most police officers spend way more time with their cop-family than their own. Their cop-family is always at immediate risk of danger. Being trained first responders, officers will naturally respond to the immediate threat, and leaving domestic issues to deal with later. It’s when they go home that domestic trouble starts.
Wife: “I had a hard day with the kids.”
Officer: “You have no idea what hard is.”
You transitioned to coroner later in life. Describe that decision. How did this job compare to being a peace officer?
I spent most of my policing career investigating homicides, so I had the background in death investigation, which made me ideal for being appointed as a coroner. In my jurisdiction, coroners contract out medical support services, such as autopsies and toxicology, whereas medical examiners contract out the field investigations. I found the science end of the job fascinating, but the emotional end of dealing with families took its toll.
Homicides are rare in a coroner’s workload. It’s the accidents, suicides, and the ordinary natural deaths that get emotional. Crime scenes are extremely protected before the coroner arrives, and then you’re guided in like some kind of savior. Suicides & accidents are less supported, but in natural deaths, there’s usually only the coroner and the distraught, grieving family present. That’s where you have to be part-priest and it’s tough.
There’s little stress in being a coroner as long as you keep it in check. For one thing, you’re never first on the scene. Secondly, you have total control over the scene once you arrive. So the tendency for emotions running away is minimized.
It’s nothing compared to being a cop. There’s virtually no danger to a coroner, whereas it’s the police job to diffuse and secure the situation before a coroner arrives. Coroners control death investigations and have immense powers of search, seizure, and forcing co-operation.
Compassion is another story. In my jurisdiction, coroners are appointed, not elected. The criteria are not only the ability to handle death scenes, but to compassionately deal with emotional, grief-stricken families. That’s the tough part.
What would be your recommendation to peace officers, paramedics, firefighters, counselors, emergency medicine physicians, and nurses, or anyone exposed to high stress on the job?
Talk. Talk as much as you can to family, peers, subordinates, superiors. Group therapy is as good as one-on-one. Bring on professional consultants. Don’t wait until a critical incident occurs. Don’t be reactive. Be proactive. Make psychological awareness part of your training program. And remember – it’s okay to talk about it.
Did you always want to write? Talk about this transition, and how life experience helped shape your writing.
For years I’ve read and written all sorts of things, not just legal, forensic, & technical stuff. Crime-fiction is my genre, and it’s so different from technical writing. For instance ‘suspension-of-disbelief’ devices are used in fiction such as dialogue, character development, and beats. It’s been a huge learning curve.
I went back to school, learned a new craft, and networked with other writers. I also built a blog, which has been really successful, both in polishing my writing voice and getting noticed.
Thank you, Garry, for your openness about grief and trauma amidst peace officers, and the importance of “talking it out.”
No Witnesses To Nothing http://www.amazon.com/No-Witnesses-Nothing-Garry-Rodgers-ebook/dp/B00AJZR28Y/
In the early 2000s while counseling children and families in El Dorado County, I had the joy of working with Jennifer Hayes. As a supervisor, she taught me a great deal about children with attachment issues, compassionate care, and how to keep centered when collaborating with child protective services. We also share a love of writing. Jennifer now practices in Bingham Farms, MI. Her step-son Dan is currently battling leukemia.
Because so many of my readers have a connection to loss, I asked Jennifer if she would share this experience, and how they are coping as a family. The following contains her lovely insights as she and her family walk through the darkness of cancer, and the moments of light that shine bright….
“When I write social media posts and blog entries I try to walk a hard to define line between offering a personal perspective and not revealing too much about myself. It is the ever present code of the therapist – keep your private life private. It binds us to silence and continually limits how and when we use our voice. Today I am going to take a risk and fully break that code.
Three years ago this April, the morning after his 16th birthday, my step-son Dan went to the ER with severe pain in his hip and odd, small red spots covering his ankle. Within a few hours they diagnosed him with Leukemia, ALL. Getting the news was literally breath-stopping. Since that day it’s been a lifetime.
If you’re going to get cancer, Leukemia is the one to get. In kids, the prognosis, especially for ALL, is excellent. You have a really awesome chance. An 80 – 90% survival rate.
So we felt lucky. Until we fell out of the awesome group. Last year on New Year’s Eve, Dan had a bad headache he just couldn’t shake. With cancer you learn, small things often turn out to be big things. Dan had relapsed. It was contained to his CNS instead of his bone marrow, which, again, had a very good prognosis. We had fallen out of the super star group, but we were still in a good one. Not quite as lucky, but still, lucky.
Two weeks ago, on New Year’s Eve, we found out Dan has relapsed again. So we keep getting kicked out of the lucky groups. We are way out of the lucky group now. Our odds are not as bright.
If all goes as planned, just in time for his 19th birthday, Dan will undergo a bone marrow transplant. If you really want to know what this means, google it. The short story is, it is a long, incredibly brutal process. I think it will make the 3 years of treatment he’s already been though look like child’s play. The year to come will be hellacious.
How do you walk through this? As my husband said, there’s no manual for this. We are looking into this dark room and we told life, “Please don’t make us go in there.” But life is not listening. How do we walk down this road? How do you send your child into this lion’s den?
You do it because you have to. Because you have no choice. Dan has no choice. The only choice in the matter is how we walk down it.
So that line resonates today. “Get busy living or get busy dying”.
We don’t know what this future holds. We don’t know if we are on the good road or the bad road. We will not know for some time. So we will live in the realm of uncertainty. Of waiting, always, for test results. To read the tea leaves of what those results mean. It’s a really crappy road to be on. We would like off. But we don’t get that choice. So we can only decide how we walk it.
What Dan has always chosen, in a stunningly compelling way, is to get busy living. Every single time cancer has come and hit him again, he has decided to live anyway. It’s not just the relapses, it’s the things he’s missed because he was too sick, it’s the bouts of shingles, losing the skin on his feet, a mouth full of sores, and spinal headaches. It’s the moment Dan, a passionate tennis player who lived for the game, found out his tennis days were essentially over because the steroids caused his hip bone to collapse. At 18 he needs a hip replacement.
Yet, Dan has always moved toward living. Toward what he can grasp rather than what he has lost. It is Dan doing pushups in a hospital gown while hooked up to an IV. It is Dan’s response to losing his hip and tennis in one fell moment. Within a day he told his dad, “I want to get a membership at the Y. I’m gonna start swimming.” Because that’s what Dan does.
There are so many ways, times, and points along this road Dan could have gotten busy dying. But he has not. He always, every time, choses to get busy living. He played in a state tennis tournament, winning an intense 2-hour match, the day after he got out of a particularly difficult hospital stay. He played a regional match on the collapsed hip, falling in pain at one point, only to get up and win that match. He got into the University of Michigan this year and got himself an internship working in a lab with Leukemic stem cells. It’s all he’s ever wanted. Just to get busy living.
Dan has never played the ‘cancer card’ to get anything. Despite my egging him on. Not even to get cuts in line at Cedar Point. Who does that? Dan, who is too busy focusing on living. He has been my role model in how to walk this road. Dan is the human spirit in motion.
We now face an uncertain future. Maybe we face an exceedingly dark road. And in the midst of that, Dan, as always, choses to get busy living. Just when he started his college career at The University of Michigan – which by the way he legitimately got into despite Leukemia and a relapse – he now has to withdraw in his second semester. To face an incredibly brutal journey. This is a wickedly hard and unfair hit for a kid whose done nothing but work everyday to get to where he is. But it is what he got. And Dan, as I write this, is making jokes with his dad over text. He stuns me every single time.
For me and my husband, what we know about walking this road is this. If you get busy living, if you go and do your life, if you still laugh and still feel the sun on your face, it helps. It normalizes you and grounds you. It pulls you out of despair and let’s you know you will keep on breathing.
The alternative is to get busy dying. To sit in fear and despair, waiting on what is going to come. When you are busy dying, everything feels so much larger and infinitely heavier. So even as the specter of death sits in the room with us whispering, really, the only option is to get busy living.
Your choices are to focus on what you have or to focus on all that you have lost – or may lose. Neither focus will change the outcome, just how you walk to that outcome. We can go living or dying. Either way, the outcome is the same. But your experience of the road will be vastly different depending on your choice.
I think this is all we can do. Choose living. Amongst this living we have our dark and desperate moments, believe me. But the living keeps us from drowning in that endless abyss. The alternative would only give all of this darkness a crushing victory. When the day draws long and you look back over your life, you will find that you either did it living or dying. You get one life. You get on chance. Don’t waste it on dying.”
~To honor Dan and his journey to come, I am asking people to sign up for the bone marrow donor registry or to make a financial donation to the marrow organization. Signing up for the registry is easy and simply requires you to submit a cheek swab. The organization will mail a kit to you.
Every family going through this needs a donor. They do not do a bone marrow transplant if there are other options. If you become a donor you will give someone who is going to die a chance to live. Whatever donor we get will save Dan’s life. How do you ever measure this?
If you are an ethnic minority, please get on the registry. Due to a greater variation in tissue types, it is much harder for those patients to find a donor match, especially among African American patients.
If nothing else, please consider passing this post along to help get the message out.
Please go to http://www.marrow.org to find out more about how to sign up for the donor registry or to make a financial donation.read more
I was recently featured as a guest blogger at IndieBookPromo.com
This past December, I walked my father home in his dying days. In my blog and Facebook posts, my readers were privy to our last moments and his final words, “I love you, honey.” Watching someone slip away from Alzheimer’s disease took an enormous toll on me, and yet, I was blessed in the process. I received comforting words and prayers, and was so moved by the outpouring of support…a great deal of it from total strangers. As a grief specialist, it was amazing to be on the receiving end.
Birth and death are perhaps the two most transformative events that affect the living, causing us to reflect on our own mortality, quality of life, begging the question: am I living each day to the fullest?
I have been immersed in a great deal of soul searching since my father’s death…
My lovely writer friend, Terri Giuliano Long, invited me to take part in a fascinating blog post: Envision myself twenty years from now (65), with full knowledge of all that has happened between now and then—achievements, trials, and the wisdom gained along the way, and develop a conversation in which my 65-year-old self talks to current day Susan.
Timely? Absolutely. I’m hinging on some of the biggest changes of my life, and if ever I needed encouragement and hope for the future, it is now. Click the link below, and see for yourself.
More importantly, do this exercise! Take the time to see where you are…where you are headed…what bubbles up. You might surprise yourself!read more
Over the past couple of years on my blog I’ve presented a number of author interviews, delved into personal growth issues, allowed my readers to companion me on various grief journeys (my most recent being my father’s death), and, in a confessional manner, put my parenting life on display through stories and metaphors. It’s been a therapeutic, rewarding, and fun way to connect with readers, writers, and an audience of individuals who seek to find common ground while reading and having their morning coffee or an evening glass of wine (sipping), while responding (sharing) how my words touch their hearts.
As life turned a metaphorical and tangible corner this year as my final parent died, coupled with some major life changes in my family, as well as the rapid approach of my oldest child turning eighteen, I find myself in a position of needing a different form of parenting. None of us is above the need for a word of encouragement, sound advice, or tender words of, “You are loved.” But, what to do when those parents either never existed because of their emotional limitations, they have died, or a combination of both?
The concept of “mothering” oneself is not new to me. It’s a term tossed about in therapy, probably a bit cliché and “new-agey”, leaving die hard psychotherapists ranting about pop psychology. And yet, Freud and his psychoanalytic counterparts were clear: if we don’t fix old patterns, we are doomed to repeat them (the repetition compulsion).
As I recently sat alone in my home—the quiet so deafening that the buzzing in my ears caused me to worry about the whole “ear bud” safety for iPods and hands free driving—then later went to bed alone, only to wake up alone, I had some choices in dealing with my aloneness. I could:
(A) Drown out my sorrows with incessant noise (music, TV, other voices).
(B) Self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs.
(C) Invite someone over.
(D) Be alone…and let myself sit with the feelings.
Choosing (D) required a strong measure of self-parenting; the still, strong voice not of my mother or father, but of the mother I’d developed and wished I’d been parented. The voice of reason who says, “It is okay to feel exactly what you are feeling, and while these feelings are strong, they will not kill you.”
The more still and silent I became, the more my body began to talk with me, and as a result, I craved more silence. I ate when I was hungry. I slept when I was tired. I drank when I was thirsty. I went outside when I sensed that being indoors too much was stifling. I turned on some comedy when too many tears gave me a headache. And then the noise of the TV hurt, so I turned it off, and enjoyed the silence again.
In essence, I was becoming attuned to myself. This is what we strive to do to our children: help them become attuned. To listen, and respond. I fear that too often, we tell our children what they feel, what they think, and how they should respond. As adults, we plow through our days, driving, carpooling, working, cleaning, writing, paying taxes, cooking, with little mindfulness, shutting out our attunement. All of these activities are incredibly meaningful activities, and yet, without a sense of attunement, they are mere distractions; things to get out of the way so that we can collapse into a chair, stare at the TV, and numb ourselves.
Perhaps this is why yoga, meditation, and retreats have grown in popularity. We are screaming out for silence, so we pay for it, and then we feel that it’s okay…justified…we are taking a class, and so, therefore, it is productive silence.
What if we were to turn the thought process around? What if we were to ask ourselves each day, with the voice of a loving mother or father, “What do I need on this day?” and then await an answer, silently, with great anticipation. Mothering or fathering ourselves could be a compassionate gesture by which we stop the treadmill of the ordinary, learning to make the simple things in life extraordinary.
Today is Saturday in California. Outside my office are acres of trees ablaze with Autumn colors. My dog is asleep in the warm afternoon sun. My children are safe. Our heat (if we have to turn it on) works. If I need gas in my car, I can drive to a multitude of gas stations with no lines (okay, maybe Costco has a line). The lull of Discovery T.V. drifts under my office door, as my husband learns something about Alaska. It’s an ordinary comfortable day…
Cut to New Jersey/New York: many people are confused, homeless, their pets missing, worried about an incoming winter storm where temperatures are expected to dip to 3-10 degrees. If a person can find a gas station, the lines are up to 2 miles long. At the very worst, some have lost loved ones. Thousands are waiting for aid to arrive, but it’s coming in slowly.
With a great deal of family over there, I was glued to the news for days. We were relieved and shocked to learn (particularly given two families locations) that their homes experienced minimal damage and that everyone is safe! I knew I’d give some financial support, but I wanted to do more.
I’ve watched our nation respond SO kindly to disasters around the world. Americans are a generous people, seeing the need, responding in kind. We are compassionate. But…if we are guilty of a few of things, they are these: time passes, the next big crisis comes along, we get comfortable with our lives, and while we vow to not complain about our lives because, hey, we have heat, running water, our pets, children, ya-da, ya-da, it is human nature to adjust, settle in, and not dwell in the misery. In fact, it would be unnatural and unhealthy if we all became martyrs. However, there must be a happy medium, because too often, the suffering country, state, or families affected by such a tragedy is WORSE off one year later. The aid stops coming in. The funds have run out. And yet, there is much work to be done. A classic example of this is Sendai, Japan.
This is why I’m asking a collective of us to take on a challenge: as authors, I would like us to consider donating a portion of our sales for a minimum of a month to a charity of your choice to help Hurricane Sandy survivors. How much you give is entirely up to you. You may just be starting out, and that feels too scary or risky. Then, just make a dollar amount donation. If, however, you’ve been strong on the charts, take a risk: be generous, just for the sake of helping someone. I hope that this becomes contagious, and encourages two authors to tell two authors, and so on, and so on, like that hair commercial in the ’70s.
Below, I’ve provided a couple of links. One is a story that recommends reputable organizations to donate. The other is a Christian organization that targets specific disaster zones. While I do not belong to a church in this denomination, I have a history with them, and am impressed with their giving history and lack of administrative fees eating up the dollars that people donate.
I thank you ahead of time for sharing this story on your Facebook page, your blog, Tweeting it, emailing it, pinning it on Pinterest, and all the other social media things we can do! Above all, I thank this wonderful author community for the power of compassion. Let’s set aside a slice of our comfort and complaining as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving. As we watch New Jersey, New York, and the surrounding areas rebuild, and witness families receive the aid they need, can you imagine the satisfaction you’ll feel, knowing that you had a little part in that? This is the best success of all…touching another person’s life.
11-11-11 through 11-14-11
Anyone is invited to comment on each of these 50 blogs.
Everyone who makes a comment gets that author’s ebook.
Too good to be true? Wait…it gets better. For every book that is gifted, a copy of that book is donated to one of our troops overseas! Oh, and did I mention that you and the troops are eligible to win a Kindle? Wow! This just keeps getting better!
Announcing Blog Tour de Troops 2011, Veterans Day Weekend. What an amazing way to honor our men and women who serve our country. Ask yourself: when was the last time that you were really, in truly uncomfortable? I mean dirt in your eyes, 114 degrees, 100 lb pack on your back, worried that a bomb might go off in your vicinity, uncomfortable. Outside of illness and personal tragedy, we are a nation of great comforts.
We are a nation that has much to be grateful. In our home, we teach our children that their freedoms would be compromised, if not lost, if our troops did not make those sacrifices. As a grief specialist, I’m also well aware of the cost: Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder, Depression, Anger, and when the despair gets too great, suicide. That is why I never shy away from speaking or writing about grief and it’s effects. Writing about grief is my passion and is a theme in my novel, Out of Breath, a fictional account of parental bereavement, addiction, Compassion Fatigue and hope; it’s the prodigal story of grace undeserved.
Given that my step-father served in the Korean War years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to give back to the troops and also to partake of this exciting blog tour! I interviewed my step-father (here forward referred to as Dad) about his time in the Navy.
Tell me about yourself when you entered the Navy:
I was right out of high school. I’d been living at home, didn’t have the money to go to school, so the Navy was a good option. Also, I figured three years in the Navy would help me grow.
What helped you cope with the loneliness and the distance away from your family?
I formed some close friendships. We were all on the same ship. We worked together, played together, did everything together. We would share our feelings and laugh, joke around.
Did you lose any friends to death or illness in the war?
Nobody on my ship, but friends of my cousin on another ship got hit by a submarine. I was on the phones listening to all of this while it happened. I could hear the screams of people as compartments were shut off to keep the ship from sinking. These people were drowning. Twenty-seven of them died. (I can hear Dad get choked up…)
How did you cope with that? Do you see that people talk about their feelings now more than they used to?
Well, they made a chaplain available. We thought it was just part of it. I think guys didn’t talk about their feelings as much back then. They did some. They held a lot in. Some would drink their sorrows. It may not have been “right”, but not talking seemed the thing to do.
Share one of your more interesting memories: Keep it G-Rated please…your grandkids will read this!
I was on Midway Island in the South Pacific and climbed on top deck, put down a blanket, stripped, (hey now…), fell asleep. It was blazing hot. I woke up 4 hours later and 90% of my body burned. On my chest was 3rd degree burns. I could take a pencil and peel skin from my shoulder and roll it all the way down to my toes. It wasn’t funny then, but in retrospect, it’s a good story. I never tire of hearing it
If you could say one thing to the troops today, what would it be?
Hang together. The friends you make there will be forever. Sixty years later, I still rehash with my Navy buddies; they are lifelong friends.
Thanks, Dad for your service to our country.
Don’t you want to do something special for our troops AND get a book for yourself while doing a good deed?
Here’s what you do to receive my book, Out of Breath, ensure that it gets to the troops, and enter the drawing for the Kindle:
*Comment on my blog. Let’s “tawk.” I love to get to know my readers.
*Write down your email in the body of your comment.
*I will be sending you my book in a PDF version after you leave me your email!
It’s THAT easy!
Thank you for giving to our troops and thanks for participating in Blog Tour de Troops!
Don’t forget to visit the NEXT STOP ON THE TOUR: Alison DeLucaread more