Welcome the New Year


And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. -- Rainer Maria Rilke

2017 was a year of highs and lows for me in many ways. On the up side there was the Always a Blue House reading tour. Riding high from publishing my poetry collection with Saddle Road Press, run by the incomparable Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell, I had a wonderful time with my writer-sisters Tania Pryputniewicz, Michelle Wing, Marcia Meier and Barbara Rockman who arranged readings, planned poetry workshops and opened their homes for poetry salons. Without them, I would never have been able to pull off such a tour. I can never thank these friends enough. 

Then there was the saddest event of the year: my father's death on October 11, 2017. Having spent the last three years mourning the gradual decline of his mental capabilities, my feeling of loss has been a muted grief. I am thankful that Dad didn't linger in dementia limbo. Even at the end, he was able to enjoy visits from family and friends. He still knew we were his people even if he couldn't always remember our names. 

With all the tumult of 2017, when 2018 rolled around a few days ago I felt particularly reflective. However, before I got around to making a list of new goals, I read an interesting article in The New York Times: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. In it DeSteno claims that "By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept." Why do we fail so miserably when trying to keep our resolutions? According to DeSteno it's because of "our tendency to be shortsighted - to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future." And this is all because of the way we look at willpower as the key to success. The very idea of willpower goes against our own evolutionary path as human beings. Focusing on what DeSteno calls self-focused goals was not what mattered most to humans for most of our history. Instead, what led to our success was "strong social bonds."

So just what advice does DeSteno give to help us achieve our goals? Here's where I found the article most interesting. The author claims that we are ignoring the very tool that will help our success. What is that tool?  "It's our emotions - specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) - that push us to behave in ways that show self-control ." How intriguing.


This idea made me look at one of the biggest resolutions I've ever made: starting a daily writing practice. When I think about what has helped me get up early every morning to write (since August 19, 2013, 1601 days and counting), certainly genuine pride in creating this achievement helps keep me going. That is simple.

But what about gratitude? What part could this emotion play in helping bolster my resolve?  Even though I am not naturally an early riser, the impact of my morning practice has been immense.  I have never felt more like a writer in my life. And without this, Always a Blue House might not have been born. And for that I am grateful.

I know I'm grateful to my writer friends for their support. I know that giving similar support to them them can only enrich my life and help me become a better "literary citizen." (See Ten Kind Suggestions for Being a Literary Citizen post on Women Who Submit blog). I try very hard to be that kind of friend and colleague.  I've just never named it as compassion before.

DeSteno's article gave me a new way of looking at setting resolutions. When contemplating a new goal, I'll try to remember to find not just the reason for that goal but the feeling that drives me. I'm hoping that will help me stick to what I set out to do. 

As for the new year, now I'm struggling to find a reason to be grateful for going on a post-holiday diet. I'd welcome any suggestions for how to feel that!


Celebrating International Women's Day: In the Name of Malala

This year I will finally celebrate International Women's Day.  I have always wanted to commemorate this day, but never have.  I'm not sure what makes today different from the past.  Perhaps it is the fact that my niece Felicity is growing up, and I want a better world for her as she becomes a young woman.  Perhaps it is because I am fed up with the many politicians trying to erode women's rights in our country right now.  Whatever the reason, this is the year.
IWD 100 years
I had always believed International Women's Day to be a modern invention, but discovered it had its beginnings in 1908.  I was amazed - and proud - to find out that it all started with women marching through the streets of New York City to demand shorter work hours, better pay and the right to vote (http://www.internationalwomensday.com). That I didn't know this embarrasses me. After all, I spent quite a few weekends in the 1970's marching for women's rights. Having prided myself on my knowledge of the history of women in our country, obviously I still have a great deal more to learn.  But first I need to get back into action after many years.

How appropriate it is that for my celebration I had already planned to march in San Francisco this afternoon. Once again, women will take to the streets to protest for their rights.  And this time I'll join them. I love this event even more because of the name of the group organizing the march:  WORD.  What writer could resist that?  Not this one.  I want to be there just because of that!

Adding to this synchronicity, I have been reading an anthology of poetry titled Malala: Poems for Malala Yousafzai.  Published by FutureCycle Press, it contains poems written in response to the horrendous shooting in October, 2012 which made Malala a household name as a defender of girl's and women's rights.  The editors Joseph Hutchison and Andrea L. Watson have compiled  an inspiring collection of poems sparked by Malala's courage in the face of brutality.

This beautiful book contains many poems illuminated by too many powerful lines to mention.  However, here are a few that particularly struck me.  Such as these from Ode by Judith Terzi:  "She is a luminous lagoon./She is our hands, our pen".  Or "Malala, there is music in your name/and something bitter between your teeth/that, swallowed, turns sweet" in Letter of Intent to Adopt by Barbara Rockman.  And this from A Young Girl by Ed Baker: "no easy way to gain the freedom/to explore-/a young woman bravely goes"  

Isn't that what makes Malala's story so poignant to us all?  Few of us would have the extraordinary courage of that young school girl.  We only can feel awe that she was brave enough to do what we fear we couldn't have.  

All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Malala Fund, an organization dedicated to fighting for girls' education around the world.  As Joseph Hutchinson asks in his foreward, "Is it possible, too, that one poet, one pen, and one poem can change the world?" I believe such change can happen. The poems in this book are proof. I'm glad I bought it.

So today, as a poet and a teacher and a woman who hopes for the freedom to travel the world, I am marching for Malala.  And for all the young women she represents.  It is the least I can do.  Happy International Women's Day!

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen
can change the world.”
“Malala Day” speech to the United Nations
July 12, 2013

100 Days

On August 24th, I wrote about my experiences at the AROHO Writer's Retreat in my post "Open the Door."  In part I wrote:  I want to stay on my writing path, just as I stayed true to the trail up to Chimney Rock.  I opened that door at the AROHO retreat, and so far have been walking my writing path during this first week back at teaching.  And I'm determined to keep going.

Well, here I am on Day 100 of my new writing practice.  In the last 100 days I have gotten up a half hour early to write. When I realized this, I was reminded of how elementary teachers celebrate the 100th day of school with their students by computing all sorts of statistics about school, so here is my list:

  • I have gotten up for every morning for 100 days.
  • I have written for 50 hours in those mornings (and sometimes more on the weekends).
  • I have drunk 100 cups of tea from my thermos.
  • I have filled 3 1/2 notebooks (and just started a new one).
  • I have written 10 poems.
  • I have written 1 essay.
  • I have written 2 short memoir pieces.
  • I have read 4 books of poetry by fellow AROHO writers Diane Gilliam, Ruth Thompson, Barbara Rockman and Leslie Ullman.
  • I have written an estimated 200 words per page (since I am one of those neat freaks who fill the entire surface of every page with writing, I was able to extrapolate this amount by counting the words on a random number of pages).
When I first went to the AROHO retreat in 2011, I bought a stone with an eclipse symbol carved into it:  a moon and sun joined together.  I read that this is a symbol of merging opposites, representing unity and compromise instead of conflict.  I envisioned that stone as a symbol of how I want to join my two sides:  writer and teacher. 

I talked to my new AROHO friend, Tania Pryputniewicz about my dilemma in the Albuquerque Airport.  I made a pact with her that I would write every afternoon after returning from school.  Did I keep it up? Nope.  I found my mind too filled with all the noise of the day to keep myself writing.

Then this year, at the Albuquerque Airport once again, I made another pact with Barbara Yoder. This time I vowed that I would get up early every day.  I had been resisting this idea for years, but had finally faced the fact that early morning was the only time I could reliably call all my own.  Did I think I would be able to do it?  I admit I was skeptical. I still doubted myself.  But here I am 100 days later...

Now that I've finally given myself the gift of time, I feel I've  joined those two sides of myself.  Although there are many times of conflict when the stresses of teaching keep my from writing as much as I wish, I now know I can always find that morning time to sit quietly with the my notebook. 

So on this day before Thanksgiving, I can only say thank you to all the wonderful women writers of AROHO who have helped me find my way.