The camera phone and the dilettante photographer – Part I

I come from a long line of woman photographers, one of whom was even talented enough to earn money at it around the turn of the last century. (That would be great great Grandma Atta, who was also an avid fisherwoman with scoliosis who used her crutches to swing over streams and keep her hems dry, and who also, BTW, divorced a difficult husband in an age when that just wasn’t done and raised three girls on her own. I would love, love, love to have known this woman but must settle for her genes instead.)

And while the family photographic enthusiasm has continued unabated through the generations, the skill seems to have peaked with Atta so that the ratio of good pictures to bad has steadily fallen. Which is a bummer for me and my brother since we’re the family photo archivists who have to store the vast cache of pictures and slides for their historical value, no matter how bad they are.

How many sunsets, Grandma? Really?

Fortunately for the children that will follow me, though, things have gone digital and it’s now easy-peasey to delete the hundreds of bad photos I have to take in order to get one that’s at least semi-interesting. And since, like my mothers before me, I favor taking pictures of landscapes and objects rather than living, breathing family members (reducing the genealogical value to pretty much zero), it’ll also be easy-peasey for said daughters to store everything on a single thumbdrive that can then be easily overlooked in a box and accidentally tossed without every having to feel guilty about it the way that I have.

I’m a big, big fan of digital.

Anyway, I’ve been collecting a variety of snapshots on my camera phone for a while now and lately wondering what, oh what, to do with them? Then, today, I found a blog post on the site of one of my favorite bloggers, Coming to terms with my iPhone – Part I over at Rangewriter – What Comes Next?and suddenly I remembered that I, too, have a blog! Cobwebby with neglect, true, but still, a blog. So I, too, can post my photographs online where they’ll be stored…nay, immortalized…forever and ever, despite any deplorable lapse in appreciation or taste on the part of my careless, self-absorbed, future daughters.

(Then again, is a little bit of guilt really so bad?)

So here’s one taken late last winter when the water levels in Lucky Peak reservoir were still quite low.

Lucky Peak Beached boat

Whoops. Did somebody forget something?

And then here’s another shot of Lucky Peak reservoir on a weathery sort of day, also last winter. (Where my grandmother loved sunsets, I love blustery skyscapes…which also all tend to look the same after awhile, as you’ll probably notice in future posts. Consider this a disclaimer.)

Lucky Peak dramatic lighting

copyright Dia Osborn 2015

Editor’s note: I got a photographic editing suggestion from Rangewriter (who’s a serious photographer BTW)!! Time to step up my game a little and try something new.  Here’s the beached boat again only with a little less sand to cross to get to it. Easier. (Like feet, like eyes I guess. Makes sense.)

Lucky Peak Beached boat

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Random Hot Tip About Dying #1 and Follow Through

Finish

(This photo is borrowed from an excellent post on the blog Prof KRG dealing with the same challenge from a different angle.  Useful stuff, here.)  

There are two things I’d like to cover in this post:

1)  Finishing (or not) what I start.

2) Explaining Hot Tip #1 About Dying from my last post as I (hinted suggested prevaricated half-promised wiggled and sleazed) mentioned I might.

Finishing what I start.

Follow through, where writing is concerned, is not my strong point.  I know it.  My writer’s group knows it.  Anyone who’s seen the three-year old I gotta copyright it for the book, man… notice in my sidebar and yet can find nothing else about the book anywhere on this blog has probably figured it out by now.  I’m in serious danger of turning into a writer’s cautionary tale, an Aesop’s fable about what happens when you never actually finish any of the writing you start.  (Hint: You eventually turn into a fattening, graying dilettante who spends the rest of her life writing flashy first chapters and then basking in the dwindling number of wows she gets from the dwindling number of readers who have a dwindling tolerance level for that kind of tease.)

I’m not there yet although my fear of it is rising exponentially because I’ve just launched my fourth major assault in six years on this book I’m trying to write.  It’s morphed from non-fiction into creative non-fiction into fiction.  From a kind of helpful guide into a memoir into an imaginary story.  It looks nothing…nothing…like any previous version and deep down I’m now terrified that I’m just swimming around in circles but consoling myself that at least I’m covering a lot of miles.

There are only two possibilities left:  Either it’s a structural/voice problem as I keep telling myself, or it’s a basic discipline/courage problem.

And actually, as I was writing the above I realized it’s both.  But the second problem is bigger.

It’s not that I don’t spend hours writing everyday, I do.  My butt time is duly noted and logged every morning just like it’s supposed to be.  No.  The problem is that I spend those hours writing, then rewriting, then micro-rewriting the same sentence/paragraph/page over and over again because I’m absolutely terrified of writing something that will make me look stupid/bad/inept/untalented, and because it’s a whole lot less risky to edit than create.  (Like right now I’m thinking of shelving this post because it’s already too long and who cares about my writing process anyway you narcissist and why can’t I just distill it into the heart and soul of the thing instead of using three million fucking words for a blog post and I’ve now reread/tweaked this paragraph seven times because I’m too scared to keep going…you get the picture.)

This has got to change.  Today I’ll take a stab at it with a baby step.  I’ll follow through on something I wanted to do after my last blog post, which brings me to my second object with this post:

Explaining Random Hot Tip About Dying #1 from my last post.  For those who don’t remember, the tip goes something like this:

“Dying is as much a gift as it is a punishment.  Pick which view to invest in carefully as it will affect your entire life.”

The gift-part can be a little difficult to see, especially if you’re not that familiar with dying. But there are actually a lot of gifts and they tend to be profound.

(Like, for instance, if I never finish my book at least I’ll eventually die and be done with it.)

I’m kidding…kind of…but it’s still true.  For me, as a long-time depressive, the knowledge that none of the dark periods I cycle through can last forever has lent me endurance more times than I can count, and actually saved my life on the two hardest days when I finally lost hope.

The dying people I worked with gave me another gift I’ll never be able to repay. It was while I was with them, listening to all the stories about living from those facing certain death, that I finally learned the secret of  how to long for my own life.

They also taught me about how dying can be a final act of generosity, a way of saying I’ve loved this life so dearly but have taken enough for myself. It’s someone else’s turn now, to come into the world and stand where I’ve stood, to love what I’ve loved. Thank you.

And in allowing me to watch the way their beautiful, tender, wasting bodies were unravelling and vanishing they taught me about the difference between life and Life.  How biological existence is one kind of luminous miracle, how the consciousness rising within it is a second, and how the love those two things wind up generating between them is the third and greatest miracle that transcends and outlasts them both.

But I’m getting mystical again…which, honestly, I can’t really help but need to at least try and curb a little.

In any case, these are just a handful of the gifts that I discovered about dying.  There are more, lots more, but in the end each person has to delve in and discover their own, and they’ll be different for everyone.  It’s worth the effort because it can help to change the lifelong prospect of dying from something horrible, unnecessary, miserable, and bleak to something that’s a little more helpful, even nourishing, to the life we get to live until then.

So that’s it.  I’ve actually finished follow-up baby step #1!  My confidence is building.

Next up: A post explaining Random Hot Tip About Dying #2 which goes something like this:

“Accepting dying might not always make it easier when it comes, but being horrified is guaranteed to make it worse.”  

Now if I can just press the publish button I’ll be in business.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

When A Comment’s Better Than The Original Post

“Without love, a decent world does not exist.”

Well, amen.  Doesn’t that just say it all?

This gem came out of a comment left on a recent post and I’ll tell you what…a good commenter is worth their weight in gold.  Comments in general are great and deeply appreciated but, still, every once in a while something comes along that really grabs my heart and wrings it.  A couple more recent examples:

From Alice in the Cities:

“Oh, and he did speak just before he died. He saw his brother in the doorway twice and said happily that he was waiting for him.”

From Cindy’s Cancers:

 “I was very afraid of dying but after being inpatient at hospice I saw that they can and will make sure that I don’t suffer. Now I can continue to enjoy what time I have left.”

And lastly, here’s one more from the same guy mentioned above, Robert Brownbridge*:

“Immortality is optimally reached if and when we have loved fully and well.”

(*Robert Brownbridge is a poet and the author of a memoir about the Korean war called Into War With An Empty Gun.)

There have been more along the way.  Comments that were beautiful or honest or simple or insightful or thought provoking or surprising or just plain fun.  Maybe from now on I’ll try and throw them up like this whenever they come along.  Or maybe put up a page specifically for them called Comments Better Than The Post.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Immortality or Purgatory: What Will Happen To Our Online-Selves When We Die?

gravestone

Photo by R Neil Marshman

I received a comment Sunday morning that shook me up in a way that surprised me.  It was on a post about fecal transplants I wrote a couple of years ago that has continued to get a lot of hits over time, mainly, it seems, from people suffering with the C. difficile epidemic now sweeping the globe.

Some of these people left comments on the post and one was from a man named Jay who shared his battle with C. diff. in some detail.  He’d finally found a doctor willing to do the fecal transplant procedure for him and he promised to come back afterwards and share the results.  That was in May of 2012.

He never returned and, honestly, I never thought about him after that.  Over the years this blog has developed a handful of regular followers with a few more who pop in and out for occasional visits, but mostly I get one time visitors.  I didn’t realize how inured I’d become to this fleeting contact, or how much I’d fallen into thinking about most of my visitors as clicks rather than real people living their fragile and luminous lives out there.

But then I woke up Sunday morning, groped through the usual morning fog for my phone while the coffee was brewing, and saw the fecal transplant post had received another comment.  When I clicked through to read it I discovered it was from one of Jay’s surviving loved ones, Cindy.  She wanted to let me know that Jay never came back to post his results because, even though his transplant procedure had been a brilliant success, he died of complications from another procedure a little while later.

Her comment startled and instantly sobered me.  It knocked me out of my safe, cozy, Sunday morning cocoon into a place with a much larger perspective.  There I sat, looking down at the careful, gracious words of a flesh and blood woman who was actually sitting out there somewhere in the world, bending over her keyboard in great loss and pain, and suddenly, through her, Jay ceased to be just a flat, old blog comment I’d mostly forgotten about.  In that moment his online-self merged with his solid, physical self and made him very real for me.

I’ve run across a few blogs over the years that just stopped with no explanation of why.  I always assumed these bloggers grew bored or busy and just abandoned it, but now I wonder how many of them might have physically died leaving their blog-selves in some weird, digital purgatory.  If there isn’t a surviving loved one like Cindy who’s willing, able, and given all the right passwords and permissions to update our blogs and social media sites after we die, then instead of basking in an honored, online immortality of sorts, our digital selves will probably just be cast into limbo…unfinished, unremarked, and unmourned.

But (to me anyway) what’s even more important is that if we don’t take time to make some kind of plan for our sites before we die, then it could potentially cause a lot of confusion and pain for our surviving loved ones.  A person’s Facebook wall can evidently turn into something of a free-for-all when they die and the internet as a whole is still the wild, wild west where digital afterlife is concerned.  It’s something that bears thinking about.

The truth is if Cindy hadn’t found me and let me know, it wouldn’t have taken anything away from my life.  The sum total of contact between Jay and I consisted of one comment and one reply.  It was at most a mild and civil encounter, like a pleasant exchange with someone at an information desk.

But because she had the grace to follow-up for this man that she loved, my life was unexpectedly enriched.  She and, through her, Jay gave me the opportunity to have a Whoa! moment that knocked me out of my busy, triviality-consumed head for a few moments back into my heart and deeper humanity.  I want that kind of interruption in my life.  I want to be reminded that life is priceless and delicate and brief.  And a comment like Cindy’s also inspires me to strive for the same kind of thoughtfulness and grace so I, too, can pass it forward.  You just never know how that kind of thing might touch or help someone else.

Thank you Jay and Cindy.  Please accept my loving thoughts and deepest condolences in your time of sorrow.

I looked around and found a few links to different articles and online resources that I found insightful and/or helpful.  They all shed light on some of the developing ethics of, and how to prepare for and manage, our digital afterlives.  Like wills and advanced directives, it’s something worth thinking about for those we’ll be leaving behind.

Articles:

Online Life After Death Faces Legal Uncertainty

Death on Facebook Now Common as “Dead Profiles” Create Vast Virtual Cemetery

Guides:

How To Prepare For Your Online Afterlife  A 12-step guide to getting your virtual affairs in order.

The Digital Beyond  A resource for online services designed to help plan for the digital afterlife.

Online Memorials

On Decoration Day

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Sparkles and Shadows

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Happy New Year!

First, an update.  My blog is falling apart.  I upgraded last summer to a level way beyond my expertise and now less and less is working with each successive update.  I finally gave up this morning and stuffed an S.O.S. in a bottle for WordPress support staff in the desperate hope they can help me return to my old blog domain.

Please Wizards…I want to go home.   I just want to go home.  (Click heels together three times and repeat.)

Hopefully things will improve soon and I’ll be able to comment on other people’s blogs again!  In the meantime, please keep your toes, eyes, and fingers crossed for me.

On another topic, the hubster and I ran away to the mountains again for the week between Christmas and New Years and spent our afternoons briskly snowshoeing.  I brought my trusty camera phone with me to take pictures but soon abandoned the attempt because it was such a pain to stop, sink my poles, remove my gloves, unzip my jacket and then my pocket, take out the phone with frozen, clumsy fingers, find the camera app, take a picture, then do all the above again in reverse.  Every time.  We were getting nowhere really fast.

Here are the ones I did get.  Nothing that truly captures the beauty of the place (I’m no photographer) but enough to hint.  A high settled in while we were up there so conditions were crystal clear and brutally cold…great for sparkles and shadows.

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And, as always, the view out the front door of the cabin.  (Sorry, but I just never get tired of this shot.)

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Here’s to the challenges and adventures of the coming year!  Good luck to us all.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

A Little Interview With Mr. Will To Live

(This beautiful guy is Hotei, the god of happiness.)

Since I’ve gotten serious about finishing the book I’m spending a lot less time in Blogland so first, I’d like to offer my sincerest apologies to anyone living solely for my next post.  How some people whip out well-researched, erudite, interesting posts a few times a week (or even…gasp…daily) while simultaneously self-publishing multiple books and promoting them is beyond me.  I can’t even type that fast.

Where the book is concerned, I’m currently taking a tip from that wildest of writers, Jack London, to heart.  He claims:

You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.

Accordingly, first thing each morning I get out of bed, pick up my club, give it a swing or two for warm up, then sit down at the laptop and dutifully beat on it for an hour.  I figure this way if inspiration ever strikes at my house, at least it won’t be hitting an empty chair.

But my blog-attention has clearly suffered as a result and just in case anyone 1) noticed or 2) cared, I thought I should at least offer an explanation.

And there you have it.  Now on to today’s topic of the will to live.

Lately during club hours I’ve been having some long, thoughtful conversations with an on-again/off-again companion of mine called Mr. Will To-Live.

Mr. Will has mentioned that he’s enjoying our talks enormously as most of the time people seem to take him for granted.  Well not so, me.  I’ve always found him fascinating in the most elusive of ways.

He tells me that, depending on a variety of factors, he shows up a little differently for each person; sometimes strong and pulsing, sometimes erratic, sometimes frail and tenuous, and in a handful of hardship cases like mine, fractured to the point of being almost useless at times.

I asked Mr. Will what factors determine the quality of a person’s will to live and he cocked his head to one side and thought about it for a moment, then ran through this quick sampling:

1)  the will to live has both nature and nurture components to it.  Everyone is born with some degree of a will to live, but no matter how weak or strong it is starting out, it can always change.  (In other words, don’t get too cocky on the one hand or lose hope on the other.)

2)  the will to live puts down most of its root system in childhood so it needs to be fed lots of good, yummy stuff during that period.  A few things that the will to live loves are:

     a)  safety (this lets a child know that they are very, very worth protecting)

     b)  kindness (this allows a child to unfurl all of their amazing, tender, new shoots)

     c)  encouragement (this tells the child that it’s perfectly okay to want things, even a lot)

     d)  freedom to explore (this confirms that the world really is a curious, interesting, worthwhile place to be)

     e)  tolerance for mistakes (this lets a child know that of course they can keep trying)

     f)  a lap and strong arms when things go wrong (this teaches a child that help is a good thing.)

3)  However, if a person reaches adulthood with a gimp sort-of will to live like mine, there are still things that can strengthen it.   A few of them are:

     a) finding someone or something to love (we can continue to stay alive for others even when we’ve lost all desire for ourselves)

     b)  finding a purpose (having something meaningful to accomplish will up anybody’s endurance levels by multiples of ten)

     c)  finding something to fight against or spite (hate and anger can provide powerful reasons to live but have seriously debilitating side-effects. Use with caution.)

     d)  and lastly…service of just about any kind (bringing joy, comfort, aid, companionship or meaning to others in need can nourish not only their will to live but, mysteriously, one’s own.  A marvelous trick, no?)

Service has the additional benefit of inviting Ms. Longing For Life into the room…the wind-beneath-the-wings and beautiful close cousin of Mr. Will To Live.   Hopefully, I’ll be able to secure an interview with her for a future post.

In the meantime I’d like to thank Mr. Will To Live for his time and valuable insights and encourage everyone to try nourishing him with one of his favorite foods once a day.  (Children aren’t the only ones who thrive with a little extra safety, kindness, encouragement, etc.)  It can at least bring a little lift to someone’s day and at best totally turn things around.

copyright 2012 Dia Osborn

New Everything: The Earliest Stage Of Resolve

Today, in keeping with my new burst of enthusiasm to actually finish the book, I opted to drive down the stake of a unique and personal domain name.  (In other words I dropped the “wordpress” out of the URL.)  The address for the book and the blog are now the same and official:

acuriouscure.com.

To tell you the truth, the change felt a little intoxicating.  Like first rum.  It was all so new and different and kind of spring-break-name-gone-wild and I got all wound up.  In a burst of total abandon, I changed the header picture and then the theme, too.  And believe me, if I knew how to change anything…anything…else on the site I would.  But for now my lack of technical expertise will keep the rest of my clothes on.

So anyway, that’s why everything looks a little different today.

BTW, the alligator sculpture in the header above is my newest and most prized-of-all-prized art pieces.  And I know, she really belongs in a big fountain, or a bed of deep periwinkle, or on the nightstand next to my bed as primeval protector of dreams, but for now I can’t bear to have her out of sight for that long.

So instead she’s hanging out on the hearth next to the wood burning stove, right in the center of the house.  That way every time I forget she’s there, and then walk around the corner and catch her out of the corner of my eye again, my stomach can do another flip flop and I go…what the…?!!  before I remember.

She’s that real looking.  I love her.

Here’s a full view:

Ma belle.

Someone Else Wrote My Book. What Now?

I’ve been working on a book about my time with hospice for about five years now–or rather working on it for two years and then procrastinating for three.  On the advice of an agent, I originally started this blog to build an author platform and then got hijacked.  Publishing blog posts is a lot more fun and immediate than slogging away for years on a book that may or may not ever see the light of day.

But while I was thusly blog-distracted, some upstart hospice nurse back east snuck under the police tape and wrote my book before I could finish.  It’s called Transitions by Becki Hawkins and, while I haven’t read the book yet, I did read the press release:

For the most part modern western culture has distanced itself from the celebratory and positive aspects of the dying process, instead either ignoring it, or focusing on only the negative aspects of death…Becki felt there was another more joyous and beautiful side that she was learning from her patients that she wanted to share with others.

That’s exactly what I was going to say.  Shit.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  There does lurk an altruistic/decent person inside me who says thank god and good on her for getting the word out when I was too lazy and undisciplined to get it done.  Ms. Hawkins’s accomplishment is everything good and noble and generous, and Transitions is a wonderful boon to the world and thank you a million times over for writing it.  There.

But I’d be lying if I said there isn’t also a poisonous/jealous writer in a dark corner of my soul, nursing a double and hissing a pox on her for stealing my idea.  (Inner writers are all neurotic, not just mine. Hold the stones please.)

So what now?  Do I shoot my languishing book in the head and put it out of its misery once and for all?  Or do I buck up and take the immortal words (and graphics) of Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds to heart?

Well, I’m either a writer or a masochist because I printed this puppy off and taped it up on half the cupboards and all the mirrors in the house.  Guess I’m still in.

The other voice haunting me belongs to the ever wise and balanced Linda over at Rangewriter, and in its own way, is both finer and more compelling.  After being informed that my book was already written, she thought about it for a second then gently asked:

“Do you think one book on this topic is really enough?”

That sobered me.  I looked up from my whiskey and suddenly recalled this one basic truth I heard about writing once that I’d somehow forgotten:

Everything under the sun has already been written about before.  There is no…NO…such thing as a new topic.  Ever.  There are only new voices to express them in different ways, and each one of those voices is important because there’s at least one reader waiting out there that only that voice can reach.

So, do I really think that one book about the joyous and beautiful side of dying is enough?  That Ms. Hawkins and Transitions can (or should) carry the entire burden alone from here?  That all the mindless terror of dying out there in the world has now been forever eased?

Probably not.

But truly, even if her book WAS enough–even if that one truth I know about writing turned out to be sheer self-delusion and there wasn’t really a lonely reader waiting anywhere out there for my unique voice to reach –I could still fall back on this completely selfish reason and finish my book anyway.  It’s from Mr. Wendig again, from his post 25 Things I Want To Say To So-Called “Aspiring” Writersand comes in at #24:

“As a writer, the world you create is yours and yours alone. Someone will always be there to tell you what you can’t do, but they’re nearly always wrong. You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing.”

Amen to that Chuck.  Back to the keyboard.

copyright 2012 Dia Osborn

Writer’s Block: Why Won’t My Subconscious Talk To Me?

(Thank you M. Strekbett.)

After chronicling our little journey filling out advance directives for the last…six? seven? eight?….weeks, I’m having trouble returning to normal blog-life.  Not only does it look like I’ve lost most of my readership and Blogland friends (…there’s that dying topic at work again…) I can’t think of anything else to write about now.  Full immersion in a topic will do that to you I guess.  Who knew?

So I’ve decided to try a little free-writing to see if I can break the damn.

…whoops.  I mean dam.  Although on second thought, I probably did mean damn (as in why-am-I-so-blocked!?) down there in my subconscious.  But for some reason my conscious mind thought dam was more appropriate.

“Damn?”  Conscious Mind glanced up from his newspaper and raised his eyebrows.  “A little vulgar, don’t you think?”

“Fuck you.”  Subsconscious Mind was used to that kind of bullshit censorship by now.  “It was just a play on words.”

Here’s a thought.  Maybe…just this once…I should say what my subconscious wants me to say instead?  Throw it a crust.  A sop.

“A sop?”  Subconscious Mind tried to change position in the filth on the stone floor but the chains were tangled.  “What a pretentious bitch.”

Conscious Mind folded the paper and set it down on the table, picked up the cattle prod, and stood up.

Who knows? It might actually make it happy.  (What a concept.  A happy subconscious.)  Maybe that’s even the whole problem?  My subconscious is sending up messages and I’m not listening.

Conscious Mind stopped, startled, and glanced up at the ceiling. 

Am I sitting on something?  I should probably do that writing exercise where you write for ten minutes straight without stopping, even if it means just writing the same word over and over again.  See if there’s something there.

Subconscious Mind scrambled to his feet and started yelling.  “Hey!!  Yes!  It’s true, man!  Listen to yourself!”  He yanked the chains in frustration.  “I’ve got good shit down here!  GREAT shit!  Magic swords!  Tiger allies!  Repentant bankers feeding homeless people!  It’s crazy, man!  You could turn the world on its ASS!”

Conscious Mind switched on the cattle prod and started forward again.

I feel like I’ve gotten lost up in my head lately…out of my heart.  Where did the magic and compassion go anyway?  I miss that voice.

‘I can make you FLY, man!!  I can make you GLOW!!”  Subconscious Mind was screaming and waving his arms frantically at this point.  “I CAN HELP YOU FUCKING SLEEP!!!”

Maybe I’d finally get a good night’s sleep?  Wake up rested for a change.  Fuck!  How great would that be?!

Conscious Mind froze and Subconscious Mind held his breath.

Shit!  Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Time to start listening to my subconscious again, man!  I’ve let my inner critic get completely out of control.  What was I thinking?

The cattle prod flew out of Conscious Mind’s hands and he staggered back as if shoved.

I NEED my subconscious…

The shackles snapped open and fell from the wrists of Subconscious Mind.  In one swift motion he stooped, picked up a handful of fresh feces, and threw it at Conscious Mind. 

…AND my conscious mind to work together!

But the feces missed and splattered against the wall.

Otherwise, I’ll just be writing a bunch of nonsensical shit that doesn’t make any sense and, really, isn’t there enough of that out there already?

They both looked over at the newspaper headline on the jailer’s table, RUSH LIMBAUGH APOLOGIZES, and the tension in the room broke.  Subconscious Mind grinned and Conscious Mind relaxed, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

So.  If I now go back to the original sentence that started this whole thing:

So I’ve decided to try a little free-writing to see if I can break the damn.

…which word would I really rather use?  Dam or damn?

Conscious Mind walked over and unlocked the massive timber door, swinging it back on it’s iron hinges.  He stepped back and gestured for Subconscious Mind to pass through.  Sub took one last look at his corner then walked out, clapping his shit smeared hand on Conscious’s shoulder and wiping it across the front of his white shirt as he passed.

Okay then.  Damn it is.  

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Epiloque:

Con paused briefly and shook his head as the pungent fumes wafted up from his chest.  He chuckled and grabbed the cattle prod.  

“Hey, Sub!  Wait up,” he called, taking the steps two at a time. “You forgot something.”

But in the final draft, it would probably have to be dam.

Another Break: Delightful Snowflakes

Okay.  I needed a break from advance directives and just found a good one:

A friend sent me a link to Have A Beauty Filled Day, a blog full of photographs and insights…two of my favorite things.  Christine Young, the author/photographer, takes her inspiration not only from the natural world, but often from the tiny natural world…which I particularly adore.

Here are a couple pics taken (with permission and a link) from a post entitled Flaky:

There are more photos.  This is only an appetite whetter.

(Also, for anyone wondering, this is what magic used to look like before it was roped and domesticated by Merlin, Houdini, Penn and Teller, and the rest of those guys.  Hard to recognize, no?  I think it’s the simplicity of it that fools most people.  There was often simple magic happening around dying people, too, which is perhaps why I recognize it.)

Check out the blog if you get a chance.  It’s a delight.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Blip From The Book and A Love Story That Feeds The Earth

I’m participating in a tele-writing workshop which runs through the middle of January so I’m transferring most of my writing attention over to the book for the next six weeks.  (A badly needed redirection I might add.  As most of you probably know, blogging can get a little addictive.)

What I thought I’d do to keep up here is post bits and pieces of whatever I’m currently working on for the book as well as (of course) any other odd and unrelated beauties I stumble over during one of my inevitable distracted periods.  Today, I have one of each:

Here’s a passage from the book that talks about what I went through after the first time I told someone they were dying:

“But even though that’s what I would have preferred, there was no time left for it.  To question slowly requires time, but what if Elsa wanted to know before it was too late?  What if she wanted me to tell her?  What if she said that to me because she saw me as a person who would be straight with her and deliver the news, bad as it was?  Someone who would help her understand what was happening and alleviate her growing confusion?  Help her back to the core and strength of who she was; a woman who preferred the truth.  Who preferred straight dealing.  Who didn’t want anyone to protect or pity her.  A woman who needed someone to respect her strength and treat her like a competent human being rather than an invalid.

There were other times, other days, when I offered slow questions.  Like the day I asked her if she knew that I worked for hospice, or the day I asked if she believed in an afterlife.  Those questions were my bait, asked with the hope of luring her into a conversation about what was happening to her, but on those days she clearly didn’t want to know.  She shrugged them off and changed the subject, letting me know she wasn’t willing to discuss it. 

And I respected that.  I wasn’t attached to her believing that she was dying.  I had no problem with her passing away in the midst of denial if that’s what she preferred.  I was a little uncomfortable when she talked about all the things she’d do when she got better, uncomfortable pretending…but not much.  If that’s what she felt like she needed then I was O.K. with it. 

After all, it was about her.  Not me.

But then that moment came and it blindsided me, when she finally wondered.  When she looked at her belly and stroked her long-fingered hands softly along the sides and said in that small, bewildered voice, “I don’t know why I’m not getting better this time.”  And for one brief, fraught moment she was clearly lost.  Vulnerable.  As if she’d thought she was traveling through familiar terrain and suddenly looked up to find herself in strange surroundings.  Pausing. Suddenly uncertain.  Puzzling softly.

“It’s never lasted this long before.”

It was a fork in the road.  A split second when she could have gone either way, back into denial or forward into truth.  For a heartbeat, a blink, a breath she was open.  Lined up.  In range.  Positioned to receive a message should one happen to come and in that brief moment the responsibility for making a choice of whether to send that message or not fell on my shoulders.

Fuck.

In the moment it seemed so simple…because I would have wanted the truth if it was me, because she had just told me how she preferred straight dealing, because that was how we had been with each other all along…I chose to tell her that it looked like it was her time to go.  That she was dying.  And because it was my choice, my responsibility, and my burden, I was required to look into her eyes and see what it means to strike a mortal blow.  To snuff out hope.  To feel her hand suddenly slip from mine and watch her fall silently away into a dark abyss, her eyes stricken, locked on mine as she grew smaller and smaller.

Is that my penance here?  Is that the asking price for dabbling around the brink of infinity?  Is it a stern reminder that I need to tread more carefully?  That grace is love, yes, but also incomprehensibly vast and unknown and terrifying?  Somewhere in the back of Elsa’s eyes I saw something looking back out at me and warning:  Be careful, Dia.  Always be careful with one another.

Was I wrong to say anything?  Should I have withheld the information and kept my mouth shut?  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

I don’t know.”

Breathe…don’t forget to breathe.

And then here is an oddly beautiful thing I found and just had to share.  It’s a video by Louis Schwartzberg called Wings of Life that “is inspired by the vanishing of one of nature’s primary pollinators, the honeybee.”  It’s absolutely breathtaking…slow motion cinematography of brief and tiny lives…and I highly recommend watching it if you’re feeling any heaviness after reading the above blip.  It’s really just all part of the same Life, y’know?

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

That “thing” in the header

Someone has finally asked about it.  I was beginning to wonder.  It’s been up for the last…what?…nineteen months now, and just when I was concluding from the uninterrupted silence that nobody else found it as arresting as I do, Nel over at Life’s Infinite Possibilities (with stunning headers of her own btw) said…

What’s that “thing” (for lack of a better word) on your header?

Here she is in full.

I believe she was an arthropod of some kind but I can’t be more specific than that.  I found her exposed just as pictured, over on the coastline of the Olympic Peninsula three or four years ago. A seagull–or perhaps one of the many eagles that inhabit the place, I don’t know–had taken a couple bites out of her before being interrupted, maybe by the hubster and I as we meandered up the shore.

By the time I reached her side, she was still alive but mortally wounded. I found her extraordinarily beautiful…the colors so vibrant on an overcast, dreary March day that they took my breath away.  She was a tiny, dying spot of brilliance in a wild landscape of muted grays.

She also vaguely reminded me of female genitalia.  Like orchids do, only with an arthropod’s twist.  It both tickled my sense of humor and made me ache for her vulnerability all the more.

After I took the photograph I cupped her oh-so-gently in my hands, walked down to the water, and placed her right-side up again in the sea. She curled a little when she felt the stones beneath her…the cradling of the water…and I like to think she was happier there. Safer. Like the difference between dying peacefully at home, surrounded by the familiar and loved, versus upside down and alone in a car crash on the side of an anonymous interstate.

Here she is right-side up and back in the sea.

A little farther down the beach we also found a dead seal that was only beginning to decompose.

I originally planned to use this photo in the header but it never felt right.  Looking back now I think it’s because my primary focus here is on dying rather than death.  Both are profoundly beautiful to me, but with as much as I love the stars and stillness of deep night, it’s the elusive magic of twilight…that impossible alchemy that occurs as something is changing its very state of being into something else…that haunts me.  I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to transitional environments like coastlines and twilight hikes and storms and hospice. Because they provide portals into the strange, limbo world of transmutation where I can then observe and try to document its mechanics, firsthand.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

The Difference Between Email Forwards and Blog Forwards

Snopes.com

In my pre-blog life I was a serial email forwarder, an affliction which had a few stages to it.  (Did anyone else go through these or was it just me?)

1)  There was that heady flush of realization as I started receiving my first forwards. Whoa! Did you see all the information and creativity just floating around out there?!  Stuff that I’d no idea existed and no access to before my first email account.  At this point I knew…I just knewI had to pass it all along.

2)  Followed by the scary warning email phase.  (Predators in mall parking lots, governments publishing cell phone numbers to marketers, flashing headlights gang initiations…oh my!!)  I passed these on because I cared dammit.  I cared!

3)  Hard on the heels of this came the righteous discovery of Snopes and other urban myth websites (for which everyone on my contacts list was deeply grateful.)

4)  After which I turned to the jokes and inspiration lists…with one caveat.  I would not, not, forward chain emails.  The “send this to ten people and something amazing (or terrible) will happen” type.  These things are totally passive aggressive and, really, I must draw the line at guilt.

5)  Then came Videos.

6)  After which I reached the Links stage, the final phase.  This was the point at which I’d grown from a forwarding sapling to a mature tree, achieving maximum speed and efficiency.  I discovered I could litter the inbox of everyone I knew with simple URLs, like seeds, that they could then open and read for themselves.  (Or not.  Usually not.)

I was completely out of hand and knew I needed intervention.  So when a professional contact suggested I start a blog, the idea fell on fertile ground.  (I guess this is also the creation story of how The Odd and Unmentionable came into being…The Odd Book of Genesis.)  And it worked.  I had a new focus and my forwarding days came to an abrupt and blessed end.

But wait.  Did they?  Have I really stopped passing along ideas, humor, creativity, and information or have I now reached the most respectable (and respectful) phase of this impulse?

As I was preparing today’s post I realized I’m still forwarding other people’s ideas and creativity in various blog posts, only now I’m 1) doing it with full acknowledgement and links back to the source, and 2) placing it into the public arena where the horse can drink at will (rather than bombarding anyone foolish enough to trust me with their email address.)

I guess that ole’ desire to share just won’t be denied.  Nor should it be of course.  I shudder to imagine a world where we were all gagged and no longer able to trade insights.  That would be hell.

So, for today’s forward, here’s a moving and provocative piece I found blog-forwarded over at Rangewriter.  (Linda covers a broad range of topics.  The common thread to all her posts is the consistently thoughtful, beautiful writing.  Wander her blog if you get a chance.)

Because her post was perfect just the way it was, I lifted the whole post…with her permission…and re-posted (i.e. forwarded) it here.  So, from Bronnie to Bill to Linda to me to you:

Bronnie Ware’s Essay (from Rangewriter)

I came across the following essay on A Dying Man’s Daily Journal. (Quick editor’s note:  Another amazing blog.  Worth checking out.)  He had reposted it from an email he recieved. It is so perfect and so central to what I believe, that I want to share it and pass the word. Thank you, Bill.

By Bronnie Ware

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying. Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”
-Frederick Koenig

Thanks to everyone involved in this chain of insights, especially those who were dying.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Childhood Portrait Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and A Question Of Emotional Endurance

I’m the baby, fair budding to become a sunflower, second from left.  The young Queen Mother to my right is my only sister, while the boy doing the Winston Churchill imitation to her right is my middle brother.  Then there is the Eldest on the far left dignifying the portrait with his expression of Supreme Effort.  The youngest among us (who recently discovered this little treasure) was not yet born.

ABOUT WRITING:

LAST WEEK I RAN AWAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever missed posting on or around my Friday deadline.  Not a first-time I’m proud of or would like to repeat anytime soon.  I know there are tools available for scheduling a post to publish even when I’m gone so really, there’s no excuse.  (Not that I think it’s a life or death issue but still, the discipline is important for me as a writer.  So, note to self: research “scheduled publishing” tool and use it at least once before the end of the month.)

There.  Now on to the Easter Portrait.

ABOUT THE PHOTO:

My youngest brother became Guardian of the Box of Old Photos when my mother died a couple years ago and, during the ensuing sifting, has turned up a couple of gems like the one above.  We had no idea this thing existed.  Indeed, there are a whole series of Easter portraits that he’s uncovered, with a wide variety of outdoor backdrops (let’s play Guess What Military Base We Were Stationed At!), but this one clearly takes the cake.

The photo is of us but actually speaks volumes about my mother.  She was, like most women of her generation, trying to keep up with Jackie-O and, other than at Easter, we were always dressed in jeans and t-shirts, a fact that makes this snapshot-of-an-age even more absurd and delightful.

Ultimately though, I think it’s the accident of lighting that makes it most striking–we’re so illuminated it looks surreal, like we slipped down the rabbit hole in a string of held-hands and landed all dressed up in Wonderland.

ABOUT EMOTIONAL ENDURANCE AND THE DYING:

Moving on, I wanted to take a minute to answer a question about my last post.  In her comment afterwards, Linda over at Rangewriter asked what I meant by “emotional endurance.”  I thought it was a great question and, because emotional endurance is such a vital tool for dealing with difficult challenges of any kind, I wanted to address it in a regular post rather than just in the comment section.

Emotional endurance is just what it sounds like; the ability to endure one’s own emotions.  (Obviously, pleasant feelings don’t require much effort.  What I’m talking about are the painful ones like sadness, despair, anger, shame, loss, bitterness, guilt, regret, helplessness, etc.)  This skill was actually prevalent among the older generations but, during the current, unfolding age of budding-pharmaceutical options, has increasingly fallen into disuse.

And unfortunately, as a treat-and-cure cultural mindset has gradually replaced the older accept-and-endure one, the threshold of discomfort, pain, or uncertainty most people can continue to live and thrive with has fallen considerably.  Now…please.  I’m not saying medical advances aren’t a miraculous gift and blessing; they are.  Anyone who’d want to turn the clock back a century is, in my humble opinion, extreme.

However, there’s also profound value to be had from the old skill of knowing how to contain, endure, and navigate heavy emotions without needing to immediately escape them.  And nowhere was this made clearer to me than in the rooms of the dying.

In hospice I saw person after person after person, (all elders BTW,) deal with levels of emotional pain and loss that absolutely staggered me.  And, with only a couple exceptions, they ultimately did it without requiring antidepressants or a hastened death.  Over the course of their lives these people had somehow learned to navigate huge waves of overwhelm, fear, pain, and sorrow without losing sight of the beauty, love, and value that also populated their end.

I cannot begin to tell you what an eye opener this was for me.  I had no clue…no clue…how much stronger we are than I’d ever imagined, and if I could only pass on one bit of insight from all the wisdom I learned from the dying, that would be it.  Allow me say it one more time, because that’s just how important this is:

We are far, far, FAR stronger than most of us currently understand or believe.  By a multiple of thousands.  I know this, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it.  And I’m not talking about the rare hero, warrior, or saint, either.  (Although they are totally amazing.  Whew…)  No.  I’m talking about the rest of us.  All the ordinary, everyday, getting-along people like you and me that weren’t created for greatness; those of us who just want to raise our families, work a good job, have some hope, and live a decent life.  Us.

What I’d love to see is a cultural return to the recognition and development of this skill for emotional endurance, all the while keeping the growing arsenal of available treatments and interventions ready as back-up, just in case.  Y’know…for those rarer yet dangerous periods when life erupts into something that really is too much, too hard, too destructive, unendurable.

Can you imagine what we’d be capable of, what our lives would be like, what our world could become, with the power of inner endurance and medical relief at our disposal?

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

My Writing: Sometimes I Hate It, Sometimes I Love It

I try not to read my writing at night because I discovered years ago that if I do, I’ll hate it.  Always.  When I’m tired, every word I’ve ever written sounds like shit, and if I make the mistake of reading it too late, I’ll go to sleep feeling like a fraud.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the morning I usually like what I’ve written.  And if I’m drinking coffee, I love it. Caffeine does for my writing what pot used to do for my philosophical discussions in adolescence–it lifts it to a level of brilliant insight (which, sadly, rarely survives the chemical letdown afterwards.)

This daily vacillation, while painful, is at least familiar.  I know it, I deal with it.  I’ve learned how to milk the creative juices that come in the morning and sidestep the mental desert of night.

But I experienced a different kind of downswing this week that caught me unprepared. The Idaho Writer’s Guild here in town sponsored a talk by Lori Wasulchek, an award winning, documentary photographer who just published a moving, exquisite book about the hospice program in Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, called Grace Before Dying.  (I won’t review it here because the self-critic in my head has informed me I’m not good enough.  Just use the link.  Pete Brook does it justice.)

She was inspiring.  Dedicated.  Brilliant and unbelievably hard working.  She walked through fire to bring her book to print because she believes in the value of Angola’s hospice program and what it’s doing for the countless men who are living and dying in there.  She not only created an uplifting work of art that reaffirmed everything best in us, she touched a lot of lives and helped a lot of people along the way.  I left the meeting with her book cradled in my arms, my faith in humanity renewed.  I was high as a kite, energized.  Hopeful for a better future for us all.

And then, about three hours later (as evening rolled around) my trusty, fragile, writer’s ego collapsed and I crashed.  Hard.  The inevitable comparisons began and I spent the next twelve, sleepless hours questioning every word I’ve ever written, everything I’ve ever done, and (while I was at it) my entire reason for being.  I took the earlier post I’d written about Grace Before Dying down off the blog before anyone besides the spammers who never read anything anyway could find it, and then seriously questioned about whether to just take the whole blog down, too.

God.  What a horrible night.  My emotions were painfully, ridiculously extreme.  The good news is they were so extreme I knew I should wait until morning before doing anything I might regret.

Sure enough, dawn eventually came and, with the help of a little sunlight and caffeine, I regained a more moderate perspective.  (Although even coffee couldn’t completely dispel the angst.)  After a rational look at my reaction I learned a couple of important things about myself that I need to keep in mind going forward:

1)  I’ve secretly wanted to single handedly save the world from its fear of dying.

2)  I need to come up with a more realistic goal.  (And admit it to myself this time.)

3)  I’m not a journalist and it’s counter-productive to compare myself to one, especially one that’s award-winning.  I’m a creative writer, and I need to embrace that aptitude and craft my ideas accordingly.

4)  I need to stop being such a hermit and spend more time around other writers for the inspiration, insights, and ego-workout I so clearly need.

I think the last one is probably the most important.  Writers have to spend so much time alone anyway, and when you couple that with my natural tendency to hole up and hide from the world, I can wind up being pretty isolated.  It’s not good for me and it’s certainly not good for my writing.  One of the hardest things for me to do…every single time…is accept a good critique and apply its lessons, even though doing so has always done more to improve the quality of my work than anything but the simple discipline of writing every day.

Spending more time with writers (especially those writing on my topic) would also provide excellent practice for dealing with the I Love It/I Hate It pendulum swings created by comparing my work to that of others.  I really don’t want to be taken off guard again the way I was this week.  I can’t afford it.  It’s painful, it’s hazardous to the work I’ve already written, and in all honesty it’s just not the kind of person I want to be.  The number of talented, hard working, dedicated writers out there is huge, and I’d really rather learn to harness their achievements as a source of inspiration than seeing them as a reason to quit.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011