There’s a whole lotta love coming out of Oklahoma

20130812_131340_resizedBook Review: Transitions: A Nurse’s Education About Life and Death by Becki Hawkins.

Some of you may remember an old post I wrote called Someone Else Wrote My Book: What Now? where I expressed some angst at the discovery that a hospice nurse/chaplain from Oklahoma had just published the book I was trying to write.   Well, after a year of dark muttering in my cups I finally read Transitions: A Nurse’s Education About Life and Death by Becki Hawkins and loved it.  Loved.

Her book brought it all back to me again in the best way, what it used to feel like when I worked with hospice and how the people I served strengthened, nourished, and changed me.  Transitions provides an authentic portrayal of the endless number of ways that people face catastrophic illness and death, not in a clinical or grisly way, but in terms of the beautiful and vulnerable humanity that inevitably surfaces.

More poignant still, Becki reveals the transformative power generated by something as simple as accepting the overwhelm and grief of another human being.  There are some terrific reviews over on Amazon that do a better job than I could at describing her gentle, loving handling of the subject matter (especially the one titled Nurse Conquers Attack Geese, Copperheads, Sceptics which I wanted to copy and paste in full here but didn’t for fear of getting caught) so I won’t try and cover that ground again.  I’ll just mention a few of the particular reasons why I loved the book so much myself.

Number one, Becki’s career spanned decades and her stories are written through the eyes of someone who’s seen people die from a lot of different things, something that’s actually pretty rare.  I got to take the journey again with her as she evolved and changed through the work and it took me right back to the mystery, magic, and intense vulnerability one experiences while roaming the dying rooms.  The way that each person winds up teaching what an extraordinary, mind blowing feat it is to live an entire life from beginning to the very end.

There is no such thing as a boring life, just boring ways to talk about it (something one encounters both in and out of hospice.)  But with some practice, good listening skills can overcome that problem and Becki’s clearly a master listener.  She draws out the thoughts of those she worked with in a way that allowed a quality of luminous, trembling soul to shine through and the book is full of the kind of dignity and strength that results from that level of respect.

Which brings me to the second reason I loved the book.  Becki not only captures the full range of experiences of what it’s like to work with the ill and dying, she captures it in the abundant charm of the Oklahoma vernacular.  She has quite an ear for the spoken word and delivers her stories in an enjoyable blend of modern medical language and the older, traditional language of her people. For me, the book was as much a loving portrayal of the culture and people of rural Oklahoma as it was of their health status, and when reading her stories I felt like I was peering in through a window to catch glimpses of an old wisdom tradition passed down through the generations.

A quick head’s up for those who are not of a religious bent, a lot of this wisdom tradition is couched in the religious terms of the region and from a couple of reviews I read this was a stumbling block for some people.  It was actually part of the reason it took me so long to read the book myself but as I got to know Becki personally over the last year I discovered that she’s one of those people who can love her own faith while also respecting and supporting the beliefs of others and that knowledge helped me relax and let down my shields.  I’m really glad I did, as I would have missed something beautiful, heartfelt, and universally true otherwise.  No matter how we express it individually, we all die with the same aching mixture of heightened longing and love.

And the final reason I loved it that I’ll mention here is because in the last section of the book Becki reveals how her professional work with the ill and dying eventually helped her navigate the illness and dying of her own loved ones, and I found her experiences to be a confirmation of my own.  While the illness and death of a loved one is just as overwhelming for those of us who’ve worked with the dying…the loss as great and the grief as piercing…still our familiarity with and intimate understanding of the dying process helps enormously when the time comes.  I can’t say this enough.  A knowledge and understanding of dying is an anchoring influence for everyone involved.

Of course everyone can’t go out and become a nurse and work for decades in the field to gain that kind of familiarity and understanding, but everyone can read books like this and begin to arm themselves with the knowledge of those who have.

I know I keep saying this over and over again but it’s only because it’s so important: We all need to be better educated about this last and greatest journey of dying, and we need to start doing it now.  The number of aging people approaching their final threshold is growing daily and in the next few decades dying will become a central, collective social event.  But that doesn’t mean it has to be a sad, tragic, and horrible era.  At all.  With the tools and perspective that hospice and palliative care provide it’s entirely possible for us to collectively craft a thoughtful, courageous, and wiser way to approach the end of our lives, one that’s dignified, loving, generous, and ultimately life-nourishing for us all.

Transitions: A Nurse’s Education About Life and Death is another book among a (thankfully) growing number that provides a window into such an approach.  I highly recommend it.

Other references:

Here’s a Youtube video of an engaging talk Becki Hawkins gave in Sedona, Arizona about some of the spiritual experiences she saw in her work.

And here’s a link to Becki’s blog Transitions.

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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

If we were compasses…

(18th century bearing compass found on the L’Astolabe wreck)

…then we’d each have our own true north.

I think we do.  There seems to be this innate thing inside of us, this inner directional guidance system, and it’s unique and different in every person.  For instance some people steer naturally by honor and duty while others follow the promptings of love and faith.

It can be anything really…adventure and learning, family and loyalty, community and service, productivity and building, laughter and insight…but whatever anyone’s particular north/south polarity happens to be, it acts like an invisible, magnetic field that eventually aligns them along it’s axis no matter which way they try to go.  We can sometimes veer off for a while but always return to it again.  We have to.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to escape it.

My cardinal axis is truth and expression, which I both hate and love.

Hate, because even after all these years I’m still afraid of it so I try to keep my mouth shut for as long as I can, but of course that only ever makes things worse.  Sooner or later, when I wind up saying something anyway…as I always do because that’s what a cardinal direction does…there’s usually so much pressure built up behind it that the words spray out of my mouth like shrapnel.

And then moments latergazing at the carnage in surprise…I wish that I could just cut out my tongue, impale it with nails on a heavy, rough hewn, splintery  cross, and then drag the whole thing on my back up a shard-sharp, glass-jaggedy mountain in my bare feet where I’d lie down at the top on my face and be crushed under the load into dust and nothingness like I deserve.

That’s how awful it is to see that…that thing in their eyes.  That hurt or anger or reproach.  That mirror.

But then I love my true north, too, because…well, it’s truth.  Truth is purifying for me.  Truth is good.  Truth cuts through all the bullshit and spin and rationalization and denial…especially my own where it tends to grow thickest…and helps me feel slowly sane again.

That’s actually how I can tell whether something’s really true.  Not because it’s wise or painful or logical or inspiring or trustworthy…although truth can be all those things, too.

But because when something is true for me, it makes all the noise and screaming and confusion inside finally stop so I can be still again.  Whole.

I imagine everyone’s magnetic north is like that to some degree–something they both struggle with and rely on, something that makes them more vulnerable and more rooted at the same time.  The trick is probably to not resist it but embrace it…to just go ahead and be the compass I was born to be…just maybe strive for a little more skill and elegance with it day by day.

And a little less velocity.

Anyone else know their true north?

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Writing Into The Dark, Muddy Holes

Ach.  I’m wrestling with a painful, scary part of my book right now and it’s hard slogging.  It involves writing the story of some early violence in my life and feels a lot like Brer Rabbit wrestling with the Tar Baby.  Sticky stuff.

So far every time I reach for the memories I feel like one of those old-time Mississippi fisherman going after catfish in the river bank.  Back in the day they used to swim down through the murky water to the holes in the mud where the catfish hide, then they’d stick a fist in.  If there was a catfish in there, and if it wanted to eat (but catfish allus wanna eat) it’d swallow that fist whole and not let go again till the fisherman pulled it out of its hole and all the way back up to the surface, just a-dangling off the end of his arm like a long, slimy hand.

Dinner served.

But sometimes…sometimes…a man would hook one of the old giants and then there’d be hell to pay.  Too big to pull out of its hole with a mouth too strong to break free of, the tables would be turned.  Oh, that unfortunate fisherman would struggle for a while to be sure, but in the end his thrashing would slow and stop and his body’d just float there in the current, bumping up against the bank from time to time all white and wide-eyed, like it was so surprised it was now the property of Ole’ Man River his self.

These memories of violence are like one of those old catfish giants and I have to be real careful swimming that deep.  I know which holes are theirs, down at the very bottom and darker than all the rest, but I also know that if I do this right, if I’m brave and smart and catch ’em to where they have to give me a gift to make me let ’em go, then they’ll make me not be afraid anymore.  That’s all I want.

So how do I perform this mythical feat?  How do I catch ’em?  That’s where the vast power of language comes into play.  The events themselves, those sudden and brief eruptions of rage and violation that happened so very many years ago now, are long dead.  But they set their stories loose in my life, dark tales feeding and growing down in their holes.

I need to reshape and retell these stories.  Need to put them into harness and make them work for me instead of against me.

Namazu and Kashima from Japanese mythology

It was the dying who tried to teach me how to do that and if I can just get through this first part of the book and finally reach their stories…their luminous, beautiful stories…I know it’ll get easier.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

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

Poll: Immortality. If you could, would you?

The Alchemist In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone

This past weekend a friend and I had a brief discussion about the pursuit of immortality down through the ages (Fountain of Youth, Holy Grail, alchemy, etc.) at the conclusion of which we both exclaimed that, even if living forever someday became possible, we wouldn’t want it.  Passionately.  In fact, the idea of living forever (or even a lot, LOT longer) was kind of repulsive.

My personal aversion stems from two separate issues.  The first is the fact that life is riddled with tough spots, occasionally becoming harsh to the point of undesirability.  The cumulative injury of those traumas over not just an average lifespan, but an eternity, would have to become unendurable at some point.

Pooh on that.

My second objection is that seizing that much life for myself feels unethical.  We live in a finite universe full of limited resources that can only support so many biologically functioning human beings.  So if I don’t die, then a fair number of future children won’t be born.  I would, for all intents and purposes, be stealing their lives in order to lengthen my own and…well…isn’t that a vampire thing?

Ick.

Although…the question of ethics and immortality gives rise to all kinds of possible plot scenarios for a novel or sic-fi movie.  Which is pretty fun.  Here’s one:

Opening scene: New York City, 150 years in the future.  A mysterious wave of miscarriages has been sweeping across the world for fifteen years and the pace is increasing geometrically, potentially threatening the future of the human race.  A concerned official from the World Health Organization comes knocking at the door of two, world-reknowned, research scientists who specialize in fertility studies.  They’re married and (surprise, surprise) she’s nine weeks pregnant.  The WHO official finds that enrolling them to look for a solution is pretty easy.

Break to next scene:  New York City, present day.  A small group of Swedish scientists reveal a startling anti-aging discovery to a secret committee of the World Economic Forum.  They propose The Methuselah Project, a campaign to lengthen the human life-span by a couple thousand years, and the proposal is instantly and enthusiastically adopted.  (It begins, of course, with the inoculation of power brokers, mega-wealthy, and top government officials.)  Over the next hundred years, trials are run and all of the now-virtually-immortal insiders on the project consolidate their power over just about everything.  Things are finally ready for the second stage where inoculation will be offered to pre-selected people at a hefty price.

Back to the future:  As the two research scientists probe deeper into the growing problem, they uncover a secret network of wealthy, powerful, reclusive people who all seem to be unusually old, although their pasts are cloaked in mystery.  As they start to question individual members of the network, all the usual, life-threatening car, plane, and other accidents quickly begin to happen to them.  The couple survive everything thrown at them and eventually track down one of the original Swedish scientists who now works among the Inuit people in a remote region of the Canadian Northwest Territories.  He reveals that he’s actually 193 years old, and then explains how the original vision of The Methuselah Project was corrupted for the purpose of establishing a two-tier world order; those who live for thousands of years served by those who die by their sixties.  Part of the project involves drastically reducing the world population to a number more easily controlled, and the tool employed is a simple pennyroyal compound leaked into the water supplies of the world (all owned and controlled by Immortals BTW) to induce widespread miscarriages.

Conclusion: This will depend on whether the movie is a feel-gooder or a horror film.

Feel-gooder conclusion: the scientist couple manage to get the word out to the media and expose the scheme to the world, after which all the people rise en-masse to destroy the Immortals and return the world to it’s natural order.

or…

The scientist couple re-engineer the anti-aging serum to bestow not only longevity but wisdom.  The evil Immortals are transformed into kind, benevolent, enlightened teachers who then work to change the world into a better place for everyone.  All are eventually inoculated with the new serum and the scientist couple’s baby grows up to be President of the New World Utopia.  (This ending could be a tough sell.)

or…

The horror film: the scientist-pair are killed before they can expose the plot, but not before their own baby is born and taken away to be raised by an Immortal couple who can’t have children of their own.

or….

The bad Immortals are killed after which the original Methuselah Project is reinstated and everyone in the world is inoculated with the anti-aging serum.  The widespread miscarriages are then replaced by a new set of sterilization, abortion, and lottery-pregnancy laws.  (This movie obviously gives rise to the sequel where desperate women start becoming pregnant illegally only to be hunted down and treated badly when they’re caught.  Or has that movie already been made?  It sounds familiar.)

ANYWAY!!!  This was fun but I really have to get on with my day now.  I’m curious though.  How many of you are intrigued by the idea of immortality (as versus just-not-dying, which is a completely different issue.)  Here’s a quick poll to get an idea of where people stand on the subject and, if you need more room for nuance, by all means feel free to use the comment section.

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.

Blip Two From The Book: A Curious Cure

(Still tied up with the class.  Here’s more filler until I have time to write real posts.)

“11/25/04

Thanksgiving!  I’ve got half an hour to write until the turkey goes in and true bedlam begins.

I seem to be spending most of my time with Janice these days reassuring her that, Yes.  Of course.  Just like everyone else who’s ever lived from the dawn of time, she, too, is going to die.  She’s survived so many things, so many times now, it’s gotten ridiculous and she’s starting to battle horrifying visions of immortality.  I can’t help but laugh, yet feel a wave of compassion at the same time.

Whenever she starts moaning about it I point out every sign of decline I can think of, and when I hit on something that resonates her eyes light up with hope. Yesterday, we talked about two things that have to take place before a person can finally go.  One is advanced disease in the body and the other is a surrender of sorts; a  person gradually lets go of the drive to live, the one that makes them get up day after day.  I’ve seen signs of this in Janice lately.  Since she moved to the nursing home she sleeps a lot of the time and rarely participates in any activities.  She told me yesterday there are times when she doesn’t want to eat and she even said she feels “dead” inside most of the time now, which is, of course, a classic description of the depression she doesn’t believe in and refuses to treat.

So, casting about for some way to cheer her up I mentioned, “Y’know, Janice, those things might be a sign that you’re finally surrendering.”  She perked right up.

“Really?  Do you think I’ll die after all?”

God, what a character.

She’s slowly, slowly turning in some kind of invisible womb, her head shifting gradually downward toward the birth canal, preparing for her journey through the passage that connects this world to whatever comes next.  Regular activities are losing their grip and she’s starting to drift, turning increasingly to the doorway of sleep and its other dimensions.  She tells me her daughter keeps encouraging her to take part in the facility’s activities, that she would be happier if she did.

But Janice looks at me, distraught, and says, “She just doesn’t understand.  I can’t.  I don’t feel good enough.”

It would be so hard to be ready to go, to long for it, and still be stuck here.  Day after day.  Year after year, dealing with constant pain and constant loss and constantly diminishing ability.  It’s so weird—how some people can want so desperately to live but die anyway, and how others seem to get trapped.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of cosmic barter system set up where we could trade final time with one another?

“I’ll give you three of my unwanted years for your quickie.”

“Done!”

I hope I don’t die of congestive heart failure or M.S. or Alzheimer’s, something long and protracted.  Please God, can I have cancer or something else shorter?  Not a heart attack or a car crash though…I’d like time to say my good-byes, to let Cal and Lorin and McKenna know how much I love them.  It would be unbearable to leave without being able to tell them one last time.

After we talked I drove Janice over to the bank, and while we were sitting in the drive-through she spotted a Dollar Store across the parking lot.  Boy, did her eyes light up!  I asked if she wanted to go in and she grew more excited than I’ve seen her in months.  She looked…dare I say it?  Happy.

(Everyone says that, during dying, hearing is the last thing to go.  But watching Janice yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps, with women, it’s really our love of a great bargain.)

She couldn’t shop for very long, of course, as it was a big store with a lot of stuff.  But she stubbornly managed to drag herself…doubled over her walker and sucking strangled huffs of oxygen in a way that alarmed everyone within hearing—up and down a couple of aisles before grabbing some crackers and gasping that she was ready to go.  By the time I wrestled her back into the car she looked bloodless, ghastly, and absolutely euphoric.

“That…was so…much…fun!”   She wheezed and gazed up at me with grateful eyes from where she’d slumped to the bottom of the seat.  “I really…enjoyed…that!”

She so delights me.  This Thanksgiving I’m grateful I took Janice to the dollar store.”

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

PARAPROSDOKIANS

I’m a language geek, which is why these kinds of word plays appeal to me so.  My brother forwarded the following to me in an email (my siblings are all language geeks, too) and I loved it so much I thought I’d post it here.

From the email: 

What in the world is a paraprosdokian? you ask.  Well.  It’s “a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently used in a humorous situation.” 

For instance, “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it,” is a paraprosdokian.

OK, so now enjoy these:

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. Light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

3. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

4. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

5. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

6. There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.

7. Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.

8. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember most people use water.

And then, because eight is simply not enough, I found some additional paraprosdokians in a Wikipedia article.  Here are some of those:

  • “If I am reading this graph correctly — I’d be very surprised.” —Stephen Colbert
  • “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.” —Dorothy Parker
  • “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” —Groucho Marx
  • “I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don’t know I’m using blanks.” —Emo Philips
  • “If I could just say a few words…I’d be a better public speaker.” —Homer Simpson
  • “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.” —Mitch Hedberg

And here are two more I just found here:

  • “I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.” — Bill Hicks
  • “It’s too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.” — Jack Handey

Enough!!  I dare you to Google paraprosdokians yourself…I just dare you.

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

CSA’s and Thoughts About How Hard It Is To Address Childhood Sexual Abuse

I have to start writing faster.  I’m too anal and obsessive, to the point where I spend three hours on a sentence that I should just delete.  Then I do.

(I’m now fighting off the compulsion to go back and extensively rewrite the previous three sentences before I can move on.  Sigh.)

So, since I’m up against my deadline today, and since I’ve wasted the entire week on writing and re-writing a few paragraphs of a post that I’ve now decided not to use, and since I now have nothing to show for all the hours I worked, today I’m going to just write something and then throw it up in the air to see if it flies.  Here goes.

First, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture.)  We joined a CSA hosted by a local farm this year and it’s been a terrific experience.  Our membership included a set poundage of locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables each week in addition to which we splurged for a free-range chicken or a dozen eggs on alternate weeks.  It’s a whole different way to eat, let me tell you.

We met a number of new vegetables we don’t normally consume (lemon cucumbers and purple potatoes…yum!!, beets…no.  An unfortunate childhood brush with forced feeding seems to have ruined me forever for beets…) and menu planning was an exercise in surrender and total flexibility.  I had no idea what I’d find in the bag from week to week so Tuesday nights involved a steep learning curve and creative (if not always edible) menu planning.  I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by it all until the lucky discovery that I could throw everything I didn’t know what else to do with into a roasting pan, coat it with olive oil, and then grill it for half an hour.  No waste, little effort, and surprisingly tasty results.

Here’s a pre-roasting photo of some beautiful, colorful mixed vegetables we got from the farm:

It was like eating a trip to Mardi Gras.  What a pleasure.  We’ll definitely be signing on as CSA members again next year.

And now, the difficult part of this post.  The avalanche of shocking revelations this week of child sexual abuse in the showers at Penn State stirred up a lot for me again and…I’m sure…many others who live with that particular legacy.  It also, unfortunately, stirs up a lot for those who love us.  The coverage was so extensive it proved impossible to escape and of course it dredged up old ghosts.  I grew increasingly agitated as the week progressed which inevitably led to the hubster and I having an emotionally loaded discussion about it all which was painful and distressing.  My tail was lashing and claws were out, and he was doing his level best to listen without actually emerging from the behind the door where he might become a possible target himself.

But somehow, in spite of the dangers, we stuck with the discussion, refusing to collapse back into the standard, polite silence that Big Lie insists is more civilized but is really just poisonous and creepy and awful.  The hubster stayed near-but-not-too-close until my wild anger finally broke and the rain of tears began, at which point he knew from experience it was safe to come out and help me wrestle the remaining storm of emotions back to the mat.

We had a really great talk after that and wound up finding a lot of hope and anchors to tie into, and by the time we were through we both felt a lot more positive, strong, and courageous looking forward than we had beforehand.  Here are a couple of the insights we came too:

First, Silence is the biggest enemy we have, bigger even than the predators and the crimes themselves.  Without our longstanding cultural willingness to look the other way, predators would have a far more difficult time finding the hiding and secrecy they need. They exploit and thrive on our instinctive tendency to avert our eyes.  It’s also been well-established that having to keep the secret of abuse afterwards does more lasting damage to a victim than the original abuse itself.  So silence really is the worst thing…but it’s also the one thing that all of us can address, no matter where we are.

Second, stepping up to the plate and reporting this kind of abuse is one of the riskiest, most frightening, and potentially devastating things that a person can do.  Ask any victim.  And it’s not much different for their advocates.  A revelation of this nature has the annihilating power of a nuclear bomb, and to unleash that devastation on a person, or a family, or a community, or an institution that one either still deeply cares about and/or is afraid of, requires a level of courage far beyond what most of us have ever had to muster.  And when it reaches a powerful institutional level as it did with the Catholic church and Penn State, the inevitable costs involved in speaking out can grow so daunting it paralyzes.  I’m not surprised that the men who knew about Sandusky’s predation failed to speak up.  Frankly, I would have been more surprised if they had.  Protecting the status quo has been stand-by operating procedure for centuries, if not longer.  We shouldn’t underestimate just how revolutionary the current movement to expose and address childhood sexual abuse really is.  We’re breaking some serious new trail here so everyone should expect a lot of turbulence during the transition.

In a sense, reporting child sexual abuse is a lot like throwing yourself in front of the gun.  You never know whether someone will decide to shoot you or the predator.  I remember when Mackenzie Phillips released her book with the bombshell that she’d had an incestual relationship with her father that lasted into adulthood.  In spite of all the other unconscionable things her father had done to her that no one argued with, and in spite of the fact that Ms. Phillips was a catalog of symptoms that correlate to childhood sexual abuse, the majority of media coverage still had a bias toward protecting her father and doubting her.  Very few public voices at the time seemed inclined to believe her and the spiraling frenzy of blowback was frightening.

(That was another tough week for those of us with childhood sexual abuse in our past.  As one blogger so succinctly put it at the time, “Evidently, the only thing more taboo than committing incest is a victim trying to talk about it afterwards.”)

One thing that the hubster and I came to in our discussion was the realization that there were times when we, too, had failed to speak up in situations that called for it.  They hadn’t involved anything nearly as extreme as witnessing a child being raped in a university shower, but then most of the time these kinds of things don’t.  On the contrary, they’re usually small enough that we can tell ourselves they’re innocuous and really not worth making a stir over.  Yet it’s on the smaller things where it’s easiest to begin to develop a voice.  When we hear someone at the next table trashing someone we care about, or when our friends are hassling someone unfashionable, or when our coworkers are stealing office supplies, or when someone tells us an offensive joke.  These are the times we can practice saying Y’know, that’s not right.  Please stop.  I believe we’re better than that.  

The hubster said he uses the shame from the memory of his past failure as a motivation to do it differently next time.  Because in that way, he actually harnesses past harm as an energy for future good.  I loved that, because it means that past mistakes are never written in stone.  We can’t go back and change them but they don’t have to define us.  We can define ourselves instead by what we do about them going forward.

And…shoot.  It still took me seven hours to write this frigging post.  The whole spontaneous thing is definitely gonna require practice.

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