Sometimes I Cry

(The tears mean it’s essential to find moments of joy; like this family outing last month to the South Coast Botanic Garden.)

It surprises me, sometimes, the “little” things that make me cry.

Just the other day it was the discovery of a package of panty hose in the back of my dresser drawer. I’m not necessarily sad that I can no longer wear panty hose. (My calf is super sensitive; I can’t wear anything tight around it.) In fact, many women choose not to wear panty hose. But for me, it was more than the panty hose; it was what that panty hose represented — my teaching days. When I was teaching, I either wore slacks or skirts to school, except for field trips and School Spirit Fridays. I found that package of panty hose, and after my initial surprise wore off, I felt the tears running quietly down my face. 

A couple of weeks ago I heard Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” on the radio. It’s a fun, definitely-not-sad song. But, it’s also the song I remember describing to my husband as he stood next to my hospital bed. This was back in 2010, when I had been admitted into the hospital after spending hours in the Emergency Room with a swollen left calf and without the ability to stand or walk. My husband was trying to distract me with music, and I asked him about the song that had something to do with “toes and nose.” It was a challenge to find the song, but it was a task he could complete. Something we could have an answer to, in terms of the name of the song and the artist, when so much of our life as a family was without answers the longer I stayed in that hospital bed. So while it is a fun song, it has some powerful memories attached to it.

And sometimes it’s the not-so-little things. Like my nightly showers that seem to make me increasingly weak. Or the trips to the grocery store that most times feel more like an endurance test than a regular chore. Or emptying the dishwasher. Or watering my outside plants. Or getting in and out of the car.

Which is all to say that I have been living with this autoimmune disease of mine for almost 13 years. 

And it hasn’t gotten any easier.

Gardening and Writing

The other day, I spent an hour working in my garden. Pruning, plucking, and even pleading. (Me: “Please don’t eat the plant. It’s not food.” Squirrel: No comment. But it did stop eating and stare at me for a long moment before scampering away.)

While I was marveling at the many plants that are getting closer to blooming, I realized something — gardening and writing have a lot in common.

They both offer the promise of something different — something more, something bigger, something more colorful — than what you started with.

A small green plant with a card sticking out of its moist soil labeling it a kalanchoe. A stack of white printer paper, standing at attention, just waiting for me to type some words on the computer and press print. 

I turn to both of these endeavors with hope and optimism. I water my plants, doing my best to make sure I’m watering a Goldilocks-not-too-much, not-too-little amount. I strive to find just the right spot, with just the right amount of sunlight, for each plant. I trust in the process and hope I’ve done all I can so my kalanchoe will bloom its yellow flowers. Likewise, I open up a new Pages document on my computer and begin. I only have twenty-six letters to work with, but, again, I trust in the process. I’ve done this before. Just get something down — a word, a vague idea, a quote. Something to get me writing, and keep me writing.

And then you see it start to happen. The plant looks a little taller, a bit fuller with more leaves. A tiny bud appears. The screen on the computer is no longer full of ramblings. I’ve found the line that I was writing my way to. The line that leads to a paragraph, which leads to multiple paragraphs and multiple pages.

But it’s not done yet. My kalanchoe does bloom its small, happy yellow flowers. And I continue showing my plants love, in the form of my pruning and plucking. So, too, it is with writing. After I have printed several pages of my personal essay, I know I’m not done. My pages need some love, too. I review, revise, and rewrite.

Of course there are others involved. All the people responsible for getting my plants to the garden store. My husband for being my personal I.T. person. 

But in the end, I did it. 

I pause and savor and appreciate. 

Then I do it all again. 

Lollipop Trees

“I had painted ‘lollipop trees.’ At least that’s what my elementary school teacher said.

“Our assignment was to paint watercolor landscapes. I painted trees with round tops, modeled after the pruned trees I saw as I walked to school each morning. I liked my painting; my teacher did not. She said my trees looked like lollipop trees; that they didn’t look like real trees, although they looked like the trees I knew.

“Mrs. E picked up a paintbrush and painted over my trees to make them look the way she thought trees should look.

“For the rest of my school years, I never voluntarily took an art class.” 

Those words are taken from a piece I wrote that was published in the Christian Science Monitor back in 2004. 

I thought of that essay the other day while on a walk. I am supposed to keep moving and not let my pain stop me from walking each day. So I try. I park the car near my son’s high school with plenty of time before the dismissal bell rings, so I can take a leisurely walk in the surrounding neighborhood. 

The other day I noticed the tree in the photograph above. And that’s when I thought back to my “lollipop trees” and this essay.

You can read my essay, “Too often, teachers extinguish a student’s spark,” by clicking here.

Write On, Sisters!

Write On, Sisters!: Voice, Courage, and Claiming Your Place at the Table by Brooke Warner is more than a writing book. It’s also a look into the uneven playing field that women encounter in most careers and fields. It’s a close-up look at the ways in which women often hold themselves back, and not just when it comes to writing. 

I’ll be honest — the first half of the book has a lot of statistics and was rather slow reading for me. But the second half of the book has quite a few nuggets that were worthy of my sticky notes.

Here are a few:

“Writing is self-expression, and as such, when we write we give voice to what we think, what we care about, and who we are. When we read a book —or even a post —we take a walk inside the innermost recesses of the author’s mind, welcomed into a place so private that the words we read on the page may be words the author has never uttered aloud. How powerful — and intimate — is that?”

“To put your voice out into the world is to both believe and demand that what you have to say matters. We are our best selves when we assert our independence and self-reliance, our strength and toughness. The very qualities our culture values least in women are the ones women need to succeed.”

“… you don’t need to heed warnings from the jaded that failure is imminent or inevitable. It is. The work is in getting back up on the horse, rising from the fall, and the way you handle the fall.”

“Few events are more life-changing and soul-affirming than offering up your work in the form of a published book. The act of creating a story, honing your words into a message that matters to readers, or honoring your truth by recording your experience in memoir form is a way of telling the world, I am here. I have something to say. I have something to impart. I want to share with you a story, a message, a truth. You are passing feelings from one human heart to another.”