Monthly Archives: January 2018

Nature Teaches

Amaryllis Nagano
January, 2018

Every December, as the winter Solstice nears and daylight recedes too early into darkness, I search my garden catalogue for the perfect balm: an amaryllis bulb. I pour over amaryllis flowers in bloom—vivid red, lush white, soft peach, striated cherry. Each one is regal on its tall stem. Each one beckons: choose me.

I began the ritual decades ago when my mother was alive, a widow in winter, struggling with children and grandchildren grown, a husband buried. The first time I brought Mom a potted bulb, she was intrigued. Mom listened intently as I explained the importance of bright light and careful watering to bring the plant to bloom. The table by the picture window where she sat to watch the birds at the feeder was perfect.

I recall the phone calls, the delight in her voice, as she described the two graceful green points peaking from the soil, their bulging growth, their transformation on stalks into eight perfect blooms. By mid-March, the blooms died off and long arching leaves rose from the base of the stems, lifting Mom through to the end of winter.

She and I never did take the step to sink the leafy pot into the spring soil, to let it thrive in the summer months and re-build its bulb. The extra chore, to return in the fall at the exact right time, to lift the bulb, repot, set it into a cool place to rest (but to make certain it did not dry out entirely), seemed too challenging.

Since Mom’s death in 1994, I have continued to choose a new amaryllis every December. Coming onto a full year of Trump, I shied away from the very bright reds. They seemed too celebratory, too brilliant for my heart. Drawn to the lime green, there was just the one, I was too close to the sadness of the season. Softness in color, some green, some white, mostly blush, seemed right. I ordered the Amaryllis Nagano.

As I write, the Nagano, now in full bloom, sits on a wide bookcase ledge facing a south picture window. Within days of arriving, I hand mixed moistened soil in a wide vat, packed it into the base of a pot, set the bulb and fanned the roots on top, layering the soil just below the neck of the bulb.

Perhaps, it was my anticipation, how much in this fitful, unpredictable political and environmental climate, I needed a sign that growth was possible. In six days, the green tips emerged. Thankfully, I have a little instrument that measures wet and dry and protects me from over watering and causing rot. Like Mom, I feel delight as each bloom opens and reveals its striated color and green throat. Like Mom, I am sad as each blossom fades and dies off.

Upon seeing the plant in bloom, a gardening friend asked if I were going to rebuild the bulb. I’m grateful for her question. It seemed apt as the women’s movement grows, the metaphor of embracing and taking on the more complex task of rebuilding and cultivating possibility for sustained growth.


Self-care in This Chaotic Trump Era

Faye @ computer
photo by Marv

I have the privilege, twice a year, as an alumna of the Solstice Creative Writing MFA of Pine Manor program, to audit classes. This past Friday, I participated in an intimate community gathering in which Nicole Terez Dutton (poetry faculty) and Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan (psychiatrist and poet) presented and led students, faculty and staff in a discussion of Writing as Balm, Armor and Resistance.

The Solstice group is diverse in gender, identity, age, and experience. United by the bond of writing, we are, as a group engaged, informed and sensitive to information and the world in which we live. To say that writers as a whole are more sensitive than most might be a stretch. Yet, I believe it to be true.

Writers read voraciously. Writers scan their universe, both wide and intimate, for the details of what is apparent and what is beneath the surface. Story, above all else draws us like a moth to flame. We watch on the subway, we listen at the train station, and in the coffee line at Peets. We observe couples, families, friends. Wired to story, we absorb and chronicle.

In this context, Nicole Terez Dutton set the stage to step back and identify all the variable assaults to our dignity as a nation, as a people of diversity, as a group of involved individuals struggling to live through and manage this wild, chaotic Trump era and its effects of what was once reliable and, for the most part, with precedence.

When she highlighted the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 14 warning signs of Fascism and ticked them off, one by one, with incidents of this past year, we grasped the full sweep of the dangerous trajectory of leadership in our country.

We have to work against Fascism, we have to help each other to survive, she said.

In introducing Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan, she said, we need strategies to be well, stay well, to be with each other.

In this spirit, I am grateful to share a brief account of Prabakar’s positivity philosophy of self- care.

  • All creatures deserve to be happy; should is a terrible word
  • Listen to the self; adopt gifting to the self; practice foregiveness of the self

I experienced delight when Prabakar said, the simplest way to listen to the self is to keep a journal (he keeps his on his phone, a novel idea to me). His directions to track sensations are simple and basic to the practice of mindfulness.

  • keep a close ear to the ground; give weight to the everyday experience
  • what does the first taste of morning coffee taste like? I am drinking my first cup as I write this: the taste is slightly bitter yet buttery sweet from the mix with coconut milk.
  • what does the walk in air feel like?
  • what does disgust feel like—i.e., I want to vomit when…
  • include mixed feelings—I often struggle with ambivalence and find it helpful to write them out and reflect on the pluses and minuses.
  • On foregiveness of the self :Not fair to judge thoughts and emotions which are not under our control. Okay to feel anger. Aggression is a choice.

Nicole ended with inviting the audience to respond and state how each of us are managing. Solstice writers stood and spoke out about their own struggle and efforts to bring self to the page, to speak to systems of oppression, to take on projects that are satisfying and not too demanding, to bring solace and sustained work to ourselves.

I shared how writing this gratitude blog sustains my creativity while trying to make a difference. I ask each of you reading today to add to the conversation. Please contribute your approach and point of view and write a comment!

My 2018 Challenge: To Maintain Gratitude

readying to write
photo by Marv

Two days into 2018, wrapped in a blanket and typing, the headlines blaring with hard-to-ignore news, I am aware that while I embrace the concept of gratitude, it does not always embrace me. Like all humans, I am not automatically wired to feel grateful.

You would think that after keeping a daily gratitude diary for a year and then writing this gratitude blog for two years, that today’s post would come more readily. I believe that in spite of the weather or news or state of mind, each of us has a story of gratitude to tell. Some are dramatic and compelling like my Mitzvah story of John fixing my flat tire. Others are hidden, less apparent and need to be teased out with intention to seek and mine what one experiences.

When I ignore or forget about intention, I slide right by the signposts of gratitude such as a quiver in the gut as I experience an empathic moment, a smile on my face as a clerk jokes about offering me a job, a moment of calm as I scan the hill laced with white snow outside my window.

Each of these moments holds a story. Each of these moments, were I to sit with pen in hand and describe the details—the what, where, and experience of the encounter— would result in opening and deepening a sense of gratitude.

Take for example, the job offer. The morning before the encounter, I called Whole Foods in search of a digestive product hard to come by. To my delight, I spoke with a person who informed me they had the product and would set it aside with my name on it. That afternoon, I followed an engaging man who opened a large drawer and began to rumble through, saying, “Likely it’s on the bottom; it always is.”

As he began to sort and sift, he moved a standard sized bottle wrapped with a paper note aside. I had the instinct that the bottle could be mine. “Check that bottle right there, please,” I said.

Sure enough, there was my name— “Faye” written on the note. “How would you like a job working here,” he joked. We both laughed. It was a moment of shared gratitude, a moment of levity I sorely needed. More, and here’s the reflection piece, I was grateful to feel and acknowledge my intuition.

In theory, gratitude is always present and available if one can focus and prime the intention. One of my main sources of learning and inspiration and one that I recommend is the website to which I subscribe. They suggest a weekly writing practice two or three times a week. They unequivocally state:

elaborating in detail about a particular person or event for which you are grateful carries more benefits than a list of many things.

I find this to be true. When I take the time to write out a story, in effect to tell myself a gratitude story and spend time reflecting on its meaning, I deepen my sense of gratitude. I am grateful to you, my readers, who motivate me to show up and bring my intention to practice gratitude to the blog page.