Monthly Archives: September 2016

How Lucky! Thank You, Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor

On a Sunday afternoon in Lexington, Massachusetts, from the vantage of front row, left, you get the full measure of a man who has the verbal skill to hold a packed audience rapt for two hours. Just retired, Keillor’s six-foot-four slightly bent-to-the right body danced to the lyrical rhythms of his stories. Dressed in a tan linen suit, white shirt, bold red tie, red socks and red sneakers, I was fascinated how he tapped out a two-step beat to punctuate his verbal rhythms.

The man’s voice, low, resonant, slightly nasal began with tales of his Lutheran roots, how two hours of weekly sitting during the study of Leviticus every Sunday vaccinated him from future boredom. At 17, just arrived at college, he ended up skinny-dipping in the Mississippi River and swept downstream sans clothing, one of many formidable lessons in being “cool.”

I was grateful to bear witness to the stories of his radio launch in college, his amazement at arriving at 74, the articulation of facing his body’s complaints, the sheer wonder of the journey from late adolescent’s “cool” to his present circumspective elder self, his gratitude for a precious daughter who puts her arms around him.

His formative president was Eisenhower, the pragmatic, systemic commander, who championed the highway system, transforming the two-lane highway, widening the opportunities to travel by car across the nation. Keillor wondering, as an amused aside, how Jack Kerouac’s mind would have been blown by the ease of coast-to-coast options.

Kerouac-Hemingway-Thoreau: they were all with him, admired, and referenced in the tapestry of associations, memories, and stories. At the core, Keillor is a wordsmith, a writer, often of poetry, whose greatest delight is germinating an idea before sleep in anticipation of the next morning’s work—to dig in and plant, to tend and grow the words into form.

In the midst of wild applause and laughter to the point of tears, he launched into song. My voice, unfamiliar in song, joined in chorus. His hands invoked us to sing My Country Tis of Thee, Swing Low, and more favorites.

I resonated with his love of writing, and the call to write down and shape words into a poem. I was happiest those mornings of dedicated time two decades ago when I first found poetry and rose every morning before work to capture what seemed liked magical lines on my 13 inch tiny Mac screen. The effort rooted me, enriched my life and set the stage for my enrollment in Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program at the same age as Keillor.

In time, I expanded into narratives, extrapolating the longer view, mining the details and patterns. Like Keillor, I was grateful to have the perspective of years, the habit of discipline and the will to write.

And so we go on, it’s a good time because you can look back, see things, the trajectory over time…We write; it’s a gift, how lucky… Keillor remarked. Yes, how lucky.

Power Through: That’s What Women Do

Shadow & Reflection Fall, 2016

Shadow & Reflection
Fall, 2016

Hillary, on antibiotics for pneumonia, attending the September 11th ceremony, looking worn and exhausted, almost faint from dehydration, worried me. The week before, the worry had begun as I watched how difficult it was for her to control a hacking cough during an essential speech. I was so concerned I wrote a message imploring her to take care of her health and to hydrate. The next day, I was relieved to learn about the medical mandate to rest and allow her body to heal.

How many times in my lifetime have I put my head down, clenched my teeth and powered through what, at the time, seemed essential. During my multi-tasking, mother-career, midlife years, it was a habit, a bad habit that ultimately took its toll in stress related symptoms. Like Hillary, it took a diagnosis, a knock on the side of the head, to step back and consider my daily choices.

This post is not about Hillary or my enlightenments from symptoms. It is about mindfulness, how its illusive quality, like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, is an essential component of health.

This past Tuesday, I had lunch with David, my former training partner. For over a year, we had tried, but failed to pin down a time for our yearly lunch. When Tuesday came, he e-mailed me and I, him, just to make sure. Lunch with David is always pithy, funny and rich with stories.

At one point, we came to the topic of mindfulness, how intentional effort seems to bring the best result. I prefer movement— tai-chi, indoors or sauntering in the garden, spending time breathing in the sweet smells, touching the plants. David takes three deep breaths through key points of the day, often before a meal, which sets the stage for shifting his mindset to quiet and nourishment.

I was aware that all during my lunch of salad greens, bites of tomato and salmon, I was eating slowly and mindfully. Just bringing the subject to mind slows me down. As I write this post, my mind floats on images, my fingers on the keyboard follow. I am in a meditative state.

Mindfulness is the opposite of powering through. To power through, one focuses on a goal with little attention to one’s bodily needs— hunger, thirst, fatigue, or time of day.

“Creating space in the day to stop, come down from the worried mind, and get back into the present moment has been shown to be enormously helpful in mitigating the negative effects of our stress response,” Elisha Goldstein writes in Mindful magazine.

There are many roads to Rome and so it is with mindfulness. Whatever it takes to downshift, to be in the moment and present is basic to the practice of mindfulness. In this hurry-up-news sound-bite culture, mindfulness to nourish our body and mind must be intentional and perhaps, as varied and balanced as one’s choice of foods. As for me, I’m grateful for the idea of adding David’s “three breaths” exercise to my daily menu.




How Do You Enter A Circle?

Cold Springs Park, Newton, circa 2015

Cold Springs Park, Newton, circa 2015

Having just arrived at the local farmer’s market, an unexpected encounter gave me pause. Near closing time, grocery bags tucked under my arm, I checked the first produce stand on my right. The corn was spare and picked over. Across the way, I was tempted by a basket piled high with popovers. Marv and I are trying to low-ball the carbs so I passed it by when a casual friend’s lilting voice stopped me.

“Faye, I just finished. My bags are full.” Noticing my empty bags, her eyebrows arched with question, she continued, “You start out this way?”

She stood too close; her comment, so direct and hinting with puzzling insinuation, caught me off guard.

“Yes. I check out what’s available, then go round again,” I explained.

It was a hurried but sufficient reply to mask my confusion. She opened her bag to show me her “wonderful” choices: the bright, just-picked-from-the-garden carrots, a few stemmed apples, fresh goat cheese. We smiled and bid farewell—on the surface, a friendly conversation.

But her tone left me unsettled. On this bucolic afternoon, a place of gastronomic bounty where adults chatted with vendors, children held dripping ice cream cones, was there a right way to proceed? There were no arrows, no visible stall numbers. The circle follows a corner of the park’s paved road. The entry point I chose ran parallel to the street, curves around to face woods, then runs straight before the turn to the second opening.

What was her point and why did I care? Her lilting tone masked judgment, implied disapproval. Her attention to my empty bags, my choice to enter her point of exit, was reminiscent of past unbidden encounters with females, who felt they needed to set me straight about my priorities. I was as an overweight girl struggling with body image, trying to fit in, often the recipient of vexing “I’m telling you this for your own good” comments.

I am grateful for the perspective that comes with maturity, the choice to be curious rather than sensitive. I wondered what determined my choice that day? Because I had parked close to the vendors, I walked alongside exiting traffic and entered the circle in the counter-clockwise position. Had I parked farther away, for safety’s sake, I would have faced arriving cars and entered at the forward clock-wise point. My choice depended on chance and pragmatics.

All these years later, I’m mindful of that moment when, as I teen, I resolved to choose friends who liked me for who I was rather than for my appearance. In time, I surrounded myself with individuals who shared similar values of appreciation and kindness. So it is with how I choose my vendors.

I prefer organic growers, like Tom, the husband of a writer friend, who is dedicated to an environmentally safe ethic. He often takes time to chat and introduce me to new products like last week’s round lemon cucumber with its crisp, explosive taste. His miniature orange tomatoes are the sweetest.



The Return to Goose Rocks

Goose Rocks Beach, 2016

Goose Rocks Beach, 2016

Limpets, 2016

Limpets, 2016


In these waning days of August, I am grateful to have rediscovered the pleasure of beach and sand and leisure. My favorite beach, Goose Rocks, on the southern coast of Maine, runs two miles between two tidal-fed rivers. Three summers ago, Marv and I sold our beloved cottage at the rear of the east end of the beach. We bought it nearly twenty-five years ago as an investment for our later years. After we turned the keys over, I needed time to mourn; for two summers, I could not bear to revisit.

Thankfully, this past week, renting a sweet house on the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge on a marsh at the west end of the beach, changed all that. Old memories were replaced by new ones— similar, yes, but filled with a refreshed sense of wonder. Although two summers had passed, my body slid into groove. The tide was right. I navigated straight north, onto the wet, open tidal flats to the rock-filled island usually below the surface.

After a rain, in solitude, I walked the long expanse. I felt soothed as I rocked up and down on the tilted triangular rises etched by gravity’s pull. It was as it had always been—on every return, the impetus to scan for limpets, the dome shaped gastropod shell I collected and piled into two-quart jars all those past summers. I was not disappointed. Almost immediately, a tiny but perfect shell revealed its presence. As always, I cupped it into the palm of my hand and spoke to it, giving thanks to the universe for what was beautiful and familiar, my welcoming talisman.

Such focus, the blend of heart and body, the breadth of beach, the lull of the surf is possible only at the edge. It is the synchronicity of pulse, breath, the rhythm of the watery wash, which infuses and inspires my spirit to search. I welcome anew the remnants of what is hidden beneath the ocean’s surface. Each limpet, whether blue or brown, whether etched with fresh markings or worn and faded white, offers a story of a life once lived beneath the sea.

The limpet cleaves out its permanent shelter by boring into a rock, shaping a ridge to fit its form. Daily, it swims with the rise of the tide, searching for food, making its way back as the tide recedes. The limpet’s propensity to return to the rock’s ridge is attributed to some type of chemical response. It leaves a trail of chemical markers, its own individual protein and polysaccharide signature, which cannot be scrubbed off and which endlessly provides the limpet with the cues for its homecoming. This remarkable member of the gastropod family is among the oldest forms on the planet, a survivor over eons.

The limpet evokes and holds memory, the promise and pleasure of my own leap into the tide of rising words and the gratitude that flows as my pen shapes images and stories onto the page.