Rebirth 4

This song has been playing hide and seek with me for over a week. Bits of memory flashing inside my head. But never quite enough to actually help me to identify the song. Like a female student, more my age, who would ask me to sing it for her. I could remember the student, her name, where she lived, what she did for a living, but couldn’t quite remember the song, or the words. I knew it was a female singer, but couldn’t remember her name.

Could remember singing it with my daughters in the car, driving home from somewhere, and having a quite interesting conversation about the meaning of the song, but not the song itself. And because I’ve been using different songs to introduce these essays, I figured this was the next one in the line up. But, I had to remember the song in order for that to take place. And the only thing I could remember was that it wasn’t necessarily a happy song, packed with emotions and lots of questioning. It took a while, but I finally remembered that it was in a movie about Angels. That’s when it all fell into place.

This song always reminded me of those caricatures of a human figure with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. And always in competition with one another, while the poor human creature, caught between them, was in danger of severe whip lash. Both have a need to be satisfied, but who makes that choice? Do we seek a new path, or try all the old ones from the past? Even though they didn’t usually work.

Some say that division is the one between the head and the heart. What we think, versus what we feel. And it is up to the individual to make that choice. Sometimes that division is between the past and what we’ve been told we are, and the current moment, the now in which we exist and the person it is possible for us to be. All a bit confusing isn’t it?

What would you say if I told you that the angel, and the devil are you and how you make your choices? While children, growing up, we are told about the world and how it works. We are told, to some extent, our place in that world, and many times, how we will succeed or fail in that world. If told often enough that we are not meant to succeed, why even try?

I have been writing here, about our need to sit still, to open a conversation with our own person. We need to know the influences that shaped us, that formed our own attitude about the person we are. It is simple but also one of the most difficult things to do. We argue that we don’t have time, are far too busy, so many obligations to be fulfilled. But then I must ask, what can ever be more important than getting to know the one person you need to know?

After my last essay, I wrote down (in a comment) that my two most often used self-definitions are 1. Hermit, and 2. North Wisconsin Hillbilly. They are the angel and the devil that ride my shoulders. Can you figure out which is which? Good luck with that.

Over time, I have come to know that each of them is both an angel and a devil. We have been taught that an angel is good, and a devil is bad. But, I have discovered that I need both to find completion. How can that be, you might ask? It has to do with the way the brain works. One side of the brain is reserved for Logic and Language. The other side of the brain works on association. In other words, when the angel steps forward holding her standard high and sparkling in the sunshine, it is the devil who steps forward and shows her that her action could make a mess. He does that by simply asking the right question. And, more importantly, when the devil suggests an action that would be harmful to myself or others, it is the angel that steps forward with her standard to remind me that some things might feel good but could also be very destructive.

And if you are curious, like me, I learned all of that by getting two degrees: one in History, and the other in English with a writing concentration. History, by its very definition is story. But it needs both Language and Logic to tell the story so that it makes sense and offers examples of both good and bad behavior. And both are reliant on metaphor and simile to make themselves understood.

In the song, “And it’s hard at the end of the day.”
“Need some distraction,
Beautiful release”…

What is the distraction? Is it helpful, healthy, or just a means of numbing all those tangled up thoughts and feelings that weigh us down? Some might turn to drugs because they work, if only in the short run. Or is there a different path we can choose? An activity that will soothe all those jangling, wrangling nerve endings and might lead us on a path that is far more healthy and even relevant?

I keep coming back to the same answer. Creativity. Even taking the time to put a jigsaw puzzle together is a creative activity. Taking all the separate pieces and putting them all together brings about that sense of completion and satisfaction when the picture slowly comes together and is completed. It also awakens and demands the use of both hemispheres of the brain to do it. Logic tells you that all of the pieces are needed to complete the work, while association is necessary to be able to find each of the needed pieces and where it belongs in the larger scheme. Just like a battery, the human mind needs both the negative and positive charge for any current to flow.

So, I’m right back here at the beginning, telling you to just sit still and breathe softly and gently. At some point some part of the brain will ask the question: “Why are we just sitting here, breathing? Don’t you have better things to do, all that stuff that needs to get done?”

And your response might sound something like this, “Well, we are doing this because Elizabeth says it is the best way to begin.”

And who the hell is Elizabeth and what does she have to do with all the other things you should be doing and aren’t?

Although it might be interesting to hear your response to that question, I’d much rather give you a couple of my own. Because I’ve gotten rather good at this business of sitting still and breathing, I’ve even used it to create some rather interesting pieces of where they might go.

The first one is titled “Self-Talk Matters II” and can be found here:https://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/self-talk-matters-ii/

The second one is a talk I had with my dragon: https://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/dialogue-with-my-dragon/

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Rebirth 3

So, how does an individual like myself, with such a poor self-image, even begin to think of becoming a writer, no less? I didn’t just wake up one morning and make that decision. There were a lot of steps involved and some mountains to climb. Have I mentioned that I have a terrible fear of heights? I’m not joking.

Although the title of this song seems to speak of that issue (writing or not writing), it isn’t about writing. It is about getting to know and perhaps finally learning about the only person we really need to know: our self. If we don’t know who and what we are all about, how can we possibly know others? Yes, we can know their names, occupations, maybe a few of their likes and dislikes, but do we really know that singular human being and who they really are? And how do we get to know them? We sit down and talk with them. By asking questions, we begin to hear their story. It’s uniqueness. How much more important is it, that we do the same with our own story and all of its experiences?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells us in her book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, that nothing is ever lost from the human psyche. Nothing. That means that every moment of our existence is stored somewhere inside of us, inside the skin of our being. And I believe it. One of the things I know that happens when I write, is that memories pop up, unexpectedly, and unbidden. Sometimes from out of nowhere. And seldom do they come with explanations as to why they are occurring.

There is a zone within any creative activity when the hands are busy with the physical movements and part of the brain is open for associative activity. One of the major reasons that people involve themselves in creative activities is because the creative action brings about a certain mellowness, if you will. Not exactly a high, but rather a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. The words on this page wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t chosen to write them in just this way. And that’s a good feeling. But there’s also a downside to the process. If you, the reader don’t find value or meaning in these words, that can be a real downer.

Estes also tells us that our story is the best medicine we have, possess, to offer the world around us. But, we are the only individual that can create that particular story. And no, it doesn’t have to be written down. That helps, but it isn’t essential to the process. That is the real point of the song. It calls us to “open up that dirty window”, the one that is smeared with the dust of time and all those other memories. Each of us has had a lifetime of moments, but if we never stop long enough to examine those moments and how those experiences played out and what meaning, or lack there of, they played in the shaping of whom we have become in this present moment, how can we offer that singular medicine to the world around us? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we find out if that medicine can actually help anyone, if we never attempt to take it ourselves?

I’m going to give you an example from my own experience. I was invited to come to a dinner my younger sister was having for their closest couple friends. I was the only single individual at the table. Somewhere in the middle of all the chatting and clatter of silverware, one of the men looked at me and asked what I did for a living. I told him I was retired on disability and spent most of my time on my computer.

One of the women, frowning, said that her friend’s son was constantly playing on his computer and the friend couldn’t seem to get his attention for any other purpose. Everyone was nodding in negative agreement. So, I said, “I don’t play games online, I facilitate four blogs. I’m a writer.”

One of the other men asked me, “What do you write?”

“Mostly poetry, but I also write prose. Occasionally, I do personal essays.” I responded.

“Have you ever actually been published anywhere?”

“Yes, I have. In both small and large presses. One of my poems was accepted and used as the anchor piece for an anthology that was then turned into a set of tape cassettes. My poem anchored the set of tapes and the set was nominated for a Grammy Award, in the Spoken Word Category.”

The original gentleman, shook his head and said, “Poetry for a Grammy Nomination? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

The other man looked straight at me and asked, “So, what do you get paid for all this so-called writing that you do?”

“I don’t get paid for it. I do it because I really enjoy writing.”

He promptly turned to my brother-in-law and said, “So, Tom, what did you think of that Packer game last weekend?”

End of discussion and no one directed any more conversation toward my person. I quietly left after dinner and was never invited to join the group after that. And I must say, these are not bad people. Their priorities are simply different from my own. I have wondered on occasion, since then, if I had also told them that because of the enthusiastic publicity about the Grammy Nomination, I was invited to teach credit classes at the University from which I graduated and made $40 an hour for that employment, if the outcome would have been different. But, have to admit that the men at that table would have been far more threatened by a woman making that kind of money than the idea that I wrote poetry.

Because of our current reality, we are all being asked to sit still, to be alone with our own person. To take this time to possibly learn from our own experiences, to understand our own story, and to begin the healing process that can and might entail. Are we only the amount of money we possess? And if we are more than that, how does that change our story and whatever we have to offer the world around us?

At the moment, our world is looking very broken. I am doing what I know how to do. What are you doing?

Elizabeth Crawford 5/5/2020

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Rebirth 2

This song is a good example of rebirth. I have lived long enough to remember the original version and still retain all of the words. As a matter of fact, it brings back a wonderful memory. We were sitting in the huge crowded cafeteria of the University at lunch time. This was a mixture of people, traditional and non-trad, students, teachers, office personal, ranging in age from 18 to mid-forties and beyond. Two of the women were speaking about music, particularly the songs of our youth. One woman, a good friend who knew I sang, looked at me and said, “Yes, like the Sound of Silence”, and grinning, she said, “I’ll bet you know that one, Elizabeth.”

Grinning back at her, accepting the challenge, it was my intent to only sing the first and opening line. But, the young woman sitting next to me, and half my age, immediately jumped in to sing harmony. So, we sang the song all the way through, and that huge bustling room, went absolutely silent and listened. As the room slowly resumed it’s clatter and noise level of conversation and lunch consumption, my friend, the instigator said, ” I have never been in this room when it went so still and silent.”

And that was the day I knew that I was right where I belonged, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and that it was perfectly okay to just be me. A rebirth, if you will. Before that experience, I had always questioned myself, especially my own thoughts and subsequent actions. Had never really thought that I belonged, let alone, was acceptable.

When I was four years old, I slipped beneath the back wheel of my father’s reversing huge black Pontiac. My head swelled up and there were bloody scrape marks on the opposite side of my face. Mom and Dad took me to the doctor’s office. The doctor checked me over and asked if I’d thrown up. I hadn’t, so he released me. But, as we were leaving the office, I threw up all over the waiting room. And I was immediately taken to the hospital.

Once there, x-rays were taken, and it became clear that a piece of shattered skull bone was protruding into my brain and creating a blood clot. Emergency surgery was scheduled. My parents were told that I had only a fifty percent chance of survival and that if I did survive, I would probably have some brain damage, akin to Cerebral Palsy.

Those dire predictions haunted my life through the rest of my childhood and sometimes still interfere even to this day. You see, although the doctor gave me a complete and clean bill of health, even called me his little ‘Miracle Girl’, my behavior was forever under a microscope from that day forward. Although I did my fair share of “acting out”, unlike my siblings who were most often chastised in private, my “mistakes” were discussed at the dinner table. “Why can’t you be more like the others?” “Why would you say such a thing?” These were familiar phrases to me and became an internal mantra, constantly echoing through my own thoughts.

My entire family had gone through a life-threatening trauma. However, back then, it was not seen as essential that all of us might have needed some help. Especially me. My family didn’t understand that I’d spent almost an entire month, away from home, among perfect strangers who were very different from me and what I had come to know as normal. And some of those differences rubbed off. I saw and heard things differently. And still do.

And again, this was a type of Rebirth experience for me. One marked by a large and ugly scar that arced my left ear. All my hair had been shaved off. The doctor suggested that I wear a football type helmet, to protect my head during the slow recovery process. My Mother wouldn’t consider such a thing. She found other things to cover my head, but I hated all of them and to this day, don’t much wear any type of head covering.

The ‘Sound of Silence’ written by Paul Simon, was an iconic folk protest. And in that tradition, the words them-selves, were far more important than the music behind them.  The newer version is quite different, although the words remain the same. It is grittier than that original version, to the point of being angry. And it exemplifies many of the changes we, as individuals, are seeing and experiencing.

We are not trained to be alone. Instead, we are taught, from young on, to make ourselves acceptable, to belong, to fit in, to be cogs in the machinery of what we call society. Yes, on occasion, a few of us might rise to some sort of prominence, even to what might be claimed to be adulation, but only a few and that position is ever changing. And those that do, very often are surprised at how quickly they become “Yesterday’s News”.

That all changed with the Pandemic and subsequent lock-down. Everything about our lives has been altered and we are suddenly alone with only the sound of silence for company. And we are threatened by that sound. The majority of us simply don’t know how to be alone with ourselves.

I thought I’d be okay. I’ve lived alone for many years, have even defined myself as a Hermit. But, that was a choice I made. Now, I’m told that I have to, must be this way. No choice in the matter, that’s just the way it is, for my safety, as well as others. Added to that, I find myself newly defined as a member of the most fragile and vulnerable among us. And the sound of silence has become the enemy, once again.

I used to be terrified of silence. It meant I was alone, with only my own person to rely on. And my own history told me that wasn’t a good thing. I was not an individual I could trust. Certainly not someone I could count to watch my back, or be there for me when I most needed her. And yet, I had come to trust her. It was a long slow process and the University had played a huge role in that change.

You see, I was 37 years old when I entered the University, and to me, it all seemed like some sort of fluke. I had gone to the Tech College, in town, to take a test that would perhaps tell me what I might be best able to study in my efforts to make myself employable. But the tests results only confused me even more. I was told that I would only be bored at the Tech College and that I needed to apply to the four year University in our sister city. And when I say that my path there was greased, I mean just that. All I had to do was show up for an appointment, and by the end of that afternoon, I was registered to attend my first semester there, with the promise of a grant that would pay my tuition and the cost of my books, and would see me through how ever long it might take to finish.

It would take me seven years to do that. That sounds like a long time, but statistically I fit right into the amount of time it usually takes a non-traditional student with other obligations (like family, job, and kids), to do the same thing. And, it was there that I found the real Elizabeth, I had only secretly hoped I could be.  That one with a mind that worked well and even made sense to others. It was there that this North Wisconsin Hillbilly would graduate with two degrees and high honors in both. Perhaps, most importantly, it was there that I began to write poetry of all things, and began to learn that the sound of silence is not an enemy. But, a friend that allows us to explore those pieces and parts of ourselves that we may have lost in the bustle of being acceptable, of belonging, and of being afraid of being alone with only our own thoughts and feelings as our only companion.

The sound of silence can create a real sense of threat. It might lead to anxiety and eventually to fear and anger. Anger is a product of the human psyche. It is a natural adrenaline rush, a flow of energy that allows the individual to stand and fight, or run like hell.  But that rush of energy might also be used to think through whatever action might be engaged in. There are only two choices in how we use that energy: constructively or destructively.

We are seeing a great deal of anger and rage on the news, and even on social media. And most of what we are seeing is destructive in nature. Dismissively calling someone an “asshole” certainly fails to invite them into conversation that could at least open the doors to a further exchange. It only invites retaliation in kind and worse. It has already become death.

The sound of silence shouldn’t be an enemy. It should be a friend, inviting us in to sit quietly, to breathe softly and deeply. To finally hear the sound of our own soul speaking to us, of what it knows about the journey toward wholeness. And how to heal what has definitely been broken. If we do not heed that invitation, I believe we are setting a course toward complete destruction. Not just in the present moment, but for all potential moments to come.

Elizabeth Crawford 6/1/2020

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Rebirth I


 

This song haunted me for weeks, day in and day out, about six months ago. I pasted it here so I could easily listen to it, whenever I wanted to do so. I have no idea how many times I did just that. Music has been a very important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Since very early childhood, if I heard a song that I liked, I could sing it, pitch perfect after listening to it two or three times. I had what might be called ‘an ear’ for it.

This song bothered me, because I both liked and didn’t like it. I liked it’s simplicity and the imagery within the words. Stark, but clear. Waiting for the sun to rise, to end the darkness is a universal that everyone can understand. The urge to dream of the sweeter things is, yet again, another universal concept easily understood. And the tiredness of living day to day, hoping for and yet, seeing few if any changes.

But, then comes the second verse. Simply a repeat of the first one. That sort of hit me sideways. No expansion on the original lines, just a repeat. I wanted more and was, at first disappointed. Because the music also changed, expanded and became a sort of surreal cacophony that was almost jarring. Edgy, if you will. So, I just sat with the song, let it take me wherever it would and finally realized why it was haunting me. Because it is about life itself and how so many of us human creatures actually experience that phenomenon.

Early in April, I turned 74. It was a silent sort of shock, to my whole system. When I turned 70, I wrote one sentence that day. “I don’t know how to be 70.” Now, here I am at 74 and I still don’t know how to be this number of years. I mean, that means I am an old person. A really old person. Someone who is living and breathing on The Edge of The Dark. And yes, my eyes are tired, as is most of the rest of what might be defined as my system.

And yet, over the past few days, I have realized that I have a deep desire to write about something I consider very important. I want to write about ‘rebirth’. My writing has always been personal. In other words, stemming from my own personal experiences. Just the thought of rebirth, at my age, sends my thoughts screaming into that darkness, never to be seen again.

Yet, here I am, trying to do just that. To be honest, I am making no promises for ordered thought, let alone coherency. So we shall begin at the beginning. What the heck is rebirth? What does it mean? Is it even possible? If it is, how does one go about doing such a thing? And more important, perhaps, why would one seek to do that?

I can only tell you of my own experiences. I was twenty-seven years old, married with two children. I’d been reading a book that a friend had given me and I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in years. I prayed. And when I stopped, my insides sort of lit up and I felt joy for the first time. It felt like Spring, Sunshine, and bubbles all rolled into one and now dancing through my entire system. All I could do was laugh out loud and hug myself.

The next morning, not having spoken about what had happened to anyone, and in the spur of the moment, my husband, two kids, and myself got in the car to take a ride West to visit my sister, who had recently moved to a different and unknown town. As we drove away from home, I reached out and turned on the radio. It was John Denver with these words: “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, going home to a place he’d never been before. He’d left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again, you might say he’d found the key to every door.”

That was my first experience with synchronicity, as well as my first lesson concerning Joy and Rebirth. My second lesson was far from the same. In Native American cultures there is a shamanic ritual known as the cycle of “Life/Death/Rebirth”. In it, the initiate must dig his own grave, lie down in it (the covering having been closed off by a blanket), and wait through three days and nights, of total darkness to be given a vision that would explain his purpose.  That almost sounds easy in comparison.

It was more than ten years later. We were living in a farm house, out in the county. Now there were four children, two in their teens, two almost ten years younger. Having been raised in a strict Catholic family, I was struggling with the concept of divorce. My husband had finally admitted to being an alcoholic, had sought rehabilitation, but his need to control me and every aspect of our lives hadn’t been diminished. I had been in our bedroom, with the door closed, trying to find a way through our current situation. I finally roused myself enough to leave the bedroom and walk as far as the dining room where I sat in a chair with my back against the wall.

Only to realize that my husband, in only his skivvies, was sitting in the rocking chair next to the fireplace, haranguing all four of our children who had been ordered to sit on the floor in front of him. All four of them were crying. Obviously in a state of cold rage, the man was shaking his finger and pointing at them, as he said, “No one, not one of you will move, until at least one of you agrees with me, and says out loud,  that your mother has never been here for you, has never really loved you, because she is utterly selfish and incapable of loving anyone.”

I had put the divorce on hold. I had filed, after he came home drunk at two in the morning and beaten the shit out of me, and six cops had arrived (called by my son), to escort him out of the house. One of those police officer’s had remained behind and while sitting across from me, had very calmly and quietly asked me a question: “Do you know that no one, not your father, husband, son, or a friend has the right to do this to you?” I clearly heard and understood his question, perhaps for the first time in my life.

My husband had taken himself to a rehab center, where he’d stayed for a two month period. He’d started attending AA meetings and would go to them regularly. I had given almost twenty years to the marriage and decided that I at least owed all of us the opportunity to see if this incredible change might work. He did stay sober, but his cold rage toward my person never left.

It would take many more years to fully understand that rage, but eventually I did come to realize that it had very little to do with me. It was a carry over from his childhood and something he’d never worked through, and more than likely never would. As I sat in that chair and heard his words to our children, my decision was obvious. I stood up and clearly stated, “I’m done now.” Then left the room and took the divorce off hold.

Which meant that I was something new. Born again as a single woman, mother of four children, a second year college student with a long journey in front of me alone. What I’m trying to say here is that ‘rebirth’ comes in all kinds of ways. Yes, it can be spiritual, like my first one, but it can also happen on other levels, psychological, physical, mental, or emotional. And just like an unborn child, finally ready to arrive, we are swept up by timing and circumstances beyond our control and shoved into a whole new world and state of being.

Which brings me to why I feel a need to write about rebirth. The Pandemic and its restrictions, have drastically altered our lives in so many ways, and on so many different levels. What are you feeling in this moment? Does it mirror the you that you were before it all began? Are you experiencing wide mood swings, or just one that is darker with angry inner or outer bursts of desires that have little or nothing to do with who you were when it all began? Are you constantly exhausted and for no real reason? Do you even have a Normal to go back to, should it end next week, month, or year? And last question, for now, what would Normal look like now and how would it make you feel?

This is only the first of what I foresee as a series of essays concerning the subject of Rebirth. If you’d like to respond to this first article, the comment section below is there for just that purpose.

Elizabeth Crawford 5/25/2020

 

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Personal Writing 3

Love your crossover piece, Elizabeth! I feel like I write quite a few of those. I think it’s okay for poetry to change. I’ve never been a fan of rhyming poems or acrostic poetry. I don’t care to write epic poems or lyrical poetry. I’m not sure any of “my poetry” is actually poetry. But why not move forward with the genre? I think it’s okay to leave the formal, stilted writing behind us. It belongs back when life was more stately and dignified.

This is a comment that was left on a poem I created and posted on my poetry blog. In my comments after the poem, I had confessed that it was more what I call a ‘crossover’ piece, meaning a mixture, or combination of both poetry and prose. The comment had me laughing at first, because I have often wondered the same thing about whether or not my poetry was ever actually poetry.

That response might sound strange coming from an individual who has been awarded, on more than one occasion, for her skill at writing poetry. A skill, I might add, that will probably remain an utter mystery to this woman who continues to practice it. Because practice is the most important word in all of this. Personal writing is only a practice we engage in. Another attempt we make to get to know that individual we refer to as I, and me.

Take a closer look at that last sentence. Notice anything important? There’s a huge difference between that I, and the me. One is always done in an upper case letter, while the other is lower case. Why is that? Why don’t they share equal standing? And I am sure that somewhere back in our History, there is probably a simple and profoundly logical reason for that difference, but still? When is I, I, and me, just me? And why am I asking such a silly question in the first place? Because we are here to hopefully discuss Personal Writing. The one place where I and me share the same space, perhaps even become equals, or even friends.

There are at least four different versions of the I and me that people, including myself, can possibly know. 1. That individual they have come to know indirectly. Whether that is through my writing, or the perceptions of others. And both of those may be profoundly different. 2. The individual that others have come to know by actually meeting me. Their perceptions might be quite different from that first category. 3. By reputation alone. Perceptions that have proceeded me, before I’ve been met. And again, those can cover a wide gamut. Then there is the Me that only I know, that one that knows my inner thoughts and feelings. Good or bad, she most often doesn’t begin to compare with those other three, at least that has been my own experience.

So how does one get to know that person who lives inside that beating heart, who looks out of those eyes and sees the world colored by her own past experiences, and the words, true or not, that others choose to speak. What has affected her that has caused her to become the unique individual she is in the process of becoming, and will continue to become until that final breath?

The only way, I know of, is to sit down and talk with her on a regular basis. Not just now and then, but daily, because each day brings new experiences that might alter her in both large and small ways.

Take, for instance, the writer of the above comment. Would she fully understand if I told her that even though I’ve been writing poetry for over thirty years, I really don’t know if what I am writing is even poetry. That although I studied creative writing for several years, earned a degree in it, with high honors, and taught it for more years than that, I still don’t know and probably never will.

What I do know is that personal writing helped me to climb that ladder and assisted me every step of the way. That personal writing helped me find and know both the I and me of my being. It was my place to practice, to actually clarify what and how I was saying my truth, and if it made any sense at all. It became a record of my existence and helped me grow into whatever I am becoming. To make the choices that have become the I and me that exist in this present moment.

One final question, and yes this may be used as fuel for your own personal writing: What is most important to you and what have you done or are you doing to see that reality to fruition?

Stop for a moment. Really listen to those voices that respond to that question. There are really, at least two, and they probably aren’t in full agreement. Why is that? And if there are more than two? Where are they coming from? You, and only you can know the answer to those questions. If you are not doing anything to see that most important thing to reality than don’t you have to ask why? How long has it been, since you even considered doing something about it? Is the mountain too high for you to climb, or the valley too deeply draped in shadows? Do heights make you dizzy or do shadows fill you with dread and freeze your ability to move at all? Have you decided, somewhere along the way, that it is all no more than foolishness so why even consider it?

And yes, I am asking myself these same questions. And no, I’m not real happy with the answers. But knowing that is a first step which will take me to a second one, and maybe even to a third, or more. Which means I am actually moving. Not standing still or staring off into space wondering how I got here and why.

Elizabeth Crawford 5/18/2020

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Personal Writing 2

This is only a suggestion that might help you find some things to write about. Sit down with paper and pen and make a list of beginnings, or firsts. One sentence for each and no more. This is only a list that is meant to encourage you to write more. Here are some suggestions:

first kiss
first day at school (any age)
first look at a night sky filled with stars
first friend
first child
first impulse to create
first time you realized that you might not know what you thought you knew
first favorite color
first car
first time voting
first time in a boat
first river
first encounter ?

This list might take several pages, or less than one. But it will suggest others. That’s up to you. Our story is the best medicine we own that can be shared with the world around us. But, the most important person who needs to hear it is you. Writing about any one of the firsts we have encountered in life, is like reaching out to clasp hands with a stranger.

Yes, a stranger. One who only lives in memory and memory is a very fleeting thing. We might remember an image of a thing, and experience, but until we examine it more closely, put it into words of thought and feelings, it simply remains a blurred photo with little or no meaning.

Take, for instance, that first kiss. Mine was rather exceptional because of the surroundings and what occurred after it. I was thirteen, and he was the same age but attended a public school, while I was in my final year of Catholic grade school. He had a friend with him, who seldom spoke, most often just standing by observing and listening. It was early evening and we were standing outside the back entrance to my home. The screen door was open, but the light wasn’t lit. So whatever was within couldn’t be seen in that darkness. We had been walking around the backyard, talking, and he’d taken my hand and was holding it. He moved in a bit closer, his eyes on mine, and mine on his. He bent and softly pressed his lips to mine. It was probably the most chaste kiss I would ever experience, but I was both scared and excited. As he drew back and away, my father’s voice came from within that darkened entrance way. “It’s time to come in now.”

We scattered, the two boys taking off in one direction, and me scrambling to get inside the house. There was no one in the entrance way. My Dad had calmly dropped his statement and turned away to move quietly into our living space. And he never mentioned what had happened. But, the memory still exists clear and well defined because of those startling circumstances. I wrote it down years later. It makes me laugh in a sort of shaken and embarrassed manner. That most often turns into outright laughter. Because that wasn’t the end of that ‘first’ experience.

You see, the boy and his friend came back the next evening. He seemed a bit fidgety, and spoke of several things. Then went quiet, looked over at his silent friend, and asked me if I’d teach his friend how to do the thing we’d done the evening before. I went stock still and a thousand things: words, questions, mine and other’s, all jammed into one small space, all at the same time. I don’t know if the shock walked across my face. I was just too stunned by his request. He’d gone on speaking, something about how his friend had never kissed a girl and really wanted to learn how to do it. And all I could do was stand there and stare at him. I had thought that he genuinely liked me.

He wasn’t the first boy who wanted me to be his girlfriend. The year before, the best looking boy in the graduating eighth grade class had singled me (a seventh-grader) out and we’d spent most of the past summer, when I wasn’t babysitting or doing chores, swinging on our front porch swing, swimming at the public pool, or just walking around the neighborhood together, holding hands, or with his arm slung around my shoulder. He’d never kissed me. Had gone off to the seminary the following autumn to study about becoming a priest. And I had wondered if that was why there had never been a first kiss.

But now had to wonder if I’d just been some sort of experiment. This current boy had given me a ring to wear on a chain around my neck. And all I could do was stare at him, my mind in total confusion about what any or all of this was really all about. I couldn’t speak, just stood staring at him and then shook my head “No”, turning and walking away. He asked me for the ring a few days later. Apparently his mostly silent friend meant far more to him. And kissing might now be whatever I thought it was.

Writing it all out brought back a lot more memories. Things that surprised me when I did so many years later. The following year, I attended the same junior high school as he did. For all intents and purposes, he acted as if he didn’t know me, never said “Hi”, in passing, or acknowledged me in any way. That was okay, as I was dealing with the major change and disorientation that came from going through seven years of Catholic grade school, to public school.

I did take part in the yearly Talent Show that year, singing a solo of a popular song at the time. The song was well received and I got a lot of applause from the audience. Wasn’t aware that he was there in that audience with a whole group of friends, both male and female. Had, however, become aware that he was definitely one of the most popular males on that campus, sought after by most of the most popular girls. A few days after the Show, one of those girls approached me to tell me how surprised she was when she heard me sing. When she said I had a great voice, I thanked her and went to turn away, but she continued, “You surprised all of us and should be aware that you obviously caught the attention of several of the guys we were sitting with. Especially CM. He just sat still and didn’t move at all, didn’t speak, just stared at you, up on stage singing. He was sort off in a whole different world. You might want to know that he might be interested in you.” I wasn’t.

A few months later, I was talking to another girl and she was curious about my Catholic school background, saying how tough she thought it must be with all the nuns making sure you didn’t mess around with boys, all the rules, and that sort of thing. I just laughed and told her that hadn’t stopped any of us from seeking and actually having boyfriends. She seemed genuinely surprised that we might actually rebel at such restrictions and asked me about my own experiences. I told her about the possible priest and then dropped the name of the other boy. Her eyes got big and she said, “You went steady with him?” I nodded as I got my books together for my next class. She was obviously not only shocked, but thoroughly curious. I rose to my feet when the bell rang, looked at her and said, “Yes, for about a month and the only thing I’d tell any girl who might be interested in him, is not to let him kiss her.” Then turned and walked away, laughing inside.

So that’s my story about my first kiss and it proves that I am only human. There’s more, of course, but that might be better for another time and a different list. As I said at the beginning, the list is simply a starting point. A place of ideas, as well as beginnings. But, if you want to know why it is so important to write these things down I will give you a clue. When you write them down, you are making notes. And when you do that, you are making your experience “noteworthy”. You are also enhancing your own memory, and making your story far more real, and interesting,  to that stranger you may have become, and the ones you have still to meet.

Until next time,
Elizabeth 5/12/2020

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Personal Writing 1

The above image is a pen and ink “fantasy”. When it was finished, I took it to my paint program, and first changed the color to black and white (it was originally done in green with fine artists markers. I liked the black and white but wanted to see what would happen if I inverted the colors. This was the result and I liked it because now the black lines were white and really stood out from the background. The process is important here because personal writing can take the individual through a similar process of transformation.

It is my intent to post here, at least once a week, in order to encourage others to find the deeply altering affect that personal writing can bring about. If we are sticking to the rules of social isolation, this is a perfect time to begin. We all have pockets of time when we are alone. Why not fill those pockets with an activity that promises to help oneself to become the better individual we all long to be? That one who is not quite so lost in the activity of everyday routine. That one who thinks and feels their way without quite comprehending what either of those activities really means.

Because personal writing is aimed in that direction. Base line, it amounts to only one thing: a conversation with self. If it results in you talking aloud to yourself, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It simply means you care enough to let yourself hear what you are actually thinking and feeling. Because, for the most part, we don’t do that, nearly enough.

I have chosen this image as a logo for a whole lot of reasons, some I might even explain in later days. Suffice to say, when this image appears on any post, you will know that it is me speaking about personal writing. Now, to get on with the business at hand.

There are a few things you will need before you are ready to begin. 1. Paper and pen, or pencil. I can hear you groaning, mumbling about how you thought you could do this on your keyboard. Not a good idea. Why? Because it creates a certain distance between you and the self you hope to come to know better. And again, that closer, more knowing relationship is the stated purpose of this activity. If you really wanted to get to know someone, why would you put a machine, with all of it sights and sounds, functions, and purposes between you and that other individual? You’re going to have to trust me on this one. I’ve tried both: pen and paper, and keyboard. It is not the same experience. Mainly because typing on a keyboard means that part of your brain isn’t available to do the actual work being called for. It is now reserved for and to the work of typing. Hitting the right keys with the right fingers, the space bar after each word, and the corrections that a grammar program will automatically inject in red ink, that will stop the flow of whatever you might have intended. And no, you can’t always get the original flow back.

Writing is a creative activity. Any creative activity has the potential to become a form of active meditation. The hands are busy moving in the familiar way we learned in grammar school, doing that automatically. The mind is free to speak through thoughts and images often based in memory, but also will bring up interesting questions and make striking associations as well. And that is what this conversation is all about.

Did someone tell you that your handwriting would never win any awards, so you’ve never liked it and that’s one of the reasons you’ve never even considered personal writing until now? Then close your eyes, picture that person in another room, in a building at least ten blocks away. Tell him, or her, that the room contains everything they will need and they are not to come out unless you tell them they can do so. This is your mind, your private space, and they are not welcome until invited. Then close the door and get back to your paper and pen. It might take a few times, but eventually they will comply. And one of the major benefits of regular personal writing is much better penmanship.

The other thing you’ll need, is really two things. A Dictionary and a Thesaurus. And no, you do not have to go out and buy them. I use Dictionary.com, right here online. It provides both functions. And you won’t need them until the writing is completed.

And now for the actual writing. Find a space and time where you won’t be interrupted. That’s essential. Give yourself, at the bare minimum, fifteen to twenty minutes. Gather your pen and paper immediately in front of you. Now sit back, close your eyes and breath, deeply and slowly. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Do that at least four or five times. Do this every time you sit to write. It will swiftly become a trigger to your subconscious mind that you are ready to begin.

I would ask you to write out your own definition of what personal writing is. First your thoughts on the subject itself, then how you feel about doing it. Can you see yourself doing it comfortably and on a regular basis? What is comfortable to you, and what would be regular for you? What are your objections about doing it? What would you hope to gain by placing yourself within such a process and are those realistic objectives, excuses, or just wishful thinking? These questions are simply examples, suggestions of what you might write about. If you have something else in mind, feel free to engage in that manner. I am not here to tell you how and what to write, but only to encourage you to do so.

I will explain those benefits in further detail in coming posts. For now, the only object is to get you on paper and actually writing. And that’s all you are to do. Do not stop to reread your words, do not stop to correct anything. Simply write until you are done. Only then can you go back to reread, to correct, if so compelled. We all have a judge and jury inside our minds and much too often we are the guilty party until proven innocent. If you stop to go back and check on how you are doing, you will bring the whole process to a halt before it has even begun. Have some heart for the defendant, please. Let the process do its work before making a judgement. You owe yourself that much and so much more.

Until next time…

Elizabeth Crawford 5/4/2020

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Lesson About Topsy-Turvy

A5RKXR Upside down tortoise

It might be best if you first read the poem I wrote, using this image as a visual for the words. It may be found at my poetry site, here: https://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/topsy-turvy-2/

In my notes, at the end of the poem, I wrote that it might be best to write an essay to explain how I came to learn this very valuable, but simple lesson. So here I am, attempting to do just that. It came in several steps and over some amount of time.

I just turned 74 a couple of weeks ago. I was in my late thirties and early forties when I attended college as a newly divorced woman, still raising the last of my four children. Talk about having ones world turned upside down and daily life becoming kattywumpus. Lots and lots of adjustments for all of us. We survived, but I still retain a concerned but questioning curiosity about just how well we did that.

So, there I was, heading into ‘middle-age’, surrounded by other students half my age, sitting in a classroom. By the way, my first day of college, before leaving home, I sat in my idling car to watch my youngest get on a school bus, for the first time, as a kindergartner. And knew that I envied her. She, at least, had her year older sister, there alongside her, holding her hand. Me? I was alone and totally on my own.

One of my early classes was English and concerned reading fiction. We were to read “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I was an avid reader, but had steered clear of the Classics because I was fairly certain I’d never fully understand them. And by the way, I graduated with two degrees, one in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing, and the other in History. Talk about topsy-turvy.

At the end of the reading period, our Instructor brought in the film and we settled in to watch it. Early in the film, a destitute family has loaded an old truck with all their belongings and is headed across the continent to find a new life in California. As the truck curves onto the roadway, one wheel makes contact with a large slow-moving turtle, setting it spinning end over end, landing in the gravel upside down.

After the film, the Instructor asked us what we thought Steinbeck’s purpose was in creating that metaphoric image in his book, and why the director was so careful to reproduce it in the film.  And of course, that question was featured in the following exam.

Not much longer after that, I met a young woman on campus. She was always alone, never spoke with anyone, and dressed far more like a teenage boy than girl. Almost six feet tall, with dirty blond hair that covered most of her face, I became aware that she was harassed, not just by her fellow students, but also, on occasion, by campus security. The details of how we became friends are too complex to go into here. We did, and for the rest of my College career, we were most often found together. And the harassment stopped, especially after I was asked to be a volunteer advocate in the newly established Women’s Center.

When she asked me what classes she should take, I suggested the one I have already mentioned. I knew she was terribly creative and liked to write. She took the class and secretly started calling that same Instructor, “The Turtle Man.” I loved it and also came to think of him by that definition.

I graduated and became the Manager of a bookstore. I was living in Southeastern Wisconsin, where we had moved shortly after I was married. My family was from Green Bay. My sister was having serious back problems and needed surgery that could only take place in Milwaukee. I was visiting her as often as possible, especially after complications arose after the surgery, and I preferred using back roads when doing so, mainly because of all the wildlife that inhabits those areas.

I became aware of a large dark object lying almost dead center in the middle of the two lane road I was traveling. I slowed down and stopped when I realized it was a very large turtle turned over on its back and unable to right itself. By then, I had come to a complete stop, got out after putting my idling vehicle in Park, and walked over to take a closer look.

As I was doing so, a small camper truck, traveling in the opposite direction, pulled up as well, and the male driver got out to take a look. “I don’t know if it’s a snapper or not, and I can’t think of a careful way to help him,” I told the stranger. He nodded and said he didn’t know either. But, then snapped his fingers and said he might have something in the back of his truck. He dug around for a bit and came back with a long-handled shovel. He carefully wedged it beneath the turtle, then carefully walked across the gravel and down the embankment into a small area of grasses and slim trees, where a small creek was flowing. Then he carefully put the end of the shovel down on the ground and slowly slid the turtle off onto its belly. For a creature known for slow movements, this one almost seemed to scamper over to the creek and plunged in. We both laughed out loud.

I thanked the man and he told me he’d only stopped because he thought I might be having car trouble. We just grinned at each other, got back in our separate vehicles and drove away in opposite directions. And I spent the next few hours thinking about The Turtle Man and Steinbeck’s metaphor. How we all, at some point, find ourselves turned upside down and topsy-turvy and perhaps only need a stranger’s warm smile, or a few words of comfort to right us and allow us to continue.

Our present circumstances, the virus, social distancing, and staying at home has turned our world and our lives upside down. Being on our own, alone with self, locked down and in, raises all kinds of levels of fear and anxiety. That is only natural. But we can improve the situation by just regulating our breathing, slowing it down, and letting ourselves think a bit more clearly. And when we’ve done that we might reach out to others, here online, or by telephone and help them do the same. A kind word can travel endless miles and bring smiles to strangers. It can easily become the hand of support needed to bring our topsy-turvy environment back into some semblance of order, even if only for a moment. And in that moment we can breathe again. Perhaps become a Turtle Man or Woman, a living breathing metaphor of slow moving kindness.

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Words and Wood

My daily work has slowed down considerably. As I mentioned in my last post, I am working on a manuscript that has turned into a lot of biographical material, and this current writing is a very important part of my story. Perhaps even the most revealing part of that story. And thus, the words seem to have taken on the consistency of wooden planks. Stiff boards that must be carefully steamed in order to bend them very carefully to a certain curvature, then held in place until they cool and become permanent. Each word becoming an integral part of the whole.

But all that careful molding takes time and energy. And one misstep can easily create a far different image than its reality. These particular words are built on memories, lived long ago, and although cherished, a bit blurred by time and other experiences. As will happen, there are strong emotions attached to each one. Those emotions can twist and turn those wooden words in ways they were never meant to go. Reliving those experiences also depletes whatever energy level is available.

So my plans for doing three or four pages a day, has now been reduced to one or two. That’s okay with me. I’d prefer to be careful rather than swift. Three quarters of the manuscript have already been written. I saved this portion because I knew it would be difficult and it has been.

I chose the premise of this writing at the beginning. It is far more important to me than any other I have ever written about. It goes without saying, that this present portion is in direct correlation to that chosen premise. So my emotional state is as important as my mental one. I do what I can each day and each day is its own experience, unique and utterly individual.

What is also important is that I kept a daily journal during that long ago time period. And because I wrote down those experiences in detail, the memories remain far more clear. In my journal I questioned many of my own emotional and mental responses to what I was living with and through. That also has a way of sharpening ones recall, especially over long periods of time.

My younger sister always questions my ability to remember, and although she doesn’t understand, I always tell her the same thing. It has to do with writing daily. When you do so, you are making ordinary every day experiences noteworthy. Putting those experiences into words, lodges them in your memory, making them far more easily recalled. It makes them into clear cut planks of wood, readily available to be used (or bent) to ones present purposes.

Elizabeth 8/30/2019

Note: The image is a line weave drawing I did many years ago, and have always liked because it reminds me of wood bent to different purposes.

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Taking A Breather

I’ve been working on a manuscript for several weeks. The story behind my experience with those “15 minutes” of fame that altered my entire existence. Attempting to fill three or four pages a day. It’s coming a long quite well, but I hit a snag this morning. Not a major one, but enough to make me realize it’s time to take a break and just breathe for a few moments. So decided to come here instead, and fill this page.

The photograph is one I took in my sister’s backyard several years ago. A frog, taking a siesta on a hammock tied between two ceramic mushrooms. Don’t have a clue who actually made the arrangement, but it makes me grin whenever I pull up my files and see him there, taking a breather.

I very seldom know exactly what I’m going to write about when I come here. And this morning, all I knew was that I needed a time out. All I had was the title of this article and went looking through my files to see if I could find some sort of appropriate image. Mr. Froggy seemed an excellent choice. If I had a real backyard, and a hammock, that’s exactly where I’d be, if I owned the physical ability to climb inside such a contraption without harming myself for the rest of whatever time I might have left.

So, now I’m here grinning for two reasons. Mr. Froggy is the first one. The second one is that it was probably important to walk away from that other writing. Didn’t realize, when I started it, that it would turn into a biographical thingie that would take me on a roller coaster ride of emotional impact, the likes of which I haven’t experienced in years. And, just for the record: I hate roller coaster rides. All that speed, the ups and downs, the curves and only that narrow and remarkably thin metal bar to hang to as one races through space with a seemingly out of control precision meant only to make one wet ones pants? No. Thank You. Would far rather continue in my slow, sometimes halting manner.

Which brings me back to that other manuscript. I have no intention of quitting. It is far too important to me to think in that fashion. I have a good solid reason for writing it and a premise that is close and dear to my heart. But, I also know that the next part of the story is probably the most important one for me personally. I need the space and time to just settle down so that I can do it justice. And I will do just that.

It might sound a bit crazy to stop writing by writing about something else. But, I actually started writing in order to see what the hell I was thinking, and if my thoughts really made any kind of sense at all. There were some questions about that, mostly my own. So writing has come to mean several things to me. It is a means of slowing down my thoughts and the emotions that often accompany the words I choose. I write both poetry and prose, and far more poetry than prose. This current manuscript is prose, so my desire is to be clear and yet precise.

As I mentioned above, the next part of the story is perhaps the most important one to me personally. I need to be clear and not rush in and miss the most important details. So, I am deliberately slowing myself down, spending time just breathing. And, for me, that means writing. Writing is a creative process. The original meaning of the word create, was to breathe life into. We breathe in and are inspired. We exhale and release that inspiration. And writing out that statement has allowed me to do just that. Slow down my breathing. Slow down my own emotional response. The words themselves become my hammock, and I can rest easy inside their comforting support.

Mr. Froggy has nothing on me. But, I will gratefully thank him for the inspiration.

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