MayBelle Inches Ever Closer Toward Home

Back in 2009, when MayBelle was on a retreat in New England, she wrote this:

“I am not at home. I am far away from everything, and everyone, that I have worked so hard to mold into a representation of what home means.  In my youth, home was a ranch-style house painted blue-gray in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a mother and a father and two older sisters and a dog named Sloopy. It was jumping on the Robinsons’ trampoline, walking down to Shellie’s house, and swinging in the hammock in the backyard. Being scared of boys, learning to play the piano, and earning badges in Girl Scouts. Today home is a two-story number in Nashville, Tennessee, with a husband—the presence of whom still shocks me after seven years—a stepdaughter, and a dog named Quay. It is overstuffed bookshelves and grocery shopping and trying to be successful at self-employment. In between, home was an unremembered street name in Oxford, Mississippi; Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia, and Deane Hill Drive in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was graduate school and career and loneliness. Now, though, it is more than stucco chimneys and supper at six. It is where I draw the deepest, most satisfying breaths of my life. The kind of inhalations that can make you woozy with gratitude, and relief, and wonder. After so many years of not wanting to ‘settle down,’ it is, in the end, the only place I really want to be, surrounded by all that mundane glory. I am not quite as at home with my calling, however, although I feel I am tantalizingly close. It is, I suspect, a destination not to be reached as an endpoint but instead a beginning and returning, over and over again until some satisfaction and fulfillment are encountered. Like pornography, or finding your soulmate: you’ll just know. It is harder to describe than the physical structure of any house. It is grief and longing and joy. A bit of pride, maybe too much at times. Spirituality and semi-colons; silence and word counts. Story and regret. ‘Both and’ instead of ‘either or.’ It is syllables on paper and whispers in the dark. I trust that soon it will feel as familiar as the front door that sticks when it rains, the grandfather’s clock from my father’s office chiming the hours, the sound of the dog’s snoring through the air vent in my studio. Any day now, my vocation will feel like home, too.”

MayBelle is happy to report that on this particular day in March 2021, she does feel more and more at home with how she makes her way in the world and what she tries to offer back to her fellow pilgrims. She understands now, more fully than ever, what Frederick Buechner said about vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Now MayBelle’s not meaning to say she’s meeting some great need in the world by helping people tell their stories. Just that she’s trying, and she’s content. She is, for one of the first times in her life, able to say “it is enough” and mean it.

MayBelle Gets Her Hairs Done

MayBelle has confronted her thin hair for decades now, so it doesn’t really bother her—not too much at least—when she catches glimpses of her scalp on a sunny day when the wind is up. It’s worse when you loom over her and look down at the top of her head, so please try not to do that. According to the Harvard Health Blog, at least one-third of women have thinning hair. (Notice MayBelle does not use the phrase “suffer with.”) MayBelle’s mother (pictured here) did, and her maternal grandmother, Eunice Eula, did too.

Thankfully, MayBelle has a lovely, old-school hairdresser who is familiar with hair that is less than luxurious. And the salon itself is cozy, not intimidating. Even MayBelle feels comfortable there. You are not offered kale smoothies or wine spritzers when you arrive, although you can usually score a Diet Coke. It is not decorated with expensive chandeliers or modern art. There is a sofa, and the magazines are current. You do not have to use an app to make an appointment. Before Covid, MayBelle would often see cars from area retirement communities dropping off women for their cuts and curls.

MayBelle knew Liz was the one for her when she was not greeted with a cry of alarm, or worse, pity, at their first meeting. Liz has kept MayBelle’s hair short enough to look fuller, and worked with MayBelle to find a “magic shampoo.” And she’s even okay with MayBelle’s going gray. 

Last week MayBelle went in for a sprucing up. Just as she was getting out of the chair and putting her sensible shoes on the floor, she heard Liz say, “Stop. I need to get that hair.”

Not a strange thing to hear from your hairdresser, so MayBelle sat back down and waited for Liz to get her shears or her little neck brush. Instead, Liz came for MayBelle’s chin.

“Got it,” said Liz, smiling. “I’d noticed that earlier and wanted to get it taken care of for you.”

During her mother’s later years on this earth, MayBelle would sometimes drive her around their hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, on Sunday afternoons. They would drink iced tea from McAlister’s and talk about the old days. 

“Isn’t that where what’s her name used to live?” her mother might ask.

“Yes,” MayBelle would say. More often than not, she knew exactly which what’s her name her mother meant.

On several such occasions, just before her mother would get out of the car to return to the senior living community, MayBelle would grab her tweezers (she prefers Tweezerman), which she always keeps handy, and pluck any stray white hairs on her mother’s chin.

“Thank you,” her mother would say. “I can’t seem to take care of things like that myself anymore.”

MayBelle will most surely have her mother’s white, sparse hair one day, for hers is not only thin, but also thinning further as she ages. Down the road, as MayBelle winds it into a small bun and secures it with bobby pins before dinner at the retirement home, or while she wraps a scarf around her head before her niece comes to take her shopping, she will be reminded of the women kinfolk who have come before her. It will most likely make her self-conscious on occasion, but she’ll be fine.

Liz and MayBelle laughed about how their husbands never seem to notice their chin hairs.

“Precious told me I was beautiful one day and sent me out in the world with an inch-long white whisker poking straight out,” said MayBelle. “I’m surprised it didn’t leave a mark when he kissed me goodbye that morning.”

“My husband, too! He never seems to notice.”

Surely this makes them lucky, Liz and MayBelle, to have partners who consider them attractive regardless of how their bodies surprise them as they get older. Of course, it could mean that their husbands are not really looking at them. Or maybe, just maybe, it means they’re being seen by people who know where real beauty lies.

MayBelle Monday: On the Changing Nature of Retail Therapy

This is not a photo of MayBelle. It’s one that popped when she searched for “contentment” themed photos. MayBelle thinks this woman does, indeed, seem content. And MayBelle, who loves a hat her own self, has always wanted red hair. (Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com)

MayBelle knows that retail therapy is not often advised by counselors or therapists. Friends sometimes suggest it, thankfully. With Covid, MayBelle has not gotten out to shop much, which is actually a good thing as MayBelle all too often has shopped (and eaten) her feelings instead of processing them. She is working on that. She has, of course, made use of online ordering during these trying times. As a matter of act, MayBelle should this very day receive a long, blue sweater–oh the richness of the color!–from Anrthopologie. (Please make note that MayBelle paid less than half of the original price.)

She’s tried to be good, though, ordering mostly only what she needs, and absolutely no more than three books and two candles a week. She’s vowed to be more conscious about where her clothing comes from and has actually found a couple of good resources for funky clothing that is sustainably sourced and appropriate for someone who is quirky and middle-aged. (Bless her calcifying heart, MayBelle still thinks she’s in midlife.)

A memory: Years after she graduated from college (MayBelle knows that line should be, technically, “after she was graduated from college,” but MayBelle thinks that sounds awfully stilted.), MayBelle ran into a friend from those days who said, “We used to gather in the cafeteria to wait for you to walk by on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings after French 101 just to see what you were wearing.” MayBelle does not know if she should be flattered or humiliated.

Anyway, MayBelle couldn’t take it any longer last week, so she hopped out for a couple of quick errands. While tooling around, a dear friend called and asked what she was up to:

“I’m out doing some retail therapy,” MayBelle said. She could taste the glee in her voice, so happy was she.

“Oh!” said the friend. “What fun places have you been to?”

MayBelle paused for a few moments, wondering if she should tell a fib and say “Victoria’s Secret and Nordstrom, with a quick stop at the Tesla dealership,” but MayBelle never has shopped at Victoria’s Secret (well, maybe that one time….) and she long ago gave up shopping for clothes at places like Nordstrom when she found herself, seemingly irreversibly, ensconced in the land of size twelve. She drives a Subaru. And, most importantly, MayBelle does not like to fib unnecessarily.

“Er,” said MayBelle. “Um…the Office Depot and the Hallmark Store.”

“Wow,” said her friend. MayBelle did not hear the glee in her friend’s voice.

“I know,” said MayBelle, “but I got this fabulous office chair on sale and they put it together for me in under an hour and it’s in the back of my car right now. Oh! And some Christmas wrapping paper at seventy-five percent off.” MayBelle was practically hyperventilating she was so excited.

“Wow,” said her friend again.

They laughed about it, MayBelle and her friend, who happens to be a tad older than MayBelle and much, much hipper. And they both, in the end, knew they would take this kind of contentment any day of the week.

MayBelle Gets Schooled During the Pandemic

MayBelle has already learned a lot during the first ten or so days of this whatever this is we’re going through. To wit:

  • You can freeze bananas! Just as she was noticing the bananas on the kitchen counter turning brown, and wondering aloud to herself, “I wonder if you can freeze bananas,” one of her friends posed that same question on Instagram. Voila!
  • Facebook is not all bad. In fact, MayBelle is learning, dare she say it, to like Facebook. She’s been a naysayer for a while—sometimes it takes MayBelle longer to catch on than others—mainly because she can’t stomach the political vitriol. (Or the cat memes. Pluto the talking dog, though, that’s something MayBelle can get behind. Seriously, that dog makes MayBelle’s day.) Poor MayBelle can’t handle confrontation of any kind very well, if the truth be known. It’s one of her weakest points. If you yell at her about something, she’ll have a great comeback between six and eleven hours later, but in the moment the most she’ll be able to do is clam up. Or cry. And maybe tell you off in her mind.
  • Even middle-aged goobers can learn how to use Zoom. What an amazing, technological world it is out there, boys and girls. Look for MayBelle to start hosting something or another on Zoom in the near future. 
  • Taking the time to connect with people you’ve meant to get to know better is worth every minute. Through extending her reach just a tad, MayBelle has found another soul-sister; met a neighbor she’d never seen before even though they’ve both lived in the subdivision for more than a decade; formed a bond with a former student from her divinity school days; and been exposed to this fabulous YouTube video from The Moth, “About to Eat Cake”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_969XrYeuw4

Just think what else MayBelle might encounter before this is all over.

What are you discovering?

Learning to Wait: Walking the Dog as Contemplative Practice

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Norval takes a rest.

This is pretty much how our outings go. I move, Norval doesn’t. If he’s not sniffing, relieving himself, eating sticks, or barking at Gus the Goldendoodle, he’s most likely defying me. He knows he gets rewarded for “good walking,” so when he loses the mood, and he doesn’t see me reaching for the treats in my pocket, he simply plants himself. Dog as immovable object.

“No peanut butter crunchies, no walkie-walkie, Lady Who Thinks She’s in Control,” he seems to say.

“Spoiled,” offers a friend.

“Stubborn,” declares Precious.

Just as with some other concerns in my life, I need to adjust my thinking about this daily routine. For if I continue to focus on my frustration, we’ll never make any headway, the dog or me. If I see only what’s going wrong—dog not training as fast as I would like—I won’t notice what’s going just fine—dog making some progress and spring on its way.

Lately I’ve been feeling put upon, what with Precious being sick, and my books not being published. Granted, I haven’t written them yet, but several authors just had readings in town and I’m hooked on the acclaim and the accomplishment, not the hard work and the hustle.

So this morning, while Norval splayed himself on the pavement, I listened to the birds and admired the trees about to burst. I gave thanks to God for the progress Precious is making with his cancer treatments, and for my writing that has been published. I waved at the new neighbor, and wandered down memory lane upon seeing the forsythia on the corner, as that particular yellow always takes me straight back to Grandmother Lyles’ house on South Ninth Street in Oxford, Mississippi.

These are simple things, and they may sound hokey to you. But such small shifts led to my looking heavenward and saying a prayer, instead of cursing under my breath. They reminded me how adorable Norval is most of the time, and what he means to Precious and me. They convinced me that pulling on the leash was not the answer. Waiting was the answer. And so I did.

Eventually, Norval deigned to move, and we made it back home at our own pace, one paw in front of the other, with our behavior, and our gratitude, intact.

My Husband Has Cancer: Does It Matter What Kind?

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In the waiting room.

When I tell people my husband has been receiving treatment for cancer, many ask—almost reflexively—“What kind?”

After thoughtful consideration, much of it conducted in waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, and pharmacy lines, I’ve decided this is not the most appropriate, or helpful, response.

At fifty-seven, I am sometimes fixated on causes of death for folks my age and younger. Hoping, I guess, that I might avoid their fates if I just have the facts. Take a different route, get a second opinion, stop the unhealthy habit.

So I get it, the curiosity. I just don’t like it.

If the answer to the question “What kind of cancer?” turns out to be one of the more aggressive types, will you label my husband a goner? If it’s categorized as “lifestyle related,” will you condemn him?

Each time I’m asked this question, I’m taken back to occasions when I’ve inquired, or wondered, upon hearing such announcements from others. All the times I made assumptions. I hope I never do that again.

From where I sit now, in a chair beside my husband as he receives chemotherapy infusions or next to him on the couch as he rests after radiation, the only real question is, “What can I do?”

 

 

Go Collect Yourself

IMG_1875The dream came over the weekend, the one with her dead mother in it. MayBelle hasn’t dreamed about her mother regularly in the two years since her death, although MayBelle often senses her mother’s spirit with her. And certainly she feels her mother’s influence, even lives it out. On separate occasions just last week, MayBelle quoted her mother to a friend, heeded a piece of advice delivered decades ago, and missed her with such fierceness that she had to step outside a restaurant to collect herself.

Maybe MayBelle will make that her Lenten practice, “collecting herself.” She will gather up the pieces she’s lost hold of, the ones she either thought didn’t matter or was told didn’t count. She’ll root around for her childhood dreams and begin to honor those goals she let fall by the wayside. She’ll walk as far as she has to, searching for the just-right shards and fragments. Hers.

Along the way, MayBelle will have to put down some things, she realizes, for one middle-aged goober can’t carry it all. She’ll start with that pesky self-doubt and the tendency to see herself through a distorted lens. Then she’ll move on to a constant need for approval and an everlasting refrain of: “You are not doing enough.”  She’ll get rid of clothes that don’t suit and accessories she doesn’t need. (Why in the world did MayBelle buy that mustard-colored sackcloth tunic?) Out with the affectations that never did the trick anyway, and say goodbye to being unduly influenced by every piece of advice—sought or otherwise—that comes her way.

As she hunts and gathers and sets aside, MayBelle will focus on collecting what counts and what connects. All she cares about and all she can offer. Those dreams, people, and activities she can tend and nurture well. She hopes she will need a big basket to hold it all. For now, MayBelle will start with this basket, one her mother used for taking food to potluck suppers at Briarwood United Methodist Church. MayBelle knew she kept the basket for a reason.IMG_2684

In the dream, MayBelle’s mother is happy. She is not worried or anxious. She is not scared of the dementia that garbles her memories, or the death that looms. Instead, she is laughing merrily with one of her precious great-grandchildren, a young girl with a big bow in her hair who pushes MayBelle’s mother in a wheelchair. They are both smiling, big toothy grins, as they loop round and round. They exhibit such joy that MayBelle chooses to believe it is more than a dream. It is the stuff of life.

“Ten Tiny Changes”: The Artist’s Way

 

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I’m beginning to realize that my current sensitivity around the state of the world and the state of my own emotional well-being is not just a day or two of the blues. It is a tender stage of life I must make my way through.

At fifty-six, I find myself restless, wondering if I’ve done enough and curious about what more there might be to do and what it might look like. New career? Different town? Stay the course? Get a facelift?

Some folks say I think too much, worry more than I should. Guilty as charged. But I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to be what I am: highly sensitive and hyper aware. And I’m too old for that now. Instead I choose to embrace these qualities and work with them as best I can. There are some upsides: curiosity, empathy, creativity, trustworthiness, and a willingness to hang out in the trenches with people who are hurting. Some of the challenges include: taking on problems that aren’t mine to solve; an inability to filter out what I don’t need to absorb; overreacting to perceived injustices; and accepting what’s mine to do and laying down the rest.

In order to make my way in the world without becoming completely overwhelmed, I need to get quiet and listen deeply—to myself and my Creator. One way I’m doing that right now is by working my way through The Artist’s Way Workbook. The current assignment is to list “Ten Tiny Changes” I’d like to make and then crafting goals from those. This an effective way to streamline what’s important to me. For example, from “I want to publish a book,” I get, “I will write every day.” From “I would like to teach part time,” I move to, “I will apply for the adjunct job at the university.” From “I would like to start my spiritual direction practice,” I come up with, “I will reach out to friends in the spiritual community for advice.” Wanting to lose weight morphs into, “I will walk five times a week.”

It may seem straightforward, like a “no brainer” to those who are more single minded and pragmatic, that you would list your goals and then set about tackling them. But for someone like me, who can become convinced fairly easily that I should be doing something else–or worse, that I should “be” someone else–the act of breaking my goals down into “tiny changes” is helpful. Let’s see how it goes…

Amy Lyles Wilson

P.S. How do you focus and make progress on your goals and dreams?

Upon Waking: Week Two of The Artist’s Way

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I’m two weeks in with The Artist’s Way Workbook, and have done my morning pages every day except for one. Not sure why I forgot that day, but I got right back to it the next morning and I’m glad for the practice. It’s helping me unload some nighttime/early rising thoughts, and providing a sense of both inspiration and accomplishment. I’m not reviewing the pages or belaboring the content, per the instructions, just writing and releasing. I can’t say it necessarily alleviates all that weighs on me, but it’s helping, this practice, and it’s even revealed a couple of story ideas for The Big Project I’m working on.

I’ve taken two Artist Dates, one to garage sales in search of art supplies—found a great drop cloth and paints—and another for a walk, during which the aim was not exercise but nature observation. Captured a few pictures and collected some acorns and horse apples and such. This is not earth-shattering blog content, I realize. But The Artist’s Way is equipping me for building a foundation upon which to rededicate myself to the writing life, a life I have fought against with jobs that don’t suit me and depression that threatens to stifle my efforts and betray my confidence.

“You must love to write and bear the loneliness,” says Robert McKee in Story. “But the love of a good story, of terrific characters and a world driven by your passion, courage, and creative gifts is still not enough. Your goal must be a good story well told.”

From Regret to Writing: Working The Artist’s Way

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I have friends who say they don’t like to use the word “regret,” I guess because they don’t want to admit they’d appreciate a do-over or two. I’m okay with the word, for I think if you don’t have at least a couple of regrets then maybe you haven’t really been living. As for a definition, the dictionary says: “to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).” If you’re telling me you’ve never been blue about a misstep or a neglected chance, I’m not sure I believe you.

Certainly there are things I would have done differently: I wish I’d lived in New England for a while, mainly because I’ve convinced myself everyone there is really smart and attractive in a rugged yet sophisticated sort of way. I would have been less uptight when I was younger, and taken a few more risks.

But the One Real Regret I’ll have is not doing more with my writing. I’m not even sure what that means just yet, but I’m going to find out. And I’m hoping that by talking about it out loud it will become more real somehow.

First step: Making my way through The Artist’s Way Workbook. I’ve long been familiar with Julia Cameron, and have relied on her books in my teaching. When I heard her speak in Santa Monica some twenty-plus years ago, I knew her work would influence me. I just didn’t know it would one day be the creative lifeline I view it to be now.

This week’s exercise focused on “enemies of your creative self worth.” Write it all down, even something that might seem petty, came the instructions. It all matters. So I let rip about some dismissive things said to me as a teen, and a boss I had in my twenties who was so careless with his authority that a year after I’d quit a co-worker called to say he’d just pulled with her what he had with me, telling us we might have chosen the wrong profession, even though there was no evidence to suggest that unless you counted his arrogance. Man do I sometimes wish I could show him how well things worked out for me in that very profession, but I don’t regret not telling him off, for that would just be, well, rude.

It might not make sense for regret to lead me to The Artist’s Way, but it has. And I’m going to trust it’s where I need to be every day for the twelve weeks laid out in the workbook, writing my Morning Pages, doing the exercises, taking my Artist Dates. Listening and learning—or re-learning or un-learning—and reporting back: to myself, to you, to the Creator.

Amy Lyles Wilson

P.S. Do you have a potential One Real Regret? If so, how might you prevent it?

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