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?

Walking “Into the Fire” and Coming Out Renewed {On The Sun Magazine’s Retreat}

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Just back from another great trip to Wildacres for The Sun Magazine’s “Into the Fire: The Sun Celebrates Personal Writing” retreat.

“Life-changing,” said a fellow Pilgrim Writer who went with me. I don’t think she’s overstating the matter. Top-notch presenters, beautiful scenery, good food, and kindred spirits. Plus, it’s in western North Carolina, my soul’s home country, so I’m always fed there.

In short:

Krista Bremer: I didn’t attend any of her workshops.

John Brehm: Don’t tell Precious but I think I’m in love. John is a poet who teaches in Oregon. He’s edited a volume of poetry for those of us who work in the realm of mindfulness and who are tired of relying on Rumi and Mary Oliver exclusively. And although Oliver’s “Wild Geese” is hands down my favorite poem in the universe, and Rumi’s “Guest House” opened up the work of my heart, it’s nice to have other options. His workshop, “The Magic of Metaphor,” helped clarify what metaphor is (I know, I know; by now I should have a handle on the difference between metaphor and simile and how to employ them effectively but, alas, I didn’t until I met John, who says he doesn’t make a big deal about trying to distinguish the two, so it’s no wonder I like the guy) and how we can use in it our writing, be we poets or creatives of another sort.

Frances Lefkowitz: Her workshop, “The Art of Short: Flash Fiction and Micro Memoir” was great. And by great I mean accessible, informative, and a whole lotta fun. People raved about her last year at the retreat, so I was glad to get the chance to hear her this year. (She was the only repeat teacher from 2016, if memory serves, which it doesn’t sometimes now that I’m, you know, old.)

Heather Sellers: One of the best writing teachers around. Buy her books Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter if you want to write, and hear her live if you get the chance. I did not attend Heather’s workshops as I had the pleasure of hearing her at Kentucky Women Writers a few years back.

Marion Winik: Let’s just say she’s “candid.” I knew Marion’s work from her days on NPR. She was a bit crude for my taste during the workshop, but her model for memoir has already changed–for the better– how I write, and teach.

My most treasured memories, though, will be the people I communed with, whether sitting in Adirondack chairs facing the mountains or while passing the lemony green beans (delish!) at the dinner table. People of varying ages and assorted physicalities, people who have been published widely and people who just like to read, people from all over the country, brought together through their love of the written word and their respect for The Sun—what it publishes, all it stands for, how it informs and inspires.

One evening, I talked with a twenty-something neuroscience major from Tulane. Egads I could not stop staring at this rare, lovely creature; so young and full of promise and smarts and drive; “You’re going to be a neuroscientist?” I kept repeating. “Who plans to work in impoverished countries?!” Then there was a Quaker from Up East, who knew all about the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Indiana where I’ve taught; the woman I had met five years ago when I led a workshop in Seaside, Florida, but hadn’t seen since; and a retired lawyer who wants to write memoir but is hesitant to reveal herself. “Quite the challenge, then,” we joked.

What a luminous assortment of humanity, this gathering. It’s worth going simply for the people you’ll meet, even if you don’t write.

But I hope you will, of course. I hope you will write your hearts out, fellow pilgrims, for it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.

ALW SiteHeader2

Dear Wednesday: What Do You Have for Me?

IMG_6362Dear Wednesday,

As you dawned this morning, I hesitated, tempted as I was to stay in bed, or maybe wear my pajamas all day. Some days are like that for me, slow to get started, peppered with doubt about if what I do in the world is enough, seeing that I’m not curing cancer or alleviating poverty or even sitting behind a desk from nine to five at a big corporation. It’s easy for me to get caught in a whirlpool of worry, first, because it’s my nature, and second, because as a self-employed, freelance creative such as myself I sometimes pay more attention to what the world might think of me than to simply doing the work I am called to do. So even though I hesitated, Wednesday, I did get dressed, I am up and working, stringing words together and helping others do the same. It may not sound like much, but it’s what I have to bring to the table. So give me what you’ve got, Wednesday. I’m ready for you.

Looking forward,

Amy Lyles Wilson

Hospital Aftermath {Every Patient Has a Story}

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Some of the fine people who helped me at Vanderbilt. Even though they couldn’t give my malady a name, they gave me excellent care and comfort.

Not long after I returned home from the hospital, I noticed a pain in my chest, near the lower part of my ribcage.

“Maybe you pulled a muscle,” said Precious, which might have made sense if I’d actually moved since I’d been home. The most exerting (is that a word?) thing I’d done was spread a quilt over my feet and reach for the remote. Active I was not after four days in the hospital and a mandate from the doctors to stay put. They probably didn’t mean I couldn’t leave the couch, but I am a literalist at heart and I wasn’t taking any chances.

“Maybe,” I said, both appreciating my husband’s tendency not to overreact and simultaneously needing him to freak out on my behalf.

“But it hurts to breathe.”

Because we had not sought help immediately when I started feeling bad earlier in the month and thereby ended up in the hospital, we vowed not to make that mistake again. So we consulted my primary care doctor, who said she also suspected a pulled muscle but would x-ray just in case. We got word it was pneumonia before we even made it out of the building. I’ve never had pneumonia before, so I didn’t realize that it’s actually painful. Yowza. More antibiotics.

(WARNING: If you are squeamish about the female nether region, run for your life. Or just skip to the last paragraph.)

Then about a week later, I noticed an intense itching in my privates. Seriously scratchy. And my skin was flaking off like those little balls of rubber cement you roll up after you’ve been acting a fool with the arts and crafts supplies. It made me want to cry out like when you were a kid and your mother ripped the Band-Aid off the abrasion you got when the Doberman from down the street yanked you from your banana seat bike and you fell into a puddle of gravel. Yes, like that. I was scared to look, but I did, and then I was really scared and really grossed out. I grabbed some antibacterial cream and started googling.

Shortly thereafter I convinced myself I had Norwegian Scabies (FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT LOOK THIS UP!) and that I had gotten it from the hospital, having already suspected they didn’t change my sheets often enough.

For the next day or so I continued to slather creams of varying consistencies on the affected areas, hoping my discomfort would go away. It did not.

Back to the same walk-in clinic where we had gone when this saga first started and we were told I had the white blood cell count of someone who was receiving chemotherapy and that I needed to get to the emergency room immediately.

I’m not a sexist (gender-ist?) about doctors, having had both male and female along the way, but I must say I did request a female this time around. I told her about having been hospitalized for neutropenia and then added, “Something’s wrong,” I said. “You know, down there.” I lowered my head for effect.

“I’m pretty sure it’s Norwegian Scabies.” I think I was whispering.

“Let’s take a look,” she responded, snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves. She might have been smirking but I can’t be sure because I was too busy planning my lawsuit against the hospital for having unsanitary conditions that resulted in my contracting this rare and embarrassing disease to notice her facial expression.

One beat, two.

“This is easy. It’s a yeast infection, most likely as a result of all those antibiotics you’ve been on for the low white cell count.”

“You mean it’s not Norwegian Scabies?”

“No,” she said. “Whatever that is. I’ll give you a prescription for some cream and you’ll be fine.”

She did and I was, although for weeks afterward I continued to wonder about each ache and every itch. Eventually, though, I stopped obsessing and gave up googling. We’re all healthier for it.

And Then a Crow Ate a Goldfinch. {Every patient has a story.}

img_6788I lose it about 4 a.m. on Wednesday. I think I scare the nurse a bit, for it must be like seeing his mother break down. That’s how young he is. And he is great at his job. Also, a doll.

“I need to draw more blood,” he says. “Another culture.”

This means taking a good bit of blood. How do I have any to spare? I start to cry.

He stands in the doorway a few seconds, unsure.

“I just need a minute,” I say, grabbing for some tissues. “I don’t think it’s all that strange for me to feel frustrated.”

It’s as if, as usual—I’ve done it all my life so I shouldn’t be surprised—I’m seeking permission. Approval.

“Of course,” he says. “I know it’s hard. We’ll get you through this.”

Oh, those words, precious boy. He doesn’t say they’ll cure me, or that it will be easy, or that he has answers. Just: We’ll get you through this. Pardon the cliché but it is just what the doctor ordered. (Or should have.)

Later Wednesday morning I feel a bit better, but there is still no diagnosis. Some big things have been ruled out. The hematologist tells me this happens more often than you might think, that an infection invades your body and you never know its source.

Then, toward evening, I see a crow eating a goldfinch. Right there on the ledge outside my window. I notice little bits of fluff wandering around the sky, and I see the crow picking at something at its feet. When it turns over its prey, there is a brilliant flash of yellow. I am mesmerized, trying to decide if this is a sign of some sort for me—the cycle of life and death and all—or merely nature doing its thing. And if it is the cycle of life and death, which will it be for me? I am sad and mesmerized by nature all at once.

I can’t get to my phone to take a picture and while I hear you saying, “Bless her heart. She was probably hopped up on good drugs and just imagines she saw a crow eating a goldfinch,” let me remind you that when I ask for some calming medication, I am given melatonin, people, not anything mood inducing. (And when I tell the nurse the melatonin didn’t really do the trick, I am given MORE melatonin.)

I decide not to take the crow incident as a sign and instead say a blessing of gratitude for all that nature–and man–is capable of. I go back to watching Gilmore Girls. I didn’t follow the series when it first aired and I am quickly becoming hooked. Hooked, I tell you. I want to dress like Lorelei (sp?), drink coffee out of bowl-like mugs, and matriculate at Yale. Somebody get me out of here…

My dinner is pretty tasty, and, ta da, is actually what I ordered. (Several times my order was not what I ordered and that was disappointing. Not a big deal, but when what you have to look forward to is a biscuit with turkey sausage and you don’t get it, it can seem like a much bigger deal than it would on a regular day, like when you don’t think you’re dying and there isn’t a crow eating a goldfinch outside your window.)

When I wake up on Thursday morning I am covered in sweat. Instead of being grossed out, I am delighted, as I think it means I am on the mend.

“I think my fever broke,” I text Precious.

“On my way,” comes his reply.

Several hours later the doctors tell me my white count is on the upswing, my fever is down, and I’m free to go. Still no diagnosis, and oral antibiotics and follow-up checks will be necessary. I’m a little scared to leave, actually, what with the not knowing and all. But apparently if I want to wait until I get some sort of definitive answer, a reason, I will be hospitalized for a very long time.

Although I have never believed in a puppeteer kind of God, a deity that picks and chooses who will suffer and who will flourish and decides which of us needs to learn a lesson and which folks can afford to skip class, I must say I’m trying to see this experience as a learning opportunity for me, in that I have long been one who wanted to figure everything out, to have a cause and effect that I could grasp. To understand. Even if it was bad, I’d say, I want to know. And now I don’t. I am being called to lean into the mystery, so lean I shall.

 

From the ER to the Eighth Floor {Every patient has a story.}

In these posts I’m looking back on a recent hospital stay. I seem to be fine now, and am writing my way through the experience for therapeutic purposes.–ALW

I don’t see Doctor X again. Nor do I meet again the woman who introduces herself to me, I think, as my “case manager.” Maybe she was just supposed to manage me in the ER? (My entire stay was from Monday-Thursday.)

The two nurses I have while in the ER are fabulous, and for a while this amazing thing I think one of them refers to as a “butterfly” works wonders so they don’t have to stick me every time they need to draw blood or give me antibiotics. The one on my left arms lasts most of Monday and then another one is inserted in my right arm. Eventually neither of them allows for drawing blood, but they both continue to work for intravenous delivery of antibiotics, which I’m given four hours on and four hours off. Someone takes me for a CT of my head (“to see if anything has crossed the membrane”) and chest. The young female doctor I’m falling in love with tells me they may have to do a lumbar puncture but it won’t be today and they won’t do it unless absolutely necessary. Part of me thinks I can’t survive that, while most of me knows I will have to do whatever is necessary to see this through. I hope I am stronger than I look.

The night nurse reminds me of a dear friend of mine, a woman I’ve known only for two years but it might as well have been a lifetime for the connection we share. The nurse is kind and funny and tells great stories. She is tender and forthright and has an air that radiates calm and competency. I relax a little feeling the spirit of my friend Leila surrounding me, for Leila is one of the most grounded people I know and I’m hoping I can grab on to her faith (in God? in medicine?) across state lines in Florida while mine is under assault in Tennessee.

img_6630I watch television, delighted to find a channel that runs Murder She Wrote, one of my personal favorites. And imagine my glee when I see Mannix make a guest appearance!

I do not sleep.

I’m moved to a room about 6:30 Tuesday morning. It might as well be the Ritz, as it has a window and its own bathroom, meaning I no longer have to ask for the IV to be stopped, gather the flapping ends of my gown around me, and pad to the bathroom in the ER common area every time I needed to pee. (This is another thing that I realize makes my hospital stay not so awful. I can get to the bathroom myself, feed myself, etc. Also, the fact that I am cognizant enough to ask questions along the way and understand, sort of,  what is being done to me makes everything better.)

It’s shift change time, and I’m not sure but I think this might be why a couple of things get overlooked, such as offering me breakfast and doing a proper “intake,” which the day nurse says repeatedly she needs to do but never does. (One of the ER nurses gave me graham crackers and peanut butter on Monday, but I haven’t eaten a meal since Sunday evening.) I wonder if the intake cues several things, such as getting the patient something to eat, getting the patient a clean gown, and providing said patient with toiletries. It’s Wednesday before I get a new gown and toiletries, which Precious has been retrieving from home for me. Not a big deal, I realize, but when you are scared, and in pain, and just want some semblance of normalcy, a little deodorant goes a long way. I’m not sure why I don’t think to ask about this. I’ve only been hospitalized overnight once before, some thirty years ago, so maybe I don’t realize I have the right to request such. Or maybe I am too preoccupied, you know, with matters of life and death. Mine.

Hallelujah! The two perfectly lovely doctors from the ER are on my primary care team and they tend me throughout. The young woman I mentioned above, and a young man, both of whom are compassionate, professional, thorough without being alarmist, willing to answer any question I can conjure. They are funny, and personable, and I want to write their parents to tell them what good jobs they did with their children. They treat me with respect without making me feel I’m old enough to be their parents. I had no idea I would see familiar faces once I was moved to a room, and it makes a world of difference for me. (My mother, who was hospitalized often in the last years of her life in Mississippi, never had that experience of consistency in her care. It matters.)

“We still don’t know what’s causing your white blood cells to be so low,” they continue to say. “We’ve ruled out some things, but we’re running lots of tests.”

More tests, more questions, more tests, more questions.

Fever up and down. Mostly up.

img_6614And then, lunch! What a gift to be handed a menu and told I can order what I want as long as I follow the diet restrictions imposed by my condition. I can’t have fresh fruit and vegetables, as a precaution against additional infection. The menu provides me with several options, and I’m thankful I have choices. Again, when so much has been taken out of your control, any decision you get to make seems bigger than it might under normal circumstances. (The food throughout my stay is good, tasty enough, although my orders rarely match my approved requests.)

img_6624That night I ask for something to help me rest and am given melatonin. It does not do the trick, but it may be that I am simply too wired to sleep. So I look out the window at the other wings of the hospital, row after row of rooms, window after window, some with lights on, others darkened. Each one with a story.

In that window there, is a baby being born? What about next door, is someone losing his life?

I watch the LifeFlight helicopter come and go, each landing, each takeoff, a story.

On Driving Dicey Mountain Roads, Learning to Write, and Making New Friends

IMG_5716Long an admirer of The Sun magazine, which I think publishes the best writing around, I was delighted when the opportunity came up for me to attend the magazine’s writing retreat at Wildacres Retreat Center in western North Carolina. (Meaning I hadn’t signed up in time but was notified when someone cancelled and I was first up on the waiting list.) Wildacres hosts some fabulous sounding workshops for all sorts of creative types, and I plan to return. It’s lovely, Wildacres, set apart–far, far, apart–from all things distracting, among verdant greenery and rustling wildlife. Peaceful, natural, and away from cell towers. And the food is good…

Getting there was tricky, what with downed road signs, dense fog, and my innate ability to “get turned around,” but every tricky curve up the mountain was worth it. After the last turn off anything resembling a well-traveled road, and fearing I was hopelessly lost and possibly in some trouble–the fog was really that hard to see through and I didn’t have cell reception–I stopped at the only commercial entity I’d seen for miles.

“I think I’m lost,” I said as I opened the door to the charming Books and Beans, which is just like the bookstore I dream of opening one day: cozy, full of books of all varieties, comfy chairs by the fireplace, strong coffee, set in the mountains. There may have even been a dog by the hearth, it was that perfect.

“We’re all lost up here,” said the woman behind the counter, smiling. Thankfully I was just two miles from my destination. A vanilla latte and two books later I was on my way.

As usual at these kinds of gatherings—I go to a lot of writing workshops; they’re like vacation for me—I’m nervous at the beginning, wondering if I “fit,” and then, within a couple of hours, I am settled and confident and in my element, surrounded by kindred spirits who care about words with the same intensity that I do. Which means they’re sort of obsessed.

I was familiar with only one writer scheduled to present, Leslie Pietrzyk, as I had read, and enjoyed, her Pears on a Willow Tree (Harper Perennial). Two writers new to me–though perhaps I have read their work in The Sun and simply misplaced their names, something I do more and more these days, misplace things of import–are already favorites.

When Joe Wilkins read from his The Mountain and The Fathers (Counterpoint) I looked around the room to see if everyone else was hearing what I was hearing: well-crafted sentences of such feeling and awareness that I moved to the edge of my seat just to draw a little closer. I subsequently bought every book he had for sale that weekend.

Another writer I’m glad to know about is Chris Bursk, a poet who was funny and heartfelt and one of the best workshop leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. He was generous, engaging, and knowledgeable, willing to share whatever he knew that might help the rest of us write better poems. And he handed out kazoos, so bonus points for that.

IMG_5850Upon returning to Nashville my husband and I went to hear Richard Russo at our fabulous library. He was in town promoting his new book, Everybody’s Fool (Knopf), which I look forward to reading. Russo was just as I had imagined he would be in real life: engaging, approachable, considerate, and smart. When asked what informed his writing, he responded, “I write about the things I notice twice.”

I love that so much. We all notice things once, but what draws us back for another look? Maybe even a third or a fourth circling round. That’s where the gold is, right?

Not only did I learn something about writing at both these events, but I also met interesting people, like the man who told me to check out St. Paul and the Broken Bones after I told him I had enjoyed hearing the Alabama Shakes in Asheville recently. (Seriously, people, run to listen to them if you haven’t already. Brittany Howard belted it out like I’ve never witnessed before. Stunning.) My new friend was spot on with his suggestion, for St. Paul now sits at the top of my current playlist.

And the woman who lives in New York, whose writing is searing and moving and tender, which I learned only after returning home and going online as she was too humble to tell me she’d been in literary journals many of us dream about publishing our work.

IMG_5736I applied for a job at The Sun a while back and although I made the first cut, being invited to critique issues of the magazine, I was not called for an interview. I’m glad I didn’t let any disappointment keep me from attending this retreat. For there is always something to learn about the practice of writing, a bit of inspiration to glean, a recommendation to take to heart, a fellow pilgrim to meet.

What informs your writing? What do you look at twice and want to know more about? In other words, what haunts you so much that you’re driven to write it out?

Amy Lyles Wilson

Show Me Your Scars and I’ll Show You Mine

IMG_3730.jpgI didn’t realize I was sick back then—just miserable. I knew I didn’t belong in law school, though everyone around me said I did. Problem is, you don’t drop out in my family. Wilsons persevere.

“I think something’s wrong with your thyroid.” This from my mother at the Thanksgiving table after my dismal semester. Turns out a goiter had sprouted in my neck and I hadn’t even noticed. That’s how out of touch I was with myself, people. (Google “goiter” at your own risk.)

“You better go see Doc Murray when you get back to Oxford.”

I did and it was. The kindly and charming old-school doctor sent me to a specialist, a not kindly and especially uncharming man, who glanced at me and said: “Most times this is cancer.”

My twenty-two-year-old self started crying and ran to call my parents.

“Come home,” they said. So I did. We got another specialist. A nicer one.

After the surgery to remove half my thyroid gland, I didn’t really mind the scar, even early on when it was angry and red. It proves I can weather the storm, if you will, that’s the way I see it. Cliché or no.

“I can fix that for you,” said a doctor acquaintance at a party not too long ago. He was tilting his head toward the base of my neck and stabbing for an olive with one of those plastic cocktail swords. Red I think it was.

“Fix what?” I asked. I wasn’t even trying to be coy, as I don’t think about the scar, which looks a little bit like a short, braided rope.

“Your thyroidectomy scar. The surgeon should have done a better job. You know, so it wouldn’t be so noticeable.”

Maybe your mother should have done a better job with you, I wanted to say. You know, so your personality wouldn’t be so bothersome.

“I don’t want it fixed,” I said instead. “But thank you for your concern.”

Besides the small rough patch on my right hand—a neighbor’s German Shepherd jumped up on me while I was riding my bike (boy was I proud of that banana seat) and I ended up in a puddle of gravel—I don’t have other visible scars. (I’ve had more surgeries, laparoscopies and such, but no additional physical reminders of trauma.)

My mother, bless her precious 93-year-old heart, is riddled with scars: colon cancer, mastectomy, gallbladder, vena cava filter, skin tears every time her body tricks her into thinking she doesn’t need to use a walker and she pitches to the floor.

I don’t know if she minds her scars or not. I could ask her, but the answer might not be based in reality, as dementia is robbing her of such. She doesn’t seem to mind them, though, or much of anything, actually. Instead she comes across as content, happy even, in the moment. She no longer seems anxious and does not spend her days borrowing trouble, a favorite pastime of hers that I’m sorry to say I have inherited.

Usually she just smiles, asks me if I’m her baby, and rolls herself into the dining room to join the other old souls who can no longer live on their own.

“Yes, ma’am,” I say. “I am.”

Scars and all.

Amy Lyles Wilson

Writing Prompt: Read Lucille Clifton’s “Scar” and write about what it brings up in you. Write for 20 minutes. I’ll set the timer. Go!

http://www.sunsetcoastwriters.com/blog/scar

A Dream Realized {On Writing at Chautauqua}

Me, in a hat, realizing a dream.

On one hand, it might not look like much, for it’s just a picture of me in my favorite hat. And for those of you who know how much I loathe having my picture made, I’m actually okay with this one. Because it’s not about image; it’s about a dream come true.

Last week I had the honor of leading a writing workshop at the Chautauqua Institution (“The Language of Loss: Putting Grief into Words”). Since first stepping foot on that magical spot some twenty years ago I’ve known it would change my life. And it has.

I’ve learned a lot about subjects ranging from history to religion; made friends; eaten really good food at the Brick Room and the White Inn in nearby Fredonia, New York; heard Garrison Keillor, Carol Channing, and Salman Rushdie, to name just a few; wandered small towns with names like Ashville and Westfield and thereby come to love a part of the country I hadn’t known before. All that has been great. But now, now the best part is that I got to commune with creative-soulfuls for a week, people who were willing to write their hearts out with a stranger.

Each day we came, gathering around the table in an unairconditioned room in a former elementary school turned community center. We brought our pens and our journals and our deep-down stories. We opened the windows, turned on the fans, and wrote. In so doing, we formed a community where it was safe to tell our stories without fear of critique, or judgment, or comparison. No one cared about split infinities or potential for publication or increasing blog followers.

Instead, our concern was forming a kindred-spirit container for the sacred act of sharing those stories we don’t often get to talk about, the ones from the gut, the ones that hurt. Those writers were brave, and considerate, and willing. They were “good with words” and lovely with one another. I was inspired, humbled, and made grateful. Thank you, Chautauqua, for the experiences and the memories, yes. But especially the people.

Writing Prompt: What step can you take today, this very minute, toward realizing one of your dreams? I’ll set the timer for 20 minutes. Go!