A Cup of Kindness

teaI didn’t think I’d make it through that Tuesday. There I was, sitting in my car as the Fremont Bridge was opening to let a yacht pass through. This was not an occurrence I had planned on, as I’d never known the bridge to open on a winter morning in all the years I’d taught at Seattle Pacific University. And it meant I’d be late to class.

I hate being late, so much that it rarely ever happened. Still, the few times it had, I’d been able to keep my cool. This time, though, was different. I screamed and cursed at the bridge, pummeled my fists on the steering wheel, felt like crying.

I’d become a discombobulated mess.

[Read more...]

Oasis: An Observation from The Way of Saint James

I almost passed it by.

When the offer came in January, I was too busy teaching college writing. Too busy mentoring a student group. Too busy reading for three book clubs. Too busy writing for a blog. Too busy marketing my memoir. Too busy caring for my family, cat, and home.

Maybe I could do it in the summer. More realistically, maybe in the fall.

But the director of the Mental Health Ministry persisted. She described the new program she envisioned at Seattle’s Saint James Cathedral and hoped I’d facilitate: a weekly creative writing workshop for people suffering from painful life events—the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the effects of abuse, disability, or disease. A workshop where participants could share their stories, order their thoughts, release repressed emotions, begin to heal their grief. A workshop starting February sixth.

To be honest, the prospect was intriguing. For years I’d longed to teach creative writing, something I’d earned a masters degree in, something I’d done when I taught high school. How I’d loved teaching teens to write their stories. Doing so had been more priceless than rubies, more rousing than sunshine, more comfortable than fleece.

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A Baby and a Book Burning

broomI’ve always wanted to have class by the fireplace, she said.

Great, let’s do that. We can burn our books in the fire, I said. We can decorate the room with swastikas, I said.

It was the last day of classes.

It was a week past my stepdaughter’s due date.

The class was droopy. Then I suggested we burn books and adorn the hallowed walls of the Laurel Forum, home of the honors program, with banners bearing swastikas. Surprised, shocked—entertained—they perked up. Was that my Sarah Silverman moment?

You’re Jewish, she said. You can get away with saying that. [Read more...]

Peripheral Vision

Not long ago, I had surgery. I suppose that in the vastness of creation, the precipitating problem wasn’t much; with age I’d lost peripheral vision due to drooping eyelids. For several years I’d lived in shadow, sight obscured by canopies of flesh.

My ophthalmologist prescribed blepharoplasty coupled with an endoscopic brow lift. If I chose to have the surgery, he’d put me under general anesthesia, incise along my eyelids’ natural creases and in several places in my scalp. He’d remove excess skin, muscle, and fat and close the gashes with myriad stitches. The procedure would take about two hours, healing, four to five weeks, after which—he hoped—my field of vision would appreciably improve.

When I woke up in recovery, my body tensed with terror, my eyes and head pulsed with pain. I could scarcely press open my eyelids—was anybody there? I felt my husband’s hand in mine, heard a nurse calling my name, but saw only an under-ocean swirl—searing light, floating glow-spots, miasmatic silhouettes. Had my surgeon blinded me?

The first few days at home, I lay supine on the couch—inert—ointment in my closed and crusted eyes, pads on my livid lids, bandages round my throbbing head, heavy icepacks on my face. And for some reason I still don’t understand—anesthesia, pain medication?—I lost control of my thoughts, which tumbled into pondering my past, spiraled into panic for the future, pummeled me so relentlessly that my physical black and blueness paled before the bruising of my heart.

[Read more...]

The Poverty of Language

Another exercise. This one an exercise in seeing deeply, visualization, sketching from memory, and composing a written sketch of a photograph held in memory.

The photograph: Robert Frank’s “Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office, Butte, Montana,” published in his groundbreaking book The Americans.

Here’s what I asked students in my “Contemplation and Imagination” class to do:

1. Look at the photo projected on the screen.
2. Close your eyes and visualize, in as much detail as you can, the photo.
3. Look at the photo again. See if you notice anything new.
4. Close your eyes, paying attention to physical sensation.
5. Sketch the photo. (The projector is turned off.)
6. Look at the photo again.
7. Compose a written sketch of the image. (The projector is turned off.)

After this, I invited the students to talk about their experiences of the exercise. One soft-spoken student said, “the word wood to describe the desk—it misses so much.” [Read more...]


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