Making Love on Valentine’s Day

“All sorrow can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”  Isak Dinesen

From Derek

From Derek

He called me about 5 p.m. on Friday just as I was leaving my office to join some co-workers at the company’s end-of-week cocktail gathering.  “I left something for you at the house.”  I laughed.  “What, a Valentine?”  “Yes,” he said.  “I left a Valentine for you.”

When I got home, there is it was, wrapped in white.  A huge, beautiful heart with chocolates inside.  Just like the fantasy that Valentine’s day is supposed to be.  I’d been clouded in sadness for a long time, which doesn’t at all mean that I wasn’t content or happy in my life.  You see, no matter how necessary, divorce carries with it a residue of sorrow.  Seeing that Hallmark-esque heart, I realized how hard I’d been holding on to it.

The frightening dreams had returned and I’d asked my therapist why they were back.  “Because you are ready now,” she told me.  I protested.  “But why the dream about him killing me?  Why is that one back?  It’s horrible.”

“He did kill you,” she said.  The stillness hung in the air.  It seemed like an eternity before she spoke again.  “The person you were is gone.  You are having the dream because you are now in a place where you can process it and let it go.  Make no mistake, though, emotionally and psychologically, he killed you.”  I’d been playing that conversation back in my mind for a week, thinking about its truth and the power of acknowledgement.  The dream had miraculously stopped.  Then, of course, there was the sadness.  So many things happened in such a short span of time after the divorce, including his criminal indictment.  Add to that, he paid child support for only four months, then began sprouting fanciful arguments about how he had overpaid and that I owed him money.  There were so many other pieces too.  Thinking about it all made me profoundly sad.  Watching it is a raw and ugly spectacle.

But here in front of me stood a delightful, red roses-decorated box of chocolates.

In the last year, I needed so much help managing a house, two children and of course, myself.  Derek The Handyman had patched walls, tuck-pointed the bricks, shoveled the snow, added handles to doors, unclogged toilets, cleaned out garbage, swept floors and did so many other things, the majority of then unasked.  When I mentioned to him one day that I wished I had a place to put my radio in the kitchen, he built a shelf for it.  I had been so grateful to Derek that I never thought he might be grateful to me.  His Valentine’s heart assured me he was.

A little bit of love and inspiration come in unexpected packages.  This heart motivated me to make some love to add to this Valentine’s Day and to the next of days.  It feels good to think of adding love and letting go of sadness.

There is a manuscript of poems on my desk today.  A friend sent them asking for thoughts and comments.  In turn, he said he would take a look at my manuscript.  It has been a long time since I worked on my book.  It’s time to open it up again.  Wish me luck, send me love.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

Just Start Gayle, Just Start: Chance Encounters at a Barry Manilow Concert

She tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you know how to make this light stick work?”  My daughter Gigi took her light stick, cracked it and made it glow to its warm red color.  “It’s easy, see?” Gigi said, adding, “Are you at the concert by yourself?”  Gayle was attending alone, sitting behind us in Row D.  At 11 years old, Gigi didn’t even know who Barry Manilow was.  At quite a bit over 11, I remembered Barry Manilow from high school but wouldn’t have bought tickets to a concert then or probably now.  But our friend Ann’s mother had taken ill and she gave us the tickets just days before.  What a hoot, I thought, to see Barry Manilow live.  Gigi and I went to YouTube the night before and played more than a few Barry Manilow videos to prepare ourselves.

Now, we readied our light sticks which I imagine are the modern equivalent of cigarette-lighters-at-concerts from back in the day and we began to talk to Gayle.  This was her more than 20th Barry Manilow concert and she had loved him since she was 10.  Gigi and I felt a little sheepish admitting we were even at the concert much less that it was our first one and that we were only in Row C by the accident of a friend’s mother’s illness.

The 7:30 start time at The Chicago Theater came and went and we continued talking to Gayle.  She lived downtown and worked at a social media company.  Oh, and she told us she was a writer of sorts, secretly writing short stories about life without the courage to try to publish any of them.  I couldn’t resist.  “Gayle, you are in social media.  Of all people you know about creating a platform for writing.  You just have to start.  Start with a blog,” I suggested.

“It’s funny you say that,” she mused.  “Just this morning I went to a program on social media and the advice was that there is never a good starting point so you just have to start.  What are the chances I’d hear the very same message on the very same day.”

“The chances are very good,” I said, drawing on my own experiences with this sort of serendipity.  “When we are ready to do something, I think we get the same message many times over.  It’s just that we work very hard to ignore it.  Gayle, the universe is telling you to just start.  Take it from me, you should just get started.”

It was 8:10 p.m. and an announcer finally let us know that the concert was minutes from starting.  Gigi waved her glow stick in anticipation.  The crowd filled in while we were talking and the theater was now full.

“You know Gayle, Gigi and I were not supposed to be at this concert.  It’s only through serendipity that we are.  You want to write.  I’m in the same boat.  Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that we connected,” I said.

Gayle nodded her agreement and handed me her card.  “Stranger things have happened.  I think I need to get started with my blog.”

The curtain rose and all lights were on Barry Manilow.  He opened with It’s a Miracle.

As the Chicago Tribune said in its review of the evening, even now he writes the songs that make his fans sing.

With so much inspiration in the air, it was nice to find some of our own.

Climbing the Stairs – Welcome 2012

Near the dunes where we have a what-we-called-when-I-grew-up-in-Wisconsin a cottage, there is about a mile walk along the sandy beach to reach Succession Trail.  Turn left and trek slowly through the thick sand.  The reward is a 300-stair climb to a captain’s peak overlooking the lake and the dunes, as far as the eye can see.  It’s breath-taking.  You can’t help but think about how nature has been preserved along the dunes and how, when the land was truly free, the Indians took those same trails thousands of years ago.

Some days when I reach the stairs, I leap up and run them until I get winded and have to walk.   Other days, I don’t want to do the stairs but I schlep along, trudging one foot sluggishly after another until I reach the captain’s peak.  Some days inertia wins and I don’t make the trek.

Writing the story of Anne on Fire is just like the 300 stairs.  My mind runs up the stairs with ease, a mental work-out that moves quickly and effortlessly.  But when push comes to shove, the ideas don’t always make it to the paper.  I trudge sluggishly along, wondering why I can’t make it up a few more stairs.  

My goal in the first few months of 2012 is to complete the revision of the Anne on Fire manuscript.  When I started this project a couple of years ago, I thought writing this story would be simple and straightforward.  It is not.  I met with a literary consultant last month and she told me, “What you are writing is between you and God.  Stop showing it to people .”  Maybe I have been doing that, looking for confirmation at the expense of completing the re-write of the manuscript.

Egads.  If writing your own story isn’t easy, what is? 

Welcome 2012.  It’s time to complete what I’ve started.

Research: The Last Leg(s) of the Process

When I started my book project, the concept of research seemed counter-intuitive to me.  Why would I have to research my own story?  Didn’t I know my own story well enough to write it?

In short order, my pesky assumption unraveled.   Even though I know my own perspective, I wanted to interview relatives, find medical records, seek out old letters and documents and as the proverbial “last leg” of the research, investigate newspapers from back in the day to see if any empirical evidence of my accident on the stove existed.  That is, was there even a fire call listed in the paper that day? 

The need to fill in the lines brought me to micro film and an intra-library loan (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/intra-library-loan-time/).  When I arrived at the Harold Washington Library and headed up to the intra-library loan department, I received eight small cardboard boxes, each held tight with a rubber band and each containing a month of the Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1964.  Microfilm readers are cumbersome boxes reminiscent of ancient technology.  For many years however they were the best way to preserve newspapers, rare books and other culturally irreplaceable material.

I hadn’t used a microfilm reader since high school and asked for help from the reading room librarian.  Pulling the roll of film out of the box, she showed me how to load it on to the reader like you would an old reel-to-reel movie on a projector.  Once the film loaded, she showed me the various controls to move from page to page and to size the film on the screen. 

As I hand-scrolled through the newspapers, I got lost in the details of the day.  High taxes were an issue.  St. Joseph Academy and Premontre were hosting a joint Catholic college night.  November weather was partly cloudy with a low near 28 and a high projected at 50 degrees.  The Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys on an upcoming Sunday (they won 45-21) and the comic pages contained Marmaduke, Ponytail, Kerry Drake, Beetle Bailey and Blondie.  President Kennedy had died the year before.  Johnson was President.

There was not a single fire call or news item that mentioned me or my accident.  I put the last roll of microfilm back its box and returned it to the desk. 

By now, I’d interviewed a number of relatives, received as many medical records as probably existed, found old letters and my baby book with my mother’s hand-inscribed account of the accident (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/happy-burn-iversary/). That seemed enough to complete my research even if there was no record in the local newspaper.  Or was there? 

Since the stories said that I was variously 2 or 3 when the accident happened, maybe I searched the wrong year for the newspaper. 

I returned to the reference desk and ordered the Green Bay Press-Gazette on micro film for 1965 and 1966.  If this is the last leg of my research phase, I’ll need to be thorough.

Book Review — Maps, Frogs, Artists: What’s Right for You?

As a new feature on Anne on Fire, I am now reviewing books from Hay House authors.  www.hayhouse.com   I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book from Hay House for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of our Life
Colette Baron-Reid

 The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life

“We change the world from the inside out, and that’s why I’ve written this book,” explains Colette Baron-Reid in the introduction to her book, The Map:  Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life.  It’s a theme that has resonated with me since the early 1980s when my sister Susie gave me a copy of Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming by Richard Bandler (Paperback – June 1979).  The theme reappeared in the 1990s when I began reading Sonia Choquette’s (www.soniachoquette.com) work about spirit and the way we can consciously raise our vibrations. The theme returned to my desk again a couple of years ago when I finally read and followed the daily writing instructions in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (www.theartistsway.com). 

That the confluence of all the thoughts and theories from these other books flowed forward while reading The Map made it a truly integrated and enjoyable experience, even if I doubt I’ll follow the exercises to the letter of the law like I did with The Artist’s Way.  The beauty of books like Baron-Reid’s for me is partly in gaining a peek inside someone else’s creativity and ways of coping.

In The Map, Baron-Reid suggests we become our own oracles and traverse through a metaphorical map of life’s archetypical characters and situations to find personal peace and meaning.  Her magic lands, wands and companions remind me that there is no one best way to do anything; but that finding a talisman that works to put life in context at the different points of our lives is something valuable.  

Neuro-linguistic programming co-founders, Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder, believed that NLP would be useful in “finding ways to help people have better, fuller and richer lives.  They advocated the potential for self-determination through overcoming learned limitations and emphasized well-being and healthy functioning. Artist’s Way author Julia Camera challenged the label of being a called creativity expert, explaining, “My books are not creative theory,” she explains. “They spring straight out of my own creative practice. In a sense, I am the floor sample of my own tool kit. When we are unblocked we can have remarkable and diverse adventures.”

In the same way, Baron-Reid is her own magic wand, sharing how the techniques in the book brought together the threads of her own story and gave them meaning.  An addict, the daughter of a closet Holocaust survivor, a bulimic and an intuitive, she says she sought out her own way to heal her life.  Her hybrid approach to doing so is The Map and by her own words, it was a process that transformed her.

Both Cameron and Baron-Reid are alcoholics and I was struck by how they both have created worlds of somewhat strict context for themselves and for the price of the books, for others.  Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has sold more than 2 million copies so certainly her disciplined approach to bringing out the artist within can work.  While I agree that creating a framework is useful, I personally like to hop between approaches and try out any number of them, not getting too fixed on any one for too long.  I prefer being more of a self-awareness dabbler and that is why I liked Baron-Reid’s book.  It seemed that she too has dabbled and in The Map, brings together her favored outcomes to guide her life.

For any student of self-awareness, that is the challenge:  How to find the kernels of both structure and meaning so that you feel good in your own skin and confident on your journey.  To my way of thinking, it doesn’t matter whether you follow a map or NLP or an artist’s way – and they may actually be the same things just packaged in different ways.  What matters is the self-awareness and for that, The Map may just be your key.

The Map is available for purchase on the Hay House website http://www.hayhouse.com/details.php?id=5286 as well as at www.amazon.com  and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Moving to the State of No Karma

When I met my yoga teacher Cynthia at the local Starbucks on Sunday, it was ostensibly to help her start her blog on yoga and meditation (www.thespiritedcorner.wordpress.com).  Nagging in the back of mind however was her comment during Saturday’s yoga class a couple of weeks back about reaching a state of ‘no karma’.  Good karma, bad karma — those seem straight-forward but I’d never thought about “no karma” and hadn’t the foggiest idea what it meant.

As she sipped on her shake and me on my non-fat latte, I asked if she had a minute to explain the concept.  Her eyes sparkled as smiled, sighed and said, “How much time do you have?”  We laughed.

“We are all here traveling through time in the dimensional world, having experiences as spiritual beings in a human experience.  We all work on our life lessons due to the karma we brought with us.  The idea is to have no karma so we can evolve away from the physical plane.  When we get to no karma, we have no need to return and we reach the 8th limb of yoga called Samadhi, which is bliss or enlightenment.”

“This seems perfectly understandable but how do we get there?” I asked, feeing that I had a few lifetimes of of good karma and bad karma that needed to balance themselves out. 

“When you finish with life’s lessons, then you are finished with karma.  That, of course, is the difficult part for us,” Cynthia replied, which instead of ending my inquires only made me think of another set of questions.  I was feeling very Socratic with it all.

“Well, then how do we know we have learned any particular lesson?” I asked.  “Like burning my leg.  How do I know that I’ve learned whatever lesson I’m supposed to learn?  Did it mean something I missed?”

“What if it doesn’t mean anything?”  Cynthia socratically replied.  Then she paused.  It added a dramatic effect to the conversation and helped me not to wonder why Starbucks keeps their stores ridiculously cold.  My fingers were starting to feel like ice cubes.

“It can mean everything and nothing.  It can spark something positive or something negative.  It’s all up to you.  What helps us evolve helps us grow,” she continued.

I thought quietly for a minute, rubbing my hands together for warmth.   “I think I”m fine with it, have always been fine with it.  But then I still feel compelled to write the story of it.”

“You think it’s enough but the question is, do you feel it.  To learn any lesson you have to connect the thinking and feeling.  The bridge between the two is the throat, or the 5th chakra, called vishuddhi, which is our communication chakra.  If we are holding back in some way, the gate is closed.  when you open up the energy in some way, it brings the energy from the mind to the heart.”

Vishuddhi Chakra

“The fifth chakra (Vishuddhi) is the chakra of diplomacy, of pure relationships with others, and of playful detachment. It removes all our guilt and remorse when it is opened by the Kundalini, and gives us a kind and compassionate voice. The tendencies to dominate others or to feel dominated by others, the feelings of superiority or inferiority and all jealousies are removed when this chakra is nourished by the Kundalini.”

Subtle system of Ida, Pingla and Sushumna (center) nadis

“So, are you saying that for me, I have to write about the experience to complete the lesson of it?” I asked.

Only you know that but it could be the case.  There are all sorts of ways to process an experience, to get to the heart of the matter so to speak.  I will tell you it’s okay to be stuck on the bridge.  While you are there, be sure to look out and enjoy the view.  You may see and discover something you didn’t expect so don’t be so quick to get off the bridge.  Sometimes we are where we are because that is where we need to be.

When I am experiencing something, I am immersed in it and can’t make sense of things.  That’s when I know I need to be there because I am learning to be there.   When I am aware and awaken to the lesson in it, I am no longer attached to it.  Non-attachment lets the feelings flow and with it, the lesson.  And when we start to see the lesson, we don’t have to have the experience again because we have grown from it.”

I looked up as Cynthia talked, almost forgetting I was sitting in a Starbucks.  She had the ability to package my very situation with a bow on it, even though I had not told her all the details.

“How does meditation and yoga fit in to this all?” I asked, glancing at the clock and knowing I had to leave shortly.

“Through yoga and meditation, we get a glimpse Samadhi, of bliss.  This is where hope lies. When we meditate we find ourselves immersed in feeling and no thought, we are in the no karma zone.  Yoga means union, and when we do yoga we bring the body, mind and spirit together.   Said another way, we get little sparks of what it is like beyond the earth plane,” she said.

It seemed to make sense.  My own experience of moving from mind to heart is indeed stuck in the communications realm — the writing of it all.  If nothing else, our conversation confirmed that I had to continue to trickle along the path of writing and be content to see where all of this goes.

Silly Good Writing

St. Joseph Academy Green bay WI picture

When I think of writing, stories always filled my pen. 

By 5th grade, my teacher Mrs. Brunmeier told me my stories were too avant garde for class distribution.  In 8th grade, I wrote the definitive, imaginative story of our class in a final report format.  In high school, I became the editor of the paper and won a first-place award in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s contest for writing, an expose of the National Honor Society.  And the list goes on.

But the stories I remember best were the ones I wrote with my friend Donna. 

As high school students at all-girls St. Joseph’s Academy (now Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, www.notredameacademy.com), we yearned for life experiences yet to come.  We dreamed of prom dates and life successes far into the future. We wondered about the diminishing quantity of nuns who taught us and what would happen to their order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, as more lay teachers entered the fray.  We imagined life in big cities and created imaginary all-knowing and all-powerful alter-egos while suffering through the realities of study hall.

For all those things that didn’t yet exist, we’d pen hand-written stories instead of dissecting frogs in biology class to make these lofty dreams come true.  Of course, we’d write each other as main characters and every wish, however small, would come true.  Oh, there would be conflict but ultimately we’d emerge the victors. 

 When Donna had a crush on J, I created a lengthy narrative for her full-bodied hair flowing in the wind, her wily charms on fire, and her witticisms dazzling a high school party crowd.  J could only hope but to fall prey to her charms.  Twenty pages later, Donna would have her man. 

A week later she’d hold the pen, my success held in limbo by her imagination.  Would I crush an opponent or merely lob an ace every serve in a tennis game?  It mattered not.  We would persevere and win.  We’d howl in delight, knowing we’d always be the heroines of our own stories.

Donna moved to New York.  I moved to Chicago.  When I’d least expect it, a hand-written note would appear in my mail, continuing my high school story line.  No explanation needed.  It spurred me to continue her tale, jetting her from country to country, adventure to adventure. 

When I found an old letter buried in a tangle of papers the other day, I quickly picked up my pen ready to resume the quest.  Donna died of colon cancer several years back.   Silly good writing had put her in a multi-million dollar home, lavished her with furs and jewels, and made her insanely happy.  She would have been pleased.