Meditation on Autumn Equinox

Long before a turning point is evident, tiny shifts lead to change: The last cut of the axe before a tree falls, the gathering force of an avalanche before it lets go, the final few cells piling up to a clot that blocks flow and becomes the stroke, the gradual loosening of a sleepy child’s fingers before the toy slides to the floor, the droop and dangle of a leaf before it drops, the new insight added to insight as a mind is changed. 

At autumn equinox, a near balance is struck when day and night are almost the same length before the northern hemisphere tilts toward winter. Minutes of daylight have been slipping away since June, and September’s days, though still sunny, are cooler. I don’t welcome the coming darkness, but accept it. And autumn has its compensations: apples, fires, and glorious colors.

The WordSisters Celebrate 10 Years of Inviting You into Our Lives

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline of posting once a week. Our original motivation was attracting agents and publishers, but soon we were blogging for the pleasure of writing. We had things to say and stories to share. 10 years later we’re still writing!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia and Bev are regular contributors, while Brenda, Jill, Jean and Rosemary have occasionally posted. 

Our insights arise from our lives—mothering, working, aging, living through COVID, reacting to events in the news, planning our futures and setting goals. I’m proud of the breadth of topics we’ve covered and the connections we’ve made with strangers all over the world . 

Most of all I’m proud of us for persisting. For being here long after many bloggers have faded away. 

One of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a collection of best-of posts. I hope you’ll enjoy sampling them. 

Thank you for being our readers.

Ellen

No More Guilt with Every Bite 

What Work Would I Do if I Were an Immigrant?

Elizabeth

I Didn’t Come This Far

Until It Becomes Personal

Cynthia

Shake the Marbles

Broken Dreams

Bev

Let the Hope Shine

When It Comes to Your Age, Do You Share? 

Brenda

Confessions of a Pandemic Parent

I’m (Not) Sorry

Jill

Opposing Thumbs

Rethinking

During a recent trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), I was surprised by a curator’s note about a sculpture in the Native American art gallery.

She said she’d reconsidered what she’d written about the sculpture years before. I’d just begun to read the note when a friend called me away, so I don’t know the exact points the curator made. 

To me, the actual content of her note didn’t matter as much as the phenomenon it represented. I was struck by her admission—that an institution like a museum would acknowledge the need to reassess. I also appreciated her basic statement—she sees things differently now.

Since the late 1970s when I became an adult, many Americans’ views have evolved regarding race, gender identity, sexual harassment, and so much more. Marijuana use was flat-out illegal in the 1970s, but now recreational use is legal in 18 states, and a number of other states permit medical marijuana. Until 2015, same sex marriage was illegal in many states. 

A lot of widely held views from 40, 30, 20, and 10 years ago have caused immeasurable harm. 

Pain caused by ignorance is real even if the person or institution didn’t intend to be hurtful, but that’s a different category of wrong from meanness or a stubborn refusal to learn as new insights become available. Intention matters. 

Historical context also matters. I’ve abandoned many views that seemed mainstream years ago. I know better now. 

This is a small personal example, but when our sons were babies more than 30 years ago, we had bumper pads on the crib and covered the boys with blankets. They also had stuffed animals in the crib to keep them company. I wouldn’t do it now, given what we’ve learned about babies smothering and sudden infant death syndrome. I didn’t know better then, but I’ve learned and changed.

Sometime in the last 10 years I read that commenting on someone’s non-European name was ‘othering’. Until it was pointed out, I had no idea. I thought my remarks would be seen as taking an interest in the person. Now I understand those comments are offensive and I no longer say them.

I don’t know what the MIA curator learned—if her perspective about artistic merit broadened or if she gained an enhanced cultural awareness. I’m grateful she acknowledged the change and hope museum-goers don’t judge her on her past views without considering her evolved views.

People do learn, regret, try to improve, and change. I certainly have. I also realize what seems right and appropriate today may very well be judged harshly forty years from now. 

Then and Now–A Year in Review

As last winter closed in a year ago, so did my life. Because of COVID, going to the grocery store was my only excursion (whoopee). There was no need to get gas—I wasn’t going anywhere. Sometimes I’d go for a drive just for a change of scenery. Yoga classes, my book groups, and writers’ groups all went to Zoom. 

My husband and I rarely saw our sons in person. At best, we visited for a few minutes as they stood in the doorway. Across the room we shivered in the frosty breeze. All of us masked. Even more chilling than the air was the understanding we couldn’t touch.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my husband and I planned menus along with our sons and their fiancées. Our three households shared what we’d cooked. The food was good and we were outwardly cheerful, but inwardly, I felt our aloneness deeply. 

2020

For perspective, I watched shows about WWII and reminded myself that my life was way better than enduring the London bombing, the French occupation, or life on a naval destroyer as my father had. I was grateful we had healthcare and didn’t have to worry about being evicted. We were apart, but it wouldn’t last forever.

This year feels so much better. We are vaccinated and boosted. As long as I’m masked and keep some distance, I am free to work in the pottery studio, tutor, and shop in person. I am able to invite a few vaccinated friends over for a drink or dinner. We spread out and run the HEPA filter, but we can talk, laugh and interrupt each other in the natural conversational rhythms instead of the stilted stop-and-start of Zoom visits.

My life remains more restricted than it was pre-COVID. Dining in restaurants, watching movies in the theater, or flying are TBD. I avoid large gatherings and even assess the risks of events like indoor farmers’ markets.

But now we can do the most important things, like gathering for birthday dinners with our sons and their wives. We were able to be together at Thanksgiving. I’m so grateful the six of us can visit in person this Christmas. We’ll hug, laugh, and eat lots of good food. Pure joy.

2021

COVID rewired my thinking. These days, our plans are provisional. Maybe. If. We’ll see. I’m careful to temper my hopes and rein in my worries. Letting either get away from me doesn’t serve me. 

I have a different, more realistic view about my ability to control anything. Life never was in my control—I just thought it was.

COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m learning to live with it. Going forward, there will be times when the Delta/Omicron/Whatever variant is raging, and I’ll have to limit my activities, and there will be times when I’m less restricted. For now, I’m taking sensible precautions, assessing each situation case by case. I don’t expect “we’ll get back to normal.” This is the new normal. It isn’t all I wish for, but being able to see family and friends in person means a lot.

Ready, Set … Bounce

I used to be resilient.  

At least that’s what a “How Resilient Are You?” quiz I took a decade ago indicated.

I came across the quiz the other day while purging a hanging file chockful of articles from Experience Life magazine. Featured in a September 2011 article titled “The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency,” my quiz results indicated that I was “highly resilient” and that I “bounce back well from life’s setbacks and can thrive even under pressure.”

No more.

My once optimistic self no longer looks on the bright side. Nor do I see difficulties as temporary. Instead, in large part due to COVID, I find myself in a perpetual state of ambiguity and uncertainty, a state sometimes even accompanied by a sense of dread.

Will I be able to join my sisters in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will I be able to travel outside the United States while I’m still healthy enough to do so? When am I going to retire and where am I going to live?

Who the heck knows. I sure don’t. And I’m tired of trying to figure it all out.

I’m also angry more often than I used to be, sometimes for no apparent reason.

And once highly social, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. Many of my family members, friends and colleagues have as well.

Fed up with feeling alone and adrift, I’ve been working on being more positive and getting back in touch with that resilient me of a decade ago. She can’t be that far away. In fact, I know she’s not as there are days, even weeks, when she’s ever-present rather than elusive.

Books such as Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson have helped. So have books on resilience, four of which I discovered had been sitting unread on my shelf for years.

So now, when something goes wrong—like when I rolled my car into a parked car at my friend Pam’s husband’s funeral causing more than $3,000 worth of damage (even though I and the owner of the other vehicle could barely see the scratch)—I try to find the silver lining. In this case, it was being treated kindly by the owner of the car I’d damaged and by the friend who stayed by my side until I found him and told him what I’d done.

I’m also paying attention to my positivity ratio. According to Fredrickson’s research, we need three positive experiences to balance out each negative one. Normally those positive experiences would be part of my everyday life—a compliment on a new sweater, a hug when meeting a friend for coffee, a thank you for volunteering.

But being as I’m still not venturing out any more than necessary, those experiences are harder to come by. So instead, I make a point of calling at least one person a day and of sending at least seven cards a week. While the conversations sometimes last only a few minutes, they definitely brighten my day. So do the cards I send. I take pleasure in finding just the right one and in writing a heartfelt message or including a silly joke.    

I’m also striving to view my challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. That’s not always easy, in large part because I’m more of a “judger” who asks questions such as “Who’s to blame?” or “What’s wrong?” rather than a “learner” who seeks to grow by asking neutral, non-judgmental questions such as “What can this experience teach me?” or “Given my choices, what do I most want to do?”

But my favorite question, the one I’ve found to be most helpful is one I learned from Arianna Huffington who chose “resilience” as her word of the year. The question?

“How can I not just bounce back, but bounce forward?”

While I’m stilling working on my answer, I am growing more resilient—and bouncing a bit higher—every day. For that, I am grateful.