The Good Neighbor Thing

Coming-out stories come in all shapes and sizes. When my friend Joanne came out in her late 30s, it was a pretty lonely affair.  She came out as a lesbian feminist, and there was a general lack of affection in the broader lesbian community for this identification. She didn’t know many women in town in any case. There were several lonely months, lots of self doubt and second-guessing, before Joanne felt welcomed and comfortable. In telling this story later, she shakes her head, dismayed, still a little puzzled, but with an intact sense of humor: “I really thought someone was going to show up at my door, sort of like a gay welcome wagon, with a reading list and a loaf of bread and friendship.”

Starting to blog is a little like that. This assignment offers a remedy. Here are some sites that I have been drawn to and/or that have particularly welcomed me:

With powerful photographic images and penetrating words, Treothe is immersed in the ecopoetics of the Pacific Northwest in his blog, Tree Oathe — Fresh Ancients of Cascadia & Beyond, that can be found here.  There is  an especially incisive post in his writing category, using the story of Ferguson as an allegory to the state of our communities, comparing it with a case of lethal domestic abuse:  http://treeoathe.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/witness-to-ferguson-state-of-our-family/

Elspod writes creatively on a variety of topics, some whimsical, some serious, all very well crafted. She imagines a spectacular send-off for Robin Williams–one he deserved, one more fitting to the humor and magic that he shared so generously with the world. Her blog, Be Amazing, is found here.

talesbytink is another excellent, creatively written blog. Her muse is a mermaid. An  evidently brilliant mermaid. She is committed to developing her craft of writing, and her posts have substance and depth.  Find her here.

Wendy Barron is a spirited writer with a rich creative life. She has a love for all things literary and an aversion to housework. You can find her over here.

I declare this the blog equivalent to the Gay Welcome Wagon thing that my friend Joanne missed. It’s true that making positive connections strengthens the fabric of our communities. Whatever and wherever they might be.

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Lise’s, Montreal. Blogging 101, day 9

43fbfc4ac5c4fdda2405f42d8430ad57A professor and friend of mine lives and writes in Montreal. Her brick row-house faces a green urban park. The street is lined with trees, and parking is impossible. The view from the sidewalk, all along the street, is of cats on window-sills and container gardens flourishing in the sun.

Ah, but it’s the view out the kitchen window that enchants me. Those back windows look out over a maze of complex courtyards, paintings of rich detail: a cat’s-cradle of clothes-lines that fly work clothes on Monday morning and billowing worlds of sheets sailing later in the week; back-yard balconies with routine performances by mops and brooms and the wild shaking of throw rugs. There are magic flying carpets floating in the hot glimmer of a summer afternoon; fairies conducting their fairy-business beneath the drenched leaves of a June downpour; early morning children, Saturday night couples, and Sunday solitary women.

Inside, a rich world of books suggests a lifetime affair with words and ideas. I smile. It’s like walking into another time, into a crowded back-alley bookshop where communicants seeking shelter from the rain are announced by the shallow tinkling of a delicate bell positioned over a carved wooden door.

Then all my whimsy vanishes, stopped short in the presence of shelves bearing the heavy weight of discourse from those formidable French feminists.

Book Review: Bloodroot, by Amy Greene

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Using alternating first-person narrative and a fractured chronological style, Amy Greene tells the legacy story of an Appalachian family from the early 20th century until the present. It’s a story that touches on “magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss.”

There’s a little magic and a whole lot of madness. Also poverty, neglect, and domestic violence–which is madness, after all. Ms. Greene writes madness capably and with authority. After reading some of her dark, disturbing scenes, we understand how people go over the edge, how something breaks inside them. By using the first person narrative she allows compassion, or at least understanding, of some pretty sketchy characters. And even given the darkness and the hardscrabble lives, there is also tenderness, and redemption.

The Appalachian dialect felt awkward initially, making me wonder why I’d read such good things about the author’s prose. But the strength of the story worked me and I forgot at some point along the way that I was reading dialect. Still, there is something about Appalachian dialect that doesn’t have the same depth or resonance as the characters’ in Their Eyes Were Watching God, or The Color Purple, or The Book of Night Women.

As I began to catch the rhythm of this book, I thought maybe we could look forward to some novels that, like Louise Erdrich’s, explored inter-related characters over a series of several books. Greene is from Tennessee, and her next novel, Long Man, takes place there as well. Interweaving or not, place figures prominently in these two pieces of her fiction. And this author writes Appalachia very, very well.

Reflections on Nurses, Writing. Blogging 101, Day 4

I live in Vermont, home of the Bread and Puppet theater group, which shares magic, social and political commentary, and affordable art with its guests. One summer, the troop led us into a hushed red-pine forest. We sat on the ground at long, makeshift banquet tables laid with bright cloth and 582289a3d3123309b4a0d36b24c096b0coffee cans painted with flowers and arcane symbols. Our puppeteer-hosts served, in silence, chilled water from clay pitchers and chunks of homemade bread.

Like fresh bread and cool water, writing nourishes when it is shared.

I work as a nurse.  Nursing, too, is a practice that must be shared in order to exist. As a profession, or a calling, right livelihood, or just a paycheck,  by simple definition it cannot stand alone. The very mechanics of doing our jobs allow us to look through intimate windows opening briefly into others’ existences. Our jobs intersect with theirs at intrinsic turning points as they experience birth, life, and death.

That intersection is a crossroads where mysteries live, where events below the surface manifest in language we have become clumsy with. Nurses write to translate, to interpret.

The dichotomy between the technical and the personal asserts itself repeatedly in this profession. How do we maintain the pace required to provide dramatic, cutting edge interventions while preserving compassion and healing intention? That call to serve and to heal sparked the beginnings of the nursing profession—and eventually it sparked the creation of technology.

The ancient healers—magicians, witches, shamans—have been replaced. Today we survive infections and trauma that, before the arrival of modern medicine, were deadly. These improved outcomes are miracles and that come with various requirements. We must be technicians we well as nurses, often responding not to the person but to machines that measure and image the body’s mysterious inner workings. We are accountable to federal, state, and local regulations that assure safe, quality patient care. We seek an evidence-based practice. We have advanced practice and advanced degrees. I’m not suggesting that any of this is wrong. I am saying that often as nurses we have little time for providing the elements of care that called us to our profession in the first place. And I am saying that sometimes those same elements have been erased by a system that has embraced corporate culture and practices.

Yet time exists in layers, and so still there are the small, secret pockets where the legacy of healing emerges again and again.

And in those pockets, nurses are writing to survive that great split between science and magic. We are writing to avoid being destroyed by the heavy pendulum with its great momentum, swinging powerful and erratic between the polarities of what is possible in health care and what is possible in healing. For they are not always the same thing. Although our world so much needs both, there is an unfortunate and deep divide between the two. Nurses are among those who try to bridge that chasm, underscoring our profession’s commitment to interact with the person, not the disease.

Nurses use a process which includes assessment and documentation. There is this, too: we notice, observe, witness, map, and chronicle. It’s the pursuit of writers, yes, and it’s also what nurses do, from our own particular places in the universe.

Nursing happens. It doesn’t pretty things up. It is intimate with birth and blood, shit and insanity, illness and death. It’s built from primitive stuff, the humus of life, raw energy that demands acknowledgment.

Warm bread, shared, silent, in a summer forest in Vermont is one sort of offering. Another is giving voice to our experiences of life, through our words on the page.

These things are good medicine. We offer them up.