Monthly Archives: January 2018

Shhhh…quiet

photo credit: Pixabay

“Shutting out the world is not about turning your back on your surroundings, but rather the opposite: it is seeing the world a bit more clearly, staying a course and trying to love your life.” — Erling Kagge

I’ve been examining my addiction to social media of late. Especially Facebook and my increasing need to escape the noise of it. My need for silence. Perhaps those raised in the current tech era might not understand or appreciate that need or even what silence is—there is so little anymore—or the reflection and wonder that comes with it. But that quiet is what makes us more human and, in my opinion… probably better writers.

It is a difficult habit to break because it involves, like all addictions, our very own neurotransmitters. In the case of social media, it’s the endless dopamine loop. Those sites and apps were designed to create a yearning, that feeling good about pursuing feel-good activities. Has anyone “liked” my comment? Has anyone noticed me? All this can be fulfilling, I suppose, or just a waste of time. None of it is self-productive.

Taking a break is harder than it seems. This past week I’ve noticed just how jumpy I am when sitting still. My monkey brain clatters and bangs and it’s all I can do not to get up and run. Ironing? Really? I’d almost settle for that. And I have cleaned the fridge, the freezer, and wiped the walls for mold rather than face the inside of my head. But if I do accomplish 20 minutes of sustained quiet, an open space begins to unfurl and a growing sense of peace and calm drops over me. This is also, coincidentally, when I’m most likely to experience the presence of those who have gone from this world.

So, what is silence exactly? Erling Kagge, explorer and author of Silence: In an Age of Noise, says it’s more of what I’m describing than any shortage of sound. Something nearly impossible to find even in the most isolated places on the planet. His descriptions of the Arctic and Antarctic (where he spent 50 days solo) is less than quiet. So too is the jungle where I live.

So, silence can be seen as a place within where we find space to carry on a conversation with ourselves. I think this is what Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages have brought me. At least when I do them, I find I begin to write to myself in the second person. “Well, Sarah,” I’ll sometimes write. It’s almost as though it’s someone else talking to me. Hearing voices? Or… is it God, which is what Cameron suggests. Not sure about God (maybe if we agree to call it dog spelled backward or refer to it with a lowercase g) but I do feel a more significant and wiser force speaking to me.

It’s comforting to know that writers have been coming to terms with this uncomfortable confrontation since Pascale wrote about sitting still and listening. I’m sure we’ve been struggling with it ever since our species became “thinkers,” but I think Pascale was the first to put into words.

Contemplating my word for the year, Open, during these hushed moments of my life has also brought about reflection. It is in the moments away from the TV, social media—the noise—that I find the space for reflection and…not answers but at least the questions.

 

Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

To say I’ve been negligent of this blog would be an understatement. I just checked the date of my last post: 03 March 2015. The reason for my absence? There has been so much loss in my life in the past two-plus years I sometimes wonder that I can still stand upright let alone walk.

I thought it was bad when my dad died in 2012. He was 98, so nothing to be shocked about, but this daughter was grief-stricken for quite a spell. He was my mentor, my champion, my friend, and my go-to guy for everything political. But his last years were taking their toll; his memory was failing, and I know he would have hated seeing himself in an Alzheimer’s unit.

About two years after that came my mother’s need for relocation. The house they both called home in McMinnville OR was too big and too hard for her to manage. My brother, sister, and various nieces and nephews helped move her to a lovely extended care facility near Portland. In fact, many years ago EMTs told me, when they rolled a patient through the doors of our ER, “If you have to go to one of these, make it this one.” Excellent care, beautiful apartments, gorgeous grounds. And they allowed Mum her dog. Can’t go wrong there.

But soon came broken bones (two fractured hips) before her death at the end of November 2015. I have to hand it to my mother, she went out like a trooper—walking from her kitchen to the living room one afternoon, she just keeled over. Gone. My sister, brother, and I cleaned out the apartment, settled most of her affairs, and I was home in Costa Rica before Christmas.

It is a strange feeling to be orphaned at age 66. It stung much more than I would have thought given my parents’ ages and what significant and satisfying lives they both led. Nevertheless,  I found myself withdrawn and reflective. Was I depressed? Looking back, I think I was. It was a time for journaling, not blogging, I thought. Or…maybe blogging would have been a good thing if I were the sort of person who readily shares her feelings before sorting through the remainders first.

Four months after my mother’s death, my sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jesus H. Christ, as my father used to say! My brother and I stayed with her through the try at chemo, through the hospice consults, and finally…through the choice of Death with Dignity that Washington state law allows. Thank GOD for that. She was dead within a month, four months after my mother’s death.Three-fifths of my family gone in four years. My brother and I are the last ones standing.

After that, I lost four friends to cancer in rapid succession and two special little Basenjis who still make me cry whenever I think about them too much. They are buried overlooking our big meadow; prayer flags fly overhead to purify the area.

I miss them. I miss them all.

Why am I writing all this now instead of weekly or monthly as things unfolded? Recently, a poet I follow, Molly Fisk, suggested that rather than New Year’s resolutions, which are seldom kept and often silly, we should instead select a word to reflect on over the course of the year. I thought about many words last month. Most of them I realized were words that typify my life, words I feel comfortable around: resilience, strength, indomitable, tenacity. But the word I finally settled on slipped in on the side one day and whispered to me. It’s simple but essential to any writer: open.

So…I hope to be back on the blog in 2018 with writings about Costa Rica, me, my life, and life in general with openness and candor. (Ooh, that’s another good word.)

No coming, no going. No after, no before. Open to all.