Writing On Alone

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning...

The last day of 2011 began with waves of Chinook winds roaring past my house. The cadence of these downslope winds is distinct: first a long whooshing sound as the wave of moving air approaches, growing louder and cresting in a percussive “thud!” as the leading edge hits the house, followed by a cacophony of ringing, crashing, banging, rattling and creaking, all of which diminish as the wave of air passes. Then a lull before the next chinook wave approaches.

At first the slapping waves of wind were disconcerting. I lay in bed, listening to the stream of noise and mentally reviewed the yard, garden, and courtyards. Was everything secure out there? Were my porch chairs blowing about, my raised-bed row covers coming undone?

As day came and the wind continued, I started my morning routine: turn on the gas fireplace, pad to the kitchen and measure out the organic dried fruits and grains to soak for my breakfast bowl of hot cereal, return to the bedroom to greet the day with yoga; wash, dress and eat breakfast.

By the time I got to the stretch-out-sideways-on-the-loveseat-and-soak-up-the-morning-sun part of my morning, laptop on a pillow in my lap, the chinook winds had become simply a part of the rhythm of this particular day. Not my choice, but life.

Which is, come to think of it, a good way to describe how 2011 felt: not my choice of events, just life.

It was a heck of a ride, beginning with my mom entering hospice care in January and her death at home on February 3rd, followed quickly by Richard’s brain-swelling crises and two brain surgeries in one month, and then what seemed like a promising recovery until the tumor came roaring back to destroy his right brain, leading to his death from brain cancer–also at home in hospice care–on November 27th.

A year that has been disturbing, disorienting, difficult–so much so that at points I wondered how I’d find the strength to go on, much less to do so with any measure of grace. A year that has also brought soaring moments of joy, and a lot of quiet contentment. Looking back, it’s the latter I remember most.

Still smiling on that last trip...

Times like when Richard and I were on our “Big Trip” in September–our last trip, we knew. We had stopped at Devil’s Punchbowl, a little wayside on the Oregon Coast we’ve visited before to watch the waves pound the rocky shoreline, exploding in white fountains of spray.

This time, we got out stiffly and stretched. I grabbed my camera and headed for the cliff edge. Richard followed slowly, and when I turned, he had stopped, smiling.

“Listen,” he said. I did, and heard the bass “thump!” as a wave crashed into the hollows in the cliff, shaking the ground. A song sparrow warbled a few notes. The sun canted toward the horizon.

We grinned at each other, loving every bit of that moment.

Sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, Oregon Coast

So yes, 2011 was disturbing, disorienting, difficult in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But like anything that weaves itself into our daily existence, the tough parts have simply become part of life. Not my choice, but life all the same. A life whose rhythm I am getting used to, just as I got accustomed to the thrashing waves of wind rolling down our valley on that last morning of the year.

If this year-almost-past has taught me nothing else, it’s that those waves won’t sink me. They may crash over me, but those moments of joy–the thump of the surf, the song sparrow’s sweet notes, the slanting sunlight–will buoy me, and on I’ll go.

Fuchsias bloom on a foggy dawn at Lucia Lodge, Big Sur Coast

Alone now, but not lonely. I have the whole of the living world for company–wind, song sparrows, sunsets, and all–and I intend to enjoy the miracle we call life thoroughly, just as I did when my love and I shared the rhythm of these days.

And I have writing to help me sift through the changes in words, pouring out my life onto the page and then reading it over to see what stands out, what patterns and trends and narrative arcs, to get a sense of what it all means.

What will you write about this year?

19 responses to “Writing On Alone

  1. Susan,

    Your 2011 was beyond “disturbing, disorienting, difficult.” Your strength and grace and your boundless sharing of it has made a huge difference in the world.


  2. Janet, Bless you! I’ve been thinking of you and your Pops, and sending love to you both as his cycle makes that turn… Take care of yourself!

  3. Such beauty in your tender words. What a blessing to be able to write through these difficulties. Your words are a gift of grace to me this morning. Thank you.

  4. Suzi, Thank you. Writing is a large part of what kept me afloat through the journey with Richard’s brain cancer. Writing helped me find the beauty in our days, and continues to help me find the beauty in this life without him. I believe in the truth of the buddhist saying, “Pain is inevitable, suffering optional.” Writing helps remind me that I can choose not to suffer.

  5. The luminous beauty of your spirit shines through your words, whether you write of life, or death. Your writing gifts me with the wisdom of one who has suffered deeply, yet through the portal of pain, has miraculously managed to look grief and sadness in the eye, and say ‘I know you; you too are welcome here’. In one of your comments above you mention Buddhism. As I read your post I felt as if I was in the presence of a Buddhist master.
    Thank you. Love and blessings and lots and lots of hugs,
    Edith xxxx

    • Edith, You’re a honey. Thank you for that phrase, “luminous beauty” and for understanding that I’m doing my best to look through that portal and see such beauty as I can find in the grief and the rift between this life and the old one, before Richard’s life moved him on to whatever’s next… Hugs back to you.

  6. I’ve thought of you so often in these recent weeks since Richard’s death and now it is so good to connect with both your beautiful words and your indominitable spirit. Peace, Susan.
    Mary Jo

    • Mary Jo, Thank you for your continuing support, and for understanding that I’m doing my best to walk in beauty, as the Navajos say, looking for harmony and balance in each moment. It helps, especially in this intense week when I’ve been in Miami Beach working with top high school writers from around the country in a big national arts program. Today we had our final master class, a Q&A with Robert Redford! (http://www.youngarts.org) It’s been an intense and inspiring week, and I could use a week of sleep to catch up…

  7. Susan,
    I am moved the the beauty you write in the face of such sorrow.

    • Bless you, Judy! The sorrow comes and goes, like a sharp pain under my ribs when I least expect it. But mostly I’m happy knowing that I could give my love what he needed to live well with cancer and to die well too…

  8. Susan, I am moved to tears by your words, by your soulful, intimate, beautiful writing, by your spirit. I am at a loss as to how to respond in any meaningful, articulate way. Only single words spring to mind as I read: indomitable; graceful; strong; beautiful.

    • Amber, praise is always a meaningful and articulate way to respond! ;~) Seriously, the words that come to mind in response to your comment are simple ones, but I mean them: thank you. I am blessed to know you.

  9. Year 2011 was another hectic one. Since 2008 (when I had been attack by this crazy woman) things are going weird and exhausting in my life. I used to write a lot and am writing a lot again. I stopped for a while after somebody I trusted went in the privacy of my bag which was in my bedroom, took my notebook and read it and… misinterpreting what was written, he started to divulge publicly what I had written… which was the base for a new novel where I was writing notes about my characters. I felt this like I had been raped. I was so in shock, that I was almost afraid to write anything again for years. I am sad because a lot happened and never wrote about it.

    Now, I want to write as much as before and more if I can. I want to publish again. I want to teach again. When I read you this morning, I felt like a balm coming down on my heart, like if… finally… things were coming to completion… like if a part of my heart just healed.

    Thank you, dear you

    • I am so sorry about what happened to you. I think having your private writing exposed is like being raped, in the sense of having your work and your trust violated. I hope that regaining your writing helps you regain your sense of yourself as a whole and healthy person. If this blog post helped in that process, I am honored. Know that my love and blessings are going out to you through this digital ether…

      • I am sorry too 🙂 but it give me a lot to write about and it opened my eyes on bullyism. Maybe… through what I experienced, I might be able to help few people. You know a lot is said about bullies in schools and college but… not a lot is out there to help adults to deal with these grown up bullies. So, maybe my writings will be able to bring some soul soothing balm to some victims.

        Raped is the right term and the right feeling. It leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth and some kind of emotional instability, a void in the middle of your chest and a fear to write again. But now, I am up again… thanks to precious “invisible” people like you and some other fellow writers/bloggers.

        I was surely guided to read your blog that morning. Thank you for your writings… your words touched me deeply and I am honored too by your love and blessing.

        • I think you’re right that we don’t think about bullying among adults, and it would be a real gift to write about your experiences in a way that would help others who have been bullied. I’m glad that you have a community of writers and bloggers who can help you find the courage to write again–writing can heal us, and it can give others the tools they need to heal too. May your words bring you the gift of wholeness and beauty…

          • What a nice wish… thank you… That will be marvelous.

            Writing can heal us? Yes and more… it is healing us. Sometimes at very deeply hidden levels but it is really doing phenomenal work on our emotions.

            I just wish that my words bring a bit of balm on somebody’s heart and soul and that my pen be guided to bleed the right words out of me.

            Thank you, Susan

  10. A beautiful post Susan, one that left me with a lot to think about and a lot to be grateful far. I enjoyed sharing your 2011 journey. You brought joy and light to a painful time. I’m so glad I connected with you. Looking forward to seeing you in April.

    • Pat, Bless you for those words. I’m inspired by your travels with Maggie and your dedication to writing a blog post as near to every day as is possible. The Stories With A Heart Conference in April is going to be a great one, I think! (For those who don’t know the conference or haven’t signed up, info is here: http://www.storycircle.org/Conference/ I’m speaking at the end of the conference, a great honor…)

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