Tag Archives: Warrior Mother

Thank You Sheryl

Sandberg2016-05-16t12-09-26-766z--1280x720.nbcnews-ux-1080-600Stalled at the Pittsburgh airport while the airline tried to locate a part for our plane last week, I had time to peruse the magazine racks. And there it was, on the cover of Time magazine, Sheryl Sandberg’s image and the message, “Let’s talk about grief.”

YES, I said enthusiastically to myself, inhibiting the desire to make a fist in the air and bring it down in a firm gesture of agreement, like the ringing of a chime. It’s about time we spoke out loud the name of the elephant that is in the middle of our social gathering places – our offices, churches, ladies luncheons, schools, and corporate conferences. Anywhere we gather, at least half of us are most likely in the middle of experiencing a major loss and yet a conspiracy of silence keeps us isolated from getting and giving the support we need.

I learned about this when I lost my 31 year old son to AIDS and later, my 42 year old daughter to breast cancer. Being a therapist I decided to write a book about our family’s experiences and the role that support from our community played in our handling these challenges. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y12Wj06_nAI

My hope was that writing and talking about what we experienced would help me and reading our stories would help others deal with their losses. I developed a format to “Perform The Book,” getting help from my improv troupe, as we used the expressive arts to join the particulars of their stories to mine. This experience was most satisfying and rewarding for me, those who chose to participate, and audience members. But it was noteworthy how many people declined our invitations.

The taboo about hiding the pain of loss seems to stay firmly in place not only in relation to death and the loss of a loved one, but operates when a family member loses a job or goes to jail, gets a cancer diagnosis, or when we ourselves deal with pain or infirmity. In short – whenever we suspect that our current life situation might be considered a “downer” for someone else.

On the other side of the equation, when we know someone is going through grief we often fear saying something that might make their pain worse. Once when my son was seriously ill in the hospital my sister-in-law asked about him and I began to tear up as I talked about the situation. “Oh dear. Now I’ve made you cry,” she said. I had to explain that she didn’t make me cry. ” By asking about my son, and listening to my answer, she allowed me to have a few moments when I was not pretended that everything was “fine. She let me know that she cared and gave me the opportunity to share my concerns and sorrow with her.

Hopefully through Sheryl’s courage in writing her book, https://www.recode.net/2016/7/29/12320222/sheryl-sandberg-leans-into-next-book-option-b-about-grieving-and-healing about the sudden loss of her husband, and the well-funded promotion of her platform, more of us can be there for one another through the tough and tender times, becoming stronger from dealing with our adversities.

Las Vegas Happened To Me Twice

Last week Rich and I got up at 4 am to make a direct flight to Las Vegas, one of my least favorite destinations. If you don’t count stops at the Vegas airport on the way to somewhere else, I’d only been to Vegas twice before. In 1992, my in-laws took the family there to help celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I remember the kids sneaking onto the casino floor with Grandma Pearl hoping to learn how to be as lucky as she was at playing the slot machines. 

My initial time in Las Vegas was half a century ago in the glory days of the Rat Pack, when I wasn’t old enough to drink legally. I lived in Vegas for eight weeks while working as a dancer in the Tony Martin and Peggy Lee Shows, at the now defunct Desert Inn.  The pull of working in Vegas for New York dancers like me was the enormous salaries they paid. I don’t remember the amount, but if you watched expenses and brought a good portion of your salary back to New York you could live on it for six months. This meant you could avoid taking odd jobs that interfered with staying fit as a dancer and being available for frequent auditioning. In order to accomplish this end, refraining from gambling was critical as was economizing on living expenses.

It was winter, the rainy season, which meant sunbathing, swimming, golf and tennis were not frequent activities. For us, the highlight of most weeks was the other shows we were able to catch on our night off, and the dance classes we took from whatever choreographer’s’ assistant happened to be in town.

The glamour of the place, then as now, did not extend much beyond the footlights. Though we wore elaborate beaded costumes and glued on false eyelashes to perform, my roommate and I grocery shopped after we got off work at 2 am, cooked and ate all our meals in our motel-style apartment, and to further economize, we rented a sewing machine and made the evening clothes we were required to wear in order to come on to the property.

Weird Las VegasThe weirdness of the place is still intact. We encountered people clearly under the influence of something, forgetting how to walk or talk properly, but the dress code has changed dramatically. Locals and tourists alike dress in what I would describe as “grungy casual,’ jeans, sweats, and workout clothes. I noticed this especially because all the women, from waitresses to chambermaids, to teenagers on the street, proudly sported elaborate eye makeup and glued on eyelashes.

Students on the campus dress like students everywhere, though a hundred or so wore black tee shirts with the letters TEAM on their backs. I came to appreciate their dedication and effort as the purpose of my return trip to Vegas was to present a talk, “When Death Threatens, Life REALLY Matters.” at the TEDx UNLV event. It was fittingly titled, “Living in the Extreme.” Who says the universe doesn’t have an outlandish sense of humor?IMG_1888

Gifts That Endure

We were house guests at some friends’ lake house last weekend. Having never been there we decided that instead of bringing a house gift with us, we’d wait to see what they might need. After we got home, it was great fun selecting a couple of practical kitchen items to express our gratitude for a most enjoyable time.

plateThis morning I served my single fried egg and some greens on a colorful plate, which meant the food was encircled by yellow and blue rings, creating a most cheerful presentation. This appealing visual was especially appreciated since I’m on a special eating program these days, determined to discover at last which foods are good for my body, and which ones I should avoid. We always hear that “food is the best medicine” and I’ve decided to experiment with what that trite but true saying really means to my particular body.

The plate is one of four given to us as a gift many years ago from our friend Vickie, who now goes by the name Victoria. But when she was Vickie, she was as attractive, colorful and bright as these plates. And like her plates, she made me smile to just be around her. When she gifted the plates to us, they weren’t something we needed. They didn’t match any of our other dishes, which I didn’t understand at the time, was the point. They matched one another with different but coordinated colored rings surrounding a different singular fruit in each of their centers. Because they stood out they often held a place of honor in the china cupboard standing behind the stacked china. Now, through the magic of my memory, I can have breakfast most any morning with Vickie, just by getting out the colorful Pier One plates she gave us that Christmas, that time when we were as close as family, and totally in the dark about the challenges awaiting us in our futures.

lake

The soap dispenser we gave our friends for their lake house will most likely not endure as long as Vickie’s plates, but if it continues to work, (which is not guaranteed these days), I hope it continues to send the message of our gratitude that it was sent to represent.

Commencement

It’s a tremendous accomplishment, though I’ve often wondered, whose accomplishment is it? If it takes a village to raise a child, when the eldest child of my eldest child was scheduled to graduate from college a couple of weeks ago, our family determined it would take at least that many relatives and friends to help him celebrate.

 EthanGradThe graduation was to take place in the spring in the center of the country, in a city where none of us lived. Traversing the country from all directions, relatives drove south 10 hours from their home in Nebraska, Auntie Pat flew from Detroit, my husband and I from Pittsburgh, one granddad from Oregon and our grandson’s uncle, wife and 20 month old flew north and east from Palm Springs. His sister Vitoria had to stay home due to a rained out and rescheduled soccer game but she was able to participate via Facetime when her brother’s Iphone was passed around during the family’s celebration dinner.  

 Spring rainstorms across the country turned everyone’s travels into a most challenging saga, testing our stamina, flexibility, endurance, financial solvency, and group problem-solving skills. When flights are cancelled due to weather, airlines bear no responsibility and are held harmless, thus the need for all the above skills. When our nearly 20 month-old granddaughter and her parents were slated to spend the night at an airport on cots, this grandmother had to swing into action to find them real beds nearby.

MeEthanKelly Looking back now was it all worth it, all this effort to mark a family milestone? It wasn’t till I got home that I fully realized why it was all so important to me. I’d worked with my grandson to plan the events. I’d rented a house so everyone would have a place to stay.  His grandfather and I held a reception that included his friends and ours, and we sponsored the family dinner he wanted at one of his favorite restaurants near campus. Ethan’s mothers had died when he was 12, and as her mother, I had to be sure and do for him whatever she would have done, had she had the chance.

An Author Visits A Book Club

I left the church where my book club had been discussing Pema Chadron’s When Things Fall Apart and drove north to a book club where I was to be the special guest. I was the author who would be meeting in person with ten women who had read my book, Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and the Rituals that Heal.

booksFive million adults in the US, mostly women, are members of a book club, not counting the online book clubs. Researching book clubs I learned that women gathering together to discuss books began in the 19th century as a form of self-education when women were not commonly admitted to colleges and universities. Later educated women found the book club a way to extend the intellectual discussions and camaraderie they enjoyed as students.  By 1947 the book club population had grown to 3 million members, after such national programs as The Book of the Month Club and the Literary Guild had fueled interest in both women and men for book discussions. In the proud tradition of literary salons of the mid-20’s, members of this particular book club had been meeting in one another’s homes for six or seven years. At the suggestion of my host, they had agreed to read my book.

women.wine Feeling a bit breathless after climbing a steep hill to the front door, I was greeted by my fashionably dressed hostess holding a stemmed glass of red wine.  She ushered me into the kitchen where club members were chatting around a counter spread with tempting snacks and a selection of wines. I could see immediately the advantage of in-person book clubs over on-line ones. Besides the socializing and night out, there’s the food. There’s even a Book Club Cookbook. But having barely recovered from an upset stomach I didn’t dare take advantage of the offerings. http://www.bookclubcookbook.com/

 After a few minutes of introductions and conversation we moved into the living room to begin our meeting. I’d put together questions inspired by a website on book clubs, http://classiclit.about.com/od/bookclubs/a/aa_bcquestions.htm and the hostess had added her own questions to my list. We used a couple to start but it didn’t take long for the conversation to take off on its own, giving me the opportunity to learn more about the women and their lives, and more about my book as they connected their stories to mine.

1392548_580159845383925_2052741260_n_2 I was the first author to visit the club in person, though other authors had visited via Skype. I wondered what kind of difference the in-person experience makes? Oprah’s book club has two million members and her selection of books can make or break an author but she encourages people to start their own clubs. http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/How-to-Start-Your-Own-Book-Club

I’m definitely up for visiting other clubs and they say the best way for that to happen is for book club members to recommend me to their own book club or to a friend’s club. Are you willing, dear reader, to recommend me?

A Different Kind of Gypsy

In the musical comedy theaterTravellers_Decorated_Caravan_(6136023633) the dancers are called “gypsies.” I suppose it’s because the nature of their employment involves changing jobs and moving around the country often. The first year I was in New York, I lived in 11 different places around the city, including the times I arranged to sleep on a friend’s couch.

This week I’m falling back on those learned long ago gypsy skills – moving around the world with a spirit of adventure, and practicing the spiritual discipline of extreme flexibility. I’m been in North Texas on what might be termed “a book tour.” With the help of my sister who lives north of Denton, I organized one book event in Fort Worth and two in Dallas. Sandwiched in between I attended a women’s retreat at a ranch an hour and a half northwest of Fort Worth.highways

I lived in this area of the world for over 20 years but having left eight years ago, I’d forgotten the amount of time people here spend in their cars and how carefully they plan their trips to miss the rush hours and the logjams created by road construction projects.  As a visitor it strikes me that most every roadway is being worked on, or expanded to accommodate even more traffic. Toll roads are under construction to swoop people over the top of the current roadways and make money for the state and the construction companies.

I’m now at my next stop, Atlanta GA. doing a home stay with a friend as I prepare for a Warrior Mother Performing the Book event this evening at Charis Books and More,  http://charis.indiebound.com/ the nation’ s oldest independent feminist bookstore. If you’re in the area, please join me as I help Charis celebrate their 43rd year as one of the “must see” places in the Atlanta area.charis

Story of the Book Part III

In the present topsy-turvy literary world, getting a book out into the world has become a major career in itself. For well-known authors, the first months after their books’ released, there are television interviews on shows like Jon Stewart or Good Morning America and radio shows like Terry Gross’s Fresh Air on NPR. Print reviews of their books are featured in national newspapers and magazines and their book tours include book signings and speeches to regional and national audiences.sheila at bookstore

But for regular writers like me, the publicity path is quite different. Publishers don’t have budgets to promote unknowns.  Most books now are sold through some type of word-of-mouth, and the word may travel through on-line connections as well as in-person conversations. I hired a professional literary publicist, Stephanie Barko, who arranged a virtual tour, which was something new to me. In addition to arranging professional reviews of the book, Stephanie arranged on-line written interviews, guest blog spots, and online blog radio interviews for me to spread the word about Warrior Mother. Most of these events took place during the first thirty days after the book’s release and we used social media to promote them, along with the book giveaways that occurred on sites like Goodreads. SheilaAsylum2 2013

I’m finding the radio shows especially enjoyable. Recently I had a wonderful interview with Marianna Cacciatore on her organization’s show, Bread for the Journey https://breadforthejourney.org/radio/  and another interview with mother/daughter team Lisa Smith and Nancy Reid on their Happy Hour Radio Showhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/big-blend-radio  Somehow they made room to discuss my book as they toured another one of the 401 national parks they plan to visit in the next couple of years.

Bookstores used to help with getting the word out by hosting author book signings, but most have given up the practice. Many people buy their books on line now and don’t frequent neighborhood bookstores as they once did. But authors are borrowing from musicians the practice of house parties, hosted by friends in their homes. When the structures of the music industry toppled a few years ago and musicians had to become entrepreneurs, the house party became a great place for performing and selling CDs. Authors are now discovering it can work well for books too.

I had my first book house party in Atlanta last week, hosted by a dear friend, and it was delightful. Though they weren’t in my demographic, the three teenagers and their family dog added much fun to the evening as we attempted to improv the book’s themes in a method I call, “Performing the Book.”

book-club-2I’m also exploring another place to find book lovers – book clubs. I’ve been asking people to put me in touch with any book clubs they know about, and in a couple of weeks I’ll be meeting here in Pittsburgh with the first book club I’ve become aware of whose members have read my book.

Taking Warrior Mother on the Road

 “How’s your new book doing?” people ask, and I don’t know quite what to say. The official reviews have been wonderful, most of them thoughtful and articulate, better than I could have hoped for. I have felt blessed by such intelligent and crafted responses as different reviewers have picked up on and emphasized, different themes from the book, rather like turning a prism to refract the light into the various colors contained therein.Sheila Performing Book

Friends and acquaintances who have spoken to me or sent me an email after reading the book have had very good things to say. Of course there may be people who read it and didn’t like it, but they’ve failed to contact me. No one so far has demanded their money back. One woman friend I ran into in the grocery store detained me for quite a while with wonderful comments and complements, followed by a pledge to bring several friends to my next book reading. And she did just that.

Amazon rankings have been all over the place, but today the book is number 51 of the top 100 books in the category of parent and adult child relationships. I had a big disappointment when one of the top reviewing companies that had spoken highly of the quality of the book, and had promised to review it, declined to do so at the last minute.  I learned they were concerned it “wouldn’t have wide enough appeal.” (I think that’s code for “it won’t sell enough books to make it worth our while.”) But in the two and a half months the book has been out, this has not been my experience.

There’s the man I gave a promotional post card to, who read the synopsis on the back quickly as we stood together on the street corner. “I’m gonna buy one of these and give it to my daughter-in-law,” he said. When I asked why he said, “She’s been having a rough time. Our nine year old grandson was killed last year in a boating accident.”  Several people have told me they were buying the book for a friend or family member going through grief, or stuck in an old grief, having trouble moving on.

Wing & Prayer Book Performance
Wing & Prayer Book Performance

 

I’ve become very cognoscente of the universal themes contained in Warrior Mother through a system I’ve developed for book readings. In place of a traditional reading, I connect with people in the community where I will be presenting who do InterPlay, (the system of movement, song, and storytelling that I use) and have them join me in “Performing the Book.”  We select themes that emerge from the snippets I read, and link them to an InterPlay form. The improvisational artists then add their own stories and experiences to mine.

At Performing the Book events we’ve explored relating to adult children (or being one), accompanying a friend or loved one through medical diagnosis, treatments, and death, and rituals that heal grief and loss of whatever variety. Feedback from these presentations has given me a realization that Warrior Mother is about finding ways to authentically communicate about, and honor, the human condition. And that condition is that everyone dies. Once we face that reality, we can enthusiastically choose life for whatever moments that we, and our loved ones, are allowed.

Speaking My Mind

As a writer with a new book out, I’m not turning down any invitations to read my work in front of an audience. I had the privilege last Sunday of participating in an outdoor literary event sponsored by the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. http://www.cityofasylumpittsburgh.org/

CityAsylum-30

The provocative theme we writers were asked to respond to was “I Don’t Know What I’d Do if I Couldn’t Speak My Mind.” Every 10 minutes for six hours, a different writer read from their work while groups of people walked past, lingering a bit as they participated in the Mexican War Streets Annual Home Tour.  I read a short excerpt from Warrior Mother, and three short pieces inspired by the topic.

Speaking My Mind
Before I speak, my focus goes to stillness inside.
Before I speak, my ears listen for the sound of suffering
Before I speak, my heart decides, will this serve love?
Before I speak, my gut signals something must be done.
My hands speak as I type and text.

The tone of my voice speaks, revealing sorrow.
My muscles speak as I lift debris from the river.
The twinkle in my eyes speaks of a grandmother’s joy.
My arms speak as I churn the chocolate chip cookie batter.
demanding peace.

Speaking My Mind 2
My mind’s in my feet, like a choreographer taught me years ago. We were rehearsing a dance in a church, suspended high over the pews that the congregation would soon fill for the service. We danced on a ledge over the pulpit, perhaps illustrating a story from the bible, “And David danced before the Lord.”
There was no railing, nothing to catch us if we fell. “Keep your mind in your feet,” she called out from below. “That’s the only way to stay safe.”
That’s how it is for dancers, writers, musicians, spoken-word performers – people who insist on staying in touch with their souls. Having your mind in your feet means that your sole is in touch with the earth, a necessary connection as you move about on uneven surfaces, exploring the territory close to the edge.
To be an artist is to live there, on that edge, and though you become accustomed to dancing with your own fear, your witnesses, fanning themselves as they recline in comfortable cushioned seats, are both enlivened and terrified by the possibilities you present.

Speaking My Mind 3
People who know me as I am today might not believe it, but I haven’t always spoken my mind. On the surface of things you might say I’ve had the freedom to do so. But like other children of “The Silent Generation” I learned early not to disagree out loud with the adults around me.

As a young woman I followed the rules, even the stupid unwritten ones, like women must behave as proper ladies, and be careful not to threaten men. I finally found my voice to object to being paid less than men I supervised, to being given half my ex-husband’s debts but not his good credit score.

My Excitement’s Dancing Me

It’s twenty-one days till my book Warrior Mother’s official launch, but there’s plenty to get excited about in the meantime. And excited I am. I can tell because my insides feel like I’ve left my motor running and my body is going faster than my brain. I keep reminding myself to breathe slowly, fully. Since these are not new sensations to me, I know there is only a thin line between excitement and anxiety. And oxygen is what makes the difference.

toddler-excited

The endocrinologist, Hans Selye defined this kind of stress as eustress. It’s stress that comes from a positive situation like moving into a new house, preparing for a wedding, or bringing a new baby home. Birthing a book into the larger world seems like some combination of these types of situations. Though positive stress is a sign of well-being, it’s stress nonetheless. And through many positive events in my long life, I’ve learned that it can be exhausting.

Two weeks ago at the Iowa Writing Festival I tried to blame the caffeinated coffee I’d had at breakfast for the difficulty I was having sitting still in my classroom seat. But when my cell phone vibrated and I saw that a long awaited review of the book was in, and I read it on my break – (five stars YAA!) – no hyperactive elementary school age child had anything on me. 

Last Monday I hosted a group of people in Pittsburgh who had supported me through the five plus years of writing the book, and the Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players helped me to “Perform the Book” for them. Seeing so many dear people all in the same room was stimulating and exciting. I found I couldn’t stop smiling, a sensation I remember from both my wedding days.  

Today the need for extra deep breaths was due to the emails I was receiving from members of the InterPlay community that I will be meeting up with in Edinburgh Scotland next week. I’m doing a Warrior Mother Performing the Book event August 15th at 2:15 pm at Word Power Books, the leading independent bookseller in the UK. So far, I’ve heard from InterPlayers in Finland, Scotland, Virginia, and North Carolina who will be joining me at the bookstore to improvise themes that emerge when I read excerpts from the book.

shopfront cropped 2

As I get ready to turn in for the evening, I’m hoping that this hyper-excited state will calm down, like stage fright always does, once Warrior Mother and I step out and into action on the world’s stage.