Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Big Poetry Giveaway!

April's almost here and I'm excited to celebrate National Poetry Month with a poetry giveaway, the brainchild of Seattle area poet & Two Sylvias press founder, Kelli Russell Agodon, who started the tradition six years ago.

Just comment on this post with your name and email address during the month of April and I'll enter you in a drawing to win one of two books of poetry.

That's right, a chance to win a book of poetry!

Here's what I'm giving away:

1. Moving House by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell (Word Press 2009)

O'Donnell, a prolific poet, writer, and professor in New York, grew up in a big, complicated Italian Catholic family on the East Coast. Her poems and the people in them are both tender and tough, fractured and faithful, unique and instantly recognizable.

Angela's work is a new discovery for me: I met her at The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination conference at USC in February, and had the privilege of hearing her read several times that weekend.

When I heard her poem "Other Mothers," I knew I had to buy one of her books. Moving House is her first book of poetry, and I hope it entices you, like me, to read more of her work. You can get a taste of her poetry, including "Other Mothers" on her website.

2. Burnt Offerings by Cathy Warner (eLectio 2014)

It's a thrill to have my own book to give away! To sample Burnt Offerings, you can listen to me read 7 poems from the book on my website, and read others on Amazon's "look inside."

A bit about me for those new to my blog:

I began "This or Something Better" in mid-2011 as my husband and I began to reinvent our lives in our own mid-life, developing an intention and vision for "this" (a job in San Francisco and a house in nearby Pacifica, we thought) or "something better." That something better led us, both California natives, to leave our families and friends and move 900 miles north on the Winter Solstice in 2011.

We bought a fixer upper on Bainbridge Island, remodeled it, hosted writers and vacationers there for a year, and then sold last summer when a corporate job for my husband failed to materialize.

Since then we launched our own home renovation business, Yellow Ribbon Homes, hiring veterans and veteran owned businesses when feasible. Our current project is a waterfront home in Poulsbo that our youngest daughter, an architecture student at University of Oregon designed.

I am master of the shop vac, the paint brush, and gardening knife, and a free lance editor. I had hand surgery last week to repair three "trigger fingers" I've developed since embarking on a lifestyle of manual labor three years ago.

Each day I revel in the blessing of living in this region of natural beauty: working by the water, watching bald eagles soar overhead, catching views of the Olympics, Mt. Rainier and the Cascades, incredible shifting cloud formations, the Seattle skyline sparkling, and ferries traverse the Sound from the living room of the house we're now renting.

Since moving here I've been amazed by the sight of orcas swimming in the wild, have educated myself about their plight, and am contributing a portion of royalties from my book sales to the Orca Network's efforts.

Burnt Offerings was a bit of serendipity for me. One afternoon in late September 2013, I curated poems written over a span of fifteen years as I parented two children, pastored a small Methodist church, pursued an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing, and joined a weekly writing group on Bainbridge Island.

I sent the manuscript to poet and writer Peggy Rosenthal for her valuable advice, and the first publisher I approached accepted the book. It was released just 3 months later!

Thanks for taking a moment out of your day to connect with me. Leave a comment with your name and email address by April 30 to enter the drawing on May 1.

And be sure to stop by Kelli's blog to find out more about her and other poets participating in the Big Poetry Giveaway! If you'd like to give away books on your own blog, here's how.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Those Itchy Trigger Fingers

I've ruined my hands gripping my weapons of choice—a weeding knife, shop vac handle, and paintbrush—too tightly and too long since moving to the Pacific Northwest, developing  a condition called tenosynovitis, commonly known as trigger finger, where one's fingers are not able to fully bend or extend without tendons getting caught in the sheath opening along the finger joints, making mundane activities like pulling down a window shade, or tugging up one's undergarments painful.

Annual cortisone shots were no longer effective in treating my symptoms, so I finally opted for a permanent fix and I had surgery on three fingers on my left (dominant hand) last Thursday.
Perky and positive pre-surgery

It was an outpatient procedure, done with only local anesthesia. I was fully conscious, and despite my attempts to be calm, my blood pressure spiked beforehand, then dropped precipitously during. I hyperventilated trying to breathe deeply and think of my cats, instead of the tugging and deep pressure in my hand that felt brutal although I couldn't say it hurt.

I wasn’t always so wimpy. In high school I had my four wisdom teeth pulled from my jaw during Easter vacation. I was conscious, but disassociated, floating above myself, curiously listening to the crack of bone and scrape of tools as though tuned to a radio station. That same year I dissected a huge tomcat in science class and delighted in disturbing my mother at dinners by naming the muscles and bones of the chicken she served.

Years later, giving birth to my daughters without drugs, I tunneled deep inside myself instead of floating, becoming nothing but sensation, my eyes clamped shut, the nurses, doctor, even my husband reduced to disembodied voices whose instructions and comfort swam to me muffled and from a great distance. 

Without the herculean work of labor, without my own unearthly calls joined by the response of a slippery and squalling infant, this descent into sensation that both knit me to and divorced me from my own body seemed fruitless and unwelcome.

What was the point of being conscious when I couldn’t answer questions—"Cathy are you okay? Do you want some oxygen?"—or follow instructions, “Make a fist now, Cathy.”

When we first discussed surgery, my kind and genial doctor described the procedure as so simple and easy that I could drive myself home afterward. I never seriously considered driving 40 minutes home one-handed, but I wanted to think my history of needing valium and nitrous for root canals wouldn’t transfer from my mouth to the rest of my body. I hoped that the whole thing would be me for me, like it was for the surgeon, no big deal.
In a daze after surgery
Visiting me in the recovery area, my surgeon’s first words were, "Next time we'll use sedation." It’s a relief to know that next time I’ll receive the gift of amnesia about the procedure itself because the next time will be soon: the trigger fingers on my right hand are symptomatic, flaring up as I favor them post-surgically while my left hand heals.

As I ice my swollen hand and swallow regular doses of ibuprofen, I recognize that my body has undergone trauma, that I willingly subjected it to trauma in the desire for healing, and that the healing will result in scars, some visible, and some under my skin, never seen, maybe never felt.

Until the day comes when our physicians can heal like Jesus with words and spit alone, or like the Vulcan Dr. Spock, with the gentle laying on of hands, we live in brokenness, and our need for healing whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, requires painful choices and loss.

On the continuum of human pain and suffering, my trigger finger surgery barely registers on the scale, is hardly worth mentioning, except as metaphor to illuminate greater truths and the bigger picture, and to express gratitude that I am able to have them fixed.

In the months to come I will be able to knit again, to dig in the soil, to transform a home with paint, and to type my way into deeper understanding. May my hands remain useful and occupied, extended to others, and raised in thanksgiving in the years yet to come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

You CAN Go Home Again

Picture six girls, twelve and thirteen and fourteen years old sitting at a wooden table on a mild Southern California winter day eating lunch. Listen in while they talk about school and teachers they like and those they don’t. Hear them rattle on about band and choir and drill team. They laugh about boys they have crushes on, slumber parties that always end with frozen bras and pancake breakfasts, and the friend whose dares lead these good girls into trouble.

My spooky 12th birthday party

Notice their references to parents and siblings and the beach, the constants in their lives.

Now picture these girls as women in their mid-fifties comfortably ensconced at their host’s dining room table, together in their hometown for the first time in forty years. Faces and voices, personalities and smiles are instantly recognizable, preserved perfectly in changed bodies that still embody the essential spirit of each old friend.

Their chatter bridges the decades spanning then to now. Each remembered name and place, each adventure and foible recounted adds flesh and blood to bones of memory that rise up and dance among them.

This is the portal I stepped through just over two weeks ago.

An afternoon with woman I knew as a girls—girls who, with the exception of my host, disappeared from my life in the span of single ride in the cab of my stepfather’s truck that transported me five hundred miles north and inland from Seal Beach to the Sacramento Valley where I spent my high school and college years.

The last time I was "home" I attended a reunion at a hotel in neighboring Long Beach one night with my husband in the early 1990s with my young children in tow on our way to Disneyland.

My host visited me once in the late 1990s, and we exchanged the occasional Christmas letter over the years, knowing only patches about our adult lives until (praise technology) Facebook. She is on it less than I, but that “friend request” a few years ago made our lives more accessible to each other, and led slowly over the last year or so to me reconnecting with other friends from childhood.

My father moved away from my hometown several years after I did, and once I no longer made trips there for holidays to visit him and a few old friends, I lost touch with the places and people from that long formational decade.

As time passed and my own children were growing up secure in their Santa Cruz mountain hometown a world away from my own, my early life felt imagined even to me, lacking in materiality to confirm it.

I began writing in my late thirties, attempting to recreate my childhood with keystrokes, typing stories from my first school (now a shopping center), the abandoned railroad tracks the neighborhood kids and I crossed on our way to the beach that have long since become a linear park, and run-ins with teachers on the verge of retirement, who must now be dead.

There are decades when one naturally looks forward, creating a life too new to look back on, and yet once we reach a certain age, or stage, the desire emerges to visit where we’ve come from—whether it is in celebration, or in relief. And I, at least, want company on my journey into nostalgia.

Some of those “remember when” conversations take place on a Facebook page made anyone who grew up in our town, some decades before us, others decades after, but I do not want to confirm my memories, or offer up my losses for comment by scrolling strangers—an odd decision since I do exactly that as a writer.

I signed up for a writing conference in Los Angeles in late February, bringing me within a half-hour of home for the first time in over twenty years, and when I mentioned the possibility of visiting, my friend offered not only to host me overnight, but to organize this small blessed reunion. 

My host's home: our time travel capsule

We toasted with champagne, we leafed through old yearbooks and photos, and took group photos on our phones and cameras, posting them to Facebook and our hometown page.

A 40 year reunion

They say you can't go home again, but that's exactly what I did. I went home, thankful for these dear women who made our afternoon of time travel possible, grateful and amazed by my host, whose family has resided in Seal Beach for generations, whose memory astounds me. Firmly rooted in place and time, she remembers more about certain details of our childhood than I do myself.

The next day I walked to all the places I’d traversed as a child, the once vast spaces reduced to mere blocks as I looked to the horizon, and not at the world beneath my feet as I used to. Nearly all the old businesses are gone, those whose buildings remain sport different names. 

I carried my camera and snapped photo after photo:  

I once lived here. 

I went to school here. 

I watched the lifeguards play baseball on summer nights here. 

My father and stepmother lived here.

 I finished my trek on the beach, remembering those long summers of sunning and bodysurfing, and of the lives of my old friends fresh in mind from the day before, including the honest revelations about ourselves as teenagers that we never knew about each other then. 

My shutter clicked: I walked this pier, stood on this shore, my feet in this water.

I returned home with hundreds of photos to sort through, along with memories of conversations with my host and personal historian, and the handful of sweet souls she gathered together, vivid in my mind.

These words are my homage to the beach town that calls us each of us home and to the girls and their families who welcomed me into their homes and lives then and now.  

A history of fading fog and bright friendships. 

Here’s to us: past, present, and future.