News on Writing, Teaching and Moving

When I left Santa Fe last Wednesday at the end of my amazingly fruitful fellowship at the Women’s International Study Center, I had written 13,400 words, a solid beginning of my new book, The Ditch & The Meadow. (The subtitle–also my elevator pitch–is still evolving, but right now it’s How Native Plants and Passionate Plantswomen are Restoring Health to Humanity, Our Communities, and the Earth.)

Thirteen-thousand-plus words in a month may not seem like much for those who took on the NaNoWriMo challenge and wrote a whole novel in November. But I’ve never been a fast writer, in part because I revise the previous day’s work before I inch forward. So these are three fairly polished chapters and part of a fourth, and a table of contents that is actually a pretty good guide for the book to come. 

Of course, that’s all the writing I’ll likely get done on The Ditch & The Meadow until, oh, about mid-February. Because between now and then I have two real estate deals to finalize (one selling, one buying, both scheduled to close in the first two weeks of January), a household to pack up and move (in late January), a renovation project to get started (which I’ll live in for a few months), a couple of columns to write for Houzz, one for Rocky Mountain Gardening, and two presentations to prepare for garden conferences. 

So the new book will have to wait until after I’m moved, settled, and have done the garden-conference thing. 

My tiny and wonderful podcasting microphone, a Raspberry from Blu Microphones, next to a script

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that my first podcast for The Conversation Project in Boulder is up and already drawing an audience. It’s a short excerpt from my memoir, Bless the Birds, with lessons for us all about talking about quality-of-life values with the people we love. Give it a listen and let me know what you think! 

I’ve wanted to get into podcasting for several years, and simply lacked the reason to learn the technology, so this first one got me going. I’m aiming for one a month for The Conversation Project, and I’m also going to start my own podcast series using some of my recent short commentaries, plus new ones I’ll write.

I haven’t figured out a series name though. It has to be something general enough that the podcasts can range from commentaries on nature to sustainability, and to memoir and the occasional foray into politics. Ideas? Leave them in the comments below. 

I’m also honored to be part of the first webinar-based writing workshop series from WordHarvest, the parent organization of the Tony Hillerman Writing Conference. If you’re looking for ways to sharpen your writing craft and your ability to market your work, check out the package here. My webinar, Sculpting Compelling Stories, is a digest of my favorite revising techniques to polish your work from draft to ready to submit, gleaned from my Write & Retreat Workshops. 

You can buy the package or just one webinar, and listen to them as often as you like. They even come with bonus gifts from each workshop presenter. I have to say, I wasn’t sure about how well I’d do teaching a workshop to a video camera and no students, but the videographer, Robert Muller (who also shot my wonderful new publicity photos), was a delight to work with, as was Jean Schaumberg, the co-Director of Wordharvest with Anne Hillerman. 

Webinar graphic courtesy of Robert Muller

And on a personal note, as the Northern Hemisphere heads into the cold season of short days and long nights, and the US heads into a political transition that looks dark, I’m more than ever determined to live my values and be part of what Quakers call “the Ocean of Light.” I believe in the power of our individual actions in making the world a better place to be. 

Thanks for joining me and spreading that Ocean of Light. Together we can grow positive change. 

Lessons For All of Life

Friday was the fourth anniversary of Richard's death. In honor of the journey we took with his brain cancer, one in which we were determined to live well through whatever came, here are eleven of the most important lessons we learned. Some are specific, some are applicable to any stage in our lives:

  1. Don't waste time. Be present. Make the most of your days, no matter how difficult they are–live what you've got. 
  2. Expect respect. Seek out health-care practitioners who will work with you as partners. If their manner says “my way or the highway,” say thank you and keep looking. You need the best information possible, but your treatment has to work for you as an individual. You are the expert on your body and your life.  
  3. Be fearless about asking questions. No question is stupid. 
  4. Take notes–on what doctors say, on what medications you're taking, on how you feel at different times, on what you want. That data can help you decide which way to go.
  5. Expect health-care professionals to include your family and other caregivers. At the Veteran's Administration, Richard's practitioners often said, “We treat the whole family.” No one's problems happen in isolation. 
  6. Cultivate joy. Whenever. Wherever. (That's Richard juggling in the photo above. Juggling was part of his daily practice, even after brain surgery number two, which removed most of his right temporal lobe along with a splattering of tumors. He's concentrating hard to keep the balls in the air, but you can see the smile and the joy, too.)
  7. Request a team: Your docs and other health care professionals should talk to each other about your treatment, so you don’t end up having to be the middle-person who interprets and communicates for them. You have enough to do. 
  8. Follow your dreams. If not now, when?  
  9. Caregivers need care too. Make sure your spouse/family member/caregiver has a supportive community to rely on so they don't feel like Atlas, holding up Earth all by him/themselves.
  10. Go outside and spend time in nature. Every day. "Vitamin N" is our most effective and longest-lasting healer. 
  11. Love every moment. No exceptions. Embrace your moments regardless. Because they're what you've got.

This list was inspired by a phone call from a friend on Friday asking for suggestions for something she is dealing with. I was happy to give them even though her timing was… poignant. It jerked me out of a major sulk, and I felt useful. 

That evening, a friend and I took four luminarias to the Salida Steamplant Sculpture Garden, lit the candles, and placed the bags with their flickering lights around "Matriculation," Richard's sculpture, as a way to honor his life and work. (That's Matriculation with our luminarias in the photo above.)

This morning, I woke up with a deeper understanding of my hopes and dreams–my mission–for Bless the Birds, whenever it is published. (There's no news on that end, by the way. It's out for submission with various editors, but none have snapped it up–yet.)

My aim for Bless the Birds is to jump-start a national conversation about the end of life. For too long, we have denied or ignored the fact that we all die. We have wasted billions of dollars on unnecessary medical care and other procedures, caused needless suffering, and denied ourselves the wisdom and healing that comes with integrating death into ordinary life. As a country and as people, Americans cannot afford ignore death: Baby Boomers, those born during the decade-plus birth bump after the Second World War, make up nearly 40 percent of the US population. Some 128 million Americans are headed into the end of our lives, and if we're not facing that yet, we're dealing with the end of our parents' lives. (I'm at the tail end of the Boomer generation, so I'm counting myself.) 

We Boomers revolutionized how Americans live, love, marry, and work. Now it's our chance to change how we die, to return humanity and dignity to the end of life. Bless the Birds is my contribution to that revolution. It's time. Let's roll!