New Writing Group Opportunity

Hello dear friends! I hope that you are all hanging on through this odd weathery season here in CU, and believing in the promise of Spring! As the American poet Theodore Roethke said, “Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.”

I’m happy and humbled to announce that I’ll be offering an 8week therapeutic writing group beginning on April 20th and running through June 8th on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8:30. The subject, timed with our change of season, is “Using Writing as a Catalyst for Change.”

What you can expect from a therapeutic writing group such as this is the opportunity to explore your private hopes for change in the compassionate and supportive company of like-minded others. Our group goal is to encourage one another’s reflective and change-inducing writing processes with open-hearted and discerning listening, and genuine support. We focus on the writing process, without feeling compelled to offer “advice” about how group members “should change” their lives.

I draw upon many years of experience as a group facilitator to make these experiences positive and growth-oriented for all involved. I encourage you to check out the “Testimonials” page on my website for more information about this process.

There are 8 spots (max) available for this group, and the cost is $100.00. The cost includes all supplemental writing prompts and materials.

Please contact me at leslieacrowley@gmail.com if you have any questions, if you’d like to register, or would like to pass this opportunity along to an interested friend. I’m happy to answer any questions, and would love to hear from you!

In the meantime, happy almost Spring!

CREATED BY MARIKA

CREATED BY MARIKA

This gorgeous image can be found here: https://bonexpose.com.s3.amazonaws.com/Articles/Spring/Spring-Wallpaper-Collection-by-Bon-Expose-6.jpg

All love,

Leslie

 

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Some Useful Lies About Raising Boys

A professor I knew used to begin one of his classes by saying, “Everything I’m going to tell you is a lie.  But it’s a helpful lie.”  Today’s post contains a very short poem (just a quote, really), and two useful lies about raising boys: 1) you cannot raise boys without weaponry, and 2) you cannot raise boys without meat.

Maybe this counts as one lie with two parts; I’m not sure.  And just to be clear, the weaponry and the meat are for the boys, not you, though weapons would come in handy, particularly anything with a trapping device.  I feel strongly that even if these two things are not true, someone needs to stand up for them because they seem to cause a lot of pressure and anxiety for parents who frankly, have more than enough to go around.  My advice to people who are fighting the battles of guns vs. no guns, and/or meat vs. no meat is this: give up immediately.  There are so many more important things to worry about, such as why there is never any dirty underwear in your sons’ laundry.

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“Blest be the God of love”*

The three best things that happened to me yesterday happened before 6:30am: 1) a line in a poem that wouldn’t come right seemed like it would; 2) I thought of a way to return to a writing project that I keep abandoning; and 3) my 4-year old son walked into the kitchen in his penguin pajamas with his armload of sleeping paraphenalia and said, “Hello there, my friend.”

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The Dangers of Self-Care

Last night I was on a panel about self-care, talking about therapeutic writing.  Luckily two other smart, insightful people with useful things to say were on the panel too, because the idea of self-care seems like a big load of nonsense to me. I like the idea of being kind to ourselves, but take a good look around folks, and ask yourselves if what we could all stand is a tad more self-regulation.

What I am against in particular about the marketing of “self-care” is that it always seems to involve flowers and bathing in candlelight.  The message is that, done properly, “self-care” is supposed to magically make you happier, calmer, more comfortable, and most importantly, a better person.

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A Friend is a Friend

For Sir at 74. Simply the best.

When I was a teenager and first allowed to “date,” that meant a boy could enter the first floor of our home and sit on the couch in the family room. My father would sit on the couch in the adjacent living room, keeping us in his direct line of sight. If my “date” and I moved to another part of the family room, my dad would correspondingly move to another part of the living room. It was like a bad chess match.

In high school I had a steady boyfriend who lived a few blocks away. One Sunday, I told my parents I was going to church and drove over to his house instead, leaving the car parked in plain sight in his driveway. My dad, an avid runner, jogged by the house, unbeknownst to me. When I got home, he asked me how church was. “Great!” I said. “Who said the Mass?” “Father David.” “How was the homily?” “Great!” “What was the gospel reading?” “Something from Paul, I think.” And on and on, while my brother and sister sat on the stairs cringing with their hands over their mouths and thinking, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

In my 20’s I often described my adolescence as “embattled.” I honestly don’t know if it was worse for me or my father.

Everything I know about work, I learned from my dad. I remember his graduation from law school, something he did at night while working at an insurance company during the day. My father’s work ethic (he’s a Super Lawyer, and yes, that’s a real thing) was one of the main things that helped me finish my own dissertation. My work life started with a paper route, which I hated because it required physical activity and waking up early, two things I prefer to avoid. I worked at the public library, the town deli, the local newspaper, a garden center, several restaurants, in many, many offices as a temp, and for several summers, in my dad’s law office, typing letters from a tiny Dictaphone that played his voice in my ear for hours a day. His secretary was 87, had purple hair, chain-smoked, and never treated me like the boss’s daughter. I loved it.

On my way to his office in Union, NJ one morning, my 1973 yellow VW Beetle was rear-ended on an off ramp on the Garden State Parkway. My dad happened to be about a mile behind me, and stopped to help me deal with the other driver, the police and the tow truck. Then he gave me a ride to work. And that’s pretty much how it’s been my whole life: him being there, watching, guiding, helping, and giving me a ride when I’ve been stuck on the side of the road.

At the end of my sophomore year at Villanova, my dad came down to get me. He must have followed my roommate Caryl and me back to New Jersey because she was driving an old VW Rabbit and he was probably afraid we wouldn’t make it the whole way. He paid for each of our tolls on the PA Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. She told me later, “I remember thinking that I wanted to marry someone just like that.”

In the last three years, I’ve been both literally and figuratively run over, plowed into, broken down in traffic, and stuck on the side of the road on a regular basis. Every traumatic, depressing, ridiculous, stupid, hard thing that will have happened in my life so far seems to have happened consecutively in the past three years. Much of it has been my fault. Mile after mile, my dad has been there, reminding me over and over that there is always an end in sight, that legal obstacles can be overcome, family heartbreak endured, basements unflooded, houses sold, depression lifted, persistence rewarded, prayers answered, and that I can, in fact, keep going. And he’s given me more than my fair share of rides.

Recently, I thanked my dad for something he’d done for me and he said, “That’s what friends are for.” My siblings and I were given more than most–family vacations, college educations, weddings, magical Christmases–but we also knew that we worked for what we wanted, and that when we turned 18, my dad was done. We didn’t grow up like little princesses or princes, and I have never once had the feeling that “Mommy and Daddy” would take care of me if something went wrong. That has made my father’s stalwart presence during these past few years of turmoil so unutterably valuable. I don’t even want to imagine where I’d be without him.

My most precious possession is the Roget’s Thesaurus that belonged to my father when he was in college. It’s dusty and some of the pages are falling out. Perhaps someday it will help me find the words to convey all that he means to me.

In lieu of a poem (because he doesn’t read those anyway), here are two of my favorite songs about friendship: Pete Townshend’s “A Friend is a Friend,” and the Beatles, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” In Pete’s famous words, “A friend is a friend, nothing can change that/Arguments, squabbles can’t break the contract/That each of you makes to the death, to the end/Deliver your future into the hands of your friend.”

Happy Birthday, Sir. I hope it’s a good one. You sure deserve it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The People We’ve Been Given to Love

For Senior, 73 and just getting better

A close friend often uses the phrase, “the people we’ve been given to love” when he talks about the relationships in his life. He’s mostly talking about his family; his wife of many years, his adult daughters, and he’s often talking about how hard he has to work to be present with whatever is happening in these sometimes difficult relationships. It’s sort of a real-life twist on the lame-ass sentiment that you choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family.

The more mystical among us may believe that we do choose our parents. Regardless, we can’t deny how much we are shaped by our parents, and by the legacies that they themselves carry.

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. It is no exaggeration to say that as hard as these past two years have been for me, they have been just as hard on her. It is also no exaggeration to say that without her, I might not have survived.

After my nightmarish DUI, when I could barely scrape enough of myself off the floor to pick up the phone, she was the first one who said, “Do you want me to come?” And although she hates to travel alone, and despite the imposition on her life in general, she came. She’d planned to stay for a few days, and she did, driving me to doctors, lawyers, treatment clinics, sitting in waiting rooms, reading on her Nook or knitting. Trying to get me to eat. Trying to tell me how to get the shambles of my life in order.

handsWhen it became clear that this was not going to be the work of a few days, she said, “Do you want me to stay?” And even though we were driving each other insane, even though I knew she wanted to go home, I said, “yes.” So she stayed.

We sat on my couch together one evening watching “Bridesmaids” on my crappy laptop which she couldn’t hear, and she kept asking me to repeat each line of the movie. I could hardly bear to be sitting up straight, could hardly tolerate being in my own skin, and I wanted to suffocate her with a couch pillow. When the movie was over, she sat on me, the way Melissa McCarthy sits on Kristen Wiig when she is lying, greasy and depressed, on her mother’s couch, and slaps her around to force her to “fight for her crappy life.” My mother sat on me, in her nightgown, and told me that I had to fight for my life, for the life that was in pieces around me. Crying and laughing and crying, I promised her that I would.

When I was enduring (or more accurately, when my parents and I were enduring) what felt to me like a rather embattled adolescence and early adulthood, there were stretches when we could barely tolerate each other. My father adopted the role of peacemaker, telling me over and over and over that “she only says these things because she loves you. She only does this because she cares.” I wanted to reach through the phone and hit him.

guadianangelToday, 25 years later, we still have conversations like that every now and then, but I am deeply–down in my bones deeply–aware that she doesn’t only do and say what she does because she loves me. She does it because she is the kind of person who, no matter what, will always come down on the side of the angels. She can’t do it any other way.

After my accident, I asked her not to tell my brother or sister because I was so humiliated. I knew I couldn’t tell them, and I knew I didn’t want them to know. The next day, in the car on the way to yet another appointment she said, “I did something you’re going to be angry about and I’m sorry. But I told your brother and sister about the accident because they are your family and families need to stick together. They want to do anything they can to support you.”

I looked out of my window, still barely able to focus my eyes on anything, and I felt the tears on my cheeks. “Thank you,” I said.

On the side of the angels.

Below is one of my favorite birthday poems, even though it’s not a straight up birthday poem (and even though my mother hates birds). It’s by the 19th-century British poet Christina Rossetti, and I’m sharing it with this post for this reason:  my mother’s presence during one of the worst periods of my life made it possible for me to have what this poem describes.  A new life, a singing heart, and love. She gave all of this to me once, 48 years ago, and then she gave it all back to me again.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

With all love,

Junior


A Birthday

by Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.
birdsinging

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“Let the Paths of Your Fingertips be Your Map”

For Rob who will never know;
for Parker Palmer for his wisdom and
for David Whyte for his fierceness

Some days ago, an acquaintance visited my home and I could tell he was uncomfortable there. He told me later that my house had told him much about what my life was like now, after the divorce, the tornado, the earthquake, as I am trying to put things back together. This surprised me, because although I think of my house as a way station of sorts, it is a comfortable way station, a kind of refuge that I am, for the most part, comfortable in. Leaving aside the unpacked boxes of things I do not plan to keep, the empty bookshelves I do not intend to fill, the mirrors I do not plan to hang, it is still a place of protection for me. So I was startled by his negative reaction and asked him to tell me more.  “It seemed so empty,” he said. “You seem so lost.”

emptyroomThis struck me, and as I wandered from room to relatively empty room, I could see what he saw. And I felt the truth of what he noticed. I was lost, in so many ways. This house was not my home. My life was still being pieced together one day at the time, with a sufficient yet utterly intangible sense of coherence about it. Who was I? Where was I going? Why did I still have that ridiculous box of dissertation crap from 16 years ago sitting in a box in my “office?”

Fortunately, being lost is familiar territory for me, and one of my most trustworthy guideposts is the poem “Lost,” by David Wagoner (Who Shall Be the Son?),** introduced and made popular to many readers by David Whyte. The poem is meant to be an elder’s response to a young native American child’s very real question of what to do when s/he is lost in the woods, something that could surely happen when you lived in the great Pacific Northwest from whence these poems originated.

So I sat in my bare living room, the one with no curtains, and few “decorations,” and I let the words of the poem slowly sink into me, into my pores, into the tight, tired, lonely muscles, then finally into the bone. “Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you/Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,/and you must treat it as a powerful stranger,/Must ask permission to know it and be known.”

Had I done that with this house, this quiet, solitary dwelling place that I sought merely out of refuge from the utter nightmare of living with my soon to be ex-husband and the woman he moved into my home when my side of the bed was barely cold?

No, I hadn’t. This house had treated me well, though; it made absolutely no demands on me. But now, as I sat in silence, I understood that I had not asked what “Here” was. What was this place? And who was I in it? Aside from the one paying the mortgage, and the one who tidied the worst of the debris now and then, what was I? I was reminded of the Dido song about home and displacement, “Life for Rent:”  “But if my life is for rent/and I don’t learn to buy/I deserve nothing more than I get/’cause nothing I have is truly mine.”

forest“The forest breathes. Listen. It answers./I have made this place around you./If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.” This strikes me as a call to homecoming no matter where we are–physically, emotionally, spiritually. It strikes me as a reminder that what surrounds us is on the one hand there for our knowing of it, but just as powerfully for our embracing of its unfamiliarity. It is not made for our convenience, but it will respond to our bravery if we are willing to step forward and say, “Here.”

“No two trees are the same to Raven./No two branches are the same to Wren.” In other words, this is not your world alone; there are many around you who know exactly where they are. “If what a tree or a bush does it lost on you,/You are surely lost.” If you have lost your powers of observation, you will never find out where you are, let alone where you are going.

I remember taking a walk with my 8-year old son Gabriel and our friend Cloydia and we stopped to observe a humble but ingeniously designed barn swallow’s nest (Gabe insisted it was a yellow tail, Cloydia held firm that it was a barn swallow), and we watched as the parent brought fortification for the nest, and food for the babies, and if you had not seen the intricacies of this perfect system, then you would indeed have been lost. The world goes on without you, in its own season and it its own time. Eventually we would come back and the mud nest would be empty but we had seen it, and we knew what it had been for.

I admit that I’ve never quite reckoned with that part of the poem before, but I feel I get a little piece of it now. If you aren’t paying attention to even the smallest things, things that seem inconsequential to your human existence, you’re missing something really, really big. If you are a writer person, like I am, you have been born with a contract you can either accept or reject. The contract is that, “I am here, and I will pay attention. I’ll never get it right, but I promise, and I believe, that if I try, the world will open and I will have something to share.”

ponderinfWhat’s more, and what David Whyte in his new book Consolations, and other essays brings us is important meditations on the ordinary–concepts like procrastination, concepts that, without gentle and insightful reflection, make one feel as though one should just be getting on with it, for God’s sake. Whyte writes: “What looks from the outside like our delay; our lack of commitment; even our laziness may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and the central struggle with the realities of any endeavour to which we have set our minds. To hate our procrastinating tendencies is in someway to hate our relationship with time itself, to be unequal to the phenomenology of revelation and the way it works its own way in its very own sweet, gifted time, only emerging when the very qualities it represents have a firm correspondence in our struggling heart and imagination. [From Readers’ Circle Essay, “Procrastination” ©2011 David Whyte.]

Carrie Newcomer sings, “I thought if I tried hard enough/with endless motion like a bribe/as if by this the will of God/would be bent to my version of right.” But then she goes on to sing, “What happens next is clearly weightless. The opening , we stand breathless, on the clean edge of change.”

Sometimes, many times, perhaps all the time, change is weightless, free of striving, free of hacking our way through foreign underbrush to force our way out. Sometimes, many times, it is sitting in the silence of a room that is shelter and refuge but not quite home. So that when home finds you, and the promise is that it will, we are ready to kneel gracefully, and kiss the ground of our uncertainty and start on our way home.

My favorite man sent me another email forward that I usually glance at and then delete. But he got me again with this one, from Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” When we have this, we have all we need, and we can give all we have away and never be bereft.

My friend and writing sister Cloydia shared this Ursula LeGuin poem with me. I hope you all love it (I know you won’t Dad, but I love you, so I’m prefacing just the last lines for your walks: “Walk carefully, well loved one, walk mindfully well loved one, walk fearlessly, well loved one, Return with us, return to us, be always coming home.”

manwalking

As always, in all love,

Leslie

——————————————————
Initiation Song From Finder’s Lodge
by Ursula LeGuin

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

**Gift time!! If you’ve read this far, and share a comment below, I will send you your very own copy of David Wagoner’s Who Shall Be the Sun! Just comment and send me your deets! Woo-h00! Happy mail in winter!

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