I Slept Better Last Night

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I’ve struggled with the political climate lately—the inattention to critical issues, the active attempts to destroy civil rights, the systemic misalignment of wealth towards those in power, the appalling lack of empathy. Like many people, I find my focus lacking, my productivity down, and my nervous system overwhelmed. As someone who thrives on information, it’s hard not to be sucked into reading the news, but reading the news only shreds my nerves further. I find it difficult to sleep restfully through the night.

Dr. William Leuchtenburg

Last night I attended a Phi Beta Kappa dinner and lecture. Renowned historian and UNC-Chapel Hill professor emeritus Dr. William Leuchtenburg was the honoree and speaker for the evening. Dr. Leuchtenburg is a noted presidential scholar and expert on FDR. He’s done election-night political analysis for some of the major newscasters of our time; he’s consulted with Ken Burns on his documentaries; he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama.

Dr. Leuchtenburg gave the address, “The White House and the South.” It was fascinating and depressing all at once, in particular to hear the role race and the one-party system had played. The professor noted that at our country’s founding, Southerners held the White House for something like 32 of the first 36 years, lost control for over 100 years, and now are again winning presidential races more than half the time.

About two-thirds of the way through Dr. Leuchtenburg’s speech, he paused and said, “Excuse me, I’m not feeling well. I think if I can sit down for a few moments I’ll be able to finish.” While he rested, the evening’s host explained that the good professor’s wife was in the hospital ER and he’d been there all day; then on the way to this event, he’d had a flat tire on the interstate. “What amazing resilience,” she added. “How many of us would have made it here after a day like that?”

Dr. Leuchtenburg resumed his talk, then again paused. “I think I need to sit down again. I’ll just read sitting here if that’s OK.”

When he finished his remarkable and humorous lecture, the audience gave the professor a standing ovation. Then he agreed to take some questions. “But I turned 95 last week, so I might stay sitting.”

After a series of political questions and insightful responses, our host wrapped up by asking, “What gives you hope for the country?”

The resilient Bill Leuchtenburg

Dr. Leuchtenburg paused and said, “It’s not as much hope as the refusal to despair. I’ve been through the Great Depression, I knew people directly affected by the Holocaust, I lived through McCarthyism and Jim Crow laws, and the Iran Contra hearings and so many other things. And we always come through. We forget: ‘This too shall pass.’”

It’s not as much hope as the refusal to despair.

As he said that, I felt myself regain perspective—not minimizing our current frustrations, but recognizing what he said as true.

His words soothed me. When I got home, I didn’t want to let them go. I didn’t check the news, I didn’t look at email, I didn’t even open my beloved Jane Austen for fear of interrupting the calm that had wrapped me.

And I slept all night.

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Playing Rook

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Great Aunt Evelyn taught us to breast our cards, slant

from prying eyes, and manners—leave the card where it lies

until the dealer’s sign; and when we felt delight

with our success in taking the bid, how quickly she’d surprise

us with a run of trumps and tricks. We were not eased

into losing to her black-hatted squint—her brutally kind

lessons often spurred us into whines, but the hands grew gradually

gentler, and we played ’til she went blind.


“Playing Rook” seemed like a good poem to record—it has a nice mouthfeel. (I’m an audio novice, so please forgive any sound quality issues.)


This poem sprang from an exercise in the Sharpened Visions poetry class on Coursera (mentioned in a previous post). The conceit was to use another poem’s end rhymes. I chose Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

My goal was to maintain the rhyme while not mimicking the sing-song rhythm. I took Emily’s cue to emphasize the long “i” sounds and added short “i” sounds as well—as internal rhymes and slant rhymes throughout. But I also worked with her short “a” from slant and gradually—manner, black, hatted, hands. I also notice “u” sounds of “uh” in the first half and more “oo” in the second.

I am quite satisfied how this exercise came out. The lines run through my head regularly, which seems to me to be a good sign.


P.S. Happy Birthday to The Mother. Consider this your birthday present, Mama! 🙂

The Cabbage of Illumination

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Animated_cabbage

Chicken tetherball (GIF)

Chickens peck at the cool, fresh globe
stabbed by an eyescrew, hung by a chain,

heads bobbing with each playful bite
as they bat the food-toy one to the next,

back and forth, back and forth, and
I stand, a child in the museum foyer,

hypnotized watching a hundred-pound ball
knock down pegs as it swings in easy

rotation—or rather, as its path stays fixed
and the earth spins beneath—

back and forth, back and forth, and
every few minutes, the sound—click—

of Foucault’s proof. Today I muse
Did the French devise tetherball too?


I recently took a (free) poetry on Coursera, Sharpened Visions, taught by Douglas Kearney from the MFA program at the California Institute of Arts. It was a 6-week class that covered the basics of writing poetry and offered several assignments for practice. (If you’re interested, the next round starts September 12, 2016.)

As a fairly experienced poet, I found the course a good refresher, and I even took away a few new terms (synecdoche, metonymy). The sample poems studied were fresher than one often finds in an introductory level poetry class, which offered a chance to meet some new voices. I’d also note the instructor has an amusing (to me) sense of humor and the production quality of the videos is high relative to other online courses I’ve taken.

Week 2 of the class focused on image (things you can literally touch/taste/see/hear/smell) and abstraction (things for which we have symbols, e.g., a heart for love). One of the fun assignments was to make up a title in the format “The [Concrete noun] of [Abstract noun],” then write that poem.

Thus, I present “The Cabbage of Illumination.”

Annabel’s Stone

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As I mentioned in my last post, we had to euthanize our chicken Anne over Christmas. She was ill and we took her to the NCSU Vet Hospital. They were kind and compassionate during the whole process. We got to stay with Anne while they administered the lethal drugs, and they even told us they would just send the bill so we wouldn’t have to worry about it on our way out all red-eyed.

They scheduled an autopsy and told us that afterward either they could cremate the body for collective burial with other animals or we could have Anne’s cremains returned to us for a charge. Well, my mind flitted briefly over the idea of burying little Annabel next to Victoria’s Stone by the Japanese maple. (We still say hallo to Victoria when we walk by.) Though I felt a vague lack of closure with no body to bury, having cremains sent to us seemed too much fuss over a chicken.

The vet’s office called us the next day with preliminary autopsy results (at that point Marek’s, a viral disease, was suspected) and said it would take a few weeks to get the final report. A couple weeks later the bill came in a simple plain no. 11 envelope. A second larger envelope also arrived. It seemed an odd shape, but I assumed it would be the autopsy results.

When I opened the package I found a burgundy, sheer mesh, drawstring gift bag. It held a plaque similar to those that kindergartners make for their parents. You know the kind—soft clay or plaster of Paris with a handprint and a name and year etched in with a toothpick. Only this plaque had a chicken footprint in it along with a little red heart and the name ANNE in stamped letters. Enclosed was a card with handwritten notes from the vet and staff.

My goodness you could have knocked me over with a feather—and not a sturdy wing feather or tail feather. One of those downy little chick feathers would have felled me.

There it was: Annabel’s Stone.

Anne_footprint

Annabel’s Stone

Many thanks to Dr. Bethany Walters and the staff and students at NC State Vet Hospital. My husband and I were grateful for the memorial, but even more touched by the kind thoughts and compassion that went into making it for us.

A few weeks ago we got the results of the microscopic autopsy. The cause of Anne’s illness ended up not being Marek’s but rather oviductal adenocarcinoma (cancer), which had also spread to several other organs. Getting the final autopsy results reminded me I hadn’t finished the story. And now I have.

What do you think? Best vet ever?

Anne’s Walk

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One last promenade
atop the coop before
a long solstice night.

Margaret, Anne, and Victoria in better days

Christmas week we lost another chicken, the second in 2015 (we lost Victoria in February). Poor little Anne had been showing some oddities throughout the year but in December she started showing more specific symptoms (lack of appetite, lethargy, etc.), and just before solstice we took her to the vet at NC State. We weren’t willing to do extensive tests and treatment, and the vet said even with them, Anne probably had something serious (e.g., cancer rather something simple like worms).

We decided to euthanize her and have an autopsy done. Preliminary results suggested Marek’s, which is a viral disease chickens are susceptible to. While our chickens were vaccinated for Marek’s, chances are the vaccination wears off at some point (it probably varies by breed). In Anne’s case, the disease resulted in tumors all over her insides that compressed her egg-laying apparatus as well as her GI tract.

We were relieved that the autopsy results showed she had something wrong that we couldn’t have prevented. (We want to be good chickenparents!) And we felt comfortable that we made the right decision about euthanization. As a side benefit, the NC State vet program lets the veterinary students do the autopsies as part of their studies; it made us happy to contribute in that way too.

The photos on this page are not recent. As the chickens have aged, they’ve been less interested in jumping up to the heights. (Leave that for the little chirps!) But shortly before Anne got sick she started flapping up to the top of the coop again. Margaret would follow sometimes, but she is bigger and ungainlier than Anne was, so struggled to get her heft up there. When the chickens jump up to the coop (or chair or bench), we always imagine they are saying, “I like to be tall, Chickenmama! I like to see everything, Chickenpapa!” I guess she wanted one last look before the dark night came.

We miss you, little Annabel! Bye-bye!

take a bow

Free Kindle eBook: Owning Ourselves (Nov 15 2015)

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Today (Nov 15, 2015) Owning Ourselves: A Practical Guide to Awakening the Western Mind is available FREE on Kindle. I had the pleasure of working with the author on editing and publishing this book. He’s a great guy, and you can read more about him and his approach to life on his Owning Ourselves blog. Take a look!

Front cover of the bok Owning Ourselves

Owning Ourselves

From the description on Amazon:

Do you sense there’s something more to life?

Do you feel you’re missing something? Do you feel trapped by circumstances? Can’t find a way out? Do you feel disconnected from your true self? Does life seem like a hollow farce or a shame-filled tragedy? Have you relied on thinking as the only proper response to the confusion of life, only to discover that thinking is its own trap?

In Owning Ourselves: A Practical Guide to Awakening the Western Mind, A. Charles describes the path many of us have taken, only to find ourselves cornered and asleep. He then offers an approach to awaken our minds to the possibilities of the world and to the possibilities inherent in all of us.

This book is for all of us who want to move forward with relief, awareness, authenticity and joy.

FREE Kindle ebook: After the Shock

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One of my big projects over the past year was working with Becky Sansbury to develop her book After The Shock: Getting You Back On The Road To Resilience When Crisis Hits You Head On. I know the content of the book intimately and can tell you without a doubt that Becky offers practical, comforting advice for those in crisis or walking alongside someone in crisis.

TODAY and THURSDAY (10/7 and 10/8) you can download the Kindle version FREE. Do it!

After the Shock

After the Shock

From the description on Amazon:

When you hear the word crisis what do you think? A dramatic car wreck. A critical medical diagnosis. Divorce. Job loss. Natural disaster. Death. What about the mini-shocks within those crises or the smaller events that disrupt our lives more frequently? A fender bender in rush-hour traffic. Personal information getting hacked. Being overlooked for a promotion.

When crisis hits, large or small, we are thrown off balance.In After The Shock: Getting You Back On The Road To Resilience When Crisis Hits You Head On, Becky Sansbury introduces a sustainable model to help you stabilize and move toward resilience.

After decades of working with people in crisis, she determined that four factors give us balance, strength and support throughout our lives, but especially in shocking times. Like the four tires of a car, comfort, control, community, and connection to something bigger than self provide both a base and a cushion for navigating the ruts and potholes of life. But that is not enough to move us on to resilience.

In the overwhelming confusion of crisis we crave a space safe for focusing on our current experience, strengthened by crucial lessons from the past. We make both casual and far-reaching decisions based on assumptions that may no longer be authentic or lead to our desired future. We grasp for resources, often unsure of what we need. Expanding the car metaphor, in After the Shock the reader learns effective ways to use the frame of experience, the steering capacity of assumptions, and the fuel of resources to lead toward more resilient responses in a variety of crises.

Reach for After the Shock to nurture healing through warmth and wisdom. Written in a conversational style, this book provides practical tools while wrapping you with virtual arms of support as you make your way from reaction to resilience.

Free Kindle ebook: Presentation Sin

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Today (September 30) you can download Alan Hoffler’s new book Presentation Sin for FREE on Kindle.

Alan is a fantastic speaker and communications coach and trainer and owner of MillsWyck Communications. I took his Powerful, Persuasive Speaking and Powerful, Persuasive Content workshops a few years ago and became a convert to his approach. After years of freaking out over public speaking I became more comfortable on stage and more in tune with my audience. I also use his audience analysis and content development approaches in my writing.

Will a book make you a good speaker? Not on its own—you still need to practice. But this book will set you on the right path. And if you ever have a chance to take Alan’s workshops, by all means do!

Presentation Sin: FREE Sep 30!

Presentation Sin: FREE Sep 30!

Need some inspiration, creators?

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You might find it in this podcast series from Charles Gupton: The Creator’s Journey.

The Creator’s Journey is a podcast serving creative people with a commitment to ship their work. Each week, I’ll interview creative leaders who consistently push through the fears and obstacles that every creator faces to produce their work.”