I’m not crazy about New Year’s eve in America – so hysterical, noisy and alcohol driven. I prefer the Japanese rituals around ending the year. I lived in Kyoto in the late 80s and remember that in the days leading up to the New Year, the focus was on taking care of unfinished business – both physically and spiritually, clearing out. This means paying your bills and debts and giving your house a thorough scrubbing. Leading up to the midnight, neighborhood temples are crowded with people lining up to ring in the New Year, literally tolling the temple bell as a way to send away all the troubles and concerns of the year before. The last of 108 gongs is rung at midnight, the reverberation of the final toll fading into the early hours with all of the previous year’s woes.
I’m behind schedule. My job at the bookstore has been so hectic, I have barely managed to wash dishes and clothes. I decided to cut myself some slack this year and hereby, extend the deadline for launching my new year. I will play catch up in the next week or so: cleaning out closets, hunting down dust bunnies, scrubbing floors and catching floating webs from ceiling corners, all the while, clearing the way for my dreams for this year and decade.
Akemashte Omedeto Gozaimas!
Snow is virtually gone – washed by the past few rainy days. At the end of the driveway on a sloping bit of land, the strawberry plants I transplanted out of the vegetable garden last summer, are a stunning green against the wet brown leaves and earth around them. In fact, the plants seem to have multiplied under the icy cover of the past two weeks. I let myself be thrilled by these crazy promises of spring – although it is not yet January and there will be plenty of snow and frigid days ahead. Technically, winter has just begun. Still, this glimpse of green and the pile of seed catalogues on my table feel like harbingers of spring.
This is partly how I navigated through some bleak days in my life: years of my husband’s addiction, his suicide, my bout with breast cancer. Although there were times it was difficult to see the light, I always could imagine brighter days lay ahead. Nature is the key for me. Throughout the seasons, there is always comfort to be found in the natural world. Planting bulbs, for example. Placing the parchment skin covered bulbs into the cool autumn earth was an act of hope. Winters of the world or of the soul can feel long and dark but the bulbs helped me to believe that life would get better: a faith rewarded each spring as the crocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths emerge from the still-cold earth.
The silence is beautiful. My loves are still asleep, no trucks go by and I cannot hear the usual drone of traffic from the turnpike. After days, weeks of frenetic activity, finally, everything is still. The room, the house, the street outside and beyond all seem to be in quiet meditation – focus within and on the breath. Breathing. Not enough of that of late – remembering to breathe. All because? Preparing for this day: Christmas. And here we are. I am happy to just be able to stop. We will open presents, I will happily cook shrimp and an array of vegetables and later in the afternoon, we will walk across the street for a shared meal with our dear neighbor friends. I will keep breathing delicious, calming breaths and remembering the quiet of this morning.
These last few darkest, longest nights of winter have been stunning. The snow seems to be illuminating the slice of moon hanging in the sky and the stars appear to be dropping to earth, their flashing glow is so bright. I’ve seen more than one meteor rip across the horizon – making my heart leap. Thank you Tetley the dog, for forcing me off my corner of the couch into the darkness so I get to see the show. My inclination is to hibernate rather than experience this glorious dimension of winter.
Somewhere, tucked into a corner of the garage are snowshoes and cross country skis I have picked up from tag sales or thrift shops over the years thinking that if I did something fun in the snow, I’d like it more. Perhaps this year I’ll test that theory. But I savour the extra in-door time winter allows for — no garden work to do so I can read inside by the fire, or (even more decadently) in bed. I’ve been reading Mary Karr’s Lit – a brave and vivid memoir. A harrowing story of her alcohol abuse, but she manages to be funny and so likable. I find myself rereading some sentences multiple times, admiring and envious of their beauty.
I have been reading memoirs pretty compulsively. What is this compulsion we have to share our lives, or look into other’s? To find some kind of recognition, shared experiences, insights into the human condition? I’m also, just curious. I like to see the world through another’s eyes, sense the workings of their heart. Fiction of course does this too – often more artfully – but there is something about a well done memoir that I love. I first wrote my story as a novel – it felt safer to do so. A dear friend from the bookstore read it and suggested that it would be more powerful in my own voice. I took her suggestion and in doing so, feel like I found my voice. It was frightening at first but ultimately, cathartic to just tell my story. It continues!
Authors regularly call me wanting to set up a signing at the store. Unless you’re a psychic or television personality, you better tell your friends and family to come out and support you. Tell no one and that’s who will be there. Even acclaimed authors who you’d expect to have an audience can tell you about events spent reading to one passerby and the homeless guy dozing in a chair. My suggestion to authors is go to your target audience rather than expect them to find you. Wrote a book about WWII? Speak at a veteran’s group. Gardening? Meet with gardening groups. Rotary Club, Senior groups, schools – are always looking for good speakers and will give you an opportunity to get the word and your book out. That’s what I’ll be doing.
Recently, a generous, smart woman in the publishing industry gave me the same advice I usually give to others – only she was referring to the cyber world. The internet provides a whole new opportunity to build an audience, find readers before you even publish your book. And in fact, you improve your chances of landing a publisher if you manage to capture an audience. Times are tough everywhere, and publishers want to know that the book they’re getting behind has readers at the ready.
It was as if a light bulb went off in my head. I have been slow to embrace this new media of blogs and twittering but after a week of exploration in this brave new world, imagining the possibilities – I’m sold. It’s an exciting new world available right now on this snowed in Sunday morning when everyone else in my immediate world, is still sleeping! So here I go, ready to launch out into this new dimension. Bear with me as I get the hang of it and thanks for spreading the word.
My memoir, Light Between Shadows, is about how love and a life were destroyed by drug addiction. I needed to write the book for me but I know that my story is not unique. I hope to chip away at the secrets and shame associated with addiction and suicide. We need to talk about this stuff, help each other through the dark days. We are not the only ones. Show me a family that doesn’t have an addict, an alcoholic, mental illness. My community – friends, neighbors, co-workers, family all helped me survive those days of living with an active addict and the aftermath of suicide. I hope I can do that for others who are navigating the world that was once mine. We are not alone.
Life is different now – the shadows are mostly gone and each day feels like a gift. I marvel at the difference between then and now: ‘then’ makes the ‘now’ all the more precious. I watch my bright and beautiful daughter move through her world, wisely and with joy and am grateful. I wake each morning next to the rediscovered love in my life and can’t believe how lucky I am. Now is a different story than the one I told in my book, but only because I lived it. I don’t forget that – ever.
It’s days before Christmas and everything – including me – seems to be running on fast forward. Of course being in retail, I feel like I’m in the center of the storm, but no one seems immune to the ramped up speed of everything. I try and catch myself to slow down, look around, breathe. But I can’t help wishing it was January and we were past all of this hoopla. No — March — the first day of spring! Then, I catch myself – I’ve learned this lesson, haven’t I? The dark days make the bright ones brighter – I must savour them too.
It’s bitter cold and although the shortest day has just passed, night still comes early. We have a Christmas cactus perched precariously on a window sill in the kitchen. For most of the year it sits ignored, occasionally it falls into the sink as if to remind me it’s there. I push it back into the pot and splash the dust off with some water and put it back again, where it is almost out of sight. Every year around this time this little plant valiantly puts out a blossom or two. Wow. It sits as a center piece on our table today and looking at it, I smile. There are things for me to learn from this spindly succulent.