Patti Digh's Blog
August 5, 2012
July 19, 2012
I was intrigued by this story about the lure of the fairy tale. “In the Grimms’ time, industrialization was starting to simplify or eliminate certain domestic chores. For that reason, among others, the oral tale was beginning to disappear. Intellectuals considered this a disaster. Hence the many fairy-tale collections of the period, including the Grimms’. They were rescue operations.”
John and I are having this very conversation now.
I am ready for radical simplicity. Clean, simple food, closed loops, owning less, living on a smaller footprint. I’m ready to shed: weight, stuff, to-do lists. I’ve been talking about this for a while. It’s time. I’m uncluttering. I anticipate giving away half of what I own by the end of 2012. Five boxes of books left the house this week. My clothes are dwindling away to Goodwill.
We all need to go to the quiet place.
Someone reminded me of this blog focusing on real food.
According to a recent study released by the UCLA Center on the Everyday Lives of Families, U.S. families have reached “material saturation.” “The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.” Have you any rituals for getting rid of stuff? For having less stuff to begin with? What could you give to someone else today?
I am humbled and deeply touched by the stories people are submitting to The Geography of Loss. Feel free to leave your own story of loss there. For what or for whom do you grieve?
My brother is an Eagle Scout. I was a First Class Girl Scout. We have scouting in the blood. And I have friends who work for the Boy Scouts. I’ve done work for them myself. What a narrow path they have chosen.
As a vegetarian since 1976, Chick-Fil-A has never been on my radar. Now it is, and not in a good way.
“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” -Mark Twain
How about you? What have you read or seen of interest this week? Leave a note in the comments below so we can all learn from one another.
July 18, 2012
I stayed by her bed for three days as she died. The sides of the metal hospital bed were finally pulled up, to keep her in, to keep her safe. The metal slats of the window blinds clicked together and then against the pane of the glass in the air conditioning that kept her room cold, cold. The night before she sank into death, she had even lost the ability to write, our last form of communication. And around ten o’clock that evening, she needed me, she needed something, she needed. And I couldn’t tell what. By that time, I had been there so long, and so long near her, that I smelled like her. I had become her hands for so long, I knew them like my own. Her hair was matted against the back of her head, and she looked panicked that night, for hours. The sound of the oxygen machine, its ceaseless rhythm, sank into a rhythm with my own breath, or mine sank into a rhythm with that of the machine. The nurses knew. They knew things I could never know, about how her body was shutting down. I thought she would survive. Surely she would.
For five hours that night, Nina was alive again, strong and ferocious and manic. Struggling to tell me something, her arms stretched straight up into the sky toward the ceiling pockmarked with tiny holes, her eyes so wide, looking past me and through me. She was wailing and looking up, like a pilgrim who has had a vision. This went on for hours, and I got used to it. It stopped scaring me. “Nina,” I whispered to her, leaning down to her ear, “I feel like I’m failing you at this important moment. I know you are trying to tell me something, and I don’t know what.” She moved her arms to her heart, over and over again. Suddenly, without any warning, she opened her arms again and grabbed me toward her, pulling me up and over the bed rails with a strength long since gone from her arms, but now back. She held me the tightest I have ever been held, my torso on top of hers, the bottom half of my body dangling over the metal rail. She held me.
Rest in peace, Nina. I remember you every day, and especially on this anniversary of your death.
July 12, 2012
Because Tess was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a few weeks ago, I’m focusing my energy on reading more about it, learning how we can help her explore and love her different “wiring.” So you’ll see more links to information about Asperger’s information in Thinking Thursday today and in the future, I’m sure. I hope even if you aren’t touched by this uniqueness in your own life, the information will help you be more understanding of people who are.
I’ve had many big learnings in this journey, including one about the story I was telling myself about Tess. I was living a “she is broken” story while Tess is living an “I am awesome” story. You can read about that discovery here.
When I worked at an international association that focused on human resources issues, I was their vice president of international and diversity programs. Active in the disability community, I was involved in that work when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. The language in that Act was that employers had to provide “reasonable accommodation” for people with disabilities. When telling a friend about the victory, he said quietly: “But why wouldn’t we ask all employees what they need to be their most successful at their jobs?”
I think of Tess’ diagnosis as a way into what she needs to be successful. My brain and her brain simply work on two different operating systems; the challenges are when those two systems try to interact or work together, like a PC and a Mac. It’s my job to learn about her operating system and to teach her about mine. This book is my guide.
What does Tess need to succeed? I don’t fully know yet. But I’m learning: She needs a visual calendar. She needs structure. She needs a place to go to chill out and things she can manipulate with her hands while there. She needs checklists. She needs help making and keeping friends. She needs medication, at least for now.
What do you need to thrive? What do you wish you could tell other people you need to do your best work? What keeps you from telling them? I hope you’ll leave a comment after this post with your answers to that question–and any suggestions for resources you have as we wade deeply into the world of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s.
We just bought a used iPad for Tess (from a friend of mine from college 30 years later – isn’t the circle of life fantastic?) and while we wait for its arrival, I’ve been looking into good apps for kids with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism. So many articles talk about its usefulness with kids who have autism that we thought it was worth a shot! I’ll let you know!
I have decided I need to consciously try to build mental resilience as I age (can you tell I have a birthday coming up soon? and that Alzheimer’s runs in my family?). So I am learning one small thing every day. So far, I’ve learned how to cut a mango, fold a fitted sheet, remove nail polish more efficiently, roll up my sleeves, make carrot juice in my Vitamix, how to choose and buy a pineapple, and how to repurpose an old cell phone into an emergency phone for my car (or other location).
I also discovered how to keep track of things I’ve ordered online. It’s a fantastic iPhone app called Slice.
In the last two weeks, I have changed my life. I spent four days with a miserable headache as I detoxed from the caffeine and sugar in Coke. I had a tiny addiction to it. I stocked my kitchen with whole foods. I primarily eat only raw vegetables and fruits until dinner, and dinner is smaller, more mindful, more clean eating. We are eating real food, not canned or boxed food. I haven’t had a Coke in two weeks, I’m drinking a lot more water. I’m juicing carrots and spinach and beets and loving it. I am determined to lower my blood pressure and go off of the blood pressure medication I’ve been on for two years. And I’m relying on this book–Coach Yourself Thin–to help me better understand patterns that have been harmful to my health.
And here’s the deal: I have more energy, feel far less depressed, my blood pressure is fantastic, I feel like moving and exercising more, and my mind is so much clearer. I’m happier. In just two weeks. I can’t wait to see what a month of this kind of mindful eating and moving will bring me.
I’m noticing healthy recipes and making them healthier, taking this (amazing!) baked oatmeal and making it vegan (Egg Replacer, Earth Balance instead of butter, and almond milk) and less sugary. Using fresh fruit and veggies to create taste sensations like this mango salsa. And yes, having pizza, but making the dough myself and using fresh tomato sauce and veggies on it rather than a frozen pizza. Food can be slower, more mindful, and more satisfying. Touching it, cutting it, having a bag of organic carrots in the fridge to nosh on–it feels like I’ve undergone a revolution.
I want to be here a long time. I want my veins to be happy veins. I want my heart to keep pumping. I want my mind to be free of the fog of sugar and processed foods.
I found this talk by Jane McGonigal to be very interesting. And then I signed up for the game she talks about: SuperBetter. SuperBetter is a tool created by game designers and backed by science to help build personal resilience: the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficulty challenges. Resilience has a powerful effect on health — by boosting physical and emotional well-being. Resilience also helps you achieve your life goals — by strengthening your social support and increasing your stamina, willpower and focus. Every aspect of the game is designed to harness the power of positive emotions and social connection for live, feel, and act better. Listen to the talk before you play the game to build up your physical, mental, emotional, and social resiliency.
“Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out.” -Frank A. Clark
How about you? What have you read or seen of interest this week? What iPad app suggestions do you have for Tess? Leave a note and link in the comments so we can all check it out!
July 11, 2012
by Valancy Reynolds
I will be your poet
for this evening.
you do not mind if
Rearrange your words
make you rub up against
put some strangers in
your midst just
to see what might
when you don’t get what you
Valancy was a member of a recent VerbTribe, and offered this poem and this beautiful note: “In the second half of the VerbTribe journey, a wonderful thing happened to me. I started spontaneously writing poems, and just letting them be. I have just adored how VerbTribe brought the experience of reading poetry back to my life, so perhaps it is no surprise that the poems that I started writing were about poetry. Here is one of them.” Valancy, my thanks for sharing your words with us all.
July 5, 2012
Here are three things this woman is doing to prepare for having Alzheimer’s. It runs in her family–and it runs in mine too. I’m going to prepare. You?
We’ve almost all of us fallen prey to The Busy Trap: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” And this: “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.’ Stop. Let’s all stop measuring our self worth by how busy we are.
I adore these illustrations of unusual and rarely spoken words.
A stunning portrait of autism.
I actually love these thumb bands that remind us (and our teenagers) not to text and drive.
If I lived in London, I would be sure to see this show before it closes on August 18th.
When I am being mindful of what I eat, going off the Co-Cola and reducing sugar in my diet, there is nothing more fascinating to me than recipes like this Nutella Icebox Cake. Oh, my. Would someone make that for my birthday?
That decadent cake aside, I’m leaning a lot more toward a vegan, raw diet. Trying to eliminate the need for blood pressure medication, primarily, and noticing a wonderful side effect: clearer thinking. This fresh raw corn salsa looks like a summer win.
I had a big learning this week.
“It’s time for me to pass this on to you folks.” -Andy Griffith
(the photo illustrating this post is from the set of “The Andy Griffith Show,” an American TV classic. Andy died this week; may he rest in peace. Hat tip to Kevin Mauch for the photo, which I love, love, love.)
July 3, 2012
Independence Day. It is, like many U.S. holidays, lost in part to beer and fireworks and sales, the meaning diluted or held up as a siren song for Us vs Them chest-thumping talk, the kind of talk that inevitably ends in war, in order for another independence to be won. And so on.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence contains this sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
All men and women are created equal, indeed, but that is evidently not self-evident to those who have determined that some Rights are to be voted on, negating the very idea of Rights in the first place.
So, Independence Day. Choice Day. Declaration Day. A day when our founding fathers thought enough about the idea of happiness as a human right to say so. Unalienable, even. Whose happiness, I wonder? The people in the majority, or everyone? And haven’t we lost happiness in pursuit of being right, being against something or someone, winning?
We take our freedom so much for granted, don’t we? We place conditions on it: Oprah loses weight and we think, “Sure, sure, I could lose weight, too, if I had a personal chef and personal trainer,” forgetting that we are free to make healthy choices about mindful moving and eating, just as she is. We witness bullying and do nothing to stop it, fearing we’ll make a scene. We bitch and complain about politics, and then we don’t vote. We squander our freedom, people. We squander it. We abdicate our personal responsibility for freedom to others, looking to them for the “rules,” the talking points, the endorsement. We invest in the pursuit, not in the letting go and leaning into happiness.
And are we best served by declaring our freedom from something (a resistance against) or our freedom to (a living into)?
So many questions. And so I started thinking: What is my Declaration of Independence, or interdependence, as my friend Kathy Schuth says? On this independence day, I’ve been thinking about all the freedoms I have. Here are some of them. It is a work in progress. As is life:
My Declaration of Independence
I hold these truths to finally be self-evident, after 52+ years on the planet. Perhaps they were evident all along, but not necessarily to me. But now they are, by virtue of living and listening and surrounding myself with amazing people I learn from every day, and by virtue of some innate wisdom with which I’ve been graced.
I have the freedom to say yes, and I have the freedom to say no. And no is a complete sentence.
I have the freedom to choose how I respond to any circumstance, even the most dire, the most hurtful, the most painful. I can always choose love, even in those circumstances, and even if it takes me a while to get there sometimes.
I have the freedom to give myself grace, or punish myself. I choose grace.
I have the freedom to see myself as whole, or broken, and I choose whole.
I have the freedom to make goals, and change them.
I have the freedom to let go of people who, for whatever reason, are toxic to me.
I have the freedom to walk away or work harder to make it work.
I have the freedom to let go of any inhibitions I have about speaking my mind, and at the same time allow that other people have wholly different minds.
I have the freedom to choose being happy over being right.
I have the freedom to make healthier choices.
I have the freedom to love my body right unconditionally.
I have the freedom to relinquish my throne as the Queen of the People Pleasers.
I have the freedom to ask why, and not simply how.
I have the freedom to laugh loudly, but never at people, at misery, at poverty, at injustice.
I have the freedom to tell a different story with my life, one that is quiet or loud, big or small–I have those choices.
I have the freedom to vote, and I have the responsibility to shut up if I don’t vote.
I have the freedom to love well, live fully, let go deeply, and make a difference.
I have the freedom to ignore the experts and their templates for success and go my own way.
I have the freedom to follow my own heart, deeply and fully.
I have the freedom to love whomever I want, and I recognize that not everyone does.
I have the freedom to either be the heroine of my story, or the victim of it.
I have the freedom to react or respond, and I choose the latter whenever possible.
I have the freedom to walk into discomfort without judging myself or other people.
I have the freedom to see difficult, hot moments as opportunities for growth.
I have the freedom to see life as playing a game to win, or playing a game to learn.
I have the freedom to either focus on the obstacles, or on the yearnings, and I choose the yearnings.
I have the freedom to hand other people along.
I have the freedom to speak in my own voice.
I have the freedom to make bad choices and live into the consequences, and recover.
I have the freedom to say what I long to say.
I have the freedom to be overwhelmed, or not.
I have the freedom to be a mother to my children, a partner to my spouse, a neighbor to my neighbors, a friend to my friends.
I have the freedom to be open, or closed.
I have the freedom to acquire, or to give.
I have the freedom to work for the unalienable rights of other people so they are truly unalienable, and not political.
I have the freedom to understand that with freedom comes great responsibility.
What is your declaration of in(ter)dependence? What are some of your freedoms you now recognize as self-evident? What do you declare? Leave a comment and let me–and others in this community–know. That’s how we learn. By sharing.
July 1, 2012
UPDATE: The fabulous Meredith Matthews fixed the masthead while in a vehicle going at high speeds on an interstate, I hear. I don’t think she was driving at the time. Many thanks, Meredith! And thanks to Sydney Wellman for submitting this beautiful art for July!
Wee little technical issue with the July masthead up there.
I’ll wait until smarter folk than me (than I? you know what I mean) can help figure it out.
In the meantime, enjoy the blank space, ahhhh.
June 29, 2012
What one thing?
There is a world of things I need to do, want to do. The list of goals is overwhelming me; I feel smothered by it. I realized this past weekend that I am teetering on the edge of depression over it. Eating poorly, getting too little sleep and too little exercise, caffeinating myself with Co-Cola (as we call it here in the South) to keep going, feeling weighty and heavy and full of pasta and unfocused.
It’s easy in those moments to give in to the vicious cycle, to see no way out, to just keep repeating the pattern. Something in that pattern must be sustaining us, even if unhealthily. I knew I had to change something, even if only to feel in control about that one thing. And I needed to make it just one change, not more. It’s too easy for me to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, but honestly, that’s what has gotten me into this space.
This happened a few years ago, and the only thing I could come up with to change was to start drinking my coffee black. I was a sugar-and-cream drinker at the time. The only simplification I could think of that I could be successful at was to ditch the dessert factor in my coffee and go simple with my java. Sounds silly now, but it made sense to me at the time.
When I travel, I’ve often said, “oh, yes, I’m going to work out for an hour every day while on the road.” And I don’t. It’s madness, given my schedule, to think that I would. And yet I keep setting the same goal, and because I can’t possibly reach it, I decide I might as well eat chocolate lava cake.
In response to that ongoing pattern, a fantastic personal trainer and wellness coach named Michael Scholtz asked me to consider lowering my bar in order to be successful. WHAT A CONCEPT! In a world intent on over-achieving, lowering my bar was an idea I had never considered. What if I said I would walk for 10 minutes a day while traveling? I could actually succeed at that. Recently I had a lot of fitness goals for a week and when I reached none of them, I explained to Michael that I had been in bed with the flu. “Rather than mark 0% for these goals,” he said, “why didn’t you just change your goals to ‘drink hot tea, stay hydrated, and get more sleep?’” I stood, mouth open, realizing it would never have occurred to me to give myself that kind of grace and opportunity for success. Why is that?
Why not offer myself some grace? Why not create some space for myself to succeed? Why was I constantly creating goals at which I would fail? Why not create a goal I could achieve? Is that so wrong, to move forward incrementally? To acknowledge that life happens in ways we don’t plan, and that stubbornly beating our goals into a changed landscape only makes us fail?
Back to this week–what one thing could I do right now–and not wait until the book is done or the laundry is finished–to unburden myself, become lighter and more focused? One thing seems manageable, even in the busiest of times. And so I lowered my bar–I am not going to reorganize my whole house, catch up on all my backlogged correspondence, learn to sew, and lose 50 pounds while I finish my book–I’m simply going to cut down on caffeine and see if the fog lifts without so much Co-Cola flinging its way through my veins. And so that’s what I’ve done this week. Five days into it, and I feel amazing. Clear-headed, eating better, getting more sleep. Just one change.
What ONE small thing can you do to improve your experience of life–not after your deadline is met, but right now. One small step forward that will be a start for you, that will enable you to feel successful, that will add up over time. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Please leave a comment about the one thing that might make all the difference for you this week–I’m sure we can all learn from each other. How can we give ourselves some grace?
My latest online writing class called VerbTribe just ended. To celebrate an amazing journey, I’m posting the work of writers in the group as they’ve responded to some of the prompts during this class. This beautiful piece by Carol Sanders considers why we write. My thanks, Carol, for this strong offer. (One of Carol’s compelling essays is also included in my latest book, What I Wish For You.)
We have so few opportunities for our voices to be heard, to choose the subject, the tone, the occasion, to choose the exact right word or phrase, to craft something to endure. The words don’t have to be fancy. One of our greatest living poets Mary Oliver uses the simplest of words, but puts them together in a way that resonates: “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” Perhaps you are called to capture the morning sunlight glinting off a black truck full of furniture speeding down the highway or the gentle way the multicolored parachute drifts to the earth. Perhaps you are called to write a blessing of loving kindness. Perhaps it is the story of your grandparents enduring the Depression or your father’s bravery as a young World War II sailor. With your magic pen you can pluck those stories from the air and hold those moments up to the light, a sliver of reflection, a small rest stop in this hectic journey we are making.
The world needs opportunities to see the morning sun, the joy of gentle descent, the blessing of loving kindness and stories of courage. Why would you not use your talent to tell your truth? We write not only to find out what we think, but also to etch those stories and ideas into the landscape of our hearts and those who may read it. As surely as any painter with a brush, a writer can evoke a mood, a scene, the spoken and unspoken words, the action and the people and capture those fleeting moments of time that will never come again as we sail through space on this great planet. We can capture what has been, what is, and what may be.
Even a few lines can make a difference. I have my grandmother’s 5 year diary from the Thirties. With only four lines a day, she has let me see her life through her eyes–the dark days of no money and no job with 6 children, baking two devil’s food cakes for birthdays, sewing doll clothes to scrape by at Christmas and then the joy when my grandfather found a job. She could not possibly have known that one day her young daughter’s daughter would read her writings and marvel at her courage. What a gift–those writings from some 80 years ago.
One of my favorite quotes is from Rilke: “If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist, there is no poverty–nothing insignificant or unimportant. “For me, capturing life is the most important part of my writing–to hold up and capture with the butterfly net of my words those magical instances when the angels visit and we see the divine in the ordinary days of our time here on earth.