When I think about 'The Cousins', I usually think about my wife's brother's three daughters. They are about the same age as my daughter and are the cousins that she sees most frequently. She has other cousins, but doesn't see them so often. We've also talked about first cousins once removed, second cousins and other variations.
Yet today, I was thinking about a different set of cousins; my mothers nieces and nephews. Back in October, my mother died. She was the youngest amongst her siblings and was the last to go. The sons and daughters of Vivian and Dorothy have all passed away. Now, the next generation needs to find ways to stay together.
When my mother died, we learned that my cousin Linda was quite ill. Last week, she passed away, and today we gathered to pay our last respects. The reception after the funeral was the same community club where we had gathered about eight years earlier when Linda's mother had passed away.
With my mother being the youngest in her family, my sister and I are the youngest of the cousins. Linda was ten years older than I and so there wasn't the same sort of connection that Fiona has with her cousins. I remember the trips to Uncle Bud's house when I was young. They had big black labradors and a snow mobile. It wasn't until family reunions much later that I started to get to know Linda better. Much of our connection was around dogs. In her final years, she had a spectacular silver labrador named Lucky; they were lucky to have each other.
At the reception, the cousins were more reflective, reminiscent. We talked about family history and genealogy. We remembered tidbits from family gatherings and artifacts from our childhoods together that still hold special meaning.
There were jokes about having to stop meeting like this (at funerals), references to Harold and Maude, and promises to get together soon. Perhaps most important was the recognition that there is something more that shared ancestry or DNA that makes us cousins.
After college, I moved into an old cinnamon factory with a bunch of aspiring artists in New York City to be a writer. I was most interested in writing poems and short stories. I also had dreams of writing a great novel, but end up writing mostly computer programs.
Fast forward three decades, and I'm sitting in a nice house in suburbia writing blog posts on a laptop computer; a writing implement and genre that didn't exist back in the spice factory days. My online writing style continues to evolve. There have been times that I've written daily, sometimes, not very eloquently, in an effort to hone my craft. Other times, I've just been too busy to write regularly.
I'm starting off 2013 with a good string of blog post, but I've got a busy week ahead. I have to get non-blog writing done for other projects as well.
I'm also spending time trying to find things to inspire me and stimulate my creativity. Yesterday, I ended up on Sarah Kay's Ted talk, If I should have a daughter …
It got me thinking. Should I start hitting some of the poetry open mics? Should I start writing some more poetic blog posts to be read allowed, and then make a video of me reading them which I could share on YouTube? NPR has been doing an interesting series of having poets visit their news room and write poems about the experience and the day's news. Could I do a spoken word poetic news recap, perhaps drawing from other experiments in creative news, from the Daily Show to Autotune the news?
For politics, could I, a former, and perhaps future, political candidate, deliver spoken word poetic stump speeches?
I hope to give some of this a shot, perhaps even today, Epiphany, if I get the time.
It was a few weeks before Christmas when I received a Facebook message from a social media friend. She wrote a blog and sometimes did publicity. She wanted to know if I'd consider writing a blog post about Dammit Dolls. I don't do a lot of product reviews these days, so I checked out the website and thought about it and then told her, sure, I'll do a review.
One of my co-workers has little kids, and does the whole Elf on a Shelf thing. I thought an interesting angle would be Dammit Doll on a Bar. You get the idea, "Are you tired of trying to keep up with all the Christmas trends, of trying to create as magical a Christmas as your co-workers do? Forget Elf on a Shelf, you need a Dammit Doll on a Bar."
So, one Thursday evening in the middle of December, my Dammit Doll arrived in the mail. It was cute, and seems to be about as indestructible as it was described. Our big fluffy dog Wesley stole it from my bag, thinking it was a chew toy for him, but he didn't manage to do any damage.
The next day, I took the doll to work to show to some of my coworkers and get their reactions as I thought about what I would write about the Dammit Doll. We have a lot of stress in our office, and everyone thought the Dammit Doll was cute, and was a good idea. Various coworkers would come over to my desk to borrow the doll.
I settled into my regular work schedule. I track what's being said online that would be of interest to the health center I work at. It was two Friday's before Christmas; likely to be a slow social media day. There was a story about a shooting in a town about half an hour to the west of where I work; not much for details. Yet as the day progressed, the details became more and more gruesome. Our health center provides services in some of the neighboring towns and in many schools around the state. Behavioral health is an important part of our services. As the story unfolded, it became clear what I would be working on for the foreseeable future.
I grabbed the Dammit Doll and gave it a few extra swings. The following week, I got an email from my friend. She lives fairly close to Sandy Hook. She wanted to know if I had gotten the doll, but also understood why I couldn't write about it at that point.
A few more weeks have passed. Students have returned to the relocated Sandy Hook Elementary School. The crisis interventions have wound down. Things are slowly getting back to the new normal.
Finally, I can take a moment to write about the Dammit Doll. I didn't get it done in time for Christmas, which I imagine was the original goal, but during these winter months, there remains more than enough stress to go around, and more than enough reason to get a Dammit Doll.
Each new year brings renewed anticipation.
Will this be the year?
For some, the anticipation may take the form of dread
as they fear an apocalypse or some personal catastrophe.
For others,it may be the hope of transcendence and transformation.
I am seeking the later.
The evening sky,
passing on the last light of day,
like a painting
from the British romantic landscape painters,
or perhaps the Hudson River School,
hung over the interstate
on my drive home.
Will this be the year?
Yet day after day,
the drive regains its old familiarity
and too easily sinks into monotony or tedium.
Can I keep the image of the nineteenth century romantics in my thoughts as I worry about work, family, and finances? And how do I hold onto perseverance when the cherished event, whatever it might be, continues to be delayed?
Hope deferred makes the soul sick.
Yesterday, I watched Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk, "Your elusive creative genius".
She talked about just keeping at it, even when inspiration, her elusive creative genius, did not help carry the load. Yet in the daily grind, the just keeping at it, the repetition, there remains the opportunity for the transcendence, for the transformation to come. My mind wanders to the beginning of Samuel Beckett's Endgame:
Finished, it's finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.
Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there's a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.
When does the pile of grains become a heap? When does one achieve the creative tipping point? When do the blog posts amount to something, some magnum opus?
So, I continue to write my blog posts, to explore ideas, to share, in hopes that the repetition will lead to the impossible heap, the transcendent transformation.
And so, another new year starts. 2012 was a challenging one. We'll see what 2013 brings. I start the new year off, like I try to start every month, with "Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit", hearkening back to a simpler day when hopes for good luck and fortune could be invoked with a child's chant. Life seems harder now. I'm working on ways to be more intentional, to have more impact.
Before I go into my resolutions, I thought it might be good to go back and look at what I've written on New Year's Day in previous years. Last year, I wrote about wanting to improve my writing and learn new things. That's not very specific. What does it mean to improve one's writing? Is it about quantity? I wrote much less last year than I have in other years. Is it about creativity? Has my writing become more creative? I'm not sure, nor am I sure how I'd measure it. Is it having more of an impact? Again, I'm not sure, and I'm not sure how it would be measured.
In terms of learning new things, I wrote about watching TED talks or RSA animations, maybe attending some online classes. I've been doing this, and it has been good.
Two years ago, I was more reflective, looking back over the preceding years. Some of the blogging communities were more active back then and I had more comments.
With that, let me explore a few different resolutions. One resolution is to be more intentional and to try and have more impact. I'm not sure exactly how I'll go about this, and this blog post doesn't feel like it will be as intentional or impactful as I'd like. Another resolution is to be more resilient. This goes back to the Jane McGonigal's TED talk about SuperBetter I've been talking about in recent blog posts. She breaks resilience into four categories, physical, mental, emotional and social.
For physical resilience, there are some simple things. I'll try to drink more water, eat less junk and walk more. I'll work on finding small ways of building physical resilience while sitting at my desk at work. For mental resilience, I'll keep on with my searching of TED talks, RSA animations and other online material that makes me think. Hopefully, some of this will come out in my writing. Perhaps, I'll find ways of being more creative in my writing. For emotional resilience, I'll try to stare out windows more often and look at cute pictures. Perhaps I can view more great art work online. For social resilience, I'll work on more meaningful messages on social media as well as face to face.
So, that's what I'm thinking right now. What are you thinking?