Okay, sure. Valentine’s Day is a commercial, constructed holiday. Still, is it ever a bad thing to show people how much you love them?
When I was a young mom, in addition to composing an annual love poem for Jonathan I started a practice of writing each of my children a bit of verse for Valentine’s Day. Over the years my complement of children has grown (4 kids, 4 in-laws, and a granddaughter). Nine poems is daunting, so my new practice is to pay tribute to the whole gang with one new composition. I thought I'd cast the net even wider and spread the love to all of you.
Here is this year’s submission:
(a love poem for my family - Valentine’s Day 2021)
Before you spread your avocado mash upon your toast,
spread some love upon the ones you care about the most.
Remember as you spread some peanut butter on your bread,
spread your love to little ones with pats upon their head.
Instead of spreading gossip or the latest nasty rumor,
spread a loving attitude with laughter and good humor.
Spreading lies or hate or fear does damage to the brain.
Cultivate more love; it magically allays the pain.
Cast your seeds of love as far and wide as they can go.
Watch as love starts taking root, its urge to spread and grow.
While folding back the spread that keeps you warm in bed tonight,
spread your heart with loving thoughts to help your dreams take flight.
Listen: someone in the world is spreading love to you.
Their arms spread wide, they clasp you close and fill you, through and through
with all the hopes and dreams you harbored since your life was new,
to reassure you, love’s alive, and strong, and fierce, and true.
It took a 14-month-old to drive the message home. Divided attention is insufficient and obvious. Face time, the real kind, is too important to squander, so take note:
You are not fully present…
I’ve just learned this lesson from my granddaughter, who helped me see my responsibility for a highly unsatisfactory cranky time yesterday morning. I tried to attend to a 60-minute talk on my computer while “playing” with Fiona. She didn’t buy it. She knew I wasn’t there and it was FRUSTRATING.
Okay, of course we can’t give undivided attention all the time. Lives are full and busy. We juggle multiple pulls on our attention. Still, shouldn't we carve out at least a slice or two of our best (all of it, all at once!) to devote to those we love? If we can offer full facetime attention for a half hour, even a quarter hour, I think we’ll find it a highly worthy investment.
In contrast to that first debacle, I shut down other stimuli and gave Fiona full-time facetime this morning (not the commercial version), except for hiding around the corner and calling, “Where’s Grandma?” Instead of unhappy shrieks, we enjoyed squeals and giggles, scrunched-up happy-eyes, squeaks of delight, that wide-legged thumping gait (little feet don’t actually pitter-patter) as she ran drunkenly around the corner.
My reward was a warm body crawling into my lap for a hug and book time before my departure. I felt I’d earned her attention by offering all of mine. It was awfully hard to leave, but the best kind of hard.
I was unexpectedly brought to tears during the ingathering music for yesterday’s Zoom UU church service. I knew it would be a service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and somehow, when the strains of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” washed over me in an angelic piano solo, I was overcome.
Maybe it was the photo I’d just seen of the Capitol mob flashing white supremacy signs; maybe it was my co-presenter’s talk over the weekend about searching for the histories of black people’s erased lives – no birth or death records, no written documents, nothing. Maybe it’s the reading and discussing I’ve been engaged in during an 8-month course called “Soul-searchers” investigating white supremacy, not the obvious kind, but the kind that lurks in every white person’s psyche, even mine, even yours. Whatever the reason, the lyrics reverberated in my head – I am tired, I am weak, I am worn – and I wept.
How can I not ache for all the suffering I have been oblivious to, for my inadvertent but no less damaging part in all of it?
My minister misspoke when he was introducing a hymn. “Let us listen together to ‘We in Freedom Cannot Rest.’” The actual title is “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest,” which is also true. But his mistaken title applies even more aptly to white people like me.
We who live comfortably, who are accepted without question in any roadside market, any seat on the bus, any school, any restaurant or neighborhood; we who are presumed innocent, whose mistakes and bad moods are gently forgiven; we who see faces like ours all over newsstands, movie screens, and social media; we who are welcomed, who belong, through no merit but the color of our skin; we, in freedom, cannot rest.
Change must happen, and we must work for it. We are the warp and woof of the tightly woven fabric of this problem. We cannot defer to others to pick apart the threads and reweave our society. It’s up to each of us.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King.
Today I got to return (albeit remotely) to my MFA program as a presenter instead of a student. Darlene Taylor and I, both graduates of Stonecoast, gave a talk about research and storytelling: Reimagining and Reinventing the Past, and I got to introduce my Rachel Field research story to a new audience. When I first learned that Darlene was a fiction writer, I worried that not only our research, but our process and storytelling would differ enormously. We discovered quite the opposite. Writing of all kinds draws from the same fonts of material and inspiration. We had a great time and learned so much from each other.
That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous. Here’s a picture of my practice stage last night. One chaotic Zoom experience taught me that I need a paper script, independent of my computer screen, but how do I prop it up so I can see it without looking away from my viewers?
Answer: One box, some large books, scotch tape, and a music stand!
One more pro-tip: check your video ahead of time. You may not want viewers to see ALL your background clutter or detect that you’re broadcasting from a bedroom.
On New Year’s Day, while unpacking after a week’s visit to my daughter and son-in-law’s house, I found a chicken in my slipper. A surprise gift from my granddaughter. It’s one of the animals from her Fisher-Price farm set that she must have tucked in there while we were either disrobing or bundling up in the mudroom. This is a new practice of hers, along with her indefatigable efforts to maintain a newly vertical life. Crawling is passé, even if walking means endless collapses to the floor. The determination is stunning. While walking precariously around, she clutches onto things she’s collected – a scrap of paper, a crinkly produce box, a ping-pong ball, a toy stethoscope, a cracker, a rubber duck, a plastic chicken – then deposits them in unexpected places. We have to keep an eye on all containers – cans, boxes, bags, and apparently footwear.
Not only is her speed increasing; she also craves autonomy. In addition to absconding with random household items, this 13 ½ month old burns with the fire of exploration. No hand-holding, no interest in following her grown-ups (not in the street – this way!) or abiding by their guidance. Fiona has launched, and every corner of the world is uncharted territory, calling her name.
Our granddaughter days were heavenly, and I got a pang of longing when my foot went into my slipper and ran up against Fiona’s gift chicken, that sits now on my dresser until our next visit south. The chicken offers a daily greeting and a sweet reminder of soft skin, delightful belly-laughs, intense focus, and a healthy appetite for pancakes. I confess, though, that it’s nice to sleep carefree, off-duty. It’s nice to put things down and know they’ll stay put. It’s nice to have the luxury of time to bask in my love for Fiona until our next head-spinning immersion in the embroiled wonders of toddlerhood.
\ ˈste-dē \
1a: direct or sure in movement : UNFALTERING
b: firm in position : FIXED
c: keeping nearly upright in a seaway
2: showing little variation or fluctuation : STABLE, UNIFORM
3 a: not easily disturbed or upset
b(1): constant in feeling, principle, purpose, or attachment
Have you ever tried choosing a personal word of the year? This will be my third year in the game, which has caught on in expanding circles. I've used "ATTEND" and "STRETCH." This year's word is "STEADY." It feels like a good "hang in there" word for the waning months of COVID fatigue. Also, I need to sustain momentum and balance in all the parts of my life that may become overwhelming around book launch time.
What lies ahead? Who knows? But brace yourself for whatever it is. Steady as she goes.
When I was in third grade, my teacher Mrs. Gold had a chart on our classroom wall where we made note of the weather on the first day of every month . If it was mild or beautiful, the month "came in like a lamb;" If was stormy or wild, it "came in like a lion." We got to place a lamb or lion sticker up on the wall to illustrate each month's opening nature. The hypothesis was that this character trait would dominate for that particular month.
Snowstorm tomorrow, but today is awash in sunshine and gentle air, cold and fresh. 2021 has come in like a lamb here in central Maine. Let's hope Mrs. Gold's theory works for years as well as months, and not just in weather.
’Twas the Night Before Christmas, 2020 version
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
All the people were scrolling with keyboard or mouse.
The COVID pandemic had stifled the land;
No orchestras playing, no theater, no band.
The streets were devoid of the holiday throngs;
No voices were blending in holiday songs.
Our stockings were strewn on the floor without care;
No joyfulness sparkled the stultified air.
The children were glued to grey, blue, and red phones,
Zoned out in their virtual worlds of headphones.
My dear and I slumped, neither singing nor dancing
Just watching TV, eating chips, and sweatpantsing.
When out in the street there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my Mac to see what was the matter.
I Googled until my wrist tendons were sore,
Then realized that someone was outside my door.
I peeked through the curtain, flicked on the floodlight,
to counter the cold, empty darkness of night.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
but a great dog and human, their gender unclear.
Though buried and bundled, all coat-hat-and-scarfed,
their eyes twinkled gaily, the dog wagged and “arfed!”
Behind dog and human, a bright painted sled,
bedecked with green sprouts tucked in tiny earth beds.
My bundled up friend looked so kind and delighted,
I threw on my mask, swung the door and invited
the two to come in, though our house was a sty.
They gave a small bow and a wink of their eye.
In their glasses I saw my own glad face reflected –
Such warmth! ’Twas so long since I’d felt so connected.
I wanted to hug this dear, kind-hearted guest,
to clasp their gloved hands, offer shelter and rest.
“You’re kind,” said my friend, but we have miles to go.
“We have all these trees left to give and to grow.
“But please, if you will, give a home to this seedling.
Its future could be lush with leafing and needling,
“replenishing soil, giving habitat cover
to creatures that wriggle or fly, walk or hover.
“The folks are forgetting the rest of Earth’s life;
we’re dooming ourselves to both boredom and strife.
“So please, take a tree, see the warmth it can bring
to brighten your winter, then plant it, come spring.
“There’s no better way to spread holiday cheer
than to bring life inside AND go outside, all year.
“You’re part of this planet, so love all its members,
through summer’s great flourish and dormant Decembers.
“These gifts will remind you of breath, sun, and air.
Give care to them; they can allay your despair.”
The dog sat in snow with its tail all a-fling;
It swept a wide arc like a great angel-wing.
I swear that it understood all that we said
with hopeful brown eyes and a slightly cocked head.
“Of course I will take some,” I staunchly replied.
My friend’s eyes recrinkled, the dog’s tail arc wide.
They placed a small boxed tree in each of my hands
then bent to the dog, where they whispered commands.
The dog stood and shook, and it gave me a wink,
then it turned the tree sled with a squeak and a clink.
My friend’s mufflered face gave me one more bright glance,
then they bounced to the dog in a gay little dance.
They reached in their layers of pockets and pleats
Then rubbed the dog’s ears and presented two treats.
Without a word more the two went on their way,
the human, the dog, and their tree-laden sleigh.
They disappeared quickly into the night’s shade.
The warmth that encompassed me started to fade.
I looked down and saw neither footprint nor track,
just a blank, snow-white field, like a broken-screened Mac.
They’d left not a mark in the new-fallen snow
but the dog’s angel wing that produced a faint glow.
My body was chilling, I should close the door,
but I needed to listen a few moments more.
Then I heard, and the voice seemed to come from great height,
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
Robin Clifford Wood (with apologies to Clement C. Moore)
One of the great things to come from the time of COVID is my writer’s group, which was born mid-pandemic and includes fellow Stonecoast MFA alums. We committed to a slate of meetings to get us through the end of 2020, but I’m hoping some version of it will carry forward.
I love having friends who share the self-flagellation, self-doubt, and dismay over our confounding powers of writing-avoidance. We are so not alone. Yesterday I found Betty Smith’s quotation, pictured above, in Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 100th anniversary issue. I loved her take –finding time is impossible; you just have to make the time. *sigh* Will keep trying.
This particular WD magazine is a superbly fun, meticulously crafted, and engaging issue, by the way. Check it out. I’m probably biased and reading it cover to cover for the first time because it has my name in a giant list of contest winners on page 64! After some rejections over the last week or two, I’m happy for every little boost.
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband and dogs, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her grown children and their multi-species families.