Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen by Master of the Female Half-Lengths

Dear Emma: Snappy Letters to My Alter Ego

Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen by Master of the Female Half-LengthsEditor’s note: From time to time I share my writing process with readers of the Joyous Paradox blog. Today’s post is about my literary character Emma Davies, who began showing up in my notebook when my son Edward was in elementary school. (He’s now 35.)

“Who are you, Emma Davies?” I asked her, when her name first slipped into my consciousness all those years ago. “Why do you feel so familiar?”

Back then, all I could see of Emma’s life was the title of a story, “Emma Visits the Wise Woman.” It’s a story I hope to write one day. In the meantime, I often write to Emma in my notebook. Here’s a recent sample, edited and extended for clarity. Hope you like it. — Mary Ann Barton

Girl Writing by Franz NölkenSunday, June 7, 2015

Dear Emma,

It’s crowded and noisy here in the First Parish parlor. Small boys bounce up and down on the antique sofa. They hop off and drop to the oriental rug on the floor.

“Let’s say goodbye to Nana,” says a mother to her son.

“Bye, Nana,” the little boy mumbles.

“Nana can’t hear you,” his mother says. “It’s very loud in here.”

“Nana!” he yells, tugging his grandmother’s sleeve. “Goodbye, Nana!”

I’m writing this letter to you while I wait for Steve to finish chatting with the ministerial intern. I’d like to go somewhere quiet and write my author bio to share with Susan and Stephanie when we meet at Dumpling Daughter tomorrow to talk about book marketing.

Essayist Mary Ann Barton has taken full advantage of the opportunities life offers for failure and rebirth. Working as a rare coin dealer, arts agency desk-jockey, lobbyist, textbook proofreader, and library fundraiser, she found her niche in her fifties as a certified nursing assistant and companion to elders. Her work in progress, a trilogy of self-help books called Rest, Renewal, and Repose, will help family caregivers of all ages get back to sleep when worrying about a loved one who is very old, very young, or facing serious illness. She blogs about caring for ourselves as we care for others at JoyousParadox.com.

Portrait of Lola Braz by Zinaida SerebriakovaHere’s what I write about, Emma: How we live with others. How we live with ourselves. I’m writing a peach of a book for family caregivers. I want you to pick up Rest in the middle of the night when your old dad or your tiny child is safe in bed. Find tips and techniques for caring for your body, mind, and soul. Read a poem about a garden, a grocery list, or a grandmother who plays the cello. Love a painting by Philippe Mercier. Write in your journal. Dance as you cook dinner. Stretch your arms wide with an Octaband.

Really, Emma, caring for a loved one can be full of surprises. As Facebook would say, it’s complicated.

For some of us, there’s so much accumulated hurt and resentment that the free flow of love and concern is jammed up behind a Hoover Dam of bad memories.

For some of us, love flows so freely that we can’t let ourselves even dip a toe in the reality that we might lose our dearest on earth.

Writing a Letter by Kusakabe KimbeiFor all of us, there are images, real or imagined. I look at the shifting family groups in the church parlor — women and men and grandparents and babies and five-year-olds and young girls who might be anything from ten to 17 — and see them as photographs in an album.

Maybe the photos have a matte finish like the slightly pebbled surface of an oldfashioned school portrait. Mrs. Ansell’s Second Grade. That First Vacation at Lake Sunapee.  The Balloon Flight in Southern France. Our Last Visit with Grandma Hyde.

Maybe one day I’ll see a photo or a painting, Emma, and know that this is your likeness. I can’t wait.

Love no matter what,

Mary Ann

Copy this text to tweet: Caring for a loved one can be full of surprises. As Facebook would say, it’s complicated.  #caregivers

Image credits: Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen by Master of the Female Half-Lengths, Netherlands (fl. circa 1500–1530), via Wikimedia Commons. Girl Writing by Franz Nölken, German, 1916, via Wikimedia Commons. Portrait of Lola Braz by Zinaida Serebriakova, Russian, 1910, via Wikimedia Commons. Writing Letter by Kusakabe Kimbei, Japanese, before 1933, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Anatomy of Breathing

Movement Modalities: Dance, Housework, Breathing

Ballerina by Robert le Madec, French, 1899, via Wikimedia Commons.If dance is the poetry of motion, then writing about dance can be a way of entering our embodied experience more fully, the way a poet enters each word of the poem. With this in mind, we might take one step at a time, paying attention to one moment of mindful awareness after the other. The pace can be slow or rapid, reverent or careless; perhaps lighthearted; certainly watchful.

What do I mean by watchful? Simply that if you are dancing, you will open your mindful eyes and observe the contents of your conscious awareness from one breath to another as you turn your right toe out and step to the side. You will also feel the way the sacrum guides your hip to rotate the leg, while your thigh opens out, just slightly, as the spine turns. The breastbone lifts the ribs and your weight shifts into the step, with the music already flowing along with your body, carrying you into another place, another step, another rotation.

And within the ribs beats the heart, nestled in the cardiac notch of the left lung, and the heart throbs between and behind your two lungs, the lungs swell with the in-breath and yield with the out-breath.

And now, can we imagine how each in-breath draws some physical elements of the world into our bodies, while each out-breath pours some physical remnants of our bodies back out into the world?

What does it mean, I ask myself, that my body is the medium for an exchange of gases between myself and the threadbare hemlock tree in my back yard? What does it mean that my body, as I drive to work in my car with the windows down on a spring morning, serves to filter the air and give it back to nourish the trees that line the road?

“Dear trees,” I would pray out loud every morning. “Dear trees, help me to keep breathing all day, no matter how fearful I am.”

“Dear trees,” I would pray out loud every morning as I drove to my new job in publishing in suburban Boston, “dear trees, you are so beautiful. You there, you raise your branches over my head, your early buds swell at the tips in droplets of pea-green, of silky burgundy, you there, your trunks so solid, your roots deep and black-barked down in the dark, roomy soils near the river, dear trees, you are so beautiful. Help me to keep breathing all day today, no matter how fearful I am when I answer the phone.”

So simple, you might say, dear trees, it should be so simple for me to answer the phone in my cubicle, to say ‘Prentice Hall Social Studies, this is Mary Ann.’ So simple, but because I am so new, and because I don’t have the training to do my job, and because there doesn’t seem to be any system to bring me up to speed in order to complete my assignments, I am aware, as I observe my supervisor’s pursed lips and scrabble through the papers piled on my smooth, putty-colored work surface, that each day’s work is not enough work. Each answer I give to my colleagues’ questions is not a sufficient answer. Each breath I take is not enough breath.

Imagine the experiential anatomy of breathing when you work in a job you love.

Now, imagine that it is many years afterwards and I am in a job I love, for which I am profoundly qualified. Imagine the experiential anatomy of breathing when you work in a job you love, a job in which it matters that you are a kind person. Imagine the way the breath is the very embodiment of taking in kindness and giving out kindness, over and over again. Not a Mother-Teresa kindness; not something superhuman, but just an ordinary, clumsy, this-is-the-best-I-can-do kindness.

I have to breathe a lot in this job I love, as I care for elderly people in their houses, old houses full of memories and things. I breathe a lot and I’m sweaty. I have to squat and pick up dropped laundry from under the bed. I have to wash my hands in the sink in the laundry room and dry them on a terry cloth towel. But each breath is enough.

Imagine how my body dances as I fold the laundry and put it away, as I step to the right, bend, pull out the drawer, press the stack of soft turtlenecks into the drawer, shove the drawer closed, and turn and step to the left again. My limbs and spine loosen, my ribs expand and the lungs open and the heart beats faster, the breastbone shifts and flows with the spine, the tailbone rises and turns me first one way, then another.

Imagine that my ribs shelter the lungs and my breath feeds the blood and the ligaments draw the ribs together in a curtain of protection.

Breathing Ornament 04Now, imagine that you drive home from a job you love, the windows down in your car, the trees receiving your breath by the side of the road. Imagine that you learn about the experiential anatomy of breathing on the job. Imagine that you see, for the first time, the prodigies of flesh within us all.

And so, perhaps, dear ones who read and write and read again, you will experience the gifts of kindness, of life, of movement, of yielding, of letting go, of falling into bed, and breathing through the night, and drawing breath again, as you rise for a fresh love, a fresh day.

— Mary Ann Barton

Glossary for this post:Experiential Anatomy,” writes dance/movement teacher Susan Bauer, “is a creative / humanistic approach using movement, touch, drawing, partner work, and creative writing to embody and personalize your learning.  One’s experiences become the basis for understanding one’s physical body and movement potential.” I liked the clip below of famed teacher Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen demonstrating Initiating Movement from the Coccyx.

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Painting credit: Ballerina by Robert le Madec, French, 1899, via Wikimedia Commons.

Link to this post: http://wp.me/p20HD7-5BK.

Another post in Movement Modalities:  Nia Dance Poem

 

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How To Grieve With Challah Bread by Ellabell Risbridger

Mary Ann Barton:

“How to Grieve with Challah Bread” struck me as a perfect expression of the complexities of family life. Grief and loss. Rituals and remembrances. New loaves braided and baked and broken at the table. All these are emblems and occasions of belonging to the tribes of our birth. — MAB

Originally posted on Eating With My Fingers:

My grandfather is dead: I do not know how to grieve. So I make bread.

In the Bible they call bread the staff of life (my grandfather might have liked this: he liked religion), but really it’s the staff of grief. And rage, and guilt. I do not know how to grieve. I am twenty-two: my grandparents had children young, and I thought they would all die old. Older. I do not know how to grieve. I do not know how to grieve my grandfather’s passing, because I barely knew my grandfather. I tried to tell someone “he was like this-” and I came up short: who was my grandfather?

dough challah

He let me eat apple pie for breakfast. He was my father’s father. He was bald. He liked to garden. He was a teacher, and some kind of occasional preacher. He came from a village called something like Jacksondale, which…

View original 1,738 more words

Safe Space Radio

Guilt When a Parent Dies

Editor’s note: How does a single voice manage to share such rich and heart-grained stories? Listen here, dear readers, to two plainspoken men as they talk about guilt when a parent dies with Dr. Anne Hallward of the Maine radio program, Safe Space Radio. — MAB

We continue our series on hidden feelings this week with two stories about guilt, the kind we feel when we believe we didn’t do enough at the end of a parent’s life.  We’ll hear from people who were troubled by the way they failed to show up for their parents, and discuss the process of finding relief from that guilt. — Dr. Anne Hallward, Safe Space Radio

http://safespaceradio.com/2015/04/guilt-when-a-parent-dies/

Copyright © 2015 Safe Space Radio, All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the author.

The Misses Santley by Henry Scott Tuke

Singing with You Is Our Prayer

“Singing,
singing with you,
singing with you is our prayer.”*

In the lamplight
on a Thursday evening,
we halt the ticking of the old clock
on the parlor wall,

breathe deep,

open the heart,

remember those we love —
remember those who need love —
remember how it was, so long ago,
that our ancestor-women
and our men, so long departed,
sang at the bedside.

Deep voices and treble,
we practice those chants and songs
most beloved for healing
or distraction
or reminiscing
or conjuring tranquility.

We come to your bedside
or your kitchen table.

Singing with you
is our prayer.

— Mary Ann Barton

* Lyrics by the Reverend Burns Stanfield

Isadora Duncan #29 by Abraham Walkowitz

Movement Modalities: Nia Dance Poem

Nia Dance Poem

With thanks to Karen, Maria, and Robyn

These first rare steps on the enchanted floor:
soft as sand dunes beneath your bare feet.

Words, dear words, bubbles of music:
humming sitar, buoyant drum.

Touch now, touch,
feel the ball of your foot shift the load toward the toes
as the heel lifts, a slight puff of wind — poof!

Step, sway, cross over and swivel and plant the foot,
waggle the tail, rock the hips’ intimate cradle,
oh, exactly as oceans rock,
cry in the throat as seagulls cry,
piping plovers, sand, fresh winds,

and still all around you will lift, swirl, and turn,
rise, pause, and bow down,

a whole roomful of women cresting and levitating
over the soft ocean of the enchanted floor.

— Mary Ann Barton

Isadora Duncan #29 by Abraham Walkowitz

Glossary for this poem

Movement Modalities, a new series beginning today in the Joyous Paradox blog about my search for creative ways to add more movement to my life. I’m thinking of all movement forms as potentially healing, hence the use of the word modalities, which we often see in caregiving as the way a health condition is diagnosed or treated.

Nia Technique, a movement practice whose teachers are licensed by Nia Technique, Inc. According to Nia’s website, “Nia cardio-dance workouts combine 52 simple moves with dance arts, martial arts, and healing arts to get you fit in 60 minutes — body, mind, emotion, and spirit. Nia is practiced barefoot, non-impact, and adaptable to individual needs and abilities.”

The humming sitar in the poem is a metaphor for the way the pulsing, soft-rock dance music played in my Nia class sounded to me while I was dancing. For the literal sitar of Indian classical music, see Wikipedia.

The enchanted floor refers to the soft, interlocking floor tiles used in the yoga studio where I took the Nia classes that inspired this poem. I have arthritis in my knees and neck, so I’ve been wary of fast-paced, aerobic activities that might be too high in impact for my 65-year-old body. Stepping onto the soft studio floor was a pleasant surprise. So far, so good.

Photo from Staff Favorites Best of Nia

Image credits: (Top and Middle) Isadora Duncan #29, watercolor and ink over graphite on paper by Abraham Walkowitz, American, ca. 1915, via Wikimedia Commons. (Left) Staff Favorites Best of Nia © Jeff Stewart Photography. Photograph provided by Nia Technique (www.nianow.com).

Note: I am not receiving any compensation for mentioning Nia or any other practice in this series. — MAB

 

Lucidpress Features Me in a Case Study

March 8, 2015

Editor’s note: Lucidpress, the company whose graphics software I use for image posts like Paintings for a Snowy Day, is featuring me in a case study on their new website. Thanks to Vicky Thomas and her colleagues for a sweet boost! Check out five other Lucidpress users at the Case Study Home. — MAB

JOYOUS PARADOX BLOG AND 4-BOOK REST SERIES

Mary Ann Barton | Maynard, MA, USA

Independent blogger and author Mary Ann Barton was just looking for a way to spice up her blog with infographics and other visuals when she discovered Lucidpress’s digital publication toolbox. Now she’s amazed at how thoroughly it transformed the way she works.

AT A GLANCE

COMPANY DESCRIPTION

Joyous Paradox is a blog written for the benefit of the elderly and their caregivers. The Rest series is a collection of four books written for the same audience, set to be released in the future.

FEATURES THEY LOVE

  • Cloud based – edit documents anywhere, any time
  • Ease of use – intuitive interface empowers users who don’t have design experience

CHALLENGE

Mary Ann wanted to do something different for her blog readers. A talented writer, she was used to communicating with her primary audience—individuals caring for elderly family members—through text-heavy blog posts. Hoping to design content that would better capture her audience’s attention, she began looking for a way to incorporate attractive visuals into her posts.

At the same time, Mary Ann was in the midst of writing a 4-part book series intended for the same audience. She wanted to ensure that the resulting eBook would be aesthetically pleasing but wasn’t sure she had enough design experience to do it herself.

SOLUTION

The first thing that Mary Ann noticed about Lucidpress was its ease of use. Intuitive drag-and-drop controls and elegant templates enabled her to turn out one polished graphic after another, despite the fact that she had never designed such visuals before. Soon she was adding her own content to Lucidpress’s newsletter template to create infographics and images with text overlays. From there, she simply exported her creations as PNGs and embedded them in her blog posts. As a bonus, she discovered that she could also design the covers of her books using Lucidpress’s pre-created magazine templates.

RESULTS AND IMPACT

INTEGRATED CREATIVE PROCESS. Now that she uses Lucidpress, the visual and textual components of Mary Ann’s work go hand in hand. Energy and enthusiasm have replaced the stress that once accompanied questions of layout and design. For example, she’s found that toying with image placement within Lucidpress actually sparks her creativity and inspires her writing. Describing this change, she said, “It’s truly astounding what a difference this tool has made. I wouldn’t have been able to write that poem without it—it just wouldn’t have come out the way it did. Nor would I have been able to see it on my screen in this book setting. The designing and writing are happening side by side.” Thanks to Lucidpress, Mary Ann has more creative freedom than ever before.

BETTER ENGAGEMENT. Readership on the blog has increased, as have the number of followers, since Mary Ann began using Lucidpress. Although it’s impossible to say how much of that growth can be attributed to the documents she creates in Lucidpress, Mary Ann said, “Given how prominent visual elements are in the blog world, I think it probably plays a big part.”

COST SAVINGS. Without Lucidpress, Mary Ann says she would have had to hire a professional designer to draft her book covers. Even though her initial goal in using Lucidpress was to create blog content, she was pleased to discover this unexpected benefit.

Though our software is simple to learn, it’s filled with powerful features that meet your unique publishing needs.As you discover the ease of designing with Lucidpress, you’ll wonder why you ever did it any other way.

SEE FOR YOURSELF WHY JOYOUS PARADOX AND OTHER SMALL BUSINESSES ARE MAKING THE SWITCH TO LUCIDPRESS.

SIGN UP FREE

Source: Lucidpress  Disclosure: I am not receiving any monetary compensation for mentioning Lucidpress. Just enduring fame. — MAB


More Joyous Paradox posts with graphics created in Lucidpress software:

How Art and Music Bring Happiness to Dementia Care: Part 1

The Trifecta of Happiness

Today Love Asks Questions

Self-Caring: What I Think About the Funnel of Love

Dear Readers, I’m Getting Back in Touch with You

Paintings for a Snowy Day