One Year Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

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Last year this time: a row of wheelchairs outside my grandmother’s room.

Facebook has this function called “One year ago today,” which revives, dredges, or resuscitates (any of these verbs apply depending on the subject matter) a post from your past year—something that happened on that particular day. But there are some dates we don’t need reminders for.

This time last year was the time following my grandmother’s stroke. I remember very little of this week last year except the snow, my relatives here from California, and our going back and forth to the hospital and Jewish Home in shifts, so that someone from the family, someone who spoke Gujarati and loves my grandmother (Ba), would always be there to interpret, to press the call button (difficult if you have had a stroke), to smooth her hair, to give her spoonfuls of thickened water, to help her to the bathroom.

I don’t look back at this time last year with any fondness. However, I realized this week that it is also the anniversary of the time I also spent a few days of my winter break writing, at the invitation of my friend Mary Jane Curry, a professor at University of Rochester, at the Warner School of Education’s Winter Writing Camp. I met MJ through a yoga class (yoga always brings good people to my life), and we had talked before and after class for a couple of years.

At the retreat, which I just attended again this year, we (professors and grad students and me, a former professor and current writer) met in small groups to talk about our writing projects (I was working on my first book review, on Amarnath Ravva’s hybrid memoir, American Canyon). We wrote for 45 minutes on, with a 15 minute break (if you wanted to break) and then another 45 minutes on, etc. The Warner School professors organized the schedule, lunch sign up (this year, we had boxed lunches from Panera), and made sure that we kept on task.

I talked again this year with Marium, who this time last year was writing her dissertation. She finished it last year, and credited the momentum she gained and a few techniques she learned in the winter writing retreat with helping that happen. (She was also very disciplined, blocked out large amounts of time, wrote a lot, and socialized not at all, except for seeing her husband and daughter.  I asked her what it took to get the diss done.)

My grandmother was released from stroke rehab at the Jewish Home in February of last year. Next week is her 93rd birthday. She is living with my parents and aunt 10 minutes away from me. I finished that book review. Not a dissertation, but managing to complete it between teaching 9th graders, planning a wedding, and time spent every day with my grandmother at the Jewish Home, was an accomplishment for me.

I had forgotten the camaraderie of writing together, of writing groups, and of yoga. I remembered that even in the midst of that stressful time, I felt happy about meeting other writers at UR and offered to lead them in some stretching and meditation breaks, which is what I had been doing with my ninth graders. Whatever grade we’re in, we can use yoga and meditation, and we can use community. We can stand to stretch. (I don’t want to count what grade I’m in now.  Life Grade. Middle-Aged Grade.)

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I took a long walk with R during that time last year, and was struck by the pond that had developed in front of this house–giving us the mirror image, the house under the house, the world under this world. That was the world into which we’d stumbled.

Facebook also offers you a look at “2 years ago today.” Here is a quote I posted two years ago via the website Tiny Buddha: “When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” (~Eckhart Tolle).  That sounds right to me.

Beyondness

A photo of a poster of Mark Strand's poem,

Mark Strand’s poem, “Keeping Things Whole,” in the Brooklyn apartment of poet Purvi Shah.

“We all have / Reasons for moving.” — Mark Strand

I gathered up my nerve and moved to New York City for the first time right after grad school.  I was lucky my friend Purvi was looking for a roommate; her cozy, furnished apartment (where I had stayed on many visits to New York) and month-to-month rent made the idea of a big move and a big city less intimidating. A purple “Poetry in Motion” poster hung (and still hangs) in Purvi’s lovely living room, and my eyes rested on Mark Strand’s poem, “Keeping Things Whole,” each day that year.

In 2003, a year after moving in, I left Brooklyn for a writing fellowship in colder Western Mass. I moved a lot in those years–in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2011–across hundreds of miles, often across states, mostly for academic jobs or fellowships.  But I also moved, perhaps, because I was not ready to stop moving, even though I simultaneously craved stability.

Strand’s lines resonate with me as I look back at that time and contemplate the future.

His death this past weekend, on November 29, 2014, set me thinking about “Keeping Things Whole.” I glance at Strand’s poem often still (without fully reading it each time, because I use the above image as the cover photo for a Facebook group I created for local writers in Rochester).

 Keeping Things Whole

Mark Strand

“In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.”
 

Having just completed a poetry unit with my freshmen, I wonder what they would have made of this poem.  I might share it with them this week and also Strand’s words below–his take on the sense of mystery in poetry and in his poems in particular:

“If I were absolutely sure of whatever it was that I said in my poems, if I were sure, and could verify it and check it out and feel, yes, I’ve said what I intended, I don’t think the poem would be smarter than I am. I think the poem would be, finally, a reducible item. It’s this “beyondness,” that depth that you reach in a poem, that keeps you returning to it. And you wonder, The poem seemed so natural at the beginning, how did you get where you ended up? What happened?”

–Strand, in a Paris Review interview

Thank you, Mark Strand, for the gift of this “beyondness” in your poems.  It has kept me coming back.

Chocolate & Peanut Butter

My latest blog post, up on the Writers & Books website, is about Writing & Yoga and the retreat I’m co-leading on Sunday, April 6, 2014 at Writers & Books’ Gell Center:

“There’s an ad from when I was a child that sometimes still runs in my head: Two great tastes that taste great together.  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

That’s what deciding to create a yoga and writing workshop felt like to me. Marijana and I met in yoga teacher training at Open Sky Yoga in 2009.  We have different backgrounds and personalities, and have enjoyed getting to know each other over the last five years.  As we talked, we were inspired to combine our passion for both yoga and creativity/the written word.”  To read the whole post, click here:  http://www.wab.org/writing-yoga-at-the-gell-center/

Writing & Yoga, on Sunday, April 6th, 2014

yogaandwriting My next Writing & Yoga Retreat, co-taught with yoga teacher Marijana Ababovic, is less than a month away at Writers & Books’ beautiful Gell Center in Naples, New York, an hour away from Rochester.  We are enjoying planning this workshop and hope you can join us.  Space is limited to 16 and fills quickly.  For more information or to register: https://www.wab.org/classes-workshops/relax-into-writing-a-writing-yoga-retreat-in-the-finger-lakes/

Words as Image

My guest post, “Words as Image,” published in the Brevity Blog discusses the origins of my essay, “Thank You,” in Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction. My post also refers to the use of imagery in an earlier essay, “Street Scene,” which was published in The Kenyon Review Online.  As a bonus, this post also includes a writing prompt.  Read it here.