Archives for December 2014

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

What I am doing this New Year’s Eve is reflecting on what was my word for last year.

All my writerly friends choose a word each year, but it’s never been my thing, perhaps because I lack the gift of prophecy. But here’s what I do have—the gift of hindsight. Oh, blessed hindsight! How great thou art!

Looking back, I think my word for 2014 was joy.

If someone had told me “joy” would be my word, I would’ve balked. I was nowhere near joyful last New Year’s Eve. More like utter despair. But the following day around 7 a.m., I received an email that put the word “joy” front and center for the next 12 months. Here’s part of the email:

“And, really, I need to talk to you about writing a book for us. I already have the title. And the cover. I believe you might find the title ironic, considering the poignant nature of your relationship with poetry.”

The book-to-be’s title? “The Joy of Poetry.” So on New Year’s Day, I signed a contract to write a book. I turned it before the busyness of writing Wacoan of the Year (thanks again, Chip and Joanna Gaines!). Now the book is being edited and made fit for human consumption.

Although 2014 was not a particularly joyful year — not at all — writing the book was what gave me joy. It forced me to use all my non-magazine-writing-and-editing moments to put together something about the joy I find in poetry, and those moments were indeed joyful. Some of those moments were only snippets. There were days I had to look real hard for even a smidgen of joy.

But I always found them. No day was lower than New Year’s Eve, 2013, and for that, on this New Year’s Eve, 2014, I am filled with joy.

Other things that gave me joy?

  • Discovering George Strait’s music.
  • Rediscovering Harry Potter via the audiobooks.
  • Editing a friend’s manuscript that was so dang funny. It comes out in March. Stay tuned!
  • Baylor football at McLane Stadium.
  • ESPN’s “College GameDay” coming to Waco.
  • Our dear friends on Sandalwood for hosting us for every game and for Baylor move-in.
  • The beauty of northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.
  • Trader Joe’s tea.
  • My best friend, who always knew exactly when to call.
  • Empty-ish nest. It made the homecomings all the sweeter.
  • Going to parties and events with my husband. It’s been years since we went out and had fun together.
  • Our Teams of Our Lady group, and especially the night of spontaneous mimosas.
  • I already wrote a column about it, but I sure do love my new white Ford Focus hatchback.
  • “Les Miz” at Fredericksburg Theater Company. Another subject I’ve written a column about.
  • The “joy” notepad designed by Kevin, age 7, at MD Anderson.
  • A live Christmas tree from Walmart that didn’t die on me.
  • Renewed love and gratitude for all my Drummond relatives, especially in this time of grief.
  • That talk with my cousin on the front porch at Drummond Thanksgiving.
  • I read some really great books this year, including “Monday, Monday” by Elizabeth Crook and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman (both contemporary fiction), “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier (more recent classic), “Pastrix” by Nadia Bolz-Weber (memoir), and “Book of Hours” by Kevin Young (poetry).
  • Leigh’s cranberry tea, which she only brings to yoga once a year.
  • And finally, for all the poems, especially the many lesser-known ones delivered to my email each weekday by Every Day Poems.

Whatever you are doing this New Year’s Eve, I wish you joy.

love,

Megan

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

On Sundays, I usually post a poem. Today’s is the third verse of the Christmas carol “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” words by Edmund H. Sears. After my Surviving Advent series, it seems a fitting ending.

But Megan, that’s a song.

Poem, song. Whatever.

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow.

Look now, for glad and golden hours 

Come swiftly on the wing,

O rest beside the weary road, 

And hear the angels sing.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Surviving December, #15-21

This is the last in my short series, Surviving December. I wrote it for a couple of friends facing particularly difficult holidays. If my list of 21 suggestions doesn’t help, know it was offered in love, out of my own experience. 

“West Wing” well. Last Wednesday night after I posted, my husband and I watched our two favorite Christmas episodes from the old TV show “The West Wing.” “In Excelsis Deo” (season 1) and “Noël” (season 2) address two not-so-happy topics—homeless veterans and PTSD. Even though I practically know these two episodes by heart, they never fail to move me.

Pet well. Do you have a pet? If not and your holidays are going to be hard, go get one. My best friend lost her father two weeks ago. Fourteen years ago she lost her mother during the holidays, so it’s not exactly her favorite time of year. After the funeral her husband and daughter surprised her with a dog, a 4-year-old German shepherd. Her Christmas will probably suck, but she does have someone to pet and love who’s already housetrained and can sit and shake.

Give well. I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” again the other night. I’d never noticed the sign on the wall at the Bailey Building & Loan underneath the picture of George’s father. The sign says, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” The most important gifts you give this season may not be those under the tree. Give to someone who needs a card or flowers or cookies, just so they know you care.

Poetry well. At the moment my book, “The Joy of Poetry” is with the editor, getting much-needed attention. In a nutshell, the book is about how poetry gave me joy during a very, very bad year. It’s like the poet James Wright said, “Poetry can keep life itself alive. You can endure almost anything as long as you can sing about it.” The other nice thing about poetry? It’s short. When you’re emotionally devastated, you might not have the energy for a novel.

Friend well. Make time to have a meal with a friend. It can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, a midnight picnic in the snow. Gripe to each other about your relatives or the lines at Walmart or whatever truly terrible things are getting you down.

Tradition well. Do you need a break? Take it. A family member who always hosts Christmas Eve decided to move this year’s celebration to our favorite Mexican restaurant. On the other side of the family, someone who never hosts is taking up the mantle this year so that the traditional host, who is grieving, doesn’t have to.

Joy well. If you know your holidays may not be merry and bright, be on the lookout for the small moments that will give you joy. Maybe it’s ordering a special holiday coffee at your favorite shop. Or walking your dogs under downtown Christmas lights. It could be a special church service. Give yourself moments like these, even if they happen on December 18 instead of Christmas Day. Oh well. No one can take away that wisp of joy. It’s yours.

Merry Christmas, friends!

 

Cat Man poem

“Calling cats,” it confided, “tends to be a rather overrated activity. Might as well call a whirlwind.”

—from “Coraline,” by Neil Gaiman

Cat Man

He is kicking my seat back—not exactly kicking.

Stretching.

 

He asks his mother, “Where’s Cat Man?”

“There is no Cat Man,” she says. “Only Catwoman.”

The little boy stretches harder against my seat. “He’s like Spider-Man,”

he explains. “Spider-Man could shoot his web and snag the clouds and

drag us to Spokane.”

“That’s a long way from Austin,” his mother says. A long way to leave

her little boy with his father, then turn right around and fly home.

It was a whirlwind this morning, arriving for a 6 a.m. flight.

Cat Man, she wonders. Cat Man?

 

Call him all you want.

If he were on this plane he’d stretch

extend his claws

sweep at something only he could see

sense danger and turn away

nap until bedlam subsides.

Surviving December, #8-14

My holiday survival guide continues. And after this past week, I need it.

Decorate well. Give yourself permission to do less or do it differently. This year for us that meant not decorating the outside of the house. Last year it meant buying a different kind of tree and buying all new ornaments from Dollar Tree.

Serve well. Is there a place you can serve, even for one afternoon? This Saturday we will be delivering toys with my husband’s Rotary club. Last year when we did this, the final house we visited was out in the country, and it was one of those homes in which the parents did not speak English but the child did. We communicated as best as we could, since the child wasn’t supposed to know what was going on. I guess the parents went ahead and gave the gifts because a few minutes later, the child called us afterward to thank us for bringing Santa early.

Pray well. If you’re a person of faith, this is not the time to slack off. You need spiritual fortification going into Christmas dinner. Everything might be all holly and jolly until a couple of people have too much to drink, and then it’s the Grinch that Stole Christmas.

Listen well (news-wise). I hesitate to mention this because there is a lot of bad stuff in the news right now, and if you feel called to get involved and protest, then Godspeed. I’m juggling so much right now that I’m limiting what I read and listen to. Yesterday I found a 45-minute discussion about how animals and plants survive winter. It was just the calming news I needed.

Sip well. If you don’t drink tea, ’tis the season to try it, especially if it’s cold outside or you have a sore throat. December is the only time I drink a lot of black tea (the rest of the time it’s green or white). Sitting and sipping with my Christmas china is one of my consistent joys during the holiday season.

Sick well. (Yes, I know that’s a contradiction.) Turns out I have bronchitis. I’m taking a sick day. Perhaps if I had taken a sick & tired day earlier, I wouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place. So whether you’re ill or not, schedule a sick day and do it well. Stay in your pajamas all day. Request cough drops in exotic flavors. Stream movies that will fill you with delight. Take a hot bath before bed and then get more sleep.

Spin well. You need some time to force yourself to get out of the house and appreciate the season. A week ago a friend and I spun under the tree of lights at Zilker Park in Austin. Both of us have good reasons for staying in bed with the covers pulled over our heads, but we didn’t. Because spinning does a soul good.

to be continued…

Art Briles poem

I’ve spent the last 24+ hours in Waco, Texas, totally immersed in Baylor Nation and its prophet, head football coach Art Briles, whose West Texas wisdom is nothing short of priceless. Fans, I loved your signs at ESPN’s College GameDay! 

For the record, I think that now Baylor and TCU can unite over being shut out by the committee. Let’s win our bowl games with style! (And maybe get a new Big 12 commish.)

This is a found poem, compiled from Briles’ own comments on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” show earlier this week. For all of you who don’t speak West Texan, Briles pronounces the word “America” as “‘Murica.” If only we all lived in the land he describes!

 

‘Murica

What country do we live in? I think it’s

America.

That’s kind of always been the American way.

If there’s a conflict or a doubt, you put two people in the ring

and they fight. There’s a winner.

If there’s a question who’s the fastest guy, you put them on the track

and the fastest guy is the guy you pick.

That’s kind of how I see it.

It’s a democratic society.

 

Surviving December, #1-7

“Every year I just try to get from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s.”—Harry, from the movie “When Harry Met Sally”

All of you whose favorite Christmas song is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” you can all go away now. Go snuggle with the Abominable Snowman before he had his teeth pulled.

I’m here to stand up for the rest of us, those of us who do love the holidays but perhaps not so much this year, when things are hard. Some years we see the hard stuff coming, and other years it sneaks up on us, like that gosh-awful song “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

For the next three Wednesdays, I’ll be making my list and checking it twice before I hit “publish.” The following Wednesdays after this series are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Good luck/May the Force be with you/God bless/Lord, have mercy.

  • Eat well. This is first on my list because it is the hardest thing for me to do. When I get stressed, I immediately feel sick to my stomach and can’t eat. Other people tend to overindulge in the milk and cookies. Regardless, when we don’t eat well, we don’t sleep well, and the next day is crappy.
  • Elf well. Watch the movie “Elf” at least once this month. My favorite lines are from the parts regarding children’s book publishing, especially, “No tomatoes. Too vulnerable.”
  • Sleep well. Do visions of sugarplums dance in your head, or do you toss and turn, debating whether to eat more sugarplums at 3 a.m.? More and more research links lack of sleep to a host of illnesses and disorders. Maybe you need to have your sleep evaluated; I have two friends who were shocked to discover they had severe sleep apnea. Maybe you need to tweak your caffeine level or turn off the iPad or pretend to have a headache and go to bed at 8 p.m. Sleep is that important. The last time I saw my counselor, he said, “How’re you doing?” And I told him, “I’m on this great new drug. It’s called sleep.”
  • Party well. Give yourself permission to skip one Christmas party.
  • Exercise well. December is the month to start your exercise program — not January. Your gym is likely to be semi-deserted right now except for the hard core, those of us every-damn-day-ers, and we are too self-involved to notice newbies. Last December I started yoga, and it was the absolute best thing I did for my physical and mental health in 2014.
  • Music well. If you can’t handle Christmas music, it’s OK. I won’t tell anyone if you decorate your Christmas tree while listening to George Strait, as I did.
  • Sic’ em well. If you’re a Baylor fan, and you’re not in Waco for ESPN’s College Game Day on Saturday, what is the matter with you? I live three hours away, and my Baylor Bear and I will be there at 8 a.m. This will be one of the highlights of my Thanksgiving-New Year’s, whether or not Santa brings us a Big 12 trophy.

to be continued …