A Year Has Passed

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We mark time; in hours, in days, weeks, months, years, and (if we are fortunate to be old enough) in decades. We mark anniversaries of important events – birth, death, marriage, divorce, moving, arriving, leaving, doing. The important events of my life have helped me know who I am, not so much because they happened but because I made sense of the events and how they impacted on me with the passing of time.

I am ready to celebrate and reflect on the passing of another segment of time. It has been one year since I began blogging. I started blogging as a means to an end – I wanted to publish a book I was writing. It didn’t take me long to realize that I enjoy blogging a whole lot more than I enjoy writing for publication. Then hubby bought me a DSLR camera and there was no turning back. I had the challenge of learning how to use the camera, an instant audience for my photographs, and lots of support from my new blogging buddies. Wow – how much more could a woman ask for? (Okay, a new lens too.)

Morning Bliss

A year has passed, and a very good year it has been. I was thinking about this as I was having my coffee on my purple porch swing this morning. I have learned a lot and wear the title of “Blogger” with pride.

1. I learned a little more about who I am and what I like to do. I discovered I like to tell stories and like to illustrate my stories with my photographs. I also learned that I like to share my experiences and my reflections on life, especially life with a chronic illness and aging body. My writing has led to healing and growth and acceptance of retirement. Blogging is an important element in how I have found meaning in this season of my life.

2. I learned I can touch people’s lives through blogging. This is important because I have always wanted to be a teacher, a supporter, one who encourages in some form or shape. My most rewarding posts are those where I have touched the lives of others. Although I don’t always feel like I know how I have gotten here or where I am going or how to get through, some of you have told me I am an inspiration. This feels good. Maybe I just have the courage to share my bumpy ride with you and this gives you the courage you need for your bumpy ride. It feels really good when I see that someone thinks my posts are interesting enough that they decide to “follow” my blog in order to see more.

3. I have enjoyed being a part of the blogging community. This surprises me because I have never been a joiner of organizations. But I did join the blogging community and quickly learned that I like being “liked” – from the very beginning I felt affirmed every time you clicked the “like” button. I also am serious about my responsibility for showing you that your work is interesting by “liking” your posts. Maybe high school would have been a bit easier for me if we would have had “like” buttons and used them to affirm each other. We were so afraid and oh so vulnerable to not being “liked.” How different I am in my late 60’s when I deliberately look for new blogs that are interesting and I want to follow without a care as to whether they will find me interesting.

4. Most important, however, has been the communication that has gone on between us. Your blogs have touched me so many times – I have cried with you and laughed with you. You have entertained me, inspired me and helped me remember what is important. I have gotten to know you and let you know me through our comments to each other. Your comments in my posts have made me more whole, more confident, made me more of who I am meant to be. I have also enjoyed adding my “two cents” to your posts (except my Canadian friends won’t take them) when you have moved me. So many of you have been placed on that list labelled “FRIENDS” – real friends, not the superficial Facebook kind of friends. We have, together, put forth the extra effort through words and smiles that form connections that are meaningful.

5. I am amazed at all the worldly places I visit through your posts. You have invited me to see your part of the world and hear about your day, from far away to right next door. You inspired me to post about “my dot on the map.” I thought my part of the world was very common, until I realized I was interested in the world you find common. The varied ways you have shared your lives has helped me to see my life in a new light. And all photographers know that light is one of the essential elements of a good image.

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Fashion show by Anna in St. Petersburg Russia.

6. Blogging has formed connections in ways I never dreamed possible. I have been amazed at how people have found me. Several months after I posted a photo from Nova Scotia, someone left a comment that I had taken the photo from their front yard. I posted a corner of a front porch in Escanaba Michigan and someone commented “That’s my house” after coming across my post while doing a search on Blaney Park. My post on whale watching was found by the owner of the company that took us out to North Point, Nova Scotia and a link ended up on a tourist information website. When I started blogging stories and photographs from my travels, I knew I had to be respectful of people’s lives and culture but I never dreamed that anyone would really find me in this way. I feel busted!

Sunset from Nova Scotia

Sunset from Nova Scotia

Thank you so much for coming along on this year-long journey. It has been great fun and I look forward to another year of posting my photos and my thoughts. I also look forward to seeing and reading all the interesting things you have to share. I am amazed at your talent.

The photos in this post are ones I used in my early posts and seemed to generate the most interest from readers. I hope you don’t mind my wandering down my photo-memory lane.

Magnolias for Isobel

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Isobel, who lives in London and writes her blog Isobelandcat, just experienced the death of her mother. It is so hard losing a mother – even when she has lived a very long and full life or when it is a blessing because of disease.

My mother died about 5 years ago after a long, slow, painful bout of pancreatic cancer. Over months I watched her waste away. She lived in Florida and I lived in Michigan so I couldn’t see her often. I went a few times during the summer when I didn’t have to teach. But with my fibromyalgia I couldn’t go often enough or stay long enough – the travel and the stress took its toll on my body. When I would leave their house for the airport, when I was alone in the car, I would sob.

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She died in March when I had a teaching load. I wanted to be with her, I wanted to stroke her face, hold her hand, whisper loving things in her ear. I was so thankful her husband loved her and was lovingly caring for her with the help of Hospice but I also resented him. He was doing what I wanted to do.

I wanted to be with her but no one could predict when she would die. I couldn’t take a lot of time off because someone else would have had to cover my classes. They said it could be a few day and it could be longer – and then the funeral. Her husband and his family said it was better that I wasn’t there at the end – but my mother and I knew each other from before I was born. I had a right to be there. I should have been there. I still miss her, but I haven’t been able to get over the deep regret that I wasn’t able to nurture her as she left this life. I think she would have liked me to be there.

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Isobel wrote about her experience as she watched her mother slip away over months, weeks, days, hours. She shared her journey with a style of writing that is elegant, honest, and graceful. I understood her journey because I had very similar feelings, very similar needs. She was able to love her mother out of this life and into what her mother’s faith assured her would be a better eternity.

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Emotionally I walked with Isobel. I think reading about her experience, how she was doing what I had wanted to do for my mother, helped me to vicariously nurture my mother in her time of dying. I am feeling some peace – and I know what I need to do to heal this wound. I do that kind of healing when I am alone.

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Thank you, Isobel, for being honest and for sharing your journey so beautifully. You are one classy lady and I am very glad I have had the pleasure of your company as we have gotten to know each other through our blogging. These flowers are for you in your time of grief and to honor your mother’s life.

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If you would like to read about Isobel’s journey, you can click here. I’m feeling a little uneasy posting this link but blogs are, of course, public. Even so, my urge is to ask you to please be respectful – isn’t blogging a strange experience.

Can You Tell Me Who I Am?

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Sherry Galey did a post where she shows the results of some post-editing on a photo, showing the before and after. I commented that I liked the result – that she had made it look like her. I don’t know Sherry well at all, but I have started to get a feel for who she is through following her blog. Sherry and I exchanged comments and it got me thinking.

I have heard people say that when someone says something about another person it says more about the speaker than the person being talked about. Is the same true for our posts. I do some posts that are about me – where I deliberately tell you about my experiences and my thoughts, my struggles and my triumphs, my pains and my joys. I always feel a bit of anxiety when I click that publish button when I do these posts. I question whether I want to tell you that much about me. If I let you see the real me, what will you do with it?

Do all of my other posts reflect who I am as well? I have chosen to follow a lot of photography blogs because this is an old interest that is freshly budding in me. And I like to post my photography and usually a few lines, a story, to go with it. I didn’t know I liked to tell stories until my doctor mentioned that he always likes to hear my stories. I didn’t think I was telling stories – I was just telling him about my fun experiences.

Maybe what we post tells people a whole lot about who we are. The brilliant people behind the scenes at Word Press are continually helping us think about how to set up our blog in a way that represents who we are and what we want to accomplish. In the same way, what we post not only presents what interests us, but also how we make sense of the world. We tell people how we make meaning of what we hear and see and think, and it is meaning-making that defines us.

All writers know that the written word represents the writer’s interpretation of his/her world. So my stories are telling you how I see the world. Does not our photographs do the same? Before the age of photography, paintings were commissioned to present reality, to record history. Now photography is used to record these same types of reality. Did not the discipline of science teach us that we can be objective – removed so that the scientist only records what is objective – not our subjective?

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More recent thinking brings objectivity into question. Our photos can never be the totally objective portrayal of reality. By the time we post them, we have already imposed our subjective choice of what to photograph and how we frame it. I do some post-editing – even as I tell myself that I am only attempting to make the photograph more true to what I really see. Chew on that one for a few minutes. I might change color a little bit, or clarity, light, dark, shadows, and of course focus of interest with cropping. I tell myself that I am correcting errors from camera processing or from my lack of skill in getting correct settings. Am I also not imposing my beliefs about what reality should look like? If I am doing this, then I am telling you how I see the world (or want to see the world) as much as I am showing you how my lens sees the world. I am showing you me, one world image at a time.

And when I add narrative, I am showing you me one sentence at a time. But that is a post I will leave to the writers.  I have shown you enough of me already – and I fear that showing you the depths of my thinking will bore you. For those of you who made it this far, I send you my deep gratitude. Now I think I’ll go back and read some of my previous posts to find out who I really am. A new take on reflecting on my belly button.

If you want to follow up on some of the WP tips on creating nice blogs here are some links I found useful:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/visualbranding/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/about-page-201-the-meat-grinder/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/aboutpage/

Starting Over

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Wake up Lazy Cat

I think I have to admit that I’m a lazy person. I haven’t always been like this – I worked really hard in my younger days. I accomplished a lot when I was working, building an academic program into a large, respected and accredited educational major. I, along with my wonderful husband, raised three children adults and I earned several university degrees while doing this. But now I feel lazy and this is tearing me apart and tearing me up.

I retired three years ago and life has changed a lot. As I wrote elsewhere, I didn’t want to retire but had to because of low energy and chronic pain, and I’ve come to terms with that. I am very happy being retired and don’t have any desire to work except for doing a little contract work here and there – and my desire for this is diminishing. I’m very selective. But I can’t shake the feeling that my life lacks meaning.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. (J.R.R. Tolkien)

This was a recent Goodreads’ quote of the day and it speaks to my discontent. The one that says, “What is the purpose of my life… now?” My faith in God has been central in my life for a long, long time and while I was working I looked to God for guidance – I still do. I believed that God’s purpose for my life was to give students a quality education, especially students who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to get one and who want to make the world a better place. I looked to God to give me what I needed to make it through each day and to do right – I still look to God but I don’t know what to do that is good and useful and right. I still want to make the world a better place, but…

I had a conversation with friend Kerry, back when I was unhappy about having to retire and he was oh-so-ready. I explained that for me, doing so many of the things people like to do when they retire, like day trips and volunteering, were very difficult. If I had the energy to do those things, I would still be working. I have active days that are happy days but I have to plan on the following day being very quiet and, well, lazy.

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. (Alan Wilson Watts)

I’ve been trying to redefine myself. I have thought about the lack of meaning in my life for close to a year now. I even thought about giving up and just accepting that life is just about living, nothing more. I had one of my eyeball-to-eyeball conversations with God and I think I heard that I am to enjoy life. Maybe I didn’t hear right – maybe it was just my own voice echoing this nonsense. I still believe I have a lot to give but I haven’t found a way to use those talents in a way that is compatible with how I have learned to live with my body and helps me feel useful. I know that I enjoy thinking, teaching, writing, photography, blogging – all things I have been doing. My interaction with all of you has brought me great joy – but can I find meaning? Is it enough to bring pleasure to people as I share my neighborhoods and travel experiences with you?

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I really have a lot of fun posting photography because it is popular and gets a lot of traffic, especially through the challenges that I participate in. I admit that it is rewarding to see the “likes” add up and to read your comments. I think, however, I need to balance this form of “instant gratification” with some posts that involve writing. I know a lot about the human experience. I have written a few posts on my experience with chronic pain and finding a new way of living – like this post. These posts receive fewer “likes” but also seem to touch those few of you more deeply.

I think I can find meaning in sharing my perspective on life’s joys and challenges as I am starting anew each day. I can draw on my professional wisdom to write about my todays that build on the best and worst of my past. I wrote previously that I remember my past but live each day as a new day. You know, that is what we do every day of our life. We start over, we start anew. And maybe, just maybe, what I have to say about my “new-day-built-upon-yesterdays” will resonate with what you have to say and we will build a dialogue. There, that feels good!

What about the lazy part? Well, this post has been bouncing around in my brain for a couple of weeks but I had been too lazy to put forth the effort to write it. Writing in a way that is clear and concise and engaging is really, really hard. But I am feeling really fulfilled now that I am putting the finishing touches on this post. God never told me life would be easy but maybe she was right – that I am just supposed to enjoy life at this phase of my life-cycle. This means that maybe I can make a difference through my blogging if I am willing to do the hard work that brings joy to my life. I can start over – while building on my yesterdays.

The “Daily Post Challenge – Starting Over” was what got me off my rear end to write this post. You can find out more about it and join the fun by clicking here.

I Don’t Miss Me Anymore

It was a long time coming and I’m not sure when it happened. I don’t miss me anymore. This is a strange thing to say but I know the frightening feeling that comes from loosing my sense of who I am. I know the sadness that comes from not believing there is enough left of me because of the changes in my life due to contracting a chronic condition. I really did miss me – but not any more.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know it was originally named “I Miss Me, Too” because that was what I wanted the title of my book – the one that I’m not writing any more – to be called. Here is what I wrote on my ‘About This Blog’ page when I started blogging. It explains how I came up with the title.

One day during that first year after being diagnosed, I was in the kitchen with my husband of 40 years. He stopped working, looked at me, and said that he knew I couldn’t help it but he missed me. He had tears in his eyes. My eyes welled up and I said, “I miss me, too.” We embraced and cried together.

I feel like I turned a corner, when I stopped missing me. How many times have I said that? Whenever I started a new computer file for my journals, the first entry begins “I feel like I have turned a corner.” There are 10 files of journals that cover 8 years – so ten times I had turned a corner. I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a few times. This seems to be my way of explaining that I made a leap of progress towards my emotional and physical healing each of those ten times – now eleven.

Those leaps of emotional healing didn’t happen suddenly. It was more like a long slow, continuous process and what happened was that suddenly I realized that I felt different. Change takes a lot of work. We have to have a vision of what we want, and maybe observe others and think about what we would like to be, and we need to practice actually being like our new vision. Sometimes we need to look at our pasts, confront old ghosts, heal old wounds, let go. Sometimes we need to acknowledge our sadness and anger. It takes conscious effort and courage and perseverance. I have been working on it for nine years so far – taking many small steps and spending lots of time on plateaus where I prepare for my next step.

I began to feel the shift to feeling more whole when I started my blog and became a part of the blogging community. Focusing on how to use a new camera and learning how to take interesting photographs allowed me to connect with a long neglected part of myself. Blogging gave me a platform for sharing the emotional turmoil of having fibromyalgia by posting rewrites of portions of my not-to-be-published book.

Writing for the blogging community was much more rewarding than writing for publishing and thus brought a dynamic, evolving meaning back into my life. My focus began to shift from sharing my illness to wanting to share the life I was living – through photography and story. I discovered that I could touch people’s lives and my life was enriched through the life stories of others. It feels like I am on a shared journey of life that is being recorded through our blogging.

The second event that seemed to give me a new sense of self was the long camping trip to Newfoundland. This trip shifted life for both me and my husband. A while after I was diagnosed, we were talking and he went into that funny mood that says he is thinking about something that needs to be said but he doesn’t want to say it. He finally confessed that he was feeling guilty because he believed I got sick because he “dragging me” on a three-week camping trip to the Canadian Rockies. It is true that I started having symptoms about 6 weeks later – but proximity doesn’t prove causation. He let go of the guilt but still had to live with the fact that our life was changed.

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Lake Louise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our trip to the Canadian Rockies was the last traveling camping trip that we had taken and the trip to Newfoundland was similar in length and work. I had some anxiety about doing the trip but I really wanted to go and knew how to prepare. He had a lot of anxiety because he feared I would get really sick a long way from home or wouldn’t be able to participate in our travel activities. After we returned, he told me that he was really surprised that I had done as well as I had. Our eyes connected and he said that it felt really good to have me back.

I guess I am back. I’m not the same because we both know that we had to do things to take care of me – but I was alive and vibrant and involved on the trip. I worked along side of him and carried my half of the work load – almost and most of the time. It was similar to our Canadian Rockies trip, but I was different. We have adjusted to the changes in me so I can be like I used to be; even though I’m not. Maybe we don’t remember what I used to be like, but he isn’t either. In any case, we have found a way to live life fully, together, that is rewarding for both of us.

This triggers silent tears because it was hard and it wasn’t always clear that it would happen. I spent a day or two feeling sorry for myself. Not in a bad way as I would if I felt like a victim. No, I felt sorry for myself as I would feel towards someone who had gone through a really rough time. I felt sympathy and compassion towards myself. I feel compassion and love for my husband who had to endure all that I have been through but didn’t always know how to handle it. But then neither did I. It was scary and hard.

I have read a lot about grief but I have never seen anything written about the grief we feel after going through a time of healing. When I was a therapist I frequently would sit and listen to people express their joy after making changes in how they thought and felt and the big difference it was making in their life. Then they would grow quiet and their eyes would get glassy. I knew at that moment they needed to lick their wounds – they were remembering how hard it had been, how hard they had worked, how much pain they had felt as they went through the healing process. I am feeling that way.

At the same time, in a strange way, a hard to define way, I am afraid of stepping into the future. I had learned how to live with my emotional pain and sadness. I had gotten used to not knowing who I was. I had adjusted to not being able to do a lot and my husband didn’t expect me to be able to do most things. What if he forgets that I have limitations? What if he expects more from me than I can deliver? What if this living life fully, together, doesn’t last?

Can I maintain whatever it is that I’ve found – forever? I need to remember that this is a new day – singular. All I have to do is live today. I planned for my tomorrows, but none of my futures were improved by feeling anxious about them. I can plan for tomorrow, but I need to live today.

On this new day I may experience pain and fatigue and not be able to do much of anything. On this new day I may have lots of energy and be excited about the work and play I have planned. I am still overdoing on good days, and still paying for it with a day or two of not feeling well. I know how to take care of myself and I’m usually satisfied with moderation but also willing to pay the price for pushing the boundaries.

I have found ways to exercise my brain and body. I have found multiple communities in which I can nurture and be nurtured. My husband and I have settled into a fun and comfortable relationship. I can face my God and see her smiling at me. I don’t miss me any more because I have found a way to live that has integrity.

If you have written a post that expresses similar themes, please leave us a link in a comment. I would love to have us connect in this way.