Tuesday, March 28, 2017

An open letter to my husband, three years after your death

Dear Kevin,

Here we are, March 28th. It's astonishing to me that it's been three years. It seems impossible that you've been gone so long. My life is at once rich and barren, familiar and unrecognizable.

I'm in the office of my apartment, a place you never saw. While it's only six blocks from our house, I don't know if we ever walked down this street together. My home looks like the homes we shared because it has much of the same stuff, but it's proportioned for me. At 5'1" that is quite different than the choices we made to accommodate your 6'3". This room is full of windows and I look out to see the forsythia and the neighbor's project truck. It is a place of great comfort for me, where I have written and thought well, yet you've never seen it. You've never read the writing that happened here, never heard the stories I mused on while looking out these windows.

This is an impossibility, a flaw in the universe, yet here it is.

Beyond my office is my kitchen, smaller than even our old kitchen, yet proportioned well for me. I don't cook like I did before you got sick. That you had a GI cancer manifested first with stomach and eating issues has changed my relationship with food and cooking. I still cook some and I've made some good meals here, but it's not what it used to be. I miss it and hope I eventually find my way back to it, but I don't know if I will; there is some fear associated with good food equating illness. I've tried new recipes (I need recipes now, I never really did before) that you never tasted. I've shared those meals with people who love me, people you've never met though they have heard about you over and over again. You would have enjoyed those meals and conversations yet you weren't here.

This, too, is an impossibility, a flaw in the universe, yet here it is.

I have a light work week in front of me, but next week I have paid work every day. The next few months are busy. My business, though not making me rich, is supporting me. I work harder now than I ever have and most days I love what I do. You and I talked about what success meant as a self-employed person and I have passed those initial criteria. I pay my own bills with money I have earned through freelance storytelling, consulting, teaching, coaching and writing. I am making it. I celebrate every single check that comes in. You aren't here to celebrate with me.

An impossibility. A flaw. And yet...

This is life three years after your death. I believe you have continued in some way (you've made it abundantly obvious) yet wherever you are now, you are not physically here. I am. And I've done exactly what you asked me to do: I've lived. It's taken me awhile to learn how because in many ways I died with you, but life in the afterlife isn't bad. There are great sweetnesses here. I love and am loved. I work and am recognized. I create. I laugh. I play. I cry sometimes. And I miss you every damned day.

In those desolate months right after you died, a number of widows who had been at this life longer than I told me that sooner or later the love would be bigger than the pain. I believed them while I couldn't imagine it. I knew that the pain was a reflection of the love. Now there are days when the love and the good memories are more present than the absence and the loss. Not every day, but often enough.

It bothers me more than I can say that you are part of the past and not the formative part of my future. I hate the sense that you are now part of my story and not the focal point, as you were for so many years, but I am so grateful that you were that guiding force and still are a part of who I am now.

I am so different. I look much older. My hair is about to shift to more gray than brown. I don't smile as often, my sense of whimsy is less constant and my introverted streak is broader than ever. Many of the changes in who I am are good. I am more independent and confident than I ever was. The worst thing that could happen to me has happened, so very little scares me now. I am more comfortable with who I am, more willing to fail and make mistakes, less worried about what anyone thinks of me.

Everything relates back to you not being here, even as everything is also pulling me forward. All of this is because you were in my life and believed in me. And because you are in my life and believe in me. And it's also because you died and I had to learn how to live without you.

Today I will work. I will go to the gym. I will look at your picture and likely cry. I will remember the warmth of your skin, the light in your eyes, the attention and care you gave to me and to everyone you loved. I will have flashbacks to your last day and I will remind myself that your death does not define your life. I will be okay, for all that it will feel like hell sometimes. (If I've learned nothing else about grief I've learned that I can survive the worst storms even as I think I will not.)

I will celebrate you as I mourn you, just as I do every day. I will live. Because I can think of no better way to honor you than to continue, just as you asked, as you made me promise.

I love you, Kevin. You are in my every cell, every motion forward in my life bears your fingerprints and whispered support. I will watch for you today, as I do every day. I will reach for gratitude and tissues, forward to love and grace, back to connect with you and how you help me live.

Thank you, always and forever.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

Laura

----------------------------------
www.laurapacker.com
 www.thinkstory.com
 (c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Step away from the screen: Breaks matter

I love my work. Just about every day I get up and think I am so lucky. I am making a living doing work I love that helps people. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, I know I am privileged to be doing so. Yes, I am profoundly grateful.

I work harder now than I ever did when I was in the private sector. Sure, I sleep a little later, but I work later, I work on weekends, I work when I wake up in the middle of the night. I may have more flexible work time but I also have more work time; self-employment means I am my own admin, support staff, marketing director, book-keeper and so on, all in addition to being a storyteller, coach, writer and consultant. That's just the way it is with self-employment, or maybe it's that way because I love what I do so much of it doesn't feel like work. I've spoken with other self-employed people and they describe the same thing: They work all the time because most of it doesn't feel like work and the parts that do are supporting the rest of it. That makes sense to me.

When you love what you do it can become easy to focus only on work. Sure, there are days when you'll feel like you would do ANYTHING to avoid work, but you still work more than you don't. It's easy to forget that, even when you love what you do sometimes you need to take a break.

It may seem counterintuitive, why stop what you're doing when you love doing it? Taking a break gives you a chance to reboot and come back to work with a fresh perspective. It gives you a chance to remember that there are other worthwhile things in the world beyond you and your vocation. It's kind of like sleep; we all need restorative time.

Breaks can be big or small. It can be as simple as walking around the block to taking a vacation. Here are some ideas:

I try to take small breaks every day, though to be honest my breaks often look like chores (getting the dishes done) or time that isn't that restorative (Facebook, which frustrates me as much as anything else). I love my work, but I'm feeling a bit worn, so I'm taking an honest-to-goodness vacation this week. As you are reading this I am someplace beautiful, though I'm writing it before I leave (a funny kind of time-travel). I've been thinking about nature and culture and my own life and maybe even not much at all. I have very limited internet access (though I still have some because, you know, work. I need to be able to answer emails at least). In all likelihood, the first few days were difficult. I was probably antsy and uncomfortable because I wasn't working, but I know it's good for me. And after a few days I likely relaxed. That knot in my back, the one from muscles supporting my arms at the keyboard, that knot relaxed, I hope. I'll read something unrelated to fairy tales, consulting, storytelling, coaching or writing. I'll spend some time staring out at the sky.

When I return I will be ready to go. I will have had some time to think about what I do and how I do it, so I'll return with some new ideas and will be excited to implement them. I might not have those ideas if I don't take a break. I might burn out sooner if I don't take a break, and then this thing I love will become a burden and I really don't want that to happen.

Take a break, big or small. Make it a real break, not Facebook or dishes. Give yourself permission to live fully in all parts of your life. It will feed the things you love and you'll feel happier, more productive and more sure of your path.

I'll let you know how my break went in a little bit. In the meantime, I'm taking a nap.

----------------------------------
www.laurapacker.com
www.thinkstory.com
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, March 17, 2017

A very resilient muscle

We are surrounded by wisdom, even if some of it comes from places you might feel a little weird about. Kevin loved Woody Allen. I used to, but grew tired of the neurotic humor and then the whole controversy about his relationships with his children, his wife and his child/wife broke. I gave up on Woody Allen. But he said some things very, very well.

Like this.



I think of this often, that the heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.

When Kevin died I thought I would never be in another relationship. I didn't think I had it in me. Frankly, I couldn't imagine being alive in the world without him, so the thought of ever letting someone else into my heart was beyond comprehension. A bit over a year after he died I moved from our shared home to my own apartment. A lot of things drove the move, including economics, but at the heart of it was the knowledge that I needed to start figuring out what it meant to be alive in the world without him. This seemed, and sometimes still seems, impossible.

The move was a nightmare, though I was very well supported by people who love me. I was lucky.

Once I settled into my new home I wrote up a list of what it meant to be alive in this world. If I was to accept that I am still here, I needed something to do with the years in front of me. The list was pretty wide-ranging, including work, writing, good food, being outside, spending time with people who love me, travel, etc etc. Buried in there was flirting. Not being in a relationship, but flirting, that lovely little back and forth fed by attraction and possibility. It wasn't even really about sex, but about knowing I wasn't invisible in the world.

But where does a middle-aged, overweight widow go to flirt? I've always hated bars. I've never liked crowded places and I don't really have a social group here. I reminded myself that this is the modern world and set up a profile on a dating site, expecting and wanting only online flirtation. That felt safe.

It was safe, so much so that I was bored and frustrated. The number of people in the world who cannot spell or construct a sentence is astonishing and this is apparently my low bar. I was about to call the experiment a failure when an intriguing profile popped up in my feed. Smart, funny, geeky, cute, can write the hell out of a personal ad. I wrote. He wrote back. His sentence structure was complex, layered and grammatical. Beyond grammar, he was interesting. It was quickly apparent there was real chemistry between us. And he was thankfully far away, so I didn't have to deal with a real person.

Except everyone is a real person. It soon became obvious that something could really happen between us and I didn't know if I was capable of it. Remember, when Kevin died, I died too in many ways. And I still love Kevin, is it fair to even consider another relationship? So I wrote to him (for the sake of this essay and his privacy we'll call him C) and revealed that I was a widow. I didn't know if I was able to be in a relationship and I didn't want to hurt him.

C wrote back with the only thing that could have kept me going. I don't remember the phrasing, but he said something to the effect of, "I can't imagine how hard that must be. Of course you don't know if you can do this, your marriage never ended. I believe the heart is capable of a great deal of love. I'd like to see where this can go; at worst we get to be friends. I'm willing to risk it if you are."

So I did. We did. And here we are, about a year and a half later. Friends, lovers, partners. In a relationship.

None of this means I don't still love Kevin. I always will. I also love C. It's a very strange place to find myself. I am passionately in love with two men. Some days I panic and am afraid that loving C means I am somehow dishonoring Kevin, that I am betraying him. I know he would want nothing other than my happiness, but that knowledge doesn't always balance the emotions. Other days I fear that I will drive C away by still loving Kevin, though he understands and accepts me so thoroughly I know that won't happen. So I take some deep breaths. Sometimes I cry. And I continue. I do my best to be resilient. There are days when resilience means crying and taking a nap. That is good enough.

These coming days will be very hard. It is the third time now I have lived through the anniversary of the last of Kevin's life. It will be hard to remember the 15 years of love, companionship, friendship, hard work, and joy; instead I will be thinking about his face when he realized he was at the end. I will be thinking about the faces of his children as they tried to do the terrible work of saying goodbye to their father. I will be thinking about the love that surrounded us. I will be thinking about everything he told me with his gaze when he was too weak to talk. I will cry and write and feel stunned, angry, shocked. Alive. How can that be?

Throughout this tumult I will not be alone. I know Kevin will be with me. I know you will. I know the many people who knew and loved him, as well as those who have come to love him through this blog, will be there. And the amazing man who loves me now will be there, holding me while I cry for another. I will feel such conflict, such gratitude and guilt. I will be reminded again and again of just how lucky I am, in so many ways.

I was listening to an extraordinary podcast recently, Terrible, thanks for asking. This is, perhaps, a more comfortable source of wisdom. The producer, Nora McInery, tells her own story of loss and love in the very first episode. I wept (making the person seated next to me on the airplane rather uncomfortable) because it was so damned familiar. Nora says, "I am in love with two men." She is right. One love does not deny, eliminate, lessen, mitigate, or undermine the other. The heart is a very resilient little muscle. It is capable of marvels. So are we all.

With love and gratitude,
Laura

www.laurapacker.com
www.thinkstory.com
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, March 10, 2017

Grief and time

I've written many times about how no two griefs are the same. This is true whether it's different people, different losses, or different times. For example, I've met other women around my age who lost their spouse to pancreatic cancer, yet we each experience the grief in our own way.

So it is now that I am experiencing my third anniversary of Kevin's death. This time is different from the second, just as the second was different from the first. This makes sense, I am different now, but I have to admit some of the ways the grief manifests are unexpected.

I'm not crying as much this year.
I am having very vivid and odd dreams in which I cry uncontrollably. I wake up with dry cheeks.

I'm not as abjectly miserable.
I am very tired and really don't want to do much of anything.

I am not as enraged.
I am more stunned that Kevin hasn't been embodied in the world for this long.

Most of what I'm feeling is exhaustion and an odd kind of body-less-ness. I don't feel really connected to myself. This isn't surprising, I'm just noticing it more this year. Last year I wrote in my journal about physical pain and a sense of extra gravity. This year I keep forgetting where my edges are. I bump into things.

None of this is to say I don't miss him, or that I am not sad that he died, or that I am not still grieving, but it is different this year as I expect it will be different again next year. I am sad but I am also full of wonder at my own life, at the riches I have been graced by, at the love that is the overwhelming feeling when I think of him.

I was talking with a friend the other day. She asked me how I am and I told her I'm sad. She wanted to comfort me, to help me be okay, so I told her that I am okay. I am also sad. It is appropriate that I be sad. What I am finally learning is that the sadness is as much a part of me as the joy. Time is helping me learn that.

It's all very odd. They say time heals all wounds. I don't believe that. The wound, the loss, will not vanish. What is happening instead is that I am growing around the loss. I am still growing. I am still in the world, much to my astonishment. And the loss is still there. I do not regret my grief and sorrow, just as I do not regret loving Kevin so much that there will always be a void. Now, three years on, when the grief rises as fatigue or tears or something else, it reminds me of the love.

We are shaped by our losses, by the gifts we are given, by time itself. I am still here. And, in his own way, Kevin is too.

www.laurapacker.com
www.thinkstory.com
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Three ways to bloom into a better storyteller

This was originally published in my newsletter along with some subscriber extras. If you want more content like this please sign up. I promise not to spam you or sell your name.

Spring is in full force where I live. I look out the window and the forsythia blooms bounce in the breeze like captured sunlight. The magnolia is opening up to the world as if it's sipping the air. The green shoots of crocus, hyacinth, and daffodils are everywhere.

I spent most of my adult life (to date) in New England, where spring was precarious. We never knew when a frost might rush in and doom the new growth, all the while knowing that summer would land on us before we were ready to give up the tender colors of the world reborn. In my current hometown, spring is a long, drawn-out affair, sultry and unmistakable. I love it. For the first time in my life, I really get spring.

In light of all the lovely life surrounding me, I wanted to offer you three ways you can nourish your own, artistic spring, three ways you can grow into a better storyteller.

  1. Regardless of where you are in your artistic journey, remember that growth takes time. You plant a seed and then you have to wait. If you dig it up to check on it, you'll disrupt that vital, dark, embryonic time that all art needs to bloom. 
  2. Once you have a sprout of an idea for a new story, a new way of working, or a new path, you nourish it, give it enough water, protect it from harsh environments and make sure it has adequate sunlight. Pulling on it won't help it grow any faster. Giving it the right kinds of support will
  3. Once that story has bloomed, it may need pruning to make it the best it can be. Don't let your ego or attachment to a given phrase stop you from crafting the best story possible. Keep asking yourself why you love the story, how does it serve the audience, is it crafted to serve both your needs and those of the listener, and so on. 
How do you support your own artistic spring? Don't go it alone. Talk with friends, fellow artists or others in your community. Consider hiring a coach. Tell your story to people you know understand how tender, new art can be easily crushed and ask them for help nourishing it. I wrote recently about the power of appreciation in the workplace; this applies to artists as well. Get appreciated. And remember that being the best storyteller you can requires time, practice, encouragement and the faith that spring will come.

I hope you spring into new art and new life this year. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

www.laurapacker.com
www.thinkstory.com
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, March 3, 2017

Breathing in, breathing out

Three years ago, very early in the morning (or maybe it was late the night before) Kevin began to have trouble breathing. We sat together on our bed. I gave him medication and we practiced slow, deep breathing. Breathing in, breathing out. After several hours with a hospice nurse we decided to go to the hospital as a preventative measure. As we slowly walked down the stairs together I remember banishing the thought that this was the last time he would be in our bedroom.

I was right. When we got to the hospital we found he had a blood clot in his left lung. This wasn't really surprising, cancer can make the blood kind of sticky and more prone to clotting, but it was very bad news. We got him installed in an ICU room and he was given a bi-pap mask, a more intense version of the c-pap you might have at home. He soon fell asleep as air was forced in and out of his lungs. Breathing in, breathing out.

Our oncologist asked if she could talk to me and it was there, in that little room next to his ICU room with four chairs in an L-shape, that I heard for the first time that she told me that he didn't have long. She explained that pulmonary embolisms were very serious. It was possible he wouldn't survive the night and I should call his kids if they wanted to come.

I don't remember if I wept. I'm sure I wanted to. I'm equally sure that I took several deep breaths so I could calm myself and think.

I went back into his room and held his hand, listening to the mask that helped him breathe. I don't know if I slept that night. I remember the rhythm of the machine. I remember watching his chest as he slept deeply for perhaps the first time in weeks. I remember matching the pace of my breath with his. Breathing in, breathing out.

Early the next morning I called his kids. We didn't know we had only 25 days left.

These memories are so sharp and fresh, yet they have a patina as well. Time is beginning to leave its mark on my memory. This is both a blessing and a curse. I want to remember him as immediately as if he had only just walked out of the room, but I know the only way I can survive is if I let time soften them. Sometimes it is in remembering the details that I find the connection and the wound again. Other times it is much easier, the memories are the bright, healthy ones, but not today.

March is a hard month. January 18 to March 28 are the brutal season for me, the dates that mark diagnosis to death, and now I'm really in the thick of it. Some people tell me to not focus on it, but honestly I don't know how. This was perhaps the defining time in my life and, while it hurts to remember,  it also helps remind me that Kevin was such a gift, that I am so lucky. I swim through the memories, thinking of his hands, his laugh, his shock that he was so ill, his joy in me and those he loved. I remember the rhythm of his chest, rising and falling, in that hospital room, as we lay side-by-side in our own home, and in the first night we spent together. Breathing in, breathing out.

These memories make my life now, living in the Twilight Zone, that much richer. When the sorry threatens to drown me I come to the surface and I take a deep breath. Sometimes those breaths are ragged with tears, other times the air fills my lungs and I breathe for us both.

Please don't worry. I am okay. It is appropriate and right that I feel sad, that I miss him. Kevin was the love of my life (and yes, my new love is too, but that's another conversation. I am in another life now, I am another me) so I will always miss him. Sometimes, like now, the wound is as fresh as if it were yesterday. This hurts. And I am still grateful for the pain, because it pales beside the love even as it is a reflection of it.

In each moment that we are here and breathing, I hope you are well and loved and doing the best you can. Be kind. May kindness grace you. And may each breath sustain you through stormy seas and smooth.

laurapacker.com
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tender stories and storytellers

Here we are, March first. I know that winter may not be done everywhere, but the beginning of March has always felt like the start of spring to me. Here in Kansas City, green shoots are nosing their way out of the ground. The crocuses are in bloom and the first forsythia showed yesterday. I know, some of this is unfortunate, due to climate change, and those tender buds are likely in for a chilly surprise, but still, these glimpses of spring help lighten my outlook. We have survived another winter and can loosen our armor, we can be revealed again as tender beings.

I've written before about storytelling and vulnerability, pointing out Brene´ Brown's beloved TED talk. I wanted to take a moment to remind myself that tenderness is vulnerability's sister, and just as important.

It's easy to focus on the negative connotations of tenderness. Easily hurt, weak or delicate, immature. Yet the word has other meanings that I think have relevance to performance storytelling and art making in general. Not tough. Gentle. Moved to emotion easily.

We all enter the world as tender beings. We are vulnerable, soft, delicate, moved to emotion easily. As we grow we toughen up, hiding the tenderness that still exists under the skin because it is too risky, too vulnerable to let it show.

New stories are tender things, like babies or those new shoots poking out of the ground, requiring a gentle touch to grow into the rugged moments on stage. When we recognize the tenderness at the beginning we are less likely to be frustrated when the story grows at its own pace - you can't hasten a flower by pulling on the stem. When we remember the tenderness of the beginning we can approach each telling with joy in the creation, with wonder that it even exists. When we let glimmers of our own tenderness show - say the affection we hold for the villain, the truth that a story still has meaning to us - the audience may be more likely to let themselves experience it all more deeply.

How do you allow tenderness into your art? Here are some possibilities.

  • In early development, let yourself feel how a story affects you. Ask yourself why you are drawn to it, why you feel how you feel about it. Understand your own tenderness.
  • Appreciate the tender moments in the story. What happens when the protagonist sees their love for the first time? What about when we remember the shame linked to part of a personal narrative? If we let ourselves feel those things as the story develops we can more easily communicate it to our listeners.
  • Let yourself feel tenderness for your characters and narratives. Sure, your bad guys may be utterly reprehensible, but if you understand where they are tender they will be that much more believable and maybe just a little bit sympathetic. When your audience can sympathize with the villain they fall more deeply into the story and are left with more to think about. Even Disney villains have a tender spot we can feel for - Jafar has been overlooked for his brother his whole life. The wicked queen has only her beauty for comfort and is deeply betrayed by the mirror's honesty.
  • Honor your own tenderness throughout the process. Don't think you need to become hard and cynical to become an effective teller. Leave room for your own heart and the hearts of your audience. Some of the best, funniest storytellers I've ever heard have tenderness at the core of their narrative. 

I'd love to know how tenderness helps or impedes your art. What do you think?

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, February 24, 2017

Truth in dark and light

I've written about this before, how January through March has become a challenging season, since it charts the days between Kevin's diagnosis and his death. I'm in the thick of it now and I find myself on the usual roller coaster.

I was talking with a friend just a few days ago and I commented that at least it's becoming familiar. I know I will be sad and I know what being sad feels like. This may sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I assure you I'm not looking for reasons to clutch my breast and mourn him. I have just come to recognize that this time of year is likely to bring up some challenging memories.

When I'm in the midst of it I don't always remember this, I don't always recall that I have been here before, but sooner or later the memories surface and I give in. Each time it is simultaneously a shock and expected. I remember how my body feels to be this sad. I remember that I have felt this before. I let myself weep. I let myself watch numbing television. I let myself do what it takes to travel through the sorrow, back to holding onto the love more than the pain.

It's like walking a familiar path blindfolded. I know there are bumps and curves, I know they are somewhere around here, but each time they take me by surprise.

Not only is it familiar, to some degree it is welcome. I am not someone who believes that the only way I can express my love for Kevin is by being sad. I know there are people who hold onto the pain as their most tangible reminder of the one they have lost. I will not tell someone else how to grieve; if that's what works for them, then that's what works for them. I do know that living my life, saying his name, honoring his light in the world, these are all effective ways for me to remember Kevin and to celebrate him. Yet there is sometimes comfort in the pain. There is comfort in letting myself feel so sad I can barely breathe. There is comfort in letting myself feel my ongoing shock that he is no longer in this world. There is comfort in saying yes, I love him so much that I have broken apart, healing into a new shape that encompasses his loss.

This is not to say there isn't comfort in many, many other things as well, but to deny the familiarity, to deny the comfort of loving him enough to still mourn, that would be the same as denying other truths in my life, like love and laughter and the way I honor Kevin and myself by living as fully as I can. He would want no less. I want no less. I want it all, the love and the laughter and the pain and the sorrow. I would rather live fully than deny the truth of the dark as well as the light.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Creativity in times of stress: This is how it started video

I wrote last week about the power and frustration of everyday life when something hugely disruptive occurs. I wrote about it in the context of grief as well as in the current U.S. political climate.

As an artist, I have been somewhat stymied in the last few years. I'm working, I'm performing, but Kevin's death has changed the way my creative process functions. It is much harder. I feel as though I'm operating in a vacuum, that my greatest ally, co-creator and most constructive critic is no longer around. It feels this way because it's true. In the last year or so I've been slowly finding new ways to create new work, but it's hard.

The recent U.S. election and inauguration has added to my difficulty creating. I find myself questioning the worth and value of the art I make in this climate that feels so antithetical to what I do best. It feels the way it did in the first few months after his death when I felt alone and adrift, that my art could make no difference in the world. I question the value of the work, the thing that has shaped me and my life for years, and therefore my own value.

The answer, of course, is to keep working. To be silenced is to capitulate, to say that yes, the arts in general (and my art in particular) lacks relevance. I don't believe that, though some days it's hard to remember. I believe that now more than ever we need art; as sustenance, as distraction, as fuel for the hard work of creating change; as that necessary break that helps us remember the best of who we are and the possibilities of who we might become.

Part of my answer to the question of my own relevance is to make art that I find meaningful. Part of my answer is to help others find their own voices, to help create space where we all can be heard, to take that subversive step of believing that what we do and who we are still matters.

It's not easy. I am faltering every step of the way. But it's something. It helps me build connection, nourish others and myself, and find a way through in these challenging times.

What arts are nourishing you? What are you creating? How do you keep going? I'd love to know.

The following video was recorded in January of 2017 at the Atlantic City Story Slam. This story has changed some, but it's a start and sometimes letting the flawed process be visible is as important as anything else.



(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, February 17, 2017

Disruption and every day life

I've been thinking a lot lately about how to continue every day living when life seems terribly disrupted. When Kevin was sick, everyday life became something new. It was a routine that involved the hospital, doctors, and taking care of him, but it still had a kind of every-day-ness to it. There was still routine even as it was a new and very difficult pattern.

After he died I found it very difficult to re-establish some sense of every-day-ness. How could I do the dishes? My beloved was dead. What did it matter if I worked? The world was so out of balance, so unrecognizable, what difference could my work make. What point was there in my voice when his voice was gone? I felt as though the world within which I was living was so alien and unwelcoming that there was little point in engaging in the day-to-day acts of everyday life. This feeling persisted for some time and it still rises up occasionally.

I am encountering some of that same sense now, though not to the same degree. It's been triggered by changes in the American political landscape that violate my sense of this country as being one dedicated to helping others. I know, my politics may not agree with yours and you may wildly disagree with the prior comment, but stick with me here for just a few sentences more. I promise, this isn't a political post to any great degree, beyond the fact that the world has again changed dramatically and I feel displaced.

It has sometimes been challenging, finding my rhythm for work and other everyday activities, in this rapidly changing landscape. What is the point of my work, my belief in the importance of listening and the value of sharing stories, when the world is consumed with shouting and disagreement? Some days it's been very hard to work or do other every day things.

What I discovered, both after Kevin's death and am rediscovering now, is that the every-day-ness is part of what kept me alive, even as my beloved had died, even as my values are being challenged. It is my belief in the value of listening and stories that keeps me working. It is the every day tasks, like washing the dishes or making the bed, that help me retain some sense of control over my own life and so makes me more able to act in all kinds of ways, big and small.

I remind myself over and over again that life will be disrupted in ways big and small. I will stub my toe and the flash of pain briefly disrupts my thoughts. My beloved will die and my entire life will change. The world will change in ways I wasn't expecting and I will be forced to find ways to adapt. Disruption is inevitable. The thing I can manage is my own reaction to it. Even when I feel as though all is hopeless, the small acts of compassion or action remind me that I am still here. I am still alive. I still have a voice. And I can choose what to do next.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.laurapacker.com.
Related Posts with Thumbnails