The hardest battle, Part II

It happens this way …

Many moons ago I read an article by a psychologist who claimed that little girls begin to lose their True Selves about the age of 7. She didn’t mention when this happens for boys and, given the acceleration of all kinds of media, I bet this loss starts for everyone much earlier than the proverbial “age of reason.”

In any event, she said the messages girls receive from schools, parents, churches, and society-at-large, move them toward adopting identities that are not authentically theirs.

Her suggestion? Find a photograph of yourself before the age of seven and take a close look. If you’re lucky, you may be able to spot the True Self you were born to be.

I followed her advice and found this photo taken in 1948 on the front porch of myScan 5 grandmother’s house in Carteret, N.J. What a revelation! Where had this feisty girl with the straight-on gaze gone? I hadn’t seen her in decades. Of course, a poem arrived to capture the photo and my response to it.

It’s your turn. Find your photo and see what it says about the person you arrived on the planet to be!

Portrait of a Cowboy as a Young Girl

 Mugging for the camera

in brand new cowboy boots,

she still insists she’s Roy not Dale,

riding down the Happy Trail with Trigger

and the Sons of Pioneers.


She smoothes her bronco-busting chaps,

pulls tight her white-fringed gloves,

adjusts a broad brim hat that tilts

above her bangs straight-cut

and ties beneath a stubborn chin.


The lens clicks up the front porch steps,

corrals her closed-mouth smile,

her arms akimbo, stance girl-proud.

It’s 1948. She’s three,

decked out in faux rawhide.


This day, You Are My Sunshine plays

inside her head, the words exact,

a bit off-key. You make me happy …

those straight-on eyes convey … please

don’t take my sunshine away.


I don’t recall who shot this frame,

or how it felt to roam the Jersey shore

as the King of Cowboys, Son of Pioneers.

I don’t recall the guns, the fringe,

the voice that sang when skies are gray.


I can’t recall when I was more

of me than on that sunless winter day.

The hardest battle

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.                                                                           – ee cummings

Last month, the editor of my next poetry collection sent me her first edits. Most were spot on; a few I pushed against. One stopped me in my tracks.

About half-way through the manuscript, I read:

Something I notice throughout this collection is ego – it’s not a bad thing, but I am not used to seeing a speaker so happy with themselves, proud and aware of it. 

After a few deep breaths, I realized what a compliment this is. Of course I’m happy with myself! In some poems where the speaker is obviously me – and there are many voices throughout the book –  I journey from a scared, stuttering kid filled with blue collar shame to a confident woman who says she doubts nothing and everything. If happily asserting who I am and what I believe is ego, so be it.

My response was simply: Why wouldn’t I want to write about the importance of becoming the person we were born to be?

I haven’t heard back yet. In the meantime, I find inspiration in the wise words of those who know that importance.

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.      – Nietzsche

People who for some reason find it impossible to think about themselves, and so really be themselves, try to make up for not thinking with doing.   – Laura Riding

The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.  – Seamus Heaney                                                                                

Here’s to each of us for who are happy with the True Selves we’ve become. May we continue to be proud and aware!


Notes from an August Gardener

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that

within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus


Saturday morning

and not one bird makes a sound.

They’re watching me

cut each gladiola down,

keeping silent in respect

for my grief over orange,

purple, white, and mottled pink.

Until next year, I relegate

each stalk to recycling.


I’m enamored with intensities

that startle and invigorate

before they slip away:

day lilies, four o’clocks,

Rose-of-Sharon trees,

lovers on rebound,

lightning strikes of poetry.


Still, around the yard –

patient and long-lived –

hostas, daisies, and geraniums

ride the summer out.

They’ll hang on until

first frost – if affection’s paid.


Just as the lid drops on

what has been, empathetic birds

turn their muteness off.

They remind me

when summer is invincible,

there’s no mystery in falling,

falling in love again.


(Previously published in The Poeming Pigeon: Poems from the Garden, May 2017)


New research suggests evolution might favor ‘survival of the laziest’

It happens this way …

Ain’t that a kick in the head!

As a child growing up in New Jersey in the ’40s and ’50s, the biggest sin I committed was laziness. It was a mortal sin, of course, earned by not completing chores on schedule, wanting to sleep in on a Sunday morning after babysitting until 3 a.m., or failing to get straight A’s in school.

With that message embedded in my psyche, it’s taken decades not to feel guilty when my partner is doing to any household task – from vacuuming to loading laundry – while I’m reading or working on the computer. I’ve had to consciously hold myself in my chair against the temptation to jump up and help. Now I assure myself it’s okay not to participate in her fine work and simply tell her how much I appreciate her.

Science is confirming I’ve spent much of my life shortening it by all that jumping up. A recent article in Phys.Org reports:

A new large-data study of fossil and extant bivalves and gastropods in the Atlantic Ocean suggests laziness might be a fruitful strategy for survival of individuals, species and even communities of species.

This study focuses metabolic rates. The higher the rate, the more negative the impact on longevity; the lower, the opposite occurs. Admittedly, this study focuses on those darling sea-dwelling bivalves and gastrospodes and not on land-loving vertebrates. But I’d like to think that guilt-free slowing down in retirement is actually adding years to my life. I’d really like to think that. Blessed are the sluggish who feel the fullness of their interior — as well as their exterior – lives.






How a Tree Becomes a Bush

It happens this way …

Last fall we cut down a 50-foot-high sugar maple tree, two 12-foot Rose of Sharon trees, one 10-foot and one 20-foot vine maple. We hated doing it because we loved each one, but their lush overgrowth made it necessary. We believed Mother Nature would understand because we were making room for other trees and plants to breathe. That belief was confirmed this season when she gave us five new gifts: foliage growing out of each stump. The two Rose of Sharon trees are now bushes about to bloom. The vine maples have sent out branches we are keeping nicely trimmed and shaped. And, to our delight, in the past month the sugar maple has started to send out leaves along its slightly-above-ground root system. They are shiny and stunning, and we’re going to let them grow and see what they become.

Of course, there’s something metaphysical in all this and a poem will have to be written. For now,  I’ve learned that letting go and making space – like embracing boredom – opens us to possibilities we never knew existed. This fall I will cut down a 14-foot japonica – the daughter of our 35-foot tree. I can’t wait to see what she transforms into!





In Praise of Boredom

It happens this way …

“If my kids ever said, ‘I’m bored,’ I would say, ‘That is great. I’m so glad to hear that. Maybe you’re gonna get creative right now.’”  – Krista Tippett, founder and CEO of The On Being Project

Used to be when someone told me they were bored, I would arrogantly think to myself, What a failure of imagination! Boredom means you’ve lost your ability to dream and create.

Now, after reading Krista Tippett’s take on the subject, I have my tail between my legs. I realize that boredom doesn’t mean we’ve lost anything. It means we’re being offered the space to shut down distractions so our imaginations can breathe and expand.

For those of us who grew up with the belief that we are of little value if we are not producing something – a clean house, piles of reports, crossed off to-do lists – boredom seems a counter-productive waste of time. Yet, what this mental state offers is some moments of calm so we can discover something astonishing about ourselves and/or our world; that is, if we can avoid the temptation to check email or Facebook again, read Google News headlines again, surf the Web for some DYI project we may or may not want to pursue – again.

My name is Carolyn and I’m a recovering work addict. Now in retirement, I’ve embraced a Spanish proverb as my daily mantra: “It is beautiful to do nothing and rest afterwards.” That’s not boredom. It’s the wide-open space to dream and imagine.