Posts by carolynmartinpoet

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey through California to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and dry summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her fourth poetry collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, is scheduled for a February 2019 release by Unsolicited Press. She is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly, journal of global transformation.

Changing the narrative, Part II

It happens this way …

I never know what’s going to resonant with readers when I post a blog. My original intent was to share whatever comes up in my life that may be of value to others. Because the personal is the universal, last week’s theme of changing the narrative proved that to be true.

One of the most personal, therefore universal, narratives that challenge many women deals with body image. Back in the ‘70s, I knew a talented, educated young woman who was beautiful – Sandra-Bullock-like beautiful. However, when she looked in the mirror, she saw “ugly.” That was what her brothers called her during childhood and that was the narrative she carried into adulthood. No argument to the contrary could change her mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who was happy with the way she looks. Ask her about the childhood stories she was told about her body and you’ll discover those narratives still color her self-perception – detrimentally ­– today.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve chatted with a number of women friends – ok, five to be exact – about body image. One friend says she’d like to lose some weight so she can feel better, but childhood memories of being thin and sickly give her pause. Her narrative? Thin = sick. Who would want that?

A few remember how their mothers required they live up to high social standards in their attire because, of course, daughters are a reflection of their mothers. Self-conscious about how they appear in public, they still put unnecessary pressure on themselves to live up to those standards.

I grew up being taunted by my slender brothers and father for being overweight. I often left the table in tears and found myself sneaking food from the refrigerator when no one was home. Although I slimmed down when I was in the convent, I gradually gained more and more weight over the past 20 years. Last May 14, I weighed a whopping 200 lbs.

Maybe it was part of my adolescent rebellion still playing out, but I had settled on the narrative that I was fat and that’s the way it was going to be. For some reason, I was inspired to share concerns about the “elephant in the room” with my doctor during that May visit. She recommended I try phentermine, a pill that would reduce appetite. But, I said, I don’t eat because I’m hungry – I couldn’t remember the last time I felt hunger pains. I eat to allay stress or anxiety or to reward myself for something or another.

The upshot is I tried the pills. To date I have 13 of the 30 pills still sitting in a drawer and I have lost 40 pounds. The miracle for me is my narrative has changed. I love that I feel ten years younger and have more energy. I’m not on a diet – been there, done that dozens of times. For me, diet = deprivation = failure. With the initial jump-start of a pill I no longer need, I’ve transformed my eating habits and the pounds are still slowly slipping off 6 ½ months later.

I write about this experience knowing it’s a big risk. What if I fail again? What if I have to go back to the mall and upsize my clothes after spending so much time and effort and money downsizing?

Here’s hoping I can stick to the new narrative and I promise I’ll be honest with you if I don’t. Lessons will be learned no matter what!

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Changing the narrative …

It happens this way …

I’ve never believed in setting goals or making New Year’s resolutions. Too much pressure to succeed and too many disappointments when I failed. However, this week I’ve come up with a new approach: making an “intention.” The intention for 2019 is to change – chapter by chapter – the narratives from the past that have governed – and often limited  – my life.

Do you know what I mean? Think of all the stories – true or not – we were told about ourselves growing up. You’re too fat/thin. You’re not smart enough/too smart for your own good. Settle for what you have and don’t expect more. You’ll never make a living at that, so study something practical. Why can’t you be like the other kids/your siblings/me?    You’re too shy/awkward/ outspoken/brash. etc., etc., etc.

Add your own narratives. I realized recently that, like revising a poem where I can change the details and infuse it with new, unexpected energy, I can reframe any chapter of my life and reclaim it in new and healthier ways.

One example that’s been on my mind this holiday season: I avoid going to social events where I don’t know people. I’ve used the old “I’m an introvert” as a rationale for years. Yet, who am I missing? What opportunities to share and connect am I losing? So, I intend to reframe that avoidance behavior by walking into future events pretending I’m in charge of getting people to engage with me and with one another.

In her book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, Vanessa Van Edwards talks about being a conversational “spark.” Rather than the old standbys we often use when meeting someone for the first time – “What brings you here?”, “Where are you from?”, “What do you do?” – she suggests “sparkers” like “Working on any exciting projects right now?”, “What was the highlight of your day/week?”, “Any vacation/travel plans in the near future?”

A friend of mine used some of these sparkers at a recent brunch with eleven retired teacher/friends. She reports that people just loved talking about themselves and story led to story led to story. She left the event empowered and energized rather than feeling on the periphery of conversations. I’m going to follow her good example the next time I’m out socializing.

So, this is the first step in my 2019 intention is to examine the narratives that need revising. That very thought is already empowering and energizing me! Stay tuned!

PS: If you have any “sparkers” that have worked for you, let me know. I’d love to add them to my repertoire.

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Waiting for the MAX in rainy, downtown Portland on Tuesday.  Riding public transportation gave me the chance to engage a young woman in conversation. A learning experience!

‘Twas the Morning Before Christmas

It happens this way …

Last Christmas Eve morning, it started to snow. Anyone who lives in this part of the world knows that three flakes are cause for panic. Why? So few snow plows and drivers who have difficulties navigating the inclines of many streets.

In fact, my first winter out here in 1990, we had a significant snow event and I had to get to the airport. My scheduled taxi never arrived and I finally drove myself to a nearby hotel that had its own shuttle service. Along the way, I was flabbergasted at the number of cars abandoned on roadways. People just walked away in frustration, I guess. What did they think would happen to their cars that looked like scattered legos covering the streets?

Anyway, back to last Christmas Eve. Since the forecast called for more snow, I grabbed a coat, threw it over my red-plaid pajama bottoms and braless gray sweatshirt, semi-combed my hair, and headed to the grocery store. To say I looked like a bag lady would be accurate, but I wasn’t worried about looks when the white stuff was coming down.

I was walking down an aisle in Grocery Outlet when a well-dressed woman approached me. I was certain she was going to ask me where she could find shrimp or a rib roast. Wrong. Rather, she smiled and handed me a card with her “Merry Christmas.” She walked away before I could process that I had a $25 gift card for this store in my hands.

I ran after her, tempted to return it and tell her to give it to someone who really needed it. But as I approached, I had another thought: How rude to return a gift so graciously given. It wasn’t about me. It was about her generosity and how it made her feel to select someone “so obviously in need.” So, I thanked her profusely and kept shopping.

My next impulse was to give the card to someone else. That old “better to give than receive” saying popped into my head and I was amazed about how uncomfortable I was to be on the receiving end. It took me several days and retellings of this story to friends for me to process one key fact: How I deflect compliments, affection, gifts, whatever, when they are gracefully given. I’ve pondered that habit over the ensuing months and, although I’ve not been able to break it completely, at least I’m more aware when I’m doing it. Awareness: The first step to change, no?

To say the least, I got more than a gift card last Christmas Eve. I got a new saying: “Receiving honors the giver.”

The doctor’s doing fine …

It happens this way …

There’s nothing like filling out the annual “Medicare Wellness Checkup” list to make me feel great. Here are some of the questions that gave me a kick this morning:

  1. During the past four weeks, has your physical and emotional health limited your social activities with family friends, neighbors, or groups?

I checked “Not at all,” but there was no white space to explain that I have no family friends out here. (Maybe someone forgot the comma after “family”?) Or that my neighbors are wonderful, but we rarely socialize other than meeting outside to rake leaves and chew the fat about who’s feeding the feral cats and what’s causing the latest ruts on our street. As for “groups,” I’ve been to several poetry readings that were fun, but, as soon after they were over, I headed for the exit because the crowds were overwhelming. An introvert’s challenge!

  1. Can you go shopping for groceries or clothes without someone’s help?

“Yes,” I checked, although Kathy does most of the grocery shopping and I hate shopping for clothes.

  1. During the past four weeks, how many drinks of wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages did you have?

Although I checked the “No alcohol at all,” I did have 1/3 glass of champagne with two neighbors the other night. (Oops, I forgot. We did our annual holiday socializing with these folks for two hours last week!)

But here’s the thing about drinking, even a few sips of wine go right to my brain and disconnect it from my tongue. The fact is I’ve never been drunk, except maybe once: when I was in the convent at Georgian Court in the late 70s. We were having a Passover meal and I must have downed a whole glass of Manischewitz too quickly. I started to laugh uncontrollably and had to leave the table. I ran to the garden outside the kitchen door and, I’d like to think, delighted the stars. Sister Sheila finally came out to see if I was all right. She used to call me “The Kid,” and I certainly felt like one after I calmed down. So much for drinking!

I’m happy to report “things have been going well [for me] during the past four weeks,” I’m having no difficulty driving my car, and I’m confident I “can control and manage most of [my] health problems.” That is, if I had any.

I can’t wait to share the list with my doctor at my appointment on Christmas Eve. We’ll have several great guffaws about the fact that I can prepare my own meals, do housework without help, and have had no denture problems.

 

 

 

A Buddhist Detective?

It happens this way …

Ten

I just started to read a detective series by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay about an ex-Buddhist monk turned LAPD cop turned private investigator. The main character, Tenzing Norbu (Ten for short),  is one of those fictionalized people I love to love: unique, flawed, vulnerable, committed, funny, intelligent, and on a steep learning curve.

What is so delightful about the first book, The First Rule of Ten, is not only does it have a good plot and a host of colorful good guys/gals and bad guys/gals, but the authors weave bits of Buddhist philosophy throughout. They affirm the fact that you can take the man out of the Buddhist monastery, but you can’t take Buddhist philosophy out of the man.

For instance, Ten’s first rule is “Don’t ignore intuitive tickles lest they reappear as sledgehammers.”

Can you relate? I can. How many times have I felt a gut-nudge to make a call, send an email, do whatever, and not followed through? There may not be immediate repercussions, but I do know that whenever I listen to one of those “intuitive tickles,” the results are gratifying. Someone will say, “I was just thinking about you, too” or “How did you know I needed that support today?” Curious how that works!

One other bit of Buddhist wisdom: In the midst of confusion about who the real scoundrels are and what motivates them, Ten prays, “May answers come to me by easeful attraction rather than stressful pursuit.”

Of course! But “stressful pursuit” is a much more dramatic way to live, no? I feel virtuous when I’m actively pursuing. However, as I’ve aged, I’ve discovered there’s peace and comfort in “easeful attraction” – putting out to Source/God/the Universe what I desire and allowing it to ease into my life. Keeps the blood pressure down and makes for a  less harried existence.

Who says it’s a waste of time to read light fiction? I’m off to the library to pick up The Second Rule of Ten. Can’t wait to find out what that is!

 

Lot’s Daughter Earns a Pushcart Prize Nomination

It happens this way …

What a way to start the week! The editors of the Gyroscope Review just emailed to say that they nominated one of my poems from their Fall 2018 edition for a Pushcart Prize.

First of all, what is a Pushcart? According to editor Bill Henderson,

The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. Since 1976, hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in our annual collections … . The Pushcart Prize has been a labor of love and independent spirits since its founding. It is one of the last surviving literary co-ops from the 60’s and 70’s.

Secondly, the poem is called “Twenty-Five Years After Sodom and Gomorrah: Lot’s Older Daughter Makes Her Case” and is written in the form of an interview.

If you remember the Bible story, Lot was a supposedly righteous man who was told to hightail his family out of Sodom and Gomorrah because God was going to destroy this sinful place. The one caveat: No one was to look back. Remember Lot’s wife and the pillar of salt?

Well, stuck in the middle of the story is the fact that two men (actually angels) visit Lot’s house to urge him to leave. The townsmen hear of the visitors and demand Lot hand them over for a little hanky-panky. Being the upstanding man he is, Lot tells them not to go after the men, but they can take his two virgin daughters instead. Great dad, no?

Anyway, I imagined what Lot’s eldest daughter would say twenty-five years after that event, and after she and her sister take revenge on their aging father by bearing him two sons.

Here’s the poem. It will appear in my next collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, coming out early next year.

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John Martin, Sodom and Gomorrah, 1852

 

Twenty-Five Years After Sodom and Gomorrah:

Lot’s Older Daughter Makes Her Case

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

 

Incest? Call it securing legacy.

When your world is pulverized,

what else would you expect?

 

Our plan? Two nights plus two daughters

equal two sons to carry our bloodline.

Brothers/sons, sons/grandsons.

How’s that for lineage?

 

On the ridge in a cave.

Oh, what an ugly thing: a soused old man

with lusty dreams that weren’t dreams.

At first dawn-light, I remember how he glared,

rubbed his grizzled frown, glared again.

Scared? Confused? Aroused?

We hid our laughter in the waking wind.

 

Guilty? Of what?

What father offers daughters to a mob?

Our rape for his guests’ sodomy?

Call that righteousness? We called it treachery.

Anyway, those strangers in our house?

They weren’t men … Angels, of course.

If you’re up on the literature, they arrive

when their god seems like he cares.

Ask our cousin Isaac. An angel called off

his father’s knife, but what god even asks?

 

Our mother? Now there’s a tragedy.

Don’t look back. Did she even hear?

When you’re wrenched from home,

senses collapse and there’s no time

for reasoning out a consequence.

A pillar for an over-shoulder glance?

All she did was send a last good-bye

to friends she didn’t criticize.

Where’s the wrong in that?

 

No. I don’t know if he ever saw himself

in Moab’s eyes or in the way Ammon frowned,

or if he realized what their names meant.

You’re interested? … “from my father”/“son of my kin.”

Want the truth? I don’t think he ever thought to care.

 

Write this down to set the record straight:

we never walked behind, never looked back.

A Maestro Is Born

Sam

It was an honor to conduct an orchestra. But with about 600 eyes staring at you, it’s a wee bit frightening but very exciting. At first it felt like I left my stomach at home – not to mention my brain – but on stage, it felt like the musicians and I were connected.

– Sam Lighthart-Faletra, guest conductor

Last Sunday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, OR, fourteen-year-old Sam Lighthart-Faletra made his conducting debut with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra. The son of our dear friends, poet Annie Lighthart and medievalist Michael Faletra, he is an 8th grader at the Waldorf School in Milwaukie, OR. He is also a percussionist with MYS’s Interlude Orchestra and was chosen to conduct “O, Sole Mio” with the 102-member Symphony Orchestra.

After receiving coaching from Raúl Gómez, MYS’s Music Director, and practicing diligently by himself, Sam had only two run-throughs with the orchestra before the performance.

When he walked on the stage in front of more than 500 audience members (that’s 1000+  eyes, Sam!), he exuded poise and confidence. Bowing to the concert mistress and the orchestra, he raised his baton and the classic Italian song soared to life.

I sat there in awe as I watched a boy I’ve known for four years transform into a young man who had internalized the technical score; used broad, confident gestures to lead the musicians; and thrilled his parents who were sitting near me.

I asked Annie what it was like to see her son up on stage. She said:

Sitting in the dark audience, I swear time both stopped and ran forward simultaneously. As I watched Sam, my mind flashed back to the day he was born –  his tiny, tiny face and serious eyes. I registered that image with such surprise because there he was in front of me too – tall on the stage, all in black like a  symphonic Johnny Cash, lifting his arms with such bold movements, calling out big amazing music. I really felt struck by lightning, by time, rooted to the sight of  him, feeling the truth of the old quote about parenthood: that to have a child is to   let your heart go walking around outside your body – or in this case, standing up far away, waving a baton, bringing music out of the air.

Leave it to a poet to collide the past with the present and to describe her son as “a symphonic Johnny Cash”!

Would Sam like to conduct again?

“I would love to conduct again,” he said, “especially Holst’s The Planets. ‘Jupiter’ is one of my favorites. When you conduct it, there would be lots of gesture in the baton!”

Here’s to all the young people in our lives who enjoy our support for their creativity. Whether their “gestures” are made in the service of music, writing, art, theater, cooking, designing, whatever … They are walking outside our bodies to bring joy to themselves, us, and the world. Bravo! Brava! for them and us.