Life is a mystery and the world a beautiful and complex place. So I write to make my way through it. This is how I shall liberate myself and make my own heart happy.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Here's Where I've Been Writing

This year, I've been participating in a 52 week writing challenge as part of The Writing Cooperative on  Weekly, I'll be writing here

Here's a summary of what I've written as part of the challenge for the last 5 weeks:

Arriving to the Present is based on a book that I've been reading about meditative walking and how walking can bring us back to the present.

Failure Set Me Free - A life without comparison is about how I learned not to compare myself to others through the experience of failure.

52 Weeks and Counting are my thoughts on participating in a year-long writing challenge.

Slow Down and Live Better is about how our lives can be better if we just slow down...even in a 21st century contemporary world.

Rituals and Writing is about my writing process and the ritualistic nature of writing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pursue Your Interests

Pursue your interests. I think this is the answer to many of our questionsHow can I get out of a rut? How can I meet new people? What shall I do with extra time on my hands? It’s even a good response to What shall I do with my life? Often, we are in search of more than income and career.
You don’t have to pursue your interests with a big payoff in mind. Some things should be done just for the joy of doing them. When my mother retired 23 years ago, her doctor said, “Now…you’re going to have to find something to do with yourself. You can’t just sit around the house and go crazy.” So, at the age of 60, my mother took her first quilting class. Over the years, she has made many quilts for herself, family members and friends. She even introduced me to quilting. I made a few quilts until I discovered that my fingers and temperament were more adept to writing than sewing. People would see her quilts and encourage her to sell them. “Rudell, you could start a little business for yourself!” She would look at them in contempt, as if they had taken away all her joy. Even today, Mom continues to quiltworking at her own pace, to her own satisfaction.
Don’t worry that your interests are so different from the work that you do or the persona that you have created. It’s not as if you need to make a grand announcement to the world about it. When I’m thinking of doing something new, I just keep it to myself. I don’t need anyone’s permission to experience a life different than the one I know.
Pursuing our interests can be an approach to life. It’s easy to stick with what we know and continue to live in these experiences. Trying something different will open us up to new experiences and opportunities.
Is there something that you have always wanted to do? Do it. There’s no age limit to self-discovery or joy.

One of Mom's quilts. December 2009.

A wall hanging Mom made for me.

Inscribed - Love Mom, February 14, 1996

Friday, September 30, 2016

In Lieu of Photos...Stories

My mother recently showed me a picture from her college days.  She is with her friends, Katie and Hazel, on the lawn of Morris College in Sumter, SC.   Like most college students, they look happy, carefree and hopeful.  Mom was so happy to receive this picture from Hazel over the summer.  She said that Hazel’s husband, and college sweetheart, had taken the picture.  Hazel came across the picture and sent it to Mom, along with a lovely handwritten letter.

I have not seen photos of my parents when they were young– no bundles of joy, no pigtails and missing teeth, no pimples and no diplomas in hand.   The most youthful picture I have of my parents is from their wedding day.  When they married in 1962, they were in their late twenties.    Over the years, as their family expanded, more pictures were taken.  As a school teacher, Mom would have her picture taken each year.  They were like my school pictures, a frozen smile and a stiff body perched in front of a bland background. These pictures served their purpose but didn’t reveal much.   

What I know of my parents, prior to their meeting, comes by way of stories they’ve told. My father is more of a historian and storyteller, so in some ways, I know more about his early life.   He could paint a good picture, like the day he left the South and headed to New York.  He went to the bus station with one suitcase and determined how far he could go based on what he had in his pocket and the location of his relatives.   I can see him in the bus station with a hat on his head and a brown suitcase by his side, asking “How much to get to New York City?”
My mother’s storytelling presents as brief commentary but her reenactment is quite compelling.  A few times a year, especially on her birthday, she tells of the inaccuracy of her birth certificate.   She reenacts the words of her much older sister, Parthenia:  Your birthday is on August 19th and not the 18th. Momma kept saying “I’m gonna die today…I’m gonna die today!”  You were born on August…the 19th!   Soon after, Mom breaks out into laughter – as if she is hearing of the day of her birth for the first time.  By the way, my grandmother did not die on that day but lived to be 89 years old.    My grandmother, born in 1889, had my mother at the age of 44.  Mom was her 11th and final child. 

These stories are not presented to me like a well-crafted biography that I can pull from a shelf.  As stories do, they arrive when they are ready to be told, often triggered by a present-day experience that takes them back to another place and time. These stories provide a glimpse into the times in which they lived, those they loved and experiences that shaped them.  In this way, I have come to know my parents.  

Katie, Rudell (Mom), Hazel - The College Years (1954-1957)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another Path

Now is the time
to move along
another path.

In spite of fear,
past attempts and
Be the explorer,
going out
into the unknown.

In search of what
you have yet to see,
and long to know.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mornings & Days Off

On days off, I like to get up early.  With a good night of rest and without an alarm, I begin to stir just before 7 am.  Still in my pseudo PJs, I head to the kitchen. 

In celebration of the day, I cook a nice breakfast.   A nice breakfast could be banana pancakes with bacon, salmon cakes and grits, or an egg scramble and fruit.  I keep my pantry and refrigerator stocked with more than the essentials.  My father once looked through my pantry and refrigerator and said, “Girl, I can tell you have southern roots…look at all this food!”  

On this July 4th morning, I made a simple meal of steel cut oatmeal with cinnamon, blueberries and walnuts.   I tried to make steel cut oats before and the texture and taste were odd, almost disgusting.  I assumed that I didn’t like steel cut oats.  After a recent visit from my friend Mitzi, I reconsidered my position.  One morning, she had surprised me with breakfast; a big bowl of steel cut oats with blueberries and walnuts.  I didn’t know that they could taste so good.  With her tips, I would try again.  I discovered that my failure the first time was mostly due to my use of instant steel cut oats.   This time, I used the oats that take about 30 minutes to cook.  I gave them the same respect that I would give grits. I hovered close by, often checking on them while they simmered along slowly.   When they were ready, they did not disappoint.  I sat at my table and enjoyed every spoonful – the hearty texture of the oatmeal, the crunch of walnuts and the occasional burst of a blueberry.

I return to the kitchen to brew coffee.  From a high pantry shelf, I reach up and pull down three unopened packages of flavored coffee – hazelnut, crème brulee and coconut crème.   The silver and earth-toned packages, with Artisan scripted across the front, resemble Christmas gift bags.  Sometimes, I patrol the gourmet food section of Home Goods, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls for coffee.  These are from a recent score from Home Goods.  I select hazelnut and toss the other two back onto the shelves.  I listen to the slow drip of the coffee while the aroma fills up my 715 square feet of living space.

Living on the 8th floor provides me with a lovely view.  Leaning against the counter in the kitchen, I can look out across the horizon through large balcony windows.  In spite of what looks to be a cloudy day, I admire the city’s thick green flora that stretches out into the distance.  My building is 2 blocks from the District of Columbia line.  I always point this out to visitors --D.C. is right there!  -- as if the street along the district line somehow looks different from other streets in the neighborhood.  It would be different if I could cross the street and step right onto the White House lawn.  But still, that’s what I say every time visitors ask about my proximity to D.C.

I pour my coffee, grab my journal and sit at my table.  On days off, I prefer writing from my bed.  But today, I will journal from my table, where I can write and enjoy my city view.  I open it and record the date and time.  I no longer remember why I started recording the time so now it’s just a habit.  I write about a range of observations and experiences, freely moving from one topic to the next.  I think I write without inhibition and with no audience for critical review.  Yet, most entries include scratched out corrections of misspellings and grammar.   I used to find this behavior to be quite annoying but now I’m amused.  Is it possible for me to stop editing myself? 

In time, my cup of coffee is almost empty and what is left is cold.  In the last hour, I have paused between sips and words, holding the warm cup in both hands.   At some point I must have put it down without knowing it.  Soon I’ll have other things to do.  But for now, I refill my cup, pick up my pen and hold on a little longer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Angels in the Snow

Falling back
and sinking deep,
we made angles.

Our arms
went up and down and
our legs in and out.

Above, lived the sky
and trees with
spindly branches.

I wondered,
where do birds go
when it snows?

We stayed out
until called back in
 to love –

A home,
 and hot chocolate
from the stove.


Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring
A couple, below the metro 
East West Highway, Silver Spring
Grocery store parking lot
Outside the Silver Spring Metro 
Evening view from home
Snow Angel (Courtesy of Lissie)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Getaway

When Rehena (Re)my high school friend, invited me to get away for the weekend, I said yes.  We have managed to stay in contact over the years although we don’t see each other often.  In high school, we both played on the volleyball team. We first came to know each other riding the after school activity bus. The bus was stationed at the middle school down the hill from the high school.   Many afternoons I would run down the hill just in time to catch the bus.  Per Re, it was on one of those bus rides that I suggested that she try out for the volleyball team.  I was already playing on the team and she was two years behind me and in middle school.

Re owned a timeshare and wasn't sure where she wanted to get away to.  It didn’t matter to me where we went as long as we went somewhere.  It was in the spirit of adventure and friendship that I said yes.  I love to get away – to leave the familiar and experience something new.    I’ve written about this before in Sunday Get Away and Exhaling in Memphis and in other pieces.  
Re selected a property in the Old Town area of Alexandria, Virginia.  If you were to take a map and put a pin point at my apartment in Silver Spring and the other in Alexandria, you could draw a vertical line between the two cities that would cut right through the District.  The two cities are only 12 miles away. Growing up in Maryland, I don’t remember visiting Alexandria as a child.   Since relocating back to the DMV – not the Department of Motor Vehicles but the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia region – I’ve been to Alexandria quite a few times for dinner, shopping and even a meetup group at The Sacred Heart Book Store.   

Could a drive over to Alexandria even qualify as a getaway?  This became my preoccupation.  I was hankering for the excitement that comes with doing something new.   When faced with a modern-day, middle-class “dilemma” such as this, one has two options:  make a big deal out of nothing or get over yourself.  I went with the latter.    It didn't make sense to diminish or devalue this experience because of my preconceived notions.  
Now, let me describe Old Town as if I’ve never been there before.  Old Town is a beautiful historic district in Alexandria – with cobble stone streets, red brick sidewalks and red brick buildings.   It has cute little shops and restaurants all along the main street, AKA, King Street.  King Street ends at the waterfront along the Potomac River.   There’s a lot of interesting history nearby such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Alexandria Black History Museum.   

We parked our cars for the weekend and got around either on foot or on the King Street Trolley.   It was the weekend before Christmas and holiday decorations and lights framed store windows and homes.    The trees along King Street were adorned with white lights.  Maybe it was just my imagination, but some lights resembled animals perched in trees.  

Walking along King Street at night reminded me of a Christmas Eve several years ago in Annapolis.   It was a rare occasion in which it was snowing in Maryland on Christmas Eve.   It was also one of those years in which Re and I happened to connect again and went shopping at the mall. Not ready to go home and not threatened by a little snow, we drove to the harbor.  We walked along similar cobblestone streets and shops with holiday decorations.  Most of the shops were closed and the streets were quiet.   At the pier, the boats rested on dark, rippling waters that reflected their white frames and holiday lights.  We went inside one of the coffee shops and watched the snow fall.   That moment was etched in my mind as it seemed rather Dickensian but Re didn’t remember it at all. 

I was satisfied walking around Alexandria in a cloud of holiday nostalgia but we found other things to do.   We mostly walked in and out of shops, casually shopping for ourselves and for others.  There was good food – the first night we went to Joe Theismann's restaurant and the next night we went to The Chart House.  The Chart House sits right along the waterfront so it offers not only an elegant menu but lovely views.  We also took a water taxi from Old Town to the National Harbor.  Sitting outside, it was cold but tolerable because of the bright sun and the beauty of the day.  A family sat in front with us and we shared a single bench along the front of the taxi. With them, a little girl singing and dancing to a song playing from her mother’s phone.  Her cuteness and joy was remarkable – from her pigtails and pink coat down to her white laced socks and black patent leather shoes. We clapped and cheered at the end of her performance.   Arriving at the National Harbor, I could see that a ferris wheel had been constructed since my last visit.  It loomed over the ledge of the pier. We ate at Rosa Mexicano and did a little more shopping  at America!, a tourist gift shop.    I purchased a Christmas ornament of Santa riding Air Force One.   

        Soon, we were back at the pier, waiting for our water taxi to return us to Old Town.  The sun set beautifully over the water and we could see pieces of a rainbow in the sky.  

As quickly as the sun set, the weekend came to a close.  No, it was not my typical getaway.  But does it matter when there’s friendship, good food, sweet memories and rainbows?  

Walking along King Street

Riding the water taxi beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge
The sun setting at the National Harbor

Karen and Re selfie

Chesapeake High School Varsity Volleyball Team - 1986
Me (front, center) and Re (back row, 2cnd from left)
Volleyball Team after a slumber party
Me center, Re on back row right