IMPERFECT BEGINNINGS: A BLOG (cross-posting on Facebook as Susi Gregg Fowler, Writer)

Message Received

June 18, 2017

Tags: Father's Day, Gratitude, Quiet Mind

After my dad’s death, just under two years ago, we were packing up his things, and I came across a book I’d given him two years before--QUIET MIND by David Kundtz.. It’s a small book of simple meditations. I opened the book and saw my note to him—“To Dad, Father's Day, 2013 – Susi.” Daddy liked having a way to remember where gifts originated, and my siblings and I learned in the last years of his life to inscribe his gifts, those from us and those from others. It gave him pleasure, remembering who had given him a particular present. He was always so grateful, one of those people who intuitively understood the meaning of practicing gratitude. But what I had never seen until picking up this book after his death was his response to me—simply. “To Susi – Thanks – Dad.”

I laughed through my tears at his note! Dad, still saying thank you. I have kept the book on my coffee table since that day. And today I opened it at random. There, on page 129, was a meditation called Flying, which began with these words from a poem by John G. Magee, Jr. “High Flight” –

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…
And touched the face of God.

And that, I like to think, is just what my father did. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

PRACTICE MAKES POSSIBLE

December 17, 2016

Tags: Studio, clutter, spiritual practice, writing practice, discipline, possibility, faith

Just part of the studio chaos
I’m in the midst of a major sort in my studio. I’ve been talking about it for months, if not years, and I’m finally on it. I've schlepped dozens of craft and inspirational books out to the Friends of the Library resale shop in recognition of the fact that I’m never going to re-read them and probably never read several of them in the first place. It’s not that they don’t contain both information and wisdom. It’s just that what they really serve up—for me—is distraction, and I do a pretty good job of providing that on my own.

Harder to deal with are the dozens and dozens of journals, drafts, and dream notebooks. These I do want to read through before discarding. This blog post and its title spring from the notes I took following reflections after a long-ago Friends (Quaker) meeting, and later scribbled on a piece of lined legal paper.

Settling into the silence that morning, I found myself thinking how grateful I was to be returning to spiritual practice. Whether I’m returning to Meeting or to the meditation cushion or to our lovely neighborhood church, the experience of returning to spiritual practice is more the same than different. The word "practice" that particular morning gave rise to the old phrase "practice makes perfect." I understood immediately that I didn’t only mean spiritual practice but also writing practice, relationship practice, exercise practice. But my next thought was that I disagreed with the common wisdom. Practice is a discipline, but it does not necessarily make “perfect.” Deciphering my scribbles, I read, “Practice makes possible. And dwelling in the possible is a gift that makes life bearable to me.”

I made some more comments about writing and living, but I can’t actually decipher much more of my handwriting. I’m sure I was profound. Right? Okay, even if I wasn’t, I was still on the right track. Though I'd been struggling at the time, I was also connecting—communing if you will—with inspiration, with trusting that hard things could be borne and even get better. The idea of “possible” helped me step outside of being utterly overwhelmed with paying bills, trying to be a good mom, a good daughter, a good community member, a spiritual person, keeping a clean house, and somehow finding time to write on top of it all. Maybe—with practice—some of those things were possible. They weren't guaranteed, but without practice, they were pretty much pipe dreams. That thought kept me going then—and keeps me going still.

And so I concur with that long ago self. Practice doesn’t have to “make perfect." I'm not sure I even believe in perfect. Opening the door to possibility? That's a pretty good result. "Possible” may well be a first cousin to hope, to courage, to action, in both the small things and even in the world-changing things. It's just possible that I can accomplish some goals--including wresting order from the chaos of my studio--IF I keep at it. I'll leave perfection for somebody else.

Once Upon A Time

July 21, 2016

Tags: Dad, remembrance, reading to kids, stories, books, Yahrzeit

Dad, still in his work clothes, reading to my brother. I was 11 and proud owner of a Brownie Starflash Camera.
Once upon a time, there was a man who loved stories. My dad read all kinds of stories to us kids: fairy tales and folk tales, classics like Pinocchio and Bambi, poetry and Shakespeare. For years, bedtime included a story or a chapter—usually something wholesome and satisfying, but Dad was known to occasionally put us to bed with one of the Appalachian Jack Tales—deliciously terrifying but not particularly conducive to gentle sleep! Pinocchio was pretty horrifying, too, truth to tell, and even some of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories had an element of heartbreak that could make me toss and turn when the lights were off. But content was secondary to the constant of a loving parent taking the time to read a bedtime story, and Dad and Mom took turns providing that. We were lucky!

Daddy read to us once we were adults, too—passages or poems that touched or tickled him. Most memorable, he’d read us things that made him laugh. Reading Mark Twain or other favorite humorists aloud, he would laugh until he turned red, gasping for air, tears streaming down his cheeks! When we were kids, in addition to the books he read us, he’d make up stories—tales of Any Face who could stretch and remake his face to look like anyone he wanted to in the service of some nefarious scheme, or stories about his twin brother George. Now, we knew Daddy didn’t have a twin (or a brother for that matter) but he could almost convince us—I might have been particularly gullible—especially when he’d come home pretending to BE George, spinning wild explanations for his long absences or the failure of a family record to prove George’s existence. And then there was the gorilla in the attic. Hadn’t we noticed the rattles and groans from the attic—especially on stormy nights? Well, those weren’t just old house sounds. That was the gorilla who hated storms and tried to escape when the wind grew wild. Some of my roots as a writer surely come from the literature and the nonsense Daddy shared. He was a man who loved both words and silences, was comfortable with both and generous with both.

Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. The yahrzeit it is called in Jewish tradition, this anniversary of one's death. The occasion is marked by the lighting of a 24-hour candle, reading of the Kaddish and remembering the one who has died. I’m not Jewish, though some of my family are, but I have a candle going, I will be definitely be remembering not only my beloved father but also his father, my dear Grandpa, who died exactly twenty-five years to the day before my dad. My own special remembrance this day will include something I know Daddy would find fitting. Today, in my father’s honor, I will read someone a story.

Once upon a time….

'Tis a Gift To Be Wrinkled

June 11, 2016

Tags: Wrinkles, aging, gratitude, granddaughter

I love how my granddaughter sees me!
‘Tis A Gift To Be Wrinkled (sung to ‘Tis a Gift To Be Simple’)

‘Tis a gift to be wrinkled.
‘Tis a gift to be old.
‘Tis a gift to honor
all we’ve had to hold.
The joys, griefs and struggles
have etched into our skin,
and they give us a map
of the places we’ve been.
….Susi Gregg Fowler

I wrote these lines many years (and a few wrinkles) ago, sending (more…)

Writing and Courage

May 24, 2016

Tags: Writing life, courage, picture books, Darcy Pattison, Friday Ideas

Some of own picture books
For three years or so (2007-2009?) I was part of an online picture book writing group, an outgrowth of a children’s “listserv” that still serves up occasional messages from members. The “Friday Ideas Group” was the brainchild of Darcy Pattison. Each Friday we selected a prompt, derived from various sources, to generate picture (more…)

Broadsides: Juneau Poets and Artists

May 5, 2016

Tags: Broadsides, Art and Poetry, Jim Fowler, Public Radio, KTOO, Community, Sarah Isto, Gordon Harrison, Jane Stokes, Richard Stokes

Jim Fowler's image with my poem
I’m delighted to be part of the Broadsides exhibit at KTOO, opening in Juneau on May 6. These are Juneau poets and artists collaborating—from kids to seniors, from well known artists and writers to amazing new exhibitors. Such richness—and it’s part of why I love this place. Thanks to KTOO, our (more…)

"Perfect" Timing

April 26, 2016

Tags: Timing, Submissions, Rejections, Elizabeth Gilbert, Nancy Warren Farrell

Was my last post really a month ago? Here we are nearing the end of April already, and spring rain is dripping relentlessly off the branches of our budding maple tree. I’m happy to see the maple finally opening to the spring. It's pace has seemed slow, given that so many things have budded and bloomed (more…)

Renewal

March 14, 2016

Tags: renewal, outdoors, writing life, Alaska

Fish Creek Morning
When I’m working on a writing project, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I don’t go for morning walks—I write, edit, reread, type. I carry it on into the afternoon and sometimes late at night. This can go on for weeks and weeks at a time. Ask Jim. I turn down invitations, opportunities, forget to pay bills, answer letters, go to the dentist.. This has been a particularly intense time as I’ve labored to finish yet another draft of the upper middle grade novel I’ve been working on for much of the last several years. But I just sent it off to a “beta “ reader—and I gave myself a long weekend! Today when Jim decided to take the morning off, I joined him, along with our dog and our daughter’s dog. We all know about renewal, right? The idea of the Sabbath, the idea of resting mind and spirit, waking up to the world around us, opening ourselves to the present moment, inviting new ideas. I was as giddy as a child set free.

I could have written this as a post on my Facebook site—but I’m putting it on my website as a reminder to myself and anyone who reads this that keeping body and soul together is part of the work of writing or any other creative endeavor (by which I mean just about any aspect of living). I am putting a few more photos on my Facebook author page (susigreggfowler, writer). Here is a photograph from our morning. What joy to live in this place of such beauty.

The last line of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” says it better than I:

“For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” To which I can only say Amen!

Dad and Me: 2015

October 22, 2015

Music and books, poetry, family, dogs, and the great outdoors---It's so much who I am, and my dad, who died in July, was such a part of all of that. Here we are the month before he died, singing and playing music together. Such sweet memories. One way I am honoring his memory is focusing the time I spent with him daily on my writing--I know he'd approve!

Two Holidays

October 22, 2015

Tags: Alaska Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day

October 18, 2015

Here in the 49th state it is Alaska Day, commemorating Secretary of State William Seward's purchase of the territory of Alaska from Russia. Schools and state offices are closed. Columbus Day, last week's federal holiday, is not a state holiday in Alaska. Furthermore, this year, our governor proclaimed by Executive Order that the (more…)