Tuesday, July 14, 2015

With Diminishment - Fulfillment

 Dear Family and Friends,  

There are four chapters in my third book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU New Poems – recently arrived! Each chapter is taken from a line in one of my own poems. In one of those,  entitled “BIRTHDAYS,” I refer to my “new imperative” (second chapter heading):

“. . . we could not know 
what lay ahead –
how our birthdays that year
would usher in
a new and
different kind of life 
when through my loss
I found you again –
but near –
enabling me
in my new imperative
to tell our story,
to share our love.”

During the five and a half years since Francis’ death, and in particular, when poems started to come, and then, after the publication of each of the first and next two books (our love story, and this latest, second book of poems) – I’ve ended one of my daily prayers, “Come darling Francis, fill me with your spirit. . . ” by asking him: “Give me courage and the will to live – and help me write our books.”

And he has! I had a dream around the time when I sent my publisher the final manuscript of SING . . . New Poems which made it clear that he has. In the dream, the way that Francis firmly took me by the shoulders, and smiling, thanked me for having completed the books, was so palpable, it felt almost like what I related in the poem, “VISITATION,” in the first poem book.

So I fully expected I would be moving on to the fourth book, now. I had even already announced its title: “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal”. In fact, since I had already begun writing a third book that initially included both the poems and the widow’s journal –  what I had indicated in recent letters (that that fourth book was already “in progress”) – was correct. Correct, then.
But last Sunday, I went into my website’s home page, and I deleted this sentence:  A fourth book is in progress: "THIS NEW LIFE Selections from a Widow's Journal".

What happened?  Did I – or why did I – lose, seemingly suddenly – the “imperative” to write the fourth book?

Two former students of mine, now widowed, told me last year that my writing helps them. After I offered to mail them copies of this third one, one of them emailed, inquiring: “How do you feel now that the new book has been published?” I responded:  “Oh my, what a big question, Mary!”    

But I told her truthfully that I felt teary, and, without quoting the penultimate stanza of the poem “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”, I referred her to page 80 and added: “This poem mentions what I’m driving at. In spite of the ‘let that go . . .’ in the last line, it’s still a thought that returns. I’m grateful to have a spiritual adviser with whom to talk this over. It’s good you have your girls to keep you going.” (I was grateful to hear in Mary’s response, that my admission of feeling teary helped her all the more.)
These are the last two stanzas of “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”:

“Ever since your death,  
I’ve taken relief in the thought:
I’ll write my books, then die.

But now I know it’s time
to let that go . . .”

The reaction I confided to Mary was strong enough to initiate deep reflection, and some soul searching. In the end, I took it as a sign I needed to do something different from what I had expected was my next step.

I’m aware that several factors compounded in June to make me feel especially vulnerable. But my decision – specifically, to let go of the fourth book, and also, to slow down  – was only reinforced by each of the following:

1) I came down with unexpected, acute pain in the left hip. X-RAYS confirmed there’s significant cartilage degeneration in both hip joints. And this was complicated by reactive tendonitis of hip flexor muscles in the left hip. (I’m much better now, and have returned the borrowed canes I used for a few weeks, thanks to yoga which now keeps both hips in good working order.)
As a result of this episode, however, though I will still lead some Dances of Universal Peace (DUP), I decided to hand over to the other two leaders of our “circle” in Portland, the organizing role I necessarily took on since I started it, in 1997.

2) For someone like me who has had to do daily yoga to keep the right hip pain free (as a result of which my health and energy are very good) the shock of having had to use a cane, and of being unable to plant my garden without help, raised a scary question: Will I be able to “age in place”? Some of my contemporaries have moved, or will be moving, to be near their children. Will I be able to live here till I die? Will I be able to keep up with all the work there is to do in maintaining the permaculture? (Then I remembered a neighbor I had hired to help free me to be totally available to Francis at the end. And I talked with her about this, if I need help, in the future.)

3) Turning 50 years old was a big thing for me thirty years ago, but, psychologically, turning 80 is huge. After over a year of being in awe of this fact (One of my new poems is entitled “I’M GLAD I’M OLD just thirteen months / from my eightieth year. . . ”) it’s gratifying to realize that I’m actually, honestly, “glad,” about it.
This is what I wrote to a friend only last night, about the “switch” in our DUP circle: “Interesting how much real joy there is in doing that – making way for the next generation. You know, I haven’t been able to completely shake off what I wrote in more than one of my poems, such as this one –  “I’M GLAD I’M OLD” . . .  or “EN ROUTE” which refer to my willingness to be reunited with Francis in whatever mysterious way that will happen someday. . . . Ah! The poem “WHEN MY TIME COMES” refers to it specifically. Here’s that poem . . .”

So, the “teary” reaction which led me to a different path, creating a juncture or crossroad, has brought me new resolution, and even deeper joy.

I found myself reasoning like this in favor of putting aside the second book and slowing down:

If the third book, SING . . . New Poems traces my journey through widowhood, and goes even deeper into that experience than the first one could (and it does) – why comb through past journals to assemble selections for a fourth book entitled “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal”? Especially since it would, in essence, convey in prose, much of the same thing? So my widowed former students need not be disappointed (as one expressed last year) at the postponement of “widow’s journal.”

Besides, if I did write a fourth book, by publication date, I might be 81 or 82 – and so less spry to do the modest book tour I’ve envisioned doing (because I love doing book readings. . . . and I’m good at it too. What I especially like is how it engages people to reflect about their own lives. My last book reading lasted two hours, because of the questions after my presentation.)

Moreover, if I did not write a fourth book – wouldn’t I be more thoroughly living “This New Life” since I’d use that time to be more engaged with my local community? I could be doing some of the things Francis and I did together – e.g. by being more available on the peace and justice front? Or by formally teaching English to Africans, rather than merely informally, after mass? (Francis used to sit in on those classes, and enjoyed interacting with our African friends.)

Writing requires a certain amount of solitude which I actually like, even thrive on. This necessity has been a genuine “excuse” why I have had to isolate myself just a little. But I believe it would be good for me to be more engaged in our Portland community, without sacrificing the solitude I still want and need.

Finally, since I like writing so much, and poetry in particular, there’s no reason why I couldn’t keep myself open to new poems’ coming, even if the likelihood of my publishing another book of poems is far-fetched. When/if more poems come, there’s the Elaine’s Blog on my website where I could “park” them.

I’ve been trying to think of what to call this letter. “With Diminishment – Fulfillment” is an okay title, but “only okay” because the “diminishment” part of it sounds pretentious. In particular, because the “diminishment” is not as dire as it first felt.

But the “fulfillment” is real because, with the arrival of the third book, the three form a trilogy now. And this trilogy is entitled by my late husband’s own words – Francis’ request of me when he would die: “Sing to me and I will hear you.”
My amazement over this remarkable request of his (which inspired two poems in the first book – “WHOEVER HEARD?” and “DUET”) continues, even now, five and a half years since Francis’ death. This was demonstrated some weeks ago when a friend introduced me to another of her friends. When I explained this simple fact to her, both of us were caught in the emotion of this exceptional and loving request Francis made of me. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Nor would I want to!

Gratitude and Love to all,

PS: SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems is available through Amazon and at local bookstores and selected libraries in the greater Portland area (including Biddeford ME). Through my website www.elainemcgillicuddy.com you can also order a book from my local bookstore in Portland ME – Longfellow Books which has multiple copies.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Different Kind of Letter

 Dear Family and Friends,

At first I thought this might seem to you like a different kind of letter from the ones I’ve written since September, 2009, when Francis and I received news of the cancer that would take his life. My letters since then have included news of the writing I’ve been doing since his death. (The third book, by the way – SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems should be available in May. And now I’m engaged working on the fourth book – “THIS NEW LIFE – A Widow’s Journal.”)

In reality, however, this is not a very different kind of letter. And I think you’ll see why, if its length does not deter you. ;o) But I’ll tell you right now. In a nutshell, it’s this: What I write about below are happenings Francis and I experienced together. In their very telling, then, he comes among us.  

Here’s why I wrote my letter:

Because Francis and I made a three week tour of Vietnam in 2006, when I read the following on www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org – I knew I had to respond:

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landing of U.S. ground troops in Da Nang, Vietnam.  Many consider this to be the beginning of the American War in Vietnam. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the war the Pentagon is undertaking a ten-year, $65-million campaign to rewrite and whitewash the history of the war in Southeast Asia.
In response, Veterans for Peace has announced the Vietnam War Full Disclosure project to offer a more truthful history of the war.  As part of the project, Veterans for Peace is asking all who were affected, directly or indirectly, by the war to write letters addressed to “The Wall” (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) describing their experiences and sharing their grief over its devastating consequences. The project welcomes letters from both soldiers and civilians.”
Shortly after Francis’ and my return, I had given a one hour slide show presentation about our tour to the Audubon Society’s Travel Club. So I knew I had material ready at hand in all the notes and a few articles I had written.  

When I opened those files, my eyes brimmed with tears.

My letter is posted on the website www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org that includes much information, and –

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Fifth Blessed Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

As our dark season approaches the return of light which is Solstice, and then Christmas, I’m becoming aware how this grand, ongoing drama of life is taking place also, within myself.

A few of the large-scaled dramas have touched me personally this month, e.g. when I participated in last Sunday’s march for Racial Justice (escorted by police down Congress Street) at the end of which, in the Portland High School gym, we listened to stirring talks. Having translated from French to English some African asylees’ “Declaration” papers to present before US Immigration, I’ve learned a lot. For example, one politically active young man, happily settled here now, had to flee for his life for doing a similar thing in the Congo. The newspaper’s quoting an African onlooker’s expression of amazement witnessing this peaceful demonstration means something.

The other one relates to Francis’ and my having started a weekly Anti-Torture Vigil at Monument Square in 2003. I used to read everything about that dark subject to select materials for handouts – at that time. Since Francis’ death, however, I haven’t had the stomach (good cliché) to follow any of this closely. Now, with the release of the long-awaited Senate report on interrogation techniques used by the CIA, however, I’m grateful indeed that finally, the truth has been publicly acknowledged by our own government. That too means something.

About my writing work, something new has developed within the last week. It mirrors what happened in 2011 when I was puzzling how to handle poems that were coming at a time when I wanted to write Francis’ story and mine in prose. At that time, I was poised to include both poetry and prose in one book, just as I was about to do now. But, as I finally chose to do, then, I have decided to do the same now: write two books, not one.

So the content of the third book,“SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems,” will include these new poems by themselves. And the fourth book, “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal,” will include selections from my journal which I’ve been keeping since Francis died.

To speak about my journey now (almost five years after his death on January 3, 2010) – when I went to bed last night, I felt downright surprised at the depth of my joy. When I awakened even more happy, I wondered at it. The reason, I decided, is that I had spent most of the previous day selecting the order . . . , in other words, I was sequencing the poems for my third book. That’s cause enough for joy, for sure, because those approximately 70 poems that have come since publication of the first poems book, reengage me with the experiences Francis and I were privileged to share. These new poems also touch on my own experiences adjusting to this never-before-traveled road I’m on – the state of widowhood.

There’s even a deeper reason for the blessedness I felt last night and this morning. It’s what I’ve discovered through writing both the poems, and my widow’s story. And it’s this: I’ve come to appreciate this time in my life, just as it is. Widowhood has given me the opportunity not only to grow in new ways, develop gifts I didn’t realize I had, but also, to advance in understanding that comes with age.

Moreover, all along, since Francis died, I’ve felt “called” to write. But now, with a deepening, reassuring surety about it – that my current writing of two more books (for a total of four) continues to confirm that I’m still engaged in the work I must do before I die – no wonder I felt almost euphoric! For what deeper satisfaction can there be than doing what one feels called to do? 

May each of you and your loved ones experience the joy of this season through the diverse ways of celebrating it, including Christmas.
May you be blessed with good health and energy to carry on with your own good work for the common good of all people – and for the restoration of our planet. (On this subject, here is important information I’ve discovered: http://www.context.org/about/plans/cis-long-term-strategy/

Loving regards,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life Changes

Dear Family and Friends,

I was pensive last night, the 24th of September, because it was on that night, in 2009, on the eve of my birthday, that Francis and I got the disturbing results of his MRI. I wrote a poem about it in my first book, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Poems, called: “We Missed All the Signs.” And in prose, Sing . . . A Love Story –  I wrote about it again, in the penultimate chapter“Crossroads,” under the section (p. 179): “TWO SCENES”.  In fact, two years ago at this time, I wrote yet another, a second, poem (to be included in my third book in progress): “Nadir and Zenith.” I even shared it with you then, in 2012.

This third reference to those “Two scenes on that dark day” – in the “Nadir” part of this poem called “The Blow”– recalls “the shock of the 24th / the day we learned / you soon would die.” Then in the third stanza, the poem expresses, not exactly a question, but a kind of foreboding, as if bracing myself ahead of time to expect – that “future birthdays / may be dyed purple.” Last night was the fifth year, not the third after that “dark day.” I sat in my usual place, not for meditation (or “sitting,” as I prefer to call it) this time, but simply to reflect, in the presence of both Francis and my parents, as a kind of honoring of this “anniversary” night.

Having begun working on my third book, “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal and Poems,” I already knew something had changed, but I wasn’t sure, ahead of time, how much it had. I was almost surprised to realize that, (not just as at Christmas, 2013 when I wrote you, “It’s Different Now”) even for an anniversary like this – I no longer felt that heaviness. I was sensing, as at Christmas, not just Francis’ joy that “our” first two books are already published, but his joy that I am now turning away from a direction I had begun to take.

I wont, since I can’t anyway, go into detail about this at this time. That is the subject of the third book, the writing of which is very much, still, a process of discovery. I knew from experience that writing reveals something new, but I didn’t realize until now, how much.

So, feeling assured on Francis’ part, I felt joyful last night, noticing my attention was lingering on my parents, instead of on that “shock,” the day we got the awful news five years ago. I was thinking of my mother who gave me birth 79 years ago, and of my father who watched with joy as I came into the world with my whole life ahead of me.

It’s not Thanksgiving yet, but I feel its spirit already. During the annual reunion with my McGillicuddy family, early last month celebrating “Shrine Sunday” (pages 84 – 86 in Sing . . . A Love Story) I was heartened by the experience of how familial bonds deepen as the surviving members carry on traditions we once shared with our beloved deceased. They are still very much with us, as members of the younger generation step into their shoes. And I found that very moving.

Loving regards to you all, dear family and friends,


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Job done! = Ex Libris Maine: May 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s a lot of work involved in promoting a book. It’s something I did only minimally for the first one, Sing . . . The Poems. For this one, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – A Love Story, I not only set up dates for readings and book signings (July 10 at Longfellow Books and August 1 at the Portland Public Library), but I also spent a good bit of time submitting required information and photos to the directors of two allied nonprofit organizations – Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA) and Find Maine Writers (FMW).” But that important part of the job is now done (I say with an exclamation point)!

Click here to read MWPA’s monthly “Ex Libris Maine” E-newsletter. Then you’ll see the bare bones synopsis I had to write and the cover photo of my book. And that, in turn, will bring you to my website where you’ll see - but just click here find.mainewriters.org to see both my book cover and profile now included among those of other Maine writers. 

(By the way, people really like the cover photo. It was taken by my publisher, David Gawlik of Wisconsin, who is also an excellent photographer. He took the photo at a CORPUS Conference, in 2005. One couple after another – married priests and their wives – lined up before David’s camera.)

To be honest, this is the part I like least –  getting these little tasks completed. It’s daunting for a newcomer like me who is not hard-wired to grasp web formatting, if that’s the right expression. But I hasten to add that it’s been rewarding to experience the kindness of Joshua Bodwell, of MWPA, and Stephen Abbott, of FIND MAINE WRITERS. Co-directors of these organizations, they patiently directed me as well. Their work makes us Mainers proud; it’s responsible for keeping our literary community vibrant.

If you haven’t yet received a copy of my Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – A Love Story, you could support local bookstores where I’ve brought copies – Nonesuch Books in both South Portland and Biddeford, The Book Review in Falmouth, and three bookstores in Portland – Letterpress Books at Northport, Sherman’s on Exchange Street, and of course, Portland Portland’s well loved independent bookstore – Longfellow Books.

In fact, if you’re out of town and need either of the books or the CD delivered, www.elainemcgillicuddy.com has a direct link to Longfellow Books. Chris Bowe its co-owner said: “You do the writing. We’ll do the distributing.” Now I’m eager to get back to work on the third book and to garden!

With loving gratitude,
            And now – go to Ex Libris Maine: Click here

Monday, April 14, 2014

Another Synchronicity!

Dear Family and Friends,

I just finished getting copies of Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – A Love Story to local bookstores – in Portland (Longfellow and Letterpress Books), South Portland, Falmouth, and Biddeford, Maine.

If you would like a copy but cannot reach these bookstores, my own local bookstore – Longfellow Books – will, from now on, be the distributor of my books, the CD of my reading the poems, and the next one in the trilogy (now in progress) – Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – the Uncollected Poems and Journals. (“Journals” here refers to my own journal since Francis died).

Of course you can go to Amazon.com to buy this second book, Sing . . . A Love Story, but if you’d like to support “Indie” bookstores instead – the folks at Portland’s beloved local bookstore can mail it to you.

All you have to do is use the link posted here on my new website: http://www.elainemcgillicuddy.com/books/synopses/  Called “fiercely loyal to Maine's community of readers and writers,” Longfellow Books – when it suffered water damage from a burst pipe last February –  experienced how much our community appreciates them; many rallied to help them. 

But what does this have to do with “Another Synchronicity”?  It’s the result of what happened three Sundays ago.

When my friend, Lesley Hoey, asked to interview me for a personal project she had undertaken, I agreed to meet with her at a local tea shop. In the middle of our conversation, a young woman, Jessica Bland, approached to inquire if she could interview us. She explained that she was commissioned to write the “PlayNotes” for an upcoming play at Portland Stage Company. (For years, Francis and I bought season tickets to attend performances at this longest running theater in Portland.) For this one in particular, “Savannah Disputations,” the staff at PSC wanted input from the community. So Lesley and I gave her forty minutes of our time.

Well, today, with my bookstore deliveries completed, just when I was planning to write this letter – Jessica emailed me the link to PSC’s PlayNotes. This means you can read her interview with us in the PlayNotes! It will be handed out to theater-goers when the play opens next week.

On top of that, there’s this added bonus: Jessica used, in that PlayNotes interview, my book’s actual cover photo! What perfect timing, since just last week I also dropped off copies of the (attached) 4x6” promotion card in strategic places on Portland’s main Congress Street – places like the Maine Public Library, the Maine Historical Society library, Maine College of Art, etc.

More visibility means more books for Longfellow Books to sell. And it means more people can hear of the love story I was privileged to live and am now privileged to share. Our world needs love stories.

Just scroll down to page 18, here: http://www.portlandstage.org/Page.15.PlayNotes

Joyous spring to all,
PS: Please don't hesitate to let me know if you'd rather not continue receiving these letters. (Just write REMOVE on the subject line). We'd still be family and friends.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Blame (or Credit) My Publisher

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s David Gawlik, married priest from Wisconsin and owner of the small publishing company, Caritas Communications, whom I blame or credit. Anticipating the publication of Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – A Love Story (coming out soon!), he proposed that I get my own website to promote this second book.

After some scouting around, the person I chose to create the website is my editor, Mike O’Connor’s own graphic designer – Nina K. Noble. Like Mike, she also lives in Port Townsend, Washington state, on the Olympic Peninsula.

Nina turned out to be just the right person, just as everyone “sent” to help me with my writing imperative has been just the right person (like David and Mike). I call those three my team. Nina is a Russian Orthodox Christian, and a yoga practitioner, to boot. She’s even a student of Jung studies. So Nina and I have become friends in the process of my sending her material, and her “designing” the website.

Look here to see the fruit of Nina’s work . . . outstanding work, I think you’ll agree:  www.elainemcgillicuddy.com

Initially, it was a website focused on just that – promoting the first two books, the CD of my reading the poems, and later, the third book in progress – Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Uncollected Poems and Journals. But I found myself drawn to make it also a site for collecting various memorabilia.

The “memorabilia” that I most appreciate is the Portland Community Television’s “The Second Act” interview with Francis and me, in 2005. We had to go to some lengths to use it. I thank Lee Slater, my goddaughter Rowan’s dad who made a “MOV” out of the only DVD I was given at the end of that interview in 2005. For the 2012 interview with me by Bill Gregory, the TV station already had it uploaded and available on their website. Nina just had to copy it from there. But those earlier interviews were not uploaded then. But now, after Lee’s work, emailed to Nina, you can see on my website that “Second Act” interview conducted by Susan Hirsch with me and Francis.  

I realized after that, that I wanted to do even more with the website. I thought that my hip problem and yoga-to-the-rescue story might be of help to others. My annotated list of books on grief and death which helped me after Francis died has already helped others, so why not share it more widely?  Spreading the word about permaculture (edible landscape) is needed in our precarious times, and the chants which, at the end, helped Francis in facing his death – (That’s what the “Sing to Me” is all about!) – those could inspire people as they did us. So why not include those as well?

Now viewers can see Francis and me (very briefly) in another video, a youtube video showing Aramaic scholar, Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz leading us in the recitation and chanting of the first line of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. Of many Aramaic prayer retreats Francis took with me, that one in the spring of 2009 was his last– only months before he was hospitalized. There he is in that video, wearing a blue top my mother had made for him.

With that website work completed, I am ready now to work on the second half of the third book. The prospect is a joyous one because I know by now that writing is a work of discovery.

Just last week, after a long supper conversation with my friends, Joe and Claire Brannigan, I dropped off two books I’m loaning them – Old Age, Journey into Simplicity, and Jung on Death edited by Jenny Yates. (Because of Joe’s terminal condition, please keep them in mind and heart as they face together what is approaching.) My loaning them the books occasioned a little research on my part through which I came across this fitting quote by Helen Luke.

"Wisdom consists in doing the next thing that you have to do, doing it with your whole heart and finding delight in it — and the delight is the sense of the sacred."

Yes, it fits me like a glove. From the poems that came after Francis died, and through the telling of his story and mine, and now with my own widow's story coming next – writing, at this time of my life – feels to me like a calling. And people’s hearty response to my Maine Jung Center presentation only seems to confirm it. For that I give thanks.

And with loving gratitude,