Archive for July, 2009

In Memory of Rynn Williams

For me, this has been a month of loss. Early last week I had even more bad news. I received an email from my friend, Molly Fisk, informing me that our mutual colleague and friend, Rynn Williams, was found dead in her bathtub by her dog sitter. Although her death has since been determined accidental, an autopsy will be performed. Rynn was 47 and leaves behind three children under the age of 13.

I first met Rynn many years ago in Molly’s online Poetry Boot Camp. It was during her earlier years as a poet and all of us critiqued one another’s poetry online. Many of the poets were mediocre, but Rynn’s words always rose to the top. Each day, I looked forward to her latest installment. The boot camp would last five days and each of us were required to turn in our poems by 12 midnight each day. More often than not, Rynn’s poems arrived in the early morning hours, perhaps her most creative time, or the time when she finally got her little ones to bed. Her poems were rarely in what seemed to be a rough draft. They were sharp and poignant and always touched a nerve in me. I am happy that I had the chance to work with her and more than once what a fine poet I thought she was. One reviewer of her books said that Rynn’s poems are “like X-rays that scrutinize each moment.’

It was no surprise to me when years later I learned that Rynn won the Prairie Schooner Prize for Poetry for her first collection, Adonis George. I recall months later attending her reading in Grass Valley, CA with Molly Fisk. A mentor once told me that if a poet’s words stay with you long after their reading, then that’s the power of a good poet. Rynn had that power – so much of her work continues to resonate with me. I had been in touch with Rynn over the years – her emails, like her poetry, were terse, yet caring. Some time later, I was honored to join Rynn for a coffee in New York. For obvious reasons, that rendez-vous is now more poignant than ever now. The events of these past few weeks are a reminder to enjoy every day and moment spent with loved ones.

Here is one poem from Adonis George:

West Chelsea

I am going to leave the city tonight,

the handball courts and the Gemini Diner,

I am going to forget about east 33rd street,

the penthouse, the Rawhide, the banks of elevators,

I want to forget the route of the C train,

the smell of the tracks when you jump down

to cross them, I want to fall asleep

and not dream of multitudes, I want to forget

that on West Fourth and Hudson my friend

held his forehead together with his hands,

I am going to abandon my FDNY cap

on top of a hydrant in alphabet city,

my Lucite stilettos on a shrine in the Bronx,

I want nothing but horizontal lines

so I don’t have to get on my knees in the intersection,

I am going to pick up my body and move it

to a town where the streets are perfectly logical,

I am going to drive east on the LIE

until the only rumble is in the pit of my stomach,

I am going to shred all my take-out menus,

I am going to eat dinner at six o’clock,

I am going to be a loser and love it –

get in my car and drive east to the ocean,

until I can’t stand the silence

and have to come home.



Life and Death Journaling

 This past week has taught me, that in learning how to die we learn how to live. The three prominent female figures in my life were struck by disasters. My 79 year old mother fell off her horse and sustained a severe subdural hematoma and has been in ICU, my mother-in-law, Jeannine is on a remote cardiac monitor and my favorite aunt Lilly and second mother, passed away. I don’t know who to write about first, as they are all such unique and dynamic women.

My mother has been riding since an early age and even though we tried to get her to stop she said she wanted to die on her horse. She always hung around with younger riders and has had a youthful spirit. I am happy she’s had this passion, but now as she slowly reclaims her memory and talking abilities after the accident, she finally agrees that she must give up riding and find a more age-appropriate hobby. We were told that her subdural hematoma was so large that if she was 20, she would probably be in a coma.

Aunt Lilly is my husband’s aunt, but I’ve known her for more than thirty-five years. She died in her sleep at the age of 88 after a tumultuous yet successful life. I suppose what I admired about her most was how in spite of all she had been through, she never wore her heartaches on her sleeve. She was a bright, vibrant and positive woman who was a successful clothing designer in Montreal where we lived during our early marital years. When Lilly’s daughter, Norma, phoned to ask if I would speak at her memorial I was honored to be included.

Here is my eulogy: Some people are immortal and Lilly Dee is one of those. I met Lilly more than 35 years ago when I married Simon. We immediately had a connection, but, more importantly, I so admired her vibrant spirit, positive attitude, sense of humor and snippets of wisdom. Lilly always seemed to say and do the right thing at the right time. Uncle Ernie called her the family diplomat as she always told us like it was with the right balance of honesty, grace, and compassion and like her brother Alex, with the sensibilities of a wise sage. I’d like to read a poem from my recent collection, Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You. (Note: For those of who have my book, you will notice that I modified the last stanza for the occasion)

My Navigator

   Dedicated to Aunt Lilly

From the moment we met

I loved you, right there,

in your country house on a remote lake,

Hungarian cheese spread smeared on Swedish crackers,

chicken paprika draped over a mound of mashed potatoes,

that long French Canadian wood table,

delightful culinary aromas from your kitchen,

lively paintings and portraits enveloping your walls,

books piled on your bedside table.

Oh how I miss the warmth of your home,

nestled in your easy laugh and zest for life.

I knew I wanted to grow old like you,

proud shoulders pulled back,

despite years in concentration camp

and the loss of two adoring husbands.

I shall forever be impressed by your sense of humor,

how you called my husband the glue doctor

after he developed a prosthetic cement;

your fine attire as a clothing designer,

positive tint to life’s idiosyncrasies, and yearning

for learning and travel.

I sit here with the memory of your accented voice

and how you said you had to go to your room to

‘brush your tits,’ and how each time

we looked into one another’s eyes

we had a connection which transcended

any words I could blend on these lines.

You’ve helped me navigate through every

stage of this woman’s life and shown me

how to survive all that I’ve been through

and for this I thank you.

Lilly, your spirit remains forever alive.

Rest in peace.

Journaling About Spirituality

For the past few weeks I have attended a Sunday lecture at the Vedanta Temple. The temple is situated in a peaceful mountain setting and the atmosphere permeates with naturally-growing sage and magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. Something about being on the property or even sitting on the temple stairs, nourishes and restores the soul. The energy or karma of the environment has a massaging quality, whether it is the, views, singing birds, the book store with hard-to-find books, the talks or a combination of all the above, something draws me back each week.

I am not a religious person, but I am spiritual. The Vedanta philosophy prophesizes a oneness of spirit. The ideas is that God or Brahman exists in every living being. Religion is considered a search for self-knowledge (which I am a big advocate of), or a search for the divine within ourselves. Vedanta philosophy believes that there are no accidents, only destinies as a result of cause and effect. (I really believe this also). It also stresses the idea of self-effect.

I find the Sunday lecture subjects to be both fascinating and captivating. Last week the Swami spoke about visualization and how our five senses make us feel one with the world. Having said that, we can see that if a memory haunts you, then the experience and visual memory can actually bring back the memory. In order to visualize something it’s good to start with something simple and then become familiar with the object through visualization. Start with a vague image of a person or thing and then as you become more familiar with it, you will notice even more details. Keep in mind that the emotional connection with the person or object gives us the will to visualize. In summary, we all affect our own future by using our imagination.

This past week the discussion was about the first Swami who brought the Vedanta teachings to the west. As a writer, the most interesting part of the lecture was his discussion about how reading biographies of great people is a form of spiritual practice. It was said that we if we can identify with these people, then we can change and improve our own lives. In view of this, I began thinking about my childhood and our weekly trips to the library where I would always head directly to the biography section. I loved reading about real stories about real people. I suppose that was my own personal spiritual practice which continues this many years later.

What do you think?

Quote of the Week

"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me

I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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