Monthly Archives: August 2016

Why Blog?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a green fern in the forest at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland, NY.“Why do you do this blogging thing?” a friend once asked me. After tearing up a half dozen different dirges I wrote this week, I came back to this question. Why blog? Why would anyone want to blog?

In June of 2012, a year after my daughter died, I was writing a memoir. I created a website in order to show potential literary agents I could gather and grow an audience. Each week I wrote my heart out. Soon the benefits of writing became clear and my reasons for blogging changed. Now, four years later, I have not missed a single Monday morning blog.

Blogging adds structure to my life. I pretend it is work. I force myself to get out and do stuff so I can have things to write about, and I block out time at the end of every week to type up my report. Then, on Monday mornings, when everyone else goes off to their jobs, I sit at the computer and publish “my work.”

I blog because I love to work. And I love the pride that comes from producing something.

I blog because my daughter blogged. It is a connection to her, one of the ways she continues to shape my life.

Blogging is a weekly evaluation, a review of my current emotional state. It’s an opportunity to remember what made me smile that week, what hardship or fears I overcame.

I blog to know I’m not alone. To reach out. To hopefully offer comfort to someone else. To hear from people and make new connections in a world where I was once, simply and happily, my children’s mom. Like so many others, I’ve had to reinvent myself. “I’m a blogger and photographer,” I say now, when asked what I do.

Mostly, I blog to remind myself, and others, that even when we’ve lost what we thought we could not live without, there is yet more joy and beauty and love to sustain us. “I’m looking for joy,” I tell my friends, as I search for the highlight of my week. Something fresh, and green. Something that stands out and slaps my heart awake. Blogging keeps me on the lookout for people, events, and moments that make me feel alive. If all I find is sadness, I write another lament. But when I discover something joyful, however small, I celebrate it. I love the heck out of it. And then I share it with you in a blog.

Thank you for being out there and listening. What do you do to keep moving forward?

 

 

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Good Grieving, with Friends

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops the full moon relecting in a pond.“You’re taking this grieving thing too far,” he said, shaking his head, and giving me a searing look. If we shared a thousand more hours and a million words, he’d be no closer to understanding anything about my ways of dealing with grief.

“A dozen people getting together. It’s not like we’re tearing our hair out or shredding our shirts or anything. What’s the problem with talking and connecting?” I asked, eyeing the last piece of pizza. His eyes focused on the dining room table, now covered with dirty paper plates and empty wineglasses. “People grieve in different ways,” I added, wondering if he had ever experienced deep debilitating grief. I’d never wish that for him. But how could one know joy without acknowledging loss? If he simply slipped past all of life’s sadness, like driving through stop signs late at night when no one’s looking, would his life be better?

“Help yourself to some shrimp cocktail. And take some dumplings,” I said, impatient to get back to my guests. I’d left them parked on the deck with six different desserts, overlooking the five-million-year-old boulders planted around the pond. We’d been discussing our children, the age of the rocks, the possibility of an afterlife, Stephen Hawking’s multiple dimensions, living with lymes disease, and where to buy chocolate mice. In this group I could say anything and never hear, “ You’re taking your grieving too far.”

The dog and I returned to the circle outside and the conversation continued around us. The sky grew darker. The grunts of the bullfrogs grew louder. The dog fell asleep at our feet. And too soon everyone was smiling, saying thank you and goodbye.

They were gone before the full moon rose over the pond. Then, the dog trailed me as I cleared the deck, and we watched the fractured reflection of the moon in the black pond. I made a wish that all who suffer might find friends to sit with during their dark times.

 

What helps you deal with emotional pain? Sharing with a friend? Joining a group? Talking to God? Talking to the moon? To the dog?

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Joy in an Old Friend

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old friend joyfully painting her carpet from a wheelchair.“When are you going to photograph me again?” the most adventurous one of my friends asked. It had been eighteen months since I last photographed her. Since then we’d spent hours together in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. We’d also gone to plays and dined out in local ethnic eateries. But over the past year my friend has become more and more dependent on her wheelchair and oxygen tanks. I can’t recall when I last saw her walk more than a step or two. The oxygen tubes have become a permanent facial feature. She would no longer want to pose for pictures and then be posted all over Facebook and Twitter, I thought.

And that is what I’m embarrassed to admit: I all but bought into the idea that we need to hide reality, draw the curtains on any evidence of aging or disability. My friend, joyful spirit that she is, has happily posed in the past, flapping her wings, hugging plants, pretending to hug her inner child. She simply loves being in front of a camera. And I was ready to totally dismiss that because of my own hang-ups and preconceived notions about growing old.

“You have to come see what I’ve been working on,” she said, days later when I dropped her off after a gut-buster lunch at a Chinese buffet. By the time we emptied my car of the wheelchair, the pillow that accompanies the wheelchair, the bag that is supposed to stay attached to the back of the wheelchair, and the oxygen tank (which she always says is almost empty, just to get me riled) we were both exhausted. But, curious to see her new project because health issues had hampered her recent creative efforts, I followed as she wheeled herself into her doorway and pointed to the floor.

“You’ve been painting on the carpet?” I asked, stepping carefully around the painted areas, and eyeing the pile of fabric markers lying nearby. Stifling the tiniest laugh, I examined her latest masterpiece, wondering how on Earth she got down-to and then up- off the floor.
“I couldn’t get the stains out so I decided to paint over them,” she said, with a smile beneath the oxygen tube, full of mischief and pride. And then she showed me how.

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Flight from Reality

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, in a quest for joy, photoshops a lone girl with her head in a pink cloud.“I love being home with you,” I told the dog, when everyone I knew was out somewhere having fun, and I was feeling antsy with nowhere to go. “But now let’s find something beautiful and joyful to photograph. Something besides you,” I said, and followed her flickering tail around the pond, stopping to take pictures of the water and wildflowers. A colossal pink cloud floated overhead. I snapped a dozen shots of it, awed by its rosiness.

The cloud would be a perfect illustration of joy, I thought. After weeks of watching the garden dry up in the drought, after howling my grief songs and driving people mad trying to move boulders, I desperately wanted to blog about something joyful. So that night I stayed up late, turned on the TV, made popcorn, poured a glass of sherry, pulled over a cozy chair for the dog, and began playing with the image of the pink cloud. And over the weekend, I missed a picnic and passed on a dinner invitation, as I Photo-shopped the cloud in the water, in my face, around a lone girl. I Photo-shopped the heck out of that cloud.

Then, I Googled “pink cloud” to get an idea of why I was so taken with the cloud, and what I might write about it. But there was no joy in any of the articles listed. It was a term used in alcohol and addiction recovery programs to refer to “unrealistic feelings of well-being and happiness experienced during times of despair.” It represented “ignoring life’s problems in a dangerous euphoria,” … “flight from reality.”

I looked at the picture I’d spent hours composing. I looked at the dog. And then I had to consider that maybe I’m the one walking around with my head in a pink cloud, convinced I’m solidly planted on a sure path to healing.

 

Where is joy?

 

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Working While Grieving

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs wineglasses lined up for Cornell's Adult University wine tasting course.Tip the bottle and pour: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, …seven. Next glass. Pour: one-Mississippi, two…. Focus. Don’t breathe. Don’t blink. Be here. Exclusively here. Now. There is nothing beyond the pouring of the wine into each glass. 26 glasses. 18 different wines today, each to be poured and served to 24 people in the class. And the instructor. And myself. Over 90 bottles of wine in 5 days. Can hardly wait to taste the aged Bordeaux. Oh, and the Burgundies! This week of work at Cornell’s Adult University will go by too quickly. And then what? Don’t go there. Focus. One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi…. Serve the white wines cold. Briefly chill the reds. Wash and dry the 137 glasses as they’re emptied. Fast. So we don’t run out.

Years ago, in the middle of my daughter Marika’s fight with cancer, I lost my beloved teaching job in the Ithaca City School District. Always a worker, I then spent my time and energy caring for my daughter. And after she died, all my letters requesting employment must have been too soused in grief; I was never granted an interview. So I spent time and energy on myself, my manuscript, photography, hiking, blogging, treating my life as if it were a job. Finally, a friend asked me to be a teaching assistant for his weeklong summer course. I gratefully accepted. A real job. Even if it was only for a week. Five years later, I still serve wines one week each summer.

Friends returning to work after time off for bereavement, have told me they found it difficult to retain information, impossible to focus, embarrassing to deal with grief attacks on the job. They wished they’d had more time away. Often loss had changed their priorities, so the jobs they once loved suddenly seemed meaningless. Other grieving friends found work comforting. It gave them a reason to get out of bed each day, kept them moving forward.

I found work and keeping busy are good distractions. But this only puts off the inevitable grief, prolonging the healing process. Sooner or later you must face the pain.

“Come meet my dishwasher,” I invite the wine tasters. “It washes 25 wineglasses in under 3 minutes.” In a fresh white lab coat with nametag, I trot between the tables chirping, “Cheers!” as I hand out glasses of wine. And lifting my own, I whisper, “Here’s to you, Marika.” It isn’t until the week ends and I’m driving home, alone and exhausted, that I let loose my howls of sorrow.

 

How do you deal with grief while working?

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