No Time Out From Heartbreak

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cow trapped in the piping of a dairy products facility.There are some things in this world I am never going to understand.

Like massacres. Killing. Cold-bloodedness. And inhuman cruelty.

Last week too many mothers had their hearts broken. Their stories and the faces of their children filled my head even after I turned off the TV. I tried to escape the images of their agony, but wherever I turned, in Wegmans, in the woods, Netflix, Facebook, …their despair followed me.

It was too difficult to write about people senselessly losing their lives. And the tormented families and friends left behind. Memories of my own pain resurfaced each time I tried.

So I sequestered myself in the quiet corner of my living room, in the depths of my computer and the distraction of Photoshop, thinking I could paste together a pure fresh collage on a blank canvas. There was no escaping. Even there, in the limitless layers of Photoshop, I found traces of my own heartlessness.

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What do You Google? And Why?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a silkscreened design she made for Silk Oak, to illustrate grieving cats. Thinking about Life Before Cell Phones used to give me a headache. But now it’s Google, the Internet search engine for quick easy retrieval of information, that I cannot imagine living without.

Vital information. Like, how to take grease stains out of grout. Like, what do screech owls sound like? Like, what is chermoula and how do you make it without cilantro?

Before Google, I would wonder about something, and maybe try to search for an answer in the library. Most of the time I simply accepted that the world was full of puzzles I’d never solve. There were too many questions one couldn’t ever hope to answer, even with the help of the sharpest librarian. Like, what ever happened to Mark Newhouse, my first boyfriend?

There are things I search for regularly on Google. Like synonyms, and chili recipes. And I google my own name periodically to see what others, who might be googling me, can see. A few times a year I google, Where is Marika Warden? My 20-year-old daughter who died 6 ½ years ago. You wouldn’t think anything could change about her. But every time I search, Google yields different information. Last week, in addition to the regular old obituaries, Google listed a White Pages link for her. When I clicked on it I learned that Marika J Warden, age 27, “Lives” in Ithaca, NY. It noted there were 13 marriage records, 2 divorce records, 1 birth and 1 death record affiliated with her name. It cheered me. Like she’s still somewhere in town, still trying for some Guinness World Record.

You can ask Google anything. Anything! Like, do cats grieve? I did not pose this question. I merely googled ‘grief’ and ‘cats’ to link these two ideas together so I could paste this kitty illustration I designed long ago for Silk Oak (google it) into this blog post. Google instantaneously connected the two, and offered up hundreds of articles on grieving cats. Which led me to wonder, what else could I connect, and why would I even want to connect things like ‘nosebleeds’ and ‘frying pans,’ and what in the world isn’t connected in some way, and why do I feel compelled to keep searching for these things?

So, after much consideration, I have an admission: I don’t google to find information. I do it because it feels good to get immediate responses. Lots of responses. It’s like receiving free gifts. And it connects me in odd ways to the rest of the world. Google confirms I am not alone; people from all over the planet are searching. Which led me to the discovery that I’m not the only one addicted to Google.

 

What do you google? And why?

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Stepping Outside my Comfort Zone

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops scenes from Cayuga Milk Ingredients, a milk processing facility in Central New York.Remove anything with a stone, we were told. Jewelry. Watches. It all had to come off. Backpacks. Purses. Everything was to be left in the small conference room at Cayuga Milk Ingredients.

Hugging my pack close, I watched my classmates nonchalantly shed their excess belongings. Leave my stuff? No way. We were way out in the middle of nowhere. With people I hardly knew. My photography instructor and five other retired folks with flashy cameras who’d go anywhere for a good shot, and some young guy I’d never met before with a pale pinkish ponytail and blue polished nails. What kind of field trip was this where we had to abandon our things?

I’d thought we were going to photograph a dairy barn, but silver tank-trucks kept pulling up to deliver milk. This was a milk processing facility, I learned. No cows. No free ice cream at the end. The place was creepy, huge, with gigantic stacks towering into the sky. It was too late to flee. And now everything would have to be removed: my father’s watch, the necklace my mother gave me, my grandmother’s ring that would have to be wrenched off, the thumb-drive-pendant with poems written by my daughter who died, and my single earring that gets taken off only by my sister or a girlfriend since I’m squeamish about it. “I won’t be able to put my earring back in by myself,” I said to no one in particular.

It wasn’t like we had to strip ourselves bare; but for me it was. Who was I without the things I’d been hanging onto for dear life? We were given long white plastic coats. And green mesh hairnets. And a choice: eyeglasses or safety glasses. To complete the outfit, we had to put shower caps over our shoes. With the eight of us there to take pictures, it hurt to think of how many times I’d be photographed in this get-up. I gazed at the pile of my precious worldly possessions like I might never see them again, and began the tour.

We followed the milk that was pumped from room to room. Each room had a distinct climate zone and different noise patterns. There were vast hallways of empty sterile space. And fans, plastic vats, pumps, motors, … lots of sanitized chrome. I avoided the foamy puddles I later learned were sanitizing agents, meant to be stepped in; and watched as, behind bars, a robot packaged products and sealed bags. Mountains of plastic bags of powdered milk filled cavernous rooms. And mostly, there were the endless pipes. They reached up and out, obscuring any sense of ceiling. They pulsed with milk. And chemicals. And some of the pipes dripped. It was like walking through an enormous haunted house in a conglomerate of Disneyland and the Twilight Zone.

Then, suddenly, we were all herded out an exit, into the hot glaring sun. Dazed and blinking, we found our way back to the conference room and our belongings. I scooped up my backpack and jewels. The kid with the ponytail helped me put back my earring. Then, gratefully restored to my old familiar self, I rode in the school van with my fellow explorers, and agreed that THAT trip was The Best.

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Caring and Kindness Needed

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, felt like a rat when she made it difficult for a friend who was homeless after Hurricane Irma.Doing a good thing doesn’t count for much of anything unless you do it with caring and kindness. Knowing how loss hurts, I want to be helpful and do nice things for others. But too often I lose track of my caring and kindness. I forget how to support someone in pain.

At the end of last weekend, I cried when my son left town. Miserable in my empty house, I tried to feed the hole in my heart with ice cream. I made popcorn, and watched three episodes of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Nothing helped. It felt like grieving and loss, all over again.

After days of mourning I got back to appreciating the quiet house, and loving the privacy where I could dance wildly with the dog and sing to my dead daughter. Except for all the TV images of people suffering severe losses in hurricanes, I was feeling fairly comfortable when I got an email from one of my friends in Florida, “Hi. I’m homeless. Do you have a room…?”

Right away I emailed back, yes, she could have my guest room. But before hitting SEND, I listed all the reasons why she wouldn’t want to stay in my home: the smelly dog, the neighbor coming and going, lights out at 9:30, no storage space available, meetings with writers and bereaved parents scheduled there at all hours…. And I made a list of My New House Rules, which I didn’t include in the email but meant to have ready in case she still accepted my offer after reading all the listed conditions and deficiencies. I almost phoned her to talk her out of the idea of staying in my home. But she’d already (almost immediately) emailed me back. And there was so much relief and gratefulness and joy in her email – that I suddenly felt like a rat.

 

Did you ever lose your caring and kindness? Your patience? What animal do you turn into when you aren’t at your finest?

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Hugs of Joy, Hugs of Sorrow

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops multiples of her Havanese dog looking for a woodchuck while Botie looks for trouble in every corner of the world: hurricanes, data hackers, cancer, earthquakes....It used to be that when you heard the words, “Guess what,” you’d know right away someone was pregnant. Just those two words could send you gushing with emotion, jumping up and down, and hugging for joy.

This morning, a friend greeted me with two other words, also heavy with connotation. “Bad news,” she said. And even though it came from out of the blue, and there’s been little other than “bad news” all over the world these days, I knew immediately: it was cancer. Her husband had been diagnosed with cancer. And all we could do was listen to each other’s wailings, and try to hold one another up. And hug.

We hug in happiness and we hug in sorrow. It takes only two words to understand which kind of hugging you’ll be doing. And after a long while of hanging onto people because you’re miserable and need comfort, it sure would feel good to embrace them in joy. So I looked high and low for something uplifting to report on this week. North, south, east or west there was nothing but trouble. Hurricane Irma’s devastation, storm surge, threats of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Mexico’s strongest earthquake in 85 years, hackers making huge data breaches, more cancer, friends’ fathers’ failing health…. My blog, the weekly hug I send my readers, seemed doomed to be another depressing pity party.

It’s embarrassing and difficult to be searching for joyfulness with this much suffering going on all over. So I’m opting out of joy this week. I’m taking time off to howl hysterically in my own private hissy fit. But I’ll leave you with this photo-shopped scene of my best friend. Here, Suki’s hoping she’ll catch up with the woodchuck that lives under our patio. Intent on nabbing the chuck, she doesn’t always hear the two words that make her smile for the camera, “Cookie, Suki.” This is the closest I can come to sending you a happy hug at the moment.

 

How was your week? How are your relatives that live in Texas and Florida and all the places that got hit by hurricanes? What was the most memorable hug you ever had?

 

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Happy I’m Alive

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, is in a small boat photographing Cayuga Lake and thinking of the flooding in Texas and the people who lost everything.I’m in a boat the size of my Prius. On Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, New York. Here, the weather was calm and sunny while Texas got blasted with Hurricane Harvey and epic flooding. The TV images still swamp my mind: boats floating between houses; the elderly couple supported by strangers as they trudged through knee-deep water to reach the rescue boat; tops of cars like small islands in oceans of flooded streets; the dog walking alone carrying a bag of dog-food in his mouth as people evacuated their homes holding whatever precious possessions they could carry.

On CNN I watched as evacuees were interviewed in busy shelters, one after another reporting, “I’m just happy I’m alive.” They’d lost their homes and belongings, beloved pets, neighbors, the feeling of safety, their dreams… their way of life. Some lost loved ones. Some lost everything they had. So much suffering and loss. Yet after all they’d been through they were grateful, “happy to be alive.” Hopeful. There was something more to look forward to, to live for.

The way I see it, loss can scar your life or be its reawakening. You can drown in your troubles and be swallowed up forever in disaster. Or you can allow it to fuel you, make you stronger, make you do something to help yourself and others.

How much hope and energy are you willing to invest in an uncertain future? Nothing is guaranteed. Anything is possible. The future depends on what life throws at you as much as what you choose for yourself. And the road to recovery can be long and rocky.

Six years ago I lost my daughter in a storm called cancer. And here I am floating in a boat, watching the water and surrounding green hills, and finding a million things that make me want to sing. My life is sad and it is beautiful. Many days I am only a breath away from a flood of tears. But I, too, am happy to be alive.

 

How has the hurricane hit you? What is the storm that stands out in your memory, that changed you?

 

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