Even a friend’s published work is an unbelievable experience

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The other day my girlfriend Emily Thornton Calvo picked me up from a doctor’s appointment. My husband was leaving town so he could only drop me off. Both daughters were working. For some odd reason, Emily actually had an hour break in her otherwise insanely busy schedule. And this, mind you, is post treatment for both cancer and leukemia. Look no further than Emily for an example on how to live life past the fullest, making over-doing it look like a vacation scenario.

As we headed home, she reached into the backseat and handed IT to me. Her New Book! Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd is a compilation of her insightful, eloquent poetry honed over decades of life-transforming experiences and more recent watercolor artwork, both of which present a sample of beautiful in the otherwise crazy world we inhabit. If you’re a Poetry Slam supporter, you must know her work through her Sunday evening readings at the Green Mill Lounge. Her artwork is already so spot-on, she’s had several successful art shows, too.

She’d been talking about putting the two together into a book for a while. Recently she revisited visual art through watercolors, and I am proud to have one of her masterpieces on my wall. Emily’s no rookie, having already published two other books with a co-author, so she’s well awareLCOA of the time and challenge of taking the traditional route to publish her latest creation.

Therefore, in 2014 when Emily applied for an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council, it’s really not that much of a leap to believe she won the grant. As a result, Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd became her latest masterpiece within one year, self-published through the generous support of this Arts’ program.

I held the book. I propped it up between the shift and dashboard to stare at it. Then I held it again, until we reached my front door. To know Emily is already a gift. To understand and access her vision of life in various stages is such a huge and special expression of the world  that only her words within the pages of this book begin to articulate it.

I can only hope to one day have a book of my own, capturing so many universal truths, to share with others. This creates a standard tough to achieve, but still worth the effort. To journey through all the physical, emotional, wonderful and agonizing experiences my friend has conquered, and to capture them with such presence of mind, is a rare talent. As is Emily.

The book will be available in print and electronically on Amazon and on her website, emilycalvo.com, later in October. It’s a holiday present no-brainer just as it’s a must-have for anyone searching for some sanity in this otherwise crazy world we call home.

I’m so happy and proud of you, Emily. And so honored to call you my friend. Congratulations!

Learning to Share Your Journey

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Thirty-two years ago I married a guy I was certain I would love forever. After all, in your 20s you know that you already know everything about yourself and the world. Some parents try offering insight from the decades-bigger buckets of experience they lug around. But that journey’s bends and bumps are ours alone to navigate. How we manage the curves turn us into the Adults every 21-year-old adult believes is the marker into the all-knowing. Still, loved ones watch us confidently stride into our futures, acutely aware we don’t know that we don’t really know much of anything about ourselves and the world yet.

What I didn’t know marching down the aisle 32 years ago would have long ago destroyed rain forests if I printed out the volumes describing it. And the guy I married is long gone. He’s grown into a Husband, Father, Uncle, Grandfather, Coach, Teacher, Wage Earner, Partner and more. While at that, we hurled head first into multiple moronic mistakes. There were times we thought we’d implode if we stayed together. We couldn’t agree on a path, and they all seemed too narrow to fit us both.

Yet We Did It. In huge measure by his toughing it out despite all the potholes I drove straight into as well as the unanticipated twists and turns. I’ve been sick, sad, mad, hurt, angry, exhausted and more. We’ve managed through his share from this list, but we learn that every couple racks up its unique set of shortcomings. It takes two to neglect or nurture a marriage. Some survive, others don’t.

Still, I needed seemingly endless support from this one person. Having lost my parents and siblings in only a few years over a decade ago, he somehow survived my wanting from him everything you get from your immediate family, not your spouse. The unconditional love, keeping alive a history he didn’t experience, sharing my new family’s experiences with my original one, and trying to grasp my loss as he participated with his six siblings and I shifted through anger, sadness and jealousy.

My bad luck became his, and he tried with everything he had when he could have walked away with ample justification. How lucky am I? Beyond bucket loads.

We’re all imperfect. The sooner we accept that, the easier it becomes to be most mindful of the best in others. Remembering the great and not the worst moments is neither a lesson learned early or easily, something our parents knew.

Now we are the parents. Our two daughters are our greatest achievements and possess the best of us. Yet, they’re already on their own journeys.They visit with spouses, awesome grandchildren and significant others, and then they leave us, alone.

We haven’t experienced just the two of us for almost 30 years. Neither of us are the same person we were on August 14, 1982. We’ve grown—together, even when we didn’t think so—closer, despite the moments that separated us—grateful that we didn’t choose the fork in the road when it seemed easier—and wiser, at long last.

Love is as much a journey as is life. I was lucky enough to marry a guy I could learn about love with, despite our youth and the many differences we shared but wouldn’t see until infatuation morphed into Adult reality. And I’m blessed to remain with the man he became, who stayed connected as we realized we really knew very little about ourselves and the word around us when we began this leg of our journey.

The G-Word

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Hundreds of emotions rushed through me when my daughter announced she was pregnant with her first child. Her health, age, future, childbirth, anything a mom can fret about simmered within me throughout her pregnancy. The biggest surprise, though, was the difficult time I was having accepting the reality that I was old enough for grandparenthood.

If that doesn’t prove “youth” is relative, I don’t know what does. As if I couldn’t have passed for a grandmother without my daughters having children. I’d already had practice. My stepson had three handsome kids of his own who I adore. I spent a great deal of time with the oldest when he was young, and it remains among my greatest experiences. Gus is the first little person I didn’t give birth to who enjoyed being with me as much as I loved being with him. Nonetheless, he’s a reminder my husband is older than me, and another Grandma rightfully ranks first in all their big hearts. Bottom line: I avoided the “I’m-a-grandma-now” reality check.

Daughter #2, Niece, Daughter #1, aka Mom, and Cait

Like the teenager who knows everything, I was an early-in-my-50’s mom who still had much to learn but didn’t think so when daughter #1 announced her daughter was due in September, 2007. I was abuzz with busy―baby showers, learning the latest in all things baby, and calling friends, most of who held their Grandma comments to themselves, although I could see the smirk in their eyes.

My daughter allowed me to be with her when Caitlin arrived. I was overwhelmed remembering all the love and happiness greeting my oldest when she was born. My parents and I spent years staring at her, awake or asleep. My youngest daughter, Caitlin’s new aunt, joined us in the birthing room soon afterwards, and I remembered how excited my mom and dad were at her arrival, especially my dad who’d finally slowed down enough to revel in all things infant and toddler. Every mispronounced word worthy of a story, told repeatedly. Then in came my niece, and I relived the joy my grandmother, mom, dad, sister and I felt when she made her debut―the first girl born near enough to hover over since my birth.

I held Caitlin close for a few minutes, introducing her to these women whose blood she shares. I told her about the long line of strong women preceding her, a tribute to those who instilled a love so powerful that those remaining were present now. The notion of missing even the first few moments of this new life unthinkable to each of us who instantly became part of her story through no choice of her own.

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Grandma and Cait

What an aha moment for this mom. Just when you think you’ve experienced all the great stuff in life―job promotions, marriage, rock star kids, beautiful homes, and even the significance of surviving the big 5-0―it’s not a leap to believe any big, magical milestone moments might be behind you.

Silly, inexperienced me. It took a year before Cait could say “Gamma.” Now that she’s getting ready for 1st grade, she can pronounce, spell and read Grandma as her mother, aunt and great-aunt did before her. And, I learned that just when I thought there were no longer any more big life lessons left,  being a grandmother is perhaps the most definitive life-affirming experience.

Caitlin and now her little brother multiple infinitely the profound love I felt when I gave birth to their mom. I don’t think either my very tired and hard-working daughter and equally exhausted niece can process the concept of so much love. Nor can my youngest who will be a terrific mother after she ventures down the many paths still before her. They have plenty of time. But this mom, who’s more motivated than ever to stay healthy to experience her baby’s babies, too, alternately laughs and cries at that naïve 50-something woman who feared the thought of being called Grandma.

It’s only when we stop learning new things every day that we genuinely have something to fear.

The last Sunday Sunset at Ragdale

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Sunday Sunset at Ragdale.

As this three-week artist- and writer-in residence program at the Ragdale Retreat settles into the final stretch, I at last captured a sunset.

It happened on cue, just as I completed re-editing the first essay I wrote on arrival. And, just as I used up the last of the woodpile for the fireplace in this beautiful room.

Sunsets, fireplaces, scenes just like this are now on the list of my favorite things. If one can’t draw inspiration here, I’m not sure where it might be.

I’m honored to be part of this community, and that it’s the last week is bittersweet. I have new friends, and we share the common awe and appreciation of art. Words, music, images―they offer beauty to a world that’s often hard and unpredictable. That’s magic.

Next Sunday’s sunset will look different, but I hope it occurs surrounded by family. Distance and time to reflect are reminders of how precious family is. Each one miraculous in his and her unique way.

What I know now: we all can create magic and miracles. What gifts. But like the sunset and the fire, these moments are fleeting. Take time to revel in them.