Friday, May 11, 2018

Rejections 17 and 18


The rejections are mounting! Rejection 17 came in January when I did not hear from Real Simple Magazine about my entry to their essay contest which asked the question, What was the happiest moment of your life? It is typical that a publication will only inform the winners, so when I don't hear anything around the date specified for announcements, I am confident that I can call it a rejection.
I have submitted to Real Simple numerous times, and I fought this year's topic, not knowing what might stand out to judges as an authentic, thoughtful answer to the question. A friend told me that the magazine didn't want my consternation, they wanted my essay. With usual directness, he told me to hurry up, pick a topic, and get to writing.
I chose the story of reconnecting with college friends who I hadn't seen for nearly 20 years and what I learned about myself as a 40-something compared to the twenty-something I'd been the last time I was with these friends. It wasn't my best work, but I was glad to get the words on paper and to email my submission.
Here's an excerpt from “Happiness in the Aftermath.”
“Post-divorce life keeps teaching that 'what is' should not be compared with 'what once was' or 'what never was.' I am writing a different divorce story. One where I am happy to be on my own. Happy to co-parent my daughter in collaboration and civility with her father. I no longer feel anxiety about what the future may bring. I have tapped into the fun of making up the rules as I go. This weekend confirmed again and again that I have emerged from the aftermath of divorce, happy and joyful. I feel whole and content...”
Getting those words on the screen to re-read to myself is valuable and worth the effort—regardless of where in the publishing world those words land.
This 300 Rejections journey reminds me repeatedly of what's important: Committing and showing up to write. The outcome and quality are secondary. Quality work is a by-product of showing up. Rejection 17 is a stronger submission than Rejection 10 by virtue of the fact that I continue to stretch myself, to swim in words, and discover what's inside that needs to be expressed.
MC Yogi, a yoga teacher and thought leader, posted this phrase on Instagram today: Practice makes progress. I like it better than what I usually tell my daughter, Practice makes proficient.
In the last year or so, I have begun dreaming of giving a TED Talk. It's one of those big, scary goals that I have no idea how to get from here to there to achieve. I first have to figure out what idea of mine is worth spreading, which is the tagline of TED talks.
Today I stood in my daughter's school learning commons (aka the library) and told the librarian about my burgeoning writing pursuits. I told her the back story of 300 Rejections and how I have turned what many writers experience as disappointment and discouragement into motivation, celebration, and a measuring stick for my own grown as a wordsmith.
In the brief conversation, we both heard me say something so elemental, we stopped and gasped. I reached for a pencil and she went running for a piece of paper. I may very well have found my TED talk! Now, the marinating of the seed of an idea will begin. I'll think about it in the shower and on the drive to work. Ideas will sprout as I mow my lawn. I know today that while I may very well be on to something, I have more life to live, more stories to stockpile before this idea turns into to a speech that I craft and practice inside and out.
I also know that this idea wouldn't have happened without these rejections, which is another thing to celebrate.
Rejection 18 was an essay I wrote as an answer to the essay query, How to Survive a Disaster? The deadline was January 31—two weeks after my grandpa's funeral. I channeled my grief and energy into writing this essay, and the result is a four-page essay that I am deeply proud of. It took so much out of me in the days following my grandpa's death that I didn't write anything substantive for months after.
I stalked the web site on April 30, the day the announcement was supposed to be made. Then I forgot about it until a few days ago. The announcement was delayed. While I didn't find my name listed, at least I know definitively that I can count this one as Rejection 18.
I feel strongly about this essay, so I have two more places I want to submit it to before I publish it here. So, I'll either get Rejections 19 and 20, or I'll get my first 300 Rejections-inspired acceptance. I'll report back when I know either way. In the meantime, keep doing whatever it is that you do that lights your fire, keeps you up late or wakes you up early. We need to keep bringing those things that light us up into the world.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Anniversary


Since execution of the 40/40 list three years ago, I now mark time differently than I did before. I observe life events as anniversaries more readily than I have in the past. The things I honor are obscure but full of meaning—equal parts celebrating the every day moments that become monumental over time while acknowledging how far I have come.

This weekend marks the first anniversary of me chopping off my hair. It was such a change for me that for the first thirteen weeks, I documented the rate of hair growth. I wanted to get a sense of what this new cut would look like in all its stages of growth and how long I could get by without a trim. I was surprised that it took more than three months before the second cut was imperative.

I've thought a lot about this hair cut over the year. I have learned six things:

1. I have a cowlick I didn't know I had. It's in the back. Northeast of my left ear. It's more prominent when my hair grows out. It is giving me the practice in letting go of seeking perfection. Some days no amount of goop will tame it, and I have come to embrace of that rascally element. Plus, I can't really see it unless I turn my head to the right, so I don't do that much.

2. With this haircut, I can no longer where my beloved hats. This realization stung at first. My hat collection and my insistence on wearing hats throughout adulthood and against the fashion grain were two ways I set myself apart from my peers and asserted confidence in inhabiting my own particular skin. With time, I have accepted that my hat wearing days are over, and I am closing that chapter by liquidating some of my collection. When it's time for wearing hair accessories again, I'm going to keep my eye out for cool headbands and fascinators. Maybe those will be the new thing I use to set myself apart. Or maybe I'll stick with being really confident in who I have become. See #3 and #4.

It's a little bit like when I discovered that I'd outgrown my beloved Notting Hill DVD from the early 2000s and put it in the donation pile. I was incredulous at first, but it felt right to let it go. Same with the hats.

3. I am no longer photogenic. Longer hair that framed my face served me well in photographs throughout my life. I regularly took good ID photos, which was so weird. I believed most of the time that I looked better in photos than I did in real life. It's taken some adjustment, but now I am confident living with the reverse situation. I like that I feel confident in real time. 

4. This haircut is the physical representation of a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual transformations that have taken place in the past three-plus years. When I look in the mirror, I remember how I am not the same woman. I am sturdier, more confident, less scared and reactionary than I have been in the past. I know that I have put in the time to grow as a person, mother, and writer.

5. My already low-maintenance morning routine requires even less time, which gives me more time to sleep, talk and laugh with my daughter, and do light housekeeping before work.

6. Hair is serious business. I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. It is a major achievement in being human to reach a state when one's interior and exterior match.

Cowlick mentioned in #1
photo: CJM

Easter morning, fresh cut, goop applied

Three weeks later, fringe beginning to show at left temple
also: doing what I love, talking about writing at a young authors conference


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Check-in - April


The month of April has been a non-stop collection of days—good and meaningful activity—but non-stop. It’s been a month of elementary school lasts: last Read, Right, and Run race in Forest Park, last choir performance at the Cardinals game. We celebrated her 11th birthday and collected items for our favorite non-profit organization. We drove west for a youth lock-in one weekend, and then a week later I drove further west to participate in a young authors conference. I visited with friends, met a new baby, and am listening to a laugh out loud funny novel on my commutes to and from work.

I haven’t been sleeping well, and have the sneaking suspicion that I am now of the age where I must temper my caffeine intake. I won’t be able to test that theory completely until I get past this irritating case of mouth breathing I have as I fight congestion in my sinuses. I feel miserable and yet…

I also feel an odd and unexpected sense of peace.

I believe this sense of ease is in part a by-product of my Lenten practice. I did not listen to any music, podcast, or audiobook on the drives to and from work. I hated almost every minute of it, but I knew it was good for me so I kept at it. In the quiet I had time and space to face some things I really didn’t want to contemplate. In the quiet I saw with clarity how much these things I was fasting from helped elevate my moods and cope with the difficulties of my everyday life. But with a break from these coping mechanisms, the Lenten season also gave me an opportunity to heal some things that needed to be brought into the light.

Part of what made this practice bearable was my honesty about how much I didn’t like it. Saying the words freed me. I knew I didn’t have to like the activity for it to have positive effects on me.

On some days when the quiet didn’t feel so daunting, it actually served as space for creative brainstorming. Many of the ideas that I ended up using during my 45-minute writing workshop came from those minutes in the quiet.

I contemplated the shifts I was feeling in some relationships. I reflected on my feelings and actions, and by the time I faced these people in person, I had my emotions and intentions sorted out and the interactions helped me know what the next right thing was. I am convinced that without this quiet I would not have been able to navigate the chaotic days of the past month with as much calm and confidence as I have.

As the third anniversary of my divorce approaches, I sense I’m going through another passage—a new set of endings and beginnings. I no longer feel so raw and vulnerable. I have found new rhythms to my solitude and my active mothering. I am firmly planted on my two feet. I don’t fear the unknown. I feel a sturdy sense of, “I’ve got this,” no matter what life my throws my way next.

I am struck by how unbothered by my solitude I am. I have learned to love my own company. I sit alone in restaurants and don’t feel self-conscious. A weekend without my daughter no longer threatens to take me under as it did in the past. I am free of the crutch that social media in all its faux-closeness was for me. For a while I was text-dependent on friends who lived out of town. I had tricked myself into thinking that those texts could evaporate the distance. The truth is I had to come to terms with the fact that I live HERE. Not there. I had to surrender to the idea that my life was best lived on the soil I am planted in. Once I made that mental shift, I felt the peace wiggle into place. Like the tulips in my backyard, I am blooming where I am planted.
 
I am much more comfortable with the rhythms of my writing now. I understand that when I’m not physically writing, I am doing the mental work that will become something later. When I write, I end a session with Page Done. I don’t have to text a friend as accountability anymore. I am my own accountability.

I feel so much more settled now. I’ve never felt like this before. I also prize silences now. I do not fill awkward silences with chatter. I sit in the space and wait for meaningful words to come. If they don’t, I don’t fight that either.
“All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” -Julian of Norwich

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Why I left Facebook


In the early days, Facebook closed geographical distances. I could watch the children of family and friends grow up photo by photo. In the case of my international roommate from college, I could see her in her daily life in a way that three or four letters a year could not illustrate. When I dig deeper, I see that Facebook in those early days was a lifeline. It created a connection in other places that was not secure in my home. It served as an analgesic. It numbed the pain of not being seen by the one who was “supposed” to see me.

Then came the days when I was writing more and Facebook served as a distribution service. My blog was far from being a household name, but if I posted a link to my posts, a small band of faithful readers would click on the links. Some would even comment. In this space, my confidence grew as did my voice and writing chops.

Over time though, I noted that I spent a lot of time checking Facebook. Had anyone “liked” my latest post or commented on a piece of writing? I didn’t like the trend I felt stirring in me. I considered posting my blog links on Facebook as practice runs for when my writing had a broader audience. I didn’t want to lose sight of the reason I was writing in the first place: for the love of crafting words into sentences, into paragraphs, into pages. Writing is the closest I’ll ever come to being an artist. I depend on my words to paint pictures, to sculpt something out of the lump of clay that is the blank page.

Really successful artists comment time again about how they don’t read the reviews or listen to the adulation. The good and bad comments are different sides of the same coin. I appreciated that my band of fans were so encouraging, but I didn’t want to become dependent on them. I also wanted to be prepared for when the reviews weren’t so great.  

While I was logged on looking for reader reactions, I also stumbled onto an insight that changed everything for me and my future with Facebook: the collective we were being overpowered and divided up by the belief that we needed to express every single opinion we had, and we behaved like it was our job to convince others how wrong they were.

In the months leading up to this realization, I had chosen not to unfriend people whose beliefs were so different than mine. I was determined to find a way to find unity in spite of difference. Cutting people out didn’t seem like the peacemakers way. And then I remembered something else. Facebook hadn’t changed who we were, it had simply made these opinions we held more public. For the most part, we’d all been voting the way we’d voted for years, but Facebook created a platform for discussion that turned into impasses.

I’d been contemplating leaving Facebook for a while. I wanted to be reminded of what life felt like before I spent so much time thinking about how to document my life in words and pictures to post. I had tried not logging on, but that hadn’t been very successful. I found the draw was too strong, and that truth worried me. I didn’t like to think that I was one of the many Facebook users “addicted” to it.

Lent approached and I considered deactivating my account. I removed the app from my phone and it helped ease my distraction, especially since I was also now without a laptop. But the morning after the Parkland school shooting, I logged in and that’s when I knew it was time. I was unsettled by the fact that in the marketplace of opinions and assertions, I was seeing so little upset over the latest shooting. No matter where one stands on guns, I was disturbed that we seemed complacent about this latest tragedy.

That morning I went through the steps to deactivate my account. Facebook gave me opportunities to change my notification settings and to take a short break, but I wanted to sever ties for the time being, to take a stronger stand for life offline.

What I was not prepared for was how little I missed it. I knew in my gut (remember her, Calliope?)that the connections I wanted I could access in real life. It was a relief to not pick up my phone and scroll mindlessly. I returned to writing in my journal. I remembered that I didn’t need to tell anyone else what I was thinking for it to be valid. I validated my own experience and it was enough. Far more than enough. I was finishing books at a much quicker rate. It’s amazing how much reading I could accomplish undistracted.
I also have a child who now has a cell phone. She'd been remarking about how much time I spent on my phone. I wanted to be a good influence. I wanted her to see that I could walk away from the draw of my phone.

I also wanted to lose my sense of activism that was really only expressed by sharing an article or posting a comment here and there. I want to be an activist in real time, and I needed to remove the temptation of keyboard activism to figure out how that would look in my real life.

Being away also gave me space to contemplate my writing and how I would continue to build a readership without the benefit of Facebook. I don’t have my answers yet, but I know better how much I want to write for the sake of writing and less for the comment section. That has been an important inner conversation to have with myself and one that might have been less likely to take place if I didn’t break my Facebook habit.

I didn’t leave social media completely. I continued posting photos and telling stories on Instagram. (You can find me @journalingjulie)But that online space feels different. I enjoy scrolling through friends’ posts, but I don’t get sucked in. I don’t feel my anxiety spike. I am inspired by the photos and words in a way I lost on Facebook.

Lent has been over for more than a week. I’m technically “allowed” to return to Facebook, but I have very little motivation to do so. I don’t have answers to all the questions my leaving Facebook has posed, but I know that I am living life with far more intention and attention than I had been under the influence of Facebook. As Rainer Maria Rilke advised, I am living in the questions hopeful that one day I’ll discover I am living the answers.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A few words about grief


I am in the thick of it.

I feel like the wind’s been knocked out of me. I can’t concentrate at work. I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw for dinner tonight.

When I zoom in on my Grandpa’s face in my mind’s eye, he’s always got his eyes squinched tight because this is what he did when he laughed hard, and I’ll always remember him laughing. When the picture is really clear, that’s when I cry. When I remember that that picture will only ever be in my head, that there isn’t the possibility of another visit with him on this side of eternity, well, my heart breaks some more.

I’m preoccupied and a little snippy. My daughter has noticed and commented. “What’s wrong, Mom? You seem like you’re hiding something.”

I tell her I’m tired. But she’s no fool. I am hiding. I’m hiding the fact that all I want to do is crawl in bed and catch my breath. For a few weeks, maybe a month.

I know I’m okay. I know I’m not depressed. I know that allowing myself all of this annoying stuff is part of the process, but it’s exhausting.

I am aware of how poorly we westerners do this death and mourning thing. Because he was my grandfather, I was granted one day of leave for the funeral. I am grateful for the day I received, but this was not nearly enough. Nor would the three days have been had the loss been my child, parent, or sibling.

If I’m honest, I’m put off by the idea that this man, as my grandfather, doesn’t rank high enough for more than a cursory nod of acknowledgment. A friend called him my “shelter” in a note of condolence, and my, did she get that right.

I’ve thought of the beauty of the Jewish practice of Sitting Shiva, the seven-day mourning period for first-degree relatives. The bereaved are fed by friends and neighbors, visited, and sat with. The visitors, according to my Wikipedia search, do not initiate conversation, but simply be with the bereaved in their grief. In my faith tradition, we call this “ministry of presence.”

I have been the recipient of many kindnesses in the past three weeks. I have had long-distance friends text and send messages to check in on me. One friend told me to text her a heart when I needed an extra dose of prayer and support. I appreciated the wordless way to express a need to her. It’s a strategy I will offer friends in similar difficult circumstances in the future.

I’ve also received a dozen or more cards in the mail. Each one of these has meant so much and has been such a comfort.

While I am sad and tired, I don’t want to rush past this time. I want to honor it and the person I am grieving. I know that unprocessed grief can be harmful and I don’t want any of that.

My self-care practices also are helping. I started a new show on Netflix and have been surprised by its poignancy, humor, and comfort. I am reading a lot and writing a little. I’ve gotten a bit off track with doing well at feeding myself, but I am paying attention to how many evenings I eat cereal and work to eat better options at the next meal.

Since this is really a chronicle for me to look back on later when my heart doesn’t feel so tender, I don’t have a great conclusion to these rambles. I’ll end with a beautiful moment from the funeral home.

I greeted a man in cowboy boots, a buff-colored suede jacket, and a cowboy hat. I introduced myself as Melvin’s oldest granddaughter. I thanked him for coming and asked him how he’d known my grandfather. We talked for a few minutes. He told me what he thought of my grandfather, how he loved and admired him. Then he cocked his head to the side and said, “I see Melvin in you.” He smiled.

I smiled back and said, “You do?” This was the first time I’d ever heard this.

“Oh yes, I see him in your smile.” I couldn’t think of a lovelier thing to hear. I haven’t forgotten it either.

 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Reset - An Update


Two years ago I wrote a list of truthful statements (and some after thoughts) that marked my emotional terrain at the time. I remember feeling vulnerable putting those words out for others to read, but as I reread the list now, I barely recognize the woman or the description of her feelings. It is for THIS reason, that I blog. I am so grateful for the chronicle of where I am in a given moment. There is hope in rereading and knowing that the moment or season, in fact, did pass. To help me continue to mark time, I am responding to each of my statements with a few words about where I am now (in italics).

I am coming to terms with how I can be deeply content and profoundly sad at the same time.

I am still content—even more so than two years ago, but much less sad today. I’m not counting the sadness I feel about Grandpa’s recent death. I am making my way through my grief and my missing him. I also know that there won't be an end to the sadness I feel. I'll integrate his absence into my new normal. This is easier when I consider how many years I had with him. 95 years is a good, long run. 

I am lonely for something or someone I cannot quite put my finger on.

I don’t feel loneliness as acutely today as I did then. Mostly I believe it’s because I have become my own best friend. I am who I was lonely for and didn’t know it yet. I enjoy my own company in a way I never have before. I am not searching for the company of anyone else, so when I have the opportunity to spend time with my tribe, my time with them is richer. I am not needy or clinging to them for company as I know I have done in the past. This feels like a great relief.

I am weepy, and when those moments come I wonder if I can ever grow strong in my broken places.

I revel in the strength I have gained in my broken places. I don’t feel weepy.

I'm not eating enough.

This, too, has changed. I feed myself better now than I did then. It doesn’t feel like such a chore. I have accepted that I have a small repertoire of meals I can prepare without much thought and I stick to making those. I rearranged my pantry and got a handle on what I purchase regularly and stick to those things. Preparation is key for me, so I grocery shop with intention. My pants fit as they should, which for someone of my build is quite an accomplishment. I feel good in my skin these days. I don't feel "skinny" in a bad way as I have in the past.

I miss my daughter when we are apart.

This will never change, but the missing her doesn’t feel so tender and bruised. She is thriving in both households. We enjoy our time together after we’ve been apart, and now that she has a mobile phone, we are in constant contact. Her thriving eases this ache.

I'm tired of thinking about the debt I have to pay down. 

I’ve come a long way in my thinking about this too. Yes, I have debt, but I have extenuating circumstances that led to this. I also have a plan to pay it down. Experiencing the shame and frustration of this financial situation has served me well. I have proved to myself that I am resourceful, can delay gratification, and am capable of stretching a dollar without feeling deprivation. My creativity has surged as a result. Though hard, I know I will appreciate the lessons this chapter taught me. I feel no shame, now.

I'm scared that I may never be a published writer.

I’m too busy writing and thinking about my next project to worry about things that I cannot control. I have really come into my own when it comes to understanding why I write and what I hope to accomplish with it. The love for writing has nothing to do with fame and fortune. I would post to my blog even if there were no readers, no audience. That's how crucial a part of my writing is to who I am. Figuring this out is integral to my well-being as I continue to rack up rejections. What I mean is, what's important is that I am writing. My value as a writer comes from within.

I'm scared that the story I'm writing will never be as good outside my head as it is inside.

I trust my writing process because I’ve done A LOT more writing since 2016. This trust empowers me to keep writing until I get what I'm working on right. This is no longer a worry either.

I get anxious when I can't plan for the future or even have the remotest idea what might come my way.

Not anymore. I consider the unknowns to be adventures that I don’t know about yet. This has come about by my ability to be content in the present moment. The future is merely present moments that haven’t arrived yet. I’m okay in all of them.

These winter days have me feeling like I'm a character in Groundhog Day.

This is how I feel about winter these days: “Winter reminds us that everyone and everything needs some quiet time.” – Katrina Mayer

I am grateful for the slower, cozier pace of winter. It is practice in remembering that no season lasts forever.

I am an overthinker, and am wondering how to turn off the chatter in my head.

My practices of yoga, mindfulness, and deep breathing are the solutions to my chatter-y mind. I don’t experience this as often or as intensely.

Two years ago, I couldn’t envision being the woman I am today. I look forward to seeing where I am and what’s occupying my thoughts and activities two years from now. Wherever life takes me then, I can trust that I will be well and able to handle whatever life presents. This is priceless and the key to living a content life.
 
 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Papa and His Girls - A Celebration and a Goodbye




I was so busy enjoying my time with Grandpa, soaking in all the moments, that I didn't take many photos on our last visits. These three above are from his 2015 stopover visit on a train trip to Michigan to see the rest of our family. It was around Veterans Day, so in the middle photo he is reading the card that Cadence made for him, our Navy man. His military service was an important part of his life and he spent the rest of his life being part of the American Legion and honoring others who made the ultimate sacrifice.

This past Tuesday, we celebrated this precious man's life and laid him to rest. It's an embarrassment of riches that we had him for so long, and yet, it never would have been long enough. Below are the words my daughter and I wrote to honor our grandfather and great-grandfather. I learned days after his death that he had assumed that I would be too emotional to speak. I'm sorry I didn't clear that up with him before. For once, he underestimated me!


                                                           Letter for Melvin

I am Cadence Jewel Mahoney. I am Melvin’s first but not last great grandchild.  Me and my mom Julie visited him as much as we could. We loved coming to see him.  We would always have a blast and I would never feel bored or like we need to do more.  I felt happy and surprised. He would surprise me with going to go Chicken Mary’s or Braum’s.  On our way to these destinations we would slowly but surely jump in the car and drive there. When people are driving differently than grandpa would like, he would always say a different phrase like, “come on josie” or “my horses are faster than you.” Which would always make me chuckle.  I loved every time we went to see the horses at the Brock’s.  I would help him brush them down or feed them and a few years ago, he asked me “would you like to get on Minnie?”  and of course i couldn't say no to that because i had always loved horses and always had dreamed of getting to ride one. So he slightly would give me a hand and i would get my little foot on his hand and climb myself up on Minnie.  I could not believe my eyes. I was so happy on the horse.  After we went to see the horses, he would surprise me with going to go Chicken Mary’s and then to go get ice cream at Braum’s.

As soon as we got home from a long but fun day we would relax on the couches and watch Blue Bloods, MASH or Lawrence Welk.  Every time there was a joke or something dumb that he thought was very unnecessary he would brighten up the room with smiles and laughter. Whenever, he laughed I could not keep my mouth shut. His laugh is one of my favorite things about him.  

Finally I wanted to talk about what it meant to me to be his great grandchild.  Grandpa and I almost shared a birthday. He was born on April 9 and my birthday is April 10. It was cool to be 85 years and one day apart.

When we visited him, right before we went back to St. Louis, he would always tell me if I needed anything to give him a call and he would give me money to get on the train and come stay with Papa. It made me feel super loved.

He always reminded me to not do drugs and make smart decisions and to make Papa proud. He would always hug me and give me a kiss on the cheek. His hugs were so great. That’s another thing I will miss about him.

His advice was very inspirational. He always made sure he was positive about himself and others. I am glad to be able to speak here today. I will miss him so very much, but I am glad he will be in a better place. I am excited for him to reunite with my grandma. We will miss him dearly, but we will love that he was in our lives. I love you, Grandpa. You mean the world to me.


###

My grandfather had many memorable qualities, but the one that made the biggest impact on my life was his tenacity. He was determined to better himself, to stretch and to grow, to move beyond where he had been. He demonstrated tenacity in two separate ways in the last ten or fifteen years when he joined Toastmasters and bought software to teach himself how to type.

What is so remarkable to me about these things is how out of his comfort zone he must have been in the undertaking of each. He didn’t spend much time inside a classroom. His brilliance and higher education was hard-earned life experience. And in his late eighties and early nineties, you might say that polishing one’s public speaking ability and typing skills were out of place or unnecessary. On the surface, that could be true. But I admire these pursuits more for this very reason.

I told him I loved him all the time. We had really great, rich, frank conversation, but I realize now that I didn’t tell him how much I admired him doing these things. Through Toastmasters, he was learning how to tell some of the stories he’d carried for a long time. And the improved typing was a help as he wrote letters-to-the-editor of various publications.  When he saw something he thought needed fixing or required his perspective or expertise, he was quick to write a letter, and his words were published repeatedly. Another thing I admire! These skills helped him grow more confident and undo injustices of his past. He resisted the idea that there should be limitations of behavior or aspirations purely based on age. I love this.

My grandfather taught me many things by his quiet actions: how to respect and approach a horse, how to love one’s family, how to age gracefully, how to be vulnerable, how to soothe oneself through difficult patches of life. He also taught me what it looked like to love someone, disagree with them, and do so with kindness and respect. These are things I will spend the rest of my life fine-tuning in my own relationships and interactions.

He taught me the power of experiencing pain in life and then tempering it with joy and laughter. He taught me how to not get stuck in that pain, but to work to understand it and move on. He showed me what it looked like to not be satisfied with where you are and to take steps to build knowledge, increase understanding, and develop skills. I have learned how to face my fears and press on.

Melvin’s storytelling and laughter are the two things I will miss the most. He lit up the room with his tales and the funny way he laughed his way to the punch line. First by wheezing, holding his breath, and slapping his knee before composing himself and continuing with the story. I’d suggest watching an episode of M.A.S.H. to initiate his laughter if he hadn’t thought of a funny story to tell first.

Most of all, Melvin was my best friend and my biggest fan. Being his granddaughter means I am a better human, woman, and mother because of his love, mentoring, and friendship.
Papa and his girl, CJ