REACHING OUT

 

 

My interest in people who are finding interesting ways to keep their spirits up during the Pandemic has led me to an inspiring example: a retired biology professor who hasn’t retired from her desire to help others.

Twelve years ago Dr. Roberta Koepfer was given a frightening diagnosis, bronchiectasis (a serious lung disease).

“I felt as if my world was getting smaller,” she says. Her next thought was: What can I do to make my world as large as possible and whom might I help?

So she embarked on an unusual activity, which she’s continued and even expanded  during this pandemic. The first thing each morning  (“it’s a discipline”)  she researches Google  for inspiring quotes and poems that relate to a theme she has in mind. The theme may be something that came to her during the night, or the day’s news, or a family photo. If Google fails, she turns to A Poem A Day.

“Then I look for a photo or the copy of a painting to illustrate the theme.” Frequently she finds what she’s looking  for in the  collection of  stunning photos that she’s taken herself. Putting all this together takes, she figures, about an hour. But that’s only for one. She creates  anywhere from one to three of these every day! She posts them on the Internet and enjoys responses from a  “steady core” of readers.

Roberta’s  also added something else to her schedule. Although she’s fortunate to be with her husband, she’s aware how isolating the pandemic is for elderly people who live alone. She has the names of four people  and phones an alternating two every week. The calls aren’t just brief check-in’s, but “pretty long,” she says, “maybe 45 minutes each.”

It all takes a lot of time and work,  Roberta admits, but it helps keep her from dwelling on her fragile health or the fact that Covid  prevents  her from seeing her two young grandchildren.

She also has no doubt that her projects are  worthwhile, not only for the recipients, but for herself.  “The most important thing,” she stresses, “is helping people and keeping in contact.”

(Share your story: Send to ahosansky@gmail,com – and “meet”yourself in these pages.)

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com; Widow’s Walk –iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com,; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play-bothavailable through Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.

 

 

 

STORM-TOSSED

“We’re all in the same boat.” That common greeting is supposedly reassuring in this Covid era. But an Ohio woman has a sage retort: “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats.”

What she means is that we’re afflicted by the pandemic in different ways. Two of her adult children have fled back home for safety. She may be envied by a boatload of other mothers who are unable to see their children because of the virus. On the other hand, having your offspring come home with their careers shipwrecked can add their anxiety to your own.

Someone who is out of work, and/or struggling for money to buy groceries, will think the couple locked down in their luxurious condo has it easy – unaware that the couple may have serious problems of their own, ranging from health to the marital stress of too much proximity. The truth is that pandemic stress mixes with the age-old human tendency to assume that the other person doesn’t have it as hard.

This was brought home to me when I was trying to get my latest book published and had to deal with invisible individuals who were working at home. Trying to make conversation with one editor, I listened as she complained how hard it was for her to work in a crowded household, since her siblings had moved in along with their young children. “At least you have company,” I said. “I’m alone.”
“You’re so lucky!” she said.
Amusing? Yes. But it made me realize how differently we view what we’re going through. I’m all too aware of the downside of living alone – no one to reassure me about the day’s (usually dire) news, or hold my hand after a difficult day of work, and so on. Yet if I view my “boatload” from a different angle, I see I have uninterrupted time to write, no obligation to stop work in order to make dinner for anyone, read all night if I wish, and so on.

The important question isn’t who has it better, but who is best at finding ways to survive fear and anxiety in this surreal time. So I’ve gone on a personal quest to find people who are buoying their spirits by getting involved in rewarding new activities or resurrecting youthful ones. The solutions differ, but they all stem from a desire to save ourselves from drowning in self– pity.

Next week you’ll meet one of these people: a woman who is filling her days with a meaningful project .
(Share your story! Send to ahosansky@gmail.com. I’ll publish the most interesting .)

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO (NEW!)– available through BookBaby.com; WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY – both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

 

 

“COME and GO”

Life has a strange way of circling around. Thirty years ago, trying to cope with my husband’s death from cancer, I began writing journal entries that became my memoir Widow’s Walk. Flash ahead to 2020: different century, similar trauma. My partner was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, losing memory and speech . His long struggle was met by my desperate battle to keep our connection, to salvage the love. I began writing about this, because writing enables me to survive.This January he lost his valiant struggle. In June my memoir COME and GO, was published.

Sometimes I think writers are scavengers, grabbing what happens even with people we love as material for a story. With Widow’s Walk, I had to overcome overwhelming guilt because I felt as though my success was built on my husband’s grave. This time, instead of guilt , there’s anxiety. My memoir is so revealing – my complicated feelings, his humiliating debility, as well as what friends and family did – or didn’t do.

A lot of choices go into writing any book, including what NOT to say. For instance, I tried to tread lightly on a family member who gave almost no help, because I wasn’t out to use my memoir as a cudgel. But I was less gentle with my own conflicted feelings of rage and anger. I believe honesty is the only way a book can help others on that same challenging journey. “Thank you for helping me realize my feelings are normal,” is a message I’ve received from so many readers.

When I was writing that first book, hours alone were no longer empty holes in the universe, for there was something I wanted – needed – to be doing. A friend told me I was lucky because I had a “passion.” But that doesn’t have to mean writing. Just being able to communicate in some form – whether a memoir, painting, song, multi-patterned quilt that weaves its own story – is a blessing we can reap from pain. And recognizing those blessings is what survival is all about.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: COME and GO – available at BookBaby.com (print and E versions); WIDOW’S WALK – Iuniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW – Xlibris.com; TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY – Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.

OUR OTHER VIRUS

The pandemic has turned every life inside out, but we also have another epidemic: it’s called racism.

The images on TV are familiar: rubber bullets or worse, tear gas and pepper spray, used against people asking to be treated like human beings. I’ve seen this too many times, back to the days of Civil Rights protests. Yet I cling to fragile hope that something different may happen this time. Just as Covid has made us aware that we’re all in this together, I feel there’s more awareness of our common humanity. This latest killing of a black man has created a tsunami of pain and rage, not just in those of the same color, but all colors. When George Floyd’s brother spoke so emotionally about his brother, I wept. He has lost his brother and I, who recently lost my only sister, felt his pain as if it were mine. The difference is that my sister died in her bed, with her children by her side. George Floyd died in the street, surrounded by men who hated him.

In a strange way, social distancing has a reflection in the “us” and ”them” division long infecting our country. Yet as I see huge demonstrations in city after city all across America – and supportive throngs in lands far away – I have a stubborn hope that this time they may be heard. Despite a government that turns a deaf ear and a threatening fist, the country that’s burning may also become the country that’s united across every color line.

Edmund Burke famously warned, “’The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But good men and women of all races are refusing to silently sit by. They are rising up and speaking out in voices that insist on being heard. Those of us who are unable to march can still contribute whatever skills we have – including writing blogs and op-ed pieces – to make the world aware that we must join together in a mutual battle against hatred and prejudice.

There’s no vaccine for racism, but may we find ways to heal both our viruses.-

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play– both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

IN THE ERA OF COVID -19

We’re living in a surreal time. I had to watch my sister’s burial and memorial service through a computer – Zoom, the all-purpose connection. Not to be able to stand by her grave with others who loved her, to throw the traditional handful of earth on the coffin, to hug one another in our mutual pain, but instead to sit at home alone and see all this as if it were a TV show. .. It all feels inhuman.

It’s as if we’re dwelling (locked down) in a science fiction story and, at the same time, thrown back into a medieval plague. No wonder we’re all edgy, especially when we must maintain “social distance” from one another. I go for brief walks to escape from my solitary existence, but if I have a chance to talk to anyone there must be at least six feet between us. (I’ve learned to measure by guessing.) If someone’s face is blatantly without a mask, I detour around that familiar person who now appears dangerous.

Yet in this inhuman time something human is emerging. There’s belated caring about each other – not only friends and family, but neighbors we hardly noticed, lonely clerks in the few stores that are open, brave delivery people to whom we apologize, “Just leave it by the door.” I find there’s a growing concern even for a stranger. Perhaps a more accurate word is awareness that this other person is struggling with the same things we are. Conflicts that used to seem monumental shrink to trivial.

I am one of the many who is not only “sheltering,” but doing so alone. There are days when I long for the comfort of having someone with me. The silence can be deafening, the solitary dinners a hurdle, TV anchors with their depressing news my only companions. Yet there are other times when I realize the unexpected rewards of being alone. I can write without interruptions, and without anyone asking, “When is dinner?” My desk, my room, my time are mine.

I’m also giving myself a gift that may not seem like a gift: getting to everything I’ve been promising myself to take care of for years. I’ve been organizing drawers and shelves and closets, and discovering forgotten letters, photos, documents. It feels as if in the midst of chaos, I’m putting myself in order.

Some day there will be light at the end of this dark tunnel. Meanwhile, the fact that so many are reaching out– even to those they scarcely know – with phone calls and E-mails, is in itself a sign of hope. (How many people I scarcely know have called to ask if I have enough food! And, if not, to offer to shop for me.) I hope we can maintain this caring about each other afterward. A caring manifested in what has become our shared signature: “Stay well, stay safe.”

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: “WIDOW’S WALK”- available through iUniverse.com; “TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW”– xLibris.com; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and “ROLE PLAY”– both through CreateSpace.com, Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.

ISOLATION

They are invisible, each one 50 times smaller than a red blood cell. Yet they have shut down almost the entire world!

I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been altered by the pandemic. Not only those who have the dreaded diagnosis “positive,” but all the employees now working at home or thrown out of work, students unable to go to school, any and all of us whose long-planned vacation has to be canceled, and so on – and on….

Many of us are in “voluntary quarantine.” What’s voluntary about it? We have scant choice: isolate or risk infection. If we do venture out we have to stay at least six feet away from any human being. Gone are reassuring hugs or even handshakes. I wonder what kind of people we will be when this Orwellian nightmare is finally over.

In what looms as a perpetual midnight, we need to find glimmers of light. One of the most meaningful ways is to refuse to let isolation equal loneliness, by phoning or E-mailing everyone we care about. We may be far apart geographically, but we don’t have to be distant emotionally. I’m finding many of these conversations have a depth they never had before. Even friends and relatives I seldom had time for are proving to be surprising.

I fight fear and futility by keeping as productive as possible. Just before this crisis broke, I had completed a book about my partner’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and my desperate attempts to keep us connected. We both lost recently and I’m alone. It makes isolation even more challenging. Terrible time to try to get a book published, I thought, but decided to send it to a self-publishing house immediately. Part of me says this is absurd, how could I publicize it without being able to give book talks or send copies to book clubs (that aren’t meeting anyway)? But another part of me stubbornly follows the mantra: “If not now, when?” Besides, if people are isolated they have more time to read!

Aside from phone and computer, I’m finding odd pleasure in finally clearing up all the papers I’d been meaning to sort through for years. A closet I’d hardly dared open is now a model of orderliness. I think there’s something about feeling we’re in charge – even if it’s just a closet – that strengthens us.

This is not to say that isolation is the choice we’d make if life were normal. But isolation and social distancing are the new normal – and we have to salvage what we can. I grasp at whatever encouragement I can find, like the discovery that no less an author than Shakespeare was quarantined by the Bubonic Plague. Fortunately for him, he was unable to waste time by watching endless replays of TV news. Instead he used that enforced isolation to write some of his greatest plays, including King Lear and Macbeth!

I, on the other hand, am merely writing this blog. But blogging is a way of reaching out. Try it for yourself. And feel free to reach back with your comments.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play– both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

What’s on your mind?

CONDOLENCES

I have just had a shattering loss. It isn’t my first and it’s not likely to be the last. What has sustained me are my friends – the phone calls, the cards, the expressions of sympathy.

So I find myself thinking how difficult it is for most of us to convey adequate words – especially not in the efficient coldness of a text! A friend who is usually eloquent simply said, “I’m sorry.” Then apologized because she couldn’t say more. But a genuine “sorry” can be enough. It’s like a hand reaching out to yours. Any heartfelt words can help. What I don’t want to hear is the cliché, “It’s for the best.” Best for whom?

Too often a message reflects the other person’s need, not ours. I’m thinking of the nights when I came home from an exhausting hospital vigil, and heard a recorded message from a woman who “had to hear” and “needed” to know what was happening. But I was so drained that speaking to her was more than I could handle. By contrast, another friend left messages that weren’t demanding, such as: “Just want you to know I’m thinking of you.”

Yet in the midst of our grief we can be thoughtless, ourselves. For we often don’t recognize that we aren’t the only ones who are suffering.  Friends may be losing a companion of many years, losing shared memories, losing the possibility of any more joyous times together.

So I will try to tell my friends, I know you miss him, too. For when I’m open to listening to their pain , and to sharing about the beloved person we’ve both lost, it strengthens the bond between us.

This makes each of us less alone.

Website: www.annehosansky.com

Books: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com;Turning Toward Tomorrow – xLibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play -Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle

THE HOLIDAY HURDLE

“Joyous . . .Merry . . . Happy.” Welcome words? Not for the many of us who are coping with loss of any kind – a death, divorce, family illness, job – or simply garden-variety depression. It’s well-known that these tinsel-decorated holidays find more patients than usual in psychologists’ offices .

It’s so easy to focus on that sad data, and on the total sum of sad facts in our lives.  I’m not saying this from some kind of superior perch, but as someone who is coping with the illness of the one I love. (Whenever I hear that familiar, “God bless you,” I mutter, “I hope so!” )

Meanwhile, what can we do to bring some of those blessings into our lives? I’ve discovered how much depends on the half- full -or- empty attitude . My own losses have multiplied in the last few years, including the inevitable loss of old friends. I often say that I have more friends in the Other World than I do here!

So what can we do when we fall into an “annus horribilis” mood ? That was Queen Elizabeth’s famed summary of the year when one of her castles burned and more than one of her children had her burning. I’ve decided to try something: make a list of all the things I’ve wept over in the year that’s dying. They range from illness and death down to the loss of a favorite earring. Then I’ll tear up the list and make an alternate one – whatever I can unearth that was a blessing, even a small one. A new friend emerging, or an old friend getting in touch after all these years, a teenage grandchild actually getting on the phone with me (!), a morning when I woke up earlier than usual and saw the dawn through the window and realized how beautiful the world still is.

Despite laudable efforts we’re still faced with the holidays – Chanukah and/or Christmas, plus my least favorite, New Year’s  Eve. Last year I was alone on that fabled Eve for  the first time in my life. I dreaded the prospect and made the mistake of turning on the TV at midnight . There were all those people in Times Square hugging and kissing. I watered my glass of wine with my tears.

This year I’ll find a better way. I may or may not go to a party. I may in fact even choose to be alone. If so, I’ll plan for what brings me some measure of joy – order in my favorite foods, buy a bottle of good wine, stock up on movies. I might write that evening, perhaps start a new story or poem. Someone told me, “You shouldn’t work that night.” Why not, if writing brings me more satisfaction than almost anything else does? I might call a friend who’s alone, too; one I can count on to share – not self-pity – but laughs. I might also use the evening to list what I will give myself permission to enjoy in the coming months. (I know a woman who spent the evening studying travel brochures and planning a trip.) Then at midnight I’ll raise a glass in a private toast. We can at least celebrate ourselves.

To each of you my favorite New Year wish:
  May you go from strength to strength .

Website: annehosansky.com
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk– iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow – xlibris.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor – CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.
Children’s book: Maya’s Magical Adventures

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GIVING THANKS

Unless you’re a turkey, Thanksgiving is a day for being grateful. But if “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” it also applies to the plus or minus way we view our lives.

An hour ago I escaped from the phone after being deluged with complaints by a distant cousin (a cousin I’ve kept distant!). She spent her cell phone data listing all the things in her life that she feels victimized by. Her list only partially includes an ungrateful child, an equally misbehaving stock market, a TV technician who failed to show up on time, a supermarket that sold her overripe bananas, plus all the afflictions of age (arthritic knee, wobbly walking, ad infinitum.) I’m sure her list also includes me for not being sympathetic enough.

The reality is that each of us could have a negative list. It depends on how negative you want to be.

I don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna, the saccharine heroine of children’s books, who is famed for having “irrepressible optimism.” Forced to read her as a child, I developed a loathing for that sugary attitude. So I went the opposite way, until what was “irrepressible” in myself was a tendency to see the half-empty cup. I turned everything into verification of victimhood.

So I decided to deliberately reframe every bad karma into something at least a little positive. In the past three or so years I’ve had plenty of ill fortune to complain about, primarily my partner’s becoming so debilitated he’s in a nursing home. Hard to find anything positive in that. But what if I appreciate the times I visit him and am able to bring a smile to his face, to help him understand he’s still loved? And what about being grateful I’m well enough to walk out of that building!

I’m in a lonely profession- writing – and being alone so much encourages dark periods of self-pity. So I have now adopted a habit I’d heard about but scoffed at: making a daily gratitude list. Each night before going to bed I remind myself of at least 10 things to be grateful for that happened that day, even what seem like very small things. Sometimes I have to stretch to meet the ten. (A friend who had a “disastrous” day said she was thankful that at least she’d had a “good breakfast”!)

Here’s my own partial list from last night:
I’m grateful I got through today without falling.
I’m grateful that although agents are ignoring me I’m able to keep working on my new book.
I’m grateful for two phone calls from supportive friends.
I’m grateful I found another cartridge in the desk.
And – yes! – grateful I, too, had a good breakfast!

I also add thanks for blessings that aren’t limited to this one day, but that I need to remind myself of.
I’m grateful that my mind still works (after seeing the wreckage of so many minds in the nursing home).
Grateful for my good memory – so that the wonderful times aren’t lost.
Grateful I can see and hear – no small blessings.
Grateful I can walk (okay, hobble) despite my injured knee.
Grateful I can talk, whether or not anyone’s listening.
Grateful I can still laugh!

It’s interesting how powerful these expressions of appreciation can be, for both the sour and the sweet are infectious. The choice is ours.

Website: annehosansky.com
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk– iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow – xlibris.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor – CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.

THE PIECES OF MORRISON

Our great Toni Morrison passed away earlier this year. With perfect timing, she first finished appearing in a documentary about her life. It’s titled, “The Pieces of Me” and I greedily grabbed the DVD as soon as it was available.

If you’re looking for a lecture on how to write, you won’t find it in the film. What you will find are the determined “pieces” that added up to Morrison’s being such a superb writer. Of course, she first contributed her immense talent and feeling for language.

Talent may be a gift we’re born with, but it doesn’t come with a guarantee of success. We have to be willing to add other elements. One of them is jettisoning the excuse ,“I don’t have time to write.” Early on, Morrison had to balance being a single mother of two boys, while also holding down a fulltime job as an editor, teaching, and somehow writing her first novels. True, she had her family’s help with the children . But the more important piece was the way she utilized time. She had a routine of getting up before dawn – “the best time,” she insisted – and using those precious early hours to write before other demands were on her. She also used whatever moments she could throughout the day. “I brood,” she said, “thinking of ideas – in the car, in the subway, while mowing the lawn. By the time I get to the paper something’s already there and I can produce.”

A friend recalled Morrison driving her car and, during the long wait before a toll booth, holding a notepad against the steering wheel so she could jot down some thoughts she didn’t want to lose. “You don’t steal time,” Morrison said, “you make time,”

The other lesson we could all learn was her refusal to accept negatives. Many times she was advised not to “limit “ herself to writing about “Black people.” But she knew that her own people, her heritage, were what gave life to her fiction.

One of her remarks that most resonated with me was about “the little white man on my shoulder.” She was referring , course, to the inner critic familiar to most of us. Too many times I’ve heard that creature whispering in my ear that the story I’m writing isn’t any good, isn’t “going anywhere, “etc. Our critic doesn’t have to be a “white” man, as Morrison wryly described, but any color with a voice that could defeat us. Morrison’s solution? “I knock him off my shoulder!”

Try doing that for real. When you’re stuck, brush a defiant hand across your shoulder and tell that destructive critic, ” Leave me alone!” (I confess to “Get the hell away!)
When teaching a memoir writing class, I had a student act this out with me. I sat at the table writing,, while she whispered defeating words in my ear. I stood up and gently (or not too gently) pushed her out of the room. “You can come back later and give me editing suggestions,” I said. “But don’t come near me while I’m writing!” ”I think Morrison would appreciate that.

The documentary is overlong and also verges on fan magazine gushing. But these faults are worth overlooking, for the lessons we can learn from an indomitable writer.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.