Author Archives: Marylin Warner

About Marylin Warner

Writing coach and editor, freelance writer with published short stories, essays, memoirs and articles in numerous magazines, anthologies and newspapers. Member of SCBWI, Colorado Authors League, and National League of American Pen Women. Her short story, "The Truth About Camels and Ducks" recently won first place in the ACC Writer's Studio contest and will appear in THE PROGENITOR literary journal. Follow her at http://warnerwriting.wordpress.com

CELEBRATE THE LINE

My mom, 1918,  the baby before two more siblings followed.

My mom, Mary Elizabeth, 1918, the baby before two more siblings followed.

 

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while  Dad holds their son.

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while Dad holds their son.

Last week’s topic was “Secrets of Success.”

This week’s topic is “How To Turn Disappointments Into Celebrations.”

Many years ago, a college acquaintance had a strange solution for any disappointment she faced: she made herself feel better by finding someone who was more disappointed and miserable than she was. For instance, when her boyfriend back home dumped her, it nearly broke her heart…until she found someone else whose fiancé made a big deal of ending their engagement on campus. She called this strategy “Being Glad You’re Not THAT Miserable,” and it seemed to work for her.

My birthday is at the end of this month…and it’s a BIG one. Although I know my husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren will do something special, I also know my mother will not remember my birthday. Because of her dementia, she rarely remembers who I am any more or sometimes even where she is.  But it’s still sad that for the past seven years she’s had no memory of days that used to mean so much to her, including the day I was born.

Using the technique of my college acquaintance, I found these birthday disappointments of others: Paulina Porizkova was fired by “America’s Next Top Model” on her birthday, and actress Evan Rachel Wood said, “I’ll never forget my 24th birthday when my tooth got punched out…”   But the one that made me choke back tears was by actress/model/singer Amy Weber: “I lost twins at 14 weeks, and I had to have a D&C on my birthday.” 

I’ve never been good at feeling better because someone else felt worse.  The college acquaintance’s strategy didn’t work for me then, and it doesn’t work for me now. 

But I have found a way of creating my own happiness as I celebrate my birthday with my mother. When I drive to Kansas to visit her each month, I take along foods she might enjoy, fresh flowers or a plant. When I visit her each September, I take a cake or cupcakes. And candles. Sometimes ice cream, too.   And I sing “Happy Birthday to US” and light the candles (just a few candles…we don’t want a bon fire.)

Mom still enjoys blowing out candles, and she sometimes wants me to light them again so she can blow them out a second time. It’s our shared celebration—I’m the birthday girl; she’s the mother who gave birth to me—and at some point during my visit I tell her a story from when I was a child and she did something sweet, funny, poignant or wonderful. Usually she’ll smile and say something like, “That’s nice. Do I know her?”   She doesn’t know “her,” but I do.

Dementia prevents Mom from remembering when my birthday is or even who I am. Reality confirms that the woman who wanted so much to be a mother, and who suffered four miscarriages before she had her two children, went on to have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of us are here because she didn’t give up or bury her disappointments by finding other women who had even worse pains and more sadness.

So for my birthday again this year, we’ll celebrate the line of life. We’ll eat cake, blow out candles, smile and celebrate all the lives and loves that dementia cannot erase.   Happy Birth Day To Us.

1978 ~ Marylin holds her daughter Molly, Mary's granddaughter.

1978 ~ Marylin holds her daughter Molly, Mary’s granddaughter.

 

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of Dad's mother as a  toddler for her own toddlers, Mary's great-grandchildren.

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of her grandpa’s mother as a toddler for her own children, Mary and Ray’s great-grandchildren.

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Filed under birthday celebrations, birthdays, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

TWO SECRETS OF SUCCESS

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

 

 

 

"The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep!" ~ Rumi

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!” ~ Rumi

 

 

Twenty-four years ago, I took Mom to a one-day workshop on writing nonfiction magazine articles.   The speaker began the session by asking how many specific suggestions participants would include in an article about The —#— Secrets of Success. While many in the group had ideas for five, eight, or even a dozen secrets for success, Mom had two.   1)  Greet each sunrise with a hopeful smile, and   2)  Keep moving.   In her experience, those two pretty much pointed her in the right direction each day.

During one of my trips to visit Mom this summer, I was sleeping in the guest room of her assisted living apartment, and for some reason I woke up at 4:40.  The sunrise was just a thread of light on the horizon.  A crescent moon and a single star glittered in one corner of the view from my window. 

I peeked in on Mom to see if it had awakened her, too. In a different time and place—maybe in the bedroom of her real home, and certainly before losing my dad to Alzheimer’s and now losing much of her own memory to dementia—I think Mom would have smiled as she watched the moon and star on the horizon, then taken a deep breath and gotten out of bed early to welcome the new day.

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.   Don’t go back to sleep…”   These two beginning lines, my favorites from a longer, well known poem by Sufi poet Rumi, are lines I’m sure would have struck a chord with Mom. For many of her 96 years, her favorite time has been in the quiet early breaths of a new day.  She would use that private time to work in the yard, read and write letters and poetry, pray and sometimes even bake.  Before the dementia took over, it was her first secret of success.

Her second secret of success was short and simple, but essential on many levels: Keep moving.  Regardless of obstacles, set-backs, illness, disappointments or worries, to keep moving meant staying focused on what had to be done, breathing deeply, singing or humming as she worked, and being grateful for the things she learned and noticed along the way.

One beautiful example of someone who kept moving is April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist in the 100-meter dash. April was 27 in 2001 when, as a college track star, she lost her leg from the knee down in a train accident. Instead of giving in or giving up, she kept moving…physically, emotionally, hopefully and with full commitment. Against all odds.

I’m sure my mother had more than just the two secrets of success she used that day for writing practice at the workshop. She was a woman of faith, kindness, creativity and common sense, and she had an amazing capacity for love and trust. I wish now that she’d kept writing on that workshop exercise and written out many more of her success secrets.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and many forms of devastating memory loss plague families, communities and countries everywhere in the world.

But one day this month, Wednesday, September 10th, is “Swap Ideas Day.” This is an excellent opportunity for us to share our favorite Secrets of Success.   Do you remember poignant, funny, strange, or insightful secrets of success from your parents, grandparents, teachers, friends or motivational speakers?

Today, September 6th, is National Writing Date Day.   Make a commitment today to write some of your secrets of success and share them with us!

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom's #2: Keep Moving.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom’s #2: Keep Moving.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

WELCOME, SEPTEMBER!!! Oh, yeah…

My version of Green Eggs and Ham.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

My version of Green Eggs and Ham. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

"T's the last rose of summer, Left blooming  alone."  ~ Thomas Moore

“T’s the last rose of summer, Left blooming alone.” ~ Thomas Moore

On September evenings, cats cuddle for warmth.

On September evenings, cats cuddle for warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dad often reminded me to not wish my life away…to never want a day or event to come so quickly that I overlooked the gifts of today.   He was a wise man.

In keeping with his advice, I will celebrate today—National Bacon Lover’s Day, rough work but somebody has to do it—and at the same time applaud Dr. Seuss’ GREEN EGGS AND HAM.

Combining special days and foods is a form of multi-tasking, and if the green in my scrambled eggs comes from spinach, it’s actually kind of healthy. Right?

September is almost here, and oh, how I love September.  The rose bush that had given up for awhile now shines with one last rose of summer; the deer visit our back yard at will; and our neighborhood is alive with the laughter of helmeted school children learning to ride their bikes without training wheels. Three cheers for September!

Still cringing from last week’s  “pre-emptive sympathy card,” I’ve decided do something much more fun and make “pre-emptive preparations” for some of September’s special days. For instance, how much more fun will it be on Sept. 5th “Be Late For Something Day” if we carefully decide in advance what we’ll be late for, and how we’ll make our late entrance.

Or if we give it some advance thought, on Sept. 6th we can Fight Procrastination with a specific plan that must be implemented on that day. And if we struggle with long-held superstitions, we can plan a strategy for Sept. 13, which is Defy Superstition Day, and then reward our efforts on the 14th by enjoying National Cream-filled Donut Day. The really good news is that many bakeries make delicious Maple Bacon Doughnuts, which brings us back to Bacon Lover’s Day…see how it all works together? Amazing, isn’t it? ;) 

On a more serious note, September is also the AKC’s Responsible Dog Ownership Month, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hunger Action Month, Baby Safety Month, and for parents of children hurrying back to school or happily embracing play dates, it is also National Head Lice Prevention Month. (Which you know is nothing to laugh at if your children have ever come home with head lice.)

September is Prosper Where You Are Planted month, Healthy Aging Month, and in memory of my father who told me to never overlook the gifts of today–and also in honor of my mother who still lives that example on a daily basis–I also point out that September is World Alzheimer’s Month. 

As we appreciate and remember the wonderful days of each month , may we also continue to work for a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Memories are important; we need to do all we can to protect and preserve them.     

Believe it or not, but one effective preventative for head lice is rinsing the hair and scalp with original Listerine.

Believe it or not, but one effective preventative for head lice is rinsing the hair and scalp with original Listerine.

A deer stops by for a visit in our back yard.  He jumps over the fence as if it's not there.  Help yourself to the zucchini, fella...we've got plenty.

A deer stops by for a visit in our back yard. He jumps over the fence as if it’s not there. Help yourself to the zucchini, fella…we’ve got plenty.

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Filed under Uncategorized

TO SEND or NOT TO SEND, that is the question

pink lilies

 

 

PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE, a wonderful novel by Jen Violi

PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE, a wonderful novel by Jen Violi.

My blog post last week included information and examples about writing greeting cards and where to submit them. This week’s post is open to discussion about cards that SHOULD be sent…and those that, in my opinion, SHOULD NOT be sent.  Or at least not sent early.

On Monday I received a very nice Hallmark card in the mail. It came from a couple who live several states away. The card artwork was lovely; the calligraphy was elegant. The cover message was about the permanence of a mother’s love, and the inside message stated that my mother would always be with me in spirit. The final line was two words: “With Sympathy.”

My mother suffers from advanced dementia and on most days her clearest memories are those as a child on the farm in Missouri, but she is definitely still alive. The handwritten note on the card said the couple had made a donation in my mother’s name to the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

By the time I reread the card, I had the eerie uneasy feeling that maybe I had dementia…or had slipped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  Even though I was recently with my mom in Kansas, I wondered if the card senders knew something I didn’t. Finally I read the folded, typed paper in the envelope behind the card, explaining that they did not know how much longer my mother might live, but they wanted to send the card early. Then the typed message went on to other details.

Those of you who have tried your hand at writing greeting cards know that, in general, the two most difficult cards to successfully create are 1) humorous cards, and 2) sympathy cards.  And as far as I know, the two types do not usually overlap, although there was one card years ago that got a “bad taste” award. The details vary, but as I remember it, there was a frog on the front of the humorous/sympathy card, and the message was something like We all croak. Sorry.

Does the process of dying and dealing with death really make people so uncomfortable that their default response is to try to brush it aside, lighten it with a joke, or send a card early to get it out of the way?

One of my favorite novels I’ve discovered in the past year is PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE by Jen Violi. It is a poignant, touching, funny and tender novel about a young woman who learns to deal with her father’s death by training to become a makeup expert for a funeral home. Her respectful and genuine desire is to serve, honor and protect the dead and their families…and to honestly face her own fears.  I read aloud several chapters to my mother last winter—especially one of the scenes where the young woman is talking to the lady on her table as she selects fingernail polish to match the lipstick—and my mother smiled and said, “We like fingernail polish…don’t we?”   This novel does not avoid, over simplify, hide from or joke about death. It reveals and embraces the rituals of death that illuminate life. I strongly recommend it. 

We learn as we go, and we do the best we can. Those are the two main lessons I’ve learned during my father’s Alzheimer’s and now my mother’s dementia. I also realize that we’re all at different stages in our journeys, and probably there was no offense or avoidance intended by the Early Sympathy card that arrived on Monday. Therefore, I will set it aside until the time does come to read it…when I will be grateful for genuine words of condolence and expressions of sympathy.

 

Oklahoma City: "The Survivor Tree," the American Elm that survived the explosion.

Oklahoma City: “The Survivor Tree,” the American Elm that survived the explosion.

"Field of Empty Chairs" memorial of the april 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.  168 chairs with names of those killed, 19 smaller chairs for the children.

“Field of Empty Chairs” memorial of the april 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. 168 chairs with names of those killed, 19 smaller chairs for the children.

 

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Uncategorized, writing

NOW is the best time

Example of a Saturday card.  Cover message is ...but it's better than to miss a month

Example of a Saturday card. Cover message is
“Another birthday? Well, it’s better to be a year older…”  (inside message) “… than to miss a month.”

 

 

Another Hallmark Saturday card:  "Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG..." (inside message)  "...we were BFFS and didn't even know it!  Happy Birthday to my BFF."

Another Hallmark Saturday card: “Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG…” (inside message) “…we were BFFS and didn’t even know it! Happy Birthday to my BFF.”

 

How many of you have ever created your own greeting card?  Let’s see a show of hands (humor me, okay?)

As a child, maybe you colored flowers or boats on a folded piece of paper for someone’s birthday; or  you learned to print the message GET WELL SOON for a sick friend; or you wrote out coupons on strips of paper and gave them to your mom or dad for Christmas, promising “I’ll clean my room” or “I will not hit my brother.” Remember how much fun card writing was? And as my mom always said, the best cards are the personal ones you make yourself.

Hallmark’s Saturdays card line is your opportunity to make a card, and make some money. So dig out fun or funny or touching photos, color or black and white, and submit them to Hallmarkcontests.com

Read through the section with all the open contests. To get you started, I’ve shared two of my favorite Saturdays Expressions cards…and their inside message lines, to show you good examples. Hallmark pays for each card, plus other perks, including a small picture of you and a clever bio sketch on the back of the card. Deadlines vary.

Maybe you’d rather write about a true aha! moment or Eureka experience. If so, submit a personal essay up to 1,500 words to the Life Lesson Essay Contest. The deadline is September 18, and first prize in $3,000. http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/inspiration-motivation/second-annual-life-lessons-essay-contest-00000000013682/index.html   No entry fee.

And for you poets, another no entry fee contest is Princemere Poetry Prize. Deadline is September 15 and first place is $300. http://www.princemere.com

Or, work on your own writing deadline, or a photography, painting, drawing project that isn’t quite finished. Choose your creative endeavor and go for it…NOW.

Why NOW? As I was driving to visit my mom recently, I heard a radio commentator talking about the August 2014 phenomenon. The Chinese call it “Silver pockets full” and supposedly it happens once every 823 years. This month, August of 2014, there are five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays. Check your calendar, and you’ll see.

Supposedly—and there’s absolutely no scientific proof, but it’s certainly a good motivator to get busy—anytime during this month is an excellent time to follow your dreams, finish up your creative projects, expect the best…and encourage your friends to do the same.

Well, friends, what have you got to lose?

This isn't a card, but somebody used a smart concept to create this "fight breast cancer" T-shirt.  (If you don't get it, ask someone to explain it to you...it's great!)

This isn’t a card, but somebody used a smart concept and teen reference to create this “fight breast cancer” T-shirt. (If you don’t get it, ask someone to explain it to you…it’s great!  Here’s a hint: think like a teenage boy on a date.  What does “getting to second base” mean to him?  So it’s a good breast cancer awareness slogan to “save 2nd base.”)

 

A display of "Saturday" cards by writers from everywhere.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A display of Hallmark’s “Saturday” cards by writers from everywhere. (Photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, lessons about life, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

HANDED DOWN TO US

My mother's parents, first row, far left.

My mother’s parents, front row, far left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary (my mother) and Ira.

Their five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary (my mother) and Ira.

Of the thirteen grandchildren, these are the five girl cousins: (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

Of the thirteen grandchildren, these are the five girl cousins:  (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

 

This week when I visited my mother in Kansas, I learned three things. First, when she leans back in her recliner and closes her eyes, she is often still listening, so I can’t assume she’s taking a nap. Second, she’s still a very pretty lady at 96, even with half of one eyebrow accidentally shaved off. (From now on, when I use an electric razor to trim away whiskers and curling eyebrow hairs, I will not assume Mom will sit still…I will hold the razor with a steady hand, prepared to stop if she turns her head quickly. Lesson learned.)

The third thing I learned is this: with dementia, the dominant remaining sensory details are not just taste and smell. Touch is still a significant sense. Mom did recognize the little metal wagon she left between tree branches as a child. When I put the little wagon-in-the-wood in Mom’s lap, she didn’t open her eyes, but her fingers touched the metal wheels and traced the lines of the wood. When I asked if she knew what this was, she nodded, yes. Still with her eyes closed, when I asked if she remembered the toy…and did she remember putting it in the tree, both times she smiled faintly and again nodded, yes. She held it for a while, nodding, and then she folded her hands and fell asleep.

The quaint little keepsake has become a tangible reminder of my connection to other generations. My grandchildren have traced the wagon with their fingers, just as my daughter did, and as I did. When my mother was younger than her great-grandchildren are now, she put the wagon in the tree branch, where it was later rescued by my grandfather when he cut down the tree.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”   As a six-year-old, my mother had her reasons for hiding the wagon in the tree; my grandfather had his reasons for preserving it when he cut down the tree; and as the heir of these thoughts and actions, I will pass the keepsake on to the next generations…along with the stories.

Wilbur Wright (of the Wright Brothers) wrote, “The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who…looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space…”   Possibly my desire to create came from the same ancestors who passed on to my aunts and uncles and cousins the desire to sing, to teach, to play musical instruments, to heal, to cherish and care for children, and numerous other talents and desires.

Native American writer Linda Hogan wrote this: “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

During this month’s visit with my mother, I’m not sure that for even a moment she actually recognized me as her daughter. But still, she reminded me of who I am, and how we’re both connected to those who made it possible for us to be here.

The little metal wagon left in the tree branch.  (full story in the July 26 post, "A Mistake?")

The little metal wagon left in the tree branch. (full story in the July 26 post, “A Mistake?”)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Ralph Waldo Emerson, special quotations

PERSONAL STYLE

Mom's fashion "style" was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all others in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

Mom’s “style” was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all other pictures in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

    

 

 

 

Mary's great-grand-daughter has her own writing style...sidewalk chalk.

Mary’s great-grand-daughter has her own writing style…with.sidewalk chalk.

STYLE: a manner of doing something; a way of painting, speaking, writing, dressing, composing, or creating. Note: Do not confuse this kind of style with stile, as in turnstile, unless your style is to go back and forth, passing through gates.

Some of my mother’s friends’ clothing and jewelry styles were strongly influenced by French designer Coco Chanel’s casual chic designs. Many of them also wore her signature perfume, Chanel No. 5.   Mom wasn’t a big fan of Chanel No. 5, and since she made most of her clothes, she didn’t imitate many of the outfit trends. But during an interview, Coco said one thing that Mom applauded: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

I took Mom to a writing workshop at Avila College years ago, and the question of writers’ styles came up. Here are some of the “famous” quotes that made sense to her: “I don’t think writers compete. I think they’re all doing separate things in their own style.” ~ Elmore Leonard. And this one by Raymond Chandler: “The most durable thing in writing is style. It is a projection of personality and you have to have personality before you can project it. It is the product of emotion and perception.”

The one that made Mom laugh was by William Battie, the English physician who in 1758 wrote the first lengthy book about treating mental illness: “Style is when they’re running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade.” It seemed logical to Mom that showing confidence even when you didn’t actually feel it was good advice for writers, since there was so much rejection.

The one specific bit of advice she followed was about improving writing style: “Cut out all of those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald     Mom read through her writing samples, and each time she found an exclamation point she studied it carefully…and then often removed it.

I miss many of my mother’s qualities and abilities that have been dulled or destroyed by dementia.

Going through her big box marked MARY’S WRITING, I love reading her notes and quotes about writing and all kinds of creativity. If I read them aloud to her, she might smile and nod, but there’s no longer any true recognition.

So I’ll share them with you. That was my mother’s style, to share ideas and information and activities with her friends, and if it weren’t for the dementia, she would be very happy to count you all among her friends. She really would.

 

An old house gets a new "style lift" ~ a bold and beautiful new paint job.

An old house gets a “style lift” with a bold and beautiful new paint job.

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart  (and it's for sale!)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart (and look, it’s for sale!)

"Recycling Style"-- an old tire gets new life as a child's tree swing.

“Recycling Style”– an old tire gets new life as a child’s tree swing.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, Kansas, special quotations, writing