READING EDWARD HIRSCH

His son was named Gabriel, and when esteemed poet Edward Hirsch decided to write about his son’s untimely death, the elegy grew into a book-length poem. Of course, it is called Gabriel.

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For me, this was a captivating piece of work. Like an artist painting a portrait with features so very real, Hirsch describes his son in vivid detail, often including snippets of conversation. The words exchanged with Gabriel are telling. I sensed the energy of the continual “trying” that seemed to envelope their relationship; Gabriel’s restless behavior patterns encumbering them like an unwanted third party in their familial relationship. Attempting to  connect with someone in this context can be exhausting. Like trying in vain to see a person’s face through a dense fog. Like imagining personal lifelines that are frayed, or nonexistent. I also sensed the love that existed between father and son. Despite it all, there was enormous caring and concern. I hope you’ll read this book. Offering profound insight into the human condition, Gabriel: A POEM, is much more than a wonderful literary contribution. It is a story of loss that conveys the tragedy of what can’t be fixed or healed for reasons unknown. And many things in life are like that. Human limitations abound. It’s just who we are: all of us. ~ dh

Edward Hirsch has published eight books of poetry, five books of prose. He is also president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. From the book jacket (Knopf, 2014): “His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer’s act of witnessing and transformation.”

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Has grief shaped your artistic efforts?
Has loss found its way into your life?
Can poetry help us to better understand the fragility of the human condition?
 
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READING SUKEY FORBES

“Our house was still filled with flowers, which I’d loathed from the start. The longer they stayed, the more I found their fragrance cloying, like the smell of a disinfectant spray meant to hide something grotesque. And after that first horrible week, I hated watching them die, then having to throw them away–another acknowledgment that time was moving forward without my daughter.” — SUKEY FORBES, The Angel in My Pocket: A Story of Love, Loss, and Life After Death (Viking Penguin, July 2014)

When I read this in Sukey’s book last fall, one thought crossed my mind: I know exactly what she means. Ill-fated flowers. Colors and fragrances that simply don’t help. Bouquets that droop before our eyes, reflecting an inner state consumed by the agony of loss — the harsh reality of temporary lives. Yet, usually without thinking, we send flowers to the bereaved. Of course not everyone feels the same about a gift of flowers during a difficult time; some people, I’m sure, find them comforting, slightly inspiring.

However, I valued Sukey’s honesty in this context. After her beautiful young daughter, six-year-old Charlotte, died unexpectedly to a rare genetic disorder, flowers of sympathy poured in. I had felt much the same in the aftermath of my son’s loss, but wasn’t aware that anyone felt the same. It seemed sort of ungrateful to even think that nature’s beauty wasn’t helpful when sent by well-meaning family members and friends during a time of tremendous shock. Yet, truth is often contrary to what we imagine to be “true.”

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Sukey is a graduate of Roanoke College and is also a non practicing Doctor of Chiropractic. She blogs for the Huffington Post and lectures on resilience, choosing to live, spirituality, and what happens when we die. Sukey was also my Studio Guest in October of 2014 here in SunnyRoomStudio. Read, Giving Sorrow Words.

JACKETCOVER

From the back cover:

“What do we do when the unthinkable happens? We have choices, of course. We can break, become tough, allow cynicism to seep into all our broken places. Or, as Sukey Forbes illustrates in this remarkable book, grief can kick the door wide open and let the light in. The Angel in My Pocket is a devastating and beautiful paean to the human spirit.” — DANI SHAPIRO, memoirist and author of Still Writing

Sukey’s memoir is also layered with stories of literature and family history linked to her great-great-great-grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882). Many of Emerson’s words ring true yet today, and the essayist and poet is well-remembered among literary circles and by anyone seeking a lasting wisdom.

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sukey actively seeks her ancestors and her daughter’s spiritual manifestation in the aftermath of Charlotte’s sudden death. She writes: “Much has been written about how the poet Emerson was tortured by the loss of his beloved son, Waldo, taken by scarlet fever at the age of six. Less has been said about the grieving of the boy’s mother, Lidian, who essentially took to her bed for the rest of her life, numbed by the drug of choice for nineteenth-century women, laudanum, also known as tincture of opium.”

The world has been struggling with the dynamics of loss since the beginning of recorded time. And the beauty of memoir, books that often delve into riveting personal experiences, is the sense of personal connection they offer readers. It’s extremely easy to feel alone and isolated when faced with the throes of grief. But when we read memoir … we soon learn that the human condition is pervasive and all-inclusive. Personal narrative is perhaps the most meaningful literary genre for this very reason. Objectivity can only reveal a “report” of what happened, and usually isn’t that helpful or compelling. But the lovely subjectivity of memoir penetrates the dullness and predictability of the external world in critical and memorable ways.

IMG-20140802-02485the other Mccrory Garden (1)When we want to know more about ourselves … a memoir can enlighten in unexpected ways. Because essentially we find our inner self, our timeless self, through life experience … through those we have loved and lost … and through what others share along the way. 

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Sukey. When I think of the countless number of people waking up each day to a profound loss, I also think of those with the courage to face their grief — to share a deeply personal journey with perfect strangers who seek understanding, compassion, awareness, or maybe just trust and companionship during a rough passage. Curiously, there is often the misconception that writing memoir is all about authors — how we “survive” a riveting sadness. While this could be true for some, from my perspective, a memoir is a gift of self … more than anything. Suffering is best met by reaching out to others, by accepting the inherently painful aspects of the mortal journey, and remembering that everyone is suffering … one way or another. I appreciate your gift of self! ♥

ALSO from the cover of Sukey’s memoir: “If your life has ever come to a halt, if you have wondered how to want to live again, if you are looking for hope and longing for courage in the face of grief, if you seek staunch honesty and are keen to hear it from someone who knows firsthand that privilege does not protect you from pain, read this book and know that you are not alone.” — LAURA MUNSON, author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is

  • THIS YEAR, on my blog, I am also writing about smallish changes that hold the promise of something more. The fourth idea I want to share today is this: Ask yourself frequently what you would be doing if the world of time didn’t dominate your existence. This simple, but daring, question opens MANY doors of insight. I look forward to hearing from those of you who try this! Remember, small changes are the magic of our lives.
  • My memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING, is now available in paperback and KINDLE formats. This deeply moving story emerges from the ashes of a tragic ending … loss from suicide, profound grief, unresolved spiritual questions, a powerful and revealing appraisal of our addictive culture, and even the greatest life mysteries … a compelling and timeless memoir by an author who cares deeply about humanity, the universal struggle to find peace within chaos and discord.
    • A poignant, courageous narrative; a book for all seasons that forges lasting bonds of connection and understanding; a determined and inspired spiritual journey.    

    ” … a new path. Holy and beautiful and heartbreaking.” –Susan Hall Pohlman, author of Halfway to Each Otherthesilenceofmorning14-HiRes

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Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. This is also an anniversary post. I launched SunnyRoomStudio in February of 2010. Welcome to another year! See you again Friday, March 11.

THE HOLIDAY GLARE

HAVE you ever felt slightly perplexed by the holiday glare this time of year? Fun, tempting, colorful, joyful … and … a tad bit overdone, perhaps? I’m not sure I noticed this much until I marched through several holiday seasons without the son I’d buried in June of 2007. Maybe I was sleepwalking through life until then, or at least somewhat. With the release (print), eBook formats forthcoming, of my memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A Memoir of Time Undone, I sat down and read the book again. With a release … authors tend to celebrate, worry, and question their work anew.

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Will readers find the deeper meaning in the book?
Will readers find themselves, the universal message, in the 350 pages that took some 7.5 years to develop into a publishable work?
Will the “me” that started that book … in any way resemble the “me” that finished the book?
Will the story be clear and meaningful, effectively pointing to deeper truths within the vast mystery of life?

  • Most of all, did I answer the central question that drove me to write the book?
  • “When I began writing this book I wondered what was left to say, to do, after a sudden death. When everyone had returned to schedules, routines, and responsibilities that were insistently framed by calendars and clocks, not by the stirring passion of grief—and I felt alone like never before. Is that where the conversation ends, I’d wondered.” —The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

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After reading the book again this week, I felt that I had come to terms with that huge question (like a massive blank wall) — the one we all must face after a profound loss. But all of you who read it will be the best judge of that. It’s difficult to  be objective about our own work and life experience, isn’t it? And such a question is never truly answered once and for all, because we are continually evolving … new depths are plumbed, new insights come to light, we grow … we change.

And, realistically, many may not be able to articulate that massive, burning question after loss. Instead, it may hover in the air like an annoying fly or mosquito, before we decide to acknowledge its burning presence within us. Before we turn within long enough to realize the maze-like question MUST be answered … eventually. It holds our feet to the fire until we do … and while the holidays are upon us, many have other things on their mind. Big questions like this. Stories of time undone, for instance.

What led to unexpected tragedy? How did society and culture impact my son’s life, and mine? What are the deeper reasons our world seems determined to produce addictive patterns that flow from a multitude of external sources? Why is this trying issue seemingly intrinsic to the human condition? 

Wading into seem deep waters with my memoir, in other words. For anyone weary of surface chatter, I hope this book is a small gift to each and every one of you. We need alternatives to the nightly news. We need new ways at looking at habitual patterns of human behavior. We may even need a spiritual nudge — a catalyst we can’t ignore.

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  • I remember how the holiday glare got to me one December … in the aftermath of sudden loss from my son’s suicide during a major relapse from drug addiction.
  • Here is the poem I wrote that year … it was originally called “Red Yarn.”

UNDER THE GLARE

Tucked in stockings of red yarn … gifts appear,
as under the proud evergreen with its lights,
tinsel, tempting ornaments of gold.

A whirlwind season, a rush of old against new,
a collision of family and friends, turned wistfully
towards the sparkle, the dazzle, of glistening snow.

Yet, reflecting on expectations of greeting cards,
gifts, cookies and more, I wonder how to make
the experience unique, new again somehow, or
at least more meaningful.

A sizable challenge, but offering the potential
to transform my sagging holiday spirit into the
perfect storm: a blissful state of creative
confusion, lingering sighs against treasured
moments of peace.

A sage at work drumming up holiday lore,
or maybe a mere poet, unsteady under the
glare of twisted strands of holiday lights —
too bright, blinking at speeds unknown.

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So, now, as I mull over every sentence, every thought, shared in my memoir … wondering what others may glean from the story that is memorable … I am also humbled by the poignancy of the moment.

An unexpected rush of emotions that returned when I read the last page of the book. The slight reluctance to let go of my story. Even though my son wasn’t a saint by conventional measures …

everything he experienced is a reflection of the human struggle to somehow right itself against the rocky waves of time. So, I have to wonder, how are we all doing?

A key question posed on the back cover of the memoir is a good one to keep in mind this time of year … or any time for that matter. Despite it all, how do we deepen our perspective … committing to sustained personal growth? Maybe this question can also guide us into 2016.

Do you have thoughts on this? I’d love to know your suggestions, because this “deepening of perspective” is the key, I sense, to many aspects of life.

Released December 3, 2015.
Now on AMAZON (print copy), eBook formats forthcoming along with general availability on other bookstore sites, i.e., Barnes & Noble.

PLEASE enjoy a safe season, and don’t let the holiday glare distract you from a timeless, inner peace that knows no boundaries, calendars, or contingencies. Wishing you all good cheer and the incredible warmth of connection. ~ dh

  • Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again soon (December 20th), as I continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all. I’ll also keep you updated on my memoir … reviews, availability, and so on.
  • If you read THE SILENCE OF MORNING, please let me know if it offered something helpful and meaningful and, hopefully, memorable.
  • And most of all, best wishes for the winter season. May you find inspiration, joy, and peace in the coming days!

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  • When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.  –dh
    Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~ d.a. hickman, 2014

AMBER OF THE MOMENT

I’ve been wanting to write about this notion for some time, but more pressing matters have intervened, until now.

Many are familiar with this rather well-known quote from Slaughterhouse-Five, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

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Written by Kurt Vonnegut, how does this idea sit with you?

Neale Donald Walsch, of Conversations with God fame, has expressed a similar idea, noting that “why” is a useless question.

So often we really don’t know why something happens. Maybe we aren’t supposed to know, or maybe “why” is a maze we aren’t intended to enter and stumble around in for months or years. But there are those times when “why” does illuminate — to a degree, at least.

Maybe not in the definitive sense, but in the way it points us inward to explore something more deeply … with great intention. Sometimes we need to ask a question for some time … before we finally can let it go, releasing it to the universe like a balloon in flight.

But the other challenging thing about “why” is that most everyone, depending on the question at hand, comes to a different understanding of potential cause and effect. Thus, we can easily find ourselves mired in conflict, discord, and endless rounds of “who or what is right.”

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them:
this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

When working on my memoir I spent a great deal of time trapped in the “amber of the moment.” What did a life-altering experience suggest … in the moment, and through the lens of time? While I wanted to share the challenge–the arduous depth–of my experience, I also wanted to include relevant points of clarity: those that emerged when least expected, or that seemed to hit me with a certain emphatic, or disquieting charm.

Finally, I realized I had to transcend time, so to speak.

mccrorybricksThere could be answers … even in the midst of not knowing. But “why” could also be ignored. The paradox is apparent, isn’t it?

Conjecture is rarely factual. Yet, it seems to be human nature to cling to ideas and hopeful resolution to counter the uncertain nature of existence. So maybe the “amber of the moment” reveals more than we realize.

Maybe … it gives us the time, the place, the reason … to muddle through to the other side. Maybe … the “amber of the moment” is curiously perfect, and oddly, necessary.

In my forthcoming memoir, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone, I wrote about the “necessary isolation” of grief. Of course, I didn’t understand the necessity of my perceived isolation in the moment … only in the aftermath, when I turned to glance back over my shoulder. Then I saw, more clearly, the “why” of it all.

As I conclude in my book, time conceals and time reveals.

In fact, I used these key principles of organization to structure the narrative — to show how time permitted great suffering, but simultaneously, how it also provided a context for a release from suffering. Both are important. Thus,  “why” does have a purpose when considered through the lens of time.

A deepening of perspective seems to be the end result. And isn’t this extremely important? Doesn’t our world, our culture, seem to suffer from a noticeable shallowness, a superficial outlook on so many things?

So maybe there is a “why” to it all, a “why” that only only time and perspective can reveal. It just may not be the kind of resolution we are seeking, or expecting. “Why” may actually lead us in new directions, pointing to yet another set of questions … and another.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Ever feel “trapped in the amber of the moment” … ? –dh

  • Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope to see you again on Friday, November 20th, as I continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all.
  • Also, I’ll have an update next week re the release of my forthcoming memoir: The Silence of Morning — A Memoir of Time Undone.

thesilenceofmorning14-HiRes

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When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.  –dh

  • Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~

THEN THERE WAS … SILENCE

Most of us value a voice that rings true. A message we recognize, one that impacts our inner sense of “yes,” I get that. This is precisely how I felt when I ran across this quote from author Cheryl Strayed: “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” ― WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

For those of you who know the book, her story, Cheryl lost her mother to lung cancer … her mother actually dies in the first chapter. Sadly, I have to admit that is as far as I got with the book … although, I will return to it someday. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her writing, her story, or even the cover of her book … but as I read, the tones of deep loss I knew so well rang with an intensity that was too much for me at the time. I put the book back on my shelf, and there it has stayed. I noticed it became a movie with Reese Witherspoon playing the lead role, so we gave it a try, but it didn’t seem to capture the book in ways that felt “real” … so yes, we paused the movie. In all fairness, I’m sure the book AND the movie are most worthwhile, and I do look forward to picking up that book (and many others) again soon.

  • But Cheryl’s right … most things are okay, eventually, but not all things. Not always, by any means.

As author Natalie Goldberg once pointed out, we do drop the jar of applesauce, don’t we? The jar breaks, the contents spill out mixing with the broken glass. We sigh, try to figure out how to clean it up without cutting our hands.

So when MUCH more serious things, despite strong and dedicated effort, go awry, we can’t help but wonder why. I remember with Matt’s loss how I got stuck on “why” for quite a while. It’s normal, necessary, and … futile … to walk this path. Even IF we could track down “the answer,” it wouldn’t change a thing, would it? And, of course, we never can track down “the answer” … such things are beyond mortal abilities. But it takes time for us to get the message in that regard. The logical mind wants to “help,” but only makes matters worse.

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MATTHEW at 26 years, Thanksgiving 2006
Here’s a little toast to you, Matt … hope I got the book right … at least most of it.
Miss you … always. xoxo

Finally, after a very long time, I knew it was time to let go of logic, rational explanations, and all things “definitive.” That’s when I opened the door to the unknown … to whatever was on the other side of “why.”

  • Living through significant loss and writing a memoir in the aftermath takes us down many roads … some fruitful, some dead-ends, some made largely invisible by dense morning fog.

In sharing these experiences in my forthcoming memoir, in doing the hard work of memoir writing these past seven years, I’ve had no choice but to walk up and down these roads many times.

What had I missed? What was it that he said, that I said? What had the sky looked like that day? How had it felt to see the sun rise … when my world had gone dark? Why did the silence that morning seem so deafening, so intimidating and vast?

  • Why did it feel like a stranger knocking on the door … when before, I had felt comforted by silence?

Because.

That’s the nature of monumental change.

That’s the nature of shock.

That’s the pain of losing someone you love.

So … I titled my memoir:
THE SILENCE OF MORNING — A Memoir of Time Undone.

And HERE … is the cover.

thesilenceofmorning14-HiResWatercolor by Columbia, Missouri, artist Paul C. Jackson

“Despite a crushing loss … here we have a warmth of spirit,
understanding and compassion in a distancing world.”
Madeline Sharples, author of Leaving the Hall Light On

Cover design by 1106 Design, Phoenix, AZ

I will be posting more about release details in the upcoming weeks. Thank you all so much for your interest in a story that is layered with many themes and topics that impact each and every one of us. Loss and everything that precedes and follows it … is intrinsic to the human condition. Something we are all born into, yet, rarely understand … not until the desire to dig deeper is so compelling that … we have no choice. Until the silence is so overpowering that …  we have no choice. ~ dh

  •  See you again on Friday, October 16th, as I continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all.
  • Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is a book about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book for you. We are ALL much wiser than we think; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. Enjoy!
    faviconBlog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.
When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.