CeCe’s Musings: The 13th Day

by Christie Shumate McElwee

CeCe’s Musings: A Resurrection of My First Blog Title

Random thoughts on Day 13 of social distancing, social isolation, quarantining, helping to flatten the damn curve, living moment to moment, still trying to figure out Zoom, and drinking all the wine.

  1. A sunny day makes all the difference. Rain…not so much.
  2. Coffee and wine have saved my life.
  3. After reading Stephen King’s The Stand, I’ve decided real news is scarier. Take that, King of Horror.
  4. Have I mentioned wine?
  5. Sitting on my porch swing yesterday, I had lovely conversations with two of our neighbors. Finally after three years of living here, I learned one of them is a physician’s assistant and the other has three cats. Still don’t remember one of their names, but we have time. Lots of time.
  6. Videos of penguins walking around zoos are everything.
  7. Grateful I like who I’m sequestered with during this time. Ever so grateful.
  8. Trevor Noah’s sofa, Jimmy Fallon’s daughters.
  9. Have I mentioned sun?
  10. Pondering cleaning out the freezer and under the sink. Pondering does not equal doing. I’m just saying…
  11. Sitting with the blues when they come over me. Giving myself permission to be sad, stay in my pjs, and watch endless episodes of Gilmore Girls.
  12. Grateful for my soul sister girlfriends. Our text threads has been both sincerely vulnerable and freaking hilarious. 
  13. Why can’t we all have FaceTime? Why can’t our phones just get along?
  14. Walking outside is weird as we all do that crazy “don’t you get near me” dance.
  15. Construction of a new house is still going on across the street, and I’ve discovered I don’t mind all of the noise. The constant hammering calms me. And the workers seem to be social distancing in the midst of the build. Kudos, boys. Kudos.
  16. I had cereal this morning. I haven’t had a bowl of cereal in ages and it was delicious. Yup, that’s my life right now: expounding the delights of cereal.
  17. Rationing toilet paper is literally a pain in the ass, and I am not one to aimlessly use that word “literally.”
  18. Trying not to go down the internet rabbit hole. Emphasizing “trying.” Not totally successful yet.
  19. Who else is recharging their phones at least once or twice a day? Asking for a friend.
  20. I am finding strength every day in the simple things: a former student helping out my mom, hearing my husband’s voice as he works from our basement, talking with my sons, and trading Lysoled (it is now officially an adjective) puzzles with a neighbor. 
  21. Never never never forget to love.

“The world is violent and mercurial – it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love – love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” – Tennessee Williams, who was born on this day, March 26, 1911.

The Beautiful Cruelness of Spring

by Christie Shumate McElwee

-Updated blog piece from March 2017-

(I wrote this piece three years ago after returning from a former student’s funeral. It was a heartbreaking service that gutted me. I pondered the irony of spring: its cruel beauty. How could a young person die in the midst of nature’s return to glory? Spring 2020 brings a new fear, COVID-19, yet offers me time for quiet contemplation. Today it rains and snows. Tomorrow the daffodils bloom. I left most of the writing intact and added two new paragraphs. I hope you are all safe, and hopefully soon we can all dance in the rain together.)

Spring is about new beginnings. Fresh pinks and yellows and greens sprinkle the landscape. 

But oftentimes spring is cruel. Storms fly in with screeching warnings from the sky. We scramble to basements, praying for safety.

Along with daffodils and blooming magnolias, spring also delivers ends. Disasters still happen. Tragedy still strikes. People still die. Hearts still break.

Spring is prom, Easter, bunnies, flowering trees, and new clothes. We clean our houses with a renewed energy. The windows fly open, inviting breezes to gently kiss the curtains.

But spring has also brought Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco, and other tragedies. Our hearts have cried with pain for the fear and hatred lurking in the darkness of souls.

Spring 2020 brings a new cruelty to the entire globe. We are sequestered in our homes, attempting to stave off the spread of COVID-19. The experts call it flattening the curve. Businesses are shuttered. Students are learning online. Some have the privilege of working from home while others worry about loss of income. Doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store employees, and restaurant workers delivering curb side service are all on the front lines. The numbers of sick and dying grow every day. Store shelves are empty. People are scared. We crave brave, honest leaders so we turn to Dr. Anthony Fauci, our voice of reason who speaks daily about the virus and what is being done to combat it.

No longer will we take for granted a leisurely al fresco meal on a warm summer evening, a crowded church service, or a raucous concert. For now, though, we stay inside and plan our future vacations and when we can hug our children and grandchildren again. The future, for now, is on hold. 

Spring is a reminder. While there is expectation and promise, endings lie in wait. Flowers peek through while a freak spring storm cancels out the remaining buds. We celebrate the joys of spring, knowing life is breathing its way back to us after a long winter, yet finales creep up and tap up on the shoulder to remind us of what it is to be human, to experience joy and loss in the same ragged breath.

Spring rains encourage growth. We smell the future in each drop. And even though we know a tempest could be brewing, we still hope. We still know love. We still dance in the rain. We still celebrate life.

This is spring.

This photo of a magnificently budding tree was taken a few years ago in my old neighborhood. The trees right now are just beginning to show themselves. We will wait.

Love in the Time of Corona

(Shout out and apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

by Christie Shumate McElwee

“The search is the meaning, the search for beauty, love, kindness and restoration in this difficult, wired and often alien modern world. The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.” ~Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

I picked up Stitches, a small handbook of hope by Anne Lamott, in order to get myself through these troubling times. Now, one little book will not cure all my fears and panic, yet rereading Lamott’s wise, rambling, and comforting words gives me a calming sense of unity. You see, we are all in this crazy thing together, and even though we are sitting in our homes tucked away from exposure, we are connected. Ponder that.

We humans are social animals. We venture out of our caves in search of company, joining book clubs, gyms, and churches to find other humans seeking contact. When we are told not to socialize, it goes against all of our natural instincts. We introverts have our books and Netflix and we’re good, but others among us crave humans. Not in a vampire type way, but social interaction. Those extroverts out there may be having a more difficult time with this quarantine, so you might want to check in on them.

But, once again, we are all in this together. Don’t hoard the toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Do not post false or misleading information online. And for goodness sakes, stay out of crowded bars. Support local restaurants by ordering delivery or carryout. Offer help when needed. Call a friend or elderly relative. Be a decent human being, even though we are shut away. The internet gifts us a network of connections, but don’t get bogged down in the hype and negative energy. Step away. Meditate. Listen to music. Read a book. Cook a new recipe. Watch a classic movie.

These are extraordinary days we are living in at the moment. No one knows what will happen next. What we do have control over is how we treat ourselves and others.

Spread your awesomely messy love (but not your germs) to the entire human race.

You’ve got this.

“Love is the question. How can it possibly be enough this time, in the face of such tragedy, loss or evil? And it is the answer: It will be. How can this family or town make a comeback? The next action, the breath of time passing, love. Go figure.” ~Anne Lamott

(Note: I am going to attempt a blog piece each day of the quarantine. Don’t quite know what I will write about, but I hope you hang with me. Live gently, love madly, and breathe compassionately.)

The Gift of Love

by Christie Shumate McElwee

It’s a frigid Valentine’s Day here in the Midwest, and most of us are hunkered down under heavy blankets trying to keep warm. Me? I am sipping hot coffee while pondering the perplexities of this thing called love. I have many questions and no real definitive answers. Billions of words have been written over the centuries on the subject. Poets, philosophers, and scientists have studied the heart, how it works and the countless ways it breaks. We humans claim to know love, but we continue to stomp on each other in the name of it. It’s staggeringly complicated and stunningly simple, this love of ours. All I know of it is that I am still learning, still practicing, and still offering up love. It is a journey I hope to never relinquish.

The dictionary definition of love mentions words like tender, passionate, attachment, and affection. Phrases like “Love wins” and “All we need is love” are often glib testaments to our total confusion of the meaning of the word. If only it were as simple as loving one another. Wars would end. Guns would be stored away. Hate would return to its grave. But, because we do not understand love, we stumble blindly through life, hanging onto jealously, fear, regrets, and pain. Those we understand. Those we can keep close. They are our identity, our stories. Love, though, is often hazy in its message. Do we want to be loved or do we want to love? Is it selfish or selfless? Do we set contingencies on love or do we offer it up unconditionally? Do we love naturally or does it require daily practice?

All I know is this…love is a mystery worth knowing. It is a feeling, a presence, a pricking at the heart. It’s worried days and sleepless nights. It is the infinite stars we can never count. It can break us into a billion fragments and sloppily repair our damaged souls with crooked stitches and sticky glue. Love is believing in our brokenness, and not surrendering to hopelessness, to cynicism, to despair. Love is an impossible puzzle with missing pieces and no instructions. It is a simple gesture, a hand to hold, a wish before blowing out the candles.

Love, in all its crazy incarnations, is the reason we are here. It offers us hope. It serves up joy. It is all we hold in our hands when the sun sets, this love of ours.

Love is a gift, both given and received. And as the years pass, I hold this precious love close to my imperfect heart, knowing it is all worth it.

The Gift

by Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.

Earth and heaven are both still watching

though time is draining from the clock

and your walk, that was confident and quick,

has become slow.

so, be slow if you must, but let

the heart still play its true part.

Love still as once you loved, deeply

and without patience. Let God and the world

know you are grateful.

That the gift has been given.

A peek at my collections of hearts and books. Love is often scattered across pages, years, and memories. It is both comedy and tragedy, fire and water, and lost and found. I find love everywhere, if I bother to look up.

Reflections of My Dry January: A Month without Wine and Facebook

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I have never been been any good at New Year’s resolutions. I have the best intentions, but it is the follow through that stymies me. Eat healthier? Smoothie for breakfast. French fries for lunch. Exercise more? Yoga three times a week. Binge watch the entire first season of “Virgin River” in one day. Cuss less? Damn, that isn’t happening.

My husband and I have tried Dry January for the last three years. Neither of us made it through a week the first time. He went the whole month last year, but I gave up after eleven days. This year, though, I was determined to get through the entire thirty-one days without booze. I hadn’t gone that long since I was pregnant with my second son, who is now twenty-six. Yup, I do like my wine.

But….giving up alcohol didn’t seem like enough, so kooky me also decided to step away from social media for the month. If I was going to give up the lovely buzz of a glass of Chardonnay, then why not discover how it would feel to squash the mindless chatter and endless scrolling of Facebook and Instagram?

So, after deleting apps off my phone and drinking my last glass of wine on New Year’s eve, I spent thirty-one long and gloomy days without either vice. What did I learn? Am I a better person? Was it all worth it? Will I do it again?

Random reflections of Dry/No Social Media January:

  1. Giving up Facebook and Instagram was easier than skipping the alcohol. Seriously.
  2. What did I miss not being on social media? Birthdays. Life moments. Funny memes.
  3. What didn’t I miss? Comments. Comments. Comments. Did I mention I didn’t miss the comments?
  4. Booze was harder. I was fine for the first few weeks, but when a snowy weekend was forecast, I ached for a glass of wine. After a desperate trip to Friar Tuck’s, I did purchase two bottles of non-alcoholic wine. Review? The white was disgusting, but the red was better after adding a handful of frozen fruit and letting it sit for awhile. The big thing that was difficult to get around was the smell. Yuck. Sparkling water is still a better alternative, even though I did find an acceptable non-alcoholic St. Pauli beer.
  5. I was hoping to lose weight, but that didn’t happen. Phooey. Did I consume more calories to compensate for my booze-less life? Perhaps. Dang.
  6. I did sleep better. This is a huge benefit. Sleep and I have had a contentious relationship for years, and if stepping away from booze and social media helps us reconnect, then bravo!
  7. Not looking at social media for a month gave me a weird sense of privacy. I enjoyed the coziness of it, as if I had locked myself up in a cabin in the woods for a month with no internet connection. Nobody knew where I was. It felt warm and fuzzy. I may return to this cabin from time to time. It’s nice there.
  8. What are my goals now that it is February? I will limit my social media time. No mindless scrolling. No getting lost in the comments. No wasting precious time lurking at other people’s lives. I’ll treat myself to a glass or two of wine on the weekends and attempt to savor each sip. Moderation is a good thing, but I’ll also remember that a can of cranberry flavored Bubly will not wake me up at 1:00 in the morning with a headache and the sudden urge to down a bottle of ibuprofen.

Even though I had a few cranky days, I am proud of myself. Will I do it again? Ask me on January 31, 2020. I may have an answer for you. As for my February goals? I plan on writing more, drinking less, living in the present more, and wallowing in despair less. Seems doable. I refuse to let go of hope and love and grace, none of which are found in nasty comments on social media.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” ~Anne Lamott

“Don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” ~Ella Fitzgerald

Me, celebrating February.

Gifts of Hope

Last Saturday gifted me with surprises. I wasn’t searching for hope, yet it still slapped me silly with its glorious presence.

After my husband left for his weekly golf game, I blinked my eyes open and realized there was no coffee in the house. I must have coffee, so I pulled on my clothes, grabbed my journal and phone, and walked the three blocks to our neighborhood coffeehouse. I brought my steaming cup to one of the outside tables, and then settled in to watch customers and write a little. I soon noticed a group of women and their dogs gathering at a nearby table. I caught bits on conversation pertaining to the proliferation of gun violence, and yes, I found myself eavesdropping. I turned around to comment, and then, surprisingly, I was invited to join their circle. I spent the next hour listening to these wise women discuss subjects close to my heart. One, an immigrant from a small South American country, gave me insight to the crises in both of our countries. As I rose to leave, one said, “We’re here every Saturday morning. You are welcome to join us.” I had accidentally stumbled upon hope, at a crooked, black rod iron patio table just blocks from my house.

After I walked home, caffeinated and rejuvenated, I decided to hop on my bike and ride down to the historic part of town. My first stop was the small Saturday farmer’s market that is located in a parking lot close to the river. I wandered the different booths, admiring fresh produce and baked goods. One of the last vendors had rocks, crystals, and sun catchers. I admired her work and we chatted about how she collected most of her beads from old jewelry and the prisms from dumpster diving expeditions. I wanted to purchase two of her sun catchers, but she informed me she didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have any cash. Stupid move on my part when visiting a farmer’s market, by the way. The artist then said, “Take ‘em. You can owe me.” At first I shook my head. “Oh no. That doesn’t seem right.” She replied, “I do it all the time. Most people pay me back, and those who don’t, oh well. They still have my art.” After some hesitation, I picked out my two favorites. She wrapped them up, and then wrote her name and phone number on a small piece of paper. I told her, “Oh, don’t worry. I will be back next week.” She said, “You seem like an honest person. I can usually see it in people’s faces.” I smiled. I will return next Saturday with what I owe her, and will purchase more of her work. This quirky, open-hearted, trusting soul handed me hope at the farmer’s market.

I stuffed my new treasures in my wicker basket and rode down to my favorite outside restaurant, The Bike Stop Cafe, one part restaurant-one part bike rental/repair shop. I left my bike alongside others at the rack, and went inside to order my usual lunch: a veggie sandwich with an iced tea. A breeze was blowing in off the river, and bikers and young families were scattered throughout the patio. Halfway through my sandwich, a man behind me stood up and said, “A man knocked over two bikes. He did pick them up, but then took off. You might want to check if yours is okay.”

I glanced over at the rack, and my first panicked thought was my bicycle was gone. “I think my bike has been stolen,” I gulped. My ten-year old tan Schwinn from Target. The one with the wicker basket and clanking gears. My grandma bike that takes me to bookclub, the neighborhood grocery, and the mail room. I adore that bike. I flew to the rack, but quickly realized that whoever had knocked over the bikes had just moved them. My basket must have become dislodged in the fall because it was now hanging from one of the handlebars. But here’s the amazing part. Just before this discovery, many of the diners were ready to go after the alleged perpetrator. “I think he rode up to Main Street,” they said. “We may be able to catch him.” All these strangers, without even blinking, were willing to run after my nonexistent thief. After checking to make sure everything was working and returning the basket to its rightful place, I waved at the crowd and said with an embarrassed smile, “Thank you. I’m good. You can go back to talking among yourselves.” 

I headed back down the trail, pondering the morning. All I wanted when I woke up was coffee, yet I also found a table of intelligent, social justice-minded women, a generous and trusting artist, and strangers looking out for me. In a world swirling in the language of hate and conspiracy theories, hope just danced with this girl on a sunny Saturday morning. It is easy to become mired in the mud of despair, but often hope tiptoes into our lives, presenting us with the possibility of hot coffee, true human connections, and smiles.

“I dwell in possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson

When I first turned on the trail, I spied this guy slowly making his way across the gravel toward the river. I stopped my bike to snap a photo. He froze, but didn’t retreat into his shell. I said to him, “You’ve got this, buddy. Keep going.” On my way home, there was no sign of him. I’m confident he made it safely to his destination, this little guy with his determined hard-shell self.
Hope.
Featured

live. love. breathe.

live.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

love.

“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

breathe.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

We live. We love. We breathe.

Every moment, of every day. 

We live. We experience pain. We sit with grief. We dance in joy. All is living. Every bite of food gives us sustenance, yet we savor the flavors. Each sip of wine reminds us of the soil where the grapes were nurtured. Family recipes speak languages of communal stories. Our rituals awaken our memories as we gather for weddings, baby showers, and funerals.

We love. Every great writer has attempted a definition, an example, a story of love, but it is often undefinable. No one has the quintessential explanation of love. It is something deep and mysterious that awakens our hearts. Our first crush. That high school relationship. A good friend. Our wedding. Those babies. With love, though, comes a precarious tightrope walk, filled with the fear of losing it. We wrap our arms around it, often with suffocating consequences. This love of ours is scary, but it is also marvelous in its luminosity. Love makes our days sparkle and our nights sigh with delight.

We breathe. The average human takes 12 to 20 breaths per minute. We take our breath for granted until we can’t breathe. We marvel at its wonder. Breath gives us life. It is a direct link to our hearts. When we are calm, our breathing slows. When we are scared, we often can’t catch our breath. Breathing is the hub of the wheel that connects us to everything that is sacred.

Our lives. Our loves. Our breath. All are who we are in this world. We weave ourselves to one another with tenuous filaments of fragile moments. Life is a lovely, breathless dance, one to experience in all its pain and glory and bitterness and joy.

live.

love.

breathe.