January 2023 Story Sparks
“I really like your shoes,” I told the woman. We were in the urology clinic waiting room, had just checked in. Jerry and I had sat down, a guy was at the desk and this woman still stood in line, that gentlemen ahead of her.
“They are kind of funky, aren’t they?” She looked at the gold swirls on her flip flops. Flashy footwear.
“They look regal,” I said. “And there’s no toe separator.”
I looked at my own shoes. Dusty. Dirty. “And here I sit with my Mary Janes that I walked the dog in.” I’d forgotten to change before Jerry’s first doctor appointment of the year. Getting Rupert, the puppy an early morning walk offered good things for the rest of the day.
“I thought those were ballerina slippers,” she said nodding toward my footwear. “I expected to see you go pirouetting to the door.”
“I’m sorry to be disappointing you.” I said. “I don’t pirouette.” We both laughed.
Then she said with seriousness, “But you are a dancer.” She sounded quite certain.
“No, for sure I’m not.”
She looked incredulous. “But you have a dancer’s body.”
I felt a blush heat up my face. “You have made my day,” I said. “Maybe my year!”
If only my shoe lady could have known how her words lifted my spirits. I had never seen myself as graceful, strong and sturdy, full of poise as a dancer must be. I stumble often. I’ve fallen, once last week, tripping on tree roots on my walking path. But dancers fall and they get back up. I did too. Rupert didn’t run off. A guy in a golf cart came along and asked if I was ok and did I want a ride. His retriever moved over to give us room. But I declined, thanking him for the offer. “You’re tough,” he said. “Today,” I answered brushing the desert dust from my jeans. He drove on.
We women — and many men too — often struggle with how we see ourselves. An errant comment can bring us down (and send us to the ice cream!) and another can lift our spirits. I think what was so surprising for me on that early January day was that my shoe lady suggested a skill I simply didn’t have. It is a new view for me, giving up my image as a clumsy female.
I do have the body of a dancer. I just never noticed before. And one doesn’t have to dance to reap the benefits of standing tall, showing poise, and perhaps offering another a bit of praise for their body choices. I’d really like to find a pair of flip-flops like those she wore.
Later that day I called and left a message for my pilates instructor back in Bend, Nancy Ludeman of In-Joy Pilates. I think it’s those pilates that have straightened my shoulders, helped my gait, allowed me to stand tall despite that airplane-damaged foot. I shared the story with her and added: “If I have the body of a dancer, then you are one of the reasons! Happy New Year!” And at least twice when I passed by a mirror and could hear that inner voice start to criticize I said out loud, “Hey. Nothing negative. You have the body of a dancer.”
And so do each of you. May that mantra help you get back up when you stumble and discover the joy of pirouetting through the rough times in 2023.
Despite the challenges of 2022, the year brought us many good things, not the least of which was the renaming of an elementary school as the Letitia Carson Elementary School in Corvallis, Oregon. Jerry and I attended the grand event along with hundreds of others and descendants of Letitia. Her story was the theme of my book, A Light in the Wilderness that won the WILLA Literary Award of 2015. A new Legacy Project has begun hoping to excavate where this 1850s African American woman and her white husband had their farm. It’s a heart-warming story of neighbors helping neighbors, of change and turning hard times into amazing examples of resilience. What I didn’t share last October were a couple of photographs of gifts given to the school by two of Letitia’s descendants, both nationally recognized artists, Joey (weaver) and James (landscape painter) Lavadour.
Here are the photos. Letitia was creative in how she handled her court cases, suing her common law husband’s estate for wages rather than as a widow, believing in justice and allowing friends to help. Creativity descended to her great-great-grandsons. It is a treasure for the school and for all of us who celebrate stories of strong women (and men!) in history.
Find out more about Joey’s work here.
Find out more about James’ work here.
Beginning the Year with Encouragement
Last January I started a language program. I was faithful. Everyday, 15 minutes or so. While Jerry got his infusions (following being hospitalized for sepsis) or when I sat in the car while he was at urgent care and they weren’t letting visitors inside, I repeated words, expanded my vocabulary. But once I had to repeat longer phrases after first hearing them on the app, I realized this wasn’t going to work well. I can barely understand Jerry (even with hearing aids that I love) without him often having to repeat what he’s said, so how can I ever hope to hear a Spanish phrase articulated well enough for me to repeat it. Hard as it was, I gave myself permission to let the language lessons go. When we’re in Mexico, I can still get around with my formal Spanish from classes taken in the 60s and thankfully, the world mostly speaks English. So I have new encouraging activities: drinking more water; spending time at the gym; and working on the next novel while being more attentive to Jerry. I hope you find some activities that encourage you while giving yourself permission to change your mind without carrying truckloads of guilt. (I’m working on that myself!)
If you’re a writer and in the Central Oregon area on January 11th at noon, you can attend the Bend Toastmasters Special Event in the Meyer Room on the 2nd Floor of the Deschutes Public Library in Bend. “Selling a Book to New York” with author Jodi Compton. It’s free and it might just be the encouragement you’ve been looking for. Actually, seeking out Toastmasters even without a special event has encouraged many! Visit the Bend Toastmasters Facebook page for more details.
St. Martin’s Press, 2022.
I saved reading this book until December when we were settled into our California home. It came out in April but life was chaotic then and there was something comforting in knowing I’d have a Sandra Dallas book to read when I could take a deep breath and savor it. And savor I did! This is a story of two sisters and friends and loyalty during a war and the flu epidemic of 1918. Perhaps because stories of sisters always make me think of mine, but the story resonated with the little things that make up those whisperings of grace we’re often granted in family relationships. Sandra pays special attention to details of a period, the dress, shoes, accessories like scarves. She captures the landscapes — the story is set in Denver — the intricacies of a particular house and what made it a home. Most importantly the deepening relationships of her characters. It’s said that one of the primary purposes of fiction is to move people. This novel does. I think you’ll enjoy a read about how family — of whatever ilk — can encourage us, make us stronger and bring us peace in the most difficult of times.
Look for me in the Willamette Valley come May. I’ll keep you posted!
This year of no writing without a deadline has been a challenge. I’ve read much more which is good. And I’ve struggled with who I am if I’m not writing. It’s a kind of later-life crisis. I’ve abused myself with inner words of my inadequacies as a caregiver, my lack of discipline. I quit my Spanish class! I ran out of alcohol swabs just when we needed it for Jerry’s wound. Poetry has been of great comfort as I waddle through this life though I’m dancing much more. And so I leave you with this poem by May Sarton. It spoke to me about letting go which is what I need to do in a new year to have a new beginning. I hope it speaks to you and lets you find the dance within your own soul, your own lovely lives.
Sonnet 2 from “The Autumn Sonnets.” By May Sarton
If I can let you go as trees
Their leaves, so casually
One by one;
If I can come to know what they do know.
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep).
And treelike, stand unloved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep.
The strong root still alive under the snow.
Love will endure — if I can let you go.
I don’t want to let YOU go, though. I’ll see you in February.