Hot and Cold

palmspringssun

Driving a Jeep with no top in the desert this week with my youngest daughter and her friend has reminded me of something that Cheryl Strayed taught in the workshop I was lucky enough to attend in Patmos, Greece – The power of holding two opposing truths in one hand. It’s hot here in Palm Springs, my friends. I finished hiking this morning at 9am and it was 95 degrees, with a high of 117 projected. In the Jeep I blast the AC – it’s got a serious blower – and with the forced air hitting me and the sun beating down, I feel hot and cold at the very same time. I can’t tell where one ends and one begins; they seem to simultaneously exist.

Which has me thinking about other opposing truths. I’ve just completed a new draft for my memoir and I feel finished and only just begun. Painful times remembered are isolating and connecting. Dancing ballet is highly restrictive and freedom-giving. Being on the trail I disappear and like those who pile rocks, want to find my way home.

palmspringsrock

I’m taking these opposing truths and holding them as jewels in my palm, wrapping my fingers around them in appreciation. I hope this summer finds you both hot and cold, too.

Love, Molly

On Saying Goodbye

I’m working on a collaboration with Lawrence artist Kent Smith that is taking shape as a interactive journal/activity-book for caregivers. It’s a work in progress that I’m really excited about, so I’m attaching a short piece I wrote with it in mind.

I hope you are well and that you have moments like I did when I took this photo outside of Palm Springs, California – when you feel cradled and wholly immersed in the beauty around you.

mollykrausegrasspic

The Biggest Goodbye

My friend Sandy was forty-six when she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that was too advanced to be treated. The speed of her decline took my breath away. I saw her a handful of times in the month between her diagnosis and her death and we laughed, reminisced about our days of working together in the restaurant business and talked about our mutual love of writing. I clung to every moment I had with her; they felt so precious. I’ll never forget the moment when I realized I would likely be making the last visit to see her. I now had the opportunity to say goodbye and I didn’t want to blow it like I had with my dad over twenty years ago. The biggest goodbye may be the most important one. I rehearsed what I wanted to say to her in my head in the car ride over: thank you for being such a good friend, I will continue to love those you love, no one who met you could possibly forget you, I love you and goodbye, my friend. Climbing into her bed the day before she died and whispering those words into her ear as she squeezed my hand was one of the most special moments in my life.

This is hard stuff, this saying goodbye. This part that goes against every fiber of our desires. We don’t want to say goodbye and can easily let it go without being said, even when we have the chance. Perhaps we think that it would upset our loved one, as if they don’t understand that they are dying. Wanting to soothe and comfort ourselves, as well as our loved one, is tangled up with not wanting to let go, much less say goodbye. We can convince ourselves that it doesn’t need to be said. Sudden deaths – whether they are the results of accidents, suicides, or acute medical situations – remind us otherwise. In those cases we often long to be able to have had the opportunity to say the important stuff. I had many years to prepare for my dad’s death but, due to immaturity or entrenched family patterns, I failed to say out loud some things that I wished I had. Things like – You didn’t say it, but I know you love me. I didn’t say it enough, but I love you. I’m sorry if you felt alone during this past year. I’m grateful I got to be closer to you this past year. I will try to keep your creative spirit alive. Thank you.

Writing these words make me emotional and he’s been gone for decades. I can’t go back and say these things but even writing them is healing. It’s never too late to reflect on what you would have done differently and to use that insight to move forward more deliberately. What I failed to say to my dad helped bring me to a place where I planned my words to Sandy. The difficulty in coming to terms with the goodbye can be rewarded by the intimacy of a moment with your loved one, a moment that can be marked by a depth that is often lacking in our everyday lives. What an opportunity if we can open ourselves up to it.

Collateral Beauty

I feel privileged to share a beautiful essay by someone near and dear to me, my sister Nicole Palmer. I’ve been deep into writing about our childhood as I finish my memoir and I loved her honest perspective. I hope you find it as moving as I did.

Love, Molly

meandnikki

 

ONE OF THE SMART KIDS…
I wanted to finally be one of the smart kids.

You know the ones… who always finishes homework on time (check), sits in the front of the class to absorb all the information possible (check), studies until their eyeballs are ready to pop out of their head (check), and passes major exams with ease…… (crickets)!

What the hell? I did all the things the smart kids do, but I didn’t pass a major exam?? This wasn’t just any ol’ exam. This was the exam that showed I knew all the absorbed information, the exam that says I deserve to receive my master’s degree, the exam that I missed by two-points in order to pass.

Devastation came like a tsunami. I got the email with the grade of 82. Passing score was 84. SERIOUSLY??

I took my time during the exam. I carefully read all the questions and actually thought I had achieved the goal of being one of the smart kids. I thought I was going to finally make everyone proud that I was finally going to be “one of them”.

You see everyone in my family is one of the smart kids. I grew up with a family of people who were all very smart. From my grandmother on down to my great nephew!

The intelligence of my family could probably cure cancer, solve world hunger, but not this family member. I was not an elite member. I was the “chosen” one.

I was one of those babies you see in the newspaper looking for a family and I had the unique pleasure of being adopted by a smart family, but I never felt I belonged.

Yes, of course my family loves me. It’s not about love. It’s about feeling like you belong.

Believing you belong with people who think like you, look like you.

All these memories (and more) came flooding back into my being and filled me with intense and overpowering grief and pain.

Why didn’t I go back and review all the questions before hitting the submit button? Why didn’t I study the areas I knew I struggled with more? Why did I even decide to go to graduate school? Why? Why? Why? Well, I will tell you why…

I’m tired.

Not just a little tired. I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

After 33 months of classes, crazy classmates, quizzes, papers, group work, clients, supervision, video taping, constructive criticism, an unstable boss, switching jobs, new responsibilities, running from meeting to meeting, and balancing a 50 hour a week schedule, and trying to spend time with my husband, son, and dog and taking a 3-hour exam it was time to admit it… I was exhausted!

When I opened the email with the passing score and a giant “82”appeared on my screen. I cried, I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw whatever was near me against the wall, I want to punch something… anything!

I had worked SO hard to pass. I wanted to pass so badly because I was so tired and had visions of high fiving with the smart kids and finally proving to the world, but more importantly to myself, I had finally made it to smart kids’ club!

The dream was crushed in a matter of seconds. I cried, and cried some more, and then cried some more. I slept for two hours that night and then woke up at 3 a.m. and sat out on my balcony.

I cried and grieved those 2-points like I did when my sweet babies died. And then it hit me.

My legion of angels was still around me. Eric was still behind me pushing me forward, Brad was on the other side yelling at me to keep going and don’t feel sorry for myself, my Dad was on the other side with his head up strutting with the resolve of a warrior, little Maya and Kristopher were still holding my hands tight, and my Grandmother was leading the way!

They were all still there, but I had become too busy to feel and sense their presence around me.

I’d become too focused on what I should be doing and not on what I needed to do. I needed to remember the collateral beauty that surrounded me. All of my angels that never left me.

I had missed caring for myself.

I wished all of them were still with me, but they weren’t in physical form anymore. They were gone. They had all moved on to another existence and I was still here two-points short.

I sat and stared at the sky. I remembered all those years ago when I learned that life goes on no matter what you are going through. The memory of little Maya dead inside of me and people and nature continuing to move and grow.

Time never stops. It changes, it evolves, it moves.

Time appeared to me as somewhat of an illusion, and then the sun began to come up, despite my desire to grieve my lost two points and revel in self-despair.

It was a the dawn of a new day and after the tsunami passed, there was calm. It was time to start swimming though my sorrow.

As I began to swim through my sorrow I realized I was a strong. I was a lot stronger than most people. Who the heck swims through a flood of emotions? Why not just drown in sorrow?

The verse, “God does not give us more than we can bear” came rushing back. For a moment I wanted to scream at God… I was tired of being strong. I was tired of always carrying so much. I’m tired, and damn it. sorrow swimming sucks!

Then it occurred to me I was given the task of carrying so much because I was given the blessing of God’s strength. I was created in His image.

Wow!

As a dear friend always reminds me, “there is a divine right order to the things that happen to us.” I went into my bedroom and I looked at the quote on my wall that has been hanging on bright orange paper next to my bed for 33 months, which says,

“The only way to fail at something is to fail to learn from the experience.”

So, what the heck was the lesson this time? I cried some more. Then the lesson came.

I didn’t fail my exam. I passed with a score higher than I could’ve ever imagined. I overcame a 34-year old fear of exams, I studied and worked harder than I ever had before. For the first time in 46 years, I believed in myself.

I learned I AM one of the smart kids!

I’m not smart because I passed an exam with ease. I’m smart because I’m the one who didn’t pass.

I’m smart because I’m the one who knows the deepest pain of loss.

I’m smart because I’ve been given beauty for my ashes and I use those ashes to connect with clients.

I’m smart because I know the pain of disappointment, the agony of defeat, with an undisputable understanding of the desire to give up.

But… with the willpower to move forward. To get up and use all of it as strength.

To get up and stand in the ring beaten and bloodied, absolutely vulnerable, with the resolve and resilience to NEVER stop fighting, to never give in, to never believe I’m not smart!

My pain and defeat is a plus, not a minus 2!

It provides me a lucent vision of humanity and the ability to change lives, and the knowledge to go to the edge and fall.

Not fall into despair and defeat, but to fall into the erudition of grace.

To fall into the love and support of God, my angels, friends, family, classmates and professors.

Most importantly — that it is not falling, but learning I have the ability to fly with brave new wings to soar to heights unimagined.

To be in seventh grade

When I’m reading something – whether it’s a novel, memoir or Facebook post – and I can relate, even if it’s an experience I’ve never had but my gut whispers ‘me too’, then I know I’m in a good place. That’s why I read and why I write, to commune with another over words.

Sometimes even just a sentence can deliver. Working with the seventh grade students at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School on their six word memoirs has reminded me of these truths. Because I want to see if you to can connect with them over their words too, here is a sampling of their work…

THE MAKEUP CAN’T COVER MY INSECURITIES.

I CAN ALWAYS MAKE MYSELF LAUGH.

TEARS ARE ALMOST SALTIER THAN ME.

YOU WERE MY LIFEBOAT; I DROWNED.

READY TO MAKE A BIG MISTAKE.

MY GENDER: NOT DEFINED BY YOU.

INDIAN TAKEOUT IS OUR THANKSGIVING MEAL.

I AM A TEENAGE LESLIE KNOPE.

I DON’T WANT TO DO BAD.

I WANT A BED OF CLOUDS.

INHALING DARK MEMES, EATING CANNED BEANS.

YOU DON’T HEAR ME, I’M SCREAMING.

NOT MY KANSAS ANYMORE. WHAT HAPPENED?

YOU MAY TRUST ME, I DON’T.

Aren’t they great?  Love, Molly

centralpicoutside

 

Justice, Mercy, Humility

One thing I love about teaching writing is how much I learn. One of my adult students brought to class a writing prompt and an opportunity to share our work through her church, Plymouth Congregational Church (their Facebook page reads No matter who you are, you are welcome here).

The assignment was to write a Micah Moment, a short narrative inspired by the themes of justice, mercy and humility from Micah 6:8. I immediately thought of a student at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School where I am serving as writer in residence with the seventh graders. Here is link to the short essay.

Meanwhile, I have completed a draft of my memoir Taking Our Losses. I’ll keep you posted with information about publication.

And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! My grandma Peggy gave me this pin when I was a little girl and now that sheRead More »

Being Schooled

My motto of saying yes to opportunity has led to me to show up feeling unqualified before. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when standing in front of a room of seventh graders that the little voice in my head asked me – what did you think you were going to accomplish here? 

I immediately said yes when asked to be the Zinn Writer in Resident at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. My daughters attended Central and the task seemed to fit in nicely with a word that has been guiding me this year – contribute.

centralpic

 

All seventh graders at Central will work with me this semester on telling their own story. We are currently working on six word memoirs, a surprisingly challenging exercise for anyone that is also fun when you get into the swing of it. We will produce a book of these memoirs and may have opportunities to share them as public art.

But friends, this kind of work is not for the faint of heart – or as I shared in a new six word memoir with the kids this week – TEACHING SEVENTH GRADE IS REALLY HARD. I come from a long line of educators, going back to grandparents on both sides, I should know this. Now I do.

Some of the kids simply don’t participate, those are the hardest for me. I can only hope that some part of the discussion is slipping into their consciousness, that they heard something that caused them to flutter internally because they could relate somehow. Or that they had an idea pop in their heads for something to put into words but for whatever reason, just didn’t try to yet.

Some of the kids write six words about themselves that are so clever, funny and insightful that I smile just thinking about them. Others are heartbreaking and I need to talk to their real teacher after class. I can see the gears clicking in others as they try their hand at choosing words to capture their thoughts. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

I don’t want to forget that –

  • Teachers may have the most important jobs that exist. My respect for their work knows no bounds.
  • Being a kid in school is no small task. I had forgotten how it feels to walk through a crowded hall full of teenagers.
  • Trying to identify with someone else’s experience helps me grow as a human being. I want to continue to put myself in new situations in order to learn more about other people.
  • Words are powerful. If I can help people use them well, I will have something to feel good about.

So even though I feel like I am stretching my abilities in this current project, I will use a six word memoir to say – ALWAYS GRATEFUL TO TRY SOMETHING NEW.

Love, Molly

 

 

 

A New Essay

I wrote this piece last year so I decided to be brave and share it with you all. Maybe it will resonate with you…

Lying to My Daughter and Other Victories

“A vitamin,” I answered, before I had time to think. It was early, still dark, and I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee yet, much less time to formulate an answer to her question. My thirteen-year old youngest daughter always came downstairs on school mornings before her fifteen year-old sister. “Oh,” she replied in a typical one-word response as she opened the refrigerator and grabbed the milk for her cereal. I replaced the childproof cap to the brown pharmacy bottle and placed it next to my actual vitamins. I winced inside and changed the subject to after school activities and dropped a bagel in the toaster. I didn’t think about it again until she brought it up several days later in her darkened bedroom as I was saying goodnight.

When did she go back to the cabinet and look at the name of the drug printed on the bottle? Did she take a picture of it so she could look it up later, all with her iPhone? Was she surprised when she realized I had lied to her? Disappointed? Mad? Had I ever lied to her like that before?

“It wasn’t a vitamin, it was an antidepressant,” she said simply after I climbed the ladder to her loft bed and slid under her small throw blanket. She slept on top of her floral print comforter so that she didn’t have to make her bed in the morning. I paused – it was a statement, not a question.

A bud of relief bloomed in my gut. “Yes. I’m sorry I lied to you,” I whispered, resisting the urge to cry.

“It’s ok.” I waited but she didn’t seem to have anything else to say.

“I haven’t been taking them long,” I told her. “I’ve just been feeling so down and I haven’t been able to snap out of it. Since my friend Sandy died I’ve been in a sad slump.”

“Yeah.”

“You know depression runs in my family, almost everyone is on anti-depressants. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Who was I trying to convince?

“I know.”

“And I’m glad you said something about it. It’s always better to talk. I shouldn’t have lied about it, I just didn’t want you to worry about me. I always worried about my mom.”

“Ok.”

“And being depressed doesn’t always lead to bad things, it’s not getting help that can. I got help so that wouldn’t happen.” Did she know I was talking about the suicide attempts that have passed through my family history like a tornado warning, leaving no causalities but damage nevertheless?

“I know.”

“I love you honey. Thank you for bringing it up, you did the right thing.”

“Goodnight mommy, I love you too.” I noticed she didn’t call me by my first name, a habit she started when she was three.

 

Years ago, my daughters were surprised when my mom told them she’s been on anti-depressants for a long time. They couldn’t believe it – why is she depressed? I thought I had covered this ground when I explained that you don’t need a reason to feel sad, sometimes you just do. Some of our brains are wired differently and this sadness can be overwhelming and we need help. Now that they were teenagers, they had friends who went to therapy and took medication. And even though my family growing up had plenty of family therapy and medication, the family my husband and I created did not. We didn’t need it – or so I wanted to believe.

As teenagers my daughters can process complex ideas and communicate at an adult level. They understand chemistry and foreign languages and juggle the demands of friends, schoolwork and parents. Hell, they can even drive a car! My lie to my youngest was covered in a blanket of my sense of protection towards them. Keeping pain from them is well practiced. Comforting them is second nature. Protecting my offspring has been my job, my default reaction, for sixteen years. Of course, the lines of safekeeping change as our kids grow up. The boundaries must be extended for them to become fully functioning adults and the more I looked at my lie, the more I saw the that my reason of protecting them was more of an excuse than real. As I peeked under my maternal blanket, deeper lies were revealed – the ones I have been telling myself.

I can grit my teeth through anything. My daughters won’t notice my sadness; I won’t let them. I didn’t get the family depression gene. If I try harder, I’ll feel good enough. They don’t need to know that I’m not perfect. These thoughts gave birth to the dishonesty that so easily, without thought or intention, came running out of my mouth to my daughter. These are not tidy emotional issues; I’m still working on them and probably always will.

My youngest has yet to throw my lie back at me, even when I have been upset with her about her behavior. I see this as an act of kindness from her, a show of empathy. I’ve wondered what the moment was that led her to question my honesty to her with my vitamin answer. I realize that there may be unforeseen consequences to our relationship because I know that deception is a destroyer. I’ve participated in and felt its painful impact. My heart has been broken by lies. I have broken other hearts. But the last hearts I want to chip away at are my daughters; I know that others will. And yet in the end, I’m glad that my daughter busted me in this lie. It reminds me that I am a flawed human being, capable of falling short. It helps me to soften towards my daughters as I recognize their flaws, as they manage the huge task of figuring out daily how to grow up. It points me toward forgiveness – the kind extended to me for my lie, the kind extended to them for their failings and the kind I can show to myself for being human.

windowpic