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When Insight Comes From Unexpected Places

June is National Migraine Awareness month. Here is a story about releasing some of the pain from migraine and how I keep learning more about my own migraines, no matter how long I have them.

I never realized how funny it sounded until someone else said it, “So you have pain in your head and your feet?”

I laughed. And since I did, she did too. She was only a student at the massage clinic, but was taking this intake process more seriously than most doctors took medical exams these days.  I had come to the clinic for a cheap $30 massage, only fifty cents a minute, not a complete medical exam.

Wasn’t This Supposed to be Fun? How to Keep the Passion in Your Pursuits 

What is the THING, or if you are lucky THINGS, you love to do.Is it something physical, like running or swimming? Or are you an artist? Someone who uses her hands or creativity to craft, build, create music, or follow some other artistic pursuit? Or is your thing more cerebral, like writing, blogging, or reading?

Whatever it is, consider yourself lucky if you have some pursuit that pulls you in and that makes you lose all sense of time when you’re doing it. But if you are passionate about your pursuit you also run the risk of taking it too seriously. By that I mean forgetting how good it feels to do what you love and focusing instead on what your passion can do for you.

Before you know it doing what you love isn’t enough. You want results! But along the way you may notice you’re not having As much fun as you used to.

As an example, I love writing, but realized I had decided that it only mattered when the activities I did “counted”. I was punishing myself when I didn’t think my writing was leading toward a bigger goal and doing things I didn’t like because I thought they would.

Though my story is specific to my passion, I think others who have a THING will identify with my story. If you have been losing interest in your passion you may just be focusing on the wrong things. You can read my whole story on Medium Math for Writers: How to Suck the Joy Out of Writing by Turning Passion into Point Values.

Stay passionate!

Math for Writers

I have never been good at math. Just ask my mom. My next oldest brother is the one who is the numbers whiz. I’m the youngest of nine kids and all the profitable skills were taken by the time I came…

Digging Into Cemetery Symbolism at Beautiful Bonaventure

After visiting Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking of another old cemetery: Bonaventure Cemetery outside Savannah, Georgia. Many heard of this cemetery after the enormous success of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I visited Bonaventure Cemetery on a trip to Savannah a few years ago and it taught me a lot about how Victorians saw  death. 

Bonaventure Cemetery was established in 1846 as a private cemetery and became a public one in 1907 when the city of Savannah purchased it. The bird girl statue pictured on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is no longer located there, but there are many other statues that make the cemetery seem like an outdoor museum. It is a place of beauty both because of the man-made statues and natural large oak trees, tropical plants and Spanish moss.

Hanging Out at the Cemetery

In touring the cemetery, it is helpful to undertand how Victorians viewed the cemetery. In Victorian culture, the cemetery was more like a park and families would promenade in their finest on the way to their family plot where they would picnic. At the time, death was a routine occurrence, often even young children and mothers giving birth would pass away, so spending time at the cemetery was a way to spend time with both the living and the dead.

Flower Bed Around Grave Bonaventure Cemetery
The outline of a flower bed

As cemeteries became a place to hang out, the grave markers became more beautiful, replacing the symbols that had previously adorned gravestones that were meant to scare people into living a good life. The beautiful images and statues that reminded the living that their loved ones were in a better place. Families would plant flowers to enhance their own familial plot.

Bonaventure Cemetery near Savannah is an outside museum of sculptures of the departed, natural oak trees and Spanish moss, that showcasing Victorian beliefs of death. Click To Tweet

Statues That Resemble the Dead

Marble Statue of Gracie in Bonaventure Cemetery
Gracie Watkins

There were many statues in Bonaventure designed in the likeness of the individual buried beneath the ground. In Victorian culture it was a way to memorialize the loved one and feel close to them when you returned to the cemetery.

One of the most famous is that of Gracie Watkins, a 6-year-old girl whose death left her parents heartbroken. The monument includes a tree cut in half, which symbolizes a life cut short, and ivy climbing toward heaven. Her eyes look upward toward heaven, which reminds the mourner to forget the worries of the current world.

The grave of Corrinne Elliott Lawton is another beautiful and heartbreaking statue. She died while she was engaged after an illness and the likeness shows her sitting draped in a loose dress that hangs off her shoulders, a wreath of flowers has fallen out of her hands, and she is wearing shoes. Her eyes are sad and blank.

Corrinne Elliott Lawton
Corrinne Elliott Lawton

There are many stories about Lawton and the symbolism of the statue. Some say that she had fallen in love with a man her family didn’t approve of and that she threw herself into the river because she was forbidden to marry. Many say she is placed away from the rest of the family plot for that reason

Bare feet on statues mean that the person is walking with Jesus, so the shoes on Corrinne’s feet seem to say she is not walking with Jesus. A large Jesus statue stands behind her and she sits with her back to him, which also indicates that she is not on her way to him.

But no matter what the symbolism says, documents such as her mother’s journals have proven that the stories of her throwing herself to her death are a lie. You can read more about Corrine on Atlas Obscura.

There were many of these marble likenesses throughout the cemetery and it along with a slightly overcast day and the Spanish moss, made the atmosphere a little eerie. The statues were beautiful, but I wondered what it would be like to have my likeness living on without me in a place like this I’ve included some more pictures below from Bonaventure Cemetery. 

What Do Your Doodles Say About You?

You know how it goes. You have a pen or a pencil in hand. You’re in a meeting, a lecture, or maybe on the phone and you’re supposed to be paying attention. Before you know it, the margins are filled with pictures and scribbles. Maybe they’re abstract or they actually resemble something someone could name. Almost everyone does it, so what do those little doodles mean?  

One study, published in the scientific journal Applied Cognitive Psychology,  showed that doodling helped people remember things better.

It did so by helping people use just enough brain energy to keep from daydreaming. Those who doodled remembered more items on a memory list than those who did not.

As with handwriting or maybe dreams, many believe doodles provide insight into who we are. And, although we could doodle just about anything, people doodle many of the same things. So, for fun, here some of the more common doodles and what they may say about the doodler.

Faces 

Doodles of faces tell you how the person doodling views him or herself or how they view other people.

People who draw pretty faces are optimistic and outgoing. Those who draw funny faces may have a good sense of humor. And those who draw ugly faces, may be less social.  Introverts tend to draw a face in profile more often than others.

The features and other characteristics of the face tell a story too:

  • Big eyes can mean the person is outgoing or sensitive. Small eyes may show introversion.
  • Eyes that stare could indicate that the person feels they are being watched.
  • Lips that are big or full can show desire, while thin lips may mean the person is lacking romance.
  • Wide faces show innocence. Cartoon-ish faces show a need for attention.

Flowers

Women tend to draw flowers more often than men. They can be indicative of a kind, tender person. On the other hand, pointy petals may show that the person is distrustful. When the flowers have nice rounded, perky petals, they reveal a positive attitude. Droopy or dying flowers can show that a person does not want to open up.

Geometric Shapes

Doodling squares, rectangles, triangles and other geometrical shapes is the trait of a logical person who may be a good planner.

Here are a few more specifics on certain shapes:

  • Boxes and cubes show a hard-working person.
  • Triangles are a sign of someone looking for answers, risk-takers, or looking to advance in their career or social life.
  • Triangles within other triangles show someone is feeling threatened.
  • Squares show a need for stability in their relationships.
  • Squares inside other squares or groups of squares show frustration.
  • Stars and diamonds show ambition.
  • Swirls and spirals are a sign of a lack of ambition.
  • Hearts show romanticism. Hearts inside of hearts show shyness.

Squiggles and Lines

Even squiggles and lines can mean something based on the type of line drawn.

Squiggly lines have soft lines. They show an exploration to get somewhere. Zigzag lines, with straighter points and angles, denote more aggression and impatience. The weight of the line can also show the mood of the person drawing it.

Just for Fun

Doodling also depends on your mood, your environment, and what’s on your mind. For example, I often take inspiration for my doodles from items around me, as I did with the doodle at right, which is my version of Bucky Badger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. I saw a picture of it and tried to copy it while I was listening in on a call recently.

What about you? What do you usually doodle and when? What do you think your doodles say about you?

To read more about doodles and what they mean, here are a few articles here, here, here, and here.

Book Review: Almost a Mother

I met Christy Wopat last year at a writer’s conference when she spoke about writing her memoir, Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies. Now, almost a year later, and just before Mother’s Day, I finished this book. It tells about the birth and loss of Wopat’s twins, Sophie and Aiden, who were born and died shortly after she gave birth to them just after 21 weeks.

The memoir talks openly about the way our society is unable to handle the loss of babies like these. She talks about how so many called her loss a miscarriage even though both babies were born and she held them in her arms.

Much like another book I recently reviewed, Everything Happens for a Reason she recounts the many inappropriate and awful things people said to her as they find out what happened.

People said nothing, offered cliches, or even in the case of one neighbor literally ran away. One relative even said something unimaginable, telling her, “They probably would have been serial killers.”

Finding Support

As she processes her loss she finds there are no resources for dealing with her grief and anger. She and her husband tried a loss support group but it wasn’t a good fit. Books were either placating or too clinical. A teacher, she had the babies mid-year and decided not to return to school until the next fall and was criticized for her decision. Someone even told her to “get over it.”

It wasn’t until she went online and found others like her writing honestly on their own blogs about similar losses that she started to heal. She had started writing her own feelings down after the births but eventually began her own blog under the title Almost a Mother.

It was with these bloggers that she found her way back to a place where she was more hopeful. The bloggers she met online became her real friends and were there for her through the pregnancies and births of another daughter and son.

Many of these bloggers have gone on to give birth again and Wopat and their children have met. Wopat makes clear, there is no one way to grieve or move on. It was interesting to hear the many ways these women have dealt with their losses.

Moving on from Loss

When I listened to Wopat speak last year she was clearly not a bitter person, though the writing of that time in her life is honest and raw. She was willing to say the things she was thinking at the time. They may not always be pretty, but I believe telling her story truthfully was absolutely critical, considering all the terrible things that were said to her and to other women like her. Hopefully, we can all learn to be more empathetic to the grief and loss of those around us.

Wopat was generous with the writers in the room and encouraged us to tell our own stories. Based on the positive feedback she received,
she said people need to hear them. I have never lost a baby and I am not a mother, but I believe that this book would be helpful to those facing similar losses. I believe first-hand stories from memoirs are one of the best ways to understand our own lives.

Win a Free Signed Copy of Almost a Mother

I am giving away my signed copy of Almost a Mother: Love, Lost & Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies.

Book Cover Almost a Mother by Christy Wopat

To enter, join my email list by entering your email below. If you are already a subscriber you may enter too using the form below. You may enter once through May 31 and I will announce a winner after that.

Milwaukee’s History and Burial Trends of the Rich and Important at Forest Home Cemetery

A few weeks ago on my trip to Milwaukee, I visited the Forest Home Cemetery. It is a beautiful old cemetery and the final resting place of many of the most famous names of Milwaukee. It is a history lesson in Milwaukee and burial trends.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church developed the cemetery for the city. There were six cemeteries in the city at the time, but some were limited to specific religions and some were city run and poorly run with shallow graves. The church solicited money from 50 prominent Milwaukeeans to raise the initial money for the land on which the cemetery would stand.

The first person was buried at the cemetery in 1850 and shows the changes in burial trends over the years. Before the Civil War, most grave markers were made of limestone and marble, while after they were made of granite. This was due to the industrial age and a new ability to cut the harder and more durable stone.

Beauty is a Sign of the Times

As Milwaukee grew in wealth and size following the war due to the industrial age, from 20,000 in 1850 to 285,000 in 1900, more significant monuments filled the cemetery. They were designed in the Egyptian-style popular at the time and took the shape of obelisks, sarcophaguses, and urns. They are beautiful monuments that showcase the desire of the living to produce the most stunning and largest memorial for their dead.

The cemetery is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and caters to tourists. In the summer they offer tours. People can also drive and walk around on their own as we did. The man in the office was very helpful and gave us a map and guide. The guide included lists of people buried in the cemetery in the following categories:

  • Black Leaders
  • Early Educators
  • Leading Physicians
  • Military Heroes
  • Milwaukee Mayors
  • Milwaukee’s Beer Barons
  • Pioneering Women
  • Powerful Industrialists
  • Wisconsin Governors

We used the map and guide to find some graves with names we knew, but mostly we drove around and looked at the beautiful monuments. Many of them reminded me of some that I saw in the famous Bonaventure Cemetery in Savanah, GA. I will share pictures of that historic cemetery another time.

Images Tell the Story

For now, here are a few pictures from Forest Home Cemetery. I’ve made notes in the captions if the grave marked a famous person. Most of the pictures I took were of graves that I found interesting or beautiful.

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Before I Read the Book: Listening to Robin DiAngelo Speak About White Fragility

I recently went to see Robin DiAngelo speak. I first of heard of her last year when her book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, was released.

At the time I heard about the book I was not only too afraid to speak about race. I was even too afraid to read the book. Now after seeing her, I’m ready to take the next step. I’m ready to read the book.

I know, having heard her speak, that this slow process I am taking is a privilege of my whiteness. We live in a racial hierarchy where as a white person, I am at the top of the pyramid of power. The racial status quo makes it comfortable for me to support racism 24/7.

Intentionally Uncomfortable

I know these words are shocking. The thing about DiAngelo is that she, a white woman, was able to deliver her message with humility, honesty, and even a few jokes. She warned the mostly white audience that we would feel uncomfortable with her message. But that was okay since we live our lives in comfort every day.

To reduce racism she told us we needed to be less white. And that didn’t mean to be more of whatever European race we were, Luxembourg- American in my case. She said we could not be less white by being more ethnic. The way to be less white and to oppose the racial hierarchy was to be more humble and practice more humility.

Redefining Racism

DiAngelo defines racism as a system of sanctioned discrimination against people of color, not individual events between individual. She displayed a slide with examples of this system of discrimination against African Americans in the United States that go far beyond slavery to many examples today from educational discrimination to historical omissions. This goes against the mainstream definition of a racist as an individual who consciously does not like people based on race and who is intentionally mean to them.

She says racism is not one event between two individuals, but the system we live in. As a white person raised in our society, I cannot help but have a racist worldview and racist biases that I am invested in. As a white person, the system of racism benefits me. It helps me stay comfortable and overcome any barriers I do face.

She asked the audience to think about the question, “What are some of the ways in which your race has shaped your life?”

She often gives people one minute to answer this question. People of color never have a problem answering this question or filling the time. White participants often cannot answer the question or fill the time, even though being white has played a part in every moment of our lives from where we were born to where we lived and went to school. She says when we cannot understand what it is to be white, we cannot understand what it is to not be white.

DiAngelo says this leads white people to become uncomfortable with the thought that they are racist. This leads to what she calls White Fragility, or the inability of white people to handle racial stress. It’s the feeling of “What can I do?” or “I’m doing my best.” She says this leads to people pushing back and feeling hurt and becoming outraged against the thought of racism.

Practice Humility and Learn

There is no easy answer, DiAngelo says, and you can’t solve racism by being nice to people of color. Her suggestion? Internalize a framework of humility. She says we need to acknowledge what we don’t know and try to learn. She recommended her website as a start. There are loads of resources there including a number of videos where you can hear DiAngelo speaking about her book and its topics and a Reading Guide to the book.

Her book is also a start, so I purchased it and will read it too. I hope to learn much more.

How Do You Tell the Story of a City?

This weekend I was part of a book release for the new The Milwaukee Anthology by Belt Publishing. The Milwaukee Anthology includes non-fiction stories about the Milwaukee-area. I’m excited to have an essay in the book about my hometown, Port Washington, which is titled “Living Like Kings.”

I grew up outside of Milwaukee in a place that was always described as “20 minutes north of Milwaukee.” Port Washing sits on Lake Michigan and my story talks about how salmon stocked in the Great Lakes in the 1960s changed communities like mine, the lake, and families in the region.

Salmon were put into the lake to hunt alewife, a type of fish which had nearly caused trout and whitefish to become extinct. Doing turned out to be boon to the city, which transformed into a place known for its marina and fishing. It was also a windfall to my family of 11.

My six brothers fished nearly every day. We stockpiled canned salmon in our root cellar and ate it in an endless loop of recipes. I have eaten so much salmon, I am pretty sure I am made of it. A line from my bio, “she ate so much salmon as a child, if you cut into her you would find flaky flesh that you could easily lift away with a salad fork” comes from this essay.

The essay follows our odyssey as my family and our community grows and salmon popularity and population rises and falls with economic and environmental changes. In honor of the essay, and my town, I’ve included some pictures below of Port Washington and my family during this time.

About The Milwaukee Anthology

The book is just the latest in Belt Publishing’s City Anthology series. They are a small, independent press founded in Cleveland in 2013 as a platform for new and influential voices from the Rust Belt and Midwest.

The Milwaukee Anthology includes the work of more than 50 contributors telling the stories of the communities and people of Milwaukee. The book is available at Belt Publishing’s website.

My Irrelevant Review: A Star Is Born

I rarely watch movies in the theater. Instead, I put my name on the hold list at the library and watch them when my name comes up. That means I’m often watching movies years after everyone else. Sometimes I remember to put my name on this list early and get a movie shortly after it goes to DVD, which is why I’m writing about A Star is Born now.

A Star Is Born Album Cover 1976

I realize most people were talking about this Bradley Cooper remake six months ago, but I just had to put my two cents in. If you are one of the few people who haven’t seen it yet and are still unspoiled you may want to stop reading now. There are some spoilers ahead.

I have not seen the other versions of the film although it was hard to go anywhere as a child and not see the album for the 1976 version with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The image of the two naked stars in an embrace was both confusing and disturbing to the young version of myself. Although the 2018 version was updated, in some ways it feels as old-fashioned as that sepia-toned album cover.

Basically Implausible

I understand the story of A Star Is Born all hinges on a more successful man bringing up a younger female star as his career wanes, but I found the early scenes between Cooper playing Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga playing Ally to be unbelievable. I didn’t really see much chemistry in their first all-night date, in which we learn Maine is a drunk with a heart of gold, and Ally is a talented singer who has been overlooked because of her looks.

There is also implausibility in their interaction. When Ally sings a song she’s working on for Jackson in the parking lot of supermarket it made me cringe. Also, since it was just a few lines of the song, I didn’t believe he would be able to commit the lyrics or music to memory, which is important for the next plot point.

Not only does he remember, but has taught it to his band and is ready to sing it the next night at his concert. As Ally watches backstage, where she has been flown by private jet, he tells her he wants her to sing it.

Really? She’s only performed standards in front of a bar crowd before, but now she’s supposed to perform her song in front of an arena of fans. Oh, that’s right. Jackson is unpredictable. He would do that. What a rapscallion.

When Ally waivers, Jackson tells her he’s going to sing it anyway and starts to sing the song. Halfway through she joins him onstage at an extra microphone which happens to be on, and the crowd (who has no idea who she is) loves it. She does amazing and does not crack.

Unforgivable

The next scene is Ally cursing Jackson out about boundaries. She tells him how it was inappropriate for him to manipulate her into coming on stage. She tells him he did not have the right to steal her song.

Of course, that does not happen. No one wants to see that, right? Instead, Ally is a hit. Everyone on YouTube says so. She’s in the band! People love watching these two make out on stage.

But. She might even be better than Jackson. He’s an alcoholic and his career is on the decline. This relationship didn’t exactly start under the best circumstances.

You know the rest.

But I Did Cry

As for what’s to like about the film, I typically don’t listen to Lady Gaga music but do have a few of her songs on my digital playlist. I have somehow avoided hearing too much of “Shallow”, but found the keynote song likable enough.

I also have to admit I did cry after Jackson’s death. I cried when she was sitting with Sam Elliott, who plays his brother Bobby Maine. He tells Ally it wasn’t her fault. There seemed something real in this line. He also says:

“Jack talked about how music is essentially 12 notes between any octave
Twelve notes, and the octave repeats. It’s the same story, told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes.”

Of course, this is a take on A Star Is Born itself, a story that’s been told over and over in slightly different ways. But it may be time for a new story. This story, like this review after so much time, may be irrelevant now.

Procrastination and Impulsiveness: When Great Ideas Come to Call

I have never been a procrastinator. I usually do not put off for tomorrow what I can do today. I usually turn my assignments in early and I never had to pull an all-nighter in college. Except, for right now.

I pitched an idea to a blog sometime last year. It was so long ago I didn’t even remember it when they emailed me a few weeks ago and said they’d like me to write it. I looked at the words I pitched, not a complete article, just a paragraph, and liked what I saw. But I had no recollection of them.

I knew they were mine based on the content, but I couldn’t remember what else I thought I might write about to stretch the one paragraph into a full article of more than 1,000 words. I searched on my computer drive hoping I had been super prepared and actually had written the article, or at least a few points already, but found nothing.

But I figured it couldn’t be that hard to come up with the extra words. I could easily write that in an hour or so and have my article turned in well in advance of my deadline. So when I sat down and started writing I was surprised to find it was harder than I expected. I only came up with about 500 words and didn’t have anything else to say.

In the weeks since I have opened up the article I started and tried to work on the piece some more, but I haven’t progressed much. It’s a pretty boring article right now and I’m not sure how to come up with the additional words. In the time I have written, polished, and submitted a few other pieces (including blog posts), but I keep ignoring the one I’m supposed to be working on.


I am very much aware of my own double self. The well-known one is very under control; everything is planned and very secure. The unknown one can be very unpleasant. I think this side is responsible for all the creative work – he is in touch with the child. He is not rational; he is impulsive and extremely emotional.

Ingmar Bergman

I woke up the other morning in a cold sweat, wondering if I had missed my deadline, thankful that I still had more time. I vowed to finish it that day, but only looked at it for a few minutes before I was on to something else. It just isn’t inspiring me as I suppose it was when I pitched the short paragraph so many months before.

And that’s the problem. I sometimes get so inspired that I don’t procrastinate enough. I probably wrote that paragraph as it came to me in a rush, polishing it, and then sending it off to the publication so quickly that I didn’t think about what was next. I was in such a hurry I didn’t even track the pitch as I normally do through my normal record keeping process.

It’s the opposite of procrastination: impulsivity. A better approach would be to land somewhere in the middle. If I had taken more time, I would have made at least a few notes on how I thought the article would play out. That way if I was given the opportunity to write it, I wouldn’t have to struggle to remember what I was thinking.

I still have a few weeks to figure it out, and hopefully the creative spark will come to me again, In the future I’ll have to remember to write down what I was thinking when I have a great idea.

What about you? Are you impulsive or do you put things off? Or are you somewhere in between?