My Valentine’s Day Surprises

Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and a lovely Valentine’s Day. 🙂

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my Valentine’s Day this year.

Ever since my TBI, I’ve had a “carpe diem” view of life. This means I get very excited about all celebrations and I plan all details long in advance. Although, to be fair, I’ve always been excited for celebrations. 😉

That’s one side of it. The other side of it is when things don’t go exactly as planned, I can get majorly disappointed at what I see as a missed opportunity. It’s not exactly the best thing, and I’ve been working on this over the years, trying to take a more “jelly-side up” view. I heard a phrase once that really stuck with me: “We plan, and God laughs.” So true! I’ve realized that things aren’t always meant to happen as we plan them, but there is almost always some good that comes out of a situation. Sometimes, when things don’t go as planned, even better things are able to happen.

Needless to say, I certainly hadn’t planned on having bronchitis this Valentine’s Day. Jeremiah and I didn’t have anything enormous planned, although we did consider dinner/dancing/movie/trip options and made a schedule. However, it was apparent early in the week that it was not to be, because I was so sick. I hadn’t even left the house in over a week, so the plan–or so I thought–was a FaceTime date.

I got to start the day with another leading man in my life–my wonderful dad–who was kind enough to make another doctor appointment for me and chauffeur me there. Even though he pretended(?) to be grumpy about spending his whole day doing this, he made me laugh all the while, and he took really good care of me. It was a daddy-daughter date of doctor’s office; Panera for lunch; hospital for X-rays because I wasn’t getting well; and Costco for medicine. At least at Costco, they had an amazing array of samples, and as exhausted as I was, I felt up to the task at making the rounds to every single station. This is a favorite activity for our whole family, although my dad would never admit it. 😉
(Upon hearing I was doing this while sick, Jeremiah said to me, “The world could be ending, and you’d still be at Costco.” My response was, “If the world were ending, I would ESPECIALLY be at Costco. I’d need to stock up!” I mean, right?)

Then, my dad had the pleasure of helping me look through scores of flower planters on the shelves at Costco, so that we could pick the very best one. I’d wanted to get flowers for Jennifer for Valentine’s Day, anyway, and I was really happy to luck upon such a pretty option.

I dressed up the planter with ribbon and a homemade card…all materials I found in Jennifer’s impressive craft station in her room, which of course she immediately recognized, LOL (Happy Valentine’s Day to you…from you). I drew portraits of us as hearts–Jennifer on the left, me on the right–and used our self-appointed Frozen nicknames. Jennifer had made me a valentine, too, and she left it for me to see first thing when I woke up. 🙂

Jennifer and our parents had planned to go to Sweet Tomatoes for Valentine’s Day, and although they wanted to stay home with me, I insisted they keep their plans.

I also insisted that Jeremiah stay away, because I didn’t want to get him sick. Plus, I told him I just wanted to stay in my pajamas all evening. However, he wound up surprising me anyway, bringing me our favorite meals from Noodles & Co., a cookie for dessert, and these:

I was so touched by his thoughtfulness. It was simple enough not to be any fuss for me, and yet it was so many of my favorite things. He even came prepared with advice about a plot point in my novel I’d been struggling with. 🙂 And I got to stay in my pajamas, after all.

And so, dear readers, I keep learning that letting life happen is just as important as planning it out. FYI, I am slowly feeling better, finally! I hope you have a great week, and stay warm. 🙂

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Sentimentality and Poems of Farewell

Happy Saturday, everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying your weekend so far. One weekly activity my family likes to do is go to Costco on Saturdays–it really is an event. It’s too big to be called a store, which is, I suppose, why they call it a warehouse. It has everything you never knew you’ve always needed, and it’s hard to escape without a full cart (granted, that’s often because you can’t buy less than a village-sized amount of an item). Unfortunately, we got there after samples were done, which is usually the best part. However, we weren’t too sad, because we were busy doing something else that was super fun and important, but I CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT yet, dear readers. You’ll have to watch for the sequel to hear the epic conclusion. 😉

Today’s NaPoWriMo challenge made me sad just to read it: to write a valediction, which is a poem of farewell. Although I hadn’t heard the term before, I realized I write this kind a lot. This is the type of poem I write when I’m very emotional, usually sad, and they don’t always turn out artistically. A hard lesson I learned in my poetry class in grad school is there is a difference between poetry as catharsis and poetry as art. Honestly, it’s a lesson I’m still learning, and sometimes, I can’t see the line between the two until months later or until a large consensus of peers tell me so. Again, I blame this on my favorism towards romantic-era literature and culture. 😉 I have often been blamed of sentimentalism in both my writing and my real-world self. I would never deny that I am emotional, but I think that’s the best way to go through life. As I intimated in my “Jaundiced Outlook” poem/post, you can miss out on a lot by shielding yourself against hurt, because you can’t help but shut out the good that comes along, too.

So maybe I’m just defending myself here–and certainly, my poetry teacher and classmates had a point. Writing a poem from a place of extreme emotion is cathartic, yes, but it can be overwhelming and manipulative to a reader. What’s the solution, then? I’ve learned that it’s important to write that sentimental poem. Pour every drop of hurt and pain into it until your heart is empty. Embrace the numbness that follows because it means you’ve expressed yourself, and for a poet, that is a wonderful accomplishment.
…but it’s not the ultimate accomplishment. Leave the sentimental poem (you can toss the tissues) for a few days, a few months, whatever–the stronger the hurt, the longer you should leave it alone. Revisit it again on a day when you’re feeling brave and not too proud. I bet you you’ll find concrete words to replace the abstract. I bet you’ll be able to paint a better picture with ochres and scarlets than the gray mud that weighed you down when your pen first touched the paper. (The most sentimental ones are always on paper first, aren’t they? Then you get that added satisfaction of “balling up and throwing” the subject matter of the poem against the wall. Ah! You got them!) And then–after you’ve filled in the holes, replaced the words that would belong on a Jerry Springer show for poets–you’ve got something of real quality. You have a beautiful painting that says something–something that readers will want to read over and over again.

This is the way I have found my own answer to my frustrated question I’ve always asked reviewers: Why can’t a poem be artistic AND emotional? It can be; it just won’t happen at the same time. And that’s OK–our best creations take more than one step. Even cookies turn out best when the dough is chilled first. 🙂

Since I already had so many poems of farewell, I thought I should use one I’d already written. Ironically, most of them were hard to find, because they were on paper! Computer keys just don’t respond to force the same way digging a pen into paper can. At least I know they’re somewhere around here, buried in notebooks that are buried under other notebooks. 😉

I did stumble upon a poem I wrote two years ago, for my poetry class. My teacher told me it was too sentimental, and my classmates told me it was too distant and abstract for them to connect to it. FINE!, I said, FINE! I WILL KEEP IT TO MYSELF; IT’S TOO SAD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND.
But…I do believe they were right. Two and a half years later, I am revisiting this poem, and I found lots of holes that lacked concrete images. I was missing out on symbolism to show the reader just how I felt, even if I never said it.

Most of the poems I’ve written about deaths and breakups are still on pieces of paper, cocooned safely with other pieces of paper. Part of me doesn’t want to find them because I know rereading them will open a torrent of pain. Recording such a thing simultaneously immortalizes it and separates itself from you until you read it again. It now belongs to the paper, not your heart. Fellow writers, what do you do with your writings of tragedy–and do they ever turn into “art”?

So, fear not–this poem is not about death or a breakup. This is a true poem of good-bye, but not a permanent one, thankfully. 🙂 You probably have already deduced how close my sister and I are; to say we are best friends would be an understatement. We grew up best friends, but then she was in large part responsible for bringing me back to my old self when I almost died. You’re not best friends after something like that; you’re more. You’re something there is no word to describe. So, being apart has always been difficult for us. The only time we’ve ever lived apart was when I began college and she finished college, since she is 2.5 years younger than me. This poem describes how it felt to say good-bye to her when she had to go back to college in the fall, while I stayed at home to go to grad school.

“The Train” By: Amanda K. Fowler

We stand
huddled together,
shoulder-to-shoulder
in the cold,
focused on
shuffling our feet
to feel them again.
They are all we want
to feel,
as we stare blankly
at the empty tracks.
They go on forever
into the distance.
They will take her far,
far away.
We force smiles,
dams
to insistent tears.
We talk about
the early uninvited winter—
a death
before its time.
We talk about
the week ahead,
the usual unexciting
drudgery
that enables
weekends of
joy,
of sometimes
us,
together.
We don’t talk
about the dread
of watching her
step onto that train,
taking her sweaters
and our hearts
with her. 

The train is a whole hour
late,
which is to us,
much too soon.
My eyelids close
with the sliding doors.
I don’t need to watch
her face disappear
the train grow small
to know
my sister is gone.