Sunday, October 14, 2012

Writing my way to healing

Our home overlooks Lake Superior where we are often treated to sights of large ore boats, fishing vessels, pleasure yachts and an occasional brave sailboat. I suppose it's only natural then that my life, all our lives for that matter, remind me of small boats riding the erratic currents of life. When things go well, we skim safely along the surface without encountering danger, but when things so wrong it feels like we've crashed into rocky cliff or submerge reef.  We make choices trying to maintain control over our small boats. Some of these choices are good, some not so good. Unlike the choices that result in tragedies at sea,  the choices we make seldom doom us to total shipwreck. Nevertheless, the choices we make often have an uncanny ability to surprise and wound us.
Our home has a great view of the lake with it ever changing moods: reflective, agitated, violent, soothing.  Our lake view also contains a monster rock that hides around 50 feet offshore. I've nicknamed it Nessie, after the Loch Ness monster, because it appeared suddenly one day as I sat watching the lake. I heard a gurgle, saw a wet black back emerge to shimmer briefly in the sunlight then watched it disappear again under the waves. The water level in the lake was then several inches higher than it is now. Nessie no longer hides under the lake’s surface. She can’t. The water levels are too low. She’s been exposed because of drought. Knowing she's there is good. Discovering her size daunting.
Like our often hidden monster rock, circumstances can so stress and disturb us that our spirits enter a drought of sorts. It was during such a period of drought that I overheard my children discuss that they thought they were damned. Why? Because their mother had been a nun and his father a priest. I was stunned.
Yes. Life had been hard since their father died when they were toddlers, but their conclusion devastating. Probing the why's of their theory, I realized that while they'd known about life "after  daddy," they knew nothing about "before daddy."  I wanted them to know about the love that brought Vittorio and me together, the love with which we’d greeted each of their arrivals. It was a complex story, one impossible to tell in a few sittings. And so I began to write what I thought was a love story and discovered that beneath my surface competence, I harbored the same doubts my children did. Was Vittorio's painful death from pancreatic cancer and the suffering that followed in its wake punishment for the choices we'd made?
As a teenager, I’d experienced God in such an overwhelming, unforgettable way – a love so consuming and unconditional – that I pursued it into a monastery thinking I’d be lifted to the heights of sanctity within that hallowed atmosphere. I was so wrong. Rather than saint in the making, I discovered the same compulsive/obsessive behavior that I’d condemned in my father. He was an alcoholic. I became an anorexic. I discovered that I could get as ragingly angry as my mother. That rather than disappearing into the cloister, I wanted to be noticed, to be special. What a shock that was. And when I was sent home to Puerto Rico to help my invalid father, rather than the devout and retiring nun everyone thought I was (including myself), I discovered I was sensual. That freedom intoxicated me. And that yes, I could fall in love.
It’s interesting how we learn to live with and to cope with ambiguity without really understanding or examining what is happening. When I was in Puerto Rico falling in love with Padre Vittorio I became two selves at war with one another. One wanted to stay faithful to my vows. The other wanted to be loved. To survive I called a truce. I would view our love as God’s gift. We would love one another utilizing all the proper channels. We sought dispensation from our vows, waited until the church accepted our request, then married. When our little girl almost died at birth and when Vittorio simultaneously began his death journey through pancreatic cancer, I buried the doubts that maybe we’d deceived ourselves. That maybe our love was not God’s gift.  And I’d kept those doubts buried until writing revealed them.
In writing a memoir, I'd had to dive under the surface waves of my story, and, in doing so, I discovered that the rocks I found there had transformed from hidden dangers to islands of refuge and rescue. I discovered that far from punishing us, God had been with us throughout our journey.  I encountered the goodness radiating from within my parent’s tormented lives, touched Vittorio’s anguish as he struggled to live for his children, and passed from my own loss to enter the children’s grief. The deeper I went, the more tears I shed, but eventually those tears cleared the murky waters in which I swam.  I discovered that by reconnecting with my past, I can move more honestly and bravely into the future, no matter what that future holds.
The late Thomas Merton, famed author and beloved spiritual guide, wrote that "When we live superficially, we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives."
Thanks to writing, I continue the journey to an ever deeper awareness of who I really am. Writing opened a channel leading to my inner truth and I bless the gift it shares.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Best Selling Book - Beryl Singleton Bissell


August 17, 2012
Never underestimate the power of an enthusiastic bookseller. Yesterday, I learned that The Scent of God had made the best-seller list at Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville, "all because Heidi, one of the women at the store is crazy for your book and makes everyone buy it." The note was signed by Ann Patchett, who opened Parnassus Bookstore with business partner Karen Hayes to fill a gap left when two bookstores closed. What a thrill, especially as some book distributors say they can't get copies to sell even when customers request the book.

Last week, I drove five hours to sign books at Sister Wolf Bookstores in Park Rapids. Sister Wolf is a popular independent known for it's exciting author and artist festival every summer that attracts people from all over. I'd had to cancel my appearance at that event due to a severe injury and was delighted when they requested I make a separate appearance when I was finally healed enough to commute a long distance. Again, enthusiastic booksellers directed patrons toward "the author in the store," making the signing, which can sometimes bomb (customers scurrying around the author and avoiding eye contact), a success.

I left Park Rapids later that afternoon and drove down to Little Falls, an hour and a half away for two events to be held the following day at Bookin'it Bookstore: a signing in the morning and an intimate three-course tea at the historic Waller House Inn later that afternoon. I spent a delightful morning in Bookin'it's cozy store and an exquisite afternoon with enthusiastic book-lovers at the tea.

Those three great happenings launched me back to my computer where the response to my latest newsletter generated several hundred wonderful responses waiting for my replies, and into the writing shed to pick up the abandoned sequel to The Scent of God for a fresh look prior to an extensive rewrite.

I hope your week has been equally generous with you even though the halcyon days of summer are growing perceptively shorter and there's a definite hint of fall in the air here on Lake Superior. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finding happiness midst disability - Beryl Singleton Bissell


June 27, 2012
Once I stopped fighting
And gave myself up to
limitation and pain
I realized how supremely happy I was
Just being here

On May 29, I slipped on a stairway and landed hard on my backside. First diagnosis revealed cracked open right and left sacroiliac joints. Three weeks later I wasn’t making the expected improvements despite the medication, ice packs and physical therapy, so the doctor ordered a CT scan. This diagnosis included, besides the sacroiliac joints, two hairline fractures in the sacrum itself.
For almost a month I’ve been hobbling around using a walker, frustrated out of my mind at the limitations this accident place on me. The smallest movements send spasms of pain throughout my legs, lower back and buttocks. I have been unable to go downstairs to my office or walk to my writing shed. I am confined to a home in one of the most beautiful places on earth but unable to get outside for even a short walk. Fixing a meal is all but impossible. Forget cleaning up. Six days ago I started to weep. My 13-year old granddaughter, whose been trying to help, put her arms around me and laid her head against mine. She’s been an angel and I could not manage on my own without her help but a 13-year old is not into noticing what needs to be done and I hate asking for help. Feeling sorry for myself sends my self-esteem plummeting. I don’t even feel like a writer. I’ve had to cancel book signings, a gathering of writing friends five hours from here, and a 10-day retreat. I haven’t even wanted to write.
But guess what? Today, while sitting on our deck, face turned to the sun, I realized what a good time I’ve really been having. I’ve discovered that by bending to the right rather than to the left I can pull on pants and tie my shoes. I’ve learned that placing my left foot flat on the ground as I step forward with my right alleviates the spasms caused by walking. That a really soft pillow cushions the pain of sitting down and a cup of afternoon tea provided by a precious teenager is simply delicious.
In giving myself up to healing, I’ve had time to read back issues of favorite magazines that have been amassing on a side table for close to a year; to make a perceptive dent in the heap of books I keep buying but never found time to read. I've watched the gold-finches and hummingbirds at our feeders and listened to the lake caress our ledge-rock. I’ve taught my granddaughter how to create hand-made cards with the flowers I dried for that purpose but never got around to. Sending her to report on the status of our river after weeks of pouring rain, revealed the poet hiding within her. Today I sat on the deck and gazed upward at the cloudless sky and realized how totally, thoroughly, happy I am.

from my post of June 27, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

It is hard to breathe when asked to probe deeper. What if I don't understand? Unleash some monster? When all I need is the light already shining there, in the darkness.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The View from Palm Beach Part 3: Cafe Cinematheque

While I've shared several of my favorite places to visit in the Palm Beach area, there is a favorite event taking place several times weekly that I absolutely love: Shelly Isaac's Cafe Cinematheque.

I've always enjoyed foreign language films, but Isaac's weekly selections and presentations at two local movie houses: The Movies of Lake Worth and The Movies of Delray, have so enriched my understanding of the depth and vision of this genre that I've become a foreign language film groupie. Even my husband has become a convert to what he used to think of as "women's films."

One of South Florida's best-known foreign-language film experts, Shelly introduces us to the film by sharing it's history, the director's vision in producing it, and whatever else he believes will enrich our viewing experience (brief sketches of the actors, awards, music, and the like.) After viewing the film, he encourages the audience to share their reactions and ask questions. Most everyone (and the theater is usually packed) stays for these lively discussions. During the past four months he's shown films from South Korea, Italy, Mongolia, France, Bosnia, Spain, Burkina Fasso, and Denmark, films mostly unknown in the US but that have won many prestigious international awards.

Send an E-mail to Shelly ( asking to be added to his mailing list and he'll send  weekly updates on the films being shown that week.Several years ago, he launched Cinematheque At Sea, a film appreciation series on cruise ships. This September the 5th such program will take place aboard a Princess Line cruise to Alaska.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The View from Palm Beach Part 2

I promised more short favorite sites to visit in Palm Beach, so here they are. Part 2

Morikami Japanese Gardens in Del Ray Beach, provides an aura of beauty and quiet in Florida’s otherwise hectic environment. Perhaps it’s the influence of all the New Yorkers that now make the county home, but I’ve never heard such loud voices and dreadful drivers as I’ve encountered down here. But in Morikami Gardens, even the children move slowly down pathways leading from one century-style gardens to the next. Small lakes, waterfalls, trees groomed into bonsai shapes, colorful turtles and Koi passing under arched bridges soothe even the most garrulous of visitors. We also met several iguanas in the pond next to the tea house. A young fellow and a really spikey granddaddy.

Green Cay in Boynton Beach and Wakodahatchee  in Del Ray Beach are water thrill me each time I visit. Both are part of the Palm Beach water reclamation wetlands that offer that allow the visitor close access to hundreds of nesting egrets, herons, anhingas,  cormorants, gallinules and myriad wetland creatures and plants. Make sure to bring your camera as the avian wonders you will see there will amaze you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The view from Palm Beach part 1

Aside from bouts of homesickness for our northern home, my husband Bill and I have found respite for our aging bones, strength for our muscles and perfect tans in Palm Beach County Florida where we've been spending the winter. Among its many lovely parks, beaches, and other attractions, Bill and I discovered two more favorites just last week. We've already returned once even though it takes close to an hour to get there from Lake Worth. 

MacArthur State Park in North Palm Beach protects  a very rare and spectacularly beautiful piece of Florida’s southeast coast. It offers walking and kayak tours through various terrains: The Satinleaf Trail winds through a mixed maritime hammock. The Dune Hammock Trail runs through a forest of gumbo limbo,  cabbage palm, strangler fig and other tropical and subtropical forest species. Just last week, the Park opened a wonderful interpretive center that promises to keep expanding its offerings. You can rent a kayak and paddle the estuary into Lake Worth Lagoon. Manatees, snooks, rays, dolphins and a wide variety of other fish inhabit its waters and can often be seen while paddling or walking the 1,600 foot boardwalk over the estuary. A two-mile pristine beach with few sunbathers with whom to contend for space rewards the traveler who makes it to the end of the boardwalk. A free tram can help transport young children and beach equipment if you are so burdened. The beach also holds sea-glass galore and though shells are abundant, most are too small to warrant collecting unless making jewelry. Take a plastic bag along in case you find something wonderful to take home.

Only a few miles from MacArthur State Park is a place no child or adult should miss visiting. The Loggerhead Park and Marine Life Center is one of several facilities in the state dedicated to the preservation of endangered sea-turtles. A child-friendly interpretive center and turtle yard where injured or ailing hatchlings and injured juvenile to adult sea-turtles can be viewed are of special interest. Each tank posts information on the turtle being rehabilitated. Poseidon, one of the larger turtles currently being treated has lost two flippers with a third flipper severely compromised by fishing-line filament. Two others have severely cracked shells held together with special staples and still require feeding tubes to nourish them. Check out their website the Center's website (link above) which offers updates on each of the turtles being nursed back to health.

There's more I'd like to share with you, but I'll do so in separate posts. I don't know about you, but I much prefer short compact blogs to long complex posts

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