** I can’t just push on with my usual day and let my guests fend for themselves, can I? Especially not in Trinidad where they can’t drive, the only place close enough to walk to is the mall—or around in a circle, and if they leave the building without a “fob” (of which there are only 2) they’ll be locked out forever and have to sleep under a car and catch a long green lawn lizard for lunch . . . What sort of host would that brand me?

Recently . . . okay, last October, sis-in-law Marilyn came to visit. I placed the TT Travel Guide on her bedside table, handed her a pad of sticky-notes and told her we could go anywhere in the book she wanted. (Being new to Trinidad myself, I’d never been anywhere in the book, either, so it would be an adventure for both of us.)

Yes, I did warn Marilyn that I’d already suffered 2 flat tires, run out of gas and driven on the wrong side of the street more than once, as well as the wrong way down a one-way. . .  Eternally “yar,” Marilyn rose to the challenge.

Our first few outings were timid enough: jaunts around town; up up up a scenic hill; over and around the mountains to the beach…on a narrow, shoulderless pitted roads . . . during a rainstorm. . . .

On the day of our last outing, Marilyn flipped to a sticky note which directed us South on the highway to a Hindu Temple, “Waterloo Temple in the Sea.” At high tide it’s surrounded by water; at low tide by mud flats. It serves as testament to Sewdas Sadhu, who built it, “single-handedly”--spell check doesn't like this word apparently, it suggested: highhandedly, underhandedly, offhandedly, evenhandedly--over a 25 year period, by carrying stones on his bicycles and preparing and dumping bucket after bucket of concrete on the seafloor at low tide to build the foundation.

According to the book, the way to the temple seemed fairly straight forward---it was NOT!  Others might have been tempted to turn back. Not us! If Sadhu could do what he did, we could, with air-conditioned confidence, find it!

Good thing we passed a “doubles” vendor on the side of the road, and hostess mindedness—and tummy growls—compelled me to crank a U-turn so Marilyn could try one of these fist-sized gloppy curried chick peas-drizzled-with-chutney-cucumber-and-pepper sauce (if desired)-sandwiched in fry bread morsels or we might still be looking . . .

It was low tide and the scene around the temple island was mudflat and religious relics mired in muck. Not the most photogenic, but inspiring none-the-less as they reminded Marilyn of something more she’d read in the guide book—the Chaguananas Pottery makers, where red clay is fashioned into all manner of pottery and fired in open wood-fueled kilns.

Although Southeast Asia is far from Trinidad—on the other side of the world--our visit to  Benny’s Pottery Works, “the oldest and most famous” of the traditional pottery workshops transported me right back to Java or India or Nepal. . . The methods are the same. The workers possess the same wiry builds, same stance with cigarettes dangling from their mouth, same quickness and expertise.

So far and yet  close . . .

*I’ll only say this one time, never again, and only way down here at the bottom of the post. So if you’ve read this far, this is to you: Forgive me for slacking on the blogging. Truth is I've been so busy "filling my writer's well" (as my friend Richard Harnett puts it) I haven't taken time to blog. Stick with me, I'll be better about it, promise???

Community Begins With Two

What Inspires: Community We do most of the really hard work—to quote George Baily in one of my favorite Christmas movies, It’s A Wonderful Life—“most of the living and dying around here” alone.

Nothing wrong with Alone.  Alone is when I do most of my deep thinking. Alone is when I do my deep cleaning, straightening, organizing. Alone is when I write down most of those brilliant ideas.

Alone is when I falter, too.

That’s when Community makes the difference.  As  a brand-new mother in a brand-new town, I was completely lost and helpless until a neighbor, Sally, crossed the street and pulled me by the hand into hers.

With my children grown, I consider myself more of a writer than mother, so that's the community I'm thinking of now.  When I was first beginning my writing career, I belonged to a writing Community of 2:  Ronnie Davidson and me, sitting side-by-side in her attic office from 8:30 to 11:00 am Monday through Friday, her at the computer keyboard clicking away, me with a legal pad on my lap, scribbling. However small, without my Writing Community, I may well have dropped the notion of becoming a professional writer.

Mid-way through my writing career, my Community grew to include critique groups, writing organizations, such as OWFI, SCBWI, Authors’ Guild, etc. My Writing Community grew so large that its tentacles spread into almost all other areas of my life.

Then just as George’s younger brother Harry, and Sam Wainwright and even brassy Violet tried to, I left my Community. I didn’t realize what I was leaving until I faltered again…and again and didn’t have my Community--  colleagues/friends/critique buds/teachers-- to which I could turn.

  • Community are those folks who talk you off the ledge when you’re feeling like chucking it all…
  • Community keeps you honest and grounded when you’re on top, by remembering you when—and never letting you forget.
  • Community keeps you going when you hit bottom, by reminding you why you’re trying to do something “so dog gone hard in the first place” and how far you’ve come.
  • When you need advice, commiseration, support, love, Community is the place to go, because there’s sure to be someone there who has either “been there, done that” or knows someone who knows someone who might, or might not, have been.

Clarence the apprentice Angel took that icy plunge on Christmas Eve just so he’d have a chance to remind George of his Community and his role in it.

I didn’t need a Clarence to remind me; I have a Marilyn, my sister-in-law who’s battling breast cancer [for more click back on Helping Hearts blog posting]. Like George, Marilyn’s Community is huge, and rich and diverse. And just as everyone in Bedford Falls rushed over when they heard the call that “George Baily” needed help, Marilyn’s Community is rallying around her. They arrive with treats, with notes, with rides, with offers of help and support of all kinds. Soon after I arrived to support Marilyn post-surgery, she said to me, "I'm learning how to let people help. You have to keep that in mind, too. People want to help and it's important to let them."

We talk so much about giving--especially at this time of year. We don't spend so much time considering receiving. We don't want to be receivers (except on the ball field). We don't want to be in the position of needing help. But that's Community! In giving we receive; in receiving we give.

Community! A gift we  give and receive

 FYI: I Googled quotes to make sure I correctly remembered the line from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” In the process, I came across this article by Joe Carter, comparing Frank Capra and Ayn Rand. I found it worth the read. You might, too!  The Fountain Head of Bedford Falls

Want the full movie quote?

George is talking to Old Man Baily, justifying the existence of the Savings and Loan, when he says: “Well, this riffraff you’re talking about does most of the living and dying around here. Is it too much to ask for them to do it in two decent rooms and a bath?” – For more memorable lines from the movie visit Eudanomics: My Pursuit of Happiness blog 

Community: Starts With Two...

Helping Hearts

What Inspires: Outreach I'm finally able to write what is on my mind. You know how it is: saying a thing (or writing it, in my case) makes it real. So often, when a thing is really sad, or bad, or scary--or all three and more--we hold off putting words to it in hopes that it won't be so. But it is so. My lovely, lively sister-in-law Marilyn is battling breast cancer. Marilyn just finished her fourth round of chemotherapy and is facing surgery, more chemo and maybe radiation treatment. If I were she, I'd be curled up in a ball in the corner somewhere. But Marilyn has laughter in her heart and so she is trying on Andrews Sisters-style wigs

(hopefully for Halloween and not every day wear hair), rejoicing because the side-effects of the 3rd chemo were less debilitating than those of the 2nd, and sending love notes such as this: "... So, all of you, know how fabulous you are and how much I appreciate your love, care, and humor. And even when I don't hear from you or see you, I don't doubt that you're rooting me on...and know, I'm in your corner too."

Because our health care system is what it is, even though Marilyn has insurance, she is still being slapped with massive medical expenses. In an effort to alleviate some of the worry of having to scratch up the money to pay for treatment so Marilyn can, instead, focus her energy where it should be focused--on beating the cancer and regaining vigor, friends organized a benefit for her. It was a grand and loving event but it didn't raise all the funds needed; please contribute if you're able. And join me in sending Marilyn light and healing energy.