Where is Anne Lamott when you need her?

Golden sun streaming into the living room this morning.
More blooms bursting forth on this two year old orchid from Jim's memorial Mass March 6, 2012.

When this plant went fallow
It was ugly and barren
I thought of throwing it away
because I was sick and tired of facing death.

Oddly, today the stalks signal joy
as I begin reliving the worst week of my life
- - - - - which was the last week of Jim's life.

Interesting that the day before Jim's anniversary is Ash Wednesday.
While the orchid protests and proclaims Easter.

If I were a theologian or a spiritual writer
 I would or could turn this juxtaposition into a deeply inspiring message
I am not one of those deep thinking folks
I am left grappling with the painful reality of missing Jim.

I am grateful that
At least
I can see the beauty
manifesting in my living room.

to tell you the truth
it is not enough

I want a hug.

Where is Anne Lamott when you need her?


A New Neighbor Arrives on Roosevelt Drive

Drat! It is snowing again today. More than that. The dusting that was predicted has turned in a 2" accumulation.

In the face of all that white stuff I switched my
Austin-like "fixed engagements" so that I do not have to leave the house today.

I am congratulating myself for going to Arlington Monday - a bright and sunny day - rather than staying on my usual routine of Wednesday afternoon. 
Not that I "knew" what was coming - I just always appreciate Arlington a bit more in the sunshine.

When I turned in to Roosevelt Drive I was stopped by a US Army bugler waiting to be part of a burial ceremony for a grave only a few feet from Jim.  The family had not arrived he waved me through to park at the near-by parking area for the Tomb of the Unknowns.

From this vantage point I could watch everything from my heated car and not intrude on the family. This was not the time to run up with a cake. I would probably meet someone from the family sooner or later when we were both visiting.

It would not be a long wait until the ceremony was done and all would leave. That is what happened. Military funerals and burials are well timed. Our new neighbor was smoothly moved into the neighborhood.

When all the family had driven away I pulled down and parked near Jim. A cemetery official was still on site to see the burial to completion. I doubt you will be surprised when I tell you I stopped to chat with him. A new neighbor sparked my curiosity. He was a bit taken back but cordial. He did not know anything about the new neighbor's service record. He was surprised as I told him about a few of the others in this block of Section 35. When I mentioned the 1950s Tomb Guard - i.e. Sentinel who is buried in our section he perked up. And, here comes the story.

This tall strapping guy, who looked to be now approaching 40 old, tells me that he knows about the man  I mentioned - "I know about him. I was a Tomb Sentinel." There was pride in his voice and it seemed to me he stood a bit straighter.  I was obviously impressed. He allowed me to ask questions that just needed asking. Once on duty in the Army he is now a civilian member of the Arlington staff.

He served almost two years as a Sentinel and yes, standing guard at the Tomb is hard work, "But we train for it." And when I asked how they manage in the hard weather as they do, he smiled and said, 
"Ma'am, it's part of the job. We suck it up and do it."

I asked about things he remembered most and he told me of being on the Special Guard that carried President Ronald Reagan's casket up those daunting steps at the Capitol. The Presidential Casket weighed more then 1000 pounds. 

I could not resist asking, "how's your back?" He just laughed. And, nodded when I commented it must have really been demanding because "if one of you mis-stepped  it would have been disastrous." He agreed but assured me, "that's why we train so hard. We cannot afford such a disaster."

He walked away to over-see the actual burial of the urn. I don't know his name - never asked it. 

Building the story with another insight into the everyday of Arlington and her people is what matters to me. I told him I was a storyteller and tell a story called My Forever Home. He gave me the same look most people do - "crazy woman."

Yes, I am really glad I went to visit Jim on Monday.  Sometimes changing your routine is a good thing.


VIDEO: A Conversation with Storyteller Kate Dudding

When my friend Kate Dudding, a storyteller based in Albany New York, was in Washington recently she appered as "guest" on Stories in Time in Focus with me on Channel 16.  Kate shared her process in developing stories from a "real person's history" which is her forte. And she told a charming tale of famous and favorite chef, Julia Childs.


NEW VIDEO - Grace Hotchkiss and me.

Lately I have taken to reviewing files and primary resources I have collected over the years. They attracted me when I found them because I thought they hid stories or could be used to develop stories.
Its similar to the way I collect fabrics or bits and pieces to use in collages or textile works.

This video is about a letter I bought in a box of discarded papers 20 plus years ago in my hometown, Charlotte, NC. I have used it in storytelling programs during those years but now I have a particular role for it to play in my Fringe Show this summer at the Capital Fringe.  So I am studying it more closely. What do you know - a few months ago I discovered that Grace and I share a surprising connection. 


I Get It.

Jim toasting our 50th Wedding Anniversary

Thank heavens it is bright and sunny today and light is flooding through the house.

After bringing the Texas Farm Bed up from the basement Friday my head is playing one memory carrousel after another. Prodded by the bed, I settle sometimes on the time we lived in Texas
but look, we were together 58 years and that's a darn big book.
I am never sure where my "monkey mind" will take me.

Do you know that phrase - "the monkey mind"? I learned that when I was part of a meditation group. Its the time when thoughts are bombarding through you mind - and there are images flicking fast, one after the other as though the slide carrousel is stuck on go.

Lately I have turned off the television. Having the radio on in the background fills the empty house with voices. That's a comfort and does not demand much attention. I can work without being distracted. Anything that helps me stay on the daily, weekly, schedule ahead list is welcome.

So it does not surprise me that I am turning the post about the bed I wrote the other day into a spoken story. I think it will work. I think I can do it without choking. Will take it for a taping later this week. Why? Because I believe its relevant to the way change and loss can effect your thinking.

Grappling with grief drops on all of us at some time or other. How you handle is is your choice but I read anything that comes my way hoping to learn something from other's experiences that will help me on my journey.

Grief is not something you get over, I have found that out.  The only way I could get over this ache from head to toe would be for Jim to walk through the door. But that said - I know I have to try to learn to live without his physical presence - to come to a time when I can turn down the volume on grief so that I can get on with my day -

For me, I like having things that are connected to Jim around me. Otherwise, I am afraid that I will lose him. And, you can bet I am going to try everything I can to prevent that.

I am trying not to talk about the sadness I feel as much as I did earlier on - but its still there.  You don't talk about the headache once you take an aspirin - but often times you still have the headache.

And right now - I am headed toward March 6, the second anniversary of Jim's death - so my skin is thin and emotions are very close to the top.

Today I really got it. This is my problem.  
Jim and I were a "we" 
for a very long time - 
I do not like being a "me" -
--- half of me is missing.


Sweet Dreams - in my Texas Farm Bed

Grief is just a darn strange thing to live with.
I never know what will set it off or when I will have an unexpected reaction to something most people think is a simple and reasonable decision.

Take what happened several weeks ago.

After I spent four nights in my sister's guest room in Athens, Ga sleeping on a firm mattress it was quite clear that the familiar, too-old and soft mattress on our King size bed was a crippler. I was walking more comfortably than I had in months. I knew that old mattress had to go. I told my sister I was ready to get rid of it.

Filled with good sense and determination, when I got home I moved into the guest room where the newer mattress on my grandmother's bed (willed to me when I was a baby) was firm and easier on my back. Culprit confirmed.  I swallowed hard and called 1-800-YOUGOTJUNK. I arranged for a pick-up. They shocked me by saying they would pick it up in 36 hours.

36 hours was too soon. I knew that when I hung up the phone. I stewed about it for 28 hours. Cried over it too. I still have a very difficult time parting with anything that I have shared with Jim or that was important to him. I called and cancelled the pick-up. They said "no problem. schedule when you want us to come."

My stewing began again. What to do? I did not want to buy a new King size mattress which I did not need and could not use if I decided to move to a smaller place.

I probably should cut myself some slack and say that all the angst over getting rid of the old bed comes just two weeks from the 2 year anniversary of Jim's death on March 6. My skin is thin. All my emotions are on my sleeve especially where they have anything to do with getting rid of things. To continue -
More stewing until I focused on a treasure I had held on to that was stored in our basement - a Texas farm bed that Jim and I bought at a Friday evening auction at a place on the old San Antonio Loop 13 in 1958 when we were living there when Jim was in the USAF.

We had little to no furniture when we were moved to San Antonio. First we lived in a furnished apartment. When he finished his courses at the School of Aero-space Medicine he was assigned to stay on at the school. We set up house keeping in a rented house and began to gather furnishings. We began by sleeping on a mattress and box springs set on a metal frame. Then one night we saw the farm bed and we fell in love with it. We bought it for maybe $50 and drove it home in our Apple Green Ford Station wagon. We shared that bed in Texas, North Carolina and Maryland for the next ten years until we splurged for a queen size bed. When we moved into our current home we up-graded to a King size.

For a while our daughter Robin used the farm bed in her bedroom. In the mid-1980s it was retired to the basement. Even though it was heavy to move and took up lots of space, I could not bring myself to get rid of it.  Jim agreed we should keep it "for awhile."

That was 28 years ago. A while is now. My son and a young helper brought it up this evening to see how it had fared all these years in exile. I am happy to say - it is in FINE shape.

I had forgotten how pretty it is to me. How much I liked it. The bed is solid cherry - dark with a touch of red glow in the hue. The details are hand cut lines - sometimes wavering - not exquisite - just a bit of decoration. There is no water damage, no warping and it is steady as a rock.

This is my new-old bed. When it is outfitted with a good mattress and boxsprings and the white King coverlet I recently bought is on it - I am sure I will crawl in and wonder, as I used to, about the people who had it before Jim and I bought it 56 years ago.  I am guessing this bed is at least 100 years old and would have a peck of stories to tell. The first I would like to know it how it came to be at that auction place in San Antonio the night Jim and I showed up.

You can be sure I will also be remembering the days when Jim and I awoke in it every morning and went to sleep holding each other every night.

This bed will be fine - because it has connections - it has been part of Jim and me.

In a few days I will call 1-800-yougotjunk to come back and get the King Size bed. We will move the farm bed upstairs to the bedroom.

It is home with me.


A Few Personal Memories of the Corcoran Gallery

Have you ever noticed that everything that happens is somehow personal?

My ruminations about that thought started yesterday 
WITH THIS.  - the Washington Post article about the demise of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. People began their comments - and I began to remember a few personal Corcoran connections to my life.

Losing this Gallery is a sad loss in DC - - and the feeling of loss is far deeper than just the building - there is concern about the art works. Relief that the works will not be sold off but wondering how they will be exhibited, where the public can see them, and understanding these works will never look exactly the same again because they will be hung in different settings surrounded by other than the familiar works of the Corcoran collection. I don't think its peculiar to me that I expect to see paintings in their home surroundings. Or that when I see a work in a traveling show I usually associate it to the place where I first saw it.

1. 1966 Personal memory of a Corcoran Connection.

In 1966 my first art teacher, Jessalee Sickman, had been a faculty member at the Corcoran. She was a mid- 40ish year old artist who had her studio in a three room studio on the top floor of a tall red brick row house on EYE St across from the Grey Hound Bus Station. She held classes, brought in models and painted in her back room. I still have my first full-figure female nude that I painted in Jessalee's painting class. It is of a model named Geneva who was a popular subject in art schools in the DC Metro area from the 50s well into the 70s. It is a large painting - not a particularly good - but it was a personal  accomplishment and that makes it hard to get rid of it.

The windows in the painting rooms in the apartment Jessalee used as a studio/classroom faced the bus station. There were no over-tall building across the street then so the 3rd floor rooms were sun-filled.

She knew the Corcoran Collection quite well and regularly sent me to the Corcoran to see particular paintings - my first times of being directed to look closely at art works on a museum wall.

I did not understand then what a role model she was. She was a serious professional artist and teacher who went to her studio by city bus every day, rain or shine. Jessalee was also a very fine painter of 20C French inspired compositions. When she taught me to mix oil colors on long sheets of paper - to slowly shift the colors and create lines of vibrant colors - she opened my eyes to the magic of color and changed my aesthetic life. Thank you Jessalee Sickman.

I did not begin carrying a camera all the time until a few years later so I don't have any pictures.  Thankfully my mental pictures are vivid.

2.  1972 - A Meeting at the Corcoran changed my life.
The first ever National Conference of Women in the Arts was held at the Corcoran School of Art and Gallery. Women came from across the country to be there. It was was not a large gathering but it was the catalyst for the Women Artists Movement. A list of the names of the women who were there looks like the index in an art history book - Miriam Shapiro, Judy Chicago, Alice Neel, June Wayne, Mary Garrard, Josephine Withers and on and on and on. It was a week-end of ideas, planning and networking.  That Conference opened a new world in the arts for the women there -

3.  1992 - Twenty years later I was part of the committee that organized a redux of the 1972 Conference - an opportunity to acknowledge, access and celebrate the changes for women artists and a chance to plan for the future. Many of the original artists attended - as well as young artists. It was a wonderful reunion.

These memories are important to me and my life. Those instances of being connected to the Corcoran set me on a path to the arts that has lasted more than 45 years. It is no wonder I began to feel more personally connected to the Corcoran Gallery - and sorry for its demise as a history-laden entity. It weighted that corner since the mid-1800s. That is quite a landmark identity.


Over the Back Fence

Over the Back Fence:

Just the stuff of the every day.

 * Getting ready for the electrician tomorrow.
  * Went to Jim's old barber shop to get a hair cut.
         Looks a LOT better.
  *  Long talk with Robin to talk over  problem
         and the conversation helped.
  *  Good show at Friendship tonight.
        Two tellers - Anna Marie Trester and
         Jessica Piscitelli Robinson. GOOD
I guess the big deal is that I filled out all the registration forms for the 2014 Capital Fringe today. Paid the fees, sent the forms and signed my electronic signature on the contract. It is official. This will be my fifth Capital Fringe.

The story is cooking and I am really excited about it. Not talking too much about specifics - except that it is about women who made a difference. The more I work on shaping it the more excited I am. That's a good sign.

There is something hard about this too. I miss Jim. The longing for him sweeps over me with power enough to knock me on my hind quarters. I hope I do not really fall flat.


Women Artists, Art and History

Artist Group 93 at AU

Really glad to be with the artists of Group 93 at American University today. We are so fortunate to have Professor Luciana Penay (retired) lead the group and comment on all the work the artists bring in. Luciano has an extrordinary "eye" and is an exciting teacher. He was the Chair of my MFA thesis committee at AU in the mid-1970s and he is still opening "windows for seeing" with his insightful comments about the art works.

Equally important the artists in the group have long histories in the DC art world - especially connected with the 1970s women artists movement. We know each other well and we know and appreciate each other's work. Our hair color varies with white heads predominating - but all of us have well educated "eyes" and we know how to appreciate art and talk "art speak."We are a lively, laughing and articulate group who love to make art and to talk about it.

We meet in a studio at the Katzen Art Center at AU when Luciano is in DC from Chile and its like touching home base.

Our deeproots in the DC art world was watered today when Lucy Blanstein brought out this catalog from "From the Center", a major show at the Washington Women's Arts Center and this was the first catalog WWAC published. Ah the memories.
1978 WWAC exhibit catalog and 1978 show invitation
The invitation is from a show that Claudia Vess and I produced at the Stephen Mott House on Capitol Hill. Caudia and I met in an MFA painting class at AU. She was a recent graduate from Smith - and I was a recent graduate from local Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross. Despite the dozen years between us we hit it off immediately and have been friends and colleagues every since. Claudia runs Group 93 and keeps us all on track.

I had not thought about this catalog in a long time.
Linear Series #12  Acrylic on Paper

Now I know I will have to hunt up my copies of it and put them in a safe place.

Schoettler statement from the catalog.

I am proud and grateful to have been a part of the show and the Washington Women's Arts Center. The Center was a place where women artists worked together to break the glass ceiling for women in the arts and help each other learn how to "make it in the male favoring art world."

We made history there.


A Few "Fixed Engagements"

Ellouise Schoettler

Today I had "fixed engagements" so I put on my coat and came out of my snow-imposed cocoon. Although it is bitter cold the roads were clear, the sun was shining and I felt good to be out and about.

Kate Dudding
This Monday I had scheduled to tape both Stories in Time with me telling and Stories in Focus with a guest. Kate Dudding is in town and could make time to come out for a show and for a good visit.  Kate and I had a wide ranging and fun conversation about her work as a storyteller and how she makes wonderful stories about people "who have made a difference." I will post the show as soon as I get the video and you can see for yourself - the woman loves what she is doing.

Before I picked Kate up at the Metro I had already been to the t.v. station to tape Stories in Time. Although I selected a story several days ago I switched to a different story and told an impromptu first telling of a story about a 96 year old letter I bought in a second-hand store twenty years ago. At the moment I am working on a new one-hour show set in WWI period. My head is filled with those years and I could not resist talking about this letter from a WWI Army wife.

Later I was so glad that I had told the letter story because with it fresh in my mind I recognized a structure Kate used in one of her stories as a possible answer to a problem I am working on in my WWI story. When we talked about that and other aspects of working on a narrative over lunch I realized again how important it is to have chances for regular conversations with other storytellers where you can "talk shop."

Storytelling like other art forms is inspiration and ideas for the story and perspiration as you work out the craft of the story.

As part of my immersion in the period and in WWI I have been watching films - usually from Netflix.
A few days ago a google title search sent me to "Behind the Lines", a British and Canadian 1997 film, about emotionally damaged soldiers sent from the battlefield to an "asylum" in Great Britain.  The story is an adaptation of "Regeneration" a novel by Pat Barker.  Two of the major characters are WWI Britist poets Wilfred Owen and Siegrid Sassoon who were patients there at the same time. It is moving and well-acted as well as informed drama. The story is also another way of understanding the battle with PTSD - when the treatments and therapies were elementary and primarily focused on getting the soldier back to the battle front as quickly as possible.


A Bit of Cabin Fever

The sun is shining bright today and I feel my mood lifting. I keep busy when house-bound so I was not aware that my mood was graying however now, with the sun out, I can feel the difference as my spirits shift.

"Cabin Fever" is one way we put it. But its really more than that. The uncertainty of what the weather will do creates some stress. I most worry about losing power and heat. We have loss both in this house before for up to a week - and that was a tough go. Even with Jim here is was tough. Now without him I dread the thought of it.

Fortunately we made it through. My daughter Karen offered and then came to stay with me so I would not be trapped here alone if we did lose power. There would be two of us to wrestle with the wood stove although she knew any shoveling would (and did) fall to her - until the neighbor's boy dug his way to the front door and cleared the walkway. A young candidate for the round table.

SO - - welcome sunshine. Hallelujah!

When I was a kid reading books of "on the prairie life, it all sounded very romantic to me - but I know for sure now that I was not cut out to be pioneer woman.


VIDEO: Conversation with Kate Campbell Stevenson

Meet Kate Campbell Stevenson, a wonderful singer/actor/performer, who brings little known women who are "achievers" to life to inspire women today - especially young women.  She tells us how she decided to hone this niche and how it has worked out. And, she also tells a personal story about her mother. Find out more HERE.


Stop By For A Story

My deck is still covered with snow although the sun is shining and that promises --- melting.

But I don't really mind being "house bound" as long as the lights and heat are working. Then it feels more like a good reason to "retreat" , collect my thoughts, prune my lists and finally get something done.

Mostly I think I am going to do all of the above - but get diverted instead and end up doing something completely "other."

That's what happened yesterday.

I diverted to working on my YOU TUBE site. Because of the my television shows I am fortunate to have a stash of videos under my name - either me telling a short story or interviews with others who work with storytelling in some way. Finally it dawned on me that organizing those videos into "playlists" would make access much easier -- - in addition, if I realized I could produce small themed "olios" of my own stories.

If you are in the mood to listen to stories I invite you to stop by - YOUTUBE.com/user/ellouisestory



Today our world is covered with 16 inches of white snow so I thought a blast of vibrant color was in order.

Looking out the window I find myself remembering the first large snow we experienced when we moved to this area in 1964. We lived in  Oxon Hill, MD outside DC.  Jim, an AF officer at the time, was assigned to Andrews Air Force Base. Our three children were 8, 6, and 5. We lived about 15 minutes from the Base via the new Beltway.  495, the Beltway around Washington had just opened.

The snow started mid-day and by close of business the snow fall was heavy and continuing. Snow was piling up. I wondered whether Jim would get home -

He headed home driving our small, black VW Beetle - and later he told me it was a stroke of luck that he pulled onto the Beltway right behind a  snow plow which was clearing the middle lane and it was going his way. He stayed close to it in the cleared path and crept  behind it all the way to our exit. Fortunately the rest of the way home had been driven on - and the VW made it through.

The snow continued and we were house-bound for three days.

No snow plows made it to our neighborhood so the men joined forces and shoveled a one-car-lane so that they could get in and out for runs to a near-by grocery story.

The kids loved it. Sleds, snowmen, and snowballs.

At the time our family dog was a Basset Hound with a fat body and short, sturdy legs. When Kris stepped off the walkway into the snow he sank into the snow - up to his belly. His legs did not reach the ground and he "hung" there -   held up by the cold snow. He loved the snow and wanted to walk around in it. The kids followed behind him to lift him up when he was stuck.

We have been in many more "snows" in Maryland since then but that one stands out in my memory because it was the first. Our kids were young and joyous about it and Jim and I had good backs and energy for all the shoveling.

And, the hot chocolate tasted good.

Today I am enjoying the beauty of the white wrapped world as I watch others struggling with their shovels.

I know that a little later today kids will have fun riding bright colored snow dishes and probably pull old sleds out of the garages. We live in a corner house at the top of steep winding hill. When the sleds are running downhill I hear kids squealing and laughing and it takes me back to other days.

The hot choclate still tastes very good and my memories are sweet.

Do you have favorite "snow" memories?


NEW VIDEO: Koki - Catherine Diggle Brown

Remembering my aunt, Catherine Diggle Brown, with a fabric collage and with a story.
I have told stories about her before - and I will continue to tell stories about her - because I never know exactly how the story will come out once I get started - some new memory always pops up. She was very special to me.

I hope you have someone you felt close to as a child and beyond.


To Georgia and Back

Saturday February 1 - sitting in the lobby of Terminal A at Reagan National Airport, DC - waiting for my Air Tran flight to Athens, Ga, memories were overwhelming. I had not been at Reagan for years - as I usually fly from Dulles or Baltimore.

Reagan Nartional Ariport, Terminal A

Terminal A still has a bit of a familiar look of the old National Airport and that prompted memories to flow over me - from my first flight into National in the 1960s to the mid-1980s when I boarded a plane here for the first leg of my trip to the UN Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya. In between there were so many images - picking up Bella Abzug for an appearance in DC, running off the Eastern Shuttle with Polly Bergen to make it on time for an ERA meeting at the White House, a smiling Jim waiting for me in the days when people could come to the gates, seeing Robin off to NYC for her first job, picking up Mama and Daddy for several visits, often just going somewhere with Jim - oh, there are many - and I sometimes had to fight back tears to keep from being over-whelmed by missing Jim - but look at all the stories I reconnected with  - and I am so grateful for that. Maybe there are a few to play with for later.

This Atlanta flight was my first time to fly with Air Tran - and it turned out well.

The reason for going to Georgia was to tell my Arlington story at the Occonee Library, Watkinsville, GA on February 3.  The special plus of that gig was spending a few days with family - my sister, Kathy and her husband John. Always a treat!!!!

Athens, GA, 2/14, Ellouise, Kathy and Ollie

Happy I will be going back to Athens in August as the Library has hired me to return with the Flesh on Old Bones workshop and a performance of Finding Gus!!!

Always a joy to be down South.