Acedia in Summer

I thought it was just me. After several conversations with friends (mostly artists), I’ve discovered that the feeling of general malaise and sluggishness is quite widespread. The conversations begin something like this: Are you painting? No. Have you written anything? No. Are you working on anything? No. Traveling? No. Volunteering? No.

Casting a wider net, I find that the entire country is somewhat in a similar mode of being. Contributing factors are certainly the intense heat and numbness to so much bad and sad news from the media (another shooting, inflation, wildfires, politics, gas prices, The Ukraine, $5 million dollars in welfare monies built a volleyball stadium at USM instead of helping the poor in Mississippi). There is little motivation (I don’t even like the word as it gives me visions of a cattle prod!).

Adding to this is that my vegetable garden has dried up, even though I’ve watered and watered. Just too hot. The hummingbirds are not even coming to my feeders. Contrary to this is that things I did not plant and nurture are taking over – Morning Glory vines are growing like kudzu covering my hummingbird feeders. A beautiful climbing Mandevilla that was gifted to me is going up and up my pergola. I see one hummingbird visit daily a flowering milkweed that the Monarchs totally ignored.

Morning Glory blooming like crazy
Flowering milkweed
Mandevilla growing up and over pergola

So what do I do to motivate myself? Or do I even need to? Should I just give in to these feelings, or fight them? What can I learn from those vines and plants that persevere in the face of adversity? What can I learn from that one hummingbird visiting that milkweed? Sometimes the struggle to see meaning seems too great a task.

“This too shall pass.” I know this in the core of my being. I will enjoy my morning coffee. Sunrises. Sunsets. Beach walks. I know the desire to create will return.

My hope is that I will not obtrude onto you my acedia. Let me know what gives you hope in the world. What do you find inspiring, and how do you get out of that hole, when you are feeling a little “off”?

Life keeps moving forward, but some things never change.

In spite of our idiocy, most of us remain healthy and are able to enjoy life’s everyday gifts. Most of us are also able to enjoy liberty and pursue happiness. I say this without even having any statistical proof that this is true. I say this from my perspective of being a white American. My bills are paid, I drive a nice car, have 10 pairs of shoes, plenty of food and I can read any book I want. I’ve been vaccinated against Covid 19. And I am a member of the “middle class”, within that wide bell curve.

On the flip side of my privileged existence is the reality that 63% of Americans are either living in poverty or walking on the borderline. There are kids living in inner-cities who have never seen an Interstate highway, never tasted a restaurant meal and who’ve never had a new pair of shoes. And many of these families are also in the “middle class”. That middle class is slowly narrowing.

The news around here lately has been filled with news that several government officials and prominent Mississippians are being investigated for welfare fraud – what Mississippi officials said is the largest public embezzlement case in state history. They are all denying it, except a few.

The generational network of good ole boys, all white and mostly older, continues in our state. Okay, I know I’m profiling. From what I can see, this is true. Mississippi – the state that is always last in what is good and first in what is bad. What are these older white men afraid of that they defraud the state’s poorest citizens of food, clothing and shelter? Our state is viewed by others as backwards, uneducated and last.

There are a few bright spots in our borders – we have a beautiful state. We have a rich history, gifted writers both past and present, and exceptional leaders like Toby Barker, Mayor of Hattiesburg, and Bennie Thompson, who has done a great job as chair of the Jan. 6 investigation committee. Please don’t send me a list of positives, as if the pros will outweigh the cons. I can create a list for myself. The truth is that the cons are too huge.

Under the table, back door dealing with a wink and a smile only benefits a privileged few. Why can’t any of our politicians and state leaders see that for the last hundred years (maybe more) nothing has changed? Why can’t these same leaders see that putting the same old folks in office is not going to change our state’s standing? Why can’t they see they are only perpetuating the same old same old because nothing different is being done on a grand scale? Why can’t they see that stealing money from the poor only makes our state look pathetic?

Inspiration from Wendell Berry: Be Well; Do Well.

I’ve attached a link below to a talk by Wendell Berry – are you familiar with him? I have followed him for most of my life. Yes, the talk is inspiring; Berry also warns us to pay close attention to what we are doing. Bottom line: There’s a pill for everything, but not for the illness of our land and people.

Back in the 1970s, like so many others I was an avid reader of Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening magazines. I drooled over anything from the Rodale Press. I dreamed of having a mushroom farm, or worm farm, or both. My then-husband Fred and I were planning on opening a restaurant. I found a house on 10 acres and talked Fred into buying it so we could plant organic veggies and raise natural pork and chickens and eggs for the restaurant. Little did I know. The neighbors called us “Green Acres.”

Chickens and eggs were abundant. I also had goats that I milked and with that milk I made ricotta cheese. Fed my children the milk, too. I once delivered a kid (goat) in the snow in that big plowed garden amongst the cornstalks.

Over time we did open that restaurant and eventually had 6 locations over MS and the Gulf Coast. They were so much work that we hardly had time to plant anything. But we did have a Ford 9N tractor with plow and bushhog, so we planted corn and beans and such. But our property was surrounded by cotton fields. Apparently the land had been sprinkled so much with defoliant and ‘cotton poison’ that little was successful. I did grow herbs with much success, and had a raised worm bed from compost and sold fishing worms to neighbors for a brief time. We had two horses, ducks and geese. Our three kids (as in children) had a great time.

Capitalism ruled. After ten years, we moved closer to the restaurant. Then our marriage fell apart. 

That little farm was a joy for me for those years we lived there. I’ve dreamed of doing such again many times, but I am older now and in no shape to start. So I plant my little fruit trees and herbs here on my little plot of ground.

Like Berry, I’m in favor of happiness. What about you? Where do you find yours?

Shalom, and Happy New Year.

Berry’s talk begins at 15:08 minutes in…….

My ten years of blogging and a lifetime of acedia.

For me, the only way to survive during this time of social distancing from Covid 19 is to create something every day. Or at least work on something creative every day. I am blessed with the space to do this. My new house has open space and I use my sewing room and dining room as my studio. There is also space outside for dyeing and manipulating fabrics and fibers with a water source and power source. My plan is to eventually use the outside space for classes.

I find myself at times just sitting and staring into the distance. Whether it’s in my back yard or on the beach, I definitely have more time for contemplation and deep thinking. I even pulled out my old digital camera so I can capture moments in time: sea birds; flowers; beach scenes and such. Slowing down is not a bad thing. We are accustomed to accomplishing tasks and checking off lists to feel productive. Feeling productive can also come from doing absolutely nothing. I believe by sitting still we are producing endorphins and helping our immune system and our psyches.

But what about the days when I just do not have the emotional energy to even go outside? My friend Kat Fitzpatrick reminded me about the concept of acedia with this article, which describes acedia as “a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate”. Kathleen Norris skillfully writes about her experience in her book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life. When I begin to feel this bundle of complex emotions, I generally give in to it. Eventually hours or days pass and I know I need to do something different – paint, cook, walk, take a drive, whatever lifts my spirits. 

2020 marks 10 years of blogging for me and 100 blog posts. That’s not a big number for 10 years, I know. I’ve had acedia my entire life. Sometimes I am a sloth. But always, always, I get through the fog.

Lately I’ve been making whimsical windsocks. And I’ve painted imaginary friends on my fence. They sometimes join in my acedia. And they make me happy.  And every time I look at them I smile.  After all, it’s those little things in life that affect us in vast ways.

Windsocks ready for my Etsy Shop.

I am never alone.


Five years from now, you won’t even know this world.

What does the future hold?

My father said to me many times, “Emma, five years from now you won’t even know this world.” When I was younger, the world did not seem to change much over the years for me and I dismissed his statements as just due to age – that he was resisting change. After all, he resisted the invention of TV, Bic pens and Sweet n Low.

Now that I am in my senor years, the truth of his sagely wisdom has now become a part of my truth as well. The world does seem to change drastically every five years, although slowly at times – and at other times events shift the world on its axis.

Five years ago I was running my shop on Magazine St. in New Orleans, happily teaching creativity classes in art, sewing, embroidery, writing and such. Customers became friends, and I was enjoying my new life in the City that Care Forgot. I became part of the vibe: Mardi Gras; Festivals; The Saints; Hurricane Preparedness. I was living in the back of the shop at the time while my husband Robert stayed behind in Memphis trying to sell our house. That would take another year, then he could retire to our favorite city and join me.

Over the five years between 2015 and 2020, life took some awful turns, dragging me along like a dog stuck to a bumper. Here is a summary of events:

2016 – House in Memphis sells, Robert finally retires to NOLA
2017 – R. has a near-fatal bike accident; xrays reveal cancer
2018 – I close the shop to devote 100% of my time caring for R.
2019 – Robert dies (see other blog posts for this nightmare), I sell the NOLA house and move to Waveland
2020 –I fall from ladder, get bursitis in hip; February, I’m diagnosed with Thyroid cancer; have thyroidectomy, tumor is benign. March, Covid 19 appears and the entire country is shut down; I isolate myself to stay safe.

on one leg

Great Blue Heron on the beach near my house

So here we are in June 2020, and there are riots in many major cities, this virus is still not under control, our infrastructure is falling apart and our President seems unconcerned. Most people are still isolating themselves, trying to stay healthy. Travel is severely limited. Yes, a lot has changed in 5 years.

Many things I have prayed for them to change – like racism. In a hundred years you’d think we had learned something.

Maybe in five years.

I am living on the beach, in a small town and a new community, away from family, struggling to make new friends in the midst of a pandemic. Painting and writing and sewing to try and keep myself sane. Then I watch the news and see death, chaos, burning, stealing.

Who would have predicted all this five years ago?

Will things be better five years from now?

The Right Tool for the Job

Yesterday I had a “hold my beer & wachis” moment. You see, there’s this old lemon tree in my backyard that the previous owner hacked up so badly that it was never going to produce anything, and it had gone back to root stock.  Those thorns are dangerous.

IMG_7656This is my husband’s bow saw. Part of his dowry. Yes, he came into the marriage with tools. I had never seen a bow saw, and he used it often trimming trees wherever we lived.  I love his bow saw. Now it is my inheritance from him.

With this saw, I worked at the trunk of that old lemon tree without success.  A coiled rope under the carport, a light bulb comes on above my head. I tie one end of the rope to my car and the other end to the trunk of that tree. I drive forward slowly, feeling the rope straining taunt. I hear the tree creaking, and the rope straining; I see in my rear view mirror it’s leaning forward, I keep moving. Then bang! The rope snaps, the tree springs back upright. The rope decapitates my newly planted hydrangea bush and lands in my back door neighbors yard, the other end still tied to the lemon tree.

I’m nothing if not persistent. Now this project has become a challenge of wills. I try again and again, seven times tying that rope and inching forward.

IMG_7655In between, I see what is holding that tree. It has a root about as big as my arm. I pull out the bow saw again and attack that root. Like magic, the tree is released and I’m able (with the seventh rope and car pulling) to rip loose and drag that thorny thing across the yard.  Death to you, old tree. Death to you.

But every death is a reminder of every other death.

I held that bow saw in my arms and hugged it like a newborn babe. Thank you God. Thank you Robert.

Sometimes something has bound up so strong that we just need to cut the root and free it – and ourselves. And move slowly forward.

Sorting, Donating & Remembering


peru days

Robert in healthier days, working in Peru (2016)

I have been putting this off. Not that I needed to do it in a hurry. Today I spent some time sorting through my husband’s jeans and shirts. He had a stash of jeans in large sizes – he used to be a big guy. Cancer diminished his body, but not his spirit. He had given away most every piece of clothing to a local shelter where he volunteered. The only clothing left in his closet were two pair of jeans, one pair dress pants, a sport coat and 3 shirts. Then I found the stack of jeans. I’m sure he planned to take the bag to the same shelter. I will do so this week, along with some sweatshirts and PJs that I found.

Robert was a bicyclist and loved riding the trails on his mountain bike up in Memphis and in Jackson. But here in New Orleans the terrain is flat. He loved riding these streets as well. Most days he would ride ten miles. He did that until earlier this year, until his energy was zapped by chemo. All the memories fill my heart as I sort through his old biking clothes – he was serious – he had all the gear of a racer. The elastic in his biking shorts has dry rot now. Ditching those.  One thing I know, is that my husband’s life is so much more than all these things.


Biking along the Natchez Trace

As I sort and pack up his clothing, my very heart hurts with pain. Until I pull out his favorite biking shirt. Neon reflective green, with black stripes. I can see him now, soaring over the hills and through the sand, never stopping, breathing deep, sweat dripping, blowing hot breath as he pedals up a hill. He is strong. He is muscular. He is healed.

As I will be one of these days. But until then, my heart still hurts.

Mardi Gras and “Coat of Many Colors” that we made; Riding the streets of New Orleans.


First Fruits.

401668_441891082489033_1446753152_nThe thought of leaving our home – this little blue shotgun house with the white picket fence – generates pain so visceral that my very nerves ache. My heart hurts. My toes want to curl up and hide. This was our plan for so many years. The grapefruits are beginning to ripen, as are the lemons. This will be our first year for grapefruits. Robert and I have always made preserved (salted) lemons to use in cooking and as salad dressing. Insects got the lime blossoms this year, so we only harvested one lime. The okra is about done for – I will pull up those 7′ tall plants soon. We need rain. It is coming.

557880_4836025583421_495101029_nSo what will keep me here? I have friends here, and a daughter and her family. I walk around the city. Nothing is the same. This house is not the same without Robert. This was our dream our entire marriage, to retire in our favorite city and live out our days eating muffalettas in Jackson Square and walking our dog on the streets of New Orleans. Meandering through the French Quarter and through the cemeteries. Trying out new restaurants and watching the boats navigate the Mississippi. Feeling the warm breezes in Audubon Park. Listening to good music and enjoying friends.

Robert loved the heat and humidity. Riding his bike and returning home soaked with sweat was his idea of a good time. But even the heat causes tears these days.

IMG_5860I have decisions to make. Should I leave, should I stay, should I try to make my roots deeper without the one that planned to be here beside me planting his own roots deep? Where is the joy in doing this alone? There is sweetness, surely, in the memories we made during the brief two and a half years we had here. I have a ton of memories (21 year’s worth) to go through and sort. Clothing, books, papers, artifacts from our travels. That chore alone will take me many months. Nothing will be done hurriedly.

grapefrI will harvest the lemons and preserve them in salt. Sometime in October or November, I will taste those first grapefruits by myself and relish the sweet labor that went into planting that tree years ago.

But tasting them without Robert will not be the same. Nothing will ever be the same again


The Moment of Departure

Friday, September 13, 2019
IMG_6761It is 3:00am on Friday morning. I am remembering. The coffee maker beeps and I go to the kitchen and make my first coffee in my cup from Elizabeth’s Restaurant – one of our favorite places for breakfast. My first memories of R’s and my time together are of our times on the phone on early mornings as we have first coffee in separate cities – I am in Jackson, MS and he is in Delhi, LA, back in 1998.  Nothing tastes quite like that first sip of Community Coffee as we look toward the rising sun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019…(continued from last week)
I ask R. again if he is certain he is ready for Hospice. He nods. I call the doc and everything is set up before the sun goes down. R signs all the papers with the nurse and he is at ease over the decision. At last, I think.


Over the next 2 days R. is getting weaker and weaker, more pain. Several visits from loving friends from Rayne Methodist. He loves them as well. Afterwards, as he sleeps, I play Simon & Garfunkel. Silence like a cancer grows.

He can no longer swallow pills so I call hospice and they send out liquid morphine and Ativan. They say give him .5 ml morphine every hour. That’s not enough. He cries out in pain. Esophagus is inflamed and painful. Difficult to swallow, so I drip .75ml morphine into the side of his mouth as I gently hold his head. No sleep for either of us. He rests for about 10-15 minutes, then is in pain again.

I continue to get him up and on the walker from bed to sofa. Calls me every minute it seems. We say prayer together and he reads to me from the Upper Room meditation, then puts the booklet on the bedside table. “My greatest fear is that I will die mean & nasty  –  I want you to call me on it if i get that way.” I assured him I would. He has never been mean and nasty and I tell him I do not think he will start now.

Sunday August 18, 2019
I lie with him on the guest bed. He wakes – I mindlessly move something from one place to another on the bedside table. He is lucid. “Can you explain to me the logic behind what you just did.”  “There is none,” I smile and answer. “I am merely being here with you.”

I call hospice on Sunday morning and request a hospital bed, as he can no longer get up without help and I’m concerned he could fall.  I go to a local store to purchase single bed sheets. These are the sheets that my husband will die on, I think, and I weep as I make the purchase. Afternoon, aide comes and gives R. a bath in bed, then sits him up in the wheelchair. Hospital bed is delivered. While they set it up with much clanging, I wheel R. back to our bedroom. My son John, friend Carol Spencer and Pastor Jay Hogewood follow. Carol gives us communion, Jay anoints R. with oil. R. is looking for the W.H. Auden poem The Wave, his favorite line of which is I inhabited the wake of a long wave. He speaks with Jay about what he wants in his memorial service. Come thou fount of every blessing.

I tiptoe in to give him his meds tonight, “What’s going on”. I’m here to give you Morphine and Ativan. He pulls the sheet over his head like a little kid and says No.  I wait, then drip the meds under his tongue.

Monday August 19, 2019
Nurse is here and I assist her in changing the dressing on his pressure sore. I hold his frail body on his side so that he sits up a bit. He tries to focus on what we are doing as I hold him and the nurse replaces the bandage. His eyes open wide. “Is this it? Is this it?” No, this is not it R. This is not the moment of leaving this life to the next. “Are we in New Orleans?” Yes, we are in New Orleans. “Good,”, he says as I lay him gently back on the pillow. My husband is ever the curious.

Daughter Jennifer is here and she plays Bob Dylan, R’s favorite. We watch as his hands tap to the beat of Dylan’s tunes in his sleep.

Friends Kelcy and Jim Patterson stop by in late afternoon. Kelcy says she is staying the night and I am grateful. Jim is a physician and takes R’s pulse and listens to his heart. Later we tell all good night. We do not sleep. R is calling out for me all night; intense pain. More morphine and Ativan, not working; he calls me to help him, concerned that he might soil the bed. I struggle to get him up and on the bedside commode, then back in bed, and he is using all his strength to help. I ask Kelcy to help get him back in bed. “Put your hands around my neck” I say and he does.

I lift him up into bed and Kelcy lifts his feet , then with his arms still around me I pull him up so that his head is at the top of the bed. He hugs me tightly, and I have pleasure in that. “I think this bed is just for one person,” he says, “I don’t think you can get in here with me.” I agreed with him and pried his arms from around my shoulders and he immediately rested on the pillow. More morphine. .75ml. He sleeps for a few moments. Then he calls out all night in pain. I give him as much morphine and ativan as I can but he does not rest.

Tuesday August 20, 2019
Morning and R. struggles to breathe. Daughter Jennifer is here. About 10 am R. tries to sit up in bed, gargling acid reflux, “Not working, not working”. I call Dr. Jim back, as he and Kelcy had left a few moments prior, and he returns. He suctions out about a cup of brown acid from Robert’s throat. R. is still restless, but less pain. I give Jim the bottle of morphine and I cradle R’s head. We drip the liquid into his cheek. I watch R take two breaths, then no more.  The point of departure is here. “He’s stopped breathing,” I whisper. “Faint heartbeat. No pulse. Heart stopped. He is gone,” Jim says. I feel great relief for my husband. The pain has ended. I watch his face and for the first time in over two years there is no sign of pain, no sign of struggle, no sign of worry.

I kiss him goodbye.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.






Life Goes On

So this is the story ….. August 2019
My husband Robert – my heart and soul and love – died on August 20, 2019.  I am broken and raw.  I will try to summarize the past two years, and what led up to his death from gastric cancer. My chronology may not be exact, but this is how I remember it.

June 2016

My husband Robert finally retires to New Orleans, so we are together after almost 2 years living apart – me living in New Orleans having opened a business, and he living in Memphis trying to sell our house.  We are so excited to be together again. We have plans! Fun plans in our favorite city in the world, New Orleans.

Fall 2016 Robert has a bike accident.
Robert is out riding his bike. Seems a long time gone. I hear him come in. He walks slowly into the living room and says “can you put my bike away for me?” I look down and blood is running down his leg and arm. I aim him toward the bathroom and doctor him up as well as I can – scrapes and bruises. He seems ok, just sore. Next day he can barely walk so off to the after hours clinic we go. He is injured, with a cracked collarbone and bruises and contusions, slight back injury and possible groin sprain. He is bandaged up and sent home to check in with is regular doc the next day.

Doc does xrays and blood tests and sends him home with pain meds. He is on a walker for several days, then a cane. Doc calls – blood test reveals unusually high calcium phosphatase levels. This indicates that something is happening in his bones. His regular internist schedules tests.

November 2016 Sent to Oncologist.
Scans reveal numerous lesions throughout his body. On his femur, ribs, collarbone. Metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin, they say. He comes home and says, “They say I have cancer and I could be dead by Christmas.” We fall to the floor weeping together.

After doc visit,“I’m feeling great; how is it that I have Stage 4 cancer and feel good?” he asks over and over.  He decides to go to Peru again in summer for his teaching project, even though in pain in his thigh and back. After a couple weeks in Peru, he realizes his injuries are not getting better and he comes home and schedules another visit with doctor. He begins taking X-Geva shots once a month to build up bone where the cancer is destroying it. That is working. It’s a horse race between the X-Geva and the cancer.

Winter 2016-17 through Summer 2018, More Tests & Scopes, and a Heart Scare.
From summer into fall, R. undergoes scopes in every organ of his body. No cancer is found other than the original lesions on his bones. He rides his bike one morning and feels some tightening in his chest. He has appointment for an EKG anyway, so he decides to drive to Touro Infirmary. In the hospital, the tech is attaching electrodes and suddenly Robert says his chest is hurting and he is going to be sick – the tech witnesses him going into cardiac arrest and pushes the Emergency button. R is surrounded by about 15 docs and nurses, they tell him he is having a heart attack and he tells them to call me. They put in a stint, he stays overnight, and he is fine – just shaken up and confused about what happened. He goes home, takes it easy for a few days.

September 2018 Decision to Close Our Shop.
Caring for Robert and running our shop by myself was beginning to take a toll on my own health, and Robert was getting sicker – we jointly made the decision to close our shop. I am glad we did. It was a painful decision, but the right thing to do.

Finally, another scope of his stomach reveals cancer cells in the lining of the stomach – the origin of his cancer is discovered there. He continues to ride his bike and do normal things – he is extremely tired and has pain in his back and severe acid reflux. Now to formulate a treatment plan – chemo is first line of defense, so he begins his first 8 week round of chemo in October, and he is so ill we don’t think he will make it fully through the 8 weeks, but he does. He loses weight and is extremely tired. He does not enjoy any holidays. He is miserable.

January 2019 and a Reprieve.
He improves after the end of the first series of treatments and regains some of his energy and appetite. We take a cruise to the Yucatan and have a very pleasant and relaxing vacation. He is able to walk around ruins a bit, resting now and then, and eat everything. He naps when he is tired, which is several times each day, and we really enjoy the trip.

February and Decision to Stop Chemo.
Time for his 2nd round of 8 weeks, and he is dreading it. After two weeks he tells the doc he is stopping chemo, as it is making him too sick and weak to enjoy life anymore. His left lung collapses, and fluid builds up. Doc says if he cannot tolerate chemo, then insurance may possibly pay for immunotherapy. He begins immunotherapy drug Keytruda in May – a 1.5 hour infusion every 3 weeks.  I drain fluid off the left lung every other day at home, and he goes to Touro about every 2 weeks for right lung drain.

Chemo Destroyed Pleuri and Caused Bleeding Ulcers in Esophagus.
June and July he continues the X-Geva and Keytruda, and only gets weaker and his breathing is labored. He keeps going. He cannot eat without pain, is totally miserable and cannot tolerate food unless it is soft – and even then he eats only a tablespoon or so. He is trying so hard to get better, but he is not. He has a PET Scan and the cancer is stagnant. No new lesions. The keytruda is working. But he is so sick because he cannot take nutrition and cannot breathe. Chemo has destroyed his lungs and his esophagus. There is nothing that will make him comfortable. He has no enjoyment of anything, cannot walk from the sofa to the bathroom without stopping to rest. Cannot ride in car without suffering.

Decision for Hospice Care.
On Wednesday August 14 he said, with difficulty, “I can’t go on like this. I’m ready for Hospice.”
I believe I can heal and move through my grief if I write this story. I will write more about this journey very soon. But for now, I will stop here and let my emotions rest awhile.  Here is a link to my husband Robert’s obituary.