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RudyI thought I had the beginning of my summer all mapped out now that my daughter showed all kinds of courage during her heart surgery and can now run, swim and play without fear.

So having finished (well, not quite — I have one week left) a productive and sometimes grueling year at work, which for me ends on 30 June, finishing three marathons since last July, publishing a few poems, submitting prose to publications, and improving as a husband and father, I was looking forward to two weeks off at the beginning of July.

Guess what?

I was given several new deadlines to complete. And, this past Friday, I came down with a fever that spiked to 103.5 on Saturday.

Not hard to guess how I’m feeling. It’s the title of this blog post!

The silver lining: completing 24 marathons has shown me I can be resilient and resourceful even when my legs don’t want to take another step, when my mind is saying I want rest, a great meal, to be with my family. I find a way to push through.

I have always believed marathons are symbolic. Yes, I will use a cliché: the journey of a thousand miles, or for marathoners 26.2, begins with a single step — forward!

 

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Big Buildups and Letting Go

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MarathonAloha Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together!

Life can be full or surprises!

In my last post that I had written after my daughter’s successful heart operation, I had ruminated about letting go: of fears, overthinking, vanity, ego, seeking constant reassurance from my husband and our friends, even my hair!

I should add one more noun paired with a simple adjective: big buildup!

For years, my husband and I had concerns about our daughter’s heart. Born with an extra chromosome, doctors had long suspected an opening between major arteries connected to her heart.

But our daughter has grown tall and strong. She’s a nimble practitioner of words and a lovely athlete.

Da kommt ein Sturm!And anxious at times, fiercely stubborn, prone to freeze when expected to show off her capabilities, an overthinker.

I wonder where that all comes from?!

After all the buildup, pre-op appointments with doctors, and the grueling surgery and hours of facing the unknown until it was over, her cardiologist discovered the opening near our daughter’s heart wasn’t an issue after all.

Stunned, slightly bewildered, relieved and exhausted, and with my husband and daughter recovering from colds fed by anxiety and hospital germs, we have spent this week recovering from the big buildup.

I escaped the cold because when I don’t have to be with people at work the next day, I eat spoonfuls of minced, raw garlic. It works and I actually enjoy the taste. My poor husband, though, shrugs his shoulders with astonishing patience.

In my healthy state, I continued this week my practice of letting go.

Although I’ve had poetry published and shown in major exhibits for decades, I’ve also enjoyed writing prose, usually sports articles or essays. I’ve never had quite the confidence with prose, though, that I have with my poetry.

For months, I’ve had three articles swirling in my brain. Finally, this week, I submitted a piece for publication for a major online newspaper. Even if my written reflection is rejected, it was a step in several right directions: to step outside my comfort zone, to let go, to be at peace with the unknown!

It’s funny how once you try something, it sometimes becomes easier, like having confidence in your own voice, not an easy thing to do for a gay man of my generation. For decades, I tried to find the perfect pitch for what I perceived as my overly gay voice instead of just trusting it. I overthought my voice and so much in my life so that I would be accepted and liked. I spent way too much time crouched in fear.

A fellow blogger whom I have followed for a couple years wrote a piece this week that I found offensive. For about 15 minutes, I went back and forth in my brain about whether I should offer a clear, concise comment about my gut reaction to her piece. Although I have never met the blogger in person, I admire her. I was a bit fearful that she and other followers of her blog would be offended by my being offended!

MarathonBut I went for it. Guess what? She offered a lovely apology. Other followers liked the comment.

The very next morning, I asked my boss about renegotiating my contract. Sounds easy, right? Except it’s always been difficult for me as a gay man to hold my own with a straight man whom I admire who is my boss. I have to coach myself about not feeling inadequate, that it is perfectly reasonable to trust my voice.

To make a pretty straightforward request with my boss, I spent months talking through my talking points with my husband and close friends. I even took a seminar for women who sought to gain confidence about championing their abilities and worth in the workplace! (By the way, the women invited me to become part of their organization!)

And lo and behold, yesterday, without referring to my copious notes, I spoke clearly, concisely, and confidently with my boss. I didn’t receive a yes or no. He said he would think about my request. And this weekend, I’m living with that unknown. And I’m fine!

I made one more decision this week that was outside my comfort zone. I’ve decided to run marathons in late July on consecutive days, something I have never done before and will never do again! I checked with the race director about all the rules and whether or not he thought I was crazy (as my patient, wonderful husband sometimes does).

Guess what? The race director encouraged me to go for it. He even wrote that I’ve been an inspiration to other runners at his event!

Well, what do you know? Letting go has become a little easier!

Mended Hearts and Fresh Starts

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RudyAloha Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together,

I’m grateful to let you know our daughter’s heart operation went well this week.

We’ve known for some time it was needed — although we found out afterward that it really wasn’t.

What?

Frequently, children born with an extra chromosome have heart defects, some quite serious.

We had learned about our daughter’s extra chromosome before she was born. My husband and I visited many kind families, referred to us by friends, who shared their experiences of having a family member with an extra copy of chromosome number 21. For some, visits to emergency rooms and hospitals were monthly, sometimes weekly.

EngelWhen our gorgeous daughter was born, I held my breath. Nine years later, I’m slowly exhaling.

She was stunning in every way, alert, active. She has always loved words, and speaks, reads, and writes two home languages.

On our rare visits to the doctor, her beautiful heart has been listened to carefully.

For years, doctors have instructed my husband and me about PDA in which abnormal blood flow occurs between two major arteries connected to the heart. The PDA, or patent ductus arteriosus, is a persistent opening between those two arteries. The opening usually closes after a baby’s birth.

In our daughter’s case, doctors heard a light murmur, light enough that we were told we could wait to see if the opening would close on its own.

In nine years, our daughter has become extremely active, has grown tall, has held her own with classmates in every regular school room she has graced.

Die ganze Familie und Coach Kawika!Last Christmas, on a whim, my husband, daughter and I drove to the beautiful ocean in Oahu to meet a friend who organizes official marathons and also fun runs for people who want to move about on holidays. Our friend and my family were game. We completed a Family Mile. Our daughter received her first running certificate!

She was thrilled. I was beyond proud. Her attitude, running form, and pacing were flawless. For the first time, though, I wondered, “Boy, what if her heart suddenly gave out?”

So six months and many heart tests and visits to doctors later, our daughter and her parents braced themselves for what we knew we had to face sooner or later: the day a cardiologist, fortunately for us a caring, highly skilled doctor, would help close the PDA.

I could write at least five posts about our experiences this past week, but I’ll move toward closure. After several hours last Monday, the doctor approached my husband and me. During the procedure, which I will now forever call an operation, he determined that the opening in our daughter’s heart was too small for him to close.

What?

To keep a long post short, only by conducting the operation could he safely determine her heart will be fine, that she can be active as she wishes, that she has the best chances in the world to continue to grow tall, strong, and smart, that we can start to exhale.

We’re relieved and still processing.

Do we celebrate? Yes, although we are all still exhausted and both my husband and daughter are now recovering from colds.

Do we rejoice? Yes, although we are still grappling with all the years bracing ourselves for a procedure or operation only to find out as it was being performed that it wasn’t necessary.

Do we embark on new beginnings? I strongly believe so.

For my poetry, I will attempt to compose a ballad, something I have never done in decades of writing poems.

For my bargains with the universe I made when I was praying for but could not be with my daughter for several hours last Monday, I will continue to try to be a better father, husband, brother, and friend.

Mein HerzFor our daughter, I would like her to practice gratitude, to become a more disciplined student and independent person now that we know she has all the potential and strength to achieve those goals.

I can now look forward to completing my 25th marathon in late July.

But I needed after last Monday to let go of something — my fears, my overthinking, my vanity, my seeking reassurance from friends and the universe, my hair.

What?

Yes, after all this seriousness, I have finally realized I’m better off when I keep life and my hair simple. Yesterday, my daughter and I went to a professional we have seen for five years. Just like the doctor, with great skill, love and patience she gave us what we needed: a new beginning!

A Poem that Did the Job

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RudyAloha Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together!

Have any of you embarked on a poem, essay, homework assignment, work deadline, marathon, tennis match, cooking adventure, audition, and, well … did a competent job, finished the poem or marathon or assignment, tried the new recipe, and … was left with an aftertaste or afterglow that was fine — not amazing but still grateful for the experience.

I soon will have a poem published. I was asked to submit it for a professional organization’s newsletter. I was flattered, but before choosing a poem I asked about the theme. I was told the poem could be about faith.

I looked through poems I had written in the past few years. I found five and then narrowed the selection down to two: one about my daughter, and one about angels. The latter was more an exercise to take in the beautiful, disciplined style of Emily Dickinson. I love her poems as they are deceptively simple and complex at the same time. Last year I spent a few hours reading Emily’s poems, put them away, and a few months later tried to imitate her style (without looking at her poems).

The exercise was fun, but it was also like speed work in training for a marathon: I’m game but not great at it.

neues GedichtI was much more enthusiastic about the poem about my daughter that was written in my own style. I love reading legendary poets like Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell, Robert Frost, Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, and Rainer Maria Rilke! My poems have rhymes and meter schemes, but for decades I have deliberately avoided making them overly precise.

The editor of the newsletter chose both, but for immediate publication the poem about angels. Before the printing deadline, she gave writers proofs and opportunities to make final edits.

Having never been wild about this poem, I made a revision that helped me like it better. In the third line of the first stanza, I changed “deep belief” to “certain belief” and not only avoided a cliché, but made the rhyme scheme a little more interesting.

Let me know what you think!

Two footnotes:
1) You now know my full name and where I live and work!
2) Send good angel thoughts to my daughter, the inspiration for this blog, who will be having a heart procedure on Monday.

 

 

Finished Poem (Even though a Poem is Never Finished!)

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RudyDear Readers,

Our traditional year ended here at the high school where I work in Hawaii. Summer school begins in early June. I work the entire year because I am an administrator, but thanks to my boss, I teach two subjects near and dear to me: German and poetry.

I brought in treats this week and let discussions about German and poetry be mostly directed by students who were already at the finish line rather than gracefully taking the last steps toward it! But given that they are teenagers, it was fine.

We’ve reached the finish line with the first group poem I’ve ever attempted through a blog that has followers from different time zones!

fallender BaumBelow is our final version, although as some followers of this blog may know, I believe a poem is rarely finished. To my mind, a poem changes every day, week, year and decade. It lives and breathes constantly, but at some point it needs to be put to bed so the next poem can be written. I’m ready for that next poem. I’ve already scoped it out somewhat in my thoughts.

But for now, let’s see what we came up with these past three weeks. Here goes:

The Ground Beneath Us

The winds moved through our home
in February, when all was spare and cold,

the ground beneath us hard as stone.

The calm broke as one gust
after another shook us.

We called out, voices strained by wind,

our pain as deep as roots
we shared that now laid bare
while we waited out the storm,

the ground beneath us
still there, our branches shaken,
our faith unscathed.

Tell me what you think! Not too bad for a first attempt with contributors from all parts of the world patient enough to wait an entire week for the next set of revisions.

But it’s time to move on. After all, the French Open starts tomorrow!

Last Call for Group Poem!

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RudyDear Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together,

I’ll never forget teaching in Austria years ago. At that time, I was not too much older than my students. I was guided by a senior teacher and walked with him after he observed one class where my instruction that day had been wildly successful with teenagers. Naturally, I tried the very same lesson with the next class. The enthusiasm with this group just wasn’t there.

I was perplexed. My style was the same. The teenagers in one class were the same age as those in the next. I used the same content.

My mentor teacher said afterward (in German) with a smile, “That’s teaching, my young friend. One hour you’re a hero, the next hour you come back down to earth!”

And so it is with my experiment for a group poem with followers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together!

I was astonished by the responses and number of new followers after the first post a few weeks ago. People actually came up to me in Hawaii where I live and talked about how they loved the idea of creating a poem together.

Last weekend, with our small family solidly booked for evening and day meetings and ceremonies, and our daughter’s birthday celebrations, I thought I might post early the continuation of the group poem, that even if I sent it out on Friday (a day or two early), the momentum would continue to build.

Well, just like teaching in Austria years ago, what worked the first time didn’t the second go-around!

I rarely check reader viewership because writing well and being inspired by fellow bloggers and followers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together have always meant far more to me than statistics. But I did notice near radio silence after the last post. I didn’t take it personally! People are busy.

MarathonI’ve finished 24 marathons. Momentum comes and goes. I once had real fear at my 18th marathon that I would have to stop at 13 miles. Both my legs were so tight with cramps that I couldn’t move. I prayed and took one step forward. Then another. In a few hours, I was at the finish line celebrating!

So back to our group poem that I would like to finish with all of you today. (I am someone, though, who believes a poem is never truly finished even if it has been published. I love revisiting poems I wrote years ago. But that is another topic for another post!)

fallender BaumA refresher: we made progress with the last post about a tree that had fallen on our property in West Virginia during a windstorm. We had no choice but to have it cut down to its stump where it now faces its companion tree with which it shared a hammock and roots that ran deep.

All right, Readers, I’m hoping to put this poem to bed for a while. The new words from the last post are in green, and those from today will be in blue. Please contribute! Let’s finish a nice poem together. Enjoy the journey!

Working Title:

The Ground Beneath Us

Working Theme:

Loss followed by new beginnings

Working 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th and final Stanzas
(I’ll keep them short so that readers are more likely to participate):

The winds moved through our home
in February, when all was spare and cold,

that was already spare and cold
in February, the ground beneath us hard as stone.
in its winter sleep.

All was calm before As And then one gust
after another shook us.
We called out,  Our fears ran deep.
Who will now look after us?

We cried out to each other,
voices strained and silenced by wind,
our pain as deep as roots

our pain ran through we shared that now laid bare

by barren chapters while we waited out the storm,
we shared. the ground beneath us
still there, our faith unscathed.

Dear Readers, I hope to hear from you! Many writers can make a good poem!

EngelIn taking this experimental group poem through a third draft, I realized the edits, even color coded, are probably hard to follow. I want to leave them in, though, to encourage writers, especially those new to poetry, so they know that for even someone like me who has written poetry all his life, a poem is a constant work in progress. I will share the cleaned-up version after I receive reader input for this post.

My husband asked me yesterday about keeping the blog going as I’m approaching the end of its third year. I will. Writing, like training for marathons, has its up and downs. Some days it as natural as breathing. Other times, it can be a bit painful. Whenever I finish a marathon, though, (so far 24), a poem, or a blog post, I’m relieved, a little elated, and I want to train for the next one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing a Group Poem

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Dear Readers,

I can’t thank loyal and new followers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together enough for creating a group poem these past few weeks!

As the school year winds down, the enthusiasm from readers here in Hawaii and in other parts of the United States and the world has been an inspiration — and refreshing! I lead a poetry workshop for teenagers in the school where I work, and at this point of the year, their version of offering energy is confused with complaining about how much homework they have!

Being a parent, I gently remind them that a little less interaction with their phones would give them more time to complete their assignments! I also offer them 30 minutes of the 45-minute workshop as a chance to catch up on their homework, but only after they learn a poem by heart!

This week, we read one of my all-time favorite poems, Roman Fountain by Louise Bogan. To my surprise, the students looked up from their phones when I told them I keep a copy of Roman Fountain in my pocket. They looked up again when I read the poem out loud. By the end of the week, they had the first stanza committed to memory!

fallender BaumBut back to our group poem. A quick refresher: we left off with a poem I started below about a tree that had fallen on our property in West Virginia during a windstorm. (We live in Hawaii but have kept the home in West Virginia.) Cut down to its stump, it faced its companion tree with which it shared a hammock and roots that ran deep but broke through the cold winter ground after the storm broke.

All right, Readers, I’m making revisions and adding on from last week. The new words will be in green. Chime in! Contribute! Together we make a better poem!

Working Title:

The Ground Beneath Us

Working Theme:

Loss followed by unexpected new beginnings

Working 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Stanzas
(I’ll keep them short so that readers are more likely to participate):

The winds moved through our home
in February, when all was spare and cold,

that was already spare and cold
in February, the ground beneath us hard as stone
in its winter sleep. All was calm

As And then one gust after another shook us.
We called out. Our fears ran deep.
Who will now look after us?

We cried out to each other,
voices strained and silenced by wind
our pain ran through roots

laid bare by barren chapters
we shared.
Unsere Familie

Dear Readers, keep this going. I am certain many of you are great writers! Let’s see how this all turns out!

I wish to thank all of you for inspiring me to keep this blog going for almost three years, especially my smart, loyal, generous husband and our spectacular daughter who turned 9 this week. I am forever grateful to them. Without them and you, I would never have written this blog nor be training to complete my 25th marathon!

New Poem: Reader Participation Encouraged!

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Dear Readers,

I’m loving this! After my last post, I’ve had followers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together write to me or even come up to me in person to let me know they are excited about creating a new poem!

When I lead a poetry workshop for teenagers, I encourage our writing a poem together (after reading a few classic poems out loud for inspiration!), but this is the first time I have tried this with writers remotely, some from different parts of the world. Just imagine: I start the poem in Hawaii, and who knows, maybe someone from another continent finishes a stanza!

fallender BaumMy last post introduced a theme for the group poem: a tall, proud tree on our property in West Virginia had fallen during a fierce windstorm. Fortunately, it did not fall on our house. But cut down safely to its stump, it was now shorn of its stature. Its companion tree, with which it shared for many years a whimsical hammock my husband and I stretched between them one summer, now faced exposed roots from its fallen friend thrusting forth in the cold winter ground.

So let’s go for it! Readers, chime in! Suggest new words or directions. Let’s see where this goes!

Working Title:

The Ground Beneath Us

Working Theme:

Loss followed by unexpected new beginnings

Working 1st and 2nd Stanzas
(I’ll keep them short so that readers are more likely to participate):

The winds moved through our home
that was already spare and cold
in February, the ground beneath us
hard as stone and in its winter sleep.

As one gust after another shook us,
we called out.

Da kommt ein Sturm!
All right, Dear Readers, this is a start for you and me. Let’s keep going. I look forward to hearing from you today and the rest of this week. We’ll see next weekend what progress we’ve made.

In the meantime, send good thoughts to my beautiful daughter who will turn 9 on Thursday!

Creating a New Poem

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Aloha Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together,

Boy, the weekend came just in time … and I’m ready for the school year to end and Wimbledon to begin! But I need to wait a few months for all that to happen. As Robert Frost wrote, “And miles to go before I sleep.”

I am taking a little break from deadlines and routines, though, to listen to what I encourage my students to do: step away and make room for healthy excitement. In my case, that is starting a new poem.

How does a poem happen? Where does it go? When is it finished? As I near the end of the third year of my blog, I thought sharing a poem from scratch with readers of this blog could be fun.

fallender BaumInspiration for a new poem

Two months ago, I received first a call, then a text, then a picture of a tree that had fallen on property my husband and I own in West Virginia. We bought the home and land during our first year together as a weekend escape from a tough city to live in. (Sorry, Baltimore!) That was 16 years ago. We since moved to New Hampshire to be legally married, then to Germany, Iowa, and finally to Hawaii, a paradise that we hope will be our permanent home. But we’ve kept the place in West Virginia and memories of extended weekends in our retreat: a red house and our yard with tall, dignified trees.

When I knew a poem would be written

Fortunately, our neighbor in West Virginia, thousands of miles away, looks after the place. After several texts, she arranged for a tree expert to decide what to do next. He trimmed the fallen tree down to its stump. Fortunately our house was not harmed, but the tree’s companion shared a root system — and at one time a hammock between them. They were close friends.

Can you see where I’m going?!

This past winter, strong winds separated the two when one was knocked to the cold ground. The tree expert feared the second tree, already battered, could go soon. He even hinted the surviving tree would miss its friend.

That’s all I needed to hear! Yes, from an ocean away, we had our yard cleared and electric wires safely restored, but there is still a piece of unfinished business: a poem!

And that is what I will begin in next week’s post, Dear Readers, starting with a title, a few stanzas, and let’s see what else. I definitely encourage reader participation. I love working with my students on group poems. Why not do this over a blog? Stay tuned!

 

Why I Admire the Poet Linda Gregg

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Papa und Ellen!Dear Readers,

I survived five days of single parenting that wasn’t quite so single, thanks to a friend who may have pitied or been amused by me and my awareness of my inadequacy with a young child!

My husband returned safely after visiting the Mainland, and all too soon we settled into familiar habits: our daughter knowing with two parents home she could be bolder in testing boundaries, keeping up with work and homework (aren’t they the same?!), gathering our strength during a busy week for a busier weekend. My husband and I have barely had a chance to talk about his journey to a world where he is celebrated as one of the country’s leading linguists and gave a presentation at Harvard, his alma mater.

I’m grateful, though, for the strides my daughter and I made together, for our stepping outside our comfort zones.

And that leads me to Linda Gregg, a stunning poet who died last month.

Draussen vor der Tür!Linda grew up in Northern California and drew inspiration for her poems from her surroundings, the landscapes in California when she was young and later in Texas and Greece.

She once wrote that poetry that the best poetry is found: “What matters to me even more than the shapeliness and the dance of language is what the poem discovers deeper down than gracefulness and pleasures in figures of speech.” She also was quoted that the value of a poem should be its insides rather than its surface, its content rather than its packaging.

Linda’s ethical code for poetry is one I greatly admire. I often tell my students to stop looking at their phones and look right outside the window to draw inspiration for a poem, to read great poets and other authors, to savor language and authenticity rather than fast forward throughout the day to the next shiny object that has to be followed immediately by something even shinier.

I love Linda’s poems for their restraint and depth — values I try to live by as a poet and a Plain Quaker!