Monday, September 25, 2023


I recently revisited a draft of a poem I began in 2015, just a year into my widowhood. Quite often setting something aside to revisit in a few months has the effect of clarifying the work to its originator. I call it 'aging the words like wine.' Widow's Lament almost wrote itself upon reading its beginnings eight years earlier 



I’m not going to pick up the mail today

I’m not going to open the shades

I’m not going to give the neighbors a glimpse

Of my life as I live it today.

I hate the way they peer out their windows 

I hate the odd little questions.

How is it, my dear? Are you doing OK?

Let me know if there’s something to help with.

I hate looking out my window to see

Couples driving off in their cars

Friday night’s promise of lovely exchanges

While I sit watching TV.

I’m not going to pick up my mail today

I’m not going to open the shades

It’s none of their business what I do with my life

Now that my husband is gone.


I’ll brush my teeth

I’ll fix my hair

I’ll make the bed

And start some wash

Solitary confinement

Others have plans

Too busy to phone

I’ll walk

I’ll write

I’ll think

I’ll buy eggs

I’ll listen to music

I’ll fade of loneliness

Not Monday, a fun day

Not Tuesday, a muse-day

Not Wednesday, a friends day

Not Thursday, a hers day

Not Friday, a sigh day

It’s Saturday, a no matter day.

            Copyright © 2023 by Sara J. Glerum                  


Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Best Way to Shed Worry

One delightful feature in most senior communities is the easy access to a variety of activities. Without needing to leave the building, residents can participate in various leisure-time opportunities. In my community, there's everything from exercise sessions to lectures, movies to games, discussions and interest groups all under the same roof. 

My favorite is art. A talented artist, Everett, who works fulltime in our food and beverage division, leads afternoon art sessions twice a month on his day off. Anywhere from four to ten people participate, and the art studio gets really quiet for sixty-to-ninety minutes as we concentrate on what we're doing under his guidance. We chat very little as we draw or paint--which, oddly, is one thing that makes it so fun. It is relaxing to be concentrating on the matter in hand--a brush or stick of charcoal.

A few months ago, Everett introduced acrylics to us. For those of us new to the medium, the transition was challenging. The photos here show just one project in which we got to choose whatever photo we liked from a stack of colored landscapes and replicate the subject and color values with only the three primary colors plus black and white. What a challenge it was.

Whenever I take part in 60-90 minutes of this kind of dabbling under Everett's encouraging eye, I love the end result: how I feel.  I wash my hands and walk back to my apartment, noticeably refreshed and even walking with a lighter step.  I am unable to think about anything else while painting, and when the medium itself is new, it's like a vacation from all the thoughts typically whirling in my head. I rarely keep the result (i.e. painting/drawing) of the art session, but I keep its residual  effect for the rest of the day. The project keeps me fully engaged, and I love it. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Tribute to a Life Influencer

I WROTE WHAT FOLLOWS IN NOVEMBER 2006. I had reason to think about it recently, but when I searched Beats Talking to Myself realized I'd written it soon after John Gilbert's obituary appeared,  three entire years before I had the blog. I found my essay using the search function on my computer and am publishing it now--nearly seventeen years later. But the man doesn't deserve ever to be forgotten, so better late than never.

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John Gilbert PR shot as
character in unknown role
November 2006:  Last Sunday my sister called me to alert me to a death notice in the Times she knew I’d be interested in. As soon as I hung up the telephone, I located my paper, opened it to the obituary page, and read the announcement. I was horrified. The words were strung together in neutral, dead sounding—no pun intended—sentences. I felt desperately sad all day, not so much because of my friend’s death, but at the indifference with which his passing was reported.

John Gilbert was a college friend whose influence I still feel. For the first few years out of college we remained close. By the time we had turned thirty, our friendship had waned for a variety of reasons, our contact dribbling away to a hello and a hug whenever our paths crossed. A passerby, glimpsing us on a street corner as we did our quick catch-up every few years (“How are you, nice to see you”), might imagine we were old work buddies, next-door-neighbors, or once-removed mutual friends of someone else. There was little residue visible of what had once been.

How can I explain what John meant to me?  He was the first agnostic I ever met—at least the first person who admitted to being one. I was eighteen. He lived a life of Secular Humanism and explained to me what that meant within days of my first encounter with him in a freshman drama class. I was dazzled by him. At age twenty, he already was showing the beginnings of a receding hairline, but compensated for it by growing the most beautiful, full beard I think I’ve ever seen. He rolled his own Bull Durham cigarettes and wore ratty, tattered clothing and work boots to his college classes. In the late ‘50s, that was nearly scandalous.

In addition to being an extraordinarily talented actor, John was an exceptionally  gifted intellectual. He challenged his professors in a way, I suppose, they either relished or loathed. John resisted taking things at face value. Instead, he dug deep to reconcile in his head each particle of information. His acting was self-assured, intense, genuine. He could be chilling onstage—Hotspur in Henry IV, as well as hilarious— the drunken livery driver, Malachi, in The Matchmaker. He was never better than he was as Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger, a part he felt was custom-made for him. His Jamie in Long Day’s Journey into Night was spectacular; his brooding Hamlet at Seattle Repertory Theatre was an audience gripper, and regionally he will never be forgotten as the meanest-ever first-act Scrooge ever in The Christmas Carol, only to become a big-hearted softy in the final act.

I was in awe of his talent and enamored of his intellect. I also found him mysteriously attractive in an out-of-bounds kind of way. He exuded an underlying chemistry of rage that sizzled and felt dangerous to me. In my freshman year, I yearned to be in his crowd and worked hard at my acting to gain entry. As a sophomore, he was a mentor to me as I worked at becoming educated in the arena of social justice and philosophy. During my junior year when he began to seriously date a girl, I realized I was a little-bit in love with him, now that he was off limits. By the time I was a senior we had established an easy friendship—confiding in each other, discussing serious topics and arguing fiercely as good friends often do. As a graduating senior, one of my proudest moments was standing next to John to receive our citations for outstanding acting.

After we were both married, he and his wife and my husband and I enjoyed occasional social evenings—drinking and discoursing into the wee small hours. In the mid-sixties, the upstairs apartment in the house we were renting became available. The location, only three blocks from the theatre where John was part of the repertory ensemble, made the apartment exceptionally appealing, so he and his wife became our immediate neighbors. It was wonderful for us because we could get together on the spur of the moment and didn’t need a babysitter to just run upstairs for a few minutes.

In the capacity of neighbor, John became an easy visitor who often dropped in to chat on afternoons when he had a break from his acting job. Sitting in our living room with  my toddlers bouncing like Mexican jumping beans, he’d smoke a cigarette (so different from today’s sensibilities) while he drank a cup of coffee, chattering away with my small children in a way that was comfortable and homey. “Uncle” John loved to open their brightly colored picture-books and read aloud to any or all of them.

I remember one afternoon when he rapped on the door loudly, then burst into our living room with a newly purchased LP, and asked me to play it on the Hi Fi. As we listened together to the newly released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he proclaimed—way ahead of the critics—that the creative brilliance demonstrated in this album would put the Beatles down in history as some of the most extraordinary popular musicians ever to live.

He was the person who opened my eyes to social injustice and taught me to be outraged at socio-economic prejudice in a way it had never occurred to me to be. He was cynical, smart, passionate about life, and an active socialist. He drank heavily, smoked non-stop, brooded regularly, and stroked his beard incessantly. His eyes crackled with intensity; his mouth twitched with energy. His laugh was infectious and his voice deep and resonant. John was a character many people recognized on the street in his Greek fisherman’s hat and Levi’s jacket, and the way he carried himself and strode—wound-up, spring-loaded—was unique.

By the 1970s our friendship had slowly deteriorated, diluted into a watery imitation of what it had once been. One of the last times we had a social evening together John began to shout about Malcolm X being a saint. My husband was arguing with John and I was cringing over the use of the word saint applied to anyone advocating so much violence. A part of me wanted to protect my young children from people like John. My parent-formed values had evolved into something very different from those of my socialistic and atheistic friend, John Gilbert.

It’s been nearly forty years since that time. So why was I so upset at the notice of his death? Because it was flat, written in expository sentences without color. It read like the story of a man who hadn’t mattered. Oh, it ticked off a few of his accomplishments, but gave him little credit for his passion, his commitment, his search for truth and his willingness to stand up for what he believed at the expense of others’ opinions of him. That man changed the course of my life, and certainly others’ lives, as well. 

A person couldn’t be indifferent to John. One way or another, he changed you. And that’s what I wanted so much for the readers of the paper to know. The last sentences written about him in death should wield the same kind of power he had over life.

R.I.P. John Gilbert, 1939-2006




Thursday, August 3, 2023

A profoundly moving experience

Two wonderful tree images are leafing out in my head as a result of Seattle Opera’s Creation Lab 2023, a showcase for short new operas produced in June. It isn’t as much that the allegorical images were particularly new, but because they appeared in two back-to-back productions. The resulting impact was stunning for me. I hope I never forget them.

I attended all six of the short new operas over two afternoons and was mightily impressed the overall project and the talent exhibited in each work. Each opera had something to admire, enjoy, and be impressed with. Afterwards, I spent a long-time reading bios and backgrounds of the unknown-to-me librettists and composers who created the operas, and googled all the vocal and instrumental musicians.

In Ghosts in the Forest by Darby Sherwood and Mieke Johanna Doezema, the ghost who is searching ostensibly for her body, but more likely for peace of mind after trauma, finds comfort in the wisdom of the tree who lovingly sings its truth. “I lose my leaves each year, they drop away and die. Then new leaves and life appear and I am born again. I start all over, fresh.” (Apologies to librettist Darby Sherwood—these are not her words, merely the message I took away.)

In Everything After by Elizabeth Howell and Spencer Edger, the sadly frantic twenty-nine-year old tenor searches in personal turmoil for the person he has yet to become. He mourns that he is almost thirty but feels as lost and unformed as he did as a thirteen-year-old. His grandfather appears in a dream to reassure him, explaining he is like a tree still rooting in the earth. He is growing his foundation but it’s unseen by him and others. Roe will emerge and fill the space, take his place above the surface when the unseen is finished. “You are still rooting, dearest grandson.” Again, apologies to Spencer Edger, the librettist—this is the message that has stayed with me, not even close to the exact words.

Both operas brought me into a surface shiver, and tears formed in my eyes as I squinched my face to keep myself quiet. Flowing tears must not turn into sobs when a performance is underway. I wanted to hear the music. I wanted to linger in the beauty and the wisdom of the moment. But even now, when I recollect those two works, I have teared-up. And that they were serendipitously presented back-to-back made the tree imagery exceptionally powerful. 

Thank you, Seattle Opera, for this beautiful experience. I enjoyed each of the six operas of Creation Lab immensely, but the final two, for me, were unforgettable.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Sharing a Cookie

As I took my morning walk, I was intrigued with pigeon cookie-sharing protocol. These are just two of the six photos I snapped while I stood watching, surprised at how willingly they were taking turns pecking away at a cookie that someone had dropped on the sidewalk.  I'm always taken aback by how close a pigeon allows a human to approach before it flies away. I was, at most, just two-feet away from this scene. Very few birds tolerate humans being closer than ten feet, and many, such as robins, detect danger when we get as close as forty feet from their ground feeding. That said, part of me believes I could easily capture a pigeon with a net . . . but I don't plan to test my hunch. Maybe we aren't a threat because they like our discarded food so much, not to mention the items intentionally supplied by some people. Unlike other cultures, currently, anyway, we're not serving roast pigeon for dinner.
It was an entertaining several minutes spent watching. I applaud how each bird had a chance to nibble and none seemed to need to become Alpha pigeon to chase away the others. Of course, it could have been a lousy tasting cookie . . . 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

To Bring New Memories and Meanings

I’m waiting in a Goodwill line to dump a load of clothes,

 lighten up the cupboards of redundant stuff I’ll never use

when I begin to watch the U-Haul truck up front.

Two men are lugging furniture, dragging it across the drive.

A middle-aged woman points to which item to unload next,

no doubt hoping they'll bring new memories and meanings.


A spigot inside my head breaks open and now water is

running down my cheeks. I take off my glasses to dry them

which messes up my vision and all is blurred.


Instead of strangers panting, walking back and forth,

I see my sons heaving with exertion as they dispose

of the last bits of family furniture when I am gone.


Goodbye, little wicker-seat rocker, once

just right when age-six-someone had a mommy,

now too low for same-someone now a grandma.


Farewell, handsome console table my mother set

the candelabra on and lit them all for festive meals,

now displaying artifacts I'd otherwise lock away.


So long, Governor Winthrop desk dear Grandfather 

brought so he could work at home sometimes,

now storing my scattered treasures, paperwork and dust.


They’ll all be in a massive Goodwill place

awaiting for the “o-o-o-h, look at this,” and

taken away to fill an empty space or need

to bring new memories and meanings.


For minutes I am in another place,

looking down from another life

seeing the final march toward nothingness.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

In Memoriam


June 26 marked the ninth anniversary of Jay's death. It’s hard to believe I’m closing in on a decade of widowhood. Every year on this date, I’ve made a point of commemorating him. Most were modest activities, with two exceptions: the first year and the fifth. The first year I rewarded myself for making it through the year, which had been filled with loneliness and grief, by attending the Spoleto Festival in Charleston. There I immersed myself in musical performances for a week, a passion not shared by Jay, which was the precise reason I chose it. It was like blowing fresh air into oppressive sorrow and helped to heal my soul.

On the fifth anniversary of his passing, I drove with a dear friend to Washington’s Pacific coast where we stayed two nights in a condo at the ocean’s edge. I lingered on several solitary walks along the water’s edge, recalling the beautiful quality times he and I had spent walking that beach together. In the other years my commemoration was far more modest—taking a favorite route for walk we loved to take together, or a visiting a saltwater park in Seattle to sit on a driftwood log and think about him. One year I spent time on a long dock at the north end of Lake Washington where we often went on Sunday mornings to watch cormorants in the winter and water-skiers in the summer. Last year I bought his favorite meal at Dick’s Drive-In and ate it in my car, remembering how I never had to ask Jay what he was going to order when we stopped there: a Deluxe Burger and a chocolate shake.

For the past eight years it was easy to come up with a meaningful activity because I was living in the neighborhood that he and I shared. Passing a familiar spot made commemorative ideas pop up easily for the 26th of June when he would be the first person I thought of in the morning and the last person on my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

This year, however, was different because I moved last July to retirement community in a neighborhood we’d never shared. I still hadn’t decided what exactly I would do when I woke up June 26. I drank my coffee and read my emails while my subconscious was strumming through ideas. The emailed activities-list for the day sent by our Activities Coordinator jolted me. That night after dinner, a Jeopardy Game was going to be hosted for our community. Because Jay loved watching Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy and always made time for it when he was home, it seemed like a perfect commemorative activity. Decision made: I would join a Jeopardy team and participate in his honor.

After we formed our teams, the leader explained that the overarching theme for our Jeopardy game that night was Brain Health Awareness, reminded us of the rules, and read the categories for the first round. The categories were tantalizing—Brain Games, Memory, Parts of the Brain, Stupid Answers and two more. The leader reminded us to use our buzzers and frame our answers in the form of a question. She arbitrarily directed someone on the other team to start: “Pick a category,” and we were off and running.

“MEMORY, for $300,” the appointee called out, whereupon the leader uncovered the clue and read: A Two-Word Latin phrase meaning to remember someone who has died. I rammed my buzzer—no need to confer with teammates—and was promptly called on. I nearly shouted the answer, “What is ‘In Memoriam’?” And with that, our team won the first $300 (purely pretend money) and was headed for our ultimate win, after the double match.

I couldn’t let myself think about it while playing the game, but the minute Jeopardy was over, I found myself almost shivering in awe. Of the thirty boxes holding invisible clues in the first half, any of them could have been chosen as the first. What made the first picker decide on Memory $300 instead, of, say, Brain Game $500 or Stupid Answer $100? That “In Memoriam” was the correct answer to a randomly chosen clue couldn’t have been a coincidence. . . could it? 

I will never forget how I commemorated my late husband in 2023.

R.I.P. Jay O. Glerum  Aug. 16, 1930 - June 26, 2014   Lover of Jeopardy