Books Creativity Poetry

27 – Little Blessings

She won’t remember
these days I didn’t play,
didn’t get down on the floor
with Abby and Coda
to rock the babies,
didn’t bark like a dog,
hide her from Grandpa lion,
or make the earth quake
Boom Boom Boom!

She’ll forget the missing
the blanket tent,
the book we didn’t read,
the one of us who wasn’t
stealing blocks
or great little hugs
or selfies……….not again

For now she just remembers
to seek the mask-hid smile
to lean hard in for half a hug,
to blow a kiss, six feet big
to sing a See ya later!
as I turn away to leave
this sweetest little blessing
is the memory I get to keep.


Image: Poem ©2020, Jen Payne, for Lia with Love. National #NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Books Creativity Poetry

26 – Trickster Dreams

The fox who darted just out of eyesight yesterday morning while I poured coffee is screaming

mid-night screaming

so I half-wake, check for the cat, glance at the clock, tumble back into our trip to New York

a brilliant spring day, sunshine and pink trees, a street cafe/coffee shop amalgamation of people

it’s pungent loud, crazy and beautiful

You’re up ahead buying a hand-knit mask, balancing your coffee and flowered purse

I’m pacing by the India-print tunics, on the phone with the ex-lover only you know about, flirting in that way we do so no one overhears

and before I can say I Love You goodbye again to you there in the City on that wonderful city day or to him again on the phone

I’m riding in a pick-up careening through the copse where the screaming fox lives, smashing head-on into a great old beech

its fox-copper leaves jingle like bells to wake me for the day


Image: Poem ©2020, Jen Payne, for Mary Anne Siok on her birthday. National #NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Books Creativity Memoir

The Big Picture

Recently, my friend DeLinda gave me a paint-by-numbers set. But this is not your stiff, childhood red barn or Venice gondola paint-by-numbers, no no no. This is a brilliantly colored, wild-stroked, Bohemian cow painting.

Of course, there are a lot of steps to get from the detailed, numbered canvas to the realized final effect. To get from here to the big picture, if you will. The challenge of that is not lost on me — nor on DeLinda, who is always good at throwing down a subtle but effective test of my self-perceived limitations.

And who, right now, doesn’t have self-perceived limitations? This gauntlet of a challenge — colloquially known as COVID-19, scientifically considered a Pandemic, and psychologically in tune with the end of the world as we know it — is testing all of our skills: emotional, psychological, organizational, financial. Are we able to deal with this? And how?

Even more difficult is the fact that none of us has a clear picture of what this looks like when it’s over. Which brings me back to the paint-by-numbers.

This awesome paint-by-numbers kit would be a challenge for a trained artist, never mind someone like me who doesn’t have much experience at all. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my experience of this project with you so far — a broad-brush glimpse of how we come wired with the ability to adjust and adapt, even if we don’t think we do.

The first paint is a pale shimmery blue that does. not. cover. over. the. numbers. This gives me a lot of anxiety. And, it makes me really angry. Shouldn’t it cover over the numbers? Why wouldn’t it? Maybe I’m not doing it right. Or maybe I am the worst human on the planet…at best, a little over-emotional right now. So I close up the paint, clean the brushes, turn off the light for the day.

We move from pale blue to pale gray, and I realize quickly that following the implied rules of this — applying pale gray only to the number 2 spaces — is next to impossible. It’s messy already, and I am coloring all over the lines. Outside of the lines! And I’m just not doing this right. So I close up the paint, clean the brushes, turn off the light for the day.

Pale gray to medium gray brings an understanding that each paint layers onto the next. Everything happens for a reason. Solutions don’t always show up right away. With that acceptance, there evolves a somewhat nicer pace to the process. Paint a little. Wait for it to dry. Paint a little. Wait for it to dry. Work a little. Rest a little. Work a little. Rest a little.

Slate gray is a strong color, and brings with it a certain confidence. It takes care of some of those early mistakes and disregards the messy strokes. Slate gray has a can-do spirit, and I find that I’m much braver with my brush strokes now.

My first brush stroke with paint #5, a bluish gray, lands smack in the middle of a #6 space, but I roll with it. No one is going to know, or care for that matter, if a 6 space is painted color 5. It’s time to get over myself. And it’s time to get over some of these expectations that make things harder than they need to be. Breathe. Relax. Paint. Then clean the brushes, turn off the light for the day.

Paint #6 is white paint. White. And I immediately have PTSD flashbacks of paint #1, that pale, translucent blue and the show-through numbers. But by now, I’ve adapted. I’ve learned some new brushstrokes and paint tricks that cover over the numbers. Now I’m just painting liberally over lines, blending into other spaces, layering paint impasto on top of numbers. Come what way!

Last night, I painted all of the #7 spaces with a happy yellow paint. I made small, flower-petal strokes, and big, flamboyant messy ones. I blended here and stippled there. I’m in the groove now, even if the canvas is just a mass of messy paint splotches. Does it look like a cow yet? No. Is it even pretty yet? No. Will it ever be? Doubtful. But man, that yellow sure is happy.


I find my reaction to the paint-by-numbers project mirrors, somewhat, my experience of the pandemic, a roller coaster ride of responses similar to those outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And make no mistake, we are grieving. If not the loss of a family member or loved one, then a loss of work, income, companionship, routine, our sense safety and what’s normal.

Understanding those stages of grief, understanding our reactions to what is happening around us, is critical to our mental health — even if we can’t see or know what the big picture looks like yet.

In an article on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network website, psychiatric nurse practitioner Andrew Penn writes: “The five stages of grief…are a useful map as we transit through the uncharted emotional aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” His 3-part series “Navigating the Emotions of a Pandemic” is a must-read if you or someone you know is struggling to cope with this current state of the world. Check it out in the LINKS below.

Penn ends his first article with a beautifully appropriate poem by Pablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet.” I’ll leave you with this, then, and my heartfelt hope that you are safe, healthy, and able to find your own creative path through this wild journey.

With Love,

Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.


Navigating the Emotions of a Pandemic
The 5 Stages of Grief as a Framework for the Journey
Making Room for Grief During COVID-19<
The Search for Acceptance and Meaning in COVID-19

Other Interesting Links

Branford Land Trust – for nature activities, outdoor things to do, and places to visit
Good News Network – an alternate source for headline news
Guilford Art Center – watch for a new online learning section coming soon
Guilford Poets Guild – celebrating April’s National Poetry Month and more
Hope for Paws – where I go when I need a happy ending
Pediatrics Plus – for ways to manage the COVID-19 shutdown with your family

“Understand there’s no right or wrong
way to grieve, including anticipatory grief.
It’s like the ocean. It ebbs and it flows.”

― Dana Arcuri, Sacred Wandering: Growing Your Faith In The Dark

Books Creativity Poetry

14 – Pandemic Mechanics

I’m trying to imagine
the giant mechanism
my homunculus
must maneuver each morning,
how enormous the
the weights and counterweights,
the mile-thick ropes and pulleys,
necessary to close off this reality


close off this reality
just enough so I get out of bed,
do my hair, make coffee
right-side up instead of
upside down like it feels
when I peer through the crack,
one eye closed or cautious squint
knowing I have the privilege to ask

is it safe to come out?

what’s for dinner today?

do I have time for another poem?


Poem ©2020, Jen Payne. National #NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Books Creativity Memoir Poetry

You are braver than you believe & stronger than you seem…

I’ve been walking around barefoot a lot. Outside, in the yard, to the mailbox — no matter the temperature or weather. It reminds me of that opening scene in Die Hard when John McClain’s seatmate tells him “After you get where you’re going, take off your shoes and your socks…walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes. It’s better than a shower and a hot cup of coffee.”

It turns out, that’s pretty good advice.

In the article “This Die Hard Relaxation Hack Is Actually Brilliant,” podiatrist Ernest Isaacson explains, “Being barefoot is a great way to feel one’s way around new surroundings, and by removing the protective covering of our shoes it also establishes a level of trust to the new digs, which is comforting, relaxing, and just feels good….Walking barefoot takes us back to our primordial roots, and allows the many nerve endings on the bottom of the feet to make contact with the ground, thereby establishing a real tactile connection to our new surroundings.”

New surroundings like these weird, scary, sad, difficult pandemic surroundings? I don’t know about you, but I’ve got anxiety on a constant feedback loop. Adjusting means processing a lot more information, being OK with a change in routine and expectations, and settling down into not know what happens next.

Walking barefoot, wiggling my toes in the wet grass or on the cold pavement, reminds me to be in the moment.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” — Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, The Teaching of Buddha

Living wisely and earnestly for me right now translates into surrounding myself with the things that immediately bring me comfort: phone calls with good friends, my cat Lola, homemade meatloaf, living room yoga, walks in the woods, writing, and books.

I realize I’m lucky in that. I’m not on the front lines, working in a hospital, striving to keep our communities safe, managing a houseful of little ones. For each and everyone one of us, these are hard and difficult times, in vastly different ways.

So, how are you spending your pandemic days? Are you safe and healthy? Are you balancing worry with wonder? Getting enough rest, movement, breath, prayer, food? Reaching out and digging deep? Have you found what brings you comfort?

Here is a gentle reminder from one of my go-to comforts, Winnie the Pooh:

“You are braver than you believe, you are stronger than you seem, and you are smarter than you think.”

We will be Okay…and YOU will be Okay.

Take off your shoes. Wiggle your toes. Breathe.

Love, Jen

News from My Living Room


Friends of the Blackstone Memorial Library board member Alpha Coiro recently featured me and my books in the library’s spring newsletter Marble Columns. You can read an advance copy of her article by clicking here.


Hankering some comfort food, I looked up recipes by cooking goddess Ina Garten and found her recipe for Meatloaf (click here). I had to ad lib a little: I didn’t have tomato paste, so I used sundried tomatoes in oil; and a crumbled Bisquick biscuit stepped in for bread crumbs. I served it with canned peas and macaroni and cheese and was immediately transported to my grandmother’s kitchen circa 1972. Ahh, comfort.


If you’re looking for something else to read, visit my Etsy Shop where you’ll discover both print and NEW! ebooks for sale.

“Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.” – Roxane Gay

Essay ©2020, Jen Payne. Illustration by Ernest Howard Shepard, “Pooh and Piglet walked home thoughtfully together in the golden evening, and for a long time they were silent,” illustration for A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (London: Methuen; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1926. Quotes from This ‘Die Hard’ Relaxation Hack Is Actually Brilliant , by Dan Myers, The Active Times. Winnie the Pooh Quote by Karl Geurs and Carter Crocker, Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin.