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Out With the Old and in with the New - and I'm not talking about the year!

Newsletter banner for Gretchen Cherington

Dear Friends,

Usually I'm keen on turning the calendar page to the new year. Somehow 2024 is so replete with worries about our country, our world, and our globe that I've greeted this one with less enthusiasm.

So this is the second installment of "a tale of two shoulders." You read and so generously responded to the first installment and as I write this, exactly one month post surgery, I can relay a bit of what's happened.

1. Out with the old, in with the new. Two days after the surgery, I was on my first very short walk outside with my friend Peggy and had one of those lightening strike epiphanies that you just know are true. What came to me was that I felt in my heart that not only had the medical team fixed my shoulder but they'd also fixed the trauma that had entirely enveloped it, first from the crash, then from the 24/7 pain, and finally through nearly eight years of work on improving strength and flexibility. In that instant the old, enduring trauma released. That was the old shoulder. This is the new one. I had NOT anticipated this in any way. And that feeling has held.

2. "It was a mess in there." In highly clinical speak, those were the surgeon's first words to Michael, along with "it was mush." Sor the head of the humerus was really pretty dead, not exactly ike oatmeal, he said, but "squishy and gray." This guy who does 300+ replacements/year conveyed two things with his words. First, I never really had a choice about doing this. It was that bad. Second, he reconfirmed that sometimes the most fabulously technical people are indeed poets, capturing just what we need with just the right words.

In reality, the first ten days weren't a lot of fun. Wearing off the anesthesiology; living through the nerve block when my entire arm felt dead and couldn't respond to any muscular effort; on opioids day and night, exhausted, internal systems in suspension. You probably know the drill. But as I rounded out week two I was already walking a couple of miles. At one month my range is 3-5 miles every day and I have started passive-only PT.

3. Six weeks blocked off for recovery has been wonderful. I recognize the privilege of age, Medicare, and a beautiful space and place to live in. Still, it's been a bit like a staycation. It's so easy to live in a walkable city and I've enjoyed the balance of "doing" vs. "being". But wait, wasn't this an externally imposed slow down? Not like I ordered my own six weeks off. Still, through these weeks I've re-ordered my days, "playing" first and "working" last; something I've tried before but never succeeded in. So I read and walk in the morning and do author tasks, REST, house stuff, administrivia in the afternoon. This is a new kick toward the new. I'm liking it.

Two Podcasts to Check Out

Join Ronit Plank + me for this new one on her podcast Let’s Talk Memoir. Ronit is warm, eager, enthusiastic, and genuine. She's also a great organizer of questions. This one has a lot of craft involved and it was a great conversation with this wonderful memoirist and author of When She Comes Back. Click here to listen.

And I’m sharing this one from my friend Michelle Redo's deep diving podcast Daring to Tell. In this episode, Michelle speaks with Diane Gottlieb and Nina Lichtenstein who are connected through a to-be published and fabulous anthology titled: Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness. Diane is an editor at Emerge Literary Journal and Nina is the founder of Maine Writers Studio which I hope to be part of once I’m driving again. And she's the author of the upcoming memoir My Body: My Life in Parts which I CAN'T WAIT to read. For any woman who has ever had “body issues” (are there any of us who haven't?). This podcast episode filled my soul on one of my first longer walks.

From My Stack

Book cover for Open Throat by Henry Hoke
Henry Hoke

Open Throat

While visiting Molly in Los Angeles she told us about the mountain lion that had been sauntering around the hills of Griffith Park and elsewhere. So picking up this book was a no-brainer. Hoke has created a creative ride in the voice of the lion who listens to hikers complain about their lives, helps a small group of homeless being harassed by humans, while scouring for food and water in these drought-burdened hills. A fire forces this lion into the city where he's welcomed by a young girl while being bombarded with temptations. This is a wonderful adventure story, both entirely relevant for our world as we and wild animals come closer in contact and we are faced with decisions to make. Short. Lots of white space. Imaginative. Unique. Loved it.

Book Cover for Day by Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham


Covering three April 5ths over 2019, 2020, and 2021, this is a close-in look at living through the pandemic through the eyes of one extended family made up of fully realized individuals, the two kids Robbie and Violet especially appealing. I've been a fan of Cunningham for years and this was a wonderful read that conveys all our current anxieties (for the privileged, I'll add) about life and death, blame, shame, love, and friendship. A terrific example of third person omniscient and he never mentions the word Covid.

Book Cover for You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith

You Could Make This Place Beautiful

Honestly, I'm mixed on this one, a NYT bestseller, despite that so many writers and readers I admire have loved it. Read it for sure! There's a lot that is wonderful. At essence it's one woman's story of a divorce and gave me three pages of notes for my next book. It's being hailed for its intriguing and perhaps novel structure, but for me, Smith's regular stepping out of the "now" story to pose questions about writing craft took me out of the author's life that I wanted to be in. The first and last thirds were best in my view while the middle dragged. I'll be interested in what any of you have thought of it!


"I am out with lanterns, looking for myself."

Emily Dickinson

As implied in my opening, when we're down and out, where would we be without family and friends serving as lanterns?


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