Hello to everyone! Welcome to 2021 and all the possibilities it holds!! Many of us begin our New Year by enthusiastically writing our resolutions. Resolutions can provide energy and motivation as we stand on the precipice of a new year. Each year many believe that this time will be different, this will be the year that they actually stick to their resolutions.
It is difficult to create new patterns and behaviors. Most people will grow weary from maintaining their resolutions and end up losing motivation after a few months. Often, resolutions are about losing weight, eating better, exercising more or not watching as much TV. These resolutions, however, are about behaviors and do not address our inner core, our deeper needs or the feeling of emptiness.
Perhaps our New Year could be about creating a more purposeful life, a life that is dynamic and full of energy. A purposeful life is about engaging in the things that we are passionate about and feed our soul. A purposeful life is not about selfishness, but rather, it is about exploring how to bring joy to ourselves and others. Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering,” talks about having purpose in any of our gatherings; a birthday party, wedding, family get-together or meeting up with friends. Parker suggests that we should identify the purpose and be creative in our gatherings instead of falling into old dusty traditions that prescribe how our gathering “needs” to be. Parker talks about being mindful of the moment, staying engaged and bringing our full energy to the day or to any gathering
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” — Eleanor Roosevelt.
A purposeful life is about saying “no” to things that don’t align with who you are in life or your higher purpose. It is about being ready to say “yes” to things that bring you closer to the integrity of who you are. It is about bringing full attention and intention to your life choices.
This New Year could be about finding what truly matters to you at your core. What helps you to be the best person you are able to be. Instead of creating a list of behaviors that you want to change, maybe re-focus your thoughts to the things that you intentionally want to champion into your new year and consider the things that you choose not to bring into this new year. You can start by identifying what brings you passion and joy and how you can spread it to others.
I came across a poem written in 1858 by Alfred Lord Tennyson and as I read it, I realized how much it correlated to our current times. I began to think that perhaps we, as a country, have not explored who we are at our core. That we as a country have not consciously created a purposeful life and that we continue to repeat many of the items (elements) written about in this poem. I invite you to read Tennyson’s poem and consider how it may relate to your individual life. Consider those things that you feel need to be shed in order for you to create this new space.
Ring Out, Wild Bells
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Make a list of things, people, belief systems, etc., that you want to “ring out” of your life
Make a list of things, people, beliefs systems, etc., that you want to “ring into” your life.
Choose one of the items on your “ring out” list and write about how that became a part of you and your life. What is the understanding about having that in your life? How has it impacted your life? And what has it prevented you from saying “yes” to?
Choose one of the items on your “ring in” list and write about why you want to welcome that into your life. How does this item fit with who you are as a person? How does ringing it in add cadence to your life?
After writing your list of people, places and things you want to ring out and ring in, follow the pattern of the poem and replace Tennyson’s words with your own.
As always have fun and feel free to totally ignore my prompts and follow your passion!!
In psychology, change is viewed as a positive aspect of a crisis as it provides the opportunity to do things differently. Yet, people fear change. Change of jobs, neighborhoods or schools. As life occurs, we inevitably experience change. There is the natural process of change, infant to toddler, school age child to adolescent and young adult to older adult. There are the biological changes and environmental changes. Some changes are self-generated and under our own control. Some changes can be dependent on encounters with others – family, friends, colleagues and intimates. Many changes occur as a result of circumstances or fate, the proverbial “date with destiny.”
Change is inevitable and it can disrupt the usual flow of our lives, but it also provides the opportunity to examine our lives and decide whether to stay the course or to change our direction. We can meet the change with acceptance and gratitude or with bitterness and resistance. If we deny ourselves the opportunity to explore the change, to understand it and to decide how it will be perceived and processed in our file of life, we can be deprived of the invaluable gift in powerful lessons. In the Psychology Today journal, Dr. Abigail Brenner wrote, “Change without transition may only serve to recreate old scenarios and reinforce old patterns of behavior – for change to have a salutary effect on us we need to learn – to effectively work with it and not to run the other way when it presents itself.”
When my son was 4-years old he began to cry when he found out that I traded our propane tank for another one. I wasn’t able to find a replacement for our current tank, so I resorted to trading in my empty canister for a full one at my local grocery. My son noticed the subtle differences between the one we had and this new “borrowed” one. Through his tears he voiced that he did not get a chance to say good-bye to it and that he would miss it. Change. We continually move toward it, looking to better ourselves, to improve our lifestyle, but yet, when change stares us in the eyes, we shutter at the prospects of what it will be, what this stranger offers, and if it can be trusted.
For many of us, even the idea of change is often overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. For some, change is something to be avoided at all cost. It is important to recognize those transformative moments and find the valuable lessons in your change moments.
Write a list of changes in your life.
Identify which changes were self-generated changes.
Identify which changes were out of our control.
Make a list of all the perceived negatives from this change.
Make a list of the valuable insights you gained.
Make a list of all the powerful lessons learned.
Finally, choose one of the items from your change list and write about it in detail. Maybe you were not able to see the gifts at the time of the change but now you can write through that change memory to identify the gifts now.
I recently had a new stone patio put in my backyard. There had been extensive water damage that required the removal of the deck. Once the drainage was addressed and a beautiful new stone patio was complete, I asked by 3-year-old grandson if he liked this new patio. His response surprised me. “No”. He informed me that he missed the other one, the wood one with the rotting boards and uneven planks – he missed that one. The wood deck was all he had knew. It was that wood deck where we played shaving cream games, tossing hands full of the thick white foam at each other, smearing it into each other’s hair and making designs and faces in the foam. The wood deck was where we sat on summer mornings and drank some chai tea, clanking our mugs together shouting “salud” as we giggled and took our first gulp. The wood planks became roadways for his Tonka trucks, that he raced back and forth for hours, crashing them into the side of the house while laughing and declaring a winner of the race.
The deck had several tears from the previous owner. She had an above ground -pool and the tears were like steps leading to the pool. I removed that pool my first week living in the house, not wanting to be a slave to the maintenance and winter care. The tears are now dangerous if you are not watching your step. But for my grandson, they were mountains that he would jump off of to the lower level. He was so proud of himself for the great height he concurred and demanded applause from all of us. Those variations in height became cliffs that his trucks would drive off and an ambulance would rush to the scene and magically fix the trucks and declare that no one was hurt as they were returned to the higher level of the deck once again. For my grandson, his mountains were removed, the cliffs were gone and possibly, he feared, that memories attached to those rotted wood planks, to the uneven deck that sagged under our feet were also gone. Change. He voiced not wanting the change, not being happy about the change.
This was a needed change but certainly not one I openly embraced because of the extensive work and expense to resolve the water damage. It was a change that came from necessity and safety and at a time it determined when it would be addressed – not me. I do, however, love the ease of movement now, the freedom of setting up my patio, arranging my furniture any way I desire without level constraints or safety issues. I love the solidness under my feet. The shades of burnt sienna, crimson alizarin, burnt umber and black stones remind me of the rawness of the desert landscape that I once enjoyed. My grandson has now moved his attention to the hill in the yard and rolls down it and sends his trucks flying down. Both him and his Pitbull sister, Raven, happily chase them and romp about racing to reach the truck first. He appears to have discovered another source of fun, reaching beyond the borders of the old wood deck and creating new play scenarios and even making space for his dog to join in. Change.
I’m sure many of you have planted gardens. You may have been so dedicated to the gardening process that you had a compost pile to enrich your garden’s soil. What we reap from gardening or farming (as in our lives) depends on what we put into it. In farming/gardening it means feeding the soil the right nutrients and one excellent way to do this is composting.
Lately, I’ve been purchasing farm fresh produce from local country farms. It’s harvest time for many local fruits and vegetables. Foods such as tomatoes, peppers, green beans and it’s corn season. There are also a number of fruits available locally like berries, cherries, peaches, and melons. It is so exciting to see these colorful foods displayed in cardboard cartons or loose or in bundles on a farmer’s wooden display table. After so many years of not being able to access this farm to table experience so readily… well it feels wonderful and makes my heart smile.
As I’ve marveled at all these bountiful delights with my refrigerator full of colorful produce, composting brought to mind an old writing metaphor. I came upon the concept of ‘composting’ in regard to writing in a Natalie Goldberg book. She’s a writer who has written many books on writing and bringing oneself to the page, basically putting pen to paper and just writing, freely and openly, with no editor, no hesitation.
What I recall about her mention of composting is its relation to the many experiences good, bad, indifferent and even insignificant that we have tossed on to our compost pile of life. We all have them, experiences, positive or negative, that have helped to shape and deepen our lives in many ways. And according to Goldberg it can be enriching to pay attention to our compost pile, there are nuggets there to explore.
So, it made me think of all the rubbish from my life I’ve thrown on to my compost pile. Things old and forlorn tossed aside. Things not worthy of our time. Or are they?
According to Goldberg, sifting through our compost heap of rubbish may prove more heartening than we at first sight can imagine. You’ve heard the old cliché when one window closes, another one opens. That’s what this exploration of our garbage pile is about, it may be tedious, difficult and unnerving even, but if you can take the time to sift you may just uncover how your compost pile has yielded unexpected fruit in your life.
I would invite you to sift through your garbage, place the words “compost heap” in a circle on the middle of a page. Now sift and as you recall experiences you’ve tossed away put them down in a web/cluster around it. You may find a piece of rubbish that merits its own cluster. Follow it through, relax into it, don’t judge what’s good garbage or bad garbage just put it down.
When you’ve exhausted this exercise, take a look at your webbing or clustering and be open to the ones that have energy or call out to you, even the ones you shy away from. Think about how this event influenced your life. Something that was dismissed as a mistake, a wrong choice or mediocre led you somewhere else, somewhere unexpected … this is what you want to explore and write about. This is where you want to begin.
Here are some ideas to prompt you in your exploration may show up in your clustering/webbing:
fun time/sad times
memories with loved ones
trips we’ve taken
jobs we’ve had
a lousy job endured to just to pay the bills
an overbearing boss
an unpleasant encounter at the store
a bad grade that was undeserved
a fight with a friend
the loss of a loved one
an illness that has past but is not forgotten
a disintegrated marriage
lost opportunities or paths not chosen
living through an oppressive situation
My writing from compost webbing —
As I look at my webbing I see many pathways I dreamt of on my life’s road. I tackled many pursuits, some started were not completed and others completed with no road to fruition. Like my Elementary Education certification. I thought that was the answer for a newly divorced, single mom with young school age kids. Seemed the perfect parallel career to accommodate their school hours and vacations. If only it had worked that way.
I taught for two years, making so little money I could barely pay bills. When I didn’t receive child support I’d be stressed to the hilt. The school paid my health insurance, but I found I had to pay my children’s insurance on my credit card. Needless to say, that career path didn’t last long and I returned to the restaurant where I had met my ex-husband as the operations manager.
I never wanted to be in the restaurant business and I can’t tell you how many times I swore it off only to find myself back on the floor running around serving and catering to customers. This is not how I saw my working life at all.
It was a reasonably good place to work and I did truly like the people I worked with and the customers, but I knew I could do so much more. I tried leaving twice more, once in product sales and the next in real estate. Both times I returned to the same restaurant garnering a bit more money and few more perks. Yet keep in mind, there was never 401k or retirement plan of any kind.
This is how I spent the best working days of my life, always dreaming what if, and knowing I had so much more to offer. The years past and my focus had to be on raising my son and daughter. My goal was to make sure they both went to college, followed their dreams and did not end up working in a place because they had to, like their mother.
As one went off to college and the younger was in high school, I again decided to try for my Masters’ degree with a plan to finish my working life not in hospitality. The big goal was to go for a Ph.D. and work at a mid-west college teaching, living in a peaceful, pastoral setting. Ahhh! This was a career you could work at until you were old and gray. I knew I had to work forever at this rate.
I graduated with my Masters the same year my daughter graduated high school. As she moved on to college I thought I would soon follow once I earned my doctorate. With two children in college and no more child support my finances became a tricky operation. Bottom line I had to keep working. So, I readjusted my plan – find a job at a college and earn my doctorate for free while I worked. I started applying to colleges in Arizona and in the mid-west (where I really wanted to live).
Best laid plans as they say, after at least 100 applications to all types of college positions, nothing came my way. I was forlorn, a few years had passed and this dream was withering on the vine. Eventually, I moved to the big desert city of Phoenix (ugh!) where there was a much better pool of jobs in general. With a professorship dead and buried, I found work with what turned out to be a wonderful nonprofit focused on early childhood development.
I became the agency’s first community development manager which meant I represented the agency to the community. It was my job to inform people about the incredible services this agency had to offer young children and their families in mental health and child development, disabilities services, literacy/language development and family support services. Ironically, managing a business and my few years of teaching garnered me the position.
I made relationships across Arizona because of our statewide services. I got to know the movers and shakers in the early childhood development world locally and nationally. All of whom were doing marvelous things to give young children the foundation they need to succeed and live a fruitful, positive life.
Funny as I write that last sentence, giving young children a fruitful life…. See that’s what this unexpected, un-looked for job gave me… a fruitful career. For the last nine years of my working life I contributed to an essential, important cause. It was not teaching as traditionally thought, it was not the sciences that I had once dreamed of, it was not the art I hoped I would make, but it was mindful, thoughtful, heartfelt work that I enjoyed providing.
As I look at my webbing I see the many things I desired, the many things I pursued and what I see is that these in the end contributed to an unforeseen opportunity that gave me value and enriched my life as I traveled to retirement.
Now I sit far from the Arizona desert, back in the mid-west – yes in that peaceful, pastoral setting I dreamed of – realizing that we cannot always see where our path is going and we cannot always control where it takes us, but all those discarded pursuits may actually provide the fruit you hoped for in a very unexpected and surprising way.
In her book Writing the Natural Way, Gabriele Lusser Rico introduced the concept of “clustering” also known as “webbing,” as a creative technique to return to the playfulness and wonder of childhood storying. Traditional schooling programs our brains to write in a prescribed way that follows a sequence of events. When writing for school we write from the cognitive rational part of our brain. The creative part of the brain is often shut out of the process, which discard any emotional or sensory experience from the events in the story. This kind of writing can often feel dull and unimportant, which lead a lot of people to turn away from writing or retelling their life experiences through the written word.
Children love to create stories and hear stories. They learn how to translate themselves through the stories they create. The psychologist Renee Fuller termed “storying” as a term for what children do to try to create wholeness out of their experiences in an adult world. Our ancient ancestors also storied their daily experiences and life stories with their community around the fire. Images carved into rock or painted on rocks told the story of hunting and life in the early communities. Stories are a way for humans to connect, to have relationships and to express who they are to others.
Gabriele Lusser Rico explores how adults lose the sense of pleasure and wholeness in their writing that they had as children. As adults we trade curiosity for the mundane, delight of the new with worry for the future. Adults replace a free sensory notion of the world with a preconceived notion that has been written in a prescribed formula.
According to Gabriele, we do not lack ideas for writing, but we lack the access to them. Her clustering model allows for the creative part of the brain to be very active. The child curiosity and wonder are reignited.
To begin clustering Gabriele suggests that a single word, or a few words, are written down in the middle of the page. Then circle it. Jutting out from the initial circled word draw lines connecting to other words or phrases associated with the original word. Some words might become their own nucleus with many spokes coming out from them with connecting images or thoughts. Continue to allow the creative mind to make these connection and form patterns until it feels like you have exhausted any new ideas.
Below are some examples of words to choose from to begin your creative clustering experience. You can also place the name of a person or specific experiences you might want to explore deeper in your first circle. Include sensory experiences as a way to expand your memory and bring it to life. I choose the word prompt “things found” and wrote about my Gramp’s chair. I also provided an example below of the clustering I did first that led me to the short written piece. You can choose just to cluster or, if the story wants to be told, allow your clustered memories to take shape to form your story.
Fear, Pain, Hunger
Age, Body part’s (stomach, shoulders, feet etc…)
Myself, My mother (father, grandfather. . .), childhood memories
Letting go, Time, Dreams
Things or people Lost/found, things desired, things despise
The name of a person, a place or a time in your life, friends, enemies, person admired
Dinner table, favorite foods, places to eat
Travel, vacations, Events, situations and circumstances, concerts attended
Things said/things not said, things known and unknown
Jobs lost/jobs found
Pets you have had in your lifetime, car’s in your life
My Gramp sat in his bedroom chair twice a day, once to put his shoes on and once to take his shoes off. I don’t know where the chair came from or why it was the chair in my Gramp’s bedroom, but I remember sitting on his lap as he sat to get ready for the day and later to end his day.
The chair was a wood frame, burnt umber, with a hunt scene of horses racing across the chair in an eternal chase for the fox. A conservative block pleat wrapped around the edge of the seat and- a wood frame with line webbing criss-crossed beneath the horses and their riders. It had a barrel shape back that was softened by a cushion shaped with a larger surface for the back and two smaller sections that appeared to wrap around and hold my Gramp’s shoulders, supporting his rotund body comfortably. The chair sat lower to the ground like it was made for the purpose of putting on and taking off shoes.
I used to sit on my Gramp’s lap after he laced up his brown leather high top shoes. We sat there together in our generational union looking at pictures of people I never knew and would never know. Gramp kept a piece of corrugated cardboard wrapped around a parcel of photos tied with white string in his top dresser drawer. My Gramp would show me these small black and white photos, although they were more brown and cream colored. The photos were of people that never smiled and wore long dresses and men all in suits standing in place they just stood on a porch or what looked like a backdrop of plain cloth. Taller ones in the back and smaller ones in the front. All of them the men and woman wearing high-top leather shoes like my Gramp’s. Some of the photos were on what appeared to be a sheet of tin, the colors black and gray. Gramp always looked at them, all these people that he knew and loved and now missed, with joy as he named them and told a little story or two about a few of his family members, my ancestors.
There was a picture of my Gramp as a young man after he graduated from college in engineering. He was on a ship heading to Canada as a graduation gift from his father. I didn’t recognize him in that young skin, wool pants and matching jacket. He had what looked like reddish-brown hair and even though he didn’t smile he looked into the camera with a slight grin. I suppose he felt proud of his accomplishments and excited about his travel adventures. I loved to look at that photo, always trying to find the Gramp I knew in that tall slim body. I tried to imagine what he was like back then, a young man so full of energy and with a bright future ahead of him, sitting there on a boat alone about to embark on a journey.
I would look through each and every photo and hold onto the metal ones. I was so amazed at how they got a picture on this material and I wondered how my Gramp could know so many people that came from a time I was not to experience. He would put them all back in order and wrap the corrugated board around them for protection. He tied the white string in a coil around them, securing his memories before laying them to rest in the dresser drawer on top of his handkerchiefs. They would be tenderly lifted from their repose in the evening and the ancestral tails would be my bedtime story that lulled me sleep.
After fifty years, I have his chair again and it sits in my extra room. It had been in a basement for many years and never attended to or sat on or even noticed. I ran my fingers over the old tattered fabric with the horses and riders now faded, the back cushion missing, and the wood discolored, and I remembered my Gramp, now among the ancestors. I plan to restore this chair and maybe I will sit in it and share photos with my grandson and tell stories of my Gramp, his great- great Grandfather. But the photos will be in color now and he will see some wonderful smiles and goofy expression on the faces of our family. I will bring out the ancient parcel of photos and show them to him, but I will only remember some of their names most likely not all the details of the stories. Those stories now all live within the faded colors of the small thumb size pictures and metal sheets.
One evening after work I was out walking my dog, a small terrier – mix named Pumpkin. I suppose that Pumpkin has forced me to take more mindful walks due to her short stature. I now notice things around me that I wouldn’t ordinarily notice because I would be more focused on distance and cardio level.
As Pumpkin and I were strolling, I noticed how many signs fill our neighborhood. Signs with directives, instructions and absolute orders: “no passing on the left”, “one way”, “no parking here to corner”, “bump”, “one way”, “stop”, “do not enter” and even playground instructions or “play smart rules”. Signs with the name of streets and even signs in people’s yards showing a dog squatted to poop with a circle and a line through it, often with the word “PLEASE” highlighted above the dog image.
I began to think about all the messages that these signs project to the community. I wondered if we could flash a sign, perhaps on our foreheads, that would provide information to others. Information about our needs, requests, wants and even warnings. How nice that might be. No need to explain, argue or feel bad for asking questions. The message merely lights up on our foreheads and others need only obey the directives or simply be informed.
Think about some of the bad dates you might have had. Don’t you wish that your date bore a sign like; “be prepared to stop”, “exit only”, “hidden driveway” or “keep left”? How many “I told you so’s” could you have avoided? I wondered about all the conversations that felt more like monologues by the other person. Wouldn’t It have been helpful if they had a sign that said something like “one-way street” or “no U turns”? How extremely helpful that would have been – not to mention, a great time management tool.
How many of us have missed the sign for the “Recharge Vehicle station”? Instead, we continue to burn energy with work and commitments to friends and family until our engines stall and we find ourselves stuck on the side of a remote street.
Sometimes we might not see the sign before we enter into a situation, but the signs do present themselves and it is important that we do acknowledge them. I have heard many people talk about the “red flags” they were aware of but had ignored at the time. Perhaps they were preoccupied by the scenery and did not fully grasp the meaning of the sign or they did not trust what they saw.
I began to think about these signs and the ones I would like to have available in certain times of my life or particular times of the day. When I am sitting at the computer and am pulled out away from my body while writing and then someone knocks on my front door or decides to ask me a question. I wish I had a sign “road closed”, or “caution” or “no parking.” When I am playing with my grandson, I need the sign “beware unfenced road for next 150 Km” or the squiggly arrow for a crazy ride! There are some people that need a “do not enter” sign and others I would like to see have the “share the road” sign”.
Think about the people in your life and what signs you would like or need to light up on your forehead when you are around them. Or what sign you wish would light up on someone else’s forehead to warn you or welcome you. Have fun with this and as always keep your pen moving and “no parking.”
Some sign examples: “stop”, “yield”, “R/R”, “dead end”, “no U turns”, “no passing”, “do not enter”, arrows pointing in various directions, “pedestrian crossing”, “parking” and “no parking”, “one way”, “slippery road” or “sharp curves”, “give way”, “wrong way”, “traffic light”, “bike route”, and “trash sign-Pitch in”, “construction ahead”, “caution”, “road under construction”, “speed limits”, “food and gas signs”, signs “warning of falling rock in mountain areas” or “animal crossings”, there are even “social distancing” signs now, and of course signs with “rules at swimming pools, playgrounds and parks”, “avalanche area”, “no vehicles beyond this point”, “pavement ends”, “blind corner proceed with caution”, “cross traffic ahead”, “hard hat area”, “private driveway”, “road may flood”. Look around as you walk and notice signs and imagine how and when you might use that sign.
Find as many signs as you can and write them down.
Begin to make a list of people you feel you need a sign for to either welcome them or to keep them distant.
Imagine you are able to have these signs light up on your forehead when you encounter these people. What would they state? Who would you need the sign’s for?.
Write about what that would look like and how that would feel.
Write about the signs you wish someone else had on their forehead and how that would have been helpful.
Write a list of situations where you could use a special sign (in social settings, walking your dog, on campus or at work).
Write about a sign you wish was on someone else.
Create a scene where every character has a sign. Maybe it is a first meeting or a job interview. Imagine how that scene would play out and write your scene.
When I was in high school, I was invited by a very popular boy to our senior prom. I was not one of the popular kids. In fact, I was surprised he even knew me. I was very excited of course but also nervous since I had not dated anyone in high school. I worked at an equine center to earn riding lessons. I worked every weekend and a few nights a week mucking stalls. While everyone else was “hanging out,” I was working.
I told my mom that I was invited to the prom and she took me shopping for a dress. We looked at only a few stores and I was acutely aware of the need to keep in a budget. I did find a dress that fit well, and I was comfortable in and so my mom put the dress on layaway. She was to pay the balance and pick up the dress 3 days before my prom. I could see her hesitation on getting the dress, not because she didn’t want me to have it, but I think she knew something was not right. I wish that her thoughts could have been displayed on her forehead. The ones I saw in her eyes said, “blind corner, proceed with caution”.
Three weeks later and two weeks before the prom, this popular boy stopped me in the hall at school and asked what the color of my dress was so he could order flowers. I told him blue – not a deep royal blue, but a robin’s egg blue, soft and innocent. Four days before prom night he called me over to his locker and told me he was not going to take me to the prom, he said he was taking someone else that he really wanted to go with. I wish that I had seen the sign on his forehead before this, a sign that stated, “U-turn”, “Dead end”, or “bridge out do not enter.” I stood there leaning against the grey metal locker, #105. I don’t really remember what I did or didn’t do but the appropriate sign would have been the yellow crime scene tape. Or “detour”, so that I could have remained frozen and everyone could have gone around me, left me there invisible.
I did have to tell my mom, so she did not pay for the dress still on layaway. I chose to tell her I decided not to go. I put up a sign that stated, “drive slow saves lives”. She never asked me about why I had decided not to go or to try to fish for the real reason. But I imagine my mom went to the store to get her money back for the blue prom dress with a sign on her forehead stating, “private road no thru traffic”, or “no idling allowed”.
This is a blog that will focus on women and their ability to turn adversity into strength. Susan Wittig Albert, in her book Writing from Life, defined “Glories”, “Gifts” and “Graces” below:
Glories – the achievements and successes that give pride and personal empowerment. Glories are the product of gifts.
Gifts – the aptitudes and attitudes that contribute to our success, and the education and training that sharpened and strengthen these gifts, which are then enhanced by graces.
Graces – the luck of the draw such as the time, place and circumstances of our births and upbringings. These are the Happy accidents and synchronicities. Women typically will minimize their achievements – chalk it up to luck or coincidence.
“Women. . . internalize countless messages: we do not belong in important places; we do not really count; we do not really shape history and culture. And so when we do achieve recognition, we tend to attribute our success to luck or if not that, then to something, anything other than our competent and entitled selves.” – Harriet Goldhor Lerner, from her book, The Dance of Deception.
Historically, women were not permitted to openly acknowledge their glories but rather needed to acknowledge them as a grace from men. Still today it remains a struggle for women to speak their voice of success, even to themselves. Even now as I sit to write this blog, I find myself pushing back the loud critic in my head that is shouting the familiar words – “this doesn’t matter.” I wonder how many women in my community, my state, country and the world hear similar words. I wonder how many women feel their bodies echo that same negative message, reverberating and reinforcing it.
It is important for women to remember their successes and their struggles. When these are not brought to the conscious mind, when they are pushed to the bottom of the well, the memory of success gets lost in our everyday life. When women are faced with a challenge, the memory of their past successes are not accessible, and they enter the new situation only with the memory of the failures. Our memories of the failures appear to have more buoyancy and stay on the top of the well, so when we dip the bucket in, they are the first ones to fill the bucket and the first ones to be swallowed.
Failure is important to success. There is nothing in this world today that did not take a lot of trial and error to achieve the conveniences we experience today. In the book Half the Sky the author explores women from all around the world, in some place’s women are considered less than the dirt under their feet. The stories were about women that had survived great abuse. Some left their villages, homes and spouses and started their own village or raised their children as a community. The men they left in the village would sometimes attack and burn their thatched structures and leave them in ruin. Nevertheless, these women cleaned up the destruction and together they rebuilt their community. Failure is necessary to reinforce the knowledge that we hold, and it gives us the strength to continue, which is essential for learning to happen and for self-confidence to grow.
“The women of today are the thoughts of their mothers and grandmothers, embodied, and made alive. They are active, capable, determined and bound to win. . .. Millions of women, dead and gone, are speaking through us today.” – Matilda Joslyn Gage, 1880
Today I challenge you to stir the well and allow your successes to come to the surface. Dip your bucket in and gather all of them. Drink them in, bath in them and allow them to run through and over you. Own them, hear them, feel them and see them.
Begin by making a list of all your Glories – your success and achievements. Allow your pen to keep moving as the well water flows.
Choose one Glory at a time and write it on a page. Underneath it write all the Gifts – the things you did to achieve that Glory.
Then create a list of all the Graces – the happy accidents and synchronicities that attributed to your Glory.
Repeat this for each and every Glory.
You can also write your failures as these have also aided you in success and added another connection of courage and confidence in your body and brain.
Alternative: Susan Witting Albert in Writing from Life suggests the “Seed”
In the center of the page write a Glory and circle it
Coming out of that seed draw a stem, from that stem draw branches for each gift that brought you to the Glory
Out from the bottom of the seed draw the roots. On each root write your Graces – the synchronicities and luck that enhanced your Glory.
Once you have your list, choose one Glory, along with all the Gifts and Graces, and write your story. Write it honoring yourself, acknowledging all that you did to accomplish this Glory.
If it is difficult for you to write this in first person then begin by writing it in second person. You can always edit later and change all the “you,” “they,” and “she” to “I” and “me.” Then read it out loud to yourself and again drink in all the flavors of you.
Glory: Shamrock Reins – equine psychotherapist
Gifts: experienced rider, knowledge of horses, master’s in counseling psychology, great love for horses, experience with the healing ability of horses, and strongly motivated.
Graces: happened to hear about this facility and their focus on treating veterans and first-responders, trusted my gut and reached out to the owner, on FMLA so I had the time to explore this possibility, my son was in the Army and I felt the need to help other veterans and active military.