Friday, December 21, 2012

My Writing, My Words

          Last year around this time I was reflecting on 2011 and creating resolutions for 2012.  I resolved to exercise more consistently, and I have, starting the year off with P90X, switching to swimming laps for the summer, and ending with beach walks and Zumba.  I wanted to start my day off by taking care of myself, and on those days I exercise in the mornings, I have more energy and feel better all day.
I also decided to make writing a priority.  As a writing teacher, I want to model what I teach.  At the same time, I am inundated with other people’s words, reading literally a thousand essays or more a year.  Therefore, I decided to put my writing, my words first, writing down my thoughts, even if only for 10 to 30 minutes, in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way morning pages journal.  As I poured out my fears and stresses, my racing ideas and emotional turmoil, I found myself lighter and more at peace for the day.
Finally, I resolved to also begin each day with God through prayer and gratitude.  I pray before I even get out of bed, and at the end of my morning pages, I write down the things I am grateful for.  “Thank you, God, for all of my blessings” is the way I begin that section.  Before I knew it, I realized that I kept getting more of whatever I thanked God for.  Thank you, God, for always being there for me.
I’m definitely not saying that I’m perfect and that I did all three of those things every day this year because I didn’t.  I should have exercised at a higher intensity level and written more and developed a more intimate relationship with God.  However, on the days I did all three of those things, I noticed that I felt better, had more energy, and experienced more of a positive outlook.  It’s the little things that matter, and it is doing the little things consistently that makes a difference and that builds up to the bigger things.
This fall, four of my essays have been published, two in print journals and two online.  I firmly believe that these publications are a consequence of doing those three things, of following through on my plans, and of placing emphasis and importance on my own words. 
"Dolphins for Christmas" appeared in Florida English, while "The Celebration" is in New Plains Review.  Then, CircaReview online just published "Of Beauty, Basements, and Butterflies" and "Magic Acts"! 
Thank you, God, for my publications. 
I will continue these three things next year and try to take them to the next level.  What 2012 resolutions worked for you this year?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beauty, Truth, Love

     Yesterday I was wrapped in a work bubble, completely concentrating on finishing tasks for fall semester so that I could enter final grades and begin prep work for spring semester, so I didn’t learn about the Sandy Hook tragedy until late in the afternoon.  I didn’t finish working until late evening, though, so Facebook and the internet were the only sources available until this morning when I watched the news shows…and cried.  It is unbelievable, disturbing, and heartbreaking.
          After an hour, I turned the TV off because I do not want to be inundated by the media, especially with something so distressing.  I cannot even imagine the pain and horror of the parents and families who lost someone yesterday morning in this senseless tragedy.  I am so sorry. 
          I’ve heard people blame guns, while others blame the fact that God is not in schools like they want.  For this or other cruel acts, some place the blame on parents or the government or schools or technology or lack of morals or the media or violence in our culture.  I, too, want to look anywhere but in the mirror, yet Michael Jackson is right that we need to start with the “man in the mirror” and, as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
The truth is we are all to blame, and we are all innocent.  Yes, there are serious conversations we need to have about issues like gun control, the public school system, bullying, and the increase in violent acts like school shootings, especially one so horrendous as to be at an elementary school.
But right now, I want to focus on simple yet vastly important issues like how we communicate with ourselves and others, how we treat ourselves and our children, how we nourish and fuel our minds, bodies, and souls, and how we are all connected. 
Today, I am filled with questions.  What do we put into our minds, bodies, and souls every day?  Who are the five people we are around the most?  How do we treat those who cannot do anything to us, including our pets and children?  What do we believe about ourselves and each other?  What ambiance we have created in our homes, wherever we live?
The answers to these questions are so simple yet so complex, and they create the world we live in, the life we live.  It’s all about choice.  Every day, every moment, we choose what to watch, what to listen to, what to eat, who to hang out with, what to believe, what to do.  I know it’s not so simple as I struggle with the choices I make in each moment every day, yet I do know that it is also that simple as choice equals our lives.
We must start and continue with these conversations rather than simply going back to our daily lives, ignoring issues, or postponing action.  Today is the day to begin.  I read a poem about kindness today that blew me away.  Today is the day for kindness, compassion, giving, loving.  Today is the day to use words that build, choose thoughts and actions that encourage, and fuel yourself with images, people, words that foster beauty, truth, love. 
We must come together:  parents, teachers, artists, musicians, politicians, reporters, leaders, teenagers, children.  Together we can find answers, take action, and create authenticity of this human experience.
Nothing, nothing matters more than those we love.  I am reminded of words my dad once said, “When it comes down to it, all you’ve got is your family.”  So, today, if you are lucky enough to have the chance, spend quality time with those you love…listen to them, build them up, hug them, love them. 
Simple words, simple acts, simple choices.  But those simple things can make a difference, can mean everything.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Heart that Grew

The Grinch and Scrooge teach us that giving, or blessing others, is what this season is about, is what this world is about, and that in giving to others, we give to ourselves…in blessing others, we bless ourselves.
As a parent, I have wanted to give my girls all the things and opportunities that I felt I didn’t get. I didn’t want them to have to struggle, and I didn’t want them to learn a life of feeling deprived. I’m not talking about a life of deprivation where one chooses to have less and live simpler; I’m talking about being surrounded by this “cruel, crazy, beautiful world” and seeing only lack.
I wanted to swallow the world and lay it at their feet.
And so I’ve struggled and fought to surround them with beauty and love and abundance. In doing so, I have been richly blessed.
In doing so, I have made some poor financial choices that I am still living with and have set a high expectation for Christmas presents that I may not be able to meet this year.
When I picked the girls up from youth group on Sunday night, they told me about a video they’d watched. Some parents were asked to give poor presents to their children and record what happened after the presents were opened. One child got a potato, another a jar of pickles. My girls scoffed at the temper tantrums those kids threw, at how “spoiled” the kids acted. I asked which of those gifts my girls wanted for Christmas. Laina wanted the potato, and Lexi wouldn’t choose so she gets an orange (her grandparents always put one in the stockings).
We joke about it, but in reality it’s not funny when I don’t have money to fix the oil leaks in my car, let alone buy presents for my daughters. This semester has been tough because I have less classes, and we’ve gone without a lot. We’ve also kept busy with work and school, so we’re making it work.
Still, it’s Christmas, the time of year when people believe in peace and hope. In magic. It’s also the time of year when many people are stressed (too much to do, too much to buy, too little time, too little money), and this year, 2012, has the added tension of the end of the year predictions.
I have heard of friends saying that they are re-gifting this year or that they are only buying local or only making gifts. I believe in all of those great ideas.
Yet Lexi wants the new Taylor Swift Wonderstruck Enchanted perfume, and Laina wants an Ipod (or Ipad, she’s fine with either) while I want $5000 to pay things off, fix my car, and catch up. And, we all need new phones as ours are barely working), haircuts, Mary Kay skin care, and the list goes on.
(Side note:  When I read this entry to Lexi and Laina, they thought I was being unfair to only list the highest priced items on their Christmas list, making them look like spoiled brats, when they are also asking for less expensive items such as the new Veronica Roth book, Free Four, for Laina and the Spring Awakening Broadway soundtrack for Lexi; therein lies my problem as I want to get them most of their wishes, not merely one or two.  And, I want to surprise them with something they will love but haven’t thought of yet.  Like the genie in the lamp, I want to grant their wishes and help make their dreams come true; however, the genie isn’t free, so instead, I will be like the ghosts of Christmas:  while doing what I can, I will teach them to create their own dreams by believing in themselves, taking action, and giving to others.)
But if the world is really going to end in less than two weeks (and I don’t believe it is), then none of those things matter. It’s okay that my car has a burning oil smell when I drive it, that we are using broken phones, that we have split ends, that we are out of good skin care products, that we don’t have the newest technology, etc.
Those are all okay because we are okay. We are alive and safe and loved, wanted. We have music and friends and sunshine. We have food, a vehicle that runs, a room of our own, and a place to call home. We can go to the beach and watch as the waves crash against the shore, as they always have. Or, we can watch a movie. We will be together.
But what about that moment?! The moment that is part of what makes Christmas magical…the moment when you are about to open a present and you don’t know what’s inside but it could be your heart’s desire. It could be everything you’ve always wanted, or everything you’ve always needed but didn’t know you were missing. That moment that takes your heart, broken and splintered and bruised that it is, and fills it with light and love and warmth so that it grows bigger and brighter, so that it glows with healing. That moment is precious to the one who receives and the one who gives, and I want to be part of that with my girls.
I don’t know yet what I am going to do about presents this year, but I do know that our holiday break will be filled with love and laughter and giving.