When the Year Grows Old

 

 

When the Year Grows Old

And often when the brown leaves
Were brittle on the ground,
And the wind in the chimney
Made a melancholy sound,

She had a look about her
That I wish I could forget–
The look of a scared thing
Sitting in a net…

But the roaring of the fire,
And the warmth of fur,
And the boiling of the kettle
Were beautiful to her…

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

The year has grown old, died, and been reborn. It is ‘new’. There are beginnings. Yet I acutely feel the year growing old.

When the clock struck midnight December 31st, when the calendar ceased to count days for 2019…what happened?

Nothing.

It’s as if I’m waiting for some unknown force to press the ‘reset’ button.

As I work on my One Word for 2020, I realize I’m stuck. Not in my decision of which word to choose but in the way I feel caught at the end of last year. In a time when I listened to the wind whistling a melancholy tune and brittle leaves scraped the window panes, begging to be let inside.

When I had the look of a frightened bird flapping helplessly inside a net.

Yet there is a difference. The trap has weakened, loosened. I can breathe.

I find familiarity in the world around me and there is comfort and beauty in that. In the moments when I take that first sip of coffee, tie my hair up with an elastic band, lace my warm, winter boots. When I lose myself in sunlight creating intricate patterns on my floor or notice wind catching a hydrangea flower hidden since last spring.

Sometimes, when the stress is too much, when the weight is too heavy, when the ropes are too tight, our struggles increase the pain. Sometimes relaxing into the discomfort and fear is all we can do and, sometimes, that shifts our world enough to see the beauty.

 

Health and happiness to you, gentle readers.

 

Beauty Is Not Enough

 

 

Spring

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.

Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

It’s spring. Though it feels more like a distant cousin. A time of year in which we struggle to find our place during the uncertainty of seasons. When we throw off our jackets and listen to blue jays. Then huddle in our heavy coats and listen to howling winds. When we both turn our face to the sunshine and dance between raindrops.

It is that unpredictability we crave when the earth beneath our feet is frozen solid in winter or lush with summer greens. But the fickle springtime plays in quicksand, leaving us wishing for stability, making us wary.

Sometimes we know what we know, regardless of the beauty around us. Sometimes in spite of it. And, sometimes, it just ceases to be enough to quiet us.

It is then we raise our voices. To communicate. To be heard. To say that we will not be lulled into silence with the unfurling bud and promise of a bright and beautiful thing.

We will not hush.

We will shout.

 

 

My random thoughts in 200 words or less.

 

Here’s to finding your voice, being heard, and speaking up for yourselves. Happy shouting, gentle readers. ❤

You can read the entire poem here: Spring by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Safe Upon the Solid Rock

 

 

Second Fig

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Another of Edna’s poems to ponder and share. Though, honestly, there’s not much to ponder here.

To quote a lesser-known poet, ‘brevity is the soul of wit’. (I jest. I actually do know Shakespeare penned that. But we’re getting away from the subject at hand. Which is to say, this poem is brief and witty.)

And it is here today because, yet again, Edna’s words have moved me and I want to share them.

How easy to find stability on solid rock. And yet, what else will you find there? True beauty lies in dreams and desires. These are often found perched on less-than-solid ground. Is instability a part of being creative? Of following dreams? I don’t know.

But if it is, I’m letting my feet sink into the sand where my shining palace stands.

It could collapse.

That beautiful place I’ve worked to build.

I could lose everything.

Or it could remain.

I could gain everything.

Best not to dwell too much but, instead, look upon the ugly houses I don’t want.

Then, I daresay, I will be willing to live surrounded by the glimmer of my dreams or sink with my shining palace.

 

My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.

 

Can we indulge in our creativity and follow our dreams while still keeping our feet on solid ground? When it comes to your dreams, are you willing to live with uncertainty?

 

 

The Timing of Bad Things

 

 

Pine trees’ branches are pretty resilient. They bounce back amazingly well after the winter. But you still wonder, looking at them, if this is the season they will snap.

When there is already snow and a blizzard blows in, you think about the additional weight on branches that are already drooping.

But…

When spring arrives and there’s a blizzard, you think about how the soft, new pine needles (who were enjoying the warm sun) will deal with being encased in ice crystals.

We have a lot of little sayings about how awful it is to have something bad happen when things are already bad.

 

Kick you when you’re down

Rub salt in the wound

Add insult to injury

 

I guess you could say: When bad things have bad timing

But can we say: When bad things have good timing

???

I mean, what about when we’re happy? Healthy?

Is that when we’d prefer bad things to happen to us? Maybe we think we can manage easier if we’re not already distressed.

I get that. I do.

If we’re beaten down, we don’t have our footing never mind a good stance to do battle.

But, honestly, when things are going well, it’s still incredibly difficult. Just in a different way.

When you’re flying high, the fall is a lot longer and you hit the ground with a hell of a lot more force.

Just pondering the pine trees…

 

My random thoughts in (slightly over) 200 words.

ThoughtBubble

When bad things come your way, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve got your face planted in the dirt or you’re feelin’ groovy. The thing is to take care of yourself. Be well, my friends.

 

 

Shifting Focus

 

 

Self. 

It’s a tiny, loaded, powerful word.

For people whose natural inclination is to take care of others, using time and energy to care for themselves can be upsetting. Depending on the person, it varies from slightly uncomfortable to downright distressing.

When faced with the idea, there may be a freak-out: “What?! Myself? How will…? What can…? I can’t do that!”

You can. You really can.

Here’s a thing I’ve realized.

If you have a tendency to focus on others, it’s difficult to shift that focus. It may seem unlikely to happen. Impossible even. When you begin focusing on your Self, you’ll find a thought popping up often (the persistent little bugger):

“If I’m spending all that time taking care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of anyone else!”

Wrong.

“If I’m spending all that time taking care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of everyone else!”

That’s it, my friends.

 

Take that in. Accept it. Embrace it.

 

My random thoughts in 200 words or less.ThoughtBubble

You can’t do it all.

Don’t be that person. The harried, stressed, wreck who tries to help everyone and tries to do everything to the detriment of his or her Self, family, health, relationships…whatever.

Yes, this means you have to make decisions. When will you agree? When will you decline? Choose wisely. And ditch the guilt. (It can be done. I have faith in you.)

 

A lot has happened since I chose ‘Self” as my One Word for 2018. Some of it good. Some of it not so good. All of it eye-opening. Take care of yourselves, gentle readers.

 

Hinting at… Happiness?

 

 

What does a Harvard University professor have to do with flash fiction? Nothing. And everything. Or, at least, something.

I’ve thought for a long time now that good flash fiction packs a punch. It heightens emotional responses, engages readers, invites them to be a part of the story, makes them think…and keeps them thinking.

As I said in a recent guest post at D. Wallace Peach’s blog, “I want to make readers wonder what the hell just happened then decide for themselves three hours later because they can’t stop thinking about it.” Well, I’ve found a bit of scientific proof on why that could be a good thing.

Daniel Gilbert is a professor, psychologist, writer, speaker, award-winner, and all sorts of other cool stuff. He’s done numerous studies on our ability to imagine the future, anticipate outcomes, make decisions, and how all these things affect our happiness. He’s written and talked about it. A lot. You should check him out.

But what I’d like to focus on today is one study he referred to in an interview on NPR: Why We’re Bad At Predicting Our Own Happiness — And How We Can Get Better. Participants watched a movie. Some got to see the end and some did not. (I know, right? Gah!) Here’s part of the transcript:

 

GILBERT: Well, there’s no doubt that uncertainty can amplify emotions

We did a study in which people watched a movie. And for some of the people in our experiment, we didn’t let them watch how the movie ended. We didn’t let them see what happened to the main character. Now, if I asked you, which of these two movies would you rather see, 100 percent of the hands go up and say, I’d like to see the end of the movie, please.

But what we discovered was people who didn’t see the end of the movie liked it more, thought about it for longer, were still engaged in it and still enjoying it, even hours or days later. They didn’t see what happened to the last – the main character in the end, and so they kept wondering, gosh, I wonder if he went to college or he became a football player. What an interesting thing to be thinking about and enjoying.

 

Look at that: “people who didn’t see the end of the movie liked it more, thought about it for longer, were still engaged in it and still enjoying it, even hours or days later.”

You see where I’m going with this…

Flash fiction.

I know it’s not exactly the same thing but, wow, it really is similar if you think about it. I mean, you read a flash. And, although it often has a beginning, middle, and end…it hints. You finish the story with some fulfillment but with questions clinging to your brain.

A good flash story will give you enough to sink your teeth into but leave you wondering what happened before, what could happen next, what is going on around the edges of the story.

Readers might enjoy the story better when they use their imagination and creativity. Or not. Just a theory. Either way, they’ll most likely be thinking about it a bit longer, engaging a bit more, and perhaps even be a bit happier as they ponder all the possibilities.

 

Is It Really Self-Doubt?

 

 

What is doubt?

When we say we’re experiencing self-doubt, what are we talking about? Self-doubt is, well, doubting yourself. Pretty simple. But I think it’s become a catch-all phrase for beating ourselves up. (And writers tend to do that a lot. Just saying.)

Let’s dissect this, shall we?

 

verb: doubt

  • 1. feel uncertain about.

disbelieve…have misgivings about…question…feel uncertain or unsure…hesitate;

 

Basically, you’re unsure. You’re questioning something (yourself, in this case).

We’d say something like, “I’m not sure this is a good idea.” Or, “I’m not certain I’m up to this.” Or even a flat-out, “I don’t think I can do this.”

Does that sound familiar?

 

Or does this?

“I’m not submitting my story. I’d never win.”

“This chapter is crap. Forget editing…I’m deleting it.”

“I can’t believe I ever thought I could write.”

“What was I thinking, calling myself an ‘author’? What a joke.”

“Everyone else is so much better.”

“No one will like this.”

“I’m a fraud.”

“I can’t write.”

“I suck.”

Does that sound doubtful? Because it sounds pretty UN-doubtful to me. It sounds certain. Which is the opposite of doubt.

It sounds like…judgment.

 

verb: judge

  • 1. form an opinion or conclusion about.

form the opinion, conclude, decide…believe, think, deem…regard as, rate as;

 

When you form an opinion (whether you think it or voice it), you are judging. Judging yourself, your work, your worth.

When you say these things, with certainty and conviction, you, my friend, do not have self-doubt, you have self-judgment. We need to differentiate between the two, call it what it is, and do something about it.

 

My Sunday thoughts in (slightly over) 200 words.ThoughtBubble


Do you really have self-doubt? Or are you judging yourself? (I know what I’m doing… And I intend to stop. Easier said than done, but I’m damn sure going to try.)

 

My Virtual Facelift

 

You’ve probably noticed I’ve been taking stock lately. Assessing. Appraising. You know…having a mid-life crisis.

In a good way. And without the new cherry-red corvette.

I’m trying to get my sh*t together. Deciding what truly matters to me. Getting rid of what I don’t care about and making room for what I do care about.

Part of this wonderful evaluation was the rediscovery of joy last week. (Which I intend to keep up.)

Another part of this includes online stuff, such as my little Lemon Shark and its sister, Lemon Shark Reef. As you can see, there’s been some changes around here.

I’ve talked about how far removed from myself I’ve become. This space (as well as my other online platforms) has not represented me or my writing for a long while. I decided to do something about that. I went ahead and got a virtual facelift.

I’m remodeling. Seeing what works. Creating something that brings…wait for it…joy. I’m feeling more at home here already.

Oh, and that picture up there? It’s all mine. It’s me. I’m in love with that amazing, gritty, broken, beautiful heart. It speaks to me. It also captures my writing perfectly. Darkness, emotion, imperfection, beauty… I call it my distressed heart. Yup, that’s about right.

It was tough to think about getting rid of so much. I tend to stick with stuff. (I haven’t changed anything in three years.) But, when the time came, it was easy to do.

It’s freeing to let go. When our hands are empty of what we no longer need, they’re able to reach for what we now want.

 

My Sunday thoughts in (slightly over) 200 words.

ThoughtBubble

Why do we hold on to things that no longer suit us? Are we afraid of change? Do we become too comfortable or set in our ways? Or do we just put it off for “another day” until we realize two years have gone by?

 

Raindrops on Roses & Whiskers on Kittens

 

 

I’m on my laptop, concentrating on work, when it starts to rain. I mean pouring rain. Like, build-an-ark rain. And it’s one of those sudden, out-of-nowhere downpours.

I go to the window, lean against the pane, and smile. I actually smile. And you know what I’m thinking? I’d love to go dance in that.

Then I check myself, turn away, and start back to my computer.

That’s when I hear screaming.

I run back to the window, all adrenaline and responsibility, ready to do what I can about whatever is happening. I am not, however, prepared for what I see.

Two children, across the street, are running around in circles, squealing in delight as the rain soaks them.

It is in that moment I realize how far away from myself I have moved. How lost I’ve become.

I know this. I’ve been working on it but, it is in times like these that I become aware of how much work I still have ahead of me.

When did I lose myself so completely? When did I lose the ability to follow my joy outside into the summer rain?

 

My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.

ThoughtBubble

 

FYI: I did it. I really did. After a short pause, I said, “F*ck it! I’m going out!” And I went outside and danced in my yard, not caring what my neighbors thought. If they want to gossip about the crazy lady who was spinning around and laughing in the pouring rain last week, let them. Let them!

When is the last time you followed your joy?

 

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

 

 

Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

Truer words were never spoken.

Or perhaps they were. Regardless, these are up there in the top ten of How to Live Your Life.

Eleanor goes on to say that “you’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” Hot damn! She’s right.

You can never please everyone. Let me just go ahead and say that again. You can never. Please. Everyone.

Stop trying.

I’m speaking to myself, of course, as I often always do on this blog but I believe these words fiercely.

I know I’m a good person so why don’t I just do what I feel in my heart to be right?

Worrying what others might think or how they may perceive what I do (or don’t do) is a terrible way to live. How people choose to see me is not in my control. (And really not my problem. Unless I make it my problem. Which we’ve just established it’s not.)

The bottom line here is that, yes, you’ll be damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So…

Do what you want. Dammit.

ThoughtBubble

My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.

 

Have a lovely week, gentle readers!