Sunflowers & Snippets | I Choose Pencil…

Kim B Sunflower in Vintage Vase 2021

For this week’s sunflower posts, I will be sharing sunflower photographs with snippets of my writing from “Write Together” sessions coordinated by Jennifer Belthoff of Love Notes fame. I don’t always have the time to participate in the weekly sessions, but every time I do, I leave refreshed and primed to work on my “actual” writing.

In the one-hour sessions, Jennifer facilitates three rounds of writing. She offers three prompts for each round, gives 8-10 minutes to respond to one prompt (or more) and then allows participants to share their material.

I enjoy the sessions because they provide a timeout for me, and though I do not attend as often as I wish, I am always amazed by how much writing I am able to do in those small moments.

Today’s snippet was written in response to the prompt: “I am choosing pencil.”

I am choosing pencil because few things are permanent, and so much changes from day to day as we navigate the terrain of a pandemic. I am choosing pencil because life is already hard, and there have been far too many deaths, far too many things we cannot reverse. I am choosing pencil so I can erase the parts that don’t fit, the nonsense and pettiness of the day to day, the meannesses that spill out at the end of a long, exhausting day or after another sleepless night. We need compassion and patience and forgiveness and so much love. Pencils are good for helping us revise or escape reality. I am choosing pencil because maybe, we can alter the pain and loss and write a different story. –Chandra Lynn, “Write Together,” 01.04.21

Ironically, typing this in a blog post makes it a bit less temporary, but I hope you get the point.

2021-10-18_130026


About the Images: Today’s images come from my Love Notes friend, Kim B. The top photo features sunflowers in a vintage vase that travelled from her Nana’s house full of flowers to her house and back to her Nana’s for a refill. The bottom photo features an “amazing accident in photography” as she captured the bee in flight when her intention was to capture one of her homegrown sunflowers. The other happy accident happened when I scanned the photo. My “phone scanner” gave the photo a vintage feel. The sunflower itself is a little overexposed, so I’d planned to fix that for Kim in PhotoShop. However, I like the accidental effect offered by the scan, so I decided to leave it alone.

Sunflowers and Truth | Hard, Hard Truth

“Birthday Sunflowers” by Christine B.

Today’s truth comes from Grounded Spirituality by author and teacher, Jeff Brown. The short version: Take care of you. Do the work to “deal with your stuff.” It’s hard. It’s continual, but it’s worth it. Your past will no longer control your attitudes or behavior. 

Sunflower by Christine Brooks
“Sunflower Pair” by Christine B.

It’s up to you–it’s always up to you. You can deny, repress, distort, and bury your unresolved wounds all you want. You can reframe them, pseudo-positivity them, detach from them, bypass them. You can rename yourself, hide away in a monastery, turn your story around.  And you can spend all your money on superficial healing practices and hocus-pocus practitioners. But it won’t mean a [darn] thing if you don’t do the deeper work to excavate and heal your primary wounds. The material is still there, right where you left it, subconsciously ruling your life and controlling your choices. This is the nature of unhealed material–it is alive, and one way or the other, it will manifest itself in your lived experience. It will language your inner negative. It will obstruct your path and limit your possibilities. It lives everywhere that you live. And so you have to decide–excavate it and bring it into consciousness where it can be worked through an integrated; or repress it and watch it rule your life. It’s one of the hardest truths we have to face: if we don’t deal with our stuff, it deals with us. There is no way around this. Choose.

–Jeff Brown, Grounded Spirituality
Sunflower by Sheila Delgado
“Sunflower Trio” by Sheila D.

About the Images: The hard pill of today’s post deserves three cheerful sunflower watercolors. The sunflowers are brought to you by my friend and Love Noter, Christine B. She sent the top watercolor  with two more beautiful pieces of art for my birthday (10.02). She sent the other two earlier this year–just because. The final piece is a regifted watercolor, the work of my friend, Sheila D. I’m sending love, light, and many hugs to Christine as she prepares to memorialize her mom next week. [If you’re reading on a mobile device or tablet, click the images to view full images in Flickr].

Sunflowers and Truth | #truthbombs

Martha Slavin Sunflower

Are you familiar with Danielle LaPorte’s #truthbombs? On 4×4 white cards–in beautiful black script–LaPorte offers pithy bits of wisdom, encouragement, and in-your-face truth. Every now and then, I pull a random card out the elegant encasement, and think, “Whew! Now, that’s a word!” The cards offer perfect journaling prompts and discussion starters. [Click the link above for more information, see sample #truthbombs, and download the app. For the record, this is not an ad]. 

Before heading to work yesterday, I grabbed a handful of random #truthbombs from their box and dropped them on my bag. I thought they would complement the sunflowers I’d planned to share on the blog, but yesterday did not turn out as I planned: By 9:00 a.m., I was annoyed with no less than three people. By 10:00, the number had increased to five. By 1:00, I had a searing headache that made me want to pack up and go home. When I finally arrived home just after 5:00, I wanted only my bed and a good book. When today began to feel like yesterday, a couple of short walks and three of the #truthbombs became the medicine I needed:

  • Notice how you feel
  • Defend your tenderness
  • Compassion is so often the solution

Those three sentences “can preach,” as they say. For me, they were a call to pay attention to my responses.

Yesterday, I was extremely disturbed by individuals who acted selfishly and lacked compassion. When it comes down to it, this was no different than any other day. Almost every day I encounter people who look out for themselves and show little regard for others unless they can benefit in some way. Of course, by the end of the day, I’d pretty much gotten over it and pushed the experience out of my mind. I realized I had to cut those folk some slack. They are human after all, and like me, they deserve room to be just that–human–and perhaps there were good reasons for what I considered their not acting with the decency I expected under the circumstances. 

But I was still bothered by my own reaction: Why was my response so different? Why did I allow myself to become so uncharacteristically entangled with other individuals’ attitudes and behavior? And why am I again feeling out of sorts and bothered?

Annoying people, gloomy weather, frustration over lecture notes I can’t find. All of that is superficial, the easy things to focus on because the real thing–the underlying thing–is big and scary and too much to handle at the beginning of a packed work week. The #truthbombs were a reminder to pay attention to my feelings and not just stop there. I had to get to the root. And I did.

I miss my sister. Her birthday is tomorrow. There will be no celebration. 

Thankfully, the sunflower provides light…in the darkness of the cave in which I have to dwell for a moment. 


About the Image: The watercolor sunflower is the work of my Love Notes friend, Martha S. She was one of my exchange partners in Louise Gale’s Global heART exchange. It was a pleasant surprise to find a postcard from one of my snail mail regulars in my mailbox. Thanks for this gorg sunflower, Martha! It has brightened my days and will soon find its place my the sunflower wall. 

Let’s Make Lists: Seven Little Things

2021-09-13_201812

A few days ago, a friend sent me @studygr1nd’s Instagram post in which she shared an image list of small things and activities that keep her sane. I thought, “What a great idea for a blog post!”

So this Monday evening, when I’m feeling a bit out of sorts and words feel like too much for my crowded brain, I’m sharing with you seven little things that keep me sane. I’m focusing on specific things here–not experiences or people.

  • My sketchpad: Take my word for it–doodling sunflowers and daisies does wonders for chasing away the crazies.
  • My journal: There’s a tie between writing in my journal and walking among the trees as the best free therapy, but since I’m listing things and not experiences, the journal wins here.
  • Fine point black gel pens: With what else will I doodle and journal?
  • My favorite disc-bound planner: Writing out my to-dos and scheduling my day helps me to see the big picture. Also, the tasks don’t feel so overwhelming after I make a list.
  • Floral mail pouch: The gorgeous black mail pouch decorated with lavender flowers and gold accents was a gift from Christine B, one of my pen friends. The pouch is filled with postcards, note cards, tiny art, stickers, and washi tape. Of course, its primary purpose is to hold items for snail mail, but sometimes, simply looking at the pretties helps me reset.
  • Mary Oliver’s DevotionsNeed I say more?
  • My sunflower wall: Sometimes there’s nothing more mind-settling than turning toward my brilliant wall(s) of sunflowers that remind me to #facethesun

Though I can list far more than seven, I’ll spare you the lengthy list. I tortured you enough with my list of 100 things that bring me joy. 😀 And, since I don’t have to be convinced to make a list, I decided to make this “list week” on the blog. C’mon, you saw this coming, right?

What are some things that keep you sane?


About the Image: The postcard above, entitled Girl with Watering Can, features the work of Mila Marquis, a Hamburg, Germany-based illustrator. My Love Notes friend, Gina B sent the pretty card for International Women’s Day. You can see more of Marquis’ cheerful whimsical illustrations on her Instagram or Facebook page.

Photo Inspiration | Immortality

Immortality


About the Image: This photo features vintage postcards my Love Notes friend Fran B sent last year. I am in awe of the handwriting and the well-preserved ink (and postcards themselves) after so many decades. If you look closely at the postmarks, you can see the postcards were written and mailed in 1950, 1944, and 1909 (112 years ago!). I will eventually write a longer post about them, but for now, please enjoy the photo with an appropriate line from an Emily Dickinson letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

1LW: The First to Rise

IWD 2021 from Lori-Anne

Soon a host of lovely flowers
From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
The crocuses were first.

–from “The Crocuses” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

The magnificent artwork above is the second precious gift Lori-Anne C sent in honor of my one little word (1LW). [See previous post for the first]. She sent it with the following note, explaining its serendipitous connection to my 1LW:

. . . No matter how I worked your tulips, they kept looking to me like crocus.

It got me to thinking of how the crocus is often our first flower to pop up through the cold dirt and show its glory . . . spring! As though it’s celebrating the returned warmth of the sun . . . in deep yellow and purple.

Maybe this year, a crocus is good . . . for both of us.

Your word “rise” —

A crocus isn’t very tall, but its colour and determination to push through and rise are deep and strong.

Yes, the early crocus and what it has to survive and grow through [especially in Ontario, Canada] to reach the sun and bloom strong may, in fact, be perfect [for your one little word].

Lori-Anne intended to send the flowers for International Women’s Day, but her muse had other plans. The sunflowers and crocuses and her meditation on the crocus’s struggle and determination to rise contribute beautifully to my journey.

1LW: When I Rise Up

IMG_3001 2

Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poem, “When I Rise Up Above the Earth” was the first poem I ran across related to my “one little word.” Of course, I am familiar with Maya Angelou’s popular “Still I Rise,” which gives voice to a collective Black [women’s] “I”–talking back to and ascending in spite of an oppressive system. However, Johnson’s poem speaks to the journey I’m on as an individual wrestling with and rising above personal challenges. [Plus, lines 5-6 present a strong image that I would also illustrate, if I had the skills 😉 ]

“When I Rise Above the Earth”
Georgia Douglas Johnson

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.

My friend, Cy, also posted about her 1LW today. She, too, chose a poem. Be sure to check out her post on “boundaries,” her one little word. 


The “Rise” pennant in the photo above was made by my Love Notes friend Lori-Anne C. This is one of two precious gifts she sent in honor of my 1LW. I recently moved it from my home office to my work office where it hangs as you see it with a sunflower art by Ty, one of my former students. The sunflower reminds me of a sunRISE, so I couldn’t resist placing them together.

Lessons from the Pandemic

Yellow Flowers in Vase by Sheila D of Sheila’s Corner Studio

I confess. I sometimes feel like a slacker. Sure, I am always doing something, but as I said in an earlier post, I’ve been getting nowhere.

Everywhere I turn, it seems someone has completed a book, started a new venture, traveled the seven seas, or even managed to purge and organize their home during the pandemic. I’ve done zip! I’m usually adept at side-stepping the comparison trap, but lately I have wondered if I’m just plain lazy!

Over the last year we’ve been given many tips on how to thrive, how to stay motivated, and how to do this, that, or the other during the pandemic. It was refreshing to join Pastor Lola Johnston’s Bloom in the Pandemic webinar a few weeks ago and hear her offer, instead of tips for thriving during the pandemic, two reassuring pieces of advice—to simply believe God is who He says He is and practice the principle of Matthew 6:33. She encouraged participants to refrain from practicing belief in our outcome and instead practice belief in the God of the outcome.

Whew!

It was nice to be let off the hook, to release the feelings of failure or guilt for not being completely awesome during the last 15+ months.

Of course, I wasn’t a slacker. I did not reach some of the goals I set for myself, but as I revisit those goals, some of them were way too big and way too much for our present circumstances. But during an actual, maddening pandemic, I held down a full time job, ably managed a leadership position that I was suddenly thrust into, taught overloads each semester, and operated fully in my family without losing my mind. And I actually managed to accomplish a few other things.

It helps to pivot our perspective. Doesn’t it?

If we focus on the gains instead of the unchecked items on our goals list, we’ll find ourselves in a healthier mental space. I realized this while writing a list of lessons learned in response to the final prompt of Love Notes 35. Even though I didn’t achieve some of my biggies, I’ve gained in ways that expanded my soul tremendously and I’ve learned so much.

I’ve learned to listen for the silence.
I’ve learned to find the path to stillness no matter where I am.
I’ve learned to adjust.
I’ve learned to keep moving.
I’ve learned to find time to write and “just be” in small moments because there will never be enough time, otherwise.
I’ve learned to appreciate the questions.
I’ve learned the answers do not always come.
I’ve learned [again] to accept sorrow and grief as necessary parts of life.
I’ve learned to let the deep, aching pain of loss do its work.
I’ve learned that my being vulnerable frees others to drop their masks.
I’ve learned that everyone is indeed fighting a battle.
I’ve learned that there’s very little I can control, but what I can control makes all the difference in my attitude and outlook.
I’ve learned that those who need our compassion most are those for whom compassion is a difficult exercise
I’ve learned to walk in the truth that everyone is made in the image of God.

Even though I sometimes feel like I should be doing so much more, I am learning that continuing to breathe and walk with joy during the pandemic are extraordinary accomplishments.

What have you learned in the last year or so?


About the Image: The bright yellow flowers were sent to me by my blogging pen friend, talented artist, and Love Noter, Sheila D. I actually wrote this blog post more than a week ago, but refused to post it because I wanted this particular piece of art to lead the post. I misplaced my “to be blogged” art file and it took me a whole week to find it! Why this postcard? In the face of difficult challenges over the last year+, Sheila has maintained a beautiful outlook on life. I find that inspiring.

The Hot Woman

La FemmeJPG

“La Femme” from paruspaper

It’s probably not best to begin a “Happy Summer” post with the one reason I do not like the summer season so much. However, I stood in the hot sun for almost two hours this morning at a grand opening event, so I am really not too fond of the “return of the sun.” Of course, here in the Deep South, it’s been “summer” for a while, so today feels less like the first (full) day of summer and more like midsummer hell (to those of us who do not like the heat). 

Thus, I say, “Happy Summer” with a bit of sand and ocean from my Love Notes friend and literary twin, Gina B. (whose favorite season is summer), and a poem by Derek Walcott. “Midsummer, Tobago” perfectly describes early summer (or late spring) in certain parts of the USA and the long days of the (paradoxically) brief summer season. 

Midsummer, Tobago
Derek Walcott

Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms.

Happy Summer, Y’all!

Are You Languishing Too?

2021-06-09_151738The school year ended for my son last Wednesday. We have been looking forward to “the end” almost since the beginning. This pandemic year has been hard for everyone, and even though I’m still very much engaged in the daily grind, a tremendous weight has been lifted because at least my son can breathe a little easier and hopefully recuperate “enough” before August.

Some weeks ago, as I listened to Dr. Anita Phillips’ podcast, In the Light, she “hit a nerve.” As she introduced the episode “Beautiful Things,” I heard the word languishing and listened a little more closely:

It is a stealthy emotion […]. It sneaks up on you little by little […]. It is really easy to miss. The feeling of languishing is one of stagnation and emptiness […].

Phillips, a trauma therapist, also referenced a New York Times article, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing:”

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

I backtracked and listened to that part over and over.

Languishing.

Is this why I have little interest in doing things I usually enjoy? Is this why it seems I’m working all.the.time but have little to show for it by the end of the day? Why I don’t feel like cooking or cleaning? Why sometimes my brain seems completely devoid of thought?

I know I am not depressed, but I feel out of sorts and disconnected from my usual rhythms.

Languishing.

The word perfectly describes the state I’m in and the state of others with whom I’ve spoken recently about their mental and emotional state during this phase of the pandemic.

We once flourished; now we’re doing our best if we can climb out of bed in the morning. Of course, there are ways to combat this state of being, but for me, it really comes down to the very thing expressed in a Washington Post title on the same subject.

“We all need a break.”

We need time to take care of our mental health and process what we’ve just gone through and what we’ve come through. We need time to grieve the losses and celebrate the gains. We also need time to look ahead and dream of the possibilities once we are truly post-pandemic.

Is that doable right now when we’re barely doing life?

The whole thing is “a lot,” as some say, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the “too much” of it. But we must pay attention and we must deal with our languishing because as the NYT article points out, languishing, in some ways, may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Furthermore, as Dr. Phillips emphasized in her podcast, “the mental health impact [of this moment] will far outlast our return to physical safety,” so we must take the time now to “honestly identify and name how [we] are feeling.”

I have many coping strategies [journalingcreatingshutting down technologylisting, sleeping, spending time with trees, and praying], but I am taking Dr. Phillips’ advice of identifying and naming, expressing my feelings, and spending time with those I love. Additionally, because confronting the mental and emotional chaos can be all-consuming, I am processing in small moments. The few minutes while doing the dishes. The walk from building to building while running errands on campus. The half hour or so spent grocery shopping. Whenever I can find even just a moment of quiet, I take the time to process, to exhale, and to heal.

I pray you’re doing the same.


Note: I am not a psychologist or therapist, so I encourage you to read the articles and listen to the podcast linked in this post for more information, tips, and tools for dealing with this mental health challenge–and of course, seek professional counsel should you feel your issues are much larger than you can handle without help.

About the Image: The image above features the artwork of illustrator and designer Eunji Jung. It was this bit of gorgeousness that “introduced” me to my new Love Notes pal, Kathi G. I admired the postcard after another Love Noter posted it in the group, and Kathi kindly sent one my way. Thanks, Kathi!