The Blessing of the Interim

“Sunset Glow over Leifeng Pagoda.” Photo by Hu Xiaoyang

I’m sharing a poem today that Tee, one of my besties, sent to me two weeks ago. “In the Interim Time,” written by Irish priest-poet-philosopher John O’Donohue (1956-2008), carries a timely message.

Corona times are challenging in one way or another, and many of us want to get past these moments so we can get on with our “normal lives.” But what if we can’t or, more importantly, shouldn’t return to our normals?

We fight and fret trying to hang on to what is old when something new is being born. Donohue’s poem shows us there’s something we need in the “interim,” something hopeful, and something that prepares us for the new.

In the Interim Time
John O’Donohue

When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.

In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.

You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”

You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.

Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

from To Bless the Space Between Us (2008)


About the image: The postcard above was sent to me in 2011 from Jiayi, a postcrosser in China. The card shows a view of the West Lake in Hangzhou.

“A Psalm of Life: Let Us Be Up and Doing”

I thought about posting a biblical poem today, but once again, I was overwhelmed by my choices, so I decided to share Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “A Psalm of Life.” I happened across the poem this morning as I was reading through Our Daily Bread: Timeless Wisdom to Nourish the Soul, a gorgeous book I purchased nearly 20 years ago. The book is overflowing with scripture, poetry, and meditations.

Longfellow’s message is timely–life is real and we should live it to the fullest.

A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.


About today’s images: Today’s images are from a set of photo cards designed by my photographer/art journalist friend Diane W (midteacher on swap-bot). You have seen Diane’s stunning creations on the blog many times. She sent the photos in a beautifully designed handmade envelope filled with photo goodies and design surprises (like hidden pockets filled with photos, stitching, and butterflies). The set has been sitting in my “to be blogged” bin for nearly two years! The two included here are perfect matches for Wadsworth’s poem. To see what Diane has been up to lately, check out her Instagram page: A Focused Journey.

Poetry on Postcards | Ink wells up…

I’ve been sending and receiving poetry on postcards for almost a decade, so I was delighted when my Love Notes pal, Bianca, told me about Poetry on Postcards (PoP), a kindness initiative created by Rayna Hutchison.

Team PoP sends beautifully designed postcards with a personalized note written on the back. My note was inspiring and very much needed when I received it in mid-February:

Let the road steer your wheel. Go with the flow sometimes. Let things be. Smile your brightest smile. Go out there and seize the day!

I need these words today too–except I have to stay in and seize the day.

Want one?

All you have to do is request a postcard via the digital post office and Team PoP will wing one in your direction. You can read more about the project by clicking this link. To see more poetry on postcards, follow  PoP on Instagram.

Snail Mail Tip: While you’re waiting for your PoP to arrive, take the opportunity to send some of your favorite poems to family and friends. You can write short poems on the back of store-bought postcards or make your own postcards by cutting card stock into 4×6 pieces. You can type the poem directly onto the card stock and decorate the card in anyway you wish. The links below feature poetry on postcards presented in various ways:

You might also like the idea of pairing a poem (or excerpt) with a photograph. This is my favorite way of sharing poetry on postcards–as you can see from the blog posts below. If you’re not comfortable sending your own photos, see the many, many beautiful photos available for your use on Pixabay or Unsplash.

The weekend is here finally. I am on my way to my [current] favorite book of poetry and a piping hot cup of herbal tea. Won’t you join me?

Woman Inspired! | Stella Gibbons and Carson McCullers

One of my favorite bookish swap series to host is “Literary Wisdom” on swap-bot. Through the swaps, participants select a bookish postcard and write on the back a quote which inspires them. The quote must come from imaginative literature (poetry, prose, plays)–not sacred texts, self-help books, or non-fiction. For Women’s History Month, I decided to dedicate the swaps to women writers, since, unsurprisingly, male writers often dominate the swaps.

I created swaps for the Cup and Chaucer and Book Lovers Congregate groups. Lucky me! My randomly chosen partner for both swaps was Geraldine J (Nannydino). I always enjoy receiving postcards from Geraldine. Not only are the postcards well-selected with my varied interests and tastes in mind but the presentation of the written side of the postcard is always clean and inviting–very neat handwriting and unique placement of stickers, stamps, and postage. Somehow, Geraldine packs a lot of information on the 4×6 postcard backs, always including the date and weather.  Bonus–we have some of the same postcard collections so I get back the very postcards I love.

Now, for the literary inspiration:

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989). Photograph, Mark Gerson/National Portrait Gallery, London

Stella Gibbons was a British writer with poetry, short stories, and 25 novels to her credit. The inspired quote Geraldine chose to share comes from her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which is a parody of the “loam and lovechild” rural genre.

Every year, in the fulness o’ summer, when the sukebind hangs heavy from the wains. . .’tes the same. And when the spring comes her hour is upon her again … ‘Tes the hand of Nature and we women cannot escape it.

What seems to be most inspiring here–besides the hilarious novel itself–is “sukebind,” a word Gibbons coined. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “sukebind” is an “imaginary plant associated with superstition, fertility, and intense rustic passion.”

Check out two of The Guardian‘s reviews of Cold Comfort Farm:

If you’re interested in reading the novel, you should have no problems borrowing it from many of the e-libraries.

Carson McCullers (1917-1967). Photograph, Bettman/Corbis

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, also wrote in many genres–plays, essays, short stories, poetry, and (of course) novels. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, her debut [though not first] novel (at the age of 23), remains her most popular work.

The inspiration Geraldine shared actually comes from McCullers’ commentary on her characters. “She felt her characters powerfully, once stating:”

I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.

And one of the inspired quotes form The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

My advice to you is this. Do not attempt to stand alone. …The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.”

For more about Carson and her works, see the links below:

The postcards come from the collection, Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics: One Hundred Writers in One Box. I actually have the collection and mentioned it [or its lack of diversity] in a post on Eileen Chang. Despite the shortcomings of the collection, the photographs are stunning, and I’m happy to have two of the women writers “return” to me

Before I go, I leave you with a little homework. On the back of the McCullers postcard was an equally stunning fierce and inspiring woman postage stamp–featuring Elsie MacGill. If you don’t know who she is, you must do a little “research” and come back and report [in the comments] three things you’ve learned about her.

Until next time…

May You Sing: Rest and Renewal

“Just Before Spring,” or “Last Day of Winter.”

Today is the first day of spring. There are few signs, but it is certainly on the way.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and planning this week. Universities, as most know, have transitioned fully to online instruction to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19.  Even though these are “troubled” times, I can’t help but notice a certain relief in the posture of my colleagues and students. Sure, there is disappointment and a little apprehension about this new way of doing things (for some), but there’s also a collective sigh, expelling loads of stress.

I am grateful.

I am not grateful for the virus. But I am grateful for the slowing down, for deliverance from the break-neck pace that had me feeling like life was spinning out of control and the only way to stop was to hit a metaphorical wall. I pray this wall is not as painful.

In the midst of the confusion, the questions, the planning, the poem below landed on my screen via a friend’s Facebook post. I felt every word. May the words carry you. May they lighten the heaviness of this load we’re all carrying. May they usher you into the magic and renewal of spring.

May you sing.

Lockdown by Fr. Richard Hendrick, March 2020

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
you can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
the sky is no longer thick with fumes
but blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
people are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighborhood
so that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting.
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality.
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that:
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
the birds are singing again;
the sky is clearing;
spring is coming;
and we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
and though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
sing.

Out of the Zone…

Last week, during the spring break that didn’t feel much like a break, I stepped out of my comfort zone. Gasp!

I did three things that required a bit of a nudge and a bit of courage:

  1. I participated in a two-hour online “intentional creativity” class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, especially the tools and techniques offered. I even created a piece of art (which I will not be sharing here).  😀
  2. I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook for the Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project!!! If you know anything about how I feel about my artistic skills, then you know that this required a huge PUSH. The first push came when my friend Christine B sent me a sketchbook to complete. Then, she made sure to remind me periodically of the March 5th deadline. I finished almost half of the book during a church service one afternoon. Doodling helps me to focus and listen, but [still] shh…don’t tell. I’ll share more about the project and a link to my sketchbook when it is digitized and uploaded to the site.
  3. I put a couple of my doodles up for sale!!! I designed two coloring cards [see image above] for Women’s History Month “just because,” but I realized they are really cute enough to sell.  Plus, this parent of a teenager who has 8th grade graduation and a class trip coming up could use a few extra dollars! I decided to sell the set of two cards for $3. My “little sister,” social media influencer, Brittany of Ordinarily Extraordinary Mom, shared to her page. I saw lots of positive feedback and interest there, and guess what! I sold ONE WHOLE SET! 😀

It’s a start. Besides, marketing and selling any type of creative work takes a lot of time and effort.

My friend Cy is encouraging me to keep at it. She strongly believes in the power of my doodles. As a matter of fact, she had me design her business card with one of the doodles. Wanna see? [I “erased” her personal details]

I crossed off very few of the items on my extensive “to-get-done-during-spring-break” list, but I can’t even feel [too] bad about that. Life is so much more than the lists, and look at what I did accomplish!

What about you? Have you stepped outside your comfort zone lately? Tell me all about it…

International Women’s Day | Keep Showing Up

You might have heard about Aleta, my amazing bestie, in earlier posts. Well, she once again sent me a fierce, woman-empowering package. This one for my birthday (in October)–which her hubby delivered to me early December when he visited.

Three of the items rest in “my happy place.” One of the items has a quote on the front that I am compelled to share today:

There are women who make things better…simply by showing up. There are women of wit and wisdom who–through strength and courage–make it through. There are women who change the world every day…women like you.  –Ashley Rice

In your search for whatever it is you’re searching for, remember there is greatness in you. Through the ordinary of your every day, you do amazing things. Keep showing up. Keep showing out. Chin up, shoulders back to tackle the daily grind, the little things you do that make a world of difference in a life or two or maybe 100.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Self-Kindness and the (Un)Written Plan

Interior of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC. Digitally altered, of course.

The publicly announced commitments to change and other goals [seem to] have increased significantly for 2020, perhaps, because most perceive the new year as the beginning rather than the end of a decade.

This morning, I had a brief discussion with Paula, an inspirational writer friend, following her (re)posting of a devotional thought she wrote at the beginning of 2018. She commented in our discussion that not much had changed in two years.

That gave me pause for two reasons: (1) From my point of view Paula has made serious strides in recent years. And (2) when I considered what I’d hoped to accomplish the past several years, I confronted the reality that I missed the mark many times, in many ways.

But before I allowed myself to sit in a stew of self-pity and regret, I decided to make a list of all the things I have accomplished over the decade. Sufficiently sated, I stopped at the end of the first long page–with plans to “complete” the list and refer to it whenever feelings of failure and defeat surface.

While writing the list, I focused on the things others can see, things I can list on my curriculum vitae or include in a professional biography. However, there are so many victories, so many successes that would not be included on a CV or in a bio.

By the grace of God, I’ve done some hard things, faced and overcome difficult obstacles. Things that took time. Energy. And left scars. Things no one else will see. Things most will never know. Things for which I will never be publicly honored, recognized, or applauded. Things that firmed up my soul and impacted the lives of others in ways I may never know.

I learned long ago my value does not come from a list of successes (or failures), a title, a bank account, or even the people around me. I also learned what I achieve through and for the Most High is far more critical than anything I do for myself.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to make plans and act on them, but I invite you to do so with a little more perspective and self-kindness. Even if you don’t check everything off [the probably overly ambitious] list within the time frame expected, take into consideration the ways in which you slay and conquer that aren’t written into the plan.

Happy 2020!

You’re Entitled to You!

Some of the most exquisite sunflower postcards in my collection were made by Love Noter Lori-Anne C. The intricate details of her paint and ink cards always fascinate me. The card she designed for International Women’s Day 2019 did not disappoint.

“Better the Balance, Better the World.” Art by Lori-Anne C.

I did not miss her message about balance:

If you have the power to make someone happy, do it. The world needs more of that. Know that the “someone” can be you!

I’ve noticed [lately] that women, in particular, must be constantly reminded to take care of themselves. All my life, I’ve watched women put their needs and desires on the back burner while they pretty much served up every part of themselves to everyone else. We extol the virtues of sacrificial mothers and wives as if martyrdom is necessarily their calling, as if any attention to self makes them less selfless–or, worse, selfish.

Some of us are wired for such giving of ourselves, but just in case you have convinced yourself that everyone is entitled to all of you and all of your time, let me be clear: It’s not selfish to put on hold for a moment all the things and all the people vying for every bit of you. It is imperative that you pour some of your time and energy into yourself–to do something that makes you happy, that frees you, that heals you, or makes you giddy.

You can’t help others with only bits and scraps. You have to be balanced and whole–well, healthy–to help others, and you won’t be if you’re only serving others.

So go on. Plan to do something just for you–even if that means doing absolutely nothing.

The world around you is not going to fall apart if you take a little better care of yourself.  –S.C. Lourie, Butterflies and Pebbles.

“There Is Simply the Rose” | #WordlessWednesday

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Self-Reliance,” (1841), emphasis mine