At the Right Time…

I recently received Morgan Harper Nichols’s beautiful book, All Along You Were Blooming, as a gift. This book is filled with such beautiful soul-filling poetry that I can’t simply pick it up, select a poem, and move on. I have to wait for a moment when I can savor her words and let them sink deep into and soak my soul from the bottom up (if souls have bottoms).

I read the poem that follows this afternoon, and it feels like it was written for me in this moment. I’ve been operating in a fog and from a place of brokenness for far too long. I felt myself beginning to fall beneath the weight of it all, the pandemic, and being in crisis mode all.the.time. A few days ago–Sunday–I simply asked God to help me release the weight. I asked for clarity and direction. I don’t normally put in major [for my job] work hours during the weekend, but Sunday I work-worked for hours nonstop. Something in me felt compelled to clear several things off that particular plate.

By the next morning, I realized that there was a major shift inside. The Divine One had taken the whole load and kept me too busy to fuss and fret. The challenges are still here–obviously–but the weight is not mine to bear. I found myself really breathing again for the first time in a long time.

At the right time,
every broken thing
will come together for good.
You are more than your
failures,
successes,
more than your fears.
And far beyond the surface
of your desires,
there is a truer season
why you are still here.
If you find yourself struggling
to see past your imperfections
because you cannot figure out how
what’s torn apart can come together,
may you know in your soul
that the answer is not found in thinking,
feeling,
doing,
but in trusting what is Greater than you.

–Morgan Nichols, All Along You Were Blooming


About the Images: When I received the butterfly postcard [second photo] from my Love Notes friend Christine B, I was über excited because I knew somewhere in my 2016 photo library there was a twin butterfly feasting on yellow flowers [top photo]. Ha! I was wrong. The butterflies, though slightly similar in underside color, are different. My photo features a common buckeye; Christine’s a Melissa Blue.  Maybe, they’re cousins. 😉

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

Sunflowers for Inauguration Day!

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation
that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

–from “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

If you haven’t heard, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., the 46th President of the United States, was sworn in today.  And history was made today when Kamala Devi Harris, the very first woman and very first Black woman was sworn in as Vice President of the United States. Based on recent events in the USA, it’s hard to believe I bore witness to this bit of history.

I am excited and hopeful and relieved (all adjectives my students used to express their feelings about the inauguration).

One of my students expressed hesitation toward hope. She commented about the propensity [of many Americans] to raise the alarm and fight the good fight but then lapse into inaction when the major crisis is over. Her concern is valid, but the insurrection on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago gave us a glimpse of what can happen if we do not guard our democracy fiercely. “The Hill We Climb,” the inaugural poem written and performed by Amanda Gorman, the very first National Youth Poet Laureate, poignantly emphasized this point.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.

Though we are flawed and prone to temporary amnesia, I am hopeful that we will accept the charge Gorman [implicitly] issued through her poem. It is up to each individual citizen of the United States to protect and uphold democracy.

Good Light.

If you see someone who has good light, thank them for it. It will help them keep the light on. —Jaiya John, Daughter Drink This Water


About the Image: In honor of my hubby’s birthday (today), I’m sharing one of the sunflowers he grew for me. He has good light. 😉

You can find more of Jaiya John’s words by visiting his website (linked above) or his Instagram page.

New Year: A Dialogue

“Cheers to the New Year.” Photo by Rebecca R.

Happy New Year, Friends!

Although I said I would, I changed my mind about sharing a Neruda poem this evening. Instead, I decided to drop in with a dialogue poem by late 19th/early 20th century poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. The dialogue speaks to this particular moment of transition. After the maddening year that’s just ended, some of us might be a little wary about our march into 2021. But the year awaits with all its gifts.

New Year: A Dialogue
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Mortal
“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”

The New Year
“I am Good Cheer.”

Mortal
“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

The New Year
“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”

Mortal
“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless. Pass on.”

The New Year
“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”

Mortal
“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth. I cannot use it.”

The New Year
“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”

Mortal
“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”

The New Year
“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”

May you find in this year good cheer, hope, success, good health, and, of course, love.


About the image: The macro photo of a leaf with raindrops (or dew?) came from my friend, Rebecca R. She captured it during an autumn walk and sent it with best wishes for the new year.

#ThursdayTreeLove | A Trip to Tuscany

I missed #ThursdayTreeLove last week. :-/ Thankfully, December gave us five Thursdays this year, because I could not miss celebrating Parul Thakur’s 100th #ThursdayTreeLove post! I started participating with #TTL 45–2.5 years and approximately 55 #ThursdayTreeLoves ago–but Parul’s been rocking tree love consistently for four years!

Number 100 deserves something special, so I am taking you on a brief trip to Tuscany with photographs by Steven Rothfeld from a 2007 engagement calendar, Under the Tuscan Sun.

While attempting a major declutter of my home office, I ran across the calendar, which features excerpts and recipes from Frances Mayes’s booksUnder the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, In Tuscany, and Bringing Tuscany Home. Instead of tossing it as I probably should have, I decided to use some of the images in journals and letters. All of the images are beautiful, but I was really mesmerized by photos that included the Mediterranean Cypress.

Please enjoy a bit of eye-candy from Tuscany with Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet.” The poem has nothing to do with trees or Tuscany, but it does offer a bit contemplation for entering the new year.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

I was torn between this poem and another by Neruda, so I’ll share the other poem tomorrow. Until then, though the blast of fireworks and the countdown to midnight vie for your attention, be sure to tune inward and take a moment for quiet reflection.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Favorite Moments of 2020

My blogging friend, Akilah of The Englishist, recently posted her favorite moments of 2020. I’m “stealing” her idea because I think we all need a reminder that despite the icky, crazy of this year, there is also a lot of good. Plus, as you know, I love making lists.

So here are some of my favorite moments of the year of (mostly) sheltering-in-place and almost running out of toilet paper.

Trip to New Orleans. Along with my dad’s three sisters, the guys and I visited New Orleans and returned to ‘Bama just before the Coronavirus outbreak. It was a desperately needed trip for all of us. I am so glad we were able to see my parents and some of my siblings before the pandemic forced us all to stay put. I am missing them like crazy, so I’d probably be out of my mind if we hadn’t taken that short trip.

Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project. As you read in an earlier post, I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook to Brooklyn Arts Library. Here’s the link to my mini sketchbook of doodles and quotes if you’re interested: #facethesun: Sunflower and Her Friends.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I’m so not a sketch artist. I didn’t realize I should have only doodled on the front of the pages. I’m definitely going to participate again, with a full-size book and my photography—the art medium with which I’m most comfortable.

Book Talk. Literally two days before the University decided to transition to online learning because of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of coordinating a panel discussion on the book, When Saints Sing the Blues for Wednesday night services at the University church. It was well-attended and well-received. I enjoyed listening to the stories of each of the panelists and speaking with attendees afterwards.

Lettering with the Creator of Cuteness.  Thanks to the gift of time due to the pandemic, I joined Creative Hand Lettering and Doodling with Lindsay. For the first couple of months (or so), I watched Lindsay’s informative and humorous live videos, practiced lettering, and downloaded her free Corona coloring pages and other goodies. The photograph to the left features one of my first projects. The assignment was to use “tinker toy” lettering with a line from a song. This was the perfect creative outlet for our “Corona times.” I don’t have much time to view Lindsay live, but a friend gave me a gift of the workbook, Creative Hand Letter with Lindsay, so I practice whenever I get a chance.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff, who coordinates Love Notes, also hosts Write Together, Art Journaling, and other classes. I joined Write Together one evening, and it was such a healing, soul-filling experience that I rode the high for weeks. Life got in the way for a few weeks and when I found time again, I felt a little weird about joining after having missed so much. If Jennifer continues to host next year, I hope to join at least twice a month.

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. My son’s (middle school) teachers assigned a “pandemic-style” scavenger hunt for the students. They had to find a list of items in their own neighborhoods. We had fun running (and driving) up and down the street looking for the items, and of course, I took advantage and captured some roses.

Eighth Grade Graduation. My not-so-little one “graduated” from 8th grade! So many things were canceled for the students, but the school administrators decided to hold a scaled-down graduation program with social distancing measures in place. It was held in July–almost two months after the planned date–but we were all so happy for this moment of celebration and to see other people! 🙂 My son, as class president, delivered an excellent speech. This was a proud Mommy (and Daddy) moment.

Spectrum Publication. One of my blog posts was reprinted in Spectrum Magazine (online).

The Chair. I accepted the role of Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages. This isn’t exactly a moment, but a shift. I’d served as department chair at another university for several years. I’d also served in other administrative capacities, but even though I enjoy administrative work, I’d made a decision not to go down that road again (for many sound reasons). God had other plans and He let me know very clearly in a moment that can only be described as an epiphany. I don’t know [yet] why He called me to this task, but I promised to walk in obedience, so here I am.

Three Sundays with David Whyte. David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, hosts poetry seminars via Zoom, typically three Sundays in a month. I participated in three–The Courage in Poetry (April); Just Beyond Yourself (May); and Half a Shade Braver (September). In each session, he shared poetic wisdom, stories about his travels, anecdotes about his friend John O’Donohue, his own poetry and the poetry of others. The sessions were life-changing, and I wrote so much poetry as a result.

A Moment with Raven. One of my former students, Raven, came into town to visit family, and she took a moment out to visit me! We met just outside campus at the Farmer’s Market. It did my heart good to see her and know she is doing well! Of course, I tried to get her to leave California and come and work with me, but she makes more than we can pay her. :-/

Sunflowers in My Backyard. My guys planted sunflowers right outside my office window. I watched them grow from seedlings to 6-7 feet tall. They brought so much joy to my days. The sunflower pictured here was the first to bloom. I have many, many more to share, but it’s so difficult to choose!

Moulin Rouge. You read about my encounter with the Moulin Rouge sunflower in an earlier post. This might be one of my top ten favorite moments of the decade.

Sunflowers in My Mailbox. Sunflowers in my mailbox always create a “favorite” moment, and my friends have kept me and my mailbox happy with sunflowers. In addition to the lovely cards and postcards, I received a number of sunflower packages–a boxful of sunflower goodies from my bestie, a personalized sunflower Starbucks cup from my “niece,” Christian, sunflower stickers from Raven, a package full of sunflower postcards from Debbie T, and a beautiful sunflower teapot from Christine B, two of my Love Notes friends.

Christmas Card Lane. I shared the Christmas Card Lane experience a couple of days ago. I needed that strong dose of Christmas joy.

When the year started, we had grand plans, but before many of those plans could be executed, without much warning, everything changed. Instantly. For everyone. In the entire world. As the days rolled on, things got stranger and more complicated and more twisted, and here we are at the end of all that crazy. And I am grateful for these favorite moments and for the many, many beautiful, everyday moments of 2020–(almost) nightly movie nights with my guys, Zoom calls with family, long walks, putting up lights and balloons for birthdays, trying new vegan recipes, opening a mailbox full of happy mail, drive-by visits with relatives and friends, singing and praying with my guys, listening to them play various instruments, and church services in pajamas.

I’m not sure what next year will hold, but “I know Who holds the future.” Therefore, I am looking forward to new moments–ordinary, extraordinary, and beautiful.

May You Have Peace…

My Love Notes friend, Suzette R., created and sent the gorgeous collage above and I can’t resist sharing it with the blogosphere.

She appropriately added Casting Crowns’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The song is based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells,” which I shared on the blog six years ago.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
 
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
 
But the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth)
 
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep 
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
 
And the bells they’re ringing  
Like a choir they’re singing 
And with our hearts we’ll hear them 
 
Do you hear the bells they’re ringing?
The life the angels singing 
Open up your heart and hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Like Wadsworth’s poem, the song decries the hate and hurt that mock the “song of peace on earth, good will to men.” It is appropriate for the bizarre year we’ve had in which all the chaos seem to scoff at our attempts to live in peace and harmony. But just as Wadsworth’s poem ends in hope, so, too, does the song.

If we tune our hearts to the bells, to the true meaning of Christmas, we will tune our hearts to hope, love, and yes, peace.

May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas!

The Winter of Listening

Winter Walk with Tiff & Lu

My head has been buzzing with “all the things” for the last several days, so it was a gift to pause earlier today and consider the words of David Whyte’s “The Winter of Listening.”  The poem reminded me of winter’s purpose–to slow down, to be still, to rest, to listen, to connect, to give birth to something new.

May this winter “be enough for the new life [you] must call [your] own.”

The Winter of Listening
David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

All this trying
to know
who we are
and all this
wanting to know
exactly
what we must do.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
to the lit angel
we desire.

What disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true
to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.
Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

Keep Dreaming

Art by Karen B.

Love Noters are an amazing group of people. They’re certainly my kind of people–artists and dreamers who love music, books, nature, paper, and ink. Thanks to my growing group of letter sisters, I have enough art to fill an art gallery and keep my heart full.

Today’s post features the abstracts created by Karen B, my partner for Love Notes 31, and “Dreams,” a short poem by Langston Hughes.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Art by Karen B.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Art by Karen B.

Karen’s art is beautifully understated with a bit of whimsy and seriousness at once. I’ve paired her work with Langston Hughes’s “Dream” because, like his, her work seems effortless but holds a world of complexity.

Until next time, hold fast to your dreams…