When was the last time you wrote a letter? Not an email, not a text, but an honest-to-goodness, pen-on-paper missive of a full page or more, folded, sealed, stamped, and placed in an actual—not virtual—mailbox. When, for that matter, was the last time you received a letter?
That old-fashioned mode of communication seems to be a vanishing species these days. The average American household receives only ten pieces of personal mail per year (not counting holiday cards and invitations), according to a New York Times article by Susan Shain.
That's a pity. Letters have worth far beyond the paper they're written on, offering intimate musings and glimpses of everyday life that can't be found in brief dispatches or even impassioned Facebook posts.
"A letter is, after all, a piece of writing in which we give ourselves the space to reflect—to distill our emotions and reactions, to choose the things that are important and flesh them out in detail," writes Cristen Hemingway Jaynes in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers magazine. "Without the more intimate form of writing letters, I drift apart from those who are not in my daily life."
Reflecting on her communications with one friend who still writes letters but never sends emails, Jaynes observes, "I know more about her thoughts and her relationship with the world—how she is actually doing—than I do about most of my other friends."
I thought about that kind of connection recently, when my friend Laurel gave me a packet of letters I'd written to her in the 1970s and '80s. Reading through them, I found verbal snapshots of that period of my life: vivid descriptions of my friends, amusing anecdotes about everyday incidents, accounts of the books I was reading, ramblings on romances, ruminations on my college and grad school anxieties.
For instance: "I'm feeling very anxious about my entomology project and I want to make sure I have something done before Dr. Hurley gets back. I'm trying to get my equipment together this week so I can start the project next week. So far my equipment is a cake pan with the bottom cut out of it and a sieve. I have fears that the whole project is going to be about that sophisticated. I'm very nervous about it. I will enclose some of my bitten off fingernails if I remember."
Segues were seemingly unnecessary. I followed a discussion of travel plans with this news flash about my cat: "Ooooh, the most creepy thing just happened. Zeke has been sitting next to me on the couch, watching the birds outside and chattering his teeth at them. Then he lay down and went to sleep and chattered his teeth in his sleep. I CAN'T STAND IT!!!"
Some letters included funny drawings; others carried silly variations of my return address: "Sunset Avenue Circus Museum," "Sunset Avenue Center for the Development of Better Sleep Habits."
Reading the Laurel letters inspired me to haul out a box of letters that friends and family members had written to me over the years. Just the act of taking the letters out of the box gave me a deeper satisfaction than I've ever gotten from an email popping into my inbox. Seeing my brother's artsy, backhand cursive trailing across an envelope; recognizing a friend's old return address, noticing the stamp she selected, the kind of paper she wrote on, all felt like little homecomings. And the contents of those letters took me to times, places, and crannies of my friends' hearts and souls I couldn't have visited—and revisited—any other way.
Among those treasures was a note written on a Buckaroo Club napkin by my friend Darwin in 1981, shortly after he'd completed a 300-mile kayaking odyssey on the Yukon, Porcupine, Sheenjek, and Kongakut rivers, culminating at the Beaufort Sea.
"Though very maladjusted and in a state totally unfit for normal upright society except for that of Alaska, which I hate the city part of, I'm alive and back in Anchorage," he wrote. He went on to recount seeing hundreds of caribou, five grizzlies, two moose, and one gyrfalcon; tipping over twice, but righting himself before swamping his kayak; and sharing bowhead whale meat and blubber with local indigenous people on Barter Island.
Even accounts of my correspondents' less adventurous experiences were a treat to read. My friend Barry's dispatch from college in 1969 was just as keenly observed:
"Right here you have a prime example of a Communications 301 class," he wrote. "Notice the yawns and the chins propped drowsily on hands. Notice the blank sheets of paper without any notes. Notice the guest speaker getting shook. Notice chair #213 back there writing a letter to some girl in Oklahoma."
Old letters preserve daily details that now seem quaint. Writing in 1971 about her employment woes, my friend Wendy lamented "I really want to get out of the $1.65/hr range. It's a drag." In the same letter, she included sketches of a denim coat and paisley dress she'd managed to buy on those skimpy wages, and added, "I've ordered rain boots from Sears (pg. 555, Fall-Winter book, item 5, on sale for $8.94 in one of their sale books)."
Over the years I've sometimes chided myself for holding onto mementos like these old letters. But a single snowy afternoon spent reading them—even if that happens only once a decade—is more than worth the closet space my box of letters occupies. I'm reminded of how long my friendships have endured and how they've sustained me.
Letters enhance connection and contentment, to be sure, but they're also good for creativity.
"When I write longhand each pass of the ink on to paper is a physical creation. And as with sculpture, textiles, painting, and furniture, it contains remnants of myself," notes Jaynes, whose great-grandfather Ernest Hemingway was also an inveterate letter writer. "The exercise of writing, whether it be in the form of a letter or a story, is all good practice. As my great-grandfather demonstrated in his colorful letters to friends, there can be just as much creativity in letter writing as in any other form. Similar to freewriting exercises, writing a letter loosens the knots in neural pathways, leading to subjects and characters lying just below the surface."
I know it did for me. I learned to write largely by crafting letters to everyone from grandparents to pen pals with whom I connected through a kids' magazine.
After all I've said in praise of letters, you probably think I'm going to end this post with a pledge to write more of them. I could, but I know it would be a hollow promise. Truth is, I've never been that great a correspondent, even when letters were my main form of communication. I wrote tons of them, but I always seemed to have a stack of unanswered ones nagging at me (kind of like my email inbox these days).
So rather than make a promise I'm not likely to keep, I will resolve to keep writing an occasional letter, and I'll encourage you to do the same.
After all, as Hemingway once wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald, "it's such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you've done something."
Need more inspiration? Check out Letters of Note, a website that "offers an intimate window into history and the characters who shaped it."
Or write a letter to a stranger who could use an encouraging word. Find stories of deserving people, along with where to send letters, at More Love Letters.
My bucket list's got a hole in it. Things that once seemed vitally important to see or do before I die have dribbled away—some replaced by new must-dos, others simply discarded because my interests and circumstances changed.
I came to this realization after unearthing some of my old lists. It was enlightening to see which things on those lists I had ended up doing, which things I'd lost interest in along the way, which things just didn't happen and probably never will, and which ones still call to me.
My "101 Things I Want to Do Before I Die" list, dated October 20, 2002, includes item number 75: "Have a pet donkey (maybe)."
A few years earlier, I had become fascinated with donkeys during a long motorcycle trip down south, on which we saw scads of donkeys—miniature and full-sized—in fields and farmyards. I dreamed of having a donkey farm, then scaled that dream back to just one donkey (or two—I'd heard they need companions). By the time I made the 2002 list, though, the parenthetical "maybe" suggests I already harbored doubts about my commitment to caring for a large animal.
By the time I revised my list in March 2006, donkeys had disappeared, replaced by a number of items related to writing, publishing, and attending various writers' conferences.
One gotta-do item that did carry over onto the 2006 list was "Learn to play steel guitar," a burning desire since my grad school days in Kansas, when I worked off stress by dancing to western swing tunes and came to love the twang of pedal steel.
But that long-held aspiration had sloshed out of the bucket by 2009, when I again revised and pared down my list. By then, we had bought our Newaygo house and were making plans to move. While the idea of learning a new musical instrument still appealed to me, I wanted to devote more time to outdoor activities, travel, and getting to know our new neighbors and surroundings. I already had one time-consuming, indoor pursuit: writing. That felt like enough.
Then there's the category of things that just didn’t happen and probably never will. Ever since my youth, when I never missed an episode of "Then Came Bronson," starring Michael Parks as a disillusioned former journalist wandering the West on his Harley-Davidson Sportster, I'd dreamed of riding those same roads on my own motorcycle. I got the motorcycle (several, in fact, over the years), learned to ride, and made shorter trips on my own bike and longer ones on the back of Ray's, navigating so he could focus on the challenges of the road.
But my own westward odyssey never happened, and at some point it became clear to me that it never would. While it's true that ever since I turned fifty, my motto has been, "It's never too late," I've recently come to realize that for some things, it kinda is. The prime time for me to have made such a journey was ten or twenty years ago, when my riding skills, reflexes, and stamina were at their peak (and other drivers on the road were not as distracted as they are these days). I could still do it now, but I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I once would have.
I'm a little sad that it didn't happen, but when I remind myself of other experiences that did happen (including several meandering trips out West in vehicles other than motorcycles), the sadness dissipates.
That brings me to the mind-shift about bucket lists that happened not long after I drew up my last one in 2010. I realized that focusing on things still undone made me feel restless and disheartened at the prospect of time running out before I accomplished them all. So I sat down and made a list of all the things I had done over the years—both things that had been on my bucket list (writing a book, making collages, learning to kayak, hiking sections of the North Country Trail) and things that arose out of unexpected opportunities or spur-of-the-moment whims (joining in a 60-mile fundraising walk, taking a motorhome trip to Alaska, moving to Newaygo).
That list went on for pages, and as I looked it over, I could see that everything I'd listed there had brought me some kind of satisfaction, whether or not it had been on my official bucket list.
So I scrapped the bucket list and decided to take a different tack. I looked back at the various iterations of the list and tried to identify threads that ran through them. The result was a different kind of list that I titled "The Themes of My Dreams." Among the entries on that list were:
Now, instead of trying to tick off accomplishments, I just try to align activities with those overarching themes, and I feel far more content as a result.
I was surprised to find a similar approach advocated in—of all places--MotorHome magazine. In an article titled Trimming Your Bucket List in the magazine's September 2018 issue, author Mary Zalmanek ends with these suggestions (condensed and paraphrased here):
Finally, Zalmanek closes with this sage advice: "Today, do what will make you feel like you've lived a full and worthwhile life. That way your bucket will never seem empty."
In the two-and-a-half years since I started this blog, I've written about dozens of creative people, some here in Newaygo County, others as far away as the U.K. But it struck me recently that I've never written about my favorite creative individual, one who's right here at home: my husband, Ray Pokerwinski.
Since Ray has a birthday coming up next week, what better time to celebrate his talents?
One of the first things I appreciated about Ray (after his green eyes and engaging personality) was his imagination and ability to apply it to all sorts of projects. When we first met, twenty-six years ago, he was remodeling a house, transforming a cobbled-together lakeside cottage into a stunning, open-floorplan, contemporary home, complete with boat house and tiered decks. He envisioned the whole thing, then set about gutting the place and putting it back together in an entirely different conformation. (That house, by the way, was the fifth house he had remodeled, all with self-taught skills.)
As time went on, I discovered he was equally adept at re-imagining all sorts of things, including two of my motorcycles. With my input, his skills and artistry, and a little help from a custom painter, Ray turned stock bikes into head-turners.
Now he's turned his attention to a hot rod, the design of which has been incubating in his brain for a few years. Finally he's found time to start chipping away at the project as time permits.
Ray's genius for innovation applies to more than making things; he's a whiz at coming up with out-of-the box solutions to all sorts of problems. I can't tell you how many times I've been stuck, unable to figure out how to deal with a complicated schedule or some other seemingly intractable situation (like keeping squirrels out of the bird feeder). When I outline the problem to Ray, he instantly sees a simple fix that I was too mired in details to discern. (So far, he's winning the squirrel battle.)
So yeah, his ingenuity makes everyday life more efficient, but it also makes life a whole lot more fun. I never know when I might find a funny face on my lunch plate. Or fashioned out of folded laundry.
When we bought an adjacent piece of property with a weathered shed, Ray amused the whole neighborhood by decorating the shed for holidays with mostly Ray-made adornments.
For my birthday a couple of years ago, he gave me a gift card to a local camera store, but instead of just sticking it in a greeting card, he presented it in a camera-shaped, wooden box that he had made.
And one Valentine's Day morning, I stumbled into the kitchen to find a wooden heart Ray had fashioned from a piece of the towering oak we'd had to cut down. That's the heart you see in my HeartWood logo. Another year, I found a bouquet of wooden tulips he had made in his workshop.
It's been a pleasure, too, to collaborate with him on creative projects, like fairy houses for Camp Newaygo's annual Enchanted Forest event. Ray dreams up the creations; I just help with a few finishing touches. And it's Ray who makes up the fairy stories to accompany each house; then we work together on the wording.
Seeing how Ray makes creativity a priority emboldens me to do the same. What's more, he actively encourages and celebrates all my creative undertakings, from my memoir to this blog to photography projects and other artistic dabblings.
It's inspiring, as well, to see that he's still trying new things, with youthful enthusiasm that belies the number of candles on his cake (or pie, as that was his request for the upcoming birthday). His latest venture: hand-turning wooden pens and mechanical pencils for friends, relatives and fundraisers.
I could go on and on singing Ray's praises, but I've gotta go now—I have a pie to make.
Ever since I switched from weekly posts to a twice-a-month posting schedule, I've been depriving you, dear readers, of the end-of-month collections of wisdom that many of you have told me you enjoy. When I noticed that this month has an extra Wednesday, I thought I'd throw in a bonus post with tidbits I've been collecting over the summer.
Be tender to each other, teach a kid to read, laugh, be more tender than yesterday, repeat, ad infinitum.
-- Brian Doyle
It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
-- Ursula K. Le Guin
Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.
-- Carlos Fuentes
Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't.
-- Theodore Roethke
In a way, nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time.
-- Georgia O'Keeffe
Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.
-- David Orr
The quest for knowledge can be never-ending, because when you find out one thing, you want to know more. It's the joy of being a human: we're curiosity with arms and legs.
-- Sylvia Earle, The Sun magazine, July 2018
Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.
-- Truman Capote
My theory is that everyone, at one time or another, has been at the fringe of society in some way: an outcast in high school, a stranger in a foreign country, the best at something, the worst at something, the one who's different. Being an outsider is the one thing we all have in common.
-- Alice Hoffman
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
The most solid advice . . . for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
-- William Saroyan
Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.
-- Muriel Rukeyser
The heart pounds away, day after day, so synced up to our every movement we don't even notice. Yet it sustains us. Soft and vulnerable beneath our breast, it's no wonder this big, red muscle is the universal symbol for loving and feeling. To live is to feel. To love is to survive together. Our tender hearts connect our inner worlds with the lives all around us.
-- Claire Ciel Zimmerman, Mindful magazine, June 2017
[The waves] move across a faint horizon, the rush of love and the surge of grief, the respite of peace and then fear again, the heart that beats and then lies still, the rise and fall and rise and fall of all of it, the incoming and the outgoing, the infinite procession of life. And the ocean wraps the earth, a reminder. The mysteries come forward in waves.
-- Susan Casey
By the way, I'll be continuing the twice-a-month posting schedule rather than weekly posts, for a bit longer, posting on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
Here are the dates for the next few months' posts:
Skies were dreary and heaped with slate-colored clouds, but all was bright in Sandy VandenBerg's garden, near Fremont, Michigan, when I stopped by for a tour last week.
The 75- by 80-foot flower plot, criss-crossed with paths and accented with garden ornaments, is the result of a decade-long labor of love, Sandy told me. The plot started out as a vegetable garden, edged with a border of flowers. Somehow, over the years, the vegetables disappeared, and the flowers took over. Even the flower mix evolved over time, as Sandy added more and more native plants—about 50 in all—and those plants thrived alongside the 100 or so non-natives she acquired from friends and family members who helped her get the garden started.
"The natives, they just flourish, they go crazy," Sandy says. "I let them be where they want to be."
As a native plant gardener, Sandy is part of a (pardon the pun) growing trend. Many green-thumbed growers are adding native plants to their landscapes, for a variety of reasons.
Once established, native plants generally don't need to be fussed over. Because they're adapted to local conditions, they typically require less water—a big plus for gardeners accustomed to lugging around a hose or watering can.
The gardens attract some lovely visitors, too. Native bees, butterflies, moths, bats, hummingbirds, and other pollinators flock to the flowers. The seeds, nuts, and fruits of the plants offer an enticing buffet for wildlife, and the whole plants provide shelter—all important for critters whose habitats have been fragmented or destroyed by urbanization and other factors.
As natural gardening pioneer Ken Druse writes in The Natural Habitat Garden (Potter, 1994), "a habitat-style garden of native plants welcomes the whole food chain—not just flowers, birds, and butterflies, but also a magnificent decaying tree stump teeming with life, ringed by otherworldly fluted layers of fungi."
In contrast, many of the flowers and ornamental shrubs and trees sold in nurseries are exotics from other parts of the world. While wildlife may utilize some of these plants, they aren't the plants these animals evolved to use. What's more, some exotic plants become invasive, outcompeting native species and degrading remaining habitat, the Audubon Society maintains.
Sandy's interest in native plants began when her children were small. "On walks through the woods with the kids, I started noticing wildflowers, and I wanted to learn their names." As her love of local plants grew, she thought she'd like to have some in her own garden. She started shopping at the Newaygo Conservation District's annual native plant sale and attending the workshops offered during the sale each year.
Now, she not only tends her own burgeoning garden, she also shares seeds and plants with friends. It's not unusual for her to show up at our Monday morning yoga class with a carload of coneflowers, wood poppies, and other treasures.
On our recent walk through her garden, we admired wild petunias, rattlesnake master, pink coneflowers, yellow coneflowers, false sunflowers, bee balm, queen of the prairie, boneset, wild ginger, native phlox, and maidenhair ferns, as well as a few non-native perennials.
Especially impressive: a towering cluster of cup plants. The basin formed by their large leaves catches rainwater that birds, insects, and small mammals imbibe.
The garden refreshes Sandy, too, and aligns with her yoga practice.
"I practice a yoga nidra called, interesting enough, “Moving into the garden of your heart,” by Betsy Downing, one of my yoga instructor heroes," she says. "I attended Betsy's workshops for several years in Grand Rapids. On the practice tape, she asks you to visualize moving through a garden. She refers to it as the garden of your heart, and it is there to return to anytime you need peace and tranquility. When I open the gates of my actual garden, all worries are left at the gates. Sometimes the time spent there is hard physical work, and other times I'm just spending time appreciating all the beauty of nature. I always walk back out the gates a more grounded and peaceful being."
As we wrapped up our garden tour, I asked Sandy for tips to share with gardeners who'd like to give natives a try. Matching plants to soil and site type is essential, she said. Prairie plants won't prosper in a boggy area, and woodland plants will wither in a sandy, dry site.
Druse concurs. "Never have the words don't fight the site held so much meaning," he writes. "It is the habitat gardener's guiding principle."
Another thing to keep in mind: while native plants don't need a lot of pampering, they're not exactly maintenance-free. They can grow very tall and sprawly and may need to be staked or moved to roomier sites. And while they don't need fertilizer, adding compost can give a boost to plants that like rich soil. Sandy keeps four compost piles working and adds composted material periodically.
Also important: where you get your native plants. Plants that are propagated by a nearby native plant nursery or sold by a native-plant society or legitimate plant-rescue operation are all fair game. Digging up wild plants on your own is a no-no.
As a gardener who abandoned exotic perennials in favor of native plants when we moved to our woodsy setting six years ago, I can tell you that the joys of going natural far outweigh the challenges. Since I began planting and encouraging native plants, I've been delighted to see trillium, wild geranium, columbine, lupine, butterfly weed, black-eyed susans, cinquefoil, evening primrose, bee balm, horsemint, coneflowers, blazing star, prairie smoke, wild petunia, marsh marigold, blue-eyed grass, mayapple, spiderwort, and many more make themselves at home on our property. And along with them, a colorful assortment of butterflies, bees, birds, bats, and other creatures with whom I'm happy to share our space.
For more information on native plant gardening:
Wild Ones native plant organization
Michigan Native Plant Producers Association
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan, by Lynn M. Steiner
Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy
The Natural Habitat Garden, by Ken Druse with Margaret Roach
All photos by Nan Pokerwinski
Bea Cordle is a woman with a mission. Every morning, she wakes up inspired and ready to get going. Right after breakfast, she begins her work, continuing until evening.
Bea is, by the way, ninety-three, an age when she could be excused for doing nothing more than sitting on the porch swing, listening to the birds. Instead, she's brightening the days of children who may need a little lift.
The project that absorbs Bea every day is drawing whimsical characters on brown paper bags for the Kids' Food Basket program, which supplies "sack suppers" to children living at or near the poverty level. These free, balanced evening meals are distributed at the end of each school day and during summer programs at schools where 70% or more of the student population receives free or low-cost lunches.
Volunteers decorate the bags, and that's where Bea applies her talents. Curled up in a comfy armchair in the living room of the home she shares with daughter Sandra Bernard and granddaughter Marquita Bernard, with a rainbow of markers at hand and a pile of coloring books for inspiration, Bea draws her cheerful creations and finishes off each drawing with big "I LOVE YOU" at the bottom.
"I'm so blessed, because this gives me something to look forward to," says Bea. "I think about it before I get out of bed in the morning, and I think about it after I go to bed at night."
For Bea, the project has revived talents that took a backseat while she was raising her five children. In her youth, she enjoyed painting landscapes and cottage scenes. Then, for many years, she turned her creative energy to sewing clothes for her children (including wedding dresses, bridesmaids' dresses, and flower girls' dresses for all the family weddings) and crocheting outfits for the grandchildren that came along later. When she lost sight in one eye six years ago, she could no longer crochet.
"About a year ago, my other daughter brought me a package of the colors and some coloring books and some of the bags and said, 'I want you to try to work on this,' " Bea recalls. "And I said, 'Oh, I can't do that! I wouldn't be able to do that.' "
But she could. And once she got going, she was unstoppable. She estimates she has decorated more than 1,600 bags to date.
A social worker who visited one of the kids who receives sack suppers told Sandra the youngster's room was decorated with Bea's bags. Another little girl who cherishes the bags thanked Bea in person at a Kids Food Basket Halloween party. Sandra and Bea both get misty-eyed recounting the stories.
The bag project isn’t the only creative work underway in the big gray house in the heart of Newaygo. Bea, Sandra and Marquita recently published a children's book, I Am Never Too Me!, and Sandra and Marquita have two more books in the works: Things That Matter and Elton's Tall Tale.
"It's an exciting thing for the three of us," says Sandra, who also writes poetry and prose, in addition to singing and playing guitar professionally.
It was Bea's drawings that inspired Sandra and Marquita to collaborate on the first book and to recruit Bea to do most of the illustrations. Sandra, who used to make up stories about her son's imaginary friend when her children were small, quickly came up with an idea for the book.
"I got up in the middle of the night and wrote the story," she says. "I don't know what it is about writing, but the middle of the night, I wake up and ideas come to me, and I just get overwhelmed. I can't go back to sleep until I write the gist of it down."
The family invested in a computer, and Marquita, who has a background in design and illustration, created the front and back covers, added a few illustrations, and designed the layout.
Colorful and upbeat, the book celebrates diversity and encourages self-acceptance.
"I didn't just want to write a book with a lot of splashy colors. It's got to mean something," says Sandra. "But that's kind of the way I am with everything. If it doesn't have meat and guts to it, I just don't want to be bothered."
For Bea, Sandra and Marquita, working together on creative projects is part of a "spiritual movement" that began when they first started talking about living together.
"We decided, the three of us together, we're going to move in together and be a three-woman powerhouse. We're going to help each other, be there for each other," says Sandra. "And it's worked out really good."
I Am Never Too Me! can be found at Hit The Road Joe Coffee Café in Croton, River Stop Café in Newaygo and Studio 37 Arts & Culture Center in Newaygo and will soon be available on Amazon.
For more about Sandra Bernard's creative spirit and talented family, plus a sample of her poetry, see her April 20, 2016 guest post, Creative Thinkers.
Things were piling up. The calendar swelled with appointments, meetings, events, invitations, and activities. Household projects begged to be completed (or started), outdoor projects jostled for attention. There were errands to run, phone calls to return, e-mails to answer.
And then in the midst of all of that, the blog post I'd planned for today fizzled out.
My first impulse was to scramble to come up with another topic. Though I had plenty of ideas, all of them would take time to pull together, and time was what I didn't have. As I mentally scanned my gotta-do and wanna-do lists, it was clear I'd be pressed to make everything fit.
Then I had another thought: What if I just called time out? I'd already been planning to switch to a more leisurely blog-posting schedule for a few months over the summer, beginning in June. What if I started that a few weeks earlier than planned?
As soon as I had that thought, the space around me opened up. My breathing slowed. I felt like I could float on air.
Such a simple solution, just stepping back and saying, "Whoa, there." Yet it's crazily easy to forget that it's an option — that when things get too hectic, maybe they don't need to be. Maybe there are things that don't have to be done, or that don't have to be done quite the way you thought they did.
So with this post, I'm announcing the new, leisurely, summertime HeartWood schedule. For at least the next few months, I'll be posting only on the first and third Wednesdays of the month (see dates below). That means no Last Wednesday Wisdoms for a while. But don't worry, I'll still be gathering tidbits to share later on.
I'm grateful for the faithful readers who show up here every Wednesday, and I hope this change won't throw you all for a loop. But I'll bet you, too, have more things clamoring for your time than time to do them, so this will give you some breathing space, too.
And if you just can't stay away from HeartWood every Wednesday (or any other day), you're welcome to visit and read previous posts you've missed or re-read any you especially liked.
Here's when you can expect to find new posts:
See you in June!
Once again, it's time for our end-of-month roundup of wise words. No particular theme this month--or so I thought until I assembled all the tidbits I'd been collecting. Then I realized there were several on communication, freedom, and hope. Hmmmmm. Interesting.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.
-- Peter F. Drucker
We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us, and we do it with political systems . . . It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better . . . Blaming is a way to protect our hearts, to try to protect what is soft and open and tender in ourselves. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.
-- Pema Chödrön
Grace is beauty of form under the influence of freedom
-- Friedrich Schiller
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.
-- Lewis B. Smedes
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
-- Howard Zinn
It's easy to see the good in others if that's what you decide to do.
-- Ann Patchett
Everybody on TV exercises his or her right to express dogmatic beliefs at top volume, but we almost never see a model for deep, attentive listening. The value of genuinely being in each other's presence, regardless of whether we happen to agree, seems to be almost completely lost in our social discourse. That's why we get so little meaning from all our public arguments. It seems that we don't even know how to facilitate genuine presence, the kind of authentic being with each-other that may actually bring about real, positive change.
-- Jacob Needleman, "Beyond Belief," The Sun, December 2011
We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion, The great task in life is to find reality.
-- Iris Murdoch
What we want hasn't changed for thousands of years because as far as we can tell the human template hasn't changed either. We still want the purse that will always be filled with gold, and the Fountain of Youth. We want the table that will cover itself with delicious food whenever we say the word, and that will be cleaned up afterwards by invisible servants . . . We want cute, smart children who will treat us with the respect we deserve. We want to be surrounded by music, and by ravishing scents and attractive visual objects. We don't want to be too hot or too cold. We want to dance. We want to speak with the animals. We want to be envied. We want to be immortal. We want to be as gods.
But in addition, we want wisdom and justice. We want hope. We want to be good.
-- Margaret Atwood
A few weeks ago, I issued a challenge: pick one important lesson learned in each decade of your life. If that assignment seemed too huge, here's something much smaller to try: a six-word memoir. The idea isn't to encapsulate your entire existence in a handful of words, but to capture a micro-slice or express a tiny truth.
The concept has been floating around for more than a decade, ever since Larry Smith, founder of SMITH Magazine, asked readers to describe their lives in exactly six words.
Responses poured in, giving rise to the Six-Word Memoir project. To date, more than one million of the mini-memoirs have been published on the Six Word Memoirs website, and the project has been featured in hundreds of media outlets, including NPR and The New Yorker.
The phenomenon has spawned a series of books (some with six-word titles, natch), including It All Changed in an Instant, Not Quite What I Was Planning, I Can't Keep My Own Secrets (Six-Word Memoirs by teens), and Oy! Only Six? Why Not More? (Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish life).
There's a Six-Word Memoirs card game, and live Six-Word Memoir "slams" are held at locations around the world.
For inspiration, you can check out the vast and ever-changing assortment of little life stories on the project website. You can browse through topics, such as Life, Love, Advice, Happiness, Bosses, Food, or search by keyword.
A recent visit turned up such gems as:
Life: A backflip down the stairs, by Abarooni
Baking bread helps heal broken hearts, by L2L3
Even pinhole light defeats the night, by BanjoDan
Water life; grow what is unexpected, by Poetreebook
Of course I had to try writing my own. Some of the ones I came up with are too personal to share (!), but here are a few that made it past my internal censor:
Weighing "Do better" against "Good enough."
48 years motherless. Miss her still.
Haunted by dreams of motorcycling calamities.
Unable to resist chocolate, beer, writing.
Thinking these up instead of meditating.
Finally realized introversion's not a fault.
Still limber at 69. Thanks, yoga!
Now it's your turn. You may be surprised what you come up with. I was!
Ray and I are hitting the road again—heading back to the Southwest for a few weeks. I wish I could bring you all along, but once we stash all our gear in the truck, we just don't have room. Don't feel left out, though. I'm sending you on your own site-seeing tour—a virtual visit to a few websites that I think you'll enjoy. This week's tour has four stops. We'll visit more another day.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.