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.
If you ever find yourself traveling through North Dakota on I-94, wishing for relief from the tedium of driving and the monotony of the plains, just take Exit 72 for a delightful detour through one man's imagination.
Known as the Enchanted Highway, the 32-mile stretch of two-lane county road from Gladstone to Regent showcases a collection of colossal creations by metal sculptor and retired teacher Gary Greff. Gargantuan grasshoppers, humongous fish, gigantic pheasants, the world's largest tin family—you'll find all of these and more if you venture off the interstate.
Greff dreamed up the Enchanted Highway nearly three decades ago in an attempt to revitalize his hometown of Regent, then a town of around 200 people. He'd never studied art and didn't know how to weld, but that didn't stop him. Using scrap metal, cast-off oil drums and recycled pipes, Greff just figured things out as he went along, sculpture by sculpture.
"He envisioned ten mega-sculptures, each with parking lot, picnic area and playground equipment, spaced every few miles along the road. So far, he has completed six on the Gladstone-to-Regent road, plus an additional sculpture, "Geese in Flight," on a ridge overlooking I-94 at the Gladstone exit.
Simply funneling travelers into Regent wasn't enough for Greff, though. He wanted to keep them there long enough to eat, drink, sleep, shop, and hang out a while. So he opened a gift shop, and when the town's school—which Greff had attended as a kid—closed, he and his brother converted the building into a hotel.
But not just an ordinary hotel. No, the brothers Greff wanted a hostelry in keeping with the enchantment theme. So, once again with more inspiration than experience, they turned the school into the Enchanted Castle, a 23-room hotel with waterfall walls, suits of armor, and other medieval touches. The inn even has a bar and a restaurant fittingly named Excalibur Steakhouse.
Though the hotel, bar, and restaurants have garnered glowing reviews, they haven't yet turned things around for Regent. The population has dwindled to around 170. Yet Greff is undaunted. Ever the optimist, he's working on two new sculptures to grace the hotel grounds and attract more visitors, he told the Dickinson (North Dakota) Press: a 35-foot-tall, sword-wielding knight and a 40-foot tall dragon that will breathe fire every hour.
Regular readers of HeartWood know I can never pass up roadside oddities, especially the oversized variety. My patient husband and traveling companion, Ray, knows it, too, and never objects my quests for the quirky. So when I read about the Enchanted Highway in a North Dakota tourism magazine and realized it was right on the route of our recent road trip to Seattle, I declared it a must-see. On the way out to Seattle, we had only enough time to stop at "Geese in Flight," which is currently closed to visitors, but can be viewed from the highway exit. On the way back, however, we spent an entire morning visiting the rest of the sculptures.
I was— of course—enchanted! The sculptures were even more immense and intricate than they appear in photos. It was clear, though, that some could benefit from an infusion of cash to maintain or restore them to their original conditions.
Greff's project is largely self-funded, and he does all the upkeep, including cutting the grass. He'd hoped gift shop proceeds would cover costs, but so far they haven't, he told the Dickinson Press. Neither, apparently, have the donation stations at the sculpture sites.
I only hope some kind of magic materializes to provide Greff with the means to continue and care for his work. It's a testament to the vision and perseverance of one big-time dreamer and an inspiration to all who dare to aim high.
As Greff summed it up in an article on a North Dakota tourism website, "You've got a dream. Live that dream. Don't hesitate. If I can do it, a person who didn't know how to weld and didn't have an art class, if I can go out and build 110-foot metal sculptures, I think you can do whatever you put your mind to."
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."
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:
On the last Wednesday of every month, I serve up a potpourri of advice, inspiration and other tidbits I've come across in recent weeks. This month -- this week, in fact -- finds us commemorating both Earth Day and Arbor Day. In the spirit of those two observances, here's a collection of quotes about nature and the planet on which we live.
As a bonus, I'm including at the end of this post, some of my favorite nature shots from our recent visit to the Southwest.
Love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need -- if only we had the eyes to see.
-- Edward Abbey
Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there.
-- Gary Snyder
The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.
-- Alexey Leonov, Russian cosmonaut
The universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not objects to be exploited. Everything has its own voice. Thunder and lightning and stars and planets, flowers, birds, animals, trees -- all of these have voices, and they constitute a community of existence that is profoundly related.
-- Thomas Berry
The earth is a living thing. Mountains speak, trees sing, lakes can think, pebbles have a soul, rocks have power.
-- Henry Crow Dog
When I get sick of what men do, I have only to walk a few steps in another direction to see what spiders do. Or what weather does. This sustains me very well indeed.
-- E.B. White, One Man's Meat
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.
-- Rachel Carson
Nature repairs her ravages -- but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scarred; if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear the marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thorough repair.
-- George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?
-- Henry David Thoreau
Loyd: "It has to do with keeping things in balance . . . It's like the spirits have made a deal with us . . . The spirits have been good enough to let us live here and use the utilities, and we're saying: . . . We appreciate the rain, we appreciate the sun, we appreciate the deer we took . . . You've gone to a lot of trouble, and we'll try to be good guests."
Codi: "Like a note you'd send somebody after you stayed in their house?"
Loyd: "Exactly like that. 'Thanks for letting me sleep on your couch. I took some beer out of the refrigerator, and I broke a coffee cup. Sorry. I hope it wasn't your favorite one.' "
-- Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
And now, for a little more nature appreciation . . .
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
Friends have been foremost in my mind this month, partly because of all the wonderful cards, emails and calls that came my way on my birthday. But this month has also been a trying time for many friends who've been dealing with illness and loss, and I hold them in my heart.
With all of that in mind, I'm dedicating this month's Last Wednesday Wisdom to friendship, with a collection of quotes on the subject. Incidentally, tracking the quotes down turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected. While a Google search turns up loads of friendship quotes, confirming their sources isn't so easy. For instance, I discovered that one popular quote attributed to Albert Camus may have originated in the 1970s as an Iowa high school class motto. Other quotes are correctly attributed, but taken out of context.
I did uncover a valuable resource in the course of researching quotes, though. On his blog, The Quote Investigator, author Garson O'Toole investigates the origins of popular quotations. While he hasn't investigated all the quotes I'm citing here, he did clear up confusion about several. So cheers to Garson O'Toole—and to friends!
When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
-- Henri J.M. Nouwen
You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.
-- Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
I have no duty to be anyone's Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself . . . It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
-- C.S. Lewis
I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.
-- Jon Katz
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
-- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.
-- Muhammad Ali
If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.
-- S.E. Hinton, That Was Then, This Is Now
But please remember . . . that no person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.
-- Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
-- Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934
Friendship is the bestiest thing that comes to life.
-- Marilyn Monroe
Put on your party hats—we're celebrating a couple of birthdays. First of all, HeartWood turned two years old on February 10. Can you believe it?
And yesterday, I turned . . . somewhat older than two.
As my birthday approached, I reflected on previous birthdays and the many days between all those birthdays. That train of thought gave me an idea for this post: write about one important lesson learned from each decade of my life.
Easy enough. Or so I thought until I sat down and tried to choose one bit of knowledge or wisdom from each decade. Not so easy. For instance, how do you select just one essential thing that you learned between the ages of 10 and 20? There were so many—from the practical (driving) to the spiritual (oh, those many, many Bible verses in Baptist Sunday school), with all sorts of others in between, some learned in classrooms, others by experience.
So while it may not be possible to pick the essential lesson from each decade, I've tried to select one enduring lesson from each of those time spans.
Here's what I came up with:
By age 30, I had my life more or less mapped out. Then one day I looked at that map and went: Wait a minute—I'm going where?? I don't think so! The problem was, going a different way meant leaving a long-term relationship, stepping off a professional track, moving to a part of the country where I never imagined myself living—in short, heading a completely different direction with no guarantee it was the right one.
Yet some internal stirring urged me to go for it. I did, and I've never regretted it. That bold move led to a rewarding career in journalism, a new trove of treasured friendships and world-expanding experiences, and eventually, the satisfying life I'm living today.
Lesson: There's life after loss
Lesson: Stay flexible
Lesson: It's never too late
Author Lene Fogelberg is visiting today to share some tips for kick-starting a sluggish creative engine. You may remember meeting Lene (pronounced LEN-ay) when she visited HeartWood more than a year ago to talk about writing, health, and her memoir, Beautiful Affliction.
Lene's Ten Creativity Boosters
Lately, I have been thinking about creativity, especially since I recently experienced a surge in inspiration after returning from our holiday in Sydney, Australia.
Even before I had recovered from jet lag, new ideas for writing projects kept popping up into my mind. I felt compelled to examine this process further, by pondering how, why and when I have experienced bursts of creativity in my life.
Attend to Your Health
Our health has a great impact on all aspects of life, creativity included, but I also know from experience that doing something creative can be a great source of comfort and even alleviate pain. Since this post is about boosting creativity, the first step would be to do what we can to feel healthy and well-rested. But, as I told you, in the midst of jetlag and general post-holiday/travel fatigue, I still felt a surge of creativity that consequently must have been generated from other sources of inspiration.
Get Out In the World
Since we had just come back from our travel to Australia, full of new impressions, my first thought was that this must be a great booster of creativity. To experience new places, sights, sounds, scents and tastes, and to interact with new people. To marvel over the wonderfully cheerful Australian accent, to be called "love" and to "ooh" and "aah" over the fireworks next to strangers who helped us get the best viewing spot over the harbour.
Meet New People
Yes, this, to meet new people, should be its own item on the list. To talk to them, to listen to their stories, and to—just as important for a writer—observe them. Not in a stalker-ish way, but just as they go about their ordinary business. In Sydney, I couldn’t help but notice the street singer who always stood on the same corner in his washed-out jeans and blond curls, singing Hallelujah with a silky voice to the tunes from his worn guitar; the tanned, muscular woman working on the ferry, lassoing the thick ropes like a cowboy as the ferry docked; the cashier in the corner supermarket, interrupting the loud stream of words into his cell phone to look up at us with a soft "How can I help you?"
Kick Back With TV or a Book
And in the evenings, when we were sprawled out on the living room sofa after having walked all over Sydney, we enjoyed watching TV: news, series, comedy, anything that gave us an additional flavour of the Australian culture, and insights into the people and their stories. For example, we watched the miniseries called Hoges about Paul Hogan, the real life Crocodile Dundee. It was really enlightening, and helped me understand just how big a phenomenon Hogan was and still is in Australia, and how much his story helped shape the Australian brand overseas and domestically. Whenever I encounter a new place, I also enjoy to read up on people and places, to more fully understand the culture. A while back I read a lot by novelist Patrick White, and it was such a great experience to visit the country he so vividly described in his novels.
Get a Move On
I already mentioned that we walked a lot, and I mean A LOT. Wow, we got so much exercise, and even though I was very tired in the evenings, it must have done me good, since I’m having this surge in well-being and creativity. We rented a small townhouse by Barangaroo Reserve, in the heart of Sydney, with harbour views from nearly every window. I took this picture a few steps from our front door, and it was wonderful to breathe the ocean air, and watch the sun set, mirrored in the silvery water.
This, to spend time in nature, seems to always recharge my mind, body and soul in every way. Somehow I feel happier, stronger, more alive and more like myself, when I am surrounded by trees, rocks, earth and water. It seems to sharpen my senses, make me more aware of the details in every leaf of grass, flower and every ripple of the water surface.
Capture the Beauty
These beautiful views seem to urge me to capture them, when I was younger on canvas, and nowadays more often using photography. This in turn, I believe, helps me see more details, moods, shadows and shades, that I otherwise might have missed. Learning photography has turned to be a great source of inspiration in my writing. Come to think of it, the first chapter of Beautiful Affliction starts with a photograph!
Indeed, all crafts tend to cross-pollinate each other, which is why, I believe, so many writers are also artists, musicians, designers, gardeners, photographers, bakers etc. To do something crafty, seems to stimulate our creative minds in all directions.
Connect With Other Creative Types
And as we engage in our favourite crafts, we tend to gravitate to, but also attract, other creative people, who can be a great source of inspiration. These days we needn’t create in solitude, instead we can find like-minded friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in the blogosphere, and of course, IRL: in real life.
Accentuate the Positive
Learning from and about other creative people can also help us cultivate positive paradigms on craft/creativity and lift our spirits when we suffer setbacks or when we feel like the well of our creativity has dried up. I love the uplifting "can-do" spirit that is often shared on Instagram, and the many tips from bloggers, and the never-ending jokes and shenanigans on Twitter. Perhaps especially for me, a Swedish writer living in Asia, social media has proven to be a valuable source of inspiration, connection and a place to find friends, now that I live so far from home.
-- Ray Bradbury
-- Pema Chödrön
And then continue on your own way.
-- Vera Nazarian
-- Rachel Carson
-- Rita Levi-Montalcini
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
-- Søren Kierkegaard
-- Elaine Smookler, "Anti-Aging? No Thanks," Mindful magazine, April 2017.
-- Frederick William Faber
-- Sir J.M. Barrie
from the heart of the woods
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.
Last Wednesday Wisdom