On the last Wednesday of every month, I serve up a potpourri of tidbits I've come across in recent weeks. Here's what I've unearthed this month. See you in February!
Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teaches who unknowingly speak to your condition.
-- Sam Keen
If a thousand old beliefs were ruined in our march to truth, we must still march on.
-- Stopford Augustus Brooke
You think your pains and heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive.
-- James Baldwin
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
-- Mother Teresa
The truth is at the bottom of a well. You look in a well, and you see the sun or the moon, but if you jump in, there's no longer the sun or the moon; there's the truth.
-- Leonardo Sciascia
I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous.
-- Robert Brault
Don't do nothing because you can't do everything. Do something. Anything.
-- Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
The path of progress has never taken a straight line, but has always been a zigzag course amid the conflicting forces of right and wrong, truth and error, justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy.
-- Kelly Miller
No amount of fine feeling can take the place of faithful doing.
-- William Barclay
The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.
-- William Sloane Coffin
Embrace Your True Self
We've all seen them: before-and-after photos urging us to try new diets or body-shaping products. In the before shot, the woman (the subjects usually are women, it seems) looks not only doughy, but dejected, slouching and spilling out of her too-small bikini. In the after, she's lean and hard-bodied, beaming as she strikes a triumphant, look-at-me pose.
While those photos may be designed to encourage us to care for ourselves (or to buy products that will make us believe we are), just as often they reinforce our negative self-images, especially if we happen to look more like the "before" than the "after."
That's what led an Australian woman named Taryn Brumfitt to post unconventional before-and-afters of herself online: a trim and bikinied before shot and discreetly-posed nude photo of her plump, soft—and smiling—after-self. The photos went viral and touched off a flurry of media attention, giving Brumfitt a platform for telling the world how she learned to love her natural shape instead of trying to force it to fit someone else's idea of attractiveness.
Television interviews gave her only a few minutes to make her points, though. She wanted to say more. So Brumfitt raised money on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to create a documentary film, EMBRACE. The film premiered at the Sydney Film Festival last year and now has made its way to Newaygo County, where it will be shown at Camp Newaygo on Friday, January 27.
I'm especially excited to spread the word about this event because it's being sponsored by Ellie's Yoga and the Wander Women hiking club—the groups of strong, positive women with whom I begin and end most weeks.
The film was a natural for Camp Newaygo, says Jalisa Danhof, the camp's assistant director. "When we watched the trailer and looked into what it's about, we thought it fit perfectly with our mission of teaching empowerment and self-worth and building confidence."
Body image is a topic that comes up often at camp, especially among early adolescent girls, Danhof says. "They're more comfortable talking about it at camp because there are no boys. It's a safe place to express fears and concerns that they might not otherwise express." Camp Newaygo counselors are trained to respond in ways that are supportive but not intrusive.
In EMBRACE, Brumfitt travels around the world, talking to everyone from actor and former TV host Ricki Lake to a burn survivor and a celebrity photographer about the impact of body image.
"The media and advertisers so often present one singular body type as being the standard," says Brumfitt. "In truth, hardly any person on the planet looks like that and the images are often digitally manipulated anyway. But so many perfectly healthy normal people are left feeling inadequate. We should all be empowered to just not buy into it."
Producer Anna Vincent hopes audiences will leave the movie "punching the air, feeling good about themselves, and understanding that they don't suffer their problems alone."
As for Brumfitt, "I want people to walk away after watching EMBRACE believing that they can embrace and love their bodies unconditionally. I know from travelling around the world that this is a real problem that's affecting people's lives every single day. I hope the film will start a more positive conversation about body image and that audiences will be inspired by the stories they'll hear, and the people they'll meet through the film."
In addition to creating EMBRACE, Brumfitt founded the Body Image Movement, which advocates natural aging and beauty and aims "to uncover the true beauty that lies within each and every one of us, the beauty of a person you can't physically see: one's humility, kindness, humor, respect and generosity."
Now, that's a beautiful mission.
EMBRACE will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on January 27 at Camp Newaygo, 5333 Centerline Rd., Newaygo. Doors open at 7 p.m. The event is free, but please register to reserve a seat (and let organizers know how much popcorn to pop!). The film is recommended for ages 10 and above. A parents' guide, available on the Camp Newaygo website, is designed to help parents decide if the film is appropriate for their children.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
When we moved to West Michigan, I envisioned spending the whole stretch of days from December through February cozied up indoors, reading stacks of books, writing, cooking comforting meals, and emerging only to restock the necessary supplies.
I wondered if I'd get bored, but I've found I look forward to winter's inward-focused, slower pace as a time to catch up on projects, both practical and creative. I can go days—a week or more, even—without leaving the house and not feel the least bit restless.
But here's the problem: interesting things keep going on all winter long in the world outside my cocoon. There are concerts, classes, meetings, lectures, card games, art exhibits, hikes (yes, even in winter, if the weather's not too extreme)—a surprising number of goings-on beckoning me to bundle up and get out.
So I weigh the options. Stay put and make progress on the projects I've been itching all summer and fall to get into or go out and enjoy stimulating activities and the company of friends?
There are good reasons to go. Study after study has affirmed the health benefits of social activity—boosting brain health and bolstering immunity, for instance.
Plus, getting out revs creative engines.
As poet Richie Hofmann put it in a 2016 interview, "Sometimes It's important for me to get outside of poetry, or outside of literature altogether. To listen to music, look at a painting or sculpture or installation, see a concert, attend a lecture on something strange but intriguing. These other arts not only provoke new subjects, but they might offer new ways of thinking formally as well."
I remember hearing a radio interview with musician and songwriter Allen Toussaint in which he talked about driving around his home city of New Orleans for inspiration instead of sitting in a room and expecting his muse to find its way to that one place. Made sense!
Author Annie Dillard also is a big believer in pushing away from the desk and venturing into the world. In nonfiction essays, she has written about such experiences as witnessing a total eclipse and watching a skywriter making loops and barrel rolls and then riding with him. No amount of book research, telephone interviewing or imagination could have produced the memorable images and perspectives of those pieces.
Other writers who studied with Dillard learned the same habits. "She encouraged us to get out into the world, which explains at least one afternoon I spent playing video games with the owner of a local baseball-card store, in order to write a profile of him," recalled Maggie Nelson in a 2016 article in Poets & Writers magazine.
Inspiration and verisimilitude weren't Dillard's only motivations. Service was another. She volunteered in a soup kitchen for ten years and thought other writers might do well to follow suit. As she wrote in an email to writer John Freeman, cited in the same Poets & Writers profile, "Working in a soup kitchen is great for a writer or any artist. There are many unproductive days when you might hate yourself otherwise. You are eating the food, using the water, breathing the air—and NOT HELPING. But if you feed the hungry you can't deny you're doing something worth doing."
Author, filmmaker and social activist Toni Cade Bambara had a similar attitude toward community involvement, as poet Nikki Finney recounted in a 2015 article in The Writer's Chronicle. Finney and Bambara were at a bus stop in Atlanta when a bus driver recognized Bambara as "the writer lady" and asked if she would help him and his wife fill out papers they needed to complete to buy a house. Finney expected Bambara to politely decline, but she said "Sure," and told the man when to come over.
"I stepped back and said, 'That's what a writer is,' " Finney recalled. "A writer is somebody who sits at her desk and creates these worlds—beautiful, troubling, tough, real worlds. And then, when she gets up from her desk and she goes to the grocery store or the garden, somebody asks for help in a real way from her. And she says, 'yes.' That's the writer I want to be. I want both those worlds."
So many good reasons to leave home and enlarge one's life. Yet there's another side. Too much go-go-go and social interaction can be wearying, and for introspective types, stressful.
The need for solitude is a hallmark of introversion, I've learned, and I've also come to appreciate that introversion is no better or worse than extroversion. It's simply a trait that deserves to be recognized and respected.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your alone time to outweigh your social time," writes Elizabeth Enochs in 5 Signs You're Fighting Your Introverted Nature on the website Bustle. "Introverts genuinely need their alone time. Solitude is crucial for us, because while social interactions may energize our extroverted loved ones, they drain us introverts. So don't feel guilty for loving your alone time so much that you occasionally turn down invites to go out. If you're failing to give yourself the solitude you naturally require to re-charge your batteries, know that this is not only unnecessary, it's unhealthy."
As with so many things in life, the key is striking the right balance. Whether you thrive on activity and a swirling social life or cherish seclusion, learn to recognize when you've had too much or too little of what you require, and tailor your activities accordingly. Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, put it this way in a 2013 Huffington Post article: "There’s a recovery point that seems to be correlated with how much interaction you’ve done. We all have our own private cycles."
For me, that feels like the right balance. What feels right for you?
All images on this page are free-use, stock images.
The Best of Intentions
A murder mystery author, a bee expert and a pastor walked into a blog . . .
That's not the lead-in to a joke, it's the lead-in to this week's installment of HeartWood. Those three folks were among the assortment of interesting, insightful people I invited to share their intentions for 2017. Specifically, I posed this question: What is one way you hope to enhance (or exercise) your creativity OR increase your connection (with other people, with the natural world, with causes you champion) OR foster contentment (your own or someone else's) in 2017?
Responses ranged from practical to political, artistic to activist, and each one gave me something to think about. (And by the way, if you're thinking, Why didn't she ask me? Aren't I interesting and insightful?, don't be so sure I didn't ask you. I have a feeling a number of emails I sent ended up in spam files, even though I tried to keep my email groups fairly small). So read on and please feel free to share your own intentions or comment on these responses in the Comments section at the end of this post.
Author J.Q. Rose (known as Janet Glaser in her non-writing life) has been tackling some new writing challenges, in addition to spreading the word about her latest release, Dangerous Sanctuary. Here's her intention for 2017:
In 2017, I plan to complete my memoir about the first year my husband and I bought our flower shop in Fremont. Writing about myself, instead of a character in a mystery story, is very difficult. I have to be truthful about the situation I lived through 40 years ago. No fiction! Time certainly has a way of giving one a different perspective on events. I intend to share this story with my children and grandchildren. They've heard some of the stories about the people and places during that time. I'm eager to put it all together chronologically for them.
If I decide to share the story publicly, I hope it will inspire and empower others to follow their dreams. Perhaps readers will gain the courage needed to leave home, friends, and family to make a future in a completely unknown area to realize their full potential. I'm so glad we did! Fremont is home now and even if there were a few bumps in the road on our journey to become business owners, the ride was amazing.
Sandra Bernard, whose poems and guest post on "Creative Thinkers" appeared in this blog last year, has simple but important goals:
I will finish my book . . . and I will pay more attention to elders who need love.
Katherine Girod Myers, a retired children's librarian (and friend since junior high) spends growing season days sharing Lily Hill with fellow garden enthusiasts in Claremore, Oklahoma. This winter, she's focusing on an indoor project that's creating both order and contentment:
It doesn't sound exciting or glamorous or philanthropic . . . so mundane, but it ties in with another of your posts on which type environment fosters creativity/happiness in your readers. If you'd asked this question during the gardening season you might have gotten a different answer from me, but since it's the season I'm more housebound (by weather and caring for a 20 month old) I'm focusing on fostering contentment in my life (and hoping those around me will be inspired by my more laid back attitude).
I don't know why I picked up Marie Kondo's book unless I'd read about her on a blog, but I did, and I confess at first I thought some of her instructions were silly. I mean, thanking your ratty, paint stained clothing before you trash them?? And why I actually stroked those splattered and ripped up jeans, I'll never know. But when I did, I thought about all the projects big (barn!) and small that I'd worked on in those jeans, and it was nice. I know, silly.
And why should it make a difference about how you pajama drawer looks? Well, I'm happy every time I open my organized drawers. I've moved on to spaces larger than drawers, and the more I sort through and thank (and make my possessions happy in their environment . . . yeah, I know . . .) the happier and more content I am. I am hoping The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up will continue to foster contentment in 2017. All I know is this usually stressful holiday season has been the happiest and least stressful one I can remember.
This answer to your question is like when someone asks how you sprained your ankle and you wish you could say sky-diving when you really tripped over your own feet. I'm sure you'll get some 'sky-diving' emails from your other readers to balance this one!!
Mark Winston is a friend from grad-school days who went on to be a professor and author, specializing in the study of bees. Wouldn't you know he'd be buzzing (forgive me) with interesting ideas for the coming year:
I'm stretching my collaborative capacity by co-writing a book with a poet, Renee Sarojini Saklikar, at the intersection point between bees, poetry and science. While I've collaborated on many projects in many spheres, I've always kept book writing as a personal domain, so I'm reaching out into the dual citizenship domain of co-writing a book, and working with a poet. So far, it's been a blast, although the developing outcome fits no genre I'm aware of.
Writing friend Théa Heying intends to move forward from the past year:
I intend to stop pouting about the election; pointless ruminations disturb me. I will wean my way back to listening to the news. I will not automatically change sites, channels or stations when the "T" word comes up. I will work my way back gradually. I wish I had an Etch-a-Sketch Mind—wave a wand and the screen comes clean. Still, I aim to be a responsible American. It is time I listened—better.
You may remember Jonathan Riedel from his guest post, "Hyperactive Poetry," last April. Pastor at Newaygo Congregational United Church of Christ, Jon writes poetry in addition to columns for the Times Indicator, a local weekly newspaper. For 2017:
It is my hope to compile the articles I have written for the Times-Indicator into some kind of publishable form and to help my church address some of the economic difficulties of this area by working closely with our local schools, one classroom at a time.
Retired teacher and yoga sister Nancy Waits shared heartfelt intentions for the year ahead:
Because I am still deeply concerned about the direction of our country and how many of our citizens support this position, I plan to respond to any program for which the funding is cut. All citizens, and non-citizens for that matter, deserve clean air and water, the right to education and healthcare, police and fire protection. The hard-won rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and minorities can't be repealed. I still have some money I inherited from my dad in 2010 and I will put my money where my heart is.
Margaret Hrencher is a retired high school principal and gifted writer who happens to be my cousin. I wasn't surprised that her intentions included a mix of family, creative work and learning:
My intentions have been about the same for the last few years. First, I want to reflect on my relationships with my family. Basically, I want to be the best wife, mother, grandmother, sibling, cousin, and friend that anyone can have. I want to be intuitive to their needs, rather than my own. Then another first, (I don't want to diminish this intention) I want to hone my craft of writing, working harder, reading more, writing more, and reflecting more to find my way to my goal of being entertaining and/or valuable to my readers. (Currently, I have maybe six, including you :) ). Third, (see how I skipped two) I want to finally become semi-fluent in Spanish. I'm really pretty close but I need to spend some more time with native speakers who don't mind working with a fledgling.
Neighbor Sally Kane is one of my hiking and yoga buddies. Lately, she's been exercising and stretching her writing muscles as well, and continuing along those lines is a priority for this year:
For 2017, I decided to revisit the "Morning Pages" journaling process, developed by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. Many years ago I engaged in the two- to four-page writing commitment first thing in the morning. The process clears out the clutter and offers up little nuggets and gems, inspiration for poems and other genres. This lovely folder belonged to my mother, who also wrote, and will house those pages and new gem discoveries. I started this morning and already look forward to my next morning "date."
I discovered Ruth Daly and her photographs on Twitter, and I was pleased when she responded to my question:
My first thought was, "Only one way?" Wow, that's tough—I had some trouble with this, narrowing it down to just one way. But one thing I know I'll do is to keep taking photographs (this also increases my connection with the natural world and fosters my own contentment).
At the moment, I manage to get outside with my camera several times a week, sometimes every day, and tend to take my camera everywhere I go. Taking pictures makes me see beauty in things I didn't really notice before and makes me appreciate the simple, ordinary things in nature—frost on blades of grass, the pattern of feathers on common backyard birds, leaves lit up with sunlight, geese taking flight, clouds drifting across the sky.
I've learned that you don't have to go very far to see something interesting, you just have to look. Sometimes I see things that just leave me in awe: owlets learning to fly, brilliant colours of a sunrise, fresh snow on the mountains. I lose track of time and switch off from the worries and routines of life. I have a better frame of mind when I take photographs, am energized and content.
So for 2017, I'll continue to do this, as well as learn some new skills, such as night photography. And the downside? Well, you know what they say—if you give a photographer a camera, they'll want a better lens. And if you give them a better lens . . .
I knew I could expect a thoughtful response from my one-time roommate Rebecca Howey, and she didn't disappoint:
My intention is, to quote a Facebook post making the rounds, to "act rather than react, and not waste energy being outraged at predictable atrociousness." The even shorter version has been one of my mantras for decades: CHOOSE. Don't let life just happen. Not consciously choosing IS a choice. Choose consciously. Be the star and the director of your own life.
So there you have it: Eleven different takes on the question. Now, let's hear yours. To refresh your memory, here's the question again: What is one way you hope to enhance (or exercise) your creativity OR increase your connection (with other people, with the natural world, with causes you champion) OR foster contentment (your own or someone else's) in 2017?
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.