Nov 202019
 

 

Inspiration. What does it mean to live an inspired life? It’s a phrase that can bring to mind images of artists, monastics, and martyrs. It also makes me think of sweeping the floor and tending my weeds.

I think the phrase got stuck in my head the other day when one of my friends referred to another as an inspiration. Word nerd that I am, I was intrigued: my friend the inspiration has a serious breathing disorder and one of the definitions of “inspire” is “to breathe in.” In fact, the word dates back to about 1300 when it meant “to breathe upon or into” or simply “to breathe.” Today I am thinking about the relationship between inspiration and breath in our day to day lives.

She’s an Inspiration

What does it mean to live an inspired life? Click To Tweet

purple coffee cup in woman's hands

Spending time with other writers and artists, I hear a lot of talk about “inspiration.” It can sound magical and mystical; it can appear impossible to achieve. Sometimes we sound like we’re sitting around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick.

Hit by the Inspiration Stick

I don’t think I’m alone when I say my ability to produce quality work ebbs and flows. I’m not always happy enough with what I’m writing to share it with you — even here. I think that has more to do with my personal standards than a lack of inspiration.

I don't want to sit around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick! Click To Tweet

The other day a colleague told me she considered my first book  What Kids Need to Succeed  “inspirational.”

Apparently I was silent for too long.  She went on to explain that, although she thought the book contains good and useful information, she believes that its greatest value is to provide support and inspiration to parents… especially when they doubt or question themselves.

I was only quiet because I was moved.  Deeply moved.  Frankly, it’s hard to imagine something better than throwing a virtual life preserver to a drowning parent and helping them to shore.  (Except maybe for those parents to not to feel like they’re drowning in the first place.) Speaking as both a formerly single parent and an author, I can’t think of a better compliment.

Speaking as both a formerly single parent and an author, I can’t think of a better compliment. Click To Tweet

Throwing a Virtual Life Preserver

Being a parent can bring us face-to-face with some of the most powerful versions of anything we feel:  love, pride, joy, fear, self doubt.   Many people are fortunate to have had great parents to show them the way.  Others have to work much harder to extract the value from some of their early lessons. Buttons get pushed.  People hurt.

But feelings aren’t facts.  They can be a valuable source of information. Sometimes we need help to translate our feelings to thoughts that can be more useful to us. By the way, a little reminder: one does not have to be a parent to feel overwhelmed in the face of a seemingly impossible task. It can happen to authors and artists, sales people, and those facing physical or medical challenges.

What if “I don’t feel like I can do this” means:

  • I need support
  • I don’t know how to ask for help
  • I’m taking on a big challenge
  • I’ve never done anything that matters more
  • I’m in pain
  • I need to improve my skills
  • I’m going to get more training
  • I’m looking for a mentor
  • I want to make sure I’m looking at (and compensating for) my “blind spots”

Sometimes We All Need Translation

But what if “I don’t think I can do this” means you’ve got the open-mindedness and willingness to be great? What if it means you have something inside of you that wants you to go beyond any of the pictures you currently have? What if you’re in the process of establishing a new normal?

What if “I don’t think I can do this” is a signal that there’s something inside, yearning for more? What if it has to do with being great? Click To Tweet

 

“Breathe in. Soften. Go a little deeper.” I’m new to yoga and fascinated by the various instructors’ descriptions of breath and the ways they coach us to be aware of it. Maybe that’s part of what has me thinking about inspired life.

the words namaste yall against a starry sky

My husband goes on silent meditation retreats. Silent meditation is another place where ‘breath’ takes center stage. I’m told that counting breath is a way to re-center, to come fully into the present, and to stop thinking.

Some of my friends paint. I write. And occasionally try my hand at other forms of art: redacted poetry, multi-media painting, landscape design. It all feels connected.

What’s Your Jam?

I also just finished reading Painting Life by my friend Carol Walsh. It’s a memoir about balancing her life as an artist with her life as a therapist. And about the endless process of reinventing the self. Her book made me wish I had known more about both self-care and reinvention when I was a young therapist and advocate. I burned the candle at both ends, pushing beyond comfortable limits both at work and at home. I rarely said “no.” It took time to see that I short-changed everyone — especially myself. Eventually, I learned to embrace both self-care and personal evolution. Maybe there is no “wrong.” Maybe there’s only “next.”

What if the fact we have breath means we are inspired? Click To Tweet

What if inspiration only meant “breath?” Does the fact that we have breath means we are already inspired? Could inspired living simply mean using our breath? Using our lives in the best way we know how? Is it really all that simple? How do we best use that precious gift?

 

 

 

Oct 292019
 

boxer dog faceUntil Alex came along, I’d never once had the urge to put a dog in a dress. It’s neither dignified nor necessary. Too anthropomorphic for me. And besides, for more than two decades I have lived in places that don’t have trick-or-treaters.

Last year was different but, then again, so is Alex. A mellow, white, deaf dog sandwiched between two intense German Shepherd ladies, he provides relief. He’s funny. And calm. We need him around here. And sometimes we underestimate his depth. Last Halloween was a case in point.

It’s still hard to give context to a week of bomb threats through the mail, a shooting at a supermarket, and a massacre in a temple while people worshipped. I can’t. It’s still beyond my ability to comprehend. Grief. Sadness. Rage. Helplessness. I didn’t know how to feel, never mind what to do.

It’s still hard to give context to a week of such overwhelming violence. I can’t. Click To Tweet

Frenzy in the News, Red Sox & a Dog in a Dress

The week wore on and the news had folks in a frenzy. Despite doing much of my work online, I minimized time on social media. The world was far too crazy and I was making my best effort to close it out. To read. To meditate. To think things through. As a lifelong New Englander the world series of baseball provided a welcome distraction.

Of course watching the news wasn’t a great idea, either. Sometimes I’m still naive enough to think that information aides in understanding. It often does. But this time the news — regardless of the leanings of the outlet — bordered on hysterical. More guns. Less guns. Armed guards. Arm the teachers. Don’t leave the house. Politicians can’t fix it. Politicians all lie. Love is the answer. Fight back. F*ck it. Numb. Confused. Heart-broken for strangers. Worried about area first responders. Who’s got the answers?

For me, on this day, it turned out to be a dog in a dress.

F*ck it. Numb. Confused. Heart-broken. Who's got the answers? For me, on this day, it turned out to be a dog in a dress. Click To Tweet

Honey I Lost the Dog

The dogs love it when Favorite Husband and I settle in for a movie or a ballgame. They snooze and cuddle and cruise for snack remnants on the floor. Alex, my goofy little boxer boy, usually cuddles up with my feet — it helps him know when I leave the room. So looking around and not white dog on back smilingfinding him was a bit unsettling. Unfortunately, finding him did little to put my anxiety to rest.

To enjoy the newly cooler weather we had been leaving the front door open to the screen. There he was: nose to screen, wagging his entire little butt end like crazy. He was watching our usually quiet street like a movie. There were fire engines and multi-jurisdictional police departments represented by cars that lined the streets flashing bright strobes of various colors. There may even have been an ambulance or two. I don’t know. I didn’t go out. The police vehicles carefully blocking each neighborhood driveway were a clear enough message: stay put.

It felt as if the news had come way too close to home and I didn’t like it a bit.

Multi-jurisdictional police cars with their blinding strobes. It felt as if the news had come way too close to home and I didn't like it a bit. Click To Tweet

 

Welcome to the Neighborhood, It’s Not Always Like This

I know most of my neighbors but there were a few recent arrivals. We knew there were little kids in the house diagonally across and that nobody seemed speak English. At first I didn’t understand the feeling of urgency  attached to my need to meet them but chaos around the country made me want to do something special. Something welcoming.

Sometimes the internet is wonderful.

Have you heard of “booing”? Apparently it’s a cross between Secret Santa and reverse trick-or-treating. And while much of our neighborhood was not ready for the full “boo” experience, Favorite Husband and I decided to try some creative outreach to our newcomers. While he went out to buy a plastic a plastic pumpkin head and some goodies, I dressed Alex the boxer in his Halloween finest: a tutu left over from a year or two before.

Boo, a tutu, and a fine how do you do... Click To Tweet

Boo, a Tutu and How Do You Do

dog with pink tutu around his neck

When we headed off to deliver the goods, he somehow knew it was different from a regular walk. There was no sniffing or wandering. In a delightful contrast to his froufrou, Alex strutted, with head up and chest out, down the middle of our rarely-traveled street. He was a dog on a mission.

And his bravado was well received. Two preschoolers, a young teen, an infant and their surprised mother got quiet for a moment as we turned up their driveway. Then came the giggles. And the smiles. Some Spanish. Some English. A plastic pumpkin head full of candy.

And the most special part of all: love from a dog in a dress.

Oct 262019
 

jock-o-lanternI am a displaced New Englander with a Halloween confession to make: I don’t get it. That’s right, when it comes to Halloween I don’t understand how it has become such a big deal. Of course my confusion may be abetted by the fact that, despite two moves of house, lots of willingness, and full preparation, I’ve not hosted a trick or treater in more than twenty years.

I love fall and, despite the less dramatic change of season in northeast Florida, there is a definite change here, too. The humidity decreases (hallelujah!) and the temperature drops a bit. Moving into the 70 degree temperature range (even a little bit) means that some of my southern neighbors will break out their boots and sweaters.

I have a Halloween confession to make: I don’t get it. That’s right, when it comes to Halloween I don’t understand how it has become such a big deal. Click To Tweet

Did You Know… Pumpkin is a Fruit

How did I manage not to notice that Halloween preparations now seem to start right after the new school year and continue until the Christmas “stuff” shows up a week or two before Thanksgiving. As with so may things I don’t understand, I turn to the internet and the hoards of humanity who know more than I do. There I learned that it’s considered good luck to see a spider on Halloween. No offense Halloween-lovers, but I think I’ll dig out my horse shoes and other non-arachnid good luck charms.

I was surprised to discover that Halloween is the second biggest consumer holiday in the US, second only to Christmas. How on earth do people manage to spend So much on pumpkins?  I’m no longer a big consumer of sugar but I know candy isn’t cheap: I learned that more than 35 million pounds of candy corn is produced here each year. I didn’t look for total October candy sales. When the chocolate and caramel are added in, that’s got to be a staggering number.

It’s considered good luck to see a spider on Halloween. No offense Halloween-lovers, but I think I’ll dig out my horse shoes and other non-arachnid good luck charms. Click To Tweet

 

Trick or Trivia: Houdini Died on Halloween

Unless you’re in farm country, corn stalks, hay bales, and pumpkins carry a decent price tag   — and my guess is that “pumpkin spice everything” is not included in the total holiday cost calculation. However Halloween aficionados know the real money goes for costumes. With Halloween having grown from an evening to a season that makes some sense.

Neighborhood parties. School parties. Rec center events. Fairs. Trunk or treats. Do the littles now wear a different outfit for each event? Or, are they still like my son and his friends were: madly in love with a costume that was worn on every opportunity they could create. Sometimes they even tried to sleep in them.

Hollywood Has a 24-Hour Ban on Silly String

Something about those costumes make sense to me. Creating dress-up boxes for the little kids in my life and putting together homemade costumes can be a lot of fun. ( I say “put together” as my sewing skills are, at best, minimal.) The one I remember most fondly is the fully-wrapped mummy. Superman was kind of fun, too.

Pretending to be someone else has value. It’s an interesting paradox, don’t you think? On the surface, a mask helps a person hide yet it seems to reveal as much as it hides. Click To Tweet

Pretending to be someone else has value. It’s an interesting paradox, don’t you think? On the surface, a mask helps a person hide yet it seems to reveal as much as it hides. Pretending opens doors.  Introverts find social energy. Writers develop new points of view. Little kids learn empathy. The ability to see things through another’s eyes is a very real super-power, is it not?

Here are some other thoughts on the subject.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. ~ Oscar Wilde

It’s the monsters that don’t wear costumes that scare me the most at Halloween. ~ Anthony T. Hincks

No one can long hide behind a mask; the pretense soon lapses into the true character. ~ Seneca The Younger

What are your thoughts on Halloween? Do you celebrate or not? Do kids come to your house for candy or are you in a trunk-or-treat zone? Please share your thoughts  in the comments below!

 

 

 

Oct 162019
 

Home is where the heart is. Where the dogs are. Home is where there’s always something that needs attention — could be laundry or groceries or dust bunnies and dog hair. Yes, home is where there’s always something that needs attention and today that makes me smile. I’ll get to what I can and the rest can wait. I’m home from a few more adventures than I’d anticipated, settling in, and happy about it.

The travel has been a little overwhelming: Favorite Husband and I took driving vacation which was quickly followed by a hurricane evacuation and a short visit from our now Krakow-based son.  The stars lined up for fairly spontaneous European adventure with a close friend and, finally (at least for a while, I hope) the 15-hour round trip drive to my first major German Shepherd Dog show. I’m bruised and sore and happy.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

It’s interesting to be able to see home base with fresh eyes. Upon each return, we’ve managed to create fairly large donations to our local thrift store. My clothes closet is about 90% Kondo’d and roughly 500 linear feet of bookshelves have had a healthy trim. I’m getting ready to do it again. There was a time I couldn’t let go of that sort of thing: meaningful items just disappeared. At the time I didn’t get it. I think I’m glad. Healing and spontaneity and wonderful, enriching experiences that seems to make “stuff” less important.

There was a time I couldn’t let go: meaningful items just disappeared. Click To Tweet

Over the past few months I’ve met some wonderful people — and some real stinkers. The good ones have far outnumbered the others who, for better or worse, have provided me with lots of laughs. After all, the rude, the arrogant, and the entitled miss out on so much. Maybe they were put in my path to create contrast — like in a painting.

And now I’m home, hanging around with Favorite Husband and all three dogs. Back home in my lovely office. Taking care of the to-do list that sort of blew out to sea with the last major hurricane threat: a painting to the frame shop, an area rug to the cleaner. My book club starts up again tonight. Some chapters take an evening, others a month or more. And while the book discussion is good, the connections developed and deepened between the participants are even better. Close friendships with other women are another type of home.

Finally taking care of the to-do list that sort of blew out to sea with the last major hurricane threat... Click To Tweet

When Home is a Trap

There have been times that “home” made me feel stuck. Trapped. Overwhelmed. A partner who was impossible to satisfy: nothing was ever big enough, neat enough, tasty enough, or clean enough. The only item in the dirty laundry basket was usually the one he ”really needed.” Same for the groceries: whatever we were out of was what he wanted. Unfortunately, I loved him. So I tried.

The music was wrong. My clothes and my job were wrong. My friends were wrong. I was wrong. Always, always wrong. Despite owning the building and paying all the bills, I never, ever felt at home. Life was good when he was happy so it was my goal to keep him that way. And when the moments of happiness got shorter and further apart, I tried harder.

I began to sleep with easy-on clothes and shoes on the floor, just under the edge of my bed. I hid an extra key to my car. The day he finally hit me was one of the best days of my life: the emotional abuse was insidious. When he crossed the line, it was in a big way and I could no longer ignore it.

And here I am, reveling in being at home while sporting large bruises and being unconcerned about who sees them. I feel such gratitude about not caring whodunnit: I did, while I was out having fun with dogs and friends.dogs and friends. On my last adventure I tripped, resulting in some pretty intense bruising on the poor arm I used to prevent a much bigger fall. And when I was finished, I got to come home to a safe place. A very safe place.

But It’s Life and Death

How did I get from fun and adventure to domestic violence? Maybe it’s gratitude for the contrast. Or maybe it’s because a pink tsunami of well-funded breast cancer awareness groups have long ago overshadowed Domestic Violence Awareness month. While I appreciate the progress that has been made in treating breast cancer, I know that domestic violence thrives in secrecy and darkness. It’s not a sexy cause. There are no cute slogans. People don’t think about it — until they need to.

Domestic violence thrives in secrecy and darkness. It’s not a sexy cause. There are no cute slogans. People don’t think about it — until they need to. Click To Tweet

There are millions of men and women who are not safe in their homes. Some are well aware of their circumstances but know it’s not yet safe to leave. Others are like I was: being held emotionally hostage, groomed for the tangible violence to come.

I felt safe in my travels. I feel safe at home — where I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. And dust bunnies.

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The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or online at the Hotline.Help is available, free and confidential 24 hours per day, every single day. (Including holidays.)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Help is available, free and confidential 24 hours per day, every single day. #DVAM2019 Click To Tweet