Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking on the Bright Side

We call it lots of different things. Looking on the bright side, staying positive, counting our blessings, holding the right thought ( a quote from a great positive thinker, Nelle Hudson), taking an attitude of gratitude. No matter what we call it, it is a decision, a choice made in the face of life. Kind of like deciding to love someone, staying positive doesn't mean we don't see the down side. It doesn't mean we are not occasionally rattled by the anxiety of what-if-that-really-happens. And it doesn't relieve us of the work that needs to be done to address life, consequences, etc. But the payoff is so great that I really, really want to make the choice to look on the bright side.

Maybe it is my age and time in life, but it seems like so many people I know are facing tough times. Bad health, death, dwindling retirement funds, painful family relationships, loss and pain and suffering. There are times when the only response possible is grief. There is a wonderful line from a song by Connie Dover written about the bombing of London in WWII:
When tyranny is biting you do your best to try
And stifle all your heartache till it's safe again to cry
And when the darkness disappears and the light comes shining through
We'll gather up and start our fall anew.

Sometimes it is the tyranny of grief that rules us as frightfully as any tyrant. There are times when we are locked in a grief so tight that no light can shine through. The balm of a loving friend who can stand with you in that place can make such a difference. That kind of friend will not insult your pain by telling you to look on the bright side. There will be time for remembering the love and the light that has been part of our lives, and will be again. As my mom likes to say, this too shall pass.

Many times it is the fear of what could happen that blinds us to the blessings of this day. That is the time when finding a way to look on the bright side restores hope. For me, denying anxiety the ability to rob me of the joys of this day is the purpose of positive thinking.

Looking on the bright side, I like to remember what my brother says: any day that we wake up on this side of the grass is a good day. Making a gratitude list is a means of dealing with problems by putting them in perspective. There are tons of little slogans and cliche's that prove people from all times and all situations have made this effort to see the blessings. You have only to read bumper stickers and coffee mugs, calendars and desk signs to find them. People who put them into practice are the anti-grocery/store/tabloid. They are the anti-medicate/yourself/to/deal/with/life. They live their lives with courage to look on the bright side when it seems our society's standard response is despair and hand wringing. Fear may sell more copies, but gratitude puts them in perspective. It may be normal to live in fear of all the horrible things that could happen. But like my husband Bob says, why be normal?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The War of...Everything

My son Josh gave me a really important book a few years back, The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. A few take-away thoughts from that book have changed how I live. The notion that I am imprisoned in inertia, bound up in the muck of fear of rejection and pretty much fear of everything else (bold paraphrase) made me face my own reluctance to put my writing "out there". All the years I spent writing as a volunteer, not trying to sell anything--those were easy years, exempt from the fear of rejection. After all, who doesn't want a free musical written for a high school youth group?
Those were definitely not wasted years. I loved writing for our church, I loved putting on the musicals, working with the kids, all of it. And it was important for me to be able to have that creative outlet at that time in my life. I have no regrets at all that I spent those years as a volunteer. Those years also helped me identify myself as a writer, which is where I get back to the book.
It is not what others tell us about ourselves that matters. It is our self talk. We know instinctively that no one else can see inside us and decide who we are. Unfortunately, we don't always use our best manners with ourselves. We sometimes believe the skewed version of ourselves that can develop as our self- esteem gets whittled away over time. The truth is that we needn't allow that. We don't have to believe the nay-sayers. And some of the nays come from very revered sources. We can be sidetracked by simple advice about manners. Bragging is not looked upon with admiration in our society. Yet, taken too far, we often confuse humility with poor self esteem. It is a slippery slope from learning not to "blow our own horn" to believing we have nothing of value to offer the world.
The fear of being rejected keeps many of us from laying our gifts on line. The fear of rejection can keep us from being willing to grow in our efforts, it can keep us from being willing to put out  a first version of our dream. I hope with all my heart that my last book is a hundred times better than my first. But I have to be willing to put the first one out there.
The War of Art is about much more than the fear of rejection. It is about wrestling our demons, about facing the parts of ourselves that we don't like and calling them out. And the resulting freedom that comes from doing that extends far beyond writing or painting or photography or singing or dancing. The freedom that comes from facing our whole self, from not being cowed by the dark parts, is a freedom that extends to the very spirit of us.
As we know, freedom can't be forced upon us. It can't even be given to us.  It can, however, be chosen. Fear is the great inhibitor. What if things will never get better? What if things will get worse? What if I lose all my stuff? What if I lose my mind? Fear is the anti-freedom. It is possible to live in bondage to things that may never happen. It is possible to live in bondage to a culture of fear. But that, too, is a choice. Freedom doesn't come from believing we are invincible or that we are better than anyone else, or even that bad things won't happen to us.  It comes from believing we are here for a reason, that our lives have meaning, and from being willing to risk whatever fallout comes from living our lives full out. The only person standing between me my goals is myself. I'll not be my own nay-sayer. Not today, anyway.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Little Feathers: Sometimes It's the Messy Stuff

Little Feathers: Sometimes It's the Messy Stuff: Yesterday we just happened to visit the Taos Pueblo on what turned out to be a very special day. The Red Willow People danced. There were co...

Sometimes It's the Messy Stuff

Yesterday we just happened to visit the Taos Pueblo on what turned out to be a very special day. The Red Willow People danced. There were corn dancers and deer dancers. It was really quite beautiful. It was cold (at least for a Texan--it stayed in the low 20s), and I felt a little guilty to be uncomfortable in my gloves and coat and scarf while the dancers had one shoulder bared or danced shirtless. I was mesmerized by the dances, and by the people themselves.  They were beautiful.
You could tell it was not a production geared to tourists. Not much about it was convenient for onlookers. No one seemed much concerned with announcing anything, or providing explanations for those of us who didn't know what was happening. The Red Willow People danced, and they allowed us to watch. There was no evident timetable, and the cold afternoon stretched on between dances. It was the furthest thing from a slick production that you can imagine. It was real.
The deer dancers wore heads and hides of deer that clearly had not been to a taxidermist. No glass eyes, no look of buckskin treated so thoroughly as to make beautiful clothing like they sell in their shops in the Pueblo. There was a lot of messiness about the hides, and several young boys had to have help getting keeping the unwieldy antlered heads in place. Some of the animals (there were also bison, bobcat, elk and cougar) had tongues sticking out and looked only recently dead. Not what we who buy our meat at the grocery are used to.
There was a group of older men who sang along with the drum, and they seemed tireless. They sang for hours, sitting in a circle facing each other. No microphones. Just singing and drumming.
I felt very lucky to be present at this ceremonial dance. I felt very lucky to see the real thing, the dance of the people of the Pueblo. It was the messiness that drove it home for me and made it an offering rather than a performance. Maybe it is the messiness of life itself that is the best part, the most earnest offering of ourselves.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Little Feathers: This New Book

Little Feathers: This New Book: I keep hearing that the new year is a new book, each day a blank page to be filled with life. Being a writer, that is a fun analogy for me. ...

This New Book

I keep hearing that the new year is a new book, each day a blank page to be filled with life. Being a writer, that is a fun analogy for me. Yet, I realize that there are not any truly blank pages. It isn't that we can't begin each day anew, it isn't that we can't put the past behind us. It is simply that there is an ongoing story we have been working on, and that story line will inform any new chapter. Life isn't a collection of short stories. It is a full blown novel.
Like any good story, there will be plot twists. The characters have to grow and evolve to keep our interest. Personal growth depends on choices the characters make much more than the exterior events that happen to them. Some chapters are about the wheels coming off. About the cause and effect of actions and behaviors that we silently beg our protagonist to avoid. We see what is coming, and we hope against hope that they will not pay the price for those choices. Some chapters are about heartbreaking loss, the deep grief that comes from having loved and lost. But for me, the toughest chapters to read are steeped in regret. Regret is even harder to deal with than resentment. At least with resentment, we somehow get to blame someone else for our trouble. But regret--that is the most personal, most convicting, most difficult emotion to deal with.
Maybe 2014 is a new book. But it is a sequel. Whatever I write this year will be dependent on having dealt with the past in a way that frees me to look forward. Since I can't change the past, I can't go back and rewrite it, I will just have to do the work that sets me free from it. Maybe that is making amends with someone I have hurt. Maybe it is forgiving myself. It could simply involve acknowledging the actions as having happened and going on.
With my people to love and so many blessings in my life, I can chose gratitude over dissatisfaction. I can choose acceptance. I can write grace into the story. I only need to remember what is real and important. The sequel to 2013 has a really great beginning. No doubt there will be plot twists, conflicts, and those forehead-slapping moments of recognition that my protagonist did it again--doh! But that's where the grace comes in.
Happy writing, y'all.