A Day in Paradise

Paradise“Who needs the beach when we have paradise right here at home?” I thought wryly, cleaning up the sticky breakfast dishes.

It was spring break in the district where I taught. Due to recent teacher furlough days and the fact that my husband hadn’t seen a pay hike in two years, a trip to the beach was out of the question this year.

“Bon Voyage,” I’d told Karen on Friday as we locked our classroom doors. She was on her way to cruising the Caribbean. The adverse economy hadn’t the same impact on everyone.

I wasn’t overly jealous because my husband took the week off to “vacation” at home with us, and I loved carefree days home with the kids. The weather hinted of an early Georgia spring and I, having high hopes for the week, pulled on my big girl pants. There would be plenty of future trips to the beach, I assured myself.

We needed a week together with not much on the agenda. I imagined leisurely picnics in the backyard and walks to the nearby park as we made memories with our children. And we did have a one-day out of town adventure planned that involved a discovery museum and petting zoo. Doesn’t get much better.

But the idyllic week envisioned wasn’t going as planned. Hubby spent the first part of the week on a ladder, scraping and repainting the house, and we’d barely laid eyes on him. Today he tackled the yard, clearing away the debris left behind by winter. Slightly irritated with his drivenness, I washed the vegetables for tonight’s dinner when we’d inaugurate the grill for another season.

So much for the daydream I’d entertained about the moment: my man seasoning my perfectly rounded burgers as I held a glass of wine to his lips, our favorite soft rock playing in the background.

“Mommy!” shrieked my oldest from the bathroom, breaking my reverie.

What now. Too much togetherness had led to petty squabbles all morning, and I’d refereed quite a few of them already.

I entered the bathroom and watched the commode’s overflow soak the once-fluffy bath mat. My toddler flashed me a blissful smile, a look of success crossing his face, as he repeatedly pulled the handle to flush away whatever he’d tossed in the wonderful receptacle this time. Through wails, his sister told me it was the head of her Barbie Doll.

I envied my husband’s Zen-like state as he wheeled off another load of sticks and stones, his skin glistening with sweat, his eyes filled with purpose.

After settling the mishap with promises of a new doll, I gathered my three for a walk to the neighborhood playground. Now, back at home, the house was peaceful. Baby boy slept at last while older daughter enthralled younger sister by dancing last year’s recital piece decked out in ballet garb.

Romantic notions about the evening dimmed, I decided to be productive and do some laundry. I pulled a fresh load of play clothes from the dryer and began the tedious task of folding and stacking. As each pile grew, the individuality of my children emerged. The oldest, seeking self-identity in fashion, owned the wackiest collection. Middle Child refused anything except girl colors, so her stack revealed a rainbow of pinks and purples. Toddler boy lived in t-shirts and jeans.

I held one of his shirts now, a favorite worn just yesterday. The garment was streaked with grape juice prior to washing, and I examined in now. The stain was gone. A wave of contentment swept over me, and I pressed my son’s warm shirt to my face, inhaling its pleasant scent.

And I had an epiphany. I was experiencing the love my mother described in a poem she wrote when I was 14. I’d asked my mom what love meant to her because I was writing a poem about love. I’d seen an ad in Seventeen Magazine by a diamond company announcing a poetry contest. The winner would receive a ring from the company’s new Starlight collection. I wanted that twinkling ring. My mom’s response didn’t help me at all at the time because her idea of love didn’t mesh with mine. But today, I got it.

No longer concerned with finishing the laundry, I left the neat stacks to search for the childhood memory. After a few minutes of rifling though a desk drawer, the poem was, for the first time, mine:

Love Is

Sometimes love is one red rose,                                                                                                       Sometimes love is orange blossoms,                                                                                                                           starlight, and a diamond ring.

 But oft times than not,                                                                                                                                  love is plain everyday,                                                                                                                                               Like potatoes boiled, mashed,                                                                                                                          or baked;                                                                                                          

Like clean clothes on the line,                                                                                                                            A bandage on a cut finger,                                                                                                                                            or just a family gathered ‘round.

 As a teenager, the poem struck me as incredibly corny, and I viewed my mother, perhaps for the first time, as terribly out of touch. But today the valiant effort to blend my concept of love with hers, to bridge the generational divide, is evident. She had arrived at a point in life when love for the family and home ran deeper than romantic love, while I clung tightly to the romance promised in the glossies.

My mother died shortly after she wrote Love Is,” but I was able to connect with her many years later in a big way through our poem. Words really are eternal.

Hungry for the sight of my husband, I moved to the window. My eyes found him, now wielding a hole-digger in the afternoon sun. Sans his shirt, he still presented decent biceps as he pressed the digger into the hardened earth. I took him a glass of cold lemonade.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Digging twelve holes for twelve azalea bushes,” he told me.

His crooked brow suggested that his task should be obvious. The pink-blossomed shrubs clustered nearby, still in pots, waiting for their new home. He seemed intent to resume work, so I headed inside.

“One for each year we’ve been married,” he called after me, sheepishly.

I stopped and turned around in surprise. That he could still manage to astonish me made my heart sing. I skipped back to kiss him.

“Who needs one red rose when you have twelve pink azaleas?” I asked, squinting up at him.

Puzzled, he went back to digging as I walked on clouds back inside.

That evening, with family gathered ‘round the wooden picnic table, I dished out potatoes, mashed. I smiled as my freshly showered husband batted away a gnat. Another day in paradise, I thought. This time I meant it because there’s no place I’d rather be than with this family wiping up a glass of spilt milk.

 

 

 

 

 

Increase Productivity and Unleash Creativity with Free Writes

writingAs a writer I’ve long practiced free writes, also known as stream of consciousness writing. As a composition teacher, I use free writes to help students find their voice and to dig into their sub-conscious. The only rule to class free writes is that there are no rules. No concerns with grammar. No concerns with spelling. Ignore margins. No scratch-outs. Students love it when we open class with a ten-minute free write.

The same rules apply when I practice free writes as a writing tool. They usually start out as a brain dump. I get those things bothering me off my mind and onto the page. Then sometimes my mind takes a funny twist and something unexpected and wonderful comes out. New ideas are born. Inspiration peaks and my motivation takes flight. Psychologists say that 80% of our thoughts and memories reside in our sub-conscious, and we’re largely unaware of what lurks there. Free writing can lead us to a goldmine of creativity.

I’m using free writes  to flex my writing muscles as I begin 2016. I lost the writing habit last year, and daily free writes are helping me get back in writing shape.  Think of it as training to run. You don’t start out running a mile; you start with small steps to build endurance and strengthen the muscles. Same thing with writing. I’ve got to build the habit and discover what I have to say.

I used to do  Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, which she writes about in The Artist’s Way.   This year I’m using the ingenious website, 750words.com. Check out the stats 750words gave me this morning after I finished writing:

Writing started at 9:05am and proceeded thusly:

Words today:

770

Time to 750:

00:34

Total time:

00:34

Words per minute:

22

23 wpm when typing

# distractions:

0

Good job!

Mindset while writing…

Extrovert Positive Certain Feeling

750words is the brainchild of Buster Benson, and its tagline is: private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily.  The site encourages writers to write 750 words (about three pages) every day.  Interestingly, he took the basic idea from Cameron’s Morning Pages and created a digital format.

Here’s why I like 750words:

  1. Simplicity.  As simple as pen and paper is, grabbing my ultra thin ultra light laptop, closing my eyes and letting it rip is simpler.  I’m old-school and like the connection between paper, pencil, and brain, but with some nurturing I’m developing a strong connection with my Mac.
  2. Privacy.  My handwritten notebooks aren’t really private and that’s inhibiting.  Because I could die tomorrow and my family would have access to my inner thoughts, along with anything I’ve written about them I’d always scribble very messily in my notebooks.  That way, anyone glancing through them would have difficulty deciphering and maybe give up. But the problem is, I often have trouble deciphering them myself.  At password protected 750words.com, no one sees my ramblings but me and I can usually read what I’ve typed.
  3. Incentives.  Buster has developed a monthly point system and I like points.  Badges are awarded based on the number of consecutive days that I write.  Writing in itself usually provide me enough intrinsic motivation to write daily, but I need the incentives until the writing habit is firmly established again. The flamingo badge is mine!
  4. Reminder email.  The site emails me daily that I need to write 750 words.  The email also tells me how many consecutive days I’ve written and the number of points I’ve earned for the month, two motivating helps.  I’m a person driven to check items off a list, or in this case, to move emails to the trash as quickly as possible.

I’m using free writes to help meet a goal to write more and as a place to incubate some creativity, but they aren’t only for writers. Many people practice free writes for their therapeutic value. Or they do them to create a pause in their day, to take a moment to slow down. When over-committed folks, such as those in high powered jobs or working mothers practice Morning Pages, they report more productivity because their minds are clearer and focused. List-making can be a form of free writing.

How do you use free writing?

The Joys of Getting Older — Really!

10 Reasons to Celebrate Another Birthdaybirthday-cake-with-1-candle

I just added another year to my life. I can’t say I did it without a wince because those numbers do roll forward faster than ever now. A friend who is a real jokester gave me a book titled, The Joys of Getting Older by Thomas and Cindy Senior. Eagerly, I flipped through it in search of comforting words that would ease me into another year.

The book was filled with blank pages.

“Ha, ha,” I told her, pretending to enjoy the joke.

But at the same time I wondered if this book of no words spoke the truth. Could there be nothing good about growing older? After some reflecting I’m happy to report i can fill the blank pages of my new book with many reasons for joy this birthday. For one thing, I’ve lived long enough to appreciate every birthday for the gift it is. I’m finally wise enough to be grateful for every year. No, make that every day.

Here are ten more things that add joy to my birthday, and these reasons have little to do with cake and ice cream.

1.   I have the power to say no                                                                                                                 

I’m clearer about priorities as I age. Because I’ve figured out what matters most, I’m more protective of my time and can easily set boundaries.Building the career is not as important anymore. Building relationships that matter is.

2.  I’m free to be me

I’ve earned the right to be my true self. No more living up to the expectations of others. I’m shedding the layers of all my previous selves to get to the heart of me

3. I hear the clock ticking

I’m no longer compelled to finish every book I start. If a movie disappoints, I walk out. I’ve stopped spending loads of time with people who are downers. As the great Bonnie Raitt sings, “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

By the same token, I’m intentional about telling those near and dear to me how I feel about them. If not now, when?

4.  My brain grows more creative as I age

As it turns out, older people share characteristics most commonly seen in creative artists. Particularly, the area of the brain involved in self-conscious awareness and censoring is thinner in the aging brain. This likely accounts for the reduced need for acceptance as we age and a freedom to speak our minds — common traits among artists.

I bet you know of several latter day creatives. We’ve all heard about Grandma Moses who didn’t start painting until her 70s, but how about 90-year-old Millard Kaufman who wrote his first hit novel at the age of 90? Then there’s first novelist Lorna Page, who wrote A Dangerous Weaknessat age 93. And Benjamin Franklin was 78 when he invented the bifocal lens!

5.  I have more compassion for others and for myself

I’m not as hard on me and allow myself a mistake or two. Practicing self-kindness makes it easier to accept flaws in others, too. I don’t get bent out of shape because the lady in front of me at check-out is having her purchases divided into three separate payments, or because the kid at the coffee shop messed up my order – again. He’s somebody’s son, after all.

6.  I am enough

To borrow a line from another song, this one by Jewel: “…in the end, only kindness matters.” The natural drive to compete, to be first, is gone. I no longer push to prove myself—to prove my worth. I am enough; I do enough; I certainly have enough.

7.  My appearance is not so important

If I’m running late for an exercise class, I pull on a baseball cap and slap on a tinted moisturizer before I hit the gym. When I was younger, I would have skipped altogether if I didn’t have time to pull together a certain image. Today I’m not there to impress anybody but myself with my muscle, flexibility and endurance.

8.  I’m not afraid to break the rules

Sometimes I eat dessert first. What a rush, and why not? No kids around to see my bad example. Besides, I know this guilty pleasure makes little difference in long-term health as long as my diet is mostly sensible and healthy.

9.  Reuse. Recycle. I understand.

I love to make do with less. I channel my grandmother when I make two cups of tea using only one bag.. I love to re-purpose Mason jars and other containers. And what’s wrong with reusing aluminum foil? Anytime I do one small act to reduce my carbon footprint, I’m being a good steward of God’s green earth. I’m not cheap or miserly or broke. Doing what I can to counter the consumerism culture of today enriches me.

10.  I live in the moment

I appreciate each single moment just as I appreciate each cumulative year.    Recognizing how quickly time slinks away helps me savor the hard intervals along with the good ones. May the moments and days and years keep coming!

 What joys have you found in growing a year older?

A New Year, A New Beginning

My Word for 2015

Happy2015I love new beginnings. And what better way to celebrate a new beginning than at New Year’s? The dawn of a new year is a good time for some reflection. We look at the year behind us to examine our regrets and also to make note of the successes. And then we turn hopeful faces toward the year to come. Many of us resolve to make positive changes and set new goals for reaching those outcomes.

We’re like Janus, the ancient Roman god having two heads that face in opposite directions. One head looks back to the year departed, and the other looks forward to the year to come.JanusA couple of years ago, I started picking a word to focus on for the year instead of making resolutions to break. The first word I chose was “enough”—as in, I am enough; I have enough; I do enough. The focus on this simple word throughout the year proved transformative for me because it freed me to love and accept myself just as I am without constantly striving to be more, do more, have more.

The word I centered on last year was “kindness.” I began the year by resolving to ask myself in every situation: “What is the kindest thing I can do or say in this particular moment?” The focus on kindness also changed my life. I discovered the gift of kindness toward others when I show them care is actually a gift to myself. It opened me and enhanced my life. As I dug for information about the practice of kindness, I learned it has roots in every major religion and philosophy in the world. I also learned that science says kindness not only improves physical and mental health, but also increases longevity!

I’d been waiting for a word to surface from my subconscious to claim as my word for 2015. When none came, I realized I’m not finished with “kindness” just yet. That’s why, for 2015, I plan to continue my focus on the word. But this year, I’m extending the essential question to “what is the kindest thing I can do, say or think at this particular moment?” I’m sure the verb I’m adding will present more of a challenge for me.

I find it much easier to control my actions and words than my thoughts. For example, this morning after I’d spread my yoga mat in my usual space, someone immediately unrolled her mat right beside mine. Barely two feet of laminate flooring separated her lime green mat from my fuchsia-hued one! I automatically smiled a welcome in her direction, but the smile belied my thoughts. What is she doing?? I seethed. This studio is virtually empty! She’s so close, I’m likely to deck her during sun salutation. Maybe I should!

But of course, I simply shifted my gear slightly forward and completed the yoga session without incident. And I ended yoga on a shameful note because as I went through the poses, my mind drifted back to my “shadow.” She was probably new to yoga and wasn’t aware of the spacing needs. She may have been looking for a mentor, or at least a friendly face, and I shut her out. A missed opportunity for kindness! I tried to make it up to her with friendly chatter after class.

I can blame my initial reaction on the sugar overload from the holiday eating, or inadequate sleep, or even the bad cold that’s plagued me for days. Any number of things can affect our internal response to the situation at hand on a given day. But what if we’re able to train our minds to see positivity in every situation? Immediately. Not just after a peaceful, restorative yoga practice. Because I want kind thoughts to become my default response in 2015, I’ll monitor my thinking in an effort to keep it kind.

Surprise —The Heart of the Christmas Story

mangerSurprise is divine; it’s at the heart of the Christmas story. What could be more surprising than our Savior coming to us simply and quietly in the night as a baby? He spent His first hours in a stable – a stable ‑ warmed by barn animals. He came without fanfare or special wrappings and brought the greatest gifts of all time — hope, peace, joy, and love. The invitation of Christmas is that we keep the gift of surprise, of expectation, in our hearts.

Often as adults we lose the ability to be surprised—even at Christmas. Once we reach a certain age, we tend to lose our sense of wonder and expectation. We’ve been around the block a few times and have faced disappointment more than once. Our hearts grow jaded, and we learn to live without anticipation.

A special Christmas memory is one that delivered the gift of surprise just when I needed it most. It’s an annual rite is to give my kids a book for Christmas. I taught first grade and loved children’s books with a passion. Love You Forever, Goodnight Moon, and The Runaway Bunny were among their earlier gifts. As my brood grew, they made me proud by requesting good reads on their own. Then one day too soon, the book tradition rested solely with me again.

On this particular Christmas, I managed to surprise my three grown kids—a feat harder to accomplish than it used to be—by adding a new twist to what had become a Ho-Hum. Instead of wrapping the books in commercial gift wrap tied with ready-made bows, I’d dropped each in a plain, oatmeal-colored bag with thin rope handles. The unadorned bags invited play, so I pulled out calligraphy markers and decorated them with quotes about reading. The red gingham ribbon tied to the handles added old-fashioned charm. My kids loved them. They needed nothing lavish to surprise them, only a simple tweak to an old idea. The quotes were a big hit:

We read to know we are not alone. C.S. Lewis

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. Groucho      Marx

 When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I by food and clothes. Erasmus

Never judge a book by its movie. J. W. Eagean

Getting a book from mom is nothing new for my children, but the unusual presentation of the gift was novel and fun. And because I love to surprise as much as be surprised, I felt a little smug that Christmas. Then I forgot all about it.

Imagine my surprise the following year at Christmas when my daughter handed me a familiar bag. It was the one I’d packed her book in last year, still tied with the same, though frayed, gingham ribbon. She’d elegantly scratched through the To and From labels so they read appropriately and then added a new quote:

A man who won’t read has no advantage over the one who can’t read. Mark Twain

(I taught her well, huh?)

I was delighted because the gift of surprise has become a rare commodity. And that this surprise came from a daughter who, since the previous Christmas, had moved four states away made it more special. My gloominess about the distance that separated us lifted instantly. What’s 900 miles when she can still manage to surprise me?

A tradition had been born. The following year, I sent the bag back with another book and an added quote:

               Wear the old coat and buy the new book. Austin Phelps

Then the tradition went on hiatus a few years because my daughter moved from Dallas to Los Angeles and didn’t make it home for Christmas. thebookbagThe bag was packed away – somewhere. My daughter couldn’t find it, and I knew I didn’t have it.

I accepted that the traveling book bag tradition had been laid to rest, but I soon discovered this was a gift that kept on giving. During a search of my attic this month for a baby book, I came across the errant book bag.

Guess what surprise is back under my tree this year?

These Hands

“Mama, you have a young face but your hands are old,” piped my observant four-circle_of_hands_by_circleoffriendsyear-old. I glanced at my bony  hands guiding the steering wheel as I drove home, knowing what I’d see: Bulging veins and knobby knuckles. She’s right, I thought, as I sat on one and dangled the other over the top of the wheel to remove it from view.

I’ve spent a fair amount of my life hating these hands, but seldom give them a second thought these days. I’ve long come to terms with these appendages and quite appreciate their usefulness. Sometimes I actually love them, especially when they fly across the keyboard as they are now.  But when I heard a speaker claim recently that our identity is found in our hands because they represent who we are, I had to wonder what my hate/love relationship with mine said about me.

I didn’t find research supporting the speaker but found something much more useful instead. Seems when we create things by hand, our mood is enhanced and we feel happy. We have a primal need to make things, according to Dr. Kelly Lambert, chair of psychology at Randolph-Macon College. What’s more, the obscene amount of time we spend with technology,  plus the act of buying the stuff we need rather than make any of it leaves us in a state of disconnect. In the name of progress, we deprive ourselves of an essential creative process that offers pleasure, meaning, and pride.

People who can’t use their hands to create because of crippling arthritis or other debilitating handicaps, often become depressed. Research shows that hand activity — from knitting to growing flowers to grating cheese — can beat stress, relieve anxiety,  and lower depression. Creativity, after all, is a powerful tool for altering our inner life because it soothes and satisfies us.

It’s interesting that my favorite memories about two family members from the past are related to their hands. What I remember most about my grandmother is the way her hands guided the spring green fabric under the jutting needle of her sewing machine as she showed me how to make a simple shift dress for Home Ec class. Her hands snipped and threaded and cut all day. And I remember my mother-in-law’s patient hands when she taught me how to crochet. Maybe there is something to the speaker’s hand identity claim after all.

I never sewed another garment I’d wear in public, but I did crochet handbags and house slippers. I later took up macramé, bread making, sponge painting, and a host of other crafts. But now, I engage in little that’s crafty or creative other than writing. It’s not that I can’t use my hands, but simply that I don’t. I decided to do something about that.

TodayIMG_1828 I made this deco mirror with these hands and some old beads and ceramic tiles I’d stashed in the attic. It was so much fun!  It brought a spontaneous joy that opened creative pathways so strong that I had to stay up late to get this blog post down. And I found these hands just beautiful.

How does using your hands to create affect you?

I Think That I Shall Never See

“The word I picked was God,” B. said quietly. “I apologize if this offends anyone.”

It was the second week of the semester in my beginning composition class when the former high school football captain and current ROTC student volunteered to read his writing. But it wasn’t merely a matter of reading: B. bared his soul to a roomful of strangers as he shared his free write about his faith.

A free-write is stream of consciousness writing with only one rule: keep the pencil moving. No concerns with spelling or punctuation or margins. The writer simply follows his mind through the nooks and crannies of the subconscious.

Today’s stimulutreess came from the poem, “Trees.” I read the poem aloud, and asked students to write down three words that stuck with them. It is a beautiful poem filled with vivid imagery.

 

Trees

by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see                                                                                                                         A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest                                                                                                    Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,                                                                                                             And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear                                                                                                               Anest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;                                                                                                        Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,                                                                                                          But only God can make a tree.

Next I asked them to circle one of their three words and use it to start the free write without consciously thinking. At first, I’d hesitated to use this poem in the exercise because of its reference to a particular body part, but took the risk because the writing is gorgeous.

I didn’t expect anyone to volunteer to read, but I asked anyway with what I hoped was an inviting smile. Not one pair of eyes met mine when I scanned the room­, so I prepared to move on.

Then B. spoke up with his apology and proceeded to read about his belief and the huge role it played in his life.

I’ve been reading lately about teenagers and their watered-down faith. I hear about young people following the Great Lie of individualism, of forging their own beliefs in today’s pop-culture society. Kendra Dean, minister and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Almost Christian, writes about teens embracing a “moralistic therapeutic deism” which she defines as a faith that depicts God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to make sure we feel good about ourselves – a self-serving brand of Christianity.

If there’s truth in Dean’s claims, and I’m sure there is, B’s articulation of his faith reassures me that not all young people are ambivalent about Christianity. And Emory professor Elizabeth Corrie contends there is religious passion in teens. She conducts a theological boot camp for 16-18 year-olds and makes this observation, “we think they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake.”

B’s commitment to his chosen word may have opened a door that helped other kids feel comfortable sharing their religious beliefs. In introductory blog posts written shortly after his reading, many of his peers mentioned their faith and how important it was to them. This semester is the first time that’s happened in numbers this large. Don’t apologize, B.

 

Electronic vs. Non-Electronic Space: How Balanced Is Yours?

I love the convenience of my electronic devices. All of them. From the smart phone to the laptop
devicesto the Kindle, they connect me to events and people around the world. Think of all we can do without leaving home or having live contact with another person: sofa-lize with “friends” through Facebook; look up recipes; download books by the hundreds; watch movies, refill prescriptions, and shop, shop, shop. I could go on and on.

But a nagging thought I have is I’m a fool to believe electronic devices expand my world when in fact they actually shrink it. The Technology Wonders lure me away from social connections that aren’t separated by a screen and make it all too easy to become an island in the wonderful sea of humanity that surrounds me. With a little tweak to the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” the tune could easily be my theme song if I’m not careful to balance my electronic connections with my face-to-face ones.

I have my e-books
And my iTunes to protect me;
I am shielded with my smart phone
Hiding in my armor, safe within my world.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock;
I am an island.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. I shared my concern with a friend who’d recently moved to a large city after her husband changed jobs. Other than her spouse, she knew no one in her new fast-paced setting. To survive, she had to find her way around. Her solution was to turn to Google searches and the subway maps available online. Her dependence on electronic devices grew, and they also made her feel less alone in a city of strangers. But she soon realized she was very alone. She knew she could survive her new digs by sticking to technology, but she’d never thrive. To meet new people and make friends, she couldn’t continue to hide in the safety of an electronic world. She set a goal to connect with a stranger every day. Sometimes you get back more than you expect. Here’s her story:

I pushed my way through the turnstile and rushed onto the Metro. All the seats were taken, so I grabbed an overhead strap and hung on. Mentally, I urged the subway to get going. At the first stop, a lanky, young man strolled on and stood in place near me, his white Polo casually untucked over soft, baggy jeans. He wore the requisite book bag of a student on his back and clutched a bouquet of hopeful daisies in one hand.

Ah, young love. I forgot my hurried state of mind for a moment and paid attention, thinking of the lucky girl. I turned toward the young man and flashed my wise-woman-of-the-world smile and said, “They’re beautiful,” eyeing the white flowers in his hand.

He grinned in agreement, displaying a faint light of excitement in his Sugar Baby brown eyes.

Then I retreated, feeling good about meeing my quota of human connections for the day. I pulled out my security blanket of choice, my iPod, and connected with Norah Jones as she sang soulfully through my earbuds. Finally it was my stop. As I inched toward the door, I made eye contact with my young man and waved goodbye. Without a word, he pulled a single flower from his bouquet and presented it to me.

I smiled all the way up the elevator ride to my apartment—the first time that’s happened since I moved.

My friend’s simple act of kindness cost her nothing but a little attention and a few words to a stranger. Yet, she ended up with a feel-good glow that changed her approach in her new surroundings. After that, she rarely used electronic devices in public. It was much more rewarding to live in the moment, to notice what and who was around her, to ask a stranger for directions. In other words, to thrive, not merely survive. I’m sure we’ve all heard the news about the significance of social connections to good physical and mental health. That makes it even more important to put away the tools, get out of our comfort zones, and reach out to others.

I decided to take a page from my friend. I still love my devices and the ease they bring to my life. To succeed in today’s world, I have to connect electronically. But just as necessary is the need to invite some non-electronic space into my life. I make more time for face-to-face connections with family, friends, and strangers. It requires a little effort to balance it all. Like riding a bike, it can be a tricky act. But it’s one that’s oh so worth it.

How do you carve out non-electronic space in your life?

 

The Benefits of Kindness

48120a96b8d2151f099d5ebae87b66e4The highest form of wisdom is kindness ~ The Talmed

At first read, the declarative sentence about kindness sounds simple. It flows well and the words are arranged in a direct and pleasing manner. But after pondering the message for a few seconds, you realize it’s deep. It’s quite thought provoking, really. But could it actually be true?

I’ve been collecting nuggets of wisdom about kindness over the past few months for a book I’m writing. (There. I’ve said it. Now I’m committed to finishing it.) I’ve learned a lot about kindness; it’s much more than something that leaves you with a feel-good tingle. Many people in the social sciences are convinced that man is naturally wired to be kind, and when we ignore this internal drive, we deprive ourselves of full self-actualization. That’s not to mention all the good we deny the world when we deny ourselves opportunities to spread kindnesses.

Oh, I believe we’re all kind to some extent. But we’re also human and prone to resist the need to be kind because some days are extra hard and become all about us. We just can’t seem to help it.

I’m discovering through my research that the deliberate practice of kindness improves both our mental and physical health. Some studies even suggest it can increase longevity. And that’s just the tip of the positive outcomes of being kind.

Watch for future posts about the many benefits of kindness. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and stories. I have a book to write!

What is one act of kindness you plan to do today, or how  was someone kind to you?

Chicken Soup for My Soul

Dear Candyce,
Chicken Soup

    Your story, “My Bully, My Friend” has made it to the final selection round for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls. The stories are great and this book promises     to be a classic. We are so appreciative of your participation and very exited about this book.

Huh? This email from an editor at Chicken Souparrived on July 9, 2013.  It referenced a story I submitted over a year ago for a new book title, Just Us Girls.  As I hadn’t heard a word from Chicken Soup, I’d written that one off as a no-go.

The Chicken Soup for the Soul series launched 20 years ago to great success. The company now publishes several new themed titles each year — and openly solicits work from freelancers. Submissions couldn’t be easier, as I’d learned from a writer friend. Potential upcoming book titles are listed on their website, along with a form for submitting stories online. The writers’ guidelines will tell you that stories must be in first person, true, and 1200 words or less. Accepted stores or poems are all paid at $200, regardless of length.

I’m thrilled by the turn of events and want to share two lessons learned:

#1. Don’t expect replies from editors in a timely manner. It’s a sad fact but that’s the nature of the publishing business these days. To simplify my life somewhat, I ‘d decided to delete the email account I used for this submission.  It’s one I set up for the business of article submissions and queries, largely for record keeping and income tax purposes. But it was one more online task to remember (or forget) to do, so I’d reverted back to using my primary email for everything. Thank goodness I’m a procrastinator and  hadn’t yet gotten around to deleting the obsolete email account or I would never would have heard that somebody (who will pay me)  liked my writing. So maybe “never give up on a story”  might be another lesson learned here.

#2.  Write frequently whether it’s for intended publication or not. Keep a journal or start a blog.  “My Bully, My Friend” grew out of a piece of stream-of-consciousness writing I did soon after I left my full-time work to focus on writing. Bolstered by confidence after having it accepted, I checked out planned Chicken Soup titles. Amazed at the span of story topics being solicited, I found three book titles that seemed about right for three blog posts I already had in the cache. I’ve since submitted them, two of which were for books with a submission deadline date at the end of this month. If I hadn’t already had them in the works, no way would I have been able to finish them by the deadline. Chicken Soup will “not use stories that have been previously published except in tiny low-circulation venues,” which my blog definitely is!

Needless to say, the unexpected — and belated — acceptance was Chicken Soup for My Soul