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Re-thinking word count goals

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Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Have you ever tried to force yourself to write in order to meet an arbitrary word count? It is a ponderous, painful exercise. I have been attempting to follow an oft repeated suggestion that setting a word count is an effective way to establish a daily writing practice. Not only is it purported to be helpful but should be considered an important guideline.

But learning to develop other aspects of craft can fall by the wayside as you grapple with the energy to meet this goal.

And if you are writing flash fiction, it becomes counterintuitive when trying to cultivate aspects of compression in your writing. Learning how to capture the essence of a situation with a brevity of words is a critical micro skill that doesn’t come easily. Especially to someone like me, who trained academically in another field where being wordy was both accepted as well as expected.

Writing is about showing not telling. Which can be hard to learn to do if you have a tendency to ramble. Sometimes it seems that adhering to goals that no longer serve us should be easy to let go of. But somehow that dark shadow of perfectionism creeps into your head reminding you to achieve a daily word count. If we aren’t mindful of this tendency to hang onto goals that no longer serve our purpose, it can haunt our efforts to learn to tell stories well.

Learning how to use very few words to tell a story that generates a complexity of emotions is more difficult than it sounds. Compression techniques are the underpinning of flash fiction. So my writing goals are evolving from trying to achieve a specific number of words to experimenting with other ways to develop and build my “compression” muscles.

Whether I practice writing 50 or 100 word stories or attempt to create a story in the format of a bingo card, I am feeling more confident with the focus of new writing goals. Learning to honour the elusive art of compression rather than the length of story seems a worthy alternative to monitoring word counts.

And writing goals just like any goals we establish in our lives should serve us in our growth and development. Learning when we have outgrown a disciplined habit requires flexibility and patience.

Now if only I could remember to stop myself from clicking the drop down box to reveal my word count before I leave my computer!

happy writing!

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So why do you write?

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Writing is about getting to know more about the world – both the external world around you and the internal world inside you. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Robert Lee Brewer

Ever had one of those awkward moments where someone asks you what you have been doing lately and in a moment of excitement you mention that you are writing. Which launches the next question, oh what exactly are you writing? And for many writers who are in mid project, it can be dicey to try and explain succinctly what you are currently working on.

This tough question is often followed by a query about whether or not you are published and if you are, where your work can be found. Small literary journals either online or those still in print, don’t usually lend themselves to brand name recognition. For non-writers at least.

So unless you are discussing aspects of the writing world with a member of your tribe, most well intentioned people politely shift the conversation to something else. Quickly.

Perhaps this type of scenario might cause you to falter for a moment and ponder the question – why am I writing?

Because we all write for different reasons. We might write in order to be published. We might write because we have a need for recognition. We might write to touch the hearts and souls of people. We might be someone who writes for a living. We might write because we have an inner need to express ourselves using this creative vehicle.

But whatever the reason(s) our writing practice is often deeply personal. So to share this path you are on with someone who is not travelling on this journey with you, can leave you in a space where you feel misunderstood or dismissed simply because you know in your heart of hearts that you are a writer.

Writing is about taking risks. It is about having courage to learn to express what resides deep within. It is about having faith in your powers of observation and about being willing to fail when the words don’t line up quite right. Writing is about riding the wave of creative inspiration without knowing where you will end up. It is about a deep and enduring human desire to tell stories.

I am learning as I continue to write stories that this is how I make sense of my life, the world, and the people within it. I recognize that while many of the reasons why I write are fluid over time there is something deeply necessary about expressing myself this way. So for me writing is about growth and discovery and above all else, it is about having hope. Hope that my world will make sense and has meaning.

So why do you write?

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Finding focus…again and again

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Creatives often lose focus when they tackle a particular creative project or intellectual problem. They start with great enthusiasm , certain in their bones that they know what it is all about. Then, even after just a few days, it becomes less clear to them what they’re doing.

Eric Maisel

During a writing class this past weekend, the instructor spent some time discussing how to leave a project you are working on to attend to the myriad aspects of daily life that require we do something other than write. But the challenge is, how do you get back to that magical place where your writing energy was high? That place where the why of what you are doing creatively seems crystal clear and words are rushing out of you. Up until something we are pressed to do elsewhere interrupts that flow.

Finding our way back to that creative focus can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a writer.

And for some unknown reason I have been labouring under the misconception that this particular problem was unique to me. Gazing at the number of notebooks with unfinished stories, abandoned ideas for books, first lines of poetry on my book shelf causes unbidden feelings of frustration, shame, annoyance to surface. And once those feelings emerge they threaten to overwhelm the thinking part of my brain that understands this is all part of the writing process.

In Eric Maisel’s latest book for creatives, titled, Redesign Your Mind, he notes that “the ways in which creative projects can dim, lose their lustre, and shift out of focus are legion”. So learning more about this aspect of the creative writing process seems paramount if one wants to become a writer who “finishes” their projects.

It seems that this is a typical problem that like most aspects of creative work if understood then it can be solved. I was glad to know that it is not just a “me” problem but one that impacts other writers and creative souls.

One of the suggestions that resonated for me was to develop a habit where prior to leaving your desk or computer or your notebook, that you write out where you think you want to go next, to frame questions that you want to consider or reflect on when you return to the page. Sort of a quasi developed pathway in point form about where you need to go next.

And what if you still can’t figure out where you were going with a piece of writing when you are finally able to get back to it? Then it seems best to simply write and keep writing. The magic seems to be in discovering what you are writing by actually doing it. Sometimes where you finish seems far removed from where you began. And really, what is wrong with that!

happy writing!

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Grappling with uncertainty

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If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.

Eckhart Tolle

Uncertainty often manifests itself in our lives as a primary stressor. The longer we experience it, the more challenging it is to learn to embrace it, accept it, or to thrive in spite of it. And the more frequently it pops up in our lives, the more it becomes subject to our innate negativity bias and fills our emotional spaces with worry and anxiety.

The pandemic has fit this bill like a glove. But any situation that is unknown to us especially one that may bring hardship and chaos into our lives quickly shifts into something we wish to avoid. But summoning inner resources and resolve to face tough situations builds muscles of resilience that can help us become stronger over the long term.

So how do you go about finding a way forward and what kinds of tools do you need to develop?

Having a support network of family and friends to backstop you as you navigate the harder things in life has always been a top priority. Learning to use mindfulness techniques to stay in the moment and avoid ruminating about the past or projecting wishful thinking onto the future is often helpful. And at times easier said than done.

But cultivating a state of being curious about what you are facing can help you stay focused on where you need to be.

And curiosity often creates a sensation of playfulness or lightness, helping you stay out of judgment, and clinging to our unhelpful attachments to things. Using statements like “what other ways can I look at this” or “what if” can be useful when you are teetering on the brink and need balance to face what life is bringing your way.

Research shows that curiosity may help build tolerance for anxiety producing situations and encourages unconventional ideas to solve problems.

Being okay with uncertainty, letting things pass, trying to think about how you have both feet on the ground while you walk helps lighten the load when you are facing difficult circumstances. Reminding myself to be curious, to slow down and observe what I am facing, lets me tap into creative responses to life’s challenges.

And right now, I am going to remain curious about whether I can maintain this mindset when I need it most.

stay safe!

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snow covered tulips

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There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

Every time I have checked the news on my computer during the past forty eight hours, I am reminded that we are anticipating a wicked spring snowstorm. Expected to be one of the most cataclysmic snowstorms in decades, it certainly sounds ominous and has kept the journalists busy. Instructions for emergency preparedness and supply lists to keep you covered for a period of 72 hours seem to be everywhere.

Having started to get ready for spring yard work, changed winter tires to summer ones, and finally watched the last of the snow melt leaving behind the proverbial snow mold on my lawn, I am finished with winter. Spring has been slower this year compared to the last couple of years but it is in evidence most places you look.

I have a solitary tulip that comes up all by itself first thing early each spring so it often receives the tail end of a cold, snowy prairie winter. But it keeps coming up, year after year. Actually, it has persevered in spite of harsh weather conditions for more than thirty years.

And I have always considered it a bit of a touchstone or a comforting kind of reminder that in spite of the many challenges we may experience throughout life, we are in fact, resilient and our struggles pass.

So like my stalwart solitary tulip about to get pummelled by a dreadful spring snow storm, it reinforces that I too, am resilient and can weather what life throws my way. Even when the conditions or circumstances threaten to be overwhelming. Like that tulip, if I remain mindful rather than reactive, hold space for hope, then passing storms will move along and so will I.

Stay hopeful, stay safe!

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Finding your voice

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A writer’s voice is the way your personality comes through on the page, via everything from word choice and sentence structure to tone and punctuation.

Katherine Schulten

Have you ever wondered how to find your writer’s voice? It doesn’t seem as simple as the voice you bring to the act of singing or speaking. As a beginning writer, there are times when I feel like I am stumbling around trying to find my voice. When I am stuck I find myself worrying about what writer’s voice really is which will send me searching for the answers in craft books or on the internet.

But the reality is, our writing voice lives deep inside of us. The act of creation calls to us to be exactly as we are. Even if we feel like we are trying on shoes that are the wrong size. When we do our creative work, once we allow ourselves to become immersed in it, we often discover that unconsciously we are bringing our writer’s voice to the page.

If we look closely, we can discern the word choices we make, the tone, and our writing style as a reflection of who we are. And over time, this recognition strengthens and becomes intuitive.

When we bring our writer’s voice to the page, we are writing with emotion, passion, and we bring along all of the positive and negative aspects of ourselves. Our dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, wishes and our fears will all show up in what we write. Worrying about what our voice sounds like or is saying will often inadvertently make our words flat, dull, and perhaps unintentionally disingenuous.

Strangely enough, the act of immersion in a piece of creative writing can take us out of our judgemental minds and the less we try to write in a type of “voice” the easier it is to tap into the voice that is your own. Creative work allows us to express what is in our hearts – the pieces we write speak for us in the world. And the more we practice speaking with our authentic voice, it becomes louder and resonates with clarity.

If there was ever a reason to ensure ego doesn’t show up on your page, this would be it. Everything you create with your whole self, with your passionate self, with your true self – is a self-portrait. An unbridled, unfettered word picture of who we really are. And that is the best aspect of the poems and stories we write.

Happy writing!

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Titles: Discovering the soul of your story

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A title has a big job. It is the first thing we read. It gets our attention and highlights the tenor of the piece. It’s shorthand for the tone, perspective, and content.

Bonni Goldberg

Having spent the past couple of days editing, reworking, and in some cases, re-writing pieces of flash fiction that have been languishing in a folder, titled, “not finished”, it dawned on me that choosing a title is a critical part of craft. And it is one that presents as simplistic but is more difficult than it sounds.

For many of the pieces of short prose that I had abandoned, the working titles chosen no longer seemed to fit. Like a broken puzzle piece, a poorly crafted title leaves a gap, a tiny void that grows larger through the distance of time. Flash fiction could be characterized as a full story living in a tiny space where the economy of words requires each choice be meaningful.

And the title is not merely the beginning but should reflect the essence of the story’s meaning or its soul.

So I took time to approach this task with a sense of playfulness – drafting at least ten titles for each story and then leaving it for a day before returning to see how these new possibilities lined up with meaning of what I had written.

My discovery through this process led me conclude that titles are a bit like shapeshifters. Through the kaleidoscope of reflection, there are different ways to present the meaning of your story and titles do in fact, play a leading role.

This seems somewhat parallel to the manner in which we use titles in our day to day lives. We frequently describe ourselves through title, usually with intent to announce to the world our successes or achievements. Rarely do we refer to ourselves based on our relationships, our place in the world, or the things that have the most intrinsic meaning to us.

Imagine attending a meeting, or some type of social event and introducing yourself as who you are – a mother, a wife, a daughter, etc., rather than what you do or where you work.

So if a title reflects the soul of story, whether it is one we have written or our own work in progress, it makes sense that considerable time, energy, and thought go into what it should be.

Happy writing!

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Writing into spring

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There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never know quite where they’ll take you.

Beatrix Potter

There is something magical that happens deep within me at the time of spring equinox. My energy levels lift, the piles of snow that remain in my yard no longer matter, and I feel compelled to plant something. Usually only seeds from one type of plant because in this part of the world, it is far too early to anticipate digging in dirt outdoors.

But still, stepping into springtime simply by looking at the calendar and starting a single seedling plants a much needed sense of hope. And so does being able to resurrect a writing routine.

The promise of warmer weather, budding trees, and blooming flowers seems to serve as a springboard for creativity. Ideas flow faster than I can capture them and write them on a page. When I seem to stall, a quick visit to the outdoors where the sun shines brighter and feels warmer, is often enough to shift gears and prompt me to keep on writing.

Earlier worries during the long winter months about not having enough time or inclination to write no longer permeate my days.

Perhaps over time I will learn not to fret about what seem to be the natural ebbs and flows that are part of my writing practice. Circumstances beyond my control put a halt to my progress learning the craft of writing. So faced with ongoing worry about whether I would get back to the page, many days were spent with loops of thought that in hindsight were actually instructive.

It seems that the lesson I needed to pay attention to through this time was learning how to honour the times when words flow easily as well as those times when they don’t.

Creating a first draft always leads to something more. Especially when you have the time and energy to devote to it. In most ways, this seems parallel to the life cycle of growing plants. There are different periods of time where the act of writing unfolds by planting those first words, nourishing, watering and weeding them, and helping them grow until they are ready for harvest.

So I will take the time to honour the new words that are emerging as I move into spring this year and cultivate them just like seeds ready for growth.

Happy writing!!

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Age: Can it be a state of mind?

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Everyday experience suggests that we often don’t experience aging the same way, with many people feeling older or younger than they really are.

David Robson

Every so often we have those strange moments in life where our experience in some way defies reality. I bumped up against one such an event last week. During a conversation a friend mentioned that someone I have known for years had retired. But I couldn’t believe this because somehow I was locked in prior decades when my mental reference point was from a time when both this person and I were working.

And ever since I have been struck by the fact that the way I perceive my subjective age is quite different than my chronological age.

And when I checked in with other people around me, they echoed similar experiences. What was most fascinating was that the variability in subjective ages most people have also represents their current state of mind. Not only does it vary from person to person but also from circumstance to circumstance.

This gap between a person’s felt age and what is listed on their birth certificate changes as we grow older. Adolescents and young adults often feel older than their true ages while as we start of accrue more and more birthdays, many of us subjectively feel younger. This discrepancy between felt vs. chronological age has been studied for the past five decades.

The expression “you are only as old as you feel” is true for many. Influenced by our inner mental world and the status of our physical health as well current life stressors, “felt” subjective age can be variable throughout our lives.

The phenomenon of one’s subjective or felt age changes the energy that we bring into our day to day lives. I recognize that when I am excited about certain things or people in my life, or when I am high in a creativity cycle that my youthful self seems to be front and center. Conversely, when juggling too many tasks, when life seems overwhelming, or when we experience tragic events, we can feel older than we ever have before.

And healthy sleep has been identified through research to have a huge impact on our subjective sense of age. That resonates – for those among us who have struggled to have a good nights sleep, we often feel weary and older than our years.

When these times emerge, it often signals a time to take rest, to grieve, to simply slow down and pause until our energy levels are restored. So learning to focus attention to these ebbs and flows that may influence our subjective age, seems a skill worth pursuing.

And hopefully the next time I bump up against the commonplace ageisms that are ubiquitous these days, my subjective inner youthful self can quietly chuckle and simply walk away.

Stay healthy and safe!

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“H” is for Hope

Photo credit L. Meyer

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

Desmond Tutu

It is difficult to go through a day’s activities without being impacted by horrific images from the devastating reality of the war in Ukraine. No matter where you are in the world, this awareness permeates the lives of most humans today. And it is also hard not to grasp the degree of faith and hope that the people of Ukraine are bringing forth in order to preserve their land, people, and culture.

Hope is not a superfluous concept. Indeed, the lack of it is a significant barrier to positive mental health and at times, life itself. One of the biggest risk factors in suicide is the degree to which an individual experiences hopelessness. Dreams and beliefs are abstract concepts that live in our minds but hope requires doing something.

Hope is a cognitive practice that can be taught to children and adults and is comprised of intentional goal setting and then working towards them with purpose. So when we watch, read or listen to stories from across the globe of those people who are striving to reach their goals in the most difficult, overwhelming and violent circumstances, and could peel back the layers here, we would find hope at the core.

Hope is not wishful thinking but rather it is action oriented and purposeful.

“Optimistic people see the glass as half full but hopeful people ask how they can fill the glass full” – John Parsi, the Hope Center.

So if we are able to take any degree of action to help our fellow humans across the globe, we too, can touch that place that shapes right minded thought and warms human hearts. And instills belief that humans can have hope that peace will prevail and be restored.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Sunflower: A symbol of hope for Ukraine

Photo credit – L Meyer

The sunflower possibly surpasses all others in terms of its universal power to bring joy to people.

Kristen M. Stanton

As most of the world watches in horror as Russia invades Ukraine, efforts are ramping up to provide support and solidarity from around the world. Viral videos of a woman trying to hand a Russian soldier a small number of sunflower seeds so they will grow after he has fallen in the dirt, precipitated my desire to better understand the symbolism of Ukraine’s national flower.

Long known as a flower signifying optimism as its head is always turned towards sunlight, the sunflower has a special place for many people around the world. Symbolic meanings also include honesty, longevity, and peace.

Sunflowers serve as a food source for man, birds, and mammals. They are a practical flower as well as spiritual and symbolic.

A botanical plant that has the ability to absorb radioactive isotopes was planted at the sites of what were previous nuclear missile silos in 1996 when Ukraine committed to total nuclear disarmament. Representatives from the United States, Russia and Ukraine were apparently able at that time to plant sunflowers, together, peacefully.

Perhaps now it will also come to signify solidarity with peace loving citizens around the globe to honour the freedom so important in democratic societies. Let’s hope the powers of good around the world prevail and support the Ukrainian people in their time of need. And honour all that the sunflower stands for.

Peace to all.

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Boredom: A path to creativity?

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Boredom is your imagination calling to you

Sherry Turkle

Bored. That uncomfortable sensation of inertia combined with an undertone of leg jiggling anxiousness. I recognize the sensation but struggle to grasp the words to define it. My inner voice tells me to just shake it off, haunted by a long past memory of my mother’s melodic voice, sort of teasing, sort of chastising, telling me that I have “ants in my pants” and that I just need to go find something to do.

But that seems near impossible during those interminable dragging moments when everything is tainted by the drab beige colour named, “bored”.

Is it this particular point in the long Canadian prairie winter where it is cold beyond belief that induces this sensation? Or life circumstances beyond one’s control that find us slipping into that place of doing things by rote and routine. Whatever the driver to this particularly hellish place, most of us do whatever is necessary to escape it.

While being bored is an uncomfortable emotional state for most of us, it does have a silver lining. Research show that tasks that would meet the criteria as “boring” or “mundane” often cause a cognitive shift from lack of stimulation. This place that most of us either try to avoid or struggle with provides a unique opportunity for our imagination room to play, grow, and expand.

Children who are bored seem more easily able to launch themselves over this hurdle than adults. Most parents have endured that grating whine about being bored only to discover that their children have solved the boredom problem quietly on their own by engaging in some manner with their creative impulses.

Maybe adults lose their play touchstones as they grow older or maybe the sheer number of activities that seem like dreary tasks on a never ending to do list thwart our creative, joyful inclinations. And the more of these tasks we have to complete, the further away we move from that place where play and creativity can be launched.

Some of us are fortunate enough to find solace in daydreams that spur on our creative energies. Others are able to parlay the boredom state to a place where they create art, music, photography or to write. Neil Gaiman said, “You have to let yourself get so bored that your mind has nothing better to do than tell itself a story.”

So the next time you feel bored pay attention to where your mind wanders and see if the state of boredom recedes into the background and creativity emerges to take its place.

Thankfully, studies show that most of us can’t stay in the boredom state for long periods of time. Finding the patience to use those times when we are so bored we can’t stand it may lead us to a place where we are able to find and embrace our creativity that we thought was far away and out of reach.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Maybe it’s time to take a break…

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A break is never a waste of time

Lynn Zubernis

It would likely be a safe guess that the majority of Canadians have been paying close attention to the events unfolding in our nation’s capitol and the protests along several border crossings across our country. The Freedom Truckers Convoy, ironically named because at this point they are now infringing on the rights and freedoms of people across Canada, are demanding that all pandemic public health mandates and measures end. Full stop.

With semi-truck horns blaring 24 hours a day, the smell of diesel fumes choking the citizens who live in the area they have occupied, and offensive signs and actions recorded by television cameras for perpetuity, there seems to be no end to this incredulous display of anger and disrespect. As this drama has unfolded, it is apparent that anyone who had an axe to grind and lots of time to go do it, now feels compelled to pontificate and shout disinformation at anyone who happens to pass by.

Politicians of right wing political stripes were the first to wind up their pandemic guidelines in an effort not to be caught on the wrong side of this simple minded debate. So much for protecting the vulnerable, following the science of public health officials, and supporting our beleaguered health care workers. The vast majority of people in this country have done everything they could do stem the tide of the pandemic in their communities and now it seems too matter little.

Certainly most of us are beyond weary of the pandemic and all that it has brought to our daily lives. But the current chaos being played out across our country in the name of “freedom” is beyond the pale. While politicians declare states of emergency, and then argue and debate whether it is or isn’t a crisis, the protestors become more entrenched with an under current of violence now rippling through this sea of discontent.

It hurts my heart to watch or listen to this corrosive narrative. So it seems the best way to move forward through all of this, is to simply pause, breathe, care for those you love, turn off the news and enjoy a well earned break.

Stay safe and healthy!

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And around we go again…

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Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?

Bertrand Russell

Today was a kind of watershed moment in the pandemic. Our provincial government has decided to ignore science, forgo public health measures, and to leave its citizens in the dark as to the risks posed by Covid 19 either now or in the foreseeable future. Enamoured by populism and a desire to put economic priorities first, a brazen and dangerous group of politicians are leading our community back to the place where we will pretend that the pandemic is over.

Even though we have been in this exact same spot six months ago, there is something about this time that seems both strange and surreal.

Amidst the blaring of semi-truck horns and angry anti vaccine crowds, the stage is set for drastic changes. Perhaps it is the backdrop of our nation’s capital being under siege by protestors who want all Covid restrictions eradicated that emboldens other like minded politicians across the country.

With no real plan for global vaccine equity and an astonishing active case count with record hospitalizations where I live, it makes little sense to rush to the goal line while we are still playing the game. So much has been lost over the past two years.

Gone are the days of working together for the greater good. Gone are the days of placing even a modicum of trust in government. And gone are the days of being able to count on a public health care system that has served the needs of my family for years.

The silent majority, those individuals who have followed public health guidelines to keep both themselves and their loved ones safe have been left in the dust. But at what cost has that silence come? What would the world be like if the silent majority – those people who are respectful of others, follow the rules, work to support the vulnerable in our society, decided to collectively give voice to their concerns.

Imagine if this larger segment of society spoke out in meaningful ways, loudly and proudly. Would we see the tail end of this dangerous political machine that disrupts our ability to live together peacefully and work collectively to end this pandemic?

Let’s try it – we have come full circle and reached an end point with no return. Close the door on harmful populist rhetoric that pontificates about individual freedoms which is simply code for “my needs come first no matter what”. Finish this chapter of poorly written policies uttered in willful ignorance and open a new one.

A new chapter that cares about people, that is truly inclusive, to keep everyone safe and healthy. These dark moments deserve to be relegated to the past, simply a bitter footnote best left forgiven but not forgotten. Let’s hope our days of moving in circles are soon over.

Stay safe and healthy!

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What to do when you don’t feel like writing

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There are two of you – one who wants to write and one who doesn’t. The one who wants to write better keep tricking the one who doesn’t.

Maria Irene Fornes

We all experience those moments – where something we love to do, like writing or creating art, feels overwhelming, or lacks that wondrous sparkle, or we are simply buried by the minutia of life’s responsibilities and obligations. So we park our creativity on a shelf. Thinking we will return to our dreams in just a moment or when things simmer down in our lives.

But the reality is that the risk of never moving forward with our artistic aspirations or creative goals becomes incrementally higher until it is something we can no longer surmount.

Letting the part of ourselves that just doesn’t feel like writing take over can be a subtle and insidious process. And once we arrive at that place, it becomes a destination. That is hard to get away from.

So putting one foot in front of the other, or the pen to the page and going through the motions may be likened to exercise. The more frequently you do it, the stronger the “muscle memory” you will be able to call upon during those times when you just don’t feel it.

We all have days when creating a piece of art in any form is just not within the realm of possibility. But the trick is to make that the exception rather than the rule. Learning to take small steps and just do one thing that contributes to your craft will keep you moving forward and strike a note of manageability at the same time.

So even when life places more demands on you than expected or you simply don’t feel emotionally able to write a word, if we are just able to focus on the simple act of writing anything at all, or any activity that supports your writing goals, then we haven’t given up, we are just managing our own expectations.

Then when the time is right, you are able to resume your practice without having to scale those mountains of self-recrimination, shame and blame which may keep us from experiencing the joy of our artistic practice as a writer.

Stay healthy and safe and happy writing!

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Finding rhythm under pressure

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Rhythm is essential to a healthy body and a healthy mind. Every person in the world can probably think of something rhythmic that makes them feel better: walking, swimming, music, dance, the sound of waves breaking on a beach…

Dr. Bruce D. Perry

We all likely have experienced times where stress and pressure threaten to overwhelm us. Feeling out of sync, becoming isolated from those we care about, or paralyzed by low level fear are emotions that many of us have become more familiar with during the pandemic.

And as life continues on, there are those moments of stress that somehow seem to find us at our most vulnerable. They threaten to knock our ability to self-regulate off kilter.

And if we remain in a constant state of vigilant alertness, it begins to take a toll on our health. And chronic stress sucks that sense of joy out right of us like a super sonic vacuum. So finding our own rhythms again is necessary to help us regulate and come back into balance.

Discovering go to activities can be a bit of a process of trial and error. When walking, my preferred way to bring balance back into my life seemed to lack that regulating oomph, I found myself floundering. I tried knitting, listening to music, but couldn’t locate that thread of rhythm that I was looking for.

However, I began to notice what was having the strongest impact were conversations with friends and family members.

And the flow of those conversations also had a rhythm.

Push against that impulse to isolate from others. Reaching out and accepting the calming support from those people in your life who care about you is healing and restorative.

We are surrounded by natural rhythms which are deeply embedded in our biology. Taking the time to discover what may bring you back to balance is well worth the struggle to regain our footing when life pushes us off the path.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Write vs. Edit

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Writing is 10 percent about writing first drafts and 90 about editing. If you feel like inspiration is hard to come by, that means you get to focus on the things you already have.

Danez Smith

When you are stuck, it can be a relief to realize that you have lots of other writing work that you can tackle. For many of us, editing can be just as difficult to begin but if you develop a routine for this part of the work, it helps you with the toughest part of the job – finishing a piece of writing.

Creating a new piece of work is exciting, words that come rushing out in a torrent following those initial moments of inspiration are often exhilarating. But writing anything in a rapid manner will mean that time must be spent in careful editing mode at a later date. And often we need to let those initial ideas we have ferment like kimchi or sauerkraut.

If we develop a practice that includes times for generative writing, times for reflection and reading, and times for editing, we can move forward at the right pace for our creative energy levels. But that means developing an understanding of how the flow of your practice works for you at different times in your life.

Sometimes it is easier to put a piece of creative work aside and return to it when you have both the time and the inclination. But what happens if these inspiring moments are left to languish in a notebook or maybe in many notebooks. At times, we are easily able to return to words previously written and flesh them out into full fledged pieces of work.

If we don’t, all is not lost. Those words can be a bonanza at those times when you think you can’t possibly write about anything at all. Return to them, play with them, move them around this way and that. See if those words that once energized you, that were shaping up to tell a new story but stalled either through the business of daily life or simply inertia and then left to linger untouched, can become new again.

Dividends may pay off at those frustrating times when you can’t think of anything to write about. See if those older words can come alive again in new forms or repurposed to tell new stories. Writing isn’t always about that flash of creative spark but also about nurturing times to edit or to recreate those words you laid down before.

It can be amazing to discover that there are many pathways to getting writing on the page.

Happy writing!

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Take your creativity for a walk

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Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.

Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz (2014)

Stumped by a much needed revision of a piece of flash fiction I had written sometime ago inadvertently led me down the “rabbit hole” commonly known as the internet. And I happened upon a fascinating study about walking and creativity titled “Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking” by Oppezzo & Schwartz (2014). Further descent down the internet rabbit hole, revealed a wonderful Ted talk by the lead author which was inspiring and provided food for thought.

Using an experimental design study, these psychologists were able to quantify what many writers and other artists already know. That walking stimulates the creative process and often may be the best mechanism to become unstuck when you hit a roadblock in your work. Studying how the activity of movement can stimulate a brainstorming approach to creativity that is intentional can form a valued part of your artistic practice.

These results differ from what is known as the “shower effect” where an idea just comes to you from out of nowhere. What the researchers were focusing on was the relationship between movement and creativity and how this may contribute to better brainstorming approaches.

There are some steps that they suggest one consider to achieve the most optimal impact:

  1. Setting an Intention – choosing a problem you are facing and would like to solve will prime your brain to consider various solutions (brainstorming)
  2. Walk at a comfortable pace – or choosing any physical activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental focus
  3. Generate as many ideas as you can to solve your problem while you are walking
  4. Recording (using your phone) the one or two ideas that you believe would fit best and that you intend to pursue when you complete your walk or other activity, and
  5. If nothing comes out of your internal brainstorming process, leave it and come back to it at another time.

What I found most interesting in the study results, (given that I live in a cold winter climate for many months of the year), is that even walking on a treadmill while looking at a blank wall had an impact. Although being outside sitting and simply enjoying nature has cognitive benefits, this research demonstrates that the act of walking or slow movement itself may promote a creative mindset for problem solving.

Which was great news because when wicked winter weather strikes in the Canadian prairies, walking on the treadmill is usually how I get my exercise. So when I am home bound due to winter windchill temperatures in the -40’s and -50’s, it is heartwarming to know it is still possible to open up the flow of those creative ideas on the treadmill!

And once I finished learning more about how the relationship between movement and creativity works, I promptly went out for a walk to try it out. And I did manage to make some progress in my revision work as a result. Further self exploration with this over time will tell if this is something to intentionally build into my writing practice. Who knows, maybe there are some benefits to procrastination!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Embracing intentions

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And now let us welcome the new year – full of things that have never been

Rainer Maria Rilke

Given the current chaos in our lives with the recent uptick in Omicron, it seems less than inspiring to even contemplate making some sort of resolution for this new year. And truth be told, resolutions never seem to have the right fit in my life anyways. Making a resolution usually makes me feel obligated to do something arbitrary that I have chosen for the wrong reasons. So it seems to only set the stage for failure when I try to push myself to adopt a frame of mind where I think I must accomplish some random task.

And even pushing myself towards that goal doesn’t help as it often fizzles and fades away in a few weeks or months.

Since I am spending more time in quiet solitude these days, I have been thinking about the spirit of setting intentions versus resolutions.

By definition an intention relates to having some purpose. And purpose in our lives often has a deeper seated meaning and value than a haphazard goal.

As I embark on this path forward to being a writer, part of my transition comes with the realization that what I am passionate about requires me to move into the role of student. A beginning learner if you will. Learning more about the craft, about myself and what expectations I bring to the process of writing. As my words populate a page, it is humbling to be aware that there is much about being a writer that I have yet to learn. Maybe I never will.

So I am seeking out teachers, mentors and classes that resonate with what I need to learn now. I am fortunate in that I have time to devote to this…and perhaps feeling safer at home rather than out and about has prompted me to be realistic about what I can do these days. So my intentions this year are to learn more about the craft of writing. To be okay with and embrace the beginner mindset and to absorb as much as I can.

And to reframe the way 2022 has started and to be grateful that the external circumstances around me are assisting with this motivation to learn, grow, and to write.

Stay healthy and safe – Happy New year!!

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It’s a wrap

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It is always important to know when something has reached the end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.

Paulo Coelho

Bitter arctic air has descended bringing dangerous temperatures that are forcing prairie people to hunker down in our homes. What better time to reflect on the year that has past than now? Listening to Joni Mitchell’s, the River on repeat interspersed with Leonard Cohen’s, Hallelujah serves to set the background for my year end reflection and introspection.

This year has been a rollercoaster and I vacillate between thinking about those moments when the virus retreated which were far too short along with those longer times when it seemed like it would never end. But there is something healing about making the effort for reflection. It seems right to stop and think deeply about where you have been and what the meaning of this journey has been over the course of 2021.

Flipping through sporadic journal entries made over the past twelve months reveals that I did in fact accomplish everything I set out to do to further my goals as a writer. Seems ironic as my recent mindset has been stuck in a place of agitation and frustration that I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to this year because of the pandemic.

But like so much else this year, that is an illusion. My writing practice definitely was strengthened by participating in two excellent immersive flash fiction courses this past summer. At times these generative writing activities flowed like a summer river producing some interesting pieces of work. I published one single story this year and have decided that is cause for some celebration.

And I realize that if you procrastinate and don’t submit pieces of writing that seem finished, your work will never be released into the world.

At other times, working on other projects, taking a break and laying fallow produced surprising results. So that needs to be considered as a necessary part of the work of a writer. Being creative in other ways results in a combustible spark that pays off if you don’t give it too much thought. And really working to achieve a level of focus needed to edit a piece of writing is as important as the generative stuff. Maybe even more so.

Connecting with fellow writers eases the strange world we find ourselves in. It is uplifting to know that we are not alone. My gratitude and heart felt connection to the members of my writer’s group tethers me to this craft and to them in ways I never anticipated. And taking time, of which I seem to have in abundance, for reading also connects me to the world of writers. Writing once per week here continues to anchor me and gives me courage to set my words free.

So although 2021 is ending and I am not sad to see it go, there is much that has been learned through this year, and much indeed to feel thankful for.

Happy Writing and Happy New Year!

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Winter Solstice: Time of letting go

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It is a time for acknowledging hope in the darkness, while waiting for the light to return.

Lynda Monk

People in the Northern hemisphere have just finished celebrating Winter Solstice in quieter ways but still with strong interest during this powerful time. Many use this time of darkness as a traditional marker for letting go our concerns that weigh us down; releasing those that no longer meet our needs or suit our current life purpose. It is a time of inviting hope into our future as the days grow lighter and lighter.

The time of a winter solstice invites us to reflect on nature’s ebbs and flows; a mirror for those ups and downs we have experienced during this year of 2021 which seem more pronounced than past years. It seems we are being urged to listen more deeply to the rhythms of our natural world and to pay greater attention. We may be encouraged to approach those in our lives with an extra measure of kindness and caring.

As we move through these trying times, our reflections serve to help us focus on what matters most in our lives. Nature’s powerful lessons about being in darkness and then entering the cycle of light serve as reminders that difficult times move along and so will we. This message of hope demands that we pay more attention to the aspects in life that have the most meaning for us.

May you stay healthy and safe wrapped in the love of all of those who matter most in your lives.

All the best during this holiday season!

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Joys of helping in your community

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I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.

Jana Stanfield

I don’t know about you but I feel like I am going through my days with a dark shadow lurking over my shoulder. We have been inundated recently by news clips shouting warnings to us that “Omicron” is coming and will be the next virulent variant in our lives. It has taken an extra bit of energy to rise above this and to keep moving forward in a good way.

The pandemic has revealed the stark reality that there are significant divisions in our community. The need to help others by following the lead of inspiring people providing support and sustenance to everyone living in our community somehow shines light in the darkest of times.

Whether it is stocking the community fridge with quality staple foods, or donating warm clothing to shelters that are doing huge amounts of work with scarce financial resources, or writing letters to pressure our government to fund safe consumption sites, there is always a small part for all of us to play in making things a little bit better.

Community based non-profit organizations serve as our moral compass to a roadmap of helping. They also serve to educate about the multitude of unmet needs that have grown larger and larger. Learning about how an individual can help the most may be an eye opening experience. And it dispatches the sense of alienation and isolation that the political machine uses to divide and conquer.

Even with the sensation that another wave of Covid is just around the corner, finding a way to help others provides a sense of well being that is much needed right now. After another year of loss, anxious anticipation, and at times feelings of hopelessness, the timeless art of helping others to help yourself serves everyone in our community. Caring for others as you care for yourself always works – even at the most challenging of times.

Stay healthy and safe!!

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Alert: Make time for people in your life…

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Be grateful for every second of every day you get to spend with those you love. Our time together is short and so very precious

Brad Turnball

Since March, 2020, the globe has contended with a pandemic that has shaped our lives in forms that at times seem unimaginable. Many of us have followed the public health rules that have kept friends and family members safe. But an unintended consequence of these critical efforts to stay healthy and keep others that way as well is that we have become isolated.

Isolated in ways that are not beneficial. It seems that many layers of our lives have become insulated in ways that inadvertently prevent us from life affirming connections with those people that we love and care about. Even if we stay in touch, it is likely sporadic at best.

A recent life threatening medical event for one of my family members has shone a light on how easy it is to carry on from one day to the next without mindfully nurturing those connections that pre-pandemic seemed so essential and easy to take for granted. Realization of this fact has loomed large in my life this week as the stark reality hit home that I have not seen some of my family members for well over a year.

And staying in contact through technology which was easy to do in the beginning of the pandemic has waned over time. It’s just easier to avoid taking the time to set up a Zoom meet.

Many months into our challenges with Covid-19, I am realizing that I have indeed, found it easier to stay home in my little world than to be intentional about how I can connect with those I care about in safe ways. Which can be done. It just takes effort and the will to make it happen. Before it is too late.

It seems that now is the time to choose to find pathways to be more connected with those I love and care about and not just when a crisis comes calling. I am tired of a virus running my life. If I need to mask, social distance, be vaccinated, open windows, take rapid antigen tests, no problem. If public health guidelines preclude in person contact, then I need to do a better job at reaching out through some technological medium.

But sticking my head in the proverbial sand and unintentionally becoming distanced from those I care about the most, is now over and done. I just wish I would have understood this was happening in my life months ago.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Breathe first, write second

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I wish somebody had told me that I could slow down and take writing at my own pace. If you feel like you’re getting left behind…take as much time as you like

Danez Smith

Writing prompts are a curious tool in a writer’s tool box. They provide an inspiring jumping off point and the associations created in your mind may lead the way forward to a surprising piece of work. But if you rush to respond to the prompt by putting words immediately on the page, you may find yourself fumbling and then faltering.

It can be off-putting to say the least.

During this year’s Flash Nano, I discovered that if I let the prompt roam around in my mind before sitting down and attempting to write, I was able to turn over story possibilities until all of a sudden an idea would affix itself to what needed to be written and then words would flow with ease.

I experimented with this throughout the month of November and also learned that I could apply a similar principle to other pieces of work. Spending some time in mental preparation would invariably lead to a much better result. This is much the same as what athletes do prior to a big game event. They spend hours in mental preparation by visualizing what will transpire while in a state of relaxation in order to achieve a better result.

Writers often place an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves rather than letting the process of creating a piece of art unfold in the mysterious way that it does. Forcing words on a page without preparation may work for some but it definitely doesn’t do anything for me.

Even in a free writing situation, I have discovered that it seems better for me to relax first and consider what I want to explore during the writing session. I seem to need that tiny bit of preparation for the words that I need to write and the stories that I need to tell to move from my mind to the page.

So in addition to completing at least one piece of flash fiction every day for 30 days, I was able to learn more about what my brain needs to produce a creative piece of work during the month of November. Definitely a win/win this year!

Happy writing!

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One writing prompt, so many stories

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I never consciously set out to write a certain story. The idea must originate somewhere deep within me and push itself out in its own time. Usually, it begins with associations

Ray Bradbury

Today is day 24 of Flash Nano, where during the month of November some writers are attempting to create thirty pieces of flash fiction in thirty days. With a burst of eager anticipation, I signed up again this year seeking to continue this voyage of discovery as a beginning writer. And this is the exact same spot I faced last year where I felt my enthusiasm wane and began to struggle to put words on the page in response to a writing prompt.

But I have been experimenting this year, taking one prompt and trying to create two separate flash fiction drafts – one in the morning and one in the evening. And it is fascinating how your creative brain can take the same prompt and deliver different responses, sometimes the divergence is drastic and astonishing.

Maybe this is like the snowflake phenomenon, where every snowflake in the world is precisely unique in some mysterious way. Writing stories that emerge from that unknown place that resides somewhere inside of us tells us more about how we think about our world than we may be mindful of. The best part of this experiment was the realization that as I have developed a writing routine, the spark needed to begin doesn’t have to be particularly special or profound.

It feels as if there are an infinite number of stories in us that we just need to gently nudge to bring into the world.

Picture prompts, first sentence lines, a snippet about a bizarre circumstance, all of these types of writing prompts seems to propel us to create something that is individual only to ourselves. And it is a worthy exercise to pay close attention to how other writers respond to the same prompt. It seems that we all have stories that need to be told.

When our writing group uses a prompt for spontaneous generative work, I love hearing how each of us approaches the words on the page. It is a marvel to listen to how other writers using exactly the same prompt have such diverse results. I learn something new each and every time we do this. Storytelling satisfies both our curiosity and that need for knowledge that we all have about each other and how we see the world.

The beauty of a writing prompt is that provides just a tiny push forward to release our words out into the world. And anything that helps us kickstart the writing process can only be a good thing.

Happy writing!

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Writer’s Curiosity Drives Creativity

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Curiosity sparks creativity and that, in turn, leads to a self-sustaining system: Creative questions lead to curiosity, and curious questions lead to creativity.

Daphne Gray-Grant

In order to flourish, writers need to embrace curiosity. For most of us, being curious was a constant companion during our childhood years. Asking the critical questions, why? or what if? sparks a kind of wondering that takes us down a path where the stories we tell take root from those naturally curious questions we ask of ourselves and everything in the world around us.

Learning about things we don’t have the answers for, shapes the story telling process. And creativity begets creativity. Writers often follow threads like novelty, complexity, conflict or surprise that help them weave a piece of art. And this process may serve to lead us towards that coveted place in our minds where we achieve a state of “flow.” That mental space where words fly from our fingers to the page faster than we can get them down.

But to remain in a curious state, we are required to suspend several things. We must release judgement, strong negative emotions, and above all, apathy. Stories take shape when we seek knowledge, a way of seeing people, things, and places as we never have before. Being curious encourages us to strive to put into language things that are unspeakable and that we may have been blocked from seeing in some way.

Asking the questions we have about the world around us can unlock the way we think just enough to catch those sparks of creativity that we look for to start our stories. And we can also use this process to understand our own unique stories. To uncover those inner aspects of our lives that we haven’t previously thought about could suddenly makes sense to us in a story format.

Indeed, taking a different approach to developing an understanding of what makes people tick, of why things unfold the way they do, may make our small part of the world feel slightly different. Story telling keeps us feeling alive so learning new ways to become more curious will help us to become attuned for those moments that ignite our creative impulses.

And if we develop an intentional practice of becoming curious in our lives, we will be able to cultivate this so it shines like a beacon in our work inspiring readers to become curious and care about our words. Why not? Happy writing!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Remembrance Day – November 11th

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In Flander’s Fields

In Flander’s fields, the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the dead, short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flander’s fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high

If ye break faith with us who die.

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

in Flander’s fields.

(From Poet.org – in public domain, written by John McCrae 1918)

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Write on! It’s November

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There is something about just setting the pen to paper that lifts me and helps to focus my energy and thoughts

Susan Elaine Jenkins

With pen poised and in anticipation of all the amazing writing events that take place during the month of November, I feel like I am bubbling with ideas and good writing energy. Whether you are writing a novel or memoir in a month, a poem or a piece of flash fiction each day, there is no better opportunity than right now to kickstart a writing practice that might last through the long months of winter.

Although writing is a solitary practice, the community of writers in a multitude of genres who come together in November to encourage, cajole, and support one another provides the perfect backdrop to solidify a writing routine. It typically takes three weeks to develop and form a habit. So it doesn’t get any better than right now to join like minded writers from across the globe in this month long frenzy of sending your words out into the universe.

This is my second year signing up to participate in FlashNano! with Nancy Stohlman, who does a fabulous job of encouraging writers dabbling in flash fiction with amazing prompts, daily motivational emails, and providing a safe space for writers to connect and share their work. The creative sparks which radiate from this community infuse my daily forays into flash fiction.

And I know that when fatigue sets in in about two and half weeks, there will be a community of flash fiction writers to help with the final push to make it through to the end of this month. Regardless of the work I produce, I know that I am taking away so much more than thirty first drafts of short short stories. That is just the icing on the writing cake. What matters most is the felt sense of connection with story tellers from around the world.

Happy writing!!

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Really, what’s in a name?

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Names are not important. It’s what lies inside of you that matters

Sarah J. Maas

Confronted by a blank white screen during this morning’s writing practice and finding myself equally as blank, I flipped through a notebook looking for ideas. Anything to get words out of my head and onto the page would suffice. I found an exercise that I thought looked interesting although its genesis uncertain but it seemed likely to be short so I decided to give it a try.

Here’s what it was: To start, use a web search to look at the origin and meaning of your name. Consider if your research fits with your sense of self, your identity, values and beliefs. Does it reveal context around the time of your birth? Would another name work better? If so, how would those around you react to this change.

I landed on the web-site, behindthename.com and placed my given name in the search bar. Intrigued, I scrolled through the results, taking in the origin of my name – Germanic noted to have a Spanish equivalency. Meaning words: flexible, soft, mild, beautiful. Then I moved into the coloured graphs that indicate the popularity of the name, the decades when it was used most often. Listings displayed were indicated by countries in the world where the name was used most frequently then tapering off as the name began to wane in popularity.

I could see that my name’s use was popular at one point in time and then fell off rather abruptly right around the time I was born. A tab with ratings on a myriad of characteristics showed me that my name is classic, wholesome. A comments section led me down a rabbit hole of a wide range of opinions about the name and people who like or dislike it. And finally, a tab for a section titled, namesakes, which contains a comprehensive listing of popular people and fictional characters in literature, movies, etc that share my name.

Interesting but reflecting on whether or not my name fits best with my sense of self and identity seems like a question best not asked. I can’t imagine not having the name I was given. And really the descriptors used on this web-site were generic rather like a syndicated horoscope in the daily newspaper. A person’s sense of self includes recognition of your name but there are so many complicated aspects of who we believe we are.

But curious about the meaning of names, I began looking up names of my family members and close friends. Some aspects of the meaning of names fit people in my life like a tailored suit and others seemed more generic like a one size fits all type of thing. I’m not certain there was anyone who should have a different name other than the one they already possess.

But learning more about the context of names in addition to the origins and meaning provides a window into determining what to name characters when writing fiction. Thinking about amplifying aspects of the person you are writing about can be a complex and nebulous effort. Landing on a tool to narrow and sharpen your lens through a focus on the origins and meaning of name could be helpful.

And this simplistic exercise did what I initially wanted it to do. It provided a quick kickstart to this morning’s writing practice and a possible strategy for naming fictional characters. As for the rest of it, my sense of self remains intact and I can’t imagine having any other name than what I was given at birth. But the joy in writing is the opportunity to play with alternate realities and to feel those creative sparks!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Fallow time in creative life

Photo L Meyer

There’s something to be said for the quiet state of dormancy where little apparently happens

Bonnie Tsui

Creativity as a process is often a concept we take for granted. Either we have it or we don’t. And for those of us living a creative life as writers, artists, musicians, performers, and so on, those moments in our lives where we struggle to produce something, anything actually, become those times when we experience pain in a visceral way.

But just as in nature, there are cycles to creativity. Those times when we are not able to accomplish what we believe that we should, signal to us that it is likely time to step back and celebrate a change in focus to one of restoration and rejuvenation. Dr. Shelley Carson at Harvard University suggests that the creative brain is comprised of seven differing states. Learning more about how our creative process needs to unfold may be helpful at leading us to become more, rather than less productive, even if it seems that we are not doing anything.

Taking time to rest, to lay fallow, or to recognize when our brains are moving into what Dr. Carson has called an “absorb state” can be powerful. And a bit of a relief.

Knowing that it is okay to be quiet with our thoughts, to leave our projects alone for a period of time, to pay attention to the world around us simply taking it in can be a freeing experience. And by honouring the way our neurological needs should be met, the creative payoff in the long run is a welcome life lesson.

For me, there is something about the time when the leaves turn yellow and our garden beds are put to rest that I now recognize tells me that I need a bit of a breather. Long walks, free writing, playing with photography all combine into what I hope is a type of creative “vacation”. Rather than give in to anxiety about what I am or am not creating right now, this year I am hoping to nourish and prepare my brain for the writing work I hope to accomplish during the winter months.

Happy fall – stay healthy and safe!

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Busyness – life distractions and your writing life…

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There simply isn’t enough time in the day. But is this actually true, or is this perception of a time famine, as it is often called, an illusion? Research shows that we often overestimate the amount of time we spend working. And the busier we think we are, the more we overestimate.

Timothy Caulfield

One of the more difficult aspects of establishing a writing practice is wrestling with the time paradox which could be described as being too distracted to actually get the work done. Putting your words on paper is a fairly critical piece of actually doing the work of writing. But how often do we allow our “busyness” to get in the way.

Writing coaches, how to get it done manuals, podcasts, etc. seem to have proliferated in the past few years. Edicts such as write for just ten minutes a day or write 500 words a day or set your intentions by having writing goals or to have a clear plan – there are so many pieces of advice for writers, it seems this need has created a cottage industry in and of itself.

It is a strange phenomenon that research shows the busier a person is or reports to be, the more status they have. “Busyness bragging” is a thing. How often have you asked someone how they are doing and they reply by sharing how busy they are? And for most of us it truly seems that we are way too busy. Studies show that the actual amount of time spent working is much less than we believe.

Why? There are so many things that grab our attention and distract us. Email, social media, texting, chat groups, scrolling through news feeds, reading newsletters about writing, and the usual aspects of life like family obligations, socializing, eating, exercising, sleeping…the list goes on.

And it does seem exhausting when our focus is directed on everything around us except the writing work we would like to be doing. Then, when we take the time to reflect on what we have been spending our time on, the most likely result is to “beat” ourselves up for not doing what we truly wish to be doing. So the path of least resistance is simply to say, I’ve been too busy to write.

Finding a path to establishing a process that will assist us in meeting our goals is likely not a one time thing. Being vigilant, finding your own personal motivation to accomplish what you want to requires both commitment as well as energy and effort. Finding people in your life who can support your goals and listen to you when you experience challenges, is critical.

Distractions will always be present in our lives. Perhaps the trick is just to acknowledge that those times exist, be okay and at peace with that, and then seek out ways to work around them and write.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Fall, nature’s reset button…

Photo L Meyer

Is this not a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonize.

George Eliot

Weather extremes on the Canadian prairies mean that it is critical to take advantage of every opportunity that presents to seek solace in nature.

This year, in particular, it seems more urgent to escape the angry noise of the strange and unusual world around us.

Scaled back Thanksgiving celebrations again this year mean connections are abbreviated so simple pleasures have taken on heightened meaning.

Carving out time for reflection rather than turkey, simmering savoury soups with mature garden vegetables, and enjoying the crunch of leaves underfoot.

Perhaps the slowing and semi-isolation will give rise to new creative energies, appreciations for the things we take for granted, and time to pay attention to what is truly important in our lives.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Little library not just for kids…

Photo L Meyer

Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness

Anni Albers

Fall often brings the urge to purge and declutter. This year with the dearth of opportunities to volunteer or give back, I have tried to be thoughtful about where I send donations of things that are gently used but still have purpose and life in them. This process uncovered never used art supplies, still in packaging so I wanted to find the right place where I might donate these creativity tools.

Tiny little libraries have been popping up in our neighbourhood for many years but this one was a breath of fresh air. A tiny library just for children. Wondering what would happen if I placed a box of never used pastel crayons on the shelf alongside books placed in this unique tiny library, I decided to give it a try while out on an early morning walk.

Curious to see if it would still be there, I walked by the tiny library later that evening. It was gone. So the next day I walked back to the little library to place a box of sidewalk chalks that had been languishing in plastic tub labelled “outdoors” although I still am not certain when I acquired them or where they came from. (The side effect of this process has been the inadvertent realization that it is far too easy to accumulate stuff that doesn’t get used or necessary for optimal functioning in day to day life.)

Once again I passed by while out for an evening stroll and sure enough the box of chalks had disappeared and I was delighted a short distance away to come upon a proliferation of colourful designs blanketing the cement sidewalk. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that the sidewalk art creations were a result of my “donation” but the handful of art supplies that I had to give away quickly vanished.

There are now very few ways to connect with the children in our neighbourhood during this horrible fourth wave so perhaps the idea of brightening a child’s day is what makes this tiny endeavour appealing. I’m not sure why this resonated so much, but this exercise gave me a flash of positivity that has lasted for awhile. And, I’m sure my overactive imagination was also in play!

Walking by this tiny library this morning, I noticed someone else had placed a small box of watercolour paints on a shelf of the little library. And I hope that by this evening when I walk by again, this gift for creativity will be gone.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Reflections on pandemic birthdays and other celebrations

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Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time

Jean Paul Richter

A notification popped up on my phone this morning to remind me to send a birthday message to a friend. And it also reminds me that I have missed the opportunity to celebrate so many birthdays for family and friends face to face during these past many months. How do we acknowledge these special moments and stay connected to those we care about as we enter yet again another wave of Covid?

During these times of disruption, it is worth thinking about reaching out and connecting with everyone important in our lives not just on special occasions like birthdays and other milestones but as often as we are able to while we collectively continue to try to manage to live with this virus. How easy it is to drift along and isolate ourselves without realizing that we are actually doing so.

There is so much that we have missed out on that has been beyond our control. It’s also been challenging to avoid the political pandering and the angry vitriol that has been spreading as fast the as the delta variant in our community. But we do have the ability to maintain and keep our important emotional connections active and well.

If there is someone in your life who has a birthday or other milestone event coming up, take the time to find some unique and different way to celebrate.

Now is the time to seek out silver linings for ourselves and those around us. In spite of the fourth wave and all the rest of the chaos.

Wishes for all the birthdays coming your way!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Reality writing prompt

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There’s an instinct in our species to tell stories. It’s a way of explaining the universe and explaining our world.

Joyce Carol Oates

If there was ever a time to retreat from the present pandemonium into the world of story, it is now. We are surrounded by chaos, conflict, villainous characters, changing plot points, and it appears that we may all be on some type of a hero’s journey. Where we will end up, who knows?

Our current setting conditions don’t exactly seem to lend themselves to a clear outline with a satisfying ending. Nope. We are beyond the debate as to whether or not you should fly by the seat of your writing pants or plot out a carefully determined sequence of chapters with a contrived ending.

Just when we think it all makes sense and we will arrive safely on the other side of the abyss, the villains rear their ugly heads and thwart our hard earned efforts. Heading out into the world feels like we should take a healthy dose of risk and hope alongside our masks in order to avoid the villains and the evil virus. Seems like just when we believe our story is done, we must backtrack to rewrite and edit and rewrite and edit…

Will the protagonists prevail in the end? Or will the villains run off with the spoils from the battle. All of the elements of fiction seem to be present and available for a myriad of story telling opportunities. Omnipresent in fact. Speculative fiction, thriller, satirical comedy, multi act play or epic poem, any genre will likely work. Regardless, it seems as if it may be some time before the ending reveals itself to us.

Everywhere we look, it seems as though we are inundated daily with strange and bizarre happenstance. So we can’t help but find inspiration which prompts us to create unusual and bizarre fiction.

But really, what more could a writer ask for?

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September renewal

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A new school year means new beginnings, new adventures

Denise Witmer

I’m never sure why but the beginning of September with children returning back to school always feels like someone has hit the refresh button. In many ways, this is the time of year that I set goals and chart my path for the upcoming months. Certainly this year, things are not exactly the same as before the pandemic but in spite of everything I find that I have a swing in my step and feel invigorated.

Perhaps it’s the weather changes, warm during the day but cooler at night, the subtle changes in the colours of plants in the garden and the odd pop of golden foliage in the trees. The calendar shows that autumn is still weeks away but there is promise in the air. Of what I am not certain but it brings with it a welcome change in energy.

Rummage sales that have been cancelled for the past 18 months provide opportunity to delve back into an abandoned decluttering project. Sorting and packing up books for the annual Paperback books for Prisoners drive. Looking for a piece of art to donate to a local fundraiser suddenly suggests needed changes to the art hanging on my walls. Searching closets for warmer jackets and footwear, just in case Mother nature changes her mind in a hurry.

Time floats by as cleaning, clearing and editing parts of my home takes hold.

Thinking thoughts of gratitude and excitement for our upcoming writer’s group. Have missed my kindred creative spirit friends being able to meet face to face. Socially distanced but can’t wait. Dusting off the calendar to write down dates for writing and photography courses, so far all offered online but crossing fingers that we won’t have to spend our winter months hunkered down using Zoom again. Yoga class in person? Maybe, maybe not.

Regardless, fall brings a different bounty of vegetables and fruits to the table. Soup making, canning to preserve that wonderful summer taste feel like wondrous activities rather than chores to be endured.

And writing. Writing every morning for the past two weeks. Both on the computer and by hand with the shiny new pen found at the least crowded back to school store I could find. Projects placed on hold over the summer months seem to spring to life bringing along with them a sense of hope. And a welcomed feeling of renewal and optimism that perhaps this back to school season will bring better things.

Who knows? Fingers crossed!

Stay healthy and safe!!

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Finding Rays of Light

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No matter how challenging things may be, there’s always at least one thing that’s going well.

Kathleen Adams

It’s challenging to remain positive in the face of the never ending emotional roller coaster we are riding these days. I have retreated to my journalling practice and have been reflecting on the negative tone that has emerged in some of my entries.

Reading what I have been writing over the past several weeks, I can see that it is all too easy to focus on what has been worrisome or not going well rather than on what is good or important in life.

Lifting oneself out of a downward spiral once it starts requires energy and effort. Especially when all that surrounds us are anxiety producing events and conversations. Anger. Agitation. Fear. Fuelled by news feeds and social media, negative emotions abound and seem to multiply much quicker than positive ones.

But by spending time writing and focusing on even just one aspect that is going well in our lives, that we feel passionate about, inspires hope. Seeking out others who share the rays of light that they have discovered creates positive energy.

Time to shift focus and work hard to pay attention to where the light shines brighter than the darkness.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Turbulence on the way

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The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.

Peter F. Drucker

Somehow I feel like we have been in this space before. Worried, nervous, fearful, uncertain. Moving towards the “fourth wave”, hoping that in this giant ship our vaccines have been disguised as life jackets. Will they keep us safe? We threw away the other public health measures. It’s like try to navigate the high seas without a compass to guide the way.

Do we have to isolate, lock down again? Really, why can’t people just work together.

School is starting soon and anxiety is amplified. Whether you believe this is going to be a problem or not, it seems that everyone has an opinion and feels compelled to share their beliefs. And the individual holding on to those beliefs is without doubt and certain that they are the only correct ones to have.

What about shaming and blaming? Does it help? I am left wondering what our lives would be like if we were just kinder to one another. Worked towards societal collaboration. That doesn’t seem to be a viable option for many.

If we were flying in an airplane and we were about to move through turbulence, a pilot would tell us what was going to happen, what we needed to do, and encourage us by indicating that all would be okay. We would quietly pray, hope, ignore what is happening, talk through it, or simply go to sleep. But we would all do the same thing so that at the end of the rocky ride we could land safely together.

We seem to missing a pilot for this upcoming turbulent ride. I wonder if that is all we are missing.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Imagine a world where…

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Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Imagine a world where:

There would be global understanding and actions on all measures required to address Covid to end this pandemic;

Countries share in commitments needed for the sustainability for vaccines and health care resources regardless of where you live on this planet;

Health care workers are shown the respect they deserve by people doing all they can to prevent illness rather than small groups banging pots and pans;

When people speak of individual freedoms, it just means being able to live in a world free of this virus;

Angry rhetoric gets replaced by care and concern for all peoples as a shared priority around the globe;

Political pandering is replaced by collaboration and co-operation to educate, encourage, and support and challenge the spread of misinformation;

Economic supports actually benefit real people so they can stay home when ill and struggling small business owners rather than bloat balance sheets of large corporations;

Efforts to continue professional sports are equally afforded to all artists so they may continue to bring their healing works to the world;

Hope becomes the driving force behind everyone’s desire to achieve a new normal where we could prevent this virus from disrupting and devastating lives again and again.

If only we could do more than just imagine a world where….

Stay healthy and safe!

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Dreams vs. Deadlines

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The difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline

Gina Raimondo

Do our dreams move forward more easily when they have deadlines attached? I have been thinking about this a lot lately. One of the interesting aspects of my writing life has been my tendency to procrastinate which was not something I did when I worked full time. Although deadlines in my past life were at times stressful, the urgency with which they propelled me forward and kept me focused on meeting goals and task completion wasn’t something I ever thought much about.

The past couple of years have been remarkably deadline free but I have noticed when I am in a situation where deadlines are in play, I am considerably more productive. I just finished a flash fiction writing course that was likely one of the best I have ever participated in. In a week I produced six stories that with edits and time will likely be pieces that I will submit somewhere for publication.

Having to post a story each day was the impetus to move my writing craft forward in a way that I previously thought was missing. And I think it is all about the deadline. An externally imposed deadline. Being accountable to people in the course and the instructor by having to create new material in a short window of time was beyond motivational.

Although I had moments of doubt when words wouldn’t come or ideas didn’t gel, writing to deadline seemed to fuel my creativity. It would have been such a struggle to fall behind or to give up and miss the opportunity to receive feedback on my pieces and to lose the connection that was formed in the writing community that developed during the week.

When every member is working towards similar goals, there is a sense of collective support and camaraderie that develops quickly. And everyone is faced with the same deadline urgency so being productive and taking risks to share your fresh and raw work seems to heighten the process. Being able to comment, share and receive feedback on the work of group members also plays into the generation of creative energy.

Deadlines often have a negative connotation but I realize that they have an important place in a creative life. And if taken seriously they can elevate a writer’s work to new levels. It seems that externally imposed deadlines might actually drive dreams and take you to the place you truly wish to be.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Power of a hand written thank you note

Photo by L Meyer

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it

William Arthur Ward

Recently I received a hand written thank you note. Not for any special occasion, but a simple thank you for something that I considered a rather small gesture for someone I care about. I have been reflecting on the power and simplicity of this generous and touching action.

How often do we let people in our lives know when we are thankful for something they have done for us?

And how rare is it to receive an actual handwritten thank you note in the mail delivered by a postman.

There have been trends where we are encouraged to be thankful for what we have in our lives. Like spending time to write three things we are grateful for in our journal. Or to meditate on the things we are thankful for in our lives. Sort of a self-help version of this concept yet no one would ever know about it except for us.

So I decided to pay it forward and wrote a note of appreciation to someone I care about for a small thing that I found meaningful. It felt great to do it and I learned after it was received, that person felt an emotional boost just by opening the envelope and reading the note.

I wonder how we have come to a place where this simple action that could deliver so much is not something we “do” anymore. I can’t help but wonder if our lives could be just the smallest bit better if we took the time to let those we care about know how grateful we are for even the smallest of things that they do.

Try it and see what happens!

Stay safe and healthy!

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Dig deep when your creative well runs dry

Untitled Mixed Media Collage – LMeyer

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.

Twyla Tharp

Not sure if it has been the heat, or trying to adapt to the transition of re-opening, or simply a stubborn creative block but I have spent most of the past three weeks feeling unbearably stuck. I had been asked to finish some edits on a piece of writing to prepare for a submission and have been stymied every time I sat down to finish the work. Really the only pressure I was experiencing was from within my own head, a deadline that I had arbitrarily imposed so I was only accountable to myself to finish this task.

And the harder I tried to tackle it, the worse things got and of course, this then begins to influence and permeate other aspects of ones life.

I have worked for the past couple of years at creating a tool kit to use just when such a thing rears its nasty head. Going for walks almost always helps but its been abnormally hot so that hasn’t actually helped. Gardening, a favourite activity, right now feels like a survival battle with the elements and the normal meditative aspect of playing in the dirt and caring for plants feels worrisome and ominous instead. Photography, another go to in my bag of tools, just doesn’t cut it right now. I can’t seem to focus nor am I especially inspired.

Journalling which normally stabilizes has felt like a chore and the words that might best describe what I am experiencing remain stuck somewhere in my head but definitely are not cascading out onto the page where I most want them to be. My strongest inclination was to simply quit. To just walk away.

So finally at somewhat of a loss, I sat down with some papers and an old magazine and created some collages. And low and behold, the activity of creating “nothing” broke the log jam and I was able to at least begin to finish the piece that I need to send off to someone for feedback.

So after all of this, it seemed important to figure out what really had been going on. Was it fear? or simply too hot to create? or too many other life obligations and pressures that I hadn’t been acknowledging? I decided to go back to the page and write my way through it. Once my collages were in some semblance of completion, there seemed to be a release of some tension that was blocking my ability to move through what I needed to work on.

So I have concluded that it was likely all of the above and probably some other explanations that are elusive at this time. But what my journal pages did reveal was that persistence, especially in a state of agitated frustration, helped me to create something that resembled a mixed media collage. And once I was able to create anything, there was a shift – sort of like a well deep inside that somehow miraculously begins to fill up again.

And although I don’t exactly know how the process works, I am thankful for it and feel an overwhelming need to trust the process!

Stay healthy and safe!

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100 blog post milestone!!

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Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen

Brene Brown

Having had a very loose plan when I created this blog almost two years ago, I have come to realize that this process has been less about what I initially envisioned and more about trying on the role of writer in my life. Transitions have been a part of everyone’s life since the pandemic began and although I can identify that I am still in the process of moving from one part of my life to another, I still haven’t landed on the other side of where I began.

Maybe I never will.

Struggling with the learning curve of how to blog, post short pieces and some epic design fails, these experiences all provided a challenge that until recently I didn’t fully appreciate. It is wonderful to stretch our learning and skill sets but typically the hurdles of motivation and fear of failure can limit beginnings to any dreams we might have. For some reason it seemed I needed to push through all of that. It would have been much easier to simply cave and give up.

Some people blog to collect followers and likes, or to backstop a business venture, or to process what happens in our lives and have others read and bear witness to what we are experiencing. I wanted to process retirement, the transitions that occur in life, and instead I found myself gravitating to writing weekly as a goal to develop “being a writer” and enhance my connection to creative process.

And to somehow hold myself accountable for doing just that. Once I had landed on a goal for a weekly post, I then decided to set an arbitrary milestone number of 100 posts. That distant goal setting exercise never really seemed achievable when I set it but here I am. Who knew?!

As my journey to understand life transitions continues it seems equally important to continue to reflect on the process of creativity and the writers path. It has been wonderful to share my journey with others and keep my motivation to write real. Many thanks!!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Looking around you

Photo by L Meyer

One looks, looks long, and the world comes in

Joseph Campbell

Sometimes it seems we are passing through life without seeing what is around us. Having lived in a bubble for the past year or so, I have been acutely aware of things that I have missed seeing and that I have only been able to dream of. As our world becomes safer to journey out into, I have given thought about the things I thought I would welcome back into my life. And, those things that I now realize that I can live without.

Seeing family, friends are high on my priority list. Going shopping for material things I once thought I needed but really did not has fallen off that list. I am acutely aware now that it is easy to fill up a life with empty things. Travelling to see places that I have had on my wish list has narrowed but with new focus I can see possibilities where I never did before in my own country.

But I am becoming aware that the simplest pleasures in my life are when I can breath more deeply, enjoy moments with others, and take time to look around me and see what is really there. I don’t miss the days of rushing from place to place, or from appointment to appointment.

Now I find that when I am going out for walks, taking my camera with me, I take time to notice things in my immediate surroundings that I haven’t truly seen before. Strangely this is something I didn’t realize was missing from my life until our whole world was forced to stop. Being able to slow down and see what is around me, grounds my creativity and helps with forward movement.

Taking new perspectives on familiar things is energizing. Spending moments to take in all that surrounds us seems to help focus our artist’s lens. Creativity is driven by seeing more. We all have this ability, perhaps now is the time in life to pay more attention to this and nurture it. Maybe this will be one of those silver linings that sticks as we slowly find the path to our new normal.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Itching for change

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Nature is never static. It is always changing. Everything is in a constant state of flux. Nothing endures. Everything is either in the process of either coming into being or expiring

Kilroy J. Oldster

Faced with the tedium of being isolated and restricted from our normal activities for the past 15 months, many of us have used this time to reflect on our lives and ask ourselves some key questions. Am I really doing what I want to be doing. How I spend my time – is it in a way that’s fulfilling or has purpose. Perhaps the increased need to search for meaning has been pushed by an awareness of the fragility of life forced upon us by the pandemic.

Often when we are stuck in one place especially by circumstances beyond our control, we gravitate to daydreams of change in many aspects of our lives. Humans crave novelty, we seek dopamine hits from new experiences, foods, relationships, places, etc. We seem to have a craving for action even when it may not be in our best interests to make massive or even minor life changes. Researchers are beginning to track the number of changes in jobs, places people live, and relationships that are escalating at an unprecedented rate due to the pandemic.

Feeling stuck often prompts us to make rash decisions when it might be better to simply stay the course and ride out the emotional wave that accompanies this unusual time. Changing situations doesn’t miraculously improve our lives and if we don’t spend time planning and reflecting then rushing towards something not well thought out, things may get worse not better. Common advice is usually to stop to consider whether you are running towards something or running away from it.

As large numbers of people move from their homes, change jobs, leave relationships, during these tumultuous times, these ripples will likely be felt throughout the globe. This pandemic as the ultimate disruptor has upended many lives through job loss, loss of loved ones, and as major life plans became disturbed.

But creating these changes when they have not been forced upon you without careful thought or consideration can have similar results.

Although I have been struggling to scratch the itch for change, it seems prudent to spend a bit more time in reflection and find some safe alternatives to bring what might be missing into my life. It is indeed a powerful force that requires mindful attention. It is helpful to recognize the space where these feelings may emerge from. And the old adage to look before you leap still has a place in our lives.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Things are heating up

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I want you to act like your house is on fire, because it is.

Greta Thunberg

When I first saw this young woman leading climate change protest events, I was moved by the many youth activists showing leadership on environmental sustainability from around the world. Once the pandemic began, their movement was transformed and not as vocal or visible. My hope is that youth are able to rally and come back stronger than before. We need their voices and we also need to begin to take action with meaningful impact.

As we move out of isolation and lockdowns into our new “normal”, it has been a harsh lesson to realize that we haven’t dialled down the impact of climate change while we have been spending time at home. Weather events in Western Canada have been serving as a harsh reminder that we have yet to make a dent in addressing our responsibility to be good stewards of our natural environment. As I was writing this blog post, our power went out and it was frightening how quickly the heat moves into a home when there is no way to circulate air.

This unprecedented heat, termed a “dome” has blanketed much of this vast country. As the risk for forest fires becomes dangerously extreme and the heat wave extends, more people are experiencing heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even sudden death. With the climate crisis knocking at our front doors, the need to respond seems more urgent than ever.

Conditions are ripe for a summer of fire and extreme heat while we attempt to resume our normal lives. Looking out for others around us who are vulnerable or living on their own, needs to become a community priority. Indeed, keeping ourselves and those we care about safe during these unbelievable temperatures will take all of our energy and fortitude. Forest fires, drought on our farmlands, flooding and severe weather events have become a stronger aspect of our summer seasons.

We really do need to find ways to collectively take action to effect change in our climate. Before it gets worse. I hope the young people are able to gather together again and mobilize to bring back their activist leadership. It is desperately needed and definitely missed. Let’s hope it is safe for them to do so and follow their lead.

Stay safe, healthy, keep cool, and commit to as many environmentally sustainable actions as you can.

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A creative kind of disappointment

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Disappointment is simply a dream that doesn’t want to become a reality

Richard Wilkin

Have you ever created something only to discover what you had envisioned doesn’t really exist? I spent an hour yesterday morning walking around parks near my home toting my camera. Inspired by some of the intriguing yard art in our neighbourhood, I was beginning to think about creativity as a process. Where it comes from, where it resides, and where it goes when it disappears. Poised with my camera, I shot dandelions in the moment as a sudden burst of wind caused white whispers of seed to scatter into the air. Magnificent, certainly, perhaps even a photograph worthy of posting somewhere.

As I continued to walk, I shot two red winged blackbirds who were either fighting over a nesting spot or defending one that already existed. Clear, sharp in focus, images of birds whose red stripes were vivid showcased in the camera lens. More than satisfied, I continued walking along a creek bank. Pelicans feeding on fish, and performing some morning bathing abulations that I have never witnessed before. They are typically difficult birds to photograph because as soon as they sense your presence they turn their backs towards you. So thinking I had captured at least one shot of these antics got my adrenaline moving.

On the way back, I discovered a piece of yard art that was fun, whimsical and full of hidden surprises. An antique screen door used as the backdrop for an antique hand pump fashioned into a water fountain. Lily of the valley graced the base of the display and in amongst the tiny white flowers were three miniature gnomes in various poses. I didn’t even notice them at first but felt a shimmer of delight in this discovery quickly anticipating how wondrous these hidden glimpses would be in a photo.

Later in the afternoon, I spied a tiny wasp nest attached on the underside of a ladder propped against our backyard fence. It was petite and it took some time to process and register what it was. But before I would remove the nest, I ran to get my camera so I could photograph this tiny little wonder. Popping on a different lens for macro shots, I quickly began snapping pictures from different angles. Paper thin, fragile in shades of grey, white, with swirls of black lines, the subtle texture of the nest quite stunning. A wasp emerged as I was taking a picture which was really neat but I decided there was no point pushing my luck and was grateful I had captured many images.

So last evening I took out my camera card to upload the photos from my creative adventures throughout the day. When I opened the compartment to retrieve my camera card, it was obvious that the card had not been firmly placed in its slot. Feeling a sickening, sinking sensation just below my heart center, I was fairly certain there would be nothing on it.

Ignoring the truth of what was happening, I placed the card in the slot on my computer. Clicking to import new photos, I was confronted with the fact that there really were no images on that card. Absolutely none at all. All of those amazing creative fragments which had danced in my head throughout the day, gone. That swing of energy that carried me through the day had only culminated in a sense of disappointment which lingered for longer than it should have.

Reflecting on this now has made me realize that disappointment should not negate the power of creative bursts of effort. There is much in life that disappoints us and it seems best to release those feelings rather than to cling to emotions that disturb and distort. Creative practice is just that. Practice. In hindsight, the magic of all those moments behind the camera lens continue to inspire. Not to mention learning a rather tough lesson about camera cards!

When we adjust and adapt our expectations, when we summon flexibility as needed, our disappointment disappears!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Getting back to “normal” like three legged race

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I think that the general feeling is that the pandemic has passed, that the pandemic is ending, the pandemic is over. That is absolutely not clear.

Dr. J. Froh

“Re-opening plans” “Vaccine Lotteries” “Post Pandemic Guidelines” “Public Health Urges Caution”

Many of our current media headlines contain some facsimile of the above. As global efforts have ramped up to vaccinate many people, communities across the globe are grabbling with what a post pandemic world really means. Individuals are left to interpret real life scientific data as it is being collected and assess their own levels of risk as public health guidelines are loosened. Will there be a fourth wave? Yes. No. Maybe, we don’t know, yet. In limbo or in purgatory? Yikes, how are we supposed to navigate all of this!

It all seems about as confusing as it was in the early days when this pandemic started. The only thing in my experience that I can compare it to is a three legged race. One of those old fashioned picnic games where two people are partnered up and then have one leg tied to each other so in essence they have “three legs”. Then they are expected to race a short distance together to a finish line. Such an antic would be hilarious, people lurching about, falling (gently of course) but it usually took the length of the race to figure out how to work well enough with your partner to begin to run in tandem. This whole re-opening concept strikes me as the same sort of thing.

Restaurants are now open with some restrictions. I must admit I still am not anxious to rush off and dine out. Fitness classes and outdoor recreation activities have resumed. Not quite ready to resume in person yoga but I am tired of doing it over Zoom. Crowds in shopping centres are popping up once again. The first time I noticed how much larger crowds have become I felt unnerved. Early hour shopping opportunities are ending.

Masks are still required in order to enter most indoor businesses and services but the day will soon be coming where they will not be required. In some parts of North America, mask use has created conditions for dangerous occurrences. People have melted down and become physically violent and there have been reports of use of deadly force. All over whether or not someone should wear a mask. Good grief!

What to do if you are vaccinated but wary and anxious about all of this change? What if you haven’t been able yet to get a vaccine? This seems like some kind of reverse deja vu back from when the pandemic began. As case counts come down, I find myself still waiting for the daily news where I get my sense of virus activity in my city, my community, and within groups of people that I know. But I know that I need to start to take risks, begin the process of learning what the new “normal” is and how to step through this next aspect of our lives.

It seems more important than ever to remember to keep things in a balanced perspective. To make your own choices and not condemn others for their chosen level of risk. If someone you know or care about gets the virus, be compassionate! One day it may feel okay but the next day it might not. Learn to accept what is and go with the flow. Be sensible, stay within your own comfort zone. Expect all of this to fluctuate, we are in yet another time of transition. Remember to be okay with what works for you and others in your life whom you care about.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Time for Reflection in Canada

Photo L Meyer

3. Reconciliation is a process of healing relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.

6. All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.

TRC Final Report, Volume 6

Heartbreaking headlines. The discovery of a mass burial site of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School sent shockwaves across Canada last week. People placed tiny shoes on the steps of many provincial legislative buildings, gathered outside of churches to express profound sadness and grief. It seems surreal that so many children were not afforded the respect and decency of ceremonial burial with their family and communities.

And how did they die in the first place? Why were their families allowed to believe they had gone missing? Why were records never kept or shared? So many questions that many indigenous people have been seeking answers to for decades. Their voices ignored, dismissed, discounted up until now so at least they’re being heard.

Since then crisis lines to support residential school survivors and their families have been inundated. Traditional ceremonies held across this land and politicians from all walks have expressed profound sadness coupled with shame. Calls upon the Vatican for the Pope to issue a formal apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, which ran many residential schools, are growing. Louder.

During the hearings held by the Truth and Reconciliation, many survivors shared stories about children who died, went missing, and whose families never learned what had happened to their children. Children who were forcibly taken from them in the first place. It should be unimaginable that these tragedies occurred but we should be asking why there has never been an impetus to investigate what really happened to so many missing children.

This discovery further reveals large segments of our society who complain that this was all in the past and “they” should just get over it. That there are many who never read the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action. How is it possible that all of this work, the pain of survivor’s disclosure, the thoughtful 94 calls to actions have been left to collect dust. Again. This just seems to demonstrate a collective callousness. As Canadians we owe it to the children and to ourselves to reflect and move forward from this in a good way.

My heart hurts thinking about these children taken away from their families causing a pain best left unimagined only to be buried in unknown mass graves. We can do better, we can be better.

Take a moment to help us honour these children through silence, reflection, or prayer.

Featured

Paying attention can help grow a writer’s craft

Photo by L Meyer

If you want to change your life, change what you pay attention to. We give things meaning by paying attention to them and so moving your attention from one thing to another can absolutely change your future

Jessica Crispin

For the most part, I haven’t spend a great deal of time considering what types of things I am paying attention to in my day to day life. If I am specifically trying a mindfulness technique or attempting to meditate, I am able to acknowledge the types of thought processes I engage in when I am not doing anything. More typically, I observe what I didn’t pay attention to or have some free floating awareness of the things I am attending to. Especially those negative thoughts or emotions that I may be hanging onto without conscious realization.

But when I am writing, I haven’t spent time thinking about the specifics of where my focus is or isn’t. This week, I embarked on an intensive writing course and part of the work we will be doing is not merely generative writing exercises but learning through a process of paying careful attention to the writings of select authors. And then paying attention to very specific details of my own writing process.

It’s easy to gloss over words, phrases and even entire paragraphs when reading a story and at times the same may be said for when you are writing one. Learning to focus one’s attention to nuance is proving to be a valuable skill. Eye-opening in more ways than one. The first hurdle I had to make was to push through that small mountain of insecurity that one experiences when sharing your writing. This can seem more insurmountable when you are working with a cadre of writers more experienced and who have published more than I have.

But by being asked to pay keen attention to what they are focused upon as readers has brought me new awareness and understanding. Suddenly instead of shying away from constructive criticism, I am craving these gems that fellow writers are sharing. I am coming to value where my story breaks down, or I suddenly inserted a new POV where it shouldn’t be. Hearing what others might do to stimulate character evolution in something I have written, or thinking about where an inciting incident should be placed from different vantage points has served to teach me more than I set out to learn.

However, there was one clear takeaway from this experience that quickly became evident.

If we spend too much time worrying about how others are perceiving what we have created, we will miss an incredible journey of learning about what others have to share with us. These growth opportunities may not come often but when they appear you must seize the moment. Take risks. Seek out helpful criticism. Learn the subtle art of accepting the wisdom of others who have much to teach you about how to pay attention to your own work. And the lessons from this experience have shed light that could likely shine on many aspects of life. Not just writing.

Stay healthy and safe!