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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!!

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on Pexels.com

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.

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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!

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The Spark File: a writer’s tool that worked

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The most interesting part of the experience is the feeling of reading through your own words describing new ideas as they are occurring to you for the first time. In a funny way, it feels like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself

Stephen Johnson

Have you ever read about a technique that you believe may help you with your creative process or strengthen your understanding of your craft? Many of us do this to further our development in whatever artistic endeavour we are passionate about. If your experience is similar to mine, you may find that you become momentarily excited about an idea but never actually follow through with the practical application of these strategies.

At times, I have wondered if this may be just a sophisticated form of procrastination.

But what happens when you do follow through and commit to trying an idea for a period of time. And then discover that it makes the mark and has real impact.

As a writer, I had been jotting down ideas in random notebooks, my daily journal and sometimes in a notes file on my phone. This has always seemed disjointed and I rarely, if ever have taken much time to review those ideas with more than passing interest. Recently, I came across an article about something called a Spark file. More than casually curious, I then took the time to view a Ted talk by Stephen Johnson, creator of this strategy that he calls the Spark File.

Simplistic in nature, a spark file is simply a chronological record of ideas, thoughts, or creative hunches which excite in some way. Intended for those times when it occurs to you that maybe you should write this down, or research to learn more, or…but never do and those marvellous ideas just float away into some place that must be creative purgatory.

There are likely numerous tools one could use to collect the ideas that in the moment feel important and meaningful but you may not have to time to really sit down and develop them. I chose to use a Google doc because it is easy to use on all of my devices. Working in this way has produced a lengthy document that is really a series of snippets of writing that may be “hunches” or ideas not fully formed but otherwise would be easily forgotten about.

This document contains possible titles for stories I have written, ideas about things to research, edits to consider for pieces already in progress, character sketches, plot devices, questions about point of view, etc. Realistically it serves as a quick snapshot inside my head that tells me a little bit about my writing process, the pieces that I am working on or the dreams I have that I visualize writing about in the future.

The key to making this work is to periodically take the time to review all of what has been entered in your Spark file, take a step back and then begin the search to make associations, find patterns and relationships between the random pieces of writing you have collected over time. I was surprised by the way this actually worked for me. I gleaned enough about my writing process to finish edits on pieces that had stalled and were suspended in limbo.

I suppose the thing I was most surprised by was the manner in which this simplistic tool provided some insight into some aspects of my work as well as the fluid and organic nature of creativity. It seems like more than happenstance that using a loosely structured way to capture some of my thoughts and ideas actually paid off with some results that I am pleased with.

Our creative brains are always available to us and if we can structure a way to capture those ideas that captivate us and contribute in a meaningful way to our creativity, it serves as a roadmap to help prevent getting lost along this journey. And it is always nice when something we read about, and then invest time and effort in, has a real world practical application.

Stay healthy and safe!

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“Creating” room in our lives for play

Photo L Meyer

Openness and the ability to access exploratory play are big parts of creativity, but as we get older we become alienated from these abilities. We were all born with this built in imagination. For creativity to work we need to embrace unpredictability. We need to step outside the rules.

David Usher

In this past year our neighbourhood playground has been closed off with yellow warning tape, reopened fully, and now has a barrage of signs with Covid warnings and public health guidelines. Watching small children play with abandon is a fascinating albeit rare event these days. But the manner in which a child creates something, engages in play of any kind is a glimpse into a process that we could all stand to incorporate more often into our own lives.

Spending time observing children in a nearby playground made me keenly aware of how little time adults spend in play. I watched tiny hands piling a mound of sand switching to suddenly run off to gather mounds of sticks then darting back to position them in just a certain way and finally finished with a smooth stone placed on top. To my adult eye this appeared to be a haphazard way of “playing” in the sandbox with the result seeming to be just a pile of messy debris. As quickly as that thought occurred to me, the child decides it is finished and runs off to find her mother to show off her creation. Her exuberance over her creation and excitement to share it with her mother was compelling.

When did we lose our ability to find joy in the most obscure of our creative ventures? If we are makers or creators, we may impose a set of expectations upon ourselves that are not only unrealistic but self-defeating. Do we need to expect that everything we set out to do will find its way into the public domain? Of course not, yet that is precisely what happens for many artists. Our bursts of creative passion are often tempered by rumination, negative self talk that remind us that we are not good enough, creative enough, etc.

The pressure we place upon ourselves before we even sit down to write, or to paint often leaves us in a state of inertia where we erroneously believe it is safer to do nothing than to resist all of this self imposed negativity and persevere. Imagine for a moment if children approached their daily play activities with inappropriate expectations and terror that their sand creation would never be published or purchased. Sounds inane, right? Because it is. And that goes for adults as well.

Instead of defining what we will do with our art before we even create it, what if we just make space in our lives for play, to just create, and become just okay with that. If something emerges that we could send into the world, then perhaps we will do that. But otherwise, it is the process of creativity in and of itself that should be what is of importance. As humans we can be creative in every aspect of our lives. So if we can’t write, or shoot a photograph, or collage or paint a masterpiece, perhaps we are cooking or gardening or bringing pieces of creativity to our work lives.

Relearning to create like a child is a gift that we all deserve to give to ourselves. Although it may seem that taking precious time for exploratory play is frivolous given our daily responsibilities and obligations, we will lose out on those creative leaps that occur when we give ourselves permission to let our imaginative powers loose. Finding those sparks that light us up can be possible when we relax our perfectionistic expectations and learn to lean into the moment. Letting your play flags fly may take us further than we think. And no matter the result, it can’t hurt us to play a bit more often.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Be bold…do everything you can to support others right now

Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

I believe we begin every day anew with an empty cup. It’s up to us to fill it with beliefs, thoughts and action that inspire and honour the journey we all share.

Polly Simpkins, The Cup of Karma Project

Countries in various parts of the globe made hard choices a number of months ago to do everything in their power to stop the coronavirus in its tracks and for the most part they have been successful. These choices helped them achieve better outcomes from both a health and an economic perspective. Recently, several countries have done a remarkable job with vaccines leading the way for a path forward for all of us to emulate.

Some countries though are in a constant struggle with how to implement public health measures that will not be met with resistance, protest and outright animosity. The majority of people, albeit, tired of restrictions and isolation follow the rules in order to protect themselves, those they care about and others in their communities. But it has become an uphill battle with people becoming more entrenched in their positions on whether or not they believe vaccines are safe, whether or not masks save lives, and those who claim that Covid 19 is not real continuing to spin their fantastical tales.

Imagine a world where we all agree we are in the same boat together, pulling on oars together in synchronous fashion. Our ship would glide through these turbulent waters as we worked hard not only for ourselves but for one another. Instead at times, we seem to be spinning in opposite directions with some of us pushing, others pulling, with the result being that we are going around and around.

This is a global problem and we need to do more of the good and decent things that we do best and less and less of those that are harmful to ourselves and those around us. Until we decide to put all of our best efforts into ending this pandemic, it won’t end. It will retreat briefly, only to flare up again and again. It is up to each and everyone of us to lead by example and encourage and support others if they are struggling.

Letting go of misdirected anger, animosity, and harmful rhetoric would be a wonderful place to start. Putting faith in our collective efforts, respectfully agreeing to disagree, and thinking about what we could each do that would make an indelible impact upon our future. Working together to resolve the pandemic would give us the encouragement needed to take on the world’s climate crisis and the myriad of other critical issues that require our urgent attention.

Every individual can make a difference. Collectively, we just need to believe that we really want to.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Learning to accept the roller coaster of emotions

Photo by L Meyer

Emotions are celebrated and repressed, analyzed and medicated, adored and ignored – but rarely, if ever, are they honoured

Karla McLaren

Being successful in the management of one’s feelings is an ongoing process. Few of us ever reach that vaulted and imaginary finish line, where we have mastered times of inner emotional turbulence. Most of us endure times where we might struggle in managing some of the more difficult emotions that humans experience. It is challenging during these ongoing stressful times to not periodically fall into a dark, dangerous pit of negativity or a false, shrill sense of pseudo optimism often referred to as “toxic positivity”.

Having become more isolated from face to face interpersonal interactions during the “third” wave, it can seem overwhelming to sort out the day to day emotional roller coaster ride that at times seems as if we are hanging on by the tips of our fingers. When we do see people important in our lives, it is all too easy to gloss over or avoid expressing our authentic but unpleasant emotions.

For a period of time, many people were describing the “silver linings” that they were finding during the pandemic. Some of these were profound but many so called silver linings could only be described as inane. But the reality for most of us seems to have become a suspension in time. Where we might be simply languishing. Waiting without an understanding of what might happen next. Finding the future path forward muddied and unclear, along with a plethora of feelings – both negative and positive ones. Some okay and some not so okay.

But they are just feelings. Fleeting moments of emotion that we can learn to manage. The urge we might have when confronted by negative feelings is to outrun them, subdue them, numb them, and this is something that many of us experience but struggle to acknowledge. Fear of pushing others away when we need them the most leads us at times, to downplay those moments when we are experiencing negative feelings.

Humans struggle to listen to one another at the best of times. During the worst of times, this becomes a critical skill to support those we love and care about. Creating opportunities for the expression of emotions regardless of what they are, is a kindness that we could all use more of. Easing the hardship of times where emotional expression is a struggle for someone may be an unexpected gift.

Finding our way forward to accept that emotions are fluid, both positive and negative, and that we all share them as a part of our human experience can only be a good thing. Having a world full of people who will listen to what you need too share, is an even better thing.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Subtle signs of spring…and hope

Photographs by L. Meyer

As I sit down to write this post, I can see snowflakes fluttering down from the sky, once again. April has been a challenging month, cold bitter temperatures arrived along with large amounts of snow that didn’t melt for a number of days. Raging active case counts have accompanied the third wave of the coronavirus causing more restrictions, more isolation, and fear. Political theatrics play out around our world as covid deniers, flat earth proponents, and anti-climate change crusaders take up air time.

So seeking the hopeful emotions that accompany the changes brought by the spring season seems to have been more elusive this year. Robins arrived on time to a landscape covered in snow and ice. But they remained, unchanged and unharmed in spite of it. Nesting activities continued as per usual. The wild rabbits living in a nearby park changed colour even though their food sources were buried once more and nature’s backdrop was once again painted white. Perennials in my garden seem to have survived the frigid temperatures with no lasting ill effects. Proving they are hardy prairie plants. Which persevere.

An annual journey out to the valley to search out and photograph early spring crocus yielded results similar to years past. Waves of relief accompanied what was actually framed in my viewfinder as I prepared to click the shutter. Although the telltale indications of spring have been slow to come given the disruptions around us, the signs albeit subtle, now gently surround us. Stirring the soul. Providing fresh energy. Giving us hope. Where it is needed.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Time distortions

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Time has become a stand in for all that we cannot control. It is both the breakneck speed at which things are changing, and the burden of how much is staying the same. We are scared this might go on forever

Arielle Pardes

Have you ever stepped back and reflected on your internal perceptions of time during this pandemic? It occurred to me this week following a recent zoom call that our experiences of time fluctuate in ways that they have never before. During recent weeks I feel like I have been on a bizarre see saw where time has been moving too quickly and at others much too slowly. Certainly human emotions are known to distort our perceptions of time and it makes sense given that the virus continues to wreak havoc with many aspects of our lives. Stressors disturb and then time distorts.

Losing track of time is wonderful while we are on vacation or when we become engrossed in a creative project. Losing track of time due to constant distraction and the ongoing struggle to maintain focus is a different story. I have been working recently on revisions and edits of a number of pieces of fiction and realized that I am stopping and starting more than what I would consider typical for my normal work habits.

It is disconcerting (putting this politely) to realize that no matter how much effort I give, that it has been harder to stay focused, be productive and just get things done.

Studies are currently taking place across the globe to examine the ways in which the pandemic has altered our sense of time. Researchers offer that stress impacts perceptions of time as does not having clearly defined timelines and pathways to move forward with our future goals. To try and imagine that this current situation may become our new reality is beyond what most of us can fathom. But we have adapted to things so far and will likely need to continue on this path for the foreseeable future.

Knowing that some of these impacts are from pandemic stressors helps a bit. So is remembering that is okay to struggle with focus and concentration. Owning and acknowledging strong feelings about what is our current context and being okay with that, helps too. Finding a workable schedule and trying to set goals regardless of how small they might be and not self shaming when you don’t meet them may be the best you can do.

Enjoy those moments when your creativity sparks, writing flows and things seem just like they always have. Making sure we nurture our social connections, are mindful of our own self care needs, and taking time for daily movement breaks can help us navigate those tight corners.

Time is really the only thing we have right now and understanding how we may be experiencing it differently might be helpful as we move through these challenging days, weeks, and months ahead.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Found Poetry – another window into creativity

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Found poetry is the literary version of a collage. Poets select a source of text or texts – anything from traditional texts like books, magazines and newspapers to more traditional sources like product packaging, junk mail or court transcripts – then excerpt words and phrases from the text to create a new piece

Found Poetry Review web-site

In an inspired moment driven by one of our ingenious members, our writer’s group celebrated “April is Poetry month” with a playful activity to create found and blackout poetry. Using aging books that eventually would find a resting place in a recycling bin, we cut, glued, and redacted words with a black Sharpie pen and emerged with new creations. Fascinating. Fun. Stimulating. And in the creative spirit of our writers group, affirming our quest to be open to whatever the muse provides.

Intrigued by both the process and the results, I began to search the internet to see what I could learn about found poetry. It is a thing. Has been since the 1760’s when Benjamin Franklin’s neighbour was inspired to create fiction from the news broad prints of the day. Annie Dillard has done it. William Burroughs was quoted about his passion for it. Austin Kleon published a book of poems, “Newspaper Black Out” and performed a Ted Talk about the subject.

From 2011 – 2016, The Found Poetry Review, a literary magazine published hundreds of found poems as well as articles on the craft of found poetry. Teachers around the world use the techniques to share the possibilities of poetry and creative writing with students. And many writers use these and other techniques to springboard writing when stuck. I subscribe to the theory that writer’s need to practice and warm up prior to producing anything worth moving forward.

So this fits perfectly into that tool kit of ideas you may wish to draw upon when stuck, discouraged, or simply want to become primed for words to begin to flow when you sit in front of your computer or pick up your pen and put it to paper. Bonus – it is also perfect for anyone who doesn’t take the time to play enough in their day to day lives. Warning though, you may become so immersed that time flies right by.

Here is the poem that I created from the random page selected for this exercise:

hopelessness covered most of the night

fear would reveal nothing

it quivered, heavy, breathless,

and twitched

in spasm

in light of the morning

hope,

rose like a miracle.

Take some time this month to celebrate the poets in your life!

Stay healthy and safe!

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On writing in Coffee shops and other public spaces…

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If you can’t sit in a cafe quietly and be ignored, how can you observe human nature and write a story

Evangeline Lilly

Do you miss those random opportunities to overhear conversations in public spaces? To wonder about the people that you are able to observe. I definitely am looking forward to a future where we can once again gather with our family and friends. Where we are able to move about our daily activities without nervousness and fear.

And I really miss those snippets of life where we happen upon conversations between strangers and are able to absorb the body language and nuances of language that are observed and overheard. Oftentimes these translate into dialogue or story ideas. At times, the necessity to write words down would become urgent following these brief human interactions in day to day life.

Character sketches and those tiny seeds that are planted in our imagination somehow become triggered and released when we are in the company of others. Fragments of those worlds inhabited by other people often gain a foothold once we have momentum in our writing process. It is a sub-conscious process that is barely noticed until it is no longer possible.

Last month during a flash fiction workshop, our facilitator read from recently published works. They came into being from these slices of life that were a part of our pre-pandemic world. A brief interaction on public transit, an overheard discussion while waiting for a friend in a cafe, and spending time in public spaces alone but with others. In our current reality, at best my imagination plays a guessing game where I wonder about the facial expression underneath a mask.

Lattes and cappuccinos can be brewed at home but feeling a part of the world and telling the stories that were once all around us lies off in the distance. For now, I am relying on memory of those moments and will relish the time to come in our future when we are able to safely be around others in public spaces. For now I will write words about our human story as they come and take the time to imagine that I am once again alone in a coffee shop.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Pandemic puppies and bicycle booms

Photo by Jayden Burdick on Pexels.com

In the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can be bitter, or we can be better. Those words are my North Star

Caryn Sullivan

As the world races to fend off the third wave of the pandemic, it is easy to become overwhelmed by negative news cycles and what seems to be never ending worry and fear. There are some aspects to our current experience that seem to have been positive.

As people in our neighbourhood moved from offices to working from home, it was both fascinating and worrisome to note the number of puppies on our walking paths and park areas. Worrisome in the sense that potentially many animals could end up surrendered to our local humane society when purchased without careful thought and consideration.

Over a year later, these dogs have grown and matured and seem to have become members of families and are now recognizable to me while I am out walking as well. And they all seem well trained and behaved, another side effect of spending all of our time at home instead of somewhere far away while household pets waited anxiously for their owners to return.

Along with new creatures in our community, there is also a noticeable swell in bicycles being ridden by people of all ages. Cars parked along our streets for months without being moved have been likely violating some city bylaw. But it’s wonderful to see people use bicycles or walk to where they need to go and not to rely so much on fossil fuelled sources of transportation. Daily noise of airplane traffic seems to have diminished and one wonders what our future world will bring. A return to old behaviours that have been accelerating climate change or a more mindful path forward?

Gardening, camping, spending more time in the outdoor world. There have been good adaptations along with those that are more challenging. We have learned to continue to connect with family and friends in spite of not being able to see them face to face. Some of us are reading, making things, creating art in any form, and cooking at home, more now than ever before.

While we are likely all hopeful for an end in sight, it is reassuring to know that it has not all been negative and that we have the ability to make changes. Big ones that potentially could chart new directions in our world. We do have the opportunity to become better than we were before.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Taking writing risks

And then the day came

when the risk

to remain tight

in a bud

was more painful

than the risk

it took

to blossom

Anais Nin
Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Have you ever sat in front of your computer or at a desk with pen in hand hovering over a notebook? But words won’t come? No matter how badly you wish for them to appear. We all have our unique sets of deeply held beliefs about the writing process. Some of us decide that we are unable to write unless creative impulses motivate us to do so. And the words we hope will somehow instantly appear come forth well formed, sparkling and shiny, delivering just the perfect story or poem or essay.

At times, we create goals that must be achieved. Goals commonly touted to make us become successful writers range from producing according to daily word counts to writing for a specified length of time. Set timers. Free-write first. And failure to achieve these illustrious goals may inadvertently lead us away from the writer’s life into a pit of upset, shame, and frustration.

Sometimes we fall into a belief that we must have a writer’s space, a special dedicated room in order for our craft to evolve. We long for that room of one’s own in true Virginia Woolf fashion, blaming our lack of productivity on not having just the right place where our hoped for success would be defined. If only I have…becomes a rumination that stops us before we start.

And then there is flow. At times, we seek and strive to achieve a state of flow hoping that words will unfurl from our minds in an effortless, almost mystical kind of way. Flow can become a state of writer’s nirvana that we pursue relentlessly but give up and stop the practice of writing when it doesn’t happen for us.

But writing is a practice much like exercise or learning new skills where our expectations need to be firmly grounded in reality and we also need to develop comfort with the notion of taking risks. Risks to fail, risks to write poorly or to be uninspired. The very action of writing will often propel us forward and by resisting this, we can easily become stuck or mired in procrastination.

It does seem to be true that the more you write, the more it seems like you are just limbering up unused muscles. At a certain point, this practice begins to take hold and things routinely start to happen on the page. By balancing our expectations, taking the risks necessary for learning the craft, and simply sitting down to place one words in front of another, small miracles of creation begin to unfold.

No one but you even knows you are taking such risks. Celebrate every risk you take as a writer. Your creative life will appreciate it.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Notes from the Drive Through Vaccination Clinic

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Vaccinations are being rolled out in our community according to criteria such as age, health care professionals, etc., and based on supply. A special opportunity arose in our city, which has had a concerning spike in variants in the past two weeks, for people in my age category to receive the first dose of a Covid – 19 vaccine at a drive through clinic. Not something that I have ever experienced before but I jumped at this as soon as I heard it being announced.

So I arrived early this morning just as the clinic was set to open and found myself driving towards long lines of cars. Typically this parking area, dull asphalt grey, is used for professional sporting events, exhibitions and a giant agricultural show. Now it has been transformed into a health care staging area! By the time I had parked, and scoped out my surroundings, I quickly realized two things. First, there were so many cars that I couldn’t actually understand how the queue was to work and second, as people parked both beside and behind me, I would not be leaving any time soon. So, with no chance to change my mind, I settled in for the journey.

A kind young woman came to my car and asked to place a card on my windshield so that they could use my arrival time to assess what the actual wait time was to receive a vaccination. Sure, I said, and what exactly is your best guess at the wait time. Five hours she said, then quickly pointed out the portable washroom facilities and wished me a great day! As I looked around me, I saw one of my new neighbours reading a book titled, The Power of Habit” and the woman in front of me opened her trunk revealing a cooler and a lawn chair.

Most people seemed to be using their cell phones and for the first hour, it was relatively quiet in our area of the gigantic parking lot. After about an hour, I was feeling stiff and somewhat uncomfortable so got out of my car to stretch and to determine how the lines would work. There didn’t seem to be any traffic moving towards the buildings that I assumed we would be driving into. I could also see that people were becoming a bit restless and some headed off to use the facilities. It occurred to me at this point that there might be long lines for those as well.

So I decided not to drink very much liquid and to wait as long as possible. I set off for a long walk and marvelled at the number of vehicles that kept coming and watched as new lines continued to form well beyond where I was. Walking back to my car, I began to gather a sense of how the traffic would flow once lines began to move. People were now mostly outside of their cars, the gentlemen beside me having abandoned his reading material and now had begun cleaning his headlights. Several people climbed into their truck beds to video the scene and to survey what was going on.

I spoke with a woman who commented that she was most grateful for this opportunity and I heartily agreed. Hard to be cranky about waiting when you were about to receive something that potentially could be life saving. The weather is fully cooperative, with soul warming sunshine and little wind. I try and read a bit and write some words but am finding myself too distracted by everything going on around me. Finally, the line beside me roars to life with cars starting and I realize we are soon to be next.

The journey continues. Albeit it is slow and meandering and I still can’t visualize where we will end up. Another hour of slow, steady driving towards a certain destination that must be within eyesight but the line of cars snakes around corners. Eventually, the building we will enter is suddenly before us and it is clear where the line finally ends. Once inside, cheerful, proficient professional nurses are administering vaccines and once completed, we are directed outside to a parked area manned by Emergency medical services personnel for the final 15 minute wait.

Five long hours seemed insignificant compared to the challenges of this entire past year. So glad, and so grateful to have had this opportunity. I will celebrate as our community continues to receive the chance to be safer and to stay healthy. Let’s hope that the next several months bring about the changes we have all been waiting for.

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It doesn’t cost anything to be kind

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion

Dalai Llama

As we approach the one year anniversary since the pandemic began, the voices in our community have become louder and at times, difficult to listen to. We have all had to face our internal reactions to the impact that this virus has had on our lives. And as a general guideline, reactivity tends to come from a place of fear or a need to exert control over some aspect of our lives.

Across the globe, we are seeking hope and imagine positive outcomes with new vaccines. And at the same time we seem to be exposed to constant anger and frustration lurking at every turn about a myriad of issues. It seems that many places around the globe are coming to grips with the realization that public health guidelines will need to remain in place for some time to come. Loosening restrictions won’t occur overnight and will likely be scaled back at a snail’s pace.

We watch, we listen, and we interpret information that is constantly shifting and changing. It seems at times that the learning curve about this virus and what we need to do about it, continues to become steeper and steeper.

All the while, we need to recognize that every person has their own way of managing through this experience. If we find ourselves constantly judging the actions and behaviours of others, we are likely not paying that much attention to what we are doing. Whether we realize it or not, we are all in this together and healing comes from a place of reflection and compassion.

Many of us may be concerned about the financial, emotional, and social costs to this pandemic, but there is one critical option available to each of us. And there is no cost to it whatsoever.

And that is to internalize and practice kindness. Kindness, both in thought and actions towards others as well as to ourselves, is free and comes without strings attached. Instead, when we come to the people, events and circumstances in our lives from a place of kindness, it generates positive actions which allow us to move forward in good ways.

And wouldn’t it be much easier to navigate through this next year if there was more kindness circulating in our world. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Writer’s Block and the Polar Bear Project

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I’d rather write about polar bears than people

Mary Oliver

Procrastination. That’s what led to my discovery of a fascinating citizen science program close to home. I was stumped by a writing project that up until that day had been progressing nicely. Suddenly words which normally flow, first became fleeting, and then seemed to have simply vanish. Vaporized. So I tried going for a walk. That normally helps. But nothing. In desperation, I sat in front of the television and mindlessly perused the listings when a program about the polar bears in the Canadian arctic appeared.

Intrigued, I soon learned that February 27 marked International Polar Bear Day and our national broadcasting corporation was debuting a new program about the impact of climate change in the Arctic on Canadian Polar Bear populations. Scientists have been signaling concerns about climate change and its impact on the wildlife in the arctic for years. The species that has become the most vulnerable to the devastation of climate change are the polar bears. The area surrounding the town of Churchill, Manitoba located on the Hudson’s Bay is home to one of the largest populations of Canadian Polar Bears.

Changes to Arctic sea ice as the climate on earth becomes warmer, have created dire challenges for the polar bears as they are now forced to wait for longer periods of time to get out on the sea ice to hunt seals which are their primary source of food. Typically, female bears hunt and store enough food to see them through the annual birthing process that may mean they go six months without food or water. Changes to the sea ice mean they now may be fasting as long as eight months.

It also places the humans living close by at risk as the bears venture into the town of Churchill when they seek out the sustenance they badly need and are attracted by the variety of urban smells that signal food is available. Conservation projects have been created to prevent the destruction of these majestic creatures using methods to contain and then release the bears back into the wild. Scientists researching the impact of warmer water and less sea ice are working to collect data to inform the current understanding on the impacts of climate change.

Writer’s curiosity kicks in and I begin a stumbling search on the internet to learn more about conservation in the Far North and search engine magic leads me to The Arctic Bears Project. Citizen scientists are being recruited to assist with data analysis to help answer several research questions through a web-site called Zooniverse.org Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are seeking volunteers to help analyze data from trail cam photographs about polar bears and other Arctic animals from the Hudson Bay area.

What an amazing opportunity to not only make volunteer contributions to this research but to learn more about parts of our natural world that we will likely never visit. Who knew that having a minor bout of writer’s block would lead down such an interesting path? Check it out – there are projects from around the world on this site that need volunteer citizen scientists. I am thankful this fascinating detour was all that I needed to jumpstart my writing process. And a necessary reminder about the impacts of climate change on the natural world that surrounds us.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Discovering abandoned writing

Art is never finished, only abandoned

Leonardo da Vinci
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Frigid winter temperatures and pandemic isolation have forced me to embark on another phase of clearing out clutter that mysteriously accumulates in my home. Discovery of a box placed high up on a shelf, both out of reach and out of eyesight, recently led to an interesting find.

Blowing off decades of dust, I opened this innocuous cardboard box, both puzzled as to what was inside of it and wondering why it was languishing in that spot unnoticed. Curiosity welled up inside of me. Along with a small buzz of excitement as recognition dawned about what it might contain.

Dozens of cheap notebooks were neatly stacked inside. Hilroy brand with narrow lines, three holes punched in them while sporting traditional colours: yellow, blue, green, and an odd dull shade of red. Reminder of a time when I had once poured my heart and writing soul into the craft of writing.

Flipping through them, I read past attempts at short fiction, poetry that badly needed line breaks, and pages of ideas for essays. Today I guess we would call that genre, creative non-fiction. Some random journal entries, typically melodramatic rather than upbeat but clearly delineating the timeline of the writing. Decades old from my university days and slightly beyond.

Character sketches. Plot outlines. Prose written with far too many adjectives. Ideas for a novel. As I read, becoming rather engrossed in the words written by my much younger self, I knew that my clutter clearing project was going to be placed on hold. Most of the notebooks had many blank pages. It was almost as if I must have started to use a new notebook whenever I made a renewed commitment to developing a writing practice.

As I read through these notebooks, I felt an emerging sense of creative energy. Looking at one of pieces of short fiction, I wondered if it would better lend itself to a flash fiction piece. Moving quickly to the computer, my now preferred way to craft prose, I began reshaping the words that once were in my mind so many years ago. And realized how thankful I am for this unexpected opportunity to rediscover these abandoned words.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Objects in the rearview mirror..

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One can only wonder after watching the horrifying events at the United States capitol during the first week of January, about the legacy the former president leaves behind and how he will be remembered. Even as this final chapter concludes with yet another surreal political event as the GOP has failed to uphold impeachment charges for “incitement of insurrection”, it seems like the United States will remain deeply divided for a long period of time.

Once the brakes were finally used to stop this man’s penchant for using social media as a vehicle to unleash a litany of questionable statements and at times, incendiary rhetoric, things seemed to have toned down. This does little to distract from the likelihood that he will fail to be held to account for the fatalities that occurred on January 6th or the trauma imposed on public servants and indeed, the country. And given the power that he seems to hold within the Republican party, the muting of his voice is likely only temporary.

To an outsider, the past four years of American politics have seemed like a bizarre farce playing out on a reality type television show. With the second impeachment trial now concluded, and millions of individuals still standing firm in their populist, racist, destructive viewpoints, I can’t help wonder and perhaps, worry that what this man has done will not in fact be understood with accuracy but instead glorified.

I hope that this object in the rearview mirror does not appear larger than it really is.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Searching to find words this winter

Winter knows to

hush,

still,

listen,

so the soul can

speak

Angie Weiland-Crosby
Photo credit L Meyer

As the winter drags on, a polar vortex descends, blanketing most of the western Canadian prairies in temperatures so cold they are labelled as extreme and dangerous. Suddenly it seems that any motivation I have to write has disappeared. It’s simply vanished.

Winds outside my window howl, gusting relentlessly, siphoning moisture from the air. Skin cracks easily, becoming almost lizard like, now sucking up even the strongest of lotions. Constant reapplications makes it hard to hold a pen, my favoured writing instrument. Outside adventures are placed on hold, walking from room to room in my home now serves as the only form of daily exercise.

Why is it so difficult to create, I find myself wondering, to become inspired, to write when these horrid weather conditions descend upon us? Puzzled by this, I have been searching for answers, seeking motivation from outside of myself. Likely the wrong place to find the solution to this.

Gazing out the window of my office this morning, my treasured writing space, I notice that frost builds incredible patterns on windows that appear to dance during the sunrise. Backlit by the red glow of the sun, I am drawn to the shimmering vision before me.

Tiny intricate designs are there if one looks carefully, hiding beauty, revealing the apparent nature of creativity that surrounds me. A dawning realization emerges in my mind, and suddenly a different kind of energy begins to take shape within.

Finally, words begin to form in my mind’s eye, ideas begin to excite. I move to my desk and although somewhat stilted at first, like an ice jam that suddenly begins to thaw, the winter words seem to release and move onto the page. And just like that, I find that I can write again.

Stay healthy and safe!

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To haiku or not to haiku…

I think it’s forced me to be in the moment, to pay attention, to think about connections, and to look at things in different ways.

Christine Watson
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Earlier this week, an online news article caught my attention and has been the impetus for a new creative daily exercise habit. A Canadian woman, Christine Watson began writing a daily haiku on April 7, 2020 as a part of her participation in a free global art project – The 100 day project. But once the 100 day mark was up, she didn’t stop.

Describing writing daily haikus as a habit she couldn’t stop, her journey of writing these short poems defined by 3 lines, and 17 syllables, continues. Seeking inspiration from all around her seems to have served to be not only positive and grounding in spite of the chaos in the world around us, but has captivated many people.

Integrated with photography, her daily haikus posted online, have stimulated creative activities both within her family and her community. Coincidentally, the same day I read about this unique approach to developing a daily creativity habit, a library book I had placed a hold on became available. Natalie Goldberg has just published, “Three Simple Lines – A Writer’s Pilgrimage into the Heart and the Homeland of Haiku”.

Feeling energized by the possibilities of this creative practice, I have begun filling pages of my writer’s notebook with what are certainly novice attempts at haiku. This poetic device on the surface seems simplistic but I suspect the complexity of this art form will take a long time to develop.

Galvanized by both Christine Watson’s story and Natalie Goldberg’s newest writing book, this feels like something worthy of focus. As with any type of creative exercise, this often seems to beget more creativity. So it seems like it should be a win/win kind of thing. The only downside I can see is that you shouldn’t do this too late at night.

Or you end up counting syllables instead of going to sleep.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Permission to take a deep breath…and

The world seems to be spinning faster and faster, veering out of control, and heading to who knows where. The irony is that most of us are not even in it unless we are masked, six feet apart, and are only out for some type of essential purpose. We are isolated, working from home, worrying about things we may not be able to see and certainly are unable to control.

News cycles bring more negativity even when we should be celebrating certain events like the change in United States Presidency (finally!). Actually, the end of an era south of the border seemed like it might have no end. And who knows if the constant chaos will continue to reign triumphant due to bitter seeds sown of hatred, racism, and greed now fuelled by so many.

New variants of Covid, not enough production capacity to produce vaccines, bizarre weather patterns bringing temperatures to warm then plunging into frigid arctic cold, all accompanied by a simmering anger that so many are indulging in. Protests that seem to pop up daily with no real solutions and thoughts for change that might benefit all of us.

Political shell games, ruthless economic decisions, and the grinding list on the negative news cycles that seems to be endless. Conspiracies perpetuated on social media that seemingly intelligent people believe, and share which just serves to fuel the spread of both inane and vitriolic theories like greased lightening. Good grief!

Rest, refilling our wells to live our lives in a positive way, seems critical whether we are isolated or not. Sometimes doing nothing may be the best thing we could do for both ourselves and others.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Climate change: Up way too close and personal

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We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.

David Suzuki

Last week, we endured one of the most bizarre winter storms ever seen on the Canadian prairies. Unusually warm weather has been with us since the new year, almost unheard of in the month of January which normally is referred to as “frigid”. Our day began with rain, lots of it, coating everything in ice as the day progressed and winds picked up and snow began to fall. This arctic blast continued to escalate as day became evening and soon the wind outside our house began to sound like a freight train.

Winds battered houses, toppled trees, mangled traffic lights, wreaked havoc on outbuildings in rural areas, and culminated in a province wide power outage. Meterologists who measure wind speed gave this particulate blizzard an EF-1 wind rating normally used for tornadoes. There were hundreds of stranded drivers on highways across the province and many accidents. Given our hospitals are full of people with COVID-19, it was incredibly fortunate that there were no serious injuries.

But the power outages lasted for hours and hours as the winds continued to howl and blow with phenomenal speed rendering it impossible for anyone to fix the lines. Our power company claimed that “galloping lines” were to blame, meaning power lines were blown into each other with many toppled and exploding. Hour after hour, homes became colder and colder as the day progressed and the storm continued to rage on.

Those of us living on the Canadian prairies routinely experience the wrath of mother nature especially during the months of January and February. Usually temperatures this time of the year are bitterly cold and any amount of wind results in what is known as “windchill” which can result in frostbite within minutes. So we are not strangers to harsh weather where your nostrils typically feel like they are melded together when you venture outside and lack of moisture content in the air makes your skin dry and peel.

But this weather system seemed markedly different. Arctic blasts with lots of snow, and whiteout wind conditions knocking out part of our power grid has definitely happened before. But this one seemed so unusual. Rain coating everything on the Canadian prairie is not typical. Nor are winds sustained at tornado levels for more than a few hours rendering it impossible to restore electricity and power.

Hours dragged on with no way to contact the power company and no way to know how long houses would be without electricity. Rows of houses sat silent, and dark, and growing increasingly cold as day became another night. A global pandemic with escalating active cases meant not many places for people to go and warm up. You’d think this would be a wake up call for all of us. How could we live on the cold, Canadian prairie without the means to heat our homes.

These types of weather events have increased in the past few years around the globe but the strangeness of this storm should help quell the rhetoric from the local climate change deniers. At least until the spring. Then we will like see a resurgence of protests against carbon taxes, green initiatives, and demands that more resources go into the fossil fuel sector. Good grief!

One can only hope that following the pandemic, we turn our collective attention to climate change and begin to pay heed to what nature is demanding we work to reverse. This storm was an awfully unpleasant wake up call that was too close for comfort. Let’s hope we move to action to reverse or at the very least, halt the devastation that we have done to our planet.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Stories that matter…

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Stories that move our hearts often stay with us for a long period of time. This week one of those kinds of stories emerged from a small community in our province about a young girl who had been shamed for wearing a traditional Indigenous ribbon skirt to a school event prior to the Christmas break. Her auntie had made this beautiful piece of clothing intended to symbolize her strength, womanhood, and her First Nations identity.

This young girl set off for school excited by the beauty of her skirt and pride in being able to wear this sacred piece of clothing. Shamed by a school employee for not wearing the right type of clothing, this child returned home defeated and confused. Her auntie used social media to share what had happened at school and to reach out to women to share the meaning and power of the ribbon skirt.

What transpired was really a movement where many Indigenous women posted and shared photographs of their own ribbon skirts from around the globe. These garments are works of art and the pride with which they are worn was evident in the photos that were shared. What mattered to me the most about this story was that the focus was not on the “shaming incident” at the school but the positive way in which so many women reached out to share their pride in their heritage and in the power of the ribbon skirt.

Listening to an interview with this girl, her enthusiasm and excitement from all of the posts her family received, it was hard not to smile and appreciate the positivity that was created. Pride in her First Nations ribbon skirt and sense of belonging with other girls and women from around the world became the message of the story.

When it was time to return to school this week, her family and members of her First Nation community organized a march back to the school all wearing their ribbon skirts or ribbon shirts. Accompanied by the performance of a drumming group and the attendance of chiefs from surrounding First Nations, this young girl returned to school with a renewed sense of pride in who she is and accompanied by the positive power of her community.

My thoughts have returned to this story many times since I heard it. Messages of positivity, forgiveness, and reconciliation were delivered with pride and a power that resonates.

Stories matter.

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From Sourdough bread to six feet apart

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

Jane Stanfield
Photo by Monserrat Soldu00fa on Pexels.com

The end of a year is typically a time for some reflection on what is behind us and planning for celebrations as we usher in the new one. Since we can’t engage in typical New Year celebrations, many of us are spending more time than usual in reflection.

2020 seems to have been a year full of contradictions. A global pandemic that initially brought us together and then seemed to polarize and pull us apart. Countries demanding restrictions to keep everyone safe and then struggling as conflicts emerged when resistance and resentment set in. Neighbours rallying to cheer on health care workers at the end of shifts to large gatherings where protestors demonstrated against masks and science.

From sharing the best sourdough bread recipes to open defiance of public health guidelines. Where friends and family in isolation found comfort and connection in Zoom meeting rooms to phone hotlines set up so you could report anyone who violated the rules. While staying six feet apart, we learned to respect others around us in order to keep them safe to annoyance at anyone who seemed to think and behave differently than we did.

As vaccines are rolled out around the world, and lack of patience and exhaustion with our isolated world threatens to take hold, my wish for the new year is for more kindness. Kindness to everyone regardless of their point of view. Kindness to those in our lives who have managed their personal risk differently than we might have. Kindness which will be healing and help us transition into the world when this pandemic ends.

Farewell to the year 2020 – may the new year bring safety, good health, and above all, more kindness in each of our hearts.

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Embrace connectivity this holiday season

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Remember, happiness isn’t defined by how much you spend on gifts and celebrations. It is what you do, how much you love, how caring and supportive you are, and above all your true compassion for others.

Christine Ibbotson

As this festive Christmas season envelops us, reaching out to those we care about even if we are unable to visit in person, is more important than ever this year. Embrace connectivity in whatever format, reaching out in spirit across miles, cities, streets, and even to those who live to next door to us.

This year we will celebrate the holidays in new and different ways. Traditions have had to change, and with Covid restrictions, we have the opportunity to focus less on consumerism and more on those we love by taking the time to communicate with them in many different ways.

Best wishes for a wonderful, safe, and healthy holiday season!!

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Celebrations and lessons learned upon reaching a goal

Photo by Anna-Louise on Pexels.com

You can’t hit a home run unless you step up to the plate. You can’t catch a fish unless you put your line in the water. You can’t reach your goals if you don’t try.

Kathy Seligman

Have you ever attempted to do something that you were certain you would not succeed at, and you did, in spite of yourself? This was where I found myself six weeks ago, musing about the fact that I had entered my name to participate in the flash fiction event, Flash Nano 2020. Even more amazing was the fact that I actually completed it. 30 prompts = 30 flash fiction stories. Whoa!!

I realize that for many writers, November is the month of National Novel writing contests and events but the flash fiction genre has captured my heart and mind for the past year so when I learned about Flash Nano, it made sense to at least try it. I must admit self-doubt almost prevented me from even signing up so upon reflection that is likely the first lesson that I need to pay the most attention to. It is all too easy to talk yourself out of things rather than into them.

Once that negative self talk is corralled, then we need to battle with procrastination and inertia. There are likely many great reasons why we don’t accomplish certain things but there are equally as many that speak to us about why we should. Pushing through procrastination is really about pushing past our fears. For this event, I had no one but myself to account to. I did mention I was doing this writing practice to my writer’s group but they would have all understood and likely been supportive if I had come up with some credible excuse as to why I decided not to follow through.

But the lesson of moving forward despite that fear, has value that carries over to other areas of our lives as well. This was an activity that I chose partially in an effort to try to incorporate discipline into my writing life, to learn to push barriers aside, and to learn the craft of the genre that I am writing in. Writer’s are solitary creatures but when we gather there is often a shared sense of connection. That’s why we gather, right.

Satisfaction. Personal accomplishment. Goal achievement. All these outcomes from this particular activity also served as teachings, lessons learned, and opportunity to develop confidence to push forward. An opportunity to create, to write, to reflect, to engage with other writers. It was truly win win. When we decide to set out to achieve something, there is tremendous value in seeing a project through to the end. And if you can do it once, then I am convinced that the next time will be just a little bit easier.

Now I just need to figure out what is going to be next…Take a moment to celebrate all of the goals you meet regardless of how big or small. We all deserve that quiet moment to reflect on our accomplishments and to experience the joy of completion.

Stay healthy and safe!