Sunflower: A symbol of hope for Ukraine

Photo credit – L Meyer

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

Kristen M. Stanton

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to all.

Boredom: A path to creativity?

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Boredom is your imagination calling to you

Sherry Turkle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe!

Maybe it’s time to take a break…

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A break is never a waste of time

Lynn Zubernis

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe and healthy!

And around we go again…

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

Bertrand Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe and healthy!

What to do when you don’t feel like writing

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

Maria Irene Fornes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe and happy writing!

Finding rhythm under pressure

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

Dr. Bruce D. Perry

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

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

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

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

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

And the flow of those conversations also had a rhythm.

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

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

Stay healthy and safe!

Write vs. Edit

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

Danez Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Take your creativity for a walk

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

Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe!

Embracing intentions

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

Rainer Maria Rilke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe – Happy New year!!

It’s a wrap

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

Paulo Coelho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing and Happy New Year!