So why do you write?

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

Robert Lee Brewer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why do you write?

Grappling with uncertainty

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

Eckhart Tolle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stay safe!

Finding your voice

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

Katherine Schulten

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Writing into spring

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

Beatrix Potter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!!

Age: Can it be a state of mind?

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

David Robson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe!

“H” is for Hope

Photo credit L. Meyer

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

Desmond Tutu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe!

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!