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The beauty of a simple goal for the new year…

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Learning to do and think less is an important skills that can be practised and one for which you will be rewarded.

Moshe Bar

Setting goals and expectations for the new year seems to get more challenging as I grow older. (Not old, mind you, just older!) This past year saw most of my plans derailed by a loved one’s health issues and I am left wondering about whether failing to set goals is any worse than not meeting them. So I have been reading about this time honoured tradition and the corresponding litany of suggestions about how to set goals that you will actually pursue throughout the entire year.

Seems that not meeting one’s goals may be more common than succeeding in achieving them. And one can only assume that not meeting your own personal expectations will lead you straight into an emotional mine field, replete with berating yourself up for such failure. And that would be failure with a capital F.

Truly, I wonder why humans persist in doing so many things that cause us to feel badly about ourselves.

This scenario is so typical that it is difficult at this point in the calendar year to avoid media reports, podcasts, and articles about this phenomenon. So why even bother?

Most of us know what our overarching goals are, and at any point in our lives during the course of a year, we are perfectly free to add in new ones. To try different ways to better ourselves in any way we conceive of whenever we want. So the necessity of having a new years resolution, new goal or series of them, is a traditional type of thing that has become an ingrained cultural habit.

And this yearly ritual is not always a helpful habit. But still most of us persist…

So when I read an article relating Moshe Bar’s theory of thinking and doing less as an essential skill that one needs to build, I was intrigued. It turns out that it is okay to let our brains follow us on a path of doing nothing. Our tendency to clutter our lives and our minds with noise and busyness and constant stimulation makes it harder for our brain to function in an optimal way. Most of us feel guilt if we are not doing something all of the time. But it turns out, our cognitive function is enhanced by allowing ourselves to embrace moments of distraction, losing focus, or by zoning out.

Neuroscience has demonstrated that allowing your brain to “mind wander” increases both creative problem solving and decision making. Those are both critical skills for a writer to have in their executive functions tool kit. Moving our bodies, say by just going for a walk or training ourselves to see ordinary things in a new light using photography or mindfulness techniques are a couple of ways to cultivate this.

Research suggests that learning to enjoy times of silence, cultivating a daydreaming habit, and clearing away mental clutter may all help to allow us to become more self-aware. And the more we get to know ourselves, the easier it is to work on meaningful projects or skills which ultimately will serve our desire to have purpose in our lives.

So for this year, that will be my focus. Learning to do and to think less. As life has a tendency to crowd out smart goals anyways, learning and developing what sounds like a simplistic (although likely not) skill seems to make sense to me this year. So cheers to 2023!

Happy New year!!

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Kind and Caring Wishes for this Christmas season

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Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and relieving those of yesterday.

Gladys Taber

The lead up to this Christmas season has once again been one of increasing anxiety and a multitude of concerns such as a triple viral threat; inflation and supply chain issues; record high mortgage rates; the ongoing war in Ukraine and so many other negative stories that relentlessly spin before our eyes in the daily news cycles.

In just a few short days many of us are preparing to celebrate Christmas in spite of all the challenges before us. We learned last year that even under the duress of the pandemic that we could still connect with family and friends in some meaningful way.

We are tasked again with making memories perhaps in a different kind of way given the challenges we are now facing. But if our focus remains on what truly matters, the love and caring support of our families and friends, we will get through these trying times just as we have in the past.

It will be memories of the kindness and caring of others that will matter the most. Please know that I am sending to you the best wishes for this Christmas season. May you stay healthy and safe wrapped in the love of those that matter most in your life.

Best wishes!!

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Curiosity did not kill the cat!

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The benefits of curiosity go far beyond the page – when we ask questions, we become engaged in exploration, bright with knowledge, and connected to ourselves, each other, and the world/universe/beyond.

Rita Zoey Chin

Have you ever been surprised by the results of a writing prompt or suggestion? Asking What if or Why questions seems to be a standard boiler plate type of question that you find in many writing craft articles or blogs. But spending a week trying to do this in all facets of your life, seemed like a worthy experiment that potentially could bring interesting results.

Curiously enough, I had written and underlined this idea in my journal about ten months ago. That must mean something, right? So I decided the time is now. With the best intention mind possible, I tried to direct my focus on becoming curious about everything and everyone around me. For an entire week.

But I wanted to move beyond spending an inordinate amount of time on Google. So I had to consider how to respectfully ask questions of others without being rude or coming off as just plain nosy. The best place to begin seemed to be to shine my focus on things rather than people.

Connecting with others to learn more about seemingly innocuous aspects of life, paved the way to fully embrace this curiosity exercise.

Not only did I discover interesting facts about my physical surroundings but along the way I was starting to see how easy it is to slip into a frame of mind where judgement of others plays a leading role. We make assumptions about many things in our daily lives without a solid understanding of why or accurate knowledge about some of our beliefs.

So I tried asking more why and what types of questions with friends and family members and came away having learned much more about the inner lives of those I care about. I am left wondering if some of the judgments I often end up making about others are some type of bizarre artifact from the pandemic. So many people seem to stew in a pot of resentment and judgment these days.

Learning how others are experiencing the world helps generate empathy. And in addition to skill building and creating a writer’s mindset, curiosity about others leads to a place of caring and concern.

Imagine what our world might be like if everyone was just a little more curious about those around them!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Add wander and wonder, then mix

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The key to a wonderful life is to never stop wandering into wonder.

Suzy Kassem

My greatest pet peeve during the pandemic was the loss of things to look forward to. Isolation, fear, and constant worry negate hope, feelings of optimism and the sense of wonder about our world.

Planning for the future, with little faith that you can predict meeting the goals you aspire to, began to seem futile.

Diminished social connections added to the sense that life’s adventures were being held in abeyance. So many aspects of life had been placed on hold. Until what? Til things become safe again?

Once I wrapped my head around the reality that managing the risks we are all exposed to is simply a pathway we are likely on forever, I have been ramping up my life planning efforts. Looking forward to something has always been a touchstone for me. My desire to wander can still keep me grounded. No one ever said I had to travel the world to do that.

Finding a sense of wonder about what is around me is fast becoming a routine that wakes me up. Getting up extra early to enjoy the sunrise. Visiting a friend who has a new puppy. Those wiggly creatures place newfound meaning on the word energy. Talking to my son and his new bride, listening to that afterglow of post wedding happiness. Going out for coffee with friends. And lunch, too!

Balancing writing classes on Zoom with in person writing group dates. Resuming book club, in person, distanced, maybe masking? Doesn’t matter, it’s the connections with others that matters.

Spending time, indoors and outdoors, with friends who also monitor their health and manage the risks of the ever present virus. Masking around large crowds of people indoors and outdoors, if it feels necessary. Regardless of what seems to be needed, the decision made to stop isolating, being afraid, and to continue to embrace and look forward to the unexpected and amazing things that happen in life.

That is all now a part of the life plan. It was time to press the pause button and get back to the realization that anything is possible. May we all spend time wandering and enjoying the wonders of our world!

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Fall – Time for a fresh start

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Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold on to it. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.

Sarah Breathnach

With fall peeking around the corner, and closing the chapter on a difficult year, it seems right to dust off my normally held sense of optimism and move forward. Without worry about personal stressors, annoying politicians, devastating traumatic events or the death of a long standing monarch. And most certainly without amping up undue anxiety about whether Covid is here to stay or not. It is. Full stop.

It means dusting off goals that got put on the shelf in March of 2020. And going back to the drawing board where I am free to play with all of the ideas I have rolling around in my mind about what I would like to do next in my life.

There is freedom in that. In actually being able to sit back, spend time in reflection, writing and journaling about any and all ideas when they pop into my head. Without fear, or worry that something will interrupt, interfere, or blow up my life plans.

And really when you consider our life’s journey, it is indeed, full of detours, some of our own making and others beyond our control. And that is okay.

What seems most important is the recognition that you have passions that reside inside of you meant to be pursued. At times, they are apparent and at others, they are elusive. It’s just fine to search for that thing that really resonates, that whispers in a kind and gentle voice to try on. It’s comforting to know that you can dabble until you find what feels right.

Knowing that we can pick some things up where they were left off, bid farewell to those that we won’t be able to continue on with, and choose more intentionality with what we do in our lives regardless of the external world around us.

The fall season, resplendent with changing colours, temperatures, clothing choices, and activities seems a perfect time to reflect, consider new goals, and then carry on.

Enjoy what today will bring!

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Respectful Summer Get Togethers

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Messages that feel like commands – even good advice coming from a friend- aren’t always received well. If you feel like you’re being pushed into a corner, you’re more likely to push back.

Elena Renken

Most stories being told around the world right now seem to share several common distressing themes. Inflation and what is driving it. The war in Ukraine. The Pope’s apology to Canadian residential school survivors. Heat waves creating unbearable conditions in parts of the world that normally don’t have them. Fires, droughts, floods all predictable as a result of our continued environmental destruction.

And then the predictable debates about who, what, and how we should address climate action.

Affordable housing crisis, food insecurity, moving into a recession, extraordinary gas prices, and of course the ever present supply chain issues. Gun violence. School shootings. Grocery store shootings. Mall shootings. Continued anger about Covid vaccine mandates and the odd, lingering protest about public health guidelines. Populist political bullying, dismantling women’s right to choose, coupled with a full on attack on “woke” culture.

And you’ll never guess who’s back delivering mayhem and ridiculous soundbites cause he got raided by the FBI?

The stories we are telling each other range from angry conflict that sometimes disintegrates into outright chaos all the way to a senseless war across the ocean. This polarizing rhetoric gains traction as people are not feeling heard and from dangerous people who then take license to impose their will through bullying behaviour or use of force.

When did we stop listening to each other. Agreeing to disagree. Respecting democratic institutions that we have taken pride in building. Collectively. Collaboratively. It seems so far away from the world I thought I knew. Disenfranchised people whose demands across social media are no longer about civil society but about individuals rights and freedoms.

What does that actually mean? When I hear the word freedom right now, I know my personal definition can’t be similar to fellow Canadians who decided to disrupt and destroy the narrative most familiar to me. Horns blaring because Freedom. My freedom trumps yours.

How do I listen to their stories and really hear them?

Would anything make it easier for them to hear my stories?

All stories matter and have the potential to shape attitudes that colour our views on relationships, politics, and our society. But they have little meaning when we stop listening to one another. And when we also stop caring about the importance of the stories that each of us needs to tell.

It seems bizarre that at a time when we need to come together to address so many challenges that we keep moving far apart.

But there are glimmers of hope. Right?

I can’t help but remain hopeful that the celebrations we have this summer have mostly remained respectful of the stories that each one of us carries in our hearts. No matter how different it seems from our value base and moral codes.

We have a long ways to go but if we all learn to listen a little more, we just might make the upcoming fall and winter a different story than the one told last year.

Stay happy and safe this summer!

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Rainbows – a new beginning?

Photo L. Meyer

Rainbows bring the promise that the troubles of today will surely come to pass, hold strong in your faith and vision and the rainbow will bring fresh beginnings

Presley Love

Getting caught last evening in a flash thunderstorm where huge drops of rain fell sideways due to wicked prairie winds felt like just another hurdle to surmount. I stood inside the vestibule of the building I was leaving, wondering if I should just go for it and run out to my car or try to wait out the onslaught and stay dry.

My internal debate went back and forth as puddles outside grew into small lakes.

Fortunately, common sense won the day and I patiently waited for the rain to quit. It seemed to stop as suddenly as it began, with Mother Nature’s special alchemy mixing atmospheric gases creating a spectacular double rainbow. It easily met the standard of an awe inspiring moment.

By the time I got out my iPhone to shoot a quick picture, it was starting to dissipate. But the magic of a rainbow after a harsh storm, somehow speaks directly to you, causing you to pause and pay attention. We all experience those inner shifts at times of transitions in our lives. When we are able to consolidate our thoughts and feelings with memorable external experiences that seem to delineate an important marker in time.

A symbolic way to tuck the past behind us while moving forward.

Rainbows have symbolized new beginnings, inspiring hope, in most cultures around the globe through the ages.

If a new beginning is in the cards, I’ll gladly take it.

Stay happy and safe!

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Scatter your creative story seeds…

Photo L. Meyer

Let your story surprise you. Lay a place at the table for an unexpected guest. Embrace the unforecasted storm. Allow kind characters to do something cruel. Let the selfish ones sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Be surprised. Be amazed.

Sophie Anderson

When the writing process becomes routine or even worse, when you get stuck in a bottomless rut, it may be helpful to simply turn your work on its head. Shake everything you are doing up, down, even sideways. At the very least, you may have some fun or discover a few diamonds in the rough worthy of using in some form of prose.

A recent foray while editing a piece of micro fiction left me stymied and ready to permanently hit the delete button. But a stray piece of creative advice from a writing retreat last month about cutting up writing that doesn’t seem to work, must have planted a small seed in my brain. And sprang forth when I least expected it.

I took the piece that I had been wrestling with, enlarged the font, then printed it out. With what felt like a whim, I proceeded to just cut it into pieces. The pieces dropping onto my desk reminded me of ephemera for collage or words cut for found poetry. So it seemed natural to paste them on a sheet of paper. Randomly. Without really looking at the actual text on each piece of paper.

Convinced that this would simply be a transformed word jumble, I left the mess to dry and went to make a cup of coffee.

When I returned to look at what I had done, I was surprised by what I found. Sure, the order of some of the pieces of paper stretched the grammar aspect a wee bit, but overall, I read in those words, the glimmer of a new story. A better story.

It was legible enough that I was able to return to my computer and resurrect a new piece of prose. I was slightly amazed that from that jumble of words pasted haphazardly on a piece of paper, a transformed piece of fiction began to emerge.

This time round this tiny micro fiction story resonated somewhere deep inside of me bringing forth new energy for the editing process. Who knows what this piece may look like when something clicks and lets me know that it is finished. But the reawakening of this prospective prose piece inspires hope and optimism.

Stories living inside of us are at times, weird and wild things. But finding ways to keep working to guide them into the world, brings a sense of satisfaction like none other.

Happy writing!

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Release the pause button on play…

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We do not stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever found yourself slugging through your day to day life and realized that playfulness is not part of it? Watching two neighbourhood children today, chasing each other while blowing soap bubbles and giggling so hard one of them began to hiccup, I felt like I had an epiphany. Play. That is what seems to be missing from my present “taking everything far too seriously” adult life.

It’s typically something fairly innocuous that alerts you to that dawning sense of something being amiss. But once you figure it out, you can’t unsee it.

Probably the state of mind most helpful during times of stress and strain, is a playful mind. But it is also the hardest state to transition to when everything in your immediate focus is through an intensely serious lens. And when it seems any spare moment should be dedicated to some task or type of work that needs to be completed, or at the very least, doing something “worthwhile”, play seems frivolous and far removed.

Knowing that there are adverse consequences to play deprivation, I have been trying to create a “play” list. (Pun intentional, ha – maybe I will get there after all!). Photography has always been my favourite way to play and I haven’t had my camera out for quite some time. Point of fact, the battery was almost dead. So as I write this, I can glance over at my camera on the charger and see that it still has a ways to go. Just like I do.

There are a multitude of ways to tap into this desired state of mind. A quick web search reveals a plethora of articles, blog posts, research studies on the importance of play to our overall well being and stock ideas about how to incorporate it into our busy adult lives. But it seems trite to assume that by playing video games, doing crossword puzzles, dancing in your kitchen as though no one is watching, could magically counter the impact of stress and burnout.

So where to begin. Reflection on this challenge seems to point to a sort of mind over matter type of thing. So it seems like if I can wrestle with the biggest barrier, attitude, I feel like I might just be on my way. And it also seems important to set goals to play, to do things with absolutely no purpose, to simply seek out moments for mindless enjoyment and fun.

How weird that part of responsible adulting becomes losing touch with that most important aspect of childhood. To be playful. Seems so simple when I write it like that. But I have a sense that I am going to have to work hard at my play goals. Wish me luck!

Stay safe, have fun!

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Strength in numbers: The power of a writing community

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It is now five years later and there are more than 15,000 people from all over the world signed up for the annual 1000 Words of Summer project, with even more than that likely participating. Every year more wonderful authors contribute their thoughts on creativity, productivity, and inspiration.

Jami Attenberg

If you have ever needed a large dose of motivation to kickstart a project, you probably know that the most positive way to keep going is with the support of other people. In particular, members of your tribe. The people who know how difficult the writing journey can be and are able to offer heartfelt affirming words of encouragement and ideas.

When I find my energy for writing starting to become limp, I turn to the members of my writing group for support and inspiration. So when I happen upon other writing resources I tend to gravitate to them.

Last year, I read an essay on the #1000 words of summer annual project led by Jami Attenberg but filed the idea somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind thinking it probably would be worth a try. Not ready for taking this project on last June, I did however, sign up to receive her newsletter, Craft Talk.

As the date for beginning the #1000 words of summer 2022 writing event drew closer, I started paying more attention to the explainer that was sent out and some of the testimonials. As the June 4th kick off date drew closer, I thought more and more about this and decided to sign up to participate.

Belonging to this burgeoning writing community came with no cost other than the need for a commitment to write every day for two weeks.

Certainly sounded doable so I signed in to join the slack and prepared to become a part of this large writing community. Inspiring words have also been shared from amazing luminaries, Roxanne Gay, Sara Novic, and Min Jin Lee with more to come each day. Their personal experiences with the writer’s life have also helped nudge my motivation and I have written more than the minimum for the past four days.

Writers share thoughts about their writing, or lack thereof, roadblocks, and energy levels on the slack platform. It is both validating and affirming to learn that my experience is not unique. Simply part of the writing process.

(https://1000wordsofsummer.substack.com)

And it feels serendipitous to have discovered a large group of writers from around the globe who want to share resources, encouragement and motivational tips and techniques. What a wonderful place to be!

happy writing!