Blue

Dear Blue,

I note that you have been showing up more than usual in my life lately.

You are, in fact, a Presence.

I wonder if this all started with my renewed interest in Vincent van Gogh and The Starry Night. One would assume that the artist’s haloed stars are the magnetic pull here… but what would those glowing yellow orbs be without the contrast of your magnificent backdrop? Furthermore, I am aware that the painting’s recaptured allure coincided with my learning of the blue hour. I believe this is a concentrated effort on your part, that you meant to sweep me completely away with that poetic phrase and natural phenomenon. I cannot explain why, exactly, but I decided that blue is the color of forgiveness and wrote a poem. In it you are the star.

What really makes me stop and take note of your power, however, are the bluebirds. Bits of thrilling color electrifying the drab winter canvas of my backyard, just the jolt of color needed to sustain my flagging spirit. I am reminded that you are the rarest color in nature. This many sightings of bluebirds so close by is also rare; I do not recall seeing them at all in recent years. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention? Out of gratitude to you, I wrote another poem.

As if I needed more reminders, here’s the bookmark an intuitive friend gave me on Sunday:

Oh, to be cloaked with sky, to have wings for flying high and free above our blue planet…! You have stirred a deep and curious longing, now.

I feel I owe you an apology for not typically thinking of you as a favorite color. I now recall that my mother painted the walls of my childhood bedroom light blue, that there were curtains and a matching bedspread of gaudy floral patterns in many shades of blue, turquoise to navy… that brushing my long hair in the dark of a winter’s night set blue sparks popping…that Daddy owned only blue cars until I was in my teens… oh, and how I loved those cornflower and periwinkle crayons in my prized giant Crayon box with the sharpener.

—Periwinkle. Again you’ve appeared in this current dreary winter, the only spark of color in my forlorn flowerpots, a solitary little bloom on a vine. I am wondering now if you are also the color of hope and endurance. I suppose you remember the pet parakeet from years ago, snowy white, with a dusting of you on his wings? His name? Periwinkle, dubbed “Winkle-bird” by my firstborn. We were living two blocks from the beach, then. Warm sand, bright sun, frothy tide spilling over our bare feet, tiny periwinkle shells exposed like scattered gems in its wake…how I miss living near the sea!

How is it that I have forgotten until just now that my bridesmaids’ dresses, handmade by my mother, were a shade similar to periwinkle? “Oceania Blue,” if memory serves me right. Chosen for an August wedding, out of love for the shore where my young soon-to-be husband and I spent hours walking, dreaming, planning…and this sends me scrambling in search of a particular remnant, on the highest shelf in the cabinet.

—I still have it.

A bag of rice from my wedding, in those pre-birdseed days.

Tied with a blue ribbon for thirty-six years, come summer.

Dear Blue, precious, precious Blue. You’ve been here all along. You are now the eyes of my granddaughter.

Here is what I know:

You’re divine.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 2, I am writing around a word beginning with letter b.

And, because I can’t resist… here’s one of my all-time favorite Sesame Street videos: The Beetles singing “Letter B.” Dedicated to all you phonics teachers out there (pardon the “buh” pronunciation. We do know better…).

Always

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers commences today, meaning that I will be posting every day in the month of March. This is my fifth consecutive year of participating.

I’ve learned a few things along the way about perseverance, creativity, and trust. Writing is, after all, an experiment in trust. You must trust yourself, trust that the words will come, that the Muse WILL show up. You take the plunge, trusting in the congenial ebb and flow of the writing community. You become a conduit of giving, of receiving. That is the power of story.

This year I am also experimenting with an abecedarian approach. Rationale: If I write around a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet…it will carry me through twenty-six days! That gives me five “wild card” days for the thirty-one in March. We’ll see how it goes. I could start with my word for the year, awe, but as I’ve written about that quite a bit since January, I will go in a different direction today.

I begin, instead, with always.

Always is cloaked in the aura of awe, anyway.

******

It’s woven through every great love story. The unbreakable thread, even when knotted with pain and loss. It glitters in the brightest moments and in the darkest; it is anchored deep in the human heart. It is the pull of permanence in the face of impermanence, mortality, powerlessness.

It is the word Severus Snape speaks in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the moment we learn that he isn’t pure evil, that he has lived for years in his own personal hell, that he loved, and still loves, Harry’s dead mother. Snape will die protecting her son (which, if he’d made different choices along the way, might have been his own; the bitterness and self-blame run so deep). When this all dawns on the Hogwarts headmaster, Dumbledore, he asks, in tears, if Snape still loves Lily “after all this time.”

Snape says: Always.

He is, in that one word, redeemed.

It is the operative word of the song Dolly Parton wrote in 1973 when she left Porter Wagoner and his show to begin her solo career: I Will Always Love You. Bittersweet lyrics, wishing the best for someone as the relationship itself disintegrates…it’s not just about love. It’s about always. It reverberates with gratitude. And you’re likely hearing Whitney Houston’s voice instead of Dolly’s—the young, beautiful, vibrant Whitney, always alive in that iconic song.

It is a memory word, pulsating in the veins of our allotted days. What are the things, the moments, that you will carry with you always? The people, the songs, the stories?

Always is why I write. To remember those things that matter, to jettison those that burden, to sail on through the storms to the calm that lies beyond. It is always there. Morning always follows the longest night. Night is always necessary; it invokes sleep, opportunity for the brain to repair itself. A mooring, in order to keep powering on. Much like writing itself.

Then there are dreams…an always-fascinating phenomenon.

I’ve been paying attention to those of late, writing them down, especially recurring dream symbols: birds, notably eagles. Lots of vivid green in unexpected places. Water, which is a metaphor for life. Once I dreamed I was swimming at dusk in an unknown sea alongside a shore dotted with houses and twinkling lights. I knew my destination was still a long way off. Just as I felt I wouldn’t make it, a dolphin came to guide me onward. It stayed close to my side, occasionally leaping. I touched it. I felt its slick, smooth skin against my palm. On contact, an instantaneous infusion of comfort: I absorbed the dolphin’s inherent cheer; I could rely on its agility, its navigational acuity. See how even dreams lead back to trust. Dreams are not always good, but most of mine are, thankfully. Troubled dreams are often the psyche’s way of trying to problem-solve.

And that takes me back to my great love, writing—for it’s the ultimate problem-solving mechanism. Writing is the chance dream while awake.

Always.

Harry Potter fans know the symbolism of the doe…

*******

Another favorite ‘a’ word in addition to always and awe: Abide. I wrote around that last autumn. A new “a” word I’ve learned: Anaplastology. Ana = anew, plastos = something that is made, so, “something made anew.” It is the branch of medicine which deals with prosthetic rehabilitation of a missing or malformed body part.

Let there be awe (OLW 2021)

Like many writers I am in the habit of selecting One Little Word (also known as One Word) at the beginning of a new year. It is a lens through which to view the craft of writing and, to me, the craft of living. A well-chosen OLW can guide to deeper meanings, connections, and creativity; it is a reflective tool, a restorative practice, sometimes a call to action. One little word can be a mighty force of reckoning.

In an earlier post, I wrote about not being in the frame of mind to choose a word for 2021 until I stumbled upon this quote in my planner. Surely I saw it there before, this tiny, tiny print, like a microscopic footnote, at the bottom of January 1st:

Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

It was like a shaft of sunlight through barren, tangled trees, an electric jolt through the settling-winter numbness of my brain.

Awe. It is familiar. One can’t be a writer, a reader, be around children, savor the healing mysteries of nature, have faith in Almighty God, without experiencing it. I’d never thought about awe improving physical health; certainly that stems from its effects on mental, emotional, spiritual health. Never thought about awe as a source of altruism, having the power to shift focus away from self to promoting the well-being of others. I certainly never thought about intentionally creating awe. Inviting awe, yes. I want to fling all the windows and doors of my entire being open for it. But creating it? I mean, isn’t awe a response to encountering the extraordinary, something much bigger than me? Am I capable of intentionally creating it? Seems a curious choice of words for something so spontaneously generated.

I sat looking at my planner, wondering…knowing in that moment awe had chosen me and there was nothing for it but to bow in reverential submission.

Immediately, I began to expect.

I can’t imagine all the ways awe will present itself this year. Trying to imagine kind of defeats the purpose. It’s more of a recognizing in the moment thing. I just know that awe is coming.

Truth of the matter…it’s all around, if I stop, if I am still enough, to sense it. If I let it be the lens through which to view the craft and artistry of being alive.

Awe is a matter of perspective…we can see it, if we try. It is tucked inside the ordinary. It lives in moments and outlasts time. It is tiny as coding in cells, as vast as the universe. The big picture book containing all of our life’s stories, for they are intertwined.

Keeping the heart open for it might even lead to a hand in creating it.

My sketch representing AWE in response to Carol Varsalona’s recent #K12ArtChat.
Can you see the word in the landscape?


I decided to run the sketch through the Deep Art Effects app.
The following were my favorite styles.
Wishing you AWE in 2021.
Be on the lookout for it.
Maybe make it happen.

*******

with thanks to the awesome community at Two Writing Teachers
and to Carol Varsalona for the sketch inspiration
.

My most recent posts on the power of words:

Spiritual Word Journey – reflecting on being chosen by “awe”
When – a poem-prayer lament, composed of one word on each line


More on “awe” to come.

Reclamation

I love the stillness of the morning, before the dawn, which is presently hours away. I love the silence, the holy hush preceding the coming of the sun. My family, even the new puppy, slumbers on. If I have a word for these moments, it’s expectancy. If I were to step outside now I might hear footsteps in the pine straw beneath trees that border my back fence; I will not yet be able to see which creature is moving there in the dark. A white-tailed deer, perhaps, or a squirrel, which makes an astonishing amount of noise in the straw, much more more than larger creatures. Two mornings ago, in the first light, I glimpsed a huge gray rabbit running to and fro just beyond the fence. And if I wait long enough, I’ll hear my neighbor’s rooster crow. Any time now. He doesn’t wait for actual light that I can see. He’ll proclaim the new day, the continuum of daily living, before it’s set in motion. He’ll stir the goats in various pens throughout the neighborhood (not to be expected in a little subdivision—whatever happened to restrictive covenants?) and their loud chorus of wild baas will back up the rooster’s solo.

It’s life waking up again, claiming the day for its own.

On this new day, of this new year, this new decade, I think about life. The trouble with life, I once read, is that it’s so daily. Not merely being alive but trying to accomplish all that must be (or that we think must be) accomplished in this day, this week, this month … last year I learned a lesson about life on hiatus. When the life of someone you love hangs in the balance, all your best-laid plans disintegrate. Poof.

Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Reclamation.

Whether life is suspended, or stagnant, or spinning out of control, we still have choices. Maybe it’s resting more. Writing more. Reading more, singing more. Praying more. Maybe it’s seeking help. Maybe it’s restoring relationships, or releasing them. Or creating something beautiful, meaningful. What we want to do and what we’re actually able to do in a day, a week, a month, a year, may be vastly different, but reclamation doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in determined, consistent bits by bits. It is deliberate and intentional.

Once I wished for something like parallel lives, a cloning of sorts, with one of me staying home to write all day, one of me getting everything done in the house the way I want it, and another me going to work. I am exacting of myself; I do a thing, I want to do it well, and so I am easily paralyzed by my own standards.

I think of the sea, rolling on and on, its billows and rhythms, its continuity, its fluidity. I contemplate its healing properties, how it is designed to cleanse itself. I look at the photo I included at the top of this post, how, writes the photographer, the cemetery “is being reclaimed by the forest as alders, birch, spruce, fir and a couple apple trees crowd out the dozen or so headstones that stand here.” It’s in Newfoundland and that symbolism strikes right at my writer-heart, new found land.

That’s what reclamation is. Taking back solid ground, or creating new land, from what would submerge it, overtake it. Inch by precious inch, bit by bit. Yesterday I heard a sportscaster speak of Ron Rivera’s move from the Carolina Panthers to the Washington Redskins: “Coach Rivera has been part of a reclamation project before.” It took him four years to take the failing Panthers to the Super Bowl. He’s already begun the work for the Redskins, before he ever gets there … like my rooster here, calling to the dawn before it appears.

It’s hard daily work, reclamation. Progress is slow to see for a time.

But I’ve started.

I pulled the weeds out of the planters on my back deck and planted pansies, a bright bit of welcome on these cold mornings when I take the new puppy out. The puppy is himself an act of reclamation, an affirmation of love my family has always had for dogs (which, I’ve said before, have souls; purer than my own, there in those eyes). He marks a moving forward.

One step at a time, I’ll reclaim the house by many little needed repairs and coats of paint. Patience, endurance …

My writing, my writing. How many stories lay unfinished? Not begun? If I can learn to live nonlinear, to live as fluid as the sea, then anywhere is an entry point. Whenever, wherever, just plunge. The time necessary for writing will come if I just begin the reclamation.

Work. I write this paragraph not only for myself, but for other educators and instructional coaches struggling for clarity and a foothold in an ever-changing, shifting field: Beware the great chasm between theory and application, between programs that are packaged as “the magic bullet” and cost a pretty penny but fail to deliver. Be aware of the great gulf between data that’s visible and the stories of human children, not so visible. Push back all that encroaches on growing the children, that which would inhibit their love of learning. Reclaim that for them. Know them and their families and their stories. Know your colleagues and their stories. Write together, all of you; in this day of restorative practices and social-emotional wellness, why are people not writing more in such settings? We reclaim the very heart of our humanity when we share our stories.

—It is light now. A new day is here; I hear life stirring all around. Forget those restrictive covenants.

Let the reclamation begin.

Photo: Reclamation. Derrick Mercer. CC BY-SA

A word for 2019

A friend gave me a treasure box of gifts for Christmas.

One of the items in it was this gilded 2019 planner.

I already have a (rather large) daily planner for mapping out my workdays—I write in pencil because, as I accommodate the teachers I support, the course of each day shifts constantly, and I make lots of notes. Part of living the coachly life. I’ve learned to embrace it.

So I look at this beautiful planner and think: How shall I use it?

I could give it away, except that don’t want to, it was given to me with love, and I have come to understand that things come to us for a reason. There’s a purpose for this little planner.

I look at it, shimmery and new, just like the year itself, lying before me.

Beckoning, almost.

I will use it for something personal, then.

Maybe for my writing. To map out a timeline, to hold myself accountable for completing things. Or perhaps as a bit of a notebook, recording new thoughts and ideas before they get away, before I have the chance to play with them and flesh them out. I could capture images until I have time to explore why they struck me and what they mean. I frequently use the notes app in my phone for this but the planner has more “space” for movement, for expression. Not to mention sketching. I could carry it with me, keep it by my bedside.

Or I might even be able to use the planner as a sort of manuscript style sheet. For I’ve lots of things that need to be written, rewritten, or simply finished.

However I slice it, then, the planner invites me to plan.

And to write.

And there’s my word for 2019.

It’s something I already do, that already defines me, so it seems superfluous, but it’s the word, the action, that calls to me most. With the greatest sense of urgency, tinged with excitement.

—WRITE.

Here’s to your own unique adventure as the golden cover of 2019 opens.

Take it, live it, to the next level.

Treasures await.

And one of them is your story.

New

New

The new year sparks contemplation of the word new.  

So the year is new, but what else? Monday still follows Sunday, January still follows December. The days roll into each other without any notable variance. Today looks almost exactly like yesterday; it’s still winter, still below freezing, and my dogs still do not want to stay outside more than the necessary few minutes. The holidays are ending and work is resuming, as they always do. None of this is new.

As I sought to apply new to something today—since the usual and very regular passing of time really should not count—I got the mental image of the word new on a dictionary page. This led me to do something paradoxical: I moved a chair over to one of my bookcases, pulled down a heavy volume, blew off the dust (alas!), and snapped the above photo of the definition in The New Century Dictionary. 

I say paradoxical because that dictionary, despite its title, is hardly new. It was published in 1952. The original copyright is 1927.

The dictionary and the definition are old indeed. I know there are better, far more concise definitions of new in online dictionaries now.

Why, then, turn to something so old to examine the meaning of new?

Well, first of all, I needed an image for this post and that’s the one that came to mind.

And I love old books, old things in general. Any vintage artifact holds great appeal to me, mostly because of the invisible layers of story wrapped around it. I never tire of stories of long ago. I am endlessly fascinated by how people survived and how resourceful they were, often with so little.

In fact, resourceful was nearly my chosen word for 2018, because of this definition on Dictionary.com:

able to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations, difficulties, etc.

And this one, at LearnersDictionary.com:

able to deal well with new or difficult situations and to find solutions to problems.

Resourceful seemed well-suited to my role as educator, instructional coach, and for life as a whole, really.

Then I realized that the thing that stood out to me in both of these definitions of the worthy word resourceful, aside from its emphasis on excellent problem-solving, is that one word, new. Coping with new and difficult situations.

Suddenly resourceful, for all its allure, was overshadowed. Do you remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy explained the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West? “Please sir, we’ve done what you told us. We brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. We melted her!” To which the Wizard replies (one of my favorite lines): “Oh, you liquidated her, eh? Very resourceful!” But remember Dorothy’s intent: When she threw that bucket of water on the Witch she was saving the Scarecrow, who was on fire. She didn’t mean to melt the Witch, or even think Hmmm, what would happen if I doused the Witch with water?

Resourceful, yes—in saving the Scarecrow. Dorothy’s use of the water was intentional. It implies thinking and quick action to solve a problem. Resourceful in her mission of getting rid of the Witch? No. That was a stroke of amazing luck.

I really wanted to write this post about being resourceful for my fellow educators who often work with so little, in adverse situations, to encourage all of us to be more mindful, intentional, and creative with what we have to reach intended outcomes, when it occurred to me that something else is needed before any of this can happen.

Something different from anything preceding, something only lately or now seen,  encountered, experienced, or used for the first time . . .

Something new, in the face of the same old same old.

If you look back at the photo for this post, you’ll see the morning light spilling across the old dictionary page, illuminating the word new.

And that’s exactly what is needed. Not new things or resources themselves, but light. Seeing things, situations, people in a new light.

My wish for students is that they see their learning in a new light, with excitement, with inspiration. For that to occur, their teachers, my colleagues and I, must see our work with new excitement and inspiration, pushing past layers of compliance, of going through the motions, of saying We can’t, because . . . .

Think of variations of new: renew, anew. Newness is generated. It is created. It starts with really seeing, then taking a step, even just one, out of the comfort zone, to see what will happen, what might actually change. For the better.

Whoever you are, whatever you do, new starts within you and moves outward. One ray of light, one spark at a time . . . keep it up, and there’s no telling how far the light will travel, and how much more will become new. We can’t change people (ever tried?). We can’t always change situations. Some old things will remain, and sometimes that’s good, for every new thing that comes along isn’t. But we can have new perspective, new vision, new vigor, new approaches. All of these are within our own power. A true and valuable new is both possible and attainable, if we aspire to it. If we dare.

That is my prayer for this new year, that we make it truly new.

Rise

rise

Flight Envy. Pretty ParkinCC BY-SA

Above the negativity, the naysayers, to make room for the wondrous

Above the noise, to a place of productive peace

Above the superficial, the shallow, to the real, the valuable

Above the fleeting, to the lasting

Above constraints, to the creative.

Every day is new. Rise. Reach.

Believe.

Realize.

Repeat: Rise.

Reflect: Rise is a verb. It’s an action, a choice. How might YOU rise and step forward in newness?