Edit your life

The poet asked:
What is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The inner critic replies:
Things are what they are.
Can’t change much now.
Don’t even think about it.

The writer-soul contradicts:
What changes shall I make TODAY?
The possibilities
are exhilarating.


For, in the end,
one’s wild and precious life
is all about
craftsmanship

and
belief.

The cover of my daily planner

with gratitude for the late Mary Oliver and her poem, The Summer Day

Slices of life recycled

If the writer
observes the world
then the artist
recreates it
and the poet
preserves it all

Knowing yesterday was a milestone anniversary of my father’s death, a friend created this digital image as a gift. She took lines from one of my blog posts, Fresh-cut grass, written in his memory: Grass, though cut, always heals itself and grows again, and you are always present in that sweet scent. She used pictures in my posts to make the grass…here in these blades are slices of my first Christmas, the cross necklace my father gave me, a portion of his Air Force uniform, and a lamppost like the one that stood in the yard of my childhood home; my father used say that when he turned onto the street he could see the light of home shining straight ahead.

I’m in awe of the gift and its artistry.

A metaphor for life itself.

My father’s presence remains in the scent of fresh-cut grass. Here is Sunday’s poem, marking the twentieth year of his passing: September, When Grass Was Green.

*******

with thanks to E. Johnson for the digital masterpiece and to Two Writing Teachers for the original impetus to start a blog for capturing Slices of Life. I began by writing each Tuesday in April 2016, then every day each March, then for Spiritual Journeys on the first Thursday of each month, and on occasion for other writing communities like SOS— Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog…and every day thus far in the year 2022.

If you are reading…thank you.

We are our stories. Let us write them and live them well. And bring healing to one another.

Dear Writing poem

Shortly after NBA champion Kobe Bryant died, I watched his film, Dear Basketball, for the first time. I was profoundly moved by his passion for the game and by his gratitude for it. I composed a post afterward, Dear Writing. Today on Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Susan Ahlbrand invites us to write a letter to something we are passionate about, in poetic form.

Here is my first attempt at reworking my letter into an epistolary poem…

Dear Writing,

It is time to tell you
how much you mean to me
for it is more 
than ever before.

Let me begin
at the beginning
when you first materialized.
I was, what, about six years old? 
I wonder now whether I discovered you
or you discovered me
sitting there at the coffee table 
in the living room, 
wide-ruled paper in front of me,
a fat pencil in my hand. 
All I know is that it began with story. 
A pull 
a beckoning
a desire 
to get what was swirling inside me 
onto pages. 
By some great alchemy
my blocky letters
erratic spelling
rudimentary sentences 
ceased to be merely themselves; 
combined, they became something
distinctly Other. 
And there you were.
Almost a living, breathing presence. 

I didn’t know then
that you’d come to stay
that as I grew
you would grow with me. 
That you would, in fact, 
grow me, 
always pulling me to more.
To think more
explore more
discover more
strive more
play more. 
To be more.

Do you remember the diary
Grandma gave me for Christmas 
when I was ten or eleven? 
The front cover adorned
with an illustration of a little girl
trimmed in pink
complete with brass lock and tiny key. 
Do you remember this entry: 
I wrote a story and 
I hope it will be published…
whatever happened to that diary—? 
To that story? 
They’re lost in time. 
No matter. 
I can see that page in my mind to this day
—is it you that keeps this memory alive?

People began to notice our relationship
early on, didn’t they.
Teachers said we were a good thing
and offered tips 
on how we could be stronger. 
Friends and family told me 
to stick with you: 
Please keep writing. 
I owe them all 
for how they shaped
you and me.

Where would I have been without you 
in my teenage years? 
In the early days 
of my marriage? 
Those were the poetry years
the journal years
when you let me glimpse 
the beautiful inside the uncertain
when you compelled me 
to pour out my heart. 
You were bigger than 
my anguish
my anger
my fear. 
You channeled it all, 
absorbed it all. 
Ever how circuitous the path
how violent the storm
how steep the mountain
how dark the night
how deep the pain
you were there
leading me 
to safety
to calm. 

Even now, I reach for you
and you are there. 
Like the ocean
you bring forth 
unexpected treasures
and healing. 
When my emotions 
and energy are spent
washed clean away, 
you reveal over and over 
one thing 
that always remains: 
Hope.

For there’s always more 
to the story
to the ones that I create
to the ones that I live. 
I think that’s perhaps 
the most important lesson 
you’ve taught me: 
This chapter of life is ending.
A new one is about to begin. 
Embrace it. 
This is but one
of your extraordinary powers. 

Then there is
your amazing ability 
to mine my memory…

With you I am any age I ever was. 
I sit on my grandfather’s lap once more. 
He walks with me, holds my hand. 
I hear his voice. 
I am in Grandma’s kitchen
while steam fogs the windows
I am in her arms 
as she rocks me and sings: 
Jesus loves me, this I know
I see my father’s blue eyes
I hear my mother’s laughter 
and the whir of her sewing machine 
late into the night. 
With you my children are still little
my husband is young
black-haired
healthy
whole
and out on the court 
shooting hoops. 
And every dog I ever loved 
comes bounding back to me 
in absolute joy
all my shortcomings
forgiven.

With you, I relive it all. 
The parts I am proud of 
and the parts I’m not
the moments I cherish 
and the ones I survived. 
With you, they all become 
a celebration
of living,
of learning.

I learned long ago 
that I can harness your power 
to attack 
but you showed me 
that this doesn’t bring me peace.
You taught me, instead, 
to defend. 
Not as a warrior 
with drawn sword
but as a careful guardian
of my own mind and heart. 
Not by destroying
but by edifying. 
You enable me to walk 
in another’s shoes 
and see through another’s eyes
to understand that fighting 
doesn’t move the hearts of others
but story does. 

There’s something
of the divine about you.
Marvel of marvels
how a spark 
in the human brain 
becomes a thought 
and a thought
becomes substance 
because of you. 
Like something from nothing. 
Ex nihilo. 
It’s how God created, 
speaking the world into existence. 
With words. 
Without limits.
Anything is possible.
Believe. 

I believe there’s a sacredness 
behind the human spirit’s desperate craving 
to create
to express
to be heard…

which brings me back 
to six years old
at the table
pencil in my hand.

You will outlive me. 
You are my record.
You are what I leave behind.

Let it be the best of me.

Know that you’re an inextricable part
of who I am, 
one of my life’s greatest gifts. 
Meant to be given. 

And so I give you away.

I am grateful beyond words.

I love you.
Fran

One of my many writing notebooks

Try

inspired by Ruth Ayres on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
Ruth quotes Elon Musk:
“If something is important enough, you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure.

Begs the question: What is ‘failure’? Who gets the final say? Surely not the inner critic…

I shall try…

to believe, during the darkest night
to seek the infinite ribbons of light

to love more, to judge less
to concentrate on words that bless

to remember my job is a livelihood, not my life
to free myself of unnecessary strife

to not crumble under self-defined defeat
to keep trying, and trying, again to complete

daily acts of grace, others and self forgiving,
thereby seizing the joy of living

trusting the sense of second sight
urging me always to write, to write.





Digging for awe: Golden shovel poems

I recently wrote a post for the CCIRA Professional Development Blog on the sometimes spirit-crushing work of literacy education. I will not list all of the contributing factors here; I will just say that there are many, especially during this long year of COVID-19. Prior to to writing the post, when asked what teachers are facing in regard to literacy and what is most needed, I responded: “A great lot of pressure at present. We have to able to relax some and find joy in our work.”

As I wrote, and as is usually the case, the path became clearer: Make room for awe.

That is my guiding “one little word” (OLW) for the year, see. And maybe for the rest of my life…

Yesterday I spoke with a colleague who will continue teaching virtually until the year ends in June, for students whose parents have chosen this option. She spoke of awe in regard to the Google Classroom chat feature: “So many more kids share their thoughts this way, more I’ve ever seen in person. I’m in awe of how much they have to say and how they encourage each other. We use the chat all the time now.”

This means students are writing more, which makes my heart sing. If ever there is a conduit for awe, it is writing.

Example: Have you noticed how many people—many students—have suddenly been enraptured by poetry after hearing Amanda Gorman? Who credits her childhood teachers and her school for valuing this kind of expressive, artistic, move-the-mountains writing?

I’ve been lamenting the loss of meaningful writing in elementary schools in my corner of the world, just when it it’s most needed—the writing workshop model having fallen out of favor in the last few years for an embedded, formulaic approach around a topic at a time. That is another whole story; suffice it to say that I am in awe of teachers and students finding their way back to writing that matters.

All of which brings me to Golden Shovel poems. It’s a form I’ve been playing with for about a year. It holds great appeal on a number of levels, practical, creative, metaphorical…the idea of mining for the nuggets of gold, the diamonds that lie within, often so unexpected, yet so important.

A teacher might give the Golden Shovel to students to dig something more out of whatever books they’re reading, songs they’re singing, famous speeches they’re studying, even a line a classmate has written—anything, really. Not necessarily as a response to the work itself, but latching onto any line that strikes them with its beauty, or pierces their hearts with its poignance, or stirs their souls with its power, to create something new and personally meaningful from it. Make room for awe…

Try digging with the Golden Shovel yourself. Take a line from a poem or a favorite book, speech, or song that has special appeal to you and transform it into something of your own. Each word in that line becomes the ending word of a line of your own poem (or the beginning word, if you prefer). Your poem may reflect an aspect from the original work. It may not. A Golden Shovel poem can mean whatever you wish; it’s just inspired by the line you use to create it.

I chose this line from Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb”: Even as we grieved, we grew.

Days roll on, even to odd, odd to even,

tossed dice, never quite landing, as

we wonder how that’s possible. Don’t we.

In the spinning we still loved as we grieved

and we’ll go on, won’t we, 

even as we did when odds against us grew.

And this one, from the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May: We do not fade so easily from this life.

Now, who are we

and what should we do,

here where the sun shines not

and Earth’s colors fade.

Even so

consider how easily

we glide from

that room to this,

enduring, rather than living, life

And so I pass the Golden Shovel.

Here’s to the awe of your own discoveries.

Happy digging.

Photo: Golden shovels. Alachua County. CC-BY

*******

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.

Writing

With special thanks to Dr. Kim Johnson who hosted Ethical ELA’s Open Write last week with the invitation to compose “Your Life’s Table of Contents” poems. There is no formula, just lots of freedom; Kim said: “I started thinking about how I might write a table of contents organizing the poems I have written over these past few years, in verse…Imagine you are creating a collection of your own work, and try your hand at an organizing poem to be a table of contents or any other feature of a book.

My poem is based on a timeline of my writing history, starting at age 6.

My Life’s Writing Anthology

Bible story plagiarized
in blocky big letters
on lined newsprint paper

All About Me
carefully rendered detail
teacher-praised

Myth of Shoeani
on the origin
of shoes

Dr. Heartbeat, Dr. Heartbeat
a play composed
around four words
heart
lion
clock
—I forget the fourth

The Poetry Years
of rainbows
friendships
love
loss
even a baby dragon
rhythms of my soul
attempting to understand
itself

A short story
a mystery
a secret
a little girl
kept safe

All-nighter
research paper
on the function of 
King Claudius
in Hamlet
—still tied two of my best friends
for the highest marks in class

Oral tradition
of grandparents
put to paper
for the first time

Novel ideas
captured in notebooks
beginning to live
even if 
they haven’t breathed
in a while

Critical research
on children’s fantasy lit
taking the last of my strength
and the humanities prize

Short stories
hammered out
within word counts
for competitions

Mentor texts
for students
and teachers
learning how to write
and to love
memoir
essay
story
fantasy
poetry

The blog:
the archive
the scrapbook
of my writing life
my love letter
to words
and the world

*******

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 23, I am writing around a word beginning with letter w. How could it NOT be “writing”?

Snowball

Is there a childhood toy that stands out in your memory? For me, that’s Snowball.

He’s one of my first experiences with loss.

*******

Kindergarten. Show-and-Tell. It is my favorite part of the day and today I am especially excited: I’ve brought Snowball, my toy dog. He sleeps with me every night, he eats with me, he does everything with me except take a bath, because Mama says that will ruin him.

This is Snowball, I tell my friends, sitting in a circle on the rug for Show-and-Tell.

I hold him up.

Oooooos and aaaahhhhs, because Snowball is so beautiful. His yellow ears and tail are made of ‘real’ fur. One ear has a little bit of ketchup on it from falling into my plate while I was eating fries. His stuffed body is woolly white, which is why I’ve named him Snowball.

I tell my friends: I saw him on a shelf at the store and Grandma bought him.

They all want to hold him and stroke his silky ears.

When recess comes, I decide to take Snowball out to the playground.

We have a really tall sliding board on our playground. It’s red and silver, not so shiny.

We take turns. I hand Snowball to a friend and climb, climb, climb to the top of the slide. Whoosh! It’s almost too fast, but SO fun. I make sure to hold my feet high for sailing over the mud puddle at the bottom, that worn-out place made by many, many feet landing there.

An idea: Snowball should have a turn.

Hey, Snowball wants to slide! I say.

My friends hop up and down. Let him slide! Let him slide!

Susan E. is standing beside me. When I climb up and I let him go, you catch him for me, I tell her.

I will! says Susan E. She moves toward the bottom of the slide.

I walk around to the tall, tall ladder. You will LOVE this! I tell Snowball. I give him a squeeze.

I climb, climb, climb, hanging onto the rail with one hand, onto Snowball with the other.

At the landing, I call down to Susan E.:

Are you ready?

Yes! She leans over the puddle with her hands held out.

I’m gonna count to three and let him go!

Okay! Susan E. shouts up.

One

two

three…

here he comes!

I release him.

Snowball slides so fast, so much faster than me…bumpity-bump…

Susan! calls a friend from the sandbox.

Susan E. turns her head.

—Susan! I cry from the top of the slide.

But it’s too late.

NOOOOOO!

With a soft splash, Snowball lands in the mud puddle.

—SNOWBALL! I slide down like a crazy person, scrambling, clawing…

Susan E. stands there, frozen. Then I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

I lift Snowball out of the puddle. He’s soaked through. His woolly white body is gray-brown; dirty water drips from his beautiful silky ears. They’re flat against his head, silky no more.

Sobbing, I carry him back to the classroom. I wrap and wrap him in paper towels. I cry the whole walk home after school.

Mama, I think. Mama will fix him.

When I get home, I pull the wet paper towels off to show her Snowball’s mushy, muddy body.

Honey, I can’t fix him, she says. He is ruined.

ruined

ruined

ruined

—Can’t you just put him in the washer and dryer? I am crying so hard that I can hardly speak.

It is my fault.

my fault

my fault

She shakes her head. He’s not meant to be washed that way. He’d probably come apart.

She says we have to throw him away.

I beg, I cry, but Mama says there isn’t any choice. It has to be done.

I wrap Snowball back in the muddy paper towels. I hold him close one last time, shaking with terribleness. I am sorry, Snowball. I am so sorry. I will always love you.

I lay him in the trashcan.

I cry in my bed all night long. Snowball is not there, will never be there again, to comfort me.

*******

Is it childish that, five decades later, writing the memory, I still cry...

I once drew him for students during writing workshop, when they asked if I had a picture. Even the ketchup on his ear.

*******

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 19, I am writing around a word beginning with letter s.

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.

What’s in a word

Perhaps you have taken part in the “one little word” tradition for the New Year as a means of living more intentionally and reflectively, maybe letting it guide your writing. At the beginning of 2020, I had a word in mind for the year.

Reclamation.

Here’s what I wrote, ten weeks before COVID-19 shut us down:

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.

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.

At the end of 2020, I have to reflect on what my original vision of reclamation was, and what it became.

Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control. At the time, those words were mirroring 2019, when my husband was recovering from cardiac arrest and two heart surgeries. We spent weeks at the hospital in late summer. I never imagined the pandemic lying just ahead…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Caring for my husband took precedence over returning to work when school resumed that fall. When I did return, I fought a daily battle to catch up, to hit any kind of stride, as 2020 dawned. In February I broke my foot. In mid-March, the governor closed our schools due to COVID. In May, George Floyd was killed. America erupted. COVID continued erupting across the world. The election…really, one runs out of words. Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to to what you can, what’s most important, for that given day.

Reclamation, I wrote, involves choices. Both large and small. Every day.

One of my original intents for the year resembled a true environmental reclamation project: repairs and improvements around the house. Did I succeed? As I was home a lot more than ever before, thanks to the pandemic, yes, I accomplished a good bit. There’s just always more to do. One thing (don’t we know) often leads to another.

In 2020 I meant to write more. Did I? Most definitely. It wasn’t the type of writing I envisioned. I thought I would finally complete some things I started in years past. My blog post productivity increased. I ended up writing a lot more poetry than I have in decades. What does that say about the power of poetry in coping with powerlessness, inertia, darkness, even despair? Psychologists avow its therapeutic benefits. Poetry-writing invokes calmness, healing, strength. It calls to the spirit in a unique way. There’s something about the rhythms and breaks, something in the metaphor and imagery, in the cadence, the musicality, that soothes the soul and brings release. Not to mention the good old-fashioned value of hard work in trying to hammer a thing out, especially if there’s a desire to create something beautiful, meaningful.

Perhaps the most interesting take I had on “reclamation” in January 2020 had to do with teaching—before the scramble of completely reinventing it:

I write this 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.

—I bolded the part I find most haunting, in retrospect. When I wrote those words I had no clue that children would be learning from home for months, that families would be scrambling to manage it, that devices and hotspots would have to be distributed on a massive scale, that people would lose jobs and loved ones to COVID, that food insecurity would become so widespread, that crisis and survival would keep some students from their learning, let alone a love of it.

What remains true, more so than ever, is that data can’t capture it all. We do need to know families and their stories. We need to know each other’s. From what else are compassion and empathy born? How else will we move forward, together? Reclamation in this sense involves pushing away whatever encroaches and consumes. It involves building something new, taking back what is being lost, reasserting rights…I am thinking of teachers now as much as of students, submerged by systems, structures, checklists, machinery. Of reclaiming a sense of humanity from processes, protocols, and programming which are, in the end punitive. When, if not now? Was a time ever “riper”? I wrote: It’s hard daily work, reclamation. Progress is slow to see for a time. The point being, start.

I also wrote: We reclaim the very heart of our humanity when we share our stories.

I have never been more grateful for the outlet of writing and the writing communities that feel like home to me. Writing taps an inner strength we may not realize is there; sharing the stories knits us to one another by our heartstrings. In a time of distance, isolation, stress and anxiety, with spiking mental health issues, connection is ever more vital. Therapists say that one of the best things a person can do to reduce stress is to write or journal (writing therapy and poetry therapy are real things). In the action of framing thoughts, or facing fears, we collect emotional resources, resilience, and creativity lying dormant or hidden as we wormhole our way through. One more line from my pre-COVID January 2020 vision of reclamation: In this day of restorative practices and social-emotional wellness, why are people not writing more? Here’s a point to ponder: a study by the National Literacy Trust in the UK (June 2020) says that children are turning to imaginative writing more than ever as an outlet for self-expression, creativity, and well-being, now that they have time and freedom to do so…

Life is, after all, writing us. In the words of Albert S. Rossi, clinical psychologist and Christian educator, which I’ve read before and rediscovered this week: We don’t live life. Life lives us.

As the page turns from 2020 to 2021, we’ll see where life leads. It may be in charge of the story, but we are in charge of the craftsmanship.

On that note, I am thinking twice about choosing a word for the new year. Maybe I’ll just see what it wants to say for itself.

In the meantime, resting more, reading more, singing more, praying more absolutely helps. Seek more help when needed. Be more gentle with yourself (a lesson I am still trying to learn).

Keep on writing alongside life.

*******

with a debt of gratitude to Two Writing Teachers and the ongoing Slice of Life Story Challenge which is, above all, a joy

and to the gathering at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, a divining rod of inspiration

Of stifling, stories, and stars

What stifles you?

This question appeared today on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.

The first thing the word stifle conjures for me is heat—stifling southern summer afternoons, air turning to bathwater.

Hard to breathe.

Which makes me think of COVID-19.

And masks.

It’s hard to breathe with a mask, if you have to expend much energy, if you have to talk very much… I know, because I wear one when I’m out and about.

In thinking of masks, I come to another layer…

Filters.

There to help protect. To keep harmful stuff out.

Or in. Depending.

Masks may be somewhat stifling.

Filters aren’t stifling at all.

It’s the lack of filters I find stifling, out there in the daily atmosphere, the zeitgeist of our times. Words of fire, of ash, of acid rain, meant to destroy…when their creative power could be harnessed instead to edify, to transform, to transcend. To honor. To heal. The poets know it…

I can only be vigilant with my own filtering. With what I let into my own mind, heart, and soul. With what I let flow in return… recognizing that

Fear stifles creativity
Inner critics stifle courage
Loudness stifles contemplation
Turmoil stifles contentment
Excuses stifle commitment
Regret stifles today—and tomorrow

—I’d like to continue the acrostic with a sort of reversal using each letter of “stifle” and “filters” on every line but I am tired now. Tiredness stifles the brain.

Humanity is stifling. As in, one’s own. Today an education colleague and I joked that we were done with Earth, having had enough of not-knowing, of virtual realities of teaching, of the inability to move forward with life in general and the tolls taken on us all in so many ways. We kidded about going to live on the Space Station. Even now, recalling, I am “slipping the surly bonds of Earth,” as WWII fighter-pilot-poet John Gillespie Magee wrote, to circumnavigate our planet every ninety-two minutes, seeing fifteen sunrises and sunsets in one day, like the astronauts do. To be among the stars…

Which evokes another favorite quote, this one from Muriel Rukeyser:

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

And so I slip away from the cosmos, down through our protective atmosphere, back to my own country, to my home, my family, my little spot carved out here in the kitchen, to the waiting keyboard, feeling again the heaviness of humanity.

For us all.

For our very atoms, for the stories we live and breathe.

I reach for the words and it’s a little like reaching for the stars. Not those beyond but their remnants within; as scientists say, we humans are made of stardust.

Well then.

Seems we should be about filtering light.

I’ve enjoyed the open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join.