The Word Lover’s Tale

 

Once upon a time an aging Word Lover presented a workshop at a Seniors’ Conference. She had never attempted a Personalize Your Greeting Cards talk but she thought seniors would enjoy creating messages for handwritten cards. So she gathered together a wealth of card writing advice, reviewed and edited, reduced and tightened pages of material.

After a Welcome address from dignitaries, the Keynote Speaker encouraged the assembled audience to smile and laugh, and skillfully related amusing stories from her life. The Word Lover chuckled at the presenter’s clever jokes, word plays and tales of embarrassing moments to poke fun at herself.

At the breakout session following the fun, eight elderly ladies gathered around a conference table looking toward the Word Lover expectantly. She had set out two blank notecards at each place, all with stunning nature photographs on the front and plenty of room inside for writing from the heart. She also provided a one-page list of Personal Values, and a second list with names and descriptions of positive emotions. She had carefully prepared a handout with wording for use in greeting cards for all occasions, including: Thank You and Gratitude cards; Birthday, Anniversary and Wedding celebrations; expressions of Sympathy; and Encouragement to brighten someone’s day.

The Word Lover began with an introduction explaining the purpose of the workshop, and asked the participants to bring to mind a person to whom they could send a card. No one responded. Too early for contributions the Word Lover thought, feeling unsettled and unsure how move to forward.

She said to herself, “I should have been prepared for this.” And she looked around the table at their blank faces and smiled to encourage them. The quiet in the room seemed very loud.

“Onward,” she said to herself, “don’t panic. Next, she shared her “communication recipe.” When I…(see, touch, hear, taste, smell), I feel (happy, proud, sad) because…(values important to the writer).”

The Word Lover noticed a nod or two, and became aware of rustling papers and shifting in chairs. “I haven’t engaged with them.” She admonished herself. “I’ve given them too much information. Haven’t given them a chance to speak. Too much talk. Arrgh!”

Just then, she remembered the greeting cards and decided to use them as a prompt. “What images touch you in the cards you have been given?”

It was as if someone had yelled, “Bingo!”

She began to listen to the chatting between the participants. “I don’t like tumultuous waves because I can’t swim. I would rather see calm reflections in the water. This image is too dark. Oh, what’s that in the background? Pussy willows? I love the pink in the flowers. Oh, look a buffalo!

The Word Lover’s mood perked up. Great! They’re participating. She then asked, “What do the images mean to you?” And chattering began. Tales from the farm. A holiday to the west coast. A story about the mountains on horseback. She acknowledged descriptive events: tamed wild creatures and their return to nature; losing a friend when she moved; maintaining independence; illness; grieving.

The Word Lover brought the conversation back to the cards. “What would you say to some who is ill if you compared their experience to the scene on the cards? To a friend who is misunderstood? To a grieving family member for encouragement? How are they like mountains, rivers, calm lakes?”

Then she mentioned memory gifts from the body: the smell new babies; the softness of fur, the taste of raspberries. The urgency of story engenders more and more conversation until it becomes difficult to interrupt. She has noticed this tendency of hers to hesitate, to allow the participants to talk even when time is running short.

The end of the session catches the Word Lover by surprise. Time has disappeared. The ladies gather up their papers and cards, and trickle out of the room. One woman has already completed an encouragement message inside a card with a photo of a winding road on the front. When she insists the Word Lover read the tiny cramped script, the Word Lover pats her arm and tells her the sentiment is beautiful. This woman understands the symbolism of the road as a life journey. The image stimulates sentiment and provides the word connection to another.

The last lady leaving the room pauses at the door for a moment and says, “I really enjoyed this session. It gives me something to think about.” The Word Lover smiles with her lips and in her heart.

Meet Judge Judy

 

On Tuesday, I drove to a retreat centre not far from my home city. I’d been planning sanctuary time for myself to simply stare out the window and listen to the quiet. I arrived just after 10 o’clock in the morning feeling rushed from preparing food for my family to eat in my absence and meals to bring with me. I’d spent the evening before packing clothes and books.

After arrival, it was walk time. I kicked through the autumn leaves collecting on the sidewalk, and remembered how much my Inner Child loves the fall. The cool wind invigorated me. Back inside, I found my little room at the end of a long hallway. I closed the door, unpacked, and settled into an armchair with my unopened journal in my lap. I sat for the long time in a blue rocker watching two gulls sailing on the wind above the trees outside the window.

In recent weeks, I’d been pushing myself to get my new website up, running, and with the help of a fabulous web designer, work out all the wrinkles. Now I wanted to compose something positive to send out into the world in my new blog. I wanted the piece to be simple and direct, something to affirm goodness and love. I wanted something to inspire my new readers.

When I opened my journal, a folded paper fluttered to the floor. After packing up my writing bag, I’d tucked it between the pages and forgotten about it. I had written, “Why do I get so caught up in judging my own writing?”

The whole point of the blog is to talk about writing to grow, the site theme. As I sat in the silence I wondered about the link between my self-judgment and my learning. Maybe a dialogue with judgment could help me. I’d used this writing technique before to connect with different parts of my personality. Not surprisingly, a conversation with one of my Shadow Girls began almost instantly.

These characters come to me with names to match their identities. I wrote a book about them, imagining their roles and purpose in my life. In our talks, I’ve learned some interesting things about myself. Their voices speak truths, when I read between the lines, and they hold opportunities for me to stretch and grow.

Today in the silence of my nun’s cell, I could hear one of  Inner Selves, Judge Judy, tapping on the window. She looks like one of the magpies I saw on my walk, dressed officially in her black and white robes and powdered wig. She whispers, “Tell the truth and nothing but the truth!” “The truth will set you free.”

On the page, Judge Judy asked me, “What have you got to say in your defense? What are your arguments and excuses?” She’s waiting for the right moment to leap to the Prosecution side and ask pointed questions. I have to admit, I’m a bit scared of her tactics. “You’re not a real writer. Your writing has no depth. You’re too serious. No doubt about it, your subjects are just too personal. You’re really going to write about that!? Are you really going to put that out there for the world to see? What’s going to happen when you hang out your dirty laundry?” And then the kicker, “Your writing is just too dark!”

I try using logic. What’s so awful about admitting I’m a judger? I’m not an ax murderer or a bank robber. Everybody makes judgments about one thing or another. Society does it. Politicians do it.

And she says, “You do it! In spades! You’re a self-judger of the worst kind.” That feels awful, like a punch in the stomach. “Stop it!” I write.

Judge Judy bangs her gavel down. “Quiet in the courtroom!”

Now I’m feeling ashamed, inadequate as a person and as a writer. And I feel a headache coming on. I’m feel like I want to run away and hide.

I turn my attention from my insufficiencies and decide to look deeper for some saving grace. Maybe I can find a shred of compassion for my unskilled reaction to her accusations. After all, this is a blog, not a court room.

Then I address myself, “You want to write a blog to connect to people? Right? You sure you want to share what you’ve learned from writing?

“Well, yeah. I guess so.” I’m not so sure anymore.

Judge Judy sums it all up, “You want to write about blame and judgment in a blog? Then you need a more loving response. You know, ask the mercy of the court.”

“Yes,” I say meekly, “In my heart, I’m a good person! I do have a light side, a kind side. And I want to be free from judgment.” And she says, “Then don’t run away. Turn toward the fear of exposing your vulnerabilities. Surrender.”

Judy likes to have the last word, and she says, rather kindly, “Find a little courage to overcome your fear. You’ve done it before. Be grateful for the creativity you use to expose your own masks and frailties. Others need reprieve too, especially when they feel alone in their own self-judgment.”

I look up from my journal and catch a glimpse of a seagull soaring on the wind outside. I turn back to the Judge on the page, “That’s a truth of mine, you know. To be with others when they feel alone.” But she’s gone and its okay. I’ve invited my truth into the room; that’s enough for me.

I close my eyes. Listen to the silence. I feel better now. Freer to listen to my heart and more open to what touches me.

Talk to the Animals

Photo by Leah Sutherland Used with Permission

“Dogs don’t rationalize. They don’t hold anything against a person. They don’t see the outside of a human but the inside of a human.”
Cesar Millan (dog trainer)

 

I would love to know what goes on in the mind of pets. I’m convinced humans and pets are not so different. When we talk to our animals, they hear our tone as much or more than our words. As a human being, I can relate.

My daughter’s dog, Jax is a great communicator. He responds to her voice with full attention, and the giveaway is his “head tilt.” His warm brown eyes express such love and devotion. Sure, he communicates with me and my husband, but with her, he listens with his whole body. He loves cuddles and thinks he’s a lap dog even though he weighs 100 pounds.

Jax’s vocabulary is extensive, and although he has a 30 second delay responding to a command, he’s a quick learner; a doggy obedience trainer might say he needs a more firm hand and I won’t disagree. I’m not a dog trainer by any means and discipline has never been one of my strong traits. However, the way he reacts to words like cheese, walk, outside, do you wanna go…, car, vet, cookie, treat, dog park, ball, all done, rope, toy, and harness is endearing. When he plays, phrases like gonna git you, gimme that ball and find it make his tail twirl like a helicopter.  He will even converse with whines and yips. The more we reinforce with routine action, the better it gets. To me, that is amazing.

Because I’m a natural chatterbox, I often talk to Jax in full sentences especially when he’s hanging around the kitchen being a mooch. I love his company. He will station himself on the rug at the kitchen door and stay there until I invite him in. Those doggy trainers might say this is a bad habit, but  isn’t sharing food and conversation something we all enjoy!?

When my daughter goes off to school or work, he pines for her. With his head resting on the back of the armchair, he stares longingly out the window waiting for her return. I talk to him then, convinced that how I reflect his sadness back to him and reassure him, has a soothing effect. Maybe I’m imagining that, but who knows, a little reassurance never hurts.

Dogs and cats respond to our love and respect in the same way as other members of the family. Choosing gentle words when we speak to them creates a calm atmosphere.

The other day at the dog park I listened to others talking to their pets. I feel sad for pups when their owners yell or use sharp voices. Dogs may not understand the shaming language they use but I’m sure they do get the message through tone and facial expression. Pets aren’t able to talk back or question their owners but their body language says so much: tail tucked between legs, cowering or running away. These animals don’t deserve this disrespect. I’d bet that the inner talk these people use to speak to themselves is a mirror to their language with their pets.

We can learn a lot about ourselves by turning inward with the mirror of our doggie talk. What are you saying to your dog?

Choosing the Right Word

 

 “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
― Socrates

 

Welcome! I’m so excited to share this first blog on my newly renovated website. I just love the warm colours and the graphics. I am feeling so grateful to my friend, Ginette, who gracefully and patiently worked with me to create this beautiful blogspace. Despite my indecision and scattered mind, she helped me build what I once thought impossible.

Reflecting on the purpose of the site, writing a Home page and Biography was a real growing experience for me because it helped me focus on what is really important in my writing. Without a doubt, it’s the words themselves. I love the connotation of words, the nuances of their meaning, the “halos” around them, their history and origins, their subtle and not-so-subtle sounds and their relationship to ideas. It’s a big challenge to find the “right” word to convey an thought or feeling. New ideas require new word choices so if I’ve never expressed my experience before, I am not only choosing new words but also a new language.

During the process of website creation, I began pushing myself to complete things in record time, and my friend asked me “What’s the hurry?” I kept hounding myself to master the blog-o-sphere, understand HTML, choose tags, write a synopsis for each of my books and recover text I deleted by mistake. After a few days of this, my brain felt a little mushy. My friend says she admires my determination, but I wonder. Is it really that? It could also be stubbornness, perseverance, or maybe even resolve? Or how about grit? Willpower? Finally, I decided on obsession. Or is it mania? I was still not sure of the word to describe the driven-ness.

Eventually I had to admit that the problem with pressing on comes from my Pusher. Her name Paula and she sneaks up on me sometimes. The best way to identify her presence is to hear what she says, which is usually what I should do, what I need to accomplish, haven’t you finished it yet? And she wants it done now! She’s a hurry-up kind of person. Sometimes it takes me a while to spot her when she’s at work in my life. Its usually when I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

So today, when the website is nearing launch, I hear her telling me I’m never going to get it right. That did it. I put my foot down. “Paula,” I said, “Look, can’t you just relax? I’m doing okay. It’s looking really good. I write for my own pleasure and understanding not to make it to the Best Seller list. So just take a hike! I’m going to take a break.” And I did. I sat on the deck with my husband and felt the softness of the last autumn breeze on my face. I could smell the sharp bite crab apples as they lay in the grass decaying. Yellow leaves floated down from a clear blue sky.

It totally took the pressure off. “Check off just one thing at a time.” I told myself. “Paula? You get it? One thing at a time. One. Thing. Not 4 or 14 or 24. Just one.

You see how that all went down? Identify the word choices. Discard ones that don’t fit. Get honest about the source. And listen for a solution too. It works if I pay attention.

Now I’m back to gratitude for the new website. And this is the blog that I wasn’t sure if I could write.

Feel free to explore. Send me your thoughts and sign up for my blog posts.