A Way to Me

I don’t create poetry, I create myself, for me my poems are a way to me.

~Edith Södergran

 

I love this quote. It speaks volumes about why I write poetry. A way into myself. A pathway. Like Hansel and Gretel in the fairy tale following a trail of breadcrumb words as the path through the forest unconscious.

A fellow poet once told me that getting words down on paper for creative purposes is like taking dictation, and that one can simply write what one hears. In order to listen intensely, one must be silent. Close your eyes for a moment and you will realize sounds are clearer, easier to follow for a longer time. I am a very visual person so closing my eyes sharpens my other senses. The wind whispers in the spruce tree. Traffic on the highway is distant, and fades into the background. Snow melts and water gurgles down the drainpipe.

It is a real gift to focus solely on sound. Poems present themselves through the hearing sense as a short burst of insight or an interruption in energy and this highlights the correlation with an abstract, like a thought, a feeling, or an intuitive urge.

I tend to write in short phrases, part sentences, short spurts and couplets. In fact, I prefer that in prose too. Call them what you will, writing comes to me that way. Another reason to love poetry. To take dictation, one must listen to the voices within –  voices of the ego, voices of reason, but especially words of the heart and the voice of Soul.

A writing instructor once commented that one must give a nod to writing conventions in poetry. I rebelled at the thought. In poetry, twisting the language, disregarding proper capitalization, or messing with punctuation is all part of the fun. In the flow of a river, there is an eloquent movement forward, and so it is with poetry regardless of the wandering nature of the words.

Following is a poem from Shadow Girls in the Spotlight one of my poetry books. I’ve inserted it here to illustrate this “way to me” concept. In the book, it is accompanied by a Reflection, a Soul Message and a Question for Reflection, just the way it appears here..

 

orphan annie

snowflakes cling to her eyebrows
leaf skeletons to her ragged shoes

the inner orphan annie
cries outside the frosty window

she wanders in the winter twilight
peeks in at lighted kitchens

abandoned waif with tattered heart
she has no hearth fire of her own

she bickers with her disowned selves
trying on faces in the glass

unsettled ragamuffin, survivor of unmet needs
she digs for scraps of self-acceptance
in the rubble heap of loneliness

she’s begging for a bellyful
of warmth and kindness
and loving home for all.

Annie’s Role: The Lost One

Reflection: When I was a child outside at night, I felt curious about other people’s lives when I looked into their lighted windows. Like a voyeur peeking into their lives, I was fascinated by the comfort and warmth they seemed to have. In the years after I left home, these lighted windows reminded of the childhood home from which I was separated.

I used to feel lost, as if others had security, love, and safety and I did not. After writing this poem, I began to see Annie as my Inner Orphan, a Shadow Self who needed a safe place inside me. She wanted a home for all the personality parts I had left out in the cold.

Heart Wisdom: You have a loving home in your heart for all your lost parts. All are welcome in your home.

Your Turn:  Is your heart home safe? If not, what can you do to make it so?

Poetry is indeed “a way to me” and an exploration into my Shadow, and the masks that my Ego created to protect my Heart.

 

This blog is a reprint of an article published on my website on March 25, 2015 and has been edited from the earlier version.

Bouquet for a Friend

 

There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.

– Katharine Butler Hathaway

 

A few days ago, my husband and I had lunch with friends. Our conversation included chitchat about food, creativity, computers, weather and all manner of commonplace things. Afterwards, we shared lattes and more chat, about websites and the “work” we undertake, our processes and expression. I was happy to hear that others search for the purpose of their creative endeavours as much as I do. This kind of conversation lightens my heart and gives me hope. In the same way, after many years of creatively writing about life, I realize that my journal is also my friend and advisor because its pages also listen, without interruption or judgment, then help me formulate alternatives for moving forward.

As we drove home that day, ominous clouds raced along the horizon and autumn leaves chased each other across the highway, and as I watched them, I reflected on the pages and pages of unfinished writing projects waiting for me on my computer. They include keynote speeches, e-courses, workshops and three large writing projects in various stages of completion. What struck me was how, with a few words of encouragement from my friend, the spark of my enthusiasm for long neglected plans was fanned by cheerful words.

As I often do when a word pops into my mind during a conversation or in my thoughts, I search for it to learn its history and etymology. The word encourage, comes from a root word used the early 15th century, the Old French encoragier “make strong, hearten,” from en- “make, put in” + corage “courage, heart.” In short, my friend had given me a shot of courage!

Another word that comes to mind when I think of these friends and our lunch date is gratitude. That’s a blog for another day but suffice it to say, this word is older still, from Medieval Latin gratitude, and even earlier, Latin gratus, meaning thankful, pleasing. This is one of the attributes of my love affair with words. I can see the way a word travels through history. Courage and gratitude are timeless virtues that not only motivate our actions, but are also a consequence of them.

I offer you this bouquet of roses, my friend. I am feeling excited and motivated to move ahead. I really appreciate your love and encouragement.

When Will YOU Begin…?

 

Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning. – Joseph Campbell

 

Life will tell you when it is time. Life will call you to look for meaning. Many events can trigger this call. The best place to seek meaning is in your life story. You have been living your story for your whole life and your lived experience in the present moment will tell you when its time.

What sort of lived experience am I talking about?

  1. Look for meaning when chaos arrives in your life.

In 1998 when my daughter was in Grade 11, she began dating a boy. He was older, charming and exciting. One day, she announced she was leaving home. She quit school and moved into a small apartment with him. Life turned upside down! I had hopes and dreams for her, but they were not meant to be. Everyone in the family grieved the loss of her from our lives. Eventually, she got pregnant, they married in our back yard and my grandson was born shortly after.

  1. Look for meaning when your heart aches.

After my daughter left, my heart felt broken. Months later, it still hurt and I wanted to understand why. I needed a new perspective.

I began writing with other women: first about my parents, then my childhood, teenagehood, adulthood and present situation. I began to see how my story, my husband’s story, and our family sagas had converged in a perfect storm.

For the heart ache to heal, I needed to go back to the beginning to rediscover who I was then and now.

  1. Look for meaning when life feels pointless.

For a long time I ached to do something with the hurt of this loss.The story I told myself about my past as a transient military child made sense when I understood that my grieving of small and large losses was undeveloped. I learned that loss compounds if it is not released.But that was not the end of it. I learned that to be resilient, I had to open my heart and be present to my emotions right now. I needed to embrace what needed to be healed in me.

When I look back at this story with eyes of kindness, I realize how difficult this situation was for my daughter; perhaps even more than it was for me. She was so young and innocent. I remembered how difficult my life was when I left home too. I see the confidence and growth which has come from this struggle to be her own person. After all she has been through, I appreciate her strength. I, myself, grew in compassion, as I watched her break out of her cocoon and become a beautiful butterfly.

When you begin your journey into story, you too will see how events have meaning when viewed as a big picture.

Here’s how:

  • *Write the story of your life using stepping stones (events in which your life changed direction abruptly) as a guide. Simply listing these events is helpful. Stories can be as short as one page or as long as a book. Remember every event has a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • *Write a memoir beginning with a small slice of your life; focus on one time period, or even one event.  Use the prompt, “This period of my life is like…” Then try another slice. And another.
  • *Create a fairy tale, a fantastic but universal, symbolic tale that embodies what you’ve learned from your life. Resonate with others through the common lessons in our human story.
  • *Write a poem or a series of poems using imagery, metaphor and rhythm. Let it express your story idea in a metaphoric way.
  • *Write a letter to a grandchild sharing what you have learned about life so far.

Look beneath the facts and discover the deeper meaning of things. Look for patterns. Question everything. Ask what touches you? Who do you love? What movies make you cry? What books do you devour? How do you deal with anger and other strong emotions? What is your body telling you about what works and what doesn’t? Follow the clues. You are a whole being. Search your body, your mind, your heart, your soul.

I ask you again. When will you begin the search for meaning in your story? Is now the time?

Koffee with Kathie

“It is story that saves us. –

Sandra Benitez in A Place Where the Sea Remembers

 

The older I get, the more I wonder about my life legacy and the values I will leave behind one day. In recent months, when I am with older people, especially my old friends at the lodge, I am aware of time passing, how hours and days disappear. I notice the weeks and years flying by, and I feel my mortality.

I visit the Lodge once a month as a volunteer. In my Koffee with Kathie Reminiscence Group, the elderly residents bring me face-to-face with the fragility of life. I am privy to the joys and difficulties of growing old. Brain function diminishes, eyesight dims, thoughts lose clarity; bodies fail; friends die. Some of them are complainers who are dissatisfied with the food, the company at dinner, or simply with the weather. And then there are those who appreciate bread pudding with whipped cream for dessert, apartments with walk in tubs and housekeeping staff who make their beds each day. This group laughs and their eyes crinkle and their smiles reveal gaps where teeth should be. Moments of delight at the small things makes it all bearable. The twinkle in their eyes brings me happiness.

I’m convinced delight is the precursor to a long life. At my sessions, whether they are telling stories about women’s work like sewing or cooking, clothing fashions in 1935, gardening on the farm or favourite Christmas traditions, the conversation turns to childlike pleasure at memories from long ago.

I’m beginning to do this myself when I recollect events from my own past.

In a speech for my local Toastmasters group, I re-enacted an event from my life when I was a naive 12-year-old enamoured of a biology lesson on reproduction in fish! When I spoke about my coming of age, I could appreciate a childlike innocence so unlike the worldly view of life children now.

When I am with elderly people who are bitter and resentful, I wonder if it is because all their lives they have felt invisible and unheard. There are those who, at this late stage in life, still harbour ill feelings for their mothers or grieve brothers killed in World War II. How sad they are unable to savour the pleasure of bright flowers that decorate the tables, the dance music on Friday afternoons, and the entertainment the recreation staff bring them every day.

I believe we all desire a life in which we feel loved and at peace. If there a gift in memory loss, perhaps it is living in a facility where other residents become like family. Perhaps, it is the gift of story told in the moment that creates healing. Perhaps it really is story that saves us.

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.