Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Making Peace

Doc Banksy

My life has been crazy for the last few months – stolen car, travel for work, uncertainty about my future, constant anxiety over the sorry state of my finances – and I keep trying to be at peace about it all. I still seem to think I can will my mind into a peaceful state, which is, by definition, impossible to do. Shouting “Be at peace!” doesn’t do anything but make me even more aware of how much turmoil I feel. And the more rattled I am the harder it is to accomplish anything, which leaves me feeling even more anxious and upset. It’s a vicious cycle.

And then the other day I woke up in a state of peace. Nothing about my situation had changed since I went to bed the night before, I just suddenly felt ok about it. I wondered what could have happened to change my attitude so completely from one day to the next. After thinking about what had happened the day before, the only possible source of this new-found peace I could identify was that I had spent most of the day writing a story. That was it – I wrote a story. It’s a simple little story that I rushed through; when I re-read it yesterday I saw its many flaws. But as I was writing it the day just slid by.  Time seems to speed up when I’m engrossed in putting words on (digital) paper, and when I looked up, the afternoon had passed. I had to rush around to get supper ready before going out that evening, but I had such a sense of accomplishment. When I went to bed that night I fell asleep quickly (which almost never happens), and I woke up feeling like everything was going to be all right.

Of course, that little story I wrote probably won’t change my life in any tangible way – it isn’t going to make me famous or earn me lots of money (not in its current form, anyway). I had to conclude, then, that it was simply the act of writing that put me in that peaceful frame of mind.

Why would that be? I’m not sure, but I have a far-out theory, which is this: I believe that I get peaceful when I’m doing what I should be doing in my life.

It’s always been this way, and I’ve talked about it before now, but, you know, I can be a slow learner.

From the time I became self-aware enough to think these kinds of thoughts, I have paid attention to how I feel about the life decisions I make. Do I feel peaceful about what I’ve decided to do? If I don’t, the venture in question usually either doesn’t go anywhere or ends in tears. Often, too often, I ignore the voice in my heart that tells me that what I’ve just decided to do isn’t the right thing. It may not be wrong or bad, per se, but it’s not going to get me where I should be going. Where I want to go. Where the universe wants me to go.

So if this deep peacefulness I am still feeling is an indication of the “rightness” of writing, then I have to accept that writing is what I should do. Not only that, it’s what I need to do. Whether I’m any good or ever make any money at it is entirely beside the point. That’s where my peace is. I can’t “make” the peace; I can only discover it and join with it. It’s always there, waiting for me to get out of my own way.

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photo credit: Jeremy Brooks via photopin cc

 

 

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‘Tis Better to Give

Girl with present

A couple of weeks ago I got a package in the form of a padded envelope in the mail. The return address told me it was from one of my most enduring friends, someone who has been special to me for thirty years. I couldn’t imagine what she would be sending me, and I quickly opened it.

There was no letter inside, just a handful of greeting cards in individual envelopes. They were from different people, mutual friends from high school. Still not understanding what I was holding, I opened each one in turn.

The cards were about friendship and variations on the “hang in there” theme. All of them had hand written notes; my friends had sent words of encouragement and support, mostly surrounding the recent adventure of having my car stolen (and recovered).  And, as if that wasn’t enough, inside were gift cards in various amounts for gas stations, the grocery store, the movies, and even one for a spa.

I finally realized what had happened. My good friend had reached out to this circle to tell them I was struggling and to ask them to help however they could. Their response was to send me their love and concern, and a little financial aid. I was overwhelmed. As I opened each card and read the messages inside and found the gifts all I could do was cry. I don’t know that I have ever been more touched by anything than I was by receiving those cards.

As I stood in the kitchen sobbing in gratitude for these friends, a thought popped into my head. “What did I do to deserve these amazing people?” I couldn’t think of a single thing I had ever done to warrant this expression of love from this particular group of women, some of whom I have hardly spoken to in many years. A part of me couldn’t understand why they would do what they did for me. I didn’t feel worthy of their kindness.

Then one day not too long ago I was telling my mother about my feelings, and she said something profound (like she does).

“I’ve found that acts of kindness like that say more about the person giving that the one receiving,” was what she told me.

You’re right, Mom. Of course you are. My friends’ generosity and willingness to help doesn’t have all that much to do with me; I’m sure that they would do the same for anyone, if asked. That’s just who they are – kind, giving, and concerned for others.

My friends didn’t take the time to pick out a card and write those lovely notes and buy gift cards and send them because I’m so great. They did all that because they are. I don’t  deserve their kindness; I’ve done nothing to earn their generosity. I’m just lucky to know them.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of help over the course of my life, from family, friends, and total strangers. Sometimes I ask for it; other times it is just given. I have given help to others when I can. I find I’m much better at giving help than receiving it. Giving makes you feel good; receiving can be more difficult, especially if you have no immediate ability to reciprocate.

I don’t know why I find it so hard to gracefully accept a freely given gift, and why I sometimes refuse offers of help even when I need it. I see this in other people, too, this difficulty accepting that someone genuinely wants to do something nice for you. I struggle against my instinct to refuse an offer of help by putting myself in the giver’s place and acknowledging that by denying that person an opportunity to do something nice for me, I have denied them a moment of joy – and that’s a terrible thing to do.

There’s a lot of talk these days about who “deserves” to be helped. Apparently, you have to meet some impossible standard of moral purity and total desperation to be deemed worthy of your neighbor’s assistance. By that definition I am not worthy of any kindness; I am mostly self-absorbed and forgetful of others. I am deeply flawed and I fail constantly to be the kind of person I want to be. I have no right to expect that anyone not located in the close sphere of family would have a single thought to spare for me, much less go out of their way to show any concern for my wellbeing. That’s how I know my friends’ kindness is not about me. It can’t be.

So why do we constantly ask those who need our help to prove they “deserve” it? Instead, we should just help them. In the end it will say more about who we are than who they are. I think that’s a better way to look at it.

Wouldn’t you rather be kind than right?

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photo credit: tobias.fuchs via photopin cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poetry Schmoetry

Shelfie

This is a picture of the books I have right now on my desk; a “shelfie” you might call it. Most of them are books of poetry; you’ll find Sylvia Plath, Billy Collins and Seamus Heaney here. I also have the three most recent editions of the annual anthology “The Best American Poetry“, as well as the volume that came out last year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that publication. There are books by writers about writing – Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Steven Pressfield are evident. There is a book about memoir writing called “Handling the Truth“, which title I can’t read without picturing the actor Jack Nicholson, red faced and yelling.I keep my Elements of Style close to me. David Sedaris is here as well, in case I need a quick dip into whimsy. At the end are various notebooks where I scribble things I then forget I’ve written. I probably ought to look through them sometime.

I have read most of these books in their entirety at least once (except Sylvia Plath, whom I admire but good grief she’s a lot of work sometimes). I have found inspiration in them, and joy, and wistfulness, and hard truths. Mostly, I feel like there is never enough time to read everything I want to. I picked up Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” three weeks ago and have yet to crack the cover. I need to read William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, because really, how can I call myself a writer if I’ve never read Faulkner? And don’t get me started on all the poets I’ve never read! That list is impossibly long, and it seems to get longer all the time.

I keep all this poetry close to me because I believe that all good writing is inherently poetic. All writers struggle with describing the truth of something. In poetry, it is the truth of the emotion or event or observation. In fiction, it is the truth of the characters in the story. Memoirists try to capture the truth of their own life stories, at least as they see it.

I also keep the poetry close because almost every writer whose advice I’ve heard says that to write well, you have to have a sense of poetry. You don’t necessarily need to write it, but you do need to read it, and read extensively. I have come to love it, and to respect it, and to want to do it. But I’m frightened; the idea of writing poetry feels like jumping off of a cliff to me, but it’s the only way to find out if I can fly.

I wish I could explain the desire I feel for poetry. It’s like falling in love; I want to know it, to understand it, and for it to understand me. How can a poem understand me? Well, that’s the magic, isn’t it?

What poets or writers transport you?

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

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