When Worlds Collide

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We all do it. We create a bubble of sorts. Something familiar. Something comfortable. Something that looks like us. And we live in it.

We don’t go outside that bubble unless we have to. And we have strong reactions when someone tries to break through our fragile layer of familiarity. 

I think we see evidence of this on the daily from people who so vehemently reject others and their opinions without truly trying to understand their intentions or their background. 

It’s so much easier to just skim what we want to believe about others off the surface and never delve deeper into what actually matters, like their humanity.

It takes some practice, and some patience, and some willingness to step outside that carefully designed bubble, if we are ever to grow as human beings. But that’s the problem. A lot of people don’t want to grow. They just want to eliminate any need for discomfort in their thinking.

People can be brought together by a common enemy, or a common good. The key word, there, is common. Mutual. Similar. Shared.

We do not have to agree on all things. We do not even have to agree on many things. But, if (1) the people in the bubbles would look for those commonalities instead of their differences, and (2) resist exhausting their energy pointing out why the other is supposedly wrong, when worlds collided, it would make for beautiful results. 

There is nothing more moving than a heart that has been changed. And, despite all the negativity around us, and the vitriol that consumes the interwebs, and the mistaken concept that people never change – people can. And do. 

Our hearts are pliable, our minds flexible, capable of shifting and acceptance and understanding. The potential is there. But most people only embrace that if they have to. 

I do not pretend to not have my own bubble. My own prejudices. My own wishes for people to conform to my ideas of right. Sometimes my “right” is wrong. And sometimes my “right” is right – but it takes some significant event for others to understand it and come around. 

When that happens, sometimes the impulse is very selfish, and strong, within me to say, “Oh NOW you care? Where were you when my heart was broken over this?” My human, vindictive nature kicks in and I want people to feel the hurt that I felt. I want to, as Sally Field said in Steel Magnolias:

I just want to hit something. I want to hit it hard! I want to hit something until it feels as bad as I do.

But if we’ve grown, if we’ve let any of our experiences actually shape us for the better, we’ll acknowledge those desires for what they are – human, but petty – and we’ll get in with the business of making strides in the right direction. 

Some people will never give you an apology. And, while that would be nice, it’s not necessary. It’s often said that the best apology is changed behavior. And it’s true. 

Patience with others unlike ourselves is never easy. But living in a bubble isn’t really living. You’d be surprised at the beauty around you if you’d step outside that place of familiarity. It might be painful at times, but growth usually requires some pain. It’s called “dying to self”. And that is, in my opinion, the only way to really live.

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Creating the Good

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I think there is something Divine about art, the act of creating, working with our hands, our bodies. And I think there is something Divine about how we respond to art. Whether or not we are capable or willing to submerge ourselves in its message, feel what it wants to express – those things determine whether you appreciate art, or whether it moves you. 

In my writing, I do not follow strict outlines, or even the rules of grammar or spelling sometimes. I use slang, nonsense words, and write in a conversational style that probably makes most English majors wince. But it is my art. I take liberties with it to best express what I’m wanting to convey. And I relish the lack of restriction in this medium.

This past weekend, after talking about it all week, Reagan bought herself some paint, brushes, and canvases and was painting at 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. She had no real idea of what she would be creating; it was very freeform, and she was giddy with happiness about it. 

Since art is a stress reliever for me, I purchased two coloring books (on clearance!). I haven’t colored since Reagan was little, and when I was a child, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I could never stay in the lines. But I stayed up until midnight working on a page in that book. 

I haven’t been able to put together a blog post for over a week, feeling stuck and stagnant. And using those freshly sharpened, brightly colored pencils to bring a black and white page to life….was good therapy. And started knocking down some of the obstacles in my creative writing path. 

But I had to get there through means that stretched my comfort zone. Because I still have trouble staying in the lines. And forcing some patience and order into my scattered thought process brought about some peace and helped reorganize my chaotic mind.

I’ve been thinking all week about the healing power of art. How art and divinity seem to go hand in hand. What art can teach us about God, and one another.

Last weekend, under one roof, I watched black people and white people, gay people and straight people, conservative and liberal people, and all manner of the unlabeled, come together to sing, dance, and worship. And it was all because of music. Which is art. Which is, in my opinion, one of the ways that we, as humans, help to bring the kingdom of God and Love to this earth. By using our creative gifts of expression. They are powerful. Both to us, and to a world that seems more divided all the time. 

Reagan sat with her acrylics and I sat with my coloring pencils and we enjoyed companionable silence last weekend as we created. Her freeform, my inside the lines – both beautiful, both colorful, both providing healing and comfort to their respective creators. Neither of us was right. Neither of us was wrong. We just made beautiful things. Together, yet individually. 

And, I suppose, that’s why I believe art is such a gift of a Higher Power. Because it’s not binary. It’s bigger, more complex, yet more simple than what we try to make it. Our human nature is to make everything fit into the parameters of what we understand or already believe. But that, like art, will determine whether you merely appreciate that which is holy, or whether it moves you. 

As I watched Reagan with her brush, she painted the middle of a page, then took scissors and cut off the part that didn’t fit her creation. And I see myself doing that, needing to do that, more and more. I have lived under the weight of obligatory and dualistic thinking all of my life. But I don’t think that’s how we are meant to live. I think we are given this canvas, and it’s up to us to create something beautiful. And, from time to time, we have to carefully cut away that which no longer is useful or needed. 

Also, as artists, it isn’t so much what we create, but how we create it. If it comes from a place of passion, inspiration, truth – that always comes through. On the canvas, in the words, in the music. 

Yesterday, our organist was out of town, and our entire service was acapella. It was outside my comfort zone, because the music is one of my favorite parts of our service. 

But the absence of the familiar made me focus all the more on the other parts of the service. Parts that I often let blend too seamlessly into the liturgy without really taking the time to allow them to soak in.

After what has felt like months of seeing nothing but negativity in the news, and facing some constant struggles in my own life, including this god-awful, what feels like a never-ending season of depression, the words from the Epistle hit me like the cool breezes of autumn that arrived this week after another unrelenting summer:

Finally, beloved,whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Find the good, the beautiful in this day, my dear readers. And, if there is none, create it.

Living contradiction

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My name is Allison. I am an empath, and a highly sensitive person.

What is an empath? Well, that’s sort of the interesting thing. We appear to defy real explanation. Basically, we are people who share a combination of these traits (and others that probably aren’t mentioned here):

  • We are highly sensitive.
  • We become absorbed in and by other people’s emotions.
  • We are often introverted.
  • We are highly intuitive.
  • We need alone time.
  • We are targets for “energy vampires”, namely narcissists.
  • We renew ourselves in nature.
  • We have highly tuned senses and can become frazzled in large crowds, or in loud environments.
  • We are easily manipulated unless we’ve learned to say no, and even then, we feel guilty when we do.

(All information in this list was taken and paraphrased from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional freedom/201602/10-traits-empathetic-people-share%3Famp)

I think this might be the most personal post I’ve ever shared. I’m telling you that up front, because the subject matter here is difficult for anyone who doesn’t share the aforementioned traits to an extreme degree to truly understand. And because of the aforementioned traits, I feel like I sound like a jackass for pointing that out, as though, if you are not a self-described “empath”, that I somehow believe I am better than you.

This is where the internal conflicts of an empath begin, but certainly not where they end. I personally believe these internal conflicts about who we are and how we’re afraid of being perceived often attribute to our need for that alone time – because those conflicts lay waste to our very soul and, in being alone, we can have some relief in our ever-relentless surge of feelings.

It has been said that empaths “absorb” the emotions of others. This is very often true, and our intuition about people is so often correct, we often feel the underlying pain and struggle of their own internal conflicts. It’s very hard to talk or write about without sounding like (a) one is crazy or thinks they have some kind of “superpower” or (b) that one is “whining” or (c) bragging. I would venture that most empaths have tremendous difficulty in talking with many people about this aspect of their personality, simply because of insecurity about how it will come across to others, yet another curse and internal conflict of the empath: the fear of being judged for something that we cannot help. Or that we will be be shut out by those we love the most because they have trouble with the intensity of our emotional range.

Yes, we can control our reactions in situations. Yes, we can choose to avoid certain types of people when it’s possible. Yes, we can learn autonomy and detachment. But I’m just telling you, all of these things, for a highly sensitive personality type, often feel overwhelming and exhausting. It’s just, for lack of better phrasing, a lot of damn work sometimes to come across like a “typical” and well-functioning member of society. Those of us who have finally figured out that we’re not crazy did not reach that conclusion overnight. It likely came about as the result of years of trying to understand ourselves. And that, my dear readers, is not an easy task for a personality that is fraught with numerous internal conflicts.

The point of this post, and I’ve second-guessed publishing it about a dozen times since yesterday, is simply this: 1. Maybe some of the people who know me and read it will get some insight into how it is to be me, and why I can be the way I am sometimes and 2. Other empaths can receive the validation they crave because it is exceedingly comforting to know you’re not alone in what and how you process life.

Think of a crowded room. With people everywhere. And they’re talking, not loudly, but there is that noise of dozens of conversations happening at once. That’s the equivalent of being inside an empath’s brain and/or emotional HQ. And probably the reason we need alone time. We generally have plenty of companionship within our own thoughts to keep us from really feeling alone.

Things like this most recent tragedy in Las Vegas? I have to carefully pick and choose what and how I gather information about such events. The horrific loss of life, and the influx of insensitive comments and news in the aftermath of such events is beyond overwhelming to an empath. As an emotional sponge, we naturally absorb every grief-stricken reference to someone that was lost, every angry post from either side of the argument about gun-control (be they right or be they wrong – because we absorb the emotion, not the argument or political opinion), and every fear of those who just feel lost and uncertain and afraid that our world is lacking in any good things.

Empaths feel it all.

And the conflict arises even in mentioning it, because we are so often judged for being “too sensitive”.

We are often perceived or afraid of being perceived as “weak”, even though many of us have survived mental, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.

We are often the first person sought out for encouragement or support, and yet people often feel rejected when we don’t champion their causes. And it’s not that we don’t care about their causes, or have strong feelings about them. We simply have to carefully choose our battles because of the emotional devastation those battles often leave behind for us to process.

I think, at our core, most empaths are peace-seekers. I don’t even say peace-MAKERS, because we’re not so naive as to think we can create something so elusive where tensions run high.

It is constant conflict to live as an empath.

I honestly believe, in addition to the multiple genetic reasons I have for needing medication, the anxiety that often comes as part of the package in extremely sensitive personality types also contributes to the need for prescription assistance to calm our brains at times.

This is one reason I included the cartoon at the top. It spoke to me, and is resonant of another struggle within many empaths: our highly tuned radars for emotion often make us artistic and expressive, but the need for peace and emotional balance are also present. And, to our dismay, many of the things that we require to regulate our emotions can wreak havoc on our artistic desires, eliminating or at least handicapping our abilities to dig into that aspect of ourselves. It’s why I’m not writing as much anymore. I cannot. It does not come as freely to me as when I am not medicated or in therapy. But I do have more emotional stability. It’s a trade off. A compromise. But it is, again, a conflict. One of many.

We crave companionship and intimacy, and yet cannot stand to be smothered, desperately needing solitude from time to time.

We desire to stand up for good, right, and just causes, but see truth and empathize with even some of the most misunderstood and misarticulated sides of a debate, or at least those making the argument.

We need alone time and yet often over-extend ourselves to the point that self-neglect is just a way of life because we have an extremely difficult time saying “no” and stepping away from those who use and take advantage of our giving personalities.

We are highly intuitive, but constantly doubt ourselves if we have been lied to, or ever been fooled by someone we thought we knew.

Do I sound like a crazy person yet?

If not, you’re probably an empath.

If so, I can totally see why you’d think that (see what I did there?). Because that is, perhaps, the greatest struggle of all for those who self-identify as empaths: we know we sound like we’re crazy to those who aren’t like us, and we desperately want to be understood, valued, and not raked over the coals for being emotional sponges, but we also understand why we’re often regarded as “overly sensitive”. Because we are.

But we are capable of loving deeply, offering unconditional validation and acceptance, and fiercely defend those closest to us.

It’s both a blessing and a tremendous curse to feel so deeply and so constantly. To be able to love so deeply also means the possibility of feeling the most powerful, gut wrenching types of emotional pain. And while we can learn to manage our sensitivity and implement ways to avoid being used and taken advantage of by narcissists and the like, the thing most empaths crave is that which they give away without trying.

Living

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Hope when you take that jump You don’t feel the fall                           

Hope when the water rises
You built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out
It’s screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay

Hope that you fall in love
And it hurts so bad
The only way you can know
You give it all you have
And I hope that you don’t suffer
But take the pain…
Hope when the moment comes
You’ll say

I…I did it all
I…I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

Hope that you spend your days
But they all add up
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup
Oh, oh
I wish that I could witness
All your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes
I’ll say

I…I did it all
I…I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived”

Songwriters: Noel Patrick Zancanella / Ryan Tedder

As I was driving home one day last week, it happened.

It always happens in the fall.

The sunlight…..shifts. Something changes in the atmosphere and the sun looks more like a friend than the tyrannical ruler of summer.

There have been no cool days yet, but the promise of them lingers on the air.

The wildflowers of the season are showcasing vibrant hues of yellow, as if shining their own type of spotlight, heralding the arrival of autumn.

When I see that shift, feel it, it brings such a mixture of emotions. I’ve written about it. Probably every year. But it never fails to happen, so I will probably always document it.

I opened my eyes yesterday morning when my alarm sounded. Set the evening before to wake me in time to get ready for church, I reached over and hit the snooze.

I lay there, not wanting to get up. Not wanting to go through ritual or ceremony. Only wanting to drive. Just drive. Leave the familiar and see how far I could go.

So I woke my daughter. Told her I was going back to bed, and then we were day tripping.

We took the Natchez Trace at Ridgeland and drove until we got to Little Mountain in Ackerman.

As the miles passed under us, I felt my entire body relax as it hasn’t in weeks. I watched my daughter look out the window and wondered what she was thinking, daydreaming of, and how many more miles we’d travel together in our lifetimes. Will we go all the places I want to take her?

Time will tell, I suppose.

As we made our way home, we made it to the Reservoir just as early evening began to settle on the water. I watched the couples sitting together on the grass. Parents chasing their children. Dogs being walked.

I watched as my daughter moved about in her element, taking photos. I snapped a few myself, as I inhaled and exhaled the new breath of autumn.

The sorrow of one season will not diminish the beauty of another. I will remember, and I will mourn, and I will look back on these moments like today and know I lived.


Land of the free-ish

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It’s been one of those weeks in the good ol’ U.S. of A. The kind of week that reminds a person just how deeply divided our country is, and how pathetically disconnected so many people are from the realities that exist for anyone besides people just like them. 

It would also seem that there is a large majority of people out there in Facebook land that simply don’t want to have to think for themselves. So they rely on the media, or their favorite politician, or their favorite talk show host, or their favorite celebrity, or their preacher, or their parents to tell them what they need to believe. 

Common sense, research, talking to and listening to the viewpoints of people unlike themselves never factors into their opinions, worldviews, or belief systems. They just believe (as Huck Finn said so eloquently) “whatever come handiest”. They look for CONFIRMation, not INFORMation. 

I’m not judging. We all do this. It’s human nature. Still, it’s entirely counterproductive. 

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

Carl Sagan

As a child, I never attended a ton of sporting events. I went to my fair share of baseball games and rodeos. But I knew the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance by heart before I could remember my own address. A lot of people had similar experiences. I believe America, for the most part, is a nation of patriotic and freedom-loving people. The unity of our country following 9/11 proved to me that it is possible for people to find common ground and see each other as brothers and sisters, and not through the lens of race, religion, politics, gender, etc.

But you surely wouldn’t know it to look at America lately.

It’s been an interesting scene to watch playing out, this issue of standing or kneeling. And it’s like so many other issues that spark controversy and public outrage:

First, you have the uproar.

Then the arguments and debates. 

Then the unfriending, the abstinence from social media or boycotting of something.

Then, finally, the attempt to change the subject.

But here’s what I find interesting, and perhaps, if there is any good reason for Donny John to be in the White House, it might be this:

People aren’t giving up….they’re digging in.

People who have been victimized, brutalities that have been ignored, prejudices that have gone unchecked are being called out into the open. And I have to believe that this is a good thing. Because only when light shines on something can it begin to be seen and changed.

If there is no love of others, love of country is just a slogan.

T.F. Hodge

The frustration of many people in having someone as…….. loosely wound as our current President has left them realizing that staying quietly in the shadows is no longer an option. At some point, not saying anything says everything. And I cannot be the person that no longer says nothing.

I have stood and saluted our nation’s flag more times than I can count. I have recited the pledge and sang along with the Star Spangled Banner and thanked God for the veterans who bravely serve and have served our country. 

But I do not worship a piece of cloth. And I do not idolize our military or those in uniform. I respect both. But more than both, I respect the idea of freedom. And it was that idea that I was taught to revere from an early age. And it is that idea that leaves me with the position I take on this most recently divisive issue in our society.

You can believe what someone should do. You can complain about what they do or don’t do. But you cannot and should not ever be able to tell another free citizen what they have to do. 

Obviously there are caveats. But I’m not talking about breaking laws. I’m talking more about breaking tradition and busting the comfort bubble of other people. 

Being able to be a free citizen means that you are free to live your life as you please, as long as that does not result in harm to another. And, I’m sorry, my friends, but that “harm” doesn’t include hurt feelings. God knows those of us who didn’t vote for our current administration have been told to suck it up at least a dozen times in the last 10 months. To stop being “snowflakes”. I think it’s time for the ones who doled out those statements to heed their own advice. 

As free as you allow others to be, such freedom you create for yourself.

Bryant McGill

I have had to talk to my daughter a lot since the election. And I’ve had to explain that freedom isn’t easy because it means that if you get to live out your beliefs, other people are free to do that as well. And you might not like it, but freedom isn’t a one way street. 

Having these conversations with her, and seeing the discussions myself, daily, in the news, on social media, etc. It’s exhausting. 

But here is what I know:

Freedom for people like myself and freedom for people NOT like myself doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. It is a two way street, but it requires people to act like adults and use what is perhaps the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to think for oneself. 

I used to not understand why those who relish their own freedom, seem so reluctant to want other people to enjoy the same opportunity. But then I learned something. 

People generally don’t want a level playing field for the simple fact that they find it threatening. And yet…

The freedom of my atheist friends to not believe in God does not hinder my freedom to worship in the church of my choosing and believe in Christianity. 

The freedom of my gay friends to marry and be given in marriage does not hinder my freedom to do the same, nor has it cheapened my marriage or made it less important or sacred.

The freedom of those who choose not to salute a flag does not hinder any of my freedoms in any way. But it does do something that I think is really at the heart of every controversial issue like this: it scares people. 

When someone does something that we find different from what we ourselves would do, we become uncomfortable. Our minds begin to have to work. And, before you know it, you’re having to *gasp* think.

When people tell us, again and again, that racism exists, sexism exists, oppression exists, police brutality exists – it’s not pleasant news to hear. And, if we don’t really have to deal with these types of situations ourselves, the easiest thing to do is act like the ones who are dealing with it are crazy, stupid, or are simply exaggerating. Because they are not like us. 

So let me think back to my American history a little bit.

There were these people, once upon a time, who felt very, very oppressed. They didn’t have the one thing that their very beings cried out for the most: freedom. So they bucked the system. They were ridiculed and scorned and killed because they refused to show allegiance to a crown that did not show them justice or freedom. Our country celebrates those men and women, because from their rebellion, from their refusal to conform, was born a country that set the standard for what freedom is supposed to mean. And yet, we now ridicule anyone who doesn’t worship at the throne of conservative or, yes my left-leaning friends, liberal ideology. We have become the oppressor, if in no other way but by simply ridiculing and scorning those who are not like us and have different ideas about how to live life, protect liberty, and pursue happiness. And, being perfectly honest, it didn’t take us long to get there, since as soon as we set foot on American soil, we decided that the native savages needed to be……dealt with.

I have never been more keenly aware of the hypocrisy within the conservative ideology than I am at this point in my life. There is plenty of that in liberal ideology as well, but I grew up in a conservative and right leaning household so the origins of my political thought process are where my frustrations rest most often these days. 

Disrespecting our veterans? Disrespecting our flag? And yet I have seen Old Glory fly in yards during inclement weather, or with no spotlight on it at night. I have seen it stretched out across size C silicone or foreheads in a bandana. I have seen beer cans that display it as an advertising gimmick and watched as it has been used to promote unjust wars and candidates who are anything but patriots or fitting to lead a nation that was built upon the very idea of freedom.

And you, yes you, if you are an American, you are free-ish.

If you want to boycott the NFL…. 

If you want to attend a BLM rally….

If you are a simple writer with limited vocabulary, an ever-evolving worldview, and a propensity for not being able to hold back an opinion even though everything in your brain tells you that people are gonna rip into your carefully chosen words without consideration for anything other than their own point of view….and you post it online for the world to see anyway….

Know that you are free to act, but not free from ridicule.

So do us all a favor, and make sure you’re doing whatever you do because you made up your own mind about it and not because someone else did your thinking for you. 

Because the freedom to think for yourself is a priceless gift, and one that too many people are forgetting to use.

The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.

A.A. Milne

Top 10 Thursday: Book Club Recap

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I’ve written pretty frequently about my book club, aka the Monday Night Page-Turners.

I’ve posted about why I love book club and about most of the books we’ve read, but we’re about to hit our first milestone and I just want to incorporate MNPT into the Triple T feature this week.

When I first put out the invitation to join me for this idea of a monthly book club, I was really surprised at the enormity of the response. We started with 9 committals, and have kept 7 regular members since the beginning. In addition to the 7 of us, my daughter and her bff cousin Emma also meet on book club nights.

So, since the number is ALMOST right, here is a little recap about the books that have been covered this inaugural year of MNPT, and a little bit about the members that chose them.

1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Chosen by Allison)

I got the recommendation for this selection from another book nerd friend who had also been in a book club. She always makes solid recommendations so I thought this easy read would be a great one to kick off the club.

All of my reviews are listed on our Facebook page or here, under the “Page-Turners” or “Book Club” tabs. I’d link to them here if I was not such a lazy blogger and my internet was not being quite so sketchy.

The Storied Life is the quintessential book club book. It’s not too hard, not too easy, and there’s lots of pretty uncontroversial stuff to discuss from its pages. It was a good icebreaker.

That being said, I wondered how shy people would be to share their opinions on certain topics, but after our first meeting, it really felt like these women had all known each other for years. There was some immediate bonding, which, to me, only proves the power of art and books to unify while also making room for discussions about differences.

As far as stuff about me, this whole BLOG is pretty much about me. If you read it at all, you know I’m a reader and a writer and I love all the words. Even the dirty ones. =)

I’ll just say that my book club which has now become our book club, is one of the best ideas I’ve ever implemented.

2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Chosen by LaRue)

In my humble opinion, as far as subject matter, this has been our hardest read so far. We lost our first member at this point and had one other that didn’t finish this selection.

It’s definitely not a “light” read, and the entire dystopian genre can be downright weird, but it is considered to be an important piece of modern literature by a lot of smart people and we were laughing last night about how we use the title to impress people!

With this selection, we went straight from easy read fluff to some hardcore discussion.

LaRue is one of my dearest friends. We became connected through her work as a graphic designer, and the rest is history.

I love the way she picks apart a book in many of the same ways that I do. We read between the lines and think in similar patterns about underlying themes. She’ll be picking our selection again in a couple of months. I’m mentally preparing now, because I think she likes to challenge us all!

3. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (Chosen by Anna)

This selection was a good palate cleanser after Brave New World. It wasn’t a heavy read, though the subject matter itself was based on true (and pretty sobering) events.

It was here that I learned that not all historical fiction is 800 pages long! But, for most of us, Orphan Train focused too much on current events and not enough on the history it was trying to share. There were missed opportunities all over the place with the writing. We critiqued the hell out of this book so I give high kudos to Anna for taking it all in stride.

Anna is my cousin, but I call her my niece. At almost 17, she’s our youngest member. And probably the only reason we keep our discussions as…..acceptable…as they are! Because they do get interesting!

I’ve written about Anna before, and she’s just one of my favorite people. Considering we were only 3 meetings in before she had to pick a selection and then we tore into it like a bunch of hyenas into a wildebeest carcass, I’m sometimes surprised she still likes any of us! But that’s the great thing about these women. Nobody is taking any of this stuff personally about their selection, even if they liked it and someone else didn’t.

I love to hear Anna’s perspective on things. As our youngest member, hers is one of the most unique opinions we get, I think. But she is usually pretty quiet. I know she loves book club, but I wonder sometimes if she isn’t taking notes on how to NOT turn into a crazy 30+ woman!

4. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Chosen by Meredith)

Honestly, and I probably shouldn’t do this, but if I had to pick a favorite selection thus far, this would be it.

It’s also the first and only book I didn’t finish before a meeting.

The book itself is a bit depressing and deals with some heavy subject matter. But it’s an excellent read. It combines a lot of heart and humor, and the characters were great, though not as fleshed out as I normally prefer. But it wouldn’t have really served the books purpose for them to be more of a focus because the book is about Ove. The author describes him very well and gives a lot of dimension to the man over the course of the story.

Meredith is just…..lovely. She’s funny. She’s sweet. She’s sassy. And the woman can COOK like nobody’s business. I’ve known her for 18 years but didn’t know she was such an avid reader until she became part of my book club.

See? Book soul mates can be right under your nose and you never know it!

5. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (Chosen by Kacie)

This is the first book in a historical fiction trilogy. Set during WWI, this 900 page epic novel is one that downright haunted some people over the summer break we took from our MNPT meetings.

We had a couple of people not finish this one.

It’s an undertaking to devote the time to a book like ‘Giants’. I’m personally a fan if Ken Follett so I was geeking out about the selection. But, second to Brave New World, this has been our hardest read simply for its enormity and the incredible number of storylines happening at once.

Kacie and I also met through professional circumstances, but it was really through our mutual friend, LaRue, that we became more than acquaintances.

Kacie is my writer kindred spirit in MNPT and her perspective on the writing itself is one that I always love to hear. Of all the folks in our club, I probably know the least about her. But that changes more and more all the time. Books can gain you friends for life, and Kacie is definitely a keeper.

6. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Chosen by Jennifer)

Even though my daughter reads a lot and I’m pretty well informed about a lot of YA books, I had not heard of this one. By far, it was the most fun out of our selections thus far and had some great points to ponder about virtual reality, technology, and relationships. I won’t say much more because I’ve really got to get this post finished and I’m going to write a full review of this one by the weekend so you can just stay tuned and be watching for that.

Jennifer and I have known each other for about 22 years. But, again, I wasn’t really aware of her love for reading until she signed up for MNPT.

Jennifer is a teacher, and her experiences with children and her quirky sense of humor never cease to entertain and send us all into fits of giggles.

She really has one of the most fun personalities of anyone I know and she’s a wonderful writer herself. Her summer break diaries on Facebook are legendary!

7. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Chosen by Rebecca)

Two things:

1. We just got the title yesterday so I’m not going to write about it.

2. I’ve already read this one so I’m holding back my spoilers.

I will simply say that this is going to be a great discussion and I really, really enjoyed this book and several others by this author as well.

Other than Jennifer, I have known Rebecca the longest of any of our members. She is our hopeless romantic, as well as our comic relief. Of all the people to sign up for MNPT, she surprised me the most. And I can’t imagine our book club without her.

8. The Help by Katherine Stockett (Chosen by Reagan)

I love Mississippi authors. They’re special. I personally loved this book so when Reagan and Emma read it for their own little book meeting, I was so excited.

Reagan actually did her summer reading project on this selection and her paper was really well written, if I do say so myself. I love that she loves to read. I tried my best to imprint that love into her soul by reading to her a LOT when she was very little, as young as 6 months old. I think it made a profound difference in her development and her ability not just in her education, but in life. New mamas: read to your babies.

9. Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (Chosen by Emma)

Another great southern story, I read this one MANY years ago, but it’s a powerful story of love, friendship, family strife, and overcoming childhood trauma through the healing of sisterhood.

Emma is like another daughter to me. In fact, my husband and I tend to refer to her as such, mainly to tease Reagan. But Emma is so very special to me and she’s been close to Reagan since they were little bitty girls. As close as I was and still am to many of my cousins, their relationship makes me extraordinarily happy and thankful.

10. Unread

One of the best things about book clubs and the friendships within them is all of the books still to come and all of the good times yet to be shared.

I have always loved to read. And I have always loved to talk about books. And I have always enjoyed hosting people in my home. But this is one of the best parts of my month, and I am so glad I didn’t talk myself out of this idea for fear no one would respond to my invitation or that I’d end up with a lot of members that really….well, just didn’t “mesh” well with me or what I was trying to accomplish.

It turns out my fears were unfounded. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

Through the Looking Glass of the rip current and other crafty metaphors

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Okay. So, I’ve been in this funk for……days? Weeks? Months? Hell, I don’t even know anymore. I just know that my writing has suffered. A lot. And my muse did not deserve that. Nobody puts Baby in a corner. I did, but now I’m ready to extend my hand to her and see if she is ready to dance. 

I have gained two things from this most recent trip through the Looking Glass: anger, and the worth of darkness.

First of all, I have likened Depression to going “down the rabbit hole”. One of my writer friends coined this expression, but my experience with the ugly D has been more lately like going through the Looking Glass. Everything just seems to be a warped image of what it ought to be. Things that shouldn’t have significance, do. Things that shouldn’t be so, are. And it’s very hard to understand who I am, when trapped on the other side of that Looking Glass.

Now, I suspect that this will all sound completely insane to someone who hasn’t ever dealt with Depression and really walked through it. I might sound dramatic or even ludicrous to someone who hasn’t experienced this type of illness. But I also have this gut feeling that people who really have been there, will nod their heads as they read and say, “I know exactly what she means.”

But back to the results.

First, anger.

I have let good habits slip away from me over the last year. Good eating. Good exercise. Intentional acts for wellness. 

The anger came from knowing that, not so long ago, I was in a good place, and I let life overwhelm me and bad habits overtake the good ones and I ended up right back where I was two years ago. I had fought like hell to get to that better place, only to return to the gutter.

About a week ago, I got mad. Really, really, internally angry. At myself. And I decided that I’d had enough of this version of me. I know why I turn to certain comforts, and told my therapist why. I think there was some release in that. Honesty, with someone else, and not only myself, has been a huge source of healing. 

We try so hard to put on a good face. Act like we’ve got it all together. That’s one reason I decided to detox from Facebook for a while. Because so little of it is genuine. And I can’t do phony. And I can’t do hateful. And I was just seeing way too much of both. 

I’ve turned this anger into fuel. A source of energy to push me into better habits, healthier mindsets, and a strong resolve to make this the last time I have to lose this kind of weight or make this big of an adjustment in my lifestyle. 

This anger has been one of the things that has proven worthy for me and my life, and was born of the darkness that is depression. Because there are things to learn in that place, it can just be hard to process them during the journey. I almost always have to come back to the other side of the Looking Glass before I can really express what I learned during my absence from “normalcy”. 

Understanding that there are hidden treasures in that darkness is something I’m just now really starting to get. I read something this week about going through darkness, and it really spoke to me:

Through darkness and doubt often come the greatest creativity and faith. Our faith is strengthened every time we go through a period of questioning: “Why do I believe this? Do I believe this at all? What do I base my life on?” When we are at rock bottom, everything becomes clearer: self-image, God-image, worldview.

The way through is always much more difficult than the way around. Cheap religion gives us the way around, avoiding darkness. True religion gives us the way through, stepping right into the mystery. 

Darkness is sacred ground. The God who calls us into darkness will also sustain us and lead us through it. “God… brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17). Resurrection is the one and only pattern.

Richard Rohr

If anything, I always gain a higher and deeper connection with my spiritual side and draw closer to that on the heels of a depressive period of time. It sucks to get there, but I learn a lot about myself and God in the darkness. 

I feel like my mental, spiritual, and physical selves are all at odds right now. Each needing, demanding something important from me. And, the truth is, I’m having trouble prioritizing what needs the most attention. And so perhaps another lesson in this darkness is that this combative state of living is completely normal. If you have a job, a family, and outside interests, these things will all constantly clamor for your attention. For me, this results in feeling pulled in a thousand different directions until I simply have nothing left. 

I’m much better at saying “no” to things than I used to be. But I still have some trouble…..undoing? Releasing myself from things and situations that are no longer healthy or beneficial, even if they once were. Because there is always guilt and the fact that I have the hardest of times overcoming my people-pleasing side.

Depression, for me, is like being caught in a rip tide. If I’ve written about this before, forgive me, but I can’t remember if I have or not. Our impulse when caught in a rip current is to panic and resist, but experts tell us that the way to break free is to swim parallel to the shore. So that’s what I’m in the process of doing right now. I don’t feel like I’m not being grabbed by the rip tide anymore, but I can see the shoreline. I’m not underwater. But I have learned that I cannot, cannot, cannot neglect certain things any longer.

I cannot neglect my health. I cannot so push my body (which includes my brain) to the point that I’m so exhausted that I won’t do what is best for it. I will not resort to convenience over healthy. I will not be pushed past the point of my own inner peace. I have ways to return to it when I feel myself getting off balance. I will seek out moments throughout my day to re-center and re-focus. This will be a learning process and I will be patient, first and foremost, with myself.

I will not neglect my spiritual health. I will surround myself with that which encourages and uplifts me, transforms me, and I will not start another day without looking first to the source of light and life and the inspiration found at the feet of the Divine.

I will not neglect my art. My passion. The one thing that has been a constant in my life for the last chaotic decade, plus some. I will take it in the direction of my choosing and I will make time to write and write well. Some days I won’t write well at all. Some days, no one will read what I’ve written. This is okay. 

I will not neglect my mental health. I will go to therapy. I will take my medication. I will do the physical things necessary to promote mental well-being by eating consistently healthier and taking more time for physical activity. 

I will not neglect my empathetic side. If I need to unfriend I will unfriend. If I need to speak honestly, I will speak honestly. If I need to back away from things that leech off of my nature for helpfulness and concern, I will back away. I will not try to be all things to all people. I won’t even try to be a few things to a few people. I will be me, and help when and where I can.

I will not neglect my dreams. I am 35 years old, but I still have dreams. I have goals. And I will continue to believe they are possible and attainable and allow myself to continue dreaming of what could be, even in the midst of what isn’t. I will not allow the necessity of compromise choke the life out the hopes that I continue to hold.

It is entirely likely that I will face Depression numerous more times before the end of my life. But each time I do, I can be stronger than the time before. And I am getting stronger. Nothing makes one stronger than a trip to Wonderland via a rip tide.

Don’t try to steer the river.

Deepak Chopra

About the writing

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I got no inspiration.

Sometimes you have to go looking for it. Sometimes it will come naturally. Sometimes you just have to start writing something, anything, and inspiration will come.

And sometimes, none of that works at all.

I’ve attempted several posts this week. They all sound ridiculous. Like half-finished thoughts.

I blame some nights of erratic sleep. Withdrawals from some things. The depression that lingers. But it’s getting better – all of that. Slowly. With baby steps, therapy, discipline, focus.

And unfortunately, that last part is the problem. I feel like I have just enough focus right now to work, do what I need to do as a parent, and keep away from things that are unhealthy. That’s all. That’s my limit. If I try to do anything else right now I feel like I’ll simply deflate.

It’s still one day at a time for me right now. It always is, but it’s especially that way in my present situation.

I learned about Brain Inflammation last week at therapy. And I really feel a lot better about my own now that I know the stress I experience can make my brain inflamed, just like it can inflame other organs in the body.

If you were hoping for happier posts, or a top 10, or something inspirational, I’m sorry. I’m just not there yet. I don’t feel a dark cloud looming over me right now. I do feel a crisp, cool, light. And that is a trigger for me. One that I’ll explain another day.

For now, I’m just writing to write so I don’t forget. So I don’t quit. So I keep some momentum, however tiny.

Top 10 Tuesday: A little me time

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So it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m not feeling my best lately. For those who don’t follow my blog through Facebook, I decided to take a hiatus from that particular form of social media.

I love being connected. But sometimes what starts as connection turns into mental overload. Especially in socially trying times. The best thing I can do for myself is simply step back, and quiet the noise in my own head.

I’m taking a sick day today. Being sick doesn’t always look like fevers and physical discomfort. And today, I’m doing some things for my soul, my mind, my spirit.

1. I went to bed early

By 9:30, the lights were off and I was deeply relaxed. I slept through the night and woke up feeling rested and ready for the day I have planned.

2. I’m meditating

I’ll have some time this morning to just sit, in silence. Pray. Center.

3. I’m casually dressing

No dressy business attire for me today. Jeans. A comfy shirt. Clothes that promote a more relaxed state of mind.

4. I’m reading

Book Club meets in less than 2 weeks. I’ll be spending some time with our selection today. I’ll also be reading some blogs. Some poetry. Some stories.

5. I’m going to therapy

I don’t remember how long it’s been….. several months. It could get intense, which is another reason I took the whole day off. It’s a draining experience to go through some of the places I’ll visit today and it requires concentration. But I’ve missed it. All of the aforementioned things in this list will help me, because as much as I look forward to my session, it can be a very emotional hour.

6. Im getting a massage

I’m not sure what made me book this appointment. I haven’t had a professional massage in years. Something just told me I needed it.

On one of my first visits to a massage therapist, I was overwhelmed by just how much stress I was carrying in my body. There were no words spoken in that hour, but I remember weeping.

It was healing. And I need that again.

7. I’m shopping for someone

My wonderful mom has a birthday this weekend. I’ll be picking out a gift for her. Thinking of her.

8. I’m catching up with a friend

I’m long overdue for a visit with one of my former professors. She and I seem to only be able to meet up about once a year, but nearly four years after I’ve graduated, we have maintained a close connection.

She is perhaps the biggest blessing I received when I went back to college. I am thankful to have had her mentorship and guidance during my education. And I’m even more thankful to now have her friendship.

9. I’m driving

I drive a lot in my job, but sometimes that’s a blessing, not a curse. I need that time to mentally prepare for my day or to recover from it. Sometimes I listen to music, or podcasts, or audio books. Sometimes I just drive in silence or talk to myself or pray. It’s very therapeutic in and of itself, this time alone in the car.

10. I’m going to bed early…again

When I get home tonight, I’ll be refreshed and relaxed. I’ll listen to my husband and daughter tell me about their day. And then I’ll sleep. And I’ll sleep the sleep of the rested and restored.

Milestone

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With this post, I’ll reach a milestone for my writing this year.

Over the last 8 months I have doubled the page views I had in the entirety of 2016.

It’s not a huge number, but it is to me. And it means that, slowly but surely, I have continued to increase my readership.

People create art for different reasons.

Most certainly, my art is just my own outlet. A way of expressing myself. That’s the biggest reason I write. For me. To clear my head. To release pent up thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc.

But I also write to share. And it’s incredibly satisfying to know that people connect with it. With me.

My last post was incredibly personal. I come from a place where certain things just aren’t discussed.

I think a lot of it is cultural. Southern people, in general, are kind and compassionate. But they can also be very much of the “Suck it up and deal with it.” variety.

And I think that’s where my two worlds collide. The side that desires to create and express freely, and the side that is often tempted to just keep some things to myself. Because, a lady doesn’t get too honest. And men sure as hell don’t show their feelings.

No, we’re often guilty of putting on appearances. Because that’s what ya do. Because honesty, authenticity, unexplainable and difficult subjects might make someone….uncomfortable. And we’re all about politeness.

Bless our hearts.

I hate pretense. I hate masks. I hate bullshit. You can be polite AND honest. Authentic AND unapologetic. And I’m trying my damndest to be both. Whatever the cost.

I can’t be the artist, or the person, I want to be unless I share the beautiful places, the inspirational thoughts, without also sharing some of the dark and lonely places my mind inhabits at times.

It’s full spectrum, or nothing.

I think my readers either find me brave. Or stupid. One of my writing friends talks often about having “imposter syndrome”.

On paper (or the digital device) we can write and express ideas with clarity and dimension. But oftentimes our thoughts and emotions are a scrambled mess. I relate to his feelings.

But I keep writing. I keep expressing. My art is part of my life’s journey. And it isn’t always pretty. I am human.

Thank you for taking the journey with me. Thank you for your kind words and comments. For sharing what moves you. And for keeping me honest.