Little Bits of Gratitude in Pictures


I am grateful for much, and these pictures only begin to scratch at the surface, but they do represent those little bits. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Quote By Henry David Thoreau


 

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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

“I am struck by the simplicity of light in the atmosphere in the autumn, as if the earth absorbed none, and out of this profusion of dazzling light came the autumnal tints.”–Henry David Thoreau

Writing Challenge: 35 Essays in 70 Days


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A beginning.

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge that is popular among some writers, and a summons to those interested in writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I remember a friend and roommate of mine wrote to her heart’s content one cold November while we were in college in northern Wisconsin. It was years before I heard of others doing the same challenge. There is a website and social media groups and hashtags all celebrating the feat. The idea is that you write that many words and then come back to edit and revise later. There are critics of the idea: that some will write drivel in order to just complete the challenge, with the emphasis on quantity instead of quality. Others ask why not write year-round, why save it for one short month? I think I understand both sides of this supposed argument and I have wanted my own writing challenge, but I am both contrary and not that interested in writing a novel, yet. I am interested, though, in writing a book of essays.

A new friend of mine recently mentioned that she was planning to participate. I admire her grit and fortitude. Another friend recently told me that she had just landed an agent for a novel she had finished writing a year ago. While I celebrated her next step into the literary world, I was almost more amazed at the idea of a completed novel (written and edited). Inspired by these women, plus being sucker for a gimmick, and also ready to take on a challenge, I sat down to figure out my own writing goal. Earlier this summer, I curled up with a glass of wine and a deck of index cards. I brainstormed and wrote down titles for essays for two book projects and titles for a book of short stories. I had pinned those packs of index cards to the bulletin board near my desk in the bedroom, but hadn’t looked at them in a while. Tonight, fueled by another glass of wine, I realized I could use one of those packs to begin a new book. One pack of cards for the essays had 35 different ideas jotted down. Then I realized that I was more comfortable with a stretched out timeline compared to a month. So, I multiplied 35 times two and realized that 70 days felt like a good number.

My challenge: Write 35 essays in 70 days.

The challenge is to write 35 essays in addition to my plan to write at least weekly for my blog or to work on other writing projects.

The challenge begins today, Sunday, November 6, 2016 and ends Sunday, January 15, 2017! A focus, a challenge, a beginning. Let the fun begin!

Masks

This time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade?


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

Near Halloween, we put on costumes and masks and disguises. However, this time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade? When was the last time you masked your feelings? When did you last put layers and layers (and I don’t mean turtlenecks and sweaters) between you and the world?

Tomorrow, I will put on a pink wig and a headband as part of an easy costume for a Halloween-themed event at work. However, that will hardly be the first or last time that I have put on a costume to hide myself. I have written a lot recently about my state of grief over the loss of my dad, who passed away more than six months ago. I am certainly not the first to lose someone I love. In this time, though, what was most surprising about the rush of grief was the emerging blankets of feelings and pent up emotions. His death brought to the forefront things that I have been squashing under years of dishonesty with myself, or what I had been hiding. The grief, combined with some internal work that I have focused on for the last couple of years, stripped me of my thin skins of disguise. All of a sudden everything bubbled right up to the surface. Now, instead of pushing them down into my hidden core, I identify them, feel them, and let them go. It can be draining and exhausting and freeing, all at once. All the times that I covered things up in white lies to myself are now points of brutal honesty in my inner dialogue. All of a sudden, I have no need for the costumes, the makeup, or the drama. It is a bit life-altering. It is a time of awakening.

It does not mean that I am done with the masks, completely. However, now I can see through my own armor, and often I can see what people are trying to hide for themselves. I am stripping away and coming clean. Sometimes, though, without my disguise, I feel naked and alone and vulnerable. Right now, probably because of this inner work, I am trying to find a balance between working through these veils of disingenuity and opening myself up to others. It helps that I have only lived in Albuquerque a year, and I am still making friends, so I can spend time alone and not feel like I am hiding. I have recently reconnected with a good friend and spending time with this person is tricky, because it’s hard to hide myself from someone who seems to know me better than I know myself. I come home from a visit tired, yet exhilarated. I want to share everything, and yet I know we still need boundaries. I still have a lot of work to do.

I turn to a journal. I whisper prayer. I fold inward and think of how to use this new honesty, this new cleanliness. I find new ways to be. I look for healing. I let go of things from the past. Instead, I focus on right now. I seek sunlight. I dance to the moon as it turns new. I find myself shedding the need to apologize. I write words. I find meaning at every turn. I realize that all we have is each other. I struggle to find love for myself, even as I peel away the dislike. I try to be there for others. I apologize and forgive for the past, but now I move on. I run slowly into freedom. I take off the costumes and shake off the lies, and leave them behind, much as a tarantula leaves behind its molt as it crawls into the new and fragile.

Surrender


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“Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give”–Sarah McLachlan, “Sweet Surrender”

In the popular lexicon, we think of surrender in terms of the end of war when one side gives up completely to the other. In movies, the criminals finally surrender to the police. We think of surrender as giving up, and most often in terms of defeat. Surrender, in a traditional meaning, means giving up control to someone else or something else. For me, surrender has changed its meaning and significance over time. In fact, this morning, the word and meaning changed completely for me.

For a couple of days, I had been thinking about the state of my life, in terms of an assessment. The questions came and went, and while I considered the situational circumstances, it was really more of an internal process. How am I doing in my career? How am I doing in my health? How am I doing financially, and in terms of my relationship with money? How am I doing in terms of my relationships with family? How am I doing in my spirituality? How am I doing in terms of my relationship with myself? How am I doing in terms of my friendships? How am I doing in terms of love? How am I doing in terms of loving myself? How am I doing with myself in terms of being a “good” person? I wasn’t looking for answers in terms of external “success,” but more about how I felt in terms of peace within those questions. I thought a lot about which areas of my life where I felt peaceful, and which ones where I did not.

Last night, I felt like I had reached the end of the questions, at least for the moment. It was difficult to figure out what had brought on the questions. Although for me, questioning and thinking, in terms of spirituality and my life, is a familiar exercise, sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. It wasn’t a birthday or anniversary of any particular event, but maybe it had to do with the season of fall and recent conversations with a good friend.

Last night, I made a pot of tea and sunk into the couch to watch a few episodes of a guilty pleasure TV show. I purposefully pushed the questions away and lost myself in the story of something else. Last night, the word that was on my mind before I went to sleep was “surrender,” I kid you not. This Sunday morning, I woke up early. My heart and mind were quiet and I felt calm. I opened my patio door and curled up in the turquoise Adirondack chair and felt the silence. I drank coffee and felt the steam from the cup and the cool energy of autumn. After almost an hour, I returned inside and picked up my phone. I opened up the e-mail app and clicked on one of the daily meditations that I subscribe to. I was surprised and pleased that the subject line was “The Secret of Surrender.” Once again, I found synchronicity in both meaning and timing. I lapped up the words and thought back to the word on my lips when I fell asleep last night. I read two more daily devotionals that also seemed to match up magically with the idea of surrender.

Surrender for me, just in the course of the journey between last night to this morning’s readings and reflections, means something new. For me, it is peace in the moment. For me, it is being comfortable with what is, even when it is not what I want. It is learning to realize the long path, but being in step with right now. It means letting myself go and not getting caught up in end results. It means sinking into the moment. Surrender is the ultimate measure of taking control by letting go of control. Surrender means being okay, even when things are not okay. Surrender is not wishing for something, but finding comfort in loss. I find surrender when I let go. It is not defeat, but neither is it a win. Surrender is finding grace. Surrender means letting go of people and situations and results. Surrender means not knowing. Surrender is finding love for myself. Surrender means giving up looking at everyone’s “papers” trying to find the answers, and instead looking down at my own work. Surrender means being in my own footsteps, literally and figuratively. Surrender means forgiveness. Surrender means right now.