September 29, 2020

Ode to Thunder

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” — John Grogan, author of Marley and Me

Have you ever known anyone who has mischief written all over? You just take one look at them and you know they’re thinking something funny or planning some craziness.

For me, a couple of people come to mind. The comedian and former Senator Al Franken looked that way. Especially when he was on Saturday Night Live he exuded humor and offbeat antics, even when he wasn’t doing anything.

I have a friend in San Antonio named Ken who has the same look on his face. This guy smiles all the time and has a bright light shining in his eyes, both indicators that he finds life a fun and hilarious adventure.

He could have been in show business

And then there’s Thunder, our cat. He’s an old boy now – 17 years – but in his heyday he was a great entertainer.

I could just look at him walking around a room, his white-tipped gray tail pointed straight up, and I’d laugh. I knew it would be no time before he did something ridiculous or funny or outrageous.

You know – cat stuff. I’d open a suitcase on the bed to start packing for a trip and immediately Thunder would climb in and plop down, ready to join us on our journey.

The disappearing cat

Or I’d open a cabinet to retrieve something and Thunder would slip inside when I wasn’t looking. After a while he’d start meowing and it would take us a few minutes to find him.

I had to be careful when I opened our front-loading dryer or he would hop in and go through a heat cycle with the towels.

In addition to being a comedian, Thunder has been a lover boy. He’s spent a good part of his life sitting cross-legged on my husband’s lap.

The other day, I colored a picture of a cat that looked like Thunder and gave it to my husband. It was a big hit, especially since our little boy seems to be near the finish line of his time with us. I imagine we’ll frame that picture and keep it as a reminder of our dear Thunder cat, the born comic.

“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”
― Charles Dickens

Writing spark

I’ve had more dogs than cats through the years. My first dog Daisy, the miniature poodle, was a constant source of entertainment for me and those we knew. She had many adventures and after she died at 16, I wrote her biography – 30 pages of her antics.

Have you had a pet who has brought meaning and laughter to your life? Take a few minutes and write down your memories of them. I hope the exercise brings a smile to your lips.

Candy kiss

“When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly
given in its place.” ― C.S. Lewis

The last few weeks have been really tough. My husband had major surgery in July and his recovery has been beyond difficult for him. As his partner and best friend, I have been helping him regain his strength, but it’s been a hard road.

There have been times of despair – that our struggle will never end, that my husband will be in endless pain, and many other gloomy prospects.

On top of our personal situation, there is the pandemic and fear that one of us could come down with Covid 19, especially since we are in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals. The isolation of the past few months hasn’t helped our outlooks either.

The beat goes on

Wait. There’s more. We have two elderly cats, one 17 and the other 18. The younger one howls with great regularity and for no apparent reason.

Cat #2 hasn’t been that high maintenance, but I accidentally struck her with my car the other day. Miraculously, she was not injured. Our cats don’t have 9 lives; they have 39.

I’ve been trying to take care of myself in this trying time – exercising, eating healthy foods, journaling and doing some of my favorite things (coloring and reading.)

Unexpected blessing

Still, it’s been hard to avoid feeling hopeless and to forget the good that is in my life.

And then, out of the blue, a blessing. My niece Caroline and my sister Kathryn sent me a box of Nestle’s Crunch bars – my favorite. I felt so loved and encouraged by this generous, simple gesture.

I think there are 40 candy bars in the box. I tell you that because in the next few weeks I’ll be gaining about 100 pounds. And I’ll love every bite.

Writing spark

What unexpected blessings have you experienced in the last difficult months? How have others shown they care about you? Have you been able to offer encouragement and hope to anyone? My sister has written letters to 50 people, missives of caring to many friends from the past and present. A friend on a long road trip called me unexpectedly to check on my husband and me.

Take a few minutes to write down the blessings you have received and what they mean to you. Consider, too, what you might do to pass on the good wishes.

“When you wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love, prosperity, happiness… all the good things.” ― Maya Angelou

Listen and learn

“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good listener. After all, as a journalist for many years, my profession required me to listen intently to others and to accurately report the information they provided.

Being able to listen has been a help in my personal life, too. Really listening to my spouse, my family members and friends makes for better communication and closer connections.

Taking listening skills to another level, I find my journal is another great way of listening. I use it to hear the guidance of my inner voice. I use it to hear God’s wisdom and direction. I use it to pay attention to all the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside me and make sense of them.

Two ears and one mouth

You may have heard the adage that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Maybe it’s corny and worn out, but it has a certain wisdom to it.

Listening is powerful. As Leo Buscaglia, a motivational speaker otherwise known as “Dr. Love” said, something as simple as providing a listening ear can turn a life around.

Sometimes, people just need to be heard. That one simple act is a life-affirming gift.

So give that gift to yourself. Confide in your journal. It will never judge you or talk over you or shut you down. It’s always there, ready to listen.

 

Writing spark

Write a letter to yourself expressing your deepest fears, your greatest challenges, or your highest hopes – or write about all three. As you do, listen for nuggets of guidance or wisdom. Sometimes they just come to mind naturally once you’ve fully expressed yourself. 

 

 

Which one(s) are you?

“There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.” ― Rosalyn Carter

I’ve never been very good at caregiving. I find it draining and limiting and yet it’s an inevitable part of life, as Rosalyn Carter so clearly expressed.

My earliest brush with “caregiving” was many years ago when I became acquainted with a visually impaired man at church.  He was fascinated with my work as a journalist and wanted me to escort him around on Sunday mornings so we could talk.

I was okay with it for a while, but I had other friends I wanted to be with, too. I wasn’t really a caregiver, but more of a helper in this situation. And even that was hard for me.

Uncle Melrose

And then there was Uncle Melrose, who had an intellectual disability and lived in a state institution, then a group home and finally a nursing facility.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call myself a caregiver here, either. It was more like I looked after him.

I made sure he was taken care of, that he had some companionship and was his advocate when he needed medical attention.  The staff at his various residences did all the hard stuff.

Mom

And then there was Mom. She lived to be 95 and the last eight years of her life were tough, especially for her. She was in the hospital so many times I lost count. She had four hip replacements and multiple other surgeries.

The last two years she was in a nursing home. I hated that she had to live there, but there were no other options. Fortunately, she was close by so I could visit her several times a week.

Again, I wasn’t her first-line caregiver, but I was very much involved in her everyday life – making sure she got the attention she needed and being her companion.

My turn is coming

Now I have to face the fact that my husband and I are “seniors” (I hate that word) and that sooner or later I likely will be a real caregiver – one who has the day-to-day responsibility of taking care of my spouse. And/or, my spouse could be taking care of me.

I’d rather not think about it and be an ostrich, sticking my head in the sand and pretending that life will never come to that place.

Yesterday, I did some journaling about this reality and that helped some. I expect I’ve got a lot more to write on the subject in my trusty journal, which has become my friend, companion and sounding board.

“It is not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.”
— Lena Horne, singer

 

Writing spark

Which one are you? A former or current caregiver? Someone who be a caregiver or will need one in the future? Set a timer for ten minutes and write about your experiences in the role of caregiver. How does this aspect of life affect you?   

Taking care

“Self-care has become a new priority – the revelation that it’s perfectly permissible to listen to your body and do what it needs.”
― Frances Ryan

My first “work of art”

Frances Ryan (as noted in the quote above) must have a hidden camera on me. Because self-care has become my new priority.

I discovered it while journaling last week. Sounds trite, I know. But that’s how it happened. I was feeling really drained and depressed. The pandemic, racial strife, a struggling economy and worldwide chaos are enough. But I’m facing some health and family issues that are weighing on me as well.

Life seemed gray and listless. I was in a foul mood and had to keep a tight rein on myself so I didn’t lash out at the cats or my husband.

My journal to the rescue

Sometimes when you get like that it’s hard to do anything to help yourself. So I stayed in that unhappy place for a while.

And then I journaled. I just wrote down everything I thought and felt – I was hopeless, empty and in need of nurture.

In the past, I’ve often looked to others or to God to nurture me when I’m down. And to some extent, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But this time, through journaling, I realized that there are ways to take care of myself.

Feeding my soul

Last week, I wrote about the joys of reading. And right now, that’s pretty much all I want to do. I splurged and bought John Grisham’s newest hardback. I scoured the library online for mindless and fun ebooks. And I gave myself permission to read as much as I want. What a luxury that feeds my soul.

And then I stumbled on something at Costco that was a real answer to my need for nurture. It’s a coloring book! It has colored pens and a tablet of designs with inspirational sayings. I am now onto my second “work of art” and I find it absorbing, relaxing and yes – nurturing.

I’ve always told myself I wanted to learn to paint when I retire. I’ve taken painting classes in the past and loved it. Maybe this is a baby step in that direction. Who knows? Whatever it is, I’m loving it.

Just doing these two things – reading and coloring – have hoisted me out of my pit. Hallelujah.

“Be you, love you. All ways, always.”
― Alexandra Elle

Writing spark

Sit down with your journal, take three deep breaths and write down one thing you can do to take care of yourself. If you can think of five, go for it. And then follow through. Make time to do something that feeds your spirit and gives you a boost.

 

 

Learning to read

“Everywhere I have sought peace and not found it, except
in a corner with a book.
” ― Thomas a Kempis

A not so funny thing happened to me on the way to getting a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I learned to hate reading. That’s right – I hated it. Here I was, a person who supposedly loved words and loved to write, but I didn’t want to read.

There was a good reason for this sorry situation. In college I had to read so many tedious textbooks and spend endless hours at the library poring over boring research materials. The result was that reading became a chore. It wasn’t fun. It was drudgery.

In my young adult years, I read lots of newspapers and magazines. If I read a book it was usually nonfiction. I’d been burned by too many dull pages of stuff I had to pound into my head so I could pass some exam.

My awakening

Now, to me, this should not be. I think an essential part of the educational process should be instilling in people a love of all kinds of written works – fiction, nonfiction, history, current events, etc.

After all, there is tremendous knowledge to be gained from this one simple thing. If we want to keep learning and growing after we complete an education, one of the best ways is through reading.

Fortunately, my aversion to reading dissolved when a friend invited me to his book group. This bunch picked some great books of a wide variety and I had a blast reading and discussing them. A whole new world opened up to me and I haven’t looked back.

Making up for lost time

Nowadays, I’m known to have at least two books going at once – sometimes three or more. I listen to audio books when I walk, read my Kindle every night before I go to sleep, and turn the pages of a paperback whenever I can.

Many of my friends are avid readers and I’m forever pestering them for book suggestions.

I’ve shed my ill-gotten distaste for reading and now I can’t get enough of it.

It’s a good thing, too. I call myself a writer and devote myself to the craft. How can I expect to be good at writing if I don’t read?

I just have one rule, though. If I don’t like a book, I put it down. My days of reading something that bores me are over.

PS: A corollary to this rule is that I can read whatever I want. Right now, in the midst of a pandemic and general worldwide chaos, all I want to read are detective mysteries and courtroom dramas. Thank God for Michael Connelly and John Grisham.

 

Writing spark

Consider keeping a book journal. You can keep one online at Goodreads.com or do it the old-fashioned way in a notebook. The advantage of a website like Goodreads is that you can connect with friends and find out what they’re reading. You can also write book reviews and keep a record of what you’ve read.

 

Defeating the cowardly lion

The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz

I’m afraid there’s no denyin’
I’m just a dandy-lion
A fate I don’t deserve
I’m sure I could show my prowess
Be a lion, not a mouse
If I only had the nerve

 

Years ago, I made one of the most courageous decisions I can recall. It may not sound like a big deal, but for me it was a huge step. I decided to join Toastmasters so I could overcome my fear of public speaking.

At the time, I was deeply shy, overly introverted and struggled mightily in social situations. I did okay one-on-one and in small groups. But put me in front of an audience and my heart pounded, my mouth went dry and my voice hushed almost to a whisper.

Anxiety about public speaking is not unique, of course. It often ranks high on top ten lists of things that people fear most. One such list ranked fear of public speaking above fear of death. So I wasn’t alone in my dread.

Why I did it

I didn’t become a Toastmaster just so I could conquer one of my demons. At the time, I was a budding speechwriter. I felt I needed to learn everything I could about the art of public speaking so I could write topnotch speeches. Plus, I could market my speechwriting business by making presentations and talks.

Joining Toastmasters was a game-changer for me. I spent five years in that small and close-knit club, got two Toastmasters certifications and even won a public speaking competition. One speech I gave turned into a book – My Father’s Eyes.

But the best part of the experience was that it freed me from my shy little shell. I became more self-confident and comfortable in social situations.

BT and AT

It’s been 25 years since my Toastmasters days and since then I’ve given countless speeches and conducted many writing workshops. I now talk to total strangers in the grocery store and my husband has even accused me of being an extrovert!

Becoming adept at something that once terrified me was so pivotal that I sometimes look at my life in terms of Before Toastmasters (BT) and After Toastmasters (AT).

But like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, I found I had more courage than I thought. I just had to grab hold of it and hold on for the ride.

 

Writing spark

It takes courage to live fully and overcome our fears. It takes courage to live, period – especially in this chaotic time. This week’s writing spark is about courage – big steps and little ones. You may want to focus on a momentous act of courage in your life or think about the daily acts of courage that get you through. Here are two thoughts to get you thinking and writing:

 

What is the most courageous decision you’ve made or the bravest thing you’ve done? How did it turn out and how has it impacted you and your life?

What small acts of courage can you identify in your daily life?

Good grief! Again!

[This is a brief piece I wrote for my BRAINZ writing prompt group. The May one-word prompt was SHOCKS.]

Sometimes I’d swear I was Charlie Brown in a previous life. I never seem to learn that Lucy is going to jerk the football away just when I try to kick it. I end up flat on my face, furious with myself for being so gullible. Furious that once more, I have to pick myself up, dust off and remind myself to be smarter next time.

              My naiveté has led to many shocks along the way. The first that comes to mind was in the late 1970s when I was just out of college and at my first job as a journalist. I was working for a newspaper in Fort Worth during the trial of T. Cullen Davis, the oil millionaire accused of murdering two people and wounding two others at his ritzy mansion.

              It was “the trial of the century” in Fort Worth and for most of Texas. During weeks of testimony, three eyewitnesses at the mansion identified Davis as the shooter. It seemed a slam dunk case.

              I was still a full-fledged Charlie Brown at heart then, so imagine my shock when I heard the “not guilty” verdict over the radio. I couldn’t believe it. I had yet to realize that our justice system is far from perfect and that if you are wealthy, you can hire a high-powered lawyer and have a better chance of beating a rap.

              I guess too much time passed between the T. Cullen Davis verdict and the O.J. Simpson case for me to remember this bit of wisdom. Because once again, I was shocked, stunned that the man was acquitted. Silly me.

              But enough of the criminal justice system. My Charlie Brown tendencies have led to many shocks in my personal and professional lives as well. From backstabbing bosses to cheating boyfriends, there were plenty of folks I shouldn’t have trusted along the way. But I still did.

              Now that I’m considered a “senior,” I like to think I’ve shed some of my gullibility. That I’m older and wiser about human nature and frailties. I know it’s an imperfect world, but I still believe that there’s good in almost everyone. That most people are doing their best and just trying to survive in a crazy world. There’s one exception, though. I’ll never trust Lucy. We’re done.  

My own personal wailing wall

“The journal has always been a story catcher, a worry catcher, pattern catcher.” — Ahava Shira

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Lately I’ve been thinking about a character in the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. One of the players in the story is a black woman named May Boatright who lives in South Carolina in the 1960s. May is deeply sensitive and has a hard time existing in a world where there is so much pain and violence.

She lives with her two sisters and they build a wailing wall for May, just like the one in Jerusalem. May writes down her anguish on pieces of paper and wedges them into cracks in that wall. Somehow, it helps May cope with her sadness.

No empty cracks

If I had a wailing wall right now, there probably wouldn’t be any empty cracks. I would already have stuffed every one with notes about all the chaos, anger, death and fear I see in the world. I feel like May – it almost hurts too much to pay attention to what’s going on around me.

As a result, I’ve cut way back on my news consumption, and that’s saying a lot for a woman who spent 12 years in the news business. I’ve got ink in my veins; staying informed is part of my DNA.

But right now, the world is too much for me to handle. I can only take it in small doses. And I’m almost grateful that I’m being told to cocoon for as long as I can.

My trusty friend

Even though I don’t have my own personal wailing wall, I do have a trusty spiral notebook – my ever-present friend The Journal. And writing down my feelings in it feels like a kind of relief from the madness.

When I write in my journal I do many things. I pray, figure things out, listen to my inner voice and dump whatever darkness there is inside me onto the page.

It is my hope that among many things, your journal can be your own personal wailing wall. That the mere act of writing down your pain and confusion will soften the blows of living in this time of pandemic, strife and division.

 

Writing spark

Imagine that your journal is your own wailing wall. Take 10 minutes and write about one thing that’s troubling you right now. As Tristine Rainer says, write fast, write everything and accept what comes. When you’re done, notice how you feel. If you need to write more on the subject, do so.

Until next week, stay well, be kind and keep writing.

Making friends with my feelings

The best way out is always through.” — Robert Frost

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a home where feelings were not allowed. Especially anger. Crying was not especially welcome either.

My mother in particular hated it when I cried. When she broke the news to me over the telephone that my father had died unexpectedly, I burst into tears. Even then she told me not to cry.

There was one exception to this taboo on feelings. My father was allowed to be angry. And that seemed to be the extent of his emotional range.

Product of their times

I’m making my parents out to be cold and awful, but they weren’t. They loved me and my siblings dearly and they were wonderful, honest and hard-working people. But they were a product of their times.

Both grew up in the Great Depression when folks sucked it up and trudged onward. Both were raised in very dysfunctional families and suffered a lot of emotional damage from those experiences.

On top of it all, my father saw combat in World War II, providing him an additional opportunity to shut down emotionally.

So I came by estrangement from my emotions honestly.

The turning point

Fortunately, at one point in my adulthood, I stumbled across a book about loving your feelings. I can’t remember the title. But basically it said there’s no right or wrong to feelings. They’re just a part of life and if you pay attention to them, they give you valuable information.

Ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist just causes them to gnaw at your inner being until eventually, if you’re lucky, you’re forced to face and deal with them. You have to walk up to emotions, sit down with them, listen to what they’re telling you and go from there.

Journaling + feelings = help

I find that journaling is a powerful tool in handling my emotions. If I’m angry or confused, I can take to the page and write it all down. I guess there’s a scientific explanation for what happens psychologically and physically when you do this. But don’t ask me what it is. All I know is that somehow, I feel lighter and have greater clarity when I’m finished.

So in this crazy, scary time when the world is turned upside down and none of us knows when we’ll feel safe again, don’t forget to journal about your feelings. Your feelings are okay, no matter what they are. Accept them, write them down, even love them because they are telling you something you need to know.

 

Writing spark

So let’s get right down to it with a very simple sentence stem:

Today, I feel ___________________

[You may want to use this basic journaling prompt often. I find that my mood bounces around from day to day and maybe yours does, too.]

Until next week, stay  well, be good to yourself and those around you, and journal.