Sunday, May 25, 2014

Telling Our Amazing Stories Together

One of the gifts I received at the retreat in Comfort, TX, last week was learning how a "third thing" can open my heart and speak to my soul. These "third things" include poetry, music, images, movement and nature, to name a few. For example, Enya sings:

Each heart is a pilgrim,
each one wants to know
the reason why the winds die
and where the stories go.
Pilgrim, in your journey
you may travel far,
for a pilgrim it's a long way
to find out who you are..."
("Pilgrim," A Day Without Rain)

The lines "each heart is a pilgrim" and "where the stories go" resonate deeply in me. Telling our stories is how we share our hero/heroine journeys and diverse cultures. Where do the stories go? They lead us on daily quests, both exterior and interior.

I am on a pilgrimage into the world collecting stories from life about what matters, making connections and forming relationships. Each time I share, whether by telling my own or listening to yours, I refill my heart with love for the human spirit.

And that, dear friend, is what makes TOAST so yummy.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

When the well is dry

I love the clatter of the keyboard against the pads of my fingertips that sounds like rain on a tin roof. When I'm in the flow, the story gushes forth, like a torrential waterfall from a crevice in my imagination, pouring out almost effortlessly. I'm high on creative adrenaline.

But it isn't always that way. There are times when I begin to question myself, my artistic talent, my wordplay. That's when writing is hard. And the more I question myself as a writer, the more I allow doubt to rise in my chest and cripple my fingers. Everything I write sounds silted, forced, tired, and shallow. Fear opens wounds of unworthiness. Darkness gathers, and I feel I am a fraud.

In the old days, that is to say, in the days of my youth, when these feelings came over me, I'd shut down and sink into an abyss of depression. Now, however, I know these feelings aren't an indictment of my being an interloper. Instead, they are an indication that the well is dry.

The reality is, creativity needs nourishment just as the body needs food. When the well is dry, I need to take care of myself, nurture my creativity, let it drink from other streams of life.

Poetry feeds me. The way poets can turn a phrase helps unlock my mind to new possibilities. I delight in another's palate. Tasting, savoring Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, the Psalmists.

Nature satisfies me. Summer is approaching and seeds have burst, forming into tomato plants, yellow squash, peaches, watermelon. A mother dove made a nest in the eaves of the roof over our back porch. I've watched the babies hatch and grow until they could fly on their own and leave the nest for the trees in the backyard. Along with the red birds, the mockingbirds, and martens, they greet me with song in the mornings. The squirrel, who lives among the pecan trees, shares with the birds the grain in a bowl that my sweetie fills every day. The birds sneak water from the dogs' bowls when they're dozing in the shade or chasing the neighbor's cats.

I am packing for a week-long retreat in Comfort, TX, to steep myself in the philosophy of the Quakers, as shared by Parker Palmer, and open my writer's soul to renewal and wholeness. As Palmer writes: "It's time to slow down, do more with less, and listen to the rhythm."

My well is being filled.

What do you do when the well is dry?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The heart remembers

My mother died in 2009, but her memory lives on in my heart and my brothers' hearts. That's the way it is with those you love--their life story and its impact on you continues for as long as the heart remembers.

After my father died in 1996, my younger brother called my mother every day. I know his calls pulled her through her grief until she cold find her spark for life again. Mother loved all three of her children, but Mark was her favorite and no wonder. He adored her as only the baby boy in a family can adore his mother, and their daily conversations were filled with gossip, sports, and laughter.

After she turned 80, Mother started pulling in her world. She went to the nail salon and the hair salon, but she had Mr. Ennis do her grocery shopping, pick up her mail at the post office, and run other errands around town. She stayed home, watched sports, and read books that Mark brought her by the armload. She loved to read, but had to put her initials at the end of a novel so she would know she'd read it already (or she'd begin it again and be half-way through before she realized the storyline was familiar). I have to admit, though I am still in my 60s, I have to put my initials at the end of the books I read.

One of my strongest memories is a time when we had driven to Oklahoma City to see relatives on my dad's side of the family. We stopped at I-Hop for breakfast, and we both got the Senior Special. Her mother had died when she was in her 30s, so I always felt blessed that Mother and I were able to grow old together .

We called her the Queen Mother, and I grew up in her shadow, for she was so boldly beautiful and steely strong and people smart and just so darn dazzling that I felt like the waning moon to a bright, bright sun.

But the truth is, I have her genes... which makes me the Princess-of-Quite-a-Lot.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Church Street Retreat

Yesterday marked the inauguration of my writing retreat in Navasota. The Church Street Retreat house opened its doors to nine women who drove from Houston to write about "Life Matters," which was the theme for the day.

We had a grand day writing out bucket lists of the future plans, dreams and aspirations we have while we listened to a MP3 of Tim McGraw singing "Live Like You're Dying." The exercise helped us focus on what's really important to each of us at this stage of our lives and put us in the right frame of mind to compose legacy letters.

Legacy letters are similar to ethical wills, except ethical wills are usually kept with people's last will & testament and read after their death. People leave their material things in a last will & testament, and they leave their wisdom and values in an ethical will.

My sweetie's mother left an ethical will to her children in which she told them to prepare for heaven and the rapture by reading and living by the Word. She wrote that she loved each of them dearly and that she would see them again in the next life. A gold framed copy of that ethical will sits on the mantle in our living room.

A legacy letter, on the the hand, is one that you write and present to someone important in your life. It is one that expresses your love for that person as well as the insights you've had about life, thus far in your life (because you can write a legacy letter at any time in your life, not just toward the end of your life). For example, you could write a letter to your grandson as he is graduating from high school and traveling to another city, maybe even another state halfway across the country. You could share with him what you know now in your 50s or 60s that you wish you'd known when you were his age going off to college. Words to the wise, right?

My 40-year-old son Matthew earlier this year wrote me a letter that could easily fit the category of legacy letter. Being a modern day man, he emailed the letter rather than handwriting it, but I promise you, it is the most treasured gift he has ever given me.

The nine women yesterday wrote heart-warming letters, too. If you are one of the recipients, you will be exceedingly blessed by receiving one. If not, perhaps you can write one to someone you love or admire. In fact, if you will send me your email, I'll send you an outline for a legacy letter to get you started.

In the meanwhile, a heartfelt thank you to Carol,  Diane, Dixie, Gayla, Imelda, Lil, Nancy, MaryLynn and Wynell for making this first writing retreat so remarkable.

What's on your bucket list?