writing

August Favorite Things

There are hundreds of versions of this idea – what you put out into the universe is what you receive. I have a hard time with this concept. It feels too abstract for me. Then I think, ‘eesh, I don’t want to put abstract into the universe’ so I redirect. I want to radiate beauty, goodness, and kindness. I want to attract lifelong friends, lip smacking kisses and inspire viral blog posts into the universe.  I type those things here, and then I shrink. Hover over delete. It’s hard projecting what you want over the interwebs.

I’ve been reaching out to PR people and asking for money and contacting creators of podcasts and most of the time, I don’t hear back. That’s ok. I’ll keep trying. I believe when we share other’s brilliant work, they’ll lean in, give back, and be willing to share mine.

This month I’m sharing the work of some brave, creative people who are doing their thing. I’ve also got a tasty treat in the list, and a chance to give back to something bigger than you. Happy August.

August. Wow.

  1. Here for You Blog by Kellyn Shoecraft

I “met” Kellyn online when she bravely shared her work on the Modern Loss Facebook group board. She writes about her experience with loss, doodles brilliantly, and has found a way to channel her pain into helping others. I love her blog and her drawings which capture so perfectly the way I feel on my bad grief days. We’ve been emailing back and forth a bit about her post Angrief, which is so damn true. You can order Compassion Packages full of beautifully selected cards and gifts and a mix of practical things that are hard to buy for yourself when you are grieving. Think toilet paper, garbage bags, and gallon size freezer baggies for all of the breakfast burritos people send you when people die. A perfect gift for those of you who may be feeling “there are no words.”

2. Aaron Hill Photography

I met Aaron years ago when he was volunteering at the agency I worked for serving at-risk youth. His heart for the hurting led him to graduate school and he is now a social worker in the mental health field by day and takes photos by night. He has an eye for unique angles, golden-hour light, and magical moments in nature. We recently met up with him for a photo shoot and I can’t wait to see what he captured! If you are looking for an artist to work with to capture this stage of your life, he’s your guy. Why is he one of my favorites? He’s affordable, sensitive, sees people and believes we can change the world by how we treat one another. His work can be viewed here.

3. Dead Parent’s Society Podcast

You know what’s helpful? Knowing you are not alone! I came across this beautiful podcast on the Modern Loss Facebook Group post ( It’s helpful ok!) and I almost giggled in delight. One – there are enough people in this horrible club with me who have created a SOCIETY. Two- this group of WRITERS share their experience about loss in words, read their essays, and then talk about the work. I started listening to the episodes while I’m at the gym. Pounding my feet on treadmills and ellipticals I listen in to others words of loss, of hope, of recovery, of our the uncomfortable ache bubbling up when others speak of their dads freely. Pound. Pound. Pound. Yes. Yes. Yes. Grief is just as they describe. Listen in to this project out of Kelly Writers House and keep telling Jamie-Lee this project changes lives. It’s changed mine.
4. Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

Remember Nutella? This stuff is better! We filled up our backpacks with hiking treats back when we hiked a 14ner a few weeks ago and now I bought a stash of these packets for afternoon snacks. Spread the stuff on toast, eat with an apple, or just squeeze right into your mouth.

5. My brave friend Jenny

My brave, childhood friend Jenny Stoecker is working in Bangladesh with refugees with Medical Teams International. She’s been back and forth several times over the year and I am floored by the work she is called to. Every time I feel overwhelmed I think of the people she is living with, working with, walking with, and I’m brought back down – perspective makes a world of difference. The issues facing Bangladesh are large in scope, complex, and full of political implications. Helping people on a global scale is complicated. What’s not complicated? Giving what you can of your life to those in pain. Consider donating to her organization Medical Teams International here. 

I continue to be amazed by her willingness to travel, advocate, and show up for those hurting around the globe. Follow her gorgeous pictures here.

I know not all of us are called to global work. Some of us hear whispers of creativity, build buildings, or tell powerful stories to delight people in the towns we grew up in. You don’t have to cross the ocean to influence a life.

What matters most to me? What are you putting out into the universe? And how are you giving back? How is the universe showing up beautifully in your world?


P.S. – I’m in the middle of planning a trip to England and Paris – if you know of quaint, affordable places to stay please let me know!
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Deeply Awake – Guest Post by Zoë Trout

Have you ever come across an essay and thought, “Wow! Another human being understands the way I view the world!” As a writer, a quiet observer of humans, I’m constantly wondering if others have the same sensitive intuition as me. When Zoë emailed asking if she could post on my blog, and I read her essay, I inhaled deeply into her words. She gets it. She’s wired like me, at least a little bit. I’ve got sisters and brothers and sensitive folk out there doing the same beautiful work as me. I feel honored to share her perspective. From one beauty seeker to another, write on.

Author: Zoë Trout
Blog: https://speckonaspeck.wordpress.com/

Her favorite quote: “i thank You God for most this amazing / day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes”  – e. e. cummings

Lately I’ve wanted to write about beauty. When I say lately, I mean for months—
and for months I haven’t written a thing. It daunts me to render something so
vast and brilliant in plain words, and my mind spirals in a hundred directions. I
still don’t know how the thoughts will come together. What I know is that beauty
wants to be written about. It’s been knocking softly over these months of
avoidance, and I’ve come into surrender, and so begin.

. . .

Our acquaintance is long, I’ve always loved beautiful things. When I was little I
slipped into imagination easily and intuitively and no one demanded answers. I
collected beautiful images in a mental folio for daydreams, pouring over
photographs in coffee table books, and copies of O magazine and House &
Garden. I treasured a calendar with pictures of French countryside, and pictured
my own “some day” life nested in fine art and stylish decor in a beautiful setting.
The appeal extended beyond possessions, I wanted my whole being to be a
beautiful thing. I sat on the big purple couch in our living room and practiced
writing in cursive over and over, pouring my attention into the loops of o’s & p’s
& b’s, and the quick, elegant peaks of lowercase r’s—it wasn’t task so much as joy.
I wrote, and drew, and painted; I took pride in helping my mom choose furniture
and fabrics, and in laying out outfits for her to wear. I courted loveliness with the
unspoken belief that it would enrich my life, or really that it already was.

I continued to harbor that belief as I began to grow up. Driver’s license in hand,
many of my first independent trips were to beautiful places that made the world
feel quiet and deep. I went outside, into green spaces and under trees. I went into
chapels and galleries, and visited art I loved. I sat before text and pictures, and let
myself steep in their harmonies. I obeyed the same gravitational pull that lured
me into daydreams, the same finger wagging me towards pockets of delight. I
followed enchantment with beautiful things.

Beauty inspired more substantial decisions, too. In high school I let it direct me
to my first job in a restaurant with windows on a stylish plant nursery across a
little green lawn. At night Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday swam through the
candlelight like honey and kept the restaurant glowing. I wasn’t always excited
for long shifts on my feet but my delight was renewed in going to a beautiful
place, and getting to be part of its melody. When I had to choose a college, an
impalpable charm drew me to the school I attended on first glance. Even from the
car, its campus had the same lyrical poise as a poem, and held me under the same
power of awe.

I would go on to choose apartments the same way, and find myself laying tracks
in beautiful spaces wherever I went. Now, I often get pressed into the fog of daily obligations and then wake up to some physical grace, like a silk scarf, or leaves on
a tree branch, twirling together madly in a sudden breath. Out of the daily plod of
emails, errands, and hourly pay emerges something plainly extraordinary, like
sun on the grass, and my spirit lights anew. Sometimes I don’t watch the road as
carefully as I should in the car; my eyes drag on glassy pond-tops, shop windows
and wings outstretched in the sky; my heaven is a perch with a view.

. . .

The question of vanity is raised, and also the question of escape. Isn’t it
superficial to swoon for aesthetics? Isn’t it irresponsible to abandon screens and
numbers and the high-stakes sport of “figuring out?” What do you get from
simple reverie? The spreadsheet and the checkbook demand an answer. The
insurance company demands an answer, and the accountant, and the banker, and
the boss.

For a long time I asked these questions, too. I thought I must use beauty as a
means to escape or avoid, running away to a false palace of my mind. I assumed
my delight was undisciplined. I reasoned that it was, by nature, a weakness.
It’s easy to confuse immersion with escape.

Today I know the difference. I still seek out brilliance in nature and art, and
anything else that stills my soul. It’s no secret that I know how to escape, and
have plenty of practice, but now I see that beauty never asks me to hide.
Submerging into wonder might look going to sleep, and perhaps it is a kind of
numbing to the outside world. It asks to be prioritized over tasks and lists and
news headlines. It asks that I surrender thinking, and let myself be led. But on the
other side of that quiet I hear my own harmony in a timeless choir. I come to
know myself as lovely and beloved. I come home to my necessity in the great,
mosaicked mystery of everything alive.

The world may continue to question. All I can offer is heartbeat, and sky reflected
in my eyes. All I can do is continue, pen in hand; there’s more to see and more to
say. I keep an eye out for wonder, and the discovery reminds me I am never
asleep in beauty, but only more deeply awake.


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Zoë Trout was born and raised in Texas and studied English and psychology at the College of William & Mary. Despite living in the Boston area, she harbors a deep affinity for the South and enjoys memoirs, contemplative poetry, and traveling widely. She has previously worked as a university writing consultant and served on the editorial board of The William and Mary Review, and she continues to write creative nonfiction while working in mental healthcare.
You can read more of Zoë’s work by following her blog, where she writes about growing up, living with purpose, and finding meaning in a noisy world.

Mine.

Unofficial titles I’ve had at work over the years. Levity Lady, Head of the Fun Committee, Social Activity Coordinator.

I like spending some of my work hours planning social outings, celebrations, and bringing humor to the office.

Some other words to describe my impulse to want to make people feel happier – encourager, coach, mentor, supervisor, friend, writer.

Whisperer of beautiful things.

As I work and I process and I heal my childhood wounds of the confusion of complex emotions, I realize just how many of my coping mechanisms involve trying to fix other’s happiness levels.  It comes out at work and it comes out in my family and I am wondering if it’s coming out here too.

I wrote this post at the end of 2016 about how hard it can be to encourage others. How challenging it is to look for the light. How lots of people prefer to yank us out of our seats and into the stinky mud on the ground. There is always more mud on the ground.

Because I feel for people, deeply, and I have trouble not dragging my empathetic toes into the circles of others. Because I care. And I want you to see the light. All of the glorious light that exists when we lift our chins.

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A beautiful friend boldly told me to start saying, firmly in my brain, “that is NOT mine.”

That grief, that conflict with your co-worker, that gut wrenching diagnosis. The government shut down, the fight with your mother, that unemployment and dashed dreams. All NOT mine.

It’s a new tool for survival. A safety shield for the ever-feeling heart.

Anne Lamott wisely says,

” there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world. They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway. Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”

This quote got me thinking. Is that what I’m trying to do here? Acting out my need to save others by sharing what’s good. Sure, I hope my words cause epiphanies in your lives and spark you to think about small, simple blessings that dance through your days.

But I’m not sure it works, and that shouldn’t be the point.

The beautiful, beautiful point, is I do this work for me. I look for the beautiful to make me feel sane. And if it works for you too, my gosh, let’s cheers with some bubbles. I don’t want to be toxic, I want to be balm. I don’t want to be controlling, I want to be free.

And looking for the beautiful helps me, me, me, my, MINE to do that. That process of healing, of unhooking from other’s drama, of allowing me to stand on my chair, chin up, arms open and up, tears streaming down my cheeks.

I also read this funny article about writing on Medium today. Poet James Avramenko writes about what he’s learned from writing a poem every day for the last six years. I love this nugget of truth that he shares,

  • The ones you like often get no play, the ones you think suck often explode

My most visited post on this blog is about the tv show Friends. I’ve poured out my heart and talked about grief, and shared bravely about MY own stuff. And the light hearted post about my obsession with Friends is most frequently read. The deep stuff gets glossed over and often ignored. I thought last week’s post was awesome. No comments. Crickets. Doubts. Temptations to press delete.

As an artist, that’s frustrating. But James is right. We don’t get it, we just write. We don’t know what’s going to stick and we can’t anticipate the impact. Maybe there is none.

So for this year, I’m changing my intention for the blog. I don’t want to get my help all over you. I want to help myself. Help myself heal, love this magnificent, magical world, build gratitude, dream bigger, and experience new things. I’m going to write about it.

If you feel it’s beautiful, consider sharing. As James also says, “Once it’s in the world, it’s out of your hands.”

Thanks for joining me.

 

 

January Favorite Things

Hooray! I can put up my new calendar today! Never mind that I ordered it in November when Shutterfly was offering a deal for free ones. I love turning the page on a calendar and I like New Year’s Day. While I struggle with changes outside of my control, a new year feels fresh, hopeful, and promising. I get to start over on my attempt to read 20,000 pages in a year and I can dabble in my resolutions like writing a draft of that book inside my head and learning to play the ukulele that I was gifted for Christmas. If you know anyone who teaches this beautiful instrument let me know – so far I’ve got one chord under my belt.

Here are some of my other favorite things this month. Happy New Year! May 2018 bring beautiful things your way.

1. The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George

I read this book over the holidays. Compassionate to grief and a clever application of how books soothe the soul. I highly recommend it to anyone who delights in the power of story.

2. PG tips Premium Black Tea

I’m turning over a new leaf and trying to cut my vanilla latte habit. This is going to be hard – maybe you can help hold me accountable. I’m switching to tea instead. I’ve been told this is the best there is. Hoping this turns into a new favorite thing.

3. Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday is coming up! I like having a birthday that closely follows Christmas. It gives me something to look forward to after the post-holiday let down. Not sure how I’ll celebrate, but I rest in gratitude for another year around the sun.

Oh, thank you for asking! What’s on my birthday list? Here’s a few ideas.

Rabbit Original Lever Corkscrew , Ukulele for Beginners: How to Play Ukulele in Easy-to-Follow Steps or most things from J.Crew

I also want someone to send me a box of wine from Wine Awesomeness. Because really, wine in the mail? How awesome.

4. T-Shirts with Dogs on Them

bulldog

I didn’t realize that I’ve sorta got a collection of t-shirts with dogs starting in my closet. My momma gave me this one for Christmas. I also like this one and hope to grow my odd collection.

5. Write it Out

New year – a new place to capture your beautiful thinking. If you want to start a journaling practice in the new year, I recommend these great tools.

Moleskine Classic Notebook and these pens with this coffee.

Shoot, I forgot I now drink tea. I recommend this tea.

On Doubts

Oh yes, I have them too. Big, fat, ugly, warty doubts that sit on my heart and squash my finger’s desire to type. Little wispy doubts that wear tutus and dance among my strands of hair, swinging along and whispering as they pass by my ears. “You shouldn’t write” they say. “Your stories, your truths – they are going to keep you from getting a job, or make your friends run the other direction. Give it up, no one tends to give a damn.”

I wonder, almost daily, if it is worth being vulnerable on the internet. I doubt the sharing of my tears, my heart, my hopes and my grief on this space. I filter my failures and minimize my successes.

And then, beautiful people like Anne Lamott give a Ted Talk and post on Facebook and I remember, once again, that I’ve got to. I’ve got to write.

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So today, my beautiful thing is Anne Lamott’s reminder that she shared. Take that world, I’m going to continue telling my story.  I don’t want to feel like hell.

I personally like #6 on her list. Take heed world, take heed.

Survived by….

Olive, our dog, got a new toy for Easter. Meet Cerdito (little piggy in Spanish) as we affectionately call him.

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Looks the same, but Olive’s is green. As I sit here, Olive is chewing and the little toy grunts away. It has this odd sound mechanism that makes me feel like I’m sharing my bedroom with a baby boar. Her zeal for this creature makes me laugh.

Sometimes it’s the little things that are enough to get you up and out of bed and writing.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

I was reading my dad’s obituary yesterday. It’s still online and when I miss him it can be helpful to look at the long list of memories that other people shared on his site. I stopped when I read the phrase, “… is survived by….” 

I wrote his obituary with my mom, an ugly obligation when you are the writers in the family. I remember being in her bedroom. Mom sat on her blue upholstered couch, I across the way perched slightly higher on her four poster-bed. With rounded shoulders and our chins in our hands we asked each other, “Do we have to include that phrase?”

“I hate that saying,” I’m pretty sure I murmured. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

I never used to understand that phrase. Survived by. I mean sure, that makes sense if we were all in a terrible accident. If the cause of death was a storm, or a bus, or a tragedy that we were all involved in. If we were the ones to get out of the car and walk away scratch free. I didn’t survive his heart attack. I didn’t survive anything in the few days, weeks, early months of loss.

We included the two words.

Roy is survived by his wife, Christine Christman; daughter, Katie (Dylan) Huey and son, Sam Christman.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito. Olive continues to chew away.

I think the impact of those two words makes sense to me now. Thirteen months out, I have begun to survive Dad’s death. My family has begun to survive loss.

As humans, all of us are going to have to at some point – sorry Charlie.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

I went to Good Friday service last Friday. This year the death part of the Easter story hit me differently. The pastor gracefully explained how deeply Jesus suffered on the cross – not in brutal, gory detail, but rather in focusing on the emotional exhaustion that comes from death.

Jesus experienced it too, hanging on the cross, crying out to God “Why have you forsaken me?” He experienced how breath becomes shallow, how head hangs low, how heart and spirit feel ripped away from the Creator of the Universe.  Jesus died. In dying, he felt the things that feel very much like grief.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

Grief can be unbelievable lonely, even when walking with people who lost the same person as you. On Friday, sitting in church in the dark, listening to Jesus’ final seven phrases, it hit me; Jesus has been through death too. This made me feel just a little bit better, a little closer to God, a little more hopeful, less lonely in the beginnings of survival.

On Sunday, I yelled “He is Risen” with enthusiasm. For Jesus rose again to take on our suffering, to walk with us through the dark, to say to ME “I get it. I’ve been there too.” This common ground never made sense to me until just this week. What a beautiful thing.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt, ” says Cerdito.

I think survival is an interesting concept. Day to day we, as humans, are surviving. By breathing air and eating food and drinking water we make choices to keep on going, despite hardship. Death can be hardship, so can a million other things.

Yet choosing to find joy as the thread that connects all of the horrible can be a beautiful thing.  I’ll end my thoughts this week with a list of the beautiful threads of joy that have helped me begin to be a survivor of death of a loved one.

It is a new identity I’m tentatively beginning to put on – one arm in the sleeve of a scratchy sweater, not yet worn enough to be soft on my skin.

Those silly grunts from a pig, and tears, and communion in individual plastic cups.

New jobs for my husband, and naps, and spaghetti.

In meals cooked by my brother, breakfasts at the lunch counter at The Silver Grill.

Afternoons spent at my in-laws.

In Easter baskets, and morning light, and endless text message threads.

In acknowledging that we all, at some point, are going to survive something.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

 

Coruscate – A Challenge

My mom sent me a text this morning with the word coruscate.

 

Coruscate-Turn on the stars.

She loved its definition and I do too. The way this word creates a beautiful image in its own meaning makes me feel all tickled inside.

When I stop and think about word-play, how we use word upon word to define our vocabulary, it can be dizzying to think about the power of language. And there are so many beautiful choices for how we want to describe our worlds.

I’ve started a Pinterest board with some of my favorite words and phrases, definitions that bring me joy. I want this board to grow.

So out of my own curiosity I pose to you this challenge. Help me grow my list of beautiful, tantalizing, delightful, intriguing, special, heart-warming words.

What is your favorite beautiful word and it’s definition?

If you email me your response at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com I will create a meme for you with the word and post it on my Pinterest page. I will send you the image, and put your contribution in my collective list that will get shared at the end of the month.

Get out those dictionaries, search your minds, share your heart. Accepting entries until March 31st.