The Thing About Miracles


My word for the year has been “miracles.”  As such, I’ve invited all kinds of miracles into my life, some intended and some not.  It has been fun and exciting to watch them unfold and then document them afterwards.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t make them happen.  You also can’t predict how they will work out.  In fact, some miracles are actually preceded by sacrifice and loss.

I learned to meditate this year in order to help my insomnia and anxiety.  But the road to relaxation has not always been an easy one.  Mainly because mindfulness is easier said than done.  I’ve had to let go of a lot of old behaviors that trigger worry and doubt.  I’ve had to look my fears in the face and learn to embrace them like old friends.

But if you’re open to change, transformation is inevitable.  And when you get your wings and another chance in life, the experience becomes truly miraculous.

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”
–Judy Blume

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
–Louisa May Alcott

“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.” –Audrey Hepburn

“Out of difficulties grow miracles.” –Jean de la Bruyere

 

 

 

 

Above Your Nerve

Emerald Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

I recently blogged about the movie “Wild” featuring Reese Witherspoon, based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  There are some great quotes in there.  Today I’d like to highlight one from an Emily Dickinson poem.

“If your Nerve, deny you
Go above your Nerve”

Talk about nerves.  My husband and I decided to hike the Rockies just after Memorial Weekend, May 31.  We thought we’d see 3 or 4 pretty lakes, each about a half mile apart, and be done in about an hour or 2.  Little did we know the park just opened the path after the holiday because of snowfall.  Thankfully we had recently purchased our first pair of hiking boots, and they were waterproof.  We must have changed our clothes every 20 minutes.  From tank top to long sleeve to breathable jacket to rain jacket to light down jacket and sometimes back off again at intervals.  It was actually pretty warm until the wind came.  Until the rain came.  Until the sleet and hailstorm that rangers never warned us about.  Luckily we found shelter under a rock slab…sort of.  But that was at the top.  First we had to get there.  And that involved climbing snow and ice-covered paths steadily inclining.  We had no idea each lake required a hike in elevation.  But we followed the others, hoping they knew what they were doing…where they were going–some of them slipping around in street shoes and wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and jeans.  I secretly wanted to quit a few times all while having the time of my life.  I love to hike, but my nerves get me every time, especially with looming heights, steep cliffs, and now icy paths.  My mind is always thinking about what might go wrong.  I used to hush that inner voice, try to turn it off, even curse at it.  But that never worked.  The best thing to do is let it talk.  Acknowledge it like an old friend.  Let it chatter on in the background.  But meanwhile get to work.  Get moving.  Start climbing.  And when it gets to that point where you think you want to stop and turn back, that’s when you must go above the nerve.

Good luck to you on all your journeys.  Safe travels and take care.  But don’t let a little thing like fear stop you.  It’s only the background music for your adventure.  And when you make it back, that same voice will say, “I knew you could.”

 

 

Got Fear? Get Stoked!

“Wings of Courage” stained glass window at Washington National Cathedral in D.C.

I recently visited Washington D.C. for a week while my husband took a class.  What an adventure that was!  I’ve never been on my own in a big city before.  One of my biggest accomplishments was riding the subway by myself.  I was terrified to do it, fearing I would get lost.  I’m known for being directionally challenged.  I never look at maps.  These days, I rely on my GPS to get me where I need to go.

The first day there, I was off the hook.  A major snowstorm literally shut down the government.  Why doesn’t that happen in Michigan?  😉  I was able to get some much-needed writing done at a local café in Dupont Circle.  I did take one small step though.  I followed directions to a gym near the hotel.  But of course, that was just walking.  The next day, it was time to take up the challenge.  I was supposed to meet a friend at some museums later in the week, so I knew I should practice beforehand.  Even with my husband’s helpful tips (he’s a human GPS), I was worried.

Luckily, I had brought along a book to read called Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave by Patty Chang Anker.  The author is a self-professed scaredy-cat.  But after turning forty, she decided to conquer some of her biggest fears including diving and riding a bike all while blogging about it on “Facing Forty Upside Down” and eventually writing a memoir.

Some of her best advice is, “Don’t fixate on the thing you fear–keep your eye on where you want to go!”  I took that advice to heart.  First when riding the crazy long escalator with my fear of heights, then through the subway gates and all the way onto the train.  Here we go!

I’m proud to say I made it to the gallery stop and even made a transfer 😉  One success led to another, and soon I was zipping around town from the museums to the White House to Georgetown to the National Cathedral.  Even the concierge was cheering me on!

Mercury statue
National Gallery of Art:

Mercury is the Roman god of poetry, communication, travelers, and luck!

Probably my biggest adventure came midweek when my husband confirmed that I could use his tickets to visit the Senate and House galleries at the Capitol.  I only had one hour and was all the way at the  National Museum of American History.  To give you an idea of the pressure I was under, I had to speed walk about 9 blocks and I wasn’t even a hundred percent sure I would get in.

The good news?  I made it!  And the rest as they say is history.  But it was really all about taking the plunge.

The moral of the story as quoted from Anker’s book:  “Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness,” states Susan Jeffers in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

And how does one do that exactly?  According to Anker’s surfing instructor, “You just need to keep your stoke up.”  Stoke being defined as the fire in one’s belly as in the excitement of seeing a great wave, which leads to harmony in one’s life and the ability to rise up to life’s challenges.

But it’s more than that.  “It’s about pleasure even in uncertainty, relaxing when you’re out of your element, keeping yourself excited and motivated for whatever might be coming next,” Anker says.

So now that you know my story, my question to you is this.  What will you do to keep your stoke up?

Author Washington Irving’s kneeler at National Cathedral

Don’t wait until you’re Rip Van Winkle! 😉

Mind Worm

When I attended the Midwest SCBWI conference last spring, I had the chance to hear author Franny Billingsley speak.  She talked about the power of fear and how important it is to understand what scares your main character the most and then exploit it.

To explain this, she started out by introducing the term “Mind Worm.”  Yes, it really exists (at least metaphorically speaking)!  The Mind Worm burrows into the brain and in so doing discovers an individual’s dreams and fears.  The Mind Worm then has the power to create an event that forces the person to go on a unique adventure designed to help the person learn something deeper about him or herself.

Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  The writer is a Mind Worm!

How can you be a Mind Worm for your main character?  Start by pushing your character out of his or her comfort zone.  Push your character to her limits.  Make him squirm.  Make her jump right out of her skin!  A powerful antagonist can help with this.  So can an unforeseen event or tragedy.

Then see what happens.  Guaranteed the character will be forced to grow and change.  Which is what we want, isn’t it?  That’s how we create someone to root for and maybe even identify with.  Someone to believe in.  And once your readers are invested in your main character, they’re ten times more likely to follow him or her until the end.

So my advice to you today is:  Be a Mind Worm.  See where it takes you.  More importantly, see where it takes your character.

Practicing Patience: Favorite Inch by Favorite Inch

watercolor collage painting

Let’s start with an exercise, shall we?  “Breathe in trust.  Breathe out fear.  Breathe in trust.  Breathe out fear.”

What does this teach us?  To calm down.  To be in the moment.  To practice PATIENCE.  But why?

Making art is a lengthy process.  I should know.  This particular piece took 10+ hours and several class periods to complete.  At times, it looked so abstract that I feared nothing would come of it.  But as fellow artists know, once you’re in the middle of a project, you only have two choices.  Quit to avoid failing (which actually translates to an automatic failure) or continue on the path and see how it turns out.  I chose the second option because I’m just stubborn like that 😉

The process of watercolor collage painting involves dyeing handmade paper using liquid watercolor paint.  Then you have to let each piece dry.  Meanwhile you sketch your scene.  Then you painstakingly glue each colored piece to your paper using matte gel medium.  You can’t be sure if you’ve colored enough pieces for each section.  Also be aware that your hands will become dyed and glued very easily!  All you can do is trust the process.

What can I say?  The end result was satisfying.  But is that always the case?  Sometimes you reach your destination after a lot of hard work to find a breathtaking sight.  Other times, you feel discouraged by your work.  You may also feel like it goes unappreciated.  But patience and perseverance are always the keys.

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” — Hal Borland

If you don’t feel up to it, try this exercise:  “Find your favorite inch.”  I learned about this at a recent workshop at the Mazza Museum for children’s illustration in Findlay, OH.  One of the speakers mentioned that when you’re feeling down about your art, search for your favorite part inside a piece of art.  You can also use this exercise when viewing art at a museum or gallery as a learning tool.  There must be one part you’re satisfied with in your work.  It could be an interesting line or angle, a character’s expression, a unique color.  Something is always working in a painting.  It is your job to find it, which can be extremely difficult when self evaluating.  Once you identify your sweet spot, work from that.  Think of it as a stepping stone.  Achievement always begins with a single step.  In this case, a single brush stroke.

Let’s review:  Breathe in Trust; breathe out fear.  Practice patience.  Find your favorite inch.

And when all hope is lost, just remember:

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman

As the new year approaches, keep reaching!

 

Go to the Well

People go to wells for many reasons– water…wishes…words?

I enjoy receiving book recommendations.  Recently someone suggested On Writing Well  by William Zinsser.  Since it’s a guide for nonfiction writing, I paused before picking it up.  But then I thought, why not?  Thank goodness I did.  Turns out the wisdom found in its pages works for all kinds of writers.

Here are some highlights!

“Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is.”

When writing, go in search of humanity and warmth.  “Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading…”

My favorite chapter is titled “Clutter.”  Follow this advice to help declutter your writing.

  • Don’t follow a verb with a preposition (“order up”)
  • Don’t add an adverb when the verb itself does the job (“smile happily”)
  • Don’t add an adjective that states a known fact (“tall skyscraper”)
  • Avoid using qualifiers that weaken the sentence (“a bit,” “sort of”)
  • Avoid using phrases that don’t mean anything (“in a sense”)
  • Avoid following up a sentence with another sentence that essentially says the same thing.  (You can also cut sentences that give info readers don’t really need to know or can figure out on their own.)

Astonishing fact: “Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.”

***How do we get our own style?***

Trick question!  “First…learn to hammer the nails, and if what you build is sturdy and serviceable, take satisfaction in its plain strength.”

If anything, “Sell yourself…Believe in your own identity and your own opinions.  Writing is an act of ego…Use its energy to keep yourself going.”

Here’s some advice on fear and confidence from humorist S. J. Perelman.  “The reader has to feel that the writer is feeling good…Even if he isn’t.”

“Writers have to jump-start themselves at the moment of performance, no less than actors and dancers and painters and musicians…You also have to [be the one to] turn on the switch.  Nobody is going to do it for you.”

And what’s my new mantra from this book?  “Get on the plane.”  You never know where your words will take you.  But they won’t take you anywhere, unless you have the courage to write them.

Quotes for Your Arsenal

Here are some quotes to keep you going during the change in seasons.

I just finished reading Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus, which follows the fictionalized true story of one of  the first Japanese people to set foot in America.

“Have your whole heart bent on a single purpose.”  –from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

“When meeting difficult situations, one should rush forward bravely and with joy.  It is the crossing of a single barrier.”  –from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

“When one’s own courage is fixed in his heart, and when his resolution is devoid of doubt, then when the time comes he will of necessity be able to choose the right move.”  –from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

A friend recently shared this quote by Georgia O’Keeffe.  “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing.  Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

My favorite dreamer, SARK, suggests we try not to let fog and pus get in the way of our ability to take action and make decisions.

Fear

Obligation

Guilt

&

Pressure

Urgency

Scarcity

I stumbled on the Confidence Blog by Cathy Sirett and found two great ways to unmask fear.

FEAR = Future Events Appear Real

FEAR = False Expectations Appear Real

My neighbor recently recommended an environmental fantasy movie, Beasts of the Southern Wildwhich I finally had time to watch.  Here are two of my favorite quotes from this moving film.

Hushpuppy: “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the entire universe will get busted.”

Hushpuppy: “I see that I’m a little piece in a big, big universe. And that makes things right. When I die, the scientists of the future, they’re gonna find it all. They gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy.”

How will you let the world know you exist?