Humor, Hope, and Haircuts

My heart is heavy today. I have heard from several students who are in healthcare situations working with COVID patients. These are young adults facing the unthinkable—dire situations that career-long doctors and nurses have never before experienced. I am afraid for them. My heart is breaking for them.

My heart is also breaking for all the people who have tested positive for the virus or who are suffering with it. This morning, I received word that the wife of one of my students has contracted the virus through her daily routine as a medical worker. She is in isolation in a room in their house while he has moved to the basement with their two little girls to keep them safe. I have offered a hand in the form of front door grocery drop-off. It’s all I have to give.

After a month of social distancing, there are hints of hope in discussions about returning to normal. That is one moment of the day. The next moment is heartache in knowing that we are not there yet. In fact, we may be a long way off from “there.” We are HERE, and for now, here has to be enough. Here and hope. Because without hope, what do we have?

HERE, we get through every day with humor. Hope and humor go hand in hand. Jokes and one-liners and pranks. Everyday, there is something to keep me on my toes. We laugh our way through the long, lonely days of house arrest. Because without humor, we would have a boring, socially distanced monotony for a month or two or ten.

And every now and then, something comes up to shake up the routine. Today, I gave my son a haircut. I used to give my boys haircuts back in the early days of single motherhood to save a few dollars. When he started complaining about his hair last week, I checked the bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity, and sure enough, we still had our hair clipper. Today, I gathered all the necessary tools, and I cut his hair. Is it even? Most likely not. Is it shorter? You bet! Will he need another haircut next week? Absolutely. I didn’t want to risk cutting too much off. As I told him, you can always cut more off, but you can’t glue it back on.

For today, something as minor as a haircut improved our mood, gave us hope, and eased the heartache for just a moment. Tomorrow is a new day—a new day for jokes and humor. And a new day for hope. We are HERE, and hope will prevail.

{Photo by Marcelo Silva on Unsplash}

Goodness as a Gift

This morning, as the sun came up bright on the new day, I realized that even in these trying times—through any trials we face—goodness is all around us. Right now, despite the difficulties we are facing in our global society, goodness shines through like a gift just waiting to be discovered. Just outside my window, flowers are blooming in my garden, and the plants my kids and I put in at the end of last season are beginning to poke through the dirt, reminding me of the weekend we spent cleaning up the garden.

Today was a quiet Easter day. We could not go to church. We could not have people over to share in some rowdy dinner conversation. Regardless, the weather was gorgeous. I ventured out for a walk with only a sweater rather than the jacket I have been wearing until now. Several small children, out on walks in the neighborhood with their families, stopped in front of my house to look for my cat and play with him. My cat has been dubbed a “neighborhood celebrity” because he is overly friendly and just confident enough to appear more human than feline in his interactions with passersby.

Out further in the world, where I prefer not to venture these days, our essential workers are fighting the battles we cannot fight. They are stocking the ever-emptying food shelves while sanitizing between customers, hauling our garbage away and cleaning even at the town dump, filling prescriptions for medications to keep people healthy, caring for the sick, and comforting the dying. They are tending to the emotional needs of those who are struggling in this strange new world, and they are keeping our utilities up and running. Our teachers have not only transitioned their entire jobs online, but they are digging deep to make it look easy so they can smooth the same transition for their entire student population.

The goodness is always there—not just now, but always. If we take the time to look for the it and recognize its presence in our lives as a gift, the goodness will grow. Our attitudes will shift. We will more readily see the goodness, have a positive attitude, and be the goodness for someone else. We will begin to influence others, and soon, goodness will displace negativity. We will begin to see that we all want the same things, and we will begin to work together for the good of us all. Positivity begets positivity. Take the time to look for the goodness and highlight the goodness because goodness will grow. And once it starts, there’s no telling what could happen.

See the goodness. Be the goodness. You are a gift.

{Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash}

Fun with F words

Today is F day in my alphabet rotation. I am a few letters behind, but I’m forcing myself to keep going rather than falter in my quest to finish the AtoZ challenge, especially so fresh out of the gate. It is a few days from Friday, and far back in our former times, my friend (in fact, my BFF), had formulated plans to visit for Easter. Her flight was to arrive today. But her plans were foiled, and she is far away, while I remain frozen to my flat. We have resolved to plan a fun fiesta sometime when the future permits.

In the meantime, one could easily fixate on frustration in times like these. But I pledge to remain a force to be reckoned with, finding no functionality in the stress of fizzled plans. Positivity is far more fitting to my personality.

So this afternoon, I wandered out for some fresh air. The flowers are finally poking their flashy colors through the faded not-quite-green that follows winter. Forsythia have burst their sunny yellow blossoms for all the world to see. And the fabulous sapphire sky above me was furrowed with puffy clouds, the perfect end to an invigorating stroll.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Fs I’ve furnished in following through on my quest to float through the full alphabet by the end of April.

Dots… and Everything Else

Life is a process of connecting the dots. When we are young, our lives are full of dots that have little connection. We live life one day at a time with few plans. We play with this friend, that toy, and we work to discover our talents. As children, we live moment to moment, figuring things out as we go.

When we grow, we take all the things we have experimented with in our “play” and in our growing up, and we examine them, figure out which things we want to keep, and which things we really don’t enjoy or prefer not to pursue.

Now, here’s where the tricky part comes. In order to connect the dots and begin to fashion a life that has meaning and purpose, we have to determine how our “dots” fit into the bigger context of the world around us. We have to figure out what we bring to the world, and how that talent or  interest meets a need that the world has. That is where meaning, purpose, and passion come together.

One of the things I do in the real world is ask college freshmen to begin connecting their dots. What did you LOVE to do when you were nine or ten? What is something from your childhood you wish you hadn’t given up when you transitioned to adulthood? What are you doing when you are most likely to lose track of time? If you were asked to work alone in isolation every day, would you be able to do it, or do you need to be with people?

That was the dot that got me back when I was graduating from college. I had planned a desk job for my life, working in a cubicle in an office building. But a teaching internship slammed on the brakes, showing me I was on the wrong path. I had forgotten to consider the dot that needed dynamic, face-to-face interaction with people. [Now, of course, here I am in Corona Isolation, craving dynamic, face-to-face interaction, but this is a temporary story.]

If you haven’t yet taken the time to examine your dots and figure out how they connect, now is a perfect time to start thinking about that. Are you doing what you love? Are you fulfilling a need in the world? Are you happy? And more than that, do you experience regular moments of joy?

Not only is now a great time to begin to connect any dots you haven’t yet connected, it is also a good time to begin to examine Everything Else. What is it that makes you fully you? Are you in the best job for you? Do you have enough time for family? Is there something else you need to be doing? How can you put steps in place to get where you belong?

Here in this down time, take a moment or two to examine the Everything Else that makes up your life; if you are not on the right track, create a plan to get back on track.

This time—this quiet time when we have opportunity for greater reflection and focus, when we can look deeply inside ourselves and see who we really are and what we really want for our lives—this is a gift.  Don’t let it slip away without at least taking some time to think. Your dots deserve to be connected, and you are the only one who can do that.

{Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash}

Change (and a bit of Creative Reframing)

This morning, I woke up with Billy Joel’s “I’ve loved these days” stuck in my head. Why this song? I have not heard this song in years, and yet, there it was, going round and round in my head. So… I started to think about it.

Now, there are a lot of things that I don’t like about these days: the loneliness, the fact that I can’t see my students, the monotony of the same few rooms that keep me confined. But truth be told, it’s comfortable here, and if I look at things in the right light, there are blessings in this situation.

Since I’ve been working from home, I am not up at 5:30 in the morning to see my son out the door. Nope. These days, I’m often up at 7:00, but I can get up as late as 8:30 and slide into work with slightly damp hair—coffee in one hand and toast in the other—by a 9:00 meeting. I can wear jeans and slippers and wrap in a blanket when I am cold. Better yet, if my “office” is cold, I can bake a batch of muffins to warm things up a bit. When I need to clear my head, I step out into the fresh air and go for a walk. I don’t have to plan ahead if I want lunch.

When I am outside, I see more families spending time together. Because the weather is beginning to warm up, children are out riding bikes, and parents often accompany them, either on bikes or maybe walking the dog.

In the space of only three weeks, there have so been many changes, but they haven’t all been bad. Our space may have grown smaller, but the pace of life is noticeably slower. People are more patient and understanding. “Oh, it’s fine that you didn’t get that done. We are all trying to figure this out.” And despite our distance, people are coming together more. They are organizing drives to help others, checking on their neighbors, and offering a helping hand.

When things eventually go back to “normal,” I will try to remember what I’ve loved about these days. I really hope some of these changes stick around. The challenges of a global emergency might just make us better people.

{Photo by Kylo on Unsplash}

Struggle

I am struggling to find something to write about, to find a topic that works, that fits with where my head is. I have been thinking and striving and trying for a while now, but for the life of me, I cannot come up with a topic that works. In fact, I’ve written several blog posts recently, but none is right to post, though I may come back to those someday. Who knows?

I know this is part of the process, this struggle and striving. Writing is not as easy as it seems. Sure, it seems like all I have to do is string a bunch of words together to make some sense of the world. Anyone can do that, right? But there are times—so many times—when there is just nothing. No light shines through the cracks in the walls as it usually does, bringing with it a flood of new ideas on which to focus. No light.

Just a dark silence that reverberates through my brain, voiding my imagination of all… well, imagination. My creativity needs a new igniter.

I know this is a temporary situation; I’ve been here many times before. And I also know that pushing through it to write something—anything—will help me begin to move beyond this creative vacuum more quickly.

And so, press on I do. I have written those several aforementioned blog posts that are too bad to share. I have written letters and freewrites and quotes that might make me think. And still, the struggle continues. Over the weekend, I will work on some writing exercises. Anything to get some ideas flowing. And who knows? One of these days, the floodgates of creativity may just give way to a fast and furious overflow of ideas.

{Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash}

Nothing

Nothing. That is where I am. Still. After weeks of struggling with nothing, I am still at nothing. No ideas. No motivation. No creativity. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

So… I have decided to go out and steal some ideas. I’m going to go and listen in on other people’s conversations. I’m going to use their ideas to jump-start my writing. Maybe, if I’m feeling particularly persnickety, I will interrupt their dialogue—jump in and try to redirect their ideas. I might even mess with them just a bit to see if I can incite a heated debate or two. You know what might be fun? I could follow someone around the grocery store while they carry on a phone conversation. I could keep reaching in front of them to collect items from my list, and since I am there, I might offer them advice to deal with the person to whom they are talking!

I am going to engage in some random acts of mischief. Maybe I’ll swap some price placards at the grocery store (those things are so easy to change out!) or leave messages on chalkboards in random classrooms: Today’s class has been moved to room 302. I could walk around in a Halloween mask, or—if I’m really feeling daring—flip the arrows on construction detours. (This last idea would be best carried out under cover of darkness…).

I am going to pretend to occupy myself with some intensely secret projects. These projects will involve all kinds of crazy equipment and supplies, none of which will be related in any conceivable fashion. But I will collect everything I “need” in a massive pile on my front lawn, all the while touting my “top secret endeavor.” Or maybe I’ll just dig a six by six by three-foot hole in my front garden. That might make  my neighbors curious about what I was up to….

I am going to plant seeds of kindness. I am going to leave post-it notes with inspirational messages in places where their discovery will be a pleasant surprise—next to the toilet paper dispenser, inside the elevator door, on people’s car windows, and on the napkin dispensers in the dining hall. I am going to hold doors, offer words of encouragement, and hand out flowers on a street corner.

I am going to hold a wacky raffle and give away tickets for free. (How many people will write their names and emails on wacky raffle tickets for a stranger?) I will raffle off items from my home that I no longer need or want. This will be a much easier way to get rid of my clutter than selling it or hauling it away. And imagine what a pleasure it will be to email strangers and say, Hey, you’ve won this week’s wacky raffle!!

I am going to go out on a limb once a day for the next week and step out of my comfort zone. I am going to sit with a stranger who is crying or upset. I am going to talk to the children whose parents are consumed by their phones and not paying attention. I am going to offer a helping hand, a hug, or a kind word or bit of encouragement and hope that I can make someone’s day just a little brighter.

And maybe when I’m done with all of this, maybe … just maybe … ideas will start to flow. Because right now, I’ve got no ideas. Not even one. I’ve got nothing. But if you want a wacky raffle ticket, let me know. I’ve got those!

{Photo by Mark Eder on Unsplash}

Silence

I have been sitting with the silence that many creative types (artists, writers, inventors) face at some point. This is the silence in which ideas don’t come. Silence can be frightening. Or silence can be an opportunity.

I will admit that I have likely played a role in this silence as I fill my days with a job that is demanding and draws on much of my energy—both physical and emotional. I have been implementing new programs, rethinking the way things are done, and pouring energy into helping students adjust to college.

So lately, ideas come and flit in my mind like a butterfly that lights ever so briefly on a flower or plant. But by the time I turn my attention fully to capture the idea, it is gone. And if it lingers, when I focus to put it on paper, it slowly fades until I can no longer see it, and it disappears.

But silence is a powerful teacher. By sitting with the silence, I am learning more about myself. About who I am, and about what truly moves me and drives me on. Something within me is beginning to emerge, playing with the edges of my conscious brain, but staying just within the boundaries of my subconscious.

As I sit in the silence, the ideas are starting to work their way into the space that I am holding for them. Today, two ideas came to me and stayed long enough to be held, turned, examined, and fleshed out—at least vaguely.

As I sit in the silence, I am hopeful for the future. I have reevaluated where I am and where I want to be. This particular period of silence has been deafeningly loud and longer than I would have liked. But now, I am ready for the ideas to come. I am ready to take the lessons of silence and turn them into something beautiful. I am ready for the sweet music of the muse.

Recharging

I am having difficulty writing these days. I don’t know where I’m stuck, but my mind will focus just long enough for me to have an idea and to think it is going to result in a blog post. But when I am part way through the writing, the idea fizzles, and I can’t figure out what it is I thought I would say. Or I’m distracted and end up a thousand miles away. Or perhaps… I have lost the magic.

Admittedly, I have been busy. The start of the school year has kept my mind moving a million miles a minute, or thereabouts. And long days of training students and prepping classes have kept me away from home and far from my computer.

Sometimes, we just need to take the time to work on finding balance and regaining our footing. So I am putting this here as a place holder to say, “I’m working on it.”

And I am. I am brainstorming and freewriting, doodling and walking. And I am staring at maps and asking for directions to help me find my way.

Before long, I will be back. The ideas will flow, and I will have direction. With any luck, my writing will be better than ever. Because the fact is I haven’t lost the magic. I am simply recharging my magic wand.

{Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash}

Step Away

We were talking about writing, my daughter and I, about writing to an assignment when you’re not really sure of what to write. How do you not only answer the question, but write a three-page paper?

Without even thinking, I started tossing ideas at her. What is the story? Who’s involved? What is happening? Have you Googled the story and read through the summary/analysis online as a way to spark some ideas? Starting points… all things she had thought of, but approaches that weren’t helping her.

For me, talking about writing is nothing new—in fact, it is a daily conversation. This is what I do. I write. I talk about writing. I work with writers. It’s important that I include the phrase, “I write,” because if you don’t actually sit down and do the tough work of writing, it is difficult to talk to young writers about writing. And to speak authoritatively about the process of writing.

Our banter was getting us nowhere except frustrated. Sleep on it, I finally told her. The assignment wasn’t due for a couple days, so she had the advantage of time on her side. She agreed that was a good idea, and put the paper away for the night. However, she came back and texted me a bit later. “I took a shower on it, and I think I figured it out!” she told me.

That was it. She just needed to step away. In order to connect with the subject, she had to disconnect from it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Not just in writing, but in the process of daily life.

If you step away, your thoughts can become clearer. Let your brain rest and move on to other tasks. Because sometimes, when you’re not putting demands on your brain, it will continue to process on its own terms. In fact, it is often when we are not thinking about something that it works itself out. When we are not focused on a problem, more varied solutions—those that are lurking on the periphery—become evident.

We all have situations we need to step away from. If you step away, often the things you are wrestling with—the problems, the situations, the frustrations—they all become easier to figure out, and your brain will come up with a solution you hadn’t even considered!

Step away, and have confidence the answer might come to you. If not, at least you will return refreshed and ready to dig in.

{Photo credit – my amazing daughter}