Author Archive | Debra Smouse

All That is to Come by Christine Mason Miller

In three weeks time, I’ll be on the other side of the planet—traveling through India with three companions, my second visit to that part of the world. Just like the first time I went there, I don’t know what to expect and I’m excited for a new adventure. Even though we’re headed to many of the same places I visited before, four years have passed since that trip. During that time, I’ve written a book, moved across country and turned fifty. The world has changed and so have I, so I’m not heading to Delhi assuming I’ll love India the same way I did last time.

Who’s to say how well I’ll be able to handle the colorful chaos that is India this time around? Who’s to say I won’t love it more?

I traveled with my friend Barb on 2014 visit, and we went to Ranthambore National Park, a wildlife preserve in Rajasthan best known for its tiger population. As we both got situated with the guided jeep tour our first morning there, we were told not to get our hopes up with regard to seeing a tiger. None had been spotted for days, so expectations were tempered right away.

Over the next few hours, we were driven all over the park, observing sambar deer, monkeys and all kinds of birds. While we weren’t finding any tigers, it was fascinating to watch our guides try to track them. After pulling up near the edge of a dramatic vista and turning the engine off, they listened for the telltale signs of smaller animals’ sounds and movements that might signal the presence of a predator. Sure enough, there seemed to be a bit of commotion, and the guides immediately headed in a new direction. After checking in with another guide down the road, following tracks and taking a few more detours, it eventually came time to wrap up our tour with nary a tiger in sight.

On the route back to the entrance of the park, ours was the only jeep in sight that morning, and it was a small one compared to the twenty-person caravans we saw on our way in. All the other vehicles that had entered the park the same time we did at the beginning of the day were in search of tigers in other areas, so our small band of less than a dozen tourists had the road in front of us all to ourselves.

We’d passed a small body of water on our way into the park, and stopped on our return to see if we might spot a crocodile. While scanning the shoreline, something unexpected came into view, and once my brain caught up with my eyes, I realized what I was looking at: a full grown tiger, walking straight toward us, eyes locked, it seemed, on mine. My eyes went wide, my jaw dropped, and I immediately started crying. Even the guides were freaking out, exclaiming, “THIS is magic moment!” with a hand raised in the air as if in an exalted prayer. Looking at him with tearful eyes, I knew, body and soul, he was right. This was a magic moment.

I know people see wild animals all the time, all over the world. Whether on a jeep tour similar to ours, a safari in Africa or a fishing trip in Alaska, I’ve heard countless stories of encounters with creatures big and small in their native habitat. Seeing an animal in the wild isn’t terribly unique or even difficult. But for whatever reason, on that particular day, the rush of excitement upon seeing the tiger poured through me like a meteor shower—all stars and light and, yes, magic.

As the tiger walked toward us, our driver backed up and pulled up to a small hill just off the road. For a blissful ten minutes or so, we had front row seats to the tiger’s quiet meanderings. We watched him walk toward the water and sprawl out on the ground before offering us a big, gaping yawn, perhaps to let us know our presence in his home couldn’t possibly bore him more. We were guests in his domain, so we all sat quietly and watched him, the most audible sounds being the click-click-click of all the cameras. After taking a few photos myself, I set mine down, wanting to watch him with my own eyes for as long as possible rather than through a viewfinder. When I turned around to look at Barb, sitting behind me, I saw she had been crying too.

We cried quite a few times on that trip—at the sight of other animals, at the kindness of strangers, out of exhaustion and overwhelm. We laughed and sobbed and whooped and prayed, letting all the emotions flow through us day by day, moment by moment. In order to fully experience all the beauty and wonder India had to offer, we had to be open to all of its challenges too—the poverty, the crowds, the constant noise and movement. We came home filled in ways we hadn’t expected, having been pushed far out of our comfort zones and given gifts we didn’t see coming, like the tiger that emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, right in front of our jeep on that cold, misty morning in Ranthambore.

I am returning to India in a few weeks with Barb again, along with two other first-time visitors. While we aren’t visiting Ranthambore this time, there are, no doubt, many magic moments ahead of us. I don’t know what they will look or feel like and am not going to try to predict where they’ll happen, but I know they’re there—waiting for us all like unopened, beautifully wrapped presents. As I prepare for the journey ahead, I’m already saying thank you for everything that is to come.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995.

Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

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Welcome to Issue #9: Selfie

Is our culture’s obsession with The Selfie causing a generation of narcissists? Or is it simply the modern-day sign that we humans have always desired looking ourselves in the eye?

If you look at photographs from beginning of photography, you’ll see taking photos of oneself has often been a subject of choice. And what about the self-portraits of artists through the ages? What about the writers who publish their journals ala May Sarton? Is The Memoir a Selfie? Why are we called to explore our own story in a variety of ways and mediums?

How does self-portraiture open our eyes to our beauty and our flaws? Is all the “navel-gazing” of self-help and self-discovery and good old therapy pure silliness or a truly valuable way to grow as a human? How does it heal us?

How does exploring who we are at heart open us to creating from a space of realness and vulnerability? How does the brave task of self-refection and self-evaluation allow us to grow as creative beings as well as human beings? Does diving into self-exploration make us better makers, partners, parents, and lovers?

Is self-care selfish? Is self-care critical to being healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally? How does caring for ourselves – or letting self-care fall to the wayside – impact us as makers?

What happens when we completely re-invent ourselves? What is the path to destroy old versions of ourselves and emerge from the fire like a Phoenix? What does that do for us as artists, writers, and makers?

Is the desire to understand who we are and how we tick at the heart of everything we create?

“I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity—to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.”
― Edith Wharton

Welcome to the first issue of 2018 – Issue #9: Selfie.

When we were choosing themes for Modern Creative Life, I thought that choosing “Selfie” was just the right subject to dive into as we enter 2018 and kick off our third year. In what ways can all sides of the “self-ie” allows us to connect with our art, meet our deepest needs for creation, and honor our love of beauty?

What does it mean to examine one’s self? Can self-portraits – and all versions of that such as memoir, personal essays, and such – heal us and help us grow as creatives? How do we make the space for blank canvases and blank pages if we ignore our need to create? Can we expect to fill those pages and canvases with our creations if we dive deeper into who we are?

Part of living a creative life is the understanding that we must refill our own wells in some way on a regular basis, otherwise, we find ourselves resentful of our own lives. Without the time or space to pursue our creative ways, we will burn out. Our souls demand that we uphold the responsibility of using our gifts. So how does looking at ourselves help us or hurt us?

This what we are exploring in this issue.

In this issue, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and essays, as well as all kind of enlightenment, help each of us find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which you create.

As always our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we look to other creatives for ways in which they nurture and tend their own creative life so that they regularly find their process – and lives – feeling nourished instead of parched.

As we share the stories of other makers, use their experiences to illuminate your path into your own Modern Creative Life.

What lessons might you have to share with the world? Share your stories with us, serving as the example or others to learn from and get a sense of permission to take time to restore their own hearts and minds.  We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

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Sunday Sanctuary: Magic, Hope, and Wonder

As I write you this note, we have just returned home from 2900 miles of travel. We stayed in six hotels over the course of eighteen days. I should be wrung out, exhausted, and devoid of any creative juice. Yes, I am tired after being in the car for more than ten hours just today. But the synapses in my brain are firing away with ideas, and  I’m filled with a sense of creative hopefulness I didn’t posses a month ago.

I won’t bore you with every detail of our time away, but I will tell you that I owe this feeling of renewal to a mouse. The Mouse.

Sandwiched between eight days with John’s family and John teaching a course in Orlando, we spent four magical days at Walt Disney World. Considering I booked us a room at Disney World with less than 45 days notice, I felt pretty darned lucky to walk into my room and realize that from my bed, I could see Cinderella’s Castle in all its glory.

And that also meant we could see the Happily Ever After Fireworks from the comfort of our balcony.

In a moment, I was seven years old again and sitting in my room playing an LP on my record player, listening to songs from Cinderella, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and Winnie the Pooh. Long before the days of Cable TV, VHS, and The Internet, I watched black and white re-runs of Annette Funicello and the rest of the Mouseketeers. I danced around my room and sung along with every song, wishing for the moment I could be a Mouseketeer, too.

Color me envious:  when the new Mickey Mouse Club arrived with Julie and Lisa and all their friends, I wanted to join in their fun!

I would love to tell you that John and I did EVERYTHING at Disney World. To be honest, we took a laid-back approach, a vacation from the tightly-planned trips I orchestrated when I was primarily a mother, and my number-one goal was to ensure that each of my girls saw the characters they most loved. Instead, we lingered over meals and ambled from one attraction to the next.

Rather than being the one confirming that every box was checked, I got to step back and be what fuels my creative spirit: a curious observer. For a Type-A Planner, this was also a little terrifying. To wander into the vast world of Disney with only a couple of dinner reservations and a few Fast Passes was akin to organizing a major project without a day-planner and cell phone.

On our first night, we slept with the blinds open so that anytime I awoke, I could see the turrets and spires.

To be honest, giving my inner people-pleaser and planner time off is damned difficult. No matter where we went, I worried that John was having a good time.  I wanted to ensure he was fed, watered, and getting to ride what he wanted. No concerns about Character autographs, but still, the incessant worry was there.

In our explorations, I was reminded about an article I read many years before. It revealed Walt Disney’s biggest regret about Disneyland: folks could see the city. He wanted it to be a place where anyone visiting could escape the real world and enter a world of dreams and imagination. So, when they began building Disney World in Florida, Walt was determined that anyone arriving in the Magic Kingdom, would have journeyed into a space and time where the outside world was completely unseen.

He accomplished this dream  by creating a large parking lot with access to the entrance to The Magic Kingdom possible only via ferry or monorail.  How magical is that?

We are, in some ways, trained to allow folks into our sacred space of creating. To show them how we make our magic happen. People want a blueprint. They constantly seek a Magic Formula. Are we allowing too much of a peek inside the curtain? A question I will be asking myself in the coming weeks.

 After visiting The Studios, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot… and after three nights, we had a final breakfast at the crown of the Disney Resorts: The Grand Floridian. Best. Pancakes. Ever. Then we trundled off to the other side of Orlando so John could teach his class.  (This is us in the UK at Epcot)

But the thing was, I still had 2 days left on my fancy MagicBand. Waking up early one morning, without the magical castle view, I decide to take up John’s suggestion: drive back to the parks and spend the day.

I arrived around 7:30 in the morning. I parked, boarded the monorail, and entered The Magic Kingdom almost an hour before official opening time. I strolled down Main Street, still humming a song from a video my oldest  daughter used to watch on a loop:

I’m walking right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A……..

I strolled. I lingered. I popped into the Main Street Bakery (a Starbucks) for coffee. I wound my way around families and skirted the Castle that was a constant reminder that while my chronological age is nearly fifty, inside me, my seven-year-old self still exists.

I chose to see this solo day in The Magic Kingdom as an Artist Date. I enjoyed the rides, I wandered in and out of shops, and I ate a good  meal at an extravagant price. An elderly worker at the Peter Pan Ride whispered to me as she ensured I was safely seated “I prefer to fly solo” as I soar off to Neverland. At my own pace, I experienced the world Walt imagined in a different dimension.

More than a visit to a theme park, this day was an exploration into my own curiosity, and rather than worry about the experiences of others, I filled my thirsty well for the year to come.

And now, back home, I am that seven-year-old once again. Seeing things in a new light. Allowing my creative spirit to be fed by magic. Embracing the world around me as a place of hope and a space of open, delicious wonder.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Dear Hope in the Year to Come

I have to confess, Dear Hope, that there were times this last year that my faith in you slipped. When we began 2017 together, I held out such desire that it would be a healthy and peaceful year for everyone I loved, yet I witnessed such suffering, loss, and unhappiness, that at times I wondered if you were anywhere to be found.

Especially when I lost my dear daddy and spent much of the last year lost in the valley of grief.

When I take a step back, though, and look at the tiny moments of grace and love through every challenge. I just needed to be reminded, my dear Hope, that you were always there on the edge of things, rooting for me.

Like take my father, for instance. I never wanted to lose him, yet I couldn’t stand to see him suffering. His once active life had shrunk to the four walls of his home, more of an existence rather than thriving. And that, my dearest, is no way to live now, is it?

I was reminded, too, dearest hope, that when my belief in you wavered, others reminded me of you. Dear friends held me in love across the miles and through a million acts of kindness. I guess that’s what did it for me, Hope, to be reminded that in every smile, tough, and the smallest kind gestures, that you are never lost.

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
― Laini Taylor

When it comes to moving into a new year, I thought it would be helpful to spell out some of my desires so that during the times my faith is shaken in your constant state of being, dear Hope, I can find you in the most infinitesimal of moments. Because when I trust that you’re there, you always shine through.

First of all, Dear, Hope, I’d love to go the whole year without losing anyone else I love. No, I don’t want to witness the suffering of others, so maybe while we’re on the subject, I guess the deepest part of that desire, dear Hope, is that everyone thrives in the best ways possible.

So, no more loss for those I love. Or, honestly, I don’t want anyone I love to have to travel through the valley of grief.

Health, dear Hope, is high on the list. Please give me the discipline, dear Hope, to  do the work I need to do to ensure I stay healthy. Please give those I know and love the wherewithal to ensure they thrive in their lives by staying healthy, both physically and mentally.

We should probably talk about spiritual health while we’re having this conversation, dear Hope. The surest path to spiritual enlightenment, dear Hope, is through art making. So, please, dear Hope, while we’re talking about allowing you to show us the magic that exists in the world, can you let the Muses dance on the edges of everyone I know and love and should know? We are all blessed no matter if we are the ones making art or partaking of art.

There are so many other desires on the edges of my brain, dear Hope, yet I also know that when it comes to keeping faith in you, holding these core desires at the center of my being will allow me to see you in every face I come upon, whether it’s in real time or across the digital ether.

When my faith in you lags, darling Hope, may you always remind me that you are always waiting to work your magic.

With all my love and gratitude,

Debra

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A Cinderella Story by Ruth Coe Chambers

I’ve always felt my childhood was marred because we didn’t have a library in our town. We had beaches with sand as white as sugar, water from the Gulf of Mexico that touched places we might never see. But no books. I longed for a well-stocked library, but all I had was hope that a family would move to our small town and bring books with them. My family didn’t seem to find a lack of books something to worry about. Mama had her crocheting and soap operas on the radio, Daddy had hunting and fishing when he wasn’t busy protecting us as he sported his deputy sheriff badge, and my dentist uncle brought home pulp fiction detective magazines that Mama had forbidden me to touch.

Me? Nothing filled that void for me but hope. Still, I started school without books and discovered something more wonderful than the colored chalk our teacher used to draw a calendar of September. She had a book! I would eventually learn that all the teachers had books, but just starting school, I believed pretty Mrs. Howell was the only one who owned one and not just any book, but one called Cinderella. I’d never heard a name so beautiful. On the cover was a young woman as beautiful as her name, dressed in a long, yellow bouffant dress cascading with ruffles and bows and all things wonderful.

Each day Mrs. Howell read a  little of Cinderella to us, and I suppose she knew we were hungry for books because every Friday one person from a list she kept in her desk would be allowed to take Cinderella home for the weekend. I thought my Friday would never arrive. How the time dragged until the day I ran to her desk after school and told her it was my turn to take Cinderella home. She looked at me and said quite simply, “Oh, Ruth, it’s lost. I don’t have it any more.” Her eyes weren’t red from weeping, she didn’t pound the floor with her fists. An important part of her world had obviously been stolen, and she appeared unconcerned about it. I hoped I never took anything of beauty for granted. I realized in that moment, even though I was only six years old, that I still had hope, and no one could ever steal it or the wonder it brought me.

I continued going to people who moved into town to see if they brought any books with them. That was how I came to read my first novel, A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter. I identified with the girl though I didn’t possess the courage she did in collecting specimens from a swamp. I could, however, feel her shame in having to carry her lunch to school in a syrup bucket.

I was growing older, and when my parents realized I could read, they knew they would have to be more careful and keep their secrets hidden. One they kept hidden in plain sight. I had found a need for hope beyond books. I prayed that God would not let Mama turn out to be my stepmother.

It was my reading that had uncovered their secret. When I was very young, they let me see snapshots with writing on the backs. The woman had my name, and she stood with Daddy. I knew then why a room grew quiet when I entered it. Things fell into place and I knew who she was, even her name. Hope dimmed and my fate was sealed when a girl at school said one day, “She isn’t your real mother, is she?” I didn’t want a stepmother and ran, ran until my side hurt, but I couldn’t escape my stepmother.

I realized my parents didn’t want me to know who Mama really was so I began the long years of protecting them from my awakening. It was a heavy burden for a child to carry. Hope had been stolen after all, and I was left with guilt. Should I love the woman with my name, the woman who carried me under her heart, or the woman who cared for me through the measles and chicken pox and all the childhood illnesses? It was a heavy burden, even for a teenager, and the whispers of stepmother never left me.

I was an adult when I came to realize that I still had hope after all. Where would I have been without my escape through writing, my hope for making a contribution? I had to make my time on earth count. I had to repay a debt to a woman with my name. I was a Cinderella child. I had a stepmother who was sometimes wicked, but I saw that both Cinderella and I not only had stepmothers, but also hope in a glass slipper or a published book. Thinking of all I had written, of the stories, essays, plays and novels, I wondered if they would have been written had I not used them as a way of running until my side didn’t ache any more. Oh, the wonder of it all. Both my mothers, they were the wonder all along, never once calling me a stepchild.

About the Author: Ruth Coe Chambers

Ruth Coe Chambers takes pride in her Florida panhandle roots and her hometown of Port St. Joe has inspired much of her writing.

She is indebted to the creative writing classes at the University of South Florida where she found her “voice” and began writing literary fiction. Listed in the Who’s Who of American Women. She has recently republished one novel, and published it’s sequel, and has written two award-winning plays. She is currently working on the third novel in her Bay Harbor Trilogy. She has two daughters and lives with her husband and one very spoiled Cairn terrier in Neptune Beach, Florida.

Her two earlier novels include The Chinaberry Album and Heat Lightening.

 

Merry Christmas, Darling

You can’t help know that Christmas is nigh as you if  you have an email address or dare venture into any stores. Outside the commercial side of the season – and the religious ones – we dive into all the ways we can use our innate creativity to add an extra edge of wonder to the season – from decking our halls to baking cookies and creating beautiful meals. From watching holiday movies to humming along with the sounds of the season.

Today, my dear, is finally the day that Christmas has arrived and hopefully you can take a deep breath and honor the beauty of the season. How the edges of wonder invite us into our own lives, how the call for hope reminds us that we are always within reach of it.

No matter how you celebrate – or even if you ignore it all  – know that at the core of the day, it’s a call to dig into all the ways in which we can create the kind of life we desire to lead.  In celebration of this holiday, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay, but a collection of a dozen gems of wisdom Christmas and Holy Days – of the tenderness of sacred wonder in the air.

 “Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
–Charles Dickens

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”
― Bob Hope

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood.”
― Richard Paul Evans

“A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, But softly gives itself away; While quite unselfish, it grows small.”
― Eva K. Logue

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
― Norman Vincent Peale

“Remember, if Christmas isn’t found in your heart, you won’t find it under a tree.”
― Charlotte Carpenter

“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”
–Alexander Smith

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”
― Hamilton Wright Mabie

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
― Bob Hope

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We hope find a reason to hope, a moment of wonder, and always return to the heart of your sacred creativity. We are so honored to witness the ways in which you you honor your beautiful heart, follow your desires, and celebrate your creative life.

With love from our creative table to yours.
The Staff of Modern Creative Life

A Quiet Thrill by Michelle GD

I am like a child again when the meteorologists call for snow.   Looking out the window frequently, watching the sky, holding my breath just the tiniest bit.  Did it start yet?  Is it coming?  I remember being thrilled by snow as a child.  I am still thrilled (perhaps more?) as an adult.

With snow come challenges of slippery roads and cancellations.  As I child, I cared only of the latter; as an adult, I must consider both.  Still, I eagerly await the first flakes.  Sometimes the birches blow in the wind; sometimes they stand like statues.  Sometimes the sky seems an even wash of grey; sometimes, if I look closely enough, I see darker greys and lighter greys and greys in between.  Always, I feel like the world at my feet is in the midst of some pause.  Or maybe it’s just me.

As I wait for the snow, I am surely in the pause.  I am present and attentive.  I feel alive.  I watch excitedly for changes in the sky and on the ground.  I am in awe once those changes arrive.  The blanket of white laid upon the ground, the hush accompanying the laying of that blanket.

I remember that hush as a child.  For a few years, we lived in upstate New York, just south of the Canadian border.  We got a lot of snow there; I had many opportunities to step into that hush.  Now, my family of four lives in Virginia, and we don’t experience the frequency or amount of snow I enjoyed in those childhood years.  But we do get snow; I do step into the hush.  And every time I step into the hush, my shoulders drop a little lower, and my eyes widen in wonder.

The beauty is not a surprise to me.  And yet, every time it snows…it surprises me.  It delights me, softens me.  Every time it snows, I step into the pause.  I am present and attentive and alive.  And isn’t this what I continually practice, no matter the season?  The presence, the attention, the alive-ness?

This time of year is busy for many of us.  We are celebrating and decorating and making merry.  Likely, we are also reflecting on a calendar year about to close, and preparing to open another.  It’s a time of year full with work outside ourselves (all that merry-making); it’s also full with work inside ourselves (all that reflecting).  It’s a time of year filled with so much.

Just the other day, it snowed.  I was grateful for Nature’s invitation; she called me in, and I responded.  I stepped into her pause, I felt her hush.  She beautified my world that was already beautiful, and I like that she didn’t out-do herself…she was humble and just-right.  I left the busyness and merry-making of the house, and walked through the falling snow with my kids.  We laughed, and we were silent.  I felt snowflakes on my eyelashes, and watched flakes rest but a moment on the lashes of my kids…each snowflake a gift.  Each one an invitation to pause, to notice, to be a little bit amazed.

There’s something in that pause, that being a little bit amazed.  There is a certain release I feel, as if I lie back and the world catches me and holds me.  Though I must do my part:  I must, on occasion, allow my shoulders to drop; I must allow my eyes to widen in wonder. I must anticipate, and I must receive.  I must allow myself to lie back and be held by the beauty of this world.

Now do you understand why a forecast of snow thrills me to my core?

About the Author: Michelle GD

Michelle GD is an artist living in Virginia.  Using writing and photography as forms of meditation, she explores the connections between the beautiful and messy bits of life.  You can find her at MichelleGD.com.

Him by Kolleen Harrison

I watch him as he talks to himself, laughs, and talks some more.

I watch him as he attempts to line up his glass just perfectly in the
cupboard – over and over and over again.

I watch him as he stares out the window with a big smile plastered upon
his face, wondering what it is that is making him smile so wide.

I watch him in his nervousness and anxiety as someone he doesn’t know
says “hello” to him.

I watch him with love.
I watch him with admiration.
I watch him with curiosity.
I watch him and wonder if he knows just how amazing he really is.
I watch him grateful he is mine.

About the Author: Kolleen Harrison

kolleenHarrisonbioKolleen Harrison is a creative living in the beautiful Central Coast of California. She is the Founder of LOVEwild and Founder/Maker of Mahabba Beads. Her passions lie in nurturing her relationship with God, loving on her happily dysfunctional family, flinging paint in her studio, dancing barefoot, making jewelry (that is so much more than “just jewelry”), and spreading love and kindness wherever and whenever she can. You can find her popping in and out at LOVEwild.org or MahabbaBeads.com

Conversations Over Coffee with Kelly Chripczuk

The call to create is certainly something deep within each of us, yet to take the next step and share our work with the world. Isn’t that the way of wonder, though? To witness the bravery of others? That’s just one of the reasons I loved reading Kelly Chripczuk’s new book of poetry Between Heaven and Earth as she took a collection of writings she’d been doing mostly for herself and then shared it with folks.

It was a joy to sit down with Kelly and we dive into what it takes to write, raise a family, and manage all the idiosyncrasies of life.

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Café 101, a cute little coffee shop, is just a ten minute walk from my house, so we could meet there.  I’ll have coffee and, if it’s morning, baked oatmeal.  But, if one of my kids is home sick from school (as often happens this time of year) meeting in my kitchen will work too.  I’ll just put on some water for tea or reheat a cup of coffee, and we can talk around our old butcher-block kitchen Island.

Tell us about your last two books Chicken Scratch and Between Heaven and Earth

I started writing my first book, Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk and Poultry, about four months before my youngest kids were due to start Kindergarten.  As a work-from-home mom, I was anxious about weathering the transition and knew I would need something to keep me busy – writing a book seemed like a good way to fill the time.  For my birthday that year, I bought a flock of hens (because I also through selling free-range eggs might be a good way to fill the time).  I decided I’d write about tending the chickens every day for a month and see what came of it.  Six months later, after a lot of editing and revisions, I had a sixteen-chapter book filled with stories of love, risk and poultry.  My biggest goals for Chicken Scratch were to learn about writing a book, to experience the self-publishing process, and have it be fun – both for me and for my readers.

My second book, Between Heaven and Earth, is a collection of 45 contemplative poems that I wrote over the past five years.  I’m not a disciplined poet, but I find it a helpful format for times when other forms of writing fail me.  Between Heaven and Earth came out last week and, so far, I’m most excited to hear that people who “don’t normally read poetry,” are finding it accessible and engaging.

My biggest goal for Between Heaven and Earth was to Just. Get. It. Done., as it’s something I’ve been meaning to put together for a long time.

 In what ways does real life inform your writing (and vice versa)?

I wrote as an academic for years before I began writing creative non-fiction.  As an academic, the rules were clear – real life wasn’t supposed to inform anything.  But, in 2011, we unexpectedly gave birth to twin boys, doubling the number of children we had from two to four.  I left my job as an Associate Pastor and plans for a PhD in Old Testament were rather permanently shelved.  In that time, just before the twins were born, I set up a blog online.  Although a year passed before I published my first post, the blog became the one space in my life that was truly my own and the one way I could still have a voice outside the bulging walls of my own home.

At that time, real life was the impetus for my writing.  I wrote to understand and make meaning of the upheaval I was experiencing.  I wrote to maintain a sense of humor because the things that were happening in our home were too crazy to be true.  I wrote to survive – to believe we would survive – and to hold on to a sense of my own identity.  All of that to say – there’s a very natural flow, for me, between writing and life because, for so long, there was no way to separate the two.

As for writing informing my life, writing has helped me learn to risk more, to endure possible failure, to keep working and moving when the outcome is unknown.  Devotion to creativity has deepened my faith in the goodness, wholeness, and possibility of life that make themselves known when we are committed to showing up.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I stumbled into writing when I joined Facebook, just around the same time I became pregnant with twins.  Facebook gave me an audience and aroused in me an awareness of my love of words.  Something would happen and I would walk around all day thinking of the perfect way to phrase it to get a laugh online.  After the twins arrived, the level of absurdity happening in our house (4 kids five and under) and my sense of humor made my posts more and more popular.  People started telling me I should start blog and, eventually, I did.

Once I began writing, I remembered how often teachers praised my writing in high school, college, and beyond, but no one had ever suggested I might be a writer.  When I think of myself as a writer, I think of someone who loves words and enjoys the work of communicating things in a way that elucidates and/or forms a connection.

What’s your best three pieces of advice for folks that write?

The practice of writing shapes you – commit to the practice, rather than to an outcome.

Be clear about why you write, and cling to that when the writing is tough, or you aren’t getting the outcomes you want.  I write “for love and for joy.”  When I get frustrated or start playing the comparison game with other writers, I try to come back to two central questions:  Is writing helping me (and my readers) be more aware of love?  Is my writing helping me (and my readers) be more aware of joy?  If the answer to that is yes, then I am doing what I’m called to do.

Don’t spend a lot of energy focusing on your fears or the hurdles in your life.  Fear and distraction will always be there, nod your head at them from time to time, if you must, then get back to the work at hand.

What’s typical day like in your household?

During the school year, I get up at six and try to be downstairs on the couch, by the woodstove, with coffee cup in hand, by the time my daughter comes down fifteen minutes later.  We start the day together quietly while she eats and I pack lunches.  She is out the door at 7am and I quick, grab a shower before my twin boys explode out of their room at 7:10 with their older brother not far behind.  I spend the next hour and a half reading aloud, packing lunches, finding missing articles of clothing, and pushing kids out the door.  During that time, I also try to tidy a little, start a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher to get a jump on housework for the day.

I write and offer Spiritual Direction in a little building about thirty feet from our main house.  The office used to be a summer kitchen and, before that, a hen house.  I try to be in my office with Coco (our dog) by 9 or 9:30 and work until around 1.  I take frequent breaks to run into the main house and feed the woodstove, switch the laundry, and grab snacks.  I also keep a painting space set-up in one corner of my office and find that adding a layer to something I’m working on offers a good timeout when I get stuck working with words.

Some days I keep working until my daughter’s bus arrives at 3, but I often use the afternoon to run a never-ending list of errands.  From 3pm on, my day is filled with housework and family time although, if a project demands, I can always head back out to my office once my husband gets home.  All of this changes at the drop of a hat, though, if someone is home sick from school, during in summer months, and during times when I pick up other away-from-home work.

How do you manage the balance of real life and creative work? (Especially with kids and family responsibilities). How do you carve out time to create?

For me, carving out time to create, is like carving out time to eat or sleep or breathe.  If I don’t do it, I suffer, and if I suffer, those closest to me tend to pay the price.  We our kids were very young, I realized writing was key to my emotional and intellectual survival, so I hired a babysitter to come three hours a week.  The minute arrived, I would drop everything, throw the babies at her, grab my laptop, and run out the door, like a woman fleeing a burning building.  Having kids in school has made life more routine, but it remains unpredictable, especially during the summer months.

Three specific practices that have helped me carve out time are:

– All of our kids have Quiet Time alone in their rooms for one hour every afternoon.  This is non-negotiable.

– I try to think about my writing time as a set block of time (say, an hour) that can be moved around depending on the demands of any particular day or week.  For me, finding a balance between flexibility and discipline is key.

– I occasionally keep a ‘time diary’ as a way to keep track of how I’m actually spending my time and, using the insights gained, make adjustments, like adding a little housework to my morning routine, that helps free up time later I the day.

Why IS it important to write if you feel the call?

Writing isn’t a means to an end.  To me, writing is a particular way of being in the world.  It’s a posture of listening, of exploring, and of dancing between what is and what is not-yet.  I think, if you feel a call to write, its because that’s the kind of person you are and there’s nothing more lovely or more necessary to our survival, than people being true to what author Parker Palmer calls, ‘their native way of being in the world.’

What’s your advice to other writers and creative souls?

Creative people need creative community – seek it out, invest in it, offer it to others.

Also, keep learning new skills.  Teach yourself to yo-yo, cook a soufflé, chop wood or buy a flock of laying hens to tend.  Every new skill you embrace will feed your creative life, will feed your writing, if you let it.  Always ask yourself the curious question, “what does this have to do with that?”

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 30?

I know so much more now about who I am.  The stripping down of false identity was a long and arduous process, but I think, if I’d had a glimpse of who I am now when I was 30, I would have been awed, amazed, and so very surprised.

This is our “Hope & Wonder” issue. How do you keep those tenets alive in your daily life? Your creative life?

Wonder, for me, is fueled by attention to what is.  That’s why I find learning new skills (gaining new information) so helpful – when we are in learning mode, attention and focus are increased and we’re more open and aware process, more capable of surprise.

Hope, for me, is fueled by storytelling.  Writing about the crappy week when our car died and the kids were sick, or the time I was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, helps me step outside my small, ego-centric perceptions of the world and allows me to embrace a larger narrative that seems to be hidden just behind (or beneath) all of the smaller stories of our lives – the one in which grace and mercy are new every day and love itself is what keeps us.

About the Author: Kelly Chripczuk

Kelly Chripczuk is a licensed pastor, Spiritual Director and writer who lives with her husband and four children in a 100+ year-old farm house in Central PA.  She writes regularly online at www.thiscontemplativelife.org and for public speaking and retreats.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Journey Forward

Many of the regular readers of Modern Creative Life have known me for more than a decade – from when when I first began writing my blog, or since the days when our predecessor, All Things Girl was still new. I’ve always written about my life in transparent ways. They’ve read about my life as a road warrior in the past, and my life of much less travel now. They know that I sometimes engage in retail therapy, and that I believe the first cup of coffee in the morning is more than just a warming brew; it’s a ritual. What they – and you – you might not know, though, is that I’m adopted.

I have written about my mother, and I shared the challenges of grieving the loss of my daddy just this summer. The DNA of neither of these people runs through my veins. Yet, when I think of my parents, I think of Mary Beth and Tom.

Being adopted has always been simply a fact, like my hazel eyes and my love of books.

It was never a secret in our family. Our mother had been unable to carry a child to term and so the path to motherhood – the path to creating a family – was one that went through kind doctors, lawyers, and judges. The opportunity to nurture a child began with another woman, one who was selfless, giving up something precious in the hopes that this being growing inside her would have a life better than she was able to offer at that moment.

My sister and I each knew our “birth story”.

Arranged through the family doctor, my sister’s adoption took place in 1961. The doctor knew a young woman who found herself pregnant and was unable to keep the child. He had performed a hysterectomy on our mother and knew she wanted a child. And within hours of my sister being born, she was in the arms of our mother and father.

I came along seven years later. I was the child of a teenager who turned to a “home for unwed mothers.” My parents made an application and paid a deposit towards a baby the social workers found suitable for the family of three. Their only request was a child that was fair skinned, one that might resemble Daddy as my sister, Carol, had dark hair and an olive complexion like our mother. About a month after the approval of their application, they got a call that a fair-skinned red-headed little girl was available. I went home when I was two weeks old.

Of course, I’ve speculated about the young woman who had me while she was still, basically, a child herself. I was curious about that woman – courageous enough to care for herself and an unborn child, give birth, and then never know what happened after that moment.

I wondered about her, but I her identity wasn’t anything I dwelled upon.

I was never one of those adopted kids that believed finding my “real mom” was going to be the solution to any problem. It wasn’t going to make me “happy.” It wasn’t going to fix any current relationship.  It was not the answer to rescuing me from any challenge.

Besides, I already had a “real mom.” A woman who ensured I got to school each morning and to ballet practice in the afternoons. The woman who slept in a chair in the hospital when I had my tonsils out and ferried me back and forth for every orthodontist appointment.

To be honest, my mother – my real mother, the woman who adopted me as a tiny babe, the one who ensured I had seasonally appropriate clothes, birthday parties, and a full tummy – was not perfect. I always suspected that she suffered from bi-polar disorder, noticeable mostly when she was in a depressive state, as those manic states were ones we could all swing with more easily.

In the South, especially in the days before social media, we called women who struggled with mental illness “delicate,” and just hoped for the best. We’ve come a long way in dealing with mental illness, but in those days, it was a shameful secret that caused family members to walk on eggshells sometimes.

From the outside, it sounds like something challenging and dire. For me, it was simply…life. A challenge, yes, to be raised by a woman who struggled with mental illness and an inability to truly love herself. But let’s get real, every family, no matter how picture perfect it might be, has some dysfunction.

At the core of who I am, I am a realist. I may have a creative spirit, but I am logical to a fault. I had a mother, I had a father. I had no need to seek out anyone who provided the seeds to create me, so to speak, and I continued in that vein for most of my life. When I was pregnant with my oldest child in 1991, my thoughts were about the growing little girl inside me. I don’t recall ever pondering the woman who had been in my same position back in 1967 and 1968.

My second pregnancy in 1995 was different, and for the first time in my twenty-seven years, I got curious enough to ask the state for any information they had on my birth parents. My second pregnancy presented a small number of health challenges – borderline gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, bed rest due to toxemia, a need for an early delivery. Still, I didn’t really want to know who my birth mother was by name, just who she was genetically.  I got a packet of papers from the State of Texas with every identifying nugget literally cut out. It didn’t satisfy all my medical and health curiosities, but it was something. Eventually, it was filed away, and somehow, in the intervening years, lost.

After my mother died in 2010, my curiosity returned. By this point and time, I’d become a life coach, and had worked through a shit-ton of those “childhood issues” with professionals. I wrote to the State of Texas once again, and received a packet of papers. Once again, with all identifying information cut out. It didn’t matter that I was clearly an adult, and had lots of counseling to deal with the variety of issues we all deal with. The State of Texas deemed I had no right to my Original Birth Certificate.

Then on December 30 2014, I was sitting on the lanai of John’s sister’s home in Fort Meyers beach and read an article in the Wall Street Journal about DNA testing helping Adoptees find their birth families.

We’d gathered with the rest of John’s family to celebrate his mother’s 85th birthday. In the weeks leading up to that trip, we’d scanned all the family photos. In each, I saw the traces of all the men and women through the ages in each subsequent generation. All around the dinner table, on the beloved countenances of those ranging from four to eight-five, I saw how the shape of an ear or chin and hands and mannerisms brought these people together. It was a living example of the age-old nurture VS nature debate. DNA doesn’t lie when it comes to innate talents and physical traits.

I ordered the DNA Kits from both Ancestry.Com and 23andMe.Com. I spit in tubes. Weeks later, I received reports telling me that my ancestors were mostly Irish and Welsh with a splash of Scandinavian and Eastern European. It gave me insight into some of those conflicts of my teenage years – the stoic German ancestry of my mother combined with my flair for a story thanks to the Irish in me. But while this ancestor information led occasionally to a 2nd or 3rd cousin, it didn’t yield much more. And in most ways, just the ancestry information explained enough to me.

This past spring, though, my sister decided she wanted to know Where She Came From. She did the DNA and found a genealogist search angel. In less than a week, this search angel identified both of her birth parents and days later, identified my birth mother. I filed the proper paperwork to receive my original birth certificate, still only available if you knew all the answers to each blank (including the exact way a birth parent’s information was spelled on the document).

At the same time I was filling out paperwork, I was also laughing with John: how typical of my lucky sister! I’d been seeking information on and off for more than a decade and in her first foray into research got the answers she sought.

Weeks shy of my forty-ninth birthday, I wrote a letter to a woman in California. I told her about my life, my children, how blessed I was. I included a copy of my “original birth certificate”. I included a self-addressed and stamped post card for her to drop in the mail in case she was not interested in any communication, as well as my email address in case she was.

I knew had zero right to expect anything from her. How unfair or selfish of me would it have been to hold out any expectation or make any demands? I didn’t need or expect anything from this woman who had given me the gift of life and a good family. I had no desire to upset the apple cart of her life. Who knew what secrets she still kept? Who knew if anyone beyond her own mother knew she had a baby in 1968 when she was seventeen?

I wasn’t seeking my mother, I had a mother. I didn’t need to speak with this woman for me to feel whole or solve any problems in my life. I am whole thanks to therapy and life coaches and good books. What I didn’t underestimate, though, was that maybe, just maybe, the knowledge that I was safe and happy, healthy and whole, would be healing for her. Secrets, no matter how ancient, can be destructive.

She sent me an email about a week later. We spoke on the phone and she told me that the dates lined up, but she wanted to be sure. Because on the day that I was born, there were other babies born, too. She ordered her own Ancestry DNA Kit.

She confessed that when she returned home from the hospital, no one ever spoke about her having a baby. Not her, not her mother or step-father. The belief of those managing the adoptions of little babies back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies was that a young woman should walk away from the experience and pretend it never happened. That this was the key to going on with their life, unblemished. That this was the key to the child they gave up having a full and healthy life.

“The best gift I could ever receive,” she told me, “was simply the knowledge that you had a good life. That’s what we were told, that the babies adopted would have a good life.”

And I DID have a good life. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. I never wanted for shelter or clothing or toys. I didn’t go to bed cold or hungry. I was healthy. I got a great education. I had nice clothes, sturdy shoes, and never lacked the care of a doctor or dentist.

I lived in a house with a big yard and experienced what it was to have unlimited access to books and a friend in my cat.

We went on nice vacations. I learned how to be a good member of society with added tutelage on societal norms such as how to behave in nice restaurants, how much to tip service folks, and how to be a good guest. (All activities not a normal in everyone’s life, something I discovered when a high school friend asked me where to put her purse at dinner on a date to Steak & Ale).

I was loved. Maybe not unconditionally by my mother because she couldn’t quite love herself. But I was loved and adored. And I certainly learned about unconditional love from my father. What I had, though, was a solid foundation of security and stability, the elements that Maslow identified as necessary for me to blossom into the curious and creative creature that I am.

The email confirming that this woman was the person who’d given birth to me arrived on the same day we buried my Daddy.

That was in summer. Now it’s December, and in a few short days, I will sit down at a table and see her face to face.

I will have the opportunity to see if I recognize myself in the arch of her eyebrow or the curve of her neck. I’ll be able to tell if she shares the shape of one of my daughters’ eyes, or if she gestures with her hands like any of us. I will no longer wonder whose fingers I have, or where my curvy figure came from.

We’ve been emailing once a week to share the highlights (and lowlights) of our daily lives. Threads of connection to see where our interests might cross or a turn of phrase feels familiar. We have no plans beyond getting together for an early dinner on my first night.  I hope that that dinner leads to other visits while I’m in California, but I know that it might not.

And, of course, a part of me is wary. What if she doesn’t like me? I’ve never been the bubbly popular girl that other women love. My experience with John’s sisters, for example, remind me that sometimes, no matter how friendly and kind you are to others, they might not really like you, let alone seek you out to spend time with.

Deep within lies the hope that there’s a spark, a flash, some sort of intrinsic recognition, that connects us, bonds us, feels familiar. That something sustainable surfaces for the long haul.

I don’t need a mother, I had one. But I’ll never say that I don’t hope that I can create a relationship with this woman who gave birth to me. No, I don’t need her to be a mother. But it would be nice if she could be a friend.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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