Archive | Essays

Restoring Myself with Self-Portraiture by Julie M. Terrill

Self-portraiture has proven to be a useful tool in my growth, not only as a photographer, but in my personal life as well. I am not talking about selfies, though I do have some selfies that I love. These images are portraits using my DSLR, a tripod, a remote shutter release, light meter and purposeful composition. I conceptualize a shot, set it up, run into the frame and using the remote shutter release, give myself the same directives I would give to other subjects. After several shots I go back to the camera to see what needs to change technically and aesthetically and repeat the process. As a result I learned how to better communicate my directives to my subjects by becoming more specific and more easily understood.

My first experience with this process was in workshop on self-portraiture by Kate Inglis. I signed up as a way to gain a greater understanding of the people I photograph. Our assignment was to capture ourselves where we are in this moment our personal journey. Where was I? Newly widowed, grief stricken, lost… The image I had conceptualized was the stripping away – the stripping of my walls, of grief, of fake strength and finally surrendering to tears.


At first it was uncomfortable and awkward. I did not enjoy the process. Sadly, I hated my images and didn’t want to share them with the other participants. I was so critical of my body that I couldn’t see the artistic beauty of the shot. The self-deprecating internal dialogue spewed forth. My perception of my body quickly expanded while my confidence withered until it occurred to me that I would never view that same image of another woman and compare her to the Michelin Man or the Staypuft Marshmallow Man. For the first time I afforded myself the same gentleness and grace that I gave others. I chose an image that I could see as beautiful and I decided to share it at the end of the workshop.

Using monthly self-portraits I documented my emotions, thoughts, feelings and growth. These images reflect periods of grief, depression, anger, acceptance and strength. While I still take self-portraits, the changes are now more subtle. I didn’t think I wanted to document this process but am glad that I did.

The images are powerful reminders of the restoration process of becoming ME again. Though I was initially resistant, the process was everything I didn’t know I needed. I am eager to see what insight future sessions will hold.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

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The Poetry Scene – Twenty Years Later by Serena M. Agusto-Cox

 

My hands don’t sweat my nerves; they shake them out through my fingers.  I sat in the front row with five other poets, ones I consider more accomplished than myself.  Only last year was my poem, “Dignified Opposition,” nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Dime Show Review.  I’m still working on a poetry manuscript, one I’ve put together, torn apart, and started over with completely different poems and themes.

Have you ever had that moment when you’re struck dumb? That happened to me when an email from Lucinda Marshall landed in my inbox.  She was organizing a poetry reading with local poets and wanted to know if I was interested.  Was I interested?  Of course!  But I was equally terrified that I would be a blubbering mess.  I was reminded by my lovely first reader that I needed to send her samples of my work first, which I presumed would be rejected.

I haven’t read my own work in public for about 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve shown anyone else my work, except my trusted first reader.  The pressure not to disappoint seemed insurmountable.

I remember that eagerness, picking out poems I loved and wanted to share in our small literary community at Suffolk University.  I rarely had a second thought about reading my poems.  The dark basement lounge with its small furniture in bright rainbow colors, musty but inviting in a bohemian way.  It was a delight to share the shadowed space with so many young, vibrant poets.  We were all searching for our own voices, and we were doing it together.

Life changed after graduation, and the reality of student loans and needing a job to live off of soon crept into my worldview.  College seemed like a carefree place where I could spend my afternoons writing and creating — learning — but the workforce is much more rigid.  For 20 years, I’ve been writing off and on when I found the time between work, getting married, and having a daughter.  Writing came in spurts or not at all for many years.  Publications in journals trickled in, and with each fleeting moment of delight came the dreary feeling of failure.

Literary work is hard, even harder than working in a rigid job.  It’s full of rejection and very few moments of praise and encouragement.  Not reading for those years allowed my anxieties to loom larger, and I allowed those rejections to feed that anxiety.  It’s crazy how things can accumulate over time without you realizing it.

After speaking with my first reader about what poems to send Lucinda, my heart began racing once they went to her inbox from mine.  I worried that they weren’t good enough, even though many had been published previously.  I realized through all my worrying that I didn’t want to inadvertently blow a chance to share my work again.  Yes, work I had been holding onto, but proud of, even as my editorial brain told me they were not polished.

When Lucinda told me that I was added to the lineup with Katherine E. Young, Gregory Luce, Leeya Mehta, and Donald Illich at The Gallery at Chesapeake Framing in North Potomac, Md., in June, my brain froze.  I flailed for a while after her email, despite my answers to her queries for a headshot and bio. It was coming down to the wire, and while the fear whirred, I struggled to pin down what poems I’d read.

I admit I was beginning to allow anxiety to take over.  I didn’t select or practice my poems beforehand.  In fact, I did just two dry runs the day of the reading.  Even as I listened to the poets before me in the lineup, my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  I still struggled with the poems I had in the folder; I wanted it to be perfect, knowing that it wouldn’t be.  In the end, I pushed the fears aside, reordered my poems, and stepped to the podium.

Click Image to Listen to Serena’s Poetry Reading

 

As I read each poem, I traveled back in time to when I wrote them and why, and it was trip I will remember for a long time because I felt closer to my daughter when I wrote how she would save the world in “A Poem to Save Us,” to my nana who filled my life with music in “Piano,” and to both my grandmothers and my own mother in “Just Mom” and “Dear Vovó.”  I feel freer for having shared these poems that are so close to my heart, and I wouldn’t hesitate to struggle with my anxieties to do it again.

About the Author: Serena M. Agusto-Cox

Serena M. Agusto-Cox, a Suffolk University graduate, writes more vigorously than she did in her college poetry seminars. Her day job continues to feed the starving artist, and her poems can be read in Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals.  An essay also appears in H.L. Hix’s Made Priceless, as does a Q&A on book marketing through blogs in Midge Raymond’s Everyday Book Marketing.  She also runs the book review blog, Savvy Verse & Wit , and is the founder of Poetic Book Tours.

 

Refresh and Restore by Christine Cassidy

We were lucky.

We lost power for only two weeks after Hurricane Sandy had battered the Jersey Shore. We were far enough inland from the rapidly rising Barnegat Bay. Three miles of pinelands and marsh dammed the flood waters from reaching our neighborhood.

Some weren’t so lucky.

Homes resting on the lip of the Bay were swallowed up by the undiscriminating Storm, then spat out indiscriminately along the coast.

Cars, washing machines, seldom used power tools lay underwater in an Atlantis of all the things that were supposed to make our lives easier. Now insurance companies calculated their value by water weight.

Across the bridge in Seaside, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay rose to meet one another on the Boulevard that divided the island. Their brines’ violent mingling submerged some homes while it uprooted others, carrying them several hundred yards away from their foundations. Cinder blocks remained in carefully arranged rectangles like well-plotted archeological excavations.

Five years later and many are still trying to restore their lives to the way they were before the Storm.

Looking through the broken window of one ravaged home, one can see on the living room walls, clusters of faint mold spots like archipelagos adrift in a clinically white sea.

Five years later and a stubborn bay wind has stripped off the paint from another structure, exposing a ribcage of weathered timber.

A patchwork quilt of plywood, broken shingles, and faded shutters drapes the front of another home long abandoned.

But luck can change for the better, too.

Five years later and the houses that were lifted off of their foundations by the surf were lifted again. Lifted high, high above the ground, this time by hydraulic jacks, in anticipation of future storms.

Still others have been primed and painted an unblemished white, waiting the gentler marks and feather-like scratches of the day-to-day.

About the Author & Photographer: Christine Cassidy

ccassidybioChristine Cassidy is a self-taught artist who works in photography, fiber, collage and assemblage. Her photographs have appeared in F-Stop Magazine, NYC-Arts, Filtered Magazine, and twohundredby200.

Christine grew up in New Jersey among artists and makers; her father was a bricklayer who built her childhood home while her mother furnished it with the hooked rugs she hand crafted. Her older sister Kate Tevis was a graphic designer and collage artist.

Christine loves Buster Keaton, e.e. cummings, punk rock, and living in her tiny studio apartment in New York City.

July is for Journaling by Molly Totoro

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
~Flannery O’Connor

I didn’t really understand Flannery O’Connor’s wisdom until four years ago when the compound stresses of life nearly silenced me.

At that time I was teaching seven English classes (with seven different preps and countless papers to grade). I was the primary caregiver of my aging mother who was eventually put into hospice and died six weeks later. I became a grandmother for the first time (the birth coincided with Mom’s memorial service). And my youngest graduated high school and moved into her own apartment.

I was so busy taking care of others’ business that I failed to care for myself.

And I snapped.

All family members insisted I see a therapist, with the expectation he would prescribe one (or two or three) anti-anxiety medications. Since I loathe taking pills of any kind, I dreaded the appointment.

Imagine my surprise when at the end of the first session the therapist told me to go home and write.

Write?! Telling an English teacher she “must” write isn’t a prescription but a dream come true.

Since that fateful day, I have filled at least thirty notebooks and countless online journal entries.

I have written in good times and bad. I have journaled dreams and aspirations and reflected upon trials and failures. I have brainstormed, written letters (to myself and others), poured out prayers of thanksgiving and petition, and reconnected with forgotten passions and interests.

Journaling not only allowed me to discover what I think, but it also gave me back my voice. See, I am a rule follower, and I always believed if you follow the rules and do your best, life will be good. That is, life will be free of conflict.

But that is not how life works. So in an effort to create peace, I chose to keep differing opinions to myself. I did not want to rock the boat. But my silence did not prevent the waves of life from crashing in. My silence only served to extinguish me.

Over the past four years, I have discovered journaling is good for our physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Journaling, especially when done by hand with a pen and notebook, causes the mind to quiet and focus. It slows down the frenetic pace of life, which in turn, reduces blood pressure.

Journaling is an opportunity to release spinning thoughts in our heads and give them a place to rest. Mental space is then cleared for more creative endeavors.

Journaling by hand is also a way to connect with the right side of our brain — the spontaneous, creative side. Penmanship is an artistic expression: will we write in block letters or loopy cursive? Even if we scribble, there is still a deep connection between our thoughts and how we represent them on the page.

In addition, journaling can afford us the opportunity for distance: to see a specific event or situation from another vantage point. Often this space helps us see a possible solution where before we saw only hopelessness. Or it can show us how to forgive others even when we were the ones who felt wronged. Harboring resentment squelches creativity, but offering forgiveness opens the mind.

While I enjoy journaling throughout the year, summertime is ideal. The warmer weather offers indoor as well as outdoor possibilities to sit and write. I prefer to journal first thing in the morning when temperatures are cooler and the sun not quite so bright. The back porch is the perfect spot, with a cup of coffee and my favorite notebook and pen. The soft chirps of the songbirds and the quiet summer breeze provide idyllic inspiration.

Of course, there are times when I like to end the day with a journaling session. A glass of iced tea – or perhaps chilled Chardonnay – is the perfect refreshment. I retreat to my Paris room, light an aromatic candle, put on some instrumental music, and begin to write. Sometimes I focus on gratitude journaling, other times I recount the events of the day.

There is no ONE right way to journal. We can journal for five minutes and feel satisfied – or we can journal several pages and feel as though I’ve just started. The important thing is to give yourself time to reconnect with your inner self and allow your voice to be heard.

July is the perfect month to begin (or perhaps begin again) a journaling practice – for July is NaJoWriMo: National Journal Writing Month.

The event is held four times a year, with a specific theme for each session. July’s theme is Places and Journeys – a perfect opportunity to reflect on past or future vacation getaways.

Travel journaling is one of my favorite writing activities. I journal before the trip, making lists of possible itineraries, researching a bit of history, and imagining the sights and culture I will see. This kind of preparation builds anticipation, which increases my enjoyment once there.

While on vacation I keep journaling to a minimum. I want to experience the vacation, and live in the moment. However, I do spend a few minutes each evening jotting notes of the day’s events, focusing on specific sensory details such as the taste of an exotic meal or the smell of the open-air market.

Once I return home, I use these notes as well as my photos to document the trip. I reflect on lessons learned and relive the adventure through family stories.

Remember, however, there’s no ONE right way to journal. You do not have to journal about travel this July. Perhaps you can devote the month to gratitude journaling (listing 3-5 things you are grateful for each day) – or Morning Pages (writing 750 words each morning to release discursive thought and make room for creative ideas) – or perhaps you can choose the time to reflect on the past (use the writing prompt: I remember… and see what memories surface).

I find that I do well with these kinds of online events. I feel as though I am a part of a like-minded community. And I am more likely to maintain discipline when I know others are out there who are doing the same. I instinctively feel kinship and support.

NaJoWriMo is a relaxed gathering around the cyber pool. Care to join me for a refreshing dip?

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook  and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

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Restoring Your Soul After Retirement by Jeanie Croope

I packed the last of the things left in my office into an already too-full box. A poster of Big Bird that had been on my office wall (where I would put it up at home was and remains a mystery), photos tacked to the bulletin board from PBS conferences, my personal reference books and a few odds and ends — a bobblehead of Doc Martin, a baseball signed by Ken Burns and Negro Baseball League legend Buck O’Neill, and a stuffed Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. (She holds court now in my home art room!)

It wasn’t the first box I hauled to the car but it was the last.

I had made my goodbyes to colleagues, some of whom I’d known for the past 32 years. No, longer — I started working at our public broadcasting station as a volunteer, then a student. How quickly that time had flown by.

But I was tired. And I hadn’t been well for several months.

Our work environment was extremely stressful and had been that way for the two years leading into my retirement. There had been changes in command, office and departmental reshuffling, new supervisors, changing long developed habits. Most of our staff was operating in an environment that combined caution, fear, exhaustion and low morale.

I lived by the postcard of “The Moscow Rules” that had been given to me from a friend who had visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. I kept it tucked in the back page of my daily calendar and I lived by the ten rules rigorously. These rules included, among others:

  • Assume Nothing
  • Go with the flow; blend in
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency
  • Don’t look back; you are never completely alone
  • Don’t harass the opposition
  • Pick the time and place for action.

It is a terrible way to live one third of the day, especially given that another third is spent in sleep, waiting to awake and do it all over again.

The tenth of the Moscow Rules is “Keep your options open.” And it was this one that I had clung to. When I turned 62, the best option was to retire.

I preface this article with that background story because when you know it is time to refresh and restore your soul, you have to consider what you’ve been working with and what you need to be able to make those changes without feeling guilty for taking that very important time to simply “be.”

I knew from the beginning that I didn’t like the word “retire.”It sounds so final – so “sit in your chair and watch TV” boring.

I had worked in a highly socialized and public environment and I was worried about missing that. I knew that I had loads of interests and hobbies and I had a lengthy laundry list of things I wanted to do or accomplish. But I wasn’t quite sure how to begin. How would it feel to not get up every morning, dress for work, feed the cat, drive past the lottery billboard that sent me daydreaming for the last five minutes of my journey to work and not feel terribly guilty about it.

So I did the next best thing. I ran away by myself, heading to my summer cottage, shockingly still and peaceful in September after the summer people have removed their docks and gone home for the season.

I took long walks in the late summer air and read books while digging my feet into the cooler sand. I awoke to the cawing of gulls and big black birds, watched the nightly flotilla of ducks on the lake and took trips into town for the weekly market, quieter without the summer people jostling for space around the best of the September harvest. I savored the sunsets, ravishing with colors of hot pink, royal blue, brilliant orange, changing minute by minute until the sky was an inky black. I set no clock, eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was tired. I unplugged, calling home but staying clear of the internet.

I visited people I had known who retired in Michigan’s north country and as I spoke to each one I collected a list of tips about handling my new life.

“Make at least one date a week with a friend for socialization.”
“Volunteer.”
“Make lists to start with to keep you on track.”
“Look at classes or workshops to learn a new skill.”

All logical things. But they felt more important coming from those who had lived active lives in the workforce and now were living active lives in their new role. They were the not-so-retiring retirees.

A recently retired friend from home joined me for several days of art. We painted, created, took walks, drank wine, and talked for hours.

Bit by bit my battered soul had begun to heal.

Everyone refreshes, renews and restores in their own way. Some stay busy, never having a moment to spare. Others walk with nature, and still more find their refreshment in travel, a sport or a hobby. And many of us do it combining our passions for action and stillness.

It’s been nearly four years since I walked out that door. Since then I have been remarkably healthy for one with a chronic condition that was severe enough to motivate a major life change. It tells me a lot about what stress can do to damage your body, much less your soul.

I’ve followed much of the advice shared with me by those who had gone before, maintaining ongoing friendships and get-togethers with former colleagues, volunteering and focusing on my watercolors, showing remarkable improvement with practice.

And I still keep the Moscow Rules on the bulletin board at my desk. Many of them hold true for life, like “assume nothing” and “never go against your gut.”

But the one that I think of most, the one I still live by is “Keep Your Options Open.” After all, refreshment comes in many forms — and it’s always good to be ready for whatever comes next.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Red Galoshes by Bernie Brown

It all started with a pair of red galoshes I got for Christmas. I wanted them for backyard work, planting begonias, and feeding bluebirds and their friends. North Carolina is home to copper heads and other nasty creatures, and I didn’t want to step on any surprises and die of a fright-induced heart attack while feeding and planting.

Above the small bank that defines our little yard lies a bit of woods, just the right size to call a woods, but not big enough to get lost in. Although our subdivision lies smack in the middle of a bustling suburban area with traffic noise, it is a peaceful harbor with an arch of magnolias shading its main street.

Back in the woods, you’d think you’d landed in Sherwood Forest, and Robin Hood himself might tip his hat to you.

I have often ventured a little way back in the woods to toss a handful of weeds or empty a pot of dirt. Until the appearance of the red galoshes, I had never explored any further. But when January produced a gleaming snowfall, the woods called to me. I donned my bright boots and fuzzy hat to learn what they had to say.

I traipsed. I tromped. I tramped. It was not at all like a straightforward walk on the sidewalk. Low spots hidden by leaves and snow surprised my feet. Thorny vines grabbed my legs. Trees standing tall and straight, or small and bent, invited me to study them, to stare at the blue sky through their branches. Twining together, they made artistic arrangements.

One big tree, perhaps having been trimmed by a woodman, had a thick elbow of a trunk, a perfect forty five degree angle. Other small, brave, green shoots peeked out of the crystal snow. The white ground glowed, throwing back the sun’s light. Squirrels scurried out of my way. Fallen trees made handy benches where I sat and let the crisp beauty soak in.

Since that snowy first visit, I have returned to the woods often. I wander back and forth with no real goal in mind. I retrace my steps, stop and look at the sky, the way the sun shines through the trees. The sights are new every time. Though I may have passed a certain clump of trees before, they don’t look the same from a different angle or at a different time of day.

I still find satisfaction in clocking distance as I take more deliberate paths on neighborhood sidewalks. But now, as I grow older, I want to know the freedom of not measuring, of not knowing how many steps I walk or how much distance I cover. Letting go of these measurements is difficult. I use them as measures of my self-worth, my discipline, my productivity. And when those are the things I hunger to know, they satisfy. The account keeping is good for my body.

Walks in the woods are good for my spirit. They teach me to do a thing for the sheer pleasure of doing it, for each step, each glimpse of the sky, each time peace floods through me at the vertical pattern of trees against the horizon.

Warm weather arrives early in North Carolina, and with it, those nasties I mentioned earlier. The threat of snakes may keep me out of the woods come summer. That is something I will have to learn about myself and the woods. But I do wonder what small growth I would find there in growing season. What wildflowers? What birds making homes for their young families? Will the thorny bushes and higher undergrowth make walking too troublesome even for my red galoshes?

I won’t spoil the experience by turning it into a challenge.

Challenges strike me as “un-Zen,” though I confess to not knowing what Zen really is. In the meantime, my flowers and the backyard birds will feed my spirit, too. When I care for them, I will look out through the woods and appreciate how summer’s light dapples the trees, how the riotous undergrowth and leaf-decked trees soften the scene, and how the extravagant green makes me smile and fills me with unreasonable happiness. Come fall, I’ll pull on my galoshes, fasten their buckles, and they will take me exploring the woods’ secrets all over again.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress. My short story, Same Old Casserole, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Connecting to Your Creative Heart by Anna Oginsky

Albert Camus wrote, “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” While I wholeheartedly agree with Camus, I am finding it harder and harder to turn away from the world. The world is demanding! My life is overflowing with obligations. Slips of paper with reminders scribbled on them and to-do lists are literally busting out of every book, calendar, and bag I own. Yes, I desperately want to turn away from all of it, but sometimes I wonder: What will happen if I do?

Almost nothing.

When I returned from my first ever art retreat experience, the fact that everything I feared leaving behind was right there waiting for me when I returned came as a big surprise to me. After just one day back at home, I wondered if it was true that I even left? Was it a dream? Nothing really changed while I was away. When I returned, my children still needed me. My husband still wanted me. My dog still barked at me. There were still groceries to buy and meals to make. There were still appointments to make and playdates to keep. All the pieces of my life were still intact.

Nothing around me changed, but I was different. I changed. I changed a lot. I left for the retreat feeling overwhelmed, tired, and fearful that I had made a big mistake in investing this time and money in a retreat, of all things. It seemed impractical, indulgent even. I felt unworthy. Simultaneously, I was exploring new territory in my life at that time. I was healing old wounds and growing into a new way of living my life. I suspected there was a whole other way of moving through my days, but I couldn’t seem to access it. A retreat seemed like a great way to, at the very least, try something new.

When I returned from that retreat, I was lighter. I had the air of a child who just came in for the night after a day of playing outside — soaking in sunshine and inhaling fresh air. I was still tired when I returned, but it was a different kind of tired than I was used to. I felt it in my body, my mind, and my spirit. Just as a growing child needs sleep to integrate what transpires during the day, I needed sleep to integrate what I was learning.

Attending that first retreat was so powerful for me that I decided to create something like it for others. I had envisioned creating something similar at other points in my life, but it never seemed like the right time to pursue bringing those visions to life. Upon my return, I set to work imagining what I would offer, who would be involved, and where it would take place. Slowly, all the details fell into place and it was only up to me to make it happen.

One of the challenges I find in being creative is that it’s not always easy to know which path to take. There are always so many options! Turning away from the world not only allows us to understand the world better, it also allows us to understand ourselves better. In the time spent at that first retreat, I remembered the dreams I had previously. Away from my everyday life, I could see that what once seemed impossible was quite possible. Rather than causing my life to fall apart, attending that retreat helped my pull my life together in a new, more meaningful way by creating space for me to experience something new, different, and wildly inspiring.

As I begin making plans for this year’s retreat, I am feeling that same, familiar pull back to my lists, my calendar, and my obligations. I again wonder what will planning this retreat mean for me? How can I make it meaningful for others? What will happen if we all get up and leave our everyday lives for a few days to retreat into art, nature, writing, and each other? Now I can anticipate the answers to these questions. I know that to better understand myself and the world around me, I must turn away from it all. I know the same is true for others. I also know that we will all return to our homes changed —refreshed, renewed, and wildly inspired.

To learn more about The Heart Connected Retreat, visit here.

About the Author: Anna Oginsky

annbioAnna Oginsky is the founder of Heart Connected, LLC, a small Michigan-based workshop and retreat business that creates opportunities for guests to tune in to their hearts and connect with the truth, wisdom, and power held there. Her work is inspired by connections made between spirituality, creativity, and community. Anna’s first book, My New Friend, Grief, came as a result of years of learning to tune in to her own heart after the sudden loss of her father. In addition to writing, Anna uses healing tools like yoga, meditation, and making art in her offerings and in her own personal practice. She lives in Brighton, Michigan with her husband, their three children, and Johnny, the big yellow dog. Connect with her on her websiteTwitter; Facebook; or Instagram.

Patience and shuffle the cards – Miguel de Cervantes

I have a tarot client who lays her hand on the deck (usually after I’ve been fiddling with it), takes a deep breath and says, “Ok. Go ahead.” She’s done this for a decade worth of readings, and I swear, it still makes me twitchy.

No shuffling? No cutting? You’re just gonna let me *gulp* READ for you?

Of course, because she’s the Zen master of all things, the readings are always accurate. The cards are always where they should be.

I have another client who smooshes my cards around on the table in one huge pile. She pushes and pulls them, stacks them into an untidy pile and says, while idly making all of the face up cards go face down again, “Go for it, honey.” She says this with a giant grin on her face because she knows it drives me bonkers.

Of course, because she is the Captain of Chaos, the readings are always accurate. The cards are always where they should be.

I think that shuffling (or not) of the cards lends a certain amount of ritual to the reading.

It gives the client time to breathe. To touch the cards and do something with their hands. I ask my clients to “Shuffle til you feel like you’re finished”. During this time, I play with my stones or close my eyes and breathe in and out and try to disappear from the table. When they’re finished, they’re noticeably calmer than they were when they first sat down for this reading.

People generally get readings when they’re anxious or nervous or wondering, and the anticipation can ramp that up. The simple process of shuffling a deck of cards can lend them calm and a seemingly mindless task to distract them from their worries.

This simple act is more than just rearranging of the cards, or putting their energy into them. It’s a meditation and a ritual that allows them to be wholly present for their tarot reading. That’s what ritual really is, after all. It’s a tool or an exercise that makes us be mindful of what we’re doing.

When the bell rings in a Christian church, it’s time to pay attention to the altar because magic is happening there. When Muslims are called to Salat five times a day, they literally walk away from the mundane, face the direction of their holy land, and place their physical, mental and spiritual selves in the hands of their god.

The act of lighting a candle for a Pagan. The act of touching the beads in a mala. Even mundane tasks have rituals that bring a touch of the sacred to them. Every night, I tuck my kids into bed. Every night, I tell them I love them so much, and to have good dreams and tell me about them in the morning. I kiss their foreheads three times. Every night. This ritual has become sacred in our house, because it is ours. It’s an active and physical show of love and trust.

Whether you are spiritual or not. Whether you sling cards or not. Whatever your day looks like, I encourage you to notice those places where ritual has entered. What drives it? Why do your rituals continue? What is it, precisely, that your attention should be focused on?

Noticing your rituals will help you turn your head toward those things that require your full attention, and will help you pull a little bit of the sacred into your day to day.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa CynovaMelissaC_Bio is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. You can Look for her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, is available for pre-order and will be out April 8th.

Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, and two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

She is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

Note: Image is from the Little Monsters Tarot Deck

Word Medicine by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

Weekend morning. I wake early and creep downstairs into the kitchen, setting the kettle on the burner and stretching my neck, my arms, my hands, shaking sleep off. Two cats circle like shadows around my feet, waiting for their breakfast–sleek and silent as the kettle starts its slow hiss and boil. Out comes the mug. The tea. My mind begins its checklist of the day ahead and the dreams behind. Because it is a weekend, the steaming mug travels back upstairs to my bedroom with me and I set it on the corner of my desk.

I settle myself in the chair, get the notebook and black ink pens out, and stare out the window, my breath a slow breeze through me. My gratitude is immediate as I rake my eyes across the neighboring field and distant tree line, still winter-stark and bare, waiting for spring. I let my eyes wander, cataloguing signs of the season shifting, watching for hawks and vultures drifting high, and geese who flock to the field all winter, their broken cries cracking the silence open wide. Squirrels erupt along the tree branches and the black cat from across the street stalks them for any misstep. Deer often graze when the field is high, bookmarking sunrise and sunset with their nervous energy. Foxes sneak past at dusk–but now, morning is just getting started and the scene is quiet but for a few crows circling, silent and black as the ink in my pen. My pen starts to move across the page. Meditation. Memory. Magic.

When it is warm out, the glass is thrown open, echoes of an old poem, “outside the open window, the morning air is all awash with angels.” Angels. Animals. And the first moments of peace I’ve had in days.

People will tell you to choose a job you love and you’ll “never work a day in your life.” But they don’t account for those like me who’ve chosen a job they love that makes them work harder than even seems possible. I am a teacher. My job is full-time, August to June, with those two infamous months off that many say make this career-path “easy” and me “lucky,” as if I am the one responsible for the academic yearly calendar. Yes. Those two months are wonderful. Like most teachers, I find them essential for recovering, recharging, and reflecting on the classes I had and the students I served all the best ways I know how. But, “easy” and “lucky” are not the words to describe how it feels to be responsible for the education of every single student who shows up in my classes with a whole history and agenda of their own.

I teach six classes this semester at the same community college I’ve been teaching at for over sixteen years now. I have 100 students I plan for, grade for, guide and (hopefully) inspire each and every day. I teach writing, so my job can’t be just assigning multiple choice quizzes or tests and calling it a day. I have the task of working with them on essays from brainstorming to multiple revisions, equalling hundreds of pages of reading each week. The emails are endless, as are the questions. I have no teacher’s assistant or co-teacher. This is a one-woman show that runs all day every day, and a couple of evenings, too. I am overwhelmed daily. I am also inspired daily. Impressed. Moved. Full of love, concern, and hope. When I leave campus each day, my bag is full of things to grade or long-range plans I am hoping to work on in between meeting the needs of the three young adults I am a single parent of–also no assistant or partner there to share the weight–a one woman show running 365 days per year, 24 hours a day. Also a job that leaves me full of love, concern, and hope every day.

I have chosen the job I have and the children I have (not that I expected to be a single mom when my family began, but then, life is full of surprises). Both my work and my children provide me with the fuel of life I need to run on. But burnout, in both the role of teacher and of single mother, is a very real concern and is something I constantly have to work against to be the teacher and the mother my kids all need me to be.

This is where my weekend morning rituals come in. This is where the waking early, hot tea, writing at the desk, and staring out into that field must be. The first twenty minutes of my writing is just brain drain–concerns, struggles, and self-doubt about whether I am doing a good job at either of my beloved occupations. But eventually, I tap into that third vocation I am called to–the writer in me sings out, full-throated, still alive in me in spite of everything.
My weekend morning ritual of time spent writing does more than stave off the possible emotional collapse from my weekday demands. It allows me to access all of the most vibrant, powerful, alive parts of who I am.

I once imagined a life for myself where all I did was write, spinning out entire invented universes from the blooming tip of my pen. I’d travel at will. I would sequester myself in the woods or alongside a mesa or a mountain or beside a tide-heavy shore, living to create. Undisturbed. A Virginia Woolf Room of Her Own dream. I still have this fantasy sometimes. I’ll teach, but teach less. My children will grow more fully into adulthood. The writer I am will take up the space she’s due.

But even this dream only works when teaching, motherhood, and writing coexist. I, quite simply, couldn’t do without all three. Yet doing with all three is staggering. This contradiction frames my life and challenges me in ways only another person working within constraints like mine could ever understand.

The pressure, the ache, and the exhilaration of these three things have taught me the profound power of self care. For me, it looks like a quiet desk by a window overlooking a field full of life. What was a weekend morning routine has been infused with a significance that makes it sacred to me. Perhaps the only line between routine and ritual is how desperately the person needs it. My ritual renews me, offers me moments of grace, and fortifies me for another week of balancing everything. Weekend mornings are my ritual. Words are my medicine. I wake early. I brew the tea and open the windows when I can, looking for angels. I channel the determination of my students, the love of my children, and the power of my imagination to slip from the sunlit field in front of me into the wild expanse of my salvation–my flawed, imperfect writing life.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at http://cdeliamulrooney.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofcupstarot/

Counting My Losses by Sheryl Cornett

Lately I’ve been losing things: car keys, umbrellas, reading glasses, a cherished leather coin purse bought in London’s Camden Market twenty years ago. I kept only British pounds sterling in that purse, as a reminder that the next trip “home” to the Bloomsbury neighborhoods was just a few months away. I go there regularly to escape the oppressively humid North Carolina summers paying my way by teaching and writing.

Classes finished, deadlines met, I wander daydreaming through Regent’s Park or along the Thames’ South Bank leg of the Jubilee Greenway. I walk miles when in that beloved city, and my fit bit holds me accountable like an exercise partner. We have a daily conversation, in real activity-tracking numbers, about how life-giving and liberating these miles are. I record the miles in a moleskin journal as an affirming reminder-log. We check in with each other often.

So, last month when I climbed out of an airport shuttle at five in the morning, I heard the leather coin pouch tumble out of my bag, spilling change on the asphalt. I searched hurriedly in the dark for the three-inch purse. American Airlines was announcing Now Boarding, creating panic as I scoured under the oafish sixteen passenger van—but the purse apparently fell into a black hole.

Let it go. You can get another one next trip.

Later that same trip, the fit bit disappeared from my bra where it was snuggly clipped in place. Somewhere in Dallas Fort Worth’s ginormous Terminal D it worked loose and went AWOL. I hope someone who really needs one found it.

This loss is a reminder to all that I’ve been counting as well as losing in the past year.

I count steps-into-miles, as I mention. I track dollars, British pounds sterling, and euros while teaching study abroad. I count numbers of students in my classes and the number of semesters taught: autumn, spring, and summer, seventy-five semesters to date! I count calories and carbs; check my weight and blood pressure, mindful of the fluctuation of each.

I count pages and chapters written by me, and those read and re-read by me, written by my favorite authors and sister-writers. I count psalms and poems by friends dead and alive that resonate in my soul like music that lingers and won’t leave the room; poems that bring joy and wisdom and a place to share our humanity. Louis MacNeice’s lines from Autumn Journal surface to remind me that my “vitality leaps” among “[t]rees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace.”

Segue here to the biggest loss of all this year—loss of a spouse through divorce. The fit bit represents this in a quirky way: my former husband used to be (a lifetime ago), my walking partner; in fact, that’s how we courted back when we were both broke and single parenting.

The fit bit that went AWOL at DFW surprised me with its loss, at how unmoored I felt.

I realized it has been—for quite a few years—my most steadfast walking companion. A way to make sure I’m actually getting as much exercise as I tell myself I am, something that a walking or jogging buddy can confirm or challenge. It’s also my creative thinking, and head-clearing, and list-making time. Random thoughts of gratitude often bloom in me while getting in my steps. I also vent, sort out teaching conundrums, and compose emails while taking paths through the urban college campus where I work; while meandering through country parks and river walks.

So, in counting my losses along with these other things, I’m finding that counting them mindfully, being intentional and aware of the letting go, of the moving on is, in fact, cutting my losses in the best way. There are fewer and fewer flash floods of anger mixed with sadness. Let it go. No marinating regrets, no festering bitterness. The absence of a regular walking partner is a small shadow in the big-sky clouds of divorce. The silver linings are the friends, colleagues, and (serendipity!) even my adult children that I now call or who contact me to make a walking date, when schedules allow. What a gift! And how hard to get consistently on the calendar.

But my friend the fit bit is always available.

Earlier today, I laugh in sudden awareness of the beauty of solitary walks as well as the companionable ones.

It’s bright mid-winter, I’m trekking the Thames Path at high noon along Oxford’s banks. I spy a kingfisher swoop into the woods; the river scintillates in wavelets. I breathe in, lift up my face to the pale sun. My heart is firmly fixed in this moment. Then I remember: I’m meeting my daughter (who has flown to England to visit me on this research trip) on the other side of the river for a hike further along this same footpath. We’ll go the full eight miles to a neighboring village and then stop for dinner at a country pub. We’ll sit by the open fire for several hours sometimes talking, sometimes staring at the flames. After writing a few letters and postcards, we’ll catch the last bus back to London.

Cutting losses has evolved into counting blessings: the gifts of faith, family, and vocation.

The riches of friends and fellowship. The treasure of genuine, healthy relationships and the ongoing healing they confer; the gift of life fully lived, apart from another’s emotional and financial behaviors that, for many years, stormed my days like a cycle of North Carolina hurricanes. Luckily, I found a fit bit on e-Bay for the right price.

We’re back in stride, the pair of us. We’ve moved forward through the stained glass autumn leaf color into the sculptural beauty of winter-trees without leaves, into the next season of finding “gains” better than those losses; in counting joys, pleasures, and the blessings that abound if only I have the eyes to see their numbers.

About the Author: Sheryl Cornett

Sheryl Cornett teaches at North Carolina State University, where she is the 2014-2017 University Honors Program Author Scholar-in-Residence. Her recent poems, stories, criticism, and creative non-fiction appear in Art House America, Southern Women’s Review, North Carolina Literary Review, Image, Pembroke Magazine, Mars Hill Review, and The Independent Weekly among other journals and magazines; and in anthologies such as In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare, The Global Jane Austen, and Christmas Stories from the South’s Best Writers. Visit her at www.sherylcornett.com

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