Happy Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Gratitude and Creativity

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In the United States, it’s Thanksgiving. A time to gather around the table with loved ones and celebrate our many blessings. We celebrate creative living in ever aspect of the meal: from setting a beautiful table to creating each delectable dish served upon it. We try new dishes to stretch our tastes and try to create the tastes of our childhoods with heirloom recipes handed down from grandmother to daughter.

It’s also a time to honor the harvest, gathering the fruits of seeds planted in fertile ground. And fertile minds. Because what is creativity but harvesting the fruits of the seeds we’ve planted?

In celebration of this holiday, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay, but a collection of two dozen gems of wisdom on gratitude and creativity.

“There is no better opportunity to receive more than to be thankful for what you already have. Thanksgiving opens up the windows of opportunity for ideas to flow your way.”
–Jim Rohn

“Artists are among the most generous of people. Perhaps inherent in the appreciation of creativity comes a deep, underlying love of humanity and our Earth.”
–Kelly Borsheim

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gratefulness translates into a joy-filled understanding that informs art making – a simplicity that goes beyond preconceived ideas and moves us toward truth.”
–Dean Taylor Drewyer

“Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.”
–Robert Henri

“I’m very grateful for an entire lifetime spent involved in this creative process.”
–Ron Howard

“An artist gives. Gives visually, gives through courses, or with free advice, through generosity of spirit and through a need to share.”
–Veronica Roth

“Music and art both spring from a grateful heart.”
–Katie Wood McCloy

“I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. This world would be unlivable without art. Thank you for inspiring me.”
–Steven Soderberg

“There is no one harder to live with than an artist. Therefore an artist is a real gift because he or she raises the sanctity of everyone else in the community.”
— David Steindl-Rast

“Gratitude is a many-colored quality, reaching in all directions. It goes out for small things and for large.”
–Faith Baldwin

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”
–William Blake

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
–Albert Schweitzer

“Make a gift of your life and lift all mankind.”
–David R. Hawkins

“The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.”
–Dale Carnegie

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
–Elizabeth Gilbert

“We can live artfully through a thousand little everyday gestures, as well as a multitude of creative pastimes. I define art in the broadest sense-it is every possible medium of human expression. It is in what you say and how you say it.  It is in using the rich resources of your senses to connect with the beauty in life. The art is in the message and in the medium you use to express it. Art is simply the name for how you live your life and how you tell others what you think and feel.”
–Sandra Magsamen

“Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefullness, and gratefullness is a measure of our aliveness.”
–David Steindl-Rast

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“I am filled with gratitude for the ability to live the artist’s life. In my studio. Being an artist. Everyday.”
–Mickie Acierno

“Gratitude opens the door to… the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.”
–Deepak Chopra

“I have walked this earth for 30 years, and, out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir.”
–Vincent van Gogh

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
–Melody Beattie

“The act of giving something to others is an art of flowering your heart.”
–Vinayak

Here’s to your personal harvest and all the ways you honor your own creative spark. We are so honored to witness the ways in which you you celebrate your creative life with a full and grateful heart.

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

Stewing by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

(Part III of the Tea Series, follows Simmering)

David had his laptop set up on the kitchen table, where he was transcribing his latest poems into a word processing program, when Sarah draped her arms over his shoulders, hugging him from behind. “Dinner’s about ready,” she said. “How much more time do you need?”

“Ten minutes?” He made it a question.

“Perfect.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Are you putting my poem in the book?”

An agent had approached him after his last open mic night, and suggested he publish a collection. “I am,” he confirmed. “But only if you let me have my ten more minutes.” He was only half-kidding.

Laughing, Sarah pulled away from him, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It was actually closer to twenty minutes before they finally sat down to eat, and after tasting her baked salmon, Sarah wrinkled her nose. “It’s too dry,” she complained. “It stayed in the oven too long.”

David disagreed, “Seems fine to me.”

“No, it’s much too dry. And the green beans are mushy.”

“You’re too critical,” David said. “It all tastes fine.”

“I didn’t want it to be ‘fine,'” Sarah snapped, though the look on her face made it clear that she hadn’t meant to speak quite so sharply. In a more neutral tone, she continued, “I wanted it to be good. It’s my last day of work until the holidays are over, and I wanted things to feel festive.” She gestured to the floral center piece and the lit candles. “Special.”

“Sweetie, it’s fine. It’s special just because you cooked and we’re eating together.” When Sarah remained quiet, her hands folded in her lap, David continued. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

“You know my company has a cabin up at the Pine Lake Resort, right?”

David nodded. Sarah had mentioned the cabin many, many times.

“Well, every year the person who’s funded the most loans gets to use it for the holidays, and this year, that person was me. I thought we could go shopping for supplies tomorrow or Sunday and then head up on Monday morning, when traffic won’t be bad. It’s all decorated – the staff takes care of that.” She unfolded her hands, and brushed her hair out of her face, revealing bright eyes and a hopeful smile. “We could spend Christmas snowed into a romantic mountain cabin….”

David pushed his plate away. “Aww, I wish you’d told me sooner, Sar.”

“I only found out today. Is there a problem?”

“I always spend the holidays with my family. I just assumed you’d come, too.”

Even in the dim light of the candles it was clear that Sarah’s face had turned pale. “You mean, with your parents, right?”

“Yeah, with my parents. But also, my brother and sister and their kids, and my aunts and uncles and…” David finally realized that his partner wasn’t enthusiastic about his plan. “You don’t want to go.” His tone was flat when he spoke the words.

“I can’t,” she said. She rose from the table and carried her plate full of unfinished food back to the kitchen.

“Look, I’m sure you can reschedule the cabin,” David suggested, following her with his own empty plate and all the cutlery. “Or we can rent one, take a long weekend in January or February.”

“You should have asked me,” Sarah told him, flicking the faucet lever upward and to the left to start the hot water flowing. “I don’t… I’m not…” But her sentences remained incomplete, and when the dishes were done, she simply repeated, “You should have asked me,” before she fled through the bedroom to the master bath where she locked the door against him.

By the time Sarah emerged from her bath with damp hair and pink skin, David had returned to his transcription. When she tried to engage him in conversation, he ignored her.

* * *

The weekend had been spent in tense silence punctuated by too-brief conversations. By Monday morning, Sarah had re-confirmed the cabin for Valentine’s Day, and David had completed typing his poems, and sent them off to his agent for approval.

By Monday afternoon, they were packed and in the car, driving north up the peninsula, and across the Golden Gate bridge.

Neither spoke much during the drive.

Half an hour from his parents’ home in Inverness, David stopped the car next to a mobile home painted with the name, Knave of Hearts. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Are you done stewing? Can you tell me why you’re so upset about this trip?” He gestured to the trailer. “These people make the best currant scones on the entire west coast… I’m not above bribing you.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Do they serve decent tea?”

“More than decent.”

“Fine.”

The coastal air was damp and brisk, but inside the trailer the oven kept things toasty. Sarah settled onto one of the three stools fixed before the tiny diner counter, while David ordered cups of English Breakfast tea, served in handmade ceramic mugs with no handles, and a basket of scones.

Plied with tea and baked goods, Sarah opened up. “I’m an only child,” she reminded him. “It was just me and Mom, for most of my life. I have no idea how to be part of a family. I’m too quiet. I’d rather read than watch sports. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they hate me?”

David’s eyes were warm and his smile was gentle as he assured her. “They could never hate you. You’re the woman I love. More than that, you’re my muse. They’re dying to meet you.”

“Great, no pressure,” she snarked.

“Sarah, I promise… they’re really great people.”

“But what if it’s too much?”

“If you get overwhelmed, just excuse yourself and go out to the deck or up to our room. I’ll come with you, if you need me to.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Okay,” she repeated a moment later.

“So, you’re not mad at me anymore?”

Sarah smiled around another bite of scone. She made a show of chewing and swallowing, then sipping more of her tea before she responded. “I’m not mad.” She reached for his chin and tickled him beneath the goatee he’d begun wearing. “I might even let you sleep with me in your childhood bedroom.”

His laughter repaired the last of the hurt and confusion that had been lingering between them.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Living Out Loud with Lawrence Davanzo

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
–Rabindranath Tagore

When my husband retired four years ago, he heard the same chorus: “You’re going to be so bored!” I suppose I could see their point (sort of) – my husband was stepping away from a forty-year career, during which he’d built his own company, served as President of another, and was so respected in his industry that when he returned to work after a larry1three-year hiatus in 2004, he hired nearly a dozen former employees within two months. My husband’s identity is fueled first and foremost by his role as a father, but as far as making his mark on the world, it was his career that steered the ship.

So for those who knew him primarily in that universe, it shouldn’t have been terribly surprising that their reaction to the news of his retirement was an assumption that he would turn the corner away from his work life only to find a barren stretch of land where nothing more than a few lone tumbleweeds bounced by from time to time. My husband was driven, ambitious, and successful, so how on earth was he going to find fulfillment once he had all the time in the world?

Here’s the thing about my husband that might have surprised those who couldn’t imagine him living a happy life without his suit, tie, and title – work was never his number one thing. It was never all-consuming. It wasn’t even a part of him I knew much about during the first two years of our relationship because he was on a sabbatical when we met. I heard stories and saw glimpses, but it wasn’t something I experienced firsthand until he returned to work.

Even then, and over the course of the ensuing eight years before he retired for good, I never saw my husband as a workaholic. larry2Aside from travel and the occasional business dinner, when he came home at the end of the day, he was home. When we went on vacation, we were on vacation. He never brought his laptop to bed and he never spent a Saturday on a golf course with clients. So when someone proclaimed he would end up being bored without his work, we both laughed, knowing these comments were more likely a reflection of what the prospect of a life beyond work and career would mean for them rather than what was true for my husband.

Four years later, we’re still laughing – and slightly gobsmacked – to find he is not only not bored, but more active than ever. He has continued to do the things he could only do on the weekends while he was working – bike riding, playing violin, reading – and now has the time and space to dive deeper into other passions and interests that he’s had for most of his life. He isn’t merely taking more photographs – an interest that first took hold when he was given a camera as a ten-year old – he attended a photography workshop in Berlin, had a solo show in Los Angeles, and goes on photo shoots with Santi Visalli – one of the most renowned photographers of celebrities and public figures of the last four decades.

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My husband is also on the phone a lot. Friends and former colleagues call him frequently for advice, guidance, and encouragement. He coaches and advises his son and son-in-law – both entrepreneurs with their own businesses – on everything from cash flow to employee relations. It also isn’t unusual to hear him perusing the pages of his favorite larry3cookbook while chatting with his best friend – a chef who helped ignite my husband’s passion for cooking.

Here’s another thing my husband (well, most of us, really) hears a lot: life is short. My husband happens to think the opposite is true. In his opinion, life is long. At first, I thought he had it backwards. Life isn’t long, I’d think, Life whizzes by faster than I can keep track of. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate his way of thinking. It might seem like the entirety of my life up to this moment has traveled along at warp speed, but when I stop and take a closer look at all the adventures I’ve had, I see how much is there. How could I have experienced as much as I have unless life were, in fact, long?

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Boredom is simply not in my husband’s vocabulary, and because his approach to life is that there is plenty of time to do the things he loves, he has been able to find that elusive balance between exuberant creativity and much-needed, well-deserved downtime. In between his bike rides and photo shoots and music gatherings, he writes letters to his granddaughter and reads at least one book a week. He takes naps. He plays with our dog. He loves washing our cars. He is the same man he’s always been – curious, engaged, and eager to live out loud.

Learn more at www.lawrencedavanzo.com.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who just completed Moving Water, a memoir about the spiritual journey she’s taken with her family.

You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Letter to My Creativity, Anna Hodges Oginsky

Dear Creativity,

Here you are. Saving me once again. While the vitriol simmers in the air like a warlock’s brew, its spell disables me… anna_o_055double, double toil and trouble. It bubbles: the hatred, the sadness, the anger, and the grief.

We are in mourning.

The comfort we had thinking everything was okay while others suffered, us unknowing; or knowing and not caring enough to act upon that knowing; perhaps wanting to act but overwhelmed by the enormity of it all; knowing and caring and wanting to act but unsure where to start. Them pleading in desperation for mercy, aching to be seen, to be heard, to be acknowledged. The comfort is no more. We are all so uncomfortable now. The shadows, the goblins, and the monsters have all emerged from the darkness. The bitterness is all out on the table. We see it. We smell it. We feel it in our bones and in every cell in our bodies. We still don’t know what to do, but we know we must do something.

I turn to you, my Creativity, my loyal friend. My light.

You are my connection to the Source, after all. You are the thread that sews me to all that is.

Where will you guide me? Us?

I am counting on you, as always, to help me heal. To help us heal.

Will we write letters, posts, essays, and books? Expressing our sorrow. Asking for help. Begging for forgiveness from others and from our own selves? Can we even begin to forgive each other? Do we even know what to forgive?

anna-oginsky-image2Will we take to the streets with paintbrushes and as we collaborate on painting a new landscape, will we see that we are one? Will we recognize that in the beginning we were but a creation and in the end we are nothing more than what we created? What are we creating now?

How do I solve these riddles for myself, Creativity? How do I weave my voice into the solutions for the whole, for all of us, for the greater good?

Thank you for giving me ways to ask these questions. Thank you for showing me these questions exist below the surface, under the spell. Thank you for giving me words and colors and images and tools to use to help me process these questions. Thank you for the music that sings to my soul while I mix potions and emotions in search of a soothing balm for my grief.

Thank you for curiosity. For wonder. For awe. Thank you for inspiration.

Thank you for giving me space to feel. For translating my feelings into something tangible. Thank you for helping me get it out. Thank you for helping me let it go.

Thank you for giving me the confidence to know that all the answers I am seeking are already inside me. Thank you for empowering me with the discernment to know that your wisdom is also mine. I trust that as inherently creative beings, we have the power to change things. To create new things. To let old things go.

Like you, we are powerful. We are the change agents that transform groceries into meals, seeds and dirt into gardens, paper into books, bricks into buildings, and blank walls into murals. Surely, we can transform ourselves. And we can transform each other. With acknowledgment, with validation, with love, patience, and compassion we can transform. We will grow. I have faith in you, in me, in us.

I remember the relief I felt after my first entry in the journal my Baba gave me in 1983. We had been shopping. She must have known that words would be my medicine. Words have always been my way in to you, Creativity. You saved me then. I am indeed indebted to you. You showed me everything would be okay. You showed me that the only way out is through. Again and again. You sat with me for many years while I stuffed my feelings into you and again when I was learning to let them out by way of you. You have always been there for me. You transform my grief to healing to peace to joy. For then and now and everything in between, I thank you.

With you by my side, I have no fear about what is to come.

With love and gratitude,

Anna

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 website; Twitter; Facebook; or Instagram.

Learn more about her book at www.mynewfriendgrief.com

Piece of My Heart by Pat West

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Tapping the yellow notepad in time with Wichita Lineman,
I try to figure out the eulogy for my friend’s memorial.
So far, I’ve shoveled burnt toast
and the whole morning’s writing into the garbage.

I think back to how we’d nodded at one another
for weeks in Grant Park, then he stopped
to introduce himself.  Harvey, the retired Marine
with a gray ponytail and his miniature schnauzer.
Right off, he asked where I lived.

There, I pointed to the white Craftsman across the street.
After that, he dropped by with his Seahawks travel mug.
We’d sit in weathered brown wicker chairs
on my front porch.  My mother would have called this
a coffee klatch.  One day he pointed to a couple
of young people in the park,  My guess, they’re doing it,
she’s on the pill.  That’s paradise.
The way he’d laugh so hard he’d snort,
made me laugh, too.

Over the years, he’d bring up Vietnam or Nixon
or the Democratic National Convention back in ’68,
a year that we both agreed rattled us to our bones.
Harvey, you lean any farther left,
you’ll fall off my porch flat on your ass.
He grinned a grin that began in his eyes
and spread everywhere at once.

A few weeks ago, after one of the primary debates,
he ranted a volcanic stream
against Republican candidates’ tough talk
regarding banning Muslim immigrants
and bringing back waterboarding.
I offered no argument, just sat there
and listened to this loud old liberal, this man
who could change gravity in any space he occupied.

Since the writing isn’t going well, I’m also making a mix-tape
with Glen Campbell, and the simple sex
of Simon and Garfunkel—
the professionals, the ones
who can translate my heart’s handwriting.

About the Author: Pat West

PatWestBio

Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, Washington.  Her poems have appeared in various journals, including Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, San Pedro River Review, and Slipstream, and some have earned nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

Staying Healthy and Creative as I Age by Joan Z. Rough

In my thirties I was busy raising two kids, being a housewife, and a fiber artist. Cleaning toilets, doing laundry, and cooking meals were all part of the job. I also cared for a small flock of sheep and Angora goats. A dozen hens kept us supplied with fresh eggs all year round. I learned how to spin yarn from the fleeces my sheep and goats provided, then dyed those yarns with plants gathered from my garden and the roadsides of Northern Vermont, where I lived at the time. After weaving those yarns into a variety of goods, I went to craft fairs where I sold my finished products … pillows, bags, ponchos, and scarves. Amidst all of that I found time to go cross-country skiing most days in winter, sit in the shade and read a good book in summer, and spent lots of time with family and friends. Sure I was tired at the end of each day, but I rarely felt as overwhelmed as I feel these days.

I’m seventy-five years old now and live with my husband, two dogs, and a cat. I have a housekeeper and help in the garden when I need it. No I don’t have the energy I had way back when, but I’m an active walker, take classes in Yoga, and Pilates every week. My book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, was published in September. In addition, I publish a weekly blog post and a newsletter on the first of every month. I rise at dawn and by the time 9 PM rolls around I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.

But I’m frustrated and overwhelmed by all that I have to do.

I simply want to have more time in my studio for free writing, painting, keeping a visual journal, and making all kinds of visual art. Add to that, time for reading and puttering in the garden. You’d think that without all the responsibilities I used to have I’d be sitting pretty with all sorts of time to spare. But along with my age, and my energy levels, times have changed. We live in a culture driven by the rush, rush,woman-with-a-cup-of-tea-picjumbo-com rush of technology. Speed limits on Virginia roadways, where I now live, have been raised. A peaceful, 55 MPH drive to Washington, DC, ten years ago, is now an anxiety riddled, 65 MPH race to the finish line. Even if I wanted to drive more slowly, it’s impossible because like everyone else, I get caught up in the pace of today’s timetable.

What ever happened to the old rumor that once computers came into their own, work weeks would become shorter and we’d all have leisure time for whatever it is we love doing most?

I heard a statistic that the average American checks his or her email eleven times an hour. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Using a cell phone, we can connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Maybe we do have fewer absolutely necessary things to do in physical time. But now we’re expected to fit more into our days. Stress levels are higher than ever and we all suffer from the new ailment, FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. Regardless of bumper to bumper, fast-moving traffic, too many of us make calls and answer our cell phones when we’re behind the wheel, causing accidents. We’re a high-speed, be there first, crazy society that is on it’s way to causing it’s own destruction. And we’re moving so fast we’re not paying attention to how we feel and what this craziness is doing to us.

It’s taken me a long time to notice that my body tells me when I’m moving too fast, tired, about to get sick, am anxious about some world crisis, or trying to make important decisions. Until the past year or so I didn’t connect my sudden, painful but brief headaches with the fact that I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off and stressed beyond reason. Naturally, when they hit, I would sit down. Once my body relaxed and my heart rate slowed down, the headaches magically disappeared. I think it’s something all of us need to pay attention to.

When I’m tired and must keep moving because of an approaching deadline, I often notice that my vision isn’t as acute as it usually is, my energy level starts lagging, and my body feels heavy. If I take a breather from my work, take a short walk around the block, do some much-needed stretching, or take a twenty-minute nap, my energy bounces back and I can easily pick up where I left off. But being an unreasonable citizen of this crazed time, I often don’t do those things because I feel I’m too far behind. My weekly Pilates sessions are late on Monday afternoons, about the time I’m dragging and wanting to crash and burn. I force myself to go, but once I’m there and start moving my body, a new energy kicks in. I always feel like a new person afterwards and I’m good for the rest of the day and into the evening.

Making decisions has always been messy for me. Being somewhat lazy and a people pleaser, I’ve found myself just going along with whatever someone else wanted to do, even though all I wanted was to stay home, have a big bowl of homemade chicken soup, and read a good book. (A typical sign of FOMA.) But after years of wondering what was wrong with me, I finally accepted the fact that I’m an introvert and always will be. In order to feel happy and healthy I need to be careful about what I agree to do, keeping in mind that the big event a friend or family member wants me to attend with them is not my cup of tea.

So I’ve come up with a way to make decision and keep myself on an even keel. I consciously invite my body, mind and spirit to help me figure out what I want and/or need. We’re all one, after all. Not separate entities. If I feel especially excited about going to an event and can’t wait to go, there is not doubt that I’ll be there regardless of what it takes. If I feel only somewhat interested in attending, I take extra time to think about what I really want. If I push myself to give in to things I feel so-so about, I’m usually sorry later. I like to sleep on those items until all the pros and cons come to the surface, even if it takes a few days. If nothing arises to peak my interest, it’s a no go.

I’ve also discovered that sometimes it’s a good idea to procrastinate about deciding what to do. More often than not, something else arises to let me know that I don’t need to worry about it. I’ll suddenly remember a forgotten promise I made to be somewhere else, or something even more interesting and exciting comes along. And at my age, it’s okay to change my mind if I realize at the last-minute that I need to stay home and take care of myself.

When I feel the need to do that, it usually means I’m noticing that I’m exhausted, need to slow down, landscape-690617_1280meditate, take a walk or a nap, or simply sit and stare into space. On cold nights in the winter it helps to soak in a tub of steaming hot water, laced with Epsom salts and a few drops of lavender oil. Sipping a cup a hot tea while reading with feet up is also one of the most relaxing things I can do, as well as writing in my journal. I’ve learned that being able to say NO isn’t really a big deal and that setting aside an afternoon to throw paint around in my studio is one of the best medicines out there. And nothing beats laughter to get back on the map. I often see life as a slap stick, comedy of errors. Why not laugh about it? What else can we do?

I’ve been stuck on a treadmill of SHOULDS, needing to keep up with the world in order to be successful. I’m finally letting go of that idea. Unless I do so, there will be no time for a new story or poem to blossom. The pages of my visual journal will remain blank. And like my mind and spirit, the pots of paint waiting for me on my worktable will dry out and harden. My curiosity will die.

These days I’m not measuring my success by how many books I sell or whether or not I’m at the top of the heap. Noticing the changing of the seasons, cutting back, and replanting overgrowth in my garden, noticing an unusual birdsong, and spending quality time with myself, my family, and my friends are the things that fill me with joy. It always beats feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxiety ridden by a long shot. And it’s how I keep my creative mind at work.

About the Author: Joan Z.Rough

joanauthorbioimageJoan Z. Rough is a visual artist and writer. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, and is included in Mariflo Stephens’ anthology, Some Say Tomato. Her first book, AUSTRALIAN LOCKER HOOKING: A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, was published in 1980. SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, was recently published by She Writes Press. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, Bill, her two dogs, Sam and Max, and crazy cat Lilliput. You can follow Joan on Facebook and Twitter.

You Can’t Fix People You Didn’t Break by Melissa Cynova

Photo by Crossroad Images

One of the things that I often hear in my readings is heartache over the behavior of our loved ones. Our partner is cheating or emotionally absent. Our friends are neglecting us. Someone is being too smothery or won’t stop using drugs, or won’t pick up the phone or won’t love us back.

Someone is hurting us.

The first instinct in these situations is to try to fix it. We blame ourselves for our loved one’s indiscretions or their lack of attention. Clearly, we’re not doing enough to earn their love. We tell ourselves, in the words of Ani DiFranco, “Maybe if HE loved me, then I’d love me, too.” and we reach and pull and contort ourselves to feel worthy and ready to receive that love.

And what then? When we don’t get it? What if we lost weight or grew our hair out or stopped swearing all the goddamned time? What happens then? We expect/want/need the person to drop all of the previous broken behavior and come to us whole. After all, we’ve done so much to make them happy.

Why won’t they be happy?

Mostly? Because we can’t fix them and we can’t make anyone love us back. Unless our behavior has caused whatever the disconnect is – we can’t fix it.

If your partner is leaving the relationship, unless you have caused the absence, you can’t make them stay. You probably don’t want to, since that breeds resentment. If your partner has intimacy issues, unless you caused them, you can’t fix that.

Counseling can, but unless they want to go to counseling, you can’t fix that, either.

So what do we do? That’s the hard part. We have a hard conversation, and then we make a hard decision. If your partner is hurting you – in whatever way – it clearly can’t continue. So you have the very hard conversation that says, “This is unacceptable. I need you to stop.” If they don’t, or won’t get help to try to stop, you decide.

You choose living with them and this flaw, or living without them.

If you decide to stick it out in the same conditions, you’ve made a very clear choice to be ok with what’s going on. I know that some circumstances are appalling, but there is always hope. I had a client recently move herself and her children in with a cousin  – leaving everything – while her husband was arrested for domestic violence. She made a choice and got out when it was safe and she was able. There are always exceptions.

If you decide to go, then go. Flopping back and forth isn’t going to help in the long run, and it’s just exhausting. The wisdom here is realizing that the only thing you can control is your own behavior, and the only person you can change is yourself.

What if they change, though? In the future? What if they stop doing this thing that you’ve asked and asked them to? Well, let’s worry about that tomorrow.

After they’ve fixed themselves.

Photo by Crossroad Images

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, from Llewellyn Publishing in January 2017.

Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her partner, 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.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Cracks and Creativity

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I have stopped and started several versions of my November 2016 Sunday Sanctuary. My original intention for this month was to share a deeply personal experience in my creative life as we were on the edges of shifting our theme from “Wisdom” to “Mystic or Magic”. That isn’t what you’re getting today.

Modern Creative Life is about honoring the pursuit of joyful creation and celebrating what it means to live creatively. From before our inception, it was important to me as the Editor in Chief to make this a safe space – free from political discourse. I believe that each and every person, no matter how entrenched in the issues facing the world, needs a place to escape both the vitriol and the intelligent dialogue.

We all need respite and what better respite than poetry, stories, and beauty?

That’s why I’m writing to you two weeks early.

I switched places with another editor so that she could have more time to process what’s happening in the outside world. Part of the responsibility as Editor in Chief to is to step in when others have challenges and take the brunt of the burden. Even if that means discomfort for me.

Especially when it calls for me to dig into my own creative well when I am feeling parched one moment and somewhere-in-the-atlanticdrowning in ideas the next moment. As I shared with you in September, I am in evolutionary waters. I am adrift in a vast ocean of those ideas, but like being at sea, I can’t drink the salty water and have my thirst quenched. Evolution is beautiful once you emerge from the cocoon and your new wings are ready to soar. But this part? The middle part? It isn’t very pretty to observe.

That story that I long to share with you is about a pinnacle moment in every evolution, but it needs more time to incubate. So that draft is squirreled away until next month when it’s had it’s incubation time…and when I’ve had the time to get a little more support from my friends. I’ve told two by voice, one by email, but only just confessed the moment in a letter, which wasn’t mailed until yesterday.

It was back to the drawing board yesterday.

I wrote about the late arrival of autumn here in Ohio. No matter how I tweaked it, that story was boring, especially in light of the most recent Sunday Salon.

Our chipmunk experience is a story I’ve been wanting to share here as it’s the trifecta of perfection for what I want to write about as a part of Sunday Sanctuary. Charlie, our resident chipmunk, antagonizes John and he now identifies with Donald Duck. I downloaded a few screen shots of Chip, Dale, and Donald. But I don’t have the flair for humor you get to witness in Sunday Brunch and knew that that story will have to wait until I have time for it to be edited by another before I polish and share it.

I have at least three other drafts here inside the circuits of my computer and none of them are ready, either.

I went to bed last night hoping that by morning, I could breathe a bit more life into one of the pieces sitting in the limbo of creativity: draft mode. I woke at 1:30 this morning and was sorely tempted to come downstairs to my office and take another stab, but instead laid in bed and read The Little Paris Bookshop until I was sleepy again.

For the first time since we launched Modern Creative Life, I missed my deadline. That’s not my norm and I promise bananapancakesyou it won’t become my norm here.

As I made banana pancakes for breakfast, I pulled at my own threads of wisdom. Though he doesn’t quite understand my creative brain, I was able to share my challenges with John over those banana pancakes, topped with more bananas and walnuts and maple syrup. As I cleaned my kitchen, I made the decision to come back to the page and share some straightforward advice as my last column in the Wisdom issue.

As a creative being, you have a sacred responsibility to your creativity.

I have spent many years giving up creative endeavors due to the influences of the outside world: ballet, singing, crafting, and acting to name a few.

I have witnessed multiple times that when creative souls don’t create, they wither and become dry and brittle.

In her research on what it took to live a wholehearted, authentic life, Brene Brown discovered that the opposite of creativity is depression. So, when we feel depressed, we have a responsibility to ourselves to create.

When you are too distraught to paint, you need to paint. When you are too angry to write, you need to write. When you believe the world is an ugly place, you need to make your immediate surroundings as beautiful as possible.

This does not mean that what you paint or write or sculpt or play is ready for public consumption, but the process of creating will always be healing for the person creating.

Even when it feels hard and even when, like me, you feel as if you are dying of thirst, surrounded by water that you are unable to drink.

You may not be able to change what is happening in the world, but what you can control is how you use your creativity to enhance your daily life. You can bring flowers into your home, create a delectable meal for people you love, and be kind to strangers in the grocery store. You have the power to cultivate rituals to nourish yourself and your own creativity. You can choose to turn away from vitriol and anger and deepen your understanding of your own gifts.

As the great Leonard Cohen, may he rest in peace, wrote in his song Anthem

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Everyone, no matter what side of the aisle they are on, feels as if the world is full of cracks. That’s why you must honor your responsibility to your creativity.

letting-the-light-inWhat you create in the coming weeks will likely not be a perfect offering, but by creating it, you will allow the light into your own soul.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision.  She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not cleaning the shower drain as a way to avoid writing,  you’ll find her reading or enjoying the antics of her neighboring chipmunk. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Good Help is Hard to Find by Briana Saussy

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We often talk about resistance in terms of creativity and creative life. Many of us are aware of how resistance creeps in through the muffled voices that say your work is terrible to the undeniable external realities of needing to go to work, do laundry, and feed the cat. And because more of us have started having a conversation around resistance in our creative lives, more of us are able to identify and properly banish resistance and get on with the work that is calling out to us.

Today I want to look at a different form that resistance takes, especially among women from what I have observed, and this is the resistance to asking for help.

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I see it everywhere: at my child’s school where asking a parent to volunteer or give to the annual fund feels like a huge burden, in business where asking for a person who has a specific skill set to come on board for a limited time can feel like an insurmountable task, I see it in our spiritual lives where we are always looking and turning away from offers of help – sometimes simultaneously, and the list goes on: money, health, self-care, relationships and so on.

To say what wisdom is truly is beyond the scope of my abilities but I do think that knowing how to find good help calls upon a practical wisdom that we all carry within us even though it sometimes feels like we don’t know how to access it. So let’s find out together!

As I have been studying and watching this I have found that there are four big challenges to asking for good help, here they are:

One: Knowing what you really need help with.

It is a truism in business that if you don’t know what you don’t know then everything you do from that point of ignorance will at best be wrong and at worst create all kinds of unforeseen complications. You have to know what you don’t know, or, to put it another way, you need to know and clearly understand where you need help and what kind of help you need.

In my experience this knowledge is possible for all but it is also hard won and often gained through experience.

How often have you sought out help for something and even after receiving the help did not get the outcome you were hoping for? Such an experience makes us less likely to ask for help and usually more likely to blame the faulty outcome on the assistance we received. But think back to one such time in your life (we all have them) and ask yourself: going into this did I know what I needed? Did I know what I didn’t know?

Two: Help (usually) does not appear magically.

Have you heard the saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear? Maybe. Sometimes. But most of the time you have to go looking for the right teacher or learning community just like you have to go looking for good help. Finding help is an activity and so requires you to be an active participant.

Even in the most luxurious situations – like getting a massage – you have to book the massage and probably you will need to try several different therapists before you find the one that is the just right fit for you. There will be false starts and misfires in most cases when you are seeking out aid and assistance; don’t let them deter you.

Three: Good help carries a cost.

There is a cultural attitude that many of us have been exposed to that tells us that help should always be free.The web night-office-shirt-mailand the culture that has grown out of it, encourages the same attitude as we are always enjoined to write “good, free, helpful, content”.

The fact that there are so many sources to turn to for free help is a cause for celebration for sure, but we should also remember that many places, people, and resources that can provide us with good and needed help are not going to be free, nor should they. Even all of that “free” content available on the web is not really free: at the very least it carries the cost of your time and in many cases the content is not available until you sign up or opt-in to something specific.

Sometimes we can feel resentful about the fact that the help we need carries a cost but when you get right down to it and you look at the real cost of going forward without the proper help you will quickly find that the check you write out to your helper is the one you should be most delighted to pen.

Four: The work begins when you find the right help.

Finally, many of us feel (hope, anticipate) that once the right help has arrived we can sit back and sip our latte’s or margaritas while the sunsets. But you know what I am going to tell you, right?

Good help is not the end of your work; it is the beginning of the work that you are best at and most ready to do.

Any kind of good help: be it a person, resource, or tool does not show up to make your work go away, it shows up to make your work (and life) better. YOU are the unchanging constant in that equation. When the right help shows up, the real work can get started, so be ready to participate full on.

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Whether you are looking for the right massage therapist, financial planning tool, magical candle, or business assistant you can apply these challenges above and discover which one(s) you get most easily stuck on. Give yourself a break, get up, and go find that good help – you will be so happy when you do.

About the Author: Briana Saussy

briana_bioHi, I’m Briana! I am a writer, teacher, and spiritual counselor, and I am part of a growing community of soulful seekers, people who are looking for wholeness, holiness and healing – for better, more rewarding lives.

The best way to work with me and begin living an enchanted life right here and now is to register for a year of lunar light devotionals.

Outlets, Time Limits, and Fellow Travelers: A Few Guidelines for Writing about the Hard Stuff by Andi Cumbo-Floyd

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I’ve been at this long, wooden desk for hours. My neck is sore, and I’m chilled by the climate-controlled air in this bunker of a space. My eyes burn from trying to read 19th-century handwriting. But it’s not my body that hurts the most; it’s my spirit.

After six hours of searching hundreds of documents for tiny mentions of people who were enslaved by other people, I have exactly two pages of notes, and I know exactly six names.

One man named Peter owned two chickens.

I don’t know who they loved, what their favorite food was, or favorite color. I don’t know what they thought about their awful situation or whether or not they imagined they’d ever be free. I know almost nothing, and this reality could break me if I let it. But these people survived profound horror. I cannot let words on pages break me. I won’t.

The research and writing about people who were enslaved in Virginia is not easy work.

It’s soul-tearing, heart-rending labor that zaps me physically and psychologically. But I have learned – in over five years of doing this research as a total labor of love – that I need some guidelines to help me, to keep me from being broken.

Five Things Help Me Keep Going

  1. Outlets. I need places where I can put the pain and stories I immerse myself in. For me, that place is my books. I imagine these people on the page. I try my best to tell their stories. I create new stories that are drawn from the real-life ones, filling in silences and embodying people who, through the violence of history, have been made invisible to many of us.
  2. Time Limits. Through practice, I have learned that I can only do this work – particularly the research – for a few hours a day. I cannot work 40 hours a week on these stories, as much as I’d like to, without doing some real damage to both my spirit and my perspective. I need to limit myself so that I can do good work for the long-haul.
  3. Systems. I have found that systems – for tracking information, for sharing what I find, for filing my notes, for writing from those notes – are crucial for me. They keep me moving ahead when the weight of these stories threatens to crush me. I use careful spreadsheets and timelines, organized photographs and photocopies, and immaculate files of notes to help me keep some distance from the stories, not so I don’t feel but so that my feelings don’t overtake my ability to tell the story.
  4. Escapes. Sometimes, I just have to step away into another world entirely, move out of the antebellum South and move into a place where a man travels in a phone box or where a team of FBI profilers solves crime. I may need to dive into a story of mythical sirens or climb into the pages of a mystery set in a cheese shop. The deeper I am into the work of researching and writing about enslaved people the lighter my reading and watching need to be.
  5. Fellow Travelers. By far, the most important resource I have when this work is so hard and painful is people. My friends who also research slavery, my friends who understand the legacy of racism, my friends who are activists and historians – they are the ones who keep me going. They get it. They know the way stories wrap around us like hugs that squeeze too tight. They know the way elided information can break your heart. They know the way someone saying, “Why can’t we just get over it?” can bring up a rage so fierce it could burn the paper at my fingertips. I need these folks to keep me going, and they need me, too.

I don’t know what you write – stories from trauma, personal struggles, injustice writ large on the lives of people we know – but I expect that at some point in your life you have written or will write about something really difficult. If you do, be wise my friends.  Protect yourself with limits and tools, people and escapes that will keep you strong for the journey.

We need your story.  And we need you healthy enough to tell it.

About the Author: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

andibio1Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives on 15 blissful acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 22 chickens. Her books include Steele Secrets, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out.  The next book in her Steele Secrets Series, Charlotte and the Twelve, is available for pre-order.

Connect with Andi at her website, andilit.com, or via Facebook and Twitter.

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