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word handsJust about a month ago, I held a Word of The Year Workshop. As many of you know, instead of New Year’s resolutions, I encourage people to choose one word to focus on for the whole year – a Word of The Year. (more…)

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gifts“The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t know about you, but the holidays are such a peaceful, relaxing time for me. I find that I simplify my schedule, breathe deeply and appreciate all the amazing moments that happen this time of year.

OK, I just laughed so hard at that first paragraph that I spat water on my keyboard and fell out of my chair.

I know that for most of us, this time of year means more items on our to-do lists, additional deadlines and a frenetic pace that leaves us exhausted by the time January 1st rolls around.

Now I get that almost none of us can give up a certain amount of material gift-giving.  But I think we sometimes forget how much those intangible gifts really mean to the people around us.  So without trying to add to your obligations, here are a few true gifts I think we can all manage:

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NaBloPoMo_November_smallI’m going to be honest here, I’m not writing the bulk of my blog post tonight myself. I’ve been out of the house most of the day, I’ve developed a bit of a migraine this evening and I’ve been staring at the blank page for about a half hour. I’ve got nada.

Instead, I’m going to share with you something that inspires me. Now truthfully, lots of things inspire me on a daily basis. My threshold for inspiration is pretty low- which is a great way to live. But this author, Oriah Mountain Dreamer (I’m going to guess here that’s not her birth name), inspires me with a capital “I”.

I hope you enjoy it. I think it’s pretty great.

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It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

This is Day 23 of the National Blog Posting Month Challenge.

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On Thursdays, I teach creative writing to a group of 1st and 2nd graders. We’re having a great time and I am always impressed with their abilities to come up with unique and fun ideas. The best thing about this age group is that seven and eight-year-olds are rarely laden with doubts about what they’ve created. I’ve yet to hear one of them utter, “well that could never happen.”

We are just wrapping up a huge multi-week project where they kids created their own country. The kids developed an entire packet filled with maps and flags and descriptions of what it’s like to live in their country, what their title is (as they were all the leaders of their countries, naturally) and other similar activities. But their favorite part, by far, was the section where they wrote out the laws for their countries.

When we began working on this project, their laws were tentative, they weren’t sure what they could say – would their parents approve? Would I?

But here’s the thing – how much power do seven or eight-year-olds actually have in this world? Not a whole heck of a lot. So I gave them a world where they could rule absolutely. My mantra for the past three weeks has been, “Your country, your rules.” They didn’t trust me at first – they’d say things like, “what if there was a law that you had to eat just candy for dinner?” Your country. Your rules.  Then they moved on to pushing the envelope, just to see how serious I was.  “What if the law says you can’t use the bathroom in my country?” “Well, you might want to think through the ramifications of that, but your country, your rules.” Pretty soon they weren’t asking me anything anymore, instead they were writing. With intent and purpose and without limitations. It was a sight to behold.

After class was over, I even wrote their parents and emphasized that they should use the same mantra as I, no matter what their student wanted to write.

What my students figured out in that moment is that words are powerful. Their words are powerful. Even if just for a few minutes when they each made their presentations, no one questioned what they had imagined and wrote.  Your country is shaped like a narwhal? Of course. In your country, there are lollipop trees? Aren’t they beautiful this time of the year. And if you tell me that no big brothers are allowed in your country at all, I will stand at the border and defend it right along with you.

I’m hoping this is something they hold on to and take with them throughout their lives.  Words are powerful. They can bring people together or tear them apart. Words call people to action, convincing some people to think differently and inspiring some to change the world. That’s a lot to take in when you’re seven or eight and I don’t suspect they realize even a portion of  that yet. I just hope they learn to love writing, in part from our small time together on Thursday afternoons so that when the time comes when they can understand just how powerful their words can be, they’re ready to hear that message.

If I had my own country, that would be my law.

This is bog post #7 in the 30 day “National Blog Posting Month” series of challenges. Stop by every day to see how I’m progressing.

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For the past three or four years I’ve been asked to talk to 9th graders in a program designed to help them clarify their values and beliefs as they move forward into the beginning stages of adulthood. I always look forward to meeting the kids and find the evening inspiring, particularly because it gives me the opportunity to purposefully re-examine my own values and verbalize the things I believe most in this world.

Most years, I’ve been part of a panel that answers questions related to a particular topic with follow-up questions from the kids. This year the class was structured around a different and quite interesting angle. Instead of talking to the whole class, I sat with two of the students and we were instructed to conduct an interview.

But there was a twist – I wasn’t the one being interviewed.  My job was to interview these two young ladies. I was provided with a list of thought-provoking questions to ask them about and take notes on their answers.  I was allowed to offer my own thoughts on the questions but only after each of them had answered completely. It was so different from the years where I had been asked to talk for 15 minutes and have the kids ask me questions at the end.

This year, my job wasn’t to talk to them. It was to listen and engage and affirm and then, if the moment was right, talk with them. And that is so much better. These kids, 14 or 15 years-old, are so interesting. They have definite ideas about what’s important to them. They have figured out their values and what they believe in and they want to share their ideas about how they are going to interact with the world in a way that is meaningful and impactful.  Honestly, I could have asked questions and listened to their responses all night long.

Throughout the process, they also got to know a little bit about me and what I value, but truthfully, that was the least important part of the conversation. I think the really interesting thing about the whole process was that the young women I talked to seemed, at times, genuinely surprised by their own depth and understanding of themselves. More than once, they started with “This might seem weird…” but felt better when the other acknowledged feeling the same way or when I affirmed that their ideas were valid and interesting and thoughtful.

All in all, it was a great night that left me feeling inspired and connected. Listening to other people’s stories is maybe my favorite part of what I do not only professionally but simply as a human being trying to make meaning out of her short time here. I appreciated the time I spent with these teens and left recharged and changed. Not bad for a Sunday night.

 

This blog post is day 3 of the National Blog Posting Month challenge. 

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IMG_0784I talk a lot about finding things that renew your spirit, fill your well of creativity or just plain make you happy. Last night was that sort of night for me. I went into Baltimore and did one of the things that makes me happiest in life. I saw live music.

This is the first time I’ve seen Matt Nathanson live although I’ve listened to his music for quite a few years. It was a great show with a lot of energy, humor and some fantastic music. I’m a big fan of musicians who love what they’re doing and clearly, Matt LOVES what he’s doing. It’s hard not to feel inspired when you see someone grinning from ear to ear when an audience is singing along with a song he wrote.

During the set, he introduced one song as “This is a song about sex,” to which someone very close to the stage yelled back, “All your songs are about sex.” The audience laughed, he sort of agreed with the person and went on with the show.

Now it’s a little bit of a stretch to say that, but truly 98% of his songs are about relationships of some sort.  He has made an enviable career out of talking about the same subject over and over again. He just finds new ways to describe relationships or he focuses on one small aspect and deconstructs it.

So it got me thinking about the old excuse that I hear on occasion by people who profess to want to pursue a creative endeavor:  Everything’s been written about, there’s nothing new to say. That statement is only maybe, 50% true. Yes, it does seem that in our need to express ourselves creatively, most if not all topics have been explored in some way. But to say that there’s nothing new to say, well, that’s just not true. No one can express how you see the world – whether that’s through the lens of camera, the brushstrokes through acrylic paints or putting words down on paper and added music to accompany them.

So, if what’s been holding you back is the idea that you don’t have anything new to say, let it go and get out there and express yourself. The world needs your perspective. It’s selfish to keep it to yourself.

(This is day two of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month – check back every day to see how I’m doing on this challenge.)

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ImageNovember is a big month for writers.  First, it’s National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo). People all over the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month.  (Interested in learning more, go here. ) Second, if novel-writing isn’t your thing but blogging is, it’s also, conveniently enough, National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The concept is simple for both – get out of your head and just write.

Now to be honest, I had no intention of participating in NaBloPoMo this year. It’s a lot of work, it requires committment and quite frankly, I’m not sure I have the time to post every day this month. In fact, I’m quite sure I don’t have the time, but I’m going to try to make some space for it. I’ve been watching a few bloggers I follow,  introduce their month of writing intentions, and every year I think, “I’d like to do that,” but I always have an excuse why I don’t. 

So it’s time to shake things up in my life. I’m going to attempt it. Jump in with both feet, no advanced planning, just get writing. It requires a couple of concessions on my part: 1) Many posts will probably take a different form than I usually post here due to time considerations and 2) There are going to be some not particularly well-written posts when I just need to get something up and I don’t have the luxury of hours to craft it.  These are both good things in the long run, but I apologize now for any sub-par reading you stumble into. 

So I hope you’ll check in from time to time this month and see how I am doing.  Better yet, participate in a challenge yourself and let me know about it so we can cheer each other on.

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