Life in Chapters

Old books_1Can a charmed life become more charming?

I’ve been reading “Creating a Charmed Life” by Victoria Moran and I am discovering that my charmed life has plenty of room for improvement. I am surprised and pleased by the simplicity and profundity of her suggestions.

When I made my decision to close my Etsy shop, I knew there would be some grieving to do and I have taken some time to mourn that road not taken. But I also have begun to feel the great relief of a burden lifted. A new freedom. So when I read Victoria’s idea titled “Live your life in chapters”, I was intrigued.

“A charmed life is lived in chapters, the way you would read a long novel….Give yourself to the chapter you’re on.”

I like the idea of my life being a long novel. And I’d like a good name for this next phase  that inspires me to live it fully. So I opened random books and looked at the chapter headings. The possibilities are interesting. From my shelves, I found the following: Artistic Attempts, Literary Lessons,  Integrity, Abundance, Connection, Intimacy Ready, Get Yourself Together, Give What You Can, Witnessing, Harvest Time. What would each of those chapters look like as a life stage?

How would you describe the chapter you are living? Is it time for a new chapter?

I chose this title for mine.

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Digging Deeper

squirrel digging

I was just in the Hoh rainforest where I witnessed this squirrel digging for treasure. The energy and certainty with which it dug was envious…and there was something I recognized in his industry.

In contrast, my time in the rainforest was very spacious. I read a book and when that was done, I did some drawing and coloring, and then I did nothing. Which is not a habit of mine.

When I returned home and prepared to re-enter my busy life, I felt a great sorrow. A longing. And I couldn’t determine what prompted the melancholy until I thought of that squirrel.

Before I discovered that I am a Maker, I dawdled on my days off. I walked to the grocery store, I bicycled to the park and read and wrote and napped. I didn’t have a garden or a list of projects and I didn’t go dancing. I had more leisure.

My wonderful vintage dictionary defines leisure as “time away from work”. Funny, I have plenty of time away from work, but I don’t have leisure. Which just might have something to do with not cultivating the habit of doing nothing…

Two days after I returned home from the Hoh, I came down with a fever which then blossomed into a cough, both of which necessitated stopping everything. No reading, no internet or computer work, no “busyness”. I slept, then slept some more, and, when I maxed out on sleeping, I thought. And though I can’t say it was pleasant being sick, it was just what I needed.

I had days to ponder what was subverting my leisure.

And what I discovered is that I had turned my time away from work into work. It wasn’t leisure at all. I was trying to turn my making into a business called “Etsy”… an online shop that I was very excited about. But the actions to create a successful shop were not really exciting to me: extensive self promotion, regular contact with social media, gathering and storing shipping materials. Oh, and the making! Sounded like a good idea, but making for profit is not the same as making for fun. I was digging and digging for treasure, but only coming up with discontent.

The truth is that I already have paying work that is creative and diverse. I have job freedom because I am self employed which means that my work life is arranged however I want. So why did I want more?


Pesky little ego problem. I wanted recognition.

So I was willing to squander away my precious hours in order to (maybe) get a little notice for my multiple talents.

Well, it’s an inside job. All the accolades in the world won’t fill that gaping hole if there isn’t first self recognition and validation. And what better way to turn that around than taking back my leisure?
squirrel treasure2

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Grief Lifeline


He held a coiled manila line in his hands with what looked like leather reinforcement for twenty inches or so…

“No, it’s not leather,” he said, “it’s a rubber hose.” But my comment reminded him of the small dinghy hanging in his father’s garage and how the oars just weren’t quite traditional enough…but he had some oars…

His father recently died and the story was really about the process he and his siblings are going through as they sort all of the possessions in his father’s house. I took that to be an opening to ask how that process was going. What followed was more stories and some touching moments for both of us as the conversation widened. Our fathers had worked together and I remembered his dad. And then I remembered mine and how much I miss him and how the grieving doesn’t stop, but only changes shape and direction and intensity.

I considered it a gift that my friend shared his memories with me. I felt honored.

Sometimes we need a lifeline tossed to us when we have suffered a loss. Not just loss of lives, but loss of career, loss of meaning. Sharing lightens the load and strengthens our connections. But it isn’t easy to start those conversations.

On, I found some great advice for supporting a grieving person.

“When it seems appropriate, ask sensitive questions – without being nosy – that invite the grieving person to openly express his or her feelings. Try simply asking “do you feel like talking?”…”

Then be prepared to listen.

Years ago, someone invented the “LifeSling” for use on boats. It is a carefully thought out product and process that makes it easier for someone who has fallen overboard to be rescued. I think of that because after you toss the sling into the water, you maneuver the boat so that the sling encircles the person in the water. You bring the lifeline to them instead of expecting them to swim to it.

What if someone had embraced your grief in such a way? How might your life be different?

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Saying No to Distractions

I was preparing for dinner and thinking about what I wanted to read while eating when a voice said “just stop”. It wasn’t an angry voice. More like a gentle restraining hand at the edge of a cliff…”don’t do it…”.

And so I stopped my questioning and planning and opened up to the silence of mealtime. It wasn’t easy. I felt agitated and restless and had difficulty settling. Mealtimes are a respite from my workday reality of deadlines and busyness, and it’s not simple to stop the motion. Reading is an important transition from outer to inner and is something I look forward to.

So why does distraction matter to me? It matters to me because I set out to be not just a maker, but a meaning maker. And in order to make meaning, I need some emptiness.

Yesterday, I found this great passage in “The Elements of Graphic Design” by Alex White:

“Emptiness is an essential aspect of life. It is the unavoidable opposite of fullness, of busyness, of activity. It is the natural and universally present background to everything we see. Emptiness is silence, an open field, a barren room, a blank canvas, an empty page. Emptiness is often taken for granted and thought best used by filling in. It is generally ignored by all but the few who consciously manipulate it to establish contrast, to create drama, or to provide a place of actual or visual rest. It is best used as a counterpoint to filled-in space”

If I fill up every moment, there is no emptiness. Which is most likely why I do it. Emptiness can be frightening. Because emptiness can also be a black hole waiting to pull me into its darkness. So learning to work with the lure of distraction is a great challenge…deciding when to indulge and when to stop…finding the right balance of taking in the new and processing what is already present.

This week I started reading the blog “ZenHabits” by Leo Babauta. One post in particular is titled “Leave Yourself Wanting More” and I find that thought a worthy companion in my tussle.

Reading at mealtimes isn’t the demon after all. But it can become one. If I want to remain true to my longing to make meaning in my life, the simple and not so simple path is to pause. Check in with the body, the mind, the breath. Entertain the idea of nothing.

“We use clay to make a vessel; but it is the space where there is nothing in which the usefulness of the vessel depends.”
Lao Tzu

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More about rushing…

According to Cheryl Richardson, I may be addicted to adrenaline. Which explains a lot about rushing, the topic of my previous post. It also makes me laugh because when I first read about adrenaline as a fuel source (Take Time for Your Life, p. 145), I thought it didn’t apply to me at all and I was going to skip reading the list. And then I read the list.

Do you consistently over commit yourself personally and professionally?
Are you usually late for appointments?
Do you repeatedly check your voice mail or e-mail throughout the day?
Do you put things off until the last minute or use tight deadlines to get things done?
Does it seem like your car’s fuel gauge is always on or near empty?
Do you live on the edge financially?
Do you put off making decisions or taking action in spite of the anxiety it causes?Do you juggle several projects at once?
Are you constantly coming up with new ideas to pursue?

This is not the whole list. Just the ones I said yes to.

In fact, right after reading about using adrenaline as fuel, I headed out the door to an appointment. I was late, and on the way there, I looked down at my fuel gauge and it was on empty. And yes, I had that distinct vibration in my chest…that little rushing feeling…

So what does it mean? As I understand it, these recurring behaviors stimulate the body which wakes it up and puts it into a fight or flight response. Gets it ready for action. Like many things, it’s not inherently bad. It’s the repetitions and lack of balance that eventually tires the body.

But I’m not sure I want to give it up.

Yesterday morning, I woke early and the light was perfect for some moody photography. There was a slight haze in the air, heavy grey clouds with the rising sun casting a warm glow beneath them. Like this:

Shore Meadows fall morningThe ducks were cruising the temporary lake, and I headed out with my camera to get some closeups of them. Only one problem. I shake too much and when I have the telephoto lens fully extended, I feel like I’m on an ocean going ship on rough seas. And my photos look like it.

After a few blurry images, I decided that I needed to get a tripod. It was Sunday, and I really didn’t feel like getting in my car, but I did anyway and raced over to my beloved who has all of the best photography equipment. On the way there, I knew exactly what was fueling me. The fluttering in my chest felt good and I noted that. After grabbing the tripod, I was anxious to get back while the light was still new. More rapid heartbeat.

By the time I got home, the sun was fully up and the clouds were dissipating, but I was fully fueled and ready to get at least one good photo. Back to the ducks, I got some OK pictures, but they really were too far away for what I had in mind and too fast moving. About to give up, I heard a small bird nearby and turned the camera to see if I could find it. Of course, the bird flitted away and I picked up the tripod, disappointed. Then it came back and, with the little adrenaline this chase provided, I set the tripod down and focused.

And I got the shot.
Worth waiting for


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Slowing Down

Today has been a quintessential Stella Sunday… and I really needed that calm, timeless day to recharge my batteries. I have been rushing too much lately. So this morning, instead of trying to cook soup with clutter on my oh-too-small kitchen counter, I decided to wash AND dry the dishes first. What a difference it made to slow down and enjoy what I was doing instead of thinking ahead, planning my day, wanting to be somewhere or somehow that I was not.

The rushing thing is really troubling me. I’ve written about finding a resting place in every day here… and I’ve written more about being present here… and it seems that I need a new reminder every day. Some catchy words to wake me up.

I’m not alone in thinking that the pace has picked up in the last few years. But the more I contemplate the subject, the more confused I become. The shift has been gradual and complex. I’ve started teasing apart the layers.

Layer One: The obvious change is the internet and the availability of immediate everything which carries, hidden within it, the suggestion that I be equally available. While I can’t really accept all or nothing solutions like Julie Morgenstern says, “never check email in the morning”, some kind of boundaries are necessary. And it’s up to me to create them. Last week, I unsubscribed from the many, many email lists that I usually delete anyway (without reading) or file in my ACTION: Read folder (which I never really read because I don’t enjoy reading on my computer). With each unsubscribe, I felt increasing euphoria and now, my new emails are more manageable. But I’m still rushing.

Layer Two: I’ve gotten more efficient with my planning. I can actually move seamlessly between various work related projects without having to stop and regroup. But the truth is, regrouping is a nice break so that efficiency ends up feeling hurried and I end up feeling harried. Because I’m actually an all or nothing kind of gal. So I either make haste or I make excuses and there isn’t much middle ground so no matter how I try to equalize those poles, I am still the hare in the race: fast and furious or fast asleep! I would like to take full responsibility for this one and come up with a different plan. But can I radically alter my personality? Do I want to?

Layer Three: I’m also overeating. No, I don’t mean food, I mean sensory stimulation. I can go online to the library website and order all of the books and magazines that appear in my daily rounds and these library books add to the stack on the floor of magazines that I subscribe to and books that I own that I haven’t read yet. There are books about art that are full of inspiration, books about inner work with some great suggestions for slowing down, novels in progress that I read voraciously, tutorials on various creative projects that look fun to do, and if that doesn’t tire me out, there are blogs online, Pinterest, Facebook and that evil witch, internet shopping. I need to go on a diet.

Layer Four: In the midst of all of this activity, I still want to have an Etsy shop, write on this blog and take time for art daily. Oh, and did I mention that I would like to grow my own food and plant a flower cutting garden? I’m beginning to see a pattern here. It seems that I rather like all of my particular interests and don’t want to give up anything. Which brings me back to Layer One: The Endless Availability Thing. The cumulative total. I think the clever word for today should be Discernment. I’ll put that one on my mantel for now and try and remember to slow down and read it every morning.

Meanwhile, I’d really like to hear how you have been successful in not rushing. Or maybe you like rushing. Either way, tell me your thoughts because this conversation requires a village to evolve it.

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I haven’t updated my CPR training since high school.

I got to thinking about this because I was asked to make a new canvas bag for a “Lifesling” which is a rescue device used on boats when someone goes overboard. The original bag has the instructions printed on the outside and I was trying to decide if I needed to have a place for instructions. Then I realized that if you haven’t practiced and gotten the routine down before the emergency happens, those instructions won’t help much.

When I was 23 years old, my father collapsed from a massive heart attack. It was the second time his heart had failed him. We were taking turns sailing a small laser sailboat in Vaughan Bay. The sun was out, the wind was fierce and the church bells across the harbor had just called the locals to worship.

I was the second one to sail and when I returned to the raft exhausted, I found my father splayed out, eyes open, a touch of blood at his lips. I did what I knew how to do which was to breathe into his mouth with my fingers on his nostrils, his neck tilted back. Breathe and breathe and breathe. It wasn’t enough. He was already gone.

The sirens took forever to arrive at the beach where my mother stood waiting. A neighbor brought the medics out to the raft and took me to shore where we watched as they attempted to revive my father. I’m sure they knew what I did.

And what I know now is that the techniques for CPR have changed since then. Now they focus less on the breathing and more on the heart. The broken heart.

Which is why I haven’t updated my training.

That memory lives with me daily and I am afraid to revisit the motions that I made that day… 39 years ago today. Here is my remembering.

I remember
three days before
he said
that if he died tomorrow
he would die a happy man
and then there he was
letting the fierce wind
tussle his thin gray hair…
his heart surrendered
to that happiness.

Then there was his friend Mac
telling my father’s stories
ending with the eight bells
of navy tradition

**     **     **     **

and into the silence,
“he stood a good watch.”

The music
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
filled the chapel
while people rose
and filed by
the special room
where we sat
mother, brother and I
and I remember thinking
that these were his people
and that now they were mine
but I didn’t want them
I only wanted him
to be my bridge
across these troubled waters
these torrents
of salt filled memories
tumbling from cheek to chin

**      **      **      **

White amongst the deep blue
summer’s air of memory
White is the deck of that sailboat
that I brought
that we sailed
White is the tips of waves
sweeping the raft
where he lay
where I found
and lost him
White were the love letters
she took down from the shelf
and one by one
threw into the fire
White is the box of ashes
his…then hers.

**     **     **    **

They stood a good watch.

Mom and Dad 1945

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