Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Trace That Stays

Photo courtesy janeb13

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Marge Saiser is a Nebraska poet about whose work I have said that no contemporary poet is better at writing about love. Here's a love poem from her new book, I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, from Backwaters Press.

The Print the Whales Make

You and I on the boat notice
the print the whales leave,
the huge ring their diving draws
for a time on the surface.
Is it like that when we
lose one another? Don't
know, can't. But
I want to believe
when we can no longer
walk across a room
for a hug, can no longer
step into the arms of the other,
there will be this:
some trace that stays
while the great body
remains below out of sight,
dark mammoth shadow
flick of flipper
body of delight
diving deep.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Marjorie Saiser, “The Print the Whales Make,” from I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, (Backwaters Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004- 2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Choose Happiness, Spread Happiness

Photo courtesy Luiza

Happiness matters.

So much so that in 2012 the United Nations created the International Day of Happiness, and it was celebrated for the first time in 2013. The purpose of this day is to educate and make people aware of the benefits of happiness. As the official website notes, “‘Progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.” 

How can you participate? It’s easy:
  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Spread happiness. Smile and share your happiness with others.

You can also join the movement here

That’s it.

Bring on the happy!

I’m happiest when I’m engaged in work that helps others, when I’m taking care of myself, and when I have enough free time to enjoy my favorite simple pleasures. How about you? How will you choose happiness today? What will you do to spread happiness?

Join in the celebration by sharing your happiness with the world via Twitter or Instagram, using any of the following hashtags: #internationaldayofhappiness, #happinessday, #choosehappiness, #createhappiness, or #makeithappy. I’ll be posting my happy little moments on Instagram today.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

The Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Principle

Photo courtesy Jennifer Pallian

Sometimes this world is too much for me. Too many activities. Too much noise. Too many expectations. Too much stuff in my house. Too much stuff in my head. More than once I’ve written about my attempts to banish busy or do less, and yet I still wind up searching for ways to make life more manageable and thus happier. My newest discovery is the principle of “less, but better.”

The phrase less, but better comes from the design philosophy of industrial designer Dieter Rams, but it’s easy to see how we can apply it to our overcrowded lives.

Less

Less seems pretty self-explanatory. Do less, have less, embrace enough and avoid excess. Of course, excess looks different to every person. What is excess to me could be just right for you. I hate being rushed and I get anxious when stretched too thin. To maintain my personal happy balance, I need to commit to doing fewer things, whether that means trimming my to-do list, or saying no to activities I’d like to do but that will put me over the border into Crazytown.

No matter what our personal less/excess level is, we need to be clear in our own minds about what we truly want and need. Less, but better is the way of mindfulness, intention, slowing down to think rather than diving in heedlessly. It’s the way of becoming more thoughtful with time and energy.

Instead of throwing a ton of stuff (activities, food, clothes, possessions) at yourself, ask, what do I need? What do I long for? Would one gourmet dark chocolate sea salt caramel be more satisfying than five grocery store candy bars? The answer is almost always yes.

Better

Getting rid of excess, or not buying into it (or buying it) in the first place, is just the start. Once the excess is pared away, we’ll have time and space, and probably money, to go deeper, to enjoy better. Since deeper is my word of the year, I really appreciate this. When a new something-or-other catches my attention, I remind myself that this is the year I want to go deeper into the things that I love and that I’ve already committed to such as my writing, my horse, and sketching. Instead of reading more books this year, I want to read better books, and absorb more of what I read. I’d rather put my heart into a few things than spatter my attention across a multitude.

I don’t say this is easy. I still find it remarkably hard not to run after the first shiny object that attracts my eye. But I am getting much better at choosing that single dark chocolate sea salt caramel.

What is one are in your life where you can experiment with the principle of less, but better?


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

If You Want to Be...

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden

“If you want to be sad, live in the past. If you want to be anxious, live in the future. If you want to be peaceful, live in the now.”
—Karen Salmansohn, Instant Happy

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Spring Cleaning for Your Mind

Photo courtesy Suchitra
We’re expecting some family visitors this weekend, so I’ve been sprucing up the house so it looks its best. It’s not quite a full spring clean, but it’s more than I usually do. (Wouldn’t want the family to see how we really live…) I had extra time to think while I cleaned out the fridge, so it occurred to me: while you’re spring cleaning your home, why not take a broom to your brain? Flip on the light, open the windows, sweep out all the dusty corners and grubby nooks. Drop all the thoughts and feelings you no longer wish to entertain into a metaphorical bag and take it to the curb. Out with the negative, in with the positive.

For instance, out with:
  • Negative self-talk (Tell your inner critic to shut up.)
  • Angry thoughts
  • Excuses
  • Fears
  • Resentments
  • Grudges
  • Judgment
  • Criticism
And in with:
  • Affirmations
  • Forgiveness (As Karen Salmansohn wrote in Instant Happy: Happy = “Repeat after me: I forgive myself for not being perfect. And I recognize none of us are perfect, so I am open to forgiving others.”)
  • Gratitude
  • Acceptance
  • Courage
It’s a lot easier to spring clean a kitchen than a brain, but the results of our “brain cleaning” are more likely to bring us lasting happiness. What would you like to sweep out of your life this spring?

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Workings of Spring

Photo courtesy Thomas B.

Introduction by Ted Kooser: This year’s brutal winter surely calls for a poem such as today’s selection, a peek at the inner workings of spring. Susan Kelly-DeWitt lives and teaches in Sacramento.

Apple Blossoms

One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2001 by Susan Kelly-DeWitt, whose most recent book of poems is The Fortunate Islands, Marick Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from To a Small Moth, Poet’s Corner Press, 2001, by permission of Susan Kelly-DeWitt and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2017 by The Poetry Foundationi. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Life Lessons From the Barn: Presence, Harmony, and Connection


Horses, like all animals, live in the moment. They’re in tune with their surroundings—aware of the turkey in the next field, the start up of the truck that brings their hay, or if you’ve got a carrot in your pocket. That presence, harmony and connection is something most of us want more of.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been experimenting with what horsemanship instructor Carolyn Resnick calls the Chair Challenge, “sharing territory” with my horse, Tank. Mostly it involves simply sitting in a chair in his paddock. Some days I read, some days I write in my barn journal. Others, I just sit and listen and look. The theory is that this practice develops a stronger bond between us, by “achieving a companionship experience and connection in the moment in harmony and unity.” We so often only spend time with our horses when we want to do something with them, when we have expectations. Simply hanging out allows us both to relax and become more in tune with each other.

When I first started this practice, my mind scrabbled around like a trapped lizard. I found it almost impossible to sit and do nothing. No matter how much I profess to want a present life, I more often than not careen through my day—racing from checking emails, to working out, to writing a blog post to cleaning the bathroom to running errands.

Tank napping next to my chair
At first, Tank was puzzled. Apparently, he’s absorbed my “we must be doing something all the time” attitude, and my journal entries record that he nudged me, nibbled on my magazine, journal, and pen. He still tries to do this sometimes, especially if he’s bored, and I have to shoo him away. At other times he’s happy to stand in his favorite spot looking out beyond the fence line, or doze in the corner of his shelter. I love it when he stands near me, gives a nice long sigh, and we savor the peace of being together with no agenda.  That’s when I realize one of the most pleasurable of the benefits of this exercise: harmony, living in the moment, the sheer pleasure of sharing space with this beautiful animal.

While I still have to fight my desire to “accomplish something” when I go to the barn, I’ve also started to crave the peaceful togetherness of sharing territory. Of hearing the tap-tapping of a pileated woodpecker, the haunting cry of a hawk. Of seeing sand, sky, puffy white clouds, scrubby woods bordering the paddocks. Of feeling Tank’s muzzle nudging me or resting for a moment on the top of my head. The quiet within the quiet. No one around, no sound of traffic or people.

Yesterday, I even found myself using this technique while waiting for a prescription to be filled. I stopped fidgeting, checking my phone for the time and mentally ticking off the next three items on my to-do list, in favor of sitting calmly, breathing slowly, and observing what was going on around me.

So what does this have to do with you, most likely a non-horse owner? The lesson is: if you want peace, harmony and connection, stop, look, listen, and be. Slow down especially when you feel called upon to rush. Quiet your thoughts, let your body relax. Let the moment draw out as long and smooth as possible.

You don’t need a green plastic chair and an American Quarter Horse. Wherever you are, slow down. Pay attention. Don’t miss the daily simple pleasures that are right there for your enjoyment.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Till It Is Shared

Photo courtesy Jenna Beekhuis

“Happiness is a sunbeam which may pass through a thousand bosoms without losing a particle of its original ray; nay, when it strikes on a kindred heart, like the converged light on a mirror, it reflects itself with redoubled brightness. It is not perfected till it is shared.”
—Jane Porter

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