Becoming Our Truest Selves

July 10, 2020

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“What we perceive as limitations have the potential to become strengths greater than what we had when we were ‘normal’ or unbroken…. This is a philosophy that positions our toughest experiences not as barriers, but as doorways, and may be the key to us becoming our truest selves.”
—Nnedi Okorafor, Broken Places & Outer Spaces

4th of July

Opening the Gate to Joy

July 03, 2020

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I was once on Deer Isle, Maine, on the Fourth of July, and attended their own town parade. Deer Isle isn’t big enough to mount a very long parade, so they ran it past us twice, first down to the water, and then back up. And we applauded as much with our second viewing as we did with the first. July 4th parades are a wonderful institution. And here’s a parade for you, by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, who lives in southwest Colorado.  Her newest book, Hush, has just been published by Middle Creek Press.

In the Fourth of July Parade

Right down the middle of main street
the woman with the long red braids
and fairy wings strapped to her back
rode a unicycle more than two times
taller than she was—rode it with balance
and grace, her arms stretched out,
as if swimming through gravity,
as if embracing space—her smile an invitation
to join in her bliss. How simple it is, really,
to make of ourselves a gate that swings open
to the joy that is. How simple, like tossing
candy in a parade, to share the key to the gate.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2019 by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “In the Fourth of July Parade,” (2019 ). Poem reprinted by permission of Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. Introduction copyright © 2020 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.

Wishing everyone a safe, healthy, and happy 4th of July!


Caring

How Can We Serve Others?

June 26, 2020

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

“….we often serve others best simply by honoring what we care about most. ‘To find our calling,’ wrote theologian Frederick Buechner, ‘is to find the intersection between our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.’”
–Sarah Juniper Rabkin, What I Learned at Bug Camp

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Shedding Shells

June 19, 2020

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

“Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one not need it? Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea

Free is one of my words of the year. So far, 2020 has been stripping away my “shells.” I’m feeling raw, but this quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s beautiful Gift From the Sea is encouraging me to see the freedom that can follow that process.

Adrienne Rich

How Are You Feeling? [Check One]

June 12, 2020

Photo by Jakob Søby on Unsplash

“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.”
—Adrienne Rich

Emotions are running high, and we may all need to take some time to check in with our feelings. If it helps, write out your thoughts, or talk to a trusted confidante. My journal is getting a workout these days. The world is frightening and sorrowful right now—but I truly believe good will come out of all the turmoil. Wishing you a healthy, peaceful, and happy weekend!

anti-racism

Time to Listen Link Love

June 05, 2020


It feels inappropriate, to say the least, to write about the things I was planning to write about this week—simple pleasures, everyday adventures, my summer fun list and summer reading list. The protests taking place all over the United States, and the world, have filled my mind and heart to bursting, made me appropriately uncomfortable, forcing me to think about concepts and experiences of which I’ve been largely oblivious.

It shouldn’t have taken multiple publicized deaths and nationwide protests to wake me up to what life is like for people of color in this country. It’s time to examine my own biases and beliefs and how they’ve been influenced by the culture I’ve grown up in, as well as educate myself about underlying structural racism.

Since I’m still at the beginning of my learning—where I should be listening rather than speaking—I thought I’d share a few links to material written by people who have eloquently and usefully examined this topic, as well as links to a few anti-racism resources I’m exploring. I hope they prove helpful to you. (And please share in the comments any resources you’ve found helpful.)

“For those of you who are tired of reading about racism, I’m tired of black and brown bodies being killed by it. I’m tired of watching some white people be more upset by those who are protesting racism as opposed to the racism itself. Being numb is characterizing what happened to Floyd, Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery (who was hunted, shot and killed by two white men while jogging), as unfortunate, disconnected anomalies. Feeling is understanding they are not disconnected at all but, rather, the reason why James Baldwin once said ‘to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.’”

With Liberty and Justice for All. In this thoughtful piece, Gretchen Rubin shares part of a speech John F. Kennedy gave on June 11, 1963 after the Alabama National Guard had to enforce a court order requiring the desegregation of the University of Alabama. Here’s a part of the quoted speech:

“I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened….

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark…cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content...[to] stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay? …

“Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise.”

I ask myself, as Rubin does at the end of her post, “How can I, in my own life, live up to my country's highest ideals?”
 
Jen Louden suggests in “White People, Please Don’t Give In to Despair,” that we “Start from wonder and love and steady effort. ‘I wonder how I can learn today? I wonder who I can help today?’ Don’t make it about what you haven’t done cause that’s making it about you. ​Make it about now.” She continues, ‘Stop believing the Hollywood version of change you see in movies. That’s not how real change has ever happened or ever will. Real change happens because of millions of small acts by millions of people. What you do matters! Start today.’”






Books

In Honor of My First Library Book Checkout in More Than Two Months

May 29, 2020

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short, torrid love affair.”
—The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
  

As I posted on Instagram yesterday, my local library system is gradually reopening, and one of my library holds came in and I picked it up via appointment. We're not yet allowed inside the library itself, so I’m eagerly awaiting the day I can indulge in the simple pleasure of wandering the stacks, breathing in the smell of books, and choosing a new read at random from the shelves. 


coping

Do You Feel Like You’re “Flunking” the Pandemic?*

May 22, 2020


I’ve been feeling disappointed in myself lately, that I haven’t “achieved” more during our stay-at-home order. I haven’t taken this time to think deeply about my life and determine what, if anything, I want to change going forward. I haven’t reorganized my bookshelves. I haven’t made sourdough bread starter, or even caught up on TV shows I want to see. And my first (and so far, only) attempt at mask making was a sad failure. I don’t appear to be doing anything other than just my normal stuff.

Am I flunking the pandemic?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of “10 Craft Projects to Do During Lockdown,” and “How to Write Your Novel While Sheltering in Place,” not to mention, “Get Your Body in Bikini-Shape While the World Ends All Around You.” I understand the urge to make the most of our time and not to wish it away, but more and more often when I read headlines like the above, my response is: barf.

(Note: You really shouldn’t ask people terrified of losing their jobs, getting sick or even dying to be bikini ready by June.)

Is it only Americans who turn a worldwide pandemic into a chance to do more, hustle more, sculpt our clearly inferior selves into something shiny and new, emerging like a butterfly from one of the most stressful and frightening times in our nation’s history?

What is wrong with us?

I admit that during the past couple of months of staying home I thought I’d:

  • Spend hours reading
  • Bake a lot
  • Tidy, organize, and purge

I was surprised to find that I didn’t spend any more time than I normally would have doing those things. I did make brownies once, and I’m in an ongoing wrestling match with papers in my office, but after the closet, not much else has gotten cleaned.

No, I haven’t organized my home library.
No, I haven’t made artisan bread.
No, I haven’t learned a second language, written my book, painted the woodwork in my bathroom, or binge watched all of Netflix. I’ve listened to *one * podcast.

I think my way of coping is staying within my normal routine as much as possible.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong if you have been productive during quarantine. I have one friend who’s been tackling home improvement chores and another one who’s made thirteen quilts. We all handle stress and time on our hands in different ways.

If you made the equivalent of thirteen quilts, that’s awesome. I hope you enjoyed the process and found it soothing.

If you watched thirteen straight hours of Harry Potter movies while eating popcorn from a bowl on your chest, I hope that kept the anxiety at bay until you could cope with it.

My point, and I do have one, is that whatever form your self-care and coping comes in, it’s OK. Just because you’re not going to your 9-to-5 job every day doesn’t mean you must replace that with a long list of self or home improvement tasks. You don’t always have to be doing, improving. You can just be. Really. Sometimes, it’s better to soften

Bless you if you’ve been helping your neighbors or continuing to work in your normal job. Bless you if you’ve been keeping the rest of us fed, medicated, clothed, and otherwise stumbling along. But also bless you if it’s been all you can do to take a shower and get dressed, or make yourself and your family something to eat. Bless you if you spent two hours watching funny animal videos instead of cleaning the garage.

And please be kind, especially to yourself. You’re not flunking the pandemic, and neither am I. We’re surviving.

*This post inspired by Cathy Guisewite’s Instagram post.

James Clear

You’re Wealthier Than You Think

May 15, 2020

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Wealth is the power to choose.
Financial wealth is the power to choose how to spend money.
Social wealth is the power to choose who to hang out with.
Time wealth is the power to choose how to spend your day.
Mental wealth is the power to choose how to spend your attention.”
—James Clear

Fear

What We’re Really Afraid Of

May 01, 2020

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”
—Krishnamurti


coping

I’m Not Getting It Together, or Prepare Yourself for a Long and Rambling Post

April 24, 2020

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to figure out why I seem unable to get anything of note accomplished. Could it be because the world has gone mad? For instance:

  • Our local weather has been see-sawing between the 90s and the 70s with violent storms in between. 
  • I haven’t been to the library since March 14.
  • I go grocery shopping wearing a mask.

You’d think I would have extra time on my hands since I can’t pick up a few things at Target or meet a friend at Panera for coffee—or do any of the other little things that seem to suck up more time than you’d expect. Since we are so very, very fortunate to be safe, healthy, and comfortable during this stay-at-home time, I thought I’d be reading more books, creating art, and writing like mad.

I’m not.

Huh.

Guess it’s not just “lack of time” that keeps me from doing the things I say I want to do. What have I been doing? I really don’t know. I’ve spent some extra time with Tank because he was due for vet and farrier visits recently. Though honestly, since I’m still doing all the household things I did before lockdown, I don’t have as much additional free time as those who are home from their regular jobs. I’m still doing most of my “regular job,” so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at my lack of increased productivity. The good news is that this week has been better than last week, which was in turn better than the one before.

I see that many other people are struggling with the same mood and motivation issues during these strange days. If you’re struggling too, you’re not alone. Here are a few things that have helped me with the disconnect/anxiety/overall strangeness:

  • Dressing rather than staying in pajamas.
  • Checking in with one or two people every day.
  • Checking the news briefly, choosing the least incendiary headlines to click.
  • Writing in my journal.
  • Going outside for a few minutes to water the plants and seeds, and watch the dog run around.
  • Completing one or two small (I mean miniscule) tasks each week. This week I cleaned up some spots on the carpet in the master bedroom and cleaned and conditioned the boots I wear to the barn.

I also found this piece really interesting—the variety of things people are doing to stay sane. For example, “To guard against lethargy, despondency and slovenliness, structure feels important: appointments, schedules, achievable goals, regular activities.” (Simon Armitage)

Or

“It’s important not to beat ourselves up. You don’t always have to do stuff. Or achieve stuff. You don’t have to spend your time wisely and productively. You don’t have to be doing tai chi and DIY and artisan bread-making. Sometimes you can just be and feel things and get through and survive. It’s OK to just exist.” (Matt Haig)

I’ve spent a good amount of time online, but not reading the news. I’ve gravitated towards music and happier types of distractions, including:

70 West End stars perform Les Misérables’ Do You Hear The People Sing

Cast of Beautiful sings “You’ve Got a Friend”

(Can you tell I miss my shows at the Straz?!)

I’ve been listening to this almost every day.

John Krasinksi’s SGN (Some Good News) episodes are lots of fun. Episode 2 continues my personal musical theater theme with an appearance by Lin-Manuel Miranda and other Hamilton cast members.

If you’re more into operatic/classical music, click here for Andrea Bocelli’s performance at the Duomo in Milan.

Meteorologist Jeff Lyons of Indiana has been shooting his weather forecasts at home, with a little help from the family pet, who has now been dubbed Betty the Weather Cat. Click here to see them in action.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or next week, or next year. This situation is unprecedented on every level. I’m simultaneously terrified and hopeful. I’ve heard about so many generous acts, such grace and kindness, and I choose to focus on those things rather than the actions of those who for whatever reason allow their baser instincts to take over. I’m trying to overcome my own fear and shyness to reach out to see how I can help others, and I’m doing it imperfectly and awkwardly and often missing the mark altogether. And I’m especially grateful for grocery store employees who never imagined they might be risking their lives to check me out at Publix.

I hope you and your loved ones are still safe and healthy, and that you’re about to enjoy a weekend of simple pleasures and everyday adventures. Let me know how you’re doing in the comments below. And if you’ve heard any positive stories coming out of this crisis, please also share those in the comments!

Chani Nicholas

Words for a Pandemic

April 17, 2020


“Be gentle.
Rest often.
Soften,
soften,
soften.”
—Chani Nicholas


Soften is one of my chosen words of the year. I didn’t expect it to be this essential.

Jonathan Greene

Finding Solace in Poetry

April 10, 2020


Lost in the frenzy of coping with the Covid-19 situation is the fact that April is National Poetry Month in the United States. Several times on Catching Happiness, I’ve posted about incorporating poetry into one’s life in simple, non-intimidating ways. (See “It’s National Poetry Month—No Foolin’” or “10 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month.”)

In fact, now seems like an excellent time to return to reading poetry. I find it calming and soothing—and slowing down is necessary in order to fully appreciate the layers of meaning in many poems. In particular, I’ve been meaning to revisit some of Robert Frost’s poetry after visiting one of his homes in September of 2019.

In the meantime, here’s a poem, courtesy of americanlifeinpoetry.org, to remind us that even in the face of  “interesting times,” some rituals remain.

Introduction by Ted Kooser: That sage curse, “May you live in interesting times,” has been upon us for the past few years, but here a Kentucky poet, Jonathan Greene, offers us some reassurance that there is order in the world. Greene has a special talent for, and love of, short poems, and this is a good example of his work. This poem is from his most recent book, Afloat, published by Broadstone Books.

The Return

We are heartened
when each year
the barn swallows
return.

They find their old nests,
teach their young to fly,
lining up on the barn roof
for their first flight.

They remind us,
for now, some rituals
of this good earth
continue.

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 ©2018 by Jonathan Greene, “The Return,” from Afloat, (Broadstone Books, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of Jonathan Greene and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2020 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.

coronavirus

Strange Days

April 06, 2020

A little bit of spring from California a couple of years ago

Life continues to feel surreal. Most of us are down to visiting the grocery store and staring at our own four walls. My big outing of the week is a trip to the barn to take care of Tank. If I happen to run into anyone, we stand at least six feet away from each other and shout pleasantries. Weird.

Nearly everyone I know and the majority of the people I follow on social media or the Internet is relentlessly trying to remain positive and encouraging, and I could not be more grateful. My mother-in-law sent the whole family an email with only these words:

THIS WILL BE OVER
AND
WE WILL BE THE BETTER FOR IT.

I have no idea what life will be like once this is “over.” Will it ever be over? Did someone hit a reset button somewhere?

I’ve been too tired and distracted to do much of anything, and even my reading has suffered. I don’t have a lot of work deadlines right now, but I do have personal writing projects I’d like to pursue, and I can’t seem to motivate myself to do them. I’ve tried breaking them down into smaller and smaller bits, but so far haven’t found a small enough bit to accomplish.

But today is the start of a new week, a week in which I will continue to enjoy simple pleasures and maybe even an everyday adventure or two—for example, I need to pick up a few items at the grocery store today—wish me luck! I will try again to be more productive with my time, whether I use it to clean up a mess (have you noticed the Persistence of Messes even in times of pandemic?), or to write a haiku, or to otherwise play around with words hoping to find the magic combination that resonates in my mind as being something I want to share. 

I will read books from my unread shelf, and library books that have been stranded with me. I will take Luna for walks, and brush Prudy. Tank is scheduled to have his yearly vaccines this week. I will make dinner, and do laundry, and otherwise keep our home a place of safety and comfort. My husband’s business is considered essential, so he is still going to his office, though it is closed to the public and only one other employee is working there with him (the rest are working from home).

I will take it one day at a time. Life goes on, even in these strange days. 

And how are you doing?

While avoiding too much news, I have found some solace online. Here are some links you might find inspiring or helpful:

If you have extra time on your hands, you could do worse than joining Yale University’s “The Science of Well Being” course, available free through Coursera.

“Pandemic Positivity” downloads from Positively Present.

I’m partway through watching this TED Connects video with Elizabeth Gilbert.

And finally, I leave you with this, the best thing I’ve seen online all week (thanks for sharing, Kerri):



Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Love you all!

Carlos Castaneda

Make Yourself Strong

March 27, 2020

Seen on my walk this morning

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong.
The amount of work is the same.”
― Carlos Castaneda

Art

So What Do You DO With Yourself Now?

March 23, 2020


Are we there yet?

With much of the US (and the rest of the world) either “social distancing” or “sheltering in place,” all you extroverts and work-outside-your home folks must be going crazy. While my day-to-day life hasn’t changed that much (I admit I miss the library), I can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of having your schedule turned upside down, and having to fill hours of the day productively rather than stewing and worrying uselessly. Yes, of course, you can binge watch TV or movies, or read, but here are a few more simple pleasures and everyday adventures for while you’re sheltering at home:

Bake something. Blow the dust off your bread machine (do people still have those? I do!), mix up a batch of your family’s favorite cookies, or use up the over-ripe bananas in banana bread. I find baking very calming, not to mention yummy.

Take a walk in nature. Obviously, you should only do this if you can do it safely, but there really is something so uplifting about getting some fresh air and sunlight. (Plus, you probably need the exercise—see first suggestion.) 

Take an online art class. Laure Ferlita’s online watercolor classes are fun, accessible, and reasonably priced. She just launched a new one last week, Spring Wreath. (No affiliation except friendship!)

Doodle with Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence. Primarily aimed at kids, but still fun for adults! As he says, “You might be isolated, but you’re not alone. You are an art maker. Let’s make some art together.”

Watch and listen to the Berlin Philharmonic in their digital concert hall, free for 30 days, if you register by March 31. So soothing.

Participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Stay At Home Book Tour. The first event was today, but there’s one every day this week, and if you can’t join live, there will be replays available. Learn about it here.

Fill your mind with positive, encouraging, and uplifting things, like:

This post, by Dani DiPirro of Positively Present.

This interview with author Rebecca Solnit. Her book A Paradise Built in Hell, “describes how in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters…human beings tend to respond by banding together, not tearing apart.”

No doubt this is a hard and scary time. Let’s get through it together. Share the things that are helping you in the comments below!

free

Serenity Is Contagious

March 20, 2020



“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?”
—Sri S. Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras


coronavirus

Staying Positive in the Face of Coronavirus Fear

March 17, 2020

Luna and I are working at home

Here in the U.S., things are getting weird. Fights are breaking out over toilet paper, businesses and schools are closing, and a new term has entered our vocabulary: social distancing. The COVID-19 coronavirus is wreaking havoc all over the world.

And my library just closed. Now it’s getting serious.

I don’t mean to make light of this situation—it’s the strangest, scariest thing that’s happened in my life, except for 9/11. I’m not especially worried about catching the virus—I work from home and don’t spend much time with people other than my family and close friends—but I do worry about my husband and son, who work with the public, and my older family members, some of whom have health issues. I’m also deeply concerned about what will happen to the economy after this is all over.

Following the news has made me anxious and depressed at times. But I remind myself that living is risky. Virus or no, any one of us could be struck down at any time—we just don’t think about it that often. Our attention turns to the fragility of our way of life, and life itself, when something like this happens.

We always have a choice, however. We can let the coronavirus bring out the worst in us, or the best. This is our chance to work together to reduce the spread of the virus and help each other along the way. As usual, our attitudes are key: can we remain positive in the face of fear and uncertainty? Can we pause and notice the simple pleasures we’re usually too busy to see and savor? Can we use this time to become more thoughtful and real?

While we’re walking this hard road, here are some things we should remember:

  • Follow instructions from authorities regarding social distancing—if we have the virus but don’t realize it, we can spread it.
  • Don’t hoard. Buy only what we need and leave the rest for others.
  • If possible, help those in our community who may be dangerously isolated, especially the elderly.
  • Remember that this won’t last forever.
  • Try to stay in the moment and avoid “awful-izing” about the future.

We can also remember those who are being hurt economically by this shut down: small businesses, authors’ whose book tours have been postponed or cancelled, artists and crafts people who make a portion of their income through teaching or shows, performers who may not be paid when their productions go dark, servers who miss out on tips, parents who can’t afford childcare for kids who are unexpectedly out of school. Keep your eyes and ears open for ways to help if you can.

And take care of our physical and mental health by finding positive ways to release fear and tension. I stress cleaned my closet and dresser this weekend, a job that has needed doing for months. I’m eyeing my office next—it would benefit from a deep clean. And I think working out would be a better way to cope with stress than eating barbecue flavor potato chips, which I don’t really like that much anyway but they’re salty and crunchy and…well, you get it.

When the weather and situation permits, step outside for a breath of fresh air. Wash our hands more than usual (and apply hand cream after!). If we find it’s getting to be too much for us, set limits on checking updates and avoid inflammatory articles. And every time we read something scary, look for a positive story—such as “Coronavirus sparks an epidemic of people helping people in Seattle.” 

While we wait for world to settle down, here are some links you might find helpful:

Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project has some excellent suggestions about how to stay as happy and calm as we can be in this situation here.  


Modern Mrs. Darcy (whose own book tour has been cancelled) is hosting a Stay at Home Book Tour. Sign up for this free series of events, which will take place over the week beginning March 23.

Working at home? Click here to download Jamie Varon’s Work From Home Survival Guide.


How to Touch Your Face Less (since touching your face is one of the main ways you can infect yourself).

And from Catching Happiness:




I sincerely hope you’re all healthy and safe. If you feel like sharing, let me know in the comments (or hit reply if you’re receiving this via email) how you’re coping with coronavirus fears. 

Celebrations

Two Simple Ways to Celebrate Leap Day

February 28, 2020

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

I don’t know why, but I love Leap Day (February 29). Maybe it’s because it’s like being given the gift of an extra day, and who doesn’t wish for one of those now and then? Maybe because Leap Day is a once-every-four-years pause. The usual 28 days of February are done, and March hasn’t started yet. 

This year’s Leap Day sort of snuck up on me while I wasn’t paying attention. I’d like to make it memorable, instead of a typical Saturday of chores and whatnot, so today I’ll have to get my backside in gear so that today’s work doesn’t bleed into tomorrow, as has been known to happen. Or I’ll have to let go of something—or both. Either way, I plan to celebrate Leap Day, but not by making it into a full-blown, drive-myself-nutty holiday, complete with its own to-do list and 10-point plan. Rather, I have two simple suggestions for how to celebrate Leap Day:

1. Be kind to yourself. Sleep in a little, take a walk in nature (if your weather allows this), spend time doing something that feeds your soul. Eat some healthy and delicious food. Give someone a hug. Even when the world feels dark and scary, most of us still have so much to appreciate and enjoy, so many people (and animals) to love. I’m going to try to fill it with simple pleasures—things like starting a jigsaw puzzle, reading (of course), and enjoying our current cooler weather.

2. Be kind to others. Smile, hold a door open, allow another driver to merge into your lane, thank someone, post an uplifting thought on social media. A little kindness sends ripples out into the world—imagine what it would feel like if everyone were kind just for this one day. Maybe at least some of them would continue to be kind the next day, and the next. (Click here to see 10 ways to spread kindness.) 

If we use the pause of Leap Day to recalibrate kindness, to ourselves and to others, we’ll all be a lot happier.

It’s just a suggestion.

How do you celebrate Leap Day?

Artist's dates

Field Trip Friday—Books and Bites with Author Lisa Unger

February 21, 2020

Lisa Unger with yours truly

It’s been far too long since I allowed myself either an artist’s date or a Field Trip Friday, so today I rolled them into one and headed to Tampa for a Friends of the Library event featuring bestselling author Lisa Unger

Unger is the author of 17 novels, her books have been published in 26 languages, and she’s been nominated for multiple awards, notably two Edgars* in 2019, an honor only a few authors can claim. She describes her work as “character-driven psychological suspense,” and I can attest that her books are hard to put down. I've only read a few of them, so I was excited to see how many I have left to enjoy. My next read will be the signed copy of her most recent book, The Stranger Inside, that came home with me! 

After we enjoyed lunch provided by local restaurant La Segunda, Unger shared some of her background and her writing process. Then she took questions. After her talk and the question and answer period, she signed books and chatted with attendees. Her husband kindly took the photo of us together that you see above. 

A few things that I found especially interesting:

Her family moved a lot and Unger was frequently the new kid. “The page was my first home,” she said. (Me, too!)

She’s been a writer all her life (“I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t define myself that way,” she said), though she didn't think she’d be able to write for a living, a belief influenced by her engineer father who didn’t think writing was a job.

She inherited her love of story from her librarian mother, who shared all types of books and movies with her daughter as she was growing up. Of her mother’s bookshelves, Unger said, “If I could reach it, I could read it.”

After attending college in New York, where she studied all kinds of writing from poetry, to screenwriting, to journalism, Unger took a job in book publishing, because it was the closest thing she could find to her dream. She worked in publicity, helping authors with book tours and planning events, and was so good at it that her time available to write kept shrinking.

Eventually, she had an epiphany. “I was in the wrong job and I was with the wrong guy. I wasn’t doing the thing I wanted to do. I’d never even tried.” She decided she could live with failure, but not a “slow fade to nothing.” She kept her job (but broke up with that guy), and started writing every day, making it a priority to work on a novel she’d started at age 19.  One and a half years later, at age 29, she finished.

When Unger completed her novel and went about trying to find an agent for it, she admits she was scared. It wasn’t just her book that was on the line, it was her identity: “Who am I if I am not this?” she said. Fortunately for all of us, that book found an agent, and that agent got Unger a two-book deal. Angel Fire, the first of four books in the Lydia Strong series, was published in 2002. (Miscione is Unger’s maiden name.)

It takes her nine months to a year to complete a first draft, followed by several more drafts, as well as “the second part of the creative process,” which she explained is the discussion and incorporation of notes she receives from her husband, editor, and agent. These help her manuscript to become the best possible book. It takes another year between when the book is first turned in until it’s ready for publishing. She never opens the finished book, because by then there’s nothing she can change about it!

She met her husband at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. It was love at first sight, at least on her part, she said. They’ve been married for 20 years, and have a 14-year-old daughter.

On writing books:

A lot of people want to write a book, even make plans to write one. It’s an accomplishment just to finish a manuscript. Whether or not it gets published.

You should do it because you cannot not do it. Getting published is beside the point. It’s always about the work, the writing.

I’ve been feeling very blah about writing lately (witness the lack of entries on this here blog), and while I’ve been making it a point to sit down to write something nearly every day, I’ve definitely been lacking a spark. I’m so glad I took the time to go to this author talk, because not only was Unger herself charming, warm, and easy to approach, she inspired me to come home and sit down in front of my laptop. It’s a start. 

*Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America

To learn more about Lisa Unger and her books, please visit lisaunger.com, or her Amazon author’s page.




free

The Words Guiding Me This Year

January 31, 2020

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Regular readers of Catching Happiness know that I usually choose a Word of the Year to guide me. This year is no different—in fact, I have two words that I will be keeping in the forefront of my mind as I navigate 2020.

This year, I’ve chosen the words free and soften as my words of the year.

Free

Initially, I chose free because I’m going to do something this year that will make me feel more free—I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair.* I got my first gray hair at age 21, and though it took many years for more grays to appear, I’ve been coloring my hair for a good long time now, and I’m tired of the process. After I read about a possible link between breast cancer and permanent hair dye, that was it for me. I’m done. I have an aunt who had breast cancer, and I don’t need any more risk factors.

Thinking about no longer coloring my hair led me to thinking about what else I’d like to be free of. Things like expectations, caring what other people think about how I look and what I do, stories I tell myself that hold me back from having the happy life I want. I want to feel free to explore, expand, give, express my creativity, enjoy my simple pleasures and everyday adventures. 

When I looked up the definitions of free, I found some additional food for thought. The online definitions, from Merriam-Webster, included: enjoying civil and political liberty; enjoying personal freedom; choosing or capable of choosing for oneself; made, done or given voluntarily or spontaneously; relieved from or lacking something, especially something painful or burdensome; not bound or contained by force; having no obligations or commitments; not impeded or obstructed or restricted; capable of moving in any direction; frank/open; overly familiar or forward in action or attitude. As a verb, free means to relieve or rid of what restrains, confines, restricts or embarrasses.

Soften

Soften came to me one day when I was struggling to make something work. When life doesn’t immediately cooperate, my tendency is to tense up, struggle, and use force when I should soften and ease up. Maybe even let go. I’m often reminded of this in yoga class when I have a muscle cramp and must soften my pose or come out of it altogether. Softening—my attitude and my actions—causes me to slow down, and often averts an impending accident

Words working together

I believe that the combination of free and soften indicates to me that I want to explore being more flexible and relaxed. How this plays out in real life, with its work and responsibilities, remains to be seen. How can I have self-discipline but not too much, also remains to be seen.

Did you choose a word of the year this year? What do you think it means for you?

*Apparently, “going gray” is currently A Thing, with books and blogs devoted to the process. While I’m not planning to share much of my own transition publicly, I’ve heard that the process brings up a lot of emotions and beliefs about femininity, aging, etc., so it’s possible that I will eventually write about it. (And, of course, when my hair is fully transformed, I’ll have to post a new profile pic!)

Link love

New Year, New Link Love Volume II

January 10, 2020

Photo by Vika Fleisher on Unsplash

Is it too far into the year to tell you Happy New Year? It feels like 2020 has gotten off to a sleepy start for me, personally. I had one writing assignment to wrap up from the end of 2019, and now that it’s done, I can catch my breath and do some reflecting and planning. I went through my calendar/planner from 2019 and jotted down notable events and thought about the accompanying emotions. It was a full year.

I’d still like to set some new goals, and do some additional fun visualizing stuff—and hopefully, I’ll get to that soon. I’ve been jotting down possibilities, and will fill out my “20 for 2020” list to hang on my bulletin board. (Make your own, or download a free printable, like this one—no affiliation.)

If you’re still in a contemplative mood, here are a few recent Internet discoveries I’ve found thought-provoking or otherwise worthwhile:

While the New Year is already here, you can always decide to get rid of one (or more) of these “8 Things to Get Rid of Before the New Year."

One very simple way to review the old year and approach the new year, from Sandra Pawula’s (Always Well Within) Wild Arisings newsletter:

“I began the 2019 review process informally a few weeks ago by jotting down a heading in my journal called ‘Good Things 2019.’  I placed things on the list as they came to me day-by-day day. I also put in a second heading around the same time called ‘Let Go Of 2019,’ which I approached in a similar fashion.”

I love this quote, from Rainbow Rowell

When you make your list of things to do in the new week/month/year, do you plan for joy, not just work or accomplishment? According to, Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful, we should! In “Planfor Joy, Not Just Goals,” she writes,

“When we’re children, joy seems effortless because someone has planned it for us. As we get older, we can either believe that life has gotten less joyful, or we can take charge of planning it for ourselves.”

She continues later in the post,
Scheduling in joy is making a promise to yourself that it will actually happen. Productivity experts suggest putting everything that matters to you on your calendar. If you schedule business meetings and exercise, you are calling these out as important. So why not also give your joy this same weight by putting game nights or reading before bed into your calendar too?” 

I’ve already started participating in the Unread Shelf Project. Things have Gotten Out of Hand in the purchased-but-not-yet-read yet book department. 

It wouldn’t be Link Love without a post from Raptitude. Check out “How to Go Deeper in 2020.” Deeper was my word of the year in 2017 and I’m tempted to revisit it.  

Just discovered the delightful NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. I hadn’t heard of 99 percent of the musicians represented here, but I’ve enjoyed every tiny concert I’ve listened to.

What are some of your plans for 2020? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


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