Book Review: “Before Understanding Life, Love Yourself: 101 Acrostic Poems Reshaping Words Used by Bullies”

 

If I could tell you one thing that I know to be true it’s this: Words are power.

Words have weight.

Words matter.

What we say to others will shape not only their perceptions of themselves, but also their perception of us and the world at large.

 

The old adage of sticks and stones breaking bones but words as ineffectual, is dangerously incorrect. Physical wounds heal over. But harsh words, implanted on the heart and brain of a young, impressionable human last and can shape the way a person’s brain is formed.

 

As a parent and mentor I can tell my kids in countless ways and repeatedly why others sling these arrows and try to reason with them that the hatred and hurt is a result of the bully’s own feelings of inadequacy. But it does little to sooth the pain.

 

In the higher stakes of a social-media driven society, words are slung at a faster pace, with a farther reach then we ever had to deal with as kids. Farther than the playground, and in more permanent ways that have lasting and sometimes deadly consequences.

 

So how do we change these verbal arrows from something potentially life-altering, into something that can offer hope and let the victims of bullying take back their power in the situation?

In Dean K. Miller’s latest poetry anthology, “Before Understanding Life, Love Yourself: 101 Acrostic Poems Reshaping Words Used By Bullies” he utilizes acrostic language to change the most common words used by bullies into more positive, life affirmations.

The time he spent analyzing these words and what they could be changed to is evident and Miller offers us a bright light in an otherwise dark topic.

As he says:

“Through the use of acrostic poetry, my goal is to reshape the words used by bullies into positive pictures, thereby creating new lists of a thousand words that spark upbeat feelings, inspire positive self images, and defuse the stress associated with bullying words.”

 

In “Before Understanding Life, Love Yourself”, Miller takes the worst and most cutting words and breaks them down into ideas that can, hopefully, offer an alternative way for victims to think about the word. Like taking a tarnished penny and turning it over to reveal the untouched copper shine, this poetry anthology gives victims of bullying a tool to reshape the negative words into positive ideas.

 

If you’re familiar with Mr. Miller’s work, I don’t need to gush about his poetic prowess (though I could if you had a few hours). If this is your first time hearing of him, I urge you to check out his work. Miller is a master at crafting poetry that resonates and paints images in your mind.

 

If you are a teacher or in another profession that holds responsibility over the health and wellness of our kiddos I highly recommend you check this book out.

 

You can even contact me and I’ll offer it through The Beautiful Stuff at a discounted rate.

 

Here’s the link on Amazon:

 

“Before Understanding Life, Love Yourself: 101 Acrostic Poems Reshaping Words Used by Bullies

 

Also, I highly recommend that you read some of his other work:

 

Dean K. Miller Poetry on Amazon

He does excellent work and programs for Veterans with the use of poetry and the outdoors as therapeutic methods.

 

 

 

 

VerseDay 1-24-19

Before you immerse yourself in this succulent little slice of verbiage, take a moment to remember that I’m still calling for submissions to the poetry anthology and look forward to featuring your work here on my website. IT’S FREE PEOPLE…and you get all the feel-good bragging rights of being ‘published’. So consider and send me your stuff.

 

Okay, proceed to the Verse…

 

 

Puzzle

If I could stand in those empty fields once more.

The sun and wind bearing down,

Driving back the faint of heart.

If I could catch the notes of sage on the back of my tongue,

And the distant blue horizon

Far and stretching for eons

The time of endless days, turned eye-blinks.

If I could walk those creaky halls, and the comfort of shadow

The patterns of wood and love

If I could smell the dust of my bedroom, hear the closet door creak,

Lean against kitchen countertops, where the coffee pot left

Traces of brown on the laminate.

If I could just go back.

To that time

To that girl.

Maybe I could find the pattern of me,

The places before broken lines were drawn.

And piece the puzzle back together.

Maybe in this place, the dirt that grew beneath my fingernails,

The dust that scattered through my hair

The sweet sunshine that painted my cheeks in freckles

And the smell of an innocent child who belonged to the wild.

If I could just run those tracks, single and winding through empty fields,

On the squeaky tires, of the most faithful steed,

Who’s cracked seat pinched tender thighs, if ever the thought to sit occurred.

If I could spend the day on an adventure,

I could find the greatest one yet.

The one that tells the story,

Of a girl who was fearless

A girl who loved the wind and the sun

And the freedom beneath her was a fair gale to wings

Of a girl who wouldn’t give up.

Not ever.

Of a girl who persisted and

Stayed wild.

Maybe I could find the pattern of me,

Before the broken lines were drawn,

And piece the puzzle of myself together again.

The Human Genre

 

We’re not only defined by what we chose to do in our lives, but how we do it. We are categorized by outward and inward perceptions, each of us, akin to novels, and are thusly classified into genres.

 

Ah, she’s a romantic mystery with a dash of humor.

That guy over there is a political intrigue, with a splash of old school patriarchy.

Ah, she’s a pushy self-help, peppered with self-righteousness and a healthy pinch of praise-Jesus.

That lady over there is a bitter cozy mystery with a hint of post-menopausal lack of fucks to give.

 

We are defined by the things we do. We’re put into categories by people we know, and by companies that gather our data. Even when we don’t ask for it, we’re given a neat little label. And sometimes, when we’re overloaded and overworked, we start using that label as our only sense of self, as we desperately try to remember our purpose… And sometimes, we use those labels as a scapegoat for our less-than-desirable behaviors.

 

I’ve been trying to meditate every day and have been working through a series on my app (yeah, look at me, getting all tech-savvy with an app to help me reconnect with my humanness…seems oxymoronic) about acceptance, depression, letting go, and stress management.

 

One recurring phrase I hear is: You are not your thoughts or your feelings.

 

This is a hard concept to grasp.

Humans are this odd mishmash of biology and higher neuronic thought processes. I mean on one of our great ape-grasping hands we’re barely getting used to this hairless bipedal thing, on the other hand we’re philosophical, heavy in the head, braining entities who, when left to our own devices will overthink ourselves into a coma.

Maybe there’s a fear that if we disconnect to our thoughts then we won’t know who we are.

Maybe we fear we’ll lose the basis of our existence if we let go of the ideas and feelings tethering us down.

 

But this is not so.

 

You see, thoughts and emotions change. All the time. And the reason humans become so miserable is that we tie ourselves to them, try to define ourselves by them. Then we are less apt to let them go, especially when they hold the addictive qualities of self-spiraling sadness and anger. We feel sad. We are sadness. We feel anger. We’re angry humans.

Conversely, when we are happy or elated and the emotion passes, as it will with the natural ebb and flow of life, we cling to it desperately and feel like something’s gone wrong when its tying us down.

Should we let go of happiness. No. Should we reject sadness and admonish ourselves for anger? Absolutely not. Be in the moment, with the emotion, understand it is a feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. You’re all that’s left.

 

Just as we aren’t tied to labels; we are not one genre, we are all genres.

 

Why is it important that we understand this?

 

Two reasons:

 

If we are boxed in to what the world has categorized us as, to our labels, we won’t know we can change. We become stagnant and perpetuate behaviors that are detrimental to our happiness and the benefit of humanity.

 

Secondly: We will feel trapped. And trapped animals lose the will to live. Without will, without passion, we cannot create, we cannot solve, we cannot continue to thrive in the world.

 

So how do we escape?

 

Here’s the dirty little secret:

 

I’m not entirely sure.

 

I think it has something to do with opening your mind to new ideas, allowing yourself to be different, to change the things about your life you don’t want to be a part of anymore, without guilt or self blame, and to let go of the idea that you are the personification of your thoughts and feelings.

 

You can be anything. Or just some things.

 

Or nothing at all.

 

Cross genres. Explore. Maintain your free will. While those that seek to control will tell you, free will is our greatest vice as human beings, that it causes us to make decisions that don’t align with status-quo, religious concepts, or dictator-imposed law and thus brings about the downfall of society, this is not the case.

 

There’s a reason the Dark Ages happened.

 

Free will, your ability to change, to move, to think differently are vital to not just survival but your purpose in life.

 

So what genre are you today?

 

Giving Light

It’s a whirlwind of lies and vitriol out there right now, am I right? Social media sites spreading memes about the other party, the dangers of our world, the arrogance and wrongness of the side ‘opposite us’.

There’s something about fighting with someone online that can whip us up into an adrenaline laced mania. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s the conviction we have in our own righteousness, the hard line we draw against any challenge to our perceptions.

And when you try to disengage you are still frowned upon. If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you’re in danger of being part of the problem. That is true to some extent. But there’s something to be said for the deep-breath pause that begs us to consider if the argument we’re forming is going to change any minds or just throw gasoline on the fire.

All of this made me think of the world, and what we contribute. What we give to it.

So often we give our opinion, we give our hatred, we give our disapproval and judgments. We give our anger and our raised voices. So we give. But we give things that hurt our humanity, often, without making worthwhile differences.

I’m not judging. It feels good to vent.

It also feels good to do heroin, I’m told. Doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for us to do.

See what I’m getting at?

How about, just for today, you and I think about what we can give to the world that will lighten the dark?

Can you give your time?

Can you give an open mind and a willing ear?

Can you give forgiveness that you’ve been holding back?

Give to your charity. Give full un-technology distracted attention to your children. Give your boss a break. Give your smile, even when you haven’t been able to in a while.

Sometimes, I think we feel if we give these things (our love, compassion, forgiveness, time, etc.) then we will have none left for ourselves.

But just like the worry that comes with a second child, (how could we possibly love another as much, when we love the first so ardently?) we quickly learn that love doesn’t subtract or divide.

It multiplies.

The more you forgive…the more forgiveness you will want to give (you’ll find the lightening of your heart is such sweet reward).

The more you love…the more you want to love.

The more you listen…the more you learn…the more you learn, the more compassion you give…and the more you feel it in and for yourself.

And you spread light, you lighten sadness, and lightening of sadness drives away the haze of hatred that’s settled over us all.

You may not get it back 100% of the time, that’s ok…because that’s not the reason we give.

We give because we can.

We share our light to push the darkness back from one other.

If it comes back, it fills our cup to do it again.

And again.

And again.

So this isn’t a rocket-science, grand-idea blog today.

This is a remember blog.

Remember, human. You are a force to be reckoned with with both great and terrible results. You’ve a light inside. And you can guard it with closed arms and gnashing teeth, suffocating its power inside for yourself alone. Or you can open your arms to the dark, and let your light spill across the vastness.

The night is dark and full of terrors. But we’re pretty terrifying too. Beautifully terrifying.

And the darkness won’t ever leave if we do not light it up.

So light it up.

Letting Go of Illusion

“How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings? How many opportunities have you been denied–or, for that matter, awarded–because someone failed to see you properly? How many friends have you lost, how many have you gained, because they glimpsed some element of your personality that shone through for only an instant, and in circumstances you could never reproduce? An illusion of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway.” 
― Kevin Brockmeier

As a fiction writer, especially of the romantic persuasion, it’s often easy for me to get caught up in my own imagination. My writerly brain has been trained to play out scenarios and let them run wild. It’s part of the creative process and the free reign I give these thoughts allows me to write the scenes and stories that cause heart palpitations and fingers to eagerly turn to the next page.

woman reading a book
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But sometimes, the delicate barrier between the two halves of my brain is a bit too porous. Sometimes the barrier is permeated. Sometimes, the imagination bleeds over. And it begins to skew my reality. What is actually before me can be muddled with the over-active nature of my creative process. Instead of observing at a safe distance, I scoot in closer and start to ask…”and then what if…”

It’s taken me to some interesting and inspiring side roads, but it has also led me  this to some pretty dark and hurtful places. Places like paranoia, obsession, depression, and a loosening of the bonds of my reality. It can cause a false sense of what is real and, from that place, I have made poorly founded decisions.

I have been in situations where I lived in an heightened-aware but still fuzzier, reality. Lines get blurred and harmless words and actions became life altering. Sideways glances were sure signs of betrayal. Meaningless banter, the grounds for turning my back on people I loved. I’ve spent a lot of time hurting, in tears, wondering why the path I saw ahead felt so wrong to what my brain was telling me. I was at sea. Lost and drifting with no anchor to keep me grounded.

What’s the cure? What’s the fix? What can any of us do when our brains run away from us and our behaviors follow suit?

Sometimes the consequences of those misguided actions we take, in our obsessive/paranoia state, are severe enough to shake us back into reality. That may be the only way, when we are in too deep, to regain proper perspective.

But it is also the most damaging.

Occasionally it takes someone who can see your reality outside of yourself. Who cares enough about you to point out the cloud surrounding you and who can start asking the right questions. Like snapping spiritual fingers in front of your eyes, breaking through the rosy hue of illusion.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy. It’s often a long fall and a hard landing when you come down from your illusion. It’s painful. Reality isn’t usually a fun place to live in. But walking around, shrouded in falsehood, does nothing to better our humanity and the way we interact truthfully with one another.

Take a good look at your life. Be aware of the way you react to situations, be introspective with the perspective you use and step outside yourself to see what’s really going on. Because the further you go down the rabbit hole of the world you want to live in, the worse the consequence, the higher the risk, and the deeper the damage in the world you actually live in.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep my mouth shut and calm the creative-brain response, until I’m sure my words and actions are justified and are coming from a place that is true. It requires that I remove myself from being the central character in a story and take a moment to look at the setting, the other characters, their perspectives, the actual thread of what is going on.

Being a good human is hard. But if we truly love, when all illusions have been stripped away, then we owe it to our fellow humans to try to live the most honest, real life we can.

“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly -the thought of the world’s concern at her situation- was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.” 
― Thomas Hardy

Fate vs Free Will

Throughout history numerous wars have been waged between opposing forces. Dark and light. Good and Evil. Nature and Nurture. Life and death. Star Trek and Star Wars, Marvel and DC… TP rolled over the top or under. (Only savages prefer the latter.)

marvel vs deathstrokeOpposite ends of spectrums that often are viewed in our tiny human brains as opposing sides of a coin. The polar ends of a hard line. The divisiveness of the universe that plays out in a constant cosmic game of tug-o-war. One such spectrum is the dichotomy between Fate (Destiny if you will) and Free Will (Choice).

Do our choices determine the path of our lives, or are our “choices” merely preconceived steps towards a destination we’re meant to arrive at? Does the idea of free-will make us feel as though we have more power in our lives? Or does the idea of Destiny free us of the responsibility of how our lives pan out?

I’m honestly asking, because I don’t know the answer.

When I was young, I believed in fate. Because fate is more romantic, and epic, and dramatic. It made me feel like I was on the path to something amazing. It made me feel that one day I’d fall into the life that had been preordained and made especially for me. That it would all work out, because it was foreseen by some great hand of Destiny.

Then I grew up.

And I started to realize that every single choice I was making was branching me off in an ever complicated tree of life. Going to a party or not, where I may or may not talk to someone who would, unbeknownst to me, cause waves of change in my everyday life.

red trees
Photo by nien tran on Pexels.com

Stepping into a dojo on a trial basis, no intention of becoming involved. Even going so far as recognizing that one heated moment in a shower could lead to a phenomenal, empathetic, intelligent beautiful being who shares my house and riles my bassets up with her french horn practice.

Every single moment I was living, I was making choices and those choices made my path. There was no destiny, only the narrowing of options as I peeled away the possibilities with strokes of priority peppered with chance.

But some days, some cloudy Wednesday mornings, I swing back… back to the idea that maybe… maybe every choice I’ve made, in this ‘long and scattering set of tracks’ has led me exactly where I’m supposed to be.

blur bubbles clear close up
Photo by Ruatsanga Hmar on Pexels.com

And I like feeling that way, not because I feel it relieves me of responsibility, or that everything will work out to be something decided long ago, but because it helps me to know that every pain, every ill, every challenge and heartbreak I’ve suffered has built the scar tissue I needed to be where I am and to be the person I am.

Did the universe know I’d be this person? Did the universe need this person? Am I meant to be here for the fate of someone else, to be their lesson, their ill, their challenge. . . their heart break? Or am I here for something better? To be the hand in the darkness. To be the mender. To be the balm for broken hearts, and the gentle touch after life’s severity? I suppose that, too, is a choice.

Fate or Free Will?

I’m not sure it really matters. Except that you can’t let your life be decided for you. And if you wait around for your destiny to find you, it might not be the one you expect or want. Sometimes, in that glimmer of knowing what you’d like to see your life manifest as, you must weave through the murky waters and make the choices that lead you to the end you want.

Life’s not much more than a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel. There are about fifty ways to kill yourself prematurely, and only a few paths lead to success, but most importantly, it ends no matter what choices you make along the way.

So make the choices that bring you happiness, that bring you beauty. Make the choices that fill your cup.

Fallen

I missed last week’s blog post. I’m not sure if anyone out there even noticed, which is fine. I tell myself that I don’t write to garner a following. I write to hold myself accountable to the passion that shapes me.

But last week…

I was fresh out of passion and had given up on myself. I was feeling shapeless.

This is not a new story for myself and, probably, for all writers, artists, musicians, and those who contribute slices of our brains and hearts to public scrutiny. There are days when the offering of our thought, time, and energy to the craft is returned with silence, or rejection. Most days we let it go and move on.

heartbreak
Aw…Sarah’s gonna have to clean the cat hair off of that before she puts it back in.

But even for more sane people than myself, a long drought of success, can cause us to question the path. We question if it’s worth putting our hearts in the hands of others. We start to wonder if a nice, minimum wage job in a cubicle somewhere isn’t the better option. (At least the coffee is ‘free’, and I’m done at 5).

So, last week, I didn’t bother writing a post. I didn’t even think about trying. I just said, nope, fuck it, what’s the point?

Because sometimes life is like that. And sometimes we need to throw up our hands and surrender to our own suck-itude, (sure its a word).

But this week I’m back. Not because I’m feeling any better than last week, but because writing is what I do. And I’m not quite done with life yet, so as long as I’m drawing breath I’ll be drawing thought. Some days those thoughts are vibrant and inspirational. Some days they’re like walking in a bog of hopelessness, and I apologize to those reading when I drag you along behind me on those darker days…but no human is a ray of sunshine all the time. (Unless they’re one of those freaky-uber-happy-Suzie-sunshine types and nobody really likes those Pollyann-kool-aid-drinking assholes…but I digress.)

The point is, I was in a hard place last week. And I don’t know if it’s much better now, but at least now I’ve mustered enough fucks to sit down and write, pour out my self-pity and self-doubt and let you all make your own judgements about what I’ve got to offer.

Whether you write or not, we all have days. Days when we’re tired of fighting and tired of trying. Days when we’ve fallen and we don’t care if we stay down. Days when the battle hardly feels worth the effort. It’s part of what makes getting back up so beautiful. To win the battle over apathy and despair is a shade of divinity particular to humans. Not only just for physical survival, but for our emotional and psychological longevity.

I’m not all the way back up, but I’m not dead yet. And I guess that’s something.

On Mucous and Memory

A plague is upon my house.

Must have been all that divine-smack talk from last week.

We’ve been set upon by a viral invasion from the petri dish that is the pubic education system. I’ve been fighting it off with sheer force of will, exclaiming to the ear-less, microscopic, entities that I’m simply too busy for their nonsense and to go pedal their crazy someplace else.

In the meantime, I’m emptying out the trash cans every two hours and trying to explain the gentle art of using more than a nostril width of space for each tissue. (Yes, they are ‘disposable’, but that doesn’t mean we need to dab and toss as though we were participants in some game-show challenge. Unacceptable tissue usage

For god sakes, even the lady at Costco is giving me the eye for how often I’ve been stocking up…

 

This blog is sometimes about life and sometimes about writing, and today I was inspired by the less-than-beautiful aspects of life.

Take my dogs…please.

sick basset

Anyone with lovable, furry companions knows, they’re a plethora of bodily fluids. And, as with any creature in later years, these leakages seem to come more frequently. My bassets are mass oil producers; through their skin, through clogged pores, through bursting, bleeding cysts…gulp back that bile taste in the back of your throat…it’s actually quite fascinating.

 

What’s the point of this? Well…the giant mess that is life I guess.

 

I remember when the idea of a child’s slobbery hand touching my skin would make me want to bathe in hand sanitizer and invest in a personal HazMat shower.

mucous decontamination

Now…oh now… can I tell you gentle readers how I sometimes use the puddle from a melted ice cube my child has left on the kitchen floor to wet my sock before mopping up some random bloody streak from my dog’s tail sore? Disgusting you say? I say…efficient.

 

Can I tell you how I can pluck a booger from my child’s nose with illusionist prowness (move over Criss Angel). How I can be sneezed on, coughed on, pooped on, peed on, vomited on, and still somehow maintain a soft focus on the words. “Its ok. No worries, baby”. How I now can look past the moist factories of human and canine function and see a moment in time. A very fleeting moment.

 

When I am needed.

 

That sounds narcissistic and I suppose it is. I know that a stable, self-sufficient woman doesn’t need to be needed. But I also know that a deep part of fulfillment for me (lets bound into the hippy side of things and say it’s the Earth/Nurturing Energy I’m predisposed to) is in being able to provide for others. To help them, to comfort them, to clean up after them and whatever that trail they’re leaving behind them is made up of.

Someday those trails will be gone. The house will be spotless, and puddle-less, hairless, and smell-less. And what an awful thought that is.

Someday, I am going to miss the loud and crazy sneeze fest. The croaky little throats asking for juice. The whining howl of a dog in the midst of a squirrel induced nightmare that causes wet flatulence.

 

Love life for the mess, not in spite of it.

 

The mess is where the magic is. The imperfect and chaotic is also the joy. Because it pulls us out of auto pilot and makes us pay attention…Because it tests what we are made of, what we can handle, and how we handle it. Because it makes memories and memories are how we count time, relate to others, and look back on a life well, if mucousily, lived.

 

I could live a beautiful, picture perfect life. With clean floors, and quiet halls, and never have to ask “What did I just step in?” or “Is that poop or chocolate?”. But god, what a horrible life that would be. Give me the mess. Give me your booger. Give me the bleeding, oily cysts. Give me the tiny arms and fevered foreheads pressed close in times of need, and the saggy brown eyes of an uncompromisingly loyal companion.

Give me all of these things, and I will not cringe. I will embrace. Because mucous makes memories.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…I feel a sneeze coming on…are we out of tissues?

short red hair woman blowing her nose
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

 

VerseDay 8-23-18

My darlings…This humble writer took a short break from her blog this week, but I will catch you on the beautiful flip side of life, next week on Wednesday. Also, look forward to a formal submission call for VerseDay, and all the fun rules and regulations that includes.

Until then, Enjoy a little VerseDay with your Thurs….day.

 

SHE

She came wailing

Screaming into the world on slippery tracks

Destined to set apart the befores from the afters.

She came pink-faced and angry

Perfect petals pouting tirades

Fingers tightly curled into tiny, life-lined palms

She came disgruntled

Protesting the cold and bright,

Raging against the metallic and sterile.

She came to show us, to shake us,

To remind us.

Life twists on, where we least expect.

And where we struggle to control and contain,

She always comes…just the same.