Hello after a much needed hiatus, I hope that the last few weeks have been grand for you all. I was on a little vacation and decided to allow my normal schedule to soften a bit in all aspects of my life. Writing fell by the wayside, I slept in and skipped out on the morning miles. I just let myself be.
Those are the times that do us strangely good. Now, granted, you can’t stay in that kind of state if you hope to advance your work in progress or be prepared for that fastly-approaching relay race (yikes, maybe I should have ran a little more…) But the respite is an important part of any successful endeavor. I don’t actually know if that’s scientifically proven, but I do know about burnout and I know the only way to avoid it is to rest once in a while.
Plus, life is short…we should pause to enjoy it occasionally instead of hurrying ourselves into the grave.
One of the best things resting can do, is reorient yourself to the quietness inside. When the demands of the world are so loud and the shoulds, and have-tos, and oughts are always at the forefront we often forget what it is we really want. We forget to check in and see if what we’re doing is really what we need to be doing. What we want to be doing. Does it serve our happiness? Or someone else’s?
I’m not sure if it’s viable for you, but I encourage you as a writer, a parent, an athlete, or whatever label you’ve had slapped on your ass, to step back once in a while. Even if it’s just taking a ‘mental health’ day from work to change up your routine. Purposefully don’t do what you always do. Refuse. Resist. Sit quietly with the only person that’s really in control of your situation (no not the toddler, I know it feels that way, but…)
Reacquaint yourself with you.
It can be kind of harrowing. The quiet removal of all you ‘live for’ in a day has the effect of taking a car seat out of the back of your car after a year. You might see a lot of trash and rotting debris beneath all that was so ‘necessary’ (quotes are for effect of the comparison…car seats are TOTALLY NECESSARY). The clear space of you that’s been neglected for a long time. Sometimes that space has been neglected for so long that it, itself, has become rotted and unstable. And with that can come the clarity of why everything that rests on it, all the things you do in a day, feel like they’ll topple over at any second.
A neglected core is unstable ground for building a life.
It can be scary to find that what you once clung to so fiercely is not really what you want deep down. You can’t heal that wound until you clean it all out, study it, and treat it. Life leaves us scars in this way. Places we’ve been, people we’ve loved, that no longer make sense to the path that’s at the true core of our center. They may even throw our center completely off for other areas of our lives. So cull the herd. Start from the bottom and build new dreams, new goals, that fulfill what you need today, not five-ten-twenty years ago.
Don’t forget human, you’re meant to change over the years.
Get deep. Get dark. Get to know yourself again, then work your way up.
I missed last week’s blog due to some conflicts with my reason to care, but I’m back again with a stirring edition of The Beautiful Stuff and today, I’m talking about kids. Particularly the three to eight crowd whom I typically work with in my karate classes. You see, this week is testing week.
It’s the exciting hours when those little bright-eyed darlings bound out on the floor (hopefully remembering to potty first and bow upon crossing the threshold) to ‘earn’ their brand new belt and no doubt bragging rights the next day.
Now heading the school’s instruction team is a stoic former Marine and a stalwart of rules and order on the floor. Absolutely excellent in the face of a rowdy teen or an unsure adult in need of the structure and control.
Absolutely useless and frustrated in the face of the giggling, juggling mass of pent up life force.
And testing time is rarely different.
Though the potential for their future of order and restraint is glimpsed (and I suppose that’s why they come to the school in part) some of the instructors will roll their eyes at the still inadequate control. While I stand in the back and lament the beauty of their childhood being chipped away.
I was told repeatedly that “the Dragons class will eat you alive”. Both male instructors said so, shaking their heads and trying to bury the horrors of war. I nodded, in that reassuring way you do when someone has no idea.
Son (I call them son because I’m grow’d up over them by a few good years), I’m a mom. And on top of that, I’m a mom that actually enjoyed the ages of my daughters when I had to staunch nose picking while watching them ping-pong off the couch and sing “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs. Every day. All day. Seven days a week, most nights, and EVERY vacation.
So when those little bouncy balls landed on line tonight, wiggling in their gis until their belts untied themselves, and the jaws of less-seasoned warriors clenched, I glowed. I smiled. I adored and dote on.
Want to know why?
One of the greatest beautiful moments in life is when the life in us cannot be contained in man-made illusions of order. It’s in the misdirection and distraction. It’s the exuberance and unconditional love. It’s all that we lose as we age, either by the weights of life tying us down, or from being told repeatedly to stand straight and stop wiggling.
Ok. I understand that order has to exist. Ask any of the poor souls on I-25 while the uninformed attempt to merge. We do have to learn order and self-control. Or everyone would just live on cake and would never go to work, and we’d get into fights and stray from our homes… I’m not saying that order isn’t important.
But order imposed on a mind still fluttering like a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow, is like trying to…well catch a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow. At some point. You need to just let go and enjoy the ride and the sunlit flash of pure color. Keep them safe, keep them engaged, and love every odd-ball story and uncontrolled giggle.
I hope you realize I’m not just talking about from kids here. From the people in your life. Encourage, especially the adults in your life (You TOO reader), to barrel through it all with a bit more frivolity and joy.
Sometimes we’ve been so long from it that we’ve forgotten how. It’s not so hard to find your way back. Here are some things that may help:
Go barefoot in the grass
Dig for worms, put them back in the garden.
On the way to your car from the grocery store, work up a good speed and hop on the back of your grocery cart…ride it all the way to the car.
Say no. To them. To yourself…to every “how to be perfect” blog or article you read.
Read the comics first and throw the rest of that shit away.
Go for a bike ride with your kids around the block and name your bike like the noble stead it is.
Tell a dirty joke.
Laugh at dirty joke.
Laugh at a fart.
Fart (and pull the covers over your spouse’s head so that they may truly enjoy it…if your marriage is really meant to last it won’t matter. If it matters well…then I’m going to let you think about that for awhile)
Belch in front of your kids, and follow it with a “Holy cow! That was awesome!”
Grab a bowl of lucky charms and watch some cartoons (Teen Titans is my fav these days).
Sing “Sweet Caroline” LOUDLY out your car window at the stop light. Those who don’t join in or at least smile are to be pitied.
Never say no when a child wants a hug.
Always kneel down to meet them, their perspective is so much better anyway.
Tell people you love them.
Tell them you love them without needing it to mean anything more than just what it is.
Someday, remember just the good bits, fondly.
You see, kids and older people get what we’ve forgotten. That the beauty of life comes from the dancing in chaos, not the standing still on line.
Still, go potty before you try the standing still…it does help the wiggles.
In observance of the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred 6 years ago Monday, I’m reposting a poem I wrote the day after.
Running on a dark highway, under speckled stars and the approaching dawn, I felt the legs of thousands of runners alongside me. The shrapnel of fear and terror, echoing thousands of miles away, gave rise to such indomitable hope and strength for so many.
Today I ran.
Not out of fear,
not out of obligation to a scale or a time.
Today I ran to remember why we run,
to share the heavy hurt,
to find the solace that only comes in the gentle cadence of the body and road.
Today I ran for them,
For the hearts and soles that carry the world with them as they go.
just as I do.
Down pavement, and sidewalks, and dirt trails we fly
Down these paths to lighten the burdens of life.
Today I run with my countless brothers and sisters.
Those who came before me,
those paced beside me,
those still on their way.
For all of the tireless legs, the calloused feet, the hardened lungs and loosened smiles.
For those that find their peace and promise where feet connect to Earth.
I don’t have to know you, to know you.
You are me.
In the dark morning, pavement shining in just-stopped rain.
In the quick wedge of afternoon between meetings and bus drops.
In the long weekends when we find out what we really can do in the hours
Let’s talk about fear and how it changes us, how our fear changes over time, and what purpose it all serves.
This all began in yesterday’s yoga class when we were told to try a handstand, with and without the use of the wall. The instructor is amazing and even at 5:30 in the morning, she’s been able to get into my pre-caffeinated head and merge my body and mind in a beautiful symbiosis of breath, and heat, and general bendy awesomeness.
Yesterday I began the morning by suffering through five miles of a run I didn’t enjoy. The week itself had been long and the weekend was short on sleep…yesterday was a cumulation of unhelpful factors.
So even though I was on my mat, carving out my own space in the universe to detach for an hour, I was still too much in the world. And watching my tiny little guru flip herself upside down effortlessly, knowing that my ass is WAY bigger, and understanding that I wasn’t on the most solid of ground emotionally, didn’t help my middle-age sense of insecurity.
While hopping up on one leg repeatedly in a effort to find balance the thought of “Why is this so hard, I’ve done cartwheels, I’m tough…my ass is big but I’m a sturdy girl all round, I got this…why, can’t I just–“?
*grunt*, *groan*, *heave*, *plop*.
It came down to fear.
I was afraid.
I was afraid that my own body would overcorrect. That to avoid pain, I’d swing my pendulum too far to the other side and really end up in a mess. Even though the wall was right there to catch me and there were no demands for me to even achieve the pose.
My physical fear was manifested out of my emotional fear of going too far.
Sure I worry for my rotator cuffs, and I don’t like the idea of barreling into the wall, but I think I was more afraid I would leap out into the world, heart on sleeve, hope in eyes, and fall off the edge. The headstand was a metaphor, for the cyclical “Why bother–you’ll just end up hurt” pattern that affects so many of us.
I held myself back physically. Because I was trying to protect myself emotionally.
I gave it effort, but not:
I knew I could do it, if I’d let go of the expectation of perfection and the fear of falling. Just like anything in life.
But humans are funny creatures and we spend a lot of time trying to protect ourselves from past physical and emotional pain by avoiding the effort that resulted in that pain.
Yesterday’s lesson brought up an honest question about my fears and where they came from and how they became so entrenched beneath my surface.
Fear serves the purpose of protecting and defending your life and your livelihood. But it also cages you. It stops attempts before they start. It can even set you up to fail.
Now failure isn’t a bad thing. It helps us grow and learn. And it’s not as Churchill so aptly said, “fatal”.
So why can’t I put my ass over my head?
Maybe the answer lies in the day I was having, maybe it’s that I wasn’t physically stable enough yet…maybe it’s because I’m afraid I’ll get it right.
Because sometimes failure is more easy to accept than success.
Why is it scary to succeed? Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, in life, in our writing, in our day to day?
You’d think that’s what we want for the effort we put in. But self-sabotage is something most of us have done before especially at that hair-breadth distance away from obtaining our goals.
Maybe it’s the unknown aftermath of success…or the expectation to always be searching for the next success, climbing ever farther, faster, higher. If we stay mediocre. If we give up or don’t try…then we can stay nicely tucked into our pajamas on the couch midday, and no one would expect anything more.
Maybe if we start off mediocre, then any effort or tiny improvement we make seems like a mountain climbed.
And that’s just us lowering our standards.
Is it good to let our fear pigeon-pose…er…hole us into mediocrity?
I dunno. I think that’s something you need to talk to yourself about. Maybe it’s a good measurement of what we really want in life, and what we really hold dear.
If you no longer want to give it your best then maybe it’s not worth doing all
Thoughts and comments appreciated on this discussion.
Until I hear from you, I’m going to go find myself a wall and see if I can hoist this ass over my head, in the privacy of my own home where my grunts and groans will be mirrored in the aging basset taking over my yoga mat.
Today’s Verse Day is brought to you by the amazing and talented, one-of-a-kind, Rebecca Cuthbert.
Rebecca (Schwab) Cuthbert lives and writes in Western New York. She is a hopeless believer in “the beautiful stuff,” like gardening, caring for shelter dogs, reading and writing, and spending time with people who fill her heart up.
Please enjoy and share this gem of writing. Don’t forget to send me your own entries for consideration!
“It’ll be just like playing house,” she’d said. “You’ll wear slippers, but not cologne. I’ll wear an apron, but only on Thursdays, only in April and June, and not if I’m not at the bus stop.”
She made me a key, but I saw the framed pictures, coffee rings and toast crumbs I didn’t leave.
Her hair smelled like hyacinths. She left the porch light off when she kissed me goodbye, ignored my declarations, told me not to creak the gate.
It’s August now and I sit behind her on the early bus. She focuses on her crossword or stares out the window, and I wonder if she’s pretending now, too.
Okay, that title makes it sound way more important than it is. It’s really just a normal weekly blog post, but I thought I would make it sound more official. It’s “Inaugural”…makes it sound like a need a fancy dress and an invitation… neither of which I have.
From now on, my weekly blog will be posted on Tuesdays. I wanted to spread The Beautiful Stuff out a bit more and appreciate your continuing to follow me.
Let’s get into stuff.
You all know I love this lady…and this is one of my favorite quotes from her:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.
I never expect perfection from myself or others. True beauty lies in the quirks of our imperfections, after all. That being said, our larger-than-comfortable-for-birth brains have no excuse for not changing behavior that is damaging. We have this funny little thing called foresight and allows us to think ahead, from the point in time we’re at to where our decisions can lead.
Learning is one of the greatest gifts we were given. Learning from others, from books, from experiences; our mistakes, our pain. We learn most from struggle and strife…and hopefully use that knowledge to do better the next time around.
Think of the amazing things that have come from this process!
As a species we’ve made great advances in society with science and medicine, saved species, and ended disease. Now…that doesn’t mean we don’t fall in equal and terrible measures and sometimes fall back into dark areas of ignorance and inflexibility.
We’re still losing species, spreading old diseases that used to be nearly eradicated. Some of us are falling off of the edge of a misconstrued flat world, it’s true. Idiocy is a hard condition to fight and I don’t have enough words to do it today, so let’s just focus on the theme.
Do your best. Until you know better. Then do better.
Our survival depends on the constant improvement…the evolution, if you will, of our knowledge.
When you become aware, when you wake to a cultural fallacy or the inconsistency of a prescribed “truth” don’t stay stagnant. Don’t support the norm out of fear, or worse, laziness. Ask the questions, the hard ones, and when you see the dark lying beneath, use what you know to bring it to light, and fix it.
This is a large scale hypothetical and it feels overwhelming to the small human. So, I urge you to think about it in terms of your own life. It doesn’t have to be vast, sweeping, cultural change to make a difference. Sometimes changing ourselves, piece at a time, can be the spark that starts the big fires. So start with you. What can you do today to “do better”?
Standing up for the fallen? Extending a hand to the broken? A kind word? A donation of time or money? A voice against injustice?
It doesn’t even have to be something so altruistic. What about an acceptance of your own happiness? Saying no to what you don’t want, or to that which makes you heart or soul sick? Letting go of the habits and addictions of your past to do better for you?
Taking a goddamn nap when you want one, eating that piece of chocolate cake, saying no to that glass of wine, or yes to that bourbon. I’m not going to tell you what you can do to “do better”, but I will tell you this;
Sometimes “doing better” is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Because better is often a rocky path, a steeper hill. It’s so much easier to falter, to roll down that hill, to let yourself go…and we’re all going to stumble. That’s ok. Remember? Imperfections are beautiful.
Just keep on, doing your best, until you know better…then do better.
Let me know what ‘better’ you’ll shoot for today? What about for the week? Year? Longer? I want to hear it all, throw some inspiration my way.
Before I wow you with my versatile verses here are a couple of quick announcements:
Send me your poetry for consideration in the The Beautiful Stuff 2019 Poetry Anthology. If you don’t write poetry, but know someone who does, encourage them. Contributors will get two free copies of the anthology and bragging rights. And we all know bragging rights are way better than a cash payout…um…ahem…(*nervous throat clearing).
You can send entries via the contact page on this website or simply by emailing it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “2019 Beautiful Stuff Poetry Submission” as the subject line.
Also, The Beautiful Stuff’s weekly blog post will now be moved to Tuesdays of every week, as I want to spread out all the thought. I will be looking for guest bloggers at the beginning of April so keep your eyes open for that announcement.
And now…a little scuttle into Sarah’s latent memories.
Remember days, sunlit and spread
Tentacles of diving suns and
Russian thistles, green teeth bared,
Before winter tumbled them dry.
The sand blasted faces, relentless wind,
Grit swallowed with water from the hose.
Remember the stolen boards,
The battle of nail and hammer; an engineering feat.
The tree house mansion at the end of the road
That dropped my brother from leafy heights
And gave him the best scar of the summer.
Remember the joyful toil
Sticky hands and brown feet
Mosquito bites torn into angry holes,
Captured horny toads, succumbing to belly rubs
Such degradation of the regal king of sagebrush.
Awe filled fascination, as blood fired from their eyes
A defense of true dragonry.
Remember settling into M*A*S*H with dad,
Never noticing the sting of war around the click of Klinger’s heels.
Or the soft, seeking peace of Radar’s eyes.
The MacNeil Newshour always put me to sleep on the floor.
A sleep that never paused for the bustle of adult worry, or nuclear meltdowns.
Remember toe-headed boys and dirty-dishwater blondes,
Running naked round houses on dares,
Unfathomable speed of youthful freedom
Still not faster than motherly wrath.
When laughter tickled like a persistent cough
And sadness reserved itself for opened knees and epic bike wrecks.
Wounds that healed far faster than the heart.
And left scars you bragged about, not buried.
When life was immortal and endless,
Possibilities not yet limited by the bottleneck of time.