When skin gets thin

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I cannot change the moods or the behavior of others.  I can only control how I let those moods and behaviors affect me.   Today, however, was a glowing example of how that ideal can radically fail.

If I were superstitious, today would have been my Friday the 13th.  My black cat was the neighbors dog, who, first thing this morning, managed to soil, not one but, two pairs of my shorts on my way to work.  The ladder I walked under was the exit door from my house.  And the broken mirror was the negativity that continued to rain throughout the day like the shards of glass falling from that broken mirror.

I am usually very thick-skinned.   Most of the time I can deflect negativity and remain blissfully unaware of the antagonism that tends to eddy in the normally calm waters of my life.  But the vortex of that disapproval became too much.  I, without my life-preserver, was pulled under and was out of breath.

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A little positive reinforcement can go a long way.  As an adult with a great deal of life experience under my belt, I know life is unfair and the wheels can fall off the bus at any given second.   But to focus solely on the loose lug nut that made the wheel come off is negating the safe driving before that wheel fell off and the work that the bus driver had to do after its liberation to safely get that bus to the shoulder of the road.

Thick skin can actually be quite tenuous and a little praise goes a long way.   If criticism is deserved, than criticism should be administered.  But if praise is deserved, it should be just as easily passed from the lips of the people who need to say it to the ears of the people who need to hear it.

Remembering the things I forgot

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Earlier today, a friend inadvertently reminded me of one of the greatest things about writing.  It’s not just for the melodic overture that silently plays as words form sentences and transport themselves from my brain to my fingertips and onto the screen.  It’s not the myriad number of ways I am able to express myself.  It is simply the fact that I am allowed to engage with people in a way that brings me joy.

When I post a blog, I certainly look at my stats to see how many people have stopped by to read what I have written.  But somewhere along the way, I have disconnected from the truth behind those statistics.  Those numbers represent people who have taken the time to ingest my words, who have possibly connected to what I had to say and who may share the same thoughts that I have shared.

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I was reminded today that my words have an impact on people.  It’s not just looking at statistics on a blog.  It’s realizing that I am able, through my writing, to make a connection with people on a level far greater than I imagined.   I can reach people who I cannot see.  I can engage with people I know or even people I may never meet.  I can speak to people without uttering a word out loud.

Writing this blog has not only allowed me to connect with the hidden parts of myself, it has enabled me to become a part of so many other lives.  This morning, this friend told me she spent an entire day thinking about a post of mine that she had read in the winter.  Her words gave so much worth to my words and this blog post is my way of thanking her for giving me the kick in the pants I needed to get back to writing more frequently.   Thanks Erin!

 

The red pen

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My writing has become the focal point in my life.   So much so that I have been consciously willing to share a few of the chapters of the novel I have so carefully crafted with a select few who will unabashedly share their opinion of my writing.  It is a big leap of faith and one I needed to make to get over my fear of rejection.  Turns out, it was (thankfully) much less painful than I anticipated.

A very endearing couple recently checked into the lodge for their third visit.  We were making small talk about how they would spend their week and she gushed about the trilogy she had brought with her to read.  We talked books and authors and I blurted out that I was writing a book.  After giving her a brief outline of the plot, she seemed intrigued.  I took the first step off my cliff of fears when I asked her if she wanted to read some of it.  My second foot followed off the cliff when I actually printed a few pages and timidly handed them to her.

Her excitement completely contrasted my feeling of nausea.  She left with my soul on a few pieces of paper as I sat in my office, slowing curling into the fetal position, wondering what I had just done.

Hours later she came back to the office with a smile on her face that I have yet to define with words.  But what really grabbed and held my attention was the red pen in her hand.  For those who embarked on their scholastic careers before technology took over, the red pen was a symbol of doom and I began a staring contest with the inanimate object.

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Her voice circled around my head as I tried to pull my gaze from that red pen.  A few of her words burrowed into my brain, slowly connecting with the tissue, and my heart almost stopped when I heard “Mel is a retired English teacher”.  It was over.

But then it wasn’t.

After going over a few corrections which made complete sense to me, the red pen no longer felt like a threat and became something else entirely.  They were entertained by the plot.  They enjoyed the phrasing of my sentences and they were captivated enough to want to keep reading.  That red pen was the prophet that delivered the word “love” beside two of the lines that they enjoyed the most.

Somewhere during our conversation, that red pen became the pump that reinflated my confidence.  It didn’t say ‘you failed’.   It screamed ‘keep going’.  Thank you Jean and Mel for the kick in the pants I needed to climb back up the cliff and get ready to take that leap over and over again.

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Embracing the sum of my parts

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I’ve learned a few invaluable truths over the last four (plus) decades of my life.  Each stage our lives requires a different version of ourselves.   We grow, we adapt and we transform.  Slowly and steadily we become the person we need to be for the next phase of our lives and, perhaps without knowing it, we evolve into the person we need to be to acquaint ourselves with the person we shall finally become.

I can look back at my life and recognize the divisible parts of myself, the bits that have led to the present sum of who I am today.  I may still resemble a modicum of those versions of myself but the me now compared to the me then are vastly different people.

Through each chapter of the syllabus of me, I have gained a confidence that I only once professed to have.  I have finally gotten to the point in my life where my opinion matters, if to nobody else than, to myself.  I have reaped the rewards of struggle and adversity.  I have calmly assumed a new sense of who I really am and I am very selective with the friends allowed behind my strategically built walls.

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At this stage in my life, I have truly become the sum of my parts.   I have taken the best bits of myself, learned from and discarded my errors in judgment and created the person I am now.

Would I change anything from my past?  Perhaps.  But if all of those equations – the fractions of time, the roots of my problems, the addition or subtraction of friends and family – meant that I would not be who I am today, I would probably answer all of the test questions the same way so I could calculate the same remainder.

 

 

When words just don’t feel like enough

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I love words.  I devour them like plants absorb the sun for nourishment.  I feed on their ability to convey so many emotions, to give us countless ways to describe the essence of who we are and to capture all the wonderful nuances in life.  Words are simple in their nature but intricate in their distinction.

But sometimes words fail.  There are so many things we want to say, so many emotions we want to share and words just don’t do justice to the feelings we are trying to express.  There have been moments that I have had so many words hovering on the precipice of being spoken aloud but those words seem to pale in comparison to the message I really want to send.

It is not often that words are not my ally.  It is an uncomfortable moment when the things I love seem to leave me when I most need them.  Where once was a plethora of idioms, a bottomless chasm of silence resides.  My inability to use words to their potential precludes me from saying the precise thing I want to say.

But those words are sometimes delivered even though they are unspoken.  Those muted messages find their way through the silence and are easily understood as they soundlessly fall on the ears intended to hear them.

As as writer, I rely on words to accurately convey how I am feeling.  I use those words to express myself.  But sometimes I forget that the words I don’t say, the words that are felt and not heard, are just as loud as the ones I speak.

 

 

 

A part of life

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Death is selfish.  It lurks in the shadows.  It hides in a realm of certainty,  somewhere between acceptance and denial, and it feeds on our inability to process its inevitability.  It waits for nobody.  It heeds its own agenda and it gives no signs of compassion.  It simply reaps.

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Last week we had a senior’s bus tour at the lodge.  Unlike the previous tours, we had neither mildly concussed nor toppled our guests on top of one other.  The tour had been relatively trauma-free with the exception of a phone call a mere fifteen minutes after the bus arrived and our guests had been shown to their rooms.

Death had been hovering at the precipice and chose to include us in its folly with one phone call for the sister of its intended victim shortly after she arrived at the lodge.  What should have been a glorious adventure for Kathleen suddenly turned into a feeling of helplessness and isolation as she mourned the loss of her sister surrounded by a group of strangers.

But even in the face of sadness, there was no surprise in discovering that the group of strangers had chosen to embrace Kathleen and take on a part of her burden as their own.  As much as death wanted to be the headliner in this performance, the supporting cast was truly the star of the show.

Fellow travelers and staff made every effort to ease Kathleen’s suffering and reunited her with her family before the bus was due to leave the lodge.   It takes a village – and this village had a great deal of empathy and ingenuity.  Kathleen was able to reconnect with her family and attend her sister’s funeral.  And although she was missed on that last day of the bus tour, we knew she was where she needed to be and she knew we all held her in our thoughts and prayers.

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Death is selfish.  And although it may be a part of life, so is love and compassion.

 

Freedom of expression

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I have recently spent many hours contemplating the amount of time I have endured over the course of my life encapsulated within the concrete vault of hospital walls, entombed in the casing of dry-walled office partitions and shrouded by the protection of the walls of my home.  And although I would never described the feeling as being trapped, there is always a moment or two of feeling somewhat ensnared by the constraints of my life.  The only thing that gave me true escape from those walls was writing.

There are no confines and no limitations when it comes to imagination.  There are no barriers that trap thoughts in one place.  Writing gives the freedom to be outside of my reality and float above my world, if only for a while.

Writing allows me to purvey thoughts and feelings that beg to be unleashed and creates a world of whimsical words.  Some of those words are uplifting and some are deeply scarred with truth.  Regardless of how the words spill onto the page, the combination of those letters help to break down the barricades of real life and create a portal into inspiration and thought.  The hard outer shell of my existence crumbles and that gravel paves the road for my creative journey.

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No one avenue will ever be the same.  Each artery of language will have its own unique characteristics and each of us is drawn through a different vein of creativity.   Writing, for me, is freedom and once the words come, all of the walls in my reality seem to fade away.