Archive for the ‘compassion’ Category

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Character Lessons From an Innkeeper

October 4, 2016

Someone I knew, although not all that well, died recently. In total, I had no more than a dozen conversations with Richard, but his words, his presence, and his energy influenced me. A loss is hard enough when you know someone well, but when you lose someone who plays a small but impactful role in your life, it can be confusing and certainly jarring.

When I heard Richard had died, I was sad; sad for him, his family, and his friends. I was sad for the small hole in my life but also sad for other strangers, who’d known him only marginally, but would miss his presence.

Richard worked at an old mountain inn, which was almost always empty and not at all fancy. I went there to write because the town was quiet, I knew no one, and could get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I had no distractions, except one: Richard.

Sometimes I’d arrive at the hotel last minute, because it wasn’t the kind of place one needed a reservation. Richard would wave his hands in the air, greeting me like a long-lost celebrity. He liked to talk, but I had deadlines and work to get done. Eventually, I learned to plan intentional evening writing breaks to listen to Richard’s stories. I never regretted it.

At first, Richard’s tall tales made me scratch my head. Were they really true? But as I got to know him, I realized they were. Richard lived in the middle of nowhere, but he’d been places. As he poked the logs crackling in the fireplace, he’d tell me about his mother, growing up on a farm, and picking apples. He shared incredible adventures about his time in the military. He told me about quinoa growth in South America and the complicated legalities of water rights. He was a lobbyist with a strong political bent. Richard was not a gossip but knew everyone in town and beyond.

Once, I sat silently as Richard spent an hour arguing with an older man who had opposing political views. They remained civil, agreeing to disagree. Later, I mentioned how it was nice, rare these days, but nice they respected each other’s views. Richard answered in his usual, enthusiastic voice, “Why get angry when someone disagrees with you? If we all thought the same way, life would be big time boring.” He was right, of course. If we all had the same politics, the same religion, and the same interests, life would be ‘big time boring.’

From what I gathered, Richard’s time was anything but boring, but I didn’t realize how significantly his stories made me think about life. Every time I left town, a piece of him found its way into my writing and into my world. Not only did Richard help me realize the importance of taking time to talk and cultivate unforeseen relationships, but he also taught me something about character development; a necessary piece of writing.

As a fiction writer, I use a variety of tools to create believable characters. The enneagram, character sketches, psychology tests, and archetypal profiles all help me build the people in my manuscripts. There are times I want to cheat and make it easier for myself by not doing the needed work to deepen a character. But when I do, the characters fall flat. By living his life fully and deeply, Richard reminded me to make characters complex, rich with detail, and unexpected. A complex character can make or break a story. I think Richard felt that way about life—you make it or break it by the kind of world you build.

I’ll miss Richard, but I don’t regret the time I took to ask a few questions and listen to his stories. He lived a large life. So should we all.

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An Ode to my Kids, and Perhaps to Yours

August 10, 2016

 

Saying goodbye is hard to do. No matter how much you prepare yourself—no one can truly anticipate being so damn sad. Grief flows its own river.

Like many, I’ve had significant loss—in addition to my grandparents; death took my two aunts, my dad, two brothers, and a number of pets. I know how grief works. It grabs you, swallows you, spits you out and repeats until you crash and begin to finally begin again.

This time, my loss is not so permanent; thus not so powerful. That said, good-byes are painful, and change is scary. My oldest child leaves for the University of Colorado this month, altering our family life forever. Ellie will be back, probably with a load of dirty laundry and a need for home cookin’, but she’s gone. Her place at the table will be vacant, her bed empty, and her siblings lonely (okay, maybe not all the time). The happy news? She’s embarking on a grand adventure, starring herself. It won’t be long before my other two leave, too. I’m beyond proud of the people they’ve become, and yet, still sad.

To help me process and understand the tremendous change, I’ve written an ode to my kids; things I hope I’ve taught them. I’m sure I’ve messed up, forgotten things, and have probably failed in some capacity. But that’s parenting. At least I made a list, outlining 25 things I want them to know. Who knows if they’ll heed the advice or grasp the full meaning, I can hope.

  1. I wish you a life of love and know that you are always loved by me
  2. Find good company
  3. Laugh often
  4. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and don’t drink too much alcohol
  5. Call me when you are hurting or happy- I’ll be there
  6. Remember to breathe deeply and that it is enough
  7. Brush your teeth
  8. Be honest- with yourself and with others
  9. Know that life isn’t fair, but it is what you make it
  10. Eat breakfast (more than a Starbucks’ latte, please)
  11. Work hard
  12. Pay your debts (better yet, don’t have any)
  13. Don’t post inappropriate pictures online
  14. Take good risks (don’t jump out a window, but do try a new activity/class)
  15. Read for fun
  16. Know that it is okay to let go
  17. Don’t hold onto anger, guilt, or resentment
  18. See a doctor, an acupuncturist, or a good healer when you are sick
  19. Take your vitamins
  20. Don’t leave a friend alone at a party
  21. Don’t stay alone at a party
  22. Trust your intuition
  23. Be kind
  24. Meet many diverse people
  25. Know this: I am forever grateful for the time we’ve lived together, arguments and all

 

 

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Grandma’s Ring

April 12, 2016

On Easter Sunday, I lost the diamond in my Grandma’s wedding ring. My mom gave me the ring after my grandma died, more than ten years ago. I never took it off—until the diamond disappeared.

Because the ring fit best on my wedding ring finger, I wore it there and shifted my own wedding ring to my right hand. The two fit together, like mated hummingbirds. My own ring is simple, and I wear no band. My grandma’s ring was old but also simple and also worn with no band.

When I discovered the diamond was missing, my entire family helped me search. It happened during a play and probably went down the drain while I washed my hands during intermission. But it doesn’t much matter; it’s gone. What does matter is what the ring represented.IMG_8384

For me, wearing my grandma’s ring was more about remembering her than it was about the bling. My grandma was a fascinating woman; one I wish I’d gotten to know better, as an adult. Back in the day, my grandma was a flapper and nicknamed Dizzy Izzy, probably for more reasons than I was told. Grandma liked gin and tonics and travel and lemon bars. Sadly, she suffered from manic depression and piloted shock treatments during the 1950s and 60s. She helped people. She and her mother were suffragettes, and when I was young, she made me watch a movie with her about the feminist movement in London. During the part where women were being forced food through their noses, I almost threw up. When the movie was over, she turned to me and said, “It’s not a pretty history so don’t take voting for granted. Ever.” Go Grandma.

I wonder what my grandma would say about so many people being so very disgusted with the current political election. What would she say to my daughters who would rather not vote if Bernie’s not elected? What would she say to my son and the millions of individuals who want to vote Republican but not for a misogynist, authoritarian clown? I know what she’d say. She’d say vote anyway—it’s a privilege.

And she’s right.

But this isn’t a political column, at least not today. It’s an ode to my grandma and her lost ring. Call me voodoo, but I believe possessions find a way of leaving their caretakers when they’re no longer needed or when they know the person is ready to move on. It’s no coincidence I lost the diamond on Easter Sunday. Among other things, Easter is a time of renewal. Of letting go. Of rebirth. The day before Easter, I’d returned from a writing workshop, full of possibilities and fresh perspective, ready to embrace a new project and complete another. On the home front, 2016 marks a pivotal turning point for my family. My oldest will move away, begin college, and launch her next adventure. In a hop, skip and a jump (as Grandma would say), the other two kids will be following her out the door as quickly as the eye blinks (Grandma liked her clichés).

Clearly, I’m in a phase of letting go and embracing new patterns and opportunities. It’s not easy. In fact, I struggle with change. But maybe that’s why I lost the ring, as a reminder that life is ever changing. Grieve and forge ahead. And just like that, even without the ring, Grandma’s spirit teaches on.

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Back to School: What’s Important to Know?

August 17, 2015

Yes, it IS still summer, but students across the country are heading back to school, and although I hate to see big, yellow buses round the corner, a heightened energy resonates with me. It’s a season full of possibility; positive and encouraging.

As teachers begin to set their curriculum, I’ve decided to set my own; as a parent, an educator, and a concerned community member who wants to see our children and our society thrive.

What is important to learn? What goals have we made for our families, our students, and ourselves? In my book, achieving a 100% on a test, winning a race, or landing a lead is fantastic, but not what’s essential or really all that important. So—what is important to know? I’ve created a list.

  • Love: enough said
  • Kindness: it goes a long way
  • Acceptance: of others and oneself
  • Balance: between one’s mind, body, and soul
  • ABC’s- and 123’s: we all need to read and to add
  • Self-sufficiency: learn how to learn on your own
  • Spirituality: find faith
  • Respect: yourself and others
  • Healthy habits: eat well, sleep well, rest well, work well
  • Understanding the world around us: this includes geography, cultural behaviors, religions, politics, and social influences
  • Self-confidence: trust your intuition
  • Nature: spend time outside, it’s life’s best and yet most underutilized teacher
  • Beauty: look for it everywhere—in the slice of an orange, the shape of a cloud
  • Creativity: make time to discover and explore
  • Visualize: dream possibilities
  • Compassion: it also goes a long way
  • Gratitude: enough said

As your kids climb aboard the school bus, keep life in perspective and remember what’s really important.

What’s on your list?