Want to Improve Your Quality of Life Ten Years from Now? Take a Walk Today.

Some weeks when I write this post I have my theme in mind, or there was something that happened in my life, or something that I’ve heard or read, that stands out as worth sharing with others.

Other times, I don’t start with that kind of clarity, and I have to dig a little to find something I find worth writing and I think my readers (actual, theoretical, and potential) will find worth reading. This was one of those weeks.

So I went back to basics. The first three theme words of this blog – read, think, walk – usually provide the content for what I write. So I did a quick inventory of these areas of my life, and found what I needed mentally filed under “walk.”

It started with, not a concept, but a person. “D.” is a dapper looking elderly gentleman I often pass on the opposite side of my favorite walking street. Usually we smile and wave. Sometimes we cross over and chat a little. Only recently did I learn his name, and some of his story.

To me, one of the most interesting parts of that story was actually a number. He is 97 years old! I would have guessed at least a decade less.

Here are some things about D. that I find notable in addition to his age, and that in my mind contribute to his achievement of that age, and his looking and moving so well.

  • He walks. Every day. He goes at a moderate, steady pace, but for some distance, and every day.

  • He always has a smile on his face.

  • He talks with the people he meets along the way and not only proves to be an interesting conversationalist, but finds them interesting as well.

I’ve worked with and observed quite a few people in their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond, and in my opinion, in addition to whatever genetic and environmental components are involved, most people who hang around longer, and in relatively good physical and mental health, share these traits: they move their bodies regularly to the best of their ability, even if they have to overcome some pain or fatigue to do it; they keep a positive attitude, and sense of humor; and they maintain an interest in life and in other people.

I’ll focus here on the walking part, but they all tend to go together. I’m sure there’s plenty of scientific research to back up this idea, but for the purpose of this post I’m content with personal experience and ‘anecdotal’ evidence.

Most of the people I’ve known who lived long lives and were healthy and happy in their later years stayed active as long as they possibly could. Those who declined sooner and more dramatically did not. An oversimplification, but it makes enough sense to justify doing something that is enjoyable and beneficial now anyway.

We know walking can have physical, social, and emotional benefits now, and it’s enjoyable to do. If it happens to help us do better years, even decades, down the road as well, that’s a worthwhile bonus.

One of my favorite quotes, which can be applied to nearly every aspect of life, is : “A year from now you may wish you had started today,” attributed to author Karen Lamb.

That could apply to the book or song you’ve been meaning to write; the business you dream of starting, or expanding; a health or fitness goal you want to work towards; improving your relationships; or just about anything else.

Most large goals and worthy endeavors take time. They require gradual, progressive steps (sorry about the pun) to see improvement. You need to start somewhere, then just keep going.

So whatever it is, start today, and you’ll see a little improvement next week, next month, and especially next year. And in the case of staying active by taking a brisk walk every day, you’ll enjoy each “step” along the way.

Just a few of my bonuses from walking every day: My pants are looser now. I’ve made new friends, human and canine. And I always have something to write about.

“Many Hands Make Light Work”: But the Hearts Help Too

Two recent experiences have reminded me of the truth of this saying, though I’ve often heard it expressed slightly differently, such as ‘many hands make the load light.’

So besides wanting to get the words right, I thought I should also find out who said them. It seems to be loosely associated with various sources, including an African proverb, but is generally attributed to John Heywood, a 16th century playwright, musician, and collector of proverbs and epigrams.

The surface meaning is simple – the more people who help, the more quickly and easily even a large job can get done. Of course this is usually true, as long as those hands work together effectively.

But in many cases there’s more to it than simply dividing the labor. It’s a matter of morale. If you know you aren’t left alone to tackle a daunting task, if you have both help and company, you feel like some of the weight has been taken off of you. It’s often easier and more enjoyable to work together, both dividing the amount of work, and sharing in carrying it out.

And if the company is good, and there’s goodwill between all, it can seem more like play than work. Also, we feel less alone, whatever the task at hand.

I had two recent experiences that played out this expanded interpretation of these words.

First, my parents came to town both to visit me and to help me with a particularly daunting task that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to manage on my own.

I needed a new blackout shade installed in my bedroom – a task far beyond the scope of this very non-handy person. And since I live in a beach town that seems to encourage moisture and mold, and the previous window covering didn’t really allow me to air out the room, I had another problem. A black covering of mold had started creeping across the windows and especially the plaster wall around them.

Cleaning isn’t my specialty either, and the mold was a bit frightening. So we had to kill the mold, clean the black off the walls, wash the windows, and install the roll-down shade. My Dad knew how to install the blind, and all three of us worked together, along with a little advice from the local Miner’s Hardware, to tackle the rest of the problem.

Well, it got done, in one afternoon, and though it wasn’t the most pleasant vacation activity we’d ever enjoyed, we still managed to have a fun visit, and to have the satisfaction of getting the job done.

It was a relief just knowing that help was coming, and that they cared enough to do this for me. I felt even more weight lifted off my shoulders as the job was done, and I then had the tools and confidence I needed to tackle some smaller jobs on my own.

So, many hands, a variety of skills, feeling less alone, and love, all made this a better experience. It was the many hands, but it was more, too, that made the work lighter.

It was the same a short time after when I gathered with several of my friends at our place of worship to do some weeding and light yard work. It was a nice day to be outside, and I don’t mind gardening, even kind of enjoy it, if I don’t have to do it all the time. And everyone there was a friend whose company I enjoyed.

In addition to our hands, and pleasant attitudes, we each brought something to share that made the work easier. Some brought trash bags or buckets for the weeds, some brought tools, and someone brought cool water.

It turned out that our job was finished in about 45 minutes, and we had enjoyed the work — and the company — so much that we didn’t want to leave, and lingered for a few minutes longer than necessary, just to visit. We had come there to accomplish a task, we had done what needed to be done, and we were almost sorry it was done so quickly.

Yet it would have seemed a very large and lonely task if any one of us had tried to do it alone.

Again, the job was lighter, because we all helped. But it also felt lighter, because no one had to tackle it alone. And our hearts felt lighter because we had all been there with the spirit of giving, of helping, and felt we gained something instead.

So it’s the hands, the variety of skills and strengths, the numbers, but also the willing spirit, the hearts, the feeling of belonging, of being cared for, of being part of something positive.

What similar experiences have you had, and how can we make more of what we need to do feel like that? Please post in the comments.

Oh yes, and the business application? If we work alone, we can still benefit from “many hands” in the following ways: We can outsource certain tasks that aren’t our specialty; we can draw on the advice and support of a network of peers and mentors in our field; and we can even partner on a project occasionally, to experience the different perspective of working together instead of going it alone.

Sweet Peas, Sour-Sweet Tea, and a Search for Metaphors.

 

I had brewed the perfect cup of afternoon herbal tea (tisane, not true tea) until it reached a rich, golden brown. I sometimes like to mix two kinds, for more flavor and body. This time it was plain rooibos, a full-bodied but smooth, neutral tasting south African tea, blended with crisp, refreshing peppermint.

I picked up the cup for my first sip, ready to savor it, and instead made a face. What was this? It turned out I hadn’t checked the wrapper carefully, and the second teabag was not crisp, cool peppermint, but sour-sweet honey-lemon. I like honey-lemon. It also mixes well with rooibos. But it was startlingly different from what I was expecting.

The second sip was a much better experience, because I had changed my expectations. I was then prepared to enjoy something equally good, but different than what I’d planned, and I enjoyed each sip more than the last, because I’d happily adjusted to the change. A trade of one good thing for a different good thing.

The point here is that the tea was the same as it was my first sip, but now I knew what to expect. What changed was my perspective.

As a poet, I’m always trying to turn even mundane experiences into metaphors and life lessons.

This one isn’t too complex or deep, but its also not too difficult too make the connection. Sometimes we perceive something as positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, not by its real properties, but by our expectations. But as long as the unexpected thing is harmless and good in itself, or can be turned into a positive, we can improve our experience by changing our expectations and perceptions.

In short, we can often adjust to the change and enjoy what is, even if it wasn’t what we’d planned on.

I thoroughly enjoyed that cup of honey-lemon tea, once I knew what I was drinking, just as I thoroughly enjoyed the cup of peppermint tea I sipped on while writing this.

I also enjoyed three unexpected, extended conversations on my walk today, which threw my schedule at least an hour behind, but which I still found worthwhile. Since my goals and time-frame for today were flexible enough to accommodate the adjustment, I allowed myself to enjoy and benefit from — and perhaps benefit others — from the encouragement exchanged.

While I had only planned a quick, solitary walk before starting the rest of my day, I found myself changing my plans and expectations when something equally beneficial, though unexpected, presented itself.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Now this second story seemed interesting enough to write about, but it was significantly harder to extract a metaphor, or any kind of meaning from it. Still I felt like I had to try.

The other day, when at my favorite local produce stand, I decided to splurge on a bouquet of sweet-smelling sweet-pea flowers. They were a mix of dark and light purple, my favorite colors, with a compatible blend of cream colored blooms, and a small splash of pale pink. Though the purples were my favorite, the whole mix was harmonious and attractive.

But later I noticed one sprig of red that stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. The red flower was perfectly appealing on its own but just didn’t seem to go with the other more mellow colors. I tried to adjust my eye – o.k., my expectations again – but I still found that bit of incongruous red slightly jarring.

My solution? I took out the red sprig and put it in its own container. This resulted in two flower arrangements to enjoy, and a calmer, more appealing mix of flowers in the larger bouquet. It was simply a matter of taste. Mine apparently didn’t match that of the person who arranged the bouquet, or possibly not much thought was put into the choices.

But I put the one sprig of red blooms in a white cup off by itself and enjoyed both it, and the purple and white blend, separately.

So what does this mean? Maybe there is truly no deeper meaning here, but I felt the need to look for one. In my poet’s mind, if it’s worth mentioning, it’s probably worth making into a metaphor. Maybe all it means is I love flowers and wanted to talk about them.

Let me just be clear here. This has nothing to do with segregation, or ugly, hidden agenda like that. It was really just a matter of aesthetics, and customizing something to my taste.

I think that’s the main idea. If the way something comes ready-made doesn’t work for me, then I try to customize it to my personality and strengths. That’s my approach to a lot of areas of life. I just wish more of them were as easy as this one.

It’s also about how if something, or someone, doesn’t shine in a particular group, they may be placed to better advantage somewhere else, where they fit. I could go on with endless examples of this in the human sphere, but that really isn’t the focus of this post. So I’ll just give one idea.

I don’t like crowds, or large parties, or sports events, or anything large and loud. So rather than try to force myself to fit in to something like that, I’ll be much happier, more in my element, like the red flower in its own white cup, if I stay home to read and listen to soft music, or visit with one or two close friends. Why would I even try to fit where I’m not happy or at my best advantage?

Now the one flower idea led me of course to a particular Van Gogh painting I’ve thought a lot about. There’s a field of purple irises (both my favorite color and one of my favorite flowers). But in this field there’s one white iris.

It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the others, nor is it any less beautiful. In fact I’ve often identified with that one white iris, as I imagine Van Gogh did himself. There is a combination of distinction – different talents and traits that have their own, even special merit – and the pain of being different. A genius like Van Gogh, or anyone creative, doesn’t usually blend in with the group, but stands out.

So it’s a distinction that has nothing wrong in it, and certainly some positives. But there’s also an element of loneliness in it. It can be both wonderful and difficult to stand out as one-of-a-kind in a group that is otherwise all the same.

So how does this fit with my one red flower? I have no clue. The distinctions are not the same, but just reminded me of each other anyway. But I found that in this case the red flower did better in its own element, standing out without the clash it caused among the mellower colors.

In most cases, of course, variety is wonderful. But sometimes, finding a better fit makes sense.

I don’t think I’m much closer to a meaningful metaphor here, so I’ll just say this: in some situations, changing our expectations — like with the tea – helps us enjoy something different or unexpected. In other cases, changing something so it works better for us is the way to go. But just because I took the red flower out of the bouquet doesn’t mean I enjoyed, or valued it, any less.

And flowers of any color, and hot tea of nearly any flavor, are almost always a good thing. But sometimes you’re in the mood for sour, sometimes sweet, sometimes refreshing. Sometimes bright colors, sometimes muted ones, and in my case always, always, purple.

Make of it all what you will.

Goodbye to Poetry Month, Hello to a More Poetic Life From Now On

Now that April and National Poetry Month are over, I wanted to use this post to finish my mini “poetry series,” then I’ll move forward again with my usual content.

I hope anyone who has read these posts, and poems, has enjoyed this brief introduction to poetry, and will continue to remember to seek out and enjoy a poem now and then as part of your life.

I’m going to share two of my poems in this post, then briefly explain both how the poem came about, and how a wider application might be made, even in the business world.

But first, a bit of unfinished business. In my last post I shared poems by one of the poets quoted in the article I included. So today I’m showcasing the other poet, Leona Guidace. She published a book-length poem, drawing heavily (pun intended) on her background in visual arts to make the work visually and emotionally rich and complement her words.

Since the poem is a bit hard to excerpt, and the images are so important, I’m just putting in a link to a sample here. It’s written under another name, so don’t worry, you’re in the right place. And just keep clicking on the page to get to the next one.

I found this exciting and creative. I love it when different disciplines are brought together to complement each other, just like when certain opposite words are juxtaposed, as this sample aptly demonstrates. Enjoy.

http://www.blurb.com/books/7712841-words-to-code-words-to-keep

——————————————————————————————————————–

Now, whether you find this treat or torture, here are two poems I have written.

Part of having the mind of a poet means observing, noticing, and reflecting on things more deeply, and applying them in our lives and work, artistic or otherwise. I try to make these connections in this blog, hoping to help my readers see how they can develop their poet’s eye and use the insights and new perspective they gain to enrich their life, their work, and even their approach to the business world.

This first poem takes a humorous look at an everyday kind of encounter, and also tries to see things from the perspective of the other “person.”

Ode to The Spider

I have the advantage

in size,

in right of occupancy,

in ability to wield a broom.

———————————–

Still, on your side,

you have speed

and the element of surprise,

not to mention being ugly

enough to haunt my dreams.

————————————-

I think the terror we inspire

in each other is equal

though I, unless your bite

is poisonous, am less likely

to die from our encounter.

Yet I usually view

each of your kind

with the same level of dread.

————————————–

You startle me, suddenly

rushing across the wall

above my kitchen sink.

I scream – (how maddeningly

female of me) – and run

into the other room

to gather my wits

and find a weapon.

—————————————-

This gives you warning

and sufficient time

to run into some room

of your own, some crack

or corner I can’t see.

————————————

Perhaps you also scream,

inaudibly to me

but loud enough in your world

to make you wonder

if the neighbors heard.

——————————-

I wonder if your nerves

are as raw as mine

for the rest of the night,

if you tell your friends

about me later when you talk

on your tiny telephone,

or if you can’t bear

to even think about me,

you still shiver so

at the mere idea

of seeing me again.

———————————

You hope I’ll stay

away, in another room

the way I hope you’ll escape

out the same opening

you entered through,

go back to your cozy web,

watch a movie to soothe

your mind, carefully avoiding

all horror shows – especially

“Anthrophobia.”

———————————-

You’d rather not bite me,

smiting me with your

theoretical venom,

the way I’d prefer

to avoid squishing you

into oblivion.

——————————-

So really we’re the same,

not meaning any harm,

not out for malice,

content to live

and let each other live

but please, oh so separately,

unfelt, unseen.


I won’t say that after writing this poem I’m much less afraid of spiders, or that I don’t occasionally feel the need to “wield a broom.” But the poem did provide a bit of perspective, as well as comic relief.

And I think such perspective can be applied in other aspects of life, when seeing the other person’s point of view might help to moderate our feelings about the situation.

For example, if you are nervous about interviewing for a job, maybe the interviewer is also nervous, afraid of how his or her choice may affect their prospects of a promotion. Or if you are interviewing an expert for an article, they may be nervous about being interviewed. In both cases, seeking to put the other person at ease can help you as well.

Now this next poem shows how tangible, literal objects, such as fingernails can be meaningful in themselves, but also serve as metaphors for something more.

I wrote this poem after a long time working two part-time jobs — as a geriatric caregiver and a massage therapist. Both jobs were a good fit for me, doing work I loved. But it can also be tiring to spend a lot of time caring for the needs of others, especially as you begin to feel your own age and other health issues.

I had just retired from caregiving, but was still feeling burned out and depleted, and decided to take a short leave of absence from my job as a massage therapist.

One of the requirements of doing that job is to keep my nails very short and well-trimmed, so that I can maximize my effectiveness and minimize the chance of causing the client any discomfort. A small sacrifice, but the luxury of growing them long for a change symbolized the freedom I felt when I was able to focus more on self-care for awhile.

Letting My Nails Grow

It’s my small act of rebellion,

a temporary declaration

of independence, a small

needed freedom.

————————————

They say you must put on

the oxygen mask, take care

of yourself before you can

take care of others well.

————————————–

I’ve grown tired, over the years,

it seems, from taking care of others’

needs, though it’s work I love, or

used to, or want to say I do.

———————————————-

But for these short weeks

of long-needed rest, I let

my nails grow long and lustrous,

making them impractical

for “working with my hands,”

my permission to do,

for this too-brief respite,

closer to only what I want to do.

—————————————–

I tell myself I’ll be ready soon,

I’ll clip and smooth my nails,

ready these hands, steady them,

gain renewed strength, willingly

present them for service once again,

groomed and ready to resume duties.

More Fun With Poetry Month

More Fun with Poetry Month

I’m going to “cheat” a little today, re-printing an article I wrote on, what else – poetry month – that was published in a local magazine in my community, Journal Plus.

A little of this information will be a repetition, and some will be location-specific. But the sentiments are universal, and I wanted to share the thoughts and words of two people who love poetry at least as much as I do. I think you will enjoy their perspectives.

And since I am posting this well before April 26, Poem in Your Pocket Day, so you can officially participate in this fun experiment.

Disclaimer: The article and poems included here have been published elsewhere. I am simply sharing them as information and examples.

WANT TO FALL IN LOVE THIS APRIL?

By Diane Fanucchi

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” —Claude Monet.

This can apply to any art form, but one art many people find hardest to love is poetry. Maybe Monet’s words explain why.

At some point, probably in school, you’ve likely tried to “understand” a poem, and felt inadequate because you couldn’t figure out the “right” answer. It felt like a test, a test you might fail. Not much to love there. However, if you take a closer look, get to know a particular poem or two, you just may find out you like it. You might even fall in love. And this new love could enrich your life in ways you never imagined.

April is National Poetry Month. This is a great time to start getting to know poetry, and see if you like it, or some of it, after all – to have your first “date,” so to speak. You could go to a reading, find suggestions about good poems to start with, maybe even try writing your own poem.

Jeanie Greensfelder, San Luis Obispo Poet Laureate, knows a few things about learning to love poetry. She started out as a psychologist, in order to try to understand herself and the human condition. As she put it, “I’m interested in people, and how we work.”

Not until much later in her life did she begin to appreciate poetry, and see the connection between psychology and poetry.

For her it started with two poems by Mary Oliver: “The Journey,” and “Wild Geese.” She began to see how poetry can give us psychological insight into the human condition, and speak to us personally.

She suggests sharing a poem you like with others. It might bring you closer together, or help you through a difficult time. Greensfelder uses poems this way in her work as a volunteer grief counselor for Hospice. She says, “The right poem offers the understanding that we seek; a poem can go to the heart of our shared experiences.”

Although she came formally to poetry later in life, Greensfelder thinks we are all born with the capacity to enjoy poetry. She expressed it this way: “Poetry is a natural thing. When we’re young we love rhyme and song. Then we go to school. It’s easy to lose it.” But “there’s pleasure in words.”

She invites: “Poetry is out there for everyone, to experiment with and to own. Every time we create something it expands us, and it feels good.” When someone asks her “when did you become a poet?” She replies, “when did you stop?”

If you want to reconnect with your inner poet, or just give poetry another try, Poetry Month can help. It was founded in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets (AAP) to become “the largest literary celebration in the world.” One of its goals is simply to “encourage the reading of poems.”

You can go to their website www.poets.org for their list of 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month. To find new poems you might love, you can try item 2 – sign up for Poem-a-Day – to receive one poem every day by email.

Item 26 is “Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day today! The idea is simple: select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with coworkers, family, and friends.”

This echoes what Greensfelder suggests. According to the AAP website, “Poem in Your Pocket Day 2018 is on April 26 and is part of National Poetry Month. On this day, select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem.”

Many local libraries give out free copies of poems. Call your branch for details.

There will be local events and readings in SLO County, so you can get involved right in our community. Leona Guidace, the new director of Arts Obispo, which works as an arm of the California Arts Council, says they will be focusing on poetry for their Art After Dark event in April. Art After Dark takes place in Downtown San Luis Obispo, the First Friday of the month, so in April that will be Friday April 6th.

The specific venues and events are not yet known, but Guidace, herself a poet who knows the power of finding the courage to share your poetic efforts with others, says they’ll be reaching out to vendors who can host a reading or a call for poems. Arts Obispo helps to enrich local visual, literary, and performance arts, and the community. They’ll be inviting local poets to submit poems and participate in readings.

Like Greensfelder, Guidace came to poetry on her own as an adult, in her case after a visual arts education. She finds satisfaction in combining the two. She offers encouragement, both to poets who hold back because they don’t feel qualified to share their work, and to readers who haven’t yet learned to see the power of poetry.

Guidace says, “I want to amplify, enrich, embolden and encourage all of the artists who don’t think that they have a right to have a voice.” She emphasized that poetry can be part of our wellness program, and help us become more still and observant. She says, “I think if one would open their thinking and invite the concept of wellness and humor and enrichment of our well-being, then you would thoroughly enjoy poetry.”

She adds: “It’s so prevalent in many cultures, and it’s such a beautiful art form, and it can be fun too. I would invite anyone to take another look at it or try experiencing it in a different way.”

In conclusion, a few themes keep presenting themselves: Poetry can be fun, playful, and open to anyone; it can be good for our health and well-being; and it can help us understand ourselves, communicate better with others, and experience the beauty and joy of a different approach to language.

So whether you’re a seasoned local poet, or brand new, an appreciative reader, or someone who hasn’t yet discovered how joyful and welcoming poetry can be, this April is a great time to experience the pleasure and power of poetry, and to explore community events that celebrate the poet in each of us.

——————————————————————————————————————–

I thought it would be fitting to end this post with some samples of Greensfelder’s poetry.

 

We

The sun sears hot this morning,

comes down hard.

—————————————–

At breakfast, we stop to laugh.

He laughs when I say

we need to do something

when I mean he needs to. I just said

we need to get the ladder to change a light bulb.

—————————————————————–

We laugh extra as we age,

look at each other a second too long,

see our inner roulette wheels spin,

and know the one left standing

will remember this moment.

——————————————–

The sun sears hot this morning,

——————————————–

comes down hard.

(from Biting the Apple, Penciled In, 2012

 
 

Knitting

by

Jeannie Greensfelder

 

There’s a thread you follow.
–From “The Way It Is” by William Stafford

I hold out my arms. Mother
puts coils of yarn around them.
Starting with a thread,
she winds ball after ball,
colors for her afghan.

I did not know then
that life holds out its arms
and starting with a thread,
I knit my story.

© by Jeanie Greensfelder.

To the New Year

by

Jeanie Greensfelder

 

You burst from the starting gate
and though I pull on the reins,
I hang on for the ride,
longing for 1940’s snail-pace years
when I wanted to be older, faster, sooner.

Now you race through weeks and months,
rushing to your demise. Do you ever
think of jumping fence,
lying in green pasture,
letting me slip from the saddle
to the spacious terrain of silence
where I can breathe
reflections about my life,
feel the texture of grass,
and gaze into your tender eyes?

 

© by Jeanie Greensfelder.

Enrich Your Life with Poetry, this April and Beyond

It’s finally here. April. In my world known as National Poetry Month.

A brief history. National Poetry Month was started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, in order to bring more support and recognition for poets and poetry.

A few of its stated goals are to:

  • “highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets”

  • “encourage the reading of poems”

  • “assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms”

  • “encourage support for poets and poetry”

Although poets and poetry certainly deserve more credit and notice, everyone benefits because reading poetry regularly and sharing it with others can be life-enriching, therapeutic, and fun.

Poetry can be an important part of our lives every month, but National Poetry Month just gives us a good way to get started becoming acquainted with poetry and its power and pleasure.

In many communities, poetry month activities include poetry readings, contests, and other events at schools, libraries, and other venues. Some local businesses also get involved. Going to a reading to hear a poet perform their poems or maybe even trying to write your own poem are great places to start. But if you do nothing else for Poetry Month, I suggest you simply read some poems.

In my first “poetry post” I introduced you to a website where you could read poems and possibly discover some that you love. Now here’s another site, with an added benefit. You can sign up for their free “poem-a-day” program, and receive one poem by email every day.

One poem each day doesn’t take long to read, and it gives you an easy way to make poetry a part of your everyday life, and to discover new poems you might not otherwise have had a chance to read, enjoy, and share. You probably won’t like all of them, and some might be “hard” poems better understood by other poets (sometimes), but you’ll likely find some that are a good fit for you.

Another helpful feature is that when the poem is by a living poet, the poet provides a paragraph or so explaining the background of the poem and what they meant it to say. This can be really helpful in adding insight into a poem. I would suggest reading the poem, seeing what you get out of it, then reading the comments and re-reading the poem, to see how your perception changes.

The website is “www.poetry.org.” It is the official site of the Academy of American Poets. On the site you can learn more about poetry month, and about poetry, and you can look up poems by poets you like, or by subject.

I’ve chosen one poem from this site by Jane Hirshfield, a poet I especially like. Her poems tend to combine simplicity, specificity, and emotional depth in a way that is easy to relate to, even if the poems themselves are not always “easy.”

This one is short, deceptively simple, and bittersweet. (I think I’ll need to choose something humorous next time)

Dog Tag

By Jane Hirshfield

At last understanding

that everything my friend had been saying

for the thirty-three months since he knew

were words of the dog tag, words of, whatever else,

the milled and stamped-into metal of what stays behind.

Blackcap Mountain. Blue scorpion venom. Persimmon pudding.

He spoke them.

He could not say love enough times.

It clinked against itself, in clinked against its little chain.

————————————————————————–

This is one of those poems that I understood a lot better after reading the poet’s comments.

The gist was fairly straightforward. A friend died after a long illness, with plenty of time to tell the important people in his life what they meant to him, and he used the time well. But some of the specifics, such as the italicized phrases, where not as clear, though they were clearly personal to both the subject and narrator of the poem.

I will not include the comments here, since they were longer than the poem. But one of the main parts I found helpful was her explanation of those italicized phrases. Such personal, specific word choices make the poem more powerful, but they can also be a bit puzzling to the reader.

Blackcap Mountain – a place they’d visited when they were young. Blue scorpion venom – a treatment used for his illness. Persimmon pudding – what she made for him to enjoy near the end, with persimmons from another friend’s tree. All this is about personal history, friendship, connection.

The explanations were helpful, but I think even if we don’t know their history or exact meaning, such personal, specific words and phrases help add meaning and interest to the poem, even if we have to make up part of the story for ourselves.

I didn’t really like the title, but after some research I think I got the point she was making – that all these personal details — the meaningful places and things; the people he loved and was loved by; the words and experiences they shared, were all part of what he left behind to identify him and the life he had lived.

I would love to hear in the comments any poems you discover that you like, and what you like about them.

Use This Tool To Bridge Communication Gaps and Promote Empathy

One of the many things I like about poetry is that it can be a uniquely effective communication tool. It can reach people on an emotional, intuitive level that is not always easy to do with spoken words or with prose. I find this true even — perhaps especially — with my less poetically inclined friends and family members.

Maybe it’s an emotion or experience that’s otherwise difficult to put into words, or an area where you and the other person just don’t see things the same way. Or you want to express something that goes deeper than ordinary communication methods, or help someone understand something about you or your life that you otherwise don’t know how to explain, or that they haven’t been able to relate to.

Poetry can be a great bridge between people, a promoter of understanding and a helpful way to partake together of a feeling or moment in a way that can break down barriers between them. It can help to make the “other” (possibly you) seem less foreign to someone you show a poem to, or ease the burden of someone who felt isolated by a situation they had felt only they could understand.

One example of poetry that could be used in this way is the following poem by Bob Hicok, about caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s

Chairs move by themselves, and books.

Grandchildren visit, stand

new and nameless, their faces’ puzzles

missing pieces. She’s like a fish

——————————————————

in deep ocean, its body made of light.

She floats through rooms, through

my eyes, an old woman bereft

of chronicle, the parable of her life.

—————————————————-

And though she’s almost a child

there’s still blood between us:

I passed through her to arrive.

So I protect her from knives,

—————————————————

stairs, from the street that calls

as rivers do, a summons to walk away,

to follow. And dress her,

demonstrate how buttons work,

————————————————–

when she sometimes looks up

and says my name, the sound arriving

like the trill of a bird so rare

it’s rumored no longer to exist.

Anyone who has taken care of, or even visited, a relative with a similar ailment can probably relate to this poem. The particulars may not be the same, and they may not ever have thought of it exactly the way it is so unusually and poignantly expressed here, but it resonates with feelings we have had or can empathize with.

And anyone who has not been there will be better able to relate to someone who is going through it after reading this, maybe to a greater degree than if that person simply tried to explain it to them.

The vacant, elusive gaze; the need to be re-taught how things, like buttons, work; the changing of roles — needing to protect a parent from herself; and the unbreakable bond of love and gratitude a child feels for a parent, even as they are slipping away.

“I passed through her to arrive.

So I protect her from knives,”

Then there are those rare, surprising, heart-sustaining moments when you are reminded that you are known and loved, which the poet expresses so well in the last stanza.

Poetry can promote understanding and allow friends, family and strangers to live a shared moment, seeing something with newly aligned eyes. It highlights what is common and universal in the human condition, even by using the personal details that make us different.

Now just a moment on technical aspects of the poem. Again, there are many visual images you can see in your mind. And of course there’s always the matter of sound that helps bring the poem alive.

Though not a traditionally rhymed poem, there are repeated sounds, both vowel sounds, like in rhymes, and initial consonant sounds, that give it a musical, ‘poetic’ quality: “knives/arrive”; “through/rooms”; “new and nameless”; “nameless/faces’; “stairs/streets/summons.”

Even the sometimes unusual punctuation and sentence structure in this poem effectively convey the disconnect and disorientation both parties feel, and the attempts to make sense of the now familiar unfamiliar.

So much can be said in a poem, that reaches the mind, and the heart, and places that words may not otherwise reach.

The next time you find a poem you enjoy and find meaningful to your life, try sending it to someone you’ve had difficulty communicating with, or who is going through a situation you — or they — don’t know how to talk about.

You may be surprised at how gaps are filled in, differences are overcome, and the joy, or relief, of a shared emotional and aesthetic experience deepens your relationship.

April is National Poetry Month: Why is This Exciting News, and Why Should You Care?

Two notes before I start today’s post. If you’re not thrilled by the first one, then you’ll likely welcome the second one, but stay with me here and I’ll show why my temporary shift in content focus may be worth your while.

  1. To prepare our minds and build anticipation for National Poetry Month, which is April, the next few posts will consider a poem, or discuss some ways to enjoy poetry. Maybe you didn’t love poetry in school. Maybe you associate it with dry memorization; archaic, singsong rhyme; or with the frustration of feeling you weren’t getting it “right.”

So I’m going to show you it doesn’t have to be that way, by exploring what I love about this art form, and by introducing you to a few fun, accessible poems you just might fall in love with.

  1. Since we’re all busy, with plenty of reading material in our in-boxes, I’m going to experiment with posting on this blog every other Tuesday for awhile, instead of every week. Let me know what you think.

April is National Poetry Month: Why is This Exciting News, and Why Should You Care?

For those of us who love to read or write poetry, who have really seen the value and joy of giving poetry a place in our life, a whole month of poetry readings, contests, and chances to read and share poems is really something to look forward to.

But not everybody feels that way. Maybe you think of poetry as being boring or not really related to your daily life. Maybe you find it intimidating and difficult to “understand.” Maybe you hated having to memorize, or analyze, poems in school.

Whatever the case, I hope to take you gently by the hand and lead you into a wonderful world that just may turn out to be far more exciting, approachable, and relevant to your life than you ever imagined. At the least, you’ll try something new and maybe have some fun along the way.

I’ll share a few poems I like, and try to show how the subject or some aspect of the poem can relate to your lives, and how you can use it and other poems to enrich your lives and relationships in various ways.

Since one of the reasons many people seem to shy away from poetry is that they find it difficult to understand and feel there is some specific meaning they should be getting out of it — like there’s one “right” way to see it and a danger of getting it “wrong” — I’d like to help dispel that fear by presenting this playful poem by former poet laureate Billy Collins, fittingly titled “Introduction to Poetry.”

It’s from a collection of accessible, easy-to-like poems he edited, called “Poetry 180,” to indicate a 180 degree turn, back to poetry.

INTRODUCTION TO POETRY

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

———————-

or press an ear against its hive.

————————–

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

—————————-

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

——————————

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

—————————–

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

——————————-

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.

(Note: I could not get the formatting to keep the line breaks, so I’ve put dashes where a line break should be.)

OK. Take a moment and read it again, out loud this time, and let the images come alive in your mind. Let it speak to you. Play with it.

Now I’ll tell you what it “means” to me.

I think the overall “message” of this poem is pretty clear: enjoy a poem, experience it, approach it in different ways, and see what it has to offer you. Don’t try so hard to define it in terms of “what it means,” as if there were a secret code hidden within its words that you must find or you will be found wanting.

What does it mean to you? Or, better yet, what does it say to you? How does it relate to your experience of life and literature? What do you enjoy about the way it presents itself?

This poem, like much poetry, has a lot of highly visual images in it that will likely appear quite vividly in your mind. It uses imaginative, unusual mental pictures to convey its ideas in a way that opens the reader up to a more creative, associative approach.

Though not a traditionally rhymed poem, it also makes use of sound repetition. For instance, light/slide/hive; waving/name; want/waterski/waving.

A poem can be much like a spoken song, highlighting sound and musical qualities. That’s part of why reading a poem out loud enhances the experience.

I like the way it turns the tables and presents the poem as being tortured, whereas often it is the reader who engages in self-torture, trying too hard to find out “what it really means.”

Not all poems will be this easy to “define,” but that really isn’t necessary. Just experience the poem. It will mean different things to different people, and you may see something different in it each time you read it.

Of course most poets intend to convey something specific of their ideas and experiences in a particular poem, but a poem is also an invitation to bring your own experiences and point of view to the process, making it relevant to your life. Reading a poem can become both a highly personal experience, and a kind of conversational exchange with the poet.

Don’t worry about getting it “wrong.” Just “listen” to what the poet, and the poem, have to say, then make of it what you will.

Now if you haven’t yet discovered Billy Collins’ collections of poems by various authors, “Poetry 180” and “180 More,” or the library of congress website for the poetry education project (Poetry 180), that would be a great place to start exploring the world of poetry. All the poems chosen are meant to be easy to approach and relate to, even if you have limited experience reading poetry.

Although I have been reading and writing poetry for many years and have studied it academically, I have also found these not too demanding poems greatly enjoyable as well as helpful in my efforts to share my love of the art of poetry with others.

The website address is: http:www.loc.gov/poetry/180 

I’ll end with these inviting words from the intro to the site, by Billy Collins: “Welcome to Poetry 180. Poetry can and should be an important part of our daily lives. Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race. By just spending a few minutes reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.”

Enjoy, and see you in two weeks.

 

 

What’s Easy For You; What’s Hard; and How Can You Benefit From Both?

Part 1– Appreciate the Easy Things

When I read a story about someone who has worked valiantly to achieve a goal, say, losing 100 pounds, or quitting smoking after 30 years, first, I am proud of them. I know what they did took hard work, persistence, consistent effort, and appropriate self-love that moved them to achieve something so difficult and worthwhile.

Next, I am grateful, relieved. I never started smoking, so I never had to quit. I find the smell repugnant, so there is no temptation whatsoever for me.

So not smoking is one thing I don’t have to work for at all, and it’s a relief, since so many things in life take effort, work, persistence, and self-control. I feel glad to not have that particularly hard struggle to add to the list.

It’s the same with the demanding task of losing large amounts of weight. I’m not model skinny, but even in middle age, I’ve never really had to put much energy into managing my weight.

And though I try to choose mostly healthy foods (does real butter count?) and have some decent habits, like my daily walk, I’m mostly just born with a trim frame and a fast metabolism. So lack of worry about weight is probably 20% decent choices, and 80 percent the way I was born. No reason to brag.

But to not have that struggle — starving myself, counting every calorie on my plate, spending all my time researching what I can and can’t eat, pushing myself to exercise beyond my limits, or wrestling with myself when I really want a cookie — that’s also a blessing, something I don’t have to work hard at or make major sacrifices for.

But let me be clear. I am neither thinking I’m superior because I’m a reasonably thin, happy non-smoker, nor am I disparaging those who do face the struggles mentioned above. What I’m saying is, (and I’ve had this thought for a long time, so I’ve got “read” and “think” covered here), is that sometimes it’s good to stop and appreciate the things that are easy for us, the things we don’t have to struggle for.

Because everyone struggles with something, and some things – usually many things — are hard for each of us. It’s just that your easy and hard are likely to be different from mine. Some things are easy and automatic for us, and take hard work and effort for others, and vice versa.

People struggling with these admirable efforts are probably naturally good at things that I’m not, like maintaining a tidy, organized home; making decisions quickly and easily; or being a great cook; whereas these are areas where I have to make a real effort, with often less than exemplary results.

And back when I was in school, reading, writing, and everything based on language and ideas came easy to me, and I found them fun. Numbers not so much. Athletics not at all.

Throughout my life the fact that reading naturally comes easy to me and I enjoy it has helped me and enriched my life in many ways. That’s my strong area. But over time, the other two have become less of a struggle for me as well.

I’ve gradually made peace — to a degree — with numbers, though I still don’t find them nearly as easy, or interesting, as words.

And though I pretty much stay away from anything that involves a ball or a team, I have learned to find joy in moving my body. My daily walks are essential to my physical and emotional well-being, as well as to nourishing my creative life. To take it further, of course after reading about the benefits of interval training, I have even started adding in a little jogging.

I took my walk earlier today, when the sun was bright and it was warmer and more inviting outside. But now I feel the pull of a little more exercise, so I might spend a few minutes bouncing on my re-bounder, inside. In fact, it’s a treat to look forward to after I finish writing. That’s a long way from when I was maybe ten and my Dad had to pay me to jump rope!

This talk of learning to love exercise, even to push myself a little, leads to my second point.

Part 2 — Build Your Confidence By Setting and Meeting New Challenges

Meeting even small challenges, taking tiny, progressive steps (literally) can help a lot. If we decide to learn or achieve something that was formerly difficult, unfamiliar, or out of our comfort zone, it can not only give us a sense of accomplishment, but it will help us build our confidence that we can meet other challenges that might now seem daunting.

I’ve read about this approach from others. They set challenges in their life, often physical ones, even large ones, like running a marathon, to help them feel empowered to meet other big goals, in their business or their life.

I definitely don’t feel the need to go that far. But my small, progressive efforts at becoming more active have given me a taste of what’s possible.

There’s a long street I walk up most days, and I often jog for part of it. Over time, I’ve enjoyed trying to stretch what I’m able to do. I’ll set landmarks. The first fire hydrant, a hedge of purple flowers, the next fire hydrant, then the corner, then the first edge of the little park. I’ve reached all these goals, a little at a time. Soon I’ll work toward running all the way to the end of the street.

I know to you real athletes out there this will sound tiny, even insignificant, but I’ve been thrilled and amazed to see how I can gradually build my stamina and stretch out what is possible for me, even feeling it become easier over time.

I’ve done the same thing in building my new business. I’m a born writer, and I have the outside-the-box mind an of entrepreneur, but the business part has required a lot of learning and stretching.

A few years ago, I didn’t know what SEO stood for, and a marketing manual would have looked like Chinese to me. Now I’ve become familiar enough with some of these concepts to be conversant in them, and even to have an opinion about methods I wouldn’t have known the name of when I started out.

So, watching myself keep learning, meeting new goals, and becoming, if not comfortable, at least more at home in these new territories, I feel confident that I can achieve other things that seem hard at first.

I’m sure it’s the same for most of us. If we look back at what used to be hard, or unfamiliar, or not really appealing, and see how far we’ve come, and how great it feels, we can have conviction that the bigger things we want are not out of reach if we keep setting goals, making progress, passing each small landmark, until we get where we want to be.

Part 3 – If You’ve Done One of the Hard Things, You’re Stronger Now and Can Do More

Let’s congratulate ourselves for the really hard things we’ve accomplished or survived, and realize that now we are stronger, more resilient, more confident to take on the next challenge.

Whether it was quitting smoking; losing a significant amount of weight; surviving an illness or a bad relationship; finally starting our dream job; or whatever it is that we’ve struggled for and achieved — even if we’re still only partway there, let’s congratulate ourselves and remember that we did it, and we can do more.

So, I hope you’ll give some thought to what’s easy for you, what comes so naturally that you take it for granted. And to what you’ve achieved, whether it was a small challenge or a major mountain to climb.

Touching Stories

Touching Stories

Read. Think. Walk. Write. – Touch.

So I’m back to one syllable. And today’s word relates to, dare I say, ‘touches on’ the primary four.

This isn’t surprising, since the word “touch” has so many definitions, and most of them involve some kind of connection – physical, emotional, or metaphorical.

In my old Webster’s dictionary, the entry for “touch,” including related forms and phrases, takes up more than a full column. The online dictionary site, www.thefreedictionary.com listed over 40 items from Collins English Dictionary under the word.

A few of these are:

  • the act or an instance of something coming into contact with the body

  • a gentle push, tap, or caress

  • a noticeable effect, influence

  • to have an affect on

  • to be in contact

  • to produce an emotional response in

  • to affect, concern

I started out with one of the most basic uses of this word while doing my part-time job as a massage therapist.

While giving a massage to a particularly appreciative client, I thought about the nurturing power of touch, and the many meanings of touch. When done right, as with massage, both the one touched and the one touching benefit. There is an exchange, a connection implied in the word.

I wrote last time about food as a way of nurturing others. The right kind of touch can also be substantially nurturing, and massage is my way of expressing this quality.

It involves, not just physical touch, but connecting with the other person; sensing their needs; and intuitively providing what is needed – find and then work a knot out here; go more gently there; begin and end gradually so as not to startle; be silent; or listen a lot and talk a little if needed; use a thumb or knuckle here for precision, followed by a flat hand for smoothing out; and so on.

Massage, like so many kinds of therapeutic and professional relationships, is a kind of temporary intimacy.

It’s strange, getting so close so quickly – physically, mentally, or emotionally, often all of them, and then maybe never seeing the person again. But sometimes we have touched their lives in some lasting way, and they with us as well.

Many of my clients have touched – moved, affected, had an effect on, me. Oh, yes, which leads me to say a word about my headline. I have a journal by the same title, “touching stories,” about some of my memorable experiences giving massage to clients who stood out to me in some way.

And this quality of affecting, moving, interconnecting, and exchange, takes us to this blog’s four defining words. Read. Think. Walk. Write.

Read/Write. – When we write, we hope to touch someone, to reach them, to move them, to make a meaningful connection with them. It is similar when we read. We want to be touched and to feel connected to the author, the story, the characters – real or fictional. Then we may want to reach back, to let the author know what their words meant to us, or to share the meaning we derived from those words with others.

Think – And all of this – reading, writing, connecting, feeling an effect, is either preceded or followed by thinking. I often think about my clients long after they’re gone, just like I think about a book I’ve finished reading. And, I hope, I do plenty of thinking before I write. Often much of the creation goes on before I get to the computer, though sometimes writing also facilitates thinking as I figure it out as I go along.

And finally, walk — On my walk I am often ‘touched’ by ideas, feelings, thoughts, things I see or encounter, which I think about and often turn into writing.

The other day on my walk, I faced a frequent dilemma, which made a more literal application of the word “touch.”

Right next to the trash can on my walking trail was a pizza box on the ground. So close, but still not where it belonged. I hate litter, especially at the beach, or in other natural, otherwise beautiful spaces.

My dilemma was, I had to make the difficult choice between picking it up, doing my part to make my own little environment more beautiful and less touched by something out of place and not beautiful, or avoiding touching the unknown and perhaps unclean. A stranger’s trash.

In this case there was another dilemma. Since the dog poop bags, (sorry, but I don’t know how else do say it) were right there, I chose to take one, cover my hand with it, then use that hand and my foot to fold the box until it fit into the garbage. But did unnecessarily using a plastic bag add to the problem more than solve it? Was I really making the ecological situation worse? …

So this situation really did ‘touch’ on a lot of issues — personal, universal, and ecological.

And talk about thinking outside the box, as an aside — why did the person not take the extra step to fit the box into the opening of the trash receptacle? They at least set it right beside the trash can, which is a lot better than many people do. But were they really so lazy, or so unwilling or unable to problem-solve that they couldn’t or wouldn’t just fold the box to fit, like I did? I guess that’s a whole other story though.

Touch. I hadn’t necessarily meant this little episode to be part of the “touch” post, but it fits, especially since it happened on a walk. I didn’t want to touch someone’s trash, but I didn’t want to leave it there, negatively touching the beauty and purity of the nature trail.

And all of this thinking about all the kinds of touch during my work and my walk led me to write all these words, which I hope you will read, and think about. These things are interconnected, they touch each other, and each of us.

This is part of the creative life. Whether you are a writer, artist, designer, marketer, or entrepreneur, everything you see and live and think or read about can lead to a new idea, a new ‘product’ whatever that means for you, a new approach to life and work.

So please touch in, keep in touch, and comment on how this topic touched you.