Tag Archive for vulnerability

Honoring Service

flag.4Dad carefully unrolled the recently acquired panoramic photos of his and his brother’s graduations from basic training during World War II. A tiny arrow was placed above both of their heads on the respective photos to identify them from the near hundred men.

“That’s Bo?” I asked with quiet respect. “I don’t know that I’ve seen any pictures of him.”

My 84-year old father nodded in a mixture of pride and sadness.

As he shared stories, Dad handed me a small, tattered brown folder. Inside were personal and official letters. I removed a faded telegram.

“…Private Clarence Martin Smith, Jr will be accompanied by Private. . .to the funeral home in Thomasville to arrive on December Two Four. . .”   The strict language marched as formal as a precision military formation, yet devoid of emotion.

Most of my life I’ve known Bo got an infection from a wisdom tooth extraction on base. On the transport ship to Europe, he reported ill to the infirmary on a morning before Thanksgiving, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and died before the next sunrise as the ship churned across the Atlantic. The family waited over a month for the return of his body. He was buried on Christmas day.

I gently blew open another envelope’s ragged end and retrieved the fragile paper inside. Seeing Bo’s handwriting and reading his words for the first time was like hearing his voice. Bo plainly wrote to his Momma about where he was, what he was doing, and how much he loved her and his family. There was also one page written just to Dad encouraging him to get a particular piece of farm equipment running and an added mention about their sweethearts. I asked Dad some questions, some of which he couldn’t remember the answers, some he simply couldn’t muster the words.

Gently folding and returning the letter to its resting place, I felt a rush of sadness—reading Bo’s words and holding his letter in my hand as I stared at his benevolent, timid expression in the photo was like meeting him and burying him in the same moment.

As I looked into Dad’s eyes full of respect for these precious artifacts, for what was and for what might have been, my heart began to grasp the depth of his loss. Through the tremble in his voice as he bravely fought to hold off the flood he’d kept in check for so many decades, I fought alongside him as he allowed me to be present with his love and loss.

It’s not a duty, but a freedom to choose to honor all who serve. With Dad, I am also grateful to witness and benefit from his choice to live every moment of his life in service to God, country, and family. He inspires me to strive to higher service in my own.

After The Deadline

After the researching, drafting, editing, and dancing the final adrenaline-fueled dance with the deadline, you submit your writing.  Gone; out of your hands.  Your desk still looks the same, but there’s an eerie silence. . .except in your head.

A writer can often feel lost or jittery, filled with anticipatory dread about the final edit, upcoming publication, or possible rejection. So, now what?

Deadline After

The creative wheels on recent writing keep turning after hitting ‘send.’  Ideas can come instantly or up to days after submission.  That’s good!  Creativity is still clicking, so honor the ideas, notate them, or maybe file them away for possible revisions or expansions in the future.

Something happens to make you wish for just one more revision.  Yes, your mind may change.  I witnessed a writer who had researched libel, felt confident about his work, then heard another opinion making him anxious all over again as the presses were running.  More research was the salve to calm his fears.

You are wired and worn out from your too-fast dance with the deadline.  If you were stressed or, worse, simply didn’t make the deadline, reassess your process.  Though some writers are like crazed holiday shoppers thriving on the last minute rush, try beginning work upon assignment and setting a personal deadline days in advance of the real one.  A buffer gives you the opportunity to breathe easier.

You get the blues.  Some writers use the term ‘put to bed’ from the newspaper industry, which either can give a feeling of freedom or one that feels self-defeating. An attitude of ‘all is lost’ or ‘it’s over for good’ is limiting.  Be discerning with self-talk at this juncture.  Speak to yourself in a way to create a feeling of a clean slate and a golden opportunity to begin anew.

Do something good for yourself.  Asleep in HammockAfter big projects are complete, a feeling of letdown can set in.  See friends, get out of town, garden, indulge in an afternoon in a hammock, go to a show.  If necessary, shift focus and relieve stress by catching up on the to-do list you haven’t finished while writing the project.  Whatever you do, engage enthusiastically as you did with your creative project.

Enjoy the glow of accomplishment. Answer your fan mail and take the calls from those who want to give reviews.  Enjoy their enthusiasm and graciously receive their kudos and suggestions.  Accept the compliment that they cared enough to express from the encouragement of your writing, even if their voice is dissenting.  Most importantly, feel great about your good work.

Keep writing.  Maintain momentum by writing in whatever way feels right, whether it is journaling, revising or beginning anew.  Keep up the practice, and keep the creativity fresh.

Get ready for more ideas when you read your published work.  You will have grown into a new perspective, even in a short bit of time.  Celebrate that growth, the outpouring of ideas, and channel it into your next project.

Sentiment on Sentimentality

Electrical stormThe thunder boomed directly overhead interrupting the writers’ group.

All five of us gasped, then fell stone silent before continuing with our review.  Soon, the severe thunderstorm played with the power, the electricity escaping each of three lights in succession before they came back to full brightness, went out again, then came back on.  The reviewer continued, stopping when one single light faded slowly to dark.  Spooked, we stared at it until it eerily flickered on.  Our nervous laughter was snapped when the power failed and lightning flashed.

Two of us simultaneously pulled out our phones and engaged the flashlight app, and then others followed.  Small circles of intense light fell upon pages on our laps, and the upward reflection illuminated us like ghosts as the symphony of driving rain and thunder bellowed.

With renewed urgency and focus, we spoke softly to allow concurrent listening for any hint of tornados.  As the storm waned, so did the phone batteries, our eyes adjusting as all facial expressions disappeared into shadow.

The final piece was from a writer who lost her father just two weeks before.  Drafted on the day after his death while she was alone in his house, she pondered if the writing was too sentimental.

In near darkness, we only had our words and our voice inflections to make the point clear:  the writing wasn’t sentimental.

Someone asked, “Why is writing sentimentally a bad thing?”  then I added, “So, what is sentimental?”

The answers came quickly: sappy, shallow, kitschy, gushy, soppy, syrupy, mawkish, cheap.

15400 - Copy - CopySentimentality reigns supreme in Harlequin Romances, soap operas or Douglas Sirk movies where, say, a couple goes from first glance to fiery love to marriage then bitter divorce through enlarged gestures in a flash.

“These days,” someone said, “we don’t seem to have time for development.  Subtlety is a thing of the past.”  Writers without patience create over-the-top, two-dimensional stories, yet most readers crave complexity, depth and wisdom in writing.

Sentiment is natural.  I encourage emotion-filled writing.  If someone’s emotional intelligence is low, I suggest getting beyond fear and heightening awareness through interaction or reading/watching good works.  Discover what subtleties speaks to heart and soul.  Find the myriad of shades of emotion between black and white.  Sentiment lives in the space on the inside whereas the danger zones of sentimentality occur on the extreme edges.

We want to write to illuminate, not manipulate.  We want to encourage the reader to experience, even awaken, their own emotions as they feel those of characters and their situations.  If emotions become inauthentic, the reader won’t resonate, most likely bringing them to disengage, even laugh or feel disgust.

In the peachy glow of the masked sunset, I commended the writer for her courage, then added, “sharing your raw truth at such a vulnerable time honored all of us.”  I was choking up, thankful for the dim light, yet I heard the honesty in my voice.

She thanked me and the group for allowing the safe space for her to do so.

Move beyond the clichés, and allow vivid characters and a rich plot express sentiment.  Let your readers into your safe space through authentic emotion in your written words.

Nature photo: Jim Reed.

Pleas and Thank Yous

rose.collage

After my morning ritual of journaling the cobwebs from my head, stretching the cricks from my joints, then feeding my body tea, fruit and grain, I felt jaunty, ready to go.

As I passed my desk, I noticed a text from an inner circle friend sharing that a mutual friend had suddenly passed away.

Instinctively, I sat down.  I stared at the screen’s stark words.  I knew my friend was hurting, too, yet the words seemed so flat on the phone.  Maybe it’s not true, I begged.  I read them over and over trying out every interpretation to deny the obvious as I felt my energy sink from the top of my head into a dense lump below my stomach.

Suddenly processing another significant loss, I recalled Mother’s Day just weeks before, the first since Mom died last October.  Getting ready to drive to my hometown and join the family, something had set me off, and my ‘stuff’ had risen and roared.  I called another inner circle friend who listened, allowed me to be mad, suggested ideas, then consoled while cajoling me to a happier, healing place.  I felt better, the rolling boil reduced to a steaming simmer.  Then she gently asked, “Have you written a letter to your mother telling her how much you miss her?”

Tears welled, and I could hardly take the breath to say ‘thanks’ before hanging up.  I slumped into my desk chair and through my puddled vision, found the home keys.

“Dear Momma…”

After wrapping up the letter, I sat spent.  I rested, but soon scolded myself for being a writing coach to others, yet I hadn’t identified what I needed.  I’d journaled about Mom all week acknowledging the significance of the coming holiday, but didn’t reach the core of complete expression, much less release.  Like when I encountered a display of Mother’s Day cards at the grocery store, felt the onset of pain and quickly pushed my buggy around the glaring truth, the overture was obvious.  Still, I pleaded for the opposite, politely notating the incident in my journal without divining its essence.

Putting avoidance and perfection aside, I finally spotted the depth of my hurt, as well as the stealthy way I’d skirted around it, and then wrote and nurtured myself.  Simultaneously, I gave thanks to Mom for all the love she’d shared and lessons she’d taught, to my friend for her compassionate encouragement, and to myself for opening again to full expression and accepting guidance.

Now, in the chair with phone still in hand, I sat with my present loss.  I had lost a new friend, someone I knew for only a year, but one who expanded my heart and broadened my thinking while providing safety for me to share, ask personal questions, as well as listen to her truth.  I had bonded with her kind, unassuming spirit, a unique presence draped with honor and love.

Recently, I pondered plans to spend time deepening our friendship into the inner circle.  Unexpectedly, all that remained were memories of someone special who gave so much in such a brief time.rose.petals

So, I asked myself the question, “Can I tell her how much she meant to me and how much I will miss her?”  I put down my phone and ceremonially placed fingers on home keys.  My breathing deepened, my eyes dampened, and with courage and gratitude, I listened, and my mourning ritual began.

“Dear Shauna…”