Hope: Five Slices of Internet Goodness Pie (Plus One)

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One of my amazing cousins has been giving me jobs to do lately for his Happiness Project. I get points for completing his tasks and, if I win, he’ll donate a hundred dollars to the charity of my choice. Because I’ve enjoyed his latest assignment so much, I thought I’d share it here.

Here’s the assignment: “Hope: Post an article that gives you hope for the future each day for five (5) days and what it is about the article that gives you hope.”

Day 1

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The secret lives of happy looking teachers following their artistic dreams give me hope that I can have a profession and a vocation just for the joy of it.

Day 2

This video give me hope because the people in it are making beautiful things out of something I had only thought of as a blight. People are so amazing. A sea chair! And it’s open sourced so I could join.

Plus…the fisherman remind me of my grandpa the Swede. I can almost taste his smoked salmon and smell the salt sea air.

Day 3

This video gives me hope along with Zamperini’s story by Laura Hillenbrand. I am in awe of how much Zamperini endured and not only survived but thrived afterward. I am filled with hope at the thought of all the others contributing their stories to this project. (Even though I know Universal Pictures is probably thinking at least a little about their bottom line as a motivation.) 

And, as a writer, I feel a glimmer of hope that I could write a story that meant as much as Hillenbrand’s did to me.

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Day 4

This article on dailygood.com gives me hope because I’ve been swimming in writing procrastination. Judging myself is not working out all that well for me. I think I’ll give the self-compassion a whirl instead.

(This one got many cracks in comments about putting things off. It seems to me that we all put things off to some degree or other. Laughing at ourselves about it may be a form of self-compassion the article hadn’t considered.)

Day 5

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I met my professor from Western Washington University last weekend. It was wonderful to see the person who taught me to teach. This last article for Wayne’s project fills me with hope for all the teachers out there who get to hear how great they are. I’m also intrigued about the questions about what makes great teaching and how to get there.

Bonus Hope

As  a bonus, I’m adding this voting video by Hank Green. It gives me tremendous hope to think that people of all ages might listen to him and choose to participate. And he’s also hilarious. Something about hilarious people gives me hope, too.

Hamming It Up: Why We Need an Audience

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(Photos by Alana T)

“Listening is an act of love.”

Two weeks ago Morf Morford used those words as he told his story right before I had to get up under the lights. Although I can’t find the person he was quoting, somehow the thought calmed me when I sat shivering in my chair in the middle of a dark audience, contemplating getting up in front of a crowd on the Drunken Telegraph, an amazing community story telling organization in Tacoma. It was my hope that the crowd would love me through that blinding stage light and the story I felt driven to tell.

I discovered a while back that I need an audience. A part of me worries that this makes me a ham. But I’m betting that we all need an audience, large or small — someone to witness us and push us to do things a notch or two higher than we would without anyone watching. Dan Blank, a writing and marketing coach, recently said writers fear apathy much more than we fear criticism. “The reality is that the WORSE thing is that you create and share something, and no one even notices.”

It’s true that I can practice by myself. I can write stories, knit doggie sweaters, bake squash or play Adagio on my clarinet without anyone watching. And sometimes this is best so that I can safely make the multitude of mistakes that I need to make in order to improve.

But I also need the pressure of knowing someone is watching or will be watching in order to push myself to get better.

This is what happened to me on that stage. I had been trying to tell a story about my experiences in an animal shelter for twenty years. It wasn’t until I had the pressure of getting up in front of an audience that I could tell the story and find the meaning in it. The relief of getting the story out was tremendous and only possible because I had to face the fire of getting the story told on a deadline with people watching.

So I keep posting to the blog, playing my clarinet in the community band, and standing in front of students even when my face feels so red hot I could start a fire with their textbooks.

I do it because it makes me better and it makes me feel more alive. I’m so grateful to the love of the listeners, students and readers. I could not do it without them.

 

Getting the Play Done

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This week a writer friend named Molly Blaisdell wrote a blog post on the importance of play to her writing work.

Before I read her words, I had been stuck on what to post and, honestly, stuck on whether to write all together. I was even having Negative Nellie give it up thoughts.  And those thoughts felt like an even deeper black hole.

Molly’s idea of play rung a bell somewhere just below my suprasternal notch (Can you tell I’m studying with the nurses in my day job? The notch is the dip in the middle of the collar bones.)

As I said, I’ve been feeling off. My teaching job lasted clear into mid August this year. By the time my students and I wrapped up the essays and grammar finals, the back to school sales were about over. My son started tennis tryouts a week later. I got exactly one weekend to go camping with the kids and that was the one weekend in August that it rained. Like Noah needed to come and rescue us.

And my writing routine always takes a whack when I’m out of the teaching groove. For four weeks I could write much more but, as almost always happens, I ended up writing less. The wide open space flattens my pen, I guess.

And then my work schedule changed these past two weeks as school life got going again. I used to work Monday through Thursday with Friday clearly marked as a play day.

Now it’s Tuesday through Friday with Monday for play. Something about Friday is so much more intrinsically free. Friday feels like barbecues and rowdy people wearing Seahawks jerseys. Monday feels more like cubicles and fluorescent lights.

I’d been thinking I needed that play back. Here’s a video of a writer who knows how to play better than some of the kids:

Maybe I need to be more like him and open a non profit with a pirate store at the front. Or convince kids that wasting fruit leads to invasive melons. I bet if I let myself think on it, I could come up with even wilder ideas.

In the meantime, I’ve let myself do some more down-to-earth playing. Sometimes these larks have nothing to do with my stories. Like Molly, I knit. I go for walks with my family, I paint pumpkins, I scour Pinterest for projects and then do a few of them. I paint. I cook. I play my clarinet.

And sometimes, after realizing with a head smacking ‘duh’ that writing needs play, too, I wrap fun into that work. I craft temari balls because they are in my story, I surf for pictures of my characters and paste them into the art book I’ve created for my novel in progress. I go to places my characters would be. And it’s fun. And the work gets better. Not just easier to do but better. Even the play that has nothing to do with my projects somehow zaps new life into the words I scratch on paper or punch out on the screen.

We all know by now that children need to play to learn and grow. I need reminders sometimes that I’m not all that different from the children I write for and about.

And so, I say, hurray. Hurray, hurray, hurray for play. (This is borrowed liberally from Dr. Seuss and The Eye Book – another good source of play.)

If you’ve got a moment, I’d love to know what you do just for the fun of it. I’m asking partly because I’d love to get more ideas and partly because I’ve noticed in writing this that I find joy in the mere thought of frivolous fun. I’m betting you will, too.

 

Blessing a Running Road with One Less Crow

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Question of the week: How do you reclaim a place with memories of sorrow?

I recently read a piece by Martha Beck on how to mentally rewrite your tragedies so that you can find meaning even in the random badness that sometimes happens to us. In the case Beck describes, a woman is able to find meaning in a car accident so that she doesn’t have to stay stuck in fear or sadness. This seemed a good idea at the time I read the article. Now I’m considering how to apply the idea to a Sad Thing that recently happened.

I am looking for this meaning because a death ruined my favorite running route. In fact, most of my running routes are ruined because the Sad Thing happened on a road I run which all of my routes stem from or lead toward. This road is like a spine with arms that grow from it or like the trunk of a tree that that lead to the branches of the other roads I follow.

I was running down this road on one of the terrific evening runs I sometimes experience. The weather was pleasantly warm, the air was turning fall crisp and my feet were flying. At that best of moments when I had almost crested the top of the hill on my tree trunk road, a crow flapped out at me from nearly under my left foot.

After jumping up and over, my heart beating harder than it had from the hill, I stopped to take a closer look. My tree trunk road was not a main road but cars kept zipping past. The young crow flapped its wings uselessly each time, unable to get up off the grass and gravel where it sat, one foot splayed out to the side.

I stood to the side wracking my brains for what could be done for the little guy. His eyes were bright. He was clearly young though full sized and clearly stuck in this sad place where the cars came far too close and too often.

I googled with the phone I had just been using for Pandora, but wildlife rehab places are few and far between and not open after 7:00pm.

Finally, I sprinted home to call a relative who knows birds. He wisely and kindly told me that there wasn’t much to do and that the fellow crows would likely take care of him. I tried to relax and went to bed only slightly achy from the sprint and the thought of leaving the crow in the dark.

The next day after taking my kids to school I drove back thinking I would check on the crow to see if I could find a way to help him.

I found him still alert but not flapping. He’d run out of energy. And there was nothing I knew to do, so I again tried the rehab center who kindly told me to drive him there. I did. He was paralyzed and had to be put to sleep. Maybe he had been hit by a car. Maybe he fell out of the tree while trying to fly. Anyway, he’s gone.

I suppose I’m hoping that by writing this post, I’ll be able to run past that spot again. I’m not sure if it’s a way of making meaning or just, as I have sometimes done, a way of cleansing a spot with painful memories. I know I’m not alone in the need for this. Associated Ministries in Tacoma will often bless the sites of violent crimes.

Although my crow death might be small in the scheme of things, I am thinking that finding a practice of letting go of pain is something with which everyone can find a connection. Here’s to another fabulous run in my future and to peace for us all.

 

D*@# you, John Green: An Open Letter About THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

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Warning: The open letter is full of spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, be warned.

Dear John Green,

Darn you. Darn you for writing a book that made me cry out loud.

Darn you for writing a book that kept my behind stuck in the chair on a day off when I should have been cleaning, so when the neighbor came over to give me his garden fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, he had to look away from the sight of my entryway.

Darn you for writing the things about the Battle and the Fight against cancer which is a part of our own bodies. I have been thinking those things since my dad died “when the cancer, which was made of him, finally stopped his heart, which was also made of him.” I could not find the words that you did through Hazel.

Darn you for writing a book so true that now I must miss Hazel and Augustus, too.

Darn you for your brilliance, courage and humanity that you are able to use so well.

Darn you for getting me to care so much about a story that my heart aches.

Darn you. Having this as a library book won’t be enough. I’ll need to buy it.

And darn you for becoming so deservedly popular that you don’t answer your mail. Not even from your mother. If I sent this to you directly, it would only end up in a slush pile like Van Houten’s. Darn you for that, too.

In reality, you can substitute ‘thank’ for all the ‘darns’ in this letter. But, honestly, as I stood stunned in my kitchen after Augustus died, I first thought, “D*#% you.” You left a scar with this book, Mr. Green. It’s not a scar I regret having. I like my choice to read your book. But that scar is deep, and it is still tender.

Most Sincerely,

Karrie

A Review: The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

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The Carpet People

Terry Pratchett is a name I’ve heard over the years but not someone I had read before. When I saw that one of my  favorite writers Neil Gaiman had worked with Pratchett, I decided to check him out. The Carpet People caught my eye and so I brought it home from the library — first as the audio read by Tony Robinson and then checking out the book when I could not listen fast enough. The illustrations by the author were a marvelous bonus to the print version. 

I loved his language. As we listened and drove to Lake Tipsoo, Robinson read: “The carpet was big. But the carpet was…everything. It didn’t count. It was too big to have a size. But the High Gate Land was small enough to be really huge.” And the High Gate Land turns out to be a penny.

I adored the idea of teensy tiny people living in the carpet at the mercy of Fray which, as far as I can tell, is what happens when we beyond giants step on a section of carpet.

In an author’s note, Pratchett says that the “book has two authors, they were both the same person.” He originally wrote it when he was seventeen and then revised it considerably at 43. I’m intrigued by how well he did at 17 and then how far he’s come since then.

Bits flew off in different directions and, at times, I noticed the fact that the first author was only 17. It made me want to see how his writing develops and check into this Discworld business. I’m betting I’ll be impressed and may need to find another reader to do the English accents that my inner reading voice so often falters on when I look at the print version.

 

The Fountain of Youth is in Seattle

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I recently heard Neil Gaiman tell an interviewer that getting old involved doing fewer and fewer things for the first time.

I came up with a cure for that kind of aging that involves two parts:

1. Do something you’ve done before in a new way.

2. Bring a kid who is still doing everything for the first time.

A couple days ago my four year old Quinton and I stepped out of our car culture and took the train to Seattle. (I hear Q in my head correcting me: “Not car, Mom. The VAN!)

At first, I was afraid we might not make it. The parking lot was packed, and we hadn’t left early enough for me to figure out what to do. We ran from the spot I found 2 blocks away and raced to the ticket booth where — thank the heavens above — we found a man in a reflective transit jacket maneuvering a wheelchair with a guide dog at his side. He had seen my distress at the fancy ticket machine and offered to help us, got us tickets, and told me Q was free (FREE!).

(Yes, I had tried to figure this out before. No, I had apparently not worked the websites enough to understand. I’d like to think of this as being youthful rather than uninformed, if you don’t mind.)

With his wonderful help, we even had a few moments to spare before the train came. Quinton spent the time bouncing and saying: “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!”

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As the Sounder rolled in, we climbed the stairs to sit up on the second level. At 8:00am, most of the commuters had already made it to work, so we had the place almost to ourselves.

We saw my ancient middle school Dieringer that is now a construction company along with the power station the no longer moves the waters of Lake Tapps where I grew up. I thought for a moment how often I saw the trains go by when I was in school (long before the Sounder came to be). Looking at the world from the train’s side twisted my perspective just enough to make the whole scene familiar but strange – like a new old experience.

The country rolled by and I loved how easy it was to get to Seattle without traffic jam stress. Another family climbed on board at Sumner with excited kids and content parents and grandparents. Quinton eavesdropped and was impressed that they were talking about ‘not burning gas.’

“Burning gas!?!” he said to me, loud enough to let the family know he heard.

From King Station, we took the link to Westlake and then the monorail to the Armory (which I still want to call the Center House).

We played in the Children’s Museum, then the fountain and then the museum again until one o’clock when the museum lost it’s appeal to me (not to Quinton – he could have stayed there longer if I could have taken one more round on the fake mountain looking at the plastic bugs under fake rocks).

 

We made our way back to Puyallup, stopping at the Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square (Buying ANOTHER truck. Sigh.) and Uwajimaya in the International District.

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The 3:12 train back home was just about perfect. We got back exhausted and pleased with ourselves. Quinton is already planning our return trip.

It wasn’t international travel. But it was an adventure. It felt like doing something for the first time (complete with the edge of fear that we might get lost and stranded) – a way to be young again for me and to finally get on one of those trains for Q. Mission accomplished.

Even if you don’t have a kid around to egg you on, I strongly recommend looking for new ways to do old things. The adventure will add a zip to your days.