Reflections on Month 6 and Beyond

Last week this happened.

I had my 6 month infusion, and after 6 hours in the chair, I was able to ring the bell.

The infusion itself was exhausting – physically, mentally, and emotionally. And ringing the bell? That was a swirl of all sorts of emotions. I had finished at the infusion center, but my last month of at home meds started the next day. Phew.

I’ve been expecting this last month to be easy. I was mistaken.

The level of difficulty has me feeling distressed, and a tad bit guilty. Perhaps that’s a lack of humility. Or perhaps it’s a misunderstanding of the process and gravity of it all. I’m the queen of relentless positivity and possibility. That’s good — fantabulous even. But, sometimes I need to remember that the positivity and possibility are happening against a backdrop of struggle, and endurance.

Those two photos speak to me of this dicotomy.

I purposefully captured the struggle amidst the positivity in the first photo. My face is to the sun — and the Son. Simultaneously an IV is pumping a plethora of medications into my vein. That is fantabulous and awful. Fantabulous because they are helping me crush the cancer. Awful because they are pummeling my body, mind, and spirit. It’s often remarkably difficult to keep them from vanquishing me.

In the second, I am ringing the bell — indicating the end of my infusion treatment. I’m laughing with my awesome nurse, as she and others cheer me on. Immediately after, we embraced in tears. It was a moment of exhilaration, joy, and relief; as well as a moment of exhaustion, sadness, trepidation, and some disconnect.

Perhaps that sounds odd. Why wouldn’t I just be relieved and happy?

I was! But, those infusions, and those remarkably wonderful, brilliant, and caring nurses have become part of my life. There’s an intense comfort knowing those fantabulous nurses are waiting for me each time I go in. There is security knowing their expertise, and those meds they give me, are keeping me alive and helping me thrive. It’s difficult to leave them, and nearly impossible to express my depth of gratitude.

Add to that the current status of my cancer as incurable, and the emotions intensify. That nagging negative voice in the back of my head complains and points out that it’s not really the end. There will be more.

It is only now, over a week later, that I can take a breath, acknowledge the truth the voice raises, and remind it that even so, for the moment, I am done with the infusions, and that is good.

Meanwhile, I push on with my home medications. They are working their own particular magic. They press on against my cancer, giving it no rest. For that I couldn’t be more grateful. And yet, they continue to press on me as well, and that is not pleasant. Thankfully, they too will soon end, at least for this session. And that too will be a victory worth celebrating. They are no easier, and no less important than the infusions, so their conclusion shall be celebrated as well. (smile)

As I sit here with an pounding head, aching chest, and overall malaise, I chuckle thinking, “Perhaps we should all do more daily bell ringing!”

We took the time to meditate and pray? Ring a bell!
We pause for some breathing and positive thoughts? Ring a bell!
We see the beauty in the little things? Ring a bell!
We are the recipient of unexpected kindness? Ring a bell!
We have patience, and don’t crank at the person who accidentally stepped on our last nerve? Ring a bell!
We notice the miracles and gifts of every day? Ring a bell!
We don’t vomit — even though we feel like we might? Ring many bells! (laughter)

When my last infusion was finally finished, and my nurse excitedly said “Wait! You get to ring the bell! Give me your phone, I’ll take a photo!” I chuckled. The photographer in me thought “Where shall we take it?” I momentarily considered good backgrounds. Then my aching head and ridiculous exhaustion got the better of me, and my thoughts morphed into “Oh my gosh, let’s just take it anywhere!”

In hindsight, the background is perfect. Behind me are all the little infusion pods. Behind me are my six months of infusions.

BEHIND me.

They are behind me. Finished.
At least for now.

They are behind me. Making me cancer lighter.
That is miraculous

They are behind me. Exhausting me.
That’s something I have to remind myself.

These 6 months have not been easy. My body, mind, and spirit have worked hard, and had more bad days than good. They have been pummeled. They are fantabulous for sure, but they are going to take a bit of time to recover. When I talked with my Dana Farber oncologist in October he said “You should be feeling great (pause) by sometime in January.”

Sometime in JANUARY?!?!?!??? Eee gads. If I recall correctly, I thought to myself “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did he just meet me?!?!” But, now, I realize the wisdom of his words. This isn’t a little sprint. This isn’t an easy workout. This is an endurance event. And no matter how fantabulous I am, as with every endurance event there is preparation, execution, and recovery.

Now I need to respect the final push, and the recovery.

With that in mind, I remind myself this final push of medications and side effects, as well as my recovery are supported by all the things I do in the background.

Where I am, and who is there with me — in person, prayer, and spirit — matters!

How I eat supports me and all my work.

The things I do, and the ways I think, fuel me.

I always tell my Kindergartners about the importance of the struggle in our lives and learning. One year, one of them reminded me with great conviction “The struggle is real, Ms. James, and it’s important!”

Yes, my sweet, courageous, determined, girl — you are right. The struggle is real and supremely important. So too are these things. They overflow with life, energy, hope, joy, possibility, and power. They enable me to endure, survive, advance, and thrive.

So, with a big breath, I remind myself (and perhaps you) sometimes angst is just part of the process. But guilt? Guilt is inappropriate. Patience, peace, and acknowledgement of all I am, all I do, and all I have accomplished (with the help of so many) — that is appropriate. Let the bell ringing continue.

But first, I must collapse for a nap.

Erase Discouragement

Today’s calendar journal entry.

The image and letters are from some junk mail — hence they lost a bit of color as I worked with them. It’s funny how irritating I find that. And yet, it fits with the quote — erase discouragement and keep going.

The brown image behind the words is the cross section of a tree. I find trees to be some of the least discouraged individuals. If there’s a rock in the way, they work on growing around it or over it. Another tree falls on them? No problem, they adjust and grow on. And what about autumn? Each year, the trees appear to die as they drop their leaves. But even in apparent defeat they are brazenly defiant, surrendering only after putting on a spectacular show of color. And of course, come spring they burst forth in victorious life.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we erased discouragement — not only from our dictionary but from our lives? And imagine how remarkable it would be be if we helped erase it from the dictionaries and lives of our students! Of course there will be difficulties and struggles. But, might we approach them like a tree?

“Drat a rock. That’s not what I was planning. Hmmm, how might I continue and grow, even though this rock is in my way. Ohhhh, I wonder — might I use this rock to my advantage?”

Oh my! I love this. I’m imagining all the students — and teachers — out exploring, looking for their favorite tree. What will they choose? Will they choose one that is already tall and strong? Or, might a smaller tree that is struggling speak to them? What will they notice, wonder, learn, and think? The opportunities for growth, and the possibilities for curriculum integration, social emotional learning, and STEAM related activities are unending.

BE LIKE A TREE
Speak the truth. This rock’s in my way.
Acknowledge the dilemma and feeling. This wasn’t the plan. This might not be easy. Ugh.
Speak more truth. I want to ______.
Think creatively, and explore possibility. What might I do now? Is all lost? What do I know? What have I learned?
Embrace my strength and keep going.

I’m on it. How about you?

Join Me For A Piece of PIE #2

I hope you’re in the mood for some PIE (Picturebook Inspiration and Encouragement). Today’s PIE comes courtesy of author Byrd Baylor and artist Peter Parnall in their book Everybody Needs A Rock.

It’s such an unassuming little book — paper back with illustrations that are black, white, and earth tones. But don’t let that fool you. Byrd and Peter have crafted a piece of PIE rich with possibility and depth. You just have to take the time to sit, breathe, look, think, and find your perfect nugget.

I was gifted this book by friends who knew my penchant for collecting rocks while hiking — especially when hiking near water. I love the way the water smoothed stones feel in my hands. When I hold them, I am transported back to the places, sensations, and experiences of searching, finding, and choosing them. My collection of rocks sometimes expands to include shells, and other bits that fascinate me or increase my joy .

I keep them close by — at home and at work. Two of my favorite rocks sit on my drying rack desk at school. Many a kindergartner has become a lover of rocks after eyeing, and handling, those two perfectly river-smoothed rocks.

In Everybody Needs A Rock, Byrd Baylor shares her 10 rules for finding “a special rock that you find yourself and keep as long as you can — maybe forever.”

She talks of perfect rock finding spaces, but then assures the reader that really any place will do. I agree. I sometimes find the best rocks in the most unassuming places — nestled under other rocks, hidden by leaves, or somehow overlooked until I slow down and sit for a while. What seems to matter more than the place is me. I find the best treasures when I am most mindful and open to being surprised and gifted with wonder and awe.

Byrd encourages agency, exploration, and deep noticing. I particularly love her suggestion to get down close to the rock and “look it right in the eye.”

I’m reminded of the poem about kindness that my Kindergartners wrote last year. Do you see me? Really see me? That’s what Byrd wants you to do. Don’t just see the rock. Really see it. She suggests you squint. I suggest you give the rock a look when it’s wet, dry, in the sun, and in the shade. You might be surprised by the nuances each setting brings out in the rock.

I laughed out loud when Byrd suggested “If your rock is going to be special it should look good by itself in the bathtub.” But, it’s true! There should be something special about the rock, even when it’s all alone, no longer in the environment where you noticed and found it.

Byrd reminds us to go beyond what we see with our eyes. We should consider how the rock feels in our hands, our pocket — and I would add — in our heart and mind. Often, when I’m rock hunting, there is something about the rock that speaks to me in my heart. It’s something more than what it looks like, it’s how it makes me feel.

As I reread the book to share it with you as PIE, I was struck by how Byrd’s rules for finding and choosing the perfect rock are fantabulous rules for choosing friends — and not just any friends, but friends that you keep as long as you can — maybe forever. I’m not certain if that’s what Byrd intended, but I see it there for sure.

Just like finding the perfect rock – finding the perfect friend takes time. It helps to slow down, squint, look them in the eye, and notice them in different situations. How do I feel when I am with them? How does their hand feel in my hand? How does my mind feel with their mind, and my heart feel with their heart?

A super powerful nugget for me is Byrd’s recommendation to look without worry — or as I tell my Kindergartners, without fretting. We’ll find it, and when we do, we’ll know it’s the rock or friend for us. We just need to take some time, squint, look, and really see.

I like that advice for finding friends. I love the agency and the encouragement it gives to all of us — but I’m thinking especially of my Kindergartners — to trust our hearts, our minds, our decisions. Even if the friend, or the rock, isn’t the best looking, or the most popular, that’s ok. If our hearts, minds, hands, and lives, feel good and safe in theirs, then choose away, without worrying about others’ opinions.

Sometimes the rock that was hiding on the edge of the shore, under a pile of seaweed or leaves, turns out to be the most spectacular rock of all.

Every Day Is A Beautiful Day!

My creativity, positivity, and art challenge this week is to use things found in some sort of print form — magazines, papers, letters, cards, coloring books, even junk mail is fair game — in my calendar journal posts.

Today I grabbed an old Bella Grace magazine for inspiration . As I flipped through the magazine I was drawn to two pages with images filled with words. I decided to do a riff on a black out poem.

I clipped words and phrases that meant something to me. I looked for words within words. I cut and rearranged the words to create new phrases and thoughts.

These are some of the words, I didn’t use. I didn’t see any connections that struck me so I stashed them in a bag for future use. Now, I see phrases that eluded me as I worked the first time. Here are two: Positivity is healthy, and Turn goals into friends.

I enjoy the black out poetry process, and see more possibility, when I cut the piece apart, rather than use the typical method. I think it’s the ability to see things together, and apart, as well as the increased opportunity to move the words around. Seeing the words from different angles — even upside down — increases my brain’s ability to concoct new phrases, see as yet unseen connections, and have aha moments.

It reminds me of Edward DeBono’s concept of lateral thinking. The easiest way to explain lateral thinking is to imagine looking at something from the side. When you do, you see a completely new item. For instance, a rectangular sheet of paper suddenly becomes a line. And, depending on which side you look at, it could be long line, a short line, or even a line with a point somewhere in the between the two ends. Oh, and if the paper doesn’t stay perfectly straight you can see all sorts of other shapes.

But, back to my cut out poem.

I arranged and rearranged the words in today’s space. I returned to the pile of cut papers and searched out other words. Every once in awhile, I spoke the words out loud to see if I liked the phrasing, meter, and emphasis.

I always kept in mind the vibe I hoped to create, and the story I wanted to tell. The general tone and direction remained the same, but the words themselves changed as I pondered and noticed new possibilities.

Finally pleasantly satisfied, I glued them to the page.

Other than some fab advice in my journal, what are my take aways? As the lead learner in my classroom what did I learn? What do I want to bring to my learners and incorporate into my teaching practice?

Remember, use, and teach about lateral thinking.
It’s good to be inspired by others.
If you take the ideas of others and make them your own it’s not copying, it’s not cheating. It’s collaborating, creating, and being inspired!
Look for things you know.
Look for things that are unique, unusual, or that surprise you.
Take time.
Play.
Breathe.
Enjoy.

Be open to new ways.
Connections are important. Search for them, see them, and make them — especially ones that surprise or entertain you
See possibility
Wonder about the connections and possibility you noticed, as well as those you didn’t.
Embrace the importance of your story
Explore and enjoy the sound of words and phrasing
Search for the best but enjoy the rest
Iterate, iterate, iterate.
Remember there is always tomorrow rich with possibility and new opportunities to go again.

Join Me For A Piece of PIE #1

Sometimes it’s tough to maintain one’s sense of hope, positivity, and peace. Lately I’ve felt weighed down by the struggles around and within me, and discouraged by the remarkably large number of people suggesting there’s no hope, and all is lost.

I cannot abide that kind of thinking. I find suggesting hopelessness amazingly wrong and dangerous. It’s one thing to feel hopeless, it’s a completely different thing to suggest it’s the truth.

So, I’ve decided to combat hopelessness by serving up some fantabulous PIE! Luscious, life-changing PIE.

“Pie??!!” you say?

“Indeed!!!” I respond. “PIE – Picture-book Inspiration and Encouragement.”

Today’s delicious piece of PIE comes to us from the awesome team of Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds.

I AM ONE: A Book of Action

I Am One is full of hope and possibility. Hope and possibility that begins with one — one person, one action, one kind word, one gentle conversation. Sometimes the one is acting alone, sometimes the one inspires others to join in, or to begin their own world changing journey of one.

I Am One encourages belief in oneself and others, an understanding that no one is too small, and the certainty that the power of one is really quite strong. The words are simple, and well chosen. It’s the kind of writing that is easy to read, and even memorize, yet still full of awesomeness and strength. The illustrations seem simple — at first — but given a second a third look, or even a really good first look, they add richness and meaning to the story.

If you’re feeling like you could use a lift, or some encouragement to take action, this book is for you. If you have little ones in your life who need to be affirmed in their understanding of their own power and awesomeness, this is a book to share.

I am one. You are one. We matter. We — alone and together — can find one thing, one thought, one word, one deed, one something, to help beauty, goodness, kindness, peace, joy, love, and respect increase in this world.

I am here.

You are here.

Hope is here.

Always.

Nourishing Me and My Creativity

I love walking out into my backyard and picking food to eat. In the middle of the summer, I take it for granted. But, now, as the nights have a chill, and autumn is deepening, I relish each visit to the garden.

I marvel at the beautiful colors — who knew all the shades our tomatoes could be? Peachy, yellow, orange, pink, red, and many colors in between. And the chard — such a rich green with brilliant orange yellow stalks. We have other vegetables through the summer, but these are the ones that have held on the longest. I have been enjoying them with my eggs each morning.

I’m encouraged by how the plants persevere through hardship. The chard was hidden beneath zucchini plants that grew to an enormous size. When we finally removed the behemoths, the chard was there, a bit worse for wear, but still there. I’ve been watering it, admiring it, and encouraging it to grow. Amazingly, it’s producing beautiful new leaves. The tomatoes are nearing the end of their growing cycle, but even amidst the browning leaves, they continue to generate flowers, and ripen their fruit.

Oh and our figs! The tree is absolutely spectacular this season. Actually more like a bush than a tree, filled with ridiculously richly color leaves. There are also many many figs. The question is whether or not they will ripen. My fingers are crossed.

I’m enjoying some of the lovely green joy of the garden in the house as well. Basil, cilantro, and mint adorn a southern facing window sill.

If you’re looking to start some sort of indoor growing fun check out Back to the Roots. Their products are 100% guaranteed to grow. I have yet to make tea with the lemon balm, but the basil and cilantro have been delicious additions to many meals. One of my favorite recipes is this lemon basil drizzle by Rebecca Katz.

Now for the creativity. Have you ever heard of Bruno Munari? I discovered his work years ago through my study of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Designer, artist, and author, I find him fascinating. I’ve used Munari’s Zoo, and Le Machine di Munari with my Kindergarten learners with great process, result, and joy.

Today my inspiration came from his book Roses in the Salad.

I recalled this book as I was wondering what I might do with the zillions of green tomatoes that may not ripen on the vine. I love the images, ideas, words, and delight found in the book.

So, looking for something to distract myself from my head, eye, and chest ache — and always open for some good delight and creativity — I popped out onto my back porch and picked one small green tomato from the vine. Back up to my studio space, I harvested a browning leaf from my peace plant and set to creating stamps. I cut the tomato in half, and cut the stem horizontally. Did you know that the stem of the peace plant has a hole running along its length? I was pleasantly surprised.

I tested a few marks. They were crude, but they definitely suggested flowers. The stem printed multiple times reminded me of lavender. Encouraged by what was taking shape on the paper, I dropped some color into the tomato flowers, and painted in a few stems and leaves. The final splashes of paint mimicked the stem printed lavender, and added a bit of whimsey.

Tomorrow, if the rain has stopped and I’m feeling better, I’m going to harvest some chard — to eat, of course, but also to see if its stem yields interesting marks. I may have to bring a basket with me. There are a plethora of things in our gardens. I’m betting there are tons of fantabulous mark making items waiting for me to find them.

For now, I’ll resist the urge to go out in the dark with my flashlight.

The Woods and the River

The cool air kisses our cheeks
welcoming us back 
to the beauty and joy 
of the woods and the river

We pause 
to capture photographs
of leaves suspended above the ground
by trees that didn’t hold them in life

We stop
to free a witch hazel
trapped beneath a massive birch
felled by a recent storm

We walk
deep into the woods
through pockets of coolness
and dappled areas of sunlight

At the river’s edge
I breathe the air
with every fiber of my being
and remember a Nhat Hanh mantra

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
What a wonderful moment.

Smiling
I sit
and slide my unshod feet 
into the cold, rushing water of the river

I exist
in the epitome of mindfulness
body and mind together
in the woods by the river

I relish this time and space
so ordinary 
and yet 
so very extraordinary

The sights and sounds
of woods and river
flow over me
like water over the rocks

My jagged edges are smoothed
and the disquieting din of life
is drowned by the pleasantly deafening 
song of the river

Refreshed
and renewed
We walk again
amidst the trees

The moon greets us as we
emerge from the canopy of green
even now planning our return
to walk in the woods and sit by the river

Press

The 4 Ps of creativity (thanks Mel Rhodes, 1961) are person, process, product, and press. Each is important as one ponders creativity — what it means, how we might support it in ourselves and others, what it looks like, or how we might teach it.

My favorite P has always been press. I even had a paper published about managing the classroom press for creativity. It’s not that I don’t like the other 3 Ps, press just resonates with me. The other Ps exist — and flourish or not — within the press. That’s critical. Plus, I love constructing creativity, joy, possibility, and relationship enhancing press.

So, you may be wondering, what is press? Press is what presses on us. It’s the environment — inside and out — that supports us, challenges us, encourages curiosity and creative and critical thinking, helps us learn, or that makes all that quite difficult.

Recently I thought “Press is a lot like the setting of a story.” I mention that because we tell a story each time we write, or share ideas — about creativity or anything else. Thing is, we don’t always share the setting of our story. Sometimes we share about ourselves, or our process and product. Much less frequently we talk about our setting. That’s unfortunate, because, when we don’t share the setting, when we don’t talk about the things that press on us, we don’t tell the whole story, or worse, we tell a story that is less than accurate. That may make it more difficult for others to be creative because they think their press couldn’t possibly be like ours. We must have a lovely studio, or an amazing library and set of colleagues, or a fantabulous mental press. Instead of working where they are, or enhancing their particular press, they search for some elusively perfect setting instead of just sitting down, wherever they are, and getting to it.

So, to encourage you to start wherever you are — with whatever space is available — I thought I’d share a bit of my press with you.

My physical environment doesn’t always look conducive to thinking, or making. Often I’m grabbing a corner of my kitchen island, surrounded by the stuff of life. Sometimes that stuff feels like clutter — and I neaten up or find a new space. But, other times it feels like home, reminds me of who I am, and gives me the support and shelter I need to think, risk, and create. Funny, sometimes things that seem incongruous to positive press remain near me. That little pill bottle in the photo is part of my cancer meds. That’s a big press on my life these days and I try to embrace it as a normal part of my press. Thankfully, today I’m experiencing the presence of that bottle as positive and encouraging.

I think I may be the poster child for unusual creative thinking spaces. The other night, I needed a quiet, slightly dark space to manage the blechiness that I felt. At the same time I wanted to connect with art and learn some new things. That night, my press was the comfort of my floor, wrapped in a blanket, light flooding softly from my bathroom into my room. Interestingly, the connection between the two physical settings is a sense of solitude, combined with a relatively intense experience of being safe, centered, and comfortable.

Our inner press is also really important. Sometimes my inner critic rules my mental and emotional press — cranking at me about my work or ideas. I’ve been working on quieting that voice, with affirmations, acknowledging other’s positive reviews of my thought and work, and just enjoying a beginner’s mind. Consequently, and thankfully, lately my inner press has been hopeful, open, and helpful. The positive inner press, open to possibility, and learning, helps me make connections, entertain new ideas, risk, learn, and experience joy and hope in the process.

Thinking about, and sharing, my own press, encourages me to consider the press of others. What presses on my students, my colleagues, my friends and family, and the people who get on my last nerve? It’s important to be cognizant about the press others exist within, to act out of that understanding, and to do what we can to positively impact the press of others.

One quick thought on creativity and art. I just read an article in which the author lamented the many times creativity and art are linked with one another. I agree that creativity is not synonymous with art. Incredibly profound and valuable creative thinking happens outside of the art world. However, art is a part of my creative world. When I make art, I research, ponder, reflect, observe, take notes, think creatively and critically, problem solve, and often innovate.

Find Your Writing People

There is power in writing and sharing our stories. Some of it comes in the simple and brave act of putting words on a page. The gift of word and story intensifies as we re-read, re-think, and revise. But the real magic happens when our words are shared, thought about, talked about, and even acted upon.

I share my writing with a community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories – Magic in A Blog. It’s been incredible to have this group of writers as writing companions. We post, read, and ruminate. It’s pretty great. If you’re up for it, give us a look. If you like what you see, check out a writing prompt and join us. If it doesn’t feel like your vibe, no worries. The opportunities to share words and stories are abundant!

Here are some of the places I’ve found my writing people this week.

Embrace the Pause – Power from an unidentified writing friend

This beauty leapt out at me from my collage treasure box. I was flipping through to find a piece to add to a book I’m making for a friend, and this stopped me mid flip. I’m not sure who wrote it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had it for a very long time, but today, the magic was ripe and ready to be picked.

Embrace the pause. Yes!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not so good about pausing. Sometimes when I pause I actually feel guilty.

I’m on leave from work so I can crush cancer, and nourish my health. That’s a pause that sometimes feels like it was forced upon me. I love the more positive, and more true, TRUTH (can truth be be more true?) that I can embrace the pause. Embrace, not accept, or even live, but embrace that pause. We typically embrace what is good, helpful, sweet. We embrace what we love, and often come to love it more. So I yield to the power of this story — from someone I do not even know — and I embrace the pause in my life right now.

You Can Be at Peace – Power (unexpected) from Darling Magazine

Have you ever read Darling Magazine? It’s awesome. To be fair, I’ve only read one, but it was remarkably fabulous. I hoped they had another paper edition of the magazine waiting to mail me – I’m a fan of beautiful fantabulous print magazines. Alas, they did not, BUT, they had great products that used the power of words to bring magic to others so I bought a few.

Today, I noticed an envelope with beautiful handwriting addressed to me in my pile of mail. I didn’t recognize the handwriting or the city of origin. Inside was a handwritten notes (I love hand written notes) thanking me for my purchase, and offering their hope that it had brightened my day. It had!

And then there was the card. “You can be at peace. Take a deep breath, and remember: you are here for a purpose.”

Indeed, breathe in the power of word and story. Be at peace. Embrace the pause. I’m here for a purpose.

This – Power from me and a fab former fencer of mine

I am strong. Fear does not control me. I enjoy the fight. I will not be stopped. My determination is unbeatable. My war face is beautiful. What part of that do you not love?

I wrote those words several years ago for my fencing team. I made little cards so they could carry the words with them. I had no idea anyone might carry it with them for years, but I’m sure glad she did.

I’m sure I made one for myself too — but I don’t have it anymore. At least I don’t know where it is. But, in the powerful magic of sharing a story, here it is again! A fab former fencer of mine placed that photo on my facebook feed with these words.

“I keep this card stuck in a picture frame above my desk at home. I think of you and all the strength practicing fencing has given me every time I see it.”

How amazing is that? I told her I wanted to say “Get the heck out of here!!!” I still do, in some ways. But it’s the part of me that hasn’t fully embraced the incredible power of word and story. We lived a lot of life together on the fencing team. We worked hard, thought hard, became mentally and physically tough — and created lots of stories together. They were some powerful, awesome stories.

I’m glad I told that story of strength to my athletes. It was true then and now. They needed to hear it then. I needed to hear it now. So awesome to be reminded of the truth I spoke and wrote so many years ago that remains true for me, and my fencing alum. Rock on, Elan. Remarkably grateful to you for sharing this with me.

Oh, and speaking of sharing the power of writing. My end of the year gift from the team that year was a bracelet engraved with these seven words — breathe, believe, courage, fight, finish, skilled, unstoppable. I wear it still.

So yeah. Find your band of brothers, your circle of sisters, your plethora of profound and positive people who write. Or, simply find your paper and pencil, and begin. The magic of your words will find a home in the hearts and minds of others, and when you need it most will come home to visit you again. Trust in it.

Perspective

Looking to give my mind something interesting and positive to focus on, I grabbed my sketch book. Then, in a change of perspective, I made some of today’s medications the focus of my morning artistic play and study.

The first cylindrical container was pretty simple. But the others? Not so much. It seemed impossible to translate what I saw with my eyes into an image on the page. I saw shapes, but was unclear how to create them on the page.

Perplexed, I returned to looking, comparing, and analyzing. I realized the shapes I thought I saw, weren’t accurate. And, to my surprise, the slightest change in gaze totally changed my perspective, and hence what my eyes saw. It makes me chuckle to say I was surprised. But, I was.

At this point I abandoned my pen, and employed my blue pencil to sketch in the various shapes. That gave me the opportunity to try, re-look, and try again. I was able to have some aha moments, and finally create something that was satisfying and relatively accurate.

Then it was time to add color. I experimented with the loose watercolor technique I’ve been reading about. It’s interesting that the lack of precision — when embraced in a sort of organic, unforced way — added to my enjoyment of the process, and, I think, gave me a better product.

So, yeah, perspective. It’s remarkably important — transformative, even. How I looked at those bottles — with my eyes, and my heart and mind — made a difference in how I saw them. It was amazing how much they changed with the each change in my perspective — no matter how small. Equally remarkable was how difficult it was for me to see with accuracy, and translate that accuracy onto the page.

Rarely does the first look tell us everything. It may give us an abundance of information, but it leaves a myriad of other things yet to be discovered. Looking at things repeatedly from different perspectives opens us to new ideas, realizations, discovery, wonder, and awe. Unfortunately, we are frequently so enamored with success, knowing, and getting things right, that we forget, skip over, and devalue the incredible power of inquiry, exploration, and discovery of the more.

So, let’s grab our blue pencils, notice, think, wonder, make mistakes, be kind to ourselves and others, and learn! I’m betting our art, thinking, and world will benefit.