The Power of Story

As you probably already know, I’m doing cancer treatment right now. It’s a difficult process during a difficult time for us as human beings. So, it’s not easy, in fact it’s pretty tough. But is it doable? Yes. And not as bad as it could be? Yes.

There really is so much good in this world — beautiful people, edifying messages, helpful caring behavior, and many wonderful things. But sometimes it’s hard to maintain my focus on them because the difficult, negative, concerning, and fearful stuff is so ridiculously loud.

So, what do I do? Among other things, I turn to possibility thinking, and creative thinking and doing. Lately my creative doing has been writing — in particular poetry and the stories I tell myself.

It’s amazing really, how deeply my thoughts and stories impact my emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. Do the words I choose, and the stories I tell, actually change my situation? Hmmm … that’s a tough question because they answer is no, and yes. Or perhaps to quote John Daly from the old What’s My Line show, “We’ll give you a qualified yes.”

What I mean is, even with all the positivity I can muster, even with all the real, beautiful, true things I notice and tell myself, there is currently still Covid, still unrest, and still cancer. However, and it’s a big however, the words I speak, and the stories I tell – to myself and others – make a difference. They make a difference in how I see things. They make a difference in how I react to things. And, they make a difference in how my body, mind, and spirit are able to manage the battles they are fighting.

I still remember working with my brother on his Strength Training for Fencers book. He wanted me to being able to power clean half my body weight. After laughing, I embraced the task. Much like now, it wasn’t easy. But, the ease of the task, and my experience of the weight on the bar, changed depending on what I said as I approached the task. When I approached it with an inner conversation of “yikes this is a lot of weight” I experienced it as such. When I coached myself through it differently “You’ve got this, it’s not that heavy” I had a completely different experience. As amazing, or unbelievable, as it may sound, the weight of the bar appeared to be less, and the task was easier, when I told myself it would be.

Our bodies and minds are incredible creations. They hear what we say, and act accordingly. There’s a doctor who suggests our brain is our second immune system. She suggests it isn’t our immune system that gives up first, but our brain. Our brain decides it’s hopeless and says, “We can’t do this.” Our immune system hearing it, says “Oh, we can’t do this? Ok.” and lays down its arms in defeat.

With all that in mind, I turned to the power of story — in particular written story through poetry. I found an online poetry workshop — or perhaps it found me — that has been perfect for my purpose.

Our first task was awe. Notice the things around us and be in awe of them — the big and the small, the extraordinary and the very ordinary. Our second task was making meaning. Find the things in our lives that mean something to us, remind us of something or someone, speak the truth to us, and then look even deeper, and articulate that meaning for ourselves and others.

Here are my poems. I used a photograph for the first poem’s illustration to show the detail and reality of my words. I sketched the illustration for the second poem — taking artistic liberty — so I could enhance the meaning. The orange pill really is quite tiny – not even 1/2 an inch long. It doesn’t say cancer crusher on it in real life – but wouldn’t it be fabulous if it did? And the plate is not covered with roses. But the story — the meaning — is about the shower of roses and blessing, and the power infused into that tiny orange cancer crushing pill.

I hope you enjoy the stories I tell. Perhaps even more so, I hope you are inspired and encouraged to write and tell your story. There really is power in the written word. Take the risk and write. You don’t have to share it with anyone but yourself. Perhaps you will, but either way, the power is there. It’s changing things with every letter written, and every word and sentence formed.

I Am in Awe of My Silver Icon by M. James, June 30, 2020

I am in Awe of My Silver Icon

I am in awe of my silver icon
created by hands
that love the Lord
delivered by hands
that love me

She stands
surrounded by affirmations
prayers and
blank pages
waiting to be filled

She is
Queen
Protectress and
Amplifier
of goodness and connection
through time
with great love
to me
~M. James, June 30, 2020

Gather and Speak by M. James July 2, 2020

Gather and Speak

Pink roses
adorn the sides of my cup
reminding me I’m not alone

Therese is letting fall
a shower of roses
from heaven itself

Her loving hands send graces
as we gather at the altar and speak
saints angels and me

A small orange pill
rests in my hands
I ask that it may be blessed

May its power be increased
by the prayers love and presence
gathered here

I set the pill
reverently
upon the pink rimmed plate

Then I speak
to my beautiful body
the house of my sacred spirit

Do not fear
do not resist
be brave

Embrace and welcome
this little orange pill
with joyful hope

Accept it as a gift and
magnify its efficacy
with your courageous participation
~M. James, July 2, 2020

Be in Awe of Everything

Be in awe of everything. I love that! Be in awe of everything.

Be in awe of the amazing sky.

But also be in awe of the fork you use. Be in awe of the beautiful red tomato. Be in awe of the green tomato tops that dance like stars after they’ve dropped their weighty fruit. Be in awe of the cutting board, the kitchen counter, the floor, the house, the air, your breath, your very self. Be in awe of everything.

Being open to awe, inspiration, and wonder changes things. It transforms the way I think, what I notice, how I feel, how I interact with things and people, perhaps even how they interact with me.

I didn’t come up with the idea. I’m taking a poetry course with Jacquiline Suskine over at One Commune. Be in awe of everything is her title for Day 1. I haven’t listened to the talk yet. I will tomorrow.

For now I just want to sit, breathe, and be in awe.

Gratitude and Awe

Have you heard of Brother David Steindl-Rast? I can’t recall when I first came upon him. What I do recall is listening to his audible book The Grateful Heart over and over again as I commuted to and from work. I love his voice, his spirit, and his ideas.

I recently rewatched his  TEDtalk — Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful  and short video A Grateful Day. I was nearly weeping as I finished them. There is so very much for which to be grateful. Moments of gift surround us every day, we need only, as Brother David says, open our hearts to them.

My heart was open the other day as I chatted with a dear friend of mine. As we talked, she told me that I am one of the people who most encourages her as an artist. I was kind of surprised. I admire her as a creative. She’s a creative thinker and has an artist’s soul. She’s definitely a creative, and a talented photographer and poet. Now that I write those words, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m reflecting my true thoughts to her.

A few years ago I read Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley. I was struck by their desire to help others grow in creative confidence. To quote them, they wanted to “help individuals and organizations unleash their full potential— and build their own creative confidence.” (from the preface) I still remember reading that and thinking “SO DO I!!!!” (And yes, I do believe I actually yelled that! lol)

I no longer yell that — well, not very often — but it remains very true. Creating space for others to experience themselves for the creative we all are, is very important to me.

So when my friend shared with me, it was a “wow!” moment. I don’t think I acknowledged the wow-ness to her, instead I just stood in the moment and listened.  As I listened, she continued. In beautiful, humble gratitude, she told me I also helped her grow in her faith.

Again … wow! I always want — through my words, actions, and being — to encourage others in faith — faith in God, faith in possibilities, faith in themselves, faith in goodness, truth, and beauty.

The opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of another — for creativity and faith — is a gift. The doing it, and being told about it — again, a gift. I am so very grateful for my friend  our friendship, the ways we help each other grow, and for her willingness to tell me. It was a great gift to me. It was a moment to bask in gratitude and awe.

I don’t just have those opportunities with this friend. I’m blessed to be an educator and have those opportunities each time I go to work.  As educator I have the opportunity help each child who crosses my path believe in themselves as creatives, as thinkers, and as hopeful, faith-filled people. I also have the opportunity to grow in the same ways, due to my encounters with my students. And I have the opportunity to gift them with my thanks.

IMG_9210

I was talking with a young friend who is beginning her student teaching this year. I asked if she was excited. She said, “Yes, but honestly a bit overwhelmed as well.”

Yes, a bit overwhelmed! I think all educators can echo that sentiment. I think — within reason — it’s much like nerves in an athlete. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s an indication that we understand what is before us. We understand that we are doing something quite important. What we do matters.

I figure every year, I”ll experience a bit of that astonished, and sometimes heavy, sense of wow. I hope, pray, and trust that I will never cease to remember that the overwhelm and struggle is real and important. Then, with many breaths I hope, pray, and trust that I will treasure each opportunity as a gift, and always look with awe at the beautiful souls entrusted to me.

Blessings, peace, and joy to my fellow educators! Every day is an incredible opportunity,  a remarkable gift, a profound responsibility.  Be grateful. Enjoy them. Bask in them. Share them. 

 

 

Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:

IMG_9233

Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.