Outside

I am not a particularly outdoorsy person. By this I mean, I do not ravenously partake in outdoor sports or have too much of a wandering spirit. I do not grow restless in one spot for too long, with a fierce need to be out and about. I leave most of my wandering to be done in my mind on distant planets or in the company of dragons. Or perhaps this is just wondering. Huh.

Still, I do not get myself all in a tizzy with gatherings, shindigs, bacchanalia, and the like. I do however enjoy long walks. No, this is not an ad for eHarmony. But, I do love nature and can easily spend hours walking among trees and shrubs and listening to the birds and looking at flowers or strange shaped mushrooms or rocks that I imagine to be toes of some sleeping giant hidden under the forest floor. There I go wondering again. Adversely, I love treks into the city, especially in the summer with all the festivals and streets shut down so that people can walk where cars had dominion, and food trucks lined up and bands on every corner.  I love window-shopping and people watching, and being a tourist in my own town.

And being from where I am, when summer hits and it hits like a hammer – as my significant other said – summer is on a switch, not a fader – I am overcome with an almost guilty pang to get up out of my chair and get out. I feel it like an obligation. As if I owe the outside for all the times I have ignored it over the  long… long… long winter. As if outside had waited patiently for me to remember it was there. Now I pay penance for all the times, past and future, when I have and will be happily choosing to stay cozy indoors instead of braving the wind, rain, and obscene temperatures of winter. But now, I can no longer cling to frigid excuses and seducing hot beverages. No. I must do my duty and venture forth.

So when the days lengthen and warm, and coats are suddenly no longer necessary, and legs must finally be shaved – seriously – for shorts and skirts and swingy dresses, and the summer crooks her finger, gently at first and then more forcibly with a hooked double nostril pull, I must bend to her will. Before I know it however, there is less need for those forceful yanks. I gather lists and create plans.  I mark thick X’s as if the calendar is a treasure map and a day, a chest with a broken lock that spills doubloons. I check that sandals, sneakers and slippers are in suitable states for sortie. I dust off backpacks. I venture out, inspired by all outside has to offer.

All this to say, that I will be blogging a little less consistently over the summer months, as I follow this moral imperative to soak some vitamin D through my skin, breathe fresh air into my lungs and generally creep, arms raised, blinky-eyed and hunched, out of my hidey-hole toward the naked brazenness of outside. Of course with all this adventuring, I may very well have even more to say, but my time being finite and my sleep being necessary and my effulgence of energy being miserly, I am forced to prioritize my activities.

So here I go, into the welcoming warmer weather. Summer, she appears, festooned with fragment flowers and lit by promising dawn until waning dusk leaves like a reluctant lover. Watch me. Here I go. Kicking and screaming… Ah, poor me.

Playing With Words

If you haven’t noticed I love making up words; verbifying nouns, twisting nouns into adjectives, playing with language. I love it when other people do the same. One of the first poems I memorized was the Jabberwocky.  I love using made up words in sentences. Heck I’ll even take acronyms. Got a few of my own. AWADJ, anyone?

It comes by me naturally. For most of my childhood, I thought the word ‘rumphled’ was a real word. It was only after several heated debates over scrabble boards and (back then) much page riffling through both dictionaries and thesauruses (thesaurisie – like an octopus-dinosaur but with more tentacles) that we discovered that it wasn’t. It was a sad day.

But why such a heated debate? Because when my father or mother said it, usually as an admonishment, it described completely and irrevocably the state of our unmade bed. Not ruffled, for that suggested a dainty frill of an embellishment, not the pillow-mangled sheet-eskewness of our linens. No. Not even rumpled, as that implied something that had tumble-weeded through our nightmares to end at the foot of our bed in a tight ball; even though we discovered that indeed rumpled was the closest to the proper word. Not unfortunately rumbled with its implication that some kind of nocturnal gang war – once upon a time known as a rumble – thank you West Side Story – had broken out and our bed the sad unkempt and dismal casualty of said disagreement. Take that bed and all of your ilk, for daring to force me into slumber. Ha ha! Alas, no, again.

Our beds were rumphled; a hodpodgery [like a menagerie but with less animals and more attitude] of all that those words implied; frilled and tumbled and combated. Apropos, as we were uncommonly contemptuous of bedtime and as we shared beds and bedrooms, our rebellion was made evident in the after math with a veracious zest. So rumphled it was, until such a time as adulthood and orneriness dashed our eloquent dreams. Strangely it was also at the same time that our war against sleep hit a denouement. We lost many battles that day.

But perhaps that is why I write science fiction and fantasy. I get to create worlds. And how do you do that? With words. Names of people and places with just a hint of exotic other worldliness to transport you there. Procedures and their accompanying gizmos for processes that don’t even exist… yet. Yeah – I’m looking at you Star Trek and your flip phone.  Adversely, words can inspire. Ever hear an exotic name and wonder at the story of the person behind it – or in my case, just make one up? I know of some people who collect interesting names. That would be a great source for inspiration.

Then there are others who mash words together. Matt Galloway, the host of Metro Morning on CBC Radio One has coined two of my favorites. Dark o’clock – the ridiculously early hour he must wake up to get to work. Mizzle – when the mist is so thick it feels like it is rain drizzling on you. I am so going to look for an opportunity to use that one in a sentence and with the way the weather is right now, it’ll be sooner rather than later. Thanks, Matt, for the inspiration. Who knows, maybe that’ll be a common weather occurrence on some distant planet in one of my science fiction books. Hmmm…gets me thinking… See what I mean! Inspiration.

And so, I will continue to use rumphled, not only as an homage to my rambunctious family, but because, imaginary a word as it is, it holds its own unique and distinct flavour. So in the hopefully not too distant future, when you read a story of mine and come across the word rumphled in a sentence, know that it is not a typo, despite spell check pinging like the dickens.

Tolkien made up an entire language. Can’t I have just one word? For now…

Springtime Poetry

Last post, I mentioned the April Poem A Day Challenge.

Here is something I’d like to share – a Haiku I wrote on day 7.

A Haiku is a 3 line poem comprised of lines that are made up of 5 syllables on line one, 7 syllables on line 2 and 5 syllables on line 3. Japanese in origin, the Haiku often has themes surrounding nature or the seasons and, rather than saying how the scene makes the writer feel, hopes to evoke an emotion through the imagery. I loved the challenge of the form.

To me, these types of shorter more compact poems feel like vignettes; still pictures rather than movies, moments in time, ethereal yet poignant.

Here’s my attempt.

Birds on bare branches

Voices in defiance raised

Implore summer skies

Hopefully all of us, birds included, won’t have to wait too long for the warmer weather.

Growth Mindset

Maybe it’s the impending spring but my mind is turning to new beginnings. Cleaning up the winter windblown debris collected against fences and the sleepy sluggish corners of our minds. Throwing open the once frost locked windows, finally thawed, to invite a breeze to sweep away the stale overheated air trapped inside homes and souls. Time for to-do lists with little check marks all crisp and decisive. For goals to be set. So, what if you set out to fail? I don’t mean that you’re setting yourself up to fail. No. I am asking you to give yourself permission to fail.

Have there always been things you wanted to try but thought, I’m not good at that, I don’t have any talent in that area, it’s not my strength so why waste the time… The reasons go on and on. Some might even make practical sense. I mean, in this day and age when time is a precious commodity, why waste it on something you aren’t good at? But how do you know you aren’t good at something if you don’t try it? And therein lies the crux of the problem. Fear of failure might be at the core of these reasons. And that is the biggest obstacle between a fixed and a growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D. one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, talks about growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Watch this Ted Talk or for more information check out her site. In her book, Dr. Dweck explores the concept of ‘not yet’ a way of measurement that does not focus on failure but on the process of learning, improving, bettering ourselves, evident in a growth mindset. Adversely, a fixed mindset prevents us from discovering previously unknown territory. It keeps us safe in the familiar, never risking venturing off the path. It gives us every reason to say no.

So if a growth mindset is a way to deal with the fear of failure, what can you do to go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? Here are the four main points from the book and a few quotes to perhaps help anchor them deeper in your mind.

Learn to recognize when you are holding onto a fixed mindset

  1. Becoming is better than being. Carol S Dweck
  2. Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? Carol S Dweck

Recognize that you have a choice

  1. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Albus Dumbledore
  2. Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. Deepak Chopra

Realign your thinking to a more growth mindset track

  1. Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Albert Einstein
  2. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky

Take the growth mindset action

  1. Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. George Bernard Shaw
  2. Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

So, what will I attempt while exploring and hopefully developing a growth mindset?  Writers Digest is promoting a Poem a Day in April. This of course is not a random undertaking, but a focused effort to better my language skills. I will push myself, explore my gifts, and improve my skills. I will be disciplined and committed. I will be brave. But most importantly I will give myself permission to fail.

So, if you are a writer or someone who has always wanted to write, or someone who’s had that hidden, secret desire that you couldn’t voice, even to yourself, you might venture forth this April. Of course, it’s an opportunity to improve your writing, but maybe that’s not the point. At least not the only point. You might learn failure doesn’t kill you. It doesn’t define you. You can not only survive it but thrive because of it. So fail. Fail magnificently and beautifully. Fail and learn and grow.

Whatever you decide to try, perhaps a purposeful exercise in courting failure will help to deal with not just the fear of failure, but those moments in life when failure is all too real. Because failure is more than academic or theoretical or just a word on a page. It is not just an idea but at times a presence that is a formidable as a six walled room. Failure is that niggling little hand that plucks at your heart one string at a time, calling you to hear a strain you want to silence. It’s that finger that pokes you in the chest and says not you. It’s that fist that closes around your heart until you can’t move.

Maybe that’s when you need a growth mindset the most. To keep moving, one foot in front of the other. To tell yourself, hell, why not you. To remind yourself, it’s okay, maybe you aren’t there.

Not yet.

The Not-To-Do List

On a previous post, I talked about how occasionally one might feel the need for a mental tidy. One of the most notorious contributors to that cluttered feeling is the T0-Do List.

We are all familiar with this sometimes growing, often never shrinking list of things that we must do, in order to keep our lives from descending into chaos. Sound dramatic? Don’t do the dishes or mow the lawn or recycle the garbage for a while. You may find yourself trapped in your house, a camera crew waiting outside and your family preparing for an intervention. I’m just saying.

But we never let it get that far, do we. We soldier on, pushing that rock on up that hill. Why? Because there’s no one else to do it? If it’s going to be done, you want it done right, and you’re the only one for the job? What will the neighbours think? What would you think of yourself?

Let’s start dissecting these arguments. You might find a Not-To-Do List surprisingly easy to create.

The no-one-else-could-do-it-like-I want-it-done Syndrome

Who else indeed. Did you know that there are entire professions, list of professionals, with the necessary skills and tools to get these jobs done? Google it. You might be surprised at how many enterprising people are providing a service for almost any task. Especially those that you might not feel are the best use of your precious time. Not only that, but as professionals they probably have standards that are even higher than anything you might be able to accomplish.

Got’em, Need’em, Trade’em Technique

Can’t afford to pay? Barter. That’s right. If you can’t afford a professional, barter with your mate, your kids, a family member, or even a neighbour. What might it take for a neighbour to mow your lawn while they’re doing theirs? You can return the favour in whatever ‘currency’ you both determine is fair. And who knows? What one person thinks of as a chore, could be a form of relaxation for another. You might be doing your bartering partner a favour in more ways than just relieving them of an undesirable task. You might actually be giving them something to do that they enjoy.

Other People Opinion Anxiety

Worried about what other will people think? Frankly they’ll probably think oh, thank goodness. I thought I was the only one. Sharing the load is something humans have had to do since we hunted on the plains. The fact that we have machines now and are isolated in our little boxed-off domiciles has made us forget that. Ask for a hand. Better yet, reach out a hand. You might find people are eager to take it and reciprocate the favour.

The Inner-Critic Visit

Now perhaps that negative voice in your head pipes up. You worry what does a Not-To-Do List say about you? It says you’re a realistic enterprising person who knows how to manage their time and recognizes the skills they have and values the skills of others. Look around your office, your neighbourhood, your home. Are there people with the skill-set, mind-set or abilities better suited to some of the tasks on your list? Are you better suited for something on theirs? Just because an item started on your list, doesn’t mean it has to stay there.

In closing

Now, there will be those jobs that just have to be done by you. Whether by necessity or circumstance, you just can’t put them on your Not-To-Do List.  If, however, you’ve re-examined these items and thinned the herd a little, maybe you won’t feel so trampled by the ones remaining.

How do you manage your To-Do List? What might go on your Not-To-Do List?

A Mental Tidy

Sometimes life is just too much. Sometimes it’s just so too much that we don’t realize it until we are sitting/standing/lying there and thinking; how did I end up here, feeling this way. Feeling…

Cluttered.

What I’m talking about is that lie in bed and stare at the ceiling sleeplessness that comes when the noise in your head may as well be a dance club complete with disco-ball and strobe lights and a nasty and extremely public break-up at the bar. It’s that multi-screen movie theatre flashing in front of your eyes as every random thought, worry, and concern vies for attention. It’s when you feel stress has come at you like a runaway wagon driven by the four horseman of the apocalypse and you are trapped under the wheels.

That’s when you may need a mental tidy.

For some, this slang intimates a minimizing or condescension of a real struggle with mental health. That is not my intent. Mental illness is a serious concern, and as such, needs serious considerations from those much more knowledgeable than me. However, I find the reality is that we all have our moments when we are plagued by worry, insecurity and fear. And while they may not be as dire as someone with clinical psychological problems, it seems to me that sometimes these more minor bouts of anxiety can have a cumulative effect, resulting in a serious impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.  Why not try to actively engage in solutions for those moments. Here are a few suggestions.

Exercise

Get your mind off the roller-coaster and move your body instead. Any physical activity that gets your heart rate pumping will do. Run. Walk. Swim. Dance. Heck, even housework would do. Plus, you get the added bonus of a clean house. Engaging in a little sweat equity regarding your body, can help to tidy your mind.

Breathe

This sort of goes along with the previous suggestion. I mean, try not breathing while you exercise. Does not work. So breathe, breathe, breathe. Fresh air is always preferable, but really the focused act of breathing will do wonders to calm and refresh, to centre and relax. Once you’re there, you can tackle the jumble of thoughts into an organized and manageable list of tasks.

Smell the Roses

No, this isn’t an extension of breathing, but rather a call to slow down. And don’t just indulge the olfactory. Treat all your senses. Go to an art museum. Listen to music. Take a walk in nature. Enjoy a meal. Better yet, enjoy these things with a friend. Slowing down enough to share these moments makes them even richer and gives your mind an opportunity to expand. An expanded mind is less likely to suffer the claustrophobia that a cluttered mind does. An expanded mind will see obstacles as challenges and opportunities for growth.

Change Tracks

Resume a hobby you enjoy. Try something you’ve always wanted to try. Take a one day course. My personal favorite is give yourself the perfect day that your ten-year-old self would have loved. Remember back then when you said when I grow up I’m going to be able to do whatever I want? Guess what, today’s that day. The beauty of this suggestion is that you can actually schedule these mental tidies before the clutter has a chance to become overwhelming. Your life will still be waiting for you when you return but your approach will be smoother as you pull into the station, ready to resume your regular schedule with renewed zeal.

Be thankful

When life is too much, we forget that our stress comes from caring about a life we essentially love. Count your blessings. Even better than counting sheep. When we focus on the positive things going on in our lives, we gain perspective on the noisy negatives. A de-cluttered mind is also so much more empowered to constructively deal with the elements in our lives we want to improve.

Have you ever felt the need for a mental tidy? What do you do to get yourself mentally refreshed, re-aligned and de-cluttered?

Turning The Legitimacy Corner

What do you do when something you do, that you are passionate about, that occupies your every waking moment, is seen as a hobby by others but a vocation by you?

How can you expect people to take you seriously, when your job is described as playing?

When do hobbies turn the ‘legitimacy corner’ and become jobs?

Not only do I consider myself a writer but I am also a musician. Awesome. Double-whammy!

I can’t tell you how many times, after I’ve shared my musical and authorial endeavors, I have been told that’s a nice hobby. Each time, I would have to grit my teeth and bite back a response. I wanted to explain my situation, defend my position, justify my stance. Maybe it’s my age, but now I just smile and nod and make my deposit, or cough and wait for the stethoscope to move to another spot on my back, or kiss my family member on the cheek. I suppose it’s hard for others to appreciate that although this ‘music/writing thing’ is not my day job, it is my career. I treat it as such. I have in fact been paid for it in the past. I endeavor to one day be paid for my efforts again.

This is often the case with art; you create and hope that at some point you might be able to make money from it. This is not as unusual as it may sound. And it certainly isn’t unusual to me. Art as a vocation is fraught with rejection. Rejection means that for whatever reason they don’t want what you’re selling. And when that happens, whether it is losing out on a gig or not finding a publisher for your story, you don’t get paid.  There are no guarantees that any of our efforts will be financially rewarded. That’s just the way it is.

The difficulty is the average person doesn’t have a frame of reference for this. They go to work and every two weeks, there’s a paycheck. Easy, peazy, lemon squeazy.  There is a clear line of sight between work and remuneration. So not only don’t they understand what it takes to do what you do, they don’t understand why you are doing it. You aren’t famous. You aren’t making lots of money. Why bother? Even the mere existence of your day job calls into question whether you are really committed. So, to be fair, the confusion of friends, family and strangers is understandable. It’s just not helpful.

Perhaps they don’t see the uncertainty and confusion that we wrestle with every time we step up to the easel, sit down to the computer, or strap the guitar around our necks. They aren’t there as we struggle to find the right word, or melody, or inspiration. For the most part, if we’re lucky, they only see the end result, a finished (or nearly so) piece of art without all the messy false starts, crumpled up pages and plethora of profanity that goes along with the previous. Often, the one thing we are sure of is that we are quite sufficiently skilled in doubting ourselves and our art. And the biggest doubt is about where the heck is that legitimacy corner and when will I turn it.

So if you are feeling exceptionally doubty in the deep, shy, insidyness of you, check out this podcast from Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl. Shawn has a way of putting your doubts, if not to rest, at least to their room for a nap. You might even share it with a friend or family member. Listening to it might help to give them perspective on what it means to be an artist and to relieve some of their own misgivings about your endeavours.

Regardless of others’ opinions, in my heart of hearts I know my art is my true vocation. I am in good company. Many great artist have had to support their art with day jobs. Some art didn’t make any money  until well after the artist’s death. Not that that is something I’m hoping for, but it does, in a strange way, help me to keep the faith (and eat my vegetables and get exercise so that I can live long enough for others to appreciate what I do). And regardless of whether or not I make boatloads of cash, (enough to be able to tell all doubters to suck-it) I know I am treating it as my profession.

Look – you are not going to be able to convince everyone that your art is legit. They’ve got their own baggage. And really why would you want to. You are too busy working your craft, improving your skills and fueling your inspiration. They don’t have to take it seriously. Only you do.

Advice You Give Yourself

I’m a big believer in lists, plans and notes to self. Ironically not because I necessarily follow them, but because when I’ve got something down on paper it’s easier to make a change. And often that change is in my own approach to the problem.

Case in point, last post I mentioned my appalling lack of get up and go [it got up and went – again I’m dating myself – thank you, School House Rock]. I found however that writing my angst down in a blog post helped me to work it out. In actuality, I was forced to take my own advice and in that moment I had an epiphany. A blog can be advice you give yourself.

So over the past few weeks I have been trying to change my perspective, challenge myself and shake things up.

Shaking things up

I had just come out of a November that had me elbow deep in words and story, and while that was successful, the burn-out was inevitable. Not to mention the previous months of plotting and planning for NaNoWriMo, that is a different kind of exhausting all together. Then December hit with a month load of work to be done in three weeks. Then there’s Christmas vacation that offers its own pressures. So what did I do to shake things up? I didn’t write. You might be wondering about that. That’s shaking it up? Doing nothing is shaking it up? Exactly. And for me that is a big shake.

I don’t do nothing. Nothing is hard for me. Please understand. This is not one of those job interviews where they ask ‘and tell me what’s your biggest flaw’ and you give some lame answer like ‘I work too hard and am too devoted to my job’. No. I only do nothing when I’m sick. Bed-ridden sick. So the fact that I wasn’t sick and still didn’t write is about as unusual as if I walked around on my hands all day and cooked dinner with my feet. ‘Cuz I don’t cook. The outcome? I ended up coming back to my WIP with a revelation about the ending that I don’t think I would have arrived at without the break in my writing routine.

Shaking things up means just that – doing something against your grain – that you don’t normally do – you being the operative word.

Challenging myself

When you go from your day job to your career, day in and day out, every night, and on the weekends, maybe the last thing you need is yet another challenge, but the problem is that everything you do carries with it an enormous amount of weight. I love to craft and for me engaging my hands crafting is a welcome change from all that typing. Playing around with something tactile is a break from all the mental gymnastics that my brain has to do. So when I found out about this abstract painting using what they call a ‘dirty pour’, it felt like just the thing to try.

You can check it out yourself if you google ‘fluid acrylic painting’. It was just the right amount of planning and chaos that I needed. So I watched how others did it and followed their instructions. Bought the supplies and got to it. My hands got all gunked up and I got to play around mixing paint and putting it on the paper and canvas. I challenged myself to make something, but I didn’t get too hung up on the results. I challenged myself with learning something new and focused on the act of creating. I challenged myself to not listen to negative self-speak and to be kind to myself. That was a big challenge.

Challenging yourself does not mean succeeding – it means doing something you’ve never done before – or that you find difficult.

Changing my perspective

One of the best ways to change your perspective is to see the world through another’s eyes. As writers, we sort of have to do that to write engaging characters. We employ empathy and our imagination but even then, we are still stuck in our heads. One thing I have been doing over the past little while is listening to a podcast at Story Grid. This site is, in my opinion, one of the best for writers. The podcast is, in its own words – a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. And how do they do that? You get to be a fly on the wall as Shawn Coyne, the creator of Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience helps Tim Grahl, a struggling writer, figure out how to tell a story that works.

This is a rare opportunity. This is a beacon to all those writers who have submitted their stories and received a form rejection, or worse, no response at all and are left wondering what am I doing wrong. While Shawn helps Tim craft an outline and then scenes you hear not only what could work for Tim’s particular story, but what works in story in general. Changing your perspective from the understandably narrow view of your present WIP to someone else’s story and also getting the perspective of someone like Shawn with his wealth of knowledge and experience is eye opening.

Changing your perspective – to see something from a different vantage point – is an opportunity that must be sought out – it takes effort and mindfulness.

Now I just want to say, I promote other sites because I am just another artist looking for inspiration and information and when I find them, I want to share. And perhaps like me, you are finding these gray winter days hard to take and are in need of a little inspiration yourself. Why not try shaking things up, challenging yourself or changing your perspective. It just takes a little gumption from you. Those opportunities are out there.

Happy searching.

Winter Blahs

It’s like the hamster running the wheel in my mind is curled up in the corner of the cage, staring at its toes. In other words, I’m finding it hard to get going.

I don’t know if it’s the weather. Overcast with only rare hints of sunshine that I can never quite time right to appreciate anything outdoors. It makes me feel less then enthused about getting out. Maybe it’s going to and from work at what has been described as dark o’clock. I don’t think I have SAD but I do find myself tired – like – all the time.

Not that I would ever suggest giving up any vacation time, but sometimes the Christmas break only reminds you of how much you’d rather not go to work. Adversely, you find yourself missing the routine because all that freedom is daunting. As an AWADJ you may be filling in all your free hours with all the stuff you can never seem to get to and you’re suffering from burn-out. No matter the reason, it’s hard to pull back far enough to see things accurately.  It’s a dismal case of can’t see the forest for the trees.

Trees? We’re talking about trees now? What trees? All the trees that contribute to that lost in the woods feeling; not knowing which way to turn, what direction is the right one and whether or not you should just stay put and not move at all. So in an effort to dissect that feeling, let’s look at some trees.

The Birch has a relatively short lifespan in the tree world. You might be feeling that time is running out, getting away from you, slipping through your fingers. I’m hearing like the sands in an hourglass, so are the days of our lives… But I am dating myself so let’s move on. Birch however grow in temperate deciduous forests which experience drastic changes both seasonally and climatically and are populated by diverse wildlife. Perhaps you need to mix things up, change your routine, do something new. That just might shake you out of your mood.

The Pine seems so perfect, all triangular and smug in their never-ending greenness. Are you waiting for the perfect time to do… whatever? When you’re in the mood? When there’s enough time? When you’ve had enough sleep? When it’s quiet? Pine grow in boreal forests where, on the surface, circumstances are less than perfect. They however can not only withstand harsh conditions, but thrive in them. Maybe you’re not giving yourself enough credit for your hardiness or you ingenuity. Maybe you need a challenge. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Create it.

The Kapok tree is the tallest in the rainforest, that’s saying something when the canopy may be over 100 feet/30 metres above the ground. Imagine the view from up there. And maybe that’s what you need; a different view. Can’t see where you’re going? Look up. Look around. Change your perspective. Trees reach for the sun. Try to do the same.  This time of year, that can feel impossible, but you don’t have to do this on your own. Seek help, company, inspiration and vitamin ‘D’.

So as we consider forests and their trees, remember trees also rest. The natural world has an ebb and flow that we as humans and our 24/7 lifestyle so easily forget. If you are finding it hard to get going – maybe don’t do something – do nothing. That includes beating yourself up. You are a creature of nature and just as the trees take their time to rest and replenish, maybe you should too.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to take my own advice and pencil that in – like – now.

Holiday Traditions – The Gift of Time

When you look back over the years, what do you remember about the gifts you got this time of year? Probably not much. But you might remember the friends and family visiting, the special meals or even photos with Santa.  Holiday traditions anchor us to the season and to each other. From the food, to the lights. From the music, to the hugs. Memories are made at every turn, engaging all the senses and making them all the more vivid and unforgettable. Traditions give us a link to our past and something to always look forward to from year to year to year. They can be an extremely personal matter, yet a shared event that enrich our lives and the lives of those closest to us.

Imagine all that enhanced with true communication, real sharing and more closeness with friends and family.

The holidays might be the one time of the year when everyone gets together. And if you come from a large or extended family or perhaps gather with your friends, you are dealing with a lot of bodies. There is something joyous about the raucous chaos of holiday gatherings, but in the excitement of sharing a year’s worth of your life, you might not be listening to what is going on with anyone else.

I mentioned emotional intelligence in a previous blog. Empathy is one element of emotional intelligence and perhaps the most difficult to tackle. One way to employ empathy is to practice active listening. In active listening, you pay attention to what someone is saying.  You listen to understand. You engage your heart and your mind and even your body. Everything about you should be saying, I’m here to give you my full attention. If you are interested in getting more specifics about active listening you may want to check out this site.

But maybe you’re thinking you don’t need to work on this. How can you tell if you haven’t been listening? Cast your mind back to last year.

  • If the only thing significant from an encounter is the memory of the hideous reindeer sweater your brother-in-law was wearing, you might not have been listening to what he was talking about.
  • If you can recall your meal to perfect detail but not so much any stories about your friends’ kids, perhaps you weren’t as engaged as you should have been.
  • If the only thing you can remember is how shocked everyone was at your office drama, maybe you weren’t asking enough questions about what was going on in their lives.

In the fast paced rumble tumble of holiday festivities, it’s hard to get to everyone, to have those intense moments of one on one. Heck, sometimes it’s impossible to finish a sentence. Giving everyone adequate soapbox time feels as impossible as serving a perfect holiday meal, but maybe, like a meal, all it takes is a little planning. Maybe all it takes is time.

Perhaps create a game where everyone is given a moment to talk about a significant personal event and everyone else engages in active listening. What about using a talking stick or a candy cane or a giant Toblerone bar that you pass around? What about drawing names and at certain times through the night, each person shares something that they are grateful for to the group? What about using mistletoe for something other than kissing? Or a necklace of tinsel? These ideas might seem silly, but I’m sure when you get together, there are people who dominate conversation and those who can’t get a word in edge-wise. Using some sort of game might give everyone a chance to talk, and everyone a chance to practice active listening.

Active listening can be the beginning of a new holiday tradition and the greatest gift you can give. So give your loved ones your time. Listen. Be attentive. Be empathetic. Being generous of spirit will cost you nothing, but an investment like that in your friends and family could pay-off richly throughout the year in deeper more meaningful relationships.

And to that, I wish you all the best and see you in the new year.