Creativity. The Soul’s Fingerprint.

Creativity lurks within the everyday tasks some take for granted.  There’s always an opportunity to step up to the plate.  It’s not hard.  Doesn’t require anything more than doing it.

To my way of thinking being “creative” means answering  that soft, small voice deep within me that drives me to write, knit, garden, and live to the best of my ability.  There’s an inherent problem that “creatives” miss.  That miss disguises itself as mimicry.  You know, we hear it all the time.  “X” is so creative, you should try to [enter creative endeavor here] like “X”.  That’s when my blood begins a slow simmer and not for the reasons you might think.

My friends are wildly creative and successful in their pursuits [read:  they get paid for what they do].  I stand in awe of their gifts, but I don’t want to sacrifice my individuality by attempting to work as they do.  As they say, “it works for them”.  We might share techniques, but we don’t attempt to replicate each others’ efforts.  It doesn’t make a bit of sense from a creative standpoint. The pure creative process comes from deep inside the soul, so basically folks are asking the artist to sacrifice their at process in order to craft like someone else.  Not creative…by a long shot.  Insulting?  You betcha.

What really spikes my blood pressure  emanates from someone who feels the need to control another’s artist’s emotions.  As Charlotte Bronte said, “Better to be without logic than without feeling.”  Yet, I’ve heard folks chastise those who are just getting in touch with their inner artist for expressing feelings that ultimately can be transformed into art.  It’s as though the “creative parent” corrects a creative newbie for crying.  The “don’t cry command” barricades the shell.  The healthy guidance would be to encourage an artist to express those feelings in their chosen art form. Anything else constitutes “creativity abuse” IMHO.

Feelings are personal…authentic…no one can feel those emotions  but the person who lives in that skin.  We might relate to another’s feelings.  We might recoil from them, but they are the energy that drives the artist.  Their feelings are their soul’s fingerprints.

So, if you find yourself in a situation that inhibits your creativity, that asks you to do something you know from the depth of your soul you are not, rather than shines a light on your art, run for hills.

 

 

Arthur…Arthur…Arthur

Today’s buzz focused on a tropical storm down off Florida that’s expected to give our shores a glancing blow. Eastern North Carolina’s Outer Banks might see Arthur reborn into a hurricane, but then again the lad could push out to the open water. Could be peaches. Could be tuna. Now why do I care so much about this cluster of heavy rain, tornadoes, and thunder-boomers?

First of all, even though we’re smack dab in the middle of hurricane season, as declared by the National Weather service, we see little activity this early in the season. We hear warnings that something sitting in the middle of the Atlantic may/could/potentially/who-the-heck knows arrive in four or five days, a real ratings-grabber if you work in television. In fact, an early hurricane visited on June 4-5 in 1825, clobbering Cuba, Florida, and South Carolina.  By and large, we start squirming a bit from August through late October.

What intrigues me about this storm involves its birth. It hasn’t labored enough yet to be dubbed a hurricane. Once it winds up, the next stop North Carolina, up and over the Banks, then it’s supposed to go east into open water. If I stayed awake in Emergency Preparedness class (I did), these are the storms that require careful scrutiny due to their time and distance.

The time reason involves the stopping, starting, stalling part of a storm track. Arthur might decide to bulk up in the warm water, slow down to savor the climate, or it could take off like a shot. If it takes time to graze and shift a little to left, um, well…not good.

The distance factor hails back to the old math problems we had to solve in school. If Arthur’s going 20 miles per hour, etc., etc. If he slows down or speeds up impacts planning because this guy isn’t four or five days away, he’s 24 hours away.

All is not lost. Arthur’s energy might be very good for us because we’ve been stuck in “Tomato Weather”.   The hazy, hot, and humid stuff that makes me want to stay in the shower or hug the air conditioner.   Dickens sits in front of it now in quiet repose.  The thermometer reads 88 degrees, but the “Feels Like” temp is 95!  The tomatoes have formed and I’m waiting for them to ripen a bit, but it’ll get done sooner, rather than later.  Arthur promises to take tomato weather with him.

But the absolute best part of the onset a storm is this:  I can tell a native New Englander by the language he uses to discuss the weather.  A native doesn’t call a hurricane a hurricane.  He doesn’t care of its name is Arthur or Zelda.  To him what’s coming has a name “The Big Storm” or “The Big Blow”.  Stories rise about past encounters involving rough seas, rotten or regal boat captains, incredible waves, and the pluses or minuses of a boat.  Sitting at the local diner, guys sit along the counter swapping sea stories to the point their adrenaline levels red line.  They’re going out tonight and to return before things get rough.

As the waitress places my fish and chips on the table, I look at the plate then back at the fishermen.  I’m not only enjoying one of God’s creatures, but also the fruits of these brave men’s efforts in all sorts of weather.

And I thank them.

Lessons Under a Night Sky (Part Three of Three)

As we ended our evening out on my neighbor’s deck, it felt good to just walk with Dickens. The minute he left the house he started barking. As I quieted him I had to smile as I felt pleased that I didn’t rip another guest’s head off, proud that Dickens didn’t do too badly, and grateful for the lessons the night sky taught.

As we started up the hill Dickens kept crossing in front of me and stopping. I urged him onward, but after two more steps he repeated the same behavior. “Come on lad, I’d like to get to sleep before Friday. Let’s go!” To no avail, this little guy wouldn’t let me walk another two steps this time stopping in front of me and laying down.

“OK, this is going to take a while.” I said as I continued to press him forward. Then as he stopped me in my tracks for the umpteenth time and laid in front of me, I spotted the cause of his concern. Emerging from the side of a house came a black dog. An off-leash black dog. An off-leash, BIG, black dog without a master black dog. Dogs roaming unleashed in these parts usually spell trouble. Black dog started towards us.

Admittedly, I froze. The darkness prohibited me from analyzing Black Dog’s intentions. I knew an unrestrained animal approaching a leashed animal might not bode well for my guy. What’s my next step? Pick Dickens up and run like the wind? Pray something got Black Dog’s attention? Hell, just pray.

As I bent over to pick up my charge, the owner of Black Dog appeared. “Oh, don’t worry about her. She’s a puppy.” He said.

“Um, so, how did she escape her six foot tall stockade fence?” I asked.

“Oh, I just let her out.” He responded as he grabbed the dog by the ruff (no collar, no tags, no nothin’) and dragged her back to the gated area.

“Glad she didn’t run into the road. Traffic can be quite thick even at this time of night.” I said as we trotted past them.

After a treat and a bowl of water, I thanked Dickens for what I thought constituted a genuine Lassie moment. He sensed something wasn’t right to the point where he stopped our journey by laying in front of me.

Guess he thought, “Well, you did save me from getting whacked on the head with a water bottle.”Dancing Light.”

Well done, my boy. Well done.

Lessons Under a Night Sky (Part Two of Three)

Pre-Hurricane Sandy Moon

To be bitter is to attribute intent and personality to the formless, infinite, unchanging and unchangeable void. We drift on a chartless, resistless sea. Let us sing when we can, and forget the rest..”
― H.P. Lovecraft

Tonight a few friends gathered around on my neighbor’s deck. A soft breeze blew keeping the bugs at bay. A truly pleasant evening on an early summer night.  We talked about little things, but usually by the end of the evening the conversation eventually turns spiritual (or, at least, philosophical).

One of my neighbor’s friends recounted the story about abruptly losing her dog due to a congenital heart condition. The dog passed quickly at a very young age. This woman never got over the loss. As I listened to her words and watched her actions her anger glowed. Yes, she loved her present dog. No, he wasn’t at all like the dog that passed. Yes, she felt a stronger connection to the animal that passed. No, she felt God had robbed her big time. If and when she went to heaven she planned to demand an answer as she asked God why God stole her happiness The bitterness. The anger. The tension in her voice might have at one time bothered the hell out of me. Tonight’s not one of those nights.

Tonight I gained another sense of clarity about my purpose on earth (maybe it applies to everyone, maybe not), but the lesson for me boiled down to this. In this life I have lost loved ones and animals under different circumstances, either abruptly or over time. There’s hurt associated with love. That’s a no-brainer. I believe the challenge, the purpose, the moral of my human story lies deep within my heart. Even though this thing called “loss” occurred can I rise to love again? Can I open my heart through the 7 stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described, or have I shut down only to wallow in something that feels dark and helpless?

Lately, I know what it feels like to say “screw it”. No matter what it all goes for naught. As I felt empathy and compassion for this woman I found myself saying, “I do not want to become this woman.  I do not want to live the rest of my life living under an umbrella of anger…resentment… close-mindedness.”  In other words, I saw myself dressed in anger and heard myself recount her exact words.

I don’t believe God put me on this earth to come this far onlyll to reach the conclusion that I’ve exhausted my capacity to love.  Not at this age.  No way. Through it all I know with absolute clarity that love and strength go hand in hand, like a candle. My flame might dim. It might be bounced around by the wind, but it’s still there and shines bright as long as my heart stays strong.

And in my eyes I knew I learned a valuable lesson.

Lessons Under A Night Sky (Part One of Three)

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. – Plato

Not the Perfect House Guest

Dickens can test the most patient human on earth.  He’s a handful, but little by little we’ve learned to communicate with each other.  To relay our needs without resorting to throwing things to or at each other, the exception being ball throwing.

Tonight as we enjoyed the night sky over on my neighbor’s deck, Dickens ran around the yard and the deck with reckless abandon.  He had a buddy in the form of another small dog to pal around with.  I admit he gets supercharged, especially if the humans are enjoying food.  He wanted his turn at the fruit, cheese, crackers, and chips that the uprights stuffed in their faces.  Wasn’t that fair?  For any dog, sharing the spoils seems natural, not for a gluten-free, lactose-intolerant terrier.  He had to settle for apples & peanut butter.

During the evening I noticed one of the guests donning the persona of a dog trainer.  She’d correct her dog.  Fine.  If Dickens and her dog came too close, she decided to discipline Dickens.  Not fine. Then she decided to admonish me telling me not to worry.  Are you kidding?  Not by a long-shot fine.  If her dog wore a halo, that sucker sat crooked on his head because as she called him, he didn’t come, which resulted in her…wait for it….banging on the patio table, followed by stamping her feet, followed by an elaborate shouting, banging, and stomping scenario until the dog responded probably in attempt to quiet her.  (And, just for the record, every time I called Dickens, he ran to me enthusiastically.) I chilled as I watched the scene.

Now Dickens has a strict policy that he not be left out when it comes to food.  If you’re sitting down, filling your yaw with goodies, he feels it necessary to get your attention by grabbing a corner of a jacket or shirt just to get your attention.  Well-behaved?  Uh, no, but not lethal by any stretch. Now our hostess ran into the house for refills.  Dickens latched onto a corner of this lady’s jacket resulting in the woman snatching her unopened water bottle in trying to pound at my aforementioned pooch.  OK, repeat after me “NOT FINE!”.   Nowhere in any conversations with canine professions have they mentioned or have I found a chapter entitled “Clubbing Your Dog with a Water Bottle for Better Behavior” in the myriad dog training books.

I snatched Dickens up in one fell swoop for a little time-out on my lap.  He  settled in immediately and gently put his head down.  With all the activity around him, it dawned on me he felt overwhelmed with all the stimulation and none too happy with a certain someone’s dog training prowess. Not wanting to cause a scene, I didn’t say anything, I wanted to, but out of respect to my hostess, I just held my pup who at this point lay calmly and serenely away from the mayhem.

So, here’s what the Universe taught me tonight:  1)  Dickens and I still have work to do, but we can meet it calmly and effectively.  2) If anyone wants get my Irish up, then if you so much as dare to take a full water bottle to my dog to what you call “correct him”, you’ll have to get past me first.

Plato was right!

Stay tuned for Part II

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

The Longest Mile Home

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It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Albert Einstein

Lately, I’ve tried to figure things out, which means I’m wrestling with fear and inertia. I’d prided myself as a problem-solver. At work I won awards for innovation, so now I can’t figure out what my problem is?  Until today.  This day, Friday, June 20th.

My neighbor told me earlier this week that her holly bush had to go.  She said the shrub had developed some sort of blight.  I offered to help her as I know she doesn’t own a drop of Paul Bunyan in her.  So, as she approached me this morning, something took over.

I grabbed the pruners, hedge clippers, and rake, ready to go to work.  The beginning of the job went well.  I trimmed as far down as I could before getting to the heavy stuff.  The pruners took care of most of the medium-sized branches until I got down to the stump.  OK, what remained left a tripping hazard.  Ugh!

Out came my neighbor’s new spade.  Let the digging begin!  Shovelful after shovelful of dirt grew as I struggled to loosen the roots that tethered this stump to the earth.  I’d joke here and there, but it dawned on me that this stump had me, well, stumped.

“Keep going, kid,” my inner voice told me.  “Keep going.”  I didn’t want to continue.  In fact, I felt fine with saying, “Well, this job’s bigger than me, I’ve done as much as I can. Later…”  A nagging feeling came over me, “Just stay with it.  Dig under the problem.  Take a break, but keep going.”  Each shovelful didn’t feel like progress, it felt like dirt.

My neighbor lamented our situation as a pile of holly hubris piled up on the lawn.  She wasn’t angry, but job’s enormty shook her a little.  I kept reassuring her that we’d finish (it felt like hope against hope), as each shovelful exposed entrenched roots after entrenched roots that needed slicing to free the stump.  She looked at me and said, “The longest mile is the last mile home.”  As the perspiration dripped American proverbs weren’t exactly endearing at that moment.

I stayed with the stump for a good two hours, but I thought about the proverb.  Digging here, cutting there, asking myself if I’d hit China before this rotten piece of wood let go.  Too late now, just a few more cuts. Don’t give up.  With each cut some clarity emerged.  Stay with it.  From that point I proceeded to kick, twist, dig, and cut with a new energy.

As my neighbor called the City to decide if they were really serious about bagging up the holly cuttings, I stood in front of her.  She looked up.  “Notice anything?” I asked.  She then saw the stump I held in my hand.  “We’re home.”

After bagging up the remains and putting the tools away, I felt renewed.  Reignited.

I’m not stumped anymore.

What I Never Saw Before…

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is a venomous snake.

There was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust.
Saint Francis de Sales

I’ve thought a lot about anger. Not the type where someone expresses their disappointment or displeasure to another person in mature way. Not constructive anger. No. Not those types at all.

It seems that in my life I’ve met many an angry person.  The explosive types who one steps very carefully around because you never know when they’ll pop their corks.  And no, these folks weren’t necessarily angry with me, but some other poor soul too timid or too shocked to stand up for themselves.  Or, those who grew up with anger and find it acceptable.

One of my summer jobs in college involved working for a man who had anger issues.  I’d type orders for fulfillment by the warehouse BC (before computers).  I’d sit at my IBM Selectric typewriter, at my little metal desk and type orders all day.  Then, like a nuclear explosion, the owner would burst into the room in a rage.  He’d wave an order or an invoice wildly in his hand as he chewed someone but good.    Now, as a kid, I acknowledge that I screwed up a few times and that resulted in an engagement of epic proportions.  Then the rages ensued because I was stupid enough to look up at the just the wrong time.  I tried to make myself disappear.

He was an older man – in his 60’s, tall and slender.  Adolescence hadn’t been kind to him as he wore an acne scarred face.  (I sometimes wondered how in the world he managed to shave).  He could turn on the charm for clients and if things didn’t go well with a sale, he come back and take it out on the staff.  He also had another not-so-endearing trait – he spit profusely when he got angry. Once, as he let one of the salesmen have it in front of my desk, I imagined opening an umbrella to protect me from the fallout.  It was just nasty.  Truly a “serve towels” moment.

The weird part of my employment with this company occurred when at the end of the summer, he asked me to return the next year.  I thanked him profusely, swearing to myself that open heart surgery without anesthesia looked infinitely more appealing.

I have a friend who needs to look at what anger has done to her life.  We’ve been friends for years.  My friend uses anger to control people and situations.  That anger, I now know, served to intimidate and shield.  She’d berate anyone who didn’t “snap to” as she commanded.  Her anger also shielded her from topics she couldn’t or refused to understand.   On the other hand, it’s as though she makes up for her anger by giving someone the shirt off her back.  Her actions are always kind and generous to erase the scars of her words.  What she didn’t count on was that her anger would whip back to bite her and now she’s lost everything because her anger alienated her…isolated her.  Just as St. Francis de Sales said, “She feels her anger is just.”

“I’m done with her,” said a mutual friend as I barely got a “Hello” out as I answered the phone.  “No, I mean it, she’s making me sick.  I just got told off for not calling you about our lunch plans the minute we got off the phone.  I know she has her good points; however, I just can’t endure the bad any longer.”  I listened to her patiently as she recounted the tongue lashing.  The omission wasn’t a big deal as the lunch doesn’t take place until next month.  Let’s just say it was ugly.

It’s only a matter of time before the phone rings and I listen to the other side of the story.  The side where my friend felt justified with her anger.  The questions for me being, “How will I react?”  Will I cower and soft pedal the conversation to avoid the ticking bomb?  Does my friend need the love and support of her friends as she travels this difficult time?

Yes, but I have to admit to myself that I’m not that kid at the typewriter anymore.  We won’t enjoy true friendship if I retreat from my life to disappear.  I’ve set limits on what behaviors are acceptable and those that aren’t.  So, as she mentions our mutual friends disrespect for her authority, as I’m certain she will, I’ll ask her what happened.  It’s clear that she glosses over her bursts of anger to confirm her inappropriate reactions.  If she gets loud, I’ll get quieter until she’s forced to listen.  But, and this is a big BUT, I won’t allow her venom, called Anger, into my life anymore.

I can see clearly now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s That Noise?

Did you hear  it?  I know I heard it.  Quite recently…like threw me into a panic recently when Dickens got rushed to the vet recently.  “Dickens, stop barking.  It’s okay.”

So, what’s the above really about and why do you need to know?  Um, well, if you have a dog (or any other animal for that matter) you might want to protect your charges from the dreaded Chipper and Chainsaw Syndrome.  As the tree service readied Dickens for a proper nervous breakdown a couple of weeks ago, several neighbors approached the lumberjacks for quotes on disforesting their backyards.  No business cards required.  Actually, most of my neighbors asked for a non-Christmas tree trim, but with the windstorms and sheer age of most trees around here, some are opting for total cut-downs.

Fast forward to this morning as the lumberjack scaled a very, very old tree…using ropes…way up there.  The tree lives in a postage stamp-size back yard.  No bucket truck for him.  He climbs to the top of this bad boy and works his way down using ropes.  It’s the same lumberjack who took down the trees beside my house.  He moves with amazing precision, swinging from limb to limb without wasting a movement.  The right hand knows exactly what the left hand’s doing-a necessary skill set when hanging 70 feet in the air with only a rope as your friend .  This guy is a master at his craft.

But, I digress.  The matter at hand – stop Dickens from going into a tip to tail anxiety attack.

The likes of which I hope to never witness again.  Nor do I ever want to see him squeeze his eyes shut in a make-the-world-go-away expression that melted my heart and sent us running to the vet.  Nope.  Not this time.  There’s only one answer to this equation and it’s called “Know Your Herbalist Best”.

Some folks encounter problems getting a medication into their animals.  In the canine world, a tablet or capsule en-robed in peanut butter does the trick.  Others scurry to the refrigerator for the cheese that makes the pill sandwich.  In our world none of that happens.  Now, when the small motors of anything outdoorsy and loud reach his ears he takes the pill containing Valerian and tryptophan willingly…as in “don’t sugar coat it, Mom, give me the pill NOW, before those things hurt my ears again.”

He’s snoozing now,but he snoozes every morning around this time.  The fan runs on the “high” the TV set to Animal Planet with the volume cranked, and I pray he doesn’t want to go out until these folks have finished the task at hand.  On second thought, gotta run, they just turned on the chipper!  Oy!

Thanks for stopping by…

And the Winner of Worst Back Yard in the ‘Hood Goes to…

Me.

Now that the tree people have picked  up the logs, ground out the stumps, and raked each blade of grass next door, my back yard looks terrible.  I’m not talkin’ a little sprucing up and I’m good to go.  I’m talking major overall.  I’m talking power tools.  “I’m claiming “Backyard to the Bone” as  my battle cry.

First of all I have to put together a wardrobe.  Now before anyone thinks I’m one of those “Women’s Wear Daily” stylists, um, no.  The wardrobe required for this task includes, but is not limited to, long pants, tall boots, long sleeve shirt, chemical gloves, and perhaps a mask.

The styling also includes the “apres battle” couture.  A “fast change” must take place the  minute one enters the house.  Clothes removed and thrown into a laundry basket with minimal contact.  I’m thinkin’ a bathrobe might work, but then that one goes into the laundry basket as soon as my sensitive skin hits the cool shower.

Now towel selection shares equal importance in transitioning from  “Backyard Warrior” to “Histamine Control Specialist”.  The post-shower routine calls for several towels to prevent cross-contamination that could lead to a membership in the Benadryl Battalion.   Into fresh clean clothes and the battle’s almost won…I said almost.

Those backyard battle fatigues can’t wash themselves.  This is where one’s best efforts can turn in a heartbeat, so listen well.  Before I touch that nasty laundry basket I’m putting on a plastic garden apron and gloving up.  As soon as the last Urushiol-infested garment hits the water, the apron jumps into the pool.  The gloves hit the trash.

Poison Ivy is NOT my friend.  Lock and load.

Maybe I’ll take a “selfie” in battle garb.  Nah.

Lessons from a Lumberjack

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The beginning of a long day!

Oh my stars!  I’ll say one thing for these tree people, they know what they’re doing.  They began on time.  Got right down to it.  Big bucket truck with chipper.  Hard hats?  Check.  Safety vests?  Check.  Eye Protection?  Check.  Ear Protection?  Check. All in order. Really. I took Dickens out to acclimate him to the noise.  Oh, yeah.  The racket from the chainsaw, chipper, and truck caused a stir. Every once in a while the noise diminishes and the peace restores my soul.  Whew!  Don’t think I could handle that all day.

The lumberjack stands in the bucket and flits from branch to branch taking down limbs.  He moves with a flow.  Every movement has purpose.  A “thud” rings out as larger pieces fall from the sky.  His ground men are always looking up so they don’t wear what he’s sending down.  I wonder if his arms get tired from holding the chainsaw aloft.  Just the lumberjack and his tool of the trade.  Maybe that’s what I have to do – pare things down to in my life.  Just the basics.  Just enough to put food on the table and use the tools of my trade (um, that would be writing) to go from creative task to creative task (or in his case limb to limb). But, wait.

What’s that smell?  Good Lord, the fumes from the chipper and truck are coming through the windows!  This equipment sits 10 feet from the house.  I run around closing windows…check on Dickens and Amelia.  The stench is awful.  I set up fans to redirect the fumes away from their rooms. I’ll put the animals in a room on the far side of the din and stench with three doors closed.  I’m grateful to have the trees down, eager to clean out the back yard, and to have a sense of sanity, however, slight restored.

Today feels calmer.  I welcome the rain.  The back yard resembles a battlefield with remnants of 100-year old trees slumbering.  In the end, my neighbor won the battle, kept us safe, and taught us a few lessons along the way, with the help of a lumberjack.

 

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What remains…