Some Things are Beyond My Control

The above title is a cliche. I know it and I’m sorry, but the statement is true. Too often the phrase is used as an excuse to explain why we’re unable to fulfil a commitment. In my case, this week it came to mind because of an advertisement that insists on popping up in this space, not once but in several spots, and it reappears in multiples almost every day. I finally complained to WordPress when one visitor told me it “grossed her out;” it looked like worms protruding from an ear or a rectum! Yuck!

The WP gurus explained the ads are generated automatically and said, “We do block a lot of ad types in categories like violence, sex, and drugs, among others, but some do slip through the cracks and sometimes it’s quite beyond our control.” This particular ad doesn’t fit into any of those categories, so I doubt they’ll do anything about it. Therefore, its appearance here is beyond my control as well.

Then again, that’s only partly true, because I have the option of switching to a paid version of WP without ads instead of using this free one. If and when the day comes that my writing becomes a commercial endeavour, I will do that. Then a professional website will be desirable. But for now my blogging is only a writing-related hobby so I’m resigned to the ads. If only they weren’t so tasteless!

Thinking about control reminds me that there are many things in our lives that we can’t control. For instance, there isn’t much we can do about certain kinds of violence or accidents caused by other people, even when we may be severely affected by them. We do our part — use common sense, avoid potentially dangerous situations, drive defensively — but despite that, sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” (Another cliche.)

We don’t have much control when it comes to some aspects of our writing, either. We control what we put onto the page, but we have no say in how those words will be received by those who read them. If we send off manuscripts to agents or publisher, we have no power to elicit positive responses from them (or to elicit any response at all).

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” said Charles R. Swindoll.*

And that’s the answer. Attitude is everything…and the only thing we can control. In any difficult situation we do what we can, then get on with living, whether it be with resignation or hopefulness. If you are a person of faith as I am, you add prayer to the mix. In any case, we have to move on.

When it comes to disgusting ads, I will continue to report them, hoping to make a difference. In accident, illness or limitations, I would hope to continue with activities within my level of ability. In the submission process, I’ll continue to write new words as I wait. After all, no matter what it brings, stepping into tomorrow is a wondrous adventure.

It’s all about attitude.

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*Christian pastor, author, educator, and founder of Insight for Living

Sunshine and Shadows

“There are infinite shadings of light and shadows and colors … it’s an extraordinarily subtle language. Figuring out how to speak that language is a lifetime job.”

[Conrad Hall]

Sunshine and Shade

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge.)

“Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.”
[Junichiro Tanizaki]
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[Today marks the beginning of my eighth blogging year.]
🙂

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Limitless Imagination

Focused on homework, my visiting granddaughter was unaware that her imaginative head gear was beguiling. The oversized maple leaf was one of her ‘finds’ during an earlier walk with her sister and Grampa.

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She brought home other leaves, wrapped around the stems of wildflowers to create formal little nosegays, but this one she plunked on her head and wore unselfconsciously through the homework session that followed the walk. It was the only prop she needed to be a studious pixie princess.

Where does imagination come from? A Popular Science article explains it this way:

Cognitive scientists hypothesize that our ability to imagine, to come up with mental images and creative new ideas, is the result of something called a “mental workplace,” a neural network that likely coordinates activity across multiple regions of the brain.”

Personally, I’m convinced the ‘mental workplace’ can be stimulated to even greater productivity by exposure to various forms of art, such as the written word, colours, sounds, shapes and textures.

Leo Tolstoy believed, every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression…

The feelings with which the artist infects others may be most various — very strong or very weak, very important or very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love for one’s own country, self-devotion and submission to fate or to God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked by a dance, humor evoked by a funny story, the feeling of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful arabesque — it is all art.

I’m not sure I fully understand how art and imagination are linked, but I believe that most children who from infancy are exposed to music and books, and who are motivated by parental example and encouragement to explore artistic realms beyond their experience, are more likely to be successful in self-expression and academic achievement.

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Julia Cameron understood the value of stimulating imagination by going on ‘artist’s dates’, taking time to refuel, and rediscover creativity. Our ‘mental workplace’ needs an environment that is conducive to empowering its potential, and unleashing its limitless capacity. If we want our stories to ‘infect others’, we must first experience the necessary emotions and images, and then be able to convey them as textual art on the page. We must constantly nourish our imaginations.

My granddaughters don’t seem to have a problem with that, but it’s an endless challenge for me!

Do you view your writing as art? How do you enrich it to be its imaginative best?

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Who Am I?

K-Yawn - Version 2

Many years ago there used to be a television game show of that name — “Who Am I?” — where contestants had to guess which guest was telling the truth about their profession. Two guests lied; one was required to be truthful. There is a different series, “Who Do You Think You Are?“, currently airing, where celebrities journey to trace their family roots.

I was reminded of these programs last week when I came across two articles posted on social media that involved personal identity. In order to get to my point I need to share a few excerpts.

In one article, Michelle de Rusha wrote about the hard work of growing authentic relationships online.

“I think one of the hardest parts about being a writer, and specifically a memoirist, is that it’s often challenging to know where to draw the line, how much to tell, how much of myself and my private life to reveal…Sometimes I avoid writing about [certain] topics because they are controversial, and I like controversy about as much as I like flossing my teeth, which is to say, not at all.

“On the other hand, sometimes I don’t write about [other] topics because I’m afraid you won’t like me, or will be disappointed in me, or will see me differently or less-than. I’m a people-pleaser at heart; I don’t like to ruffle feathers or disappoint.

“And sometimes I don’t write about certain topics because I’m afraid they don’t fit who I think you think I am. Does that make sense? Take time to read that sentence again, because it’s a bit convoluted.

“Part of this disconnect is simply a natural by-product of writing publicly. The truth is, you can’t know every facet of who I am just by reading what I write here … this blog and my memoir, even though they are about me, aren’t me entirely. They don’t fully represent me; they don’t reflect every facet of my personality, who I am inside and out. Part of that is because I have presented myself in a certain way, not to be deceptive, but simply because that’s what happens, even in in-person communication. And part of that is because you have interpreted me and defined me in certain ways according to who you are and what you believe.”

In the other article entitled ‘Goodbye, Facebook’, LL Barkat compares her sustained online presence to being at a constant party.

“What would it look like to attend a party for years? The music never off. Always the same snacks. No room of one’s own. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. And always the ready smile, because that’s what we do at parties… The day I lost my will to speak, I realized I was tired. I have been at a party for years. You could say the cause of this fatigue was all of digital life. But you would be wrong. If you said, “Facebook?” I would say I have been doing an experiment.

“Here is the thing. Facebook is “push” technology. Things keep popping up without you asking, and the algorithms pretend to take your wants into account, but you really have virtually no control. What’s more, you are connected (semantically) to “friends,” not interests, and friends put all kinds of things out there at all hours of the day regardless of your mood and intentions at any given moment, and because they are linguistically labeled as “friends” and not “people I follow,” there is a subtle emotional obligation that comes when these posts pop up, saying whatever these posts might say.

“All the while, you are swinging from extreme to extreme. Laugh! Cry! (Someone died. Someone just said the damnedest thing. Oh, that’s cute. OMG, carnage. Or, here comes a carnal clip of something you hadn’t wanted to see) … and it’s confusing, but you keep … on … eating, because these are friends and you are at a party, after all.

Respond. Respond. Respond. And? Express. The party has trained us (or have I trained myself?) to lay out the details of our experiences and our thoughts, in an unnatural constancy, until we have given over much of our inner life to the flat sameness of a digital wall.”

She suddenly stopped talking; her voice became mute. She’s said goodbye to Facebook, perhaps permanently, perhaps not. She may come back once a month “for a day of party-going”, but first she needs to overcome her social media exhaustion. 

Both authors are dabbling in the quagmire of what determines an authentic online identity and I can relate to their struggle. None of us can be positive that what we know of our cyber-acquaintances, or what they know of us, reflects the reality. The dilemma is, does it matter?

I think it does because in our effort to utilize social media to expand and maintain communication, the loss of a unique personal identity is becoming a byproduct. Online, we become who we want people to think we are. Consciously or unconsciously, we display snippets of positive reality for public consumption while we abstain from revealing anything that might adversely reflect on our persona.

Keeping up pretenses is exhausting. Combined with the addictiveness of the Internet, it’s no wonder digital communication is affecting us.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a fabulous tool for communication and professional promotion. But, more and more, I’m coming to believe it’s also leading us into an identity crisis. We can’t seem to function in the everyday — or don’t feel complete — unless we’re logged into our digital world. That can’t be a good thing!

We’re enriched by our cyber relationships, but our continuous connection is depleting the inventory of who we are.

When my late Aunt Norma was establishing her blog, she went through an exercise to provide a blurb for her ‘About Me‘ page, setting out a list of what she felt defined her identity. We might all do well to create such a list, and then keep it handy for reference.

Do you know who you are?

If you’re inclined to take inventory, I’d love it if you’d share your list.

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What Kind of a Welcome?

Welcome

Many years ago we repainted our front door. Finding the right colour was challenging. I was on a ‘green kick’, as anyone who has been inside the house can attest, but green with the bluish-gray trim didn’t seem quite right. Plus, green is considered a cool colour, and I wanted something warm and welcoming. I didn’t think red would be an option with the salmon tinge of the bricks. I even considered black, which would have looked fine but definitely wouldn’t have been welcoming. The door remained its original sickly off-white during the months of my indecision.

In desperation I finally decided “it’s just paint”, and tried a red. I was surprised at how much I liked it, and I have never been tempted to change it to any other colour. Last June, while attending a garden tour at writer-friend, Katherine Wagner’s home, I discovered she also has a red door and her home is clad in brick almost identical to ours. Her home seems very welcoming to me, and seeing that front door validated my own colour choice.

How we welcome people into our homes says a lot about us and about the hospitality that we plan to extend to visitors. People don’t generally approach a home where they expect to encounter hostility. Of course, painting a front door red isn’t going to change what a visitor will find inside. That’s up to us.

Sunday will be the first day of Winter — the shortest, darkest day of the year — and the beginning of Christmas week. We come face to face with Advent IV, where the focus is on Love. I’ve been thinking about how the world is waiting. We say we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the nature of the world into which God sent His Son isn’t very loving or welcoming.

With 185 villagers kidnapped and 35 killed in northeastern Nigeria, 132 schoolchildren killed by Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, an economic crisis happening in Russia, eight children dead in Australia, the Sony cyber-hacking giving rise to discussions of cyber-war with North Korea — no, I’d say it isn’t a very loving world at all.

We are devastated by the terror, cruelty, pain and poverty of the world, and frustrated because our cries of protest aren’t heard by the perpetrators of hatred. While a few people are able to physically or financially make a significant difference to victims, others are consumed by helplessness.

Then I hear of the $3800 raised by kind-hearted people to pay for prosthetic legs for a dog who lost his back legs when they were frozen to the ground; and others who came forward to help replace the belongings of a family whose house was demolished in a mud slide.

Money is donated to relief agencies, food is given to food banks, people volunteer to cook and feed the hungry — seemingly small and insignificant gestures from a global perspective, but life-changing to individuals in need.

We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a difference. As we prepare to welcome the Christ back into our hearts and homes this week, I hope He will approve of our love and how we are demonstrating it.

~

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say,
‘Master, what are you talking about?
When did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
thirsty and give you a drink?
And when did we ever see you sick
or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth:
Whenever you did one of these things
to someone overlooked or ignored,
that was me—you did it to me.’

[Matthew 25:37-40, MSG]

~  ~  ~

Summer Snapshot: Serenity at Dawn

It is a good idea to be alone in a garden
at dawn or dark
so that all its shy presences
may haunt you and possess you
in a reverie of suspended thought.

James Douglas

 

Serene Morning Mist

There is only one day left, always starting over:
it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

Jean-Paul Sartre
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But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

Proverbs 4:18

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Writing Frustrations and Bird Poop

Bird poop is not pleasant. It’s messy, and one of the worst offenders around here right now are the robins.

Robin

Once winter is on the wane, I’m always delighted to welcome the earliest robins. They’re harbingers of spring, after all, and that makes me smile. By summertime, however, I’ve begun to tire of the white accumulations that adorn our deck railings and outdoor furniture, and I’m no longer smiling.

Robins are pretty, and they sing a sweet song, I’ll give them that. But they don’t eat birdseed. The lawn and garden are their kitchen source for earthworms and berries. The only appeal our deck apparently has for them is as a bathroom… a place to perch and deposit their doo-doo, which I don’t-don’t like! Someone had a warped sense of humour when they named the species ‘Turdus migratorius’.

We had 45 people coming here last night for a church barbecue. In preparation, we had pulled weeds and tidied the gardens. Hubby power-washed the deck, and I wiped down the lawn furniture. You get the picture. We wanted things to be neat and clean for our guests, and it was… until late-afternoon, just before the first guests arrived, when Mr. Robin Redbreast dropped in and dropped. Ackkk!!! It was too late to get out the hose, but there was no point in stressing over little blobby things, as maddening as they were. I found a rag, cleaned them away as best I could and carried on, soon forgetting all about the annoyance and enjoying a wonderful evening with friends.

The writing application that occurred to me later had to do with not overstressing about little things. No point in grinding to a halt  when the wrong words deposit themselves on the page during a first draft. Better to look at the overall picture, get on with the job and worry about cleaning up the messy bits during revision. There are bound to be more messy bits before it’s done and we’re ready to put the manuscript out on display anyway.

In future, when I’m getting really frustrated, maybe I’ll try and remember to mutter, “Oh, poop!!!” then have a laugh and get back to work.

What’s your method of banishing first draft frustrations?

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Cruising takes on a different meaning…

A little reprieve from cruise photos… sort of. Yesterday it was cruising of a different kind as hubby, son and grandson drove our two vintage vehicles to a large car show. ‘Old Car Sunday in the Park‘ is a Father’s Day tradition in our area and is “one of the largest shows of vintage, antique & collector vehicles on display in Western Canada.” Last year more than 1,340 vehicles participated. This year there were only 534 due to the threat of bad weather (which never materialized), but it was as much fun as ever! The organizers’ motto is, “If you love it, bring it!”  and it’s evident that a lot of people love their old cars, whether rusted or restored, classic or custom.

Our Vintage Vehicles

Our guys don’t claim to be ‘collectors’ — both the 1930 Ford Model A and the 1946 Willys CJ2A Jeep were acquired quite unexpectedly, thanks to the kindness and generosity of family and friends. But they both bring much delight to our men who appreciate their enduring heritage and enjoy tinkering with them.

What’s the appeal of old things? Why do we like old vehicles, vintage clothing, and the ancient history found in books, antiques and museums? I think it has a lot to do with the nostalgia created by these reminders of the lifestyle from a bygone era. We like to believe it was a simpler time, a time when quality and old-fashioned principles were held in higher esteem, and when a hard day’s work created calluses rather than stress. I doubt our forefathers would agree with that analysis, but what else is it? Why do Currier & Ives Christmas card collections remain so popular through the decades? Why do historical and Amish fiction continue to dominate book sales? Why do groups hold such successful car shows every year? I don’t have an answer. Do you?

What’s your opinion? Do you like owning any special reminders of the past?  What do they mean to you?

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