Monday, December 31, 2018

May You Live Like Lillian

Every year, no matter how infrequently I post on the blog, I try to wrap things up with a wish for all you dear hearts who have stuck with me throughout my random writings. This year is no different.

This year is completely different.

For the readers who know me only through the blog, I am very sorry to share the news that my mother passed away on Sunday, Nov. 25. Ordinarily, I would use "died" rather than "passed away," but Mom truly just slipped away. Her passing can only be described as a good death: She was 97 years old; she had seen all three of her children in the week before she went; she wasn't ill or in pain; she was at home and surrounded by love; she was up and ready for the day; she closed her eyes and peacefully passed.

The last words she said to me and my siblings were, "I love you."

I'll write more about Mom in the days ahead -- I want to write at least one post about the incredible value of showing up and another about the real five stages of grief.  (The Kubler-Ross model doesn't do it for me.) I want to write about the lives Mom touched -- you wouldn't believe the outpouring of love and the remembrances.

But, for right now, I want to give you this:

In 2019, may you live like Lillian. May you have faith. May you wake every day eager to see what happens next. May you be willing to be delighted. May you look for the best in everyone and everything. May you face challenges with courage and strength. May you write poetry. May you play bingo or mah jongg or a board game with people you love. May you celebrate every win. May you forgive and forget. May you always be a flirt. May you create a family of friends. May you live a life that helps and cheers and inspires others. May you live like Lillian.

Mom's most famous poem.
One of Eva's friends had this made for her.
It's lovely. People are lovely. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Supporting the Tree of Life

In my volunteer job at a local Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), I rock babies. I rock babies of all colors and nationalities. Black babies, brown babies, white babies, yellow babies -- and every beautiful blend you can imagine.

To my knowledge, these infants don't care that I'm a white Jewish woman. They snuggle in because they sense safety in my arms. They know I will hold them close, rock them gently, and sing quietly off-key.

It's lovely. It's my weekly contribution to a Tree of Life that grows with a glorious variety of branches.

And yet. And yet. One of the grandfathers of one of the preemies I rock could want me dead.

Let's say that again.

One of the grandfathers of one of the preemies I rock could want me dead. Without knowing me, without a grasp of my politics, without understanding my religion.

According to today's news reports, one of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue murders -- 97-year-old Rose Mallinger -- was a Holocaust survivor.

Let's say that again.

A 97-year-old woman who survived Hitler was killed by an American simply because she was Jewish. She was murdered by an American fed on a constant stream of anti-Semitic, anti-Other rants that continually gain momentum in today's virulent, violent political environment.

You still with me?

Good. Because we can do better than this. We are better than this.

Let's say that again.

We are better than this. We are good, caring people. We are Americans. This is not representative of who or what we are.

What reminds me to believe we can do better? Let me share part of a note I received on the day of the shooting from my dear friend Deb A.:
"I just had to reach out to you to let you know that my heart is broken over the events of today. These are such troubled and sometimes hopeless feeling times right now. It seems like every day brings some new horror to face. We have to get through them, we will get through them. Please try not to be discouraged. For every madman, there are so many more good people who want to do the right thing."

Every week, at the NICU, I say a silent prayer for the babies I rock. It's not something I plan to do, it just comes automatically -- possibly because the Jewish prayers I grew up with often involved standing and rocking, a kind of rhythmic full-body prayer. So, as I rock, I pray to the G-d I know, the G-d of the Jews.

But it could be any higher being. I just want as many positive vibes in the universe as possible for that teeny person.

I recently chatted with a Muslim mother about her daughter, born far too early, but doing well. The baby was born on the 18th of the month, so I told her that was a good sign in Judaism -- 18 stands for chai, life. And this exhausted, worried mother took a deep breath, smiled and said, "Thank you for telling me. All our traditions must be respected."

If you respect me and my traditions, if you're one of the good people who want to do the right thing, then I have a favor to ask. Do the right thing. Reach out to a Jewish neighbor or colleague. Donate to a group that fights hatred. And, for G-d's sake, vote.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Love Letter to My Baby, on Turning 25

When Mary Nell was a baby and toddler (she's 2 in this pic), I told her she was cute approximately 99 million times a day. I mean, look at those curls. Look at that face.

But, every once in a while, my feminist self would kick in, and I'd also tell her she was smart and kind and brave and good. You know, all the traits that actually matter.

When Mary Moo was a little girl (4 in this pic), we had a different daily conversation. She would do something absolutely wrong, break all the rules, then look at me, bat those eyes, and ask, "Are you happy of me, Mommy?" And, all too often, instead of a well-deserved punishment, I'd give her a hug.

But, every once in a while, my sensible self would kick in, and I'd also tell her she knew better and send her to time out. (Where, I have to tell you, she would sit and giggle and play with dust in the air. Everything that worked with Kate was useless with this one.)

Now, whoosh! My baby is 25 today. I'm very happy of her. And she's still cute.

More importantly, she's also smart and kind and brave and good. Happy birthday, Mary Nell, Mary Moo, Mary! Here's a candle for this year, all the years past, and one to grow on.

May all your birthday wishes come true.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Got Style? Get Dreyer's English.

Did you know that William Strunk Jr. wrote the original version of The Elements of Style in 1918? And not one single person went online and preordered. Oy. 

Fortunately, a century later, we're better prepared to embrace the next style classic: Dreyer's English, by Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House and continual proof that social media does have redeeming value. 
According to the good folk at Penguin Random House, the book -- available for preorders now -- is witty, informative and chockful of good advice that can help us all write better. And we all write. (Yes, yes. I write for a living. But you, dear heart, write emails and reports and Tweets and love letters. If you're not writing love letters, shape up.) 

More good news! You don't need to wait until the book publishes in January to enjoy Dreyer's clarity and style. Follow him on Twitter. Then, check out his grammatical bon mots at #CopyeditingProTip, such as: 

Wondering if I was compensated for this post? I do love a cynic. Thank you for asking, and the answer is no. I preordered a book, and look forward to receiving this century's style guide!
New style guide? Absolutely welcome.
But old typewriters cannot be replaced. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Problem with Dead People

Writers don’t typically give you the punch line to a story in the lead paragraph. We want you to have a reason to keep reading. Nonetheless, I’m going to clarify the problem with dead people right now: They can’t apologize.

Ah, now you know. And you’re still here, aren’t you? I understand why. Your dead person can’t apologize. Neither can mine.

The good news? We can still forgive them and move on.

Have you seen Coco? And, no, I’m not digressing. The movie beautifully illustrates the Day of the Dead concept. To loosely summarize: Our loved ones aren’t truly gone as long as we remember them. I want to take that theory to the next step – let’s say the ones who hurt us in life aren’t truly at peace until we forgive them.

Sure, they had power here – your dead one might have seriously damaged your self-esteem or changed your perspective on life. But they’re gone now, and we have the power. We can stop letting their past actions determine our future. We can let them rest in peace, as we move forward in peace.

Step One: Reclaim your power.
In my e-book, I talk about wizards – we grant some people (living or dead) the power to change how we see ourselves. Every time your mind goes to that negative place, with that negative interaction, visualize a stop sign. Clearly see it in your head. Then, stop the voice and force yourself to think of something else. I’ve done it, and you can too – I know you can.

Step Two: Hear me.
If you have trouble stopping the voice and mentally turning the corner, substitute my voice. Hear me saying, “You are amazing and good and wonderful and strong.” Because you are. (I know, there are one or two CI readers who don’t actually know me and haven’t heard my voice. If that’s you, and you can’t hear me, then see this in your head:


If that seems like a leap, then try the affirmation I use: I choose to be kind to myself.

Step Three: Grant forgiveness, for your own sake.
This step is the big one, and we all have different ways to forgive. Maybe you write the issue down on paper and burn the paper. Maybe you say, aloud, “I forgive you.” Maybe you say, “What you did was horrible and wrong. I love you still. I thank you for all the good you did. And I forgive you.”

Step Four: Understand that it’s a process.
If you’ve been carrying a dead person on your back for years, that’s a lot of weight. You might not drop it all today. But, you can let it go! You can. Because you, my friend, are amazing. And far stronger than you know.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

#pocketpoem -- Poem in Your Pocket Day

April is fantastic -- filled with special days. And today is one of them! We're celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day with the American Academy of Poets.

What? Did I hear you say you don't have a poem in your pocket? People, people, people. Have I taught you nothing? Click here, scroll, find a poem, print it, pocket it. Or, just print this gorgeousness from Edward Hirsch. Enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Creativity Tips: Be Delighted

One of the most creative forces in the universe turns 97 today. We celebrated Mom's birthday Saturday, and she sang songs, laughed, ate pizza and cupcakes, and said the flavored LaCroix was "the best water I ever had -- it really has some pip!"

Mom really has some pip.

Today, in honor of her birthday, I'm sharing a couple of the "secrets" that keep her young and creative:

1. Mom is always willing to be delighted. Think about that. She approaches everything from a meal to a bingo game expecting good things. It's not optimism. It's faith. Mom has a rock-solid faith that everything happens for the best.

2. Mom is observant. When she was younger and we'd go out together, Mom was always encouraging us to, "Look up!" There were clouds in the sky, gargoyles on buildings, a never-ending source of wonder -- all you had to do was look up and see it.

3. Mom is grateful. There are some incredibly grumpy people in her nursing home. She's not one of them. She still thanks the people who help her, and asks them questions -- she's still engaged in their lives and grateful for their assistance.

I could go on, but three is magical and so is my Mom. Help me celebrate her today -- be delighted, look up, and find something and someone to be grateful for this week!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Creativity Tip: Write a note. Right now.

Oh sure, it's National Poetry Month and we all know how I feel about that. Poetry is life in lovely lines. BUT, did you know that April is also National Card and Letter Writing Month? It's true -- I wouldn't kid you about something as important as putting pen to paper.

What kind of card or letter should you write? Love letters come in many forms -- they don't have to be romantic; they just need to convey your heart. Thank you letters are always a delight. If you haven't received a gift lately, write a note about a gift from years ago that you still enjoy. How about an empathy card to a friend who's struggling?

There are millions of cards out there; my personal favorites tend to come from Emily McDowell:
While I love stationery of all kind, I'll tell you a secret: Plain old paper works too. And if you really, really, really can't think of anything to write, here's an idea: Copy a poem -- you'll have National Poetry Month covered too.

Don't forget: SWALCAKWS*.

*Newsflash: LOL and BRB came long after SWAK (sealed with a kiss) and SWALCAKWS (sealed with a lick, 'cause a kiss won't stick).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

National Poetry Month: The Journey by Mary Oliver

Hi you! I haven't posted in ever so long. But, it's National Poetry Month, and I just read a gorgeous article from 2011: Maria Shriver interviewing Mary Oliver, one of my all-time favorite poets.

So, this is for you -- in honor of National Poetry Month, and April birthdays, and Mary Oliver, and Maria Shriver, and all of us trying to save lives that are not ours to save.

(Hmmm. Can you read the poem? I can't, but the image is pretty so I'm keeping it here. Use this link if the words are too teeny to read.)

Friday, January 26, 2018

#BookReview -- This Is How It Always Is

What's your family's secret?

We all have secrets. Every person, every family. And we protect those secrets -- until, one day, we don't.

In Laurie Frankel's beautifully crafted This Is How It Always Is, the core secret is about a child's gender identity. Frankel is well-versed in the topic. She is raising a transgender child. But, as her experience and this novel reveal, who we are goes far beyond our gender.

This Is How It Always Is takes us inside an enduring love story and an evolving fairy tale. We travel along with Rosie and Penn and their family as they move from one state to another, one country to another, in search of ... well, read it and find out.

As you read, you'll come across phrases that make you say: Yep. I know exactly what she means. For example:
"Rosie's number-one concern was: what would make Claude happy?
Penn's number-one concern was: what would make Claude happy?
But happy is harder than it sounds."

Happy is harder than it sounds. Parenting is harder than it sounds. Love is harder than it sounds. But deciding to read this book? That's easy.

I give it Four Bookmarks. Which is like Four Stars out of a Five Star review, only booky. Five Bookmarks, FYI, has to be up there with Little Women.

(And big thanks to Shanna for giving me the book!)

Monday, January 22, 2018

#MondayMotivation -- I'm the Captain Now

Happy Monday! Let's start the week with a quick reminder. No matter what's happening in your life, no matter how you're faring with resolutions, no matter where you work or who you work with or what's on that unending "to do" list --- you are the boss of you.

No one is holding you hostage. Your choices shape your future. You steer the boat.

So say it with me, loud and proud: I'm the captain now!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Fun: What's Wrong with this Picture?

OK, the problem isn't with the picture. It's in the headline. I'll wait while you see it.

La di da di da ...

Ok, good! You and I are as one on this. Chris Evans may be a fine actor, but ... can he really transform into Meryl Streep or Mila Kunis? Sentence structure, peeps. It matters.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Creativity Exercise: I Have a Dream

Do you have a dream? Of course you do. We all do. Now, you might not have shared it with anyone. It's completely possible you haven't even verbalized it clearly to yourself. 

Today, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we're going to change that. Pull out a clean sheet of paper, copy the lines below, and fill in the blanks.

For the world
I have a dream that one day ...

For my country
I have a dream that my ...

For myself
I have a dream that ...

If you want to share your responses, terrific. I'm always delighted to hear from you. But, this is an exercise for you -- an exercise to move you closer to your dreams. Happy Monday!

P.S. Do you know why Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech is a classic? I outlined my theory in this 2013 post. It's a good post. Click and read.*

*I have many faults. False humility has never been one of them.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Fun: Play with Canva

Kate recently introduced me to Canva -- super cool, very fun. (Hmmm. Do the adjectives describe Kate? Or Canva? Poor sentence structure, but the truth either way.)

But I digress. Canva makes creativity easy. I made this postcard in about a minute. For free. Seriously. One minute. No money. Go play!

Perhaps the little mustache is supposed to make you think of Groucho.
Or, perhaps, I was too lazy to search for another little icon. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Creativity Exercise: Intentionally Left Blank

When Tom received his new Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance card this year, the mailing piece had room for two cards. Since he only received one, the other card said:

As Tom expected, this makes me insane. Why? First of all, the card is not blank, is it? Printing this copy on the plastic makes it intentionally not blank.

Far more importantly, why would BCBS (and all the other companies that do this) waste such a perfectly wonderful opportunity? That white space -- the blank card, the blank page -- is a ready-made canvas for eye-catching, brand-building copy.

It could be a simple thank you message, or a mini-billboard, or a funny joke, or a brain twister, or a fortune cookie line, or ... you tell me.

No, seriously. You tell me. Let your mind intentionally go blank. Then, fill it with fun creative ideas for this card. Go!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday Fun: Ethel Merman

I know, I know, I know. I have aged myself 5,000 years simply by mentioning Ethel Merman.

I don't care. They just don't make 'em like Ethel Merman anymore. I double-dog dare you to watch this clip of her and the Sesame Street gang without grinning.

(Do I sound any younger now that I mentioned Sesame Street? No? Oh well ...)

She always reminds me of my grandmother.
Big personality, wholehearted, big smile.
God rest both their souls. 
If you're not familiar with Ethel Merman, check this out. Fascinating woman. And as you read this quote, keep in mind that she died in 1984:

I believe in asserting myself, but only for things that are important. Anybody who's worth her salt has to fight for her rights once in a while or get shoved around.

Or, as we say these days: #TimesUp

Happy weekend!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

#Creative Critic: New books and California Typewriter

According to Stephen King, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

I'm certainly not going to argue with Stephen King. I am going to find time to read more this year, and I'm off to a good start with this holiday gift collection:

I'm well into This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel and I love it -- I'll post a review when I'm done. I may tackle the Tom Hanks collection next.

Speaking of Tom Hanks, he's adorable. That is not a review. That's a fact. And if you haven't watched him and all the other typewriter fanatics in California Typewriter, you should. Really interesting documentary, with perspectives from Hanks, David McCullough, Sam Shepard, John Mayer and others. Many of their comments re: creativity, tactile feedback, the freedom of the instant, etc., made me sit up straighter and say, "Exactly! I know exactly what he means!"

Hmmmm. He. Were they all guys in this documentary? Now that I think of it, there was one quick female typewriter poet clip ... and then ... hmmm. Yeah. Heavy on the guys. Nevertheless, I think you'd enjoy the documentary.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my book.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

#Creativity Tips: Focus. But first ...

Is it wrong to talk about focus in a blog post that deals with three completely different topics? Hmmm. Yes. Probably. And yet ...

Let's start with the non-focus topics. First, my friend Deb A. sent a lovely response to the "just say you're welcome when someone says thank you" rant. According to one of her buddies, in South Africa the typical response is my pleasure. Isn't that terrific? It even takes care of that guilt some people feel when they're on the receiving end of a favor. You know who you are.

Next, as of early last night, the blog post on New Year's resolutions had 4022 hits and the number keeps climbing. Not that I'm counting. (Google is counting. I'm kvelling.) That makes it the most immediately popular post in our 10-year history of the Creative Instigation blog. No greater gift for a writer than a reader, so this was a lovely way to wrap up 2017 and welcome 2018! It's also a reminder that you just never know when something wonderful will happen.

The most wonderful part of that is sending repeated readership update texts to Kate and Mary and Tyler, telling them to show me some respect. And, of course, having a valid reason to use the smiley face emoji with the cool sunglasses.

Now, for the focus part of this rambling post. Some of my creative buddies (I'm looking at you, Leslie Adams), choose a word for the year -- something to use as a guidepost. I haven't done it in the past, but this morning, a word came to me: Focus.

One of my challenges is that I have a million interests. Right now, for example, I have dozens of unfinished craft projects I could pick up, I just started relearning calligraphy, I'm in the middle of reading a book, I'm in the middle of writing a book, and I have a new recipe for cinnamon rolls almost ready to pop in the oven. We won't even mention the hidden object computer game I'm playing or the iPad solitaire addiction. We definitely won't mention the housework. Or the work work.

In other words, I'm scattered.

So, this year, I'm going to focus on focus! I may even pay attention to the people around me, rather than my phone. (Stop laughing. It's possible.)

If there's a topic you'd like me to focus on in the blog, just let me know! I always love to hear from you. Here's to a happy day!

P.S. I have not tasted these cinnamon rolls yet, so hang on ... I'll give a thumbs up or down in a later post.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The #Creative Type: New Year, New Ideas

Please let me know if the image is too hard to read ... it may be easier once I get the ribbon flipped over, and type with the black ink. Life. Creativity. Typing. It's all a process.