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The invitation series will return next week. Today, what I am inviting to the table is 10,000 mgs of vitamin C, ibuprofen, and my weight in fluids. I shall defeat this fever with sheer force of will. And orange juice.

Well, it’s here. Spring. My nemesis. And I feel bad talking about how much I despise it, because:

1) People are so happy, and while none of them cared to spare my feelings when they were endlessly (soul-crushingly, tediously) whining about my beautiful winter, I just can’t bring myself to do the same (most of the time, that is, because clearly, I’m having no problem doing so right now).

2) I literally feel bad. Spring brings out all my allergies, so working up a nice rant uses too much energy – energy better spent trying to breathe and stop itching.

I have the good drugs, though, so at least there’s that.

And at least it’s not summer. Yet.

But rather than focus on what I’m not into, let’s talk about what I am into.

My favorite thing I did this month was turn 40.

photo (28)

The weather was nice (and by “nice,” I do mean rainy, overcast, and mid-50s), so that was my birthday present from Jesus. We tried out a new breakfast place – Crickles and Co. – and it was amazing. Everyone basically purred through the whole meal (the biscuits – omg, get the biscuits!). After a very leisurely breakfast, a few of us went to Barnes and Noble and browsed for a while.  Then I went home and spent the afternoon my favorite way – reading and napping. I woke up refreshed and ready for my birthday dinner at Greenhouse. Then we went to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for cake and coffee. The cake was coconut and pineapple, and the coffee was strong. And Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer came on the music mix right as we were about to cut the cake, so they sang the chorus instead of the traditional happy birthday song. Tammy’s explanation: “It fits. You’re halfway there. Halfway to death,” which was hilarious and pretty much my favorite thing anyone said all day. We then watched The Whole Nine Yards while everyone recovered from/embraced their food coma.

It was a great day.

What made it even more enjoyable is that I didn’t worry about the planning. Rather than try to make it this huge event, I picked a couple of places I wanted to go and limited the guest list to people who had asked what I was doing for my birthday or who regularly include me on invitations to theirs (and I kept adding people all week, because I am old and forgetful – an excuse I plan on using a lot from now on). So the group stayed small enough that I didn’t have to make special arrangements or reservations. It was relaxing in both planning and execution.

And then, of course, I have enjoyed spending time on other days with people who couldn’t make it. I have had outings and been treated to so many dinners. I love March.

Another fun thing I did this month is the Wicked Wine Run. Or rather, the Wicked Wine 1K mosey, in my case. It took place at the Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, and we had a lot of fun. Two of us dressed up like Pikachu and a unicorn. I wore a headband and funky socks (not pictured).

photo 3 (1)

That’s my way to race – with four wine-tasting stops. Actually, the energy of the race atmosphere makes me want to train for an upcoming 5K, so starting on April 26, I begin my training, and I am actually excited about it. We’ll see how that goes.

In entertainment/arts news:

  • I’ve been binge-watching The Mindy Project. So many people have recommended it, and I finally heeded their recommendations. It did not disappoint. I love this show.
  • The Angry Women Blog. This blog understands me. I will be submitting posts to it within the next few months.
  • I tried watching Entourage. Meh. I am four episodes in, and I can’t decide if I’m actually bored with it or if, after hearing the HBO sound, I’m just disappointed that The Newsroom doesn’t start. But after four episodes, I still can’t think of a single moment that got any sort of enjoyment reaction from me. So I might have to throw in the towel on this one.
  • This has been a good reading month. My top three recommendations are The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (I’m about to start #3) by Laini Taylor. So good.

My favorite thing I made to eat was lasagna with spinach and goat cheese (instead of ricotta.  DO IT.). It looked like a bad accident:

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…but it tasted so good.

And my favorite non-coffee thing to drink was this tea:

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It might actually replace Earl Grey as my favorite. It’s that good.

So that was my March. How was yours? I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – you should join us!

The Good Life

I have mused often about what I want to be when I grow up. The answers I come up with are usually pretty vague – “a writer” or “someone who feeds people” or “professional student.” On the one hand, I know what I love. On the other hand, I don’t always know how to turn desired work into desired pay. There are a lot of jobs that involve a great deal of my desired activities, but I view most of them with a general attitude of “meh.”

The Friday before Spring Break, however, I got a taste of what it would be like for my loves to come together.

Part of the resident assistant job in Housing is to put on programs to foster hall community. One of the RAs wanted to have a cooking program, and she invited me to be a part of it. We decided that I would teach people to make a basic risotto. I took them through the process, showing them what it was supposed to look like at every step and giving them options they could add along the way. Then I gave them a one-page handout with the recipe and a summary of what they had learned at the end. It was a great afternoon.

The experience of actually enjoying these hours at work helped clarify some things for me.

1. I like teaching. I often get bogged down in the issues that plague our educational system, such as the red tape and the funding issues and the general lack of public understanding about what education is, but I like teaching. I like guiding people into learning something that they are interested in learning.

2. I like public speaking. I like finding ways to connect to an audience. Positive audience response is gratifying, and negative audience response is informative. When the audience doesn’t see the value in what they’re learning, though, it’s a rough day for both of us.

3. I like helping people discover what they have to say.  Whether it’s in writing or in speaking, I love that moment when people hear how their voice sounds for the first time – not the snarky defense mechanism that often makes up a big part of their social selves and thus their first attempts at expressing a viewpoint – but their real voice. I like teaching them how to turn that voice into a force to be reckoned with.

4. I like writing. Sometimes I feel like I don’t like writing. Usually when that happens, though, it’s because I’m trying to make what works for other people (Write every day! Have ten minutes – do some writing! Always, always be thinking about it!) work for me. I am an efficient writer, but I am not a multitasker. If I can do one thing at a time, I can get a lot done, but trying to juggle multiple things tends to derail all of them. My most productive writing structure requires me to set aside specific writing time. Handouts, blog posts, short essays – give me an hour or two, and I can sit down and churn one of those bad boys out, all the way from conception to a second or third draft (which is what you get from most of my blog posts). I can do that almost daily, but I need to find a space for it on the calendar. Longer works, like novels or longer essays/essay collections, don’t just take longer to write but also require longer stretches of time for me to make progress. There’s no sitting down to write for an hour on Fishbowl. All that’s going to do is give me just enough time to get a good writing pace going, and then I have to interrupt it to do the next thing in my schedule. Very frustrating. Small pockets of time are better used brainstorming writing ideas or art journaling. I need writing blocks, not writing moments. And as I am single with zero children, I have the ability to schedule them with relative ease.

None of this is brand-new information, but it helps with my weekly goal-setting. It reminds me what the good life looks like for me and how easy it would probably be for me to make it a habit.

Take Your Seat

Part of being invited to the table is the decision to attend. There will be a future post about the importance of the RSVP (I have feelings about it), but this week, I am wandering through my online world and highlighting five blogs, posts, projects, and/or people who are taking their seats.

1. The Mudroom is one of my new favorite places on the Internet. It’s a collaborative blog that launched in February. Their vision says it all - “make room for people.” And they do it beautifully.

2. I could fangirl about Reverend Wil Gafney all day. Her words are rich. I was searching for a quote from her post entitled The Color Purple: A Lenten Sermon, but all of it is too good to miss. 

3. I am currently taking Jamie Wright Bagley‘s Heart of Prayer course. It’s a guide through praying the hours, and it has infused my last couple of weeks with a renewed confidence in approaching God. Jamie also has a free poetry e-book that I think you need. I love it (and her).

4. I have been following (or more accurately, lurking, as I don’t know if I have ever left a comment) Lisa Bartelt’s blog for a while, and this post is one of the reasons why. I love her passion for justice.

5. This post by Huda Alawa. It reads like an honest prayer.

There are so many people to hear from. Who are some of the voices that you love?*

*It’s okay if it’s your own. It’s better than okay. It’s taking your seat.

On Wearing Pearls

photo (27)

I just love Denton. It’s home to two colleges. It has a thriving local music scene and tons of talented local artists. It is home to multiple festivals a year and its citizens are so fiercely protective of its unique downtown area that no national chain has any real hope of survival on the square (sorry-not-sorry, Subway).

Denton is a casual town. Most days, you could walk into almost any store downtown in your pajama pants, and no one would blink an eye (and thank goodness for that, because Saturdays are for pajamas, even if I have errands to run). When I moved here over twenty years ago from a small town in the panhandle, I had to adjust my perspective of what certain expectations meant. First, most invitations (and by “invitations,” I do mean “fliers”) didn’t mention dress at all.  That blew my mind. And when they did, they didn’t always mean what I grew up believing they meant. “Formal attire” could mean actual formal wear, but it was more likely that it was just a request to wear a dress or slacks. And “casual dress” was less likely a call for a nice shirt and slacks than it was a reminder to wear shoes.

I like that about Denton.

Sometimes, though, I wear pearls.

I shied away from them for a while when I first moved here, because pearls – even the costume strands that I wear most often – really fancy up an outfit. It’s hard to look casual in pearls. And when you don’t look as casual as the environment, it’s hard not to stick out. And it’s hard not to feel out of place when you stick out (and when you’re also 18 – in retrospect, that was probably more of a factor than the jewelry). And most of the time, I didn’t need any extra help feeling out of place.

But one day, I pulled my favorite earrings out of my jewelry box and put them on again. Just two little pearls – one in each ear. With such a simple change, I felt grounded. I felt like me.

Pearls understand me.

Pearls are troublemakers. They start out as an irritation. They are a grain of sand that sneaks into an oyster’s shell, and instead of feeling contrite and meekly excusing themselves when discovered, they stubbornly remain, forcing their environment to adjust to them and growing into something beautiful out of the impact they have.

Pearls are simple yet elegant. They know that they don’t have to make a big splash to be heard or noticed. Pearls are the kind of grown-up I aspire to be. In today’s episode of First World Problems, I admit that I find jewelry shows and stores challenging. Most of the pieces are much more complicated than my preferred style, which is all clean lines and simplicity. If I’m wearing something other than that, it is probably a gift, a uniform, a costume, or an obnoxious plea for attention.

[soapbox tangent] Lest anyone be tempted to make a preference into a rule, let me be clear. Some people look gorgeous in bold patterns and intricate designs, and I expect that their style, while different from mine, does exactly for them what mine does for me. It makes them feel beautiful. It is a visual reminder that they are a presence in this world and that said presence is a contribution, not a liability. There is not a best way to dress. Whatever makes you feel at home in your skin, do or wear that thing. I am 100% in favor of that. [/end soapbox]

A few months ago, I was driving home from an event that called for something a little dressier than my usual attire. It was a sunny day, but the air was chilly, just like I like it to be. When I got in my car, I took down my hair, rolled down my windows, and turned on the radio. With the sun on my arms, the wind in my hair, music in my ears, and pearls around my neck, I was at home in my soul long before I was home in reality.

My friends in the Andilit writing community are gold. Pure gold. I am pleased to bring you my second guest post from that group from artist Sharry Miller.

Sharry-with-installation

Sharry with her public art installation created with local students out of fused glass for Gilson Middle School in Valdez, Alaska

It never ceases to amaze me the ways in which I can contrive to crush my own spirit.

There’s been a lot of press over the years about how we need to ensure our children’s self-esteem is kept high, how the little things we say to other people inadvertently tear them down, how, essentially, we’re all responsible for creating a kinder, gentler world. Within reason, I totally agree with these sentiments. Who doesn’t want to live in a world in which we all treat each other with respect and care?

What about how we treat ourselves, though?

I regularly read several blogs written by, for, and about writers, as well as belong to a couple of Facebook groups of glass artists. I have a whole library of books with advice about living a creative life. One of the messages that’s reiterated time and again by virtually every author and artist is how critical it is for an artist to be kind to herself.

We are our own worst critics. Every single one of us has that little voice in her head that says, “You’re not good enough.” If you tell me you don’t, I’ll call you a liar. Or be very jealous of you. Ultimately, we do more harm to our creative selves by being too self-critical than anyone else could ever do to us.

That voice in my head screams loud and clear. I have no trouble at all comparing myself to nearly everyone else and coming up the lesser. My art isn’t as artistic, my writing isn’t as literary, or at the very least, I’m not committed enough to my art to spend sufficient time on it so that I keep improving – let alone get good. My rational brain usually tells me to shut up, and reminds me, for example, that as much as I love photorealistic art, that’s not what I like to create and therefore it is not my forte. I shouldn’t, therefore, compare my colorful, playful art to that of artists who specialize in photorealistic art. If I try, I can usually validate who I am right now in my life, even if it sometimes feels like I’m making excuses for myself.

And then there are those times I let something outside me, something totally trivial, derail my ego. Recently, it’s been those 5-day art challenges that were running around Facebook. The idea was that an artist got challenged by another artist to share three pieces of her artwork each day for five days, and on each day nominate another artist to do the same. The amount of artwork being shared should expand exponentially (to use the word metaphorically, not in its literal mathematic sense), giving the artists great exposure and flooding the Facebook world with creativity.

What’s wrong with this? Nothing, except…

No one nominated me (whine, snivel).

I’ve been doing some sort of art since I was a kid, although my early forays into that world are better characterized as crafts. Over the years, I’ve cross-stitched, crocheted, knitted, quilted, woven baskets and textiles, spun yarn, painted…you name it, I’ve probably at least tried it. For the past several years, my focus has been working in glass, particularly fused glass. It’s like making magic: putting hard, cold pieces of glass into a kiln, heating it up until it’s molten hot, cooling it back down, and always, always being at least a little surprised by the results. Colors change, shapes meld, parts become whole. For the first time, I really feel like I am taking raw materials and creating something new and unique from them. I am an artist. (Okay, I admit that I choked a little writing that last sentence, but it’s getting easier. Sort of.)

In my ridiculous little brain, I have translated this lack of nomination to share my art to mean that I’m not an artist, at least not in the world of those I associate with on Facebook. It’s not that I haven’t previously shared enough of my work with those groups to remind them that I exist. Of course not. It’s clearly a personal comment on my so-called artwork and my self-proclaimed creative abilities. I might as well just give up now and start gardening or cleaning my toilets or something.

Holy crap. How is it possible that voice in my head can be so loud and overpowering? My rational brain is allowing me to sit here and type these words about how stupid that voice is, but still…still it’s here with me undermining my confidence.

And as soon as I send this post off for publishing, any future nomination will be undone. I’ll know that the nomination had nothing to do with my worth as an artist, but was instead motivated by pity after someone read this rant. I’m not really worthy of being invited to sit at the real-artists’ table.

(That little voice just said, “Yeah, right. Like anyone’s actually going to read this drivel.” See how insidious it is?)

I didn’t write these words to engender your sympathy or to solicit compliments. My rational brain reminds me regularly how many people tell me they like what I write and what I create (thank you, thank you!), and that I only need to accept those compliments in the spirit in which they were given to believe in myself. Heck, I don’t even need to do that. It’s enough that I like what I create, that it makes me happy – that’s all the validation I need.

I suppose I wrote these words to remind myself that I’m of value whether or not anyone else tells me I am, and to remind you that you are, too. Sure, it’s nice to be recognized by others for our efforts, but not a single one of us needs that recognition in order to be of real value. If you’re not invited to sit at the table of your choice, set your own. Only invite those guests who are going to support you and build up your confidence, not tear it down. Be your own loudest cheerleader, and that kinder, gentler world will be there to greet you.

me and Scout

Sharry Miller is an aspiring artist, writer, and world-adventurer living life to the fullest in Valdez, Alaska. You can follow her creative and life journeys at http://sharrymiller.typepad.com.

She promises to not post too many pictures of her new puppy, Scout.

Rose of sharon

I met JoAnne Silvia in the Andilit writing community. She knows how to get right to the heart of a matter, so it is perfectly fitting that she is my first guest poster for this series. I am ecstatic to share her words here today on invitation. 

Years ago, when I was still licking my wounds from divorce and the rebound from hell, I was at church and overheard some people talking about a garden party.

My church family is loving and accepting, but I was in a bad place. I wondered if would get an invitation as those childhood feelings of being outside the popular crowd rose from dormancy. The personal invitation didn’t come.

I would have liked to have gone to the party, but when I didn’t get the invitation, I scheduled something else for that same time. I’d been struggling with some health issues that turned out to be stress related, issues originating from the rebound from hell on the heels of divorce. Knowing someone who did hypnotherapy, I decided to give it a try. It turned out she was available on the same afternoon as the party.  Not wanting to sit home alone whilst the party was going on, I scheduled the session. That way, I wouldn’t be able to go to the party anyway, because I had other plans.

The hypnosis session turned out to be an important step in my healing. Lying on the massage table, I remained fully conscious, but in an altered state where emotions of grief and insights of my needs were easily accessible. I cried out my anguish. Water and dogs, two constant loves, surfaced from my subconscious mind as the medicine I needed. Swimming soothed me. Dogs offered unconditional love.

I know I was in an altered state, because, when I came out of hypnosis, it was the same feeling I felt after giving birth: a profound shift in awareness, from an extremely inward focus, to a suddenly acute awareness of my surroundings. The intense emotions evaporated instantly.

The next Sunday at church, a friend mentioned she was sorry I wasn’t able to make it to the party.

“I wasn’t invited,” I stated simply. I didn’t mean to sound so pitiful.

“Oh.” She looked bewildered.

Not long after that, the person who hosted the garden party had another get-together. She came to me directly and looked me in the eye.

“I want you to come to my party.”  She said it slowly with clear intention.

I firmly believe, now, that my not being invited to the garden party, was an oversight. I know how that can happen, I guess. You think you’ve invited someone, or assumed everyone knew they were invited. Did my wounded state lead me to assume I wasn’t invited?

If the lack of invitation happened today, under those same circumstances, I would assume it was an oversight, and dig around to get more information. Provided I wanted to be included, I would fish for an invitation, or maybe just ask, “So, I heard you’re having a party, Is everyone invited?”

But maybe I wasn’t supposed to go to the garden party. Maybe on that particular afternoon, I was supposed to be lying on that massage table, in the dim light, in that quiet place of personal healing.

JoAnne Silvia
http://joannaoftheforest.wordpress.com/

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