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AdventWord

I’m gearing up for the first Sunday of Advent this weekend. Advent is one of my favorite seasons…in theory. I love it, but I want to do all the complicated things to make it Meaningful with a capital M. Which I recognize in my head is ridiculous. Especially for a season that is all about waiting and expectation and hoping, which frankly often means a whole lot of sitting around in stillness and quiet.

But last year, I endeavored to light the candles every day. Which in itself is not that much. But then after I lit the candle, I wanted to complete all the readings from the Book of Common Prayer for the day, which is not a bad goal but maybe not one to take on suddenly during one of the busiest months when I am not so great at doing that on a regular basis any other time of the year. Then after I read all the readings, I wanted to complete an art journal page reflecting the readings and also the word prompt from Advent Word (see image above) for the day that I had in my Advent calendar (which the previous year I had knitted and sewed together with my own two hands). This ritual was designed to play out against a playlist of seasonal hymns, perfectly timed to last the length that it took to finish all of the above.

This is not what waiting looks like. I’m exhausted just reading about it.

As you can imagine, there weren’t many days this actually happened. Specifically, looking back on my journal, I see that there were seven days out of the whole four weeks when I had time to do all of that, and I vividly remember doing two days’ pages at once on more than one occasion. Plans are only as good as their execution, so as plans go, this one was not awesome.

This year still has a plan, because otherwise Advent will pass on by without my giving it a thought other than on Sundays and Wednesdays. But it’s a slower plan that’s more conducive to hope and peace and joy and expectation. I still (will) have the candles (as soon as I buy them), because that part I did do every day last year, even if it was just during dinner. I will still use my cute calendar, but this year, as I have discovered that its little pockets are the perfect size for a tea bag or an Emergen-C packet or a single-serve bottle of hooch, I will simply be enjoying a daily beverage along with my candles/supper/staring at the Christmas tree lights.

There will likely be music in the background from my record player or a Spotify playlist. I will probably still read through some of the daily readings, as that is a habit I’d like to pick up this year, but I’m not going to make an issue of it or feel like I’m running behind if I don’t. I will also sporadically play along on Instagram with Advent Word or with Susannah Conway’s December Reflections prompts, because that’s fun.

But no extra stress or unreasonable to-do lists. Just waiting. And hope. And expecting. And joy. That’s what I hope to take from Advent this year.

 

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Poem, Found

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Prompt: Take lines from your favorite poet and rearrange them into a found poem.

From poems by Anne Sexton – That Story

You always read about it.

outside the summer flies sing like a choir

into your redeeming skin

We are of little faith.

We talk too much.

There is so much abundance

And how I came to this place

as your heart falls out of your mouth

loving me with my shoes off

and picking wild blueberries

You do drink me.

for I am at the mercy of rain

luscious and round and sleek

That story.

 

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Art and Story

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“This week I challenge you to write about something you really don’t care about.”

When I got this prompt, I thought, “Oh, that’s easy. I do that all the time. Welcome to SEO writing.” But I hit a wall and weeks passed and nothing. Turns out, if I’m going to write about something I don’t initially care about, I at least want to get paid for it. Also, I like knowing things, so by the time I’ve read enough to write an article about it, I find at least one aspect of it fascinating.

For all of my life, I’ve wanted to care more about art. I have lived with art history majors and artists. As their friend, I care about what is important to them, because that’s how friendship works. So I do care about art…in general. I am glad there is art in the world. I believe that the arts in general and visual art in particular are vital to our well-being as a human race.

But as soon as I got this prompt – particularly the aspect of the prompt that said to consider something “that you really just fall asleep listening to people talk” – art was the first thing that came to mind. I will go to a museum with someone (especially if it’s a special event where wine is served), but I will not be the one to suggest it. I will support (i.e., purchase and/or encourage others to purchase) art from friends and local artists, but have a low threshold for lengthy, rambling conversations about the more technical aspects of producing the drawing, painting, or sculpture.

Where art grabs my attention is in the story.

The piece that springs to mind is Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri. In this painting (the title translates as “Behold the Man”), we see Pilate presenting Jesus to the crowd. Jesus has been beaten. The most striking character is Pilate’s wife. She’s the only one looking away, and the look on her face reminds us that she warned Pilate not to mess with Jesus – that she’d had a terrible dream about what might befall him if he did. And now her husband has not only neglected to heed her advice but is presenting Jesus for more torture. I didn’t respond to the painting at first glance, but when I learned the story behind it, my reaction was visceral.

When people tell me the story behind a piece or where their minds or souls were when they were creating it, I am interested. Therein lies its beauty to me.

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Super

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Incredibly, this is the closest thing I have to a picture of me in a cape.

I really like knowing things. And I like being helpful. These are both good traits by themselves. But with their powers combined, they can be really annoying.

In conversations, I will often give advice. Sometimes, it’s welcome, and it’s a positive experience for both of us. But other times, I know as soon as I say it, it’s unwanted. One might think that at this point I would stop talking. Unfortunately, one would be mistaken. Despite the clear signs of disinterest – the pressing together of the lips, the glassy eyes, the faltering eye contact – I storm straight ahead, not exactly oblivious but not quite sure how to make my mouth stop moving.

It doesn’t help that my career choices act as enablers. No matter what my job title is, I tend to end up in the role of teacher or trainer. I like teaching, but when imparting knowledge is your job, it’s sometimes hard to shut those floodgates.

My habits are enablers, too. I read voraciously, broadly, and deeply. My side hustle is SEO writing, which requires me to learn about things I normally wouldn’t choose to learn, like car parts and marine cargo insurance. When I read the news, I try to read from various sources that lean toward different parts of the political spectrum so that I can pull out the things they agree on (that’s the news – everything else is commentary) and wrestle with my own conclusions. I like reading the work of writers and journalists who are similar to me, but I learn more from reading the work of those who aren’t, so I try to keep a healthy balance of both.

Most people will say reading is a good thing, and I agree and also love it, so I’m not going to stop. But when someone is talking about a topic I’ve read a lot (and thus thought a lot) about, it’s excruciatingly difficult not to interject my two cents, even if it’s clear they aren’t interested in it.

Hello, my name is Suzanne, and sometimes I act like an insufferable know-it-all.

[Aside: I only consider this a weakness concerning unwanted advice. If you ask my advice, I will give it, and I will give it thoroughly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Fair warning though – if you ask for my advice a lot and consistently don’t take it, that might be my kryptonite – the one thing that can make me refrain from giving you advice at all. Don’t be an askhole. I mean, you have the right to live your life and make all your own choices, free of my input (which, frankly, is a lot healthier than depending on me – or anyone – to tell you what to do). So if that’s what you want…do that and quit asking what I think.]

[Aside P.S.: If you are wondering if the statement above is about you, rest assured that if it is, I have already said it to your face. Possibly in those exact words.]

Occasionally, though, there comes a golden moment.

I’ll be rambling on about what they should do, see the signs that they aren’t open to what I’m saying, and manage to stop. They’ll usually proceed – cautiously – and when it’s my turn in the conversation again, I get to ask them questions about the things they said so that I can really understand where they’re coming from. Once I’m able to catch myself, it’s pretty easy to shift back into the role of listener. Because at its root, listening begins with gathering information.

And I’m super at that.

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Tiny cup in the big picture

When I was a toddler in the church nursery, I once told my teacher I drank beer with one grandma and coffee with the other. Being part of a small town, Ms. Simmons knew both of my grandmothers and that they would never act so irresponsibly as to give a child so young what she considered adult beverages. When she told my mom this amusing anecdote of the day, Mom replied, “Oh, yes. She drinks root beer with MeMaw Sharp and coffee and milk with MeMaw Catherall.”

I’m not sure that quite settled the scandal for Ms. Simmons.

MeMaw Catherall was probably the person in my family to whom I am most similar. Lifelong card-carrying Democrat with a fiesty temper (although she could work a silent treatment like it was her job), she loved long country drives. She got anxious a lot, but it never stopped her from doing what she wanted to do.

And she loved coffee, a love she passed on to me. She gave me my first taste, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. Coffee and I broke up for a few months when my doctor was trying to figure out my digestive issues, but since giving up the coffee had zero positive effect on my malady and eleventy dozen negative effects on my overall vigor for life, we reunited.

My favorite mornings are when I get up in time to make and enjoy my first cup of coffee at home. The cup only lasts five or ten minutes, but the bliss? I carry that bliss all day.

I like to think that my history with coffee reads like coffee’s own history. An awakening of the senses. An alternative to traditional breakfast drinks (although my traditional breakfast drink was juice as opposed to beer). A touch of scandal.

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