Category Archives: Essays

Honey, red cabbage, apples, onion

Last night I sautéed onions to golden, then added two thinly sliced red cabbagesMy mom's red cabbage dish ... along with apples, salt, and honey. This was a speciality of my German-rooted mother, a woman who died twenty-two years ago. 

I’d softened the dark crystallized honey by putting its jar in a pan of boiling water. It slid into the cabbage-onions-apple mixture in a steamy swirl.

As I rubbed off the jar’s label in preparation for the recycle bin I saw it was originally from the Good Foods, Good People Co-op in Lexington, KY, my hometown until college.

I was in Lexington this past April, after my Dad died. The estate attorney told us that although the contents of the house were ours, the house itself was Dad’s wife’s. Even though her family were OK with us being there, we were technically trespassing. My brother and I sorted, packed and moved everything we could imagine wanting into a storage unit between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, stopping to sleep only briefly.

Of all the memorabilia, how ridiculous that I grabbed a nearly-empty jar of honey. And how grateful I am to have been ridiculous.

Let’s hear it for the muses that take care of us even when (especially when) we are stumbling through our days in a haze of shock and disbelief, bone-tired and muttering.

Let’s not overthink our gut-level choices: let’s allow them to sit, darken and crystallize into the sweet and savory comfort we didn’t know we needed.

May it be so for you as well.

If you would like to explore how memory can be shown in fiction, check out my post “Everything happens at once” at A Fiercely Kind Word.

 

 

 

Permission Granted.

Today, intermittent rain spots the sidewalk; I am caught up on bills and laundry and General Tidying and finally read Suzi Banks Baum’s marvelous post of ten+ days ago–a post I didn’t read because I was doing dishes and laundry and catching up on bills.

As you’ll see when you read her words, or, even better, watch her video, the reasons for my delay is extremely ironic. Note: for those of us who have been the primary caretaker for children, please pee before watching. It has several moments that will bring you the howling laughter of recognition.

So today I will open my collage journal and make something new.

After I write.

May it be so for you, too.

It’s been a year + …

… since I’ve posted a blog. My silence due to a combination of overwhelm logistically, personally, professionally, with a dollop of self-doubt on all fronts.

My last post, about being kind to ourselves and giving ourselves permission to disengage from situations and individuals that damage us, received an ugly anonymous response (I don’t allow anonymous and/or hate-full comments). Since then, I’ve heard that some experience my reflections about my difficult experiences as “white woman tears” and thus not worth considering.

And I bought into that. I thought: I’m a person of privileged social, economic and educational class. I don’t really suffer. I don’t have anything to offer to the unfolding bedlam. I put my head down, finished my MFA, quit blogging here, and prioritized family and personal matters.

That withdrawal put me back in a headset that I’ll call “juvenile,” reflecting that stage of development when we have inklings of our gifts, but not much mastery over them, or power in the world.

Reading Women

As when I was an actual juvenile, chronologically, I’ve spent a lot of this withdrawal reading. Muriel Spark and Zora Neale Hurston and Mavis Gallant; Deborah Levy and Penelope Fitzgerald and Zadie Smith. All writers who happened to be women, all writing despite bedlam of various degrees, all writers who tell Truth and truth.

I’ve been reminded by their Truth and truth that it’s not what others think that’s important, it’s the showing-up-and-writing that’s important. Maybe my stories will be meaningful, maybe they won’t; maybe they’ll be beautiful, maybe they won’t. But it’s not for me to say: it’s for me to write and publish.

Why have I needed to go through this cycle of self-doubt and -awareness, again? I don’t know. I wish it didn’t suck up so much of my time. But it has, and so far as I can tell, there’s nothing to be gained by lamenting what has been.

So I’m taking my own advice and sitting down and writing. Trusting the stories will show up if I do. Remembering these words from Alexandra Stoddard (note hole at the top: I’ve pinned this card to many bulletin boards in front of many writing desks):

Slow down calm down

May it be so.

Manifesting Kind Words–to ourselves

I recently told a friend that I no longer go to some community meetings because several of my neighbors have said things to me that I’ve experienced as deeply hurtful. “Really?” she said. “You don’t go?”

I felt off-balance for a moment: after all, shouldn’t I turn the other cheek? Extend empathy? Isn’t that what being in community is all about?

I used to think so. I used to work really really REALLY hard for community. Hours of volunteer time: physical labor, facilitation, writing and editing, organizational development. And then . . . I got a lotta what I’ll term bat-sh^t crazy hate* flung my way.

And instead of turning the other cheek and extending empathy, the habits our culture holds up as Good, I’m breaking those habits. I’m minimizing the time I spend in the same room with these folks. That’s all–I’m not sending hateful vibes or emails, and I don’t wish misfortune upon anyone. But I’m not doing what I’ve always done before. I’m trying a different response — as Amy McTear says, I’m “determin[ing] the quality and conditions of my life.”

IMG_1724

Writers treating each other with kindness . . . note the warm drinks and tasty treats 🙂

 

This is my real-life application of what I preach about writing. Just as our stories need audiences that honor and respect them, so do we, as people.

Treat your writing with kindness and compassion.

Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, too.

Danielle LaPorte takes this a step further: she says pleasure is power.

When you’re in your pleasure you think more clearly, you’re more efficient, you’re most certainly more creative, and you’re more loving. Your pleasure states are good for your immune system. Mmmhmm.

It can be really difficult to make pleasure a priority when we’ve got so many ingrained habits based on distraction (numbing out) and performance (pleasing others). For a lot of us, choosing pleasure would be a major life turn around. I get it.

Isn’t this all very white-privilege? Easy to talk about pleasure when you have extra resources. But what good will come of NOT moving toward pleasure? Is anyone spared suffering, is any injustice ameliorated, when we go to meetings and feel miserable before, during and after? Nope.

IMG_1769But when the people we’re working with light us up, are willing to goof around and goof up and say “sorry!” — when the people we’re working with are, in short, a pleasure to be around, then we’re on the side of positive change. (A short list of things that happened when I had fun with other people: we established the New River Land Trust; a youth group; a grassroots leadership program; a co-housing neighborhood; The Joyful Quill; New River Valley Voices; and A Fiercely Kind Word.)

So yeah, I’m moving toward people who will ask me about my intentions, as a person, as a writer, before telling me all the ways I’m wrong and bad, all the ways my words don’t convey the story I hope to tell. Because my soul feels better, and my writing gets better, when I’m with people who approach me and my words with kindness.

I hope you, too, will move toward people who are kind to you, to your stories — it’s good for you! And if moving toward kindness means moving away from unkindness, as my friend Mica Estrada explains in her “Kindness Experiment” article in Psychology Today  moving away from those who behave badly despite our best efforts does them a favor, too.

And come on over to A Fiercely Kind Word to get a dose of love for your writing.

 

*Hate is a strong term, and I don’t use it lightly here, nor am I gonna go into details of the words and actions that were sent my way; suffice it to say that a friend who’s an experienced psychologist alerted me to the possibility that these folks may be struggling with mental illness. She observed that their behaviors and the language of their communications is similar to that of people with borderline personality disorder. I’m currently doing a 100-day tonglen meditation practice to see if I can discern how to be kind to myself and those who may have mental illness — while it’s helpful to hear that the hate-flingers may not intend to be hurtful, the sh*t still stinks and stings when it’s flung.

 

 

 

A Fiercely Kind Word

OK, y’all, here’s the dealio. I’ve got a lovely new website, put together by the terrific folks at Tracking Wonder. It’s for writers who want to improve their writing craft with fiercely kind support, customized for their project, their writing challenges–because the writing process is messy, ambiguous, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, elastic, forgiving and forbidding.

I’m a writer, so my engagement with writers through A Fiercely Kind Word will reflect my writer’s life. At this point (one more semester to complete my MFA), I’m not going to promise a koan of writerly wisdom every Wednesday. There’s no way I can guarantee a brilliant insight first thing Monday morning. Because: writing is messy, ambiguous, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, forgiving and forbidding.

_C8A6964-Edit - Richard Mallory Allnutt photo - Lesley Howard - Blacksburg, VA - June 11, 2017

Richard Mallory Allnutt made me look good for A Fiercely Kind Word. Thank you, Richard!

When you hear from me, it will be the real dealio: my craft essays. My reflections on stories and novels. My practices. My stage of the journey, in all its messy, ambiguous, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, forgiving and forbidding glory (or misery, depending). Sometimes, but not always, there will be a “craft frolic” at the end of my posts, giving you suggestions for how to play with whatever writerly craft element I’ve mused upon.

I’ve got a nifty manifesto you can download from A Fiercely Kind Word here; if you sign up for my Fiercely Kind Word prompts (at the bottom of this page), you’ll get five days of free writing prompts. And of course if you want to work with me, you can contact me through my . . . (drum roll!) contact page.

And I’ll still blog, occasionally, here, about the less-chronic chaos of having an half-empty nest and parenting the “baby adults” my sons have grown into since I started this blog five years ago.

Onward!

p.s. I’m still fine-tuning the behind-the-scenes components of A Fiercely Kind Word, so if you encounter any hiccups, please contact me at lesley@afiercelykindword.com and let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing from an image . . .

. . . is an excellent way to jump-start a free-write, or explore a character, or launch a new piece. The estimable Janet St. John has used one my my images to do so as part of her intriguing series of “Art and Soul Shorts.” You can see it here.

May your weekend grant you some hours to linger in the late-spring blooming of your own writing–here are two very different images to get you going if you need inspiration.

Blog party: Mariela

17888076_1145165478961159_1779597627_nHere we are. It’s the end of the month. The final installment of our Blog Party has arrived already if you can believe it. We’ve so enjoyed working together and getting to know our respective audiences as a result. Hope you have too. Closing down our party is Mariela. Here’s how Mariela introduces herself at a [blog] party…

12819474_10110279046440424_7143565581058908509_oMariela: I have a passion for linguistics, culture and travel. Back in 2013, I started a blog to share my personal journey’s experiences with my family and friends, called El periplo de Mariela (or Mariela’s Journey). Although the blog’s name was in Spanish, posts were 99% in English. For the first couple of  years I wrote with certain frequency but then life took over and I eventually stopped. Fast forward to April 2017 and, after a 1-year hiatus from writing, I’m launching MarExplora. For now, its main feature is still the blog but this site will be an ever-evolving project..I’m excited to see what path it’ll take me!

CH-CH-CHANGES

One year and some change in transition mode: the company I work for will soon be centralizing all corporate functions related to the operations of its properties in the Americas in Miami and, therefore, they’ll be closing the Atlanta office.

Call it intuition or experience, this corporate decision didn’t take me by surprise. I had considered it might eventually happen, that it was just a matter of time. The majority of my co-workers did not see it coming, though. Confusion and sadness describe the very first days following the announcement last May. Although we were all given the option to continue with the company if we relocated to Miami, most of us decided not to, for different reasons.

In my case, as much as I’m always open to challenges, moving my residence to South Florida was not the direction I wanted my life to go. Being clear on what I didn’t want was a good first step, but what was next for me?

When something of this nature happens you have a great opportunity to take a step back and think what you want to do, where you want to be, what your purpose in life is, etc. I decided I’d take full advantage of being in that position and focus my energy on assessing all options. I’ve spent the last months doing exactly that.

I’ve explored and revisited plans I had earlier in my life that never materialized. I’ve returned to projects I had abandoned, including my blog site. I’ve even gone back to school to work on certain skills I wasn’t confident about. Along the way, I’m learning about many possibilities I hadn’t given a thought to before…and it’s exciting!

I’m still not sure what future lies ahead for me, but I know the changes in my life will all be for the better.