Friday, May 17, 2019

Poems I wrote last month #2

I wrote this with Notre Dame tragedy on my mind.

Esmeralda’s fingers were 9 years old
but too small to circumnavigate the globe
so she perched it on her palm and shook her hand
and snow fell on Notre Dame de Paris

She’d stolen the world
from an open bag on the Metro
the dwarf asleep
his huge head slumped forward
and his backpack behind him
beneath his coat

The priest across the aisle
In the place réservée aux invalides
Hadn’t seen her
All gypsies are invisible to priests
Nana had told her
but don’t steal from them
they work for le Diable

She slipped the round ball of church
Into the big pocket of her skirt
Where it crowded in with four small coins
Two cigarettes
And a half-eaten croissant for her brother

It was a useless thing
That globe with its tiny flakes falling on the tiny cathedral
It wouldn’t buy a crêpe au sucre
Or a paper cone of marrons
But she knew it had a story to tell her
If not now, maybe later

Jill Kelly

Friday, May 10, 2019

Poems I wrote last month #1

During April I participated in Sage Cohen's wonderful Poem-a-Day class. In this month's blog post, I'll be sharing some of my favorites.

Where does your time go?
Mine slips down the drain
with the last of the dishwater
slithers away with one
more game of Wordscapes
thumbs its nose at me
as I wait for the slow freight
on Division Street

Mondays the account is full
a temporal pay day
and my mind tucks that full wallet
into my back pocket
but then suddenly it’s Sunday
and I’m a week closer
to permanent penury

It’s only when I turn
to the fat wad
of the moment
the windfall
of the now
that the slipping and slithering cease
and I inhabit time rather than spend it

Jill Kelly

Friday, May 3, 2019

A helpful way to look at choices

At the center of psychologist James Hollis's ideas is this: an authentic, meaningful life is available to anyone who is willing to risk and stretch and grow. At each crossroads, at each decision, at each choice we can ask: Will this enlarge my life or diminish it?

At first glance that may seem like a hard question to answer. But I'm coming to realize that we know the answer deep down almost every time from small question to large. Should I order the burger and fries or the salad? Should I finish the book I'm reading or watch TV? Should I get more sleep or stay up and surf the Internet? Should I work extra hours or go to my kid's recital? Should I buy that gadget or send the money to the food bank? Should I take an art class or goof off on Saturdays? Should I stay in my job or start my own business or take a year off?

None of the answers are wrong. It depends on what we want for ourselves in this one precious life we have. However, Hollis suggests that the path of least effort is seldom the most satisfying. That choosing things that are a stretch--learning something new, going out of our way to do something challenging--are a glorious way to be human rather than playing it small and safe.

The larger life isn't necessarily a public life though it may be so for a few of us. No, the larger life is the one with fascination and curiosity and challenge at its core. I'm intrigued by these ideas.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The ongoing search for meaning

In the Jungian thought course I've been taking, this quote from Jung has stayed with me. "The smallest of things with meaning is infinitely greater than things without meaning. And meaning is defined by our souls, not our culture." 

Of course, we live in cultures that try to tell us what is meaningful. The American culture argues that money is very meaningful, that having the latest technology is meaningful, that busyness is meaningful.  But we rank 40th in happiness in the world even though we have more resources than any other country. 

Why? Because most of us know in our souls that those things aren't deeply meaningful. Not as meaningful as time with our kids and grandkids or our siblings or our spouse. Or our relationship with our pets and their health and well-being. Or offering kindness to ourselves and others. Or living from our hearts, not our wallets.

What are the most meaningful things as defined your soul? 

Here are some of mine (in no particular order): Painting, writing, AA meetings, meals and walks with close friends, being on retreat with other creatives, walking on the beach, watching the sky, communing with the cherry tree off my terrace, time on my porch swing with a good book, helping someone solve a problem, being sober, learning something new.  

No money, no technology, no business involved. This is good for me to remember.

Friday, April 19, 2019

More about habit change

Another of James Clear's ideas, and one that's given me pause, is that identity is more important in habit change than goals or behaviors. Many of us have had the experience of meeting a goal and then falling back into our old habit. Or we find we can't sustain a change in behavior.

Clear argues that the key is changing our identity. "I don't eat sugar" is a stronger change in identity than "I'm trying to give up sugar." As long as we continue to confirm our identity with the habit we don't want, our focus is on what we don't want. And where our attention goes, so does our behavior.
 I've long been a believer in this. I encourage writers and painters I coach to get a business card that says Author or Artist on it and to tell people they meet that's what they do. When we say it's what we do, we can start to believe it and we can distance ourself from old stories that say otherwise.

It doesn't have to be a big identity shift--as for a new job or hobby. It can be as simple as giving up your old negative identity (I'm just not a morning person) to something that serves you better (I enjoy my mornings). And thinking about this also got me realizing that I need to shift my identity as a driver. I'm no longer the driver of an old but serviceable Civic but rather the driver of an elegant Accord with bells and whistles. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

One thing at a time

One of the first times I recognized a symbolic activity was watching the Ed Sullivan show in the 1950s. Some of his performers were last-gasp vaudeville acts and the one I'm remembering was a guy on a unicycle spinning a dozen plates in the air from various parts of  his body. On one occasion, my mother commented, "That's what my life feels like" and I got it. I got the comparison.

As someone who's always got a few dozen ideas for projects, I often feel that my life is like that: keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates spinning. But while I used to take great pride in my ability to do that, I don't like it so much anymore. In fact, I know that I do better with 2-3 projects at a time. Otherwise, I feel scattered and overwhelmed. It's one of the things I love about having a life coach; she helps me discern what's most important and stay on track. I need accountability like most of us do.

And today, I found this great quote from the BeMorewithLess blog that I subscribe to: "It can't all matter at the same time." This is such a great reminder to me to focus on what I'm doing and to prioritize when I have more plates than I can handle.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Habits and muscle memory

I've been thinking about habits a lot lately. I'm reading James Clear's excellent and informative book Atomic Habits. As a recovering person, I'm really interested in ways to change behaviors and I've read a fair number of books and articles on the subject, but Clear is making me refine some of my assumptions.

He argues for the importance of brain grooves and muscle memory. If we go regularly to the gym, no matter how hard it is at first, eventually it becomes routine to do so. It's in our brains to do so and in our bodies. I've been exercising regularly (if not always vigorously) for nearly 40 years and I get antsy when more than a couple of days go by without something. My muscles and my brain remind me.

This knowledge is encouraging me to practice driving my new car. I've been driving for more than 50 years but on a stick shift and always in compact or sporty hatchbacks. This is my first automatic transmission and my first 4-door vehicle so I don't have the muscle memory to make driving it second nature. I keep wanting to downshift to slow my speed and I'm not sure where this larger car is in space. It may seem odd to think about practice driving at my age but I need to make these differences part of my new habits so that I don't have to work so hard when I drive.