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. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

An invitation to write some poetry this April

April is national poetry month and I'm taking an online class from poet and writing coach Sage Cohen. I took a version of this class five or six years ago in a bleak January when my own writing was stalled. I wasn't a poet then but taking that class made me want to be one.

I think there is a poet in most of us, for poets are more than just people good with words and phrases. They are people sensitive to what's around them: beauty, misery, love, hate, anger, joy, tenderness. They notice the little things and fit them into the big picture. Most of us do this at least some of the time, and with a little more attention to it, we can do it often.

Maybe your poetry comes out in your cooking or your gardening or your knitting or your painting. Maybe it comes out in how you read to your kids or grandkids. But maybe it can also come out on the page in your own words. April would be a great month to try this.

And if you want to join me in Sage's class, here's the link:

Friday, March 22, 2019

One of the most important books I've read in a decade

I don't usually do book reviews here. There are so many Internet forums and lists and recommendations out there, but reading Lacy Johnson's book of essays, called Reckonings, on being a woman in our culture at this time, was such a profound experience and has stayed with me in haunting ways that I want to suggest it.

Johnson writes about all the things we don't want to think about much: inequalities of income and privilege, racism, sexual violence, climate change at the human level. Her essays are deeply narrative and personal and highly political and universal. They are an expression of profound bravery and the power of telling the truth. I couldn't put them down.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Remembering who we are

I recently read a couple of diaries my mother kept during my first 10 years and I was not surprised to see that after learning to saw Mama and Dada, I started saying "why?" Curiosity has always been a high value for me and since I got sober, I've been turning that curiosity toward self-knowledge, learning and understanding who I am and how I am.

In January I took a great online class from Mary Ann Radmacher about remember who we are and keeping that knowledge front and center in our lives so that we are aligned with ourselves. Every day she would send us an exercise to help us remember. Her course starts on the first of every month and has been very useful to me.

Here's a sample from Day 9 and some of my answers:

·       Four of the finest compliments I’ve ever received:
o   “Your memoir helped my sister and me understand why our mother couldn’t stop drinking.”
·       Four things I love doing more than anything else:
o   Painting or creating in the company of others
·       Four things I feel I was BORN to do:
o   Encourage the creativity in others
·       Four stories I tell most often are:
o    How I came to painting in late middle age
·       Four activities that immediately give me a sense of ease and flow are:
o   Cleaning and clearing the studio

Friday, March 8, 2019

Examining where I fit

In the last post, I wrote about finding a car that fit me. I think evaluating from time to time where I fit is a good practice.

For the last year, I've served on the Board of Directors of a local nonprofit. I had never done that before and it was interesting and a good learning experience. But after a few months, I realized it wasn't a great fit for me. The organization was a fit with my values and interests, but being a board member was not the best use of my energies and abilities. So I won't seek re-election to the board but will volunteer in another capacity that fits me better.

I've also had friendships or work relationships that didn't fit me well--where what I could offer and receive was not what I needed or wanted. Sometimes I knew that early on, which is easier. Sometimes, it wasn't until years had gone by that something shifted. It isn't easy to resign from friendships or lucrative work situations but I've found it best to do that a few times.

When we can figure out where we fit (work, friends, service, creative and spiritual practices), there's a flow to life that is so helpful.

Are you struggling with places where you don't fit?

Friday, March 1, 2019

When I got clear, the path opened

In a conversation with a friend recently, we were talking about areas in life where we were dragging our feet and I confessed that I couldn't get motivated to complete my ongoing conversation about getting a different car.

I don't drive a lot. I work at home and live in a wonderfully walkable neighborhood with a movie theater, a dozen restaurants, and a Whole Foods. I drive to the gym (1.5 miles) and a couple of other grocery stores and the post office and the bank but some of those are walkable too in good weather. So I average only about 500 miles a month on my car and that's if I take a trip. And although my car is old (1996 Honda Civic), it's in great shape and gets wonderful gas mileage. But here's the problem: it's small and sporty and low to the ground and I'm no longer any of those things. And on a long trip or in congested traffic, I'm not crazy about the stick shift anymore.

I realized in talking about this that I wanted a new car but I didn't want to find a new car. I wanted someone else to do that. "You sound really clear," my friend said and I was. So I had a conversation with my friend Melanie and asked her if she'd help. She was delighted. She loves doing that stuff. That was on Wednesday. On Friday I bought my new car.

I had described what I wanted and what I could afford and it quickly became apparent that the two things didn't match what was available. So Melanie sent me out to try on cars and I did that Thursday morning. Once I'd knew more exactly what fit me, we found a good possibility and she checked it out and then made us an appointment for that afternoon. I drove the car, and I felt right at home in it. It was in my price range and had all the features I was looking for. I took it to my mechanic on Friday morning, who gave it a thorough once-over and said it was a great deal. I bought it that afternoon.

Some of this experience was magical (a friend saying yes, the right car appearing) and some was my effort but getting clear about not only what I wanted but that I needed help and then asking for it was key. Now I'm looking at other places where I'm dragging my feet to see if I can get clear and get help.

Here's my new 2014 Accord

Friday, February 22, 2019

Rethinking my tribe

I get contemplative this time of year, and I like it. The long evenings of dark, the rainy dim afternoons lead me to thinking about how things are for me and what changes I might like to make and what might be missing. And lately, I've been thinking about my tribe, those people in my inner circles.

You've probably done this exercise, where you put those you're closest to in the very inner circle, then a second circle, then a third, and maybe a fourth. I label this close friends (innermost), good friends (second circle), and friends (third circle). The rest are acquaintances and I generally don't list those. I drew these circles while I was on retreat over New Year's, and I did it in conjunction with a review of my calendar from last year: whom had I been spending with?

When I mentioned this to a close friend, she said she had been thinking about this too. In her case, she has a couple of people who have been in her innermost circle but her life has changed a lot and she no longer feels close to them and wants to shift them to an outer circle. We talked about the challenge in that, when friendships no longer fit. That's happened to me several times and it's not easy.

That's not my situation now. Instead, I want to bring a couple of good friends into the close friends circle and maybe even a couple from the friends circle.  I'm wanting to expand my tribe in some ways that will open me up to new thinking and new experiences. I'm excited about this possibility.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Why I love cats

After seeing the cats in my eulogy and several other assignments, Mary Anne Radmacher, the teacher of our What Matters Most course, asked me to consider the things about cats that mean the most to me. Here's what I think

Interdependent affection, tender sensuality, supreme experts in self-care

All things I aspire to.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Writing my eulogy

In a course I'm taking this month on what matters to us, one of our assignments was to write a eulogy for ourselves assuming we have died at age 103. I found this an interesting experince, not only to think about what I want to be remembered for but to set some challenges for myself for the next 30 years. I mean, who knows? 

Here's what I came up with:

My good friend Jill Kelly was a popular novelist and even more popular painter. She was the author of 23 books, several of them national award-winners, and she was famous for her annual art giveaway, which got original art into the homes of young people and those in straitened circumstances.

Jill was proud to be 60 years sober and more than 35 years free of sugar addiction. She was active in AA until the end and helped many others find peace with food through her blogs and workshops.

After leaving behind a first career as college professor of French and a second career as an editor supporting the writings of others, she spent the remaining decades of her life encouraging the creativity of others, helping to end homelessness for elderly women, and telling everyone who would listen that color was proof of the existence of God.

Jill died the way she wanted to, at home with her cats around her and loving friends in attendance. She had just finished a gorgeous landscape.

Jill was known for her generosity towards others and her tenderness for animals. She was famous for her motto: Be more generous and less accommodating, which can be seen on bumpers around the country. She also watched for magic everywhere she went and encouraged others to do the same. She never met a cat she didn’t love. She will be sorely missed. 

What would you write for yours?