A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing our Closing Ceremony Leader

Jeri Mangum

Jeri Mangum

I’ve done several posts recently to introduce the speakers/workshop leaders for the A SECOND BLOOMING RETREAT to be held at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3. More information and registration are here.

Links to the previous posts are here:

Ellen Morris Prewitt, “The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting”

Nina Gaby, “Little Altars Everywhere”

Jennifer Horne, “How Our Stories Shape Us

Kathy Rhodes, “Pushing Up the Sun”

Today I’d like to introduce the woman who will be leading our closing ceremony on Sunday morning.

Jeri Mangum or ‘Just Jeri’ as she calls herself is a survivor!

She was a working wife and mom who retired from Mississippi State University in 2009 when her husband’s health became an issue. Jeri learned a lot of life lessons during the two and a half years that she cared for Bob as his health declined. After his death, Jeri discovered the work friends and couples friends were no longer there. And that is where her story begins . . .

drum-circleDuring her husband’s time in the nursing home, Jeri had observed the residents’ love of outside visitors who came and performed a variety of talents. It was that seed that drove her to fulfill her yearning for playing the drum. Hand drumming is her “happy/healing place”. She has led drum circles in Starkville at the assisted living center, the nursing homes, and for interested women who meet for renewal. Research is proving the therapeutic benefits of drumming and Jeri is living proof!

ASB cover w PQ badgeHer close circle of friends (FROGS/ Friends Readily Offering Genuine Support) know her to be the extrovert of the group who is always planning the next event or outing. Jeri is always willing to try new things and admits she loves making people smile.

So, come and bloom with us: create, write, discuss, walk, do yoga, drum, read, listen, eat, rest, and be inspired. Everyone who comes will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

Spaces are filling, so register soon!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 4

I’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

And on Tuesday I featured Jennifer Horne.
Kathy for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet our final workshop leader, Kathy Rhodes. Kathy and I were co-directors, with Neil White, of the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi. We’ve remained close friends and I was thrilled to have her contribute an essay to A Second Blooming. “Pushing Up the Sun,” which I placed in the section titled, “Blooming After Loss,” is about the sudden death of Kathy’s husband, and her subsequent “blooming” as she worked through her grief.   Here’s more about Kathy and the workshop she will lead on Sunday morning during the retreat:

Kathy Rhodes is author of Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing. Her essay “An Open Letter” appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Volume 3, and was singled out for a review in The New Yorker. She is Senior Writer/Editor at TurnStyle Writers. Rhodes lives in Nashville, where she enjoys gardening, kayaking, and walking her cocker spaniel.

Pushing Up the Sun – As life happens and hurts come, you have a choice of sitting by and waiting for healing or standing up and helping healing come: pushing up the sun. The more light you let in, the brighter your world will be. This workshop will be about proactively working toward healing, surviving, and thriving. Writing down thoughts and feelings helps you make sense of your own personal story. We will do some journaling with prompts. Journaling gets whatever you’re dealing with out of your mind and onto the page. It’s a tool to new insights, new perspectives, and self-discovery.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel.

I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 3

I’m following up on an earlier post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

Jennifer for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet my friend Jennifer Horne.

I met Jennifer in 2006 when she was on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books the last year it was held in Memphis. Her panel featured the anthology she had edited with Wendy Reed, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was a life-changing day for me, because I also met Wendy, Cassandra King, Lee Smith, and Beth Ann Fennelly, who would all become mentors for me and my late-life writing career. The next time I saw Jennifer was in November of 2008, at the last Southern Writers Reading event in Fairhope, Alabama. I told Jennifer (and Wendy) how much All Out of Faith had meant to me, and they said they were putting together a sequel. I was honored to have an essay published in that sequel in 2012: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

Fast forward to 2017 when A Second Blooming was published, with Jennifer’s wonderful essay, “The Second Half,” included in the collection. And then in 2018, my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, included another essay by Jennifer. As the current Poet Laureate of Alabama, Jennifer has much wisdom to share with us at this retreat. Here’s a little more about her and the workshop she will be leading on Saturday night:

Jennifer Horne is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2017-2021, and is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classes and workshops around the South.

How Our Stories Shape Us – How we tell our own stories, and those of others, affects the meaning we make of them—narrative not only orders but influences our knowledge, memory, and sense of self. Likewise, our senses contribute to and often evoke our memory of story: fresh-cut grass, chalk and erasers, home-cooked food. In this workshop, we’ll play with group stories, help you reflect on your own story, and begin the process of constructing fresh narratives by drawing on sensory memories and revising interpretations of past events.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers, Part 2

Nina for ASB retreatI’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post. I’m going to continue here by introducing our second workshop leader, Nina Gaby.

I met Nina at the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, which I was helping direct, along with Kathy Rhodes and Neil White. I was instantly drawn to Nina’s beautiful soul, strong sense of self, and many talents. Here’s a bit more about her:

Nina Gaby is a visual artist, writer, and psychiatric nurse practitioner who has
worked with clay, words and people for five decades. She currently works in
mixed-media, focusing on single edition artist books which explore the
intersection of narrative and object.

Nina will be leading a hands-on workshop on Saturday afternoon during the retreat. Here’s a description of the workshop:

 
Little Altars Everywhere – In a time of deep grief I turned to making art again and developed a second wave to my creativity which continues to this day. The workshop will offer an opportunity to create a small assemblage to commemorate an object of focus, to secure a tableaux for a thought or a poem, to honor a grief, or to celebrate an idea. Some call them shrines, or altars, nichos or reliquaries. Three dimensional poems. Joseph Cornell called them shadowboxes.

ASB cover w PQ badgeCheck out Nina’s art work here.

As I said in my previous post, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing the Speakers Part 1

ASB cover w PQ badgeI’m so honored to be invited to lead a women’s retreat at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3! All the information, including how to register, is here:

A Second Blooming Retreat

I met Alison Buehler, director of the Homestead and retreat organizer, at the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Meridian, Mississippi, last July. What a smart, creative, energetic woman! After our meeting, she read the first anthology I edited, A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE, and contacted me about hosting a retreat around the book. (A Second Blooming was the February 2018 pick for the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, and I enjoyed moderating a panel with several of the authors at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January of 2018 for this book.) Each retreat participant will receive a copy of the book, and Alison asked me to invite four of the 20 authors who contributed essays to the collection to lead workshops at the retreat.

ASB talk prep

 

On Friday night, March 1, I’ll be giving the keynote talk. It’s from 7:30-9:00 p.m., but don’t worry. I promise not to lecture for an hour and a half.  I’ve put together a short “workbook” for everyone to use with several short exercises. We will examine the first half of our lives and consider how we will “bloom” as we move forward into, or continue in, the second half. My session will be interactive, so hopefully it will keep everyone’s attention and warm us all up for the four amazing workshops on Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to introduce each of the workshop leaders here on my blog, one at a time. Today’s “bloomer” (that’s what I call the authors in A Second Blooming) is Ellen Morris Prewitt.

Ellen for ASB RetreatEllen Morris Prewitt is a writer who has explored group creativity in hundreds of workshops. She leads workshops based on her book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God (Paraclete Press, 2009); for eight years she facilitated a weekly writing group of men and women experiencing homelessness, which culminated in their book, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness (Triton Press, 2014). Her recent work is a novel, Tracking Happiness (June 2018). She splits her time between Memphis and New Orleans. Here’s a bit about the workshop she will be leading on Saturday morning:

The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting – Labeling ourselves as uncreative often holds us back from exploring new activities that call to our hearts (I know it does for me.) Turning to the comfort and support of a group can be really helpful. In this workshop, we will talk about the three basic elements of group creativity that make exploring new ventures—from shibori to chi walking to speech writing to launching a new website—fun. We’ll make a very simple book to both experience these elements and to produce a journal for our resulting creative thoughts.

Here’s the retreat schedule:

FRIDAY

3:00 – 5:30 REGISTRATION / GREETING / TEA / GETTING SETTLED IN

5:30 – 5:45 OPENING & ORIENTATION

5:45 – 7:00 DINNER AND RECIPE SWAP – Please bring 20 copies of a recipe that helps share your story.

7:00 – 7:30 INTRODUCTION OF PRESENTERS – Alison Buehler

7:30 – 9:00 A Second Blooming – Susan Cushman

10:00 QUIET TIME/LIGHTS OUT

SATURDAY

7:20 – 7:50 MORNING WALK or Gentle Yoga

8:00 – 9:00 BREAKFAST AND CLEAN-UP

9:00-11:00- Using Groups to Support Your Creativity – Ellen Morris Prewitt

11:30 – 2:00 Lunch and Break

2:00-4:00 – Little Altars Everywhere – Nina Gaby

5:00 – Dinner in Town

7:30 – 9:30 How Our Stories Shape Us – Jennifer Horne

10:00 Lights Out

SUNDAY

7:20 Morning Walk or Gentle Yoga

8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Pushing Up the Sun – Kathy Rhodes

10:30 Closing Celebration – Jeri Van Winkle Mangum

11:00 – 12: Clean Up and Departure

 

 

The Pulpwood Queen’s List for 2019

SWW with PQ badgeKathy L. Murphy, founder of The Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, has chosen the following books as the “books of the month” for 2019. She has also chosen “bonus books” for each month. Her 700+ book clubs internationally are encouraged to read the book of the month and discuss it at their monthly meetings. It was such a joy to meet and visit with many of these authors last weekend at the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas, where I moderated a panel for Southern Writers on Writing. I’m honored that SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING is the book Kathy chose for January! Looking for some great books to read in 2019?  Here is the Queen’s list:

JANUARYSouthern Writers on Southern Writing edited by Susan Cushman
Bonus Books:

Theologies of Terrain by Tim Conroy
In Pieces by Sally Field
Road Kill Art And Other Oddities by Niles Reddick
Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick
The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics: Poems by Charles Clifford Brooks III

FEBRUARYLove & Ruin: A Novel by Paula McLain
Bonus Books:

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson
Edge of the Wind by James E. Cherry
A Celebration of Words: Volume One: Essays from Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Horton Foote, and Jeanette Walls by Kacey Kowars, Introduction by Kathy L. Murphy

MARCHNothing Is Forgotten: A Novel by Peter Golden
Bonus Books:

Haufraus Honeymoon: Lov,: Language, and other Misadventures in Germany by Beth M. Howard
The Lost Family: A Novel by Jenna Blum
Stand Forever, Yielding Never: The Citadel in the 21st Century by John Warley

APRILConfessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan (I read an ARC and can’t wait for this to come out. It’s awesome!)
Bonus Books:

Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton
Workin’ Our Way Home: The Incredible True Story of a Homeless Ex-Con and a Grieving Millionaire Thrown Together To Save Each Other by Ron Hall
The Fighter: A Novel by Michael Farris Smith

MAYBecoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry
Bonus Books:

Ordinary Magic: Promises I Kept to My Mother Through Life, Illness, and a Very Long Walk On The Camino De Santiago by Cameron Powell
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
The Unmade World by Steve Yarbrough

JUNEThe Glovemaker: A Novel by Ann Weisgarber
Bonus Books:

Beach Calling: A Devotional Journal of the Middle Years and Beyond by Missy Buchanan
How We Came to Be by Johnnie Bernhard
The Secrets of the Cormandel House by Jennifer Mueller

JULYThe Exile: A Novel by Gregory Erich Phillips
Bonus Books:

The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman
The Curiosities by Susan Gloss
Art Matters: Because Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman

AUGUSTThe Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio
Bonus Books:

The Way of Beauty by Camille Di Maio
The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White
How To Be A Good Creature: A Memoir of Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

SEPTEMBERUnsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
Bonus Books:

Two Minus One: A Memoir by Kathryn Taylor
Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto by R.P. Saffire a.k.a. Suzanne Hudson
Countenance by Joy Ross Davis
A Promise Given: A Henrietta and Inspector Howell Novel by Michelle Cox

OCTOBERWhen The Men Were Gone: A Novel by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Bonus Books:

Warrior’s Code 001: 7 Vital Steps to Resiliency by Mark E. Green with Echo Montgomery Garrett
Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella
A World of Hurt and Dead and Buried (Wilkie John Western Series) by Tim Bryant

NOVEMBERThe Widows: A Novel by Jess Montgomery
Bonus Books:

Life in Lyrics by Connor Garrett
Red Mountain and Red Mountain Rising by Boo Walker
Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey

DECEMBERThe Library Book by Susan Orlean
Bonus Books:

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks
The Lost Words by Robert McFarland

Chalk by Grace Cushman (age 9)

 

Grace writing, May 2018

Grace writing, May 2018

There’s another writer in the Cushman family. Our son Jason, has always been a writer. Check out his blog, Harsh Reality. This morning he posted this short story by his nine-year-old daughter Grace on his blog. I asked his permission to share it here because I think it’s so wonderful. I’m so proud of all four of our granddaughters, ages 3, 6, 8, and 9, but today I’m featuring Grace. The writer.

I interviewed Grace on Facetime briefly last night to ask about her inspiration for the story. Turns out she does know a girl named Capriana (cool name, huh?) but her story is nothing like this one. I asked if she knew someone who had recently lost a parent and might be dealing with the kinds of emotions that are so evident in this story, and she didn’t. This just came from her imagination, and from a deep, caring, gifted soul. Please read and enjoy.

1-sidewalk-chalk-i-tom-mc-nemar

Chalk

by Grace Cushman

One breezy spring morning, a girl named Capriana woke up in her cotton bed. She could barely wake up for school. She hauled herself to her dresser and got dressed. Her mom forced her to wear her least favorite orange pants. Capriana HATED the color orange. She only liked the color red because red was the color emotion of anger. She stomped down the stairs with a handful of books that she’s already read twice, a white shirt, and her least favorite orange pants.

“Hey orange is a good color for you! You don’t always have to grumpy when you don’t get your way you know.” said Capriana’s mom as Capriana stomped to the kitchen.

Capriana had frizzy brown hair and eyes that were the color of an emerald. Capriana ignored her mother and sat down to eat breakfast. “YUCK! Mommy you know how much I hate oatmeal!” complained Capriana.

“Oh just eat it!” said Capriana’s mom as she pushed the lavender bowl.

Capriana did not like the color lavender either. To her it meant friendship. Capriana did not have any friends in her second grade classroom. Capriana picked up the silver spoon and took a big bite. “HOT!” yelled Capriana as she dropped her spoon that made a cling sound. Capriana’s mom sighed and knelt down to grab the spoon. Capriana came back in the kitchen hauling a bag full of books. “Come on mommy I’m gonna be late for school!”

”Ok! Coming!”  

When Capriana’s mom dropped off Capriana and said goodbye, Capriana stomped all the way to her classroom full of LITTLE SECOND GRADERS! When Capriana got to her classroom everyone stopped talking and looked at her. Then they all scooted one foot away from her desk. Capriana didn’t care. You get used to something when it’s happened to you for a year. But then Capriana saw a boy smiling at her. It was the new kid that had joined the classroom. Then a boy scooted to him and whispered something in his ear. Capriana waited for him to join the other. But suddenly he had a face that said, “So what?”

After math, which was the first subject of the day, Capriana got to know the boy more. She already knew he was really good at math. And she didn’t care that he was perfect all the time. Even his name was perfect for him! George. All she cared about was having a friend. A real friend. But deep down inside her she still felt like something bad was about to happen. Something terrible. During writing George and Capriana were sitting in the corner together having their clipboards clutched to their chests. “Hahaha!”

“SHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” shushed their teacher, Ms. Banana.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s so… HAHAHA! So funny! HAHAHAHAHA!” laughed George, tears in his eyes.

“SHUSH YOUR LITTLE MOUTHS!” hissed Ms. Banana as she closed shut a filling cabin.

Capriana and George started working quietly with their pencils. They both knew they had to start working faster for their writing celebration that was tomorrow. But suddenly, a boy dropped a book on George’s head! “ Owwww” said George while he rubbed his head. The book had dropped so quickly that it startled George and his hand struck out. And that had been a mistake. His perfectly sharpened pencil had ripped a hole in Capriana’s published writing. Gasp flooded the room with all eyes on George and Capriana. Capriana’s eyes felt hot. And so did her cheeks. George didn’t know what was coming for him. “Capriana I’m so sor-”

“GEORGE, YOU MADE A HOLE IN MY PAPER!” cried Capriana, bursting into tears.

George’s heart sank faster than the Titanic. “Capriana I said I’m sor-”

“I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE SORRY, GEORGE! I WAS ABOUT TO FINISH MY WRITING!”

“Bu-bu-but”

“GEORGE I….I…HATE YOU!” yelled Capriana. George stood quiet with tears rolling down his cheeks. Capriana was so angry that she ripped all of his perfect handwriting to pieces.

When it was the next day Capriana and George missed out on their writing celebration. So instead of drinking strawberry lemonade and reading each other’s writing they just read in the corner of their classroom. Which was not a problem to Capriana because she loved to read a lot. So at recess she read by herself under a tree. But at a distance she could hear a bunch of girls singing “George and Capriana sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Capriana wanted to wipe the smiles off their faces. But instead she kept reading. Reading was what kept her anger down. But at art class she saw the same girls talking about her and George in the corner. That’s when she got so mad that when she heard them she actually punched one of the girls in the face.

“I’m so sorry about Capriana’s behavior. I’ll be sure to talk to her when we get home.” said Capriana’s mom. 

“Yes. Capriana just has to control her anger.” said Capriana’s principal.

“I don’t know why she is so angry all the time!” said Capriana’s mom.

“Can you tell me when she started acting like this?” asked the principal.

“Well she started ever since her father died.”

“Hmmmm I see. Go on.”

“She was so sad that she ran away from home and returned,” said Capriana’s mom.

“Well she’s lucky it only caused a nose bleed and a few tears. And since this is her 1st warning, she will only get expelled for three days,” said Capriana’s principal. Capriana’s mom nodded and walked out the door

When Capriana got home she ran up the stairs and slammed the door shut behind her. She grabbed a book from her shelf and started reading in her head on her bed. Tears rolled down her hot red cheeks. Suddenly the door opened. Capriana stopped reading at the word “chalk.” She looked up. It was her mom. Her mom gingerly creaked open the door. “Hey sweetie can we talk?” asked Capriana’s mom. Capriana ignored her and kept reading. Capriana’s mom frowned. She took the book from Capriana and put it on the floor. “I’ve decided for your punishment you will have no tv, no computer, and no reading for a week.”

“WHAT!?”

Capriana sat on her porch step with the sun burning her neck. Capriana had a small neighborhood. It was the shape of a circle. Suddenly Capriana saw something brown in the middle of their neighborhood under the slide in their park. She crossed the street and saw that it was a box. Capriana bent down and took the box out. She opened it and inside were different colored pieces of chalk. She took one piece out. Capriana didn’t think about drawing to calm her anger down. She used them on her hand and drew a circle. Then a heart then a square then a flower. Soon she was drawing monkeys and squirrels like the ones she had seen in her trees. And she even drew herself. Soon she had a city of colors and shapes. But then suddenly, something fell on Capriana’s head. She touched her head; it was wet. Then more raindrops fell from the sky! And soon her masterpiece was now just a flood of colors. Capriana’s face felt hot again. She got so mad that she broke every single piece of chalk in the box. Then Capriana started crying. But not because she was upset but because she knows how it feels for something that you’ve worked hard on go to waste.

When it was tomorrow Capriana walked into her classroom. George and everyone else scooted a foot to the left. Capriana wanted to cry but she walked to George. “George I’m sorry for what happened. Will you forgive me?” asked Capriana. George didn’t answer. Capriana sighed. Then she told him what had happened the other day. George then finally forgave her and they became friends again.

Anna (8) and Grace (9) when they visited us in October. Sister love.

Anna (8) and Grace (9) when they visited us in October. Sister love.

Grace on a frozen lake near her house outside Denver

Grace on a frozen lake near her house outside Denver

Grace, Anna, and SuSu visit one of the two Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood.

Grace, Anna, and SuSu visit one of the two Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood.

Alz Authors

I’m honored to be a part of a wonderful tribe of over 150 authors who write about their experiences with Alzheimer’s, and to be featured on their site today:

Meet Susan Cushman, author of Tangles and Plaques

Thanks for reading!

Alz Authors artwork for T&P Cushman

Contentment #OneWord365

OneWord365For the past few years, I’ve been choosing a word every December to focus on for the coming year. I register the word with the folks at One Word 365, which is where I got the idea in the first place. Once you do this, you can find others in your “tribe” who have chosen the same word, and contact them if you are interested.

Find-Contentment-seekingcontentment.com_For 2019, I have chosen the word CONTENTMENT. Before I tell you more about why I chose that word, let me tell you about a message I received today from a woman in another state who chose the same word. She looked me up in our One Word “tribe” and sent me a message. Turns out she is caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Small world. Or large epidemic (Alzheimer’s), depending upon how you look at it. We’ve enjoyed chatting online about our shared and different experiences, and although my journey/struggles with my mother and her Alzheimer’s ended with her death in May of 2016, this woman is in the throes of it right now. She is blessed to have help from family, including a future daughter-in-law who is a nurse.

So why did I choose “contentment” as my One Word for 2019? Because I struggle so much with various elements of its opposite— jealousy, greed, gluttony, resentment, restlessness. My father confessor has encouraged me to practice thankfulness as an antidote to jealousy, and that helps. Looking at my life from the outside (as all of us view one another’s lives) I’m sure most people think I have a pretty charmed life and should find it easy to be content. And I do! I have financial security, a good marriage of 48+ years, fairly good health (having survived cancer and a life-threatening car wreck), three healthy children who have good jobs, four healthy granddaughters, several very close friends, and the opportunity during this later season of my life (I’ll be 68 in March) to pursue my dreams—writing and publishing books. During a 17-month period in 2017 and 2018, I actually had four books published, which is pretty amazing. I went on close to 60 events in 7 states speaking and signing books during those two years, and really had the time of my life. So why do I struggle with contentment?

 4 books 2

 

Psychologically speaking, I’ve been looking for the love I didn’t get as a child (from my grandfather, who molested me, and my mother, who was verbally abusive to me) my whole life. And no matter what I have, it never feels like enough. In some ways I’ve been like an orphan who isn’t sure where her next meal is coming from, so she hoards bit and pieces of food for the future. Metaphorically. I’ve always wanted more. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a cheerleader more than anything life had to offer. When I didn’t get it, I went after everything else. But all the other honors and activities (Secretary of the Student Body, acting in school plays and being a Theater Guild officer, being business manager of the school newsletter, eventually being a “Favorite,” “Best School Booster,” and a member of the Hall of Fame did not make me content. I wanted to be a cheerleader.

At Ole Miss I pledged what I considered to be the top sorority—turning down bids from other sororities—and was elected president of our pledge class. I was dating, and soon engaged to, the president of the senior class. And yet I never FELT like I was popular, successful, or loved. What was lacking? What was it I wanted and didn’t have? This was almost 50 years ago, and yet I can remember it like it was yesterday: I wanted to be skinny and beautiful. I wanted to look like the beauty queens. I was chubby and had eating disorders and was never content with myself.

Those issues followed me into early adulthood and middle age.

And then there’s my “career.” For the first seven years of my marriage, I worked mainly in administrative positions in various medical offices and businesses. I only finished two years of college, not wanting to borrow money to continue school while my husband was in medical school and residency. Once he started making money, I chose to work part time on and off while raising our three children, but I was mostly a stay-at-home mom. So, when our third child left for college, I decided it was time for my “career.” I got cancer right away, which derailed things for a little while. But then I was able to pursue my dreams. I started with painting—studying iconography and eventually leading workshops and teaching in my home studio. In 2006 I started writing seriously, not knowing it would be 11 years until my first book would be published. During those years, I published over a dozen essays in various journals and magazines, but I wasn’t content. I believed that publishing a book would bring contentment.

Friends and fellow writers tell me I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished in my late life career, and I am. Proud. But not always content, which is another thing altogether. I spent months several times during those years trying to get a literary agent, so that my books would have a chance to be published by one of the large houses and be read by thousands. When those plans never worked out, I ended up publishing with four different independent presses who don’t require agent representation—two academic and two small presses. And while my experiences with some of those presses have been wonderful, I’m still in the “small pond.”

fc7fbc8db64bcda844fb8ee3e61b65e6So I tried again last year to get an agent for my short story collection, and also my personal essay collection, but after several months, I lost patience and sent the manuscripts to more indie presses. Of course I’ll be happy to hear that either or both books get published, but I’ll still be in the small pond. I’m asking God to help me be thankful and CONTENT in that pond. And I’m trying to apply Colossians 3:23 to my work ethic:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

At 67 I’m seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel is these areas. And I’m hoping that by focusing on CONTENTMENT in 2019, I’ll find that elusive peace I’ve been craving my whole life. As I was writing this post, I found a post on my new One Word 365 friend’s Facebook page that said, “Which Bible verse will guide you in 2019?” I began to look for verses about contentment (here’s a nice list of 20) and found a couple that resonated strongly. I’ll close with my favorite:

“That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”—Ecclesiastes 3:13

What would be your ONE WORD for 2019? Whether or not you chose one “officially,” I hope I’ve inspired you to at least consider a goal that will bring healing and encouragement to you in the New Year.

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