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.

Congratulations, Who Are You Again?

IMG_5884Writing from Seagrove Beach, Florida this Thanksgiving weekend feels like writing from home. I’m staying in the location where I spent several month-long writing retreats several years ago working on my novel CHERRY BOMB. It’s also where my family has shared several wonderful vacations, and where our daughter was married in 2011. Right here on this gorgeous white sandy piece of heaven. And now I feel like Seagrove Beach is once again the venue for something important in my life—possibly an awakening to where I am in the pursuit of my dream of being a “successful” author. And how did I get here? By reading Harrison Scott Key’s wonderful new memoir, CONGRATULATIONS, WHO ARE YOU AGAIN?

At Novel Books in Memphis, Tennessee.

At Novel Books in Memphis, Tennessee.

Harrison and I met at the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, where he won an award for an essay he submitted. The essay, “The Meek Shall Inherit the Memoir,” was published in Creative Nonfiction Journal in 2015, and Harrison allowed me to reprint it in the anthology I edited, SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING, which came out this past May. He was on a panel with me for the anthology at the Pat Conroy Literary Center’s Visiting

Harrison joined me on a panel for Southern Writers on Writing in Blufton, SC in September.

Harrison joined me on a panel for Southern Writers on Writing in Blufton, SC in September. Standing: Jonathan Haupt, Nicole Seitz, Patti Callahan Henry, Harrison Scott Key. Seated: Cassandra King, Susan Cushman

Author event in Blufton, South Carolina, in September. Our other common thread is that we have both lived in Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. And one more common thread is that he now lives in Savannah, Georgia, where he teaches at SCAD (Southern College of Art and Design), which was the setting for much of my novel CHERRY BOMB, for which he wrote a generous blurb. It was fun catching up with Harrison when he gave a talk about his new book at Novel bookstore in Memphis recently.

I loved Harrison’s first book, THE WORLD’S LARGEST MAN, so I was expecting to love this one, too. But I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by it, as a writer and as a wounded human, that I would decide that it’s my FAVORITE READ OF 2018. After several failed attempts at writing a memoir about my own sad childhood, sexual abuse, and ongoing healing, I gave up and let my truth feed my novel CHERRY BOMB (2017). Harrison didn’t chicken out, on either of his books. This is creative nonfiction at its best – telling true stories with all the elements of great fiction. Raw. Honest. His words cause me to reconsider whether my own dream has already come true, or if it is (hopefully) still a work in progress:

“My dream came true, it did: I can access the light inside me, what little there is . . . for a book, like any work of art, helps you find a bit of your own light, and my light is silly, and my light is sad, and on good days, my light is true, and I can shine it now….”

All of us—not only writers and artists and musicians, but also those who teach, heal, build things, design things, and even sell things—need to find the light inside us. And finding that light can help us heal. It can help us fill the holes we all have inside us:

“A story is an old-fashioned treasure hunt, and what makes it so very hard for the writer is that when you start to write, you don’t necessarily know the nature of the treasure or even what the map looks like. All you need is a human with an empty place inside them they’re hoping to fill. That’s what a story is. We turn the page because we all have the hole in us, too, and we’re all trying to fill it, and we’re hoping the story will give us some ideas about how to do that.”

We’re also hoping that a book—or even a good short story or essay and especially maybe a good poem—will help us better understand ourselves and our world. As Harrison says:

“Hadn’t I written my book to lay bare the complexity of a family I’d never fully understood, and who, with every story, every remembered moment, showed itself to be more original and full of love and truth and pain than I’d thought possible? Isn’t that why you tell stories, to understand the thing you are telling?”

Yes, and no. This is something I’m just beginning to learn in my own writing, so I was on the edge of my seat as I read on:

“A book is not a report of something that happened in the past, whether that past is real or imagined: The book is the thing that happened. The writing is the action. The art is the knowing. Which is why you cannot write what you know. You can only really write what you want to know…. You paint a painting to see what the painting will look like. If you knew before you started, why would you need to paint it?”

Reading CONGRATULATIONS, WHO ARE YOU AGAIN? at Seagrove Beach on Thanksgiving Day, with my husband, Bill.

Reading CONGRATULATIONS, WHO ARE YOU AGAIN? at Seagrove Beach on Thanksgiving Day, with my husband, Bill.

If we heed Harrison’s words here, we (writers) will avoid the common mistake of “telling” our readers what happened or is happening, simply reporting on the events of the story, and we’ll begin to “show” them—and ourselves—what it is we are coming to understand as we write.

As a writer, I could relate to much of Harrison’s writing and publishing and book tour stories, and I think his journey to find his dream can apply to people in all walks of life. The fact that he writes about the difficult things of everyday life with such amazing humor is icing on the cake. This is a MUST READ for anyone with a dream. Or anyone who needs to have a dream. Which is everyone.

Don’t Quit Your Daydream

quote and peacockI’m still enjoying the quotes and stand my daughter-in-law See Cushman gave me for Christmas. Recently I selected this quote for the stand (which is right next to a peacock I painted at a shop in Denver a couple of years ago with my daughter, daughter-in-law, and three oldest granddaughters) and I walk past it whenever I leave through our back door: 

Don’t Quit Your Daydream

I Googled the phrase this morning, and discovered:

A Facebook page with inspirational podcasts,

A Nashville Film Festival winner,

And various other sites that use the phrase.

And today’s quote from A Woman’s Book of Inspiration, which was a Christmas gift from my daughter Beth Cushman Davis:

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word—excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.—Pearl S. Buck

As I continue with the first draft of a new book, I’ll be keeping both of these inspirational quotes in mind. They also remind me of the two amazing young women who shared them with me. Beth and See are both inspirations to me, not only because they are the mothers of my four fabulous granddaughters, or because they are beautiful and have successful careers, but because they understand the importance of drawing inspiration from other women as we move forward with our lives. I love you both!

Previous posts on these quotes:

Don’t Look Back

Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes

Courage and Hunger

Don’t Look Back (My first post of 2018!)

Jan 1 quoteThis morning I’m sharing another card from the Bright Ideas quote cards my daughter-in-law See Cushman put in my Christmas stocking this year… and another wonderful quote from the book A Woman’s Book of Inspiration that my daughter Beth Cushman Davis gave me. Here’s the quote from A Woman’s Book:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.—Eleanor Roosevelt

2 calendarsIt felt really good to set aside my 2017 desk calendar this morning, as I’ve been using both that one and the 2018 calendar for several months now. How much simpler to only have to keep up with one year for a while! January looks promising, with three events scheduled for my novel CHERRY BOMB—in Mississippi, Texas, and back home in Memphis. Also a fun weekend in Little Rock, co-hosting a wedding shower for my friend Daphne’s daughter, Hallie. Somehow, in between those engagements, I hope to get started on my next book, as I had set January as the time I would begin a new project. 2017 was such a banner year for me, with three books published…. But I can’t just look back and rest on those achievements. I hope to continue to believe in the beauty of my dreams.


Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes

Beth, Gabby and Susu brave the snow blizzard at the Denver Zoo! (Pops took the picture, and Kevin took 2-year-old Izzy back to the car early.... it was freezing!)

Beth, Gabby and Susu brave the snow blizzard at the Denver Zoo! (Pops took the picture, and Kevin took 2-year-old Izzy back to the car early…. it was freezing!)

Happy 4th Day of Christmas! We got home from Denver last night, after spending five wonderful days with two of our “kids” and all four granddaughters, and the magic of a white Christmas. Being a city girl, it’s always fun for me to see the wildlife near our children’s homes… this time two coyotes and several rabbits. Our days were spent playing games (7 different games with the girls!), watching football, eating (of course!) and catching up on the lives of our kids who live so far away. Every day was special, but a couple of special memories are the night we went to Zoo Lights with our daughter and her family… only to encounter a blizzard as we tried to walk through the beautiful sights!

Guinea Pig Nativity bookAnother special memory was reading A Guinea Pig Nativity with our son’s daughters, and then playing with their Guinea pigs, Snowy, Noah, and Luke. (This is a wonderful little book, even if your kids or grands don’t have Guinea pigs!) Here’s a hilarious You-Tube video of a live Guinea Pig Nativity play!

Snowy and Luke

Snowy and Luke




Pops getting ready to read A Guinea Pig Nativity to Grace and Anna

Pops getting ready to read A Guinea Pig Nativity to Grace and Anna



My first gift from Jared!

My first gift from Jared!

Oh, and exchanging gifts. I love presents… to give them and to receive them. And to watch our granddaughters spend hours enjoying their new toys and games.

I was blessed to receive several really special things this year, including earrings from Jared, personalized stationery, personalized traveling jewelry case, Echo Dot for my office (we also have them in our bedroom and den), individual fondue mugs (I love chocolate fondue!), and more.

3 gifts


My daughter and daughter-in-law both know how much I love quotes. Beth (my daughter) gave me this wonderful book, A Woman’s Book of Inspiration: Quotes of Wisdom and Strength, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi.

Work Hard



My daughter-in-law See gave me this little “Bright Ideas” set with a wooden stand and a collection of quotes you can change out on the stand. So I’m going to post some of the quotes they sent me from time to time here on my blog. Starting with today.

From “Bright Ideas”:

work hard.

stay humble.

From A Woman’s Book of Inspiration:

Everyone has inside of her a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is! – Anne Frank

I chose these quotes to share today because as I approach the beginning of a new year, I move forward with thankfulness for the good things that happened in 2017 but also with an eagerness to begin something new… a new book, or two! And also to learn to love more, as Anne Frank said. And as Tim McGraw sings:

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

Thanks, always, for reading (even when I’m gone for a week during the holidays!) and remember that I love to hear from you, here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Christmas Day at Beth Cushman Davis and Kevin Davis's lovely new home, with their family and Jason and See Cushman and family.

Christmas Day at Beth Cushman Davis and Kevin Davis’s lovely new home, with their family and Jason and See Cushman and family.

Mental Health Monday Revisited: The People in the Flying RV

It’s been a couple of months since I decided to quit using the themes I’ve used for several years here on my blog: Mental Health Monday, Writing on Wednesday, and Faith on Friday. And yet I still wake up on those days thinking about those themes. It had become such an ingrained habit that I can’t seem to shake it. But this morning I woke from a disturbing dream. I believe that how we respond to our dreams can affect our mental health, so I’m going to share a bit of it with you here. Warning: It’s Stephen King strange.



My husband and I were with a group of people in a cabin in the woods. Suddenly we heard a helicopter overhead. We looked out the window and it was landing right next to our cabin. But it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill helicopter. It had an RV attached to it. The chopper/RV landed with a loud thud and people from inside it started coming into our cabin. They seemed friendly enough at first, commenting on how beautiful the area was and introducing themselves (first names only). But soon I began to feel something ominous was in the air. A woman brought a little girl into the cabin, and the girl was carrying a duffle bag and a few toys, as though she was there to stay. She asked where the bathroom was—like they don’t have one on their flying RV. The adults seemed to span out quickly, going through the cabin like they were casing it out for something. A little boy about six years old came up to me and pulled his pants down to reveal an unusually large penis for a small boy. A women standing near him—his mother?—just smiled and didn’t scold him. I asked him to please pull his pants back up. I wanted to sneak off to the bathroom and call someone—the police? And say what? That a helicopter with an RV attached to it had landed by our cabin and I was afraid that we were being overrun by aliens or cannibals? My curiosity got the better of me and I walked outside and into the RV. There was a gliding couch in the first room, so I sat down on it, and shortly I was joined by a slim middle-aged woman with dark hair, wearing a bathrobe. She smiled and sat down beside me and began to speak with an eastern European accent. “Are you Russian?” I asked. “Yes.” “I know some Russian people who go to our church, we are Orthodox,” I answered, nervously. “Yes, I know,” she said, with a creepy smile. That’s when I wanted to run screaming through the woods hoping to find a place where my cell phone would work. And then I woke up.



Stephen King material? Maybe. I know I won’t be writing it… just recalling it briefly here creeps me out. Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep is about a group of people in RVs called “The True Knot,” quasi-immortal beings, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. No way I could read this—it would not be good for my mental health. But on the web site for the book, I read these words:

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

Whether you interpret your dreams using Jungian techniques, run from them, or ignore them (I know people who fit into each of these categories) I believe there’s something to be said for what happens to us in that dream-state of our subconscious just before waking. But instead of trying to apply it to my life today, I wanted to get this morning’s dream out of my head, and so I hope to do so by writing about it here. I was just glad the sun was shining when I woke from what was surely about to become a full-blown nightmare. (I had lots of nightmares, and even walked in my sleep as a child.) So now it’s time to turn my thoughts to happier things—and get this dark stuff out of my head. Running errands on this beautiful morning will help.

I hope everyone has a happy week, free from nightmares, unless you’re a Stephen King fan.

Mental Health Monday: The Restorative Power of Darkness

Carolyn Bergen

Carolyn Bergen

Darkness gets a bad rap. It’s often associated with evil, whereas light is touted as good, especially in literature and drama. Bad guys often wear black; heroes sport white. And when it comes to mental health, someone who is depressed might describe their feelings as being in a “dark mood” or “in a deep dark hole.” Our parents’ generation didn’t cast it quite as darkly, saying, “I’m feeling blue.” And of course with music, that translates to the blues. But no one ever says, when we are depressed, I’m feeling light.

What color is anxiety? I’ve been anxious quite a bit lately, about a number of things. That anxiety plus an overly active mind have kept me awake a couple of nights. Insomnia isn’t something I experience regularly, thank God. But when it hits, it’s exhausting. Sometimes I can feel my heart beating as I lay still trying to sleep, anxious thoughts seeming to flutter around the room like so many birds. I wouldn’t describe the feeling as dark, but more like murky—lacking clarity.

Yesterday I read an article in The Atlantic by Kathryn Harrison, author of The Kiss and other works of nonfiction and fiction. (The Kiss is excellent, but a little dark, because Harrison wrote it about the incestuous affair she was forced to have with her father.) The article is really about writing (she not only has several published books but she teaches writing) but it’s also about darkness, which she embraces. She reflects on a poem by Joseph Brodsky, “On Love,” especially this line:

For darkness restores what the light cannot repair.

The darkness Brodsky and Harrison are talking about here has to do with our unconscious lives, and especially the dream world, where many believe healing can take place. As Harrison explains:

Many human transactions take place in this realm of darkness. On unconscious planes, through dreams—even, on some level, in people’s ability to communicate without words. By darkness, I don’t mean black, as in lacking light. I mean dark: the aspect of life that is not accessible through our conscious processes of analysis…. There’s huge redemption in the fact that there is a world that is dark, or opaque, to conscious life. The realm of darkness that heals and restores, and allows memory to bind up, provides the present with a kind of solace that is almost holy. The line is about the holy and generative properties that exist within us. And so, I think the line is about God. A realm that God inhabits.  

2ccb1a0f9cee4f5dfcc5aac9c2e5c599I believe that God inhabits the darkness. There are many stories in the Old Testament, especially, where God met the prophets of old in the darkness. And of course He went down into Hades to free the captives. He doesn’t just dwell in light.

It’s Holy Week for Orthodox Christians, and the services at my church this week could be called dark. The music is often in a minor key, the tone and atmosphere itself subdued. The lights are dimmed, the nave mostly illumined by candles, which cast a muted brightness on the gold leaf of the icons behind them, but also dark shadows. Even the priests’ and deacons’ vestments and the cloths covering the altar and icon stands are dark, having replaced the usual gold and white coverings. Is all this darkness evil? No, it’s a necessary part of our spiritual—and emotional—journey through Christ’s passion. And not unlike the unconscious world described by Harrison, this atmosphere can “heal and restore” and provide “a kind of solace that is almost holy.”

I’m going back there tonight. To the darkness of the church service. I’m going to try to let go of my anxiety through the unconscious work of chanting and prayer, breathing in the incense that reminds us that our prayers rise to God from the darkness of our broken lives.

Mental Health Monday: Endangered Children in Dreams

You never paint what you see or think you see. You paint with a thousand vibrations the blow that struck you.– Nicholas de Staël

41WMaGbQePL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My dreams sometimes include children. But lately there’s been a plethora of children-filled dreams. Dreams that I long to understand and am often sad to leave upon waking. Some mornings I push the snooze button on my alarm and try to return to the dream. My intentional awareness must be what’s been bringing those dreams back to me in flashes of déjà vu for the past week or so.

One dream involved a group of children at a boarding school or summer camp. I’m not sure what my job was, but I think I was a teacher or something. But I kept screwing up—getting lost en route to a class, losing students on an outing.

Another dream involved a daycare of sorts, and a baby I was responsible for and lost.

I’ve abandoned a former habit of writing down my dreams, so I can’t remember the others clearly. But this morning I felt the urge to explore their meanings or messages a bit. I went to my psychology bookshelf and pulled out the book, The Art of Dreaming: Using Your Dreams to Unlock Your Creativity (Celestial Arts Publishing, 1995) by Veronica Tonay, Ph.D.
First I read a little about creative people and dreams in general:

In Jungian psychology, the child is a potent creative symbol in dreams, representing a new part of the psyche, regeneration, and rebirth. Clinical psychologists notice their clients often dream of children when going through major transitions. Most of my creative clients dream of children when they are about to embark upon a new creative project.

This resonated with me immediately… but then I’m almost always about to embark on a new creative project. I’m aware of two such projects which are in the works, but I’m also wondering if writing new scenes for my novel—which I’ve been laboring over revising for months now—isn’t part of this.

I read more about creative types and our struggles:

Creative people who do not become seriously mentally ill (and these are the majority!) tend to be more impulsive, more depressed, and more angry than others…. Paradoxically, though, creative people have more inner resources with which to cope with their inner difficulties…. Creative work provides a means for hurt children to find meaning in their experience and may even provide some protection from emotional instability.

There it is. I’m one of the “hurt children” (due to childhood sexual abuse) and I struggle with those emotional health issues. Dr. Tonay continues to describe some of my tendencies:

Creative people are driven. We are typically less easily satisfied than are other people. We are often ambitious for our work to be recognized by others…. We must develop a lifestyle that allows us to create.

StrangerDangerMAINMost of this isn’t new information—for me or the general public. Neither is much of what I write about in these “Mental Health Monday” blog posts.” I’m not a mental health professional. I’m just trying to interpret the world for myself and others who might be following a similar path. So what about the significance of endangered children in our dreams? Like the one I lost in last night’s dream?

0_edited-1Along with replaying and confronting us with real feelings we felt in childhood… endangered dream children represent us. The child within us accompanies us throughout our lives and can be heard the loudest in those who were emotionally wounded (for example, creative people). The child we were and still are needs our attention, respect, and caring. Again, he or she also needs our willingness to be childlike, because the child can help us to find our creativity…. Endangered dream children indicate that our creativity is right now in danger of being destroyed or hurt.

Of course bells are going off as I read this… how is my creativity in danger of being destroyed or hurt? Is the danger coming from others, or myself? Or both? It’s taken me years to begin to carve out a space for my work, and to learn to say “no” to things that distract me from writing. But something—I don’t know what—seems to be keeping me from finishing revisions on the novel. I return to Dr. Tonay’s words:

Creative people must take courage to make their creative expression a priority in their lives and must fearlessly protect their creative children. If we do not, we may dream of little ones in danger.

I must confess that although I’ve been reading and thinking about this since I first woke up this morning, I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to do.  There are some good questions to ask myself at the end of the chapter, including:

What does the dream child need? Is there something I can imagine saying to him or her? Doing for him or her? What action can I take to ensure I get what I need?
Stay tuned. And thanks, always for reading. Feel free to chime in.

Mental Health Monday: Bubbling It Up with Kevin Costner and Anne Lamott

180-dec-2014-ATM-cover.imgcache.rev1417461840958.webDon’t blink. Life seems to go by so much faster as we get older, doesn’t it? Sometimes it scares me that I’ll be 64 in a couple of months. I laugh with my husband as we watch sports because I no longer make comments about how cute the athletes are. It’s the coaches I notice. I’ve had a crush on Jeff Fisher for several years now. But he’s still a young 56.

And then Kevin Costner shows up on the cover of the December 2014/January 2015 issue of AARP The Magazine. Yep, he’s still got it. And he turns 60 this month. How does he do it? He says:

When I show up I have to be ready. Whether the energy is there or not, I bubble it up…. I still like swinging for the fences.

His energy inspires me as I continue to work on projects that are important to me, even when I often feel old and tired.

LamottBut it’s a small column in the “My American Life” section by Anne Lamott that helped me the most this month. “Have a Little Faith: How Getting Older Deepened My Belief in Goodness… and in Myself” isn’t just about faith in God. As she says in the article:

It’s about faith in goodness, in life, in things mostly working out. And let’s not forget faith in ourselves—the conviction that we are loved and chosen—which is such a component of the spiritual life.

If you don’t get the magazine, you can read the entire article on Lamott’s Facebook page. She posted it here, on December 9. It’s short and powerful and worth a read. She talks about things I need to hear about over and over, like forgiving ourselves and others. And laughter. And when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” And the importance of community:

Twenty-nine years in a tiny church has proved to me that when two or more are gathered who believe in Goodness, they will take care of those in their community who are suffering, scared, lonely.

I’ve seen community in action when I’m suffering—especially the hands-on help I got from the people in my church in the weeks following my car wreck in 2013. And even in good times, when neighbors we’ve only known for a few months brought over Christmas gifts, like homemade bread, a Southern Living cookbook, a nice bottle of wine, and even a calendar with beautiful images of angels in it because the gifter noticed the angels on our walls when she came to a party at our house. These expressions of love from new friends—along with the sustaining love of life-long friends—bolster me up when I’m feeling down, or tired, or just old. They help me “bubble up.”

As I dive back into another round of revisions on my novel in the coming weeks (having put this task off during the holidays and having now run out of excuses) I’ll make time for coffee with a neighbor, lunch with a friend, and hopefully get back on the elliptical machine as often as my aching ankle will allow. To the casual observer it might not look like I’m swinging for the fences, but I know that I am. I still believe I can hit one out of the park. Thanks to my community, my family, and the inspiration of folks like Costner and Lamott. (And an occasional glimpse of Jeff Fisher.)



Mental Health Monday: I Forgot to Make the Soup!

butternut_squash_soup-3I had invited a number of people to my house for a special event, which included lunch. About thirty minutes before they were to arrive, I finished moving the furniture around, setting the tables, and putting out fresh flowers on each table. The house looked warm and welcoming, and I was excited about the event. And then it hit me: I had forgotten to make the soup!

I was supposed to make the butternut squash soup the night before and keep it in the fridge to warm up for our lunch. It would take much longer than thirty minutes to prepare the soup with the fresh squash I had purchased earlier in the week. Panic-stricken, I scurried about my pantry and fridge looking for something else I could serve my guests. Nada. Checking the clock one more time, I decided I should hurry to the neighborhood grocery and pick up something from the deli. But what if someone arrived while I was gone?

And then my alarm went off.

I’ve been told at numerous writing workshops to never begin a book this way—with the protag having some exciting or stressful adventure to hook the reader and then suddenly she wakes up and it’s only a dream. It’s considered cliché. But I’m breaking that rule for today’s blog post because it’s Monday morning and I’m happy-tired from the wonderful week I just spent with my kids and grandkids in Denver and this is the mental material that’s easily available to me right now.

imagesI’ve always had active dreams. But I only began to pay attention to them about fifteen years ago when a friend shared a bit with me about how to interpret them. Since the 1970s, “dream work” has become more and more popular, so there’s plenty of lay material available for those who want to learn more. I even attended a dream work group a couple of times, but it didn’t hold my attention the way I thought it might.

Freud said that the content of dreams is often related to wish fulfillment.  More often than not, I really don’t know what to do with the interpretation. Dream expert G. William Domhoff says:

…unless you find your dreams fun, intellectually interesting, or artistically inspiring, then feel free to forget your dreams.

My husband never pays attention to his dreams and usually forgets them immediately, if he remembers them at all. I think that’s partly because he embraces the Orthodox Christian view of dreams as something to be wary of, because demons can lead one astray through dreams. As Elder Ieronymos of Aegina says:

It is better for us not to believe in dreams at all, because many have gone astray on their account. There are three kinds of dreams: those from God, those from our thoughts, and those from the enemy. If they are from God and we don’t believe them, God does not take offense, because we don’t believe them out of fear, lest we be led into deception…. If the dreams are from God, they bring calm; if they are from the enemy, they bring turmoil. Beware of deceptions. Better to protect ourselves and not believe anything outside of what our Church teaches.

(You can read more about why many Orthodox are wary of dream work in this article by Father GeorgeKonstantopoulos.)

I’ve never been very obedient to such warnings, possibly because I’m usually curious, searching, and open to new things. Or new ways of seeing old things.

Icon of Saint Sophia and her daughters, Faith, Hope and Love

Icon of Saint Sophia and her daughters, Faith, Hope and Love

September 17 was the feast day of Saint Sophia in the Orthodox Church. She’s the patron saint of my Goddaughter, Sophie Mansour. Yesterday after Liturgy, I walked with Sophie up to the balcony at St. John where the large icon of Saint Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope and Love, hangs on the back wall. We venerated the icon together, and then I prayed that Saint Sophia would protect Sophie all her days, and that she would give her courage and wisdom.

Courage because living a life true to the Faith is difficult in any society. Sophie’s mother is from Iraq and her father is Syrian, so their family knows firsthand the suffering of the people in the Middle East. But even here in America, we often suffer if we stand firm for what we believe.

513TS502J0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Wisdom because Sophia is a female name derived from σοφία, the Greek word for “Wisdom.” The name was used to represent the personification of wisdom. My friend Sally Thomason loaned me a book called The Web in the Sea: Jung, Sophia, and the Geometry of the Soul, by Alice O. Howell, which I’m enjoying skimming right now. I say skimming because I’m not up for a closer read but I’m gleaning a few nuggets. Like this one:

Behind every event in our lives is a purpose, and it is up to us to discover it. This means paying attention.

I don’t know if Howell meant paying attention to our dreams, but I suppose I’ll continue to at least give them a few minutes of thought upon waking. Maybe it will help me learn more about myself and grow into the person I’m meant to be. If not, I’ll at least gain some awareness.

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