Do I have your word?

This post could also be called “12 Presents of the New Year: Resolution-Free Zone.” No commitments. Just 12 words. Last night while watching “The Desolation of Smaug,” there was a scene (no spoilers here) where one character said to another: “Do I have your word?” Simple. We have all heard that before.

Here’s my New Year’s experiment whispered (because everyone is still sleeping in my house) in the video above. It’s so simple. You can make it fancy and artsy and magical. Or you can do what I did: write 12 words on index cards or separate pieces of paper. Stick them in envelopes and open one each month. If you don’t have 12 envelopes, fold them over. Tape them. Staple them. Glue them. I’m going to open mine at the beginning of the month because I like presents on a regular basis. And I am going to watch how that word shows up in my life. They can be whatever you want. I picked words like free, energetic, laughter, joy, creator, dancing and singing. You can do this alone or with friends and family. You can do this over champagne or tea. Another thing I like to do is write two annual letters, one looking back on the year and one dated a year later and looking back–pretending that all of these amazing things happened in my life. For more on that approach you can click here. Whatever you do to celebrate a new year, do I have your word that you will be kind, gentle and loving to yourself–like you would to your best friend?

I thank you for teaching me this year. For reading and listening and sharing and giving so much for the last 12 months. Congrats on making it to the end of 2013!

Time for a Soul Revolution

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What does your soul look like?

Is it shaped like a lima bean or a lotus flower?

Is it delicious like a Dalessandro’s cheese steak with fried onions?

Is it waiting for you?

Hiding in the folds of your mama’s skirts?

Is it pushing at your solar plexus?

Does it keep you up at night?

Wake you early?

Pay attention to what ails you.

Throat sore? Feeling silenced?

Shouldblade aches? Afraid to be the quarterback throwing the winning pass?

Bowels in battle? Fear of missing something on your checklist got you wound too tight?

Lower back twinge? Feeling a lack of support, the victim of your own story?

What’s that they say about bootstraps?

How does one become a peaceful love warrior in the revolution for your soul’s right to blossom?

Whoa. How much granola have you been chewing?

Let’s say it from my cheese steak soul: You can get what you want while you are getting it.

You can be in love with your life.

With the simplest moment cup of tea.

With the time you take to read these words.

Then you can be in love with another moment.

And with a gorgeous hat.

And with your dog.

And with your partner. And with your idea of a partner.

You can call it all into being with love.

Patience.

And your soul revolution.

Wanamaker’s 1974, for Mom

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’74 yellow Bug, front seat

draft up my navy blue corduroy pants

AM radio

dial and four pushdown buttons

turn it off and sing the twelve days of Christmas

mom’s got a lion’s mane

crocheted vest, burgundy

knee-high boots

beige rubber heels

***
my true love gave to me

the lights show at Wanamaker’s

sit on the marble floor

not too close

or the light brights won’t look like dancing snowmen

mom unzips my coat

sweaty nose and bangs already

I’m waiting for the voice of Oz

to make me into a sugarplum fairy

***
take the escalator to Santa’s Secret Workshop

envelope pinned to my chest

ten dollars or maybe even fifteen

it doesn’t seem possible

all by myself

I wind through aisles

yellow rings with shiny stones

green bottled colognes

and soaps with ropes

***
after my bounty’s collected and paid

the change jingles against my chest

wrapping begins

white tissue paper and scotch-taped gift tags

the elves don’t understand our family names

Aunt Kiki

Mama Chelo

Ina

Puni

Bobby Oddy

mom’s there waiting

to help me carry treasures

***
take the elevator this time

to Wannie’s dining room

blue walls and blue-haired ladies

I look up and see the best part

a chandelier as big as the moon

I’ll order ginger ale

grilled cheese

chocolate pudding in a tall fancy glass

’til we go back to the roof of the lot

where I made mom park

wind around and around

to East River Drive

roll down the window

and sing

five golden rings

Originally published in Paterson Literary Review, Issue 34, 2005

Faith, Boredom and Desire

El Yunque

I’m having an ecstatic moment right now. It’s been swirling since 4:00am or maybe since I went to sleep. Really it started yesterday with this conversation.  (I am the mom.)

Son: I’m so excited that tomorrow is Christmas Eve!

Mom: I know! Me too! Remember, tomorrow we go to church in the evening.

Son: I don’t want to go to church.  Church is boring.

Mom: It is. I know. I like the people and the music and Father Jerry. I also like when the boring parts let me think about the things I want to think about.

Two things happened here. I am very conscious of telling the truth as I partner in raising this six-year-old human being.  (You can call me out on that when I talk about a couple of our magical rituals that bend traditional definitions of truth—the Tooth Fairy, who came to our house last night, for example.) So when my son has feelings or thoughts, I acknowledge them. It would be easy to deny his feelings and say, “It’s not boring. There are interesting things to learn if you just listen.” Or, “How can you be bored? I let you play with cars and coloring books at church.” I will leave my son’s spiritual development for another post since he has already taught me so much from his pure approach to faith.

The second thing that happened is that the conversation set off a path to a moment of clarity which is keeping me awake and which I am sharing with you right now. The truth is that I’ve spent my life on and off, bored at church. And I’ve had periods of not going at all.

When I go back to my faith community, for real, here’s what I find:

  1. Fleeting and sometimes binding instances of clarity
  2. An exalted spirit lifted by music
  3. A relaxation of my soul in the rituals I know
  4. A connection to a community of people lifting up the same prayers of hope that I hold in my heart, but can’t always name
  5. Moments of joy, grief, sorrow, love, laughter, a-ha knowledge

I am writing this to share my faith and boredom and desire. My desire is to create light in the world. Your path to light may be different than mine. I have faith that your path is right for you. I encourage you to find it. Seek it out. And give some of the traditions that you do know, some of the religions that you do know, a chance again.

Why?

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddist monk told me (when I read his book), that I can embrace Buddhism and not chuck (my words) my own religious traditions. I had never thought about it that way. I have called myself a cafeteria Catholic because I pick and choose what works for me. I openly disagree with certain tenets of the Church. I spent six excellent years at a Quaker school going to weekly Meeting for Worship and sitting in silence until spirit urged me to speak. What if I took the good of my experience with religions for me and for my family and shared that? What if I took my faith to a new level? I didn’t know how to do that. So unconsciously, here’s what I did:

The Search for Clues 

I began studying. Not just books, but through conversations with people of different religious traditions and no religious traditions. And I chose to just pay attention to life and my inner voice. Is that God? My desire? Magical powers? Intuition? Do I have to name it? [Note: I called the examples below, “case studies” just for formatting purposes. I was not actually studying these folks, more loving them and looking to understand their way in the world.]  I have lots of friends who “do” lots of things.

Case Study #1: Buddhist Mama When I met her, she did not celebrate Christmas. I was told it was because she grew up in the Bible belt of the South and was turned off by her experience. She has since deeply explored (joined?) a Buddhist community. She has also become a mother and sent me photos of her children standing inside giant Christmas stockings.

Case Study #2: The I Love Almost Everything Jew She gets most of her Jewish culture from her mother who converted to Judaism in order to marry her father. She also celebrates nature, supports a belief in fairies, teaches her children about native American spirits and Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and has had African naming ceremonies for her children in lieu of traditional baptisms.

Case #3: The Athletic Activist She isn’t down with the whole Catholic thing. But she volunteers like a daemon at a community center. And I venture to say that there are only eight weeks (or less) of the year when she is not playing a sport with some of the coolest women out there. So she’s intensely part of a community. So maybe she’d be called SBNR. What’s that you say? You don’t know that acronym? I didn’t either until I read it in my book, but it stands for “Spiritual But Not Religious.” I’d venture to call her softball and football regimens religious. I’d also say that the way she has helped this community center with fervor points to a faith that is not anchored by ceremony, but in her very simple beginnings.

Case Study #4: The Holy Smokes I Never Knew Grace Like This Catholic She has been an incredible spiritual anchor through conversations and texts teaching me about discernment, grace and faith through recent periods of grief, fear and exaltation in my life. She has become obsessed with Pope Francis. She also sent me the book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, by James Martin, SJ.

The Written and Spoken Word

I have been reading the Jesuit book, with audio downloads of Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map and incessantly reading young adult novels from the 39 Clues series to Chronicles of the Red King. So this morning, I decided, when I couldn’t sleep, that I needed to pull the Jesuit book. If you don’t know about Jesuits, they are the more liberal order within the Catholic Church who have a commitment not to advance to high political levels, but instead, to work for social justice and the poor. When I read the book this morning, low and behold, there’s a chapter on Desire. I couldn’t even finish it because I had to write to you right now.

I have to tell you something: Believe. 

Believe in something. In someone. In the Universe. In whatever you want. Just know that it doesn’t have to be one thing, one path. You may want to join a community.

I am only on page 63 of 414 pages of the Jesuit book, but there are two key takeaways I’m swimming with right now.

An Adult Exploration of Faith

An adult life requires an adult faith. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t consider yourself equipped to face life with a third grader’s understanding of math. Yet people often expect the religious instruction they had in grammar school to sustain them in the adult world.”

Lots of us had a childhood experience of God as follows: “Please God. Tell Santa to bring me the red bike.” Or, “Please God, don’t let my mom die of cancer.” God was seen as a problem solver. And when God fails to deliver the bike or save a life, do we give up? Take our marbles and go home? What if grace, faith, spirit, God—whatever you want to call it—was not there solely as an anchor in times of crisis or morality?

Faith as Desire

Desire is a key part of Ignatian spirituality because desire is a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. And ultimately, our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God.”

Case Study #5: Caregivers too Busy to Pick Passions I know several people in their 40s who say that they don’t have a passion outside of what they do for work or their families. They have been so lost in the busyness of life and commitments, that they say they don’t need their own passions or couldn’t find them if they tried. If this resonates with you, check out The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. If you want a community, worldwide book clubs are being launched on January 7. Don’t worry, I’m sure they will continue in waves, if that timing doesn’t work for you. This book and the optional audio components are not religious, but they do help you get to an ecstatic point of desire. I know to some, that may sound scary. Just imagine, though, that if you became clear on your desired feelings for your regular every day life, how much easier it would be to make decisions about family, work, relationships, money and faith.

So light your candles, your incense. Do your trance dance. Genuflect. Move that Elf on the Shelf. Lift your glass.

There is light in this world. And it resides in you.

Shine on, my love, shine on.

Desire at the Atlantic

Mr. Fred meets Miranda and Domino Cully on Tola Island

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I remember a life. A life when Domino was just twelve years old. We were sitting on the porch with a pitcher of my ginger limeade. Even though she was getting big, Domino and I still loved to play jacks together. I was a champion as a girl. So focused on the win. I saw Domino’s fearsome smile when she swept her hand along the porch. No fear of splinters. It was 1971.

I looked up from our game and there was this man standing at the end of our walkway holding a planted pot of cotton candy peonies. I couldn’t see his lips but for his barbered up mustache peeking over those bursting heads of pink.

I wondered how long he was watching us play jacks, wanted to be suspicious, but then he put down the pot by bending his knees and treated it real gentle, almost like a baby or like when I set one of my pies on the table. When he stood back up, he just smiled and started waving his right hand like he was so excited to finally meet us. Domino started with the questions.

“Momma, who is that?”

“A man with peonies.”

“Why?”

“Maybe he wants to order some desserts.”

“I like his mustache.”

“Me too, child, me too.”

The man just stood there after waving and shouted down the walkway, “Hello there! I’m Fred Giacomo from Chicago, Illinois.” There was something about the way he stood at the far end of the walkway before being invited down that said his mama raised him right.

I stood up from the porch and waved him over. I swear even though he wasn’t actually skipping down my walkway, I felt his heart, his stomach, his whole body lift, happy, like he had just landed on the moon.

“Ms. Miranda, these are for you.”

“Why thank you Mr. Fred Giacomo, but how on earth do you know my name?”

“It was that painting, your meringue, um, Jackson Blue.”

“Oh, that Jackson, he loves painting the ladies all over Tola. Wait, I don’t understand, you came here to meet me?”

“Well Miss, I did, yes, I did. I could have made up a fine story for you about your desserts or how I’m a photographer, which I am by the way, but the truth is, there was something in that painting of you that made me want to meet you.”

Meanwhile Domino was watching this with one of those no-teeth smiles. She was used to Tola Island suitors coming by all the time since her dad died six years earlier. She jumped in, “Hey there, excuse me, Mr. Fred, my name is Domino Cully. My question is, can you play jacks?”

I looked at Domino and thought, impertinent child, you are just like your mother. Do you know that Mr. Fred just sat down right there on the step and swooped up all the jacks on the porch. He tossed them and said, “Pass me the ball. Onesies, twosies or threesies?”

Domino looked at the layout of the jacks and saw three spread far near the edge of the step right where the splinters start.  “Threesies,” she answered.

And Mr. Fred Giacomo played the most elegant game of jacks I have ever seen. His hand glided like he was one of those magicians circling over a top hat full of rabbits.

And he saved the outlying jacks so far from each other, they made a big “C”. One jack was right by that ornery step. Domino was gripped. I was nervous for this gentle man. With a flourish, he picked up that last jack, and his big beaming mustache smile tensed to an anguished cry, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” And then, he looked up, worried that he might have offended us. Domino said, “Don’t worry Mr. Fred. They’re always showing up when Momma burns the cookies.”

I patted him on the shoulder and told him, “Let me go get the tweezers. Domino, go get Mr. Fred a glass and pour him some ginger limeade.”

For more of this story in its serial fomat, visit past posts:

A Girl Named Corn Syrup

Grandmother Cully, Karo and Jelly

Mr. Fred and Miranda’s Meringue

This story was inspired by Sarah Salecky’s slightly insane, definitely wonderful and always free, daily writing prompts.  If you need inspiration for writing or a gentle push, sign up and just pick the prompts that work for you.  It’s just a ten-minute writing exercise, by hand.

Miss Maggie

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                           For Rawle

Red punch mustache

hot water cornbread

Miss Maggie B.

You put the pins in my pinstripes

for you I walked down

              down

                          down the law school road

for you I traveled 150 miles from Freestone to Houston

because the mailman just wouldn’t do

must pay your bills on time live and in person

Miss Maggie B.

if only you were here

you’d make me fetch my own switch for adding a “B”

wrapped in red sitting amidst your sisters

you know my secrets from the days I balanced on your knees

feeling the force of your magic

Miss Maggie

Lead me

Lead me

You knew the numbers, the ledgers, the ins and outs of Teague High School cafeteria

humbly 30 years long

eyes wet say goodbye

rested gently in the church you founded

brick by brick

PT, your love built the home for my soul and yours

Miss Maggie B,

Please keep teaching me

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Dreams for Sale: Meet Fay and Katherine

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I  recently finished 21 days of Chopra Center meditation on Desire and Destiny. This is my 3rd round of 21-day meditations in 2013. The last day focused on this: Your destiny is joy. If your destiny is joy, then how do you live your life every day to get there? Well, maybe you are there. And if you are not, what intentions and actions can you take to get there?

Something clicked for me during this last time. I realized that I’m there every day. Even as I look (with unabashed fear and excitement that sometimes makes my shoulder blades ache) at the summer 2014 publication of my novel, I know that right now, writing to you is my joy. Over the last 21 days, I realized that I’m doing what I love. My day job focuses on volunteering and education, my life focuses on love, family, friends, health, writing and faith. And lots of fun and laughter.

I’m sharing the story of two dreamers, who took intention and action as well as two tools to help you follow your own passions and take your joy to the next level. I’m going to use them this year.  What if we used these tools together?

I met Fay Shaw and Katherine Carey through Jennifer Lee’s Right-Brainers in Business Video Summit.  (I won a scholarship to participate in it last year.)  I’ve never met them in person, but through facebook, I have watched these two women create businesses I love, admire and support.

FAY SHAW, Bitwise E-Textiles Fay makes soft things light up. She is an engineer and crafter who has found e-textiles to be the perfect intersection of her passions.  She likes to build things with Arduinos and on the crafting side, she likes to knit, spin, and sew. (Yes, I had to look up “Arduinos” too, that’s why it’s hyperlinked.)  She sells craft kits: you can make bracelets, or two of my favorites, a jellyfish or a firefly. I asked Fay three simple questions about her journey:

1. How does it feel to be the inventor of bitwise E-textiles running your own business? It feels really empowering to think of ideas and then bring them to life. I never imagined that I would run my own business and it feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. What keeps me going is feeling a responsibility to educate people. There are so many ways to learn science and engineering; using art is one of them.

2. What brought you here? One year, I had taught friends how to make LED Christmas ornaments. They suggested I try to teach e-textiles workshops regularly. So I started to think of an interactive project and the light-sensitive firefly was born.  It has a light sensor in its nose and turns on in the dark.  All of the components are sewn together using conductive thread. I taught a few workshops and decided to make it into a kit and sell it on Etsy.

3. What keeps you pursuing your dream(s)? My greatest joy is when people work on their project and are delighted with how it works!  I also love when students have come back to me with their own projects based on what I taught them. A woman came to a show with an LED bracelet she had created for her running group who ran an all-night race. A 7-year old, who had taken my class, brought in a dragon she made with a recycled sweater, LED eyes, and fiber optic whiskers!  It feels really good to see people create something new from something I taught them.

Using art to learn science? Wow! My childhood experience with science could have taken a completely different direction! Fay regularly checks-in with a committed group of Washington-state entrepreneurs who met through the Right-Brainers in Business Group. What has struck me over the last several months of reading her check-ins (I’m an honorary member since I love Washington state), is that she shows up. She does the work that she loves.  She takes ACTION. I invite you to take action and during this holiday season, consider purchasing one of her kits for yourself, families or friends. What a productive and fun way to spend time! Consider subscribing to her newsletter for updates on kits and workshops. Here’s where you find her: bitwiseetextiles.com and bitwiseetextiles.etsy.com.

KATHERINE CAREY, Katherine Carey Millinery Katherine is another passionate soul. She is a milliner creating the most gorgeous hats, for women and now, she’s working on her men’s line too. A native of Maui, she came to New York City to pursue her dream. While caregiving for her father, she began making hats by his bedside. Like a lot of artists and entrepreneurs, she has been pursing her dreams for some time while working another job. During the last two weeks, she took the final leap and launched her business full-time. I’ve watched her journey to Paris and create a board game in which each hat sold gets her closer to her dreams (and to paying her bills). Most of all, I have witnessed her faith. Katherine regularly asks people to send her love and prayers because she openly declares her passions, her courage and her fears. I have a special affection for milliners because my grandmother had her own shop. Katherine has so much love for what she does (and for her gorgeous cat, Pinto), that “big” success for her is inevitable.  I’d venture to say, though, that she has created success and certainly joy, already. She is doing what she loves.  Personally I’m in love with the Hudson Cloche below. Here are the best ways to explore Katherine’s world and to purchase her breathtaking pieces of art for your head and the heads of your loved ones: www.katherinecarey.com and https://www.facebook.com/kcmillinery.

So, perhaps now that you’ve read about Fay and Katherine, you say, wow, amazing people! They are so talented! Next, I invite you to declare, “So am I!” You are full of passions and talents. If you know it and embrace them, hooray for you! If you are getting that slight twist in the tummy, shoulder blade ache, want to stop reading because their passions make you anxious, I have a solution! I have two solutions!  December is a great time for reflection. (If you are a regular reader, you know that I will find a reason to tell you that anytime is a great time for reflection.) Let’s focus on two easy ways you can get involved with your own life on a new level and elevate your game, your heart and your soul.  Many of these resources are free.

THE TOOLS

Life Reimagined Have you visited www.lifereimagined.org?  It’s a movement you can join for free that’s dedicated to helping people find and pursue their purpose in life. You can participate in a calling card exercise that helps you narrow down your passions. You can read about other people who have had their “life reimagined moments” and decided things like working for 30 years in a civil service job wasn’t their passion and now, they pursue marathon running or they open a pizzeria or sell the house and travel the world. Sometimes the transitions don’t have to be so dramatic. If you like what you see, consider reading the new book Life Reimagined, Discovering Your New Possibilities. The authors know their stuff. Richard Leider was named one of the top five most respected executive coaches in the world by Forbes and Alan Webber is founder of Fast Company magazine and former editor of the Harvard Business Review. I’ve met Richard and he is grounded in reality, simplicity and a passion for people finding their purpose. The book walks you through six practices: Reflect, Connect, Explore, Choose, Repack and Act. It’s quite logical.

The Desire Map just re-launched on December 3rd on a whole new level. It’s a completely inverted approach to goal-setting. It’s a show up in the world, take your time to choose your core desired feelings and let those feelings guide you through your life, your work, your love, every single day. It’s the birthing of a great heart idea by Danielle LaPorte. Here’s what others say about her:

“Danielle’s passion leaps off the page, and reading a few chapters of this book will ignite you into action.”–Gretchen Rubin The Happiness Project

“Danielle LaPorte is scary smart, yet so kind and practical that she kindles the fire in you without causing you to feel consumed by the flames…. Lean in and listen close. What she has to say is what our spirits need to hear.”–Martha Beck Steering By Starlight

I have used the Franklin Covey planning system for a decade. The Desire Map is my new guide. Danielle has launched a book, day planner, audio downloads, you name it. And if you are not ready to take the plunge, just sign up for her daily truthbombs, weekly newsletter or monthly digest. Here’s where you can learn more: bit.ly/desiremap.

Want to meet Danielle? Marie Forleo interviews her here calling it “Four Steps to Set Goals with Soul.”

I thank you, my friends, for reading about Fay, Katherine, Richard and Alan and Danielle. I thank you for celebrating passion, action and commitment. I invite you to step into your own light with a toe, then your foot, your leg, just hokey pokey yourself on over, dreaming is the gateway to joy. Live it every single day.

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