Friday, November 24, 2017

Why Holidays are Important

Holidays are important to me.  Most of my friends don’t feel this way.  I understand there are many complex reasons for this.  As a society we have commercialized our way right into a distaste, if not disdain, for most holidays.  I often hear people make these types of statements:

“We don’t need a holiday to show how much we love each other.”
“We don’t need a ‘season of giving’ to remind us to be generous.  We should do that all year."

In general, holidays are viewed as “just another day” by many people, with one glaring exception.  Even those who usually downplay the need for occasions to celebrate tend to respect Thanksgiving.  The obvious need for gratitude these days is seemingly too great to NOT participate.  Apart from that, though, holidays are not given much respect anymore.  So what value is there to holidays?    

In order to explain my love for holidays, I turn to William Shakespeare and one of the most famous moments in Shakespearean liturgy, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. We have a term in the world of English teachers called “conceit,” and it means something much different in literature than it does in life.  A conceit is an extended metaphor, which is a comparison between two seemingly dissimilar things.  Metaphors are usually found in passing, as a fleeting moment in literature.  A conceit, in contrast, often extends through several lines of a poem or, in this case, a play.  When Romeo is standing beneath Juliet’s balcony he spends a great deal of time (an entire sonnet’s worth) comparing her to celestial bodies, like the moon and stars.  What we have, then, is his focused, detailed, intentional attempt to express his love to her in poetic form, and in my mind, that’s what holidays are for.

I can tell those I love how much they mean to me every day.  I can make it my practice to celebrate my love for my country and feeling of patriotism 12 months out of the year.  I can be generous, thankful, and inspirational in March, as well as December, but the truth is there is something different about having a 24 hour period that is purposefully focused on one person, one thought, one expression. 

Romeo expresses his love for Juliet throughout the entire play, not just in this one act.  What makes these lines so important, then, so different?  This moment in time stands out because of its singular designation.  This is not Romeo telling Juliet he loves her while they are in the midst of an argument, a dance, a discussion, a feast, or a task.  This is Romeo taking a few moments to lose himself in his expression of love.  For that amount of time, nothing else exists but his need to pour out his feelings and not care about how they sound, or what will happen tomorrow. 

Truth be told, we aren’t usually that focused, even if we are intentionally celebrating a holiday.  The world tends to creep in, even when we are having a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, birthday party, or Christmas Eve candle lighting ceremony.  But in spite of all of the distractions that are likely to interfere, my heart loves trying.  I love being intentional about focusing a chunk of time on one person, one thought, one value, or one blessing for which I’m extremely grateful.   It’s sometimes a battle for time, energy, and cooperation, but if we quit trying, we we’ll never succeed.  And we need to succeed.  When we celebrate holidays, we nurture tradition, and that creates an important shift in mental focus.  When we celebrate the value of one day, we tend to find ourselves appreciating other days more.  When we are finished enjoying a Fourth of July cookout with friends, we frequently say, “We should cookout more often!”  I believe taking the time to celebrate leads to a healthier perspective and a happier more selfless life.

So, this takes us back to the beginning of this post and the idea that we may not need a holiday because we should be showing love or gratitude or patriotism every day.  Taking the time to actually appreciate designated moments in time doesn’t mean we get a pass to forget these things the rest of the year.  The opposite actually happens.  Placing value on holidays makes us more grateful, more aware, more intentional about placing value on every day.  Suddenly a holiday is no longer “just another day,” but every day becomes a holiday.  That doesn't happen if we don't celebrate, but when we do, its magical, and it makes all the difference in the world.  That’s why holidays are important to me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dealing with Disappointment

I’ve been dealing with disappointment this week, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how to handle it gracefully.  Most of us experience disappointment at some point in all areas of our lives, and it probably bothers some of us more than others.  Many thoughts I've read about disappointment seem to imply its due to a shortcoming or emotional weakness on our part.  I'd like to propose an alternative perspective.

Living in the truth of our emotions is the first step to understanding them and minimizing them in the future. In light of this, sometimes we need to own our disappointment.  We need to be present where we’re at and embrace our emotions, both positive and negative.  Disappointment often comes as a prelude to other emotions, such as anger and sadness, which dwarf it.  It’s important to recognize this, because a single emotion is usually much easier to manage than a jumble of them, and by owning our disappointment, we may be able to head the other emotions off at the pass.

Buddhism teaches us that a life without expectation is a life without disappointment, and I’ve had a lot of complex conversations with a good friend about whether we should ever have expectations at all.  We need to be cautious and selective about our expectations, but the reality is we cannot and should not live life without any expectations (for example, decency, kindness, fairness, equality, these are expectations we should have).  If this is true, then disappointment is going to be a part of life too, and I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.  While it might make our lives easier if we had no expectations, it would also make our lives less fulfilled, because we would be giving up the joy of realized anticipation, the feeling of finally experiencing “that moment we’ve been hoping for,” the opportunity to enjoy that moment.  And that's an important distinction to make.  Disappointment is not always a response to an expectation not realized.  Sometimes it is a response to a hope not fulfilled, and hoping is as important as breathing, in order to have a healthy, happy life.  Still, disappointment hurts, so we need to keep some sort of balance with our emotions.  Whatever its source, when it comes to dealing with disappointment, I’m well aware that gratitude is the answer, but it’s not as easy as simply speaking the word.  The truth is, gratitude and disappointment are not mutually exclusive.  They can live together.  

We cannot force ourselves to feel grateful in times of disappointment, and feeling grateful doesn’t magically change the situation of our lives.  Most of us know we have it pretty good, so we feel guilty for any disappointment we feel, but disappointment is as valid an emotion as gratitude.  Is it possible to be grateful AND disappointed.  Absolutely.  I am a person who does a pretty good job of living my life in appreciation of all I have, being careful to take nothing for granted, ever.  Still, I feel disappointed when things don't go as I'd hoped or expected.  Could I be more grateful than I am?  Definitely.  As with most things, practice does make perfect. Those who practice anything are simply admitting the fact that they want to be better. And practicing gratitude is a whole lot more realistic than expecting it.  It is a much lighter burden to bear. Growing, changing, taking positive steps, those are all encouraging.  In contrast, guilt is unhealthy and demoralizing. And while we are practicing gratitude, focusing on what we have works wonders.  

As we focus on the joy in our lives, the length of our chain of blessings grows, and this realization seems conversely to mitigate the magnitude of our disappointment to a size we can live with and manage.  We find ourselves feeling grateful for what we have received, instead of disappointed for not getting what we want. That shift from self to some beneficent force outside of our control makes all the difference.  As Tanya Cooper writes, disappointment literally means a ”missed” appointment we were looking forward to.  When disappointment hits, after truthfully honoring the sadness in our heart or pain in our gut, we often end up thanking the Universe for allowing us to miss something we thought we wanted, as we realize we found something better (sometimes that realization takes a while). In the meantime, this quote about gratitude by Melody Beattie is meaningful to me:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, while I am disappointed I'm not able to spend the holiday with everyone I love, I am so grateful for the times I have had with them in the past, and I am hopeful and expectant for more happy memories to come.

I hope your gratitude outweighs your disappointment today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Communication: The Topic of the Year

So far, this year's theme for me has been communication. I'm not exactly sure why. We freelancers communicate all the time--it's pretty much all we do. It just seems to me that there is more to say on the topic, though, maybe even enough to last a year. Sometimes it seems that with all the talking and writing we do, we aren't really communicating much.

I'm honored to have received my first guest blogging gig over at Susan Johnston's blog, The Urban Muse. I chose to put some thoughts down about dialogue, because it's what was on my mind.

I'd love it if you'd read it and let me know what you think: "Try a Little Dialogue".

Image Credit: Marinela (

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good Communication

There is one thing I actually heard Pastor Morris Venden say on my wedding day, as I stood before him with my handsome groom by my side and stars in my eyes: “The key to a successful marriage is communication. I’ve found this advice to be as sound for relationships with my colleagues, friends, and children, as it has been for my relationship with my husband. And writers are all about communication. It's what we do! Here are a few keys to successful communication. See if you can figure out how they apply to writing:

Find time for personal contact. In this age of technology, we often find ourselves emailing or texting our words. For basic communication, there’s nothing wrong with a quick conversation; however, if you have something important to say, you need face to face interaction. When people meet in person, they can read facial expressions and body language, which may prevent miscommunication. There is nothing like the connection created by personal contact.

Be nice. Liz Strauss, over at Successful Blog, loves to say this, and if this sounds like something you learned in Kindergarten, that’s because it is. No matter what you’re saying, it sounds better in the context of “please” and “thank you.” If you’re discussing something that is sensitive or emotional, it is more difficult to maintain an attitude of courtesy, but courtesy shows that you respect and care – even though you may be upset.

Be consistent and clear. Again, this is more difficult to achieve when emotions are involved. It may be helpful to have a conversation with yourself first, to ensure you know what you want to say and what you don’t. Have your conversation out loud. Sometimes hearing yourself say something will clarify just how straightforward or confusing your comments are. Make sure your words are appropriate for the audience. Children sometimes require different words that adults, and spouses sometimes require different words than friends. If it’s important enough to say, make sure you say it clearly.

There are at least two sides to every story. If you can remember this going into the conversation, you’ll come out on a much better path. Conflict resolution is never about a right and a wrong side. It is always about the perception that led to the conflict and the ideas behind the action or reaction. Whether you’re talking to children, a spouse, a colleague, or a friend, find out what their perception of the situation is before explain your own. You may find some issues become invalidated once you understand each other more clearly.

Before you say a word, listen. I admitted earlier this month that listening is my goal for 2009. Good communication has always been about good listening, and it still is. No matter how you’re feeling inside, be sincerely interested in what the other person is saying. Listening validates the speech, which validates the speaker. When you listen, you’re basically saying “I respect you enough to give you my time and attention.” There will come a time when it is your turn to be heard. If you give someone your complete attention, they’ll be more likely to return the favor.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What I Learned by Getting Burned

I guess it's a sign of the economic times, but a lot of freelancers seem to be talking about getting burned by publishers. Susan Johnston at the Urban Muse posted a couple of pieces along these lines after she got burned last year. Then today I read an article by Jenny Cromie at The Golden Pencil about the same problem.

That's all fine and dandy, but I always assumed these freelancers were talking to other writers. It wasn't going to happen to me, because I'd been careful. Well, in honor of hindsight, here is my addition to the pile of lessons learned from getting burned:

1. No matter how careful you are about selecting publishers, you may find yourself without payment. This is because no matter how "great" a publisher may be, these days no one is above running into financial trouble. When it happens to them, it trickles down to you.

2. Losing a client you were really happy with can be a good thing. I've been distraught for the past month because one of my most steady publishers suddenly stopped paying me. Eventually (after great anxiety) I had to get over it and move on. When I was able to think clearly I realized this was going to be a good thing for me. This particular publisher took up a great deal of my time with enormous projects that kept me from doing some smaller jobs that were equally important to me. Now I find that I have time to do a lot of other projects that I wanted to do last year but didn't have the time for. Additionally, although the work was steady with that other publisher, the pay was really below what I can make elsewhere. Sometimes we need a shove to get us out of a comfort zone--in this case, of steady work.

3. Sometimes it takes getting burned every now and then to shift your perspective. It's a tough way to learn, but when things are always going our way, we get complacent.

What's your take on all of this?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Listening in 2009

Last night as I was driving home from work I was talking with my mother. She asked how the kids were and related to me a comment made to a friend of hers by his grandson. The little boy said, "Grandpa, I like to come to your house because you listen to me."

"I hope we listen to our kids," my mom said. "Do we listen to our kids?"

It's funny she should ask that. Last weekend my son was watching the football game with my husband in the family room (he's a Chargers fan), and I was watching TV in my bedroom. About every 15 minutes or so he'd come running in, so excited or anxious (depending upon the play) that he could barely contain himself, relating to me the play-by-play.

I couldn't care less about football--ever--but every time my son came in I'd pause the TV and just lay there in awe looking at him and watching him relate every detail of this sport that is so important to him. I honestly don't remember what he said, but I do remember what I was thinking.
I thought how awesome it was that he cared enough about me to come rushing in after each play and tell me exactly what happened, knowing how little I care about football. I thought how wonderful it was that something so ultimately simple could excite him so very much. And I wondered if the day would come when he would stop wanting to tell me about the things that are important to him, when it would no longer occur to him to share things with me. I hoped not.

I came very close to gathering him up in my arms that night, squeezing him, and whispering in his ear "Please don't ever stop telling me about football." But I knew he'd probably say "oh. . . kay" and give me the look he gives me when I act in that confusing way all moms act when they're thinking about something very far away from what's happening right now.

Here's to becoming better writers in 2009 by becoming better listeners.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Could Have Said That

I read an article over at Freelance Parent about how freelancers have so much random information stored in their brains. This is so true. In fact I was just thinking the other day about how I know more than I ever really thought possible about some things. My list includes:

  • How to start an Ebay business

  • How to take care of aging relatives

  • How to start a Face Painting business

  • Working as a stewardess aboard a Megayacht

  • Project Management

Although I love learning about new things, I do find that by the time I finish a 50 or 100 page project on one topic, I'm ready to move on to something different for awhile. What about you?

Do you think having a lot of knowledge about random things enhances your abilities as a writer? We certainly have a lot of information to draw upon.