Today’s topic brought to you by: 300 Writing Prompts.
My son and his girlfriend teamed up and their brainstorming led to this book as one of my Christmas gifts. It contains three hundred ideas to set me (and you) thinking. I flipped through it this morning.
I passed by “What color do you feel like today?” (Blue, but in the good way. Not much more to say about that.)
I turned the page quickly from “How clean is your house now?” Not going there.
I landed on “What is something you learned in the past few days?”
I thought back to the scrap of paper left lying about on one of the desks at one of the places where I work. (I have too many jobs, really.) Someone had written the word OBSTREPEROUS in well-spaced capital letters. I picked the paper up. “What’s this about?” I asked.
A co-worker, whose first language is not English, said, “What does it mean?”
I thought about this. I had heard the word before and I could take a stab at a definition, but when it came right down to it I had to confess that I wasn’t sure. “I think it means grumpy,” I said. “I’ll look it up.”
I searched Oxford Dictionaries and came up with: “Noisy and difficult to control.”
“Ah,” I said. “I understand how I was confused. People who are obstreperous make other people grumpy.”
Why was OBSTREPEROUS lying around on the work station? I would tell you, but thinking about it makes me a little grumpy.
What have you learned in the past few days?
One of the joyous frustrations of being a freelance writer is the unpredictable variety.
I never know if I’ll be writing about money, or toilet installation, or chickens, or veterans, or crows, or . . . the list goes on. I never know when I’ll receive the last-minute phone calls. I get up in the morning with plans in place to do something and then BAM, the phone rings. My whole day gets knocked sideways.
That joyous frustration happened yesterday when all the things I’d planned to do and write about got swept off the table.
Joy comes from learning about new things all the time. I am so lucky to never feel like I’m in a rut. I get paid to write! How great is that? Still, sometimes I grit my teeth. It makes it difficult to plan. And if you ever drop by my house and see dust on the furniture, now you know why.
Another joyous benefit of my freelance writing career is the reading I do on many topics. Years ago, one of those reading stints led to me this best piece of advice:
When I’m writing, I focus. I dive deep down into a well of creative thought and if someone speaks to me I need to swim my mind up through sludge to the surface again. I can practically hear the murky bubbles around me.
Interruptions used to drive me bonkers.
Now I tell myself: There is a purpose behind this interruption. How does it benefit me?
It gives me a chance to get a drink or go to the bathroom. It makes me notice the typo I overlooked before, once I settle back into place and look with refreshed eyes at the work I’ve done. It gives me an extra 24 hours to write a blog post.
Interruptions come in big and small sizes too.
There’s the simple, “Mom, are we out of milk?” kind of interruption, and then there’s the, “You need to take this. I’m afraid there’s bad news,” kind of phone call that knocks a life sideways for weeks, or months, or years. The big ones are harder to embrace, but perhaps it’s even more important to look for the gifts in those doozies.
There is a purpose behind your interruptions. How do they benefit you?
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” —Charles Shulz
The book Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown gave me plenty to think about, but two things stand out.
First, she describes how during her childhood in the southern United States she often didn’t receive birthday party invitations, because when the parents of other kids saw her name on the class list they assumed she was black.
I had to work through that story on several levels. The shock of the overt racism and empathy with the feeling of being alone and left out, of course. But then there was this big cultural difference. I am Canadian and I live in Ottawa where francophone culture thrives. My first thought on seeing Brené was, “How interesting that she has a French name.”
Culture affects how we see the world.
Her name, and other factors in her life, led to times on the outside looking in, and led her to research belonging. The responses she received from a group of eighth graders about the topic stunned me with their profound insight. Here’s what they had to say:
Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.
—From Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
The most jarring sentence for me was, “Fitting in is being where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.”
How often do we do that to ourselves? Choose to be somewhere doing something or being something that feels not quite right when the people around us don’t care one way or the other.
It’s a wake-up call to look around and ask ourselves:
- Do I belong where I am or do I just fit in? Who cares?
- Am I being myself or am I fitting myself?
On the third Sunday of Advent we lit the JOY candle at our church.
This year a woman who I greatly admire lit the candle, and she spoke about what JOY means to her. Shirley talked about the many JOYous times her family—now grown—spent together in their back yard and down by the Ottawa River. The husband she’s been married to for 67 years brings her much JOY. She told us how much JOY she derives from volunteering and from the work she does with the church.
Then it came time to talk about her sister.
Shirley’s sister had passed away in mid-December and the celebration of her life had been held a few days before. Tears came to my friend’s eyes and she took a moment to collect herself.
I thought, “She’s crying during a talk about JOY!”
As she went on to talk about their close relationship and the smiles and laughs the sisters shared over many years, tears did not seem incongruous at all. Deep down at the heart of the grief over the loss of her sister was JOY. Happy memories.
I thought, “She’s en-JOYing her grief.” Actively choosing to see the JOY below the surface during a difficult time. Injecting JOY into the moment.
En-JOY 2018. May you choose to let the JOY that is at the heart of any sorrow bubble up.
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
. . . When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”
—Kahlil Gibran On Joy and Sorrow