Begin. Again.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

I’ve got a note on the wall in the shower (if you haven’t discovered Aqua Notes, you’re missing out – they will change your life) that reads: 

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’ll know that September was not my month for writerly achievements. It was, in fact, the month I wanted to take a sledgehammer to my laptop, delete all my files from the cloud, and otherwise burn it all down. Which isn’t really my style, generally speaking. Luckily, the phase passed after a few days of self-pity. Then it was time to begin again. To start over. To redefine the way I approached the things that were draining me. 

But where? What should I do differently to ensure I didn’t end up back at the nuclear option?

The act of writing the note was my start.

1 page

1 pound

1 stretch

Begin

It was an exhortation to myself to get moving. It was a new set of goals, and maybe most importantly, it was a reminder to break my goals down into small, achievable pieces.

The idea of setting achievable goals in order to create a cycle of successes isn’t a new one. In fact, it might be THE lesson life has been attempting to teach me in 2019. As usual, though, I’m a slow learner. Despite having encountered this notion in several formats this year, I keep setting goals that lead to frustration. I couldn’t figure out how to reconceptualize the goal-setting process.

Frustrated Head GIF by swerk - Find & Share on GIPHY

Then I had one of those fortuitous visits with a couple I love dearly who have recently achieved dramatic, healthy weight loss.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that they’ve, together, lost as much as I weigh. It’s amazing. And so inspiring. Especially for someone who has stubbornly hung on to the last 10 pounds of baby weight accumulated over six years ago.  I asked my friends how they did it, expecting guidance on apps used, food systems implemented, etc. My mind was blown by the simplicity of my friend’s response. She said that she had never had much success trying to lose 10 pounds or 20 pounds, so she decided to lose ONE pound. And then she did it again. And again. And again. It was a success she repeated so often that it became habit. 

THIS is the lesson the universe has been trying to teach me! One pound. I can lose one pound. Even if it is one pound of die-hard, stick to your hips baby weight. I can totally do one.

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Hope and Grief, Connection and Creativity: An Interview with Cara Martinisi

Cara Martinisi is a writer, advocate, certified grief counselor, and mom to three little boys, one in heaven and two on Earth. She lost her 6-year-old son in a tragic accident in 2014. She blogs about her journey, sharing with others the beauty and wisdom she and her family have found in the pain they experience. Visit her blog at Christian’s Red Balloon and her new foundation Love From Heaven to support grieving families. You can also connect on Twitter at Grief’s Guiding Light @lightofgrief.

Cara, you have a beautiful blog about dealing with the loss of a child, and you’ve published other articles in a variety of blogs (including this one) besides. What is it like trying to capture your experience, your emotions, in words? 

Self-expression in words has always come easy to me. In fact many times, I find myself narrating situations in my own head as they are unfolding. The physical act of writing is soothing. I love the way pen and pencil feel on paper. As my emotions leave my body and the pen glides along the page, a certain sense of calm overcomes me.

There are some emotions that are more difficult than others to put into words. When I have trouble finding words that fit my emotions, I turn to meditation. Often this works, but not always.

Photo by Aung Soe Min on Unsplash

After Christian passed away, my ability to read was gone. The concentration and focus needed to delve into books had vanished. It pained me. It was over a year before I could pick up a book again. Now I read even more ferociously than before. The more I read, the more I am able to express myself. Reading, all different kinds of texts, has proven to be a wonderful compliment to my writing.

Were you a writer before 2014, or did the need to write arise out of your experiences? 

I have always considered myself a writer. English was my favorite subject in high school and my major in college. While many students bemoan paper writing, I enjoyed it. My confidence never paved the way for me to believe that I was good enough to do much more than write school papers. Although I was employed as a Deputy Managing Editor at The Economist, it felt as though it was more my attention to punctuation and detail that landed me my job.

After we lost Christian, writing was my way to carry on his memory. I would post a photograph, accompanied with a blurb about him, each day. At one time photography was a large creative outlet for me. That outlet seems to have dimmed since losing Christian, while writing is taking center stage now.

Grief is a powerful emotion.  Does it serve as a motivator or demotivator for you? 

Grief is an intensely powerful emotion. Most of the time it serves as a motivator for me. Many blog posts are derived from my own real time emotions surrounding grief. It truly helps me to keep the blog flowing, as emotions are always flowing. Grief will always be a part of me. With time and growth, my relationship to it changes, but it will always be there.

There are days, and sometimes more than one strung together, when grief is a demotivator. When these dark days descend upon me, fewer than in the past thankfully, it is difficult to do anything that brings joy. There are times when focusing is difficult. Eventually the fog lifts and I find myself returning to writing.

What did you hope to achieve when you started the blog, Christian’s Red Balloon?

My goals have always centered around helping others. It is all about healing. The hope has been to help others heal as well as to continue walking my own healing journey. I have received messages from grieving parents, those who have experienced grief in the past, as well as people who have just walked through tough times telling me that my writing is relate-able and helpful. While I am aware that my blog speaks most poignantly to grieving parents, I am also aware that none of us escape the world without running into some trouble.

It has been over a year that I have been writing my blog and it has become abundantly clear that a strong message is hope. Hope for those grieving, hope for those who are sick, hope for those who are experiencing tough times. We cannot control what comes our way in life, only our reactions. We need to move through the pain, the troubles that arise, and find light. For that is the only way to live again after you have been burned by the fire.

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Creativity: Mysteries, rituals, and the power of practice

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

For the artist, the wellspring of ideas is like the Holy Grail: the elusive key to eternity, the stuff of legend. Creativity goes by many names: inspiration, invention, genius, The Muse. Where, though, does it come from? As writers, we’re obsessed by this question, desperate to derive a map to it, that we might come and drink from it as we desire, fearful that at any moment we may be cut off from it forever. 

As parents, you are confronted daily by the spontaneous creative explosions that are the norm for kids. What’s the only thing more creative than a bored child? A group of children. Hyped on sugar. 

I had a front stage pass to this innate, if raw, creative capability recently. When the play-date ended and I had a few minutes of quiet to work in my office, I sat staring at the cursor while it blinked at me. I had just been tossed about by a whirlwind of creative play, and yet found myself unable to articulate an idea, let alone a useable sentence for my Middle Grade fantasy-in-progress. (O! The irony!) Instead, my mind kept wandering not only to the question of where ideas come from, but to why it is it that kids and adults experience creativity so differently. 

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

So I turned to Google. What could it tell me about the sources of creativity? Apparently, it doesn’t exist in any one part of the brain. According to professor of psychology Arne Dietrich, author of How Creativity Happens in the Brain, creativity taps into many different mental processes. And contrary to the old adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ this 2016 Scientific American article from Tim Vernimmen posits that plenty may actually foster greater creativity. Very Maslowian. The other key factor? The degree to which we are interconnected as a society, at least according to psychologist Michael Muthukrishna. He’s supported by evolutionary biologist Joe Henrich, who (in the same paper) states, “History shows that inventions invariably build on earlier findings that are recombined and improved upon. Most of the things we use every day are inventions that no single human being could ever design within her lifetime.” 

So there are really no new ideas? Just new combinations of ideas? This sounds not only like it could be a quote from Audre Lorde or Mark Twain (which it very nearly is) but like we’re getting close to the idea of a universal mind, or “Over-soul” as Ralph Waldo Emmerson dubbed it. If you think this concept belongs purely with the Transcendentalists and psychologists (a la Carl Jung’s collective unconscious), then you might be interested to learn that eminent physicists David Bohm and Erwin Schrödinger (who won a Nobel prize) also support the theory that there is a single human consciousness which we only perceive as being individual.

I guess it could explain how multiple individuals, or even groups, can arrive at the same point of invention at the same time without communication: whether we’re talking cave paintings, pyramids, or plot lines. But why do kids seem to be able to tap into it so much more readily than those of us with a few more years under our belts?

It all basically boils down to consistently opening the door to invite the creative into our lives. The more often we open the door, the easier it swings on the hinges.

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The Benefits of Breaking Routine or 6 Reasons to Travel (even with kids)

I know a lot of people are wary of traveling with kids. Especially young kids. After all, the key to child-rearing generally boils down to routine, right? Snack times, lunch times, bed times – life is good when they all run like clockwork. Our four year old is a creature of habit, seemingly happiest when he knows the drill. Figure in sports practices, music or art lessons, and social outings/events and it’s clear that taking time out to travel, even during vacations, means making some sacrifices.

And then there’s your writing practice. Isn’t it all about butt-in-chair time? How often have you been told that the Muse won’t show up if you deviate from routine? There’s certainly some truth to that, but I refuse to believe that the Muse is quite so limited as to be unable to find you in another location on the planet. I mean, the Muse is genius. Surely with Wayz, we can all be found.

So why risk it? Why travel? Why take the precious vacation time you have and then add the stress of breaking from the routines, from your collection of go-to strategies for dealing with boredom, from the things on the to-do list, from the known? Well, I’ve just returned from over a month of voyaging with my travel-stressed husband and home-loving four-year old and I can say we all had an AMAZING time. We visited three different countries and transited through two more. We traveled by plane, train, bus, ferry (even an overnight ferry which was AWESOME), tram, trolley, and put I don’t know how many miles on our legs. And though there were hiccups and challenges, we all loved it – so let me tell you why.

1 – Because everyone needs a reset sometimes. Everyone. You, for sure, but also the kids and probably your spouse or partner. But it can be tough to reset at home. Sometimes you need to take a wrecking ball to the routine to truly be free. For me, when I’m at home, there are the chores, and the meal prep, the social engagements, and don’t even talk to me about the garden(!), all vying with my word count or revision goals. Running away every now and again gives you – all of you – permission to put it all down.

2 – As long as you’ve set down the load, take a moment to examine it. What is really necessary? What is truly beneficial? What can we afford to be flexible on? Are there adaptations that can make some of the non-negotiables work better. Distance can lend perspective, so take advantage of that and take the opportunity to get intentional about the routines you choose. And observe how people in different places handle these things. You might even pick up a new trick or two.

3 – Kids are sponges, but when they sit in the same places every day, do the same activities, see the same people, there’s only so much new stuff available for them to absorb. Put them on some form of public transit though and WOW! The learning is instant and self-driven, and the adventure promises to get better from there. Travel teaches us flexible-thinking, problem-solving, emotional resiliency — and when it doesn’t go as planned, it challenges us to figure out how to make the best of things. What parent doesn’t want these skills for their kids? But they’re also good for the grown ups too. As we age, it gets harder to grow, but travel expands your horizons.

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