The Writing Life

2022 Holidays: A 5-Star Review

It started the day after Thanksgiving. The Christmas decorating begins at our home. The boxes come out of the garage and into the house.

Our ever-growing Santa collection is unpacked. Other boxes hold the holiday dishes, or outside lights, and all the tree trimming ornaments. Out they come. It takes several days to Christmas at our house indoors-and out. And yet it doesn’t seem like a chore. 

 

There’s peace and comfort in Christmas decorating.

It’s a season of the year that I deeply love. It’s a memory glue that makes my childhood, teen, young adult, middle age, and now senior years, stick together. 

 Santa always stops by.

 

 

 

My Hank and I are fortunate to have a safe, warm, spacious home in which to display a holiday accumulation of probably 60 years. Most of the ornaments and decorations, photos and wall hangings are memories. My memories from my early teaching career, photographs that became enlarged murals. Crafts that Hank and I have gifted each other from our travels, or have been given by family and friends. 

As we decorated this year there was a running dialogue about the memories attached to many of them. 

“Oh remember, this was our first Christmas. We look so young.” 

“This is from that great Christmas shop in Santa Fe.” 

 

 

 

“This ornament is from my childhood – small, chipped, with a crooked hook – well-loved like the velveteen rabbit.” 

We tended to do more silent gazing than talking this year. Some afternoons during decorating the only sound was Elvis’s CD of Blue Christmas or Luther Vandross Christmas. 

Several nights after dinner, Hank called to me from the living room. “Come. Sit with me. Look at the tree.” Sometimes it was pure silence which delivered relaxation. From those late November days until the Epiphany on January 6 the gazing at the tree in silence was a comforting part of our holiday celebration.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Intentions and Showing Up -Redux

Getting Ready to Write

Somewhere in my writing life I realized getting ready to write preceded the actual sitting down and putting pen to paper (historical reference #1). In the early days of my writing career, it was claiming a place to write. Over the years it has been the café at Borders (historical reference #2), the library, Starbucks, various coffee shops in New Jersey, New York, and now Arizona. For the past 12 years it’s been my office or rotating among the host homes of our Eastside Writing Room writers. These days I write at home- dining room table, at my desk, or on the patio. The place is set.

Getting ready to write sometimes calls for mental ruminating, reading, talking to someone, just sitting. Some wonderful ideas have come to me while cleaning the house, or exercising, or just staring. I no longer analyze or take on the Judge’s robe. I trust those non-writing times as part of being a writer.

Want To Just a Little Bit More Than You Don’t Want To

Snippets for writing

When I do have a written list of say, ten things I want/can/need to write about, the intention can become unclear, confusing. Which to do? The part of me that forgets I am a good writer, offers an exit door and whispers, “Well, maybe you don’t need to write today.” Time to tip the scale. When I tell myself I want to write even just a little bit more than I don’t want to write, another door opens.

Early “teachers” like Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, Sylvia Beach, and Julia Cameron inspired me. It filters down to BIC- butt in chair and write. Recently one of our Eastside Writing Room colleagues declared her intention to write 500 words a day. Easy peasy? The declaration is what helps it happen for me. Even if the first sentence is “I have nothing to write about.” Something always comes.

Bottom Line… Show Up

Think about it. When, where, or how have you showed up, not at all committed to an idea, place, or person? And something happened. Maybe even something superb. Maybe not right then, but later- that day, the next week, a year later. That showing up was a seed that grew and bore fruit. And if I delve a little deeper, there were “things” that got me ready to show up. What a concept.

My teachers are everywhere. Stop smoking like T. did. Practice yoga like A. does until I can hold that pose. Play at tai chi Like H. Commit to a healthy food plan like M. Dance like L.  Paint like S. does. Write a book like C did. In the last 1 ½ years it’s been  “walk, stretch every day. It’s a way to show you care about you.”

This morning I showed up to write but my list didn’t seem at all interesting, so I scrolled though some older posts. And there it was. “Intentions and Showing Up.”

I think I’ll go back and look at my list again.

What was the most recent thing you showed up for?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.

Eastside Writing Room- Jan. 2023

THE EASTSIDE WRITING ROOM Jan. 2023

And here we go! We are entering a decade of the EASTSIDE WRITING ROOM. Every Tuesday every week, every month, every season, every year since 2013. 

YOU’RE INVITED TO WRITE WITH US 

This year will be the most exciting time for our writing. Never ever before have each of us been so wise, so filled with life experiences, lessons learned, accomplishments … accomplished, and classic memories stored up (recalling names of acquaintances, what you had for dinner, and the location of that reminder list are not classic memories). 

We welcome adult writers (published, not published, just starting, resuming) of all genres to join us. This group is not for instruction or critiquing. It’s solely for talking about writing and writing the classic memories or the memories we plan to make- fiction or non. 

HOW IT WORKS

Commit and claim your time each Tuesday just for you and your writing. Set your writing intention with us each Tuesday morning. The group talk is solid motivation to write. No fee. Join us each week or as your time allows. RSVP requested for each week.

WHEN 

EVERY TUESDAY- ZOOM  11:30 AM-12:10 AM (MST) I email the Zoom link for our recurring meeting. A bit of writing talk, stating intentions for the day’s writing, and then writing on your own. 

HYBRID MEETING (In-person AND/OR Zoom- what a deal!) once a month. Gather at 11:15 AM to be set up to Zoom for a half hour at the host’s home (Eastside Tucson AZ) at 11:30 AM. Then write wherever you may be. Zoom has enabled us to keep our national status with members joining us from AZ, CO, MA, NC, CA, and NY.

Email check-ins encouraged at the end of your session or sometime after 1:00 PM.

Newbie? New to the group? RSVP to get the Zoom link and come when you can. Consistent connecting has positive effects in mood, attitude, perspective and that spills over into our writing. Interested writers may contact Ethel.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.

December and Birthdays

December and Birthdays

That first birthday, the day you are born is sometimes called the “littlest birthday” and often the biggest celebration. Some birthdays have become more special than others ( if that’s at all possible). Some I’ve heard of: One-year-old, the first double digit birthday, the first teen year, Sweet 16, quinceanera, 21st,  legal age, 50th – a half century, 100th-a century, a golden birthday- when your age matches the date of your birth. My golden birthday was March 15, 1962 when I turned 15.

Birthdays can also mark new beginnings to celebrate a special part of a life, or an event in a life. Many people celebrate an accomplishment as a birthday- publishing a book, a marriage, a new citizenship, a new “lease” on life. My Eastside Writing Room group celebrated our 9th birthday in 2022.  My first book, Thinking of Miller Place celebrated its 15th birthday on November 17, 2022. My Seedlings book celebrated its 8th birthday on January 6, 2022. December 28, 2022 was a 37th birthday for me. A private, but WOW birthday.

Around our house, it goes without saying, birthdays are special. You are the only one of you in the entire world. My twinship holds a myriad of similarities. My twin and I often sound alike, have the same gestures, and sometimes still buy the same clothes (not planned). But we are each unique. I am the only one exactly like me in the whole world. As is she. As are you. So on our birthday, your birthday, anyone’s birthday I write or repeat this quote:

May you have a wonderful celebration of your birthday! “Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday, we do not say: ‘Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.’ No, we say: ‘Thank you for being born and being among us.’ Celebrating a birthday reminds us of the goodness of life.”  Henri Nouwen  

You choose how, where, how big, how loud, how simple or fancy, But do celebrate!!!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Babies and December

December Babies – Part 1

What is it about newborns? Just the sight of those tiny hands, and feet, and small but perfect fingernails, evokes an audible sigh of pure enjoyment from me. 

My friend Beryl and I had settled in for a cup of coffee and talk when we saw a young couple on one of their first outings with their newborn. His name was Matthew and he was just six weeks old. So tiny that when his dad held him, Matthew’s head rested neatly in the palm of his hand. The dad’s other hand cradled the rest of Matthew’s body. There was something peaceful and hopeful watching this couple as they watched their creation. 

It was like their baby honeymoon period – that time of utter bliss when other cares recede into the background for a while. In this case the “while” was a stop for coffee – maybe lunch. An aura of something really special surrounded them.

Lucky us. The aura wafted over to us. Beryl being Beryl, had introduced herself by the time I got back from getting more napkins. We were drawn to their table talk and joined in the gazing and dreaming our own private dream for the health, life, and new journey of this tiny little human. Who knows what great things he will accomplish that can change his life, or his parent’s life? Heck, maybe change the world?

When I told Hank about the feeling of this encounter, he related a story he had never told me before. After you’ve been together over thirty years, lots of anecdotes by one of the other of you is no longer a million dollar story, but often comes under the category of “dollar story.” But this one was completely new.

~~~~~~~

Hank and two colleagues were taking the NYC subway downtown to their company’s new site at 120 Broadway. Not rush hour but the subway was still crowded, so subway was the quickest route from midtown to downtown. 

No seats were available so they each grabbed a rail to hold on to as the train pulled away from the station. At the next stop there was a flow of exiting travelers and a new batch of riders coming in. One of the last to get on was a young woman holding a very young baby in her arms. Still no seats, so she reached up to grab a strap to hold onto.

Hank is usually low key and keeps to himself but something about this young parent and her baby moved him. He looked around. Most passengers were reading or dozing. No one got up to offer her a seat. 

He moved in front of a young man who was sitting and reading. “You need to get up and give this woman your seat.” “Huh?” Young man looked up and saw who Hank was pointing to. “Oh yeah, here.”

“Sit,” Hank said to the woman. 

“Oh no, that’s ok.” 

“Sit. If the train stops short you’ll only have one hand to protect your baby. Sit.”

She gave a little nod and sat. 

Was there a collective sigh of relief when the young mother sat down? Did people exchange glances and smile? I like to think so.

“I didn’t even think about what to do or say,” he told me. “I just knew it was the right thing to do.”

I find it easy to just do the right thing when it seems the person who needs help asks for help, or is vulnerable, or seems hurt or weak. It’s more difficult when it seems someone who needs help is closed or defensive about it. Could it be that’s just how I perceive them?

Hearing Hank’s story and thinking of Beryl and little baby Matthew, I noticed it was December 24th, a day that reminds me of the celebration of another baby who certainly did much to shape the lives of generations all over the world.

Pretty amazing. Tiny little babies who haven’t yet led crusades, changed laws, or even said one word. Here are some tiny ones in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Reflective Places

Some places just make you want to stop, exhale, and stare. I discovered lots of them over the years. But first, a back story.

When I was about seven I discovered I liked to polish things. I’d rub my doll’s face until all the smudges were wiped away and her pink cheeks were a bit dented, but shining. My mother, seeing this zeal – encouraged the polishing, and I became the guardian of the bathroom fixtures. All I needed was a  sponge, a pail of water, and Ajax. The sink, tub, faucets gleamed …  and I liked the time by myself.

A Reflective Place

Henri Nouwen said, “A reflective place is a place of safety where the spirit of love is whole, visible, and palpable.” I believe that bathroom was my first reflective place. I had privacy and time to let my thoughts meander.

Years later when my friend’s wife said of him, “He has a rich interior life,” I was curious. He is usually calm, has a very corny sense of humor, and has that skill of listening with his ears, eyes, and whole body. I quizzed him about this interior life thing. He told me he read something positive every day, prayed, …and then he’d sit and wait to see what bubbled up.  

What Happens in My Reflective Places

Now I had found great comfort in spiritual reading, but often dashed off without waiting for the bubbles. I began to look for and use reflective places. Libraries, labyrinths, empty beaches, climbing or sitting under a tree, my yoga mat, Zoom rooms, meditation groups, once or twice on the checkout line at Safeway. Mostly I sit, breathe, read, by myself, with my “self,” and see what opens up.

 

 

 

 

 

There is an open space of privacy in a reflective place. I realize not everything I think, feel, or experience is for public consumption. Some of it is for my own delicious privacy. Kind of a stop, look, and listen. Sometimes the bubbling up allows time to struggle with something, and then I can let it start to fade away. My shoulders release their grasping up toward my ears, my chest opens, my breath slows down. 

My current reflective place is an oversized chair in our living room. I can slouch down, put my feet up on the foot stool, pull a green throw over my legs and be. It’s easier to slide into being if I listen to music, write, or listen to a meditation. Or read.

A Shared Reflective Place

In the morning this is a shared reflective place with my husband. When the morning sunlight brightens the whole living room and the breakfast table is cleared, one of us will ask, “Shall we read?” I move to the oversized chair by the window. Hank sits opposite with his coffee. I read aloud.

Reflective Place Readings

Over the years we’ve read spirituality books, Buddhist, 12 Step, mindfulness. Pema Chödrön, Jack Kornfield, Don Miguel Ruiz, Sharon Salzberg, Thich Nhát Hanh, Piero Ferrucci, and now Edward Viljoen have become trusted book friends.

Now it’s a Habit

A common denominator in each of these books seems to be the habit that builds from the regularity of whatever practice is done. I call it my spiritual flossing. Every day. This habit of morning reading makes it easier to read when we’re tempted to say, “Everything’s cool, let’s skip it, or I whine, “I’ve got too much to do.” We read. Then we wait. One of us starts sharing. Was there resistance to the words? Was it a reminder? Did it inspire? 

When I take time to physically look around, and look inside, a feeling of incredible well-being grows, sometimes bursts on me. I have to let go with a huge exhale. I’m grateful for this habit of using reflective places to read, breathe, … and see what bubbles up.  

I’m always looking for new RPs. What’s yours?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Bored and Restless 2022- 5 Antidotes

Summer Monsoon

Bored? Restless? This has been a topic I’ve struggled with. A few years ago I wrote about it and now I find it’s popping up again on regular ordinary days. Time to review my experiences and take my own advice. I’ve often been pretty quick to say, “I never experience any of those feelings.” Sure, I’ve been agitated, irritated, anxious, but restless…? If I’m honest about these bored and restless feelings, they fit. Just the use of that little word “never” has been a sign of my resistance.

That old “never say never” phrase is so true. When those feelings do skitter around the edges of my day, I’ve learned how to use them to work for me in my writing, and in other life situations.

I get restless when: I’m in groups at cocktail hours. Or I know I have an hour or only an hour to get ready for something.

I am bored: when someone talks politics for more than five minutes, whether I agree them with or not. When a conversation dominator holds forth (Could that be a reflection of myself?)

In A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield writes of boredom as a lack of attention, a restlessness, accompanied by discouragement or judgment. “We don’t like what is happening, … or because we feel empty or lost.”

Empty or lost. Bingo. If I don’t get caught up in trying to justify how really boring “it” is, what can I discover? What does that feeling herald? I usually have to not be hungry or sleep deprived in order to be this objective with myself. Sometimes I am, and it works.

Restlessness, agitation, “the pacing tiger” can come as a reaction to something I don’t want to feel. “The mind spins in a circle, or flops around like a fish out of water.” Know that awkward feeling?

5 Gems, aka Antidotes to B&R

If I don’t keep resisting the feelings I can remind myself feelings aren’t facts. They usually pass in 90 seconds (a counseling gem that got me through quitting smoking and other vices) if I don’t find excuses to cling to them. If I accept that these feelings are impermanent labels–after they pass or underneath them– is something much better. Like the water at the very bottom of my friend’s water garden. Where the miniature waterfall pings into the water, it’s stirred up, maybe sparkling (which can keep me in the excitement of restlessness) or cloudy. But down at the bottom or away on the edges where the koi drift and float, it’s crystal clear.

Years ago I had a dear friend named Kenny Moore. He used to say when someone was fidgety or anxious, either physically or emotionally, “They’re on the verge of a miracle. Just around the bend something great will happen.” What a tonic that was. I know. He saw me fidgety in meetings, emotional in dealing with difficult people, incredulous over some minor flaw in a person. “E-Z does it. Go through this, Eth, you’re at the bend in the road.” And I did. Instead of ending a friendship, or verbally blasting someone, I learned to stop and listen. Not always to the person (I’m not that serene), but to what was under my feelings. And it did get better.

Another more recent gem: “This is a temporary limitation.” The “this” situations are uncomfortable residual feelings and physical quirks from my stroke in August 2021. In any of my restless situations if I “step away” and breathe – even for 5 minutes of positivity, it’s possible to feel empathy for the cocktail drinker, the conversation dominator, the amplified noise, or myself. Thank you, Dr. R.

When I’m feeling bored or restless, aka empty or lost, or pacing like a tiger, I let myself pace. Literally. I go for a walk, leave my desk, or the story, or the list of phone calls, and step out back and walk around our yard.

 

 

 

 

Or, and here I can see many of my fellow type A personalities shudder, I can do nothing. I don’t need to read another book on writing, or work harder. Sometimes I have to concentrate less. And the new creative idea, the new perspective drifts, floats, and sometimes shoots to the top like a jumping fish.

 

The last time I posted about bored and restless, my friend Stephanie commented, “I especially love it when the creative idea jumps to the surface like a humpback whale.” Stephanie, I don’t have a photo for that but Yowza!, it’s a perfect image!!!

What makes you restless? What’s your gem that gets you to that creative idea, or willingness to do some interior housecleaning, or just be?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Trick or Treat- 2022

My friend Joe and I were comparing Halloween doings: 

Joe: Do you get many trick or treaters?

Me: No, not in the community here. It’s mostly retired folks. Occasionally we might get a grandparent herding some little grands. During the pandemic, nada. Now it seems schools, churches, and organizations have trunk and treat which reminds me of a Western movie, cars circling like the wagons to keep out the bad guys. Maybe there are some organized “scares.”  

Joe: I’m sure glad I grew up when I did for the Halloween nights we had when I was a kid. 

We both looked at each other and kind of snickered. 

Me: Yeah, me too. It was fun and scary. Scary fun! Being nine or ten or eleven and out at night was exciting. My sisters and I put together costumes from a box up in the attic that emitted a bit of a musty odor mixed with mothballs. It was stuffed with slightly torn dresses, silky or filmy-or old-fashioned suit jackets from generations before us.

 

 

 

 

 

We came from a long, proud, and often wacky line of costumers- Halloween or not.

New Year’s Eve- Flushing NY 1939

Today the clothes would be considered vintage, like the 1900 knee-length black skirted bathing suit with fitted cap. Or the sleek gold lamé gown from the 1920s. Once I pinned and tied up the back it sort of fit. I felt really glamorous tripping (literally) down Kenny Avenue with a beaded bag hanging off my neck and dragging my pillowcase for holding the loot.

The loot, of course, was candy! Little Hersey bars, licorice strings, Good ’n’ Plenty in miniature boxes, candy corn. My personal favorite-Strawberry Turkish Taffy which was not Turkish and had no real strawberries. All pure sugar, straight to your brain. Little mercenaries in training that we were. Pennies were good. Nickels better. My Unicef box got filled with reluctant honesty. Well, almost always honesty. An apple for a treat? Oops, it fell out my pillowcase-too ordinary. Yeah, Halloween was fun.

And the scary part. The house around the corner. No lights on. No decorations. Scary dark.

“Ring the bell.”

“No, you ring the bell.” Riiing.

Like a perfect Halloween Pavlovian response, the three older boys (who had a rep as being wild anyway) always came whooping and yelling from the backyard of their house. Made my legs feel shaky as we ran away screaming, but that was a house we had to visit every year. 

2022. Halloween’s here. Trick or Treat! This year I don’t feel the need for excitement. 

Please, no tricks this year. The last two years have been tricky enough. Only treats coming my way and your way!!!

So what qualifies as a treat? A yummy dessert of, say cheesecake, after any home-cooked-by-someone-else meal. Swordfish, fresh salad. An evening reading by the fireplace. Or stargazing on our patio under the wide Tucson night sky. A text from someone from the old neighborhood. Being any where kids – of all ages-  are playing.  Zoom with friends from far away. A basket of Honey Crisp apples? Hey yes, thanks.

May you have a wonderfully delicious Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.