The Writing Life

Maya Angelou Quotes that Spark Memories

Maya Angelou Quotes

Words That Spark Memories

Maya Angelou’s quotes often bring a flash of a personal memory that epitomizes that quote for me. It’s like I own the quote. This is usually followed by a quoted post-it up on the bathroom mirror or on my bulletin board or a reminder stuck on the corner of my monitor.

Quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Memory: R.S. has the amazing skill of listening without interrupting. She has dark eyes that gaze at you while you are talking. Her very white hair is in stark contrast and emphasizes that gaze and feeling that you have 100% of her attention. When I visit with RS, I feel like am truly all I want to be.

 

Quote: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Memory: When I sat next to A. and he slowly opened the easy to read book, I mentioned how words have shapes. Some letters are like tall buildings and some have tails that hang down. That A for his name is a tall building.

“Just like the A in Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day had that tall building A. As we read today, I wonder how many of those tall A’s you can find for Alexander.”

“OK. I know there’s probably one in the title.”  He turned to the title page. (He knew the title  page is at the beginning of the book and is usually just a few words on the page, but he didn’t know he knew it).

     I read.
     He stopped me. “There.”
     “Yes,” I turned the page.
     His small index finger stamped on another A and another.
     “Yes.” I read and turned to the next page.
     He grabbed the book turning the page. I read and when I tapped the last sentence on each page, he turned to the next page. We whizzed through the book.
     “Again.”
     “Sure. And you can take this book home tonight.” My second grade A. whose mother told me he hated books, smiled a half-smile as he took the book. A. left school that day, clutching his book.
I still feel good when I think about that day – and it was 40 years ago.

 

Quote: “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Memory: When you accrue more than 70 years of living, there are bound to be people and situations that “come along” that you certainly never would’ve asked for on a Christmas list or wished for as you blew out the birthday candles on your cake.

Two stand out as unchangeable; permanent. One was with someone outside of me; the other was something that happened inside of me. The sudden tragic death of my first husband; an ischemic stroke.

Although 46 years separated the events, both brought immediate shock and numbness – a protective device to enable me to cope with extreme trauma. Although with a stroke the “numbness” sure lasted longer. I could not undo either of them, and I went back and forth hating each situation. With each event, I knew somewhere along the line I had to figure out how to accept it because staying angry, or devastated would make me physically ill and that was not part of my life plan.

I think my core temperament was stronger because in both instances, I knew that I wanted to survive, thrive, and be happy. I was still me – changed, but still me. And I could add survivor, thriver to my list of strengths.

 

Memory: It was a small thing, really. When I got home after the doctor’s appointment, he didn’t ask about the medical results.
     I felt alone, weakened even, though the report was positive. I’m sure my body language showed – a bit of a slump, no big smile after we said hello.
     But when he showed me what he did out back on our patio to make it look so clean and neat, I knew the slumpy, poor-me attitude was a garment I had to take off if I wanted to feel lighter and happy. So I smiled. “Let’s have coffee out here.”
He said, “I’ll go make it.”

Triumph on Rocks

Maya Angelou quotes from

Because of Them We Can 

What quotes do you “own”?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Living Easily with Writing Intentions

Our Eastside Writing Room Writers

The Eastside Writing Room. We’ve been meeting for 11 years, the last three via Zoom. We meet each Tuesday to state our writing intentions for that day. It’s an individual commitment in a group setting. Sounds pretty structured, eh?

Intentions

My intention on a recent Tuesday was to do some business writing. Not exciting but a certain creativity was required to “lean in” and make the results compelling enough to get replies to my requests i.e., better customer service, repeating a request, questioning the lack of response for a medical report request – that kind of “best to do it now” stuff. 

Then two colleagues shared their method for tracking the next steps for an essay, memoir, novel, research, or character development.

This got me thinking. I’m not procrastinating about that business folder. I can see it right there in my peripheral vision. Intentions are not have-to’s or solemn promises, and do not come with a 24-hour expiration. Intentions get me on my creative path for writing. I trust my thinking when I make intentions. And I know how my writing process works.

What I Know About My Writing Process 

Two concepts that I know are true for me:

  1. When I was teaching elementary children we used a writing process approach ( thank you, Lucy Calkins). The primary question we asked each young writer was, “Who’s the boss of your writing?” Second graders aced that one. “Me.” Being the boss  included what they wrote about and which system they chose (of the many modeled) to track their writing. For some it was circles with ideas written inside the circle to be cut out and lined up for sequencing. True for me too. See Word Splash
  2. I don’t think I’ve ever had the “nothing to write about blues.” I have tons of ideas. The obstacle is deciding which idea to focus on. I do love all my ideas when the lightning of a fresh idea strikes. While I’m in that walking around with the idea or in the cleaning out cabinets mode of deciding which one, I usually come to the deadline factor. When must it be done? Soonest date gets first writing. 

Some Tracking Ideas

But how to keep track of what got started, what got done, and what’s next? In my head is inefficient, fatiguing. and unrealistic. Over the years, I have used various tracking methods:

Every piece I write gets labeled with a working title and date created. Brainstorm topic words are hand-written immediately; drafts are on my laptop. I keep a spreadsheet list on my computer of titles and dates created, revised, completed, where submitted, and the results. At the very least the title, date, and what to do next is entered on the spreadsheet.

 

 

Pre iPhone my tracking was bits of paper. Then I got organized and carried my ideas pad everywhere. I jotted things down in a notepad – just bits and pieces of an idea. Snippets.

I started using Notes on my iPhone in 2019. But I find I write faster on paper. My fingers don’t hit the right keys on the phone and the mic reinvents dictated words which then requires spell and word check. I could investigate Scrivener, Evernote, and go back to Google docs. That would involve a learning curve of sorts so… back to the Snippets pad.

Tracking Drafts for a Book, Essay, Story, Presentation

The most recent organization plan is for a new book where drafts are already completed; some also have revisions (with their working title, date created, and revision dates).

I culled drafts and blogs that will work for Seedlings 2. This can be a companion to Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. The individual stories or essays were all listed on my master spreadsheet so scrolling titles made it easy to then locate them in ELM docs or ELM blogs and print them. Handling hard copy is still easiest for me. Documents and photos are now in one folder. 

Utilization plan: Open the folder. Choose one to explore, revise, or proof right now. Note with date what was done and put it on the bottom of the pile. Choose the next doc. 

In reality: Today I prioritized all pieces according to what appeals to me most. I reviewed, revised, and updated one. That’s good progress.  

 A Visual/Tactile System That Works

This was Bee Bloeser’s technique for her book Vaccines and Bayonets.

 

 

 

 

It seems to have worked quite well for her because the book’s published, and she’s still on a whirlwind of speaking engagements at book clubs, organizations, and conferences about the book and her writing process.

Materials: At least three colors of Post-its and wall space. In this case it was a rather long hallway. Chapters became delineated to detailed scenes, to be removed during a celebratory final draft. 

Quotes From Other Writers

  • I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~ Elmore Leonard
  • I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork. ~ Peter De Vries
  • I keep little notepads all over the place to write down ideas as soon as they strike, but the ones that fill up the quickest are always the ones at my nightstand. ~ Emily Logan Decens
  • Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet. ~ Zadie Smith
  • Get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. For each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” he said again for emphasis. ~ Jerry Seinfeld from  “Productivity Habits from Famous Writers” ~ The Don’t Quit Podcast

You Decide

It seems the success of it is that writers, often by trial and error, find the tracking system that works for them at a certain time, for a particular piece. There are no “shoulds” of when to write, where, or how long. Who’s the boss of your writing? What’s the deadline?

What’s working for you right now?

Interested in being with interesting writers? Contact Ethel.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Honoring Maya Angelou 1928-2014

Maya Angelou

May 28 is the 10th anniversary of the death of Maya Angelou. It is also 55 years since the publication of her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). Both the date and year are intricately connected in my life.

1969

In 1969 I graduated with honors from Wagner College, had a job teaching kindergarten starting in the fall in the lovely town of West Caldwell New Jersey. My childhood was officially over. I was launching into what was a planned, graceful entrance into adulthood. 

Of course it didn’t turn out smoothly as planned. But still, the launch was on. The true north in this early adulthood era  was the “job” which became a beloved 28-year career, guiding, teaching young children, and being taught, in turn, by being with them.

I spent the summer of 1969 drifting from a friend’s home with her folks to the upscale Barbizon Hotel, “a boardinghouse hotel for women” in NYC. It was a drifting with a knowing of what and where I wanted to settle, but needing to first drop off some baggage of beliefs and misplaced loyalty to “shoulds” and cultural expectations of a “good girl” before settling into womanhood and my first studio apartment on Staten Island, New York.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

In 1969 I was also in the orbit of Malachi Lee, a charismatic black martial arts champion and his friends, acquaintances, and karate students in NYC. It was either Mal or his friend Ron who showed me I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. “She broke out of her cage. You can break out of yours too.” I read it. Got my own copy. Read it again-underlined phrases. Cried and started a journal about my own cage. 

Only over years have I seen, felt, and understood the cage I was in. I remember what was described as a sentimental song from childhood, I’m Only a Bird In a Gilded Cage. A beautiful woman married for money (security), not love. Seeing a black and white film clip of this – the woman had long flowing hair, a sweet face; she is swinging gently in her cage. As a young girl I was confused- OK she’s beautiful, she’s got money- two quite nice attributes. But the money wasn’t hers , and only her physical beauty was appreciated. How is that a good thing?

 A far different cage from the one Maya Angelou was thrust into. How did she find the strength, the courage to be brave, to keep going in the face of all that blocked her path- racism, abuse, poverty? She had survival strength, the fight to break out. And so began decades of following the life of Maya Angelou through her books, newspaper articles, and as time went on – films, interviews, videos, Oprah, YouTube.

Who are Your Rainbow People?

It was one of Maya Angelou’s masterclasses, “Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud” that gave me a tool I still use today.

“Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud” is metaphoric talisman that gives me the courage to get through my tough times. One line from a 19th century African American song is the treasure in Maya Angelou’s talk: “When it looks like the sun won’t shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.”

Maya Angelou: I’ve had a lot of clouds, but I’ve had so many rainbows.

Big nod of recognition at that.

Everyone has tough times in their life. This is not to diminish the pain and dehumanization anyone’s experiences. I frequently feel a visceral  anger about the cages in which others are imprisoned.

I think only each individual can define what’s tough for them. “Tough” for one friend was saying no to her parent’s supporting her financially (with many strings attached). Some toughies for me: Tough: quitting drinking (not trying to quit. Who was it who said, “Trying is lying”?), when someone dies, recovery after a stroke, the deep mourning at the loss of a friend or relative, addressing the ignorance of remarks like “girls can’t do that,” and on and on along the spectrum of tough times, fear, and pain.  

Here’s my version of what Maya Angelou suggests, aka, the Rx, to prepare for the tough times.

First: List all the crap that happened. Brainstorm; don’t spend hours on this. The times, situations, remarks will come pretty fast. 

Then: List all the people who listened to you, supported you emotionally, gave gifts of friendship, a safe home, kindness, honesty, affirmation, time, respect, or love during tough times. They are your rainbow people, or heroes, or angels, or spirit guides. At some point in your life, thank those people (in person, in writing, by living the way they showed you) I can be someone’s rainbow in just the same ways.

Finally: “Take”  some of your rainbow people with you to the tough times.

Instead of all the old stuff I 86’d along the way, most days I mentally bring a few of my rainbow people with me. When I get up on stage to tell a true story, when I get in my car, when I go to the doctor to question a decision they deem best for me, when I share non-traditional ideas in a workshop. 

When I had a decision to make concerning my friend’s drinking, I struggled with the question: Do you want to be her friend or sponsor? If you have this difficult conversation and reach out a hand to help as a sponsor- that conversation will always be between you. The conversation required a whole entourage of rainbow people. There were far more hours spent with her than we might have spent as friends. We did not go shopping or have lunch together. We read, talked, cried, laughed, wrote, and I came to find I held her in my heart and learned and loved myself more from this connection. I became a sponsor mainly because a rainbow woman did that for me and it worked!

When I say no to protect my boundaries, to avoid the bars of a cage descending that will block my physical, emotional, spiritual or financial security, I take some rainbow people with me. I have the memories of courage and kindness from my family, KB, MAB, EM, KM, J., AA, MQ, FQ, L., EC, some people whose names I never knew. I know they’ve got my back. And it feels good.

Who are your rainbow people? 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

What is Love?

PROCESS WRITING – ABOUT LOVE

Writing a story is often a long process for me with red pencil slashes, rewrites, and revisions before arriving at a polished product. What goes on behind the scenes? Sifting ideas. Where’s the focus? Does this align with the theme? Does it make sense? Will my beta reader “get” what I am sharing?

Since most of my writing has its seeds in real life – mine and that of others, I do memory lane work- looking at photos (of which I have over 20,000 on my laptop), perusing journals, staring into the space of my distant and recent past, walking in the park observing couples, kids, singletons. This usually means I cannot write a polished piece at the last minute. I admire those who do. When words morphing into a story do spill effortlessly onto the paper I must admit I’ve been musing, and seeing sparks of the idea from different times and places in my life.

In this case Love was the given theme. Valentine’s Day holds more than a bit of value in our house with cards, phone calls, and texts to and from loved ones. The opportunity to share a love story this past Valentine’s Day for The Center For Spiritual Living Tucson newsletter, complete with deadline, moved it along to completion.

 

 

Even after that, the love theme continued into April with a Love Boat topic at Odyssey Storytelling, my favorite live storytelling event here in Tucson. But the memory sifting went back farther than this year or even several years.

 

 

When Foreigner’s hit song “I Want to Know What Love Is” came out in 1984 it was the perfect accompaniment to another of my overdramatic, sad, and exhausting relationship break-ups. It was then I began to seriously search for answers. Just what is Love?

 

WHO DO I LOVE?

I looked at it from the perspective of What is the love that I feel for my family and friends? This gradually led to thinking about What is love for strangers? Is it possible? And at an even slower pace- What about loving or maybe caring about people who seem so different from me? The mantra of “we are more alike than we are different” yielded a cognitive response of, “Well, OK.” But my emotions often shake their little emotional heads. “Mmm, but to love? Maybe not.” I watched in awe when my 9-year-old grinning grandson exhibited his whole-hearted, whole body gyrations of “I looove pizza!” Chogyam Trungpa said, “Everyone loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.” That may sound trivial, but really, there’s something going on if I say or show I love something/someone. To me it’s a feeling, a sense, an essence. I am a manifestation of the essence of love. It’s up to me to choose to use this love essence, share it, give it, and receive it.

Here’s one aspect of Love from almost 40 years ago that still holds true for this period of time in mid-April 2024.

A TRUE LOVE STORY

The speaker was young and earnest; he seemed very poised. He had been invited to talk to this group because we needed to hear what he had to say. The room was packed. There were probably 200 people – seniors, couples, moms, dads, singles, a few teens sitting in the back row with that arms crossed I-don’t want-to-be-here-but-the-court-said-I-better-be-here slouch.

Our speaker launched into his intro. He had a pleasant voice, and an interesting way of telling us about the power of love.

From the back of the room there came a sound of rustling and clattering, as if something had dropped. The noise traveled down along the side aisle, and then back up the aisle.

A few people turned to look. Where is that noise coming from? What was that? Our speaker kept talking with great confidence. 

The noise started again; it was like the clattering of footsteps, but not overly loud. It was just kind of distracting; a flappity-flap of uneven, running footsteps. More people were distracted.  

The noise was coming from a 4-year-old child, escaped from his parent’s grasp. He was running up and down that side aisle. Now people were fidgeting in their seats murmuring, Where are his parents? Who is he with? Why doesn’t someone stop this child?

Our speaker stopped, looked up, and took off his glasses. A huge smile spread across his face as he watched the flappity-flapping tyke running up and down the very long aisle. He was now using his little toy truck, scraping it along the wall so we heard a clackety-clack of the toy along with the flappity-flap of his shoes. 

The speaker pointed and said, “Well now, look at that. Isn’t that something?”

Of course, we all turned to look at Flappity. “Someday,” continued our intrepid speaker, “when that child is older, and if that child needs to find a place where he’s accepted, he’ll know he can come here because we have accepted him with love.”

The little boy stopped, clutched his toy truck, and beamed at all of us.

There was a collective sigh of relief, or was it a sigh of the acknowledgment of love? 

An older gentleman in the third row reached out his hand to the boy. “Come sit with me and show me your toy.” And he did. 

“Love is the grandest healing and drawing power on earth. It is the very reason for our being, and that explains why it is that people should have something or someone to love.  The life that has not loved has not lived, it is still dead. Love is the sole impulse for creation, and the man [woman, child, person] who does not have love as the greatest incentive in his [their] life, has never developed the real creative instinct. No one can swing out into the Universe without love, for the whole Universe is based upon it. ~ Ernest Holmes The Science of Mind 

When, how, where did that unconditional love swing out to you? From you? How did it make you feel?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Odyssey Storytelling- The Love Boat: Smooth Sailing or Sinking Ship?

Odyssey Storytelling April 4, 2024, 7:00 pm.  Doors open 6:30 pm.

The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.

For more info: ODYSSEY STORYTELLING

THE LOVE BOAT – IS IT SMOOTH SAILING OR A SINKING SHIP? 

                                              

Has your love flowed smoothly, like sailing on placid seas – Or did you find yourself crashing on hidden rocks?

Everyone’s got stories. Sublime, unrequited, tragic, or outrageous. Love for another person, a dream, or a cup of coffee. 

Join us on April 4 when six storytellers share their take on love. During intermission you may have the opportunity to share a 3-minute spontaneous “love story.”

Co-curated by Bella Vivante and Ethel Lee-Miller

Got a story? Email: stories@odysseystorytelling.com Ethel etheleemiller@me.com     Bella bvivante4@gmail.com 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

The Eastside Writing Room-Tucson

Why go to a writing meeting where you don’t write

Tuesday, February 20. Another full and informative meeting of the Eastside Writing Room. We zoom each Tuesday 11:30 AM MT time to share our writing intentions for that day. There’s something especially powerful about stating intentions in person, and to a group of people who are staring, quite intently, at you, and are interested in what you have to say.
90% of the time I do what I say I have to do. If I don’t it’s because writing has led me down some other path, equally as interesting.

The Eastside Writing Room

A free Zoom group, no fees, no writing critiquing, but lots of sharing of writing ideas, resources, and a place to declare your writing plan. For adult writers, published or not; any genre, no rants, no crosstalk, just good ole listening and support.

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

The Raised Eyebrow

laptop with writing and coffee mug

Musings From My Writing Life

My mother had this thing she did with her eyebrow. That is not a typo. Eyebrow. Singular. She could raise her eyebrow quite high so it peaked in a perfect arc. It was very noticeable. When accompanied by a low murmur of my name or “girls,“ my sisters and I were trained to look at Mom. The raised eyebrow was a cease and desist signal, meaning everything from “use a soft voice, please,” to “don’t do that,” to “stop right now.” It got results with me, because I was always stunned into wondering how she did that – with just one eyebrow. So it distracted me from whatever behavior was deemed wrong enough to elicit the raised eyebrow.

For years I practiced in front of the bathroom mirror. I had the murmur down. “Muthhhh-errr” but both eyebrows popped up. I held my one eyebrow down with my hand. I taped it. Closed both eyes and then did the raise attempt; but of course, I had to open them to look and there they were – up in a surprised double arc.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened. Maybe a pre-puberty birthday, or a Christmas when I had been exceedingly good. I randomly gave it a go while doing a toothbrush rinse and voila – up went my left eyebrow – solo flight. Was it a fluke? I tried again. Ha! There it was again. The Single Raised Eyebrow (SRE). I had liftoff!  But who could I tell? Certainly not my mother. I shared my discovery with my twin. She tried. No luck. It seemed this was to be my own inherited trait.  

This quirky anomaly morphed into being able to wiggle my right ear at will. Only the right. That had entertainment value and is still a fun icebreaker. 

But the single raised eyebrow (SRE) has served me well for decades. When I was teaching, I developed the use of SRE with my young munchkins. The murmured name, the single raised eyebrow and slight shake of the head. Cease and desist, please. Followed by a slight smile or wink when compliance was achieved. 

SRE is effective in dealing with adults who may be difficult people. Many people indicate surprise or doubt with the double eyebrows. A paltry attempt. But the SRE can instantly signal a hmmm look with an I doubt that message.

In an email post from TUT (The Universe Talks) I discovered my top trending use for SRE.  “In case they look at you funny, when you tell them of your loftiest dreams, desires, and a beautiful dream vacation home, all you have to do is turn your head sideways, raise an eyebrow, and slowly say, “I… have… connections. “ Because I do.

I love this use of the SRE. Even though I know I have many cheerleaders in my life, sometimes people will give me a look or fling a phrase my way that is intended to keep me “safe,” aka inert/stagnant, or the assassinator of dreams “don’t make waves.” Using the SRE for the “I have connections” message is most deliciously gratifying.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

Meet Each Day

My Extraordinary Friends

I have close friends who welcome each day with optimism, in spite of aging quirks that crop up here and there, and often overcoming some pretty serious challenges. The quirks started with me after I hit 70, forcing me to finally label myself at the “latter part of middle age.” Things like wrinkles, leg cramps, permanent “laugh lines,” are all parts of me in my aging. More serious events like severe cases of shingles or a stroke can whisper to me to hold onto resentment at these unasked for changes, and fall into the “why me?”

Tools, aka Weapons, to Fight the Bruises, Blues, Blahs

But… I have weapons to fight the lure of mental atrophy:

Self-care: Watch for HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Or just plain peckish. Or really mad/scared.

Observe: I think of our neighbor who, most days, gets up, dresses quite stylishly, and takes a slow walk down our hill and up again. She’s 98.

Bring the outside world in: My email brings me positive stories from Daily Good, BOTWC (Because of Them We Can), TUT (The Universe Talks), and Maria Popova’s Marginalian supplying a daily dose of optimism and cultural criticisms that satisfy my intellectual curiosity, examples of compassion, thoughtful playing with words, and small and large successes and kindness in our society. I figure what I focus on is bound to be repeated. 

My husband shares interesting stories that he gleans from his daily reading of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other online papers. Recently he sent this from The New York Times:

At 116, She Has Outlived Generations of Loved Ones. But Her Entire Town Has Become Family

“When the nation’s oldest person has a birthday, a California community makes sure to celebrate. Edith Ceccarelli is the oldest known person in the United States and the second oldest on Earth. She has lived through two World Wars, the advent of the Ford Model T — and the two deadliest pandemics in American history.”

Now that’s extraordinary. What will stay with me longer than the town’s events to celebrate her, was the bit about her dancing partner passing away when she had passed her 100th birthday. She put an ad in the paper for a new dance partner so she could keep dancing. Radical optimism.

Some Reasons to Celebrate Life

  • My friend of 57 years and I laughed on the phone as we reminisced about escapades in New York City when we thought nothing of dancing late into the night and went off to work the next day filled with energy.
  • When our neighbor brings an offering of her homemade chocolate chip cookies to us – “still warm,” for no reason other than she’s a gem of a neighbor, I am filled with gratitude.
  • I look at my husband’s face as he reads or snoozes and am aware, once again, that I love him more deeply than I did 35 years ago.
  • Splashes of color that provide a natural kaleidoscope in a January sunrise in Arizona fill me with awe.
  • And when I’m listening to the masterful, whimsical lyrics of Pink Martini’s “Hold On Little Tomato,” I just have to get up and dance.
  • These and so many little and big things make it easy, fun, and wonderful to greet each day.

How did you meet the day today?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

This Brand New Year-2024

January Slipped Below the Horizon

The Christmas tree is packed away for the 16th time outliving its 10-year guarantee. Thank you cards are done. I’m  curbing my extreme disappointment that my creative gift package that went out to my beautiful great-nieces was a victim of porch pirates. and blessing on my nieces who graciously accepted this downturn of Christmas fate. 

I only found one small decoration that missed the de-Christmasing around our house.

“Are you sure everything is away?”

“Yes, yes, I told you a thousand times, we’re done…” Oops.

Christmas is in my rearview mirror and I’m looking ahead. Writing 2024 on documents is almost automatic. Despite the rollercoaster of economics, abuse of language, natural and national events that disrupt lives, and a sad focus on doom and gloom from some media sites, I find small kindnesses and generous giving that carry a big  impact.

The Piano 

A Hospital Visit

Very early in January I was visiting a friend at Tucson Medical Center. If you’ve not been there for one reason or another, it’s big. I parked in the West Parking lot, walked down two flights, around the corner and into the lobby. The walk to my destination was long but hallways are decorated with very attractive prints and paintings. Nice idea to set a pleasant tone. 

After navigating a maze of hallways and turns, I found the Cardiac Unit way over on the Eastside and my friend’s room.

After my visit I reversed directions and headed back to the West entrance. As I got near the lobby I heard some really nice piano music. 

Great idea, I thought, as people enter or exit, they’ll hear music playing over the sound system. The music was so smooth … and live.

A man was playing the piano that was over in the corner of the lobby, up against the wall. His back was to me, which I thought was a shame. You should be center court. 

The music was lovely; not jazzy, not classical. It was kind of dreamy, notes rippling up and down in harmony.

I veered away from the exit door and went over by the piano. The guy was kind of hunched over, but very relaxed. After my visit, mixed with happiness at being able to see my friend and anxiety for him, this piano music was a perfect remedy for me. 

“That is lovely,” I said. The guy glanced up at me but kept rippling. “Do you work here? Are you the piano man?”

 “Oh no,” he said turning a bit to face me. “I’m just taking my break and I like to play the piano.”

“You’re really good.”

“Well, thank you so much.” He smiled a wide smile and turned back and started playing again. 

Thank you, piano man.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing, Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.

3 Big Ideas of Writing Advice

Early in my writing career, (1996) Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way  was one of my favorite books – quotes, creative affirmation, and the Morning Pages. 

Write

Big Idea #1   Morning Pages

Morning Pages inspired me. So that’s how you do it. Get up even earlier than I already did for my teaching job. I was also motivated, so I did it. 

My kitchen nook was cozy, lit by the spring sunrise. I loved writing each day and certainly did more than the recommended three pages a day – for a while. Soon this schedule became a “have to” instead of a “want to.” I tapered, then wrote occasionally, then I abandoned it.

I read about writers who got up at 5:00 AM. every single day – even weekends – and wrote for hours. Sounded like suffering to me. But somewhere the idea of sustained writing stuck. I just didn’t like to write all alone early in the morning. 

Here’s what still works for me in 2024: You don’t have to write every day to be a “writer.” A daily schedule may not be for you. But you do have to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or voice to tape, and get something down, i.e., written. 

B.I.C.

                                                                                                  

Big Idea #2    B.I.C. 

Part A:  Make a 24” X 18” sign with large, bold letters B I C.  “Butt In Chair” Tack it up where you’ll see it. Sit down quite close to your writing area. Write. 

Part B:  Commit to a specific schedule for 7, or 10, or 14 days. “I will write five pages every morning.” “I will write every other day for four hours.” Keep a log. There’s nothing like seeing it in “black and white” to keep you honest. If it works, renew your commitment; if not, devise a new one.  

Part C:  Acknowledge that you wrote something. To your group, to yourself. Share your habit of writing with others. Have them join you. Brag. “I wrote 1000 words this morning.” Share your writing – one on one, at open mics, storytelling events, conferences. Writing can be solitary but support and affirmation from others is like an energy smoothie, minus the calories. 

Be in the company of writers 

Big Idea #3   Join a writing group. 

One that writes together, or one that critiques (with care), or one that shares tips, or prompts. Be in the company of dedicated writers. Steer clear of dabblers. I commit to one day a week with my Eastside Writing Room colleagues. Minimum of 1 ½  hours, sometimes it becomes 3. That’s a long BIC. 

Pre-Covid we established the habit of gathering weekly for two hours at a host’s home. No phone, no interruptions. State your intention for that day. Write. It was a tiny bit social and a whole lot of writing. I set aside an additional morning each week for more creative writing and another afternoon or evening for the business of writing. 

Covid did not stop us. We Zoomed each Tuesday for 40 minutes, each of us sharing our intention for that day’s writing. I think because our two-hour habit had been established, it was not that difficult to continue to write on our own after the Zoom time. Post-pandemic we continue to Zoom each Tuesday with each writer sharing their intention for that day. We added in-person meetings plus Zoom once a month. I still separate my creative writing and the business of writing times. Not so much in the evening these days.

About once a month, I find I’ll write for hours every morning for an entire week – because my writing process has had me pre-writing while walking around, scribbling snippets on scraps of paper, dictating ideas to my phone, or on line at Safeway. Pretty soon I just have to sit down – BIC – and write. I’m a writer. 

Check out our recent Eastside Writing Room successes after accumulating those Tuesday hours of writing.  “EWR Celebrating Us -The Eastside Writing Room” Oct. 20, 2023

Looking for a writing group? Check us out. Eastside Writing Room -Ethel Lee-Miller

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, semi-retired from coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, 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.