Sunday, January 10, 2021

Does Community Require Proximity?

Before giving 2020 its well deserved send-off, I feel I must wrap up the loose ends of my word for the past year—community. I got off to a good start with my posts last year, but then…well, you know… the pandemic.

Because this ill-fated year wreaked havoc with my communities, I didn’t get around to writing about some of the very important ones of which I’m a part. They each deserve their own post, but for the sake of time, I’ll cover all of them here as briefly as possible.

My Reading Community: I’ve belonged to the Circle of Friends Book Club for over twenty years and have grown and learned so much through this group of extraordinary ladies. By recommending books I would’ve never read on my own, they have broadened my interests and increased my knowledge and understanding on a variety of subjects. I’ve blogged about them many times, so my regular readers will know they are also fantastic cooks. I believe the meals we’ve shared are partly responsible for the club’s longevity, but it’s more than the scrumptious food. During the time we eat together, members discuss any number of experiences, both public and personal, joyful and sad. In his book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster states, “… whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion … an act of sharing and peace… eating with another is a way of saying, ‘I’m with you, I like you, we form a community together.’” This is certainly true of our book club. The pandemic has disrupted our times of communion but hopefully hasn’t ended them. I look forward to our next opportunity to break bread together.

Circle of Friends, circa 2018

My Writing Community: I participate in several writing groups, but the one in which I feel the greatest sense of community is my critique group, The Inklings. Around 2004/5 a teacher friend invited me to join her writing group, which we subsequently christened The Inklings. (We had no inkling at the time, C. S. Lewis’ writing group had already claimed that name.) Throughout the years, members have come and gone for various reasons, but a core has remained. Through their encouragement and tutelage, I have learned so much about the elusive art of writing. But far more than being a source through which to improve my writing, The Inklings—like my book club—have become family. Once again, social distancing has impeded our chances to meet physically. I can’t wait for our next gathering at the lake for the fun, the food, and the cut-throat competition of Word Wars!

The intrepid Inklings! 
(We have another member sadly no picture of her at the present.)

My Family: I’ve referred to the previous two groups as “family,” and indeed the connections are as close as possible without sharing the same genes. Explaining the special relationship that exists among blood relatives is difficult, but maybe this true story can help. (Well, “true” as I remember it.)

When I was seven, my family lived in a neighborhood teeming with children. As with all kids, our playing would often break out in arguments. On one such occasion, my sister Elaine and I were playing with neighborhood girls, when a squabble developed—probably over something critical like who was to be “it” or whose toe touched the line while playing hopscotch. Anyway, when the feuding factions gathered on opposite sides of the street, it turned out I was allied with the neighborhood girls and Elaine was standing across from us. Alone. The other girls began to mumble. Elaine was bossy . . . always had to have her own way . . . always thought she was right. While I issued identical invectives on a daily basis, something just didn’t sit right with me for them to be doing it. I began to cry. 

From her post across the street, Elaine hurled her own accusations. “What did y’all do to her?” Just as I had no problem with my own complaints about my sister, she had no compunction about her own frequent affronts which resulted in my crying. But I think we both knew intrinsically that, against outside forces, family stuck together. I crossed the street to join her.

There is truth to the adage “blood is thicker than water.” Despite the distances that separate us and our sometimes differing opinions, I’ve always known family provides me a safe place to land when times get rough or uncertain. They’ll always have my back. I pray you have such a community.

My sister and I had no reservations
about dishing out grief to each other.
But woe to the outsider who attempted it!

My Faith Community: I’ve posted many times about different aspects of my faith, so I’m focusing here on one of the ways it provides me with community. I belong to a church of about two thousand members. While gathering with a large group of people—many of whom I don’t know personally—can be inspirational and affirming, it is within the smaller groups I feel my greatest sense of connection. Those are the people who know me, who encourage me, who hold me accountable. Almost twenty years ago, a few ladies and I started  meeting once a month for a Bible study. However, most of us were working then, so difficulties with time and availability to teach made those meetings challenging. We eventually came to the conclusion that the larger church provided us with many opportunities for Bible study. What we wanted was the opportunity to relax, have fun, and enjoy each other’s company. So we decided our gatherings would simply be sharing a meal—communion! (You’re probably noticing that food plays a large part in my communities. 😆) As with The Inklings, the membership has altered slightly through the years, but a core group remains. Covid limited our physical gatherings this year but not our enthusiasm and desire for connecting with each other. Via texting and emails, we’ve been able to support each other and lift up each other in prayer. But it will be so much more  encouraging and fun when we can again meet in person.

The faith community on which I can always depend.
Sadly, we're now missing sweet Anne, who was such
a beloved member of our group. 
(Shout out to Marie, our de facto historian, for this photo!)

When I first posted about community last January, I posed this question: Does community require physical proximity? I wasn’t sure of the answer at the time, but in writing this post I realized that while physical gathering might not be required, it most assuredly is preferred and desired. Technology can help us make it through this challenging time, but it certainly is no substitute for being together in person. When we make it through this pandemic—and all the other craziness of the moment—I know we’ll return to our communities with a much stronger appreciation for the joy that being with each other brings. 

So now I bid an enthusiastic adieu to 2020. On to 2021 and my brand new word! (I’ll reveal it in my next post.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

More Shiny Things

Even after an ice storm, 
shiny things exist.

This fall, as Bill and I departed for a trip, an ice storm was being predicted. I knew it would most likely kill my annuals and finish off tender perennials for the season. But I also believed even as that cold snap removed a lot of greenery from my yard, it would trigger the resplendent colors of fall. By the time we returned, our trees would be bedecked in their autumn regalia. 

Of course, this being 2020, that cold snap morphed into full-fledged ice-mageddon. Bill and I rode out the storm in a condo in Virginia (talk about good timing!), while a helpful neighbor kept us abreast of developments at home: ice-laden limbs crashing onto lawns and roofs; decades-old tree trunks splitting as if cleaved by an icy maul; ice coatings on power lines depriving many of electricity. And if all that weren’t tragic enough, the hateful ice rendered two-year-old Emma’s tree swing inoperable. 

Returning at night from our trip, we saw in the car’s headlights great bundles of branches my industrious neighbors had already gathered and piled along the curbs. My heart sank as I determined there would be no foliage fantasy to
enjoy this autumn. It wouldn’t be the first fall that Oklahoma trees went straight from green to brown to bare, but it’s always disappointing when that happens.

On our first morning home, I woke early (to vote) and expected to see nothing but dead leaves littering the ground and jagged limbs hanging from stripped trees. To my great relief, I discovered the storm had done some damage but it hadn’t turned my entire community into an apocalyptic wasteland. While the trees in our own yard suffered heavy blows, elsewhere determined leaves clung bravely to undamaged branches. In the sun, the leaves glowed in brilliant tones of gold, orange, and red. The fact they’d survived the storm made them all the more beautiful and appreciated. Shiny things indeed.

While the flowering plum in our
yard didn't fare very well ...
... in other areas trees put on spectacular shows.

And in Hafer Park, the storm hadn't
damaged my favorite tree!

On a walk, I attempted to capture the fall splendor surrounding me. I stood in different spots and angled my camera this way and that for the best exposure. In the process of doing that, a thought occurred to me: In order for things to be shiny, they need light. 

As we approach the end of a year that has cast more than its rightful share of shadows, let’s try to cast sparks of light--a smile, a compliment, a word of encouragement--that will illuminate shiny things for others.

PS Thinking I'd completed this post, I took another morning walk in the park with no intention of snapping more pictures. But . . . I came upon this "shiny thing" and couldn't resist. I know she'll make you smile!

Say hello to Sadie, an
adorable poodle/English sheep-
dog mix. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

New Tricks


Photo credit: MarlyneArt on Pixabay

“Make a trailer for your book,” she said. “It will be easy. It will be fun.” 

 And then, with a few clicks on her computer, the presenter shared an impressive collection of videos she’d created and posted to YouTube. Granted, they weren’t the stuff of Spielberg, but they were good. And they created interest in her books, which, after all, is the ultimate goal of a trailer. 

I was hooked. I didn’t know her exact age but figured it was in the vicinity of mine. Also, my friend Shel Harrington—who admittedly is younger than I—is fearless in using social media. While I was contemplating a trailer, she’d already created her wildly popular Fat-Bottom-Fifties Get Fierce Facebook Page and a podcast. She also had a Facebook Live post in the works. And so, inspired by the can-do spirit of these two ladies, I took the plunge. 

Before I even started, I told myself to be patient. I had a few Keynote presentations under my belt but not with all the bells and whistles I wanted to add to this project. I knew it would be a learning experience, but it couldn’t be that hard, right? 

Well . . . 

Without going into a lot of detail, let me report that after endless hours of writing a blurb, locating photos (free ones, as this was a low-budget production), and listening to myriad clips of theme music and tinkling wind chimes, I was ready to assemble the presentation. 

That might’ve been a lot easier if I hadn’t had to watch fifty YouTube tutorials, install two computer updates, figure out Dropbox, and learn to fix a glitch on the YouTube upload—all the while with those *&%# wind chimes tinkling maddeningly in the background. 

But all’s well that ends well. I didn’t pull out a lot of hair (which I can ill afford to spare) or lose too much sleep in the process, and I learned lessons that should make my next presentation or trailer much easier. I’m pleased with my end result. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad for a first try. You can judge for yourself in the link below. 

Old dogs might require a bit more time and patience to learn new tricks, but the good news is that they have more time and patience. And there is another advantage old dogs enjoy: Perfection isn’t nearly as important as it used to be. 

Whether you’re an old dog or a lively pup, what new tricks are you learning?

Check out my trailer here

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Jayber Crow and Contemplations on Community

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry was published in 2000, but it has just recently appeared on my reading radar, thanks to my daughter first and then a couple of friends. Fellow reader Cheryl, who shares with me a love for books with a “strong sense of community,” says Jayber Crow offers  much observation and wisdom on the subject. Since community is my focus word for 2020, I determined to give the book a read.

Jayber Crow, the eponymous barber of Port William, Kentucky, does indeed express a deep love and affection for his tiny community—the one that called to him as a lonely young man. Upon first arriving in Port William, he “… felt at home. There is more to this than I can explain. I just felt at home.” Years later, the time he has spent investing in the people, institutions, and well-being of the community have enabled him to verbalize his belongingness. “What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection…. It was a community always disappointed in itself, disappointing its members, always trying to contain its divisions and gentle its meanness, always failing and yet always preserving a sort of will toward goodwill. I knew that, in the midst of all the ignorance and error, this was a membership…”  

Amid both the accepting and unreceptive residents of Port William, Jayber is able to find grace in and express gratitude for both the tragic and joyful events of his life. He has lived through the Great Depression as a foster child, an institutionalized orphan, and then a young man forced way too young to be on his own. While he could’ve very well allowed those hardships to define him, he draws on the strength and blessings of community to build a contented—though not fairy tale—existence for himself. With the help of generous friends, he fashions a life mindful of the grace that God through Christ has extended toward him. In return, he strives to extend generosity and grace toward others. “As for Troy Chatham, whose enemy I was for so many years … I have forgiven him too, even him…”

I read books for a variety of reasons: information, inspiration, insights, instruction. I also read for entertainment and escape.  Jayber Crow provided all of these. It taught me history—in particular about the years from 1917 through the 1970s in rural Kentucky and about life during the depression and world wars. I garnered insights on land conservation, human nature, and religion. I developed a greater appreciation for the natural world and, of course, community. Jayber’s yarns about the happenings of Port William and the hijinks of its inhabitants entertained me and elicited many LOL moments.

Mostly, though, this book inspired me. In this current time, when angst and uncertainty abound, Jayber Crow reminded me I have much to be thankful for, not the least of which are the communities of which I’m a part. I don’t live in a sleepy, closely connected hamlet like Port William, but I’m a part of several communities that offer me opportunities for learning, sharing, laughing, worshiping, growing. Communities that accept me and allow me to feel at home. Like Port William, they have their shortcomings, but that’s okay. I do, too. I wouldn’t feel at home amid perfection.

If you’re looking for encouragement during these difficult times (and don’t mind if a story meanders a bit), I highly recommend Jayber Crow

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Keep Looking for the Shiny Things

A few months ago, my niece shared a podcast with me in which Leif Enger, one of my favorite authors, discusses the value of story. This entertaining and inspiring podcast is geared mainly toward writers and writing, but the advice he gives also applies to the way we should approach life in general. I urge you to listen to the podcast (link below) to get the full message and benefit. All of his suggestions are excellent, but “look for the shiny things” especially resonated with me. 

I’m a longtime lover of shiny things. I like sparkly jewelry, twinkling Christmas lights, fireworks . . . anything with glitter. I also like the figurative shiny things that don’t necessarily glow on their own but spark embers of joy within me. Practicing social distancing has enabled me to see shiny things abound in my life.  Please allow me to share some recent ones with you.

So many of my shiny things come to me while I'm walking I don't know why I don't do more of it. On an early spring walk through a local park, I saw these water park canopies peeking above greening treetops. As yellow tape barricaded silent playgrounds, the colorful canopies reminded me that at some point parks would be full of life again and kids could shout and play and splash in the summer sun. 

 On another walk, I came upon this lilac bush. I wish I could add a scratch-n-sniff feature to this picture, as the scent was as lush as the blooms.

Another day, I ventured from my regular haunts with a friend, and discovered not only beautiful landscapes but also wildlife.

A graceful crane taking flight and  . . . 

                                                            goslings! Can there be anything cuter except maybe . . .

a toddler practicing her running 


                                    or her trike riding?

My little neighbor works hard
to keep up with her older brother.
And don't you love her 
shiny silver helmet?!

Shiny things can be in your own front yard. I have a theory that God knew we'd be a little stressed this spring, so He made it especially glorious. I've had this peony bush for several years, and this spring it has twice as many buds as ever before. Every day--every hour--I check it to see if new blossoms have appeared.

Shiny things come via the internet. Since my grandsons are in another state, they sent me a picture of their new pet, a bearded dragon named Ron. Never thought a lizard would qualify as a shiny thing in my life, but he has such a great smile I can't help but like him. As the saying goes: "Never say never."

Other shiny things that came to me this past week: homemade apple bread from a friend, an unexpected thank you letter with a gift card, an email from a writer friend telling me she still thinks of my book from time to time and it helped her "recognize the humanity of people" in prison. Things just don't get any shinier than that!

Now that social distancing restrictions are easing, at least for the summer, friends on social media are asking how we’ll continue to apply the knowledge we’ve acquired when things get back to normal—whatever that may be. It occurs to me that the best practices for surviving social distancing are also the best practices for surviving life at any time. Personally, I’ll keep looking for the shiny things. I hope you do, too.

Here is the link to the podcast. Give it a listen. I promise it will be a shiny thing in your day. And I would love to learn about the shiny things in your life. Please share them in the comments below or on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Community in the Time of Covid-19 (Part II)

I was working at my kitchen table recently when a spring storm blew in with an impressive display of rain and wind. For all its bravado, the storm was short lived, and in its wake came stillness—the proverbial calm after the storm. I looked out my patio doors, and the almost eerie serenity brought to mind the above Bible verse. 

I often call on this verse to calm me—to still me—during life’s metaphorical storms. But on that morning of social distancing, an irony occurred to me: What happens when stillness creates the storm?   

How do we respond when we’re cut off—stilled—from our day-to-day routines and activities? From our physical interactions with friends and co-workers? When these disconnects occur, maybe the challenge becomes one of coping successfully with the stillness forced upon us.

Below are some lessons I’ve learned or suggestions I’ve gleaned from others during this time of enforced stillness:
  • Embrace it. Don’t rush to fill the downtime with alternate activities. After a week with the grandsons, I can fully appreciate the havoc closing schools has wreaked upon households with school-aged children. Of all the advice I’ve read concerning coping with this disruption, I think the wisest has been to chill. No, you don’t want your kiddos’ brains turning to rice pudding, but neither should you feel pressured to provide a never-ending supply of fun, stimulating, mind-enhancing activities. Maybe this is a good time to let kids be
    kids—to let them play outside, come up with creative ways to entertain themselves (without killing each other), learn to be alone for a while. Trust me, there’ll be plenty of time and opportunities for them to catch up academically when school resumes. 
    This advice goes for adults as well. No sooner had we gone into social distancing mode than I received numerous notices about online meetings. I’m grateful for the technology that has allowed us to remain connected and have taken advantage of it in many instances. But when I began stressing about arranging times and figuring ways to “attend” these meetings, I came to a decision: Don’t. I decided to use this time to refresh, read, write, learn, catch up on things I’ve been putting off. When the Covid-19 threat has been contained, the world will still go on and no one will care if I missed a ZOOM meeting.
  • Girl, in addition to your hands, wash your face…your hair….
    Change your clothes. Yes, I laugh at those memes about changing from day pajamas into night pajamas, and I’m not opposed to an occasional day off from grooming routines.But the operative word here is ocassional. There’s a limit to how often dishevelment should occur and how long it should last. Personally, when I’m reasonably groomed, I feel better and I don’t feel trapped in my house (even if I am). I’m not talking about movie-star make-up or fashion magazine attire. Just be clean and presentable enough to maintain your self-respect and the respect of others when you go out in public (like to the mailbox or the trash cart). 
  • Keep in contact with friends and family. Social media is fine for casual/virtual friends, but that doesn’t replace personal phone calls and messaging to those who are closest to us.
  • And speaking of social media, don’t overdo it. I happen to think it’s a great social outlet for times like this, but keep the time spent with that community in moderation.
  • Keep moving. This might appear contradictory to embracing
    stillness, but I’m a big believer in balance, so make time for exercise. There are online exercise classes for almost any age
    or any stage of health. Check out my yoga instructor Kara's Youtube classes at Champagne and Yoga. Go for a walk. Now is a wonderful time to practice mindful walking--the perfect opportunity to move your feet and still your mind at the same time.  
  • Last and most importantly, in the turmoil of the enforced stillness, carve out time to establish genuine, inner stillness. And during that time don’t forget to reflect on the second part of the Psalm—“… know that I am God.” The ultimate goal of being still is to be in community with God and to know—yes, know—He exists and He is in control. 
If you have suggestions for coping with the present "stillness," I'd love to hear them. Please share in the comments below or on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Community in the Time of Covid-19 (Part I)

Back in January when I chose community as my focus word for 2020, little did I suspect what significance it would have two months later. As I wrote that post and considered the nature of community, one of the questions that came to me was does it require physical proximity. 

Like many of you, in the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself physically cut off from  communities I hold dear. Church services have gone online and activities cancelled; my gym has temporarily closed; gatherings with writing groups have been cancelled as well as doctor, dentist, and *gasp* beauty appointments. A trip to visit family has been postponed. But one community I haven’t been separated from is that of social media. 
I began forming my personal social media community in 2009 when I joined Facebook. I ventured into the unfamiliar world of social media with much trepidation, having no inkling that eleven years later (that long?!) my Facebook connection would prove invaluable. 

Over those years, my attitude toward Facebook has been mercurial—sometimes being immensely grateful for the friendships both virtual and real I’ve made there; other times—like during election years—becoming irritated to the point of withdrawing from it entirely. (Which beat the alternative of throwing my phone across the room.) But what I’ve come to realize about Facebook and other forms of social media is that, like many things, it is a tool. It can be used for building or destroying, depending on the intention of the person wielding it. Through careful gathering, culling, and scrolling, I’ve managed to create and maintain an encouraging community over the years. 

Although it will never replace my need for physical connection, I’ve enjoyed my social media community and never more than in the past few days. It has kept me informed, inspired, and entertained. (What can be more entertaining than a few thousand toilet paper or home-schooling memes?) It has also helped me maintain  connection with those communities I can’t be in physical contact with, such as my faith and writing communities.
From the ridiculous ...

to the sublime, FB memes can
entertain and/or encourage.
For beautiful and inspiring memes and
 messages, check out my friend Annette's
Facebook page, Squigglyword.

If you’re part of a social media community, I encourage you to use it in a positive and responsible way during this time ... well, all the time for that matter. If you’re not on Facebook or some other platform, now might be a good time to experiment. It might not be a good fit for you, but for many people, it provides much needed connection. And when close encounters aren't available, it provides community.