Friday, December 30, 2011

Flypaper

“If you take a book with you on a journey, an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in the place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it… yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”  ~Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lives Left Behind

When the Willard Psychiatric Center in New York closed in 1995 after operating for 126 years as a state mental hospital, 400 suitcases were discovered in the attic. This luggage had belonged to men and women who were involuntarily admitted to the facility and, as the presence of the suitcases suggests, never left.

Opening the steamer trunks, cardboard boxes, and suitcases of people who lived 75 to 100 years ago revealed lives that hospitalization interrupted, and in many cases ended. The contents included letters, photographs, diaries, books, clothing, and religious items. There was evidence of careers: nurses’ collars, an army uniform, needlework, and photography equipment. The suitcases speak to their owners’ aspirations, accomplishments, and community connections, as well as to their loss and isolation.

An exhibit was created that sheds light on the history of mental health care in America through a series of these very personal images and stories, which tell of the many things that brought people there: poverty, displacement, physical illness, loss of loved ones, and guilt, and the many ways in which the psychiatric system failed those arbitrarily swept up in it.

The exhibit haunts me still. They were human beings not so different from me. “That could've happened to me,” I kept thinking. And that’s the point. What a fine line there is between mental anguish and mental illness. Stripped of their choice, voice, and freedom, we’re left with the contents of their suitcases to learn of their humanity and the lives they left behind.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Snowdust


There is something magical about the first snowfall of the year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Autumn Bliss


"Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the Autumn tree." 

~Emily Bronte

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Commas Save Lives

Today is National Punctuation Day, and I’m prepared to spend a good portion of it promoting why this day deserves more attention! Each year I create a blog post and plan an activity to celebrate this special day. 
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Here’s an example of the immense responsibility and vital role of our lowly comma in direct address situations.
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Yes, commas can save lives!
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For those who agree that standards of punctuation in our world are abysmal, please share what you'll do to mark this great day. Give punctuation the respect it deserves. Share your bad signage! Spread the word! Save the world!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

No. 973


In 1902, the first T. rex was unearthed on a Montana hillside. It took over three years of digging to get the skeleton out of the ground. It was shipped to the New York Museum amid much ado at a time when dinosaur bones were like Egyptian mummies—mysteries that dazzled both the public and scientists. And no one had ever seen anything like this.

The scientists at the New York Museum registered the bones with the number 973. Then they put the pieces together and officially named the huge beast Tyrannosaurus rex, the Tyrant King. It went on display in the American Museum of Natural History in 1906. The crowds lined up for blocks. What no one knew then was that the skeleton was incomplete.

Decades later, a young researcher found the errant bone in a museum cabinet and recognized the identification number. The rib bone was returned to the skeleton of the first T. rex, who is now complete at last.

I’ve recently unearthed a piece of myself that I hadn’t been aware of—my own No. 973, if you will. A friend opened up a “cabinet” for me, and I was surprised to find a missing piece of myself there. It fell into place easily and fit so well; it seems I should have noticed its absence long ago or, at least, toiled to dig it up.

No crowds lined up to see, and there was no publicity. No charged air of anticipation greeted this newly found “piece.” But I feel more "me." Complete? No, but certainly a work in progress. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lake Michigan Reflections


"The sky broke like an egg into full sunset 
and the water caught fire."  

~Pamela Hansford Johnson

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forgettery

A friend shared an intriguing insight with me recently about how growth, creativity, and learning are directly tied to our ability to forget. When our minds are cluttered with ready-made assumptions, they block the questions that lead to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Forgetting what we know—at the appropriate time—can open the door to new insight.

An example was given of an exercise that involves making paper airplanes. A line is drawn at the back of a room, and participants are given sheets of paper and five minutes to make as many airplanes as they can to fly past the line. The one with the most across the line is the winner. 

The most common approach, of course, is to fold the sheets into conventional paper-airplane shapes. With the only criterion that it must “fly” past the line, however, the winning design is almost always paper that has been crumpled into a ball.   

While some are limited by what they think a paper airplane should look like, others conveniently “forget” that and are open to more creative thinking.

It got me pondering… What conventional wisdom am I relying on? What would happen if I forgot the obvious answers that spring to mind, and searched for new ones? What assumptions can I let go of? Can I grow and succeed by forgetting? Wait, what was the question? 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just Add Water

I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of business writing lately and have run into the proverbial “writer’s block” more than once over the last few weeks. Sometimes I need that good pivotal idea or a turn of phrase, and sometimes I just need a mental reset button to still the commotion in my mind and shake it loose so something fresh can fall out.

I remember hearing that prolific screenwriter Aaron Sorkin takes up to eight showers a day to help jump-start his writing. If things aren’t going well on the writing front, he gets into the shower, then into different clothes and tries again. It gives him a burst of energy and focus that helps him get down to the task at hand.

Curious, I tried this last week and it worked! A quick, convenient, effective do-over to get me writing again. And that started me thinking… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could choose a do-over at any time and in any area of our life simply by taking a shower? How nice it would be to have that option. Just add water!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Trillium Magic

May is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Michigan. And one of its most glorious signs of spring is Trillium Season. From the moment the first one is spotted on the forest floor, I hold my breath, anticipating the incredible transformation of landscape over the next few days. 

Before the trees are even fully leafed out, the woods seem to explode with a spectacular carpet of trillium. They blossom in unison, called out of winter-sleep in the earth, and are left alone to flourish, a protected wildflower that is illegal to pick or uproot.

It’s the profusion of these wild members of the orchid family that takes my breath away. Even the name—trillium—is so lovely, I don’t even need to see the flowers. My sense of wonder is restored by magic in May.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Art of Coping

In 1941, over 100,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were forced from their homes into camps located in desolate inland areas of the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Their crime? They looked like the enemy.

Bringing only what they could carry, the detainees made the bleak camps ‘home’ by gathering scrap materials to build furniture and tools and, later, for remarkable arts and crafts. In the worst possible circumstances, the response of this quietly courageous people was to rise above it and create truly beautiful things.

What makes this story so incredible is that there were few professional artists in the camps. Most of the detainees had not created arts or crafts before their internment—and they never would again. Upon release, they went back to being fishermen, doctors, shop-owners, and farmers.

The explosion of creativity that resulted during this dark chapter in American history is now called the art of gaman, a Japanese word that means to bear the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience. In January of this year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosted an exhibition honoring both art and artists called The Art of Gaman.   

It makes me wonder: Does the ability to create beautiful things exist in all of us? What do I have inside of me? Is my response to adverse and painful conditions to cope with courage and creativity? That’s a question worth pondering. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Totem

On a sober-gray and inhospitable Fall day in Indiana almost a decade ago, I met a plant I’d never seen before. Upon hearing its name, I found out I’d never even heard of it… the Oak Leaf Hydrangea.

I was intrigued by the enormous blossoms and the foliage shaped like the red and white oak leaves in my hometown in Michigan. Rustic, wild, more like shrubbery than flowers, I loved it immediately. And I decided right then and there, standing on a stranger’s porch, that I would one day live in a house with an Oak Leaf Hydrangea.

Fast-forward…

Last Fall, my husband and I were house-shopping. We found a house that was perfect for us; it was, in fact, everything we were looking for, and we bought it. While moving in, I took a stroll around the property. There, clustered together on the side of the house, stood not one but four large and regal Oak Leaf Hydrangea bushes covered in blooms. Like curious neighbors, they clustered in their botanical excess outside my new office window, vying for a peek at the pale bipeds moving into this house they adorned.

A plant-knowledgeable friend estimated from their size that they were about 10 years old. So while I was standing in Indiana determined to one day live in a house with an Oak Leaf Hydrangea, someone in Michigan was planting several outside a house I would one day call home. That’s synchronicity at its best. And it tells me I’m right where I need to be.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday's Cancelled

She’s wearing her prettiest clothes this morning, the kind of white excess only Nature can pull off.

What is it about snowstorms that excites me so? Is it because they so effectively interrupt my routine? Is it because they unexpectedly release me from my commitments and expectations? Maybe it’s because they temporarily excuse me from my schedule. This isn’t something I have to explain to anyone; there seems to be universal understanding and sharing of this justification.

As the snow lays down an extra layer of silence, soundproofing my world, I walk happily around my house, freed by Nature from demands that await me in more moderate weather. My heart is joyful in a forced respite in a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan in January… the gift of snowflakes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heartsong

"If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come."
~Chinese Proverb