Reevaluate the Good Ole Days

As far as I can remember there have been people who touted the “good ole days” as the best of days ever. Everything from fried chicken to motor vehicles was better in the good ole days. I used to laugh and remind my grandmother that outdoor toilets and oil lamps were part of the good ole days. Of course, my point was the good ole days probably weren’t as great as she made them out to be. (That was immaturity on my part.) The pandemic has caused many of us to look back and lament the good ole days with the same fervency that my grandmother ascribed to the years of long ago. This gave me the thought that I should evaluate the good ole days for myself as I joined the chorus of those singing the praise of the “good ole days.”

In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, socio-economic downturn, civic unrest, and political propaganda, its easy to look back to the so-called better days. Days when everyone who wanted to work had a job. Days when we could whet our appetites with whatever type of entertainment we preferred. Days when purchases didn’t require deliberation. Days when our political opinions were just another component of general conversation. Days when fear did not tarnish our faith that bigger, brighter, better days were ahead of us. Yes, the good ole days when we took our freedoms and privileges for granted. Yet, I ask myself, were those days all that I thought they were? Were they as good as you thought they were?

As I reflect and consider the things I miss most, before social distancing and sheltering-in, there are some things that I would love to recover. Things like meeting my friends for brunch or planning a personal retreat at a resort or the monastery. Things like jazz at the High Museum or hot buttered popcorn at the movies. These social and personal choices were rewards for putting in a hard day’s/week’s/month’s work. I deserved a break from the rat race. I deserved to splurge every now and then for the things I wanted for myself or my loved ones. Your list may have been different from mine, but the sentiment may be the same or similar. There are components of the good ole “normal” days that we all miss and long for, and its hard to imagine that we may not be able to recapture those things. Yet, is it possible that we have gained something equally as valuable to fulfill our lives in the post-pandemic days ahead. (I’ve got to believe there will be a post-pandemic era.)

When I reevaluate the good ole days, I find there are some important insights to be gained. There were too many days when I didn’t have time to spend with the ones I love. There were long periods of time when I didn’t have meaningful conversation with those that I consider an important part of my life. There were too many times when I couldn’t and didn’t take the time to define and refine my personal goals. There were times when even my health took a backseat to my workload. There were far too many times when I moved through the day/week/month mechanically. Habitual routine was the only guiding force. In other words, everything about the good ole days wasn’t really great like outdoor toilets and lack of electricity.

The fact of the matter is when my grandma and other elders spoke about the good ole days, they rarely talked about things. They talked about relationships. They were recalling days when neighbors were really neighborly; when family was central to community; when children were the center of dreams for a better tomorrow; and when everyone had time for one another. I remember hating traveling with my aunt when she delivered her Avon orders. She wouldn’t just drop them off and collect her money; she would have conversation with every customer, asking about their family, their crops, sometimes even their pets. Every transaction was a social event and in my mine it took forever. If the pandemic has taught me nothing else, its taught me to value the time I invest in relationships.

Whatever the post-pandemic normal holds for us, I hope we will not lose the perspectives we have developed during the pandemic. I hope we’ll look back in reflection to the “good ole pandemic days” and recall how good it was to watch out for one another. I hope we’ll hold on to all the avenues we used to maintain relationships and establish new ones. I hope we won’t just return to the rat race, but we will take time for self-contemplation and self-care. In the same way that my grandmother wanted to bring aspects of the good ole days forward into modernity, I pray we will bring our community/neighborly habits forward into the new normal as well as improve upon them.

So perhaps the things we used to do because we deserved a break will become the things we do for a well-lived life. Perhaps the choices we make to vacation, retreat, socialize or enjoy entertainment will not be things we force into the schedule. Perhaps they will be planned as part of the schedule to enhance relationships and communication with those that we love. In the midst of our busyness let us not loose the lessons of the good ole days. Modern conveniences should allow us to enjoy life more, rather than increase our productivity to the point of not living.

Take the time to reevaluate the good ole days. Maintain the best parts of them regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. Stay safe, stay sane, stay in community.

We all want to live a life that matters. We all want to reach our full potential. But too often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the day-to-day. New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt wants readers to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Amazon.com

Self Talk – Negative or Positive

The other day I had quite a long talk with myself. Before you decide how crazy I am, it’s fair to say everyone talks to themselves. The real question is do you talk aloud or just in your head. I do a little of both. Lately, I’ve become more aware of where my conversations with myself are going. Some of them deal with memory such as “what’s today, Tuesday or Friday. Last week, I know I had at least two Saturdays; this is one of the curses of the pandemic. My routines used to help me keep track of the days. Other conversation are of a more personal nature such as: “When are you going to start exercising, you know you’ve gained twenty pounds,” and “You are complacent; you should be writing.”

Lately, more of my conversation has been negative – deriding myself for not being more productive, more upbeat, more social to the levels that I know I could be, more principled, more proactive. Needless to say all this negative self-talk leaves me depressed and even more lethargic than I was before I started prodding and probing myself. Like so many others, I am tired of physical distancing, nil travel opportunities, and social activities limited to my immediate family. More than that the pandemic necessities have stymied my creativity. My blog and my other projects have slowed tremendously because my favorite writing places are off limits.

Yet, I can not allow myself to continue down this road of negative self talk. It leads to depression. It leads to anger. It leads to overwhelming grief. It leads to hopelessness. The emotions that grow out of this negativity are intolerable. It has the opposite effect of it’s intent. Why do we think deriding ourselves (or others) is a motivational tool. You really can’t encourage positive behavior through ridicule and mockery (not in yourself or others). Making myself feel bad did not trigger me to feel better or to do better in the areas that troubled me.

Truth is, everyone is trying to establish workable routines and some sense of normalcy for our lives during this pandemic. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for the time it takes us to adjust to the “new normal.” All of us should be congratulated for learning to work from home or work in a nearly empty building. We could use some praise for the way we have maintained contact and social closeness while physically distancing. We should dispense some compliments for the ingenuity and creativity that has come out of the necessity to help and train others to make the best of their resources.

I’m not just talking about what we say to others; I’m also talking about what we say to ourselves. We are survivors. We are contributors. We are essential, not only as workers but as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, extended family members, neighbors, and friends. We can be proud of ourselves and tell ourselves: “I am amazing. I can do so many things. I am prepared to take the next step. I can change my circumstances. I have the resources to make a difference. Today is a new day, I can start over. Under the circumstances, I’m doing well. Its time to make some new goals. This is an opportunity to try something new.” Our self talk can be positive and motivational.

My oldest son fell through a garage window when he was in elementary school. We had just moved to Georgia during the holiday season. He received a bike for Christmas. As he was riding down the hill the brakes locked and he went airborne through the neighbors garage window. After surgery to reattach his nose and stitch up his face, he had a big Y-shaped scare on his face right beneath his eye. He was going to go to a new elementary school in our new city in January. I knew it would difficult and I knew the scare would be the object of questions and ridicule. The only thing I could thing of was to try to prepare him for both. Every morning and every night, I stood behind him as we looked in the bathroom mirror and repeated positive affirmations. These included the meaning of his name. How talented he was. How there was no shame in explaining how he got the scare. There were so many things besides his scare that defined him and it was those things that would cause him to make friends and succeed in his new school. Today he is forty-one and the big Y-shaped scare is barely visible, but learning positive self-talk has never gone away.

I had a long talk with myself the other day. I told myself: “No more negative self talk! If you want to change something, change it. If you are unhappy about something, do something about it. Give yourself a break if it doesn’t work the first time. Never be afraid to try again.” The little saying below is something I got off the internet last year to encourage my fourteen year old granddaughter. I have added it to my positive self talk as an affirmation. Maybe you can use it too.

Motivational Quote for the Classroom | Inspirational quotes for ...

Stay Positive. Stay Sane. Stay Safe!

Confronting Grief

Every day for the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about writing something for the blog, but the only thing that came to mind was the word grief. Well, of course, that’s not what I wanted to write about. Grief is depressing and I want to write something to lift people up, not bring them down. So I wrestled with myself until I gave up. Grief is on my mind, so I might as well share. As I chat with others, I found out that grief is not only on my mind, but it’s also on the mind of many others.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a counselor. I am not a life life coach. I am a writer always trying to capture a thought in print. I write from within my own heart and I write from all of my senses and experiences. So please if you need help with grief, seek a professional counselor (I do), but if you need some help putting words to your thoughts and feelings, then this may help.

My understanding of grief is that it is an emotional and mental reaction to loss, whether that loss is actual or perceived. So right now, we are living in a grieving society. People have lost their loved ones to COVID and other illnesses at a time when hospital visits and stays with family is restricted. People have lost jobs and businesses. People have lost their rituals and routines. Some have even lost their identity as it was tied to their career or their status and position in life. Children are missing their friendships. Graduates feel cheated out of their celebrations. Grief is all around us. We have been blind-sided by multiple losses, and recovery is uncertain in this far-from-normal environment.

So how do we deal with all this grief? First, we must be honest about it. Pretending we are not sadden by the events of our lives since March is only going to make it worst. When we ignore our thoughts and feeling, they have a way of showing up in our sleep patterns, our appetites, and our relationships. My husband’s biggest pet peeve is when he says, “What’s wrong?” and I say, “Nothing!” when there is obviously something wrong. We can lie with our lips, but not with our hearts. Our subconscious brain is working to solve the problem even when we are in conscious denial. Grief is a natural response. We can admit it. We can share it. We can help each other get through it when we expose its existence.

Secondly, we can release our emotions. It’s okay to cry, to pound the desk, to scream, punch a punching bag, and most importantly to discuss your feelings. Sometimes, I say, “I don’t want you to say anything just listen. I need to talk about how I feel.” We all need someone who will actively listen to us, lend us a shoulder, or simply be present with us as we go through life’s journey. When we don’t take the time to purposely express what we are feeling, it will show up at an inopportune time. We end up showing anger to someone who doesn’t deserve it, or crying uncontrollable when the occasion calls for laughter. Find a time and a place to release your emotions; to share your feelings. Others will understand. Mostly likely, they will identify during this time of pandemic and protest.

Lastly, a suggestion that sounds so cliche, I almost don’t want to write it. “Count your blessings.” As I have reflected on grief these last couple of weeks, I found myself going down the complaining-murmuring road. After a while everything was colored with the crayon of doom and gloom. I found myself sitting in front of the TV news much too much. I found myself isolating from the family I live with. I found myself not wanting to get out of bed. Everything was wrong, nothing was right. That’s a very dangerous place to be. That’s a mental health trap. Thank goodness, someone reminded me to count my blessings. Literally, I counted my blessings. (We talked about a thankful journal before. A thankful journal is very therapeutic.)

I wrote down all the things I was thankful for, all the physical, financial, spiritual, emotional, and mental blessings I could think of in that moment. Everything was not going to hell in a hand basket. Everything was not awful. There was lots of good, wholesome, healthy, and joyous stuff – people and things – in my life. In the midst of my losses, there were some great gains. I won’t name them all to you, but suffice it to say, I found a few reasons to smile.

I hope this reflection on grief is helpful to someone. You are not alone. Grief is taking its toll on our world right now. In the midst of it, remember it hasn’t taken everything. If you are reading this, you have the ability to see, to understand, to critique (lol), to feel. If there is anyone you can call, you have a friend or family member available to you. If there is a path or a sidewalk nearby, you can experience nature, you have the ability to move around whether by legs or wheelchair. Share your grief in community. Share your joys in community. Count your blessing in community. It’s in community that we will heal!

Continue to confront life and be safe!

Good Grief: A Companion for Every Loss
For more than fifty years Good Grief has helped millions of readers, including NFL players and a former first lady, find comfort and rediscover hope after loss. Amazon.com
Broad enough to encompass many forms of grief, this book reassures kids that they are not alone in their feelings and even suggests simple things they can do to feel better, like drawing, dancing, and talking to friends and family. Amazon.com

Take the Time to Share Your Life

There are so many things we can share with one another from our lives and the way we live. It is something we don’t think about. So often we assume that everyone is living like we live. But each of us bring our own customs, traditions, and worldview to the choices we make in life. Each of us have our own stories to tell and our own experiences to share. During this time of physical distancing and quarantine, we could take this opportunity to share our lives with others, especially the next generation.

This week I shared an author interview with my granddaughter in California. She called me by Face-time and I turned the phone toward my computer screen so that she could see and hear the interview sponsored by the Decatur Book Festival. (These events happen every Tuesday, it’s really worth checking out if your are a reader looking for new authors or if you are an author seeking to hone your skills.) While we we chatting about the author’s comments and how we could move forward in our own writing, my granddaughter posed a couple of questions out of left field.

“Do you think I could have grandma’s recipes or cookbooks,” she said. “I don’t know,” I replied, “you’ll have to ask her. She went on to explain that she was trying to make my mom’s bread pudding recipe, but something was missing from the way she did it. She went on to say she wanted all the recipes, and she wanted the special pinches of this and that that her grandmother added to the cookbook recipes to make it her own special concoction. Then she asked about my husbands breakfast recipe. I said, “It’s just potatoes, onions, spinach, and eggs. She laughed. “No! It’s not! He puts in mustard, and pancake syrup, and peanut butter and spices.” Obviously, she had made it with him at some point. This side conversation got me to thinking about the things we could share from our lives and experiences.

My great grandmother was a midwife. She practiced homeopathic medicines long before it was call that. I often wish had written down some of her remedies when I had the chance. One of my first cousins told me about an experience he had when his mother and his grandfather passed. He felt it was supernatural. I really want to get with him to write his story. My mom has been able to recreate herself and her skill set many times over, including now. (Now, she is mass producing masks for college-bound students.) I’d really like to know what motivated her to try so many different things. Many people know my husband as a fine artist, particularly as a painter in oil and acrylics, but he is also a sculptor – a skill that the pandemic has brought back to life. He has signed up with a non-profit to teach art to juveniles in a second chance program. These are just a few examples of things that could be shared from our lives and the lives of others.

Our family has lived communally for many generations. I have learned that this is not typical of all families. We take it for granted that great-grand parents, grandparents, and parents have been there for us, and since they were, we try to be for the next generations. Yet, one of the major differences between us and them is that they shared their stories. We have allowed ourselves to be so bombarded with activities and busyness that we have not taken the time to share our stories. (Especially, before the pandemic.) Why do we do things the way that we do? How did we come to live where we live? Who influenced our decisions, our career, our lifestyle, and hobbies? (Did you have time for hobbies before the pandemic?)

The pandemic has decluttered our lives, so now we have the time to share our experiences and our stories. There are a plethora of ways to share. We can create our own cookbooks. We can record our genealogies and create a family tree. We can sketch family faces or make caricatures of family members. We can write a story explaining how we came to our faith or how we reached our political views. We could can our favorite fruits and vegetables and distribute them as gifts. We could build a memorial bench to place in the family garden or flower bed. We could compile photos of the “good ole days” and label them with the date, the event, and the people present in the photo. We could interview the oldest person in our family, our church, or our special interest group and share that story with everyone.

There is probably an inexhaustible list of things we could do to share a part of ourselves with others. This is not just a plan to keep busy; it’s a way to pass on a legacy. It’s a way to share the things that really matter to us. My husband asked my other granddaughter what would she put on his tombstone when he died. (I know it’s a morbid question; you’d have to see their relationship in action to understand.) She thought for a few moments and then she said, “It was nice knowing you!” I’m convinced that this epitaph would be very appropriate because he has shared so much of himself with her that she can really say she knows him. Now is the time when we can really help someone to fully know us before we are gone or before we resume our busy, cluttered lifestyles in the new normal.

The person from the Decatur Book Festival that was doing the interview I mentioned early asked the author several questions posed by the audience: “What would you say influenced you to become a writer? How do you balance this passion with your work as a doctor? Were there relationships in your life that help you craft your characters? What appeals to you about the historical time you wrote about (time around the Haitian earthquake)? Who, if anyone, did you pattern your life as a writer after? If you could talk about any one thing that we haven’t asked you about, what do you want everyone to know about you or your book?

Here’s a question for you? What is the one thing you would share with your family and friends if given the opportunity? If something came to mind, I encourage you to make a way to share it. Just as the answers to the questions posed by the interviewer were important to us, an audience of strangers, your story will be important to others. I’d love to hear some of your ideas, no doubt so would the people who love you. Take the time to share your life.

Be safe! Stay well!

Remembrance
This is the author and book that was featured in the interview. “Stunning. … Family is at the core of Remembrance, the breathtaking debut novel by Rita Woods.” — The Boston Globe. This breakout historical debut with modern resonance is perfect for the many fans of The Underground Railroad and Orphan Train. Amazon.com
Dad Share Your Life With Me
Mom, Share Your Life With Me

Available at Amazon.com

Closing the Distance

We were all hoping the Corona-virus would be conquered by now. We were praying for a large downswing in the curve. Instead it is still running rampant, and we are still called upon to socially distance ourselves. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health. (At least those of us who are obeying the mandates of medical experts and the CDC.)

Social distancing is suppose to mean keeping at least 6 feet between you and another person. Perhaps this was a poor choice of words. Perhaps we should have called it physical distancing. After all, we are social creatures. We need companionship. We need our sense of community and family. This innate need and desire has not gone away in the face of a pandemic, nor should it. What we have to do is modify our social behavior rather than nullify it.

I decided to have a family cookout. Our entire immediate family was present. There were no hugs, no handshakes, and no kisses. Each person arrived wearing a mask. Each person proceeded to the bathroom to wash their hands. We headed to the patio where each person sat or stood with enough distance between them to satisfy the health considerations of the elderly among us. We laughed, we talked, we ate, we drank, and we reminisced days gone by. All of our utensils, cups, and plates were disposable. I’d like to think a good time was had by all. This is just one of the ways we closed the distance in our family. It did my heart good to see with my own eyes that my sons and their families were doing well. (All of them have been working outside their homes throughout the pandemic.)

Yesterday, I talked to a friend in southern California. She told me that she and four of her friends went to the neighborhood park, mask in place, and had a great two hour visit under the trees. She said each of them enjoyed this short visit so much because all of them live alone and longed for human contact. This friend is over seventy years old. She does not have internet access so her interactions have been limited to telephone. (We were on the phone 3 hours. It was easy to ear how much she needs social interaction.) She also shared with me that some places there have made drive-in movies in the parking lots of Walmart stores to provide an outlet for social activity. I was happy to hear that my friend was finding ways to close the social distance between her and her friends.

Staying home, cutting ourselves off from all human contact, especially for those who live alone, can weigh heavily on the soul. Depression and anxiety can grow in a way that destroys the joy of living. I’m writing this short blog to remind us that there are ways to come together safely.

We don’t have to be socially distanced in a way that leaves us in solitude each and every day. We can find ways to close the distance, while keeping some physical distance between us. Here are a few suggestions: Walk around your neighbor, speak to neighbors and others who are outside in their yards; better yet walk with a friend. Drive to the lake or to a community you’ve always wondered about, then call a friend and tell them about everything you saw and felt. Offer to Face-time and elderly person’s children and allow them to have a conversation on your phone by putting it in a plastic food bag. Share conference call numbers for prayer meetings and bible studies with the people you know. Set up a drive-in movie in your church or club parking lot. Invite a friend to the park for a foot race. Set up a conference call to exchange recipes or gardening tips with your friends/family. Go to the golf range with a companion; hit a bucket of balls.

You may still need to wear your mask, use your hand sanitizer, and maintain a proper physical distance from other people, but you can still be a social member of your community. Stay connected while you stay safe and close the distance between your family, friends, and neighbors.

PS: Connect your doctor or a mental health professional if you are feeling depressed and anxious beyond what you can handle. This is a necessary distance to close.

Walter is a good storyteller. His stories will make you laugh and cry — and sometimes pray. He knows the pain of failure and the joy of being rescued by caring friends. In these stories you will find inspiration, laughter, hope and encouragement. Walter hopes that you will find a story that moves you to give thanks for the people who held the rope for you when you were a “basket case,” and inspire you to hold the rope for a hurting friend. Amazon.com

Breaking Barriers through Commonality

Today, I had the privilege of listening to poets and storytellers during the Virtual Reading presentation of Poets & Writers, Inc. in conjunction with the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. It was entitled: Honoring Our Elders. I tell you all this because these senior men and women were from a variety of backgrounds, and yet, they shared the common bound of creativity and life experiences. (It’s also worth listening to, and can be found on P&W Facebook page.)

These Elders were being honored for their creativity, but they were also honoring us by sharing their world perspective. Their works talked about coming to America as immigrants, watching the hustle of street dancers, missing their families, their pets, connecting with the past, lost loved ones, the current pandemic, and time both now and back when. In this large group of Elders one person was 90, another only 60. Yet, the common thread was their humanity.

How beautiful it was to see and hear people who were not bitter, not ranting, not worried, nor afflicted with the opinions and diatribe of a multimedia entourage. Each person introduced another graciously as a friend. Each person received encouragement, applause, and comments to urge them to continue their craft. Although multiracial, no race was disparaged. Although multi-economical, there was no classism. Although multi-religious, no religious discrimination arose. These were simply creative individuals who discovered a commonality in creative writing and expression, as well as long life in the midst of ever-changing times. They were true Elders exemplifying wisdom by coming together and sharing their heartfelt thoughts and words.

Why can’t this be the way we all relate to one another? Why can’t we focus on our commonalities instead of our differences? We may not all be poets, but we all have family. We may not be able to express ourselves through the written word, but we can speak the common language of love, concern, and hope. The Pandemic magnifies these commonalities more than anything I can think of. People are dying without consideration of race, class, or religion. In the end we all just want health and life for those we love. We all want some form of normalcy to occur again. We all hope for a cure. We all want a plan for safety that works. And yet, we allow politics and social ills to become barriers to our common humanity.

The Elders had stories to tell us about how to overcome these things. They have seen war, plagues, and economic depression. The have lived through lack and plenty. They have found ways to survive in community. We need to hear this. We need to see this. We need to embrace their stories for the sake of posterity. The Elders are thriving in community. How much more should those who are young find a way to thrive with mutual camaraderie as a community?

I was deeply moved by the Elders today. They told their stories, some with pride and others with timidity. Nonetheless, we were captivated by their longevity as well as their tenacity. These authors are leaving a living legacy just by their unity of purpose in their community centers and neighborhood centers. They will also leave a written record of what it means to work together in shared success.

Perhaps we can break the barriers by telling our stories. Perhaps we can find hope and ways to break down barriers by sharing our experiences and getting involved in our communities and neighborhoods If we take the time to listen to others, and especially our Elders, perhaps we can find our common humanity. History and time will show us we are more alike than we are different.

The Elders I listened to today were from the Dr. Edith Rock Elders Writing Workshop, Goddard Riverdale Community Center, Grand Street Settlement, Kew Gardens Community Center, and the Stanley Isaac’s Neighborhood Center.

Thank you Elders, you were a small representation of the hard work of yesterday to create a better tomorrow. I honor you with a new found respect. Thank you for sharing a part of your humanity with me.

Do you have a story in you? Do you know how to write it or how to tell it? Amazon.com

True Engagement

Have you ever had someone ask you a question and never give you a chance to answer; they continue talking as if the answer wasn’t relevant or as if they already knew the answer? How annoying is that? God forbid they actually answer the question for you! This is not a conversation because there is no engagement.

Another example of this lack of engagement is when the questions are closed, requiring a yes, no, or some other monosyllabic reply. These interactions often occur with teens. Questions like, “How was school today,” or “Did you have fun tonight?” The answers are yes, no, alright, or I guess. No real information has been exchanged. No real engagement has taken place. Whether we want to admit it or not, these types of dialogue are useless.

The formula for true dialogue, for true conversation is: open-ended questions + active listening = engagement. As an educator, I could get very academic with this, but that is not my purpose. What I’m after as a person, as a writer, as a blogger, and as an individual in relationship with other individuals, is true engagement, true dialogue, real conversation.

This can only happen if we are truly interested in what others have to say. Their experiences, their worldview, their opinions, must be as valuable to us when we are talking as our’s. That doesn’t mean that we won’t disagree from time to time, but it does mean we understand the basis of someone else’s point of view. After all, conversation by definition is an exchange of thoughts, ideas, and/or feelings between people.

Generally speaking, conversations are the tools we use to build relationships. Dialogue implies interest. Open-ended questions also imply interest. If I want to know what you think, how you feel, what you believe, or what experiences you’ve had with the topic at hand, I will have to ask you. An open-ended question is one that requires a thoughtful reply. (Even is a person lies, they have to think about it first.) The response will not be a single word that does not lend itself to further conversation or understanding.

What have you been doing with your time during the quarantine? What are you doing to maintain your mental health during this time of social distancing? How do you think the economy will bounce back from all the shutdowns? What laws would you like to see instituted to stop police brutality? What experiences have you had with people outside your race? How would you want your grandchildren to respond to racism? These are open-ended questions. These are questions that allow the other person to respond from within their scope of knowledge and understanding. A discussion may develop not only in the moment, but over time.

Having good open-ended questions isn’t enough though. We must also be active listeners. As mentioned above, it does no good to ask questions if we aren’t going to listen to the answers. Active listening requires us to not only hear, but to be attentive. Have you ever had the experience where someone told you something and you walked away thinking, what did they just say? You heard them, but you were not attentive. Maybe you were texting while they were talking, or maybe you were thinking of your to-do list. Worst yet, maybe you were thinking you already knew what they were going to say and simply dismissed it until you realized that’s not what they said at all. Active listening withholds judgement, advice, and preconceived notions. Active listening reflects on what the person is saying and seeks clarification when in doubt of the meaning of what they said. Active listeners can repeat what a person has said to them because they gave that person their full attention.

When active listening is paired with open-ended questions true engagement take place. These communication skills can develop relationships where everyone feels safe to express themselves. More than that, relationships move from the superficial to the authentic relationships we value most. When you value what someone has to say, you begin to value them. (In today’s vernacular, when you know where they are coming from, you know if you can hang with them or not.)

When we are really listening, we don’t interrupt the other person. We don’t argue with them even when we don’t agree. We are able to say, “I know how you feel and what you think, but that’s not how I feel or what I think so we’ll need to come up with a working compromise. (Lord, I wish we were all mature enough to do this.) Of course, this whole conversation is based on the assumption that true engagement is our goal.

True engagement is not only about developing relationships, but about drawing closer in those relationships. Meaningful relationships only occur when conversations move from polite dialogue to significant interpersonal investments. (See Jan. 6 Blog: Personal Investments) Things like empathy, sincerity, interest, mutual respect, commonality, compassion, and camaraderie come out of true engagement.

In these tumultuous times, we need the formula of true engagement more than ever. Through it, we can extend our knowledge and our freedoms as citizens and as individuals who are still in this thing – all these things – together.

Try It! Share it! Do it! Open-ended Questions + Active Listening = True Engagement.

4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work–Anywhere! is an excellent ‘How-To Guide’ for practicing the key skills that will help you identify and overcome communication barriers and achieve relationship success with the important people in your life–your spouse or partner, child or children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, customers–everyone! Amazon.com

Imagine Your Story

Imagine Your Story is the title of the summer reading program sponsored by the collaborative library system. Its goal is to improve language and reading skills for our children and to immerse teens and adults into reading for enjoyment and information. I registered for the program, but I also wondered about the rational behind the theme. I searched the internet to no avail. Yet, the theme intrigues me.

We all have a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end even though we may not know what that end is. I would also venture to say, we have another story as well; the story we wish for, hope for, imagine, the story we planned. By the time I graduated from high school, I had my entire life planned. I was going to live on a farm with horses and large sheep dogs. It was going to be huge and fenced in with a white picket fence. I was going to be a successful author living off the novels I produced, and eventually I would have ten children (six boys and four girls, yes my imagination was that vivid.) Needless to say, that is not my reality. Very little of my imagined story has come to past.

Yet, I have to ask myself, would any part of my future have come true if I had not been able to imagine beyond where I was? Would I have accomplished any of my dreams without being able to imagine something different from what I had or what I had seen? Books played a factor in those dreams. Books opened up worlds to me that reached far beyond the ghettos of Cleveland and the farmlands of Tennessee. Books allowed me to “imagine my story” beyond the boundaries of my existence. Reaching for those dreams moved me from one point of emotional and intellectual geography to another.

Books, and those who were instrumental in my receiving the education from and through books, afforded me the opportunity to pursue a future that no one else in my family had achieved. I became the first woman in my family to attend and graduate from college. I became the first women to attain a Master’s degree. I became the first to have a wedding of huge proportions followed by an actual honeymoon. I moved across the country and actually traveled outside of the country. I learned another language (French) and actual had opportunities to use it. I adopted two children, the sons of my heart, and I actually had some poetry published along the way. These and so much more were things of books that became a part of my actual story as a young woman.

So I ask myself now, am I still imagining my story. Have I stopped dreaming? Are all my accomplishments over, or will I continue to “imagine my story?” What about you? Is there still adventure and mystery in your future?

I am not only imagining my story, but I am imagining the story of my children and grandchildren. I am imagining the story of my mother and my friends. It can’t be helped, because they are all a part of my dreams for the future. We need reform, we need national change in policies concerning law enforcement, we need to find a way to end systemic racism. There is no doubt we must become a more humane society valuing all people and all cultures. I imagine this happening in my lifetime as part of my story.

Perhaps, we have too many people who no longer imagine their stories. Perhaps they can not see the plot developing into something good. Perhaps they can’t see themselves becoming the first to experience or accomplish something in their generation for their children and their families. You see, those things I talked about as my life experiences did not only come out of my imagination and my dreams; it came out of my mother’s and my grandparent’s dreams for me. They imagined my story being better than theirs. They imagined my story making a difference for generations to come. They provided a window through books, through education, through faith, and through their own stories to launch me forward into a new and different life.

When we imagine our stories, we must imagine a bright future for everyone, and contribute to it’s existence by every positive means necessary. We can start by reading multi-cultural books to our children and grandchildren. We can promote reading in our young people from every genre. We can continue to “imagine our story” by writing and sharing our stories in our communities and our schools. Yesterday, I spoke to a friend whose parents are in their 90’s and still self-sufficient. Can you imagine the stories they have to tell!

I leave you with these words from a former teacher: “Wake Up! Its time to Dream!”

There’s hope for childhood. Despite a perfect storm of hostile forces that are robbing children of a healthy childhood, courageous parents and teachers who know what’s best for children are turning the tide. Amazon.com
I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, Special 75th Anniversary Edition (Martin Luther King, Jr., born January 15, 1929)
“His life informed us. His dream sustained us” -from the Citation of the posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Amazon.com

Reclaiming Our Time

Two days ago I was talking to my grandson and he asked me why I don’t crochet anymore. (I used to make him and his sisters hats and scarves every winter when they were young. He’s sixteen now.) I finally had to answer him with the words, ” I don’t know.” Truly, I can’t remember making a conscious decision to stop crocheting. Over the last several days, I’ve discovered I’ve stopped doing several things that I once enjoyed. As I investigated this idea of giving up things you enjoy without realizing it, I found that many of my friends and loved ones have done likewise. The running theme seemed to be, ” I don’t have time to do it anymore. With the job, the kids, the running around, something had to go.”

Those things that had to go were too often the things that helped us to relax, feel useful, feel a sense of fulfillment, and self-satisfaction. Everything from woodworking, sewing, gardening, arts and crafts, painting, needlepoint, collectibles, cook-outs, bowling, and myriad of leisure activities went away because of our busy schedules. Instead of being well rounded, we’ve suffered from schedule stress. (Love that alliteration.)

Who would have thought stress was related to our loss of leisure time activities. Psychologists tell us that children and adults suffer stress from overloaded schedules. Our to-do list have taken over our lives because we don’t schedule breaks or time-off; we don’t see leisure enjoyment as a critical need. Boy, have I been there! Before the pandemic, my schedule consisted of work and providing transportation for the kids.

Many days I left work on my way to the dance studio to drop off or pick up my granddaughter or to pick up my mom from the house to transport her to the store or church. I practically lived in my car. I ate meals in my car, I wrote poetry in my car, I made return phone calls in my call, I did lesson planning in my car, and I took naps in my car. Needless to say when I got home the only thing I was in for was going to bed. This cycle continued day after day, week after week, month after month. It became the norm.

For many of us the pandemic changed all that, but for some heart attack, stroke, exhaustion, depression, and emotional strain was the change agent. I’ve actually heard some people grateful for the break that the Pandemic gave them from the “rat race.” Now that’s sad, yet it does offer all of us an opportunity to reevaluate our schedules. Our time and our priorities should correlate with our needs and our necessities as social beings. Needs meaning the material and physical requirements for living, and necessities meaning our relationships, spiritual, and personal growth.

Establishing routines and reclaiming our time and talents is possible now. As we head back to work, we can begin setting our schedules to include every part of our being. As I have written in the past, I make an effort to “fill my bucket” with things that bring me joy. I may not crochet in the near future, but it won’t be because I don’t have time for it. It will be because I’m doing something else that relaxes me, fulfills me, or brings me satisfaction. The rat race can not longer be my norm. Life is too short. (Another lesson from the pandemic.) No more living in my car. No more over-scheduling myself and my family members, No more saying “yes” to everyone except myself. No more saying “no” to the things that matter. I won’t miss living a well-rounded life because I’m over worked and over taxed.

Let’s use these days of social distancing and quarantine to reclaim and redefine our time. Let’s begin prioritizing our lives so that we enjoy living rather than dread it. If I’ve learned nothing else during this time of pandemic, I have learned that the things I thought I couldn’t live without didn’t matter as much as I thought they did. Nothing matters as much as my family, and friends, and our well-being, and our being together safe and healthy. (Yes, that’s a run-on sentence 🙂

It’s your choice. What do you want out of the time you have? You can reclaim or redefine it in a way that makes you whole and joyful.

Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life
Four out of five adults report feeling they are time-poor: They have too much to do and not enough time to do it. And the consequences are severe. The time-poor experience less joy each day. They laugh less. They are less healthy, less productive, and more likely to divorce. In one study of 2.5 million Americans, time stress produced a stronger negative effect on happiness than unemployment. Amazon.com

How Did I Get So Busy?: The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time and Reconnect with What Matters Most
There’s no doubt about it: these days we are just too busy. With the conveniences of technology, we’re compelled to get more done in less time and end up constantly striving for the next thing – rarely stopping to consider if it’s something we even want. As a result, we end up missing out on the things that truly matter: our relationships, the activities we love, quiet time to reflect and replenish our energy. Amazon.com