Sunday, June 24, 2012

Happy Accidents, Beneficial Mistakes, or Mistakes That Aren't

Sometimes in life what appears to be a mistake turns out not to be. I was reminded of this when the proof, a review copy, of my new collection of poetry, Memory in Silhouette, arrived the other day. My first reaction was "Damn! The front isn't what I submitted. Now I'll have to fix it."

So I opened the file and noticed it was my error... well, not entirely my error. Someone else helped me with a problem I was having, and that someone else adjusted the margins for the photo. I never fixed it, so it was a combination of two people making errors.

I left the room to get a cup of hot tea, and when I came back I noticed the book lying on my desk almost like I hadn't seen it before. I thought. "Wow! That actually might look better than the original..."

I fixed the file on my computer and saved it but didn't upload it. I kept going back to the "mistake" cover. The more I looked at it, the better I liked it. It had a dreaminess... It almost seemed to be reaching toward something unlike the original which now looked to me like it drifted into blackness.

I asked a couple of people what they thought because, well, the cover needs to attract an audience...
With everyone agreeing the "mistake" was the better cover, I decided to go with it. I approved the proof and finished the process to publish Memory in Silhouette: Poems .

This little event made me think though.

A happy accident also resulted in the photo that became the cover of Reflections in Silhouette: Poems . During the photo shoot, the model moved while the shutter was open. These shots required the model to hold very still, so still she even held her breath. A cramp forced an involuntary movement while the shutter was open resulting in a ghost-like figure who appeared to be disappearing. Since many of the poems were reflections on the loss of self, it seemed fitting. The shot I intended to throw away became the cover, and my second favorite picture from the photo shoot. For those wondering, the photo that became the cover of Love in Silhouette: Poems was my favorite of the shoot.

How often in life does something we think is a mistake, a blunder, an accident, turn out to have some unexpected benefit? How often does the thing we think is so terrible end up being better than the thing we wanted to begin with? How often does that blurted out truth free us from a stifling silence that is killing us?
Sometimes mistakes are there to show us what we need to fix. At times a mistake shows what what we never want to do again. Other times the purpose of a mistake is to show us there's something better than what we envisioned.

As someone with tendencies toward perfectionism, it's often hard for me to let go of what I envision as perfect and accept something that is excellent or perhaps even better than what I thought would be perfect.

My image of perfection can be blinding if I'm not careful. It has blinded me to solutions. It has blinded me to the truth of my reality. It has blinded me to own wishes and desires. I lost sight of the excellence life offered me because I so busy pursuing perfection.

Sometimes in that moment of a mistake is a lesson or a new path presenting itself or a beautiful new opportunity for our heart's true desires, but we miss it because we're so focused on seeking the perfection that is the image in our minds. We turn away the imperfect guy who ignores our imperfections or loves us because of them. We refuse the career opportunity because it's not what is considered the norm. We walk away from a friendship because the other person can't meet every need. We stay in a relationship because our minds tell us it looks perfect so it must be. We hold on to a fantasy instead of risking reality because we know reality can never be perfect. We end up miserable because we're trying so hard to be perfect we can't recognize and accept good when it shows up in our lives.

Maybe it's time to take another look at those happy accidents, beneficial mistakes, or other imperfections we've turned away because they didn't meet our image of perfection...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Journey Through and To Memory

Sneak preview of the
Memory in Silhouette cover
Sometimes memories are curses. I've been working on a book of poetry, Memory in Silhouette (release date to be announced soon), for the past few months. I hadn't planned on doing a book of poetry surrounding memories or the idea of what memory represents, but all these poems about memories and the effect my memories were having on me poured out of me. As I looked back over my unpublished work I began to realize I had enough to compile a book, so my planned book Life in Silhouette (a title I never particularly liked. It felt like a cop-out.) started to change before my eyes. It grew more focused on memory. And, as the focus shifted, I was reminded of the importance of letting things develop without pushing too hard.

Plans changed. This book started to take shape. This collection scared me. This collection felt raw. My last two collections, Love in Silhouette: Poems and Reflections in Silhouette: Poems contained some new poems, but they also contained some poems that were quite old. So does Memory in Silhouette, but Memory in Silhouette also contains some recent poems that took me to depths of emotions in my heart and soul that I didn't even realize were there. How could I feel something I didn't know I felt?

As I delved into my memories through the poems I wrote, I became acutely aware of who I am at my core. My inner self grew both insecure and more confident as I remembered different times in my life. I fought some memories because I didn't want to own them. In that fight, I realized those painful memories have as much to do with who I am today as my happy memories do. This seems to be a lesson I have to learn over and over as I travel through life.

The next few weeks, perhaps even months, are going to be memory-laden as I face moving forward with my life. We can't just box up the past, store it away, and promise to tend to it someday. That box of memories can too easily become an anchor to a life we need to release.

The longer we ignore whatever our pasts holds, the longer we tether ourselves to the anchor that pulls us under. We must lift the anchor of the past and allow ourselves to float upon the sea of memories that will take us to new adventures.

Our memories have the ability to tether us or to free us. We can decide to repeat the past or forge a new life. We can choose to learn from the lessons in our memories or never acknowledge them. We have the option to use our memories to honor who we were and move forward or to hide our heads in shame for the mistakes we made. Our memories are ours to do with what we wish, but those memories are what make us who we are today and who we will be tomorrow.

So when I say sometimes memories are curses, there's a reason. Our memories can show us our mistakes, our failures, our successes, and our triumphs. Triumphs and successes can ring bittersweet or truly joyful. Mistakes and failures can teach us to do better or embarrass us. Often, we find even a happy memory twinges with a moment of sadness or a sad memory divulges a triumph of adversity. Memories are always more complex than meets the eye.

While the journey to explore memory and its effect on my current life wasn't planned, I'm grateful for what I learned, and am still learning, by embracing the role memory plays in helping me evolve to be my best self! I hope you'll find inspiration in my journey through memory...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Embracing My Potential: Lessons from Eastern Kentucky University

Recently, I spent a few hours on the campus of my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University. I walked familiar paths and sat on familiar benches. I stood outside the buildings where I first realized I could be a person who wasn't defined by other people. I was me, just me for better or worse. No one cared who my parents were, who my grandparents were, who my aunts and uncles were, who my sister was, or who my friends were.People judged me on my actions, behavior, and attitude.

We talked about our upbringings, but no one really cared all that much. I made friends with people based on who I was. I started to realize people liked me just as I was, and those who didn't just left. Not everyone liked me or would like me, and I was okay with that because I didn't like everyone I met either. I experimented with the kinds of people I invited into my life.

Combs Hall
Martin Hall
As I walked around campus, I remembered old friends, former loves, and even a few out and out enemies. Yes, there were people who hated me. Funny how it didn't bother me then though it would in later years, but I digress. I remembered laughter and tears. I remembered betrayals and rescues. I remembered learning the difference between friends and acquaintances. I remembered the first time in my life I understood love. I remembered meeting the man who would become my husband. I remembered a few classes that particularly stood out. I remembered feeling like I could do anything.

The Stratton Building
"My" Dock
I went to the Stratton building and sat on the rail looking down at the dock where I'd spent so much of my time, thinking, studying, feeding fish, just watching the water. (See the poem I wrote about it after my 2010 visit to EKU in Reflections in Silhouette: Poems .) In the two years since I'd been on campus, the dock had further deteriorated. I took a few photos and thought about how during my 2010 visit, I'd thought it reminded me of how much I'd changed in the years since college. Looking at it this time, I let myself shed a tear. It's amazing how many memories that dock holds for me. It wasn't even where I made memories, it was where I processed the dreams so I could set goals and the hurts so I could heal.

Palmer Hall and Commonwealth Hall
As I walked around wallowing in my memories and taking in the changes, I felt somehow heartened by the changes. Yet, I was disappointed I couldn't just wander into the lobby of the residence halls where I lived or the ones where some of my most memorable moments occurred. Security no longer allows you to enter the buildings without a fob or as someone's guest. I guess that's good for the residents, but it's rather disappointing for alumni wanting to take a simple stroll down memory lane.

The Chapel
I wandered in the chapel because I needed to see the inside again for the book I'm writing. I rarely visited the chapel when I was on campus other than when working as a Summer Orientation Leader and showing it during tours of campus. Once or twice, friends and I wandered in late at night to talk. This time I sat down in the quiet, cool room and looked around. I wondered if people use the building any more than they did when I attended EKU. I don't remember any of my friends going there, and the few times I stepped inside it was empty. As I sat in the chapel, I realized I had no idea if it had changed since I attended the university. I couldn't remember it well enough to be sure.

The building that stands where
O'Donnell Hall used to be.
As I noted changes on campus for my novel, I felt the pull of nostalgia but even more so I felt a sense of pride that campus has continued to grow and morph into an ever better place just as I've grown into a better me over the years. I realized I learned a lot about living in the moment when I was at EKU even though I'm sure those around me remember me as always being focused on my future. In many ways I was, but I also learned to have faith that if I did what I needed to do, the future would take care of itself. I never doubted life would take me exactly where I needed to go. Okay, maybe never is an overstatement, but when those doubts arose, they never lasted long. My years at EKU also taught me that change is constant and yet some things never really change. I learned to accept that change and growth intertwined and interdependent.l

Mostly, though, as I walked around campus, I remembered learning the most important lesson of my life... I learned being me was enough...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Simple Pleasures

We do the big things seeking pleasure. We travel near and far to see things we've never seen only to realize they look like a dozen other places we've been. We plan outings to events looking for a thrill only to realize that even those outings begin to feel routine. We seek adventure to fill the empty spots in our lives. We risk our lives to feel exhilerated. We run from relationship to relationship searching for the high of new love that dies as the relationship progresses. We reach for the unachievable to keep ourselves motivated.

In the process, we forget the simple pleasures in life. We forget the joy of walking in nature or sitting by a body of water. We forget the satisfaction of sipping a cup of tea or enjoying an ice cream in a cone. We forget the smiles evoked by chatting with a caring friend or meeting someone new. We forget to enjoy the person sitting next to us while we dream about the perfect person we have yet to meet or that we left behind. We forget that joy doesn't have to be a big, memorable event.

When I look back at my photos, the ones that give me the biggest smiles are the ones that result from an everyday occurrence or some silliness during what was supposed to be an important event.

The photo of me sitting in a jet engine at an air show in Boise, Idaho reminds me of the fun more so than the more serious poses or the pictures of the planes in flight. I am back there with the wind and sun on my face. I hear the engines of the planes above. I laugh at the silly moments and yet the overall show is more or less a blur. There's another picture from that day when I'm being silly, but I'm not quite brave enough to share that one. Let's just say it involves a missile...

An incredibly enjoyable trip to Paris, France isn't highlighted in my memories by moments like seeing the Mona Lisa or the Eiffel Tower or even having a portrait drawn. I have no photos of my favorite memories. My favorite memories include sipping a hot chocolate in a little cafe while watching people walk by going about their daily lives, getting lost while walking back to the hotel from the Eiffel Tower, stopping on a bridge to watch the water of the Seine, and taking a walk at night for no particular reason.

Another photo that evokes a memory of a simple pleasure is of me holding my niece when she was a baby. I remember this day with a smile every time I see the photo. I'm tickling her nose with my finger. There's a sweetness to the photo that takes me back to that moment. Recently, while she and I sat having coffee and discussing her upcoming high school graduation (now over), I suddenly remembered that picture and that moment. And, then I took a photo of us with our faces pressed together. Pure joy in that moment very reminiscent of that earlier photo though I'm not sure the later photo captured it as well.

While sometimes a photo captures a moment, many of the most pleasurable moments actually live only in our memories. We pull them out when we need comforted or to feel connected. We indulge in them like fine wine and expensive chocolate savoring a moment in our hearts that no one can dispute because it's ours to remember. There are pleasurable moments that just can't be captured on film, and that's as it should be.

I spent way too much of my youth longing for the things I thought would make me happy only to discover those things have a way of feeling empty if you don't already enjoy life. If you enjoy the art of being, you don't need the big things to bring pleasure to life. You can find pleasure in every day moments. And, when you live in a state of pleasure truly seeing the good around you, those big things are that much more enriching and pleasurable. Dare I say, even more memorable.
As I practice embracing the idea that pleasure, joy, happiness, satisfaction, or whatever you want to call it is there for us to grasp every single day, I find myself enjoying life more and feeling more hopeful when things aren't what I'd like them to be. We just have to be open to it. A quiet conversation with someone who makes you laugh... A hot bath in a quiet room... Dancing in your living room to your favorite music, naked if you want... Spending time with someone who loves you and who you love just as much, whether it be friendship or romantic love... Listening to a favorite song over and over and over... Indulging in your favorite dessert... Or whatever brings a smile to your face, laughter to your lips, and joy to your heart. It really doesn't have to be a big thing.

I've travelled many places in the world and seen many things. I'm grateful for all those experiences, but I'm realizing more every day that the ones that matter are the ones we take for granted. But, in truth, we often lose sight of the simple pleasures because we become so caught up in the day to day of life that we don't stop to appreciate them. We lose sight of what we love about those in our lives because we forget to take a minute to listen when they speak. We lose sight of what we want out of life because we're trying so hard to create memories when in fact every single moment holds within it the potential to be memorable...

Those moments, both the large and small, are what fuel a writer's work. My next book of poetry, Memory in Silhouette, is about memory and how memory shapes us, guides us, informs us, and reminds us who we are and who we're meant to be. Sometimes those memories hurt and sometimes they heal, but they are instrumental in us becoming our best selves and in how we function in the world.  

I'm working on opening myself to the simple pleasures living all around me to build incredible moments every single day... How about you?