The gulls float on lifted wing,
soaring through fields of blue,
crossing the skies above everything—
worries and the overthinking,
judgments and the milieu.
The gulls rise above everything.
What about you?
In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.
Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.
Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.
At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.
I clicked into the online class because the title said, “20 Minute ZUMBA Fitness.”
I said to myself, “I can do anything for twenty minutes.”
From the first downbeat, the instructor Ayhan Sulu is high energy. His sleevless shirt says, “EGO IS NOT YOUR AMIGO.” And his smile—well—you might just need to click play to see for yourself. Better yet, stand up wherever you are, set your ego aside, and give it a try.
Let me warn you, at about the seven-minute mark, I nearly cried mercy, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Just when I found myself almost dying, the music switched, and we slowed down. Not for long. The intensity built once more. But if this guy’s energy doesn’t make you smile, then picture me—a 51-one-year-old woman who has never ever Zumba-ed, trying to keep up with his moves. Maybe you had to be there, but I’m still tickled.
Around fourteen minutes, I hit pause and went to pee for the sheer excuse of taking a time out. The workout would be over at 22:17. “I can do anything for eight minutes,” I reminded myself. Just as I hit play, there was another slowdown. And then another speed up. And then somewhere in the nineteen-minute range, we started cooling down. I had made it! Through the class. Through my A-Z blogging challenge. Through my month of action. Miracles do happen. Bring on May.
Once upon a time, I went to a yoga class. In fact, two different classes kept me balanced for about four years. That was probably at least seven years ago. I just realized I miss it—the strength, the flexibility, the relaxation.
Even with my COVID vaccines, I can’t get super excited about going to a class. Meanwhile, I found one online at Sarah Beth Yoga. It seemed like perfect start—30-minute Full Body Yoga for Flexibility and Strength.
The class begins in child’s pose, my knees on the mat, belly between thighs, hands stretched in front of me, forehead and chest resting downward, and from there a flow to downward facing dog. I can do this, I thought.
The class progressed with a walk to the top of the mat, a slow roll to standing. Sarah Beth says, “Consider what kind of a practice you would like to have today. What is the intention you would like to set for your practice? You don’t have to think too hard. Just let it be the first thing that comes to mind and let that set the pace of your flow and intensity.”
And sometimes that’s all we need—a little guidance to remind us of our intentions—that we don’t need to think too hard—but we do need to choose our purpose. That seems like common sense, but sometimes I forget. Clearly, I need more yoga.
Just Take the Step
All it takes is a step, then another and another, until momentum takes over and propels you forward. The steps we don’t take are the ones we regret. Just take the step. Don’t worry or fret. Our paths, like our steps, always lead to the next. Billions of us on journeys with paths that intersect Plan all you want. At some point you’ll see what happens in life might be destiny.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).Cassius in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141
This April here on the blog, I’ve stuck to an alphabetized theme of action. Allow me to update you.
Updates are good—especially in job situations and within families and with friends. Updates keep your people in the loop and strengthen your connections. This week I phoned my sister, and my bestie called me. We updated each other. Those are my favorite updates.
However, I have a little problem with today’s blog update. If you’ve been reading recently, you know that most of my posts for the last twenty-three days or so have been updates of sorts. I’m starting to bore myself with the topic of me. If you’ve been reading, and you’re back again today, God Bless You! You could be doing anything right now, and I’m not loving this post. Hopefully, some of the others have been better. If you’ve missed any, I’ve linked them in the update below.
Starting on April 1st, I chose to abstain from alcohol. Today is my twenty-fourth day. This action freed me to accomplish more in a month than I have probably ever. Weirdly, I haven’t missed my nightly drinking much. I can’t say I’m quitting forever, but I am totally rethinking my relationship with my booze habit. Oh, the extra calories!
This month I’ve taken three ballet classes and turned a few cartwheels. I’ve continued reading my devotional book almost every day, or at least I catch up when I fall behind. Hopefully along the way, I’ve encouraged someone somehow. One of my reader-friends said my post on forgiveness was her favorite.
While thinking about actions from A-Z this month, I’ve noticed myself Googling throughout most of my days. One day I read about the benefits of headstands, so I’ve been practicing. I held one for about thirty seconds the other night. This challenge has taught me to innovate. One day I wrote about not jogging, but since that post, I pushed myself to try it again. Mostly I’ve been trying to Keep It Stupid Simple and listen to God and good advice and people who matter and the birds in the trees.
I’m not sure what makes me more proud this month, completing 1245 situps and pushups and 1320 squats or revising 215 pages of my memoir for my thesis due date on Monday (I still have 30 pages and a final inspection to go) or the 3 interviews I had this week (that’s a post for another time). One thing I know for certain is that none of it would’ve been possible without believing I could do it and giving it a try.
When I started this A-Z Challenge, I didn’t have a plan for over half of the alphabet. I just thought I would stick to a theme of action and try. I even thought I might skip a day if necessary. Somehow, I kept showing up and doing it. That’s what try means to me. You show up. You do it. If you fail, you try again. You keep showing up. You do things differently.
When I returned to school for my masters, I didn’t have the money for tuition. I just thought I would figure it out, and I did. I had probably thought about going back to school for ten years before I committed, and now I’m probably most proud of myself for just doing it.
I’ve been thinking about what I’ve absorbed in my life. I grew up with this one—
It’s never too late to absorb the good stuff…and it’s never too late to try…
A couple of weeks ago, I read The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, and I’m one chapter short of finishing her 1995 bestselling memoir The Liars’ Club now. As the Peck Professor of Literature and Memoir at Syracuse University, she offers expert tips and provides an appendix of must-read memoirs. The list is so worth the purchase for those interested in studying the genre.
In Chapter 19, “Old School Technologies for the Stalled Novice,” Karr encourages intellectual enterprises to keep you studying the craft of writing. Here are some of the tools she uses to learn from mentor texts. Some of these include writing longhand. She says it will slow you down as typing can’t.
- Keep a notebook, where you copy beloved poems or hunks of prose. Nothing will teach you of great writers’ choices better. Plus, you can carry your inspiration around in compact form.
- Write reviews or criticism for an online blog or a magazine. It will discipline you to find evidence for your opinions and make you a crisper thinker.
- Augment a daily journal with a reading journal. Compose a one-page review with quotes. Make yourself back up opinions.
- Write out longhand on 3×5” index cards quotes you come across, writer’s name on the left, source and page on the right. Karr has thousands of these from which she cobbles up lectures.
- Memorize poems when you’re stuck.
- Write longhand letters to your complicated characters or even to the dead. You’ll learn more about voice by writing letters, how you arrange yourself different ways for each audience, than in a year of classes.
Number Five spoke loudest to me. Funny how I can still remember chunks of verse from days gone by. I memorized the “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost in the eighth grade for my English class. Anytime I take another look at that poem, the words come flooding back. When I taught sophomores, I memorized Mark Antony’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” funeral oration from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. And when I taught juniors, I memorized Macbeth’s “Out, out, brief candle” soliloquy. Because the students had been tasked to memorize, I wanted to prove I could do it. I loved to show them a three-year-old’s ability to memorize, too. Here’s a toddler’s version of “Litany” by Billy Collins.
Here’s one I’m working on, at Mary Karr’s suggestion and just because I love it:
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by e.e. cummings i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
I would love to say I’ve been jogging recently. I haven’t. But since last summer, I have jogged more than I have in my entire life. #Progress. That all ended in January when I allowed myself some time to grieve for my mother and couldn’t seem to pull myself off the couch. In February, I committed to walking again, at least thirty minutes almost daily, and I’m pretty good at keeping promises to myself. (If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?)
During my 2020 walks, I started jogging short distances. I worked my way up to a two-minute jog and then to four—that was my limit. I could run while listening to the entirety of No Doubt’s “Sunday Morning” in my earphones. The song inspired me to keep going. Suddenly I found myself able to run a few times in the course of a two-mile walk.
And now, my knee is achy. Walking isn’t a problem; however, I’m listening to my knee and doing some strengthening exercises. Maybe I’ll feel like jogging again before long. Sometimes we must accept our limitations and go to plan B.
Thank you so very much for reading my A-Z Challenge post today. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action—mental, physical, and spiritual actions, some dreams and reality. Here are the rest—Abstain, Ballet, Cartwheel, Devote, Encourage, Forgive, Google, Headstand, Innovate.
- make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.”the company’s failure to diversify and innovate competitively”
- introduce (something new, especially a product).”innovating new products, developing existing ones”
Time and time again, I take a flying leap. I’m in the air and realize I have no wings. I might just crash and burn, or I can innovate. Take for example this A-Z challenge. I’m all for challenges. I know some people plan these types of things, like for months. Me? Well, I just make up my mind and do it—often at the last minute, without a plan or perhaps with a few sketchy ideas. Then I have no other option than to innovate. Such is life. We must figure it out—one day at a time.
I’m humbled by those of you who chose to read my A-Z Challenge post today and especially for those who returned for more. After a year stuck mainly at home, I wanted to try some new things, you know, innovate a bit. Maybe you would, too. And so this April, I’m sticking to a theme of action: mental, physical, and spiritual, things I might already do or haven’t attempted in years or maybe never. You know what else I’m doing this month? Click here to see: Abstain, Ballet, Cartwheel, Devote, Encourage, Forgive, Google, Headstand.