Girlfriends Matter

 

Welcome to Kathleen Pooler, who has joined us today to discuss the nature of friendship.  It is a subject of considerable interest to me, as the protagonist of my novel has never had the kind of girl friends that Kathy describes here and in her novel.

 

Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.”                               Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

I have plenty of awesome male friends whom I respect and admire but there is something unique and special about girlfriend relationships.

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Carol Bodensteiner, Kathy Pooler, and Mary Gottschalk in Osceola, Iowa

I have always valued my girlfriends from every phase of my life. Together, we have experienced the joys and sorrows, the frustrations and challenges, the ruts and growth spurts of our lives. As I age, I find that I value them even more—both the old and new friends.

In the words of a popular Beatles’ tune: “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”

Martha tried to convince me not to marry when she listened to my doubts. Sharon coaxed me up the stairs and out the door the day I left my first husband because of his drinking. Judy supported me before, during and after both my divorces. Eileen opened my eyes to God’s presence in my life. Mary Sue and her family became my family away from my family. Meredith and Denise rallied around me when I escaped from my second husband for fear of physical abuse…

These are a few of many who stood by me—steady and true—through my life challenges. I had to find my own way in my own time but their presence in my life made a positive difference in helping me move forward.

Therefore, it came to no surprise to me when I read this UCLA Study On Friendship Among Women posted by Gale Berkowitz in 2002:

“This landmark study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage and help us remember who we really are”

And the friendship phenomenon is research-based.

As stated in the article, this study came about when two women scientists, Dr. Laura Klein and fellow researcher Shelley Taylor discovered in a casual conversation over coffee in a lab at UCLA one day that “when men get stressed, they hole up; when women get stressed, they make coffee, clean the office and bond, ‘tend and befriend’.” This spearheaded a movement to include women in stress research and the results confirm what we already know:

 “Women live longer than men and friends help us live longer.”

In the same article, The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that

The more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.”

I am fascinated by this study even though it confirms what I have already experienced throughout my entire life—girlfriends matter. And the older I get, the more they matter. As we age and face more hardships—physical decline, loss of family and friends—we need each other more than ever.

In my memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, I show how my girlfriends give me strength and help me to move forward in my life. When I sat down to write this story, I had no conscious intent to include them. They showed up in my writing as they had shown up in my life to counsel and guide me.

And the many friends—YOU– (girls and guys) I have had the pleasure of bonding with on my writing journey are on the top of my list of people who matter and have made a positive difference in my life.

I will admit to being partial to girlfriend time—to bond in ways only girlfriends can bond. Who else can I go shopping with, spend hours on the phone or over coffee, get honest opinions about fashion trends, giggle over silly memories or whine over minutia with without getting a glazed-over look?  Just saying….

How about you? How have you experience girlfriend relationships?

KathyPoolerBrighterAbout the Author: Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28.2014 and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.

She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com

You can reach Kathy at:

Twitter

Goodreads

Facebook

Kathleen Pooler/Memoir Writer’s Journey (Facebook)

One Lovely Blog Award

 

blog awardI have had the great honor to have been given the One Lovely Blog Award not once, not twice, but THREE times in the past few weeks. My thanks go to Cate Russell-Cole, who is tireless in her efforts to support writers, Carol Bodensteiner, whose commentaries on the small moments of every day life are beyond inspirational, and Kathleen Pooler, who has been a thoughtful contributor to this blog on several occasions.

One of the rules of the Award is that you must share 7 things about yourself that your readers may not know. So here are mine:

  1. I attended a convent boarding school in high school (Catholic). If any of the nuns are still alive, they may be relieved to know that the scoundrels who raided the kitchen on a regular basis were my roommate Janie and me.
  2. The shock of my young life came when I left the convent world (at age 16) for the University of Chicago, at the time considered to be a hotbed of communism and sexual experimentation.
  3. My birthday present to myself for my 70th birthday was to get Invisilign braces. The good news is that they are virtually invisible.  The bad news is that I can’t snack (well, maybe that’s good news) and I have to brush my teeth half a dozen times a day.
  4. I hate exercise, and do it only under duress. Fortunately, I have picked my friends—and my partner Kent—wisely. They are all exercise freaks and force me to do it regularly.
  5. I collect crosses that are also works of art. It began as a compromise for a household in which one member is religiously inclined and the other is not. It’s now become an active interest for both of us.
  6. I love orchids. All three of my bathrooms are always decorated with gorgeous specimens that I find at—of all places—Lowe’s. They are beautiful, relatively inexpensive, and seem to last forever!
  7. On the socio-political spectrum, my brain runs red (all those years working in Wall Street) and my blood runs blue (growing up in a world of social workers.) So I almost never find a political candidate that satisfies both my economic and social goals.

Another rule is that a winner has to pass on the award to other worthy bloggers.   Here are my favorites, all of them writers who blog about the business of life rather than the business of writing. (Given the fact that I have always abhorred anything resembling chain mail letters, I absolve them from the obligation of passing the award on unless they choose to.)

If you click on the individual’s name, it will take you to the website.

Jo Kline Cebuhar – So Grows the Tree

Gwen Plano — From Sorrow to Joy — Perfect Love

Janet Givens — And So It Goes

David Lawlor — History With a Twist

Marian Beaman – Plain and Fancy

Susan Weidener – Women’s Writing Circle

Richard Sutton — Saille Tales

Maria Popova – Brain Pickings

Sonia Marsh — My Gutsy Story

Joan Rough — One Rich Life

Check out each and every one of them … they will all brighten your day.

Are You the Friend I’m Looking For?

 

My guest this week is Jean Balser, a friend and writing colleague from Des Moines. She ponders the wisdom of rekindling lost friendships.

 

“Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold.”                               ~ Girl Scout Song

 

writing to a friendI’ve always thought this was good advice, and am fortunate to number among my adult friends women I first met in grade school.

I correspond regularly with women I knew in New York more than forty years ago when we were all new mothers and far from our own families.  Back then we supported each other, baby sat each others’ children and cried with each other over our husbands’ affairs and subsequent divorces.  Now I enjoy seeing pictures of my friends’ grandchildren as much as I enjoy bragging about and sharing photos of my own beautiful granddaughter.

Recently I learned to play mah jongg and have met many fascinating women through the game; and when I married my husband eight years ago I acquired a whole new set of his friends.

But there is another adage that I wonder if perhaps I should also heed:  Let sleeping dogs lie.

Several years ago, I was reminded of a friend I’d had in Brooklyn. We’d lost contact when I moved back to Iowa some twenty years ago. With the miracles of Facebook and the Internet, I thought it would be fairly simple to find her.

After a bit of electronic sleuthing, I came up with an address for Mary Lynn Cordone (not her real name) in New York.  So I wrote her a chatty little missive: “Hi!  I don’t know if you are the person I am looking for but we lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn about twenty years ago.” I made sure to include my return address (but not my phone number.  If my inquiry fell into the wrong hands, I didn’t want some demented spinster calling me in the middle of the night.)

Off my letter went by snail mail to an unknown destiny.

Several weeks went by and then, nestled among the ads for hearing aids and requests for donations, was a plain white envelope with Mary Lynn’s return address and a tiny butterfly sticker in the upper left hand corner.

I opened the letter and began to read.

I was delighted to hear how she had spent some time in Florida but was glad to be back home in the City. I was pleased to learn that her daughter was happily married and living nearby.

Letters from Mary Lynn began arriving almost weekly and were filled with descriptions and photos of places I had loved in Cobble Hill.  The nearby park where my son Mikey and his best friend Alex skate boarded with their long blond hair blowing out behind them as they whizzed down sidewalks and leaped over curbs.  The Almontasser, my favorite Lebanese restaurant, where I had devoured lamb shish kabobs, green beans cooked with tomatoes and oregano, and Greek salads with feta and fresh herbs.

Her letters conjured up happy memories and brought me a certain sense of closure.  I had been so unhappy when I left New York that I couldn’t remember a time when I had enjoyed living in Brooklyn; Mary Lynn reminded me that it hadn’t all been bad.

And so we began to exchange our stories, explaining and describing the last twenty years of our lives.  I wrote about working as a caterer, about my family and about living in Iowa.  She shared her problems with her Tenants’ Association, along with her worries about her mother and about corrupt New York politicians.

Over time, however, her letters became bizarre.  She wrote that she was working on a “data base” and had proof that the US Government was stealing money from a secret trust fund, of the corruption in the Pentagon and of cover-ups and conspiracies by the Secret Service. She wrote of vague illnesses that confined her to her apartment.

I continued to correspond regularly but not as often; sometimes several weeks went by before I wrote back. Her letters also arrived at greater intervals and were more and more filled with angst.

Finally, I got the letter that made me question my decision to kindle our epistolary acquaintance in the first place.  In a letter to her after Mikey, Ann and Baby Sarah’s visit, I had had described how wonderful it had been to see my granddaughter and – well, I probably was a little too gushy.

“Dear Jean,” she replied in the briefest of notes.  “I hope you will forgive me but I just can’t read about your happy family right now.  Maybe sometime when I feel better.  Best to you and the professor.  MLC”

I have heard of schadenfreude, the taking of pleasure in another’s misfortune, but I’m not sure what to call distress at another’s happiness.

I have never broken up with a pen pal before, but I certainly don’t want to make anyone unhappy by my own satisfaction with life.  I guess I will just wait to see if she ever writes to me again.

In the meantime I’m thinking I should have let sleeping dogs lie and never written that note that began, “I don’t know if you’re the person I’m looking for….”

 

Jean Balser friendshipJean was raised on a farm in central Iowa and spent nearly twenty five years in New York before returning to her home in the Midwest.  She belongs to the Ankeny Writers’ Group and has been one of the editors of the last seven editions of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook.  She and her husband, a retired biology professor, are Drake basketball fans and Jean is an avid mah jongg player.  She can be reached at jeanbalser@msn.com.

Keeping Secrets

 

I am delighted to welcome, as my guest today,  Debra Engle and her musing on the barriers that secrets impose on connecting with those who matter in our life.  She has graciously offered to give a copy of her new book “The Only Little Prayer You Need” to one of the people (drawn at random) who leave a comment on this blog. 

 

 

Keeping SecretsIn my imagination, I have appeared on Oprah dozens of times. I am always scintillating, well-groomed, and wearing three-inch heels that would immediately topple me in real life.

During one of these imaginary appearances, Oprah asked me about the subject of lying.

“I used to lie all the time,” I said. “I lied when I was nine years old and told my mom I was wearing a slip when I wasn’t. I lied about wanting to marry my ex-husband.

“I lied to protect people. I kept secrets to protect myself. I didn’t even think it was wrong, because I always had what I thought were good intentions.

“Besides,” I said, “when it came to being honest with myself, I didn’t know what that meant.”

In my imagination, Oprah gave me one of her big girlfriend smiles, leaned forward, and asked, “So what did you learn?”

I thought for a minute, then answered. “I look back sometimes,” I said, “and think how much faster I could have moved through my life. Being dishonest with myself has been like constantly keeping my foot on the brake.”

This subject of honesty—of lying and keeping secrets—has been on my mind lately, both in real life and in my imagination. I’m at the fish-or-cut-bait stage of life, when I’m finally willing to disappoint other people rather than sacrifice myself.

Now when I write and speak and mentor, my question is not, “What do others want to hear?” It’s “What am I uniquely called to say?” That question comes with an initial dose of fear-based thinking, knowing I’m risking disapproval and criticism. What if someone challenges my beliefs? What if people leave the room shaking their head in disagreement? What if…gasp! … someone doesn’t LIKE me?

It took me a lifetime to be willing to take that risk, reminding me of a news magazine program I watched years ago. The program featured a World War II veteran who had kept a secret ever since his years in the service. Throughout the hour-long interview, the veteran talked with sadness about how much his hidden story had haunted him and shaped his life. Clearly ashamed of what he had done, this fine, caring man had been constantly companioned by his secret.

It built a wall between him and his family, convinced him that he was a disappointment and a coward, and sapped every bit of joy out of his life.

Finally, at the end of the program, the veteran agreed to tell his secret. With great effort and enormous shame, he revealed the story he had kept to himself for at least 50 years:

During a major battle, he had hidden beneath a fellow soldier’s body to keep himself from being killed.

That was it. He’d practiced the same act of self-defense that any of us would have in the same situation. But he’d condemned himself for it for half a century.

My heart hurt for this man, who clearly had lost his life not to bullets during the war, but to his own fear that he had committed the ultimate act of cowardice. The secret didn’t take his life, but the self-judgment behind the secret did.

That’s the secret about secrets. When they’re finally brought to light, we can see them as the imposters they are—illusions that we imbue with powers they don’t deserve. They slow us down, hold us ransom with fear and, like the veteran who couldn’t forgive himself, keep us from being the magnificent mortals everyone knows we are anyway.

So, this is my new story on another self-imagined Oprah: No more secrets. I’m off to write, to think, to dream. And to chuck the imaginary three-inch heels so I can put my foot squarely on the accelerator of life.

 

Deb Engle secrets 1Debra Landwehr Engle is the author of The Only Little Prayer You Need: The Shortest Route to a Life of Joy, Abundance and Peace of Mind, a brand new release from Hampton Roads that features a foreword by the Dalai Lama.

She is the co-founder and facilitator of Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of creativity and personal growth for women. In addition, Deb teaches classes in A Course in Miracles and offers mentoring in writing, publishing and life skills. You can learn more at debraengle.com.

Standing the Test of Time

 

friendshipSherrey Meyer’s guest blog last week explored the ways in which social media has altered how we think about friendship. This past Sunday, NY Times columnist David Brooks, weighed in on what he saw as the essential and universal aspects of friendship.  Both essays are well worth reading.

But both left me pondering the “why and wherefore” of my own friendships over the years.  Neither essay quite captured my own experience.

As I look back, I have been blessed with many wonderful friends, but only a few who have “stood the test of time,” only a few with whom I can pick up where I left off, no matter how long it has been since I last saw them.

I think it’s because friendships, so often, are situational. You work in the same office or for the same company. You volunteer for the same charity.  You are in same bridge club or book club or investment group. Your kids are on the same team.  But when your world changes—you get a new job or leave town or get a divorce—the friendship begins to fray around the edges. As your immediate interests diverge, you talk less often.  Eventually the relationship devolves to birthday or holiday cards and the occasional lunch when your paths happen to cross.  The emotional memory remains strong, but the “friendship” itself is gone.

Don’t get me wrong.  Friendships are to be treasured, however long they last.  Shared interests and values make such relationships comforting, while educational, political and religious differences make the conversations stimulating.  Such friendships offer critical support to each other during life crises, and as Brooks suggests, provide a powerful motivation for us to live up to what our friends believe to be.

A striking feature of many of these situational friendships, particularly those formed during my working life, is how silo-ed they have been. For many years, my bridge club friends did not know my community service friends. My book club friends did not know my work mates. Each friendship satisfied a genuine aspect of my personality and/or character, but few friends ever saw the “whole” of me.

By contrast, the friends who have stood the test of time are those made when my life was not compartmentalized, in periods when I was not consumed by busy-ness.  A few date back to my youth, when we were still trying to decide who we would be when we grew up. Others appeared during periods of transition in my life.  What these friends share is that we got to see—and all too often had to endure—all the dimensions of each other’s personality and character.  We got the bad along with the good.

Because we have come to know the “whole” of each other, the friendships do not depend on knowing the same people, or working with the same clients.  Having shared our dreams and our aspirations, these friendships have been able to “grow, ” to remain alive and vibrant and mutually supportive, even as friends and spouses and specific life challenges have changed.

How have the important friendships in your life been formed?  I would love to hear your experience.

Defining Friendship in Today’s World

My blog today is contributed by Sherrey Meyer, a good friend and fellow writer who is working on a memoir about growing up in a matriarchal culture.

 

Nouwen quote on friendship

Henri Nouwen’s quote defines the foundation of a friendship. In looking at online definitions of the word “friendship,” they are many. Not one encompasses the qualities necessary to move from “being friends” to a true and lasting friendship.

The definition found in Urban Dictionary is worth reading and understanding as it relates to today’s ever-growing cybernetic society:

“Something that is much underrated in our society. Friendship is actually a form of love (here I’m not talking exclusively about erotic love). It’s not a lesser form of love than erotic love, only a different form of love. In fact, the ancient Greeks had a word, “phileos”, more or less equating to fraternal/brotherly love (friendship). …” [read more here]

With the birth and exponential growth of social media, we use new words to define or describe friendships and how they are created. As the 2000s rolled by, social media networks burgeoned and we began to meet new people online. “Friending” someone on Facebook became commonplace, an action most often based on a prior relationship. “Friending” a stranger may occur because you know someone who knows someone who knows someone.

But, “friending” or “following” on social media is not as companionable as meeting up face-to-face.  Chatting with old friends over a meal or making a new friend as the result of attending a conference or workshop, or even at the coffee shop where casual conversation begins.

Questions loomed around “friending,” “following,” “linking up with” online. Could we build “friendships” via social networking? Could you become friends with someone you couldn’t see? What impact is there on the definition of friendship?

In an article by Phil Barrett of Burning the Bacon with Barrett, he states his answer to the question of defining “friendship” and the impact social media has had on it. Quoting Barrett here:

Social Media has changed the definition of friends.  Just as media consumption and interaction has fragmented with new technology, so [have] our relationships and how we define them.

Best friends and trusted business associates will always be there for you – but social media has allowed us to cast a wider net personally and professionally – and thereby expanding or evolving who we consider a friend.

My response to the question of defining solid friendships is simple. Along the way in my online writing journey, I have made many friends. This summer I had the opportunity to meet in person three women I met online because of our shared interest in writing. The three just happened to be travelling through Portland at various times in the summer months, and I was able to meet each one face-to-face. Those intimate interactions, one-on-one, changed nothing of how I felt, except this: Face-to-face, intimate sharing of conversation and personality instilled in me a greater fondness for each one of them. When I’m online, I know who they are and what they do, but I don’t receive the pleasure of seeing the twinkle in the eye, hearing the laughter, or grasping other emotions shared during personal conversation.

Those are individual characteristics that for me encompass the definition of friendship. Getting to know the real person.

Coupled with Barrett’s widening net theory and my real-time meeting with my online friends, I can say the expectations I have held for decades with respect to making and keeping friends have not changed so much. I can still find and enjoy sharing interests, values, and mutual support and encouragement with all of my friends, both online and the ones I can reach out and touch.

Maintaining online friends, just as in keeping nearby friends, requires the same give and take of a real-time friendship. Intentional and authentic support, encouragement, caring, and honoring the other’s privacy and space are still important factors.

What about you? Please share your thoughts on defining friendship and what you think social media’s impact has been on friends and friendships.

 

 

sherrey2013_2A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents.  She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else!  Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write.  Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse.

You can reach Sherrey on her websites:  Sherrey Meyer, Writer, on Facebook and/or Twitter, or via email at salice78@comcast.net.

Travel as Experiential Expansion

 

My guest today is Lois Joy Hofmann who, like me, has rejoiced in her decision to step out of her comfort zone and live on board a sailboat as she and her husband ventured to foreign climes. Unlike me, Lois and her husband actually made it all the way around the around the world.

 

Travel as Experiential Expansion

travel -varanasiTravel requires a conscious effort to step outside our comfort zones. Not only do we challenge our physical comfort when we travel; we also challenge our psychological comfort.

My husband and I spent eight years circumnavigating the world on our 43-foot catamaran, Pacific Bliss. We flew back to San Diego between voyages. Our friends would ask: When are you leaving on vacation again?

“You don’t get it,” I’d reply. “Living in our condo for a while is coming back to comfort. This is our break, our holiday. Sailing, touring, and understanding the differing cultures of 62 countries—this is like work.”

Why did we choose to live like that?

Travel to us is not about staying in five-star hotels and enjoying a beach holiday. It’s a way of life. And even though we’ve completed our mission and sold our beloved Pacific Bliss, we’ll continue to travel as long as our health permits. Travel is how we learn and expand our minds. It’s as much a part of our lives as the books we read and the food we eat.

Think about it.

You can repeat the same life experience every day, year after year. Or you can travel for five, ten or twenty years and have perhaps fifty life-changing encounters during each one of those years! The more you travel, the more you expand your life and grow your soul.

What if you’re still working and can’t take off for a big chunk of time?

During the weeks that you can get away, I advise you to put a different emphasis on time. In the business world, everything needs to have happened yesterday, while at the same time, you must prepare for the future lest you fall behind. You’re never in the moment.

You can make travel happen on your time. I call it “slow travel.” As soon as you arrive at your destination, take your foot off that accelerator and slow down to a snail’s pace. Those ruins you wanted to see are not going anywhere soon! Leave those tight schedules and to-do lists back at the office. It’s only when you slow down, engage with your surroundings, and absorb the moment that you truly feel a sense of place. Sit down for a coffee with the locals. Spend time people watching. Sample strange food.

My husband and I implemented the technique of “slow travel” during a three-week trip to India We used Enchanting-India, a travel company specializing in tailor-made travel experiences using local guides. We selected a standard two-week, six-city round-trip tour from Delhi, then expanded it to three weeks to make time for photography and journaling at each destination.

Even so, we made changes to our itinerary on the fly. For example, when our next stop was to be the Raj Ghat Memorial, we could see from the car that the site was basically a black marble platform marking Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation. Long lines extended around block. We decided that getting there was not worth fighting traffic and jet-lag in the heat of the day. This is the advantage of independent travel! The plan is ours to make or break.

On the way to Sarnath to see Buddhist sites in India, we asked our driver to stop and allow us to “walk the village.” While we interacted with the locals, he waited for us on the other side. This link gives you a taste of the village and the people we met.

I urge you to let travel transform your life. Vow today to make a change outside your comfort zone. You won’t regret it!

 

Lois Joy Hofmann - travelLois Joy Hofmann is the author of Maiden Voyage and Sailing the South Pacific, the first and second book in a trilogy called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss. Both books won first place in the Travel category of the San Diego Book Awards (2011 and 2013 respectively).

Her stories have appeared in magazines such as Latitudes and AttitudesCruising World and Living Aboard. Lois has contributed to online magazines and blogs such as: Multihull MagazineYacht BlogsMultihull newsletterTop Dekk and The Log. Lois has been a keynote speaker for various organizations including: yacht clubs, optimist clubs, book stores and libraries. She is currently working on the third book in her trilogy, to be called The Long Way Back.

When she’s not writing, Lois enjoys travel with her husband Günter to those countries they did not visit during their 8-year, 62-country sailing circumnavigation.

You can read about Lois’s travels on her website, Sailor’s Tales.

 

A Patchwork of Stories

 

 

My guest this week is Gwen Plano, who writes most eloquently about the way in which writing enhances our understanding of and appreciation for our own life stories.

 

patchwork quiltWhen I was a young child, countrywomen gathered to sew quilts for special events. My mother took us with her when she met with her friends in the basement of the local rural church. Sometimes I snuck under the stretched material on the large wooden frame and listened as the women stitched and knotted. They talked about their families, about their hardships and about love. When they cried, I cried–even if I did not quite understand. It was their emotion that spoke to me.

The cloth leftovers rhythmically sewn one to another helped me see the interconnectedness of life. And as I began writing my memoir, I realized I was creating my own quilt of sorts—through a patchwork of stories.

Even before I put pen to paper, I was awakened in the early morning hours with scenes, faded by time. Drawn into the story they revealed, I began to write. Soon pages of text accompanied these reveries and though I captured some of these glimpses of insight in my writing, others hid and waited—for yet another night. My crowded desk of post-it notes became my companion and sometimes friend, helping me bring the pieces together.

This process, unexpected and bewitching, guided me through the corridors of my heart, where I wrestled with haunting flashbacks and elusive threads of connection. The years of abuse were long past and in tow—its numbness. I could feel again; and, the tears and gasps came and went—because they could.

One story after another unfolded on paper, as sections from frayed journals and yellowed family photos came alive and spoke to me. The dramas that once controlled my life and held me captive were but ailing memories, soon to meet their demise. And as I gazed upon this human collage of struggles and apprehensions, I was humbled by another story that emerged.

I realized that my journey was everyone’s journey. I had thought I was alone.

The person I was decades ago lives only in ashen memories. Hardships have carved the landscape of my youth, shifting dreams and opening horizons. I barely know the adolescent me who trekked unburdened by reason. But as I look back over the years, I now see the terrain she must travel to become who I am today.

Through choices, some chilling but otherwise ordinary, we find our way. While I might take one road and you another, we all face adversity, and we all experience sorrow, fear or regret at some point in time. And, don’t we all go through life trying to make sense of it all?

It is only in retrospect that I have come to see how the journey we travel is both universal—and circular. Life’s summit is elusive because the terminus is also the starting point. Ultimately, any life path we choose brings us full circle. When we meet ourselves again, our joys may have expanded and our hearts may have softened. And then we begin again. We travel until we find the one love we all seek; only then, do we rest.  

T.S. Eliot, in his last verses of the poem “Little Gidding,” wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning…

 

Writing Letting Go into Perfect Love was an integrative process for me; because, as I wrote, I began to understand; and, as I understood, gratitude emerged—for the trials and tribulations, for the sorrows and the joys, for the friends and the foes … for the preciousness of life. For you.

I sit in awe of my traveled life and marvel at its relationship to the whole. Perhaps we’ve met along the way. I wonder which quilt block is yours and what its story might be.

 

Gwen - patchwork quiltGwen Plano spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in New York, Connecticut, and California. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition from San Diego State University, was awarded a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of the State of New York, and then completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Iona College. Finally, she earned a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University.

Plano is also a Reiki Master and a Certified LifeLine Practitioner.

Letting Go Into Perfect Love (She Writes Press) is Plano’s first book.

Find & follow Gwen online:

www.gwenplano.com

www.facebook.com/GwenPlano1

 

On Not Being Perfect

 

 

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.                                    ~Anna Quindlen

Being PerfectThe notion that we grow the most—personally, professionally, and spiritually—when we step outside our comfort zone has been central to my life and central to what I have chosen to write about over the last decade.

Quindlen’s message is that much of the heavy lifting in the matter of personal growth comes through the often exhausting, sometimes frightening effort, step by small step, to find a new approach to getting through the day. It requires a conscious effort to step outside our psychological comfort zone as well as our external or environmental one.

. . .

To read more,  check out my blog on Becoming Yourself, a guest post of Gwen Plano’s lovely website “From Sorrow to Joy — Perfect Love.”

 

The Paradox of Our Age/Time

 

Paradox

In 1992, political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that the spread of Western-style democracies and free market capitalism would become the final form of human government.  It seems a paradox that the economic and political systems that were thought by Fukuyama to bring peace and stability to the world are increasingly on the defensive—in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa and, I often think, here at home in America.

While musing on this dreary thought, I happened on Jann Freed’s recent blog on paradox. I will reprint here a portion of the essay she shared from ‘Words Aptly Spoken’ by former non-denominational pastor Dr. Bob Moorehead.  This 1995 essay—The Paradox of Our Age/Time—shines a bright light on many of the contradictions wrought by prosperity … and may help explain why so many cultures choose to reject a way of life that seems to offer material prosperity but spiritual poverty.

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses and  smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.

We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

How many of these paradoxes bedevil your own life? Are there any that you can change in your own world?