As the end of the year draws closer, I’ve been reflecting on how things went with my resolution of gratitude for the empty spaces left behind after clearing away mental garbage. Even if those spaces hadn’t yet filled up with healthy positive energy, they were still an improvement over stagnant feelings of anger and fear; and I resolved that this year, I would appreciate them as such.

Although I never did wake up one morning to find myself unexpectedly bubbling over with fresh enthusiasm and feeling like a completely new person—or anything nearly that dramatic—there were subtler shifts as the year went on. Those old subconscious dramas slowly faded away, no longer appearing to be present-day obstacles. In their place came quiet confidence and trust in a stronger future; and then, after a while, problems started to feel as if their solutions always had been there.
 

Word-art showing Dorothy's feet with the quote "You've always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself." -Glinda, Wizard of Oz 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

All was quiet on the younger-self front. A few weeks had gone by since I took one of my past selves on an imaginary hike near Channelwood Village. I had hoped that she would relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings for a while. Since then, she had been exceptionally quiet, much more so than I’d anticipated.

To some extent, I had been unfair when I nicknamed her Drama-Queenie because of her volatile temperament. Still, there was a reason for it. Many times, she had unexpectedly popped up from the depths of my subconscious, moaning about mysterious emotional pain. Quiet wasn’t something I associated with her. I concluded that I’d better go check on her and make sure that she wasn’t in—or causing—any trouble.

When I arrived in Channelwood on a bright, crisp morning, I found her returning with a basket of eggs from the village’s new chicken coop. I almost didn’t recognize her. During our recent hike, she had been wearing cheap sneakers and an ugly discount-store sweater and pants. Now she had on a long gingham dress, in keeping with my rather arbitrary decision to set Channelwood’s time period in the year 1897. The ends of her dark braids hung below a neat, clean bonnet. She looked like she had just stepped out of a Little House on the Prairie episode.
 

Farm-fresh eggs in a basket.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

“Good morning!” I gave her a friendly wave and then fell into step beside her while she carried the eggs to the kitchen outbuilding. Channelwood’s tiny houses in the treetops, all connected by narrow little walkways, did not have their own separate kitchens. Something smelled tasty, and when I turned a corner, I found twelve-year-old Sara toasting thick slices of brown bread on the hearth.

Looking up from the toast, Sara gave me a great beaming smile. “Thank you ever so much for bringing us a wonderful new friend! Ella and I are so happy to have her!”

Sara was known for her good cheer; but, to be honest, this wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting. Given Queenie’s history, I had thought it likely that she would be a sulky and unpleasant guest, tolerated out of pure charity.

“I’m glad to hear that you have been getting along so well with Queenie,” I answered, returning the smile.

Putting down her basket of eggs, the subject of the conversation turned to me and inquired, narrowing her eyes a little, “Why are you calling me Queenie? I’m not any kind of royalty.”

“Oh, I just thought it suited you,” I said breezily, settling myself into a comfortable kitchen chair while Sara spread the toast with apple butter and Ella started frying some eggs.

While Queenie set the breakfast table, I went on talking to her, in a more serious tone. “I’ve been thinking how brave it was of you, being honest about feeling pain. Our culture severely punishes that sort of honesty. It demands that we keep our true feelings to ourselves, hiding the pain behind a happy-face mask so that we don’t make anyone else uncomfortable. If we let the mask slip, other people get nasty, no matter how much we might try to please them and do everything they want—just as you said in the woods during our hike.”

Braids bobbing, Queenie nodded silently as she poured hot cider into thick clay mugs from a large jug that she had picked up from the edge of the hearth.

“I got nasty, too, telling you to shut up because I didn’t want to hear anything more about your pain. And I certainly ought to have known better.” I put a red cloth napkin in my lap as Ella gave me a plate heaped high with eggs and toast.

Queenie finished pouring the cider and sat down to eat her own breakfast. She took a big bite of toast and chewed slowly, thinking over her words before she answered.

“I know this isn’t a real place,” she began, “and that means I’ll have to go back to my old life, always falling short of everyone’s expectations because I’m not perfect, no matter what I do. But I wish I could stay here forever. To me, it feels much more real here. When I go out to the chicken coop to get the eggs, I don’t have to pretend anything. I’m not expected to compete every day to be a great success, never show any weakness, and keep everyone around me happy at all times.”

“That’s fair,” I said, as the steam rose from my cider on the table between us. “And the way I see it, there’s no requirement for you to go back. This is not a dream from which you have to wake up; it’s more like an alternate timeline. In the so-called real world, other versions of you checked off those modern-adult-life boxes many years ago—and they did a reasonably good job. It’s done and taken care of.”

After sitting motionless for several seconds with a look of total amazement, Queenie suddenly started bawling all over her breakfast. Big fat tears rolled down her cheeks and splattered all over her fried eggs.

Ella, who had been just about to sit down to her own meal, gave Queenie an alarmed glance and remained standing next to her.

“It’s all right,” Queenie gulped, managing to get a few words out. “I’m c-crying because I’m huh-huh-happy.”

“Well, of course you’re happy! Why shouldn’t you be?” Sara declared. “Everyone ought to be able to live someplace where she’s happy!”

Although Ella finally sat down, she kept a suspicious gaze fixed on me, as if she thought I might change my mind at any moment and snatch Queenie away. I didn’t take her distrust too personally because, after all, writers have to get used to characters who decide they’ve had enough of plot changes. Besides, I had a different kind of surprise in mind.

“Because you were so brave, Queenie, I think you deserve a medal.” I reached into my pocket and held out my hand toward her. A brightly polished gold circle glinted on my palm, with the word ‘Courage’ in elegant script above a raised image of a crown.

Looking down at the table and blushing, Queenie muttered, “But, but I wasn’t, not really…”

“Yes, you were,” I assured her. “Sometimes we can be at our very bravest when we see ourselves as not doing much of anything. It takes great courage to go against society’s demands and to say instead—this is wrong, this is hurtful. You had that courage, and it’s only fair that you should be recognized for it.”

The medal was attached to a braided gold chain, which I fastened around Queenie’s slender neck. Then I finished my eggs and toast (which were delicious) and thanked the girls for their hospitality. As I returned to what I called real life, I couldn’t help but to wonder just how much more real it was anyway.

Looking at our past experiences in the light of everything that we’ve learned over the years, sometimes we’re left with bad feelings about our old mistakes. We judge ourselves harshly, asking how we could have been so foolish and messed things up so much.

When I catch myself doing that, I take a moment to shift my perspective and consider what might have been gained from the mistake. Often the “failure” was actually a valuable learning experience, setting the stage for much better things to happen. Instead of criticizing our past selves for their ignorance, we should instead thank them for their wisdom and perseverance in understanding the lesson and trying again!
 

Word-art that says "You only fail when you stop trying." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

This week I’ve been feeling kind of rushed, like there is too much going on. I haven’t really had all that much to do, besides insurance open enrollment (which I did this afternoon) and a class I’m scheduled to attend Friday morning. Maybe the end of the Thanksgiving weekend made the workweek seem busier, or it could just be the season generally.

Busy feelings are pretty common this time of year. The modern world has its stresses, and as it gets more complicated every year, that means there are more things to keep up with and more decision points where mistakes could be made.

Even when we feel like there’s too much going on, it helps to keep in mind that most of it doesn’t matter much. Unlike our peasant ancestors getting ready for winter, we can be reasonably confident that when we make mistakes or leave a few things undone, they won’t cause us to starve, freeze, or get eaten by wolves. So, whatever we do, there’s really no need to stress about what else could have been done.
 

Word-art that says "Do what you can with what you have where you are." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

After I ran the Turkey Trot, my heels felt a bit achy, and I realized that it was time to get new running shoes again. I had bought the old ones in early 2016, and they didn’t look decrepit, but it’s not always noticeable right away when the cushioning starts to go.

I decided that was okay, though. This was a good time of year to replace them, both because of the Thanksgiving weekend sales and because the cheerful colors of new running shoes always help to make the short, dark afternoons a little brighter.
 

New pair of running shoes. 

As with many things for which a regular routine works best, it’s a good idea to replace old running shoes on a schedule so that they don’t get too worn out and cause problems. So, from now on, I’m going to make a habit of buying a new pair on Black Friday. That’s very easy to remember, once a year seems like a reasonable interval, and I expect there will always be a good sale somewhere.

My family always runs the Turkey Trot road race on Thanksgiving morning. This is our 15th year; it has become a family tradition. Our daughter had to miss it this year, though, because she is a nurse and was scheduled to work.

She’ll eat the turkey dinner with the family, though; and that is enough for it to be a happy Thanksgiving. Wishing all my readers a happy and thankful day too!
 

Word-art of a turkey saying "Happy Thanksgiving!"

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

When I have imaginary conversations with my past selves, which I’ve found helpful as a way to gain more perspective on my experiences, I’ll often picture myself giving them a hug and telling them everything will work out all right. There are other times when I keep more emotional distance and simply give them a few words of advice to consider.

I have to admit I lost my temper not long ago, though, and (virtually) yelled at one of them. I had nicknamed her Drama-Queenie because she popped up from my subconscious several times over the past few years loudly demanding attention for her many woes, which in her mind amounted to ghastly tragedies—although I couldn’t make any sense of them in the here and now. She looked like a nerdy 1980s student with big hair, pastel purple corduroy pants from the discount store, and an unfashionable sweater to match.

Sometimes when I was just doing household chores or some other ordinary stuff, Drama-Queenie wandered into my awareness and started moaning, “I’m in pain! It never gets any better! I can’t live like this! I don’t understand why I am always in so much PA-A-AIN!” She reminded me of the character Deanna Troi, the empathic ship’s counselor from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was infamous for wailing about pain whenever she got near an agitated alien.
 

 

Where Drama-Queenie came from was a mystery, and I didn’t have the foggiest clue what she wanted me to do about her pain, either. It was frustrating. So when she showed up again, I got annoyed. My first thought was, “Oh, shut up already! Take a hike!”

She disappeared; and then I felt bad about it afterward, as if I had done something unkind to a puppy or other defenseless creature. After all, inner-child work is supposed to be about giving younger selves the love and attention that they didn’t get in the past, so that they can feel better about themselves and carry those feelings into the present day. Yelling at them (even though mine generally aren’t children) is a big no-no.

So I decided that I should try to make things right with Drama-Queenie by giving her a fair opportunity to vent her feelings, even though I couldn’t fathom what they might be about. When I brought her through my imaginary magical mirror to the beach at Channelwood, it was low tide on a cloudy afternoon with a cool east wind blowing off the ocean. Drama-Queenie stood scowling in her cheap sneakers next to a big, smelly, half-rotten pile of seaweed.

She promptly turned to me and shouted, “What is this awful place? I never said I wanted to be here! Why is everyone always pushing me to do things that I don’t want to do?”

Her whiny voice was loud enough that I could hear a faint echo, although she wasn’t directly facing the cliff. I gave her my friendliest smile and told her, “This is just a little corner of an imaginary world. Feel free to say anything you’d like. And if you want a louder echo, all you need to do is turn a little so you’re facing that way, where the cliff is highest.”

Following the path of my pointing finger, she glared at the cliff and raised her voice to a pitch that would have done an opera singer proud, shrieking, “World, you SUCK!”

A few rocks rattled down the cliff face as the echo reverberated. Several large crows launched themselves into the air from a tree just above, flying in a wide arc over the waves as their cries blended creepily into the lingering echo: “Awk! Awk! Awk!”

Drama-Queenie watched them for a moment with a look of satisfaction before she said to me, in a much calmer tone, “Okay, so are you going to explain what we’re doing here?”

“Well, first of all, I want to apologize for yelling at you the other day,” I said. “Maybe I don’t understand why you are in pain, and maybe you don’t know why either, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore your feelings. When people are in pain, they need something done about it. So I thought we’d just go for a little stroll while we talk about things, and maybe we can figure out a solution.”

She didn’t look at all enthusiastic as she turned to gaze farther down the beach, where more dead seaweed and other unappealing debris had washed up with the tide. In fact, she looked downright sulky.

“The island has pretty hiking trails,” I suggested. “If we walk just a short way past the tree where the crows were sitting, there’s a path up the cliff.”

I started walking in that direction without waiting for an answer from Drama-Queenie, as I didn’t expect there was much chance of getting a meaningful one. After a minute or so, she followed along behind me, stopping to kick a seashell every now and again. Sand flew into the air, carried away on the wind.

“You’re in pain all the time,” I continued, trying to restate what she had said. “And you feel that people are always pushing you to do things you don’t want to do. Is that where the pain is coming from?”

As we rounded a curve in the shoreline, the cliff smoothed out and became a hill with a much gentler rise. A grassy path led upward.
 

Grassy path leading up to the top of a cliff.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Drama-Queenie still trailed along behind me, chewing a mangled-looking fingernail before she answered. “Yeah, maybe. I dunno. Whatever I do, they’re not nice to me. Someone needs to stop them from being so mean all the time.”

By now she was starting to sound like a five-year-old with a playground grudge, but I thought it was an improvement over her earlier attitude. At least she had given me a smidge of useful information. We reached the top of the hill, where the path meandered through an autumn meadow of tall waving grass and wild asters before narrowing to become a forest trail.

“Okay, that gives us a place to start,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. “Now we just need to sort out what needs to happen so that everyone will be nicer to you.”

“If I had any idea of how to do that, I’d have done it already,” my still-sulky companion objected, with what I had to admit was impeccable logic.

“Yes, I’m sure you would,” I said agreeably, keeping my doubts on that score to myself. “But much of what we know is buried deep in the subconscious mind, and things can turn out to be a lot more complicated than they seem at first. That’s why it helps to talk about problems. Sometimes an answer turns up, even if it might not have looked like there was one.”

Drama-Queenie stepped over a tangle of roots as the path narrowed farther, until there was barely room to walk side by side. Thick leaves closed in all around and over us, filtering out most of the late afternoon sunlight.

“Well, okay, I guess that might work sometimes,” she said in a doubtful tone. “But if other people are being hateful, then how is talking about it going to make them act any better?”

“Good question,” I said, as I picked up a fallen branch and tossed it into the bushes. “Why are they being hateful?”

“I dunno, they’re just mean I guess.”

“What do you think made them mean?”

This time Drama-Queenie took a little longer to think about it before she answered. “Maybe someone was mean and hateful to them.”

“You’re probably right,” I said. “That’s often how it works. I wasn’t being nice to you when I told you to shut up, and then you got angry and shouted at me when we were on the beach. You didn’t do it because you were naturally mean or hateful. There was a reason why you were angry.”

Drama-Queenie frowned, chewing on a fingernail again. “But there’s no good reason for anyone to act hateful when I make a mistake. It’s not like they’re perfect, are they? Of course not. But if I can’t do everything just the way they expect, or if it’s something I don’t want to do, then they get nasty. It’s not fair. I can’t go on like this. Sometimes I feel like they’re trying to kill me.”

“You poor kid!” I exclaimed. “No wonder you feel like you’re always in pain. That’s way too much of a burden, trying to guess what everyone wants and to do it perfectly all the time. And you’re right, stress can kill you if nothing is done to stop it. Thousands of people die every day from health problems caused by stress. So you’re not being too dramatic at all.”

She looked at me with wide eyes, plainly incredulous that anyone would tell her she sounded reasonable. “Really? You think so?”

“Absolutely. No doubt about it,” I declared in a firm tone, raising my voice for emphasis. Just ahead of us, the underbrush rustled, and a startled rabbit came out from behind a bush and dashed across the trail.

“And getting back to your earlier question about how to make people act better,” I went on to say, “what I’ve found most helpful is to keep in mind that they don’t usually have a plan to be nasty. Rather, they react to something that happens in the moment; and because their reaction is mostly subconscious, they may not be aware of what triggers it.”

“Well then, how in the world am I supposed to guess what might set them off, when they don’t even know? Sometimes talking to people feels like going for a walk in a field full of landmines. I try to figure out what’s safe to say, but it seems like nothing ever really is.”

“There’s no need to overthink any of this,” I advised. “You just need to give them something positive to focus on. When you do, they’ll switch over to a better subconscious script without even knowing it. Act cheerful, give them a big smile, tell them you’re glad to see them, and show at least a little enthusiasm for whatever they say. You don’t actually have to do what they say, but they’ll be much nicer about it if you act friendly and considerate when you do something else.”

We came out of the forest trail onto a wooden path that followed the shore of a clear blue stream. There was a break in the clouds just above the trees to the southwest, and the setting sun’s warm rays peeked through for a moment.

“Just around that curve in the path, there’s a nice little bed-and-breakfast place where you can stay for a few days and get some rest,” I told my companion. “It’ll help you to feel better. The owners are hard-working and very friendly, and they make a delicious old-fashioned rice pudding that they swear is the perfect cure for melancholy feelings.”

Although her sulky look didn’t entirely go away, I spotted just the tiniest hint of a smile starting to form as we walked farther along the path.

These dark autumn afternoons have put me in mind of childhood days when I would go out to play after school, no matter what the season or the weather. Paths in the woods were always an adventure, and sometimes I would go off the path and imagine myself to be a famous explorer in the wilderness. Even if I got burrs in my stockings (that was back before girls wore pants), it was fun anyway.

As adults, we spend most of our time following the well-worn paths of our everyday activities. This time of year, it’s probably dark when we get finished with our work, and we have other things to do and wouldn’t be interested in getting mud on our shoes wandering in the woods anyway. Still, it’s good to keep the spirit of exploration alive, such as by learning something new or visiting blogs we haven’t read before. When we get off the path, there’s no telling what discoveries we might make!
 

Word-art that says "Do not go where the path may lead; go where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

November 14, 2017 · 6 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Probably because of the time change, I’ve been feeling low on creative energy this past week and haven’t been much inclined to blog. I did come across a cute graphic recently that seems well suited to the short days of late autumn, though, so I decided to share it:
 

Word-art with a yawning cartoon mouse that says "Always end the day with a positive thought. No matter how hard things were, tomorrow's a fresh opportunity to make it better." 

Even when we’re like this poor sleepy mouse and don’t feel motivated to do much besides quietly yawning while we keep warm in winter pajamas and comfy slippers, it’s good to keep in mind that something better will come along in the future!

One of the assistant coaches for our local rowing club’s junior program, who had been driving the boat trailer to regattas and scrimmages, quit recently because he got too busy with other things. That left the junior program without a trailer driver for the rest of the fall season because a parent who often had volunteered to tow the trailer also was no longer available.

My husband, who had gotten some practice driving the adult trailer, volunteered to take the junior trailer to the final regatta of the season last weekend. That was not much fun because the junior trailer is old, heavy, and poorly balanced, so towing it required a large rental truck; my husband couldn’t use his SUV like he had been doing with the adult program’s nice new trailer. Also, he had to drive through a major thunderstorm on the way back.

The juniors showed their appreciation by buying his dinner and giving him a thank-you note and an Amazon gift card. Meanwhile, I had mostly used up an old gift card that I had been buying Kindle books with, and it was a nice surprise for me when my husband asked if I would like to have the Amazon gift card. It all goes to show—there’s no way of telling how far our simple acts of kindness and appreciation can keep on going!
 

Word-art that says "Anytime you can have a positive impact on someone else's life, don't think about it, just do it." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.