When problems persist for a while, sometimes they start to weigh heavily on the mind. Those little moments of happiness once taken for granted start to seem few and far between. Even though the simple everyday comforts are still there, they don’t get noticed or appreciated as much as they once did. When that happens, it can feel like the only way happiness will ever come back is when the problems go away.

Word-art that says "Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them." 

Instead of putting most of our energy into problem-solving, it’s often more effective to step back from the worries and set aside more time to enjoy simple comforts that refresh the mind. Just a little shift in perspective can make problems a lot more manageable.

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.

September 28, 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Twice recently I’ve had a dream in which I am sitting in a parked car with the engine running, and it suddenly starts rolling backwards. I try to brake and to turn off the car, but the computer is malfunctioning and won’t take any input. The car keeps on rolling away no matter what I do, and I know it’s just about to crash into something when I wake up.

A car wouldn’t really do that, of course, and there is nothing scary happening in my life right now. So I’m guessing that the dream reflects a fear that I might somehow “roll back” to stressful times in the past when I felt like I wasn’t in control. How to deal with it? Well, mainly I’d say that I just need to take a few deep breaths and stay focused on the safe, straight road ahead.

Straight road with colorful autumn trees on each side.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Also, there’s no need to keep a narrow focus and look only at the pavement. Much better to slow down and take enough time to appreciate the pretty landscape, the soft sound of leaves rustling in the wind, and the crisp autumn air. There is always something in the moment to enjoy!

September 26, 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Over the weekend, my husband and I drove up to Toledo to row in the Frogtown regatta, named for the city’s location on land that historically was a frog-filled swamp. We didn’t see much wildlife when we put our boat in the river, probably because the windy and choppy conditions on the Maumee River were so bad that even the frogs ran for cover. Most of the small boat races were cancelled for safety reasons; and in those that weren’t called off, some of the entrants took one look at the water and decided to just go back home.

We decided to go ahead and be adventurous, so we struggled along with only two other mixed double crews that braved the course. They were much more experienced and finished well ahead of us; but we got bronze medals anyway, which we felt like we deserved just for not being chicken. (Or perhaps frog, which they say tastes like chicken, but my bravery does NOT extend to eating it, so I wouldn’t know.)

Bronze medals from Toledo Frogtown regatta. 

Though I’m not likely to make a habit of doing daredevil stuff and would rather have rowed on nice calm water instead, sometimes having an unplanned adventure turns out to be fun anyway. After all, life would get pretty boring if everything went exactly as planned. Unexpected events every now and again make things a lot more interesting!

Sometimes life feels so busy and complicated that it’s hard to see how one person can change anything. But although we can’t always see what impact our choices might have on the world, it’s likely that we are making much more of a difference than we know.

Word-art that says "One person can make a difference, and everyone can try." - John F. Kennedy 

Bringing positive change to the world doesn’t necessarily require big dramatic projects. Often it’s our small day-to-day decisions that have more lasting effects, whether or not they might turn into anything that can be measured in terms of conventional success.

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.

Sometimes I spend too much time ruminating about what people’s motives might have been for saying or doing things that baffled me. When I have no clue what they were thinking, it leaves me feeling anxious about what kinds of unpredictable stuff they might do in the future. Of course, that is a silly worry because we can never really understand what goes on in other people’s minds, and much of the time they don’t even understand it themselves!

So when a coworker sent an email with this joke about a chicken crossing the road in a better world, it gave me a good chuckle:

Word-art that says "Dream of a better world where a chicken can cross the road without having his motive questioned." 

Next time I find myself getting sidetracked by anxiety about what somebody might have been thinking, I’ll remind myself that there’s no need to squawk about other people’s motives!

Now that the long days of summer are over, my husband and I have been rowing with lights on our boat when we go out after work because it’s getting dark when we return to the dock. Yesterday we were a bit later than usual, and the sun already had set by the time we put our boat in the river.

Word-art that says, "When it rains look for rainbows. When it's dark look for stars." 

It turned out to be a lovely moonlight row, and we enjoyed being out under the stars! Although a cool wind was blowing, we had a good workout and never felt cold. Whatever the season, there is always something to appreciate in 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.

About five years ago, when I contributed a post to a group blog, I had a brief email conversation with its administrator on the subject of satire. Most of the blog’s entries were thoughtful, reflective essays, but a few of them had a satirical tone. I asked how often he preferred to mix those posts in with the more serious stuff. He replied that he didn’t have such a plan because satire just showed up whenever it had a mind to; it generally didn’t take well to being put on a schedule.

The following year I started this blog, which I envisioned as having a reflective tone with a focus on exploring cultural narratives. Other topics came up as well, such as writing and creativity, decluttering, and positivity. Until now, though, it hadn’t occurred to me that there are no satirical posts on this blog. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding such entries; they just didn’t come to mind, although I had written satire on occasion in the past. I briefly wondered if I’d lost my ability to write with an eye for the absurd.

Eye decorated to resemble a bird's head.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

I decided that wasn’t the case because I do have some rather fanciful posts here. Although they are not in the realm of satire, perhaps that’s because I have made more of an effort to avoid being overly judgmental in recent years. Satire necessarily involves some amount of judgment as to whatever is being satirized; and it’s all too easy to cross the line into mean-spirited snark and leave readers on the defensive, feeling that their beliefs and their culture have been unfairly attacked.

That’s not to say the genre always should be avoided. On the contrary, satire often serves a valuable function in pointing out what’s ridiculous about our cultural assumptions. But it also tends to make people uncomfortable because it holds up such an unflattering mirror. Because I wanted to create a blog where readers would always feel safe and welcomed, maybe I’ve been subconsciously steering clear of satire and other types of writing that might cause discomfort.

If so, I wouldn’t characterize that as either good or bad in itself. It’s just a reflection of where I happen to be at the moment. And who knows, maybe there will come a day when a satirical post just shows up and insists on being written, no matter what other plans I might have!

Now that September is underway, the rowing club has been putting in the entries for the fall regattas. My husband and I are not the fastest in the mixed double races; it’s only our fourth season since we learned to row, and there are others in our club with much more experience who always come in ahead of us. But we improve each year, and that’s good in itself!

Word-art that says, "The expert in anything was once a beginner."

If we had never started rowing because we were afraid of looking like awkward beginners, then we’d have missed out on a lot of fun!

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 is Part 20; click here to read Breaking the Ice from the beginning.

Going through his mail at the start of the workday, Woods skimmed the fan-letter summary prepared by an administrative assistant on Earth: this week he had received 80,236 messages from well-wishing admirers. They’d all been sent a canned video in which he thanked them for their kind words, attached to the agency’s form letter explaining that time and bandwidth didn’t allow for personal replies.

The crew members had recorded these videos several times during the mission, updating them as needed. Although a few letters had come in earlier, the fan-mail deluge hadn’t truly hit until the discovery of extraterrestrial life was announced. Mastroianni definitely had been right when she said they would all be celebrities. Woods still couldn’t wrap his mind around the concept, after working for so many years in relative obscurity on Mars. He was just grateful that the agency had been taking care of the situation efficiently.

Next up in his inbox was a video message from his cousin Carole, who lived in Delaware and hadn’t corresponded with him since their college years. He remembered her as thin and athletic, with straight mousy-brown hair. The screen image showed plump cheeks and a well-coiffed head of bright red curls. He surely never would have recognized her if they had happened to meet at random.

“I wouldn’t have bothered you, knowing that you’re so busy,” Carole began apologetically, in a soft voice that still had a familiar cadence, “but it’s about your mother. She hasn’t been doing well since your father passed away a few years ago. After losing interest in her usual activities, she mostly just stayed at home watching TV, and last summer she was diagnosed with cancer. Although it’s a kind that usually can be treated, she hasn’t responded well to the medication. I’m beginning to think she has simply lost her will to live.”

Taking a deep breath and looking down as if reluctant to continue, Carole went on, “I know she hasn’t told you. Don’t take it personally—that’s just the way she is. Can’t deal with anything that has to do with disability or weakness, but stays in denial and pretends that the problem doesn’t exist. Well, of course you know that. Anyway, please don’t tell her I sent you this message, but just go and visit her when you get back to Earth. I know you haven’t spoken to her in many years, but it’s time to show some understanding and to let go of that old grudge. She never meant you any harm, Mark, and she’s really very proud of you—always watching the news reports on your mission, with a big beaming smile.”

After a few more words that sounded like they were meant to be reassuring but didn’t at all have that effect, the message ended. Woods sat there staring at the bright screen without really seeing it. His mind seethed with anger and turmoil, which he pictured vividly as a hydrothermal vent spewing high-pressure boiling water into the depths of a dark ocean. That image was one he had constructed all too often as a boy learning to put words to his feelings—abandoned, unwanted, cast aside, an entire unseen ecosystem far from the rest of the world.

Why had he always been the one expected to show more understanding?

A wave-touch intruded upon his thoughts: Tiny Leaf’s signal to start a conversation. Just what he didn’t need right now, the telepathic equivalent of an alien phone ringing. Especially when he had no idea how to tell her to shut up and go away. Something like a Decline button would come in very handy right now; but other than basic arithmetic that consisted mainly of counting seaweed stalks and leaves, he was pretty much clueless. Deciphering alien languages wasn’t supposed to be his job anyway.

The image of a thermal vent, still bubbling furiously away in the background of his thoughts, shifted into a more distant perspective. He could still feel the difference in the water temperature and the disturbance in the currents, but now he floated far above. It took him several seconds to realize that this would have been Tiny Leaf’s perspective in the sunless ocean of Europa. Then she spoke into his mind in a calm tone that seemed weirdly misplaced: “Not equal.”

Number-images and others he couldn’t identify came next. “Six minus five. Three plus fourteen.” Something like an eel slithered by, twisting into a shape that resembled a sine curve. Woods waited for a spoken translation of that image, but none was forthcoming. His thoughts subsided into an irritated silence.

“Tiny Leaf, I have no idea what you’re saying. Less than none,” Woods declared out loud, his words sinking pointlessly into the empty room and the well-insulated bulkheads. He added an image in Tiny Leaf’s own language to underscore his frustration: ice, a broken-checkmark seaweed stalk, and another stalk with one leaf. Zero minus one.

The reply was immediate—another set of images in the weird ice-and-seaweed arithmetic, representing zero plus one. Woods fully expected to hear Tiny Leaf’s virtual voice saying just that. When the translation came, however, it unexpectedly took on a more complex sentence structure while still maintaining the gentle tone.

“You understand a little.”

Sometimes it feels like there is nowhere near enough kindness in the world, especially during this year’s political campaign season, about which the less said the better. Putting things in perspective, however, if enough of us make an effort to be just a little kinder each day, then it can add up to much more of a change in the world than we might imagine!

Word-art that says "Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary." -J.M. Barrie 

Making the world a better place isn’t so much about grand accomplishments in society; often it’s the little things that matter more.

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.